Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr Brian Cowen, TD, Dáil Éireann, Nomination of Members of Government, 23rd March, 2010


Ceann Comhairle,

I wish to advise the House that the Presidential Commission, acting on my advice, has accepted the resignation of Deputy Martin Cullen as a member of the Government. I wish to place on the record of the House my gratitude to Martin Cullen for the contribution which he has made to the work of the Government and to public service. It is a matter of widely-expressed regret that his medical condition is such that he felt unable to continue to serve and I wish to renew my best wishes to him at this difficult time for him and his family.

I now move: That Dáil Éireann approves the nomination by the Taoiseach of Deputy Pat Carey and Deputy Tony Killeen for appointment by the President to be Members of the Government.

In addition, I wish to advise the House that I intend to make the following proposed reassignments.

I propose to assign responsibility for the Department of Education and Science to the Tánaiste, Deputy Mary Coughlan.

Department of Social and Family Affairs to Deputy Éamon Ó Cuiv.

Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to Deputy Mary Hanafin.

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to Deputy Pat Carey.

Department of Defence to Deputy Tony Killeen.

Subject to the motion that I have put to the House being approved, Deputies Carey and Killeen will cease to be Ministers of State on their appointment as members of the Government.

I propose to nominate to the Government Deputies Ciarán Cuffe, Mary White and Seán Connick to be Ministers of State. I will propose to the Government the Departments to which they will be nominated and some other changes in the allocation of responsibilities to existing Ministers of State, including the appointment of Deputy John Curran as Chief Whip.

First I want to outline the context in which these changes are taking place. In the past two years the world has changed radically and we as a country have been changing with it.

For the bulk of this time, my Government's focus has been on stabilizing the deterioration in the public finances and banking sector as well as protecting those who have fallen on hard times and continuing to protect and create as many jobs as possible. By taking some hard decisions and making tough choices we are now in position to rebuild from a more solid base and focus on the future with confidence.

Although I believe the worst is over, I also believe that as a country, we have major challenges and decisions to make, but we are on the right track and I know that if we remain committed and resolved that we can overcome the obstacles we are facing.

As our focus shifts to generating economic growth again, so must Government adapt to the new challenges and sharpen its focus on new tasks. This requires changes in how Government works.

In approaching the re-configuration of Government Departments, the starting point has to be clarity about the objectives to be achieved.

The changes I am making are intended to ensure that political leadership and administrative capacity are aligned with the core objectives of economic recovery, job creation and support for those who have lost their jobs. In particular, I am strengthening our approach to supporting innovation and overcoming barriers to structural change; responding better to the needs of unemployed people; supporting productivity and growth through skills development; maintaining progress in a coherent and strategic way towards important social policy goals, and accelerating the pace of modernisation of the public service.

I do not believe in making structural changes for their own sake. Too often, changes in structures can be pursued to disguise a lack of clear priorities or the determination to implement them. This Government has a clear agenda which I am determined will be driven forward with energy and commitment. There is no time to be wasted on extensive restructuring at the expense of action to implement our policies.

Restructuring of Departments and agencies inevitably entails disruption and costs but I am satisfied that with the changes I am making, the benefits will outweigh the costs, because they will:

- group functions whose combination is more appropriate to current priorities than the present arrangements;

- ensure greater coherence and produce more efficient delivery; and

- underline the priority issues for this Government in a way that mobilises a broad response.

A major focus of the changes I am making is the jobs agenda: creating the conditions for sustainable job creation, ensuring our people have the skills and competences to fill jobs, especially those with a high value-added content, and supporting those who have lost their jobs as they prepare for future employment.

Within the framework of the Government's commitment to fiscal stability and the restoration of a functioning banking system, economic recovery will require a renewed focus on supporting enterprise and driving innovation. The agenda set out in the recent report of the Taskforce on Innovation highlights some of what needs to be done, building on the very significant presence of overseas companies and the potential for a much faster rate of growth of our many high-potential indigenous companies. I propose to sharpen this focus within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which will be renamed the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, by transferring to it funding for the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions. This will help to bring together a streamlined and focused programme of funding of research and development, aligned with the objectives of enterprise policy.

Growing the enterprise sector to produce employment opportunities requires that our people are trained and skilled to take advantage of job opportunities. Responsibility for skills and training policy is being re-allocated to the Department of Education and Science, which will become the Department of Education and Skills. In addition to the work of the Expert Skills Group, responsibility will transfer for the training activities of FÁS, which will therefore be aligned more closely with the further education and training activities of the VECs, the Institutes of Technology and programmes such as Youthreach.

