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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Feb 2004

Vol. 580 No. 2

Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I had possession and I will make a short contribution now. I have learnt a great deal since then. I was amazed at the number of telephone calls from around the country in response to my comments here. When the Minister is responding he should check with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and tell us how, when the Local Government Bill was going through the House, the county managers received a derogation from Government allowing them on one occasion to pick their own interview boards to select people for appointment under this Bill. Why was this allowed when every other job in the country had to go through the Civil Service Commission and Local Authority Commission? The county managers appointed the interview boards and only when someone appointed by those boards left a job did it go to the public service commissions.

Are we living in a dictatorship? Is the Government now so arrogant that it thinks it can do what it wants and bring the public service with it? Why is that happening?

Deputy Howlin introduced that Bill.

What is Deputy Michael Ahern saying? He was in the Government that allowed this to happen. He should have defended democracy and not acted like a dictator. This Government is like a bunch of dictators. The people are waiting for them and when they get their chance they will deal with the little dictators. The Minister must explain how this could happen in a civilised society where we have rules and regulations. Why were they broken and a situation allowed to arise whereby county managers could select their own interview boards?

I received telephone calls from around the country agreeing with comments I made here. These callers were prepared to go on the record because they felt let down. They had given good public service but because they were not yes men in their counties they were not selected or catered for in the interview process. A newspaper commentator recently said that I had not gone far enough, adding that we had reverted to the bad old days when to become the town foreman or the town ganger one had to be a card-carrying member of Fianna Fáil. It seems that will happen again, instead of allowing the public service commissions deal with people and give everyone an equal opportunity. I did not think I had struck such a chord. Some politicians did not agree with my views but 20 and ten years ago people did not agree with politicians who said corruption was rife in Dublin Corporation. Members of the Green Party and the Labour Party were nearly beaten up for saying that. Today there are tribunals inquiring into corruption in planning matters.

This Bill should be withdrawn immediately. I will vote against it whether or not my party does. It is a step in the wrong direction. The present programme managers, assistant programme managers, press officers and so on think, like the Government, that they will be there forever and be drafted into pensionable jobs in the public service. I hope the Bill will be defeated. It is bad legislation. We have a process which should be left in place. There should not be a situation whereby Ministers and county managers can take in whomever they wish from the streets without going through the proper channels, namely the Civil Service Commission. Nobody knew what happened on the introduction of the Local Government Bill. It was outrageous. It is as if Alex Ferguson, on being appointed manager of Manchester United said he wanted to determine who was on the team. That would not be right and it should not happen.

Some excellent people work in local authorities who would do well in the private sector. There are also those in the public sector who would not get a job in the private sector. Some are not employable but they are there for good. I have never heard of anyone being removed from the public sector, whether they can do the job or not. There are others who give excellent service but some of them who were independent minded, respected by councillors and the people, and treated everyone equally were not selected because some county managers did not like them.

An amazing number of people contacted me, saying I could put their names on the record because some gave 20 or 25 years of their life to the public service which then let them down. This Bill is outrageous and should be opposed. I put down a challenge to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to telephone or write to every local council in the country and find out how many people are in the public service who have relatives already working in the service. I did not think I had opened such a can of worms. People are annoyed and aggravated. If the Bill is passed, the friends of the Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fáil and the county managers will be lined up for jobs in the public service. The existing system may not be perfect but it is better than this proposal which gives the Ministers and country managers the right to bring in specialised people. We know what kind of specialised people they will be, and what will be their qualities and loyalties.

There was a time when councils used to select the rate collectors. They would come to a council meeting and when the person's name was called out people voted on it. Whoever had the majority on that day in the council decided on the person to be appointed. Let us not return to the bad old days. People still talk about certain families which could never get a job with the public service or the county councils, whereas if one was in a certain organisation, two generations of a family could be appointed. It is amazing how many members of one family can get a job when members of another family cannot get any.

This is bad legislation. It is a step in the wrong direction. We are going back to the bad old days and to the time when it mattered who a person was. At least the points system for university is fair. If a student does the leaving certificate and gets enough points, he or she can go to university. There was a time when a person had to be a member of a professional family to get into certain professions. I am glad that day is gone. We now have a fair system. The commission has a job to do, although I do not always agree with the way it does it. This legislation should be opposed.

I will not comment on the dual mandate or the electronic voting. One would think we were living in Russia, which moved from a dictatorship to a democracy. We are moving from a democracy to a dictatorship. The Government has been in office so long it has gone stale. It thinks it cannot be removed and that it is above the people. The Taoiseach is the same in the way he treats this House in terms of Dáil reform. He is gone again today and he will probably be in Lansdowne Road tonight. He will not be here in the House tomorrow morning, where he should be, to explain to the people what is happening. That is called accountability. I hope the people will redress the imbalance they created at the last election. I believe they will because they have seen that they made a major mistake. I said last week that the Progressive Democrats were supposed to be the Government watchdogs. I called them the poodles. However, I apologise to the poodles because at least they would bite.

They would understand the Deputy's language of barking.

I am not surprised the Progressive Democrats have allowed this to happen when one considers what happens on a weekly basis and the introduction of measures such as electronic voting.

I hope this Bill is defeated and that we do not go back to the bad old days. It is wrong that the existing system is not being kept. No one should be allowed to become part of the public service through the back door. The people in the public service give a lifetime of work. Some of them worked in the system from the bottom up. It is a good system. I am surprised the public servants are allowing this to happen because they will be left behind when people are chosen from outside the public service. That should not happen because there are good people in the Civil Service who are doing a good job. I am totally opposed to the Bill, which I hope is defeated in the House.

My party also believes that the Bill is a recipe for the politicisation of the civil and public service. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as re-politicisation. It is part of a package of change — another key element of which is the form of decentralisation settled on by the Government, to which I will return shortly — whose principal purpose is to copperfasten the hold on office of one political party. It is of a piece with other changes that the Government has introduced and would like to introduce, such as the emasculation of freedom of information, the threat to put a Government appointed press council in place to regulate such issues as journalistic standards, the desire to eliminate election spending limits and the need to publicly account for such spending and the unseemly and inappropriate grabbing of the dormant accounts fund to help swell the political war chest. The longer the controversy about electronic voting goes on, the more one has to wonder about who intends to exercise final control over how votes are counted in future elections.

It is not long ago, as Deputy Ring said, that in our political culture the entire range of public service appointments were filled on the basis of a single criterion, namely, how one voted at election time. Rent collectors, rate collectors, post office officials and a number of different grades in the Civil Service throughout the country had one thing in common, namely, they all belonged to one political party.

