Irish education promotion hub opens in Hong Kong

Here is a new blog from our Consul General in Hong Kong on a great initiative promoting Education in Ireland.



A Chairde, Friends,

Friday 20th November was an historic day with the opening of Hong Kong’s first dedicated office for the promotion of Ireland as an education destination.

Together with my colleague, Caitríona O’ Sullivan, I had the pleasure of joining the official opening with Anthony Cheng, Wilson Chin, Trista Tse & all the members of the team at the Irish International Education Centre (IIEC).

Anthony & the IIEC have been close collaborators of the Consulate since our opening in August 2014, & we have been very impressed with their efforts to build awareness of Ireland amongst Hong Kong teachers, parents & students. Our favourite initiative has to be their familiarisation visits to Ireland which to date have seen around 30 local school principals & vice-principals travel to Ireland over the past two years. We hosted a pre-visit briefing for the most recent group & they even met up with our former colleague, Fiona Nic Dhonnacha, during their visit to Dublin.

I believe that there is great scope to increase the numbers of young Hong Kong students studying in Ireland, whether in our Institutes of Technology or in our Universities. Our colleges provide a world class education & research, in a safe English-speaking environment & are keen to welcome students from Hong Kong, whatever their area of interest.

We are looking forward to hosting the Ireland stand at the HKTDC International Education Fair in the Convention Centre in January where we will be joined again by the IIEC & a number of Irish colleges. We are also working closely with Education Ireland to set out a detailed plan of action for the year ahead.

We would welcome your help in our efforts to promote Irish education in Hong Kong & Macau so if you have any ideas or advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch.



CG Hong Kong

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What is the upcoming Global Irish Economic Forum About?

The Global Irish Economic Forum convenes for the fourth time in Dublin Castle between 19 and 21 November next. Considering that the first Forum met in September 2009, each meeting of the members of the Global Irish Network represents a snapshot of our national narrative, from crisis to recovery. With a fair economic wind now at our backs and within sight of the 2016 commemorations, fittingly this Forum looks to Ireland’s future and looks at some of the key questions facing us.

Where is Ireland’s place in the global economy? Ireland is a leader in attracting Foreign Direct Investment and sustaining cutting edge sectors like ICT, Pharma, Financial Services, Fintech, and Agri-business. However, the global economy remains unsettled, global trends offer both challenges and opportunities and the digital age will increasingly deliver disruptive creativity.

How do we drive indigenous growth? Entrepreneurs, new businesses and adaptation of existing ones are our future. Plenary discussions and breakout sessions explore how to promote them using our assets – our skills, creativity, capacity for innovation and design, our knowledge base in key sectors, and the resources of the digital age.

How can we best mobilise the global Irish as an asset? The Forum will look back briefly on its successful Global Irish Network initiatives like Connect Ireland, the Gathering and Irish Design 2015. The GIN is an important part of the global Irish but only a part of a vast matrix of connections. Alumni are a good example: how can we organise, utilise and sustain them in mutually beneficial relationships?

How do we relate to the global Irish? The island Irish and the global Irish experience the world from very different perspectives. Ireland is a geographic centre for the island Irish but by definition an imaginative or repository one for the Diaspora. How can we minimise inadvertently talking past each other? What are the best bridges between us? Culture? Exchanges? Irish Studies Programme? Emigrant Studies Programmes? How can we build on the success of the GIN and the GIEF in pooling ideas and sustaining relationships that span generations and the globe?

How do we achieve economic reliance and prosperity as we look to and plan for the next 100 years?   The men and women of 1916 risked and gave their lives for a vision. As we commemorate the centenary of the dramatic Declaration of a Republic at Easter 1916, how should we imagine Ireland a hundred years hence? That act of imagination is critical to the decisions we make here and now.

With the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, as host and a keynote speaker, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, and Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan, will each give keynote addresses to set the scene for the discussions and encourage actionable outcomes. Moderators, panellists, speakers and invitees alike are all in some way leaders in their field so we can expect this Forum, like its predecessors, to be stimulating and challenging.

You can find out more about the participants and the discussions here at the Global Irish website.

