ACESA has quite simply transformed in the past two years. We are now offering a huge range of services to members.

I am pleased to present  2021 ACESA Annual Review. Yet another year has passed without us gathering in person to share our experiences, yet despite this as you will see from this year’s review, we have had an action-packed year with lots of opportunity for engagement, discussion and sharing.

Information about 2021 Events, key findings from the latest Member’s Survey and the Board can be found on this page.

The experience of the pandemic has meant we have all had to learn to do things differently, be it professionally or socially. Conducting business online is now a part of our daily lives, and yet I’m sure like me you are enjoying getting to meet people face to face again, to build relationships that lead to innovation and delivery for the public we serve and to reconnect with trusted colleagues.


2021 was another year where all ACESA events were delivered online. While we all very much look forward to gathering in person in 2022, online events will remain a feature of the organisation. The ACESA Briefing & Events subgroup worked over the past year to bring our events to a new standard.

The group devised a number of formats for events including:

Guest Speaker events

These events have been a feature of ACESA since our foundation, and generally take place on the last Wednesday of the month.

Panel Discussions

We hosted two panel discussions in 2021, bringing together a variety of views on a particular topic in a moderated discussion.

Best Practice Events

At these events, members from within the network share projects and experiences which other members can learn from and use in their own agency.

Action Learning Events

In these events, members can share experiences and solutions of particular challenges in facilitating breakout sessions.

2021 Events

Guest Speaker Events

A New Data Governance Framework for the Public Sector: Your Role as CEO

Nuala Byrne and Annette Denvir from the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO)

Leading with Purpose

Francesca McDonagh, Bank of Ireland

Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

Diversity; What does it mean and why should it matter to State Agency Leaders?

Carol Baxter, Assistant Secretary General, Dept of Children; Hilkka Becker, Chairperson, International Protection Appeals Tribunal, Tiernan Brady, Global Head of Diversity, Clifford Chance Law Firm; Kathleen Lynch, Former TD and Minister of State

Liberal Democracy: Why it’s under threat and why Public Sector leaders should care

Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

Leadership Lessons from the Pandemic

Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman

Making the transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy, and the Role of State Agencies

Marie Donnelly, Chairperson of the Climate Change Advisory Council

Deepening Cooperation and Connections on the Island and the Role for ACESA Members

Aingeal O’Donoghue, Assistant Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach & Head of the Shared Island Unit

Ireland in a Changing Europe

Mairead McGuinness, EU Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability, and the Capital Markets Union

The Challenges for Public Sector Leaders Post-Pandemic

Martin Fraser, Secretary General, Department of An Taoiseach

Learnings in Leadership, including building a new organisation from the ground up

Jim Breslin, Secretary General at Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

Action Learning Events

Returning to the Workplace

Action Learning

Beyond Engagement – The Great Places to Work model in action, in partnership with the Chief Executives Forum Northern Ireland

Action Learning

Well Being

Action Learning

Panel Discussions

Artificial Intelligence is here, and more is on the way: Is your organisation ready?

Panel Discussion

Members Survey

The 2021 ACESA membership survey was completed by 66 members, which gives us a very clear picture of the experiences of state agencies and their CEOs in the past year. A summary of the findings is included here. The full report can be accessed in the membership area of the website.

Key challenges

The ongoing COVID-19 situation unsurprisingly the biggest challenge, reflecting the commitment of public sector agencies to step to this enormous challenge, in particular the openness to innovate and be flexible.

The Future Talent Pool
The other challenge (and opportunities) identified by a significant number of CEOs is the future talent pool. How are we preparing for the public service of the future and Ireland’s needs as a society in terms of ensuring that talented and visionary people see the possibilities and potential of an exciting and rewarding career in the public service.

Hybrid and Flexible Working
This was closely followed by the challenge in terms of hybrid and flexible working. However, a lot of progress is being made, and CEOs very much are seeing this issue as one for the long term, not just in terms of COVID.

Areas with the most potential to improve public sector performance

Digital or eGovernment
Members identified Digital or eGovernment as having the most potential to improve public sector performance, again demonstrating their willingness to engage in innovative ways.

Outcomes and results
The need to be strategic by focussing on outcomes and results rather than simply outputs is also at the forefront of our member CEOs minds.

Collaboration with other agencies
A significant number of members identified the need for increased collaboration with other agencies – a key benefit of ACESA membership – as being central to achieving improved performance

Skills required as a Chief Executive of a State Agency

Leadership and Strategic Skills Building
Members are very keen to continue to build their leadership and strategic skills, seeing their roles clearly not just in terms of being managers and service delivering, but in terms of seeing the big picture, and the changes coming down the road they must prepare for.

Continuous Professional Development
A significant number of CEOs are very keen for more opportunities for continuous professional development. Keen to get these skills so that they are equipped to meet the needs of the public they serve.

Benefits of ACESA Membership

The average score from respondents was between 9 and 10 as to how likely they are to recommend ACESA membership to a peer. This reflects the impact of the transformation and increased offerings of the organisation in last two years in particular.

