The Dutch embassy in Ireland, on Dublin’s Merrion Road, is typical of the many diplomatic missions scattered around the Ballsbridge area: A former period home, saddled over the years with less elegant extensions as the need for office space grew. The modern lobby encroaching into the back garden features a foosball table and a bar fitted with Heineken and Murphy’s beer taps, straight from the Dutch beverage group’s Cork brewery. 

Ambassador Adriaan Palm says he is planning to have this section torn down and rebuilt to greener standards soon. “We will try to make our embassy building much more carbon neutral than it is right now,” adding that the mission’s official car and his own are now fully electric.

Although these symbolic moves will not make a significant difference to Ireland’s or The Netherlands’ greenhouse gas emissions, they reflect a reality that becomes clearer over the course of my in-depth interview with Palm on business and economic ties between the two countries.

Now that the intensive phase of Brexit negotiations is behind us and that the OECD-brokered global agreement on corporation tax is “done”, he says the highest item on his diplomatic agenda is the environment. “Any Dutch company operating in Ireland is very much looking at the climate targets, seeing how they can reduce their emissions, seeing how could they help bolster The Netherlands and Ireland getting to those goals in 2030 and in 2050,” he adds.

6,500 Dutch nationals in Ireland

This is a new turn in the relationship between the two countries, which the ambassador traces back to the Battle of the Boyne and Dutch-born king William of Orange’s subsequent reign over Ireland. “But that’s more than the three centuries ago, of course, now we’re in a completely different era,” he adds. “Just like you can find an Irishman everywhere in the world, you can find a Dutchman everywhere in the world because we’re both trading nations.”

An embassy estimate based on passport renewals puts the number of Dutch nationals living in Ireland at around 6,500, Palm says. This is significantly higher than the 4,700 recorded in the 2016 census and the results from this year’s census will confirm what the actual growth has been.

The ambassador’s office is decorated with vintage prints of U2 signed by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, including the shot of Moydrum Castle near Athlone that featured on the cover of the band’s Unforgettable Fire album in 1984. Bono, Adam, Larry and the Edge share the wall space with the official portrait of the King and Queen of The Netherlands.

Adriaan Palm with the picture by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn featured on the cover of U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire. Photo: Thomas Hubert

The otherwise functional, simple ambassador’s office is where the interview takes place. I have met Palm before, most recently at the site of the new €200 million Kilkenny Cheese factory in Belview where Glanbia Co-op and the Dutch food group Royal A-Ware officially broke ground at the end of June.

The two companies established the joint venture in response to Brexit and a changing trade landscape, then faced three years of planning and legal challenges by the nature conservation group An Taisce over environmental concerns associated with the dairy industry. The project is central to the issues at play between Ireland and The Netherlands, and this is where the interview begins.

Thomas Hubert (TH): It is a new concept to make Dutch cheese outside The Netherlands. And I wanted to first ask you what this example tells us about the kind of business The Netherlands does in Ireland, what you felt when you were there?

Adriaan Palm (AP): The investment of Royal A-Ware is the largest Dutch investment in Ireland in a very long time, it’s the largest investment ever in the dairy industry in Ireland, so that by itself is very significant. When you look at the kind of people that are behind it, it’s a private company and like [in] Ireland, private companies are very much appreciated. The company has chosen Ireland because of, basically, the business climate, the possibilities here, the dairy production that’s available.

I think what it brings is, to the Irish market, the chance to export globally. But also it brings new technology here. I think when you’re looking at, for example, co-operation in the agricultural sector in general, what we are doing now as The Netherlands is much more trying to increase knowledge exchange, rather than just sending our produce here.

TH: That’s interesting because I did visit a number of food businesses in The Netherlands myself and it’s true that The Netherlands is not known for having huge tracts of land. It was just the sheer technology and innovation going into it that made the value of the export power of The Netherlands’ food industry, which is huge. So you’re saying this is the same idea: Not necessarily produce much more, but brand it, make it specific with technologies that are coming into it?

AP: The whole idea of Royal A-Ware’s investment is one where we say okay, what would the client like to have? And then we’ll make it. It’s very much focusing on where we can create the largest added value. When you look at the horticultural sector in The Netherlands, given them the limited land that we have, see how we can maximise the income per hectare.

