Where Irish people go, they make their mark. They play their part in society and contribute to the economy. The history of Ireland since the middle of the 19th century has been marked by emigration - some voluntary but often involuntary - as Irish people sought opportunity. The scale of this emigration has been remarkable. There are 70 million people worldwide who claim some Irish heritage, with the largest communities in Britain and the United States. This migration has helped to shape the history of many nations, including the UAE.
Tom Barry came to the UAE in the 1970s. He is now CEO of Arabtec Construction, having helped to build the company for more than 30 years. Gerald Lawless, another long-term UAE resident, is now executive chairman of Jumeirah Group, a company that has instant brand recognition the world over. Séamus Byrne founded Byrne Rental, which supplies equipment to concerts and other big events across the country. Colm McLoughlin came to the UAE in the early 1980s to help set up Dubai Duty Free and he is still here, having helped to build the world's largest duty free operation. There are many others like them who have come from Ireland to make lasting contributions to the UAE.
I am delighted to celebrate St Patrick's Day, Ireland's national day, as Ireland's first resident ambassador to the UAE. One month ago today, the UAE's first resident ambassador to Ireland, Khaled Lootah, presented his credentials to the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, completing the exchange of resident embassies between our two countries. This exchange of embassies is a significant step, but it is not the beginning of the relationship. We have some long-standing connections through people and often more visibly, through horses. Ireland was also honoured to be one of the reference points for the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan.
The UAE's ambitious plans for economic growth and expansion have attracted interest from all over the world. These plans have attracted many suitors: individuals, companies and even countries, who want to play their part in this expansion and present themselves as perfect partners. Ireland is anything but a perfect partner. We are a small island, with a small population, on the edge of Europe. We have limited natural resources. Over the last two years, we have faced particular difficulties in the context of the global financial and economic crisis, with a serious knock-on effect on the public finances and the position of our banks.
We have risen to these challenges - the long and short-term ones. In the absence of significant natural resources, we invested in our people through education. Ireland now has one of the most highly skilled, highly educated and productive labour forces in the world. Our energy resources were once thought to be limited but with changing technologies, they can be plentiful. On the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Irish companies are at the forefront of developing the technology necessary to commercialise windpower. Ireland is also a significant global player in the fields of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and commercial services.
Rather than see our geographical position as a disadvantage, we saw Ireland as a gateway to Europe from the west. The US is the single biggest source of foreign direct investment in Ireland. There are now more than 400 US companies in Ireland, employing more than 90,000 people and in the other direction, there are nearly 200 Irish companies operating in the US, employing over 80,000 people. Our success in attracting foreign direct investment has become a model, in particular for similar sized countries. The remarkable transformation of the Irish economy over the last 20 years is continuing, with the government investing heavily in research and development and fourth-level education.
Today there will be major celebrations of St Patrick's Day all around the world. The Sydney Opera House, the London Eye, and the Empire State Building will all go green. The Taoiseach, Ireland's prime minister, will visit the White House. Irish ministers will visit all corners of the world to promote Ireland and to meet and show their support for Irish communities. As part of this, Ireland's attorney general, Paul Gallagher, is visiting the United Arab Emirates this week to show his support for the thousands of Irish who are making their lives here in the UAE. This is just the latest high-level visit from Ireland to the UAE. Our president, Mary McAleese visited last year, and the then Taoiseach (prime minister) visited in 2007.
At the heart of Ireland's development and success over the last 20 years is an openness to the world, and a willingness to look outward for opportunities, for ideas and for partners. We share these strengths with the UAE; the growing friendship between the two nations is a testament to their value. Our openness extends to welcoming visitors. The country has been blessed with a rich and varied landscape, combining lush greenery with a rugged Atlantic coast. These natural advantages have been matched with the finest tourist infrastructure, but more important is the warm welcome our visitors will encounter whether they are visiting the largest cities or smallest villages.
As the UAE opens an embassy in Dublin, and we open our own in Abu Dhabi, the Irish have particular reason for pride this St Patrick's Day. Ciarán Madden is the Republic of Ireland's ambassador to the UAE