Ministerial visits like ‘gold dust’ for Irish businesses in Asia

Delegation hears that Singapore has become an important launch pad for Irish companies in region

Visits by Irish Government ministers to Asia are “gold dust” for Irish businesses operating in the region, helping them to “punch above their weight” in those markets in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, an Irish delegation has heard.

Senior Government figures, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, have visited key cities across the continent on trade missions in the past year.

Singapore, an important launch pad for many Irish businesses in Asia, has been near the top of the agenda in a region that has largely shaken off the worst effects of the pandemic.

The island city-state is this week hosting a group of more than 90 Irish executives who are attending the annual EY Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) chief executive retreat.


On Tuesday, the group – which includes the 24 finalists in this year’s competition along with former finalists and winners – heard from a panel that included Philip Eden, executive vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region at Dermot Desmond’s Intuition Publishing.

With offices in Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore and the US, the Dublin-headquartered e-learning company has, said Mr Eden, used “the Irish connection” to break into new markets. “Where we can’t, we need to have the cultural-facing representatives who will work with partners, or associations or governments,” he said.

As such, in-person events attended by senior political figures can help to break down cultural differences in Asian markets for Irish companies in a part of the world where businesses are “quite government-orientated”, Mr Eden said.

“It enables us to punch above our weight, which is kind of an Irish theme as well,” he told the delegation.

Another speaker on the panel, Kevin Ryan, southeast Asia regional director for Enterprise Ireland, said: “Having ministers of the day come out, or [taoisigh] or the Tánaiste, the difference that makes in the world down here, it’s just gold dust for us. It’s something that we never underestimate and companies, thankfully, get the benefit of it.”

David Monaghan, managing director of PM Group’s local operation, said Singapore was an obvious choice of location when the Irish-owned engineering and project management company was looking to expand in the region.

“Singapore was the first office followed by China,” he said, adding that the similarities between Ireland and Singapore are hard to ignore, both being English-speaking “gateways to two massive trading blocs”.

But “culturally”, he said, “there are massive differences”, particularly when it comes to doing business in countries neighbouring Singapore such as Malaysia and Vietnam. He advised Irish firms looking to set up shop in the region to “invest in some sort of basic training or education rather than parachuting your team in”.

The EOY delegation will hear from more local entrepreneurs over the coming days and attend a reception at Irish Ambassador Sarah McGrath’s residence.

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times