Archive for November 25th, 2012

“With reference to the further information requested the Deputy will be aware officials in my Department and Mercer have been working on a remuneration review of the Covered Banks and do not currently have the information you have requested. My officials and the banks have provided a very significant level of detail on remuneration and pensions in the Covered Banks and other institutions in tight timeframes. We have received over 50 Parliamentary Questions on these topics alone in the past two weeks. The further more detailed information sought in this question is not available to my Department at the present time and the compilation of this information, particularly the historic element, is likely to delay completion of the Mercer Remuneration Report which is a Government priority. I have committed to publishing the details underpinning the review in view of the public interest in the matter. The report will provide a comprehensive and professional analysis of remuneration structures and levels across the Covered Banks both now and before the onset of the banking crisis.” Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, in response to a parliamentary question this week – it seems 50 is the magic number of questions  to break the back of democracy in this republic.

In the next few days we expect to see the full text of the expert report commissioned by Minister for Health, James Reilly, to examine how the Government can implement the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 which uphold the right to abortion where the life of a mother-to-be was at risk, including being at risk from suicide. At least, that’s what I think the “expert” report is for. You see, the Government has tended to use expert reports as a tactic to quieten protest, mollify discontent and kick the ball into the long grass, so when an expert report is announced you tend to get very sketchy detail and you rarely get:

(1) Terms of reference
(2) Composition of “expert group”
(3) Timescales, including deadline for delivering report
(4) Budget, including a budget for the use of Departmental resources

Skepticism in the Government’s use of “expert” reports originated in August 2011, when out of no-where and seemingly in response to Professor Morgan Kelly’s last outing in a national newspaper where he wrote ominously about the looming mortgage crisis, the Government magicked up from nowhere the preparation of a report that became known as the Keane Report which was eventually published in October 2012, partly as a result of President Bill Clinton forcing An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss mortgage debt at the Global Irish Forum.

In December 2011, after Budget 2012 was announced featuring cuts to DEIS (disadvantaged) schools, Minister for Education Ruari Quinn dealt with the criticism by announcing a departmental report which provided him with the fig leaf to cover his shame when he performed the second post-Budget U-turn and reversed the cuts – the first U-turn was Minister Burton’s reversal of cuts to disability payments to young people. Minister Quinn’s  was a “departmental” report rather than an “expert” report but their use in political arsenals is oftentimes interchangeable.

Right now, there are at least three expert reports on the boil, all of which deal with politically explosive issues, all of which have been more-or-less completed

There is the expert report setting out options for the property tax, the tax that will be announced in the Budget 2013 speeches by ministers Howlin and Noonan on 5th December 2012. This report was prepared by a group led by quango-king Don Thornhill and was reportedly delivered to Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan in July – four months ago. Politicians of all hues have been pressuring Minister Hogan and others to publish the report, in part to allow taxpayers to plan for paying the tax in 2013. We don’t have the precise terms of reference for the report, other than Don Thornhill, we don’t know the group’s composition and we don’t know how much it cost.

Secondly, there is the report which Minister Noonan has been careful to avoid calling an “expert” report, which the Minister commissioned from global human resources and investment group, Mercer in June 2012 which is examining pay in banks. You’ll recall that the 30 staff at IBRC told Minister Noonan to get lost, in the nicest possible way, when the Minister asked that bank to waive 15% of €200,000-plus salaries. That was in April 2012. We do know, thanks to questioning in the Dail, that the Mercer report will cost about €120,000 and may use department resources in addition. Minister Noonan says it will be ready in the new year, whilst An Taoiseach says it should be published before the Budget announcements on 5th December 2012.  During the week, Sinn Fein finally broke the Department of Finance when Minister Noonan decided he wasn’t going to answer a question on pay-rises in banks because Sinn Fein and others had submitted over 50 questions in the last fortnight on the subject, and in this democratic republic, politicians will now have to wait for the publication of the Mercer report. Minister Noonan is just fed up with all this being held to account rubbish.

And there is of course the expert report examining the implementation of limited abortion rules. That report was commissioned earlier this year, certainly by April 2012, when ULA TD, Clare Daly’s Bill to legislate for the 1992 X case was defeated in the Dail and Minister Reilly announced the expert report and indicated it would be published during the summer, which alas slipped, but miraculously was delivered on the eve of all Hell breaking loose on 14th November 2012 with the reporting of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital in circumstances which are being investigated, but which her widow claims touched on this State’s position on abortion.

The political tactic of commissioning a report has always featured in Irish life, but in this Government’s term, its use has been intensified. I can’t imagine Garret FitzGerald, Sean Lemass or Eamon de Valera ever needing to resort to this volume of reports, and it would be understandable if we started to lose patience with the tactic. In the next 10 days, we should see the three reports referred to above published.

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