This page serves as a mechanism in which the Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA) will attempt to provide clarity and guidance to public bodies for common issues. These responses are to be viewed as assistance in the application and interpretation of the Code. They are to be considered neither exhaustive nor unduly restrictive. The Commission intends for this guidance to be a living document that will allow some flexibility and alteration to meet the changing nature of Public Service Recruitment if and when required. The CPSA is both an advisory and regulatory body available to engage in advance of, during and post recruitment processes to assist in adherence to best practice.

FAQ

The Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 provides the regulatory framework for fair, transparent and merit-based recruitment and selection in the Irish public service.  It replaced the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1954 and abolished the Civil Service Commission.

Public bodies who make reference to either Act in their legislation fall under the remit of the CPSA.  The Act sets out the rules for recruitment and obliges public bodies to uphold the Code of Practice when making an appointment.  If an appointment is required to be made under the Act, a selection process must be carried out.  The Act provides for the publishing of the Code of Practice by the Commission. 

Appointment to the following are subject to the Code:

  • Positions in the Civil Service
  • Certain positions in An Garda Síochána
  • Local authority positions to which the Local Authorities Act 1926 applies, (Assistant Principal equvivalent)
  • Positions in the Health Service Executive (HSE)
  • Position in the Irish Prison Service
  • Positions in certain public bodies, where the governing legislation of a public body sets out that staff members of that body will be recruited subject tot the provisions of the Act

We do not oversee appointments for:

  • The private sector
  • Public bodies where the selection process does not need to be made under the Act
  • Positions set up under the constitution
  • Office holder positions, such as Ministers of Government and of the State, Attorney General and Ombudsman
  • Presidential and Government roles
  • Officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas
  • Speacial adviser
  • Some unestablished positions made in the public interest
  • Positions designated as scheduled occupations under the Act - suach as service officers, watchmen and cleaners

A breach of code of practice occurs where the selection process is found not to have been carried out in accordance with the principles and standards set out in section 2 of the Code of Practice.  This means that the selection process was not carried out fairly.  In the finding of a breach the Commission will outline exact steps required to ensure future compliance under the code.

Examples of breaches of the Code of Practice include:

  • Restrictive eligibility criteria
  • Selective advertising and marketing
  • Ambiguous assessment criteria
  • Selection criteria not based on the requirements for the role
  • Inconsistent treatment of candidates
  • Misleading or incorrect information
  • Failure to safeguard against bias or discrimination
  • Failure to document the selection/decision making process
  • Inadequate training of board members
  • Failure to advise on the review mechanisms available
  • Feedback not specific and meaningful
  • A fair selection process will generally include:
  • Clear, unambiguous job specifications
  • Unrestrictive eligibility criteria
  • Differentiation between essential and desirable requirements
  • Shortlisting only on essential (and most desirable) requirements
  • Ensuring widest possible, appropriate candidate pool
  • Assessment criteria only directly related to requirements
  • Objective selection criteria
  • Agreed performance indicators, understood by selection boards
  • Variety of complimentary assessment mechanisms
  • Clear information to candidates and boards
  • Training provided to selection boards
  • Mechanisms to identify and address conflicts of interest/connections
  • Specific and meaningful feedback
  • Clear information on complaints procedures
  • Selection of best candidate for the role

The Commission will on occasion find a complaint not in breach, but will make a recommendation to the body concerned regarding practices or procedures for future competitions.  In these circumstances the recommendation should be viewed as necessary to implement in order to safeguard future competitions, avoid recurring complaints and negate the possibility of future serious breaches.

  • Assessment Methods
  • Conflict of interests
  • Feedback
  • Interview Board Members
  • Reference Checking
  • Restrictive eligibility criteria
  • Shortlisting

The Code set out the regulatory framework for such appointment processes and centre on six key recruitment principles.

