Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

3:40 pm

Photo of Tom BarryTom Barry (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I will continue my contribution to the debate on the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) (Amendment) Bill 2013. This is an opportunity to avail of the skills in the public service. I also feel we should incentivise the public service, as is the case with the private sector, because it is very important that people feel they are contributing and that their contribution is valued. It incentivises them to provide more.

I would encourage the Minister not to forget the SMEs and to use this as an opportunity to become familiar and engage with them. We have often heard about the public sector that its members will have their wages at the end of the week while an SME owner will not.

I have heard people in SMEs say that the people concerned do not "get" this and are putting obstacles in their way. It is time the Government got it. We will get it by letting people in the public sector who have the aptitudes and skills move into areas where they can contribute in a meaningful fashion. Matching people to their interests is essential. Such people exist within the public sector. I believe this arrangement can merge seamlessly and that it will encourage small businesses to expand.

I diverge slightly to point out that such skills do not disappear on retirement. Another angle here is the experience of retired people whose voluntary contributions are valuable. As we move people around we should also recognise there are such people who can contribute. We must not forget this. This happens in the agricultural sector, an area where I am involved to a large degree. It is no surprise that this sector brings in more than €10 billion in exports because there is liaison of the skills of all concerned. It is very important to recognise that.

This is just another small step along the way. I congratulate the Minister for sticking to his guns on many of these issues and making this happen. It is not easy to implement change in any organisation. Some people would like us to believe that no change is occurring - it is easy to stand up and say that. However, I applaud the effort made by all the people concerned. Change is occurring and great strides have been made. There is enormous opportunity and the fruits of it all will be seen in time. It may take some years for all of this to bed down but if one were doing this to gain immediate thanks that would not happen. This country will be a better place as a result of this Bill and others that have been implemented.

3:50 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I call Deputy Heather Humphreys who is sharing time with other Members.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Yes, with Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, and others. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill which will amend the Public Service Management Act 2004, removing the legislative barriers to redeployment and overall mobility within the public service. This is a positive development as it is important there be a greater degree of flexibility in terms of redeployment within our public service. It is particularly significant in the current economic climate, where there is a moratorium on recruitment. We must ensure that sufficient resources and manpower are provided to those areas of our public service which most need them. Redeployment and the ability to transfer within organisations are factors every business and organisation treat as a priority. Every corporate organisation needs flexibility which, in turn, can lead to a more satisfied and better workforce that will generate improved productivity levels. Every employee wants to see a clear career path and to know there are opportunities for promotion and career development. It is important to have flexibility within the public service so that people can move into other areas in which they may be interested.

The Bill creates opportunities for public service staff so that they need not be stuck in the same area or Department for the rest of their lives and for whom there will be other career opportunities. This is important because we are living in a changing world and are no longer in the one where there is a job for life, where one stays in the same place forever. That is a good thing because people can get stale doing the same job for years. They become demotivated which is reflected in their work and their attitude towards their job and their employers. It is important, therefore, that employees have the opportunity to transfer easily within different areas of the public service. I have no doubt that greater flexibility will lead to increased job satisfaction.

Recently I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister on the issue of certified and uncertified sick leave within our public service. It is worth noting that in 2012, €447 million was spent on sick leave in the public service. Although that figure is significantly reduced from the figure of €490 million in 2010 it still remains very high, at a cost of almost €500 million - by any standards a huge amount of money. There are many reasons for sick leave but it would be fair to say, particularly in regard to uncertified sick leave, that it may indicate a lack of job satisfaction for some staff. It is important that staff feel valued and that they can believe a better career path can be there for them, with flexibility to work in other areas in which they may have an interest.

While the core objective of the Bill is to ensure that the various areas within the public service are adequately staffed, there are benefits also for employees who are looking for a change. This type of flexibility will benefit the public service and I commend the Minister for introducing the Bill. He is obviously looking for savings - we all know there is a very difficult budget ahead. I believe there are substantial further savings to be made in the area of sick leave. Giving staff flexibility and the opportunity to start afresh in a new area will help to motivate them and alleviate some of the dissatisfaction problems.

This legislation will allow managers to identify within the entire public service people who might be better suited to jobs in other areas. I am sure there are other staff who may wish to transfer to different areas of the country for personal or family reasons; the flexibility allowed in this Bill will allow this type of movement to occur more freely. This Bill is a very positive move and I commend the Minister for introducing it.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Áine Collins has six minutes and 40 seconds.

Photo of Áine CollinsÁine Collins (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I may not be that long. A recruitment ban on public service has been in place for some time. The cost of running the public service was one of the many issues identified by the troika as an area that must be tackled. For years, there was anecdotal evidence of surplus staff in certain Departments and shortages in others. This situation developed over the years as functions and responsibilities were transferred from one Department to another without corresponding mobility of staff. A key objective of this legislation is to ensure that the right staff are in the right place at the right time. Cross-sectoral mobility is intended to support this objective and the passage of this Bill is required to facilitate definitive cross-sectoral transfers. The Croke Park agreement provided, for the first time, a basis for movement within the Civil Service, the health service and the local authority and educational sectors. This was crucial to allow redeployment between the public service and non-commercial semi-State bodies. The Haddington Road agreement, together with the Croke Park agreement, played a key role in the reassignment of, to date, more than 10,000 staff. This flexibility is essential to ensure the best use of staff resources and to protect front-line services.

