Frances Fitzgerald, on taking up office as minister, on June 3 2014, commissioned an ‘Independent Review Group’ to comprehensively review ‘the performance, management, and administration’ of the Department of Justice and Equality. The report of the group of 5 was published 27 July 2014. It contains little of interest to the student of our administrative system. It is the same old story, told of the Department of Health in the Travers report  and of the Department of Finance in the Wright report . The department, it seems, operates as a conglomeration of ‘simple structures’ [Litton 2006]. Senior management (the MAC) do not combine to provide the strategic perspective and oversight that is supposed to be their role.
On the 14 January last, the Government Reform Unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published a public consultation paper. It invites the public submit their views on ‘Strengthening Civil Service Accountability and Performance’. The paper discusses the ins-and-outs of the topic, presenting us with 19 questions that deserve answers.
The bad news is that the reforming ambitions of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are ill-judged and unrealisable. An Institute of Public Administration (IPA) report (Boyle 2013) compels this conclusion. The good news is that the makings of a more realistic model are available. Evidence from a National Economic and Social Council (NESC) report (NESC 2012) point a better way forward.
In this post, I explore how Boltanski’s and Thevenot’s analysis of social life as movement among different ‘worlds’ or ‘polities’ can help us understand how we reflect on the problems and obstacles we encounter. These, inevitably, involve balancing the claims of different polities. B&T explain how we do this.
Everywhere we find individuals navigating in circumstances quite different from those that shaped the aims and purposes embedded in their routines. Think of family life. How many parents conduct themselves as their parents did? their grandparents? Think of politics. Can today’s generation understand their grandparents’ commitment to a political movement and the ties of loyalty that bound them to a political party and its leader? It is not just that the landscape – social, economic, political – has changed, it continues to change. And as it does, the tacit knowledge guiding action connects less satisfactorily with the world. Change is unavoidable.
Minister Pat Rabbite does not believe that the crisis reveals weaknesses in our design for democracy. One might have expected his left wing background to predispose him to structural explanations. Not in this matter: he opts for agency – the system was not the problem, Fianna Fail was. Nonetheless he does believe that the relationship between ministers and civil servants deserves examination. Senior civil servants were not held to account for their failures that contributed to the crisis because their responsibilities are not clearly spelt out. The Government agrees with him and is committed to legislation that will clarify relationships and spell out responsibilities. I suppose the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are working on that legislation. Perhaps the following will help them.