Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants


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ADC 2006

(05 May 2006)

Address by AHCPS Chairperson, Philip Crosby

Colleagues, it is my privilege to welcome you to the 2006 Annual Delegate Conference of the Association.

I must begin my address to you today on a sombre note, as I pay tribute to the memory of two former leading activists in the Association who passed away during the year.

We were all saddened by the death last November of Tom Power. Tom was CEO of the Office of Tobacco Control at the time of his death. He was a member of the Executive Committee from 1993 to 1996 and was Financial Secretary of the Association from 1996 to 1998.

Last year also saw the passing of Jimmy Murphy. Jimmy was an Honorary Vice President of the Association and attended at ADC each year. Jimmy had a long Association with Civil Service trade unions. He was Assistant General Secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association - now the CPSU - for a number of years, and was a member of the Executive Committee of this Association from 1981 until he retired in 1984. Jimmy was active in the Retired Civil & Public Servants Association up to the time of his death.

I now call on delegates to stand for a minutes’ silence as we remember Tom and Jimmy.

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We gather here today to review what has been a very busy year for the Association. It was a year in which decentralisation continued to dominate the agenda, particularly the negotiations on a promotions policy, and most visibly in recent days, in FAS. It was a year in which our members in An Post endured an industrial relations rollercoaster ride over the issue of pay. It was a year in which the Association actively pursued many issues of concern to members, from the long hours culture and the question of work-life balance, to pensions, and to the myriad of concerns that matter to members in our 45 branches. It was a year in which we moved home to our new premises in Fleming’s Hall, and initiated a strategic review of the Association to equip ourselves to deal with the issues we will face into the future.

Many of these issues are the subject of motions on the agenda today, and will be covered by the General Secretary, Sean O Riordain, in his address to Conference on the Annual Report, so I don't intend to discuss them in detail in my address. What I would like to do is to explore one or two questions which I believe to be of importance to our members, our Association, and the trade union movement generally. What I really want to do is to talk about the changing world in which we live, and Ireland’s ability to deal with the challenges we face in a globalised economy.

In recent years, we have seen the gathering pace of change in the European and world economy, and the visible effects on Ireland of that change. This is especially evident in the surge in migration here from the EU’s new member states since 2004. This migration has had positive effects on Ireland, giving added impetus to the economy, and adding something new and healthy to our society and culture.

But as we have seen in the last 12 months, not all of globalisation’s effects are so benign. I don’t think there’s a trade unionist in the country who needs an explanation of the term “race to the bottom”, or a delegate in this hall who needs me to remind them of how the words “Irish Ferries” and “Gama Construction” entered our vocabulary and our consciousness. But these are only some of the headlines, part of the tale. I don’t know how many of you noticed the story over the last two weeks about Prudential’s decision to close its call centre in Belfast with the loss of 500 jobs, many of those relocating to India. This followed a similar decision by British Airways, and indeed is part of a strategy of relocation being followed by businesses in Europe and North America.

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A generation ago, a huge proportion of Europe's industrial jobs relocated to Asia, causing seismic economic and social changes in working-class communities. Today, with the rapid development of the Chinese and Indian economies, we are seeing the same thing happening to service jobs - not just lower-paid jobs such as those in call centres, but also jobs in management, IT, accountancy, insurance, law, design and biotechnology. Indeed, some commentators have gone so far as to say that this will lead to the "hollowing out" of America and Europe's middle class.

Now I wouldn't be so alarmist, but make no mistake about it, China and India are becoming more and more competitive, and will be the economic powerhouses of the next generation. Similarly, there can be no doubt about the ability of the EU’s new member countries to compete in the global marketplace and develop their economies. And for anyone who truly believes that the world should be a fair, just and equitable place, these are positive developments.

But positive as they may be, these developments have clear implications for Ireland's continued economic development. We need to think strategically about how to deal with these changes, to minimise their negative effects and make best advantage of the opportunities they provide. And the national strategy for maintaining and developing our economy simply must involve all of the social partners. And I believe our choice is simple – either Ireland is in a “race to the bottom”, to be a lowest common denominator cheap economy, or we’re in a "race to the top", to be a knowledge-based and high value-added economy.

Following the Irish Ferries and Gama debacles, I was heartened to hear some remarks from the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste about having, not a race to the bottom, but a race to the top. One of the elements of the national partnership talks is the strand dealing with a 10-year strategy for development, and I look forward to seeing what emerges from that. Because if we get this right, we will see a continuation of Ireland’s economic success story for years to come. But if we get it wrong, we will lose out to these new expanding economies. And if our economy were to go into reverse, I would not be at all confident about our ability to maintain community solidarity, social cohesion, and quality public services. That, colleagues, is the ultimate price of a race to the bottom.

