Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 25 February, 1997

Written Answers. - Civil Service Regulations.

[779] 86. Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the reason some civil servants, excluding gardaí and Defence Forces personnel, are prohibited from contesting local or general elections; the Civil Service grades in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry which are so excluded; the proposals, if any, he has to alter these regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5088/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): The restrictions on civil servants engaging in political activity operate at two levels; legislative and administrative. Under the Electoral Acts no civil servant may be elected to or sit as a member of Dáil Éireann. Administrative rules on civil servants and political activity fall into two categories; restrictions on standing for election to political office and rules regarding the maintenance of political impartiality. Restrictions on civil servants standing for election are set out in circulars of 1925, 1934 and 1974. The restrictions were relaxed somewhat by the Government in 1974 and the current arrangements are as follows: (a) Civil servants are not permitted to stand for election to either House of the Oireachtas or to the European Assembly. This restriction applies to all categories of staff. (b) Civil servants in the industrial and in the manipulative, sub-clerical and manual grades are free to engage in political activity, subject to the general restriction in relation to parliamentary elections. Civil servants in this category may, therefore, contest local elections. (c) Members of the clerical grades in the civil service and civil servants in non-manipulative grades with salary maxima equal to or below the clerical officer maximum may apply for permission to engage in politics on the same basis as the staff referred to at (b) but officers employed on particular types of work may have their applications refused. (d) All civil servants above clerical level are totally debarred from engaging in politics. However, personal assistants and special advisers in Ministers' offices, whose terms of appointment are coterminous with those of the relevant appointing Minister, are exempt from the present arrangements covering State employees and politics.

In relation to local elections, the grades in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry which are not permitted to contest local elections in any circumstance are: secretary; assistant secretary; principal; assistant principal; administrative officer; higher executive officer; executive officer; staff officer; chief veterinary officer; deputy chief veterinary officer; deputy director veterinary research laboratory; senior superintending veterinary inspector; senior superintending research officer; chemist; veterinary inspector chief technologist; senior laboratory technician; research officer; laboratory technician; senior serological assistant; supervisory serological assistant; senior seed analyst; dairy laboratory assistant; poultry officer; supervising [780] poultry officer; supervising instructor (poultry); lay commissioner; examiner of title; assistant solicitor; senior legal clerk; legal clerk; chief inspector agriculture; deputy chief inspector; senior inspector; agricultural inspector; assistant agricultural inspector; inspector grade I; inspector grade II; inspector grade III; senior inspector forestry; forestry inspector grade I; forestry inspector grade II; forestry inspector grade III; agricultural officer; higher agricultural officer; supervisory agricultural officer; district superintendent; senior supervisory agricultural officer; area superintendent; dairy produce officer.

These arrangements are kept under review by the Government who are conscious of the need to have as many citizens as possible play an active part in the affairs of the State, while at the same time ensuring public confidence in the political impartiality of civil servants. The Government consider that civil servants concerned with the framing of policy should serve, and be seen to serve, all Governments objectively and impartially. The Government also consider that public confidence in the impartial execution of Government policy could be lost if civil servants whose work entails, for instance, a direct service to the public (e.g. the allocation of grants) or access to confidential information were known adherents of a political party or known to have political ambitions. I have no plans to make any changes in this area at present. However, the matter is reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that no unnecessary restrictions apply. Any changes in existing rules would, of course, have to be approved by Government.