Trends in public sector numbers

Have the Troika’s 2014 targets on jobs numbers have already been met? This new working paper by UCD’s Niamh Hardiman and the IPA’s Muiris MacCarthaigh seems to suggest it has. The 2014 target is here on page 64 of the national recovery plan.

From a recent Dail question:

The numbers working in the public service have continued to fall, with the provisional outturn for the end of last year now standing at 296,900, which means we are now at close to the 2005 staffing levels. This is a year-on-year reduction from the end of 2010 of more than 8,500. The employment control framework ceiling for the public service in 2011 was 301,000. To exceed this target by more than 4,000 is impressive.

The authors make good use of the new department of public expenditure and reform’s databank in their work, and it produces this figure.


By Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

38 replies on “Trends in public sector numbers”

It would be interesting to get an explanation of how the steep drop in healthcare employment in the public employment stats can be reconciled with QNHS data showing an increase of about 15,000 in health and social services employment since 2008. Is it large scale privatisation of Irish healthcare, or are the public sector numbers being massaged by moving people “off balance sheet”?

The last time I stood in a room with Niamh she was telling us that there were 1008 quango’s in Ireland and Colm McCarthy was congratulation her for “actually” being able to find out how many there were. I would like to know how many of those quango’s still exits and how many have been amalgamated or how many people have actually lost jobs as a result of their quango’s being wound up? At the same meeting Colm was talking about how these quango jobs had been hollowed out from the Public Service who presumably still ended up doing their ‘old job’ moria for more money with half the responsibility.

It is absurd to talk about 1914 targets having been met when we all know there is so much fat and waste in the system. Let’s get one thing straight, nothing has been cut it just has not been allowed to grow at the cancerous rate it was expanding at. The country is still broke under the Croke Park cosy little arrangement.

It is over five years since then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern commissioned the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to review the public service and recommend changes. The OECD reported in April 2008 and criticised the proliferation of “arm’s length bodies,” known as quangos and concluded that the situation amounted to an “organisational zoo.” Bertie Ahern agreed that the estimated 800 agencies were “too many agencies by half.” 

Ahern was heading out the door when he made that comment and soon Cowen plugged in an old reliable — a taskforce — to the ‘slow boat to China’ respirator in the basement of Government Buildings with the instruction to review the recommendations, while on the floors above, the start of the day routine of passing photocopies of the Times’ crossword around the offices continued unabated! (latter part is a joke but a friend told me that was the routine in her office sometime back).

Ne’er a word was heard of the taskforce and then Cowen produced the so-called Croke Park process.

Robert Browne is right to highlight the hoopla about meeting targets when the benchmark is the age when FÁS, that ‘world-class’ skills body, had aspirations to do what the late Jim Henson had succeeded in ‘The Muppet Show’: put pigs in space.

EB has a point about tax levels but it’s ridiculous that the heads of small agencies earn as much as US cabinet officers ($191,300 at a rate of 1.30 is €147,000).

The head of the Commission for Aviation Regulation cost €195,000 (including pension cost) in 2011. Add in ‘must’ attend conferences and so on and it adds up when the same featherbedded types are wielding the knife on much lesser payments from the same pot for people in desperate situations.

The authors say:

To date, the scale of organizational change has been relatively small. The agencies that have suffered outright abolition have been concentrated in areas engaged in advisory and consultative activities – with possible implications for the quality of the linkages between civil society and the policy -­makers in the public bureaucracy.

As regards the payroll ‘savings’ target of €3.5bn by 2015, if 2006 was the benchmark year, not 2009, post the Lenihan cuts decisions, there would be ZERO savings.

What is striking is that a country that had no real growth in the past decade and will not meet GNP targets in 2014 and 2015, is still operating at such a high cost level.

This IT article by Frances Ruane is pertinent.

I have been pondering the implications of this particular comment.

“Specialists must be allowed to use their skills strategically and not be transformed immediately into quasi-generalists.”