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In saying all of this, I want to remind delegates of the keynote speech to this Association’s 2004 ADC by Dr. Edward Walsh. In his address, Dr. Walsh outlined some risks to Ireland’s continued economic progress very similar to those I’ve talked about today. He referred to competition from the new EU member states. He explained how globalisation penalises those countries who aren’t in touch with international trends and developments, and how important swift decision-making is if we want to succeed in the knowledge age. Then Dr. Walsh went on to demonstrate how the weaknesses inherent in the current decentralisation programme could make those risks even worse, by making Government less joined up instead of more joined up, by weakening our ability for international networking, and by slowing down decision-making.

In the two years since Dr. Walsh addressed Conference, we have seen no evidence that the weaknesses he identified in the decentralisation scheme have been eliminated or dealt with. But in the meantime, the competitive risks to Ireland’s economy are increasing.

The AHCPS is not opposed to decentralisation. But what we want is a decentralisation programme that is rational, that doesn’t weaken policy formulation or quality service to the public – and that doesn’t risk Ireland’s competitive position in the global economy. To make this happen, there is a need for Government and the unions to sit down and reassess certain aspects of the programme and the implementation timetable. I won't hold my breath, but I wouldn't be doing justice to our members or Ireland's taxpayers if I didn't call on the Taoiseach to initiate such a re-assessment.

I would like to close by saying a few brief words of thanks, if I may. Firstly, I would like to record my appreciation of the hard work put in all through the year by my colleagues on the Executive Committee. I would also like to thank my fellow officers, Ciaran Rohan and Mary McLoughlin, for their effort and their wisdom. And I cannot emphasise enough how grateful I am for the professionalism, expertise and hard work of the Association’s officials and staff – Dororthy Aughey, Jackie Lacey, John Kelleher, Dave Thomas and Sean O Riordain.

I would like to pay tribute to the Association’s many Branch activists and Committee members. Branch activists who are in regular communication with members are vital to the success of any Association or Union, and the AHCPS is no exception.

I would also like to bring delegates a message from the Honorary President of the Association, Donal O’Mahony. Donal won’t be able to be with us today and this evening because of illness. But he sends his best wishes to us for our deliberations today.

As I said at the outset, it is my privilege to welcome you all to ADC. I wish you all the best for a productive and enjoyable Conference.

Thank you.

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Address by AHCPS General Secretary, Sean O Riordain

Chairperson, delegates

Three principal issues arose over the past year. Firstly, the ongoing saga of decentralisation; secondly, the difficulties in An Post and, thirdly, pay and benchmarking in the post Sustaining Progress scenario.

I will begin with decentralisation.

The Association’s position is unambiguously clear, but it bears repeating. We have no principled objection whatsoever to decentralisation and many of our members are already doing excellent jobs in decentralised locations. But, our consistent view is that decentralisation should only be advanced in a manner which enhances rather than takes from effective public services and which respects the legitimate industrial relations and human resource and family dimensions involved.

The reality is that, despite the official spin, there are serious problems with decentralisation which should be faced up to by Government. Within the civil service only half the numbers required are prepared to move from Dublin to posts in decentralised locations and, in the state agencies, in areas like FAS and the Health & Safety Authority where we have representation, the situation is substantially worse with virtually nobody wanting to move. As matters stand, between the civil service and the state agencies there are up to 5,000 Dublin based staff who do not wish to relocate with their jobs. At an average salary of €50,000 the cost comes to €50m per annum per 1000 surplus, leaving aside overheads.

We originally estimated in January 2004 that only 15% of staff in Dublin would be prepared to move with their jobs to decentralised locations. We were wrong. A series of parliamentary questions has confirmed that across the thirty or so civil service departments and sub departments, less than 10% are prepared to move out of Dublin with their jobs and, understandably, this reluctance to move is more accentuated at senior levels. Delegates, you wouldn’t need to be intelligent to know that the process of changing over 90% of staff again, and again and again in up to 30 civil service organisations is appalling in terms of effective public administration. The concept of Ministers sitting alone in spended isolation in Dublin, while their senior policy advisers are scattered like the four winds across the country, fundamentally undermines all concepts of joined up government and is, in the Association’s view, seriously detrimental to the public interest.

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Leaving aside the logic, or lack of logic in the decentralisation programme, there are four critical areas where major staffing difficulties arise. Those are in the areas of senior management, information and technology staff, other professional and technical staff and in the state agencies. This reality should be faced.

There are, then, the huge problems faced by civil and public servants and their families based in Dublin. They now see their jobs and careers disappearing and they don’t even know where they are likely to be working in Dublin given the level of surpluses involved.

