Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill 2014: Second Stage

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

I am happy to introduce to the Dáil the Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill 2014. Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be aware that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission came into being on 1 January 2004 under the terms of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act of 2003. The commission is the governing board which oversees the provision of services to the Houses of the Oireachtas and its Members by the parliamentary administration, the Houses of the Oireachtas Service.

The commission has a very extensive range of responsibilities. They include the payment of the salaries of Deputies and Senators, the salaries of Irish Members of the European Parliament and the salaries of the staff of the Oireachtas Service. The commission is also responsible for the payment of the salaries of the secretarial assistants working for non-officeholding Members, the travel allowances for which Members are eligible and the payment of pensions to former Members.

Since its establishment, the commission has overseen the smooth running of services to both Houses and introduced a number of significant improvements in the services provided for Members and the wider public, including arranging for the televising of proceedings of both Houses and committees. The commission is a statutory corporate body and independent in the performance of its functions. It is accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and has responsibility for ensuring value for money is achieved. It considers and determines policy on the Oireachtas Service and oversees the implementation of that policy by the Secretary General of the service.

The commission is composed of 11 members under the chairmanship of the Ceann Comhairle. The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is an ex officio member. There are also seven ordinary members, four from the Dáil and three from the Seanad who are appointed by the Members of each House, and one representative of the Minister, who would be a Member of one of the Houses. The final position on the commission is allocated to the person who, as stipulated in the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Act 2009, "for the time being holds the office of the Clerk of Dáil Éireann and (who) may also be referred to as the Secretary General of the (Oireachtas) Service". The Act states the Secretary General is to be the chief executive of the Oireachtas Commission and the officer accountable for the accounts of the commission for the purposes of the Comptroller and Auditor General Acts 1866 to 1998.

The Clerk of the Dáil post encompasses functions as set out in Dáil Standing Orders, as well as specified functions as set out under the electoral Acts and related legislation. The Clerk of the Dáil is the chief procedural adviser to the House and the Ceann Comhairle and the registrar of political parties. He or she is required to carry out specific functions related to the Dáil, Seanad, presidential and European election process and is ex officio a member of the Constituency Commission, the Referendum Commission and the Standards in Public Office Commission. Under section 15 of the commission Acts, the person who holds the position of Clerk of the Dáil is also Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. He or she has been specifically allocated a very extensive range of administrative duties under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission legislation. These duties include the following: managing and controlling the staff and administration of the Oireachtas Service; implementing and monitoring the policies of the Oireachtas Commission appropriate to that service and delivering outputs as determined by the commission; providing advice for the Oireachtas Commission and the Ceann Comhairle on the performance of their legislative functions under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Acts; providing advice for the commission on any matter connected with the responsibilities of the Oireachtas which would give rise to expenditure on the Oireachtas accounts; examining and developing means that will improve the provision by the Oireachtas Service of cost effective services; subject to the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 and the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004, managing matters related to appointments, performance, discipline and dismissals of staff below the grade of principal officer, or the equivalent, in the Oireachtas Service; assigning responsibility for the performance of the functions for which the Secretary General is responsible to members of the staff of the Oireachtas Service of an appropriate grade or rank in order to ensure coherence of policy across the service; and ensuring appropriate arrangements are put in place to facilitate an effective response to matters pertaining to both the service and other branches of the public service.

Under the commission Acts, the Secretary General is the chief executive of the commission. Acting in all capacities represents a formidable series of procedural, electoral, administrative and governance tasks for the leading official of the Oireachtas Service. Certainly, the service and the Oireachtas as a whole were very fortunate to have been served by the outgoing Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Kieran Coughlan. Kieran, with whom I worked very closely, was appointed Clerk of the Dáil in the early 1990s, having already served in the Oireachtas Service for some considerable period before that. He was able to provide a hugely valuable source of knowledge and experience during the years, especially during the bedding down of the commission following its establishment under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003. His tenure came to an end in 2013 and it was necessary for detailed consideration to be given to how the resultant vacancy should be filled.

Under the current legislative arrangements, the Clerk of the Dáil is appointed by the Taoiseach on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle, following consultation with the Oireachtas Commission. Where the Ceann Comhairle, following such consultation, is satisfied that no member of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas is suitable for appointment, he or she may recommend for appointment a person who is not on the staff of the Houses. If the Ceann Comhairle, after consultation with the commission, fails to recommend a person for appointment, the Taoiseach has the power to nominate a person from within the staff of the Houses for appointment and, with the concurrence of the Dáil, appoint that person. Where the Taoiseach is satisfied that no member of the staff of the Houses is suitable, he or she may nominate a person who is not on the staff of the Houses. It can be seen from this arrangement that, in the first instance at least, eligibility for appointment as Clerk of the Dáil is confined to existing staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and that other persons are excluded from the process, unless no member of the staff of the Houses is considered suitable.

