It gives me great pleasure to extend to the Irish community in Romania and to all readers of Nine O’Clock my very best wishes for a happy and healthy St Patrick’s Day 2017!
Allow me also to do so in the Irish language – Ta súil agam go mbaineann sibh lán-taitneamh as an lá spéisialta seo, lá Náisiúnta na hÉireann. Lá Fhéile Phádraig faoi mhaise díbh go léir!
I am delighted that again this year the local Irish community, our Romanian friends and our diplomatic colleagues are helping us at the Embassy to celebrate our nationality and also the life and work of St Patrick, Ireland’s Patron Saint. We do this every year on and around 17th March, which is a national holiday in Ireland. By the end of this weekend we will have enjoyed the Embassy’s National Day reception in the Sheraton Hotel on Thursday; an Irish Ball hosted by the Ireland-Romania Network (IRN) in the Hilton Hotel on Friday; a major networking event run by the Romania-Ireland Business Association (RIBA) in the Marriott Hotel on Saturday on the final day of the annual “Six Nations” rugby tournament, involving large numbers of Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, French and Italian rugby fans; and on Sunday our annual St Patrick’s Day Parade in Herăstrău Park, again organised by the IRN.
Ireland has always been associated with the colour green, and I hope that people passing the Sheraton Hotel will have noticed that it has turned green for the duration of this year’s Bucharest St Patrick’s Day festival!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank this year’s St Patrick’s Day Organising Committee, including members of the IRN and RIBA, the management and staff of the venues mentioned above, the Embassy’s many other friends including Nine O’Clock and the STEYsha Irish Dancing School, and of course the staff of the Embassy itself, for making our 2017 St Patrick’s Festival another great success. I would also say a special word of thanks to those companies that have consistently sponsored and supported Embassy events: Carlsrom/Tuborg (Guinness); Pernod Ricard (Jameson Whiskey) and Hellenic/Coca-Cola.
St Patrick’s Day – the parade in particular – is an opportunity for all the family to enjoy a little fun together as we celebrate the arrival of spring and look forward to Easter and the longer, brighter, warmer days of the summer ahead. So if you have some time to spare, please come along to Herăstrău Park on Sunday 19th, near the Arc de Triumf, at 2pm and celebrate St Patrick’s Day with us!
This decade has been called by some the “Decade of Centenaries”, including a very important one coming up in Romania in December 2018. Last year, Ireland commemorated the Rebellion of Easter 1916 – known to us as the Easter Rising – which was a key stepping-stone on our path to independence. It was also a great opportunity for us to look back over the previous one hundred years and to note, and celebrate, Ireland’s achievements of the past century. We also took time to look forward and imagine what our country might look like in one hundred years’ time. Very few people that did so predicted that our close neighbours and friends would soon vote to withdraw from the European Union, which the UK, Denmark and Ireland joined on the same day over 44 years ago. As the UK now prepares to trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaty and initiate the Brexit negotiations, the shock to the Irish system caused by that decision has not diminished.
As close island neighbours, Ireland and the UK have a very substantial trading relationship, carefully cultivated and grown over many decades. Ireland is most concerned about the potentially devastating impact that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU could have on our economy. There will be economic consequences for us, but we are working hard to lessen the impact.
We are also very worried that Brexit could have the effect of destabilising the hard-won but still fragile peace process in Northern Ireland, which has always been generously supported, both morally and financially, by the EU. We are anxious at all costs to ensure that Brexit will not mean the return of the hard border between North and South that previously divided our Island.
For many of the other EU Member States, the Brexit decision was disappointing but the overall impact will be relatively small. For Ireland, geography and history place it at number one in our risk register. As Ireland prepares to take its place on the EU side of the Brexit negotiating table, we do so full of apprehension, knowing that the outcome will define the future of our Island for decades to come.
On a brighter note, if there is currently any silver lining associated with Brexit, it is that from now on Ireland will be better placed to forge closer relationships with the other smaller and less powerful EU Member States, including Romania. The first of January 2017 marked ten years of Romanian membership of the EU family, a period which has proven to be very beneficial for this country. Like Ireland did in its time, Romania has been benefitting from substantial EU structural funds and this has been a contributory factor to the current strength of Romania’s economy.
Romania and Ireland are both also taking advantage of EU research and innovation funding to make our economies more competitive in this globalised world. Encouraged and supported by the EU, Romania has also taken huge strides forward in reducing bureaucracy and red tape, as well as in the important area of judicial reform and the fight against corruption.
Just around the time Romania joined the EU, Ireland’s economy collapsed. Following a decade of hard work and sacrifice, our economy has now rebounded from a lengthy period of recession and is again growing strongly. In fact, Romania’s and Ireland’s economies are currently leading the EU field in terms of economic growth. This opens up exciting new opportunities between us for bilateral trade and investment, which we must exploit.
Although Brexit is largely bad news for us, Ireland will also be seeking to exploit the opportunities that will inevitably arise from it. We will do as a fully committed member of the EU, and as the only English-speaking common law country with membership of both the EU and the Eurozone. We will continue to highlight Ireland’s pro-business environment, including an open and stable economy and a consistent 12.5% corporate tax rate. We will also underline our close and long-established business links with the UK and the US, our strong incentives for research and development and our track record of successfully attracting and retaining global multinational and specialist innovative firms.
Investment, of course, works both ways. I am glad to be able to say that within the last couple of years, two of Ireland’s largest corporations have invested in Romania’s future – the major cement manufacturer CRH in the booming construction sector; and Ryanair, the leading European low-cost carrier, in international and internal air travel. As an island nation, aviation plays a crucial role in Ireland’s economy. We are far more dependent on aviation than many of our continental neighbours and trading partners. Aviation is vital to linking Ireland socially and economically to the rest of the world.
An interesting and little known fact is that Ryanair, which was set up in Ireland in 1985, acquired its first jet aircraft in 1987 by leasing three BAC 1-11s from the Romanian state airline, Tarom. The deal included not only the three aircraft, but also Tarom pilots and engineers to enable Ryanair to operate them. Ryanair, in expansion mode from the very start, leased a further three BAC 1-11 jets from Tarom in 1988. And the rest, as they say, is history. Romania and Ireland can therefore both claim to have had a hand in the birth of the low-cost air travel which today is benefitting our peoples and our economies. Last October, Ryanair returned the favour to Romania by basing three of its jets, crews and supports at Henri Coandă International Airport to supplement its activities here. This expansion by Ryanair is expected to continue and, that’s great news for both our economies, especially the tourism sectors.
There are many other examples of the ever-deepening business relationship between Ireland and Romania. But we can do more, and better. The Embassy is so convinced about the potential for growth in the bilateral economic relationship between Romania and Ireland that we have put our money where our mouth is, and recently recruited a Commercial Attaché to help make it happen.