That is true.

They represented a grace and favour network of patronage and they repaid the favour by representing a type of embedded front line of troops for the political party in question. We do not need to name the political party here, but we must point out that the system gradually came to be recognised as a corruption of the entire ethos of public service. Who one knew, not what one knew, became the basis of doing business with the public service. It affected every aspect of life, including the installation of a telephone, the procuring of a bed in a county home for an elderly relative, the landing of a public service job for the son or daughter and the ability to jump the queue in respect of local authority housing. All these and more were areas of life where merit or need were not important. It was all about how well connected one was with the local party representative. The public servants one dealt with acted in too many cases as nothing more than channels to the real decision-makers. We did not call it Tammany Hall in Ireland, but that was what it was.

One of the key things that brought that system to an end over time was the development and gradual extension of the remit of the Civil Service Commissioners and the Local Appointments Commission. It might not have been perfect, as Deputy Ring said, but it was a step forward. It gave young people from Mizen Head to Cahirciveen an equal opportunity to be considered for recruitment to the civil and public service. Now we see the beginning of the dismantling of that system and its replacement with a system which will, once again, facilitate the development of an underhand and wrongly motivated approach to recruitment in the public service. It is a dangerous and sinister development on a par with many of the other innovations introduced by this arrogant Government.

No other explanation is possible. Let me illustrate what I mean by applying the Government's own professed standards, or its ostensible standards as opposed to its real ones. A few weeks ago the Government published with the fanfare which is now customary outside the House, not in the House, a glossy White Paper called Regulating Better. Its purpose was stated to be to contribute to improving national competitiveness — everything announced by this Government is to improve competitiveness — and better Government by ensuring that new regulations are more rigorously assessed in terms of their impacts, are more accessible to all and are better understood. The White Paper identifies what the Government regards as the six principles of good regulation. The first is headed "Necessity" — in other words, is the regulation necessary? Can we reduce red tape in this area? Are the rules and structures that govern this area still valid? The remaining principles include effectiveness, proportionality, transparency, accountability and consistency.

Let us apply these principles to the Bill. Is the Bill necessary, which is the Government's first criterion? Its purpose is described as being "to provide a modern and efficient framework for public service recruitment which allows for increased flexibility while maintaining the current high standards of probity". Cutting through the jargon, there is no doubt that the Bill allows for flexibility, but who was complaining about the rigidity of the present system? The integrity of a system and its flexibility in response to the demands of those in power are competing values; integrity is the more important. Can we reduce red tape in this area, which was the Government's next criterion? The Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956 has 32 sections and two schedules. It is proposed to replace it with a Bill more than twice its size and at least five times as complicated. Are the rules and structures that govern this area still valid, another one of the Government's criteria? No one has yet come forward to explain to this House what precisely they think is wrong with the present structure.

The White Paper on regulation lists better than we could other questions that arise when presented with this Bill. Is it properly targeted? Will it be properly complied with and enforced? Are we satisfied that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Is there a smarter way of achieving the same goal? Have we consulted with stakeholders prior to regulating? Is there an effective appeals process? Will it give rise to anomalies and inconsistencies? Are we applying best practice?

The White Paper states:

The Government will make better use of evidence-based policy-making. This means making better use of research and analysis in both policy-making and policy implementation. Regulation is an expression of policy and Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) is an evidence-based approach that allows for the systematic consideration of the benefits and costs of a regulatory proposal to the economy and society.

Where is the regulatory impact analysis here, or any evidence upon which to ground an evidence-based policy approach that leads to the conclusion that the Civil Service Commissioners should be broken up?

I know the Minister will tell us that as this was negotiated with the unions in Sustaining Progress, all of us on this side of the House are supposed to believe it makes it correct and that we should not have an opinion as the elected Opposition. This was before decentralisation. The Minister should talk to the unions now. I read in the newspapers of the surveys carried out on behalf of certain prominent trade union officials showing the resistance to decentralisation. They now suddenly have a different view about public service recruitment. I say this notwithstanding my party's close relationship with the trade union movement. The unions were wrong to enter into this in Sustaining Progress and they now know it.

On "Morning Ireland", the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, told us that decentralisation was not going too well at the moment and he asked who would want to be decentralised on these dark mornings. He said that as soon as there was a stretch in the evenings everybody would move out automatically. We know this is not true.

It is true. They will go like flies.

Let the record read that the Minister of State believes the civil servants will go like flies when the evenings get hotter. We will discuss it again in the autumn after the local and European elections.

Is the Deputy filling in my report on this?

The only things going around like flies are the leaflets from the Minister of State in his constituency claiming he has delivered. By the time we reach the next general election we will see.

I understand the Deputy was in Trim last week.

He would have seen a great reaction from the people there.

There was a great reaction from the people.

And all over the country.

Perhaps I should come to the point. I have reviewed the Civil Service's surveys. I am not talking about the odd Secretary General who believes it will do his post-Civil Service career no harm with the Government to come out in support of it. I am talking about the thousands of honest, diligent, assiduous public servants for whom mandatory relocation will pose inordinate family and other problems.

It is not mandatory; it is voluntary.

That is questionable.

This is interesting. I have seen statements made by Ministers and others that make it clear that promotional prospects in the Civil Service are not promising without moving when requested to do so. What happens——

Civil servants based in rural areas do not have very promising prospects of moving up the scale.

That is not true.

It is true unless they move to Dublin.

Not if the Government fixes interview boards and allows people select them.

We want to achieve some balance.

There is no balance in that.

Allow Deputy Rabbitte to speak without interruption.

Given where the Deputy is coming from, I am surprised he holds such a view.

I am in favour of decentralisation.

He would have a different view about Westport as would his colleague, Deputy Deasy.

Westport got nothing from the Government. I was the only person to deliver for Westport when we were in Government.

There are not too many people complaining in Dungarvan.

The Minister of State should not mind the poodle switching it. He will have a job to get the civil servants out.

Half of them will be here and the other half will be in Westport.

We will see when they come out.

The Minister of State may be correct. As he says civil servants may move like flies. However I have carried out a tally. FÁS staff carried out a survey, which was published last Sunday. Of the entire staff, 30 have proffered, which represents 7% of the head office. The staff of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism are determined to resist being forced out of their homes. Huge majorities in the Departments of Agriculture and Food and Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources have declared they are not interested. Almost 90% of the staff of the Tánaiste's Department have objected to moving.

