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Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Strategic Management Initiative.

Wednesday, 8 May 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 465 No. 1

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 4. Miss Harney Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on the discussions, if any, he has had with groups representing civil and public servants in the wake of the publication of the strategic management initiative. [9204/96]

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton On 2 May 1996, the Government announced details of Delivering Better Government — a Programme of Change for the Irish Civil Service. This programme, which was developed by the co-ordinating group of secretaries established under the strategic management initiative, was fully endorsed by the Government and sets the strategic direction for the Irish Civil [48] Service in the coming years. The programme was drawn up following consultations throughout the Civil Service by the co-ordinating group at senior management level and took into account submissions received from the trade unions and from the private sector.

On Wednesday 1 May, senior officials met representatives of the public services committee of ICTU, the Civil Service General Council and the Association of Assistant Secretaries to outline the contents of the programme and the approach to implementation. The Civil Service trade unions and associations are represented at these fora and a full discussion of the programme and its implementation took place. On Thursday morning, staff from all Civil Service Departments and offices were briefed on the programme. The official launch in Dublin Castle was attended by representatives from the civil and public service trade unions.

A key element in the overall implementation of the recommendations of the report is the participation of staff at all levels and, in particular, the input of front line staff in the development of the individual initiatives which make up the programme for change. Structures are being put in place to ensure this participation, which is critical to successfully embedding the strategic approach in the Irish Civil Service in the longer term.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney When will the legislation to amend the Ministers and Secretaries Act, which will implement much of the programme, be introduced?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton There is no exact date for its introduction. The legislation is being developed at present and I will inform the Deputy of a likely date as soon as possible.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney I welcome the fact that two secretaries of Departments gave extensive media interviews during last week. Was this a result of the initiative or would it have happened anyway? Will more civil servants be more accessible to the press than in the past?

[49]The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton As responsibility for particular functions is devolved on a specific basis to particular offices, it is likely that the officers responsible will provide explanations of their work on a more frequent basis. Officials will also appear before committees of the House to give evidence, separately and independently, with regard to their functions.

There is a distinction to be drawn between matters for which officials are responsible in terms of executive responsibility for carrying out policy on which it is reasonable for them to give interviews, and advice they may proffer to Ministers on matters for which Ministers are responsible in terms of decision-making. That matter of advice is not a matter upon which I would expect interviews to be given because, clearly, that is the province of Ministers.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern We would have daily rather than weekly briefings.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton It is important to make the point that the strategic management initiative document——

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke Zoom on Ray Burke Those briefings would not be worth a penny candle.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I thank the Deputy for reminding me of the resources that are available. The report launched last week sets out in detail for the first time, a statement of the respective responsibilities of Ministers, secretaries, programme managers and various other officers which will be incorporated in the legislation. It will be possible for an official who has a doubt as to whether he or she can answer a particular question to seek guidance in statutory form. Such statutory provisions do not yet exist.

Under the 1924 Act Ministers are responsible for everything. Given the size of our public service now, this is at variance with reality, but that is the law. Clearly, legal change is necessary to underpin the devolution of responsibility that will occur under the strategic [50] management initiative. I will revert to the Deputy with my best estimate as to when the legislation will be ready for presentation to the House.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney On interviews by departmental secretaries, is permission sought from the Minister concerned, or the Taoiseach in the case of his secretary, or can the public servant make the decision? On policy matters, is it the case that Ministers alone will speak, but on administrative matters the public servant may be allowed to give interviews?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton As I have already indicated there are not specific statutory rules governing this matter. As Ministers are responsible for everything, from a legalistic point of view, their consent is necessary for everything. It may well be the case that the relationship between Ministers and secretaries is so good, as it is in this Government, that Ministers and secretaries will not feel it necessary to seek specific permission before answering a question.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney Who is running the country?

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern As the Taoiseach knows, I support the strategic management initiative.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I am aware of that.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the briefing for which I offer my apologies. The 1924 Act with all its faults has lasted for more than 70 years for very good reasons. Other jurisdictions have tried to move away from what, obviously, is a conservative Act. When Ministers were responsible and answerable, people did not feel compelled to withhold facts and left Ministers to answer. In jurisdictions with a different set-up, where somebody else might be answerable without the protection afforded to Deputies in the House in going public, they have found that the facts do not always find their way into the public domain. Instead of opening [51] up the situation a move from the 1924 Act may have the opposite effect. That is what has happened in similar cases in a number of jurisdictions. I urge that the matter be handled with great caution.

While much good work was done during the past ten years in opening up public offices, there is a difficulty regarding the interpretation of the directive of successive Governments that public servants should give their names when dealing with members of the public. Will the Taoiseach ask those involved to resolve this difficulty? While some Departments and State bodies do this as a matter of course, others refuse. Members of the public are entitled to deal with a named person rather than a section.

Does the Taoiseach agree there is a need for more flexibility in redeploying public servants? Many of the problems encountered in introducing reforms in the system stem from the lack of flexibility in redeploying staff resources. Unfortunately, there are continual incremental additions to the system which have bedevilled us with costs we cannot afford.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton In regard to the Ministers and Secretaries Act, the Deputy's views are reasonable. As the House is undoubtedly aware, I have offered to consult the Opposition parties on a quarterly basis on the progress of the strategic management initiative. They will be given information on a regular basis on the way in which the Act might be amended. Inputs of the kind the Deputy has made can be made in that context.

I agree with the Deputy that the names of officials should be given in all Departments. I am sorry to learn that is not the case. I also agree with him that redeployment is important. One of the advantages of the TLAC system introduced by John Boland is that it provides for redeployment and lateral movement between different Departments in the Civil Service. The strategic management initiative on a service wide basis [52] would not have been possible without this system which has been in operation for the past ten years. By allowing people to seek promotion to other Departments it has created a service wide ethos which makes common strategic management initiatives of this kind across the service possible. This might not have been possible in the past when people thought in exclusively departmental terms.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Is it the Government's intention in the immediate future to outline its policy on departmental secretaries who have completed their seven year term at a young age? There are a number of such civil servants who are due to retire. This is a matter I dealt with, but did not have time to complete. What position is the Government likely to adopt?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton It would be best if the Deputy were to address a question to the Minister for Finance on that matter.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney Of the 11 questions I tabled to the Taoiseach, as usual nine were transferred to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is becoming impossible to put questions to the Taoiseach on Northern Ireland policy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy That is something over which the Chair has no control.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney I am aware of that, I am drawing it to the attention of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy I am now proceeding to questions nominated for priority to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.


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