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Business as usual in public sector during pandemic

Home working likely to become permanent feature of life for civil and public servants

One of the most remarkable features of life during the pandemic has been how amazingly normal it has been. All of those things we take for granted in life continued almost as though the novel coronavirus had never existed. The water continued to run, social welfare payments were made, the street lights came on at night, businesses were supported, and the whole apparatus of government continued to operate with most of the people at the controls working from home or remotely in safe locations.

And home working is likely to become a permanent feature of life for civil and public servants long after the current health crisis has abated. In October, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced a tender for a €60,000 contract to develop “practical tools and methods which can be used by teams and in one-on-one scenarios to work together effectively in the virtual work world”. This was in the context of remote working for its staff becoming permanent feature of how the department would operate in the future.

In a separate development during the summer, the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants surveyed its members and found that 70 per cent of them were working remotely, about a quarter were splitting their time between home and office while just 5 per cent were in the office all the time.

More tellingly, when asked about their future preferences 70 per cent wanted to continue working from home for at least part of the week and 10 per cent for the whole week. Just over 5 per cent expressed a desire to resume pre-Covid-19 working arrangements.


Another aspect of the public sector where life has continued relatively normally is recruitment. As the Government has been busy telling us with almost monotonous regularity, things are different this time. There is no austerity, no pay cuts and no recruitment embargoes like there were back in 2008.


The publicjobs.ie website shows there has been no let-up in recruitment, with more than 190 posts vacant in early December. Publicjobs.ie is the centralised recruitment and selection service provider for the public sector. The organisation recruits for government departments, local authorities, An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and a wide range of technical posts across different public bodies such as harbour companies.

And if you think the vacancies are for administrative type roles, you'd be wrong. Among the posts available in December was chief executive of the National Oil Reserves Agency, the State-owned company responsible for ensuring that Ireland meets its obligations under European Union legislation and International Energy Agency rules to maintain a minimum of 90 days' stocks of oil for use in the event of a physical shortage of supplies. It is also responsible for administering Ireland's biofuels obligation scheme.

Waterways Ireland was looking for an ecologist to join its environment and heritage team in Scarriff, Co Clare. The role is to provide comprehensive ecological services on a diverse range of projects undertaken by the team, particularly with regard to the delivery of capital and maintenance project requirements. It also offers an opportunity for a professional ecologist to work on 1,000km of navigable waterways throughout Ireland utilising the various skills they may have acquired through formal training and professional experience.

Also in December, Met Éireann had vacancies for an instrumentation engineer, an ICT technician and an operations officer; the Central Bank had an opening for senior procurement business partner; the HSE was seeking applications for consultant cardiologist and general physician posts based at South Tipperary General Hospital; Waterford Institute of Technology was hiring an assistant lecturer in agricultural science; and the National College of Art and Design was looking for an equality officer.

The site also covers some bodies in Northern Ireland and one of these is the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, which was looking for an economics researcher to join its economics research unit. Very topically, the unit provides independent research to the UK’s devolved administrations with regard to leaving the EU and a range of key policy issues.

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times