Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, 1980: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Wednesday, 12 March 1980

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 93 No. 11

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

Minister for the Public Service (Mr. G. Fitzgerald): Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to two of the changes in the [1169] structures and functions of Government announced by the Taoiseach in Dáil Éireann on 11 and 13 December 1979. The Taoiseach, in those statements, outlined an integrated package of changes most of which have already been effected by Government orders. These particular changes which, as I say, have already been implemented, refer to changes in the titles and functions of Ministers and Departments of State. The two remaining elements of the package, namely the proposals, on the one hand, to bring the Department of Labour and the Public Service together under one Minister and, on the other hand, to increase the number of Ministers of State to 15 require amendments to existing legislation and hence the introduction of this Bill.

I will deal first with the proposal to bring the Departments of Labour and the Public Service together under one Minister. The present position is that section 3 (3) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, 1973 provides that the Department of Finance and the Department of the Public Service shall be assigned to the same person. This provision must be repealed in order to permit the appointment of a member of the Government who is not also the Minister for Finance to be Minister for the Public Service. Senators will be aware that, in present circumstances, the Taoiseach's intentions are that the member of the Government having charge of the Department of Labour should also have charge of the Department of the Public Service.

This is a considered reaction to the emergence, since the setting up of the Department of the Public Service in 1973, of the successful management of industrial relations as one of the main requirements for national progress. The needs of Government are never static and our structures must always be flexible enough to cope with changing circumstances. Certain needs existed in 1973 which determined the setting up of a separate Department of the Public Service. First, the Public Services Organisation Review Group had recommended [1170] the setting up of such a Department which would be assigned to the member of the Government who would also be the Minister for Finance.

Secondly, it was felt that a separate Department was necessary in order to ensure that adequate attention was given to and adequate skills developed in the important areas of personnel management including industrial relations and organisation. Prior to 1973 these matters had been dealt with in the Department of Finance where they were inevitably subordinated to wider economic considerations. It was possible to cater for these needs by setting up a separate Department which would be assigned to the same member of the Government as the Department of Finance.

However, in the light of developments in regard to industrial relations, we have found it necessary to look again at the structural arrangements in this area. The Government have a twofold role on the industrial relations front. The Minister for Labour is concerned with fostering a constructive climate in the industrial relations field and for providing all the legislative basis and much of the institutional framework for industrial relations matters. The Minister for the Public Service is responsible for a co-ordinated approach to industrial relations in the public service. The Government are the largest employer in the State since over a quarter of the work force and well over a third of those employed on the basis of a wage or salary are public servants. Obviously then, movements in the public service exercise a major influence on the whole economy. In recent years, it has become more and more evident that trouble in the public service means trouble for the country. At present, therefore, it would seem logical to co-ordinate the Government's two roles at ministerial level. This will strengthen and deepen the existing cooperation between the two Departments concerned. No one is going to pretend that this is the answer to all industrial relations problems. It is, however, a visible move on the part of the Government to illustrate their determination to get to grips with such problems and to ensure [1171] that there is a fully co-ordinated approach.

Before I move on to the other major aspect of the Bill, I want to make one thing very clear. This change in ministerial responsibility does not, in any way, imply diminished commitment to the existing programmes of the two Departments concerned.

This House has always had a healthy interest in the work of the Department of the Public Service in relation to the various programmes for the reorganisation of the public service in terms of structures and personnel policies. The learned and enlightening contributions to the debate, in November 1978, on the fourth report of the Public Service Advisory Council are adequate testimony to this. I want to assure the House that there will be no change in the priority to be accorded to these programmes and of my own determination to see that, under my aegis, an adequate rate of progress is maintained consistent with the development of more effective and efficient administrative machinery. Neither will the change mean any diminution of the priority to be accorded to very important work of the Department of Labour in those areas not directly related to industrial relations.

I want to move on now to the second major provision of this Bill. The present position is that section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1977 restricts the maximum number of Ministers of State to ten. This Bill provides for an increase in that maximum to 15.

It is only a little more than two years ago since this House debated in great depth the many issues arising from the creation of the office of Minister of State. There was general acceptance in the House of that measure. Some reservations were expressed as to the adequacy of the number of offices being created and indeed one Senator with prophetic insight forecast that it would not be long before another increase became necessary. Prior to the creation in 1977 of the office of Minister of State the business of the Government was allocated between 15 Ministers of [1172] Government who had the assistance of seven parliamentary secretaries. This situation had existed for 40 years despite the ever-growing range and complexity of Government business. When we introduced the 1977 Act we made two fundamental changes. First, we abolished the office of Parliamentary Secretary and replaced it with a new office of Minister of State which would have greater responsibilities. Secondly we increased the number of posts available to lend assistance to Ministers of the Government from seven Parliamentary Secretaries to ten Ministers of State.

After two years, this issue can now be judged from experience. The demands giving rise to the 1977 Act have certainly not diminished, indeed, they have grown. We have had the continuing growth of responsibilities in relation to all aspects of EEC matters. There has also been a continuing increase in the demands made on Ministers on the home front. There has also been a dramatic increase in the demands being made on politicians generally and Ministers in particular, by the general public in terms of the service the public require. We are now dealing with an electorate that is more articulate and better informed than ever before. Such an electorate demands a more sophisticated level of service from its elected representatives. The House will be aware of these developments. The results of the combination of these factors can be seen in the expansion of the roles, functions and activities of the various Government Departments.

We must also consider the question of the role and influence of the Oireachtas. It is difficult to answer criticisms that because of the increasing complexity of the business of Government the institutions of the State are not sufficiently answerable to Parliament. Some measures have been taken to correct this. We have an active Joint Committee of both Houses looking into the affairs of the commercial State-sponsored bodies; a Bill to establish the office of Ombudsman has been introduced. We see the present measure as a further step which will bring the number of people [1173] answerable to the Oireachtas for the management of Government business to a realistic level.

There is, of course, as Senators know, a constitutional limit of 15 on the number of Ministers of the Government. We must look elsewhere for ways to meet the needs I have been talking about. In the case of some Departments of State, it will mean the assignment to them of more than one Minister of State because of the scope and complexity of the business they discharge. The process of Government is becoming an increasingly sophisticated one. We can no longer hope to respond in a piecemeal manner to the challenge being posed. Neither can we expect to share out ever-increasing burdens among a constant number of hard-pressed individuals without affecting the level of service being delivered. Our experience in the last two years or so has convinced us of the necessity of having the number of Ministers of State increased to 15.

This measure, together with the rationalisation of functions at ministerial and departmental levels already announced by the Taoiseach, will mean that we are moving into the new decade with a full strength team equipped to meet the challenge ahead. It has been said that, if we had brought forward this measure before our Presidency of the EEC, it would have received more widespread support but at least our experience now stands to us in that we can be absolutely confident of the need for the measure.

The opportunity afforded by this amending legislation required to provide for increasing the maximum number of Ministers of State and for having a person other than the Minister for Finance appointed as Minister for the Public Service is being availed of to make certain other technical amendments to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts. First, the 1977 Act makes no provision for the termination of the appointment of a Minister of State on his becoming a member of the Government nor for his resignation for any other reason. I am proposing that such provision now be made.

[1174] Second, section 7(4) of the 1939 Act provided, in the case of the office of Parliamentary Secretary, that his appointment or tenure of office would not be affected where another member of the Government was nominated to act for the Minister having charge of the Department where he was assigned. I propose here to make a similar provision for the office of Minister of State. Finally, as regards technicalities, section 2(1)(6) of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1947, still contains a reference to the obsolete office of Parliamentary Secretary. I am proposing that the office of Minister of State be substituted in the relevant section for the office of Parliamentary Secretary. These are minor technical amendments and I do not wish to dwell on them at this stage.

I would like to conclude by saying that I have every confidence that the measures set out in this Bill, when taken in conjunction with the other elements of the package announced by the Taoiseach last December, will make a major contribution to providing this country with more effective and more efficient Government machinery. The electorate have the right to demand and expect the best from the machinery of Government. We are committed to seeing that they get it and I will be continuing to strive for this in my capacity as Minister for the Public Service.

