St. Patrick's Day is tomorrow, which means that half the elected representatives of Ireland are outside the country today.

Government ministers have been dispatched to the four corners of the globe to meet and greet members of the Irish diaspora as well the political and business elite at each destination. This annual exodus of our government always elicits comments from the press about the waste of money, that these trips are all about the minsters' own pleasure and there's precious little in it for us taxpayers. They're on "jaunts" or "junkets", what have you. {Read this for an example of what I'm talking about.}

I'm all in favor of fiscal rectitude in government, especially because they're spending my money. To that end, the luxuries that the various cabinet ministers and their entourages have lavished upon themselves during these trips in previous years have rightly been reined in by Brian Cowen. However, to put an end to these trips as some would like would be wrong. It seems pretty obvious to me that overall that these trips are important and that this is money that should be spent.

St. Patrick's Day is unique. What other nation's national holiday is celebrated with such fervor around the world? What other nation of five million people can command the attention of the world's most powerful man and literally dozens and dozens of political, financial and industrial power-brokers? None.

Sure a lot of what our elected officials do at this time is schmoozing and, yes, boozing, but so what? That's what works. The attachment to Ireland among the tens of millions of Irish descent around the world is not built on the cold hard figures of economics or political calculation, but on the shared stories and cultural bonds that are more likely to be renewed over an after dinner drink than at a conference table.

Of course it isn't just government ministers who fan out around the world. Many TD's (parliamentarians) and local officials are also traveling to represent their towns and counties and Ireland, if unofficially, at smaller events.

These trips too are important, as I'm sure many of you appreciate. If only more people in Ireland could understand this.

Is every penny spent a penny spent wisely? Who knows? But the advertising world's old saying that "half of my advertising budget is wasted, but the problem is I don't know which half" equally applies to this outlay at St. Patrick's Day. Actually I would guess that far less than half is wasted, but again who can be sure?

So long as our elected representatives show restraint they should be out there strengthening the links that ties us all together, selling Ireland and ensuring that this small nation takes full advantage of this annual, but unique opportunity.