Managing Europe From Home: The Europeanisation of the Irish ...

Managing Europe From Home: The Europeanisation of the Irish ...

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Managing Europe From Home:

The Europeanisation of the Irish Core Executive

Report on the Irish Case Study

January 2003

Brigid Laffan

Jane O’Mahony

Dublin European Institute

National University of Ireland


In this part of the research programme ‘Organising for EU Enlargement’, we focus on

one dimension of Europeanisation, namely an examination of the impact of European

Union (EU) 1 membership on the Irish central governmental and administrative

system – the core executive. This study begins from the premise that the dynamic

of involvement in and with the EU creates a challenge to national, political and

administrative systems. Domestic public policy making is no longer confined within

the structures and processes of national government given the significance of the

additional arena created by the European Union. The EU gives rise to interdependent

policy processes across levels of government. This study seeks to map and analyse

the adaptation and change of the Irish core executive to European Union


This research forms part of the burgeoning interest in what is called Europeanisation,

a notion that began to gain considerable currency in the 1990s. The literature on

Europeanisation grapples with the impact of the EU on the national and the national

on the EU. It is a complex and multidimensional process resulting from membership

of the European Union or from close co-operation with the Union that touches on the

policy, politics and polities of every member and candidate state (Ladrech 1994;

Goetz 2001; Radelli 2000). The focus of study of the European Union has shifted

from examining how decisions are made at the EU level to how these EU decisions

impact on the national, sub-national and local arenas. Europeanisation can be

defined as ‘the process of influence deriving from European Union decisions and

impacting member states’ policies and political and administrative structures’

(Héritier 2001: 3). Europeanisation embraces a number of different elements: the

decisions made at the European Union level, the implications of these decisions for

national and subnational policies of each of the member states in the relevant policy

areas, the effect on national, regional and local systems of administration and

governance in coping with the management of the EU interface, as well as the

Europeanisation of electoral politics through European parliament, national elections

and referendums.

1 In 1987, the European Economic Community (EEC) became known as the European

Community (EC). Following the ratification of the Treaty on European Union, the EC

was renamed the European Union (EU). For the sake of consistency, the term EU

will be used throughout this study to refer to the EEC, EC and EU.

Among practitioners and academics, there are differing expectations of the likely

impact of the EU on national government and administration (Schout 1999). Some

of the previous studies of the impact of EU membership on core executives based

their analyses on one key premise, namely that similar external pressures in the

form of EU membership will lead to similar institutional responses within each of the

member states (See Harmsen 1999 for discussion of this; Genschel 2000).

However, subsequent empirical work has shown this premise to be erroneous.

Indeed, this report forms one of a growing number of studies to dispute this view

(Page and Wouters 1995: 203; Harmsen 1999; Goetz and Hix 2001). The central

argument of this report is that national core executive adaptation to Europeanisation

is varying and differentiated instead of uniform. The national meets the European in

a complex ecology of processes that differ across time and policy area. The extent of

adjustment to Europeanisation by national core executives is contingent upon the

existing government and administrative institutions in place, their effectiveness in

managing EU business, their resistance and/or acquiescence to adaptation and

reform and national political and administrative cultures. Member state

administrative structures, modes of procedure and agent responses to involvement

in EU policy-making will of necessity be different because no one member state has

exactly the same core executive system. Therefore, important questions to answer

when looking at how a member states manages the EU interface include: how have

core executives adapted to deal with the consequences of EU membership and do

these changes to governmental and administrative institutions represent more

incremental and piecemeal reform or radical and transformative change

This report puts forward the case that the management of the EU by national core

executives can be represented in the form of a reflexive, interactive relationship.



Reflexive Interaction






The core executive is at one and the same time a receptor of EU policy preferences

and processes, and a projector of policy preferences and processes onto the EU

system (see also Bulmer and Burch, 2000). Reception can be both active and

passive, that is to say member states can or may need to passively adapt to the

requirements of EU policy-making, i.e. undertake to manage the flow of policy and

procedure from Brussels in an incremental and less structured manner (passive) or

can actively adjust central governance and administrative structures to cope with EU

business in a transformative and innovative fashion (active). The type of reception

experienced depends primarily on the nature of the national core executive, its

ability to respond to change (also referred to as institutional stickiness) and the

desire of its principals to instigate change in response to perceived need. The

relationship between the national and the EU is reflexive. National core executives

are not merely translator devices, they can also project their own policy preferences

and policy models onto the EU (Genschel 2000: 98). That is to say, not only do

government institutions handling European policy translate EU requirements into

domestic laws and regulations in order to make domestic policy compatible with EU

policy, they can also translate domestic policy models into proposals for EU action in

order to keep the costs of domestic adjustment low. As with reception, projection

can also be active or passive, in other words active projection can consist of

concerted and proactive efforts by the national governmental and administrative

system to influence the EU policy process, i.e. policy formulation, negotiation and

implementation at the EU level. Passive projection, as a consequence, represents a

more reactive approach by national core executive systems towards involvement

within the EU policy making process and is evident when little effort is made to

actively influence policy-making at the EU level.

Conceptual Framework

This report examines the effect of the EU on the Irish national core executive. The

notion of the core executive was developed in research on central government in the

UK (Rhodes 2000, vols. 1 and 2). It was designed to capture not just the formal

structures —cabinet and ministries— but the roles, networks and informal processes

that form the heart of government. According to Dunleavy and Rhodes, the core

executive ‘includes all those organizations and structures which primarily serve to

pull together and integrate central government policies, or act as final arbiters within

the executive of conflicts between different elements of the government machine’

(Dunleavy and Rhodes 1990). In research on the core executive, the EU emerged as

a major factor in changing the environment within which the centre governs (Wright

and Hayward 2000: 32). The latter draw attention to the Europeanisation of actors,

structures, arenas and processes of public policy making in Europe. For the

purposes of this study, the key relationships examined with regard to the Irish core

executive include those between the political and administrative levels, that is the

Prime Minister (Taoiseach), ministers and the Cabinet, senior civil servants and the

operational administration, and the core executive and the wider political system,

most notably relations with parliament (through parliamentary committees).

The framework that guides this mapping of EU management by the core executive is

based on an institutionalist perspective, particularly historical institutionalism. An

institutionalist approach enables us to map the institutional framework within which

Irish actors interact with the EU and the other member states on the one hand, and

to highlight processes of change, on the other. Institutionalists pay particular

attention to the configuration of political order around formal institutions,

organisations, norms, rules and practices. Historical institutionalists define

institutions as the ‘formal or informal procedures, routines, norms and conventions

embedded in the organizational structure of the polity or political economy’ (Hall and

Taylor 1996: 938). Formal structures, formal and informal rules and procedures

frame the conduct of actors (Thelen and Steinmo 1992: 2). In this perspective

institutions are constitutive of actors shaping their strategies, goals and even their

identities. March and Olsen in particular draw attention to the ‘logic of

appropriateness’ governing action when they argue that ‘action is often based more

on discovering the normatively appropriate behaviour than on calculating the return

expected from alternative choices. As a result, political behaviour, like other

behaviour, can be described in terms of ‘duties, obligations, roles and rules’ (March

and Olsen 1984: 744) The emphasis on roles is particularly important when

analysing the role of individual office holders and civil servants - the agents - in

managing EU business.

The level of analysis in this study is based on the organisational field that constitutes

the core executive in Ireland (Scott 2001: 84). There are many ways of

disaggregating an organisational field. Bulmer and Burch began their work on the

British core executive by distinguishing between four institutional gradations—formal

institutional structure, processes and procedures, codes and guidelines, and the

cultural dimension (Bulmer and Burch 1998). This was later adapted to focus on four

institutional dimensions, notably, the systematic, organisational, procedural and

regulative (Bulmer and Burch 2000: 50). The analytical focus in this study is on the

structures, processes and agents who manage the relationship between the Irish

core executive and Brussels. The structural component maps the organizations and

structures that form the core executive in Ireland and the key relationships in the

management of EU affairs over time. The process component examines pathways

for EU related information through the Irish domestic system and the codes, rules,

guidelines that govern the handling of EU business over time. The agent component

tracks the cadre of officials who are primarily responsible for mediating between the

EU and the national levels.

A central concern of historical institutionalism and of this research is the dynamic of

change to the structures and processes that govern management of EU matters in

Ireland. Historical institutionalism is based on the premise that institutions are

‘sticky’ and that once created may prove difficult and costly to change. Linked to this

is the notion that institutions may be locked into a particular path of development.

The concept of path dependency is central to historical institutionalism whereby

institutions are shaped by ‘critical junctures and developmental pathways’ (Ikenberry

1988: 16). A critical juncture is defined by Collier and Collier as a ‘period of

significant change … which is hypothesised to produce distinct legacies’ (Collier and

Collier 1991: 29). Change may result from factors or processes exogenous to the

institutional system such as an external crisis or may be more incremental as a

result of forces internal to the system (Pierson 2000a, 2000b; Scott 2001).

According to the propositions of historical institutionalism, institutional change in the

national core executive can occur in response to a critical juncture, in other words

critical junctures will prompt institutional responses. A critical juncture will lead to

disequilibrium in the institutional management of EU business, which will prompt the

need for institutional change. This change will in turn be influenced by the

embedded nature of existing institutional structures (path dependence).

The report proceeds as follows. Section I maps the structure of the Irish core

executive as a whole and assesses its responsiveness to reform and change. It also

analyses the Irish core executive’s institutional adaptation to managing EC/EU

business in a preliminary manner with the identification of critical junctures in

Ireland’s relationship with the EU, including key structural and procedural changes.

Section II analyses in more detail the main structures in place within the core

executive and how they are organised to handle EU business, i.e. to receive and

project. Section III examines the evolution of processes and procedures, i.e. how

the structures have worked in practice. Section IV looks at the composition and

role of the cadre or agents in the core executive who handle EU business, for

example, has this reservoir of expertise been cultivated in any explicit way Section

V and the concluding section return to the main questions asked in this report,

namely, when and how has the Irish core executive adapted to deal with the

consequences of EU membership and do the changes to Irish governmental and

administrative institutions represent more incremental and piecemeal reform or

radical and transformative change


The Core Executive in Ireland

The Irish core executive and system of government has been categorised as a

variant of the Westminster model (See Gallagher, Laver, Mair 2001). One important

difference is the significance of a written constitution on Irish politics and

government. The 1937 Irish Constitution (Article 28.2) stipulates that the executive

power of the Irish State shall be exercised by or on the authority of the Government.

Article 28.4.2 provides that:

the Government shall meet and act as a collective authority, and shall be

collectively responsible for the Departments of State administered by the

members of the Government.

The key convention of the Westminster model - collective responsibility - lies at the

heart of Article 28.4.2 with its reference to ‘collective authority’ and the stipulation

that the Government shall be ‘collectively responsible’ for the departments of state.

While the Irish and British systems have diverged somewhat since the foundation of

the state, this core constitutional convention remains unaltered. The constitution

vests political authority in the Government, which meets in Cabinet.

The Irish core executive consists of the Prime Minister, the Government, ministries

known as departments (corresponding to all main areas of policy), and the civil or

administrative service. In accordance with the 1937 Constitution, the Government is

chosen by the lower house of Parliament, the Dáil 2 , through the election of a Prime

Minister (Taoiseach) and the approval of his/her choice of ministers who are

collectively responsible to the Dáil for every aspect of the administration’s activities.

The 1937 Constitution places the Taoiseach in a powerful position as the head of the

government. The Taoiseach nominates ministers, decides on the distribution of

responsibilities among ministers and can sack them. If the Taoiseach resigns, the

government falls. In addition to the Taoiseach’s structural position in the

constitution, the Taoiseach controls the Cabinet agenda, is the head of a political

party and has won an electoral mandate to hold office. Traditionally the debate on

the role of the Irish prime minister has evolved around the notions of chairman or

chief, which can be translated into the contemporary debate on cabinet or prime

ministerial government (Farrell 1971; Smith 2000: 33). Given the convention of

collective responsibility, which is deeply ingrained in the theory and practice of Irish

government, the role of Taoiseach is more than that of chairman but is not so

dominant as to warrant the title of prime ministerial government.

The Constitution stipulates that the government shall consist of no less than 7 and

no more than 15 ministers. The current government (June 2002 onwards) has 14

ministers. 3 Up to seventeen Ministers of State (junior ministers) can also be

appointed, and at certain times (in particular in the run up to an EU Presidency) a

Minister of State for European Affairs can be appointed. The new Government of

2 The Seanad (Senate) is the Upper House of the legislature (Oireachtas).

3 The Fianna Fail (FF) – Progressive Democrat Government formed in June 2002 -

Taoiseach: Mr Bertie Ahern;Tánaiste and Enterprise,Trade & Employment: Ms

Mary Harney (Progressive Democrat); Finance: Mr Charlie McCreevy (FF); Foreign

Affairs: Mr Brian Cowen (FF); Justice, Equality and Law Reform: Mr Michael

McDowell (Progressive Democrat); Agriculture & Food: Mr Joe Walsh (FF);

Defence: Mr Michael Smith (FF); Environment & Local Government: Mr Martin

Cullen (FF); Health & Children: Mr Micheál Martin (FF); Education & Science: Mr

Noel Dempsey (FF); Transport: Mr Seamus Brennan (FF); Communications, the

Marine and Natural Resources: Mr Dermot Ahern (FF); Community, Rural and

Gaeltacht Affairs: Mr Eamon Ó Cuív (FF); Arts, Sport and Tourism: Mr John

O'Donoghue (FF); Social & Family Affairs: Ms Mary Coughlan (FF); Attorney

General: Mr Rory Brady SC; Government Chief Whip (junior ministerial post):

Ms Mary Hanafin (FF); Minister of State for Europe: Mr Dick Roche (FF).

2002 appointed a Minister of State for European Affairs (based in both the

Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs), 14 other Ministers of State were

also appointed.

There is a ranking in the perceived importance of ministerial portfolios in Cabinet

although ranking departments can be made difficult when departments are

frequently reconfigured with the formation of a new government. 4 The hierarchy of

ministerial portfolios, and as a consequence, government departments, has evolved

over time and during the course of EU membership. In his 1980 work The Irish

Administrative System, T.J. Barrington distinguished between three co-ordinating

departments— the Taoiseach’s Department, the Department of Finance and the

Department of Economic Planning and Development, while all the other departments

were classified as operating departments. (Barrington 1980: 24). The Department of

Economic Planning and Development survived for only two years. The Barrington

classification does not capture the ranking of departments that exists in the

contemporary system.

Box 1 - The Irish Core Executive 1979

The Government

Coordinating Departments:

Taoiseach; Finance; Public Service; Economic Planning and Development

Operating Departments

Agriculture; Defence; Education; Environment; Fisheries and Forestry;

Foreign Affairs; Gaeltacht; Health; Industry, Commerce and Energy;

Justice; Labour; Posts and Telegraphs; Social Welfare; Tourism and


Source: (Barrington 1980: 24)

The Department of the Taoiseach is the heart of Government because it houses the

Cabinet office and the administrative support structures for the prime minister. It

remains a relatively small department (see Section II). Next in line is the

Department of Finance, which is generally accepted as the most important line

department because of its responsibility for economic management and public

expenditure. The Department of Foreign Affairs, which was once regarded as a

4 See footnote 1.

Cinderella department, is now considered a senior department, given its key role in

the co-ordination of European Union business (Keogh 1990). These three

departments have been referred to as the ‘holy trinity’ of Ireland’s management of

EU business (Laffan 2001) and can be characterised as the core-core (See Figure 1 –

The Irish Core Executive). The EU impinges on the business of each of the

remaining government departments but to differing degrees. By the beginning of

2002 in particular, a clear division seemed to have emerged between those

operational departments with considerable involvement in EU policy matters and

those where the EU impinges less frequently on day-to-day business: the inner core

and outer circle. Departments managing a considerable amount of EU business

under the 1997-2002 Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government coalition

included: Agriculture, Environment and Local Government, Enterprise, Trade and

Employment, Justice and Office of the Attorney General. Departments in the outer

circle with less involvement in EU matters included: Arts, Heritage and the

Gaeltacht 5 , Defence, Education and Science, Health and Children, Marine and Natural

Resources 6 , Public Enterprise 7 , Social, Community and Family Affairs 8 and Tourism,

Sport and Recreation. A number of these departments have single sector

responsibility, such as Agriculture, Environment and Local Government and Justice,

Equality and Law Reform, whereas others, such as the Department of Enterprise,

Trade and Employment and Public Enterprise, deal with multisectoral issues and as a

consequence service more than one EU Council of Ministers’ formation.

5 The Departments of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Tourism, Sport and

Recreation were reorganized in June 2002 and became the Department of Arts, Sport

and Tourism and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs


6 Became part of Department of Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources

in June 2002.

7 Split into the Department of Transport and the Department of Communications, the

Marine and Natural Resources in June 2002.

8 Became Department of Social and Family Affairs in June 2002.

Arts, Sport

& Tourism

Health &


Education &



Social &












AG’s Office



Marine & Natural



Gaeltacht &


Figure 1: The Irish Core Executive 2003 9

The structures of the Irish core executive 10 that deal with EU business include: the

ministries, committees and designated units with responsibility for managing EU

affairs. Given the reach of EU policies on national policy making, every department

and office in the Irish core executive system is required to deal with the European

Union in some way. The extent of interaction and need to manage EU business

depends primarily on the degree of Europeanisation found in the respective policy

domains of each office and department. It is possible to place the Irish core

executive system’s management of EU business on three distinct gradations based

on this criterion: the core-core, the inner core and the outer circle.

9 E,T & E – Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Environ. – Environment; AG’s Office – Attorney General’s


10 The material that forms the basis of the following analysis was gathered from detailed analysis of

documentary evidence (including strategy statements from government departments) and two extensive

series of structured interviews with those involved in managing Ireland’s EU affairs. The first round of

interviews (47 in total) was conducted by Professor Brigid Laffan as part of the research carried out

between 1999 and 2000 for Organising for a Changing Europe: Irish Central Government and the

European Union, published in 2001. The second round of interviews was conducted in the first half of

2002. 30 structured interviews were conducted and interviewees for this stage of the project included civil

servants drawn from most departments throughout the Irish system, and included representatives from

the political and parliamentary arenas.

In Ireland, the cabinet determines the overall policy programme of the government,

it takes all major policy decisions and approves the budget and all other legislation to

be submitted to the Oireachtas. It is the decision-making body of an executive

structure composed of the Department of the Taoiseach, which includes the office of

the Chief Whip, and the ministerial departments. As discussed above, because of the

convention of collective responsibility members of the cabinet are bound by, and

must uphold, all cabinet decisions. The running and efficiency of cabinet meetings is

significantly influenced by the personal style of the Taoiseach involved. The cabinet

meets weekly, all ministers are requested to attend, along with the Attorney General

and the Chief Whip and the Secretary General to the Government (who is currently

also Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach). The legislative

programme of the government is drawn up and monitored by the Legislative

Committee of the Office of the Chief Whip. The cabinet’s monitoring and

implementation of the government’s legislative programme is facilitated by the

establishment of cabinet sub-committees. Although Ireland lacks an

institutionalised system of cabinet committees, it does make some use of more

informal or ad hoc sub-committees, especially during coalition governments. These

sub-committees have often been transient in nature rather than developing into

permanent structures on the cabinet landscape. The usual explanation is that the

‘multiple calls on ministers’ time makes it difficult for such committees to meet with

regularity’ (Byrne et al. 1995). In contrast to most other member states in the EU,

the Irish core executive remains relatively under-institutionalised (O’Leary 1991:


Ministers are charged with setting the policy parameters of their departments and

with making all policy (rather than administrative) decisions. The responsibility of the

minister for all of the activities of his/her portfolio known as ‘ministerial

responsibility’ is the second constitutional convention that influences how Irish

Government operates. The minister takes decisions, but civil servants have always

played a key role in the detailed development and implementation of policy in


The Irish Civil Service

The culture and structure of the Irish civil service bear a number of similarities to

that of Britain. Gallagher, Laver and Mair have characterised the British civil service

as ‘generalist’ as opposed to ‘specialist’ (Gallagher, Laver and Mair 2001: 138). This

type of bureaucracy is characterised by a heavy reliance on civil servants who are

selected and work on the basis of general administrative and managerial skills, as

opposed to possessing any particular technical expertise. In the recruitment process,

there is no emphasis on particular subjects or professional expertise. As in Britain,

the official Irish civil service culture is non-partisan. Officials are servants of the

incumbent Government rather than political appointees. Civil servants involved in the

policy making process are barred from political activity. The character of the Irish

civil service was summed up by Chubb as

incorruptible, non-partisan, and usually anonymous corps whose members,

secure in their employment, considered themselves the servants of the

legitimate government, whoever they may be (Chubb 1982: 262)

The grading system of the Irish civil service was also inherited from Britain. The

general service is divided between the clerical grades, the executive grades and the

higher civil service. The higher civil service consists of the Secretaries General at the

apex of the pyramid, in some departments Second Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries,

Principal Officers and Assistant Principals. The Principal Officers form the operating

core of the system as they act as head of divisions. Since the mid-1980s, Irish

ministers have also employed political or policy advisors who work alongside the

Minister and senior civil servants and have an input into policy formulation and

management. In the 1993-1997 Governments, the system of policy advisors was

institutionalised when each minister appointed a programme manager. The

programme managers were an important filter between the administrative and

political level and helped in the preparation of Cabinet discussions. The system of

programme managers has persisted but with fewer policy advisory staff.

