I have now met many of the Irish and Czech businesses who benefitted from the freedom and opportunities of the EU Single Market. When the Czech Republic joined the EU during the Irish EU Presidency in 2004, Ireland was one of the very few countries to open our labour market immediately to Czech citizens. Since then, tens of thousands of Czechs have worked in Ireland and many thousands more have studied in our colleges and universities under the Erasmus programme.
In the Czech Republic, this human contact is evident in the popularity of Irish culture, especially our music, dance and sports. The Czech-Irish Business and Cultural Association has promoted links with Ireland for 20 years and over 50 Irish businesses have invested significantly in the Czech Republic, including major Irish manufacturers like Smurfit Kappa and Kingspan and leading service providers like the PM Group in engineering or the HR specialists, Grafton Recruitment and CPL Jobs.
I work closely with the Irish government’s business development agency, Enterprise Ireland, to support the growth of Irish business here and Enterprise Ireland is also ready to support Czech start-ups who are looking to Ireland as a place to grow their business. Business partnerships are expanding as communication has never been easier – Aer Lingus and Ryanair provide daily direct flights to Dublin and Ryanair also has connections from Brno and Ostrava.
Europe now faces new and unexpected challenges which must not derail our economic progress. The ‘Brexit’ decision of the British people in June was a surprise and disappointment but it must be respected. Ireland’s foreign minister, Charles Flanagan T.D., set out in this magazine the unique issues which Brexit presents for Ireland. Peace in Northern Ireland must continue to be sustained and supported in the context of the future EU-UK relationship. The border on the island of Ireland has become almost invisible and the long-standing Common Travel Area of Ireland and the UK reflects close historical and economic links between both islands.
Although I have been ambassador here for just one year, I have known this country and its people for many years. My first visit was in 1990 when I accompanied my wife on her first return trip to her homeland. We have visited many times since and we followed the development of this country as our children grew to know their Czech family and heritage. I look forward to the coming years as our two economies grow ever closer and a new generation of Irish and Czech people work together in Europe.
The author is the Irish ambassador to the Czech Republic