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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Oct 2004

Vol. 590 No. 2

Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the management of the Civil Service to meet modern needs and requirements. Its main aim is to give Ministers and heads of office specific formal authority for the management of Civil Service staff.

It is a key requirement of any approach to management that those who are charged with directing an organisation or enterprise must have control over it. There is no point in expecting organisations to be efficient in the use of resources or effective in meeting their objectives, unless the managers of those organisations are in a position to supervise all aspects of the organisation and the work of the people employed in it.

The Civil Service Regulation Act, the legislation governing personnel management in the Civil Service, is nearly half a century old. The structures it established in the 1950s for control of the Civil Service by Ministers and the Government have served their purpose well, but they were framed in a very different world from that of today. The time has come for change. It is no longer tenable to require that Governments must take a decision to dismiss every civil servant, regardless of how junior, and to involve the Minister in charge of a Department in every disciplinary proceeding, whether it is a serious or a relatively minor matter.

Chief executives in private sector employment perform these personnel functions and a system of industrial relations law and practice is in place to provide reasonable checks and balances. The Civil Service should be brought into step with practice elsewhere in the economy, taking account of the special circumstances that apply to public service employment. Senior managers in the Civil Service should be allowed to exercise the same kind of authority and responsibility in the human resource area to make sure that their Departments and offices serve the public interest. This is the purpose of the present Bill.

The Bill is one of the last milestones on the road to implementation of the human resources programme set out in Delivering Better Government under the strategic management initiative. Under SMI, it was agreed that the public service must make a substantial contribution to national development, be efficient and effective in delivering high quality services to the public and establish a strategic approach to planning service delivery. The policy document Delivering Better Government expanded on this framework and extended the modernisation process from the Civil Service to the broader public service.

The framework of management of staff which will be put in place by this Bill was first identified in Delivering Better Government and sketched out, in principle, in the Public Service Management Act 1997. We are now in a position to give effect to the scheme of management which was first contemplated in 1996. The enactment of this Bill will throw the switch. However, it must be stressed that significant progress has been made in modernising the public service. The evaluation of the progress of the strategic management initiative in the Civil Service by PA Consulting in 2002 concluded that the Civil Service is a far more effective organisation today than it was a decade ago and that much of this change can be attributed to the initiative itself.

The planning and management system presented in the 1997 Act has played a large part in achieving this. For example, the introduction of strategy statements based on the development of business plans for Departments has clarified their roles and objectives, and has allowed them to allocate staff and other resources to meet those objectives. This has given organisations a much clearer view of how they should go about their business. However, the evaluation by PA Consulting also concluded that implementation remained incomplete and that accelerated progress was required, particularly in human resource management. The Bill makes a strong contribution in this area by implementing the key changes in personnel management originally presented in the 1997 Act.

The framework for the Bill has come from the senior managers in the Civil Service. The implementation group of Secretaries General established under the strategic management initiative endorsed a set of human resource policies which set out a comprehensive strategy to modernise human resource management in the Civil Service. Much of this strategy has been put into effect by administrative means. However, two important elements required legislation because of the nature of the changes required. The first, the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2003, was signed into law by the President recently and will enable the modernisation of recruitment practice in the Civil Service. This Bill is the second and final item of legislation. With its enactment, the Civil Service will have in place the range of reforms which the senior Civil Service has identified as essential to the effective management of Departments.

It is important to stress that the Bill, with the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2003, was agreed with the Civil Service unions in Sustaining Progress. In drawing up the proposals for legislation, the public service unions have been fully consulted about the measures. I am sure that the unions will work in conjunction with management to implement the reforms and make them fully effective. I also stress that the changes being introduced in this Bill are another clear indication that the benchmarking agreement set out in Sustaining Progress has been worthwhile and that real, practical changes are being made in the way the civil and public service operates and will continue to operate in the years ahead.

There have been complaints that there has been no reform in return for the implementation of the report of the benchmarking body in the Civil Service. The charge is that the unions took the pay increases and were asked for nothing substantial in return. The introduction of this legislation, a central part of the modernisation programme in Sustaining Progress, is one of the central elements in response to these criticisms. The other elements are verification of co-operation with flexibility and ongoing change, satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation, maintenance of stable industrial relations and the absence of industrial action in respect of matters covered by the agreement. The Government sought and obtained real reforms as part of the price of the benchmarking awards. These reforms are now coming on stream. I am confident the Government and the public will see real dividends from the changes being put forward in the Bill and the other measures in the modernisation programme.

The measures in this Bill will be effective because they are straightforward. The Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004 will amend the 1956 Act to allow the heads of Civil Service departments and offices to manage the middle-ranking and junior staff of those departments and offices without reference to Ministers or Government. It achieves this aim by specifying disciplinary powers in the human resources area in a clear and direct manner. I will shortly outline the main elements of the Bill for the benefit of Deputies, but the essence of the Bill is contained in the proposal to make the Minister the appropriate authority in disciplinary matters for the grades of principal officer and above and to make the head of office the authority for the grades from assistant principal and below.

On the one hand, it could be argued that this is not a significant change. Of course it is the case that civil servants can be dismissed and disciplined. However, instead of these steps having to be considered by officials, Ministers and, in the case of dismissals, the Government, in what can often be a lengthy and complex process, the changes in the Bill will mean that both the responsibility and the necessary power lies with individual office holders. This is a simple but significant change. The delegation of disciplinary powers to senior managers in the Civil Service is a step which lies at the heart of the measures in the Bill and it is this which will ensure real progress in the way Departments manage human resource issues.

It must be put clearly on the record that most civil servants work well and efficiently in the public interest. In Ireland, we have a Civil Service with a long tradition of honesty, impartiality and integrity which is exercised for the benefit of the country. Every working day, I am conscious of the huge commitment of the staff I meet in Departments and offices. This is my experience of staff at all levels of the Civil Service. I am sure Deputies will endorse this view. However, where it is clear that there is a problem, underperformance must be tackled quickly. The Bill will allow managers to apply appropriate sanctions to the small number of civil servants who do not perform their duties to an acceptable standard. I do not want to give the impression that the point of this Bill is to allow Ministers or Secretaries General to discipline or dismiss people without fair and reasonable procedures being followed. There is a wider human resource dimension to the measures the Government is now introducing that must be taken into account.

A modern, professional Civil Service requires professional human resource management. A working environment must be created which allows staff to perform to the best of their ability. In line with the best human resource practice, staff must be encouraged and supported in their work. Much has happened in this area. The introduction of the performance management development system is now well advanced in reviewing work done and planning what must be done in light of the Department's business plan and strategy statement. Following the agreement in Sustaining Progress, discussions are under way with the staff unions on how best to use PMDS in assessing individual performance. In line with best HR practice, the full introduction of PMDS will help to create the systems and procedures needed to support management in implementing the new powers contained in this Bill.

In cases where underperformance is an issue, the aim of Civil Service management will be to address it, in the first instance, by training or development. Indeed, the Bill stipulates that the manager may not proceed to apply sanctions unless he or she has tried and failed to raise performance to a specified level by means of training or development. However, if those measures are unsuccessful, the person may be subject to a wide range of sanctions, including reduction in pay, demotion and dismissal. I am sure Deputies will agree that an approach of this nature is essential to the effective functioning of any organisation.

I will now set out the main provisions of the Bill to give Deputies a broad overview of what is being proposed. The Public Service Management Act 1997 introduced the framework for modern management practices in the Civil Service. That Act established a framework within which, subject to the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956, managerial responsibility, including powers of dismissal, for staff below the level of principal officer would be given to Secretaries General. The Public Service Management Act 1997 also envisaged that Secretaries General could delegate most personnel functions, other than dismissal, to senior civil servants. However, the practical implementation of these powers and functions is constrained by the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956, which reserves most disciplinary functions to Ministers. In the term used by the Act to describe the person who exercises the powers set out in the legislation, the Minister is said to be the appropriate authority.

This Bill will remove the constraint on the implementation of the Public Service Management Act 1997 framework by making each Secretary General the appropriate authority for civil servants below principal officer level. This will mean that he or she will be responsible for managing all matters pertaining to the appointments, performance management, discipline and dismissal of those civil servants. The Minister in charge of the Department will continue to be the appropriate authority for civil servants at and above principal officer level. To protect those civil servants who are dismissed by a Minister or a Secretary General, the Bill will extend the scope of the Unfair Dismissals Acts to those officers. In view of the changes being made in the Bill, it is appropriate that civil servants have the same right of appeal against dismissal as a person employed in the private sector. In addition, in order to remove inconsistency between the rights of civil servants and the rights of private sector employees, the Bill will bring civil servants within the scope of the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts. This initiative will give civil servants the same rights to notice of dismissal as private sector employees.

The range of possible disciplinary sanctions, which now comprise reduction in pay, reduction in rank and dismissal, will be broadened to include suspension without pay. Civil Service managers considered that this was an important and appropriate addition to the range of measures available. The penalty of suspension without pay will be distinct from the current power to suspend a civil servant pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation. That power will continue to be used in cases where allowing the accused officer to remain at work while the investigation is under way might prejudice the operation of a Department or office. One notable change, which will be effected by the Bill, is that the hardship payments made to civil servants who are on suspension without pay pending an investigation may be varied or halted. This is being done to ensure the appropriate authority can change or stop the payment if circumstances justify that. The full range of disciplinary sanctions, which may now be used only in cases of culpable misbehaviour, will be available in cases where underperformance cannot be remedied. Every effort will be made to raise performance to a satisfactory standard, but the sanctions will be available where these measures fail. Detailed procedures will be issued by the Department of Finance for the use of sanctions against underperformance, and these will be discussed with the unions representing Civil Service staff interests. The Bill will also increase the options available to Civil Service managers. It will allow managers to engage civil servants for fixed terms and specific projects.

In addition to these major reforms which will have universal application in the Civil Service, I take the opportunity presented by the Bill to make a number of legislative changes which will improve administration in specific areas of the Civil Service. To this end, the Bill will amend the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 to facilitate the delegation of authority in matters relating to appointments, performance management and discipline of staff in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from the Taoiseach to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Given the new framework being outlined in the Bill, it is no longer appropriate that the Taoiseach should be the authority for staff in that office and the Bill will rectify this.

The Bill also amends the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 and the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 to transfer responsibility for local State solicitors from the Attorney General to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Most of the work of these solicitors is done on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it is a more rational assignment of responsibility to have them report to the DPP than the current arrangement. This arises from a recommendation of the Nally report in 1999 in which the study group found that the vast bulk of the work carried out by local State solicitors was prosecution work. The Bill will also amend the Presidential Establishment Act 1938 to change the title of the "secretary to the President" to "Secretary General to the President", and the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 to effect some minor drafting and technical amendments to that Act such as the listing of Eirgrid.

I will describe the Bill's provisions in detail. Section 1 contains provisions naming the Act as the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2004 and requiring that the Act be read as one with the previous Civil Service Regulation Acts. As the Unfair Dismissals Acts and the Minimum Notice Acts are also amended, there are similar provisions for those Acts.

Section 2 provides for the commencement of the provisions of the Act. The Act, other than Parts 6 and 7, will come into operation in whole or in part on a day or days appointed by order of the Minister for Finance. Part 6, which relates to the Director of Public Prosecutions, will come into operation on such day or days as the Taoiseach may appoint by order or orders. Part 7, which relates to pensions provisions, is deemed to have come into operation on 1 April 2004.

Sections 3 and 4 define terms which are used in the Bill. Section 5 allows the Government to designate a person to be the head of a scheduled office in a case where one has not been appointed and provides that only the Government may dismiss a head of a scheduled office.

Section 6 replaces section 2 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The effect of this is to delegate the power to discipline civil servants, with the exception of those who are appointed by Government, from the political to the administrative level. In general, Ministers in charge of a Department or office will be the authority for staff in that office at and above the level of principal officer while the administrative head will be the authority for staff below that level. An important exception will be the personal staff of Ministers. Regardless of their grade, these staff will be subject to the authority of the Minister they serve. This is being provided because these assistants and advisers are personally appointed by Ministers and it would not be appropriate to involve senior civil servants in the application of discipline in these cases.

The powers which are delegated to Secretaries General under this section may be delegated, in turn, to other civil servants within the Department. This is already provided for in the Public Service Management Act 1997. Whether and how to delegate is a matter for the Secretary General but it is not difficult to envisage the circumstances in which it would be reasonably appropriate. Many Departments and offices are large organisations in which thousands of civil servants work in dozens of locations. Deputies will see that there will be a need to delegate disciplinary authority to a manager closer to the individual civil servant than the Secretary General of the Department in terms both of physical location and position in the management structure.

