Private Members’ Business.

Public Expenditure: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Burton on Tuesday, 17 May 2005:
That Dáil Éireann,
deploring the shocking waste of taxpayers money highlighted in the recent "Prime Time Investigates" programme and a number of recent reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General including, among others:
—the huge over-run in the cost of the roads programme in the early years of the national development programme, which means that the eventual cost will be more than €16 billion rather than the €7 billion originally estimated;
—the specific findings of the interim report of the hearings of the public accounts committee, published on 12 May, that identified a number of road projects, originally estimated to cost €562 million that ended up costing €984 million;
—the decision to buy a site for a new prison at a cost of almost €30 million which may not prove suitable for the purposes intended, when cheaper, more suitable alternative sites were available;
—the acquisition over a number of years of buildings to house asylum seekers which were never used and which remain empty;
—a whole range of other projects initiated by this Government involving either a total waste of money or massive over-runs, including Abbotstown, the Punchestown Equestrian Centre, e-voting, the failure to properly cost the extension of medical cards to the over 70s, and the indemnity deal agreed with the religious orders outside normal Cabinet procedures;
conscious that this wasteful use of money has meant that there are less funds available for vital infrastructure, such as public transport and for a wide range of essential public services such as health, education, welfare, carers, home-help, the disability sector and many others;
condemns the mismanagement and lack of public accountability exercised by this Government and its failure to ensure that taxpayers got value for their money;
calls on the Government to implement in full the recommendations of the NESC study ‘Achieving Quality Outcomes: The Management of Public Expenditure'; and
calls on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, following consultation with the Working Group of Committee Chairmen and the Committee of Public Accounts, to bring forward concrete proposals for the establishment of an office of management and budget, to be attached to Dáil Éireann and to assist this House in the assessment of proposals for major public expenditure and in the oversight and scrutiny of the management and delivery of those projects.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"commends the Government on:
—making available unprecedented levels of investment to urgently tackle infrastructural priorities, including investment of €36.3 billion planned for the period 2005-09;
—the steps which they have taken to promote more efficient and effective management of public capital programmes and projects and to optimise value for money from public capital investment;
—the major advances already made in bridging the infrastructural and social deficits resulting from underspending in earlier periods; and
in this regard acknowledges:
—the trebling of public capital investment since 1997;
—the steps taken by Departments and agencies such as the NRA to improve their management of capital programmes and projects;
—the introduction in 2004 of rolling multi-annual capital envelopes for better management and control of public capital programmes and projects;
—the publication this year of new guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals in the public sector; and
—the Minister for Finance's plans to introduce targeted reforms to the procurement of public construction contracts and reform and modernisation of the system for employing construction-related consultants."
—(Minister for Finance).

I wish to share time with the Ministers of State, Deputy Parlon and Deputy Browne, and Deputy McGuinness and Deputy Peter Power.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I wish to support strongly the Government's amendment to this motion and will do so principally from the perspective of capital investment in local infrastructure and services. There have been significant and tangible outputs from the high levels of capital investment channelled through my Department. Good value has been obtained through new and innovative methods deployed to promote more efficient and effective management of our programmes. These include the promotion of design, build and operate — the preferred procurement method for water and wastewater treatment projects; PPPs and other joint ventures in the housing area; and producer responsibility initiatives involving business and industry in delivering higher levels of recycling.

A modernisation programme has also been underway in the local government sector for a number of years to enhance the effectiveness in the delivery of key infrastructure. Delivery of a quality customer service by local authorities has been a central objective of this process. To this end, a set of 42 service indicators, which span all the main service areas, was published in January 2004. This service indicators initiative will identify good practice, as well as areas which require improvement. I expect to see the first set of results in the summer.

This Government has made a considerable investment in social and affordable housing over the years. Since 1997, the social and affordable housing needs of 86,000 households have been met through the provision of local authority housing, vacancies arising in existing houses, and output under the other social and affordable housing measures. This year the Government will spend over €2 billion on housing measures which is double the expenditure in 2000.

To ensure we use these resources to best effect, local authorities, at my Department's request, have developed five-year action plans for their social and affordable housing programmes. The multi-annual capital framework developed by this Government allowed us to develop this more sophisticated tool for the planning and implementation of the social and affordable housing programme. This is a worthwhile step forward because there have been problems in the past when resources were turned on and off. This approach allows for better planning and management of projects and will certainly ensure that the considerable investment being made will deliver the optimum level of quality housing in a manner conducive to breaking cycles of disadvantage and dependency.

A clear indication that value for money is being achieved can be seen when we compare the cost of private housing. In 2004, the average unit cost of local authority and voluntary housing at national level was €146,000 and €155,000 respectively. This compared to €249,000 for a private house. The difference is much greater in the Dublin area.

As a result of the aforementioned investment, it is anticipated that the needs of in excess of 13,000 households will be met in 2005. In addition, a more coherent approach to housing support will see long-term recipients of supplementary welfare rent allowances moving into the new local authority rental accommodation scheme from this year. These households will continue to be accommodated mainly within the private rented sector.

This year should also see the commencement of some 5,500 housing starts by local authorities. Over 1,800 units of accommodation are forecast for completion by the voluntary and co-operative housing sector. The investment in remedial and regeneration works for run-down estates is also having real effect in improving the living conditions of many local authority tenants. The benefits of this programme are particularly visible in Ballymun where many families have already settled into their new houses.

I was pleased to introduce a much needed central heating programme last year for local authority housing. This programme assisted some 2,900 households in its first year and is bringing real quality-of-life improvements for families and elderly people in particular.

Inroads into Traveller accommodation are also being made. During the period of the first Traveller accommodation programme from 2000 to 2004, a total of €130 million was expended on the provision of new and refurbished Traveller accommodation. In the same period, the number of families on unauthorised sites was halved from 1,207 families at the start of the programme to 610.

Significant progress has also been made in addressing the need for emergency accommodation for the homeless. Our focus is now on developing longer term options. We expect to deliver about 12,000 affordable housing units between 2005 and 2007.

Electronic voting has been referred to in the course of the debate. I am convinced of the benefits it will achieve in modernising our electoral processes, including more democratic outcomes through the minimisation of invalid votes, more accurate counting of votes, the provision of a higher level of service to the public, and greater flexibility and speed in the voting and counting processes. I acknowledge there have been difficulties with e-voting but when the system was first introduced it had many hosannas from all sides of the House. We must ensure that when we come through the testing process we can re-establish some confidence in it.

In tandem with the ongoing work of the independent commission on electronic voting, my Department is developing a programme of further assessment, testing and validation of the chosen system, which is intended to address the issues raised by the commission.

What about the €53 million?

More money down the drain.

The Minister, without interruption.

The objective of this programme is to demonstrate, both to the commission, the general public——

Where are the machines and what will the Minister do with them?

——and to the most obdurate Member of the House, that the electronic system is suitable to be used in Irish elections.

