Ireland set to open first consulate in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 4:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 4:46am

Ireland will open its first diplomatic mission in Hong Kong this year in a bid to increase its presence in Asia amid its recovery from one of the country's darkest economic periods in recent history.

"Part of our recovery strategy is to look at key parts of the world where we want to professionalise and deepen our reputation," said Brendan Howlin, the country's Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The consulate will be staffed by a consul general and deputy consul with two or three local support staff. No date has been set for the official opening.

The former teacher was in Hong Kong last night to attend the annual St Patrick's Day ball in Wan Chai and meet members of the local Irish community, which numbers around 3,000.

In mainland China there are about 2,000 Irish nationals, mainly living in Beijing and Shanghai.

Howlin identified tourism as a key growth area as last year Ireland had just 18,000 visitors from mainland China and Hong Kong out of a total of eight million tourists.

Education was another target area, he said. Currently, there are about 2,500 students from China in Ireland, with about the same number of Irish students in China.

"We haven't been as proactive in selling the country," Howlin said, as the country had been focused on its economic problems.

"There is now international confidence and certainly market confidence that Ireland's recovery is well under way, if not substantially completed," Howlin said.

He admitted that they were "playing catch-up" in terms of strengthening ties with China and other parts of Asia, with a new embassy set to open in Jakarta this year.

Ireland is hoping to increase exports to China of Irish cheeses, butter and milk, as well as Guinness and Irish whiskey.

"We see China as the emerging world's largest economy and with terrific growth rates of 7.5 per cent, we look enviously at it."

While Ireland may be green with envy at China's growth rates, the Emerald Isle will make its own mark on China tomorrow when a section of the Great Wall will be bathed in green light to mark St Patrick's Day.