Providing a more effective and streamlined response to the needs of the unemployed requires more joining up, and ultimately integration of the income support provided through the social welfare system with the support for activation and preparation for re-entry to employment. Accordingly, responsibility for the employment services of FÁS is being transferred to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which will become the Department of Social Protection. The community services programmes of FÁS will also be the responsibility of this Department and I also intend to transfer responsibility for the operation of the Rural Social Scheme to that Department, so that services which provide income and direct work opportunities for the unemployed are brought together. In due course, I envisage that responsibility for the payment of redundancy and insolvency payments will also be transferred to this Department.

It is important, while addressing the priority issues in responding to unemployment and driving economic recovery, that we do not lose sight of the importance of social development, the targeting of the most vulnerable and support for those working to make a difference right across our communities. I have therefore decided that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will become the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs and will incorporate responsibility for social inclusion policy and family policy from the Department of Social and Family Affairs and for equality, disability, integration and human rights from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The revised Programme for Government sets out the priority objectives to be pursued over the period ahead. It contains a clear agenda for change and delivery across all Departments, including those which are not affected by the re-configuration which I am announcing today. All have their role to play. In this regard, I want to refer specifically to the important role to be played by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport not only in the vital area of tourism policy and performance, but in realising the full potential of our strong performance and reputation in the area of arts and culture, and ensuring that the creative industries play their full part in the vital task of economic renewal. The Tourism and hospitality industry employs over 200,000 people and brings in over €6 billion in revenue to this country every year. We want to significantly grow this business. In order to secure better synergy with related activities, I am transferring responsibility for the horse and greyhound racing industries to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

With regard to public service reform, the Government has set out its vision and strategy for achieving the transformation of the public services. The pressure on resources, reflected in reduced public service numbers, puts a premium on ensuring that this agenda for change is fully implemented.

The current discussions taking place with the public service unions are based on the fact that there is significant agreement between the Government and the unions about what can and should be done to modernise the public service and to liberate the talent of those who have so much to contribute, especially at this time of challenge. I am confident that these discussions will result in a new dynamic for progress and transformation.

Against that background, I have decided to give a strengthened emphasis to the direction and leadership of change in the public service. I propose to appoint Dara Calleary to be Minister of State at my own Department and at the Department of Finance, in addition to his responsibility for Labour Affairs, to strengthen the political leadership of the change process, under the direction of the Cabinet Committee on Public Service Transformation, which I chair. To support this work on a public service-wide basis and to bring greater focus and energy to the task of public service transformation, the Government will appoint a Public Service Board, including members from outside the public service with appropriate experience and skills. It is intended to strengthen the capacity to provide specialist support for the change process in key functional areas and to put in place new arrangements to accelerate the pace of change in consultation with the public service unions. Further details of these arrangements will be announced in due course.

In bringing in new members of Government, I am reinvigorating my Ministerial team with experienced and capable colleagues. By reconfiguring Departmental responsibilities, I am taking the opportunity to bring fresh focus and renewed commitment to achieving our objectives across much of the machinery of Government.

Public office in this country has never been more demanding but it is a privilege to serve the people. All of us as elected representatives in this House - whether as Taoiseach, Minister, Minister of State or Deputy, have a primary duty to serve the people - all of the people - of this country to the best of our ability. Each of us have been entrusted with a responsibility by our respective communities to provide leadership and to make Ireland a better place.

As we deal with the impact of the worst global recession in our lifetime, we are demonstrating leadership. This is no time for soft options, quick fixes or political expediency. Now more than ever, we must do what is right. If we make the right choices, we can steer Ireland out of these rough waters. If we do what is right we can prepare Ireland to take up the opportunities that will be presented when this phase passes and achieve the prosperity our nation deserves and has come to expect.

In each of our communities, at every level, we must offer responsible leadership and for this Government our platform is clear. No matter how difficult the decisions, we will continue to act decisively in the long-term interests of current and future generations of Irish citizens.

I want to thank my colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party and our partners in the Green Party as well as the independent TDs who support the course of action being taken by this Government.

I look forward to working with all of you up until the summer of 2012 when we will seek to renew our mandate from the people.

In the meantime, I am proud to lead this Government. And I am proud to commend this motion to the House.

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