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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland Robert Watt

Top civil servant: Public sector workers who don't perform should 'of course' be sacked

Senior civil servant Robert Watt called for a debate on making it easier to sack public sector workers at the MacGill Summer School yesterday.

ONE OF THE most senior civil servants in Ireland has said it should be easier to sack non-performing public sector workers and that bonuses for those that do perform should be considered.

Robert Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, was speaking to journalists after delivering a speech at the MacGill Summer School yesterday.

In a speech and paper to the audience in Glenties he called for a debate on making it easier to dismiss employees in the public sector in the way they can be sacked in the private sector.

“In our system we don’t have those sort of tools that are available in parts of the private sector,” Watt said.

He said there needs to be a debate about the type of approach that should be taken to public sector workers who are not performing well.

He explained: “We’d like that perhaps you could have a conversation and say look: ‘We’re going to buy out the remainder of your contract’.

Watt said that if people continuously non-perform in the public sector they should be subject to disciplinary procedures. Asked if these procedures should include dismissal, he said: “Of course, yes.” 


Watt also indicated that civil servants who perform well in their roles should be rewarded financially, but cautioned that there is no appetite for it amongst the public in the near future.

“Certainly there’s merit in the future of looking at pay structures which do incentivise people to deliver more, but I don’t think there’s an appetite at the moment for that,” he said.

He acknowledged that previous systems of rewarding public sector workers for good performance were not credible, saying:

“When we had those type of variable structures in the past everybody got a bonus as opposed to differentiating between the really high performers and those who were average performers,” he said.

“So I think we need to put in place much more credible management systems and that’s going to take a long time – a good few years – before I think we could have a proper debate about different types of incentives.”

Watt also told reporters that he does not think people entering the civil service now consider it a job for life and that there needs to be a “much more fluid system”.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is expected to respond to the report of an independent panel on civil service reform in the autumn.

Watt said that the plan will set out a variety of different actions across a whole number of areas in the civil service including how to manage employee performance more effectively.

More: This top civil servant wants to talk about making it easier to sack public sector workers

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