Irish ambassador Stephen Dawson on the balcony of his office at the Irish embassy on the route d’Arlon.
Photo: Mike Zenari
Stephen Dawson presented his credentials to Grand Duke Henri on Wednesday morning. Delano spoke with the new Irish ambassador just after he arrived in Luxembourg.
The weather may have changed dramatically since Stephen Dawson moved from Dublin in early September, when the sounds of the Schueberfouer fun fair could be heard from his route d’Arlon office. But the new Irish ambassador to Luxembourg is keen to get on with the job at hand.
The son of a Dublin father and an English mother, Dawson is an experienced diplomat who joined the department of foreign affairs and trade in 1987 in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish agreement. His first ambassadorship comes after a long spell as the department’s deputy director for the Middle East--a post he has held since 2004, which is something of a rarity in the foreign office. The work initially involved covering Iraq, Egypt and north Africa. “But for the last 10 years I’ve been doing specifically Israel, Palestine and Iran, which for Ireland and generally in the world are quote high profile issues.” It was a fascinating job that had its good and less good periods, he says. “I leave with some regret that we were not able to get it further forward, but also it was time to move on.”
Dawson acknowledges that it was also an issue on which the grand duchy was one of the states in Europe to cooperate most. “Luxembourg, like Ireland, being a small country has to choose its issues, if you like. We often found Luxembourg to be quite a fellow spirit. I can think of some valuable things that our ministers did together. I'm actually looking forward to following up on those.”
Previously Dawson had also twice worked on Northern Ireland, including in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement. Indeed, he was a junior member of the Irish delegation that used to head up to Belfast for talks. “So, I had kind of a fascinating window into that; I used to actually sit in the corner to take the minutes.”
His foreign diplomatic postings include Rome, London and Vienna with brief spells in Riyadh and Tehran. Dawson says his experience has been more in the political analysis, policy side of diplomatic work. “It's a while since I've been into bilateral missions. So again, that's something I look forward to getting to grips with.”
Luxembourg, he says, has always been a popular destination with colleagues. “It’s one of those places, actually a little bit like Ottawa, that is a little below the radar in the department.” And he likes the idea that the Irish community in the grand duchy, though larger than one might think, is also reasonably compact.
Indeed, Luxembourg’s size will allow Dawson to encompass relations more readily, he reckons. Also, Ireland and Luxembourg don't have any real bilateral snags and do cooperate on a lot of things.
“One of the things I've noticed about Luxembourg, just as a byproduct of my other work, is that like Ireland, the smaller countries have to husband their fire, they have to concentrate on what's important to them. But some of the smaller European countries literally only speak when something domestically relevant comes up. Luxembourg is a country that has always been willing to develop interests in other areas. Like Ireland, to try and be helpful when on our own irons are not in the fire, which I think is a very important part of being a European Union member. You know, smaller countries can't complain that the world is run by big countries if they don't play their part and if they don't try and do their bit. That's the thinking behind, for instance, Ireland’s current running for the Security Council. We just feel that smaller countries should be represented at these groups and every now and again you have to take the time and the resources to play your part. I think that's something we will share.”
“Smaller countries can't complain that the world is run by big countries if they don't play their part and if they don't try and do their bit.”
Those resources in Luxembourg include a second diplomat at the Irish embassy for the first time in almost a decade. Teresa Sweeney has arrived as deputy head of mission after three years at the Irish embassy in Kenya. Indeed, Dawson explains that strengthening numbers in missions in Europe has been a direct result of Brexit, which he says will impact on Ireland right across all areas of policy. “It's been a huge concern of ours and will continue to be even after it happens. So, we have really been reaching out to our European partners, including Luxembourg, for understanding and for assistance. I think we've been very gratified by the response we've had, by the understanding for our position and for the difficulties it poses for us.”
As for the financial services sector, Dawson says that both Ireland and Luxembourg will have to deal with each other a lot on the fallout from Brexit. “But that was true anyway. Developments were taking place stemming from the security and terrorism side, the financial crash and the evolution of financial regulation. It is a policy area where Ireland and Luxembourg naturally have things to discuss, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not, as one might expect. It has become fairly obvious to me that financial services is one of these kaleidoscopic areas that’s always changing because of the nature of the products and the nature of the business. So, it's not one of these policy areas where you have a problem and you get it done and dusted.”
One aspect of the growth in financial services in Ireland is that many people in the industry, and not just the Irish, are moving from Luxembourg to Ireland as advisory companies like EY (which has just announced 600 new jobs in Ireland) expand and others like Alter Domus establish second offices in places like Cork. Dawson says that a similar phenomenon happened during the so-called Celtic Tiger years, when Ireland changed to become a country of net migration. “Psychologically in Ireland that was a really important stage, because immigration has been a kind of a haunting theme of Ireland for 150 years.” But even at the height of boom, there are still a reasonable number of people from Ireland who every year ago and abroad to try their fortune. “And it was readily accepted. So long as people weren't going abroad because they had to, it is to be expected and to be welcomed.”