27 May, 2019

Blog: European Commission did improve Better Regulation, in the years 2015 through 2018

2019-05-27T12:22:25+01:00May 27th, 2019|News|Comments Off on Blog: European Commission did improve Better Regulation, in the years 2015 through 2018


The European Commission set itself ambitious targets in 2015 to improve Better Regulation over a four year period. My blog of May 2015 summarised those challenges https://www.pai.ie/1765-delivering-better-regulation-at-eu-level/  at the end of 2018, the Commission took stock of performance, which included wide consultation. Overall the results are positive for Better Regulation. However, the Commission admits that there is more work that needs to be done. Specifically, it states that – “… there is room for further improvement and we have identified areas which should be explored in a wider debate on future improvements. These will depend on a stronger shared effort by all those involved in designing and implementing policy solutions”. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/better-regulation-taking-stock_en_0.pdf  .


Wide consultation

The consultation process was quite wide ranging. The stocktaking exercise focused on the years 2015 through 2018, and relied upon a mixture of evidence. The European Commission used external assessments (from the OECD and the European Court of Auditors), reports from the Regulatory Scrutiny Board and a broad range of consultation activities. These included:

  • interviews and meetings to consult Commission staff working in a range of different departments and functions, including better regulation support staff, senior managers and members of Commissioners’ political teams,
  • a public consultation of all external stakeholders,
  • targeted consultation meetings with the administrative secretariats of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee,
  • an opinion from the Platform of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT),
  • discussion in the Competitiveness and Growth Working Party of the Council (better regulation).


Lessons learned

The European Commission concluded that there are positive and negative lessons to be learnt from the stocktaking. They are summarised in Box 1:

Box 1: European Commission

‘Better Regulation at the heart of policy making: ‘What we’ve learnt’

• The concept of better regulation is univocally supported and should remain at the heart of our decision-making processes for the future

• In a ‘post-fact’ world of fake news, the rationale for evidence-based regulation is only growing stronger.

• Better regulation supports political decision-making but it does not substitute it.


• The public and stakeholders would like to be even more engaged in EU policymaking and get better feedback.

• There is still room for improvement when it comes to the way we design and evaluate EU policies.

• There is a clear need for better communication and awareness, raising opportunities for citizens to participate in EU policymaking.

• Better regulation needs to be a shared effort of all those involved in designing and implementing policy solutions.

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/file_import/br_factsheet_en.pdf


Shared efforts

Better Regulation cannot be created in a vacuum. The recent EU stocktaking exercise shows that better regulation must be a shared effort. As the tools and processes deployed by the Commission improve, further advances increasingly should focus upon improvements the Commission can facilitate but not ensure by itself. As the Commission put it – “… the stocktaking clearly showed that the quality of evaluation depends on a shared understanding with the co-legislators and Member States on when best to evaluate, which indicators and frameworks to use for measuring performance, and how to efficiently collect the necessary monitoring information”. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/better-regulation-taking-stock_en_0.pdf

The European Commission uses a number of tools to ensure better regulation. The tools include impact assessments, evaluations, road maps and supporting instruments (including the better regulation guidelines and toolbox) and the independent quality control provided by the Regulatory Scrutiny Board. All these tools are used to translate evidence and stakeholder input into objective analysis supporting political decision-making. The Regulatory Scrutiny Board, as an independent group of Commission officials and external experts, plays a ver important role by checking the quality of all impact assessments and major evaluations. The results of their work are presented in its regular annual reports. These are accessible on an excellent website https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-making-process/regulatory-scrutiny-board_en#latest

In order to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose, the European Commission initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). It makes sure that EU laws deliver their intended benefits for citizens, businesses and society at minimum cost and in the simplest way. The REFIT Platform advises the Commission on how to make EU regulation more efficient and reviews the suggestions that EU citizens, businesses, national authorities and other stakeholders send via an aptly named website ‘Lighten the load’. https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/lighten-load_en

At the heart of the work of the EU are the Directorate Generals of the the European Commission. They are the ones that carry out the evaluations, the impact assessments, the road maps and draft legislation. The assessment of those reports is the done by the Regulatory Scrutiny Board and Refit Platform. Figure 1 summarises the work, under a number of headings, during the period 2015 to 2018.










