Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Departmental Appointments.

2:30 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the duties and responsibilities of the special political advisers as appointed by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21433/04]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach the role and duties of persons appointed by him as special or political advisers; the total cost in terms of payroll and expenses arising from these appointments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23379/04]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the responsibilities of the special political advisers appointed by him; the total cost of these appointments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24147/04]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach the responsibilities of the special political advisers appointed by him; the cost of these appointments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26389/04]

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, together.

The role of the advisers is to keep me informed on a wide range of issues, including business, financial, economic, political, administrative and media matters. Under the direction of the programme manager, their primary function is to ensure effective co-ordination in the implementation of the programme for Government.

Each of the advisers liaises with a number of Departments and acts as a point of contact in my office for Ministers and their advisers. My advisers attend meetings of Cabinet committees and cross-departmental teams relevant to their responsibilities. They also liaise, on my behalf, with organisations and interest groups outside of Government.

In addition, a number of my advisers have specific responsibilities regarding speech drafting. My programme manager meets other ministerial advisers on a weekly basis. He monitors and reports to me on the programme for Government. The current annual salaries of my special advisers in total is €858,846. The total cost of expenses from June 2002 to end October is €10,788.70.

In reply to Deputy Sargent, they are mainly paid rates, which are tied to Civil Service rates and benchmarking also applies. The numbers have not changed, other than the filling of one vacancy. That position was for an adviser with responsibility for the co-ordination of Ministers of State. One adviser deals with Ministers of State and there was a vacancy for this position, which was filled in the past month. They are obliged to give information in answer to questions from any other Minister. Any of the advisers or for that matter civil servants, but particularly advisers who are outside of the Civil Service quota, have to answer parliamentary questions.

The Standards in Public Office Commission is responsible for policing the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. The special advisers have obligations under those Acts, as do I. It is my duty to make sure they complete certain forms and include all relevant information. I am required to lay these documents before the Houses of the Oireachtas in addition to copies of their contracts, statements of relationships and their qualifications for the posts. I am also required to lay before the Houses copies of their declarations of interests. I have complied fully with these obligations.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Does any politically appointed adviser in the Taoiseach's Department deal with e-Government? This matter was the responsibility of the former Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, but I am not sure what is the position at present.

Are the guidelines that bind politically appointed advisers in terms of their duties published? Have any changes been recently introduced to these guidelines? Earlier this year or late last year it emerged that a prominent political adviser to the Taoiseach was at least associated with directions to a Minister about allocation of public funding for facilities down south. Has that situation changed or are these political advisers still entitled to give advice that might be accepted or rejected by a Minister as the case may be?

Who is in charge of e-Government? Are these guidelines available on the website or are they published? Have any changes to them been introduced recently and has the practice of politically appointed advisers more or less dictating what Ministers should do come to an end? In other words is the "Yes Minister" period over?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Mr. John Lahart, adviser to the Minister of State and Chief Whip, Deputy Kitt, is responsible for e-Cabinet and he is involved in that work.

The conditions under which advisers are covered are included in a number of legislative provisions. Clarification on the role of advisers was sought in the House at the end of last year or the beginning of this year, specifically whether they could be made permanent, the basis on which it could be done and their pensionability. Conditions were written into the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act which effectively mean such people cannot be made permanent. Deputy Kenny will be familiar with the old arrangement whereby persons could be appointed by the Government in the national interest, as they were on a number of occasions. However, that provision has been eliminated and such persons must now re-apply through open competition rather than by any other arrangement. The amendment to the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956 by the Act to which I referred was made as a result of the issue being raised during Taoiseach's Question Time.

All special advisers must comply with the ethics in public office provisions. That has all been published and the provisions cover both their contracts and any engagements in which they are involved. It is almost the same as for office holders who must also comply with the conditions. All Government advisers have complied with their obligations except one adviser, who is not one of mine and is new to his position, who has yet to complete his form.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Will the Taoiseach inform the House if different rules or yardsticks are applied to fix the salary entitlements of people recruited from the public sector as distinct from those recruited from the private sector to work in the Department of the Taoiseach and throughout the public service? What are the responsibilities of the person recruited to the Department of the Taoiseach on 1 October this year? Why does the total cost for advisers referred to by the Taoiseach appear to be a significant increase on the figure of €750,000, which he gave in answer to this question in February of this year?

What rules, if any, apply to the kind of work that may be engaged in by people exiting the service? Is there a period within which they may not deal with the Department in which they worked? Do any rules apply to recruiting people from sensitive positions outside the public service who might later revert to those positions in possession of a great deal of valuable information about matters pending at the heart of Government and beyond the Department in which they were employed? Are these areas unregulated and does the Taoiseach have any apprehensions about them?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The only change is the most recently filled vacancy, namely, the special adviser with responsibility for co-ordinating work between all the Ministers of State who was appointed in the past month. Other than the Chief Whip, no other Minister of State has an adviser.

