9. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to set out the number of complaints received by the Commission for Public Service Appointments with regard to public sector recruitment practices in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 47148/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)

Deputy James Browne: Will the Minister set out the number of complaints received by the Commission for Public Service Appointments with regard to public sector recruitment practices in 2017? Will the Minister make a comment on the matter, please?

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: As the Deputy will be aware, the Commission for Public Service Appointments is an independent statutory body. It is responsible for overseeing appointments to a wide range of positions in the civil and public service. In carrying out its oversight role the commission audits recruitment processes and examines complaints from individuals unhappy with the conduct of an appointment process. The CPSA may make recommendations, offer advice or give instructions to recruiting bodies within its remit. However, it does not have the statutory authority to reverse a recruitment decision taken by one of these recruiting bodies.

As the commission is an independent statutory body, my Department has no involvement in the examination of complaints made to the CPSA.

There are two distinct review procedures provided for under section 7 and section 8 of the codes of practice. A review under section 7 applies in cases where a candidate is unhappy with a decision relating to his or her candidature and wishes to have that decision reviewed. The review of a recruitment decision is conducted solely by the licence holder. The commission cannot overturn this decision and has no role in the process. A review under section 8 applies in cases where a person believes an appointment process has breached the codes and wishes to have it investigated. The complainant must make the complaint to the licence holder in the first instance. If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the licence holder’s review, he or she may request the commission to investigate the alleged breach.

In this area in the year to date, 83 requests were received under section 8. Of these, a total of 18 requests were deemed invalid, 19 requests were deemed premature and 46 requests were accepted as valid complaints. To date, a total of 35 complaints have been examined with a formal decision issued by the commission. Of these, a total of five were upheld, seven were partially upheld and 23 were not upheld. Where a complaint was upheld or partially upheld, recommendations were made to the licence holder to address the shortcomings identified.

Deputy James Browne: I am raising the issue because of an issue that arises in respect of the recruitment of psychologists within the HSE. The CPSA has received multiple complaints relating to this issue from 2012 to date. In 2013, the CPSA established the codes of practice and recommended a review of recruitment criteria that the HSE duly concluded in 2016. This review failed to resolve the issue and the HSE continues to refuse some qualified psychologists eligibility for posts for which they would be eligible in the UK. No rational justification was put forward for this.

Recruitment campaigns conducted in 2016 and 2017 led to nine complaints from the CPSA from qualified psychologists who were refused interviews because the HSE characterised their experience as not relating to appropriate health settings, but did not define what this meant. The term seems to have applied on an ad hoc basis within the HSE.

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Numerous existing employees have been refused access to promotion or transfer and, in effect, have been deemed ineligible for the jobs they are carrying out daily.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: It sounds as if the roles and process to which the Deputy refers relate to section 7 rather than section 8 procedures. As I explained, under section 7 procedures, the commission cannot overturn the decision of the licence holder and does not play a role in the decision.

Has the Deputy raised the matter with the Minister for Health? Perhaps he has already done so. If the matter falls within the ambit of section 7, the responsibility for responding to the Deputy’s query lies with the HSE. I am particularly struck by his comment to the effect that no rationale was offered for the decisions that were made. State bodies should offer a rationale for all decisions they take on the recruitment, retention and development of staff. It may be a better course of action to raise this matter with the Minister for Health if the Deputy has not already done so.

Deputy James Browne: While I will raise the matter separately with the Minister for Health, it also falls within the scope of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Some job applicants received letters on which alterations had obviously been made post-date using Tipp-Ex. These alterations related to decisions originally made by HSE psychologists and involved applicants’ results being changed from eligible to ineligible for the role. We do not know who made these changes, why they were made or who authorised them. An internal report released by the HSE in October 2017 confirmed that IT was operating without an adequate definition of “appropriate health setting” for psychologists. This continues to be the case. The absence of such a definition has consequences because individuals who are working as counselling psychologists in appropriate clinical settings are being told that their experience and current employment are not relevant. We do not know who set this criterion. It was not the Psychological Society of Ireland because that body is asking why qualified psychologists are being refused employment.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: This is not a matter for my Department. As I indicated, the CPSA is an independent body. From the Deputy’s description, this appears to be a section 7 matter in respect of which the CPSA may not have a role. It is very much a matter for the Department of Health and HSE, which will respond to the Deputy’s query. The Deputy’s question did not refer to the specific issue he raises, which is in an area in which I do not play a role.

Deputy James Browne: With respect, the Minister plays a role in that his Department has oversight of the CPSA and its investigative function.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: If the Deputy had referred specifically to the recruitment of psychologists in the text of his question, rather than raising a general issue in respect of the role of the CPSA, I may have been able to provide a clear answer on the role of the HSE and Department of Health in this matter. Given the way in which the psychologists in question are appointed, it is highly likely that the CPSA does not have a role in the matter. I am sure the Minister for Health will provide a clear answer.