Tackling the "constipated" public and civil service will be one of the biggest challenges for Sinn Féin in government, Mary Lou McDonald has said.
The Sinn Féin leader has also said she and her ministers will take a pay cut if her party enters government after the next election.
Ms McDonald, who believes it would be dangerous to assume that her party is guaranteed to take power at the next general election, hit out at the public and civil service, claiming it needs a "jolt" to become more efficient.
In an interview with the, Ms McDonald said: "There is immense talent in our civil service, our public service, and our public administration, that's the first thing that needs to be said.
"I think that will be one of our biggest challenges if we get the opportunity to be in government. We're very clear that systemically and in terms of the processes of government and public policy that we need to have a very sharp focus on that and we need to speed things up."
Pointing to recruitment procedures in the health service, Ms McDonald said the length of time it takes to hire a consultant doctor or to recruit nursing staff is "just shocking". She also criticised the length of time it takes for capital projects to clear the planning system.
"It's just we have not found the art of balancing efficiency and due diligence. We shouldn't have to choose between one or the other, we need both, because obviously when you're dealing with public resources and systems, public monies, you need to be sure that you have the right accountability, that the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, but things can take forever."
Turning to the issue of politicians' pay, Ms McDonald said she would take a pay cut along with her cabinet upon entering government.
Sinn Féin's pre-election manifesto promised to reduce the salary top-ups of the taoiseach and government ministers by 50% and to use these savings to invest in frontline public services.
"My own view on this is whatever about TDs' rates of pay, I think the real difficulties arrive with ministerial and junior ministerial rates. I think that's an issue and we have objected very strongly and, in fact, returned the pay hikes even as TDs that were awarded, because in the real economy there is no great wage inflation. I mean, the cost of living has gone through the roof, in energy in particular, but people's wages aren't rising, it's fairly flat.
"So again, for us, this is not a matter of us being holier than thou or looking for plaudits. This is about being fair."