Anne Anderson will become Ireland’s first female ambassador to the U.S. next month. She speaks to Debbie McGoldrick about her lifelong career representing Ireland abroad.
Career diplomat Anne Anderson is set to take up the post of Ireland’s ambassador to the United States at the end of August, marking the first time that a female has assumed the important, high-profile post.
But for Anderson, 60, being first lady on the job is something that she’s well used to given the male-dominated world of diplomatic foreign service.
She’s been Ireland’s first female in all of her prior postings, including her time as the Irish permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva in 1995 and the European Union in Brussels in 2001, and as ambassador to France in 2005. Anderson just completed four years as Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York – again, leading the way for other females to follow.
But her new posting in Washington, D.C., she says, will truly be special, the ultimate goal for someone such as herself who has dedicated her career to representing Ireland’s interests abroad.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I was absolutely delighted with the news,” Anderson told the Irish Voice last week during an interview in her office at the Irish Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
Anderson had indicated a preference for the job to the Irish government some time back, given that she was at the end of her time at the UN and was due for another relocation. But the decision rested with the government.
“I had hoped for it,” she says. “It’s every diplomat’s dream to serve in Washington and I love the United States. I served in Washington in the mid-eighties for four years, so here I am 30 years later. I feel a tremendous sense of pride and privilege.”
There is no doubt that Anderson is up for the new challenge. She has seen and done it all during a 41-year foreign service career in which she’s been deeply involved in just about every issue on the Irish radar screen.
Her childhood years also helped her prepare for the one constant in a foreign service livelihood – relocation. Born in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, her father worked in the psychiatric health service and moved the family to Kilkenny when she was eight, followed by another move to Dublin.
Anderson gradated University College Dublin when she was 19 with a degree in history and politics and was leaning towards a career in teaching. Her father, though, had other ideas, and wanted his daughter to secure a safe, solid job in the Irish civil service.
“When you went to college when I did, we weren’t career focused in the way that young people are nowadays,” Anderson recalls.
Civil service, though, didn’t interest Anderson. But when her father saw an ad in a newspaper for an entry level opening in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs she was intrigued. She applied for the position and got it, and hasn’t looked back since.
“When I got the job I thought I’d try it for a couple of years, but then it became addictive,” Anderson remembers.
The times were exciting for Ireland. Soon after Anderson joined the foreign service Ireland became a member of the European Union, so things were changing at a rapid pace. It was the perfect environment for an enthusiastic young worker like Anderson.
“I had enormous responsibility as a 20 year old writing briefs for ministers to go to EU meetings and so on,” she says. “I couldn’t have imagined in those early years another career that could offer such scope and challenge, so I was hooked.”
Anderson quickly rose through the ranks, and her first foreign posting came in 1976 at Ireland’s mission to the UN in Geneva. She spent four years there, including a six-month stint in Belgrade working on tense east-west relations.
A return to Dublin to continue her work on Eastern European issues followed, and then came Anderson’s first exposure to the U.S. in 1983. She was based at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. for four years where she was a jack of all trades, doing economic and media work, and acting as agricultural and labor attaché.
Her time in D.C. sparked an interest in labor issues that continues to this day. Anderson counts famed labor Irish American labor leaders Tom Donahue and John Sweeney as mentors who exposed her to American-style problems and solutions that she was able to apply in other postings as her career progressed.