Public Service Management (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

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

Before I deal with the Bill, I would like to intrude on the proceedings of the House, which I have witnessed for the last few minutes, in regard to the request for a debate on economic and monetary union. I will be happy to facilitate this House if it wants to have a further discussion on the matter.

I draw Members' attention to two matters. First, they should have received the recently published document setting out the Government's up-to-date position on the issue and the preparation which is taking place as we speak. Second, there will be a launch on Monday, 17 April, outlining the next stage of preparation required for the process and for the conversion to the single currency.

It might be useful if such a debate were to take place after 17 April. I am in the hands of the House in relation to that matter, but from my point of view the more the discussion about the issue the better.

This Bill forms an essential element of the strategic management initiative, SMI, which is itself the product of an ongoing process of administrative research, analysis and discussion both at political level and particularly within the public service itself.

In moving this process forward, my central aim is to equip this country with the best possible structures and systems of public administration as we enter the new millennium. The success of this process of public service change and development will impact on all citizens who depend on the public services, not just civil servants and Ministers. Moreover, I have moved quickly from the publication of the Bill to bring these legislative proposals before the Oireachtas because I believe that the issues which they address transcend partisan interests and go to the core of constitutional democracy.

I have had the privilege of serving the citizens of this country in Government on a number of occasions during my political career. Now, within this Government, I have been charged with the primary responsibility for bringing this Bill before the Seanad today. In preparing these proposals I have tried as far as possible to think through and formulate the crucial sections of the Bill from a parliamentary perspective, because we, as parliamentarians in this House and in Dáil Éireann, collectively provide the basic principle on which is based the very idea of responsible public service.

It is a fundamental principle of our democracy that those who organise and deliver services to the public, to the citizens of this country, are accountable to that public through us, the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. This concept of the democratic responsibility and accountability of members of the Government to Parliament underpins all that we hope to achieve by means of this legislation. The importance of this concept is reflected in section 3 which explicitly reaffirms that notwithstanding any assignment of functions in the Bill, a Minister is in charge of his or her Department of State. The section further provides that members of the Government are responsible for the administration of their Departments as provided for in the Constitution and the Ministers and Secretaries Acts, 1924 to 1995. Put another way, this section reinforces the fundamental role of Dáil Éireann in calling Ministers to account publicly for the stewardship of their Departments. There are no other institutions under the Constitution which exercise such power over the Executive authority with regard to actions carried out by, or in the name of, the elected Government.

As in any open and free society the news media, whether television or the press, can observe, comment on and criticise any action of Government. In recent years we have seen how effective judicial tribunals have been in exposing certain aspects of major issues of public interest and importance. Moreover, the Freedom of Information Bill will bring a new dimension to openness and transparency in the government of this country. Notwithstanding the importance of these factors in ensuring that government of the people is conducted for and in the interests of the people, there are no other constitutional mechanisms through which the Government and individual Ministers can be brought formally to account politically other than within the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Of course, the accountability of the Government to the Dáil has been a fundamental element of our democracy since the foundation of the State. This is enshrined in the Constitution. Yet while the theoretical basis of ministerial accountability continues, the growing complexity of modern government has changed the practical character of this accountability. At first, Departments of State were relatively small close-knit organisations: a Minister could know personally all of his — it was almost invariably his in those days — higher civil servants and most, if not all, of the other officials in his Department. Ronan Fanning's history of the Department of Finance points out that in 1924 the entire staff complement of the Department was fewer than 60 people. If the approximately 60 people employed at the NTMA are included, that figure is close to 600 today, representing a tenfold increase in numbers. This illustrates the extent of growth and change. Thus the fact that, as now, a Department of State has no autonomous capacity to act and every action must in law be done in the name of the Minister, created little difficulties for the public service.

The scale and variety of public services have increased exponentially since the 1920s and especially over the last quarter of a century. Think for a moment of how many demands on Ministers and officials arise directly or indirectly from our membership of the European Union. The range and extent of matters for which an individual Minister is now theoretically and legally accountable has become so vast as to make the process of accountability almost unreal. All of us who serve in the Oireachtas, whether Seanad Éireann or Dáil Éireann, are aware of this fact. The notion that every Minister can even know about, let alone direct and manage every action, every day in his or her Department is absurd. This dichotomy between legal requirements and practical reality creates enormous difficulties for us in trying to do our jobs as parliamentarians. Issues of importance become personalised; personalities become more important than facts. To allow the unreality of Parliament's role in this regard to endure would be a disservice to democracy and the integrity of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Public Service Management Bill addresses this crucial issue. It does not in any sense remove the Minister from the process of accountability. Rather it amplifies and augments the structures of central government to ensure that the process of accountability is more focused and is, accordingly, made more realistic. It does this by creating, for the first time in law, a statutory basis for the structures and arrangements of management within Departments of State and the other offices of central government.

