Flying the flag for the town in 'the big smoke'

Marion Walsh and Micheal O Muircheartaigh in 1998.
Marion Walsh and Micheal O Muircheartaigh in 1998.

PRESIDENT of the Kerry Association of Dublin and top civil servant at the Department of Justice, Marion Walsh must rarely get a minute's rest.

With the Association gearing up for its annual Oíche Chiarraí night and the Department of Justice intensely involved in Ireland's EU Presidency, Marion has quite a lot on her plate.

A native of Tullamore, where her parents Eilísh and Patrick still reside, she joined the civil service over 30 years ago and is now the executive director of the International Policy Division of the Department of Justice, working hand-in-hand with Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

If work isn't pressurised enough, Marian enjoys an equally busy extra-curricular life. She is currently in her third year as President of the Kerry Association of Dublin - one of the capital's leading county organisations - and relishing the upcoming Oíche Chiarraí. It's the biggest night in the association's calendar when Kerry Person of the Year 2013, Luke Moriarty, will be official entitled at a gala ceremony at the Clyde Court in Ballsbridge on March 1.

"We're really looking forward to it and I'm glad to say the association is still as vibrant today as it was when I joined in the early 1980s even though we would like to have more younger members," Marion told The Kerryman this week.

"It's always been one of the best of the associations in Dublin and I initially got into it through my friend Karen Trench a few years after I moved to Dublin." She arrived to find a dearth of members from the top half of the county. "There was a lot of people from south Kerry, but north Kerry was poorly represented at the time!"

Marion was to certainly change north Kerry's prominence within the organisation, becoming its first ever female chairperson in the mid 1990s, a position she held for a number of years. "I found it very hard to get on the committee initially, but ultimately become the first woman chair of it and I'm glad to say many other women, like Mary Kelly and Eileen O'Sullivan have held the position since."

Our interview is conducted slap bang in the frenzied schedule of meetings Marion now finds herself keeping up with. "We have the EU Presidency at the moment of course and the Department of Justice is hosting roughly 200 of the 600 meetings Ireland will chair as part of it. We're probably the busiest department along with Agriculture."

As head of the International Policy Division, Marion is playing a key advisory role in the proceedings - with policing and immigration of particular concern to EU justice wonks at the moment, among a plethora of other issues. Her current role comes after many years spent as the personal secretary to a succession of Justice ministers. Unfortunately, she won't be drawn on revealing any details of what they were like to work for.

Many of us have an image of our civil service as a shady bureaucracy pulling the levers of power, but it's not so as far as Marion is concerned.

"We have an important advisory role of course, but it is just advisory and it is the democratically-elected Government ministers who ultimately make all the decisions. They are the ones who are publicly accountable of course!"

It's clear that Marion's warm people skills and quick-witted intelligence has made all the difference in her progress up the ladder of the service, but it wasn't what she initially wanted.

"I really wanted to be a teacher when I left school, but I had no music and couldn't even sing! So I applied for a load of jobs, from the bank to the civil service and was offered the service first. I was posted straight to the Department of Justice and about six weeks' into the job I got offers from all the other prospective employers!

"I thought to myself 'the department isn't that bad' and so I stuck with it and I've been very lucky with it over the years I have to say," Marion said. "I'm certainly glad I didn't go teaching as I don't think I would really have been suited to it and the Justice department keeps me busy and excited to this day!"