Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Appointments to State Boards
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
Details of the appointments I have made since coming into office on 9 March 2011 are set out in a table I am circulating in the Official Report. The National Economic and Social Development Office, NESDO, is the only State agency under the aegis of the Taoiseach's Department. It was established in 2006 and is the body corporate for the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. NESDO's membership, as set out in the Act, consists of the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the NESC. The membership of the NESC, as set out in the Act, consists of a chairperson, deputy chairperson, members appointed on the basis of nominations received from representatives of the ICTU, business and employers' interests, farming and agricultural interests, the environmental sector and the community and voluntary sector, in addition to a number of public servants and independent experts. There are 34 members in the NESC. From time to time the Taoiseach appoints nominees and members to fill vacancies arising from changes in nominations or on the retirement of public servants.
The table provides details of all appointments made by me to the National Economic and Social Council since 9 March 2011. These are the only board appointments I have made since coming into office.
|Name||Organisation||Date of Appointment|
|Prof. Edgar Morgenroth,||Associate Research Professor, Economic and Social Research Institute||June 2011|
|Prof. John McHale,||Economist, National University of Ireland, Galway||June 2011|
|Prof. Mary Daly,||Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen's University Belfast||June 2011|
|Prof. Anna Davis,||Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin||June 2011|
|Prof. Seán Ó Riain,||Department of Sociology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth||June 2011|
|Dr. Michael O'Sullivan,||Head of UK Research and Global Asset Allocation, Credit Suisse, London||June 2011|
|Ms Mary Walsh,||Charted Accountant||June 2011|
|Dr. Michelle Morris,||Senior Lecturer, School of Applied Social Science, University College Dublin.||July 2011|
|Martin Fraser, Chairperson of NESC||Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach||August 2011|
|Shay Cody||IMPACT||September 2011|
|John Murphy||Secretary General, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation||November 2011|
|John Shaw, Deputy Chairperson of NESC||Assistant Secretary, Department of the Taoiseach||January 2012|
Is the Taoiseach made aware of or consulted on appointments made by each Department? Does he have an oversight role in ensuring a gender balance on State boards? What degree of expertise is required to function on State boards?
In the programme for Government the Government committed to amending the rules to ensure no former public servant, including political appointees, or a Minister could work in any area of the private sector which might involve a potential conflict until at least two years had elapsed. Will the Taoiseach update the House on this commitment in terms of State board appointments?
I am very conscious of the requirement to maintain a gender balance and I try to meet it in the strongest way possible. I am glad to say a number of very competent and influential persons have been appointed across a range of boards.
In so far as the question relates to my office, many of the appointees, as the Deputy is aware, are nominees of organisations. They are not solely from the list of nominations that might come from my Department. I cannot give the Deputy details from the brief to answer the question he has raised about people working in the private sector within two years of leaving State appointments, but I will check the position and get back to him.
For decades the system of appointments to State boards by the Government has been discredited because of the array of political hacks of the parties in power promoted to boards as a reward for service to their parties. The Government promised many changes in respect of this and other matters, but is it not the case that, apart from a few cosmetic changes, it has not changed the system fundamentally? Does the Taoiseach agree that the representation of those sections of society especially affected by the work of particular boards should have a democratic structure, thereby providing real expertise and knowledge, instead of continuing in a disguised fashion the old discredited crony system?
I have set out the position on a number of occasions. The new arrangements provide that on their websites Departments have to invite expressions of interest from the public in vacancies on the boards or bodies under their aegis. Ministers are not necessarily confined to those who make expressions of interest, but they must be satisfied that the people concerned have relevant qualifications. The Government has also decided that those proposed for appointment as chairpersons of State boards have to go before Oireachtas committees to discuss what it is that they have to offer to the particular board or committee to which they are being appointed. This has been a success to date and quite a number have been before committees.
The question relates to the body under the aegis of my Department. There are representatives from IMPACT, SIPTU, IBEC, the CIF, Chambers Ireland, ICOS, the IFA, Macra na Feirme, the ICMSA, Social Justice Ireland, the INOU, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, NYCI, Friends of the Earth, the Environmental Pillar of Social Partnership and Departments such as the Departments of Finance, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Environment, Community and Local Government and Education and Skills. There are also independent members from the ESRI, NUIG, Queen's University, Belfast, Trinity College, Dublin, Maynooth, Credit Suisse London, UCD, as well as a chartered accountant.
