Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Jul 2015

Vol. 241 No. 8

Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill 2014: Second Stage

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

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris.

I am happy to be here to deputise for my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, in addressing the Seanad on the subject of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill 2014. The Bill is as passed in Dáil Éireann on 9 July last. Its main purpose is to change the method of appointing the chief executive of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission - the Clerk of the Dáil.

The commission is the governing board which oversees the provision of services to the Houses of the Oireachtas and its Members by the parliamentary administration, the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. It is a statutory corporate body and is independent in the performance of its functions. It is accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and has responsibility for ensuring value for money. It considers and determines policy in relation to the Oireachtas Service and oversees the implementation of that policy by the Secretary General of the service.

As Senators will be aware, the commission is composed of 11 members under the chairmanship of the Ceann Comhairle. The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is an ex officio member. There are also seven ordinary members, four from the Dáil and three from the Seanad who are appointed by the Members of each House and one representative of the Minister who would be a Member of one of the Houses. The final position on the commission is allocated to the person who, as stipulated in the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Act 2009, "for the time being holds the office of the Clerk of Dáil Éireann and (who) may also be referred to as the Secretary General of the (Oireachtas) Service". The Act states that the Secretary General is to be the chief executive of the Oireachtas Commission and the officer accountable for the accounts of the commission for the purposes of the Comptroller and Auditor General Acts 1866 to 1998.

The Clerk of the Dáil post encompasses functions, as set out in Dáil Standing Orders, as well as specified functions as set out under the Electoral Acts and related legislation. The Clerk of the Dáil is the chief procedural adviser to the House and the Ceann Comhairle and is also the registrar of political parties. He or she is required to carry out specific functions relating to the Dáil, the Seanad, presidential and European election process. He or she is a member of the Constituency Commission, the Referendum Commission and the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Under section 15 of the commission Acts, the person who holds the position of Clerk of the Dáil is also Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. He or she has been specifically allocated a very extensive range of administrative duties under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission legislation. These duties include the following: managing and controlling the staff and administration of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service; implementing and monitoring the policies of the Oireachtas Commission appropriate to that service and delivering outputs as determined by the commission; providing advice to the Oireachtas Commission and the Ceann Comhairle on the performance of their legislative functions under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Acts; subject to the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 and the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004, managing matters relating to appointments, performance, discipline and dismissals of staff below the grade of principal, or the equivalent, in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service and assigning responsibility for performance of the functions for which he or she is responsible to members of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, of an appropriate grade or rank, in order to ensure coherence of policy across the service.

In addition, under the terms of the Civil Service renewal plan published by the Government last year, the Secretary General and Clerk of the Dáil will be expected to play a key role in raising morale and productivity among staff, creating opportunities for staff to develop their talents, strengthening strategic planning capacity, assigning the appropriate staff to the right areas in order that they can encourage and develop excellence and drive the modernisation process in the Oireachtas Service and, overall, ensuring the Houses of the Oireachtas Service has a strong culture of leadership, excellence and continuous development.

Acting in all of these capacities represents a formidable list of procedural, electoral, administrative and governance tasks for the leading official of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. Under current legislative arrangements, the Clerk of the Dáil is appointed by the Taoiseach on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle, following consultation by the latter with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Where the Ceann Comhairle, following such consultation, is satisfied that no member of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas is suitable for appointment, he or she may recommend for appointment a person who is not on the staff of the Houses. If the Ceann Comhairle, after consultation with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, fails to recommend a person for appointment, the Taoiseach has power to nominate a person from within the staff of the Houses for appointment and, with the concurrence of the Dáil, appoint that person. Where the Taoiseach is satisfied that no member of the staff of the Houses is suitable, he or she may nominate a person who is not on the staff of the Houses.

It can be seen from this arrangement that, in the first instance at least, eligibility for appointment as Clerk of the Dáil is confined to existing members of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and that other persons are excluded from the process, unless no member of the staff of the Houses is considered suitable. The previous Government had indicated its desire to change this arrangement. On Second Stage of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill in 2009, the then Minister for State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who was piloting the Bill, stated the following:

The distinct role of the Civil Service staff and senior management structures of the Oireachtas is specifically recognised in the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959. These structures have served both Houses extremely well and remained in place following the establishment of the Commission in 2003. However, significant changes in Civil Service management systems have taken place in the 50 years since the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959 came into force and it is accepted that the configuration in that Act, particularly in terms of senior management structures, needs to be modernised. In that regard, the Minister is committed to ensuring, in co-operation with the commission, that the administrative structures of the Oireachtas do not become out of step with Civil Service norms in terms of adapting flexibly to the needs and demands of modern management practices.

