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Remarks by the Ambassador at the annual dinner of the Worshipful Company of Educators, City of London

It is a pleasure to be here for this evening's dinner of the Worshipful Company of Educators.

I am delighted to be here for two reasons. First, because of my interest in education and second because of my admiration for educators. There is a memorable phrase about education that is often attributed to the great Irish poet WB Yeats, 'education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.' This rings true, even if there is some dispute about the provenance of that quote. Yeats certainly did once say that 'culture does not consist of acquiring opinions, but of getting rid of them'!

Education has transformed my life and the life of my country. I was not born into a family of diplomats or people of privilege. My parents both left school relatively early, but they were determined that their children would be educated to the highest level possible.

I went to the same local school in my hometown of Waterford from the age of 4 until 17, and then studied history and literature at University College Cork. Education opened my eyes, helped develop my capacities and enabled me to aspire to represent my country as Ambassador in Malaysia, Germany and now here in the UK.

Education has also transformed Ireland. My first year at secondary school in 1967 was also the first year of free secondary education in Ireland. This resulted in a steady expansion of the numbers in second and third-level education. Today, 93% of young Irish people achieve an upper secondary school qualification and, as of 2012, 46% graduate at university level. These figures are well above the OECD averages (84% and 39%). Ireland also has the 3rd highest expenditure per student in the OECD.

The impact of this transformation in Ireland's educational landscape can be clearly seen here in London. Irish people have always come to this country to live and work. There was a great surge in emigration in the post-war period. In those days, young Irishmen came here for the most part without qualifications and many went into the construction industry. They made a huge contribution and quite a few did very well when they set up their own companies, men like John Murphy, whose company's green vans can be seen all over London and which is engaged in building the Crossrail tunnel, and Patsy Byrne, whose company was involved in building the Shard. Later this year, we will be organising an event entitled 'We built this city' in commemoration of the immense Irish contribution to the construction sector.

Today, young Irish people come to London with University degrees and post-graduate qualifications and are to be found working mainly in the financial services sector in the City of London and in the major companies that underpin this city's success. The fact that we now possess a highly-qualified population is a product of generations of investment in Irish education.

I said that I have great admiration for educators. This comes from my own experience of inspiring teachers at school and university. It also comes from my belief that our future as societies depend on the quality of our education.

I have had the privilege of working in various parts of the world. For example. I have had two postings in Asia - in India in the 1980s and in Southeast Asia from 2001 to 2005. This allowed me to see the changes that have occurred in that part of the world during those decades. Countries like ours now face a stern challenge from emerging countries, but it is one that we can and must meet. It will be the talent of our people and their adaptability that will see our societies through the challenges of the future. But it is not just an economic imperative that we face. Education also has a wider relevance. We need to live together in harmony and tolerance if we are to be able to share the planet successfully with its ever-growing population.

I was at an event during the week with our former President, Mary Robinson, at Imperial College, where she gave a powerful speech in support of measures to combat climate change. After her address, she was asked about how to cope with a rising global population and the threat this poses to the world's environment. Mrs Robinson expressed the view that the solution to population growth would be found through improvements in education and healthcare in developing countries. I would suggest that virtually all of the problems we face in today's world can best be addressed through advances in education.

A big part of my role as Ambassador is to promote mutual understanding between our two countries. Ireland and the UK are deeply interconnected, but this connection has often been a fraught one. Part of the problem has been our contrasting perspectives on history.

Huge progress has been made in recent years. The exchange of State Visits in 2011 and 2014 has helped transform relations, which are now in very positive shape. Recent centenaries have encouraged us to recognise the manner in which our history intersects with Britain's.

Last year, our Government took a full part in the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of World War 1, in which up to 50,000 Irish people lost their lives. Next year marks the centenary of a major year in Irish history, one hundred years after the Easter Rising of 1916 and the battle of the Somme in which men from all parts of Ireland fought and died. I hope to use this occasion as an opportunity to promote understanding of key developments in Irish history that also had a significant impact on Britain and in the wider world. I want to see our journey of enhanced understanding and respect to continue, rooted in a stronger sense of our separate but connected histories.

I am delighted to pay tribute to those who carry on the vital work of educating and nurturing our peoples and our futures.

Daniel Mulhall is Ireland's Ambassador in London