Currently, definitive redeployment from one sector of the public service to another is not legally possible. Any progress made up to now has been made possible only by secondment arrangements. This Bill will provide certainty of assignment both for those on secondment and those who will move in the future. It will also provide certainty for the sending and receiving organisations. In accepting the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements, the public service has stepped up to the mark and recognised that antiquated rules that defied common sense were no longer acceptable.

As a consequence of the agreements the Government has agreed that compulsory redundancy will not apply to public servants where there is continued agreement of flexibility and redeployment. Other important provisions contained in the Bill include section 57, which provides that when a person is designated by the PAS for redeployment he or she shall be appointed to that new position; section 57C which provides that redeployment will be made on no less favourable conditions of basic pay and provisions; and section 57E which sets out details of those who are precluded from redeployment by the PAS. These include holders of political, judicial and constitutional posts, presidential and Government appointees, special advisors, members of the Permanent Defence Forces, officers of the Houses of the Oireachtas and those employed by the Central Bank and the NTMA. This section also provides that the Minister may, by order, add further bodies to this list.

This is a short technical Bill but it adds important clarity to what has been achieved to date in the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. It recognises there has been a sea-change in public service administration and clearly states that the Government must deploy its resources to best serve the community. There is a clear recognition that the public service as a whole must accept that its first obligation is service to the general public in whatever role is necessary at any particular time. The significance of this change should not be underestimated. It became clear during the Presidential election what great work the public service does as we saw what was achieved during that time. I commend the Minister for his initiative in introducing this Bill. Although it is a short technical Bill it is a very important one and I commend it to the House.

4:00 pm

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has responsibility for public sector reform. We have had a lot of huffing and puffing, hot air and windbag statements from Members of the Opposition on Dáil reform. There are four Whips on the Opposition benches and they are all drawing a substantial amount of money every year from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, yet between the four of them they cannot arrange to have one single Deputy from the Opposition in the Chamber to hear the debate on the Bill. They talk about Dáil reform, yet they do not want to be in the Dáil and they are doing a massive disservice to their own positions when they parade themselves in the media and talk about Dáil reform, criticising the Minister and everybody else-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Please stick to the Bill.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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This is part of the Bill, because it has reform emblazoned all over it. Yet when push comes to shove, they will not attend the Chamber. They are doing the Oireachtas a huge disservice with the charade that goes on here every day about so-called opposition.

While this Bill is small and relatively technical, it has an impact on people's lives and that might be lost in some of the discourse. When we talk about public servants, about trying to achieve more with less, about money and redeployment, people are always at the back of that. As a public servant myself before I came in here, we need to be very conscious and very careful in the use of language during debate on public services and the restructuring that needs to take place. It is not a case of the private sector versus the public sector when we try to heal the economic woes in the country. Everybody needs to shoulder the burden evenly and proportionately.

Embracing new technologies and an improved transport system has led to a situation where by 2015 we will have 37,500 fewer public servants than what we had when Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats were at their height, recruiting everybody and anybody into the public services. That recruitment into the public service under the last Government not only added hugely to the Exchequer costs of maintaining public services but it also ran down the value, reputation and the good work of the public service. We had agencies, talking shops and quangos for everything and anything under the sun when Bertie Ahern was running the country. We were then left with the situation where the current Government has to untangle, unravel and remove quangos from the country. If I had a criticism of the current Administration, it is that the "dequangoisation" of Ireland is not happening fast enough for many people-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I will send the Deputy the report I got yesterday.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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I look forward to that. We need to see a more aggressive "dequangoisation" of Ireland. They were left grow out of proportion at every crossroads in the country and they were given made up roles and responsibilities. Those organisations debased the real public servants, who are the people at the coalface whose sole responsibility is to deliver a public service to the customers. When we talk about public services, there is a temptation to forget that the service user is actually a customer. He or she pays for the service by way of taxation or by charge. Much effort has been made over the last few years by local authorities to measure how services are being rolled out across communities, but more can be done to communicate how the services are being rolled out and the effectiveness of them.

My own county of Limerick is a test case for much of what is contained in this Bill in terms of redeployment. The role of Shannon Development and Shannon Airport has been changed. Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council are to be merged, we will see changes within the enterprise boards, the development boards are gone and we will probably see changes in LEADER companies as well.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is a lot of quangos gone.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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Absolutely. Some of them are quangos and others are public services. There is a body of work that needs to be done to improve the morale of those organisations and to translate how that work is carried out on the ground. When we remove the quangos and layers from the country, we must ensure that we do not add cost to the customer who is a service user, be it a small business, a pensioner or whatever. We must not add costs by virtue of the fact that we are reducing the number of people in there.

I know it is not in the scope of the Bill, but our commercial semi-State have got off scot free. A perfect example over the last few years has been CIE, which has required a huge cash injection from the State. While semi-State companies like to work at arm's length from the Government during the good days and we cannot go in and ask for redeployment, salary cuts and so on, when things go wrong they turn to the Government to inject the cash. The Government should be demanding more from the leadership in those organisations. CEOs of public utilities that are running up huge losses are being paid multiples of the Minister's salary and the Taoiseach's salary, both of whom are ultimately responsible for the running of the country, and there is something seriously wrong with that. They have three or four times the salary of the Taoiseach, and a pension pot to boot, yet they know that there is an insurance policy in the guise of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, so that when the cash injection is needed, it will be provided. Much more needs to be done in that area in respect of salaries for those at the top, the structures in place and the services that are offered. These services must be offered at a competitive rate that reflects the commercial reality that many of these companies still monopolise.

