Friday 9 December 2016

Empowering civil servants to be ethical is the best way to protect the public good

Eddie Molloy

Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30

Patrick Honohan, in the public interest, revealed on radio that a bailout was on the way, even though this caused political difficulty for Taoiseach Brian Cowen
Patrick Honohan, in the public interest, revealed on radio that a bailout was on the way, even though this caused political difficulty for Taoiseach Brian Cowen

In January 2014, a consultation paper on civil service accountability, issued by officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform(DPER), posed a truly fundamental question for their fellow civil servants: "How far should public servants rely on their professionalism and sense of personal morality and how far should they simply follow instructions from their political masters?"

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How this question was answered in the past played a crucial role in the failures of our system of governance and consequent disastrous collapse of the public finances and implosion of the banks, not to mention repeated failures in oversight of An Garda Síochána, widespread breaches of planning and building regulations, which gave us the likes of Priory Hall, and other seemingly intractable problems.

Following six months of public consultation, led by an independent expert panel, the panel's recommendations to government were silent on this core question.

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