Seanad debates

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Diplomatic Representation

2:30 pm

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for taking this issue on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am conscious she is busy today taking a lot of issues for other Departments. I have enormous respect for all officials within the Department of Foreign Affairs for the work they do and our ambassadors. My question is about how we appoint our ambassadors. At present, the recruitment of ambassadors is essentially through the ranks of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is very rare for somebody who has not come up through the ranks and served as a long-standing official in the Department of Foreign Affairs to be appointed and when it happens, it is normally somebody from another Department such as our new ambassador to London. In the old trade union days, that would have been referred to as a closed shop.

The Department will make the argument that there are some open competitions at lower levels within the Department but there should be an open competitive process when it comes to these very senior appointments. The role of the ambassadors, as with others in the Department of Foreign Affairs, is to represent Ireland and promote and protect the interests and values of the State and our citizens. Yes, people coming through the Department of Foreign Affairs can do that but so too could people with business or academic experience, contributions through charity and voluntary organisations and indeed through political life. I am not arguing that it should be a decision of the Minister to name whoever he or she may want. I believe it should be an open competition. This was introduced for a number of posts in the UK. It also happens in other jurisdictions. The individual must show that he or she is competent and can carry out the functions of representing his or her country as an ambassador but I do not accept the argument that only people from the Department of Foreign Affairs are capable of being the representatives of our country abroad.

I need to be clear that I am not suggesting in any way that they should be political appointments as we see in the US, where about half of its ambassadors are appointed by the US President. Interestingly, under Article 2 of the US Constitution, all US ambassadors must be ratified by the Senate so the question of ambassadors coming before an Oireachtas committee or even a Seanad committee to present their credentials and outline how they would represent Ireland before they are appointed to represent the country might be something we could look at in terms of Seanad reform. The point I am making is that there are a lot of people who in many ways already represent Ireland very effectively in the arts and other areas and who may have the requisite skills to represent us.

I also think it would be very good for the Department of Foreign Affairs to broaden the pool to ensure there is diversity within the Department at ambassadorial rank and that it is infused with different ideas and views at a senior level. I know the Department's argument is that we do that at the lower levels of the Department but then people are sucked into the culture and in order to progress, they must move up the ladder.I sincerely believe it is time for reform and I hope the Minister of State will agree with me.


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