Appointments to Public Bodies Bill 2009: Second Stage.

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

I would first like to congratulate Senator Boyle on the introduction of this Bill in the Dáil in 2007. It should be noted that this Bill is identical, bar the date, to the one introduced by the Green Party and supported by all members of that party in the Dáil debate. On this side of the House, therefore, those of us supporting it are expecting a certain consistency from them. I am sure it is fair enough that they will go through the lobbies in support of this Bill and we await the vote at 7.30 p.m. to see whether they do. Senator Boyle is a very inspired and enlightened Member of the Oireachtas. It would be unusual if he were to vote against a Bill in this House which he had proposed in the Dáil. No, he would not do it. Consistency is obviously the hallmark of the Green Party. Whatever else it has not got, it has that, and we can expect principle to prevail over practice.

I now come to the reason the Bill is topical. A European Commissioner is about to be appointed and it is fascinating to see the speculation on that appointment. The speculation surrounds people such as Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Eoin Ryan, to some extent Pat Cox and other people who are part of what is called the Fianna Fáil family. That, I believe, is very unfortunate, and it is an indication of the way Irish politics has worked in the area of public appointments for a very long time that the Government should think only in terms of appointing people of its tribe, or family, to whom it owes loyalty. This is an indictment of the types of appointments that have been made in this particular area for many years. It does not mean that they are not qualified for the job, but that they are not necessarily the best qualified.

One of the most noticeable characteristics in the debate about who is to get this "plum political appointment" is that when it is made, it will be without accountability to anybody about anything. If Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Pat Cox or whoever gets it, that decision will never have to be ratified by anybody except a Minister and the Cabinet. That is very unfortunate and the Bill seeks to address that issue. It proposes, in effect, that the Minister should have a final say in making the proposals, but let us have the reasons and the criteria set out by an Act of the Oireachtas so we can see that we get the right people, or people at least who are qualified.

It is necessary that the public as well as Members of this House should see that public appointments are accountable and that people who are given these roles are suitable for those positions. The best way of doing that, I suspect, is in this Bill, which is proposed by Senator Boyle. There would be a questions and answers session with joint committees of the Oireachtas looking at and approving or disapproving appointments so that not only political partyhacks are proposed. I point to a couple of the reasons given by Senator Boyle in the last Dáil. Nobody could have put it better than Senator Boyle when he said: "The prime motivation behind the introduction of the Bill is that public appointments must be seen as being other than a reward for political service, [That is absolutely right and that is the point of the Bill] compensation for those who have been disappointed politically and an exercise of jobs for the boys." That is what he called, in effect, what is going on at the moment. He called it "jobs for the boys" and said it must not be seen as that. He is absolutely right and that is the purpose of this Bill.

Senator Boyle continued:

If we can make this type of change with this legislation, the other types of necessary political reform, which form part of my party's programme for Government and which we are prepared to implement with the co-operation of others and put to the electorate for ratification, then this is a process that could help clean up Irish politics once and for all.

One can hear the rhetoric as he said it in the Dáil that day, and no doubt he will repeat that here this evening in his contribution.

His colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said: "the system, as applied by the parties opposite is clearly flawed and corrupt, or certainly corruptible." I would not go that far. I believe he is being over-zealous and somewhat extreme in this regard. I hope when Senator Boyle comes in he will pull back somewhat from the position adopted by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and not brand us all with that extreme brush. I do not believe it is necessarily corrupt. He is wrong about that. It can be seen to be corrupt from time to time, and certainly there is too much patronage. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, added that such favours in terms of public appointments were practices that we need to stop. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, went on to say very enthusiastic words about the Bill and similarly derogatory and extremely insulting words about the system as it exists at the moment. I hope we will get the support of the Green Party.

It is not the first time a Bill of this sort has been introduced, I gather, even in this session. I believe Deputy Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael introduced one in the Dáil along similar lines. The principle behind that again was one of transparency to demand that people see that politicians are not nominating what they call their cronies to positions of great influence which also happen to be well paid. At no time is this more topical than at the moment. Every Member of this House will be familiar with the situation with the board of FÁS. That board is a very funny creature. While the appointments were made by the Minister, there were automatic rights to become members of that board available to representatives of the employers and the unions. That has been abolished, but the substitute, which came before us last week, is a system of direct political appointments. If ever a State agency needed political appointments that were subject to the sorts of checks contained in this Bill, FÁS is one. It is not acceptable for FÁS to be a possible outlet for naked political patronage after what has happened there, but that is what will happen without a Bill of this sort.

In the past few weeks I have been investigating the issue of CIE. One of the most staggering things about CIE is that the annual report names the directors, but that is all that happens. There is not a single fact in CIE's annual report about any of the directors. All it gives is their names and initials. How in the name of God are we to find out about them? I do not want to name names because I do not want to embarrass any individuals. I suggest that some of them are appointed for blatantly political reasons and no other reason. Most non-executive members of the boards of CIE and Iarnród Éireann have very little knowledge of railways. There are people on the CIE board who have a large knowledge of politics and a particularly close knowledge of Fianna Fáil politics. What is so untransparent is that there is nothing anywhere to tell us anything about them, so there is no accountability at all. As I looked at the names of the members of the CIE board, I rang up various people to find out who they were. Some people knew these guys or girls but did not know they were on the CIE board and were very surprised to hear it. They were slipped onto the board without any great public announcement and without any knowledge whatsoever.

The Bill should be considered because the abuses going on at the moment must be abolished. This is one way for doing so. I will go into the details later on. The need for public scrutiny is vital. The method does not matter all that much. What is proposed by Senator Boyle and me is that the Minister would have the final say. However, there would be an open competition with the positions advertised. Candidates should go before a public service appointments unit and then an Oireachtas joint committee which would either support or not support them. That Oireachtas joint committee should also have certain powers of abolition. It is vital that the principle be established forever that Ministers can no longer use their power of patronage to appoint people who are blatantly only qualified for State bodies because of their political colour.

I compliment Senator Ross on introducing this legislation. The Senator approached me some months ago outlining his concern about this area of work. He put his office working on researching what we might do about it and I did the same. We found a Bill that had been introduced in the other House. We said that we could not really use that legislation because it was a Green Party Bill. We went through it in detail and neither of us could find one word that could be improved in any line of the Bill. I said that we could not really steal it. We would need to give credit where it was due. The Green Party is on the Government side and it is its business to challenge the Government side on issues as they come along.

I checked what then Deputy Boyle said on 27 March 2007 in the other House, which was key to our decision tonight. Speaking about this legislation he said: "The Bill is an attempt to make the process of public appointments more open and transparent". We bought into that. He then said "It is also a challenge to other parties to join the Green Party's initiative on this area of political reform." We also bought into that. We said we could not do better than accept that and with hands across the aisle, do business with the Government party. Let us all move forward together towards an open, transparent Government. I look forward to Senator Boyle and his colleague supporting us in this tonight.

The Dáil debate took place before the general election in 2007. He said "If the election involves merely changing the names and faces of people on the benches opposite, it will be a poor day's work." What can I say? He went on to say: "The Green Party believes changes in the area of political reform are most necessary to reignite public confidence in the political system." This is the reality.

Senator Boyle went on to make a very important point in his speech, which was very appropriate and almost visionary given where we are at the moment. He said:

In the past, appointments to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a score of other bodies were referred to as "Government appointments". We argue that those appointed in this regard are representatives of the State and that there should be a wider process of ratification in respect of them. We suggest that the Government should make its nominations and then put them forward to be ratified by the House.

Hear, hear. Who would argue with that? I would certainly hope that Senator Boyle would come out in support of that tonight, especially given that his name is being mentioned in high places, although that is nothing to do with himself. We have heard it mentioned that the former Minister, Mrs Máire Geoghegan-Quinn might be appointed Commissioner and good luck to her if she is. There is also a view that Senator Boyle might be promoted to the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. No better man. No one here would be opposed to that in any way. However, we would like to have the opportunity to debate it.

In the debate on this legislation in the Dáil, his seconder on the night, Deputy Gogarty, who is still in the other House said:

I support the work of my colleague, Deputy Boyle, in putting this Bill together. As the House can see, from the outset the Bill was put forward in his name. It is all pretty much his work. Often Bills are initiated in the names of all of the Teachtaí Dála within the parliamentary party, but it is testament to Deputy Boyle's ownership of this Bill and to his capabilities to work with experts and to use his own nous that it was initiated in his name. I say this because I do not want to take any credit for the drawing up of the Bill.

I am sure I also speak for Senator Ross in saying we would not want to be accused of plagiarism here. This is a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. We absolutely feel this is a tribute to the work Senator Boyle did. It should not be allowed sit collecting dust anywhere and we should move forward in this way.

An interesting thing has happened. Senator Ross gave a very good example of what happened in the case of FÁS. Here is a better example. The Green Party Minister, Deputy Ryan, spent much time in this House painstakingly going through the Broadcasting Bill. When it came to a discussion on appointing the members of the broadcasting authority and the various boards of TG4, RTE and others, we proposed that those appointments should be made on the basis of the provisions in this Bill — the Green Party Bill or Senator Ross's Bill, whichever way one wants to look at it — and that they should come before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister could not concede that point even though he had spoken in favour of it in the Dáil. However, he agreed to have a committee involved in four of the appointments. As a result, for the first time in the history of the State, four members will be appointed to several of these boards by the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, of which I am a member. We have begun the process of advertising these positions, as proposed in this Bill, and the process of dealing with applicants will be monitored by the Commission for Public Service Appointments, with input from members of the committee, with the nominees obliged to appear before a public sitting of the joint committee. The purpose of this is not to grill or embarrass them in any way but rather to afford them an opportunity to demonstrate their experience and knowledge in the area relevant to their nomination. Finally, the nominees' names will be put to the Minister for approval. This is a positive development and is in line with what is proposed in this legislation. Unfortunately, however, the Minister, who has five nominations to make, proposes to proceed in the old fashioned way without any consultation on or examination of his nominees.

At a time of general and extraordinary cynicism in the political process, we are saying to people that there is a better way of doing business. We are proposing a means by which ordinary people can connect with the political process and can have confidence that persons appointed to boards are above and beyond suspicion. I have been appointed to various boards by Ministers and have done my best to discharge my duties in that regard. However, I would have welcomed the opportunity to appear before a committee of the Oireachtas to demonstrate my credentials and justify my appointment. I expect most people would be delighted to show off the expertise that has led to them being nominated to a particular board. I made a point of ensuring that representatives of the two boards on which I currently serve were brought before committees of this House. In one case, there was a grilling by Senator Ross's committee. That is how it should be.

Nobody could disagree with the proposal that the appointments system be opened up so that nominees are afforded an opportunity to present their credentials in terms of background, knowledge and expertise prior to their appointment. Senator Boyle has called for similar transparency in respect of the appointment of the European Commissioner and other high level European Union appointments. There is no reason for Members on the other side of the Chamber to object to that type of transparency. The Government's majority in both Houses will ensure its nominations cannot be overturned. However, these proposals will allow a debate to take place to copperfasten and give credence to those appointments.

I am pleased to second Senator Ross's Bill and to congratulate him on bringing it forward. It is a good day's work. I hope this debate will be conducted in a constructive manner. There is nothing in the Bill that anybody can argue against. Any opposition to it can arise only because the opponent is determined to engage in the wrong type of politics. Let us all work in concert for once. We should do what the Taoiseach has asked us to do many times, namely, work together to find solutions and show a united face to the citizenry. This proposal offers the opportunity for a good night's work for Irish politics.

I compliment the Senators on drafting and tabling this Bill. I noted with interest that the mover of the motion put much emphasis on opinions put forth on these issues some time ago by our colleague, Senator Boyle. I have no doubt I could find evidence from the past that Senator Ross has changed his mind on certain issues with the passage of time. The same is probably true of Senator O'Toole. I hope this debate will be considered in the context of the work being undertaken in this area under the revised programme for Government, the recommendations of the task force on the public service and the particular emphasis on finding means by which to improve how business is conducted in the broad arena of public services. There is no doubt the Government is determined to introduce change in this regard.

We are all aware of the general public perception in regard to appointments to public bodies and related matters. I am convinced that perception would be more distinct if there were a clear understanding of all that is involved but I am not sure whether some of what has been said tonight will be helpful in this respect. The manner in which one political party was highlighted, as if every one of its members is guilty of cronyism, is unhelpful. The reference in the Bill to the need to eradicate any element of patronage is not particularly helpful.

Of course we should eradicate patronage.

I hope contributors will take a constructive approach. It is important to note that the current arrangement for appointments to public bodies follows the practice of successive Governments and has generally worked well in the past. It should equally be recognised that many well-qualified people of great intellect, possessing unique skills and with no political affiliation have served this country well through their membership of various political bodies. The appointment of members to the boards of public bodies has traditionally been the prerogative of the Minister under whose auspices the particular agency resides and the method for such appointments is set out in the legislation governing that body. The Minister has freedom to make those appointments but he or she must also take account of any specific legislative requirements and of relevant Government policies. For example, it may be the practice that Ministers consider representations from different strands of society such as the business community, consumers, trade unions and other social partners, depending on the nature of the appointment and the function of the particular body.

My understanding is that when a Minister considers an upcoming vacancy, he or she discusses it with departmental officials and perhaps also with representatives of the body in question to identify what is required. It is similar to building a football team where the manager must decide whether what is most needed is an additional full forward, defender or midfielder and how the new addition can be integrated into the team. I am not sure whether it is overly simplistic to propose a framework whereby nominees must go through various hoops, boxes are ticked and, arising from that, a name is presented to the Minister for approval. That is not my understanding of how it is done or how the process can best be undertaken to meet the needs of public bodies.

I have great admiration for the Taoiseach in his efforts to initiate reform in this area. I understand he is chairing a Cabinet committee which is leading the process of transforming the public service in line with the recommendations of the task force on public service. In that context the Department of Finance is charged with leading the development of models of performance and governance frameworks, including the role and function of boards of State bodies, and that work is already under way. Moreover, the recent revised programme for Government provides for the introduction of a legislative basis for a more open and transparent system for appointment to public bodies. My understanding is that the legislation will outline a procedure for the publication of all vacancies likely to occur, the invitation of applications from the public and the creation from the responses received of a panel of suitable persons for consideration. The Bill will also specify the number of people to be appointed by a Minister and will facilitate the appropriate Oireachtas committee to make nominations to the panel.

We should not lose sight of the fact that when a Minister goes about making an appointment, he has information that may be what I might call "commercially sensitive" and is not appropriate to be out there. This might lead to the question as to why such a person was appointed. We must take this in the context of what I said earlier. There is a board of 15 or 20 people and as the Minister is building a team, it is appropriate that he or she has a certain amount of freedom.

It is also fitting in these changing times that we take account of the situation that prevails, especially as there is a focus on public service and there is a need to change the way we go about our business. We have all witnessed the scrutiny in recent times of public bodies and the erosion of public confidence, mainly due to the manner in which issues have been presented. Many of these issues have been presented in a very intense form, and this may influence public debate and the formalisation of one's view, but that view might not necessarily be balanced or fully informed. Due to the structure of society in the 21st century, an unfair bias can develop which is not justifiable and which can create a misleading picture. The question is how best to address this and other related issues.

I am not convinced this Bill has the right answers, but I hope it helps discussion. I believe we all want to reach the same target of what would be just, reasonable and sustainable, and what should be supported. There is a need to examine how appointments can best be made in the future, having regard to recent developments and to commitments in the programme for Government.

I welcome the Minister of State back home to the Seanad. I thank Senator Ross for proposing this Bill and Fine Gael will be supporting its second reading in the House. I compliment him and Senator Boyle on their research. I hope Senator Boyle is present in this House when I quote certain remarks made in the other House when a similar Bill was proposed in March 2007. A similar Private Members' Bill was also proposed by Fine Gael quite recently in the other House. The issue of State appointments to public bodies is one of public concern, not least because of the efforts of Senator Ross and others in uncovering some difficulties on State boards over the last few years. For that reason, it is important to have this discussion.

Senator Callely spoke about allowing flexibility for the Minister of the day. This Bill does not remove flexibility from the Minister, but is about proposing a new mechanism of appointments which would allow the Oireachtas to question people who are going forward for State board positions. As Senator O'Toole pointed out, the Government has a majority in both Houses, so the Government is still in a position to appoint people through any Oireachtas State board appointees committee following questioning of candidates by Members. This Bill does not propose to remove all flexibility from the Government.

I do not favour the position that being a supporter of a political party should disbar somebody from membership of a State board. The majority of those who serve on State boards are good, decent, honest people. The majority of them have knowledge about what they do on the boards. However, I cannot help recognising in my seven years in this House that some faces and names just keep on popping up. I know of one individual who stood for the Fianna Fáil Party in at least one election who has been on several State boards in my seven years here, and who is currently the chairman of a board. He has no obvious expertise in that position. The area of patronage is something we should question in this House, even though Senator Callely more or less said that we should not.

All this was brought into stark relief by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, who said he appointed his friends to State boards. His friends undoubtedly have some knowledge on particular issues and they certainly knew their way around the place, as he did himself. However, just to appoint somebody because he or she is a friend or because he or she holds certain political beliefs is not sufficient. It is not acceptable in 2009, especially given the juncture in which we find ourselves where people are being forced to make major changes in their lifestyles. We cannot continue the practice as it has been heretofore. That is what this Bill is about.

Senator Boyle has joined us, just as I was about to quote from a speech he gave in the Dáil in March 2007. He said:

We have improved the nature and quality of democracy here. There were, however, some major difficulties along the way. The acceptance of democratic procedures that are less than perfect means that a culture under which corruption is practised and, even worse, tolerated can be brought into being.

