Public service needs structural reform - Cowen


THE PUBLIC service required “permanent structural reform”, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said yesterday.

Speaking in St Helier on the Channel Island of Jersey, where he was attending a summit meeting of the British-Irish Council, Mr Cowen said he would listen to “any constructive proposals” in next week’s pre-budget debate in the Dáil.

Asked if the 6.6 per cent drop in the Consumer Price Index had implications for the pay talks with the public service unions, he replied: “Just as people look for compensation on the way up, the principle of taking that into account, in terms of how you’re going to pay your bills, applies in the opposite direction as well.”

Commenting on the paper being submitted by the Government to the talks, he said: “What we’re seeking to set out I suppose there is what will be required in broad terms, what this public service will look like in the next two to three years as we implement the reforms that are necessary to have a sustainable service.

“That’s a matter that will now be discussed with [the unions], based on the paper that will be presented.”

Asked if he was optimistic about the talks outcome, he said: “What we’re pointing up is that there is a huge amount of change that we have to see in the years ahead in terms of how we deliver public services. And we can do that, I keep making this point.

“Ask the people in the Revenue Commissioners what they thought about reforms when they transformed that organisation into one that is delivering an excellent service – people who are well-remunerated, with good positions, with all of the technology transfer and everything that’s there now.”

He also cited the example of the Defence Forces because of the reduction in numbers “and how they have been able to reform and change”.

Mr Cowen said a similar approach was “going to have to apply right across the board in every area of activity in the public service”.

He added: “We’re trying to get a sensible, pragmatic process in place . . . that’s both realistic and also recognises the urgency of what it is we’re trying to achieve.”

Looking ahead to next Tuesday’s debate in the Dáil, he said: “We have a very serious, difficult situation to contend with. We’re all elected to the Oireachtas to serve the people . . . The mood of the people is that whatever anyone can contribute to assist in us coming through this period of extreme difficulty is how people expect us to proceed.”

Asked if he would consider adopting Opposition proposals that emerged in the debate, he said: “The Minister for Finance and I and the Government, of course, will listen to any constructive proposals.”