The context of the Report is The Public Sector Reform Plan (2011). As Section 5 of the Report explains The Public Sector Reform Plan (2011) “details proposed rationalisations and amalgamation measures for State agencies”. The Report examines the proposal to amalgamate the Irish Sports Council (ISC) and the National Sports Campus Development Authority (NSCDA).
On page 10 of the Report is Box 1. Box 1 highlights the successful rationalisation or amalgamation of 44 bodies as of January 2014. Box 1 is complete with a plethora of words that are designed to convey that the government knows what it is doing, e.g. “innovative service-delivery channels”, “integrated approach”, “value for money”, “critically reviewing”,and “Leading, organising and working in new ways”. It would be fair, for those interested in sport, to believe that this was just window-dressing a cut in the numbers working in the sector. Fortunately for all those involved, it seems that no job losses are envisaged. In fact, Recommendation 2 could be read as suggesting more staff are required. I wonder how the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will read this recommendation.
Recommendation 4. “It is proposed that Sport Ireland will no longer be in a position to conduct research independent of Ministerial direction. This could, arguably, limit the ability of the entity to operate efficiently and in a timely manner. As such, this proposal may merit further consideration.”
Recommendation 4 is a good example of (i) why independent research should be conducted and (ii) why it is difficult to have research that is fully independent. The key part of Recommendation 4 is that the research needs to be “independent of Ministerial direction”. The committee either did not see this or could not bring themselves to say it. Instead, they produced one of the most disappointed sentences in the Report when they say “This could, arguably, limit the ability of the entity to operate efficiently and in a timely manner”. It seems the Minister might not be very efficient and could be very slow at getting research commisioned. If this Report can’t bring itself to state that "Ministerial direction" might compromise the research then what hope have we for the research itself.
This does not mean that leaving the commissioning of research within the ISC (and/or NSCDA) will make it any more independent. Table 1 in the Report documents some of the research commissioned by the Irish Sports Council. I have written previously on this blog about what I believe are the strengths and weaknesses of some of this research, e.g. here and here. At this stage, I would add that I believe that all of this research could easily have been commissioned by the Minister. There is no reason for the Minister not to commission such work as virtually none of it has been critical of government policy – except for a weakly argued case that less might be spent on capital facilities and more on current expenditure. Have there been any problems with Irish government policy on sport during the period in which the ISC commissioned research? Maybe not.