Wednesday 28 June 2017

Once 'the most powerful civil servant in the country' - former government secretary is ordained a deacon

Dermot McCarthy, former Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach
Dermot McCarthy, former Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach

Catherine Devine and Liam Collins

Former government secretary Dermot McCarthy has been ordained a permanent deacon by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Martin was one of eight men ordained to the deaconate at a ceremony at Dublin's Pro Cathedral this morning, according to RTÉ.

Most of the eight men are married or widowed and were accompanied at the ceremony by family members.

There are now 30 permanent deacons in the Dublin diocese.

Deacons can celebrate baptism and marriage and preside at funerals.

They also visit the sick, prisoners and the bereaved and promote awareness of the church.

In the Catholic Church, deacons must be male and their ministry is voluntary and part-time.

Dermot McCarthy was once dubbed "the most powerful civil servant in the country".

He presided over social partnership, benchmarking and the Croke Park agreement during his 11 years in Merrion Street.

He received a retirement package of a €570,000 'golden goodbye' and a pension of €142,000 a year.

Known semi-affectionately by Brian Lenihan as 'The Cardinal', McCarthy was a career civil servant who served under Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen and was at the epicentre of the last three Fianna Fail administrations.

He replaced Frank Murray as Secretary General to the Government in January 2000, and consolidated his power in July 2001 when, with the retirement of the Secretary to the Department of the Taoiseach Dermot Gallagher (DAG, to his colleagues), the two positions were combined into one big job.

Born in Dublin, Dermot McCarthy attended school in the Christian Brothers Synge Street, and at the age of 16 won an essay competition on the benefits of the EU, which he later said influenced him to join the civil service. He then went to Trinity College, from where he graduated with a BA and a Masters in Literature.

He worked in the Department of Industry and Commerce, and later as a principal officer in the General Medical Service section of the Department of Health before moving to the Personnel Unit under the influential 'Sir Humphrey', John Hurley.

McCarthy was then promoted to the Department of the Taoiseach in 1993, where he became an Assistant Secretary, with responsibility for the Economic and Social Policy Division -- which under Bertie Ahern would manage the government's pet project, social partnership.

European Affairs was later added to the portfolio, even though he had a well-known aversion to flying. In later years, he would often drive to London and take a train to Paris or Rome or Brussels to attend meetings with the Taoiseach of the day.

In a rare enough public appearance in 2003, McCarthy set out his vision of the "virtuous" economic cycle in Ireland.

"Buoyant tax revenue allowed tax reductions, that supported continued wage moderation and further increased competitiveness, which increased inward investment, yielding income that increased domestic demand, giving rise to non-traded business activity and further employment," he told an OECD Forum on 'Governing Growth and Development: The Irish Experience'.

It was a succinct assessment of the so-called 'Celtic Tiger'.

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