There has been much work done in a short period of time by the current Government on public expenditure and on how we deliver public services. We have been very lucky that we have managed to do that with industrial peace. It is very important to acknowledge the role of people in the public services over the last few years who have accepted serious changes to their terms and conditions of employment, their salaries and their take-home pay, and all this has had an impact on their families as well. The same has happened in the private sector. We have made these changes by maintaining industrial peace. That is critical to how Ireland Inc. is portrayed abroad. How would this country be perceived internationally if we had, on top of everything else, the type of scenes that have taken place in some of the Mediterranean countries where public services might or might not function on any given day? Our public services have never let us down. They function. Our airports are always open, people always turn up to work, our children are being taught and our patients are being seen in hospitals. We need to acknowledge and, where possible, reward that. The structure in which to do that is in the framework that was set out by the Government under the Haddington Road agreement, when the Government and trade union representatives came to an agreement, albeit after an initial speed ramp. We have managed to do that and maintain public services at the level to which we have become accustomed. I would like to have that acknowledged.

The initial remarks that I made have not yet filtered into the halls of Leinster House. The record should show that not a single representative of the Opposition has come in here, but they will appear on "The Week in Politics" and will talk about reform. They should be in here, but they are not and they are notable by their absence. If they want real Dáil reform like they claim, the first place they should look for it is in the Chamber of the Dáil.

4:10 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I echo the sentiments expressed by Deputy O'Donovan. We hear much about democracy and the need for democratic systems and institutions. It behoves those of us who have been democratically elected to this or any other House to use its procedures to the best of our ability. Not doing so is a failure to do so on the part of those elected for that purpose. I have heard calls for a people's assembly, but this is the people's assembly. The Upper House is another part of it. For those who wish to debate and express their views, this is the place to do it.

Like Deputy O'Donovan, I congratulate the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on his achievements in an appalling situation. Last night, I attended a meeting called by the INTO at which it discussed the various cuts affecting the teaching profession and schools. Those present acknowledged the fact that significant difficulties were facing all Ministers, none more so than the Minister for Education and Skills, and that certain actions needed to be taken in light of the prevailing situation.

I compliment the Minister, Deputy Howlin. Along with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, he has been willing to deal with the difficult task they were handed in what seemed like impossible circumstances. There was denigration from all quarters inside and beyond this country to such an extent that lesser people would have folded. Full recognition and congratulations should be afforded the Ministers. This is not an empty compliment; it is fully intended.

Public service recruitment and appointments have taken up some of our time previously. We last had a major review in 2004, when I spoke against the proposal on the basis that it politicised the public sector. The public appointments commission had prevailed to that point. It was "reformed" - that was the allegation - in a way that politicised it. That did not work.

The Bill before us is reforming, important and useful, and we should not forget its intention, that being, to create a certain amount of mobility. In our current circumstances, it is necessary that deployment be facilitated within the public sector. I acknowledge the significant work undertaken by the public sector. I am not a public sector basher, as the Acting Chairman knows. I have believed for years that, without a good, strong public service, we would not be able to survive. It is due to the strength of the public service that important strides have been made in recent years. For example, it is necessary that the Department of Social Protection be in a position to recruit people from within the public sector to meet the workload thrust upon it as a result of high unemployment levels. Otherwise, the entire system would have come to a halt, as 400,000 unemployed people could not be dealt with by the Department had it the same number of staff as previously. This situation did not result from anything that the incoming Government did but from what unfolded before it entered into office. The situation needed to be addressed.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, has done a good job in appalling and challenging circumstances. Every effort has been made to deliver services to a public that has been under increasing pressure. Congratulations are merited.

The public sector is being caused a problem by the ever-increasing magnitude of bureaucracy. This is challenging. An application form for anything consists of reams of questions, which are computerised at a later stage. Various boxes must be ticked and someone must be paid to assess them. For example, a local authority housing application consists of approximately 25 pages. It takes six months to evaluate whether the applicant is entitled to be put on the housing list. Notwithstanding that, the person in question has an entitlement under the Housing Act 1966 to have his or her housing need predominate other considerations. This is not a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Rather, it is an example of how the bureaucracy has developed to such an extent that hordes of people must be detailed to determine outcomes.

I remember the 1980s, when two officials in my local authority handled up to 400 loans and the building of 400 houses per annum. This puts what happens today in perspective. They did their work quickly and without computers or other modern technologies. They used old typewriters, made carbon copies, etc. They were very effective and met the challenges of the time. They administered their office in a way that was community friendly.

Bureaucracy has evolved to such an extent that the process is almost impossible. It takes approximately six months to make a determination on an application for a local authority loan. It must be assessed locally, reams of correspondence must be submitted to the local authority and various boxes must be ticked, placing a burden and cost on the public sector. The application is then referred to a credit committee of the local authority, then to a credit authority at a central location. This level of bureaucracy is unnecessary. The process can be simplified. This point must be borne in mind.

Regarding public administration generally, my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, referred to the need for greater deployments of public sector employees to handle larger populations. This is usually, but not always, the case. We all remember an example from the early 1980s. Comparisons used to be made with Greater Manchester, which had a similar population to Ireland. It was deemed that a single health authority was the ideal method of health administration for a population of that size, including in this country. That was wrong. There is a significant difference between the two areas' geographical spread. Administering services in an area that is 200 miles by 150 miles or whatever the case may be differs from administering services in an area that is 20 miles by 20 miles. If I travelled 100 miles west from the part of the country where I was born in north-east Mayo by the Sligo border, I would still be in County Mayo. If I travelled more than 100 miles east, I would be here. One cannot necessarily compare the two. One must have due regard for and balance geography and demographics.

