Dóchas research into proposed DCI move to Limerick - June 2004

Research shows decentralisation to impact negatively on quality of Ireland's aid policies

From the Dóchas newsletter

Background

On 3 December 2003, the Minister for Finance announced a radical programme of decentralisation which, over a three-year period, would see 10,300 civil and public servants being relocated to 53 new sites in 25 counties.

Under this proposal, of the ten divisions within the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the development co-operation division (DCI) is due to relocate to Limerick, while the Passport Office, within the Passport and Consular division, will relocate to Balbriggan

In response to the announcement, Dóchas commissioned research to assess the potential consequences of the proposal for the quality of the Irish development cooperation programme. The research was undertaken by an independent consultant, and focuses on the policy and management issues surrounding the proposed move. Based on the findings of the Ireland Aid Review report and the stated principles underlying the DCI programme, the report looks at the potential benefits and risks associated with the decentralisation plans.

Findings

Dóchas’s research found that there are considerable opportunities associated with decentralised government, in particular in relation to the modernisation of the delivery of services, flexibility of management systems and introduction of new personnel to the public service. At a conceptual level, many Dóchas members would be in favour of decentralisation as a concept, given the devolution of power and regional development that should be associated with such a process.

However, there are also a number of concerns associated with the proposal. Some of these were summarised by the first report of the Decentralisation Implementation Group, commonly referred to as the Flynn Report (April 2004): “There are concerns about the efficacy of the civil service in a decentralised world. These encompass not only service delivery but also the relative influence in policy formulation of the organisations and sections being decentralised compared to that of the organisations remaining in Dublin. Particular concerns arise in relation to the impact on service delivery to the Oireachtas, the Government, Ministers, other departments/agencies and the public. There are also concerns about the delivery of “joined up Government” arising from the very nature of decentralisation.”

More specifically to the relocation of DCI, Dóchas highlights the following major concerns:

* Marginalisation: At present, Ireland’s development cooperation programme forms an integral part of our foreign policy. This programme is now faced with political marginalisation, since the body responsible for the majority of the programme – the Development Cooperation Directorate DCI - is the only Directorate within the Department of Foreign Affairs to leave Dublin.
This situation will undo one of the main reasons why Ireland’s aid programme is internationally acclaimed: the fact that Ireland’s development cooperation policy is an integral part of Ireland’s wider government policy and that DCI has been given an explicit coordinating role in relation to Overseas Development Assistance by other Government Departments.

* Cross-sectoral involvement: DCI has more domestic involvement with other organisations, particularly NGOs, than typical government departments, and through its development education and media programmes, it is hoping to have a higher profile than heretofore. Most of the NGO community are based in the capital, and many do not have the personnel and resources to maintain present levels of contact with DCI, were it to be located elsewhere. In addition, involvement with domestic interest groups such as academics, farming organisations and private sector bodies – as recommended by the Ireland Aid Review – is likely to become problematic under the current proposal.

* Change of policy: The decentralisation proposal runs counter to the Ireland Aid Review (IAR), which forms the basis for the creation of DCI. The IAR had put considerable effort into analysing organisational models for the effective delivery of the development cooperation programme, considering five options, before selecting a Development Cooperation Directorate within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the best model. The particular strengths of this model as outlined by the IAR (policy coherence; inter-departmental consultation; a close fit between policy formulation and implementation; economies of scale) may suffer under decentralisation.

* Staffing: The Ireland Aid Review identified the problem of discontinuity caused by the rotation of diplomatic personnel into the development division, and the consequences in terms of institutional memory. It recommended the creation of a development specialisation within the diplomatic stream and greater interchange of staff between DCI and other divisions of DFA to widen the base of development expertise in the Department. The current proposal would limit the prospect of such “mainstreaming” of development expertise in the Department. In addition, a significant loss of expertise and institutional memory is anticipated in the short term, as many experienced and specialist staff have allegedly indicated that they do not want to move to Limerick.

* Disruption: No other area of government expenditure is scheduled to expand to the same extent as that of DCI over the next three years. Associated with this is the necessary commensurate expansion in technical and managerial staff – a crucial period in the organisation’s development, which will now be overshadowed by the practicalities and uncertainties of decentralisation. The Peer Review of the DAC (Development Assistance Committee) of the OECD had identified two major issues confronting the Irish aid programme: (a) how best to grow, and (b) how best to manage that growth. Dóchas’ research found it hard to see how the proposed relocation to Limerick will contribute to meeting these challenges.

In June 2004, Dóchas wrote to Ministers Kitt, Cowen and McCreevy pointing out these findings.

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