MacGill Speeches by John Moran and Robert Watt

A welcome recent trend is greater participation in public debate by senior public servants. The secretaries general for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have been speaking at the MacGill Summer School this week:

  • John Moran speech here
  • Robert Watt speech here

29 replies on “MacGill Speeches by John Moran and Robert Watt”

@ All

A sampler!

“Senior Responsible Owners have been assigned to major reform projects, empowered to lead, direct and take key decisions necessary for their implementation.

By developing integrated plans with clear milestones and deliverables, by reporting on progress on these plans and by assigning responsibility for particular initiatives to specific individuals and making them accountable for progress, we are showing that we are focussed on specific actions and delivery.

The role of the Public Service Agreement

The Government sees the Public Service (Croke Park) Agreement as a key enabler for the delivery of the overall reform programme. The evidence to date from the Reports published by the Implementation Body charged with overseeing progress is that it is working and delivering.”

What is a “Senior Responsible Owner”?

What are “deliverables”?

The whole approach is so inadequate to the circumstances as to be laughable.

Big difference in wording and approach between the two.

Unfortunately Mr Robert Watt comes across has having written a lot of words which effectively mean little or nothing in practice. “Managerial speak” so to say.

However, perhaps his hands are tied, in which he has to keep his cards very close to his chest to allow him to say a lot, but in actual fact, say nothing at all?

@ All

If you wish to have an understanding of the Irish nomenklatura talking to the Irish nomenklatura, the 2001 Buckley Report is essential reading.

The reality is that 90% of the Irish public service shoud not have such a status, the educational sector included. The basic conditions i.e. working rights for a nurse, for example, should be identical whether working in the public or the private sector. Pension conditions should be the same for all citizens, irrespective of status. Ditto access to health care.

The rest is just window-dressing.

If Sec-Gens are coming out of the closet and pronouncing on policy at all the best summer schools – does this mean that accountability for mistakes is now shared between them and Ministers? Right now, Ministers are still held accountable for mistakes in their department.

@ Sarah Carey

This may help you to figure out who is responsible for what (or not!).

“Outputs” have become “deliverables”.

The entire edifice is built on an obvious fallacy viz. that the “public service” is homogenous when it is obvious that the opposite is the case. Modern “government services” are completely heterogenous and it is very doubtful whether they should be supplied by government in the first place e.g. laboratory analysis.

The phenomenon is not unique to Ireland. If the wheels had not come off, PASOK would have ensured that practically every Greek was a public servant.

However, in Ireland the hubris of identifying certain sectors as “senior” adds insult to injury.


My personal opinion is that resolving the crisis means returning ourselves to a position where the debt of European nations is once again viewed by markets as essentially riskless.

Yes, let’s go back to Greece being the same risk as Germany.

Slagging off civil service management speak is a pretty cheap PR-style shot. The issue isn’t whether public service management talk that talk. It’s whether they are walking the walk or are just bluffing.

Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and there isn’t much to chew on so far.

Anyone who expects Irish speeches like these to be candid assessments of the challenges, is in my humble opinion — a fool.

I wish I didn’t have to highlight negatives. My children think I’m an incurable optimist!

Moran’s piece is simply formulaic official propaganda that could have been delivered by any of his predecessors dating back to 1955, with the exception of TK Whitaker.

Watt’s piece uses the management consultant’s lingua franca and who knows how the actual results will be measured against so-called ‘milestones and deliverables’?

So far, the benchmarks used are designed to show a positive result.

The bulk of Watt’s claimed net savings of €3.3bn on pay and pensions by 2015, were delivered by the late Brian Lenihan and if 2006 – – the peak year of the boom – – was the benchmark year, there would be NO savings. Besides, the last time the C&AG published an accrual of pension entitlements was in 2009 and including the State component, it was €129bn. The next published accrual is likely to be more than an addition of €3bn. That’s off-balance sheet and not a cost!

County managers this week bragged about €800m in ‘savings’ and as with central government, the benchmark for non-pay ‘savings’ is the out of control spending at the peak of the bubble. At least the ‘savings’ look good on paper. Great work lads and good bragging rights for international investors!

