More senior staff in the Department of Finance have degrees in general arts than in economics and finance, the Sunday Tribune can reveal.

Seventy-six staff at the government's most key department have either degrees or masters degrees in arts, while just 75 hold degrees or masters degrees in economics or finance.

Last week, finance minister Brian Lenihan ordered an external review of how the department managed the financial crisis, concentrating on advice given to various ministers over the past 10 years.

Welcoming the review, Labour's Ruairi Quinn, who was finance minister from 1994 to 1997, said there was "a lack of expertise in the department and there are a very small number of specialists in economics and banking".

Quinn said the department was full of very bright and hard-working civil servants but it was also closed to taking in outside expertise.

According to the department's own capacity report, which analysed its ability to handle the growing banking and financial crisis, 60 finance staff have a degree in arts without economics and a further 16 have a master's degree in the arts.

Fifty have a degree in economics/finance and a further 25 have a master's degree in the same subject.

The report adds that just two staff have a masters in economic policy analysis while just two have a degree in the same subject. Only three staff have masters degrees in banking.

In the report, department staff admitted that, while the economic analysis done there is "good", there is a need to "plan better, to do analysis earlier, to think through and anticipate consequences to a greater extent."

But almost in the same breath, staff admit they have "mixed feelings about the increased use of specialists" in finance.

While the department is at the heart of negotiations with the public service unions and is the biggest employer in the country with over 250,000 employees and an €18bn paybill, just two staff in the department have a degree in industrial relations.

As well as interviewing their own staff for the report, the department also spoke to heads of other government departments as well as employers and union leaders. A frequent comment was that officials can be "condescending" and "aloof" and tend to be "personality based" in dealing with other departments.

They also said the department should bring in people from other departments who have experience in trying to deliver a public service but warned about the dangers of these people 'going native'.

Last week, the Public Accounts Committee raised concerns as to whether the department has the skill levels required to lead the state through the current crisis.

The department is currently engaged in a restructuring exercise to try and manage the sudden exodus of senior, experienced staff.