Maintaining a connection with Northern Ireland: Andrew HEYN

Maintaining a connection with Northern Ireland: Andrew HEYN
by Naomi HIGGINS
11 November 2021

On 11 November 2021, The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security, and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast hosted Andrew Heyn, UK Diplomat for a live “In Conversation” event

Andrew Heyn was offered the hot seat for this event, because of his role in promoting the institute’s message of bringing “together researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and peace-builders from diverse backgrounds and international locations who share their multiple perspectives and work collaboratively to solve specific problems associated with the GRI’s priority themes”.

During the event, Heyn discussed his career biography, starting in 1989 as a government employee in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

Heyn has found himself in a multitude of postings across the world. Going overseas from 1990 to 1994 as the Second Secretary in Caracas, Venezuela. Then abroad again to Lisbon, Portugal from 1996 to 2000 as First Secretary Political. From 2005 to 2009 he was acting Deputy Head of Mission & Director Trade & Investment in Dublin, Ireland, followed by four years (2009–2013) spent in Naypyidaw (formerly known as Rangoon prior to 2006), Myanmar, as Her Majesty’s Ambassador. He has been in his current role of British Consul General to Hong Kong and Macao since October 2016.

On all of his overseas postings, Heyn said his team “walked into one thing and ended up working on something different”. This shows the complexity of Heyn’s worklife. Focusing on Heyn’s work in Dublin from 2005–2009, he referred to this period as a “good time”, as trade and investment were flourishing post-Good Friday Agreement and the 2005 decommissioning of IRA weapons. Still, he faced challenges, including the suspension of Northern Ireland power-sharing administration in October 2002, due to a “breakdown in relations between”  between parties. Deputy British Ambassador Heyn was present for the multi-party talks leading to the St Andrews Agreement in October 2006.

Heyn’s posting in Dublin coincided with the ten-year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in 2008. He recounted meeting the likes of South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. He also mentioned the sight of seeing Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness and Prime Minister Tony Blair embracing. These moments towards the end of his Dublin posting stuck with him as he moved on to distant regions across the globe.

From his global work, Heyn remarked how much of a breakthrough the Good Friday Agreement was from how those overseas talk about it. While his work in Myanmar and Hong Kong  “brought him into the eye of the storm”, as he regards his work there, he maintains a connection to Northern Ireland, beyond that of it being his mother’s birth place.

During the livestreamed Q and A segment of “In Conversation”, Heyn dove further into points mentioned in his talk. When asked if he believes commemorations are a hindrance to the peace process, he remarked that they have “become a focus of discontent” between sides in Northern Ireland. Heyn noted the importance of these celebrations and to an outsider it seems there is a “huge effort to make commemorations more inclusive”, but he is wary “there are times of the year where there is not enough sensitivity to the other side”. He remains hopeful that as the post-Good Friday Agreement generation comes of age, they will push for more inclusivity and cultural sensitivity, especially in regard to commemoration events.

The video recording of the event can be viewed online.

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