Shenanigans from the SPC Jan 2017

I gave an official report from my Strategic Policy Committee SPC meeting last Monday but here I will give you a little glimpse of life as a committee member amongst elected councillors and civil servants. Why? Well, I used think that the people running the country must be really intelligent and capable – why else would they be elected! I thought they must know what they are talking about. I thought they must have a vision for our country. I thought they must know lots of things to be that responsible. It is only by experience within the system that I have learned the reality. I have seen that there are some very worthy people who deserve to be voted in but there are more unworthy. There are many worthy people within the civil service but there are many not so worthy. You could probably do better!

Some insight. We had the very informative presentation about jobs and I asked my questions. I also got clarification on many of the acronyms used.  At one point the guy next to me nudged me to let me know there were two more acronyms coming up as if to encourage me to ask what they stood for. He obviously hadn’t a clue but didn’t want to ask himself! As it happened they were explained when the time came but I would have asked had I not known. So which is worse –

  1. To sit through a presentation not knowing what any of the letters stand for?
  2. To interrupt politely and ask the presenter to explain them?

Which takes more confidence?

Thankfully I have the confidence and intelligence to ask what they stand for. In my opinion it is not a sign of stupidity to ask for them to be explained but I think it is a sign of ignorance to expect that everybody will know what you mean when you deliver a presentation with lots of acronyms.

In replying to my questions after the presentation the presenter mistakenly referred to me as councillor. WELL, the look on the guy next to me could have cut me in half. The indignity of it – a mere mortal being referred to as a councillor! When the meeting was closing he asked that from now on we have our names displayed on the table in front of us so that guests know who we are. This is the same guy that was egging me on to ask for acronyms to be explained! What made it all the funnier was that I had actually noticed on his agenda sheet that he had written in wording beside item 4 “Proposed changes to SPC structure”. Something like “Special Planning Concerns”. He didn’t even know what SPC stood for and him an elected councillor. This illusion of importance and intelligence is what wins votes but don’t forget – it’s an illusion.

You couldn’t make it up!

The more serious matter is an inability to manage or direct policy. For example, I was interested in the proposed changes to the SPC structure. I asked for information ahead of the meeting and was told that the director of services (high ranking official) would inform the meeting about the changes. I compiled my wish list of changes and was prepared to engage in a conversation around them at the meeting. However we were told what was happening. When I questioned this dictate I was treated the same way questioning councillors are treated. I call it the “directive” approach. You are silenced by a hand or a waving sheet of paper claimed to be a directive that squashes any dissent or queries. I have seen how national government is blamed for everything by virtue of the fact that there must be directives for everything. I am certain that if a councillor proposed putting seats on the ceiling, instead of being told no for obvious reason, they would be told about the national directive stating there could be no seats on ceilings!

This is not specific to Clare or to local authorities. Committees have and will continue to be consulted and allowed to have their say before they sign off on decisions made by civil servants the world over. Fair enough if the staff are competent. Essential when you have incompetent politicians such as above! What happens when familiarity breeds contempt? What happens when that power becomes control? What happens when they get too lazy for change? I am not getting into all of this in depth now but suffice to say it and move on because I have seen different too. I have seen how a new manager or Minister can change things. How civil servants that may be rigid in one line of thinking can be directed a different way. I have seen that happen to great effect without animosity and with lots of positivity. I don’t have any problem with civil servants individually but they operate in a top down system that is not the most rewarding of initiative or creativity. This can lead to apathy and power issues which it does.

So to change Irelands policies we need real leaders. People who can collaborate and appreciate each others significance. Leaders who can change a system that is stubborn or impervious to change. Most of all though we need people who deserve to be there, who actually know about policy, management and responsibility. If they are not capable there is an imbalance that festers.

Theresa O’Donohoe

January 14th 2017

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