Thursday, 17 December 2020
Appropriation Bill 2020: Second and Subsequent Stages
While we are on the issue of League of Ireland football clubs, I wish Finn Harps well with its stadium project. It is a great club in Donegal and the north west. I have made many unsuccessful journeys up there as a Drogheda United fan over the years, having been beaten on a number of occasions by Finn Harps. I take this opportunity to notify the Minister that Drogheda United has its own plans to develop a stadium in the northern environs of our town, a town that hopeful will become a city in the future given its size.
Much of that will be dependent on an imminent decision from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on a €70 million investment applied for by Louth County Council to develop some very significant infrastructure on the northern side of Drogheda which will allow lands to be opened up for housing and economic development in the future to link the M1 to Drogheda Port. As the Minister will be aware, that port has ambitions to develop a new deepwater facility just north of Balbriggan and close to Gormanston. That is a matter for another day and will be considered in the context of the planning process and other factors.
I put the Minister on notice that Drogheda United and the FAI, no doubt, will be making approaches to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and its line Department for support for the Drogheda United stadium project at some point in the near future.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which is an annual requirement on the legislative calendar and gives the authority of the Dáil for all the spending undertaken this year based on the various Estimates prepared by Departments in 2020. As the Minister pointed out, this involves expenditure of just under €70 billion, an increase of €15 billion on last year. Because of the pandemic and the extraordinary response to this unprecedented public health and economic crisis, spending this year and into next year bears little comparison with 2019. As we all know, the Bill when passed will also allow the Government to continue to spend within the four fifths limit on services and State payments into 2021 before the House gets to vote on the 2021 Estimates in due course.
We all remember the position we were in earlier this year where Estimates had to be presented again and again in revised format and Dáil sanction was required almost on an emergency basis time and time again to provide the Government with the power and authority to allocate moneys to schemes that would otherwise have breached the allowable expenditure ceiling and before the Estimates more generally were dealt with.
The Labour Party united behind the Government to endorse the necessary injections of cash into businesses and in support of jobs, livelihoods and public services at a time of unprecedented crisis for our citizens. However, we have been very critical of the de factosuspension of many of the robust budgetary oversight practices that we have come to expect and demand in recent years in the presentation of Government spending plans. The Minister knows that exceptions were made this year and that the Dáil would not be inclined to show the same kind of patience and understanding if that were to happen again next year. The lack of transparency and key information on outputs and performances at times in 2020 was troubling. I hope as a once-off it is explained by the crisis that the country faced. I think the Minister understands and accepts that.
It is also very important that the Dáil is not just seen as a rubber stamp for Estimates and Government spending. In my view and that of international experts, this Parliament's role in the annual budget and Estimates process is comparatively weak by international standards. This needs work and is an area that we will all be able and willing to contribute to in terms of Dáil reform.
I will limit my remarks on the Bill at this stage.
I ask the Minister to comment more on the carry over on the capital side from this year. Obviously, much of it is explained by the crisis situation that we have been in for the bulk of 2020, but I ask the Minister to elaborate on the Departments that have been most impacted by the crisis. My sense is that we will not be anywhere near meeting our targets for this year, for example, in respect of social housing new builds, and that is worrying. We all understand the circumstances and there were periods of time when building sites were not operating, which has caused delays. That is entirely understandable. I ask the Minister to elaborate on where the key pressure points are and how he expects and plans to expedite projects which were delayed this year next year. It is critical projects are expedited, particularly on the housing side, which I know the Minister will accept.