The previous Government had indicated its desire to change this arrangement. On Second Stage of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill in 2009 the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who was piloting the Bill stated the following:

The distinct role of the Civil Service staff and senior management structures of the Oireachtas is specifically recognised in the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act, 1959. These structures have served both Houses extremely well and remained in place following the establishment of the commission in 2003. However, significant changes in Civil Service management systems have taken place in the 50 years since the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act, 1959 came into force and it is accepted that the configuration in that Act, particularly in terms of senior management structures, needs to be modernised. In that regard, the Minister is committed to ensuring, in co-operation with the commission, that the administrative structures of the Oireachtas do not become out of step with Civil Service norms in terms of adapting flexibly to the needs and demands of modern management practices.

The Government is in full accord with that viewpoint. It agrees that the current arrangements for the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil are out of kilter with the general arrangements for the system for senior appointments, notably the TLAC system. This system incorporates nomination by boards comprising a majority of members from the private sector with specific skills in management and human resources and provides opportunities for new blood to be introduced into public service organisations. This is the way the appointment of all Secretaries General and senior appointments are now made across the Civil Service. The Government is of the view that the Clerk of the Dáil should be appointed through a professionally organised and independent competitive selection mechanism, as that in place in the wider public service, to ensure the best possible person is selected from as broad as possible a pool of talent to lead the Oireachtas Service into the future. This stance is in complete accordance with the thrust of Government policy in recent years and, particularly, contents of the Civil Service renewal plan published by the Government last year. That plan referred to the need for continuous improvement and adaptation to change on the part of the State's administrative system. It indicated that public service organisations needed, in an era of increased demand for services and reduced staff numbers, to maximise performance levels, keep structures and processes up to date and be continually open to external ideas and trends.

In the context of the Oireachtas Service, the drive to attain such goals will be a major responsibility for the incoming Clerk of the Dáil. The new postholder will be expected to play a key role in providing procedural advice and expertise for the Ceann Comhairle and Members of the Dáil; overseeing the sittings of the Dáil, in particular the provision of critical support services for the Dáil; dealing with parliamentary reform and ongoing procedural developments; managing staff performance and underperformance; raising morale and productivity among staff; creating opportunities for staff to develop their talents; strengthening strategic planning capacity; assigning the appropriate staff to the right areas in order that they can encourage and develop excellence and drive the modernisation process in the Oireachtas Service and, overall, ensuring the Oireachtas Service has a strong culture of leadership, excellence and continuous development.

In that light, the Government decided that heads of a Bill should be prepared to provide for the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil by the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle following an open competition organised by the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, which will make recommendations for appointment to the Ceann Comhairle. At the same time, in the context of the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, the Government was most anxious that due weight would be given to the views of the Oireachtas as a whole on what was being proposed. Accordingly, in the course of last year, I referred this proposal to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform for its consideration. In due course, the committee reverted to the Government, indicating that it did not wish to record conclusions or recommendations on the draft heads. On that basis, the Government has proceeded on the lines set out in the draft Bill. I would be very happy, of course, to hear, as I say, with a very open mind, the views of others of these matters which are within the purview of the Houses as opposed to the Government. I will take careful note of views expressed.

I will go through the Bill very quickly. The first section deals with amendments to the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act, 1959. The first subsection defines the 1959 Act. The second provides that the Clerk of the Dáil shall be appointed by the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle; this recommendation shall be made by the Ceann Comhairle from among the persons selected by the Top Level Appointments Committee; and the selection shall be based on an open competition, that is to say, one not confined to persons who are civil servants. The subsection also provides for a similar arrangement to be used in the event of the TLAC system being replaced at some time in the future by another system.

In addition to the Clerk of the Dáil post, the Government proposes that arrangements following the enactment of the Bill for the filling of three other posts in the Oireachtas Service - the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk Assistant of the Dáil and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad - be altered. The rank of the officers concerned, not more than the equivalent of principal officer, is appreciably lower than that of the Clerk of the Dáil and the involvement of the TLAC, therefore, would not be appropriate. Rather, under the third subsection, the appointment will be made by the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle or the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, as the case may be. It is envisaged that the Clerk of the Dáil will have a crucial input into the deliberative process before the recommendation of either the Ceann Comhairle or the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is made. This is in norm in what happens in Departments, where there is normally an input from the Secretary General in appointments below him in the Department.

Section 1(4) provides for the imposition of a time limit on the tenure for persons appointed to the posts of Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad, Clerk Assistant of the Dáil and Clerk Assistant of the Seanad following the enactment of this legislation. Subsection (5) provides for the exemption of existing postholders from the arrangements which I have outlined. The posts of Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk Assistants of both Houses are filled.

This constitutes the major part of what is a short Bill. There are a number of other items included in it which I wish to bring to the attention of the House.

Section 2 is a technical provision which amends section 13(3)(b) of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act, 2003 which provides that a statement of Estimates of the commission shall be furnished by the Secretary General to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform not later than 30 days before the presentation by the Minister to Dáil Éireann of the Estimates of the receipts and expenditure for that year. It is proposed that the 30 day provision be removed to allow time for the Oireachtas Service to submit Estimates much closer to the budget in the light of the reduced interval between the end of the summer recess and an earlier budget day which now must, in accordance with the European semester, be in mid-October. In 2013 and 2014 the changing of the date of the budget from early December to mid-October compelled the Oireachtas Service to finalise the next year's Estimate during the summer, in advance of the half-yearly figures becoming available. It made a strong case to me in that regard. The service will, therefore, benefit from the opportunity to finalise its figures in September-October, when current year expenditure trends are much clearer.

