60 Seconds with Rosie Keane, Consul General for the Embassy of Ireland, Sydney

This month we sat down (virtually) with Rosie Keane, the Consul General for the Embassy of Ireland, Sydney. Rosie arrived in Sydney straight from a posting with the Embassy in London and is looking forward to using her professional and personal life experience, to help deepen and expand the Irish footprint.

How did you manage your time in quarantine?

As it was my first time ever going to Australia, life in quarantine was a bit of a novelty, from learning where to get my groceries, to figuring out what was making so much noise outside (turns out it was the noisy miners!). It was a little bit frustrating at times, as I really wanted to get out and about and stuck into work. But looking back now, it was good to have a few days of stillness and peace, not only to get over the jet lag, but to also adjust to what was a pretty big change for me (moving to Australia).

I have to admit that food took on enormous importance during quarantine, something I am trying to resolve now that I can get out exercising!

What are you looking forward to doing or seeing when lockdown is over?

Since I arrived in Sydney, I have spent a lot of time doing video calls with some of our key consulate stakeholders. While this has been great, it is not quite the same as meeting someone face to face, so I am really looking forward to this part of my job once circumstances allow.

I guess like many Irish people here, I am looking forward to seeing family. My brother Aidan and his wife Cait live in St George in Queensland and I haven’t seen them in almost 3 years. They recently had their first baby, a little boy called Tommy, so I am really looking forward to the day when I can get to see them, and meet Tommy for the first time.

What are you most looking forward to in general with this posting?

I arrived in Sydney straight from a posting with our Embassy in London, where I spent just under four years working on the Brexit portfolio. As part of this role, I did a lot of community outreach, and travelled the length and breadth of the UK meeting members of the Irish community, from all ages and all walks of life. I really enjoyed this experience, and it influenced my decision to apply for a posting to Sydney, as I know there is a really vibrant and large Irish community in New South Wales.

I also look forward to using my professional and personal life experience, to help deepen and expand our footprint, not just in terms of our diaspora but also in terms of our trade links. Ireland, with its common law jurisdiction, common language and access to the EU single market, has so much to offer and I look forward to working with our partners in Enterprise Ireland and the IDA to grow and strengthen the bilateral trade links even further.

Why is it important for Ireland and Australia to maintain strong ties?

Although thousands of miles apart, Ireland and Australia are far closer when it comes to shared values. The warmth and closeness of this relationship is evident in many aspects of our lives, from the political to the personal, from culture to trade. At all levels Ireland and Australia enjoy an excellent relationship, enduring ties that began during the earliest days of the first European settlers in Australia, to the present day where an estimated 1 in 3 Australians claim some degree of Irish ancestry.

Over the years’ the relationship has evolved and has spread beyond the traditional people to people connections. Today, Ireland and Australia enjoy a flourishing bilateral trade relationship, and notwithstanding the effect of the pandemic, trade between our countries increased during 2020. The scope to develop and extend this relationship even further is an exciting opportunity, not just in terms of bilateral trade, but also in the context of Ireland’s membership of the EU, and the opportunities it can offer in terms of access to the EU single market.

What are the biggest issues for the Irish community in Australia, and how can the wider community help?

Undoubtedly the pandemic is the main issue for the Irish Community in Australia at the moment. It has challenged us in ways like never before, and I want to pay tribute to the myriad of community groups and volunteers for responding so strongly, and supporting the diaspora during this time.

One of the biggest challenges the community is facing at the moment is the impact of isolation and loneliness on their mental health. While I know there is no easy solution to this, there are a number of ways in which we can support each other through this crisis. Firstly there is the Irish Support Agency (ISA) who provide front-line support, to anyone in the Irish Australian community who finds themselves in circumstances of crisis or distress. The Samaritans also offer 24/7 emotional support to members of the diaspora in Australia who may be struggling to cope while living so far from home, and can be contacted on freephone 1800 570699.

Many community organisations have been delivering events online throughout the pandemic, helping people to remain connected with each other, and we are busy planning in the Consulate too, and intend on running a number of events over the coming months, which we hope will help foster a sense of togetherness during these difficult times.

One of the simplest things we can do, is perhaps from time to time, pick up the phone and reach out to someone who is alone. Before I came to Sydney, I was based in London, where I too felt the effects of not being able to go home and see my family. What helped me enormously during this time was the volunteering work I did with an Irish community organisation. Although I was only supposed to spend a short length of time on the phone, in reality this never happened, as I found myself chatting away to fellow Irish people, inevitably finding someone we both knew in common! While I hope (!) this experience was beneficial for those I was calling, I found it very helpful personally and I felt a bit more connected to the other Irish people living in London.

