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TD alleges ministers and public servants in pact

By: 
Martin Wall - Irish Times

A “FAUSTIAN” pact developed between ministers and senior public servants, chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness has said.

Speaking yesterday at an Institute of Public Administration conference, he said that the unwritten contract between politicians and public servants was: “We will look after you if you don’t bother us”.

Mr McGuinness, the Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, said he rejected the notion that senior public servants would not stand up to ministers because their careers could suffer.

“As someone whose career prospects did suffer, and who is on the Public Accounts Committee and who has interacted with the public service for 35 years, I can say that this is nonsense.”

In fact, many ministers did not stand up to the public service. They allowed themselves to become the glove puppets of senior civil servants, taking best advice, reading from scripts prepared by their officials and generally acting like press officers for their departments, he said.

Mr McGuinness said that, in the last 20 years, Fianna Fáil, politicians generally, senior public servants and leaders of public service unions began to dance together to the sound of EU money tinkling into the national till.

He said that the patriotism that had motivated former taoiseach Seán Lemass and public servants like TK Whitaker in earlier years had been “buried or blunted by 30 pieces of EU silver, beginning the decline that has taken us to where we are now”.

Mr McGuinness said that no senior public servant had feared losing his or her job or having their career prospects damaged as far as he could remember.

“Actually protected by status, knowledge and powerful unions, they had no difficulty keeping under control those few ministers who wanted to make a difference, as distinct from those who wanted to make a career.”

The fact that the healthy tension that once existed between officials and their political masters had been lost to the detriment of both sides, he said.

“The result was that the power of senior public servants expanded and their respect for ministers, and politicians generally, diminished. Balance was lost and arrogance and lack of accountability crept into the system.”

Mr McGuinness criticised some senior civil servants who appeared before the Public Accounts Committee for barely disguising their contempt for the process and the politicians engaged in it – “talking down the clock, confident in the knowledge that, incredibly, one of the most important committees of the Dáil has no power to enforce demands for written replies from any official or department or penalise those who do not comply”.

The secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt said there should be a culture that rewards people for taking risks.

Posted Date: 
17 October 2011