Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Programmes.

12:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the organisational review programme; the Departments and agencies reviewed under this programme to date; the action he will take arising from these reviews; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9947/10]

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the Departments which have so far been critiqued by the organisational review programme unit; if the Department of Finance has been reviewed as to its effectiveness regarding core objectives such as stable public finances, banking and public service reform. [9941/10]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the work to date being carried out by his Department under the organisational review programme. [11248/10]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach if an assessment of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been carried out under the organisational review programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11527/10]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the operational review programme unit; the Departments that have been reviewed to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12960/10]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 8, inclusive, together.

The first and pilot phase of the organisational review programme, ORP, involved the undertaking of comprehensive reviews of the capacities of three Departments, with particular reference to strategy, managing delivery and evaluation, and the production by them of follow-up action plans. The Departments reviewed were Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Transport.

The first phase was completed in November 2008 with the publication of a composite report which was lodged in the Oireachtas Library. The report includes the findings on each Department, the follow-up action plans prepared by them and a chapter on the challenges for the wider Civil Service arising from the research. The second phase of reviews under the organisational review programme is now nearing completion. This phase involves detailed examination of the capacities of four further Government organisations, the Department of Health and Children, the Central Statistics Office, the Property Registration Authority and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. The review of Revenue is almost finalised and the other three reviews have been completed.

The current position is that the management boards of the Department of Health and Children, the Central Statistics Office and the Property Registration Authority are working on follow-up action plans. I expect that these plans, along with that from Revenue, will be completed in around four to six weeks. A composite report, containing the findings on each organisation and their follow-up action plans, will be published shortly afterwards, following consideration by Government. Regarding the third and next phase of reviews, preparatory work is already under way. The capacities of another four Departments will be examined, namely, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Education and Science, Foreign Affairs and my own Department. I expect these reviews and the associated action plans to be completed by the end of the year.

Regarding the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a review under the ORP has not yet been carried out. Regarding a review of the Department of Finance, a decision has yet to be made on the organisations to be included in the fourth phase of ORP reviews which are due to commence at the end of this year. Deputies can be assured that the ORP reviews constitute very thorough examinations of the capacities of Government Departments and offices. They involve considerable stakeholder engagement and, in that regard, I would like to record my appreciation to those members of Oireachtas committees who took the time to meet the ORP review teams and provide them with valuable input.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before I call Deputy Ó Caoláin, there are about ten minutes left for supplementary questions. I request Deputies to refrain from asking detailed questions to the Taoiseach. Such questions should be submitted to the appropriate line Minister.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Can the Taoiseach confirm that the organisational review programme report in relation to the Department of Health and Children indicated, as is reported, that a significant number of staff are currently underworked, while another body of employees within that Department are absolutely overwhelmed with work? Would it not strike him as a serious situation if that actually is the case? It is something that should not be tolerated in any Department let alone one as critical as the Department of Health and Children.

Can the Taoiseach confirm, as is reported, that the particular report concerning that Department finds confusion among staff as to its role and the lack of clarity around who its customers are, coupled with the feeling of being constantly under fire, are factors contributing to poor morale? Can the Taoiseach confirm that this is part of the programme report on the Department? How can it be that there is confusion among staff about the Department's role? This is what the review programme report allegedly states. Can the Taoiseach specify when this issue became known? Did it coincide with the establishment of the HSE? We have not yet seen the report; when will it be published? Does the Taoiseach agree that this confusion must reflect the so-called policy - that is another debate entirely - of the Government and the Department, as espoused-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Does the Deputy have a question?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----by the Minister? If the establishment of the HSE is not the most serious contributory factor to that confusion among staff, it is certainly at least the equal of any other factor or combination of factors.

If it is the case that there are staff in the Department who are currently underworked, what actions are being taken to ensure they have a full day's engagement from when they present to when they finish their day's work? If this is not realisable through a reallocation of responsibility-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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It would be better to submit a question to the Minister for Health and Children.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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That would be a total waste of my time, with respect, a Cheann Comhairle. I need to ask somebody who is prepared to answer.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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It would go to the HSE.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The parliamentary affairs division.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister has clearly washed her hands of all responsibility and, therefore, the mess we are in.

What steps will be taken to ensure, if the report's findings are correct, that those who are currently underworked will, as a result of reallocation of responsibilities within the Department, have a full day's work? If this cannot happen within the Department, can they be redeployed to some other area, or even to the HSE? God forbid we add any more bureaucracy to that organisation.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Some of the findings of the report in question, which has not yet been published, featured in the media recently, although much of the contextual information and balancing comments did not appear in these articles, and other findings were not commented upon at all. An operational review programme is a management tool to help assess the capacity of Departments and major offices to meet challenges over the coming years. It can be used by Departments to help them improve their performance - in fact, this is the whole idea. The report has been welcomed by the Secretary General and action plans are being prepared in response. We will accept the critiques of aspects of the Department's work and see how they can be improved. Having served in that Department myself, I acknowledge that the staff show much ability and commitment in dealing with a difficult agenda.

