Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 30 March 2021
Select Committee on Justice and Equality
Estimates for Public Services 2021
Vote 20 - Garda S&amp;amp;amp;iacute;och&amp;amp;amp;aacute;na (Revised)
Vote 21 - Prisons (Revised)
Vote 22 - Courts Service (Revised)
Vote 24 - Justice (Revised)
Vote 41 - Policing Authority (Revised)
Vote 44 - Data Protection Commission (Revised)
I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the place that the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, in order to participate in public meetings. I believe we are all well aware of that at this stage, but I wanted to reiterate it at the outset. Unfortunately, the rules do not permit members to participate if they are outside Leinster House according to the advice given to the Oireachtas.
Before we begin, I will take us through some housekeeping matters. I ask members to mute themselves when they are not contributing so that we do not have background noise or feedback. If they use the raise hand button, it will probably be the best approach. The clerk to the committee and I will try our best to ensure that everyone's hand is noted when it is raised and that we get to everyone. If we miss members, I am sure they will make themselves known to me anyway. I remind members to ensure that their mobile phones are either on silent mode or turned off so as not to interfere.
This meeting has been convened to consider the Revised Estimates for public services for the Department of Justice's Votes 20, 21, 22, 24, 41 and 44. Documents with breakdowns have been circulated. We will interrogate them further in the course of the meeting.
I am pleased to welcome the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her officials. I thank them for the briefing document that was sent to us ahead of the meeting. As she is present, we will engage with her rather than her officials. They can advise her and so forth, but they should not speak while we are in public session. She can speak for all.
Speaking of the Minister speaking, I believe she has a few words to address us with at the outset of the meeting.
I thank the committee for inviting me to this meeting. I am seeking its approval for the Revised Estimates for the justice sector Vote group to provide for much-needed expenditure across the sector. The Estimates provide for gross expenditure of approximately €3 billion across six Votes in the justice sector, €2.746 billion of which is current expenditure and €258 million of which is capital expenditure. In addition, €27 million in unspent capital from 2020 has been carried over to 2021, bringing the total available capital allocation to €285 million.
I will set out the detail of each of the Votes. Significantly, a number of common themes run across them. In terms of the modernisation of services, ICT investment and the digitalisation of services are not just aspirations, but essential. Our experience over the past year has emphasised this and given much-needed momentum to the digital reform of services across all sectors, including justice. The Garda ICT budget of more than €80 million includes a specific allocation of €7 million for the provision of additional mobile devices and related licensing and maintenance costs under the Garda mobility project. These devices give gardaí instant access to real-time, secure information on the roadside across a range of apps that enable them to scan registration plates, identify forged or false driver licences and detect disqualified drivers, untaxed cars and stolen vehicles. The flexibility that this gives gardaí leads to time being saved on dealing with paperwork in the station, more time spent on patrol and the front line, and greater risks being identified. In addition, €5 million has been provided in the justice Vote for the implementation of an ICT strategy for the Department, building on and enhancing the structures that have been put in place as a result of the Department's transformation programme.
Significant ICT development is planned over the next three years with the immigration area being a priority for digital reform. At present, too many operations are still paper-based. This investment and reform will make it easier for people to engage with the Department and avail of our services, while giving us the tools we need to become more customer-centric and efficient.
A sum of €8 million has been provided in the Estimates for the new modernisation programme in the Courts Service. This is central to the reforms I want to drive across the justice system. We need to keep pace with the changes in society and this involves increasing the use of the tools and technology that will make it easier and quicker for people to resolve disputes and access justice. We saw how important this was during the last year during the pandemic.
I sincerely hope that the spectre of Covid will diminish in future Estimates processes. However, for now we are still dealing with the impact of the worldwide pandemic and Covid-19 is, therefore, a significant feature of the 2021 Estimates. It has been necessary to make very specific provision in 2021 for the impact of Covid on expenditure and this includes additional funding in the following areas: €13 million for PPE for An Garda Síochána, €5.7 million for increased PPE, cleaning and healthcare costs for the Irish Prison Service, €5.7 million for the Courts Service, including for additional premises in Dublin and regional locations to enable court sittings to take place in a socially distanced and safe environment, and €400,000 extra funding for organisations and groups responding to increased service demands from people impacted by domestic abuse during this period. This additional funding is providing extra remote counselling services, welfare packs, extended helpline opening and other practical supports for those most vulnerable. The Government will continue to properly fund our front line services in the justice sector as they serve the public throughout the pandemic.
I will now turn to the individual Votes. The gross expenditure estimate for the Garda Síochána, Vote 20, is €1.952 billion which amounts to 65% of the funding for the entire Vote group. In addition, €12.75 million is available in unspent capital from 2020 to complete projects started under the Government's stimulus package towards the end of 2020 and to advance the building project to relocate An Garda Síochána from Harcourt Street to Military Road in Dublin.
In total, the capital budget available to An Garda Síochána in 2021 is €127.4 million. This builds on capital expenditure in 2020 of almost €115 million, including an unprecedented investment in the Garda fleet of €16 million, a proportion of which was related to the Covid response but the benefits to community and other areas of policing will long outlive Covid. A further €8 million is being provided in 2021 and will be kept under review throughout the year.
A sum of €46.75 million is being provided for the capital building and refurbishment programme, including the new purpose-built building at Military Road in Dublin. A sum of €1.615 billion, 83% of the Garda budget, is pay and pensions related. There are now approximately 14,600 Garda members in the service and 3,100 Garda staff in the organisation. Notwithstanding the impact of Covid, it is currently expected that in the region of 450 additional Garda recruits will commence training this year over four periods. Budgetary provision has also been made for the recruitment of an additional 500 Garda staff at all levels. Progress in this target is expected also but is dependent on the impact of Covid on recruiting and training personnel. With a permanent workforce now approaching 18,000, it is clear that the Commissioner has increasing options in the deployment of resources. I am particularly pleased that 746 Garda members have been redeployed to front-line policing duties as of 31 December 2020, including 144 during 2021. In addition the Revised Estimate makes provision for an increase in supervisory ranks at sergeant and inspector level and an overtime budget of €95 million.
