On February 12, 2014
In The Public Sector
DPER, Government Reform Unit, Pat Rabbitte, Pierre Rosanvallon
Frank, Thanks for yet another very interesting post and your comments on an important issue. In fact in terms of the events of the past week, it is self-evident that there needs to be some serious deliberation regarding the dynamics of the relationships between senior civil servants and their political masters and how they work in practice rather than according to assumptions that are, as you suggest, more appropriate to the political and administrative environment of the 1950s than the second decade of the 21st century.
As regards the present ‘crisis’ I’m puzzled and confused – as I think are so many other ordinary citizens – about what was really going on over last weekend and whether or not the ‘tapes’ issue is being blown out of proportion for political reasons,that are frankly baffling, or whether it represents a genuine crisis with far reaching implications for the administration of justice in our country. One small point, though, on which I think you might be able to assist my understanding – according to the time sequence, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice was sent by The Taoiseach to the home of the then Garda Commissioner on Monday evening to convey to him the Taoiseach’s concerns with regard to the ‘tapes’ issue which had been brought to the Taoiseach’s attention by the Attorney General the previous day. My question is: given that Ministers are ‘corporations sole’ has the Taoiseach the power/authority to direct the Secretary General of the Department of Justice to act on his behalf in this way? Can he do so without the assent of the line Minister to whom that Secretary General reports directly? Your view on this question would be appreciate
Yes, ‘situations’ do keep piling up. The calls for a Police Authority are yet another example of the lack of trust in the electoral/representative system. A new ‘functionally representative’ body is likely. Politicians and the media are too busy throwing stones to reflect on the pros and cons of this.
I am afraid I do not know the answer to your question on the Taoiseach’s authority over Secretary’generals. I suppose it follows from his authority over his Ministers.
The ‘corporation sole’ is a legal device to give a legal personality to a department; just as company law does for a firm. It’s origin lies in the middle ages when Parish priests were deemed the ‘corporation sole’ of the Parish. Of course, this legal doctrine has to put alongside the political and management ‘doctrines’ that provide the scaffold for the relationship between ministers and their civil servants.