Seanad debates

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Diplomatic Representation

2:30 pm

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Byrne for raising this matter. The mission of the Department of Foreign Affairs is to serve the Irish people, promote their values, advance their prosperity and interests abroad, and provide the Government with the capabilities, analysis and influence to ensure Ireland derives the maximum benefit from all areas of its external engagement. To fulfil that mission, the Department is staffed with a team of dedicated civil servants who promote Ireland's values and interests, working from 97 embassies, consulates and representative offices across the globe as well as at the Department's headquarters in Ireland. The Senator's question is very timely as our ambassadors have been very much to the fore in the past week for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations and engagements throughout the world. They do an excellent job.

Decisions on the appointment of ambassadors of Ireland are taken by Government on foot of proposals made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Ambassadors are then appointed by the President and take up duty abroad following the receipt of agreement from the receiving state. When considering the recommendations for the appointment of ambassadors, the Minister takes into account a wide range of factors, including political, economic and trade priorities for the post in question. In addition, applicants' management experience, regional knowledge, country knowledge, relevant language skills, policy experience, consular experience and other factors are taken into account as part of the process. The Minister also takes gender balance into account in the nomination of ambassadors. For example, the latest appointments to heads of mission posts consisted of 11 men and 11 women, bringing the gender breakdown of heads of mission serving overseas to 37 women and 59 men.

As the Senator will be aware, Ireland has a long and proud tradition of a non-political Civil Service and the individuals nominated as ambassadors are drawn from that service. I note the Senator was very clear that he was not suggesting these would be political appointments. Since the foundation of the State, Ireland has regularly demonstrated its capacity to exert influence and make a distinctive contribution on the international stage. Civil servants and those appointed as ambassadors have played a crucial role in these efforts. All currently serving ambassadors are established career civil servants employed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and recruited through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, or competitions administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs in accordance with the code of practice for appointment to positions in the Civil Service and public service, as set out by the Office of the Commission for Public Service Appointments. Open recruitment competitions are held to join the diplomatic service at third secretary, first secretary and counsellor level.

Officers recruited to join the diplomatic service are tested on key competency areas relevant to the grade during the recruitment process. Resilience, resourcefulness and a commitment to foreign language learning are among the requirements. The Department also works closely with the PAS to build diversity in the Department of Foreign Affairs and ensure it is representative of the people it represents.

I thank the Senator again for his question and would, of course, welcome his support and that of all Members in encouraging applications to open recruitment competitions to join the diplomatic service.


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