Mr. Staunton: Information on Myles Staunton  Zoom on Myles Staunton  In principle we do not object to this Bill but for political reasons we suspect the motives behind its introduction. One could say there is a need for an increased number of Ministers to deal with the increased volume of public business, but one might ask why is it necessary at this time for the Minister to introduce this Bill when, for example, we are just past the six months during which this Government held the Presidency of the EEC. Reverting to the previous Taoiseach's speech of two years ago about the formation of Government and about the need for a reform of the public service on the run up to the six months Irish Presidency, which was to stretch Government to the limit, if these appointments [1175] had been considered necessary then in the interests of the public service and of this country they should have been created about a year ago so that the appointees could have carried out their duties from 1 June last to the end of December. For that reason we have to question why this Bill is being brought before us at this time. The Minister presented extremely poor arguments in the Seanad today and in the Dáil last week to support the reasons why it was necessary that we pass this Bill and allow the Government to create five more posts as Ministers of State. The appallingly bad arguments made are particularly illustrated in one section—when the Minister speaks of the role and influence of the Oireachtas and why, in his words, we need to appoint five new Ministers of State. It is the Minister's arguments that we are paying attention to here. One of the reasons we want to appoint the five Ministers of State is so that the Oireachtas should be better served.

I find this infantile stuff completely unacceptable and patently insincere. If we are concerned about the Oireachtas and about the workings of the Oireachtas—the Dáil and the Seanad—we should be facing up to issues other than the question of Ministers of State. It is a contradiction in terms to suggest that the appointment of Ministers of State, in any effective sense, affects the Oireachtas because there are two arms of public service. We have the Executive of Government and the Oireachtas. The problems of Parliament are in no sense served by the appointment of Ministers of State. There is a danger that the term Minister of State rather than Parliamentary Secretary may put a gloss on an office that is not all that very significant. In public relations and propaganda terms that might suggest that when a Minister of State is answering questions or attending to business that these matters are being attended to by people in government at the highest level, while in fact they continue to be done by people at the second level in the Executive, because they are not [1176] obviously Ministers in an Irish Government.

The title “Minister of State” can be abused in the sense that ultimate responsibility in any Government Department is held by the Minister, not by the Minister of State. If Ministers wish to opt out of contentious business, or to have an easier life in certain respects they now have the perfect formula: they may send the Minister of State to meet the delegation, to handle the business or make the speech.

The Minister gave reasons why this Bill is in the interests of the Oireachtas. It is patently obvious that the Oireachtas is in terribly bad shape. Attempting to look objectively at parliaments in the free world one would probably find that the Oireachtas is among the poorest served. In Dáil Éireann, for example, I know of cases where eight Deputies are expected to share a single private secretary for typing facilities. We are talking now about the running of a country. At fifth or sixth levels in semi-State companies, executives have private secretaries and separate offices. If there is to be any sincerity about attempting to make the Oireachtas strong, in line with Deputy Lynch's speech two-and-a-half years ago, the problems of the Oireachtas must be tackled and we should not have the window-dressing and the padding that is going on in this Bill and the pseudo naming with the Minister of State game. This is a conviction I hold very strongly. I am probably correct in addressing myself to it since the Minister was allowed to mention this particular topic.

The Minister referred to the corrective action being taken by the Government so far as the Oireachtas is concerned. He mentioned the active Joint Committee of both Houses for semi-State bodies and a Bill to establish an Ombudsman and committee work. Committee work is taxing in the extreme the capacity of Deputies or Senators to perform on these committees, unless they run the risk of losing their seats should they have them, for example if they are Members of Dáil Éireann. Short of providing proper secretarial support and decent office [1177] facilities for members of the Oireachtas nothing will happen. It is an insult to come into either House and suggest that it is out of consideration for the Oireachtas that these Ministers of State are being appointed. The sophisticated needs of today's electorate demand that if Deputies are to be reelected and to give a reasonable performance to their constituencies, they must also be able to take time off for national issues, independent of local work. This needs funding and a secretariat.

The appointment of these Ministers of State in no sense, in my judgment, provides a service to the electorate but it might serve a purpose for the political party in power by having more Ministers of State on the high roads to the country driving their Mercedes, the political status symbol, to attend fetes, dinners and football matches and so on. There have been recent changes in personnel by the Taoiseach and very able people were demoted and replaced by, in some cases, people who are much less worthy in terms of political competence. The obvious pay-off is these extra five appointments. We must suspect this more because it did not happen a year ago but is happening at this critical time.

We were told today, after a recent Parliamentary Question, that the cost of a car and driver is approximately £33,000 and the support in terms of office and other expenditure is estimated to cost another £42,000 which makes a total of about £75,000.

I am not against the essential principle of more people in the Executive, especially if the people appointed are worthy and are going to do a good job, but in a balanced sense, if the Government are looking at the needs of the public service, at the needs of the Oireachtas and at the unhealthy state of democracy, any proposal of this nature brought in by the Government should be balanced by due regard for democracy and, within the Houses of the Oireachtas, with the support I mentioned which should be extended so that individual Deputies and Senators are [1178] assisted. It is only in this way that Deputies and Senators will have time to question, to probe, to make speeches, to study, and so on. This would assist democracy in this country a damn sight better than the present measure which is being introduced for obvious political reasons by the Minister. The total cost of this exercise will be about £500,000 and if it is a question of “either/or”, I would prefer to see this money being spent to assist Senators and Deputies. This Bill should be supported by back-up services for basic democracy in the Oireachtas.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Séamus Dolan  Zoom on Séamus Dolan  This Bill deals with the appointment of Ministers of State, and not with the individual Deputies and Senators.

Mr. Staunton: Information on Myles Staunton  Zoom on Myles Staunton  I appreciate your point very fully, with respect, having read the Minister's speech in the Dáil and in the Seanad, where he addressed himself directly to these issues, I was merely responding to the overtures made by him. In principle we do not take exception to this Bill but for many reasons that are patently obvious, we suspect the motives behind it and make a plea for the Minister to follow this up with respect for democracy by introducing all the facilities which are so urgently needed if we are to fulfil his expressed concern for the Oireachtas.

Professor Hillery: Information on Brian J. Hillery  Zoom on Brian J. Hillery  The first objective of this Bill is to bring the Department of Labour and the Department of the Public Service under one Minister. I strongly support the case for coordinating industrial relations in both the public and private sectors at ministerial level. Public sector employment, as the Minister pointed out, accounts for over a quarter of the total work force in the country and, indeed, some of the more serious disputes that have occurred in recent years have been in the public sector.

Movements in pay and conditions in the public sector have implications for the economy as a whole. I therefore welcome this organisational change as a positive step in the direction of co-ordinating the approach to industrial relations [1179] at Government level by placing responsibility for the public service on the member of the Cabinet who is also Minister for Labour. It further underlines the vital importance of good industrial relations for our economic and social progress.

I should like to make a few comments in relation to the Department of the Public Service. The daily strain placed on Ministers, to which I shall be referring in a few moments in connection with the increase in the number of Ministers of State, raises the question of relieving Ministers of routine matters and thus delegating to civil servants. If economic development is to be effective, the pace of public service reform must be intensified. I have no doubt that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and his Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, will continue with the explicit political initiatives already taken by the Fianna Fáil Government for reform and change. I would like to express the hope that the necessary response will be forthcoming from civil servants, not least by accepting the need for mobility within the service so that the knowledge and skills within the service can be most appropriately utilised.

The second major objective of this Bill is to increase the number of Ministers of State from ten to a maximum of 15. With the ever-increasing scope and complexity of Government business and the level of service expected in modern conditions, an almost intolerable burden is placed on Ministers, thereby causing a health hazard as well as other undesirable consequences.

It is worth considering for a moment the pressures that are placed on Cabinet Ministers in 1980. Several members of the Cabinet have to conduct and attend to business at three levels. There is the primary consideration of constituency work where the volume continues to increase and a Minister is expected not only to attend to the individual and group needs of his constituents but also to attend a host of functions and other public engagements. Any Government Minister who foregoes these constituency [1180] obligations does so at his peril and the pressure on him is compounded by the multi-seat constituencies.

Secondly, a Government Minister who is fulfilling the duties expected of him must give considerable time, thought and energy to his Department and the associated range of duties, including the key aspect of new legislation. Furthermore, as a member of the Government he has collective responsibility for Government policy generally. Thirdly, our membership of the European Community demands ministerial representation and presence. This international dimension of a Minister's work has added greatly to the work of several individual Ministers in particular and has placed new and heavy burdens on Government machinery generally.

There is, therefore, an overwhelming case for posts of Ministers of State. When the number was increased in 1977 to ten, several Opposition Senators in this House said at that time that ten was not enough. The Government have now had an opportunity over the past two years to assess whether ten is adequate. Clearly the workload in some Government Departments is greater than in others and therefore it has proved necessary to assign more than one Minister of State to a particular Government Department. The Department of Agriculture is a case in point. I do not think that anybody could seriously argue that the appointment of 15 Ministers of State is unreasonable; indeed I would argue that it is a realistic level in the complex, demanding environment in which Government operates as we enter the eighties. I support the Bill.