Section 3 provides for the performance by a designated official of the duties of the Secretary General of the Oireachtas Commission in his or her absence or when the post is vacant. This fills a lacuna in the existing legislation, where such statutory power is not provided.

Section 4 provides for the repeal of the provision in the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act, 2004 which excluded the TLAC as an element of the appointment process to appoint the Clerk of the Dáil. I advise the House that this section will be the subject of a technical amendment on Committee Stage.

Section 5 contains standard provisions dealing with the Short Title, construction and citations. I commend the Bill to the House.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom leithscéal a ghabháil ar son an Teachta Seán Ó Pléamonn. Eisean an saineolaí ar an ábhar agus ar an reachtaíocht seo ach ní féidir leis a bheith i láthair. I wish to make it very clear that anything we may have to say about this legislation in no way reflects on the Ceann Comhairle or the previous or acting Clerk of the Dáil. The Minister referred to the former Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Kieran Coughlan, who in my estimation was one of the finest public servants I had ever met and who gave this House very distinguished service for many years in a quiet, calm and collected way. Equally, it has to be said that since his departure Mr. Peter Finnegan and Mr. Michael Errity and all of the Clerk Assistants have distinguished themselves in the quality of the work they do in a quiet and dignified manner.

Over two years ago, on 15 May, a Topical Issue was raised by Fianna Fáil in this House on the need to amend the legislation governing the appointment of senior management in the Houses of the Oireachtas. In that debate the points were made that there was serious concern about the delay in bringing forward amending legislation to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act to modernise the senior management structures in the Houses of the Oireachtas, in particular, the method of appointment of staff. Modernising legislation was promised as far back, as the Minister said, as 2009 and also in 2012. In his initial reply the Minister agreed and made a commitment. He said, "I believe the objective in filling top posts in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service should be to employ professionally organised and independent competitive selection mechanisms such as those that exist throughout the wider Civil Service to ensure the best possible person is selected from as wide a pool of talent as possible to lead the parliamentary service in future." At the time, it became clear that there was a different opinion on how this position should be filled. In his final reply the Minister gave an indication as to why the legislation would be delayed for more than two years when he said:

I am old-fashioned in these matters. As a matter of courtesy I believe I should explain my position. It has been the subject of discussions between services in the Department of Finance, as was, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as is, and the official services here. I have held preliminary discussions with the Ceann Comhairle. I wish to conclude that process and then bring legislation to Government and, I hope, to the Houses speedily. I imagine it will not be challenging legislation.

We all know that there was then a stand-off, which was reported widely in the press. The Minister finally published draft heads of the Bill in February 2012 which were considered by the Joint Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform in March 2015, as the Minister said. The draft heads, however, remain unchanged and are the same as those included in the Bill before the House. The submissions to the committee were not taken on board and they included the recommendations made by the interdepartmental group consisting of the Minister's officials and Oireachtas Service officials, to which he made reference when replying to the Topical Issues debate in 2013. The group recommended a flexible approach in order that the Clerk of the Dáil role could still be combined with the chief executive officer functions or kept separate, depending on need. Fundamentally, the top position should be filled on a CEO skills set basis and through an open competition.

The 1959 officers of the House category should also be removed to allow for full mobility and integration among senior management, while retaining Clerk functions on a more flexible basis of assignment. The Bill is unchanged and minimalist, and is not fit for purpose for a parliamentary administration for the 21st century. It keeps the 1959 appointments structure where the officer of the House positions are now in the gift of the chairman of each House, except for the Clerk of the Dáil position, which now goes to the top level appointments committee, TLAC. The Bill does not include the integrated senior management structure as proposed in the interdepartmental parliamentary services reform group, PSRG. It is not very reforming and is disappointing in its under-achievement.

The key question is why the chairman of each House has been given the power to appoint officers of the House, other than the Clerk of the Dáil, without a competitive process, thereby creating two streams of advancement for a civil servant in the Oireachtas, one by competition and one by favour of the chairman. Why has the Ceann Comhairle been given such a prominent role in both the nomination and appointment process of the top civil servant in the Oireachtas Service, the Clerk of the Dáil? Would the best practice espoused by the Commission for Public Service Appointments, which has the Ceann Comhairle as ex officio chair, not dictate that there should be clear water between the nomination and appointment processes? Such a potential conflict was thought unwise when the 1959 Act was going through the Houses, so why has that wisdom been abandoned at this point when it has served us well over the years?

Why is there no provision in the Bill to cater for disagreement on the nomination or appointment of a candidate? Even the 1959 Act had such a provision. What happens if the Ceann Comhairle does not agree with any of the recommendations made by the TLAC board, refuses to nominate any of them and the appointment process is stalled? Why have party and group leaders been excluded from being consulted in the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil? There was an informal arrangement under the 1959 Act, but Members are excluded under this Bill. Given the issues raised, how will the recruitment of a Clerk of the Dáil provided for under the Bill meet the Minister's commitment to "have the chief executive of the service selected from as wide a pool as possible in line with top level appointments in the Civil Service generally"?