The Government is in full accord with that viewpoint. It agrees that current arrangements for the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil are out of kilter with the general arrangements for the system for senior appointments, notably the Top Levels Appointments Committee, TLAC, system. This system incorporates nomination by boards comprising a majority of members from the private sector with specific skills in management and human resources, and provides opportunities for new blood to be introduced into public service organisations. The Government believes the appointment procedure for the Clerk of the Dáil should mirror the procedure for appointing the normal run of Secretaries General. TLAC makes a selection of persons following a competition for Secretary General, but not in an order of merit. In such instances, the Government is afforded appropriate leeway in which to arrive at the optimal choice.

The purpose of the arrangement proposed by the Government in the Bill would provide the same broad latitude which the Government possesses in regard to Secretaries General at present to the Ceann Comhairle in respect of the Clerk of the Dáil, as the Ceann Comhairle could justifiably be regarded as the public face of the Houses of the Oireachtas. In that light, the Government decided that heads of a Bill be prepared which would provide for the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle following an open competition organised by the Top Level Appointments Committee, which would make recommendations for appointment to the Ceann Comhairle.

At the same time, in the context of the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, the Government was most anxious that due weight would be given to the views of the Oireachtas on what it proposed. Accordingly, in the course of 2014 it referred this proposal to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform for its consideration. In due course, the committee reverted to the Government, indicating that it did not wish to record any conclusion or recommendation on the draft heads. On that basis, the Government has proceeded on the lines it had envisaged.

The Bill has four sections, the first of which deals with amendments to the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959. The first subsection of that section defines the 1959 Act. The second subsection provides that the Clerk of the Dáil shall be appointed by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle, that this recommendation shall be made by the Ceann Comhairle from among the persons selected by TLAC, and that this selection shall be based on an open competition, that is to say one not confined to persons who are civil servants. This subsection also provides for a similar arrangement to be used in the event of the TLAC system being replaced at some time in the future.

In addition to the Clerk of the Dáil post, the Government proposes that arrangements following the enactment of the Bill for the filling of three other posts in the Oireachtas Service, namely, Clerk of the Seanad, Clerk-Assistant of the Dáil and Clerk-Assistant of the Seanad, would be altered. The rank of the officers concerned, not more than the equivalent of principal officer, would be appreciably lower than that of the Clerk of the Dáil and the involvement of the TLAC would not be appropriate. Rather, under the third subsection of the section, the appointment would be made by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle or the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, as the case may be.

Section1(4) provides for the imposition by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission of a time limit on the tenure of persons appointed to the posts of Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad, Clerk-Assistant of the Dáil and Clerk-Assistant of the Seanad following the enactment of this legislation. Section 1(5) provides for the exemption of existing postholders from the arrangements which I have outlined. The posts of Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerks-Assistant of both Houses are filled at present. This constitutes the major part of the Bill. There are a number of other items in it, which I wish to bring to the attention of the Seanad.

Section 2 is a technical provision which amends section 13(3)(b) of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003 which provides that a statement of Estimates of the commission shall be furnished by the Secretary General to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform not later than 30 days before the presentation by the Minister to Dáil Éireann of the Estimates of the receipts and expenditure in that year. It is proposed that the 30 day provision should be removed to allow time for the Houses of the Oireachtas Service to submit Estimates much closer to the budget in the light of the reduced interval between the end of the summer recess and an earlier budget day in mid-October. In 2013 and 2014, the changing of the date of the budget from early December to mid-October compelled the Houses of the Oireachtas Service to finalise the next year's Estimate in the summer, in advance of half-yearly figures being available. The service would benefit from the opportunity to finalise figures in September or October in the future, when current year expenditure trends are clearer.

Section 3 provides for the performance by a designated official of the duties of the Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission in his or her absence or when the post is vacant. It fills a lacuna in the existing legislation. Section 4 contains standard provisions dealing with the Short Title, construction and citations. I commend the Bill to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I thank the Leader of the House because earlier we requested that all Stages of the Bill not be taken today. I thank the Minister of State for deputising for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. I am not sure whether the script was changed in the light of the amendments tabled. I will table an amendment on Committee Stage on behalf of Fianna Fáil and Senator Paul Bradford has also tabled an amendment. We will deal with them on Committee Stage which will be next week or after the recess.