Professor Keating: Information on Justin Keating  Zoom on Justin Keating  If it were simply a matter of the eminently reasonable and perceptive case made by Senator Hillery just now, it would be churlish for anyone to offer criticism of this Bill. I have personal experience of the things he spoke of most recently and I could not disagree with his characterisation of the workload on Ministers and, indeed, of the perils of neglecting aspects of that workload but I say with regret that it is not quite so simple.

[1181] There are two matters in this Bill, one being the proposed increase in the number of Ministers of State and the other the matter of amalgamation of the Departments of Labour and the Public Service. Let me take them in reverse order to the Minister's presentation in his speech and talk first about the number of Ministers of State. I do not want to add anything to what Senator Hillery has just said about the need for extra people, but those arguments seem to me totally vitiated by what we have seen happening in the recent past with the reshuffle of Government. Let me except the person currently sitting in the Minister's chair. Deputy Calleary, from what I have to say next.

I have been appalled and shocked, and I know members of the Government party have had the same experience, when looking at the quality as human beings of at least three of the Ministers of State who have been appointed. I will not name them now; I am able to say a rude thing when it is necessary and I do not think it is necessary now, but anyone who observes the political process in Ireland will be able to name those three persons. Can one say that they were put there to help their Ministers to perform better or to take a workload off them, or because of their talents to make their contribution to relations between Oireachtas and Government, or to the quality of Government in Ireland? They were not. They were put there as a pay off not for talent but for reliability. If we are going to have five more, what will our expectations be in regard to the sort of person chosen? The tragedy is that if one does things that on the face of it seem to be necessary for the sake of the better functioning of our State and better democracy and then misuses those powers in the way we have very recently seen with the passing over, as Senator Staunton said, of people who did command the respect of all of the Oireachtas and of all sides of the Houses, one must ask what all this is for and what are the motives. I want to see the burden on Ministers lowered so that they can do their real job more effectively, but on the [1182] evidence of the past few months I must question the intention.

I have to give notice that I will scrutinise the use made of this measure when it becomes law and the five appointments are made. I will scrutinise, as will the whole country, the appointees, and will ask the question—as in the light of the recent past we must why these persons and not other persons? I hope we will be able to give the answer that they were the best persons available, but I am afraid we will not be able to give that answer. I would be happy to be proved wrong in that surmise.

Let me make some small comment on an observation of the Minister in his opening speech when he talked about relations with the Oireachtas and the service to the Oireachtas. I do not propose to cover again the ground that Senator Staunton covered, but let me simply put it on the record that if we expect the Oireachtas to function efficiently, and if we want it as a source of real input into the public life of this country, not simply as a bit of window-dressing and genuflection towards democracy, then we will have to stop the contemptuous way in which we currently service Members of the Oireachtas. In regard to myself, I do not have an office, or a telephone or a cupboard, and I do not have any servicing whatsoever. I am not putting the burden on any individual. That is the failure of public decision to service the Oireachtas properly. We can go through the whole of the Oireachtas and find that we are rottenly serviced as representatives of the people, from end to end. We set that existing situation of long continuation and the approximate cost of rectifying it against the approximate cost of these number of extra posts and then we look at what the extra posts are being used for, and we have to have it out about priorities.

I want to turn to the other trend, which is in regard to the matter of the Departments of Labour and the Public Service. We have seen the situation where one might say traditionally the Department of the Public Service and the Department of Finance had the same Minister. In fairness one might [1183] caricature it or at least get to the situation of saying the Department of the Public Service had been carved out of the Department of Finance. I can see the argument for doing that. I can see also the argument for a drawing closer of the Department of Labour and the Department of the Public Service. I can certainly see an argument for legislation to permit that drawing closer, but I will pick up a theme that I have touched on many times in the Oireachtas, both in this and in the other House when we were discussing the matters of the structures of Government.

It is very striking in Ireland first that we have bad labour relations. We have had recent confirmation of this in Community figures and they must give pause to everybody of every political point of view, but it is even more striking that labour relations are worse in the public than in the private sector, and in the private sector the spectrum is very great. There are firms with absolutely impeccable labour relations records which would bear comparison with any in the world and there are those which are dreadful. I only make that aside, which I will not pursue, to make the point that to a great extent in our political and social environment the quality of labour relations is a function of management: good management, good labour relations; bad management, bad labour relations.

I have made the observation which I think is incontrovertible that in the public sector we have bad labour relations. If one draws the conclusion from those two recent observations it seems inescapable that the fault is the quality of management in the public sector. That is a desperately serious problem for the whole community because so many of the things done in the public sector impinge on all of us. I need not pursue that; everyone will know what I am talking about.

The question I ask is whether a piecemeal reform of this kind is sufficient. I ask it to answer it in the way I have answered it many times in my decade in the Oireachtas and say in my view it will not be sufficient. Putting it [1184] very briefly, we have inherited a British structure of public service. The British have reformed it a bit and we have reformed it a bit less, but it is not appropriate for us. I believe that the efforts at democratisation in the public service and some of the semi-State bodies introduced by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy O'Leary, have to be pushed onwards and extended. Reform of the Civil Service Departments themselves in a much more fundamental way is necessary, because what I can only call paternalism and an authoritarian approach to the work force, if it ever worked, certainly did not work in the last or the present decade.

What depresses me about the two parts of this Bill is that the things that need to be done in the interests of reform and continuous improvement of the State are being done for reasons that are less honourable and that are more party political. I said my piece on the Ministers of State in that regard but I cannot help remembering the trumpetings that accompanied a piece of “reform” of ministerial responsibilities when in 1977 a Department of Economic Planning and Development under Minister Martin O'Donoghue was established. It did not seem to me to be the right thing to do then, but I saw a political reason for it. Now it has been summarily disestablished at a time when certain inputs from that person and that Department might have been useful in the management of our economy. Again, the disestablishment in my view was party political in exactly the same way as the establishment was, and neither of them was for good reasons.

The liaison between the Department of Labour and the Department of the Public Service is a little step which may be useful, and I certainly do not propose to divide the House on it or oppose it. However, it is my experience in the public service, in universities and in the private sector also that if people want a good liaison they can establish it as human beings quite easily, and that formal mechanisms do not necessarily improve liaison at all. If there were a real requirement for better liaison between [1185] the Departments of the Public Service and Labour it could have been achieved on a telephone. We have all seen cases, both in private industry and in Government Departments, and in my own experience in universities, where an amalgamation leads to bitter rearguard action that is fought for five or ten years and vitiates the intended good effect. I am not sure this is going to do any good. I will not oppose it, but I offer the conviction that it is too small and too limited a step in dealing with entrenched attitudes in both Departments. It is those entrenched attitudes, very loosely and broadly characterised as authoritarian and paternalistic, which are the prime cause of our bad labour relations in the public sector. I look on those bad labour relations in the public sector as among the most pressing problems which the State currently faces.

With those doubts, hesitations and questionings of motive, this is the warmest welcome I can give the Bill. It will probably do a little more good than it does harm.

To tie together my observations on the two sections of this Bill, the doubt and the sadness I have in regard to both is that things which may or may not be necessary for the better functioning of the State—and their success or failure will really be dependent on the way in which they are implemented—are not simply being politicised but are being party politicised. On the evidence of the actions of the last few months, I and many other people will await the implementation with more doubt than confidence as to the ultimate result.

Mr. Mulcahy: Information on Noel William Mulcahy  Zoom on Noel William Mulcahy  Ba mhaith liom fáiltiú roimh an mBille seo agus a rá go gcaithfimid a thuiscint nuair a bhíonn athrú eagrú ag teastáil in aon gnóthaí Stáit, go dtárlaionn sé mall go leor. Feicim an Bille seo mar chéim eile ar aghaidh atá á déanamh faoin phairtí Fhianna Fáil. Tá me cinnte go mbeidh bainistíocht san todhchaí i bhfad níos fearr le fáil san réimse sin den obair atá idir an Oireachtas agus an seirbhis poiblí.

[1186] I welcome this extra attempt to organise a better service for our democratic process and our way of governing through the democratic process. I would say as an aside that I am not personally very happy about the way the democratic process and government through the democratic process operate at the moment, but I am realistic enough to recognise that things like that will not change overnight. I would hope that they would be moving in the right direction.

We have in this country a modified form of the Westminster model. Thank God we have not got some of the aspects of that model which are probably the root of some of the problems in the UK. I am thinking, for instance, of the monarchy. We have a system which operates from our Constitution and down through the various executive systems of State. The present system involves an Oireachtas which is fairly cut off from the real decision-making process unless it works through the party system and in the future it will need modification. The joint committee system which has already been mentioned is a step in the right direction.

