Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Office of the Chief State Solicitor.
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the Nally report on the reorganisation of the Chief State Solicitor's office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21436/04]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, together.
The recommendations of the Nally report in respect of the reorganisation of the Chief State Solicitor's office have largely been implemented. Agreement with the unions involved was achieved during 2001. The criminal prosecutions functions undertaken by the Chief State Solicitor's office were transferred to the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions at the end of 2001. A common promotion pool within the two offices for professional and technical promotion posts formed part of the agreement and that is now in operation.
A negotiating process with local State solicitors seeking to agree on the transfer of the service to the DPP is under way. Enabling legislation and appropriate legislative provisions are contained in the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004, which passed Second Stage in the Dáil on 13 October 2004 and is awaiting Committee Stage.
The Taoiseach answered questions on this matter previously. It is not very exciting stuff. How much work is outsourced from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to private solicitors? What is the nature and extent of that work and is a figure available as to the annual cost to the taxpayer? The Taoiseach will also be aware that last year, the DPP voiced some considerable concerns about the backlog of cases before him, that it could not be cleared and that a period of years might elapse before they would come before the courts. The Taoiseach informed the House last March that there were 17 staff vacancies in the Chief State Solicitor's office consisting of nine professional, five technical and three support staff. Has the Taoiseach an up to date report on whether those positions have been filled or whether vacancies currently exist? If the Taoiseach has the information to hand, will he inform the House on the progress achieved between the offices of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the implementation of the recommendations?
Most if not all of the recommendations of the Nally report have now been implemented, with the exception of the negotiations, which hopefully will be concluded shortly with the State Solicitors' Association. Discussions have been taking place and an offer has been made to bring them under the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A formal offer was made to the local State solicitors last October. The offer dealt with many of the issues raised in the course of negotiations. The association is currently considering the offer and a detailed response is awaited. Informal contacts are continuing in the meantime. This is the last of the Nally report initiatives to be completed.
I am not sure if I have all the figures to hand as regards staffing and the agreement between the CSSO. The study group addressed the issue of greater cohesion in the criminal justice system. Among the recommendations in the report was the transfer of responsibility for the criminal division of the CSSO and the local State solicitor service to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The main features of the recommendation included an increase of staff by 75, including 66 in the professional and technical complement in both solicitors' offices. That agreement has been in place for a number of years. A recruitment campaign commenced the confined competitions for serving contract personnel and staff size acceptance to filling promotional posts. There were other issues to do with IT and work management systems. I do not have information on the number of vacancies but I understand there are not many vacancies now due to a series of interviews. A new recruitment scale for solicitors was implemented to replace the existing lower grade. The scale includes a facility for multiple increments after three and six years' service. Fifty-two additional professional staff were appointed which is a 56% increase over the then levels some time ago, including 12 extra senior posts at principal officer level. Fourteen extra technical staff, a 30% increase on existing levels, and also legal clerks were appointed. These appointments were made some time ago when reforms were being undertaken.
In recent times significant steps have been taken by the Government to ensure that the legal offices of the State have the resources to meet the demands facing them. There has been a significant increase in staffing levels in the Office of the Chief State Solicitor in recent years. The introduction of office-wide IT systems, a new organisational structure, modern library and information systems, strategic planning and training and development programmes has been completed. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor has recruited most of the additional staff approved. The staff complement has averaged approximately 225 over the past year. The office has currently 12 vacancies, one professional post, eight technical posts and three support staff. I do not have the figures for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. If a parliamentary question is submitted on the subject I may be able to provide those details.
Is the Chief State Solicitor's office still responsible for the conveyancing of all State property? Is the office involved in the current sale of all State lands under the decentralisation programme and other programmes, such as the Minister for Health andChildren, Deputy Harney's proposed sale of lands attached to various health facilities throughout the State? Is any of this work contracted out?
The Office of Public Works does most of the property transactions. I am sure they received advice on these legal matters from the State Solicitor's office but in other cases the State Solicitor's office will allow Departments use solicitors. I am not sure which way the OPW is doing it or whether it is using its own legal advice. I assume if that is the case it is done through somebody who has been contacted by the State Solicitor's office because one has to go through the State Solicitor's office, even to be recommended another solicitor. I am not certain about that and I do not want to——
To the best of my knowledge, the enabling legislation allowing for that, the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill passed Second Stage in the Dáil on 13 October and is awaiting Committee Stage. Responsibility will be transferred under the new arrangement when negotiations are complete. The benefit of this is that the Director of Public Prosecutions will have responsibility in the Dublin Metropolitan area and will have equal responsibility for State solicitors throughout the country. The negotiation process with the local State solicitors is currently under way seeking agreement on the transfer to the DPP.