State appointments - Hypocrisy is still alive and well

There is a powerful whiff of hypocrisy behind today’s shocking report showing the Government is shamelessly ignoring its own rules on appointments to state boards.

In a classic example of old-style Fianna Fáil politics, the majority of appointments have been made by ministers without going through a public advertisement process.

This makes a mockery of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s pledge that vacancies on the boards of state-funded bodies would be advertised to help attract new talent and simultaneously put an end to cronyism. Less than three years after making that pledge in March 2011, the performance has fallen far short of the promise.

What makes today’s revelations particularly odious is that the Taoiseach’s much-vaunted announcement came hot on the heels of a disgraceful rush by the outgoing Fianna Fáil administration to dole out jobs in its final days in office.

The Kenny initiative was applauded by an electorate sick of corruption in high places. However, like the leopard not changing its spots, politicians are quick to promise but slow to deliver. Instead of ushering in a new era, there is clear evidence that the murky business of nod-and-wink politics, honed to a fine art by Fianna Fáil, is alive and well under Fine Gael and Labour.

What really sticks in the craw is the sheer scale of the continuing practice of appointing supporters or specialists, call them what you will, without going through the process as the Taoiseach promised. In a display of what many will see as an echo of the kind of political arrogance reminiscent of the bad days of Fianna Fáil, an Irish Examiner analysis shows that less than 18% (191) of the 1,067 appointments to State boards since the Coalition came into office were publicly advertised.

If the results of the last general election demonstrated anything it was that voters strongly repudiated the notorious practice of ministers placing cronies in plum jobs. Yet we now learn that nearly 900 people have since been appointed directly by coalition ministers without going through the public application process.

It is not enough to claim they were specialists in their fields. For example, out of 22 positions filled by Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure and reform minister, not one was advertised. Ironically, that includes 14 people on the Appointments Services Board — the very board set-up to establish and streamline the advertisement process but which itself did not use the system.

Characteristically, Mr Howlin stoutly defends his position. He explains that to be representative of the Government’s client base, civil or public servants were nominated by ministers across all departments. In some cases, legislation required that civil servants or representatives of trade unions and social partners be placed on boards.

A shining example of how the promised system ought to be used involves the Department of Social Protection and Eugene McErlean — the man who blew the whistle on overcharging by AIB. He was chosen out of 172 applicants for a position on the Citizens Information Board. Yet his was the only appointment out of nine by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton to be thus recruited.

Overall, the wide-ranging analysis looks at the public advertisement process in departments ranging from Education to Transport, Finance, and beyond. Measured against the Taoiseach’s pledge of transparency and accountability, the results show that the hypocrisy of the bad old times is still here. To this Government’s shame, it has not gone away.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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