Urgent need to re-think Irish public sector attitudes

10 Nov 2008

At a time when the country should be looking to steer clear of recession, Irish Government bodies and civil servants are by instinct bureaucratic rather than innovative, the president of Dublin City University, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski warned last week.

“The State should stop establishing public sector bodies that are styled ‘Authority’ or ‘Board’, as these suggest a culture of control and bureaucracy. Instead we should favour ‘Agency’ or ‘Service’, which may help also to instil a spirit of service amongst officials,” von Prondzynski said at a graduation ceremony.

“All this is particularly important as the country seeks to harness entrepreneurship and creativity as ways to get us out of recession.”

He went on to say that the performance and effectiveness of the public service in Ireland has come under increasing scrutiny.

“Earlier this year, the OECD Review commissioned by the Government on the Irish public service was published. This raised a number of questions about how it operates, and concluded that the main reform needed was one of changing behaviour, and that there was a need to co-ordinate the various elements to achieve an overall strategic direction.”

He said there are some signs that the public service in Ireland has not adapted to the changes in the world in which it is set, and that the assumptions and practices it operates under have not much changed from the founding of the State.

“Overwhelmingly, public servants behave honourably, but often their instincts are bureaucratic rather than innovative, and often the prevailing culture of one of monitoring and controlling rather than releasing creativity and facilitating change.

“This has become even more important in a multicultural Ireland, where public agencies can become intimidating places for immigrants,” von Prondzynski warned.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years