Ireland is a great value for visitors says Irish Ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett
By CATHOLINE BUTLER
VANCOUVER – When Irish Ambassador Ray Bassett visits B.C., he usually has a full schedule and that was the case on his most recent trip to Vancouver. I spoke to him at the Irish seniors’ luncheon on September 9 to ask him about his itinerary.
“My primary purpose was to open an art exhibition by Irish artist Paddy McCann from South Armagh at the Petley Jones Gallery. The exhibit was sponsored by the Irish Arts Council. I have also taken this opportunity to meet more members of the Irish community and to be honest, I would like to visit Vancouver on a regular basis.
“One of our priorities is the whole area of social inclusion of our Irish senior people right around the world and it’s one of the Irish Emigrant Support Grants given by the Irish Government.
“Our seniors are a priority area and it’s terrific to meet them. I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to meet them here at the Irish seniors’ luncheon in Vancouver.
“Tomorrow evening I am meeting with the Irish Women’s Network at a community get- together organized by president Eilis Courtney, so it is a very good opportunity to get to meet other members of the Irish community. The Irish seniors and the art exhibition was the original reason for coming.
“I also operate as Irish Ambassador to the Bahamas and I am meeting with some groups up from the Bahamas at a dinner party and there seems to be some connection between the Bahamas and Canada, since a lot of people with Irish citizenship have retired there.
“I have been to the Bahamas once and we are just about to make an announcement about a new Honorary Irish Consul in Nassau. It is to cater to the growing population and also the growing Irish business interest in the Bahamas.
“There are quite a number of American and Canadians with dual Irish citizenship in the Bahamas and sometimes, when they go down to the Bahamas, they emphasize the Irish part of their citizenship. I imagine there are a few hundred there.”
Speaking about the Irish economic situation in Ireland, Ambassador Bassett said, “things have improved somewhat from last year, and I think stabilization has occurred and all economic indicators are looking good.
“I wouldn’t under estimate in any sense the actual task that we have in front of us still, but I would say that probably the worst is over.
“We are now moving into an area of stabilization and the economy is picking up and there will be growth this year, probably very anaemic growth but there will be growth for the first time since 2007. But, the growth will not be sufficient to make a dent in unemployment, that will have to come in subsequent years.
“One of the bright economic indicators has been the large number of visitors to Ireland, it’s quite clear that there has been a big upsurge in tourists and that could be because we had priced ourselves out of the market and now there is much better value for money in Ireland.
“So, what I am doing is asking Irish people and people of Irish background to make a visit to Ireland, because it’s never been better value and obviously it helps the economy but it also maintains the connections.
“For awhile there prices got out of control and it put people off and Ireland lost its market, but this year there are figures of a 20 percent increase of tourists and that is the reverse of several years of decline.
“I know that visitors from North America is up, I haven’t seen a breakdown of Canadians and Americas, but I am certain that it is up considerably from 2010. It’s part of the turnaround, the export production and the increase in growth are positive indicators that have been occurring.”
Something new from the Embassy of Ireland in Ottawa is the quarterly newsletter with updates on the economic situation in Ireland, tourism and news of Irish communities in Canada.
Ambassador Bassett elaborated on it saying, “As the Irish Ambassador to Canada, I have a huge territory to cover and we were finding that there were communities all over the place that knew nothing about one another.
“For instance, there is a very large Irish community in London, Ontario. Their Irish club has about 600 members, and there is a large Irish community in the north of Prince Edward Island.
“The danger with an Irish newsletter is that it could become a bit of propaganda and you really have to watch that, but at the same time everybody has an agenda and our agenda is to push Ireland’s interests.
“It’s always very easy to take the credit, but I must say that I would give an awful lot of praise to Hilary Reilly, Deputy Head of Mission at the embassy, she was the driving force behind the newsletter.”
The ambassador laughed and said, “the first newsletter was slightly embarrassing, since she wrote so much stuff about me. Hilary’s husband Dan donated a lot of his time and talent free and did the actual graphics on the newsletter.
“So I have to give it to Hilary and Dan for putting that together to be sent out once a quarter.
“We are also conscious that it shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for the indigenous press, that it should be information from the Embassy in support of the press and we put that into our first edition to make sure that the newsletter is seen as that. It’s really to connect people.
“There will be times when we get it wrong, we’ll miss people but over time we’ll get it right. If anyone wants to receive the newsletter, all they have to do is let the Embassy know and we’ll put them on the circuit.
“I noticed that some members of Irish organizations in various parts of Canada are sending the Embassy newsletter out to their members and I have no problem with that.”
To receive the Irish Embassy newsletter, e-mail a request to Paula Molloy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (613) 233-6281.