We have all dealt with situations in this House whereby public servants wish to be redeployed, but due to the archaic system that was previously applied they could not be. I have come across situations where some public sector employees have had to travel up to 150 miles a day to and from work. They could fill similar positions in their own local areas which were filled by others who were anxious to be redeployed elsewhere. I sincerely hope that under this legislation it will be possible for those kind of issues to be resolved seamlessly and without contention. That would ensure the requirements of individual public servants are borne in mind, and met, to the greatest extent possible. It should not be impossible to achieve that and it would not involve an abuse of the system. It simply recognises and acknowledges that it may be possible to provide a more efficient and effective service by creating less stress and trauma for those involved in the public sector.

That is particularly important at this juncture when people may have many competing demands, including mortgages and other increased costs. Those are the demands facing families at present. The proposed legislation will hopefully address those issues.

Arguments have been already advanced on the merits of the public service versus the private sector. As the Minister will know, there is a great opportunity for us to recognise the merits of both sectors. In the current climate, we must rely on both sectors in their respective major roles. From past experience, we know there are horses for courses. In some areas, services are better delivered by the public sector while others are not. In other areas, such as transport, competition between public and private sectors is useful and constructive. It can result in a better deal for the public. All in all, however, our public services have done us proud over the years and have worked extremely hard. Perhaps the odd branch of the public sector does not live up to expectations, but the odd private sector enterprise may not shape up either.

By and large, we have a dedicated public sector which has had to bear a fairly substantial burden following cost cutting and general cutbacks. We must also recognise that this situation is not permanent and I believe that, at the end of the day, the public sector's contribution will be recognised. In the course of this debate I hope there will be a recognition by all of the necessity to have an efficient and cost-effective public sector, which we do have. It is also important to recognise the need for change through redeployment and adapting to new circumstances. That is already being done, however. By regularly re-examining the current situation we can modernise and adapt accordingly.

I reject the notion that in the modern era we must increase the level of bureaucracy to implement controls. In the past, centralised control mechanisms have not worked worldwide. When they should have reacted they did not do so. When controls were allegedly in place that should have ensured the safety of our economic situation - not only in this country but globally - they did not work. People were charged with such responsibilities, yet they did not fulfil them. Sadly, the rest of our population, and the international community, paid the price for it.

When the system fails we should ask whether it was those involved or the system itself that failed. Modernisation and new rules are required where new challenges present themselves. We must be prepared to respond to such situations for the greater good as well as achieving greater efficiency and operating within the guidelines laid down by the troika and international financiers.

As time goes by, we must show that we have become more effective and efficient in achieving targets. We have all been charged with the responsibility of working longer hours for less. We have all accepted that as public representatives and public servants. As public representatives we represent the public and private sectors and have duties to both. Public servants also have a duty to the general public, albeit in a different context but contributing to the same thing - the effective and efficient delivery of services.

Our role and performance have a huge impact on what it costs to run the country in terms of borrowings. The issue that will be borne in mind, when these aspects are viewed from outside, is the degree to which we have managed to achieve an efficient delivery of services in line with democratic principles. If we recognise and observe those principles we will have achieved a great deal.

I hope this legislation will be effective in doing the job it was intended to do. I also hope it will continue the work that has been undertaken already by the Minister in difficult circumstances, and that it will achieve the success it deserves.

4:20 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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How does one follow Deputy Durkan? I wish to sincerely congratulate the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on his achievements during his tenure in office, particularly in the past six months. He has had the vision, courage and skill to bring about change through the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements, which was no easy achievement. As a public servant who spent many years teaching, I recognise the major changes that have taken place, not just in education but in the public service as a whole. The Minister deserves credit for what he has done, not in terms of reducing the pay and conditions of public servants, but in the way, by and large, he has brought everybody with him .

It was not easy and although members of the public service often found it unpalatable it was necessary. As stated by Deputy Durkan, none of us who work in the public service and are public representatives want to have to work longer hours and be paid for less. However, we are in difficult economic times.

We all recall the budget in which decentralisation was proposed and the promise of the pot of gold in that regard in terms of redeployment and the mobility of public servants to the four provinces of the country. What we now have is reconfiguration, flexibility and greater mobility within the public service, all of which are necessary. Despite what the naysayers of this House have to say, who, despite Deputy O'Donovan's commentary, remain conspicuous by their absence, there has been a reduction of 12% in public service numbers since 2008.

The next task for the Minister, which will be an even bigger challenge for him, the Government and all of us, is to re-energise and re-enthuse the public servants who continue to work for us and with us. These are dedicated, committed people. It is easy for some of the fourth estate in particular to write about public servants. One publication in particular makes an almost weekly attack on them. However, much good work is being done. During the hearings on the heads of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, the subsequent hearings following its publication and on Committee Stage members of the public service employed in the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the clerk to the Committee and staff of the secretariat worked morning to night, at weekends and during Christmas holidays and Bank Holiday weekends. They were contactable at 12 midnight and 7.30 a.m. and were often at work at 7.30 a.m. preparing and organising for meetings and debates, but were not seen. That is just a small example of public service delivery.