Section 7 replaces section 5 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The new section provides that the Government is the dismissing authority for all established civil servants but provides that the Government may delegate that authority. In general, the Minister in charge of a Department may dismiss a civil servant at or above the rank of principal officer on the written recommendation of the Secretary General of that Department. The Secretary General may dismiss any civil servant below the rank of principal officer. The personal staffs of Ministers are an exception. Regardless of their grade, these members of staff will be subject to dismissal by the Minister they serve. Another exception is the chief executive of the Courts Service who will be subject to dismissal by the board of the Courts Service. As the Constitution requires the strict separation of Executive and judicial powers, it is necessary to ensure the dismissal of the chief executive of the Courts Service should not be a matter for decision by either the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Government.

Section 7 also provides for the appointment of civil servants for a fixed term or for the duration of a particular project. This will allow Secretaries General the flexibility to engage people for specific periods or jobs. It is an important new flexibility in the management of the Civil Service.

Section 8 allows for the recruitment of persons over the age of 65. While civil servants recruited before 1 April 2004 have a mandatory retirement age of 65 years, this provision will allow them to apply for jobs in the Civil Service after they have retired. If they are successful, they will be subject to the same terms and conditions as any other civil servant recruited after 1 April 2004, that is, they will have no mandatory retirement age. The sole exception to this rule is the Prison Service which will remain subject to a mandatory retirement age. The section will also allow any other person aged 65 and over to apply for positions in the Civil Service. The removal of arbitrary restrictions on the employment of people because of their age alone is an important reform which will generate opportunities for people over the age of 65 and increase the pool of expertise at a time when there are increased labour market pressures.

Section 9 allows Secretaries General to vary or stop a subsistence payment which is being made to a civil servant who is suffering financial difficulty during a period of suspension without pay while a disciplinary investigation is being conducted. This discretion is necessary because circumstances can change in the course of a suspension. For example, if it becomes clear that an officer under investigation has significant additional income, it will obviously be right to stop or vary the subsistence payment. If an officer under investigation were to be subject to increased hardship because the investigation went on for longer than planned, then it would be right to increase the level of the payment.

Section 10 provides the range of disciplinary measures available to management. Currently, these measures are limited to demotion and reduction in pay. This section will add suspension without pay to that list. This measure is distinct from the suspension which precedes an investigation in that it will be a penalty in its own right. It will give managers the option of removing disruptive influences from a workplace and of imposing a penalty which gives a clear and public signal within the workplace that an infraction has been dealt with. The section also provides that penalties may be mitigated or stopped at the discretion of the appropriate authority. The civil servant on whom it is proposed to impose a penalty has the statutory right to make representations on his or her behalf before the penalty will be imposed. In addition, a disciplinary code is in place in the Civil Service which ensures that accused officers get a fair hearing, adequate representation and a chance to have any disciplinary proceedings reviewed by an independent appeals board which can recommend that the proposed penalty be amended or dropped. The Civil Service disciplinary code is currently being reviewed and it will be the subject of discussion with the unions representing civil servants in the course of the review. The purpose of the review is to ensure the code offers management an effective set of procedures for investigating allegations of misconduct while ensuring the accused officer gets the benefit of the highest standard of natural justice.

Section 10 will also allow managers to apply disciplinary measures against staff who underperform. These measures may only be applied when coaching, training and other developmental tools have failed to achieve a significant improvement.

The intention is to provide a set of measures that can be used as a last resort, not to relieve managers of their obligation to support and encourage staff in working to the best of their ability. When these sanctions are being applied, it must be clear that managers have done their best to manage their staff before the question of sanctions arises.

It would be unreasonable to expect management to exercise the new power without adequate guidance. Accordingly, new internal procedures will be put in place to assist managers in tackling underperformance. Work has begun in the Department of Finance on this. The issues will also be discussed with the Civil Service unions. However, I stress that the procedures will be issued quickly. We cannot allow a situation develop whereby powers on the Statute Book cannot be used because discussions on guidance documents drag on.

Section 10 introduces a new safeguard for civil servants who have been subject to some disciplinary sanction by protecting the superannuation benefits they accrued before the imposition of the sanction. At present, if a civil servant is demoted or has his or her pay reduced and he or she is not restored to his or her original rank or rate of pay before resignation or retirement, pension entitlements are based on the lower rank or rate of pay. It is unfair to deprive officers of entitlements they have earned prior to behaviour or performance that has merited sanction. Accordingly, it has been decided to introduce this protection which will ensure that the benefits and entitlements earned up to the date of the sanction are preserved.

Section 11 inserts a Schedule into the Civil Service Regulation Act which will provide for the operation of the amended Act in the Courts Service and the Houses of the Oireachtas. The effect of inserting the Schedule is to treat the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and the board of the Courts Service as Ministers of the Government for the purposes of the Act. That is to say, they will be the appropriate authority for civil servants at and above principal officer level. This is being provided because it would be inappropriate to involve Ministers in the administration of the Courts or the Houses.

Sections 12, 13 and 14 amend the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959 and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003 to bring their procedures into line with the general scheme of authority set out in this Bill. The amendments provide that the commission will be the dismissing authority for officers at principal level and above in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas and that the Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be the dismissing authority for officers below principal level.

Section 15 revokes provisions in other legislation for the delegation of the powers exercisable by a Minister of the Government under the Civil Service Regulation Acts 1956 to 1996. In general, the effect of these delegations will be achieved by the commencement of the Bill.

Section 16 introduces transitional arrangements to provide for the continuation of any proceedings, procedures or measures already commenced under sections 5 to 9, inclusive, and 13 to 16, inclusive, of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. Those sections relate to dismissing, reverting, retiring, suspending, disciplining and withholding remuneration from civil servants. This provision will ensure that any proceedings which are in train on commencement will continue as if the Act had not been commenced.

Sections 17 and 18 of the Bill provide for the extension of the Unfair Dismissals Act to civil servants who were not dismissed by Government. This will give those civil servants the right to appeal their dismissal on the same basis as employees in the private sector. Decisions of Government to dismiss civil servants are excluded from this extension because it is inappropriate to subject the decisions of Government to review by a tribunal that is equivalent to a lower court. However, this does not mean that those civil servants dismissed by Government will not have an avenue of appeal. It is a feature of our legal system that civil servants have the right to seek a judicial review in the High Court of an administrative decision that affects them. Nothing in the Bill will affect this right. Accordingly, a civil servant dismissed by Government will continue to be entitled to seek to have that decision reviewed by the High Court. The same is true of civil servants dismissed by a lesser authority than Government, although they must make a choice of pursuing their appeal through judicial review or the Unfair Dismissals Act. They may not use both channels.

Sections 19 to 22, inclusive, apply the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act to civil servants. This means that civil servants will have to be given between one and eight weeks' notice of their dismissal, depending on their length of service.

Section 23 provides for the changing of the title of Secretary to the President to "Secretary General to the President". Section 24 amends section 6 of the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 to provide for the transfer of responsibility for local State solicitors from the Attorney General to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This reflects actual managerial responsibility in that the State solicitors work under the aegis of the Director of Public Prosecutions rather than the Attorney General. Section 25 amends section 3 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 to reflect the transfer of responsibility effected by section 24 of the Bill. Section 26 provides the Director of Public Prosecutions with the power to direct local State solicitors to perform, on behalf of the director, any particular function of the director in any particular case. Section 27 provides the Director of Public Prosecutions with the power to appoint the staff of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Section 28 is a technical provision amending the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 to clarify the original wording of a provision in that Act. The section also inserts "EirGrid" into the bodies listed in Schedule 1 to that Act as a body to which the definition of "public service body" does not apply.

I emphasise that the Bill brings the management of the Civil Service into the 21st century by introducing a modern framework of administration. It is not an isolated initiative but a significant element of the programme of public service modernisation which was agreed with the public service unions in Sustaining Progress. It is a central part of the changes brought about by that agreement. For too long, the Civil Service has had to work with a legal framework designed for a different era. This Bill heralds an entirely new approach. I look forward to seeing the Civil Service implement these changes. I am confident that the improvements in human resource management will be noticeable and rapid and that the measures in the Bill will bring practice in the service into line with the best human resource methods that apply elsewhere in the economy. I welcome the Bill as an important public service modernisation measure and commend it to the House.

The changes in this Bill, while welcome, at best deserve one cheer from the House. The real issue is why it has taken seven years to introduce this set of proposals. The Minister of State admitted in his comments that the proposals came directly from the Public Service Management Act 1997. Seven years later, we are now throwing the switch, to use his own term. It seems bizarre that we should have to wait so long for what he regards as a key priority, namely, reforming the delivery of public services.

In the past seven years the public service has expanded by 60,000 people. It is almost 30% bigger than it was seven years ago when the then Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, took office, yet we are told that the key to making the public service more efficient was put on the back burner. The Government pushed ahead with recruitment but the legislation to throw the switch was not introduced for seven years.

When the Minister of State referred to the crucial issue of procedures for dealing with underperformance, he admitted that new internal procedures would have to be put in place. He said:

Work has begun in the Department of Finance on this. The issues will also be discussed with the Civil Service unions. However, I stress that the procedures will be issued quickly.

They are not yet ready and will be issued quickly only after seven years and after this legislation is passed. The Minister of State also had the cheek to say that: "We cannot allow a situation develop whereby powers on the Statute Book cannot be used because discussions on guidance documents drag on." Having allowed it drag on for eight years, he has the cheek to lecture those in the public service and tell them they are not allowed to have discussions.

The area of reform is certainly important territory. The changes in this Bill are certainly necessary but are far from sufficient to trigger a serious programme of reform in the public service. The priorities for public service reform are well known. We require the delegation of responsibility to local managers. We need to set real targets and publish them and report regularly on their achievement. Management information systems must be put in place to do that. We need to introduce strong performance appraisal systems in which people will have confidence. They should be up and running and used regularly to influence behaviour. We need to introduce more choice among alternative suppliers for the customers and clients of public services. We need to introduce performance-related rewards so that people who display outstanding performance are rewarded for their efforts.

The Minister of State quoted from the strategic management initiative report by PA Consulting, which just proves the old saying that the devil can quote Scripture in defence of his case. He quoted the report to prove what wonderful progress he is making but this could not be further from the truth. Any serious reading of the document would suggest that there has been a deplorable lack of progress on all the key ingredients for public service reform. On the degree of accountability for delivering public services Ireland lags far behind other areas, including those close by, such as Northern Ireland. Every day we can see examples of this, whether in health, education or other public service sectors. Accountability is almost nil compared to the standards being observed in other countries. Countries that are strongly embracing reform are introducing not only public accountability but the stimuli to improve matters. They have established systems of competition for service delivery, along with rewards for success that are already in place. In addition, they have well-developed, continuous improvement processes through which they have genuinely turned many of their public service bodies into learning organisations. We are light years behind that so it is about time people on the Government side of the House woke up to the reality.

While the Minister of State quoted so glowingly from the Strategic Management Initiative report by PA Consulting, I wish to cite other parts of it. On page 59 of the document, the report states "Problems continue to exist in relation to performance. Some 65% of respondents believe that under performance is still left unchallenged with only 10% believing that it is challenged. Many senior managers to whom we spoke argued that they did not have the tools to reward excellence, improve performance where it is deficient and tackle non-performance".

The report went on to state, "In relation to that, managers cited organisation culture, tradition and potential IR implications as being the main constraints". It went on to mention devolution: "While most Department offices are now in the process of evolving a more strategic approach to HR, it is not clear to us that the implications of this fundamental shift have been internalised within all Departments or offices".

The report continues:

Senior managers with whom we spoke consistently expressed frustration and disappointment about what they perceived to be the slow pace of change in the HRM agenda. Two of the most frequently articulated concerns were managing performance and recruitment. In relation to recruitment, areas of perceived inflexibility included securing sanction for posts and atypical recruitment, particularly in relation to potential staff. We observed little evidence of progress in devolving responsibility for HRM to line managers — indeed, little evidence on the part of line managers of an eagerness or capacity to absorb such a role. Manpower planning is virtually non-existent as a matter of routine practice.

If the Minister of State had read this document before he put his script together, he would have seen that it underlines not only the lack of reform but the strong belief among people within the public service that this reform is too slow and is not giving confidence to those at the core of quality public service delivery. It is a bitter disappointment to have had to wait seven or eight years for this legislation. I realise the Minister of State can say, rightly, that he was not around at the time, but he is left here as the spokesman for Ministers who failed to deliver on their responsibilities.