We have made a large-scale commitment to our water services infrastructure in recent years. For example, compliance with the 2005 targets in the EU urban wastewater directive, which stood at 25% at the start of the NDP period, had risen to 90% at the end of December 2004. In addition, we have seen the completion of many large wastewater treatment plants including Ringsend, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Wexford, Drogheda and Dundalk.

As of December 2004, the increase in wastewater treatment capacity provided since 2000 was equivalent to the needs of a population of 3 million. By any objective standards that is remarkable progress. Rapid progress has also been made to eliminate substandard water supplied by group water schemes. Extraordinary work is being done in that regard.

Major infrastructural deficits in waste management have been addressed by the environment fund, financed by the plastic bag and landfill levies. Since 2002, over €50 million worth of grant allocations have been made from the environment fund to finance waste and recycling infrastructure.

Significant progress has also been made in increasing recycling provision since 1998, including bring banks, recycling centres and separate bin collections for recyclable material. The recycling rates we are achieving are impressive. The overall recycling rate has been accelerating rapidly, from 9% in 1998 to 28% in 2003.

Packaging waste recycling was 42% in 2003, up from less than 15% in 1998. EPA figures show that the percentage of municipal waste being landfilled fell from 92% in 1998 to 78% in 2003. While we should celebrate these successes we do, of course, have a long way to go.

A national waste prevention programme was launched in April last year with funding of €2 million. More progress has been made than we could have imagine a few years ago, and it will be sustained in the coming years.

I also wish to refer to non-national roads, which are so important in creating local and national interconnections. We have seen a dramatic improvement in our non-national road network under this Government. Since 1996, around €1.4 billion has been allocated to county councils for improvement works under the ten-year restoration programme. From 1997 to the end of 2004 it is estimated that more than 34,000 km, or 73% of the then deficient network, will have been restored to an acceptable condition. Some 49 strategic non-national road schemes in 15 local authorities have been approved for funding. These critically important schemes will facilitate the provision of more than 44,000 housing units and benefit more than 900 hectares of industrial land when completed.

The EU co-financed specific improvement grants scheme for widening and realignment works on non-national roads is also important for employment and economic activity. In 2004 approximately 240 km of such roads were improved. The allocation in 2005 is €89.5 million for 226 schemes.

The capacity of public administration here has been recognised by international commentators, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as one of our strengths. It is a key positive factor for Irish competitiveness. The Opposition is doing a disservice to trivialise the extraordinary achievements of recent years in developing our infrastructure. Much has been done and more will be done under this Government. Most of our major capital projects are delivered through private sector consultants and contractors and an increasing number of services involve public private partnerships.

It is right that we should demand high performance and a commitment to continuous improvement from all public bodies. This is a guiding objective for me in my leadership of the local government sector. In this regard the Government and I will continue to demand accelerated delivery of infrastructure, efficient use of resources and value for money for the taxpayer.

I am glad of the opportunity to respond to certain topics covered recently in the media concerning the OPW and in particular the issue of the acquisition of buildings and lands to house asylum seekers for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's Reception and Integration Agency.

The RIA asked the OPW to assist in sourcing suitable accommodation facilities for the large numbers of people coming to this country seeking asylum. This presented a significant challenge in meeting the chronic shortage of accommodation for these people. We looked at several solutions including the purchase of lands that were deemed suitable for temporary accommodation, and also buildings or hotels that provided an immediate response. All of the properties purchased for use as accommodation for asylum seekers were acquired at the behest of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the RIA and with their and Department of Finance approval.

It is all very well for programmes like "Prime Time" to investigate Government dealings but it is unfortunate that this programme did not present a broader, balanced view of the subject. Highlighting specific buildings and lands without mentioning the background and many of the reasons behind the purchases of various sites and their current status somewhat sensationalised a very important issue.

The Deputy should get Deputy Noel O'Flynn to call them in.

The Private Members' motion lists sites that "were never used and that remain empty". This makes for easy remarks and jibes and portrays an idea of so-called waste. However, it did not mention that these properties were the subject of long, drawn-out legal action in opposition to their intended use. That the buildings could not be used while such cases dragged on is the salient point that was omitted from the programme and from the Private Members' motion. Nor did the programme refer to the fact that the State has won all aspects of the only case resolved to date, that is Broc House. The two properties mentioned in the programme are in the care of the OPW and if considered surplus to requirements they will be sold or put to other State use.

A specific piece of film showed lands at Leggethsrath, County Kilkenny, which were to be used to house asylum seekers in system-built accommodation. The programme referred to the cost of the land, buildings and storage, but not to the fact that buildings would have been constructed but for local objections and legal action initiated. It did not mention that the lease on this land has been terminated and that many of these system-built buildings have been put to other State use and there are no storage costs involved, as the remainder are on State lands. It did not refer to the numbers of asylum seeker applications, which at the time of these purchases, 2000, was more than 11,000 and with every indication of moving upward. Thanks to Government action we have seen these numbers reduce to just over 4,000 in 2004.

I am not a television producer but I am a believer in fair comment. A more balanced approach would have been to highlight other properties such as Park Lodge Hotel, Killarney, Atlas House, Tralee or sites that were developed and had mobile homes installed, such as those at Ballymullen Barracks, Tralee, Kildare town and Athlone. All of these are currently occupied by asylum seekers. A system-built accommodation centre has been completed at Knockalisheen just outside Limerick city, which is also currently occupied. The former Cork Airport Hotel has been developed as a system-built accommodation centre and is also currently occupied.

I could go on explaining each and every site purchase, which is something the "Prime Time" programme did not allow, but I reassure the house that I abhor waste just as much as any other Member here and I will continue to ensure that while I have responsibility for the OPW it will deliver value for money in all tasks undertaken. My record to date in transforming State assets speaks for itself. Only last year the OPW sold €l00 million worth of property in Dublin and I expect a similar amount will be sold this year, which is over and above requirements. Such amounts are very significant returns to the Exchequer and we have yet to see what decentralisation brings.

There is a developing mythology that the Government's public capital programme involves projects that are of little public benefit and that, in the words of the Opposition motion, are "a total waste of money". This is neither a balanced nor an accurate view.

The Punchestown agricultural and equestrian exhibition and event centre is occasionally mentioned in this context. This centre is a valuable asset to the agricultural and equestrian industry in Ireland. It provides a top-class facility for the sector to display the quality of Irish agricultural and equine product in an appropriate setting of international standard. It hosted the prestigious European eventing and distance riding championship in 2003 which attracted large numbers of overseas visitors to Ireland and received wide international press and television coverage in Europe and beyond.

With regard to funding, the estimates for this project came before Deputies on eight different occasions, four in the House and four in the select committee. In so far as opposition Deputies had anything to say about Punchestown, they were generally supportive. The PAC report of March 2004 on the Punchestown centre acknowledged that the Department's controls and administrative procedures in the completion of the project were thorough. There were no cost overruns. Paragraph 4.18 of the report is quite clear on this matter. The PAC had concerns about the evaluation of the project and asked that a post project review be carried out. I understand such a review is now nearing completion and will be sent to the PAC shortly.

