K24 interviewed Irish Ambassador Fionnuala Quinlan yesterday on Irish-Kenya relations and her first 2 months in the country.
The ambassador began by discussing her work as a journalist prior to becoming a diplomat and how it felt being the interviewee rather than the one asking the questions.
She explained that her route to Kenya began when she joined the press office of the Irish government’s international development programme before moving on four years later into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from which she applied for postings overseas.
Discussing her appointment as Ambassador to Kenya, she celebrated the links Ireland has with the country from the deep connection with the work of missionaries to gaining independence from Britain. She added that it also provided an opportunity to share the lessons, both good and bad, that Ireland had learned during its development.
Celebrating the shared history of Kenyan and Ireland, Ambassador Quinlan highlighted the education provided by missionaries who had set up a number of ‘wonderful schools’. She added that Kenyan people had had a good experience from Irish teachers which had helped build this mutual respect.
She also used the interview to celebrate the Young Scientists Kenya exhibition currently taking place at the KICC. Her predecessor Dr Vincent O’Neill had identified the opportunity to copy the long running Irish initiative in the country and that following its pilot year, this year saw the programme expand from 10 to all 47 counties. Ambassador Quinlan also highlighted the support from President Kenyatta who this week announced that patent and trade mark fees would be waived for winning entries in the competition which are providing innovative solutions to problems. The winners will be invited to a week-long boot camp to help them develop their projects with 2 scholarships being offered by Strathmore University.
Questioned about the UK leaving the European Union, Ambassador Quinlan said that Ireland didn’t want UK to leave but respected the decision of the 2016 referendum, despite a potential risk to the peace process and disruption on the border with Northern Ireland.
She added that she believes the EU is stronger with UK in it and that Brexit could ramifications for Ireland as the UK is its closest neighbour and one of the country’s biggest trading partners. However, she said that Ireland and the rest of the EU were preparing for Brexit, adding that she had read Kenya could also suffer drop in trade with the UK which is counter to assurances given by former UK High Commissioner Nic Hailey.
The interview also explored what the Irish Ambassador though made a good envoy which included building trust and a network of contacts as well as being skilled at analysis and reporting. Other skills she thought made a good balozi were helping to build understanding and being a good listener. When starting in a new role, she said it was important to get to know your immediate colleagues and the wider realm of contacts in what she describes as a ‘privileged position’.
When asked about how she balances her busy ambassadorial responsibilities with being a wife and mother she said she was lucky to have a supporting husband who works in technology, meaning he could relocate with her and was working from home. This meant he was also able to help with the care of their young son.
The family have already visited Lake Naivasha, Ol Pejeta as well as Nanyuki and are looking forward to exploring the coastal beaches and going on safari with Turkana and Mombasa on the list for places to visit in the near future.
She also praised the Kenyan people who she described as “extremely friendly”.
Ambassador Quinlan also showed some love for her home country, saying that big corporations were interested in setting up in Ireland due to the country’s educated population, responsive education system and favourable tax rates as well as it being a dynamic and fun place to be with beautiful coastlines and vibrant culture.
The YSK National Exhibition is open to the public this morning, and anyone interested in learning more is welcome to drop by the KICC and meet some of Kenya’s brightest young minds.