I thank the Minister of State for outlining the Bill. I do not have a difficulty with most of it. My main concern with it as it is constructed is with regard to section 1(4) which refers to the term of office of certain appointees. It states a person may be appointed to an office to which this section applies for a term specified by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to be a period of a number of years or a number of years and months or days. In practice how will this work? The Clerk of the Seanad sits on the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Referendum Commission and the constituency boundary commission for Dáil elections. He or she also oversees the verification of nominations to the various Seanad panels and the Seanad elections. In my experience of the Seanad and the Oireachtas in the past eight years, the office of the Clerk of the Dáil, the office of the Clerk of the Seanad and the offices of the Clerk-Assistants are very important to the functioning of the Houses. They also have functions outside the Houses.

If the legislation is passed as it is, the commission will appoint someone for a period of five years or less. That would be an issue come a Seanad election, which is after a Dáil election, with the nomination procedures and everything that follows with such a complex election. The experience that office holds is crucially important to the running of this House of the Oireachtas, to the verification of nominations and to the holding of elections. That is one aspect of it. It concerns me, if it is in the gift of the commission to set a term, that if the officer is new to the Houses, he or she may not have after a five-year time the requisite experience to carry out those functions properly. That is a big issue for me.

If one thinks of the other roles with regard to the election such as the nomination process - we had a kerfuffle last year with regard to nominations, but I will not go into that again - it is crucially important that one has a strong individual who will not bend to pressure in that role. Having someone new to the process of looking at Seanad nominations and holding an election does not make any sense. That is why, in setting down in legislation a term, the Government is being prescriptive in stating one must set a term. I cannot see any commission stating the person has a term of 20 years. It looks as if one would set it, in the case of the post of Clerk-Assistant of Dáil Éireann, the Office of the Clerk of Seanad Éireann and the Office of Clerk-Assistant of Seanad Éireann, for a term of the Seanad or the Dáil. My amendment would deal with those time limits. I am merely letting the Minister of State know my thinking in that regard.

The other element is the role that office has with regard to Standards in Public Office Commission, the Referendum Commission and the constituency boundaries. One needs someone experienced there as well. One will always have an experienced person at Clerk of the Dáil level because he or she will have come up through the system. He or she probably would come up through the Clerk-Assistant of the Dáil post or would be in that office. What the Government is stating is the appointment of the other officers can be made outside of that process, effectively, as the Minister of State said, outside TLAC. I understand that, and that is fair enough. However, if the term of someone in the position of Clerk-Assistant or, for that matter, Clerk of the Seanad was up and the commission wanted to appoint someone else, where would he or she go? The Clerk of the Seanad is at the higher principal officer grade and the assistant is at the principal officer grade. It is a big problem and I ask the Minister of State to bring this back to the Minister. That, potentially, could be a really big issue.

A commission will not necessarily be made up of members who have been around a long time as it would depend on Dáil elections. Members of the commission could simply say that it makes sense to set a term of five years because the Bill states one should set a term, but it makes no sense to me. The Minister does not need to set a term. If there was a difficulty with a Clerk of the Seanad or one of the other two roles to which I have referred, where a replacement was required, that could be done through the normal Civil Service process. If one sets a time limit, one will have to look to reappoint the person. How will that be dealt with? That was not covered by the Minister of State. What happens when someone reaches the end of the term and he or she is doing a damn good job? Does the person go through the process again? Does he or she have to go before the commission again to be ratified? If the person had in some way, shape or form discommoded members of the commission or, as happens from time to time, did not get on with them, will the commission say it does not like the person in that role as he or she is causing it too much difficulty and is too independent, that it will not have that person there and will appoint someone else who may be more pliable? I am not saying that would happen but the Bill leaves it open for that to happen. That section is a major problem for me and for many other Senators, including Senators on the Government side. This must be looked at before Committee Stage.