Arrangements for the better administration of central government may seem less than glamorous or even pedestrian. It is not a topic which offers a visible payoff to any political practitioner — other than the distinguished Members of this House, including its Leader, whose other careers shape that interest — or a matter on which one would be willing to take political risks. However, I cannot over-emphasise its importance. Few would question the fact that the fundamental issues at stake — of authority, responsibility and accountability of Ministers of the Government and their officials — have thrust themselves forward repeatedly during the lifetime of the present Dáil.

It is no exaggeration to say that this Bill is the most important legislative provision affecting the administration of central government since the original Ministers and Secretaries Act of 1924. In that sense, the Bill is already a historic departure from previous approaches to public service reform. Those who are familiar with earlier initiatives to reorganise the institutions and improve the performance of the public services in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s will recognise the same themes of structures and systems, efficiency and effectiveness, authority, responsibility and accountability, recurring throughout all aspects of the strategic management initiative as were addressed 20 or 30 years ago. A key factor missing from those earlier, incomplete attempts at public service reform was a legislative dimension. A recognition of the importance of legislation and a willingness to bring forward the specific proposals contained in this Bill marks off the SMI as a qualitatively different process from the approach adopted during previous unsuccessful phases of administrative reform.

Let us make no mistake about it. There are those who do not wish reform to touch their official lives. There are others who regard it as a passing fad, to be sat out until a Government changes, and there are those who have seen the coming and going of enthusiastic Ministers. Reluctant travellers along the road to reform need to be jolted out of their lethargy and complacency. We mean business, not just in Government but on all sides in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. That is the message that we as parliamentarians must convey to the wider public service system to ensure that once an Administration, or indeed a Minister, moves, the enthusiasm to complete the SMI will not be diminished. Nothing would provide a greater disservice to the nation if we as parliamentarians were to allow that impression to gain currency. That is not to say that we cannot have substantially different points of view about the merits of the legislation or the mechanisms that are being put in place. However, to convey an impression that the principle was the property of one group or party or collection of parties in either or both Houses would be counter-productive to the interests of all parties in both Houses.

The importance of the legislative dimension of the reform process has two aspects. First, bringing the collective wisdom of the Oireachtas directly into the process of administrative reform and development creates certainty that action will be taken to carry forward this important process. Vesting this process in law gives the changes we want to see an impetus missing from earlier phases of reform. The new law is not merely intended to fulfil a declaratory function, although this can in itself be an important factor. The proposed legislation will empower the agents of change and development within the public services to achieve the lasting improvements we demand.

The second crucial aspect of the legislative phases is that the Bill will provide a statutory basis for a new management structure in the Civil Service. The present arrangements for the administration of central government set out in the Ministers and Secretaries Acts, address the organisation of the public services at what might be called a "macro level". The existing legislation, based on the 1924 Act, is primarily concerned with the division of responsibility across the public services and the institutional arrangements to organise the various branches of administration.

The Public Service Management Bill is primarily concerned with the micro level of administration — what happens within individual Departments of State and Offices and how the various tiers of administration relate to each other. Much of this so-called ordinary business of the Civil Service is at present conducted on the basis of administrative arrangements rather than on a statutory basis. The provisions of the Bill are designed to give this dimension of the process of governance a legal foundation which will knit into the existing macro framework and establish the new arrangements firmly within the body of administrative law.

Given the importance of this legislative dimension, I have taken care to ensure that the specific proposals contained in the Bill meet, as far as possible, the precise needs of this phase of the SMI process. To this end I was greatly assisted in preparing this Bill by the members of the advisory group established by the Government last year. This group included the programme managers of the leaders of the three parties in Government, the senior legal assistant in the Office of the Attorney General and experts from my Department and other key areas of the Civil Service. The recommendations of the advisory group were taken into account by the Government in approving the final form of the Bill, especially in relation to the core constitutional dimension of the legislation.

