Government to fall short on quango closures

Tue, Oct 16, 2012, 01:00

The goal of 48 closures by year-end will not be met and it is likely that most agencies will not be shut down or merged until late next year, writes HARRY McGEE

THE GOVERNMENT’S target to shut down 48 quangos by the end of 2012 will not be met by 31 of the bodies on its list. There are a small number that will miss it by a matter of months but information disclosed by relevant departments shows that the majority of agencies will not be closed until late next year at the earliest.

Primary legislation has been published, or will be published this autumn, to allow some six bodies be abolished or merged. While there is an outside chance that one or two of those agencies may shut its doors by the end of the year, it is more likely that this will not begin happening until early next year.

Those plans in this category, with enabling Bills promised this autumn, include: reduction of the number of Vocational Education Committees from 33 to 16 (the Bill was published on October 5th); the merger of the Competition Authority and National Consumer Agency; bringing the Civil Defence Board back into the Department of Defence; and the setting up of a new Child and Family Support Agency.

For over half of the bodies on the list, however, dates for their abolition or merger have slipped back into mid-2013 or later.

And there is a smaller group, of about 10 bodies, where little progress seems to have been made since November 2011, or where the department is unable to say when the abolition or merger will proceed.

For some of those, action looks remote before 2014 or at all.

Those agencies that fall into the delayed category include some of the biggest and most controversial mergers. The plan to merge the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission into one body has been more complicated than envisaged. A selection panel chaired by Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has been formed to choose the members of the new commission. But it will not be established until later next year, as mid-2013 has been given as the earliest date for the enabling legislation.

Similarly the Department of Jobs and Enterprise has attributed slippage from the announced deadlines to the complicated nature of its big rationalisations. One of the biggest projects is to merge five employment relations bodies including the Labour Court, the Labour Relations Commission and the Employment Appeals Tribunal into one agency. The department says that a Bill will be published early next year.

A process began last summer to merge Forfás back into the department but that is unlikely to conclude until the middle of next year.

The plan to abolish the 35 county and city enterprise boards (with Enterprise Ireland taking over their functions) seems to be at an early stage. The legislation to give it effect is not scheduled for publication until the middle of next year.

There seems to have been limited progress on the projects targeted for 2012 in the Department of Arts and Heritage. There were plans for the National Library and National Museum to share services. Also for the functions of Language Commissioner Seán Ó Curreáin to be merged into the Ombudsman’s office and for the three main art galleries – the National Gallery; Irish Museum of Modern Art and Crawford Art Gallery – to be combined. There was also a proposal to abolish the National Archives, and the Manuscripts Commission, and merge both into the National Library.

The National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency is also to merge. The Bill to give it statutory effect is expected in 2013. Plans to merge the Irish Aviation Authority and the Commission for Aviation Regulation ran into some legal problems as some of the IAA’s activities are commercial and it would have ended up regulating itself. A revised plan to separate the commercial side into a separate entity is being drawn up.