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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Jul 1923

Vol. 4 No. 17


I move the Second Reading of this Bill which is now in the hands of Deputies. In England the Civil Service Commissioners hold their office during the pleasure of His Majesty, and are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister who is the First Lord of the Treasury. Here the appointment which is proposed in the Bill is by the Executive Council, on the principle that the Commissioners are functioning under the authority of the Government. The Executive Council being the executive authority of Government, charged with the responsibility of administering the service and so on, must be given the powers to select its own instruments who will be responsible to the Executive Council. The second section of the Bill deals with the duties devolving upon the Civil Service Commissioners. They will not be whole-time officers. Just now there are some arrears of work, and there are certain examinations in the immediate future which must be carried out, but when things settle down the duty of the Commissioners will not be of such a character as would necessitate whole-time occupation. It is intended— and I gave notice to some Deputies—to ask the Commissioners to hold examinations for County Surveyors before the Bill passes. It appears that there are four counties without a County Surveyor, and in one case the work of the county is to some extent interfered with by reason of the fact that no examination has been held for a very long time. An examination is necessary in order to secure that the person or persons who would be candidates would be qualified for the work of surveying. Recently many representations have been made to us, from one county in particular, and I undertook, in order to avoid the possibility of a person being appointed who would not be competent, that I would inform the Dáil, and in the absence of any objection, say that I would request the Civil Service Commissioners in addition to the examinations that they intended to hold for Customs officers to hold this other examination.

In Section 3 the first Sub-section makes it imperative that every person holding a permanent situation shall have a Civil Service Certificate. Sub-section (2) of Section 3 prescribes conditions for the Civil Service Certificate similar to the conditions in the Order in Council of 1910 with regard to the British Civil Service. Sub-section (3) of Section 3 is an important provision. It is to the effect that promotion in the customary course is a matter for the discretion of the Minister in charge of the Department and not a matter for the Civil Service Commissioners. Section 4 lays down the principle of open competitive examination. Sub-section (3) is necessary for examinations such as the Customs and Excise examination for army candidates and further examinations in which, in the public interest, it may be desirable to reserve appointments for persons who have served in the Army. Section 5 is the governing Section for these appointments in the public service for which competitive examinations are either inapplicable or unnecessary. It deals with such cases as engineers, solicitors, architects, etc. Section 6 enables the Civil Service Commissioners to issue their certificates for such appointments as the professional and technical appointments referred to above. It also enables the Commissioners to deal exceptionally with individual cases in the public interest. Section 7 is necessary because of the provisions of Sub-section (b) to the effect that no person shall be appointed until a certificate of qualification has been issued. It might happen in the case of pressure of work that an officer selected for an appointment might be required to take up his duties immediately and in order to allow for that this Section will provide the necessary machinery. Section 8 deals with what I have mentioned about County Surveyorships. I suppose it is unnecessary to say anything further about that.

It is a question, of course, for the future as to what extent the Civil Service machinery might be utilised for the holding of examinations for appointments under Local Authorities and the Bill does not provide for anything more than enabling the Commissioners to hold these examinations. It is not mandatory. A great number of people hold the view that the sooner Local Government officials will pass through a Civil Service door the better it would be for the administration of Local Authorities. However, there is nothing binding in the proposal; it is simply an enabling Section. I think that deals generally with the matter of the Bill. It is advisable that this Bill should receive the earliest consideration of the Dáil and I hope that its passage will be facilitated.

I received this Bill yesterday and read it with some care and also with some disappointment. I am opposed to the general principle of the Bill. I agree heartily that there should be a Civil Service Commission and agree equally heartily that all Civil Servants should be required to pass a public examination before they are entitled to serve in the Civil Service of the State. On those introductory matters there can be very little disagreement. My disagreement with the Bill is on a general question of principle dealing with the powers and functions of the Civil Service Commission itself.