The Irish civil service has undergone a number of limited or episodic reforms since

the inception of the Free State in 1922. The Ministers and Secretaries Act of 1924

defined the legal and political relationship between ministers and civil servants until

it was replaced by the Public Service Management Act of 1997. Under the Ministers

and Secretaries Act, ministers were legally responsible for everything done by their

officials, from the formulation of policy and the administration of departments to the

most minor clerical tasks. Little or no effort was made to reform the Irish civil

service until the 1960s when it was seriously considered by the Fianna Fáil

Taoiseach, Seán Lemass and Secretary of the Department of Finance, T.K. Whitaker

(Lee 1989: 546-556). The Public Service Organisation Review Group (PSORG) was

established in 1966 under the chairmanship of Liam Devlin to consider reforms to the

public service as a whole. This group’s report, the Devlin Report, published in 1969,

proposed significant reforms to the system, most notably the recommendation that

policy formulation be separated from policy implementation. According to the Devlin

Report, a distinct policy-making group of senior officials in every department should,

together with the minister, form the policy-making body (called the Aireacht), while

the execution of policy should be devolved to executive offices (Lee 1989: 548). The

proposed change was modelled on the separation of policy making and

implementation in the Swedish administrative system. Insufficient support for the

radical reform proposed by Devlin meant that its key recommendation was never

implemented. Procrastination on the issue of administrative reform led to the Irish

civil service acquiring a ‘reputation of over-cautious conservatism’. 11 Although the

Devlin Report coincided with Ireland’s final push for EU membership, it paid no

attention to the administrative and organisational consequences of EU membership.

The next serious consideration of the role and nature of the civil service was

undertaken in the mid-1980s and resulted in the publication of a White Paper in

1985, Managing the Country Better, which again tried to address some of the issues

originally raised in the Devlin Report. Given the difficult economic situation of the

country at this time, reforms that were proposed tended to be couched in terms of

staff numbers and the cost of running the civil service. Beginning in 1984 however,

there were a number of important innovations that led to cultural change in the

service. The Top Level Appointments Committee was established with a mandate to

11 This was the conclusion of a group of businessmen and economists appointed by

the government in 1984 to review the Irish economic situation. Proposals for a Plan,

Dublin, 1984. Reproduced from Lee, 1989.

encourage mobility across departments and to ensure that appointments to the

upper echelons of the service were based on merit rather than seniority. In addition,

the Secretaries of departments began to hold an annual conference, which in turn led

to system wide discussion of issues and the emergence of a certain esprit de corps

among senior civil servants. The cultural changes of the 1980s, in addition to the

deficiencies highlighted by the budgetary crisis, tribunals of enquiry and reports such

as the Industrial Policy Review Group (1991) placed reform back on the agenda.

Questions about the effective performance of the civil service, particularly in terms of

public sector management became commonplace.

The most significant reform of the Irish civil service began in 1994 with the

development of the Strategic Management Initiative (SMI) introduced by the

government as an attempt to enhance strategic and administrative capabilities in the

civil service. The SMI process must be seen in the context of the spread of what has

been termed new public management (NPM) in the industrialised world. Although

endorsed by the Government, the SMI was in many ways a mandarin led process, a

quiet revolution in the system. Delivering Better Government published in 1996

outlined an extensive modernisation process for the Irish civil and public service and

the Public Service Management Act (1997) introduced a new management structure

in the civil service. The Irish civil service found itself part of a new climate of

reflection and evaluation and the modernization programme envisaged by the

Strategic Management Initiative and Delivering Better Government (SMI/DBG)

represented the outcome of this reassessment. The 1997 Act’s purpose was to

enhance the management, effectiveness and transparency of Departments and

Offices and to put in place a mechanism for increased accountability of civil servants.

The most visible transformation in how the civil service conducts its business came

with openness, transparency and accountability. Each Department is obliged to

produce both strategy statements and business plans. With the Freedom of

Information Act, members of the public, or ‘customers’, are entitled greater access to

documents. In June 2001, a consulting firm, PA Consulting, was commissioned by

the Department of the Taoiseach to review progress achieved under the Public

Service Modernisation programme. A number of its findings, published in March

2002, have a bearing on Ireland’s management of EU business. On a general note,

the review concluded that the Irish civil service in 2002 was better managed and

more effective than it was in 1992. They noted that the civil service had mapped out

a transition path from a traditional administrative culture to a more overtly

managerial one. The SMI/DBG process has undoubtedly been significant in this

transition. However, the report stressed that this process was not complete and

factors such as industrial relations structures (i.e. the presence of strong trade

unions and staff associations) and differential economic circumstances also affect the

pace of change within the Irish civil service (PA Consulting 2002: 83). The Report

also contains a number of important and more specific findings that are of direct

relevance to this study.

First, apart from acknowledging that Ireland’s membership of the EU served as an

important backdrop in evolving the modernization agenda, with the EU emerging as

a key determinant shaping critical components of the legislative, policy and

institutional framework, the challenges and opportunities membership of the EU

poses to the Irish civil service were not explicitly addressed in the report. This lack

of emphasis is also reflected in the SMI/DBG programme as a whole. The

management of EU business as such is not viewed as a special category of work that

poses particular challenges and demands sustained attention within the Irish system.

Second, PA Consulting found that the implementation of change through the

SMI/DBG has been uneven across civil service components and across

Departments/offices (PA Consulting 2002: 32). This is a crucial point to note in the

context of this study as it shows that not only can the EU impact differentially on

each of the national member state administrations, it also can have a differential

impact within administrations as some departments/offices may be more receptive to

change and adaptation than others. In other words, the Irish civil service is not a

monolith in terms of its management of EU business.

Third, the review found that while the SMI/DBG focused on and has achieved

tangible results in the area of public management reform, other areas of

government, i.e. governance 12 and policy making 13 , have not received adequate

12 Defined as the manner in which parliament exercises its oversight responsibilities

in relation to the conduct of public business and the provision of public services.

13 Defined as the manner in which ministers interpret the programme for

government, identify priority areas of public need, and resolve competing service

demands in a resource constrained environment.

attention in the Irish service. In some instances the report found that the linkages

between policy formation and strategy design are weak and the debate around policy

formulation and strategy design is underdeveloped:

This area of civil service governance needs to be strengthened. Our

observations lead us to believe there is greater scope for alignment between

political intent, strategy development, business planning and service delivery.

Consequently, Ministers can feel that they have been distanced from the

(real) day-to-day business of the Department/office, while civil servants can

believe they are struggling with an ambiguous policy direction (PA Consulting

2002: 26).

Finally, the review found that the development of collaborative arrangements to deal

with cross-cutting issues remains at a relatively immature stage in the Irish civil

service (PA Consulting 2002: 39,88). The Irish civil service is now increasingly

required to deal with of a cross-cutting nature, including many cross-cutting EU

issues. The SMI/DBG programme acknowledged the need for new approaches to

managing cross-cutting issues and recommended the establishment of crossdepartmental

teams working to detailed and time-specific objectives. Section 12 of

the Public Service Management Act 1997 enabled Ministers to collaborate with each

other on cross-departmental issues (through cabinet sub-committees and other

interdepartmental groups) and to assign responsibility to civil servants for such

issues. However, heretofore, efforts to co-operate on cross-cutting issues have

tended to be loosely-based and ad hoc. In essence, while the core executive has

identified issues of a cross-cutting nature that need to be dealt with, the mechanisms

for systematic and routine management of cross-cutting issues have yet to appear

(PA Consulting 2002: 43). This brief analysis of attempts to reform the Irish civil

service points to its institutional stickiness but also highlights the importance of

cumulative incremental change.

Origins, Development and Change in the Management of EU Issues

Four periods of development and change have had an impact on how Ireland’s

management of EU business evolved. These were the formative period from the end

of the 1950s to accession in 1972, the first three years of membership 1973-1975,

and the period 1988 to 1990 when the resurgence of formal integration became

evident. The ‘no’ to Nice referendum in 2001 triggered a further period of review and

evaluation that is continuing. This section traces these critical junctures and their

impact on managing EU business. In addition, it will trace the system of

parliamentary scrutiny that evolved in Ireland.

Box 2:

Dates of developments relevant to Ireland’s preparation for membership of the EEC

1956 October 11 Committee of Secretaries established to initially consider Ireland’s

position in the context of relations between the EEC and the OEEC

1959 December Ireland established diplomatic relations with the European Economic


1961 July The Irish government published a White Paper on the EEC

1961 July 31 Ireland’s application to join the EEC was sent to the Council

1961 September


The Secretary of the Department of Finance, Dr. Whitaker and the

Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Mr. Cremin visited

the capitals of the Six Member States

1962 June 28 The Irish Government published a White Paper on the EEC

1962 October The Prime Minister, Mr. Lemass, undertook a European tour to meet

the leaders of the six Member States and the President of the

European Commission

1962 October 22 Council of the EEC decided to open negotiations on Ireland’s

application for membership

1963 January Breakdown of negotiations with Britain, Denmark and Norway on

membership of the European Economic Community

1963 October Aide Mémoire sent by the Irish Government to the European

Commission concerning arrangements for periodic contacts

1966 July The Irish Government decided to accredit a separate diplomatic

mission to the Eureopean Communities

1967 April The Irish Government published a White Paper on the European

Economic Community

1967 May 11 The Irish Government submitted an application for membership of

the European Economic Community

1967 June -


The Prime Minister, Mr. Lynch and the Minister for Finance, Mr.

Haughey accompanied by Dr. Whitaker, Secretary, Department of

Finance and Mr. McCann, Secretary, Department of External Affairs

undertook as series of bilateral discussions with the Governments of

the six Member States

1970 April The Government published the White Paper

‘Membership of the European Communities-Implications for Ireland’

1970 May 27 The Prime Minister, Mr. J. Lynch, announced the delegation which

negotiated membership of the European Communities

1970 June 30 ‘Conference between the European Communities and the States

applying for membership of these Communities’

Formal opening of negotiations in Luxembourg with Ireland, United

Kingdom, Denmark and Norway

1972 January 22 The Taoiseach, Mr. J. Lynch, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr.

P. J. Hillery signed the instruments of accession in the Palais

d’Egmont, Brussels

1972 January The Government published the White Paper ‘The Accession of

Ireland to the European Communities’

1972 May 10 Referendum held on Ireland’s membership of the European

Communities with 83% voting in favour and 17% against

Ireland’s approach to the management of its engagement with the European Union

was established in the latter half of the 1950s as its policy makers sought to chart its

external policy in the light of significant changes and institution building in Western

Europe. During the Maudling talks in 1956, the Committee of Secretaries began to

meet to map Ireland’s response to the calls for increased economic co-operation in

Europe. A Government decision (9 October 1956) decided that a committee, chaired

by the Secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach, which included the Secretaries

of the Departments of Finance, Industry and Commerce, Agriculture and External

Affairs would begin to examine the consequences of these developments for Ireland

(Maher 1986: 57). The Committee of Secretaries, consisting as it did of the

Secretaries of the most important domestic ministries, formed the nucleus of what

would become Ireland’s core executive on EU affairs. The driving force behind the

Committee was the Secretary of the Department of Finance, Mr. Ken Whitaker,

secretary of the pre-eminent ministry in central government. The key conflict that

emerged in this committee was between Ken Whitaker, who had concluded that

Ireland needed to embrace liberalisation and move with the changing economy, and

Mr. J.C.B. McCarthy, Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce, who

was determined to protect Irish industry and exports. The resolution of the conflict

was central to mapping Ireland’s external economic policy as its key officials and the

Government sought to manage the dynamic changes in Europe’s political economy

and the institutionalisation of those changes in trade blocs (Maher 1986).

From the outset, the mapping of Ireland’s European policy and the management of

EU business was cross-cutting in nature, given the involvement of key senior officials

from the main government departments. Moreover, the EU was not a matter of

foreign policy although the external dimension of the Union was clearly

acknowledged. Ireland opened formal diplomatic relations with the EU in 1959 when

its Ambassador to Belgium was also accredited to the EU. A Government decision in

July 1966 led to a separate accreditation in 1967. This decision signalled the Irish

government’s expectation that enlargement negotiations would commence within a

number of years and its wish to be ready to pursue those negotiations with vigour.

Following the resolution of the ‘empty chair’ crisis in the Union, the tempo of

Ireland’s relations with the Union accelerated after 1967 when the Prime Minister,

Seán Lemass conducted a series of bilateral meetings with the Commission and the

member states, accompanied by the Minister for Finance. A striking feature of this

period was the limited role played by the Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Frank Aiken, who

had little to do with the development of Ireland’s approach for managing EU issues.

He opposed the opening of a separate accreditation to the EU in 1967 but was overruled

by his colleagues. The Prime Minister, senior domestic ministers and a small

group of senior civil servants played the key role in charting Ireland’s relationship

with the system. The Committee of Secretaries provided the forum for interministerial

discussion on the key issues and the Cabinet agreed the political

framework within which the relationship would evolve. The development of Ireland’s

European policy received sustained political and administrative attention throughout

the late 1950s and 1960s.

The second period July 1970 to January 1972 was dominated by the accession

negotiations. By then, a new Foreign Minister Dr. Patrick Hillary, who later became

Ireland’s first Commissioner, asserted his role and led the negotiations on

membership. As the prospect of Ireland’s entry became manifest, a battle was

fought between Foreign Affairs and Finance as to who would lead the negotiations.

Foreign Affairs’ victory in this set the tone for the post-membership role of Foreign

Affairs. The minister’s team for the negotiations consisted of the secretaries of the

key Government departments, again highlighting the importance of negotiations to

the main home departments. Because of the focus on the membership negotiations,

little attention was paid in the period leading up to membership of the challenge of

living with the system after accession. Unlike the UK and Denmark, there was a

paucity of deliberation of how best to manage EU business.

The main circular (CH/177/35) that established how EU business should be handled

was issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs in September 1973, nine months

after accession. The period between January 1973 and the end of Ireland’s first

Presidency in December 1975 were Ireland’s apprenticeship in the EU system. During

this period the Irish Governmental system put in place structures and processes for

managing the relationship with Brussels. The key features of the system were:

• Responsibility for day-to-day co-ordination on EU matters was assigned to

the Department of Foreign Affairs. This constituted a break with the past,

as the Department of Finance was the lead department in the period

leading up to membership. It required a Government decision to finally

resolve the conflict between Foreign Affairs and Finance. The department

of Foreign Affairs given its position in the Permanent representation was

responsible for ‘A’ points on Council agendas.

• Although responsibility for day-to-day co-ordination was given to Foreign

Affairs, the Department of Finance continued to play an important role as

any EU proposals that might lead to a cost to the Irish Exchequer required

the prior approval of the Department of Finance.

The principle of the responsibility of the lead department was firmly

established. The Circular has numerous references to ‘ the responsibility

of the Department primarily responsible for the subject matter concerned’

concerning briefings, representation at meetings, reporting and

implementation. Individual departments were responsible from the outset

for co-ordinating preparations for Council meetings falling within their

policy domain.

The dominance of the lead department is framed however within the

parameters of a political and administrative culture governed by collective

responsibility and an ethos of consultation of ‘all interested’ departments.

• Processes and guidelines were established for the writing of reports and

the circulation of EU documents throughout the administration and to the

Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation.

The key structure with responsibility for overall policy in relation to the

Union was the newly established Interdepartmental European

Communities Committee, which replaced the Committee of Secretaries

that charted Ireland’s original engagement with the system. This

committee was chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Its

membership - Foreign Affairs, Taoiseach, Finance, Agriculture and

Fisheries and Industry and Commerce - highlighted the key ministries on

EU matters in the original phase of membership. It met in two formats, at

the level of Secretary and at Assistant Secretary level. The latter format

was intended to prepare the work of the Secretaries’ Committee. In

practice, the Committee began to meet at Assistant Secretary level after

the initial phase of membership. Eleven interdepartmental policy groups

were established in this initial phase.

The Cabinet was responsible for the broad political direction of Ireland’s

engagement with the Union. A minute from the department of the

Taoiseach in 1974 instructed that the Departments of Foreign Affairs,

Industry and Commerce and Agriculture and Fisheries and Finance would

be consulted on all memoranda to the Government that had a bearing on

Ireland’s membership of the EU. A Cabinet Sub-Committee on the

European Communities was also established at this time. It was envisaged

that it would make recommendations to the government on EU matters

and decide on matters referred to it by the full Cabinet.

The initial phase of adaptation was characterised by the formalisation of the

approach in a circular from the Foreign Ministry that set out the structures and

processes for managing EU matters. There was very little institution building in the

form of new structures, rather there was a reliance on the adaptation of existing

structures within the broad parameters of collective responsibility and ministerial

responsibility, the established conventions of Irish Government. The Irish

administration faced the challenge of adapting to the Brussels system with limited

human resources. At the end of 1973, one year into membership the Minister for

Foreign Affairs, Dr. Garret FitzGerald concluded that:

The first ten months of Community membership have placed an enormous

strain on this country’s human resources in the public service and in many

vocational bodies whose interests are affected by membership. We were

simply not prepared for all that membership entails. In my own department

the number of staff hitherto available for EEC work has fallen short by onethird

of the absolute minimum to undertake this task in a manner that will

safeguard Irish vital interests (FitzGerald 1973).

New posts were created in the Irish civil service to accommodate the demands of EU

membership. However there was a relatively small increase in full time non-industrial

civil servants as a result of EU membership. In 1980, it was estimated that a total of

1391 new posts had been created to manage the work arising from EU membership.

The total Civil Service complement in that year was 53, 822.

The preparations for the 1975 Presidency were critical to Ireland’s adjustment to EU

membership. The demands of running a Presidency ensured that departmental

responsibility for different policy areas was clearly delineated and management of

Council business meant that Government ministers and officials became au fait with

the nuts and bolts of the Union’s policy process. The Government prepared

extremely well for the Presidency and was determined that a small and relatively

new member state would be seen to manage the Union’s business. The experience of

the Presidency also had a very beneficial effect on the psychological environment of

national policy makers. Thereafter, the Union became an accepted albeit

complicating factor in national decision making.

The end of the apprenticeship period did not mean that Ireland had such a well-oiled

machine for managing EU business, that all problems and difficulties had been

solved. In 1978 the department of the Public Service carried out a review of the

management of EU business and although it did not produce a final report some of

its deliberations later appear in a 1981 OECD report on Adapting Public

Administration For Participating in Supranational Bodies (OECD 1981). The key

problems identified in the report were:

Organisation: There were disputes about who should play the lead role with

some departments reluctant to take on issues in which they might have an

interest but did not want the lead responsibility.

Policy: There was scarcely any attempt to review systematically the effects of

EU policies and the need to develop and document clear policy guidelines so

that delegates could effectively participate in EC meetings. The report

highlighted that an ad hoc approach to policy guidelines, which was evident in

certain areas, had serious limitations.

Co-ordination: A failure was identified to engage in effective consultation with

other departments in some instances. The limited role of departmental coordination

units and the diffusion of co-ordination responsibility within certain

departments was highlighted.

Procedures: There was some evidence of an excessive circulation of

documents, a certain failure to observe procedures concerning the circulation

of reports of meetings, and a lack of co-ordination concerning attendance at

meetings and an inconsistency in the grading levels decided on by different

Departments. (OECD, 1981, 15-18).

