Ambassador Dan Mulhall and his wife Greta left London last week for Washington. He had these parting words for Irish people in Britain.
Greta and I leave London to begin our new lives in Washington. We will leave with the fondest of memories of the four years we have spent in London. We are sad to have to leave, but moving countries every few years is part and parcel of diplomatic life. We look back with particular fondness on the extensive contact we have had with our exceptional Irish community in Britain.
When I arrived here in 2013, I had relatively little knowledge of the Irish in Britain. Nobody in my mother’s or my father’s immediate families had emigrated which meant that I had no experience of meeting English-born cousins coming home for the summer. My childhood was spent entirely in Waterford although we did take one family holiday in Britain visiting friends of my parents.
— Daniel Mulhall (@DanMulhall) August 22, 2017
My prior knowledge of London came mainly from the many short business trips I made to the city in the course of my various roles at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and from occasional visits as a tourist.We had a three-year posting in Scotland, 1998-2001, but we did not in those days come south of Hadrian’s Wall all that often.
During my time as Ambassador in London, I have sought to prioritise the Embassy’s engagement with the Irish in Britain and have tried to visit all of the main Irish centres up and down the country. Our community is large and diverse. Irish people in Britain come from every demographic and are to be found in every walk of life, making positive contributions to British society of which they form an integral part.
I know of more than 20 Irish business and academic networks active in London alone and there are more than 60,000 Irish-born directors of British companies. This provides Ireland with invaluable links to all echelons of the British economy.
I am pleased that the Embassy has been able this past four years to support more than 100 Irish organisations throughout Britain, mainly to fund welfare programmes for vulnerable members of our community. Funding for these programmes comes from the Emigrant Support Programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is a key instrument of our Government’s Global Diaspora Policy.
During my time here, I have visited many Irish organisations around Britain and have been deeply impressed with what I have seen. Our community is a real community and not just a collection of individuals. I have met many Irish people who have spent most of their lives in Britain, but who still feel a deep affinity with their homeland even though they left it three, four or perhaps five decades before.
Many Irish people came to Britain at a time when Ireland’s standing here was not what it is today. As a consequence, our people endured many challenges when they first came. It is as a result of their presence in Britain over the decades that Ireland and Irish people are now held in such positive regard in this country.
As I have often done in remarks delivered at Irish community centres, I wish to pay a warm tribute to our people for the manner in which the Irish in Britain have been informal Ambassadors for Ireland in their daily lives here. The success of the Irish in becoming part of the fabric of today’s Britain, while also retaining their own strong sense of identity, ought to be an inspiration to other immigrant communities faced with their own challenges in today’s world.
This past four years has seen important developments within the Irish community, including the opening of the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester, of the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith and of McGovern Park by the GAA at Ruislip.
The definite highlight for me – and I am sure for most Irish people here – has been the historic State Visit by President Higgins in April 2014.
Those four days were a powerful affirmation at the highest level of the new and highly positive era in Irish-UK relations to which the Irish in Britain have contributed and from which they also benefit.
I know that the decision to leave the European Union has created multiple uncertainties in Britain, including within the Irish community. I am satisfied that the unique status of the Irish in Britain will not be undermined as a consequence of Brexit. Both Governments are fully committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area and our Government has worked hard to explain its significance to our EU partners.
My wife, Greta, joins me in expressing our thanks to the Irish community for the warm welcome we have received everywhere we have travelled.
It has been a privilege for us to be part of this fantastic community over the past four years.
We will always cherish precious memories of our lives in Britain and of the wonderful people we have met here.
Slán agus beannacht.