Before moving on from the Garda Vote, I want to acknowledge and thank An Garda Síochána for their exemplary service to communities throughout the country in response to the pandemic. Gardaí have maintained a front-line, high-visibility presence since the outset of the pandemic and conducted a range of operations and activities to keep people and communities safe in support of public health measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19. This work has included ongoing support for the most vulnerable and isolated in our society. The work of An Garda Síochána is valued and appreciated by people throughout the country and it is important that this is acknowledged.
The justice Vote, Vote 24, has a gross estimate provision of €476.1 million, broken down into two separate programmes reflecting the new and more streamlined administrative structure of the Department, the criminal and civil justice pillars, comprising almost 50 separate subheads.
This structure is reflected in the recently published strategy statement 2021 to 2023, which has five key strategic goals, backed up by a detailed action plan for 2021 that maps out in an open and transparent way how we are going to implement measures to support and enhance a justice system which contributes to improvements in society. The budgetary provision for 2021 has allowed for a number of key priorities to be advanced and additional resources provided to a number of agencies in the civil and criminal justice sector.
In this regard, the budget of Forensic Science Ireland, FSI, is almost €77 million in 2021 including a capital allocation of €54.8 million for the development of a new state of the art laboratory in Backweston, County Kildare. Despite the impact of the Covid restrictions, more than €16 million was spent on this project in 2020 and it is expected that the project will be completed in 2022. FSI completed around 22,000 case reports in 2020 which illustrates the importance of the work the organisation does in the criminal justice area.
The Inspector of Prisons received additional resources of €750,000 in 2021, bringing the total allocation to €1.95 million. The Parole Board also received further additional funding of €750,000 bringing its total allocation €1.33 million. This will enable the commencement of the Parole Act in the course of 2021. I hope to have that up and running by 1 July.
The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, now has an allocation of almost €10 million, an increase of 10% which reflects the crucial role that CAB carries out in tackling money laundering and targeting the proceeds of crime. We saw significant work by CAB in the last year.
I am particularly pleased that additional funding of €2.5 million was provided in the Estimates to tackle sexual, domestic and gender based violence, support victims and reform how vulnerable witnesses are treated as sexual offences are investigated and prosecuted. This is in addition to the specific funding of €400,000 under the Covid measures for enhanced supports to victims of domestic violence. Most importantly, it will enable the commencement of the implementation of the recommendations in the O’Malley report regarding protections for vulnerable witnesses.
This funding is reflected in subhead A12 victims of crime including sexual crimes and domestic abuse, which has a total allocation of €4.1 million, and subhead A20, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence- awareness raising and training, which has an allocation of just under €3 million which brings a total of €7.1 million.
Increased funding of more than €2 million for the Legal Aid Board, a 6% increase, brings the total allocation to €44.6 million and will enable the board to recruit additional staff and meet other costs to enhance delivery of its services across the country.
It has also been possible in Estimates 2021 to increase the grant payment to the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, The Department’s allocation has been trebled to a total allocation of €294,000 to support these legal services to the most vulnerable.
Turning to the Prisons Vote, Vote 21, the gross Estimate in 2021 is €394.5 million plus an additional €5.468 million in unspent capital brought forward from 2020 under the capital carryover provisions. In addition to an increase of almost €6 million in Covid-related measures, the Prisons Vote has received €1.65 million in additional funding to strengthen corporate governance across the Irish Prison Service. Further substantial funding has been made available under the compensation subhead to pay for claims related to lack of in-cell sanitation which is being managed by the State Claims Agency. Further additional funding of €5.7 million has been made available for a range of other services, including security costs, prisoner services and an increased maintenance budget of €2 million for the prison estate.
While the redevelopment of Limerick prison has been impacted by the Covid restrictions in 2020 and 2021, significant progress is being made. A total capital allocation has been provided in 2021 of €41.5 million, including capital carryover. It is expected that in the region of €36 million will be spent on the Limerick project, Covid restrictions allowing.
Completion of this project is a priority. It will provide additional capacity for 40 female prisoners as well as a new wing to Limerick male prison, which will have additional capacity for 90 male prisoners. It will completely upgrade and modernise Limerick Prison, as well as eliminating the practice of slopping out.
I want to acknowledge also the impact that Covid 19 is having on the operations of the prison service and the collective efforts that have been made by the Irish Prison Service staff, management, prisoners and Red Cross Volunteers to contain and minimise the impact of the virus.
The infection prevention and control teams in place in all prisons really have made a significant contribution to the handling of the virus, which is particularly challenging in a closed environment such as a prison. I commend the work done in recognising the difficulties the virus has caused for staff, prisoners and their families.
We have a total Estimate in gross terms of €158.5 million for the Courts Service under Vote 22. This is in addition to an amount of €4.895 million in carryover of unspent capital from 2020. The Estimates include an allocation of €8 million for the new courts modernisation programme as well funding to combat the impact of Covid 19. The Courts Service continues to maintain vital front-line services for those who need them, including the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. The restrictions have of course impacted on jury trials in the Circuit and Higher Courts but the additional funding will provide for additional venues on a temporary basis to try to deal with the backlogs in certain cases.
The allocation for court fees income has been reduced in 2021 by €10 million. This reflects the fall-off in court fees income especially from special exemption orders for the licensing trade and hospitality sector that were agreed last year.
A gross Estimate of €19.1 million is being provided to the Data Protection Commission under Vote 44. This includes an increase of €2.2 million, which is a 13% increase compared with the previous year. The Data Protection Commission budget has increased significantly year-on-year and has increased fivefold since 2015. This reflects the responsibilities and functions of the office as it has expanded. It is the lead supervisory authority to the various multinational organisations that have European headquarters in the State. The largest aspect of the budget relates to staffing costs. This amounts to approximately €12.8 million with legal expenses accounting for approximately €2 million and the remainder being spent on other services and areas.
The gross Estimate for the Policing Authority Vote is €3.8 million. This has been provided for under Vote 41 and includes an increase of €384,000 or 11% on the 2020 allocation.
I welcome the opportunity to make this presentation and thank colleagues for their patience in discussing the Revised Estimates.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive overview of the Estimates. I outlined earlier in the meeting that we would proceed by considering each Vote in sequence. We will focus on specific subheads before more general questions on other categories. Again, I am referring to the briefing document prepared and I thank the Minister and the Department for sending it on. We have another document prepared by the secretariat for consideration.
