Thursday, 12 December 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
11. Mr. L. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Finance his views on the statement attributed to the Association of Higher Civil Servants which publicly supported the Minister for Justice as the most able, hard working and personable Minister it has ever had the privilege to work with; his views on whether this is an intrusion into the political arena and that it is unprecedented in view of the fact that it comes from the upper ranks of officialdom; his views on whether this statement raises serious questions about the previously sacrosanct apolitical role of these officials in respect of the overall relationship between the Government and the administrators; his views on whether this statement has damaged public confidence in such civil servants; his views on whether further legislation is needed to reaffirm the statutory, apolitical role of such civil servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23055/96]
36. Mr. B. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance the action, if any, which has been taken by the Secretary of his Department, as head of the Civil Service, in relation to the statement of the AHCS branch in the Department of Justice regarding the handling of the implementation of the Judge Dominic Lynch decision; and whether he considers some of its contents compatible with the long-standing political neutrality of the Civil Service. [22073/96]
51. Mr. L. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Finance the action, if any, he proposes to take in the interests of restoring and safeguarding the hitherto strictly apolitical relationship between the Civil Service and the Legislature in view of the public statement of support for the Minister for Justice made by members of the Association of Higher Civil Servants and the subsequent statement repudiating those remarks issued on 15 November 1996 following a meeting of the association's executive committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23057/96]
As he indicated in reply to a question on 3 December last, the Minister for Finance was concerned that comments in the statement issued in the name of the Association of Higher Civil Servants of 8 November 1996 raised issues about the political impartiality of civil servants. He accordingly directed the Secretary in his Department with responsibility for public service management and development to take the matter up with that association. He also directed that the issue be placed on the agenda for the November meeting of the General Council, a forum which brings together management and staff interests under the Civil Service conciliation and arbitration scheme.
The General Council unanimously reaffirmed the long-standing position that civil servants should be politically neutral. The Department of Finance has been in touch with all Departments  to reiterate the rules in this area following that reaffirmation of the traditional position at General Council. I understand the Secretary of the Department of Justice has spoken to the local branch of the AHCS in this regard.
Deputies will be aware of the statement issued by the Association of Higher Civil Servants on 15 November 1996 in which it repudiated the statement made in the association's name on 8 November and apologised to the Government and Opposition parties for the intrusion into the political arena.
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Will the Minister accept that civil servants are obliged under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, to remain aloof from politics and are prohibited from being a member of a political party? Will he accept that if the statement of the Association of Higher Civil Servants goes unchallenged in the public arena — I understand contact has been made through the Department of Finance with the secretaries of other Departments, including the Secretary of the Department of Justice——
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: If it is not withdrawn unambiguously and unequivocally it is only a question of time before the AHCS or some branch of it will issue statements condemning Ministers or grading their performance on a scale of one to ten. Does the Minister accept that it is not the function of the AHCS to make positive or negative comments about Ministers or to make any political statements on the performance of any Government, past or present? Does the Minister accept that our civil servants are meant to be independent of the political process and that this is enshrined in legislation? If the legislation is not adequate, will the Minister accept that amending legislation should be brought forward in relation to it?
Mr. Taylor: I agree that the political impartiality of the Civil Service is absolutely essential. At a recent meeting of the general council, which brings together both management and union interests, there was a unanimous reassertion of the long-standing position that civil servants should and must be politically impartial. The AHCS was represented at that meeting by its general secretary. The Minister for Finance is reassured by the united support the concept of a politically impartial Civil Service received at that forum. I remind Deputy Fitzgerald that the AHCS issued a strong statement on that question repudiating the statement put out by the branch in the Department of Justice.
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I have one problem with the Minister's reply. Does the Minister accept the Government was a little bit tardy and that it was coy in responding in an authoritative way to what happened? It took some time before a definitive  response was issued. Despite the positive moves by the Department of Finance, there is still a certain element of equivocation about such an unprecedented breach of all that was sacrosanct in the relationship that existed between Government and Administration. It should have been roundly, unequivocally and unambiguously condemned forthwith.
Mr. Taylor: I do not accept that there was any equivocation on the Government's part. The position has been made clear and has been strongly reiterated. The AHCS itself issued a definitive statement, which states:
The AHCS executive committee, at its meeting on 14 November 1996, repudiated the statement issued in the name of the association on 8 November 1996. The statement did not have the approval of the executive committee and does not represent AHCS policy. The executive committee reaffirms that the association is apolitical and as a matter of policy neither forms nor expresses views on the merits of any Minister. The executive committee expresses its apologies to the Government and Opposition parties for the intrusion into the political arena. The executive committee expresses its full confidence in the general secretary and the officials of the association.
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