Monday 22 May 2017

Public servants must have freedom to bark and bite in interest of citizens

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin at Government Buildings in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin at Government Buildings in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Eddie Molloy

In April 2008, just as the banks were collapsing and the public finances imploding with "catastrophic consequences for many thousands of our citizens" as the Taoiseach has expressed it, the opening lines of the OECD's Review of the Irish Public Service were singing the praises of our public service for the "central role it has played in Ireland's economic success, one that many OECD countries would like to emulate".

A spate of subsequent enquiries revealed that whatever about their contribution to the successes of the Celtic Tiger, senior public servants had also played a central role in this national disaster. They were found to be technically incompetent, and worse, lacking in moral courage and capacity for independent thinking - routinely violating espoused values of our public service like transparency and accountability. In a word, failures of competence and probity.

As the last man standing at critical moments when the public interest was at stake, they chose to "go along to get along", as political commentator Gerard Howlin puts it.

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