Friday 13 December 2019

John Moran: Department’s terrible reputation meant I was reluctant to work there

Outgoing Secretary General at Department of Finance makes last appearance before PAC

John Moran. Photo: Tony Gavin
John Moran. Photo: Tony Gavin
John A Moran, former Secretary General at the Department of Finance

Daniel McConnell, Group Political Correspondent

THE outgoing Secretary General of the Department of Finance, John Moran, has revealed he was reluctant to take on the job back in 2012 given its woeful reputation.

In his last appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Mr Moran said the department became a "place to avoid" and said its reputation had taken a "considerable beating."

Mr Moran yesterday announced his shock resignation from the post, and he will formally step down in the coming months, once a successor can be found.

In a frank address similar to the parting salvo from former Financial Regulator Matthew Elderfield last year during which he voiced concerns about the lack of white collar prosecutions, Mr Moran revealed a deep dysfunction within the much criticised department.

"Like the reputation of Ireland, the reputation of the Department of Finance has taken a considerable beating. I believe things are now different.  People now recognise the changes that have been taking place," he told the committee.

"Back in 2012, like statements about being Irish when abroad, saying one worked at the Department of Finance was something people avoided volunteering to others," he added.

He added that when he replaced Kevin Cardiff as Secretary General, the was not a comfortable place in which to drive policy innovation and implementation. 

"It was not a comfortable place for our management team to begin the task of rebuilding morale, our reputation and belief in delivery.  Remember, many of our team had been just diligently doing what they had been asked to do," he added.

"Many had then jumped in to help with extraordinary efforts once the crisis hit.  Frankly, it was not a comfortable place either from which to re-stabilise an economy and banking sector.   I would not be truthful if I did not confess to a very considerable degree of reluctance myself at taking on the task and the reputational risks of same, back in 2012," he said.

Mr Moran said, more worryingly, hiring discussions during 2012 and early 2013 shared these same reputational risk concerns.  The Department and even the broader public sector had gone from being a “go to place” to work to being a place people preferred to avoid, he said.

Mr Moran is to be quizzed about his departure by members today.

"That was not the ideal starting place for our new management team and broader staff to begin the hard job in hand during 2012.  I would ask you, though, to review our teams’ output against this real backdrop of the time and in future continue to be supportive of ways in which we can continue to improve, be innovative, audacious in setting our targets, and attract the best available talent to our public sector," he added.

During his address, Mr Moran admitted the department's public image needs improving.

"Our Department is perhaps less public facing than others in terms of the delivery of our services. We are conscious however of the very direct impact of our actions on all public stakeholders," he said.

The department's failure to contain the property bubble during the boom years, its failure to spot the banking crisis and its role in the decision to grant a €440 billion blanket bank guarantee in September 2008 are to be examined by the pending Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.

Mr Moran has insisted there is "nothing sinister" about his decision to step down.

At today's hearing, PAC Vice Chairman Kieran O'Donnell asked Mr Moran to clarify his reasons for leaving.

In asking his question, Mr O'Donnell likened the decision to step down to leaving a really good movie half way through without seeing it out to the end.

"There is nothing sinister about this decision, I came back to the system four years ago, It has been intense. It was a crisis management situation," Mr Moran said.

"People can remember just was the system was like at the time. You cant always assume that people will stay on forever," he said.

"It has always been a principle of management to find a way to make yourself redundant. The job I came back to was marked by the Troika programme. One main objective was to say when would the country be back in the international markets and exited the bailout. I can now make this decision," Mr Moran said.

He said at the time of taking the job, he signed a contract for the full term of a Secretary General, which is seven years.

"I have no specific plans as to what I will do next.This was an opportune time for me to leave as it allows a successor time to get their feet under the table ahead of the Budget," he told PAC members.

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