He went on to state "It is also a challenge to other parties to join the Green Party's initiative on this area of political reform". He spoke about how we were on the eve of a general election and he called on others to join the party's agenda and initiative on such reform. The Green Party has now been in Government for two years, but its members have not been able to introduce this type of reform.

Senator Boyle was followed by the then Opposition Deputy Eamon Ryan, who went even further in his criticism of the current system, which still exists now that he is in Government. Deputy Ryan spoke about the public cynicism surrounding appointments to State boards and that the public sees the system as corrupt. It is a system over which he now presides and has done nothing heretofore to reform. Deputy Ryan stated:

The Irish people are not stupid and they see it as it is, that the parties opposite have been so long in power that they have become corrupted by power, and that they appoint friends to bodies on the basis of medieval kings in their fiefdoms granting favours.

I could not put that any better myself, even though he has not acted on it. He went on to point out that when State board appointments came up, there is always one position for the Progressive Democrats and whatever number left for Fianna Fáil. It must now be one for the Green Party and whatever number left for Fianna Fáil. Perhaps Senator Boyle and the current Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources may be able to enlighten me on that issue.

There was a telling exchange of views between the Minister for Finance at the time and the man who is now leader of the Green Party, Deputy Gormley. Deputy Gormley said that the then Deputy Boyle should get an award for the Bill he had proposed.

If we are to believe what we read in the newspapers, his reward is coming soon in Luxembourg. I am sure that he would agree that an appointment to such a position should be subject to scrutiny. I could think of nobody who would be better to fill that position than Senator Boyle, even though I have had my differences with him over the years. However, it does not mean we should not be in a position to question him on it.

Deputy Cuffe stated that:

This Bill is about merit rather than patronage. There are still too many village chieftains in politics. There are too many pork barrel politicians who dispense the spoils of office to those who have helped them along the way.

He went on to state that even when Fianna Fáil was out of government, it was effectively in government because of the amount of people the party had appointed to State boards. Perhaps Senator Boyle will be able to enlighten us on his current thinking on this issue when he gets a chance to contribute.

In his response, can the Minister of State deal briefly with the Employment Appeals Tribunal? He might be able to enlighten me about the criteria for the appointment of people to that tribunal. What experience levels are required for such appointment? I have been informed that one of those appointed is usually a solicitor, although he or she does not require any particular employment law expertise. Are the appointments renewed every three years? What is the term of office of appointees to the tribunal?

I commend Senator Ross on his introduction of this thoughtful Bill. We will support it on Second Stage.

I thank Senator Ross and the Independent Members of this House for doing me the honour of resubmitting a Bill I brought before the Dáil when I was a Member of that House. I have to start by saying I agree with everything that is in the Bill. It is what I aspire to see in the area of public appointments. I hope the Bill can be accepted in one form or other by this and the other House. I submitted it in the full knowledge that it would eventually fail. I did not for a second think it would be resubmitted in this form or in these circumstances.

We have given the Senator a great opportunity. Life is full of such opportunities.

The nature of politics dictates that one must respond to developments of this nature.

The wheel has come full circle.

Given that I receive e-mails and other correspondence daily telling me about my supposed loss of principle — I am told I have performed a U-turn on everything I have ever believed in and can no longer consider myself a decent human being in any form — it is not new for me to have to respond in this way. As a Member of this House, I have to do it every day.

I would like to outline how the Green Party in government has approached the idea of public appointments. I accept that the system is largely unchanged. Government action tends to be taken on the basis of the respective strengths of the majority and minority partners. We are in a better position to offer public positions in those Departments where there are Green Party Ministers. The Green Party uses an internal process, involving a committee with external membership, when it is asked to fill positions on State boards. Members of the Green Party, non-governmental organisations and the public have responded to a letter I sent out as party chairman a number of years ago in which I asked people to submit their CVs for consideration when appointments are being made to boards. A number of people whose political backgrounds have nothing to do with the Green Party were appointed through that process. A number of significant Labour Party supporters have been appointed to State bodies on the recommendation of Green Party Ministers.

The Green Party is poaching Labour Party members.

I would like to think that represents the beginning of a change. A further step forward is being taken using the Broadcasting Act 2009 which will enact the proposals of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, with regard to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. That legislation gives Oireachtas committees a greater role in vetting people and eventually appointing them to boards.

The latest advance, as agreed in the review of the programme for Government, is the proposal to provide for a legislative basis for public appointments. As someone who was involved in those negotiations, I have to accept that the approach being taken does not come close to what I set out as a preferred or ideal situation in the Bill I tabled in the Dáil in 2007. However, it will be the first time legislation on public appointments will be introduced by the Government and brought before the Oireachtas. The legislation will establish panels, put together in an independent fashion, from which Ministers will have to select at least half the members of the boards they are required to appoint. I suggest that the Broadcasting Act innovations introduced since the Green Party went into government, when taken with the commitments that were secured in the recent review of the programme for Government, demonstrate a small, slow and painful movement towards a legislative basis for some degree of autonomy in public appointments. I emphasise that I continue to prefer the model outlined in this Bill, which can and should be advanced. It may be possible to advance it in the lifetime of this Government, but it cannot be advanced tonight. I repeat my gratitude to those who brought it before the House tonight. We will need to adopt the important principles enshrined in the Bill at some stage in our public life. At a time when public cynicism about the profession of politics is at its height and the need to restore confidence in politics has never been so great, such principles have never been more needed.

I am sure Senator Ross, his Independent colleagues and the other Members of the House are aware that we are participating in government on the basis of the programme for Government that was originally secured in 2007 and was recently reviewed. That is the basis on which the Government in which the Green Party is participating will advance the issue of public appointments. If it is possible to push harder and further in this regard, I will be grateful for the assistance of any Member of the Oireachtas in achieving that. I emphasise that we are making more progress down that road than any other Government has chosen to make. I have heard the contributions of other Senators, who wagged their fingers and said "tut-tut" in the past when they were confronted with the undoubted abuse of public appointments by those who have been in government longest in this country. I remind the House that such abuse was carried forward with equal vigour by other parties when they subsequently found themselves in government. Senators may nod——

I was shaking my head in disagreement.

——in a vulgarian fashion and deny that their parties were involved——

They think it is only us, and not them, who do this.

——but the reality is that when appointments have been made at local government level or to international bodies——

There has been a huge spiralling of so many boards.

——the use and abuse of public appointments has taken place in equal measure regardless of which party has held the reins of power.

That is absolute nonsense.

The Senator can deny it all he likes.

Why does the Senator not stop it?

His denial only serves to intensify the use of the practice in the past.

That is wrong.

By organising this debate, Senator Ross and his Independent colleagues have given me the honour of regurgitating my principles and beliefs in this regard. They have demonstrated the importance of this Chamber by airing this issue and ensuring there continues to be a focus on it. While the decision-making process in this respect may be slow, gradual and painful, when decisions are ultimately made they will advance further the principles I was honoured to articulate in 2007. I continue to believe in those principles and hope they will be put on the Statute Book at some future stage.

Will the Senator advance those principles from Luxembourg?

I would like to share time with Senator Bacik.

Is that agreed? Agreed?

As I listened to Senator Boyle, it occurred to me that greater love for, or adherence to, a Government hath no man than to vote against a Bill he authored. That is the position the Senator finds himself in this evening. I have previously heard him try to spread the blame for this problem by saying that everybody has engaged in these practices since time immemorial. While I do not accept that is true, for the sake of argument I will accept for the moment that abuses of this nature have been perpetrated by parties other than the Fianna Fáil Party. Even if that were the case, Senator Boyle must admit he is in a position to address it. He has told us this evening, in a roundabout sort of way, that he cannot get the Fianna Fáil Party to agree to support the Bill proposed by Senator Ross. That is manifest. Senator Boyle has just told us that he continues to agree with the contents of the legislation, but cannot persuade his colleagues to agree to it. That is precisely what has occurred. The Senator has pointed to the marginal references to this issue in the programme for Government, but unfortunately that does not meet the point he made when he correctly advocated this legislation some years ago. Senator Ross and others have quoted liberally from what Senator Boyle said on that occasion.

I agree with and welcome this Bill. I congratulate Senator Ross on pursuing this important initiative. He is right when he says there needs to be far greater accountability at the heart of our system. I distinguish to some extent between accountability and transparency. We certainly need much more of the former. It would probably be more difficult for us to achieve accountability although we should strive for it, but transparency can be achieved much more quickly and very easily. Even if there is no measure requiring an appointee to a public body to account for himself to an Oireachtas committee, although this should be an objective, there should at least be some transparency so as to find out who are the candidates. We should find out their qualifications and the basis on which they are appointed to any given public body.

I agree with Senator John Paul Phelan in that I do not believe political participation or involvement in a political party, irrespective of which party, should operate as a bar to selfless and honourable service on a public body in the public interest. It clearly does not do so. The problem, suspicion and, in many cases, the reality is that people are appointed to public bodies not because of their merit, which may exist, but because of their political connections. That is the difficulty that arises. If Members on the opposite side of the House believe this is more a perception than a reality, they are incorrect because there are so many examples of patronage in public appointments. I have witnessed many cases personally, as have colleagues.

