Dáil Éireann - Volume 649 - 11 March, 2008

Priority Questions. - Decentralisation Programme.

Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of civil servants that have decentralised to the overseas aid section in Limerick; the number of these who were previously serving in the section; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10525/08]

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: Under the Government’s decentralisation programme, the development co-operation directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is Irish Aid’s headquarters, will decentralise to Limerick. Good progress has been made and personnel have either been assigned to, or identified for, 105 posts or approximately 85% of the 124 posts scheduled to be decentralised.

An advance party has already decentralised to interim office premises in Limerick, with 57 officers currently in place, the majority since May 2007. A further 20 officers, who will decentralise to Limerick, have taken up duty in the Irish Aid offices in Dublin. It is expected that the remaining staff of Irish Aid, including these 20, will transfer to Limerick in June 2008, on completion and fit-out of the permanent accommodation.

Of the 105 posts mentioned, to which personnel have either been assigned or identified, 33 are filled by officers who were serving in the Department at the time the decentralisation programme was announced, many of whom had existing or previous experience of working in Irish Aid either at home or abroad. In addition, the transfer of staff to Irish Aid from other Departments began in May 2005, on a phased basis, with a view to maintaining business continuity and minimising risk to the programme during a period of change.

I am very pleased that, following intensive discussions with representatives of the development specialist grades, their union, IMPACT, and the Departments of Finance and Foreign Affairs, an agreement has recently been reached which I expect will result in a substantial number of experienced development specialists transferring to Limerick alongside their other departmental colleagues.

I would like to make the final point that a very significant portion of the Irish Aid programme is managed at programme country level. Our missions there are staffed by a combination of diplomatic officers, development specialists and locally hired technical and professional staff in a number of disciplines.

[774]   Deputy Billy Timmins: Can the Minister say how many people worked in Irish Aid in Dublin before decentralisation? Is this how many people are to decentralise to Limerick? The Minister said 57 members of staff have moved so far and I think more than 30 of these either worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs or Irish Aid. How many people will work in the Limerick office if this operation ever comes to an end and how many of them will have previously worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs? I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, speak of the evaluation and audit unit and the expertise it had. It consisted of ten personnel, five of whom worked in the audit unit. Of the ten in the evaluation and audit unit, how many previously worked in the section? I am concerned that expertise is being lost in an area that has grown in importance due to increased funding.

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: The overall figure is 124 posts that are to be scheduled, of which 105 have already been identified. Some 57 officers are already in place in temporary accommodation in Limerick. Of the 105 posts identified, 33 are filled by officers who served in the Department at the time of decentralisation and others have come from other Departments. Regarding the figure rising from 105 to 124 posts, it is anticipated that many development specialists will agree to move to Limerick, as a result of the agreement reached with them and their union, IMPACT.

Regarding the loss of expertise, no other Department is like the Department of Foreign Affairs; almost every senior officer in the Department will, at some stage, perform duties abroad. There is a constant circulation of people and it is normal for them to go abroad for four years. Many of the staff who will go to Limerick will have served abroad on behalf of Irish Aid or the diplomatic section of the Department.

  Deputy Billy Timmins: There is still a shortfall of some 48 personnel to go to Limerick as only 57 of the 105 posts there have been filled. What is delaying those 48 members of staff in moving to Limerick? Are these postings deemed attractive and were members of staff queueing outside the Minister’s door to make the move?

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: The staff in Limerick are currently working in temporary accommodation as the recently built offices are being outfitted. It is anticipated that this will be completed in June 2008. The balance of officers to move to Limerick are currently working in the Irish Aid offices in Dublin.