Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 22 February 2018
Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach
Estimates for Public Services 2018
Estimates for Public Services 2018
Votes 11 - Public Expenditure and Reform (Revised)
Vote 12 - Superannuation and Retired Allowances (Revised)
Vote 14 - State Laboratory (Revised)
Vote 15 - Secret Service (Revised)
Vote 17 - Public Appointments Service (Revised)
Vote 18 - National Shared Services Office (Revised)
Vote 19 - Office of the Ombudsman (Revised)
Vote 39 - Office of Government Procurement (Revised)
The Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, and I are pleased to have the opportunity to appear before the select committee in connection with the 2018 Estimates for my Department's group of Votes. The group comprises a significant number of Votes as follows: the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform andseveral offices under its aegis, namely, the State Laboratory, the Public Appointments Service, the National Shared Services Office and the Office of the Ombudsman. It includes the Votes for superannuation and retired allowances and the secret service. The remaining Vote in the group, the Vote for the Office of Public Works, is handled separately by the sub-committee.
The committee has been supplied with a very detailed briefing document by my Department’s officials on the various Votes. Further detailed material is contained in the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2018 which was prepared by my Department and published on 14 December 2017. It is worth noting that the total net allocation for the 2018 Department of Public Expenditure and Reform group of Votes which comprises eight distinct Votes shows a very modest increase of 2% on the 2017 allocation. The 2018 overall net figure of €520.9 million compares to a figure of €510.2 million in 2017. A difference of €6.2 million is reflected in the superannuation Vote for 2018.
The structure of the Vote remains unchanged in 2018, with two strategic programmes focused on public expenditure and sectoral policy and public service management and reform. The requested resources for each programme, in terms of staffing and funding, are set out in Part III of the Estimate. In 2018 we are seeking a 6% increase in the gross spend under the Vote, bringing the total gross allocation to €59.531 million. The increase is required primarily for the second programme - public service management and reform - as my Department continues to roll out a comprehensive programme of reform. It is largely related to the provision for investment in a resilient and robust technical platform from which to deliver build-to-share applications as part of the remit of the Office of Government Chief Information Officer; the provision for the funding of the Civil Service learning and development shared services project; an additional provision for the design of an administrative system to support the implementation of the single public service pension scheme and the funding of the next phase of work of the Public Service Pay Commission.
On Programme B of the Vote, public service management and reform, members will recall that I had the opportunity to discuss the next phase with the committee during my appearance last week. Nevertheless, I once again draw members’ attention to the main points of the new framework which I launched last December. There has been progress since the first reform programme was started in 2011 in areas which include procurement, shared services and Civil Service renewal, as well as public service reform, all of which continue to play a key role. The key pillars are, first, delivering for the public; second, innovating for the future; and, third, developing people and the organisation.
Work continues to implement the actions included in the Civil Service renewal programme. I published the third annual progress report last June which showed that much had been achieved under the programme of change since the plan had been initiated. While the renewal plan was envisaged as a three-year programme of work and is being delivered on a phased basis, I see Civil Service renewal as an ongoing process. We will continue to embed the changes across Departments and offices this year.
In addition to progress in implementing public service reform, we continue to pursue a wide-ranging reform programme aimed at delivering an open, accountable and ethical Government approach underpinned by a transparent and effective public service. Key areas of focus are the data sharing and governance Bill; the open data strategy; and a statutory review of the operation of the Protected Disclosures Act of 2014 which will be published in the first half of 2018.
I will turn briefly to the issue of public service pay. Last year when I briefed the committee, we were addressing the aftermath of the Labour Court's ruling on Garda pay and the undermining effect it had had on the Lansdowne Road agreement. I outlined a two-phase process designed, first, to stabilise the Lansdowne Road agreement and then to negotiate a successor. We have had success in following this approach. The Government has negotiated the new agreement which is a significant achievement that will deliver the full dismantling of the financial emergency legislation in way that is affordable and that I believe is fair, but challenges remain. The Public Service Pay Commission is examining recruitment and retention issues in the health sector. Legacy issues associated with new entrant grades are also being examined and a report will be submitted to the Oireachtas by March. Both issues are likely to prompt difficult discussions later in the year, but the current environment is largely stable.
As Minister with responsibility for the public service and public service reform, I am committed to ensuring we will continue to use digitisation to deliver more efficient and effective services. Our own surveys have shown that people want to use more public services online. We have seen a positive approach to using the digital services gateway and the public services card and MyGovID, demonstrating that the public understands the importance of having a reliable, authenticated and secure means of online verification. We will continue this work when making services available throughout the year. However, we also want to make sure no one who wants to transact business electronically will be left behind. In that regard, we hope to announce some assisted digital initiatives later in the year.
In 2018 my Department will lead the second phase of the three-year spending review process which will take place in advance of the 2019 Estimates process. It will build on the successful spending review in 2017 which culminated in the publication of more than 20 technical papers. While moderate expenditure growth is planned, there continues to be many public service demands. We must have a continual focus on the totality of spending to ensure public funds will have the maximum effect. The intention is that the spending review process will help to broaden the Government's options in the budgetary process and assist in funding new policy measures.
As members will be aware, last Friday my Department published the national development plan. The plan demonstrates the Government's commitment to meeting Ireland’s infrastructural and investment needs. It reflects an appropriate balance between the need for additional investment, the sustainable capacity of the economy and the need to adhere to responsible spending.
I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to present the Estimates. I will be pleased to answer questions members may have.
I have two brief questions. On the PEACE and INTERREG programmes, the Minister indicated that the possibility of providing support for the programmes post-2020 would be examined favourably. Much will depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Is the Department engaged in planning in this area? I presume a lead-in time is required in identifying programmes. Will the Minister elaborate on the issue?
While I do not expect an answer to my next question, I will ask it in any case. What exactly is the secret service?
I will begin with the easier question. I never expected to utter those words. On the question related to Brexit and cross-Border funding, I assure the Deputy that it is a major focus for me and my Department. I will comment on the current position and what we would like to achieve in the future. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum in the United Kingdom on leaving the European Union, my Department engaged with the British Treasury and I engaged extensively with the Special EU Programmes Body, SEUPB. Our first priority has been to secure existing programmes which are worth more than €500 million and will continue until 2020. In the aftermath of the referendum on Brexit, concerns were expressed that difficulties could arise in the roll-out of the next phase of the funding plan. We have addressed these concerns.
