Spring: Fexco director

The Department of Foreign Affairs is poised to grant a potentially highly lucrative contract to a company in which the former foreign affairs minister and tánaiste Dick Spring plays a prominent role.

The Sunday Tribune has established that Fexco, a Kerry-based services firm of which Spring is a non-executive vice-chairman, has been selected as the preferred supplier for the planned new Certificate of Irish Heritage, which embassies will be promoting from early next year as part of a plan to engage Ireland's diaspora in the country's economic recovery effort.

The department decided not to design the documents itself, opting instead to farm out the work to the private sector.

Although there may be relief that the contract has gone to an Irish rather than foreign-controlled firm, the effective privatisation of any official endorsement of Irish identity has raised eyebrows both inside and outside the Foreign Affairs department.

Fexco, which employs over 900 people at its headquarters in Killorglin, is playing down its contract win, emphasising that the deal has still to be formally signed.

However, sources say the e-tendering process, which began in April, is effectively over and Fexco will begin designing and producing the officially embossed parchments within the next few months.

The most lucrative aspect of the contract is that it will also allow Fexco to amass the contact details of those members of the Irish diaspora who are most attached to this country.

That makes it a highly valuable database which could be marketed profitably to the tourism and travel trade, as well as having wider applicability.