Outgoing Fine Gael minister Jim Daly has chosen to go out with something of a bang in questioning one of the most fundamental conventions on which a parliamentary system such as ours is founded:
The delicate relationship between elected politicians serving as government ministers and people employed contractually by the State either as civil servants or as managers of our public services.
Irritated by newspaper, television and radio reports that almost always place the blame for failures in the provision of health services, education and housing — and perhaps he could have included the supervision of public spending on major capital projects — on ministers, he says the people responsible for the day-to-day management of these services should be named and put up for a media grilling when blunders are made.
The Taoiseach, he points out, doesn’t manage the health service, so why blame him — or one day it might be a her — for things that go wrong in hospitals?
It looks at first sight like a fair and logical argument, but it’s one that leads to the next question: If that is how it should work, for what exactly are ministers responsible? Their job, Mr Daly explains, is “to drive policy, to drive change, to make sure we get adequate funding and the best funding and all of that … and what I have ended up doing is, of course, looking at new ways of doing things …”
A consequence of this could well be one in which a hospital or education board manager when put in the stocks for a media interrogation has no choice but to explain that a mistake or a crisis was inevitable because a departmental minister drove policy changes in quite the wrong direction, didn’t secure adequate funding, and has failed to find new way of doing things.
No, Mr Daly has simply suggested a new version of the blame game; one that lets politicians off the hook.