I engage regularly with nurses, doctors, health care workers and teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty in serving the patient, student or person requiring their assistance. I often receive telephone calls from staff of Cork city or county council or the HSE long after the supposed finishing time of 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Again, this is not known by many. We must now enthuse those who remain about the new journey we are on as a country. We have all had to incur hits and losses. I accept that the income levels and quality of life for many people in our public service have dropped.

I attended a public meeting of the INTO last Monday night in Cork, at which a great deal of frustration, anger and hurt was expressed. There was also huge positivity. I got into trouble for making that comment on Twitter following the meeting. Despite the frustration, what I heard that night was the commitment of professionals to those under their care, which is commendable. I hope that we can find a way of incentivising the public service. It is important we look at how can once again provide employment at different levels within the public service. It is important we provide people with opportunities to work.

I was struck today by the remarks of David Begg in the Seanad. It would be remiss of me not to commend him and Jack O'Connor on the role they played in what happened subsequent to the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. It was not easy for the trade unionists to accept there would be pain for their members in leading a new type of Ireland. Again, the naysayers will complain and give out but both of those gentlemen deserve credit, as do members of the unions for recognising we are in a difficult economic situation. It gives none us in Government any pleasure to support cuts to different budgetary elements. However, it is time to pause. Deputy O'Donovan spoke about the manner in which classes are being taught and about how people in the health care system are being cared for. I know that the Minister, Deputy Howlin and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, are looking to post-January when Ireland finally exits its bailout agreement. However, there comes a time when it is necessary to call a halt. As a member of Government who canvasses, engages and meets regularly with people in his office, I believe we have reached that point because people do not have a lot more, if anything, to give. We must be conscious of that. I do not propose to get into the budgetary arithmetic today.

During the decommissioning last Friday of the L.E. Emer I was struck by the remarks made by Commodore Mark Mellet, a fine person and commander, about the benefits of the Navy. I was not aware until Commodore Mellet mentioned it in his short speech that the Navy, as well as defending our nation, fishing grounds and island territory, is responsible for defending our communication lines in the oceans surrounding us, particularly the Atlantic Ocean. As he said, we tend to forget that the Navy is responsible for defending vast amounts of communication lines. Those of us of a certain generation who have a romantic view of Ireland did not understand the dangers and risks for our Garda Síochána and Army personnel patrolling and protecting the Border and now protecting our nation. They, too, are public servants. While for many this work is a vocation or career, others, in particular community gardaí, wish only to work with and assist people.

We must always find ways to encourage redeployment, mobility and flexibility. Like Deputy O'Donovan I am baffled by the salaries paid to some CEOs, many of which are in excess of those paid to the Minister or Taoiseach. It makes no sense. The argument in support of this is always that they are responsible for making huge profits, employing large numbers of people and running huge organisations and so on which bring in huge revenues for those organisations and the State.

Another bug-bear of mine, which I mentioned previously in this House, is the rising cost of energy. While this issue does not necessarily come within the remit of this Bill there will come a point when we will have to address the issue of energy. I am not sure if the Minister heard the marks made yesterday in England by Ed Miliband in regard to the freezing of gas and electricity prices.

4:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I did.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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While it may not be possible for us to do so we must find ways, in conjunction with the regulator, of making energy less expensive. Many people are afraid to put on their heating and small and medium enterprises, restaurants, bars and so on are finding the cost of energy prohibitive. This must be addressed.

I am acutely conscious of the enormous change brought about by the HSE and Department of Health in terms of reconfiguration and the resultant loss in personnel.

We have new ways of doing business in the health system which, although contentious in some areas, will benefit patients and others who need access to health care services.

The Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance must tell the troika that the health service is demand led. I hope the officials in charge of the Health Service Executive will treat health as more than a budgetary exercise. If I may reminisce with Deputy Calleary, Charlie Haughey once described the budget as a cold, calculated computer printout. Health is not about pounds and pence but people in need of care and assistance and for this reason, the State must provide a health care system. This message must not be lost. To their credit, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and the Ministers of State at his Department, Deputies Alex White and Kathleen Lynch, are very conscious of the position in this regard.

We must strike the right balance and continue, in the current reconfiguration programme, to make health about patients, rather than allowing the troika to decide that too many people have medical cards and so forth. More than 2 million people, or 44% of the population, require a medical card. Compassion must be shown in considering who needs a medical card. By the same token, the medical card system was abused in the past when political patronage and clientelism were rife. The old adage that if one gives, one cannot take away is becoming increasingly relevant as people who should not have been given a medical card in the first instance find their applications to have their medical card renewed refused. Medical cards should be renewed only where applicants require them.

Reform and change are never easy. Those who view the public service from outside the prism of the public sector should consider the changes that are being implemented and the way in which public servants have bought into change and accepted the task of delivering services in a new way. The area in which I am predominately involved is the health sector. Those in the health sector who do not work in the public eye and are constantly pilloried deserve credit because they perform a service and ensure the system functions. Those on the front line of the health service also deserve our thanks and consideration. We must incentivise young physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, non-consultant hospital doctors and other young graduates to enter the health system. I welcome the decision by the Irish Medical Organisation to postpone industrial action and the commencement of negotiations between the IMO and HSE. The Joint Committee on Health and Children, which I chair, has held many meetings on the issue of non-consultant hospital doctors. We need to find a solution, not for political reasons or to appease vested interests but for future generations of young doctors and the people who will need their care. For too long, we have allowed our young medical graduates to travel the world because the Irish health system does not offer a clear career pathway or progression. Remedying this problem will require a new model of thinking and a new way of doing business. I hope such a model will emerge from the current talks.

