New rules for Government advisers in proposals on Civil Service reform

Proposals include establishing new external board to hold senior civil servants to account

Politically appointed Government advisers will be subject to new rules to clarify their exact roles, as well as detailing expected standards of conduct, under proposals on Civil Service reform.

The measures are contained in a new document on strengthening Civil Service accountability and performance, which will now be considered by the Government. Other proposals include a new position of head of the Civil Service as well as a new external board to hold senior civil servants to account.

Special advisers are usually appointed by ministers to provide political, policy and media support which the Civil Service cannot because of their traditional non-political roles.

The report, drawn up by an independent panel chaired by Prof Kevin Rafter of Dublin City University, says advisers provide an important role in the administrative system of government.


“They work to ensure implementation of the minister’s agenda as set down in the Programme for Government,” it says. “They bring an important political dimension to the advice provided to ministers that would not be appropriate to expect or demand from an impartial civil service.

“It is widely accepted that special advisers have an important role to play in the administrative system. The interaction between special advisers and permanent civil servants can sometimes raise challenges.”

It recommends setting out a code on adviser “roles and responsibilities, relations with Civil Servants and the standards of conduct expected in the performance of duties”.

This should be reviewed every Dáil cycle, while advisers should also be given mandatory training to enhance their understanding of how the Civil Service interacts with the political system.

A full-time position of head of the Civil Service, on a salary of €185,350, equal to the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach, should also be created, the report recommends. That person would provide leadership of the service; oversee implementation of policy across departments and have responsibility for managing performance of the secretaries general, the most senior officials in government department.

The new position would also provide an ambassadorial role and would entitle the holder of the job to attend Cabinet. Prof Rafter said this would be in addition to the attendance of the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach.

A new accountability board for the Civil Service would also be established, to be chaired by the taoiseach, and would include the tánaiste and the minister for public expenditure and reform. Four independent external members would also sit on it, with one coming from outside the State.

A Government decision on the proposals will be made by the end of next month.