Ahern turns tables on decentralisation critic

BERTIE AHERN yesterday turned the tables on one of the most trenchant critics of the Government’s decentralisation programme, Professor Ed Walsh, and also lashed the “gombeen” opposition to the plan.

The impact of the decentralisation programme on the delivery of public services was again questioned by opposition leaders, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael and Pat Rabbitte of Labour.

Defending the relocation of 10,300 civil servants to 53 locations, the Taoiseach said he did not accept that the changes will have any adverse effects on the workings of government departments as it was normal practice in business to use technology to communicate. “We should try not to think in old-fashioned ways that have more to do with gombeen days,” he said.

Professor Walsh’s success in the development of the University of Limerick was a classic example of effective decentralisation, Mr Ahern said, as the former UL president moved to the city 25 years ago because he believed it wasn’t necessary to centralise all higher education facilities.

“Ed Walsh left Dublin like a rocket to get down to Limerick to develop his career, of which I reminded him, and he did it very well,” he said.

“He is in favour of decentralisation, but he urges caution,” Mr Ahern added.

Today, the Oireachtas Finance Committee will discuss the programme with the Department of Finance official administering the Central Applications Facility and Phil Flynn, the chairman of the Decentralisation Implementation Group.

Denying there is any slowdown in the plan, Mr Ahern accepted that not all the civil servants will be moved by the end of 2007, but said that substantial progress would be made. While Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said decentralisation made sense, he said the figure of 10,300 was plucked out of the air because the Taoiseach had admitted specific research was not carried out before the announcement of the plan by Charlie McCreevy.

Referring to applications from the Department of An Taoiseach, Mr Ahern said 44 civil servants - about 20% of the total staff - applied to move under the Central Applications Facility.

Although the Department of An Taoiseach is not moving, Mr Ahern said he did not see any difficulties in the development of policy as a result of the movements of eight other departments.

The greater use of IT and conference call facilities will allow for communications difficulties to be overcome.

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