We are dealing with the situation where the members of the Oireachtas over a couple of generations have increased in sophistication, training and education. Therefore, they can be harnessed to help in the running of the State in a different way from that set up in the beginning. I am not in any way taking from the sophistication of Members of the Oireachtas earlier in this century but I am saying that there is a difference. At the same time there is a difference in the electorate. They are more highly educated, their demands may be put more articulately and the power systems available to them are used more effectively. One would, therefore, expect changes to take place. While I would be disappointed at the way changes in the public service have taken place I would put it down to faltering incrementalism. At the same time I recognise that some improvements have taken place and that is why I would support this Bill.

[1187] The addition of five more Ministers of State is the kind of step which can in itself induce change in an indirect way in the public service, which is where the management process mentioned by Senator Keating takes place. By appointing five new Ministers of State there are five individuals operating between the Cabinet Ministers and the public service as full-time administrators and one would expect that those Ministers of State by their very presence there, the questions that they ask, their own particular pet hobby horses that they will follow, will induce the change that is required. Therefore, I see it as a very important step.

I would not make any apologies whatsoever for the fact that these individuals are politicians and are not appointed the way the top people in Government would be appointed in other countries, such as the United States. They do come from the democratic process and are subject to the continual observation of the electorate. If at any date they get the notion that they are gods almighty in their own areas, the people have their own way of dealing with that. The appointment of elected people is the essence of the democratic process and we should not be in any way worried about it.

Neither do I think we should be worried about the fact that there will be changes in the people who occupy these positions. As political parties become more sophisticated, in the sense that the individuals who are elected have wider experiences, different kinds of training and so on, one would expect that there would be changes, that different individuals would be appointed to different positions. We cannot expect that forever we would have situations where there would be only ten, 15 or 20 people capable of being Ministers in a party. Surely as time goes on we would reach the position where 100 per cent would be capable of doing this and therefore one would expect to see changes in appointments, depending on the essence of the democratic process. That is what we are seeing at the moment.

It was less than understanding of [1188] Senator Keating to pick on the quality of the individuals who have recently been appointed. I am sorry he has left the House. As I said in putting forward the principle, I would expect to see changes and maybe that would be healthy in a democratic process. I would go further and say that in relation to the first ten Ministers of State who were appointed we were enabled as Members of the Oireachtas to see them here in the House taking Bills through and see them visibly growing in their ability and in their confidence in dealing with tricky aspects of legislation.

They are just examples that occurred to me to drive that point home. The Minister of State, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, dealt with tricky legislation concerning consumers and has now been promoted to a Cabinet position. That is a very healthy process. Likewise, there have been tricky aspects of the Landlord and Tenant Bill handled by Ministers of State and so on. One would expect to see Ministers of State improve their positions. I have also noticed, listening to Members of the Oireachtas operating through the party system or in Joint Committees, that very often the person without great talents may be the individual who asks the right questions and has that critical judgment which sees what is at issue and suggests a creative solution. I am quite confident that the Ministers we have at the moment will show more of this and will improve as they move into their jobs.

We all know about the famous Coalition Cabinet of all the talents which had its own difficulties. It is not always the person who articulates the particular lines of policy who is the best at getting the results. I would say, judge by the results.

They are the points which I wished to make in relation to the appointment of five new people, the principle of the appointment. That is the reason that I see the five new appointments as a significant step in the evolution of the democratic governing process.

In relation to the other aspect of the Bill, the Department of Labour undertaking responsibities for the Department [1189] of the Public Service, Senator Hillery has outlined the logic in that. I will not add to the discussion on principle. I would like to take the opportunity, since the Minister mentioned the problems of industrial relations, to reiterate the need for the improvement of the management of industrial relations in the public service and the need for the people who operate in the protected system of the public service to recognise the privileged position they are in and to appreciate that that is of value in itself. That protection and security are not always available to those who work in the exposed sector of the manufacturing industries particularly.

Recently there have been statements from the Minister about absenteeism. It was only yesterday, in the Irish Management Institute that I came across a particular instance where, between 1970 and 1979, absenteeism in a particular division of a major company in this country went from a 5 per cent average to 30 per cent. There were 30 per cent of the people missing for various reasons. I am sure that many Senators have heard, within the public service, people referring to their entitlement to sick leave. These practices, which take place within the protected area of the public sector must not be passed on in the way I have described. The company I referred to is a manufacturing company in the exposed sector.

It is a very logical step that the Minister for Labour should have the ultimate responsibility for determining policies in relation to industrial relations that will be operated either directly or indirectly through legislation to the public sector as well as the private sector.

As a third point I would like to respond to a point made by Senator Staunton when he referred to the role of these Ministers and whether or not they were needed in relation to the responsibilities of Cabinet Ministers; that it would give them an excuse for not dealing with certain situations and so on. This is one of the problems we have in management in the whole of our society. I would hate to [1190] see this principle of delegation not being recognised here in the Seanad. It is impossible for a Cabinet Minister to deal with all the questions that are referred to him, all the issues, to answer telephone calls from people who want to contact him. He has to allocate his time to priorities. The good man or woman will be the person who decides what those priorities are. The appointment of these people is the natural recognition of the need for delegation. I would hate to see a number of tired, broken Ministers trying to deal with every situation that is presented to them when the delegation process offers the obvious solution, that is, they have somebody who is democratically elected to share the burden. Because of those arguments I welcome the Bill.

Dr. West: Information on Timothy Trevor West  Zoom on Timothy Trevor West  I am able to take a slightly different view of this situation as an Independent Member. It is obvious that politics enters into decisions of this type whatever the protests on the Government's side may be. On the other hand, one gets somebody from the Opposition, like Senator Staunton, protesting about decisions such as this, but it is unlikely that when his party come back into Government they will rescind a decision like this. It is more likely that they will welcome it with open arms and do exactly as the Government are going to do, distribute posts of this nature evenly around the country to keep their supporters happy, and to balance the political budget. Everybody recognises this. That is not to say the decision itself is wrong. It may well be right. My feeling is that it is neither wrong nor right but that it is inevitable. I doubt if it gets near to solving the problems that we face. It seems to me that the average Member of either the Dáil or the Seanad can only give an outside view of the problems because he only sees a Minister at interviews and operating in public, but he does not face the pressure that a Minister faces in modern political life. The interesting views on this question, as was the case in the debate on the Report of the Public Service Advisory Council, come either from people who have been Ministers, [1191] who have had the experience, who have experienced the pressure, or from people who have been on the other side, senior civil servants who have worked in top positions in Government Departments and who see the situation on the inside but who get a different view.

As an independent observer, I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Government Ministers. It is often my job to meet them, to interview them. They rarely refuse an interview, if they can fit it in at all, with a Member of the Oireachtas and the interview often comes late in the afternoon. They have had numerous delegations, they have had meetings of their own, and internal committees in their Departments. The wear and tear on the Minister's face at that time of day is very obvious. The pressure that a Minister is under in modern life is tremendous. I doubt very much if this will do a great deal to lessen that pressure. It may, on the surface, appear to help the Cabinet Minister but I doubt if it really will. It also could cause him some problems.

I see the situation with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Given our situation, given the tremendous demands on the Minister, which have been outlined, quite apart from his constituency work, his departmental work in dealing with routine departmental problems, and what is more obvious perhaps to the public, his work in initiating policy and legislation, then add to that his EEC work, and it requires something of a superman to be a good Minister. One can divide Cabinet members into two categories; the first one, a very small one, the “good” Ministers one meets and the second one, let us just call them Ministers.

The good Ministers I have come across in my nine years in this House are very few and far between. It is because one needs superhuman qualities to be a good Minister. Any Member of the Oireachtas can be a Minister if he just relies on his civil servants. We see so often a Minister coming into this House and just repeating what the civil servants tell him and the difference when one [1192] comes across a good Minister is that he physically tries to push his own policy line into the channels that run in his Department, and to get that through his own departmental committees. Quite apart from facing the Cabinet and then facing the Oireachtas and the public, that is a considerable job. Very few Members of the Oireachtas really are capable of this. One really effective Minister makes his presence felt and he may not sometimes have much impact upon the public but it is very clear to us, as Members of the Oireachtas. I wonder if this Bill will really help the situation.

