UPDATE : 2019.6.26 WED 16:20
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Irish leaders have great respect for Pres. Moon for promoting peace in KoreaInterview with Ambassador Julian Clare of Ireland in Seoul

Question: What is the impression of your Head of Government concerning President Moon Jae-in? If there have been any remarks made by your Head of Government concerning President Moon, please elaborate (by order of importance in Your Excellency's opinion).

Answer: There is great respect and admiration on the part of the Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar, and the Irish Government for President Moon Jae-in.
In particular, there is admiration for the balanced and principled approach that President Moon Jae-in and his administration has taken to the unprecedented challenge posed by the nuclear ambitions and provocative tests undertaken by North Korea.
Ireland supports President’s Moon’s approach of keeping the door open to dialogue but responding firmly in the face of provocations, and doing everything possible to avoid conflict.

Minister Leo Varadkar Taoiseach for Defence of Ireland

This administration has exemplified that it its unceasing efforts to secure family reunion exchanges and promote dialogue. Its courage in securing North Korean participation at the PyeongChang Olympics is greatly admired in Ireland. I was at the Opening Ceremony and, I think, like everyone in the stadium, was both impressed by the technical ingenuity of the production and struck by the rousing, spontaneous reception given to the Korean teams marching together into the stadium under the unity flag.
I should mention in this context that Ireland has a historic commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and, in condemning, North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, our Foreign Minister – who is also our Deputy Prime Minister (or Tánaiste) – refers often to need for urgent ratification and enforcement of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Ambassador Julian Clare of Ireland in Seoul

Our Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, visited Korea in 2013 when he was Minister of Transport and met the then Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. At the time he announced the plan for the construction of a memorial, which is now standing, to those of Irish birth and heritage who died in the Korean War. He has spoken of the strong impression this experience this made on him and how it shapes his view of Korea as a country that has worked hard to secure its prosperity and made many sacrifices to win its freedom.
I also know that the Taoiseach is very aware of President Moon’s life experience – the journey of his parents from North Korea as refugees and his own active involvement early in his career in the pro-democracy movement – and has great admiration for the President. As a Prime Minister with a reforming agenda, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has also a great interest in President Moon’s programme to develop the social economy and raise living standards.

O’Connell Street, Dublin

Q: Please introduce the Head of Government of your esteemed country in detail, including major achievements.

A: Ireland’s Head of Government (Taoiseach – we use the Irish language name for the position), Leo Varadkar, is one of Europe’s youngest Prime Ministers, at thirty-nine years of age.
The Taoiseach was involved in student politics at university in Trinity College Dublin, where he trained as a medical doctor. First elected to Parliament in 2007, he was appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2011 – in which capacity he visited Korea in 2013 – and Minister for Health in 2014. He was appointed Minister for Social Protection in 2016. Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach in June 2017.
The Taoiseach has spoken often and strongly about equality as a defining theme – no matter what one’s background, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, every citizen should enjoy full equality and have an equal opportunity to prosper in his or her life. And, in many ways, the Taoiseach’s own background exemplifies the significant social changes that have occurred in Ireland in the past twenty years. His father was born in Mumbai, India, and moved to the UK in the 1960s where he worked as a doctor and met his wife, the Taoiseach’s mother, who was an Irish nurse working in England. Their family moved to Ireland in the 1970s.
Since that time, the composition of Irish society has changed significantly. In 2004, when ten countries joined the European Union, Ireland was one of the three existing members to immediately open up its labour markets. As a consequence, we very rapidly attracted a new population of Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks and many others who have made a huge contribution to Irish They stuck with the country when we suffered a traumatic economic crash and helped rebuild the economy. Throughout the schools and towns of Ireland, there are “new Irish”, not just from Europe but from Asia and Africa. Indeed, almost 20% of the population of Ireland was born overseas.

Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway

Q: Economic cooperation is very important between countries today, and Korea is no exception. Who are the major Irish companies actively engaged in bilateral economic cooperation with Korea? Please introduce them in detail in the order of size and scale of business activities with Korea.

A: There are a number of Irish companies which are very active in the Korean market and there is great interest on the part of Irish businesses in developing relations with Korean enterprises.
Let’s talk about trade in a minute but first let me answer your question by looking at the some of the Irish companies which have operations here in Korea.
Kerry Group, an Irish multinational producer of ingredients to the food industry has an operation in Seoul, developing solutions in the Korean food market. Medtronic, the internationally recognised and major manufacturer of medical devices, has an operation in Osong where it launched last year its very impressive research and development and training centre. In the area of clinical medical research, the Irish company ICON Clinical has a significant presence here in Seoul in the important area of life science research. Another listed Irish company, Hostelword, has a base here operating its platform for online booking of hostel accommodation. Financial Technology is, of course, a major emerging area and we are very pleased that an Irish-based company, Fintrax, has been successfully winning business in Korea.
A number of Irish companies have excellent and growing partnerships with companies here in Korea in a variety of areas – smart farming, air purification systems, life sciences, aviation leasing and high-tech engineering. We see this trend gathering pace owing to the increasing sophistication and global ambition of Irish companies. The level and frequency of Ministerial and company visits to Korea is a strong indication of the increasing focus on the Korean market in Ireland. We will have a Government Minister – our Housing Minister - here in Seoul again next month, the third visit by a Minister to Korea in five months.

Irish (right) and EU Flags

Q: What is the present volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?

A: The trade between Ireland and Korea is increasing but our countries are bound together by more than just the volume of bilateral trade.
Both of our countries see trade as the engine of economic growth and appreciate that global prosperity requires the freedom to trade. Ireland has a highly globalised, open economy.
The current level of bilateral trade is just under € 2 billion per year which represents a big increase in recent years.
There is, in Ireland, a very significant interest in Korea. Last November, our Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, led a trade mission of 35 Irish agri-food companies to Korea. There is huge interest on the part of Irish companies in building partnerships here. Both Korea and Ireland place great importance on the production of high-quality, sustainably produced and safe food. Ireland is a country of 5 million that produces enough food for 25 million, exporting food and drink to 175 countries - sustainability and safety are therefore a national priority. Korean consumers may indeed already be familiar with a number of Irish brands including Guinness, Jameson Whiskey and Flahavan’s porridge.
In terms of services, education is another area of already significant and potentially greater cooperation. There are already a number of programmes of cooperation between Irish and Korean universities, including Hanyang University, Kyungpook National University and Soongsil University. We would like to see more student exchanges and working to show the benefits of study in Ireland, including English language training.

Q: What are the areas in your country where Korean companies are wanted to invest?

A: Ireland a strong foreign direct investment sector and many of the world’s leading corporations have European headquarters in Ireland. Indeed, exports by both multinational corporations and indigenous Irish companies are a critical part of our economic performance. Ireland is a stable, pro-business country that is embedded in the European Union’s single market for the goods, labour, capital and the free movement of people. We are also one of the nineteen member states of the EU who have adopted the Eurozone common currency. The job creation strategy that assisted in our economic recovery is also based on a number of long-term national investments, including in education. We also have the youngest population in Europe with one third under 25 years of age and almost half the population under the age of 34.
The recent investment in Ireland by SK Biotek was a major development. SK Biotek has acquired a major pharmaceuticals manufacturing campus, employing more than 350 people, in the greater Dublin area. The acquisition of the Irish manufacturing plant by SK represents a key part of its programme to become a top tier global contract pharmaceuticals manufacturing firm by 2020. Dr. Junku Park, CEO of SK Biotek commented at the opening of the facility that Ireland was at the fore of global pharmaceutical manufacturing excellence, with a welcoming business environment and a talented workforce. As our Minister at the launch, Michael D’Arcy, said, the Government is keen to support dynamic companies like SK Biotek, We are very excited about this major Korean investment and our Government and our economic agencies are striving to win further investment from Korea.