Events Programme
The number 1 benefit as seen by members is the events programme. Given the delivery of 17 events in 2021 and the calibre of speakers and panels, this is not surprising.

Learning from Peers and Sharing Information
Members also hugely value the ability to learn from peers and share information. This leads to more innovation and less duplication.

Board Members

ACESA is a company limited by Guarantee, and our work is overseen by an elected Board, which is elected at the Annual General Meeting. Due to the increased offerings to members in recent times, several Board Subgroups were established in 2020 to assist in running the organisation.

Dr Pamela Byrne is the CEO of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) where she is responsible for overall strategic management. Having previously held senior positions in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Abbott Nutrition, Pam has extensive experience of the food regulatory environment, as well as expertise in risk assessment and food safety management at both national and international levels. Pamela was the Chair of the Management Board of the Joint Programming Initiative A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life for the last 5 years. She is also the Chair of the Strategic Advisory Board of the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin, Ireland.

Ginny Hanrahan is the inaugural CEO/Registrar of CORU – the regulator for Health and Social Care Professionals since 2008. CORU currently regulates 23,000 professionals from 12 professions, including social workers, physiotherapists and optometrists and are working with 5 other professions towards regulation including social worker, counsellors, and psychotherapists. Ginny previously worked in health and social care services, acute hospital, community, and mental health with her last role as Head of Clinical Services in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin. She previously worked as an Occupational Therapist in Ireland, UK, and Australia. She is past president of CLEAR – Council for Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation for international professional regulators. She holds Masters in Executive Leadership (UU) and in Community Health (TCD).

John McDaid is the Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Board, the body responsible for the provision of the State’s civil legal aid scheme and its family mediation services. The Board is also responsible for the administration of several criminal legal aid related schemes. John worked as a solicitor in private legal practice in Australia and Dublin before joining the Board. He worked as a managing solicitor in several the Board’s law centres before taking up a senior management position. He was appointed Chief Executive in 2014. He holds a Master of Science in Business Practice from the IMI / UCC.

Hilkka Becker, a lawyer with over 20 years professional experience specialising in asylum, migration, and human rights law, is the Chairperson of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal. She previously served as a part-time Member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, was Senior Solicitor at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Legal Advisor with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), worked in private practice and as Legal Officer with the Irish Refugee Council. Hilkka is a member of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (IARMJ), a member of the Justice and Home Affairs Group and of the Germany Group of the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) and a Fellow of McLaughlin College at York University, Toronto.

Patricia Carey is CEO of the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) since 2014. AAI is a quasi-judicial body that is regulator for all adoption services in Ireland. She is responsible for the day-to-day management and direction of the AAI, which is accountable to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Patricia has considerable previous experience in the non-profit sector, having worked in various support and education settings with the Traveller Community and as the Director of Services for the Society of St Vincent de Paul for 13 years. She is on the Boards of Caranua, the state’s redress scheme for survivors of institutional abuse, and BelongTo, the national organisation supporting LGBTI+ young people in Ireland. She holds a BA and H Dip from NUI Maynooth and postgraduate qualifications from the Irish Management Institute and the Institute of Public Administration.

Rosalind Carroll is the Chief Executive of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB), the state body which assesses personal injury compensation. She took up her role in March 2020, having previously been CEO of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), the regulatory body for the rental sector. Ms Carroll’s experience as a senior executive has included positions at the Housing Agency as Head of Regulation and Head of Housing Services, as well as roles in the Department of the Environment and Dublin City Council, covering housing, regulation, and programme management.

Brian Doherty is the Chief Executive Officer of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, the body charged with the regulation of legal professionals in the State and the maintenance and improvement of standards of legal services. A former barrister he was called to the Bar in Northern Ireland in 1996 and initially practiced in Belfast. He joined the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland when it was set up in 2000 as one of the first civilian investigators, working on allegations of misconduct against the then RUC, later the PSNI. In 2007 he moved to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission as a Senior Investigating Officer, later progressing to Acting Deputy Director of Investigations. He returned to the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland in 2014 to run the Current Investigations Directorate. Brian took up post as the CEO of the LSRA in September 2017. Brian holds a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice Management from Queens University Belfast and a Doctorate in Criminology from the University of Portsmouth.

John Farrelly is Chief Executive of The Mental Health Commission, Ireland’s mental health service regulator which in 2022 will commence the Decision Support Service pursuant to the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act. John previously occupied the positions of Charities Regulator and Deputy Chief Inspector of Health and Social Services. Educated at the Royal College of Surgeons, Honourable Society of King’s Inns, Harvard, Smurfit Business School, University College Dublin, John is currently completing a Doctorate in Governance at the IPA. John’s professional goal is to develop efficient/effective organisations which deliver optimum public service through skilled, determined, and compassionate people.



Jim O’Toole is Chief Executive Officer of Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency. Jim has a wealth of experience in business development, global food marketing, sustainability development and change leadership. Jim previously was Director of Meat & Livestock and Sustainability Development in Bord Bia. Jim is a Board Member of the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB). He holds a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science from University College Dublin and has completed professional development programmes at Harvard Business School, Cranfield University and Ashridge Business School.