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David Barry Consul General of Ireland David Barry


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David Barry:

Irish Consul General

Happy to call Boston home

by Dan Murphy

 

Consul General of Ireland David Barry had never visited Boston before he took his present assignment in 2005, but with its strong ties to his homeland, he felt immediately at home in the city.


“You already have a head start when you come here,” Barry said. “Boston is perhaps like no other place in terms of openness and camaraderie.”  More than anything else, though, it was the city’s friendly nature that struck Barry.   “Everyone was quick to invite me to an event and welcome me,” he said. “When you arrive here, for a couple of months you really think you’re a truly wonderful person who hasn’t been recognized before, but you get over that.”


Born in 1954, Barry was raised and attended primary and secondary school 85 miles southwest of Dublin in County Tipperary. He earned a bachelor of commerce degree from University College Dublin in 1978 and completed his MBA at Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom 17 years later. In 1978, Barry was accepted into Ireland’s Diplomatic Corps as a full-time civil servant and diplomat. His overseas assignments brought him to locales including London, Belfast, Austria and Ethiopia, but it was the time he spent in South Africa that made perhaps the most profound impression on Barry.
Between 1986 and 1990, Barry served as the head of the consul in Lesotho, a land-locked country entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, and saw firsthand the disintegration of apartheid during this time.


“The whole transformation happened without there being any great violence,” he said. “As a bureaucrat, I just sat back and admired it.”


Prior to being named Consul General, Barry served as the temporary secondment to the Department of Trade, Enterprise & Employment in Dublin from 1991 to 1995. In this role, he handled the Economic Migration Policy – a course of action pertaining to the financial consequences of migration to and from Ireland – and was subsequently responsible for the Employment and Training Strategy Policy.


Now, as Consul General to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, Barry remains committed to fostering Ireland’s economy, as well as helping Irish companies that hope to break into business in the U.S. Through Enterprise Ireland, the country’s agency committed to industrial growth, Barry helps advise new Irish businesses in Boston on what sells and what steps need to be taken before entering the local marketplace. He can even provide them with office space at Enterprise Ireland’s Milk Street location.


Barry is also the primary contact for Irish immigrants in Boston and visitors to his homeland. His responsibilities range from helping newcomers to the country understand a local train schedule to assisting Irish immigrants who have legal problems to recommending hotels in Ireland to tourists. He also refers people in need of assistance to the area’s two Irish immigration centers.
But these days, the duty that consumes much of Barry’s time also brings him the most grief: issuing the new electronic passports to Irish citizens. With the new system that was introduced last fall, finding compatible passport photographs s a painstaking task, as many applicants discovered after their images were repeatedly rejected.


“The amount of effort producing a similar amount of passports today is out of proportion from where it was six months ago,” Barry said. “It’s just turned out to be a frustration for a number of people. It’s a frustration for us and a frustration for them in particular.”
While Barry and his wife Norma live a short walk from his Boylston Street office on Commonwealth Avenue, his work brings him to events throughout the region. (The couple children – David, 18, Kevin, 19, and Andrew, 24 – still live in Ireland but visit Boston frequently).


The weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day meant that Barry’s presence was requested at an event nearly every night, and his appearances included Tom Flatley’s 21st Annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner at the Shrafft Center. Barry was particularly honored to be a guest of Flatley, who came penniless to the U.S. and today, as president of the Flatley Company, is undoubtedly one of Massachusetts’ great success stories. “Flatley is a classic example of the American Dream,” Barry said.


As for what lies ahead, Barry said Ireland and the Irish people are returning to the core issues.


He points to how Ireland is emerging as a real contender in the global economic landscape, adding that the U.S. edged out the United Kingdom as Ireland’s largest export market in recent years “Whatever happens, our presence here is important,” he said.
Another issue at the forefront is a reform bill for undocumented illegal aliens being championed by Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.


“Can you find a way moving forward to accommodate some of these people including the Irish?” Barry asked, adding that regardless of the outcome, it would be a victory for illegal Irish immigrants who are currently in limbo. “Whatever emerges in terms of legislation will help people work freely and come out of the shadows and travel to and from Ireland,” he said.


And Barry can’t help but be reminded of the transformation of South Africa that he witnessed as a young delegate in light of this week’s agreement between Ian Paisley, a political and religious leader from North Ireland, and President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, that would grant Northern Ireland its independence from British rule.


“We’ve spent many years trying to put it back together again,” he said.


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