I am attending today to discuss issues in relation to the Department’s 2016 appropriation account. As the Chairman said, I am accompanied by my colleagues Ms Mary Keenan, who is the head of corporate affairs, and Ms Geraldine Butler, who is the finance officer. The committee will have received in advance of this meeting a briefing document detailing the 2016 expenditure and outturn as per the appropriation account. I want to briefly outline the role and structure of the Department in 2016 and give an overview of the 2016 appropriation account and our administrative and programme expenditure.
The year 2016 saw significant changes in structure arising from the formation of a new Government, the changed relationship between the Government and the Oireachtas and a response to the new challenges posed by Brexit. The Department continued to engage in national priority issues, as directed by the Taoiseach, such as jobs, unemployment, housing and homelessness, health, justice reform, social inclusion, rural development and Brexit. In addition to its existing responsibilities, the Department was assigned new responsibilities in areas as diverse as the Citizens’ Assembly, the Creative Ireland programme, data protection, the renewal of Dublin’s north east inner city and the establishment of several independent commissions of investigation. The Department continued to be involved in the reform and renewal of the Civil Service through the work of the Civil Service management board.
The year 2016 was a particularly important year for the Department of the Taoiseach as it saw the successful culmination of several years of careful planning for the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising.
The core functions of the Department in 2016 are set out as follows: delivering the executive functions of the Taoiseach and the Government; providing the Government secretariat; supporting the Taoiseach in carrying out his duties as head of Government, including in relation to the Oireachtas, constitutional issues, protocol, the European Council, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council; working with the Office of the President and with the Oireachtas; engaging with the formulation and implementation of Government policy, mainly through the system of Cabinet committees, senior officials’ groups, the programme for Government office and the parliamentary liaison unit; support for the Office of the Taoiseach, as well as support for the Tánaiste, although that changed during the year because the Government changed; support for Independent Ministers in Government which also changed during that year; support for the Office of the Government Chief Whip, who also has responsibility for the Central Statistics Office, CSO; and support for the Ministers of State assigned to the Department, which includes the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, the Minister of State with responsibility for data protection and at least for part of that year, if my memory serves me, the Minister of State with responsibility for diaspora affairs. We also support the Government press office; provide briefing and advice to the Taoiseach on the full range of domestic policy issues and international affairs, including through the work of the NESC, which as the Comptroller and Auditor General said, is one of the bodies under our aegis; and support the Taoiseach and Government in the formulation of Ireland’s EU, Northern Ireland and international policies, including co-ordination across the whole of Government. We also deliver support services through the corporate affairs division, including HR, finance, IT and other services as any other Government Department would deliver.
Across all areas of the Department we spend a lot of time on parliamentary questions, preparing material for use in the Oireachtas, freedom of information requests, answering letters and queries from the public, organising major events, preparing speeches for the Taoiseach and Ministers and responding to media queries.
The outturn for 2016 was €22.58 million against an Estimate provision of €29.35 million. The lower than anticipated expenditure resulted in €6.76 million liable to surrender to the Exchequer at the end of the year. Significant variations relate mainly to the programme subheads. The tribunal subhead was €3.4 million less than Estimates due to the number of legal cost claims settled in the year being lower than expected. We have no control over third party legal costs incurred by tribunals. It is impossible to predict the timing of settlement of third party costs or the level of costs. This moves around year on year as Deputies will be aware.
The commissions of investigation subhead was €911,000 less than the Estimate. Two commissions were active in the year and both are independent. Their expenditure levels depend on their needs and are not a matter for our control.
Subhead A1 was also less than the Estimate due to delays in filling some vacancies and the transfer of functions relating to the diaspora and EU engagement to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the fourth quarter of the year. Just over €15 million was expended on pay and administration. As the Comptroller and Auditor General stated, this accounts for our main spending, with the balance expended on programme expenditure as listed in the Appropriation Account. The 2016 account was audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, in whose report he noted that the account properly presented the receipts and expenditure of the Department for the year. He further stated that he had obtained all of the information and explanations he had required for the purposes of his audit. In his opinion, adequate accounting records had been kept by the Department and the account was in agreement with those.
I will briefly outline the Department's administrative and programme expenditure in the year. The lion's share is spent on salaries, with a total expenditure of €11.9 million. At the end of 2016, the total staff numbers were just over 200. That this was much less than we had estimated was mainly due to the changes relating to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the EU division.
In line with other Departments, we have non-pay administrative subheads. These are small and are as follows - travel and subsistence; training and development; postal and telecommunications; office equipment and external IT; premises expenses; consultancy services; and value for money policy reviews. The non-pay spend was €3.2 million against an Estimate of €3.8 million. The briefing document provides a breakdown of this expenditure across. Some €433,000 was allocated in 2016 to cover the exceptional costs relating to the centenary commemoration programme, which was mainly organised by the Department of the Taoiseach.
The Department's 2016 programme expenditure was broken down across the following subheads: the National Economic and Social Council figure was €1.8 million; the tribunals of inquiry figure was just over €1 million; the EU engagement figure was €276,000; the figure for Irish personnel in EU and international institutions was €1.553 million; the commissions of investigation figure was €2.489 million; the data protection figure was €248,000; and the figure for diaspora affairs was €825,000. The document provides further briefing on these elements.
I thank members for their attention and am happy to respond to whatever questions they may have about the account.