4 May 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The antennae of journalists locally have long had the tendency to twitch with the tremor of suspicion when the subject of developing the links between Co Monaghan and its connections with various outposts of population in other parts of the world has arisen.
This instinctive response derives from the receptive scepticism that is the rightful manifestation of the media’s duty as guardian of the public interest.
Cultivating relationships with communities abroad is a good idea, but it often entails the expenditure by public authorities of public money – and when such money is spent on sending politicians outside the country to pursue promotional objectives, concern has understandably arisen as to the value of such enterprises, even when times were better and money more plentiful than the present.
Many a news story has been written and broadcast that has used the word ‘junket’ to describe such ambassadorial missions, and the public’s cynicism about the doings of politicians, be they local councillors or Government Ministers, has been reinforced as a result.
There is little doubt that in some cases, money has been and continues to be spent frivolously by both local authorities and governments on this sort of exercise – conference expenditure by Co and Town Councils, for example, while much more restrained now than it was a decade or so ago, still persists at a level in blithe ignorance of the communication technology facilities enabling participation in such events to be conducted remotely with little or no diminishment of their educational or information-gathering purpose.
But there are instances when the international adventures of our local politicians have proved in the long term to be sound enough investments.
An example is the significant cultural, and growing economic, bonds that have been forged between this county and areas of Canada where there are strong Monaghan connections – stemming from the settlement there of many people from the northern part of our county in particular from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.
An occasion for renewed reflection on the value of these links arose when the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Loyola Hearn, fulfilled a number of engagements here last week, concluding with a civic reception in his honour hosted by Monaghan Town Council.
The presence of the Ambassador in our county – as well as previous visits by both himself and predecessors in the post – itself goes a long way to legitimising the pursuit of the Monaghan-Canada connection.
No responsible holder of an important diplomatic position would devote the time that recent Canadian Ambassadors have given to Co Monaghan if the activity did not conform to the function of his office to better international relations and explore avenues of mutual benefit to his host and home countries.
That Ambassador Hearn shares his predecessors’ conviction of the value of this connection was evident from his address in the Town Hall meeting chamber.
The Ambassador, pointedly, emphasised the massive and relatively untapped natural resource potential of his own country, suggesting some of the opportunities on offer to young Co Monaghan people who might be contemplating Canada as an employment destination.
This country’s historical experience of emigration has imbued the word with negative, even shameful, connotations.
The growing inevitability that many in education at present will have to leave our shores to find immediate fulfilment of their career ambitions is cited as one of the more unpalatable manifestations of our current economic difficulties.
But the Ambassador forthrightly cut through this negative perception with the comment: “You do not lose your young people if there is nothing here for them at the present time…If they go away and bring back their experience, with new ideas to start up business, you will benefit in the future.”
One of the criticisms generated by the Monaghan-Canada connection when it was first seriously and methodically pursued in the mid-1980s was that it did not immediately yield the treasure trove of major inward investment that some had – rather naively, perhaps – claimed would flow from it.
What has ensued, however, is a mutual consciousness of commonalities that, at this particular point in the economic development of both nations, might considerably advantage those from Co Monaghan who decide to pursue the path of short-term emigration to Canada with a view to storing up a trove of knowledge and experience that could be profitably invested in their home place at a future point in their career trajectory.
It this way, many of our young population, and the county as a whole in the future, could enjoy both a cultural and practical prosperity from the transatlantic bonds the Ambassador is evidently committed to reinforcing.
Of course, quite a significant, and growing, economic dividend is being enjoyed already by our hospitality sector from the steady annual influx of Canadian visitors wishing to explore their roots and who are including Monaghan as a tour destination.
This is a dimension of the tourist industry in the county deserving of much greater promotional focus but one, given the frustrations expressed recently by the Sinn Féin public representative Sean Conlon, that the statutory agencies in this sector have not fully grasped.
Given the overlapping and unwieldy nature of the structures employed to promote Ireland as a tourist destination abroad, such difficulties are perhaps understandable, and are not insurmountable if addressed by sheer persistence, as Colr Conlon has demonstrated by being able to announce at last week’s Town Council reception that Tourism Ireland will support Co Monaghan promotional efforts at the annual Miramichi Festival in Canada.
A useful focus for similar endeavour by local public representatives and tourism activists should also be the discussions referred to by Ambassador Hearn which are to take place with the major airlines to convince them to establish more direct flights between Ireland and Canada, thus opening up vital linkages for the expansion of both tourism and commercial exchanges.
Although Co Monaghan’s Canadian connection was derided by some at the time of its inception, it has matured into a worthwhile investment which has not yet reached its fullness.
The Ambassador’s visit has pointed to some of the ways in which it can be further developed – and, as a template, the linkage has other potentially rewarding applications.
As was highlighted at a recent meeting of Monaghan Co Council, there are Co Monaghan Associations based in a number of major urban centres in the UK, the USA and elsewhere which offer a rich but relatively untapped resource for the promotion of Monaghan business and tourism abroad, and perhaps also the pursuit of investment opportunities here for altruistically minded Monaghanies who have prospered in their adopted homelands.
When pursued in a responsible and focussed fashion, our connections abroad are valuable ones.
In these difficult times for our home economy, their potential should not be neglected.

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