Thanks to invitations from the Irish Chambers of Commerce and from other Irish organizations, media outlets, and Embassy contacts, I’ve had the chance to introduce myself. And from those exchanges get to know a bit about my new surroundings. Here are a couple of reflections from my various engagements.
One of the themes of those discussions has been the enhancement of Irish Canadian relations over the years.
We can see this with the opening of the Consulate General in Vancouver under the leadership of CG Frank Flood, assisted by Jennifer Bourke and the team there. Their presence has catalyzed our presence out west, building strong relations with the community there. It was great to meet leaders of the Irish organizations there virtually recently.
Note too the step up with twenty-three high-level visits to Canada since 2017! Thanks to the efforts of my predecessor Jim Kelly and the continuing leadership of the Deputy Head of Mission John Boylan and the relentless creative energy of Laura Findlay.
Covid may have interrupted the physical manifestation of our bilateral relationship in terms of visits but development continues apace. Check out the very healthy social media traffic for example. And of course join in!
There is tremendous vitality in the Irish community here, from coast to coast. Many people and organizations have deep roots and a rich heritage here but all have welcomed and supported a new generation of Irish. Such a response is not always a given but it certainly is the spirit here in Canada.
The Irish communities and their leadership appreciate the support from the Irish Government, operationally the support from the teams here at Ottawa and Vancouver and the funding made available from the Emigrant Support Programme. Additional ESP funding this year signals the Government’s ongoing commitment. Building on the great work of former Minister for the Diaspora, Ciarán Cannon, the new Minister, Colm Brophy, has been outreaching to organizations here, to learn of their experiences, perspectives, issues. and ambitions.
We should have a refreshed Diaspora Strategy soon to put a new framework on this relationship for the coming years. I should add that, based on my experience overseas, Ireland has one of the most developed and engaged relationships with its Diaspora. And like all my postings, it is the first resource to which we wandering diplomats turn.
Canadians of Irish heritage are enormously passionate about their roots. They love to talk about it and they love to have an opportunity to help. An amazing response that opens doors and generates opportunities from government to business to culture and more.
This pride in Ireland and in being Irish, it has been remarked to me, has really blossomed from a time when British, French, and Scottish identity was predominant in Canadian public discourse.
This got me to reflect on the impact of the Northern Irish Peace Process. One of the outcomes of that has been the historic reconciliation between Ireland and Britain. Though the word is often invoked with less than convincing justification, historic is an apt description in this instance. The visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011 and then the reciprocal visit of the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in 2014 to the UK were hugely symbolic – in intent and design – of the healing of historic wounds and the restoration of normal relationships. The Good Friday Agreement made that possible.
Did this epic moment in turn cast its benign significance elsewhere, including on these shores? I imagine that it did. Canada’s ancestry as a nation state has its roots in Britain’s empire (a shared heritage with France). Its jurisdictional relationship with the crown is enduring. Its membership of the Commonwealth happy and robust. Hitherto, Ireland’s relationship with Britain sand in particular the Crown remained disturbed and unfinished by partition.
The Good Friday Agreement, its endorsement by both parts of Ireland in an act of national self-determination in May 1998, paved the way for Anglo-Irish normalization in foundational ways. It removed niggling uncertainty about how to approach Canada. The stitching up of those old wounds and normalized relations with the Crown took something complicated if ineffable, out of the equation.
I have been forcibly struck too by the fact that Ireland and Canada share so many values in terms of rule of law, human rights, the international order, democracy, multilateralism and UN Peacekeeping, rules-based free trade, and so on. Strong too is the sense of the value of the Transatlantic relationship, the notion that if Canada was on the other side of the ocean it would be a member of the EU, as someone once quipped.
This too is in part due to Canada’s Irish heritage. Think of Thomas D’Arcy McGee and his commitment to diversity as part of Canada’s identity and polity. Think too of the commitment to democracy and the love of the law that Irish emigrants brought with them everywhere (our love of consensus and of the law is deep in our cultural ancestry, going back thousands of years to Gaelic society and the Brehon Laws).
And coming from a small nation, we instinctively value the international rule of law in the face of Great Power rivalry and self-interest. Canada may be one of the largest countries on earth but it is loved because it bears itself with the courtesy and dignity of a small nation.
Exploring Indigenous Canada has been fascinating both in terms of its experiences and how Canada has wrestled with it, reaching for fairness. Though I am only at its very fringes, I can see resonances with Ireland’s experiences, even if the fate of Gaelic Ireland was decided centuries ago, arguably a process that began this year 850 years ago when the Normans invaded. Vault forward to today and you have the wonderful story of the Irish national Lacrosse team ceding their place to allow the Iroquois Nationals participate in the International World Games.
Fascinating too is that period when Canada was explored and mapped, an enterprise that was only possible with the forging of the expertise and technical knowledge of both the indigenous people and Europeans.
And the beaver, the beaver! Where would Canada have been without the magnificent beaver?
Finally, there is the blossoming bilateral economic relationships and the question of how to generate more collaboration on this front in the context of challenges like Covid and Brexit. That’s a big chunky theme to which I will return in a later blog.
For now, let me just say that it’s been a real pleasure engaging with organisations and their members, albeit on digital platforms. I look forward to the time that I can travel and meet people.
In the meantime, stay in touch and I hope you enjoy my occasional blogs to let you know what’s happening here at the Embassy, the Consulate in Vancouver, and at home.
Ambassador of Ireland
13 November 2020