Varadkar warns public service chiefs to perform or step down

Idea that more money will fix health sector issues ‘really just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny’

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings, Dublin, September 17th, 2017. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings, Dublin, September 17th, 2017. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


Senior public servants who underperform in their jobs should be asked to leave their posts, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said he told his Ministers he would back them if they asked senior officials to step aside.

He stressed he was not threatening to sack public staff, but rather to ask them to step down with their pensions intact and an “exit package”.

Mr Varadkar described it as a “cultural shift” that would “really improve results” in the public sector across the health system, the Garda, education and local authorities.

“I’ve said to my Ministers – you know, if you feel, whether it’s a local authority, whether it’s in education, whether it’s in any part of the public service, that you feel that somebody needs to be asked to move on, I’ll back you in doing that. Once that starts to happen, you’ll see a change in performance,” Mr Varadkar told The Irish Times in an interview.

Despite the emphasis on tax cuts for middle-income earners at the recent Fine Gael parliamentary party think-in, Mr Varadkar said space for tax cuts in the forthcoming budget would be very limited.

He said he did not plan to take any more low-paid workers out of the tax net altogether, stressing almost a third of all workers already did not pay income tax or USC.

He acknowledged the budget-day package was likely to increase from existing projections, but said the 2:1 ratio of spending increases to tax cuts, previously agreed with the Independents and Fianna Fáil, was likely to be changed in favour of spending.

Nonetheless, Mr Varadkar dismissed recent reports that the health service did not have sufficient resources to meet existing demand or future capital spending commitments.

“What would you expect from a Government department a few weeks before a budget except a pitch for money?” he asked.


He warned Ministers that seeking to exert pressure for extra resources in the budget through the media would not yield results, insisting it would be “counterproductive”.

He said he supported the principles of the all-party report on the future of the health service, but that some of the costings in the report were unrealistic.

The real costs of the reforms proposed for next year were between €1 billion and €1.3 billion, Mr Varadkar said, and that level of additional funding for the health service was not available.

He said that when 2017 figures are published, Ireland was likely to be the second-highest spender on health in the EU.

“The idea that the solution to the problems we face in health is more money, more staff, and more of the current style of management really just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar was cheered by an opinion poll in the Sunday Times yesterday which showed an increase in support for Fine Gael, leaving the main Government party with an eight-point lead over Fianna Fáil.

Mr Varadkar reaches the milestone of 100 days as Taoiseach on Thursday, and will also see the return of the Dáil for the autumn term on Wednesday.

Government business for the coming weeks is likely to be dominated by the budget, which will be delivered by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on October 10th.