Even if patronage were more a perception than a reality, why could we not achieve the transparency the Bill seeks? If the Members opposite believe it is all exaggerated – Senator Callely is upset about people talking about patronage and believes there is none, apparently – we should ascertain whether they are correct. Let us have basic transparency of the kind advocated by Senator Ross and others. They advocated that individuals should appear before responsible committees of the Oireachtas to answer questions. What is wrong with a question-and-answer session? While the committee would not make the appointment, it would serve as a public forum allowing us to see who the candidates are and determine their views, merit, background and thinking on the issues germane to the appointment to be made. That can do no harm whatever and can only open public debate and do a service to the public.

In the legal profession and across the system, one hears certain phrases all the time. Members can say or pretend in the House that patronage does not occur but we know how the spoils of war are divided in this country. By "spoils of war", I mean the spoils of political war. People get appointed to bodies because of their political background and Senator Phelan should note that people get appointed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal because of their political connections. This is absolutely the case and the dogs on the street know it. I am not saying people of merit do not get appointed to the tribunal. I practise before the tribunal. People of very considerable merit get appointed to it but one must ask whether they are being appointed because of their merit or their political background. We need a system whereby this can be addressed and in which there is public confidence.

Implementing such a system does not mean people will be excluded because they have particular politics. People are entitled to have politics and should not be excluded because of having a trade union background. Reference was made to trade union fat cats and employer fat cats in the debate on FÁS and it was implied they should not be appointed to boards. I found much of this argumentation to be quite excessive and, in many cases, not justified by the reality that many appointees, including trade union representatives, with whom I am familiar, and employer representatives are very fine, honourable people who have performed extremely well on public bodies. However, the honourable ones among them – I would say they are all honourable – would and should welcome an opportunity to have a public forum at which they could be questioned by Members of the Oireachtas on their involvement and expertise in the area in question, and their views on major topical political issues germane to the body to which they are appointed.

It is time this sort of legislation were introduced. There is a need to eradicate any element of patronage, as implied in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. This is absolutely true and I do not know why any Senator should be so upset by this being at the heart of the legislation. I am glad Senator Boyle still aspires to introducing such legislation and it is a pity he cannot, on this occasion, persuade his colleagues in Fianna Fáil to agree.

I am grateful to Senator Alex White for sharing time. I, too, commend the university Senators, particularly Senator Ross, on introducing this excellent Bill. Others have commented on its genesis and the fact that it is so closely reflective of the Appointments to Public Bodies Bill 2007 introduced by Senator Boyle and his colleagues in the Green Party, who were in opposition at the time. That Bill was defeated on Second Stage on 28 March 2007. It is a shame the Green Party cannot support this Bill, particularly because there is in the renewed programme for Government, agreed on 10 October, a commitment to introduce on a legislative basis a more open and transparent system for appointments to public bodies. Having listened to Senator Boyle, I would have believed he would be in favour of this legislation considering it is similar to his own Bill. I understand the Green Party and its colleagues in Government will not be supporting it.

The Bill is long overdue and there is no question about that. All Members on both sides are agreed on that. The reality of cronyism and patronage and the fact that they are rife in public life and in the making of appointments to public bodies are accepted. Senator Alex White referred to particular examples. We are all aware of patronage.

In 2005 I was on a body called the Democracy Commission, which I hasten to add was not a public body in that its members were not appointed by a Minister. Its members included Senator Hanafin, from the other side of the House. The body was set up by TASC and it considered ways in which we could improve democracy and make a case for democratic renewal in Ireland. Key to our recommendations was one that there be greater scrutiny of appointments to public bodies. We argued:

The Standards in Public Office Commission should be given powers to draft guidelines for appointments to the boards of non departmental public bodies... This process should be subject to the scrutiny of the Oireachtas. Similarly the appointment of the chair of each commercial state body and of the larger non-commercial bodies should be subject to ratification by the Seanad or relevant Oireachtas committee.

Central to that recommendation was our great concern over the proliferation of non-departmental public bodies. We stated in 2005 that the number of such bodies at national level was approximately 500, with a further 400 operating at regional and local levels. Up to half of those had come into existence in the preceding ten years. There is clearly an issue associated with the lack of transparency in the appointment to those bodies. Ministers are currently responsible for appointing the majority of members to the boards of the bodies and, at present, there is no clearly defined mechanism to ensure appointments are free from undue political or other influences. It may not be a question of political party affiliation. It may simply be a question of friendship or offering a reward for favours done. I do not mean this necessarily in a corrupt way but refer to appointing someone as a way of thanking them. This is not the way in which appointments to public bodies should be made.

The message in this Bill is that we need democratic scrutiny and oversight of the process of appointments to public bodies. It was recognised by the Green Party Members in their speeches in March 2007. The current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, referred to the Democracy Commission's recommendations at that time and called for reform. He stated other parties should support his Bill. I renew that call and say to Fianna Fáil and the Green Party that they should be supporting it. We all agree it is necessary and we can all sign up to it. It is a bit like motherhood and apple pie; it is very hard to see how one could vote against a Bill that calls for the scrutiny of appointments to approximately 900 public bodies. The legislation is long overdue and is really worthy of cross-party support.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate on appointments to public bodies and to hear the view of Senators. Oireachtas Members who go to the trouble of preparing Private Members' legislation are always to be commended. Even when, as is more often the case, the Bill is not accepted as it stands, it can help to inform subsequent Government legislation.

It is a little over six months since I took part in another debate in this House on the ongoing review of State agencies that is being carried out by the Government. That debate took place in the wake of one budget, and this one takes place as we prepare for another. Much has changed in the meantime. The McCarthy report has been published and, for a variety of reasons, both good and bad, State agencies find themselves the subject of much public debate and controversy. Just last month I spoke in the Dáil debate on a Fine Gael Private Members' Bill on public appointments that did not proceed further.

When we discussed State agencies in the House last April I challenged the negative caricature of them. The reform of State agencies is necessary but we should also recognise the important contribution those agencies have made to the country and our national life and acknowledge the hard and valuable work of those who have served on them. The State has benefited from extremely capable and well-qualified individuals who have given of their time, experience and expertise to serve on the boards of public bodies, some of which are shining examples. We can be proud of their historic achievements.

Appointments to State boards, task forces and international organisations are normally made by the Minister in the relevant sector or by the Government in the case of certain appointments to international bodies. In making appointments, Ministers seek to ensure the people appointed bring a diverse range of relevant skills and experiences to the body. The decisions are approached in a conscientious manner, following consultation, and usually take time. The ministerial freedom to make appointments is not unfettered. The arrangements for these appointments are usually prescribed in the relevant sectoral legislation. Ministers must take account of any specific requirements that exist, such as the need to appoint worker directors or representatives of nominating bodies, and of relevant Government policies, such as the policy on gender balance on State boards. Where appropriate, Ministers also consider representations from different strands of society such as the business community, consumers, trade unions or other stakeholders depending on the nature of the agency. Ministers can be questioned and held accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas for their appointments.

I oppose the Bill on the basis that the solution it proposes is not in line with what is needed to carry forward the process of reform the Government has begun in the manner of making public appointments to the boards of State bodies. I am also concerned the Bill advances into a new area, namely, appointments to international organisations.

The Government's policy on appointments to public bodies is clearly set out in the renewed programme for Government which provides for the introduction on a legislative basis of a more open and transparent system for appointments. Legislation will outline a procedure for the publication of all vacancies likely to occur, for the invitation of applications from the public and for the creation from the responses received of a panel of suitable persons for consideration for appointment. The legislation will also specify the number of persons to be appointed by a Minister and will facilitate the appropriate Oireachtas committees to make nominations to the panel.

Already individual Ministers have sponsored changes in their sectoral areas of responsibility. In this regard, the House will be aware of the innovative measures for board appointments to public broadcasting corporations which were sponsored by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, in the recently enacted Broadcasting Act.

While opposing this Bill in its particular form, I acknowledge that it recognises the potential of the State's existing recruitment services to play a professional and impartial role in handling nominations or recruitment to public bodies, although the role proposed in the Bill for the Commission on Public Service Appointments would probably be more appropriate for the Public Appointments Service, PAS. I note that the services of the PAS have been called into play by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in soliciting expressions of interest from those who would wish to be nominated by the committee to the positions to which the provisions in the Broadcasting Act apply.

Under those new provisions, the joint committee will recommend four of the candidates for the nine member board of the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, and four of the 12 members of the board of RTE. Senators will recall that under the new arrangements the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will inform the Oireachtas joint committee of proposed appointments to the boards, setting out the relevant experience and expertise of his other nominees. The Oireachtas joint committee will have 90 days to propose candidates for the relevant post or posts from the four posts covered by the new provisions, and will advise the Minister of its recommendations giving reasons such as relevant experience and expertise. The Minister shall have regard to the advice of the joint committee in making the appointments, that is to say, he or she may accept the recommendations as he or she sees fit or decide to nominate others.