The independence of the Seanad is set out in the Constitution. The Seanad, in whatever form, has been ratified by the people. It is a valid House of the Oireachtas. The main officer of the Seanad should not be subservient, by way of his or her term, to a commission or to a whim of any future Government, Ceann Comhairle or Taoiseach. That is a big problem and it needs to be changed. I ask the Minister of State to go back to the Minister and ask him to remove the term. That is what my amendment on Committee State would do and I intend to press it. Obviously, if the Minister brings forward his own amendment to do that, we will support it and the Bill will go through without difficulty. If that is not changed, we will push our amendment on Committee Stage and we will oppose the Bill. Obviously, I am happy to let the Bill go through on Second Stage. I ask the Minister of State to have a think about this issue. He understands the process, as do all Senators. I hope I have made the point as to how it could be manipulated in the future. I accept that is not the intention in the Bill. However, it needs to be changed and strengthened.

I have no idea when it is proposed to take Committee Stage. I imagine it will be next week. I implore the Minister of State to raise this point with his Government colleagues. It is a serious point and we may regret this in the future, in five or ten years time, perhaps when the Minister of State is Taoiseach. This genuinely needs to be looked at as it is far too loose and could be abused.

I listened to Senator Darragh O'Brien. He makes some sense-----

-----but I query his confidence in the process that TLAC goes through. I understand the Bill will come back to the House on Tuesday next. Senator Darragh O'Brien makes valid points which the Minister of State is taking on board, but one has to have confidence in TLAC, its procedures and the way it works.

I suppose I have to come clean. I am a member of the commission and hope Senator Darragh O'Brien has confidence in it.

Of course, I do. That is because the Senator is on it.

The other point that comes to mind on this issue is that this is being done, in essence, for the purposes of transparency, clarity and openness. It is an open process, but, realistically, few people will leave the private sector to come here to do the job that needs to be done.

The Minister of State clarified that TLAC will only appoint the Clerk of the Dáil.

I welcome the Minister of State. I will not delay him long other than to say that, as a member of a trade union and a trade unionist who has spent the past 20 years of my life trying to rid the country of the scourge of fixed-term contracts, zero-hours contracts and all sorts of other contracts where people, unfortunately teachers, found themselves working in schools more hours than they had purely because they had the sword of next year's contract hanging over their head, the thought that we would pick the two most senior officials in the Houses of the Oireachtas and award them a contract that at some stage in the not too distant future is repugnant to the role. I refer to trust and faith.

Senator Tom Sheahan spoke about confidence. The only confidence I have is that when the person is appointed, he or she is suitable for the role and is suitable to retain that role until such a time as he or she reaches retirement age. We must have faith in the commission to appoint the officials, but once an official is appointed, we must have faith in the person who is appointed to carry out the role. Given the onerous nature of the role, one needs persons of experience. One needs persons who are able to offset some of the unforeseen issues that arise in both Houses.

When the Bill comes back, like my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, I will be opposing it on Committee Stage, particularly if it still contains section 6A(3). In this country, we seem to be gone mad on public hearings, short-term contracts and having a situation where somebody in a senior role spends half his or her life worrying about the next interview. It is not the way to do business and I ask the Minister of State to remove that provision from the Bill before it is brought back to the House.

In any situation where a vacancy arises those responsible for finding a suitable candidate are charged, rightly, with finding the best person for the job. In the Oireachtas we are charged with the important work of representing the best interests of the Irish people, and appointing the best possible candidates is therefore vital.

I wholeheartedly welcome these proposals as they tackle a significant failing in the current legislation. In particular, the Clerk of the Dáil is a key role that requires the highest professional standards. With that in mind, it is a problem that the current situation only permits the sourcing of external candidates when internal candidates cannot be found. While I do not doubt the ability of those who go forward for this role, I believe talent and expertise that could benefit citizens never get the chance even to be considered. Hence, I endorse the utilisation of the independent selection mechanism such as features in the wider public service and the opening up of competition for the position.

The Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, approach for senior appointments, which sees candidates put forward by expert boards with the majority membership from the private sector, is effective but is not compatible with the appointment process currently in place. Addressing this is something I welcome as it is in keeping with the ethos of the Government.

In updating the hiring process for the position of Clerk of the Dáil, it makes sense that this legislation would also update the hiring process for similar roles, specifically Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk-Assistant of the Dáil and the Clerk-Assistant of the Seanad. I understand the current hiring system for these roles is similar to that for the role of Clerk of the Dáil, the problems with which have been outlined already by a number of speakers. Given the rank of these roles, filling them from those currently in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is not something I am opposed to and I accept the trajectory of appointment selection as it is proposed. However, I emphasise the benefits of open competition, that is, external and internal competition between suitably qualified candidates, and the potential that outside blood could bring to these roles. While not the Clerk of the Dáil, these are still key roles within the Oireachtas.