TH: There’s also a controversial aspect to that factory because it was delayed for a long time with objections to the climate aspect of producing dairy on a large scale. At the same time, The Netherlands has reduced its milk production because of environmental concerns. There’s a view that would say The Netherlands is trying to export dairy, milking and its problems to Ireland because it’s easier here. Is that what’s happening there?

AP: I don’t think so. That also has been looked into by the Irish courts. It’s what Minister [for Agriculture Charlie] McConalogue himself said to me: Basically, Irish dairy production is more or less at a maximum. So it’s not that we’re now suddenly bringing in a factory to further increase Irish milk production. No, I would almost say what it actually helps is, with a new factory, which is very sustainable, actually reducing the total emission outputs.

In The Netherlands we’ve seen certain farmers – organic farmers – say: We reduce our total milk output by going organic, by, for example, using much more wildflowers, creating more biodiversity, reducing output, yet because of lower expenditure on fertilisers, on environmental measures that we have to take, we’re actually increasing our net income. And that’s, I think, the very important aspect: That we not only look at what is the total maximum gross income that I can get but what is the best net income. Then you can sometimes see that actually, environment and farming can very well go together.

“In The Netherlands, we came to our own national climate action plan through consultations with all sectors.”

TH: At the moment, Ireland has to decide this intractable balance between agriculture and other sectors when it comes to climate emissions. What’s your experience, from a Dutch perspective, of this dilemma?

AP: In The Netherlands, we came to our own national climate action plan through consultations with all sectors. All parties, environmental organisations, farmers, government, banks were sitting around the table saying: What is a realistic target? And then said: How can we get there, which steps? One of the things I think that is crucial is that we come up with a situation where we give perspective to the farmers and say: Okay, this is where you have to go to. As Dutch government, we added to that quite a bit of money, saying: Okay, this is how much financial support we can give you.

I think it’s also important to see that all players are contributing to it. For example, not just the farmers, but also the people who transport farm goods, the supermarkets, the people in between – that everybody contributes their way to reducing the total carbon emissions. And yes, it’s not an easy thing. But we have those climate goals.

They’re included in law both in Ireland and in The Netherlands. And they’re there with reason, not just for our future, but also for the future for children. Let’s try together to get there, because I know that for every sector it’s going to be difficult.

TH: At the same time, as you said, it’s not easy. There were [Dutch] farmers’ protests against environmental constraints until recently. So, it’s a kind of constant negotiation, isn’t it?

AP: I think it’s essential that everybody talks with each other, that you are in constant dialogue, that you’re constantly saying: Okay, this is what is achievable, this is where it’s not achievable, and this is why it’s not achievable. And then see what we can do together to solve those issues.

It starts with dialogue. It starts with perspective. In The Netherlands, we want each farmer that is operating sustainably to have a fair price for his produce. And I think in Ireland, that won’t be any different.

More than meets the eye: Dutch investment in Ireland

Before interviewing Palm, I went through The Currency’s archive to list the other Dutch businesses for which we have covered operations or investments in Ireland:

  • BAM is the third-largest builder in Ireland, with projects including the National Children’s Hospital and road construction;
  • Heineken took over Murphy’s Cork brewery in the 1980s;
  • The Dutch Infrastructure Fund (DIF) owns several motorway concessions, including in joint venture with BAM;
  • Orange Capital Partners became the first institutional investor in an Irish multi-address rental housing portfolio when it bought a group of refurbished Dublin buy-to-lets from Bain Capital and Lugus Capital;
  • Bouwinvest and NN Group are funding social and affordable housing developed by Ardstone;
  • Dutch venture capital firm Forbion has been a lead investor in the Prof Luke O’Neill-founded biotech start-up Inflazome;
  • The alternative lender Capitalflow is now owned by the Dutch fintech Bunq;
  • Calor Gas is owned by SHV in The Netherlands;
  • Corre Energy, which develops new technologies to store renewable electricity in The Netherlands, has Irish founders, a Dutch HQ and Dublin-listed stock;
  • Mediahuis, a group of Belgian and Dutch media publishers, owns Independent News and Media.

This, by and large, reflects the list of significant Dutch businesses active in Ireland, though Palm adds one more industry where they are already present: “A number of companies are active in data centres, which are big investments, but very low on the number of people that are employed,” he says.