The OECD report, which contained material from the deliberations of the Department

of Public Service review in 1978, highlighted the fact that although the broad

parameters of how Ireland managed EU business was institutionalised between 1973

and 1975, some of the structures and procedures established by the 1973 Circular

did not really become operational. The Cabinet Sub-Committee met rarely and

gradually fell into abeyance, as did the interdepartmental policy groups. An ad hoc,

agenda driven approach to managing EU business took root, which allowed for

considerable departmental autonomy and an informal manner of dealing with

Brussels. Although formal interdepartmental structures were set up, they did not

become institutionalised parts of the system.

The third important period in the development of Ireland’s approach to EU matters

was between 1987 and 1990 – marked by the signature of the Single European Act

(SEA), the negotiation of the Delors I package and the 1990 Presidency. The

referendum on the SEA, the work arising from the single market programme and the

negotiations and implementation of the first national development plan placed new

demands on the Irish Government and central administration. These events

coincided with a new Government and a Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, who

adopted a strong leadership role in Cabinet when he took over in February 1987. His

administration made three important changes. First, the European Communities

Committee which used be chaired by an Assistant Secretary from Foreign Affairs was

transferred to the Department of the Taoiseach and the role of chair was given to a

new political office holder, the Minister for State for European Affairs. Second, he set

up a high level Committee of Ministers and Secretaries that met once a week in the

period leading up to Ireland’s submission of the National Development Plan to the

Commission in March 1989. The committee met frequently in the Prime Minister’s

home and was attended mostly by departmental secretaries with the intermittent

participation of ministers. A more restricted version of the Committee planned the

1990 Presidency. When the Presidency was over in July 1990, the interdepartmental

co-ordination machinery fell into abeyance. A new Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds

reactivated the European Communities Committee in February 1992 with a political

chair. The third change initiated in the Haughey era was the establishment of seven

egions in 1988 in response to Commission demands for consultation and partnership

in the planning and implementation of the National Development Plan. The impact of

the changes under Haughey was to signal the growing involvement of the Taoiseach

and his department in the overall management of EU business.

The fourth period of significant review and evaluation of how EU business is handled

occurred as a result of the deep shock to the Irish system following the ‘no’ to Nice in

June 2001. Prior to this event, Ireland managed to portray itself as a constructive

player in the Union with a relatively communautaire approach in general. Successive

Governments could pursue their European policies in a benign domestic

environment. The ‘no’ to Nice and the low turnout in the referendum (34 per cent) of

the electorate highlighted the fact that the Government could no longer take its

voters for granted. Ireland’s European policy was loose of its moorings, which in turn

led to considerable soul searching at official and political level of how EU business

was managed and how Europe was communicated at national level. The

consequences of this review for how European issues are dealt with are outlined in

the substantive sections of this report.

Scrutiny of EU Legislation in Ireland

As discussed in Section I, Ireland’s law-making procedure is closely based, in the

letter and in the spirit, on that of Westminster. Because the idea of a strong

committee system was not part of the Westminster system in 1922, it did not form

part of the original procedures of Oireachtas Eireann either. Following membership

of the EEC in 1973, the Oireachtas lost the ‘sole and exclusive power of making laws’

bestowed on it by Article 15.2.1 of the constitution (Coakley and Gallagher, 1999).

Considerable parliamentary pressure for the establishment of a ‘watchdog’

committee on draft Community proposals grew as a consequence. This led to the

creation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the

European Communities in July 1973.

The Joint Committee had twenty-five members (eighteen deputies and seven

senators) and members operated through four sub-committees which, meeting in

private, examined proposals and instruments in the first instance, studied

memoranda received from Government departments and outside bodies and

interviewed civil servants and representatives of interested organisations. In order

to ensure adequate servicing of its four sub-committees the Joint Committee

originally sought an allocation of fourteen officials together with secretarial

assistance. In the end, the actual allocation made to the Joint Committee was much

more modest, consisting of a Clerk, an Assistant Clerk and two Higher Executive

Officers, together with secretarial assistance (Robinson, 1979, 17-8). This constraint

on financial and technical resources was to continue throughout its existence.

At first glance, the committee’s output of reports on legislation appears impressive.

In the first four years of its existence, the committee published 59 reports.

However, most of these reports were of a technical nature and drafted by the

committee’s secretariat. Thus the subject matter, though often of great importance

to persons directly concerned, did not lend itself to formal debate. Both Houses of

the Oireachtas were not obliged to debate any of the reports and, while a significant

number were discussed in the Seanad, in the period from 1978 to 1989 only three

reports were debated in the Dáil. 14 In addition, the Committee did not have a

mandate to examine major changes in the European landscape.

In its review of functions in 1991, the sixth Joint Committee recommended that its

terms of reference be expanded to include the power to examine all proposals

affecting the Community’s development. It noted that if the committee was to be

more effective in carrying out its tasks, it would require greater secretarial resources

and greater scope for employing consultants and outside experts. It also called for a

formal mechanism to be put in place for debating the reports of the Joint Committee

in both Houses of the Oireachtas. 15 Instead of reforming the Joint Committee on

Secondary Legislation in the aftermath of the Maastricht referendum and the

formation of the Fianna Fáil/Labour Party coalition government, a new Joint

Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs was set up in 1993. The Joint Committee

on Secondary Legislation was reconstituted as the Joint Committee on European


From 1997 to 2002, staff of the Committee included a clerk, two

administrators and one half-time policy advisor. A consultancy firm was also

employed by the Committee. At the end of the 28 th Oireachtas (1997-2002, total

14 41 reports were debated in the Seanad from May 1978 to February 1989. The

three reports debated in the Dáil were: Action in the Cultural Sector (1978),

Financing of the Community Budget (1979) and the European Parliament Draft

Treaty Establishing the European Union (1985).

15 Sixth Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities

Report No.7, Review of the Functions of the Joint Committee, 13 February 1991.

membership of the European Affairs committee stood at 19 (14 Deputies, 5

Senators). Between 1999 and 2001, the Committee issued no reports and published

one report on the enlargement of the EU in 2002. MEPs who did not hold a dual

mandate were allowed to attend and participate in committee meetings (but not

vote), thus trying to establish some link between the national and European

Parliament. However, because of their commitments in Europe, MEPs have found

that they are unable to attend meetings of the Joint Committee on European Affairs

on a regular basis. 16

The Joint Committee on European Affairs’ mandate was to concern itself both with

policy and legislation to ensure that EU affairs are examined by the Irish Parliament

as a whole. 17 The new Committee on European Affairs has played a significant role

in informing deputies and senators of general EU policy developments but scrutiny of

EU legislation suffered as a result. The new committee benefited from a large

number of oral presentations from academic experts, ambassadors and EU and NATO

officials, as well as briefing documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Ministers have also been willing to appear before the committee. However,

attendance at the committees was patchy, given the constituency duties of Irish

parliamentarians and there was some overlap between the European and Foreign

Affairs committees on areas such as the Common Defence and Security Policy.

In addition to the Joint Committee on European Affairs’ examination of EU

developments, the Taoiseach makes a statement to the Dáil after each European

Council. The Government also produces a twice-yearly report entitled Developments

in the European Communities which is laid before the Oireachtas. The reports are

usually late and debated infrequently by the Houses of the Oireachtas, thus limiting

their effectiveness as a means of control over the Executive’s EU policy. 18

Parliamentary questions, although used infrequently, are another scrutiny device

available to parliamentarians. Relations between the Oireachtas and the EU have

been characterised as a combination of neglect and ignorance (O’Halpin, 1996, 124).

The new Joint Committee on European Affairs of 1993 helped increase parliamentary

16 Houses of the Oireachtas, Second Report of the Joint Committee on European

Affairs 1995 Annual Report, July 1996.

17 The Joint Committee on European Affairs has 19 members: 14 TDs and 5


18 In general, these reports have been debated more frequently in the Seanad and in

a more systematic fashion.

awareness of developments in the EU but it concentrated, on the whole, on

discussing topical issues instead of monitoring the flow of EU legislation. At a time

when the EU expanded its remit to cover most areas of member states’ governance,

parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation in Ireland and of Ireland’s European policy

was weak.


The Irish Administrative System and the EU 19

Given the reach of EU policies on national policy making, every department and

office in the Irish core executive system is required to deal with the European Union

in some way. The extent of interaction and need to manage EU business depends

primarily on the degree of Europeanisation found in the respective policy domains of

each office and department. It is possible to place the Irish core executive system’s

management of EU business on three distinct levels based on this criterion:

19 The material that forms the basis of the following analysis was gathered from

detailed analysis of documentary evidence (including strategy statements from

government departments) and two extensive series of structured interviews with

those involved in managing Ireland’s EU affairs. The first round of interviews (47 in

total) was conducted by Professor Brigid Laffan as part of the research carried out

between 1999 and 2000 for Organising for a Changing Europe: Irish Central

Government and the European Union, published in 2001. The second round of

interviews was conducted in the first half of 2002. 30 structured interviews were

conducted and interviewees for this stage of the project included civil servants drawn

from most departments throughout the Irish system, and included representatives

from the political and parliamentary arenas.

Figure 2: Levels of management of EU business:







Justice Environment

Office of Attorney General


Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht Defence

Education & Science

Health & Children

Marine & Natural Resources Public Enterprise

Social, Community & Family Affairs

The salience of the EU in the particular policy area determines the response of the

individual departments in setting up structures to deal with the flow of EU business.

Looking at the diagram above, we see that three over-arching ministries –

Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Finance - deal with the overall coordination of Irish EU

policy and are the central structural nodes through which Ireland’s overall EU

strategy must pass through at varying stages. At the second level, EU policies are

central or increasingly central to the work undertaken by the Departments of

Agriculture, Justice, Enterprise, Trade & Employment and the Environment. While

the volume of EU legislation to be transmuted into domestic law has not increased

significantly in recent years, the Office of the Attorney General is included in this

level. For example, as EU competence has grown in the area of Justice and Home

Affairs (referred to by one interviewee for this study as a growth industry), this has

necessitated more hands-on involvement by this office in the formulation,

coordination and monitoring of legislation dealing with this area. For the

departments at the third level of core-executive management (until the

reconfiguration of departments in June 2002), i.e. Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht,

Defence, Health and Children, Education and Science, Marine and Natural Resources,

Public Enterprise, Social, Community and Family Affairs and Tourism, coordinating

and managing national policy remains the over-arching concern. However, each of

these departments to varying degrees found itself dealing with a certain amount of

EU business, in particular as the new mode of governance, the Open Method of

Coordination, is becoming more prevalent in the EU. Two useful indicators of the

European demands on domestic ministries is the number of Council meetings each

department must service and the number of working parties each department must

service (See Tables 1 and 2). These indicators highlight the fact that Europeanisation

is unevenly spread in the Irish system. The Departments of Foreign Affairs, Finance,

Agriculture, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Justice and Environment are most

heavily involved in the EU system.

The following section will explore the multiple structures put in place within and

between government departments in order to manage relations with Brussels. Each

Department is structured on a functional basis with specific or numerous units within

Departments that deal with the flow of EU business alongside national business.

Departments have also put in place specific EU coordination structures to coordinate

EU business on an intra and inter-departmental basis. Interdepartmental structures

are also to be found in order to manage cross-cutting or horizontal issues of a wideranging

nature. The first component of the core-core of the Irish-EU interface

whose structures we will examine is the Prime Minister’s office, also known as the

Department of the Taoiseach.

Table 1: Ministerial involvement in the Council of Ministers


General Affairs


Economic and




Justice, Home

Affairs and Civil







Employment and

Social Policy









Council Meetings

in 2001


Foreign Affairs 15 17

Finance 11 13

Agriculture, Food

and Forestry

Environment and

Local Government

Justice, Equality

and Law Reform

Enterprise, Trade

and Employment

10 11

8 9

8 9

5 6

Public Enterprise 5 6

Enterprise, Trade

and Employment;

Social, Community

and Family Affairs

Arts, Culture and

the Gaeltacht

Marine and Natural


Education and


Enterprise, Trade

and Employment

Enterprise, Trade

4 5

4 5

4 5

3 4

2 2

2 2

and Employment

Health Health 2 2

Development Foreign Affairs 2 2

Budget Finance 2 2

Table 2: Council Working Parties to be serviced, June 2002




No. of



General Affairs (horizontal Foreign Affairs 56 32

issues and external


Economic and Finance Finance 8 5


Agriculture, Food and 37 21



Environment and Local 2 1


Justice, Home Affairs and Justice, Equality and 26 15

Civil Protection

Law Reform

Internal Market

Enterprise, Trade and 13 7


Transport/Telecommunicati Public Enterprise 6 3.5


Employment and Social


Education, Culture and





Health and Consumer


Enterprise, Trade and

Employment; Social,

Community and Family


Education and Science,

Arts, Culture and the


Marine and Natural


Enterprise, Trade and


Enterprise, Trade and

Employment, Public


2 1

4 2

3 2

3 2

6 3.5

Health and ET&E 2 1

Development Foreign Affairs 3 2

Budget Finance 3 2

Total: 174 100



Source: Europa website. It is important to note that these figures are approximate

since it is impossible to accurately determine the exact number of working parties in

existence in the EU at any one time.


Taoiseach’s Department

The Taoiseach’s Department, while small in size compared to other government

departments, is central to the conduct of EU business as it serves as the secretariat

to the Prime Minister or Taoiseach, who, as Section I shows, holds a position of

considerable power in the Irish core executive system. The role of the Taoiseach’s

Department in the conduct of EU business has been considerably enhanced in recent

years to the extent that it is considered as one of the two ‘EU coordinating

departments’ (Interview 62, 26.03.02). The direct involvement of the Taoiseach in

EU business, as with every other head of Government in the European Union, was

enhanced by the establishment of the European Council in 1975 and in particular

after the negotiation and signature of the Single European Act in 1986 when it was

recognised as an independent European Community institution. Indeed, this

concomitantly strengthened the position of the Taoiseach within the Irish core

executive system as the Taoiseach became equally involved than the Minister for

Foreign Affairs in the overall determination of Ireland’s strategy towards the EC/EU.

The frequency of treaty reform since the SEA in 1986 and the more recent instigation

and development of the Lisbon Agenda since 2000 (with an overall coordinating role

required of prime ministers within this new mode of governance) has further

increased the involvement of prime ministers in EU policy making and the need for

individual prime ministers to be fully briefed on a very broad range of EU policy

issues. The Prime Minister plays a leading role during EU Presidencies in particular

as chair of European Council summits. Prime ministers engage in continuous

bilateral meetings with other heads of government and ministers of EU member

states and candidate countries on a continuous basis.

While primary responsibility for the development of Ireland’s European policy on

specific issues rests with individual Departments, the core role of the Department of

the Taoiseach is to provide a strategic direction and focus for this European policy in

overall terms. The aim of those in the Department is to work in tandem with the

relevant line departments rather than duplicate the work that is already being done.

The relatively small size of the Department of the Taoiseach necessitates this

approach. The size of the Taoiseach’s office has increased from having a staff of

approximately 20 in the early 1960s to over 200 civil servants and political advisors

in 2002 (Interview 48, 12.02.02). In spite of this significant increase in staffing as a

whole, the infrastructure established to deal directly with EU matters within the

Department of the Taoiseach was and continues to be small in scale (Interview 48,


In 1982, the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey established an International Affairs

Division to deal with Northern Ireland and the EU. This division was expanded to

include all international and EU matters. In 1999 its staff numbered five, including

the head of unit. Following a reorganisation of the Department in July 2001 (see

figure 3), a position of Second Secretary was established with overall responsibility

for Northern Ireland and EU and International Affairs. This is a significant

development as it marked recognition of the need for steering in these specific policy

areas at the highest level in the Department. The EU and International Affairs

Division’s staff now includes one head of unit (Assistant Secretary) along with two

principal officers, two assistant principals and two administrative officers (total of

seven, however three of these staff deal mainly with international affairs as opposed

to European matters). 20 The department does not have any staff in the Permanent

Representation in Brussels. The European and International Affairs Division supports

the Taoiseach in his role as the Head of Government of a European Union member

state and in the wider field of international relations. The division co-ordinates and

contributes to the development of Ireland’s policies on issues of European and

international concern. In conjunction with other government departments, the

division monitors emerging European policy positions and the policy approaches from

the various government departments and other state bodies. One of the division’s

primary functions is to ensure that the Taoiseach is fully briefed on key

developments at European and International level and that Ireland’s interests are

actively pursued. These briefings are received from all departments, in particular the

Department of Foreign Affairs, and collated by the division. The division also

services a number of interdepartmental committees such as the Interdepartmental

Coordinating Committee on European Union Affairs (informally known as the Roche

Committee as it is chaired by Minister of State for European Affairs, Dick Roche). Its

immediate precursor was the Senior Officials Group (which was chaired by the

Assistant Secretary of the EU and International Division). Other interdepartmental

20 In 2002 a Lisbon Agenda Unit was also established with three staff: a Principal

Officer, Assistant Principal and Administrative Officer.

committees serviced by the Unit include the Lisbon Group and the Convention

Overview Group. The Unit also services the Cabinet Sub-Committee on European

Affairs. The division coordinates the logistical arrangements for the Taoiseach’s diary

of European and international engagements, including engagements held in Ireland

with visiting Heads of Government. 21

The rhythm of European Council meetings serves as an organizing pole for work

carried out in the Taoiseach’s Department and the European and International Affairs

Division’s engagement with successive Taoisigh is dictated by events. Engagements

with the Taoiseach relating to EU matters, therefore, may or may not occur on a

daily basis. As a rule, the Taoiseach is accompanied to European Council Summits

by senior ministers and civil servants, including the Permanent Representative in the

Brussels Representation centre (though not necessarily Secretaries General of

national departments). Along with officials and relevant ministers (including a

Minister for European Affairs if appointed in the life of the Parliament), a Senior

Political Advisor would generally accompany the Taoiseach to summits to be on hand

in case political firefighting must be countered.

In summary, the role of the Department of the Toaiseach has expanded in relation to

the management of EU business since the 1980s for a number of reasons. First, the

intensification of the European Council has internationalised the role of all European

Prime Ministers. Formal Council meetings and bilaterals with counterparts is intrinsic

to contemporary governance. Second, as EU’s policy remit expanded from the Single

Act onwards, the Taoiseach’s Department became more involved in managing the

determination of Irish interests and the projection of interests into the EU system. In

the post-Nice period, the Taoiseach faces an important domestic challenge of

communicating Europe. The core role of the department in relation to EU business

was described by one of its officials in the following terms:

The core role of the Department of An Taoiseach is to provide a strategic

direction on Europe, to create a strategic focus (Interview 48, 12.02.02).

In addition, the department can be brought into any set of negotiations if they

become problematic or in the event of deep-rooted interdepartmental conflict. The

way in which the Taoiseach’s Department exercises its role is determined by its

21 Department of the Taoiseach, Strategy Statement to 31 December 2003.

staffing levels which remain relatively thin and by its desire to ‘work in tandem

rather than reinvent’ the work of other departments (Interview 51, 12.02.02) The

tendency is ‘to delegate and to co-ordinate as required and not to micro-manage’

(Interview 49, 12 February 2002).




Minister of State for European


European Council

Secretary General

Second Secretary

Assistant Secretary Assistant Secretary Assistant Secretary Assistant Secretary

Assistant Secretary





Society Policy


Economic Policy


Social Policy


Public Service






Ireland Division


Forum on


European and


Affairs Division

Private Office


Press Office

Figure 3:

Structure of Department of the Taoiseach 2002

Foreign Affairs

The EU poses a particular challenge to national foreign ministries because it is an

arena that involves a complex blend of the diplomatic and domestic/sectoral, or the

political and technical. Adequate representation in the EU requires that national

officials and ministers manage the interface between the diplomatic and the sectoral

so that policy is not driven by the technical preferences of line ministries on the one

hand, or the demands of inter-state diplomacy on the other. As outlined above, the

Department of Foreign Affairs assumed the role of lead department on EU matters

from the Department of Finance in 1973. Its place at the heart of the core-core of

the Irish core executive is still taken as given, however it now shares its coordinating

responsibilities to a greater degree with the Department of the Taoiseach.

According to the DFA Strategy Statement for 2001-2003, ‘the DFA, working with

other Departments, has a particular responsibility to ensure a co-ordinated response

across a wide range of EU issues’ (Department of Foreign Affairs, 2001, 15). The

importance of the EU to the work of the DFA is also reflected in its 2001-2003

mission statement which, for the first time, refers to the European Union as an area

of strategic importance for Ireland’s interests:

The mission of the Department of Foreign Affairs is to promote the interests

of Ireland in the European Union and in the wider world, to protect its citizens

abroad, and to pursue peace, partnership and reconciliation on the island of

Ireland’ (Department of Foreign Affairs, 2001, 9).

