Cronies on the board

 

The calibre of State boards and the manner in which appointments are made have undermined their effectiveness and damaged public confidence. During their long years in opposition, both Fine Gael and Labour promised to end the practice of loading State agencies with political appointees and ensure they were fit for purpose. Unfortunately, they have not delivered. Initially, it appeared the Government was serious about this aspect of reform.

Advertisements seeking expressions of interest from suitably qualified candidates for positions on various State boards were published for the first time. Minister of State Brian Hayes spoke of a new departure and declared it was essential to do away with the culture of secrecy that had surrounded decision-making in public life. But it appeared that the culture of cronyism had become too ingrained. Party political appointments began to be made. The practice continues.

Some Ministers did not even bother to advertise for suitably qualified persons. Those that did carefully included the phrase: “in making appointments, the Minister will not necessarily be confined to those who make such expressions of interest.” The upshot has been that only about one in six ministerial appointments have been chosen from the public list. It is a disgraceful situation. But it can be rectified. All potential candidates for such positions should be required to register their interest and their qualifications. This would make the process more transparent and the power of ministers to simply reward party supporters would lose some of its its allure.

If this Government wishes to combat growing public alienation and break with old, discredited political practices, it will have to fill all public appointments – including those in the judiciary – on the basis of merit reinforced by transparent recruitment criteria. The establishment of a meritocracy on State boards would improve their effectiveness and restore bruised public confidence.

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