We have committed 73% of the funding available under the PEACE programme and 79 projects valued at €176 million have been approved. With regard to the INTERREG programme, the second major funding stream, we have committed 78% of the funding available under it and approved 27 projects valued at €208 million. My short-term priority was to ensure existing commitments were realised. I am confident that the programmes in place until 2020 will be completed. Beyond 2020, I am committed to implementing programmes to succeed the current INTERREG and PEACE programmes. The Department is examining the legal basis for EU programmes that operate in Third Countries, in other words, those operating in non-EU countries in which the European Union has a strong interest. I am committed to developing a means of maintaining this work.
The December statement on the Brexit negotiations included the following:
Both parties will honour their commitments to the PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes under the current multi-annual financial framework. Possibilities for future support will be examined favourably.
To respond to the Deputy's question on the secret service, it has been the custom and practice for the Dáil to waive its right to ascertain the purposes for which this allocation is used. I hope that practice will continue. I must supply all related documentation to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General which audits the use of the money. I ask that the current arrangement continue and expect that it will.
I welcome the Minister's comments on the continuation of the PEACE and INTERREG programmes until 2020. I have no doubt that he is committed to trying to secure funding for the programmes after 2020. In that regard, it is welcome that he is examining the legal basis for EU programmes involving third party countries. When will decisions be made on these matters? I presume they must be made before 2020, given that preparations need to be made for these programmes well in advance of their commencement as they cannot be implemented at the last minute. Yesterday the Committee on Budgetary Oversight met to discuss the equality budgeting process, which falls within the remit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I could not find any reference to equality budgeting in the Estimates. Where can I find the budget for the roll-out and continuation of the equality budgeting process?
On the work on successor programmes to PEACE and INTERREG and the maintenance of funding under these programmes, there are two signature points coming up. The first will be in May, when we expect a communication from the European Council on its proposals for the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework, MFF. This is important because most of the funding used to underpin the programmes comes from the EU budget which will be determined by the new Multi-Annual Financial Framework which will have to be negotiated. As to what we will do before and after that, my officials and I regularly engage with the Commission on what will be the precedent for implementing replacement programmes. I have visited areas where a number of the programmes are in operation. Some months ago, for example, I visited Derry where I observed the programmes in action. While I was aware of some of the projects being undertaken under the PEACE and INTERREG programmes in counties Cavan and Monaghan, my support for this work was reaffirmed when I witnessed the tangible effects of the investments in addressing many of the difficulties still experienced by communities.
Funding for the equality proofing initiative is located across a variety of expenditure lines in the Department. I do not have a single budget line for it because it happens under a number of Votes, namely, education and skills; business, enterprise and innovation; transport, tourism and sport; culture; health; and children and youth affairs.
For each of those Votes within my Department, work is under way on equality budgeting, all of which has been acknowledged by me a number of times and by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. This is also a commitment in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020.
I welcome the Minister, the Minister of State and their officials. I have complained to the Minister previously about the absence of women in the room when his Department has been present, so I am delighted to welcome two women to the top table this morning and to acknowledge that there are other female officials in the audience as well. There is a great deal of talent among women in the public service, but having that recognised fully in the Department of Finance has been difficult.
My second point affects both of our constituencies. We all know that there are large numbers of young people who are either in college or have finished it and who are from ethnic minorities or have come from countries around the world to live in my constituency, which is the Minister's home area, and in his constituency, which is in many ways my home area. I hope that the Department has a policy, through its influence on the recruitment process, to ensure that those young people, many of whom have done excellently in school and college, have a share of the opportunity to be recruited into the public service. Some 30% of the people in various parts of Dublin are not originally from Ireland. They or their parents came to live here. In this light, it is time that we saw the fantastic diversity that exists in Dublin reflected in recruitment policy. Just as it is odd not to see women present at the top table, it is equally odd not to see the diversity of Ireland. It would be a reflection of our success story.
I wish to ask about public service pay and section 39 organisations. I am concerned about the hospice movement. There are hospices in all of our major cities and right around the country, with several in Dublin. There is a major hospice in Cork. Since hospice staff members are employees of organisations governed by section 39 rules, they have been unable to access the increases that the Minister referred to in the context of the public pay restoration programme. That programme has been long overdue and I was a part of the Government that introduced it, but I am disappointed that it does not cover the people who work in section 39 organisations, including organisations that provide vital services to persons in the broader health sector like Rehab, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Irish Hospice Association. Unless the Minister finds a solution, at the end of the two-year period, which will be soon, there will be a 3% negative differential between the pay of a nurse who works in a hospice and one who has stayed working in a hospital, perhaps one that is close by or even on the same campus. The same will hold true across sectors where there are health professionals, allied professions and others. They are waiting.
There were moves to establish a process, but the Department has stated that it is unsure about who took the cuts. Almost every nurse or doctor in those institutions took the cuts in a spirit of helping the country in its darkest hour when the finances had collapsed. Now they find that they are being told that they cannot have the cuts reinstated. It will pose a major difficulty to recruitment and retention. There is a worldwide shortage of health professionals, teachers and so on. They are getting plenty of offers from a range of countries around the world, some of which are aggressively recruiting them. If there is a hard crash-out Brexit by the UK, the UK will recruit aggressively for almost all categories of public service staff. Currently, those are being recruited from the wider European Union.
Has the Minister a solution to this unfair situation? People in vital, publicly funded health and other services are not getting pay restoration. In a relatively short time, they will have a 3% minus differential compared with other people working in the hospital next door.
Before I answer the Deputy's question directly, I will say a brief word about the earlier point that she put to me, as it is important to me. She raised the question with me previously, but I was not in a position to answer it fully then. She asked about where we were in terms of diversity in our appointees, particularly through the Public Appointments Service, PAS. In 2017, the proportion of female appointees through PAS was 52% of all appointments. Since discussing the matter with the Deputy, I recently spoke at an event at the Institute of Directors in Ireland where I said that this was a pace of change that I wanted to see continue. From what I see in my Departments, we are making progress on a number of levels - by levels, I mean tiers within Departments - but when we reach certain strata, the degree of progress is not what I want. I want to ensure that we continue making progress on this year after year.