Challenges ahead

The outgoing European Commission has done a good job on better regulation. The incoming European Commission will face new challenges. It will not be all plain sailing. For example, the stocktaking showed that stakeholders had mixed views on the Commission’s efforts to simplify existing EU laws and reduce costs where possible. While the Commission’s efforts to simplify and reduce unnecessary burdens have delivered results, there are critics who would suggest that these are neither well communicated nor generally regarded as sufficient. Accordingly, while the changes introduced under the outgoing Commission have gone in the right direction, there is scope to do better. In particular, it will be important for the new European Commission to undertake work at an early stage to ascertain the reasons why simplification has proven to be so complicated and burden reduction so burdensome.


Tom Ferris

Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes blogs regularly to PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport.
















20 May, 2019

Blog: OECD Report shows that Ireland needs to improve Regulatory Performance

2019-05-20T09:58:41+01:00May 20th, 2019|News|Comments Off on Blog: OECD Report shows that Ireland needs to improve Regulatory Performance

There is scope for Ireland to improve its regulatory performance according to statistics produced recently by the OECD. The statistics are contained in the recently published ‘Better Regulation Practices across the European Union, 2019’. This report was prepared by the OECD at the invitation of the European Union  http://www.oecd.org/publications/better-regulation-practices-across-the-european-union-9789264311732-en.htm


Why improve Regulation Policies?

Laws and regulations affect the daily lives of businesses and citizens. High-quality laws promote national welfare and growth, while badly designed laws hinder growth, harm the environment and put the health of citizens at risk. The introduction to the OECD Report points out that  – “… Countries need to strengthen their regulatory processes and the institutions involved. At a time of fiscal stringency and heightened global uncertainty, regulatory policy remains a key government tool for ensuring the safety and well-being of citizens while stimulating innovation and economic growth and prosperity , Despite some improvements much work remains to be done to reap the rewards of better regulation”. http://www.oecd.org/publications/better-regulation-practices-across-the-european-union-9789264311732-en.htm


The OECD’s Scoring System

The OECD uses three main indicators to measure regulatory performance:-

  • An indicator on Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA);
  • An indicator on Stakeholder Engagement and
  • An indicator on Ex-post Evaluation, i.e. reviewing performance.

In turn, each of these indicators has four components:

  • Methodology: how good or bad is the methodology used for RIAs;
  • Oversight: If there is an oversight body, how effective is it;
  • Adoption: How consistently are RIAs undertaken, and
  • Transparency: To what extent are results of RIAs made publicly available.

The maximum score for each component is one and the maximum score for each aggregate indicator is four. A perfect country could score twelve points i.e. three times four. No such score has ever been recorded by any Member State.


Ireland’s Performance for RIAs

Table 1 reproduces the OECD scores, for 2014 and 2017, for Ireland’s performance of in the area of Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA). The overall results show Ireland achieving a “good pass”, but not an “honours” result in both years. It is interesting to note that where Ireland achieved an aggregate result of 2.09 in 2017, the European. Union achieved an aggregate result of 3.28. Put differently, Ireland only achieved 64 per cent of the EU result in 2017.

Table 1: IRELAND – Regulatory Impact Analysis for Primary Laws
Category Year 2014 Year 2017 Change
Methodology 0.72 0.73 0.01
Oversight 0.19 0.15 -0.04
Adoption 0.80 0.80 0.00
Transparency 0.41 0.41 0.00
Aggregate 2.12 2.09 -0.03
Note: Maximum score of 1 for each category and
maximum score of 4 for the aggregate of four categories


Ireland’s Performance under Stakeholder Engagement

Engaging with those concerned and affected by regulations is fundamental if the quality of regulations is to be improved. OECD now produces statistics on stakeholder engagement. Table 2 reproduces OECD scores for Ireland on stakeholder engagement in 2014 and 2017. The results are quite disappointing. Where Ireland achieved an aggregate result of 1.7 in 2017, the European. Union achieved an aggregate result of 3.41. Put differently, Ireland only achieved half of the EU result for stakeholder engagement in 2017.


