Section 7, which was, I understand, discussed in some detail on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil, empowers the Minister to employ people on a contract basis in the public service. Deputy Bruton raised a number of issues on Committee Stage on the Quigley report which dealt with the appointment of an individual to advise on public relations in the Office of Public Works and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. According to my reading of section 7, Mr. Quigley's recommendations have not been taken on board. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, has a few remarks to make on the matter and can advise me differently.
Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004: Committee and Remaining Stages.
Section 7 inserts a new section 5(a) into the 1956 Act to provide clarification on the initial appointment of persons as civil servants. It provides that persons may be appointed as established civil servants on contract in a probationary capacity. Currently, when officers such as executive and administrative officers enter the Civil Service, they are employed in an unestablished capacity on a probationary contract for the first year of service. Following the satisfactory completion of the probationary period, the officers may be appointed on an established basis. It was proposed to change the procedure to provide that instead of being unestablished for a year, officers could be appointed in an established capacity while on contract in the probationary period. The change would resolve current administrative difficulties associated with the transfer from unestablished to established status, including the need to move to an established pension scheme.
The Office of the Attorney General advised that it was not possible under the 1956 Act to employ an established officer on a contractual basis as established civil servants are employed at the will and pleasure of the Government, which is relationship of a non-contractual nature. As new officers are appointed on a probationary contract, they can only be appointed in an unestablished capacity which may lead to establishment following satisfactory completion of probation. To clarify the position and reduce the administrative burden associated with the practice, the Bill amends section 5 of the 1956 Act to provide that officers can be appointed in an established capacity on entering the Civil Service on the basis of a probationary contract. The section, which was amended in the Dáil, provided originally that a person could be engaged as an established civil servant for a specified period or the duration of a particular project or requirement. As the provision was removed, the section deals solely with civil servants serving during probationary periods.
In light of the foregoing and in view of the fact that the Bill no longer deals with appointments for a specified time or particular project, the amendment offered on Committee Stage was not accepted.
As an aside, I note the Minister of State referred to the "will and pleasure" of the Government. He did not take on board the advice of Senator Mansergh whom I presume spoke in Latin about "pleasure" and how unsuitable and unrepublican a word it was to include in the Bill. I thought about tabling an amendment on the matter, but have chosen not to.
As amendments Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, form a composite proposal, they will be taken together.
The amendments in the grouping relate to the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Most of the amendments are technical and arise on foot of amendment No. 4. The purpose of the amendments is to clarify the dismissal arrangements for the staff of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
Currently, section 14 of the Bill amends section 20 of the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959. As drafted, the section provides that the dismissing authority for all officers at principal officer level and above in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas shall be the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The dismissing authority for all officers below principal officer level will be the Secretary General of the office, which is in line with the general principles of the Bill. Section 14 does not currently amend the provisions in section 20 of the 1959 Act, which provides that the dismissing authority in the case of the Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk Assistant of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad, Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard is the Government, following a process of consultation with the relevant chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. This provision is not fully in line with the central principles in the Bill.
Following discussions with the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas and on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, I propose a new Part 3 of the Bill to address the matter by bringing together a number of amendments on the Houses of the Oireachtas and the commission. In light of the devolved dismissal arrangements envisaged in the Bill, it would be inconsistent with the independence of the Houses to have the Government as the appropriate dismissing authority for the officers in question. The amendment will not result in a significant change in the current policy in the Bill, but will retain certain protections set out in the 1959 and 2003 Acts which relate to the dismissal of Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk Assistant of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad, Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard.
The effect of the amendment I am proposing will be to retain the current safeguards set out in the 1959 and 2003 Acts, which provide that the dismissal of these officers can only take place after a process of consultation while at the same time linking the principle of devolved authority, which is one of the central provisions of the amendment Bill. In line with the provisions of the Bill, the responsibility for dismissal will be devolved to the Minister responsible for appointing a successor, who in the case of these officers is the Taoiseach. The practical effect of the amendment will be that the Government can assign the authority to dismiss the Clerk and Clerk Assistant of the Seanad and of the Dáil to the Taoiseach, who may act on the recommendation of the Cathaoirleach or the Ceann Comhairle, as the case may be, following consultation by him with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
In the cases of the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard, the dismissing authority will again be the Taoiseach, after consultation with the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach and consultation with the commission. The rationale for assigning the responsibility to the Taoiseach comes from the fact that the Taoiseach, following a similar process of consultation, is also the appointing authority for each of these officers. This is consistent with the provision in section 7 of the Bill where the Government can assign the dismissing authority to the Minister who has the power of appointing a successor to that civil servant.