Membership of the EU in 1973 had a major impact on the structure of the

Department of Foreign Affairs and was instrumental in promoting the modernization

of the Irish Foreign Service (Keatinge 1995: 2). It involved a broadening of

interests, and placed Ireland within a demanding multinational diplomatic

environment which demanded new institutional mechanisms, processes and

resources. The department became involved in the Union’s governance structures

and, given its co-ordinating role on EU matters, and as a consequence became more

integrated with the domestic system of public administration. The department’s

modernization was characterized by an increase in the number of staff in head office

and in Irish missions abroad (See table 4). Increased resources were accompanied

by internal organisational changes with the creation of new divisions, the

reorganisation of existing ones and increased functional specialization at head office.

Those changes were a response to membership, the demands of managing a

presidency and the widening scope and reach of Irish foreign policy.

Table 4: Department of Foreign Affairs Staffing

Year Total Number in DFA Total Number in



1967 40 6

1971 51 11

1974 87 31

1979 114 27

1982 130 30

1986 136 29

1988 125 24

1992 123 15

1995 126 19

2000 175 19

Source: State Directories, 1967-2000.

In the late 1980s, Foreign Affairs, like all government departments, suffered a

reduction in staff during the public sector recruitment embargo. This reduction took

place at a time when Ireland was confronted with many challenging developments on

the European and international stage, for example the collapse of communism in

Central and Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War. The ongoing negotiation of

the peace process in Northern Ireland has placed a heavy burden on the Anglo Irish

division within the Department of Foreign Affairs and membership of the UN Security

Council from 2001-2003 imposed further demands on the Department. Yet

notwithstanding these multiple demands, until the late 1990s the Irish Foreign

Service remained small relative to the EU’s other small member states. In 1999,

countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Portugal had twice as many

embassies and twice as many diplomatic staff as Ireland. However, in tandem with

an internal review of the Department’s functioning, concerted efforts have also been

made to increase both the size of the Irish diplomatic service abroad and

headquarters in Dublin.

Concern about the capacity of headquarters to direct the growing diplomatic network

and to respond to the demands of strategic policy making led to a major internal

eview of its resources and organisational structure in 1999-2000. 22 An original idea,

held to be impracticable was the instigation of a Geographic desk arrangement where

each region of the world would have its own ‘desk’ or responsible division. The chef

de file or lead unit arrangement was put in place in February 2002 where each unit

within the Department has overall responsibility for particular regions or countries of

the world. Staff numbers have also been gradually increased since the period of the

review (Interview 60, 26.03.02).

The DFA plays a specific and more hands-on role in the management of relations

with Brussels that differs from the Department of the Taoiseach. Within the Irish

system, the DFA is the department with an overview of developments in the EU from

an institutional and political perspective. In addition, its embassies in the member

states can provide information and briefing on the policy positions of the member

states, the Irish ‘eyes and ears’. The Irish Representation in Brussels is a pivotal

source of intelligence on developments in the EU and has a key function in

identifying how and what national preferences can be promoted within the EU and in

identifying the trade-offs that might be necessary as negotiations develop. The

office of the Permanent Representation is examined later in this section.

Following the review of the Department, its structure was streamlined to take into

account the ever-changing exigencies of the international system and of Ireland’s

place within this system. The Department is currently organised into ten separate

divisions (See figures 4 and 5). Each division is then organised into discrete

numbers of units. The divisions are as follows: Anglo-Irish deals with Anglo-Irish

relations and Northern Ireland. The EU Division coordinates Ireland's approach

within the EU. The head of the European Union Division is now referred to as

Director General. The Political Division is responsible for international political issues

and manages Ireland's participation in the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The head of Political Division is referred to as the Political Director. The

Development Co-operation Division is responsible for the administration of the Irish

overseas aid programme and for the conduct of Irish development policy. The

Corporate Services Division is responsible for the day-to-day management of the

22 The review in Foreign Affairs was very extensive, and involved an analysis of the

internal organization in headquarters and the department’s external links to other

government departments and to the growing network of embassies. The review

focused on increased resources and structural change.

Department. The Consular Division is responsible for the administration of Consular

services offered to Irish citizens. The Protocol and Cultural Division is responsible for

the organisation and management of visits of VIPs to Ireland and of visits abroad by

the President, as well as the administration of Ireland's obligations under the Vienna

Convention. This Division also administers the Cultural relations programme of the

Department of Foreign Affairs. The Bilateral Economic Relations Division deals with

Ireland's Bilateral Economic Relations with countries throughout the world. Finally,

the Legal Division provides the Department with legal advice and which has

responsibilities in the negotiation of international agreements.

Within the Irish system, the DFA has lead responsibility for a number of important

policy issues such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the European

Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), development co-operation, institutional

development of the Union, the management of the presidency and enlargement. The

divisions within the DFA most involved in EU business are the European Union

Division and the Political Division and each division has responsibility for different EU

policy areas. The European Union Division and the Irish Representation in Brussels

form two central nodes in the management of EU business, particularly in relation to

pillar I as they interact with a) EU institutions, particularly the Council but also the

Commission and the Parliament, b) government departments both individually and

collectively. The EU Division (formerly known as the Economic Division and for a

time the European Communities Division) coordinates Ireland’s approach within the

EU to issues such as institutional issues and enlargement. The EU Division has the

overall coordination function in relation to first pillar business in general including the

preparation of briefs for the General Affairs Council (GAC), the European Council and

the Presidency. The GAC is the main coordinator of Council business and is the main

channel of material to the European Council, apart from issues relating to the Euro

and competitiveness. The direct link between the GAC and the European Council

demands a close working relationship between Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach’s

department. The Council phase of the Union’s policy process imposes heavy

demands on the Department of Foreign Affairs as a whole and its role in monitoring

and assessing developments in the European Parliament is less developed. The core

of its involvement is in the negotiating phase of the policy process, rather than

implementation, which is mainly the responsibility of the domestic departments.

Within the European Union Division, the EU Coordination Unit is responsible for

coordinating the preparation of ministerial briefs for the General Affairs Council, for

supplying briefing material for the Taoiseach for European Council meetings and is

the formal pathway for the circulation of much EU material to the domestic

departments and to units within the DFA itself. With the new parliamentary scrutiny

measures established in mid-2002, the role of this Unit in ensuring adequate flows of

information and documents throughout the core executive system will increase even

further. It is self-evident that all sections or units within the European Union

Division deal primarily with EU matters, i.e. the internal EU policies section, external

economic relations section (working closely with Enterprise, Trade and Employment),

institutional EU development section and enlargement section.

The Political Division is responsible for Ireland’s approach to the CFSP, and has

coordinating function with regard to the ESDP (and works closely on this with the

Department of Defence). The head of division is Ireland’s political director, who, in

the past was responsible for attending meetings of the Political Committee, the highranking

committee for dealing with the international role of the Union. Upon the

creation of the Political and Security Committee (institutionalised in the Treaty of

Nice), the Political Division posted a senior representative at ambassadorial level to

sit on this committee. This brings to three the number of diplomats in Ireland’s

Permanent Representation with ambassadorial rank.

The Political Division services all committees that meet under the auspices of pillar

two. The Political Division works closely with the Department’s European Union

division (although they are housed in separate buildings at present), particularly in

relation to issues such as enlargement. Given the nature of its responsibilities it has

weaker links to the domestic departments than the European Union Division. The

most important interaction it has is with the Department of Defence, on the

development of Ireland’s position in Europe’s changing security environment.

Officials from the International Security Policy Unit of the Division work in close cooperation

with officials from the International Security and Defence Policy Branch of

the Department of Foreign Affairs. Within the DFA’s Political Division, the

International Security Policy section has moved from primarily servicing meetings in

Brussels to helping man the Brussels delegation, which has also been increased in

size (apart from the Irish representative on the Political and Security Division, two

other officials work in the ESDP unit in close cooperation with officials from the

Department of Defence and Army representatives (who service the Military

Committee of the ESDP)). Officials from the International Security Policy Unit also

service domestic interdepartmental and institutional working groups such as the Ad

Hoc group of the DFA, Defence and the Army that deals with PfP and ESDP issues,

CIVCOM and the Rule of Law Working Group. There is also an interdepartmental

committee on Peacekeeping, which meets three to four times a year. This

committee is chaired by the Political Director and its aim is to bring together

interested parties from within the Irish system, such as army directors, Department

of Justice and the Gardai. The International Security Policy section also works

closely with Defence by means of the dedicated encryption line which links the two

departments and the PSC delegation. The Development division of the Department

of Foreign Affairs deals with work for the EU Development Council.

Figure 4:

Structure of the Department of

Foreign Affairs 2002

Minister for Foreign


EU General

Affairs Council

Minister of State

Secretary General



EU Permanent


- Coreper

EU Political










































Figure 5:

Department of Foreign Affairs Structure Detail

European Union Division

Political Division

Director General



European Union




EU Co-ordination

Common Foreign

and Security Policy

Internal EU


Bilateral Political




United Nations

Institutional EU




Council of Europe


Security Policy

Human Rights


The Department of Finance played a crucial role in the development of Ireland’s

European policy and in the negotiation of Irish accession to the European Economic

Community in 1973. Its role remained important after accession although Foreign

Affairs was given the co-ordinating brief for EU business. In 1972 the department

had one section that dealt with all EU matters. However, EU policies began to

permeate too many areas of domestic policy for that position to persist. The

department’s role in EU business increased significantly from the mid-1980s with the

single market programme, EU structural and cohesion funds, taxation and Economic

and Monetary Union (EMU) to the extent that the Department of Finance could now

be said to have an interest in everything European for its role as the controller of the

public finances gives it a central role in EU affairs. It is the standard practice that EU

proposals with financial implications for the Exchequer must be cleared with the

Department of Finance before being approved. From the perspective of the

Department of Finance, in the 1980s and 1990s, the EU was a welcome source of

funds. It also helped establish a policy environment in relation to budgetary

expenditure, state aids, and taxation that contributed to Ireland’s improved

economic performance. Participation in the Community Support Framework in

particular helped instil an evaluation culture within the Department. The policy

formulation methodology of the National Plans continues to be used in domestic

policy formulation and co-ordination.

Participation in the EU is cited in the Department’s Strategy Statement as its third

strategic priority (one of five) with specific objectives in relation to six areas of EU


♦ Contribution to the formulation of Ireland’s EU policy

♦ Effective representation of the Irish position at the ECOFIN and Budget


♦ Effective administration of EU Structural and Cohesion Fund receipts

♦ Optimum benefits from EU/EMU membership

♦ A successful changeover to the Euro

♦ A competitive financial services sector (Department of Finance, 2001, 5).

The department interacts with the EU arena via the ECOFIN Council, its preparatory

bodies, the Economic and Finance Committee (formerly the Monetary Committee),

the Economic Policy Committee, the Eurogroup (12 member states), the European

Central Bank, the Budget Council, other Council working parties dealing in particular

with financial regulation, COREPER and bilateral dealings with the Commission.

There is an ECOFIN Council every month and a Budget Council at least twice a year.

These meetings include evaluations of national economic policy and performance

within the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and Stability Pact policy mechanisms.

The Department also has extensive bilateral contact with the Commission through its

central role in the management of the Community Support Framework in Ireland.

The Department plays a major role in negotiations on taxation, where the

Department of Foreign Affairs’ involvement was minimal.

The two Divisions centrally involved in EU business are the Budget and Economic

Division (BED) and the Banking, Finance and International Services Division (BFID)

(see figure 6). The BED deals with overall budgetary policy, economic policy and

forecasting, the International Financial Services Centre and servicing EU committees

on tax policy and budgetary and economic co-operation under EMU. BFID deals with

banking policy and financial regulation at domestic and EU level, the Euro

changeover and EU exchange rate policy. This division also handles monitoring and

evaluation of the National Development Plan and Community Support Framework,

the European Regional Development and Cohesion Funds, regional policy, debt

management policy, the EU budget and other international financial institutions.

Within the Department, sections have autonomy and responsibility for policy in

respect of issues under their aegis and pull together when going to ECOFIN.

Figure 6:

Structure of the Department

of Finance 2002


Minister of Finance

Economic and

Finance Committee

(and Alternates)

Minister of State

Economic Policy


Secretary General

Budget and




Finance &





Personnel and



Management &

Training Division




The two preparatory committees for ECOFIN are the Economic and Finance

Committee and the Economic Policy Committee. The Economic and Finance

Committee (EFC) is a key part of the institutional framework for managing the Euro

and the EFC and not COREPER is responsible for the co-ordination of ECOFIN. The

EFC mainly deals with the Stability Pact and Broad Economic Policy Guidelines, along

with issues relating to the international representation of the Euro Area. The

Economic Policy Committee (EPC) also works to ECOFIN but has developed a more

specialised role; it now examines more structural and long-term economic issues

such as the Lisbon Process. Until the second quarter of 2000, the EFC was serviced

by the Banking, Finance and International Services Division of the Department

(formerly known as the Finance Division). However, with the development of the

Stability Pact, it was decided that the Budget and Economic Division would provide

the main representation on the EFC. The Head of the BED represents Ireland on this

Committee and his alternate comes from BFID. Officials from the BED also attend

the EPC. Internally within the system, officials from the Banking, Finance and

International Services Division attend the Senior Officials Group and the Cabinet


A Department of Finance inter-divisional committee on EU affairs has also been

established, to facilitate internal co-ordination of EU business and to consider

strategic issues within a broader context. The committee’s terms of reference are ‘to

serve as a forum for discussion and overview of key EU issues pertaining to the

Department of Finance’ (Department of the Taoiseach Internal Memorandum).

However, meetings of this committee have been infrequent (Interview 63,

10.04.02). The internal departmental position on general EU policy issues is coordinated

internally by the EU Policy Section within the BFID. Four officials from the

Department serve in the Permanent Representation in Brussels dealing with the

following areas: Finance, Financial Services, EU Budget and Fiscal Affairs. While the

Department of Finance has generally been extremely effective in protecting Irish

interests (e.g. corporation tax negotiations), it is recognised that the resources

available within the Department to monitor economic areas such as the performance

of other member states according to the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines are


The remaining divisions within the Department of Finance are less centrally involved

in EU business. The Public Expenditure Division has a very minor direct EU role but

is a key link to the wider governmental system in relation to the flow of funds from

Brussels through the domestic system. It also has a key role in ensuring that

departments and state agencies observe EU public procurement rules that are

monitored by the Government Contracts Committee in this division. In the past, the

Organisation, Training and Management Division has provided training on EU

business, particularly in preparation for the presidency. It has also overseen the

placing of Irish nationals in international organisations, particularly the Commission,

although this role is not always systematic (Interview 53, 12.02.02). Once during

each presidency, directors of national public services divisions also meet under the

aegis of this division to discuss issues such as training, mobility and personnel


In summary, the role of the three departments in the core-core of the system are

complementary rather than competitive. The Department of the Taoiseach brings the

authority of the prime minister to bear on interdepartmental issues and meetings

called by this department will always be taken seriously. Foreign Affairs brings its

knowledge of the EU, its negotiating expertise and its knowledge of the attitudes of

other member states to the table. These two departments are major players in all of

the macro-negotiations and have very close relations on the management of EU

business. The Department of Finance is less involved in macro-issues to do with the

development of the EU but is central to all aspects of economic governance. In

addition to its system wide responsibilities, it has substantive EU dossiers of its own

and pays most attention to those.

The Inner Core

Although EU business now permeates the work of all line or sectoral departments in

some form, four in particular have key EU responsibilities and form part of the inner

core of the core executive in managing EU business from home: - Enterprise, Trade

and Employment (ET&E), Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Justice, Equality

and Law Reform, and Environment and Local Government. Together, these

departments account for a sizeable proportion of Ireland’s EU business. Given the

size of these departments and the salience of their responsibilities, they have a high

degree of departmental autonomy in the exercise of their policy responsibilities and

have a role in the development of Ireland’s overall strategic response to integration.

They also tend to be involved in macro-negotiations in addition to sectoral policy

areas. ET&E and Agriculture have been key plays from the outset, whereas Justice

and Environment have become increasingly involved in EU business from the 1990s

onwards. The EU task facing each of these departments differs greatly one from the

other. Agriculture is a clearly defined sector with a well-organised and politically

significant client group. ET&E is multisectoral with responsibility for a wide range of

policy areas such as regulation, trade, social and employment policy, consumer

policy, research and certain EU funds. Justice is managing a relatively new but

rapidly changing policy domain, which is characterized by complex decision rules,

and the UK and Irish opt out from Schengen and aspects of Justice and Home Affairs.

Environment policy in Ireland is increasingly formulated within the European frame

and environmental issues are touching other policy areas of government and other

departments business, such as sustainable development, which is relevant not only

for Environment but also Agriculture and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Marine

and Natural Resources. Ireland’s implementation record with regard to EU

environmental legislation is closely monitored by a myriad of environmental lobby

groups and NGOs at national and European level.

Enterprise, Trade and Employment

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (ET&E) was established in

1992 and represents a merger between the departments of Industry and Commerce

and Labour. The trade portfolio reverted to this department following the 1997

general election. The amalgamation of Labour and Industry and Commerce was an

important organizational change in Irish central government as it combined industrial

development, on the one hand, and employment rights, on the other. In one sense,

it brought the two sides of industry under one roof and created a very large ministry

with multiple and possibly conflicting responsibilities.

Of all the sectoral ministeries, ET&E faces the most complex challenge in managing

EU business because of the multifaceted nature of its involvement. Every division of

the Department is significantly affected by EU activities. Traditionally, until the late

1990s, the Department serviced six different ministerial Councils – the Internal

Market, Consumer Affairs, Industry, Employment and Social Affairs, the trade brief in

the GAC, and Research. This was the largest number of Councils serviced by any

one department. The reduction in the number of Council formations reduced the

number of Councils serviced by the department and it now services four Councils:

Industry and Energy, Internal Market, Consumer Affairs and Tourism, Employment

and Social Policy and Research. The Department still deals with trade items (e.g. the

World Trade Organisation negotiations) within the GAC. The management of Council

business is rendered even more difficult as two Council formations – Internal Market,

Consumer Affairs and Tourism and Industry and Energy – have agenda items

involving other home departments. It is the practice for the Minister to attend the

Industry Council and for Ministers of State to attend the other Councils.

In 1997 the Department opted for a policy of complete ‘internalisation’ when it

abolished its EU unit that existed since 1969 and assigned responsibility for EU

business to those divisions with sectoral responsibility. This EU unit had come from

the Department of Labour when Labour and Industry and Commerce were

amalgamated. The consensus was that the Unit had a postbox function and no

horizontal co-ordination function. The decision to abolish the co-ordination unit was

premised on the fact that with six ministerial Councils and such a fragmented and

diverse EU involvement, no macro-co-ordination was needed. It was concluded that

complete ‘internalisation’ was the most effective strategy. This meant that a lead

co-ordinator was designated for each of the six councils and it also meant that

information had to be sent through five different channels, rather than having one

contact point. Following the implementation of the decision, a Committee on

European Affairs (CEA) chaired by an assistant secretary was given responsibility for

managing the transition and for dealing with horizontal issues. This Committee met

relatively frequently in the initial stages of its existence but gradually became non-

operational as the sectoral coordinators began to focus exclusively on their policy

domains. However, when the Department abolished the Unit, it was soon recognised

that it was still needed. This emerged in an inter-divisional study and report

undertaken in the EAC and in the Department’s Management Advisory Committee.

Gaps in the Department’s management of EU matters were exposed, notably the

lack of exploitation of the benefits of responsibility for five councils and shifts in EU

governance regimes. In September 1999, the management board took the decision

to reconstitute and expand the EU Affairs Section and to re-establish the Committee

for European Affairs.

The newly reconstituted EU Affairs Section is small in size, given the size of the

Department and consists of one Assistant Principal, one administrative officer and

one part-time clerical officer. It operates under the direction of the Assistant

Secretary of the Enterprise Competitiveness Division (See figure 7). In spite of its

small size, the Section offers valuable assistance and support to line divisions within

the Department and to staff at the Permanent Representation in Brussels. It is also

the executive secretariat for the Department’s Committee on European Affairs and as

external interface represents the Department on interdepartmental committees such

as the SOG. The section is point of contact with other Departments and EU

institutions. As well as being a think-tank, the EU affairs section has a monitoring

and tracking role with regard to legislation and horizontal issues. It looks after

bigger issues such as the Lisbon agenda, the Future of Europe and preparation for

the Presidency.