Don’t be surprised if the planned development of a dual workforce — unequal pay and conditions — for the same work, is slapped down by the European Court of Justice — I suppose the current folk will be vegetating on their lavish pensions by then — why would they have changed the system for existing staff?

What’s depressing about John Moran’s speech is that if he actually believes what he said, then it’s only the gullible could expect significant change in his department.

On MNC exports, yesterday it was reported that Oracle, the business software giant, reported a 29% rise in Irish revenues in 2011, from €4.3bn to €5.5bn — a €1.2bn rise in ‘exports’ and it jacked up charges to create a loss! See how the magic works — excluding Apple, just four American companies can produce €6bn magical rise in exports and apart from no real link with local activity, not pay a cent more in taxes.

On indigenous exports, Moran says: “one of Irish business’ greatest achievements – these companies are targeting markets thought barely accessible to Irish enterprise heretofore, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, the Gulf and of course the enlarged European market, while continuing to build on their substantial success to date in the UK, euro zone and the US.”

This is propaganda that is actually believed.

As has been well documented, the recovery is being driven by exports, which rose at an annual rate of over 6 per cent. Indeed, exports of goods and services are now well in excess of pre-crisis levels.

This shows that the improvement in competitiveness, which has been evident in recent years, is starting to show results. For example, comparisons with German competitiveness show clearly though that even in a European context we have not yet regained all of the lost ground during the boom years.

In the progress to date, though, the Irish economy has demonstrated its inherent flexibility – prices and costs in Ireland have fallen significantly, and further improvements are in the pipeline. Data from the European Commission show that Irish unit labour costs – basically the labour cost per unit of economic output – are falling, in contrast to the increases being recorded in the rest of the euro area. Unit labour costs are estimated to improve by some 22 percentage points compared with the euro area over the period 2009-2013.

To sum up, Ireland has dealt decisively with the rapid change in our economic and budgetary fortunes over the last few years. This has been acknowledged by the international organisations that assess our prospects.

This is the type of pap that was promulgated during the boom to drown out dissent.

When this man apparently accepts spin from Enterprise Ireland as fact, what chance is there for serious challenges to be addressed.

Is he likely to ask about value for money in public spending on research?

It would be a start of course if his department updated it accounting systems to actually reveal where money is spent.

@Philip Lane

‘A welcome recent trend is greater participation in public debate by senior public servants.’



Culture change
By John McGuinness TD

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Croke Park deal maintains the status quo within our public sector when what is required is a radical reform of the service, says John McGuinness TD

THERE are only so many ways you can say you believe it is not going to happen — and, in my opinion, the Croke Park Agreement was the greatest heist since Paris put his arms around Helen of Troy. And the outcome is proving to be just as costly.

Public service reform and the Croke Park Agreement needs to be carefully scrutinised and policed.

I am a member of Fianna Fáil and I accept that we made big mistakes and deserved to be punished for them.

@ David O’Donnell,

Generally speaking I would caution careful balance. If senior Civil servants spend more time in public debate than in actually doing their job then it could have adverse effects.

A couple of times a year perhaps?

The reason being is that I know of several managers on being promoted into a managerial position, immediately start their next stage of promotion. They have no interest at all in managing their current position, as it is only a stop gap position until their next climb up the ladder. Its just used to raise their public profile, either inside or outside the organisation etc. We see this all the time as ambitious climbers are everywhere.

From John Moran’s speech

” Looking in more detail at the quarterly figures, GDP growth on a seasonally adjusted basis fell by 1.1 per cent. However, encouragingly, the Q1 figures show that GDP in the first quarter of 2012 was 1.2 per cent higher compared to Q1 2011″

Might someone explain “seasonally adjusted” to John.

From John’s speech again

“This shows that the improvement in competitiveness, which has been evident in recent years, is starting to show results. For example, comparisons with German competitiveness show clearly though that even in a European context we have not yet regained all of the lost ground during the boom years. ”

Now that last sentence is a head-scratcher!

