Concern voiced over drinking in Civil Service


The problem of individual civil servants going on “isolated drinking-sprees” seemed to be giving way in 1978 to “a more widespread pattern of drinking at lunchtime and off duty”, an official working party reported that year.

Concerns that alcoholism and drug abuse could become a problem in the Civil Service are recorded in the report of the interdepartmental working party which has been released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

The report is dated October 12th, 1978, but it has only come to light this year as one of the files from the Department of the Taoiseach.

The document, entitled Report of the Working Party on Disciplinary Procedures, was based on a detailed questionnaire circulated to the 23 government departments and offices.

Seventeen submitted replies. Those which are listed as not having responded include the departments of the Taoiseach and Finance and the Offices of the Revenue Commissioners and the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Under the heading of “Intemperance”, personnel officers in each department were asked: “Do you consider that there is a problem among staff of your Department regarding: (a) Alcoholism; (b) Heavy drinking (on or off duty); (c) Drug abuse, e.g. pep pills, tranquillisers, or ‘harder’ drugs (on or off duty); (d) Other.”

‘Late attendance’

The questionnaire further asks for an estimate of the number of days lost each year as a result and the measures taken to identify problems and monitor “possible drink-related illnesses such as ‘gastritis’, ‘nervous disposition’, ‘lumbar pain’ as well as obvious illnesses such as cirrhosis”.

Assessing the replies, the working party notes “a general feeling of a growing problem regarding intemperance”.

The report adds: “As drinking habits change, the problem of individuals going on isolated drinking-sprees seems to be giving way to a more widespread pattern of drinking at lunchtime and off-duty.

“Similarly, they note the indications of a possible drug abuse problem.”

One department (not identified in the report) “notes that an increasing number of explanations for late attendance refer to the officers being unable to get up on time because they are on medically-prescribed tranquillisers”.

The report continues: “A second, large department reported that, while they do not have a problem, the first indications of a drug abuse situation are beginning to show.”

Monitoring sick leave

Only two departments said they took any formal measures to identify drink or drug problems by monitoring sick-leave patterns. And the report notes that this has to change.

Despite the lack of formal arrangements, “most Departments attempt to assist staff with intemperance problems”, mainly through some form of counselling.

Calling for a realistic approach, such as an alcoholic referral programme, the report notes that, “where drunkenness was previously a reason for sacking an employee, it is now put forward as a defence where disciplinary action for other reasons is proposed”.

On the issue of regular uncertified sick leave, the working party suggests that this “can best be tackled in the long term by altering the work environment and content through job-enrichment or other schemes of staff motivation”.

The report adds: “In the short term the working party favour an extension of counselling and other personal involvement by supervisors with their staff. They doubt that resorting more frequently to withdrawing the privilege of uncertified sick leave would in itself be effective and, indeed, feel that this could sometimes be counter-productive in the long term.”

Such disciplinary action could have the effect of “some individuals changing from one or two extra days uncertified sick leave to one or two extra weeks certified sick leave”.

Intemperance questionnaire

“Do you consider that there is a problem among staff of your department regarding:

(a) Alcoholism;

(b) Heavy drinking (on or off duty);

(c) Drug abuse, eg pep pills, tranquillisers, or ‘harder’ drugs (on or off duty);

(d) Other