VINCENT O'NEILL: The end of a new beginning

Handshake
Handshake

Ireland is a small country, with a population of less than five million, but with a very large global reach. We are a country that has experienced colonisation, liberation, hunger and migration.

Though for many years the poor child of Europe, today Ireland has the fastest growing economy in the European Union, we are one of the most successful counties for attracting foreign direct investment, we are recognised by the OECD as being one of the 10 best-educated countries in the world.

A key defining characteristic of Ireland, a collective function of our history, our geography, our values and our economic necessity, is our outward focus. This is reflected in our long history of emigration (the Irish diaspora now amounts to over 70 million globally); in how we have structured our economy (Ireland is one of the most open economies globally); in our commitment to the EU and in our global commitment to multilateralism, peacekeeping and development cooperation.

The central connection between Ireland’s future development and the way we engage internationally is reflected in our foreign policy. This clearly highlights the importance we afford to our evolving political, economic and cultural relationship with the African continent. It is in this context that the Irish government agreed to reopen its embassy in Kenya in 2014. I was fortunate to be nominated to lead that process.

This week marks my departure from Kenya after having spent four great years here as Ambassador to Ireland’s newest Embassy in Africa. It is, indeed, the end of a new beginning! So what has been achieved over the past four years since our embassy reopened?

We have strengthened political relationships through, in particular, the hosting of ministerial visits from Ireland to Kenya and vice versa. We have recently signed an indicative trade agreement between our countries.

We have witnessed the growth of bilateral trade between our two countries of more than 20 per cent each year for the past three years. Because of the strength of our Business Ireland Kenya network, we are confident trade volumes will continue to grow incrementally in the years ahead.

We have worked with the government to help deliver better services and opportunities for Kenyan citizens. In this context we have supported the establishment of a one-stop centre for investors — the Kenyan Investment Authority (Keninvest) — and have just concluded an agreement to support SMEs through Kepsa.

We supported the government in conducting elections in 2017 and in organising the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference. We have provided small grant assistance to Irish-based and Kenyan NGOs working in support of nationally defined development priorities.

We have jointly, with government, supported the establishment of Kenya’s premier inter-schools initiative to promote science — the Young Scientist Kenya initiative. We have launched a major partnership in agriculture, which has led to the establishment of new cooperation programmes in dairy, fisheries and increasing productivity in Irish potato production.

We have provided funding each year to assist the establishment of joint ventures, between Irish and Kenyan companies, in agriculture. We have worked, with the Kenya Wildlife Service, in annually ‘greening’ Kenyan wildlife to jointly draw attention to wildlife protection and conservation efforts.

We have captured and documented the very substantial contribution of Irish citizens to the development of Kenya, over the past 100 years. This exhibition was launched by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and is now archived in the National Museum.

Through these (and many more) activities we have succeeded in progressing Ireland’s relationship with Kenya in ways that are of benefit to both of our countries. In working to achieve these outcomes, we have been proud to have partnered with the Government of Kenya, the EU and Kenyan and international organizations.

It’s been a privilege to have lived in, and served, in such a wonderful country where people are so resourceful, diversity is to be celebrated and a commitment to democracy firmly established.

The past four years have, in parallel, seen Kenyans struggle with insecurity, corruption, food insecurity and holding credible elections. As a young nation, Ireland has not been immune to many of these challenges.

The embassy, building on progress made over the past four years, will, in the years ahead, continue to work with the Government of Kenya to strengthen our political, economic and cultural relationship to the mutual benefit of our great countries.

Outgoing Irish ambassador