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Ireland taps diaspora to help solve economic mess

world Updated: Sep 18, 2009 21:16 IST
Carmel Crimmins
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Ireland has sent out an SOS call to its influential diaspora to help pull it out of the Western world's worst recession and restore its reputation as a business location.

The Global Irish Economic Forum, a Davos-style conference, has gathered around 180 top people of Irish descent from the corporate arena to brainstorm in Dublin on how to restore momentum to what was once Europe's fastest growing economy.

"It was our view that something similar to a Davos-type conference would be an effective mechanism to bring together very high achievers from across the globe, not just from the United States, with a view to harnessing their ideas and talent to the benefit of Ireland Inc," Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told Reuters on Friday.

Around 70 million people worldwide claim Irish descent and the Irish diaspora in the United States played an influential role in helping to end a decades-long sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland in 1998.

"The peace process became the anchor of the Irish American relationship for over 30 years but we have to move on, new anchors have to be created to maintain that relationship between Ireland and its diaspora," said Martin.

"We are conscious that the Israelis have been particularly effective, India has and the Chinese to a certain extent."

A two-day forum that started on Friday in the plush surroundings of Farmleigh, a Georgian estate in Dublin once owned by the Guinness brewing clan, gathers names such as Brendan McDonagh, chief executive of HSBC North America and Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas, for panel discussions and workshops.


Ireland has been transformed from the "Celtic Tiger" economy to the euro zone's weakest link via a local property crash and global financial crisis. A slew of scandals surrounding its banks has also hammered its reputation as a venue for international finance.

Despite its current economic woes, tighter emigration laws mean that Ireland is unlikely to see the sort of mass exodus of the best and brightest that blighted it for most of the twentieth century.

Without as many first generation Irish overseas to cement the link with the "old country", Martin wants to harness the Internet to keep people of Irish descent, from Beijing to Wellington, in touch.

"Maybe online there would be this virtual network," he said in an interview at Iveagh House, the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

When Irish credit spreads ballooned and banking stocks tanked earlier this year amid fears of an Icelandic-style collapse, Martin's department ordered embassies to counter the negative image and reassure foreign businesses.

"In the early parts of this year it was an uphill battle to counteract very negative, some of it very over the top, commentary on Ireland. I think there are far more balanced perspectives now," Martin said.

He is conscious, however, that a No vote in an upcoming Irish referendum on the European Union's reform treaty would send the country spiralling backwards. "It would be an inward, insular move which would do Ireland damage in years to come."