I turn to the movement of laboratory facilities from Abbotstown to Backweston. Is anyone seriously suggesting that the development of state of the art laboratories to underpin food safety controls for an industry that supplies consumers in one hundred and sixty countries world wide is a waste of money? Apart from food safety concerns, the dominant challenge facing the food industry is the production of quality, innovative and nutritious food products for the international consumer at highly competitive prices. It is essential that our laboratory service is equipped to play its role in the provision of testing and research services that are vital for the development of a modern agri-food industry.

Without these facilities, Ireland's food industry would be outstripped and outpaced by others who possess the necessary capability to meet these demands. It is essential that major capital projects and public expenditure generally be well managed and properly controlled. On that we are all agreed.

The Minister of State at the Department of Finance has already mentioned the new guidelines for the appraisal and management of public capital projects, which will make a significant contribution to this overall aim. Apart from that, this Government has placed considerable emphasis in recent years on a programme of change management in the public service, and on the development of best practice models of financial control and management comparable with the best the private sector has to offer.

I see the tangible benefits of these policies in my Department, which in many respects has led the way regarding the implementation of this change agenda. The Department's corporate framework includes a modern, powerful accounts and financial management system, a formal risk management system which was the first if its kind in the Civil Service, a well resourced internal audit unit, an audit committee under private sector chairmanship, and an accreditation review group, chaired by the Secretary General and with senior Department of Finance representation, to scrutinise departmental adherence to EU financial control standards. In addition, as part of the ongoing development of financial systems, the Department has provided significant financial training to all staff, and this will be an ongoing process in the future.

Apart from these structures, the Department is subjected to a level of external audit unmatched in any private sector organisation. Audit bodies include the EU Commission, the European Court of Auditors, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the EU's anti-fraud office and independent external auditors who certify its FEOGA guarantee account.

The developments I have described and other aspects of the Government's initiatives on the modernisation of the public service are being achieved while ensuring customer service standards are not adversely affected, effective administration and corporate governance are maintained and the industrial relations and human resource issues are addressed appropriately. These are all part of a programme of change which is, as we speak, resulting in the provision of higher standards of management, financial control, transparency and accountability and, ultimately, service to the public. For all these reasons, I support the Government amendment and commend it to the House.

We have reached this point in the value for money debate because our economic success has surpassed our ability to deal with its consequences. Our public servants, both in the public service and Civil Service, are more used to spending pennies than billions. Moreover, many Members allowed themselves to be persuaded that the euphemism "beyond political control" meant something other than "politicians could not be trusted". We now find ourselves in a position in which, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the unaccountable and possibly unprofessional are being pursued by the unempowered and possibly uninformed. We cannot allow this to continue.

The sight of the public service coming off second best against well resourced professionals in the private sector will no longer be tolerated by the public. We cannot achieve value for money unless our public service is efficient, professional and accountable and power, responsibility and sanctions rest in the hands of those the public elected to govern. Our public service has a well deserved reputation for honesty and impartiality and is full of good people. It is, however, far behind the times and needs to transform itself into a modern service which can make a substantial contribution to meeting the challenges Ireland faces in the global marketplace. A confident, vibrant and efficient public service would be an enormous asset but to achieve this end, it must embrace change.

Autocratic and obsolete management styles and systems and restrictive practices which limit individual growth and possibilities and value caution and longevity above enthusiasm, creativity and ability must be swept to one side. There are too many square, well meaning but unqualified pegs in round professional holes in our public service and it will be impossible to obtain value while this continues to be the case.

The National Roads Authority had no accountant or cost accountant for years, an unbelievable lapse which cost the country tens of millions of euro. In the public service some human resource managers responsible for the working lives of thousands and internal auditors responsible for tens of millions of euro in public money have no professional qualifications or perhaps even ability in the relevant areas. It is in the interests of the public service and country that this does not continue.

Ireland cannot run a Rolls Royce economy indefinitely on flat bureaucratic tyres. Too much money is being lost and public trust in politicians and public servants is at an all time low. More power must be given to the Committee of Public Accounts and Comptroller and Auditor General to investigate and sanction. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General must be expanded and become involved in areas such as procurement, contract negotiations and the maintenance of professional standards across all Departments as well as local authorities which are groaning under the weight of inefficiencies. It is unacceptable that local authorities are not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and I urge the Minister to change the position sooner rather than later.

The Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General should be principally engaged in securing the future, investigating the past and ensuring Departments have — or hire — professionals when they are needed, systems which are effective, efficient and transparent and, in general, that our public service is as much the envy of our European partners as is our economy and develops into a source of challenge, satisfaction and pride to all those who work in it.

Deputies can argue about blame ad nauseam but it is a futile exercise. Successive Governments of all hues under-invested in our public service, both in terms of finance and imagination, for many years. Civil Service reform is the elephant in the Chamber which is being studiously ignored tonight while Deputies score useless political points off one another.

In the limited available to me I will focus on just one aspect of the Labour Party motion which alleges major cost overruns in the roads element of the national development plan. It is no coincidence that the motion was tabled one week after the broadcast of a "Prime Time Investigates" programme on public expenditure. It is unfortunate that the motion is predicated on the programme as it can be easily demonstrated that its research and analysis was seriously flawed and deficient. At best, the broadcast showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the manner in which the roads programme is delivered. At worst, it constituted a distortion of the facts which misled the viewer. I suggest it was probably a combination of both possibilities which was, nevertheless, unfortunate given RTE's special position as a public service broadcaster.

The "Prime Time Investigates" programme failed in its obligation to present the facts in an objective and impartial manner. It featured selective cherry-picking of projects in a manner which misled the viewer in an attempt to sensationalise an important policy issue. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the Labour Party motion refers to the programme as the basis of the motion.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport has examined the issue before us on a number of occasions and my comments are made with the benefit of the committee's deliberations. To draw a direct correlation between the under-estimation of the cost of infrastructural projects and overruns is a fundamental misrepresentation. In this debate the juxtapositioning of the three words, "underestimate", "overrun" and "waste", is at best confusing and at worst disingenuous.

I compliment the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, on acknowledging last night that instances of overruns have occurred over the years and certain issues could have been managed better. There were clear deficiencies in the manner in which the cost estimates of these projects were arrived at but the key question is what was the Government's response. Deputies must also remember that the Government did not cause the problem. To present the difference between an underestimate in the first instance and an eventual outturn as an overrun is disingenuous. Everybody in the business knows only one figure counts, namely, the tender figure upon which the Government makes a decision to proceed with a project. This figure is the only basis on which it is legitimate for the Opposition to criticise the Government.

Many of the difficulties associated with pricing and outturn figures for contracts can be directly attributed to the old form CIS price variation contract, in particular, the variable price clause No. 17. I have experience of negotiating these contracts and it is clear that these old style contracts, which were in place in the late 1990s, suited the traditional method of public procurement when there was much less activity in the public infrastructure development field and greater competition in the market. However, when the amount, scale and value of the contracts exceeded the capacity of the construction industry to deliver on these projects, they turned out to be a disaster and contributed significantly to the outturn problem Deputies have been discussing. Simply put, the old style contracts virtually gave the contractor a blank cheque. Regrettably, the "Prime Time Investigates" programme completely ignored this fact when it was apparent to everybody in the industry, including contractors, their advisers and quantity surveyors, that this was the case. If the programme had been researched properly, this fact would have become apparent. It should have formed part of the programme because it would have provided the balance it sadly lacked.

