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Ambassador Paul Kavanagh's Farewell Speech to Irish Business Network, Dubai

Thank you very much, IBN President Gerald Lawless for your generous words of welcome. You know my view by now that the Irish Business Network, Dubai is by some distance the leading Irish Business Network in the Middle East and that it would be a leading contender for best in the world.

IBN, Dubai is well led and well organised. Your activities are focused and relevant to the needs of your members. You are deeply connected in this remarkable country. You are an exemplar among your international peers.

IBN, Dubai is an immediate port of call for any ambitious Irish who arrive on these shores, including successive Irish Ambassadors and officers of Ireland’s Embassy here.

You are a thoughtful, generous and constant pillar of support for Irish people who may fall into difficulty during their time in the Emirates.

You are a reference point for the Irish Government in this part of the world and an ideal partner and platform for visiting Irish leaders, at political and official levels and of course from the private and voluntary sectors.

For all of this, let me say, on behalf of the Government at home, and for my colleagues and predecessors: a warm Thank You!

Ladies & Gentlemen of IBN, let me thank you in particular for your support of the work of the Irish Embassy in the UAE during my tenure here which began last September and which will shortly draw to a close.

It is precisely 289 days since I arrived in UAE to take up my assignment here, on 9 September, 2017. On that day I came directly to Dubai to address the September “back to school” breakfast-time gathering of your Network. You gave me a memorable welcome. A lot has happened in the intervening nine months.


In January, 2018, Ireland’s Minister for Justice & Equality, Mr. Charlie Flanagan, T.D. signed the Order giving effect to the lifting of all Irish Visa requirements from UAE citizens wishing to visit Ireland.

Minister Flanagan’s signature brought to a conclusion a lengthy administrative process in Dublin that had been maturing over a considerable period of time.

Facilitating and supporting the actual initiation of the visa waiver, as I mentioned to you last September, would be a major priority of the Irish Embassy here - following on the excellent work in that direction accomplished by my distinguished predecessors. I am very glad we crossed the finish line.

IBN Dubai too was a longstanding advocate of this beneficial change. I am sure that you and your business counterparts have noticed the difference since January.


Also in January, 2018, I was in a position to deliver to Sheikh Ahmad bin Saeed Al Maktoum the letter that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, T.D., had addressed to Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice president, Prime Minister of UAE, Ruler Dubai, confirming that Ireland will participate in EXPO 2020 Dubai.

Once again, this crystallised a long-gestating process in Dublin. The then Tánaiste,  Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and her successor as Tánaiste, Minister Simon Coveney, played crucial roles in advancing matters decisively. 

The Taoiseach’s letter came on foot of a formal decision taken by the Government in mid-November last that Ireland would participate in EXPO.

Since then: Ireland has selected the plot at EXPO for our National Pavilion. It is medium-sized and located in the Mobility-themed main hall. A budget has been allocated for Ireland’s EXPO participation. Cross-Government structures for EXPO are being formed and advanced in Dublin.  The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade will be in the lead. An Irish Commissioner General for EXPO will be appointed before long, and after that Ireland will sign a formal Agreement with EXPO on our participation. A highly experienced team at the Office of Public Works (OPW) will be in charge of the design, construction, outfitting and ultimately the wrapping up of Ireland’s National Pavilion at EXPO. OPW will oversee a tendering process where appropriate in the period ahead.

And Enterprise Ireland will be briefing Irish companies on how to access EXPO contracts for the provision of goods and services via the vast EXPO Procurement Portal which has been up and running for some time. I don’t have to tell IBN, Dubai about the EXPO Procurement Portal. You were out of the box very early on this dimension.

Allow me, Gerald, to congratulate you on your recent appointment to the Board of EXPO. This is a signal honour.