The Minister and Deputy Patrick O'Donovan referred to the "quangoisation" of the public service. I look forward to the publication of the forthcoming report on this issue. I concur with the Minister that we have too many quangos and support the Government's decision to eliminate many of them. Government must be streamlined and made more efficient, flexible and people centred. It behoves all of us, whether commentators, politicians and public or private sector workers, to avoid driving a wedge between the private and public sectors because we need both of them and all of us will benefit from a more efficient and streamlined public service.

One cannot compare apples and oranges. I hope those who comment on and write about the public service will reflect on the work that is done by public servants. If we did not have public servants, our schools and hospitals would not open, our streets would not be patrolled and our borders would not be marshalled by our Naval Service and Defence Forces. The public realm, in other words, would descend into chaos. While there is no doubt the ship of State is in choppy waters, the position would be worse were it not for our public servants. I return to the example of the Houses of the Oireachtas where we have fine, decent public servants who work hard and do unsociable hours to serve citizens. While I accept they are paid for their work, I also regret that this message is lost in most of the commentary on the public service. All of the public servants I have met in my career as a public representative and teacher care about what they do. They are concerned about the patient for whom they care or the child they educate and they want this country to become a better place. Public servants have made major sacrifices for the mistakes of the past.

Redeployment places certain people under pressure. While I accept that people have been forced to emigrate and others must commute to London, Paris, Manchester and Scotland to find work, it should also be possible to redeploy public servants from Castlebar to Cork or Dublin to Leitrim to enable them to be with their families. I hope the Bill will achieve this.

I also hope it will also be possible to go after the high pensions and remuneration of former officeholders. I accept the Government has pursued these individuals to a degree. It drives people berserk to see some of those who caused our economic decline and the deterioration in living conditions sail off into the sunset with golden handshakes and massive pensions. Some may argue that I am engaging in political populism but this issue is raised with me daily by people I meet on the street and in my office. I would be failing in my duty, therefore, if I did not raise the issue.

I compliment the Minister, his officials and Mr. Kieran Mulvey, who I have neglected to mention thus far, on the work they have done on the Haddington Road agreement. I hope we will be rid of the troika by the end of the year. I ask the Minister to consider the points I have raised, especially regarding the demand-led nature of the health system and the requirement that the State assist, protect and look after its citizens.

The public service is operating with fewer resources and staff. We are truly fortunate to have the staff we have in the public service because they do tremendous work. I do not say this to curry favour but because I work in the public service and see every day the work that is being done by our public servants.

This is important legislation. I believe the Minister will come to be recognised as a reforming Minister who helped to steady the ship of state and improve the quality of life of our citizens. That view may not be widespread now because so many people - some more than others - are feeling pain. In time, however, future generations will look back on this Government and accept that it put the people and country before vested interests.

4:40 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I thank all Deputies for a wide ranging debate on a narrow Bill which none the less goes to the heart of the reform agenda in the public service. I thank, in particular, Deputy Calleary for returning to the House. Many Deputies leave the Chamber once they have made their contribution, which is understandable because we are all busy. In many ways, Deputy Calleary started the process which led to the establishment of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. He was a pathfinder who tried to make substantial changes, even though he did not have levers to pull. I acknowledge his recognition of the complexity of the public service. It is an extraordinarily complicated machine which operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days of the year servicing every conceivable need of the public.

I often attend fora where I listen to private sector commentators talk as if I were running a business. At the World Economic Forum a very prominent international businesswoman told me that during the downturn her organisation got rid of thousands of workers and it is now in a position to re-employ them. It is not possible to shut down the public service. We need our hospitals, schools, the Garda and the panoply of services upon which the quality of people's lives depend. In times of recession the pressure on the public service is even greater. The challenges of recent years - not just the two and a half years of this Government but also the dying days of the previous Government - have been a collapsing income stream where the tax income fell by 30% and a growing demand where the demographic is, thankfully, very good with 80,000 more pupils and 65,500 more pensioners, 500,000 more medical cards, all putting pressure on a system that has had fewer resources and people.

The simple task that fell to me was to steer the ship on as clear a path as I can. I acknowledge and welcome the extraordinary support from the vast majority of public servants who are stakeholders in this enterprise because they are stakeholders in the success of our country. They do not want to endure a diminution in their living standards, to work more or to be under that sort of pressure. However, by and large they have accepted that there is a path to recovery that must be trodden and the alternative, despite some of the grandiose grandstanding speeches of some, is an unsustainable path.

Some Deputies mentioned the OECD report which gave an important snapshot of where we were. In terms of mobility, we need an integrated public service, which we have been building. We are building all the disparate parts, which had different terms of conditions, different hours of work, different holiday arrangements and different sick leave arrangements, into an integrated system. We started having a senior Civil Service allowing mobility across the public service in order that people are not confined to silos. In the past, people often entered a Department or agency and stayed there for life. We need to expose people to different work patterns and have different influences from the private sector and public sector complementing each other. More than 10,000 people have moved already. For example, surplus staff from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine have moved to the Garda central vetting unit and there are hundreds of other examples.

