Death Throes: It’s difficult to open a newspaper or turn on the radio now without being assaulted by political comment. Will the finance bill go through the Dail by Friday? Will the government dissolve by next Tuesday? Who will win the leadership contest in Fianna Fail and so on. Like many people, I am a political junkie and enjoy a daily injection of intrigue and speculation. But meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone is supposed to be running the country….and there are a shedload of issues which need to be addressed. One of these is the system of political appointments.
Political Appointments: I’m sure that you will have read about the raft of recent appointments to state boards. In a great example of deathbed politics, the current government has recently made either 70, 80 or 140 appointments – depending on where you source your information – to boards across a range of state bodies.
Why is this controversial? Well, the starting point for any hiring has to be the selection of the best available candidate. Is there any possible argument to go for the 2nd or 3rd best person? No, I don’t think so either. To secure the appointment of the best available person, you have to have an open competition, where all candidates who meet the ‘spec’ have an opportunity to apply for the job. While recruitment is far from an exact science, this is the best way to secure the talent needed. Effective recruitment, while tremendously important, is not rocket science.
Existing Machine: The really good news is that there is already a ‘machine’ set up to do this. The Public Appointments Service (PAS) in Dublin have the staff and the technology to manage large-scale recruitment campaigns – competently and very effectively. They have a group of psychologists experienced in assessment and selection practices and the technology and tools which underpin this. But in the case of appointments to State boards, the Public Appointments Service is completely by-passed. All of these appointments are made politically, with zero transparency in the selection process. Now, no doubt some of the people who are appointed to state boards are highly competent, committed to the cause and add real value. But are they the very best available talent? We’ll never know, because the competition is closed to those who are personally known to politicians.
Political Reform: If we were serious about political reform, this cronyism would be a good place to start. We need to abandon this system with all future appointments being made on a competitive basis. Populating state boards exclusively with friends of politicians is a recipe for mediocrity. It’s a no-brainer to change this. Unfortunately, the fact that it is blatantly obvious that this should be done. is no guarantee that it actually will be done. The emperor continues to reign supreme, regardless of the political party in power. When we talk about political reform, this one seems like low hanging fruit. In the private sector, this system would not be tolerated. And rightly so.