Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants


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ADC 2004

(15 May 2004)


Address by AHCPS Chairperson, Sean McDonald

A particular welcome to our guests and to the representatives of the media. We have what promises to be some lively discussions before us today so I have no intention of speaking at length.

As some of you know I am transferring to New York in the Autumn so while I have some regrets at standing down from the cream of this argent body – we are all entitled to our illusions – I am happy to be handing responsibility over to Brigitta O'Doherty, which will of course mark a significant step. Brigitta is the first woman in the 60 years of the Association to take up the role of Chair. I'm sure that like me you all wish her every success.

We have had a very busy year and I would like to thank my colleagues on the Executive and, in particular Sean, Dave, John, Jackie and Gillian for all the work they have done. I was wondering how best to describe the past year – a year during which we celebrated our 60th anniversary – I had to conclude that perhaps the best way of describing it is as the year we were bushwhacked by decentralisation. In consequence the rate of Executive meetings has increased at times to three a week and we have also had a Special Delegate Conference. But as most of our discussions today will focus on the dreaded decentralisation there is no need for me to dwell on it.

Moving on to other things as an Association we are continuing in our quest for a new HQ, as Warners Lane is increasingly inadequate for the needs of the Association. In order to permit us the necessary flexibility to move quickly when the time is ripe we have moved to keep some of the financial resources accessible. We have looked at quite a few possibilities - when we find the right home you will be fully advised.

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The year has also been one, which has put an extra burden on branches so I think we should acknowledge the ongoing good work done by branch officers.

Before moving to the order of business for today can I appeal to those speaking in the course of proceedings to identify themselves and their branches for the sake of our record keepers at the back of the room. Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank on your behalf our vigilant standing orders committee and the shadowy figures at the back who keep the record of the day among them Tom Quigley and Jimmy Murphy.

So to business.


Address by AHCPS General Secretary, Sean O Riordain

Last year we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Association with a function on the 3rd December in the Guinness Storehouse. The first AGM of the Association had been held on the 3rd December 1943 in the Hibernian Hotel, and our function in the Guinness Storehouse enabled us to pay tribute to the very many people over the years who contributed to Association affairs and, indeed, who had made a considerable impact on the development of the Irish public service. Sadly, our friend, colleague and Hon. President of the Association, Jim Mooney was unable to attend and, in fact died the next day. Jim made an immeasurable contribution to the Association and to the welfare of serving and retired public servants and we all miss him greatly.

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A further distinction will, however, also attach in future to the 3rd December 2003.

That was the evening on which the Minister for Finance announced, without any consultation, without an advance survey, without any indication of what it will cost the public or without any impact analysis, the most fundamental change in Irish public services since the foundation of the State. This was the announcement of decentralisation over a three-year period of approximately 70 organisations/work units to 53 locations in 25 counties.

The Government relocation programme has since dominated official, staff and union concerns to the extent that, even the Irish Presidency, in which so many of our members were active, moved down the agenda as a topic of interest and conversation. The Association convened a Special Delegate Conference on the 1st March at which we published a considered report on relocation under the conference theme An Opportunity Missed and a Challenge to Meet. At Conference, while reiterating our belief in a rational model of decentralisation, we articulated the major human resources and practical service delivery problems which arise, and are clearly there for those who have eyes to see. While the Report of the Decentralisation Implementation Group acknowledged the existence of problems it choose not to attach the significance to them which they deserve adopting instead an "it will be already on the night" approach.

The service wide CAF trawl will be held shortly and the real business will need to be addressed in the autumn. On the numbers front, irrespective of overall interest, we still have no reason to believe that more than 20% of people in Dublin working in the areas proposed to be decentralised are willing to go down the country with their work to the new decentralised locations. The concept of trying to move out 80% of staff and move in 80% in each organisation is an administrative nightmare in its own right, leaving aside the potential for substantial Dublin surpluses especially in the higher ranks. And that is without revisiting problems in relation to cohesive government, policymaking, fragmentation of services and the negative effects generally of a massive dispersal of public services.

I am very glad that the former President of the University of Limerick Dr Edward Walsh who, in addition to a pre-eminent academic track record, has also vast experience in government affairs, in public administration and in regional development, will speak here at 11 o'clock on decentralisation and I very much look forward to what he has to say. I will, in response, speak in more detail about where we now stand on decentralisation.

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Pay and Benchmarking
Last year also saw the roll out of further modernisation of the public service with the related payment of the first stage of Sustaining Progress and the payment of benchmarking with effect from 1 January 2004. There are, as you know, central negotiations beginning between ICTU and the Government in relation to the second 18 month of Sustaining Progress. We would, from the Association's perspective obviously wish to see the best deal possible emerge with pay related to growth and a determination on further arbitration/benchmarking of public service pay.

The position at managerial levels is still quite clear – managerial salaries in the private sector still run ahead of National Wage Agreements and we need a mechanism which will enable proper comparison and catch up over time. Benchmarking/Arbitration is the rational model of pay determination; the alternative is to have pay determined on the streets.

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Revenue Integration
The major internal development within the branches in civil service over the past year was the working through of the integration of the general service and taxes streams in Revenue. I am very glad to say that it has been extremely successful and I believe that both traditions in Revenue and the Association as a whole has benefited from this coming together. The new Revenue Branch organised an excellent Delegate Conference in Galway in February and I have no doubt but that they will make a major contribution to the development of Association policies in the future.

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An Post
The most difficult area across the whole Association in the past year was perhaps An Post where the catastrophic financial situation dictates a fundamental review and reorganisation of An Post structures and activities.

As you know we represent the management grades in An Post and the developments come as no surprise to us. Indeed, you may recall that at last year's conference I spoke about the need for top-heavy top management to get their act together in the company while they still had the time to do so.

Discussions are still ongoing with the Communications Workers' Union which represents the overwhelming majority of staff in the company and I hope that those discussions will be successful and will represent a balanced approach by the company and by the union. The reality is that, unless these negotiations are successful, what happens at other levels may well be irrelevant.

We are in the middle of negotiations about staff reductions in the order of 30-40% with an understanding that any unresolved issues will go to third party for adjudication. Let me say that it is vitally important that change is introduced on an negotiated basis. We have made clear at two Special General Meetings of the Branch during the year that we will work with the company, but the ordinary industrial relations processes, including reference to the LRC/Labour Court as appropriate, must be available if change is to be agreed. It is likely that the next month or so will be critical for An Post, for ourselves and, indeed for all the unions. For our part, we will do our best to arrive at reasonable and workable solutions but we will not be taken for granted.

Strategic Review
We had hoped as part of the overall strategic review of the Association to be able to present you by now with an Draft Amended Rules and Constitution of the Association. Work on this however, has proceeded at a slower pace because of the preoccupation with decentralisation in recent months, but I hope that we will be in a position certainly before the next ADC to address this important topic.

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I would like finally, to thank all the members of the Executive Committee for the huge amount of time and energy they put into the Association this year, particularly because of decentralisation.

Sean McDonald is unable to continue as Chairperson due to his assignment to New York but I would like to avail of the opportunity to especially thank Sean for his huge contribution over the year and to wish him well in the time ahead. Brigitta O'Doherty will be the first female Chairperson of the Association and I want especially to wish her well and I know we can all promise her all our full support in the period ahead.

I also want to thank the Branch Officers who in particular over the last five months with decentralisation have been extraordinarily active and have been so helpful in terms of the Executive and Association centrally getting an informed perspective of members concerns. Decentralisation, understandably, is a hugely emotive issue for many members who have put a lifetime in to public service and who see their futures being put at risk on the altar of political opportunism. It is a difficult job for branches for the Executive and for Headquarters to get the balance right as we work our way through.

I want to thank our Honorary Vice Presidents, Tom Quigley and Jimmy Murphy for their help. As ever we can rely on them.

Finally, I would like to thank the people with whom I work, Dave, John, Jackie and Gillian for their unfailing dedication and commitment in the past year.

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Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants