Written Answers. - Information Technology.
Minister for Finance
the amount of funding which was allocated to the Information Society of Ireland for its use to fund information technology projects throughout the country; if the fund is now depleted; the number of projects funded; the name and location of each project; his views on whether the process was or is a successful one; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Overall Government policy on the information society was initially set out in the report, Implementing the Information Society in Ireland: An Action Plan, published by the Department of the Taoiseach in January 1999. A new action plan, entitled New Connections, was approved by Government in March 2002 covering the next three-year period 2003-05. In addition to e-government and e-business, the new action plan identifies opportunities in the areas of lifelong learning and e-inclusion, that is, bridging the digital divide in addressing issues of disadvantage and exclusion.
In response to the first action plan, my Department established a special dedicated funding mechanism in 2000, the information society fund, designed to support the implementation of e-government and e-business flagship projects identified in the action plan and to encourage Departments and bodies under their aegis to respond to the information society agenda. An overall amount of €138.7 million was allocated under the fund over the period 2000-02. Consideration is currently being given to the size and distribution of funding for the new action plan.
An evaluation team chaired by my Department and including representatives from the information society policy development unit of the Department of the Taoiseach approves projects under the fund. A total of 135 programmes and projects at an overall cost of €118.6 million have been approved for funding since the introduction of the fund in 2000.
For 2002, an overall amount of €55.9 million was made available under the fund, of which €45.5 million was devolved to 11 departmental votes primarily for major projects in the areas of e-goverment and e-business. The balance of €10.4 million resides as a central fund under my Departments vote and is designed to support Civil Service-wide e-government infrastructural requirements and also to facilitate new developments considered important to realising the benefits of the information society.
The majority of projects approved under the fund relate to e-government services some of which are available to the general public and to businesses on the Internet and examples of these services include: e-government; the Revenue on-line service, ROS, providing for the electronic filing of tax returns; on-line driving test application system; the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissions on-line recruitment service; the Land Registry on-line electronic search service for property folios; on-line access to public library catalogues; an e-procurement website advertising all public contracts and providing for the downloading of tender documents; OASIS – providing information for citizens based on life-events; and BASIS – providing information for businesses based on business-episodes.
E-government projects under development include: e-Cabinet, designed to support the Government process; e-legislation, providing a collaborative environment for bill drafting; online driving licence application; on-line motor tax renewal; on-line services for farmers co-ordinated by Teagasc; and on-line exploration and mining licence application.
The introduction of e-government services will accelerate with the introduction of the public services broker planned for mid-2003 and which is also being supported by the information society fund. The public services broker is being implemented by the Reach agency and will provide a single electronic gateway to Government services and public information.
Regarding e-business, the following major initiatives are supported by the information society fund: Enterprise Ireland's Accelerator programme, a mentoring scheme for e-business targeting SMEs; city and county enterprise boards' Empower programme promoting e-business in micro-enterprises; and the Chambers of Commerce in Ireland e-business training initiative.
In addition to the provision of on-line services and information on the Internet, a number of important initiatives have been implemented under the information society fund at local and community level including: the provision of public internet access points at over 300 local libraries throughout the country; and, community based projects under the CAIT, community access to information technology, initiative co-ordinated by the Department of Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs. To date, funding of €7.4 million has been committed to a total of 121 projects throughout the country since the launch of CAIT in December 2000.
Funding beyond that provided by the information society fund has been made available for many other significant IT initiatives, for example, electronic voting, a range of new systems in the Department of Agriculture and Food, new systems for the Garda Síochána etc.
I am satisfied that the investments made to date are already making a significant contribution to the development of the information society in Ireland and in positioning Ireland as a global leader in this area. Our progress has been recognised internationally in a number of studies and, under the recent European Commission's e-Europe benchmarking of e-government services, Ireland achieved first place in Europe reflecting the success of our strategy and the solid foundation available for further enhancing services to citizens and businesses.
Question No. 291 answered with Question No. 268.