Other Questions.

Departmental Expenditure.

David Stanton

Question:

6 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Finance the 2009 funding allocation for disability services under the multi-annual investment programme 2006 to 2009; the expenditure under this programme each year, respectively, since it began; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38689/08]

I am replying on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Martin Mansergh. Deputy Stanton should note that my reply is in respect of the Vote held by the Office of Public Works only and that funding allocations for disability services pertaining to the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Education and Science, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be dealt with separately by those Ministers, who will reply to the Deputy.

Some €10 million was estimated in 2009 for the universal access programme, which provides for access to public buildings within the remit of the Office of Public Works. Given the adjustments to capital allocations in the current economic climate, the funds allocated for this programme will be reviewed in 2009 in light of competing demands.

In addition to the specific allocation and associated programme of works, it should be noted that all new buildings being designed by the Office of Public Works, including in respect of the decentralisation programme and all major refurbishments to existing buildings, will provide for full universal access.

The 2006-09 capital funding allocation for disability services is €25 million in subhead E of the Office of Public Works Vote. From 2006 to date, the office has expended €11,716,373 of this allocation.

I am not surprised that the Minister has decided not to answer the question asked and that he has passed responsibility to other Departments. Is he aware that the 2007 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General states the HSE has diverted funding in the order of €31 million from disability services? This is causing considerable hardship. What is the Department of Finance doing to ensure that spending by the HSE can be tracked to maintain the integrity of the Government's commitments regarding disability and mental health, both under multi-annual funding and other service plan elements? Is he aware that the 2007 national service plan, as finalised, outlined an agreed level of health and personal social services to be provided by the HSE from 2007? What role has the Department of Finance in signing off on this commitment?

Deputy Stanton will appreciate the question was tabled to the Minister of State responsible for the Office of Public Works and not to me, the Minister for Finance. If he wishes to raise questions of other Ministers in regard to their responsibilities, that course of action is open to him. However, I will certainly examine the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I sympathise with Deputy Stanton because it is very difficult to make head or tail of the Minister's reply.

Concerning the revised programme in July, the Minister said that although the HSE had expected to spend €50 million it had been slow in spending and had cut that figure back to €30 million. He said that he had put in a saving of €17 million into his July savings Estimate in respect of disability. In the budget he stated that he would expand it by €10 million. How are we expected to follow these figures? It appears to me that €7 million is missing.

The Minister also stated that he asked everyone to cut back by 3%. Surely there are people in the Department of Finance, not in the OPW, who look at the detailed budgets of each Department. That is what they used to do. The Minister does not appear to have an answer, however, as to how the detailed budget review is operating. Can he explain that?

I will have the answers when I am asked the question. The question I was asked related to the responsibilities for disability services of the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Mansergh.

The Minister never mentioned the question.

I am subject to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle but the question was put and answered in that form. Perhaps the Deputies may wish to put a question in respect of the health Vote. I can assure Deputy Burton that officers of my Department maintain careful and constant scrutiny.

If that is the case why does the Minister not answer the question?

The Chair has no function in determining——

In determining the relevance of questions——

——who should answer or the nature of the question. Replies are prepared by Departments. I call Deputy McGrath——

The reply is prepared on the basis of a question on disability services within the Office of Public Works. Concerning the wider questions raised by Deputies about financial matters relating to the Department of Heath and Children, I can say that the officers in my Department maintain a very careful and close scrutiny of the Vote of the Health Service Executive, for which Professor Drumm bears ultimate responsibility.

I call Deputy Finian McGrath. For the sake of clarity, all parliamentary questions are addressed to a member of Cabinet. They cannot be addressed to a Minister of State.

We cannot get answers concerning the HSE. They go to Professor Drumm who does not answer them.

I have two short questions. With regard to disability services and funding for 2009, will the Minister hold the line in respect of spending on those services? He did so in this budget with regard to speech therapy and cystic fibrosis services and I have commended him publicly for so doing. It is important.

I just had a telephone call from a 70 year old pensioner——

The Deputy must ask a question.

——who has a son with Down's syndrome. He is 40 years of age and she is very worried about a long-term care plan for her son——

A question, please.

Will the Minister ensure the Government does not turn its back on these people over the next few months?

I will certainly take into account the matters referred to by Deputy McGrath.

Does the Minister recall that in budget 2005, his predecessor as Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, specifically announced, in a major cost cutting programme, that he would have a disability plan? Is the Minister aware that since that plan came in the number of residential places in St Michael's House has fallen from 70 to 26 and continues to fall? I am sure he is aware of this because St. Michael's House operates in his area.

