Irish people continue to travel overseas in greater numbers than ever before and the demand for consular assistance has increased significantly in recent years. In 2018, my Department provided assistance to Irish citizens in over 2,343 serious consular cases. Regrettably this included assistance in over 292 cases where citizens died abroad.
A new Consular Strategy 2019-2022 was launched in May, with a focus on ensuring a high standard of customer care continues to be delivered to Irish citizens.
I recognise that there is a risk that this work can impact on staff well-being and welfare, particularly when dealing with highly sensitive consular cases. The nature of the work requires a comprehensive range of measures to support officers.
The Consular Division of the Department includes a number of skilled and trained staff who can provide support to colleagues who are based overseas. Formal debriefing and supervision is provided routinely for those who are assisting in complex and distressing cases. Consular Division is also currently running a pilot mental health support programme for staff with St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.
Prior to taking up a posting overseas, staff are provided with comprehensive training in the management of consular cases. The support is provided by experienced consular assistance managers who have themselves undertaken mental health courses. Training and advice is also provided by organisations such as the Rape Crisis Centre, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust and the Irish Hospice Foundation.
In addition, my Department retains a support service operated by an external provider, Workplace Options, for all posted staff and their families. The service provides confidential welfare advice and counselling on a twenty four-hour basis.
The Civil Service Employee Assistance Service (CSEAS) more generally has a wide range of free and confidential supports to staff. The Department’s Employee Assistance Officer, based in Dublin, provides advice to colleagues who are based overseas.
I am confident that the range of workplace supports provided is comprehensive in assisting staff to manage complex and challenging consular cases.