Saturday 20 January 2018

Pressure grows to let outsiders apply for top civil service posts

Fionnan Sheahan and Maeve Dineen

PRESSURE was mounting on the Government last night to throw open three of the most powerful civil service jobs to external applicants, rather than limiting them to a small, elite group of insiders.

The three posts on offer are among the most powerful positions within the civil service, and carry a salary of more than €210,000 a year plus generous pensions.

The deadline for applications for the secretary general positions runs out this evening at 5pm.

The Fine Gael-Labour Party Coalition has a firm promise to open up all senior public sector posts to outside expertise but was accused last night of breaking this pledge.

A government spokesman said clearly: "The intention is to fill (the posts) internally."

The recruitment process is being driven by Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Dermot McCarthy, who is retiring and whose own job is one of those to be filled.

Public Sector Reform Minister Brendan Howlin recently made changes to the process for appointing most senior civil servants, saying "reform must happen from the top down". But these three top appointments are exceptions to those rules.

No outside advertising is being conducted to attract private sector, semi-state or international applicants for the jobs.

The posts include two in the Department of Taoiseach and one in the new Department of Public Sector Reform.

And there will be no outside scrutiny of the applications, which will go directly to senior civil servants.

Economic expertise is not even listed as an important qualification for the posts.

Mr Howlin is aware the posts, including the head of his own new department, are being filled in this manner.

It means Mr McCarthy, the country's top civil servant for the past decade, is playing a central role in appointing his successors.

He has called for applications from within the civil service to be sent to him.

A government source said there was some surprise at Mr McCarthy's move and said there were questions over whether it was "just a solo run".

The Government was urged to throw the posts open to public competition and even to make temporary appointments while a wider search was undertaken. The process was described by Fianna Fail spokesman Sean Fleming last night as "the permanent government winning again against the elected Government".

A government spokesman confirmed the Coalition planned to appoint from within the existing civil service.

"The intention is to fill internally," the spokesman said.


The spokesman said there was a "particular anxiety" to fill the Public Expenditure and Reform post as it is being set up.

"The Government, should they so desire, could seek to advertise outside," the spokesman added.

But the wide expectation is the posts will be filled from a small pool of secretaries general and assistant secretaries general in the civil service.

The appointments are outside the remit of the body normally charged with filling senior posts, the Top Level Appointments Commission (TLAC).

Under the new Government, civil servants have lost control of TLAC and the chairperson and the majority of members will be drawn from outside the public sector.

But senior appointments to the Departments of the Taoiseach, Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Revenue Commissioners don't fall under TLAC's remit and are appointed directly by the Government.

Mr Howlin's spokesman said Mr McCarthy's call for expressions of interest was "a first step in the process".

"The call for expressions of interest is a procedure that is used in these cases.

" It is not binding on the Government. The Government has made no decision as yet on who will be appointed," the spokesman said.

"Mr Howlin is pressing ahead with sweeping reform of TLAC," the spokesman added.

Irish Independent

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