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Meeting our Heads of CEE Missions, Warsaw

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has over the last year or so begun a cycle of regional meetings with our Embassies and these discussions are an important and valued innovation. Regional units at HQ are a crucial link between our officers in the field and the Department. They provide a focal point for the full range of Embassy activities within their region, including diplomatic, trade, cultural, educational and networking activities.

Since returning to HQ, I have attended regional meetings in Addis Abba and Shanghai, convened and chaired by Secretary General Niall Burgess. Last week I attended a regional meeting of our CEE HoM in Warsaw. The acronym refers to our Heads of Mission in Central and Eastern Europe and the meeting involved colleagues from Dublin and representatives of the Agencies, namely in this case Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bía. It was opportunity to review our operations in the region. Of particularly interest to me was our trading relationships, though of course the politics and diplomacy of the region are vital interests for Ireland where reporting and contact work by our Embassies are an invaluable input to the evolution of our positions and policies.

Some general impressions first off. There is a subtle but very definite demarcation running north south through Germany to Italy. As one moves east, perspectives and interests shift. Partly to do with history, partly to do with after-shocks of the breakup of the USSR, and partly to do with current events in what Russia describes as the “near abroad”, security issues feature understandably and necessarily. NATO and the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy loom large on government agendas. Ireland as an island nation, and Western Europe generally, assume greater assurance that security threats are a thing of the past. It is useful to recall that for all the criticism of the European project, the peace and prosperity we enjoy is hard to conceive without the EU.

All this is brought home in Warsaw. The city was almost completely levelled by WWII as armies criss-crossed Poland. Its reconstruction is actually a marvel, combining new and reconstructed pre-war buildings strung along elegant boulevards. The National Museum, one of many in the city, is a modernist building of strong, square symmetries dating from 1938 (it survived the war but its collection was looted by the Nazis). By contrast, the national art collection within captures Poland’s grandeur, its rich, complex intellectual heritage and accomplishments, its sense being a European power. Objectively this is certainly true within the European Union: with a population of over 38 million and a trillion euro economy, Poland is one of the “big six” in the EU. The Polish economy avoided the deleterious effects of the financial crash and has, indeed, enjoyed GDP growth of 24% between 2008 and 2014. This is projected to continue into the medium term, albeit at lower rates.

A fascinating point about Poland was made by our Ambassador there, Gerard Keown. Because of the strong emigration to Ireland and the welcome here for Poles, not only is Ireland’s reputation high amongst relatives back in Poland but our immigrant Poles have been helping Irish companies leapfrog into the Polish market. Two-way trade between us was worth €2.2bn in 2014, and is growing by 15-20% annually. Irish exports increased 33% January-August this year, while Polish exports to Ireland grew by 24%. And connectivity is excellent: 55 flights a week to 12 Polish cities and 750,000 air journeys in 2014. A very welcome development was Bord Bía’s announcement at the regional meeting that they were placing an officer full time at the Embassy Warsaw.

The Iron Curtain has probably impacted on our knowledge of Central and Eastern Europe. It not only stopped travel there but communist rule created a deep divergence of experience. By the same token, knowledge of Ireland in Central and Eastern Europe is best where there has been emigration here. For one has to be cautious in assuming how much the outside world knows about Ireland and in particular how well we are branded as an innovative economy, at the cutting of sustainable agri-business and with a deep reservoir of skill and creativity. We, as Ireland Inc., have to work hard for attention outside the West and countries with strong Irish Diasporas. Ireland’s visibility is low overall globally and just because landmarks are turned green for St Patrick’s Day does not mean the local general public knows why. This matters generally but visibility and a clear brand identity is critical in supporting the work of the Agencies who promote the various specific aspects of our trade, tourism and investment.

Our Embassy in the Czech Republic is headed up by Ambassador Charles Sheehan. The Czech economy is now the fastest-growing in the EU, apart from Ireland, and it has the lowest unemployment rate, apart from Germany. Charles reports that our economic relations with the Czech Republic have developed very positively in recent years with total bilateral trade in goods and services of over €1.3bn in 2013. While the multinational sector dominated most export categories, there is strong interest in the Czech Republic from indigenous Irish companies. The Embassy supports the EI Office in Prague and EI is working closely with over 40 Irish companies which have offices in the Czech Republic, operating in real estate, recruitment, plastics, automotive industry supplies, electronics and leisure.  A trade mission to Poland and the Czech Republic was led last May by Minister of State Ged Nash.

Ambassador Anne-Marie Callan in Slovakia is a one-person mission and more than most she appreciated the opportunity of the regional meeting to liaise with colleagues and get a sense from HQ about plans for the future. She is working closely with EI and is focused on construction, start-ups, education links, high tech and RnD (where SFI is helpful). With an EU Presidency on its plate next year, Slovakia is particularly aware of the Brexit debate.

Pat Kelly is our Ambassador in Budapest. He reports that overall trade is relatively healthy at approximately €1.1 bn in trade and services. The Embassy works closely with the EI office (co-located with the Embassy) on maintaining and developing relations with Irish companies active in Hungary, and facilitating new contacts. The Irish Hungarian Business Circle is an important partner and Hungarian appreciation of Irish culture helps open doors.

Discussions between our Ambassadors in the field and the SG and colleague based at headquarters are vital conduits for the Department and for Missions to understand each other’s needs in promoting bilateral relations and trade. So it proved again in Warsaw. Aside from important housekeeping matters such as business planning, HR performance and risk management, discussions focused on how to improve Missions’ capacity to deliver on trade and related objectives such as improved visibility for Ireland in markets that are only one step away from our most important European ones, namely the UK, France, Germany, and Belgium.

A special word of thanks to Gerard Keown, our Ambassador in Warsaw and his team at the Embassy who organised an impeccably run programme and offered warm hospitality.

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

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Trade Better: Inside the Export Trade Council

I attended my first meeting of the Export Trade Council on Tuesday last. There was a full turnout of all five Ministers and related Agencies involved in Ireland’s trade, tourism and investment activities. I was going to write “activities abroad” but in fact that would not quite capture the mandate of the Council or the kind of discussions it generates. The value of the ETC is the upstream coherence it brings at headquarters, a key nexus that facilitates coherence abroad for our agencies and Embassy network, and the involvement of the private sector.

The domestic platform featured in several discussions at the Council, all chaired of course by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan. The discussions were particularly enhanced by the strong representation of the private sector on the Council. One discussion, led by Minister Simon Harris, was on the implementation of the Irish Financial Services 2020 Strategy, an ambitious development of the sector’s international reach aiming to increase employment at home from the current 35,000 to 45,000.

There was a very useful presentation by private sector member Pat Beirne on the future of manufacturing in Ireland. This is a timely subject since manufacturing – a stable of the first industrial revolution – is now featuring again at the forefront of technology thanks to 3-D printing, the “internet of things”, data analytics and changes wrought by the digital revolution to supply chains. What is now being termed the industrial revolution 4.0 is likely to be disruptive with all the challenges and opportunities that presents. Minister Richard Bruton responded to this as well as to the previous Council discussion earlier this year on SME financing.

The Council’s session updating members on current strategies was chaired by Minister Seán Sherlock who has special responsibility for trade in our Department.  Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bía, Culture Ireland, and Science Foundation Ireland all reported positive progress, even in the current challenging global economic climate.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan updated the Council on the forthcoming international education strategy. When you consider that international education is Australia’s fourth largest export, you can see its potential contribution to the Irish economy. She also led on the discussion on bridging the skills gap, a strategically crucial element for the development of our economy.

In the context of the update on the buoyancy in the tourist sector Minister Paschal O’Donohoe opened the discussion on the current uncertainties in the global economy that bear heavily on us given our openness. Minister Simon Coveney noted that fair winds like competitiveness and exchange rates can change: their favourable orientation now gives us a window to drive our exports.  As he pointed out, our future economic resilience is enhanced by diversifying our market outlets, penetrating new markets and growing our market share as widely as possible.

That our export performance is fundamentally based on domestic coherence was summed up by a great initiative underway and beautifully summed up by EI’s Julie Sinnamon as a ‘Trade Mission to Ireland’. It is a joint project by the IDA and EI to explore and exploit opportunities for Irish indigenous companies in our thriving multinational corporation sector so that they can enter the global supply chain via Irish based FDI companies.

