Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Appointments to State Boards.
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the appointments made by him since June 2002 to the State boards or other agencies under his aegis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39771/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.
I refer the Deputy to the reply which I gave to a similar question on 25 October 2005, ref. 24237/05. The following table shows the appointments made since.
|Boards and agencies under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach|
|State Board or Agency||Name of Appointee||Date of Appointment|
|National Economic and Social Council||Mr. Danny McCoy, IBEC||October 2005|
|National Economic and Social Forum||No appointments since October 2005|
|National Statistics Board||No appointments since October 2005|
|National Centre for Partnership and Performance||Mr. Peter Cassells, Chairperson||7 November 2005|
|Mr. Philip Kelly, Deputy Chairperson, Department of the Taoiseach||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Ciarán Connolly, Department of Finance||24 January 2006|
|Mr. John Walsh, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Brendan McGinty, IBEC||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Liam Doherty, IBEC||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Eddie Keenan, CIF||24 January 2006|
|Ms Irene Canavan, Arnotts||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Fergus Whelan, ICTU||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Jerry Shanahan, AMICUS||24 January 2006|
|Ms Catherine Byrne, INTO||24 January 2006|
|Mr. Gerry McCormack, SIPTU||24 January 2006|
|Prof. Joyce O'Connor, National College of Ireland||24 January 2006|
|Ms Dorothy Butler Scally, Independent Human Resources Consultant||24 January 2006|
|Dr. Catherine Kavanagh, UCC||24 January 2006|
|Law Reform Commission||No appointments since October 2005|
The boards under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach are the National Statistics Board, the National Economic and Social Council, the National Economic and Social Forum, the Information Society Commission, the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, the Law Reform Commission and the IFSC groups. The National Statistics Board does not meet the minimum target that 40% of membership be from either gender, and only six of 32 members of the National Economic and Social Council board are women.
Moreover, the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, which held its first meeting recently, does not meet the target, with five female and nine male members. I am sure the Taoiseach would always wish to display leadership in the specific commitments in the programme for Government aimed at improving gender equality on the State boards. Given that his Department and the bodies under its aegis and responsibility do not meet those requirements, how can we expect everyone else to toe the line in this regard? For instance, can the Taoiseach indicate why only six of the NESC's 32 members are women? Is it because women were not asked, or because of a failure to find people of suitable ability who were willing to take up the positions? Perhaps there is an explanation for this quite extraordinary gap.
As for the NESC, to be precise, the percentage of women stands at 19%. Most of the boards in question should have many more women serving on them. However, these bodies are all composed of representatives of the social partners. Farmers, employers and trade unions do not have a tendency to appoint anything which resembles a fair representation of women, in spite of ongoing arguments and battles about it. As Deputy Kenny correctly noted, my Department does not control many appointments. However, an effort is made in the case of our independent nominees, who form a small portion of the total, as well as the Oireachtas nominees, who are a matter for the Oireachtas. Nevertheless, the figures from the social partners are not great. All I can do is to relay again the House's concern about the representative bodies. While the social partners could do better, they tend not to.
Yes. I understand that it has 32 members, only six of whom are women. However, the Taoiseach's reply cited a figure of 19%, which, being a percentage, looks better than a figure of six.
The figure is 19%. However, as far as I am aware, the total number is 30.
Such people are nominees of the social partners and one cannot refuse to take them. It is an ongoing battle. As for bodies such as the IFSC, in which there are clearing house groups, rather than boards, we have a high proportion of women. However, in respect of the main bodies, the National Statistics Board is different because it is a specialist board with a good percentage of women serving on it. The social partners are notorious for not appointing women.
Does the Taoiseach acknowledge the desirability of ensuring that State boards, where practical and appropriate, should have an all-Ireland character and approach? Will this be reflected in future appointments? To take the example of the National Economic and Social Forum, does the Taoiseach agree that it would be appropriate for such a body to have an all-Ireland character and approach, particularly now, given the changed political dispensation on this island? When vacancies present, or when the next appointment of the five Government appointees comes about, will this be reflected in the numbers appointed by the Taoiseach as representatives of Government? Does the Taoiseach believe they should come from a variety of experiences and backgrounds, including local government, trade unions, community and voluntary sectors, the business sector and farming interests? Is it the case that meeting the desire to ensure we reflect on an all-Ireland approach to these appointments, there are such limitations in the current number of appointees that it may require revisiting? Is the Taoiseach considering this? Is legislation required to revisit the make up of the NESF, and other State boards for which the same arguments properly apply, into the future?