They objected to a particular place. I read today that 48% of the staff of that Department said they were prepared to move.

I will concede to the Minister of State if that is right. I did not read that today.

The Deputy is putting a spin on it.

I am well used to reading spin.

The Deputy can also spin.

God knows, I read nothing but Government spin.

We are paying for it.

I do not know how the Minister's head is not in a spin, with all the spinning the Government is doing.

I am not going to be spun around by the Deputy.

The unfortunate people of Laois must have their heads in a spin with all the leaflets. I was only aware of the statistic from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which I just read. If the staff there have changed position, I will be the first to cede that to the Minister of State. The published figures for that Department showed that 90% of staff were opposed.

Seven out of every eight senior civil servants in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have no intention of going anywhere. Higher civil servants in general have reacted with dismay and anxiety at the plan to break up the coherence of the Civil Service. The public service unions, especially those representing specialist grades, have unanimously predicted that ad hoc and unplanned decentralisation will have a disastrous effect on every specialised agency for years to come.

Decentralisation was feasible in a planned and co-ordinated fashion that would represent some affinity with the published spatial plan to negotiate the transfer within the Civil Service and public service of self-contained units of people who wanted to move. However the Government chose not to do it that way. The Minister for Finance chose to divert attention from a nondescript budget and in the knowledge that local and European elections were imminent to announce the transfer of 44 Departments and agencies of State without any consultation with the public service or even its senior management.

After a number of days, we established that even the Minister of State did not know about it. The Minister for Finance told the House he felt the Minister of State picked up a whisper of it in a local pub. The announcement was made without anybody knowing about it. The Minister of State said it is not mandatory but voluntary. As one who supports balanced regional development, the only conclusion I can draw is that if it is not mandatory, we will have to recruit more civil servants locally to do the job in the various locations to which they are being sent. Has anybody calculated how much this will cost?

We have the experiences of those sections and offices that have moved. In a gradual phased partial transfer of Departments it would be possible to enjoy the luxury of people transferring between Departments and those people whom it suited to go back to a particular location to do that. In circumstances where Departments are being transferred lock, stock and barrel the prospect now is of us double recruiting with the Secretary General using the local employment agency. It is already happening in the local land and office provision. I am sure we know what it means when it goes out to the local Fianna Fáil recruitment agency. In case we do not know what it means, the Minister is bringing in a Bill to give a statutory underpinning to the Fianna Fáil recruitment agency, to make sure it recruits only on a wink and a nod.

The Deputy knows full well that is not what is proposed.

It is. Has the Minister of State read the Bill?

That is precisely what it contains. The Minister of State should know that.

The cases to which I have referred are the ones that have attracted publicity recently, but I understand that throughout the Civil Service there is growing opposition to the upheaval that will be involved on a personal basis and a growing recognition that the immediate consequences of this mass unplanned exodus will be administrative chaos. So far the Government's response has been a mixture of threats and wheedling. The Tánaiste is quoted as saying that civil servants are obliged to implement Government policy, while her junior Minister, the man who delivers, says that he believes that far more public servants will want to move once the daffodils are in bloom and the sound of the first cuckoo is not too distant.

Meanwhile, he has invited every property owner and developer in the country with an office block or a plot of land to sell to apply to him so the Office of Public Works can spent hours of useless time and hundreds of thousands of euro deciding whether it will buy properties in every marginal constituency in Ireland. He also announces that he has 700 potential customers who are willing to make a buck at the State's expense. I would be ready to make a small wager that not one of those customers will be told their properties are unsuitable or too expensive until after the local and European elections.

I assure the Deputy that will not be the case. The evaluation has already been done.

What evaluation?

The evaluation of the 700 submissions that were made. The Government is working urgently on the matter.

Is the Minister of State saying that the OPW has evaluated 700 locations already?

It has evaluated 700 submissions.

I do not know how it has time to do anything else. The OPW is renowned in this State for the quality of its work. The highest quality work I have seen has been carried out by it, but it would not consider me unfair if I say it is not renowned for its speed.

I can assure the Deputy——

The notion that since budget day——

I will correct the Deputy and ask him to withdraw his statement. The evaluations of all the submissions have been completed.

The evaluation of 700 submissions?

Yes, over the past fortnight, by 35 people all over the country.

Are the 700 submissions being evaluated by 35 people?

Have any conclusions been reached about the suitability of the places proposed?

A report is being drafted now.

This is splendid.

I assure the Deputy that this is being dealt with in an urgent way. I reject any suggestion that it is not.

What about the flood relief schemes?

We must proceed in an orderly manner.

The point I made, which the Minister of State wants me to withdraw, is that none of the potential applicants will be deemed unsuitable between now and the local elections.

I can assure the Deputy that is not the case.

I look forward to finding out. Nothing is sacred to the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon. I note he considers Ronald McDonald a suitable anchor tenant for the Custom House, provided the branding is subtle and not too overstated. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, once vacated, will be sold to Dunnes Stores, the better to provide bargains in lingerie and underwear for those Members of the House who feel an urgent need. Whatever needs to be sold to finance this grandiose scheme will be sold. The overall consequences of this ill thought out, unplanned break-up of the Civil Service will be a great increase in the cost of running the service and damage to the coherence of a source of independent advice and careful management that has been built up and nurtured since the foundation of the State.

I have always believed that a rational and well planned approach to decentralisation could have hugely beneficial effects in terms of a wide range of social and economic issues. The better distribution of public services throughout the country, especially by careful location of discrete agencies and sections of Departments, would have positive effects not only on the delivery of services but also on such things as traffic, house prices, development of education infrastructure and so on. This crazy scheme, however, will only result in chaos, the wholesale disruption of people and services and disgruntled local communities. The lack of planning and consultation in the matter of decentralisation has almost certainly doomed it to failure.

In the context of what we are discussing, however, the rationale behind decentralisation is worth remembering. Let there be no doubt in anybody's mind: this is much more than a political gimmick. The Government has become so arrogant and power-driven that it is prepared to do whatever it can get away with. The combination of decentralisation and locally controlled recruitment to the public service is a recipe for politicisation of the service. As such, it is a recipe for disaster.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Healy and Cowley.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Further to Deputy Rabbitte's point, there is genuine concern that the Government has been in power for so long that it has lost any humility or sense of caution it may have had in tinkering with the institutions and structures of State to fit them to its designs. Certain aspects of the Bill bear this out. I agree with Deputy Rabbitte's comments about the difficulties the Government will have in trying to achieve the decentralisation plans it has come up with. It consulted with nobody, apparently, on these plans but launched them as a stunt to disguise an incredibly bland and visionless budget. It inserted the decentralisation process into the budget as the main story of the day. This is not the best way of directing the future structures and institutions of the State. I will not repeat the concerns raised by Deputy Rabbitte about the reaction of the Civil Service to this forced decentralisation. It will be forced if civil servants find they have no career options unless they move down to Portarlington or Carlow.

