The Global Irish Network, an initiative that seeks to harness the goodwill of highly successful members of the Irish diaspora and turn them into new economic opportunities, met in the United States for the first time yesterday.

About 60 prominent Irish American guests from the worlds of business and the arts attended the meeting, which was chaired by the Irish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, to discuss proposals on the topic of “Ireland returning to growth.”

In her opening remarks Hanafin said that the point of the network was to promote Ireland as a place to do business, a place to visit, a place to study in, and a place of vibrant cultural activity. “The one thing we all share is that common bond of Irishness, that pride in who we are and where we come from. And our commitment to Ireland,” she added.

The New York gathering grew out of the first Global Irish Economic Forum, which was held at Farmleigh in Dublin in September 2009, with the aim of involving the Irish diaspora in Ireland’s economic recovery.

Dismissing the relentlessly negative tone of recent economic reports about Ireland in the country’s own media, Hanafin said: “If you were to only go by the media reports you’d think we only had a country of difficulties. But in fact Ireland is still a relatively wealthy country, and with that prosperity comes responsibility.”

Ireland, Hanafin noted, receives more direct U.S. investment than Russia and China put together. The United Nations development index has ranked it fifth for quality of life. The World Bank has ranked Ireland in the top 10 countries for ease of doing business. And this year Frommer’s Guide, the international tourism bible, has named Ireland the destination of choice for 2011.

One of the recommendations that came out of the original gathering at Farmleigh, Hanafin said, was that Ireland needed to create a permanent global Irish network. “That’s what has brought you all here today. To date 300 participants from 37 countries have participated in this initiative. All of them are people with a record of high achievement in business or culture.”

Attending the gathering were Dennis Swanson, president of Fox Television; Father Joe McShane, president of Fordham University; Loretta Brennan Glucksman, chairman of the American Ireland Fund; award winning Irish novelist Colum McCann; Darragh McCarthy, managing director of Morgan Stanley; Richard Milner, director of the MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Science; James Quinn, president of Tiffany Company and Ireland’s new Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Byrne.

After Hanafin’s opening remarks participants attended breakout sessions whose themes included driving economic growth, harnessing the Irish cultural identity and restoring Ireland’s reputation and promoting confidence in its recovery.

The global Irish network is about connecting influential Irish people in one global structure, Hanafin said. “We want to promote Ireland’s economic, cultural and tourism messages in key markets. No government has a monopoly on good ideas. Maybe rather than just having talks about the difficulties we’re facing we could also take a minute and look at the strengths that we have.”

The Minister concluded: “The global network will help us reach the most influential Irish business and cultural figures abroad, so that can interact with each other, and be informed of key developments in government policy. And finally it will provide a formal forum where member can put forward proposals and create practical initiatives.”

During the meeting, participants agreed to work with the Irish government through its embassies in Washington and Canada, on initiatives relating to driving economic growth and promoting confidence in the nation’s recovery.