Table 2: IRELAND – Stakeholder Engagement for Primary Laws
Category Year 2014 Year 2017 Change
Methodology 0.44 0.44 0.00
Oversight 0.00 0.25 0.25
Adoption 0.62 0.62 0.00
Transparency 0.31 0.39 0.08
Aggregate 1.37 1.70 0.33
Note: Maximum score of 1 for each category and
maximum score of 4 for the aggregate of four categories


Ireland’s Performance under Ex-post Evaluation

Only after laws have entered into force can governments assess their full effects on society. Conditions change over time and even regulations can become outdated. Accordingly, the OECD advises countries to regularly review their stock of existing regulations. For its part, the OECD measures the extent to which countries carry out ex-post evaluations. Table 3 reproduces OECD scores for Ireland for ex-post evaluations in 2014 and 2017. The aggregate results are extremely low, with some components actually recording zero results.  Where Ireland achieved an aggregate result of 0.79 in 2017, the European. Union achieved an aggregate result of 3.08. Put differently, Ireland only achieved a quarter of the EU result for stakeholder engagement in 2017



Table 3: IRELAND – Ex-post Evaluation for Primary Laws
Category Year 2014 Year 2017 Change
Methodology 0.00 0.00 0.00
Oversight 0.00 0.17 0.17
Adoption 0.43 0.49 0.06
Transparency 0.13 0.13 0.00
Aggregate 0.56 0.79 0.23
Note: Maximum score of 1 for each category and maximum score of 4 for the aggregate of four categories


Scope for improvement

There is certainly scope for Ireland to improve its regulatory performance if Ireland’s scores, as published by the OECD, are accepted as reflecting actual performance. In the text accompanying the statistics, the OECD notes that – “ Ireland recently made some improvements to its regulatory policy system, particularly in the areas of consultation and ex post evaluation”. However, it suggests that – “ In order to more effectively monitor and assess the quality of RIA implementation, Ireland should consider establishing a central oversight body”. This suggestion of having an oversight body was also made recently by The Law Reform Commission – see my blog https://www.pai.ie/is-there-a-need-for-a-regulatory-guidance-office/ . While the advent of a robust oversight body would be helpful, it would be only one of a number of things that needs to be done to improve regulatory performance across the public sector. The overall objective should be one of designing, developing and delivering good regulatory policies for all citizens.


Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes blogs regularly to PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport.


Tom Ferris

2 May, 2019

Blog: Corporate Governance in Sport

2019-05-02T16:05:44+01:00May 2nd, 2019|News|Comments Off on Blog: Corporate Governance in Sport

With major concerns being raised in relation to corporate governance arrangements within the FAI and Scouting Ireland and previously in other voluntary sporting organisations, it is timely for sports Clubs generally to be reviewing their own governance arrangements in line with best practice, but, in addition, do the public at large need higher levels of assurance in relation to compliance with the law generally.

Sports Clubs fall into various legal categories.

Some are companies limited by guarantee regulated by the Companies Registration Office, with the ODCE overseeing compliance. Others are charities regulated by the Charities Regulator and ensures compliance in that sector. Most sports clubs are, however, registered clubs with the District Court, under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act,1904 which introduces very minimum governance requirements. For the purpose of obtaining sports grants and other State funding, sports clubs are obliged to hold tax exempt status from Revenue which imposes certain governance requirements in relation to disposal assets or surpluses in the event of wind up, but many clubs do not fall into this category.

We traditionally think of corporate governance arrangements in terms of prudent financial management and compliance with companies act obligations, but there are broader obligations in which compliance must be assured to be taken into account in sport e.g. in the areas of health and safety and the safeguarding of children.

Available at www.goverancecode.ie is a Governance Code which is a resource to assist community, voluntary and charity (CVC) organisations develop their overall capacity in terms of how they run their organisation. It a voluntary code provided free to all boards/committees/ executives of not-for-profit groups to encourage them to check themselves against best practice in the management of their affairs.

Given the dependence of Clubs on voluntary donations and State funds, is it time for NGBs in sport to be critically reviewing governance arrangements within member clubs and requiring them to have annual/ biennial compliance audits in respect of all their statutory obligations undertaken by an external body, in the interest of members and all stakeholders. The same applies to registered clubs generally and is the Registration of Clubs(Ireland) Act 1904 in need of updating?