Regarding what we are doing to respond to the new Ireland that is growing up in our primary and secondary schools, the PAS is working with NGOs that represent the range of nationalities to which the Deputy referred. Within that, we are particularly focused on the country's Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Latvian and Brazilian communities. To promote public service job opportunities across Ireland, we are moving into a space where the PAS will be targeting the awareness of jobs in those communities via social media. We will also ensure that the same work is done to focus on our Traveller, LGBTI and disabilities communities and Irish language groups. This important piece of work will continue within the PAS.
At a practical level, we have redesigned the various websites that our citizens may use to become aware of job opportunities to incorporate new technology to support candidates who have disabilities or use English as a foreign language. The main reason for doing this is that the citizens who depend on these services are changing in front of our eyes. As families grow up and kids leave school, we need public services that reflect the make-up of modern Ireland. The community that the Deputy and I live in reflects how we can do that well. We are going to keep at it.
To answer the Deputy's question on section 39 organisations directly, we are further advanced in dealing with this matter than we were earlier in the year. We have put together a process, which has been acknowledged by the representatives of employees in the section 39 organisations, to better understand and penetrate what has happened.
Even from the initial work we have done, it is showing different things happened in different organisations. I acknowledge that it is the case that wage differentials are developing in some organisations. We will have to reflect on what that means. It is not the case for all organisations, however, and different organisations responded in different ways.
We are now on the third round of wage change in the public service. The previous two rounds of public service wage change happened in a way that did not cause the difficulties the Deputies raised now. We will need to get a better picture of what has happened in the section 39 organisations in their entirety. I hope we will make progress in getting to that understanding in the coming weeks.
I thank the Minister for his answer on diverse communities. It is positive that information should be given to people from these communities who are interested in coming into the public service. I did not hear the Minister refer to African or Asian non-governmental organisations, NGOs. Obviously, there is a large African population in Ireland, as well as significant populations from different countries in Asia.
The previous Government moved the quota for employing people with a disability in the public service from 4% to 6%. How much progress has been made in that regard? I welcome overall the Minister's comments on that.
I have not read the recently published national plan in great detail, so I am open to correction. My understanding is that the Department has essentially removed the 10% cap, agreed by the previous Government, on public private partnerships, PPPs. The reliance on PPPs arose in the context of the country not being able to borrow money. People are aware that many PPPs are ultimately more expensive than direct State borrowing, particularly when interest rates are low. We have also moved into a different stage of the economy. Will the Minister confirm that the cap on investment in PPPs for the national plan has been removed? If so, why? What is the Minister's targeted percentage for PPP finance?
I tabled a series of parliamentary questions to all Departments on the amounts committed to PPPs. I am still waiting for an answer on discount rates and interest rates. Working out the financial cost of a PPP is extremely difficult. The two companies which feature largely in PPPs are Capita and Carillion. The latter is in a state of collapse. From reading a recent commentary in the Financial Timesas to how Capita runs its own business, it is far from organised and is run in an appalling way. In the context of the Carillion collapse and Capita's enormous difficulties, why would the Minister outsource internal audit services in a variety of Departments to Capita? Why do that when one could use public service recruitment for the Comptroller and Auditor General's office? The contracts are not large. Why do particular services such as internal audit need to be outsourced? I would have thought many people would be willing to work in the public service. Is it the case that there is now a difficulty with recruiting people into the public service?
There is a slick putting together of the information and maps in the national development plan. Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford, however, are not on the main map for national development. That surprised me and I am sure it surprised the Chairman even more. Kerry is also not on the main map. The south east and south west are significant places. The maps are glitzy and look fantastic. I welcome that Waterford is included. Why are the other counties in the south east blacked out, as well as Kerry? Will the Minister give us a more detailed explanation as to why that is the case?
I was the Minister for Social Protection when the public services card was initiated. One of the reasons for developing the card was to provide a decent, respectful and humane service to people like pensioners who use public transport. In recent times, there has been much criticism of the public services card. However, for pensioners who use public transport, they can get on the bus with an identity card which they can use like a Leap card and with dignity and privacy. In terms of public service delivery, that is a big gain.
When dealing with many people in retirement or in their 80s or 90s, one has to allow flexibility. If they have a difficulty with some kind of a request from some unknown bureaucracy, they may find it difficult to respond. Departments must be quite flexible in acknowledging that, as we do this transition, it is necessary to recognise people's human rights, individuality and where they are at.
Recruitment from Asian and African communities is already in train. The answer I gave to the Deputy referred to new groups we are now targeting. That is new work under way in recent times on top of the work we have regarding Asian and African communities.
There is a 3% target in place across all Departments for the employment of citizens with disabilities. My Department has exceeded that target.
I have recommended in the national development plan that the current limit of 10% on the exposure of annual Exchequer allocations for PPPs should be replaced. I will be publishing further policy on this in the coming months.
I adopt a very careful attitude to the use of PPPs. I operate on a case-by-case basis. Any Department proposing to use PPPs to fund infrastructure has to be able to demonstrate to me and the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, that doing so would result in better value than having the Exchequer borrow the money directly. Therefore, the context in which PPPs are now being used has changed by comparison with a number of years ago. There are clear criteria that Departments have to meet. I will be supporting and implementing PPPs only on a case-by-case basis.
With regard to what the Deputy said about the outsourcing of audit services, I am not familiar with the specific service referred to but I will obtain more information on it. I would imagine from having dealt with such matters in the past that an audit service of the kind in question would proceed to public procurement only if it related to an area of specialised auditing that was felt could best be done by an outside company or body, or if we did not have the capacity to do the work. From my experience of dealing with this across a variety of Departments, I am aware that all Departments, including mine, and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General have very significant audit facilities in place.
I will have to get a copy of the particular map the Deputy is referring to. Maps I have seen, particularly in respect of transport projects that are identified, refer to both the south east and south west.
With regard to the public services card, I take the Deputy's point. It is true that the use of the card to help senior citizens to gain access to their free travel entitlements has been a real success. As I said on a number of occasions, I expect that as the card is rolled out for new services, Departments will exercise the right amount of flexibility in making it work for individual citizens. Later in the year, we will be announcing a number of assist initiatives to try to help in this regard. I do not want the rolling out of the card to create a new digital divide.
I have a couple of points. The legal fees for the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, have increased. The increase this year will be in the order of 50%. Is there a common thread in the cases being taken? Is that why there is an increase of 50%? Is it a consequence of the implementation of new lobbying regulations?
The amounts provided for in the subhead relate to fees incurred by the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information for professional legal advice and representation. Expenditure and legal fees vary from year to year. With regard to the reason for the change to which the Deputy referred, there were five court appeals concluded in 2017. At the beginning of 2018, there were 11 active cases before the High Court. With regard to the ongoing cases, I am not aware of any common thread.
Eleven versus five. The Minister is anticipating an increase in legal fees, and that explains the matter. I have a question on lobbying activities. The brief indicates a figure of 9,000 lobbying returns per annum. How does the Minister determine whether individuals or groups report their lobbying activities accurately or correctly? How does SIPO determine that? What is its process?
This kind of matter would be dealt with if SIPO believed there were activity under way that was not being reported. In 2017, it launched three investigations in this regard. It is currently up to the commission to conduct its own inquiry and assess complaints. I have given the Deputy the information on what has been caused in this regard. There are seven investigations under way, and a further 39 are under way in regard to non-compliance with provisions on tax compliance. Therefore, it is a matter that is handled by the commission.
I thank the Deputy. I have a question on the process from here on. I raise this because there is some confusion over it and the €2 billion fund that has been earmarked or ring-fenced for the major urban areas, plus some other urban areas identified in the national development plan. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that it was expected in Waterford - I can speak only about my own constituency - that there would be a specific allocation announced last week for particular projects in the city. There was genuine disappointment when this did not occur. Since last week, people have been asking what the process is. This question has been asked by the city and county manager and other officials in terms of how we are to deal with this from now on. Perhaps the Minister could elaborate on the process we can expect from now on. The levels of anticipation and expectation were very high. It was expected that the figures would be specific to Waterford under the national development plan. When they were not, there was some surprise.
If I had made allocations for particular urban development projects under the national development plan, I would have been asked about the process that led to the making of those decisions. Regarding what we are going to do to take its place, I will be agreeing with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government the access criteria for the fund. It is a very significant fund. The access criteria will be completely predicated on the policy objectives of the national planning framework. My objective is to have the work concluded with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in the next six to eight weeks and to have the fund open for applications by or during the summer.
Let me refer to the circumstances that would obtain if we were just dealing in isolation with Government entities, such as local authorities dealing with the Minister's Department. People understand how Government works. In some cases, it works more slowly than one would like. In this case, we are dealing with investors who in some cases might have expected more clarity on the figures involved. I take the Minister's point on why he and his Department proceeded as they did, but some effort needs to be made in some cases to reassure the investors that what is coming down the line is real and that the figures bandied about and discussed, and expected in some cases, can be followed through on by the Department. Certainty is important at this point. It is necessary for the Department to relate the figures to the individuals and groups involved.
That is a fair point. I accept what the Deputy is saying and I appreciate his acknowledging what would have happened if I had done the opposite as well. If I had said in the plan that a particular city or project was going to get X, I would be asked here why another city did not get Y. I have a great deal of experience now with the roll-out of the local infrastructure housing activation fund which was a bid-based process and is in the process of allocating approximately €200 million across the country in a way that requires co-funding. That structure has allowed us to meet the governance requirements of how we grant aid significant amounts of public money. The way I will deal with the concern, and I understand why it is being raised, is by meeting the timelines I have identified there. I have been asked about two issues, whether by a local authority or a private investor working with a local authority. One is whether there is a budget line available to do projects that investors or local authorities are not in a position to do by themselves. As I said last Friday, there will be. On the second issue, I will outline publicly what the criteria will be. We will aim to open applications for that fund as soon as the summer because we need to be able to demonstrate how this is going to work to enable some projects to move forward.
I appreciate the Minister's response. Perhaps the chief executive of Waterford City and County Council could contact the Minister's office to start to discuss the process, at least, and outline what the council can expect with regard to what the Minister just said, specifically as it relates to Waterford. That would be helpful.
We have named five particular projects that initially we believe will deliver against the national planning framework. We have identified a project in Waterford as potentially meeting those criteria. The same is true for Cork, Limerick and Galway. We have already met the chief executives of all the local authorities. That happened at the end of last week and my Department will extend an invitation to meet anybody who has questions about the work that is under way because I want to see this fund realise certain projects.
I will paint the picture for the Minister very quickly. The chief executive in Waterford was quoted this week as saying that the council was not jumping up and down with regard to the announcements made last week. That leads to an air of uncertainty. Politically and investor-wise it is worrying when one hears something like that after what we have gone through with the process. Some clarity in respect of the Department and the local authority would be useful. I did not like what was said and it would be useful if clarity is brought to the process at this juncture. I appreciate the Minister's response.
My colleague raised a number of issues but I wish to focus on a separate matter. It is an issue the Minister raised in his opening statement when he said he wanted open, accountable and ethical Government underpinned by a transparent and effective public system. Everybody in the committee subscribes to that aspiration. The Minister has direct responsibility for holding up 27 legislative measures that have been passed by the Dáil or both Houses of the Oireachtas. Some of them were passed by the Dáil with the Government's support. However, it is clear at this stage that there is now a Government policy not to provide money messages to legislative measures, including measures before this committee. One measure, for example, is legislation I sponsored. It was drafted by the Law Reform Commission, which knocks on the head the Taoiseach's argument that these are drafted overnight. It is legislation the Government supports and which the Minister's predecessor in the junior capacity of that Department asked me not to bring before the committee until the summer of last year because of the Department's workload. I agreed to do that on the basis that it would proceed. The legislation is still not allowed to proceed because no money message has been provided.
I will outline what this legislation provides for, and this is just one example from 27 legislative measures awaiting money messages. The Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill provides for an update of our insurance laws. Those laws were drafted on the basis of court rulings in Britain arising from the 1630s and 1640s in terms of merchant shipping. The Bill ensures that when one's house is struck by lightning and burns to the ground the insurance company cannot refuse to pay out as a result of it declaring that one's burglar alarm, which had nothing to do with the lightning strike on the house, was faulty or was not the type that was identified in the insurance contract. The legislation is very sensible. It is about balancing the scales of justice for the consumer as opposed to the large insurance company. It also puts an onus on the insurance company to ask for information instead of being able to nullify insurance contracts because the consumer did not know what information should have been given freely and voluntarily without being requested.
There are many other measures. The Dáil has just passed what is known by the public as the jail the bankers Bill. It will allow bankers to face up to five years in jail if they lie to the Central Bank. That legislation was drafted by the legal division of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It was written by legal professionals on my instruction and guidance, yet it will not get a money message. Why is the Minister's Department holding up allowing these Bills to be scrutinised on Committee Stage, which the democratic wish of the Dáil?
I wish to make another point. There would be a logical argument if some of these legislative measures caused a charge on the public purse, but the measures I mentioned do not cause a charge. They change the law but the Department does not have to create a new budget line to implement them. They are not about changing tax bands or introducing new motorways or the like. They are about changing the laws to ensure better rights for consumers. It is not a draw on the public purse. It might be a draw on the purse of the insurance companies as perhaps they might not make as much profit. Will the Minister explain why we are in this position two years later? There is also a question which the committee has discussed in private session. Why should this committee continue to facilitate Government legislation when the Minister is refusing to accept any legislation from the Opposition despite those measures being agreed by the Dáil, sometimes unanimously?
It is not an Estimates matter and I am here today to deal with the Estimates, which the Deputy will undoubtedly raise with me. If a commitment was given to the Deputy that the Government will facilitate a particular legislative measure I will follow up on that commitment and refer back to the Deputy by the end of next week on where that stands. Regarding the Bill that passed Second Stage in the Dáil last week, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, when replying to the debate on my behalf said that there were a number of areas in the Bill which we agreed should be implemented. We believe there are ways, particularly when we receive the feedback from the Central Bank on banking culture in the summer, that are likely to converge with what is included in the Deputy's Bill.
On the question about why the committee facilitates passing legislation from the Government, the answer to that varies on a case-by-case basis. I do not have a majority in the committee and if the committee decides to facilitate Government legislation it is because the committee believes the policy objectives included in the Bill are worth making happen.
As a member of this committee for many years, I have never blocked a legislative measure from the Government being taken on Committee Stage despite my opposition to the content of legislation.
That is what the Government is doing. I am not arguing against the Minister's right or the right of his party members to vote against items of legislation before this committee. However, to prevent it being discussed at committee is something we in the Opposition, or at least I and members of my party, have never done. We have never argued a piece of legislation should not be scheduled for this committee.
This is not about the arrangement. We did have an arrangement with the Minister of State at the time, now Minister, Deputy Murphy.
Deputy Murphy, that is correct. However, it is not about an individual piece of legislation. It is relevant to this. The reason I say it is relevant is because the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in his opening statement, talked about political reform, accountability and ethical Government. He has introduced this topic. There is an issue here because the Taoiseach in the Dáil yesterday said that unless parties sign up to the capacity review of the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser, OPLA, of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Dunning report, then the money messages will not be forthcoming. He is taking a blanket approach in relation to this.
He is not looking at legislation on a one-to-one basis. We have two years now of legislation before the committee, and it is not just this committee, because the Minister and his Department make the calls in respect of all of the other items of legislation. Some of those items are very important, well drafted and should be in law. I am probably one of the lucky ones. I have had legislation pass both Houses of the Oireachtas and be signed into law by the President.
I would argue that if I were to present the same Bill now, it would have been blocked by a money message. We got in at the very start before the Government decided to use this as a way to frustrate the democratic wishes of the Dáil. Can the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, give us any hope there will be a change in attitude from the Government and indeed from the Minister himself? He is the line Minister in the Department which is responsible for deciding if money messages are presented or not in respect of outstanding items of legislation. Are we supposed to just plod on through with legislation that has been passed by members, sometimes with the Minister's own support, but that is going to be killed off on Committee Stage because we cannot get the money message to take it to the next stage? I refer to debate and scrutiny. If members at that time want to vote it down, so be it. That is democracy. We are here as legislators. Our primary role is to legislate. That is what we try to do. In some cases we have been successful in that. However, the Minister is frustrating the ability of the majority of people in this House, which is the Opposition, to actually do their job as legislators.
To put things into context, it is the view of the committee, in general, as expressed by Deputy Doherty, that frustration and anger is growing about these money message Bills. I know it has been discussed at political level within parties. That anger and frustration is there in the context of the work we do. It is not just a personal opinion of Deputy Doherty. It is one that has been expressed by the members of this committee.
As I said, and I stand by what I said, this is a matter of policy. It is not an Estimates matter. It does not involve the use of taxpayers' money for this year in the way all the other matters being raised with me do. If there are there are concerns about individual items of legislation or indeed many pieces of legislation being held on Committee Stage, we will look at each of them in turn and revert back to the committee with an answer.
There are a number of pieces of legislation before this committee that have been prevented from proceeding to Committee Stage that we want to bring Committee Stage because of the money message. As a starting point, the Minister could review those items of legislation and give us a detailed response as to why he has decided not to allow those to proceed. We hear so much about "new politics" yet this is old style politics. This is abusing power. Only the Government can issue a money message. It is frustrating the will of the Dáil. At the end of the day, we are either democrats or we are not. If those elected to represent the people of this State decide they want an item of law to progress to the next stage, then it is incumbent on the Government to facilitate that.
Part of being democrats, of course, is recognising the roles assigned to different organs of Government and to Parliament. A specific and unique power that sits only with Government is the ability to grant money messages on clear criteria. A Government deciding to issue or not to issue a money message is doing so in a way that reflects the status we have in the Constitution and to do so it not anti-democratic. It is to fulfil a duty we have. As was said a moment ago, and I will repeat it again, in respect of the specific item of legislation the Deputy raised with me, which predates my time in this Department, I will come back to him on that next week. In respect of what the Chair has said, if there are a number of items of legislation, beyond what Deputy Doherty has said, the committee feels are not being progressed in the way they should be, I will respond to each of them if the committee identifies them to me.
I appreciate that. Will the Minister make available departmental officials who make the calls in relation to money messages so committee members, who wish to engage, can get a better understanding of the strict criteria used to determine whether a money message is required or not? It is deeply confusing. Sometimes we try to introduce legislation that we cannot even present on the floor of the Dáil because it would have a charge on the public purse. Sometimes we are allowed. Sometimes it passes on Second Stage and then we find on Committee Stage there is a money message required. There seems to be a lack of consistency. To better inform us all of the criteria used, it would be greatly appreciated if the Minister would make some of his officials available to whichever members of this committee wanted to engage with them.
