Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

State Boards

2:30 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the number of vacancies that exist on the boards of the agencies and other bodies under the aegis of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46019/10]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach the number of vacancies that exist on the boards of agencies or other bodies operating under the aegis of his Department; the appointments made to such boards by him since 22 November 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48345/10]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the appointments he has made to State boards since November 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48355/10]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach the appointments made by him since June 2002 to the State Boards, or other agencies within his aegis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48382/10]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the names, occupations and dates of appointment of those appointed to the boards of the State agencies and bodies under the aegis of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48387/10]

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 147: To ask the Taoiseach the Government appointments made to State boards, State bodies, public bodies, State agencies, State enterprises, Judicial positions and all State positions from the 1 June 2010 to date in 2011 in tabular form [48321/10]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, and 147 together.

The information requested by the Deputies in regard to appointments I have made since I became Taoiseach in May 2008 is in the table. In respect of vacancies, last month I signed the National Economic and Social Council (Alteration of Composition) Order 2010 facilitating changes to the structure of the NESC to reflect the inclusion of the environmental pillar into social partnership and to allow for an increase in the number of independent members to provide greater external input to the work of the council. Following finalisation of these changes, I am now in a position to appoint a new council and I expect to do so shortly. The majority of the membership is appointed on the basis of nominations received from social partner organisations.

In addition, the National Statistics Board has one vacancy due to the departure of an Assistant Secretary from my Department. Other than in these areas, there are no vacancies on the boards of agencies or other public service bodies for which I have Ministerial responsibility.

Body / BoardNameOccupationDate of Appointment
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Siobhan MastersonSenior Policy Executive, Irish Business and Employers ConfederationMarch 2009
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Tom ParlonDirector General, Construction Industry FederationMarch 2009
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Edmond ConnollyChief Executive Officer, Macra na FeirmeMarch 2009
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Oisin CoghlanDirector, Friends of the EarthMay 2009
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Pat SmithGeneral Secretary, Irish Farmers AssociationJune 2009
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Tony DonohoeHead of Social and Education Policy, Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC)January 2010
National Economic and Social Council (NESC)Kevin CardiffSecretary General, Department of FinanceFebruary 2010
Ireland Newfoundland PartnershipBilly KelleherMinister for Trade and CommerceJune 2009
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. Damien Callaghan, (Chair)Intel CapitalJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. Bernard Byrne,Chief Financial Officer, AIBJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. Martin KellyPartner, IBM VC GroupJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. Ray NolanSoftware EntrepreneurJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMs. Bernie CullinanCEO ClarigenJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMs. Helen RyanCEO Creganna-Tactx MedicalJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardDr. Hugh BradyPresident, UCDJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardProf. Peter ClinchSpecial Economic Adviser to the TaoiseachJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. John CorriganChief Executive, NTMAJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardProf. Frank GannonDirector General, SFIJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. Barry O'LearyCEO, IDA IrelandJuly 2010
Innovation Fund - Ireland Advisory BoardMr. Frank RyanCEO, Enterprise IrelandJuly 2010
National Statistics BoardDr. Patricia O'HaraNIRSAMarch 2009and re-appointed in October, 2010
National Statistics BoardProf. Philip LaneTCDMarch 2009and re-appointed in October, 2010
National Statistics BoardMr. Fergal O'BrienIBECOctober 2009and re-appointed in October, 2010
National Statistics BoardMr. Paul SweeneyICTUOctober, 2010
National Statistics BoardMr. Ciaran DolanICMSAOctober, 2010
National Statistics BoardMr. Michael J. McGrathCivil Servant, Department of FinanceOctober, 2010
National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP)Mr. Brendan DuffyAssistant Secretary, Dept. of Finance10 July 2008
National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP)Mr. Dermot CurranAssistant Secretary,Dept. of Enterprise, Trade & Employment10 July 2008
National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP)Ms. Mary ConnaughtonHR Development,IBEC10 July 2008

Note:

(1) In addition to the appointments listed above, the Government re-appointed Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness as President of the Law Reform Commission for one year from 22 February, 2010.

