Government moves for legal limit on number of ministerial advisers

 

THE Government yesterday moved to limit legally the number of special adviser' for senior and junior ministers.

Announcing the restriction the Minister of State for Finance, Mr Hugh Coveney, said that during the Committee Stage debate on the Public Service Management Bill some speakers had complained that under the present Government, there had beer an unprecedented proliferation of "external" ministerial advisers.

"Although I made it clear this view was unfounded and that the system had built into it safeguards against overmanning and overpayment, I was left with a feeling that members felt some statutory limitation was called for."

He was proposing the putting into statutory form the limitations which the

Government had put into place on coming into office.

In general, there would be a restriction on the number of advisers to two to each Minister and one to each Minister of State. "Exceptions are made to this limit in the case of the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and any other minister who may be the leader of a party."

This was because the Taoiseach's concerns spanned the entire, gamut, of governmental activity and in a coalition government, the Tanaiste and any other party leader would have similar wide concerns with activities outside his or her narrower departmental area, Mr Coveney said.

A Minister of State permitted to attend Government meetings on a regular basis such as Chief Whip, Mr Jim Higgins, or Mr Pat Rabbitte (DL) - would be treated in the same way as a full minister.

Mr Dick Roche (FE) argued that the role of advisers should not be given statutory respectability in the Bill. The Oireachtas did not have sufficient control over this growth area. There had been an enormous expansion in the number of advisers, programme managers and consultants in the public service area.

This had resulted in a staggering rise in costs. For example, £34 million had been spent on consultants in 1995-96. Saying this was an addition to the cost of advisers, Mr Roche asked. "In the name of God, what are our public service doing?"

Even under the new arrangements proposed by the Minister, the costs of advisers could rise significantly.

"We are writing a blank cheque for future administrations." Contracts could be given which would have to be bought out, he warned.

Independent senators Mr Joe O'Toole and Prof Joe Lee proposed a maximum ceiling of 100 for such appointments.

Prof Lee thanked the Minister for responding to the anxieties which had previously been voiced on the issue, but he cautioned that the exemptions provided for would not prevent any number of advisers being launched into orbit under the legislation.

The Government Chief Whip, Mr Paddy Bourke (FG), said the ministerial amendment would put in place the necessary controls.

Mr Coveney told the House that the number of advisers and programme managers currently stood at 55. The danger of setting a cap of 100 was that this could become the norm and this was something he felt should be avoided.

The amendment was agreed.