We have a common purpose here. We all want to see the best person appointed to this role in the future. What is at issue is the methodology to be used to achieve that objective. In the past, those appointed to the role have distinguished themselves in the quality of the service they have given. We share a common objective to have people appointed in a fair, open and transparent manner so the honourable service of the past can be continued with distinction into the future.

I dtús báire, labhróidh mé beagán faoin duine a bhí sa phost roimhe seo, an tUasal Kieran Coughlan. We remember the work Kieran did in his quiet, mild manner. When we were first elected to the House one of the first people we met was the then Clerk of the Dáil and a relationship with him grew. It was not political in any sense. He was a classic civil servant and I still do not know what his political views are. In many ways, what the Minister is asking us to do today is to put in place an appointments system which will put somebody like him in that position in the future, somebody who can rise above the party political rows and arguments we have and the party political demands we will make and work according to the rules that are set out.

The Minister outlined the responsibilities of those who take up the role of Clerk of the Dáil and Clerk Assistant. It is an onerous job. What we are discussing today is ensuring that we have a mechanism in the future that we can stand over and that is not party political in any sense. That is where some of my problems with the Bill lie. The intention is to ensure that it will never be in the gift of a political party in the future to appoint somebody of such importance. The job is important. The Minister listed a number of the duties involved. I will not repeat them but the tasks we are giving are onerous. The Minister only listed seven of them, but there are many more and I will refer to some of them later. The advantage Kieran had, as well as those who have undertaken his role since then without being appointed to it, is that it cannot be said that any of them is political. One could not do one's job if somebody in that position was partisan.

The problem I have is that a large onus is now being put on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I have argued with the Minister, as I argued in the last Dáil, that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission does not fully reflect the membership of the Dáil or Seanad. It also does not fully reflect the services of the House. I have tabled amendments to deal with this. The staff should be represented, even in an ex officio role. The political parties should be reflected in the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. For example, my party does not have a representative on the commission, nor does the Technical Group. More than half of the Opposition in the Chamber is not represented on it, so we do not have a role or voice in this matter, in the duties that have been given or in everything else the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission must do.

When I see an appointment that is party political, I am happy to point that out and have done so in the past. Given the role we are discussing, I do not believe that will ever happen again. Ireland has grown up and we will ensure that the holders of the four positions listed in the Bill are reflective of Kieran, that is, proper civil servants who do not reflect their political views, regardless of what they are, in their daily work and the onerous tasks they undertake. They are chief executives or Secretaries General of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

It is strange that they can appoint their second in command, the Clerk Assistant. It might be appropriate that this appointment should be through the same process as the process for appointing the Clerk of the Dáil, rather than the Clerk appointing whoever is to replace him or her if they are out sick. The Clerk Assistant's job is to take on the full role in the event of the Clerk of the Dáil being indisposed. It is an onerous position.

We have changed the way in which the Houses of the Oireachtas are run.

The experiment of setting up the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission as a separate company with chief executives is working well, albeit that there are major problems associated with the running of the Houses. There are staff and cost issues. We need to get it across to the public that this building or institution costs money, whether they like it or not. If one wishes to have a democracy, one has to invest. One must invest in the best possible equipment required to carry out one's duties. The number of duties has been increasing.

When I first became a Member, most of the mail that came to me was in an envelope. I am not here that long but most of the mail I get now is e-mail. This represents a change. I am thankful that the Houses of the Oireachtas have managed to keep step but sometimes naysayers on the outside say those within are looking after themselves, with new computers or by spending money on Oireachtas TV, for example. I am not one of those who will ever shy away from ensuring the vast majority of the public can gain access to information on what is happening in the Houses as quickly as possible. We should allow as much access as possible, although I sometimes complain about too much public access to Members by the public. One would probably prefer never to see some of the e-mails one gets.

We all have a job. Ultimately, when we enter this Chamber on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and nowadays on Friday, we want it to work well. The person taking this on will be the Clerk of the Dáil. I find it strange that there are other very highly paid personnel in the Houses whose functions I do not fully know to this day. If one were to stick by the list of duties and responsibilities of the Clerk of the Dáil, one would believe they would be out of a job. The Minister turned around and said the duties are to manage and control staff - I believed that was the superintendent's job - in addition to administration, providing advice and managing staff performance and underperformance. I am not taking away from the duties. They reflect how onerous the position is. There is a list of nine key duties, but there are more, including creating opportunities for staff. These duties are onerous, which means the Clerk should have the overall running of this institution in the palm of his or her hand. The Clerk must ensure he or she delivers a functioning Parliament. This is not just an institution; it is a Parliament. We have to have the tools required to deliver the legislation that is required and reflects the issues that arise in modern society, both at home and abroad. Staff should have a comfortable workplace and their hours should not be too onerous. There are occasions when we, as politicians, demand that they be here at the drop of a hat. We might have signed up to that. They might have signed up to it but sometimes I doubt that they understood fully that they had to be here at 12 o'clock at night or whatever. Thus far, I have not heard of major chaos arising but there are problems. I hope problems can be managed through the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission with gusto when the Clerk of the Dáil is appointed. There is a greater demand on us, as I stated.