In particular, great care was taken to preserve the right balance between the democratic accountability of the elected representatives of the people serving in Government and the achievement of the highest standards of administrative effectiveness and efficiency of officials. I am satisfied that the proposals contained in the Bill fully respect the provisions of the Constitution in relation to the administration of Departments of State and the collective responsibility of members of the Government to Dáil Éireann.

Within this constitutional context the various sections of the Bill give effect to the arrangements for the new management structure for the Civil Service which were described in detail in the White Paper, Delivering Better Government, published in May of last year. The objective of this new management structure is clear. Its purpose is to put in place a framework which will enhance the management, effectiveness and transparency of operations of Departments and Offices and increase the accountability of civil servants.

You do not need to be an architect to know there are certain fundamental rules which must be observed in relation to any new structure. Rule number one is that the ground must be carefully prepared and a solid base laid. The Public Service Management Bill is, in a real sense, the foundation in legislation for the new management structure in the Civil Service and for the organisational and administrative changes which will flow from this structure. Moreover, the Bill opens the way for further significant legislative proposals in related areas.

This brings me to another equally important architectural precept: you have to get the sequence of construction right. When building a house you do not generally try to put the roof on until all the supporting walls are in place. Some criticisms of this Bill suggest to me that certain commentators have yet to learn this basic lesson. Those who look for a grand redesign of all aspects of the public service in this legislation and criticise the supposed absence of more farreaching changes miss this fundamental point. This Bill is presented not as a once and for all restructuring of the public services but, quite explicitly, as the first in a series of public management Bills, each of which will address specific phases of administrative reorganisation and development.

A further principle of good architectural practice, equally applicable to public service management, is that you do not tear down the structures inherited from previous generations just for the sake of it. In building anew, it is always wise to try to preserve, strengthen and extend whatever has served well in the past and stood the test of time. One commentator was dismissive of the Public Service Management Bill because he could not find any provisions for the repeal of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924. Let me put this as plainly as possible: the 1924 Act is not repealed because there is no need to repeal it. Rather, the Public Service Management Bill amends the 1924 Act and builds onto the existing body of law the additional provisions needed to put in place the new management structure for the Civil Service.

There is one further analogy with architecture appropriate to this Bill: in designing a building a good architect would try to ensure that it is capable of providing all of the functions required of it, that it is accessible to and meets the needs of present and future users and that it is in sympathy with the environment within which it is constructed. The same principles apply to this legislation. The Bill will make it possible to put in place new arrangements for management within the institutions of central government. It meets the needs of Irish citizens and the Irish economy and seeks to extend and strengthen the positive aspects of Irish public administration. Quite emphatically, it is not intended to impose on this country a pattern of administration devised elsewhere.

At least one commentator has proposed that we should have gone towards what was described as the New Zealand model of public service reform. While I have respect for the choices made by the Governments of other countries, I do not believe that all of the reforms implemented in New Zealand are directly applicable here. While we may have much to learn from the models of administration adopted by other countries, we must be careful to ensure that the appropriate changes are put in place so as to allow for the continuation of the strong economic performance, social progress and political stability enjoyed by this country in recent years.

I want to turn now to deal briefly with some of the specific provisions of the Public Service Management Bill. Most of the definitions used in the Bill are either self-explanatory or are dealt with in the explanatory memorandum. However, I would like to draw the House's attention in particular to the term "outputs" which is defined for the first time in legislation. This concept, which is derived from both economics and organisation and management theory, is crucial to the way we address objectives, performance and results in the delivery of public services. My intention is that the strategy statement provided for in section 5 should refer specifically to "outputs". This is needed, I believe, in order to ensure that the business of a Department of State is conceived in terms of the services actually provided to citizens.

The more familiar, traditional approach to determining what the public services do is to describe particular services in terms of the resources absorbed in providing them. In order to have this reference included in the Bill it was necessary to provide for a definition of "outputs" as those goods and services which a Department actually delivers to citizens who constitute its customers and clients as set out in the definitions section.

