Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform: Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform

Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Committee Stage

8:15 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

In drafting the programme for Government both parties determined that we needed to ease the restriction on civil servants, and this section reflects what was agreed. It permits a civil servant to give evidence for the purpose of establishing facts and giving the committee a factual account of a matter. Deputy Donnelly wants to go further and allow civil servants give their views on policy. Civil servants are not accountable for policy. If one is sitting with a group of civil servants one might get a variety of contradictory or countervailing views. Bluntly, and with all due respect to senior civil servants, their policy views do not matter because they are not elected. The only person whose policy view matters is the relevant Minister whose policy can be implemented and who is accountable to the House for this policy position. I remember a former colleague of Deputy Fleming's was very strong in this regard. There was a view that if one did not implement a civil servant's policy platform one was somehow at fault. Civil servants are entitled to a viewpoint and to have robust discussion, and this strong policy debate should properly happen in a ministerial office and in a Department, but ultimately a Minister decides and is accountable for this decision. It is hit and miss. One could have three different assistant secretaries with different views on an issue but it does not matter. What is important is that they are required and enabled to give a factual account of matters and give evidence on how policy was formulated, but not give their view on policy.


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