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The National Risk Assessment for 2014

The Taoiseach has published the Draft National Risk Assessment for 2014. The good news is that, by implication, there will be another in 2015 and that it is open for public comments until the 30th June. The bad news is that, in briefly harking back to the past, it fails to correctly describe what really happened.

Then there’s the tone; the authors never question the possibility that they are not competent to write the Assessment. Presumably, they followed the nostrum they urged on the Civil Service – avoid groupthink. It may be the case that, of the available possible authors, they are the best, but if so they are not good enough. Like military experts, they are confident of winning the last war when it reappears in the future. One suspects that they view the opportunity to write the Draft National Risk Assessment for 2014 as one of the few upsides to the national disaster that has befallen us.

If so, why not follow the logic of criticising “groupthink”, with the reflection that a problem like that is a social problem?

What, then, might be said to be wrong with Irish society?

Local government is a good place to start. Before the founding of the state, Irish local government was corrupt. It is easy to imagine the impossible task faced by UK central government in trying to suppress something like that in Irish domestic politics. That corruption is still with us. It may have historically take the form of theft of public property or the sale of public administration, but more usually it takes the form of resolutely eliminating any regard or consideration for “out-groups”. The most prominent “in-group” is the staff of the local authority itself. It is necessary to mention that local government has its equivalent of a central government circus of “experts” and “professionals” whose principle source of income is the local authority and who, often, are less removable than the County Manager himself.

More generally described, Ireland has a human rights problem.

Administration, even the administration of justice, is seen as the application of a process, by officials, to persons. In this process, the means is more important than the ends. The process is, apparently, the important thing, not the outcome. Even this, however, is subject to review; if the process is not, in the events that have happened, acceptable to the officials, then it can be adapted to produce the desired outcome. Somehow, there is an interest which trumps all other interests; the interests of the organisation.

This view of things is diametrically opposite to the view ostensibly adopted by the Draft National Risk Assessment for 2014. That’s a good thing; if the National Risk Assessment endorsed the pursuit of organisational interests over national or individual rights we would be in quite a pickle.

The National Risk Assessment seeks to drive up performance and improve civil servants’ skills, but it is weak on the point. Saying “be good” is not sufficient. There has to be a focused assessment of processes and procedures to assure the correct outcome for them. The absence of the right skills must be identified. (Judges, for instance, due to their professional backgrounds, generally have no record of talent in administration). Even when problems are identified they are ignored, when, in fact, they should be systematically highlighted before they cause too much damage.

Here’s an example: when a planning authority official arrives at your property to search it, don’t bother demanding his/her search warrant. They don’t need one, according to Section 253 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Irish voters have just selected hundreds of new councillors to sit on local authorities across the country. It would be no small thing if some of those fresh new faces began to ask questions about whether their own officials’ perfectly legal actions may one day warrant a mention in a future Risk Assessment document.