The Export Trade Council was established in 2011 to strengthen cooperation and coordination across all Government Departments and State agencies involved in the promotion of trade, tourism and inward investment (FDI). It specifically oversees the implementation of the Government Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy, ‘Trading and Investment in a Smart Economy’, which was published in 2010 and reviewed last year. Given its critical role in ensuring coherence, at the conclusion of this week’s Council, Minister Flanagan invited all members to reflect on the Council’s work to date and to consider how the body can enhance what it does to ensure that Ireland can “trade and trade better.”

Eamonn McKee

DG, Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Irish Economy: A Quick Look at Some Key Figures

Thanks to my colleagues at the Department of Finance, here’s a quick health check of the Irish economy and our public finances.

Growth is expected to exceed 6% in 2015 –the highest in the OECD. Breaking this down shows nominal GDP at 6.9%, real GDP at 4% and real GNP at 3.9%. This puts Ireland at the top of the EU league in growth terms. While estimates are slightly lower for subsequent years – real GNP at 3.5% in 2016 for example – this testifies to a resilient growth glide through to 2020.

Our export growth has been strong this year with second quarter growth of 13.6% in year-on-year terms. Our trade surplus is at near historic highs. While emerging markets are weakening, our traditional partners in the UK, US and EU are performing well, helping to sustain our exports. The lower Euro is also a boost in non-EU markets.

Consumer sentiment in Ireland is at a nine year high, personal consumption is rising, and retail sales are very strong this year, up 9% to end-August year on year. We remain competitive with unit labour costs growth at 2%, well below euro-area average.

Looking at our national finances, it is fair to say that we are back on track after some very tough years. This has come at a price and is thanks to fiscal discipline and public fortitude; namely budget consolidation of €30bn or 17% of GDP over the seven years since 2008. Current figures back up the turnaround in the national accounts, a very significant achievement by any standard and an enhancement of our financial/investment reputation that will stand us in good stead. Ireland is a consistent over-achiever on the excessive deficits targets. An underlying general government deficit of 4.0% of GDP for 2014 was below the target ceiling of 5.1%. The Stability Programme Update forecasts a deficit for 2015 of 2.3% of GDP. Our debt-GDP ratio, which peaked in 2012 at 120%, should hit 100% this year and is on target to achieve 60% over the coming years.

Employment is growing steadily, hitting 3% is the second quarter this year, with unemployment dropping from 12.2% at the start of 2014 to 9.4%.

In short, Ireland continues to progress across four key areas –strong economic growth, increased domestic activity, stable bond yields and improving employment statistics.

There is no room for complacency though. The fair winds of our competitiveness and international exchange rates can change. China and emerging markets are weakening (average growth has declined for the past five years) and the IMF predicts that global growth this year will be the slowest since the crash at 3.1%. Yet the recovery in Ireland is increasingly broad-based, with growth in 12 of 14 sectors. Sustaining this and our robust investment and export performance will define not just our prosperity but our resilience. That topic was a central one in yesterday’s meeting of the Export Trade Council of which more anon.

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Africa Business Forum: Technology Revolutionising African Development

My colleagues and I from Trade Division and Irish Aid attended the Africa Business Forum this morning, kindly hosted by Microsoft at their Sandyford headquarters. The event was organised by the Irish Exporters Association and Emerald Freight and was the fourth of five held this year (the fifth will be on 3rd December). Our MC for the event was Sean Findlay of Geoscience.

From the presentations, it is clear that technology is allowing African countries to leapfrog their economic development: put simply, African economies do not have to replicate the 18th century financial institution building that laid the groundwork for European economic development. In many ways, the private sector – broadly defined to include individuals as economic actors – is forging ahead and dragging government development along with them. The clearest illustration of this is in mobile phones: in African countries it is becoming commonplace for more citizens to have mobile phone than bank accounts. This is opening a huge market for mobile banking and payment services: already 500 million Africans have mobile phones. Since many Africans don’t have proper addresses or social security numbers, mobile phone usage is now serving as a platform for governments to catch-up. To this do, governments need big data analytics, the better to know their populations and make plans accordingly for infrastructure and services.

Marketing and Operations Director at Microsoft, Richard Moore, took us through digital megatrends: namely (i) digital mobility, the capacity to work anywhere anytime with your full office capacity online; (ii) social media, which allows for dialogue between companies and their stakeholders including suppliers and customers; (iii) big data and analytics which is now available to SMEs; and (iv) the Cloud which allows for unprecedented speed, scale and cost savings. The long and the short of it is that the digital revolution is the great leveller between large and smaller companies and between countries at divergent rates of development. This opens up literally a world of opportunity for smart companies.

