Previously the Irish embassy based in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana served three nations – Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but that has changed with Ambassador Tim Harrington now based in Zagreb. Croatia Week spoke to him about his new role.
When did the embassy officially open and where is it located?
I was delighted to be appointed as the first resident Ambassador of Ireland to Croatia. I presented my credentials to President Josipovic on 9 September 2014. The Embassy is open and working out of a temporary office in the Eurocentar, 23 Miramarska, Zagreb. We will move to a permanent office in the same building in the coming weeks.
Could you tell us briefly about your career to date and your interests?
Before coming to Croatia I spent ten years in Brussels – an unusually long posting for a diplomat – working on EU issues. I began in Ireland’s Permanent Representation to the EU and then moved to the EU’s new foreign policy arm – the European External Action Service (EEAS). Prior to that, at Headquarters in Dublin, I worked on human rights issues. Before joining the Department of Foreign Affairs I worked in the Departments of Environment and of Finance.
My free time is spent with my family; my wife Majella (who is also Irish) and I have two boys, ages 5 and 7, who take up all our energy.
What are your initial impressions about Croatia and Zagreb as a city thus far?
Since moving to Zagreb last August I have received the warmest of welcomes and being made to feel at home. The friendliness and hospitality reminds me very much of Ireland. I have been very impressed by the natural beauty of the country and look forward to exploring more of it. The whole family is excited about living in Croatia.
What are the main challenges you expect to face in Croatia in your role?
My main challenge will be improving trade between Ireland and Croatia. I believe there is considerable untapped potential for trade and that both countries stand to benefit from better business relations. I also want to support Irish businesses that want to invest in Croatia.
What are your main goals in Zagreb?
Aside from economic issues, one of my aims is to improve co-operation on EU affairs. The EU is very important for both Ireland and Croatia. Ireland has benefitted greatly from membership of the EU. Ireland and Croatia are both similar-sized countries and have much in common. We should be natural allies within the EU – that is one of the reasons why Ireland has opened an Embassy in Zagreb. I also want to provide a first-class service to Irish people visiting or living in Croatia.
How can Ireland–Croatia business and cultural ties be strengthened?
The most important ties are those that connect people. Under the European Treaties, Croatians are free to work, travel and study across the EU, including Ireland. I am glad that a growing number of Croatians have chosen to study or work in Ireland. Croatian medical staff are employed in the Irish health service; many Croatians also work in the IT industry. For Irish people, Croatia is becoming a popular holiday destination.
Cultural links are also very important. I have been very impressed by the interest shown in Irish music, dance and literature. The great Irish writer, James Joyce, lived and taught in Pula for a while and an annual commemoration of his writing has taken place for a number of years. Late last year we were pleased to welcome the writer Colm Toibin to Zagreb to launch the Croatian translation of one of his latest works. There are early plans for a literature festival in 2016 with a focus on Irish writers.
The role of the Embassy will be to act as a focus to further encourage the already strong links between Ireland and Croatia.
Ireland has much to offer to Croatia and Europe. Ireland’s economy is growing fast. Over the past year, Ireland’s GDP has risen by 7.7% and exports have increased by 13%. Ireland has a skilled workforce and a commitment to innovation. In 2013, Forbes magazine ranked Ireland as the best country in the world to do business. Ireland’s innovation economy is home to 10 of the 10 top global internet firms, nine of the 10 top global software companies, 15 of the 20 top global medical technology firms and many of the global leaders in financial services.
Ireland is also a producer of very high-quality food. I hope to see Irish meat, dairy and fish products in increasing quantities on Croatian shelves. I also hope that Ireland as a country that has benefitted significantly from the EU can share some of its expertise in how to effectively utilise EU funding.
Are there any non-business-related things you plan to get involved in whilst in Zagreb?
Exploring as much as Croatia as I can!
Any special message to the Irish community in Croatia?
It is a great privilege to represent Ireland in Croatia. I have already met many members of the small Irish community in Croatia and I look forward to meeting as many as possible in my time here.
You can follow the work of the Embassy on twitter @IrlEmbCroatia.