Public sector standards - Foreplay has gone on for long enough

These are not good days for those who argue that high standards of accountability and professionalism are the norm in the public sector.

Regrettably, two reports, and some cameo moments, make it impossible to apply the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil dodge that preserves the peace in what passes for social cohesion in this stratified Republic. The reports also shows the rating system for public employees, where the great majority were awarded one of the two highest grades for the self-serving, feather-bedding swizz it was.

Though there has been some change in management at Tallaght Hospital — €180m a year from the State — and though the staff are probably caring and committed, the issues raised in yesterday’s Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) report are utterly unacceptable. In a society that recognised public morality, the report would provoke resignations in the hospital, the HSE, and among those Department of Health civil servants responsible for regulatory supervision. Some of those mandarins may suggest they are not culpable but if they aren’t, who is? And if they are not, what are they for?

Health Minister James Reilly acknowledged the findings are unacceptable. It would be reassuring, even revolutionary, to think that this will have consequences for individuals. But don’t hold your breath. Equally, it would be far more reassuring if Hiqa had the kind of teeth needed to confront these issues to ensure they do not recur. Reports are fine but the power to impose change-making censure would be better. It is almost as if Hiqa has, HSE-like, become a buffer zone between elected representatives and our health service.

In another episode in the same sorry saga yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee criticised the departments of finance, and arts, sports, and tourism, as well as the Revenue Commissioners and Campus Stadium Ireland over how a multimillion-euro court case was handled. Would these public employees have wasted their own money with such abandon?

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn made his own contribution. Talking about bullying in schools, he suggested that those who were bullied did not always enjoy the support from authorities that they might have expected. Another failure so.

Recently, details on the re-employment of retired and pensioned public servants were revealed. This scandal was fobbed off with the suggestion that these people were indispensable and as if the idea of training tomorrow’s managers was a radical departure. Gubu indeed.

While all of this was unfolding our largest public service union, Impact, was in conference in Killarney. General secretary Shay Cody warned that agreement on changing sick pay arrangements is unlikely. Mr Cody’s declaration comes on foot of a Government plan to reduce the annual sick pay bill of €550m — €63m of which is uncertified.

This Government has given as strong a mandate for deep reform as it could wish for. As these scandals, and Impact, have shown, the challenge is immense. But in this atmosphere, it is increasingly difficult to retain faith in the Croke Park process — Impact are to prepare for its renewal — where the private sector employers’ and employees’ interests are excluded as if they did not have a stake in the outcomes. There has been too much unsatisfactory, unproductive foreplay. It’s time to impose solutions if they cannot be agreed quickly. And if there are strikes, then so be it. It is time to bring matters to a head. The country simply cannot continue as it is.


Fearless is a slick new documentary airing next Monday on RTÉ 1 which follows Cork native and editor-in-chief of US Glamour, Samantha Barry, in the run up to the 29th Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Ruth O’Connor speaks to Barry about her editorship of one of Condé Nast's most important media outlets.The fearless Samantha Barry: From Ballincollig in Cork to editor of Glamour

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