For all the blather and bluster of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government about gateways and hubs in the national spatial strategy, it is clear that in the decentralisation process the Government's intent is to create further development in the greater Dublin-Leinster conurbation. In this area people commute incredibly long distances to Dublin and back. Many other strange travel patterns are now developing. The decentralisation process has not taken account of the furthest reaches of the country. It has been concentrated in the greater Dublin and Leinster areas — areas within driving distance of Dublin for a day's work, particularly in light of all the motorways the Government has built. We are creating a conurbation similar to Los Angeles and other areas of large economic power around the world — areas in which people drive 100 miles from one office to another. The Government's decentralisation plans accentuate that development in our country. I do not see this as a proper decentralisation process. Rather, it maintains the development that has resulted from the building of motorways. Areas within 50 to 100 miles of Dublin are developing into satellite towns and because of decentralisation, that process will continue.

It is hard to make sense of the locations planned for decentralisation. I will refer to the decision that has been commented on more than any other, namely, to move the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to Cavan. As the Green Party spokesperson in this area, I find it hard to make sense of such a move. If a more enlightened position were taken, we would consider somewhere in Cork or Galway for such a centre. There would be a connection with the Naval Service and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, which is destined to go to Clonakilty, and in Galway there would possibly be connections with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. There are also connections with the sea. This is a classic example. Why is this Department being relocated to Cavan? It shows an incredible lack of vision on the part of a Government which is incredibly poor at joined-up thinking.

Would the Deputy also say that the Department of Agriculture and Food should be in Dublin where it has been since the foundation of the State?

I do not have a problem with decentralisation per se but with the way the Government is managing it. I have a different vision of decentralisation. There should be a series of Departments in different parts of the country where a range of different services would be provided within a single office. There would, for example, be a strong local tax office close to a strong social welfare office and education department so the real decision making would occur on an integrated basis between different Departments at local level. That is the form of decentralisation I would pursue. I certainly would not adopt the confetti approach of the Government which was based on the motorways more than any other factor, regardless of what the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government might say.

The second concern about the Bill was put forward by a number of senior civil servants who are deeply concerned about the Government's intention to introduce a provision whereby its special advisers can be inserted into the Civil Service on a permanent basis. The civil servants are deeply fearful for the future independence of the Civil Service should such a provision be included. A civil servant, who is experienced at dealing with various handlers, ministerial appointees and advisers over the years, told me: "One could at least maintain a certain independence, knowing that the creature would be heading off again in four or five years." I should not use the word "creature" but I am attempting roughly to characterise what he said.

His point was that there was a certain relationship or distance between them and one still had an ability to provide an independent opinion if one knew that the adviser would be replaced after a number of years. If there is a new cadre of politically appointed officers in the Civil Service who are there for a Government which has been in power for a long time and might continue in power for longer unless an election intervenes, one would begin to change the advice one gives to suit what one thinks that person wants. One would start to lose one's independence. That would be a hugely damaging change to the quality of decision making in the Civil Service.

It is an incredibly dangerous proposal from a Government which is so long in power, it does not have the humility to realise that it can be wrong. It does not own the power positions in the State and should not appoint people to those positions. It needs an independent Civil Service to be able to say "No" to it occasionally and to call a spade, a spade. That is what might change if the Government changes the Civil Service structure to introduce outside individuals whom it appoints to senior positions. That is my fear about the provisions of this Bill. We will challenge them on later Stages.

I agree with Deputy Rabbitte that the Office of Public Works is known for the quality but not the speed of its work. I particularly refer the Minister of State to the Clonmel flood alleviation scheme which has been with the Office of Public Works for the past two years. We still await a response. Perhaps some time might be devoted by the Office of Public Works to approving that scheme to let us proceed with dealing with the serious problem of flooding in Clonmel and south Tipperary.

This Bill attempts to politicise and privatise the public service. Previous speakers have referred to decentralisation. I unreservedly support the decentralisation programme. However, I am concerned that the manner in which the Government has dealt with it will mean that it will take years for the programme to be put in place. I hope I am wrong about that. Since I became a Member of the House in 2001, I have regularly pursued the question of decentralisation. Each time the Minister replied that it was a difficult matter which required consultation with various stakeholders, it would take some time, the consultations were ongoing and a decision would be made when they were completed. I received a reply to that effect on the same week the decentralisation programme was announced in the 2004 budget.

Four years were required to take this decision and Members were told it was being delayed by various consultations and negotiations. However, as we have discovered since then, there were no negotiations and consultations with the Civil Service about decentralisation. That is the difficulty I have with the ideology behind this Bill. It is an ideology we cannot trust. It is the ideology of privatisation and the arrogance this Government shows towards everything. It is an ideology that says to civil servants: "We have made the decision and now it is to be implemented." There is no consultation or negotiation with the Civil Service. I hope that what happened in the past will not delay the decentralisation of Departments, especially to Tipperary town which badly needs it.

I urge the Minister of State to give serious consideration to the case of Carrick-on-Suir which was overlooked in the decentralisation programme. This town desperately needs decentralisation. It fulfils all the criteria for the programme but was overlooked. It has a 20% unemployment rate; in a town of 5,000 people, 1,000 are on the live register. A total of 1,300 jobs are still unallocated in the decentralisation programme — 500 in the Department of Health and Children and 835 in information technology. The Minister should allocate some of those jobs to Carrick-on-Suir. There have been serious job losses in the town recently, in Bomont Plastics and in Sram. Will the Minister of State give this matter urgent consideration? I hope the manner in which decentralisation has been dealt with by the Government does not delay its implementation. I agree with Deputy Ryan that many of the decentralisation locations are in the greater Dublin area, which does not require decentralisation, and in ministerial constituencies.

With regard to the Bill, I am concerned that the concept of privatisation, which is what the Government is about, is to be implemented through the effective privatisation of the recruitment process. That is a serious matter. It is astounding. However, we should not be surprised because it is something the Government, especially the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, favours. The proposal will not be good for the public service. Private recruitment agencies will be infused with the values of industrial privatisation and multinational type ideas. This will not be good for the civil and public service. It is a dangerous proposal which will lead to the politicisation of the recruitment process at local level.

