Academic journal article Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

The Irish Statistical System-Preserving Trust through Quality Standards

Academic journal article Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

The Irish Statistical System-Preserving Trust through Quality Standards

Article excerpt

Introduction and Context

Statistics are above the public debate in that they must be seen to be produced impartially, free from political interference and commanding trust. Statistics are below the public debate in that they underpin decision-making, policy development and good public administration. In a nutshell, the challenge ... is: get them right, get them trusted and get them used.

(Tim Holt, Thirtieth Geary Lecture 1999) (1)

Our discussions this evening, at the launch of the Code of Practice for the Irish Statistical System, is about the second of the challenges in the above quote i.e.... Get them trusted ... It is not enough to produce high quality official statistics--they must be clearly seen to be objective and free from political and other outside interference. Users and the general public must be assured that the legal basis and governance arrangements for the production and publication of official statistics reflect best international practice for professionalism and independence. This is the basis of credibility and trust in official statistics. It is easy to take for granted but is very difficult to retrieve if lost, or even perceived to be.

Statistics are increasingly being used in the implementation and monitoring of policy at national and international levels. In Ireland, we are well aware of the importance of high quality and timely economic indicators which must be submitted in reports to the Troika. (2) These indicators and prescribed timelines are specified in the memorandum of understanding that accompanies the Programme of Assistance. Moreover, since the global financial crisis, official statistics are increasingly being used to automatically trigger policy decisions or impose sanctions for breaking rules. This underlines the need for high quality and for codes of practice to ensure universal high standards.

In this paper I want to focus on four themes: firstly, the work of the NSB and how it has evolved to focus on strategic issues for the Irish Statistical System (ISS); secondly, quality standards and the issue of trust; thirdly, the European Code of Practice and the work of ESGAB; and finally, I raise some issues around the challenges of implementation of the ISS Code of Practice.

The NSB's Role and Remit

The National Statistics Board was set up on a non-statutory basis in 1986 and put on a statutory footing under the terms of the Statistics Act 1993. The functions of the Board under the terms of the Act are to guide the strategic direction of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) by in particular:

(a) establishing priorities for the compilation and development of official statistics;

(b) assessing resources of staff, equipment and finance which should be made available for the compilation of official statistics;

(c) arbitrating, subject to the final decision of the Taoiseach, on any conflicts which may arise between the office and other public authorities relating to the extraction of statistics from records or to the co- ordination of statistical activities.

(Statistics Act, 1993, section 19)

The composition of the board is set out in the Act and comprises seven members plus the Director General of the CSO, ex officio. It is appointed by, and reports to, the Taoiseach. The link to the Office of the Taoiseach is important as it reinforces the deliberate decision to establish the CSO, on its foundation in 1949, as an office under the aegis of the Taoiseach in order to ensure its independence.

Section 31 (3) of the Statistics Act specifies the arbitration role of the Board

   The Director General or any public authority may request the
   National Statistics Board to arbitrate on and, when agreement
   cannot be reached, to make recommendations to the Taoiseach for his
   decision on proposals made by the Director General under subsection
   (1) or (2) of this section. … 
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