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ADC 2005

(06 May 2005)

 

Address by AHCPS Chairperson, Brigitta O’Doherty

With due credit to Mr. Dickens, I think this sums up  for me the year, which is just ending. This time last year I became the first female and the ever youngest chairperson of the AHCPS. It was with considerable anxiety I faced the daunting challenge of the year ahead and my concerns were well founded. From Decentralisation to the acquisition of the new building and the industrial relations situation in An Post to the publication of the Travers Report, it has been a rollercoaster of a year.

In his address on the Annual Report Sean will deal with the many different and difficult issues faced by the Association this year and therefore I will not go into detail on them at
this point. Many of these issues will also be discussed further in the course of the motions. However, I would like to refer to one issue, that of decentralisation. The challenge of
decentralisation is huge for this Association and our members. Decentralisation and its consequences has already or will in the future impact on almost every one of us. As
Chairperson and together with the Executive and Sean and Dave and John and Jackie I have endeavoured to achive the best possible outcome for all our members - those who wish
to decentralise, those who wish to pursue careers in Dublin and those who are already decentralised. I know that this task will be pursued with vigour by Philip, Ciaran, Mary and the entire new Executive.
 

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The other issue about which I feel very strongly and which I attempted to ensure happened is that our membership is kept as up to date as possible with what is happening at Executive
level. This year in addition to the newsletters we have emailed to every Branch Secretary an update in relation to Decentralisation for onward transmission to all their members following each meeting of the Decentralisation sub committee. We also have had a number of meetings of Consultative Council in addition to the ADC and Special ADCs as the need arises. These meetings afford the membership an opportunity to express their views on
particular issues in real time. I would urge members to attend these councils in future so as that your views can be elicited and used to strengthen the Executives Mandate on various
matters. One of the challenges facing the incoming Executive is to continue the development on the communications side and in this regard the Association’s website is to be updated further and become more interactive.

To revert to my opening remarks I have no doubt that you will appreciate why it was the worst of times but I would like to explain on why it was also the best of times. This past year I have worked with the dedicated, hardworking and enthusiastic group of people you see on my right the Executive members, the officers and the officials of the AHCPS. As you will see in your annual report we have had 20 Executive Meetings – more than any other Executive in recent years. Not included in the Report are the many additional sub committee and officers meetings, which also took place. As senior civil servants and veterans of many
meetings by committee you can appreciate that such meetings can be very difficult and given the serious impact of the items under discussion for our membership, many of the discussions were complex and long. These meetings took place at lunchtime or late in the evening and it should also be remembered that when this Executive took up office we
were still in the midst of the EU Presidency and many of the Executive members were involved through their day jobs with this task.

I would like to formally record my appreciation of the exceptional work put in by this
Executive. I would also like to record my appreciation of the Herculean efforts of my fellow officers, Philip Crosby and Mary McLoughlin. It is fair to say that the three of us have worked very well as a team and share a passion for getting to the root of a problem, finding a practical solution and implementing it properly– or to express it in a less politically correct
manner you could say we like to cut the crap ! I wish them luck for the following year and I think Ciaran Rohan will fit well into this mindset!

I feel it is extremely important to record my appreciation of the officials, Sean, Dave, John and Jackie, who work tirelessly to ensure that all matters are attended to as effectively and efficiently and whose assistance is greatly appreciated and relied upon by the Executive.
 

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May I also mention the gentleman who involved me in this Association - the late Seamus Molloy. Seamus was my AP in the Department of Health and Children - all those who knew
him will appreciate my choice of the word gentleman to describe him. Seamus was a fantastic mentor and friend both whilst in the Department of Health and Children and after I
left Health. One day he called me and encouraged me to put my name forward for the Executive of the AHCPS. At the time of his tragic death in 2002 Seamus was Vice
Chairperson and when I was asked to fill the ensuing vacancy I took the job because I knew he would want me to do it and both as Vice Chairperson and Chairperson I have
attempted to live up to his high standards and ideals.


On a lighter note, I recall getting a call from Seamus after one Executive early on in my tenure where he felt that I had spoken somewhat out of turn causing Sean’s eyebrows to
rise. Since that point there have been number of occasions where I felt that my contributions might have given Sean’s eyebrows cause for anxiety but perhaps this has not been the case! Sean and I have had in-depth discussions on various issues and I have been constantly impressed by the depth of his understanding and knowledge on a myriad of issues. I would like to acknowledge my personal appreciation of our excellent working relationship. On behalf of the Executive and the delegates I would like to record our appreciation for Sean’s immense personal effort.


Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Department and in particular my Principal Officer during the year, Ciaran Murphy, and my staff for their assistance in
enabling me to carry out this role throughout the year

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Address AHCPS General Secretary, Seán Ó Riordáin

The past year was I believe the busiest ever for the Association. It has been dominated by concern with decentralisation and with major industrial relations problems in An Post. In addition, we have had the usual focus on pay and on public service modernisation with the extension of the Sustaining Progress and the work to put arrangements in place for the next benchmarking exercise. Then, in March, we had the publication of the Travers Report into Nursing Home charges and, finally, throughout the year we had a very busy time – consuming domestic issue, i.e. the selection and purchase of a new premises at Flemings’ Place.

Decentralisation
Let me begin with decentralisation.
The Association, as you know, has never had any problem in principle with decentralisation and we fully support a rational model of decentralisation which respects legitimate HR/IR concerns and which enhances rather than takes from quality public services. We would like to see civil servants who wish to decentralise accommodated in a manner which respects those two prime concerns.


During the past year, the Association’s views on decentralisation were very clearly articulated at the Special Delegate Conference last March, at the Annual Delegate Conference in May, in a subsequent statement by the Executive Committee in July and at presentations made on behalf of the Association at the McGill Summer School and at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and Services.


The difficulty, as you are all aware, is that the original concept of moving 10,300 public servants to 53 different locations over a three year time frame made little sense. Reflecting the views of branches and members, the Executive Committee issued a public statement last July calling for a review of the scope and timetable for decentralisation and this raised a somewhat surprising response. You will see, from the exchange of correspondence, which is attached as Appendix G to the Annual Report, that the Secretary General, Public Service Management & Development in the Department of Finance, Mr Eddie Sullivan, viewed the
Executive Committee’s statement as having inappropriately crossed a political line. The Association rejected that view and we continued publicly to articulate the same concerns at
the McGill Summer School later in July and in the presentation in September to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and Services. At the meeting of the Oireachtas
Committee our views were shared by others of the unions present and, indeed, one eminent union representative suggested that the official climate initially created was one in
which expressions of legitimate concerns about decentralisation were viewed as almost tantamount to “treason”.
 

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The Secretary General’s letter also expressed the view that we had been unfair to the Department of Finance because we said they were preoccupied with implementation of
decentralisation rather than dealing with the problems that arose. Equally, we do not accept that we had been unfair and, indeed, what we said at the time was supported in scathing
comments by other public sector unions to the Joint Oireachtas Committee about the manner in which decentralisation had been handled officially.

Decentralisation is at the heart of this year’s Annual Delegate Conference and we are delighted that Mr Frank McDonald, Environment Editor, Irish Times has accepted the invitation of the Executive Committee to address Conference and we look forward to hearing from him later this morning. There are, in all, 30 motions on decentralisation on the order paper and this will provide an opportunity for a very full and comprehensive debate. The Association, in September welcomed the more gradual approach now envisaged for decentralisation, but there are, as you know, very many major problems still arising both from a HR/IR and from a quality public services perspective. The motions before Conference today reflect those concerns. Let me, however, be absolutely crystal clear on one aspect. As an Association exclusively representing management grades we have a long and proud tradition of involvement in public service modernisation and we will continue to publicly articulate our concerns when we see threats to our members core interests or to the services which we are expected to deliver. To put it bluntly, we will not be spancelled because it might upset Government or the Department of Finance. Decentralisation on the scale proposed by Government is the most fundamental change in public administration since the foundation of the state and how it is handled by Government is hugely important for all of us.
 

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An Post and National Lottery Company
I despair these days when I think of An Post. In many respects it’s a very simple operation; its about carrying letters and parcels; its about using and understanding the technology for sorting; its about collection and delivery and organising routes and, most of all, it’s about having an understanding of how to deal in industrial relations terms with the staff in An Post who, by in large, are absolutely first class people who have a deep and a binding commitment to the postal service.
 

The trouble with industrial relations in An Post – as I said to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications Marine and Natural Resources – is that it is like entering a black hole. A parallel universe in which the normal rules do not apply and in which the only certainty is that time will stand still! Our Association, which is not noted for its militancy, ended up twice balloting for industrial action in An Post and in the National Lottery Company last year and it is truly unbelievable that this should have happened.
 

