Italian is a significant language. There is a tendency to see Italian as a language you learn for fun - ask people who speak a few languages why they learned Italian... they'll tell you how much fun it is, how beautiful the language is, you'll hear about the art and the fashion and the opera... then there are the Italians who will tell us it came before French and being the closest language to Latin makes it superior, that back in the Middle Ages anyone who was educated had to be able to speak Italian... these are potentially all legitimate reasons for learning Italian but there are other reasons why we need to be offering more Italian.
Italy is the 4th largest economy in Europe, it has the same economic output as France or the UK. If you look at last year's trade figures on this 2012 CSO trade report, the value of exports from Ireland to Italy was 2,828 million euro, that’s more than the value of exports to China, it’s half the value of exports to Germany, it’s 2/3 the value of exports to France. Italy is also the 3rd largest importer of Irish beef.
The number of native speakers of Italian is not far behind the number of native speakers of French – it’s estimated that there are about 68 million native speakers of French but there are 62 million of Italian and there are large communities of Italian speakers across the world. For example, 1.5 million in Brazil, another 1.5 million in Argentina, 1 million in the US, another million between Canada and the UK.