|Unspoiled beauty: The lakes of Killarney in Ireland. — Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland
(VNS) March 17 is St Patrick's Day, Ireland's national day, and to celebrate the occasion, the country's ambassador Damien Cole writes to Viet Nam News
I am delighted to have the opportunity to send greetings to all the readers of the Viet Nam News. St Patrick's Day is a very special day for Irish people and for the friends of Ireland all around the world. 2013 is also very special year for Ireland.
We are hosting a year-long celebration called The Gathering Ireland 2013, the biggest tourism initiative ever held in Ireland. In 2013 we are more keen than ever to welcome to Ireland our far-flung diaspora and their friends and business contacts. If you would like to visit Ireland again, or to travel there for the first time, we encourage you to visit in 2013.
It is also, of course, the time of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, for the 1st half of 2013. Our Presidency has as its priorities the promotion of stability, jobs and growth. We are looking beyond Europe's borders for opportunities for new engagement with our global partners.
We are prioritising bilateral trade agreements with key partners and are pleased to see the progress in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade negotiations which began in the autumn.
I am happy to say that Ireland – which has endured some difficult times – is firmly on the road to economic recovery. Ireland's economy is making rapid strides, in particular with exports which are now at a higher level than before the global economic crisis.
Last year was the best in a decade for net job creation from inward investment. Ireland is further cementing its position as a world leader in sustainable food and drink production, with exports in the agri-food sector alone increasing 28 per cent over the past three years.
This year, we intend to be the first EU/IMF programme country in the Eurozone to make a sustained return to the sovereign bond market. This progress is the result of collective national determination and sacrifice. Challenges remain but we are on the right track.
Bilaterally, while there is scope for further growth, our trade with Viet Nam has increased steadily. The figures for 2012 are up 24 per cent over the previous year, with significant increases in both exports to Viet Nam and imports from Viet Nam.
As well as a tourism destination, Ireland is a destination for international students, providing education excellence in a safe, English-speaking environment. Since 2007, Ireland has provided over 60 scholarships for talented Vietnamese to undertake post-graduate study in Ireland in a wide range of topics, and we intend to increase the number of scholarships available this year.
We are delighted to continue building our relationship with our Vietnamese partners to develop educational links between our two countries, and to highlight the opportunities Ireland offers as a top-class educational destination for talented Vietnamese students.
Our friendship with Viet Nam continues to strengthen and we remain committed to our programme of development co-operation. The past year has seen an intensification of our relations at high level, with an ever higher number of ministerial visits. These included visits by Ireland's Minister for Trade and Development, Mr Joe Costello TD, to Vietnam in October and a visit by our Minister for Training and Skills, Mr Ciaran Cannon, in December.
From Vietnam, we were pleased to welcome two ministerial delegations – Minister for Justice Mr Ha Hung Cuong visited Ireland in September and Minister for Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh visited Ireland in late February. These visits helped further promote our bilateral relations, and build knowledge-sharing links between Irish and Vietnamese institutions responsible for education, economic, monetary, investment and private sector development policy.
A special mention must go to the very impressive Vietnamese athletes on the Paralympic team, who we were delighted to host in Ireland for training prior to the Paralympic Games. I look forward to further exchanges between our two countries over the course of 2013.
Personally, the last year has been a very rewarding and enjoyable one for me, as my family and I have had a chance to explore Viet Nam's beautiful countryside and experience the warm hospitality of her people. I would like to wish everyone in Vietnam good health and prosperity on the occasion of St Patrick's Day – as we say in the Irish language "Beannachtai La Fheile Padraig". — VNS