My concerns in this regard again arise directly from the increased emphasis we want to give to realistic means of ensuring democratic accountability. Existing arrangements under the Comptroller and Auditor General Act allow public representatives, through the Committee of Public Accounts, to focus on the inputs side of public services. Accounting officers appearing before the Public Accounts Committee are required to give a detailed account to the effect that public money has been spent for the purposes for which it was voted and that value for money is being obtained. By building the concept of outputs into departmental strategy statements, which must be laid before the Oireachtas, I hope to ensure that a better balance of accountability is created.

Sections 4, 5 and 9 of the Bill address the core issues of the assignment of authority, responsibility and accountability to Secretaries, the assignment of powers, duties and functions down through the various levels within Departments and Offices and the strategy statement. The various functions for which Secretaries/Heads will be assigned authority and responsibility and the arrangements for assigning responsibilities down through the organisation, are set out in detail in the Bill and in the explanatory memorandum. The strategy statement is the single most important element in the overall framework. Each such statement must be prepared for each Department by its Secretary -now to be designated Secretary General. This statement will set out the specific objectives, outputs and strategies, including use of resources, of the Department. Consistent with the provisions of the Constitutions and as provided for in section 3, the determination of policy and the allocation of resources will remain matters for Ministers and the Government.

The Secretary General will be required to prepare and submit a strategy statement to his or her Minister at least every three years. The Minister may then approve or amend it. The approved statement must be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas within a specified time limit. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that strategy statements are unequivocally in the public domain.

These strategy statements, which must be regularly updated and revised, provide the framework within which civil servants will carry out their duties and functions in the administration of central government. By giving management and staff in all Departments and Offices a clear and consistent understanding of precisely what is expected of them in their jobs, it is my hope and expectation that greater initiative and endeavour will emerge at all levels and grades across the Civil Service. In addition, provisions for laying strategy statements of every Department and Office before the Oireachtas will provide Members with a regular and complete declaration of the objectives and outputs comprising the business of the public services. Most important of all, the general public will be given valid and accessible standards for judging levels of quality and performance in the delivery of the public services.

One of the changes I am proposing in the Bill is the replacement of the title Secretary by that of Secretary General. This change resulted from my personal observation of the hoops that a civil service chief of an Irish Department had to go through to explain his place in the existing scheme of things to counterparts from other administrations. I was in Tokyo with the Secretary of the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Mr. Kevin Bonner, for a meeting with the Japanese Minister for Industry and Trade. The Secretary explained who he was to the interpreter and the interpreter thought he was the Minister's personal assistant. When the Secretary explained that he was the permanent Secretary, the translation given by the interpreter provoked quizzical looks from the Japanese. Permanent Secretary had been translated into Japanese as "everlasting typist". That experience confirmed my belief that titles in the public service are important. They should be, as far as possible, self-explanatory and, given the continuing interaction of our officials with their European Union counterparts, comparable with internationally recognised nomenclature. I regard this change as more than cosmetic. It is my intention to follow it with changes in the archaic and somewhat mystifying titles which abound in the Civil Service to the confusion of the public and which in themselves give no clear indication to their holders of how their functions compare with responsibilities in other organisations. It would logically follow that Assistant Secretaries would be retitled as Assistant Secretaries General and the grades immediately below them as Directors and Assistant Directors, but I intend to pursue with the Civil Service unions the question of appropriate titles accurately reflecting the position and responsibilities of their holders. Their participation in that element of the restructuring is important.

The creation of a high-performance, results-oriented Civil Service is central to the structure set out in Delivering Better Government which we published last year. The day-to-day work programmes of staff in Departments of State at all levels needs to be underpinned by an effective performance management system across the Civil Service. The Human Resource Working Group set up under the strategic management initiative has been given responsibility for the design and development of such a system which will fit the complex environment of a modern Civil Service. One of the leading consultants in the field, Hay MSL (Ireland) Limited, has been engaged to assist in this development. There will be extensive consultation with management and staff at all stages of the design and development process. I am anxious to move as fast as possible on this phase which I want to see fully completed by the end of this year.

I am confident that these measures will open up the organisation, role, functioning and operation of Departments of State to public scrutiny to a degree never seen before in the history of this State.