The Deputy is now giving information rather than asking for it.

I am putting context on the question. The Minister who presented this as a major budget initiative cannot just walk away and say: "That is not my job any more".

Did the Minister actually read the question I tabled before he attempted to answer it? It is addressed to the Minister for Finance rather than to the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. Can he tell me what measures are in place in his Department to ensure that moneys voted by this House, specifically for disability services, end up in that area rather than anywhere else? This has been happening. Does the Minister agree that this is the case? What are his responsiblities in this matter?

I am quite happy to assure the House that I will do all in my power to ensure that moneys voted for disability services are allocated to them. I must say that the reply and the material associated with this question were prepared on the basis that it was a question to the Minister with responsibility——

No. The Minister is dodging the question.

I am explaining to the Deputy the basis on which the reply was formulated. I am entitled to do this. The reply was prepared for the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, and I was requested to stand in for him. If the Deputy is happy to put down the question again I will give him a comprehensive answer.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

John Perry

Question:

7 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied with the progress being made to find a satisfactory system for deposit protection in credit unions. [38802/08]

The extension of the deposit guarantee scheme to credit union savers on 20 September 2008 is an important development in safeguarding the interests of credit union savers because the €100,000 limit per depositor will cover the vast majority of accounts in credit unions. It therefore represents very significant progress in savings protection for credit unions. In this respect, the strengthening of deposit guarantee arrangements is a clear demonstration of the Government's obligation to protect the whole financial system, to secure its stability and to ensure that all deposits in all Irish financial institutions are safe.

In announcing the decision to increase the deposit guarantee level and to include credit union savers in the scheme, I stressed that the Government is committed to the stability of all of the Irish financial system, so that money placed with an Irish credit institution would not be at risk.

I believe that the measure provides additional reassurance to all retail depositors in Ireland particularly as the new guarantee level is now among the highest in the European Union. It was a particular priority for Government to look after the interests of credit union savers and to safeguard their competitive position in regard to the mainstream financial institutions, given the very important role played by credit unions in encouraging savings by all in our community.

The action taken by the Government is complementary to the continuing discussions between the Registrar of Credit Unions and the representative bodies for credit unions regarding broader savings protection arrangements. As Deputies will be aware, the existing Irish League of Credit Unions savings protection scheme, SPS, has played an important role over an extended period of time in helping to support credit unions that have experienced financial difficulties.

Stabilisation mechanisms, if properly designed and effectively implemented, can play a very important role in maintaining as a going concern a credit union that is experiencing temporary liquidity difficulties. It pre-empts the risk of failure and the need to activate the deposit guarantee scheme.

There is, however, a shared recognition between all stakeholders that these types of arrangements must be modernised to take account of the evolution of the overall regulatory and financial environment. It must be an objective for all relevant parties to work together on an intensive basis to come to a common position to the appropriate approach to credit union stabilisation for the future. My Department will, of course, continue to work with the registrar and the representative bodies to support the achievement of this objective.

I have specific questions. The Minister will know that should the credit guarantee scheme be called upon the money is recouped subsequently from all those who participate, including credit unions. Is it preferable that the credit unions should be in a ring-fenced guarantee scheme? They are entirely different in their risk profile from any of the other institutions covered. They have, for example, twice as much in deposits as on loan, the opposite to the other institutions. If they were ring-fenced they would not have a contingent liability.

Second, there is a view from the League of Credit Unions that the savings protection scheme it now has should pay the premium into the fund for this protection and that it should continue to interface with the members. Does the Minister support this view? This would leave the savings protection stabilisation element as a core element and members would not say that because they had the Government's deposit they therefore do not need to be part of this. What is the Minister's view?

Deputy Bruton asked questions about legislation that is under preparation in my Department. One of the great difficulties is that there is not a unanimous view among the different credit unions in Ireland concerning how this matter should be approached. As Deputy Bruton correctly indicated, the League of Credit Unions has a particular view but there are other substantial credit unions outside the league that take a different view. The approach of the league has been to have a stabilisation fund which operates as a guarantee to the credit unions affiliated to it. The approach of certain other credit institutions has been that they want direct participation via the Central Bank or another appropriate institution with regard to the stabilisation moneys they save for deposit protection purposes.