(2) The NCPP was absorbed into the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) with effect from 1st April 2010.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Since the Green Party announced its decision to leave Government at the end of November, at least 35 appointments have been made by Ministers and the vast majority have been made by the leader of the Green Party, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

None of them were Green Party members.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Minister was always vehemently opposed what he used to term "party hacks". It seems this tradition, if that is the proper word, is alive and well.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Do I have to repeat it again? None of them were Green Party members.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

When to decide to go to the country, or to Áras an Uachtaráin, is the Taoiseach's sole prerogative. There will be much comment about appointments to vacancies. The Taoiseach should suspend any appointments, unless they are essential to the country's interests, and wait until whatever Government the people decide to elect at the general election and let it get on with the business.

I have to admit that Governments in which my party was involved made appointments in the hiatus between the general election held being held and a new Government being appointed. However, given where we are and the level of cynicism about politics, unless an appointment is essential, I suggest the Taoiseach issue a directive to Ministers not to make any further appointments until the people make their decision. Will the Taoiseach comment on that?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is important to point out that some people might be in an election mode but an election has not been called. As the Deputy said, previous Governments of all hues have filled vacancies when in office. There is no legal compromise appointing people if the vacancies exist. I faced a situation when I came into office in 1997 when there was the purported appointment of 24 people to health boards before the vacancies even occurred. The vacancies arose in my term but my predecessor sought to appoint 24 people to vacancies on health boards which arose after the change of Government. That had to be rectified.

As vacancies arise, where there are competent people available to do the job and if they are needed for the purpose of proper governance of these agencies, they should and can be considered. I take the point that we need to be mindful to ensure that when elections are called, a prudent approach is taken to these issues.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The renewed programme for Government makes a commitment to legislate for new transparent means to make appointments. We have discussed this here before. In the case of important appointments, such as the chairmanships of essential State bodies and agencies, there should be some parliamentary input from an all-party committee or whatever and those being considered for serious appointments should be able to say to the committee what they have to offer from their expertise or experience.

The list of legislation published by the Chief Whip does not include this. He made the point that the list of Bills are ones likely to be considered in the remaining lifetime of this Dáil. I cannot force the Government not to make appointments but I ask the Taoiseach to be cognisant of the fact that a raft of these appointments will be coming up. I agree that in many cases it is difficult to get good people to serve in many of these positions given all that goes on in politics. Where serious appointments must be made, and in light of the commitment in the renewed programme for Government to legislate for this, could some contact be made with Members of the Oireachtas to get their views on the qualifications, suitability or advantages of making a particular appointment?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

We must look at these matters in the future to see how best to achieve this. We need to ensure there are people who want to serve and that they get the opportunity to put forward their case to serve. That would be good. On the question of suitability, Ministers must get people who they believe would be up for the job. In many cases, they are not based on political allegiances or whatever, as is often portrayed. It is about getting the right people for the job.

On many occasions, as incoming Minister, I have reappointed people appointed by a previous Administration because they were good and I was well advised that they had made a good and strong contribution to the development of the agency or organisation. We need to keep an open mind. It has to be about how we build public confidence for those who are being asked to serve. As we know very strenuous duties of care come with membership of boards. We need to be clear and careful that when issues of accountability need to be addressed we do so in such a way that does not mean people, who otherwise would be able to do well and fix the problem, cannot continue to contribute. Accountability here is sometimes portrayed as, when a mistake is made it means that is it and no one is fit to serve on anything. It is about how one deals with mistakes and errors that counts as far as I am concerned - that is the litmus test of being accountable rather than a culture of perfection, which usually ends up with no one doing anything and having a very process-driven operation without getting very much out of people.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

In his reply to Deputy Kenny, the Taoiseach mentioned that a general election has not yet been called and that therefore the interregnum period between the calling of a general election and the election of whatever government arises from the general election does not arise yet. However, in reality it does because at the moment we have an unusually long interregnum period. The general election, in effect, has been called. The announcement by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, that the Green Party would withdraw from government and that we would have an election called before the end of January effectively means the life of this Government is now on notice. It is clear that members of the Government clearly believe that and we have seen a number of Ministers and Ministers of State indicate they will not stand for re-election.

