Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 December 2022

Appropriation Bill 2022: Second Stage


8:35 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the Bill to the House. The annual Appropriation Bill is critical financial legislation that must be enacted before the end of the year. It has two primary purposes, the first of which is that it provides legal authorisation for all the expenditure that has occurred in 2022 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil over the course of this year. These allocations, known as the sums to be appropriated for supply services, are set out in section 1 and Schedule 1 to the Bill. These relate to the Revised Estimates and Supplementary Estimates agreed by the Dáil this year. In aggregate, these Estimates amount to €75.1 billion. The comparable sum in the Appropriation Act 2021 was €73.1 billion. The sum to be appropriated this year, therefore, represents an increase of €2 billion, or just under 3%, on last year's net voted expenditure. In gross terms and taking into account expenditure on the Social Insurance Fund and the National Training Fund, the total gross voted expenditure made available this year was €90.7 billion.

This expenditure has allowed continued investment in our economy and public services to support a strong, fair and equal society into the future. The funding allocations made in 2022 supported the delivery of important priorities in areas including housing, health, social protection, childcare, education and climate action. It has provided for increases in social assistance payments; reforms in the health sector including for Sláintecare; more teaching, special needs assistant, SNA, and special education teaching posts; and additional gardaí and Garda civil staff. It also facilitated enhanced capital funding under the national development plan, with a focus on housing, climate action and health. The sums outlined in the Bill also reflect the significant resources made available during 2022 through Supplementary Estimates. These provided additional funding to Votes for a range of developments over the year, including cost-of-living supports introduced during 2022, our provision of humanitarian supports in response to the war in Ukraine and the extension of the Building Momentum public sector pay agreement.

Rising prices this year have placed a financial strain on many households, individuals and businesses. To provide support towards reducing the burden of inflation, the Government introduced a number of measures over 2022, the costs of which are reflected in the sums in the Bill. In recognition of the unprecedented rise in energy bills, the winter cost-of-living package provided €2.2 billion in supports for households, with further supports introduced for businesses and key public services. Together with the measures announced earlier this year and in budget 2022, expenditure measures introduced during this year to mitigate the impacts of increasing costs on households and businesses have a value of more than €5 billion. For example, this funding allowed for electricity credits with a value of €200 each to just over 2 million households, a 20% reduction in public transport fares, which benefited more than 800,000 daily users, additional fuel allowance payments and a double week of weekly social welfare payments in October. It also provided funding for the temporary business energy support scheme to support businesses with increases in their electricity or natural gas energy costs.

The second key purpose of the Appropriation Bill is to provide a legal basis for spending to continue into next year, in the period before the Dáil votes on the 2023 Estimates. As set out in the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act 1965, the authority for spending in 2023, prior to the agreement of the 2023 Estimates by the Dáil, is based on the amounts included in the 2022 Appropriation Bill. It is for this reason that it is so important this Bill is enacted before the end of 2022. If it were not enacted, there would be no authority to spend any voted moneys in 2023 from the start of January until approval of the 2023 Estimates.

In recognition of the challenges faced by Departments in planning for major capital projects, the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in 2004 allow for the carryover of unspent voted capital expenditure from the current year into the next year. This is subject to a maximum of 10% of the voted capital expenditure in the current year and provides a degree of flexibility in capital expenditure planning. The Appropriation Act 2022 sets out the capital amounts which are to be carried over to 2022 on a Vote basis. In aggregate, capital carryover from 2022 to 2023 amounts to almost €690 million, which is approximately 6% of the overall Exchequer capital programme for 2022 of €11.5 billion.

This carryover into 2023 will bring the overall amount available to Departments for gross voted capital spending next year to more than €12.5 billion. This will continue the increased capital investment of recent years under our national development plan, NDP. It is the largest and greenest plan of its kind in the history of the State committing €165 billion in public capital investment over the period to 2030. It seeks to ensure that a greater level of development and investment is focused on our villages, towns and cities, to enable growth in line with the national planning framework. Delivering the NDP is a huge undertaking. This year has been pivotal in consolidating the progress already made and, most importantly, delivering the infrastructure to support our future climate, social and economic requirements. We must continually adapt to ensure that projects are completed on time. Reforms are ongoing to strengthen delivery, to maximise value for money and to ensure to the greatest extent possible that projects are delivered on time and on budget.

I recognise that the construction industry has faced many challenges as a consequence of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. This has led to greater supply chain issues and increased prices across a range of construction materials such as structural steel, copper and insulating materials. In order to safeguard the delivery of key NDP projects, I have introduced measures to address inflation for new contracts and tenders and introduced a form of price variation or burden sharing to ensure that taking on public works contracts remains a viable proposition.

Schedule 2 of the Bill sets out the proposed capital carryover amounts. The Revised Estimates Volume for 2023, to be published this week will include a table listing the amounts to be deferred by sub-head for each Vote availing of the capital carryover facility.

As in previous years, the Appropriation Bill provides for a repayable advance from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account in order to meet certain 2023 Exchequer liabilities due for payment over the first week of January. The need for this provision arises as the banking system will be closed on Monday, 2 January. This means that funding will need to be in place in departmental bank accounts before the end of this year in order to meet those liabilities on a timely basis. There is a related need to pre-fund certain payments under the Social Welfare Acts due between the 1 and 7 of January 2023 that are made on an agency basis by An Post. The advances provision in the Bill ensures payments can be transferred from the Department of Social Protection to the network of post offices throughout the country. Section 3 of the Bill provides for up to €355 million to be advanced from the Central Fund to meet these requirements. This advance would be then repaid to the Central Fund in January 2023.

The annual Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping undertaken by the Dáil each year. The passage of this Bill will authorise in law all the expenditure that has taken place in 2022, on the basis of the Estimates voted by the Dáil over the course of this year. Importantly, it will also provide authority for voted expenditure to continue in the period between the beginning of January 2023 and when the Dáil approves the 2023 Estimates. This will ensure continued funding for the operation of our essential public services such as our health service, payment of social protection schemes and the running of our schools. I commend the Bill to the House.

8:40 pm

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Before I begin on the Appropriation Bill, I note that this might be the Minister's last occasion to address the Dáil as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.I thank him for being very constructive throughout his term and I wish him all the best for the future.

The purpose of the Appropriation Bill is to give statutory authority for the amounts voted by the Dáil during the year. The appropriation of sums voted for supply services this year is just over €75 billion. The Bill also provides for the definitive capital carryover facility from 2022 to 2023. Generally, money that is not spent goes back to the Exchequer, but due to changes in the Finance Act 2004 we have a facility to carry over unspent capital into the next year. This year we will be carrying over about €687 million. Capital expenditure has been rising in recent years as set out in the national development plan. This is to try to address our infrastructural crisis. The IMF, OECD and EU have all pointed out the weakness of our public infrastructure vis-à-vis our EU peers. They have pointed out that it is harming Ireland's competitiveness. It is also creating terrible socioeconomic problems, particularly in housing.

Of course, none of this will be new to the Minister. Earlier we debated a confidence motion arising from in no-confidence motion in the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, as a result of his failure to get to grips with the crisis. In many ways the Appropriation Bill or rather the capital carryover facility highlights the weaknesses of the Government's approach. It has failed to address the capacity constraints facing the construction sector. As capital expenditure has risen, so too has the capital carried over each year. In 2020, €710 million was carried over. In 2021 this rose to €820 million. I recognise that the figure is lower this year but I think other factors like the use of the inflation co-operation framework have played a role here.

I also want to be constructive. The Minister is departing for the Department of Finance and some of what I mention might have more relevance for his successor but some are measures he could enact in his next role. There has not been enough effort to redirect the construction workforce towards residential construction. As has been pointed out this evening, in 2000 our construction sector workforce was 138,000 strong and in that year just under 50,000 new homes were delivered. Now in 2022 the size of the construction workforce is now 168,000. That is 30,000 more workers and yet we might not even turn out 25,000 new homes this year. Something has clearly gone wrong. While I would normally recognise that changes to the tax system are not in his remit, he is soon, of course, to become Minister for Finance and will have the power to use the tax system to redirect the workforce. From the perspective of the public finances, failing to do so is totally self-defeating.

Let me give a concrete example. In 2011 total public expenditure on the various housing supports like housing assistance payment, HAP, rental accommodation scheme, RAS, homeless supports, the capital loans and subsidy scheme etc. was €627 million. In 2020, nine years later, the latest year for which I could get data, that had increased to €3.6 billion, a 480% increase which is hardly a prudent use of scarce resources. If the workforce had been directed towards building more homes the Government would not need to be spending so much on these subsidies. I know the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform first began examining how to promote modern methods of construction for which it deserves credit. I note that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has also taken up that mantle, presumably more in terms of wider industrial strategy. The Tánaiste's new White Paper outlines a desire to drastically increase the productivity of indigenous firms such as those engaged in construction.

Those are obviously laudable aims but are they credible?

The White Paper is remarkably scant on details of how to do many of the things that it is proposing. It talks about using the public procurement process to support innovative SMEs but this State has no history of using public procurement for strategic purposes. The focus here for the contract award criterion has traditionally been lowest price and I am not aware of any changes being outlined for new procurement legislation that is in the pipeline.

I do not want the Minister to misunderstand me as I would obviously welcome such a thing, were it forthcoming but I have seen very little progress in this regard. I have been engaging with multiple local authorities across the State to assess how many modern methods are being used and am aware that Dublin City Council has made some good efforts but it is the exception rather than the rule. Without some new plan for the public procurement system, whereby we can create the demand for these kinds of services, then this will remain an aspiration rather than a real plan for transformation.

Only recently the Construction Industry Federation pointed out that less than a third of SMEs win public work contracts. One can think of the innovative SMEs doing modern methods of construction using things like off-site manufacturing, modular and prefabricate build, using the likes of building information modelling, and things like precast concrete; and they are really struggling to win public contracts. There are only 100 of these kinds of SMEs in the State but only a quarter deliver full housing solutions. That is because we have not used the State as the largest spender within the economy to create that kind of a demand. Many of those SMEs engaged in modern methods have now turned instead towards building data centres, which seems completely on its head.

Unless the Minister or his successor uses the public procurement system to really promote modern methods of construction, it will take years before it reaches widespread adoption and we will continue to struggle with capacity issues. If we use the procurement system to create the demand; contractors will then seek to supply that demand.

I would like to give a concrete example. Building information modelling is mandatory in all public works contracts in Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and many more countries. The use of building information modelling is therefore widespread in these countries. It is not mandatory in public works contracts here, even for large projects, for example, of over €100 million and that is something that could be done immediately with ease. This would speed up the pre-construction phase of development.

Data I received recently on the average amount of time local authorities spent on the pre-construction phase of development were astounding. Cork City Council spent an average of 155 weeks in the pre-construction phase of development and that is not far off three years which, of course, is absolutely bonkers.

The Minister could bring in an amendment tomorrow to make building information modelling mandatory above a certain level and I thought of doing so myself but, as we had this discussion in the past week, I have had difficulties in having my Bills progressed due to the money message provision.

We are also failing on the apprenticeships front. While I recognise that the Minister’s Department is not responsible for that, his Department has taken the lead in promoting modern methods of construction. I recently submitted a parliamentary question to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science which was on the back of a report which it had carried out itself on the kind of new apprenticeship places we need to develop. Thus far there are no apprenticeship places in modern methods of construction. There are no college or university places offering training in this regard. Often, it seems to me, that when it comes to this Government, the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing.

How can we really improve construction sector capacity through modern methods of construction when the education and training places simply do not exist? I know that there has been much detail in my contribution there but, in fairness, a great deal of work needs to be done. If all of these measures were enacted it would not be revolutionary but rather, moderately evolutionary. I still believe that more radical action is again required. I will be bringing forward in the new year a very substantial piece of policy work that I have been working on over the past eight months. President Higgins recently stated that the key to solving the housing crisis was for the State to build public homes on public land, and he is dead right on that. The Government seems to have tried every conceivable market-based solution and in the new year I will be bringing forward my own proposal, including much of what I have outlined there this evening.

8:50 pm

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I share in the earlier remarks from Deputy Mairéad Farrell in wishing the Minister well over the next period of time without pre-empting anything. We all know that it is intended that he will move across the corridor next weekend. I wish him well and I am sure he will miss these occasions once a year when he is moving the Appropriation Bill, as the country watches in. I am equally sure that there is nobody watching the World Cup match this evening and they are all watching in attentively on this debate on the Appropriation Bill.

It was not long ago when the Appropriation Bill simply went through on the nod, so at least we are having some form of debate and parliamentary interrogation of this Bill, which is probably much more than can be said for the kinds of Supplementary Estimates that were presented to us this year. We all know that there is a requirement to spend much more than the Government, or anybody on the Opposition benches would have anticipated, when budget 2022 was formulated in October 2021. Nobody could have anticipated the Ukraine crisis and the impact that that would have on energy costs and on the cost of living, more generally; or the impact that the cost of living would have, especially for people who depend on the State for their income. The Labour Party supported initiatives to provide for forms of once-off expenditure to help people who are in difficult circumstances at the moment.

We have also been critical of the fact that those once-off measures, once they are gone, they are gone. The reality is that the cost-of-living crisis is not going away. Indeed, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, put on the record earlier on that it is likely that we will have high energy costs to deal with over the next two years at least. In other words, energy costs will not come down and even when they do, they will not come down as quickly as they had gone up. I have no doubt that we will be back here in the spring, and the Minister will be here in his new job presenting new proposals and measures of expenditure to assist families and businesses to get through what clearly will be more challenging times next year and the year after.

I believe we have had €4.4 billion of Supplementary Estimates presented to us this year. That is a big chunk of change in anybody’s language and I will take the Minister back to some remarks I made last year, and the year before, when we were dealing with the Appropriation Bill around the question of parliamentary oversight of expenditure.

Constitutionally, it is the job of the Dáil to approve Government expenditure but the reality is that expenditure has always been a creature of Government, being rubber-stamped, in effect, by the Dáil. This was one of the weaknesses that the OECD and others identified in their post-crash analysis of how we do public policy in this country. I will take the Minister back to a report in 2018 by the OECD where it ranked Ireland a shocking 61st out of 70 countries when it came to parliamentary engagement in the budgetary process. The OECD felt that there was almost no revision whatsoever of budget proposals by the Legislature and stated that this would be difficult to view as beneficial for fiscal democracy.

The most important thing we do in this Chamber on an annual basis is the allocation of moneys to Departments in the public interest and the reality is that there is little scrutiny of that. It is improving in the sense that we now have the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, both of which do a very good job, but there is no doubt that we could improve that pillar of democracy. In truth, very few improvements have been made by this Government in respect of the interrogation of those figures or of a real role for this Parliament in formulating budgets.

One of the things we need to look at very closely is the way in which moneys will be allocated under the temporary business energy support scheme. While supporting the thrust of the scheme, I have been a critic, for example, of the way in which the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the employer wage subsidy scheme were designed. I was front and centre in revealing the information that several hundred million euro were paid out under the wage subsidy scheme to businesses which were paying out dividends to shareholders in companies which clearly did not need it. We know that there is an emergency at the moment but some of those lessons in respect of the design of that scheme need to be applied to the design of future State support schemes, where considerable amounts of money were transferred from the State to private businesses. We all accept and understand that businesses require support this year to be able to make ends meet, keep the doors open and to keep people in employment.

We need to keep a watching brief on the performance of the TBESS. I mention that in the context of 2022 and the Appropriation Bill because some of the moneys allocated towards the end of this year will be used to resource that scheme, which is being backdated, to the best of my recollection, to the autumn. That is welcome. We are spending €1.2 billion of public money. Any other country across Europe we care to mention attached some form of conditions to the allocation of money from the public purse to private enterprise. We know it is needed, but we can perform better in terms of the conditions and requirements we might attach to schemes like that.

This year there has been a significant capital underspend. Some capital is being carried over. Inevitably, that will be the case but the one that sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb is the amount of moneys that remain unspent in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I welcome one initiative from the Minister. I did not have the opportunity to mention this earlier in my speech on the confidence motion. I refer to a decision made by Government to relieve local authorities of expensive loans they took out, Louth County Council included, in the mid-2000s at the instruction of the then Minister and Department of the Environment to buy expensive land on which they planned to build public housing. Those loans have been a noose around the necks of local authorities. This is public land owned by local authorities on which public housing could be built. I am pleased the Minister is using some of the resources that remain available in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage's budget this year to relieve local authorities like Louth County Council of, for example, a €56 million debt on two sites in the Drogheda area that could accommodate up to 300 units. This is happening on the basis that those units would be developed on a fast-track basis in 2023-2024, something that is welcome.

Deputy Farrell mentioned that the idea that we are carrying capital over on the basis that we do so every year, or very routinely, is almost a failure of the Government to plan. We understand there are pressures in terms of labour, costs and so on, but failure to spend half a billion euro in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage at the time of a housing crisis is quite perverse.

I will conclude on a general point. The surplus that the country will generate on the backs of hard-working people and businesses this year is quite extraordinary. It is something that this country ought to be proud of. We should be proud of it, but it is perverse that people are waiting for public housing and are on health waiting lists. People are demanding a step change in the provision of renewable energy and building up that infrastructure, but we do not have the capacity to spend sufficient amounts of that money to try to make the improvements we ought to make to our society and economy. We are still, in an international context, spending much less than the countries we like to compare ourselves against in terms of public investment, whatever way we might describe it, whether compared to GDP or, more appropriate in an Irish context, GNI*.

Due to our recent history, we have had a period of significant under-investment and we are playing catch up. We need to play catch up. We need a conversation in the House about how we properly resource our Departments and the NDP. I accept we are spending significant amounts of money on the NDP to achieve the objectives we want to achieve for this country.

When the Minister becomes Minister for Finance shortly, Ireland needs to be front and centre in arguing against any attempt to impose a fiscal straitjacket in terms of the reimposition of a form of fiscal treaty rules. We need space to be able to invest in our infrastructure and economy to make sure that we address the issues around catch up, especially around renewables, critical infrastructure and housing.

9:00 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I would also like to wish the Minister all the best. I am not sure if he is going to be Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach. Only time will tell.

The reality is that this Government puts aside money every year for capital projects and fails to deliver on some of them. Meanwhile, areas like Cork North-Central are screaming out for funding and investment because of under-investment over the years. I refer to the northern ring road and northern distributor road. The Minister is a Cork man. I invite him to drive to the north side of Cork city and Cork North-Central, and return to his constituency in Cork South-Central and tell me there is balanced and even development and investment by the Government. The people I represent see articulated trucks and heavy goods vehicles driving through residential areas because this Government and previous Governments have failed to deliver investment in the north side of Cork city.

It is not just about roads, but also primary care centres in places like Blarney and Ballyvolane. It is also about housing. There is a difference in investment on one side of the city compared to the other. The north side has been neglected for decades. That is why I ran on a campaign to end the neglect of the north side. When the Minister becomes the Minister for Finance I hope he will deliver the money we need because there is huge under-investment. We need schools, jobs, roads and investment in the north side. There is sheer frustration from the people I represent when they see hundreds of millions of euro not spent when they are crying out for investment.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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The Social Democrats will not oppose this annual piece of legislation as we know it is needed to give legal authorisation to spending for the rest of this year and into next year. As has been the case for the previous two years, it is difficult to draw any sort of meaningful comparison with these figures. While normal life resumed for much of the country in the course of this year, Covid, of course, has not gone away and that is reflected in the figures before us.

We saw proof of that last week with the Supplementary Estimates for health. Of the more than €1.3 billion agreed, 85% was driven by Covid. What really sets this year apart from previous years is the spiralling cost of living. While I support the increased State intervention that has followed, this Government's response falls short of what struggling families and workers generally need to get through the winter and into next year. The Government billed budget 2023 as a giveaway budget, and I accept that it was the largest in years. There is no disputing that fact. However, all we have to do is look past the headline figures and spin to soon realise high income earners benefited disproportionately.

At a time when we should be investing heavily in public services - goodness knows there is no shortage of areas where we should be investing heavily, such as in housing, healthcare and disability services – the Government decided that rather than doing that, it would take a deliberate decision to erode the tax base. In doing so, it was playing to perhaps not its base but to the Fine Gael base. The weaknesses in the budget measures will soon become obvious when the temporary supports dry up and more and more people are struggling to put food on their tables, heat their homes or keep a roof over their heads. That is the reality and it is important that is stressed in the context of this debate.

In respect of the figures detailed in the Bill, some certainly were not commentary. Spending on health is the stand out area, representing 30% of the total supply of grants. Yet, despite this record spend, we are still lagging behind in the implementation of Sláintecare. Sláintecare set out to achieve what we should be trying to always achieve in spending, namely, that we spend to save. We have a health service which is desperately discriminatory. It is a two-tier service and, by and large, available for people who can afford to pay for private health insurance. If people cannot pay, they go on long waiting lists. There are major issues with cross-subsidisation from the public purse to the private sector. There are a whole lot of issues around that.

We are an outlier in European terms regarding not having the kind of public health service the majority of people are happy to use and works properly.

There are serious questions over the cost of fully implementing the Sláintecare plan, and the Minister's Department should be concerned about that. The Sláintecare Implementation Strategy & Action Plan 2021-2023 pledged €3.69 billion for implementation but contained no costings at all. It turns out that the 2021 Sláintecare figure, the budget of €1.235 billion, had been just multiplied by three. That was the extent of any kind of examination of the costings. Obviously, that is no way to approach financial planning, and I am afraid it speaks to a wider issue, that is, the Government's lack of commitment to meaningful reform of the health service. There has been a lot happening and there are a lot of plans down on paper, but the pace of that reform has been desperately slow and the critical shift of activity away from the expensive acute hospital sector to the community is happening very slowly. That lower cost model of care is what we are trying to achieve, but we know that the hospital sector eats up the lion's share of the budget. That is the whole switch and refocus required under Sláintecare.

If the Government is really serious about implementing Sláintecare, the costs need to be updated. That has not happened since 2017. As the Minister will know, a huge amount has changed since then. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council estimates that the plan might cost an extra €1.5 billion by 2027. This needs urgent attention. An updated ten-year funding programme is required. I ask the Minister to ensure that that happens - and not only that. Again, if the Government regards having a properly functioning universal, single-tier public health service, it must commit to the funding annually. It should not be up to the whim of the Minister; it should be pre-committed funding in the Government's budget every year, just as public pay agreements and a number of other things are.

Another issue which falls under the Minister's brief and relates to the Department of Health is the rent payable on Miesian Plaza. The Minister will know that I have been chasing this issue for years. While I am glad to see it finally resolved, the State got a poor deal on it. The State failed to protect the public purse to the tune of about €4 million by caving in to the demands of the landlord. That should not happen. A better deal should have been struck on that.

As for housing policy, it would be remiss of me not to point out the staggering €340 million being deferred to next year by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. That does not include a substantial sum of money that was intended for housing but that has been diverted to other projects within that Department. It is by far the largest deferral, representing almost 50% of the total figure. That is just indefensible in the context of a housing emergency. One has to ask where this Government's sense of urgency is when it comes to the housing crisis. Does it not see the adults forced to live with their parents well into their 20s and 30s? That figure has gone up from 36% of people in their 20s and 30s who ended up living at home during those adult years to 61% of people in their 20s and 30s now still living at home. Does the Government not see the workers who cannot aspire to homeownership? Does it not see the 11,397 people, including 3,500 children, living in emergency accommodation? It is an absolutely shameful situation. The Government can keep telling us that its housing plan is working, but it is clearly not. The situation, in fact, is only getting worse because house prices are going up, rents are going up and the number of people in homelessness is going up all the time.

The figures do not lie; the Government cannot argue with them. It is underspending and undoubtedly underperforming when it comes to housing in particular.

Last week I raised the pathetic vacant homes tax with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and called on him to implement a tougher tax rate when he moves into the Department of Finance. Today I wish to raise with him another ridiculous housing policy, that is, long-term leasing. This is a prime example of policy that is appalling value for money yet championed by this Government. Public expenditure, as I said, should be guided by the principle of spending to save. The spending on long-term leases does the absolute opposite of that. It takes out leases on homes that have been built, predominantly apartments - high-rise apartments, build-to-rent apartments, which were built with lower standards, smaller apartments and so on. They are entirely inappropriately located, with 14 or 15 storeys in established residential areas and so on. The key thing about this, however, is that the State is paying the equivalent of a mortgage over a 25-year period or top-dollar rent. The local authority has responsibility for tenants, maintenance and so on, and after those 25 years of paying what amounts to a mortgage on each of those apartments, the local authority has to refurbish them and hand them back, so it does not end up with any asset after that huge outlay over a 25-year period. This is the most expensive way of providing social homes for people, and I have no idea why the Government is doing it. The city manager in Dublin was very clear about this. Through the planning changes the Government introduced, the lowering of standards and the mandatory national guidelines, it has created poor-quality housing and high-rise housing that is unsuitable for long-term living, and it is paying through the nose for it. That is not a responsible thing to do.

On Saturday, by all accounts, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, will become the Minister for Finance. I wish him well personally in that regard but ask him to please consider a change in tack. He has been led by the nose to a large extent and in many respects by his Fine Gael colleagues in respect of erosion of the tax base and failure to invest significantly in public services. I ask him to cease this continuous calling for tax cuts and to invest in public services, make ours a cohesive State and change direction.

9:10 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I think it is fair to say housing is the single biggest issue any of us as constituency Deputies need to deal with. No matter the result decided here today, the fact is that there is no confidence outside, in the wider world, among the people I deal with and, I assume, the people many of my colleagues across this Chamber deal with in the present Government being able to deliver on housing. The issue we have with housing and accommodation is having an impact across every element of society. It is having a huge impact on economic delivery, and until such time as we put the correct plans in place we will not do business. We know that we need to ensure we have the throughput of workforce and we know we have to make sure the apprenticeship model and everything else we are operating provides that pipeline. We need to make sure that the State does all it possibly can from the point of view of delivering the homes necessary. That is affordable mortgages, council houses and cost rental. Unless we do that, we will be in a forever spin and will be failing people constantly. The homeless numbers and so on have already been referred to. At the moment we are looking at an abject failure. We need a change of Government but we definitely need a change of tack from the Ministers opposite. The people out there need that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I must comment on my disappointment that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has left, given that the Government earlier, on the confidence motion, spent a lot of its time claiming rather disingenuously that members of the Opposition were not here. We will see to what extent anybody really bought that, but it was part of a concerted effort to prevent the real, substantial discussion as to what is actually happening in a key area of public investment to solve the housing crisis in this country, which is blighting the lives of so many people.

The tabling of a confidence motion, when originally there was a no confidence motion, allowed the Government to dominate and to minimise the ability of the Opposition to put forward its case. That is part of the parliamentary game-playing that goes on in here. Then we have a debate which is dealing with substance around what is actually being spent by different Departments or what was not spent from what was supposed to be spent by Departments. This debate, helpfully for the Government, will be completely ignored by the media. There are virtually no Deputies here for the discussion on what was spent and not spent. However, when you examine the money that was spent and was not spent, you learn certain things that provide slightly more tangible evidence for the various claims and counter-claims that are being made about Government policy and particularly in the area of housing.

There is a startling figure on carryover of expenditure which is money that was allocated to be spent but was not spent. By far the biggest figure, which does not tell the whole story, is that for the housing Department. It is €340 million that will be carried over to next year because it was not spent. It is part of a bigger figure of €700 million. The Minister of State may be able to illuminate this but I think the maximum carryover figure can only be 10% of the original allocation, so this is not the full picture of what was not spent because you are only allowed to carry over the maximum amount. However, €340 million is a huge amount and there was also other money that was not spent on housing. I would argue that much of the money we spent on housing was wasteful expenditure that does not help to deal with the housing crisis. It is a shocking fact that the Government cannot spend €700 million in the teeth of an absolutely extraordinary housing crisis.

You can look at the figures and see this but, again, this is the material that does not really get out there. However, people, you might call them the nerds but they are very useful nerds, like Mr. Mel Reynolds the housing commentator puts figures together each year and the actual housing figures are quite telling. It explains why all this money was not spent. Mel Reynolds does not simply look at what the Government claims it will build or spend in terms of housing but at what is actually happening to the housing stock and where there is more public housing at the end of the year than there was at the beginning because that would actually tell you something.

Here is a fact: in 2017 Dublin City Council had 24,990 local authority houses. Five years later, it had 24,722. That is minus 268 after all the money that was spent or not spent, and after all the claims that it was going to ramp up the investment in public housing, Dublin City Council has 268 fewer local authority houses than it had five years ago. It is quite extraordinary. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has done slightly better. It gained 25 local authority houses in five years. Fingal County Council has gained 780. That sounds a lot better when you are dealing with a minus figure or 35 but when you are dealing with thousands and thousands of families on a housing list, that is pretty disastrous too. South Dublin County Council has 452 additional after five years in the epicentre of the housing crisis.

I have mentioned here before that the figure for additional local authority houses built by Dublin City Council in the first two quarters of this year was zero; Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council was zero; Fingal County Council was zero; and South Dublin County Council was zero. How does the Government manage to claim that it is going to deliver 9,000 social houses and a few thousand additional affordable houses when this is the actuality of what is happening? The total number of new local authority houses and approved housing body houses is 1,632 in the first six months of this year. How does it manage to claim that it is nearly or not far off meeting its targets? It has not spent the money and these are the actual figures. It is because it delivers the social houses that the State has not built itself by lease or by HAP tenancies. That is an enormous waste of money.

Take the biggest landlord in the country, IRES REIT. A recent study showed that it makes an average of 50% profit on every single tenant, on rents that are through the roof. A huge amount of that is being paid by the taxpayer in HAP, RAS and leasing payments to these landlords who are seeing absolutely extraordinary increases in their profits. You can say the same for Cairn Homes. Its profit margins jumped by 167% in the last year. It is the biggest owner of zoned building land in Dublin city. These are extraordinary profits but we end up paying for much of that because we will buy the affordable housing from them. That is why, of course, we voted against the Government’s Affordable Housing Bill because it explicitly linked the price of affordable housing to market prices. It said it would be benchmarked against market prices. There would be something of a discount but market prices that are manipulated upwards to astronomical levels by the likes of Cairn Homes where we have more than 70,000 planning permissions for apartments but only 5,000 apartments being delivered each year in the last number of years. These people drip-feed construction so that prices stay high, rents stay high and then the State, the tenant or the house buyers pay through the nose because these people are manipulating the entire situation.

When it comes to the actual allocation for the State to do the cost-effective thing, which is to build its own housing on its own land and cut out the profit margins of the IRES REITs and Cairn Homes, there is a complete failure to deliver or to spend the money that was allocated to do that. The Government is the mouthpiece for these very same people and says that it is not because of all that we have a housing crisis. No, it is because someone objected somewhere to a housing development. We have tens of thousands of planning permissions that are not being commenced by these people, so what we will do is make it easier for the developers to get rezoned land or to get planning permission in order that they can get even more land assets and control even more of the market to rob even more money from tenants, house buyers and from the public purse in appropriation. It would make you sick.

9:30 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I support this Bill but want to make a couple of points about it, especially regarding the lack of investment, including in Mayo and the rest of the west. The failure to include the western rail corridor in the trans-European transport network, TEN-T, funding scheme is a missed opportunity. EU funding of up to 20% of the overall project value could be provided to successful applicants. We keep missing the target in addressing regional imbalance. This is an opportunity to hit it. The Minister of State needs to start considering the country as a whole and the neglect of the west and rural areas. We talk about climate change, using public transport and getting cars off the road but at the same time find there is no investment. There is a lot of talk and vague announcements but we need to see delivery in the west. The western rail corridor could be a catalyst for what is needed. I do not buy that the western rail corridor cannot be included because the assembly is not up and running in the North. The recommendations of the all-island rail review must be implemented. There is absolutely nothing other than the lack of political will stopping the reopening of the western rail corridor.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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I congratulate the Minister for Finance on his handling of the public finances and, in particular, the flexibility he and his Department have shown in responding to what has been a very difficult time for spending on new, rapidly changing priorities.

While I understand and appreciate that select committees deal with the allocation of finances and resources, our total gross expenditure is €69.9 billion, with 2023 Estimates from the budget to be €74.25 billion. This House needs to scrutinise matters of financial interest. I know there is time for questions in the Dáil but we need to have scrutiny. This debate is a formality in some ways, given that the Opposition will not be challenging it. Therefore, it is a constitutional imperative. Without it, we will not be able to spend money.

We all get the ins and outs of this Bill, which ensures unspent capital will be deferred. I will raise several areas in respect of which further investment is required in my constituency, which includes County Louth and east Meath. I would like to put in my stake in respect of any moneys left over.

After the pandemic, the war in Ukraine affected numerous crises, and these significantly affected public finances in 2022. This year, additional funding was provided to support the winter cost-of-living measures and the delivery of key public services to provide supports for workers, businesses and communities impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. This funding has been allocated for a wide range of measures, primarily income and employment support schemes under the Department of Social Protection and supports for affected businesses and sectors through grants. If this legislation is not agreed upon today, we will be delaying the promises made on budget day.

Our system of social welfare seeks to provide an effective social safety net for the more vulnerable. In addition to a core budget package, the amount allocated in the budget for 2023 was €6.9 billion, comprising €5.8 billion in expenditure and €1.1 billion in tax. This level of investment reflects our commitment to social support, which has been particularly important in the unprecedented times of 2021 and 2022.

On the topic of budget allocations, it is important in the appropriation of moneys that we consider the hospitality sector to safeguard jobs and protect the industry. Irish businesses are facing energy price increases on top of supply chain problems in the middle of another significant jump in the official inflation rate. There are incredible challenges right across the business and SME sectors. The Ukraine credit guarantee scheme will provide €1.2 billion in low-cost lending to business and will work alongside other measures announced in the budget, such as the temporary business energy support scheme, in supporting businesses through the energy crisis. I have spoken to many businesspeople in Dundalk, Louth and east Meath over recent months and have been flabbergasted by the cost increases they are facing.

The maintenance of the allocation in capital funding for tourism development of €130 million will help Fáilte Ireland to continue to support the delivery of enhanced tourism amenities in line with the objectives of the new national development plan for the period 2021 to 2030. That said, there are significant challenges facing the tourism sector, and the viability of some tourism businesses is a genuine concern. New figures from the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation show that, so far this year, visitor numbers are down 20%. Meanwhile, the Government’s failure to use budget 2023 to extend the 9% VAT rate - it is increasing it by 50% from 1 March next year - was described as disappointing, along with the fact that the Government has not fully recognised the importance of the tourism industry to every town and county. While budget 2023 should rightly be a cost-of-living budget, it should also have formed part of a wider roadmap towards ensuring Ireland is an attractive place to do business rather than crucifying the tourism and hospitality sectors with a VAT increase come March 2023.

The second point I wish to raise on core expenditure relates to investment versus return in our other core public services, specifically health and housing. On housing, I am sure there are many wish lists at the end of year for all parties concerned. Housing is consistently highlighted as a top priority and is significantly important considering the increasing number in homelessness and the increased requirement for social housing. These are paramount for the years to come. The amounts allocated to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage were €5.4 billion in 2021 and €6 billion in 2022, and the allocation is estimated to be €4.5 billion in 2023. This level of resourcing reflects our commitment to making housing a key priority of the Government. The Appropriation Bill will allow for the definitive capital carryover from 2022 to 2023 that I would like to see invested in my constituency, which includes Louth and east Meath.

Another wish on the list would be for reflection and accountability in the health system. In the budget, the Government announced an investment of €23.4 billion in Ireland’s health and social care services. However, it has come to light that, on 25 October 2022, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation recorded the highest number of patients on trolleys in the year to that date. There were 669 people, including 28 children, without a bed. Our rate of acute bed capacity is 2.8 per 1,000 of the population, whereas the OECD average is 4.3. If nothing is done about this, along with the 40,000-plus waiting time breaches, it will result in the complete opposite of what was promised in our national service plan for 2022.

With regard to our hospital services, on top of record emergency department waiting times and overcrowding, the decision to close Navan accident and emergency department will have a significant knock-on effect on Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. The hospital is currently dealing with a deficit of 16 doctors. Just last weekend, 11 ambulances were parked outside the emergency department of the hospital and could not leave because there were no beds or trolleys for their patients inside. This is not happening in Louth alone. I have a constituent, John Evans, who waited for urgent surgery in Beaumont and was sent home from the accident and emergency department twice. He is not the only constituent waiting on crucial surgery in Beaumont. What is going on? When will the waiting lists be dealt with? When will the trolley crisis be dealt with? As I have continually said, there are many rules and regulations but nothing is enforced, or there is no accountability.

I also wish to raise the issue of specialist care. There are significant service delays in this area in County Louth, especially regarding therapeutic intervention. It would be appreciated if any carryover from 2022 were invested in specialist care services. I am aware of 15 families with adolescent children with autism or a moderate learning disability who urgently require a psychiatric review but who have been told by the HSE this service is unavailable as there are no psychiatrists on the Louth HSE team. If more than half the population are eligible for GP cards, where are the GPs and specialists going to come from? I welcome the changes made by the Minister in the provisions for the sector but we need genuine innovation beyond what is now being contemplated. Providing quality healthcare is a key priority for the Government. Recent years have seen significant increases in resources for the day-to-day running of our health service. This will remain a priority for the Government. Given the scale of the overall allocation, effective management of health expenditure is crucial. Increased capital investment will be critical as we face new challenges in the years ahead, especially on the back of the pandemic and two enormous challenges, namely, the electricity crisis and cost-of-living crisis.

Taking into account the total gross voted capital expenditure allocation for 2023 of €11.7 billion as set out in the budget, the addition of a capital carryover of €800 million brings the total available voted capital expenditure for next year to €12.5 billion. This increased investment will play an important role in delivering much-needed public infrastructure across Ireland, especially in sectors such as social housing, higher education, primary healthcare, public transport, water infrastructure and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

This essential technical legislation authorises in law all of the expenditure that was agreed by way of Estimates during this year. The House will be aware that the passage of the Bill is required to ensure it is possible to make payments in 2023 in respect of services that were funded from voted expenditure this year, including the jobseeker's allowance, disability allowance, the non-contributory State pension, nurses' pay, Garda pay, teachers' pay, all other pay and pensions funded from voted money, and payments to suppliers of goods and services, including small and medium enterprises. Of fundamental importance to those who depend on our essential public services, the passage of this Bill will allow the payments required to deliver those services to continue into 2023.

In all four areas we need to do much better because we are putting at risk resources that will be critical to the country's well-being. We must significantly reprioritise these areas as national priorities. It is really important we do this in a way that is well thought through.

As a general point, both last year and this year the State has done what it does best, namely, support our people, invest in public services and infrastructure and ensure we can continue to look after people to the best of our ability. Contrary to some of its critics, it is capable of being agile, responsive and innovative when required and when the political will is there.

The Bill is important in that it will underpin spending in 2023 and enable us to continue with that spending in the early part of next year until the Estimates come back from the committees and are passed.

9:40 pm

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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This Bill is required so that spending that happened in 2022 is sanctioned and legislated for, and so the spending in 2023 can happen. I am very concerned that there has been a huge amount of money, €673 million, not spent this year and similar last year. Can the Minister, Deputy McGrath, honestly look in the faces of the people at the moment and tell them that €673 million was not spent this year and similar last year? These are the people who are going cold, the people who are going hungry, the people who have no housing. Can the Minister honestly look at them, and all of the people who are paying extra taxes on inflated fuel costs because the Government took 50% on fuel taxes? Can the Minister honestly tell them now he has €673 million he did not spend? Yet the Government made them suffer and the Government will make them suffer this Christmas. How did the Government get it so wrong? The Government has never had as much money in its coffers as it does now. There is wasting of money by the Government and yet it still has €673 million unspent. There are men, women and children throughout this country who are going cold and hungry, yet the Government has this money that has not been spent. I just cannot believe it. It is not often I am stuck for words but, for once in my life, now I am stuck for words when it comes to this.

It is bad enough the Government would bring Members up here on Saturday on the last weekend before Christmas when most charities around Ireland go out to collect money for vulnerable people. Yet the Government will spend thousands upon thousands of euro of taxpayers' money bringing Deputies and staff from across the country to Dublin to open up the Dáil on the last weekend before Christmas. It is a weekend when people and vulnerable people look for help to fundraise in our own areas. Yet the Government wants us to come here to have a big hurrah on something that could be done on a weekday. They are spending more of the taxpayers' money and laughing at the people who are wondering where their next bite of food is coming from. They are wondering where the next drop of kerosene or coal is coming from to heat their houses while the Government has come up with a charade this weekend, costing more taxpayers' money, laughing at the vulnerable people.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am not laughing at anyone.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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It is what the Government is doing. It is hypocritical. The Government is opening up the Dáil on Saturday for a change of Taoiseach from Tánaiste and the other way around. It could be done during the week. Anyone here would have accommodated it during the week. Even if it was late at night or early in the morning we would accommodate it. The Government is sending people home from here on Thursday and then bringing them back up on Saturday, when there are so many people around this country waiting for us to help them in constituencies. The Government wants us to come here for a party on a weekend when people and families are depending on us to come down to help them. Constituents in Limerick are expecting me for things we had planned for the past seven months so we could be there to help them that weekend, yet the Government plans this.

Then we see the Government had has €673 million not spent. This is after the Government has penalised every small business in the country and overtaxed them. They are not able to keep the lights on nor keep the fridges on in the butchers' shops, all because the funding has been done wrong and the Government has created more and more taxes for the people, putting small businesses out of business. We have seen it tonight with housing and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. All they could mention today was Dublin housing. It was Dublin, Dublin, Dublin. I asked them about Limerick and the Minister sat down speechless. He could not open his mouth then. He forgot it was outside of Dublin. Now some are being delivered in small bits around the country, but it is small bits and the crumbs off the table. The Minister, Deputy McGrath has been elected from outside Dublin. He must represent the whole country as one and stop representing Dublin. He must come back down to the counties that put him up in this House in the first place and in the party to which he was first elected to represent.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to get the opportunity to talk on this topic. Once again, this large carryover demonstrates the delays by the Government in undertaking the required infrastructure that much needed by the country, including public housing. We know the delays and interruptions to capital projects as a consequence of the country dealing with Covid-19 were responsible for the significant increase in capital carryover compared with the previous year. However, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine cannot be blamed for the large carryover this year. The Minister has given no credible reason for the large carryover, and clearly this situation cannot continue indefinitely.

We know that approximately €2.2 billion in funding that was announced by Ministers to much fanfare went unspent in 2021 across a number of areas, including health. We all know the problems, especially those we are having in University Hospital Kerry in Tralee and with the lack of GPs.

On transport, the total figure for last year includes capital funding to the tune of €820 million, which was rolled over to 2022. There is a concern that because significant amounts of allocated moneys are not being spent, the deadlines are missed and many project targets will be missed as a result. It is especially concerning to me that the underspending in transport and health infrastructure that occurred in 2021 is occurring again in 2022. These funds should have been used on projects that were ready to go.

We must also talk about the overpowering cost of electricity and what people are saying to us on the doorsteps. The Government is talking about giving people back grants or lump sums or whatever, but the question being asked of me is why the energy regulator is not controlling the cost of electricity. Day after day the electricity companies are announcing they are trebling and quadrupling their profits and they are seeking to increase the charges again in the new year. I appeal to the Minister, Deputy McGrath, to do something about this to stop it. Do we have an energy regulator? Do we have a Minister in charge of that? If does not seem to me there is.

I have mentioned to the Minister previously the local improvements schemes in Kerry. We have 660 schemes remaining on the list starting out in 2023. At the rate we are going, which is about 20 roads per year, I put it to the Minister that it will take us 38 more years to get through that list. Most of the people will be dead it will take that long.

I will be long gone, although the Minister will not be because he is a young man. Those projects are listed and ready to go. They are sanctioned and approved and all we need is money. Surely if there is money that cannot be spent next year, there should be no problem with using it. Kerry County Council can do the work, and if it cannot do so, it will get contractors or whatever, but it never failed to do the work before. Back in 2004 or 2005 it did 111 roads each year, one year after the other. Someone who was a Member of the House representing Kerry at that time was able to secure that funding and ensure that where money was left over in other bank accounts or quarters, it was directed down to Kerry. It is possible to do the same now.

We have so many sewerage schemes waiting to be done and there is a lot of talk these days about the environment. It may not be nice to talk about sewerage or whatever but it is a problem, it is affecting the environment and it is stopping building. I am asking the Government to look at those things and ensure that money does not go back. The Minister is taking over as Minister for Finance at the end of the week and I wish him well in that role. I look forward to asking the Minister for things for Kerry into the future. As he is a Cork man, I am sure the Minister will look favourably on us. I would hope he will do his best for Kerry. These are sensible requests. I talk about 660 roads and it is ridiculous. We must make a big dent in these next year.

9:50 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. Although I understand the constitutional requirement for this Bill, to provide legal authorisation for all of the expenditure that has occurred this year on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil and to provide a legal basis for spending to continue into next year in the period before the Dáil votes on the 2023 Estimates, I do not fully support the content of this legislation. There are many reasons for this, the main one being that I do not agree with certain spending detailed in this legislation as well as the lack of spending in some important areas.

I am concerned about the lack of capital funding, particularly in my constituency of Donegal. There are various projects we had hoped to see progressed in the county but, sadly, little has been happening. For example, I mention the Fintra bridge development in Killybegs, which will include a new bridge across the Fintra river, a pedestrian and cycle route and road realignment works. Although we are finally seeing some progress on this, the development has been a long time coming and is moving at snail’s pace. The real expenditure will only come in the next year or two and we will have to see whether that will be provided to make the developments happen. There are many areas in Killybegs that are in desperate need of funding and development, such as the community hospital. Killybegs is an example but this goes right throughout the county. I have spoken before about the hospital’s potential to do more to support the Killybegs community, as well as the surrounding communities, and how the lack of funding, resources and development have led to an underutilised hospital with limited services and staff available.

Killybegs and the surrounding areas are also experiencing a severe lack of gardaí and Garda vehicles. It is important that gardaí are around and available in our rural communities, and much of Donegal has been let down in this aspect. Quite often gardaí are not available in the south-west Donegal area until 7 p.m., and when they are on duty, there are only two gardaí covering a large area between Killybegs, Kilcar, Ardara and Glenties. There could be one garda on duty in Killybegs and one garda on duty in Glenties, with no squad car between the two of them so they basically cannot go anywhere, do anything or patrol. Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn recently outlined to the Donegal joint policing committee how a lack of vehicles is proving to be a major obstacle for gardaí in Donegal. She has made several applications to Garda Headquarters. However, she was told no cars would be purchased until the new year at the earliest. She said the lack of cars was "affecting the service", which is completely unacceptable.

The Donegal joint policing committee also recently heard of the removal of 16 gardaí from the Donegal divisional drugs unit, despite the fact that drug crime is on the increase in the county. The number of gardaí serving in the drugs unit dropped from 21 to five within a year and the unit has also been left without an unmarked car. They cannot get around either, so unless crime is happening in the barracks, it will not be detected anywhere. Superintendent McGinn has said that the lack of resources is making responding to emergency calls and carrying out drug operations difficult.

This Government has failed to deliver for the people of Donegal in areas such as these time and again. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae spoke about the local improvement scheme and this is a big problem in Donegal too as we have huge lists that will take donkey's years to be resolved and dealt with. They probably will not be dealt with but people still have to be let apply when it is known they will not get their roads improved or sorted out at all.

The recent reports of an underspend of nearly €500 million in the Government’s housing budget is shocking and completely unacceptable in the midst of a housing crisis. I have constituent after constituent coming to me with concerns regarding housing, including mica, the years-long waiting list for social housing, the lack of rental accommodation in Donegal, and the inability to buy a house. To hear that millions of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage's budget is not being spent to help these people in need is so frustrating to me. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm to the House what he expects the underspend in housing to be this year.

I support this Bill on the basis it is necessary legislation to provide money and resources that are required to run our public services. However, I would again like to emphasise that I do not agree with the allocation of a lot of the spending detailed in this legislation and I completely condemn the underspending trend we have been seeing in recent years, especially in the area of housing. There is no excuse for it and it needs to end today.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all the Deputies who have contributed to the debate. There is broad support for this Bill, which is an important one in the annual budgetary calendar to ensure there is proper legal underpinning of expenditure in the current year. It is also important in ensuring there is legal provision for expenditure to continue next year until the relevant Oireachtas committees consider the Estimates and then for this House to vote on those Estimates.

A range of issues have been raised by colleagues. Deputy Mairéad Farrell raised the process of public procurement and made some suggestions in that regard. Deputy Nash spoke about the need to improve parliamentary involvement in the budgetary process. I would make the case that we have strengthened the role of Parliament in the budgetary process in recent years. He referenced the Parliamentary Budget Office and the role of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and I have made ourselves available on every occasion we have been asked to discuss and account for our work in that regard. He also raised the temporary business energy support scheme, TBESS, and I confirm to him it will be backdated to 1 September. Deputy Shortall raised the issue of the cost of living and said the Government described the budget as a giveaway budget. We made no such description. We described it a cost-of-living budget and that is a fair description of the totality of the measures we announced on budget day in that respect.

There has been considerable commentary about capital expenditure over the course of the evening and the context of that is important. We have a large public capital programme in Ireland that has increased dramatically in recent years. It has been a conscious policy decision of Government to catch up with the European average in the public capital investment programme and then to exceed it. The fact that next year we will have about €12.5 billion speaks to the level of priority we have afforded capital investment. Having multi-annual ceilings in place and having a total envelope out to 2030 allows Departments to plan the pipeline of public capital projects over that period. Critically, it also gives industry certainty that the Government will continue to invest in housing, healthcare, transport, climate action measures and so on.

On the carryover, I would make the point that the importance of the carryover provision is demonstrated by the fact that, of the almost €820 million that was carried forward from 2021 into 2022, some €780 million had been spent up to the end of November.

Where money is carried forward under the Finance Act 2004, that money is not lost but remains with the Department for spending on projects that may have been delayed in the previous year for a variety of reasons. It further strengthens the public capital envelope we have for the next year. We must always try to strike the right balance between having a robust public spending code whereby we can stand over from a value-for-money perspective investment in public capital projects and ensuring the projects get done in a timely manner. Trying to find that balance is critically important.

The measures we brought forward in the current year in respect of the cost-of-living amount to in the region of €4 billion to provide assistance with rising prices. We have made provision during the year to look after the people who have come here from the terrible war in Ukraine. The cost is expected to be in the region of €1 billion for 2022 and more than half of this amount has been provided to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth - mainly for accommodation supports. Approximately one third has been provided has been provided to the Department of Social Protection to provide social welfare supports.

We also had to make provision during the year to deal with Covid-19. We had the Omicron wave in the early part of this year. That necessitated significant public expenditure in healthcare to make sure we were in a position to respond to what was a huge challenge. Approximately €4.75 billion was provided for measures to support the delivery of key public services and to provide support for sectors that continued to be impacted by the pandemic this year in healthcare, income and employment support schemes that were extended in the early part of the year and continued supports in the education and transport sectors to ensure they could continue to function. We extended supports for tourism and hospitality over the course of the year.

Social protection always remains an important part of public expenditure. When expenditure on the Social Insurance Fund is included, 2022 gross expenditure for social protection is almost €25 billion. People will always make the case in this House for greater spending on social protection but we can be proud of the safety net in this country, which we have strengthened in the recent budget for people on low incomes and many people who are vulnerable to make sure that at least their basic needs can be looked after.

The Department of Health, which had such a crucial role in our response to the pandemic and in reforming our health system, had a gross allocation of €23.6 billion in 2022. Health spending amounts for some 26% of gross voted expenditure and is an important part of public expenditure.

We spent a number of hours earlier discussing housing. In total, the amount allocated to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage was almost €6 billion in 2022. That level of resourcing does reflect the priority the Government has placed on tackling the housing crisis in all its forms.

Expenditure on education at just over €14 billion in 2022 between the Departments of Education, and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science accounts for almost 16% of gross voted expenditure over that period.

I have dealt with the issue of capital investment. Again, I reference the fact that we introduced important changes earlier this year relating to an inflation co-operation framework to ensure that public works contracts remain a viable proposition for contractors, who were having to take on all the risk of committing to fixed-price work at a time when there was such upward volatility in terms of materials costs over that period. That has brought an important level of stability to public works contracts and has resulted in a greater level of uptake in respect of public works contracts that have been put out for public procurement.

I very much welcome the support of the House that I think will be forthcoming shortly in respect of this Bill. While it may be described as an important piece of housekeeping, it is very important for the House to properly account for expenditure this year to ensure it is legally sound and robust and to ensure that payments and expenditure can continue in the early part of next year before all the various Estimates, which will be set out in the Revised Estimates Volume, are considered by the respective Oireachtas committees and then by this House.

10:00 pm

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I wish the Minister the very best in his role as Minister for Finance.

Question put and agreed to.