There is no consensus within the credit unions about how to go forward in this area. I am anxious to devise a legislative solution that will accommodate the different concerns involved and that will ensure adequate protection exists for the depositor and adequate recourse will also exist for the taxpayer in respect of the funds that may be required.

I understand the current level of total deposits in credit unions is between €13 billion and €15 billion. While the Minister may have a more accurate figure, the sum of money involved is certainly substantial. Given that most of this money is lent out conservatively because credit unions, unlike banks, have limited powers to lend and must operate differently from the banks, is it appropriate that banks and credit unions should be in a common guarantee scheme? Given that the savings protection scheme operated by the Irish League of Credit Unions has functioned well thus far, is the Minister implying that he proposes to abandon the scheme or will he produce legislation to maintain or modify it? Should the credit unions and banks be lumped together permanently in a one-size-fits-all scheme?

The position was that no guarantee was in place and the reason the credit unions were included in the guarantee is that I did not want them to be put at a competitive disadvantage to other financial institutions at the time the €100,000 limit was announced. I consulted the League of Credit Unions before making that decision.

Legislation being drawn up will have to embody the principle that the €100,000 guarantee given by the State can look to a designated fund. The issue is one of developing a consensus within the credit unions about the appropriate way in which the State can look to any particular fund.

What is the Minister's estimate of the amount held in credit unions?

I do not have a figure to hand but I will arrange for the details to be furnished to the Deputy. I believe it is of the order of €12 billion.

Pension Provisions.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

8 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Finance if he has received estimates of the deficits in the pension fund in universities and certain State bodies in meeting EU funding standards, which he has offered to take over; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38759/08]

Discussions are under way with the trustees and administrators of the funded pension schemes of the five older universities and a number of non-commercial semi-State bodies with the aim of adopting a new approach to dealing with the liabilities of these schemes. The semi-State bodies involved are the IDA, SFADCo, FÁS, Bord Bia, the Irish Goods Council, the Arts Council, CERT and a number of regional tourism organisations. These university schemes have been closed to new members since 2005 and schemes for post-2005 members operate on a pay-as-one-goes basis. The discussions follow a recommendation by a working group established by the Higher Education Authority which considered the position of the universities' pension schemes.

As the Deputy is aware, all funded schemes must now meet minimum funding standards under EU law unless an appropriate guarantee is provided by the State. This has presented problems for the universities and non-commercial semi-State bodies with funded pension schemes where the Government is, in effect, responsible for the cost of pensions but where this is not clear enough to warrant exemption under EU law. It should be noted, however, that the Government is acting in compliance with EU law.

The schemes in question have been included, pending the conclusion of the discussions with the trustees or administrators of the schemes in SI 295 of 2008, Occupational Pensions Schemes (Funding Standard) (Amendment) Regulations 2008, and are therefore exempt from the funding standard in the Act. It is proposed, if the trustees and administrators of the schemes agree, that the assets of the schemes be transferred to the State with the liabilities, which would then be met, effectively, by the State on a pay-as-one-goes basis in future. The pension terms and conditions of the various schemes would remain the same. If agreement is reached, legislation to give effect to all this would be required.

On the basis of the information available at present, it is estimated that the value of the assets of all of the funds in question at the end of 2007 was approximately €2.3 billion and that, in 2005, the liabilities of the schemes in question were also approximately €2.3 billion. Clearly, these estimates must be updated.

The extent of the liabilities is one of the issues which will be clarified in discussions with the schemes. The liabilities in relation to these schemes are the defined benefits to which the members are entitled and for which the Government is already in effect responsible. Under the proposal, these liabilities will be met by the Government on a pay-as-one-goes basis, in line with the approach taken on public service pensions generally.

Why does the Minister have a 2007 valuation on the assets side and a 2005 valuation on the liabilities side? If the Minister has made a formal proposal to take on these funded schemes without knowing what are their net liabilities, it indicates the Department does not assume liabilities with a great deal of foresight.

Is it not bizarre that when the State takes on liabilities of this nature, recognition is not given to the budgeting position? The €2.3 billion in assets the Government will take in will appear as a reduction in its borrowing requirement, whereas the liabilities it proposes to assume, the value of which will clearly exceed €2.3 billion, will not be accounted for anywhere in the Government's budgeting statements. Is this not a wake up call to factor pension liabilities into our annual Budget Statement in order that we know what they are and what new liabilities we assume when we employ people or make a decision such as that proposed in this case? Surely the current position must change.

I assure Deputy Bruton and the House that no agreement has been reached to take over the assets and liabilities in the question. The provisional character of the figures I provided is provisional and I clearly indicated that the figures will have to be revised. An agreement has not been finalised and we will have to be in possession of all the facts before any discussions about an agreement can take place.

The letter issued by the Department is not as qualified as the Minister is trying to make out.

It is important to note, however, that the public bodies in question have, by and large, no substantial revenue raising capacity. Therefore, an issue would arise in any event as to whether the State bore ultimate responsibility for their pension liabilities.

On the question of the taking in of assets and payment of liabilities, a decision that will have to be taken by the Government in the context of the discussions and provided an agreement is concluded is the appropriate destination for any such assets. An issue will arise as to whether the assets should be vested in the pension fund or whether, as Deputy Bruton suggests, they should be taken into the maw of the general Exchequer balance.

On the balance of the liabilities which may accrue on foot of future pension entitlements, I concur that it would be a worthwhile exercise to have a more detailed publication of these in the budgetary exercise.

Does the practice described not sound a little like Enron accounting? One takes in the assets on one's vehicle, namely, the national accounts, while the liabilities are left hanging out in a little note. Enron used to do this and it was one of the factors that brought down the company. Funny accounting, like funny financial products, has had its day.

The Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, announced this measure as a great coup in a note published around the time the Dáil went into recess in July. We now learn the Minister is having some thoughts — correctly — about what the exercise entails. Has he established whether any of the pension schemes involved are in deficit? Is the Department in negotiations, formal or otherwise, with the trade unions, including the trade unions represented among the pension trustees of the funds in question? If the Minister decides to proceed with this proposal, will legislation be required and, if so, when will it come before the House?

Yes, we will require legislation but we are not yet at that stage because we would first need an agreement with the relevant bodies and we have not yet reached that stage either. Furthermore, we need to be in possession of the full facts before we proceed to negotiate any such agreements.

May we assume from the Minister's comments that the funds from these pension schemes will be placed in the National Pension Reserve Fund? If that is the case, will they be used on budget day as an adjusting item for the general Government balance?

No, the Deputy may not make that assumption from my reply. I stated that the ultimate destination of the funds had to be examined with care. The pension fund is one option, while the general Government balance is another.

Will they be dealt with as a non-adjusting item?

We must move on to the next question.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

9 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Finance the details of the formula used to derive the aggregate amount of the charge to banks and credit institutions covered by the credit institutions financial support scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38814/08]

The charge for the provision of the guarantee is based on an assessment of the additional funding costs arising for Government from the guarantee scheme.

It is estimated that the total aggregate charge paid by the covered institutions over the next two years will amount to approximately €1 billion. The thinking behind the charging model is set out in some detail in the annexe to the scheme.

The charge will be calculated separately each quarter for each covered institution having regard,inter alia, to the amount of its covered liabilities, a realistic assessment of the risks, the steps taken by the institution to reduce that risk, consistent with the objectives of the scheme, the long-term credit rating of the institution and also any material changes to its risk profile, subject to the estimated cost to the Exchequer being fully recouped.

Our intention in framing the charge to be made for the guarantees under the scheme was to protect the taxpayers' interest, while not imposing such charges as would add to the problems we are seeking to solve. At the same time, it was our intention that financial markets would continue to function normally and that no unfair competitive advantage would be given to the covered institutions.

Did the Minister have an opportunity to read an article in yesterday'sFinancial Times, which said that Ireland needs high coupon rates to attract investors? It said Ireland “had to offer 25 basis points, or one-quarter of 1 per cent, over average European government bond yields, which was at the high end of expectations”. Does the Minister agree Irish bonds are now priced in the same way and only slightly below the highest cost in Europe, which is Greece, and that effectively our bond rates are almost 1% over what they were a year ago when Ireland was one of the best risks? Ireland has gone from being one of the best risks on bonds to being the second highest, after Greece, within one year.

The Minister's scheme valued the cost to the taxpayer of the rise in borrowing costs as being €1 billion over ten years, based on an increased spread of 15 to 30 basis points. Already, as this week's bond issue shows — he was boasting about it in a reply to an earlier question — it is already 0.25% extra. It has gone up 54 basis points on theFinancial Times bond index, as listed in yesterday’s paper. The Minister keeps boasting about the scheme. It has addressed the liquidity, but done nothing to repair the holes in the banks’ capital position or address the impairment of asset values. When we repay our national loan, it will now cost the Irish taxpayer an enormous extra percentage.