I sometimes wonder what I would do if I was in charge of a Department of State. It is not constitutionally impossible because Members of the Seanad can be and, in fact, have been appointed Ministers of State. It is somewhat unlikely that an Independent Member would become a member of a Cabinet. I feel, if I were a Minister and suddenly out of the blue—supposing I was representing my home constituency of Cork North East, and put in charge of a big Department—down on top of me were sent from Heaven two Ministers of State—they would not be from the Cork area, but from Donegal or County Louth—I would do my best, if I thought that I was in any way in control of the situation to keep them out of the centre of activity, keep them as far away from the scene of the action as I possibly could. I would give them all the dirty jobs; I would make them sweep the yard. At least in my Department the civil servants working for me would be nominally under my control but the people who would not be under my control would be the Ministers of State, hopping around trying to get publicity, trying to get in on the act, trying to push me around. I would try to send them off to Europe or send them to Sarawak on interparliamentary jaunts and hope their plane would land in the jungle and that they would take a long time getting back.

One of the more formidable of the Ministers in recent times, the present Taoiseach, although he ran two Departments, did not have a Minister of State [1193] to “assist” him during his tenure in those two Departments. This is the inevitable political reaction—it might as well come from the Coalition Government as from this Government—to the problem of pressure, on the one hand, on the Ministers and, on the other hand, the need to spread the jobs around. It may be something that we cannot resist but I wonder how it will solve any of the problems. We should be trying to strengthen the Minister's position inside his Department and give flexibility rather than appointing Ministers of State in his Department. I would like to see some sort of Ministerial Cabinet, not the Aireacht concept that we had before, but a Ministerial Cabinet set up inside the Department in which the Minister would be able to nominate a very small number of people who would be fulltimers, not necessarily political people at all. They certainly would not have to be elected but they would be people who might come from the commercial world, people who had experience in the sort of administration that one has to have to become skilled in when one is running a Department. In a sense, that would act as a buffer between the Minister and his civil servants. When a Minister comes into a new Department he may know something about it if he is an old hand, an experienced politician, but we have had examples of Dáil Members becoming Ministers on their first day in the Dáil and they could not have known much about their portfolios when those portfolios landed on their desks.

Let us take the position of someone who is a bit more experienced. Because of the political system he has no idea until a day or two before his appointment of what Department he will be put in charge of and, when the jockeying has been accomplished, he has then to try to formulate some sort of policy and make an input into his Department. That is asking a tremendous amount from most people. If I was in this position I would try to pull in a few small groups from outside politics altogether to act as a buffer between the civil servants and myself, not to set up a permanent tension between us but to try to assist me in formulating [1194] policy and to push it through the departmental channels. It would then be up to me to get it through the Cabinet and the various other areas.

It is important that there should be commercial and industrial inputs into our political life. I would choose people from that area because in my experience the people who make the most success of these extremely difficult tasks are generally not people from the academic or legal worlds but people who have had experience in the world of business.

I am pleased, therefore, to note that there is more emphasis on people coming from commerce and business in our top administrative structures. I would like to see this being extended. I would like to see this going further so that more people from this sector would offer themselves as members of political parties to contest elections.

This type of expertise is nearer the type of expertise that one really needs to be a successful Cabinet Minister than the sort of expertise required in the lecture room or in the Law Library—not that people from both of these professions cannot play an important part in our political life as indeed they have done, but I do not really see the appointment of extra Ministers of State as having a really beneficial effect. It may make a marginal improvement. Neither can I see that anything that the Minister said in his opening remarks really makes the point that we could not do without these extra posts. It may, sadly, be the parliamentary response to the problem, but I doubt if it is the way of getting down to solving it.

Dr. Whitaker: Information on Thomas K Whitaker  Zoom on Thomas K Whitaker  As a former public servant I would like to say a few words to confirm, and in some respects to qualify, comments made by previous speakers. I am prepared to accept in principle the desirability of provision being made for extra appointments as Minister of State provided responsible and competent persons are appointed to these offices and that a well-defined and reasonable range of responsibilities is assigned to each such Minister of State. Otherwise you [1195] can have the situation that Senator West in his Walter Mitty moments a while ago was describing, when he visualised himself as a tough go-getting Minister who wanted to relegate any assistant Ministers to the wilds.

The cost, which is substantial, of having these extra posts would, I think, be justified if the criteria I have just mentioned were fulfilled and if what the Minister expects is fulfilled, namely, that these new appointments do add to the flexibility and effectiveness of administration and subtract from the enormous burdens which have to be borne nowadays by members of the Government. The cost was mentioned also by way of contrast with the paucity of finance for basic services of the Oireachtas itself. That is a good debating way of making a point. It is not that one should be substituted for the other but that more money should be provided to improve the service available to Members of the Oireachtas. There is undoubtedly some service, however exiguous, available to members of political parties, but those Members of the Seanad who are not members of political parties do not, as far as I am aware, enjoy any facilities at all of the kind I have in mind, for example, access to typing services.

About a year ago I heard with interest some jealous references here to the research facilities available to Members of the Oireachtas. Indeed, the proposition was that they should be expressly denied to members of the European Parliament. But when I inquired I did not discover that these services were of a very extensive character. I know the staff of the House provide a service which is beyond criticism but only a limited staff is available for that purpose. I do not think in comparison either with Government or the public service in general that the basic services available to Members of the Oireachtas are at all adequate.

The Minister also referred to the possible improvement of the effectiveness of the Oireachtas through extension of committee procedures. In my experience [1196] the committee procedure—I am not a member of any such committee—has worked very well for the Members of this house in relation to EEC affairs and I particularly like the procedure under which there can be a call for a debate in this House where the committee regard the matter they have examined as being of such importance to have such debate.

In relation to the other committee mentioned by the Minister, the Joint Committee which examines the workings of State-sponsored bodies there is, as far as I am aware, no automatic provision for the discussion of the reports of that body in either House. They have produced reports on some companies at least which many Members of both Houses would wish to have debated, particularly the report on Córas Iompair Éireann.

On another aspect of this Bill, I understand from the Minister's opening speech that the reason there is an express provision enabling the linking of the Department of Labour and the Department of the Public Service is because there was an express prescription in the 1973 Act that the Department of the Public Service should be the responsibility of the Minister for Finance. I assume he can confirm that the absence of any other provision in this Bill does not prevent new re-alignments of Ministerial responsibility taking place. A number were announced by the Taoiseach within the last few months. There is another which has not been announced but to which I referred favourably on the occasion of the debate on the roads programme recently. I was suggesting that it would make good sense, and give greater coherence to policy, if responsibility at ministerial level for our roads system were entrusted to a Minister for Communications.

I am glad to see the Minister confirm that there will be no easing of his own intention to promote progress with reforms in the public service. In the debate to which he referred here in November 1978 many of us criticised the almost complete [1197] lack of progress in some important areas such as mobility within the public service. There is scarcely any mobility between Departments, not to mention between departments and public bodies and between the public sector as a whole and the private sector.

Paradoxically, it might be easier to arrange some exchanges at managerial level between the public sector and the private sector than it is to effect even temporary transfers within the public service itself. I am sure it would be extremely beneficial not to one party alone but to both.

Reference has been made in this debate to the need for management of the public service to be improved. My own opinion is that one particular Devlin recommendation has been allowed to steal all the limelight and obscure another which is of even greater importance. The one that has got the limelight is the idea of the Aireacht—of there being a special high-level policy group within each department in close contact with the Minister. Far more important, it seems to me, is the second recommendation which is linked with that, that execution and policy should be separated and that execution should be in the hands of named and identifiable public servants who would be responsible for the efficiency of the discharge of that particular function. We never hear of that recommendation at all, although I think a personal responsibility before the public for the discharge of what are Executive functions would make a great contribution to improved management of the public service.

Mr. Governey: Information on Desmond Governey  Zoom on Desmond Governey  In relation to this Bill I would certainly want to be convinced and I am not convinced by the Minister's statement that the amount of taxpayers' money involved in the creation of five new Ministers of State, practicially half a million pounds, is going to result in benefits for the taxpayers. Here we are discussing a Bill to appoint five additional Ministers and we have no information as to which Departments these Ministers of State are to be assigned to.

I can well understand the pressures on [1198] Ministers but I cannot understand why it is necessary that these additional appointments be made. Just to name a particular case, in one Department alone, namely the Department of Agriculture, we now have a Minister and two Ministers of State. I cannot remember which other Departments got additional Ministers of State. But I am at a loss to know where the five extra Ministers are going to be put. I am appalled to think that, at a time when we have been told to tighten our belts, when the taxpayers here have been saddled with additional burdens in taxation in the last few weeks, when there have been cutbacks in various Departments and money is not available for certain works and certain projects, the Minister brings before us a Bill, the intention of which is to enable him to appoint an additional five Ministers of State at tremendous cost. I am not convinced of the necessity for it and I suspect that the Ministers so appointed are being appointed for reasons of political patronage. I hope I am wrong about that.

I would not quibble with the Minister about the cost if I could be convinced that the public in general would get a better service as a result of these appointments. In the Department of Agriculture at the moment we have a Minister and two Ministers of State. Is money available and are grants to the agricultural sector being paid out any more freely because we have additional Ministers there? If one of the new Ministers is assigned to the Department of Health and Social Welfare, will that result in a speeding up of payments of social welfare benefits? Will there be an improvement in regard to hospitalisation? What benefits will be derived from the five nameless people who will be appointed, possibly within the next few days?

I want to place my criticism on record. I am firmly convinced, that, at a time when we find ourselves in the financial straits that this country is in at the moment, it is absurd that a Bill of this kind should be brought before the House, putting this additional burden on the taxpayers here.

[1199]Mr. Harte: Information on John Jack Harte  Zoom on John Jack Harte  As far as the first provision of the Bill is concerned, that is, the bringing together of the Department of the Public Service and the Department of Labour, I can see a certain amount of merit in that, particularly in view of the rather difficult times we are going through on the industrial relations scene. But I would like to know how long this innovation is going to last. We have the example of the setting up of the separate Department of Economic Planning and Development which, after a couple of short years, was done away with. As a trade unionist I was inclined to lean towards the idea of detailed economic planning, which is not usually found in the capitalist system, that could monitor the functions of other Departments to create employment. It was sad that that Department was abolished after two-and-a-half years. Now we have another innovation, the services coming together. I wonder how long that will last. I am not really opposed to it. I hope it works. Possibly there are some arguments in favour of it but that may not be the case in two years' time.

With regard to the appointments of the extra Ministers of State, let me say first of all that I am certainly not critical of any of the individuals that have been appointed since the first five were appointed at the start. I welcomed the idea of the five people being appointed at the time and I opposed people on our own side of the House who thought that one or two extra should have been appointed on that occasion. I felt that the right thing to do was to appoint the five and then wait to see exactly what advantages came out of that. I see no evidence that it has made any great difference to the state of the country. It has made no very significant contribution. It may have eased the burden on some of the Ministers dealing with medical cards, telephone problems, housing and so on. But it certainly has not played any role in leaving the Minister free to get further involved in the type of legislation that is needed to remove the inequalities that exist in our society.

[1200] We have a situation where we are urging people outside to accept technology, to accept changes, to accept rationalisation and to accept redundancies, and we provide a few pounds so that these changes can be made. Then we are seen to create extra jobs in Government. I am not criticising the extra jobs created in the civil service since Fianna Fáil came into power. It is very nice to see jobs being created. But I wonder if there are double standards with regard to the public service and the private sector, the industrial sector in particular. We have a situation where people are encouraged to come into the civil service, particularly by the present Government. There has been a substantial increase in numbers and it helps to show that they are creating employment and the Government can say that jobs were created. I am in a dilemma about it because I like to see jobs being created. But outside in industry, even in the administrative sphere of industry, if some manager comes in with a proposition, he does not just come in with a proposition that he wants the operatives or the craftsmen to rationalise. It is usually a package which also gets rid of superfluous administration. That is the way the problem is dealt with.

Today we are trying to appoint five extra Ministers in addition to the ten we already have and the Minister has not made a case for doing so. If I, as an ordinary trade unionist, go to the negotiating table with such a proposition, I must make a case. I must show the criteria on which the jobs are based and why it is necessary to create other jobs. But no case has been made here and that is my argument against it. I am not worried about the calibre of the people concerned or about personalities. I do not even claim that these appointments are being made because of political patronage. I do claim that no case has been made. I have seen no evidence since the first five were appointed that the situation has improved dramatically. Admittedly it is only a short time since the last five were appointed. At the time I expressed reservations [1201] although I welcomed the five because I could see an additional burden as a result of being in the EEC and so on. I thought they should be appointed in the areas that were being affected by EEC membership. Unfortunately I see no reason to welcome this Bill. I am not one who dislikes seeing people getting on and I have no doubt that the people who will be appointed and have been appointed are hardworking and diligent people. But we cannot ask the people outside to rationalise and then operate some sort of a Parkinson's law for ourselves with a whole lot of offices close to Government Buildings with their windows blocked with people looking out.

I am trying to give a graphic description of the way things worked some years ago in some of the industries before they caught on. This is the way that an ordinary working man will look at it. He will ask himself what is the case for these new appointments. Do we know that the persons who will get the jobs will have the job qualifications? Are they in some way measurable or can they be studied? I am really trying to make the same case that Senator Whitaker made. I am saying it in a different way but I mean the same thing, that we have not made a case. We should be in a situation where we can say to the public that we know what the responsibilities of these new Ministers will be, what their duties will be and that we know exactly what will come out of those duties and responsibilities. I cannot see that we are in a position to do this. Therefore, I cannot vote for the Bill and I propose, if it goes to a vote, to vote against it.

Mr. Howard: Information on Michael Howard  Zoom on Michael Howard  I do not wish to let the opportunity pass without making a few brief comments on the Bill that we are debating. The Minister has told us that there are two proposals in it. With regard to the first one, linking the Department of the Public Service and the Department of Labour, he advanced what I would describe as valid reasons why it has merit. I certainly accept that. [1202] It is perhaps time that we changed from the situation that has prevailed since 1973 when the legislation was that the Department of the Public Service should be automatically linked to the Department of Finance. As far as that proposal is concerned I have no basic objection to it.

As far as the second proposal is concerned, increasing the present number of Ministers of State from ten to 15, I do have an objection. Listening to the debate this afternoon my objection to this proposal has been strengthened. I approached this debate with an open mind. I had hoped that the Minister would have advanced convincing arguments as to why it was felt necessary to increase the number of Ministers of State at this time. I have studied the speech closely and, apart from rather wide and general statements such as that we have a continued growth of responsibilities in relation to all aspects of the EEC and that there is a continuing increase in demands made on Ministers on the home front, there has been no convincing, concise argument made as to why we should have this increase in the number of our Ministers of State. No attempt has been made to show how public administration will benefit from these additional appointments. No attempt has been made to show what advantages and what benefit will accrue to the general public.

The Minister has stated that this proposal is being put forward on the basis of two years' experience. I might be cynical enough to say that there are many—and that might even include the Minister—who did not, after two years, realise that this necessity existed. The vast majority of people became aware of this proposal only on 14 December last, the day after the Taoiseach had announced the appointment of his new Ministers of State. I find it rather extraordinary that the Taoiseach, who for two years presided over the operations of two large Departments of State without the assistance of a Minister of State, should on 14 December last decide, for some reason obscure to me, that it was [1203] necessary and desirable in the nation's interest that these extra appointments should be made.

Since Fianna Fáil came back into Government we have gone a long way where ministerial appointments are concerned. We have gone from a situation over two years ago where we had 15 Ministers, including the Taoiseach, and seven parliamentary secretaries to a situation where we will now have 15 Ministers, including the Taoiseach, and 15 Ministers of State. I have not found the Minister's case convincing, and I listened with interest to the arguments from the Government side of the House.

Two Senators made their contributions. Again the arguments they advanced were weak. They did not spell out the advantages which the nation or public administration would obtain from the making of these appointments. One Senator put the weight of his argument on what he described as the burden that Ministers carry today under three headings, constituency work, government responsibility and work in relation to the EEC. That is a general observation. Without saying what the case was he said there was an overwhelming case for increasing the number of Ministers of State to 15. He said the figure was not unrealistic. Again, that is an argument in very wide and general terms. That same argument could also be used maybe this year or next year to argue that the number we are now talking about should again be increased. There was not a concise argument there.

The second Senator who spoke from the Government side of the House advanced arguments that five more Ministers of State could bring about desirable changes in State administration. He said the appointment of elected people to the position of Ministers of State was the essence of the democratic process. Fine. I will not argue with that, but he made no attempt to justify this or to explain the return that would come to the nation or to the taxpayers from the appointment of these additional Ministers of State.

We have to have regard for the cost of [1204] these appointments. A sum of about £500,000 has been mentioned as the figure required to cover the cost of their appointment, State cars, office facilities and personnel. I would argue that at the present time, in view of the economic circumstances that face our people and our country, and on the basis of the arguments put forward here, the expenditure of that sum is an unnecessary extravagance, one which I would describe as a waste of taxpayers' money.

We are witnessing cut-backs in public services and reductions in the money being made available to local authorities for desirable work. Money for desirable schemes, such as local improvement schemes, and for reconstruction grants to put toilets into homes which do not have them, is being reduced or removed. The people who are at the losing end of these decisions will find it hard to appreciate the necessity for these appointments.