The difficulty is that instead of tagging a lead in driving public service reform some Ministers have been among the most serious scoundrels in undermining the qualities of reform we want to see. Ministers have openly and brazenly ridden roughshod over good practice in public service decision making. Although I am sorely tempted to do so, I will not go into matters such as the Punchestown equine centre again.

Why not?

In that case, virtually every rule in the book was flung out as Ministers sought to cosy up and do a deal in their own interests. In the case of the Kenmare marina, a Minister was told what to do by the Taoiseach's office. The marina later had to be demolished because proper planning had not been put in place. In the case of Stadium Campus Ireland, wildly ambitious plans resulted in huge costs to the taxpayer, yet we did not deliver anything in the end. In the process, we held back the potential serious delivery of services from many voluntary organisations in the area. I could mention electronic voting or any of the myriad cases we have seen where Ministers decided for short-term political reasons they wanted to bend all the rules and push ahead with their process without observing any prudence.

The Bill rightly provides for disciplinary measures, including the removal of people. It seems, however, that under this Government people who are incompetent and do crass things, such as those I have described, get promotion. That is the approach to public service management and discipline that is coming from the Cabinet table. This cavalier approach at the highest level of Government, both to financial and public service management, breeds cynicism within the public service. It is hard for Ministers to credibly appeal for and insist on better value for money from public servants if they show that in their own approach they have such feet of clay when it comes to delivering value for money through their own decisions.

Leaving aside these political strokes, there is the bigger issue of the way in which the decentralisation programme has been handled. As far as I know, every party in this House supports the objective of a successful decentralisation programme. What divides Opposition and Government, however, is that the Opposition wants to see this done in a strategic way. We want to see a proper plan and that good forethought has been put into it. We want to see it succeed. What happened with decentralisation? It was deliberately introduced under the cover of the budget statement, which meant that all the traditional systems for ensuring scrutiny of decisions of this nature were cast aside. There was no Government memorandum, which would have been circulated to various Departments and agencies. No consultation of any public servants occurred and no strategic plan was introduced to underpin the announcement. No business case has been presented for any of its elements to either unions or management in any of the agencies involved. No one has seen it. No risk assessment has been conducted on how it will affect services. No human resource plan has been developed to underpin it. No assessment whatsoever of the financial implications has been put forward. None of the locations has been justified against the criteria of successful regionalisation, which everyone knows must be a key feature if this plan is to work. No answer has been given to those who fear a huge loss of organisational memory — these who believe that the dispersal of the policy making core of Departments will seriously undermine our capacity to offer good governance. It flies in the face of best international practice.

The Deputy should read the Flynn report, which deals with all of those issues. Flynn has no such concerns.

Please allow the Deputy to speak without interruption.

It would be worth the Minister of State's while to come along and hear experts in the field at the hearings we have been having on this matter. He would learn that people who have wide experience in this sector are tearing their hair out. Senior public servants and people who have been advising the public service are dismayed at what the Government is willing to do.

The suggestion is plain enough.

I have asked the Minister of State to allow Deputy Richard Bruton to continue without interruption. While a passing reference by Deputy Bruton to decentralisation is in order, a whole debate on it is not in order on this Bill.

I wish to put a question to you, a Cheann Comhairle. If we are saying to public servants in this Bill that they must be accountable for their decisions, must take decisions with proper prudence and that if things do not work out they will be held accountable, should not the House say, in the very same way, to Ministers who are proposing a decentralisation programme that will radically change the public service, that they should also have proper forethought, proper strategic statements and should be held accountable?

We cannot have a detailed debate on decentralisation.

I had to write to you, a Cheann Comhairle, to trigger a debate on the issue. It was only having written to you and your willingness to allow the issue to be raised in the House that the Government was shamed into having hearings in the Committee on Finance and the Public Service, which it voted down beforehand.

The Deputy is moving well away from the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill.

I commend the Chair on this occasion for assisting the House.

It could have been brought into any debate in the House.

More than 7,000 civil servants have already applied to move and the number is growing on a daily basis.

This is a debate on the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill and not on decentralisation. Passing reference to decentralisation is in order but I ask the Minister of State not to interrupt the Deputy who is entitled to make his contribution. The Minister of State will have an opportunity to reply.

The greatest disservice that can be done to the cause of decentralisation, serious devolution of power and serious public service reform is to push ahead with short-term, politically motivated changes that have not been thought through and which will leave many towns and villages throughout the country bitterly disappointed if it does not work. The standards of foresight, responsibility and proper financial procedure that we ask public servants to deliver ought to be taken on board by Ministers.

There is a problem with much of the human resource system in place in the public service. There needs to be a much more radical attempt to reform it before proceeding with many other elements about which the Government is talking. Today, for example, we were discussing the Estimate to introduce a new devolved recruitment system. I would have much more confidence in a devolved recruitment system if we had proper modern human resource management standards in the Civil Service and public service and if we had confidence that the system is strong and robust and when it is devolved it will continue to be strong and robust and built on sound principles. The quotations I gave from the document suggest it is not strong or robust and that the notion of devolving it down could undermine the capacity to do many of the things we want to see in the delivery of public service reform. There is a great danger in what the Government is doing without having a proper discussion.

I had to smile when the Minister of State said this is one of the key elements in the payment of benchmarking. This is throwing the switch for a decision taken seven years ago and which the Minister of State describes as the critical element in the payment of benchmarking. It is implicit in the whole direction of reform. Anyone who wants to see any sort of professionalism within the public service recognises that this is the way to go and it will not cost €1.3 billion. As the Minister of State said, it is essentially about making Ministers the appropriate authority for the grade of principal officers and above and making the head of offices the authority for the grade of assistant principal officer and below. This is not something that will warrant huge payments.

The Minister of State referred in his speech to the charge that the unions took the pay increases and were asked for nothing substantial in return. No one made that charge. The charge is that the Government failed to introduce any reform package. The unions were entitled under the benchmarking arrangement to get these payments because it was part of the deal. However, it was up to the Government to introduce the reform agenda that would drive change. We found there was not a single element of reform introduced by the Government. Between the time the benchmarking commission reported and the payments were made, there was no substantial negotiation about a reform agenda. There was no union push beyond any position. The whole thing slid effortlessly into place. There was no drive to reform our system to make it more productive or efficient, to make people more accountable and to devolve power further down the system. None of this agenda was pushed or accelerated on the back of the benchmarking award. This is why the Minister of State and his Government colleagues stand accused of wasting the opportunity of benchmarking.

Benchmarking was and is a great opportunity to utilise and reform public services. It was leaving behind the notion of being paid on the basis of relativity. It was leaving behind the notion of being paid for co-operation with modernisation and change alone. Instead a whole new direction was being taken. This would be based on what one could earn in other sectors and on a reform agenda to get productivity up to high standards of best practice. Benchmarking was about achieving best practice, but that is not how the Government saw it. It buried all the evidence surrounding benchmarking, none of which was released, and there was no aspiration to best practice driving the Government's motivation, even though the commission said that 75% of the award must be made conditional on a drive to reform and achieve best practice in delivery.

The Government sold short the whole agenda. The Minister tried to say that people were complaining about the unions. No one complained about the unions. The unions did their job and did it right to defend their members. The issue is that if it commits taxpayers to €1.3 billion, the Government is responsible for deriving value for it and putting the reform agendas on the table to warrant it. This is why the Government has been so lacking in regard to benchmarking and public service reform. Public service reform must be a priority for any new Government that takes office. No one is convinced that we got value for money for the 125% increase in the health budget and the 25% to 30% increase in public service numbers. People want to see vibrant and strong public service reform, which has not been forthcoming from the Government. The Government has undermined its credibility to try to deliver this and bring the public service with it.

There needs to be new thinking about the way public services are delivered. A more competitive and enterprising drive needs to be brought to the delivery of public services. Innovation needs to be embraced and those who achieve excellence should be rewarded. We need to give much more voice and choice to the clients of public services and we need to build it on solid financial foundations. This is the challenge for a new Government coming into office, I hope, sooner rather than later. Sadly, we have grown up with procedures in this House that stand in the way of the sort of approach to modern governance and modern public service reform we so crave.

Budget day is one of the charades of this House, which encourages short-term thinking. It focuses attention on the urgent rather than the important. It narrows the concentration to incremental change instead of facing up to the need for root and branch reform. It ignores long-term issues as it grapples with short-term thinking. It ignores the long-term implications of many of the new schemes that are tacked along, many without any serious evaluation, as we have seen in the case of provision for medical cards for those over 70 years of age, where the actual cost turned out to be ten times what was expected.

We must reform our financial procedures. Proper outcomes and performance indicators should be integral to any Estimates procedure. Our Estimates procedure is a joke. If the Government wants to be the driver of public service reform, decisions on €30 billion public spending must be made in this House. There are no performance indicators and outcomes are not judged when making decisions. This is not a modern approach to financial management. The Minister should commit himself to reform in that area as well as the changes he is making in the area of personnel management.

It is time to begin to embrace seriously public service reform and make it the priority. I would like to see another round of benchmarking that on this occasion would result in delivering quality services to those who need them. If there were to be a second round of benchmarking and if costs were imposed on the taxpayer, we should see very tangible results. For example, every local unit, whether a school, hospital or Garda station, should be responsible for reporting on how it has deployed its resources, what are its performance targets and how it is delivering against those targets. We would also want to see every unit committing itself to a continuous improvement process and to have the resource from a parent Department to support on a technical basis this type of ongoing improvement process. That is what has succeeded in private and voluntary sector organisations to deliver the type of change that is needed.

We should be willing to say that the money that is made available each year would go to those who are embracing and delivering on reform in that way. We should hold back money that only goes to serious reform agendas and organisations that are delivering that level of improvement and accountability. This House could also contribute to public service reform in the same manner, by changing its own financial procedures and insisting on accountability from Departments before Votes are granted. The House should insist on seeing the improvement process in place and that there is a reward for those agencies which are stepping up to the mark and delivering reform. There is an opportunity for a new Government to embrace this agenda in a serious and committed way in partnership with those in the public service to deliver change for the better. We must put behind us, however, the cynical, political approach that has, unfortunately, characterised many spending decisions in recent years and the public service relocation plan.

This Bill, as the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, said, is part of a package of reforms for the Civil Service, some of which were initiated during my tenure as Minister of State from 1992 to 1997. The strategic management initiative, in particular, which kicked off the process was started by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, and developed by his predecessor, Deputy John Bruton. The reform process has been ongoing for a long time. Although this Bill will receive little public scrutiny or attention, it is part of a series of legislation which may fundamentally change the character of the Civil Service.

It is important that the Bill should be subject to scrutiny. In his speech, the Minister of State stated regarding the personnel functions in the Civil Service that the corresponding functions are performed by chief executives in private sector employment and that a system of industrial law and practice has been put in place to provide reasonable checks and balances. The fundamental philosophy which underlies the Minister for State's approach to this Bill is that the private sector and the Civil Service are similar and ought to be the same. From both a management and a philosophical point of view, the Minister of State has it wrong. In the private sector there are inherent checks and balances, which is the law of profit and loss. Public companies have shareholders and financial analysts follow the companies' performance. A company, whether public or private and provided it is operating within the parameters of law with regard to environmental constraints and so on, will live or die depending on how it husbands its resources and sells its products or provides its service.

A Civil Service organisation or a Department, however, basically provides public services which are funded by the taxpayer through taxation and public resources. Despite all the reforms the Minister of State has introduced, the one area where the Government has failed to deliver is with regard to accountability and value for money. Although it is introducing swinging new powers for executives at various levels in the public service to fire staff if they are deemed to underperform, no similar assessment is possible by any of the accountable bodies, whether the Dáil, committees or any public structure. The most senior staff in the Civil Service, those above the grade of principal officer, can be held accountable for their underperformance but will answer to Ministers who will look for political performance rather than customer service delivery performance.

One might say that the Government is subjected to a periodic test of the acceptability of its actions by means of general elections. It is a crude and rude system by which the people give their verdict and everybody here must go through it. This Bill establishes a system whereby senior management in the Civil Service will have seriously enhanced powers, which many would agree they should. The other Bill that recently went through the House gave senior management the power to hire civil servants, now they will have the power to fire them. The power of hiring and firing will reside with departmental Secretaries General and chief executives of State agencies and public bodies. That is a fundamental change in the tradition of public service. One must ask, therefore, what limits will be imposed to prevent the potential abuse of these extensive powers and how senior management in the Civil Service will be accountable in the future. What will these senior managers do if they, to use the language of the Bill, underperform?