In the course of the debate on amendments to the new provisions in the Broadcasting Act on board appointments, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, made clear his view that it was for the committee to propose its nominations to the Minister rather than the Minister's nominees requiring to be approved by the committee. That was the intention in the legislation as passed. It is for the Government, as Executive, to manage and take decisions within the statutory framework laid down by the Oireachtas and to answer for those decisions and actions. In present times, we need a strong, not a weak Executive, and its powers in regard to appointments should not be transferred virtually wholesale to the Legislature.

In contemplating the task before it under the new provisions of the Broadcasting Act, the Oireachtas joint committee saw merit in availing of the executive services of the Public Appointments Service — an independent and professional service — in assembling a pool of qualified candidates that could be considered for nomination by the committee to the positions on the boards of RTE and the BAI covered by the new provisions. I noted the advertisement in last Friday's newspapers in which the Public Appointments Service is seeking expressions of interest from suitable candidates on behalf of the Oireachtas joint committee. It is not expected that the Oireachtas joint committee will be in a position to make its recommendations in regard to the broadcasting authority and RTE boards for some months. However, we need to see how this system works in practice and the House also needs to form its view of it before we rush into another model which is also untested.

Turning to the provisions of the Bill, I see difficulties in a number of areas. First, the Bill establishes yet another Oireachtas committee at a time when we are trying to curtail the costs of administration. There are ample Oireachtas committees already in place in the various sectors to oversee any role that may be accorded to the Oireachtas in a reform of the system of public appointments.

The role envisaged for this committee would be truly enormous. Its remit would extend not just to State agencies as widely understood, but to all executive bodies, advisory bodies and task forces under the remit of a Department. Under section 10 the committee would be tasked with carrying out a review of all the procedures in place for the appointment of chairpersons and board members of the wide range of bodies that are in existence. That would involve a detailed examination of the arrangements for appointments to boards set out in a myriad of sectoral legislation and the identification of the arrangements for various appointments to international bodies. The committee would then have to establish the list of vacancies that would fall under the new arrangements proposed in the Bill.

It strikes me that this approach places an enormous administrative burden on the Oireachtas that is far more appropriate to Ministers and their Departments. It would be an unnecessary burden for the Oireachtas and would not be germane to Oireachtas scrutiny as elaborated in recent years. We can achieve transparency in public appointments without overturning the relationship between the Oireachtas and the Government.

In section 12, the role envisaged for the committee in approving plans for appointments to public bodies is, again, a matter for Government, not the Oireachtas. Another feature of the Bill that concerns me is the conflicting roles assigned to Ministers and the joint committee. Section 5 clearly states that the Minister shall remain ultimately responsible and accountable for appointments to public bodies. Under section 13(5), however, the appointment of the chair and board composition would be subject to ratification by the joint committee, which would also have the ultimate power under section 18 to dismiss a chairperson or board member upon recommendation of the relevant Minister. The ultimate powers and responsibilities of these sections appear to be in conflict.

Section 19 requires public appointments to international bodies currently at the discretion of the Government to be subject to a vote of approval by the Dáil. In general, however, the procedure for making such appointments is unique to the individual post and is not amenable to a standardised approach or scrutiny. The Government or ministerial nominee may have to be agreed within a nominating college or constituency or with the body in question or may be circumscribed by requirements for particular qualifications, experience or links to or standing with the national Government or Administration. It is neither appropriate nor in the best interests of making effective appointments to adopt this procedure.

In another departure at section 15, the Bill provides that the appointments process shall be subject to audit by the Oireachtas committee. That provision, in addition to placing a further burden on the Oireachtas, ignores the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General as the independent constitutional officer who audits on behalf of the State and who carries out special reports on the economy and efficiency with which State bodies acquire, use and dispose of resources, and on the systems, procedures and practices they employ for evaluation of the effectiveness of their operations. It appears also to be predicated on the assumption that the Executive cannot be trusted, even if an impartial selection system under the Public Appointments Service were established.

The Bill takes no account of the normal provisions for accountability that can apply under law to the chief executives and chairpersons of various public bodies. The formula for their accountability is usually based on the original provisions for the accountability of Accounting Officers of Departments to the Oireachtas as set out in section 19 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993. That is a well-tested formula.

The Bill also does not acknowledge the arrangement for corporate governance in the recently updated code of practice for the governance of State bodies. This provides a framework for the application of best practice in corporate governance by both commercial and non-commercial State bodies. All State bodies and their subsidiaries are required to confirm to the relevant Minister that they comply with the up-to-date requirements of the code. The code of practice concerns both the internal practices of the bodies and their external relations with the Government, the relevant Minister under whose aegis they fall, the Minister for Finance, and their respective Departments. The code also refers to the ethical and standards in public office obligations that apply to all designated directors and designated office holders.

The code of practice provides, inter alia, that the chairperson must include a statement that all appropriate procedures have been followed by the organisation, including those regarding Government pay policy and procedures for financial reporting, internal audit, travel, procurement and asset disposal. The chairperson must furnish a statement on the system of financial control in the body in a prescribed format to the relevant Minister and Department. Some of the recent publicity regarding certain public bodies would seem to indicate a lack of awareness of these requirements in the past.

Turning to performance matters, irrespective of the manner of appointment of its members, the board ultimately reports to the relevant Minister and to his or her Department. This is an issue that was examined by the OECD as part of its review of the Irish public service, which was published last year. The OECD review, Towards an Integrated Public Service, was a whole of public service review. What the Government wanted the OECD to do was to examine how its priorities and decisions are translated into services and outcomes for our citizens and how these processes can be improved. The review was not an external audit by the OECD. Instead, the Government initiated the process. This innovative approach was new not only for Ireland but for the OECD which is now moving to replicate this whole of public service approach in other countries. It puts Ireland at the forefront of public service modernisation and creates a model that is being copied elsewhere.

The OECD found that agencies had given the Irish public service additional capacity and flexibility to deliver services during a time of major growth in public spending and increased citizen expectations. Agencies had allowed Governments to involve more stakeholders in participative management and to bring needed skills into the public service. However, the OECD believed that, when compared internationally, agencification in Ireland may have set out to achieve too much.

On a point of order, surely there is no such word as "agencification" in the English language.

That is not a point of order.

The OECD said that there is now a need for an improved governance and performance dialogue to address what it described as the current disconnects between the central Civil Service and the broader public sector, especially between Departments and agencies. It noted that there are neither formal nor informal criteria for establishing agencies in Ireland, either at the national or local level. It recommended that the opportunity should now be taken to rethink the agency system to take better advantage of this organisational form.

The OECD's call for improved governance arrangements for the public service is one the Government supports. There is a need to take a hard look at our approach to agencies, why and how they are set up, and the proper reporting relationships between agencies and their parent Departments. This is clearly an area that is central to the next phase of public service modernisation. In this regard it is not merely the manner of appointments that matters but the quality of the framework in place for governance and reporting.

The Government responded to the OECD review by establishing a task force to prepare a comprehensive framework for renewal of the public service. In relation to agencies, the task force was asked to recommend an appropriate framework for their establishment, operation and governance. The report of the task force on the public service, Transforming Public Services, was published last November. The report builds on the findings of the OECD review while at the same time taking account of our new economic circumstances. The report set out a framework which Government has adopted for what amounts to a radical transformation of the public service. The measures set out in the report represent a challenging agenda for change in the public service. A Cabinet committee chaired by the Taoiseach is leading the process, supported by a steering group of relevant Secretaries General.

The task force also recognised that the formation of agencies has been a significant feature of the public service in recent times and that they have played an important role in contributing to policy making in regulation and service delivery. Agencies have given the public service additional capacity and flexibility to deliver services during a time of major growth in public expenditure and increased citizen expectations. It also recognised that they have allowed a clear dedicated focus on delivering a particular function, which might not be possible in a multi-functional Department.

The task force argued that it is necessary to have clarity around statutory mandates and the delivery expectations of Government. In addition, regular evaluation is necessary to allow decisions to cease activities. It said there should be fewer new agencies and fewer agencies overall, as new functions are increasingly assigned to existing agencies or retained within Departments. It endorsed the OECD view that a wider variety of governance arrangements would be appropriate for the diverse range of agency roles, with scope in particular for reducing the number of statutorily independent boards of stakeholders in favour of more immediate ministerial direction with greater recourse to advisory boards.

In parallel with the work of the task force, the Government announced a process for the rationalisation of State agencies. In last October's budget, the Minister for Finance announced the Government's decision to proceed with a series of 30 rationalisation proposals that will reduce the number of bodies by 41 and streamline functions in three areas. The general policy approach on rationalisation of State agencies is to create efficiencies through streamlining the delivery of public services, removing duplication of functions and promoting departmental and ministerial responsibility.

The publication of the task force report was accompanied by a major Government statement on transforming public services. Building on the recommendations of the task force, the Government statement announced the establishment of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes — the McCarthy group — which would, inter alia, report to the Government on the scope for further rationalisation of agencies. It also announced that the Government would not create any new agencies pending the development of new performance management and governance frameworks. Ministers will be required to demonstrate a clear business case for any incremental resources associated with the creation of a new agency or the conferring of new functions on an existing agency, in particular, why an existing agency or Department cannot take on the task within existing resources. All agencies will be required to publish output statements relating to the resources allocated to them with target achievements, and Departments will put in place, with those agencies involved in service provision, service level agreements which commit agencies to delivering agreed volumes and standards to the public. Agencies will be compelled to use shared services options save in exceptional circumstances.

This Bill seeks to improve the arrangements for making appointments to public bodies. I welcome that but the mechanisms proposed are complicated and burdensome. The Bill is also predicated on the assumption that the Executive is not capable of managing the processes surrounding appointments in a proper way. I reject that. Neither does it recognise the reforms that are already under way. The Government has set out clearly how it intends to address this issue in the renewed programme for Government. Nevertheless, contributions from Senators today will be taken into account as new arrangements are framed for a robust and transparent system of appointments.

I would like to respond briefly to one or two points made in the debate. The impression is often given that important appointments are only given to members of governing parties. I point out that the very distinguished EU ambassador in Washington, who is retiring from that post, had the support of the Government in his nomination. The chairman of the Irish Human Rights Commission was a former Opposition Leader of the House. A former leader of Fine Gael, Alan Dukes, has been given several appointments, including in recent times. Our European Commissioners have generally obtained substantial portfolios and their achievements have been regarded as considerable. With regard to people of a political affiliation, a former Cathaoirleach of this House made an excellent board member of CIE and was reappointed, if I remember correctly, by a Fine Gael Minister to that board. I recommend an article in today's Evening Herald about the progress made by CIE in direct response to a point made by Senator Ross.

Much play has been made in the debate of quoting what a Green Party Senator, formerly a Deputy, said on the subject but any Member in Opposition, on coming into government, is in a position to refine his or her policy and, moreover, to get it transformed into action. I am sure the Opposition, if it were to go into government, would act in exactly the same way. Senator John Paul Phelan was critical of the current system but failed to say what Fine Gael in government would do in this area. When the Labour Party was in government in the 1990s, I remember it being quite openly stated that public relations contracts should be awarded to like-minded people.

I have been lobbied, as I am sure have most Ministers and Ministers of State. There are very few appointments — in fact, none of which I am aware — that I must make to bodies, but none the less I have been lobbied. I am unsympathetic to lobbying by persons whose only qualification is party affiliation, but if that is combined with a track record and a great deal of experience, then that is an entirely different situation, and I entirely agree with everything Senator Alex White had to say on that subject.

We face failures in governance in both the public sector and private sector. This seems to be an ongoing problem, which is one that goes back many years, to do with the state of knowledge of non-executive board members and what the executive members choose to tell them, and this requires a great deal of reflection across the entire economy and society. It is not confined to the public sector.

Le cead ón Teach, ba bhreá liom mo chuid ama a roinnt le mo comhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Ó Dochartaigh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I was struck by the thought that we should have a habeas corpus here and summon the unfortunate civil servant who gave us the word “agencification”. I am not sure if we should give the poor individual a dressing down or a week’s holidays.

I nearly changed it.

He is clearly so overworked that he failed to put in inverted commas, at least, to ease our passage through the speech.

In welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, to the House, it is not controversial to state that the patronage and the abuse of appointment to public office has on occasions been the curse of our political system. I commend Senator Ross on bringing forward the Bill. As he stated, he did not draft it but he is absolutely correct in bringing it forward for consideration by the House today.

Before dealing with the substantive areas of the Bill, I want to cast an eye over the nature of the bodies addressed in the Bill. In any democracy elements of government are delegated to panels of experts to allow close scrutiny of the matters in question by people who are able and interested but not weighed down with the demands of office of state. However, since the early days of this State the cynical among us have been able to predict that these appointments would be made on occasion for venal rather than altruistic reasons, and too often people have been proven correct.

I was going out the door of my office when I heard Senator White, I think, — I am open to correction — generously acknowledge or at least assume for the sake of argument that it was not just a Fianna Fáil problem. It was not only generous but wise of him to do so because there is no political party that has been above making rather grubby appointments on occasion.

I recall the famous Battle of Baltinglass. I was surprised the Minister did not mention this cause célèbre back in 1950, a dispute caused by the action of the then Labour Party TD for Wicklow who had become Minister for Post and Telegraphs in the inter-party Government. Ignoring the rights of the incumbent family, the Cookes, as the House will be aware, he appointed one of this own supporters, Michael Farrell, as postmaster of the sub-post office in the village of Baltinglass, and the family protested.

There is an interesting parallel with what we are discussing. The family protested and many politicians were appalled by such marked jobbery, but after Labour's coalition partners, Clann na Poblachta, whose election plans had included opposition to corruption, failed to demand justice from the Minister, it was the people of Baltinglass who took up the cudgels in the battle. They arranged to boycott the general store that Farrell also owned in the village and, in the following year, Farrell resigned his position as postmaster. Indeed, there was an anonymous contemporary ballad describing the battle that went as follows:

There were bremagums and stem-guns and whippet tanks galore,

As the battle raged up and down from pub to gen'ral store.

As I stated, it seems there is no party in this State above criticism on this issue.

The modern example of appointing members to boards, including semi-State companies and prison visiting committees, whose members are often resident many miles from the meeting place of these committees, has resulted in considerable travel expenses in addition to the stipend payable. Of course, this considerable financial cost to the public purse has compounded the damage done to the public good by keeping good persons off these boards in favour of, on occasions, less able but better connected persons.

Of course, I am speaking not about every appointment but about the general malaise. Obviously, we must consider the good work done by many post holders who have been sincere in their dedication and faithful to their task.

The Bill is impressive. On the central tenet of the Bill, that there would be scrutiny or that decisions on the appointments made would be taken away from the Executive, at least to a partial extent, some years ago we were faced with controversy that led to the creation of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, a development that was intended to remove the problem of political considerations impinging on appointments to the Bench. While the creation of the JAAB was well-meaning, it is fair to say that many consider that the political element remains to an undesirable degree. This Bill in a sense addresses this by making the power of appointment lie with an Oireachtas joint committee rather than having an independent body make a non-binding recommendation to Cabinet, as is the case with the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, although as I stated, I note the provisions on the Minister's ultimate responsibility.

I welcome in particular the provisions set out in section 13 and the focus in section 12 on the appointment plans. I would have liked to voice a caution about accountability. The FÁS scandal has shown the propensity of Government to wash its hands of anything that can safely be blamed on the board of an autonomous organisation. It might be appropriate to amend section 5 to give some mechanism to the Minister's ultimate responsibility by creating a practical element, perhaps borrowed from corporate governance theory, that the chairs of these committees would be specifically required to report to the relevant Minister on the functioning of the board. Gabhaim leithscéal le mo chomhghleacaí. Gabhaim buíochas as ucht an deis labhartha.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Mullen as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bille seo, An Bille um Cheapacháin chuig Comhlachtaí Poiblí agus sílim go bhfuil sé thar am go mbeadh reachtaíocht san áit seo. Caithfidh mé a rá gur chleas glic atá imrithe anseo, ag an Seanadóir Ross go h-áirithe, an Bille deireanach a chuir an Comhaontas Glas ós comhair na Dála a fhoilsiú anseo inniu. Déanaim comhgairdeas leis as ucht sin. It is a clever stunt by Senator Ross in producing the same Bill that was produced by Senator Boyle and the Green Party in 2007, and presenting it here today. It is long overdue.

Senator Boyle, in his acknowledgement, has correctly recognised that little has changed in the system since 2007. It was only this month last year when the leader of his party, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, had to face the Dáil and make a public statement of apology because he appointed two councillors to a State body, the Private Residential Tenancies Board. One of them, from my county of Donegal, was a Fianna Fáil councillor who came back to that party's family and who was originally in Independent Fianna Fáil. The other was a Green Party councillor who was a county councillor at the time and who is now a town councillor. Indeed, he is now leaving the town council and leaving his position as an elected representative of the Green Party because he cannot afford to represent the people anymore, but that is a side issue. The reality is that this system has continued even up until last year and there is a need for an overhaul of this system.

Fianna Fáil has been the dominant party of Government for many decades. We have a system of cronyism and corruption being bred particularly from that party, although it is not unique to it. A summary of the detailed and lengthy contribution from the Minister of State would be that they are not ready for this legislation, they have a commitment in the programme for Government and they will deal with it some time in the future. That is not good enough because this is ongoing. For many years there has been a demand that this system be dealt with. It seems that the agenda of the Government time and again is that it is continually stuck in the slow lane and sometimes stuck in reverse. It is time for it to catch up.