The Minister proposes to retain the right to appoint commissioners to the Commission for Public Service Appointments. This is in line with policy pursued when many supposedly independent boards were being established in various areas of public activity. Will the nominees on this board effectively be supporters of the Government, currently composed of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, as has been the case in the past on similar boards? This provision leaves it open for the Minister to appoint political cronies to the commission. The Bill is not in the best interests of the public service and I hope to see it defeated in the House.

I too have major suspicions about the Bill. The idea of decentralisation is good. As someone from the west, an area sorely in need of development, I welcome decentralisation. There is great suspicion in the public mind at present as to what is happening. Everybody agrees decentralisation is good. However many people feel there will only be token decentralisation. We welcome decentralisation to Knock Airport. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has been straightforward about locating his Department there. We also welcome decentralisation to Claremorris.

Perhaps it would have been an idea to decentralise the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to a place by the sea. Westport would have been lovely. We could have given civil servants everything they wanted there or even in Mulranny or Belmullet. For Belmullet, which needs something badly, this would have been wonderful. People feel that the proposed decentralisation is much more of the same unbalanced regional development. It should have been a great opportunity to have balanced regional development which would give hope to people.

The basis of the Bill is that there are problems with the present system. It is obvious from talking to people and from what has been said in the House that people see the system as producing jobs for the boys. Many of us have heard and know of cases where it is clear there was favouritism or nepotism in bodies. I have no doubt about that. People hoped that this new system would do what the old system was supposed to do, namely, keep out the politics. Now we wonder how successful it will be and are cynical about it.

Society has changed and we need quick recruitment. The present system has been called cumbersome and slow and the new system promises more. However, people are not blind to what is happening currently. They need to know that the Bill means something for them, especially people in the west who are suspicious as a result of the past performance of Government, political parties, etc.

My area in Mayo, which is in the Western Health Board region, has the unique distinction of having ambulance bases which, at more than 20 miles, are further from people than ambulance bases in other health board areas. An ambulance broke down below my house the other day because, like half the ambulances in the huge Castlebar area, it has more than 200,000 miles on the clock. People see this and look at this new system with suspicion. It is said we should not look a gift horse in the mouth but, when the gift is from a Government which has treated us badly over the years, we certainly question it. We have excellent ambulance staff but what good is that if they do not have the proper equipment to ensure they can use their hard-won skills to save lives?

In the local hospital in Mayo we have a shortage of beds which results in people being left on trolleys. That is the situation throughout the county and we are not unique in that regard. However, people believe that the Government should ensure there are proper health services wherever it intends to bring civil servants. This might be a good opportunity for it to try to re-balance the unbalanced regional development of the past and provide proper health services in local areas. However, people are suspicious because, on one hand, the Government talks about sending people to the west but, on the other, is cutting back on services in local hospitals. People are also suspicious because they have seen years of neglect.

There has also been an unequal spend in the west, especially on public transport. We still await the go-ahead for the western rail corridor. The projected spend in the Border, midland and western region is €322 million, a 21% spend of the estimated cost of public transport, compared with an overspend of 174% in the south and east. We would love to see the situation improve across the board. We hope the Bill gives Government the opportunity to redress the imbalance, gives us balanced regional development and stops the vicious circle of people having to leave their area.

Many older civil servants who would have loved to come to Mayo in the past were never given the opportunity. Now they may not be able to afford to move. The Government was remiss in not allowing decentralisation to occur years ago instead of having half our graduates forced to go to Dublin for their first job.

I am delighted to speak on the Bill which is of concern to everybody. The legislation empowers Departments and other public service bodies to recruit staff directly as well as through a centralised system. In particular, the flexibilities being introduced in the Bill will support the Government in its decentralisation programme.

There are major reservations about the changes proposed to the traditional system of recruiting civil and public servants. The Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission has been effective. I regret that the Bill, if enacted, will dissolve the commission which has served the country well since the foundation of the State. It has been effective, open and competitive. It provided examinations and reasonably fair access to Civil Service jobs for people from throughout the country.

The system provided career opportunities independent of cliques and cronies. The devolution of recruitment functions to local and departmental levels and to private agencies may encourage a certain amount of favouritism. The record of jobs for the boys in the patronage tradition of Irish party politics does not inspire confidence.

Looking at the management systems in the public service to date, we can see a lack of knowledge of the level of staff working in it. Let us take the health boards as an example. If one asked for an exact staffing figure from the chief executive officer of each health board, he or she could not provide accurate data. We must question the methodology used for recording staff numbers and the mechanism of inflow and outflow of staff in health boards and the health sector.

We read in the newspapers this week a report of an extra 20,000 people recruited to the public service. That will mean a huge cost on the economy in future. The Minister went on the record and indicated that the policy was to reduce figures. I am not saying numbers should be reduced dramatically but something should be done about the management of the system. That the Minister was unaware of that increase in public service numbers clearly indicates what happens with the devolution of power within a tight system. What will happen when he devolves this role and gives other groups autonomy and power to employ people?

It is difficult to interpret the figures in the payroll system of the health board sector, one of the largest employers in the State. Clearly, that is a function of the Department of Health and Children. However, ultimately it is a function of the Minister for Finance. The situation is akin to that of the number of beds available. The Department cannot even tell us the number of staff operating within the system.

The Bill repeals the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956 and introduces a new framework for recruitment to the Civil Service, the Garda Síochána and other public service organisations which heretofore used the services of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission. That commission was effective in the recruitment of staff. The new framework will consist of an oversight body to be known as the commission for public service appointments, CPSA; a centralised recruitment body to be known as the public appointments service, PAS, and a system of voluntary recruitment licensing. Will the Minister explain how this will be managed?

We all know what happened before the last general election; a great deal of employment was given in every county council and health board. There was no sense of management. The largest investment any company will make is in staff, which is the greatest expense. The creation of short-term contracts can be unfair to staff if there is not a fair term of contract. Although people are taken in to a system, the job can be gone in six months.

Fine Gael has a number of grave reservations about the Bill. Our spokesman, Deputy Richard Bruton, stated that the Government had developed a cocksure confidence in its own invincibility. Before the last election the Taoiseach said he would end hospital waiting lists within two years; this will never happen. I do not know if it was an untruth, but whatever it was, it was based on false figures. However, I will not debate health issues.

