Ministers and responsibility


Sir, – We need to call time on the nonsense (part of our inheritance from the British and legislated for here in the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924) that each of 15 Ministers is responsible for the individual actions of those of our 40,000-plus civil servants who work in his or her department and, although less directly, for more than a quarter of a million public servants.

Other than for civil servants, that made little sense in 1924 and makes no sense at all at all almost one hundred years later.

Day after day, Ministers stand up in the Dáil to seek to defend the frequently indefensible actions or inactions of their usually anonymous civil servants. They really have better things to be doing. It is time for civil servants to emerge from the shadows and to take responsibility for, and to be held accountable, the actions they take or fail to take.

Garret FitzGerald made this case in a piece in the Irish Times on November 30th, 1996. He wrote that a law requiring a minister to be responsible for the management function in his or her department was “asinine” and concluded: “The shelter for inefficiency and laxity provided by the outmoded and dangerous concept of the minister as corporation sole, carrying the can for all his staff, must finally be eliminated.”

Progress has been limited in the quarter-century since. This is well illustrated in your lead story on Thursday (“Criticism over breakdown in Covid tracing system intensifies”, News, October 22nd).

You report that both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health “admitted” that they learned of the breakdown in tracing only when they read about it in The Irish Times. The clear inference is that the two senior politicians were at fault because no one in the Department of Health or the HSE thought it worth their while to pass on to them this rather notable intelligence.

Let’s get real. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6 .