In line with the Programme for Government commitment referred in the Deputy’s question, I am committed to bringing forward the necessary legislative changes or other reforms to meet the objective of ensuring greater clarity and legal certainty regarding the legal relationship between Ministers and their civil servants and the appropriate accountabilities that apply in each case.
The Deputy may be aware of the background to this commitment.
The need to see, in appropriate circumstances, beyond the corporate ‘veil’ of ministerial responsibility that often descends on government departments when significant issues are raised regarding administrative performance was a priority highlighted by both government parties prior to the last election.
The "New Government, Better Government" policy document which I authored advocates a wide-ranging series of reforms to ministerial responsibility and in particular legislative reform to re-define the relationship between Ministers and their Departments. While this is a complex area, the fundamental objective is to enshrine three basic propositions:-
- If the Minister takes a decision personally, he or she should say so and account for it.
- If the decision is taken by the Department then the relevant, named official should say so and account for it.
- The Minister would then have to account for the degree of supervision and oversight he or she exercised over the Department
I have asked the Government Reform Unit in my Department to carry out a review of the current accountability framework for ministers and civil servants set out in the Ministers and Secretaries Acts and the Public Service Management Act, 1997.
Work is now at an advanced stage in my Department in finalising a policy paper based on the outcome of that review. The paper examines the current legislative framework underpinning civil service accountability in these statutes, as well as the current administrative and organisational accountability arrangements in place. It also explores the international practice and developments in this area. To assist with this work, a consultation process on these issues has been carried out; this initially included international academics, national experts and commentators and some senior civil servants.
I expect to bring this paper to Government shortly to seek approval for the publication of the policy paper. It is intended that the paper should act as a basis for a process of wider consultation on the proposed reforms.
I look forward to hearing the views of the Deputy and other members of this House in the course of this consultation.