We are now told the Government will transfer 10,000 public servants, some one-third of the Civil Service and Government agencies, to 53 locations across the country within three years. While I welcome this, one has to be careful in regard to it. This should have been done many years ago. People might believe it if they were told it would happen on a staged basis. The Government only allocated €20 million for decentralisation in the budget. That is a small amount of money with which to acquire properties.

The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is aware that the State has long-term property leases in Dublin city. He may be familiar with one instance where a property was leased for 25 years for the input of CSO statistics. The computers which were stored there cost €9 million. Although they are now obsolete and the building is vacant, I believe the building continues to be leased. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify the matter.

I am concerned at the potential cost to the State of breaking the long-term leases on properties leased to the State. The Dublin market is flooded with office accommodation.

It is a strong market.

I know a client in Dublin who has had 10,000 square feet ready to rent for two years. He has difficulty getting tenants and it is not a case of him looking for a high rent. He is in a tax-designated area.

Rents are one-third the cost in the country.

What properties has the Minister of State acquired in the country? The State invested €1.5 million in a National Parks and Wildlife Service centre in Ballinafad. This was opened by the Taoiseach before the last election and it was closed when he left. The intention was to set up a regional office of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It has proved impossible to get five civil servants to come down to this regional office in Sligo. This saga has gone on for months although a building is available.

I come from a business background and I am aware of the difficulty involved in acquiring sites, getting planning permission and getting agreement with civil servants. I sincerely hope it will happen. The Minister of State has welcomed people to his constituency, but we will have to wait and see the colour of the Minister for Finance's money. If he allocates €100 million in the Estimate next year for the decentralisation programme then we will know he is telling the truth.

A total of €20 million in the commercial world does not amount to much. The Minister of State is aware of the situation in Offaly. Property is valuable everywhere now, be it in Offaly, Sligo or Dublin. Building costs are €110 per square foot and it may be higher for commercial property. These are the kind of costs one will face when building office accommodation in Offaly, Sligo or Dublin. The sum of €20 million would not move the smallest wing of the smallest Department.

I am disappointed with the level of decentralisation to Sligo. I am aware of ten civil servants who are waiting to go there for the past two years. Vacancies exist for them but they are not being transferred. How can this be the case? These people have made enquiries of the Civil Service Commission and officials in their Departments. They are married and rearing families. At present they commute to work in Dublin and want to get back to Sligo, but they have been told it cannot be done. This was the response of the same Government that says it will now move 10,000 people in three years. This is a total contradiction.

What Deputy Perry says is in total contradiction with what Deputy Ring said.

Deputy Perry without interruption please.

I am aware of ten civil servants who want to be transferred to Sligo. Although the vacancies are there, they have been refused. At the same time the Government informs us that it intends shifting 10,000 civil servants from Dublin. From small acorns large oaks grow. The ten civil servants who want to transfer to Sligo represent the small acorn in this case, but the Government says it is not possible for them to do so.

This is a case for the Civil Service Commission.

We have been told the same thing when it comes to the massive seismic shift of 10,000 civil servants.

We will be providing jobs in Sligo.

The jobs are there. There are vacancies but these people are not allowed to fill them.

The Deputy should address his remarks through the Chair. He should not provoke the Minister of State.

I am being honest. A total of 53 locations for decentralisation have been announced without any strategic evaluation. We are all aware of strategic management evaluation within Departments. These are the key documents of integration. Some Secretaries General were not told about the financial implications of the strategy. Deputy Gilmore and I are talking about being honest with the electorate and telling it exactly as it is.

The legislation proposes to change something that has worked well. It has not been given any degree of evaluation. We are asked to make a simple act of faith in the wisdom of our present political masters. The House cannot afford to do this without serious scrutiny.

The slogan "a lot done, more to do" worked in the last general election, but I hope that we are dealing with an intelligent electorate this time. A Minister and two Ministers of State visited Sligo last week in advance of the local elections. They were speaking about "the west on track". This is the same Minister whose Department was before the Committee of Public Accounts on the previous day where it was revealed that €5 million less was spent on rural transport initiatives and €9 million less on the rail infrastructure programme. Yet, while the Minister could not announce a feasibility study funded by the Department, the promoters of the rail infrastructure programme announced it was on track. Such was the euphoria that I got the distinct impression the railway would arrive two hours after the Minister had left.

Fine Gael has serious questions to raise on the provisions of the Bill. I hope the Minister of State does not live to regret his big signs in Offaly. It is an example of "live horse, get grass".

I had only one sign and it was in Laois.

While it may have been one sign, it was in 100,000 newspapers.

It was value for money.

It was but it could yet be poor value. Fine Gael fully supports the principle of decentralisation. It is good for the country, Dublin and the public service. However, the Bill needs to be properly scrutinised. If the Government keeps employing public servants, as would appear to be the case according to the report in yesterday's Irish Independent, the decentralisation of 10,000 people would be a small figure. There will probably be a massive recruitment drive before the next general election.

While people have a perception that the Government is giving a great service, it is spending taxpayers' money. I am disappointed that five jobs could not be filled in Ballinafad, where the State invested more than €1.25 million, because the Department was unable to come to a deal. While there have been promises from the Western Commission and the Department of the Environment and Local Government, nothing has happened.

It is clear that the Government is failing to manage the public service debacle. What are the risks of the decision on decentralisation? Our past experience is that there will be 30,000 positional changes if the Government is to succeed in moving 10,000 public servants within three years. We have seen what happened in Johnstown Castle with the decentralisation of the forestry service. The PAC has found that incompatible IT systems existed all over the place and the mapping system was particularly bad because staff were moved at the whim of the Minister. It meant those involved in the forestry sector were not getting the required service. It is another example of bad management.

People want the Government to lead by example. This public service recruitment drive and the changes proposed are massive shifts. The number of staff working in the 11 health boards does not augur well for the introduction of a new system. I am concerned it will lead to inexperienced staff replacing experienced staff. It will lead to the loss of vital skills and institutional memory. We found an example of this at a recent meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts. Inexperienced staff in the Department of Transport signed off on audited accounts and no bank reconciliation was carried out. A large amount of cash was not accounted for in the appropriation account. It emerged that four key staff had left the accounts section and responsibility was delegated to inexperienced staff.

Is the Government telling us that staff will volunteer to move to Knock, Birr or elsewhere at the whim of the public service? There will have to be big incentives, which is understandable. What will happen to the workload? There will be costly failures. Some years ago the resignation of a judge was mishandled when a handful of staff were on temporary EU duties and those that remained did not know what to do.