In short, perhaps is it now time for all community, sporting and voluntary groups to have an external review undertaken of their all their governance arrangements and obligations on an annual/biennial, with external support.


By: Andrew Cullen, Corporate Governance Consultant, PAI.

Andrew Cullen is course leader on PAI’s Certificate in Public Sector Corporate Governance.

Andrew is a former Assistant Secretary in the Civil Service, where his career focused mainly on corporate governance and regulation in the transport, energy and telecommunications sectors, and strategy and investment in the public transport sector. He has extensive experience in dealing with State bodies and with the EU and international bodies, including serving for a period in Brussels with the Department of Foreign Affairs.


24 Apr, 2019

The Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies should be immediately amended…

2019-04-24T13:38:54+01:00April 24th, 2019|News|Comments Off on The Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies should be immediately amended…

I hope to address this challenging topic at the forthcoming PAI Governance Conference in May. Herewith are a few of the issues I’ll be raising. Comments or counterviews will be warmly welcomed.

The SDGs

Along with 192 other countries, Ireland signed up to the UN 2030 Agenda in 2015. That Agenda is comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets. From the outset, the UN declared that the SDGs could not be achieved without the business community being actively involved on a global scale. Its Global Compact (UNGC) division was appointed to develop the guidelines and roadmaps that would encourage businesses to engage and report their progress on an annual basis up to 2030. To-date over 12,000 companies from 160 countries have enrolled including a modest 13 from Ireland. The question arising is:

Why has Irish business not yet bought into the SDGs and the transformative sustainability revolution currently underway across the commercial world?

The Business Perspective

I conducted a recent round-table discussion on this question among a group of my business clients to determine board member interest in SDGs as change of this nature must be led from the boardroom. The following comments summarise the exchange:

  • “What are SDGs?
  • “That’s overwhelming – that’s for governments not business”.
  • “In Ireland, over 90% of businesses are SMEs. Our priority is survival. The last thing we need are another 169 compliance obligations”.
  • SDGs – CSR – KPIs – GRIs – IAEG – ESG – UNGC – EUNFR – TCFD – it’s bewildering.
  • “I don’t hear anything from government about SDGs. I hear energy, carbon and climate change but not SDGs”.
  • “That’s too big an agenda for SMEs – government agencies must take the lead”.
  • “State bodies are not adopting their own SDGs – I see no example being set there”.
  • “The State Body Governance Code does not even mention SDGs”.
  • “Large corporates are very active in this space through the CSR Forum”.
  • We’d have an interest but on a scale we could manage – we’d need help”

The State Body Perspective

I came away from this round-table with the impression that State bodies are perceived to be giving mixed signals to the business community on SDGs. The fact that the Governance Code, which defines how State boards should run their organisations, doesn’t mention SDGs is testimony to that. Initiatives like the SDG Stakeholder Forum are great but all State bodies should be leading by example. Every State body should then be partnering with business groups within their jurisdictions to establish sectoral SDG Networks. The message is clear, all State boards should show leadership in rallying businesses behind the SDGs with particular focus on SMEs. I concluded that the starting point was an SDG addendum to the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies that would give immediate effect to these actions.

The Governance Code

The recent revision of the Code was published in 2016, one year after the signing of the UN 2030 Agenda. There is a lot of noise being correctly made by the DCCAE and its agencies on climate change but the SDGs go much wider than that to cover economic, social and environmental topics. Yet there is potential SDG alignment in the current Code where, in the introduction to Section 8, it defines good governance in these terms…

“Good governance… requires effective arrangements for defining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social, and environmental benefits which should be included in the State body’s oversight agreement with their relevant Minister/parent Department”.

So, emerging thinking suggests that the starting point to showing leadership on SDGs is to build on the above principle and insert an immediate addendum to the Code that would encourage State boards to both:

  • adopt SDGs relevant to their own State Body and annually report outcomes
  • partner with businesses to form Sectoral SDG Networks sharing common targets.

Might that be a runner I wonder?



By: Alan McDonnell, Founder & Principal Good Governance Solutions


To book your place on PAI’s upcoming Corporate Governance Conference click here.