Deputies on all sides of the House will have to be aware that the conditions in the international bond market are not unique to Ireland. We are not in a unique position in international markets — far from it. We are operating in a climate where several sovereign states have been unable to access international liquidity in any form whatsoever. We are also dealing in international markets in which several European states have refrained from seeking to raise funds. It is in that context that I have pointed out that Ireland had successfully floated a loan.

As regards the position of the liquidity guarantee to the banks, which was given in late September, I agree with Deputy Burton that it has served the purpose of providing liquidity to the banks, but it does not address the longer term question of how they are to be restored as viable institutions, extending credit on proper terms to Irish consumers and businesses.

Will the Minister review the charge scheme, and if so, when?

The charge scheme is set out and is now being implemented in the contractual arrangements arrived at with the different institutions. Provision is contained within the scheme for the review of the charging mechanism, when appropriate.

Does the Minister agree that the €4 billion bond issue he referred to is equivalent to 10% of the national debt, borrowed just last week at much higher costs because of the banks scheme? He borrowed, in effect, one third of the Government's borrowing requirement for that scheme. He is basically giving the banks a free lunch because he is not charging them a price that reflects the extra cost taxpayers will have to pay for the borrowing. Did the Minister and the Taoiseach not keep saying that this was a type of cost-free scheme? What plans does the Minister have to recover the extra costs that the poor Irish taxpayer will have to pay? Is he not concerned, given the trend, that Ireland is now down with Greece as being the second worst country in Europe in terms of risk, having been the best? Does he believe Ireland will lose its AAA rating in 2009?

I do not accept the international comparisons made by Deputy Burton. The reasons for the increase in the basis points referred to by the Deputy are not related to the guarantee given to the banking system by the Government, but to the general international difficulties, which I have already put on the record of this House——

That is absolute rubbish.

——and which are clearly visible to any person who examines the financial literature for any extended period. As regards the question about the protection of the taxpayer, the whole basis of the charging mechanism is to ensure the taxpayer is protected against any increase in the basis points, which are attributable to the giving of the guarantee.

The ECB is dropping its interest rate. The Government, on behalf of the taxpayers, has given a gilt-edged scheme to the banks. Can the Minister ensure, through the scheme, that banks pass on the reduction in the interest rate to hard-pressed consumers?

I made it clear in replying to Deputy Kenny this morning that I anticipated that the Irish financial institutions would pass on the benefit of the interest rate decreased.

Can the Minister ensure this through the charge scheme?

Again, in relation to that, it is not a scheme in which taxpayers' money was invested in or spent on the banking sector. It is a scheme in which the State gave a secondary guarantee and——

The cost of money has gone up to the State.

——-under the legislation governing the scheme, a right of commercial interference in the banks is not given to the State. However, it is in the banks' commercial interests to pass on the benefit of the interest rate.

With due respect, that is not happening.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

10 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance his estimate of the current and capital expenditure that has been incurred to date in respect of the 50 decentralisation projects that have not been advanced. [38741/08]

A total of €18.8 million has been spent on acquiring sites in respect of those projects which are being deferred pending a review in 2011. The locations in question are Birr, Cavan, Dungarvan, Edenderry, Thomastown, Thurles and Waterford. In addition, a site has been purchased at Knock, at a cost of €390,000.

Approximately €4 million has been spent to date by the OPW on the costs of renting and fitting out of mainly Civil Service properties in advance party locations where permanent accommodation has been deferred pending a review in 2011. A further €1.194 million has been expended by FÁS in respect of the advance office at Birr, €856,000 was expended by the Health and Safety Authority in respect of its Kilkenny advance office and approximately €305,000 has been expended by Pobal in respect of its premises at Clifden. Staff in such locations will remain in place.

In addition, I am informed by my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment, that in parallel with the decentralisation process, Enterprise Ireland strengthened its regional focus in recent years and now has a major presence in the Shannon region in addition to its nine other regional offices. Certain functions previously carried out by Shannon Development under delegated authority from Enterprise Ireland reverted to that agency on 1 January 2007 and, as part of this process, a number of posts from Shannon Development transferred to Enterprise Ireland. The agency strengthened its regional presence by establishing its new regional development headquarters in Shannon and also houses its county enterprise co-ordination unit there. Six posts were assigned to the new office in Shannon from Dublin to manage this new regional headquarters. At present, there are 66 staff working in the Enterprise Ireland's Shannon office. The annual rent on the regional development headquarters in Shannon is €336,600. The tendered contract sum for the fit out was €1.43 million, including VAT.