I draw the Minister of State's attention to the annual reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I see the Ceann Comhairle looking at the time but I want to mention a couple of examples which cut to the heart of the concept which the Government parties have developed that the Civil Service should be like a private company. The Department of Education and Science entered into an agreement with a number of religious orders regarding people who had suffered abuse while in institutions in the earlier and middle parts of the last century. The House was told on numerous occasions that the likely cost of that deal would be approximately €200 million.

The Deputy's comments are outside the scope of the legislation.

The most recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General shows that the likely cost of this deal will be €828 million and may be as much as €1 billion. The then Minister for Education and Science——

I ask the Deputy not to continue down that line of comment. She is outside the scope of the legislation.

I am not. The Minister of State's statement was littered with references to this Bill being about correcting underperformance in the public service. There are multiple reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General detailing matters ranging from the deal with religious institutions to the fiasco of electronic voting, but no provision is made in this Bill for underperformance at the top level in the Civil Service by Secretaries General.

Hear, hear.

It seems it is the small people who when they underperform will be enabled, through the performance management development system, to improve their performance and if they fail to do so they will be fired. In the case of underperformance of Secretaries General who cost the taxpayer significant sums of money because of fiasco programmes they oversaw, to whom will they be accountable? What accountability and underperformance constraints will apply to those people? We know what will happen to the current Government when the people get an opportunity to comment on the underperformance of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. We also know what happened last June. However, an area not addressed by the Minister is what will happen to the Civil Service bosses.

If the Minister is introducing performance based management in the Civil Service where the Ministers have the ultimate authority, what sort of system is he introducing to deal with underperforming Secretaries General and people above the level of principal officer? These are the senior managers who command the budgets. They have the ear of the Minister and can make proposals and disposals. What underperformance criteria relate to this group of public servants? The Dáil deserves to know this, but the answer is not in this Bill.

The Bill states that the new section being inserted by section 7 provides that: "Every established civil servant shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the Government." This is an old phrase re-imported into this legislation from the Ministers and Secretaries Act as I understand it. Will the Minister explain what this provision means and the reason it was necessary to bring this archaic phrase into this new Bill which is meant to deal with the new dawn in the public service? It seems the Government is covering its back because it intended to limit the reforms in this Bill and could not find a more imaginative way of expressing the relationship between civil servants and Government. Therefore, civil servants shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the Government.

Another serious absence of the Bill is a whistleblowers' charter. The Minister of State is aware that his party leader has acknowledged the efforts of the Labour Party in this respect and that she has referred on a number of occasions to the serious problems in the public service due to the absence of such a charter.

Powers are provided in this Bill to deal with underperformance One good aspect of the Bill is that general employment legislation rights will be available to people in the public service. However, what will happen to people who become whistleblowers because they see something which is wrong and wastes taxpayers money taking place in a Department? If these whistleblowers go through the normal channels, those channels provide no mechanism for their reports because the people making the decisions are in the top grades and superior to them. As a consequence of this Bill, their superiors will have the power to fire them after a period of due process.

We must remember that the Civil Service is a hierarchical organisation. If implemented in the wrong way, this Bill will constitute a powerful mechanism for bullying where the cause of a dispute relates to a difference of opinion as to the rights or wrongs of a situation. No anti-bullying codes are provided in the Bill. The good aspect of the Bill is that we have extended employment law into the Civil Service. However, as the Civil Service is a hierarchical structure, what will happen where there is a serious difference of opinion and disagreement as to the propriety of an action and a civil servant feels compelled, in the public interest, to make that known?

Unless this Government is prepared to amend the Bill to introduce both anti-bullying provisions and protection for whistleblowers, the balance in the Bill will err seriously in favour of Civil Service bosses. It will lack protection for conscientious civil servants who identify problems, thereby leading to a whistleblowing situation. It is wrong that this legislation is being introduced without these two factors being addressed. I worked in the Civil Service many years ago and I, and anybody who worked in it, know how hierarchical a structure it is and how difficult it is for those on the lower grades to make their views known.

Let us look for example at the experience of local authorities where, unfortunately and particularly in the Dublin area, there has been serious wrongdoing. Those issues have been highlighted by various tribunals and indicate some appalling practices that have happened in a certain local authority. It is obvious from the tribunals that many people employed in that local authority either knew or had suspicions that something was wrong. However, because the person primarily involved in some of the matters outlined by the tribunals was in a senior position, staff lower down were not in a position to bring their concerns into the public domain.

The Minister must take a further step and make the necessary provisions to protect whistleblowers. This Bill provides the opportunity to introduce the concept of protection for civil servants who feel obliged in the public interest to disagree with superiors, especially now that superiors will have ready powers to fire those people. The balance of rights must be addressed in this respect. Considering the length of time the Government has taken to produce this legislation, it is a pity this has not been done.

I know from the Minister of State's demeanour that he sees this as a bit of joke. However, I do not know if he has ever worked in the Civil Service or in private industry. I have worked in both. I know that where we have a hierarchical organisation, it can be difficult for people to exert their right to disagree and make suggestions etc. The Civil Service is that type of organisation. It is not like a multinational company or a large private Irish company where a proposal may be put forward and be accepted or rejected and where people can move and make decisions quickly. The Minister of State's comparison of Civil Service structures to company structures is flawed because they are different types of organisations.

Two clear problems also arise in the context of the reform of the health service and the effort to provide better local government through the local authorities. Again, these are not addressed in this Bill. Nowadays, most young people and graduates expect to change employment often and to work for a few years in different positions before moving on. Why has the Government done nothing about facilitating external recruitment to the Civil Service, specifically at the highest level? Have we had an ambassador or a Secretary General of a Department who has not been recruited directly from the Civil Service? The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform appointed some new people to positions in the Prison Service. However, as far as I am aware, almost all those appointed came from within the Department. If one is looking to shake up the Civil Service to make it more efficient and achieve better value for money, it is absolutely crucial that new blood should be introduced, particularly young people who expect career movement and not to hold one job for their lifetimes. Recruitment into the public service at more senior levels should be facilitated with perhaps an emphasis on people who have worked abroad or in other jobs in Ireland previously. Despite promises on benchmarking and other issues, I wonder why the Government has not facilitated such recruitment.

The Minister of State referred to disruptive influences in the Civil Service and the power to dismiss officials. Will he outline what he means? It is important that the Civil Service should provide value for money, civil servants should work efficiently and senior management in this hierarchical structure should act fairly towards their subordinates. Checks and balances should be provided in this regard.

Deputy Finian McGrath is present and I am reminded of the issue of a teacher who may have performance problems. This is one of the most difficult issues for school principals to address and it is also an issue that causes the greatest distress to parents because if children are in the class of an underperforming teacher, particularly for one or two years at primary level, it is difficult to remedy the deficit. However, at the same time, a balance must be struck by giving the underperforming teacher an opportunity to improve while respecting the rights of children who only get one crack at primary education.

Various sections in the Bill refer to negotiations with the trade unions about training and development where underperformance has been identified. What work has been done in this area? What does training and development involve? Developments in primary teaching have been unsatisfactory for the most part thus far. A great deal of grief has been caused for principals while teachers deemed to be underperforming have not benefited significantly. They enter a limbo of various sanctions and exploration of improvement that might be undertaken while they continue to teach. If that is the model the Minister has in mind to address underperformance in the Civil Service, I have grave doubts that it will work.

This may be part of the negotiation process and the Minister of State said this is a work in progress within the Department. How much work has been done? More dynamic models are available than those that have been adopted up to now in the Civil Service. Is the legislation being introduced without having these issues worked out? If not, a great deal of grief will be caused.

Bullying is also a feature of management in hierarchical structures. The stress that bullying can cause for people who are otherwise performing to the best of their ability is dreadful. Bullying is particularly hard on men and women in middle management posts. What thought has gone into the legislation? It is silent on critical issues such as the rights of whistleblowers, bullying and achieving efficiency and fairness for the staff of a hierarchical organisation.

I refer to hiring and firing. The Government is retaining its rights on private office appointments. Would it not be good for all political parties if fitness for the appointment had to be demonstrated? The qualification process for Minister's advisers and other appointees should be transparent so that where people are associated with political parties and are appointed to a technical advisory role to a Minister, it should not be a cover for appointing additional constituency agents. These people should bring insights and skills to assist the Minister in running his or her Department as opposed to providing extra constituency manpower for him or her. The Government had ducked the issue, which is an awful pity. Advisers and other appointees have been helpful in numerous instances to the process of Government but, in others, they have been used as extra political staff in the Minister's office via a back door route.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ó Caoláin and Finian McGrath.

The Minister of State said this was one piece in the jigsaw to deliver wholesale reform within the Civil Service. However, the Government has chosen, perhaps for reasons of realpolitik, to adopt a piecemeal approach to reform of the Civil Service. Reform is a loaded term and questions need to be asked about what reform is being delivered and to whose benefit. The Minister of State put a great deal of faith in the strategic management initiative in his contribution. Questions must be asked about what SMI has delivered and to whom benefit has accrued.

The Bill together with other legislation has changed the nature of participation in the Civil Service. The Government wants to achieve a private sector climate within Departments. This, however, could lead to a climate of fear for those who work at lower levels where performance is related to the ability to remain in a job. If that is the attitude being adopted within the Civil Service, I fear for the quality of what it delivers to the public. The benchmarks that should be measured are public service and quality. The Ombudsman's office deals with complaints about the quality of public service while the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, along with other State agencies examine how the Civil Service is performing its role.

The legislation together with previous legislation threatens the future quality of the public service and it is only right that the Opposition should raise questions. Particular concerns were raised earlier by Deputies Burton and Richard Bruton about who would be wielding the whip in the context of future Civil Service job allocations. The role being given to Ministers and Secretaries General is very unwieldy. A kind of Faustian pact might be entered into by a Minister and the Secretary General of his or her Department where their political and personal livelihoods, respectively, were bound up with each other. One can imagine a scenario developing in which a Minister might put pressure on a Secretary General or in which a Secretary General might suggest that people in certain positions should be put to one side or disposed of to enable the Minister to further a policy agenda. That is not a climate worth encouraging within the Civil Service.

In the general environment in which civil servants below principal officer level operate in 2004, they are made to feel like pieces on an administrative chess board. They know very little about the nature of their work, where they are likely to be doing it or how effective changes in the culture will be brought about. If the Government was really interested in Civil Service reform, it would counteract the damaging idea which has obtained since the foundation of the State that we are well served by generalism. In a technological age and an increasingly globalised world, it should be apparent that we require specialists who have acquired expertise and civil servants who are people-centred in delivering public services.

Whereas that is where change is required within our Civil Service, the Government appears to be indicating it would like more of the same but with different mechanisms of control. Given their backgrounds and the level of educational achievement required to qualify for the public service, it is quite insulting to modern civil servants to imply that their role is about pen pushing or paper shifting. The reality of delivering public services involves dealing directly with the public. I see very little in this or recent legislative provisions to indicate that the Government is genuinely interested in effecting the changes I have outlined.

The Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission, which will become the Commission for Public Service Appointments, recently made presentations to the Committee of Public Accounts and the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. Despite being a vital cog in the wheel of the Government's decentralisation programme which is itself intended to go to Youghal in County Cork, only two of its 150 staff members have indicated a willingness to move. That is indicative of where civil servants see themselves in the context of the Government's policies. Civil servants are not being considered in human terms, but are being looked at as chess pieces which can be moved hither and thither.

The powers being granted to Ministers and Secretaries General are dangerous in several ways. If implemented, they would allow political considerations to weigh paramount over the idea of public service. While the Minister may consider that sufficient safeguards have been put in place, it is probable that circumstances will occur in which a civil servant is asked or forced to move due to a perception of how his or her actions have had a political impact. I see nothing in this Bill to offer protection in such circumstances.

The Bill offers belated protection to civil servants by giving them access to wider labour legislation, in particular the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act. Currently, there is a significant gap in terms of the Equality Act while political opinions and association with political groupings are not governed by any legislation. It is not difficult to envisage a scenario in which people might be forced to justify independent acts which are seen to compromise or offend a Minister or Secretary General. There are no provisions under which to extend protection to such people to safeguard their future employment prospects.

It must be recognised that there are some useful changes in the Bill. The proposal to appoint civil servants for fixed terms or the duration of particular projects is welcome as going some way toward challenging the concept of generalism which has affected the Civil Service. The benefit of these provisions will be to provide the service with access to people with particular skills for a certain time period. The proposal to allow the service to benefit from the experience of those over 65 is also welcome. Against these changes we must consider the exemptions in the Bill which seem almost entirely to be political. That those employed exclusively for political reasons in Departments are exempted from the provisions of this Bill raises significant questions. I would like to see legislation to restrict the number and use of such people.

