Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants


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ADC 2007

(11 May 2007)


Address by AHCPS Chairperson, Philip Crosby

Colleagues, I am honoured to welcome you to the 2007 Annual Delegate Conference of the Association. As we gather for Conference, there are as ever many issues of concern to our members that we must grapple with and try to resolve, and these will be explored later today in our debates on the Conference agenda.

Important as those issues are, I am conscious of the fact that today marks a significant change for the AHCPS, both practical and symbolic. And because today is also my last day as Chairperson of the Association, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect personally on things that have more to do with people than with issues.

Before I do that, there is one issue I want to address briefly – and indeed it would be remiss of me not to. And that issue is decentralisation.

As you know, today the Association brings forward an update to our 2004 report on the decentralisation programme. The report will be considered in more detail later on, so I won’t go into it chapter and verse. But I do want to mention the main issues in the report – and I’ll
start by saying that it calls for an immediate and radical review of this decentralisation programme.

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Now I want to make something absolutely clear, in case anyone out there hasn’t already got the message. The AHCPS is not opposed to decentralisation. Decentralisation, when properly
thought out, planned and introduced is fully supported by the Association. But this decentralisation venture is not properly thought out or planned. Because of this, it is causing serious issues for our members, and it presents risks to the public interest. The Association believes that decentralisation should be planned and implemented in a way that manages the career development and progression interests of our members in Dublin and outside
Dublin in a balanced way.

But instead we have a programme that removes career development opportunities for people who are unable or unwilling to move from Dublin. While this affects people at all levels, the effects hit AHCPS members particularly hard. Because of their age profile and family circumstances, it is our members who face the toughest choices between their family
obligations and their careers and contribution to public service.

Our members play a key role in the development and co-ordination of Government policy. In today’s complex society, the most pressing policy need is for joined-up thinking and joined-up government. For that to happen, you need close and intensive cooperation between people who are experts in their policy areas. But under this decentralisation programme, more than 90% of the people who have deep policy expertise will change jobs and will be
scattered to a variety of locations. This will present serious risks to the quality of expert support for Ministers and the Oireachtas, and to the level of expertise Ireland will have in negotiations at the EU and other international bodies. It will also make it more difficult
to maintain and improve standards of service to citizens.

The other issue of concern is cost. The capital cost of this decentralisation programme has been estimated at €900 million. But because no meaningful cost assessment has ever been
conducted – including analysis of ongoing costs - it is safe to say that the ultimate cost will be significantly higher than €900 million. Taxpayers and citizens could be forgiven for wondering why so much of their money is being spent on a scheme that won’t improve public services – and which might in fact make them worse!

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For these reasons, the report calls for an immediate and radical review of the structure, timescale, impact and extent of decentralisation. The time for that review is now - before it is too late.

As I said earlier, today marks a significant change for the Association, because after 20 years of service at the helm of the Association, this is Seán Ó Riordáin’s last ADC as General
Secretary. Later on this morning, there will be an opportunity for delegates to make their own observations about Seán’s outstanding contribution to the Association – and I’m sure many of you will grasp that opportunity with enthusiasm. Right now, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about a man for whom I have the utmost admiration, and someone I regard as having an enormous influence on my own thinking and personal development.

First and foremost, let it be said that Seán Ó Riordáin shaped the AHCPS as we know it today. He brought to the Association a set of leadership qualities and vision, translated those into strategies and tactics, and led the Association through 20 years of growth
and change. In the days of classical adversarial IR, Seán steered the AHCPS through the troubled waters of negotiation and arbitration with tactical judgement, resolve, and quite an amount of courage. As we moved to the more contemporary partnership and benchmarking scene, Seán brought into play his strategic awareness of the public service reform agenda, its potential impacts on our members – and of course, the central role of our members in shaping and enacting reform. And that strategic awareness of Seán’s was instrumental in delivering benefits for our members, especially in the last benchmarking exercise.

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Through all of this time, the key qualities that Seán brought to the job were his intelligence and strategic thinking, his tenacity and determination, and crucially, his strong work ethic. And in a world where the stereotype view of the civil servant is of a grey man in a grey suit in a monochrome setting, Seán Ó Riordáin is a man who has lived out his career in generous technicolour. He is energetic, emotive, courageous, creative, intense, and thought
provoking. He has a passion for the issues, and a zest for the fray, that are infectious and inspiring. That’s what makes him great to work with and the best of company. It has been my privilege to work with Seán over the last few years on the Executive Committee, and I want to thank him for all he has done for the Association, and to wish him and Siobhan the very best for the future.

A key aspect of Seán’s strategic approach to leadership was his insistence that the Association follow best practice in planning for the future. With this in mind, two years ago the Executive Committee set in train a process that would lead to the appointment of a new General Secretary. This process was managed by the Executive Committee, and headed by Seán in his capacity as outgoing General Secretary and by the Officers – the Treasurer, the Vice-Chairperson and myself. As well as relying on the knowledge and expertise of its own members, the Executive Committee also engaged the assistance of strategic HR consultants, and for the competition interview itself was fortunate to be able to call on the experience and knowledge of the GeneralSecretary of the ICTU, David Begg.

As you know, following this process we were delighted to announce the appointment of Dave Thomas as General Secretary designate. Dave is someone with extensive and deep experience and expertise in industrial relations developed over many years as a PSEU activist, Secretary to the General Staff Panel, and of course as a full time official with this Association. This experience has made him a skilled and expert negotiator, with excellent analytical abilities and tactical judgment. These skills, along with his persistence, patience and deep understanding of the industrial relations landscape of the civil service, will serve him well in his role as General Secretary, and I wish him the best of luck in his new job.

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I would like to finish by saying a few words of thanks and appreciation. Firstly, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Executive Committee for all their work through the year. I would particularly like to thank those Executive Committee members who are not standing for re-election, and although he isn’t here today, I want to say a special word of thanks to Gerry Rowley for all of his service to the Association. I would also like to thank my fellow officers, Ciaran Rohan and Mary McLoughlin, for all that they have done and continue to do for the Association, and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Ciaran well as he takes on the role of Chairperson. I also want to pay tribute to the Association’s officials and staff for all their work – Seán and Dave whom I’ve mentioned already, and of course John Kelleher, Dorothy Aughey and Jackie Lacey. Thanks also to Pat Feeney, our Revenue Branch
Administration official in HQ.

I would like to record my appreciation – and I speak for the officials and the Executive when I say this – of the vital work done locally by the Association’s many Branch activists and Committee members. In that regard, I must make special mention of my own colleagues on the Revenue Branch Committee, and say thank you for your support and forbearance in my time as an officer of the Association. In thinking of the contribution made by our branch
activists, I must recall with sadness the death last December of Anita Curry, who was the well-liked and respected secretary of our branch in the Courts Service. May she rest in peace.

I would also like to say thanks to Tom Quigley and Joe Brennan for their roles in making a record of ADC proceedings. And I would also like to say a word of thanks to someone in advance of doing this work for the Association. This year sees the retirement of
Laura Noonan from Revenue, after four years of service locally for the AHCPS, and many years of service before that for the Association of Inspectors of Taxes, and I want to thank her for all her service in the past, as well as for joining the team to produce the Conference minutes.

I remarked earlier that today is my last day as Chairperson of the Association. It is a position I am very proud to have held, and I leave it today with a sense of valediction and a little bit of sadness.

Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo aris. Thank you.

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Address by AHCPS General Secretary Sean O Riordain

Chairperson, delegates

The past year was a very important in industrial relation terms with the conclusion of the TOWARDS 2016, Benchmarking II, the ongoing decentralisation drama and, thankfully, the emergence of a more favourable industrial relation climate in An Post.

There was also, as you know, another event of great importance for the Association with the appointment, following an open selection process, of Dave Thomas as General Secretary Designate and I will return to that again later. But, firstly, I want to report on the immediate industrial relation issues.

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Towards 2016
Towards 2016 is the eight social partnership agreement since 1987 and, in many respects, is by far the most ambitious and important from a trade union perspective. It had a long and difficult period of gestation following GAMA and Irish Ferries in the private sector, and there were also intensive negotiations on modernisation and change in the public sector.

The Agreement is widely perceived to represent a new paradigm in terms of the input which it gives the trade union movement in drawing up a shared vision of economic and social development in Ireland over the ten year period to 2016. The Agreement addresses what is perhaps the central political question – how economic advance in a competitive global market economy can be better tempered with concepts of social justice.

But social partnership is under great strain and the negotiation of Towards 2016 was substantially more difficult than on previous occasions. The reality for the majority of workers is that pay is the glue that holds social partnership together, and with inflation increasing and pay difficulties emerging in both public and private sectors, it is clear that the social partnership process, which has been of enormous benefit to Ireland, will be tested in the months ahead.

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Benchmarking II
Turning now to benchmarking. You will be aware that the Association has made submissions and presentations to the Benchmarking Body in respect of the Principal, Assistant Principal and Prison Governor grades. As on the previous occasion in 2000, we engaged INBUCON Ireland Ltd to carry out a comprehensive job and remuneration evaluation exercise and we also had the assistance of Brian Barry, Burnham House Consultants in preparing the PO-AP submission.

The Benchmarking Body is due to report later this year and, obviously, we await the outcome with great interest. The actual implementation of recommendations will be discussed with the unions in the context of the pay arrangements which will follow the current phase of Towards 2016.

The benchmarking process has, as you know, come under pressure in recent times. While I don’t want to add to difficulties in the health sector, it might be useful to remember that independent benchmarking was put in place by both sides as the reasonable alternative to having public service pay determined on the streets, with all the difficulties and disadvantages which went with that.