In that interregnum period we need to address two issues. The first is the administrative decisions that may be made by different organs of Government - Departments and State agencies - based on the understanding of those Departments and agencies of the policies of the current Government. Clearly care will need to be taken that they do not anticipate or prejudice any policy changes that might be made by a new government. The second is the question of appointments. We are not talking about the normal five to six weeks between the calling of a general election and the reconvening of the Dáil. In the past there have been attempts at sharp practice whereby governments of different hues have attempted to make appointments in that period. We now have a much longer period of time and therefore a greater number of appointments that will be due to be filled. I accept that some of those appointments are effectively nominations made by various bodies to boards of State agencies, with which there is no issue. Some of them are discretionary appointments made by Ministers and some of those appointees may well find favour right across the House.

Given the likely length of the interregnum period, would the Taoiseach agree to a mechanism that seeks to reach agreement in the House on an all-party basis about the appointments that arise between now and the reconvening of the Dáil after a general election?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The question of the interregnum period that would apply would need to be considered. However, we can have a look at that. I am prepared to co-operate on these sorts of matters at the appropriate time. I do not buy into the Deputy's argument that it is from here on out. Until a general election is called the Government has its duties and functions to perform. One cannot decide that is not the case. It is in the context of a post-general election situation, recognising the outcomes, that one tries to ensure any functions performed by the Government are consistent with a transitional period, whatever that is. We need to be sensible about this. The Government cannot abdicate its responsibilities and at the same time some sensible discussions could possibly take place.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I take some comfort from what the Taoiseach has just said, although I am concerned that he is defining the interregnum period as just the period between the calling of the general election and the reconvening of the Dáil. In reality everybody knows the general election is going to take place - when it will take place is another day's work. The phrase being used today is "before the end of spring", which could be the end of April. Last week we were led to believe it would take place by the end of March. In December it was supposed to be the end of January. The general election date is a moving target. The reality is that we are in that interregnum period.

I know there is always argument about what political appointments are being made, who is being appointed and so on. However, there is also the very real issue where appointments are being made - I am thinking in particular of chairs of State bodies and so on who have a significant role to play in the running of the State apparatus. In many cases appointments made now could last for five years - in effect the entire lifetime of a government. Unless we have an all-party agreement on appointments to be made between now and the reconvening of the Dáil, a new government might find itself having to ask new appointees to voluntarily resign so that the new government would be in a position to make appointments. It is undesirable that people who are now being asked to serve on boards would be put in that position by the present Government. There is a way to avoid that by agreeing a cross-party mechanism for clearing or agreeing. There would not be any great difficulty with nominations from designated bodies to various boards and so on. In many cases where Ministers are exercising discretion there may be no argument and the appointee may be perfectly appropriate and agreed. However, in cases where there is disagreement, it would be better to have that addressed on a cross-party basis rather than having appointments made that may need to be undone after the general election.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

No self-respecting government will cede its legitimate authority unless and until we are into a general election period. In terms of coming to an accommodation on these matters there is a need to be sensible. I know the Deputy might be able to say we are just lagging along here; a lot of important work has to be done. There are four Finance Bill-related pieces of legislation and other legislation which is at an advanced stage.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Any excuse.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

No. They will be done in parallel with the processing of the Finance Bill, which is the most important legislation. If we do not have that, how do we confirm certainty for the upcoming financial year? It is in everybody's interest. Behind all the rhetoric, there is an understanding from everybody that must happen. We would be very foolish if we did not do that. In the question the Deputy raises, he is going a bit far in suggesting the Government should at this stage decide it is not in a position to make decisions.