The key issue is what was the Government's response when the under-estimation became apparent. The Labour Party motion repeatedly accuses the Government of delay in addressing the issue but the reality is that steps were taken to begin to address it in 2000, three years into the Government's term of office. The irony is that a number of the under-estimates were made between 1994 and 1997.

That does not wash.

I will not blame the Labour Party for that because I accept the significant difficulties associated with preparing such estimates.

The Deputy should join the queue of those pinning the blame on the Labour Party.

In any event, such estimates have little relevance in the Government's decision to proceed. Many accusations were made about the over-design of roads projects, especially the provision of over-capacity. I cannot accept this argument. I do not know of any road built in the last 40 years that has too much capacity; the country is littered with examples to the contrary. Only this morning, the Taoiseach made this point about the M50 and Dublin Airport.

Can the Opposition name a single road that is carrying fewer cars than it was designed for? It can criticise our judgment on the issue but it should not dress it up in emotive terms like those in the motion and describe it as cost overrun. It is an insult to our intelligence and does a disservice to this important issue.

Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don tairiscint thábhachtach seo i dtaobh an bhealach scanallaigh atá airgead an phobail curtha amú ag an Rialtas. I support this motion highlighting the scandalous waste of public funds and hard earned taxpayers' money by this incompetent and irresponsible Government.

In the time available I will refer to two of the most blatant examples of waste in recent times. The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, squandered €60 million on electronic voting machines, with ongoing costs. Recently, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, purchased a farm for €30 million when a few weeks later, a farm of similar size a short distance away was sold for a fifth of that price. These are prime examples. In any other Parliament or in a private business, that sort of incompetence and wastefulness would have resulted in the enforced resignation of the Ministers involved but not here. Why not? Because the whole Government is at it and it is a part of a culture of waste and irresponsible squandering. The end result is that those who suffer are those most in need in society. They must pay the price.

Two examples have come to my attention in recent days. A person in my constituency is on disability allowance of €148.50 per week and her father died, having worked for a bank all of his life. She was awarded an orphan's pension by the bank of a mere €7.74 per week. What did the Department of Social and Family Affairs do? It assessed that amount against her disability allowance and reduced it by €5 to €143.50 per week. This family, having lost the father and main earner, was further penalised by this Government's policies in a most insensitive and despicable manner.

I was contacted today by the family resource centre in Hill Street in the most disadvantaged area of Dublin's inner city. This centre works with 125 families with children under five years of age but it is faced with closure, taking this service from the community, because this Government refuses to decide on its future funding. These examples show how the most vulnerable in our society are treated by a penny pinching Government while the same Government squanders shamelessly from the public purse.

Irrespective of the Government in power, we would be having this debate about overruns in public contracts. There is very little that can be done about it other than talking. There is a culture that leads people to believe these things are coming off a broad back. We must put a system in place that establishes where such contracted expenditure went wrong and that polices public servants. It would raise a flag if a project went off course and costs went askew.

Abuses occur when companies lob in a quotation in the clear knowledge that it matters little when it overruns. The culture exists that it will get paid anyway and no one will back off when the contract has started. Cost overruns happen in individual projects and it is urgent that they should be monitored and individuals made accountable, be it the Minister or the public servant who awarded the contract.

A further scandal I have raised many times at health board meetings that can be stopped is the waste of public money on rent and leases. This is pouring money down the drain. Legislation should be changed to allow Health Service Executive areas to buy property instead of leasing it. It is the same amount of money. It would mean they would be a good borrower and after 20 years, they would have an asset. The only person winning from this is the landlord. He knows his income comes in every year and we have nothing at the end. If any of my family was spending the same to rent a property as it would cost to buy it, I would tell him or her to stop and think again. We need new legislation to address this. The taxpayer funds this and it creates bad habits and sloppy management. Year after year I have seen €500,000 year long contracts being signed where the first thing that is done is €1 million is spent on the building that is still being rented.

Psychiatric institutions are well placed in town centres. These should not be sold but used as green field sites for the building of new health offices. We should think long and hard before we do anything else with those buildings.

The Council for the West is meeting politicians across the road. It is talking about the gross underspend on the west. This is the burning issue and those across the road have been talking for some time about the terrible deprivation in the west. All this money that has been overspent has been wasted. If the Government got off its backside and gave the money to projects that deserve it instead of its mean approach, where it will spend money on daft projects and mismanagement, the country would be much better.

The bill for the illegal nursing home charges will come to €1 billion. What would that have done? The western rail corridor requires €365 million. The Minister for Transport came to Mayo this week and, as Yeats said, spoke "polite, meaningless words". It was all aspiration and no substance on the western rail corridor but he could spend €50 million on an electronic voting system that did not work and thousands more on a PR consultant who did not seem to work either.

There was talk of upgrading Cork Airport for a cost of more than €160 million. How will this money be spent or will the end figure be double that? We heard all about the second terminal for Dublin Airport today. What about the position at Knock Airport? At one end of the country, 500,000 are using an airport that would serve 13 counties while on the east coast, which is already falling into the Irish Sea under the weight of congestion, it is projected that there will be 38 million passengers passing through the airport by 2025. It does not make sense.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion on the shocking waste of taxpayers' money highlighted in recent programmes and reports.

As a taxpayer and public representative, I find it a disgraceful abuse of trust by the politicians and senior management teams who are responsible. It is another example of gross inefficiency and economic vandalism of our public finances. There is no point beating around the bush on this issue. Our citizens are hopping mad and deserve real accountability.

Let us look at the hard facts. The Government spent over €30 million on a farm valued at just over €4 million in north County Dublin. The Battle of the Boyne site, which could have been bought for €2.7 million, was bought instead by a private business and then sold on to the OPW 18 months later for €7.8 million. Renovation of the court house in Cork, estimated to cost €6.5 million, ended up costing the taxpayer the somewhat larger figure of €26.5 million. Some 30 road projects were estimated to cost €932 million but set us back €2.97 billion. Roads projects were 86% over budget, a waste of taxpayers' money. These amounts of finance could have ended the patients on trolleys scandal for ever, bought all the new schools needed or made a major dent in housing waiting lists. Many wonder whether the Government is doing such a great job with taxpayers' money — the answer is no.

On Dublin's north side, massive cost overruns have been incurred on the Dublin Port tunnel project. There are difficulties for the residents of Marino, Fairview, Drumcondra and Santry where there are over 200 damaged homes above the route of the tunnel. Now the project will be twice its projected cost. I call on the Government to implement the recommendations of the NESF study and to wake up to the real world about spending taxpayers' money. I urge all Deputies to support this motion as it is about taxpayers' money, our citizens and quality pricing.

The difficulty in keeping account of the Government's squandermania is that as soon as a figure is put on paper, it is immediately out of date. The motion refers to the €7 billion figure for the roads programme in the national development plan. The original cost was placed at €5.8 billion. The figure of €16 billion, referred to in the annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, has since been updated by a report released last week by the Committee of Public Accounts, outlining the figure at €18 billion. Even that figure does not take into account projects under construction, with cost overruns, and projects yet to begin with their costs adjusted.

Deputy Finian McGrath referred to the cost overrun on the Dublin Port tunnel project. However, even before an inch of tarmac has been laid on the M50 upgrade, its cost has been readjusted from €300 million to €800 million. The likelihood is that the €16 billion, adjusted to €18 billion, will end up at €20 billion and rising. The clock in Times Square that shows the world's population increasing by three every second should be placed outside Leinster House to show the amount in overspending the Government is clocking up every minute. It is not an exaggeration to say that all the overruns put together by the Government would probably amount to a whole year's expenditure by any other government — one year in eight wasted by poor management.

Most overruns have occurred in the roads programme leading to serious questions not only of the State agencies involved but also of political control. The NRA should be renamed the no refunds allowed. Is the Government taking this debate seriously? One of the first Ministers to speak on the motion yesterday evening, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, is responsible for the most inflated aspects of the Government's capital programme. When Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, he had personal responsibility for overseeing the electronic voting fiasco at a cost of €50 million, rising at €1 million every year. He was the Minister who could not fight his way out of a paper bag to ensure the Government fulfilled its commitments under the Kyoto Agreement and avoided future costs. He is the last person who should be in the Cabinet, let alone the one to be making an argument on the proper control of public expenditure.

There is considerable merit in the Labour Party's motion. Several states have an office of budget control in their governmental systems. There is a logic to Ireland pursuing such a system. As a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I would argue that its terms of reference must be examined. Given these ongoing overspends, it is time it became more proactive. Its terms of reference, by their very nature, make the committee reactive rather than proactive. The committee must be given the power to examine projects under construction to see where overruns occur and to make suggestions as to how they can be stopped. The committee should also decide who takes political responsibility.

Where is the political accountability for Punchestown, the residential redress board deal and the overcharging of residents in nursing homes? There is none because our system of government lacks the mechanism in which people can be put on trial for decisions taken on public expenditure. Due to the governmental culture we have, everyone else, not the politicians, is to blame. The Government has practised this mantra more than others. There will be similar debates to this one until there is a culture of culpability and willingness to accept that public money is not there to be used as a tap to be turned on and off for the political manoeuvrings of the Government parties.

Sinn Féin supports this motion. As my party's spokesperson on finance, I have repeatedly raised in this Chamber and at the Committee on Finance and the Public Service the massive profiteering by developers who exploite publicly-funded projects. On Taoiseach's questions today, we heard again of the astronomical cost to the State of sitting tribunals. The Taoiseach asvised that €200 million to date has been spent, and we note that the metre is still running. The Taoiseach also outlined the details of deals done between the Government and the various tribunals to cut down on the legal costs, a matter repeatedly raised by me and other Members in this House. While the Government eventually took action, how much of that €200 million could have been saved if the Government had heeded the calls of Opposition Members for a considerable time, outlining our concerns and seeking modification of payments made to the legal profession in these tribunals?

Astronomical as the costs of the tribunals are, they pale beside the monumental cost overruns identified in this motion. What has been happening under the so-called Celtic tiger far exceeds the abuses being investigated by the planning and payments to politicians tribunals. The scandal is compounded by the fact that most of these overruns are apparently legal and have been facilitated by the policies and practices of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government.

The Government's responses in its amendment and its contributions to this debate have been disingenuous. It is painting the supporters of the motion in the wrong by claiming we oppose development and new and improved infrastructure. No Member is arguing that our infrastructure, including transport infrastructure, should not be developed. On the contrary, we want it done in a timely, efficient, equitable and properly planned manner. The issue in this debate is the cost and the mismanagement of projects.

The last paragraph of the Minister's amendment refers to his plans to introduce targeted reforms to the procurement of public construction contracts and reform and modernisation of the system for employing construction-related consultants. However, similar to the reform of tribunal lawyers fees, it comes late in the day, after the profiteers have made their money. The most shocking figure in the "Prime Time" programme was the estimation for the average cost overrun for the National Roads Authority project at86%. An international expert in this field stated the global average overrun in comparable developments would be in the order of 20%.

In Ireland, the developers and consultants have been making profits not dreamed of anywhere else in Europe, at the taxpayers' expense, and as has been said by other Members, we are all taxpayers. They have been facilitated by Government neglect and the creation of the State's largest quango, the National Roads Authority. The NRA is funded by monies voted by this Dáil, yet no Minister is accountable to the Dáil for the decisions of that body. It is about to drive a motorway through the historic Tara-Skryne valley, a heartland of our national heritage, and no Minister will come into this House and give account or justification for that decision.

The same Pontius Pilate exercise is being acted out daily regarding our health services. I refer specifically to the Health Service Executive and its use as a smokescreen by the current Minister for Health and Children. Every searching question seeking relevant and important information put to the Minister by Opposition Deputies is being kicked to touch to the Health Service Executive in the respective region or to its central office in Naas, County Kildare. Then we wait. We are supposed to get a four-day turnover with regard to responses on these important matters, but the HSE can now decide that we can wait at their pleasure. We can have no further recourse to questions in regard to the answers it gives.

This is a disgrace. We do not have a Minister for Health and Children: we have the HSE. Either the HSE appointee currently in situ or the future chief executive, to be confirmed, should probably come into the Chamber to answer these important questions.

If there were proper scrutiny and accountability in the Oireachtas, many of the scandals referred to in this motion presented by the Labour Deputies would not have happened. Massive sums of public money would have been saved and could have been spent, not on pet projects like Punchestown, on bungled efforts such as e-voting, or on sweetheart deals concluded with the religious orders, but on areas where there is real need, in the sector for people with disabilities, and special needs education for children. I fully support this motion.

I wish to share time with Deputies McManus and Bruton.

I will relate the case of a constituent, whom I do not wish to identify. He is a man in his mid-60s who has been battling cancer for the past year. He has worked all his life in paid employment, as an employee, and running his own business for the past two decades in a self-employed capacity. He has always paid his way and never claimed anything from the State.

Arising from his illness, this man applied some time ago for a disability allowance and eventually got a letter from the Department of Social and Family Affairs awarding him a weekly disability allowance of €1.30. As it happened, this communication arrived on the same day of the "Prime Time" programme about overspending in the various public programmes. When the man's wife contacted me the following morning, she wanted to know why our State, with all the wealth available to it, can be so penny-pinching when it comes to someone with a real need, and who has worked all his life, and yet at the same time be so profligate when it comes to spending on major infrastructural projects. Why is it that everything this man got by way of a private pension, and every little bit of savings the couple had, is trawled over in assessing eligibility for a disability allowance, whereas billions can be overspent on everything from roads to electronic voting?

