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National Day  17 March

His Excellency Mr. Adrian O’Neill
Embassy of Ireland
17 Grosvenor Place
London SW1X 7HR
T: 020 7235 2171
F: 020 7201 2515
E: londonembassymail@dfa.ie

IRELAND’S AMBASSADOR ADRIAN O’NEILL vividly recalls Her Majesty’s State Visit in May 2011. “When the Queen opened her speech in Dublin Castle with a few words of Irish it was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. Given the history, at times it had been hard to imagine the visit ever taking place.” At the time he was Secretary General to Irish President Mary McAleese, a position he also held under Michael D. Higgins’s Presidency, who returned the State Visit to the UK in 2014. “I consider myself fortunate to have had a role during these historic visits, which were highly significant in the change in the relationship between the two countries.”

Ambassador O’Neill arrived in the UK at end of August last year, with his wife Aisling. “Despite the crowds and congestion, there’s still a great civility, friendliness and courtesy about London and people you encounter here.” He’s also been indulging his passion for theatre and walking through the capital’s Royal Parks.

Ambassador O’Neill grew up at a time when the Northern Ireland conflict was never far away and a dominant issue in the news. “The Northern Ireland peace process has been a large part of the Irish diplomatic agenda for 30 years.” He recalls: “The opportunity to play some modest role in that as an Irish diplomat was very attractive.”

He accordingly joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin in 1983, with his first posting abroad to the Embassy in Madrid (1986-89). In the mid-1990s he was sent to Washington DC, a time that coincided with Bill Clinton’s second term in office. “Given that Ireland was high on the President’s agenda and he shared our commitment to the Peace Process, our Embassy was given unique access to the White House.”

Ambassador O’Neill’s career has been punctuated by five major roles dealing with Anglo-Irish relations, including a job as Second Secretary General in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2014-17), before coming to the UK. During those years, “The British and Irish governments worked together to convene multi-party talks after Northern Ireland’s government collapsed in January 2017.” Brexit was also a crucial issue at the time. “We wanted the British electorate to know that in the Irish government’s view, Brexit was not a good thing for Britain and British-Irish relations.” He continues, “We respect the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But what hasn’t been determined is the final form of Brexit, and we will use our influence to shape it in a way that does the least damage to the peace process.”

Ultimately, while in the UK, Ambassador O’Neill’s main objective is to “do whatever we can to try and protect and promote positive bilateral relations between Ireland and the UK. Following the state visits, relations had never looked so good, something people on both sides of the Irish Sea are proud of. Despite the temporary strains that Brexit creates between our governments, we must do everything we can to ensure the two countries continue to enjoy positive relations.”

He clarifies the “strategically important relationship: Ireland is the fifth largest export market for the UK. 400,000 jobs are dependent on this trading relationship. The air corridor between London and Dublin is the second busiest in the world. The degree of interaction and engagement between the two countries is immense.” He and his staff enjoy hosting and supporting a whole range of promotional events. “As long as they remind people of the richness and importance of the relationship and bring British and Irish people together.”

How does he believe that this relationship is likely to change post-Brexit? “In both London and Dublin, there is a determination to ensure that bilateral relations do not suffer as a result of Brexit. The question is: how do we do that in a post-Brexit world?  Until now, Brussels has provided a platform for daily contact between our Ministers and officials. In its absence, we must put in place structures and mechanisms that support the bilateral relationship.”

Going forward, Ambassador O’Neill explains that “Ireland is committed to remain at the heart of the EU, but it will be a different EU without the UK, which creates policy challenges for us. We must forge new alliances with other likeminded member states to help us achieve our policy objectives.”

Ireland has also put its name forward for membership of the UN Security Council in 2020. He is resolute on this issue: “Ireland is a committed member of the UN and we have a commendable track record. There is stiff competition from Canada and Norway, but we are committed to doing everything we can to succeed.”


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