A very polite but powerful revolution has been taking place in Irish diplomacy over the last 10 years, making it one of the most influential countries in the world.
In fact, the highly respected international finance magazine The Economist, says that per head of population it has a good claim to be the “world’s most diplomatically powerful country”.
What! Tiny little Ireland? Well, we’ve always punched about our weight, but it seems that recently we’ve been excelling ourselves.
The first and most obvious sign is that Ireland has got lots of people in top jobs around the world.
It has just won a seat on the United Nations Security Council, beating off competition from the much bigger but friendly rival Canada.
Former Irish trauma surgeon Michael Ryan is executive director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme, leading the team responsible for the international containment and treatment of COVID-19. President Trump may not like the WHO, but it has enormous clout across the world.
Philip Lane, former head of Ireland’s Central Bank, is now the main brain behind the all-powerful European Bank. Paschal Donohoe beat French and German candidates to become president of the Eurogroup, the influential club of euro-zone finance ministers.
Ireland’s European Union commissioner Phil Hogan oversees EU trade deals and so will have a big say on how Brexit negotiations with Britain play out.
Speaking of Brexit, Ireland was able to use its growing political clout to ensure there would be no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Ireland simply said no way and the rest of the EU stood with them. It was a stance that greatly angered the British and contributed to the removal of Theresa May as Prime Minister.
The make-up of the European Union also helps Ireland and Irish diplomacy. Each of the 27 countries has a veto when it comes to decision making on major issues. It means that small countries like Ireland can use that veto to wield as much influence as more powerful economies like Germany and France.
Of course, the veto is rarely used. Hardly any country uses it on a regular basis but the very fact it exists means that each country, large or small, has a major say in the negotiations that go into every decision. If a country like Ireland feels it is not being heard, the threat of the veto is usually enough to make opponents listen more carefully.
It’s meant that Ireland has benefited enormously from EU membership, not just economically but in terms of its diplomatic clout across the world. A country that has a major say in the decisions of the European Union, the riches trading bloc in the world, has to be taken seriously by everyone.
Ireland doesn’t only have powerful friends in Europe. Its influence in the United States may be less tangible but it is still real, thanks mainly to the votes of the millions of Irish Americans.
While this group are Americans first and foremost, they retain a soft spot for the land of their forefathers and no American politician can afford to forget that. Most US presidents of the last 50 years have either found themselves an Irish ancestor, visited Ireland or found some reason or other to lavish praise on Ireland.
The Irish American lobby are so important that the Irish Taoiseach gets a special audience with the president in the White House every St Patrick’s Day. No other foreign leader gets such an automatic honour, providing the Irish with an opportunity to raise matters of interest in Washington but also giving them a platform to get their message across to the American audience.
The special relationship between Ireland and the United States can also be seen in the number of major American companies who have set up their European HQs in Dublin and around the rest of the country.
Let’s not get too sentimental; the low tax regime helps, plus access to the lucrative single market of the European Union, but there’s also the shared language, similar cultures and shared heritage.
Another reason for Ireland’s influence and even popularity across the world is that it has no embarrassing historical baggage. We didn’t invade and loot other counties to create an empire, and as a neutral country, we haven’t embroiled ourselves in foreign wars inspiring resentment and terrorist retaliation.
Every little helps to make Ireland a significant player on the world stage in a way that would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago. Who knows what the next 20 years will bring?
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