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Varadkar: Not 'negative' for State board members to have political connections

Minister Leo Varadkar made the comments while commending the new Roads Bill to the Dáil.

Minister Leo Varadkar
Minister Leo Varadkar
Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire

TRANSPORT MINISTER LEO Varadkar has said that he doesn’t think it’s a negative thing for State board appointees to have political connections.

Speaking about State agency reform in the Dáil today, he said that in relation to his own Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, as of the end of 2013 he had made just over 120 new appointments to State Boards.

He said that of these 120 appointments, more than half had submitted expressions of interest. “In every case where expressions of interest are made, consideration is given to individuals appropriate to the promotion of good governance at board level,” said Varadkar, adding that experience or qualifications in specific fields are also sought after.

I have, on occasion, approached people to sit on a board because of their particular skills or experience.

Varadkar noted that a “frequent complaint is that some of the people appointed have political connections”.

This is always portrayed as something negative. It is not. Of course, it would be demonstrably wrong to appoint someone whose sole qualification is a party or personal connection. But where the person is qualified and can make a good contribution, their political or personal connections should not bar them.

He said that he has implemented the practice of referring all Dáil questions about State agencies to the agencies themselves for a direct response, which “appears to be working satisfactorily and is providing a far higher level of accountability than previously was the case”.

Roads Bill 2014

The new Roads Bill will merge the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) with the National Roads Authority (NRA), by dissolving the RPA and transferring its functions and staff to the NRA.

The newly expanded NRA will use the name Transport Infrastructure Service.

The bill will also update existing provisions in the Roads Acts.

Varadkar said the move ensures that core technical and professional skills will be retained in the public sector.

The statutory name of the National Roads Authority is not being changed. It will continue as a non-commercial State agency under the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

“Total staff numbers of the combined organisations have reduced from 435 when this merger was first mooted to the current level of approximately 290. This comprises 105 in the NRA and 185 in the RPA,” said Varadkar.

He added that “all RPA staff will transfer to the NRA on no less favourable terms and conditions than the terms that they hold immediately prior to the merger”.

TDs that want to table amendments on the bill can do so when it reaches its committee stage.

Read: State bodies account for nearly 30 per cent of employment payments upheld in 12 months>

Read: Public service reform plans are ‘weak’ and ‘wrong’ says opposition>

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