‘Public service reform’ is a fantastic phrase – but what does it mean?

Are we wasting our breath asking the Leader of the Seanad to arrange a debate on the economy? We keep doing so but, as a child might say, “It keeps not happening.” Is there any point in our seeking it?

I have just come from addressing a group of school students on the south side of the city. They all want to talk about the economy and the recession and what Governments and politicians are doing about it, yet we cannot have a debate thereon in the House. We were supposed to have a rolling debate? What is a rolling debate? In any event, it is what we were promised two or three weeks ago. It certainly has not started rolling yet.

Today the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance are to announce a programme of significant public sector reform. I welcome the programme for two reasons, the first of which is that no reasonable person could object to a serious programme of reform in the public sector. The second reason I welcome it is that I hope it will put an end to the phoney debate on the public service.

Very often people make statements about the public service that are long on rhetoric and short on specifics. This will give us the opportunity and will provide the context for Members on both sides of the House to explain what they mean by public service reform. Public service reform is a fantastic phrase, like motherhood and apple pie. What do people mean by it? Where do they wish to see the cuts and the redundancies? Do they wish to see redundancies?

We might consider any particular service that is provided for the people. In the Seanad, Members are constantly calling for improvements and expansions to services and opposing the abolition of different agencies and services. As politicians, we must face up to the fact that if staff numbers are reduced efficiencies can, of course, be brought about and it is good that such might be done. However, very often, when staff is reduced the service is reduced. It is not as simple as that but that is very often the outcome. Fewer staff means a service that is not as good for the public. Let us face up to that and let us all, on both sides of the House, face up to the fact that it is not good enough to come in here and make rhetorical snipes at the public service and public servants without being specific, by which I mean giving examples.

I welcome another aspect of the announcement that apparently will be made today, namely, that the Government feels it must take time to see which posts can be amalgamated, which ones should be abolished and, as a consequence, which services must be removed. It will take time. In the event of such a debate, I call on all my colleagues to be specific about what they mean, to be clear and to face up to the fact that if staff numbers are reduced very often service is lost.