Thursday, 8 October 2020
Estimates for Public Services 2020
I move the following Estimate for Public Services 2020:
Vote 33 - Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Further Revised Estimate)
That a sum not exceeding €754,609,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, and Media including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain subsidies and grants and that a sumnot exceeding €32,796,000 be granted by way of the application for capital supply services of unspent appropriations, the surrender of which may be deferred under Section 91 of the Finance Act 2004.
I raised at the Business Committee earlier today the approval of the Revised Estimate by the arts and culture committee - I will not give it its new name as it is so long I cannot remember it. We are discussing public money and a very serious matter. The committee only signed off on the Estimates yesterday and they have come to the House today. As of this morning at least, none of us, apart from the members of the committee, has seen the Estimates and we do not know what the considerations are, yet we are being asked to push a Revised Estimate through on the nod. I take the point that these are additional expenditures for the arts and no one wants to stop additional expenditure. Some might want to see much more expenditure. However, there is a problem with the Dáil pushing through significant additional expenditures of public money on the nod without proper discussion and a report on the considerations from the committee. I do not want to hold up the business of the Dáil but I see that as a problem. It is important to underline, as was pointed out at the Business Committee today, that the option that Deputies had to attend meetings of committees of which they are not members has now effectively ceased. In the past, a Member who was not a member of a committee could still attend, listen and speak. That is no longer an option. Therefore, when it comes to Estimates and other matters arising out of committee proceedings, a whole layer of Deputies is simply excluded from the process. That is not great legislative or financial oversight.
I am a business person. I have been self-employed all my life. If a business project is before me and I want to see its finances, I will look at its figures and discuss them. I had nothing in front of me at the Business Committee meeting this morning. Nothing was handed to me to allow me to make a decision on finances. I understand the Revised Estimate is for 2020. To run a business properly, one must have the figures. Deputies must be allowed to go through the figures to see everything is correct and to ask questions. To have only one hour's notice that this Revised Estimate will be before the House is not right. I would like to have time to look through the figures and all the documentation. I am not happy that this did not happen.
These are matters that are somewhat outside the remit of the Minister. They are procedural issues. When the Estimates are published and distributed to the members of the select committee, they are also made available to Members of the House. Some may not be in the habit of studying Estimates documents that are sent to them but they were distributed. In addition, this morning, after Deputies raised concerns about this, we asked that a briefing note be circulated to Members in advance of this session.
I assume they have got that. It was to set out the issues that arose at the committee meeting and the proposals that had been made.
I further accept that Deputy Boyd Barrett makes a reasonable point about process, but it is not something that the Minister can deal with here. It applies to all committees. Perhaps a Dáil reform committee or the Business Committee needs to examine the process around how Members have ready access to the maximum relevant information. In this instance, we are simply being asked to approve retrospectively money that has been vital to this Minister to support her various areas of initiative.