British Columbia

The Irish are coming

The looming prospect of Brexit is an opportunity for growth in the country's culture and trade relationships with Western Canada said the Irish minister for International Development who is visiting Vancouver and Calgary over the St. Patrick's Day weekend.

Brexit an 'opportunity' to increase B.C.-Ireland partnerships, says Irish minister

Áine Coady (left) and Siobhan Young are both young Irish entrepreneurs. Coady started the first Vancouver Irish Film Festival in 2018 and Young runs an Irish food import business. (Jennifer Wilson / CBC News)

The looming prospect of Brexit is not purely an economic concern for Ireland, it is an opportunity for growth in the country's culture and trade relationships with Western Canada, said the Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, who is visiting Vancouver and Calgary over the St. Patrick's Day weekend.

Minister Ciarán Cannon said his government is approaching Brexit and the potential economic impacts on Ireland as an incentive to better position Ireland's relationship to Canada.

Promoting Ireland's assets to Canadian markets is a key element of that strategy.

"Post-Brexit, we will be the only English-speaking common-law country in the whole of the European Union," Cannon said.

"We constantly position Ireland as that launch pad into one of the wealthiest markets in the world."

Why will Ireland be affected?

When the results of the U.K.'s referendum on Brexit were announced in 2016, an Irish Times columnist called the British decision to leave the European Union, "The worst thing that could happen," to Ireland.

This sentiment echoed the fears that many in the Irish government and trade sectors have expressed since Brexit became a likely reality.

The U.K. is one of Ireland's biggest trading partners. Of the seven million hectares of land that make up the Republic of Ireland, five million are dedicated to farming and agriculture. Half of Irish beef and cheese exports and 95 per cent of mushroom exports go to the U.K.

The continued uncertainty over how the U.K. will manage its exit from the Eurozone has made things difficult for food and farming industries trying to plan for potential changes to tariffs, customs procedures and employment law.

The Irish government's current mantra in the face of ongoing delays and uncertainty is diversification of markets.

Ciarán Cannon, Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, tells a diaspora crowd in Vancouver that closer ties with B.C. are an opportunity for Ireland ahead of St. Patrick's Day 2019.

The B.C.-Ireland connection

Lar Quigley of the Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce said he sees Cannon's visit to B.C.and Alberta and the inauguration of the new Irish Consulate in Vancouver this week as a recognition of the growth of Irish business networks in Western Canada.

Quigley said B.C. and Ireland have many economic similarities that make them natural business partners.

Ireland's economy has been the fastest growing in the E.U. for the last four years and the country has a strong but emerging tech and start-up sector.

According to the most recent census there are around 15,000 people of Irish descent in BC and one in seven Canadians claims Irish ancestry according to Jim Kelly the Irish ambassador to Canada.

In the Metro Vancouver area community organizers like  Elis Courtney have noticed anecdotally an increase in young Irish people. 

Galvanizing the growing but scattered Irish diaspora in British Columbia is another method the Irish government is exploring to connect Western Canadian markets to Irish businesses.

What are B.C.'s Irish up to?

Eilis Courtney of the Irish Women's Network of B.C. is a lead organizer on the Chamber of Commerce's Irish community mapping project. She has lived in B.C. for 30 years and said it's been hard to track how many Irish people have lived and worked in the province in the absence of a central hub.

Members of B.C.'s Irish community tend to be young, mobile and transient Courtney said, making networking a tough task without a community focal point like the new consulate.

Community mapping is a way to find out who is in the area and what industries they are working in in order to harness community resources for further trade and business opportunities in the future according to Quigley.

The Irish government is currently working on it's new Canada-Ireland strategy that will focus on building trade and investment partnerships until 2025.

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