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Politicians’ Paddy’s Day trips – spin or substance?


THEY’RE BOTH A PART OF IT Mayo native Sinéad Kilbane pictured with then Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Fifth Avenue, New York for the 2013 St Patrick’s Day Parade. Mr Kenny spotted Sinead in the crowd as he marched in parade.

Áine Ryan

ST Patrick’s Day trips abroad may afford a ‘unique opportunity’ for local and national politicians but they must be focused on creating real jobs. That is the view of Fianna Fáil’s Deputy Dara Calleary who told The Mayo News yesterday he was ‘very much in favour of public representatives heading abroad at this time of year as long as the trips are focused and offer opportunities to promote Ireland and Mayo’.
“St Patrick’s Day offers a very unique opportunity for Ireland and Mayo, it is important, however, that any announcements made around this time should be vetted before an announcement and then should be delivered on – otherwise the benefits of these trips will be undermined,” Deputy Calleary also said.
He was responding to Mayo News questions contextualised by the fact that during St Patrick’s Day celebrations in 2015 in Washington – attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny – Dublin-based investor Opensparkz announced it planned to create 250 jobs in Castlebar over the following three years. Last November doubts over the
reality of this announcement were finally confirmed when the county council revealed that Opensparkz would not now be buying the old Volex building, scuppering any promises of a significant job creation for the county town.
On the other hand, Fianna Fáil Cllr Al McDonnell said that the importance of politicians – both local and national – attending St Patrick’s Day celebrations was not simply about job creation.
“Regardless of the jobs, it is extremely important that politicians attend these celebrations to meet the extraordinary Irish diaspora. I will never forget walking down Fifth Avenue in New York last year as cathaoirleach and there was a million Irish people on the streets for the parade and the joy and cheer we brought to them,” he said.
Anyone who dubbed such trips as ‘junkets’ was wrong, he said, noting that Mayo County Council’s representatives work almost 24-hour days due to the intensity of the schedule.
“Any enterprise that comes out of these annual trips is a bonus but I wouldn’t classify it as an instant priority,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway Walsh said: “While I think there is some value in having political Irish representations at some of the major international parades and the surrounding events, it is very difficult to see the tangible results of many others.
“I just wonder if the money would be better spent if it were diverted to increasing the VAT thresholds or tax incentives for small and medium indigenous businesses that do the hard graft in all our communities. I find that many of the announcements made abroad lack real substance and are little more than spin that give the illusion of job creation.”
Her Fine Gael colleague in the Seanad Michelle Mulherin said such trips were ‘important for our indigenous industry and multi-nationals in our country and growing trade has been one of the major factors in our economic recovery of the past few years’.
Referring to the upcoming challenges of Brexit, she said: “Establishing new markets and expanding existing ones requires us to constantly work on relationships with other countries. St Patrick’s Day celebrations represent a significant opportunity in the calendar year to set out our stall as a great country to invest and do business in and with.”
Minister Michael Ring has travelled to the US for the celebrations. Questions sent to his Press Officer were unanswered at the time of going to Press.

Council delegation
MAYO County Council’s Head of Communications, Martina Hughes said this year’s delegation which travelled to the US at the weekend is led by Cathaoirleach Richard Finn, and included Cllrs Michael Holmes, Annie May Reape and Gerry Coyle, and Director of Services, Peter Duggan. Chief Executive, Peter Hynes will join the group today (Tuesday). She stressed that travelling and accommodation costs for the delegation were ‘economically prudent’ but at this point couldn’t give a precise budget.
“The group has a very intensive schedule which started off with a series of engagements last Saturday when they attended the Mayo Association’s Society of New York Annual People of the Year Awards. They attended a series of events in Philadelphia on Sunday and had meetings with the Mayo Association there,” Ms Hughes said.
She said a trip to Rhode Island today (Tuesday) would involve attending ‘a number of events taking place at The Ireland West International Trade Centre’. 
“This project is a collaborative partnership developing a soft landing platform in the US for companies, businesses and entrepreneurs based in the West and North West of Ireland. The aim is to assist indigenous companies explore export opportunities in the US,” Martina Hughes explained.

Did you know?
Choctaw Indian Gary White Deer of the Choctaw nation of Oklahoma has been a regular participant and leader at the annual Delphi Famine Walk to Louisburgh. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met members of his tribe in Oklahoma yesterday to express gratitude for their forebears contribution to Irish Famine relief.

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