As many of you will have read in the Government’s recently published Strategy GLOBAL IRELAND, the Embassy in Abu Dhabi is being strengthened. A Third diplomatic post is being added this summer, that of a strategic Deputy Head of Mission. It will be filled by Anita Kelly who comes out here with experience at the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. She is a solicitor by profession. Privately in Ireland, she has been leading light in a mentoring network for young entrepreneurs from her native Kerry. Anita will be here next week. She will be an excellent partner for Irish Business Network, Dubai, for official Team Ireland colleagues here, and for Irish business.

Moving from two diplomats to three will allow the Embassy going forward to be more active across our three countries of accreditation, and in particular in support of Irish communities and Irish business across the region.

The Embassy in Abu Dhabi will be further buttressed when we receive approval from Dublin to take on a number of additional local hires.


You will all have seen the recent interview in the Irish Times given by the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs in which he cited the possibility of new Irish Embassies being established in due course specifically in Kuwait and Qatar. This too was in the context of the GLOBAL IRELAND strategy which will double Ireland’s overseas foot print by 2025. In this context also a new Embassy will be established this year in Amman, and one next year in Rabat. I daresay, we will need to build up substantially our bilateral ties with Kuwait and Qatar before we arrive at the point of establishing resident embassies there. But this process is now firmly under way. 

This past February, Minister of the State Ciaran Cannon undertook in Kuwait the first bilateral Irish Ministerial programme ever in that country. This was on foot of a meeting of minds reached by the Tánaiste and his direct Kuwaiti counterpart last September in New York to enlarge bilateral ties between Ireland and Kuwait in 2018 and going forward.

As you know, Minister Cannon has responsibility for the Diaspora as well as Ireland’s International Development Assistance Programme (Irish Aid) at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Also in February, Minister Cannon made the first Minster-level visit to Qatar in fully three years.

As a consequence of the momentum thus imparted at political level - and on foot of six working visits which I have undertaken to Kuwait and Qatar in the past nine months - we are making progress in both countries, for example towards the opening of their markets to shipments of Irish meats. Our own Department of Agriculture has been working actively on this front. We expect good news in the near future.

We have also worked hard, alongside our colleagues from Tourism Ireland, to reinforce the intention of Qatar Airways to maintain their daily direct service between Doha and Dublin.

The Irish communities in Qatar and Kuwait are admirably well organized. The strengthened Embassy in Abu Dhabi will now be able to extend stronger and more consistent support to them, as necessary.  


As you know, it has also been one of the Embassy’s priorities to promote a stronger flow of investment into Ireland from the Gulf Region and from UAE in not least. We were in a position to support the scoping visit here in March, 2018 by a senior figure from IDA Ireland. Eileen Sharpe is a member of its Executive Board, and has responsibility for growth markets and effectively for all sources of inward FDI other than Europe and North America. She visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait as well as UAE. We are hopeful that, in consequence and before long, IDA Ireland will be in a position to establish a presence here. It will have full support of official Team Ireland, and, I am certain, from IBN, Dubai.


We have continued to see in this period a strong flow of political-level visits to this region from Ireland. This reflects the priority that the Government at home continues to attach to these countries and markets.

In November, 2017 the then Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., visited UAE and had a full programme. She was followed in January by Minister of State for Health, Jim Daly, T.D., who led Ireland’s participation at Arab Health; in February by Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Patrick O’Donovan, T.D., who led Ireland’s participation at the World Government Summit; and in March by Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Just last week we saw a further highly successful visit to Ireland by the Speaker of the UAE’s Federal National Council, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi - a great friend of Ireland. She has invited the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil to visit UAE at a mutually convenient time.


Team Ireland has worked hard to maintain the current frequency of direct flights from the region into Ireland; 28 direct flights per week from UAE, and seven per week from Qatar. This is in a setting where trading conditions for these and other airlines concerned are somewhat challenging. Tourism Ireland in particular is working hard with the airlines and with Ireland’s remarkable tourism industry to exploit to the full these excellent opportunities to bring more visitors to Irish shores, North and South.


