Stephen began as an Executive Officer on promotion in 2005, having begun as a Clerical Officer in Revenue in 2001. He has been with the Department of Justice ever since, albeit having two periods where he was seconded to the Department of Foreign Affairs to work as a Diplomat in Irish Embassies overseas. He is now engaged in the role of Visa Office Manager in London following promotion. Stephen says, “it’s an honour and opportunity that would not have been possible without my experiences as an Executive Officer”.
Tell us a little about your career path from Executive Officer to your current role?
I began as an Executive Officer on promotion in 2005, having begun as a Clerical Officer in Revenue in 2001. I have been with the Department of Justice ever since, albeit having two periods where I was seconded to the Department of Foreign Affairs to work as a Diplomat in Irish Embassies overseas.
I was initially engaged in the Department of Justice in Human Resources and worked in Training & Development. I gained confidence as a communicator by helping develop and deliver courses to staff in the Department of Justice, particularly new staff. I was then subsequently engaged in the Department’s Immigration function for a number of years. Here I was engaged in many varied and interesting tasks, from developing and delivering the training rollout for the AISIP immigration database, to contributing to the defence of the State’s position in several high-profile High Court cases. I managed and developed people throughout my time as an Executive Officer. The highlight of my first stint in the area of immigration was my posting to the Irish Embassy in India, where I was an Executive Officer/Visa Attaché, and where I helped manage a large team of locally recruited staff. My family and I had the experience of a lifetime while there, both professionally and personally. My experiences as an officer overseas, coupled with the experience gained elsewhere as an Executive Officer, equipped me in taking the steps towards promotion to Higher Executive Officer.
My promotion to Higher Executive Officer has seen my return to working in the Human Resources space, and subsequently to another overseas posting, this time as the Head of the Irish Embassy’s Visa Function in London. While in HR as a Higher Executive Officer I spent a period in an official ‘Acting Up’ capacity as Assistant Principal Officer.
I firmly believe that many of the key skills vital for a Civil Servant are honed at the level of Executive Officer, from managing staff, being empowered and accountable for your decisions, and developing effective written and verbal communication skills. In a Government Department at Executive Officer level, you can make key contributions in both an operational sense and in formulating policy. You may even get a sense of accomplishment in seeing your contribution towards a policy or a reply to a Parliamentary Question forming part of your Minister’s response in Dáil Éireann!
A career as a Civil Servant can be very rewarding, including at Executive Officer level, and I have always taken a sense of pride in working with great people in providing a service on behalf the people of Ireland, and in at all times representing myself, my Department and my country to the utmost of my ability.
What opportunities did the Executive Officer role provide you with?
I have been afforded the most amazing opportunities as an Executive Officer, both professionally and educationally.
I was given the honour of participating on behalf of the Department in the Irish Senior Executive Programme in Justice Policy at the College of Criminal Justice (CCJ) in Northeastern University (NEU) in Boston. This was an intensive residential course over a number of weeks and involved me being in the US during the historic 2008 Presidential election.
More recently I have completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Industrial & Employment Law with the Institute of Public Administration, which was funded by my Department.
I have been posted overseas on two occasions, including for my current role. Myself and my family were posted to India to work in the Irish Embassy in Delhi between 2015 and 2018. My favourite part of this role was travelling the length and breadth of India promoting Ireland as a desirable destination for Study, Tourism & Business, engaging with potential students and Tourists, and facilitating their travel to contribute to our country.
I am now engaged in the role of Visa Office Manager in London following promotion. It is an honour and opportunity that would not have possible without my experiences as an Executive Officer.
Can you tell us about a highlight from your career in the Civil Service?
A highlight for me was running the Irish Stall at the Delhi International Food Fair on behalf of the Irish Embassy.
Each Mission had their own stall, selling produce and recipes from their homeland. Our own bill of fare included an Irish stew with a masala twist, which customers could wash down with Irish tea, Stout or Whiskey. I’d like to think our stall won the day due to our interactive elements, which involved both the GAA and our film industry. Customers could test their hurling and football skills in our Croke Park themed enclosure, or have photos taken of themselves as a Jedi on Skellig Michael or perched on the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, with impressive props provided by our colleagues in Tourism Ireland. It was a fun weekend, which promoted Ireland as a tourist destination and helped capitalise on all we have to offer as a culinary, sporting, film, and tourist destination.
Other highlights while there include representing India at International Level during the GAA Asian Championships in Kuala Lumpur in 2019 and featuring as an extra in a Hollywood Movie filmed in Agra in 2017, Victoria & Abdul, all on the strength of being assigned to India as an Executive Officer!
Why did you choose a career in the public sector?
I joined the Civil Service because of the career progression opportunities, the educational opportunities and the prospect to work abroad on behalf the State. An important consideration for me was that I would be working on behalf of the people of Ireland, rather than for an entity motivated primarily by profit.
Later in my career, as family arrived, the work life balance aspect became more important, and I have availed of a number of initiatives in that regard, including Flexitime.
The move towards remote/hybrid working, although necessitated by lockdown, has seen the Civil Service at its most innovative and best – the maintenance of service levels, the commitment by Staff to ‘keeping the show on the road’, has been very impressive and confirmed my belief that Civil Servants are amongst the best employees in Ireland.
The pension and job security elements are also important considerations, but when I joined, they were not the primary motivations.
What advice would you give someone thinking of applying for Executive Officer role?
Forget about the caricature of the Civil Servant! The Civil Service you will find has been transformed over the years. It is professional, dynamic, accountable and transparent. You will be expected to contribute and work hard, but the reward is seeing your contribution towards the wellbeing of the country come to fruition. You will work with an increasingly diverse group of colleagues, and you will have the opportunity to liaise with partners from the public, private and NGO sector, as well as with colleagues from other EU states.
There are huge opportunities for educational improvement and career advancement. Essentially, if you put in the effort in the Civil Service, I believe you will be rewarded in spades.