“we have a very good offering for Japanese companies”

Raising Ireland’s profile in Japan

Irish Ambassador to Japan Anne Barrington

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Michael Holmes

This is a year of celebration for Ireland in Japan — 2017 marks 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and it is the 25th anniversary of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Tokyo. Ambassador Anne Barrington also has an anniversary this year. It is 40 years since she entered Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs. Throughout her decades of service, she has held a variety of positions, including at the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in New York; as ambassador to Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi; as joint secretary of the North/South Ministerial Council in Northern Ireland; and in Dublin as director general of the Europe Division when Ireland had presidency of the European Union. Since September 2014, she has been ambassador to Japan. Ambassador Barrington spoke with Eurobiz Japan about the impact of Brexit, the upcoming Ireland Trophy horseracing event, and how the embassy is celebrating 60 years of diplomatic ties with Japan.

Could you tell me about your time on the North/South Ministerial Council?

The North/South Ministerial Council was set up following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which was the landmark agreement that essentially brought peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. I think the major achievement during my time there was that we pushed for the agenda on research and development.

Commissioner Máire Geoghegan–Quinn came over from Brussels, and we got a lot of momentum behind the R&D agenda. We got researchers from the North and South, and across Europe, to come together to look at the future, at innovation, and do all the things that are required for a modern economy in the 21st century. I think that was probably the highlight of my time there. R&D stands out as being a lasting legacy.

What are some of your office’s goals for this year?

We’re putting a lot of effort into trying to get more Japanese tourists to come to Ireland. We’ve re-launched a Japanese-language website for tourism, and we’re hoping it will help raise our profile and get more Japanese visitors to come and see what we have to offer as a tourist product. We think it’s going well so far. It has certainly helped raise the profile among travel agencies here. We’ve seen a rise in interest in Ireland as a tourism destination as a result, which is very encouraging.

The big issue now is Brexit and the impact it will have on the Irish economy, and on Japan. I think most Japanese companies, and people generally, have been incredulous that the UK would wish to leave its largest trading partner, one of the largest and best-operating markets in the world. So, we would like to let Japanese companies know that Ireland is an ideal location if they decide to quit the UK: we speak English; we have the same legal system; our labour laws are quite similar. For example, for banks that are worried about passporting rights, Ireland would be the ideal location to come to. We’re one of the most globalised countries in the world. And we think we have a very good offering for Japanese companies.

How is the embassy celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan?

We’ve had a number of high-level visits. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visited Ireland in January to launch the year. And our Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan visited here at the end of February. And over the St. Patrick’s Day period, we had the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe.

We’re focusing quite a bit on cultural activities. We had a Celtic Noh performance, based on a WB Yeats’ play called At the Hawk’s Well. It was a wonderful production, with a Celtic voice choir working with the Noh actors. At Meiji Shrine, there was a symposium on Lafcadio Hearn at the beginning of June. And then in September, we have an Irish theatre group coming out to perform Waiting for Godot in both Tokyo and Kyoto.

And we are looking forward to a trade mission at the end of the year.

Could you give me a few details about the annual Ireland Trophy horseracing event in Japan?

It’s held every October. It has been a Class-4 race, but — because it’s the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations — it’s going to be upgraded to a Group 2, which is quite significant in that it’s a much higher-ranking race, with more profile.

The Japan Racing Association is really an excellent organisation. Some people say that horseracing in this country is the best organised in the world. The prize money is very good, as is the care of every horse that enters the races.

I think sporting events are important because they allow countries to get to know each other better, they’re fun, and you can have lots of fans meeting each other. We have seen this with two Ireland vs. Japan rugby test matches here. And we are looking forward to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which should be a wonderful event.

What are some specific areas of collaboration between Ireland and Japan?

In science and technology, for example, we had a programme which allowed researchers to collaborate. We brought Irish researchers over to Japan and asked Japanese researchers to Ireland. This has resulted in a range of collaborations between the two countries. And we want to see more of that: innovation leading to more innovation and growth.

In financial services, we have very good offerings in ICT, such that some banks in Japan have been using Irish technology, including in foreign currency exchange. Another example is the finger-printing machines at the airports in Japan — that technology was developed in Ireland. The stock exchange also uses Irish technology. There’s quite a bit of innovation and collaboration going on in that area.

In what ways is your office working to strengthen trade relations between Japan and Ireland?

Japan is our ninth-largest trading partner globally. We did nearly €10 billion worth of trade with Japan in 2015 in goods and services. It’s very big. And trade is growing. Our economy grew by 5.2% last year, and we’re set to have economic growth of over 3% this year.

So, we’re looking to expand our trade. I work very closely with my colleagues at IDA Ireland, which is the investment wing of the Irish government; and Enterprise Ireland, which is the government’s export agency. What we’re trying to do is promote Ireland as a country of innovation and growth — and we have the youngest population in Europe.

Ireland’s profile in Japan is not very high. But it’s important to let people know that it’s a country that’s there, that’s worth visiting, that’s worth doing business with. 

“Ireland is an ideal location [for Japanese companies] if they decide to quit the UK”