‘We are struggling to keep pace’: Harris cites rapid population growth in call for public service reform

Taoiseach criticises ‘the bureaucracy, the red tape, the silos and the pass the parcel when it comes to disability services’ during conference speech

The State needs to be reshaped to keep up with its growing population and this will involve public service reform as well as additional funding and staff, Taoiseach Simon Harris has said.

Addressing the National Economic Dialogue conference in Dublin on Monday, he also said people were “still hurting” as a result of the impact of inflation over recent years, and that the cost of living must still be a focus for the budget for next year .

Speaking at the event, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said there would be measures in the budget to support households, as well as a social welfare package.

However, he said: “the emphasis should be on permanent changes to our expenditure and taxation framework rather than a large series of one-off measures”.


Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party and Minister for Transport, suggested he favoured spending being prioritised on longer-term investments in areas such as housing and transport.

He said the main test for the budget was that it must be progressive and give most help to those on the lowest incomes.

“Whatever about tax breaks and all the promises about expenditure increases, we know, because we have agreed it with our Coalition colleagues, that if we do not meet that test, the budget won’t be agreed.”

Mr Ryan also said farmers had to be paid more to give them an income for protecting nature.

He also said for the Irish economy capital spending was key: in housing, water, energy and transport.

The Minister for Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe, said the budget in the autumn would be “sensible and appropriate”, similar to the four others he and Mr McGrath had overseen during the current Government.

Mr McGrath said the budget would be held at its regular time in early to mid-October.

Mr Harris, in his address to the conference, said: “we need to ask what is the right size for the State and what is our vision for the public service”.

“We are struggling to keep pace with a rapidly growing population. We need to right size the State – not in per capita terms but just to keep up.”

“That means more public servants, more spending on capital infrastructure and public services.”

“But it must mean more than that too. Spending more and recruiting more without reform is a wasted opportunity and it leaves us exposed for a time when money might not be so plentiful. "

Mr Harris said the economy and the public finances were in good health. Ireland had a record number of people at work, at just over 2.7 million, and job growth was taking place in every region, he said.

He said inflation was moderating, with a marked downward trend since last year, and that real wages should grow again this year.

However, he said that people were “still hurting”. He said the cost of living must once again be a focus for the budget for next year.

Mr Harris said cost-of-living increases had left people feeling their personal finances were insecure and might not withstand any further shocks. “We need to give them a sense of security that the Government get this,” he said.

The Taoiseach said he wanted Ireland to be the best country in which to be a child. He described this as Ireland’s moon shot.

He said the improvement of disability would be a key focus for his Government. “We are nowhere near where we need to be in relation to this. I am acutely aware of the current challenges in children’s disability services and the difficulty in meeting demand.

“I am fed up with the national game of pass the parcel and silos when it comes to children with disabilities. It is having a profound impact on children with disabilities,” Mr Harris said.

“The parent does not care who provides the services. The child certainly does not care. And quite frankly, I don’t care. I have a low tolerance level for the bureaucracy, the red tape, the silos and the pass the parcel when it comes to disability services.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent