Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
5. Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the special political advisers or other non-established civil servants appointed to positions within his Department since his election as Taoiseach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16605/09]
My advisers are Joe Lennon, programme manager; Gerry Steadman, special adviser; Brian Murphy, special adviser; Declan Ryan, special adviser; Peter Clinch, special adviser; and Oliver O’Connor, special adviser to the Minister for Health and Children.
The programme manager at my Department is the principal special adviser appointed by the Government. The role and duties of special advisers are described in section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. In summary, these comprise providing advice, monitoring, facilitating and securing the achievement of Government objectives that relate to the Department as requested and performing such other functions as may be directed. Under the direction of the programme manager, the primary function of the special advisers is to monitor, facilitate and help secure the achievement of Government objectives and to ensure effective co-ordination in the implementation of the programme for Government.
I appointed Mr. Pádraig Slyne as special adviser to the Chief Whip. I also appointed three non-established civil servants to the Office of the Government Chief Whip, one of whom is based in the Whip’s private office and two in his Finglas constituency office, where they are work sharers.
In addition, I appointed Mr. Eoghan Ó Neachtain as Government press secretary and two deputy Government press secretaries, Mr. Mark Costigan and Mr. John Downing. They are supported by two non-established civil servants. The Government press secretary and press officers provide a public information service on Government policy the national and international media on behalf of myself, my Department and the Government and promote a co-ordinated approach to media matters across all Departments. The central task of the deputy Government press secretaries is to assist the Government press secretary in communicating to the media the decisions of Government.
The personal assistants and personal secretaries in my Department have a range of duties including providing administrative assistance in the constituency office, protocol division and the Office of the Government Chief Whip. The Green Party programme manager, although based in Government Buildings, is not a member of staff of my Department.
Special advisers are tasked with giving me advice and keeping me informed on a wide range of issues, including business, financial, economic, political, environmental, administrative and media matters and performing such other functions as may be directed by me from time to time. In addition, a number of my advisers have specific responsibilities for speech drafting. My programme manager meets other ministerial advisers on a weekly basis and reports to me on progress thereon.
Special advisers are appointed by Government decision under section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 and with reference to Department of Finance directions on ministerial staff appointments.
On the recommendation of the Attorney General, Mr. Paul Gallagher, Mr. Francis Kieran was appointed as special assistant to the Attorney General to act as a liaison between his office, myself and other Departments on matters relevant to the programme for Government and to keep the Attorney General informed on items arising in the Oireachtas or media which could impinge on or be relevant to his role. The position of Attorney General is not a political position and as such Mr. Kieran does not provide political advice.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The Government spent €6.2 million in 2008 on special advisers, media advisers and other personally appointed staff. Given the commitment to reduce public service pay by 3%, does the Taoiseach agree that it is time to examine the scale of appointments of special advisers to Ministers and Ministers of State?
The Minister for Health and Children is in second place to the Taoiseach, having spent over €514,000 in 2008 on personal appointments and special advisers. The Taoiseach’s predecessor defended the number of advisers to the Minister on the basis that she was the leader of the minority party in Government. Given that is no longer the case, I ask the Taoiseach to comment on whether this is still appropriate.
Why is the Minister’s former programme manager now paid for by the Department of the Taoiseach? His title has been changed to “special adviser to the Minister for Health and Children”. Is this some kind of creative accountancy or what is the reason for it? Given that the Minister also has a press officer in the Government information service, why is this necessary at a time when wards are being closed and people are complaining about a variety of health service issues? Substantial sums of money are obviously involved, so the Taoiseach might like to comment.
The Taoiseach: The figure of €6.2 million, if it is correct, is approximately 0.002% of the Government’s total expenditure of more than €65 billion. The system of special advisers was first introduced in 1992 and has been maintained by every Government since then.
I refer to the question about Mr. Oliver O’Connor, the special adviser to the Minister for Health and Children, coming under my guise. I believe that, because it is such an important Department which is undergoing major reforms, there is plenty of work to be done by him on behalf of the Government and the Minister for Health and Children and he is attached to my office on the basis that only a limited number of advisers can be appointed to any particular ministerial post. There is no such limit in my Department.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Do the terms of the Government decision on the embargo on the recruitment of staff and the renewal of staff apply to the political staff employed by the Taoiseach and other Ministers? Were requests made by his Department to the Minister for Finance to sanction the filling of vacancies in his political staff since the Government circular issued on 27 March? In reply to previous questions on this issue, the Taoiseach told us there would be a 10% reduction in the costs of ministerial offices and offices of Ministers of State. What reduction has been achieved to date in his Department?
With regard to the second matter, I am not aware if there have been applications to terminate appointments or to seek a contract renewal. I do not think there has been. On the third question, there has been a 10% saving. I replied to this question on another occasion and we have brought in efficiencies to the tune of 13%.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Do any of the special advisers have specific or special responsibility relating to the peace process, the ongoing working relationship with the Executive at Stormont or directly with the British Government in the context of the peace process and outstanding elements outflowing from the Good Friday Agreement? I am particularly minded of the question in the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh, and others who have had these specific areas of responsibility previously. What are the current arrangements? Do special advisers have specific responsibilities in those areas?
Deputy James Bannon: How much worse off would the country be if special political advisers were not in place because the country has gone down the tubes over the past 12 months? Unemployment has increased by almost 90% on what it was this time last year. The health service is on its knees throughout the country and law and order is out of control. What experience or qualifications have special advisers? Were they interviewed for the positions they hold? In the past Fianna Fáil appointed people with no experience and there was a jobs for the boys culture within the organisation. A former Taoiseach from my own county appointed all and sundry associated with Fianna Fáil to various positions.
The Taoiseach: The advisers employed are doing their work capably and well and they enjoy the confidence of those for whom they work. If they did not, they would not be in the employment they hold. They cannot be held responsible for the international financial crisis and every other issue that has happened, no more than a poor Opposition can.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Perhaps they did not advise the Taoiseach and his Ministers about the commentaries of international financial commentators about the possibility of a crisis. He stated yesterday that it was not possible to predict any of this, yet there were many stark warnings.
Are all of the programme managers paid out of the Votes of individual Ministers? In other words, is the programme manager for the Minister for Foreign Affairs paid out of that Department’s Vote? I recall the time the programme manager concept was introduced and, at its core, it has had an impact on freeing up the business being done by Ministers. Why is the programme manager for the Minister for Health Children paid for by the Department of the Taoiseach? Is there a specific reason for that if every other programme manager is paid for out of individual Votes? The Department of Health and Children has another press officer attached to the Government Information Service. Why is this when Professor Drumm has a battery of media staff and spin doctors to continually send out streams of information about what is happening or not happening, as the case might be, in the HSE?
The Taoiseach: The health matters of Government have to be communicated to the public and dealt with in the normal way. The Department of Health and Children has its requirements in that regard as well and the person concerned does an excellent job. He is highly respected by the profession with whom he deals. As I said in regard to Mr. O’Connor, health is a huge issue for the Government and future Governments and they need someone with the expertise and ability to fashion the reforms that are necessary and ongoing. The reason the programme manager is paid for by my Department is that there is no limit on the number of advisers attached to my Department.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: The party formerly known as the Progressive Democrats was a signatory to an agreement to go into Government with Fianna Fáil. How many advisers, programme managers and special consultants have been decommissioned since the demise of the party or are they all still on the payroll?
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