Published Date: December 15th, 2022
Ireland’s ambassador to Canada, Dr. Eamonn McKee, says that there is a strong case for a Consulate General to be established in Montreal given the sizable and very active Irish community in the city.
Speaking as the guest of honor at the glittering Christmas Party for members and friends of the Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce on Friday 9 December at the McGill Faculty Club, he stressed the trade opportunities that exist between Ireland and the city and noted, for example, that Enterprise Ireland had now a dedicated economic promotion officer in the city.
Dr. McKee told the Chamber: “This city has a rich and diverse past with the Irish very much at the heart of that, in all walks of life. And that influence continues to this day. The Government is committed to supporting the Irish diaspora but also to promoting further trade and economic cooperation between Ireland and this city. There is so much potential for further growth and I personally think the time is right for a full-time Consulate to be set up, dedicated to Montreal, to help realize that potential and make the most of organizations like the Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce.”
Chamber President Paul Dunne welcomed the Ambassador’s comments. He pledged to make a strong case to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs for an increased presence in Montreal. Mr. Dunne said: “The need for a Consulate General in Montreal is obvious given the towering cultural and economic importance of Quebec in the Canadian context. It is a massive opportunity for the Government of Ireland to capitalize on the vibrancy of the Irish community here as well as the esteem in which the nation is held generally. The Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce is energized by the Ambassador’s comments and stands ready to take a leading role in the effort to make this a reality.”
As well as the Embassy in Ottawa, the Irish Government has established Consulates General in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto. Enterprise Ireland, the Governmental organization responsible for the development and growth of Irish businesses in world markets, also has a presence in Toronto as well as the new office it set up in Montreal last year. In addition, Honorary Consuls represent official Ireland in Toronto, Calgary, St. John’s and Halifax. Montreal, too, has an Honorary Consul with Dr. Michael Kenneally from the School of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University continuing to fulfill that volunteer role until his retirement at the end of 2022. The Chamber appreciates the stellar work Dr. Kenneally has done on behalf of the Irish in Montreal over many years and, in particular, the loyal and staunch support he shown for the activities of the Chamber itself.
Dr. McKee also took the opportunity to highlight some of the ways Irish people – or those of Irish descent – have helped shape modern Canada into the vibrant, diverse and democratic confederacy it is today. From the Dublin-born Duke of Wellington to Thomas Ahearn to Thomas D’Arcy-McGee, and the first three Governors General of Canada (Lord Monck, Lord Lisgar and Lord Dufferin), as well as countless merchants, religious, captains of industry and other influencers over the years, it is clear that Canada would be a very different place were it not for the Irish and Anglo-Irish, who created and shaped the nation over the past 200 years and more.
He said: “We need to put this up in lights. Everyone has forgotten the contribution made by the Irish in Quebec and across Canada in general. That is why we are launching ‘Fifty Irish Lives’ in Canada next March, Irish Heritage Month. We are planning an Irish Heritage Trail for the following year. This trail can act like a Christmas tree to hang on these stories about the Irish, like decorations, that help to give an overall impression of just how influential Irish people have been throughout Canada’s history and right up to the modern day. It is safe to say that without the Irish there would be no Canada as it is today.”
With an academic background in history and economics, the Ambassador has written extensively about the Irish in Canada. More details and examples of his research can be found at his fascinating blog site.
A highlight of Dr. McKee’s diplomatic career so far was his involvement in the Northern Ireland Peace Process that led to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement being signed in 1998. During a Q and A session following his speech, the Ambassador was asked for his views on a United Ireland, what that might look like, the types of compromises that might have to be made and the timeframe for a border poll on the matter.
He responded: “If Ireland wants to find a place where divergent loyalties co-exist in a place of peace and stability, then look no further than Canada for the model. Look at the contribution made by the Irish in Canada as part of the (British) Empire. It is certainly a complicated story because while we were colonized in Ireland, we were colonizers here… but let’s keep it complicated because in its complication is the richness of the story. But if we want to create a united Ireland, with all its complication and diverging loyalties, then we need to recall the fact that the Irish, the Catholic Irish, were very much part of the Empire, outside of Ireland, and not just in Canada.
“I think if North and South Ireland is to become one, then the South will have to change, too. Professor Brendan O’Leary has just published a book looking at the modalities. In one model, he describes how the North would be allowed to remain, to keep their various institutions more or less as they are, and it would be the rest of the country that adapts. This may well end in more devolution to the four provinces (Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Munster), with a federal government based in Dublin.
“Again, the similarities with Canada are striking… As for a border poll and when that might happen, to be honest, I don’t think it will be soon. Before any poll could take place, there would have to be a very clear explanation of what the united Ireland would look like so that people would know exactly what they are voting for. I think as things stand right now, about one third of people in the North will vote yes, one third will vote to maintain the Union with the UK. There is a third, roughly speaking, who are willing to be convinced either way so it will be important that they have all the facts.”
Dr. McKee also gave an economic update from Ireland: “In terms of business, the news from Ireland remains good. In 100 years since independence, we have created an economy that is incredibly robust. We have full employment, we have eradicated involuntary emigration. We have done that through talent because we have no other natural resources. Our economy is so robust it has survived well, both through the global financial crisis and COVID.
“There are huge opportunities for Ireland and Canada to cooperate, with Ireland remaining in the European Union. Meanwhile, Britain has made, in my view, a massive strategic economic error in leaving. A key partner for Ireland to develop that economic opportunity is through the network of Ireland-Canada Chambers of Commerce. The Chamber here in Montreal is a really important part of that. We have a pan-Canadian Chamber but that won’t be relevant unless the individual chapters are active and strong. So, I would encourage you all to join. And not just join but also to get involved and be active and support the Chamber because the work its does is very important and is recognized as such by the Irish Government.”
The Chamber Christmas Party was very well attended with a convivial night being had by all as members mingled with invited guests, including those from other Irish societies in the city. It was an opportunity for Irish Quebeckers to chat, network and share some festive cheer. The winners of the door prizes, which were kindly donated by Epices & Tout, an Irish-owned specialty food store located in Old Longueuil, were: Scott Phelan, Kevin Tracey, Vivian Doyle-Kelly, Len Madigan, Michael Papelian, Alison Shore, Tom Whelan and Amanda Smith.