Category Archives: Irish Government

21/7/17: What Irish Civil Service is Good For?..

Recently released data on 2011-2016 Irish Government financial metrics shows that despite all the reports concerning the adverse impact of austerity on Irish Government employees, there is hardly any evidence of such an effect at the pay level data.

Specifically, in 2011, total compensation bill for the Irish Government employees stood at EUR 19.389 billion. This 5.39% between 2011 and the lowest point in the cycle (2014 at EUR18.344 billion), before rising once again by 2016 to EUR 19.354 billion. Total savings achieved during 2012-2016 period compared to 2011 levels of expenditure amounted to EUR2.759 billion on the aggregate, or 2.85% (annualized rate of savings averaged less than 0.57% per annum.

Statistically, there simply is no evidence of any material savings delivered by the 'austerity' measures relating to Government compensation bills.

But, statistically, there is a clear evidence of Irish public sector employment poor performance. Oxford University's 2017 International Civil Service Effectiveness Index,, ranked Ireland's Civil Service effectiveness below average when compared across 31 countries covered in the report.

Spider chart below shows clearly two 'outlier' areas of competencies and KPIs in which Irish Civil Service excels: Tax Administration and Human Resource Management. Rest of the metrics: mediocre, to poor, to outright awful.

In fact, Ireland ranks 20th in terms of overall Civil Service Effectiveness assessment, just below Mexico and a notch above Poland. Within index components, Ireland ranked:

  • 16th out of 31 countries in terms of Civil Service Integrity and Policy Making
  • 26th in terms of Openness (bottom 10)
  • 20th in terms of Capabilities, and Fiscal and Financial Management
  • 13th in terms of Inclusiveness
  • 22nd in terms of Attributes (bottom 10)
  • 28th in terms of Regulation (bottom 5)
  • 8th in terms of Crisis Risk Management
  • 1st in terms of Human Resource Management (aka, working conditions and practices)
  • 4th in terms of Tax Administration
  • 31st in terms of Social Security Administration (dead last)
  • 21st in Digital Services and in terms of Functions (bottom 10)
So while managing to score at the top of the league of countries surveyed in terms of pay, perks, hiring and promotion, Irish Civil Service ranked within bottom 10 countries in terms of areas of key performance indicators, relevant to actual service delivery, with exception of one: Tax Collection. May be we shall call it Pay, perks & Tax Collection Service?

But, hey, know the meme: it's all because of severe austerity-driven underfunding... right?.. 


In response to my post, the Press Office at Dept. of Public Expenditure and Reform posted the following, quite insightful comments on the LinkedIn, that I am reproducing verbatim here:

Secretary General Robert Watt: I was interested in reading this comment – and in particular the data on civil service performance.  There are methodological issues with the Study quoted.  Nevertheless readers might be interested in other data about the effectiveness of the Irish civil and public service which might give a more balanced assessment of performance. Important to consider the evidence before we reach conclusions.  Also, important to note difference between Civil Service (36,000 staff) and wider public service (320,000 staff)

Public Service performance

Over a range of international rankings, the IPA’s annual public service trends publication shows the Irish public service performing above average on many indicators.

The IPA’s Public Sector Trends, 2016

  • Ireland is ranked 1st in the EU as the most professional and least politicised public administration in the Europe;
  • Ireland is ranked 5th for quality of public administration in the EU;
  • Ireland is ranked 6th in the EU for maintenance of traditional public service values (integrity); 
  • Ireland is ranked 4th in the EU for perception of the effectiveness of government decisions;
  • Ireland is ranked 2nd in the EU for encouraging competition and a supportive regulatory environment;
  • Ireland is ranked 4th in the EU for regulatory quality;
  • Ireland is ranked 3rd in the EU in comparison of how bureaucracy can hinder business;
  • Business update of eGovernment services is higher than most of Europe with Ireland ranked 1st for highest update of electronic procurement in Europe;
  • According to the World Bank, Ireland is ranked well above average for Government Effectiveness (although individual rankings are not available);
  • Ireland is ranked 5th in Europe in the competitive advantage provided by the education system; 
  • Ireland ranks 10th for life expectancy at birth and 8th for consumer health outcomes, but slightly below average for the cost-effectiveness of health spending;