I will respond to some of the specific questions. There is an appeals process as set out in the Haddington Road agreement. Although training is outside the scope of the Bill, it is very much part of my agenda. There is no point in asking people to do a task if they are not prepared for it. If Deputy Calleary has not had a chance to visit PeoplePoint in Clonskeagh, the first shared service, I invite him to do so and I would be happy to accompany him. We brought all the human resource management from across the public service into one system and we are training the staff as we go. Some of the staff there have told me that it was the first time they went into a job fully conversant with the job. They knew what they were about. It is a good example and we will have more shared services as we roll out the programme.

Deputy McDonald welcomed the Bill and indicated her support for it. She spoke about last year's incentivised redundancy scheme. There was no incentivised redundancy scheme in the Civil Service. There was a date by which the reduced pay rates impacted on people's pensions and people made a rational decision to go before their pension was impacted by the reduced pay rate. We had no control over that; it was not an incentivised redundancy package. We had no control over who left; people made rational decisions on the basis of their own economic circumstances. I have said that repeatedly but it does not seem to sink in.

The Deputy talked about services and specialised staff. Obviously there are specialised staff and we need more of them in the public service. We need generalists too. However, we are now recruiting again, particularly in the economic sphere. As Deputies will know, we established the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service in my Department last year and we are now farming out across the public service trained economists with an analytical ability. Deputy McDonald also mentioned staff in organisations that will change, for example the national lottery. Obviously, all of that is subject to the law and will involve detailed negotiations with their representatives.

Deputy Catherine Murphy claimed that this was a limited Bill. She said many positive things with which I agree. I listened to her comments very carefully because by and large she speaks considerable sense. I say that in her absence and I hope it filters back to her. However, I do not believe she understands the reform agenda, which is fairly monumental. We published it in 2011 with timelines for its implementation. We have a reform and delivery office to which we have now recruited many more elements, including a new chief information officer for the public service to have a new linked-up delivery system using technology as best we can. We have recruited people with expertise from outside the service on short-term, five year contracts to do specific jobs of work in shared services, change management and all of these things. It might be useful to make a presentation at a committee detailing all that is happening so that everybody is up to speed on it.

The Deputy spoke about a traditional view of the public service that we need a particular number of staff to deliver a service. There is obviously an irreducible number, but the notion of having a yardstick that better services will be delivered with 500 staff than with 400 staff is inappropriate. She outlined a local government comparison on that basis. Clearly, certain population changes impacted very quickly on some parts of the country. In my county of Wexford, in the six years between censuses the population increased by 12% and a further 12% in the following six years, which is an extraordinary bulge. The traditional infrastructures of county hall and everything else did not mushroom to meet that. However, I strongly agree with her on the use of technology, which is why we are considering an integrated public service system with everybody linked to the same systems and having more services delivered online. More than 300 services are currently delivered online.

Deputy Boyd Barrett bristled. He is one of the most conservative people in this House and is completely resistant to change. He thinks he is progressive and advocates radicalism, but is extraordinarily resistant to any change. His idea of the public sector is more of everything - more spending and more staff - but without measuring outcomes. I have brought about budgetary changes whereby we not only measure inputs but also measure outputs and what we are getting for what we are putting in. The Deputy's notion is that we have a particular number of people which is grand. He suggests that by definition it is good to have more people as opposed to asking what services we are getting for that.

The Deputy talked about employment and investment. Some people do not want things to improve so he refuses to acknowledge the improvement in employment and the improvement in investment, particularly in the past year. The normal thing for Deputy Boyd Barrett is to prepare a speech without listening to any of the facts.

Deputy Finian McGrath spoke about the value of public service, which I strongly endorse. The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our public service. It is hugely important to the quality of our lives to know we have clean streets, safe streets, proper education systems and the security of knowing that when we are ill, we can have access to decent health care. In particular he talked about the disadvantaged in education.

It is an interesting fact that we spend €1.3 billion now on disability in education annually, almost as much as we spend on the university sector, which, I understand, is €1.5 billion. It is certainly not an area that we have sought to minimise in any way. The integration of education is one of the success stories of which we are proud.

In his commentary, Deputy McGrath referred to people wishing to put the boot in to the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI. I am most appreciative of the decision of the overwhelming majority of public servants to accept the Haddington Road agreement because they had never before been asked to make such a profound decision or such profound changes in their work practices and to do more for less. It is the most transformative productivity deal ever negotiated in the public service. In normal deals one is voting for some additionality as opposed to voting for less. The fact that every union, bar the ASTI, has voted for it is a remarkable compliment to the understanding of the public servants of the need for their contribution to the path to recovery. I call on the ASTI to reflect again on this because we cannot unravel the deal that is done, accepted and that has been in place since last July. I hope we do not have to go through a disruption of education, which is so important because our children only get one go at it. Normally people get one go at education and I call on people to reflect on that. I do so not in a hectoring or bullying way but genuinely. We cannot undo the Haddington Road agreement; it is in place. We need the money desperately and we need the changes in work practices. I call on everyone to accept it and then let us move on to the next phase of our recovery.

Deputy Kyne referred to the structure of the Civil Service. I mentioned the senior Civil Service. He made an important point about performance management. This is an area that we are working on and we will be bringing proposals in this regard into the public domain shortly.

I thank Deputy Feighan for his kind comments about me and about the Government and for his welcome for the Bill. He made a strong personal appeal to the House in respect of bullying in politics. I know what he endured. I know that people have been broken by some of the commentary and vitriol poured upon public servants and politicians in the teeth of the crisis we are going through. It is very difficult, particularly for families. I am unsure what we can do about that but if it was any other sphere of life, bullying in the workplace would be absolutely resisted. However, bullying in the political sphere seems to be something that is almost lauded. Certainly, it is very damaging to people and I note what he said in particular.