Under the strategic management process vital areas of public service modernisation have proceeded slowly. There is also defective IT compatibility between areas of the public service. The delegation of responsibility and performance appraisal has fallen short of what is needed. It is clear that e-government is failing to seize the enormous opportunities that exist. These are difficult tasks that require much effort but they will be slowed down, if not shelved, if the public service becomes overwhelmed by the task of shifting people to plug the leaks that will arise from such ill thought out changes.

The public service has served us well. If staff are to be decentralised and Departments are to be given the responsibility to employ people, then it must be controlled. The Minister for Finance pays the bill. We do not want services being lost owing to the cost of having too many handlers. In business, staff costs are related to turnover. No effective benchmarking has been carried out between staff costs and the level of service the end user receives.

The Minister should tread carefully on this issue. With this Bill, he is starting the next election campaign. Regrettably, people who genuinely deserve a service, such as those on hospital waiting lists, will be the losers as there will be too many chiefs and too few Indians.

I support the Bill. Having listened to this debate and on e-voting I have never heard so much nonsense from the Opposition in my time in the House. It is as if the Opposition wants us to remain in the past and do things as they have always been done since the foundation of the State. Speaker after speaker has condemned the Bill and e-voting at a time when the country is moving ahead in leaps and bounds with investment from both the Government and the private sector. The private sector and governments around the world are making a promotional effort on ICT. However, Members condemn e-voting and the modernising of an Act that, while it has served us well since 1956, needs to be updated. This is the purpose of the Bill.

I do not see anything wrong with the Bill. Neither do I see anything wrong with introducing e-voting. It is an indication that our democracy is recognising the steps it needs to take in a modern economy. Listening to the Opposition, one would think the world was going to cave in if we take this step long after the private sector took similar steps. This is how the job is done in the real world; technology is how the world moves on.

What part of the private sector uses technology without paper-based back up?

The Deputy will get his chance to contribute. We use new technology every day of the week. While we do not complain about receiving PCs or laptop computers, using mobile phones or the use of credit cards, Members are willing to spend hours on end discussing e-voting when we all know——

The issue of e-voting is not relevant to this debate. Perhaps the Deputy could confine himself to this Bill.

It is relevant to the attitude of the Opposition and what it has said on the Bill. I will address it in terms of technology and the Bill.

The attitude of the Opposition to the Bill is similar to its attitude to e-voting; it belongs to the Dark Ages and not a modern Parliament. If members of the Opposition do not want decentralisation they should put up their hands and say so. They should send the numbers back to the Minister. In Carlow-Kilkenny, we will certainly take them. I have no problem in dealing with those numbers or the decentralisation policy. If that is the Opposition Members' attitude or their concern about their constituency in the context of people being sent throughout the country, they should tell us that they do not want the jobs. I am damned sure that many people around this House would accept the numbers the Opposition does not want. I am sure there are many people in the Civil Service looking forward to decentralisation who would gladly take up the offer to move on and get the job done elsewhere. Nothing remains static; everything changes and moves on. The Bill concerns change. In recent years, in the real commercial world outside rather than the public sector, everything has moved on and changed. If one remains static, one loses out. That is what happens when one is in business. One must look beyond where one is and make the necessary decisions.

The Government has been in power since 1997, and my experience in this House has been that, regardless of what the Opposition says, significant amounts have been made available to local government and health boards, some of the latter even returning money because they could not spend it. There has been a great increase in the amounts given to various Departments and an enormous increase in activity within them. Does the Deputy mean to tell me that the infrastructure connected with taking those decisions and implementing different large-scale policies should remain the same and that we should ignore the fact that there is a problem with it?

We acknowledged that problem in the context of the debate on ending the dual mandate. Speaker after speaker referred to the fact that, when they sought various officials, they were throughout the country on interview boards filling one vacancy or another. That is what was being said about the manner in which it operated and continues to operate.

They will be on the road a good deal more from now on.

While that system was good, the time has now come for people who are well paid, qualified and doing jobs in the various Departments to be at their desks.

They will be stuck in traffic in Kinnegad.

They must be on top of their game and making decisions. Any other distraction should be taken out of the system and dealt with in a more efficient way. I have said that for the past ten years, and I have said the same thing in local government for 25 years.

The Deputy wanted to stay there.

I have no difficulty with that either.

He wanted the dual mandate to continue.

We took a decision in this House, and that was the end of it. I accept the democratic decision that we reached. This decision is another right one, since it creates greater efficiency in the recruitment system of the civil and public service, and that is a good thing. The sooner we open up the process to allow people——

It is good for Fianna Fáil.

That is the Deputy's problem, since he opposes the Bill on a false suspicion. He knows that, if he read the Bill properly——

They are politicising the Civil Service.

Allow the Deputy speak without interruption.

——he would see that there is no need either for that comment or that suspicion because the Bill provides for an adequate system to arrange for the recruitment of people into the service.

They want to become the permanent Government.

I am happy with that, but the Deputy does not want to read the Bill. He wants to remain in the past. So be it; that is fine.

I compliment the Minister on doing the job properly. I believe that, in doing so, we should continue to focus on opening up those jobs as much as possible and ensuring that every Department becomes responsible for its own actions. In that respect, they should become responsible for recruiting their own staff and go beyond the current system which is simply an improvement in grade as one goes along. They must look to the qualifications now needed in the service to deal with new problems and challenges.

It is only by open recruitment and changing the system that we can deal with this issue, and I believe that we are going in the right direction. On decentralisation, I will refer to other speakers' comments.

Week on week, before the Committee of Public Accounts, as the Chairman of that committee knows, we deal with many issues, mainly regarding overspend, although sometimes the issue is underspend or the fact that an amount was not spent within a set period. Generally speaking, the excuses one hears concern the system's failure to be brought up to speed with what is required of it in today's world. We must therefore continually review our information technology and recruitment systems as happens in the private sector. If we embrace this Bill and the changes necessary in IT, we will have a far more efficient system with far more qualified people at the various levels in it to ensure that the job is done.

There is an issue regarding recruitment which we should examine and which I referred to in the context of the Finance Bill. It is where public bodies such as health boards or local authorities continually seek consultants. It should be within the grasp of any Department to ensure that there are in-house consultants and skills to deliver advice to health boards and local authorities which would bring to an end high daily spending on employing consultants for the most minor tasks that they could do themselves if properly qualified people were available. So many jobs are now undertaken in counties throughout the country that we need not continue to reinvent the wheel every time we need a report on something. Surely it has already been made available by another local authority. Circumstances may be slightly different, but I am damned sure that we could obtain much better spending and value for money if we were to examine that system and how it operates. It is within the Minister's remit to do so and propose a plan to deal with it once and for all, thus saving the State a considerable amount of money.