As in its previous incarnation, the CEA is chaired by the Assistant Secretary in charge

of the Enterprise Competitiveness Division. It comprises of representatives (at

Principal Officer level) of sections of the Department, which service the four EU

Councils. Officials on secondment to the Permanent Representation Centre are also

part of the CEA. As before, it meets infrequently, mostly two or three times a year.

The Department has five officials on secondment to the Permanent Representation

Centre, a number that has remained static since the Department was created in


Figure 7:

Structure of Department of

Enterprise, Trade and

Minister for ET&E

Minister of State for

Trade and

Minister of State for

Labour Affairs

Secretary General

Labour Force






Rights and




Science and





Competition and

Market Rights






The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (D/AFRD) 23 has the

clearest and most focused competence in relation to EU issues – protection of the

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and implementation of CAP regimes in Ireland.

The sectoral nature of its policy responsibilities, in addition to the way in which CAP

policy is made in Europe, facilitated a highly targeted approach to the management

of EU business from the outset. Of all of the domestic departments, Agriculture,

since 1973, actively continued to reorganise its structures in order to manage EU

business and the Brussels interface. The significance of the CAP to Ireland and its

centrality to the EU budget ensured that the D/AFRD would undergo major structural

change as a result of EU membership.

As a policy area, Agriculture has always held significant importance in Ireland. In

2001, the agri-food sector accounted for 10.5 per cent of Irish GDP, 10.5 per cent of

employment and approximately one quarter of net foreign earnings from trade

(D/AFRD, 2001, 8). Managing the boundary with Brussels is a key task of the

Department. According to the 2001-2003 Departmental strategy statement,

Many of the schemes operated by D/AFRD are wholly or partly funded by the

EU and consequently it is essential to maintain strong effective relationships

with the EU institutions and other member states. Our goals and strategies

reflect the importance of the EU in all our activities (D/AFRD, 2001, 23).

D/AFRD makes annual payments of some €2.41 billion through over 250 schemes

(wholly or partially funded by the EU) to a wide variety of customers. The changes

in the CAP, in 1992 and in Agenda 2000, had major effects on Irish agriculture and

on the work of the D/AFRD. CAP reform shifted the emphasis in EU policy from

market support measures to direct payments to farmers and this, together with

structural fund payment reform, led to the establishment by the Department of new

payment schemes and new accountability procedures. Further CAP reform, driven by

the world trade negotiations, EU enlargement and reviews of the agriculture budget

and key commodity sectors (e.g. cereals, milk quotas, sugar) also add to the burden

of work for the Department. The nature of agricultural support is also increasingly

23 In June 2002, Rural Development was removed and moved to a new Ministry, the

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

affected by the growing emphasis on environmental issues and the increasingly

interlinked debate about food safety, environmental issues and farming methods.

This poses an additional challenge to the Department in terms of both internal coordination

and structures and managing such issues across the core executive

system. According to the 2001-2003 Departmental Strategy Statement, the

challenge for D/AFRD is to ensure that the particular needs of Ireland are

successfully addressed in these negotiations.

The Department interacts intensively with the EU, both Council and Commission

(both DG Agriculture and for food safety DG Health and Consumer Affairs), through

the monthly meetings of the Agriculture Council, the weekly meetings of the Special

Committee on Agriculture (SCA), management committees for all of the agricultural

products, and all committees and bilateral mechanisms dealing with the payments

and auditing dimension of the CAP. The CAP impacts on all levels of administration

and policy formulation throughout the Department, from secretary general down to

the technical staff who implement the programmes on the ground.

In 1999 it was envisaged that the Department would undergo a process of

reorganisation that would involve a streamlining of its then fifty-five divisions (units

headed by a Principal Officer) into three organizational poles – policy development,

FEOGA payments, and food safety and production. In 2001 the Department put in

place a new organizational structure, which was intended to establish logical and

clear lines of management consistent with the changing mandate of the Department

(see figure 8). In the new structure, the eleven functional areas (63 individual

units/sections), each headed by a member of the Management Committee, have

been redefined, and are now grouped under four broad organizational headings –

policy (200 staff), food safety and production (2000 staff), agriculture payments

(1500 staff) and corporate development (600 staff). Within the Department, the

EU/Trade Division is found within the EU and Planning Division of the Policy heading

and coordinates policy on all EU issues, including WTO issues and bilateral trade

matters. The EU/Trade Division undertakes policy analysis, negotiates at EU level for

regulatory and trading frameworks for the Irish agri-food sector, maintains relations

with the EU institutions and other member states through bilateral contacts. The

Division also coordinates briefings for Council and SCA meetings and Coreper, as well

as bilateral meetings. In addition, the division coordinates briefings for the Article

133 Committee on EU foreign trade issues affecting agriculture and food sectors and

officials from the division also attend weekly co-ordination meetings in the

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Division also arranges

briefings on EU issues for Oireachtas Committees, MEPs and member state

ambassadors in Ireland. It receives up-to-date information on issues relevant to the

Department at EU level and disseminates this information throughout the


The EU Coordinating Group within the EU/Trade Division was set up in February 2002

to intensify the coordination of D/AFRD’s responses to EU developments. The group

meets on alternate weeks to identify issues arising at EU management committee,

working group and other levels that will impinge on discussions at Coreper, SCA and

Council meetings. The Group is chaired by the Assistant Secretary with responsibility

for EU and Planning. Principal Officers from relevant divisions, i.e. Agricultural

Commodity Division, Finance Division, Economics and Planning Division, Food

Division and the EU/Trade Division attend. A Food Safety Unit was also established

in 2001 to coordinate developments on EU food safety policy and attends fortnightly

EU Co-ordinating Group meetings. Finally, the head of EU/Planning attends the

Senior Officials Group and other interdepartmental co-ordinating committees on

behalf of the Department.

From accession to the EU in 1973, the Department adopted a very proactive

approach to managing the interaction between the CAP and Irish agriculture. The

political importance of farmers throughout many electoral constituencies, the

lobbying practices of their representatives, and the economic importance of the

sector more generally, has meant that the CAP has always been accorded the status

of ‘high politics’ in Ireland. The Department built up considerable expertise in the

complexities of the policy, established contacts throughout DG Agriculture in the

Commission and placed national experts in key units in that Directorate. The

Department seeks to influence the Commission at the drafting stage of legislation

and will try to voice its preferences long before a set of proposals gets to the full

Commission. It is like no other Department in the Irish core executive system in

terms of its deep contacts with European Union institutions. Officials in the

Department and Ministers have been scrupulous in attendance at management

committee, working group and Council meetings. The contentious nature of the

proposed reforms to the CAP in advance of and in order to cope with the

enlargement of the EU to include central and Eastern European candidate countries,

along with Cyprus and Malta, together with the vociferous farming lobby in Ireland

mean that the Department will have a very difficult task ahead in its navigation of

CAP reform and the agriculture tranche of the forthcoming EU budgetary


Finally, although the Department’s projection of the chosen Irish preferences at EU

level has been highly effective, the management of the policy at national level has

been much more problematic. These problems came more fully into view in the

aftermath of the BSE and Food and Mouth crises in 2000-1. Efforts have been made

within the Department to address this gap in governance.

Organisational structure

below ministerial level



Assistant Secretary


Direct Payments

Market Supports

Figure 8:

Structure of the

Department of

Agriculture, Food and

Rural Development 2002


EU & Planning

Livestock Policy


Economics &


Food Industry



Development and

Financial Systems



Human Resources



Chief Inspector


Safety &


Chief Veterinary


Animal Health &


Justice, Equality and Law Reform

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, together with the Department

of Defence, are the most recent arrivals to EU policy making in the Irish system.

Prior to the inclusion of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) in the 1992 Treaty on

European Union (TEU), the Council of Europe had been the main international body

promoting judicial cooperation in Europe. Although the EU’s involvement in this field

dates from the mid-1970s with what was known as the Trevi Group, the

intensification of EU involvement is a feature of the 1990s and in particular with the

signature of the Treaty of Amsterdam. In fact, JHA is the most rapidly growing

policy-making area in the EU. Following the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Tampere

Justice Council of October 1999, JHA has become a central focus of the EU with its

target of achieving an area of ‘freedom, security and justice’ and has involved an

exponential growth in legislation dealing with the areas of police and judicial

cooperation in criminal matters in particular. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the

terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, the EU member states committed

themselves to an extensive and wide-ranging programme of measures to combat

terrorism, including the negotiation of the European Arrest Warrant.

Amsterdam in particular altered the policy process in a number of ways by giving the

Commission more powers in the process, by creating more powerful instruments

such as framework decisions which are not unlike directives and by altering the time

frame within which decisions will be taken. As a result of the Treaty, the institutional

mechanisms for this field changed with the break up of the old K4 Committee, which

was the main pre-ministerial committee in this policy field, into three committees

responsible for different facets of cooperation:

- Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum

- Committee on Civil Law Matters

- Article 36 Committee.

The intensity of this growth and its impact on the overall work programme and

resources of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has already been

felt and will continue to be felt in coming years. According to the Department’s

strategy statement for 2001-2004, the Department’s future involvement in EU

matters up to and including the Irish EU Presidency in 2004 will be driven largely by

the progressive implementation of the changes introduced under the Treaty of

Amsterdam and by the implementation of the Tampere conclusions (Department of

Justice, 2001). Progress in many respects of the Amsterdam and Tampere work

programme will require hard political choices, for example, the Schengen opt outs

are an additional complication for Irish officials. Distinctions between the common

law tradition in Britain and Ireland and the continental system of codification can

create difficulties in agreeing definitions and procedures, e.g. potentially problematic

issues could include Eurojust, the European Judicial Training network and a proposal

for a Common EU Prosecutor. At the domestic level, an added challenge to the

Department’s work is the convention that all departmental agreement to proposals

relating to JHA receive the rubber stamp of cabinet approval. In addition, in

particular in the aftermath of September 11 th 2001 and the negotiations on the

European Arrest Warrant (in line with legal advice received), full approval of certain

legislation by the Dáil and Seanad is also required, i.e. a full scrutiny reserve. This

places an added burden on departmental officials in terms of workload.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is a large Department with

eight divisions, all of whom have EU involvement of some nature (see figure 9). The

EU and International Division was formerly known as the EU, Northern Ireland and

Security Division and serviced the old K4 Committee. It now acts as the coordinating

unit for meetings of the JHA Council. The International Policy Division is responsible

for ensuring a strategic and coherent policy in regard to the Department’s

international (including EU) activity. It is the main coordinator of EU business and

any department official who attends a meeting in Brussels must send a report to this

Division. The Division is headed by an assistant secretary and currently has nine

staff. In the aftermath of September 11 th 2001, additional staff were appointed on a

temporary basis. The Assistant Secretary of the Division attends the SOG and other

interdepartmental committees. The Division also chairs the interdepartmental

committee on JHA (set up in the aftermath of September 11 th ). This committee

meets before every JHA Council and is serviced by the EU and International Unit of

the Department of the Taoiseach. The Department has four staff members serving

in the Permanent Representation. The Department’s obligations in terms of servicing

JHA working groups are onerous. The Department’s line divisions service most of

the Council working parties under Title IV and Title VI and other meetings, with the

assistance of the International Policy Division and personnel of the Permanent

Representation Centre in Brussels. In 2001, Justice serviced 313 formal meetings,

essentially from Dublin. In 1999 this number was 100. According to one official

interviewed, Justice is now responsible for approximately seventy per cent of

COREPER II business (Interview 72, 08.05.02). 24

To reiterate, the challenge posed by the EU’s JHA policy for the Department of

Justice is significant. As the remit of the Union expands and the decision rules are

modified, the Department has had to and will continue to have to adopt new

strategies for JHA business. The fragmentation of the field into pillar one, traditional

JHA and Schengen makes it even more difficult to monitor across the range and to

assess when Ireland should get involved in negotiations on those areas for which it

has a potential opt out.

24 Coreper II, attended by Permanent Representatives, deals with the following policy

areas: General affairs, Economics and Finance, Justice, home affairs and civil

protection, development and budget.

Figure 9:

Structure of

Department of

Justice, Equality

and Law Reform


Minister of Justice

Minister of State

Secretary General





Prisons and Probation

and Welfare Policy


Criminal Law Reform

and Human Rights

Civil Law Reform

Courts Policy

Equality, Childcare and


Asylum, Immigration

and Citizenship

Business Support



For the purposes of this study, the Department of the Environment and Local

Government (DoELG) is included in the inner core of Irish governmental

departments. It is included because the Department is increasingly involved in

the policy coordination of horizontal issues across the Irish system. The DoELG

was created in 1977 and is another example of a Department within the Irish core

executive system that is required to deal with a broad range of different types of

policies, such as the environment, roads, housing, planning and local

government. However, environment as a policy issue in the ecological sense was

at the fringes of the activities of the DoELG until the 1980s. In response to the

increased interest in environmental policy at EU level following the negotiation of

the SEA, an environmental policy section was created within the Department.

With regard to the current state of Irish environmental policy, the central

objective of the Department is to promote and protect a high quality natural

environment and the integration of environmental considerations into economic

and sectoral policies (DoELG, 2001, 16). This has proved a considerable task in

the face of two challenges – the expansion of the reach of EU environmental

protection legislation and the increasing pressures encountered in Ireland

associated with economic growth, related consumption patterns and an

underdeveloped environmental infrastructure. According to the Department’s

Strategy Statement:

Addressing these challenges successfully requires ongoing policy

development, more effective implementation of environmental controls,

greater integration of environmental considerations into economic/fiscal

and sectoral policies, providing information and raising awareness towards

behaviour change and continuing to encourage a partnership approach and

the concept of shared responsibility in relation to environmental issues

(DoELG, 2001, 17).

Irish environmental policy is fundamentally influenced by policy and legislation at

the EU level. For example, the two legislative acts relating to waste management

adopted in Ireland since 1996 use EU waste management legislation as their

primary conceptual frameworks. Implementation at domestic level of EU

environmental legislation has also proved problematic, the most notable

examples of delayed implementation of EU directives include the Waste Landfill

Directive, and the Directive on Drinking Water.

The recognition that a high quality environment will not be achieved without the

integration of environmental considerations into economic/fiscal and sectoral

policies necessitates a comprehensive and cross-cutting or horizontal approach to

environmental policy across the Irish system. The DoELG is more frequently

required to work in tandem with other government departments on issues of a

cross cutting nature, for example, on water quality and services with the

Departments of Agriculture, Marine, Health and Children and Finance, on waste

management with ET&E and Agriculture and on natural heritage issues with the

Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands.

The DoELG services four formal and two informal meetings of the Environment

Council each year. Within the Department, EU co-ordination is carried out in the

Environment International Section of the Environment Division. The Environment

Division itself comprises of nine separate units/sections: Waste Infrastructure and

Regulation, Waste Prevention and Recovery, Environment Policy, Air/Climate,

Water Quality, Environment International, Environment Awareness, North/South

and ENFO. The Environment Division is headed by an Assistant Secretary and the

Environment International Division has three full-time and three half-time staff.

The Department has also placed an official in the Permanent Representation in

Brussels. It is envisaged that another departmental official will be seconded to

the Permanent Representation by the end of 2002. Unlike the other Departments

of the inner core, no formal structures (e.g. an EU co-ordinating committee) for

internal departmental co-ordination or co-ordination with other Government

departments exist in the DoELG. In terms of formal structures, the Department

of the Environment deals with issues on a case-by-case basis. The action taken

depends on the subject, the issues and the implications of directives for the wider

realm. Any inter- or intra-departmental coordination that does take place is of an

ad hoc nature and often depends on personal contacts. However, a network of

government departments with interest in the environmental area does meet

informally to discuss cross-cutting issues.

The Environment International Division is responsible for the preparation of

ministerial briefing documents and for the production of briefing documents for

the Department of the Taoiseach. Because competencies at EU level do not

always correspond to competencies at departmental level, i.e. working parties

often deal with dossiers within the remit of other departments, briefs for the

Environmental Council must sometimes be prepared by other departments.

Finally, the head of the Environment Division attends the SOG and other relevant

interdepartmental committees, such as the Interdepartmental Committee on the

Future of Europe and the Interdepartmental Co-ordinating Committee on the

2004 Presidency.

Office of the Attorney General

The Office of the Attorney General is included in the inner core of governmental

departments who manage the interface with Brussels for one primary reason -

the Office of the Attorney General offers legal advices and legislative drafting

required as a result of the State’s membership of the EU. Any departmental

queries on EU legislation come to this office and every statutory instrument or

statute produced in order to transpose EU legislation into the domestic is drafted

by this Office. The Attorney General is legal advisor to the Government and the

Chief State Solicitor (the Attorney General’s legal partner within the Irish system)

acts as Agent of the Government before the European Court of Justice. From

January 2002 an EU Group was established within the Office with a designated EU

Coordinator for Office of the Attorney General – Group E. Group E is one of five

specialist groups in the advisory stream of the Attorney General’s Office. A Legal

Counsellor from the Office is also posted to the Permanent Representation in

Brussels. The growth in legislation in the JHA area in particular has led to further

strengthening of the already close relationship the Office shares with the

Department of Justice in particular.

The Outer Circle

Departments in the inner core and outer circle differ in two ways with regard to

structures. First, the primary responsibilities of the Departments of the outer

circle of the Irish executive continue to lie in the national arena. Even so, such is

the reach of the EU, particularly with the development of the open method of coordination

as a mode of governance, each of the departments in the outer circle

finds itself increasingly obliged to manage EU business to varying degrees. Each

of the departments in the outer circle have placed staff in the permanent

representation in Brussels. It must also be borne in mind that the EU’s

competences in policy areas within the remit of these departments is also

relatively weak in comparison with policy areas covered by departments in the

inner core. Second, departments in the outer circle may or may not have specific

divisions or units dedicated to dealing with EU business. To reiterate,

departments placed in the outer circle include the Department of Public

Enterprise, Department of Defence, Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht

and the Islands, the Department Education and Science, Department of Health

and Children, Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, Department of

Social, Community and Family Affairs and the Department of Tourism, Sport and


From 1992-1997 the Department of Public Enterprise, comprising of transport,

energy and communications’ policy areas, serviced three separate EU Councils:

Transport, Energy and Telecommunications. Despite the fact that a large

proportion of the legislative programme of the Department is dictated by the

negotiation, drafting and implementation of EU directives and regulations, the

Department did not have a dedicated EU unit. Within the Department of Public

Enterprise policy on specific matters with EU import was formulated at divisional

level in response to issues as they arose. In relation to briefing for EU Councils,

one person in each of the sectors Transport, Energy and Telecommunications had

responsibility for co-ordinating the compilation of the Minister’s brief. From 1998-

2002 the head of the Telecommunications Division attended the SOG and the

various interdepartmental co-ordinating committees. With the reorganisation of

the Department following the 2002 General Election, the transport brief has now

moved to its own department, telecommunications and energy remain with the

Department of Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources.

Since the development of the CFSP and the ESDP in particular, the Department of

Defence’s involvement in EU business has grown. The Department of Defence

works closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs in particular and also with

the former Department of the Marine and Natural Resources in co-ordinating

Ireland’s position on security and defence issues. An International Security and

Defence Policy Branch was set up within the Department and has primary

responsibility for dealing with Defence inputs into the formulation of policy issues

which arise in the context of the developing ESDP. Within the Department, the

International Security and Defence Policy Branch (ISDP) has primary

responsibility for dealing with Defence inputs to the formulation of policy issues

which arise in the context of the developing European Security and Defence

Policy. It is important to reiterate that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has overall

responsibility for international security policy and the role of the Minister for

Defence and the Defence organisation is essentially a supportive one. The ISDP

Branch is small in size with a staff of three officials with a small number of clerical

officers. A member of the staff is also seconded to the Permanent Representation

in Brussels. The Department of Defence is the DFA’s link with the Defence Forces

and its primary role is policy making, the Defence forces deal with the

implementation of policy. Representatives from the Defence Forces also serve on

the Military Committee of the ESDP. The ISDP Branch has not had the task of

servicing an EU Council of Ministers Meeting until May 2002 when the first formal

Defence Council was held within the framework of the GAC.

