Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ambassador’s Message, News from Ireland, Twitter Roundup 31 October

Rain clouds split open like rice-bags

(from A Robin in Autumn/Chatting at Dawn by Paul Durcan, in The Art of Life)* 

Nine Italian Banks failed the European Central Bank’s stress tests. What relevance to Ireland?  Irish banks were not mentioned in the extensive international coverage because they passed the tests, with the exception of one bank (weighed down by a large portfolio of tracker mortgages) that failed one of the tests; Permanent TSB has been making provision to rectify this.  That our main ‘pillar banks’ – the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank – passed these tests demonstrates how far we have progressed from the banking and property crises that began to unfold in 2008.  Though singularly not responsible for these crises, the Irish taxpayer has shouldered the burden of bailing out the banks with a capital injection of €64bn.  It’s gratifying to see that investment enabling the banks to pass these critical tests. The Minister for Finance’s welcome response is reported here

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan wrote an Op Ed in the Irish Times on the importance of the current talks in Northern Ireland   The talks have been joined by Secretary of State Kerry’s personal representative Senator Gary Hart.  The mood, noted Minister Flanagan in a statement, has been positive so far

On the peace process here the Minister expressed his deep concern about the settlement announcements in East Jerusalem  Minister Flanagan urged “the Israeli Government to reverse this decision and to work with the international community in seeking to revive substantive negotiations aimed at achieving the two-State solution which offers the only realistic prospect for peace between Israeli and Palestinian people.” 

One of the great themes in the Middle East is the origin of the peoples that have come and gone over the ages. Developments in the study of ancient genetics has revolutionised our understanding of this field.  This link is to a great story from the New York Times of the contribution that University College Dublin is making to our understanding of the origins of man, particularly the origins of Europeans.  The archaeologists and genetic specialists at UCD, led by Prof. Ron Pinhasi, are transecting a site in the Great Hungarian Plain going back over 7,000 years.  The story emerging is that of an original dark skinned, blue-eyed hunter-gather people,  augmented then by an ancient farming people from the Middle East and then, surprisingly, about 4,000 years ago (the Bronze Age) by a third genetic contribution from northern Eurasia.

Again on the technology front, a young Irish person we can take great pride in is nine year old Lauren Boyle, named as the EU’s Digital Girl of the Year:  Her company   mentors young people on computer coding and, along the way, on life lessons too.

At the other end of life’s span, Fr PJ McGlinchey is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Awards by President Higgins.  I was honoured to meet Fr McGlinchey when I served in Korea.  He has made an incalculable contribution to the life of the people of Jeju Island since he arrived there in 1954.  The work of the Irish Columban Order, Fathers and Sisters, in Korea is really an untold story of quiet heroism and compassion

In keeping with the decade of commemorations and the focus on the birth of the Irish state, I tweeted a photo from the National Library of Ireland of an admission card for the London funeral procession of Terence MacSwiney.  MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork at the time, died on hunger strike in October 1920 while interned in Brixton Prison.  A long time nationalist activist and writer, MacSwiney was protesting his internment at the hands of a military court though of course his protest was part of the struggle for independence.  The war of independence was at its height in 1920.  While his hunger strike garnered world-wide attention, the British Government would not budge and MacSwiney died on day 74 of his strike after several attempts at force feeding.  His legacy lives on in his contribution to Irish freedom and his writings as journalist and intellectual

Finally, one of Ireland’s finest poets, and a personal favourite, Paul Durcan was recognised for his contribution with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.  His poetry combines acute observation, comedy and pathos about the encounters of everyday life.  This link also has embedded video of Durcan’s highly engaging readings


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

*Quoted in honour of the rain currently blessing Israel


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Ambassador’s Message – Twitter Roundup September/October

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

                                                                   (WB Yeats)

You may not be following me on Twitter, so I’ve pulled together some recent items that you might find interesting about Ireland and Israel, now and in the past, being as we’re in the decade of commemorations.

As you’ll have seen from my recent message, the economic news is positive. This link is to the ESRI’s Autumn Economic Commentary;

The ESRI predicts “a growth in GNP of 4.9 percent in 2014 and of 5.2 percent in 2014. Declines in unemployment are also forecast, with the headline rate envisaged to fall to 9.6 per cent in 2015.”

Our tourism sector has been doing particularly well. We got an added boost from the Lonely Planet guide which has named Ireland as one of the top places to visit;

Another major story back home is Northern Ireland.  You are probably aware that a number of issues have been dogging the peace process, specifically parades, flags, dealing with the past and domestic policy issues like welfare reform.  Talks are now underway to try to resolve these issues. Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan is representing the Government. You can read the Taoiseach’s welcome for this development here;

The US is strongly supportive, as ever.  Secretary of State Kerry has appointed former US Senator Gary Harte as his personal representative on Northern Ireland. Minister Flanagan welcomes this development here;

The decade of commemorations is truly underway with the centenary of the start of World War I.  Irish engagement in the Armistice Day ceremonies marks a new level of recognition of the many Irish who fought and died in the war under a British flag.  Reflecting this, and the new level of concord in Anglo-Irish relations, Minister Flanagan welcomed an invitation from the British Government to Ireland to lay a wreath at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in London in November.  His statement ion the invitation is here;

We are also on the countdown to the centennial commemoration of the 1916 Rising.  This is a link to a great website to keep track of developments one hundred years ago in Ireland;

A hundred years ago this September, the core group of rebels who would launch the Rising had their first meeting in Dublin.  As reported in Century Ireland, seven of the future signatories of the 1916 Proclamation met in the library of the Gaelic League on what is now Parnell Square, just a few hundred yards from the GPO which would become the iconic headquarters for the rebels;   the report is here

