Ambassador to Britain during difficult period in Anglo-Irish relations


Dr Eamon Lucas Kennedy, who died in New York on December 12th aged 79, was a former Irish Ambassador to Nigeria, Germany, France, the United Nations, Britain, Italy and the US.

He was one of the small group of diplomats whose careers coincided with the flourishing of Irish diplomacy in the years following Ireland's admission to the UN in 1955. His colleagues during this period included such figures as F.H. Boland, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Con Cremin, Hugh McCann, Eoin MacWhite and Paul Keating.

He was born in Dublin, the son of Luke Kennedy, a civil servant, and his wife Ellen Kennedy (nee Stafford). He was educated at O'Connell CBS and UCD, where he graduated with a B.Comm in 1942, BA the following year and MA in 1946. He gained a Ph.D in economics in 1970. He joined the Department of External Affairs as a Third Secretary in 1943.

Following assignments in New York, Ottawa, Paris, Washington and Dublin, he was posted as counsellor to the Permanent Representation to the UN in New York in 1956, shortly before the arrival of Fred Boland as Permanent Representative.

Under the leadership of Liam Cosgrave and Frank Aiken, Ireland rapidly earned a reputation at the UN for the independence, energy and seriousness with which it took up the issues of decolonisation and nuclear disarmament - and controversially in 1958, broached the subject of China's representation. Although China had been ruled since 1949 by the government in Peking, victors in the civil war, its seat at the UN was held by the government of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan - a situation which continued until 1971.

Eamon Kennedy served on the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly which dealt with decolonisation. Fred Boland was chairman of the committee in 1958. These were the years of Harold Macmillan's "winds of change", when numerous colonies in Africa gained their independence.

Peaceful decolonisation was one of the great achievements of the UN in these years - the notable exception being Algeria.

In light of its own history, Ireland's credentials in the General Assembly when it spoke on issues of decolonisation and self-determination and apartheid commanded attention and respect.

Eamon Kennedy became Ireland's first ambassador to Nigeria in 1961. Other important assignments followed - ambassador in Bonn in 1964 and Paris in 1970.

He returned to New York in 1974 as Permanent Representative to the UN. By then Ireland had become a member of the European Economic Community and in consequence a participant in the process of European Political Co-operation (EPC), the forerunner of what has since developed into the current EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Involvement in EPC had broadened the focus and range of Irish foreign policy concerns at the UN. The EEC member-states, then nine, were seeking to develop and articulate common positions on a range of issues on which the individual member-states were not always fully in agreement.

At the same time Ireland also had to take on responsibility for the presidency of European Political Co-operation, for the first time in 1975.

Retaining a distinctive Irish position, which in some cases differed from that of the other member-states, for example on questions of arms control and nuclear disarmament, required a thorough grasp of the issues at stake and a capacity to find and forge consensus, where possible, and when necessary a determination to defend a position which the other member-states did not always share. Eamon Kennedy and the delegation he led handled these tasks admirably. He combined a subtlety of approach and diplomatic skill with a steadfast adherence to established Irish positions. This is borne out by his interventions in the First Committee, delivered with conviction and clarity, and by Ireland's voting record.

The years of Kennedy's posting as ambassador in London were especially testing. The IRA campaign, the murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979, and the deaths of 10 IRA prisoners on hunger strike imposed great strains on Anglo-Irish relations. Exceptional resources of intelligence, patience, tact and courage are required of diplomats, and politicians in coping with such conditions. Eamon Kennedy had these resources in abundance.

During the Falklands War he combined honesty and courage and an acute sense of the national interest both in his reporting from London and in his contribution to discussions on policy at the highest level in Dublin.

The seizure by Argentina of the Falkland Islands in April 1982, in defiance of the Security Council on which Ireland was serving at the time, faced Irish diplomacy with an acute dilemma - how to seek and promote a peaceful outcome to the crisis, without damaging Anglo-Irish relations in which the retention and advancement of a common approach between London and Dublin were vital to the achievement of a just and durable settlement of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The continued engagement of Washington, also, in that endeavour was and remains crucially dependant on a shared approach between London and Dublin. Eamon Kennedy did not flinch from offering views which although cogent and coherent were not always welcome.

After London, Eamon Kennedy moved to his final assignment as Ambassador to Italy. His years in Rome, as indeed those in previous postings gave him and his wife Janie ample scope for a generous and warm hospitality to their many visitors.

He is survived by his wife Janie (nee Black), daughter Helen, son Mark, and sister Doris (Quish).

Eamon Lucas Kennedy: born 1921; died December 2000