An Intensive Itinerary as the Tánaiste comes to Seoul

For any Embassy, the visit of a member of the Government is an exciting prospect, a logistical challenge, a collaboration with the local Irish community, an opportunity to strengthen bi-lateral relations, a blitz of events that go by in a flash and when its over satisfaction on a job well done.  Most Irish Embassies are small, as is the Mission in Seoul, so a high-level visit requires team-work, long hours and dedication. Above all, there is great pride in representing Ireland in such a high-profile way.  There is simply no substitute for such visits in opening doors and deepening the bilateral relationship.  High-level visits are a highlight in the history of an Embassy and one’s own posting.  As you can see, this visit included the first time we broached the idea of sharing lessons on Ireland’s North-South cooperation.

Ambassador’s Message – The Tánaiste’s Visit to Seoul

17 October 2011

I thought you might be interested in an overview of the visit of the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D., to Korea last Friday.  The visit helped to advance bilateral relations, promote trade and showcase Ireland and the Irish community abroad.  I have set out the highlights below of his Korea visit (which followed his visit to Japan the previous day). 

The community here did an immense job in hosting both the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum and the Asian Gaelic Games in Suwon.  The days events mark a new plateau for the Irish community here, one on which we can develop and build.  I also want to commend my colleagues from around the region who presented at the Forum, discussed Irish promotion with the Tánaiste and attended the Games in support of the teams from their countries.

In case you have not seen it, the visit was covered by the Irish Times (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2011/1017/1224305921730.html ) I quote:

Mr Gilmore encouraged Asian firms to look at Ireland as their gateway to Europe. “We will have a greater ministerial presence in Asia and we will increase the number of visits. We intend to have a much greater political presence in Asia,” he said, adding that he came away from the forum “invigorated and inspired”.

The Tánaiste’s itinerary began at the Grand Hyatt Hotel with a briefing over breakfast with the Department’s Trade Promotion Director and me, followed by press interviews.  After a meeting with the attending Irish Ambassadors from around the region to review trade promotion in Asia, the Tánaiste addressed the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum (text on the Embassy’s website at www.irishembassyseoul.or.kr ) and afterwards held an interactive discussion with the delegates at the Hyatt’s Regency room.  Tánaiste Gilmore then attended a networking event of Irish Korean business and reception hosted by Enterprise Ireland at the Plaza Hotel. 

A walk across the road to the Westin Chosen brought him to his next event, a luncheon meeting with leading members of the Seoul Finance Forum where the discussion focused on promoting Irish Financial Services and Asian views of the Eurozone crisis.  After a short trip up the road, the Tánaiste held a meeting at the Embassy with the heads of the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the UN High Commission for Refugees to discuss their work and programmes in the DPRK.  When that concluded, the Tánaiste met with the Minister for Unification, Minister Yu woo-ik at Government buildings.  The issues discussed at the meeting included North South relations on the Korean peninsula and cooperation on lesson sharing on cross-border cooperation based on our experience in the Northern Ireland peace process. 

Tánaiste Gilmore then visited Columban House to meet with the Columban Order Fathers and Sisters and Capuchin Order where he paid tribute to their contribution to Ireland’s reputation through their pastoral and caring work in Korea.  With tea, biscuits and chat over who came from where and who know who, it was a lovely Irish interlude.  The Tánaiste then travelled to MOFAT for a meeting with Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Min Dong-seok.  The issues discussed included the very successful visit of President Lee to the US and the ratification of the US Korea FTA, the implementation the EU-Korea FTA and market access for Irish beef, and strengthening bi-lateral relations.

On the way to Suwon, the Tánaiste stopped at the W Hotel to meet with Cuisine Director Ciarán Hickey, who has been a great help to the Embassy, most recently advising on the promotion of Irish food and beverage in the context of the EU-Korea FTA. Inevitably Ciarán treated the delegation to exquisite samples of his culinary skills, skills he has inculcated into his excellent team there. 

At Suwon, the Tánaiste joined Christy Cooney, President of the GAA and other leading GAA officials, to welcome the 500-odd players, relatives and guests of the Asian Gaelic Games.  After his address, Tánaiste Gilmore officially declared the Games open and was delighted to conclude his Suwon visit by meeting the guests and being photographed with some of the teams attending.  The day concluded with a debriefing on return to the Grand Hyatt.  The following morning and just prior to his departure, the Tánaiste was given a guided tour of Gyeongbuk Palace for a sense of Korean culture, traditional architecture and history.

The travel arrangements were greatly helped by the assistance of the Korean Ministry for Foreign Affairs, helping to ensure that we kept to our busy schedule.  Many thanks indeed.

If the Tánaiste was inspired and invigorated by his trip to Korea, I think it is fair to say that Korean Irish relations and the Irish community were too.  It affirmed the Government’s commitment to doing business in Asia and to working closely with the Irish abroad.  The visit was certainly a privilege for all of us at the Embassy in hosting the Tánaiste and it will certainly rank as one of my personal highlights en poste here.  Thanks to all the staff who worked exceptionally hard, including my Deputy Ruth Parkin who though only arrived weeks ago, threw herself into the myriad details and demands with gusto and aplomb. 

With best wishes,

 Eamonn

 

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