Before moving on, I want to refer briefly to the assignment of responsibility in relation to appointments, performance, discipline, and dismissal of staff below the level of Principal or its equivalent, to Secretaries General and Heads of offices. This represents a significant change compared with the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, and is a major new initiative in an area which will inevitably raise serious questions of human resource management and industrial relations. Until appropriate amendments to the Civil Service Regulation Act, 1956, are made, this change will not be brought into effect. My intention is to bring forward proposals in this regard in the near future which, together with the measures specified in section 4 of this Bill, will renew and update long standing systems of staff management in the Civil Service. The purpose is to establish more realistic and commonsense arrangements which will win the acceptance of both management and staff.

The changes will, of course, make significant demands on managers in the Civil Service and those over whom they will exercise authority. In this regard, I again want to assure all civil servants that any arrangements made giving effect to these proposals will ensure that the principles of natural justice and constitutional justice are fully observed in each individual case. There is no reason why employees should have any fears about the assignment of authority in respect of appointments, performance, discipline or dismissals to Secretaries General. My purpose is to introduce a more rational and effective means of dealing with those rare occasions when a resort to the ultimate sanction of dismissal becomes necessary. It is most certainly not my intention to diminish the rights of employees in law or in terms of natural justice. These changes are intended to ensure that the exercise of authority in relation to these sensitive areas within the Civil Service is at least equivalent to the best practice in these matters whether in the public or private sectors.

I have great pleasure in commending the Public Service Management Bill to the House.

The Minister is correct when he says this is a most important Bill. It is extraordinary that the legislation on which our Civil Service is based is almost 75 years old and has largely been allowed to rest in place without change.

The Devlin report recognised over 30 years ago that the growth of public administration and Government, new functions assigned to public service bodies, new ideas on administration, the increased complexity of modern life, changes in public attitudes to authority and in public demands, and changes in the general environment of public administration all combined to demand a radical approach to public service reform. The Minister knows from days we spent in Government Buildings in 1994 that Fianna Fáil is at least as committed, enthusiastic and energetic as he is for reform in these areas. In the document agreed by the two parties at that time, a very specific commitment was incorporated by my party leader to the issue of amending the concept of ministerial responsibility.

Aspects of this Bill require explanation. I did not prepare a script for this debate because I wanted to hear what the Minister had to say. I commend him because his speech did touch on some of the areas that I am concerned about. However, the Minister skirted around a number of important issues and some of those issues are so fundamental that we may have to oppose the Bill. Even if we do so, Fianna Fáil is as committed to reform as any party in the House.

The Irish public service has worked reasonably well in the long period of its existence. We celebrate its 75th anniversary this month. It has served Governments loyally and impartially. In the words of the Devlin report, it has tried to promote development, implement without reservation policies which public servants themselves do not always support and has always attracted more than its fair share of talent. There are aspects of the public service which require radical change and reform. The Public Service Organisation Review Group was appointed 30 years ago to carry out the most extensive review of public administration which the State had seen up to that point. It found major weaknesses in the public service generally and the Civil Service specifically.

It found fundamental weaknesses and confusion in structure as well as extraordinary weaknesses and overlapping in the organisation and management of the Civil Service. It found catastrophic weaknesses in the area of personnel, arguing for the abolition of the professional and general service grading structure. That has not happened and that structure will not be abolished by this Bill. The Devlin report found that there were fundamental weaknesses in planning and that planning could not be identified as an activity in many Departments. In spite of all that has happened in the last 30 years, planning is still a deficiency in many Departments. That group also found fundamental weaknesses in the area of finance.

However, the core recommendation of the Devlin report, which, as the Minister has accurately suggested, has been skirted around, concerns ministerial responsibility. One reason why the Devlin report recommendations were never fully implemented and why the reforms achieved to date are substantially surface reforms is that the concept of ministerial responsibility lies at the core of our administrative system. That concept was initiated when Queen Victoria was a young girl. It has little if any relevance to a modern, democratic State. This is a core issue; if we are to achieve reform and create a public service which is truly responsive to the needs of the people, we must grasp the nettle of ministerial responsibility. It has had a dead hand effect on public administration and made a profound impact on the organisational behaviour of our Civil Service since the foundation of the State. The issue, therefore, demands a huge amount of political attention.

Ministerial responsibility has produced a Civil Service which is excessively centralised. Our civil administration at central government level is one of the most profoundly centralised in any developed OECD state. It has been argued that we have decentralised in the last 25 years, but we have never had true decentralisation. We have had a degree of de-concentration when branches of Civil Service Departments have been transferred, usually as a form of political largesse, to provincial towns. That is welcome in so far as it means everything is not concentrated in Dublin, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking it is decentralisation. Administrative decentralisation can only come about if the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, which produces centralisation, is first addressed. We cannot have devolution or decentralisation without changing the statutory basis of the Civil Service.

