[Excerpt] The political system in Ireland is highly centralised, with the vast majority of political and governing power vested in Dáil Éireann (lower house of parliament) and more particularly in the cabinet and the Taoiseach (prime minister). Ireland has what Pollitt and Bouckaert (2004) would call a unitary political system, with the upper house of parliament (Seanad Éireann) and the president having little influence, and the cabinet wielding huge influence over the legislation that is brought before the Dáil.
The total number of people employed in the public sector grew from around 317,000 in 2001 to 360,000 in 2008, a growth of 14%. Excluding commercial state-sponsored bodies, the numbers employed in the public service grew from 270,000 in 2000 to 320,000 in 2008, a growth of 19%. Since the financial recession, however, there has been a significant drop in the numbers employed in both the public sector and public service from 2008, with a drop of just under 6% in each case. Numbers employed in the public sector and public service in 2011 were just below 2007 levels of employment.
Growth in public service numbers from 2001 to 2008 was primarily concentrated in the health and education sectors. Two out of every three people employed in the public service work in either health or education. Numbers employed in the civil service, by contrast, have remained relatively stable over the period 2001 to 2011, increasing slightly from 36,100 to 36,600. Numbers rose slightly from 2001 to 2008, when there were 39,300 people employed in the civil service, but have declined since then.
The civil service is not large by European standards. An OECD (2010) study comparing eight countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK) showed that Ireland had the third lowest general government employment per 1,000 population (67) in 2006, which was significantly behind Denmark (137), Sweden (125) and Finland (99). A subsequent OECD (2011) study showed that in 2008 in Ireland, employment in general government as a percentage of the labour force (14.8%) was around the OECD average.
In 2010, the OECD undertook a survey of the compensation of central government employees (OECD, 2011). This included not only salaries and wages, but also social benefits and future pension earnings. On average, top managers’ (top public servants below the minister) total compensation in responding countries amounts to just under USD 230,000 (€168,212 as at 17 October 2013) PPP.1 At just under USD 290,000 (€212,159) PPP, the compensation of top managers in Ireland is towards the higher end of the European countries surveyed. For the next level down from the top senior managers, a reduced sample of OECD countries shows compensation levels in Ireland to be close to the OECD average, at USD 184,000 (€134,552) PPP. The survey also examined the compensation of middle managers (defined as those responsible for planning, directing and coordinating the general functioning of a specific administrative unit within a government department or ministry). The average compensation for the European countries surveyed is just under USD 140,000 (€102,390) PPP. Compensation in Ireland for this group is USD 155,000 (€113,350) PPP, a little above the European average. Secretaries’ (defined as general office clerks who perform a range of clerical and administrative tasks) compensation was also examined. In general, the level of compensation varies less across countries than it does for the management positions. Compensation in Ireland for secretaries was found to be somewhat below the average of the European countries surveyed, assessed at USD 44,000 (€32,175) PPP, compared with the European average of USD 49,000 (€35,830) PPP.