I emphasise our duty to the people to find the best candidates possible for these positions, but I want to make a suggestion raised earlier by several of my colleagues which might be considered. It relates to the permanency of the positions of Clerk of the Dáil and Clerk of the Seanad. I appreciate the rationale behind the rotation of these roles, but security of tenure is vital if we are to attract the most able and diligent people.

Imposing time limits might preclude the people best suited to these roles from applying. I urge that this be considered before the next Stages of the Bill.

In general, I am broadly in favour of these new proposals, particularly those relating to the appointment of a new Clerk of the Dáil. Overall, I am in favour of increased competition. Our greatest resource is our people and I would like to see a larger talent pool being available to those seeking to fill vital positions within the Oireachtas.

I welcome the Minister of State. The contributions of Members so far will have given him food for thought.

This is a sloppy Bill. It does not address key issues. I am thinking in terms of people outside these Houses who might be contemplating applying for the position of Clerk of the Dáil. There are no guarantees in the Bill. There is no indication of how long it will be for or the terms and conditions.

Senator Gerard O, Craughwell made reference to a trade union background. I am sure the trade union movement would have a particular view of this Bill if it were happening in another part of the public sector. Those in the private sector might have a view on this also.

The other aspect that concerns me is the independence of the appointments, notwithstanding that the TLAC will be concerned with the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil. I am always curious to know why, in the drafting of legislation like this, a distinction seems to be made between the Dáil and the Seanad in terms of its principal officers. I do not want to embarrass anybody present, but I do not see why the role of the principal officer in the Seanad should be in any way inferior to that of the principal officer in the Dáil. As Senator Darragh O'Brien said, there are two Houses of Parliament and we probably have an even stronger mandate for our continuing existence because the public gave it to us.

I am also concerned that the appointment of the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk-Assistant of the Seanad and the Clerk-Assistant of the Dáil would fall to the commission. The commission is a political body. It is appointed following an election and has an inbuilt Government majority. The Ceann Comhairle is almost certainly a Government representative unless the mathematics in the Dáil suggest otherwise, as has happened on one or two occasions, but, generally speaking, the position of Ceann Comhairle comes from the combined strength of the Government majority. It does raise issues of independence and as Senator Darragh O'Brien correctly said, what if the decisions being taken by the Clerk of the Seanad or the Clerk-Assistant of the Seanad did not square with the views of the commission? To put it another way, one of the most important roles the Clerk of the Seanad has is that they sit on the Constituency Commission, whose members must be seen to be absolutely independent and have integrity and there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest otherwise. However, somebody somewhere might dig into the past of the person appointed and find, as is human, that they have a political affiliation or a political inclination, and all of a sudden questions are being raised to the effect that this person is now sitting on the Constituency Commission and was appointed by a commission that has a majority of Government members, endorsed by the Ceann Comhairle, who is a former member of the same party. There are wheels within wheels. We only have to consider the way the social media has gone here, and the way the media takes up an issue, blows it out of all proportion and creates a perception in the public mind that probably is far removed from reality; it just happens. That is my only concern about the process of the appointments, notwithstanding what all of us have been saying about the terms and conditions of the appointment and its tenure.

I do not want to give the impression that I am putting forward a conspiracy theory.

The Senator seems to know how it works.

I am only making the point that inferences could be drawn because of the manner in which the process would be set up under this legislation. That is all I am suggesting. I am not saying it would in any way reflect on the individual concerned. There is an old cliché, as Senator Topm Sheahan well knows, that perception is all, particularly in politics. It is not my main concern. My main concern echoes that of other Senators who have contributed, namely, the specifics relating to the appointment in terms of the duration and the terms and conditions.

