John Callinan appointed as secretary general of Department of Taoiseach and Government

The dual role makes him the most powerful civil servant in the country

The Cabinet has approved the appointment of John Callinan as secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and secretary general to the Government.

The appointment to the dual role makes him the most powerful civil servant in the country, replacing Martin Fraser, who has completed 11 years in the role and will become ambassador to London this summer.

Mr Callinan has served as second secretary general in the Department of the Taoiseach since 2016. He has responsibility for dealing with Brexit, but his role has broadened in recent years, insiders say, and was the clear favourite to replace Mr Fraser.

As second secretary general, Mr Callinan led the International and EU Affairs Division and the Britain/Northern Ireland Division, which has included the Shared Island Unit since 2020. Crucially, he was the Taoiseach’s “sherpa” (as the senior EU adviser to EU heads of government are called), and he was particularly prominent during the Brexit negotiations, when he advised first Enda Kenny and then Leo Varadkar, and liaised with other EU “sherpas”.

Leadership

Mr Callinan joined the Department in 1998, and has been a member of the department’s Management Board since he was appointed Assistant Secretary General in 2007.

“He has worked closely with five successive Taoisigh and has held leadership positions across all major policy areas of the Department,” a Department of the Taoiseach statement said.

The salary for the job is €215,998 and the position was filled following a request for expressions of interest from all suitable officers in the civil service, the department said. It added the post does not come within the remit of the Top Level Appointments Committee, and the same process was followed on previous occasions, most recently in 2011.

Prior to joining the department, Mr Callinan worked in the Revenue Commissioners. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, he also spent four years at the European Commission in Brussels, the department said.

His appointment signals the end of Mr Fraser’s leadership of the civil service, an era which spanned the latter part of the financial crisis and the period of austerity which resulted from it, through the economic recovery, Brexit, Covid and now the war in Ukraine. A formidable manager and negotiator, Mr Fraser was regarded as an exceptionally powerful civil servant and he was heavily relied upon by successive Taoisigh. He is expected to take up his role as ambassador to the Court of St James (the UK) this summer.