We need to ensure the process of appointment to the position is as robust as possible. I do not have an alternative to the Ceann Comhairle being the final---

One might consider the committee or Minister in this regard but, wherever one looks, somebody will contradict one. There needs to be some reflection on all the various components of the Houses of the Oireachtas in the making of the appointment. Nothing would be worse than having someone's disgruntlement with an appointment causing tensions that should never arise between a Clerk and Oireachtas Members.

With regard to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, I would argue with the Minister. Maybe he can reflect on it. If there is future legislation to change the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Minister should ensure its members reflect the party composition of the Houses. In the past, it was argued there is a cost. I am a firm believer there should not be a major cost associated with having Oireachtas Members on a committee. Many of us are on several committees and there is no major remuneration, if any. It is part of our duties. In this regard, parties with more than a certain number of Members get paid. We are recognised in terms of leaders' allowances. In some ways, one is already paid in that part of one's duty is to service institutions in which one is serving. Perhaps we could increase the membership on the commission by three to five people, or perhaps not. However, at the very least, the composition should reflect the party membership. In theory, the members are directors of a company. Anybody who understands company law will understand directors of a company are not serving their own interests but those of the company primarily. In theory, one leaves one's politics at the door of a commission meeting and serves the company. This might need to be reflected in any changes made to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The commission works well, and did in the past in terms of some of the committees. We work collegially on most of the committees. It is really only on legislation that Members divide on party grounds. Some of the Labour Party Members have been more forceful in arguing with the Minister on social protection than I have been. However, when there is legislation, they are whipped in a certain way. By contrast, in a company or the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the directors are not whipped in a certain way. The issue before the commission members is the running of the Houses and we must determine the best possible arrangement.

My main gripe is that this matter is out of our hands in some ways. It is a pity the legislation has taken this long because a very capable person has been in a position for too long without having had the opportunity to put his name forward for the full position. He might not wish to do so. There are others who are sitting in the background waiting. It should not have taken this long. It is not major legislation and we should have been able to pass it much quicker.

I am sharing time with Deputy Finian McGrath.

I am in two minds about this Bill. It is laudable that it is intended to have an open competition for the position of Clerk but the essence of the Bill represents a missed opportunity, more of the same and a failure to modernise. I wish to preface my remarks by joining previous speakers in saying that anything I say about the appointment to positions in the Civil Service, particularly the position of Clerk, in the past, present or future, in no way reflects on any individuals.

As was the case with the two previous speakers, I did not get an opportunity when he was leaving to pay tribute to the previous Clerk of the Dáil for the extraordinary work he did. I knew him better during his period as Clerk of the Seanad when he was an extraordinarily able, very helpful, Member-friendly but firm guide to people when they needed help. I remember how on one occasion I looked to him for sympathy after I was kicked out of the Seanad and got none, which was perfectly justifiable in the circumstances as I was out of order. I realised at the time that he was utterly fair and he was certainly the finest civil servant I have come across in my 35 years here in terms of knowledge, experience and impartiality. He served taoisigh and Members well, which is an extraordinary combination. The unanimous support for that is a tribute to him here today.

My problem with the Bill is that it was the opportunity we expected for some modernisation of appointments in the Civil Service, particularly in this House. Perhaps it is because we do not have time to investigate it but during my time here, I have always been completely boggle-eyed by how appointments are made. I still do not know how the appointments of the Superintendent, the middle grades in the Library and Research Service or the ushers are made. I am not saying that anything is wrong. I just do not know. There is no process. People are not told. They just happen. They appear and go.

Open competition through the Public Appointments Service.

That may be the case. It is something that should be far more transparent because when it is shrouded in this sort of mystery, one wonders how the appointments are made. This Bill is certainly underwhelming in that it does not fulfil the promises made to make appointments in this House more transparent, radical and modern. The very odd two-year delay in making these appointments and bringing this Bill forward makes one wonder whether there was some strange, behind-the-scenes political tussle about who made the appointment of the Clerk. This should have happened automatically and immediately. Certainly, the fact that there was a vacancy for so long is a reflection of the kind of paralysis that seizes politicians and the tensions that arise when such a key appointment is to be made.

Whereas there is obviously an aspiration, intention and achievement in the appointment of the Clerk, the other appointments dealt with in this Bill leave much to be desired and do not address the difficulty of having a two-tier system. There is no radical reform in this Bill and presumably, the radical reform of the way appointments are made in this House has now been buried. Having promised so much in the Dáil in May 2013 and even more expansively in correspondence to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Minister has failed in this Bill to deliver his commitment to "ensure the modernisation of the senior management structures of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service". Instead, we have a sticking plaster to an outmoded structure of Clerks and Clerk-Assistant appointments under the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959, with which the Minister will be familiar. As he promised in May 2013, the Minister should have repealed the 1959 Act and taken the opportunity to put in place a more flexible, modern and integrated management structure to ensure the Houses of the Oireachtas Service can meet the challenges of supporting Parliament in the 21st century.