29 Mar, 2019

How to take better notes in a meeting – 5 top tips

2019-03-29T12:17:13+01:00March 29th, 2019|News|Comments Off on How to take better notes in a meeting – 5 top tips

Effective minutes are vital in today’s busy world. Clear, concise, accurate minutes help to show regulatory compliance, good governance and accountability. Just as importantly, they provide a record of progress, developments and actions undertaken.

This responsibility can mean that minute-takers try to note everything down in a meeting – and then spend hours writing up notes (trying to work out what should go into the finished minutes!).

What strategies can help minute-takers to capture the key points during the meeting?

  1. Remember that minute-taking is not dictation! You don’t have to get everything down, word for word. Your aim is to note the main point or message.


  1. Find out how much detail is needed for the finished minutes, in advance. Do you simply need to list the decision, actions and timelines – or do you need to add key points of a discussion? This will influence how much you write during the meeting.


  1. Keep your notes concise. Only note down the key points that will go into the finished minutes. Not every point that people make or every piece of information people share needs to go into the finished minutes, so don’t try to get it all into your notes.


  1. Be aware of the agenda item. If a speaker goes off on a tangent, then you probably won’t be adding it to the finished minutes.


  1. Write shorter – so you can listen more effectively. You don’t need to learn shorthand because you can develop your own abbreviations for words that come up frequently. For example: rp or rep for report, conf for conference and st for staff.

By Sarah Marriott 

Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors. Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English.

On Friday 7 June, Sarah Marriott will lead a seminar on Minute-Taking. For more information, or to book, click here 

29 Mar, 2019

Report Writing: How to capture your readers’ attention

2019-03-29T12:12:15+01:00March 29th, 2019|News|Comments Off on Report Writing: How to capture your readers’ attention

A report that people don’t read is a wasteful use of resources – and of missed opportunities. So how can you create reports that capture the attention of your target readers?

First impressions count. An effective layout can help to make reports more accessible and enhance an organisation’s reputation. The appearance of a report can also influence how readers approach it, how much they read and how they use the content afterwards.

Tip 1 – Use white space

One of the most effective ways of encouraging your intended audience to read a report is to avoid cramming in information. Each page or screen should have plenty of white space – so it can ‘breathe’. This involves using lots of sub-headings to separate short sections, unjustified text and short paragraphs (an average of 6 lines is a good guideline). Don’t underline text and try to use 1.5 line spacing if possible (or at least 1.15).

Tip 2 – Use visuals

Visual images can help to attract readers’ attention and stop them simply scanning a report. Try to add charts, tables, graphics, photos, infographics, sub-headings, bullet-point lists, panels and colour to your pages. Reports that display information in different ways are particularly effective if you’re trying to reach an audience of both experts and non-experts. Another benefit is that many visuals add white space to a page.

Summary – How your report can capture readers’ attention

  1. Ensure pages have white space
  2. Use sub-headings to break information into ‘bite-sized’ chunks
  3. Keep paragraphs short
  4. Avoid overlong sentences
  5. Prefer unjustified text
  6. Avoid single line spacing
  7. Use visuals to add interest and white space


By Sarah Marriott

Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors. Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English.

On Thursday 13 June, Sarah Marriott will lead a seminar on Report Writing. For more information, or to book, click here

29 Mar, 2019

The 29th March and still no Brexit!

2019-03-29T10:12:57+01:00March 29th, 2019|News|Comments Off on The 29th March and still no Brexit!

Prime Minister Theresa May has failed to get the House of Commons to agree to her plan for the UK to leave the EU. While the House continues to ruminate on a workable plan, the recent European Summit in Brussels has set two clear dates for the UK to make up its mind on Brexit. Specifically, The European Council agreed to – “… to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council”.  https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/european-council/2019/03/21-22/

Brexit’s impact on Ireland

The National Economic and Social Council pointed that out many years ago that – “… it is not  possible  to  stop  the  world and let Ireland off”.  ( https://www.nesc.ie/; 3rd Report). And so too for Brexit. Ireland cannot avoid the impacts of Brexit and most of them will be negative. As Philip Lane, Governor of the Central Bank, recently told the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, that – “…any form of Brexit will be damaging for Ireland, with a hard Brexit especially so. Recognising these risks, the Central Bank…continue to analyse and work to mitigate the risks posed to the economy, consumers, the financial system, and the regulatory environment”. https://www.centralbank.ie/news/article/introductory-statement-governor-philip-r.-lane-joint-committee-finance-public-expenditure-and-reform-and-taoiseach

The ESRI in conjunction with the Department of Finance has recently published a very useful and timely report on the impact of Brexit.

