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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 May 1993

Vol. 430 No. 8

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Responsibility for Civil Service Reform.

Jim O'Keeffe


8 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach if he will appoint a Minister of State with responsibility for Civil Service reform.

The thrust of public service reform since 1987 has been directed towards enhancing the capacity of civil servants to manage the resources of the State and the programmes for which their Departments are responsible with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Given the scale and scope of public expenditure programmes overseen or implemented by different branches of the Civil Service and the continuing pressure on the Exchequer, their process is of such fundamental importance to the finances of the State that I consider it to be part of the overall budget policy function of the Minister for Finance which he must personally supervise.

Will the Taoiseach agree that since publication of the White Paper, Serving the Country Better, by John Boland almost ten years ago there has been no new initiative of any consequence in the area of Civil Service and public service reform? Will he accept that continuing reform is necessary and advisable, that without ministerial responsibility in this area the Boland reforms will not be completed and there will be no new initiative of any consequence in this regard?

I do not accept that nothing has been done in the last ten years; a number of initiatives have been taken. The Government's position is very clearly set out in the Programme for Government, one aspect of change being a broadening of democracy. The Programme for Economic and Social Progress 1991-93 includes an agenda for agreed change, not only in the Civil Service but in the wider public service, aimed at creating a climate conducive to greater efficiency and job satisfaction. As Minister for Finance, I introduced a system of administrative budgets over a three year period in the administrative area which was designed to improve management and efficiency and reduce the real costs of administration.

Changes were also made in computerisation of the Civil Service, introduction of a high speed telecommunications network within the system, linking of Civil Service offices in all parts of the country, the establishment of the efficiency audit group, the introduction of performance related pay for assistant secretaries and the development of senior management conferences and network structures. The joint programme contains a number of reforms in the Civil Service such as a register of interests for senior civil servants and privilege and compellability of witnesses, mainly civil servants, to come before Oireachtas Committees. A whole range of improvements was made and we will continue along those lines.

What about compelling Ministers to come before committees?

The various improvements referred to by the Taoiseach largely follow from publication of the White Paper by John Boland. Will the Taoiseach state whether the procedure established following publication of that White Paper, which involved half yearly reporting by Ministers on the implementation of reforms in their own Departments, is being continued?

The process is ongoing. Ministers are constantly reminded by me and by Government to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness within each Department. I do not accept that everything done results from the White Paper to which the Deputy referred. For instance, I do not think Deputy O'Keeffe would claim that decentralisation was a policy of the Government in which his party was a partner. The question of decentralisation was shelved by that Government and was continued by successive Governments.

I chaired a committee on devolution when we were in Government.

Will the Taoiseach agree that there will be no proper public service reform unless we get away from the principle that the Minister is personally and legally responsible for all acts of civil servants and that we need to change the law to allow for accountability of officials for delegated functions rather than maintaining the fiction that Ministers are responsible for all matters?

That would involve a change in the Ministers and Secretaries Act and is part of a wider debate in relation to constituencies and reform in that area. Deputy Bruton, who was a Minister, knows exactly what I am talking about.

Will the Taoiseach agree that a change in that principle was at the heart of the Devlin Commission report in 1969 which recommended the establishment of an aireacht in each Ministry and the implementation of the White Paper, Serving the Country Better, of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government in 1985? That is the key recommendation on which nobody has acted since.

I am surprised that the Deputy, as Minister responsible for reform in that Government, did not move to change the position.

We did; we published the White Paper with a view to changing the position.

That is a simple thing to do. That Government did nothing about the matter.

The Devlin report has been available since 1968-69 and we all know that successive Governments failed to implement many of the recommendations of that report. There is always room for reform and this Government is committed to reform as set out in the Programme for Government.

In response to Deputy Bruton's earlier question, the Taoiseach said the issue is a wider one involving changes at constituency level. Will the Taoiseach clarify what changes he envisages at that level?

This question appertains specifically to Civil Service reform.

The Taoiseach referred to changes at constituency level.

I am not concerned about an interchange of views across the floor but about the subject matter of this question.

I asked the question arising from the Taoiseach's reply to Deputy Bruton's question.

That may be so, but I repeat this question is of a different nature.

Could we hear what the Taoiseach has in mind?