We will commence on Vote 20. I call on members to pose their questions under the individual votes rather than jumping to the next one. We will take each one in turn and deal with the issues that arise on each.
We will commence with Vote 20 on pages C4 and C5 in the secretariat briefing, which has been provided to members. This covers pages 6 to 19 in the departmental briefing. There is a good deal in this as we have 13 subheads within Vote 20. Several members have offered. I call on members to be specific about which subheads they are referring to in the Vote and to limit questions under one subhead at a time. I am conscious of time and, as always, I am keen to make the most efficient use of time at the meeting. If there are several questions we might group them and put them to the Minister as a block. Otherwise we will take them one by one depending on how the rhythm of the meeting goes. We will try to accommodate everyone but we will do so in an efficient manner.
Four members are offering in the following order: Deputy Daly, Deputy Martin Kenny, Deputy Niamh Smyth and Deputy Pringle. If anyone else has been missed, please let us know.
Before I call Deputy Daly I will lead off with some questions under Vote 20. I want to ask about subheads A1 and A3. The Minister mentioned at the outset that there was a significant spending figure on pay and pensions. Do we have a breakdown of the distinction between pay and pensions? Under the large subhead A1 there is a reference to pay. To what extent does that refer to serving members who are being paid for being on active service? To what extent does it pay for pensions? What is the split?
My next question relates to subhead A3, which covers clothing and accessories. I had asked the Minister to update us on the tender process for Garda clothing and footwear etc. How often is that done? What checks and balances are in place? Is that process audited? Has it been awarded to the same tenderer? Has it varied in recent years? Perhaps the Minister will answer those questions and then I will bring in the next speaker.
I will have to get a breakdown for the initial questions on pay and pensions. I will need a moment to get this. I will do the same for the question on clothing and accessories. I am unsure how often this happens but I know there is a request at the moment for new uniforms. We are looking at that as part of the overall request later on in the year. I will come back to the Chairman directly on that in a few minutes.
The Minister needs to take some guidance on that from the officials. They may want to prepare that for the Minister in the interim. I will move on to the next speaker. Perhaps the Minister can reply to the questions when she has the information available in a few moments.
In general I welcome the increased funding for the Policing Authority, probation and domestic violence. I have one concern in that there is no increase for youth services.
While I welcome the 746 extra front-line gardaí, town centres and city centres are quieter and larger groups have been more visible. This leaves people feeling more threatened. I welcome the increased funding. I hope an increased presence of gardaí on the front line can be seen as visibility is important.
I have a question on subhead A7. Am I reading it right? It seems there has been a large increase in Garda compensation in the past three or four years. Is there any particular reason for that?
I have a question on the ICT budget. The Minister mentioned additional mobile devices. I know most Garda vehicles already have all the facilities to detect and scan registration plates and identify forged driving licences, untaxed cars and stolen vehicles. What are the extra mobile devices? Is it for vehicles or is it more to do with maintenance? Who has the contract that relates to maintenance costs for the extra information technology?
I thank the Minister for her opening remarks. Subhead A2 includes the Garda Síochána Reserve. The figure was €150,000 last year on top of €4.4 million. I am keen to get more detail on what the plans are around all of that.
I was interested in the large increase in the allocation under A11, which relates to the witness protection programme. The figure has gone from €400,000 to €1.2 million approximately. Funding for the Garda College has also increased considerably. It is probably due to Covid-19 but the college has been closed for a large part of the year. Will there be savings in this area?
Reference was made to a target of having cybercrime satellite hubs. The target was to have three last year and three more this year. We need to put more resources into this area. The staff working there can be under considerable stress because often they are dealing with child pornography online and so on. It is a stressful and difficult work environment for people to be engaged in all the time.
There is a need for a programme of support for the people working in that category of crime detection and evidence research. The section is quite understaffed and that needs to be examined in general. If satellite hubs are being set up, I welcome that and ask for more detail in that regard.
The Deputy referred to youth services. I highlight that there is an additional €500,000, which brings the total allocation to €14.5 million for youth justice interventions. That includes specific funding of €1.426 million through the Dormant Accounts Fund for the Greentown programme, which is specifically looking at protecting younger people from the influence of adult crime. When the €14.5 million is added to the additional funding through the Dormant Accounts Fund, it brings the total to €16 million. Obviously, that spans various programmes that are in place. As the Deputy will be aware, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, last week brought to Cabinet the youth justice strategy which will be launched and feed into some of that. It will require additional funding and resources in the budget this year.
As regards extra front-line gardaí, obviously there has been a difficulty in that regard in the past year because the Garda College has been closed. That has led to difficulties in reaching some of the targets we set. We have a target of 450 for this year. The current number is 14,600. Even after taking retirements into account, that will bring us close to the figure of 15,000, not including civilian staff. Although there have been significant problems in this regard in the past year, the target of 500 additional civilian staff this year, which obviously is Covid-dependent, would allow more front-line gardaí to be out on the beat and on the ground. As the Deputy stated, it is extremely important that the Garda has a visible presence not just to be able to detect crime, but to make sure people feel and know that they are being kept safe.
On the issue of mobile devices specifically, much of this relates to automatic number plate recognition, ANPR. There are currently 99 vehicles which are fully equipped with video and ANPR capability. As the Deputy stated, this is about trying to expand that capacity. In 2020, 28 vehicles were purchased and equipped. No additional vehicles have been purchased to date. That is where we are trying to expand in particular on this issue. Approximately €7 million extra has been provided in 2021. Unfortunately, not all of the cars are equipped with this technology. It is really important that we acquire as many of them as possible and that is where much of this is going.
To come back to the original point made by the Chairman regarding the Garda uniform, it is reviewed every couple of years. As I stated, we are in the process of delivering a new uniform which it is hoped will be available by the end of this year or in 2022 at the latest. Other equipment is reviewed much more frequently. The uniforms are reviewed every few years but other equipment is reviewed much more frequently.
On the issue of the Garda Reserve, I understand that at the end of last year there were 476 reservists nationwide. At the end of December, there were 407. Following the attestation of 69 Garda Reserve members on 19 January, this number has gone back up to 476. The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing, endorsed by the Government in December 2018, suggested the Garda Reserve programme as it stands is not realising its potential, so there is more work that we need to do in this regard. The Commission recommended that future recruitment should be paused, pending the outcome of a strategic review in order to examine how we can best structure the Garda Reserve to meet the needs of An Garda Síochána and subsequently be included in a policing service for the future. We are halfway through the four-year implementation plan. The review started in 2019 and we are awaiting its outcome. As I stated, there is more work we could do in this space and that has been acknowledged, including by the Garda Commissioner.
On the issue of the Garda College and increased funding, significant funding was needed to ensure it was possible to take in the recruits in a safe manner, with all of the Covid restrictions that were in place being adhered to. Additional funding was required specifically in that regard.
I have a note regarding three last year and three more this year.
I refer to the point made by Deputy Kenny regarding the commitment we made in respect of the cybersecurity team. As he stated, it is dealing with very difficult material in some instances. It is important that we do not have a team or a system where individuals get burnt out. They should have the full support they need. We are absolutely committed to continued investment in this space and ensuring those teams can be built on, year on year.
I am sure I have missed something. My apologies if that is the case. I will have to revert to Deputy Daly on the issue of the maintenance cost in terms of the holder of that contract. I do not know that directly.
I appreciate that the Minister may not have an answer now to certain questions such as that asked by Deputy Daly on maintenance and my question on the details of the tender for Garda uniforms and footwear, but I ask that she send the committee a note on those items, as well as other items that may arise in the course of the meeting for which details are not immediately to hand.
I thank the Minister for her opening statement and the significant increases in funding for various aspects of the Department. She referred to modernisation of the Courts Service. Last week, the committee heard profound accounts relating to sexual assault and rape cases. We heard from the legal profession that there is training available within the court system, but that training is on a voluntary basis. The committee did not get the impression that there is a significant emphasis on the training. Obviously, there has been a significant rise in the number of cases of domestic violence and coercive control and all of that. Is training in that particular area for legal professionals part of the planning for that increased expenditure on court modernisation?
I ask the Minister to address that point when she moves to dealing with Vote 22 - Courts Service. I wish to keep the discussion aligned under the various categories. If there is a Garda element to the issue, the Minister may address it now. If there is not, I ask that it be dealt with under the Vote relating to the Courts Service.
The issue does come under the Garda Vote to some extent. In my opening statement I referenced the implementation of the O'Malley report. Although specific funding has not been identified under the €8 million modernisation budget that was allocated to the courts, as part of the implementation of the O'Malley report a significant amount of work is being done in developing a training programme in respect of domestic and sexual assault cases specifically for members of An Garda Síochána, those working in the Courts Service and the Judiciary. A subgroup set up within the Department is examining this issue. In addition, a consultant will be carrying out a mapping exercise, looking at the training that is currently being provided and identifying where there are gaps and where we need to further develop it. That work will be done in conjunction with members of An Garda Síochána, including the Garda Commissioner and his team, but also through engaging with the Judiciary through the Judicial Council, the Law Society and the Bar Council. I acknowledge that I am moving into issues that fall under Vote 22. There is a significant focus on this issue. Where additional funding is required, it will be provided, either from the funding allocated through the additional O'Malley money or funding that is required through the modernisation budget in the Courts Service. Although it may not necessarily be specified under these headings, there is work under way to identify what is needed. If additional funding is required, it will be allocated.
I thank the Chairman for allowing me to contribute. I thank the Minister for her breakdown of the Vote. In her opening statement, she referred to provision in the ICT budget for equipment in vehicles.
I had the experience - I do not know whether I would call it the pleasure - of being stopped by the PSNI in the North. The officers were able to check my car on their computer and tell me it was not taxed. It actually was taxed, which is a separate issue, and it seems the Garda system was not updated. My point, however, is that the PSNI officers were able to access the Garda system and tell me about my car. Subsequently, I was stopped three times on the way back to Killybegs by gardaí doing Covid checks, which was very welcome, but they did not have anything to tell me anything about my car. That is the crux of what I am saying. A member of An Garda told me that in the area in question in Donegal, there is just one handheld unit on which details of my car or any other can be checked. Having just one unit between 50 or 60 gardaí in the area seems very remiss. How many units will €7 million provide? Obviously, this is the way the Garda should be going and it would be very useful, but it sticks in the craw a wee bit when the PSNI can do as I describe and the Garda cannot in the local area. When will the programme be rolled out such that all gardaí will be able to check the details of a car?
On the various budget items, I thank the Department for providing us with the documentation and I thank the committee staff for their work on it. There are major differences in the allocations. Under A10, on compensation, there is a 31.7% increase. Why is that the case? It seems huge. Under A11, on the witness security programme, there is an increase of 200%. By comparison with what was originally budgeted for last year, it would be an increase of 399%. While the supplementary budget and Covid have had an impact, I am wondering whether the major increase associated with each budget item is normal. Is there some reason the compensation budget is expected to increase by 32%? By comparison with the sum originally budgeted for, there is actually an increase of 38.5% year on year. Could the Minister explain this a little more?
Regarding the overall investment in Garda ICT, not just relating to the ANPR, the mobility project, €80 million has been allocated to upgrade the mobile devices. I am referring to cars but also to technology to ensure everything can be interconnected and to reflect the fact that we have now just joined the Schengen Information System, SIS II. Even though we only joined it on 15 March, there have already been great benefits. I am getting that response back from An Garda. On the ANPR, 99 vehicles are currently equipped. The information is that, because of the technical and design specifications, many of the road policing vehicles cannot accept the technology currently in use. This will take time to change.
On the mobile devices, which I failed to mention in my previous answer, we have more than 2,200 front-line mobile devices. I am referring to the mobile stations that have been deployed as part of the overall roll-out. They have been allocated to a range of operational Garda members, including those in road policing. The regular units, community police, detectives and drug units are also included. It is important to the work they are doing. Three hundred of the devices are being deployed to complete the roll-out of community policing. That was before the end of last year. There were 500 additional devices deployed in early 2021. This is what is being planned for this year. There is an increase year on year. Given that we have 2,200 devices, an increase of 500 this year is quite significant. The scope of overall ICT allocation, of €80 million, extends considerably beyond the mobility project, the ANPR, with a view to the overall restructuring of the policing technologies to make sure they are as interconnected as possible. As the Deputy mentioned, it is a matter of bringing ourselves up to speed on the technology in other jurisdictions.
On the compensation and witness security programme, the position is like that on any budget in any given year in that sometimes there is significant funding in some areas and sometimes there is not. The compensation varies from year to year, however, depending on a number of factors, including the quantum of awards given out. In some of the past few years, compensation budgets have been diverted elsewhere. If we look at the budget of 2020, we see a figure of €16.6 million for compensation, while €12 million was spent. In budget 2021, we have allocated €16.6 million. We will have to see what will be spent. It really varies depending on the compensation awarded or what is required for witness security at the time in question. As we know, we do not always get exactly what we asked for in a budget request but it is very positive when we do and when see a significant increase of the type in question.
I thank the Minister and Deputy Pringle. That concludes our scrutiny of Vote 20. We will move to Vote 21, commencing with programme B. I refer members to the committee secretariat's briefing and to the Department's briefing. We will take questions, beginning with Deputies Kenny and Smyth.
I thank the Minister. May I return to the previous Vote for a moment to make one small point? On the question I asked on the Garda Reserve, I am a little confused. Perhaps I could get clarity in writing later. The Minister seemed to indicate there will be fewer Garda reserves or that the matter is under review, yet the departmental briefing refers to €150,000 for last year and €1.395 million, or almost €1.4 million, for this year. There is a trebling of the funding for the Garda Reserve at a time the Minister is basically saying it is being frozen. Perhaps there is a mistake or some clarity is needed on that. She can respond later in writing. There is no need to worry about it at the moment.
On the prisons budget, we need to use to our advantage what Covid has given us. I am referring, in particular, to how video technology has assisted in not requiring prisoners to travel so much between prison and court. Perhaps some of these developments can be kept as we move on. They do not have to end when Covid ends because considerable efficiencies have evolved that allow for smoother management. We should consider where the technology has worked well and whether it can be extended to other parts of the prison service.
With regard to the additional funding to do more work on the prisons, provide more buildings and space and improve quality, I am particularly interested in the move of the Central Mental Hospital to Portrane. I suppose we need to have some clarity on it. There has been some talk by the Central Mental Hospital about how it can achieve clarity on all this because it is, in effect, taking into its care people who are committed by the courts, yet it is a hospital providing a health service. Some work needs to be done on that. I am also concerned that very many of the people who end up on the relevant programme are people who have had psychotic episodes because of drug abuse and drug addiction. They can end up in the hospital under those circumstances.
I have heard from gardaí on the beat that very often, when they have people they know are a danger to themselves and the public - often times, they are underage - and they want to find somewhere to put them, there is nowhere they can go with them. The spaces are all full. I know the new facility will have additional spaces, which is welcome, but I am hearing is that the additional spaces in Portrane will not be adequate to deal with the extent of this problem. The impact of crack cocaine on young people in these circumstances in recent months, particularly in Dublin, will put more pressure on that service. I do not have a specific question about the budget but I feel that we need an emphasis to ensure our Prison Service meets those challenges because they are real challenges that will hit us very hard if we cannot cope with them in the future. Sometimes people who should be in a safe space are not and can go out and harm themselves or other people. We have seen the consequences of that recently. I do not want to get into any specific cases but it is certainly having a real impact on people and the families of those individuals, who feel they should be put away somewhere because they are a danger to themselves, their families and the public. This needs urgent attention.
The Deputy identified something that could apply to most of the Votes. Some of the changes brought about by Covid-19, be they in An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service or the Courts Service, have been made out of necessity but, hopefully, they will remain and ensure the smoother and better running of the Irish Prison Service and other services. Regarding additional funding to support the development of services to include additional ICT to allow for visits, using technology to invest in the Courts Service and going back to our previous Vote, An Garda Síochána, the increased use of technology is beneficial not just in saving time and resources such as prison staff or gardaí not being required to travel to courts or different hearings, it is also beneficial for prisoners as it prevents taking people in and out when it is not necessary. There are a lot of advantages to some of the changes that have been made. In dealing with the Irish Prison Service specifically on this question, its intention is that any of these improvements would continue irrespective of whether we are still in the midst of Covid.
The Central Mental Hospital is not part of the prisons Vote but I am very conscious that there is a significant problem in that there are people in prison who have significant mental health problems and require significant help and have a dual diagnosis where they have mental health problems and drug or alcohol addiction. I brought a memorandum to Cabinet today to establish a mental health task force to examine prisons, the care provided, follow-on care when people enter the community and how we can prevent that cycle from continuing where people do not get the support they need and find themselves back in prison. Some of the consultation we will undertake involves identifying people with mental health challenges or a dual diagnosis of mental health difficulties and drug or alcohol addition challenges so it will cover much of what the Deputy raised. Our former colleague, Kathleen Lynch, will chair the group, which between the Departments of Justice and Health will consider many recommendations that have been set out in a number of reports published in the past few years and build on other work that has been done between our community health teams, within the Irish Prison Service and working with the Central Mental Hospital. Significant work has been done there but there is a lot of work still to do, particularly given the lack of bed capacity or spaces and the fact that the Irish Prison Service is dealing with prisoners with severe mental issues or other diagnoses. We need to make sure we have the capacity to support them but that they are supported in the most appropriate way while at the same time, acknowledging that some of these people have committed crimes and are in prison because of that. I hope to progress that work having brought that memorandum to Cabinet today. I will support the work of the committee in respect of any recommendations it makes.
I have a very straightforward question for the Minister. Does the Department have any plans for a redress scheme for slopping out cases and will the State compensate those who suffered that violation of their human rights over many years?
That scheme exists. The plan is to make sure we eliminate this practice. As I mentioned in my opening statement, significant funding is being allocated to Limerick Prison, where this practice remains in existence. Once that work is complete, we will eliminate this practice. I do not have the exact figure in terms of what has been allocated to date under this scheme but as soon as we can eliminate it, the need for any type of redress scheme or financial redress will be eliminated as well so the intention is for that to happen as soon as possible. To date, €130 million has been spent on capital projects aimed at eliminating slopping out with the target for eliminating it at about 99% so about 1% is left. I will endeavour to get the overall compensation that has been provided to date.