Probity

Appointments made on merit

An appointment process in line with best practice

A fair appointment process applied with consistency

Appointments made in an open, accountable and transparent manner

Appointments promoting equality, diversity and inclusion

The code gives guidance on the meaning and application of these principles in everyday practice. They also set out the standards which should be followed at each stage of the selection process.

Examples of review request received based on perceived breaches of these principles include:

  1. Failure to have appropriate mechanisms in place to identify connections between selection board members and candidates and manage potential conflicts of interest.
  2. Failure to appropriately investigate allegations of breaches received under section 8 and issue reports in a timely manner.
  3. Breaches of candidate confidentiality, where details of complaints received under section 8 and their findings were unnecessarily disclosed to third parties.
  4. Failure to fully document procedures relating to recruitment and selection, which led to inconsistent and unfair treatment of candidates.
  5. Candidates being inappropriately offered positions from panels to which the selection process did not relate.
  6. Candidates being offered positions outside of the order of merit

A recruitment licence is a permit allowing you, as a public body, to carry out your own external recruitment.  If an appointment must be made under the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointment) Act 2004, the selection process must be carried out by an approved licence holder.

You can apply to us for a licence.  This will be granted either generally, in relation to all positions within your organisation, or specifically, in relation to one or more positions.

You must show you have:

  • Resources to carry out fair and merit-based recruitment on the scale that is needed
  • Staff with knowledge and expertise to carry out fair, merit-based appointments
  • A good understanding of the Code of Practice and how to uphold them

Please note that Licences are issued with terms and conditions.  Under the Public Service Management Act, the Commission cannot instruct a public body to reverse a decision taken in the course of the appointment process but a licence may be terminated if you do not adhere to the Code.

The Public Appointments Service will often carry out a recruitment process on your behalf. In such cases you do not need to apply for a licence.  You only need a licence if you want to carry out your own external recruitment process.

A recruitment licence is granted subject to ongoing compliance with its terms and conditions.  If a body is found to have acted in contravention of the terms and conditions, the licence may be revoked.  When making appointments, licence holders are subject to the Code of Practice published by the Commission.  These set out the regulatory framework for selection and the principles and standards that must be followed when carrying out a selection process.  As part of the Commission’s oversight role, audits are undertaken of licence holder recruitment and selection activity.  These are provided for in sections 43(5) and 13 of the Act. Audits help ensure licence holders have adequate safeguards in place to support candidates being selected fairly and consistently, in line with the code.

Licence holders may seek the assistance of listed recruitment agencies for some of the tasks connected with selection under the particular recruitment licence held (full details are available from the Commission).  However, the licence holder has sole responsibility for the final selection of candidates for appointment and for placing candidates on a panel for appointment.  Where the assistance of a listed recruitment agency is sought, it will remain the duty of the licence holder to ensure that that agency complies with the terms and conditions of the recruitment licence, the Code of Practice and any other guidelines issued by the Commission.

In most cases, as a licence holder, you will carry out all stages of a selection process. However, you can ask a private sector recruitment agency to assist with some of the tasks. We publish our ‘listed recruitment agencies’ annually.

These are agencies we believe can help licence holders with fair, merit-based recruitment under the Codes of Practice.  They have applied to us to be included on the list – outlining their knowledge and resources as well as their capacity for merit-based public-service recruitment.  The agencies are listed on the register of licensed employment agencies and they have provided compliance statements, which confirm their commitment to the standards and principles in the Codes of Practice.

There is no obligation to use a listed agency, but they can give considerable assistance and extra resources if needed.  In most cases, a listed agency will have specialist knowledge and expertise or it may have selection tools that you may not have.  When deciding whether or not to use an agency, you should look at your own resources and expertise, the volume and nature of the vacant roles and your capacity to recruit in line with best practice.  If there are any gaps in knowledge or resources, a listed agency should be used.

All of the agencies approved by the Commission are published on the CPSA website here and updated regularly.