Anecdotally, we are informed that the tasks carried out in practice by civil servants working on behalf of Ministers can include the reading of death notices and sending letters of bereavement to members of families in his or her constituency. When such nakedly political and useless activity happens within the Civil Service in the absence of a legislative framework to control it, the Dáil has not done a good day's work.

Where does that happen?

It has been accounted for in the past.


Under former Governments maybe.

The civil servants in the Minister of State's Department probably put up road signs recommending Parlon country. I cannot say for sure.

It was not under the Independents anyway.

It did not happen.

I am disappointed that one of the last acts of the previous Minister for Finance was the introduction of a code which failed to control the departure of civil servants to the public sector. A significant flaw in the Bill before us is the failure to prevent senior civil servants who leave from using the Civil Service to head hunt and take key, experienced people out. Hopefully, this issue can be addressed on Committee Stage by way of amendment.

In the note on this legislation from the Department of Finance to the office of the Government Chief Whip, it was pointed out that when the Bill was published on 17 September it was approximately nine months behind schedule. While many other Bills are much further behind schedule having been awaited for years in some cases, it is unacceptable that this legislation is overdue by such a length of time. The more timely publication of this Bill by Government might have allowed for a more thorough consideration of the issues involved.

The schedule referred to by the Department of Finance is contained in the Sustaining Progress agreement. In the context of the Public Service Management Bill, I pointed out that such is the nature of the process which produced Sustaining Progress and its predecessor agreements as operated by the Government, that we in the Oireachtas are effectively excluded.

We do not have the benefit of direct dialogue between Government, trade unions and the employers. This is especially regrettable in the context of this legislation which concerns those directly employed by the State on behalf of the people. As a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service, I find that objectionable. I am sure the Minister of State shares my view.

I fully accept and endorse the right and responsibility of trade union leaderships to negotiate on behalf of their members. However, I question whether the current practice of that process is inclusive. I am aware from speaking with ordinary grassroots trade union members that many feel alienated from the process and view their leadership as remote and often unaccountable. The process needs to be more open and elected representatives need to have an input. I also caution trade union leaders against an approach which relies on negotiations with employers and Government and neglects the necessity to build the strength of the trade union movement and its individual components. That is a point which perhaps applies more to unions outside the public service. Nevertheless, it is an important one to make and I hope it will be noted.

I have pointed out on several occasions in this Chamber that the lower grades in the Civil Service are staffed by some of the worst paid workers in this State. That is a damning indictment of this institution and all who serve in it. That is not only a disgrace but is an issue which needs to be addressed immediately. If it is not rectified, make no mistake that it will be extremely difficult to continue to attract people to Civil Service jobs which pay much less than many equivalent positions in the private sector. To that extent, the modernisation programme of which this Bill is a part will have limited value.

It is important to point out that parliamentary assistants who work for elected Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas are paid derisory sums. That is not only an issue about which we should scream to the high heavens for redress, we should do so in embarrassed tones. The Civil and Public Services Union, which represents most civil servants, voted 2:1 in 2003 to reject the Sustaining Progress agreement. The Minister of State should take note of this point. It was not surprising that it did so given that between 1988 and 2001, the net pay increases for clerical officer grades was 109% while increases in the same period for Secretaries General was 203%. The gap widened throughout that period and that is a disgraceful reflection on the failure of successive Governments during that period. Do not lose sight that the parties which formed these Governments, some of which occupy the Opposition benches, knew full well and damn well what people were paid for their labour, efforts and support in these Houses. That is shameful. Notwithstanding the increases under Sustaining Progress which led the CPSU to endorse the updated deal this year, low pay within the lower grades of the Civil Service remains a problem which must be addressed.

Another major issue for civil servants which has been referred to by other Members is relocation. We are talking about relocation and not real decentralisation which I see in a wider sense as involving devolvement of powers through the various tiers of governance in this jurisdiction. The manner in which the Government has mishandled the relocation process is causing real concern among thousands of civil servants and, let us not forget for a moment, their families. The body attempting to implement the plan has been given what was described very frankly by Mr. Phil Flynn at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service last week as a Herculean task, which it certainly is.

This is not the ideal context in which to implement a modernisation programme. This is hardly the ideal backdrop to all we are trying to address here. I regret that the mishandling of decentralisation by Government has sent out the wrong signal to civil servants. I have no doubt that the majority of them are willing to be active participants in what should be positive initiatives by the State which would benefit citizens, including real decentralisation of the type of which I have just spoken. However, for that to happen, we need real consultation, participation and planning. The Minister of State gave the impression that he was aware of all the issues involved, yet his former senior Minister when sitting beside him in this House told him in no uncertain terms that he knew damn all about it.

It was good for the local elections.

However, the Minister of State was not the only one in the dark because everyone else knew damn all about it as well. That is a fact. We were here to witness that act played out on the floor of this Chamber.

Perhaps it was not so good.

Despite the mess created by this Government, which clearly was not entirely the fault of the Minister of State because he was treated like a mushroom by being kept in the dark and fed plenty of you-know-what, I hope a positive outcome will yet emerge and that civil servants who relocate will do so in a frame of mind which proves real decentralisation can work and that they can become new, vibrant and active contributing members of the new communities of which they and, I emphasise, their families will become a part.

Like the public service management Bill, this legislation comes at a time when many branches of the public service are not properly staffed and unable to fulfil their functions properly. This is especially the case in local government. The public is, correctly, more concerned about delivery — or non-delivery as is more the case these days — than they are with the nuts and bolts of the management and operation of the service.

I will not detain the House. I will review each section of the Bill with a view to tabling whatever amendments I deem appropriate on Committee Stage. I have no difficulty in supporting the passage of the Bill to Committee Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill, the main purpose of which is to amend the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 to allow certain provisions contained in the Public Service Management Act 1997 to take effect. Before dealing with the details of the legislation, I thank and commend all the civil servants who do valuable work in the interests of the State. I pay tribute to Mr. Seán Whelan, the Irish ambassador to Turkey, who died on Sunday last. He served this State well for many years. He previously worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs and was a valuable civil servant at United Nations and EU level. I commend him and express my sympathy to his family. Seán Whelan was a classic example of a civil servant who served his country at both national and international level. I offer my sympathy to his mother, Sadie Whelan, and his brother, Dónal Whelan. We are talking about civil servants who serve this State so it is appropriate that we express our condolences to the Whelan family in Nenagh, County Tipperary.

This Bill amends various Acts to introduce human resource management changes. Civil servants, other than those dismissed by the Government, will be brought within the scope of the Unfair Dismissals Act, a change that is welcome. Civil Servants will also be brought within the scope of the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts. Disciplinary action may be taken in cases of under-performance, something to which I will return.

The range of possible disciplinary sanctions will be broadened to include suspension without pay and will provide that hardship payments made to civil servants on suspension without pay may be varied or halted. Also, civil servants, established and unestablished, may be employed on contract. People aged 65 may be engaged in the Civil Service.

When we talk about civil and public servants, we should look at their role in society. They serve civic society, the citizens of the State, not a private company. Civil servants across all Departments do an enormous amount of work and they are the backbone of the State and the economy. For too long, too many people have made snide remarks about civil servants. The vast majority of civil servants do an excellent job and I commend them. Whether they work in the public, civil or education service, they have made a massive contribution to the State.

Sadly, I have heard a great deal of talk about political corruption since I was elected but there are also question marks over city officials. As a back bench TD, I regularly hear constituents say that while there is plenty of talk about the corruption of politicians, there is not enough talk about the corruption of officials, a belief held by many people. I have no direct evidence but the stories I hear, particularly about planning, raise fundamental questions. The vast majority of civil and public servants know there is a need for reform and they want to be involved in that change. Consultation and accountability are the way forward.

There are those within the Civil Service who have problems. Deputies earlier spoke about the education service, an area where we must support those working while delivering the service to the children. We hear of burn-out but we do not hear much about rust-out. It is the opposite to burn-out but equally devastating to the well being of those who experience it. Its main characteristics are apathy and learned helplessness, a protective belief that, as a worker, one is powerless and totally the victim of a neglectful work organisation. The main causes of rust-out are remote but there are work organisations that reinforce what happened in the past. Those who have rusted-out have lost the challenge and excitement of work, have poor relationships with their colleagues, put in the minimum effort and see things as unchanging. Like those who are burnt out, they do not constructively confront but regularly condemn employers who offer no creative alternatives. Typical symptoms are job dissatisfaction, apathy, hopelessness, frequent absenteeism and an uncaring and cynical attitude about work and work organisations. There is avoidance of responsibility and new challenges, isolation from other members of staff, depression and highly protective self esteem. We must face up to this when we are dealing with reform in the public service.

This applies to the private sector as well. Many people claim to be human resource managers but they are not focused on the staff. If the staff are not happy they will not be productive. Some human resource managers have no idea what the person on the shop floor is thinking. There is no need for modern jargon, these problems are solved the old fashioned way, by treating people with respect, looking after them and getting most out of them. I know that from working with people in disadvantaged areas. Frontline staff will give more and be more supportive if they are looked after.

I do not apologise for calling for an extra allowance for teachers who work in disadvantaged areas, they should be rewarded for their extra contribution to society, dealing with dysfunctional children and social problems. Those on the front line of the public services should receive incentives to reward them for their work and to keep them there. A major problem for me as a principal teacher in the north inner city was replacing the brilliant junior infant teachers who would leave within two or three years because of housing or personal issues or because they were intimidated by the environment. There must be an incentive to keep quality people working with the poorest kids in society.

We do not take civil servants and public service seriously. The conference on child care today was an example. Trained staff in that area start on €18,000 while a construction worker on a site will get €35,000. Good luck to those construction workers but why are we only giving €18,000 to people who will work in disadvantaged areas? It is because society does not value them and that is a major mistake this Government is making. We cannot allow a situation where such people are paid low wages, it is all part of this debate. If we are serious about reform, we must look after these workers.

Section 8 provides for the appointment of persons who have attained the age of 65 years to the Civil Service as new entrants, a welcome change. It buries the idea a person who has reached 65 years is no longer of value to the State. People of this age have a major contribution to make and we should never hesitate to ask them for help. Many people aged between 65 and 80 have made major contributions in working with people with disabilities and have come up with radical and creative ideas for services and relationships with people with intellectual disabilities. These are resources that could be used and we should never say to people that they must clock out at 65.

Section 10 allows disciplinary action to be taken in cases of under-performance where a civil servant has failed to respond to training and development measures aimed at improving performance. Strategies should be in place as part of the solution if a person is burned out or is not suitable for a job in the public service. Every manager and human resources manager in the Civil Service should have a strategy in place based on compassion and looking after the person as well as on the delivery of service.

I welcome the debate on the Civil Service. I disagree strongly with some of the provisions of this Bill but overall I welcome the discussion on the legislation. I thank and commend our civil servants for their valuable work.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important but not very far-reaching Bill. On many occasions over the past 20 years in this House, I have heard proposals for reform of the Civil Service. I had the good fortune of being closely linked to the Civil Service when I spent five years in Agriculture House in the 1980s. My view of the Civil Service apparatus was changed during those five years. Before that time I thought it was easy to blame everything on civil servants but it is true to say that especially at the higher levels of the Civil Service, a great deal of work is done and there is considerable initiative and imagination.

I am pleased the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is present. Given the circumstances in the country in 2004, with a tiger economy which is moving forward at a good rate, issues that created trouble for us ten or 20 years ago, such as unemployment, are not problems today. Other matters have taken over. In any country, the Civil Service is the engine and the energy provider. Policy for this country is decided in these Houses and by health boards and county councils. Once policy is enunciated, it is then a matter for the Civil Service to deliver it. The last thing I wish to do is criticise civil servants. I have no reason to do so and I have seen at first hand the remarkable devotion in time and energy of civil servants to the State.

I see nothing wrong with many of the reforms announced by the Minister of State. As far as my party is concerned, in so far as they go, there will be no trouble on this side of the House because many of them are long overdue, but I wish to speak about other matters related to this Bill.

It is important to offer opportunities in the Civil Service for those over 65. Many people at every level in the Civil Service have much to contribute at 65. I am glad to think their services can be used. Even ten or 20 years ago, this policy would be regarded as depriving a young person of a job but, fortunately, that is not a problem today. The immense experience which those men and women have built up over the years is important. We should be grateful such experience is available to the State at this level.