This is not the first time that this question has been touched upon in this new State we have established. It has been passed through in a number of States, and the tendency of late has been in a certain direction, which is not the direction taken by this Bill. Before I define the difference of principle which I believe myself—having been interested in this matter for some time—that a Civil Service Commission should adhere to, as distingushed from the principle that it does set forth, I would like to say at the very outset with perfect candour, that I should be the very last to suggest that the point of view I am now going to put forward has all the merits, exclusive of any other point of view. I know there are two opposed systems by which Civil Service Commissions should work Neither system has all the merits. I do suggest that the principle of the system adopted in Canada, South Africa, and by a number of States, increasingly of late, is the system that is best suited to the conditions here. Speaking on this matter once before in the Dáil I suggested that the position of the two systems might be put under two heads—the British system and the Canadian system. I just use those as an illustration of the point to which I desire to draw attention. According to what I have spoken of as the British system, which is the system adopted here, the responsibility of the Commission is subject in all matters to the responsibility of the Minister for Finance who happens as time goes forward to be appointed by the political majority of the Dáil. In England the results have been very beneficial, but in England there has been a very long and historic lineage behind that system which we cannot boast, and which Canada found, because it could not boast of such a lineage, did not produce the same results. The system has not produced the same results in other countries as we know it has produced satisfactorily in England. I do not believe it will produce the same results satisfactorily in Ireland that it has done in England, any more than it has done in other countries, of which I take Canada as merely an example. What I call the Canadian system, for the sake of simplification—it is not a Canadian system, being merely the system that Canada and other States have adopted—has established a Civil Service Commission that is an independent body directly responsible to the Legislature as a whole. That is in sharp distinction to the system prevalent in England—the system set out in this Bill—by which the Civil Service Commission is placed under the control of the Minister for Finance, who happens to be the chief, and probably will always be the most important and most powerful, Minister of the dominant Party of the day, whatever Party that may happen to be. In Canada not only are examinations of Civil Servants decided by the Commission, but they undertake a number of other matters as well. They arrange for Civil Service Examinations; they issue certificates of qualification; they arrange for interdepartmental transfer of officers in the service; they also make such provision as is required for recruitment on short notice of a temporary staff for purely temporary work. I will later set out exactly why these decisions were come to in Canada, and I think the results are very remarkable results and well worthy of attention in this country.

The essential principle of that system is that the Civil Service Commission holds exactly the same relation to the Legislature as the Comptroller and Auditor-General does in our Constitution. Any proposals that the Civil Service Commission desires to have adopted it lays before the Legislature as a whole. I am prepared in that matter to hear the opposite argument put forward perfectly fairly that a system of that kind is not consonant with the financial responsibility to the Dáil, of the Minister for Finance appointed by the Dáil. My answer to that is that, although that may appear to be so at first sight, on a little examination it would be found that that is not the case; that the financial responsibility of the Minister for Finance under either of these two systems, the British or the Canadian, comes to exactly the same thing. But whereas under one system it is indirect responsibility, under what I have called the Canadian system it operates in a different way. Supposing, let me say, that the other system had been the one adopted in this Bill, supposing an independent Civil Service Commission, responsible directly to the Legislature as a whole, had been the system adopted, in that case the Civil Service Commission would put forward certain regulations that could not be given effect to until they had been adopted by the Dáil. They would make recommendations which might involve expenditure of money which could not become effective until they had been adopted by the Dáil. But before they could be adopted under the Constitution the Minister for Finance would have, if they involved expenditure of moneys, to make a recommendation to that effect. Otherwise they would lie on the Table and continually remain nugatory, as the necessary steps had not been taken to put them into effect. So far as the financial responsibility is concerned, the two systems are practically on all fours. The advantage gained in appointing a Commission, whose responsibility is more independent and put directly under the control of the entire Legislature, is, and has so proved to be in the Canadian experience, such as leads to the confidence of the Civil Service.

