Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Appropriation Bill 2015: Second and Subsequent Stages


11:30 am

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, back from Bandon, Skibbereen and the places where he was featuring. It was valuable for the Minister of State to be with people and hear from the shopkeepers themselves. We saw him on television going in and accumulating all of that information.

There are some interesting points in the Appropriation Bill. The Minister of State stated that the Supplementary Estimates of €1.4 billion is about 3.3% of the €41.7 billion that the Minister was spending. In the older days of the public finances, Supplementary Estimates were looked upon askance and regarded as something one should not do. I suppose we might get worried if it went much over 3.3%, but, in general, we learned the hard way how to run the public finances in Ireland. We do not wish to unlearn those lessons so there is a serious onus on those seeking Supplementary Estimates to justify what they entail.

The Minister of State mentioned that the carryover on capital projects is 3% of the value of those projects. That is a margin, but I suppose the danger would be if the Departments doing the spending begin to regard it as theirs and do not return to the Department of Finance. One must keep an eye on that aspect.

I welcome initiatives such as the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service which will put the evaluation of capital projects on an independent and sound basis as distinct from merely advocating projects and providing crude figures, such as that investment as a percentage of GDP is lower than it used to be. It is the case that GDP is lower than it used to be in the period when the public finances were getting into trouble but one must have sound prudent management of the public finances and proper appraisals of the projects involved. I would prefer those to be done independently and published well in advance so that they can be discussed in the Houses of the Oireachtas and elsewhere.

That brings me to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the value-for-money officer under the Constitution. That is a valuable post in seeking to keep the finances in order so that we do not get back into the troubles and problems of the past. The Comptroller and Auditor General deals with a €6.6 million budget and €5.9 million in appropriations-in-aid out of a €43.1 billion supply grant and the €3.1 billion carryover. It is an important post and I often think the Comptroller and Auditor General should be involved more. Sometimes he waits until what we need is the State Pathologist. Perhaps he should intervene earlier to state projects are going off the rail. The Comptroller and Auditor General did intervene, I think, with the agreement of all members of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communication, on the issue of the seven-digit non-sequential postal addresses.I have yet to receive any correspondence on that. We anticipated that it was unlikely to be a system that would catch on and it did cost us, as we pointed out, €38 million.

The other issue the Minister of State raised is the earlier signature motion. I have always felt that mechanism should be used sparingly. The President holds an honoured position under the Constitution and he or she deserves the full time necessary to read Bills. I appreciate that the Bill before us is different and I am not criticising what is being done here today. In general, however, there should be an amber light in the context of pushing the President to sign legislation before he or she has had a good chance to read it and, perhaps, to either point out some things which the Oireachtas might need to consider or refer it to the Council of State or the courts.

The current Oireachtas is nearing the end of its lifetime. This has been a period in which the public finances have been well managed and that is reflected in the accounts before the House today. I will certainly be supporting the Bill and I hope it sets the tone for the next Oireachtas to be equally careful in its stewardship of the national finances.


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