Again, from John

“we have made substantial improvements to our infrastructure, which in many respects is now on a par with the best that continental Europe has to offer”

Hmm, what infrastructure is “on a par with the best in continental Europe” – roads? rail?? air??? he’s certainly not talking about hospitals, schools, internet-less garda stations or Dickensian prisons.


“Given the very significant employment losses suffered in the construction industry, we have worked with NAMA to facilitate them playing an active role in supporting recovery in the property and construction sectors. To this end, NAMA is providing €2 billion in development capital, introducing vendor financingand has launched an 80/20 deferred payment scheme to help restore confidence in the residential property market.”

Minister Noonan unilaterally signed a new commitment with the Troika in May 2012 which obliges NAMA to repay €7.5bn of its bonds by the end of next year, thereby compromising NAMA’s freedom of action, and national access to a very cheap source of funding in an Agency whose objective is to help deal with the financial crisis.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern’s comment that some professionals are “feasting on the carcasses” of insolvent and semisolvent companies at a time when many sectors are “taking a hit” and many people have had pay reductions, highlights how the State’s overpaid have maintained the gas for the fat cats of the bubble.

The Central Bank, Department of Finance or NAMA may deem it necessary to buy ‘expertise’ of expensive individuals in the big name firms, but that also comes with high charges for most of the actual work which could be subcontracted out to approved small firms on a panel, at much lower cost.

The State is the biggest customer for professional services.

The issue came up in the High Court in respect of Ernst & Young, Anglo’s auditor, when the judge was asked to approve “a very large figure” of €509,543 fees, plus outlay and VAT making a total of €647,382, sought for some five months’ work by Luke Charleton of Ernst & Young, the chartered accountant appointed as special manager to Newbridge Credit Union on January 13th last. Some €70,977 legal fees were also approved.

The fees cover the period January 13th to June 14th, 2012. As Charleton’s appointment was previously extended for another six months to the end of this year, a separate application for fees for that period will be made later.

Wonder if well-remunerated officials were spending their own money, would they be more likely to get a better deal?

Coupled with Minster James Reilly asking doctors in respect of medicines paid for by the State to prescribe generics “in the national interest” how much more fat is in a procurement system that lacks transparency.

There is going to be a register of lobbyists, but most of the important ones will be exempted.

@ All

It is important, it seems to me, not to lose sight of the essential objective which is to have a form of governance which is a radical change to that which has run the State off the tracks several times and now finally into the buffers. The contribution by the chairman of the PAC shows how far decision-makers are from an understanding of the problem, not to mind a solution.

To quote the Buckley Report;

“7.2 The salary of a TD is not linked to that of any civil service grade.
The salary level is similar to the ordinary maximum (excluding long
service increments) of the scale for Assistant Principal (higher) and the
salary of a Senator is approximately 63% of that of a TD. In the
submission we received on behalf of members of the Houses of the
Oireachtas it was suggested that the appropriate link for a Da´il Deputy
would be Principal Officer (higher) and that the salary of a Senator
should be set at 75% of that of a Da´il Deputy.”

The link sought was granted.

Is there no difference between a public servant and a public representative? The fact that the former are in charge of dispensing funds correctly that are raised and voted by the latter would suggest that their roles are entirely different and that there should be a return to a clear separation between the two as the conflict of interest which arises is otherwise unavoidable.

What have hospital consultants and TDs got in common which justifies dealing with their salaries in the same report?

One could go on.

It is important to bear in mind that there is nothing unique about Ireland in this context. The current experience of the State of Queensland in Australia, plucked almost at random from the web, illustrates this point.

A French magazine has recently published a guide to the memberhsip of the cabinets of the new French government. It runs to 550 names!

@ Al l

This contribution by Elaine Byrne is pertinent to this thread.

Like the contribution of the chairman of the PAC, it fails to come to grips with the real questions posed. Using the undefined and undefinable tag of “official Ireland” misses the fundamental point; an economy can only provide the services that society demands if it has the means to do so. This poses questions for all sectors of society, not just imagined subsets. It is to the benefit of all if the right conclusions are drawn.

In other words, there is room for a debate which need not in itself be divisive provided it is couched in the correct terms. There is little sign of this happening.

No one in the Private Sector has any confidence or belief in anything coming from Civil/Public Servants as there only interest is aligned with that of their Political Masters which is to ensure that their privelige is maintained. Any Commercial Manager worth his salt would not last if he/she behaved like so called Managers in the CS/PS. Examples of practices that are so out of date that they are a complete joke are – incremental salary scales, DB pensions,promotion by seniority not merit,holidays and leave days totally out of line with the norms of 20 days allowed to everyone else in work, inability to fire anyone for incompetence,laziness and general uselessness and unwillingness to outsource work that the CS/PS has no business being involved in………

There is little hope of reforming anything fundamentally with these 2 at the helm of the CS as they do not even understand the problem on the expenditure side of Public Finances !!!!l


Anne Harris wrote an article in the Sunday Independent a month ago alleging media interference by the newspaper’s biggest shareholder. The article related to Denis O’Brien’s borrowings from Anglo Irish Bank.

Not a single newspaper, or other media outlet, picked up on that story. Official Ireland decided that this was an internal boardroom battle within Independent News and Media. And the attitude ‘sure, that’s the Sunday Independent’….

These mostly male, middle-aged decision makers are responsible for the collapse in the first place because they never shouted stop.

They never shouted stop because it usually pays to go with the flow.

Elaine’s public praise for the individual who likely gave her the nixer at the Sindo is a bit odd in the context of the article as is the suggestion that all other editors can be tarred with a ‘groupthink’ brush because a particular story hasn’t been published.

Invisible people like the unemployed apparently don’t make good television and it’s interesting to observe as Sean Gallagher is cited in the article, that he came to public prominence because of television and presumably feels hard done by television.

Here is an interesting bit of info from a Der Spiegal article today..

“A deep-seated feeling of mistrust has taken hold at Frankfurt’s Eurotower, the ECB’s headquarters, and even Draghi, who is normally seen as the epitome of level-headedness among central bankers, has recently shown signs of nervousness. At a dinner in early July, the ECB chief and his fellow governors were discussing the question of whether the ECB’s loans to Ireland’s government-owned “bad bank” were consistent with the bank’s current bylaws.

It was a debate among experts, like many before it, but then something unusual happened: Draghi raised his voice. Such questions, he snapped at his opponents, could not always be discussed in exclusively legal terms.”

Could the Anglo loans be illegal?

@Elaine Byrne

‘These mostly male, middle-aged decision makers are responsible for the collapse in the first place because they never shouted stop.’

Hmmm. Why then Elaine did you select one of the leading ‘middle-aged decision makers’ to launch the fruits of your PhD Thesis in book form? And said ‘middle-aged decsion maker then provides a ‘nauseating’ review of said book on Corruption in Irish Life in the Sunday Independent!

I’m referring to the leading PD ‘let the free softly regulated market rip’ ideologue Michael McDowell (with Mary, Charlie & Bertie) – ex AG, ex Minister for Justice (sic) in the worst administrations in the history of the Irish state, leading member of the ‘precious’ poltroon of 8 who sank a certain referendum (where questions would have been posed to all 8 (including the EX fixer for the matrixSquid; ex AIB chair etc) – and need I mention the little matter (or illusion) of ‘collective cabinet responsibility!

Elaine – have you been ‘captured’?

@ All

The equitable sharing of the burden of adjustment to the crisis is the single most important issue confronting the country. In addressing it, it is rather remarkable that the laudable objective of “speaking truth to power” (as mentioned in the IPA publication linked to above) on what needs to be done, is left to the recommendations of the Troika.

It is even more remarkable that, such is the reluctance to face up the facts, these recommendations are qualified as the provision of “advice” which need not be taken.

Unless the picture is viewed in the round, and the collective responsibility of all parties recognised, the debate deteriorates. Robust and documented criticism, by all means, but anything else is not pertinent.


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