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Reform could mean dramatic overhaul of ministerial responsibility

Brendan Howlin will shortly receive a policy paper outlining how laws can be changed to make ministers more responsible.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive

A LEGAL REVIEW about to be presented to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform could lead to major reforms in how ministers are held responsible for government decisions – and ensure that a single individual is held responsible for every government decision.

Brendan Howlin will shortly receive a policy paper surrounding the working of ministerial offices and government departments, outlining ways in which laws could be reformed to ensure greater responsibility.

The policy paper follows a review of the “current accountability framework for ministers and civil servants” ordered by Howlin last year, following a pledge in the Programme for Government to ensure that specified people are named as being responsible for executive decisions.

The review will see an overhaul of the Ministers and Secretaries Acts, which are behind the legal creation and existence of government departments, and the Public Service Management Act which ensures that ministers are responsible for the acts of their departments.

In response to written Dáil questions from Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Howlin said the proposals would enshrine the principle that all decisions made by a Department would be attributed to either a named civil servant or the minister themselves.

The minister in charge of the Department would also have to account for the degree of supervision and oversight they carried out over their department.

Howlin said a public consultation process would be carried out once the policy paper had been completed and published.

The minister added that the process would take inspiration from a Labour party policy document, ‘New Government, Better Government’, which Howlin wrote while he was Leas Ceann Comhairle and Labour’s spokesman on constitutional reform.

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