Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Appointments to State Boards

9:35 am

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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2. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans and timetable for appointments to State boards. [38319/14]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Whatever about the etymological analysis of various words, my question also relates to State boards. I ask the Minister to set out his plans and the timetable for reform. He has mentioned November and an 18-month review. I ask him also to explain why it took him so long to bring forward this initiative when his party's election manifesto for 2011 contained a specific and strongly-worded commitment in respect of State boards.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I thank the Deputy for her questions. This is a new and groundbreaking departure which has not happened in the history of the State before. We now have a very open, accessible way for any citizen in the State to apply to be a member of a State board and for an independent evaluation of that person's suitability to be a member of a State board on the basis of the set published criteria. That is a very important new development. We have been working on the system for some time in the Department and many people commented on the convenient fact that we had a fleshed-out, ready proposal to meet the requirements and bring to Government as expeditiously as we did. The Deputy asked about the timeline for its development. It will be little bit of time before the website is fully populated with every single State board and each Minister determines the specific criteria for each board.

I hope that we can have that up and running from 1 November, as the Government has promised. Having handled legislation with the Deputy opposite for a number of years, I know she is anxious for a review of such processes. It is suggested, therefore, that in about 18 months we will look to see if this is working as effectively as we would like or whether it requires any further change.

9:45 am

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister and, as he says, I support review mechanisms for innovations. It is good practice. As regards the timing of this matter, it strikes me that the Government, including the Minister, only moved when they were caught out in respect of the McNulty affair. That is certainly my analysis of the Minister's position. It is tremendously disappointing. In 2011, Labour said it would end political cronyism and start work immediately on overhauling the appointments system to State boards. It was great stuff and I supported it absolutely because it was the right position. We are now the best part of four years into this Government's term, yet the Minister has been forced into a position whereby he has to introduce these changes.

As the Minister with responsibility for the integrity of public appointments, did he endorse the McNulty appointment to the board of IMMA? Does he endorse the 11th hour appointments made by his colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, as he exited Cabinet? He appointed a Labour Party by-election candidate, Denis Leonard, and former Fine Gael Deputy, John Farrelly, to Bord na Móna. Is the Minister aware that his colleague and former party leader had, on an earlier occasion while he was in government, appointed his former constituency organiser, Noel Ward, to Ordnance Survey Ireland? Was the Minister aware of those appointments and does he approve of them?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Board members are appointed under law, in the way that we have determined, by the relevant Ministers. We have now put in a fundamentally new, transparent, open, innovative and ground-breaking system. I wonder whether the Deputy will now ensure that her party applies the same sort of criteria to Sinn Féin's nominees to the North-South bodies - I will not list the names because that would be tedious - and to appointments in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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That is different.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I will go back to my other point concerning some of the eminent people named in this House by the Deputies opposite. Association with politics or standing for public office is not a debarment to service. It is demeaning public life and democracy for anybody who has the courage to put their name on a ballot paper or who works in the political sphere to be designated as a crony. It might get short-term gain for the Deputies opposite but ultimately it does great damage to the democratic process. We are all, in parties and as Independents, seeking to get people involved in the political system. If we determine in this House that association with any of our political parties or with the political system would debar a person from being selected - even if one is eminently suitable, as many of the people listed by the Deputies opposite are - it will do our democracy a great disservice.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I do not query the eminence of any of the individuals I have named. I am querying the big dilemma for us as a society, which is the continued use and abuse of political patronage by the Government, by the Minister's party and by Fine Gael, his partners in government. That is the issue; it is not about individuals. It is about the fact that the Minister still believes, à la Fianna Fáil, that he is in charge and that he can use these State appointments either as consolation prizes for people or a mechanism - as in the case of Mr. McNulty, who I am sure is a very good man - to give someone a leg-up in terms of his electoral ambitions.

Incidentally, the North-South body appointments are cleared by the North-South Ministerial Council. The Minister's current party leader, the Tánaiste and Minster for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, was at the meeting that cleared those appointments. That is how it works. The North also has a public appointments system.

Did the Minister approve of Mr. McNulty's appointment and does he approve of Deputy Pat Rabbitte's carry on?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The North-South body simply validates nominations from the political system.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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They are explicitly political appointments.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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All those on the Sinn Féin list of appointments - all of whom I am sure are excellently suitable people, many of whom served in office for Sinn Féin or worked for that party - are simply validated by the process, as the Deputy knows.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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They are political.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The issue now is that we have changed that system. For the first time in our history, we have put in a new transparent system to get away from the Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil nominations that have scattered the landscape for years. We have a new system at the heart of which we have set out objective suitability criteria. Individuals apply and are individually vetted and assessed by the Public Appointments Service. They are then submitted if they are appropriate. Only an appropriate person can be submitted to a Minister for appointment and that is the way it should be. I know that it will be transformative from now on.