The Minister has claimed that this Bill strengthens the independence of Parliament as the Taoiseach, in effect, the Government, is removed from the appointments process. While any proposal that furthers the independence of Parliament would be welcome, especially as it would be so rare, the Minister knows full well that this will not be achieved in this Bill regardless of the spin that is put on it. For the first time ever, the Chairman of each House will have a dual key role in both nominating and appointing candidates to the Clerk and Clerk Assistant positions in either House. The Minister knows that allowing the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission formally to carry out the appointment is not as transparent or accountable as he would like us to believe in that the Ceann Comhairle is the Chair and the Cathaoirleach is the Deputy Chair of that body. In effect, the appointment process will amount to no more than a rubber-stamping of the appointment of the Ceann Comhairle or Cathaoirleach's nominee. Surely this is unheard of in terms of public service recruitment. Why should the Houses of the Oireachtas Service be unique in the public service in that a senior public appointment can be made by a politician without any competition, as will be the case under this Bill in the case of the positions of Clerk Assistant of the Dáil and Clerk and Clerk Assistant in the Seanad? What does this say to us about how the Minister would like this place administered? The fact that the Clerk's position is embedded within an open competition in this Bill clouds the fact that those other positions will still be appointed in a totally unacceptable way.

The Bill creates twin-track promotion, one by the standard public service competition and the other on a nod from the Chairman of either House without any requirement to have a competition on merit. How will such a twin-track system motivate hard-working officials here in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service and talented people outside that the Minister wants to attract to come to work in Leinster House when these senior jobs could be open to the old-style political favouritism of an officeholder?

Retaining appointments of officers of the Houses under the 1959 Act means that an integrated management system, which is standard best practice in any modern public service organisation, is near to impossible. What is the point in having a CEO if half the senior staff are not open to being moved by him or her to another position on a need and skills basis? In effect, the Bill has turned the public service management system on its head rather uniquely for the Houses of the Oireachtas Service but not elsewhere where the Minister espouses modernisation, flexibility and mobility. The Minister compounds this lack of flexibility and mobility by retaining the mandatory link between the more senior position of Clerk of the Dáil and CEO-Secretary General functions. In doing so, the Bill has binned the flexibility approach, as recommended by the interparliamentary group consisting of officials from his Department and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, which proposed that the most senior position be recruited on the basis of a CEO skill set and competencies. The Ceann Comhairle of the day could assign clerk functions to that of CEO or not as the case may be, allowing for flexibility without requiring further primary legislation to change the management structure.

In summary, the lack of transparency and accountability in having the same officeholder involved in both nomination and appointment of candidates, the twin-track promotion retaining 1959 positions, not breaking the mandatory link between the Clerk and the CEO and the inherent of lack of flexibility and mobility at the most senior level all make the Houses of the Oireachtas Service more beholden to politicians than it ever should be. Leinster House is the one place above all others where there should be clear water and distance between the Oireachtas administration and the political world of the Members. Neither is too well served if the lines of demarcation are blurred. An unhealthy culture can result leading to lack of professionalism and below optimum levels of performance. The Minister's Bill means that the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is seriously out of kilter with other public service bodies which have that independence and proper accountability for administrative matters that is enshrined in the Public Service Management Act 1997, which is some considerable time ago and is reflected in Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Acts but which will be rendered almost toothless under this Bill.

It is most regrettable that the opportunity has been lost in the Bill to put in place a modern, progressive organisation and build on the modernisation programmes under the auspices of earlier commissions, under which the appointment to the top post of the CEO was seen as the culmination. The Bill, if implemented in its current narrow form, will represent a lost opportunity and a sad reflection on the Minister's claim to be reforming which I am sure he made genuinely at the time. I know that there have been political difficulties which have involved a political compromise which should not be the motivation behind a Bill such as this. The Bill will not do it and the Minister has turned his back on modernisation of the Oireachtas under the fig leaf that he is strengthening the independence of Parliament by removing the Taoiseach from the appointment process and providing for open recruitment at the top level by the Top Level Appointments Commission, TLAC, which was involved in the appointment of the previous Clerk of the Dáil in 1990. There is no great innovation. The only real change is that persons outside Leinster House can be recruited and the flawed appointment system under the Bill means that that must be a very remote possibility as it would be unattractive to do so. There is one benefit, but the system has not been tackled; the old ways are still being followed.

The Bill should be amended on Committee Stage to break the mandatory link between the Clerk of the Dáil and the Secretary General and CEO functions and to repeal the 1959 Act, as originally proposed and accepted by the Minister. If he insists on retaining that structure and the politicisation - with a small 'p' - consequent on it for appointments to these posts, at the very minimum, the nomination of a clerk of either House should be on foot of a competition based on merit to ensure standard recruitment practices to fill the senior positions in Leinster House across the board. The Bill is selective as its benefits only apply to one post and one person. It should not have been selective but should have attacked the gamut of appointments across the board in Leinster House and used the same worthy principles used in the headline to the Bill.