It is proved there, and in England, and it must prove—it is not a necessary allegation to say that it is also proved here since the establishment of this State that Civil Service appointments bear, rightly or wrongly, the colour of being influenced by party reasons and made with a view to the rewards of what has been generally known, in the discussion of this subject, as the "spoils system." At the present moment the case in Ireland is, that all appointments have to be confirmed by the Establishments Office of the Ministry of Finance, and appointments have been made that have aroused a great deal of dissatisfaction both in the service and outside the service. I am not going into that now. I am not concerned with that at the present moment. I want to keep perfectly clear of that because I desire that this case should be put forward without being brought into politics of the day because I believe it is a case worthy of the most careful examination upon its merits.

Let me deal with the present Bill and see exactly how it works. Sub-section (2) of Section 2 states "The Minister for Finance shall appoint such and so many persons as he may consider necessary to be Officers of the Commissioners, and such persons shall hold office upon such terms and be remunerated at such rates, and in such manner, as the Minister for Finance shall determine." In other words the Commissioners, their terms of office, and conditions of service are all to be decided by the Minister for Finance for that day.

That refers to the Officers of the Commission itself under Sub-section (2) of Section 2.

The Officers of the Commission; those who are largely dealing with the entire service of the Commission. The persons dealing with the Commission are persons who remain all the time and are appointed subject to the control of the Minister for Finance of the time. In that connection let me refer to Section 6. Section 6 states that the Minister for Finance and the Minister in charge of a Government Department shall consider

"(a) that the qualifications in respect of knowledge and ability deemed requisite for any particular situation to which this Act applies in that Government Department are wholly or in part professional or otherwise peculiar and not ordinarily to be acquired in the Civil Service and the Minister in charge of such Government Department shall propose to appoint to such situation a person who has acquired such qualifications in other pursuits, or.”

And this is so very important a Sub-Section that I am extremely surprised to see it in this Bill because whatever system we adopt surely this is a questionable provision;

"(b) That it would be for the public interest that the rules in regard to age and the whole or any part of the examination for such a situation as aforesaid should be dispensed with.”

That is a very remarkable provision. It may become, at any particular time, a very sinister provision. If that happened to be the case, "the Commissioners may," the Bill says, "if they think fit, grant their certificate of qualification in respect of such situation upon any evidence which is satisfactory to them that the person proposed to be appointed to such situation is fully qualified therefor in respect of age, health, character, knowledge and ability."

In other words, if the Ministers who are appointed by the Party of the day decide that it would be for the public interest, as they may hereafter interpret the public interest, that the rules set up by the Civil Service Commissioners may in whole or in part be set aside they shall make that recommendation to the Civil Service Commissioners, and the Civil Service Commissioners may, if they think fit, grant their certificate, although the terms of that certificate may not have been fulfilled. A very eminent Irishman spoke at one time of driving a coach and four through any Act of Parliament. I think a whole team of coaches and four could be driven through the provisions of this Act. But now, note Section 10. Section 10 depends upon the Schedule. In the Schedule to this Bill certain offices and functions are withdrawn as being inappropriate for the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commissioners, and having read through these six paragraphs in the Schedule, I think most of us would be in agreement that they could all safely be withdrawn with one possible exception. But now turn to Section 10, and see how it affects the Schedule. Section 10, Sub-section (2), says "the Commissioners may by order made on the application of the Minister in charge of any Government Department and with the consent of the Minister for Finance add any situation in that Department to the Schedule to this Act." In other words, if the Minister for the day—it may be the Finance Minister, and I do not suppose that we shall always get Ministers quite so immaculate as those we now have the good fortune to possess—desires to withdraw, and he may be urged by his party that certain positions be withdrawn and placed in the Schedule, then they may be so withdrawn and placed in the Schedule, and persons may again walk through the loophole in the Act into the Civil Service, although they have not fulfilled the conditions of the Civil Service. I do think these are faults in this Bill. But I am now dealing with what I think is even a more important matter, and that arises out of the consideration put forward.