The second profound impact ministerial responsibility has had on public administration and the Civil Service is that it has produced a profoundly bureaucratic administration. All the talent swallowed into it is concentrated on bureaucratic control, which is neither in the interest of the taxpayer nor, ultimately, of the public administrators. The excessive level of bureaucracy in our public administration had produced an essentially sterile system which needs to be changed. The talent, capacity and ability which undoubtedly exists in abundance in the Civil Service is destroyed by bureaucracy.

From my years as a civil servant I remember the profound distaste within agencies for unleashing people with talent or initiative. The Minister regaled us with an interesting anecdote and I will put another on the record. As a young executive officer in the Department of Transport and Power, I took it upon myself to write to ten and 11 year old children, stating that the Minister was glad they had written to him but he was busy and had asked me to respond to their requests. I was carpeted by a principal officer and an assistant principal officer, both of whom said I did not have the right to correspond with members of the public, albeit ten year olds. That was an extraordinary event, but every civil servant can relate anecdotes showing that one is forced to compromise one's initiative and comply with bureaucratic rules which produce sterility. Things have changed in the last 20 years, but not enough for my liking.

The concept of ministerial responsibility has also produced a public service which is excessively secretive. A lecturer in UCD once said that our Civil Service guards its most commonplace file as if it contained the last known copy of the formula for eternal youth. It is a pity it would not share it with the rest of us. Although, as the Minister knows, I am a solid supporter of the idea of a Freedom of Information Bill and introduced my own legislation in this House, I believe that as we enter the new millennium we will still be tainted with a profoundly secretive administrative system. This secrecy does not serve the people, the public interest, the public service or politics. It is ingrained and has almost become a genetic part of the Civil Service, but it needs to be rooted out. We must open up our Administration and show the people that it is above board, decent, honest and conducts its business in a way of which all taxpayers and citizens can be proud.

Ministerial responsibility has also produced a public administration which is cloaked in anonymity. Civil servants are required not to have a view and to hide their personal beliefs. In the 1960s it was regarded as almost revolutionary when the Secretary of the Department of Education was allowed by the Minister to travel the country explaining education policy. Nothing could have made more sense. Who knew more about changes in education than the Secretary of the Department proposing the changes? Who was in a better position to listen to the concerns of teachers, parents and school managements than the civil servants preparing the changes? However, with few exceptions, we have not repeated that exercise. This cloak of anonymity has stultified and prohibited healthy public discourse and the exchange of ideas. Our Civil Service should be allowed engage in public debate, explain policies and listen to views. This only happens in the secrecy of rooms where subcommittees or interest groups meet civil servants — it should happen in the open.

Above all else, ministerial responsibility can, should and must be criticised for producing a Civil Service which is not client oriented. Our Civil Service is of necessity focused on defending the Minister's interests at all times, although that is not because of the choice of our civil servants. Because the Minister is a corporation sole and is, in essence, the Department, the only view allowed to go abroad is that of the Minister. It used to be joked that the epitaph of a good civil servant was: "At last I am covered". Civil servants do not need such an epitaph. There is such an extraordinary wealth of intellectual talent and capacity that we must break the chains which bind that talent and allow it to be free. If our Civil Service could be freed of the shackles of ministerial responsibility it would quickly evolve so that secrecy and anonymity would be things of the past; those civil servants most interested in their careers and in providing public service would see to that. The Civil Service would also become more responsive to public needs and be capable of becoming client-oriented or user-friendly, to use the buzz word.

For all the disadvantages of the concept of ministerial responsibility it remains central to democratic answerability. However, that answerability has been seriously undermined by recent events. The English language was used to its fullest extent some months ago in the case regarding the movement of a judge from one court to another. To defend a current Minister, the concepts of ministerial responsibility and answerability were given interpretations which were novel, to say the least.

I have fundamental concerns about the Bill, which I will address as they are laid out in the explanatory and financial memorandum. The Bill will allow the executive sections of the Administration to be put in the same relationship to the core of the Department as some of our non-commercial State-sponsored bodies. That is what will be achieved when the provisions are put into effect. I have no objection to this provided we do not replicate within the Civil Service the situation which often pertains in State-sponsored bodies.