Is this not putting the cart before the horse? Why not recognise that modern government is made up of specialisms and adapt it accordingly? Reducing numbers in a slash and burn exercise simply makes a bad situation worse, especially if there is no adequate reduction in cost (defined as bringing it to a level the country can afford).

The largely artificial divide between the public and private sector could be tackled in the process by establishing the same general working conditions irrespective of which sector one is working in. The problem is not quangos but how they have been set up in Ireland cf. the met service in Sweden, by way of example, which combines government service with business and science on the pattern of many other agencies (and a core public service of around 4,000). In the case of the SMHI, also, it would appear, with a successful decentralisation.

A revolution – in thinking, at least – is indeed what is required.

Central Bank/Central Statistics Office research on equity release/top mortgages which peaked at €5.5bn in 2006, show that these loans were more common where the head of the household worked in Financial Services, the Public Sector or the Construction Sector.


A revolution – in thinking, at least – is indeed what is required.

Like Christianity and a lot more, it could be a good thing, if it was tried.
People point to the Nordic model when it suits but dare we even touch the taboo subject of state guarantees of employment?

Workers in Sweden have equal rights wherever they work.

So much for the pap on inequality when the biggest divide in Ireland is between the public and private sectors.

Besides, its public policy to keep employer security costs low and thus many workers without occupational pensions.

you and your facts.
look : there are only three facts that matter to the many many people who despise the public service
a) there are too many. Any number over 0 is too many
b) they are paid too much. any payment over 0 is too much
c) above offer excludes any family, friends or mates

@ MH

Abolition of the guarantee of employment is implicit in the approach that I suggest as the distinction between employment in the private and the public sectors would be abolished except for those involved in central policy, legal and regulatory functions, public order etc., where the risk of being suborned is high and the justification for a separate status for the public sector in the first place.

But it must be emphasised that this is a win-win situation for all concerned as it would no longer be a question of square pegs in round holes and it would bring an end to a stultifying experience for many highly technically qualified people trapped in the “generalist” public sector and unable to take the risk of quitting. It would also facilitate a productive free flow back and forth between employment in the public and private sector instead of the present ridiculous approach to treating the public service as a kind of enclosed order with occasional part-time assignment in the evil outside world.

Such an approach need not imply any real increase in what the French call “precariousness” of employment. Simply a more equal sharing of it (and an appropriate cost by way of a negative premium for those enjoying it).

It really is a no-brainer. But I share your pessimism as to anything on such lines happening. There would probably be an outcry about “privatising essential public services”. It may also be noted that a bowdlerised version in the usual Irish manner – by insistence short-term contracts and no new permanent posts – is already being introduced.

This “insider-outsider” phenomenon is the malaise eating away at the social cohesion of the countries in difficulties. People of my generation, it must be said, are in the insider category while their children are definitely left out in the cold.

At least the guarantee is not in the Constitution.

Why should the Irish State’s administration website require registration to access it? Why isn’t the database readily available to anyone?

Sometimes it is not the achievement of the target in question that is the issue. The real question in this case is did the target make sense in the context of the overall objective of reducing public expenditure while continuing to provide public services.

If the information below reproduces, one can see that the overall proposed reduction in numbers 2008 to 2014 was 7.7%. One presumes that the cost reduction was much lees than this due to the (mostly) retired being in receipt of pensions.

It is clear that a simple 5% reduction in pay would have achieved more than the reduction in numbers.

In short the reduction in numbers approach, was completely misguided and inappropriate in the context of the overall objective. It was clearly influenced not by the achievement of the objective but by the preservation of benefits for those continuing in employment and those retiring.

Whatever about the achievement of the objective, the target itself was not in the national interest.