The OECD’s Government at a Glance, published in July 2017 shows Ireland ranking strongly across a range of metrics although healthcare is a notable exception:

  • Ireland is ranked 2nd in terms of citizen satisfaction with the education system and schools;
  • Ireland is ranked 6th for citizen satisfaction with the judicial system and the courts and is also in the top 4 best improved countries in the last decade;
  • Ireland is ranked 26th for citizen satisfaction with the healthcare system (slightly below average).

Recent customer satisfaction surveys of the Irish civil service show it delivering its highest customer satisfaction ratings to date. Satisfaction with both the outcome and the service delivered was rated over 80% which is close to the credible maximum.
General Public Civil Service Satisfaction Survey, conducted Q1 2017:      

  • 83% are satisfied with the service they received (up from 77% in 2015);
  • 82% are satisfied with the outcome of their customer service experience (up from 76% in 2015);
  • 46% would speak highly of the civil service (up from 39% in 2015);
  • 87% of customers claim that service levels received either met or exceeded expectations (up from 83% in 2015).

Business Customers Civil Service Satisfaction Survey, conducted, Q4 2016:

  • 82% are satisfied with the service they received (up from 71% in 2009);
  • 82% are satisfied with the outcome of the service received (up from 70% in 2009);
  • 61% felt that the service provided has improved in the last 5 years.

Lots done but more to do!

My reply to the Department comment:

Thanks for the comments on this, Press Office at Dept. of Public Expenditure and Reform. I got similar methodological comments regarding the robustness of the Oxford study via Facebook as well and, as I noted, in the technical analysis part of the paper, Oxford centre does show improved metrics for Irish civil service performance in the later data, which is heartening. Also, noted the apparent dispersion of scores and ranks across countries, with what we might expect as potentially stronger performers being ranked extremely low. Also, noted the issue of data on Social Welfare for Ireland being skewed out of OECD range and impacted by 2011 legacy issues (although it is unclear to me how spending via health budget on social welfare is treated in the OECD and Oxford data). I will post your comments on the blog to make sure these are not lost to the readers.

I agree: lots done and certainly more to do, still. 

29/2/16: GE 2016 – Ireland’s Answers to No Questions Asked

The election 2016 is a catalyst-free contest that has been shaped by the political parties attempts to understand the mind of the electorate, while the electorate has been struggling to make up its mind about what the pivotal issues of the election should be. Compounded by the  epic gaffes of the reality-skipping life-time politicos (take that Enda Kenny pill, ye old comedian) and we had an election devoid of real ideas and ideals as far as the mainstream parties go.

Harder Left and genuine Centre-Left (e.g. Social Democrats and majority of the independents) have attempted to focus the elections on the issues relating to the lagging nature of economic recovery in the domestic sectors - an issue that, traditionally, has been the core breadwinner for the Labour. However, having completely abandoned any pretence at ideals-based, principles-rich politics, the Labour has thrown its weight behind the FG-led attempt to steer plebiscite into a debate about a general (and to majority of us abstract) notion of policy continuity and stability of governance as the panacea for the ‘continued recovery’. Topical issues and specific policies aimed at actually producing a real recovery that is not stuck in the canyons of tax arbitrage by the MNCs became the victims of this absurd departure from the world of the living into the world of FG/LP.

Even shielded from competition by being effectively the only Right-of-Centre (in the Politics of Boggerville 101-style of Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan) party, FG has managed to squander the election by such a massive margin, one has to wonder how on earth can the party continue to pretend to represent anyone other than a handful of clientilist farmers, rent-seeking businessmen and a bunch of conservative civil servants. 

Not surprisingly, the key battles of the GE2016 have been waged in the contestable space created by Labour’s departure from its social and electoral core. 