The Minister will be aware, for example, of the profound difficulties people in the timber industry are having with Coillte. The Joint Committee on Commercial State Sponsored Bodies made little impact on the situation when officials from Coillte came before it. A balance has to be struck between answerability and freedom. We should modify the concept of ministerial responsibility but if we remove it we must ensure the protection and enhancement of a citizen's right to appeal to the Oireachtas to seek redress for perceived wrongs.

Our ad hoc approach to redefining the concept of ministerial responsibility over the past 60 years has resulted in many no-go areas. We have created a situation where it is almost impossible to get answers to certain questions. Section 3 says it is not the intention of the Bill to abolish answerability as provided for under existing legislation. I do not understand how this can be achieved. If we give named civil servants autonomy to operate in specific areas of public administration we must remove their actions from the concept of ministerial responsibility. Under the Bill the Minister will remain answerable to the Dáil for policy issues concerning commercial and non-commercial State-sponsored bodies and other areas specifically excluded from ministerial responsibility. However, will the Minister remain answerable for issues of detail? For example, will it still be possible to ask parliamentary questions about headage grants, social welfare payments or other issues of day to day detail? In the past when we created exclusions from ministerial responsibility for good reason, we created areas which became difficult to control and question in points of detail. Neither I nor my party oppose the concept of limiting ministerial responsibility but we are anxious to ensure that the benefits of ministerial responsibility, especially in safeguarding the public interest, are not withered away.

The delegation of authority provided for in the Bill is satisfactory. The Minister indicated that he had taken advice on the possible constitutional implications. However, I doubt that this Bill fulfils the necessity of Government answerability to the Dáil. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on the constitutional implications of this issue. They are not significant but under the Constitution the ultimate appeal and answerability on all issues must and should remain with Dáil Éireann. We should not introduce legislation which would militate against that responsibility.

The Minister will retain rights of power of direction under the Bill. I do not understand how certain responsibilities can be delegated to the Civil Service while also giving the Minister the right to retain the power of direction. This gives the Minister power without responsibility thus reversing the situation to date of civil servants having power without answerability. We should not create a situation where Ministers can delegate responsibility but avoid answerability.

The part of the Bill of most concern to me and on which we may be challenging it concerns special advisers. They have been the most pernicious innovation in public administration. The concept of special advisers and programme managers has got out of hand. I say that as somebody who once worked in a Minister's office. We have more than enough talent within the permanent Civil Service to serve the Minister's interests and to defend the public interest.

The Minister said that the advisory group which produced the first drafts of this Bill incorporated programme managers and advisers to Ministers. This explains the Bill from section 11. Special advisers have been the creatures of political patronage. I could identify many cases where they are an outrageous assault on the taxpayer's pocket. At best they have been in effective in terms of administration. They have been effective in terms of politics but the taxpayer should not be forced to pay for people who are good at politics. At worst they have been venal and pernicious and have had a negative impact on political life. The excessive growth of political programme managers and advisers on the public payroll is a real threat to the way democracy operates. It breaches the concept of transparency which the Government espouses. The hallmark of this Government will be the shadowy figures of political hacks who have been elevated to public administration as advisers.

The enduring figure in the whole scandal of the BTSB is a ministerial Svengali standing on the steps of the Fours Courts phoning his Minister to say that the ex-Secretary of the Department did not hang him out to dry. We do not need this level of political advisers and I am worried that they are being given statutory recognition. Ministers need political advisers, especially in an era of Coalition Governments where it is necessary to have people from a political background to help solve cross-party differences which inevitably arise. However, we are embarking on a dangerous path by giving these people statutory recognition. When my own party returns to Government I will be suggesting a review.

That will be a while.

It will be a few weeks. This Bill was heralded as a significant reform and there are excellent elements in it, but there are also areas which need to be challenged. For example, I would not like to see this Bill becoming an institutional basis for the endless appointment of more and more advisers.

This Bill is, to a degree, trying to achieve a balancing act between taking power from Ministers and allowing them to retain ministerial discretion. That is a weakness in the Bill. It creates a situation where Ministers can duck individual responsibility. The Bill is also problematic in that the security of a Civil Service appointment is raised. The Minister made the point, and I am sure he was sincere, that the new appointment arrangements for Civil Servants are not in any way intended to undermine the careers of civil servants. People sometimes sneer at the security and permanency of the Civil Service but one of the great features of the appointment system is that it has created civil servants who are secure in the knowledge that when they serve the public and national interest, they are not subject to the whim of some politician or the whims of other individuals in a higher office than them. We have to be very careful about changing that. I was a civil servant and the fact that a civil servant had security, in so far as it effectively required a memorandum to Government to dismiss one, provided many people with a charter for "feather bedding" on the one hand but, on the other, it provided people with a sufficient degree of confidence in themselves to allow them to question and pressurise Ministers. They were not always obliged to say "Yes, Minister". There are good and bad points in this Bill. I will be listening specifically to the responses on the issue of advisers and the impact of the Bill on democratic responsibility.

I thank the Minister for Finance for coming into the House today and I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. Both have done a great deal of work on this Bill. This very important legislation will make significant changes to our Civil Service over the coming years. As Senator Roche said, it has good and bad points. If we can take the value of all the good points in the Bill, we will have come a long way and I thank everybody responsible for bringing it to this stage.

The Minister said:

A further principle of good architectural practice, equally applicable to public service management, is that you do not tear down the structures inherited from previous generations just for the sake of it. In building anew, it is always wise to try to preserve, strengthen and extend whatever has served well in the past and stood the test of time.

I hope this Bill will do that. I also hope we will build on this Bill, the foundations of which were laid many years ago in the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924. The Minister goes on to say: "in designing a building a good architect would try to ensure that it is capable of providing all of the functions required of it, that it is accessible to and meets the needs of present and future users and that it is in sympathy with the environment within which it is constructed". If those fundamental principles are adhered to this Bill will be very effective.

The Bill is all about accountability. Anybody who is not performing in the public service and who is not carrying out their duties and responsibilities should be held accountable. Everybody would agree with that. In any business, if one does not perform, one will be held accountable. If people are not performing, that will be brought to the attention of their superiors who will take the necessary action. The Bill provides for that. It is time such provisions were made and written into law. Over the past years, various things happened within the public service and the public was crying out for somebody to be held accountable but in many instances, nobody was.

The Bill sets out a formal structure for the assignment of authority and accountability within the Civil Service in a clear and unambiguous manner. It will ensure clarity in the roles and duties of individual civil servants in order that each person will know what is expected of them either in an individual capacity or as part of a team and will be able to assume responsibility for the results of their work. The pace and volume of business transacted by Departments have increased enormously in recent years. For the Civil Service to respond effectively, it is essential that we have in place systems to facilitate decision taking at all levels. This legislation will also give a basis in law for assigning specific tasks among different Departments and Offices so as to improve the management of issues within cross-departmental boundaries. The Bill is, therefore, a key element in advancing the overall strategic management process as set out in Delivering Bet- ter Government.

Section 4(1) of the Bill seeks to ensure, among other things, that arrangements are in place to maximise efficiency in cross-departmental matters. This will be welcomed. Over the years we have seen where one Department can effectively hold up the business of another. Whatever steps can be taken under this legislation to ensure that transactions from one Department to another are carried out effectively and efficiently will be welcomed. One of the other functions contained in this section is to ensure that resources are used in a cost effective manner and that value for money is obtained. The public is intent on getting value for money in the public service. We have a great deal of work to ensure that value for money is obtained and the ways this Bill addresses that issue will be welcomed by the public.

The section also provides that Secretaries/Heads shall have responsibility for the management of all matters relating to the appointment, performance, discipline and dismissal of staff below the grade of principal or its equivalent. This provision will hold people accountable and will put an onus on Civil Service employees to accept their responsibilities and carry out the duties which have been laid down for them.

Section 10 of the Bill provides for Secretaries/Heads to appear before Oireachtas committees in relation to the strategy statement for their Department/Office. This will make them accountable for the practical management of their Departments/Offices. It also provides for other officers to attend at Oireachtas committees. Secretaries/Heads should appear before Oireachtas committees and subcommittees. Those who provide service to the public must ultimately be accountable to them. The Civil Service can really only be held accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas or its committees. I welcome this section.

The Ethics in Public Office Act should be applied to senior management and senior staff in the Civil Service.

Debate adjourned.