The Commission for Public Service Appointments requires that all bodies are compliant with their obligations under legislation in order to ensure a best practice approach to recruitment;

  • Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004
  • Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Amendment Act 2013
  • Employment Equality Acts 1998–2011
  • Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014
  • Disability Act 2005
  • Official Languages Act 2003
  • Data Protection Act 2018
  • Freedom of Information Acts 1997–2014
  • Protected Disclosures Act 2014
  • Code of Practice for the Employment of People with Disabilities (published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform)- The Disability Act 2005 sets out a legal obligation on public service bodies to take all reasonable measures to promote and support, in so far as possible, the employment of persons with a disability

The Commission would expect each organisation to have a robust and fair complaints system in place.  A system that has transparency and clear communication at its core and that fosters a sense of trust and confidence within the organisation.  Feedback and complaints should be viewed as valuable learning and training tools.  This complaints system should be well signposted to all prospective internal and external candidates and be supported by a competent review process.

This complaints system should:

  • Have a formalised well-publicised, accessible, transparent and simple to-use system of feedback/complaints for customers who are dissatisfied with the service they have received
  • Have systems in place to deal with customer feedback/complaints
  • Ensure that the complaints system is widely known and available
  • Maintain a formalised well-publicised, accessible, transparent and simple to-use system of appeal/review for customers who are dissatisfied with recruitment decisions
  • Provide relevant, timely and clear information for all requests for review or feedback
  • As part of any signposting of a complaints process, a public body would also be expected to provide candidates with information relating to the Section 7 and/or Section 8 complaint process.  Ideally a complainant should be aware of the possible outcomes of either review process in order to make an informed decision on their review/complaint pathway. The Commission would also suggest that as part of this signposting exercise that the public body clarifies the complaint/review content with the person to ensure all parties are clear on what is being requested.

If a candidate is unhappy with a decision made during a selection process, or they believe it was made on incorrect information or that documented procedure was not followed, they can ask for a review under Section 7 of the code.  The decision may be reversed if it is found to have been incorrect.

Reviews are managed by the public body that carried out the selection process. The organisation should be contacted directly for a review.  Information on where candidates should send their requests should be highlighted in the job information booklet.

There are two stages in the review process, informal and formal.  An informal process would in most circumstances be initiated initially, however, sometimes the complainant or the public body may want a formal review from the start.  In these cases, both parties need to discuss and agree this.

Informal review

The reason why an informal Section 7 review should be submitted and actioned quickly is so that if an error is identified, this will give the public body time to take corrective action without delaying the appointment.

However, the public body is not obliged to stop a selection process if it is asked for a review.

The informal stage often involves a telephone conversation or a meeting with someone linked to the selection process, usually someone in human resources. This will give the candidate an opportunity to:

  • Say in greater detail why they believe the decision was incorrect
  • Talk about the procedures and the information that was assessed during the process

The reviewer will decide if the original decision was made correctly and if documented procedure was followed. The public body will then decide if any action needs to be taken.

Formal review

The public body will appoint an independent reviewer – someone not linked to the selection process.  They will examine the information available.  They may also meet members of the selection board to discuss aspects of the process or the decision made.

The reviewer will decide if the original decision was made on the basis of correct information and if documented procedure was followed.  The decision will be outlined in writing and given to the candidate.  The public body will then decide if any action should be taken.  If an error is found, the original decision may be reversed.

Valid and invaild requests

As per Section 7.2.1 of the Code, a candidate must support their request by outlining the facts they believe show that an action taken or decision reached was wrong. A request for a review may be refused if the candidate cannot support their request. The CPSA has no involvement in a Section 7 review, however, should a complainant remain dissatisified with the outcome of a formal review, they can request that the CPSA examine it under exceptional circumstances.  These circumstances are reviewed on a case by case basis.  If the examination is found in favour of the complainant, the original decision of the public body cannot be reversed, however, recommendations and follow ups will be made by the Commission to ensure future compliance.

Complaints are initially examined by the public body that carried out the selection process.  The review should examine if the recruitment process was in keeping with the Code of Practice.