Our ballots for industrial action were not about opposing change or seeking unjustifiable pay increases or anything like that. They were, very simply, about seeking to ensure that the normal industrial relations practices and processes were adhered to and that change was not arbitrarily imposed.


We accepted that a reduction in numbers in the order of 30% was really necessary but we had to actually ballot for industrial action to have the method of filling restructured
posts and the pay and terms of conditions made subject to negotiations and determination through the industrial relations machinery of the state. We had to drag the company screaming and kicking to the LRC and Labour Court and, despite all that hard work, and despite a jointly binding Labour Court finding and an agreed interpretation between
the parties on that finding, the company is signalling that it may renege on payments due under the Productivity Agreement. Time stands still. We may again be in dispute in
July.
 

Equally, in the National Lottery Company, where An Post look after the industrial relations, an Agreement which took a number of years to negotiate and was on the point of
formal sign off was unilaterally put on hold by the Company when we were at the Labour Relations Commission last June.

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There was then agreement in the Labour Court that the Company’s proposals would be brought forward in September. These did not materialise and, finally, in December the Company unilaterally withdrew the draft agreement and we actually had to ballot for industrial action to get any proposals on the table before Christmas. There has been movement by the Company in recent days. We are hopeful that these may lead to agreement; otherwise we will be back to the Labour Relations Commission shortly.
There are domestic issues for our union in An Post. Of much greater concern, however, on a cross union basis is the fact that Sustaining Progress has not been paid. A process of
assessment under the auspices of the LRC is now in progress which we hope will lead to a positive outcome. The reality, however, is that payment of Sustaining Progress is absolutely
vital. There is no prospect of overall company wide ongoing change without payment.

Pay and Modernisation
So far as pay is concerned, you will be aware that the Association voted in favour of Part II of the Sustaining Progress which provides for cumulative increases of 5.6% over the final 18 month period and that arrangements for the second benchmarking exercise are being discussed with a view to agreement shortly. The new Benchmarking Body should be set up in July 2005 and a Report issued in the second half of 2007. The Association is in the process of preparing Submissions for the Benchmarking Body in relation to the Principal, Assistant Principal and Prison Governors grades and we have again engaged INBUCON to conduct a job evaluation exercise and Mr Brian Barry, Burnham House Consultants to assist in the preparation of submissions.
 

It is obviously very important that the process of periodic independent review of public service pay should continue. The alternative is to have public service pay determined on
the streets. We also welcome in this regard the establishment, even if belatedly; of a top level pay review. An interim report will, hopefully, be published in June and the final report will be available in the second half of 2007.
 

The implementation of pay and benchmarking increases are linked to public service modernisation and, in accordance with the terms of Sustaining Progress, we are now very close to agreement in relation to the linking of the Performance Management Development System [PMDS] to the assessment process.
 

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Travers Report
Turning now briefly to the Travers Report on nursing home charges. This, as you know, is the subject of an Emergency Motion for Conference and I will speak in detail at that stage.
The Travers Report is a very important, complex and far reaching document and, in addition to its implications for the Department of Health & Children, there are, quite clearly,
issues touching on decision making, corporate governance, responsibilities, accountabilities and relationships as between Ministers, Civil Servants and Special Advisers arising from
the Report and its recommendations which we have to consider very carefully.
 

We have some serious reservations about aspects of the Report and we believe that the public interest now requires a more structured and functional approach to the administration of departments of state. All these matters will be referred to and debated in more detail on the Emergency Motion.

New Premises
Turning to good news I am very glad that the Association finally managed to secure new premises at Fleming’s Place close to the canal end of Baggot Street Bridge during the past
year. We are all very fond of Warner’s Lane. It was in many respects a very friendly environment but it was hopelessly inadequate for the business we are in. We hope to complete the sale of Warner’s Lane shortly and the new modern offices will give us a much greater facility to conduct our business with the Executive, with Branches and with individual members. Our Financial Secretary, Mary McLoughlin, will be referring in more detail on the purchase of the new premises. This, as you know, has been a core objective of the
Association in recent years.

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Keynote Address by Frank McDonald, Environment Editor, The Irish Times - “Using Public Servants as political Pawns”

Who said this: A 1960’s plan to foster balanced regional development in Ireland “died a shameful death [because] local interests were put first...by a range of people -- politicians, the local media, the public -- with disastrous consequences for the country as a whole and for the west and the midlands in particular. The report was 'shelved' because people were so parochial in their outlook that they couldn't bear what they saw as neighbouring towns benefiting at the expense of their own localities”.