The thought was also framing in my mind as to what happens at the end of the contract. Am I right in suggesting that under local government reform, which introduced the seven year contract for then county managers, now chief executive officers, it does not prevent them from transferring to other local authorities? Has it happened in some cases that when their contract ended in one county they ended up in another? I do not know whether that is a seamless or a random process but it raises the question that if I were the person outside, once this legislation is passed, and saw an opportunity to serve for a particular period as a senior officer in the Houses of the Oireachtas, I would want to first compare it with my current position in the private sector and I assume it would be somebody from the private sector and then compare it with what I am being offered. Unless the terms and conditions and duration are specific, perhaps the Minister might not attract the calibre of person he wants. These are hypothetical issues. I am not trying to be clever. It is just that in the context of what is before us it leaves wide gaps that need to be addressed.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach inniu. I want to make three or four brief points. Everybody prefaced his or her remarks by saying he or she would be brief, but he or she did not always succeed; I suppose that is in our nature as politicians. I concur with what Senator Darragh O'Brien said. He articulated the point well without me embellishing it, but I believe the independence of this House is paramount and any structure in place must reflect this. I urge the Minister of State to look at the Bill again to ensure it reflects this, rather than dividing the House on a Bill on which we should not divide because everyone has the same objective, that is, a system that is robust and reflects the independence of both Houses.

The second point is that I do not concur with my colleague, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, in regard to mobility between the private and the public sector. Public sector jobs are very attractive compared to private sector jobs in many instances. I am a strong advocate of mobility between the public and private sector. There is a depth of integrity within the public service generally which would be good for corporate governance in the private sector. A transfer of such values would be good. There is more dynamism and more of a can-do attitude within the private sector because of the needs of that sector. It is more efficient and we need to inject that into public services. That is a challenge to us. I would like to see that mobility and think we need to facilitate it.

That brings me to the third point which concerns the selection process of the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC. When I was in local government, I saw the local appointments committee in operation which was nothing short of atrocious. Some of the appointments were inexplicable, even to people working in the public service who were working with people who were promoted into jobs in which they were way out of their depth. Unfortunately, the taxpayer picks up the tab for their inefficiencies and ineptitude. Unfortunately, we have many such people in the public service. Let me acknowledge that we have also many very good people who would command senior positions in any organisation, public or private, but we need to root out those who are not up to it. In that regard, the selection bodies must be sufficiently independent and sufficiently skilled. That should include outside expertise being called in. I have seen it more in the local appointments committee than in the Public Appointments Service because I am more familiar with it, but the old boys' network certainly worked very well in it. There was no doubt that county managers and others in senior positions were able to pull the strings long before they sat down to select who got the jobs. That is strong criticism, but it is justified. I could go further, but I will not. I hope the Minister of State might address that issue.

My last point arises from observing as a Member of the House and certainly when I was a member of the commission that there is no justification or no logic whatsoever for combining the positions of Clerk of the Dáil and Secretary General of the Houses of the House of the Oireachtas Commission. It is absolutely wrong to do it. We have heard already about the external activities of the positions of Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk of the Dáil who sit on various boards and, as a consequence, have to give of their time and their expertise to external matters. For the Secretary General of an organisation, who is on a very high salary, to sit in front of the Ceann Comhairle listening to debates for hours is not the best way to spend hard-earned taxpayers' money, nor do I think it is productive for the Houses. I ask the Minister of State to look at that issue. I would prefer if the Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas was a person whose position focused exclusively on that. I am operating on the basis that the current practice continues in this Bill, which, from a reading of the explanatory memorandum, I believe is the case. I think the two positions should be separated. The skill sets required for the two activities are entirely different.

When we look around the Houses of the Oireachtas, or any Department, we can see where improvements could be made, where expenditure could be saved and where there is waste. The Oireachtas is not the worst in that regard, but a singular focus is needed on it. It will have a budget of €130 million next year. I do not think any company would employ a chief executive to be in charge of an organisation with a budget of €130 million and have him sitting at a desk twiddling his thumbs listening to debates in order that he can give some advice to the chairman of whatever committee is taking place. I do not think that should be the case. I am a strong advocate of separating the two positions. I know it is probably late in the process, but serious consideration should be given and, perhaps, outside advice sought, because it makes no economic sense and it is not in the interests of efficiency and cost effectiveness. It does not make good use of people with expertise that should be applied in the best interests of, in this instance, the running of the Houses of the Oireachtas and, overall, the running of the State.