I agree that we should be able to come to some mechanism that would enable us to get a greater degree of agreement when that period arrives.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

In October 2009, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, indicated that mechanisms would have to be found and put in place to ensure that the "right people" would be appointed to State boards. We did not have long to wait to get an idea of what he was actually talking about when he referred to "right people" because shortly afterwards we saw the appointment of several failed local government candidates of the Green Party,-----

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

And members of the Labour Party.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

-----along with a raft of others favoured by the Taoiseach's party at that time.

We have seen another set of appointments here in the dying weeks of this Government and yet there is no indication at all that the Minister, Deputy Gormley's comment of introducing mechanisms is in any way in the offing.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is in the programme for Government.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

In fact, in the revised programme for Government the Taoiseach's party and the Green Party have clearly committed, under the heading "Enhancing Our Democracy and Public Services", to introduce on a legislative basis a more open and transparent system of appointment to State boards. The revised programme clearly states that the legislation "will outline a procedure for the publication of all vacancies likely to occur, invite applications from the general public and from the responses, create a panel of suitable persons for consideration of appointment", and it also goes on to commit to identifying the process for Oireachtas committees to also have a direct role in nominations to that panel.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The line of questioning is going outside the intended question when it was originally submitted.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

No. The publication today-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

This is about appointments to boards under the Taoiseach's aegis, not the aegis of other Departments.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

This is what I am addressing. Make no mistake, in the publication today by the Chief Whip of the so-called legislative work programme, or what is to cover for it over the remaining weeks of this Dáil, this commitment to ensure that there is a more transparent, more appropriate and legislatively underpinned process for appointment to State boards does not appear. It has gone clearly off the agenda in terms of this Government. Would the Taoiseach agree, having had that as a commitment in the programme for Government and in the closing weeks when he is not even going to address it at all, that truly, as was already put to him here this afternoon, he should suspend making any more appointments because the process is flawed and open to further discrediting of the political process itself in its wider understanding among the broader electorate? The appropriate course of action at this point in time is to put a hold on any further appointments until such time as the commitment he had in the programme for Government, which I supported, welcome and want to see implemented, is introduced by a new Government.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The programme for Government and revised programme for Government were based on a number of issues, including the prospect of the Government completing a full term, which now, obviously, will not happen, and the prospects of completing the programme in a much shorter timeframe, as ambitious as it was, is not available to us. Therefore, we have outlined the legislative priorities for the remainder of the term that is before us. That is a realistic and proper way to proceed. There are many reforming pieces of legislation that can be considered by the Oireachtas in the future. Unfortunately, there are some which will not be completed in this term.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Just to-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

We will move on. We have spent an inordinate amount of time on this. We are turning Question Time into a debate.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I have a short opportunity and I am entitled to a brief supplementary. Am I entitled to the same as every other Deputy?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Yes. Will you be brief, please?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I assure the Ceann Comhairle the brevity issue is not a problem on my part, at least today.

In the focus of the particular questions on appointments by him, would the Taoiseach respond on any vacancies that may present or are current in terms of State boards or agencies under his Department's aegis? Would he agree that the appropriate course of action is to leave them on hold until such time as the opportunity arises to introduce on a legislative basis, as he proposed to do in the revised programme for Government, a new, transparent and openly public supportable process for such appointments in the future?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I do not agree with that as a matter of principle to be applied. Boards cannot function unless one has them properly constituted. One needs a proper skills mix. One needs to ensure that people attend in sufficient numbers and quorums are met, and business is conducted. In many cases there are economic and other consequences, and, indeed, many social benefits, that derive as a result of the effective functioning of boards in implementing Government policy working with efficient and effective executives.

As a matter of principle, apart from the practicality of the matter, it is not a good idea. As I say, we should work in a sensible and pragmatic fashion, and in a way in which the Government is entitled and has a duty. Not only is the Government entitled, but it has a duty to fill vacancies when they arise to ensure that statutory requirements are being adhered to and complied with.