I spoke about a reduction in public funds. If there is a reduction in real terms, then as night follows day, it follows that the cost of administering these reduced funds to the general public will require less administration. That brings into greater focus the desirability for making these appointments. Side by side with this cut in public expenditure in real terms, we had severe tax increases in the budget. We are being advised by the Taoiseach and his Ministers to tighten our belts, to produce more, to accept less, to make sacrifices on behalf of the nation and at the same time we are being told it is necessary to expend a further £500,000 to create five additional offices without being told in concise terms what benefits will arise from these appointments.

I never tried to be political in my arguments here but I want to make a point. I believe many members of the general public will look with a fair measure of cynicism on a situation that is rapidly developing to the point where almost half the Fianna Fáil representation in Dáil Éireann will be accommodated in State cars. I oppose the creation of these extra posts because whatever reservations [1205] I may have had at the beginning of the debate they have been strengthened by the absence of valid and convincing arguments as to why the posts should be created. I believe that their creation involves an unjustifiable waste of taxpayers' money. The duties these proposed office holders will discharge are far from clear and therefore, as far as I am concerned, their advantage to the public and to the country is highly questionable.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  I had not intended contributing to this debate but having listened to the lack of argument from the Opposition I have to add a few points. For too long our politicians have been both overworked and underpaid and they have tolerated conditions and standards that no other section of our community would put up with. People get the politicians and the Government they deserve. Ministers have responsibilities; politicians look after the affairs of the country and if we do not give ourselves a certain standard of living that is our fault and the fault of people like us.

Senator Howard said he was not going to be political. It is our job to be political. The Government are making a political decision. They have decided, because of the increasing complexities of Government, because of our involvement in European affairs, because of our growing, developing economy, that it is necessary to give people responsibilities that heretofore might not have been necessary.

Recently the Taoiseach gave the Tánaiste responsibility for the Department of Energy. A few years ago there was no talk about energy. We were not as conscious of it then as we should have been, perhaps. As time goes on we must look at these Ministers of State, at their responsibilities and at Departments in new ways. We must make sure we face up to the challenges in a real way so that the country can have the type of service it deserves.

There are many areas of Government we have neglected, for example, family [1206] law reform. I cannot see why a Minister of State should not have responsibility for that very important area. There is also a need to have a Minister of State responsible for children and young people generally, given that in our society we have the highest proportion of young people in western Europe. These are areas that should be the responsibility of one person and a section of a Department alone. No Minister who is overworked—dealing with constituency and Government work, looking after a Department of State and getting involved in European affairs—can give of his best in every section. He requires help.

In the last election, for example, three Ministers lost their seats. They said afterwards that they had not sufficient time to devote to their constituency affairs. One could not possibly devote sufficient time to one's constituency if one was being a capable and a good Minister.

I make no apology for supporting this Bill. It is necessary that we increase the number of such posts. Perhaps in a few years we may need another three or four people to look after various sections of Government. We should make no apology for that. I do not think State money is being wasted. For too long we have not paid sufficient attention to our politicians and the people involved in Government generally. We have not given them the services they require. Are the general public aware that in some offices in Leinster House ten people have to share the office, maybe with two or three telephone lines? They are not able to give their constituents the type of service they need and require. I do not want to hear any talk of apologies or about cutting back in public expenditure. I have no doubt that this Bill is necessary and should be supported by all sides of the House. I would be prepared to give way somewhat if I heard any convincing arguments from the other side as to why we do not need five more Ministers of State, but I have not and I am disappointed. This measure is being opposed for party political reasons and for no other reasons.

[1207]Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  If the buck stops in five more places and we can expect decisions to be expedited, then it would be a good thing and I would welcome this Bill. If, for example, one of these Ministers is going to taking up an appointment in the Department of Social Welfare and that appointment helps the old age pensioners or the people who are waiting for six, seven or eight weeks for their social welfare benefits, or helps the non-contributory pensioners who are waiting three or four months for their pension books then this is a good step. I agree with the Senators who say that the reorganisation of Departments should be constantly kept in review. One becomes sceptical when one looks at, for instance, the Department of the Environment with two Ministers of State. When they took over their new appointments they closed down the Department for several weeks and abolished the grants available to the poorest sections of the community. Those grants not only encouraged people to improve their living accommodation but, in a very significant way, assisted people to provide additional bedrooms, back kitchens or to lay on sewerage or water services. This has caused some anxiety around the country.

Many Departments ought to be reorganised to coincide with the general organisation of departments in the EEC. When I was president of the Transport Commission I attempted to get momentum towards a transport policy. I convened the first meeting between the Council of Transport Ministers in the Parliament and the Commission. While other European Ministers could speak with authority on the transport problem, our transport administration and legislation are divided between the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Labour on the social aspect of transport problems, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Transport possibly with the smallest slice of the cake. In many of these Departments, for any one particular aspect of an overall problem to be dealt with, it is necessary to have not only Ministers but civil servants drawn from a number of Departments of State. [1208] Since it is reasonable to assume and expect that we shall remain part of the greater Europe, certainly for the foreseeable future we would be wise to look again at the reorganisation and the responsibilities of our various Departments of State, as the Minister suggested in the first part of his speech. A serious look should be taken at the entire reorganisation and groups of responsibilities in our Departments.

Many points have been made in the course of this debate and many questions have been raised. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House about the necessity to increase the number of Ministers of State. It is a valid criticism to say that the Minister, in his speech, did not make an exceptionally strong case for the appointments. I look forward to the answers to some of the questions raised by Members on both sides of the House. If the Minister is able to do that, it should be possible to support the Bill.

Mr. Markey: Information on Bernard Markey  Zoom on Bernard Markey  I am sure the Minister is realistic enough to know that a Bill such as this always raises a certain amount of political suspicion from the other side of the House. I would be sold on these additional ministerial appointments if the Minister had put forward more convincing arguments, but his statement did not convince me. We are a small democracy, with a very small population, but our public representation in proportion to the population is very large. I wonder if the Minister can give us some indication as to how we stand compared with other democracies in this regard. With up to 30 ministerial appointments, will our political represen tation be proportionate to other democracies? I have grave doubts in this matter. We are inclined to regard the democratic situation as it applies in Ireland as unique, perhaps because it is of our own making. As politicians we have been inclined to take far too much local representation work on our shoulders. We have been inclined to accept people coming to us at all hours of the day and night with what are rather trivial matters—social matters which [1209] could be given a hearing in and given attention to by other forums. In a way we have created a monster which we find difficult to dispose of. We see one way out of it—by creating additional ministerial appointments. I am not convinced that is the way out of our problem. Because of our economic circumstances I would have thought the creation of these positions would have been deferred. As I said, I would have preferred additional arguments to those outlined by the Minister.

I am not convinced that the integration of the Department of the Public Service with the Department of Labour will work satisfactorily. Industrial relations in the public sector are very different from industrial relations in the private sector. For one thing, the environment is completely different; for another, the attitude of the workers in the public service is completely different from that of the workers in the private sector. One reason may be the security of tenure they enjoy over people employed in the private sector. Having one Minister responsible for industrial relations in what are two completely different fields may not be the ideal way to handle what is a very complex matter. As we know, industrial relations are becoming increasingly difficult. I would have preferred separate Ministers to be responsible for industrial relations in the public sector.

Minister for the Public Service (Mr. G. Fitzgerald): Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  I want to thank Members for their contributions. In general they support the need for the changes proposed in this Bill. Any reservations expressed were, I believe, either on grounds of scale or timing, or other details of ways and means, or were politically motivated. I will deal with that in some depth later. It has been said that this measure will not be of any help to the Houses of the Oireachtas. In fact, it will enable Ministers to respond more effectively and more quickly to the wishes of the Oireachtas and to devote more time to legislative proposals by allowing them to share some of their other functions in that context. The present proposals are in line with other [1210] measures to improve the operating capacity of the Oireachtas to which I referred at the beginning. For instance, the secretarial assistance available to Deputies has been increased and the staffing of Joint Committees is now also satisfactory. I think it was Senator Staunton who referred to the inadequate secretariat. When a backbencher, and coming from a big constituency, I too appreciated the difficulties of service in the House, but it has been improved. It used to be one-in-ten and now it is one-in-seven. Also the allocation of funds to the Opposition Leaders has been increased, and increased substantially, since our return to Government.

I have a number of points to make. I hope Senators will bear with me for some time, because first I want to go through some of the specific points raised. It is obvious to me that, in particular, the Fine Gael speakers have an inconsistent, in fact a contradictory, approach to this measure. That was very evident when some Members spoke about the different aspects they agreed and disagreed on. In 1977 when the legislation introducing the ten Ministers of State was being debated in the Dáil, the Leader of the Fine Gael Party asked if the figure ten was adequate. As somebody who had recently left Government, he was aware of the pressures on Ministers which, of course, have grown very substantially in the intervening period. A question was asked why, if it was necessary, it was not done in time for the EEC presidency, implying again, as it was implied in the other House, that if that had been the case the measure would have been received more warmly. This decision and this Bill are not related in any way to a temporary period of stress, but have been decided upon after mature reflection and mature judgment of the overall Government situation.