I listened to Deputy McGuinness, who made a very significant contribution to the public debate on overspending. I admire the work he has done in his capacity as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. He would probably tell the family of the man in question that this situation arises because — I hope I am quoting him accurately — our public service is better at saving pence than at spending millions.

I listened to Deputy McGuinness on radio recently making a somewhat similar comment, on which he elaborated this evening. He said the answer to the overspending on public projects is to change the Civil Service. I do not doubt that changes and reforms need to be made in the Civil Service, or that there may be some square pegs in round holes. However, it is not acceptable that a Deputy on the Government side, in a party which has been in office for almost 20 years, and continuously in office over the past eight years, can come in and dump on the public service for what at the end of the day are the failures of Government.

What do people on the Government side of the House think Ministers are for? Do they think a Minister's role in regard to a public project is confined to announcing it — sometimes several times — to turning the sod, to topping it out, to being photographed when the cord is being pulled and the plaque being unveiled? Do they think Ministers have no role at all regarding the management and control of public expenditure as it progresses? If there is no accountant in the National Roads Authority, as Deputy McGuinness said, does that authority now report to the Minister for Transport and did it report before that to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government? Are these the requirements that a Minister who is actually doing his or her job should be addressing?

The bottom line is that money is overspent in this country primarily because the Ministers are not doing their jobs. One can have some sympathy with the position of the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, but if he can say that for €1 million overspent in the Abbey Theatre, there ought to be changes in the board, what kind of changes do we need in Government to supply answerability for the kind of overspending for which this Government has been responsible?

The record of this Government with regard to health care is one of betrayal. Time after time, solemn promises made to the people have been jettisoned by the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, and then by his successor in that role, Deputy Harney. Meanwhile, patients continue, as always, to wait for treatment, for a bed or for a medical card.

The public is by now aware of the duplicity of the Government. What is less known is the culpability of those Ministers when it comes to the squandering of resources that could have alleviated suffering but were re-directed elsewhere. In 2001 the Taoiseach, with the support of the Tánaiste and her party, introduced, for purely electoral reasons, the over-70s medical card scheme. It was to cost €19 million annually but actually cost €51 million annually. That is bad value for the taxpayer, bad politics and bad health policy. We now have a situation where doctors are paid almost four times more to care for their rich elderly patients as they are paid for caring for their poor elderly patients.

Ever since that Faustian pact was struck with the doctors, the number of medical cards for those who need them most has been dropping. The decline has continued right through the term of office of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, with yet another 5,000 people losing their medical cards since September 2004. Her promise to provide 30,000 new medical cards is a bad joke, one being played out against low-income families who simply cannot afford to see a doctor.

When I raised this issue with the Minister the other day, she said that as people get richer, it may well be that fewer qualify for medical cards. There is something quite ludicrous about that statement when one considers the income limits for medical cards. A single person living alone who earns more than €153.19 weekly does not qualify for a medical card. A married couple with four children does not qualify if the couple's weekly income exceeds €357.20. This is not about people getting richer but about those struggling to survive, and a Government which has cheated them.

The nursing home charges scandal is another example of waste but it seems the Government cannot even acknowledge that fact. In the House, the Taoiseach defended the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, by saying that, had the Minister acted earlier, it would have only saved €50 million. The implication was that this amount was only peanuts. However, the Taoiseach is so disconnected from ordinary people that he is unaware of how much difference €50 million would make, for example, to the home help service, which is experiencing cutbacks, or to schemes for people with disabilities. Apart from that, if the Minister, Deputy Martin, had acted when he should have, as much as €500 million might have been saved.

The Government is so used to wasting money it has lost touch with reality. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, who lectured the rest of us on standards in public office when she was in opposition, has protected her Cabinet colleague to an unworthy, even despicable, degree. While a civil servant fell on his sword, the incompetence and hubris of the Minister, Deputy Martin were rewarded with a Cabinet position. The Government is not wasting resources alone. A serious undermining of standards of political accountability built up over generations exposes a terrible cynicism residing at the heart of the Government.

I congratulate the Labour Party on tabling the motion, which is timely and appropriate. The common factor in all the cases of chronic overruns and poor costings is that no Minister has ever taken responsibility. The former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, did not take responsibility for steamrolling through procedures to pursue the Punchestown project. The former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, did not read his brief on nursing home charges, nor did he heed warnings as he entered meetings. He has taken no responsibility for the potential bill of €2 billion, if the early estimates are realised, or the sum of €1 billion, according to the most recent estimates. According to him, it is not the Minister's job to read his brief or heed warnings. That is too complicated for a busy Minister who must fly around the place doing God knows what.

Similarly, baubles were offered at election time to curry votes, whether in regard to the medical card system or the pre-1953 pensions. They were produced as great strokes by Ministers but the costings were absolutely chronically wrong. However, no Minister has ever put his or her hand up to say "Sorry, I got that wrong, I have to take the hit".

However, there is a deeper issue than simply the cost overruns brought to our attention by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The problem is the Government does not focus on value for money. Over the past five years, the Government has increased spending by 66%, or €21 billion, but there has been little to show for it because the attention of Ministers has been diverted to political campaigning rather than delivering quality services.

In the 24 months prior to the last general election, the Government let all hell break out in spending, which increased by 48%. There was no shortage of money to throw at any project. Good habits built up over generations, particularly under the influence of spending EU funding wisely, were thrown out the window in a short few years to curry favour with the electorate, and procedures which had served us well for many years were steamrolled. During that period, priorities were blurred, analyses were perfunctory, management systems were swamped by Government spending proposals and no proper targets were set or measured, yet much of this emanated from the top.

One would expect high standards from the former Minister for Finance, but there is no mistaking he took political opportunities with the Punchestown project and the special savings incentive scheme and did not conduct the analysis that is expected. The Taoiseach did the same with his pet projects. He paid no heed to proper cost analysis while rosy projections were offered and commitments of public money were made, which went down the drain. How can it be expected that people down the line will take responsibility for spending money wisely when that approach is taken at the top?

We have witnessed the consequences of this approach. For example, Deputy McManus elaborated on the health service. Ministers boast that spending in this area has trebled, but the funding has not made it to the front line because the Ministers responsible have not attended to the needs of ordinary people and the money has been sucked into various bureaucratic scams. Four health boards were created in Dublin, where previously there was one, but it was then proposed to merge them under one national scheme. That was a major bureaucratic waste. An additional 3,500 staff were recruited into the hospital system but only 400 were nurses. Administrative grades in the health system expanded at four times the rate of grades employing front-line staff. People were not put in the positions where they were needed and the result is the chronic problems in accident and emergency departments.

This has been repeated in other areas, for example, crime. The smallest amount was invested in recruiting extra gardaí who are at the front line of the fight against crime. We wonder why there has been an explosion of violence on our streets and murders are committed on a regular basis. Decisions were made to downgrade the importance of the Garda. The tiniest increase in staff was sanctioned for the force. The State recruited 60,000 additional staff but the Garda only received sanction for fewer than 1,000, even though members were at the front line trying to deal with major problems. That is how money was misspent.