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Benchmarking or arbitration are rational models of pay determination which, like social partnership, have served both the country and the trade union movement well. We need to be careful about undermining them. Equally, looking forward, the Government and industrial relation practitioners will understand that the public sector unions will not buy into any benchmarking model that might depart from the criteria for pay determination agreed between the parties or that might become an instrument for undermining public service pay and conditions in the future.

The principal issue dominating the industrial relations landscape in the civil service and in many of the state agencies is not pay. It is decentralisation.

The reality of decentralisation at this stage, I believe, is that everybody from the Taoiseach down knows that there are aspects of the decentralisation programme which just do not make sense. And the “carry on regardless” approach makes even less sense.

The Executive Committee has circulated an updated Report on decentralisation in which we highlight the continuing difficulties both from a human resources/IR perspective and from the perspective of delivery of quality public services. This will be further discussed at Conference.

Let me just say at this stage that the Association policy is unambiguously clear. We recognise and welcome the benefits to the public and to our members of a well thought out and rational model of decentralisation. But the current programme has fatal flaws.

In the state agencies, in areas like FAS where we have reports virtually nobody wants to decentralise and, in the civil service, not alone are there substantial surpluses in Dublin but the achievement of decentralised targets in provincial locations is critically dependent on the transfer of staff from existing to the new decentralising locations. Of the 4,000 staff willing to move from existing provincial locations there are only 600 plus staff in Dublin who want to back fill these vacancies.

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I would like to emphasis two key aspects here. From a human resources/industrial relations perspective our key requirement is that our members will have real jobs and that resources and legitimate career expectations are not further undermined. From a quality perspective we want to see the programme changed in a manner which stops the undermining of public services.

There is, as outlined in the report, a need for an immediate review and the solution we offer is very simple. The scope and time-scale of decentralisation should be adjusted. There is a very strong case for retaining a policy development and policy coordination role in Dublin and it is equally clear that the nature of services delivered by certain organisations would dictate that more staff should remain in Dublin.

With a degree of common sense and good will by Government the circle is capable of being squared so far as the AHCPS senior management grades are concerned. What is required is broad balance between the numbers wishing to decentralise and the jobs selected to move. A reorganisation on the lines proposed in our document would lead to a reduction in the order of 300 to 400 in senior management at Principal and Assistant Principal level posts moving. This would bridge the gap in a way which would make sense both from a human resource/industrial relations and from quality public service perspective.

There is a better way forward.

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An Post

Turning now to An Post I am glad to say that industrial relations climate has substantially improved with the changing of the top guard and the payment of Sustaining Progress. There was a long hard campaign by the An Post group of unions to secure full payment of Sustaining Progress and it is very difficult to see how the Company could have moved forward without a settlement.

That is not to say that all the difficulties are over in An Post. The Draft EU Directive on Postal Liberalisation will have major implications and, as you will see from the Annual Report we had to go to the LRC/Rights Commissioners and Labour Court on a number of occasions on matters arising from the 2005 Productivity and Change Agreement with the Company. There is an ongoing debate about performance related pay.

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

I would like, before concluding, to refer briefly to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. You will see from the Annual report that the industrial relations situation in the Authority is appalling. Uniquely, in my experience either in management or in unions, there is a situation in the Authority in which it is virtually impossible to get anybody who will talk to us about sensitive industrial relation matters. The Authority had recently to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Labour Court having refused to deal with the Association either at the LRC or the Rights Commission Service. The Labour Court, in addition to upholding the integrity of our members’ case, also called on both sides to engage with each other and establish a better industrial relations climate.

It is unbelievable that, despite writing to the former Chairman, to the members of the Board and to the Chief Executive of the Authority with a view to the discussions on the Labour Court Recommendation we have not even received the courtesy of a reply. What I would say to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is to stop burying your head in the sand and hoping we will disappear. We won’t. We would much prefer to be talking to you in private than in public and all we are trying to achieve is the establishment of normal industrial relations practices in the Authority.

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This is my 21st and final conference as General Secretary.

I am conscious that there are matters relating to me further on in the Agenda but, at this stage, and at the risk of later repetition, I want to make some brief comments.

I want to thank the Officers, Philip, Ciaran and Mary and the Executive Committee for their help and support over the past year and I want to echo that thanks in respect of previous officers and executives since 1987.

I want to thank Brian Ingoldsby and Standing Orders Committee for their customary care and attention to organising conference business. I want to thank Tom Quigley, as ever, for being available to do the minutes and to help along with Joe Brennan in the organisation of Conference.

I want especially to thank the people with whom I work in the Association, Jackie, Dave, John, Dorothy and, most recently, Pat Feeney our Revenue Branch Administrator.

I want to congratulate Dave Thomas on his appointment as General Secretary Designate and to wish him well.

Finally, I want to thank branch officers and you, the members, for your help this year and over many years. It has been an honour and privilege to have worked with all of you as General Secretary and I wish you and the Association well in the years ahead.


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