No change is proposed in regard to other officers within the Oireachtas, other than that the arrangements for them will reflect the new devolved management structures elsewhere in the Civil Service. This will mean that officers at principal officer level and above will be dismissible by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission — the relevant "Minister" for the purposes of the Act — on receipt of a recommendation from the Secretary General of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, while officers below that level will be dismissible by the Secretary General of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
A consequential amendment arising out of the new part in the Bill is to ensure that the Secretary General of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas is treated in the same way as other Secretaries General for the purposes of the Act. Section 10 of the Bill currently amends section 15(6) of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 to provide that officers either holding a position to which they were appointed to by the Government or holding a position as a Revenue Commissioner, are not subject to the disciplinary sanctions set out in section 15.
Under the Staff of the Houses Oireachtas Act 1959 and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003, the Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas is appointed by the Taoiseach on the recommendation of the Chairman after consultation by him with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The office holder is therefore not automatically excluded from the provisions of section 15 in the way other Secretaries General are.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are technical amendments which provide in section 15(6) of the Act for the explicit exclusion of the Secretary General of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas from the measures set out in that section. This provision will ensure that all Secretaries General are treated in a similar manner. Amendment No. 4 will give effect to the arrangements for dismissals in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas that I have just outlined. This amendment will insert a new Part 3 to the Bill. The remainder of the amendments in this group are technical and are needed to give effect to the provisions which I have set out.
It is proposed to delete section 14 of the Bill. This section provides that the dismissal of a member of staff at the grade of principal officer or above shall only be on the recommendation of the Secretary General. This provision is now replicated as part of the new Part 3 of the Bill. It is proposed to delete section 15 of the Bill in order to move it to the new Part 3 of the Bill. Amendment No. 5 replicates the exact text contained in section 15 and moves it to the new part of the Bill which deals specifically with the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Similarly, I propose to move section 16 of the Bill to the new Part 3 of the Bill. Amendment No. 6 is required to replicate the provisions of this section in the new part to the Bill. I propose amendment No. 7 to provide for the amendment of the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959 in the Long Title of the Bill. I propose amendment No. 8 to provide for the amendment of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003 in the Long Title of the Bill.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for bringing this Bill to the House. It is important legislation and a great deal of work went into it. I apologise on behalf of our spokesperson, Senator Mansergh, who was unable to be present. It is most important that the Bill would be passed by both Houses. I thank the Opposition spokespersons for their help and co-operation with the Bill in this House. We will never achieve perfect legislation but it can always be revisited and updated or improved. The Bill we are about to pass is an improvement on existing legislation and I thank the Minister of State and his officials for bringing it before the House.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials. I share Senator Moylan's sentiments but I cannot agree that it was speedily done. The Bill's passage through this House might have been fast but an eight year delay in passing legislation is hardly desirable. However, the Bill is to be welcomed by and large although it does not go far enough in certain areas.
I said on Second Stage that the next opportunity which arises, be it in the form of a benchmarking II or some new form of benchmarking, should be grasped by the Minister to ensure a real reform agenda in the public service. There is a feeling among the general public, who are the consumers of public services, that they are not getting value for money. We missed opportunities before now and I hope that when we get another opportunity to deal with this matter, the Minister of State and officials will be able to ensure we have a truly progressive reform agenda for the public service. Despite what was said by some Senators on Second Stage about money not being the be-all and end-all, public servants should be and should expect to be suitably rewarded for excellent performance. This is the one missing factor. We need to incentivise people to perform well but we have not been doing so.
Senator McDowell made a very good point on his Second Stage contribution to the effect that it only takes one person who is not performing to the best of his ability to have an effect on or infect the others in the office. In view of this we need to ensure that those who are performing to the best of their ability are suitably rewarded, as they would be in the private sector. If we use the next phase of benchmarking to achieve this, we will improve the standard of public service and improve the environment in which people in the public service work. It would make the public service more attractive to people leaving education such that they would regard a public service job as a perfectly legitimate occupation.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials. Perhaps the Bill does not go far enough but it is welcome none the less.
I thank everyone involved with this Bill. It marks a major progression in terms of encouraging civil servants. As Senator John Paul Phelan stated, it is very important that public servants be encouraged and rewarded for working to the best of their ability. The Bill is also important in terms of discipline and dismissal, which it addresses very strongly. Some of the areas with which the Bill deals are very technical. It outlines what would happen in the highly unlikely event of someone such as a Captain of the Guard having to be dismissed and nominates who should do this. It is important that the provisions in the Bill be very clear. This is the case.
We have had a very good debate. I thank Senators Moylan and John Paul Phelan and, in particular, the officials from the Department of Finance, who have worked long and hard in bringing this Bill through the Houses.