Sunday 25 September 2016

Valuable lessons to be learned from Susi

Published 16/04/2015 | 02:30

It was all a severe embarrassment at the time to Minister Ruairí Quinn, who was forced to apologise for the mess and to promise a better service the following year
It was all a severe embarrassment at the time to Minister Ruairí Quinn, who was forced to apologise for the mess and to promise a better service the following year

It was initially hailed as a fine example of public service reform, but in its first year of operation Susi was a disaster. And it's now clear that it was a disaster waiting to happen because of inadequate planning.

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Application documents were lost and grant payments were delayed, causing great hardship to many. A total of 850 students were actually given grants they were not entitled to and many others received overpayments. It was all a severe embarrassment at the time to Minister Ruairí Quinn, who was forced to apologise for the mess and to promise a better service the following year.

In fairness, that promise was delivered and SUSI stories of student hardship dropped out of the media.

It's now a much more streamlined operation and is working to the benefit of students. It applies the eligibility rules much more consistently for children of farmers and the self-employed, as a recent study by the Irish Independent revealed.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has done a useful exercise in identifying the lessons that can be learned from the planning weakness inherent in setting up SUSI. Certain elements necessary to ensure successful project delivery were not adequately planned.

This resulted in key risks not being identified, key planning assumptions not being tested, and a final plan not being put in place until the eleventh hour. There was no formal monitoring of delivery of milestones by the project implementation group, nor were there any formal escalation procedures in the event of adverse outcomes.

The contract to run SUSI was won by the City of Dublin VEC. But it is rightly rapped over the knuckles for departing from good practice in outsourcing the processing of documents and a call centre without building in penalties for failure to provide the contracted level of services.

Such provision will now be included in tenders for any future contracts. The report has other recommendations which would bear scrutiny where large-scale reform in public services is envisaged.

And such reform needs to continue, drawing on the lessons from the SUSI saga.

Delicate balancing act remains after ruling

Twenty five years ago, the Supreme Court introduced an effective ban on the admissibility of evidence obtained in breach of an accused person's constitutional rights. The strict application of the exclusionary rule, whose demise has been long predicted since the landmark DPP v Kenny ruling which introduced it, has had its fair share of devotees and detractors. The exclusionary rule has undoubtedly kept gardaí and others on their constitutional toes in terms of maintaining the high procedural safeguards that accused persons are entitled to when they face the awesome power of the State in criminal proceedings.

But in recent years, there have been fears that some who are guilty are walking free from their crimes because of inadvertent mistakes and other breaches by the authorities.

Yesterday, a hugely divided Supreme Court, whose decision to restate Kenny was carried by just one vote - that of Chief Justice Susan Denham - said its new, revised test is clear and strikes a balance between competing principles.

Only time will tell if that is the case, but all involved in the administration of justice must work hard to ensure that the liberties of the citizen are not undermined by the State.

Irish Independent

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