Coalition breaking own rules on state boards

The Government is continuing to break its own rules on appointments to state boards, with the majority of positions filled by people selected by ministers without going through a public advertisement process.

After entering office in Mar 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said vacancies on the boards of State-funded bodies would be advertised to help attract new talent and end cronyism.

It followed a controversy surrounding a range of appointments made by the Fianna Fáil-led government in its final days in office.

An Irish Examiner analysis of appointments by the current coalition government shows most ministers are overlooking rules they set.

Of 1,067 appointments made to state boards since the Coalition came into office, just 191 were through a public advertisement process — less than 18%.

Almost 900 people were appointed to positions directly by ministers without going through the public application process. In some cases, legislation required that representatives from government departments be placed on boards, or that nominations be made by the social partners.

Of the 22 positions filled by Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure and reform minister, none were advertised. This includes the 14 people given positions on the Appointments Services Board, which was set-up to centralise advertisements of such positions but did not itself use the structure.

Mr Howlin said the board had to be “representative of our client base” and was therefore made up of civil or public servants nominated by ministers across all departments. There is also a union representative nominated by Ictu, and Mr Howlin said he reappointed the outgoing chairman. A further two external people were appointed “because of their expertise in strategic change and public service recruitment respectively”, Mr Howlin said.

One example of where the rules were used successfully was in the Department of Social Protection, where Eugene McErlean — who blew the whistle on AIB overcharging — was chosen for a position on the Citizens Information Board.

Mr McErlean was one of 172 people who responded to invitations for expressions of interest in Jul 2011. He was the one of only nine appointments made by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton to be recruited through this process.

In the Department of Education, 28 of the 180 state board positions filled in agencies such as the State Examination Commission, the National Council for Special Education, and the Higher Education Authority were through the public appointment process.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar is the most compliant of all his cabinet colleagues. Of 120 appointments made by him, 66 — or 55% — had submitted expressions of interest. His spokesperson said the remainder were headhunted and “the vast majority of appointees have no political background, and the minority that do are drawn from all major parties”.

Of the 42 appointments or re-appointments made to boards under the Department of Finance, 13 had submitted CVs and gone through the application process.

Two appointments were made to the nine-member board of Nama during the period, but while the Department of Finance website sought expressions of interest, none were filled from this process.

Mr Noonan appointed five experts to the Fiscal Advisory Council, which advises the Government on budgetary matters. While these positions were not advertised, Mr Noonan said the department identified and considered potential candidates, against a range of criteria, and a high standard of economic expertise as well as a mix of backgrounds was needed.

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