St Patrick’s Day marked by growing trade links between UAE and Ireland
It’s been a hectic six months for Patrick Hennessy, the Irish ambassador to the UAE.
He has been in the job since last summer, having taken over from his highly regarded predecessor, Ciaran Madden.
Mr Hennessy became only the second person to hold the post, created in 2008 when Ireland upgraded the status of its relations with the Emirates in recognition of the growing trade and other ties between the two countries.
Just a couple of weeks ago Mr Hennessy formally presented his credentials to the UAE authorities, but he was working busily away long before that.
“We’ve had visits by two ministers, as well as one in January from the Irish Taoiseach [prime minister],” he said. “It’s an indication of the importance Ireland attaches to the UAE. And of course there is St Patrick’s Day too.”
The Irish diplomatic community uses the occasion of the national day celebrations as a “priority period” for visits by home politicians to embassies regarded as important in the global community.
Now the UAE is right up there in importance, alongside traditional places where the Irish have a big presence like London and New York, as a country with which Ireland wants to do business. The Irish environment minister Phil Hogan is visiting the UAE for the St Patrick’s festivities.
“We realise that the UAE has impressive growth and is an exciting place for further expansion of business opportunities. Irish companies are well placed to be strong partners with our friends in the UAE,” says Mr Hennessy.
In some ways, his job is easier than that of his predecessor. The Irish economy, and society, is just beginning to shake off the effects of the financial crisis that hit the “Celtic tiger” harder than most other countries in the euro zone.
Mr Hennessy has a more positive message for the UAE. The country has taken the medicine prescribed by the European financial authorities and the IMF, and has re-entered the global economic mainstream. The outlook for Ireland is better than at any time for the past five years.
“We’re doing well at the moment. It’s the fourth straight year of positive growth at home, and we recognise that global trade is the key to our ongoing success.
A forthcoming visit by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce to Dublin will help cement ties between the two countries.
He highlights the potential that there is in the food business between the two countries. “The UAE imports 90 per cent of its food needs and Ireland exports 90 per cent of the food we produce. We recognise that food security – having in place efficient and safe supplies – is all-important for the UAE, and Ireland can help the UAE in this,” he says.
Developing halal food business has been given top priority in Dubai’s initiative to become the capital of the global Islamic economy. “We’re well placed to provide top quality halal products. We have a strong production capacity already and it can be increased,” Mr Hennessy says.
Bord Bia, the Irish national food authority, recently opened a permanent presence in the UAE, and Irish food companies were prominent among a trade delegation last year.
But it is not just in food that the ambassador sees opportunities. Irish businessmen have been prominent across the whole spectrum of UAE business, helping some of the country’s most successful companies achieve global status. Their contribution has been proportionately greater than the relatively small size of the permanent Irish community in the UAE, which Mr Hennessy puts at about 6,000.
“We’re proud of what the Irish have done in the UAE,” Mr Hennessy says.
He picks out some examples in which Irish-UAE cooperation has been successful, and where further progress could be made: in medicine, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has been active in the UAE, helping train doctors for the country’s booming healthcare business. In aviation, Irish companies have helped provide training for Emirates and Etihad staff.
English language teaching is also an area of increasing business between the two. “Emiratis are happy to send their children to Ireland for language education. They see it as a safe and secure place, unlike some other parts of Europe, especially for younger children.”
Tourism is an important and growing area of mutual cooperation. Irish people come to the UAE for its glamour, good weather and other leisure pursuits. Air services between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Dublin have been increased recently.
“Emiratis like to come to Ireland to explore a different landscape, our green and lush countryside, our history, old buildings and of course the race horse business. They can unwind, enjoy meeting local people and the easy interaction between them. I think we have a lot in common: we’re both friendly, welcoming family-minded people, and both value our guests.”
But the job of ambassador is more than just being a trade emissary. Mr Hennessy has a distinguished diplomatic pedigree, with posts in Tel Aviv, Washington, New York and Rome on his curriculm vitae. He also led the Irish delegation in the Anglo-Irish negotiations that brought a long-awaited peace agreement to once-troubled Northern Ireland.
Irish relations with Kuwait and Qatar also fall under the remit of the Abu Dhabi embassy.
The protocol prevents him from publicly opining on Arabian Gulf politics, but he says: “The key to moving forward in a conflict situation is to create a mechanism for dialogue and building mutual confidence. You have to create a win-win situation where all parties feel their interests are being satisfied in a sustainable way.”
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Updated: March 16, 2014 04:00 AM