What message would you like to give to the Irish community in Sydney as they get through lockdown?

Coming from the Irish Embassy in London, where we experienced a number of lockdowns, there were times I thought it would never end and that things would never return to normal. However it did, although it is a slightly “new normal” with masks and vaccines.

As with Dublin and London, we in Sydney will come out of this, perhaps not at the pace that some people would like to see, but we are on the right trajectory. So in the mean time I would urge you all to continue to support each other as you have done throughout this pandemic and to please call on the Consulate or any of the community organisations if you need help or support during these difficult times.

Finally I would urge everyone to persevere, and as Seamus Heaney put it so eloquently “if we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere”.

Most importantly! Is there any food from Ireland you are missing at the moment!

So there are a number of creature comforts I am missing at the moment, chef ketchup and ballymaloe relish being the main ones (I am a big fan of condiments!) but I have been reliably informed by contacts that I can get many Irish goods in stores around Sydney.

One of the foods I am really missing are scones. When I worked back in Dublin there was a café near my office called Lolly and Cooks, and they did the most amazing orange and walnut scones. I have tried to recreate these, but my efforts have all resulted in an inedible disasters. But…. I did find an Odlums ‘bake scones at home’ kit last weekend, so I will try that out (and perhaps remove the batteries from the fire alarms in advance).

If you could have three people to a dinner party, who would they be?

Oh this is a tough one! But here goes,

The first person I would invite would be Colin Bell. During my pre-posting training, my colleagues and I were given a presentation by an organisation called the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust (KBRT) a charity which aims to alleviate the financial hardship of bereaved families repatriating the bodies of loved ones who have died abroad in sudden or tragic circumstances back to Ireland. The presentation was given by the charity founder Colin Bell, who lost his son in a tragic accident in the US a number of years ago. I was really struck by Colin’s selflessness, compassion and humanity,  and how he was able to turn something so heartbreaking into something which has provided so much comfort to Irish families at their darkest hour.

The second person I would like to invite would be Eileen Flynn, the first member of the traveller community to become a member of the Oireachtas. Eileen has broken so many barriers in her lifetime and I really admire her not only as a trailblazer, but also for her tenacity and courage. More broadly, I really believe that Eileen’s nomination, and indeed the success of other women in this regard, is such a powerful message to the girls and women of today. My colleague Helena Nolan (currently Consul General in New York) has for some time now been running a ‘visible women’ initiative, which seeks to celebrate the role and achievements of women across a whole range of activities. I really feel that ‘seeing is believing’ and if the young girls of today can see female leaders represented throughout the political, business and community arenas, this opens up a world of possibility, and challenges self-limiting beliefs which I feel continues to hold back women and girls from reaching for the stars.

The last person I would like to invite would be my granny, Mary Coyne. While I was lucky to have had the opportunity to spend some time with her when I was growing up, she died a number of years ago, and it is only now as I get ‘older and wiser’ (!)  that I have come to appreciate what an extraordinary woman she was. Growing up, she always seemed to me to be a quiet, almost shy lady, but as I find out more about her experiences, which included leaving her small village in County Galway for New York in the roaring 1920’s, I am struck by her courage and sense of adventure (maybe a bit of this has rubbed off on me!). I would love to know how she felt about leaving Ireland and what her initial impressions of New York were. I think she could have a few good stories under her hat!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t listen to self-limiting doubts! I, like many other women, have grown up in an age where we are bamboozled by standards and ideals, from what to eat, what to wear, what to think… its exhausting! I wish I had the courage growing up to dismiss the ‘ought to’s and must do’s’ and go with my instincts and values, which were, thanks to my parents, quite sensible! Often we limit ourselves because we are afraid of failing. But speaking as someone who has some experience of this, failing isn’t always a bad thing. I know it feels terrible at the time, but the key thing is to let yourself grieve/feel sad for a day or two, then pull up those socks and look at yourself honestly and see what you could have done differently or what you need to be successful. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help or advice, you have to articulate what you need and be your biggest advocate. No experience is a failure if you learn and grown from it.

Finally, I would tell my younger self to not wear full length evening gloves to the debs. I spent all evening ‘hilariously’ telling people that I couldn’t check on their cattle.

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