Reduction in PS Number 2008-2014
2,008 2,014 Total % Red
Numbers ceilings 319,450 294,700 -24,750 -7.7%
of which:
Civil Service 39,300 34,600 -4,700 -12.0%
Health Sector 111,050 100,800 -10,250 -9.2%
Education 94,650 95,750 1,100 1.2%
Justice 15,700 13,250 -2,450 -15.6%
of which Gardaí: 14,400 13,000 -1,400 -9.7%
Defence 11,250 10,300 -950 -8.4%
Local Authorities 35,000 30,000 -5,000 -14.3%
NCSAs** 12,500 10,000 -2,500 -20.0%

At NERI we have used CSO data to provide a broader measure of public sector trends. See indicator 1.5 (page 20) of this sub-section of the latest Quarterly Economic Facts
@Robert Browne – you opined that ‘we all know there is so much fat and waste in the system’ in reference to the Irish public services. What do you make of OECD international comparative data in indicator 1.4 (see above link) – using admittedly dated numbers (latest available from OECD)? And in regard to the cost of public services have a look at indicators 3.2a and 3.2b in the following sub-section
And if you want to see the gory details of how OECD calculate the labour cost data in public services have a look at appendix 1 (page 103) in the full NERI QEF here

Joseph Ryan
Don’t you mean a FURTHER 5% cut? Or did you forget the already implemented cuts? And would that be 5% on the original or the cut levels?

@Joseph Ryan the cut in numbers came after a cut in pay of 14%, so the greater reduction was achieved from pay already. There seems a widespread willingness to pretend that pay cuts never happened, in misleading Indo articles and the like. You can reasonably contend that further adjustments are needed, but many commentators untruthfully try to give the impression that no cuts took place.

As noted above there was some padding in the system that could be removed. Sadly though, it is not necessarily this padding that had been removed as the less well managed areas are those least able to manage cuts.

A reduction to 2005 numbers might not seem large, but the population of the state has grown by some 10% in this period and service provision in sectors like education has actually grown faster than the population.

I love the rebasing snd casual throwaways by our correspondent in Kusala Lumpur. If the nmbers were measured by reference to those in 1932 sure we would be way overstaffed and suchlike.
And the assertion that it’s policy to keep workers without occupational pensions is a hoot. Whose policy in whose interest Michael?
Then we have the old Brysn O’Nolsn esqu doing the crossword canard (admitted as such but justified as part of the usual auld collection of semi relevant vignettes as duairt bean liom gur duirt bean lei.)
Finally we have the breathtaking assertion that inequality in wage and income snd opportunity levels is not the issue but is in itself ipso facto a reflection of the evil public sector.
tell us Michael, just so we know…did you ever go for and get turned down for a public sector post? I for one sense a seething jealousy. But I’m probably wrong. It’s just the heat there in the Asian monsoon….

Inspired by MH.
The public service is top heavy. Take the small county of Dun Laoghaire. We have one county manager on 20k more than the PM of Spain. We have 10 Directors of Services earning between 90k and 107k.
Do Local Authorities still provide 10 services. I can think of planning, burial, grass cutting and fire fighting.
Now multiply by 4 for the Dublin region.

tell us Michael, just so we know…did you ever go for and get turned down for a public sector post? I for one sense a seething jealousy. But I’m probably wrong. It’s just the heat there in the Asian monsoon….

Here we go again, a coward behind the shield of anonymity chooses to make a personal attack rather than deal with the facts of an issue.

Choosing to be anonymous is a legitimate option but my mother taught me basic manners and what decency means.

So basically I’m attacked by a set of letters using my personal information. People like you are vermin viruses who pollute the Internet.

How different are you from the anonymous individual who disgracefully attacked Tom Daley, the British diver, on Twitter last week?

Is there something sinister in living overseas when Ireland would be Albania absent foreign firms and foreign individuals?

I have a particular interest in racism and how people seek out a particular trait to undermine another individual.

There was a striking example in 1968 during the chaotic Democratic Party presidential convention in Chicago in 1968 during the Vietnam War when Senator Abraham Ribicoff called from the platform on the mayor to get his ‘Gestapo’ police off the streets. The first Mayor Daley shouted from the floor: “You Jew sonofabitch. You lousy motherf____r, go home!’

When my son was 10, I took him to a Cork-Kerry Munster final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. One Cork supporter kept shouting at the referee: “You baldy f_ _ __r.” Simply, it was the only perceived negative personal trait that could be deployed.

2006 happened to be the peak year of housing output and hysteria.