Palm got a crash course in getting to know Dutch businesses in Ireland when he was sent to Dublin unexpectedly in 2019 following the death of his predecessor. A state visit by the King and Queen of The Netherlands was due four months later and it was “very much focused on business,” he recalls. “Then you get to know how the Irish and the Dutch culture sometimes also differ. In The Netherlands, it’s very much time-oriented, very structured time-wise. In Ireland, it’s all a little coming and going, a little easier, but it all gets done in the end.”

While there is a regular role for the diplomatic service in assisting Dutch companies finding their feet when they come to Ireland for the first time, Palm says his main role in the business arena is elsewhere: “I think that the largest added value that we as embassy can provide is on the edge of public and private, whether it’s in the energy sector, when you’re talking about larger infrastructural works, and when you’re talking about health care and e-health.”

It is more important to The Netherlands to nudge Ireland towards favourable policy in such heavily regulated areas than to launch into lobbying on big economic issues, where Palm says the two countries are already very close: “The Netherlands and Ireland are both very much oriented towards open markets, free markets, a level playing field,” he says.

Adriaan Palm: “The direct trade between The Netherlands and Ireland shifted from going through the UK to direct shipments because of the need to be there just in time.” Photo: Thomas Hubert

One sector where the ambassador has seen increased bilateral activity is shipping between Dutch and Irish ports.

AP: With the ports, what I think is the most important development is how we reacted both as Ireland and The Netherlands to Brexit. Ireland and The Netherlands were the biggest impacted by Brexit and we decided together to work much closer together, not just in Brussels, on EU dossiers in general, but also on bilateral trade.

We’ve seen a real sharp increase in the number of direct shipping links between The Netherlands and Ireland, both existing links, for example, between Dublin and Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but also new ones, for example, between Waterford and Rotterdam. We’ve seen a substantial increase in bilateral trade through those channels and we’ve seen an increase in the co-operation between the ports themselves to see how they can better service the companies that are operating

TH: Is this more in terms of infrastructure or paperwork and procedures? What are the areas where things can get better to facilitate this trade?

AP: It’s not as much in the paperwork because inside the EU, of course, paperwork is limited. What you see is that it came in place of the landbridge because a lot of shipments between Ireland and The Netherlands originally went through the UK and that has decreased considerably. What you see now is that it’s really both roll-on-roll-off and container shipments that have increased. (…) The direct trade between The Netherlands and Ireland shifted from going through the UK to direct shipments because of the need to be there just in time.

As embassy, of course, we also help when there are problems arising for businesses. I remember very well, in January 2020, just after Brexit had started, there were three lorries with tomato plants stuck in Holyhead. The Netherlands supplies the baby tomato plants that you will grow up here in Ireland and provide the tomatoes for the country. They’re live plants and if they don’t move quickly, they all die. Because of unclarity with regards to all the papers, they were stuck. Together with our colleagues in London, we were able to get the trucks moving, get the shipment here and indirectly provide Ireland with its tomatoes.

A post-Brexit reshuffle in alliances between EU countries

TH: That Brexit period, and the Dutch and Irish interests being aligned in trying to facilitate that smooth transition – did that bring the two countries closer together?

AP: I think it definitely brought us together. But I think also post Brexit, The Netherlands and Ireland, like many EU partners start to think: In this new constellation, how can we best serve our own national interests? We both had in the UK an important partner in Brussels, like-minded for example when it comes to free trade. And we now had to reshuffle our thoughts.

What you’ve seen is that the Irish and the Dutch have started to co-operate much more closely. We’re very like-minded and on issues like rule of law, human rights, on open markets, level playing field, digital services, and on the environment – getting to the climate targets.

TH: There are also sometimes areas where the two countries diverge. I think, for example, of the Covid rescue package. There were different positions on pooling debt at EU level. What is the role of the ambassador in Dublin in those kinds of situations?

AP: I think our main role as ambassador is two things. One, explain your own position and explain it from, partly, the Irish context. That means, for example, explaining here that this is something that is important to our citizens, given the close links that Irish politicians have with their own citizens.

Secondly, it’s also to serve as a channel for the Irish government to explain their position to the Dutch, basically by saying: Listen, we have had our problems in the past, in the 2008 crisis, etc. This is why we think it’s important that those countries get support.

