Tuesday, 29 April 1980
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. FitzGerald: Before putting the questions, I wish once again to protest about questions I have put to the Taoiseach and passed by him to the Minister for the Public Service. I put questions to him about whether he had authorised certain actions. The first question I have to ask the Minister for the Public Service is if he will withdraw his Minister of State's request to the Civil Service Commission, referred to in the Minister of State's statement in a Sunday newspaper, that the names of applicants for positions in the Civil Service be furnished to him.
Dr. FitzGerald: The second question is to ask the Minister for the Public Service whether his Minister of State met last week with members and/or staff of the Civil Service Commission established under the Acts of 1924 and 1956; if so, at whose request the meeting was held; what issues were raised; and what decisions were taken on these issues at or following the meeting.
First of all, I wish to deny quite categorically that any request was made by me or by the Minister of State at the Department of the Public Service to the Civil Service Commissioners or to the Departments for the names of applicants for positions in the Civil Service.
Secondly, I wish to emphasise that there has been no change of any kind in relation to procedures governing entry to the Civil Service by means of competitive examinations held by the Civil Service Commission. Nor is there any wish on my part or on the part of any of my colleagues for any change which would in the slightest take away from the impartiality and independence of the commission. We fully recognise the great merit and benefit of fair, impartial and independent recruitment procedures.
Thirdly, it is true that the Minister of State and I met the three Civil Service Commissioners and the secretary to the commission on 23 April 1980. The meeting was held at our request and was to discuss certain informational and procedural matters which were giving us cause for concern. One matter which we raised was the refusal of the commission to allow students about to sit the leaving certificate examination to defer taking posts in the service until after they had sat their examination. This is a matter on which Deputies on both sides of the House have made representations. I consider it a perfectly legitimate matter for me to take up with the commission to see if a solution could be found to the practical problems the commission would undoubtedly face if vacancies were to be kept open for any length of time.
Other matters which we raised related to the time taken to fill vacancies and the general approach of the commission to the supply of reasonable and up-to-date information to both candidates or public representatives approached by candidates in accordance with modern requirements.
At the meeting, the Minister of State and I were at pains to emphasise that, in  raising these practical matters, we were in no way attempting to interfere with the independence and impartiality of the commissioners in the discharge of their statutory functions. No decisions were taken at the meeting. The commissioners are considering the points put to them and I am awaiting their response.
Dr. FitzGerald: The Minister has made reference to information to public representatives in accordance with modern requirements. Is he aware that his Minister of State told The Sunday Press that he, as the Minister responsible for the civil service and responsible to the Dáil, was looking for accurate and up-to-date information in relation to all job applications and that he justified this at length in a long statement published in The Sunday Press, in quotation marks for the greater part? In these circumstances will the Minister elaborate on what information to public representatives in accordance with modern requirements was sought from the Civil Service Commissioners? Will the Minister accept that the practice hitherto has been, in relation to appointments, as I know from being a Minister, that neither the Minister nor the Department concerned have any information about who are applicants for posts until the people concerned have been selected? This protection against any attempt to influence or to pretend to influence is part of the tradition of this State and has been almost since the foundation of the State. Will he have regard to that when he is replying to the question?
Mr. G. Fitzgerald: If the Deputy had listened attentively to my reply he would have had much of the information he is now seeking. I want to repeat that both the Minister of State and I emphasised that our concern for the independence of the Civil Service Commission was not in question at the meeting. The Deputy referred to a report in The Sunday Press. At no stage did the Minister of State say that he was seeking information in respect of job applications. If I may, I will quote from my reply clearly for the Deputy:
 Other matters which we raised related to the time taken to fill vacancies and the general approach of the commission to the supply of reasonable and up-to-date information to both candidates or public representatives approached by candidates in accordance with modern requirements.
I might further say that the approaches by public representatives come from all sides of this House. All we were seeking was that the information would be made available to candidates, and to public representatives requested by candidates, in accordance with modern requirements.
Mr. G. Fitzgerald: If I may have the courtesy of being allowed to finish? Despite a number of reports in newspapers there was absolutely no attempt by anybody to find out or to establish who was applying or who the job applicants were. There has been no change. Consistently, this party have and always will defend the independence of institutions like this.
Dr. FitzGerald: What information to public representatives in accordance with modern requirements was sought from the Civil Service Commission? The Minister has given two answers but in neither reply has he divulged that to the House. We are entitled to have the answers.
Mr. G. Fitzgerald: We have many representations both from there and here, inquiries as to how people have fared in certain competitions. I believe this information can be conveyed without in any way interfering with or influencing any decisions taken by the Civil Service Commission. If Deputy FitzGerald does not believe that, why has he continued to write to that Department, even during the reign of the present Government?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy FitzGerald should be the first in the House to obey the Chair. I called Deputy Horgan about three minutes back. The Chair is not being allowed to do its job. We will have a supplementary question from Deputy Horgan and then we will move from this question. We have further Private Notice Questions.
Mr. Horgan: I do not like to interrupt the Minister. I am sure that if he wants to read the letter he will read it. Will he accept that a plain understanding of the verbiage with which he has attempted to answer this question is that he and the Government are dissatisfied with, if not antagonistic to, the procedures and administrative processes indulged in by the commission and that their action in calling for this meeting was an implicit insult to the commission and a reflection on their powers and independence?
Mr. G. Fitzgerald: That is absolutely untrue. Representations were made from all sides of this House on one issue of concern. That was the system that at present applies where a young boy or girl applies for a job and is called a short time prior to doing the leaving certificate perhaps and does not have a choice.
Mr. G. Fitzgerald: The Sunday World has been mentioned. There was a selection, obviously a very selective selection, of five names in that article. They could equally have selected five or 25 names  from those benches opposite. To support what I am saying, let me now read for the House the standard reply that went out to those five representations that were mentioned, or at least to some of them because they were not identical. Let me read it in case anybody in this House believes what has now in a mean way been alleged by Deputy FitzGerald:
The Commissioners will be in touch with Mr. .... direct about that time concerning his result and if he has done sufficiently well and satisfied the usual requirements as to health, character, etc. he will be offered appointment.
Dr. FitzGerald: Is there no question of deleting the phrase “However, you will appreciate that as this competition is being run by the Civil Service Commissioners who are independent in the exercise of their functions, I am precluded from intervening on behalf of any candidate”?
Mr. G. Fitzgerald: I want to answer that because my integrity is at stake here  too and we are going to defend that. The Deputy has asked a very specific question in relation to something that appeared in an article in The Sunday World. The first point that I want to make on it is that the letter from which the sentence was deleted was in response to somebody approaching me in connection with application forms and again I will read it, if I may. Again I will not mention the name:
I have made inquiries from the Civil Service Commissioners about your interest in a position as Placement Officer in my Department and I understand that the closing date for the receipt of completed application forms for the open Placement Officer competition is 31 January.
What was the necessity for that sentence in the context of that letter? That was the only one from which it was deleted. What that gentleman on that Sunday paper goes on to say is absolutely untrue and I deny it categorically.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are no more answers to that. Minister, please. There are three similar Private Notice questions one from Deputy Hugh Byrne, one from Deputy David Andrews and one from——
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