DUBLIN – Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny is leading a global St. Patrick’s Day charm offensive that seeks to woo investment from the United States, China and other countries to debt-crippled Ireland.
Kenny arrived Friday in Chicago to begin a five-day U.S. visit that concludes Tuesday with St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the White House. The Washington events are happening three days late because this year the March 17 holiday falls on a weekend.
Kenny has deployed 16 of his government’s ministers to Canada, China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, nine European neighbors and several other American cities.
Most of his other 13 ministers are presiding over the dozens of parades, performances and celebrations at home, particularly in Dublin, where a four-day festival started Friday.
The Irish are struggling to reverse 14.4 percent unemployment, slow a renewed wave of emigration and rebuild a battered credit rating that forced the country to negotiate a humiliating 2010 bailout.
“Now is the time to invest in Ireland’s recovery,” Kenny said. “The government will use the unique global opportunity of St. Patrick’s Day to bring that message to all our key global markets and to Ireland’s many friends around the world.”
Ireland’s diplomatic efforts are double the size of St. Patrick’s Day missions last year, when Kenny had just taken power following a landmark election that devastated the previous government. It was blamed for leading Ireland to the brink of bankruptcy by fueling a runaway construction market fed by tax breaks and cheap credit from Ireland’s ill-regulated banks.
Economists agree that Ireland’s recovery depends on whether the U.S. economy gets rolling again. Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Friday if U.S. economic growth expands, Ireland’s economy should “take off like a rocket.”