|Magnificent landscape: The Lakes of Killarney. — Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland
This year, I will have the honour of representing the Government of Ireland at the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Viet Nam. I am looking forward to meeting the people of Viet Nam, and seeing your beautiful country.
My presence in Viet Nam for this special day for Irish people, and their friends across the globe, underscores the importance the Irish Government places on building our relationship with Viet Nam, as one of the most important and dynamic countries in Asia.
Ireland is successfully working its way out from the legacy of the global economic and financial crisis. We are now well on our way to economic recovery. This year will be the fourth consecutive year of economic growth for Ireland.
Export levels are higher than before the economic crisis, jobs are being created and unemployment is falling. At the end of 2013, we became the first Eurozone country to exit an EU/IMF programme of assistance and we have made a full return to the financial markets.
Trade has been the engine of our economic recovery. Ireland is one of the most open economies in the world, with a strong focus on export-led growth and a young and adaptable workforce. We are the only English-speaking country in the Eurozone, with barrier-free access to 500 million consumers.
More than 1000 companies have chosen Ireland as their strategic base in Europe, with eight of the top 10 global IT firms, nine or the world's top pharmaceutical firms and all 10 of the largest online companies in the world operating from Ireland.
Bilaterally, while there is scope for further growth, our trade with Viet Nam has increased steadily. The figures for 2013 are up 24 per cent over the previous year, with significant increases in both exports and imports.
But Ireland is not just a destination for trade and inward investment. Increasingly, it is a destination for international students, providing educational excellence in a safe English-speaking environment. Ireland combines a long tradition of scholarship with strong links between a dynamic education sector and cutting-edge research and industry.
In addition, this year, as part of our Overseas Development Aid programme in Viet Nam (Irish Aid), we will provide more than 30 scholarships for talented young Vietnamese to study in Ireland. During the next few years, I would like to see more Vietnamese students studying in Irish universities and colleges to build a lasting bridge between our two peoples.
Our friendship with Viet Nam continues to grow stronger and we remain committed to our programme of development co-operation. As well as our scholarship programme, we are working with the Government and people of Viet Nam to help reduce rural poverty, deal with the legacy of conflict and share our economic and business expertise.
St Patrick's Day is a time of celebration in Ireland and for all those of Irish descent and affinity around the world. It is an opportunity to share the best of our culture, music and literature. I am proud to represent Ireland on this special day, and I would like to wish everyone in Viet Nam good health and prosperity – as we say in the Irish language "Beannachtai La Fheile Padraig". — VNS