Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 26 Nov 2014

Vol. 859 No. 2

State Boards (Appointments) Bill 2014: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to reform the method whereby persons are recruited and selected for appointment to State boards; and to ensure that persons of the highest quality are recruited and selected for such appointments.

I appreciate being allowed to introduce this Bill, the purpose of which is to put appointments by Ministers to State boards on - I stress this phrase - a statutory basis. Recently, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, announced a new model for dealing with these matters. Yesterday, he introduced guidelines that he will ask Ministers to implement. However, these voluntary guidelines will not be satisfactory. The public requires a clear statutory process that they can be satisfied will be implemented in full. For that reason, I have introduced this Bill.

Since coming to power in 2011, the Government has introduced "new arrangements", as it called them, for appointments to State boards. On 30 September, the Government announced "further reforms". Yesterday, the Minister published "guidelines", as part of which a database of State boards will be published next year, but in respect of which there is no timescale for the inclusion of State companies like Irish Water. Despite all of that, there is still no statutory basis for the appointments process. As such, I have taken this approach.

I have included in my draft legislation a more extensive Schedule of organisations than the Minister included in his voluntary guidelines. While he listed public bodies, commercial State companies, non-commercial State companies and other State organisations, I have also included bodies the appointment to which should be dealt with by legislation, for example, the Labour Court, An Bord Pleanála, the Competition Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Revenue Commissioners, Revenue's Appeal Commissioners and all ombudsmans and regulators. The Minister has embarked on a public appointments process, but only to some extent and on a non-statutory basis.

Under my legislation, a Minister or Government shall only appoint to State boards people who are recommended by the Public Appointments Service, PAS, in accordance with the provision of the Bill. The Minister has included a number of the provisions in his guidelines but he has also listed some exemptions. People will be surprised to note that he exempted appointments to the boards of Irish Water, Bord Gáis-Ervia, the ESB, EirGrid, Bord na Móna and Coillte, all of which are called NewERA companies. Separate provision must be made for them, but no timetable for such was given yesterday. It is important that these bodies be included in the legislation from the beginning.

The PAS would need to advertise all vacancies by way of a transparent assessment process. It would be required to consider an applicant's relevant expertise, educational qualifications and personal attributes before making a recommendation to the Minister. It would also be required to consider the skill sets of current board members. The Minister has included most of these provisions in his guidelines, but I would prefer to do this by way of legislation.

My proposed Bill would require a Minister to ensure a gender balance in appointments to State boards. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, should be able to accept this proposal. I have also included a provision that he has not, namely, that direct or indirect canvassing by a person on his or her behalf or on behalf of a candidate for a position to a State board should not be permitted. This point needs to be stitched into the legislation, as that is how the PAS does its business.

The essential difference between this legislation and the Government's proposal is that Fianna Fáil believes the matter must be dealt with on a statutory basis, not by way of guidelines that have been drawn up to assist Ministers.

While the Minister probably will state they are mandatory, I note mandatory guidelines still are only guidelines and do not have the effect of law. If, as the Minister, Deputy Howlin, states, the Government is genuinely serious about political reform and if it is committed to real openness and transparency, I believe it will accept this legislation because much of what I propose mirrors much of what is contained in the Minister's guidelines. I have a few additional points in my legislation and I believe that if the Government is sincere about openness and transparency in respect of appointments to State boards, it will accept this Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.