Decentralisation has been referred to repeatedly. I have said that I welcome it, and I believe it will work. I have seen it work in Kilkenny city where an office has already been established. At one time the local authority made a site available to the Office of Public Works which dealt with the building work, after which the staff moved in. That is how it was done at that time. The staff employed there are more than happy with what has happened and are anxious to see more of it. They have a better quality of life and better working practices with that arrangement. For that reason, the decentralisation package announced as part of the budget in 2003 will work and is worthwhile.

The Minister received criticism for flagging up decentralisation for his constituency. He should have been complimented on it. Delivering the message is part of what everyone in this House is about. I do not know where the criticism regarding his information on his constituents came from, but he is to be complimented on getting that message out. My only comment is that he borders my constituency and, if there is any overflow there, I am sure that Castlecomer will be well equipped to take those numbers from him. Perhaps that is an aspect of decentralisation which we should examine — where there has been a negative impact on employment. For example, in Castlecomer, a factory has closed down and there is little industry there or potential for employment. Decentralisation offers so much in that context that we should take a fresh look at those areas as the Minister rolls out decentralisation. If there is anyone from the Opposition who does not want those numbers, they should be directed towards such areas.

It offers people the opportunity to work from home too. The efficient and wise use of information technology allows people to do that. Work need not be centred on one location. We can deal with it in that way. I have seen this at work in the Department of Education and Science in Athlone. The other day, for example, people who could not attend a meeting in Dublin participated in it by using information technology in their offices. We need to show the way in e-government, including local government. We will achieve much greater efficiency in that regard, provided all the necessary safeguards, security, training and information are in place.

We now demand much more from our public service, local authorities and health boards. The Committee of Public Accounts, for example, demands greater accountability, while the public demands larger and wider programmes for the expenditure allocated. We must examine the types of assistance public bodies can be given in terms of information technology and speed up the process. In the United States, special advisers are available to the President to enable policy to be moved forward quickly.

Are they the people who told the President about the weapons of mass destruction?

The same applies in other European countries. The report of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources specifically asks that these kinds of resources be made available. We could be to the fore in the European Union in developing e-government, including local government, and decentralisation will be an important factor in delivering it.

In my constituency, those involved in the provision of services, the county development plan and so forth, are anxious to embrace the whole decentralisation package and ensure it is delivered sooner rather than later. My experience of those working in centralised offices in Dublin has been that they are more that interested in getting out of the capital and into the country in order that they can have a better quality of life.

I ask the Minister of State to examine a specific area which falls within the remit of the Office Public Works. Dúchas is an important part of the workings of Government and, as I am aware from my work on the Committee of Public Accounts, it has transferred between Departments several times, including recently.

It has been abolished.

It may have been abolished but, having moved through local government, some of the officials have returned to the Office of Public Works. I ask the Minister of State to examine this element of the OPW because significant efficiency could be achieved in terms of expenditure by streamlining its excellent, skilful workforce which has served its Departments well.

What does that mean?

The heritage aspect of the Department must be structured much better. The Department's human resources section should examine the structure of the service with a view to ensuring that the people on the ground, those who restore monuments and work in restored monuments such as park attendants and guided tour leaders, have a career path available to them.

We had that before the Government abolished it.

Civil servants must be able to see clearly that they can move from one position to another with ease and those outside the Civil Service must be able to see how they use their skills to engage more easily and better with the system.

The heritage element of the Department needs to be dragged from the Dark Ages, as it were, into the modern system of delivering services on the ground with which we are familiar. In doing so, significant areas of duplication could be eliminated and efficiency savings achieved. Regardless of whether it came within the remit of the Office of Public Works or local government or was a distinct entity, as was the case with Dúchas, this area of government has continually cropped up at the Committee of Public Works. I urge the Minister of State to examine it as those involved would greatly appreciate modernisation from the ground up.

I welcome the Bill and urge the Minister to pursue the decentralisation policy, which is welcome throughout the country, as speedily as possible because it will have considerable economic benefits to all involved. I encourage him to consider including in the decentralisation programme areas such as Castlecomer, which is experiencing a downturn in the local employment market.

As the debate will adjourn in a few moments, I will pick up on Deputy Perry's comments on the modernisation of the public service, particularly the Civil Service. The introduction of risk management systems in all Departments and State agencies was part and parcel of the implementation of the strategic management initiative in the Civil Service. As I understand the risk management systems, each Department should be either well advanced or have completed a risk assessment of the decentralisation proposals announced by the Minister for Finance on budget day.

I also understand this assessment should include an assessment of the strategic risks involved in the proposed decentralisation, including the impact on the intellectual assets of individual Departments. If, for example, only 10% of the staff of a Department wishes to move to the location to which it has been designated and it must be supplemented by transfers from other Departments, the Department will suffer a loss of intellectual assets. I understand this is assessable and, therefore, I presume the Departments are carrying out such risk assessments if they have not already done so.

Similarly, I presume the Departments are carrying out or have completed an assessment of the operational risks associated with decentralisation. The Tánaiste acknowledged that decentralisation would result in a loss of service to the customer or consumer, at least in the short term. I presume each Department is carrying out a full assessment of the risks involved in this regard.

I also presume an assessment is being carried out of the financial risks associated with decentralisation. What, for example, will be the total cost of the package? I expect that such an assessment must rely on the historical experience of decentralisation. For example, with regard to the transfer of a Department or part thereof to Sligo, how many staff moved and were recruited? How many changes of personnel or job or people changes were required to achieve the required numbers? What is the total cost associated with the process? What, for example, will be the cost in terms of travel time and travel costs for Departments, as distinct from the risks on the reputation side?

I tabled a number of parliamentary questions to each Department to find out what progress has been made in carrying out these risk assessments. The reason I did so was that Members had engaged in considerable discussion on the ultimate impact of the programme on the quality of the delivery of public services and whether it would increase or decrease efficiency and costs. There are formal ways of establishing which of these is the case. I expect that Secretaries General, who did not have more than perhaps 48 hours advance knowledge of the decentralisation announcement and were clearly not involved in making or giving advice on what was a political decision made in advance of the budget, will have carried out the formal assessments by now.

Debate adjourned.