There is no willingness on the part of the Government to set itself performance indicators regarding issues that matter to people. It should outline how long it will take to deliver health care, what impact it will make on detection rates and what it will do about drug seizures, and it should meet those targets. Instead, the Government announces multi-million euro projects and says it will be judged by such projects and the sheer enormity of its vision. What makes a difference is the hard graft of making sure projects work and are delivered on time. The Luas will go down as a great example of how not to do this. It was originally costed at €300 million as part of an integrated public transport system but, following four years of Government dithering, it cost four times the original estimate and it has not achieved the integration and impact on the city's needs that it ought to have, given the sum invested.

Those are the consequence of not paying attention to value for money or conducting proper analyses before decisions are taken, and nobody is willing to stand up and take the hit when things go wrong. Someone must take the hit but it is always clear with the Government that Ministers will not take the hit.

It is 11 years since the strategic management initiative was launched. At its core was a commitment to evaluate public spending so that Governments would be much more careful about decisions on spending. It is an absolute scandal that the expenditure review initiative, a system that involves examining programme by programme what is delivered for each allocation, has been totally jettisoned by the Government. The initiative was to be operated on a three-year rolling basis so that every spending programme would be analysed to assess its impact. The initiative was abandoned and less then one in four of the spending evaluations occurred. Even where the spending evaluation took place, none of the lessons learned was applied in the programmes subsequently developed.

We come into the House year after year to debate Estimates, but no performance indicator is lined up against the major multi-million spending programmes we are asked to vote through. There is something rotten in the way public spending is approached and it is time the Government took responsibility for changing it, set performance indicators and started to kick ass to make sure things happen and reform is delivered. "Reform" is the one word the Government shuns on every occasion. Benchmarking offered an opportunity to kick-start reform of the public service but it was not taken. Opportunity after opportunity has been offered to face up to the changes that will deliver better quality, but whenever a line of resistance is met, the Government backs off.

We cannot go on like this. These have been the golden years of public spending. Exchequer resources have increased by between 8% and 10% per annum but they have not been used to set down a proper basis for a strong, quality public service. We will live to regret the way we have used the enormous wealth of these years. It is only at the Comptroller and Auditor General's level that we begin to see the wider shape of what has happened throughout the public service.

It is time for the Minister for Finance, who promised reform in the way budgeting is carried out, to step up to the plate and make real changes. Let Ministers, for the first time, be judged by the performance of spending in their areas. They should not step back, hide behind or blame public servants when things go wrong and simply cut ribbons and take praise when it is available.

This debate has been characterised by a negative focus on some problems that have arisen concerning the return on public expenditure. Opposition Deputies have deliberately chosen to ignore the huge advances in public services across the board, implemented by the Government and its predecessor. They have also overlooked the vital initiatives taken by the Minister for Finance and his predecessor to improve the management of capital programmes and projects. While we acknowledge that there have been problems with the capital programme and project management, the Minister for Finance, the Minister of Transport and other Ministers have pointed out that remedial steps have been taken to address these matters.

The Government was accused of stoking building cost inflation through its actions and by making unprecedented levels of resources available under the national development plan for capital investment. These resources were provided against the background, accepted by all, including those on the opposite side of the House, of the need for major acceleration in capital expenditure to address urgently our infrastructural deficit.

Given the historically low level of investment and the state of the country's infrastructure, the Government was right to provide for massively accelerated capital investment in the NDP. We have continued to give priority to public capital investment by maintaining such investment under the five-year multi-annual capital envelopes at or close to 5% of gross national product, which is approximately twice the EU average. Were it not for this investment, we would not have experienced such high levels of economic and employment growth. Neither would we be in a position to promote sustainable economic and social development and to maintain national competitiveness.

There were problems with capacity and construction cost inflation but these have been addressed. Since 2001, construction cost inflation has moderated from an annual average of 12% to less than 5%. As stated by the Minister for Transport, cost benefit analyses confirm that road improvement projects provide a high rate of return and represent good value for money, given the significant economic and social benefits that derive from improving our national road network. The majority of road projects constructed in the last two years are coming in on budget and many are ahead of schedule.

I reject accusations levelled at the Government of a lack of political leadership and of incompetence in the management of public expenditure. The opposite is the case. The investment decisions taken by this Government show political leadership and a clear vision for the future of this country. Its decisions, for example, to upgrade the scale of certain road projects to motorway or dual carriageway status, were driven by its desire to invest for the long term and address future needs. This is in contrast to the tendency of past Governments to under-invest on the basis of a short-term view of current political needs.

I remind the House of the significant measures taken by the Government to improve appraisal and management of public capital programmes and projects and generally to secure better value for money from the high levels of public expenditure through the five-year rolling multi-annual capital envelopes, guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure and rules relating to public procurement and public sector contracts.

I have been in politics long enough to remember the situation between 1982 to 1987, when there was a doubling of the national debt.

That is a fact. We could not fill a pot hole and we had an extra £13 billion at that time, which is in sharp contrast to what is happening now.

Who was running the councils at that time?

I congratulate Deputy Burton for proposing this important motion and I thank colleagues on all sides of the House who have contributed to this important and overdue debate. I note that the Minister of State concluded his contribution with an exhortation to the House to recall 1982. The dispiriting aspect of this debate is that when the Government cannot blame a previous Government, which is now a long time in the mists of history, it blames the civil servants. That has been the pattern. It is possible to detect in recent public utterances a strategy on the part of the Government whereby backbenchers and others are sent out to blame civil and public servants for the chronic mismanagement exposed by different offices of the State.

Ministers are getting it in the neck. They know that the mismanagement has happened and that the scale of it is indefensible. They are circling the wagons and blaming the civil servants. Being too long in office is by definition a bad thing as it encourages unhealthy relationships between the political and administrative masters. For that reason, being spurned, blamed, identified and scapegoated in public is particularly hurtful to civil servants who have been excessive in their zeal for and allegiance to the present Government.

Deputy Burton has afforded the House a valuable opportunity to express its concern formally about the pattern of waste, incompetent management and indecision by a tired and indecisive Government in the implementation of the national development plan and other capital expenditure projects. This tired, tetchy and incompetent Government, which is too long in office, has, as is usual on these occasions, whipped its embarrassed, awkward, silent and shuffling backbenchers into opposing and voting against what they know to be true, namely, the proposition that this Government is politically responsible and should be accountable for a shocking waste of taxpayers' money.

Deputy Peter Power blamed "Prime Time" for this debate and for misunderstanding the scale of the overruns and mismanagement of the roads programme. I want to deal with Deputy Peter Power's comment. After a "Morning Ireland" programme I was on this week I received a letter from an expert quantity surveyor involved in the business. He wrote to me along the following lines and said:

In your interview I gained the impression that you are of the belief that, whilst "mistakes" were made in the past by persons charged with the efficient supervision of public works projects, that that is now by and large a thing of the past. I respectfully disagree. . . . A significant area of abuse on public works in my opinion, particularly as regards road works, has been the use of the variation order procedure; Clause 51 in the ICI standard form of agreement. This is where a contractor is instructed to perform additional works. Its inclusion was always intended to be used sparingly where a new circumstance arises as could not reasonably have been contemplated when the engineer undertook his design prior to award. Instead, some engineers use the construction period to complete the design and/or to correct design errors which are then issued as variations.

