21 May 2008

I’m trying to understand what happens at a meeting attended by the Taoiseach and his advisors on setting up a taskforce to address the criticisms of the OECD report regarding the failures of our public service. The challenge facing the Irish public service is that, although we're a very small country with few, if any, public policy experts to consult, we still needs to provide a service which in every respect is a match for those of our larger neighbours – it’s not an excuse to say that our planning system is a mess just because our population is too small. The obvious way to deal with the problem is to go abroad to get advice.

With this in mind, I’m picturing myself at that meeting and on my shortlist of possible taskforce members I have the following: the chairs of the public policy departments at the London School of Economics, MIT, Wharton, Harvard, etc.; some top economists (Alan Greenspan, Emilio Ambasz – yes in addition to being a world famous architect Emilio has advised US administrations as well as the Spanish Government); public servants of international repute (Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, Jacques Chirac, George Mitchell)… you get the picture. People with real abilities, international experience, insight, peer respect and what have you.

The very last people I would be inviting to sit on the taskforce would be the Secretaries General of the Departments of Health (!), Environment and Education (I have absolutely nothing personal against the SG at Environment, Geraldine Tallon. I’ve never met her, I’m sure she’s a lovely person, great neighbour and fun to have at a dinner party, but her performance two weeks ago at the Public Accounts Committee defending the cost overrun on the Ballymun Regeneration Committee left me seriously pondering). And yet, when the Taoiseach announced the taskforce membership yesterday, these very people make up almost half its membership.

Which makes you wonder what exactly Biffo is expecting to get out of his taskforce. Does he really expect Ms. Tallon to make the kind of recommendations the Irish public demands regarding the delivery of a proper planning system?

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