Civil servants entitled to meetings ‘without being secretly recorded’

Members of the public service are entitled to have meetings and brainstorm “without being secretly recorded” and this is a “very basic right”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin was speaking after a report in the Business Post said civil servants described health recruitment targets as “batsh*t” and current targets “incredible”, not in “anyway realistic”.

The claims came from a whistleblower in documents given to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The author claims they reflect conversations which took place in the Department of Health, regarding budgetary issues in the Health Service Executive.

The person in question is the same civil servant, Shane Corr, whose disclosures led to reports last year that the Department of Health had been maintaining dossiers of medical and educational information on children involved in dormant court cases against the State.

In one document, an official tells another civil servant that targets were set for recruitment “when we’ve got all this additional money and recruitment targets were batsh*t”.

Labour contribution

Labour leader Alan Kelly said during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday that these were an “extraordinary series of leaks” which revealed “a very dysfunctional relationship” between the Department of Health and HSE.

Mr Kelly also said it appeared the State was further away than it’s ever been from a single-tier public health service.

“To be frank Taoiseach, the commentary in this meeting was quite derogatory, from a relationship point of view as to how we’re ever going to achieve that [single-tier public health system] and the relationship between the HSE and the Department of Health is obviously going to be very damaged,” he said.

In response, Mr Martin said he noted the article included a “secretly recorded transcript” of a meeting.

“I do believe on a general level that the public service and people more generally are entitled to brainstorm, are entitled to have meetings without being secretly recorded and I think that’s a very basic right and entitlement of people too,” he said.

The Taoiseach said in terms of the transcript published while he wasn’t there and didn’t understand the context, he added that not all of the material in it was accurate.

He said politicians don’t set recruitment figures for the HSE and the transcript suggested they did. Mr Martin said discussions are under way on how to spend unused funding while there had been record recruitment over the last two years.

He said just to “stand still” the HSE needed to recruit 9,500 staff every year, which was “an extraordinary level of recruitment”.

‘Issues of concern’

He said over the last 20 to 30 years, there had been dramatic improvements in health outcomes in Ireland, “major gains in longevity and lifespan” including in cancer, stroke and cardiovascular and cancer survival rates.

“That has to be acknowledged in all of our commentary on the health service because the health service will always create, understandably and deservedly, issues of concern, given the enormity of it and the degree of the population that it covers,” said Mr Martin.

“That said I’m still impatient for reform and for progress and in terms of an integrated financial management system, that is required and needed in the HSE and that is absolutely the case.”

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