Monthly Archives: February 2015

Visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan to Israel and OPT

Ambassador’s Message, 24 February 2015

In the life of an Embassy a visit by a member of the Government is an important event, second only to a state visit by the President.  Visits by members of the Government are critical to maintaining bilateral relations.  They signal that the relationship matters and they provide direction and energy into the portfolio for which the Minister is responsible.  There is an added significance when it comes to visits of the Minister for Foreign Affairs given his or her preeminent role in diplomatic relations.

We at the Embassy were delighted then to host the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., on his first official visit to Israel last week.  He and his delegation of officials from Headquarters had just come from Lebanon where the Minister had visited our troops serving with UNIFIL in south Lebanon.  In Israel, he had a substantive exchange of views with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, toured Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in the Memorial Hall there, visited Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva (employing over 400 in Ireland), discussed current issues with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog and met with key contacts of the Embassy at a reception at the Residence.

The Minister’s programme also included a visit to the OPT organized by our colleagues in the Representative Office Ramallah.  The Minister met with President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah, laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, and toured Bethlehem and other sites in the West Bank.

The Minister and party visited Gaza to see conditions there and meet with officials of UNRWA and UN OCHA who are providing vital services and humanitarian relief.  It was certainly sobering for the delegation to see how little progress had been made in reconstruction.  The Minister’s main impression was the hopelessness of the people, something that needs to be addressed he felt by political dialogue within Gaza and by unblocking the flow of goods into and out of Gaza so the economy can start to grow.  The party also visited a Moshav outside Gaza to hear views and stories from its perspective of life lived with the threat of rockets and tunnels.

The Jordanian part of the visit regrettably had to be cancelled because of the snowstorm and related travel difficulties so the Minister did not have the chance to meet contacts there and visit Syrian refugee camps.  Departing instead from Ben Gurion we ran into Quartet Representative Tony Blair which allowed for the Minister and Mr. Blair to exchange notes on the crisis in Gaza and on the prospects for the MEPP.

These were the highlights of a visit that was workman-like, balanced and focused on key issues.  Along the way were a range of meetings and encounters with officials and others who gave insights and analyses into the situation here that are critical to fully understanding the complex dynamics and powerful forces at work.  As the programme rolled along, it was also really productive to spend time with the new Secretary General at the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Niall Burgess, and colleagues from Headquarters working on the Middle East, examining ways in which we can best use our resources in this area.

A personal highlight for Mary and me was the reception for the Minister at the Residence in Tel Aviv where he had the chance to meet our contacts from business, culture, peace building and from the Irish community.  A special thanks to Mary and David Lee from the Embassy for all their hard work on the visit: I would also like to pay tribute to the officials from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs whose professionalism and courtesy made everything run smoothly, especially when dealing with the usual feature of every visit – the unexpected!

The Minister’s interview with the Irish Times on his visit is here http://t.co/7AHil1CcSm

You can find some photos and links from the Minister’s visit on the Embassy’s website at www.embassyofireland.co.il

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

Tel Aviv

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News from Ireland as Spring Beckons, Ambassador’s Message, 11th February 2015

My colleagues and I in the Irish diplomatic service are the swallows of St Patrick’s Day, necessarily planning ahead for the celebration of our National Day.  I thought this article in the New York Times was a delightful preview of the coverage of Ireland that comes with March 17th.  Initially I feared that it would be twee reportage of quaint rural Ireland with twinkly-eyed natives.  In fact it captures the new and old Ireland, the impact of social media in rural matchmaking, the accommodation of gay rights and reflections on an Ireland where “lol” can still mean “lots of land” when it comes to finding a romantic partner: http://t.co/WmPlnWzuYI

It seems apt too to remark at this time of year that there is a spring to the Irish economy.  The European Commission is predicting 3.5% GDP growth in Ireland in 2015, possibly the strongest in the EU.  Since 2012, an extra 80,000 people are at work and unemployment has fallen from 15.1% to 10.6%.

This is some achievement against a background of austerity at home and either sluggish growth or real deflation across the EU, our largest trading partner: press report here http://t.co/Nd8pfcRgbY.

The government has set a new target of full employment by 2018. Measures in place include regional enterprise strategies with competitive funding initiatives of up to €25million; a new SURE tax incentive for start-ups; a National Talent Drive, including a 60% increase in the number of ICT graduates by 2018; Enterprise Ireland to support exports by Irish companies, expected to hit a record €19 billion during 2015.

What unites these initiatives is that they are all focused on the real economy.  Ireland has progressed far in sorting out our banks, though at a heavy price to our taxpayers.  We have also taken steps to ensure that banks are there to serve the economy, not the other way around.  The focus on the real economy – jobs, exports, innovation, and productivity – is the only way to generate sustained growth which is turn is the only way to lower debt-GDP ratios and keep the national finances on track.

