Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 16 February 2017
Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach
Estimates for Public Services 2017
Vote 1 - President's Establishment (Revised)
Vote 2 - Department of the Taoiseach (Revised)
Vote 3 - Office of the Attorney General (Revised)
Vote 4 - Central Statistics Office (Revised)
Vote 5 - Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Revised)
Vote 6 - Office of the Chief State Solicitor (Revised)
Lorcan Fullam was a very fine individual. I attended many meetings with him in Brussels. He had a detailed knowledge of his brief and was a first class public servant. I will call on his wife when I can. The Secretary General is absent from today's meeting for that reason.
Vote 1 is the 2017 Revised Estimate for the President’s Establishment is €3.9 million. It includes €2.6 million for pay and administration, with the balance to fund the payment of a bounty to centenarians Bounty. It is estimated that approximately 430 centenarians will receive the bounty in 2017.
Vote 2 Revised Estimate for my own Department is €36.7 million. This includes €17.9 million for administration costs. The primary role of the Department of the Taoiseach is to support me in my executive functions as Taoiseach, to support the Government, and to oversee implementation of the programme for Government. A number of Ministers of State are assigned to the Department: the Government Chief Whip; the Minister of State for European Affairs with responsibility for EU digital market and data protection; the Minister of State with responsibility for diaspora affairs; and the Minister of State with responsibility for defence.
An important part of my Department’s work is providing a secretariat for meetings of the Government and of Cabinet committees, each of which I chair. The committees are on infrastructure, environment and climate action; the economy, trade and jobs; housing; social policy and public service reform; health; justice reform; arts, Irish, the Gaeltacht and the islands; regional and rural affairs; European affairs; and most recently the Brexit committee, which is a cross-Government committee.
Committee members have received a detailed brief covering the 2016 outputs and expenditure for each area of my Department in 2016, as well as details of the 2017 Estimate provision. I wish to comment on the 2016 commemoration events. My Department was responsible for co-ordinating the 2016 centenary State commemoration programme, which was a cross-Government initiative to stimulate debate and discussion about 1916; and to ensure a strong, varied and respectful programme of events throughout the year across Ireland, North and South, and globally in America, Britain and other places, to mark the centenary of 1916. The Department also took the lead in the organisation of a number of State ceremonies, including the 1 January 2016 flag-raising ceremony. It was an appalling day weather wise at Dublin Castle and it is why I remember it so well.
The State ceremonies also included the Easter Sunday wreath laying ceremony in Kilmainham Gaol, which was extraordinarily emotional. The ceremonies also included the Easter Sunday ceremony at GPO and the parade; the Easter Sunday State reception in Dublin Castle; the inter-faith ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery remembrance wall; and the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. The success of the commemoration programme was the culmination of many months of hard work and careful planning across a range of offices, Departments and State agencies. The staff of my Department are very proud that they played a central part in the organisation of these events, and in ensuring that they reflected the inclusive and respectful tone which the Government set out to achieve as non-partisan, broad, comprehensive and inclusive as possible. I saw the pride in people's faces at first-hand when I presented those involved in the commemoration programme with the civil service excellence in innovation awards at the end of 2016. This award was very much deserved.
Looking ahead to the decade of centenaries programme in which my Department’s involvement is ongoing, this programme seeks to be a measured and reflective way to commemorate significant events that shaped the history of the island of Ireland, events which led to more sensitive and difficult positions arising from the War of Independence, to the Civil War and up to the 1920s. In addition, my Department - through the vehicle of the Cabinet committee on arts, Irish, Gaeltacht and the islands - will oversee the implementation of a new programme called Creative Ireland. This is a five year initiative, from 2017 to 2022, building up to the centenary of the establishment of the Free State, which places creativity at the centre of public policy. For the centenary celebrations every community around the State, irrespective of where they were - children, secondary school children, young adults or older people - all came together in different programmes be it around plays, poems and stories about the Proclamation, the Constitution and connections with 1916 through family. This was evidence that there was a great deal of creativity and imaginative value among all those who were involved. The Government now wants to place that at the centre of public policy. This is why the Creative Ireland programme is being brought about. It is a high level, high definition, whole-of-Government initiative designed to mainstream creativity in the life of the nation so that individually and collectively, in our personal lives and in our institutions, we can realise that full creative potential, which is extraordinary. In America, Britain, Europe and Australia they value the difference that Ireland brings when they add in this element.
My Department also wants to ensure implementation of programmes in health, education and other public services as outlined in the programme for Government in 2017 and beyond. We will look to ensure that the position of vulnerable groups in society is taken into account as the economic recovery continues, that the benefits of recovery and progress are felt across all sectors of society, and that there is an effective cross-Government response to the Departments where this applies. There will be a focus on providing a safe and supportive environment for children, families and older people, including through reforms in the areas of housing, social services and the justice system.