I do not object to the provision to give Secretaries General the power to hire and fire staff. I see nothing wrong with it and regard it is an important step forward. My hope is that good safety nets will be installed for all civil servants so that they will not be fired unjustly. It should be an open and transparent method of hiring. I assume the provisions in the Bill will ensure that and I look forward to it being implemented in that manner.

In discussing the Civil Service, one must discuss benchmarking. When the former Minister for Finance delivered the Budget Statement last December, he tarnished the image of many civil servants. Whether the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, knew what he was going to say on that occasion does not make a difference because that is a bit of a tussle between the two of them. On that occasion when he announced the decentralisation of 10,300 Government jobs, there was no one in the country as much in support of that announcement as I was. I said that during the debate at the time. I had no hesitation in supporting the proposal because that is what was wanted. It was a step in the right direction.

Budget day was a most unusual occasion on which to make this announcement but there were other political reasons such as getting the election wheels working for June, which did not happen. Announcements of this nature do not make a difference to elections. The Minister of State covered Offaly and Laois with posters and the Government did not do that well in the election.

It was only one poster but it got a great deal of publicity.

The Government started with 26 seats and finished with 19, so decentralisation did not do it much good. Civil servants were railroaded. Nobody told them nor said a word to them before the announcement was made in the House. No other democracy in Europe would treat its civil servants in that manner. Every civil servant facing relocation will have important considerations to deal with. It makes no difference who one is or at what stage in life one is at, people must be consulted. There will need to be a well-managed process which has been properly researched. Plans of this size could take a number of years to complete. The very people in the eye of the storm must be consulted and that did not happen. The Minister of State had nothing to do with that because the Minister for Finance said he did not know about it. However, the Minister and the Government knew.

That background has given decentralisation a bad name for which there is no need. Decentralisation has been done before. The Army headquarters in Renmore and Michael Davitt House in Castlebar were successful. It was announced with great fanfare that 89 jobs in the National Roads Authority were to go to Ballinasloe. The commission set up to process applications for the decentralised jobs received one application for decentralisation to Ballinasloe. It is not because there is anything wrong with Ballinasloe or Youghal but because there was no consultation, good, bad or indifferent, with civil servants. I do not know what needs to be done to rectify the situation but I will never forgive a Government that gave decentralisation a bad name. Fine Gael will watch the Government over the next year or two to see if the proposal can be brought back on track. Time will tell. While I will not take up the time of the House, what has happened is a shame. We talk about the national spatial strategy. Moving 10,000 civil servants and their families out of Dublin city would breathe a new sense of life into many communities who would benefit from their professionalism. For political reasons it was decided to announce it and see what would happen. Now the chickens have come home to roost. This is a topic we shall return to again. Unless the Government has a better answer than that proposed, it will be a failure.

As far as the Bill is concerned, Sustaining Progress was part of the deal. I understand the unions have agreed to it and the path has been cleared for the implementation of the Bill. As far as benchmarking is concerned, a major opportunity was lost on the previous occasion. This has nothing to do with the unions. What else would the unions do but fight the case for their members. As Deputy Richard Bruton said earlier, it is the Government that governs and dictates the state of play. That did not happen on the previous occasion. The Minister of State knows better than anybody else that the carrot and stick approach to all matters is important. The balance in between is what gets us the success we would all wish. I understand the final phase of benchmarking will be paid in June or July 2005. I would like to hear the views of the Government on whether there is any connection with changes in the Civil Service so far as that date is concerned. I make it clear that I want it to be paid. Not only do the lower income groups in the Civil Service want the final phase of benchmarking, they want much more.

I thought the party of which the Deputy is a member opposed it initially.

We opposed it for a very good reason. We never opposed it being paid to people. That was never said. It was the agreement and the level of performance at which it would be paid, which is what the Minister of State is talking about. He is talking about underperformance. There was an ideal opportunity to connect the two at that stage but it was not done. So far as underperformance is concerned, the Bill provides a wider range of options to the Secretaries General, as I read it, for demotion, loss of income and so on. I assume that will have its own effect.

An important issue about the Civil Service is that a service be delivered with great dignity to people. No matter what the office, the public expects a certain level of customer relations. In fairness to most of the civil servants with whom I have dealt, they could not be more obliging or more efficient. On more than one occasion, however, members of the public have informed me that they were not taken seriously by the various people with whom they dealt. I would like to think in a Bill such as this when new powers are being given to the Secretaries General that this issue would be revisited. Above all else, this is a bridgehead that the Civil Service must build with the public. Whether in county councils, urban councils or health boards, there is an onus to deliver the service in a humane way. People expect to be dealt with in such a fashion. If at any time that does not happen, I sincerely hope there will be somebody to ask why a particular dealing with a member of public was not carried out in a more humane manner.

I have been a member of the Committee of Public Accounts for the past two years. Every Thursday a State body or Department is invited to come before the committee and we interview the witnesses. Generally, huge sums of money have been lost in one form or another. While it is accounted for, most of the time it appears as if it is a force majeure business that it is something that happened. The money was lost and it does not appear that anybody was individually accountable for it. That is the basis of the Bill and what the Minister of State is trying to get at, or what I think he is trying to get at. I could be here until 7 p.m. relating all the various items I have seen coming through the Committee of Public Accounts where, for whatever reason, major mistakes were made involving large sums of taxpayers’ money. I am not sure if lessons were learned from the experiences. This is not silly talk. Those cases have been researched by the Comptroller and Auditor General, documented and debated.

I shall cite one case to give an idea of what can happen — the Expo exhibition in Hannover in 2000 in which the Office of Public Works was involved. The principle behind it was excellent. It was the world trade fair at which Ireland was at its best and stood with the best of the world. Nobody will quibble with the €6.5 million earmarked for the structure. That was when the wheels began to come off the wagon. Somebody suggested the structure should be built in such a way that it could be taken apart, brought back to Ireland and erected here. Soon several groups were involved. I understand several meetings took place and when all the details were drawn up, no less than 26 different groupings were involved. The idea was that the structure would be shipped back to Ireland.

In the meantime, it became known that a number of educational institutions wished to buy it. The College of Art and Design in Dún Laoghaire put in a tender for just more than €2 million and was successful. That sum was paid by the Department of Education and Science to, I assume, the Office of Public Works. It was then discovered the structure could not be taken down. Nobody had thought about whether it was demountable, in other words, if it could be taken apart. The position then worsened considerably. Given that it could not be taken down, the college could not get it and its money was gone.

We had a building in Hannover that nobody wanted and for which there was no planning permission because the area was rejigged. The college in Dún Laoghaire was down €500,000 and the building was still in place. I understand that it was knocked down recently and put in a dump. Who decided on the design of the structure? I do not wish to waste the time of the House on all the detail as it has been well debated at the Committee of Public Accounts. Somebody should take responsibility for the reason that building could not be dismantled and taken back to Ireland. That was the deal and it ended up costing us €9 million. That is the kind of accountability I am talking about and I have not received an answer yet. For example, €12 million was spent to house asylum seekers but, because of local objections, the accommodation was not used and €500 per day was spent on security. Who is looking after the taxpayers' money in those cases and who will stand up and accept responsibility? It is against that background that I hope this limited but useful Bill will pass through the House without difficulty.

However, if the Minister of State thinks this is a fundamental reform of the Civil Service, we will have a great deal of trouble because we need much more accountability. I wish the Civil Service well and I sincerely hope its many fine people will decide to spend their working lives in the service rather than moving to private enterprise because we want to retain the best and brightest. That is why Bills such as this are important to them and to the country.

The main purpose of this Bill is to amend the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 to allow certain provisions in the Public Service Acts from 1997 to take effect. The Public Service Management Act 1997 introduced a broad framework for modern management practices in the Civil Service. The Bill and the amendments it makes date back to 1997. The explanatory memorandum outlines that the Bill will bring civil servants within the scope of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 and the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973 and brings about new systems of disciplinary action in the case of under performance. Moreover, the range of such possible disciplinary sanctions will be broadened.

Given the amount of time it takes the Government to get things done, perhaps it should be the subject of disciplinary action as a result of its under performance. It is high time that we dealt with this legislation to make the 1997 Act work. Whatever the view of the Minister of State and the Minister, the officials in the Department of Finance are obviously anxious that this Bill passes through the House as soon as possible. An agreement has already been reached between the Government and the trade unions on the introduction of the Bill and on major reforms of Civil Service management as part of Sustaining Progress but the Government has dragged its heels on introducing the legislation.

The Department of Finance should be concerned about this Bill because it is so heavily linked to the benchmarking process. A strange situation could develop whereby the legislation which backs up the 1997 Act and the agreement on benchmarking in Sustaining Progress — the final payment of which is due in June 2005 — might not itself be in place until 2005. No wonder the officials in the Department of Finance find this a strange situation to have to deal with.

Fine Gael has been heavily criticised for some of its comments on benchmarking, with Government parties claiming that the party objected to the payments. However, the original purpose of benchmarking was related to the performance of the Civil Service rather than its just being the pay award that it is starting to look like. As it stands, it has nothing to do with how civil servants work. Rather, there was an agreement between the Government parties and the unions that this was a performance issue.

However the awards have been made despite the fact that the legislation that backs up many of the agreements, already made between the Government and the Civil Service unions is static while these awards must be paid out. I used to sit on the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and when we examined the background details to the benchmarking awards we found it unusual that lower paid civil servants were awarded the lower rates of benchmarking, whereas the higher rates of payments were given to more senior and higher paid civil servants. One would think that the information that brought about these decisions would be placed in the public domain or at least made accessible to officials. However, the information was shredded and is now unavailable for anyone to view under any circumstances.

It is an example of bad Government when it uses spin in such circumstances and Oireachtas Members cannot do what they are supposed to do. The Government established a process of benchmarking, asking a panel to ascertain why some people should be awarded 8% while others get 30%. It then made the awards official and proceeded to destroy all the information that was gathered to make the judgments. The legislation that has followed to back up the pay awards will now just about get through the Oireachtas before the last payment is due. That is an example of under performance, which is a serious issue to take into account when we examine how we govern the country. It is not enough for the Government to put a spin on Fine Gael's questioning of its approach.

The Civil Service is a fantastic organisation that provides teachers, doctors and administrators who give a superb service. They are the people who keep the country going and we should not sully their reputations and standards with this sort of tomfoolery. We should be clear about how we follow through on legislation that has been agreed with the civil servants and everything should run together in what is called joined-up Government rather than what exists which is very far from that.

Fine Gael would want to get its policies joined up. It criticised benchmarking at first and now it is praising it from a height.

There is nothing wrong with the principle of benchmarking as a performance indicator. The Minister of State is introducing legislation concerning the performance of civil servants even though the awards have been paid over the past two years. Civil servants deserve their benchmarking awards, particularly those with whom I have dealt in the health service. However, they do not deserve it being dealt with in a haphazard and lackadaisical manner.

Members of the public believed they would get a better service from civil servants as a result of benchmarking but they are now being charged more and more for services. For example, we have some of the highest charges in the world for freedom of information requests. A person who reads about benchmarking and reform of the Civil Service and requests information from public bodies will find that we have some of the highest charges in the world. It is easy to see how people can get angry about this.

That is not true. All personal information is totally free of charge.

Not all freedom of information requests are for personal information. Much of the information that is sought is in regard to how the Government works. That is not personal information — it is information people have to pay for.

The level of access to Government services is another issue that was to inform a range of reforms that have simply not happened. Many of the complaints to public representatives concern access to public services by telephone, personal call or in writing.

They simply do not get the reply they need. For instance, voice mail is rarely returned to members of the public. This angers people when they see huge levies placed on them such as planning charges. These charges are part of so-called "better local government" which relates to the idea that local government was supposed to be more accessible.

We have to change because every organisation must evolve with the changing circumstances around it. We must always strive for change, but we are not seeing that happening. It is not happening so that the general public can say that this is a better public service. This is not the fault of the people who work in the service. More than 95% of public servants are dedicated to their work. Many work long beyond the hours that they are requested to work. This sort of thing is not doing them any favours. There are organisational problems in every organisation. However, why should there be any reason to change things when there seems to be no will in the Government to institute these changes?

This is not about penalising civil servants and making them the scapegoats for the lack of joined-up Government. What the Minister is saying is what he must do. This Bill, benchmarking, better local government; all of these aspects are about delivering a better service that the people simply do not feel they are getting. When Fine Gael asks these questions, it is a cheap shot to wrongfully use the resources of Government to put out counter-spin. In many respects that is what happened. A spin was put out that Fine Gael was against the Civil Service, it was opposed to benchmarking——

That was a fact at the time.

It was not a fact at the time. It was always——

The Deputy was up there in the backbenches.