2006 was also the year when the Minister of Finance’s representative on the Pensions Board vetoed discussion on a mandatory pension scheme in the private sector and the minister later retired at 51 on an annual pension of €140,000 and a thank-you bonanza from a grateful people of €300,000.

As for the asinine charge of ‘seething jealousy’, there are apparently many more careers I must have aspired to: medical consultant, GP, lawyer, farmer, pharmacist and politician.

I suppose the research published on the sham benchmarking scheme by Jim O’Leary and colleagues at Maynooth University and economists at the ESRI and CSO – – all in the public sector — should also be repudiated?

Research published by the German Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK) shows that in 2010, the average hourly labour costs (including social security costs paid by private sector employers) were €28 for the Irish private sector and €34 for the Irish public sector.

The rates for Germany were €29 per hour in both sectors; Finland’s rate was also €29 in both sectors and the UK was €20 per hour in the private sector and €21 per hour in the public sector.

So the Irish public sector had a premium of 21% before accounting for the benefits of the special pension scheme.

‘The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030’ report which was published in January 2011 stated: “Salaries account for three-quarters of total current expenditure on higher education in Ireland – compared with an international average of two-thirds. This means that Irish higher education operates with lower (nonpay) recurrent expenditure than is typical in other countries.”

Last April, the Department of Finance said that while taxation receipts in 2012 are projected to be just above 2004 levels, the gross voted expenditure of Government Departments and Offices in 2012, at an estimated €56bn, is projected to be 37% above the level it was in 2004, despite the very significant adjustments to both revenues and expenditure since mid-2008.

All propaganda of course to those at the trough.

As for your ignorance about Asian Monsoons, I suggest you check location data on National Geographic.

And some people may wonder why the Tea Party in the US has so many devotees?

the lack of joined up thinking and the consequent lack of joined up service provision is truly appalling. But the chaps (and they are generally all chaps) on the top sail on while the firefighters and groundsmen etc get the stick. All to often the top get scot free while the bottom get the stick


Not sure how much of it it explains but there has always been a big difference between CSO figures and Departmental figures on PS employment because the CSO uses actual numbers of people whilst the Department uses “full time equivalents” counting (for example) two part-timers as one worker for the purpose of their figures.


It would also facilitate a productive free flow back and forth between employment in the public and private sector

We have that already at the highest levels. Hence so much of the corruption. And you now want to extend that all the way down the line? Utter madness.

I’ve said it jokingly that some people seem determined to return us to the nineteenth century, but it appears that I underestimated wilful blindness. What’s next, advocation for child labour and the poor houses to return as well? How about restricting the vote to the rich?

“I suppose the research published on the sham benchmarking scheme by Jim O’Leary and colleagues at Maynooth University and economists at the ESRI and CSO – – all in the public sector — should also be repudiated?”

I think it has been repudiated, it would be helpful if it were published. Note that university lecturers received the lowest award of the entire public sector in this process, which hardly suggests that “colleagues at Maynooth University” were rewarding themselves.

“This means that Irish higher education operates with lower (nonpay) recurrent expenditure than is typical in other countries.”

No doubt you think this ability to work with a lower level of expenditure reflects well on the Irish higher education sector.


With all due respect, you are monumentally missing the point. To repeat it; in areas where there is an overlap between services provided BOTH by the state and the private sector, the largely artificial distinctions between the two as regards basic conditions of work would be abolished. The idea cannot be that revolutionary as it is common practice in the most successful and advanced economies.

The approach is based on function and objectives with the main aim being to provide for accurate pricing in terms of demand for the service across both sectors.

However, the underlying social rationale is one of EQUALITY of treatment of all workers in relation to pension entitlements and general working conditions.

It has to come to pass and for one simple reason; there is no way the state i.e. the generality of taxpayers can fund the cost of future public service pension entitlements, at least against the background of the present economic prognosis cf.

By the way; the hospital consultants have it sussed. The have a foot in both the private and the public sector arrangements.

@DOCM the above link is 10 years old, it does not represent the present economic prognosis, one way or the other.