Failure of Labour and FG to consolidate Centre-Left and Centre has meant that the FF was left significant room to recover some of its electoral fortunes. In a typically FF fashion, the ‘new party of the Centre-Left’ has managed to deliver very few tangible new ideas, but provided plenty oppositional rhetoric and old-fashioned pork barrel promises.

All in, Election 2016 was dominated by the lack of big thinking, shortage of specific ideas, and a large doses of surrealism. Neither global, nor European context entered the mainstream debates; economics swung from ‘tax and don’t spend’ to ‘don’t tax and do spend’ heralding the arrival of the Celtic Tiger 3.0. The entire circus of the ‘fiscal space’ debates was yet another opportunity for Enda Kenny to play the role of a cross between the U.S. Republican contestants Ben Carson and Jeb Bush - a dynamic combo of a man who can’t run for the office and a man who doesn’t know he wants to run for the office. Money, advisers, analysts, party machines and even track record - all squandered on disconnecting from the voters.

In contrast, three smaller political groupings / parties: Renua from the Right and Social Democrats from the Centre Left and the Independent Alliance have mangled to produce far reaching, ambitious, even if, at times, poorly structured policies proposals. The Independent Alliance and Soc Dems have fielded some really strong, highly impactful candidates with ideals and occasionally ideas of their own. These three forces, relatively weak and surrounded by a sprinkling of other independents and political groupings brought into Election 2016 something missing in Irish politics - integrity, honesty, openness and debates. No matter how strong their showing in the current Election has been, they provided a crucially important alternative to the stale politics of Irish elites: the Axis of FG, FF and Labour.

The most surprising aspect of the Election 2016 is the complete and total disregard by the core political parties for the voter perception of Irish politics as a palace of parochialism, corruption and cronyism. After 5 years of the current Coalition effectively replaying old FF book on cronyism and favouritism, while droning on about the ‘New Era in Politics’, the litmus test of this electoral cycle should have been a focus on political system renewal and reforms. This simple was a task too difficult for the political system to handle and even contemplate. Which, sadly, means that our Permanent Government - the cabal of unelected advisers and senior civil servants - remain in place, aided and abetted by the school of hungry and agile piranhas from the private sector always ready to issue a research note or two about the need for continuity, the necessity of predictability, the value of stability and the fabled markets’ longing for conformity with the status quo.

All hail Tipperary North constituency for delivering much of it in a concentrated form once again… 

Which brings us around to 'predicting the future'. It will be the same as the past.  

Any coalition involving FG will be a poison chalice to either FF or FG or both precisely because although FF lacks ideas, at least it is based on the ideal of a pub-pump-politics that connects with wider ranging population. FG can't even muster as much. Despite the fact that the latter has a better pool of younger cadre than the former, in my opinion, and has been better in governance too (although here we really are setting the bar low to begin with). FG will continue to play the 'extend and pretend' card in any power deal, hoping the miracle of recovery (sooner or later, it is bound to happen in a meaningful way, or so the theory goes) will sustain them into the next election. Which means their track record will be woeful - no reforms, no change, just throwing pennies and dimes at problems as soon as Michael Noonan can rake them in. 

For FF, such a scenario won't be good enough because the party needs desperately to rebuild and re-energise its base (which it started doing in the GE 2016, but is yet to complete).

Any other coalition (involving Independents) will not be stable, as FG seniors clamour for top brass positions, while the Independents largely want the same. Competition is an unbearable condition for Irish elites that prefer to play a 'spread others' butter on your spuds' game.

Alternatively, the whole circus tent might come down and we might go to the polls once again, comes late 2016 - early 2017, especially if the 'fiscal space' gets shocked a tad.

I'd put 30-35% chance on the GE2016.2.0, an a balance on the FF/FG shotgun marriage, and a 40% change on GE2017. Though, of course, miracles of the parish priest and the publican agreeing with the AIB branch manager down at the pub on where to put that new Centra in town do happen, still... Harmony might be attained.

