An Irish troika offers words of advice to Kenny on Saudi trip
Pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland and Saudi Arabia ‘not that different’, meeting told
Enda Kenny meets governor Dr Fahad Almubarak
They don’t do things by halves in Saudi Arabia. After a night in the splendour of Riyadh’s royal guesthouse, a motorcade of a dozen SUVs, Mercs and police cars delivered Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his entourage to the Sheraton Hotel to meet companies participating in Enterprise Ireland’s Gulf trade mission.
Waiting inside was the hotel’s general manager, Paul Dunphy, just back from Christmas in Dublin, and representatives of 87 Irish companies hoping clout provided by Mr Kenny, on his first visit to Saudi, and Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton can secure them business in the region.
“Hello and Salaam-Alaikum,” said the Taoiseach as he took to the stage to greet the group. “There’s no reason why we can’t be successful.”
Prior to Mr Kenny’s address, a troika of Irish men who have learned how to cut the mustard in Saudi Arabia offered advice to the group.
Joe Smyth of Veolia Water advised that Saudi was not an easy place to find quick rewards, but that showing one of the “three Ps”, patience, was crucial as developing strong personal relationships was the key to winning business in the market.
Patrick Moynagh, of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, said pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland and Saudi Arabia were not that different given backgrounds as colonised nations and the influence of an orthodox religion.
“Take to heart the troika’s advice,” Mr Kenny later quipped to the group, based on much experience.
From the Sheraton, the motorcade made its way to the department of higher education for a meeting with the minister, Dr Khalid ibn Mohammad Al Anqari. After a round of handshakes, Dr Khalid explained how Saudi Arabia was investing heavily in education and that 150,000 Saudi students were learning overseas on the King Abdullah scholarship programme. Some 2,700 of them are in Ireland and the Government is keen to attract more.
Mr Kenny, a schoolteacher by trade, showed he had not forgotten his former life, despite 39 years in politics, as he took the minister on a lesson through Ireland’s history as “the land of saints and scholars”, the birthplace of St Columbanus, and an explanation of our colonial background, and history of famine and emigration, which were “parallels” between the two countries.
From there, the motorcade took to the road again for all of 30 seconds before pulling into the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency – that’s Sama not Nama – for a meeting with governor Dr Fahad Almubarak. The impressive building is next door to the ministry on a one-way street, meaning the prolonged U-turn was needed even if it took the delegation by surprise.
Mr Kenny shook hands with the dignitaries and posed for a series of photographs in front of an immaculate Tricolour and Saudi flags and joked that he was meeting members of “the most influential group” around, which drew a quiet but satisfied response from his hosts.
After Sama, it was time for lunch before visits to two local firms with Irish involvement.
Karoo Machinery was first. The motorcade made another U-turn here after missing the welcome party and initially going in via the tradesman’s entrance. Cameramen were left disappointed when the Taoiseach stood beside but didn’t hop into the cabin while examining a Combilift forklift.
After tea with area director Ahmed Fawzi Karoo, it was back to the guesthouse for a royal meeting before a trip to Absal Paul, a new Irish-Saudi joint venture involving John Paul Construction, for the announcement of some lucrative deals.
Sheik Mohammed al Shaoil, of Absal, said he was very pleased the Taoiseach had come to visit the office and that three Ps – patience, presence in the country and the people involved – helped him decide it was a good venture.
Perhaps following a troika’s advice does pay off after all.