The public wants more accountability. It wants greater confidence in some of these State boards. Other Senators have spoken about the lack of confidence in boards such as those of CIE and FÁS because of the scandals that have occurred within them. It is very easy to blame the board but the reality is that the Minister responsible has not grabbed the bull by the horns on those occasions. If there was at least a public system of appointing members to these public bodies, there would be more acceptance that those on the boards are trying to do their best. At this time, getting appointed to these boards is clearly a case who you are and who you know.

I welcome the Bill. I hope the Green Party Members, if they cannot support the Bill, can do what they have done on other occasions and stay out of the Chamber and not cast their vote, thereby allowing us to pass the legislation on this occasion.

The system is based on the fact that Fianna Fáil want to hold on to power at all costs. It has continued to put its people onto boards to ensure that, even outside of Government, it will continue to direct and control the boards. There will be three by-elections for the Seanad. These would be a good example of how Fianna Fáil, as the dominant party in Government, could show its genuineness by appointing somebody different from a party member or a Green Party member to one of those vacancies. It should particularly consider the issue of an emigrant representative being appointed to the Seanad who would give a voice to the emigrant communities throughout Britain, America and Europe. This would at least show there is a change of attitude at the heart of Government in regard to this issue.

I wish to share time with Senator Ormonde.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

We have had an extremely good debate on appointments, which I welcome. Having served on a health board for many years, I met many people with ability on that board who came from the different political parties and from none. I am not one of those who believes, when a board is being appointed, that one needs to be a member of the Labour Party, Sinn Féin or any other party to be appointed. The one issue for me is whether the person has the ability to serve. One should not be debarred by association.

If a person wants to serve on a board of a public body, that person is giving his or her time, experience and ability to do so. While such people receive a stipend, it would not in many cases pay them for attendance. To take a councillor who must leave his farm to sit on a board or attend a committee in one of the prisons, he must get somebody to look after his work while he is away. People who are prepared to give of their time and ability to serve on boards and who are well equipped to do so should not be prevented from doing so.

Of course, Fianna Fáil has been in power more than most and, therefore, many people have an association with Fianna Fáil. That should not debar them, however. The same applies to the Labour Party and Fine Gael. Regardless of who one was, all parties were represented on the health boards, including Sinn Féin, the chemists and various others, but they were all relevant people. That is the important point — to have a relevant, coherent board that serves the public well.

During this debate, many speakers have, wrongly, dismissed the service that has been given to this country by many good, decent, genuine people. It was said that the system in place is corrupt. I do not believe it is corrupt. I have not seen any corruption on any board on which I served.

To be fair to Senator Ross, he has given this House great service in exposing what happened on one particular board. I believe the board in that case was totally wrong and certainly did not carry out its duties by making inquiries monthly as to its expenditure. This first came to my notice when I saw that the representatives on that board, who were from the social partners, were booking hotels such as the Mount Juliet, and that a group such as Threshold was booking five-star hotels in which to hold its meetings. I worry when such things happen.

If Sinn Féin was in power, it would obviously have like-minded people nominated to various boards. That is life. That is democracy. One should not be debarred from any organisation or body because of religious or political persuasion. The Minister has the right to make appointments. We saw what happened when we gave away ministerial power to the HSE, for example, in that public representatives now have no say. Why we would want to get rid of the Minister's ability to make appointments is beyond me. That is a democratic right of the Minister. I do not agree with and will not support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh. I am pleased to participate in and listen to the debate. I congratulate Senator Ross on his highlighting of recent developments with State boards and bringing that matter to light. Perhaps that has prompted bringing the matter further and into this Chamber.

I agree with most of the points raised by Senator Ross, and go along with the suggestion that we must consider issues of transparency and the scrutiny of appointments. However, I will not vote for the Bill on the basis of what the Minister of State outlined, namely, that this issue will be part of a bigger Bill, that reform is on the way, that we will rationalise the agencies and seek the transformation of the public service, and that we will have a new code of practice for the governance of State bodies. In the midst of all of this, we have the rationalisation of the State agencies and the McCarthy report as well as the context within which public appointments will take place.

I welcome all of that. However, there is one thread coming through in the debate which I do not like. I would hate to think that, because of political affiliations, we are seen as cronies or that anybody who is on a board is a crony and that this is all about patronage. Those serving on boards are very fine people who may have political affiliations. As has been highlighted in the debate, these are people who have the necessary skills, professional experience and qualifications. Why should sitting councillors, former councillors, former TDs and former Senators not be on a board if they have the necessary skills and qualifications?

Should they have to go through the hoop of being interviewed for appointment? They have already proved themselves through their experience and qualifications yet it is suggested they should be put through another loop because some Members are not satisfied they would be suitable for the job. I do not believe in that. If such people adhere to a code of practice and are persons of integrity, why not appoint them? Let us consider a panel of people who are suitable to the various bodies or State boards. It is a positive step and is the way I want the Seanad to move forward by having such a debate, thus adding to whatever Bill is introduced by the Government. In that way, many of the ideas that have been discussed here will be incorporated in the Bill. That is all I want. Nobody is denying that we must have integrity and must adhere to a code of practice and standards in public office. We have had awful experiences and I do not want any of us ever again to be in this embarrassing position. I never want to see a repeat of recent developments. I welcome this debate and would welcome a further discussion on the next Stage. Unfortunately, I cannot vote with Senator Ross tonight.

However, I agree with many of the points he raised.

I wish to share time with Senator Norris.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate Senator Ross on the Bill and commend him on bringing it before the House. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, and thank him for his great speech, which I listened to with incredulity. If ever I heard a case for Senator Ross's Bill, it was in the contributions of the Minister of State and Senators Ormonde and Butler. Senator Ormonde should buy a book entitled The Drumcondra Mafia, which, more than anything I can say, illustrates why this Bill is necessary. If we are talking about reform of the system, the Bill is timely. Outside in real Ireland, cynicism, annoyance and frustration rest in the hearts and minds of Irish people about the political class and the political system. Whether we like it, cronyism and patronage are seen to be alive and well. The examples I quote concern what happened with FÁS and yesterday with CIE. The Minister of State may protest and give me all the articulate answers he wants to, but that is the reality. People feel the system has let them down and that appointees to State boards have done the public interest no good. It might be a generalisation but that is the reality. The politics of a bygone era must be overcome. The old adage rings true: “It is not what you know, but who you know.” That has been the Fianna Fáil way for generations, regardless of whether the Minister of State likes it. I am not saying he is like that, but some of his colleagues definitely are.

The Bill attempts to create transparency and openness in public appointments. I will not name them, but I know of people whom I would not appoint to clean a dog kennel, yet they are getting stipends equivalent to some people's wages. We must restore trust and confidence in the political system. At the first sitting of this Seanad in 2007, Senator Ross spoke about patronage being the curse of Irish political life. He was right, but look at what has happened since then. The bottom has fallen out of the whole political system. In some cases, the boards of semi-State organisations are rotten with Fianna Fáil appointees. Senator Ormonde may grimace but it is a fact of life. We need openness and transparency. I know it hurts her because it is the truth, and I understand that. If I was in her position, I would be equally embarrassed.

The Senator is not very convincing.

We must get rid of cronyism and patronage if we are to restore public trust and confidence in the political system.

If we are honest with one another, that is what we must do. The Bill is important because it seeks to provide accountability and transparency. If we take Senator Ormonde's point about qualifications, that will happen. I do not agree that someone should be debarred from appointment to a State board because he or she is a political appointee or a member of a political party. I never said that, but we should put qualified people in who will act in the public interest, ask questions and be held to account. Let us get real. Why are we afraid of having confirmation hearings here like there are in America? What would be wrong with us investigating the board of FÁS, Iarnród Éireann or Bord Gáis? Deputy Leo Varadkar introduced the Public Appointments Transparency Bill in the other House, under which Ministers would be asked to appoint the best qualified people to serve on State boards. In addition, board members would have to understand their responsibilities. In some cases, such people come up for the day, get their money and go home. That is what is wrong with a system where patronage is involved.

I am looking forward to the end of the old boys' network, which exists through political connections. God knows, we need to get rid of the old pals' act. Ms Elaine Byrne wrote a very good exposé in The Irish Times in March this year, entitled “Letting go of self-destructive Pyrrhic behaviour”. I will not go into it in detail because I do not have sufficient time. She wrote about the consequences of the failure of the traditional majority in Ireland. Her article also referred to unemployment and the whispers of potential civil unrest growing louder, which is the reality we are facing.

I commend the Bill and hope the Green Party Senators will stand by their convictions by voting against the Government. If they are true to what the then Deputy Dan Boyle spoke about in the other House in March 2007, they will have the courage to vote with the Opposition now. Politics as we know it has got to change. There must be a greater level of transparency and honesty.

