Written Answers. - Information Technology Programme.
10 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of individuals in his Department working on the year 2000 issue who will qualify for special bonus payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1217/99]
11 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 1 of 16 December 1998, the report on completing the SMI Programme of Action on Information Technology has been submitted to the Government. [1797/99]
12 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will summarise the main points of the action plan, Implementing the Information Society in Ireland, which he launched recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2501/99]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, together.
The Action Plan on Implementing the Information Society has been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. It presents a framework which identifies a wide range of measures considered necessary or desirable in order to implement the information society in Ireland. While responsibility for each of the action points typically rests with one or more Ministers, Departments or agencies, the work on any one action point could have a significant bearing on other action points in the plan.
The plan sets out action points under a number of headings. The first of these is telecommunications infrastructure. We made important progress in this area during 1998, with full liberalisation of the market from 1 December 1998, 13 months ahead of schedule. The plan envisages further progress during 1999, mainly under the auspices of the Minister for Public Enterprise, including the initial public offering of shares in Telecom Éireann, the sale of Cablelink, and work on upgrading our international connectivity and on extending broadband services.
The plan also contains measures on the development of electronic commerce and business opportunities. In particular, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the industrial development agencies will produce an action programme in this important area shortly.
Under the heading enabling measures, the plan deals with issues such as providing access to the Internet in public places, such as public libraries, for people who do not have access from their homes or workplaces.
As we move more and more to electronic commerce, there will be greater need for services such as digital certificates to enable people to communicate securely and with certainty over the Internet. The Department of Public Enterprise will work to identify suitable operators in this activity and to put the necessary legal framework in place.
Implementing the information society will also require legislative changes in a number of areas, under the responsibility of a number of Ministers. These include the area of digital certificates which I have just mentioned, admissability of electronic evidence in court proceedings, data protection, the Telecom Éireann initial public offering, and preparing for digital TV.
A large part of the action plan concerns information and communication technologies and the delivery of public services. It covers provision of information using modern technologies such as the Internet and electronic mail, and re-affirms the Government's commitment to greater use of these technologies in the mainstream of public administration. It also envisages a range of projects to provide public services electronically from a number of Departments and agencies.
The plan also states that a detailed examination of deeper integration of public services, sometimes referred to as re-engineering or re-inventing Government, will be carried out during 1999.
Topics such as raising awareness and education are covered in a section headed support areas where action is needed. For example, the Information Society Commission, in conjunction with IBEC, is implementing a major campaign aimed at raising awareness of information society issues amongst small and medium enterprises.
Finally, a section headed taking the work forward envisages that an inter-departmental group, supported by a policy development team, will monitor implementation of the action plan. In addition, the plan provides for further assessment of overall resource requirements in order to ensure satisfactory implementation of all aspects of the plan.
I trust I have given Deputies a feel for the contents and objectives of the plan. In agreeing the plan at Government, I have asked each Minister to take a close personal interest in ensuring that any aspects of the plan which concern his or her area of responsibility are delivered as part of an overall strategy to ensure that Ireland is truly a "digital age" country.
Many reports have emerged in recent months which contain recommendations on how this should happen. I believe that the action plan will help to translate those recommendations into concrete progress.
On the matter of the SMI Programme of Action on Information Technology, the Deputy is aware from my reply of 16 December that a number of the recommendations contained in the SMI working group report on information technology were taken up in the work of the inter-departmental implementation group on the information society. It was the work of this group which led to adoption of the action plan which I have just been describing, so it is fair to expect that implementation of that plan should result in progress being made on a number of the issues identified in the SMI working group report.
The SMI working group report contains a number of recommendations in relation to the acquisition and retention of skilled IT staff. In December 1998 the Department of Finance reached agreement with the unions on a set of once-off exceptional measures to retain skilled IT staff engaged in Year 2000 work until that work is completed. This includes scope for re-assignment of suitable administrative staff to IT work and, where it is deemed appropriate payment of a loyalty bonus in April 2000 to skilled IT staff. Four IT officers in my Department who are working on the Year 2000 issue will qualify for special bonus payments.
The remaining recommendations of the report including those relating to staffing issues, will shortly be considered by the SMI implementation group in the context of completing the SMI Programme of Action on Information Technology. I expect that a report will be submitted to Government at an early date.