The Deputy without interruption please.

Maybe that is what is wrong. Maybe the Cabinet members and the Government backbenchers did not question what the Minister was doing, which is why legislation is slowly working its way through the House. Just to save him the embarrassment of having to publish the legislation after the last benchmarking payment, a little pressure has been put on. The Minister knows there was correspondence from his Department to the Houses of the Oireachtas to try to get this speeded up before such a situation might actually occur. That is why we see ourselves trying to make these changes as quickly as possible, before such a thing should happen.

The broader context of this debate is that we believe there can be better local government. We believe that better service can be delivered to the people. We also believe that the vast majority of civil and public servants are happy to see reform happening. We should be doing much better at the moment. All of us either have young children or elderly parents, we will grow old, God forbid many of us will get sick and we will need some form of care and attention from the State. There are many civil servants who work in the front line in providing services to the public. There are many civil servants who do much work in the background. It is of such importance to the lives of all citizens and they feel strongly about this. The Government should therefore explain to the people why it is doing this rather than wait for a party from the Opposition to point out what good Government is all about, and then put a negative spin to destroy what we feel is our purpose as Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Look at what happens when we do not challenge what is happening around us. This morning we heard about the children who died as a result of what is happening in Crumlin hospital. Crumlin hospital is in major need of refurbishment to the point that it practically needs to be rebuilt. The vast majority of the research carried out in Crumlin, on children's diseases, genetic diseases and other illnesses that are specific to children, is paid for by donations to the research institute where one can set up a standing order called the Kitty for Crumlin. The hospital relies on the public goodwill to provide the sort of health care our children need. The hospital itself provides fantastic service and this is why we support the idea of benchmarking for those who work in these hospitals. It is to look after the doctors, nurses, porters and the administration staff. However, the building itself is a disgrace, considering that Ireland is supposed to be a first world country. That is our tertiary hospital and a hospital that serves all of Ireland. When Deputy Martin was Minister for Health and Children, he went out and saw this hospital for himself. However, it does not seem to have made such a lasting impression that he felt there needed to be anything done about it.

This is what makes people like me angry about what is happening in Government. These are the vital issues that must be taken on board; not having a cheap shot at whether we approve of benchmarking or whether we object to it. We have to move forward on this. We must make sure that our teachers are happy with the job that they are doing, that the changes expected in a modern society come about. We must ensure that people who work in the health service know what is expected of them. They are already doing what is expected of them as far as I am concerned. We must also give that support to our public and civil servants. We need to move a little faster on the sort of legislation we are debating here. We have been lectured on wasting taxpayer's money and on what is efficiency and value for money. However, we must begin to see action.

Even the Minister for State at the Department of Foreign Affairs has managed to embroil himself in a controversy, by not knowing whether he is supposed to be in agreement or in disagreement with the Cabinet on how much of our GNP is to go towards overseas development aid. At every opportunity, the same Minister of State likes to take a cut at doctor's charges, what we do and how we look after our patients. At least we answer the phone when people call us. That is the sort of service that people look for. They just want to get their queries answered and good local government delivered to them. They want a good level of service whether it is in education, health or any other service provided by the State. All they ask is that these services are delivered when they request them.

It is a suitable time to congratulate Deputy Twomey on his elevation to the front bench today and to wish him the best of luck in the future. There is still much talent staying here in the backbenches.

Staying there?

Yes. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It goes a considerable distance towards streamlining old management practices with regard to appointment, disciplining and dismissal of civil servants below the rank of principal officer. It amounts to a delegation of functions formerly in the remit of the Minister to Secretaries General of the various Departments. It constitutes the implementation of a major reform and modernisation of procedures, as it introduces a degree of flexibility into the employment and dismissal processes in the Civil Service.

Since the Celtic tiger materialised in the 1990s, one of the features of our economic success was that business bosses traditionally hired and fired staff in the quest for high performance. They did this at will and were ruthless about how they made these moves. I question whether such ruthless motivation for strong performance should be a feature of our Civil Service. We will have to treat such matters with a sense of balance and proportion in terms of the proposed changes. Since the Secretaries General have come up through the system, they would have a greater appreciation of the responsibility attaching to most levels of the Civil Service network and would act accordingly.

It has long been a commonly held fiction that in the Civil Service there has been entrenchment of shirkers and incompetence at every level as a necessary evil in Departments. Some of us believe that civil servants have a language of their own. For instance, there was a case where it took up to seven years to dismiss a school employee who was late for work every day. His defence was that he had a neurotic compulsion for lateness. This brings the excuse for being late for school to a new level. A young schoolgoer would have to come up with some excuse to match that. Excuses that the alarm clock did not go off or the dog ate the homework pale into insignificance compared with that excuse.

The Secretaries General will perform their duty in dismissals or the disciplining of members of the public service in a thoroughly prudent manner, while individuals' rights will be suitably protected. I am happy to note that in the case of civil servants, the Unfair Dismissals Act will apply and that fair procedures will be observed. It is important to note that the Unfair Dismissals Act exists and people will have the safety net afforded by its provisions. It provides considerable coverage for the protection of employees' entitlements. It does not protect an employee against dismissal but it provides a system of appeal whereby one can question the fairness of one's dismissal after it has occurred. An unfair dismissal occurs when the process of an employee's dismissal is harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Factors that must be taken into account in determining such cases include if there was a valid reason for the dismissal related to a person's conduct or capacity in terms of the requirements of the post, and if the person concerned was notified of that reason. The person concerned would have to be given a verbal warning, a written warning and a second written warning and he or she would have to be given an opportunity to respond. It is important that the person concerned would have an opportunity to respond.

In the event of unsatisfactory work performance where the person concerned had been previously given a warning, some of the discriminatory grounds which might exist include temporary absence from work due to illness or injury, trade union membership or involvement in union activities after working hours, seeking election as an employee representative or bringing complaints or proceedings against the employer. Other discriminatory ground might include race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, social origin or absence on maternity or adoptive leave.

Generally claims of unfair dismissal must be made within six months, although in exceptional circumstances this can be extended to 12 months. The Unfair Dismissals Act will allow an employee the opportunity to present a case in his or her defence before a decision will be taken regarding disciplinary action. However, the burden of proof of fairness of a dismissal will still rest with the Secretary General. A civil servant who succeeded in such a claim of unfair dismissal should at least be retained in his or her former position or redeployed to a suitable alternative, and the question of compensation might also arise. The rate of an award of compensation for unfair dismissal is twice the annual pay and benefits of the person concerned. There will always be personality clashes among staff in the Civil Service or in any other sector where the employee being disciplined believes that he or she should be in the position of the person exercising the discipline. There are always difficulties and personality conflicts.

I note the measure in the Bill regarding the engagement of established civil servants for the duration of fixed-term contracts, which has been widely welcomed. This Bill will enable recognised expertise available to the Civil Service to be assigned to particular projects requiring that expertise, thereby increasing the degree of flexibility in the Civil Service.

The doctrine of the separation of powers continues to apply in that the scope of section 5 will not apply to the chief executive of the Courts Service. It is appropriate that responsibility for the chief executive of the Courts Service should remain within the jurisdiction of the board of the Courts Service.

Section 8 is novel in that it explodes any theories that there might be ageism in the Civil Service. Ageism has taken on a new life and it is an issue about which we need to be much more aware. The time is past when one reached the age of 65, one could work for another few years and that was it. Things have changed. People aged 65 and over are still very alert and have much to contribute at this level. Now people over the age of 65 can be recruited to the Civil Service with no mandatory retirement age applying.

There are many members of staff in the Houses of the Oireachtas who have gained considerable experience, completed many courses over their working lives and who can pass on their knowledge to their colleagues working with them. Many people who worked in banks or in the Civil Service have been snapped up by profit-making companies which recognise their value. They know that such people can make a tremendous input and they have been brought into companies in consultancy or other such roles. That development should be observed. The fact that retired civil servants can now be brought back into the Civil Service where they would be of most benefit is welcome.

I am happy that age will not be a barrier to getting a position in the Civil Service. Previously after gender discrimination, age discrimination was the greatest single issue relating to employment that was raised by people who contacted the Equality Authority. In recent times, the authority has become active and taken on many cases. People view access to it as a way of airing their grievances.

There was previously a widely accepted tendency for employers to favour the recruitment of young people. The Employment Equality Act had a major impact on such recruitment policies and practices. However, under the legislation, employers had to ensure that they were not operating work practices that discriminated on the age ground. For instance, recruitment notices indicating that young blood or lively staff are required are now taboo since they are likely to deter older workers and also make them feel inadequate. At what age does one stop being lively? For many people, liveliness is a state of mind.

Section 8 also accords suitably with an EU directive that outlaws age discrimination in the workplace by 2006. In recruiting people over the age of 65 to the Civil Service, a suitable code of practice to ensure an age diverse workforce should be adopted. Such a code would ensure that recruitment would be on the basis of skills and abilities needed to do the job and selection should be strictly based on merit. Promotion should be based solely on the ability or demonstrated potential to do the job. New employees should be encouraged to avail of relevant training opportunities. Redundancy decisions should be based on objective job related criteria to ensure the needed skills are retained.

Such a code should also ensure that retirement schemes are fairly applied taking individuals and the needs of the Civil Service into account. Such a code would also have the effect of demonstrating a commitment from the Minister downwards to building age awareness into all aspects of the Civil Service and achieving a better balance in the service. It would also reinforce the view that discrimination on the basis of age amounts to a waste of talent.

In a recent article in the 50plus on-line magazine, it was pointed out that there was no demographic time-bomb but that in 2050 about 24% of the citizens would be aged 65 plus compared with 11.1% in 2002. Occasionally a myth is created that we are facing such a major time-bomb. However, there is no such time-bomb and we will be fit to handle developments with a few changes in work practices, especially if the public service moves in this direction. People will work for longer and should be encouraged to do so.

We sometimes discuss the need to bring in employees from other countries. However, if we allowed our retiring employees to continue to work it might address this issue. Very experienced and talented people could be put to work productively. The time-bomb may not explode in 2050. It is appropriate that the Civil Service be in a position to harness the undoubted wealth of experience and expertise therein.

Section 12 is eminently sensible in that responsibility for the dismissal of civil servants in the Houses of the Oireachtas should fall to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission in the case of principal officers and higher ranks. Responsibility for the dismissal of those lower than principal officer level will repose in the Secretary General of the Houses.

Sections 24 to 27, which confer additional functions on the Director of Public Prosecutions, establish a direct line between the Director of Public Prosecutions and local State solicitors. This will improve communications with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which will now have responsibility for State solicitors instead of the Attorney General, as was the case heretofore.

Many of the changes in the Bill are welcome. The onus is being passed to the Secretary General instead of the Minister. The same processes will be employed as were employed heretofore and the major difference will be that the Minister will not have ultimate responsibility for signing off.

Overall the Bill is to be welcomed because in seeking to attract the best people, there may be a suggestion that the Civil Service is being elitist. The Irish Civil Service, on balance, has always been blessed with top-class public servants, and if this can be regarded as elitist then the service pleads guilty as charged. The Bill, which follows on a commitment in Sustaining Progress, will make a major contribution to maximising the efficiency and quality of our Civil Service.

I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this important Bill. It is vital that we have a well-run country and, in that context, the work of civil servants was never more important. I was interested in some of the comments of the Minister of State, especially his reference to under performance and the need to use human resources properly.

I was told of a case today that would be funny if it were not so serious. It concerns a lady who applied for carer's allowance last May and who was depending on her husband's social welfare. The relevant file was mislaid somewhere and although I believe it has been found and she received her carer's allowance, the arrears still have to be paid. If the woman were a farmer who failed to apply for area aid, what would the position be? I do not want any individual civil servant penalised for this but we must ensure that it does not happen again.

I know of another case regarding a subvention for an elderly person, on which I will speak later tonight. One should bear in mind that subventions are paid to the oldest people in the country. In this case, the authorities were not sure of the location of the patient in question. A simple phone call to either the doctor or daughter of the patient would have enabled them to find this out very quickly and save time for everybody. I know elderly people can be difficult to work with but surely we must be certain that those who deal with them are properly trained.

I welcome the aspects of the legislation that allow for the Secretaries General to have control. In any business it is important that the boss has control. Such control can be abused but I hope and trust that it will not be. I could not help hearing Deputy Connolly speak of a teacher who could not be dismissed. We have all encountered such cases. Compare them with the circumstances that obtain in private business.

