Dáil debates

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Other Questions

Departmental Appointments

2:00 pm

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Finance if he has satisfied himself that the top level appointments committee gives reasonable scope for appointments from outside the public service and outside the appointing Departments [24775/10]

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, holds competitions for and advises Ministers and the Government on appointments to Civil Service posts at Secretary General, Deputy Secretary, Assistant Secretary and equivalent levels. Since early 2007 the policy has been that open competitions are held for Assistant Secretary, Deputy Secretary and equivalent posts. This policy has been recently extended to Secretary General posts, with the exception of a limited number of Secretary General posts which are filled by the Government without a TLAC competition. Where open competitions are held the normal practice is that the Public Appointments Service holds a preliminary competition and selects a shortlist of candidates for interview by the Top Level Appoints Committee, TLAC.

I am satisfied that the committee and the preliminary interview boards under the Public Appointments Service carry out their functions in a fair and objective manner. In any industry or business where posts are filled by an open recruitment process, one would expect candidates with experience of the business or industry to have an advantage and there is no reason the Civil Service should be any different. Some very credible external candidates, successful and unsuccessful, have come forward in competitions held to date but overall the proportion of external candidates with the levels of management experience and competencies that would make them suitable for appointment has been lower than one might have hoped for.

I will shortly be bringing proposals to the Government to restructure the Top Level Appointments Committee as provided for in the renewed programme for Government. However, I would stress that I do not consider that the composition of the committee is the main reason so few external candidates have been successful. I will also be proposing that the committee needs to consider new approaches to attract stronger external fields, including in appropriate cases an element of "head-hunting", while recognising that even where suitable candidates are identified in this way they would still have too undergo a competitive process.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. By way of clarification, I have not been given any new appointment in the past few minutes I am merely here to assist my colleague who had to go to vote in a different room.

Perhaps the Minister will inform the House of what percentage of appointments to the type of jobs outlined by him have in the past two years come from outside of the public service. The Minister stated that there has been a disappointing lack of management skills from some of the applicants outside the public sector. I find that difficult to believe in the current environment when there are many people out of work who have significant management skills. Perhaps the Minister will assure the House he will ensure that when we are filling high level posts through a process of competition and selection that it will be a meritocracy and that people from the private sector will have as good a chance of securing those posts as have people coming from within the public sector.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have exact figures in that regard. However, as I understand it, the number of outside appointments has been limited. I do not have the figures before me but will arrange to have them sent to the Deputy. The Government has decided that Secretary General posts must be filled by open competition with the exception of those posts to which appointments are made by the Government without competition, including Secretary General to the Government and the Department of the Taoiseach, Secretary General to the Department of Finance, Secretary General for public service management and development, Department of Finance, Secretary General to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and Secretary General at the Office of the President.

Ten posts were circulated in 2009, seven of which were at Assistant Secretary level, of which four were open to applicants from outside the public sector; three were at Secretary General, of which one was open to applicants outside the public sector. Taking 2010 statistics for the Civil Service as a whole, 16 posts have been posted so far, 11 of which were at Assistant Secretary level, all of which were open to applicants from outside the public sector; two were at Secretary General level, one of which at the Department of Social Protection, was open to applicants from outside the public sector, the other at the Office of the Attorney General being open only to applicants from within the public sector given it is specialised in character; one was at Second Secretary General level and was open to applicants outside the public sector; two were at Deputy Secretary level, one of which was open to applicants from outside the public sector, the other being open only to applicants from within the Civil Service.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I will allow a supplementary question from Deputy Burton.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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The Regling and Watson and Honohan reports identify an appalling lack of expertise in the Department of Finance. Maybe the Department has accountants and I believe it has economists, but they did not seem to be in a position to contribute to warding off the collapse, particularly the collapse in Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank. I recall civil servants from the Department of Finance advising me that the senior management of those institutions were extraordinarily knowledgeable and well placed to command the affairs of the institutions and were, pretty much, irreplaceable. I found that notion extraordinary and still find it so. The Department of Finance needs people with specific professional skill sets, which they have practised in areas such as accountancy.

We are all aware of the one person who came into the Minister's Department as an assistant secretary and was referred to in The Sunday Business Post last weekend. That person was at a senior level in the Department, left to go to a consulting position and then returned. Someone who goes out, gets experience and comes back is valuable but that is hardly a revolution.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's more general point is correct. Much of the focus in the question has been on senior positions. It is quite difficult to obtain private interest in those senior positions. Some of this is bound up with the question of pension provision and there are wider remuneration questions. It is not simply a matter of an administrative culture refusing to accept outsiders although, in the context of the review of the top level appointments committee arrangements, I am conscious of the need to ensure there are adequate safeguards against that. There is a wider pension provision issue, which militates against outside applications.

Deputy Burton's point is of particular importance. I agree with her and I am examining this matter with my officials at present. It is extremely important that the necessary skills sets exist in the Department of Finance. That is not a question that relates to top level appointments. It arises at middle range qualifications and appointments. We have arranged for the appointment of a banking analyst in the Department and the necessary procedures to recruit this individual had to take place outside the normal civil service recruitment procedures. There is, clearly, a need to complement that approach in the fields of accountancy and other areas, although there is a wealth of economic expertise in my Department.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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The Regling and Watson and Honohan reports both express amazement at the failure to identify the level of risk at an earlier period in the banks. It appears that the risk was in front of their faces but they could not see it. Furthermore, the issue of solvency was never addressed. The focus was all on liquidity. Was that due to a lack of expertise or a lack of procedures in the Financial Regulator's office and the Department of Finance?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The question is answered in the reports and in Professor Honohan's comments the other day to the joint committee. They make it clear that the primary responsibility for the domestic contribution to the economic crisis rests with the banks. That means their internal management-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is in the bronze medal position now.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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We are a long way ahead of the bronze medal. Let us stick to the gold medal.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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He is bordering on silver.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Primary responsibility, according to all these gentlemen, rests with the banks.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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What about the brass medal?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Burton can decide, for her next sound-bite, to whom she wants to allocate that.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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When it is discoloured it becomes brass. It is discoloured, obviously.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Within the banks, primary responsibility lies with management and with their boards. Professor Honohan goes on to say the regulatory and supervisory systems did not identify the risks within sufficient time. That is clearly painted in the report.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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It, clearly, broke down.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Clearly, the Government's more modest role has been acknowledged in the report.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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That is the silver medal.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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It was the bronze medal yesterday and it remains that.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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It is silver today. He will get gold tomorrow.