Financial crisis hits Ireland's St Patrick's Day exodus
In the boom years, most of the Emerald Isle's government jetted off for the March 17 holiday. But now recession-hit Ireland is curtailing these trips.
The controversial annual exodus of Ireland's leaders heading off around the world for St Patrick's Day will be sharply cut back this year because of the financial crisis, according to the Irish government.
In the boom years of the Celtic Tiger economy, virtually all members of the Emerald Isle's government jetted off for the March 17 holiday. But now, recession-hit Ireland is curtailing the promotional trips to visit the diaspora.
The number of ministers travelling abroad this year has been halved and all government departments have been told to ensure that costs are kept to a minimum.
There has been criticism that visits to the country's ubiquitous expatriates -- every city on earth seems to have at least one Irish pub -- are junkets and Prime Minister Brian Cowen has acknowledged concerns about the cost.
"I know that some people question the value of these trips, particularly during this severe economic downturn but St Patrick's Day gives Ireland a global platform that is the envy of practically every country in the world," he said. "It gives us an unparalleled opportunity to send out a positive message about Ireland and to inform political and business leaders, trading and investment partners and the international media about how we are tackling the current challenges."
Cowen said many millions of Irish people were forced to leave home by economic conditions far worse than anything being experienced now.
"Many of them helped us out when we were down and we should never forget or ignore them," he said.
Cowen was in Washington this week to hold his first meeting with US President Barack Obama Tuesday morning at the White House where he is expected to present him with the traditional bowl of shamrock, Ireland's three-leafed floral emblem.
His talks with Obama will focus on the economic crisis and Cowen has been accompanied by a trade mission involving upwards of 100 Irish exporters
"Ireland's future prosperity depends on nurturing our priceless global connections and on developing the international trade and investment opportunities which will help us to return to strong economic growth," Cowen said.
There will be a big focus on the US where 34 million people claim Irish ancestry -- almost nine times the population of Ireland.
Other members of the government are visiting New York, San Francisco, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, Boston and Chicago.
There will also be ministerial visits to England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, France and Italy.
Cowen, whose poll ratings have collapsed as he struggles to cope with mounting economic problems, will return from the US to finalise another package of emergency measures to deal with the consequences of the battering by the global financial crisis.