Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Appointments to State Boards

9:35 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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1. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way he will ensure greater transparency and independence in the appointment of persons to State boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38317/14]

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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First, I apologise on behalf of the House for the late start here today. The Government Deputies chose not to turn up to create a quorum. It shows their commitment to the Dáil reform of scheduling questions for 9.30 a.m. I apologise to the people watching this on television. It should not be the case.

Will the Minister ensure greater transparency and independence in the appointment of persons to State boards and make a detailed statement on the matter?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Government recently announced a revised model for ministerial appointments. In future, all appointments to State boards must be advertised openly on the State boards portal at , which is operated by the Public Appointments Service. The new arrangements will apply to all appointments other than those where vacancies must be filled through a particular process under law or where a Minister is reappointing a board member who has already demonstrated the capacity to perform effectively. Applications will be processed by way of a transparent assessment system designed and implemented on an independent basis by the Public Appointments Service. Appointments must meet the specific and detailed criteria determined by the relevant Minister as necessary for effectively performing the duties of a member of the particular board. Appointments will remain the exclusive responsibility of the relevant Minister in line with the statutory requirements relating to the appointment of specific persons to State boards on an ex-officiobasis or on the basis of nominations received from other Ministers or particular stakeholders as set out.

The revised approach strengthens requirements on Ministers to develop comprehensive criteria for the filling of vacancies on State boards in consultation with key stakeholders as determined by the relevant Minister. Such stakeholders include the current chair of a relevant State board concerned and the Public Appointments Service itself. Ministers will be expected to provide the Public Appointments Service with the key requirements that a candidate must meet, including specialist skills and technical knowledge; relevant experience and sectoral expertise; educational and other qualifications, and particular personal attributes. My officials are currently preparing overarching guidelines on appointments for approval by Government, including issues related to diversity. As part of this process, all Departments have been contacted seeking comprehensive details on all State boards under their aegis.

The new arrangements will also provide that as well as being the sole portal for the receipt of applications for all State boards, www.stateboards.iewill also contain definitive and current information on all statutory boards. This material will be published on www.stateboards.iein the near future. A review of the new arrangements will be carried out and completed within 18 months.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for the information he has provided. He states in his reply that he is introducing a new model, but we were told this would be up and running by 1 November. I do not understand what he means when he refers to "18 months".

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I refer to the review in 18 months' time to show it is working.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have asked the Taoiseach here whether the new arrangements would require legislation. It appears from the Minister's reply that he is now talking about guidelines. Guidelines are voluntary and Ministers can take or ignore them. While the Public Appointments Service will have a role under the new arrangements, it will be up to the relevant Minister to decide and the relevant Minister will still have the power to appoint people who do not even go through the service. It is important to know who will enforce the new procedure. Will the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have a direct oversight role in regard to how Ministers behave in relation to the new regime?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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This is a fundamental shift. There will be one access point for the general public and anyone interested in serving on a State board. It will take some time to fully populate the website but I intend every State board to set out the requirements for membership of such board as determined by the relevant Minister.

To address the Deputy's questions, I note that the final determination will, of course, be made by an elected Minister under the law. Who else would be accountable to the House by way of parliamentary questions and so on and answerable for the decisions that are made? That is the way it should be. There will be one access point, however, and Ministers will not be able to appoint people who have not come through the Public Appointments Service system unless they are reappointing members who have shown they have the ability to serve properly or where the law providing for the membership of a particular State board refers to another nominating body. For example, some boards are populated by direct nominees of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, IBEC or other designated bodies under statute.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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In essence, the Minister is saying that if he or any other Minister wants to appoint one of his or her cronies, he or she will have to insist that the person makes an application through the Public Appointments Service portal first. The Minister will say to the person, "Send in the paperwork and I will sort you out after". The reason I say that to the Minister, Deputy Howlin, specifically is that I hope the following names ring a bell in terms of his own party - Paschal Fitzgerald, Henry Upton, Ciaran Byrne, Michael Frain Denis Leonard, Dermot Lacey, Joseph Walsh, Gerard Barron and Tracey Magee, all of whom are former Labour Party councillors, candidates or special advisors.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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P.J. Mara, Celia Larkin.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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In particular, I see this morning that the Government has reappointed to the board of the Central Bank Des Geraghty, who was there during critical-----

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should not name persons outside the House.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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If they are on State boards, that is public information. Public boards are not beyond the remit of discussion in the House. That is the essence of what we are here for and these people are publicly appointed by the Government. It should not be a secret. Recently, the Government reappointed Des Geraghty to the board of the Central Bank. What expertise has he brought to bear in view of his previous experience on the board and is it right that we are going back down that same old route?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I am a bit taken aback by the Deputy's attitude. He is therefore of the view that anybody involved in a political party is a crony and that if one offers oneself for election in the public space at either local or national level, one is somehow debarred. I regard it as an asset not a liability. It is a fundamental blow against democracy for the Deputy opposite to play the populist game and pretend that people who involve themselves in the democratic life of the State are somehow debarred. I refer the Deputy to the etymology of the word democracy, which comes from the demos- the people. In Athens, the people who were not involved in the political system were called "idiotes", from which we get the word "idiot".