We had many discussions in the House on better local government, improved services and the consequences of the new structures and strategies. I was a member of Monaghan County Council for 13 or 14 years, and at the beginning of this period I could have phoned the county manager or county secretary with a query and received an answer within a day or two, in spite of the fact that there were very few computers. It may not have been a satisfactory answer because of the very poor economy at the time, but it was an answer nevertheless. Nowadays, a host of structures are in place, which were imposed from the top. All parties in this House agreed with their imposition but unfortunately the necessary funding was not provided, thus increasing the pressure on the Civil Service. Measures should not be introduced without adequate funding.

I am glad the Bill ensures that people over 65 will have the opportunity to stay in employment. I have come across people of tremendous ability, such as the aforementioned county manager or county secretary, at every level. It is important that we are allowed to utilise this talent in such a way that we will benefit fully therefrom.

Consider the way civil servants were treated last December. I hope my constituency will benefit from decentralisation but it is only by fluke that it will. What happened in the constituency should not be happening at national level. For instance, 85 jobs were to be provided at Carrickmacross in my county because of the decentralisation of Comhairle. There was no discussion or pre-planning and Comhairle decided it would not travel.

I pay tribute to the former Minister for Social and Family Affairs because, after consultation with me and others, she guaranteed that 85 personnel from her Department would be transferred to Carrickmacross. We must work on this issue at the very highest level to get it right.

When I and others, such as Deputy Richard Bruton, raised issues such as these, we were accused of being anti-decentralisation. We were not; we only wanted it to be carried out in a logical, structured way. Bearing in mind that we are discussing a Bill pertaining to civil servants, surely civil servants and their families who have to move are entitled to some structured consultation before they simply read in the media that their lives are being overturned.

The Deputy should not forget that the scheme is totally voluntary.

The Carrickmacross example is proof of what I am talking about. There are many other examples, including that of the Bus Éireann employees who were to be transferred from Dublin to Mitchelstown. Where were the numbers in that case? Another example concerns the Irish Livestock and Meat Board, in which I was deeply involved and about which the Minister of State would know something. Insufficient numbers of staff were prepared to move from Dublin to Enniscorthy. The only way in which one can achieve the desired number is to bring people back from the USA, Spain and Italy. Let us be factual.

The Deputy is trying to pick little holes in the decentralisation programme.

I worked closely with the Irish Livestock and Meat Board for seven years as a board member. Its main interest is to try to sell this country abroad and therefore it is important that it be near an airport. I am sorry if I pick holes but I am only picking out realities. That is our job as members of the Opposition. How many of the staff of the Irish Livestock and Meat Board have agreed to move? The solution to this problem lies in common sense and consultation. This area needs to be re-examined but, as Deputy Richard Bruton said earlier, the legislation does not go far enough. We are talking about allowing people to work longer but members of the Garda Síochána are opting to retire earlier. There is very little increase in the numbers of gardaí available because, in spite of the numbers coming out of the training depot at Templemore, more members of the force are retiring earlier than expected. I saw the relevant figures in recent days.

We need to have proper control of the public service finances. I was criticised today because during the 1997 general election I promised that if re-elected we would have a by-pass for Monaghan town. I freely admit that did not happen but since then €12 million has been spent on consultants' reports and there is still no by-pass. Thankfully, the by-pass is now in the process of construction but we have to give value for money. Recently, I saw that the Drogheda by-pass cost approximately €500 million over budget.

What concerns me most, however, is that a great deal of money has been allocated for the Border area and the BMW region generally. It took a major fight to get it, although the Government tried to include Kerry and Clare, while forgetting about the Border. We eventually got that funding but because of a failure of administration the money allocated for that area has not been spent on it. That is an extremely serious matter and one must ask who is actually in charge and what is happening? The Border area was allocated funding by Brussels because it was designated as being most in need. However, it has failed to draw down the money to which it was entitled due to the absence of a proper system operated by the Government and its civil servants. Last year the relevant figure was minus €640 million but I hope that situation will improve. One must ask major questions about who was in charge of running the financing structure and how such a failure was allowed at a time when the Government was asking others to prop up the Border area.

The International Fund for Ireland was established at the time of the Anglo-Irish agreement when support was given to the then Taoiseach, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, by the US, Canadian and Australian governments and others. They saw the need to pour money into the six northern counties and the six southern Border counties. At the time of the ceasefire in 1994, the European Union came in with peace funding. Both those funds have worked well and are often administered by community groups but the Government has failed to provide matching funds. It is allowing the other funding to be used as alternative financing, which proves the Government's failure to meet its commitments.

I am worried about training of civil servants. There are some excellent civil servants but there is also much confrontation. One only has to look at what is happening with regard to road construction and how many such situations are going to court, simply because land was acquired by compulsory order without consultation. Officials should have made a point of meeting the ordinary people concerned to try to achieve a common-sense approach. We must ensure that proper training is provided for public servants. With proper consultation many of the confrontations that have arisen could have been avoided.

I have seen many good projects being held up literally for years because they were approached in the wrong way from the start. In my town, we worked for years to get agreement on a road behind one of the main streets. Compulsory purchase orders were issued rather than having consultation, with the result that the money had to be transferred elsewhere. That would not happen in private industry where a major effort would be made to ensure such a situation was averted.

Having been asked to speak at fairly short notice, I have not had an opportunity to go through the Bill in great detail. However, the legislation is important and will give employment rights to people. It also provides for the right to hire by senior personnel in the Civil Service. It is important that disciplinary action can be taken for under performance. The majority of civil servants are excellent people and one could not find a more pleasant group, but it only takes one bad apple to destroy the whole barrel.

Will those responsible for hideous delays in the roll out of the national development plan be called to account for their lack of action? Will those who gave the go-ahead for the Luas and presided over a ballooning budget be asked to explain themselves? I hope they will because it is essential that they do. Will those who miscalculated the number of people aged over 70, when it was decided to give them medical cards, be taken to task? I remember when the medical card issue first arose we were told it would cost £19 million, yet it finished up costing £56 million. What would happen if that concerned any other group of people? Would any business person — Tony O'Reilly for example — stand for such a situation? I doubt it very much.

I hope the Bill will provide help along the way by introducing additional accountability and giving an opportunity to those civil servants who want to do a good job to have clear access to promotion. The Bill will also provide the necessary powers if somebody has to be removed for lack of effort or misbehaviour, which cannot be allowed either within the Civil Service or outside it.

I thank Deputy Crawford for allowing me to share his time slot. I wish to examine the Bill's provisions relating to value for money in the context of public accounts, and the extent to which the Committee of Public Accounts has pursued such issues to develop its examination of voted funds spent by the public services. During my term as chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts I sought, along with my colleagues on the committee, ways of improving the returns delivered by the public service to taxpayers. We continuously tried to improve accountability through monitoring and review of the activities of public agencies.

I wish to outline certain changes to the current procedures so that greater value for money can be achieved from public resources. While part of what I have to say will appear critical of the public service, I should point out that by the nature of its work, the Committee of Public Accounts focuses on mistakes with a view to ensuring that lessons are learned for the future and improvements are made to systems to avoid a recurrence of errors. However, this should not blind us to the fact that, by and large, the public has been served tremendously well over the years by the public service. By its very nature the public service has a risk-averse culture. The way forward is to encourage the active management of risk rather than promote risk repression. I do not wish anything I say to undermine the move towards good risk management, which is currently being discussed in the public service generally and internationally, which is important.

Accountability and value for money are the key concepts that drive the work of the Committee of Public Accounts. The committee plays an important role in the accountability cycle for Government spending. Funds are voted by the Oireachtas at the request of the Government, spent by the Department and State agencies and audited and reported to the Dáil by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Committee of Public Accounts examines these reports. The committee makes its own report to the Dáil, which leads to a formal reply from the Minister for Finance. This is a very good concept known as the "minute". These procedures are described in greater detail in the public financial procedures drawn up by the Department of Finance. This accountability cycle is geared towards monitoring public expenditure and has served the country well since the foundation of the State.

The key question is whether value for money is obtained. There is a national and international context to the work of the PAC. It is well known to the public, which is largely due to three key factors. These include its unqualified right of access to high level decision-makers who are summoned as witnesses to give evidence in regard to the decisions they have taken in allocating scarce public resources; second, the quality of the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General whose reports form the basis for debate and examination by the committee and, third, the work of previous chairpersons and members, in particular, the late Jim Mitchell, who set a very high standard.

The Committee of Public Accounts is often referred to as the most powerful committee of the House. Its actual powers are set out in the Standing Orders of the Dáil. While there are few constraints, the main one being that the committee must avoid inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government, or member of the Government, the Committee of Public Accounts can reach into the public service, based on the audited accounts of public entities or a more detailed and forensic analysis, which is a feature of value for money reports or special reports produced by the Comptroller and Auditor General on a regular basis.

In common with committees of public accounts throughout the world, by long convention the Opposition chairs the Irish PAC and there are 12 members. The Irish Committee of Public Accounts is unique. Perhaps I should cite some international reference to give a more complete picture of what happens in other parts of the world. Like many of its procedures, Ireland has a PAC based on the Westminster model. It is a model common to democracies from Australia to Canada. A recent World Bank Institute co-sponsored survey, in which Ireland participated, described the powers and effectiveness of the PAC as giving greater protection to taxpayers. The survey also identified international effectiveness and the broad scope of looking at road conditions rather than traffic accidents, power to select issues without Government direction, power to report conclusions and a strong support from the legislative auditor, members of parliament and research staff.

It is difficult to quantify the success of the PAC in getting value for money for taxpayers. Perhaps the best thing is to present the evidence and let the public decide. Over the years the Committee of Public Accounts has identified the NIB-CMI scheme, the Ansbacher accounts, the bogus non-resident accounts and resulted in the Moriarty, Mahon and Flood tribunals that collected more than €749 million. The Moriarty tribunal resulted in €25 million, Ansbacher €42 million, the NIB-CMI scheme €50 million and offshore investigations came to €650 million. The implementation of the most recent offshore investigation is evidence of the change of attitude both in Revenue and the financial sector.

Further improvements can be made in the public accounts system that would be of benefit in maximising value for money from public services. I support the whistleblower concept due to the level of information received from the public, which is important. We should examine research staff for committees. The public service needs to take greater steps towards the development of an evaluation culture and the PAC must lay down sanctions for misbehaviour by public service decision-makers. There must be a greater improvement in IT systems that are geared to the needs of evaluation as well as providing regularity. The House should make time available to debate committee reports.

The integration of the public service is important. In regard to decentralisation and the vacancies that exist, civil servants are currently seeking to be transferred to Sligo. Perhaps the Minister of State will look at the situation whereby civil servants are anxious to move to Sligo but, unfortunately, because they must go through the Civil Service Commission, these vacancies are not being filled. The Minister of State should give a clear indication to these applicants of the time scale involved. It is a contradiction to talk about decentralisation while vacancies within Civil Service offices in Sligo are not being filled. A unit was opened by the Taoiseach in Ballinafad during the last general election campaign and the wildlife service was to locate ten civil servants there. This issue has been debated for 18 months and the evaluation is going on for an indefinite period.

I would appreciate if the Minister of State will examine these two issues and come back to me on them.

I thank the House for the debate on the Second Stage of the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004. As I said at the outset, the Bill represents a very significant step forward in completing the comprehensive and ambitious reform programme envisaged in Delivering Better Government and the Strategic Management Initiative.

Delivering Better Government envisages a public service that would make a substantial contribution to national development and would be effective and efficient in delivering high quality services to the public. Within Departments, improvements in service delivery were to be underpinned by organisational improvements in a number of areas, and human resource management in particular. Delivering Better Government recognised the need to give secretaries general the authority to execute responsibility in critical areas of HRM, particularly in regard to the appointment, discipline and dismissal of staff. The framework for management of staff, which was first identified in Delivering Better Government, was sketched out in principle in the Public Service Management Act 1997. We are now in a position to give effect to this scheme of management.

I thank Deputy Bruton for his contribution to the debate and will address some of the issues he and Deputy McGrath raised in regard to human resource management in the Civil Service. While I acknowledge that the evaluation of SMI carried out two years ago found that progress in regard to human resource management was required, it acknowledges the Civil Services is better managed now than a decade ago.

I refer to a number of other contributions, which will come up again. Some of them were not very relevant but I can deal with some issues at a later stage. The changes being introduced in the Bill are a clear indication that the benchmarking agreement set out in Sustaining Progress has been worthwhile and real practical changes are being made in the way the Civil Service and public service operate, and will continue to operate in the years ahead.

In conclusion, I thank Deputies for their supportive comments. The Bill is a significant milestone on the road to a more efficient public service and I look forward to debating it in committee. I thank all the Deputies for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.