Dáil Éireann - Volume 464 - 23 April, 1996

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Strategic Management Initiative.

9. Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposed Strategic Management Initiative for the Public Service. [8114/96]

The Taoiseach: The co-ordinating group of secretaries under the strategic management initiative — SMI — has now completed its report setting out a comprehensive framework of change for the Civil Service and its extension to the wider public service. The recommendations in the report have been [560] endorsed by Government. The Government will announce on 2 May, a major programme of change which sets out the strategic direction for the Irish civil and public service of the future.

Leaders of the Opposition parties and trade unions will be briefed on the programme in advance of the announcements on 2 May. Civil and public servants at all levels will be consulted and will participate in the development and implementation of the changes to be undertaken. At the level of individual organisations, all Departments and offices will publish a statement of strategy before the end of this year. Local authorities have also been asked to prepare statements by the end of March next year. Extension of the SMI process to the other public service organisations will be completed during 1996.

Miss Harney: I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply. Are all the staff unions in the public service on board for this process?

The Taoiseach: I believe so. The preparation of this initiative has been under way for a long time and has been the subject of extensive consultations with the unions representing staff. It is important to recognise that the staff are the key to the success of any initiative of this kind and their co-operation is being sought in every way possible. The strategic management initiative, when in place, will make work in the Civil Service more rewarding and interesting for the staff.

Miss Harney: Will there be a specific timescale for the implementation of the change?

The Taoiseach: There is a timescale to which a series of working groups will work. Obviously, this is a consultative process in which one is seeking to concert a wide number of people into agreements about new practices and new ways of working. Therefore, one will not put anybody in the position of being forced to work to rigid or artificial [561] deadlines. However, there will be a clear sense of purpose and a clear target in terms of implementing the steps involved in the strategic management initiative.

Mr. B. Ahern: I support this process, as the Taoiseach knows. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to delay the reform of the Ministers and Secretaries Act pending the SMI work being undertaken or will the work that was already commenced on the Act, which is now about 72 years old, continue?

The Taoiseach: It will. One of the working groups established to carry forward the strategic management initiative, following the Government announcement on 2 May, specifically deals with the Ministers and Secretaries Act. It is important to make whatever changes are necessary in the legislative framework of the Civil Service in tandem with the introduction of changes in practice within the service. These two should work parallel with each other rather than otherwise. One could not make changes in the Ministers and Secretaries Act independently of the strategic management initiative either because one must reflect what is happening in the initiative in the changes in the Act.

An Ceann Comhairle: That concludes questions to the Taoiseach for today. We now proceed to deal with questions nominated for priority.

Mr. N. Treacy: On a point of order, I tabled three questions for priority on the GSM mobile phone licence and they have been ruled out of order. I cannot understand what role we can have as parliamentarians if we are not allowed to table questions on the serious concerns of this nation.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is a long standing convention of the House that the rulings of the Chair are not challenged in this fashion. The Deputy's questions were ruled out of order for [562] the usual good and cogent reasons. If he seeks elaboration on the matter, my office is available to him.

Mr. N. Treacy: I would like the Ceann Comhairle's guidance.

An Ceann Comhairle: It must not be raised in the House now.

Mr. N. Treacy: They are important political questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is out of order and he must resume his seat.

Mr. N. Treacy: We are told that when the Minister spoke in this House last week he answered questions fully. However, there are several questions to which we require answers. A vital national asset was disposed of at 20 per cent of its value and the people were short-changed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, it is particularly disorderly to raise a matter in this fashion.

Mr. N. Treacy: It is unfair to Members that we are not allowed to raise this matter today.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is seeking to shout me down. I will ask him to leave the House.

Mr. B. Ahern: A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: There is no point of order.

Mr. B. Ahern: I have already lost one spokesperson on this issue and I do not wish to lose the entire party.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is particularly disorderly——

Mr. B. Ahern: We want to be orderly.

[563] An Ceann Comhairle: —— to challenge the Chair in this fashion at a time when the House knows that we are about to embark on a matter to which a rigid time limit applies.

Mr. B. Ahern: We will be orderly. However, the Ceann Comhairle will understand that when spokespersons put down valid questions that have not been answered it is very——

An Ceann Comhairle: I have no control over that.

Mr. B. Ahern: That is the point.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am coming to questions nominated for priority——

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: On a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will hear no further points of order. The Deputy must resume his seat.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: The Ceann Comhairle's ruling is not in question. I seek the Ceann Comhairle's guidance.

An Ceann Comhairle: Not now, Deputy. You may have my guidance later on in my office.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: The Minister's Department is refusing to answer questions on the basis that there is further information available——

An Ceann Comhairle: If this continues I will adjourn the proceedings.

Mr. B. Ahern: We would not get any answers then.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is right, if that is the way you want to play the game. We will have order or we will have nothing.

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Lowry): I wish to correct the erroneous statement made by Deputy O'Keeffe. My Department [564] did not refuse to answer anything and neither did I.

An Ceann Comhairle: Can we please proceed to Question No. 11?

Mr. B. Ahern: The Minister should not start that. His office spent two days getting rid of those questions. He and I know that.

Mr. Lowry: The Deputy's political judgment and that of his spokesman has been called into question, as evidenced by his self-imposed exile.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister is obliged to obey the Chair as much as any other Member. He must proceed to answer Question No. 11 which I have called.