The Department of Education and Science is responsible for the Education and

Youth Council (which now meets three times a year) and is represented on a

range of programme committees for EU education, training and youth

programmes. The main EU business the Department has to deal with revolves

around the implementation of structural funds (both from the European Social

Fund and the European Regional Development Fund; implementation is carried

out in cooperation with ET&E and Finance) and the implementation of the

Socrates, Leonardo Da Vinci (administered by Leargas and the Higher Education

Authority respectively) and Youth programmes. Education and lifelong learning is

a vital component of the Lisbon process and the use of the open method of coordination

in the education area will necessitate further involvement of the

Department in EU business. The International Policy Unit of the Department

services working group meetings in Brussels, along with the Departmental

attaché (first appointed in 2001, interview 78, 18.07.02). In order to manage the

increasing education agenda, the Department established an EU Consultative

Group of senior managers who meet on a regular basis to discuss proposals from

the Commission.

As with the Department of Education and Children, the Departments of Social and

Family Affairs (from 1992-97 the Department of Social, Community and Family

Affairs) and the Department of Health and Children must service sectoral Councils

and are involved in EU policy initiatives through the Open Method of Coordination.

The Department of Health and Children services the Health Council,

which deals with issues such as food safety and medicinal products. Within the

Department of Health and Children, the EU Co-ordination function is located in

the Insurance and International Division and is dealt with full time by one official,

who attends the SOG and other interdepartmental committees. The Department

of Health also has an official seconded to the Permanent Representation to the EU

in Brussels who attends the Health Working Group. Relevant departmental

experts attend working groups when specialised issues are under discussion.

Within the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the EU/International Section

in the Department’s Planning Unit has overall responsibility for coordinating the

Department’s business in relation to EU and international fora. The Unit has a

staff of 10 led by one principal officer. The core business of the section is

monitoring the development and application of EU Regulations on social security

for migrant workers. The Unit also monitors the development of EU policy on

social protection, combating social protection and pension policy through the

open method of coordination (OMC). The OMC has brought the Department,

traditionally thought of as a department primarily located in the domestic arena,

in more frequent contact with the institutions of the EU. The Department has one

representative in Brussels and the representative, along with the head of the

EU/International Section mainly service Council working groups such as the Social

Protection Committee.

Prior to the reorganisation of Government departments following the 2002

General Election, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources serviced

the EU Fisheries Council. The EU has played key policy, legislative and financial

roles in a number of areas falling within the Department’s remit, including

fisheries, forestry, maritime transport, marine environmental protection, marine

safety and mining. Particular aspects of the Department’s engagement with EU

matters tended to fall within the remit of individual Divisions, no one division was

devoted to the management of EU business. On the occasions where EU issues

transcended the responsibilities of individual Divisions, the relevant Divisions

tended to liaise on an ad hoc basis, with more formal coordination being

conducted, as required, by the Second Secretary of the Department. General EU

coordination services (e.g. dissemination of information) were provided by the

Corporate Management Division. The Departmental representative in Brussels,

along with officials from the home department, serviced the relevant working

groups in Brussels.

Finally, before the reorganisation of government departments in 2002, the

Departments of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands (DoAHGI) and the

Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (DoTSR) had limited engagement

with the EU arena. The DoAHGI had no international or EU division or

coordinating section and the Corporate Development Division provided a contact

point for general EU developments. From 1997 to 2002, the DoTSR had no direct

role to play in the transposition of EU legislation and on a general level various

divisions within the Department were involved in the work undertaken by a

number of EU committees. The DoTSR did differ from the DoAHGI in that it had a

designated EU Coordinator.


The Cabinet

The Cabinet is the main centre of political decision making in the Irish system. It

processes EU issues according to the same standard operating procedures and

rules that govern the processing of domestic issues. An item for discussion and

decision comes from the relevant minister in the form of a memorandum. Foreign

Affairs is the funnel for the macro-issues and the sectoral departments for items

that fall within their remit. There is some concern that significant EU directives

may only come to Cabinet at the transposition phase, which is too late for the

Cabinet as a whole to exercise any influence. There is a process underway

designed to align the treatment of EU law and national law in terms of approval

and the Cabinet handbook is being revised to address this. Although under

institutionalised by continental standards, the sub-structure of the Irish Cabinet

has been strengthened by the establishment of a series of Cabinet subcommittees,

including an EU Committee. In preparation for the 2004 Presidency,

the Committee meets once every two weeks and is chaired by the Taoiseach. It is

attended by the key ministers with an EU brief, ministerial advisors, and senior

civil servants. It deals with contentious issues and broad policy issues. Cabinet

committees are seen as a focal point for officials and as lending urgency and

salience to issues.


In all of the member states, committees at different levels in the hierarchy play a

central role in the inter-ministerial or horizontal co-ordination of EU affairs. They

are the main institutional devices for formal horizontal co-ordination. Of course,

the number, remit and extent of institutional embeddedness of these interministerial

co-ordinating committees varies from member state to member state.

A key characteristic of the Irish committee system was its institutional fluidity and

malleability. See Table 5 for a chronology of the differing committee devices that

have been established in Ireland. Between 1973 and 1987, the key

interdepartmental committee in Ireland was the European Communities

Committee, chaired by the Secretary General and later by the head of the

Economic Division in the Department of Foreign Affairs. As stated earlier in this

report, in March 1987, the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, re-established the

European Communities Committee, with Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Minister of

State for European Affairs, as its chair. Mr Haughey later established a Ministers

and Secretaries Group (MSG) in 1988 to prepare Ireland’s national plan arising

from the significant expansion of the EU’s structural and cohesion funds and he

set up a Group for the Presidency in 1989. A period of institutional innovation

began as a consequence with the establishment of ministerial and senior official

committees to deal with approaching presidencies and issues of a cross-cutting

nature. Throughout the 1990s, a variety of committees were established to deal

with the key agenda issues.

The Ministers and Secretaries’ Group continued under the incoming Fianna Fáil/PD

government in 1997 and was described as having a ‘general supervisory role in

relation to EU policy’ by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in reply to a Dáil question in

September 1998. 25 The intensity of MSG meetings was only 6 in 1997 and 7 in

1998. Its work was prepared by a senior officials group at assistant secretary

level that produced papers for consideration by the higher level group. The MSG

did not meet in 1999 because its work was superseded by a cabinet subcommittee

(number of meetings unknown) and an Expert Technical Group that

focused on the Agenda 2000 negotiations up to the Berlin Summit of March

1999. 26

The Irish committee system is finally beginning to become embedded in the Irish

system. At its apex is the Cabinet and the Cabinet sub-committee. Below this is

the Roche Committee, which in turn can set up sub-groups. The Cabinet Sub-

Committee is serviced by the Roche Committee or directly by Government

Departments on EU matters. The Minister of State for European Affairs chairs the

Roche or Interdepartmental Coordinating Committee for European Union Affairs

and the European and International Affairs Division of the Department provides

the Secretariat for the Committee. Senior Officials, usually at Assistant Secretary

or Principal Officer level, attend the Committee from each Department, along with

the Permanent Representative who is based in Brussels. From December 2002,

the Roche Committee has met every second week, before the Cabinet Sub-

Committee on European Affairs. The Committee is used as an early warning

system for potentially problematic issues arising out of EU business, as well as a

forum to facilitate strategic thinking across government departments. As in the

25 http://www.irlgov.ie/debates-98/30sep98/sect1.htm (question 17485/98).

26 The expert Technical Group met seven times between January and the Berlin

European Council to develop a detailed negotiating strategy for the end phase of

the Agenda 2000 negotiations. The group consisted of four key officials from the

Departments of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and

Agriculture and food who were involved in the Agenda 200 negotiations from the

outset. This group was chaired by the Taoiseach and serviced by the head of the

European and International Secretariat of the Department of the Taoiseach.

Cabinet Sub-Committee, the practice of holding presentations on relevant issues

also takes place within the Committee.

Senior officials from government departments also attend a number of other,

generally ad hoc, inter-departmental committees designed to deal with specific

cross-cutting issues. In the aftermath of the September 11 th tragedy, an

interdepartmental committee was set up, was chaired by the Second Secretary

and serviced by the EU and International Affairs Division. Other interdepartmental

committees dealing with cross-cutting EU issues include

Enlargement 27 , Justice and Home Affairs 28 , the Future of Europe 29 , and the 2004

Presidency committees 30 , the Lisbon Group 31 and the Convention Overview

Group 32 (See figure 10 below).

The ongoing Lisbon Agenda poses a fundamental challenge to the Irish system

with regard to the structures necessary to handle cross-cutting issues. The

primary reason behind this is the development of the open method of

coordination as a policy mechanism within the EU. The diverse and broad range

of policy areas that are gathered under the Lisbon umbrella necessitate some

form of central coordination. Heretofore, this overall coordination has been

undertaken by the Department of the Taoiseach but if this practice is to continue,

a greater degree of resources will need to be allocated to the EU and

International Affairs Division of the Department of the Taoiseach.

27 Chaired and serviced by the EU Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

28 In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 th tragedy, it soon became

clear that the negotiation of the European Arrest Warrant and Framework

decision on terrorism necessitated more intensive mechanisms within the Irish

system. An interdepartmental committee was set up to deal with the European

Arrest Warrant negotiations, included officials from the Departments of Foreign

Affairs, Finance, Justice, the Attorney General’s office and the Department of the

Taoiseach. The Department of Justice was the lead department on this issue and

an official from this department chaired the committee. The Committee was

serviced by the Department of the Taoiseach. On the conclusion of the European

Arrest Warrant negotiations, this committee became the Interdepartmental

Committee on Justice and Home Affairs and generally meets before every Justice

and Home Affairs Council meeting.

29 Chaired and serviced by the EU Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

30 Chaired and serviced by the EU Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

31 Chaired and serviced by the EU and International Division of the Department of

the Taoiseach.

32 Chaired and serviced by the EU and International Unit of the Department of the

Taoiseach. This group meets once a week and includes officials from the

Department of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Attorney General’s Office and the

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Table 5: EU Committees in the Irish System

Period Committee Chair


European Communities Department of Finance


1973-84 European Communities


Department of Foreign


1985-87 No meetings of the


1987-90 European Communities



(Minister of State)

1988-90 Ministers and Secretaries Haughey (Taoiseach)


1989-90 Ministerial Group on the Haughey (Taoiseach)


1992-94 European Communities Kitt (Minister of State)


1994-97 European Communities Mitchell (Minister of State)


1994-1999 Ministers and Secretaries Bruton/Ahern (Taoiseach)


1994-98 Senior Officials Group Department of the


1998-99 Expert Technical Group Ahern (Taoiseach)

1998- Cabinet Sub-Committee Ahern (Taoiseach)

1998-2002 Senior Officials Group Department of the


2002- Interdepartmental

Coordinating Committee

on European Union Affairs

Roche (Minister of State)

Figure 10:

Central Committees for the Organisation of Cross-Cutting EU Issues 2002


Cabinet Sub-

Committee on

European Affairs





Committee on

European Union



Lisbon Group


Overview Group



Future of

Europe Group

Presidency I

Group –


Presidency II

Group – Policy


Article 133





The Permanent Representation

The Permanent Representation is an integral part of Ireland’s management of EU

business. It is a microcosm of Ireland’s core executive in Brussels. The number

of staff of diplomatic rank increased from 7 in 1971 to 15 in 1973 following

accession. The 1975 Presidency led to the next important increase in the staffing

levels to 24 to manage the work of the Presidency. The number of staff in the

representation remained relatively stable for the remainder of the 1970s and

1980s. The next significant increase in staffing came in the 1990s when a

number of domestic ministries felt the need for a presence in Brussels. By 1999

the number of officers of diplomatic rank rose to 35 and had reached 40 by 2002.

The number does not include the four military staff in the representation.

The expansion of staff from the mid-1990s onwards points to the growth of EU

related business in the post TEU and Amsterdam environment and to the further

Europeanisation of a number of domestic ministries. The size of the

representation is in comparative terms very small. Apart from Luxembourg, it is

the smallest representation among the member states. The incremental process

of Europeanisation is evident in the number of ministries that have a presence in

the representation. In 1973, six ministries had staff in Brussels. A further three

ministries joined them in the late 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s and onwards

the Ministries of the Marine (1991), Justice (1995), Health (1996), Attorney

General’s Office (1999), Defence (2000), Education (2001), Arts Culture and the

Gaeltacht (2002) were added to the list. All domestic departments with the

exception of the Taoiseach’s department and one other relatively minor ministry

are represented in Brussels.

The departmental breakdown of staff at representation reflects the important role

played by the Foreign Ministry in Brussels. It has 15 staff in the representation

including the three most senior staff. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and

Employment has five staff, and a further three departments have three staff

each. Eight ministries have only one member of staff in the representation. No

domestic ministry has more than five staff in Brussels. The staff of the

representation is formally part of the Foreign Service when in Brussels but the

domestic departments decide who should go to Brussels. Foreign Affairs have

never formally attempted to direct the process of recruitment.

The Irish representation is organised along functional lines arising from the work

of the Council and its working parties and the departmental presence in Brussels.

In addition, it is hierarchical in that the Permanent Representative, the Deputy

and the ambassador to the Political and Security Committee carry the authority of

their position at the apex of the office. The Permanent Representative is the

head of the office. Since 1973, Ireland has had seven Permanent

Representatives who tend to stay in Brussels for an average of five years. The

first permanent representative spent eight years in Brussels, which reflected the

early phase of membership. Two of the Permanent Representatives had acted as

deputies in the representation with the result that they had considerable EU

experience. They came to the posts with considerable EU and Council

experience. In 2001, Ireland appointed Anne Anderson to the post of Permanent

Representative, the first woman member of COREPER.

The cycle of Council, COREPER and working party business sets the tempo of

work in the Representation. The Antici person (COREPER I) and Mertens

(COREPER II) prepare the work COREPER with the Presidency and the Council

Secretariat. Meetings of COREPER act as a filter between the political and the

official. Issues are pushed to the limit here to determine if they should be sent

up to the Council level or back down to the working parties for further

consideration. At this level, national positions are highlighted and the

representatives come under pressure from their counterparts. According to one

former ambassador, the ‘real wearing down process goes on in COREPER’

because this is where the trade-offs takes place. According to this official, ‘The

major job of the Permanent representative is to ask ‘is this something we can

win’ and ‘what will I advise the Minster’ (Interview 55, 07.03.2002). There would

be continuous and high level contact between Dublin and Brussels during

sensitive negotiations on the stance Ireland should take. The members of

COREPER II and I operate at the coalface between the national and the European

and between the technical and the political. The aim of the ambassadors is to

push things along and to solve the problems through negotiations. The

ambassadors have a keen sense of where the eventual compromise will lie and

they work to ensure that the political level can solve the outstanding political

issues. They are very sensitive to each other’s problems and will try to assist the

state in the most exposed position. Given the technical nature of much of the

business of COREPER I, the deputy ambassador require considerable knowledge

of the domestic issues. The ambassadors tend to challenge the briefing material

they receive because they do not want to find themselves exposed at COREPER

attempting to defend a position that was weakened through bad presentation or

inattention to the evolution of the dossier.


Having outlined the key structures in Section II, we turn now to how the

structures work in practice. A key factor is the impact of the EU calendar and the

collective agenda. No member state controls the emergence of issues on the EU

agenda, the manner in which they are dealt with, the tempo of collective decision

making and the eventual outcome. One of the central means by which the EU

manages to create a capacity for collective decision making is to establish

timetables for decision making— Commission annual and multiannual

programmes, rotating Presidencies, multiannual sectoral programmes,

multiannual financing, periodic reviews of legislation and programmes, and

targets to be achieved by a certain date. The use of the calendar technique is a

central feature of EU governance. The consequence of this for national

administrations is that domestic processes and procedures must have the

capacity to enable national actors participate in an extra-national policy making

system with its own tempo and agenda setting dynamic. Moreover, domestic

systems must have the capacity to participate in a number of different EU

governance modes such as regulation, re-distribution, and benchmarking and

light policy co-ordination.

Codes, Rules and Guidelines that govern the handling of EU business

Ireland’s management of EU business is not highly formalised. There is no Bible

of European Affairs either for the system as a whole or within individual

departments. Unlike the UK system there is no tradition of putting on paper

Guidance Notes on substantive policy issues or horizontal procedural issues

(Bulmer and Burch 2000) Those rules and guidelines that exist can be found in a

series of Government Decisions, a small number rules and circulars issued from

time to time by the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry. The rules and

guidelines that exist relate to the following matters:

• Cabinet rules on how a memorandum should be prepared for and

processed through the Cabinet;

• Original Foreign Affairs Circular on how EU business should be handled

(1973 and subsequently amended albeit rarely);

• Department of Finance rules about notification of policies and

programmes that might lead to a cost to the Exchequer;

• Rules and guidelines about the drafting of governmental bills and

statutory instruments should be handled between an individual

department and the Office of Parliamentary Council in the Attorney

General’s Office.

Departmental rules and guidelines within individual ministries supplement these

rules and guidelines. An important feature of the Irish system is the dominance

of convention and ‘standard operating procedures’ over formal rules and

guidelines. The Department of Foreign Affairs has never in the past adopted the

role of producing codes, rules and guidelines for the system as a whole. Such an

approach would go against the deep-rooted convention of the dominance of the

lead department in the Irish system. The need for improved parliamentary

scrutiny following the Nice ‘no’ has led to the introduction of new rules and

guidelines. These are discussed in the section on parliamentary scrutiny.

The preparation of briefing material is not systematised in the Irish system at all

levels in the hierarchy. In fact it is not until Council and European Council

meetings that there is systematic preparation of briefing material. For working

groups, those attending are responsible for ensuring that they have consulted

with interested sections within their own departments and with other

departments. If an officer from the Permanent Representation is attending, they

will contact the relevant domestic sections to get briefing material and will discuss

the position they are likely to take with their domestic counterpart. As an issue

moves up the Council hierarchy to COREPER or the high level Committees there

are a variety of procedures and processes in place. There is not a practice of

sending written instructions to the COREPER representatives from Dublin or of

holding pre-COREPER meetings in the national capital. Rather, within the

Representation, the Permanent Representative and the Deputy establish their

own modus vivendi with the attachés concerned. They usually insist on a written

brief on all agenda items. The material is supplied by the Brussels based official

who is responsible for liaison with Dublin on how issues should be played. The

instructions to the Permanent Representative and the Deputy tend to be broad

but will highlight non-negotiable issues or issues on which Ireland needs

movement in the negotiations. Senior officials attending the high level

committees such as the Special Committee on Agriculture, the Economic and

Finance Committee, the Employment Committees and the Social Protection

Committee are all Dublin based and will get their briefing from within their own

departments and from their attaches in the Representation.

Within each department and across the system there are well-established

standard operating procedures on how briefing material is prepared for Council

meetings. The central features of this are the centrality of departmental and

divisional responsibility. The ‘lead’ department must prepare the brief for its

Minister for each Council meeting in their sector and within each department the

‘lead’ section on a particular agenda item takes responsibility for preparing

briefing material for that issue. In all departments responsibility for the coordination

of briefing material rests with one section. The designated section is

responsible for ensuring that the brief is comprehensive covering all agenda

items. For example, the Co-ordination Section in the EU Division in Foreign

Affairs deals with the draft agenda for the General Affairs Council (GAC) in the

first instance. The agenda is circulated with requests for briefing material from

the relevant sections and the preparation of each agenda item becomes the

responsibility of a designated officer. That officer is responsible for consulting

other sections within the department, the Permanent Representation, Irish

embassies and other Government departments where appropriate. The section

then collates the briefing material and it prepares a ‘Steering note’ for the

meeting. The EU co-ordination section replicates this for meetings of the

European Council beginning at least three weeks before such meetings. Unlike

the GAC, briefing material from other government departments plays a more

central role and the Department of the Taoiseach is responsible for the final

briefing. Within all Government departments the processes for preparing briefing

material are broadly similar and the frequency with which such processes are

activated depend on the cycle of Council meetings in particular policy domains.

The departments most involved in preparing briefs are Foreign Affairs,

Agriculture, and Finance, Enterprise Trade and Employment and Justice given

that their ministers are most actively involved in EU affairs. The EU agenda and

timetable dictates the intensity of response needed from the Irish system while

an issue remains within the Council/ European Parliament system. The focus at

this stage is on the projection of Irish preferences into the Brussels arena.