Deputy Clare Daly recognised the contribution of civil servants and that is important. However, she referred to the notion that bin men are now privatised and that there are no savings in the public service because if we get rid of bin men then we privatise the service. There is a glaring irony in the fact that it was her party campaigning against bin charges which ensured that the local authority could not run the public service. The authority determined that it could not run a public service following her anti-bin charges campaign and therefore it was privatised. People seem to be able to pay for a private service but somehow if it was to be provided by the public sphere, it was not to be paid for.

Deputy Halligan talked about the Haddington Road agreement. The Haddington Road terms apply to this legislation and it will be voluntary. He made an interesting point and it was picked up by other Deputies subsequently. This related to the staff required in the Department of Social Protection. People may be surprised to know how many staff work in the Department. Some 6,500 staff now work in the Department of Social Protection, an extraordinarily high number given that some Departments have only a few hundred staff. That is an indication of the volume of work and the fact that the Department is spending €20.2 billion this year. It is critical to the maintenance of basic standards of living throughout the economy.

Deputy Dara Murphy referred to the exclusion of the commercial semi-state bodies. The semi-state companies are commercial by nature. One does not look for mobility between companies in the same way as one would with organisations in the public sphere. Deputy Murphy mentioned Irish Water in particular. There will be a public service agreement negotiated between the local authority staff who will be contracted to Irish Water when it becomes a legal entity from 1 January next.

Deputy Barry referred to upskilling the public service and made a strong plea for SME development, which I endorse.

Deputy Heather Humphreys referred to sick leave. I have indicated that I will be introducing an amendment on Report Stage to incorporate the agreement on sick leave arrangements that have been negotiated with the unions and endorsed by the Labour Court.

Deputy Áine Collins referred to the recruitment ban. We are suppressing recruitment but there have been significant exceptions. The numbers supplied by one Deputy surprised many. We are recruiting 900 teachers this year and we are recruiting nurses and in areas where there are real requirements.

Deputy O'Donovan referred to growth of public services in the boom time. It is true that there was almost a time when it was seen that the Government could inflate numbers in the public service as an employment measure without proper analysis, but we have left all of that behind. Deputy O'Donovan and Deputy Buttimer subsequently raised the matter of quangos. I am very jaundiced when talking about quangos. I have gone through the list of quangos forensically. The biggest so-called quangos are the most important agencies in the State, including IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Roads Authority, the Road Safety Authority and various other important agencies. These are the big employers. There is a long list and I went through them all. I can show the House that we are abolishing 43 of them, but what is the great saving from these? It is not enormous, in truth. I indicated that €20 million would be saved.

5:00 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister should tell that to the people behind him.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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We must be realistic about it. Let us forensically examine them to ensure there is no organisation that is not fit for purpose. That forensic examination is being brought to ourselves and that is why we have a referendum on the future of the Seanad. The question should not be whether we can think of a purpose for a body. The question should be whether there is a compelling reason for a body to exist and to do work that cannot be done by anyone else. I am straying from the direct issues.

Deputy Durkan referred to the pressure on the Government in the economic crisis. He said some kind things and I thank him for those. He also referred to the great increase in pressure on the Department of Social Protection and the fact that staff have been deployed to deal with that.

I thank Deputy Buttimer for his kind personal comments. He said something important about morale in the public service. This is something we need to pay attention to at all levels. We can only keep pushing people so far. We need an understanding that this is a process we are all in together. It goes to the point in respect of the perception that some people are excluded from it. We need to ensure no one is excluded from carrying their fair share of the burden. That has proven difficult in some instances and it is easier to make a speech about it than actually achieve it. His comments about ensuring we address the issue of morale and where we are going in the public service are valid. We need a clear vision of a quality public service of which people will be proud. This applies not only to public servants themselves but to the people who depend on the public services. They too should be uniformly proud of the service and we cannot have the throwaway silly remarks that are anti-public service in nature and that are issued without fear of contradiction. I believe that is fundamentally wrong.

Deputy Buttimer made some other points in respect of health funding. I am conscious of health funding and I am a former Minister for Health.

However, one must apply a clear notion of value for money to everything, including health expenditure, as well as every other level of expenditure. While health has become extraordinarily more complicated since my time in the Department of Health, the number of staff has increased from 60,000 to 100,000, if one adds together all the different elements. Although a huge range of new services, particularly for children, was put in place, because it is such a big chunk - one third of all public servants are in the health sphere - one must ensure we are getting value for money, that morale is good and there is a good-quality outcome. The majority of public servants do just that.

I have expressed my hope that the Haddington Road agreement was the last ask of public servants. However, we must now look to the future, to beyond the troika and beyond being dependent on the kindness of strangers for funding. We must look to what kind of public service we want, that is, one that is responsive to the needs of a modern 21st century Ireland, that is demonstrably efficient, that can deliver services that people need, that is adaptive to change - because the pace of change has never been quicker - and that is modern in its use of technologies. I believe that such a public service is absolutely achievable and that within my Department and across all Departments and agencies of the State, the capacity exists to put that in place in the coming years. This Bill is a small step in putting in place the jigsaw to ensure this objective is achieved.

Question put and agreed to.