Chairman of All Hallows highlights social innovation

Fri, Mar 16, 2012, 00:00

“IT’S NOT enough to do good, it must be done well,” former government secretary general Dermot McCarthy said yesterday, quoting St Vincent de Paul in a speech to mark his appointment as chairman of the board of governors at All Hallows College, Dublin.

Speaking following his inaugural meeting with the board, Mr McCarthy, who retired from his Civil Service position last July with an overall retirement package of €713,000, said the saint’s words reflected the spirit of the students and staff he had met in All Hallows College.

He also cited the founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, who in the 19th century had recognised the “huge potential” in the youth, imagination and academic discourse which “enabled universities to address the social problems of the day”.

“He saw it primarily as an issue about whether society was for exploitation or for solidarity, whether it was for self-service or the service of others.

“I think that’s a question which arises at this time. All of our academic institutions are being asked by the Higher Education Authority to reflect on what is their distinctive mission, what contribution do they make to the needs of society?”

Mr McCarthy said that, as well as a need for economic development, there was also a need for social innovation, catering for increased numbers of school leavers and to enable society to become fairer and more creative and dynamic, as well as more economically sustainable.

He said that All Hallows, a third-level institution which offers undergraduate courses in the teaching of theology, philosophy, psychology and English literature as well as offering postgraduate programmes, was a small institution but one which could make a contribution in this regard.

Mr McCarthy said it was appropriate that he should start his tenure on the feast day of Saint Louise de Marillac as she was a “very keen, effective organiser who understood the difference between the tactical and the strategic and how to link the two.

“And why wouldn’t she – she’d been married to a senior civil servant,” he said to laughter.

Before giving his speech Mr McCarthy was asked by The Irish Times how he would respond to criticism of his role as the country’s top civil servant during a time in which the bank guarantee was brought about and the Anglo promissory notes introduced.

“I don’t really want to comment on that,” he said. “I mean, I performed as a public servant, there are constraints in what you can say no matter what the controversy is, so I really don’t want to comment. I did my 40 years, that’s really all I have to say.”

A graduate of Trinity College, Mr McCarthy holds a BA and MLitt, both in economics. As a civil servant he has held many roles and positions within government, most recently in the Department of the Taoiseach.

He retired in July 2011 after 11 years in the position of secretary general to the government and as secretary general to the Department of An Taoiseach, where he served under Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny.

During his tenure of more than a decade Mr McCarthy was most associated with the social partnership process. As the taoiseach’s chief adviser he was entitled to attend all Cabinet meetings.

Following his retirement in July 2011, it emerged that Mr McCarthy was to receive an annual pension of €142,670, a once-off lump sum of €428,011 and a special severance payment of €142,670 on his retirement.

The Government later changed the retirement arrangements for secretaries general.