Ladies & Gentlemen,

The past nine months have also seen a large number of remarkable interactions between the Embassy and the Irish community in UAE and in our other countries of accreditation:

  • The Irish Society’s St. Patrick’s Day Ball in Qatar was once again a vast affair and the quality of its Dubai counterpart was high. We all hope to see the Dubai Ball grow in scale once again in the coming years. The Abu Dhabi equivalent was once again this year A high quality affair.  
  • Already making a mark is the work of the wonderful all-of-UAE volunteer Irish Committee in support of the Irish delegation that will be here for the Global Summer Special Olympics in UAE in mid-March, 2019. There will be no better cause or event to support in the year ahead;
  • for International Women’s Day, 8 March, we hosted with IBN, Dubai a terrific event to honour a group of Irish and Emirati women who are contributing to business and public life here in UAE;
  • The GAA community has excelled. The local Clubs organised and hosted huge regional tournaments successively in Dubai, Doha, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. They deserve enormous credit both as sports bodies and as social and community main-stays;
  • The setting up in Doha of a New Irish Business and Professional Council represents a great step forward. John Pine and your own former colleague, Brendan Noonan, are to the fore in this. The feistiness of the small Irish Community in Kuwait is a joy to behold. Once again here, stalwarts like Vera Mutawa are great national assets.

Here, Ladies & Gentlemen, I want to pay a special tribute to the magnificent solidarity with which the Irish communities in the Gulf, including so many generous and caring individuals, as well as the organisations, have reached out to support fellow Irish citizens when these have encountered difficulty, often harrowing difficulty, in the past year. Such support is typical of what we Irish do for each other at home and abroad. It would make you proud to see it. It makes others admire us. Thank you today to the IBN, and to its individual members.

Let me also include here the active and well-organised Irish Society in Abu Dhabi under Declan Hegarty’s wise and measured presidency, as well as the Abu Dhabi Irish Business Council under Noeleen Saeed’s irrepressible leadership, which is active and very helpful, its limited structures and resources notwithstanding.

Let me mention here that the community of Irish people who are registered to reside in UAE now number a little over 10,300 according to the Emirati authorities. My sense is that there are in addition numerous Irish who enter and exit UAE more frequently while staying here for a sizable portion of any year.

The mainstay of the Irish in UAE mainly comprises the teaching, medical and various business professions.

For my part, I am regularly told by Emirati Ministers and by other senior Royals here that the continuing major contribution of the Irish to the development of the UAE is highly valued and appreciated by the leaders and the people of this remarkable country.

The contemporary Irish here are following in the footsteps of generations of giants, including your own President Gerald Lawless. I see also Colm McLouglin and Séamus Byrne. I mentioned earlier Brendan Noonan. Before you all, there was Mike Daly and others like him.

The future leadership of the Irish community in UAE is being groomed and built up. It no doubt includes men and women in this room today. I want to salute all that you are doing. I thank you for your participation this morning.

During this past winter and spring I was in position to speak with several of the Irish organisations in UAE and to establish that there is an appetite among them and their members to confer among themselves on a regular basis so as to build synergies in promoting Ireland and her people’s interests here. I can tell you that there is a strong disposition also among my colleagues in official Team Ireland to come together with the Irish organisations from time to time to advance shared objectives. I am certain that my successor, Ambassador Cronin, and the Embassy, will be keen to assist and facilitate in every appropriate manner.

Team Ireland comprises, alongside the Embassy, including the regional Visa Office: (a) our colleagues in Enterprise Ireland who have been working once again this past year to grow Irish company exports in UAE and the Gulf more widely. [Later it emerged that whereas Irish indigenous exports worldwide grew by 7% in 2017, those to UAE grew by 23%, to Kuwait by 35% and to Qatar by 15%]; (b) Bord Bia which oversaw a 33% increase in Irish food exports to UAE in 2017; and (c) Tourism Ireland which is regularly achieving around 10% annual growth in the number of visitors to Ireland from UAE. We expect a big boost in this connection to flow from the new Visa Waiver.

