Ministers and Government Departments
Each government department is a separate legal body. The Minister is both legally and politically responsible for their departments.Technically the “Minister” is the legal body. The Minister in effect is the legal incorporation of the department.
The particular person who holds that office from time to time is separate from the office itself, which is permanent and does not cease to exist. Legal action may be taken by or against the relevant ministry in the name of the minister.
The Secretary-General of each DepartmentMinister is responsible for the performance and roles of their departments. The Secretary-General is obliged to prepare a strategy setting out objectives and related strategies for the Minister who lays it before the Oireachtas. Outputs and performance are to be appraised by the Oireachtas committee.
Ministers are appointed by the Taoiseach. They may be dismissed by the Taoiseach at any time for any reason whatsoever. A minister must be a TD or a Senator. Up to two Senators may be appointed to be Ministers. This has happened very rarely.
The Minister appoints a private secretary who is a member of the civil service. Private secretaries may or may not be appointed by new Ministers.
Generally, the day-to-day running of departments is undertaken by the Secretary-General and lower-ranking officers. Ministers have some role in promotion but do not generally intervene in personnel selection.
Functions and Responsibilities
The responsibilities of departments are fixed by law. Responsibilities may be changed from time to time. Government departments are frequently re-organised on change of government.
The principal function of a minister is to advance the particular interests of the department and the interests to which it relates. The Minister works with senior servants who are permanent and do not do not change on change of government. The Minister represents his department at Cabinet level.
Ministerial proposals and actions are presented by departments to the Minister on a detailed file. The file generally contains a brief summary as to recommendation as to what action is desirable generally by the Secretary-General. Ministers may read the entire file or simply the relevant parts of summaries.
Files may be submitted in a wide variety of matters range from policies to other matters upon which the minister’s decision or views are sought. Files are channelled through the Minister’s private secretary.
Ministers are responsible to the Dail for the business of their department. They attend to announce business relative to their department. Ministers attend government and seek authority to proceed with particular programmes, legislation or initiatives.
The Minister’s private office deal with the bulk of constituency matters. Ministers typically also attend constituency clinics on at weekends. The Minister’s office deal with correspondence.
Minister for State
Ministers of State are not members of the government. The government delegates responsibility for specific areas or tasks to them. When Ministers of State are appointed particular bodies of legislations or rules may be delegated to them.
The relevant Cabinet Minister requests the government to delegate the function. The delegation is under the general supervision and control of the senior Minister.
Junior Ministers may initiate legislation but do not submit proposals to government. If they are approved by the Minister and government the Minister of State may promote them after that point.
Minister’s Private Office and Special Advisers
The Minister’s private office is headed by a private secretary. This person may deal between departmental and constituency tasks.
The private office is the Minister’s secretariat. It co-ordinates the Minister’s activities and acts as a liaison between the Minister and department. The private office will deal with the Minister’s constituency.
In recent decades, Ministers have appointed special advisers who monitor the programme for government and assist with its implementation. Special advisers are not part of the management system of the department. They advise Ministers and keep them informed on a wide range of political, administrative, legal and financial issues. They have access to all departmental files and submissions to the Ministers.
The special advisers generally meet before Cabinet meeting with the Taoiseach’s programme manager as chairperson. They cease to hold office when their Ministers cease to do so.
The advisers are not generally civil servants. Some may be former civil servants, journalists, broadcasters or constituency activists. The selection is made by the Minister with the approval of the Taoiseach. Special advisers discuss political and electoral implications of civil service advice.
Special Advisers examine matters by consulting outside sources, dealing with constituency matters in a broader framework than normal constituency correspondence, researching matters to be raised by government Ministers and briefing them, reviewing speeches and addresses, having regard to ministerial style, writing political speeches.
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