The words were uttered by none other than Noel Dempsey, then Minister for the Environment, in September 2001 at the launch of a public consultation paper on the National Spatial Strategy -- the latest, very belated effort to put some shape on how Ireland might develop in the years ahead.

In 1969, as Dempsey noted, Colin Buchanan had set out to put things right by plotting a course for more balanced regional development to counter the unrestrained growth of Dublin. But this leading planner of the late 20th century had his blueprint torn to shreds by parish-pump politics.

For the record, Buchanan’s plan proposed two “national growth centres” -- Cork and Limerick-Shannon. By 1986, the population of Cork was to have reached 250,000, while the projection for Limerick-Shannon was 175,000. These two cities were to be complemented by five regional centres (Galway, Waterford, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda and Athlone) and four growth towns (Letterkenny, Cavan, Castlebar and Tralee).
 

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These recommendations mirrored the conclusions on healthcare provision of the 1968 Fitzgerald Report; all but two of the locations for hospital development coincided with those recommended by Buchanan. There was also a close correlation between Buchanan and the 1965 investment strategy for third-level education that led to the development of a host of RTCs, all now institutes of technology.

Thirty years later, Dempsey saw the NSS as a chance to redress the balance, an opportunity “too valuable to pass up”. With projections that the State’s population could be as high as five million by 2020, a twenty year vision was needed. Otherwise, we would continue to do what we have been doing for years -- making it up as we go along, the very opposite of planning. The key thing was for a limited number of other centres to develop “critical mass” so that they could compete with Dublin.

For Ireland’s planners, the omens were not good. A previous Government had flunked the test of achieving “balanced regional development” all those years ago when it declined to make the tough choices that needed to be made. After three years of dithering over Buchanan, Fianna Fail ministers decided in 1972 to adopt a “laissez faire” approach, allowing Dublin to expand to accommodate its “natural increase” in population, while pledging an IDA “advance factory” for virtually every town and village in Ireland. With this cowardly decision, the Government was “abandoning for a generation the struggle to halt the growth of Dublin”, as Garret FitzGerald has put it.

The planners in the Department of the Environment were well aware that Buchanan had fallen on the altar of Irish political clientilism. With a system based on doing personal favours for individual constituents, no firm decisions could be made about how Ireland should develop. If Athlone was to be designated as a growth centre, Mullingar and Ballinasloe would be up in arms -- and the same went for any other area if there was a perception of being left out.

With no other cities to match the momentum of Dublin, the share of Ireland’s population living in the Greater Dublin Area continued to grow until it was nudging 40% by the 2002 Census. That contrasts with a share of 25% in the mid-1920s. The fact that it grew so much in the intervening 80 years is a measure of the failure of successive governments, of all hues, to deliver on the often voiced political commitment to regional balance.

The present Government actually stoked small town rivalry. In December 1999, after Charlie McCreevy first announced that 10,000 civil servants were to be “decentralized” from Dublin, no less than 130 urban areas, some barely bigger than villages, become embroiled in a scramble to secure a share of the action. There was no evidence of a national vision. The very organs of the State were just cookies to be scoffed. Instead of selecting centres and explaining the choice by reference to objective criteria, the Cabinet turned what was a national challenge into a faction fight.
 

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When the National Spatial Strategy was finally published in November 2002, Bertie Ahern was able to declare, in his printed “message from the Taoiseach”, that it had been “designed to enable every place in the country to reach its potential, no matter what its size or location”. A chicken in every pot, in other words.

That might have been fair enough if the blueprint was clear regarding the prospective potential of urban and rural areas, but it wasn’t. The NSS came so close to a “county towns” approach that it invited attack. Not only had Dublin, Cork, Limerick-Shannon, Galway and Waterford been named as “gateways”, but also Dundalk, Sligo, Letterkenny and a triangle formed by Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar – “ATM”.

There were also to be nine “hubs” -- Ballina, Castlebar, Tuam, Ennis, Tralee-Killarney, Mallow, Kilkenny, Wexford and Cavan-Monaghan. If the strategy worked, the State would be humming with new “gateways” and “hubs”, with direct benefits for people living in these favoured growth centres and spin-offs for everyone else within their orbits.

The central weakness of the strategy was that, instead of focusing on the arc extending from Galway to Waterford, it designated far too many growth centres, spreading development as widely as possible, and as thinly, too. As a result, the likelihood is that nowhere will develop a sufficient “critical mass” to compete for investment with the economic engine of Dublin.