I always make, and always have made, officials from my Department available to answer any questions colleagues have. Indeed, officials from both my Departments appear in front of this committee nearly as regularly as I do to answer questions on policy. On this particular matter, it is a decision made by me and then by Government. It is not made by officials. I will supply the criteria that underpinned that decision. However, decision-making sits at ministerial and Cabinet level alone. It is best dialogue on this is confined to me. However, if there is not clarity regarding what those criteria are, if members do not have that clarity, I will supply what the criteria are. From a process point of view, the Deputy has named one Bill. I will come back to him on that next week. If the Chair will share with me other Bills that he or the committee are concerned about, I will respond. As part of the communication I will articulate what the criteria are against which a money message is or is not granted.
The Minister knows me better than I thought he did. I refer to the Office of Government Procurement. I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. I am jumping between committees. The Comptroller and Auditor General does various reports and we are finalising one today. An example is the report where we found there were serious flaws in respect of €3.8 billion going to section 38 companies and how procurement was carried out. It is a huge amount of money. It is 38% of funding of the HSE.
We are also hearing issues coming to the fore in respect of Garda contracts relating to IT. Again, we are talking about huge amounts of money. One contract that was not tendered was for €26.5 million. What is the consequence or the impact in respect of how Government procurement changes as a result of the reports that are generated and the items identified through this process?
I will answer that specific question. Some of the general procurement matters will be dealt with by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. On Deputy Kelly's last question, each report that comes from this committee on a matter of concern, such as the example he gave, comes to me.
The key points of that report are given to me. My Department generally has to respond to each issue that is raised by the Committee of Public Accounts.
I will speak about the overall implementation of what we do when we get reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General. As part of the ongoing development of the framework process under which procurement works, the Office of Government Procurement takes account of all the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I have served on the Committee of Public Accounts. I know that procurement and governance is a perennial issue. My Department works with the officials in the Office of Government Procurement and communicates on a regular basis with line Departments. It is up to the Accounting Officers to work with the Office of Government Procurement. We are engaged in an evolving process. Every time a report comes out, we would love not to have issues with procurement and governance, but we have such issues, unfortunately. The Office of Government Procurement is taking all of those issues on board and making the necessary changes as it sees fit.
Our report found that large amounts of funding, comprising 38% of the total Vote, are being given to bodies that come under the remit of the HSE. What changes have been recommended or put in place to ensure this does not continue? Obviously, the report has been done for some time.
In the specific case of the HSE, it has not yet submitted its report to the Office of Government Procurement. We hope that will happen sooner rather than later. When the report is submitted, we will review it and make any necessary recommendations.
What checks and balances are in place to ensure the report is brought forward speedily? If a serious period of time goes by, another year will pass with the possibility of similar amounts of money being treated in the same way in that year.
I will set out the reporting timeframe. The reports for the previous calendar year have to be in by 20 March. Approximately a month is left until those reports will be in. If we have to come back and look at them again, that will not be a problem.
When specific issues which are not generated by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General are brought to the attention of the Department, are they investigated? I refer to the €26.5 million IT contract for An Garda Síochána, for example.
I suppose time will tell. I have a couple of other specific questions. I was not going to mention the Vote of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, but I will do so as a side issue. My personal view is that there needs to be a conversation about the capacity and resources of that office because it needs help with its humongous volume of work. My colleague who has now left referred to the national development plan or planning framework - whatever the Government is now calling it - which will run up to 2040. As it is not on a statutory basis, as far as I am concerned it is not even legal. Anyway, that is beside the point. I want to ask about how decisions on various components of the capital plan were made. I will focus on a particular area - the various roads projects - to make it easier. I understand that large changes were made to this plan, which is based on evidence, in recent weeks. What was involved in the process of engagement with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Transport Infrastructure Ireland in this regard?
When the work intensified after last year's budget, my Department contacted all the other Departments to ask them to come back to it with projects that they felt made sense from a policy perspective. In the case of transport, for example, there was a focus on projects that dealt with challenges like road safety or met the Department's preliminary criteria for projects to go to appraisal or to the pre-planning stage. That was done by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Okay. Fair enough. Officials from that Department appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts a couple of months ago. Officials from Transport Infrastructure Ireland appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport a few weeks ago. I attended that meeting and I have been in correspondence with the officials as well. I will meet them soon. I will explain the issue. Obviously, there is an evidence base here. Did the prioritisation of any of the projects change between the publication of the draft plan and the production of the final plan?
As a former Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Kelly was involved in issues like this, for example when the greenway strategies were being drawn up. We had to-----
No, the Deputy was involved in that process. He is aware of the need for evidence when decisions are being made. He is familiar with the use of evidence in how we make decisions on these matters. There was no draft version of the national capital plan. The only draft version that went out to public consultation related to the national planning framework. No version of the national capital plan was made available for public consultation because it is partially a budgetary document.
It is obvious where this is going. This was launched last Friday, 16 February 2018. I presume all the evidence - the methodology and the weighting systems, etc. - will be produced when I meet those involved in the next week or so. The methodology used in respect of all the projects has been provided to the Committee of Public Accounts. I presume it will be shown that the methodologies and weightings used to prioritise projects were sustained and stayed the same in chronological order up to the date of publication last Friday.
When officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Transport Infrastructure Ireland come before the relevant committees to talk about the project criteria, they will be able to supply those details. From recollection, very little change was made to the recommendations that came forward from the Department.
I presume the correspondence between the Minister's Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will reflect that. We will see. Time will tell. It is locked in time so we will find out. I have a final question. Did anyone in the Department take note of the interactions with Benefacts at the joint committee last week?
Before I deal with that, I would like to say that when all the information on the dialogue between myself and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is published, I am confident that it will be in accordance with what I have just said. Deputy Kelly is a former Minister of State in that Department. I had the great pleasure of taking over from him.
The Deputy then asked whether the matters that were raised at last week's meeting of the joint committee are of concern to me. They are not of concern to me but they are always of interest to me. When members of an Oireachtas committee raise any kind of query about organisations for which I have responsibility, it is of interest to me.
