New rules aim for transparency in State board appointments

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidelines a response to McNulty controversy

New guidelines on appointments to State boards published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will ensure that Government departments do not stray from agreed rules.

The rules have been prepared by the department and Minister Brendan Howlin and provide detailed guidance on the appointments process to be followed before people can become members of State boards. Some of the new rules have been in place for some time but this publication in the first comprehensive guide on the new arrangements.

Its implementation will result in the end of practices whereby ministerial appointments in the past were often political in nature and gave rise to accusations of cronyism.

While the practice of overtly political appointments to boards is not as commonplace as it was before 2011, there have still been some recent high-profile examples, not least the appointment by Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys of two Fine Gael members, John McNulty and Sheila O'Regan, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.


The revised model of appointments, agreed by Government at its meeting on September 30th, was in direct response to the controversy generated by Mr McNulty's appointment. The Donegal businessman was also the party's nominated candidate for the byelection to fill a Seanad vacancy.

From November, all appointments to State boards must be advertised openly on, which is operated by the Public Appointments Service.

Mr Howlin welcomed the changes. “These guidelines set out clearly how the new appointments process for State boards will work in practice. They will assist all departments to engage effectively with the Public Appointments Service to draw up clear specifications of board roles.

“These can then be openly advertised so that the expressions of interest can be sought from the widest possible pool. The Public Appointments Service will then assemble a shortlist of suitable candidates for the Minister to select from.”

Mr Howlin said corporate governance would improve, the pool of available suitable people would be widened and that the appointments system would be less opaque.

Former ministers Alan Shatter and Phil Hogan were also criticised for appointing people who were perceived as political supporters to public positions or to key roles on State boards.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times