Tag Archives: Ireland

Welcome to my blog

As Ambassador of Ireland to Israel, an important part of my job is to enhance the bilateral relationship between our two countries.  One way to do that is to explore the history of that relationship and to make it available to the general public.  Another way is to record some of the activities that come my way that offer insights into aspects of the life of both countries, sometimes related and sometimes not.  This is what you will find on my blog.  The blog about the history of the Litvak community in Ireland, my tour of Yad Vashem and my visit to UNTSO are the first examples of this from my new home here in Israel.

Prior to Israel, I served as Ambassador to the Republic of Korea and to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, both complex societies with deep historical roots.  The exploration of the history of relations between Korea and Ireland turned out to be quite compelling: themes of empire, war and faith (both spiritual and secular) over-lapped and intersected.  As the accredited Ambassador, I had the opportunity of visiting Pyongyang and taking field trips to see the work of Irish NGO Concern and UN agencies, particularly the WFP.

Over the years of my posting (2009-13) I issued a series of Ambassador’s Messages via email to the Irish community in Korea and friends and contacts, including Koreans interested in the Irish relationship with Korea.  Many of these messages were of only contemporary interest such as assessments of the Irish economy or contingency planning during an emergency.  Some others though may have more enduring interest, such as information on the first Irishmen in Korea, the Irish Columban mission to Korea and Irish involvement in the Korean War.  They are now available on this blog.

The content of this blog is then offered by a serving Ambassador but the views expressed are my own.  You will notice themes that personally interest me; Ireland naturally and the stories of the Irish abroad, history and how its shapes us, culture and how it informs us, and the serendipitous connections that not only surprise us but in themselves create new narratives or recover lost ones.

As I found with the Ambassador’s Messages, the internet is a fertile new dimension enriching relations between people, connecting their current interests and activities, recovering their lost or forgotten stories.  I hope that this blog, from my privileged position between Ireland and Israel, helps to do just that.

Eamonn

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Irish Korean North South Lesson Sharing

In Korea, a much discussed example of unification was and remains the “Berlin” model.  As one scenario and a contingency, it has generated a lot of discussion, comparison and analysis amongst Korean academics, officials and commentators. The Irish model, alternatively, is based on the premise of two jurisdictions continuing to exist until there is agreement otherwise, recognizing each other’s legitimacy and aspirations, and agreeing to formal intergovernmental North South structures working on a programme of cooperation.  The message below summarizes the visit of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council.  Subsequently, the German Ambassador, HE Rolf Mafael, and I made a joint presentation of both models to the Asia Society of Korea.

Ambassador’s Message – North South Lesson Sharing

23 October 2012

As you may have seen in some media coverage, the Embassy hosted a North-South lesson-sharing visit by a delegation from Ireland last week.  This project began in discussions between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and the Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik this time last year.

How to characterise the visit?  I would say stimulating, informative, revealing and affirmative.  Perhaps the most important description is ‘affirmative’ in that the visit affirmed the value of sharing lessons and exchanging views with our Korean counterparts.

This was partly because of commonalities such as our shared colonial history, partition, the generation of conflict and aspirations for unity.  But importantly it was affirmative too for what was not held in common; for example the absence of internationally binding agreements embracing all issues and relationships or of inter-governmental mechanisms for managing escalating tensions and unexpected events or actions.  While the equations of identity are different, exploring our differences helped illuminate the nature of national identity and the nature of aspirations about the future.  The news of the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 was a useful entry point into these discussions.

The focus of the visit was on the North South Ministerial Council, the work of its Secretariat and the purpose and activities of two of the six specialised North-South bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.

The delegation comprised Mary Bunting, Northern Ireland Joint Secretary of the North-South Ministerial Council, my colleague Margaret Stanley, Southern Deputy Joint Secretary, Pat Colgan of the Special EU Peace Programmes Body and Thomas Hunter McGowan (CEO) and Aidan Gough (Director for Strategy) of Inter-Trade Ireland.

Our counterparts were senior officials from the Ministry of Unification and members of the Korean Institute for National Unification.  In addition to presentations on their areas of work by the delegation, I gave an introductory presentation on the peace process focusing on intergovernmental cooperation since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the historic settlement of 1998.  At the end of their visit, the delegation briefed a group of interested Ambassadors on their views and impressions of the exercise.

In the question and answer sessions, several themes and topics emerged.  These included approaches to unity and cross-border cooperation; the nature of national identity, territory and consent; negotiations, trust and the role of the US; security; dealing with the past; sustainability of peace building; power-sharing; and mechanisms for intergovernmental cooperation.

