ERCIM News No.48, January 2002 [contents]
Bertie Ahern,
Irish Prime Minister

Most people know that Ireland has become the key European location for the computer and software industry. They may not know that one of our current goals is to become Europe’s leading knowledge economy. Achieving that goal means being at the forefront in electronic delivery of public services, or e-government.

The Internet is changing the way we live and do business. My government is working to build an agile, flexible and business-focussed public service positioning Ireland as a global leader in e-government, making it easier for both citizens and corporate citizens to access public services. It is not about building a wall of technology between service deliverers and those who need them. It is about enhancing the quality of information and delivering more effective services, responsive to the changing needs and expectations of service users.

Put simply, e-government is about using technology to liberate people, users and providers alike. It is not about forcing people to learn about complex interfaces or excluding them because of unfamiliarity with technology. The challenge for IT professionals is to ensure that the technology serves people to the maximum extent possible by fully exploiting all of the available and emerging information and communications technologies. The real test of success for the ICT sector is how accessible and usable they can make it for those who have no IT skills or who feel excluded by technology.

Our model is the Public Services Broker – a single point of twenty-four hour access to public services using a variety of channels - the Internet, phone, digital TV, or any public office. The ‘Broker’ is a collection of functions working virtually and primarily focussed on the needs of the citizen or corporate citizen and, using personal data vaults, protecting their rights and their data.

While the transformation to e-government is not easy, we have made significant progress over the last year or so. Indeed, this has recently been endorsed by the e-Europe benchmarking process, which rated Ireland at the forefront of e-government.

Visible components of e-government delivered to date include:

  • the Revenue On-line System (ROS), for electronic filing of tax returns
  • FÁS (our National Training and Employment Authority) operate an on-line recruitment system for businesses and applicants
  • on-line driving test applications
  • the Land Registry’s ‘Electronic Access Service’ (EAS), which has transformed the way our legal profession interacts with that office
  • public service portals for corporate citizens ( and for private citizens ( with comprehensive, standardised information on public services.

These are just some of the components of the Public Services Broker – which is growing in functionality as new services become available. We are making it easier for businesses and ordinary people to get the information they want from the State, and increasingly, to avail themselves of services on-line, at their convenience.

The first phase of a national e-procurement initiative is already in place and all public sector procurement transactions will be ‘e-enabled’ as soon as possible. It is currently being used by public service agencies right across the spectrum of central and local government, with a significantly higher level of responses to ‘e-requests’ for tender than was the case before.

But to achieve real effectiveness in the operation of the public sector we have to look at the operational side of government – at how the availability of Internet technologies has the potential to re-shape the way we operate. We are now in a position to re-define the ‘public’ and the ‘service’ in a totally new context – the Information Age. Moving forward on this front presents many challenges to all of us, including the IT sector. But it also presents tremendous opportunities to make a difference to business and citizens through greater responsiveness and relevance in addressing the situations or predicaments that people face on a daily basis.

For the IT sector, it calls for openness to new ideas and concepts as well as a determination to remove barriers to the use of technology. Ireland, which has an open economy, has vast potential to further strengthen its position as one of the leading knowledge economies in Europe. And e-government has a vital role to play.

Bertie Ahern