The horrors of the Nazi regime continue to unfold as archivists and historians find new sources, notably since the fall of the Soviet Union.  This New York Times story from Poland has a particularly nightmarish quality because it concerns not just the period of the Holocaust but unremembered victims of the Soviet era whose remains are being regularly uncovered;

This piece caught my eye from the Irish Times.  It is a commemoration of those Irish who “fought, spied and died” fighting the Nazis in France;

Closer to home, Minister Flanagan attended the Cairo Conference on the Reconstruction of Gaza, pledging €2.5 million in support.  His statement is here;

Juxtaposing Northern Ireland and Israel, you might be interested in this article from the Jerusalem Post about the impressions four Northern Irish visitors had of Israel and the contrasts and comparisons between the respective conflicts;

We should be very proud of this group of Irish school girls who made Time Magazine’s list of most influential teenagers in the world for their research on early crop germination;

So that should give you a flavour of my Twitter account; the odd bit of poetry and some spectacular photos of Ireland also crop up.  If you’re not planning to join Twitter, you’ll be able to catch up on our new Embassy website which we should be launching in the next week or so.

Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom,


Eamonn McKee


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Ambassador’s Message – Good Economic News from Ireland

I am happy to report that for the first in some years, the Government’s Budget announced earlier this month was important for what it was not. It was not an austerity budget. Consolidation is being implemented in the least growth-damaging way possible, with the majority of the adjustment on the spending side. The Budget targets a General Government Deficit of 4.8 per cent and a Primary Budget Surplus (i.e. not accounting for interest payments on national debt).

The economic backdrop to this is encouraging. According to the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland:

“In light of the recent trends observed in economic activity, we now revise upwards our growth forecasts for GNP to 4.9 and 5.2 per cent for 2014 and 2015 respectively. This improvement in the forecast is driven by a combination of better than expected performance in the net trade sector, a pick-up in investment levels and strong budgetary receipts.”

This positive economic and fiscal news is a signal achievement for Ireland and a measure of how far we have progressed since the onset of the financial crisis back in 2008. Since then, Ireland has made a budgetary adjustment of nearly €30 billion, equivalent to 18.9% of GDP.

This adjustment – heroic by any measure in peacetime – combined with resilient economic growth means that we are on target to bring the General Government Deficit down from over 30% of GDP in 2010 to 3.7% of GDP this year and 2.7% in 2015.

Export levels are at an all-time high, significantly higher than the pre-crisis peak in 2007. Our domestic economy is strengthening: Unemployment fell to 11.1% in September from a peak of 15.1% in 2012. 61,000 additional jobs were created in Ireland in 2013. In fact, 2013 saw the highest net job creation in Ireland from Foreign Direct Investment in more than a decade.

All of this has been achieved against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty and less than buoyant international trade.

This is not to say everything is rosy in the garden. Too many jobs have been lost, too much equity vanished, too much debt rests on the Irish taxpayer and too many young people have emigrated to say that. But from the low point of the bailout and concerns about our economic viability, we have climbed back to a position of real recovery.

Some milestones along the way:

• Ireland became the first Euro area country to exit an EU-IMF programme of assistance when the programme concluded on 15 December 2013.

• Full return to normal market funding, with bond yields at historic lows, our economy and exports growing, and unemployment falling.

• Balance of Payments surplus achieved for the fourth year in a row in 2013, after 10 years in deficit.

• Gross General Government Debt peaked at just over 120% of GDP in 2013 and is expected to decline to around 100% of GDP by 2018 (taking into account significant cash balances and other financial assets, net Government Debt in 2013 amounted to around 98% of GDP).

• With a recapitalisation of the banks of some €64 billion and a major consolidation, deleveraging and reduction in the banking sector, the Government and taxpayer have gone a long way in sorting out the mess the banks made of themselves and the economy (recall that during the boom, bank loan books grew from 60% (1997) to 200% of GNP (2008), catapulting average 2nd hand house price in Dublin from 4 times to 17 times average industrial wage).

Challenges of course still face us, including primarily unemployment, patent expiration, household debt and the international economic climate. But Ireland’s real economic assets remain in place to continue and develop the recovery:

An agile economy, ranked 1st in the world for the flexibility and adaptability of our people and 2nd most globalised country in the world.

We are in the global top 20 for quality of scientific research.

According to Forbes, Ireland is the best country in the world for business, 1st in the world for investment incentives and in the top 10 easiest countries in the world to start a business.

Ireland is in the top 10 most educated countries in world, 1st in the world for availability of skilled labour and we have the youngest population in Europe.

The 12.5% rate of Corporation Tax will remain as a key element supporting inward investment and export-led growth. At the same time, the Government is taking action to restrict certain complex international tax structures used by tax planners to exploit mismatches between the tax rules of different countries, which have impacted negatively on Ireland’s tax reputation internationally

In summary then, Ireland has done what the EU asked of it. For our people, it has been and remains a painful process of fiscal stabilisation and consolidation. Ireland has restored much of its lost competitiveness and secured record levels of inward investment. But Ireland is a small open economy with much of its trade focused on Europe. Attention now shifts to Europe and the Eurozone where sluggish growth and the threat of stagnation present real issues for European leaders to address at their summit in December. As the Irish Times editorialised recently, “Ireland’s diplomatic approach here is clear. The Government must support action on as many fronts as possible to try to get the euro zone economy growing again….The best option for Ireland is fiscal discipline at home, combined with as much as possible being done to support growth in the main euro zone economies.”

Best wishes,


Eamonn McKee
Ambassador Tel Aviv

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