The St. Patrick’s Day Junket – our modern day missionaries

I read with interest that a County Councillor in Laois is unable to attend the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in New York this year because he is too busy with cows calving. People from a farming background will empathise. Farmers find it hard to get help at busy times but they are also terrible delegators.

A fellow councillor in Laois expressed the view “I believe these trips never amount to any extra tourists or jobs into the county from international companies. We would be better sending Homer Simpson of the Simpsons cartoon to represent us”. Firstly, I didn’t know that Homer had roots in Laois but that wouldn’t surprise me and secondly the debate about the merits and benefits of sending politicians local and national abroad at the time of our national holiday continues as it has now for decades.

In 2011 nine government Ministers travelled to eight countries. In 2019 the Fine Gael-led Government sent 37 representatives to 57 countries. Add in the County Council contingents and this is quite a logistical operation.

These trips suffer badly from the portrayal of them as junkets. Many Irish people might have a trip to New York or Chicago on their bucket lists but alas that is where they will remain. What the ordinary Irish person sitting in the M50 car park (who has a visceral hatred of politicians on junkets) might not realise is that most of these ministers and council chairpersons are accompanied by members of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and business people who are promoting Ireland as a place to do business and a destination. The problem is that our carbon foot printing reps in the process of selling Ireland on these far-flung shores are failing miserably at selling the concept at home.

Maybe the message is falling on deaf ears and there might be dose of begrudgery involved also – who wouldn’t envy a compatriot heading off to Australia at this time of year and getting a bit of sun on their neck.

We have heard all the soundbites about connecting with our huge diaspora, using our well-known national festival to market our little country etc. However, it’s getting harder to sell this when our entourages are visiting places like Addis Ababa and Asunción. Last year Damian English TD even visited East Timor where I’m sure he was warmly greeted by the local branch of the Roscommon Association.

There needs to be some semblance of a cost-benefit analysis done to appease the scepticism of much of the taxpayers in Ireland. For the record I support these initiatives. My support is grounded partly on the economics but partly nostalgic. Coming from a County on the Western Seaboard I am acutely aware of the role far flung networks of county associations helped their newly arrived compatriots settle into their new country. These fraternities provided a home from home, a knowledge base, a comfort. Now they were also at times insular houses that perpetuated prejudice (my experience) but on balance they did more harm than good.

I recall a friend and fellow scribe pointing out that Mayo People cling together so much that they even had to create a Mayo Association in Galway. There was even a Leitrim Association based in Sligo.

Now when an invitation arrives addressed to the chairperson of a County Council from such a group, I think it is incumbent on the recipient to do their utmost to attend. It is imperative these bonds are maintained – this is the St. Patricks day junket at its micro level. One can never underestimate how much the presence of the chain of office of a county’s first citizen boosts an emigrant’s event. I believe these bonds will slowly dissolve but we should let them die naturally. One day that invitation will fail to arrive.

On the macro level we have our modern-day St. Patricks, missionaries proselytising all around the World proclaiming low corporate taxation in the emerald isle. The Word is Ireland Inc is open for business. Good luck to them if it brings some good. If there is wastage in Government, there are worse culprits. I just wish they could sell their message at home first.

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