Irish Ambassador Feeney: 20 Landmarks in Bulgaria will Light Up in Green for St. Patrick's Day #AmbassadorTalks
Today is St. Patrick's Day - a cultural and religious holiday celebrated annually on March 17th, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The day is a national holiday in Ireland and is also celebrated in many other parts of the world, particularly by Irish diaspora communities. The holiday is typically associated with the color green, shamrocks, and parades. In Ireland, it is a day of religious observance, with many people attending church services and engaging in quiet reflection. However, in other parts of the world, the day is often celebrated with lively festivities, including parades, parties, and events featuring Irish food, drink, and music. This includes Bulgaria where some places are lit with green and in some pubs, people celebrate the event and infuse some Irish culture into the Balkan country.
What better way for us to celebrate this holiday than an interview with the Irish Ambassador to Bulgaria, Her Excellence Martina Feeney.
1. What is your opinion on the bilateral political and business relations between Bulgaria and your country?
Ireland and Bulgaria established diplomatic relations over thirty years ago and relations between our two countries are excellent. We are small countries at the Eastern and Western borders of the continent but we are both Member States of the European Union and this has enabled the development of close political and economic links.
2. What kind of improvement of these relations do you see in the near future and also long term?
As fellow EU Member States, Ireland and Bulgaria have many opportunities to work together and to collaborate on shared challenges. With the end of COVID related restrictions there is great potential for resuming in-person contacts and I would like to see increased numbers of Bulgarian and Irish people visiting each other’s countries and seeking out trade, investment and study opportunities.
3. In your humble opinion, what is the place of Bulgaria in the modern world?
This year Ireland is celebrating 50 years of membership in the European Union. The EU has been a catalyst in the creation of the prosperous and progressive Ireland we have today. Bulgaria chose the same path when it joined the EU in 2007 and it too has the same opportunities to effect a positive transformation.
I believe that the best way to address the shared challenges faced by the world today, including the impact of climate change, international conflict, terrorism and migration, is for nations to work together in an integrated, international way. This is how small countries such as Bulgaria and Ireland, which are committed to the values of democracy and the rule of law, can play a big role.
4. If you want to promote Bulgaria to investors from your country, what would be the 5 most important advantages you would mention?
As EU Member States, Bulgaria and Ireland share the advantage of access to the Single Market. Where Bulgaria differs is in its geographic location with proximity to the countries of the Western Balkans, Turkey and beyond offering possibilities for external trade. Bulgaria has a low cost base and, like Ireland, has a competitive and predictable corporation tax regime. Looking ahead, the reforms associated with accession to the Eurozone and the OECD can have a beneficial impact on Bulgaria’s attractiveness for inward investors.
5. Do you think Bulgaria can improve its image or branding and if yes - do you have an idea or advice you could share with us?
Many Irish tourists are familiar with Bulgaria’s Black Sea and winter ski resorts. However, there is so much more to this country, particularly your unspoilt natural landscape and important sites of historic and cultural significance.
Ireland has had a lot of success in recent years in promoting compelling holiday experiences such as the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and Hidden Heartlands so I would encourage Bulgaria to look beyond the “usual suspects” and think about showcasing some of your lessor known but equally stunning attractions.
Photo: Facebook Embassy of Ireland Sofia
6. What would be the 3 most important events for your Embassy until the end of this year?
2023 is a year of significant anniversaries for Ireland. It marks the centenary of Ireland joining the League of Nations as an independent country and the 50th anniversary of Ireland becoming a Member State of the European Union. In April this year, we will also mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a transformative moment in the history of our island.
I am delighted that for the first time since I came to Bulgaria, this year we will be able to celebrate the feast of St Patrick, our national day, in person. In May we will launch an exhibition to mark 50 years of EU Membership and we are collaborating with a number of regional libraries to host a series of exhibitions on well-known Irish writers including James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. We also hope to launch a new exhibition on our most recent Nobel literary laureate Seamus Heaney.
Photo: Facebook Embassy of Ireland Sofia
7. How deep has the COVID pandemic affected the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and your country?
In 2020, Ireland and Bulgaria celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations. We had planned a full series of events and visits and sadly these had to be cancelled because of COVID. However bilateral relations between our two countries are excellent and thankfully we are now in the happy position of being able to renew people-to-people contacts.
8. What advice can you give to Bulgarians who want to do business with people from your country?
Ireland is consistently ranked as one of the best countries in which to invest and do business. Ireland is a dynamic, competitive, productive and globally connected country, with a strong entrepreneurial and innovative culture, where enterprise is valued for creating quality jobs and for driving sustainable growth.