I am certain too that the new Ambassador and his team will seek to help the IBN to attract a greater number of the Irish in UAE, possessing qualifications and professional experience, to join the ranks of the Network’s membership.

I am sure also that Ambassador Cronin will be there to support any efforts to increase the capacity of the Irish business community in Abu Dhabi to acquire the structures that would enable it to build its already impressive activities and to play the kind of role that the IBN has been able to play in this place.


Let me say a word about my distinguished successor, Ambassador Aidan Cronin. He hails from Cork and is a solicitor by profession. He is married to Meadhbh and they have school-going children. Aidan was an effective and popular Consul General in Chicago some years back. He began there by covering in his consular area more than 20 US States, stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. He has had prior postings in Beijing, Canberra and Tehran. At an early stage in his career he was Private Secretary to the Foreign Minister of Ireland. I am certain that Ambassador Cronin will be an exceptional partner and support for IBN Dubai and for the entire Irish community here. I ask only that you extend to him and to Meadhbh the solidarity and support that you have so generously given to Rosemary and me.

I have already mentioned the new Deputy Ambassador, Anita Kelly. In addition, Louise Wilson will join the Embassy as its new Third Secretary. She will be accompanied in Abu Dhabi by her husband and their young children. She has lived in India where her husband, Damien Brennan, an official of the Department of Justice, served at the Irish Visa Office. I am certain that Louise will do a fine job in UAE and will prove to be an excellent successor to Justin Ryan.

Of course, our esteemed colleague Miriam Hughes will continue to lead the Irish Visa Office in Abu Dhabi.

Soon now, non-Emirati citizens, resident in UAE and requiring a visa in order to visit Ireland, will no longer need to attend our Embassy in Abu Dhabi. Instead, they may avail themselves of the one-stop-shop visa application service that a private company, VFS International, will provide at its down-town Abu Dhabi location on contract to the Irish Government. This will be the 15th location worldwide where VFS International provides a Visa Application Centre (VAC) for our Government.

Meanwhile, the Embassy’s Agriculture Attaché, Michael Smith, too will leave UAE this summer at the completion of his posting here. He will be succeeded by Noel Collins. As I mentioned, the coming weeks will likely produce good news for Irish meat access to the Qatar and Kuwait markets.

Let me recall here the possibility for adult holders of Irish passports to renew their passport entirely on-line. I encourage you to encourage in turn all of your Irish friends to avail themselves of this excellent service.


I am hopeful that an Irish Trade Mission, led at senior-Minister level will take place here in the latter part of 2018.

As you know already, the former Tánaiste accompanied by the CEO of Enterprise Ireland accepted last November the invitation extended to her by the UAE Minister for the Economy, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, for Ireland to be “Country of Honour” at the 2018 edition of the Dubai Global SME Conference which will take place here in early November.

I am hopeful that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade may be in a position to visit this region before long. He is well familiar with it from his time as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Other Irish Ministers who have expressed an interest in visiting UAE are the Minister of State with responsibly for the Diaspora, Ciarán Cannon T.D., and the Minister of State for Financial Services, Michal D’Arcy T.D. It is well possible that Minister of State Pat Breen T.D., at Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, may visit parts of the region this autumn.

In the first part of 2019, all things being equal, a visit to UAE by Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could well take place.

Meanwhile, high-level Emirati visits to Ireland will continue apace, beginning shortly with the further visit to Ireland by the UAE Speaker, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi.

Other UAE Ministerial visits to Ireland which have been mooted would be undertaken by the Minister for the Economy, the Minister for Education, the Minister for Artificial Intelligence and the Minister for Infrastructure with responsibility also for the Marine.

Regular, high-level Irish diplomatic exchanges with our Embassy’s three countries of accreditation are intensifying.