@ dearg doom

Who said it did? It happens to be the statement of the general pensions situation at the time which has hardly improved since.


While it is probably a vain hope, the point has also to be put across that this debate cannot be reduced to a dispute between the public and the private sector e.g. claptrap about wishing to shoot public servants at dawn. It affects ALL sectors of society, including the issue of “intergenerational equity” as Dan O’Brien puts it in today’s IT, commenting on the recent CSO figures on how well my generation are doing, and farmers in the context of access to grants for third level education.

The point can also be made that the CSO is doing really Trojan work in supplying the raw material for an objective discussion. Will “grey power” seem as potent when the budget is announced?

That’s a relevant point, although another reason for the difference is that significant numbers in the health etc. sector are not public sector employees. A great many of these are, however, paid from public funds, whether GPs through medical cards, employees of voluntary organisations in receipt of core funding from the State or providers of outsourced services to the HSE.

I don’t think it explains the widening gap between the two data series, however.

My slightly informed guess is that the widening gap reflects mainly some combination of the following.
1) Outsourcing of support services to public healthcare.
2) Growth in, mainly publicly funded, nursing home provision.
3) A greater incidence of part time working.

If I’m right, the claimed reduction in public sector employment is made up mainly of:
1) Not much net change outside health and social services.
2) Moving public sector employment in health and social services off the books as an alternative to actually reducing it.

It may satisfy a Troika determined to portray Ireland as compliant, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily making much contribution to the more important goal of tackling the deficit.

Lots there Michael H. But I still don’t see an answer to the question as to whether you ever applied for a state position. Instead we get a screed about racism and cork bald men…. I guess it makes sense to you.
Any change of an answer?

Who cares if MH did not pass the AO exam or if he is from Cork or even if he lives in KL. What matters is whether he is right or wrong.


However, the underlying social rationale is one of EQUALITY of treatment of all workers in relation to pension entitlements and general working conditions.

One doesn’t get the impression that you’re advocating for a cent more in wages or an ounce more in protections for public sector workers in pushing this line. In fairness to you, you seem to be among company in this regard.

The reality of capitalism getting its snout into the trough of public funds is that it will profiteer massively. You don’t need to be a historian to readily think of examples (and if you’re stuck, a quick glance through Private Eye will oblige).


Who said it did? It happens to be the statement of the general pensions situation at the time which has hardly improved since.

I’m highly sceptical of claims about DOOM from future pension entitlements, having more than a passing familiarity with the game that’s been played claiming this in the US since Reagan’s time (and continues to be played today).


Do you always try to pick up the ball and run away with it when you don’t like the way the game is going?

If you want another alternative view that support MH pop over to Constantin’s site

What has someone’s CV got to do with it? The man has proved himself to be a formidable analyst and economic contributor to this blog.

I worked in the PS and left, a lot of people could not suffer the mind numbing experience and repetitiveness.

Complaining about a deficit and then complaining when the State charges for services is gross hypocrisy. There are points to be made about reforms, although most commentators refuse to articulate reasonable points but prefer misleading out of context data presented as if it was a point. But notwithstanding such reforms the State has to raise more revenue and this includes charging for things.

@ Gtfaway

This is a bit like Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ where an unknown person makes a charge and unless it’s responded to, it must be true.

No, I’ve never applied for a position in the public sector.

I’m a qualified accountant and I recently referred to a handy earner that was given by the Central Bank to Ernst & Young, Anglo’s auditors. I guess that makes me jealous of accountants!!

@ Dearg Doom

I think it has been repudiated, it would be helpful if it were published.

The research on pay differentials/ benchmarking I referred to, has been published and is available via this page:

The benchmarking body used the services of nine “major” Irish and international consultancies to advise and carry out research. The Minister for Finance, Charlie Mc McCreevy, did not allow publication of the research.

It of course confirmed the public pay premium (pension benefits were ignored).

The benchmarking body recommended pay increases in return for reforms. It said 75% should be with-held until agreement was reached on how “real outputs” would be delivered. It also recommended that an “appropriate validation process” be established to ensure that agreements on issues such as adaptability, change, flexibility and modernisation were implemented in accordance with their terms.