Members are entitled to be assured that the Oireachtas Service is a modern, flexible organisation which is more than capable of responding to challenges that we, as Members, face and that this institution is relevant in this republic in the 21st century. I echo the sentiments of Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh. I am not qualified to say whether the Oireachtas Commission is doing a good job because I do not know enough about its meetings. I have never been to one of them. I regret deeply that the consultation process on the running of this House and the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil does not include the smaller parties or any member of the Independent group. The appointments should be independent and non-political. Let us not pretend that the commission is non-political because anywhere one finds a group of politicians together, one will find political decisions being made. There may be no Whip, but, in effect, political decisions are made. It is a great pity that in the making of these appointments there will not be at least an input from and consideration given to a large body of Members to give them the stamp of independence. It would certainly be worthwhile trying to include those parties in political opposition because we all wish to see the House being run properly and well and not politically at Civil Service level. I, therefore, ask the Minister to table an amendment to the Bill which he has said is subject to amendment to include those who have the interests of the House at heart, even if they have political differences with the parties in power, in the consultation process for the making of appointments which are so important to the running of the House. I would extend this beyond the running of the House to include the entire Houses of the Oireachtas. Those of us who are Members should be consulted because the appointments should not in any way be political.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about this legislation. I welcome the debate which is part of the broader debate on Dáil reform. There is an urgent need for the Oireachtas to become more relevant to the people, as well as more modern and efficient. In the past four years, in particular, the people have been looking for leadership on this issue, as part of the overall reform of the Oireachtas, politics and the country generally. It is important that we all become involved in this task. The bottom line is that it is not enough to talk about reform and introduce legislation, we also have to ensure we will see action, accountability and, in the context of this legislation, a quality public service.

The main objective of the Bill is to ensure the Clerk of the Dáil or Secretary General will be appointed through an open competition rather than internally. That is welcome as a positive statement of intent and a worthy part of the reform agenda. Under the existing legislation, an external candidate may only be appointed if no internal candidate is deemed suitable. This is at variance with the TLAC system for senior appointments which incorporates nomination by boards comprising a majority of members from the private sector with specific skills in management and human resources. The Bill also provides for the appointment of the Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk Assistants of the Dáil and the Seanad by the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle or the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, as appropriate. We must ensure these decisions are implemented quickly and efficiently.

I have been very annoyed by the slow progress of reform generally and at the delay in the appointment of a Clerk of the Dáil. We have some excellent people working here. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work done by the former Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Kieran Coughlan, and his team. He was Clerk of the Dáil when I came into the House in 2002 and both he and his staff provided very professional support and advice for many years. I also commend Mr. Peter Finnegan and Mr. Michael Errity and the current staff for their valuable work in recent years and keeping the show on the road.

On the issue of reform, several Deputies have referred to the fact that members of the Technical Group and Sinn Féin are not part of the Oireachtas Commission. This should be changed immediately and at least one or two members of these groups should be members of the commission. Irish politics has changed and that change must be reflected in Parliament. The consultation process should be developed further to ensure we will have inclusion when appointing public servants.

I am very supportive of the Bill's objective to ensure the Secretary General or Clerk of the Dáil will be appointed by way of an open competition. There have been significant developments in the efficiency and modernisation of the public service in the past four years. I have my disagreements with the Minister on many issues, but I agree with him strongly on the issue of reform of the public service. Many very positive reforms have taken place, although wider society seems to believe nothing has changed. I am fed up listening to derogatory comments about public servants and claims that there has been no change in the public service in the past four years. There has been an unprecedented level of reform in the workplace in the public sector in recent years. Productivity has been boosted by providing for additional working hours, but this is rarely mentioned. We have seen new shared services being developed and the redeployment of staff, as well as a 10% reduction in staff numbers. There have also been major reforms of the sick leave and annual leave regimes.

That reality is never reflected in the broader society. The attacks on the public service are appalling and unacceptable. From my political point of view I will stand by public servants and the public service. Equally, I encourage all to join in the reform agenda.

Up to now, the duties of the Clerk of the Dáil, who is also the Secretary General of Houses of the Oireachtas Service, were managing and controlling the staff and administration of Oireachtas services; providing services to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission; providing advice to the commission with respect to any matter connected with responsibilities of the service; examining and developing means that will improve the provision of cost-effective services; and dealing with the to the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 and the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. There was also work on appointments, performance and discipline. The new Secretary General will be expected to play a role in providing advice and expertise to the Ceann Comhairle and Members of the Dáil; overseeing the sittings of the Dáil; dealing with parliamentary reform and ongoing procedures; managing staff; raising morale; creating opportunities; strengthening the planning capacity; and ensuring the Houses of the Oireachtas Service has a strong culture of leadership. That is what is on the agenda. That is a very difficult and important position. It can play a crucial role in Irish society on this issue. That is why I strongly support the idea of getting someone of the highest standard. There are people in the public service with the requisite skill and expertise. We need to get the best person for the job and let him or her get on with it. However, it is frustrating that over the past four years we have not got on with it.