Ireland remains a strong and attractive location for investment and international business. 20 of the top 25 Financial Services companies, 17 of the top 20 global banks, 9 of the world’s top 10 global pharmaceutical firms, 9 of the top 10 US technology companies, and 14 of the Top 15 Med Tech companies all call Ireland home. We also continue to host many of the world’s leading companies - Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Apple – as well as many other significant international companies.
Companies are drawn by our young, highly educated, highly skilled, multi-lingual work force, our membership of the European Union, the strong base of existing Foreign Direct Investment companies, the proximity to the European market, a consistent and stable business environment, a much improved cost competitiveness, and a safe and secure Common Law jurisdiction.
Ireland is favourably located in that it straddles the trading day in both the US and Asia, bolstering the advantage to financial services companies operating in Ireland. This, combined with EU membership and our US pre-clearance designation, enhances the ease of doing business globally.
Photo: Facebook Embassy of Ireland Sofia
9.Tell us about yourself - what was your professional diplomatic career, how long have you been in Bulgaria, and what are the most fascinating places or even dishes for you in Bulgaria?
I have been a career diplomat for over 30 years and have served in Austria and Germany as well as heading up Ireland’s Representative Office in Palestine. Prior to taking up duty in Bulgaria, I was the Human Rights Director at Headquarters in Dublin. I am honoured to represent my country and to promote its values and interests and I hope to do it for many more years to come.
Because of the COVID pandemic, I was very limited in where I could go and what I could do in my first two years in Bulgaria. However, I am now busy making up for lost time. I am fascinated by Bulgaria’s wonderful landscape, especially its mountains. A special moment for me was visiting the final resting place of James Bourchier, perhaps the most well-known Irish person man in Bulgaria, in the peaceful surroundings of Rila Monastery.
I am also working my way through the Bulgarian menu and so far my favourite dish is banitsa.
10. Ireland is part of the Eurozone but not part of Schengen. As you know, Bulgaria’s membership in both has been delayed for the time being. What do you think of this current situation?
Ireland was among the first group of countries to adopt the euro and we appreciate the economic benefits that accrue from membership. Irish Minister for Public Expenditure, Pascal O’Donoghue currently chairs the Eurogroup and we support Bulgaria’s aspirations to join. I know that the major political parties here are committed to this objective and would hope that the next National Assembly will prioritise the legislation required. A key consideration is that if the transition from the Lev to the Euro is to succeed, the support of the Bulgarian people will be vital. In this regard, the next government will no doubt put in place an effective public campaign presenting accurate information and highlighting the benefits of membership.
As you point out, Ireland is not a member of the Schengen. However, we are fully aware of the importance Bulgaria attaches to joining the group.
11. Ireland has a long-standing tradition on St. Patrick's Day of lighting the buildings of iconic cultural institutions around the world with green lights. Which will be the Bulgarian buildings that will light up in green this year on the evening of March 17?
There is a long tradition of celebrating St Patrick’s Day not only in Ireland but around the world. The first St Patrick’s Day parades took place in the United States over two hundred years ago and nowadays we invite the global community join us in celebrating all things Irish.
One way we do this is with our global greening programme and I am delighted that this year 20 buildings in Bulgaria will light up in green for St Patrick’s Day. These include the Tsaravets fortress in Veliko Tarnovo and the Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv as well as the National Library and the Ballet and Opera House here in Sofia.
Photo: Facebook Embassy of Ireland Sofia
12. Irish whiskey and Irish beer are well-known and loved in Bulgaria. But what about Bulgarian wine and rakia in Ireland? Our alcohol and spirits are well known around the world, have they reached Dublin, in your opinion?
Bulgarian wine is increasingly available in Ireland. I am very happy that Irish beer and whiskey are extremely popular here. We are very proud of the quality of our food and drink products and our aim is to increase consumption of both in the years ahead.
13. If you must describe Bulgaria in just three words, what would they be?
Bulgaria has an amazing landscape, a rich cultural tradition and wonderful food and drink.
Novinite's “Ambassador Talks” is a series of interviews with ambassadors or heads of missions accredited to Bulgaria. Our goal: to understand their point of view on current developments - both domestic, bilateral and international. In addition, our guests have the opportunity to promote their country and share information about future events regarding their embassies. You can read our interviews from season 2022 here.
Representatives of Embassies based in Bulgaria can contact Novinite for more information at Office@novinitegroup.com
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