I have already described for you the current state of play regarding Ireland’s participation in EXPO 2020 Dubai. Ireland’s national narrative is perfectly suited to the overall theme of EXPO, “Connecting Minds, Building the Future”

This is what Ireland does. In many aspects of it, we lead the world. The EXPO will showcase what Ireland stands for and has to offer, as The Innovation Island.

I ask that IBN Dubai and its members rally to support Ireland’s participation in EXPO and not least those Irish businesses which will be coming out here to participate and to network.


If there is one thing that I would wish to highlight it is the World Special Olympics Summer Games which will take place in Abu Dhabi in mid-March, 2019. The dates are 14-21 March next. In other words the Games will coincide precisely with the upcoming St. Patrick Day Festival.

The structure of the Games will fall into two parts;

  • First, the National teams from around the world will be billeted in various communities across the UAE for several days of acclimatisation and training. Each team will be allocated to an Emirati community that will host it. In this way, the UAE authorities will seek to spread active engagement with the Games right across this country and the throughout Emirati Society. We do not know yet where the Irish team will be billeted during this initial period; and
  • The second part will comprise the tournament competition in Abu Dhabi.

The Special Olympics next year are therefore not simply an Abu Dhabi event; rather they will be a nationwide one for UAE.

This is also due to the fact that UAE’s national leadership and Government are already engaged in utilising the Games as an agent to help them to promote radical advances in the way Emirati society provides for, and interfaces with people of determination.

In this way, the Games represent a major national priority for UAE’s leadership: first to showcase UAE on the world stage and secondly, and more profoundly, to promote far-reaching societal change in this country.

Special Olympics Ireland aims to bring to UAE next March the largest national delegation, bar only the United States. This is because of Ireland’s unique record in Special Olympics as well as the strength in particular of our SO volunteer base.

Special Olympics Ireland expects to bring between 90 and 110 Special Olympics athletes and between 600 and 900 others, comprising volunteers, families, coaches, administrators, media and supporters. All told, the Irish delegation will likely number between 700 and 1,000.

Ireland was the first country in the world outside the US to host the Summer Special Olympics, in 2003. Our nationwide hosting of the SO national teams on that occasion has been used as a template by every subsequent host country.

The success of the 2003 Games in Ireland is indicated by the current position held by the 2003 Games organizer in Ireland, Mary Davis. She is the Global CEO of Special Olympics, based in Washington D.C.

Ireland therefore will be a “star participant” in the 2019 Games in UAE – without even mentioning the prowess of our Special Olympics athletes.

It is this standing as a “star participant” – well beyond our relatively modest size as a country – that will help Ireland inter alia to develop even closer ties of friendship and collegiality with the leadership of UAE, for whom the games are so strong a national priority.

And Ireland’s participation in the Games, I know, will be strongly supported by extensive volunteer activity on the part of the Irish community right across the UAE, both in terms of Irish organizations, associations and societies as well as Irish citizens individually along with their families here.

Already, volunteer structures are coming together in UAE, to organize and maximise the Irish community’s support for the Irish SO delegation and our very special athletes.

I know for example that a UAE-wide committee chaired by Jean Maguire and supported by various associations and societies, will shortly be organising a fund-raising event in this connection. Please support it! Na Fianna GAA and others are also out of the box early. I warmly congratulate them.

Let me encourage IBN Dubai, its constituent bodies and individual members, to be a strong and active leader in support of the Special Olympics and of Ireland’s “star participant” delegation.

You in IBN Dubai have already had good cooperation with the CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, Mr. Matt English, who is based in Dublin. Just like Mary Davis, the Global CEO, Matt will become an even more regular visitor to UAE over the coming nine months. I am certain that he will have suggestions as to optimal types and levels of cooperation with the Irish community in this country, and not least with bodies such as IBN, Dubai.

I have no doubt that Ambassador Cronin and his new, enlarged team at our Embassy in Abu Dhabi will encourage you in respect of the Special Olympics after the summer break, just as I am doing before the break begins.