Over the years there has always been an effort to include northern input and representation on the board of NESC and other bodies, maybe not a high number but it would not justify a high number. That has been done by successive Governments and it is still the position. We should include such representation on State boards in general, particularly where there is an economic, social or cultural dimension. We are in favour of greater cross-Border all-Ireland economy joint initiatives and collaborations in the health and education areas. I have no difficulty saying that should be a representative group across knowledge, foresight and professionalism. Recently a number of business, education and cultural representatives from Northern Ireland have been put on State boards, which is an important practice.
It would not necessarily require changes in legislation but it would be helpful, particularly in my area, if the social partnership groups were to pick a Northern representative. Most of them could do that because they have close associations in business, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is an all-island organisation. They are not bad at doing that. As distinct from what I said earlier to them about the gender balance, they keep strong representation from Northern Ireland in their executives and in their committee delegations.
We have heard reference to gender balance and all-island dimensions. Maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge, an bhfuil aon chritéir nó ceist mar gheall ar chumas na Gaeilge in aon duine a ainmnítear d'aon bhord Stáit? What is the provision for somebody dealing with the State bodies through Irish? Is that dealt with separately to the appointments of which we are speaking?
Does the issue of disabilities come into play in appointments to State boards? The question arises from the news item that referred to 3% being too low for the number of people with disabilities employed in Departments. Has the Taoiseach given that any thought, given the number of people with disabilities, for example, qualified graduates, who cannot get jobs is much higher than that in the wider population?
Is there a code of practice in the operation of State boards that would include, for example, a requirement to take minutes of meetings? It is not under his Department's remit but obviously the stories concerning Bord na gCon bring the question to mind.
There is a number of people either working or on the committees of NESF and all of those boards who are fluent and who would deal with Irish. They have a fairly high proportion of such people because of their interests.
Disability does not really apply to these boards but the National Disability Council has a strong board and there are others where disabilities are well represented. Some of the nominees to some of these organisations feed into some of the wider social partnership groups, where disabilities groups are strongly represented in their pillar, and also NESC, NESF and NCPP include people who have an interest. The 3% issue relates to employees and it is not relevant to these questions. However, it is relevant that it is important to people who have an interest and the knowledge.
I refer back to the question on the participation of women and the fact that the rate of such participation is going backwards from the days the former Deputy, Mervyn Taylor, was Minister for Equality and Law Reform and sought to ensure the 40% participation requirement was applied. Does the Taoiseach agree that as long as his Government acquiesces in representative organisations not putting forward women for these appointments, the position is unlikely to improve? Has the time come for the Taoiseach to give a lead in his Department and say if organisations such as the IFA and the ICTU do not put forward a more representative sample of women to participate on boards under the aegis of his Department, he will not make the appointments? Would that not quickly bring them to heel? The suggestion that women cannot be found in the trade union movement, the farming community or business who are suitable to function on one of these boards in 2006 lacks credibility and the time has come for the Government to take a tougher line with representative organisations.
Generally, the figure has remained high and across most boards it is fairly good. With regard to the representative groups, it continues to be a problem. In so far as I engage in these appointments, I put pressure on my Department. The last appointment in January was to the board of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance and the point raised by the Deputy was relevant. We have argued this previously. Five out of 12 or 13 people appointed to boards under the aegis of my Department are women. It is a battle with the social partners to keep up their 50% and time and again the Government is left in the position of trying to improve the balance. The Government includes many women in its nominees and, while there is nothing wrong with that, it would be better if the social partners appointed a higher proportion of women.
I take the Deputy's point that many relevant people in the trade union movement and the employer's group can do this. Financial groups do not have this problem and they get a strong representation of high quality people who are prepared to give their time voluntarily to the IFSC and other statistical matters and they do not receive allowances or so on, unlike appointees to NESC or other boards. We will continue to do that. The recent appointment was an approved position but it is a permanent battle to get the social partners to put forward women.
I think not. There is a screening process. If somebody were disqualified from a business perspective, he or she would not get through. I do not know of such an individual off the top of my head but if somebody were disqualified from business, he or she would hardly get through as an IBEC or Chambers of Commerce of Ireland representative, which are normally the representative groups involved.
With respect, I merely asked the Taoiseach a generic question as to whether he considers it appropriate to appoint someone to a State board who was disqualified from functioning in the private sector as a result of a decision of the High Court.
In circumstances where the social partners are not involved and where the Government has sole responsibility for the appointment of directors of State boards, will the Taoiseach explain why there is no female member, nor has there been for some time, on the seven-man board of Bord na gCon?
That does not arise out of this question. The Deputy's question refers to a specific board and the Deputy will have to find another way of raising the matter. I have ruled Deputies Sargent and Rabbitte out of order.