The Civil Service is not a homogeneous body. There are Civil Servants of government departments who are civil servants of the government. There are civil servants of the other major institutions bodies under the Constitution and statute who are not civil servants of the government.
Those established under the Constitution include persons working in the office of the Attorney General’s office, the Controller and Auditor General, the President and the Oireachtas. Under statute, for example, members of the Gardai and Defence Forces are, similarly, not civil servants of the government.
There are many employees of and who work for the state and state bodies who are not Civil Servants. The majority of persons in the broad public service are not civil Servants and are employed by local authorities and various state sponsored bodies.
The creation of posts and offices of civil Servants requires the consent of the Minister for Finance/ Public Expenditure. This determines the numbers and grades at which they are located. Within parameters and budgets departments may have considerable freedom to select and appoint.
The Irish Free State constituted the Civil Service Commissioners under the Civil Service Regulation Act 1923, to provide for transparent appointments to the Civil Service. This was later replaced by the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956. Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926 established the Local Appointment Commission for the same purpose.
The Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. replaced the Civil Service Commission and the Local Appointments Commission. The Commission for Public Service Appointments covers a wider range of employees than civil servants. It coves Garda Siochana and certain higher levels within the local authority and the Health Service Executive.
The Commission for Public Service Appointments is designed to be politically neutral. A number of major independent office holders are members of the Commission. The Commission sets the general standards for recruitment and regulates compliance. It licenses bodies, principally the Public Appointments Service to recruit on behalf of the public services. This was designed to make a more decentralised system and provide greater flexibility in relation to appointments.
The Commission publishes codes of practice to ensure probity, equity and fairness in the recruitment procedures. The codes provide for a complaint procedure. Complaints may be made by candidates in relation to breach of the codes of practices or the otherwise in relation to the appointments procedure.
The Commission may grant or revoke a licence. It may change conditions. It may give directions to a licence holder. It may exercise the activities of the licence holders and recruitment agency.
The Commissioner may with the request of the Department of Finance / Public Expenditure, declare certain grades to be excluded unestablished positions. The notification must be published in Iris Oifigiúil.
The public appointment service at the request of the Minister for Public Expenditure after consulting with the relevant department may hold a competition to fill a promotion. The Minister for Finance may alternatively allow the promotion to be filled internally.
Senior positions within the scope of the Top-Level Appointments Committee are dealt with differently. The top-level appointments procedure applies to post at assistant secretary level and above. The Top-Level Appointments Committee provides for a interdepartmental competition for posts. The purpose was to discontinue automatic appointment on the basis seniority and to allow cross-department competition at f both professional and administrative levels.
The Top-Level Committee consist of the secretaries of a number of departments and certain persons with private sector backgrounds chosen by the Taoiseach after consultation with the Minister for Finance. Generally, the persons recommended by the Top-Level Appointments Committee are appointed.
Civil Servants hold office at the will and pleasure of the government under the Civil Service Regulation Act. Despite the theoretical position, Civil Servants enjoy a very high level of security. At the very minimum from a legal perspective, they would enjoy Constitution fair procedures protection. See the sections on wrongful dismissal under employment law.
The Unfair Dismissals Act was extended to Civil Servants in 2005. Public servants who were not Civil Servants were largely brought under the legislation in 1993.
Some public servants including members of the Army and Garda Siochana outside the Acts as are the holder of certain very senior positions in the public service.
Most employment protection legislation covers Civil Servants. This includes the quality legislation, maternity legislation, minimum notice legislation, et cetera. In practice, public servants enjoy contractual or other terms of employment or service, which are higher than those applicable under general legislation.
The Civil Service (Amendment) Act 2005 provides that where the government so authorises Civil Servants below the grade of principal may be dismissed by the secretary general. Above that level, the Minister on the recommendation of the Secretary General has power of dismissal. The Secretary General may be only dismissed by the government.
