Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Severance Arrangements.

Mary Harney

Question:

1 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will give details of any extraordinary severance arrangements entered into since December 1994 with civil servants in his Department or with public servants in State agencies under the aegis of his Department. [16480/96]

Since I became Taoiseach in December, 1994, 56 people have ceased employment with my Department and in the offices and agencies for which it is responsible. None of these cases involved extraordinary severance arrangements because all were fully in accordance with the long established norms for such arrangements.

Seventeen resignations followed from the change of Government and severance arrangements in these cases were as laid down by Government, which provide for compensation of one month's pay or two and a half week's pay per year of service, whichever is the greater. The other 39 cases concerned permanent Civil Servants and comprised 24 resignations, 12 retirements and three dismissals in respect of my Department and the offices and agencies under its aegis.

The Taoiseach says these are not extraordinary severance arrangements, but the fact that there is a norm in the regulations does not mean that they are not extraordinary. Would he accept that there is much public disquiet that State officials who do not perform their duties competently are remunerated in this way, yet the victims of State agencies, such as the hepatitis C or the Father Brendan Smyth victims, are not looked after in the same way and do not get the same generous terms from the State when they are neglected by it?

The terms in the case of permanent civil servants upon which retirements or resignations are catered for are laid down by law passed by the House and are part of the terms of employment of people in that category of employment. These were appropriate terms to be agreed by the Dáil and were applied in accordance with established legislation by the Government in each case.

Would the Taoiseach not accept that the only way we can get accountability from the public service appears to be to bring into force generous severance terms to get rid of people? We have seen three examples in the past months where individuals who were not performing their duties in a competent fashion and who the Government considered should go, for whatever reason, were given very generous packages including generous pension arrangements. Will the Taoiseach not accept that this is not good for the country, nor for accountability and that it causes much public disquiet? Would he also accept that we must look at conditions of employment to ensure that we can get accountability by those who do not perform their duties competently?

The House is aware that there are procedures in existence for the dismissal of civil servants as well as procedures for early retirement and resignation. I have given examples from my Department where, of the 39 cases of permanent civil servants who have ceased to be servants in the Department of the Taoiseach or agencies under its aegis, 24 were resignations, 12 were retirements and three were dismissed.

The Deputy is not correct in saying there is no procedure for dismissal. However, if one is dismissing anybody from a job exacting requirements exist with regard to standards of proof. These also exist in the private sector. The Deputy is aware of the unfair dismissals legislation which applies. I doubt if the Deputy would suggest that any employee should be subject to summary dismissal without recourse to the principles of natural justice and the appropriate legislation being applied in their case. This society is governed by the rule of law.

Is the Taoiseach correct in stating that these matters are governed by legislation passed by the House? Is it not the procedure that in the case of Government or State agencies wishing to make an amicable settlement with an individual, whether it involves the transfer of functions, the closing of an agency or where there is less than satisfaction with the individual, a negotiated settlement is worked out with the agency or Department which is then sanctioned by the Department of Finance? What legislation governs the negotiation of such a settlement?

The Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1963.

Is it not the case that over the years a number of settlements have been reached that would not strictly follow this Act? For example, years of service or other such negotiated matters are worked out between the parties and sanctioned by the Government.

In the case of all resignations and retirements from office that took place during my term of office at the Department of the Taoiseach and agencies under its aegis, the relevant terms of the legislation were abided by and any settlements made, either in terms of the basic provision for lump sums for years of service, added years or whatever, were in accordance with the legislation.

There is no current legislation which deals with the position of temporary civil servants and those engaged in political advisory work. There were a number of resignations in that category during the early days of my term as Taoiseach. These included those who had been associated with the previous Administration. The severance arrangements for those people are not provided for in law because there is no legal basis for temporary civil servants. However, it is the intention of the Government to make such provision in forthcoming legislation.

Deputy Harney appears to consider that we do not have sufficient power in the area of dismissal of officials or that the terms are too generous in respect of the dismissal of officials. The Deputy and her party will have an opportunity to put their views forward in the debate on the Minister and Secretaries legislation which will come before the House in due course.

I know the Cabinet can dismiss a public servant. However, in view of Cabinet confidentiality I cannot ask the Taoiseach about the cases of the three people who were dismissed to which he referred because presumably he will tell me that I cannot know why they were dismissed. Would he not accept that there is a reluctance here to suspend people, for example, on full pay?

The former chief medical officer of the Blood Transfusion Services Board obtained a very generous package including full entitlements. We are now to have an inquiry, yet that person will not suffer financially. It may have been part of the agreement with him that we would be unable to open up the case. Would the Taoiseach not accept that this is wrong, that it causes public disquiet and that it means we do not get proper accountability from those who are incompetent in the public service?

The Deputy appears to misunderstand the doctrine of Cabinet confidentiality if she thinks that I would be unable to give information about dismissals. I can give any information the Deputy wishes about people who have been dismissed. The only aspect governed by the absolute rule of Cabinet confidentiality is the discussion at the Cabinet table about the matter. There is, and was in the case of the beef tribunal, disclosure of the documents prepared for Cabinet. It was merely discussion at the Cabinet that was rendered inadmissible for disclosure by the Supreme Court, not the documents and not the decision. If the Deputy wants details of the dismissals from the Civil Service I will provide her with that information. I will not be prevented by Cabinet confidentiality from giving the Deputy any information she wishes about people who have been dismissed. It is public information.

If subsequent to generous severance arrangements wrongdoing is proven on the part of the person concerned, could the Taoiseach indicate whether assurances have been given by the Government, or by any Department or State agency, in respect of the persons mentioned by Deputy Harney that they cannot be held accountable at any time in the future?

I am answering questions with regard to the Department of the Taoiseach and people under my aegis. The Deputy and Deputy Harney appear to be pursuing matters concerning other ministries and situations and I am not prepared to answer questions on that because they do not arise here. As far as my Department or Departments under its aegis are concerned, no amnesties have been provided to anybody with regard to their resignation from office. If a case is referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, he can take whatever steps he decides should be taken. It would then be a matter for the courts to decide in accordance with the law whether an offence was committed.

A matter which Deputies should consider in the wider European context is that these societies are governed by the rule of law. The law exists to protect those who are unpopular in addition to those who are popular. We should not allow the norms of law to be set aside as a result of strong, realistic and well based public concerns about a particular issue. Whether a person is being prosecuted or dismissed from their job, they are entitled to the same protection of the law as everybody else. The House should be aware of this point and Deputies should be proud that the House in its long existence has established the rule of law in an exemplary manner. We should not seek to diminish those rights in any way.

Will the Taoiseach comment on the reimbursement of travelling expenses to the former senior legal adviser and on the public indignation shown by the Tánaiste's programme manager about this matter?

Deputy Harney put down a question about this matter and I will be happy to answer it when we reach it.

Will the Taoiseach get to it today?

That depends on the Deputies.

He will get to it after Christmas.

What penalty does the Taoiseach consider applies to a public servant who is negligent in the performance of his or her duties?

The House has dealt with this question adequately.

The matter is dealt with in the Minister and Secretaries Act and the other legislation to which I referred; it provides,inter alia, for the dismissal of civil servants and others. This power must be used in accordance with the law and natural justice and the Deputy should realise this point. There are plenty of people in her party who are well qualified to advise her on how these norms apply.