Q: What are the major tourist attractions in your country, especially those many Korean tourists go?

A: I have been struck since I arrived here by the number of people who mention the TV programme Begin Again where the very talented Korean musicians musicians Lee So-ra, You Hee-yeol, Yoon Do-hyun and host Noh Hong-chul, performed street music – busking – in Ireland. They visited Dublin, Galway, Slane Castle – the grounds of which host the country’s biggest international concert every year – and Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, the Cliffs of Moher.
As a native Dubliner, I must admit that I would always want to steer any visitor towards my own town and encourage them to trace its medieval past, or admire its Georgian architecture or, for those with literary interests, perhaps follow the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses – or indeed spend a pleasant afternoon in the city’s most visited tourist destination – the Guinness Storehouse museum.
I would heartily encourage any visitor to travel along what has become known as the Wild Atlantic Way – to travel along the Atlantic seacoast where by hiking, biking, riding or driving, you can witness spectacular coastal scenery, including the soaring Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and the celebrated Ring of Kerry.

Q: Tell us about the Irish Community in Korea.

A: We have about 900 Irish people living in Korea. The younger part of our community comprises Irish teachers of English who make up most of our community. They work hard, knowing how important education is to Korean society and Korean parents. In their spare time, many are involved in the Seoul Gaels Gaelic Football team who regularly train Korean schoolchildren in the game. The Seoul Gaels are currently Asian Champions having won at the annual Asian Gaelic Games in Bankgok in November. It’s a hugely competitive tournament so winning it was a major achievement by the club. A number of the Irish community have married here and started families, making Korea their home. There is also a very active Irish Association of Korea which, among other things, organises the annual St. Patrick’s Day festival in Sindorim which attracts thousands of visitors. We are looking forward to this year’s which takes place on St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March.
Among the more experienced of our community are the men and women of the Columban religious order, many of who have been living in Korea since the 1950s and 1960s. One of the Columban priests, Father PJ McGlinchey, revolutionised livestock breeding in Jeju Island after he arrived there in 1954. At almost 90 years of age, he still lives there with his work being continued by another priest, Fr. Michael O’Riordan, from Dublin. Another Columban priest, Kevin O’Rourke, was the first foreign national to be awarded a PhD in Korean literature by a national university. He was the winner last year of the Daesan Prize in the category of translation, having won many prizes for translation of Joseon-era poetry. The Columban order is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its establishment this year.

Q: Please introduce Your Excellency in full, including your family.

A: My family and I arrived in Korea last August and we greatly enjoy living here. It is our first assignment in East Asia and my first as Head of Mission.
My wife, Siobhán, and I have three children – three daughters aged 14, 12 and 9 – and they revel in the food, the shops, K-pop and the high-speed WiFi! As parents, we very much enjoy living in Seoul – a city with the feel of dynamism and energy but also one with the feeling of personal safety and security. I had read about the Korean economic miracle before my posting but, only after coming here, have I really had a chance to grasp the scale of the country’s achievements and the country’s extraordinary capacity for organisation.
I have previously served in our representation to the UN in New York, our mission to the EU in Brussels, as well as in our Embassies in Moscow, Bratislava and Tel Aviv.
We have already had some memorable experiences. During the recent Seollal holiday, we spent an enchanting afternoon at the Lighting Festival at the Garden of Morning Calm in Gapyeong-gun. In November, our former President – and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Mary Robinson was honoured by Hanyang University with its prestigious Paiknam Prize for Human Rights and Service. And in December, I had the honour of attending a mass in Gwangju marking the beginning of the celebrations of the centenary of the Columban religious order, and to spend the with members of the Order, including Irish men and women who have given decades of service in Korea. Most recently, as I mentioned earlier, I was delighted to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang which was an unforgettable experience.

Kim Su-a  edt@koreapost.com

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