The writing and circulation of reports of meetings is a vital component of the

procedures of managing EU issues as they proceed through the policy process at

EU level. Although there are no formal guidelines about report writing, there are

well-established practices of reporting within the Irish system. Some

departments are more systematic than others in the preparation of reports. The

Foreign Ministry, Agriculture and Justice appear to have the most comprehensive

and systematic approach to report writing and to the circulation of such reports

within the department. In other departments, individual officers appear to have

more autonomy on report writing. In the Foreign ministry, officers attending

meetings at all levels in the hierarchy prepare reports that provide an overview of

where the negotiations lie, the approaches of the other member states and likely

future developments. COREPER reports are used to prepare for up-coming

Council meetings. Officials from the Department of Agriculture attending

Management Committees meetings send immediate reports of votes and policy

developments to their Divisions and the EU Division. The circulation of reports

within the Irish system is dealt with below.

Once a law is passed or a programme agreed at the negotiating stage, the focus

changes to the reception of the output of EU decision making into the national

system. The reception of the EU into the national brings an extra national set of

institutions and policy makers into sub-national levels of government and into the

wider society. There are four different ways in which the EU requires a response

from the national systems at the post-decision phase of the process. First, EC

law must be transposed, implemented and enforced at national level. Second,

Irish public bodies must comply with reporting and notification procedures and

demands in areas such as public procurement, state aids and competition policy.

Third, Irish public bodies must participate in processes of soft policy co-ordination

and peer review in areas such as justice, social provision, budgetary policy,

health and education. The demands here range from engagement with peer

review processes to the preparation of reports for submission to the Council or

Commission. Fourth, Irish public and private bodies engage in seeking funding

from programmes under the EU budget.

The role of the Core Executive during this phase of the policy process is

substantial but more limited than the negotiating phase. The Core Executive is

responsible for the transposition of EC law in the Irish system. Individual

Government departments are responsible for implementation. The drafting of

Bills or statutory instruments is the responsibility of the Office of Parliamentary

Counsel, which is located in the Attorney general’s Office. The Office is organised

into three groups and following instructions from a department, the relevant

group drafts the Bill or SI. In order to streamline the preparation of legislation,

the Government has instituted a Legislation Committee with responsibility for

managing the timing and processing of new legislation. EU business is not

sufficiently integrated into the work of the Government Legislation Committee

and when the implementation of EC law requires primary legislation in Ireland

this gives rise to delays. A Government Decision (2000) agreed that all ministers

appearing in front of the Government’s Legislative Committee should inform the

chief whips of what EU legislation awaits transposition. This is designed to

integrate EU and national legislative programmes. When Ireland fails to

implement or incorrectly transposes EC law, the Department of Foreign Affairs

received notice of infringements reasoned opinions and notice of ECJ proceedings

via the Representation in Brussels. It then sends the relevant documentation to

the AG’s Office, the department concerned and the Chief State Solicitors Office.

Information Pathways

Information is the lifeblood of any policy process and in an organisational

resource that can be harvested or shared. Ireland’s administrative culture

characterised by considerable autonomy for individual ministries could well

militate against the sharing of information. However, the demands of the Brussels

system require a degree of information sharing. In the Irish system there are

formal pathways for the dissemination of information. The EU co-ordination

section in Foreign Affairs is at the centre of the formal information pathway for

pillar one issues. Commission proposals and related papers are received by the

Documentation Centre and are then distributed to the relevant sections within

Foreign Affairs, other government Departments, and the Oireachtas. All formal

communications from the Commission to Ireland come to this section via the

representation in Brussels. In addition, the EU co-ordination section in the

Foreign Ministry distributes reports of COREPER and Council meetings throughout

the system. In 2002, new guidelines were established on the briefing material

from Ireland’s embassies in the other member states. All of this information is

distributed widely throughout the system. The Foreign Ministry clearly adopts a

policy of the maximum sharing and distribution of information. According to a

Foreign Ministry official, ‘the over-riding approach is to get the material out’

(Interview 51, 12, March 2002) The Ministries’ Political Division is responsible for

gathering and distributing information that arises within the Political and Security

Committee. This material is by definition less widely distributed within the

system. The key actors involved are Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Army.

The approach of domestic ministries to the sharing and distribution of information

depends on the departmental culture, the sensitivity of the issue and the degree

to which a particular department wants to insulate particular issues from system

wide discussion. In the home departments the most widespread practice is to

have one unit responsible for the circulation of information but in some cases

there are multiple information points, particularly if a department is responsible

for more than one Council formation. These units are responsible for the internal

circulation of information within departments and the circulation lists can range in

size from two to sixty. Most departments operate on the basis of lists based on

the nature of the information. Some departments have a tradition of very wide

circulation of information within departments whereas others tend to confine

circulation to particular sectors. The former is more likely the case if a ministry

has a clear sectoral mandate such as agriculture whereas in ministries with multisectoral

responsibilities, information circulation is more likely to be restricted. In

areas with a tradition of secrecy such as JHA or financial affairs, the circulation of

information is also more likely to be limited. In assessing the openness to

sharing material, it was suggested that the decision to establish a committee on

JHA was a good thing as it would force the Department of Justice, a traditionally

secretive department to air issues outside the department. In contrast, the

Department of Finance was perceived in the following terms, ‘Finance know what

they are doing but don’t share information’ and that the EU activities of the

Department of Finance are not ‘subject to robust scrutiny’ (Interview 56,

12.03.02). Thus although there is considerable sharing of information, there are

also pockets of the system where information is harvested and not shared.

While Foreign Affairs is formally responsible for the circulation of information,

individual departments do not rely solely on it for their information needs. In fact

in a survey of EU co-ordination units in 1999, only two domestic departments—

the Taoiseach’s department and the Marine cited Foreign Affairs as their most

important source of information (Laffan, 2001). In addition, the Attorney

General’s Office also cited Foreign Affairs as the main source of information. For

all other departments, their officials in Brussels were the primary source of

information on EU developments. This underlines the crucial vertical link between

the home departments and their people in Brussels. Foreign Affairs was the

second most important source of information for all departments with the

exception of Agriculture, which ranked it in fourth place behind the Council

Secretariat and the Commission.


The key structures designed to co-ordinate Ireland’s European policy are set out

in Section II above. These are the core-core —Foreign Affairs, Taoiseach’s

Department and Finance that form the innermost core of the system. All

departments have co-ordination units and some have internal European Affairs

Committees reporting to the departmental Management Committee. As outlined

in section II, there is a system of inter-departmental committees that has been

subject to considerable flux since membership but is now becoming more stable

and institutionalised. Overall responsibility for day-to-day co-ordination lies with

the Foreign Ministry. In its 1998 Strategy Statement, Foreign Affairs stated its

ambition to develop ‘with the Irish administration as a whole, a strategic, coordinated

and coherent response to the protection and promotion of Ireland’s

interests in the EU’ (Department of Foreign Affairs 1998). A series of actions

relating to this objective were identified:

• to stimulate maximum awareness in the Irish administrative system of

EU issues and work to ensure that these receive appropriate priority;

• to develop in co-ordination with other departments detailed strategies

for the promotion and protection of Irish interests;

• To keep under active review and seek to improve as necessary the

mechanisms for EU-co-ordination within the department and between

departments. (Department of Foreign Affairs, 1998, 21).

These aspirations identify Foreign Affairs as advocates of EU awareness in the

Irish system and as joint custodians of Ireland’s management of EU business. The

objective is to ensure that EU matters receive adequate prioritisation within the

Irish system, that the system develops detailed strategies and that co-ordination

mechanisms are reviewed periodically. The ability of Foreign Affairs to achieve

these aims is, however, limited.

National Policy styles differ in terms of the ambition to co-ordinate and manage

the interaction with Brussels. Two styles predominate - containment and

internalisation. The containment model attempts to adopt a gatekeeper role

between the EU and the domestic. This style involves horizontal management of

such issues as the appropriate legal basis, inter-institutional relations, comitology

committees and so on. The national systems have a central focal point that places

a premium on control and co-ordination. The arch type states that fall into this

category are the UK, France and Denmark. The internalisation style is

characterised by the dominance of the lead department, little formal tracking of

interaction with Brussels and less formal systems of co-ordination. Germany, the

Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ireland fall into this category.

The co-ordination ambition depends on the nature of the issue on the Brussels

agenda, the phase of the policy process and the national style in managing EU

business. A fourfold distinction between routine sectoral policy making, major

policy shaping decisions within sectors, cross-sectoral issues and the big bargains

is apposite. Departments can handle the routine business of dealing with

Brussels within clearly defined sectoral areas without engaging in too much interdepartmental

consultation ad co-ordination. In addition, the Irish system gives

individual departments considerable autonomy within their own sectors even on

the major shaping issues provided the wider system is kept informed. This is

often a problematic category in the Irish system. For example, the Department

of Finance is the lead department on taxation but an issue like energy tax

involves Finance, Environment and Public Enterprise. One official remarked that

‘Finance may have a problem, but they talk to DFA instead of Public Enterprise,

therefore, they are not getting a co-ordinated view’ (Interview 56, 12.02.02).

Water policy was another area where it was felt that the co-ordinating systems

were not sufficient. For the latter two categories, processes that go beyond

consultation are required and here the Irish system has put in place structures

and processes to ensure co-ordination. The co-ordination ambition in Ireland

could be defined as a high level of co-ordination on selected issues that are

accorded domestic priority.

The member states can achieve their co-ordination ambitions in a variety of

ways. Bartlett and Ghoshal offer a threefold categorisation of co-ordination

styles— centralisation, formalisation and socialisation (Bartlett and Ghoshal,

1989, 158-66). All organisations deploy a mix of the three processes of coordination

but one approach will usually dominate. A highly centralised system

involves ‘top down’ processes of co-ordination with issues pushed up the

hierarchy for deliberation, arbitration, resolution and strategic analysis. A highly

formalised system would be procedurally strong with extensive rules and

guidelines. A system that rests on socialisation relies on the development of

common understandings and norms. The Irish system utilises all three

approaches but the dominant mode of co-ordination on a day to day and week to

week basis is undoubtedly socialisation.

On the key national priorities, the Irish system engages in ‘selective

centralisation’ (Kassim 2002). The system will channel political and

administrative resources on the big issues. Three examples illustrate the capacity

of selective centralisation. In 1983 Ireland had a major problem with

Commission proposals on the introduction of a milk super-levy. The Irish

government and administration effectively transformed itself into a task force to

ensure that the outcome was not too detrimental to Irish interests. The then

Taoiseach, Dr. Garrett FitzGerald, toured all of the capitals of the member states

prior to the Athens European Council, December 1983. This was augmented by

a number of bilateral visits by the Agricultural Minister. The Ministers’ of Foreign

Affairs and Finance attended Joint Councils on the issue. Special briefing material

on the importance of this issue to Ireland was prepared and circulated to all

member states and EU institutions. There was thus a high level of political

prioritisation and commitment to the issue. The European Communities

Committee met frequently on the superlevy and an ad hoc policy group was

established to service the work of the senior civil servants and political office


Procedures and processes for managing the 1996 Irish Presidency were highly

centralised and formalised. In preparation for the running of the Presidency, the

Irish system deployed a number of very flexible but effective tools of coordination

such as intensive ministerial and Cabinet involvement,

interdepartmental Committees, particularly the Ministers and Secretaries Group,

departmental liaison officers, management and policy groups, the development of

procedural manuals and delegation to the Permanent representation (Humphreys

1997). The successful 1996 presidency led the Committee for Public

Management research to commission a study of the 1996 Presidency to identify

what management lessons could be gleaned for the future management of crosscutting

issues in Irish central government (Humphreys, 1997).

The 1997-1999 Agenda 2000 negotiations offer a third example of selective

centralisation in the Irish system. An Inter-departmental Agenda 2000 Group

established in 1997 was the main vehicle for the development of the Irish

approach to the negotiations. The Ministers and Secretaries Group met eight

times in 1998 on the issue. There was daily contact between the two Finance

attachés in Brussels, the Permanent Representative and Dublin-based officials.

The Department of Foreign Affairs co-ordinated briefing for COREPER and Council

meetings on these negotiations with input from Agriculture and Finance. A

practice developed whereby written briefs for all EU meetings on Agenda 2000

were produced. Excellent links between Dublin and the Representation led to a

high level of coherence in the management of the Irish negotiating position.

Throughout the negotiations, there was extensive monitoring of the positions of

the other member states and the Taoiseach engaged in a very intensive round of

bilateral meetings with his counterparts in other member states. The

management of the final phase of the negotiations was in the hands of an Expert

Technical Group that consisted of the Taoiseach and officials from for

departments—Foreign Affairs Finance, Agriculture, Enterprise, Trade and

Employment. This was unusual in that is consisted of the Government’s most

senior member and four line officials from the relevant ministries. Essentially,

the Taoiseach brought together the four most informed officials on the Agenda

2000 negotiations and met with them seven times between January and March

1999 when the negotiations concluded in Berlin.

The issues that are dealt with on the basis of selective centralisation are the most

salient issues but are limited in number. Co-ordination in the Irish system relies

heavily on mutual adjustment and informal processes of interaction across

departments. In addition to the system based around the EU Division in the

Foreign Ministry, a number of additional poles of co-ordination have emerged.

These are a hub involving the Political Division in Foreign Affairs, the Defence

Ministry and the General Staff of the Army in relation to the European Security

and Defence Policy (ESDP). The development of ESDP brought the Defence

Ministry and the Army into the EU arena. Given the political sensitivity of the

ESDP in Ireland and its evolving nature, the three actors involved in this pole of

co-ordination work extremely closely together, share information and interact on

a continuous basis with the CFSP and ESDP personnel in the Irish Representation.

A second pole of co-ordination is evident the area of Justice and Home Affairs. A

government decision established an interdepartmental JHA committee serviced by

the Taoiseach’s department, chaired by a senior official from the Department of

Justice, and attended by the Foreign Ministry, and the Attorney General’s Office.

This committee meets before JHA Councils. Major cross-cutting environmental

issues are managed within the Environmental Network of Government

Departments, which meets at Assistant Secretary level. However, there are a lot

of environmental issues that do not fall within its remit. The processes

associated with the open method of co-ordination could well lead to the

development of additional poles of co-ordination.


Participation in the activities of the European Union poses challenges to those

who work in national civil services. In order to live with the Brussels system,

states need a cadre of EU specialists who can combine technical/sectoral

expertise with European expertise. European expertise rests on deep knowledge

of how the EU system works, of the legal framework and the personal skills to

work in a mutli-national and multi-cultural environment. It also rests on the

stamina to make the early flights to Brussels, work effectively in meetings and

analyse the discussion and direction of the negotiations. The core of the EU cadre

in any member state can be found among those officials for whom EU business

takes up more than 50 per cent of their time. They gain their initial experience at

working party level and may later find themselves at more senior levels with

substantial EU responsibilities. The most experienced of them spend time in the

Representation Centre or one of the EU institutions. Extensive exposure to

Brussels brings the added bonus of contacts with counterparts in other member

states or in Brussels. This cadre acts as ‘boundary managers’ between the

national and the European. They develop and transmit national preferences in the

course of EU negotiations and later filter Brussels outcomes back into the

national. They mediate between the domestic system of public policy making and

the EU.

Ireland’s EU cadre can be found in Foreign Affairs, Enterprise, Trade and

Employment, Agriculture, Finance and Justice. In all of the other departments,

there are significant EU related posts but these are few in number. The small size

of the EU cadre relative to the size of the civil service is striking. Internal civil

service estimates prepared in 1980 concluded that 151 (7 per cent) officials at AP

level upwards spent the greater part of their time on EU related matters, and a

further 111 (5 per cent) officials had significant EU involvement. The total

number of officials at this level was 2,217 (Internal Note, September 1980). Thus

EU business was central to the work of about 12 per cent of Irish civil servants.

An incomplete estimate prepared in 2002, that analysed those involved at Higher

Executive Officer (HEO) level or above, suggests that the numbers have increased

but not dramatically. Only three departments, Foreign Affairs, Enterprise, Trade

and Employment and Agriculture had over 50 staff working on Europe for more

than 50 per cent of their time. In many departments, the number was five or

less. Ireland’s EU cadre is relatively small in size.

Irish administrative culture influences how EU business is managed. As

mentioned in Section I, the cult of the generalist is very strong in Irish

administrative culture. Irish civil servants are expected to handle any post that

they are placed in and to move to radically different work in the course of their

careers. It is thus exceptional in the Irish system that an official would work only

on EU matters for their entire careers. That said there are a small number of

officials whose careers are largely EU related in the diplomatic service and in the

key EU ministries. These are officials who might have served on high level EU

committees for long periods and because of their EU knowledge become a key

resource in the system. Although they constitute an essential resource in the

Irish system, the EU cadre may not be adequately recognised. One senior official

concluded that :

Within the system, there is hardly any incentive to be a ‘Brussels insider’,

in terms of finance or family commitments. There is no one central system

to bring this about. People don’t want to be pigeonholed in that way … the

weighting given in civil service panels to such skills might not be great’

(Interview 53, 12.02. 02).

There is no specially trained EU cadre in the system or no EU related fast track.

Training is ad hoc throughout the system. In 1974, there was extensive training

for the first Irish Presidency, which included considerable exposure, to how the

EU worked. The training effort for subsequent Presidencies was geared more

towards meeting management as it was felt that EU knowledge in the system was

adequate. Lectures on the EU formed part of induction programmes for young

diplomatic staff and administrative officers. Officials assigned to the

Representation in Brussels would not receive training before leaving for Brussels

and would not shadow the area of responsibility before taking up their new

positions. Language training within the Irish system is also weak. Consequently

EU expertise is build up on the job

The manner in which Irish officials do their homework for negotiations in Brussels

and conduct negotiations is influenced by a number of factors. Size matters. The

relatively small size of central government, coupled with the small size of the

country, and the fact that Irish delegations tend to be smaller than those of other

member states all influence perceptions of how the Brussels game should be

played. Irish officials have an acute sense of the constraints of size. Irish

officials work on the basis that as a small state; Ireland has a limited negotiating

margin and should use that margin wisely. One interviewee for this study argued

that ‘Ireland has fewer guns, and not many bullets so it must pick its fights

carefully’ (Laffan 2001). In 1985, the then Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald,

identified Ireland’s negotiating strategy in the following terms:

As a small country we must ensure that we not create problems for our

partners save in the case of issues that are of vital importance to us. Only

when our case is strong—so overwhelmingly strong that in logic others

should objectively accept it. Should we press our interests in a way that

can create problems for other people (Fitzgerald 1985)

This approach was confirmed by an official who suggested that in negotiations

Irish officials would not raise difficulties unless they have a real problem

(Interview 75, 29.05.02).

Irish officials try to avoid isolation in negotiations and are largely successful. In

the five years between 1996 and 2000 Ireland abstained in 1 vote and registered

a negative vote 7 times (3 per cent). This was out of a total of 75 abstentions and

206 votes cast in the Council. Ireland, Austria, Finland and Luxembourg are

among the member states that find themselves on the losing side of votes least

often in the Council (Peterson and Shackleton, 2002, 64). One interviewee for

the study concluded that ‘Very rarely are we without a negotiating margin and

without room for manoeuvre’ (Interview 55, 07.03.02). In the end the minister

will decide if he/she wants to go out on a limb but would be told ‘Minister, you are

totally isolated on this and a lot of people will come down heavily on you in

Council’ (Interview 55, 07.03.02). The aim is to avoid this if at all possible and to

negotiate away problems.

The approach to negotiations is to seek to shape or re-shape the five or six

problem areas in any proposal for Ireland. This stems from Ireland’s size, limited

human resources and pragmatic culture. All proposals are scanned and assessed

in terms of problems. The identification of problems is identified on the basis of

an informal checklist of the kinds of issues that need watching. Those that

surfaced most frequently in interviews were:

• existing national law or policy;

• departmental policy;

• likely impact on the public purse either in terms of the cost to the national

budget or erosion of the tax base,

• where relevant constitutional licence;

• views and concerns of relevant interests;

• administrative capacity to implement (Laffan, 2001)

The strategy was likened to ‘shooting ducks in the arcade’ by one interviewee.

The problem solving approach to negotiations means that Irish officials tend to

intervene on specific issues and would have little to say on the broad thrust of

policy. This approach was identified in the following terms:

The Irish tend to go for short interventions in the Council. Our negotiating

culture in Brussels—we pride ourselves on being short and to the point.

We have to decide tactically when we should intervene. It is important not

to waste your capital (Interview 66, 09.04.02).

