Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen says "there has never been a better time to visit Ireland for business or pleasure" than right now.

Cowen was speaking Friday night at a Chicago dinner in his honor shortly after he arrived for the city's Saint Patrick's Day parade.

Referring to changed economic times which have hit Ireland hard, Cowen stated "a lot has changed since I stood here in 2007. We’ve all been rocked by financial shock waves on a global scale." But the silver lining is that with the Euro devalued, there has never been a better time to visit Ireland for business or for pleasure."

He also said Chicago was a key destination for Irish business.

"This is not a flyover zone for us, but a key destination," Cowen told attendees at the Irish Fellowship Club at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.

On Saturday, he led the downtown parade on his way to Wednesday’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House.

Cowen also met with Cardinal Francis George at the Friday night dinner. George  gave Catholic attendees a special dispensation to allow them to enjoy a steak dinner despite the fact it was a Friday during Lent.

Mayor Richard Daley, who has roots in County Waterford, was seated to Cowen’s left.

Cowen will be followed to Chicago by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who arrive on Sunday to make a business and tourism pitch for Northern Ireland.

The two men, from opposite sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian and cultural divide, will also talk about the state of the peace process.


Does Taoiseach Brian Cowen have the will to make the cuts needed to steer the Irish economy back on track?