Senior public servants have called on a Fianna Fáil TD to apologise and withdraw his comments which accused public servants of using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to "lie on the couch and watch box sets".
The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS) condemned the remarks made by Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry, adding that they were “ill-informed and ill-considered”.
In the Dáil late on Tuesday night, Mr MacSharry alleged State employees were opportunistic in using the crisis “to do nothing”.
Mr MacSharry said he had “dealings” recently with one State agency “where no one will be back in that office until the end of August”. They are working from home and “you have to talk to an answering machine”.
Mr MacSharry was speaking during a debate on legislation about the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.
Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne called on his party colleague to retract his comments also saying they were “ill-informed”.
“I believe Marc MacSharry should withdraw his remarks. There are many public servants whom I know who have worked exceptionally hard and been particularly innovative over the period of lockdown. I think his comments are ill informed.
“I believe that my views reflect those of every other member of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party.” A number of sources in Fianna Fáil have said there is “huge anger” at the comments and at Mr MacSharry’s decision to stand over them on Thursday.
In a statement on Thursday, the association said public and civil servants all over the country have reached out to them to complain about Mr MacSharry’s comments.
“They are, quite properly, offended and hurt at his blatant disregard, for what has been a national collective effort to navigate through the worst pandemic in living memory, led in no small way by our civil and public service,” the statement said.
“Like many workers – in the public and private sectors – our members have gone above and beyond in the last number of months in the discharge of their duties.”
However, in a radio interview on Thursday, Mr MacSharry repeated his controversial remarks declaring that people should not have to put up with “mediocrity dressed up as efficiency”.
He admitted his allegations would draw “anger from many of the hard working people who were in the spare bedroom or kitchen tables over the past period of time” but insisted they had to be voiced.
“I’m afraid it gives me no pleasure to do it, but I must stand over the comments,” he said.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, Mr MacSharry said his remarks “clearly don’t apply to all” public servants, but added “it doesn’t take from my view, in terms of this point needing to be made.”
“The public at large can not be expected to accept mediocrity dressed up as efficiency on a consistent basis,” he said.
Mr MacSharry described his comments about watching box sets as “evocative” and a “figure of speech”, and accepted they may be insulting to some and “absolutely will” lose him votes.
But he was adamant the public can give “many examples” of staff in State agencies using the pandemic as “cover” for poor productivity.
Citing one example of an unidentified government agency declining to answer a query for him last week, Mr MacSharry said continued office closures in some agencies “go beyond the public advice”.
“It is not necessary” for many public servants to be still working from home, he suggested.
Asked if workers in the private sector, such as Google, for example, where staff can work from home until next year, are lying on couches watching box sets, he replied: “Perhaps they are. I don’t know.”
Mr MacSharry said he was concerned about State operations and was voicing the frustrations of “a number of people” who had contacted him claiming coronavirus is “being used as cover by some”.
Accusing The Irish Times of taking a “tabloid approach” in reporting his remarks, from a 13-minute speech on social welfare, he said he has put his mobile number on social media for anyone who wants to contact him personally about them. Sinn Féin has called on the Taoiseach Micheál Martin to disassociate himself from the outburst.
Constant crisis mode
The AHCPS said that "in many circumstances" - such as in the Department of Health, Department of Education and Revenue Commissioners - employees have been operating in "constant crisis mode" to ensure "the needs of the public are met".
The change of Government has also required the careful and ongoing attention of our members in particular, given their role in briefing new Ministers, the association added.
The association said that by equating working from home with “mediocrity dressed up as efficiency”, Mr MacSharry’s views are “seriously out of step with the modern working world”.
“Our members go about their work in a dutiful and conscientious way and they are not expecting plaudits but equally they deserve respect and informed comment,” the statement added.
“Interventions like those made by Deputy Marc MacSharry in the Dáil this week are more akin to the the populists politics we have seen on the rise in other countries – they should be withdrawn.”
Meanwhile, a call has been made for the party and the Government to dissociate themselves from the remarks.
Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin wrote to Micheál Martin about the comments, which he described as “wrong, offensive and divisive”.
In the letter to the Taoiseach, Mr Ó Broin asked if Mr MacSharry’s remarks “are representative of the policies of Fianna Fáil and of your Government? If not I would strongly urge you to make a public comment on the matter distancing you, your party and your Government from such remarks”.