Special advisers and programme managers

 

Sir, – May I try to clarify some of the “vagueness” about government programme managers mentioned by Diarmaid Ferriter in his latest column (“My advice to Government – stop hiring advisers”, Opinion & Analysis, September 25th).

The creation of partnership programme managers was an innovative proposal that emerged during the formation of the Fianna Fáil/Labour partnership government of 1993/94. The job specification was clear. It was to assist and support ministers in achieving the objectives specified for them in the partnership programme, as well as implementing their legislative and administrative programmes. Unlike recent programmes for government, the 1993 document was thorough and comprehensive. It contained detailed and precise quantitative and qualitative targets, with clear timelines and deadlines, for each minister and government department.

To augment the normal Cabinet and Civil Service functions, the programme manager system provided a robust complementary framework of support that included regular group meetings closely linked to the cabinet and legislative agenda, numerous bilateral contacts between managers and a close liaison between the programme managers of the taoiseach and tánaiste, the government chief whip and the attorney general so as to progress the Oireachtas and legislative agenda. Assigned responsibilities were clear and there was an inherent accountability for performance.

Having worked as both a programme manager and a special adviser in different governments, I believe that the programme manager system is superior to that of special advisers and should have been retained following the demise of the 1993/94 government. However, there is a necessary pre-condition – the government’s programme must be clear, precise and prescriptive in its requirements.

The real vagueness lies in the way recent programmes for government have been drafted, thus replacing the proactive role of the programme managers with special advisers whose mandate and role is often unclear and, therefore, less effective. – Yours, etc,

LIAM CAHILL,

Drumree,

Co Meath.

Sir, – It would be an interesting exercise for your reporters to find out how many special advisers were recruited from PR firms. – Yours, etc,

MARY BYRNE,

Wicklow.