My question relates to A7, compensation. There is a 14.5% increase on what was budgeted. From the Minister's response to the last question, I take it that this can be budgeted but whether that will all be used depends on the outturn at different stages. This means that the 2020 Estimate on this item is €9.5 million. Does this mean that basically this is not an outturn figure either so we are not really looking at like for like? I notice that the 2019 outturn figure was €3.85 million. How accurate is this? If we take it that the 14.5% increase is not used, is it reallocated within the subheads or does it just go back into a black hole in the Department of Finance?
My other question concerns A4, prisoner services, and A6, educational services. There is a 9.6% reduction in educational services and a 5% reduction in prisoner services. What will be the impact of this, particularly on educational services for prisoners and their ability to be rehabilitated and educated? What will be the impact if the full budget is used at €1.265 million? The other line in A7 has not been achieved. Can the money be reallocated to that? Is that likely to happen?
In terms of compensation, my answer is similar to my previous answer in that it depends on what cases are dealt with in the year or what the overall request is. As is often the case, in some years, one will get more than one thinks or less than one asked for. For this year in particular, there was additional funding for in-cell sanitation cases going back to my answer to the question from Deputy Smyth so there was an additional €6 million for that. It varies very much and depends on the year.
On education and prisoner services, there was an increased allocation in last year's supplies. Again, this depends on the requirement that is in place. There was an increase last year so while there was a slight reduction this year, what was allocated is sufficient to deal with what is required for this year. It depends on the request and the ask that is there and on the fact that last year we saw a significant increase in the allocation. That, in itself, is positive but it is based on the requirement that is there. I am not sure if there will be a significant negative impact this year because of that reduction.
This is a bit confusing for me because €1.265 million is a 9.6% reduction. The Minister says that will not have an impact because the allocation was increased in the previous year. These Estimates do not mean anything so if that is the case. I cannot get my head around that. Are we saying the Minister does not expect that the €1.4 million will be spent so therefore the €1.2 million will be more than enough? If that is the case, why was €1.4 million spent this year? It is strange.
It is based on the requirement and the need. It is also based on the request from the Irish Prison Service to us and then us making that request and the allocation being either granted or not. Last year's spend was €1.4 million but the allocation is €1.2 million. That is not to say that will not cover the requirements for this year or that it will not cover the supports that are required, be they educational supports or other services. There seems to be a slight decrease this year but that is based on the requirements, the requests and the ask through the Irish Prison Service.
I will move to Vote 22, which is the Courts Service. We have taken and dealt with enough queries under the previous Vote. Vote 22 has four subheads, A1 to A4, and it is on page C7 of the secretariat briefing documents and on pages 31 to 45 of the Department's briefing notes. Deputy Daly is indicating on this Vote and if other members wish to indicate they should make themselves known. I will start with a few questions of my own before I move to Deputy Daly.
I note the Courts Service spend. Capital works are inevitably down because of Covid etc. because it has not been possible to perform capital works. There is an allocation for the Courts Service and it is up in every other regard. I have a couple of questions on that, primarily with regard to the Covid experience. Others have already referred to the adoption of IT in order to keep the courts meeting, moving and hearing cases and different matters. There has been some allocation of funding to the Courts Service to enable that remote adoption. The feedback is that it has been inconsistent and has been dependent from one court to the next, not even necessarily at the same level. For example, one District Court might be hearing remote hearings while another circuit court up the road is not and so on. It might depend on individual judges or perhaps it is a Courts Service decision but I am not sure. It would be beneficial if a more uniform approach could be adopted because there are issues with access to justice arising whereby one county could be carrying out remote hearings whereas the county next door is on halt for six or 12 months or whatever.
In a similar vein, there is feedback from the Bar Council and others that the Covid safety standards, which should be paramount in the supports given to the Courts Service, are not always being met. Again, there is a lack of uniformity in that certain court buildings and courthouses are leading the way in how safety measures and social distancing are carried out. Those that are meeting physically are leading the way in how they are laid out and managed, whereas others leave something to be desired to put it mildly. I do not know if any inspections or reports have been conducted by the Courts Service in that regard. I suggest it might be useful if there were. The Minister might comment on those matters.
This point came in under the Garda but I left this question under the Courts Service because it relates to courts. The witness allocation under Vote 20 was level. I would have thought witness expenses would be significantly down considering that there have been so few physical hearings. I was surprised by that.
The Minister might comment on the capital works programme, which is down for obvious reasons. She might tell us where that is and where it is expected to pick up when matters resume.
We have two different figures. The €8.5 million was allocated for the overall modernisation programme and that is something that is being developed by the Courts Service, led by Angela Denning. This is looking at the national plan but the €5 million specific Covid funding that had been allocated was feeding into that as well in supporting various courts in developing their own ICT and technology. I accept and the Courts Service would accept that it has not been rolled out uniformly across every court to date. There have been challenges with the age of some of the buildings, the ability to access broadband and certain things like that and that moves into another space with the roll-out of the national broadband plan, which is in full swing. Work is continuing and there is a plan that has been clearly put in place by the Courts Service, not just taking Covid-19 on board but looking at the long-term picture. ICT plays a huge part in that.
We had the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 last year. While that Act was introduced to deal with the Covid restrictions, it is also something that will benefit us in the long run in enabling people to partake in court sittings remotely and we have seen huge benefits, particularly in the area of domestic violence and in other areas where people have been able to access the various different sittings remotely. Part of the €5 million allocated under "other funding" has been used to try to make sure that our courts are safe and that we do not have people arriving in the same way they would have done previously. In particular, courts might have been sitting in a way whereby everybody might be arriving at the same time in the morning and waiting to see when they will be heard. There have been particular times given to people so that they arrive at an allocated time, which is another practice that I hope will continue and that is hugely beneficial, not just for those who are working there but more particularly, for those who are potentially having their cases heard on that relevant day.