A team of four produced the report; Adele Bergin, Philip Economides and Abian Garcia-Rodriguez of the ESRI, and  Gavin Murphy of the Department of Finance


This ESRI report sets-out three alternative scenarios, in order to take account of political and economic uncertainties:

  • Deal (the UK makes an orderly agreed exit from the EU);
  • No-deal (the UK exits the EU without a deal but there is an orderly period of adjustment for trade), and
  • Disorderly no-deal (the UK exits the EU without a deal and there is an additional disruption to trade in the short-run, above that considered in the No-Deal scenario).

In each scenario, some of the negative trade impact is partially offset by Foreign Direct Investment being diverted to Ireland.

ESRI’s Estimates of Impact of Brexit

The ESRI first takes a baseline scenario, which assumes that the UK remains in the EU. It then shows what the differences are between the baseline and the three alternative scenarios (the Deal, the No-deal and a Disorderly no-deal).  Overall, in each scenario, the level of Irish output is permanently below where it otherwise would have been were the UK to decide to remain in the EU.

There are two main channels through which the ‘Brexit shock’ will hit the Irish economy; the negative trade shock will serve to reduce economic activity below where it otherwise would have been, while the positive Foreign Direct Investment shock will help to partially offset some of the overall negative impact. However, the ESRI report points out that – “… the trade shock arising from the imposition of tariff and non-tariff measures would lead to lower activity in the international economy and severely reduce the demand for Irish exports. It would also negatively affect Irish competitiveness on impact. However, we would expect some internal adjustment in the economy that would help to restore lost competitiveness over time”.




















The main ESRI estimates are reproduced in the Table. The impacts of Brexit on Ireland show that Gross Domestic Product in Ireland ten years after Brexit will be around 2.6% lower in a Deal scenario, 4.8% lower in a No-Deal scenario and 5.0% lower in a Disorderly No-Deal scenario, as compared to a situation where the UK stays in the EU. Comparable reductions for other economic areas would be:

  • Consumption: reduction between 2% and 3.7%;
  • Employment: reduction between 2% and 3.4%;
  • External trade: reduction between 4.5% and 8.3%, and
  • Investment: reduction between 4.1% and 7.8%, and

Although these are substantial relative reductions in the level of output over the long run, it is very important to point out that the Irish economy will continue to grow in each scenario but that the growth rate will be lower in the context of Brexit.

The North/South Dimension of Brexit

 As well as the economic dimensions there are also many political dimensions to Brexit. In particular, there are Ireland’s concerns to ensure that EU-UK and Ireland-UK negotiations give priority attention to the Northern Ireland dimension, including issues relating to the border, EU funding, and ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement remains fully in place and respected. In that context see my PAI blog of 8 December, entitled ‘The EU/UK Report on Brexit Negotiations is very important for Ireland’. https://www.pai.ie/eu-uk-report-brexit-negotiations-important-ireland/

Paragraphs 49 and 50 of that agreed report are still contentious particularly as far as the DUP Democratic Unionist Party is concerned. While Paragraph 49 provided for a diplomatic backstop which promised to keep Northern Ireland in “full alignment” with the EU if all else fails; the following paragraph pointed out that whatever Brexit solution emerges no barriers to trade can be created between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. The thrust of these two paragraphs still resonate as the UK House of Commons struggle to agree to a plan for the UK to leave the EU. We watch with bated breath.

By Tom Ferris 

Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes blogs regularly to PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport.


25 Mar, 2019

Plain English Legislation

2019-03-25T15:04:02+01:00March 25th, 2019|News|Comments Off on Plain English Legislation

Benefits of plain English

“A good example of how the Department has already altered its approach to acting on frontline intelligence is by making staff feedback loops an integral part of the design process, which uses an iterative and participative process to bring frontline experience to the heart of design activity.”

What on earth does this mean? Most of us would have to read this gobbledygook several times to work out the message. But how many readers would care enough to struggle through such a mess of jargon, buzz words and official-ese? One way to help people to read and understand your written communications is to use plain English.