Addressing the housing challenge is a big priority for Government. Our Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, published in July, sets out 84 time-bound actions. This is to shift the emphasis to deal with homelessness, people who sleep rough, voided units, locked up buildings, the provision of social housing and private housing with a major programme in the commercial end also.
We are committed to delivering increased supply of affordable, quality and accessible housing, increasing housing construction to 25,000 new homes per year by 2020 and addressing the homelessness crisis. We have committed more than €5 billion to deliver 47,000 social housing units and €200 million for a local infrastructure fund to unlock private development. This applies where sites cannot be accessed because a new bridge, road or similar changes are needed. In addition, a strategy for the rental sector was published in December. While the plan is overseen by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, implementation is a whole-of-Government effort overseen through regular meetings of the Cabinet committee on housing, which met 13 or 14 times last year.
I also chair a ministerial task force to support the long-term economic and social regeneration of the north inner city of Dublin. I asked Mr. Kieran Mulvey to engage with local community groups and representatives and prepare a report with specific recommendations to support the area's regeneration. I will launch the report later today. Multiple gangland murders have taken place in the north inner city, an area I have visited many times. Neighbourhoods that have been neglected and forgotten will be brought back into the mainstream. Many communities have been doing extraordinary work but this work needs to be co-ordinated and some major developments must be followed through, including Rutland Street school and Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station. A number of other facilities will also be brought back into regular use.
My Department works with the interdepartmental agency group to co-ordinate the input of the two Governments on the island in the bid to secure the hosting in Ireland of the Rugby World Cup in 2023. This has required an extraordinary if costly effort, although moneys spent will be recouped through ticket sales if we win the right to host the tournament. I visited Páirc Uí Chaoimh the other day where work is under way and will be completed by mid-June. The new stadium, which will have 50,000 seats, will be ready in mid-July and available for the Rugby World Cup.
The underlying economy grew strongly in 2016, with growth in consumption, strong tax receipts and labour market developments all confirming robust and broad based growth. Importantly, unemployment has fallen to 7.1%. While growth of more than 3% is expected in 2017, as the Government is aware, the external environment remains particularly uncertain owing to Brexit and other factors. Yesterday, I announced 500 jobs in Dublin with a multinational company and a further 500 jobs will be announced tomorrow. The line of investment into the country is strong.
There are more than 2 million people at work, which reflects the focus the Government has maintained on the need to create and sustain jobs across sectors and in every region. Notwithstanding perceptions, all regions have experienced economic growth. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, has issued a direction that 135,000 of the 200,000 jobs to be created by 2020 are to be in the regions.
We launched the Action Plan for Jobs for 2017 on 1 February. The action plan identifies 164 specific actions to be delivered in 2017, with a target of an additional 45,000 jobs this year. My Department will continue to play a central role in overseeing its implementation to ensure commitments are delivered on time and in full. We publish updates on a quarterly basis and our track record in this regard has been good, with more than 90% of promised measures delivered in 2016.
My Department also supports me in a strategic programme of international engagement, with a focus on driving job creation, sustainable economic development, trade, tourism and investment. I will travel to Washington in March for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations to continue to protect and promote the strong links between the Irish and American peoples. This is symbolic of the contribution Irish people made to America for one and a half centuries. We want to build on our links with America and speak directly to the US President on a number of issues, especially the issue of the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish people living in the United States. I will raise these issues with the US President when I have an opportunity to do so.
This year will also be an opportunity to apprise the new US Administration and Congress of issues of Irish interest, including immigration reform and the Northern Ireland peace process, and reaffirm our long-standing relationship based on shared values of democracy and the rule of law, as well as economic and historical ties. Many members of the new Administration have Irish connections and I would like to explain to them our tradition and particular circumstances.
Brexit is also a major issue. As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, we face the most complicated and difficult negotiations we have had since 1939. The Government has been preparing hard for the issue. The 2014 national risk assessment co-ordinated by my Department was one of the first publications to publicly identify Brexit as a strategic risk to Ireland, a fact picked up in international media coverage at the time. In 2015, a dedicated unit was established in my Department to consider issues arising for Ireland in the context of the referendum and to develop contingency plans. Important changes were also implemented in other Departments and agencies, with additional resources provided in key areas. Since the referendum result, intensified analysis and option planning has been carried out across a number of areas and extensive stakeholder consultation is ongoing at sectoral and all-island level. The second all-island civic forum will take place tomorrow and on Friday. These engagements have been worthwhile. With an election campaign taking place in Northern Ireland, there is no Executive in place and many sectors, including transport, logistics, agriculture and hospitality, are all very pleased to be able to take part in the sectoral discussions and express their views on how Brexit will impact on them.
