McCreevy decentralisation plan unveiled hours before budget

‘Secret’ records show Minister warned ‘period of exceptional economic growth’ was over

Former minister for finance Charlie McCreevy formally presented the controversial decentralisation programme to Cabinet colleagues hours before unveiling his 2004 Budget in the Dáil, Freedom of Information (FoI) records show.

Government memos released to The Irish Times record Mr McCreevy outlining the "potential drawbacks" and "considerable challenges" of the now-cancelled scheme to senior members of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition on December 3rd, 2003, the day the Budget was announced.

The briefing was given a day after he finalised the Budget.

The confidential records, marked "top secret", also show Mr McCreevy warning fellow Ministers: "The period of exceptional economic growth enjoyed by Ireland is over".


The idea of decentralisation was to move 10,300 civil and public servants from Dublin to 53 locations in 25 counties.

Staff relocation under the programme was to be accomplished on a voluntary basis, without payment of removal expenses or incentives.

While a small number of civil servants grasped the opportunity to live and work in their home counties, there was concern at the potential loss of corporate knowledge in departments in Dublin.

The Irish Times requested copies of Cabinet papers relating to Budget 2004, particularly documents relating to decentralisation.

A total of 99 records were identified. Of those, 62 were released in full and eight partially.

A total of 29 records were withheld. The record of the Government discussion that followed the presentation of Mr McCreevy’s decentralisation memo was one of the records withheld.

The current Government agreed in November 2011 that the decentralisation programme should be cancelled, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin recently confirmed "there are no plans at the present time to introduce a further programme of decentralisation".

Responding to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Seán Kyne on June 4th, Mr Howlin said the Government had agreed in 2011 that a review of projects should be carried out.

“Following completion of that review in January 2012, a total of 43 projects had been cancelled, while 50 were maintained, to be managed in the same way as other regionally based offices and Departments,” he said.

He said up to the date of the cancellation of the programme, about a third of the target numbers - more than 3,400 - were decentralised.

While the decentralised offices accounted for less than 10 per cent of serving civil service staff, taken together with the pre-existing regional and district offices of Departments the proportion of civil servants working outside Dublin is now just over 50 per cent.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times