For me, the key thing is that ultimately, we came to a package that was both robust and that provided the guarantees necessary for our citizens to really see this as something one-off, something contributing to the digitalisation and to the increase of sustainability in the EU. So, really, modernise the EU in the way that we think is essential.


The second industry Palm highlights is offshore wind energy. While this is only about to take off in Ireland, he says The Netherlands laid the ground work for its development 10 years ago and has seen many projects completed in the past five years. 

In the past year, the Dutch embassy has facilitated two trade missions to Ireland in this sector – one virtual, one in person – and another minister-led visit covering both port transit and offshore wind is planned for September. The companies taking part in these events are clearly targeting the emerging Irish market.

“What we the Dutch are good at is thinking in ways of the complete process. Not just building a turbine, but thinking of the whole infrastructure that lies behind it, or that lies underneath it when it comes to a turbine,” Palm says. “The challenge that you also face is connecting with the grid to ensure that there is enough mesh capacity, that are enough cables everywhere. This is a major challenge, because we all realise that when you go from fossil to offshore wind, to hydrogen, you need different infrastructures. They need to be built and they need to be built fast.”

Dutch names to watch in offshore wind

The companies that took part in the latest trade mission from The Netherlands on offshore energy largely focus on the hidden parts of wind farms. SPT Offshore, Sif, IQIP and Seaway7 build foundations and anchors for turbines under the sea, while Dieseko supplies the necessary equipment, and Dutch Drilling Consultants (DCC) the holes in the seabed. Boskalis provides the associated dredging and surveying services, along with the removal of any unexploded war-time explosives – a specialist skill also on offer from Njordic.

HSM Offshore Energy makes and deploys offshore electrical substations and is now turning to hydrogen production at sea, while Smulders supplies bespoke steel fabrications. Xellz and Mammoet are logistics companies specialised in lifting and transporting turbines and ancillary equipment, and TWD is an engineering consultancy to the industry. 

Van Oord is a full-service offshore wind farm construction contractor. Also on the latest trip, the Dutch organisation for applied scientific research TNO was looking for Irish partners on research projects as well as consultancy and public procurement opportunities. 

I ask Palm how he sees his role “on the edge of public and private” when it comes to the offshore wind industry, with legislation passed last year to introduce the so-called Mara planning regime for maritime areas and schemes coming into place to allow the development of offshore wind farms. 

The main evolution, he says, is that the old planning regime placed the onus on companies to identify potential development areas and assess them for suitability. “What you’re seeing now happening in Ireland is that the Government is playing a much larger role similar to what we have had in The Netherlands in the past few years,” he notes.

This role includes identifying the areas that the Government thinks are best to develop given the environmental context. “What you then do is that, in a way, you take away certain risks for the business environment and say: This is where it’s okay. You then say: These are the preconditions, you thereby create more or less a level playing field without all the risks. Hence, companies are being able to invest at a much better price than before,” Palm explains. “What I’ve seen in The Netherlands is that the way that we set out our tenders in this area – because we’re talking about tender procedures – created certainty for the business sector and by taking away certain risks, you can reduce the costs.”

Adriaan Palm: “I think the general philosophy of the Dutch is that we share our streets.” Photo: Thomas Hubert

TH: Staying in the green space, we’ve talked about renewable energy – there’s another thing that strikes anyone who travels to The Netherlands: both public transport and cycling, especially cycling, and the availability of them. Is there much discussion through your office between the two countries? Is there any appetite in Ireland to understand how the Dutch do it, and anything we could learn from them?

AP: It’s very interesting that you raise this because it’s something that basically comes up in almost any meeting that I have with Irish government officials, with Irish citizens – it’s the question of how we can, here in Ireland, adopt more active travel. And I know that it takes time. In The Netherlands, it also took a lot of time for us to make the transition but it’s a transition that I think is very much worth it.

Right now, we have large groups of councillors from various counties and cities visiting The Netherlands to learn about how we operate. Not just look at one city but look at a city or municipality that is similar to where they come from themselves, so that you can basically learn from that experience and transpose it to your own.

I can see the changes that people are making on, for example, schools, really help children to go to school. Everything when it comes to cycling starts with young people. Because if young people know how to cycle, then they know when they’re older that they have to take into consideration other road users, such as young children, when they’re driving themselves.

I think the general philosophy of the Dutch is that we share our streets, that all users of the streets are there in an equal way, and that you cannot just claim it all for yourself.