I would strongly support any amendments. If people have constructive amendments, they should table them and let us see what they are about. We have a mandate from the people from the 2011 general election when we all knocked on the doors promising change and reform. We need to be part of that process.

I welcome the debate. There are very positive aspects to the legislation and I look forward to amendments being tabled. The bottom line is that we need to fill these positions and do so openly and transparently. We need to ensure they are very efficient and the right person gets the job so that they can get on with running the Houses of the Oireachtas and make an important contribution to modern Irish society.

I call Deputy Timmins who has 20 minutes if he wants. We need to adjourn at 12 noon.

Am I the last speaker?

At this moment, you are the last speaker.

I will try to complete my contribution before the adjournment.

This is relatively uncontentious legislation. I join the previous speakers in paying tribute to the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Sometimes I wonder how they can bear to sit in the Chamber and listen to the utterances of many Members of the House.

I know we are all familiar with the left and right hand side of the brain, but here obviously the left ear takes in all the things being proposed and the right ear takes in all the reasons it should not happen. I often wonder if we should switch the position of the Cathaoirleach over to this side of the House so that he or she can get both sides of the brain working. I commend them on sitting there. Sometimes I find it very difficult to listen here to some of the speeches on some aspects of legislation. On the side I am on now it is in the negative and on the far side it is the positive. When the roles are reversed the same thing happens.

This brings me to the issue of appointments in general. Notwithstanding that Fianna Fáil has been in power for the greater part of the State's history, no political party has been immune from interfering with political appointments, cronyism or whatever. It is important to have mechanisms to allow people to see that appointments are open and fair. A number of years ago in a previous appointment I had, I was sitting on an interview board for the position of general operative in the Department of Defence. There were more than 20 applicants, every one of whom was suitable for the job. However, in order to ensure we got the two people we were recommending we had to identify approximately 20 as unsuitable and only two as suitable because historically, we had learned that if we identified them all as suitable, the Minister of the day would end up picking the individuals, which was okay for the people who were selected, but very unfair for people who might have been more suitable for the job.

We have evolved and developed. However, it is important to have accountability at every level of Government. While we have the Top Level Appointments Committee, I am concerned we do not have the transparency we should have, with regard to top-level appointments or any appointments. I am a great believer in ministerial accountability. The public must have transparency and be able to point the finger at someone. We can appoint people to all the bodies, including bodies such as the NRA and Fáilte Ireland, and take control away from this House. By taking control away from the House we are taking away answerability to the public.

We have seen a classic example in recent days. There is great disquiet among the public and indeed in Government over what is happening with the sale of the Alfred Beit Foundation assets. We cannot get the full details. There is an onus on the Government to protect our culture and heritage, yet we have no accountability over the sale of a gift that was left to the State. It is important to ensure we always have accountability.

I agree with the Top Level Appointments Committee being involved here, but I am not sure we need a Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I believe the two-pronged approach of an administrative CEO to oversee the administration of it and an operational Clerk of the Dáil to look after that side would have been satisfactory. It is also important that they can work in conjunction with the Ceann Comhairle. While this is no reflection on the current Ceann Comhairle, I believe the Ceann Comhairle should be elected by secret ballot.

There is a separate issue that I had not intended raising on the floor of the House relating to role of the commission in the administration of the Houses. When I was a member of a political party I did not pay much attention to this because I was looked after, so to speak. The Minister previously dealt with legislation on the allocation of funding for people who had resigned the party Whip which remains with Government parties which I believe is inherently unfair. The Minister did not accept an amendment for whatever reason.

However, there is a matter that I find disturbing. I have raised it privately and it was not my intention to raise it on the floor of the House. I refer to the administration of office accommodation in the Houses, which comes under the control of the Government Chief Whip. I will table a Report Stage amendment given that I cannot do it on Committee Stage because I do not have any representative to table it for me unless the Committee Stage is held here on the floor of the Dáil. I will propose that the control of office accommodation should go to the Ceann Comhairle. It is not my desire to demonstrate how people in this House - some of whom are former members of the Minister's party - have been treated unfairly.

The first half of this year was dominated by two political issues - water charges and equality. I am a strong advocate for and supporter of equality. Within this House, some Members are being actively discriminated against by the Government. It is a small issue and not one about which the public would be concerned. I will be tabling an amendment so that the control of office accommodation in the Houses should lie with the Ceann Comhairle. When I move and speak in support of that amendment if the Minister wants me to demonstrate how I believe we have been treated unfairly, I will be happy to do so but I do not have a desire to do it. I can send on the information privately.

I pay tribute to Mr. Kieran Coughlan, the former Clerk, and to all the staff. Notwithstanding all the talk about openness and transparency in these various bodies, appointments commissions for senior civil servants and whatever, in the final analysis we must have ministerial accountability. Everything needs to be open to the public through raising the issue with the Minister on the floor of the Dáil. I ask the Minister to look at the issue. I would rather not have to table an amendment to give control of office accommodation to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I would prefer the Minister to do it or look after it. However, if he does not, we will table an amendment.

I want to give due regard to all the speakers and thank all the speakers. As I would like to take some time to respond, I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.