I thank Senator Buttimer for giving me time to take part in this important debate. I commend my colleague, Senator Ross, on a superb political manoeuvre. He has been talking about this for many years, before most of the other Senators became Members of the House. I remember him raising this matter many years ago. Both he and Senator O'Toole did a remarkable job. I listened with delight to part of what Senator Ross said, as he attacked the subject with his usual panache and wit. I thought that there was revealed not just a fantastic investigative journalist, but also a superb post-modernist, comic dramatist manqué because he quoted slabs of Senator Boyle and other members of the Green Party. As Oscar Wilde remarked perceptively: "It all depends on who's saying something". That is what the dramatist sees. It was very interesting and important to have Senator Boyle and the Government confronted with their own words, not just a dramatic trick. If we are looking for openness, accountability and transparency, it is important to measure performance between what is spouted in opposition and what is put into practice in Government. This evening we had a remarkable and ironic job in that regard. It is important to put this matter up to the Government.

With regard to openness, accountability and transparency, quite a number of years ago, I raised in this House the fact that a document had come into my hands. It was a Supplementary Estimate for various things, including the secret service, which then cost €100,000. I thought the fact they were declaring a budget head of that sum for the Irish secret service was really openness, transparency and accountability in practice. As I pointed out, however, the Irish secret service was a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron, rather like its counterpart, British intelligence. There could be no such thing as an Irish secret service, because we cannot keep a secret. We now have it again in the sum of €200,000.

Some serious issues were highlighted in the debate. On some of the State boards we have serious concerns about the quality, methodology and reason for appointing certain people. The Government addressed this matter not by reforming it or opening it to competition, but instead by having a much more closed situation where the Minister appoints directly. That is actually worse. It is a catastrophic disgrace, but it is all of a piece. I remember when the legislation to establish the Competition Authority was debated in this House. I happened to notice that there was no competition or openness for positions within the Competition Authority itself. I put down amendments that were eventually and reluctantly accepted. That body was vested with the authority to supervise this kind of material on behalf of other people.

I looked at the Minister of State's speech and agreed with some of it. It is important we do not dishearten the ordinary members of State bodies. This State has been very well served since the time of Seán Lemass by decent people who have a sense of honour and decency and who have done remarkable work. That does not mean the system should be immune from criticism, as the Minister of State concedes. However, his following arguments concerning the Minister and the wonderful way in which the appointments were made and how inherently open this was, when really it is not I found to be somewhat weak

The Minister of State then delighted me by saying that the House also needed to form its view before we rush to another moral untested conclusion. The spectacle of this Government rushing anywhere would be a prospect to be greatly welcomed. This has, I believe, been a Government of very considerable caution.

On the question of international bodies, I am slightly extending the matter here. It would be very regrettable if this Government appeared to be on the point of supporting Tony Blair as President of the European Union. I cannot think of a more discredited international figure, especially in the light of his disgraceful behaviour with regard to the Iraq war. I would appeal to the Minister to take back to his colleagues the widespread feelings among people throughout the country about this issue. I hear it all the time and I see it in the newspapers that the ordinary people of Ireland are revolted by the Iraq war and the appallingly inopportune appointment of Blair as a Middle East negotiator.

On the question of a code of practice for good governance on State bodies and so on, I have served on a number of boards. I have never been paid, but my antennae go up when I hear people prating about good governance. The retreat of a person into prating about good governance is analogous to the last refuge of the scoundrel, as Johnson described patriotism. Such persons always have something Machiavellian up their sleeves. The mechanism is so complicated and burdensome that the Government is not going to do it. I commend Senators Ross and O'Toole. It was a wonderful witty lively evening and also has a serious political point.

I congratulate Senator Ross on bringing forward this Bill. As Senator Norris has said, State boards have done a great service to this country. Like it or not, some people have not lived up to the expectations placed on them by Ministers over the years. However, there is great merit in the debate as put forward this evening if only for one reason — vested interests. A Member of the other House, Deputy Phil Hogan, recently uncovered a situation in which a member of a particular board had a vested interest and nothing was done about it. This legislation could cover such situations. I can appreciate the Minister of State's point to the effect that the provisions of the legislation could place an enormous burden on any Oireachtas committee. However, in many cases, especially where there are questions of vested interests, the Oireachtas committee as proposed by Senators Ross and O'Toole could well play a vital role.

I thank all Senators who contributed and the Minister of State and everyone else for their constructive attitude to the Bill as proposed. It has been debated in a somewhat restrained atmosphere, and there has been to some degree a cosy acceptance that there are many good decent people on these boards. That is absolutely true. There is no attempt in this Bill to attack those people or downgrade them in any way.

However, I do not believe that the Minister of State and those on the Government side should seek to say, in effect, "Don't hit me, I've got the baby in my arms", and infer that because there many good members of State boards we cannot criticise the others or that the system and the principle are therefore right. That is not true. Many people sit on State boards because of the money. There is a good deal of money involved in this. Members of the board of CIE get €17,000 a year and FÁS board members got €14,000 a year. That is why many people take such appointments, not because they have a sense of public duty. They like the cash.

There are other boards for which there is no money at all.

I agree with the Minister of State, but they are not the target of this legislation. The target is those who are doing no work, are not qualified and are getting enormous amounts of cash for it. There are many of those. I could list them but I have not got time.

Also, because I took the example of the European Commissioners, it is not right to say, in effect, we have had some able Fianna Fáil people as European Commissioners.

They have been able.

I agree they have been able, but they have all been Fianna Fáil, for example, Commissioners McCreevy, O'Kennedy——-

Pádraig Flynn.

——and Pádraig Flynn.

What about Richard Burke?

Richard Burke was a political stunt, as the Minister of State knows very well. That was the worst possible example. It was a political stunt. Richard Burke was chosen because he was involved in a by-election situation. He was appointed to create a by-election. He was the worst and most insidious choice in that way and was chosen for the worst motives.

Let us not take Richard Burke but let us look at the Minister of State's defence. I do not relish the Minister of State welcoming the Bill and then saying there are a few details in it, however, with which he does not agree. This Bill is open to amendment. If he agrees with the principles, as he seems to with much of it, and if Senators Boyle and de Búrca also agree with the principles, let us vote it through. Then let us accept the Minister of State's amendments, but he is not genuine about this at all. He does not want any change whatsoever. He has hidden behind all manner of OECD detail, most of which I do not understand. He says the Cabinet has now set up steering committees and groups to consider this. He also said, and Senator Norris touched on this, that we need to take a hard look at the semi-State system which has stood Fianna Fáil so well for so long. People have had a good hard look at this for a long time and it stinks. It does not work. It works for Fianna Fáil but not for anyone else. That is why it is so important to look at this.

We are not looking for very much. We are just looking for these decisions not to be made behind closed doors by a single Minister telling nobody why or how he or she makes them because we know many of them are made for political reasons. We are looking for the criteria to be made public and for the individuals to be subject to some sort of public scrutiny. That is all. Senator Boyle appeared before us with a halfway house measure, but this is not good enough. As I understand it, what is being proposed in the programme for Government is that an independent panel will be set up, half of which will comprise political hacks and the other half independent people from whom the Minister will have recommendations to be chosen as well. That is not much of an improvement, just a gesture. We should be looking for the Minister to go the whole hog on the principle of transparency and accountability.

In making a final plea, I acknowledge there have been some really fine appointments. The appointment of Patrick Honohan as Governor of the Central Bank, for instance, was an extremely fine decision and it was made just recently. I see no reason that appointment should not have come up for discussion at an Oireachtas joint committee. It would have been welcome. He is a man who would have shone and would have raised the status of the office if he had come before a joint committee and been quizzed in public because he would have shown his abilities and that he was on top of the subject. It is a great regret that people of that calibre who are appointed are not subject to this sort of scrutiny, which would increase confidence in the system rather than diminish those people in the eyes of the public who see them as being appointed behind closed doors.

A very delicate issue has not been mentioned in this debate. Judges are political appointees. Judges are appointed by politicians. There is absolutely no point in us pretending that prior to their appointment somehow they are above politics. Maybe afterwards they can lay some claim to it. It is common gossip down in the Law Library that it is the turn of a particular person this time because of his or her political colour. It is deeply regrettable that that should be material or considered material by anybody. However, there is no doubt that people appointed to the Judiciary, given that they are political appointments, must have political leanings in order to get appointed or be considered for appointment. That matter could also come under the scope of the Bill.

Senator Boyle in a good humoured speech which acknowledged the merits of what we were proposing revealed something that I did not know. This is important. He said proudly that when the Green Party was offered a seat on a State board, it went through an internal process. In that way it decided who was appointed to which boards. I did not know the Green Party was offered places on State boards. I suspected it, but I did not realise that someone in the Government said to the Green Party: "This time it's your turn, lads; we take the next five or 15, this time it's yours." I did not realise it was as nakedly political as that and that someone in the Government would say to the Green Party: "This is your one, appoint whom you like, it's the Green Party choice; the next one is ours." That is so political and is open to abuse. It is not necessarily corrupt but it is certainly a malpractice that should be stopped.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.


  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Joe O’Toole and Shane Ross; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared lost.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.