I have been a civil servant for over 41 years including the last 18 years in public service trade union activity. During that period I have never seen any single issue which, as much as decentralisation, has completely alienated Dublin based public servants and their families. Decent hardworking people who have spent their lives in the service of this state and who bitterly resent what is widely perceived as their being used as pawns in a politically contentious decentralisation programme.

While there are some in top management who laud the decentralisation programme as the best thing since the sliced pan and treat any reservations almost as a treasonable conspiracy, the reality, going around the public service, is that the serious concerns which we have articulated about effective administration post decentralisation are very widely shared at all levels. It may well be that the time has come for top management in the public service to put their heads a little bit above the parapet in telling Ministers what they really think of decentralisation.

There is, of course, a solution. It is the one which was previously articulated by our Executive Committee and by the Association and it is the one which is again before Conference today. The decentralisation programme should be reviewed; the unworkable elements should be eliminated and the pace and timescale of decentralisation should be slowed down with the aim of better matching the supply of staff in Dublin willing to move with the number of posts to be decentralised. That is the logical and rational way to approach decentralisation both from the perspective of effective public administration and from an industrial relations and partnership perspective. We would very much like to see staff who wish to move accommodated but this, obviously, should be done in a way that the system can live with and that does not create insuperable problems for staff remaining in Dublin.

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An Post and National Lottery Company
Turning now to An Post and the National Lottery Company. We, finally, after a long protracted negotiation process, reached agreement in the National Lottery Company during the year, but, as usual, we had to fight ever inch of the way in An Post.

As I said before, industrial relations in An Post is like entering a parallel universe. The normal industrial relation rules do not apply and the only certainty as you head down to the Labour Relations Commission is that time will stand still and, even after agreement is reached, you will be back again next year arguing with the Company about what the agreement means. “Ground Hog Day” principals operate. Every section of every agreement will be interpreted as negatively as possible in a fight to the death by An Post management who want to rewrite Labour Court recommendations. We nearly had a national postal strike because of the refusal to pay Sustaining Progress and, in recent times, our union, which is not noted for it’s militancy, had twice to ballot for industrial action to secure our most basic trade union rights of representation and to secure payment under our Productivity Agreement.

There is now, following intervention by the Labour Court and the National Implementation Body, an initiative under the Chairmanship of Peter Cassells with a view to developing partnership in An Post. This is a welcome move, but I just want to say to the prospective new management regime that, unless they are proactive in allowing the emergence of normal industrial relations practices in An Post, all attempts at partnership will fail. All the unions are sick and tired of trying to negotiate in a situation where the management IR team are totally spancelled in relation to any capacity to negotiate and appear to have their every single thought dictated from on high.

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Pay and Benchmarking

You will all be aware that the talks between the social partners on a successor to the Sustaining Progress Agreement have not reached conclusion.

The trade union agenda is well documented. There is, in the post Irish Ferries era, a need to better protect the position and rights of vulnerable workers; economic progress needs to be better tempered with social justice and equity and, finally, there are the pay issues.

All sides recognise how successful partnership has been and I believe would, in principle, wish to see it continue into the future. The question is, however, at what price and, from a trade union perspective, it remains to be seen whether what may be on offer is reasonable in this new upmarket economy. I hope the talks will be successful but there is no certainty at this stage.

The position on benchmarking, as you know, is that the members of the Benchmarking Body have been appointed and it is due to produce its report in the second half of 2007. Payment of benchmarking is linked to both modernisation and whatever pay arrangements might follow Sustaining Progress. The Association is preparing a case for submission to the Benchmarking Body and, as on the previous occasion, we have professional assistance from INBUCON Ireland Ltd and from Mr Brian Barry, Burnham House Consultant, a former partner in Price WaterhouseCoopers.

There has been a fair degree of criticism about benchmarking, mainly by people who don’t take the time or effort to understand it or appear to have never heard of the performance verification process under which payments are linked to actual delivery of productivity agreed under Sustaining Progress. At it’s core, benchmarking is about an independent determination of the fair rate of pay for the job and it is a rational and reasonable way to approach pay determination. We consistently deliver on all flexibility and productivity required and what we want in return is the fair rate for the job. We make no apologies for this.

The initial meeting between the Official Side and the PSC Negotiating Committee on issues relating to Public Service Modernisation and Change in the context of the current negotiations on a successor to Sustaining Progress start today, at 12 noon, and I have asked our Deputy General Secretary, Dave Thomas to attend this meeting. Dave says he feels like Michael Collins.

We will, of course, arrange any necessary meetings with members to keep you informed of developments. There is a difficult road ahead of us. I hope it is successful.

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Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants