Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 19 together.
My Department's gross budget in 2019 will be €35.266 million, as set out in the Revised Estimates for Public Services published yesterday, which represents a 3% increase on the figure for 2018. The allocation is divided between administration and programme expenditure. The administration allocation covers the running costs of my Department, including staff and office expenses. The remainder of the budget covers programme expenditure which relates to the work of the National Economic and Social Council and a number of independent bodies and inquiries funded by my Department.
The 3% budget increase relates to an additional provision to meet the cost of a new Citizens' Assembly in 2019. The 2019 administration budget for my Department amounts to €22.52 million and is broken down as follows: pay amounts to €16.046 million; travel and subsistence amount to €730,000; training and development and incidental expenses amount to €3.59 million; postal and telecommunications amount to €360,000; office equipment and external IT services amount to €1.41 million; office premises expenses amount to €366,000; and consultancy services and value for money policy reviews amount to €18,000.
The balance of the budget allocation of €12.75 million relates to programme expenditure which funds a number of independent inquiries, including the Moriarty tribunal, the Cregan commission and the Cooke commission, at €8.8 million. Programme expenditure also funds the National Economic and Social Council to a total of €2.1 million and the proposed new Citizens' Assembly to a total of €1.85 million. A detailed breakdown of each of these programme subheads is outlined in the Revised Estimates.
The Department will use its budget allocation in 2019 to assist me in my role as head of Government to develop a sustainable economy and a successful society and to pursue Ireland's interests abroad. In 2019 the Government will continue its work on Brexit and Northern Ireland, advancing the ambitious investment under Project Ireland 2040, reform of the justice and health sectors, climate change, broadband and housing. All of this work will involve the central and co-ordinating role of the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure policies are developed and implemented in an integrated and strategic manner.
As part of the normal scrutiny of Dáil Voted expenditure, in early 2019 I will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach to discuss the details of the Estimate for my Department.
Yesterday the Taoiseach was asked about the proposal concerning a single Government portal, for which funding had been allocated this year, but it has not yet materialised. Directly linked with this is the research that was supposed to be undertaken to ask people if they actually wanted a single Government portal and establish current attitudes to Government online services. The Taoiseach will remember that in the extremely limited survey of practice in this area carried out by his staff the one consistent learning was that all changes should be led by public demand, not by political proposals. I remind him that there is significant evidence that the move to a single site for all Government information can significantly undermine the level and accessibility of information available on public bodies. Will he explain to the House what has happened to the survey of public opinion, for which we voted funding? The contract was awarded well over a year ago and we were told that it would be completed, even when the marketing unit was stood down. We were also given repeated assurances that we would be consulted on the content of the research before it was carried out. I would like answers to these questions.
The Taoiseach has said there are three units in the Department looking after the specific issues of Sláintecare, policing reform and Brexit. How many staff are in the Brexit unit and does the Taoiseach have plans to beef it up in the event that there is a no deal Brexit?
In a previous reply the Taoiseach spoke about the strategic threat assessment centre. I was not clear on the issue of the new security co-ordinator. For the purposes of clarity, will the Taoiseach tell us if it is a new post to be advertised externally or if it is to be an internal appointment from the Defence Forces or An Garda Síochána?
Deputy Micheál Martin asked about the public attitudes survey. I do not believe it was ever carried out. I will have to double check, but I think because of everything else that was going on, it was de-prioritised and never carried out. I had forgotten about it until the Deputy reminded me of it.
Forgotten about, rather than done away with, is the answer to the question.
On the national co-ordinator, we have not decided yet whether it will be an internal appointment or whether the post will be advertised. It is to be determined in the first quarter of next year.
Regarding the new Brexit contingency unit, it is being set up to augment the work of my Department's international, EU and Northern Ireland division on Brexit. This unit was recently established to work on Brexit preparedness and contingency planning. It supports the Secretaries General group which oversees ongoing work on Brexit national preparedness and contingency planning. The unit is focused on cross-Government co-ordination, planning and programme management. It is headed by a principal officer and has a staffing complement of six.