Effectively, what the NSS would do is reinforce the long-established
“laissez faire” approach to the growth of Dublin. This was justified by
Its authors on the basis that Dublin had become so “vital” to the national economy it was “not a realistic objective” to cap its share of the State’s population at 40%. If it continues to grow, Ireland looks set to become a city-state -- like Greece, where the greater Athens area accounts for more than 50 per cent of its population.

But if the NSS was a weakly-worded fudge, it was also short-lived. Twelve months later, Charlie McCreevy used his Budget statement of 4 December 2003 to announce the latest decentralisation programme. No less than 10,300 civil and public servants, including eight entire departments, were to be relocated from Dublin to 53 centres in 25 counties.

Agriculture was to go to Portlaoise; Arts, Sport and Tourism to Killarney; Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to Cavan; Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to Knock Airport; Defence to Newbridge, Education and Science to Mullingar, Environment, Heritage and Local Government to Wexford, and Social and Family Affairs to Drogheda.

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The scale of this dispersal was so staggering that it led Dr Ed Walsh, former president of the University of Limerick, to remark that if the Government planned to move so many departments, “why not move all of them?” After all, it is one of the principal functions of a capital city to facilitate the process of government.

Garret FitzGerald saw the decentralisation plan as “a most flagrant example of the stroke mentality” which afflicts so much of Irish politics and which has done such damage to our economy and society ... The blatant hypocrisy of ministers asserting that this decision has taken into account “the National Spatial Strategy, or even claiming that it represents the implementation of that strategy, has provided further justification for the cynicism of the electorate about Irish politics”.

Mary Coughlan, then Minister for Social and Family Affairs, let the cat out of the bag. The Government’s aim was to decentralise to locations where an influx of civil servants would have the greatest impact -- smaller towns such as Ballina and Ballyshannon, rather than Galway where they would hardly be noticed. But this argument could not conceal the fact that clientilism was at the root of the locational choices made by ministers.

How else can one account for the Government's outrageous decision to overlook Cork, the State's second largest city? Instead of recognising it as a real asset by relocating 920 public servants to the city, they were to be dispersed throughout the county to Clonakilty, Kanturk, Macroom, Mallow, Mitchelstown and Youghal. In fact, 70 civil servants currently working in Cork city were to be transferred to other locations.

And for what? To bring joy to the business community of every town -- the publicans, shopkeepers, auctioneers, estate agents, car dealers and fellows with land to sell at a premium price for a new government office block.
Meanwhile, major Dublin buildings in danger of being divested include the Custom House and the OPW’s suite of Georgian houses on St Stephen’s Green.
“Welcome to Parlon Country” indeed.

Yet as Richard Bruton has said, “the decentralisation agenda has never been debated in the Dail. No Government memorandum has accompanied it. No business case has been presented for it. No risk assessment of the effect on any of the agencies has been presented. No human resource plan has been developed. No proper assessment of the financial implications has been presented. None of the selected locations has been justified against criteria for successful regionalisation. No answer has been given to those who fear a huge loss of “organisational memory”. No answer has been given to those who say that the dispersal of a majority of ministries across the countryside runs counter to international best practice”.
 

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What the AHCPS described as "the most fundamental change in civil and public administration since the foundation of the State" is also being pushed through regardless of the cost. It was supposed to be “over 200 million” when the programme was cobbled together, in secret, by Bertie Ahern, Mary Harney, Charlie McCreevy and Martin Cullen. The latest estimate is put at €900 million, all to be to forked out by Irish taxpayers. That’s more than the extravagant cost of Dublin’s two Luas lines, more than the cost of 3,000 new buses, more than the wretched M3 motorway, and more than god knows how many hospital beds.

Last June, Michael Bannon, former professor of urban and regional planning at UCD had this to say: “In themselves, the Government’s proposals are ill-considered. They will damage the coherence and efficiency of the public service. They fly in the face of the National Spatial Strategy, and they are likely to sound the death knell for regional policy in Ireland. This reckless dispersal of government work is a follow-on from years of scattering industrial plants in every town and village, with the disastrous consequences we have today. Would an Irish government go to a corporation such as Intel and propose that it should break up its Leixlip campus in favour of thirty, forty or fifty dispersed locations? Not only does this adventure give us all a bad name, but it represents a tragic lost opportunity to do the right thing, to do it with wisdom and to do it well”.

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