I referred to the staffing requirements, and I will try to answer some points made. I want to come now to the charges of political motivation. It is extremely disappointing that Senators should level charges, not specific charges, of incompetency or unsuitability [1211] against Ministers of State who are not present. The best judgment by which any politician can be measured is how he fares in his own constituency over a long period. All those people are politicians who have given long, dedicated and devoted service to the Houses of the Oireachtas and their constituents. To put it bluntly, I think it was very distasteful to hear Senators criticise these Ministers of State. The Taoiseach appointed excellent people who are capable of filling the offices to which they have been appointed. I could couple that with a comment made by Senator Markey when he referred to politicians meeting constituents or receiving complaints, some of which were trivial and which had created a monster. This is a demand on time and can be wearying. In addition to helping people, the politician at whatever level it be—county councillor, Senator, Deputy, Minister—has an opportunity of listening to people in his own area who will be able to tell him by their complaints and problems what difficulties exist. It is a very useful exercise in democracy and it is something any Member of the Oireachtas or of any local authority has an obligation to carry out, no matter how difficult or how time-consuming it may be for her or him.

Senator Keating referred to labour relations being worse in the public sector than in the private sector. A later speaker seemed to put that the other way round. It is a bit facile to say labour relations are worse in the public sector. This picture has been distorted by one or two or perhaps a few more, prominent, long-drawn out disputes in essential services. But it is unfair to say that the conflict is due purely to bad management. Other factors such as size of organisation are clearly important. To the one person who disagreed with the bringing together of the two Departments under the one Minister, I say that not only the industrial relations sphere but the training, recruitment and placement areas of responsibility lie with one Department operating to a large extent in the private sector and the other Department operating in the public sector. The arguments [1212] in favour, at this point, far outweigh those against.

Senator Whitaker asked what was the future alignment. The specific amending of the 1973 Act means that the Minister for Finance is removed from that legislation and the Minister for Labour is the Minister assigned at present to have responsibility for the two Departments. As time progresses or if the Taoiseach of the day decides, there can be any other alignment. This is the reason for that particular change.

The contributions of the Ministers of State have been referred to. Here there is something I should say, and it was Senator West who drew my attention to it. The first essential of any Member of either House, whether he be appointed to ministerial office or otherwise, is common sense, hard work, commitment, dedication and if he is appointed Minister a knowledge of the portfolio to which he is appointed. I believe that to be the first essential. There are others of course. The basic difference from the role of Parliamentary Secretary, as it was in the past, was that it was an informal delegation or transfer of functions.

Another very important attribute is the power to delegate, followed by a trust and confidence in colleagues to be able to assume that power and deliver on it. There was substantial evidence of that in the past. A Parliamentary Secretary did not have functions or powers formally transferred to him by his Minister. If that Minister had not the power to delegate, or did not have the confidence in other people to do a job, that Parliamentary Secretary became somewhat isolated and was not able to give the same performance as Ministers of State at present and in future will be able to do. I should give the House an independent comment on that situation from the review body on higher remuneration, the Devlin Report, Report No. 20, and I will quote specifically from that:

We are satisfied that the responsibilities of Ministers of State are significantly greater than were the responsibilities of Parliamentary [1213] Secretaries and we take this into account in our recommendations.

That independent view indicates that the situation has changed so much that the transfer of functions is a formal transfer, not informally as was the case in the past.

I want to correct a point made by one Senator. The Department of Labour will not be taking over responsibility for the Department of the Public Service. Both Departments will remain as separate entities reporting to the same Minister. The object is, of course, to improve co-ordination on industrial relations together with the other areas I mentioned, not to amalgamate the two separate functions.

Senator Harte referred to the demise of the Department of Economic Planning and Development. Planning as a function is not being abandoned. It is an essential central theme in this Government's approach to our economy, and the statutory functions of that Department have been transferred by Government order to the Department of Finance, which has a statutory obligation to continue planning. It will continue in the very same way.

Reference was made to the cut in public expenditure. I want to assure that Senator that this is a fallacy he would like to believe. The correct position is that there has been a curb on the growth of public expenditure. There has been no cut back. The Senator referred specifically to local improvement schemes. Part of my constituency covers a rural area also, and all I will say is that his memory is very short. If he thinks back he should be very embarrassed indeed to refer to the local improvement schemes.

The Department of the Environment was mentioned because there have been appointed to it two Ministers of State, and the opportunity was availed of by the Senator to refer to the withdrawal or the discontinuance of certain grants. No reference was made by him to the very [1214] substantial increase in the local authority home loans available to young couples and the increase in the income limits there. It was a political point to give some weight to weak arguments.

Reorganisation of the public service was referred to. This Bill itself is a simple measure which aims at improving the machinery of Government in two ways. Firstly, it seeks to facilitate the democratic process and improve the discharge of public business through the creation of five additional offices of Minister of State. Once the Bill has been passed the Taoiseach will, of course, announce the precise areas to which these additional Ministers of State are to be appointed. It would not, therefore, be very constructive at this stage to begin any speculation as to what these areas might be. But I will say that this is a matter which has been the subject of very careful thought, and the allocation of responsibilities will be in the best interests of improving the Government machinery and making it more responsive to the very substantial pressures which I mentioned in my opening speech.

I should also refer here to an exaggerated figure of cost which was used also in the other House and is probably about 50 per cent too high. I am surprised that a businessman should make this point, and strangely enough it was a businessman who made it in the other House too. Investment to make a more effective and efficient public service machinery available to our community who deserve it is money well spent, and I believe this will be the outcome of the extra appointments we are talking about here.

The various programmes for the reorganisation of the public service were given a new impetus by this Government when they came into office in 1977 and I am personally committed to seeing that this impetus is maintained. Under my aegis as Minister for the Public Service I will be endeavouring to ensure that there is an adequate rate of progress on this front. These programmes seek to improve the machinery of Government in a [1215] number of ways. Firstly, we are trying to ensure that the quality of advice being given to Ministers is improved through freeing Ministers and their senior advisers in so far as it is possible to do so within the existing legal constraints from being too involved in the day-to-day executive business of their Departments. This means trying to get acceptance for administrative structures which facilitate concentration on policy formation, review and appraisal of existing policy and greater emphasis on planning and financial management, a very critical area today. Broadly speaking this involves the creation of the particular management structure which the public services organisation review group termed the Aireacht.

At the other end of the spectrum we are seeking to improve the delivery of service to the client—and the client is extremely important—through the creation of structures aimed at facilitating the discharge of the executive responsibilities of Departments. This means identifying and setting up self-contained executive units which will be able to concentrate with a single-minded purpose on their task of delivering the particular services for which they are responsible. This is the other part of the equation in the Aireacht executive structure recommended by the review group. Thirdly, allied to the foregoing developments we are pursuing the establishment in all Departments of specialist staff support units for planning, finance, organisation and personnel in order to facilitate the development throughout the service of specialist skills in these functions which are common to the operation of all Departments.

I will return for a moment to the second major provision of this Bill, that is the one which permits a member of the Government other than the Minister for Finance to be appointed Minister for the Public Service. I have already referred to the changed circumstances on the industrial relations front which gave rise to our anxiety to bring responsibility for public and private sector industrial relations matters together under one [1216] Minister. I am looking forward to the challenge which this will pose for me as the Minister concerned. I hope to be in a better position now to ensure that there is full co-ordination in our approach to industrial relations problems. Our economy is too small to afford the luxury of rivalry between different sectors on something as basic as the area of pay and conditions of service. We must seek to arrest for all time the tendency for one sector to set headlines for another. I am not about to allocate blame for trend setting to one sector or the other. Neither, however, am I going to understate the very real problems of this nature which have existed nor my intentions of getting to grips with them. I look forward to and am confident of getting an appropriate response from both employers and unions to this initiative and to working closer with them in achieving greater understanding, co-ordination and harmony in these matters.

I thank all who contributed, realising that the main criticisms offered were political and appreciating too that people at certain times have to say things that I believe they have no conviction in saying. This is obviously proved by what was said in the Dáil Chamber particularly at the time of the 1977 Bill. The measure before this House is a move in the right direction. It is the result of mature and careful thinking on the future development of our whole public service area. I look forward to those appointments adding a new dimension to the operations of the Oireachtas.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.


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