The rates of pay total €858,846. Other than benchmarking, there has been no review or alteration of the rates and there has been no other change in personnel. Therefore, there should be no reason for the position to change.

There are two aspects to the conditions of appointment. The Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act applies to special advisers. That covers their positions in the Civil Service and allowed those advisers to remain in office when the appointing Government left office. However, that has now been excluded. It has not been used in the last decade but it had been used in the past. That Act was changed and they cannot do that now.

There are some changes in the proposals about the code of conduct for special advisers. A new Civil Service code of standards and behaviour was approved by the Government earlier this year. Apart from the provisions relating to civil servants and politics, provision has also been made in the code to include its applicability to the posts of Government press secretary, deputy Government press secretary, special advisers and special assistants in Ministers' offices. I cannot recall exactly what the conditions are but I will circulate a note to Deputy Rabbitte on what changes have been made. I believe it dealt with the issue of a gap from the time they can leave to taking up a position in a sensitive area.

With regard to staff coming from Government Departments and from the private sector, the rule of thumb, although it must be agreed with the Department of Finance and is not always adhered to, is that an increase of roughly 10% is given. However, it is a matter to be agreed between the line Minister and the Minister for Finance. That would apply equally in the public sector as it would in the private sector.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I did not appreciate that political advisers were subject to benchmarking. Against whom are they benchmarked? What are the criteria? It is a significant increase in six months.

The Taoiseach said the new appointee is responsible for co-ordinating the Ministers of State. Is this a completely new appointment? What does it mean? Does it mean rounding them up every so often and checking what they are doing? I can understand the need for that but there is an additional cost to the taxpayer. Did this emerge from Inchydoney? What gave rise to it? There have been more solo runs by Ministers of State since the Taoiseach appointed this man than occurred before that. I presume this is a political appointment to try to weld the Ministers of State into some kind of cohesive force or to bring the socialist forces together with the neocons. What is the purpose of this appointment?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps to round up their brothers and sisters. It is not a new appointment; the position existed already. The Government of which Deputy Rabbitte was a member operated a more communist theory, in that there were lots of people and it employed one for one, as it were. There were 15 or 16 Ministers of State and an adviser for every one of them. It was the "one for everyone in the audience" syndrome. We changed that to having just one for all the Ministers of State. It reduced the numbers which was, perhaps, a more capitalist way of doing it.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach dropped the red flag again.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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It was a 24 hour sell out.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I was trying to get from the communist stage to the capitalist stage so I just had one in the middle — it is more socialist.

The person endeavours as best they can to assist all the Ministers of State. It is a political appointment. The person liaises with the Ministers of State and assists them in political areas where they can. It obviously means the individual can only work on certain projects and do certain work with the Ministers of State but they do that to their best ability. A substantial saving is made due to the fact that 15 or 16 people are not involved. It is, perhaps, not the easiest means for one individual to try to move, but these people work on projects for Ministers of State to the best of their abilities. It is cheaper that way.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Does the Taoiseach believe there is a need for more than guidelines to govern circumstances where advisers leave the service of the Government and effectively make use of that period as a lucrative training ground in pursuing a career in the private sector in lobbying, press relations or some other area? Is it satisfactory that we are operating on the basis of what appear to be voluntary guidelines? Will the Taoiseach clarify what he means by guidelines in that regard?

The Taoiseach replied on the code of conduct that obtains in respect of standards in public office etc. As regards the provision of information, he stated that there is an obligation on every member of the Cabinet to be open about the identity of advisers, the amount of money these people earn and so on. Will he indicate whether that is understood by every member of the Cabinet in light of the fact that the Tánaiste appears not to understand it?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That does not arise out of the question.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Will he communicate with the Tánaiste so that she will not make that mistake again?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure what issue the Deputy is referring to, but under the Ethics in Public Office Act and the Standards in Public Office Act, it is a legal obligation of Ministers to comply with both the contract and the form. Whatever about the issue of the parliamentary question to which, I believe, the Deputy is referring, that is set down in law. On the code of conduct, as I informed Deputy Rabbitte, I will provide a note on the changes that have been made.

In many instances, advisers leave their employment — this has happened in Governments over many years — to take up positions they have been offered. There must, of course, be some control and sensitivity in terms of their returning to such employment. As a result of the vagaries of the political system, the majority of people who are obliged to return to their previous employment do not benefit. Some of them lose rank or are sidelined for some time. It is difficult for these people and they take risks in becoming advisers. I accept that people cannot be allowed to work for the Government and then take with them files and records when they leave to make more lucrative lives for themselves. I think that is covered by the codes. By and large, when these people move on they face a difficulty in finding their feet again in new careers.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is only a guideline.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is a code of behaviour that was approved by the Government. People are duty bound to live by that code and not abuse it.