I will briefly mention some of the issues that were raised last week. The chief executive officer was appointed without open competition. Questions were asked about whether the tenders and contracts that were awarded met public procurement requirements. Benefacts is not covered by the 2016 code of governance. I will not take up the time of the committee by mentioning the other queries that were raised. They are all on the record. The Chairman of the joint committee is waiting for responses to questions asked at last week's meeting. Is it the case that the Minister has no issues with the various matters that were raised, such as how Benefacts spends money, how people are appointed, how it is audited, how the audit works, its code of governance and its funding?
Are there no issues whatsoever?
As I said, they are always of interest. I know that the Deputy has a particular interest in this decision and the origins of the organisation as it happened under the auspices of the last Government, of which the Deputy and I were members.
I know that all of the matters referred to were dealt with by the committee. I understand Benefacts will come back on some matters. I will monitor what it states. I am confident that the requirements in place for how the organisation is meant to operate are being met. The work is very valuable in helping us to understand the use of taxpayers' money.
As is always the case, if I am made aware of any fact or evidence that changes my view on a matter, I will, of course, change my view. Based on the evidence available to me and the facts shared on the operation of the organisation, I am satisfied that it meets the requirements it is meant to meet. I know that a number of questions and matters were raised related to the operation. I am sure and I expect that Benefacts will respond with answers. I will monitor what it states, as I monitor the response of any organisation that receives taxpayers' funding.
In his opening remarks the Minister referenced the sum of €59.531 million and the fact that some of the increase was due to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. Will he outline what that means?
I agree with Deputy Joan Burton with respect to section 39 services. In my constituency SOS and the St. Patrick's Centre which are undergoing a management review are awaiting sanction for different structures. The section 39 argument and the case being made are valid. Between now and the time a decision will be made in that regard, the Minister should encourage the Health Service Executive, HSE, which has responsibility in this area to ensure it will make the necessary decisions in an appropriate timeframe. I asked the Minister before about the Garda financial reporting systems and the HSE reporting systems. They are trying to achieve a single system and although it is not in these Estimates, it is within the remit of the Department to approve the systems.
The Chairman has put three points to me. There is a common thread which is driving the general increase in the Vote and there are three specific matters related to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. There has been an increase in the number of staff in the Department and we are now paying for the full year effects of recruitment that took place in 2017. There are also, of course, changes in wage levels owing to implementation of the public service stability agreement. There are three specific projects which are driving the larger increase in the Vote. There is a build-to-share project that is on the way; we are developing the infrastructure to deal with particular matters such as the use of cloud services, for example, which we will then make available to all other Departments. We also have costs related to the roll-out of the public services card and additional costs associated with the use of the digital services gateway.
The Chairman's second question was related to section 39 organisations. I hear his support for Deputy Joan Burton's comments. I will work with the HSE to ensure that piece of work is completed in the timings we have indicated. As I said, from the initial work we have done, we can already see the complexity of the matter. Information technology costs for the HSE and An Garda Síochána are matters for their individual Votes rather than mine.
There are two ways in which it will do so. If they go ahead with a significant ICT procurement process, the Office of Government Procurement will either be involved or it will be part of a framework agreement. If none of these is the case and if they go ahead with significant capital expenditure, it will require the consent of my team within the Department.
Currently, we are pushing out the boundaries of to where the Office of Government Procurement will look, in working with the relevant sectors, including the small and medium enterprise, SME, sector and other employers. The local government sector is a partner to the Office of Government Procurement, but it is not really within our remit.
Is the Minister of State conscious of the complaints made by the SME sector about its level of access to the procurement process and the difficulties with turnover for some procurement contracts which affect the ability to tender?
We are aware of them. For example, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to support the ongoing work of the SME leadership group, which I chair, that covers the issue of procurement. It is representative of all business and sectoral interests, including the Department and other bodies, in dealing with changes that can be made to how procurement contracts can be publicised and people can gain awareness of them. It also seeks to ensure the maximum number of companies and small businesses have the opportunity to pitch for Government contracts. The success rate is quite high, with over 50% of the money spent by the State through the Office of Government Procurement spent in the SME sector. Over 90% of the money is spent in the State.
Yes, they are members of the group. They represent their own organisations and memberships. After Christmas we started to engage with businesses early in the morning, for want of a better phrase, across the country.
Yes, absolutely. The Chairman and committee members are more than welcome to attend some of the briefings organised by the Office of Government Procurement to make people aware of the services, mentoring and assistance provided by it.
Local government is completely separate and there is no engagement between it and the Department. I ask this question because of the number of building contractors and so on who complain about trying to gain access to local government contracts for the construction of homes.
The executive is made up of representatives from the areas of health, education, defence and local government. There are criteria within which the procurement process for local government works; it works in the same way as it works in the area of defence. We initiate the frameworks and work in consultation. If supports are required from the local authority sector or other areas represented on the executive, we provide them.
Absolutely. The Chairman may have heard me say at the Committee of Public Accounts that I would love to deepen the role of the Office of Government Procurement even further. The savings we have accrued since it was established are substantial, but given the overall amount of money spent by the State, there is greater scope for it.
My interest is in protecting jobs in smaller businesses that find it hard to collaborate with competitors in order to gain contracts. They are excluded from some local government and more lucrative national government contracts.
There have been a number of Private Members' Bills in this area and I have engaged with the Opposition, with the Office of Government Procurement and representatives of small and medium enterprises, to point out some of the pitfalls in or unintended consequences of some of these pieces of legislation.
While we want to create a greater level of awareness, there is almost a reluctance within the SME sector to start tinkering around the edges for the sake of it because there is transparency and accessibility now that may not have been the case heretofore.
I would like to raise what one might call two parochial issues. I am not normally parochial at committee meetings but I have to take the opportunity. Deputy Deasy referred to the urban regeneration and development fund. The Minister said in the Dáil earlier this week that it will be 2019 before actual allocations will be made. That is the €2 billion fund. There is a lot of optimism in Cork city that the docklands area, which, as the Minister is aware, has huge potential for regeneration, will benefit, and it is specifically included in the national development plan. The Minister might outline that process and the type of works or projects for which the fund can provide finance. In the case of Cork, it may well be bridges, for example, in order to open up access to the docklands. If possible, the Minister might provide more information on that.
In the next six to eight weeks, we will be laying out the criteria for how the four different funds will work. The criteria will be based on the experience I had in managing the local housing infrastructure activation fund. My objective is that the fund will be open for applications across the summer and that the criteria will be based on the approach used in the context of the national planning framework. For example, regarding urban projects, it will be about how it can promote living space and commercial use in city centre settings.
