Decentralisation: A cynical vote grabber

FOUR YEARS after hinting about large scale decentralisation in the 1999 budget Charlie McCreevy finally sprung the details on an unsuspecting civil and public service.

By Michael O'Brien

The government assures the 10,300 workers affected that moving will be done on a voluntary basis only and yet no research was ever carried out to establish how many civil servants wanted to move from Dublin. When challenged to conduct such a survey back in 2000 by the unions the government refused point blank . One union, the PSEU, carried out its own survey which showed that there was no evidence that 10,000 workers were interested in moving and the majority of those who did wanted to remain where they were living but change their commuting pattern, that is, have departments and offices moved to the periphery of Dublin so they wouldn't have to travel to the city centre. Given that many in the civil and public service have partners with their own careers in Dublin it is not hard to see why many won't go. Likewise you can understand the disgust of many at PD minister Tom Parlon putting out leaflets in his constituency boasting of the jobs he "delivered" for Laois/Offaly as if people's lives can be messed around for cheap publicity for government politicians. Further details regarding the implementation of the plan are being left to a government appointed committee and are likely to come out conveniently in the run up to the local elections.

Most civil servants belong to "general grades" that are common throughout the service, which means there is some scope to redeploy elsewhere in Dublin somebody who doesn't want to move with their department. However in the case of the eight departments that are being moved wholesale out of Dublin you also have hundreds of specialised staff whose jobs are specific to that department and there is no means of them being redeployed. Such large scale redeployments will bring with it costly overheads in retraining and lost experience built up over years.

What's more, 2,880 of the posts are in public bodies outside of the civil service where again there is no facility for redeployment if the "volunteers" don't materialize. No doubt there will be workers particularly at the clerical grade level who will jump at the opportunity to escape the high cost of living in Dublin. Many at the clerical level are young and still in rented accommodation and therefore the disruption wouldn't be the same as for others. However the unions should view this as a case for dealing with low pay in the public service and to fight for a Dublin allowance similar to the London allowance won by some public sector workers in Britain.

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This article is from the January 2004 edition of Socialist Voice. Back issues are available here.