Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Irish lawmakers impressed by visit, urge stronger ties

By Bryan Harris  /  Staff reporter

A visiting parliamentary delegation from Ireland yesterday spoke with admiration for Taiwan and great enthusiasm for the potential of relations between Taiwan and Ireland.

The delegation, comprised of seven parliamentarians from both the upper and lower houses of the Oireachtas, referred to Taiwan as the “hidden gem” of Asia and vowed to do their utmost to promote greater cultural, economic and civic ties and encourage a greater awareness of Taiwan within Irish society.

Citing a number of recent successful bilateral diplomatic and cultural developments, such as a working-holiday exchange program that began this month, the lawmakers emphasized that the stage was being set for a broader and more holistic relationship.

“The main reason for our work here in Taiwan over the last week is to promote good relationships between Taiwan and Ireland and central to that is the working holiday visa,” delegation chairman and former Irish minister of state John McGuinness said.

“We’re anxious that young people will experience our country and that young people from our country will travel here and have a positive experience, so that we can grow the relationship in terms of understanding, which will lead to trade and improvements in education,” he said.

“It is an important step for a general working relationship between both countries,” he said, adding that the respective ministries in both countries are encouraging more youths to travel to the other country.

McGuinness acknowledged that trade relations are a fraction of what they could be and suggested that the promotion of “Irishness” in Taiwan, by way of celebrating the likes of St. Patrick’s Day, could pave the way for enhanced business opportunities. In particular, there is room for greater congruence in the pharmaceutical, technology and agri-food industries, McGuinness said.

The delegation spent the past week visiting government agencies and trade offices, but also made time to experience the nation’s cultural and scenic hot spots, and spoke of Taiwan’s natural beauty and hospitable people.

“There is a lack of knowledge and understanding of Taiwan [in Ireland] and we hope to break down those barriers and improve in a positive way that understanding,” McGuinness said.

Asked how Ireland could continue to promote full-spectrum relations after the downsizing of its representative office last year, the delegation was adamant about putting the closure in context. In the wake of the deep 2009 recession, Ireland was faced with severe budgetary cutbacks that resulted in the undesired closure of a number of Irish diplomatic missions, including the Holy See, McGuinness said.

However, Ireland will seek to strengthen its presence within the representative office of the EU in Taiwan, he added.

“We believe that if we are sincere in our position regarding trade and investment, we have to have a presence [in Taiwan],” McGuinness said. “We are determined to make the case to [the Irish] government to ensure this area of representation is revisited.”

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