Opinion

St Patrick’s Day: How Ireland’s diplomatic success can light the way for a global Wales

17 Mar 2021 4 minutes Read
Sydney Opera House lit up for St Patrick’s Day. By Mike Young (CC 3.0)

Gemma Annwyn

The streets of Dublin, Cork and Galway may be quiet this St Patrick’s Day, but that won’t prevent the annual ‘Global Greening’ taking place.

It is a tradition of lighting up iconic buildings from around the world, in celebration of the Irish Patron Saint, who is thought to be a shepherd from the coast of Wales.

From the Sydney Opera House to Gwrych Castle in Abergele, well-known attractions will be illuminated all in green, as a recognition of St Patrick’s Day and shining a light on Ireland’s national and cultural identity.

The Global Greening initiative is a powerful symbol of Ireland’s diplomatic soft power and has become a tradition that promotes the Celtic nation far beyond its shores.

As a Welsh woman who has worked for both the Irish and British Foreign Ministries, I have seen the different ways in which each promotes their national identity and culture abroad and have reflected on what Wales could do to project itself internationally.

Ireland’s international branding is a diplomatic success story – almost everywhere you go, people know of the Emerald Isle and its legendary music, literature, and Guinness.

Its diplomatic missions, forming a network of over 80 embassies and consulates, play a vital role in promoting Ireland as a progressive, welcoming society that is open for business, and each year Irish Government Ministers fan out across the world to raise their country’s profile and make invaluable connections with neighbours far and wide.

Ireland’s reputation as a small, Celtic nation that punches above its weight on the international stage is a story that should resonate with Wales’ international policy and offers us an illustration of how we can increase our own visibility across the world.

International Strategy 

To its credit, Wales has been expanding its global footprint in recent years. The 2015 Welsh Government’s first International Strategy signalled a positive move towards a more global outlook and led to the establishment of 21 Welsh overseas offices across 12 countries in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East.

These offices are a crucial component of encouraging trade and investment in Wales and promoting Welsh education, tourism and culture.

But the overseas offices are often hidden away in the corners of vast British Embassies, and they are often neglected or forgotten about. A colleague of mine, who had worked as a British diplomat at the Embassy for over two years, was surprised to discover a Wales office existed in the same building.

Welsh cultural events are overlooked or seen as irrelevant – when preparing for a Scottish Burns Night celebration, my suggestion of incorporating a celebration of Dydd Santes Dwynwen was met with indifference.

Last October, the Welsh Government changed Eluned Morgan’s Cabinet title to ‘Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language Minister’, and transferred her international relations responsibilities to the First Minister.

Although creating a mental health and wellbeing Ministerial position is of crucial importance and is evermore pressing in the era of Covid-19, the move has essentially left us without a Welsh Minister for Foreign Affairs and indicates the de-prioritisation of international relations for the Welsh Government.

A Welsh Minister for International Relations is a fundamental component of promoting Wales on the international stage and developing Wales’ unique international branding.

Wales boasts a wealth of soft power potential – a vibrant cultural scene, innovative trade and investment opportunities, boundless natural beauty and progressive environmental policies.

But we need a Welsh Government that is prepared to enhance the status and visibility of our overseas offices and lead them with a Minister dedicated to building relations with other nations.

On this St Patrick’s Day, as we watch our Castell Coch light up in green, it’s worth considering how we can enhance Wales’ international visibility and push our soft power, taking inspiration from our Irish neighbours.

Who knows, maybe one day countries around the world will light up their buildings in red for St David’s Day?

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