I am pleased to again speak on this Bill which relates to decentralisation as announced by the Minister for Finance in the budget. I would like to give the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, an opportunity to respond at the end of Second Stage to the serious concerns expressed yesterday by the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants and to ask him if this Bill will ever be implemented. Yesterday, delegations of that union accused the Government of treating civil servants like cattle and condemned the programme as announced in the December budget. The Minister will require co-operation from the people directly involved in this programme. Perhaps he will respond to the threat of industrial action in the event of members being adversely affected by the plan?
Ms Martina Feeney of the union's foreign affairs branch said: "We're not cattle, we're people." She also said: "Tom Parlon wants to move where the political grass is greener [referring to the Minister of State in charge of overseeing the programme] but we are not animals, and I'm not Daisy or Marigold." Will this programme be implemented?
Mr. Seán Ó Riordáin the union's general secretary also stated that aspects of the Government's plan did not make sense and that the relocation programme, if handled carefully over an extended time frame, had the potential to be beneficial. We are all agreed it has potential for enormous benefit to different areas but civil servants are concerned about its announcement, execution and time frame. Mr. Philip Crosby, a senior Revenue official said he would have six words for any Fianna Fáil or PD election candidate who canvassed his home and I quote: "Get the hell off my property." How can this plan be implemented if that is the opinion and response of senior people in the Civil Service? Mr. Eamon Corcoran of the union's health and children branch said he would have to suggest a performance review of any staff member who presented a report as poorly thought-out as the decentralisation programme. He stated: "This programme is a disgrace. How anyone can stand over it, I don't know."
The response from senior civil servants to this programme has been so negative the Minister of State should use the opportunity when replying to the Second Stage debate to address the concerns of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants as clearly expressed at yesterday's conference. I look forward to the Minister's response in that regard.
There is a great deal of concern that recruitment will be made on the basis of geography rather than centrally through the Civil Service Commission. Will a manager recruit to satisfy a need or will he or she recruit a person with a developmental career in the Civil Service? Concern has been expressed that recruitment will be geared to satisfy a need and that the person recruited will remain satisfying that need for the rest of his or her career rather than, as is currently the case, obtaining skills to allow a move to another area of a Department or to another Department thereby gaining rounded experience with the possibility of promotion to a higher level. Civil servants could be promoted by virtue of their experience in a number of Departments. The Minister should ensure this legislation does not create rigidity, narrow skills and inability to cope with change. An organisation must have the ability to cope with change. Human resource managers and senior management often find it difficult to address the issue of their organisation's ability to cope with change because people have an inherent resistance to it.
Will the Minister address the current problem whereby there is a period of six months between the time a vacancy arises and the time a recruitment is completed and the person is on the job? People have six months to decide to take up a position when they are offered it which means there is a vacancy for a period of six months. That is probably followed by another period during which they give notice to their current section. No private organisation could, under any circumstances, tolerate a vacancy in a senior position for a period of six months.
I implore the Minister to address the concerns expressed yesterday because it will be vital for the successful implementation of his programme.