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The role of public administration in producing social justice in Ireland
Series: Irish Society
Author: Chris McInerney

This book explores the relationship between public administration and social justice in Ireland. It argues that public administration, at a variety of levels, is challenged to consider its unique and potentially far reaching role in designing and delivering social justice outcomes. Locating this discussion within recent social and economic events in Ireland, it draws on a variety of historical and contemporary sources to stimulate reflection on social justice and its relationship with public administration and public policy. Building on this, the book explores some of the recent policy and practice of public administration institutions, presenting the views of those within the administrative system as well as those who closely engage with it on issues of justice, poverty and social inclusion. From this it concludes that while some isolated examples of good practice exist, there is little evidence to indicate that the public administration system, now or in the past, sees social justice as one of its central responsibilities. This book is original in focusing on the role of the administrative system as a social justice actor in its own right, with its own dispositions and value systems. In taking this approach the book establishes a conceptual and practical justification for public administration to be proactive in pursuing social justice outcomes and presents a series of conclusions pointing towards ways in which a more active, justice oriented, public administration could be fostered.

Chris McInerney

The final chapter of the book takes on a deliberately normative tone. In setting out an agenda for social justice within public administration it presents ten conclusions and associated avenues of action. These include a reflection of how a broader commitment to social justice might be engendered within Irish society as a means of informing the ethos of public administration as well a consideration of how an ideational shift towards social justice could be generated within public administration. The chapter presents further conclusions on public sector capacity building; on the cultivation of a stronger justice disposition amongst officials; on the renewal of governance and civic engagement; on the relationship between administration and politics; on the development of the relational state and the role of the local level in Irish democratic and administrative life.

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Abstract only
Chris McInerney
in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

Chapter 1 explores a number of the broader, contemporary challenges facing public administration, in Ireland and more generally. The first challenge concerns the role of the administration system, in generating as well as addressing the economic and social crisis currently confronting Ireland and assesses the relative merits of arguments about the intellectual complicity or intellectual timidity of public officials in decision making. Related to this is the complex management of the politics-administration dichotomy and questions about the division of roles between elected representatives and public officials. The chapter also reflects on current levels of confidence in public administration which have been deteriorating in Ireland and elsewhere over the past number of years and questions whether a retreat from governance and more progressive forms of civic engagement will do anything to stem this dilution of confidence. Finally, Chapter 1 reflects on issues of capacity in public administration, contrasting the current emphasis on technical, bureaucratic capacity building at the expense of transformative and relational capacity.

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

Chapter 2 provides a conceptual rationale for public administration to play a proactive role in the pursuit of social justice objectives. It firstly situates the administrative function within a broader set of perspectives on the role of state, its size and its role in the delivery of supports and services to citizens, perspectives that clearly impact on the shape of the administrative system. In the same vein, it promotes the public administration system as a basic institution of democracy, one that has a consequent responsibility to create the conditions for a socially just state. Seen in this way, public administration is challenged to play a role in leading and facilitating citizens to establish the basis for fair co-operation and ‘a well-ordered society’. Recognising that not all perspectives on public administration assume such a starting point Chapter 2 also explores the war of ideas that exist between the more social justice oriented ideas of New Public Administration and the more efficiency oriented views associated with New Public Management.

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

Chapter 3 turns its attention to exploring some of the ways in which the idea of social justice can be understood. Taking Barrington’s lead, the chapter supports the potential for deeper investigation and awareness within public administration of the many complexities of social justice, thereby reducing the level of ‘mystery, unpredictability and irrationality’ associated with it. It explores ideas about how social justice might be conceived from a variety of positions; national and international law; historical public policy discussions; political theory as well as religious teaching. It quickly becomes clear from this analysis that social justice is a highly ideological and highly contested concept, as is evidenced in Dáil debates on the issue in 1940s and 1950s Ireland. In this chapter, presentation of any single prescription of what social just means is avoided, though the need for a broader dialogue about what justice means in Ireland in the 21st Century is advocated

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

A further conceptual part of the social justice / public administration jigsaw is examined in Chapter 4 with an extended discussion on the role of civic engagement as a component of social justice. This chapter highlights the range of opinions and experiences that exist on the issue of citizen participation and its importance or otherwise to the operation of democracy. The chapter introduces a short lexicon of significant civic engagement terms as a means of illustrating some of the values that inform the participatory ideal. It also reflects on international practice in civic engagement, suggesting that much of the practical reality struggles to match the grand rhetoric of citizen participation. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the specific role of public administration in promoting civic engagement and presents a model to highlight the impact on civic engagement of three related factors; attitudes to democratic deepening; the nature public administration responsiveness and the disposition towards social justice. Taken together it suggests that these three variables combine to facilitate or frustrate a deeper and more empowering engagement experience.

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

Chapter 5 discusses some of the main elements of Irish public administration, exploring the origins of contemporary administration and the main pillars around which it is built. This discussion provides a platform for analysis of how social justice has been dealt with at different levels in the Irish administrative system. It questions whether the largely undisturbed transfer of administrative capacity from pre independence Ireland to the newly independent state served to cultivate and embed a culture of conservatism within the public administration system that inhibits a willingness to tackle the complexity of social justice. The chapter goes on to explore the evolution of state agencies and the closely related topics of public sector reform and capacity building, focusing on the role of agencies in creating both activist and relational capacity for the state. However, the chapter concludes that the potential to exploit this capacity may well be undermined by the largely technical and instrumental nature of current public sector reform dispositions.

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

Chapter 6 offers a more detailed examination of the role of the Irish public administration system in promoting social justice. It draws on a range of primary and secondary sources to assess its contribution focusing on the interrelated themes of knowledge; disposition and capacity, all three being required to enable a stronger social justice orientation. This examination concludes that within Irish public administration, at corporate and individual level, social justice does not enjoy a particularly high level of visibility or status. Instead, evidence drawn from Departmental Strategy Statements, local authority corporate plans, the observations of a range a senior officials, both current and former, as well as civil society leaders, indicates that social justice has been and continues to be largely subservient to other developmental priorities and is seen as something of a luxury at the present moment. The chapter concludes that absence of any meaningful plans to encourage a stronger disposition or to extend capacity in this area leaves little prospect that this status quo will change.

in Challenging times, challenging administration
Chris McInerney

Chapter 7 presents three case studies of national and local level administrative practice to illustrate how the Irish public administration system deals with issues of social justice. The first of these looks at the role of state agencies via the experience of the Combat Poverty Agency while the second explores the contribution of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy and the related poverty proofing / poverty impact assessment process. Both of these case studies suggest a less than positive picture of administrative engagement with social justice issues and conclude that while the state may develop a range of policy or structural instruments, there is no guarantee that these will become administratively or politically embedded. By contrast, the final case study captures the experience of a local authority led, urban regeneration programme in Tralee. In this more positive case, a combination of individual initiative amongst local authority and Health Service Executive staff, allied with the support of senior level management, local residents and elected representatives, produces an example of how public administration can operate in constructive, deliberative and problem solving mode

in Challenging times, challenging administration