Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Priority Questions

Decentralisation Programme.

3:00 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 78: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if any of the proposed decentralisation moves affecting the Civil Service or the State agencies will be reconsidered over the course of the present term of Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17746/07]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I confirm the Government's commitment to the decentralisation programme which has been included in the Agreed Programme for Government. The Deputy will be aware that the decentralisation implementation group, DIG, was appointed to oversee the implementation of the programme. It might be helpful to give a brief update on progress with the programme under a number of headings.

To date, more than 10,600 people have applied to decentralise through the central applications facility, CAF, and despite consistent negative commentary, no political spokesperson has said that any town or county should be dropped from the programme. Progress reports by the DIG are submitted to me on a regular basis. The group reported in its last report, October 2006, that implementation of the decentralisation programme is progressing satisfactorily. At the end of April 2007, more than 2,700 staff had been assigned to decentralising posts. It is expected that more than 1,000 staff will be in place this summer in more than 20 new locations, while the remainder are being trained in advance of decentralisation to a new location as soon as accommodation is available.

It is envisaged that by the end of 2007 public services will be delivered from 33 of the decentralisation towns with approximately 2,000 staff transferred. The precise numbers moving within that timeframe will depend on the availability of property as well as timeframes for completion of fit-out and installation of necessary information communications technology, ICT, and telecommunications cabling and equipment. The property programme is well advanced. The OPW conducts a review of the property timeframes for permanent accommodation on an ongoing basis.

Some 30 State agencies are due to relocate under the Government's decentralisation programme, with 2,340 posts involved, or just over 22% of the programme. The DIG noted in its latest report that while progress has been made by some State agencies, there has been a marked lack of action in others. The group has met with CEOs from a number of State agencies to get an overview of progress to date and to identify the challenges remaining in implementing the Government policy.

The main issues facing the State agencies are those relating to the filling of posts in undersubscribed locations, the placing of staff choosing to remain in Dublin and promotion arrangements. These issues are the subject of ongoing contacts between my Department and ICTU. An approach based on negotiations and agreement has enabled significant progress to be made as regards the Civil Service moves and it is the intention to continue with this policy regarding the professional and technical grades in both the Civil Service and the State agency sector.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister for Finance agree that it is both cynical and dishonest for Ministers who introduced this proposal to hide behind the implementation agency and pretend that all the difficulties being encountered in the movement of the various groups have nothing to do with them? Is it not the case that there is no system for people who work within State agencies to move voluntarily from their organisations to any other? Four years on from the introduction of this initiative Deputy Brian Cowen as Minister has not produced any proposals to deal with that. As a consequence there are bodies such as Bord Fáilte where nobody has indicated a willingness to go, the National Roads Authority, where one person was willing to go and the Irish Aviation Authority where two people indicated they were willing to go. There are many agencies such as FÁS, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the HSA and the Valuation Office Ireland, where tiny numbers are indicating a willingness to move. There is an onus on the political masters who introduced this scheme to take responsibility and come up with proposals to deal with this issue.

It is cynical and dishonest to continue the pretence that some independent group has responsibility for this, letting Ministers run away from it. It has been an ill-conceived proposal and we need to have proper policy to implement a viable decentralisation programme rather than the type of carry-on we have seen.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The only people talking out of both sides of their mouths have been Members of the Opposition, depending on what bench they sit on and what Question Time is taking place on any given day.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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There is nothing cynical about a Member of the Opposition saying he or she would like to see decentralisation in the community, but we have nothing but a Government full of cynicism and dishonesty, which will not produce a strategy to do it.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The only people applying cynicism and negativity to this programme consistently have been on the Opposition benches, while cuttings from every local newspaper proclaim support for it.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is because people believe Governments honour their promises. The present Government does not, where decentralisation is concerned.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have not yet heard Fine Gael or Labour state one town or county that should not be included.

The scheme is voluntary and there are industrial relations procedures in this country. The implementation group makes it quite clear that a breakthrough will be required regarding the State agencies to try to get the programme up and running to match the headway made in respect of the Civil Service. In this regard, there is already a culture of staff crossing from Department to Department. They are retrained when they cross over and are very anxious to move to the various locations.

We are aware that some parts of the programme are moving ahead more speedily than others. I agree that one of the roles of Ministers in their line Departments is to continue to push for the implementation of the programme subject to respecting its voluntary nature and working with the unions concerned. The industrial relations machinery of the State should be used as creatively and constructively as possible to bring about solutions to problems regarding which there has not been progress. This has been acknowledged by me for some time but that is not to say the decentralisation programme should not go ahead as quickly as possible in all areas with a view to dealing with the more intractable problems that resulted in a major delay in progress, particularly in some State agencies, on the basis of industrial relations procedures. Such procedures are the best means of dealing with the problems.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The onus is on politicians to come up with responses. One cannot play free and loose with people's lives in this way, be unanswerable in the House and pretend some agency is answerable.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We are proceeding to Question No. 79.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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It is the duty of politicians to solve these problems and the Minister has been deafeningly silent in coming up with any solution.