I do urge it would be for the satisfaction and confidence of the Civil Service as a whole if appointments to the Civil Service hereafter in the Free State were put into the control of an independent Civil Service Commission directly responsible to the Legislature as a whole, and that the Commission should have much more extended powers than the powers allotted to it here. The powers given to it under this Bill are very largely under the influence of the Ministry for the day and of the Minister for Finance. They are powers which, if this Bill is to embody a principle hereafter to be adopted, may be exerted by the Minister for Finance on many occasions, on the overwhelming number of occasions, for, let us say, purely financial reasons, but which may be often exercised, and which it is possible may be exercised, for reasons which shall not be financial, but purely political. I am not now stating my own gloomy prognostications for the future, which the future may not fulfil; but this has proved to be the experience of other States, as I will show later. The reason why Canada adopted the particular form of Civil Service Commission that I am now urging the adoption of was because that has proved to be the case there, although they have been working for over sixty years now. In Canada these evils have proved to be the case from experience, and they have had to work out of the kind of Commission outlined in this Bill into the kind of other Commission that I am now recommending—an independent Commission—a Commission holding the same relation to the Legislature as the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The Commission there is entirely responsible to Parliament as a whole for all Civil Service appointments, transfers, and arrangements; and if some of those transfers should happen to be suggested by the Ministry as being desirable by them, they may be suggested by the Ministry and are considered by the Commission; but for the transfers themselves it is the Commission that is ultimately responsible. Now, having had occasion to give this matter a good deal of thought for some time, I believe on its merits, not merely as a logical principle, but merely on its merits as arising from the experience of others, that that system would be very much better in this country under any circumstances. What I now desire to bring before the Dáil is the further consideration that in the circumstances—the peculiar and the particular circumstances of Ireland—this form of Civil Service Commission adopted by Canada is the one that will most wisely answer our difficulties and meet some problems which we will certainly have to face in the very near future. It is a matter of public knowledge—all know it as a matter of historic knowledge—that in Canada there are religious difficulties which are also present in this country, and we know that there has been very keen and very fierce party strife over a large number of years. The spoil system, such as prevailed in the United States, prevailed in Canada. In 1908 the Liberal Premier of that time established a Civil Service Commission on the lines of the English Civil Service Commission, but it was found more and more necessary to work away from that principle. The Premier of the opposite party, the Conservative Party, Sir Robert Borden in 1918-19 adopted the system that I am now recommending, with the result that the Civil Service Commission since then has become a settled body, which has not been raided by the political party of the day. Now, I wish to draw attention to a matter of very considerable importance, because since Sir Robert Borden, the Conservative Premier, adopted the principle in full that I have defined and am now urging, there has been a General Election. The Liberal Party was brought in, and was urged by its supporters during the whole course of the election, and even gave pledges to that effect, that the Civil Service system adopted by the outgoing Premier should be overthrown in order that the new Liberal Party should be able to reward its party with Civil Service appointments. The party came in upon that pledge. It came in and found the Civil Service with such a sense of confidence in the Commission that had been set up that although it has since been urged, and may at this very moment be urging, that the achievement of the Civil Service Commission on the lines I have stated should be put aside in the interests of party appointments. Mr. MacKenzie King has so far refused to listen to any of the interested advice that he has received, because he has found that an independent Civil Service Commission— a Commission responsible, not primarily to his Government, but to Parliament as a whole—gave a security and confidence that he desired to see maintained in the needs of the efficiency of the service. I would like to read just a few words from a quarterly magazine in which this matter, by chance I found, has been dealt with. It says:

"It happened, however, that the Liberals had been the last victims of the patronage system; after the 1911 elections thousands of Civil Servants who had been found guilty of Liberal politics had been ruthlessly dismissed from their posts. In Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, where the purge had been particularly drastic and the desire for revenge had burned deep in many bosoms, Liberal candidates in 1921 had blithely assured the electors that the abolition of patronage had only been one of the many monstrous follies of the Coalition Government, and that the fine old system of `spoils to the victors' would be restored as soon as a sane and intelligent Liberal administration was seated in power in Ottawa. But after this day dawned, the passing months brought no sign of the great restoration which would open the doors to the faithful. Angry deputations descended upon Ottawa and Liberal members became afraid to visit their homes. When they explained that the Civil Service Reform Act barred any reward for faithful partisanship, they were bidden to destroy the hated thing. Driven to despair they applied pressure upon the Government, and the latter in face of the opposition of most of the Conservatives and Progressives secured authority for a parliamentary committee which was charged with the duty of examining the workings of the Civil Service Reform measures and the Civil Service Commission and suggesting improvements."