What is plain English?

A document is in plain English if its intended readers can easily read, understand and use the information.

People like plain English
Research shows that people are more likely to read information that is written and displayed in plain English – because they find it faster to read and easier to deal with. It also shows that people are more likely to trust an organisation that communicates clearly and simply.

Recent research in Ireland found:

  • 95% of adults are in favourof organisations providing information in plain English
  • 48% of people tend to find official documentation difficult to understand


New legislation on plain language

Plain English will become compulsory in the public sector when new legislation is passed later this year. The Plain Language Bill 2019 aims to ensure all written communications from the public sector use plain language.  It will cover all new documents – from forms and emails to websites and reports – and also require that any updated materials are re-written in plain language.

Why use plain English?

Everyone benefits from plain English. The new legislation will help the 18% of people in Ireland with literacy issues to access services – and the growing numbers of people who don’t have English as their first language.  In addition, research shows that higher educated people prefer plain English – possibly because it’s quicker to scan and read.

Can plain English help organisations to save time and money?

Because people can understand plain English the first time they read it, it saves them time – and helps them to make better informed decisions (and they will make fewer mistakes when dealing with the information). This saves organisations time and money because staff will receive fewer calls to the help desk, have to deal with fewer incorrect forms, get a better response to letters and emails, and so on.

The UK government saved about £9 million by rewriting forms
During a programme in the 1980s to improve communications, the Civil Service re-wrote over 21,000 forms. Examples of savings include:

  • A Customs and Excise form where the error rate was reduced from 55% to 3% – saving £33,000 a year in staff time
  • A Department of the Environment form on ‘right to buy’ had an error rate of 60%. The plain English version had an error rate of under 5%


The Royal Mail in the UK saved £500,000 in 9 months
An unclear ‘Redirection of mail’ form had an error rate of 87% and cost the Royal Mail over £10,000 a week in dealing with complaints and reprocessing incorrect forms. After it was rewritten, the error rate dropped significantly – and the Royal Mail saved a huge amount of staff time.



Source for case studies: Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please – The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government and Law by Joseph Kimble (Carolina Academic Press)

By Sarah Marriott

Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors. Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English. 

On Wednesday 15 May, Sarah Marriott will lead a Plain English workshop. Click here for more information or to book.


6 Mar, 2019

Decluttering your Workspace

2019-03-06T08:53:22+01:00March 6th, 2019|News|Comments Off on Decluttering your Workspace

Paula Butler 

One of the first things I tackled on my journey to a more minimalist and ecoconscious lifestyle, was my workspace. I work from home and my office was overrun with piles of paper, pens, notepads, etc. and it was a source of stress for me whenever I sat down to work. Personally, I find it difficult to think clearly in a messy environment and I am much more productive when my space is organised and calm.

Here are 3 good reasons why it’s worth making the time to declutter your desk:

  • An untidy desk suggests an untidy mind and does not inspire confidence in others
  • An organised workspace will help you feel more in control and will save you time
  • A tidy workspace helps calm the mind and inspires creativity

The following are my top 10 tips on decluttering and organising your workspace:

  1. Set aside 1 hour to start this process – it’s less daunting and once you see the results it will inspire you to complete the task. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve in 1 hour!
  2. Empty your desk completely, yes even your “junk drawer”
  3. Give your desk a good clean once everything is out
  4. Go through each item and ask yourself if you really, really use it and need it
  5. If you decide you need it, then designate a specific home for it
  6. Keep only the things you really need and use every day out on your desk (in my case 1 pen, 1 notepad, 1 stapler, 1 paper punch, 1 sticky pad and 1 highlighter pen)
  7. Set limits on the number items you will keep e.g. 1 stapler, 1 box of spare staples, etc.
  8. Designate a place keep your personal items e.g. coat, bag, gym gear. Don’t keep them around or under your desk and preferably store them in a cupboard out of sight.
  9. Designate one basket/filing tray for short term storage. Once it has reached capacity, that’s your trigger to clear it out.
  10. Regularly clean your desk using non-toxic, biodegradable or reusable wipes

Paula Butler will speak at PAI’s Corporate Wellbeing Breakfast Briefing, for more information on this event, click here

Paula Butler is an environmental consultant with over 20 years’ experience. She holds an Honours Degree in Natural Science from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Environmental Management from Aberdeen University, Scotland. Paula was appointed by the Minister for the Environment to sit on the Admissions Board for the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) from 2009 to 2015. Paula established her own environmental consultancy practice in 2014 and as part of this has been delivering training to the Government on Climate Change and Climate Finance through Public Affairs Ireland (PAI).