Payment was made and a decade later, discussions on reform are ongoing.

Dave Thomas of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants said last March that “average public sector pay will always come out ahead of the private sector due to the skilled, highly professional nature of the work involved and the qualifications that are required to perform it.” Is this true or a relic of past times when ‘our Johnny’ was lucky to get a big job in the civil service in Dublin?

Evidence from countries such as Germany, UK, and Finland suggests that there is no imbalance in skills today that would warrant a big premium in public pay.

ESRI economists said in 2009 that between March 2003 and October 2006, the public sector pay premium increased from 14% to 26% and that there was substantial variation between subsectors of the public service – – this was a period when the first benchmarking payments were being made.

The paper also addressed criticisms of “like-with–like” comparisons across jobs by re-estimating the public sector premiums using propensity score methods (PSM) that include detailed two-digit controls for occupation.

Thus, where important occupational differences exist within a particular component of the public sector, this will be accounted for within the PSM framework and a “like-with-like” comparison will be made.

The comparisons were based on age, qualifications, gender, experience and work patterns.

The Lenihan cuts took effect after the ESRI analysis. However, when allowances of €1.5bn annually are added to pay and pensions, it still makes the research valid.

The C&AG in 2009 estimated the accrued cost of public sector pensions at €129bn, equivalent to one year’s GNP.

The cost of the public sector is just one of several issues in respect of the grim economic scenario ahead.

I have often highlighted that there are several parts of the private sector that are dependent on public funds. The State pays lawyers about half a billion annually

I would expect that most quangos use big name/high fee law firms to do legal work. Why? One explanation is that it is always easier to use others’ money compared with one’s own. Remember the beggars on horseback claiming €80 given to “Indians for moving the luggage” and so on?

The quaint concept of ‘commercial confidentiality’ when selling to the State, is contrary to the public interest.

From 2013 part of the farm welfare bill covered by a Santa Claus in Brussels for 40 years, will be paid by the Irish government.

What can be observed is that the Government is muddling along on the assumption that enough growth will return in coming years to show some improvement.

The IDA had its best year in 2011 since 2002 with a net 6,000 jobs created. Where could a net 200,000 jobs come from?

Keep in mind that in the bubble years of 2001-2007, there were ZERO net jobs added in the internationally tradeable goods and services sectors (growth in jobs in indigenous firms that were also selling in the domestic market, was offset by losses in the FDI sector).

The attention that is now being given to the overpricing of generic drugs illustrates the lack of urgency in reform despite the Taoiseach’s aspirations:

“I firmly believe that by 2016, Ireland can become the best small country in the world in which to do business, the best country in which to raise a family and the best country in which to grow old with dignity and respect.”

The plan for a dual workforce in the public service is because of political cowardice and will likely be rejected by the European Court of Justice at some point.

I have often written about the rise of temporary low-paid workforces in countries such as Japan, Spain and France. The development partly reflects the high cost of making permanent staff redundant.

Most of the victims of the Spanish recession have been young temporary workers. Research shows that the impact of longterm employment on many of them, will be profound.

Raul Castro has twigged to a reality as Deng Xiaoping did in the late 1970s that if everyone is guaranteed work, poverty is also guaranteed.

We have seen how the 1850s era guarantee of public employment works and as in Japan, the cosy arrangements where people are then rehired as contractors.

The contrast with the grim reality for a fair number of private sector workers who have lost their jobs, is stark – – but apparently not to the deluded who believe that the 2008 world in the West will be back in a few years.

If there is a case for job security, what price should be put on job insecurity?

@Alfredo Parga The Irish State Administration Database is free for all to use at We require registration to assist monitoring of and accounting for its usage to enable us to maintain and enhance it.

@Colin Scott
isad may have no charge to use, but having to register to use it is not “free”

This site is Free to read, no-one needs to tell Mr Lane who they are for this.

Also emailing cleartext passwords???
and no https on login?

what is the exact number of public servants employed by the tax payers directly or indirectly?

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