We established a Cabinet committee, which I chair, to oversee the overall Government response to Brexit, including both the economic impact and the negotiations at EU level and with the Administrations in London and Belfast. I have also restructured divisions in my Department to ensure Brexit is treated as a crucial cross-cutting issue. Some issues are incredibly difficult and the agriculture sector is of primary importance to us. I met fishermen the other evening and the Common Fisheries Policy is exceptionally complex. One cannot remove one section and expect to trade it, just like that, for another. If Britain were to leave the EU in a hard Brexit, we would face a very difficult scenario in terms of fishing quotas and opportunities.
The Department created a newly amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division under a new second Secretary General. The work of this division includes supporting the Cabinet committees on Brexit and European affairs. Work on Brexit is also supported by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, whose Department has a greater role in EU matters, with a newly created EU division and the existing division dealing with Anglo-Irish affairs both having important roles to play.
Across government, relevant Departments and agencies are working on Brexit and a number of them have been strengthened to deal with the issue. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have received additional staff and trade elements have been provided for diplomatic services. Last week, for instance, I opened a Bord Bia office in Warsaw to complement the work of the ambassador and Enterprise Ireland. We have many opportunities to secure further expansion for Irish food businesses in the eurozone and in other EU countries.
The Government is very aware of the potential economic opportunities that may arise for Ireland, including in terms of mobile investment. Significant interest has been expressed from firms in London which are considering Ireland and a number of other locations as possible locations for a move. Many of these companies will not wait for Brexit negotiations to conclude before making a decision to move to a different location.
We also have a great interest in attracting the European Medicines Board and European Banking Authority to relocate here. The former is responsible for bringing approximately 50,000 bed nights per annum to London. Ireland ticks a number of boxes and would be a credible location for both agencies. However, we are competing with ten or 12 countries to attract them. Given that Ireland is an English speaking country in the Single Market with connectivity to London which offers a similar environment to other countries, we have a good opportunity. Approval has been given for the international school for Baccalaureate achievement, which is of importance to people from abroad who live and work here and have children.
We are under no illusion in respect of Brexit. The critical negotiation priorities have been identified and the programme of dialogue will continue intensively and vigilance and engagement on economic risks and challenges will be maintained.
Economic opportunities for this country will be pursued vigorously. Engagement with other member states and EU institutions will intensify. Ireland will negotiate from a position of strength, as one of the 27 members firmly in and committed to remaining in the European Union, and we will participate fully in the discussions on the future direction of the European Union. This started at the discussion in Malta. There was a discussion among the 27 on the future of Europe, the digital market, digital single market, and other programmes that are laid out by the President's report up to 2023.
The programme for Government commitments contain new and important challenges for my Department, like the digital single market, the establishment of the independent Citizens’ Assembly, and Seanad reform. A small programme for Government office within my Department monitors the implementation of the programme and as these things are achieved by different Departments, they outline or list them off. The programme sets out a new approach, not only including the partners of Government, but inclusive of the Oireachtas and wider society. Part of this approach includes reform of how the Dáil sets and conducts its business, reform of the budgetary process, and development of a broad based consensus in addressing key longer-term challenges.
The relationship between the Oireachtas and the Government means an enhanced role for the Office of the Chief Whip within my Department. That office works closely with a new parliamentary liaison unit which works to ensure that Ministers and Departments are properly informed of new responsibilities and procedures in the Thirty-second Dáil. I have outlined for the committee some of the key outputs of my Department in 2016 and some of the priorities we are working to make progress on in 2017 and beyond. In all areas, the Department looks for value for money and to maximise efficiencies, adhering to best practice in terms of procurement.
Vote 3 for the Office of the Attorney General is €14.9 million for 2017. The majority of the administrative expenditure relates to staff salaries which will cost over €11 million in 2017. The next largest expenditure is the grant of just over €2.2 million for the Law Reform Commission, which does great work.
Vote 5 is for the Director of Public Prosecutions. The €40.68 million for 2017 represents an increase of 5%, or €1.79 million, over the 2016 estimates. Just over €1 million of this is due to increases in pay and fees to counsel, with provision for additional staff to cover extra sittings of the Central Criminal Court. The balance of the increased provision is to cover general law expenses.
Vote 6 is for the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. It is €32.3 million for 2017. Salaries, wages and allowances account for €16.76 million out of a total budget of just over €19 million. The remaining €2.3 million is attributable to the general running costs of the office. A provision of €14.6 million is allocated for the payment of legal fees including €13 million for counsel fees and €1.4 million for general law expenses. These include items like expert witnesses and stenographers.
That is a general run-down of where we are. Members may have some questions that they want to ask.