This group includes a mixture of very competent people, both men and women. In so far as their responsibilities go, under the aegis of my Department, they are doing a very good job.
Athruithe polaitiúla agus athruithe tríd an gcóras a dúirt Fine Gael a bheadh ann faoi Rialtas Nua. Dúirt an Taoiseach é sin i rith an toghcháin beagnach bliain ó shin, ach ní sin atá ag tarlú nó atá á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas. Despite what the Taoiseach said in reply to an Teachta Joe Higgins, the fact is that vacancies for all paid positions on State boards are not being advertised on the website of the Public Appointments Service or the relevant Department. The Taoiseach promised change in six months, but 12 months later there has been little change on this issue. In the case of the Department of Justice and Equality, none of the appointments to eight different boards was advertised. The chair of the Equality Authority was reappointed without being interviewed by a committee. Likewise, appointments to IDA Ireland, the National Consumer Agency and An Post have ignored the new procedures.
Why have so many Departments ignored the Taoiseach's stated commitment to introduce new procedures for appointments to State boards? Instead we have seen the appointment of a flock of past or current party members, strategists and donors of the Fine Gael and Labour parties. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether he decided consciously to do a U-turn on yet another election commitment or does he intend, even a year later, to introduce some process that will change the way these appointments are made in the future? If, as he said, he is keeping a report card on Ministers, why are these Departments ignoring his commitment on this issue?
The appointments to the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, were made by me following very careful consideration of the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise relevant to the functions of the council. In this particular case, I appoint members specifically on the basis of nominations from business and employer interests, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, farming and agricultural interests, the community and voluntary sector and the environmental sector. It would not be appropriate to advertise these appointments because they are taken by the nominees of those sectors. I also appoint up to six public servants to the council, of whom at least one shall represent the Taoiseach and one shall represent the Minister for Finance. Historically, the chairperson and deputy chairperson posts are filled from the Department at Secretary General and assistant secretary level. Those appointments represent the relevant Departments to ensure the council's work is integrated. A number of independents were appointed to the NESC in June and July of last year, all of them very academically qualified people. These independent nominations were not advertised as I was happy with the quality of the nominees who had already been compiled in the Department, mainly from the academic sector. It could be argued that these appointments might perhaps be advertised on the next occasion.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport advertised on its website seeking expressions of interests for appointments as chairperson of the boards of CIE companies and the Railway Procurement Agency and to the boards of transport, tourism and sport agencies. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources advertised on its website before the end of 2011 in regard to vacancies that arose on the boards of bodies under its responsibility. These included An Post, Bord na Móna and Ordnance Survey Ireland. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht advertised for board members for the National Concert Hall, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Arts Council. The Department of Finance sought expressions of interest for appointments to the board of directors of the recapitalised banks. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine advertised for vacancies in respect of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Coillte and the Irish National Stud. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs advertised for vacancies in the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board. The Department of Health advertised for vacancies on the Voluntary Health Insurance Board. The Department of Social Protection advertised in regard to the Citizens Information Board.
A number of those appointed to chair State boards have attended before Oireachtas committees to explain the particular expertise they bring to those boards. That innovation has been welcomed as being in everyone's interest. It ensures the public and the members of the committees can see what the appointed chairpersons bring to their work.
I have indicated to the Taoiseach on previous occasions my view that the committees do not have any real power and should instead be modelled on those in operation on Capitol Hill. Putting that to one side, it is good that the posts the Taoiseach named have been advertised. However, I asked him specifically about the eight different boards within the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of which none of the appointments was advertised. I say this with due deference to the appointees who may well be the best people for the job. The fact remains, however, that the chair of the Equality Authority was reappointed without being interviewed by a committee. Appointments to IDA Ireland, the National Consumer Agency and others have ignored the new procedures. If this were a report card, how would the Taoiseach mark the Minister for Justice and Equality?
Deputy Gerry Adams's Question No. 3 asks about the board appointments from my office that were made in the recent past and that I make a statement on the matter. In response, I pointed out the appointments that were made by me in the recent past and made a statement on the matter. That is the Deputy's question, to which I provided the answer. In respect of the bilateral meetings I have had with each Minister in recent weeks, all are completed with the exception of two. At the end of March, after being 12 months in office, I will present a progress report on the basis of the accomplishments and work undertaken by each Minister in so far as the programme for Government is concerned. This will allow Members to see the work that is under way, the work that has been completed, the work that cannot be completed and the work that is a priority for the coming period. I am sure Deputy Adams will be very interested in that.