The report identifies areas in which improvement is required, and clarifying roles and responsibilities is an important aspect of this. As in every field, it is important to have a clear objective and that management and staff are behind this. The Department is now mainly in the business of policy formation, but when I was there, before the establishment of the HSE, it also had an operational role and was trying to deal with hospital services and every other aspect of the health service on a day-to-day basis through what was then a regionalised health board system.

It must be objectively acknowledged there have been improvements, including the establishment of the National Hospitals Office and so on, and there has been an effort to pull things together to make a far more coherent and joined-up organisation. This may be seen in terms of improvements in operational performance. Of course there are service pressures and organisational problems. When one can find the right people in the right place, one sees a different level of performance in some places compared to others. That is not to say that everyone is starting from the same mark or that people have the same sets of problems but we all know how the degree to which the health service is interactive between primary, secondary and tertiary care. We need good local organisational efforts as well as a centralised approach that brings clarity to the policies and enables people to get on with the job as effectively as possible.

Mention was made of managing delivery by agencies through stronger goals and output and performance measurement, as was more clearly defining customers and stakeholders and a closer alignment to serving them more appropriately. It is not a question of the Department being unaware that it exists to serve the public; it is a matter of ensuring that the many agencies and organisations which are delivering health services have a proper relationship that maximises effectiveness and allows people to work as efficiently as possible.

I do not think any review worth its salt would be able to give a clean bill of health to every organisation. If it did, it might suffer from the criticism that it was not a very rigorous or robust exercise. The review is seen as a management tool or a SWAT analysis which evaluates how services are being delivered, the extent to which the Department is fulfilling its role, its place in the delivery of services and, in this case, how one organises the services and how agencies meet their remits and responsibilities. That is the purpose of an operational review programme. Everyone in this House would rightly point to the need for periodic objective and robust exercises to assess how people are performing.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Very briefly-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are rapidly running out of time.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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This will only take a moment. In February, the Department of Health and Children indicated that it had been asked to prepare an action plan which was to be presented to the Government before the end of March or the beginning of April. Has that plan been presented now that we are in the last week of April? Will the reports of the four Departments and offices addressed by the organisational review programme be published as indicated and, if so, how soon does the Taoiseach expect their publication so that we can focus on some of the questions I raised earlier, including the serious issue of poor morale among staff in the Department of Health and Children? That has to be of serious concern to all of us.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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As I said earlier, these reports are being finalised and all four will be taken together, presumably by the Government, as the second phase of the operational review programme and will be considered by the Government when the action plans are presented with the reports.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Have they been received yet?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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As I have said, all four will be taken together. They involve a detailed examination of the capacities of the four organisations. The review of Revenue is almost finalised and the other three have been completed. They will be taken together by the Cabinet when the Revenue review is completed and we will take it from there.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The Taoiseach appeared to suggest in his earlier reply that the Government will not be publishing these reports until after the follow-up action plans are drawn up by the respective Departments and considered by the Government. Given that the report on the Department of Health and Children, which is pretty damning, was already published in The Irish Times, would he agree to simply publish the reports on that Department and the other three agencies considered in the first round rather than wait for the action plans to be drawn up?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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In fairness to the Departments which are being asked to respond to the reports with developing action plans to deal with the issues raised, not all of the findings were reported and the context and balancing commentaries on particular findings did not feature. For that reason, it is best to await publication of the full reports and the associated action plans by the Departments, after consideration by the Government, so that people can see the full picture and what is being suggested as the response or how we will improve those areas that have been identified. People can then have an informed discussion on that basis.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In respect of the Department of Health and Children, for instance, the report by the organisational review programme stated that some people have little or nothing to do while other colleagues are overwhelmed. It mentioned high levels of sick leave, real frustration, on the back foot and uneven quality of leadership. Arising from that, is there any validity in the reports that there may well be enforced redundancies in the HSE because of the industrial dispute at present?

Who determines what Departments are covered under the organisational review programme? Why, for instance, has the Department of Finance not been included in this? Is the Department of Finance above all reproach or analysis when in recent years its reports and indications stated that the public finances were on a sound footing and that the direction ahead was clear in the national interest? Is it intended that the Department of Finance will be included under a review programme, and if so, when is that likely to be operational?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I understand that the Minister for Health and Children answered a Dáil question on this matter on 3 March last. As I stated in reply to Deputy Gilmore earlier, we should see the full report and response from the Department before coming to an informed view. It is important that these rigorous and robust exercises point up issues that must be addressed. I would expect the action plans to address any issues raised in terms of priorities in which the Department should engage and in what way it organises and gives the workloads to the various sections of the Departments, which can vary from time to time depending on what problems or issues arise.

On the Department of Finance, the fourth review will come up at the end of the year in terms of deciding what Departments will be involved. The Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Education and Science, Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach are up for consideration in this third phase. Obviously, we will look and see what Departments will be included in the next phase as well.