There are two stages in the complaint process – informal and formal. A complaint will usually be handled informally at first.  However, sometimes the candidate or the public body, may want it to be a formal complaint from the start.  In such cases, both parties need to discuss and agree this.

Informal complaint

The informal stage often involves a telephone conversation or a meeting with someone linked to the selection process, usually someone in human resources. This will give the candidate an opportunity to:

  • Say in greater detail why they believe the selection process was unfair and list the part or parts of the Codes of Practice they believe were breached
  • Talk about the procedures and the assessment process that led to the public body’s decision
  • Consider if they still believe there was a breach of the code, having been given more information

The reviewer will make an initial decision about the fairness of the process and if there was a breach of the Code of Practice.

The public body will then decide if any action should be taken.

Formal complaint

The public body will appoint an independent reviewer – someone not directly linked to the selection process.  They will examine the information available. They may also consult with members of the selection board to discuss aspects of the selection or the assessment process.  The reviewer will decide if the selection process was fair or in breach of the Codes. If the process is found to be unfair, they may recommend changes to future processes.  The public body will then decide if any action should be taken. If a candidate is not happy with the outcome, they can then appeal it to us – the Commission.  Commission decisions can only be challenged by Judicial review.

What is a valid section 8?

If a candidate thinks the selection process was unfair and in breach of the code of practice, they can make a complaint about the process under Section 8 of the relevant Code.  If the selection is found to have been unfair, the decision cannot be reversed.  However, changes may be made to the process to ensure a breach does not happen again.

What is an invalid section 8?

As per Section 8.1.4 of the Code, the complainant must identify the aspect of the code they believe has been infringed.  A complaint may be dismissed if the complainant cannot support their allegations by setting out how the office holder has fallen short of the principles of the Code.

The time frames laid down in the Code for review in submission and acceptance are considered appropriate and necessary for best practice and fair turnarounds for candidates.  However, the Commission does recognise the need for some flexibility regarding timelines depending on the requirements of an organisation or a candidates’ circumstances.  Therefore, the Commission may consider a deviation from these timelines as acceptable if an appropriate and relevant business case is provided by the body concerned.  This would also mean that in circumstances where a candidate was unable to comply with the timelines concerned the Commission would expect the organisation to give the time delay due consideration.  Any decisions taken by the public body and/or the candidate regarding timelines will be considered by the Commission with regard to fairness and reasonableness.

Section 7 time frame

A request for an informal review of the selection and appointment process must be made within five working days of notification of the decision.

A candidate may request a review of a decision made at any stage while the selection process is ongoing. However, a request for review that relates to an interim stage of a selection process must be received within two working days of receipt of the decision. This is necessary to ensure that the office holder can intervene if it considers that an error is likely to have been made in the course of the appointment process.  The office holder must carry out the informal review without delay.  The review should be conducted within a period of time that ensures the candidate may then also access the formal review procedure within the specified time, should they wish to.

If a candidate remains dissatisfied following any such informal discussion, they may adopt the formal procedures set out in Section 7.  If the candidate wishes the matter to be dealt with by way of a formal review, they must request this within two working days of receiving notification of the outcome of the informal review.

A request for a formal review must be made within ten working days of the candidate receiving notification of the selection decision.  However, where the decision relates to an interim stage of a selection process the request for a formal review must be received within four working days. This is necessary to ensure that the office holder can intervene if it considers that an error is likely to have been made in the course of the appointment process.

An extension of the given time limits will only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances and at the sole discretion of the office holder.

Section 8 time frame

Allegations of breaches of this Code of Practice should be addressed in writing, and within a reasonable timeframe, to the office holder in the first instance.  The office holder must carry out the informal review without delay.

The office holder should issue a written acknowledgement to the complainant within three working days of receipt of the formal complaint.  The outcome of the office holder’s investigation of a formal complaint must be notified to the complainant within 25 working days of receipt of the complaint. If the investigation does not produce a decision within this time, the office holder must keep the complainant informed of the status of the review and the reasons for the delay.