Friday 23 February 2018

Eilis O'Hanlon: How 'the good civil servant' was patronised by Howlin

A report written in the 19th century declared that "admission into the Civil Service is indeed eagerly sought after, but it is for the unambitious, and the indolent or incapable, that it is chiefly desired". A century later, and a British general could still be found telling jokes about how military boffins had just invented a new missile. "It's called the civil servant," he quipped. "It doesn't work and it can't be fired."

No doubt these stereotypes are terribly unfair on decent, hard-working civil servants. The problem for them is that, whatever contribution they might make to the smooth functioning of society, Irish civil servants are bound to be judged on the actions of the most indolent and incapable among their ranks, just as journalists are judged on the actions of the few who hack into murdered children's mobile phones, and the Church by the priests in its ranks who appear to have sought ordination purely for the access which it gave them to vulnerable children. Call it the "no smoke without fire" rule.

Last week, a friend even sent me a link to the published decisions of the Equality Tribunal, available on the organisation's website, suggesting that I should read them if I was ever in need of a good laugh. She wasn't wrong. Now I can't shake the picture from my head of civil servants napping at their desks after long lunches, or justifying their woeful lack of productivity on the grounds that they could name half a dozen co-workers who were far more lazy.

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