On the capital works programmes, we are somewhat behind but at the same time work is continuing. We have provisions for further new or refurbished courthouses in provincial cities and towns where facilities are substandard. This includes Galway city, Wicklow town, Portlaoise, Tralee and Roscommon. We have other locations such as Dungloe to cater for the Gaeltacht region. We are developing a family law and children's court complex at Hammond Lane, which was allocated significant funding and we hope that work can proceed next year. There is still some work to be done in finalising the plans for that. We will have the modernisation and redevelopment of the Four Courts following the completion of the Hammond Lane project. Then there is the construction of standard county facilities. There are a number of locations included in this such as Dublin, north Kildare, Bray and Navan. I mention the regional family law centre as well.
Due to Covid-19, it is hard to explain the precise allocation and timing of additional funding, when these projects will be completed or when some of them will be started. Many of these projects are continuing and much of the work behind the scenes is continuing before the building is required to start. Once we start to ease restrictions, further construction work can continue. There have been some delays but at the same time there is a huge amount of work continuing in the background to make sure that these projects are progressing and that when time allows, they can have feet on the ground and sods can be turned.
I thank the Minister for that overview. It was interesting to hear about the development of the Hammond Lane project. It is very important that there will be a new family court there. If the committee will forgive me being parochial for a moment, I am glad to hear that north Kildare is on the list. Kilcock courthouse closed a year or two ago and has not been replaced, and Naas courthouse is currently serving the entire county and parts of west County Wicklow. It is great to see that issue is getting attention because it is badly needed. I thank the Minister for that.
I agree with what the Minister said about the new post-Covid landscape presenting many new opportunities. Many court hearings will be quicker and easier, with fewer prisoners and more video links and staggered times. We have been calling for staggered hearings in Kerry for a long time to prevent the congregation of defendants and in order that prisoners would not all have to be put into prison vans at 6.30 a.m. or 7 a.m. to be taken together to the courthouse. There would also be more flexibility regarding adjournments.
I am not going to pull any rabbit out of the hat for the Minister but rather raise the opportunities that these issues present. There may be a new way of thinking about rural courthouses in particular. While a decision was taken by the building section of the Courts Service in respect of Tralee courthouse, there is a new emphasis on town centres and a rural plan in the programme for Government. Perhaps the Minister could examine the matter some day when she is on her way back to County Meath. The heritage section of the OPW is located in Trim. Could somebody from that section or an architect in the OPW take a fresh look at Tralee courthouse and consider, in light of all the changes, being more flexible about keeping it in the current location as opposed to moving it somewhere? I acknowledge that the Minister gave me time on this issue a few weeks ago and I thank her for that. Perhaps she could ask somebody to take a fresh look at the issue to see whether the courthouse, which has been there for 180 years, could be kept in the same place.
A great deal of work has been done, as the Deputy will know, between the Courts Service and the local council to identify the best option here. They examined the possibility of the courthouse remaining where it is, as well as other options including the Island of Geese site, which appears to be the site that has been selected for many reasons, not least that the development of the courthouse will allow for the expansion of its uses, which would be very beneficial.
While the introduction of additional ICT and capacity in that sense, and a move towards more remote working, is very beneficial, it will not apply in every instance. There will be a significant number of cases where sittings have to happen in person, in particular for jury trials. I fully accept where the Deputy is coming from and I think it is important that if the courthouse does not remain where it currently is, the building should be put to good use so that the community will not see an empty building. Work needs to be done with the local council to identify what that potential use could be. My understanding is this decision needs to be taken by the local council in conjunction with the Courts Service, but I am happy to revert to the Deputy on the matter as it progresses and to ensure all options are being explored.
Selecting the most appropriate site to ensure that the courthouse can be used in the best possible way, expand its services and benefit people not just in Tralee but also in the surrounding areas has to be everybody's over-riding objective, and I acknowledge it is the Deputy's. At the same time, we must ensure that a gap will not be left in the middle of the town such that it cannot continue to support local businesses, shops and cafes and those who have benefited from the courthouse being there. I will continue to engage with the Deputy on this.
Much of what I had intended to ask has been covered. I noticed a couple of issues under the heading A1, on capital works. It is understandable that this year there has been a huge reduction in the level of funding, from almost €20 million last year to just under €5 million this year. I assume that Covid and the restrictions on construction are having an impact, and we would expect that to be the case. Nevertheless, I am interested in Hammond Lane, the family court project. Does the Minister have an indication as to when that will be finished and operational? I accept that Covid has messed up everything but I would like to have a timeframe for when she expects, all things being equal, the project to be finished.
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority was set up recently and funding has been given to it. Some of the authority is operational and some of it is not. It is an area on which I have received complaints from members of the public and others to say they are not getting the response, turnaround or engagement they would like. I draw the Minister's attention to that. Perhaps something could be done about it.
The next issue I raise crosses over all the budgets and I am not sure where it falls. It relates to the joint agency response to crime project. When people are being released from prison and return to the community, there are liaison officers who work with them. The Probation Service, the Garda and the Prison Service work together and ensure that the pattern of people from deprived communities coming out of prison and going back in before long, a life cycle that unfortunately many people have experienced, can be broken if the proper intervention is made. The joint agency response project has proven to be reasonably impactful in that regard. What plans are there to expand and extend it and to make it the norm in those circumstances? How much additional funding is being provided for it and how much will it take to make it the norm in all cases?
On the capital works, we have had significant carryover in this Vote and in the Votes for the Garda, the Prison Service and all the other agencies. There is an allowance for 10% carryover, so where that has been possible, that has been carried over and work is continuing where possible.
On the Hammond Lane question, I am hopeful that once we conclude our engagement with the Courts Service on the overall project, including the design, the scope and everything else, work and building could start towards the end of next year into the following year, that is, at the end of 2022 and the start of 2023. I accept that seems a long time away but there remains significant work to do in regard to going through the tender process. The hope is it will be completed and up and running by 2025. The build will take two or two and a half years, given its size and scale. While that may seem a long way away, we are talking about a significant project.