When looking for solutions, Irish officials will seek to deal with problems at the

lowest possible level and will rely on a drafting solution in the first instance. The

logic of this approach is that issues become more politicised and thus more

difficult to solve as you move up the hierarchy. Links are maintained with

colleagues in other member states but on a less systematic basis than in some

other administrations. Given the changes in the EU, more attention is again being

paid to bilateral contacts at all levels in the system. Tactical rather than strategic

thinking is prevalent in Ireland on EU matters. Considerable attention is paid to

the negotiating positions of other member states.

Personalism is a dominant cultural value in Ireland arising from late urbanisation

and the small size of the country. Civil servants working on EU matters meet

frequently in Brussels and Dublin and have an ease of contact. Officials

throughout the system can easily identify the necessary contacts in other

departments. Hayes, writing in 1984 concluded that the high degree of

interdepartmental contact owed much to the small, personal, centralised nature

of Ireland’s central administration (Hayes 1984). The telephone and to a lesser

extent e-mail are the main channels of informal contact. While hierarchy matters,

the need to get business done means that there is a facility to meet across levels

that is more difficult in more formal and hierarchical continental systems. The

intimacy of the Irish system can be gleaned from the fact that when a particular

set of negotiations is mentioned, the names of the four or five relevant officials

are offered immediately.

There are several well-entrenched norms in the Irish system that influence how

EU issues are handled. First, is the norm that Irish delegations should ‘sing from

the same hymn-sheet’ and should not fight interdepartmental battles in Brussels.

Delegations would not engage in conflict in front of other delegations. Second, is

a norm of sharing information about developments in key negotiations. However,

there are pockets of secrecy left where departments would not share information

that they believed was of primary interest to themselves. There, is a high level of

collegiality within the Irish system and a high level of trust between officials from

other departments. This is accompanied by an understanding of different

departmental perspectives and styles. A high level of trust is particularly

prevalent among the EU cadre who see themselves fighting for ‘Ireland Inc’. The

ability of the system to address problems is highlighted in the following quote

from a Foreign Ministry official, ‘ When we have real problems, we can get

together and solve them. There is a great degree of trust in the Irish system’

(Interview 58, 25.03.02). Fourth, is the norm that Ireland should be as

communautaire as possible within the limits of particular negotiations. As stated

above, Irish officials/politicians do not oppose for the sake of opposing. That said,

the Irish would aim to be constructive players in the EU system rather than

deploy the rhetoric of the European project. Protecting domestic space is an

important goal of Irish participants in the EU arena. This stems from Ireland’s

relative under-development until the 1990s, from its common law tradition, and

from the character of its political economy.


Ireland had a smooth political transition to membership. An overwhelming ‘yes’

vote in 1972 and the absence of serious splits on Europe in Irish political parties

enabled successive Irish governments and its public administration to promote

Irish preferences in the EU system unfettered by a hostile public at home.

Although there were differences on particular European issues, there was a broad

cross-party consensus on Europe in Ireland and a reasonable fit between the

Union’s policy range and Irish preferences. Official Ireland had little difficulty in

projecting a European identity for the Irish State and its people. Inevitably there

were contentious issues for Ireland and difficult negotiations but whenever

Ireland sought assistance it got it. Ireland’s EU profile was that of a relatively

small communautaire state, a major net beneficiary of the EU budget,

protectionist on agriculture, poor relative to the majority of the member states

and an outlier on European security (Laffan 2001).

In the latter half of the 1990s, Ireland faced a number of very tough negotiations

with the EU on the management of the beef regime, on state aids and corporation

tax, on environmental policy and in relation to the evolving European Defence

and Security Policy. In addition, very high levels of economic growth in this

period altered Ireland’s relative wealth position in the Union and Ireland became

a competitor for jobs and investment. The goal of economic catch-up was a very

important motivating factor for Irish policy makers in the Union. When that was

broadly achieved, it was more difficult to chart Ireland’s engagement in the Union

and more difficult to assess what kind of Union suited a changing Ireland. The

road-map was no longer so clear for those responsible for charting Ireland’s

position in the Union. Once the Agenda 2000 negotiations were concluded in

March 1999 and the Irish National Development Plan (2000 - 2006) submitted to

Brussels, Ireland’s European policy began to lose its coherence.

A series of speeches by Government Ministers in summer 2000 reflected

uncertainty about Ireland’s place in Europe and the relative importance of the EU

to Ireland. In July 2000, the Tánaiste, Mary Harney, in an address to the

American Bar Association endorsed a neo-liberal Europe and ended by saying that

she believed in ‘a Europe of independent states, not a United States of Europe

(Harney 2000). The key to the minister’s speech was her unease about the

prospect that ‘key economic decisions being taken in Brussels level’ and the

possibility that Ireland would be subject to excessive regulation (Harney 2000).

These sentiments were re-echoed in an Irish Times article in September 2000

when she again used language reminiscent of De Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher.

The speech will be remembered largely because the Minister suggested that

Ireland was nearer to Boston rather Berlin. Another Minister, Síle De Valera,

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht delivered, in Boston College, in

September 2000, the most Euro-sceptical speech ever delivered by an Irish

minister. She said that ‘directives and regulations agreed in Brussels can often

seriously impinge on or identity, culture and traditions’. She was not specific

regarding the directives she had in mind and offered no concrete evidence to

support her claim. In the speech, she called for a more vigilant, questioning

attitude towards the European Union and more diligence in protecting Irish

interests’ (De Valera, 18 September 2000). Neither of these speeches would

have been made in the period of substantial budgetary transfers from Brussels.

One senior Government advisor suggested that ‘we became overconfident. The

notion that the US is a substitute is not tenable’ (Interview 51, 28.02.02).

A very public spat followed these ministerial speeches between the Minister for

Finance and the EU Commission concerning the Broad Economic Guidelines in

2001. The Commission advised the ECOFIN to issue Ireland with a formal

recommendation on its budgetary policy, the first country to receive this. Given

Ireland’s strong economic performance at the time and the healthy state of the

public finances, the Commission’s strategy, which had some merit, was portrayed

in Ireland and Brussels interfering in Irish domestic policy and picking a fight with

a small member state. Views about the conflict with the European Commission

were divided. There were those who were concerned about the tone of

engagement and the loss of standing within the system. Others were concerned

that the Finance ministry did not appear to have the networks and political

contacts across Europe to manage the conflict. In any event, the appearance of

discord within the Cabinet and the spat with the Commission set the tone of the

referendum. The defeat of the Nice referendum in June 2001 was a major shock

to the Government, the main opposition parties, and the key economic interest

groups, all of whom had promoted a ‘yes’ vote. Given the successful ratification of

four previous EU treaties, the ‘no’ was unexpected. It left Ireland’s European

policy adrift and the Government with a major external and domestic challenge.

The impact at the level of central Government was to ratchet EU issues up the

political and administrative agenda. There was considerable soul searching in

Government and in the administration on how to respond to the crisis. Once

senior official claimed that:

The whole way we were conducting our business in Europe was uncertain

and in transition. There is a need to go into a new mode, organise

accordingly and change mindset. Departments don’t always see where

they fit into the bigger picture. We have gone a bit tired. Losing the

referendum has brought it all into focus. (Interview 49, 12.02.02).

A sense of crisis was evident among all those interviewed for this research. One

official suggested that ‘it was quite frightening how the system has lost its whole

sense of Europe and how depressed people are working in European affairs’

(Interview, 50, 27.02.02) Another official suggested that ‘There is a certain

wariness about us. Member states are worried about what positions we might

take. It is only an undercurrent at the moment but if we were to vote No again, it

would be damaging to us (Interview 57, 15.03.02).

Politically, the Government established a National Forum on Europe to generate a

debate on Ireland’s place in the Union. There was widespread acceptance that

there was a gap between those who were involved in Ireland’s European policy

and the wider public and that the public had not been engaged in European

issues. The Forum brings together politicians from the pro-and anti- EU sides and

has an observer pillar drawn from civil society. Within the administration, a

number of responses were evident. First, in the Department of Foreign Affairs

the Economic Section was re-named the EU Section and there were a number of

changes in personnel. The new Director-General of that section was one of

Ireland’s most experienced EU specialists with strong links with EU institutions

and domestic departments. There were a number of organisational changes in

the department and new guidelines were issued for Irish embassies concerning

the kind of intelligence they should focus on. A new Permanent Representative

was appointed who in turn introduced a number of new processes into the

Representation. The Department became more central to the management of EU

business given the need for a second referendum and the consequences for

Ireland’s standing in the EU and among the candidate countries. Together with

the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been

central to managing the post-Nice environment.

Second, all of the political and interdepartmental mechanisms for dealing with the

Union became more active. The Cabinet sub-committee, a committee that waxed

and waned since 1973 began to meet regularly and deal with work sent to it by

the Senior Officials Group. The tempo of work undertaken by the Senior Officials

Group (SOG) was greatly enhanced. The Group represents the core of the EU

cadre in that all members have substantial EU responsibilities and are sent by

their departments to influence future strategy. This Group began to assume

responsibility within the domestic system for the establishment of priorities on

the Union and for plotting Ireland’s future position in the Union. One result of

this was the publication of a document in April 2002 on Ireland and the European

Union: Identifying Priorities and Pursuing Goals (Department of the Taoiseach,

2002). The report identifies the need to engage fully in the complex decision

making processes of the EU by:

• Cultivating ever better relations with our partners in the EU, the accession

countries and the institutions of the EU;

• by developing better domestic systems for enhanced co-ordination, coherence

and priority setting internally, and

• By promoting greater public awareness of the importance of the EU to

individuals’ lives. (Department of the Taoiseach, 2002).

Three important factors were identified - interaction with the EU system, better

domestic management of EU business, and sensitivity to the public dimension of

Ireland’s relations with the Union. The SOG began an auditing process to assess

EU co-ordination mechanisms and to establish best practice.

At the parliamentary level, the Government responded to the perceived weakness

of Oireachtas scrutiny of EU business by introducing proposals for enhanced

parliamentary scrutiny. The weakness or perceived absence of parliamentary

scrutiny of EU business was highlighted as a serious problem during the Nice

referendum. During and after the campaign, former Attorney General, Mr John

Rodgers, among others, highlighted the democratic deficit that existed at the

national level as a result of this lack of parliamentary monitoring. In response to

this, the government developed a new system of enhanced Oireachtas scrutiny of

EU affairs. This in turn will have an impact on the management of EU business in

the core executive. One senior official concluded that the new guidelines would

‘force Europe up the agenda of Departments” (Interview 48, 12.02.02). The

proposals for Oireachtas scrutiny, drafted in the first instance by the Department

of Foreign Affairs, were approved by the Government in January 2002 and

entered into operation in July 2002, following the May General Election. A set of

guidelines for the new processes was prepared by the administration and became

‘living processes’ in the autumn 2002. The parliamentary link for the new

procedures is the Joint Oireachtas Committee for European Affairs (JCEA),

discussed above. All EU related documents are deposited in the EU Coordination

Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and passed on by the Unit to the JCEA.

On receipt of these documents (estimated at approximately 10,000 per year –

interview 77, 11.07.02), the clerk of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, together

with a sub-committee of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs

(informally termed the ‘sifting committee’) sifts, on a two-weekly basis, through

these documents and identifies EU legislative proposals that are significant

enough to merit parliamentary scrutiny (the types of EU proposals eligible to be

considered in this manner are specified in the Joint Committee on European

Affairs’ terms of reference). If the sifting committee so decides, a request will

then be made for the drafting and receipt by the Committee of an explanatory

memorandum concerning the EU proposal from the relevant department. This

memorandum is to be drafted by the departmental official responsible for the

negotiation of the proposal in the EU policy-making arena and will be signed by

either the Minister or the Secretary General of the department concerned. The

explanatory memorandum must be received by the EU Coordination Unit of the

DFA within one month of the sifting committee’s request and it is passed on to

the JCEA Secretariat.

Explanatory memoranda should identify the importance of the particular proposal

- major significance, some significance, purely technical - an assessment of the

implications for Ireland, consequences for national legislation and the EU budget

and the likely timetable for negotiations and implementation in addition to

information about the legal basis, the voting rule and the role of the European

Parliament. On receipt of these memoranda, the secretariat of the JCEA will pass

the proposals on to the relevant sectoral or departmental Oireachtas committees

for consideration. The relevant committee will then produce a report on its

deliberations, which will be laid before the Oireachtas. While the proposals make

provision for extensive engagement between the Oireachtas, ministers and

officials, a binding scrutiny reserve has not been put in place. Instead, Ministers

are honour bound to take the opinion of the relevant committee into account

when negotiating in the Council of Ministers. At the same time, committees will

be obliged to give an opinion on a proposal within a tight deadline and in advance

of negotiation at Council of Ministers’ level, otherwise approval of the proposal

will be taken as given. Ministers will be available to give oral briefings and

reports of EU meetings on an agreed basis and the committees deliberating on

proposals may meet in private if a proposal is of a particularly sensitive nature.

If the Committee concerned so desires, the Chief Whips of the political parties are

in agreement and depending on the parliamentary timetable, proposals may be

debated on the floor of the Oireachtas itself.

The new guidelines will greatly increase the formality of Ireland’s arrangements

for managing EU business. A dedicated web site is being developed for the Joint

Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs. It will contain all of the legislative

proposals, identify the responsible Government department, and contain a copy

of the information notes developed by each department and the subsequent

action taken by the Oireachtas. For the first time ever in the Irish system, there

will be an accessible database of the flow of EU proposals though the Irish

system. The need for Government departments to prepare notes for the

Oireachtas committee will ensure that within each department formal systems

must be put in place to ensure that such notes are prepared. Management within

each department will have a far better idea of just how much EU business they

must handle and how best to deploy their resources. The preparation of notes

will also make the identification of priorities far more systematic as judgements

must be made of just how important an EU proposal is. Following the original

circular on the management of EU business in 1973, the guidelines on Oireachtas

Scrutiny are the next most significant formalisation of the management of EU

business in Ireland.



Ireland has experienced interaction with the EU system during its thirty years of

membership. The process of Europeanisation can be gleaned from the expansion

of EU related business across the governmental system. In 1973, EU business

was predominately the business of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Industry and

Commerce (now ET&E), Finance and to a limited extent the Taoiseach’s

Department. Today, all departments have EU related responsibilities. The

increased role of Justice and the Environment in the 1990s is particularly

noteworthy. The gradual process of Europeanisation can be seen in the expansion

of departmental representation in the Permanent Representation in Brussels and

in Council working groups. EU business has become more widespread and thus

more fragmented within the Irish system. The creeping expansion of EU business

was added on to the business of each department in an incremental manner.

The EU has imposed a requirement for continuous albeit incremental change in

the management of EU business. In addition, there are particular period that

constitute critical junctures. In the Irish system, these were the pre-membership

phase, the initial period of membership (1973-75), 1988-1992 and more recently

the Nice ‘No’. The first three critical junctures arose from the demands of the EU

system and coincided with preparations for membership, accession (1973-75)

and a significant expansion in the scope and ambition of integration (1988-92).

During this period, structures and processes were put in place for managing EU

business and the co-ordination capacity was enhanced. The changes in 1988

coincided with the arrival of a new Prime Minister reflected a growing involvement

of that department in EU business. The critical juncture created by the Nice ‘no’ is

likely to have far deeper consequences for how Europe is managed in Dublin.

Nice is a more significant critical juncture for the following reasons. First, Irish

ministers and civil servants could engage with the EU system in the past in the

context of a broad domestic consensus and within an enabling political

environment. Europe was not a contentious issue in Ireland. This is no longer

the case. Second, in the past Ireland’s socio-economic position and the desire for

economic catch-up moulded policy positions across the spectrum. Identifying the

national interest was relatively straight forward. Third, the desire to be seen as

broadly communautaire led successive Irish governments to go with the emerging

EU consensus unless an issue was highly sensitive. The ‘no’ to Nice highlighted

the weakness of EU knowledge among the Irish electorate, a degree of

disinterest given the low level of turn-out and the emergence of a gap between

the government and the Irish people on Europe. One senior official spoke of the

‘escape of gases’ after Nice, which suggested that in place of the previous

consensus there were a variety of views about the EU in political parties, the

Cabinet and the wider civil society. This inevitably led to a lot of soul searching

and questioning at political and official level. The results of this are likely to have

long-term consequences for Ireland’s engagement with the EU system.

The analysis in this report of the structures, processes and activities of Ireland’s

EU cadre enable us to draw out the key characteristics of the way EU business in

managed in Ireland. These are:

• a relatively small EU cadre that is responsible for the burden of work arising

from membership. This cadre is collegiate and cohesive with a strong sense of

promoting and defending the interests of Ireland Inc.;

• strong departmental autonomy with considerable latitude for the lead

department. This latitude extends to sensitive dossiers;

• responsibility for co-ordination of day to day business lies with the

Department of Foreign Affairs and for the macro-sensitive dossiers with

Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach’s Department.

• traditionally weak processes of interdepartmental co-ordination and a weakly

institutionalised committee system. Consequently there is a reliance on

informal, highly personalised contact between ministries. This is changing.

The above characteristics influence how Ireland interacts with Brussels and

manages EU business at home. In terms of reception, the Irish core executive’s

interaction with the EU is of a more passive than active nature. Change has been

instigated in response to a small number of critical junctures and has occurred at

an incremental and slow pace. Taking into account its size and style of

negotiation, the Irish core executive’s projection onto the EU arena is also by

definition passive. The style is pragmatic, consensual and broadly collegial.

There has been a marked focus on those issues that were vital to Ireland—

structural funds, agriculture, taxation, and EU regulations that might affect

Ireland’s competitive position of the national budget. The resources of the

administration have been heavily focused on these key policy areas. The

approach is to find negotiated solutions to Ireland’s problems in any particular set

of negotiations. Radically new ideas that may not be immediately appealing to

the majority of EU member states tend not to emanate from the Irish core


It could be argued that this approach served Ireland well when it was easy to

identify its core interests, and when the trajectory of the EU and its policies were

in broad measure close to Irish preferences. One advisor suggested that Ireland

did not come out with visionary statements ‘because the way the EU works at the

moment suits us well’ (Interview 51, 28.02.02). The EU is however changing and

so too is Ireland’s place in that Union. There is evidence that the political and

administrative class is reacting to those changes and to the Nice ‘no’ but is doing

so on an adaptative basis rather than through radical change. The Taoiseach’s

Department and Foreign Affairs are spearheading a reappraisal of the system but

the home departments are less seized of the issues. Some are actively assessing

their internal management of EU business but others less so. All those

interviewed for this study felt the need for a reappraisal but were concerned that

sufficient political priority might not be given to it in the longer term. 2002 will

prove a defining year in Ireland’s EU policy.


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Appendix 1

Table 6:

Attendance by Ministers and Officials at Council of Ministers Meetings






led by



led by


of State


led by


1. General Affairs Council 15 10 4 1

2. Economic and Finance 11 11 - -

3. Agriculture 10 10 - -

4. Environment 8 3 - 5

5. Justice, Home Affairs and

8 5 2 1

Civil Protection

6. Internal Market/Consumer

5 - 3 2


7.Transport/Telecommunications 5 5 - -

8. Employment & Social Policy 4 3 1

9. Culture 4 3 - 1

10. Fisheries 4 4 - -

11. Education/Youth 3 1 - 2

12. Development 2 - 1 1

13. Research 3 - 3 -

14. Budget 2 - 2 -

15. Health 2 1 1 -

16. Industry/Energy 2 - 2 -

Total: 88 53 21 14


Ministers led the Irish Delegation to 60 per cent of EU Council of Ministers’

meetings in 2001.

Ministers of State led the Irish Delegation to 24 per cent of EU Council of

Ministers’ meetings in 2001.

Officials (Permanent/Deputy Permanent Representative or Department Officials)

led the Irish Delegation to 16 per cent of EU Council of Ministers’ meetings in


Appendix 2

Bar charts of Ireland’s implementation record in 2001

Bar Chart 1:



Infringement Proceedings against









1997 1998 1999 2000 2001


LFN = Letter of formal notice

RO = Reasoned opinion

REF = Referral to the European Court of Justice

Source: European Commission Annual report on monitoring the application of

Community law 2001

Bar Chart 2: Infringement Proceedings 2001 - Letters of Formal Notice









Bar Chart 3: Infringement Proceedings 2001 - Reasoned Opinions












Bar Chart 4: Infringement Proceedings 2001 - Referral to the European

Court of Justice









Source: European Commission Annual report on monitoring the application of

Community law 2001

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