26/1/16: ‘More than 1,000 jobs per week’ Government Claims v Reality

One senior TD and a Junior Minister with position relating, indirectly, to employment and the labour market has just posted an interesting statement. A part of the statement goes thus: “we used the Action Plans for Jobs process to drive job creation, creating more than a 1000 jobs a week”.

Now, let’s raise two points. One philosophical, another purely arithmetic.

Philosophically, I am not aware of any Government that claims creation of jobs. Technically, public jobs are either created by the Civil Service or another Public body, as opposed to the Government itself. Practically, any jobs creation, in public or private sector is enabled by the economy (people working in, investing in, paying taxes in and interacting with public and private sectors) and not by the Government. Thus, Government may facilitate jobs creation by enacting supportive legislation or providing legislative and/or regulatory strategy, or not impede one, but it cannot create jobs. Minister can act as PR middle(wo)men and announce jobs created, but that is about as close to jobs creation as they ever get.

Aside from this, there is a simple matter of arithmetic.

Recall that the current Government came into power at the end of 1Q 2011. Let us suppose the Government really got down to ‘creating jobs’ by 1Q 2012. Which means the Government has been at its jobs game for roughly 14-15 quarters through 3Q 2015 or, at the lower end 3 years and a half. That means that the Government should have created “over” 182,000 jobs in that period. This benign to the Minister claim, because if we are to look at the record of the entire duration of the Government, his claim would have equated to roughly 221,000 jobs created.

Let us note that 1Q 20912 was the lowest point in employment levels during the crisis, so comparatives to that base should improve Government position: prior to 2Q 2012 jobs were being destroyed in the economy, past the end of 1Q 2012 they were being added.

Keep the two numbers in your mind: we are told that the Government has ‘created’ either more than 182,000 or more than 221,000 jobs over its tenure, depending on where one starts to count.

Now, consult CSO QNHS database - the source of official counts for numbers in employment. Between the end of 1Q 2012 and 3Q 2015 (the latest for which we have data), total employment rose 158,000. But wait, these are not all jobs. 4,500 of that increase is in the category of Assisting Relative. And 121,200 of these additions are employees, including schemes. Beyond this, the above increase also includes 30,100 new (added) self-employed with no employees.

It is hard to assume that the Government can claim it 'created' self-employment jobs where there is not enough activity to hire staff, or that it increased the need to help relatives.

So put things together in a handy table:

Numbers speak for themselves. By the very best metric, Government is more than 1/2 year shy of the lowest end of the claim of 'more than 1,000 jobs created per week'. It is more than 1/2 year shy of the claim that there were '1,000 jobs created per week'.

This Government deserves credit for helping sustain conditions for the recovery. Some of these conditions trace to the policies put in place by its predecessor and continued by the present Government, some are down to Troika and implemented by this Government, some are undoubtedly facilitated by the efforts of the current Government. The economy is recovering and, by some metrics, very robustly. And jobs are being created by the economy (yes, by entrepreneurs, enterprises, their employees and their clients and investors, but not by the Government).

This is not to take away from the positives the Government should rightly claim. But it is to point out that some of the outlandishly bombastic claims are not quite warranted.

1/1/16: Developers Questioning Banking Inquiry Report

While we do not know what is in the Banking Inquiry report signed-off this week, concerns being expressed by the two developers, namely Michael O’Flynn and Johnny Ronan, that the report is likely to be a whitewash of Nama is a legitimate one.

The inquiry basically and obviously failed to provide platform for the voices critical (or robustly critical) of Nama, opting instead to put forward testimonies of some developers who have potential coincident / congruent interest in seeing Nama escaping serious criticism.

Thus, legitimate suspicion can be (though we should wait to confirm or decline it) that the Banking Inquiry report will indeed skip over Nama's core role in creating a dysfunctional (and currently strongly legally challenged) crisis resolution environment in Ireland. And another legitimate suspicion (based on past record of coverage of the Inquiry in the media) is that most of Irish media will be unlikely to robustly challenge the report on any conclusions regarding Nama.

That said, let's wait and see the report...