Ireland, Kingdom share excellent ties, says outgoing ambassador

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Niall Holohan

Niall Holohan

Irish Ambassador to the Kingdom Niall Holohan has expressed satisfaction with the excellent bilateral relations between Ireland and Saudi Arabia as he nears the end of his tenure in the next few days.

“I would like to thank the Saudi leadership for the cooperation extended to me and the embassy during my tenure in the Kingdom as the Irish Envoy,” said Holohan in an interview.

He said Ireland and Saudi Arabia share similar views on many of the major international issues such as the Palestinian question and the proposal to establish a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Underscoring the close ties binding the Kingdom and Ireland, Ambassador Holohan said that several senior Irish and Saudi officials had exchanged bilateral visits during his tenure in the Kingdom.

He said in January this year, Irish Premier Enda Kenny visited the Kingdom and held detailed talks with Defense Minister and Crown Prince Salman, who is also the First Deputy Premier, Khalid Al-Ankary, Higher Education Minister and Gov. Fahad bin Abdullah Al-Mubarak of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA).

Nine months back the Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney also visited the Kingdom and held talks with his Saudi counterpart, Fahad bin Abdulrahman Balghunaim, he said.

From the Saudi side, he said, Minister of Higher Education Khalid Mohammed A. Al-Ankary had visited Ireland as recently as three weeks ago to attend the graduation ceremony for Saudi students who had graduated this year from academic institutions in Ireland.

He said the welcome presence of about 3,000 Saudi students currently enrolled in various Irish colleges and universities demonstrates in a very practical way the strengthening of bilateral relations.

Most of them are studying under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

“There were perhaps not more than a few dozen Saudis studying in Ireland when I arrived five years ago to assume my post in the Kingdom,” the Irish envoy noted.

The two countries also have strong trade relations, with the total volume of goods and services traded between the two countries amounting to more than €1 billion annually, of which about €100 million are represented in Saudi exports to Ireland.

“This level of trade is expected to grow further with the lifting next year of the quota for milk production in the European Union. Ireland accordingly stands ready in the future to export more milk powder and other dairy produce to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East,” he said.

He said that “It makes a lot of sense for Saudi Arabia to import the raw material rather than produce fresh milk in a desert environment where water is so scarce. The imported milk powder from Ireland can readily be converted locally into white cheeses and other products popular in the domestic market.”

“So I’m happy regarding our bilateral ties. But having said that, I’m at the same time sad as I and my better half, Felicity leave the Kingdom where five years have passed almost unnoticed,” he said.

“That means” he added, “that I have enjoyed my stay here very much. My posting in the Kingdom was not really like work because I was enjoying it so much.

We have lived in a very pleasant location which is the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) where I and fellow diplomats can walk during our leisure time so as to remain physically fit.

In addition, we also go hiking together on the desert trails outside the Saudi capital at the weekend. We are sadly leaving behind many friends with whom we have shared some wonderful moments,” he said.

He added that although he was now retiring from public service, he hoped that he could perhaps come back again to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries in a private capacity in the future.

Ambassador Holohan received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University College Dublin in 1971, his doctoral degree from the Queen’s University Belfast in 1975, and an M. Phil. in Peace Studies from Trinity College Dublin in 1992.

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