By way of example, [he says] I attach a histogram of drawings which were revised and reissued as variations on the Ballincollig bypass. You will see that 85% of the total complement of drainage drawings had to be reissued to the contractor and that this did not begin until the seventh month of the contract calendar. The reason was that, inter alia, there were serious errors in the tender ground level information (between what is called the pre-construction “existing ground model” and the required post-construction levels) to the point that the drainage as originally designed was compromised.

He went on to make a number of other points. He made an interesting one about the filleting of the Freedom of Information Act which he used to compile information that one cannot otherwise get here. One cannot get it by way of parliamentary question. The Minister will not answer, but says it is a matter for the National Roads Authority, or whatever. He said:

In 2001, I attempted to undertake a study under the [then] Freedom of Information Acts to see if a pattern existed as regards liquidated and ascertained damages, (LADs) on public works. [As the Minister of State knows, there are many LADs in the business of public works.] My hypothesis is that despite the mandatory existence of LADs on all public works construction contracts, these provisions are never enforced. . . . Is it not remarkable how a significant number of these projects were allegedly completed 4, 5 and 6 or more months ahead of schedule? Or could it be that the times allowed for performance, and any extensions of time thereto were also "misjudged" so that many could bask in the kudos? . . .

In summary, I would reduce this letter to two observances:

1. I have never heard of a significant PI insurance claim to recover the cost of design errors in the public sector, whether disguised as variations or not, notwithstanding the Statute of Limitations. The same does not hold true in the private sector.

2. I have never heard of LADs being enforced against a main contractor for delay.

Could it be that, in both instances, an unspoken "code" exists? Moreover, people (and I include myself) forget that no public officials suffer public responsibility for such incidents, such as SIAC's deserving settlement with Limerick County Council.

Many of the Minister of State's colleagues have come in and tried to say that all has changed, that they have learned their lessons, that they were new at the job and were not able to estimate at the time, that they have now employed experts and this will not happen again. That letter from a practising professional in the business would seem to challenge that.

The Government side has heard the list set out by the proposer of the motion, Deputy Burton, and added to by colleagues on all sides of the House, including the Government side, about the extent of waste and overrun. It seems we will end up building half as much roadway as was intended by the original cost and that, by definition, some roads cannot be built, some hospital beds cannot be provided and home help hours will be cut. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs shaved €58 million off the social welfare budget. This is all happening.

I am not confusing capital and current expenditure here. Most of our capital programme is funded, unprecedentedly in Europe, from the current side. So many projects could be productively carried out in society if it was not for this gross mismanagement by the people charged with responsibility.

The Minister for Finance made a weak and watery defence of it all last night when he quoted and misrepresented the Comptroller and Auditor General. He quoted, in particular, that construction and land inflation contributed 40% of the increase or the overrun. Of course it did. Who structured the contracts in that fashion? Who entered into the deal with the IFA in respect of land purchases? Who set it up so that one could only build 8 km of road to the county boundary and so that this assisted the local contractors and friends of Fianna Fáil, rather than throwing open a piece of road and putting it out to tender throughout the European Union? Who did that? It was the Government. Ministers made that decision.

If I had time, I would like to go through some of the other misrepresentations that the Minister for Finance came out with last night in his attempt to defend the impossible. He talked about fundamental changes in the way public sector contracts are carried out. He promised these would take effect from the end of this year. He said from the end of this year, despite the fact this started in 1999. Where were all the Ministers who were in charge of it since 1999?

The Government boasts again tonight about how marvellous it is at the investment programme that for so many years was overlooked. It was overlooked for so long because the country did not have the resources for it. It has the resources now. The Government makes it seem in its amendment to the motion as if it is having a whip around the Front Bench and the Ministers are contributing their pensions in order to give us bridges and bypasses.

This money and wealth was created in the economy by the people but nobody in the Cabinet has supervised the spending. The Government set up a national development plan and for the first three years nobody was in charge. Nobody was responsible for politically driving it. There is still no one Minister responsible for driving the national development plan. I suppose that fits in with the easy excuse of "blame the civil servants" and making them responsible for what has happened.

I have a great speech here and I am sorry I do not have time to put it on the record. I was amazed to hear Deputy Peter Power blaming "Prime Time" for what has happened. The report of the Committee of Public Accounts makes it clear it did not have the "Prime Time" report when it made its findings. It abstracted a number of the roads projects and set out the spending clearly. Take, for example, a part of the country about which I know a little, from Knock to Claremorris — Knock seems to be the main hope we have of getting this Government to change; it would require a miracle to get it to exercise competent management. The Knock-Claremorris improvement was estimated to cost €19.5 million, but has ended up costing €36.044 million. The Youghal bypass was estimated to cost €10.668 million, but it has ended up costing €43.5 million. The entire projects done under this abstraction, only four, were estimated to cost €63 million, but cost €128 million.

I must point out to Deputy Peter Power that these are not figures misunderstood by "Prime Time". They are figures accurately put together by the Committee of Public Accounts and I find it difficult to accept the Deputy coming in here and trying to defend them. The important point that Deputy Burton made was that there is a pattern of waste and mismanagement. It is fair enough for Deputy Peter Power to say it is possible to defend mistakes made in respect of a single project, but we are not talking about a single project. Deputy McManus spoke about the mismanagement of the scheme of medical cards for those over the age of 70. It was calculated that the scheme would cost over €19 million, but it cost €57 million. The then Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children, Mr. Michael Kelly, who was also involved in the nursing homes issue, was given just 36 hours to consider the matter because the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, did not want what he considered to be a stroke to be leaked.

We have referred to the NRA's mishandling of roads projects. The former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, entered into an indemnity deal with religious orders on the last day of the previous Dáil without auditing the contribution they should make. He agreed to cap the contributions of religious orders at £100 million, thereby leaving taxpayers exposed to costs of up to €854 million, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

Deputies spoke about the cost to the State of the electronic voting project, the mistakes made in respect of nursing homes, the renovation of the courthouse in Cork, the purchase of a site for the Minister, Deputy McDowell's prison and the projects at Punchestown and Abbotstown. The Taoiseach told the House this morning that the tribunals have cost €200 million, which is shocking. Successive Attorneys General under this Administration fixed the fees, in co-operation with their colleagues at the Law Library.

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

I will. Some Ministers are interested in serving the interests of taxpayers, but other Ministers are more interested in cutting ribbons than in cutting waste. Many Ministers in the Cabinet prefer to avail of photo opportunities and cut ribbons, instead of reading documents and taking responsibility. They are unable to read complex briefs so they blame the Civil Service, and if they cannot blame the Civil Service, they blame the rainbow Government.

I am obliged to put the question.

I am sure the Ceann Comhairle agrees that it is scandalous.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 55.

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Stagg and Neville.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.