Sunday 15 December 2019

Bringing home the bacon as we fry

The public-sector wage bill accounts for 36 per cent of all public spending, but recruitment is ongoing, reports Maeve Sheehan

MORE than 2,000 posts have been filled in government offices and state bodies despite the ban on public-service recruitment.

New figures show that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has waived the public-service embargo in favour of tipstaffs who escort judges to court, and translators of state documents into Irish.

The Cabinet introduced the public-service recruitment ban in March last year and made clear that the ban would be lifted in "very limited circumstances".

Since then, however, the minister has approved a total of 1,244 posts in the civil service and 1,014 in the public service.

The posts include a graphic designer, an administrative assistant and a financial manager in the National Concert Hall, while the Chester Beatty Library got approval for a new director.

Failte Ireland got approval for an "e-business" manager ("necessary to the development of the tourism sector"), while 49 posts at the Central and Regional Fisheries offices were also approved.

The Defence Forces have got permission to fill a raft of promotions, recruit 207 cadets, fill two social worker posts and hire a welder and a foreman.

Gardai have also filled a raft of promotions as well as re-appointing three gardai who left the force, two of whom took up posts with the UN and a third who set up a driving school.

Meanwhile, the Courts Service lobbied the minister to fill 37 posts but ended up getting approval for 24, including five tipstaffs who escort judges to and from the courtroom, and 10 "judicial fellows" who were sanctioned on the basis that they are "considered to provide key support to the judiciary".

Six of the 12 posts sanctioned in the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs related to translating documents into Irish.

The latest figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Department of Finance after Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright tabled a series of questions.

"What struck me was the absence of frontline staff. To me frontline are nurses, doctors and the garda vetting unit [where a request for 35 staff is still under consideration]," she said.

The continued level of recruitment is in contrast to the finance department's circular last year which warned all departments that the embargo would only be lifted in "very limited circumstances".

The recruitment embargo is aimed at saving money in the €20bn public-sector wage bill -- which accounts for about 36 per cent of all public spending. The public-sector's numbers had grown by at least 17 per cent in the eight years to 2009.

The department said the moratorium will operate in respect of the civil service, local authorities, non-commercial state bodies, the Garda Siochana and the Permanent Defence Forces. But it would not apply to consultants in hospitals, certain health workers and teachers.

The figures show that, despite the ban, senior management posts continue to be filled and staff promoted, including many at assistant secretary general level.

In total the department received requests from across most government departments and state agencies to lift the ban to fill 3,885 posts, and has agreed to fill more than half of them.

Most demand came from the over-burdened prison service, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection, which is struggling with the extra demands for social welfare.

The Finance Minister has lifted the embargo to fill 350 prison officer posts in the Prison Service since March 2009. The extra staff will be deployed in brand new prison accommodation.

More than 259 posts have been approved in the Revenue Commissioners, 200 of which are "key management, audit and policy" posts to help speed up tax collection.

The Department of Social Protection got approval to fill 109 posts, 78 of which related to the significant backlog caused by the increasing numbers of welfare claimants.

Nama has also created an additional workload with the Comptroller and Auditor General winning approval for 24 posts at various grades to cope with the "extra responsibilities, eg Nama".

Forty-eight posts were approved in Education and Science, including 22 psychologists and 10 school inspectors who were brought out of retirement.

The Legal Aid Board hired 12 junior solicitors on a "value-for- money" basis, while the office of the Data Protection Commissioner sought 45 new staff, but got 19.

At least 45 requests to circumvent the embargo came from politicians. Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has asked the Finance Minister to approve the appointment of a special adviser to replace Deirdre Gillane, whom he lost to the Taoiseach earlier this year. The special adviser would be "on secondment" from the Higher Education Authority. The request is "under consideration".

Ministers moved to new departments under the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this year had to ask the Finance Minister's permission to bring their retinue of staff with them. Mary Hanafin brought six people along when she went to the Department of Tourism, including two civil servants whose posts were "vital" to the functioning of her constituency office.

Each junior minister came with a retinue of two civilian drivers, a personal assistant and constituency secretary that accompanies the three junior ministers, Conor Lenihan, Dara Calleary and Billy Kelleher. The Green junior ministers, Mary White and Ciaran Cuffe, had a special adviser each.

Sunday Independent

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