The phrase public policy defined means, a set of solid decisions taken by a political group relating to the selection of goals and the way of achieving them within a particular condition were these should in law be within the power of these actors to achieve. Public policy suggests broad rather than narrow, and general rather than detailed decisions. General courses of action sometimes emerge from many individual and specific decisions that in their total can be seen to fall into patterns which might suitably be called policies.
The courts sometimes make decisions, the contents of which lead public authorities to change state action's, therefore courts make policy. The word policy is also used to describe the general decisions and behaviour of public authorities which have power given to them by the government and the Oireachtas to make rules that have the force of law. Some of these rules can appropriately be called policies. The ministers who make up the government are clearly at the centre of the operation. As the group of leaders who won the previous general election, they take on the major role in governing the country.
Having an overall responsibility for the wellbeing of the community, they are expected by there supporters, by the members of the Oireachtas, and by the community generally to take the initiative in identifying problems to be tackled and opportunities to be broken down and in preparing solutions and lines of action. It is they who make, or at least approve of, the most important and most critical decisions in the making of policy, and it is they who decide what to accept as government policy to be placed before the Oireachtas for approval. They have a domination effect of making legislation and other policy proposals in the Dail and Seanad.
In carrying out there essential decision-making functions, ministers are powerfully aided by a small number of senior civil servants. The most obvious and common input of politicians to policy-making occurs through the making of general attitudes, opinions and ideologies. The agreement to office of a new government is for the most part an event for climate setting, climate setting, influences the way in which particular issues are approached and the kind of measures which are positively regarded, but is to widespread an activity to produce specific policies.
At such a time, civil servants wait for ministers to indicate what policies they will be pursuing and what there priorities will be. They have also to size up there new ministers and to asses there form and style. Setting the climate, identifying major objectives, and indicating priorities provide the framework within which policy is made. Measures still have to be made and choices completed to produce a working policy that a department or other public authority can put into practice. There are two distinct phases in producing such a policy.
The first starts with collecting and appraising data, analysing problems, defining issues, and identifying and evaluating possible courses of action. Much of this is work for civil servants who also do some of the negotiating with the spokesmen of the interests whose views have to be taken into account and with the other departments of state that must be consulted. The second phase involves making policy decisions. The minister makes the critical rulings. In making his decisions, he must satisfy his ministers colleagues, the Oireachtas, and the public, it his career that is at risk.
For his part, the official knows that the policies he proposes will have political consequences for ministers. The proximate policy-makers are subject to a number of constraints arising from both the cultural and the political background within which they work. First, public policy-making accepts in a general way the political traditions of the country, which include quite well-defined concepts of the roles and responsibilities of ministers, the Oireachtas, and the public service. They are also constrained by the limits both of there decision-making procedures and of the resources available to them.
To a considerable extent, politicians take these limits for granted. With few expectations they pay little attention to improving the decision-making processes or to ensuring that they have access to the kinds of professional expertise that almost certainly would improve there performance of there job. The constraints that the proximate policy-makers themselves are likely to be most aware of are external, arising from the demands and pressures of people and groups in the community who seek to influence the making and content of policy and, in recent years, from the responsibility of membership in the European communities.
Public policy-making in Ireland emerges as a complex process, but it involves reasonably few people, who operate against a background of comment, criticism, and advice in the media, and with the parameters of public opinion. Although the most trustworthy decision-makers – the government and the Oireachtas – are elected officials and the process involves discussions and negotiations with spokesmen who are in some sense representative of the groups for whom they speak, the way of doing things is far from being very open or democratic.