22nd September 2020 Dublin, Ireland
Robin Barnett’s Final Blog as British Ambassador to Ireland
This is my last blog as Ambassador to Ireland. There are so many topics that I could cover but I wanted to focus on just 3 that are personal to me:
Before coming to Ireland, I had not appreciated the significance of the GAA but I quickly got an introduction to football at the 2016 Dublin v Mayo game. This was to be the start of my education and over my four years here, I have come to love the passion of the sports that make up the GAA and to understand the history around it.
During my time, we have been fortunate to have several Royal visitors and it has been fantastic to see them being introduced to the GAA and even trying their hand at hurling and football.
One of the last events before lockdown was the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Galway, where they thoroughly enjoyed their time being coached by their junior GAA teammates. Sadly, COVID-19 has limited our ability to enjoy GAA in person for now but I very much hope that it will be back and that I can enjoy another game when I’m next in Ireland.
Glencairn conversations (#GlencairnConversations)
Over the past 4 years, I have had the pleasure of launching and hosting a number of Glencairn conversations, a series of discussions about topics of importance to both the UK and Ireland.
We started with the 20th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and we went on to cover media freedom, higher education and climate change.
For me, the importance of bringing people together to talk about the big issues, and ensuring that whatever happens we keep talking, is one of the most important roles of an Embassy.
And finally, there can be no bigger topic. Some would say it is the most difficult to talk about. But it has been a privilege to witness a transformation in public perception, acknowledgement and acceptance of our shared history and sacrifice during the First World War.
There were moving moments at the battlefields of Flanders, where the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny came together with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, to commemorate the monumental sacrifice at the Battle of Messines in 1917. And at the ceremonies at the National War Memorial at Islandbridge, at Collins’ Barracks and at Glasnevin in 2018 to mark the end of the Great War, where all were touched by the President describing the emergence from a state of “official amnesia” regarding the selfless contribution of Irish men and women over this terrible period in history.
But I have been perhaps most touched during attendance at smaller, more local events where communities of all backgrounds have come together to erect, reclaim or refurbish monuments publicly honouring the fading memories of great grandparents, great uncles, and long-gone townspeople. We owe a great debt to the many organisations and individuals who have contributed to this healing process, a key element of the Decade of Centenaries.
I want to highlight in particular the role of the Department of the Taioseach, and the Department of Culture and the Gaeltacht for such sensitive handling, coordination and leadership; the Glasnevin Trust for their guidance and education; the Royal British Legion in Ireland; and, by no means least the Office of Public Works, as the guardians of so many places of remembrance. As we enter a perhaps more difficult part of the Decade, we can reflect that the handling of the first part could not be bettered. Dignity, openness and respect are key.
And with that, I am signing off. Many thanks to everyone that I have met in Ireland during a fantastic four years. And thank you, above all, to my wonderful team at the Embassy. We have made it together through thick and, occasionally, thin. I could not have done any of the things I have without them.