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not a clue

The government has no idea if people are serving on more state boards than they should be

The allocation of state board memberships has caused no end of controversy in Ireland in the past.

shutterstock_234197374 Shutterstock / SmartPhotoLab Shutterstock / SmartPhotoLab / SmartPhotoLab

THE GOVERNMENT HAS acknowledged that no records exist in its individual departments regarding the membership of state boards in other areas of the executive.

There are in the region of 200 state boards in Ireland, with varying levels of membership numbers, tenure, and remuneration (many are unpaid).

Applications for membership of those boards are made via the Public Appointments Service (PAS), the entity which handles the allocation of all civil service roles, which then makes a recommendation to the relevant minister.

The guidelines for state board appointments stress that no one person should hold more than two such positions, nor should they serve more than two full terms of appointment.

However, while the membership of boards can be accessed via a dedicated online portal of the PAS, each government department has now admitted that it keeps no such records regarding what plurality of employment may exist on its own boards and that of its sister departments, nor are they aware of their appointees’ historic membership of state boards, if any.

A series of parliamentary questions tabled by Meath Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín to each individual department regarding the extent to which their own board members hold other such appointments were met with the same response across the board, albeit expressed in different ways: “the specific information sought is not available, nor does the PAS have access to said information.”

The various departments also acknowledged that no records are available regarding where their own board members have previously served on other boards.


Tóibín, who serves as chairperson of the Oireachtas culture committee, has previously raised his reservations regarding the diversity of appointments to state boards, and the appointments process itself, which is ostensibly fully open to the public.

State board appointments have often courted scandal in the past, such as when then Arts Minister Heather Humphreys appointed Donegal man John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in 2014, ahead of his nomination as a candidate for the Seanad’s culture and education panel.

The fallout from that controversy saw then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin launch the aforementioned guidelines regarding board appointments – including the stipulation that all roles be advertised publicly by the PAS.

90388703_90388703 Peadar Tóibín Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

However, the final appointment of any candidate to a board is still made by the relevant minister under whose aegis the entity in question falls.

“A history of government nepotism has in the past brought some state boards into disrepute,” he told “When a person is wearing a number of hats this can lead to conflicts of interests.”

‘Not a clue’

Logic would dictate that that in order to guarantee diversity and ensure a broad participation within state boards, the state would know whether is a candidate a member of another state board and whether they have other roles in the sector, or when they were last occupying a position on a state board.

“According to my questions, they have not a clue,” he said.

Tóibín’s questions were originally inspired by a complaint from a member of the public (who isn’t a civil servant but who does have strong academic qualifications) who had applied repeatedly for state board positions in recent years within their own area of expertise, without ever even being called for interview.

“No one records if candidates are operating on other state boards or have had multiple roles on state boards previously,” he said.

This is a mistake and needs to be rectified immediately.

“It’s also critical that they pull from a wide pool of people,” he added. “There have been significant concerns that many of those selected to state boards have been drawn from a limited socio-economic and geographic pool and therefore are not fully representative.”

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