Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Priority Questions.

Decentralisation Programme.

1:00 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 42: To ask the Minister for Finance if he has sought to introduce a policy that only civil servants prepared to decentralise may avail of promotion opportunities; the implications of this policy on the career path of civil servants who wish to remain in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13650/05]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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As I outlined in answers to similar questions on 3 March 2005, promotion and recruitment are key elements of the Government's decentralisation programme and I refer Deputies to my earlier reply which set out the general position on this matter.

In keeping with the recommendations of the decentralisation implementation group, recruitment and promotion practices and procedures must be revised. This is being carried out in accordance with the following four principles: decentralising Departments, offices and business units must be able to build up sufficient numbers of trained staff to work in the new locations with minimum disruption to service levels; staff opting to remain in Dublin must be redeployed as quickly and efficiently as possible; the morale of staff must be supported by maintaining appropriate promotional opportunities in Dublin; and the procedures adopted must allow departmental management to discharge the core business functions of the organisation and maintain service levels.

The key point is that where a promotion arises for a post which is being decentralised as part of the decentralisation programme, it is entirely reasonable for the employing Department to ask staff accepting that promotion to agree to move with the post. Changing promotion procedures in this way does not interfere with the voluntary nature of the decentralisation programme. The Government has made clear on a number of occasions that participation in the programme is voluntary and no one is being forced to decentralise.

Discussions are continuing between management and the Civil Service unions with the aim of agreeing new promotion and recruitment mechanisms to support implementation of the programme. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on these discussions.

The Government wants to reach a reasonable agreement on these issues with staff unions, namely, an agreement which supports the early and efficient implementation of the programme while at the same time taking account of the legitimate desires of staff remaining in Dublin to maintain appropriate opportunities for promotion.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I wish to probe the matter further. There are approximately 17 locations in the first phase the Minister published if one ignores those reverse commuting from Dublin. A tiny proportion of Dublin-based employees have opted to move in the majority of the 17 cases. With regard to the four State agencies, only 2%, 4% and 8% have applied. Less than a quarter of public servants based in Dublin are opting for positions. Is the Minister telling those based in Dublin that their opportunities for promotion are now entirely closed off because of the selection made? How does that tally with the concept of a voluntary programme? People can exercise their right not to move but their career path will grind to a halt if they do so.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I outlined the position in my first reply. We are committed to implementing the decentralisation programme but recognise the range of concerns among staff members affected by the programme, namely, those who have already chosen to spend their careers working in provincial locations, those who wish to do so in the future and those who wish to remain in Dublin. We are working to reach an agreement through negotiation in partnership with staff interests which seeks to strike a reasonable balance between these very genuine interests while ensuring the programme is moved forward and, most importantly, that there is no reduction in the high standards of service that the public have a right to expect from the Civil Service.

I am confident that it will be possible to reach agreement on the basis of reasonable compromise and that it will not be necessary to impose a solution. Imposed solutions, by their nature, are measures of last resort and rarely as effective as agreements reached on the basis of goodwill and fair compromise between parties. However, it would be an abdication of the Government's responsibility for us to rule out thinking of what might happen should the talks fail. Given the strong spirit of partnership and public service that has characterised Civil Service industrial relations, I am sure an agreed resolution will be found in the near future. I am confident that, on the basis of our present discussions, we can reach a solution that is acceptable to all.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister indicated to his Cabinet colleagues and others that he will impose a solution and close off all promotional opportunities to Dublin-based staff? Has he indicated that he is considering such a threat? What will happen in situations where there is less than 25% take-up from Dublin-based staff? Will he consider imposing a solution? No one in these grades wants to move from Dublin to the selected locations so he will close off their careers and tell them they have no future career advancement. Is that what he is saying, and is it in accordance with natural justice and fair procedure?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is not what I am saying and I have given two replies to the contrary.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has said that he will do this.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have not. I said that imposed solutions, by their nature, are measures of last resort and are rarely as effective as agreements reached on the basis of goodwill and compromise.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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He has published comments stating that he will impose solutions.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am not responsible for what is printed in the media, which is where the Deputy gets his information. I am stating the facts. Discussions are ongoing and there is a good partnership relationship with Civil Service industrial relations. These discussions are continuing and I am confident we can reach a negotiated solution.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Therefore, the Minister is not saying that if one messes with him one will not win, unlike what his fellow Minister said.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am here to answer questions about what I am doing. I am continuing discussions with the Civil Service unions and am confident we can find the basis of a resolution through negotiation. Anything the Deputy says to the contrary does not represent a factual position.