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18 March 2010 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column












A new approach to public appointments

In the recent past we have witnessed corruption in public life in the 26 counties, from politicians taking bribes, fixing planning applications, and granting exploration licenses to multinational conglomerates at virtually no benefit to the people of Ireland.
Additionally in the North, since the re-establishment of political institutions, the Assembly scrutiny committees are now beginning to uncover many examples of abuse of trust and bad practice from years of Direct Rule. The recent decisive action by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy in sacking four NI Water Board members should set the benchmark for all Ministers as an example of how those appointed to positions of public trust should be held accountable.
Most reasonable people will be outraged at the measures now being taken to address the devastating consequences of permitting the banks to operate virtually unregulated.  Most people will feel that these measures are not extensive enough nor will they properly hold to account those who were responsible for bringing the economy to the brink of bankruptcy and were allowed to walk away with virtually no sanction imposed. The people want to see new standards of accountability set for public appointments and strict regulation of financial institutions.  
The citizens of Ireland have been afflicted for too long with a system of cronyism, unelected quangos and blind-eye attitudes by government to unfettered profiteering by bankers and big developers. Public Procurement, for instance, is worth approximately €15 billion a year across the island and is presently open to abuse, as uncovered in the NI Water case. The awarding of Public Procurement contracts must be transparent, fair and easily accessible to local contractors.
Public opinion demands a wide-ranging, root and branch reform of all aspects of public life. It is time that the current bureaucratic gravy train system of public appointments, quangos and awarding of public contracts is replaced with one that is non-partisan and accountable. Presently some of the ‘chosen people’ seem to rotate from one unelected body to another. Some individuals even serve on multiple quangos simultaneously.
Appointments should be made only on the basis of qualification and objective criteria, not at the whim of government parties on the basis of cronyism or reward for political patronage. All such vacancies should be publicly advertised with applicants required to undergo a recruitment process that is open and transparent.   
It is time for the Oireachtas and Assembly to create Public Appointment Tribunals to conduct appointments in the interests of open government. These Public Appointment Tribunals should comprise a membership which is informed and representative.  They could be made up of the Chairs of relevant Oireachtas and Assembly Committees, which would not require any additional remuneration and would reflect the paramount principle of public service similar to the demand on those who seek public appointments.  
It is paramount at a time when public confidence in the political system is at an all-time low and the economy in crisis that all measures possible are taken to deliver the necessary change so that government structures and so-called ‘arms-length’ bodies are open and accountable to the people.  
We have an unprecedented public mood that provides an opportunity to address weaknesses in public administration and standards in business and commerce that should not be missed. If politicians do not deliver change then the electorate should change its politicians. 

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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