Listening to expert advice


Sir, – Charles Lysaght discusses whether administrators or professional experts should be running the Civil Service, with particular reference to the performance of the Department of Health during the pandemic (“Tension between medics and mandarins has long been a feature of the Department of Health”, Opinion & Analysis, April 14th).

Australia and New Zealand – which are virtually Covid-free – have medical graduates, Dr Brendan Murphy and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, in charge of their health departments.

Taiwan, with a population of 24 million but only 11 Covid deaths, is the exemplar of excellence in public health practice.

Taiwan’s epidemic response was planned and led by the country’s vice-president Chen Chien-jen, himself an epidemiologist. During the Sars crisis of 2003, Chen Chien-jen not only ran the ministry of health but prepared the island for the next outbreak by building isolation wards, virus research laboratories and disease surveillance systems.

The dictum that “experts ought to be on tap and not on top”, often misattributed to Harald Laski and Winston Churchill, was coined in Dublin by George William Russell (AE) in 1910.

Whatever relevance it had before the first World War, AE’s aphorism, like the generalist administrator, has had its day.

I’ll put my money on experts anytime. – Yours, etc,


Gaoth Dobhair

Co Dhún na nGall.