March 13, 2022

St Patrick’s Day turns whole world green — with envy

Read my article from The Sunday Times

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, I wrote this article for The Sunday Times Ireland edition which they have kindly let me reproduce for you here:

St Patrick’s Day turns whole world green — with envy

Ireland's exceptional global cultural reach is evident on our national day — and that is worth celebrating

About 30 Irish government ministers will set out this week to all corners of the globe to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with our diaspora, and to represent Ireland’s interests to foreign regimes. We should all be proud of what this "global greening" delivers.

This week, too, the latest Global Soft Power Index will be released by Brand Finance. The annual survey of perceptions of the leading nations of the world will, once again, rate Ireland among the top 30 most powerful countries. Yet Ireland has no hard power. What power we have lies in our ability to build relationships, which enable us to cajole and convince others to support what is in our nation's interest.

The deployment of our ministers and diplomats around Saint Patrick’s Day, to engage with so many other parts of the world, is soft power in action. The financial investment is minimal, and it returns a million-fold. The foreign direct investment that we generate attracts jobs of a high value. Our food and drink exports exceed €13.5 billion a year, which increased by more than 50% over the past decade as we won access to new markets. We welcomed nearly 10 million overseas visitors pre-Covid – and that increased by more than half in ten years as our air connectivity flourished.

So the complaints about ministerial junkets at this time of year are short-sighted. What other country has a national day that is widely celebrated beyond its own borders? And one it can leverage for widespread political engagement in support of its national objectives?

Our openness has been a foundational factor in our national success. The seeds of our external disposition were laid through the painful experience of emigration. There would, after all, be no overseas parades and no voters of Irish descent for politicians elsewhere to woo if it were not for our historic tragedy. It was joining the European Economic Community in 1973, however, that cemented our openness as national policy, and significant benefits have accrued since.

Economically, our GDP per capita rose from only 57% of Britain's when we first joined, to equalling theirs in the late 1990s, to exceeding even that of America nowadays. Although our GDP today is distorted by multinational activity, this growth has been underpinned by inward investment that has translated into employment. We went from having just over one million people with jobs in 1973 to over two million by 2006. Today, even while yet to recover fully from the pandemic, the figure exceeds 2.5 million.

The proportion of those jobs that are high-skilled has risen too. Unsurprisingly therefore, we have seen significant real increases in average incomes. Those new jobs require higher levels of education. We are now one of a handful of nations in which most of the working-age population have a higher-level qualification.

Our embrace of openness enables us to attract the skilled labour we need from overseas. Nearly one in five of those who live here today was born elsewhere – one of the highest figures of any European nation. And we are already enjoying the beneficial contribution of the "new Irish" to sport, music, and culture.

Retaining our open disposition is critical to our continued success. It has been argued that every previous period of openness and innovation in history has ended due to Cardwell’s Law: progress encounters resistance from groups that believe they stand to lose from innovation, and they manipulate the political system to suppress it. Ireland would only reduce its soft power and influence if we were to allow this.

The Economic Intelligence Unit’s latest Democracy Index rated Ireland the seventh most democratic nation in the world at a time when global democracy is judged to be in retreat. Similarly, the latest Human Freedom Index rates us as the world’s fifth freest nation – politically, economically and socially.

These are remarkable achievements for our first independent century. Our journey is already a source of inspiration for others. Sharing our experience this week enables us to be a beacon for positive change elsewhere.

We should be thankful for the unexpected gift that St. Patrick has left us, cognisant of the debt that we owe our diaspora, and supportive of the work of ministers this week.

In Fact: An Optimist’s Guide to Ireland at 100 - Book Side

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