It goes on to state that that Committee is now sitting but that it is unlikely that any change will be made because of the benefits that have been conferred by the kind of Commission that has been adopted.

Who is the author?

All the articles in that magazine are unsigned, it is well known. The writer is a writer who communicates from Canada. In any case these are historical statements. The result has proved so satisfactory that other countries, including the Sister Dominion of South Africa, have adopted the system that they have adopted there. For these reasons I urge that a Commission established upon the lines I am now recommending would, owing to the acute controversy which we must take over from the past between different political schools and unfortunately, if we are to hope for the unity of this country, religious schools also, that it would be desirable that no opportunity should be given to anyone aggrieved partly to suggest— rightly or wrongly—I am not going into the rightness or wrongness of any such allegation—that the provisions, especially the provisions to which I have referred, of Section 6 (b) and Section 10 (2) of this Bill are being perverted for the appointment of political adherents, but that owing to the existence of an independent Commission there may be that security given. It is well known to the Minister and to the Executive Council as a whole that the principles that I am now bringing before the Dáil are those which the Civil Servants themselves desire to see adopted. I do not urge it for that reason. I urge it from long conviction of my own that they are the principles that the Service as a whole would desire to see adopted, because they feel that they are the principles under which they would be able to serve all parties alike with equal confidence. That should be the aim in the appointment of any Civil Service. One recognises in a Bill of this kind that it is dealing with what is perhaps the most important matter in any country. Governments come in and Governments go out, but the Civil Service remains. Very often the person who is to sit in the Ministerial chair—more often than not—is merely the spokesman of those who understand the machine which he is presumed to administer with such masterly skill. If we can secure an efficient Civil Service we will have secured in this country an instrument of the very greatest importance to the future. And in order to secure an efficient Civil Service it is of the very essence that we should secure in the first place a satisfied and confident Civil Service. I believe that such a Civil Service would best be secured by the appointment of a Commission that is not under the control at any time of the Government of the day, but is directly responsible, as an independent body, to the Oireachtas as a whole in exactly the same manner as the Constitution has decided in respect of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. If it was right in his case—and it was decided it was right in his case, because of the required impartiality of his administration in regard to moneys—I urge it is right also in the case of the Civil Service Commission because of the required impartiality in its case in regard to personnel.

I want to express general agreement with the view put forward by Deputy Figgis, that the form of Civil Service and the power of the Civil Service Commission that is applicable to England is not equally applicable to Ireland, and that the form which has been adopted in Canada, Australia and South Africa—in some cases after trial of the British system they reverted to the system which Deputy Figgis has spoken about—is the form which should be operating in this country. The Minister, in his opening statement on the First Reading, said that they had made a careful survey of the Dominion Civil Service arrangements, and had decided to reject them. The Bill shows that all distinctive features of the Dominion arrangements have, as a matter of fact, been rejected, and that the provisions of this Bill merely set up by statute precisely the same kind of arrangements and machinery as exist in England under Orders in Council. I hope that that is not intended to be made a permanent enactment, and that we shall have fixed, without proper consideration, this system on this country. It is well, perhaps, to acknowledge that in this Bill, whether deliberately intended or not, there has been effected, or will be effected, a revolution in the status of the Civil Service. Hitherto British Civil Servants have remained in legal status what they were by historical evolution— domestic servants of the head of the State. Their status was accordingly regulated by Orders in Council, Treasury Minutes, and acts of the Executive. But this Bill marks a new departure, and is the beginning at least of a process of making the Civil Service a matter for legislation and not for the prerogative of a royal person or anybody acting under the authority of a royal person. That, I think, is a matter of congratulation.

