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

It is not the role of civil servants to decide what is good policy or not; their role is to advise the Minister and once the Minister makes a decision it becomes the departmental view. One can disaggregate all that went into it and cross-examine the Minister on how he or she came to the conclusion when he or she had various other options, but one cannot ask a civil servant what he or she thought of it because it would fundamentally sunder the normal relationship between the Civil Service and the Government of the day, which is one of our strengths of democracy. I have served in Administrations where the immediately preceding Administration had a completely different policy, and I will give a small example of this. In 1993 I became Minister for Health. Within a month I deregulated condoms and repealed the daft legislation requiring a doctor's prescription. One month earlier, the official departmental line in answer to parliamentary questions had been to provide robust reasons one could not possibly have access to a condom without a doctor's certificate; one month later, the official policy was different and all of the replies to parliamentary questions and official utterances were in line with the new policy. This is what we need. Policy is determined democratically by the elected Government on the vote of the people and not by civil servants.


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