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MoS Ciarán Cannon, TD., Reception Celebrating the Irish in Kenya

Good evening.

I am delighted to end what has been a long day of fruitful exchanges at the Africa Ireland Economic Forum here, in the Epic museum, by visiting this exhibition.

As we approach our centenary it is fitting that we take the opportunity to look back at how we have built connections across the globe. The strong relations between Ireland and Kenya were forged well before we opened Embassies; they rest on the shoulders of individual Irish and Kenyans who touched each others’ lives.

Alone on this island on the edge of Europe, we are just six million people with limited opportunities to have a global impact. With our Diaspora approaching eighty million people worldwide we become over 1% of the world’s population. During the Gathering we got a glimpse of our collective power and for the first time in my lifetime I had a tangible sense of being part of a very unique global community.

There is a tremendous opportunity right now to build on the strength of this community to help drive our economy and enrich our society. As we move forward into the 21st Century our growing focus on economic diplomacy is maturing. We are looking at how we can strengthen trade links with other countries, particularly in Africa. This too will be built on our greatest resource, the people of the diaspora who have started afresh in new countries and now contribute to their development and success.

The reality of how much a country’s diaspora can contribute will be familiar to many African countries and is another shared experience between Ireland and Africa. In purely economic terms, remittances to sub-Saharan Africa grew to $37.8 billion in 2017 and are expected to increase substantially in coming years. Similarly in our history, we relied on those who had emigrated to the United Kingdom or America to send money home and it has been estimated that from 1940 – 1970 the equivalent of almost six billion euro was sent back to Ireland from the United Kingdom alone. However, the diaspora is about much more than economics, it is about exchanges in culture, learning and humanity.

Those of you who know me know the central place education has in my heart. It is only fifty years since free secondary education was introduced in Ireland. Since then we have changed from a nation that exported its young, for lack of opportunity, to a country which has one of the highest levels of third level education in Europe. A country which is able to offer its citizens a higher standard of living than their grandparents could have ever imagined.

Let me tell you about my family. My father’s generation were lucky to finish primary school. My generation benefitted from free secondary education and I was fortunate to go to university. My son’s generation expects to go to university. Over that time, as my family moved up the education ladder, we moved up the economic value chain from what many would term subsistence farming to the opportunity to become a Minister in Government.

This experience and the accompanying transformation of our island explains why we value education so highly and why I was moved by the stories of Irish educators in Kenya who have left their mark throughout society. From the first missionaries, including Sisters in the Loreto Convent Msongari in Nairobi who established the first Catholic high school for Kenyan girls, to Brother Colm O’Connell who coached David Rudisha the Olympic gold medallist. Their stories speak to the almost universal experience of having been educated by Irish Brothers and Sisters.

Our Embassy in Nairobi has picked up the baton from these fine Irish people and is determined to ensure that Ireland and Kenya continue to deepen this special and enduring friendship. New business relationships are being added to those historical relationships, not replacing but bringing another dimension to our people to people links. I am very happy to jointly launch the Doing Business in Kenya guide later this evening with Cabinet Secretary Munya.

In conclusion, I would like to commend the Irish Embassy in Nairobi for this initiative which highlights the many Irish contributions in education, health, agriculture and sport. I hope this exhibition, in a museum dedicated to the story of the Irish abroad, will lead visitors to take inspiration from the Irish who left their mark on the world and those on whom Ireland left a mark.

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