Paper/Speech Details of Conference Program for the 29th NISPAcee Annual Conference Program Overview Panel: Politico-Administrative Relations in CEE (Physical) Author(s) Bernadette Connaughton University of Limerick Limerick Ireland Cian Devane, UL, Ireland Title ‘Based on the best advice available’ – Challenge and change in Ireland’s Policy Advisory System File Paper files are available only for conference participants, please login first. Presenter Bernadette Connaughton Abstract ‘Based on the best advice available’ – Challenge and change in Ireland’s Policy Advisory System The concept of a policy advisory system presents a way of illustrating and evaluating how policy advice is employed by governments in the policy making process. Early approaches to PAS emphasised the location of advisory actors by stressing that internal actors held an advantage over external actors in providing advice to government (Halligan, 1995). The PAS concept has since taken root in a developing literature that both reflects on the character of policy work (Vesely, 2017) and how advisory systems have changed over time (van den Berg, 2017; Veit et al, 2016). Further, the focus on location has been extended to acknowledge the dual impacts of both the increased use of external consultants and other advisory sources external to government departments (externalisation), and the increasing attention to the influence of partisan advice within government/political advisers (politicisation). An observations made of this literature is its inherent Westminster-prevalence which has in turn led to a Westminster-bias in the theorization of PAS (Hustedt, 2019). This paper focuses on features of the PAS in Ireland which is classified as a Westminster style system but has not featured in PAS studies. The context for exploring changes in the PAS is the crisis from 2008 which highlighted deficiencies in the Irish government’s policy making capacities and underlined how sources of informed and verifiable policy advice are crucial. It also accentuated the importance of embedding public institutions and structures that can deliver that advice objectively, confidently and without interference (Honohan, 2010). The phrase ‘based on the best advice available’ is a variation of a comment from a former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Minister for Finance in late 2008. He asserted that in hindsight policy errors were evident but that all policy decisions were made using the best advice available at the time. The impact of these policy errors have been rehearsed in multiple reports setting out dysfunctional financial regulation, official incapacity, the influence of interest groups (formally and informally) in the policy and regulatory process which captured the political-administrative system (Hardiman, 2012; Wright, 2010). In the aftermath reforms were introduced in order to improve the quality and diversity of policy advice to government both prospectively and retrospectively. This would suggest a change in the PAS and the detection of features that the OECD (2017) indicate are important for optimising policy advisory systems – adaptability, transparency, autonomy, representative and relevant advice, and topical/on time. This paper discusses the change (and lack of change) in the Irish PAS and in particular features of the budgetary policy advisory domain. From this context it explores the following question: How does the politicisation of the advisory process mitigate optimisation of the policy advisory system? The study is based on10 interviews with 8 government officials, 1 politician, and a member of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. This was complemented by an online survey directed to officials in government departments. The findings indicate that the policy advisory system is poorly optimised on a number of levels. The personal and electoral influence of government ministers drives elements of politicisation within the civil service such that policy advice is weighted or discarded based on their preferences. This demonstrates weaknesses on behalf of the civil service which mitigate the effectiveness of the system. From the perspective of the budgetary policy domain, substantial structural and institutional change is apparent. This has created a more contested space for ideas and policy advice in the budget process.