Keating, Paul John Geoffrey (1924–80), diplomat, was born 13 August 1924 in Dublin, first child of Joseph Keating and Mary Mercedes Keating (neé Joyce). He was educated at TCD, where in 1946 he received a first-class degree in modern literature, and at the Sorbonne, Paris. In 1949 he entered the Department of External Affairs as a third secretary, and was posted to the consulate general in New York (1951). For his next posting he remained in New York, becoming second secretary at the Irish mission to the United Nations (1956). Keating served at the UN during Ireland's most high-profile period in that body, when his minister, Frank Aiken (qv), took an active independent stand for Ireland, and the UN would remain Keating's preferred posting throughout his diplomatic career.
Keating left New York in 1960 for a two-year posting at Iveagh House as a second secretary in the then high-profile political and United Nations section, where his immediate superior officer was Eoin MacWhite (qv) and his head of section (counsellor) was Conor Cruise O'Brien. In 1962 Keating moved to the Irish embassy in London, as first secretary. He was promoted to counsellor (1964) and remained in London to 1967. His time in London saw greatly improved Anglo–Irish relations; for example, the Anglo–Irish free-trade area agreement (1965) and the return of the remains of Roger Casement (qv). It also saw closer cooperation between the two countries in terms of their common desire for membership of the EEC.
Keating returned to Dublin to become chef de protocol (1967), where he remained for one year. Ireland had opened an embassy in Nigeria in 1961; it remained Ireland's only mission on the African continent through the decade, and Keating was appointed to Lagos as ambassador in July 1968. He served in Nigeria to August 1970 through the worst phases of the Biafran war. The conflict saw Irish Holy Ghost missionaries expelled from Nigeria, and Irish public opinion favouring the secessionist Biafrans. The Irish government – through Keating, who kept an even keel throughout – was careful to remain supportive of the government in Lagos. The Irish Red Cross later awarded him a medal for his work for the Red Cross in Nigeria during the war.
Keating's next posting was European and brought him directly into the complex preparations for Irish entry into the EEC (which was to take place on 1 January 1973). He was ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany from August 1970 to April 1972, but his exceptional ability led to his return to headquarters in advance of Irish membership of the EEC, to take charge of the political section of the department as political director. The political section, in addition to being responsible for the UN and other international organisations and cultural affairs, was about to take charge of Ireland's political relations within the EEC, including the new process of political cooperation, which involved moves to attempt the coordination of the foreign policies of member states. Recognition was accorded to the importance of this new responsibility, with Keating's appointment as assistant secretary in early 1973.
As assistant secretary Keating soon won the respect of his colleagues on the EEC political committee, but with the departure of Hugh McCann (qv) as ambassador to France, Keating was appointed secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs in April 1974, steering Ireland through its first, highly successful, presidency of the Community. Keating was later described by his minister, Garret FitzGerald (qv), as ‘a brilliant diplomat . . . [with] a subtle mind, a quick and puckish sense of humour, and a pungent style’ (All in a life, 194). Unlike most previous secretaries of External/Foreign Affairs, Keating had not held the high-profile postings of ambassador to London or to the UN before taking up his post as secretary. But he had served in both these embassies and had the added qualification of being the first secretary of the department to have served on three continents.
His experience at the UN, and his admittedly brief period as political director, prepared him well for his role as secretary of the department in a period where Foreign Affairs found itself hugely stretched through its new engagements with the EEC as well as with the extremely difficult situation in Northern Ireland. In this latter area Keating's colleague Seán Donlon had immediate responsibility, leaving Keating to work with the two areas of foreign policy he was most interested in and where his greatest experience lay: the EEC and the UN. Keating was an effective manager of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and in his quality of judgement on public affairs he was of a like calibre to his great predecessors, Con Cremin (qv) and Hugh McCann. He could both see and cover the multiple angles to the existing and developing foreign-policy issues facing Ireland in the 1970s.
Keating was relatively young, aged only 50, when appointed secretary. But he made clear to FitzGerald that he did not want to remain as secretary for an extended period. He wished to return to a senior ambassadorial-level posting. FitzGerald sent him to London, and he served as ambassador to the court of St James from 1977 to November 1978, where he ‘bore much of the heat of the day when Anglo–Irish affairs were difficult’ (Irish Times obituary). In November 1978 he returned to New York as ambassador to the UN, where his heart probably lay, and where he soon began to make a considerable impact. He was now, as the Irish Times later put it, ‘at the height of his powers . . . so strong, so articulate, so confident . . . [the] most informed person about world affairs’. Ireland had a high profile in the general assembly, Irish troops were serving in Lebanon in UNIFIL, and, under Keating's guidance, Ireland put itself forward for election to a rotating seat on the security council. Paul Keating died suddenly at his home in New York in the early hours of 14 March 1980. He was buried in Deansgrange cemetery, Dublin, on 18 March. He left an estate of £44,654.
He married (2 June 1952), in New York, Annie Teresa (‘Tess’), second daughter of Francis McGowan of Creevykeel, Co. Sligo. They had two children, Una (b. 1953) and Geoffrey (b. 1957). Paul Keating was a cousin of the Labour party politician and minister for industry and commerce (1973–77), Justin Keating (b. 1930).