On the kind of projects for which it can be used, it could be used for bridges but also, more generally, to co-fund infrastructure or land acquisition that is needed to enable particular projects to happen. I am aware of a number of larger projects across the country that require local authority financial support. Our local authorities are not currently in a position to directly provide that support. There have been many calls for a budget line to try to make that happen, and that is what I am now doing.
To clarify, it will be for public investment and infrastructure. The fund is €2 billion through the lifetime of the plan up to 2027. When will moneys start to be made available? Will the Minister have money in the budget line for 2019 and 2020, and will it be one fifth or one tenth of the €2 billion? How will this be rolled out in practice?
There will be a budget line available in budget 2019 for use next year. Therefore, my objective is that funding will be available next year. Exactly when that funding will become available next year will depend on the quality of the projects. We will outline what the availability of funding will be per year but, across the next three years, it is my objective that there would be enough funding available for all four funds for them to make a credible and verifiable start in their work next year.
We have indicative figures available for all of the funds overall. I do not have to hand what it is per fund because some of those decisions will have to be made by Cabinet and will form part of budget 2019. However, it is my intention that they will start in a credible way for next year. If I have indicated in last week's national capital plan what it is per budget, per fund line, I will come back to the Deputy on the matter but my recollection is that I gave a figure for all of the funds in their entirety.
That is correct. The proposals will come from public bodies. In regard to Cork, Cork City Council will be the body proposing a project for this fund and then the Minister will make the decision in Cabinet.
I have been asked about this matter by a number of Deputies. My thinking to date is that it will be primarily led by the local authorities because in my experience they are best placed to know the projects that will meet the criteria we have laid down in the national planning framework. I have not fully decided that yet. The local authorities will be able to access it, but I want to consider that further. For example, if there are projects that do not require local authority funding and the local authority is not involved in, say, a project that may already have planning permission and that might meet the criteria of the national planning framework, could there be a role for other bodies, for example, educational bodies, universities and so on? I have not made a decision on that yet, but local authorities definitely will be able to access it.
I have three issues. The second issue is the Cork event centre, which is included in the national development plan. Is that matter on the Minister's desk? There is a request for additional funding. There is a good deal of frustration locally and a real lack of clarity as to the status of this project, which is being brought forward by Live Nation and BAM. Significant public funding has been committed but additional funding is required to make this happen. The Minister will be aware of an infamous sod-turning on the eve of the general election two years ago and nothing happened subsequently. People want to know if the event centre in Cork will happen, if the Government is committed to it and whether the Minister is about to make a decision to sanction the extra funding to make that project happen.
The Government is committed to the project. That centre will happen. There is an application with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and I expect it will be winging its way to me soon.
I am committed to the project and when the Department of Culture, Heritage and he Gaeltacht comes to me with its analysis of a new funding need that I know has been identified, I will deal with the issue. I have said to the Deputy that I am confident I will be receiving that soon.
The third issue is an even more local one. I do not expect the Minister to be aware of it but I want him to become aware of it. It is included in the national development plan and it is a matter of public expenditure. On page 49 of the national development plan, it is stated, "The following regional and local roads will be progressed over the course of the National Development Plan ... Carrigaline Western Distributor Road". When I was on the county council over a decade ago, we passed the Part 8 planning for that particular project. In 2010, the project was about to collapse completely. I intervened directly with the then Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, to ensure that funding would be provided to complete the compulsory purchase order, CPO, process. Mr. Dempsey gave a commitment to provide the funding. The Department provided 50% of the funding. The council came up with the rest. The land has now been secured. Later this year, the detailed design of that particular project will be completed. Planning is in place. The CPO has been completed. Detailed design will be done later this year. Carrigaline is a town of approximately 17,000 people. It is choking with traffic. There is a residential development under way across the road from where I live. Three hundred houses with planning permission are being built. Ultimately, there will be approximately 800 houses. The Tánaiste lives in the town. He will be well aware of this issue. I was glad to see the project included in the national development plan, but I got a parliamentary reply from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in which he states, "My Department is, however, liaising with Cork County Council with a view to positioning the project for development in the post 2021 period." It is all very fine for this to be in the national development plan, but the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is saying, "Come back to me in 2022 or beyond". He is saying post-2021. That is not good enough. That project is shovel ready. I do not expect a direct answer from the Minister. The project is included in the national development plan. I am asking him to examine it, discuss it with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and deliver it.
-----he did not expect me to be aware of the project and that he wished to make me aware of it. I cannot give an answer on every project in every Department, but I am aware of this one, as it has been raised with me by the Deputy and the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney. I will work with the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, on it.
I specifically ask that the timeframe outlined by the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, be changed. Detailed design of the project will be completed in the coming months. It is not a laughing matter. I live in the town.
I must raise the issue to engender some progress. The project would have died in 2010 if I had not intervened. The funding was provided; compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, were completed, and there was planning. Detailed design of the project is under way and will be completed in the coming months, but the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, is telling me to come back in 2022, while the Tánaiste is delivering leaflets in the area stating the project has been included in the national development plan and will be delivered. However, delivery in 2022 is not good enough. I ask the Minister to come back to me with a commitment in that regard.
I am not smiling about the project because I am familiar with the need for it and the effect in the Deputy's town and parish. I am smiling because if I were to give an indication on any particular project, two things would happen, the first of which is that Deputy Pearse Doherty would then ask about projects in County Donegal and Deputy Jonathan O'Brien would ask about a school or some other project.
The point is that as the project has been included in the plan, this is not a speculative inquiry. It has been included in the development plan for delivery. Therefore, I am entitled to ask about it.
I never said the Deputy was not entitled to ask about the plan. He is entitled to raise the issue with me, but he knows how such decisions are made. He understands it is not my role to become involved in decisions my colleagues make on individual projects. As I stated, if I were to comment on an individual project, every other Deputy present would begin to ask me about other projects and ask me to intervene. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport would ensure the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, would be in contact with me the moment I walked out of this committee to ask why I was getting involved in decisions they were making. I would then be open to being drawn down the path down Deputy Alan Kelly tried to draw me down earlier in the hearing. I am aware of the project and that there is a strong need for it, which is why it has been included in the national development plan. I will talk to the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to see how the project can be progressed because I know that it is needed.