I accept that my question was specific, but I asked as a supplementary whether the Taoiseach was informed in regard to appointments to other State boards. In other words, was he kept in the loop and was his affirmation or agreement sought in regard to appointments to boards across the system? A lot was promised but very little has been delivered in terms of changing the way State boards are appointed. That is essentially what has emanated from this debate. The role of the committees is extremely limited and amounts to interviewing the chairperson after he or she has been appointed. The committee in question has no role in appointing or not appointing a particular person; that remains a matter for the Minister.
Is the Taoiseach satisfied with the way State appointments are being made? Does he believe they correspond with what was committed to by him and his party in advance of the general election?
As Deputy Martin will be aware from his own experience, it is difficult enough to find people who want to put themselves in the public eye by chairing or participating in State boards. This is because of the pressure they may come under from one source or another. By and large, I am reasonably happy with the way this process has operated. The practice of having chairpersons attend before an Oireachtas committee is an innovation which is in the public interest. The quality of those appointed, in terms of their competence to do the job, has by and large been very good. They are getting on with their work.
Ministers apprise not only me but also the Cabinet of persons to be appointed as chairs of State boards. Obviously, not all of the appointments to all boards come before Cabinet, as the Deputy is well aware. The Cabinet is informed of senior appointments and the filling of positions of responsibility, as is normal procedure.
One of the more radical initiatives in this area, which was introduced by the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan, was the giving of power and authority to committees to make appointments to State boards, in particular in the area of broadcasting. That initiative brought about real change in terms of committees having a role in making appointments to the commission and so on. It was a real innovation. We have not had any initiatives of that type from this Government. There has been no fundamental or substantive change in this area by Government, in particular when one measures what has been done against what was promised.
In a number of cases, appointments recommended by the committee were from a list given to it by the Minister. These are matters that can be reflected on. We would like to reach a situation whereby the people appointed to these boards are competent people with a measure of experience which can assist a board in completing its body of work in a professional and competent manner. I believe the appointments made to date have measured up in terms of competence and experience and that those appointed are doing a good job. What is the best system is always debatable. One can have in place what one believes to be a perfect system but an appointee might not be the type of person one requires to do a job. The Deputy will be aware that some of the bodies and State boards concerned have particular decisions to make, some of which will be difficult, and in that regard will require people who are decisive and focused on Government priorities and how to deliver in the public interest. I have taken note of what Deputy Martin said in regard to the initiative of the former Minister, Eamon Ryan.
The most important and sensitive appointments which the Taoiseach and Government will have to make in this particular sphere are appointments to the boards of banks. As I understand it, in terms of the procedure which the Taoiseach described, public appointments to the boards of banks were advertised eight months ago, in respect of which the banks received approximately 500 applications. A large majority of those who applied have already been told they will not be getting the job, which is perfectly reasonable if proper procedure is being followed. Why, given the length of time this procedure has been going on, have no appointments been made at this stage?
The Minister for Finance is considering all these matters. The Deputy will be aware that he responded to Deputy Adams in January in respect of appointments made by him as Minister and the Department under the new procedures. On 7 July 2011, the Minister announced the appointments to the independent fiscal advisory council and pointed out that the council is part of a wider agenda of reform of Ireland's budgetary architecture.
I do not have to hand up-to-date information in regard to appointments to banks. However, the Minister outlined that there had been two appointments to the board of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC. He also pointed out that owing to the specific skills required given the nature of the business model that applies at IBRC, he would not be proceeding with public advertisement of the vacancies. He further pointed out that for the sake of completeness, he had in 2011 formed a panel of suitably qualified people for possible appointment or nomination to the boards of particular banks following a public expression of interest process and that the Bank of Ireland had recently appointed an appointee from this panel to its board. I must stress that these appointments were in areas where a specific expertise was required by the boards concerned.
If the Deputy wishes to table a parliamentary question on the matter to the Minister for Finance, he will provide him with an update on the evolving process in so far as the banks and boards of banks are concerned.