I take on board the Deputy's point about the Legal Services Regulatory Authority having received additional funding. This is a new public complaints and professional conduct regime. Last year alone, 1,800 files were opened, so a significant volume of work is happening. The authority has also been asked to complete a number of statutory reports, two of which are under section 34 of the Legal Services Regulation Act and which I have laid before the Houses. They deal, respectively, with the possibility of unification of the legal professions and the reform of the provision of legal profession training and education. I have also asked the authority to explore the conditions of apprenticeships and devilling undergone by aspiring lawyers. It is, therefore, undertaking a number of bodies of work, some of which has been directed by me and the Department.
At the same time, they have dealt with a significant number of files in the short space of time since commencing operations in 2019. I take on board the comments made and I will respond to that issue.
On the joint agency response project, JARP, this comes under the Garda Vote. Earlier, I mentioned a figure of €16 million in regard to youth justice. There are plans for that, which will be published in the next week or two, along with youth justice strategy, to expand this further. That will require additional funding. We will have to examine that in the upcoming budget, but it currently fits under the Garda budget in regard, in particular, to youth justice, youth intervention and youth diversion supports. As I said, taking into account the Dormant Accounts Fund funding, that budget is approximately €16 million, made up of €14.5 million and additional dormant accounts funding for this year. The overall budget will need to increase in light of the recommendations of the new youth justice strategy.
I thank the Minister. That concludes our scrutiny of Vote 22 - Courts Service.
We move now to Vote 24 - Justice, which is divided into a number of subheads but comprises two broad pillars, one being the criminal pillar and the other the civil pillar. I remind the committee that this is a two-hour session and it is now 7.50 p.m.. If we are to get through all of the work we need to move promptly. Are there any questions on Vote 24, pillar A - criminal justice? If not, we will move to Vote 24, pillar B - civic justice. Are there any questions arising? As there are no queries arising, we will move to Vote 41 - Policing Authority. As no member has indicated on this Vote, we will move to Vote 44 - the Data Protection Commission. I wish to ask a question on this Vote. If there are members who would like to come in when I have finished, I ask them to raise a hand and I will get to them. There is a 21% increase in pay under this Vote. Does that relate to additional staff or additional resources? There is also reference to a 0% increase in non-pay administration, about which I have a concern. As part of its work programme, the committee will undertake work in regard to the Data Protection Commission. The Minister and the committee will be aware that the Data Protection Commission has been criticised in Europe recently in respect of its alleged slowness in reaching decisions. There is a risk now that particular member states will begin implementing their own data protection regimes, which would be potentially detrimental to us not only in reputational terms but also economically if foreign direct investment, FDI, multinationals follow the regulations in the different member states. That is of some concern. The issue, in part, is the resourcing of the Data Protection Commission in terms of human resources, IT and other equipment. It was reported in the media recently that staff in the agency use Lotus Notes and that it has failed to migrate to more modern technologies. Given the Data Protection Commission is key to our economic offering and it is the regulator for all of the EU, for the time being at least, and in light of the threat posed by the alleged delays owing to undue bureaucracy in Ireland and within the offices of the Data Protection Commission - I await the response from the Data Protection Commissioner and her officials on this when we meet them - I am concerned about the lack of increase in its budget.
We have increased the funding for the Data Protection Commission five-fold since 2015. A significant portion of that increase has been directed towards additional staff, with the commission moving from a staff of 110 in 2018 to 150 to date. Recruitment to fill many of those posts is still under way. It is a competitive environment but I would expect that an additional 30 posts will be filled in the first quarter of 2021.
I mentioned earlier in my speech that €12.8 million is for staffing costs, with a further €2 million being spent on legal expenses. Additional funding of almost €5 million is provided for expansion of ICT and other types of measures that are required. We are conscious of our commitment to deliver an effective data regulation and protection of data privacy rights of EU citizens, acknowledging that we have a large number of multinationals and corporations in Ireland. The Data Protection Commissioner, DPC, and the organisation recently submitted a request for further engagement with me, my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, DPER, to try to put in place a fit-for-purpose management and organisation structure not only for the next year but out to 2025. We are working with the commissioner and her office in terms of their proposals. Their submission for appropriate sanction and approval by DPER will have to be examined in due course. Work is ongoing through engagement with the Data Protection Commission on what additional resources it needs. Staffing is a huge part of that need. I am confident that the funding that has been allocated, in particular the significant increase over the last three years, will provide for that additional need.
In terms of the overall work, as I mentioned the DPC has submitted a request to engage further to map out how we can have a structure in place that will bring us out to 2025. On the ICT budget, that is included as part of the increase for this year.
I thank the Minister. As no other member has indicated, we will conclude our consideration of Vote 44 - Data Protection Commission and our scrutiny of the Estimates in respect of Votes 20, 21, 22, 24, 41 and 44. The Minister has committed to responding in writing to a number of questions raised by members on particular Votes. I note that under the Courts Service heading, Tralee, north Kildare and Hammond Lane courthouses were discussed. If the Minister could also provide a note on the status of each of those courthouses that would be useful. She might also provide a note on any other matters outstanding, including the tender process for Garda uniforms.
The issue of pay and pensions was also raised. My understanding is that pensions come under a different subhead, but I can send the committee the breakdown on that as well. I will also send a note providing greater clarity in terms of the allocations around the training and services within the Prison Service. In terms of the allocation increasing and decreasing, I will try to provide a better explanation to Deputy Pringle.
That would be fantastic. I appreciate that. On the pay and pensions issue, I note superannuation comes under a separate subhead. I missed that. The concern that arises is in regard to the defined benefit schemes and the other types of schemes we have in the private sector. General Motors was a successful, profitable company yet its pension bill outweighed its profits and active workforce. There is always a concern in regard to large organisations and whether their pension bills are sustainable and where they sit vis-a-visthe workforce. I am curious as to how those figures compare, but there appears to be a healthy balance.
I thank the Minister and her officials and all members for attending.
The justice committee is very well served by our clerk, researchers and other officials. It is Mr. Gavin Curry's last meeting today. He is not with us in the room but has been a diligent member of the team. The justice committee served him well and he has been promoted to the Journal Office, so I wish him all the best. Our researcher, Ms Claudia Zelli, is moving to another committee in rotation and Ms Emer Hannon will run the team. I welcome Ms Hannon and wish Ms Zelli and Mr. Curry every success in their new roles as they move on to the Journal Office and other committees, respectively. I thank them for their service over recent months.