Selection process for financial watchdog criticised


MINISTER FOR Finance Michael Noonan has defended the procedure for the appointment of senior public servants as the Dáil backed the nomination of Séamus McCarthy as the new Comptroller Auditor General.

Independent TD Shane Ross criticised the selection process for the State’s financial watchdog, saying it was the appointment of an “insider by insiders” and only one person on the interview panel had “any private sector experience or knowledge”.

He also criticised the lack of involvement by Oireachtas members and the lack of a public hearing for the position. The nomination came before the House only for “rubber stamping”.

Mr Ross said he had “absolutely no reason to question the competence of the selected candidate”, partly because he was not involved in the competition and did not know enough about the process, which he criticised for being done “completely and utterly behind closed doors”.

Fifteen candidates applied, six were called for preliminary interview and three for final interview, all of them “insiders”. Mr Noonan said he was not averse to public hearings, but “I am not convinced there is anything untoward about the way things are done at present”. The selection process was quite good, and “I do not doubt that the best candidate was recommended for the job”.

He said some consideration was necessary before elected members of the House “are given a role in selecting part of the permanent administration”. The role of comptroller was enshrined in law and “the independence of that office from the Government is one of the key factors in its strength”.

Mr McCarthy, who succeeds outgoing comptroller John Buckley who retired in February, is a director of audit in the office and has responsibility for exchequer control, for reporting and for liaison with the Committee of Public Accounts. A long-time official in the C AG’s office, he previously worked in the Department of Finance, where he was involved in policy analysis. He has a BA in economics and political science and an MSc in public sector analysis.

Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts John McGuinness welcomed Mr McCarthy’s appointment, and found him to be “professional, diligent and effective”. He also praised the outgoing comptroller and his predecessor John Purcell, who did their job “in an exceptional manner without fear or favour”.

Mr McGuinness, who introduced legislation rejected by the Government to bring local authorities within the comptroller’s remit, said it was worrying that €5 billion of taxpayers’ money was spent by local government but could not be audited by the CAG and thus the committee, and he called for the Minister to act on this.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald paid tribute to Mr Buckley and welcomed Mr McCarthy’s appointment. “I have absolutely no doubt Mr McCarthy is the best man for the job”.

She asked how many women had applied for the job, noting that only 25 per cent of the senior staff in the office are women. She also asked whether there were candidates from outside the public sector, but she insisted the points “are not in any way to take away from the appointment proposed today”.

Mr Noonan also praised Mr Buckley as “highly professional and effective”. The Minister said the recommendation of Mr McCarthy “was made by eminent independent people involved in this process who have experience at home and abroad”.