1 Mar, 2019

The Resilience and Wellbeing Springboard; a Guide to Managing Stress 

2019-03-06T08:49:41+01:00March 1st, 2019|News|Comments Off on The Resilience and Wellbeing Springboard; a Guide to Managing Stress 

On Wednesday 27th March PAI will host a Breakfast Briefing- Your Workplace Environment – A Sustainable Approach to Corporate Wellbeing. We are delighted that our panel of expert speakers have shared articles on the subjects they will discuss at the event.

The Resilience and Wellbeing Springboard; a Guide to Managing Stress 

Liz Kearney

I’m always a bit sceptical about quoting statistics and some time ago I came across a very clever comment online that ‘coined’ my thinking. It cited that “64 per cent of statistics are made up”. I often share this with my workshop groups and it never fails to put a grin on their faces. One statistic however that I do think we need to take seriously as I believe it to be very close to reality is this:

50% of the reasons why people go to the doctor are stress related.

Stress can manifest itself in many different ways. Anything from the common cold to chronic pain, not to mention heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many more illnesses can so often be linked to stress in some form or another.  The bad news is that there is now concrete evidence that workplace stress is increasing. Stress when not managed and controlled can be linked to anxiety, depression and eventual burn out. The impact of all of this on the workplace results in unnecessary pressure, hostility, conflict, presentism, poor performance and absenteeism to name just a few.

So what can we do? First of all the good news is that this research is not being ignored and there is already a lot been done.  Many organisations are very aware of the impact of stress and are actively providing support and introducing initiatives to combat these issues. Workplace health information is now widely available to all employees both through internal procedures and the internet.

Whereas this is very positive and reassuring, having spent most of my career in a pressurised financial corporate environment I believe that stress has to be addressed at the source. By this I mean the management of stress, the control of stress and an effort to combat stress has got to start with the individual themselves. This means taking responsibility, gaining some knowledge, understanding implications and culturing a shift in mind-set.  Employees need to become aware of the choices available to them.

The first thing to recognise is that not all stress is bad. Stress is a necessary emotion. Our brains are hardwired in such a way that it is difficult for us to take action until we experience some level of stress. Stress can motivate us and take us out of our comfort zone. In doing so we can create new pathways in our thinking and new patterns in our behaviour thus creating a more positive environment.  On the other end of the scale bad stress even mild bad stress, if left to fester can wreak havoc on our health and wellbeing over time.

Combating stress I believe ultimately comes down to two things:

1) Challenging our perception of stress and

2) Our level of resilience.

We create and cultivate our own stressors and it is only until we become aware of our negative responses are we able to change them and take back control. Learning about our survival technique and what negative stress can physiologically do to our body is the first step required to encourage us to learn how to choose a different response and create new pathways and habits. We have a choice.

Building resilience is a day in day out activity that needs to become a habit. It involves actions and activities that will strengthen the mind the body and the soul. If we make these behaviours part of our everyday we will in time strengthen our protection mechanism, create a more positive outlook, maintain equilibrium and bounce back when challenged with adversity. If we all take some responsibility in making this happen a kinder, more respectful, empathetic workplace will ensue. But this wellness will not just be contained to the workplace it will spill over into our personal lives, our relationships and our overall sense of happiness and wellbeing. It also will hopefully reduce the number of visits to the GP giving everyone more time to live life to the full.

Liz Kearney will speak at PAI’s Corporate Wellbeing Breakfast Briefing, for more information on this event, click here


Liz Kearney is a professional trainer and a qualified business coach specialising in well-being in the workplace. She has worked with many Corporates, The Public Sector and SME’s delivering programmes on Stress, Wellbeing and Resilience and has been an associate trainer with Aware for the last 5 years. She is a Qualified Financial Adviser, an accredited DiSC psychometric practitioner and holds a diploma in Psychology, CBT and Emotional Intelligence.