The Civil Service disciplinary codes has been published under the Civil Service Regulation Acts. In principle, disciplinary action can be taken on the basis of misconduct, neglect of duty.
The performance conduct and discipline of service servants below principal level is a matter for the secretary general. The Minister retains responsibility of principal level and above.
The disciplinary procedure reflects best practice and contemplates a four-step process
Verbal warning; written warning; final written warning and the implementation of disciplinary action.
Where dismissal is involved, the principal officer makes a recommendation to one of the above authorities and provides a report. A decision may be appealed to the Civil Servant’s Disciplinary Code Appeal Board, which reviews the matter.
Disciplinary steps may include demotion, reduction in salary, suspension without pay and exceptionally. Dismissals are not unknown in the Civil Service, but they are very rare. They may arise in result of the extreme cases, such as where a person is convicted of a serious crime.
The Civil Service Regulation Act provides that the Minister for Finance may classify and reclassify numbers and remunerations for Civil Servants. He may fix the terms and conditions of employment and promotion. There may be change from time to time. The power is usually exercised by issuing Circulars.
The terms of Circulars may be effectively incorporated in the Civil Servants contract. If not incorporated the Civil Servant would usually have a legitimate expectation that they would be adhered to.
There are different views as to whether civil servants are retained under employment contract. In some cases, the statutory scheme implies that there is no contract. In other cases, the courts have held that there is a contract or made decisions on the basis that a contract or something equivalent to a contract applied.
There are three broad divisions among Civil Servants.
- general service,
- departmental service,
- professional and technical classes.
The general service undertakes the general work of the department ranging from clerical to advisory and managerial matters. The grades rise from sub-clerical, clerical, executive and administrative.
Departmental classes comprise persons who have general educational qualifications but are assigned to specialist areas. The other divisions are specials. Technical and professional persons are recruited on the basis of having an educational or other qualification relevant to the work
In the above division, there are grades. In theory, the same grades do equivalent work and are paid in accordance with an equivalent pay scale. The equivalence is not necessarily in terms of the detail of work, but its nature and responsibility.
Historically, persons remained within grades for a period and there was steep number of gradations. In more recent years, there has been greater mobility between classes and grades.
Approximately one half of employees in the public service are under the labour relations system under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. Its machinery deals with the negotiation of their pay and condition. The remainder including Civil Servants, Gardai and teachers have their own conciliation and arbitration schemes.
Approximately 300 higher level secretaries, deputy secretaries and assistant secretaries and equivalent and professional classes are the subject of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Service. This is a standing body which advises government and levels of pay for higher civil servants, local authority officers, judges and senior appointees in states sponsored bodies.
The conciliation and arbitration scheme includes a general council which deals with issues relevant to multiple departments or grades. The departmental council deals with matters relevant to a particular department or matters relevant to a particular class of employees only found within that department.
The councils consist of representatives nominated by the Minister for Finance. There are an equal number of ministers nominated and staff representative nominated members. Staff representative bodies recognised by the Minister may nominate members. The government makes major policy decisions and negotiations are undertaken in the context of these broad policy direction. The result of the deliberations are recommendations.
The general council deals with a broad range of issues where pay is generally dealt with by national pay agreements. The general council may deal with it matters as working hours and the principles applicable to discipline, promotion, recruitment and efficiency. It does not apply to individual grievances.
The employer side will represent the Minister. If there is disagreement between the staff and Minister’s side, there provision for reference of the matter to the Arbitration Board. The matter must be within the scope of the arbitration. This relates to narrower matters. It excludes broad policy matters and productivity claims. It is more appropriate to claims that can be resolved by reference to objective criteria and comparisons.
The arbitration body is appointed by the Minister for Finance with two members representing each side and a chairman. The Board’s report is sent to the Minster. If the government wishes to reject a decision of the Board, it requires a Dail motion. This would be unusual in practice.
There are broadly similar conciliation and arbitration schemes in other sectors of the public service including the HSE , local authorities, Garda Siochana and teachers.