Issue 1 - March 2010

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Closure of the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF)

Dail Eireann approved the abolition of the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) 72 – 22 on 3rd March (Dail Eireann, Debates, 3rd March 2010, 24 – 5, 108 – 114).  Both the Labour Party and Sinn Fein opposed the motion (Fine Gael abstained on the vote – ed).  According to Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan), this decision was taking place against the backdrop of the government already abolishing the Combat Poverty Agency and it appeared that the government was intent on abolishing all the watchdog bodies that had been established.  Over the years, he said, NESF had produced many fine reports, some of which had found their way into government policy, but much of its focus had been concerned with issues of equality and social inclusion: ‘more than likely, it was an embarrassment to government.  That is what is behind the proposition to abolish the NESF’.  It had played a useful and worthwhile role, such as the 2002 report on acute hospital care, the 2005 report on the child care deficit and its 2009 report on the home care package scheme which NESF said was being stymied by bad implementation.  These reports were valued and welcomed by those who wished to see equality and inclusion. ‘It seems that the government is killing off the watchdogs one by one’.

The Taoiseach explained that the decision arose out of consideration of a value-for-money review carried out by the Department of the Taoiseach and also the special review group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes.  According to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Pat Carey, the government had decided to amalgamate the three constituent bodies of the National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO) by directing that NESF and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance (NCPP) be absorbed into the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).  This approach reflected the views of many of the stakeholders, including the social partners, which were consulted, as well as the staff.  The overall grant for NESDO in 2010 was €3.854m, down €1.205m on 2009 and he expected that further savings would arise as a result of amalgamation.  NESC would now adapt its work programme to ensure that the appropriate aspects of the work of NESF and NCPP continued, while focussing on the economic and social aspects of the on-going crisis.  The new arrangement would provide for a continued strong contribution by the social partners to development of economic and social policy through a more streamlined structure, while delivering substantial savings to the exchequer.   NESC would continue with the research, analytical and evaluation work delivered by NESF.  He fundamentally disagreed that it was the intention of the government to close off any organization providing worthwhile analyses and directions for policy.

Paul Kehoe (FG, Wexford) expressed his support.  ‘Many more of these bodies should be amalgamated.  There is much overlap within different departments and quangos.  There is no doubt that such bodies could be more progressive if they were brought together and given a better and more robust role…These quangos were set up on a whim as jobs for the boys…When people were appointed to these boards, it was done as a favour or to look after friends.  That is exactly what happened over the past number of years’.  He would like to see the duplication of the past eradicated.

Emmet Stagg (Lab, Kildare N) described this as an opportunity to describe to the house what had happened with quangos in the past ten to fifteen years, when 205 had been established.  It was outrageous that this had happened and washed ministers’ hands of responsibility for decisions, especially difficult decisions.  He affirmed that the forum had done important work, having a strong focus on social issues and in particular producing a number of important reports on the implementation of policy, not all of which were favourably disposed to government.

Earlier, the Taoiseach told the Dail that the budget of NESF, NESC and NESDO had been reduced 24% in 2010 (€3.854m) with the potential for further administrative savings (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2010, 132).

> Staying with cuts, the Taoiseach told the Dail that savings from the closure of the National Forum on Europe were €360,000 while €56,000 had been saved by the closure of the Active Citizenship Office (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th January 2010, 147).  The Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, told the Dail that the merger of the Registrar of Friendly Societies with the Companies Registration Office had saved €146,000 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th January 2010, 171).

> Meantime, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin told Brian Hayes (FG, Dublin SW) that the websites www.socialinclusion.ie and www.combatpoverty.ie would be closed down before the second quarter of 2010 once archiving was complete and new information would be transferred to www.welfare.ie (Dail Eireann, Debates, 20th January 2010, 789).

> Dealing with the continued reconfiguration of agencies, on 16th February, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government told the Dail that the Homeless Agency, the Affordable Homes Partnership, the National Building Agency and the Centre for Housing Research would, in the first half of 2010, form the new Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency (HSCA) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 16th February 2010, 496).