"The drb sustains a level of commentary on Irish and international matters that no other journal in Ireland and few elsewhere can reach. It deserves all the support that can be given it." X
Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Don’t mention the Grandfather

Martin Greene writes: In the mid-1980s I was a junior official in the development aid section of the Department of Foreign Affairs. My normal routine was disturbed one day by news of a special assignment – I was to co-ordinate an attempt to secure a seat for Ireland on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

It was a tricky assignment as the Irish aid programme for developing countries had been established in a moment of enthusiasm in the 1970s – just after EEC membership – but it had never been given the staffing and other resources needed to do the job properly. So it was not going to be easy to meet the standards needed for membership of the committee.

The decision on membership would ultimately have to be taken by the committee itself – representatives of the existing member countries – on the proposal of the committee chairman. This is where Stephen Joyce came in – he was the official who served as the chairman’s eyes and ears in the committee system. My initial impression was that liaison with him was going to be one of the trickier aspects of the assignment – it was widely believed that he had already arrived at the opinion that nothing good was to be expected from Irish officialdom. One piece of advice I was given was: “Whatever you do, don’t mention the Grandfather.” It was not difficult for me to follow this advice as at the time I had not even read Joyce – a nice irony as I was, years later, to become an enthusiast to the point of near-obsession.

But in the event Stephen couldn’t have been more helpful, alerting me to the chairman’s particular concerns and encouraging him towards a positive response to the Irish application when the time for a decision came. On a personal level he was kindness itself, even inviting me to his apartment for dinner. This turned out to be a more onerous undertaking for him than he could have anticipated as he had to act as translator for the evening: his wife, Solange, (understandably) had no English and I (unforgivably) had no French. He took on this unexpected duty with great good humour and it was a very relaxed evening with the conversation turning on our respective family circumstances and life experiences. The Grandfather was not mentioned.

Before the process could get to the point of decision, however, the secretariat had to issue an opinion on the state of preparedness of the Irish aid programme for DAC membership. In this respect, the most difficult technical issue was going to be the statistical reporting requirements resulting from membership. Even the major donor countries with sophisticated aid administrations found these to be onerous. This hurdle was overcome with surprising ease thanks to the exceptional help of the chief statistician in the development department of the secretariat. This was Bevan Stein, a member of a leading Dublin Jewish family – in the 1980s they had a travel agency on Camden Street in the centre of the old Jewish quarter. Bevan proved to be a positively Bloomian character, who was wise, calm and kind and disinclined to become involved in any factions or arguments.


Now the only remaining hurdle was the approval of the director of the development department of the secretariat. This was a German national whose mission in life seemed to be to outdo the stereotypical image of Germans as sticklers for doing everything according to the book. To complicate the picture – as if complication were needed – he was a Joycean of a somewhat fanatical persuasion. This did not mean that he was close to Stephen – on the contrary there was no love lost between them. Inevitably, this stage of the process was difficult. But in the end this secretariat signed off on the application. I suspect – though I have no proof of this – that a word of guidance from the chairman – facilitated by Stephen – helped to bring about this outcome. And so Ireland duly became a member of the DAC.

One consequence of DAC membership was that the Irish aid programme, like the programmes of the other members of the committee, had to undergo a “peer review process” every two or three years. This involved a visit to Dublin by a delegation of secretariat officials and committee members. When the time for the visit arrived a year or so later, the director – still the same one since the application process – insisted that the timing should include June 16th (Bloomsday) and that, though the other members of the delegation might make their own arrangements, he had to stay at Bloom’s Hotel in Temple Bar. These arrangements elicited different responses from Bevan (a smile) and Stephen (a scowl).

The abiding memory I took away from the experience was how extraordinarily helpful Stephen had been throughout the process. My distinct impression was that he was very pleased to have an opportunity to help to advance Irish interests. And the role he played was not just well-meaning – it was effective.

27/1/2020

Martin Greene, a former Irish ambassador to Hungary, has written a number of essays on Joycean and related matters for the Dublin Review of Books which are accessible through the ‘Contributors’ button on the home page. The most recent is https://drb.ie/essays/stranger-danger
Photograph, from
The Irish Times: Stephen Joyce in 1992 with then taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Alexis Léon, son of James Joyce’s friend and secretary Paul Léon, who died at Auschwitz in 1942.