Please organise and reach out on behalf of the Special Olympics Summer Games, in which Ireland is a world leader.

This high national profile on Ireland’s part will showcase what Irish people do best - and of which we are most proud about ourselves. The global showcase will soon be on your very doorstep. Go out and embrace it. Please, each of you, aim to persuade ten other people to do likewise. Make Ireland proud of its community in the UAE.

I only wish I could be here with you when the big days come, next March.


I was going to brief you on latest developments in Ireland, but you already know the situation as you are loyal followers of the Embassy’s messaging, electronic and otherwise. I have left myself in any event, with only limited time before you all must head off into the busy city of Dubai this early morning.

So I will simply allude to our country’s political stability and rude economic health.  

Ireland’s GDP is expected by the Department of Finance to grow by 5.6% in 2018, by 4.0% in 2019 and by 3.4% in 2020. For the past four years Ireland has had the strongest economic growth in the Euro zone Single Currency Area.

Unemployment is down to 5.3% and we are on the cusp of full employment. We have all but eliminated the public deficit. It is at 0.1% of GDP in 2018. Our national debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from 120% of GDP in 2012 (the year in which the Irish tax payer paid some 40% of our GDP to recapitalise our distressed banks). In 2018 our national debt relative to GDP is 68.1%, while the EU28 average is 81.6%.

You will have seen publication recently of major Government strategies at home. These include Project Ireland 2040 which foresees one million additional people living in Ireland by that year.

The National Plan (2018-2027) foresees infrastructural and others capital investment amounting to some €116 billion over the coming decade.  

Meanwhile, Irish society is visibly diversifying. Its young, highly educated and technologically trained population is multicultural and multilingual.

This is part of what will make English-speaking Ireland, post-Bresxit, within the European Union and its 500 million-strong Single Market, an ideal platform for inward investment, from around the world, including of course from the Gulf.

Remember that some 17% of people living in soon-to-be fully employed Ireland were born in a different country.

Ireland the Innovation Island, the Scientific Research Island, will face continuing challenges including from Brexit and from Trade & Investment policies elsewhere. But Ireland has never been in a stronger position to face such challenges head on.

Ireland will continue vigorously to diversify its export, investment and other markets overseas. This forms a large part of the vision behind the Government’s Strategy, Global Ireland. We intend to be fully global whilst remaining committed to our membership of the European Union. In our view, these two dimensions sit perfectly together.

By 2025, Government will have doubled Ireland’s overseas global footprint and greatly increased its cultural and artistic projection.

There will be at least 26 new Embassies or Consulates General established by then. The capacity of our economic State Agencies to support Irish business will undergo very significant expansion.

The Embassy that I will lead from this September, in Tokyo, will transform into an Ireland House, a showcase footprint for 21st century Ireland in Japan and hopefully an exemplar for wider application. Watch this space! 


Ireland meanwhile will continue to play a well-established, active role on the global stage. We are gratified when it is observed in this respect, that Ireland “punches above its weight”.

Ireland is seeking election to the United Nations Security Council as a rotating, non-permanent member for the two-year term, 2021/2022. The election will take place in June 2020, in the 193-member General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, where each member State has a single vote. Please visit the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade in Dublin give echo where you can of Ireland’s case for membership.

In conclusion, Ladies & Gentlemen, I want to pay a warm tribute to my colleague at the Embassy, Justin Ryan, who has provided a remarkable suite of supports to the Irish communities in UAE, Qatar and Kuwait these past three years. He has been an exceptional Deputy Ambassador and we all wish him success in the next phase of his career in Ireland. I am so pleased that you will honour him shortly.

And lastly, I thank you once again for all of the warm friendship and most effective support that you have given to me and the Embassy in UAE that I have led past eight and a half months. Rosemary and I ask you anew to do the same for Ambassador Cronin, his family and his new team at the Embassy.


Beir Bua!


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