TH: There’s also the reality when you’re in The Netherlands that if you’re in an urban centre anywhere, there’s always a train station nearby. Did that come first? Was the train there and people built around it? Or were big cities already in some places, and the policy of the government is to build infrastructure afterwards? We’re kind of stuck in Ireland with these issues.

AP: In the big cities, of course, the train stations have been there for a long time. But in other places, you can see that it’s much more done in what I would call a modular way, which means that you have a railway station somewhere where you can park your car and then take the train to the city centre. Like you would do here an hour from outside Dublin: Park your car at the train station and then have the train directly into Dublin, to Euston station, and from there move on.

The key thing is that there’s a clear connection between the different modes of transport so that you can easily get them to your final destination. And what you see in The Netherlands is that any of the big cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, The Hague have giant bicycle parks at the station, so that people can go and come from the station by bike.


Ireland and The Netherlands have built a common reputation for allowing multinationals to use elaborate corporate structures under their legislation and cut their tax bills. One famous past example was the double Irish with a Dutch sandwich, which was outlawed in 2020 as part of a global drive for fairer corporate taxation.

The Dutch view articulated by Palm is that most countries would prefer to keep control of taxation at the national level, and any necessary level of international co-ordination has been achieved through the agreement brokered by the OECD last year. 

“We’ve had a big discussion in the EU and in the OECD on taxes. And I think with the agreement that we reached in the OECD, we’ve now come to a level where we can say: Okay, in any case, for the time being, close that part of the chapter,” says Palm. “Of course, there’s the implementation of everything that will have to be looked at but I think that, in general, we are now more or less at a point where we can say: Yes, that’s covered, it’s done.”

With Hungary still blocking that implementation when it comes to a minimum 15 per cent effective corporation tax rate across the EU, are Ireland and The Netherlands taking part in any action to end the stalemate? “I think it’s key for everybody that we get to an agreement, that we get to the implementation, that we show that we can put our money where our mouth is, and in this case, our taxes where our mouth is,” the ambassador replies.

“We have done a lot as Netherlands and I think also as Ireland to prevent the complete evasion of taxes.”

I then ask him whether countries like Ireland and The Netherlands will continue to compete with attractive tax regimes for multinationals within the constraints of the newly agreed international framework. His answer is, essentially, yes: “I think when you look at the taxation issue in general, why have come businesses to The Netherlands? It’s not just because we have such a low tax rate,” he says.

“We have tax agreements with a lot of countries. That’s one. Two, I think that we took a lot of measures to prevent companies from basically not paying any taxes at all. So that part of the complaints that were also formally lodged from Brussels, I think, have been addressed and solved. It shows that we have done a lot as Netherlands and I think also as Ireland to prevent the complete evasion of taxes.”

The Netherlands v An Bord Pleanála

Last year, I took a deep dive into the business of the Dublin property investment firm Avestus. As I reported at the time, one of its projects was the development of 21 houses and a five-story block of 37 apartments on a €10 million infill site sandwiched between Leopardstown racecourse and the back of houses on Foxrock’s Brighton Road, funded by the US hedge fund Realta.

At the time, Avestus had made alterations to its design for the scheme following objections from neighbours including the adjacent residence of the Dutch ambassador. The dispute escalated on July 13 of this year when the state of The Netherlands, represented by its ambassador, launched a judicial review of the planning permission eventually granted by An Bord Pleanála. Palm says he has also raised the case with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

One grievance concerns compliance with European environmental law, he says. Then he adds: “We said in our objections earlier we are worried about security. Nobody approached us about the security issue earlier, asking: What are your concerns? Of course, I cannot put all those concerns in writing because they’re security concerns. That wasn’t addressed at the local level. It wasn’t addressed by An Bord Pleanála. For me, it’s a little unusual and my colleagues in The Hague hadn’t experienced that earlier either.” 

This led the embassy to take “preliminary” legal action, Palm says. “As you know when things are with the courts, let’s keep them with the courts. I don’t want to make things more complicated,” he adds.

Further reading

This interview resumes the “Diplomatically speaking” series with ambassadors of countries with significant business ties to Ireland, which was interrupted by Covid-19. Previously in the series: 

“If there is no solution at OECD level, corporation tax will come back at EU level” – French ambassador

“Trade with New Zealand is out of step with the closeness of our overall relationship”