The Deputy may wish to know that total income from property disposed of in Dublin between January 2004 and December 2007 was €355.9 million. In addition, property valued at €75 million was transferred to the affordable homes partnership. The OPW has also agreed joint venture redevelopment schemes with a minimum value of approximately €125 million up to the end of 2007.

Further details of non-property costs expended by location have been sought from relevant Departments. I will write to the Deputy separately in this regard shortly.

Will the Minister agree this is a disgrace and effectively means that €27.5 million of taxpayers' money has gone down the drain on decentralisation projects that have been abandoned or mothballed indefinitely? Will he agree the public in the regions were sold a pup by Government in respect of decentralisation and that the reason it has not happened two years after the deadline for its completion is that there was no proper planning of the process from the outset? Does he not feel some shame in turning up in Cavan where there were to be 244 jobs, or Donegal where there were to be 283, or Waterford where there were to be 431, or Cork where there were to be 840, and explaining that the Government has spent the €27 million, but cannot deliver on those projects because it has been, to put it bluntly, incompetent?

My response made it clear that staff in such locations will remain in place. Therefore, in so far as expenditure has been incurred, the staff placed in those locations will remain in place. However, it is correct to say the full extent of the decentralisation has been paused. That is the decision of the Government, because in prioritising capital expenditure ——

They are empty buildings with someone rattling around as caretaker.

In prioritising capital expenditure this year, the Government faced a choice. It had to make a decision to pause decentralisation now or incur far greater expenditure.

Why are we in a situation that two years after the deadline for the completion of it, the process had not even started in 50 locations? The Minister at the time rightly said that Ministers would be judged, and should be judged on this and that if they did not deliver on it in three years, they did not deserve to hold office. I rest my case.

The decentralisation programme has made substantial progress. As the Deputy is well aware and as I announced in the budget, the programme is not dead, but in light of our changed economic circumstances, certain matters had to be prioritised. The Government's latest decision means that 6,000 posts were decentralised outside Dublin. That is an impressive figure in terms of the decentralisation programme.

I would like to challenge the Minister on the figure of 6,000. The bulk of those were people who were already outside of Dublin who wanted to relocate from one place outside of Dublin to another, for example, someone in Sligo hoping to go to Carrick-on-Shannon to be closer to home. Will the Minister agree that is where the majority of the decentralisation moves occurred?

Has the Minister a figure for the total number of civil servants in outposts, who will not be joined by others for decades? They will rattle around in large Government buildings and offices with only the ghost of Charlie McCreevy to comfort them. What does the Minister expect the six civil servants here or the seven civil servants there to do? They could go mad, left alone in a large building in Carrick-on-Shannon, or someplace like that, with nothing to do.

Will the Minister please apologise to taxpayers for the waste by the Government of at least €30 million of taxpayers' hard-earned money? That money could have been used in those towns for hospitals, teachers and all sorts of facilities. Instead, it has gone to developers and landlords to rent offices that a few ghost figures in the Civil Service can rattle around in. Does the Minister intend to visit those people and comfort them occasionally and let them know they are not forgotten and that although they are on their own, somebody somewhere in the bowels of the Department of Finance knows they are still there? After the war, the Japanese soldiers who wandered in the jungles in Sumatra did not know the war was over. We have poor civil servants rattling around buildings on their own, not knowing that decentralisation is over.

That sounds like some members of the Labour parliamentary party who have been out of office for so many years. There are 6,000 posts being decentralised. Some 2,500 posts have already moved and an additional 3,500 are in train.

Where were they from? They were not from Dublin.

This has been a successful decentralisation programme, which has brought great benefits to towns and cities outside Dublin. The programme should be lauded for that. However, it has been necessary, because of the state of the public finances, to pause the decentralisation programme. That has been done.

When does the Minister expect to have the 3,474 posts decentralised? They were supposed to be fully decentralised by December 2006. The term used with regard to several locations is that "an advance party is in place". What is an advance party?

Are they sent a survival pack or tents?

I will give the Deputy the precise figures for the outstanding timescale. On the issue of value for money, overall the Office of Public Works has spent approximately €250 million, to end-September 2008, on the property aspects of the programme. The total income from property disposed of in Dublin, to end-December 2007, was €355 million.

We heard all that already.

The Minister has not answered the question. When will the posts be decentralised?

The Deputies do not want to hear the facts when they do not suit them. On the capital side, the State has been a very successful developer in this context.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.