x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Irish ambassador upbeat on enterprise economy

Ireland's ambassador to the UAE says the nation is open for business as usual, despite its financial crisis.

Ireland is "open for business as usual" despite its financial crisis, says Ciaran Madden, the country's ambassador to the UAE.

"There are two sides to Ireland's problems," said Mr Madden. "The fiscal economy is in difficulties but the enterprise economy is still strong."

He was speaking publicly for the first time since the Irish government agreed to accept a vital bailout of up to €90 billion (Dh437.83bn) from international monetary authorities.

Ireland has sought stronger political and economic ties with the Middle East for some time and opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi this year. Irish ministers have paid four visits to the UAE recently.

"We have big difficulties in the financial sector, there is no escaping that but what we call the 'enterprise economy' - the multinational and indigenous businesses that are the real driving force - are still strong," Mr Madden said.

He pointed out that Irish exports had risen 6 per cent this year and that 75 foreign companies had invested in Ireland, of which 25 were first-time investments.

"People will still want to come to Ireland for the same reasons as before: we have an educated, English-speaking population, with access to the EU," Mr Madden said. "Those facts will not change."

He said it was crucial Ireland had kept the 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate, making it one of the most attractive places in Europe for foreigners to do business. "That is essential to our recovery."

There has been speculation that the country's financial problems would lead to an increase in emigration to the Middle East.

"So far, we have not seen Irish people coming to the UAE in greater numbers than before but it has been a destination for Irish expatriates for some time now anyway and that will continue to be the case," Mr Madden said.

He said the Gaelic sports club in Al Ain had been unable to field a football team this year but now it had a full complement, thanks largely to the Irish construction staff working on the Oasis Hospital being built there.

"Irish people will bring those kinds of construction skills to the UAE, as well as expertise in other areas like teaching and financial services," Mr Madden said. There are about 5,000 Irish citizens in the UAE and 50 Irish companies operating here.

"Ireland will be an even more attractive place for visitors, be it for tourism or business," he said. "Without diminishing the pain of what people are going through, the country is not a bleak wasteland."