Saturday 23 September 2017

State is paralysed untilelection

'YES, Minister' has become a phrase barely heard inside government departments for months, according to insiders and those who, day to day, deal with the State's different arms.

In recent weeks and months, as the country's political stagnation slowly seeped into every aspect of the State's affairs, key decision-making has collapsed.

Insiders say projects are on hold in all departments, others are delayed and ministerial approval has not been forthcoming for a string of initiatives.

Now there is no full-time minister in charge of six major departments and only caretakers responsible.

That means the country is effectively on autopilot until the election on March 11.

Ireland is paralysed. According to one senior civil servant, civil servants have gone into a state of lockdown.

"In our department alone, there are 43 separate reports commissioned by the last three ministers," he said.

"Every one of them is on the shelf, gathering dust. Every single decision over the last two months has been fudged, moved, delayed, stalled, stopped. It was definitely a case of 'No minister' as in, no we cannot do that. Now it really is a case of 'no minister', as in there is literally no minister in charge."

The most strategic government departments are now effectively rudderless.

According to one senior individual yesterday, the paralysis has serious consequences for the running of the country.

Apart from needing new ministers, the whole structure of government needs to change -- including the top tier of civil servants.

"There is no planning going on, there is no development of policy or initiatives, there is no looking forward," he said.

"There is very little happening at senior level. There is no plan. The current system of government we have doesn't work anymore and it hasn't for quite a while.

'People in top civil servant positions were promoted for having particular characteristics -- to ensure departments and ministers were not caught out.

"People who have ideas are not promoted or encouraged, there is a whole cohort of people like that."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen's plan was to replace seasoned operators such as Micheal Martin in Foreign Affairs and Dermot Ahern in Justice with junior colleagues.

After that suggestion was blocked by the Green Party, the Taoiseach was forced into a humiliating climbdown.

But inside the machinery of government, there is little surprise at what is happening. The paralysis set in long ago.

"I'm not completely incompetent," snapped Tanaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan last year.

Those working in the Department of Health will certainly hope so after she was put in temporary charge yesterday, hours after Mary Harney's departure.

In Justice, after Dermot Ahern's resignation as minister, the department is now being watched by Brendan Smith -- the Agriculture Minister -- who is now in notional charge of the gardai and prison system. Insiders say he is expected to make no decisions of any consequence before March 11.

In Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin's resignation also means that department effectively goes into a deep freeze until the election, said an insider.

"Brian Cowen is now in charge. Apparently that means he will sign the odd document in an emergency or agree a passport.

"That's about it. That's the level we are at," said a departmental source yesterday.

Irish Independent

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