Easter Rising leaders foresaw an outward-looking Ireland

Patrick Hennessy, the Irish ambassador to the UAE, reflects on the country's close ties with the Gulf

We mark this weekend the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a key event in the emergence of a modern, independent Irish State. The anniversary is being honoured with a programme of events in Ireland and among Irish communities, and friends of Ireland, across the globe. I am delighted that the UAE will figure prominently, with events scheduled for both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This reflects not only the vibrant Irish community in the UAE, but also the fact that from its earliest days, independent Ireland has sought to engage actively, on a basis of equality and partnership, with our friends around the world.

There are moments in history when a seed is sown and the old order changes for ever. Easter 1916 was such a moment for Ireland, just as the UAE experienced when its leaders met on December 2, 1971 to proclaim the birth of a new nation.

The marking of a centenary evokes a multiplicity of responses. We remember with appreciation those who strove hard to ensure that the vision of the men and women of Easter 1916 became a reality. With the passage of time, there is today a fuller awareness of the diverse identities, backgrounds and experiences of those whose lives were intertwined with the story of that period. The common thread was love of country, and a determination that it should find its place among the family of nations.

While respecting the past, the centenary is also an opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved since, and, in the words of President Michael Higgins in his Saint Patrick’s Day message this month, “to imagine what Ireland might yet become”.

There is much to celebrate. From difficult beginnings Ireland has emerged as a modern, progressive state with a dynamic, open economy; a hub for enterprise and innovation; a highly educated population; and a strong record as a responsible international citizen, co-operating with its European Union partners and serving as a committed and active member of the United Nations. Where difficulties arose, as in the most recent international economic downturn, they were faced head-on. Decisive action was taken, with the positive results we see today.

Ireland has the fastest growing economy in Europe, with a growth rate of 7.8 per cent in 2015. At the global level our total goods exports increased by 20 per cent in 2015, while our share of the world’s service market tripled in the past decade and a half. With prosperity at home has come a recognition of our duty to others: the Irish development assistance programme has been widely commended for targeting its support at the poorest countries. As our troubled planet seeks ways to feed an ever-growing population, Ireland produces over 10 per cent of the world’s infant formula.

The leaders of the Easter Rising envisaged an outward-looking Ireland, ready to promote its values and to protect its interests on the international stage. As young states grounded in ancient civilisations, each with a strong awareness of its culture, it was natural that Ireland and the UAE should find each other, and should find in each other a true friend and partner.

Since we opened embassies in Abu Dhabi and Dublin in 2009, and particularly following the visit by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2014, relations between our two countries have developed at a rapid rate. This past year has seen five visits by Irish ministers across a wide range of sectors. This culminated in the visit last December by our minister for foreign affairs and trade, Charlie Flanagan. These discussions, and active engagement throughout the year, have reinforced the excellent working relationship.

There are some 8,200 Irish citizens in the UAE. The impact at community level is strongly reinforced by the excellent work of the Irish Societies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, while our thriving business relationship benefits enormously from the work of the Abu Dhabi Irish Business Council and Dubai Irish Business Network.

We are pleased that a growing number of Emirati visitors are discovering the delights of an Irish holiday, while many families are opting for third-level and other courses in Ireland at top-ranked institutions, in a supportive family-friendly environment. We also draw satisfaction from the good work done by hundreds of young Irish teachers in UAE schools. At a time when the UAE leadership has specifically identified education as the key to building a stable and prosperous society, we feel honoured that so many of our young teachers are at the forefront of that effort.

So, just as Ireland has grown and matured over the years, so too the relations between Ireland and the UAE. Building on what we have achieved together we look to the century ahead with confidence and great expectations. A lot has been done; there is much to which we can look forward.

Patrick Hennessy is the Irish ambassador to the UAE