One hundred year commemorations are now fully in train, though 1915 in Ireland was a quiet year compared to what had happened just prior with the passage of the Home Rule Act in 1912 and the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914.  One major event however happened just off the coast of Ireland: a commemoration on 1 February last in Cobh, Co Cork remembered the sinking of the Lusitania one hundred years ago by a German U-Boat, killing 1,198 on board:  http://t.co/TRrPqVWsTI

Yeats 2015 (www.yeats.com) is a celebration of our greatest national poet.  This Op Ed by Adrian Paterson (University College Galway) from the Irish Times captures his greatness and significance http://t.co/XyIxP1aOK2  As Paterson writes: “However we think of Yeats, poetic achievement must be at the heart of any commemoration. But Yeats was more than a poet. He was a cultural revolutionary who became a cultural entrepreneur. He began things, co-founding the Abbey Theatre, the Irish Literary Society and, with his talented family, the Cuala Press, producing designs and books from a single hand-press in Dublin.”

The writing tradition remains as vibrant as ever in Ireland.  At a reception on Thursday, 29 January Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, announced that the Arts Council has selected Anne Enright as the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction (www. http://www.artscouncil.ie/laureate )  She will hold the post for three years.

Irish literature has extended our cultural reach across the generations and the globe.  Irish diplomats are acutely aware of this rich dimension and it is a source of great pride to us when serving abroad.  A key element in our outreach has been the partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ireland Literature Exchange which has been going on now for twenty-one years.  The Irish Literary Exchange promotes the translation of Irish works through grants, bursaries and outreach (www.irelandliterature.com ).

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan marked this collaboration with a reception at Iveagh House where he noted that “From small beginnings in 1994, the organisation’s output has grown from a modest 12 works of Irish literature in its first year of activity to an impressive current total of 1,650 books in 55 languages.” (link here  https://t.co/PYxh2a5Quz ).

Our newly minted Laureate Anne Enright attended the event and wrote about Irish writing in translation in this wonderfully meditative piece here  http://t.co/ZobskYxdUQ.  As she concluded “I think it is good for Irish readers to have a group of writers who come home to them with the smell of fresh air still trapped in their coats, who write for the whole world, starting here.”

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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Remembering the Holocaust: Ambassador’s Message, 6 February 2015

Though it’s freezing in Ireland at the moment, the delightful weather here in Tel Aviv tells us that spring is not far off.  Even in Ireland the days are getting longer and the cold snap is really winter’s reluctant goodbye. 

In Israel, spring is preceded by remembrance of the Holocaust.  In the slight chill of January here, it seems appropriate that we remember those lost and indeed those who survived the Shoah.  If you check out our new Embassy website (www.embassyofIreland.co.il) you’ll find my tweets and links to a number of interesting articles on the Holocaust.  Here is the link to the story of how an Irish documentary led to the arrest of a former Nazi guard stationed at Bergen-Belsen and Gross-Rosen Concentration Camps: http://t.co/Fa0UHRoVNf

On International Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January, Irish Ambassadors around the world attended commemorative events.  Our Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan attended the commemoration in Auschwitz, the brutal cold a faint hint of what it must have been like there in winter for the starving and ill-clad victims of Nazi cruelty and genocide: coverage here http://t.co/7KalW4vwus

Here in Israel I attended a morning event held at the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies in Natanya, north of Tel Aviv.  The speakers included Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein and HE Ms Vivian Bercovici, Ambassador of Canada.  As the generation of survivors dwindles now and in the years ahead, the theme was the second generation of Holocaust survivors.  Ambassador Bercovici for example is one such and she gave a moving and powerful speech about her perceptions since childhood of the Holocaust; the lack of relatives, family mementos, the knowledge of a terrible event in the recent past that had resulted in her being raised in Canada.  The event concluded with guests laying a white rose in and around the standing stones in the memorial hall.  Music was provided by the young and evocative Moran Choir.

The evening event was held at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.  Speakers included Prime Minister Netanyahu, Thomas Geve, Buchenwald survivor, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the MEPP, and Dr Iael Nidam-Orvieto, Director, International Institute for Holocaust Research.  We began at an exhibition: “The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-47”.   Mr Geve reflected with direct and simple charm on his memories, at times resisting the curator’s opinion that his art was important.  His strongest memories were the arrival of the Americans, which he thought of as friends not soldiers and his wonder at seeing ordinary civilian life when he left the camp.

We then moved to the Yad Vashem Synagogue where Dr Nidam-Orvieto spoke eloquently of the research she has undertaken on the letters of survivors.  During their time in the camps, the survivors focused solely on staying alive, repressing their emotional response, she said.  After the war, the survivors had to face the emotional impact of what they had endured, aswell as the loss of family.  Over time, however, the word ‘happiness’ creeps into their letters, a metric she thought of their eventual adjustment to their delivery and the life they could now expect to live.

So even as we recalled the unfathomable crime of the Holocaust, we could acknowledge that the survivors were more than survivors, that they embraced life again, even if it was life lived with great loss and sorrow.  And it was that embrace of life that revived them, gave them the energy to start new lives around the world, most symbolically in Israel where they found a refuge and place where it is never quite winter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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