Thursday, 20 January 2022
Ceisteanna Eile – Other Questions
Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
11. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the national recovery and resilience plan; the steps taken to date to meet the nine reform commitments under the plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2485/22]
I would welcome an update on the nine reform commitments under the national recovery and resilience plan. I know that, in essence, there were three overarching themes in the plan, namely, climate action, digital transition and employment. All three are critical to sustainable development for our country, including economic development and allowing us to meet our decarbonisation targets. I am particularly interested in getting from the Minister an update on priority projects for 2022.
The EU's recovery and resilience facility will make some €724 billion available to member states in the form of grants and loans to help repair the economic and social damage brought about by the pandemic and to make post-Covid European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. Ireland will receive almost €1 billion in grants over the lifetime of the facility. In order to access this funding, the Government developed the national recovery and resilience plan, which has a total value of €990 million and sets out the reforms and investments to be supported by the facility. An implementing body is being established in my Department to drive progress and delivery of the plan.
The overall objective of the plan is to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery in a manner that complements and supports the Government's broader recovery effort. It is based on 16 investment projects and nine reform measures aimed at advancing the green transition, accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformation and driving social and economic recovery and job creation.
All recovery and resilience plans are required to address all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in country-specific recommendations under the European semester process for 2019 and 2020. Ireland's plan contains nine reform measures which address nine important areas: climate action; base broadening; the digital divide; reducing regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship; aggressive tax planning; pensions reform; social and affordable housing; anti-money laundering; and healthcare.
We submitted our draft plan to the European Commission in May. It was endorsed by the Commission in July and approved by the Council of Ministers in September. It will now be the subject of a financing agreement between the Commission and Ireland. Once the financing agreement has been signed, the focus will be on implementation of the plan over the period to 2026. We are required to report regularly to the Commission on the achievement of agreed milestones and targets to enable the drawdown of funding each year over the course of the plan. I expect that drawdown will commence this year.
What are the Minister's priorities for 2022? Where does he want to see real progress? He has said that there will be milestones along the way and they have to be reported and monitored by the European Commission. What are the priority projects for 2022? How does the Minister see progress evolving this year?
The timeframe for the delivery of these projects is tight. My understanding is that there is a requirement under the regulations governing this process to complete the relevant programmes by 2026. One of the commitments that I know has been made is for a retrofitting programme for public buildings. That will be very important and the Government needs to lead by example on it. Some €60 million will be allocated for retrofitting public buildings. I would welcome an update on that. It is obviously a matter for the Office of Public Works but an update on it would be appreciated. Is that achievable within the timeframe?
As the Deputy has indicated, we have 16 investment projects and nine reform measures. While my Department has the implementing body and the delivering committee which will monitor the implementation of the plan and will be responsible for all of the contact with the EU bodies, responsibility for implementing the individual measures will lie with the relevant Departments and bodies.
Looking across the range of projects, both the investment and the reform projects, many of them are very much live projects that are currently being developed. To take the area of retrofitting as an example, the Deputy mentioned the energy pathfinder project. Of even greater importance is the national retrofitting plan, which the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications will bring forward shortly. As the Deputy is aware, part of that, under component 1 in the advancing green transition section, is de-risking a low-cost residential retrofit loan scheme. It will be just one part of the national retrofitting plan and will involve improving the grants that are currently available to support homeowners who wish to retrofit their homes. That is just one project. I am happy to go through any of the individual reform projects and provide more information to the Deputy.
I am also interested in getting an update from the Minister on progress in respect of the shared Government data centre and what that will involve. It is a key public sector reform initiative which is absolutely required. When does the Minister expect that particular project under this programme to be completed?
I note there is also reference in the plan to digital transformation for Irish SMEs. We know that SMEs employ the vast bulk of Irish workers and they are a neglected sector of our economy. They need to be partnered with to assist them in becoming more innovative, productive and export-orientated. The future of our economy very much depends on that. If the Minister has the opportunity in the time remaining, he might advise me as to what particular headline initiatives have been taken with the SME sector around the digital transformation programme to help them become more productive.
I have been told recently that as we accelerate and expand on digital reforms and transformation, our mobile phone networks are not secure. They are easily hacked and tracked. As we become more dependent on this technology, what guarantees can the Minister give us that these networks are secure and people cannot be tracked and hacked, have our conversations listened into and so forth? An expert recently told me that this is quite easily done. VIPs, such as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can be targeted, especially if they travel to other countries.
There is a lot to get through in a minute. First, in relation to SMEs, we very deliberately made the decision that under both the green transition and digital transformation, there would be an opportunity for grants to be made available to the enterprise sector to assist them in that transition. Those grants will be brought forward over the course of the national resilience and recovery plan.
In relation to the shared Government data centre, the site has been identified. It is an important project to build a State data centre on State land to be operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on behalf of the State. The aim of the State data centre is to close down the current disparate, inefficient server rooms in data centres that are no longer fit for purpose and badly in need of refurbishment. This will cover off operational risks, reduce power use and help to improve the delivery of digital services that the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is leading across government.
On the issue of cybersecurity, I am working closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. We have significantly increased the resources to our national cybersecurity centre. I would be happy to engage with Deputy Stanton on the details of that.