Marking the centuries-long history of friendship and shared affinities between Ireland and India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern’s visit to India last year signalled India’s decision to name a road in New Delhi after the late Éamon de Valera, the towering political figure of 20th century Ireland and good friend of India. The inauguration ceremony will take place this weekend. Éamon de Valera Marg will stand tall as a monument to the close ties which India and Ireland have enjoyed for so long.
The real starting point for the great political affinity and trust that developed between Ireland and India can perhaps be traced to the decision of the Irish Parliamentary Party taking up a long-standing invitation from their Indian friends, to send the Irish parliamentarian Alfred Webb, to chair the Indian National Congress in 1894. Irish personalities who contributed subsequently to the Indian ‘awakening’ included Annie Besant (who, like Webb, chaired the Indian National Congress), Margaret Noble, or Sister Nivedita, and the Irish poet James Cousins, and his wife Margaret. Cousins, who set up the Indian Women’s Association, is also credited with having assisted Rabindranath Tagore in setting down the notation of the English language translation of Jana Gana Mana.
The newly-born Éamon de Valera Road in New Delhi will serve as a reminder of the great flowering of the political friendship that developed in the first half of the 20th century as Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders showed us such support as we in Ireland moved to political freedom. De Valera and his colleagues warmly reciprocated as India in turn fulfilled its ‘tryst with destiny’. The road may also encourage us to dust off and re-read De Valera’s famous speech to the ‘Friends of Freedom for India’ in New York in 1920 where, pointing to the ‘common cause’ of India and Ireland, he swore friendship between the two nations. It may also remind us that De Valera felt “deeply honoured” when, in 1947, Nehru expressed admiration for the 1937 Irish Constitution, one of De Valera’s finest achievements, and said he intended to study it as a model for the Constitution of India then being drafted.
The road may also prompt us to reflect on the formidable part which V.V. Giri played in developing the Indo-Irish friendship. Studying in Dublin between 1913 and 1916 (during the run-up to the 1916 Easter Rising), Giri became friendly with many leaders of the Irish freedom movement, experiencing “a complete sense of identity with the Irish cause”. Ireland admired the great contribution which Giri went on to make in India, including as a leader of the Labour and Trade Union movement and ultimately, like De Valera, as President of his country.
Beyond pointing back to the wonderful past connections, the Éamon de Valera Road will hopefully also help us in our endeavours to bring additional vibrancy to the bilateral relationship in this increasingly technologically-driven era. Ahern’s visit last year gave a great boost to the political partnership. It also imparted impetus to the two-way economic and business relationship. We were afforded an opportunity to showcase what Ireland has to offer as a world-class provider of goods, services and processes and as a top-class location for inward investment. Just as importantly, the accompanying business people were able to see up close the enormous business opportunities on offer in the economic giant that India has become.
There is considerable potential for linkages, collaborations and partnerships, including through combining our strengths in the IT and bio-pharma sectors, where we are both world leaders. The fruits of our stepped-up economic cooperation are already evident, both in terms of the clear jump in two-way trade and business and the additional investment and acquisitions in the last year; and the parallel sharp increase in business traffic — both small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and some leading corporate players — in both directions.
But a lot more needs to be done. Education is one obvious area. In Ireland we are very proud of our education sector that has played a leading part in converting our country into a knowledge-based, cutting-edge economy, with a GDP per capita that is one of the highest in Europe. More Indian students should look at undergoing higher education courses in Ireland, both on education and lifestyle grounds. Thousand upon thousands of people who attended the ‘Irish’ schools throughout India are already familiar with the quality of Irish educators. Sister Cyril Mooney, an Irish Loreto nun in Kolkata, is being awarded this month the Padma Shri for her contribution to education and the social services.
De Valera, like most Irish people, placed great value on education, a profession in which he started out. He was well-known for being tenacious and indeed obstinate in political negotiations. But, as one of his interlocutors remarked, nevertheless he “became tolerable enough” when, with a boyish smile, De Valera would say, “You will bear with me, won’t you? You know I am an old schoolteacher.”
Kieran Dowling is the Ambassador of Ireland to India