Dáil debates

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Priority Questions

Departmental Expenditure.

3:00 pm

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 28: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the impact the Budget Statement for 2010 will have on the services provided by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47057/09]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Budget Statement for 2010 along with the Estimates for public services and public capital programme published on 9 December provides for a reduction of resources for my Department for 2010. In the case of Vote 28, the 2009 voted allocation was €207 million and the proposed allocation for 2010 is €178 million. In the case of Vote 29, which funds Ireland's development co-operation programme, the 2009 allocation was €570 million and the proposed allocation for 2010 is €535 million. Taken together there is a reduction of just under €70 million or 9% in the funding proposed for 2010.

The Government's decision to stabilise the ODA budget for 2010 is a significant achievement against a background of very difficult economic circumstances and enormous budgetary pressures. However, since there is a separate priority question on the ODA budget, I will focus on the impact of the budget on other areas of departmental spending.

The emigrant support programme to support Irish emigrants overseas and to facilitate extensive Irish-related cultural, business and community projects, will continue next year with a total allocation of just under €13 million, a reduction of €2.2 million, which is sustainable. I am determined to ensure that the key focus of the programme remains on assisting our most vulnerable Irish emigrants.

Expenditure will be further reduced by the winding-up of the programme of support for the transition of EU applicant countries and the member states that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007. This programme has been very useful in assisting these countries in transition and in developing good relations with countries where we have not had a long-term presence.

Savings will also accrue given that support for the Referendum Commission will not be required in 2010 and some reductions will emerge in our contributions to international organisations. Many of these contributions are denominated in dollars and during 2009 savings have already been made on foot of exchange rate gains.

Administrative costs of my Department are expected to decline in the coming year by almost 8%. There are now some 50 fewer people working in my Department compared with a year ago. In addition, an energetic procurement policy coupled with reductions in some input costs has meant that my Department continues to achieve better value for money and expects to spend significantly less on travel and on other support services next year.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Minister said that he looked after the most vulnerable and mentioned the emigrant services. I believe that the McCarthy group recommended a reduction of perhaps €1 million to reduce it from €15 million to €14 million, but the Minister actually doubled the recommendation and applied a €2.2 million cut on emigrant services. The Minister spoke of protecting the most vulnerable, but this is an attack on a vulnerable group of people. The Department has three groups, one of which is the emigrant services advisory committee. When did the Minister meet that committee and does it have a view on this cut? In recent years we have seen many documentaries about Irish people down and out, particularly in Britain. I would be concerned that they will suffer a disproportionate cut.

Would the Minister agree that he shied away from the reform agenda? There were recommendations to amalgamate embassies or co-ordinating and getting greater efficiencies in certain missions. However, the Minister took no steps in this regard. Does he plan to take such steps?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is incorrect in his second assertion. There were no proposals for reform or amalgamation of embassies. There were straightforward proposals to get rid of embassies in order to cut the number of embassies by 2007. I chose a different approach because I believe we need our embassies overseas as part of Ireland's overall programme of economic recovery and in terms of the international profile of Ireland, the messages we are conveying about Ireland internationally, and the work our embassies do with State agencies, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia. That work is indispensable and is a key in attracting inward investment and assisting our State enterprises in the food and tourism sectors. That is the call we made. Having said that, we managed to achieve the savings, which were identified over a three-year period in the McCarthy report, in one year. That is the policy decision we took.

The Deputy mentioned support for Irish emigrants. The allocation of €13 million is still very significant and I believe the Deputy's remarks were a bit over the top. We are in a difficult budgetary situation. The Deputy should remember that over the past six years the Government has provided more than €60 million through the programme to support Irish emigrants overseas and to facilitate extensive Irish-related cultural business and community projects. There is a range of projects that we supported from the cultural, welfare, business and particularly artistic sides. It has yielded very positive results. I recently met people involved in the front-line services in Great Britain and the United States. They are genuinely happy that we have broadly speaking been able to maintain the allocations to all these organisations. It is a significant achievement in itself.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is incorrect because he has not maintained the full amount. It is important to acknowledge that he has cut it. In his initial response he clapped himself on the back on how well he was looking after them. He went further than McCarthy recommended in the measures he took. He doubled the cutback recommended. I am not saying he should be led entirely by McCarthy report. I admire that he is a man of his own view. However it is incorrect to say that he has maintained the service for them. From the point of view of funding he certainly has not.

It is remiss of the Minister not to consider the concept of rationalisation. I have previously suggested to him the Irish house concept. With the economies of scale and the combination of resources it could be far more effective than each individual Department paddling its own canoe. Does the Minister have no plans to close any of our embassies?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In previous replies to the Deputy, I indicated we were considering the configuration of our presence across the world to achieve optimal results from existing resources. For example we closed the mission in Wales and opened a new embassy in Abu Dhabi. We are actively considering a different type of representation model in some of our smaller European states for example, where there is a clear political necessity to have a presence but it does not need to be the same type of traditional presence we have had in other locations. We have already implemented reform and are considering further reform. We will be considering lighter and leaner models in certain locations. We are anxious to investigate having a presence in other locations where we have no presence at the moment. However, all that needs to be done within the budgetary framework I have been given.

The daily running costs of the Department and the missions have been reduced by 19% since 2008. That illustrates the degree of efficiencies that have been achieved in the Department and the extent of reforms that are ongoing. We will continue to investigate novel ways to do things more effectively and I take on board the Deputy's point in that regard.