PwC’s Cian Watson looked at the megatrends in Africa. Half of the world’s population growth to 2050 will be in Africa. Its middleclass is now 313 million and as it is the fastest growing in the world. As it grows so does the market for goods and services that the middle classes everywhere expect and demand. Mobile broadband growth 2013-14 was a staggering 43%. Rapid urbanisation is creating huge opportunities in construction. Again he cited technological breakthroughs as shaping the African business environment with mobile penetration now exceeding landline penetration. Kenya, he noted, was a leader in ICT development and a ready platform for companies looking to have a footprint in Africa. The M-Pesa system allows 18 million Kenyans carry out financial transactions every day.

Harcus Cooper of Barclays showed how traditional modern banking such as the Swift system is evolving through technology to serve African financial services. He cited the fact that 40% of Ugandans have mobile phones but less than 25% have bank accounts. John McNamara of Business Cost Management (BCM), told his story of business development from his home in Limerick to a franchise with over thirty offices in eighteen countries, a twenty year scaling made possible only by the internet and the digital revolution. He told me afterwards that the help of our Embassy in Nigeria was crucial in assisting on due diligence when it came to selecting their Nigerian partner.  If you are doing business in Africa or thinking about it, your first port of call should be to Enterprise Ireland but don’t forget to let the relevant Embassy know:  our diplomats want to know and are keen to help.  Details on our Embassy network are here.

On a housekeeping note, the Irish Exporters Association’s Export Industry Awards 2015 is on 13th November next at the Convention Centre: contact for more details.

Eamonn McKee

Director General | Trade Division | Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade |

2 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2

( Tel: +353 1 408 2718 | * | ::

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A Visit to EI’s International Markets Week

Earlier this week the Minister of State Seán Sherlock, who has special responsibility for trade at the Department, my colleagues here at Trade Division, and myself paid visits to Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week at the RDS. It’s a great event for Ireland’s exporters and potential exporters: they get the chance to meet with EI’s 32 international representatives who cover over 100 markets. I was accompanied by Brendan Flood, Divisional Manager for International Sales and Partnering. It was a great opportunity to meet some of EI’s representatives and indeed some of our exporters. There were specialist desks on global sourcing, capability and mentoring, public procurement, Horizon 2020, and research and innovation. AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank were there to offer advice on capital investment.

What’s often most valuable is what generates surprise. I met for example Thessa Brongers who is EI’s representative in Lagos, Nigeria. Thessa said that the Nigerian economy is taking off and will likely enter the top twenty global economies in the coming years. We talking about a market of 170 million people and a GDP of $522 bn.

The GDP per capita income of $3,700 does not really tell you the full story about market potential. Try these instead; Telecommunications and ICT investments in Nigeria from 2001 to 2013 are estimated to be worth around $25 billion. Active lines for subscribers and data went from 96 million in 2010-11 to 127 million in 2013-2014. There are 45 million mobile phones and with wifi penetration across the country a priority, the potential for devices and the software operating them is vast. Don’t forget too that ICT often leapfrogs in African countries because they provide information and services that public systems can find challenging. Years ago on visit to Sierra Leone I was amazed to see smart-card vendors every couple of miles in what was then a war ravaged country.

In Nigeria, the market for pharmaceuticals is estimated to double from $2.3 billion (2013) by 2016: and this is a highly import-dependent market. With twenty one commercial banks and $135 billion in assets, there are enormous opportunities for financial services in the burgeoning market of financial products and insurance not to mention all the software needed for retail electronic banking, secure payments and database management.

At EI’s International Markets week you can move from these macro-economic teasers to grounded discussions with EI representatives like Thessa about whether the market is right for you and if so where to start. And if you decide to enter a market, don’t forget that the Embassy is always ready to help; our Ambassador in Nigeria is Séan Hoy and you can check out the Embassy’s website here. We’ve been there since 1960 so we know a thing or two about the place!

So if you’re thinking of exporting Enterprise Ireland is there to help and our Embassies are open for you too. Think about putting International Markets Week in your calendar for next year.

Eamonn McKee

DG, Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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