Merrion Street staff 'could be less condescending' and 'less aloof'

Senior civil servants in the Department of Finance have been encouraged to be a bit more civil by their counterparts in other government departments. In a frank report into Finance, which was issued last week, the heads of other departments suggested that senior staff in Merrion Street could be "less condescending in terms of tone of communications" and "less aloof". The report also found that the Department of Finance had "failed to fully engage" with social partnership and urgently needed to take over the lead role on social issues from the Taoiseach's department.

In the report – on Brian Lenihan's department's ability to handle the financial, economic and social crisis swamping the country – half of the senior civil servants interviewed said that the balance between Finance and the Taoiseach's department on reform and social issues had "shifted too far away from the Department of Finance in recent years".

While Finance does have the lead role on public-service pay and numbers, even here the non-Finance civil servants said this was "being driven by the unions and other departments, not Finance".

Two weeks ago, Siptu president Jack O'Connor attack­ed what he called "the hawks" in Lenihan's department for trying to resolve the financial mess at the expense of the less well-off. O'Connor said that Taoiseach Brian Cowen was of a totally different outlook and believed in a partnership approach.

The senior civil servants also suggested that Finance should take a greater role in implementing the recommendations of the OECD report on the modernisation of the Irish public service, which was commissioned by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern just before he left office. But in a damning comment on the department, it was suggested that the "department does not itself provide a good role model for modernisation and that it must".

While praising the high skills levels and hard work of Finance staff, it was suggested that the department was not united and reference was made to the existence of "silos" within the Merrion Street headquarters.

Finance focused "too much on numbers and not enough on national priority areas". There was also "too much reporting for reporting's sake" and that it had too many items on the agenda and "tends to lose focus".

In interviews with Lenihan's own staff on the department, most admitted that there is a "need for greater leadership and direction from the top".

With regard to economic research and analysis, Finance staff said it needed to be "much more on top of issues".