Two particular issues of interest garnered much attention.  One was the sheer patience required and the time spans involved – the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985; the Hume-Adams dialogue 1988; the IRA ceasefire 1994; the Good Friday Agreement 1998; decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the establishment of a stable power-sharing 2007; the first meeting two weeks ago of the North-South inter-parliamentary forum.  The other was the delicate and complex nature of North-South relations that are the heart of the historic settlement of 1998.  For the officials involved in the NSMC Secretariat and the North-South bodies, this is a daily reality given that what are in themselves mundane matters become highly political in the nationalist-unionist force-field.

The delegation visited the DMZ, including observing the crossing into Kaesong, the 3rd tunnel, the Joint Security Area and the observation platform.  I think it is fair to say that they found it both impressive and sad that such mighty infrastructure divided one people.

While all conflicts are different in origin and character, peace-building solutions share many common features; a commitment not to use violence or the threat of violence to influence negotiations; a resilient inter-governmental process that can withstand and manage unexpected events; comprehensive talks under independent chairmanship; agreed outcomes established through binding treaties; supporting input from regional partners and the international community; effective and monitored implementation.

I would like to thank the members of the delegation for their presentations and the candour of their engagement.  Indeed, the joint nature of our delegation itself illustrated how far we have travelled in our own journey to peace and reconciliation.  I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful hospitality of our hosts at the Ministry of Unification and the serious engagement of our interlocutors throughout the visit.  I am very hopeful that this lesson-sharing exchange is just the first of many.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

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Ireland in Korea in Three Easy Pieces

Ambassador’s Message – Ireland in Korea in Three Easy Pieces 

8 April, 2011

As you know, the Embassy has been encouraging the discovery of Ireland’s historic links with Korea.  We will be updating this next week on the Embassy’s website (www.embassyofireland.or.kr) because John McLeavy Brown, an Antrim native who arrived in 1893 and worked for Emperor Kojong, has just lost the honour of being the first Irishman here in a working capacity.  

On three occasions this week I encountered aspects of Ireland in Korea that I thought you might find interesting.

On Tuesday, my wife and I travelled to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan.  It is a meticulously groomed park of quiet dignity, with beautiful monuments honouring and remembering those who fell during the Korean War.  There are some 2,300 UN soldiers interred there. The names of the more than forty thousand UN soldiers who died in the war are craved into black marble around a pond (reminiscent in fact of the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC).  The graves bear the names of soldiers who fought with the Royal Ulster Rifles and Irish Hussars, many of whose members were Irish or of Irish extraction.  Some 130 Irishmen serving with the RUR and 29 serving with US forces fought and died in Korea.  Looking at the names inscribed in marble under the rubrics of the different US states, it was also clear that Irish Americans were tragically well represented among those  who died.  If you live in Busan or happen to have some free hours there, it is certainly worth a visit.

On Wednesday, I was delighted to visit Pukyong University where an MOU was signed with the University of Limerick on an international exchange programme for students and faculty.  This link was made possible by Prof. Utai Uprasen, a Thai national who earned his Ph.D. in international economics from UL, was employed by Pukyong’s International and Area Studies Division and promptly set about forging links between his new University and his alma mater.  Utai has been greatly encouraged by the President of the University, Maeng-eon Park and head of the International Faculty, Prof. Jong-hwan Ko.   Josephine Page, Director of UL’s International Education Office, travelled to Busan to sign the MOU and help deepen relations by discussing a wide range of opportunities for cooperation.  As she explained to me, UL believes that international education is a vital element in modern tertiary education and the University was delighted that Utai so diligently opened doors at Pukyong University.  While at Pukyong, I gave a talk on “Ireland, what went wrong and how to fix it” to a full house of attentive and engaged students whose attitude clearly reflects the very vibrant international studies being developed there by Prof Uprasen and his colleagues.

 Yesterday, my wife and I visited Sister Mary, of the Columban Order, who runs a shelter for those suffering from AIDS/HIV.  A native of Athlone, she has been here for some forty years, having first arrived in January 1971.  She remembered her first breath on leaving the plane, the intense Korean cold something she had never encountered in Ireland.  From 1988, she worked with prostitutes, a large class whose occupation is rarely acknowledged, much less discussed and whose problems are considered virtually taboo.  This led her to then work from 1997 onwards with an even more unmentionable group, those suffering from HIV/AIDS to whom she offers shelter, support and medical assistance.  This is not a large group in Korea, officially numbered at 5,000 but its problems are magnified by the prevailing social taboo (so strong in fact that secrecy must veil the victims and their treatment).  Sr. Mary’s work in Korea – discreet, compassionate, heroic by any measure – is one part of the mosaic of the Irish religious contribution here. 

Finally, in regard to the news reports of radiation from Japan reaching Korea, the authorities here are adamant that the levels are minuscule and represent no threat to public health.  We will of course keep you apprised on any developments.

Have a good weekend,

 

Eamonn

 

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

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