26 February 2021
For Embassy Ottawa, 2020 presented significant changes in official presence, personnel, and an unprecedented change in operations.
In terms of our official presence, a new chapter began with the opening of the Consulate General premises in Vancouver in October. I would like to commend Frank, Jennifer and the local staff team for the great job they have done, the impact they have made, and the wonderful new chancery they have opened.
Regarding personnel, the Embassy said goodbye to Ambassador Jim Kelly who concluded his four-year posting. The passing of former colleague Michael Hurley was received with great sadness at the Embassy. Michael is remembered as a hardworking, thoroughly decent, and kind colleague. Thanks to their time and efforts in Canada, Jim and Michael leave a legacy of a much-improved workplace, a fine operation, and enhanced reputation for the Embassy and Ireland.
The Ambassador’s PA, Tressa McMaster, also brought her five-year tenure with us to a close and thirty-year veteran Siobhán Doran retired, both in December. Both will be missed as dedicated workers and fond colleagues whose experience will be missed. The Embassy welcomed Ambassador Eamonn McKee who arrived on 10 September and presented his credentials virtually to the Governor General, Julie Payette, on 16 October.
Embassy Ottawa faced the upheaval common to most every mission with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Embassy immediately pivoted to a reduced-staff rotation system, which ensured staff safety and full provision of the mission’s core services throughout the pandemic. The rotation system was communicated to staff on Friday March 13th and implemented the following week once lockdown was announced. The arrangement continued for the rest of the year. In terms of passports, the Embassy remains one of the busiest in the mission network: 1,648 issued in 2019 and 1,060 in 2020. The visa side was busy too, issuing 419 in 2019 but dropping to just 33 in 2020 because of the pandemic.
St Patrick’s Day events were cancelled, including the National Day Reception, as was the increasingly popular ‘Irish Night on the [Parliament] Hill’. A major change in operations was effected to ensure consular support for the Irish community and repatriation for those returning to Ireland. Additional funding of €107,260 from the Covid-19 Response Fund for Irish Communities Abroad proved vital in adjusting to new levels and types of demands on Irish community organisations.
With some €272,000 in ESP funding, relations with the Irish community remained strong. Outreach through contact and events was adapted through the use of virtual platforms. The Irish Lacrosse team won plaudits and commendations for ceding their place to the Iroquois team for the world championships next year.
Covid-19 restrictions effectively ended internal travel in what is an immense country and this has severely impacted on outreach to the Irish community, business, Centres of Irish studies, and key Canadian agencies and contacts.
After an unprecedented increase in high-level visits over the previous three years, all visits ceased for the duration of the year. As part of their pandemic response measures, the very popular two-year International Experience Canada programme was suspended by the Canadian authorities, as was the Working Holiday Authorisation programme on the Irish side. The Embassy was delighted that the Canadian authorities agreed that the quota at 10,700 would be retained when the WHA programme resumed.
The Government agreed in December to table the Bill to ratify CETA. James Maloney MP, chair of the Canada-Ireland Parliamentary Friendship Group tabled a motion on 16 December to recognise March as Irish Heritage Month and it received an enthusiastic first reading. The Ceann Comhairle, the Irish chair, nominated Deputy David Stanton as Convenor on 10 November.
The Embassy embarked on an internal process of reflection and forward thinking to develop a plan to implement the Ireland-Canada strategy on a project management basis, with the support of HQ, and submitted a business case to the Programme Oversight Board.
The search for a new chancery was pursued intensively by the DHOM resulting in a shortlist submitted to HQ.
Read full report here.