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If we want the best, we need to break the rules

Somewhere in the vast Irish diaspora there are people -- very possibly, quite a large number of people -- eminently qualified for a vacant job at home: Secretary General of the Department of Finance.

These people are often young, but wise beyond their years. They have a profound knowledge of finance and economics. They have experience in the private sector or the public sector -- sometimes both -- in the countries in which they now live. They have sound judgment and excellent management skills. They take pleasure in doing useful work.

And they relish a challenge.

A challenge like the one that awaits the new chief of the Finance Department.

This department once attracted the best brains in the civil service, often the best brains in the country. To some extent, it still does.

But in recent decades, and especially during the Celtic Tiger era, its deficiencies multiplied. When the crash came, it was exposed to the same glaring light that fell on other institutions.

Now it needs a chief who will shake it up from top to bottom, a man or woman who will promote efficiency, imagination and independence of mind. Even if a suitable person is in the building or on the doorstep, there is a strong argument in favour of choosing an outsider.

But how much should the outsider be paid for heavy responsibility, long hours, a multitude of tough decisions and the certainty of making enemies?

The cap on public service remuneration is €200,000 a year. Most likely, a suitable candidate and his/her partner earn more than double that. Very likely, too, they have a house to sell, another house to buy, substantial possessions to be transported, children to be placed in fee-paying schools. Here is a strain on patriotism if ever there was one.

In principle, and as a statement of intent, the cap is justified and reasonable.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and there should be an exception to this one.

We should not allow a return to old-style thinking, which places the preservation of an insider network above the real public interest.

This thinking is visible in the extraordinary idea that candidates for this job should not be paid to travel to their interviews, and the successful candidate not allowed the cost of relocation.

This is an example of a mindset that must change -- and permanently.

Irish Independent