Go raibh maith agat. Is pribhléid dom a bheith os comhair an choiste inniu. I thank the committee for the opportunity to present before it.
As members will be aware, the position of chairperson was advertised through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, process. I was informed of my appointment by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, in June. I am honoured to have been selected and I pledge my utter commitment to the role for the next five years.
Ahead of making this presentation, I was advised to focus on two areas, namely, a run-through of my career background to date and an outline of some objectives for my term of office. I am pleased to do so now, within the time available to me.
As regards my background, I have always been committed to a sense of social justice, public service and human rights. This has underpinned my career choice and voluntary work to date. After I graduated, I began my career on a community employment scheme with the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed. In the role of press and information officer, I supported the development of the first edition of Welfare to Work, a guide that many members may use at constituency level. That guide is now in its 27th edition and its publication continues to be supported by the Department of Social Protection. I moved on to other press officer roles but my career shifted to a broader leadership role when I was appointed as chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association. A particular achievement of my tenure in office was the roll-out of the national non-directive pregnancy counselling service across the regions. In the past 15 years, I moved on to build DHR Communications, a strategic communications practice. The company works on public interest campaigns, with clients drawn from the public sector as well as community and voluntary sector organisations. Last year, I took a step back in the business and appointed a replacement managing director. In addition, I have undergone a process of devolving my shareholding to staff in the company.
Beyond my day jobs, I have always committed myself to voluntary and advocacy work. I have served on the boards of the National Union of Journalists, Women’s Aid, Connect Ethiopia, the Heritage Council and the Liberties Business Forum, which covers the area from which my business has operated. In the past three years, I have chaired the corporate social responsibility, CSR, stakeholder forum at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and I have just completed a five-year term as chairperson of the National Museum of Ireland. On invitation of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, I have agreed to serve a further two-year term in this role, ensuring continuity in board transition.
I have constantly invested in my personal education and learning. I have undertaken post-graduate studies in criminology, employment law and strategic communications, as well as undertaking refresher courses in corporate governance on an ongoing basis. I am currently completing an MPhil in public history, with my dissertation focusing on how the heritage of communities that have been engaged in turf cutting and peat extraction will be considered in the just transition. I have noted the activity of Senator Murphy on this topic in recent Oireachtas committee debates.
It is my hope that I can bring the learnings from my career, as well as my lived experience, to the table when I commence in the role as chairperson of the Citizens Information Board. However, I will be closely guided by the provisions set out in the mandating legislation of the Citizens Information Board, CIB, namely, the Comhairle Act 2000, the Citizens Information Act 2007 and the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008. I will also be guided by the code of practice for State boards and, importantly for me, I will turn to the public sector equality and human rights duty set out under the Human Rights and Equality Act 2014.
When applying for the role of chairperson of the Citizens Information Board, I focused significantly on its role as an information giver. As a communications professional, I am acutely aware of the growing importance of trusted sources of information, as alluded to by the Chairman, particularly against a backdrop of growing disinformation and misinformation. Members will be aware of the recently published Reuters Digital News Report which was supported by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The report demonstrates the growing public desire for trusted sources of information. Although people continue to access social media in increased numbers, trust in these platforms is falling. At global and domestic levels, people want news and information that is impartial and from trusted sources. As members are aware, most people now use their smartphone to access information. Members probably do likewise. These insights probably come as no surprise, but they place an onus and pressure on organisations such as CIB and all its associated services to ensure it remains a trusted voice and continues to be agile in communicating in order that information gaps do not arise. I am especially conscious of those who experience disadvantage and ensuring they are communicated with in formats that suit their needs.
During the pandemic, I was deeply impressed by how the CIB and all its services maintained and increased capacity. The instigation of a call-back service, the introduction of a web-chat service for the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, and increased social media presence are among the initiatives undertaken to remain available to people while face-to-face appointments were restricted. I was also pleased to learn that work was done by CIB to challenge disinformation, particularly as this related to Covid and the vaccine. This agility took place during a concurrent shift and rise in public need for information, particularly as it relates to job and income loss. I understand the organisation saw increased contact through the National Advocacy Service, particularly for people with disabilities who became more isolated during the pandemic.
As we start to envision a post-pandemic society, CIB emerges with an expectation of a return to in-person contact. However, I anticipate the public will also require continued high levels of telephone and online services. Furthermore, the pandemic aftermath will leave new scars of indebtedness and further effects of isolation of which I am sure all members are aware. Finding the sweet spot will be a challenge for CIB. All services require capacity and CIB is committed to ensuring consistency of service across the country. However, continued support in the 2022 budget Vote will be critical to supporting the vital work that CIB does.
Beyond being an agile and responsive organisation, there are several immediate issues facing the board of CIB. As I understand it, a periodic critical review of CIB by the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is set to commence shortly. This will be an important and welcome opportunity to evaluate the efficiency, efficacy and accountability of CIB, especially in the context of its relationship with its parent Department. I look forward to engaging in this process.
As members will likely be aware, periodic critical reviews are provided for under the code of practice, so it is a very welcome measure that is taking place. Their purpose and remit are set out in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's guidelines for such reviews. The results of the periodic critical review will be extremely timely and important in informing the development of a new strategic plan for the organisation. The current strategy is due to expire at the end of this year. Following the retirement of CIB's chief executive, Angela Black, a recruitment process for a new leader of the executive will commence shortly. This is a very important task for the board that will involve a significant time investment.
In taking on these challenges, I intend to use the following weeks to become more fully briefed on all issues relating to the board of the CIB. In addition to executive briefings, I also intend to make time to meet individually with board members, many of whom have given great service to the CIB and are highly experienced and committed people. In particular, I note the commitment by Sean Sheridan, who has been acting chair in recent months. He has been particularly welcoming and supportive of me and he has already briefed me on the role.
Furthermore, I am looking forward to meeting with officials from the Department of Social Protection next week. As with other boards, I hope to demonstrate strategic leadership and to offer an approach that is both collaborative and effective. I very much see the relationship between the board of a statutory organisation and that of the relevant joint Oireachtas committee as a two-way process. I would be very pleased to provide regular briefings and to establish systems of information exchange with members that are appropriate and useful. The committee can perhaps engage with me further in that regard.
In reporting to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, it is my experience that she is extremely responsive and supportive and makes herself available in a timely way. I know she has appeared frequently before the committee. I look forward to working with her and her officials as I embark on this new role. I again thank committee members for their time today. I look forward to continued dialogue with them all.