Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Priority Questions.

Decentralisation Programme.

2:00 pm

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 4: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the position with regard to the decentralisation of Development Cooperation Ireland; the current timescale envisaged for the decentralisation; the latest figures for those volunteering for this decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33561/05]

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Under the Government's decentralisation programme, announced in December 2003, the development cooperation directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, based in Dublin, is scheduled to decentralise to Limerick. This will involve the relocation to Limerick of 123 posts and is scheduled to take place during the first quarter of 2007. There are 42 people working within the Department with a stated intention of decentralising to Limerick, which is 34% of the total requirement.

The Office of Public Works is assessing a possible site in Limerick. The success of decentralisation depends on the early availability of a suitable building from the OPW. My officials completed a detailed implementation plan in March of this year and submitted it to the decentralisation implementation committee for its consideration. The plan addresses a variety of issues, including human resource considerations, training and development, business issues, risk management and accommodation needs. The plan, together with regular updates, can be accessed on the Department's website.

Already, a total of 26 posts in the directorate are filled by staff who have expressed an interest in decentralising to Limerick, including seven officers recruited from other Departments via the central applications facility and five staff recruited from interdepartmental promotion panels. There are a further 16 staff elsewhere in the Department, including abroad, who have also expressed the intention of decentralising to Limerick. The process of transferring to the directorate staff serving elsewhere in the Department and of recruiting staff via the central applications facility will be accelerated in the new year. The aim is that by the second half of 2006 most posts in the directorate will be filled by staff who will decentralise to Limerick.

There are a total of 24 specialists based in the directorate headquarters and 11 applications have been received to date for these positions through the central applications facility. I hope more will volunteer as we approach the decentralisation deadline.

The Government is aware that the decentralisation process will take place during a period of significant growth in the overseas development aid budget and the strategies outlined in the implementation plan are designed to minimise these risks. Among the steps being taken are the following: to ensure continuity and to minimise disruption, Department officials are involved in detailed planning on strategies for retaining corporate memory and ensuring that there is adequate training and induction for new staff.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

To guard against a rapid turnover of staff in the months immediately preceding decentralisation to Limerick, the directorate has already started the process of bringing staff in from other Departments who have applied for decentralisation with Development Cooperation Ireland. The directorate's work involves liaising with other sections of the Department of Foreign Affairs, other Departments, NGOs such as Concern, Trócaire and Goal, and a wide range of international organisations. To help ensure continuing coherence, the Department, inter alia, will invest in and make considerable use of video-conferencing facilities.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State agree that the decentralisation fiasco puts the development aid programme at risk? He is massaging the figures. There are 26 staff members out of 123 at DCI willing to decentralise to Limerick, approximately 21%. They do not know where they are going because two years on no property has been identified or bought in Limerick. People are being asked to decide to move without knowing where in Limerick they will go.

Does the Minister agree that with only 26 out of 123 signalling their willingness to go to Limerick there is a serious risk of wrong decisions being made? The result will be a loss of institutional memory. How can the Minister guarantee that we will get value for money on the programmes to be funded after decentralisation with such a serious loss of institutional memory?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not think the Deputy was listening to me. I specified a figure of 42.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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It was 42 from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and 26 from DCI.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy may be relatively new to his portfolio as Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State should not patronise me. There are 26 people who do not know where they will go. It is a fiasco.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy may not be aware that DCI is a fully integrated part of the Department of Foreign Affairs, we are the Department. Although DCI has a different name it is a division of the Department, like the Europe division and so on.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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A total of 26 within the division then, or whatever the Minister of State wants to call it.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is integrated in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am not massaging figures — 42 people within the Department are prepared to decentralise to Limerick which represents 34% of the staff requirement we will need.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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How many of them are senior development specialists?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not understand how the Member opposite, who represents a Cork constituency, could oppose decentralisation.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I oppose the manner in which it is being done. The Minister of State should not try to put words in my mouth.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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His contribution is ironic because it seems to suggest there is something untoward or wrong in moving a Department to Limerick.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Nobody suggested that. I object to the mismanagement of the move.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Many of our partner countries in Europe are decentralising——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Where in Limerick will these go?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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——very serious functions to Africa, Pakistan and other places. Other countries are decentralising to the field, not within their own countries. The United Kingdom has been through a decentralisation to Scotland which has been a success.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Where in Limerick will these people go?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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A site has been identified.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Two years down the line.

4:00 pm

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We will be in a position to execute this move without any great loss to the programme. We have done our homework and the officials have put in place a serious risk management strategy to ensure that corporate memory is protected and there is a hand-over period of a month as one staff comes on board and another is moved to other duties. There will be proper induction and a centralised computer system to keep the corporate knowledge. This will include official files so they are not in sections but are available in a centralised manner.

A great deal of action has been taken in preparation for this. No programme risk has occurred in other countries even though they are not only decentralising within their own countries but into the field in the developing countries they are seeking to assist. I find it incredible that we should not be decentralising to Limerick when some of our partner countries are decentralising to the field.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Can the Minister of State tell me, of the 15 or 16 senior development specialists in DCI——

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I answered that question two days ago at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and I also answered it last month.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Of the 15 or 16 senior development specialists, how many have indicated their willingness to decentralise? What discussions have taken place with the non-governmental organisations in this regard? Has an up-to-date risk assessment been done? The one the Minister of State recently produced was dated about March or April. Is there a current risk assessment?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The risk assessment is published on my website.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Is it up to date?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is updated and monitored on a regular basis. Obviously we have development specialists in the field. Most of them are there, many of them local employees. Of the development specialists in headquarters, 11 out of the 24 have applied to go to Limerick and are prepared to go there. Of the senior specialist grades which the Deputy mentioned, and of which there are seven, none has currently indicated a willingness to move to Limerick. That is an issue for us because we would prefer to have these senior positions filled.

Regarding other senior positions, our director-general, Mr. Murphy, has indicated that he will be transferring to Limerick to lead the process. We have an issue related to senior management. Of the ten team members, none has indicated a willingness to go to Limerick.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is a serious problem.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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While we have a problem at the senior level, we are oversubscribed at middle and lower management ranks. Plenty of people are willing to travel.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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What about the NGOs? Has the Minister of State spoken to them?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We are in regular consultation with the NGOs, weekly and almost daily.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Are they happy?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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They have outlined to us their concerns, as has the advisory board which advises me as Minister for State.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Of course they have. The Minister of State should have been concerned two years ago.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We have assured them of the kind of strategies to minimise the potential risks which I outlined.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Only 26 out of 123 were agreeable.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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A whole system was decentralised to Pakistan.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should let the Minister of State stand on his own two feet. I know he is making a mess of it.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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There is a number of knowledge management systems being piloted on the Internet and we will have extensive use of video conferencing facilities so that whatever move is made to Limerick there will be a coherent and integrated approach in our relationship with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and our colleagues there. I do not anticipate any great difficulties.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State just does not know yet where he is going.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It has become quite the trend internationally, in Holland, Britain and in other countries, to decentralise to the field.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I have heard about international trends, one of them being towards electronic voting. That was quite a mess.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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At the same time I hear Members on the opposite side of the House objecting to decentralisation which involves travelling less than 200 miles down the road. Deputy Allen is displaying the usual Irish absurd obsession with short distances and conflating them with large distances.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State should not be ridiculous. He does not even know where he is going.