Not goodbye, but au revoir
Outgoing French ambassador reflects on her time in Ireland
‘There’s been an acknowledgement that the Celtic Tiger years went too far’: the outgoing French ambassador to Ireland, Emmanuelle d’Achon. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Ambassador Emmanuelle d’Achon will return to Paris today, leaving France’s historic friendship with Ireland even warmer and deeper for the care she lavished upon it.
D’Achon was the first French woman ambassador to Dublin. For three years, she has brought charm, grace and enthusiasm to a job that some of her predecessors considered a jumping-off point for retirement.
D’Achon is not retiring. She has been promoted to deputy secretary general of the French foreign ministry, the second-highest post for a career diplomat.
The French and Irish agriculture ministries have long been in close contact – Common Agricultural Policy oblige – but d’Achon has also helped to strengthen alliances between the ministries of finance and the treasuries.
The old parliamentary friendship associations, once little more than pretexts for tourism, fostered political fact-finding journeys by the heads of the French foreign, European affairs and finance committees. New cultural partnerships were struck to bring successful Paris exhibitions on Gen Charles de Gaulle and the pioneering Irish designer Eileen Gray to Dublin. And d’Achon has made the ambassador’s residence one of the most popular stops on the annual Irish Architecture Foundation’s Open House Dublin event.
“I said to my staff: ‘Get out. I don’t want to see you in the office. Get to know Irish people,’ ” d’Achon says. She criss-crossed the island, and believes Ireland is at a turning point, evolving towards secularism and gender equality, while returning to a sense of solidarity. “There’s been an acknowledgement that the Celtic Tiger years went too far,” she says. “People tell me, ‘We became too money-oriented. Let’s get back to what’s important.’ ”
Abortion became legal in France in 1975. D’Achon says it’s a delicate topic. “We don’t want to interfere in a national societal issue,” she says. “There was pressure from Europe to at least pass legislation in conformity with European law. And that’s what the present Government has done. That was courageous enough for the moment.”
D’Achon’s informality and warmth belie the fact that she was born into one of France’s most prestigious families, the Michelins, founders of the tyre company and tourist guidebooks. Her grandfather, Marcel, founded the Clermont rugby team, and the Stade Marcel Michelin is named after him. She gently evades a question about her husband Jean-Eude’s aristocratic name, saying, “That doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
Both civil servants, the d’Achons managed to coordinate her role at the foreign ministry with his career at the finance ministry – and raise three children.