NESC - National Economic and Social Council
- Martin Fraser
- Rory O'Donnell
The National Economic and Social Council was established in 1973. In its early years, it undertook studies on the economic and social implications of demographic change and policy challenges in education, health, social services, energy, welfare, agriculture, rural development, housing, forestry, transport, tourism and the labour market.
The role of the Council was reshaped by the deep crisis of the 1980s and in 1986, the Council formulated an agreed strategy to escape from Ireland's vicious circle of real stagnation, rising taxes and exploding debt. That Strategy formed the basis upon which government and the social partners negotiated the Programme for National Recovery to run from 1987 to 1990. This was the first of seven social partnership programmes that ran from 1987 to 2008. In March 2009, the Council published its analysis of the current crisis Irelands Five-Part Crisis: An Integrated National Response and in October of the same year Next Steps in Addressing Ireland’s Five-Part Crisis: Combining Retrenchment with Reform.
The functions of the National Economic and Social Council are to analyse and report to the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy, the achievement of social justice, and the development of a strategic framework for the conduct of relations and the negotiation of agreements between the Government and the social partners.
The membership of the Council comprises a chairperson and a deputy chairperson appointed by the Taoiseach as well as;
- Nominations by agricultural and farming organisations;
- Nominations by business and employers’ organisations;
- Nominations by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions;
- Nominations by community and voluntary organisations;
- Nominations by the environmental organisations;
- Nominations of individuals possessing knowledge, experience and skills which the Taoiseach considers relevant to the functions of the Council; and
- Public servants, of whom at least one represents the Taoiseach and one the Minister for Finance.
The term of office of members is for three years. Casual vacancies are filled by the Government or by the nominating body as appropriate.
The organisational structure has two elements: the Council, and a full-time Secretariat. The membership of the Council is described under the membership section above. The NESC Secretariat consists of 17 staff; the Director, 4 senior policy analyst, and 7 policy analysts making up the Analyst team; with 2 full time and 3 part time staff in administrative support.
NESC has a relatively small Secretariat of economists and social policy analysts.
The Council meets once per month to discuss the papers prepared by the Secretariat or in some cases, outside consultants, and once agreement of such prepared papers is reached published reports on various economic and social policy issues are produced.
These reports present government with the shared view of the social partners and senior civil servants. The Council works by deliberation and consensus, rather than votes, and it is rare for reports to contain minority opinions or reservations. Since its foundation in 1973 it has prepared over 120 such reports.
While the Council sets its own agenda, the fact that it is chaired by Ireland’s most senior civil servant and contains five other Secretaries General, tends to keep its work relevant to government’s policy concerns. The government frequently requests the Council to undertake a study of a particular policy question.