I thank all of the Senators who participated on Second Stage of the Bill. The points made in the course of the debate were put forward in a manner that was meant to be constructive and reasonable. There is no doubt there is quite a level of interest in the Bill because of the importance of these roles in ensuring the smooth and effective administration of business in both Houses of the Oireachtas. The level of interest is also not surprising when one considers the very long interval since the method of appointing the Clerks and Clerk-Assistants of the Houses was set down in legislation in 1959. An enormous degree of change has occurred since then in Irish society and in Irish public administration and, certainly, in the business of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The pace of business in the Oireachtas was more sedate then, as I have been informed, although there was plenty of tension and competition, I am sure, between political parties and groupings then, just as there is now. It is fair to say the degree of involvement by the State in the economic and social affairs of the country has grown significantly since then, with a corresponding need for more legislation and, in many instances, legislation that is much more complex than in years gone by. In line with such changes, the role of senior administrators in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, most notably the Clerk of the Dáil, has altered to a remarkable degree. Formerly, the main duties of the Clerk were directly connected with the day-to-day business of the House, which is perhaps to what Senator Jim Walsh was alluding. A detailed knowledge of parliamentary procedure was absolutely essential. Not that such a knowledge is unnecessary now - far from it - but the growth in the number of staff in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the establishment with effect from the beginning of 2004 of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has changed the position in a more radical fashion.

In the course of my statement to the House at the commencement of the debate, I mentioned the extensive list of duties that are placed under the responsibility of the Clerk of the Dáil under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission legislation. It is fair to say that such duties are primarily managerial in nature, quite different from the duties related to the daily operation of the Chamber. In addition, I referred to how the onset of an initiative such as the Civil Service Renewal Plan has placed very great responsibilities on Secretaries General in pushing reform and modernisation in their areas of responsibility. This wide area will form a major element of the responsibilities of the Clerk of the Dáil and he or she, as the case may be, will be expected to display considerable powers of initiative, reliability and managerial talent, as well interpersonal skills, in dealing with a sizeable workforce and more than 200 parliamentarians. The incoming Clerk of the Dáil will be assisted in his or her duties by other officers of the House and by the very significant number of senior officials working in the committees system.

I wish to give my own thoughts on some of the comments made. I do not agree with the comments, but I accept some of the practical challenges that Senator Darragh O'Brien very eloquently outlined. I tried to include this in my opening statement. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is effectively the board of directors for the day-to-day running of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and the Clerk of the Dáil is also the chief executive. The idea that a board would have a chief executive in situ for an infinite amount of time and would have no say whatsoever in the length of that tenure seems rather peculiar. Six terms at senior level are quite normal in the public service, as we see with Secretaries General. There was the issue of security of tenure. It is entirely up to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to decide the length of tenure, but why prescribe that in legislation? Why not give parliamentarians in a democracy the ability to decide that length of tenure in an open and fair competition? It is common practice to have fixed terms at this level.

People have said we need people of experience. I could not agree more. I have seen at first hand, as we all have, the important role carried out by these very senior officials, but the TLAC process in relation to the Clerk of the Dáil will obviously produce people in line with the criteria set out by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

One thing this Bill does not do was alluded to by Senator Paschal Mooney, who referred to the concern about politicisation in any way, shape or form. I would argue that the Bill depoliticises the process. One has to remember that the current situation is that the Taoiseach of the day has a role in the appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil. The Bill will remove such involvement from the Taoiseach or Executive of the day in the appointment and will instead place it with the Legislature. It is enhancing the power of the Legislature.

On the TLAC system to which Senator Darragh O'Brien referred, it will only apply to the Clerk of the Dáil. This is about democracy in action and empowering the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas to decide the skillset that is needed and the length of time involved. I accept the very practical difficulties, outlined by Senator Darragh O'Brien, regarding somebody being appointed for a certain amount of time, but I also trust my colleagues in both Houses to address those issues, as well as the Ceann Comhairle of the day to guide people on that issue. We are the people's representatives and trusted with passing budgets and laws, as well as with running the country. I have great confidence in the collective ability of people to get this right.

My officials and I will relay Senator Darragh O'Brien's concerns to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin-----

The Minister of State will not do that because he disagreed with them.

-----as well as his intention to pursue the matter on Committee Stage. There is no point in suggesting the current system is some sort of a panacea. Under the current legislative arrangements, as I said, the Clerk of the Dáil is appointed by the Taoiseach on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle, following consultation by the latter with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Many of the criticisms people have laid here today could also be laid at the current system. The Bill is trying to modernise the system and give Members of the Oireachtas flexibility. It recognises that these posts are extremely demanding and there is a need to reflect on and reconsider that matter. It gives the Oireachtas the flexibility to make decisions on tenure that Members feel are most appropriate. I commend the Bill to the House and will relay the concerns of Senators to the Minister.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 9.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.


  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Walsh, Jim.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Thomas Byrne and Paschal Mooney.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 16 July 2015.