NI mum helps to make ‘clean sweep’ of key world postings

A high-flying diplomat from NI, who is serving as the UK’s ambassador to Germany, always assumed she’d have to give up her career if she ever started a family.

By Graeme Cousins
Sunday, 22nd August 2021, 3:04 pm
Updated Sunday, 22nd August 2021, 3:27 pm
UK ambassador Jill Gallard
UK ambassador Jill Gallard

Omagh-born Jill Gallard played a key role in helping pull together the UK’s Joint Declaration with Germany, signed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and his German counterpart Heiko Maas earlier this year.

The 53-year-old mum-of-two is one of the women who have made it a female ‘clean sweep’ representing Boris Johnson’s government in all of the world’s key postings.

Women now represent the UK in Germany, the US, China, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, Russia and the United Nations in New York.

UK ambassador Jill Gallard at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Jill’s rise is all the more remarkable considering that the Foreign Office banned women from diplomatic roles until 1946 and required women to resign if they got married up until 1973.

Jill said: “To be perfectly honest, when I joined the Foreign Office in 1991, I’d always thought I’d have to leave if I got married and had kids.

“All the senior women seemed to be single or not have children and so the message that sent was that, actually you cannot do this job and have a family, if you are a woman.”

She said: “When my boys were toddlers, I would always try to go home for five o’clock for tea and bath-time, then I would go to a reception and be like an Exocet missile, talking to the most important people, and then escape so I could be back for bedtime as often as possible.”

UK ambassador Jill Gallard welcomes Prince Charles and Camilla to Germany

Jill was appointed as the UK’s first female envoy to Germany in November – tasked with managing Britain’s relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

Both countries signed a bilateral Joint Declaration on June 30 agreeing shared foreign and security policy cooperation on issues including climate change, human rights and international development.

And Jill said: “I started the job two months before the end of the EU exit transition period and the turning of that page after the lengthy negotiations.

“Many Germans are openly disappointed that the UK has chosen to leave the EU but at the same time they are pragmatic and understand it was a democratic decision.

Jill was born in Omagh before her family relocated to Co Antrim, aged two. As NI marks its centenary, Jill believes her upbringing during the Troubles may have helped her make a success of her career: “Growing up in Northern Ireland during the worst years of the Troubles definitely gave me a desire to see more dialogue, less conflict.”

Females in all key G7 postings

Jill Gallard is one of more than 60 female heads of mission for the UK abroad – tripling from 22 in the past decade.

Welsh diplomat Menna Rawlings officially starts her role as ambassador to France today meaning that the UK is represented in all key G7 foreign postings by female diplomats.

Dame Anne Warburton was Britain’s first serving female Ambassador, in Copenhagen from 1976-83.

The first married female ambassadors were not appointed until 1987 – eight years after Margaret Thatcher the UK’s first female Prime Minister.

Women now make up over 30% of UK’s heads of mission worldwide.

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