The machinery of the Bill and the provisions contemplated by the Bill ought not to be fixed upon the State without very full discussion and consideration. I would urge the Minister to assure the Dáil that he is prepared to accept on Committee Stage a provision limiting the operations of this Bill to a few months, so that there shall be of necessity due consideration given to the permanent arrangements under which the Civil Service shall be governed. Otherwise there shall need to be demands made to amend this Bill, and, as we all understand that the Minister is desirous of not having too many contentious points raised during the next few weeks, I look for an assurance from him that he will accept an amending Section or paragraph limiting the operation of this Bill to a period of, say, six months.

I have no particular objection to the suggestion made by Deputy Johnson that the Bill should last only for six months. It is really necessary now, but it may possibly get more consideration if the Bill be again introduced after six months, although personally I do not see any necessity for it. I must say that Deputy Figgis did not convince me with regard to his side of the case. He said that there was a tendency recently in a certain direction, and he did not say in what direction. Whether he was speaking about salvation or about other things I do not know. What he meant to convey by "a tendency" I could not gather either.

He said that appointments had been made which were giving great dissatisfaction inside and outside, and then said he did not wish to go into that. I think it is rather a matter of some importance that if appointments have been made which give great dissatisfaction, either inside or outside, they ought to be mentioned. This is the time for mentioning them, and I certainly have heard nothing of them.

I would like to say that I have deliberately said that I dealt with this before in the Dáil, and the Minister knows that I dealt with it before, and I am quite prepared to give the fullest time and attention to them if they are required, but I do want to keep the attention of this Bill to what I consider the principle of the Bill.

I am sure if we are here much longer the Deputy will make the statement so often that he will probably convince himself that he is right, but I do not know that he will convince anybody else. The spoils system is not being introduced into this Bill. The particular clause to which he takes exception is Clause 2, which is a clause practically on all fours with a similar power which was taken, I think, in 1920 by a British Order in Council. I understand that the whole Irish Civil Service was reorganised as part of a general scheme of reorganisation, and certain unestablished officers who had held posts for many years before the war were placed on the establishment and received Civil Service certificates. There is no reason why the same thing should not be open to be done again if the necessity should arise. The objection made to Section 2, Sub-section (2) is an objection that I fail to understand. If the Minister for Finance does not appoint these officers, who is to appoint them? Is it Deputy Figgis?

No, but the Commission.

They would appoint their own officers?

Even the Comptroller and Auditor-General does not do that. In tabling a scheme for the Comptroller and Auditor-General we table something in excess of the powers which the Comptroller and Auditor-General has. Now, I have only one thing to say with regard to the criticism of appointments. There have been no new permanent appointments in the Civil Service, with the exception of the Dáil staffs, since the change of Government, and I have no recollection, except of one case or of two cases that have been mentioned by the Deputy, that he took any exception to them. I think it is very invidious to raise this question without going into them. I will defer dealing with it until some other time. I am not at all satisfied with the case that the Deputy has made, that the system that he has propounded is one that would be more suitable here. "Responsibility of the Oireachtas." In what fashion, and by whom? Are the Commissioners to be brought here to the Table of the Dáil in the event of any dissatisfaction arising from the performance of their officers? How is the Dáil to get any information from them? They are to be independent, and I suppose that there is no such thing in the matter of the spoils system of utilising the services of such officers in order to prevent them being criticised in the Dáil. I think that if the Deputy had as much information about the administration as those of us who have put up this Bill he would be satisfied that the system he himself has recommended is a system which in this country might be open to very much graver abuses than the one we are recommending here.

Question put: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Have you any objection to having the Committee Stage to-morrow? I will agree to have that clause inserted making it run for six months only.

I suggest that to-morrow is a little early, unless amendments can be taken over the Table with regard to it. There are two or three amendments which I wish to move. I do not wish to make any difficulties. I can prepare them to-night and hand them over the Table to-morrow if the Dáil prefers that.

If the Committee Stage is to be taken to-morrow amendments must be received without notice.


Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, July 26th.