Other Questions

Question No. 6 is in the name of Deputy Calleary. Deputy Calleary is not present so we will take Question No. 7 in the name of Deputy Fleming.

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

The Opposition admonishes the Government for Deputies not turning up.

Deputy Fleming should apologise for Deputy Calleary as well.

Haddington Road Agreement Implementation

Seán Fleming

Question:

7. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of persons across the public service who are subject to a freeze on increments in 2014 as a result of the Haddington Road agreement; if this includes bodies or agencies funded by the Exchequer; if he has satisfied himself that the agreement is meeting its objectives across all Departments; his plans to carry out an interim review of the implementation of the agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38159/14]

I wish to ask the Minister about the number of people covered by the Haddington Road agreement who are subject to a freeze on their increments. Does this include bodies that are publicly funded by the Exchequer and does the Minister intend carrying out any interim review of the agreement?

Over the first 15 months of its lifetime, the agreement has been a key enabler in reducing the cost of the public service pay and pensions bill. The cost reductions and productivity increases - the reform dividend, which I explained in some detail the last time we discussed this, which the agreement has facilitated - has allowed the Government the scope in 2014 to recruit additional staff to key front-line services. This demonstrates that the agreement is delivering.

With regard to carrying out a review of the implementation of the agreement, the Deputy may wish to note that it is my intention to publish the annual report of the public service reform programme, including the specific issues addressed in the Haddington Road agreement, in early 2015 in line with the commitment in the Government's public service reform plan.

The Government's focus is now on continuing to maximise the provisions of that agreement and to ensure that the cost of public services and the public service pay bill are kept at sustainable levels. This will require tight control of the public service pay bill while also re-investing some of the benefits of the agreement as things improve to ensure that public services are delivered in the most effective and efficient way. In that context, decisions on future savings and service dividends arising out of the Haddington Road agreement will form part of the overall budgetary process to be announced next week. The terms of the agreement apply to public servants. It does not apply to the employees of bodies that are funded by the State but are not public service bodies as such.

With respect to the query by the Deputy on the numbers affected by increment freezes in the public service, I would refer him to my reply to him on 17 September in which I provided him with this information for the Civil Service. The position as outlined in that response remains unchanged. I understand the Deputy has sought similar information from the relevant Departments in respect of the wider public service so he probably has better information than I have.

I thank the Minister for his answer. It is clear from what he is saying that there will not be a specific review of the Haddington Road agreement. The Minister said that there will be something about it in the public service reform plan the Government is publishing in 2015. It is interesting that he went through that again with no specifics in terms of numbers across the public service - not just the Civil Service but also the HSE, local authorities, education and teachers, which are covered by the Haddington Road agreement. He said generally that the figures would be masked in the budget figures the Government announces next week. That is symptomatic of this agreement.

The Minister seems to be suggesting that due to natural retirement, the cost of the public service is coming down because we have not been recruiting as many people as we did in the past except in key areas like teachers and some additional new gardaí. It is interesting that the Departments referred to by the Minister and to whom I have written have not been able to give me any specific savings as a result of the Haddington Road agreement. Savings are taking place in the public service with or without the agreement. We are trying to find out how many of those savings are attributable to the agreement but the Minister does not seem able to provide that information.

That is not so. In the period 2008-13, the Exchequer pay bill fell by 19% through a comprehensive set of measures, including pay and pension cuts, reductions in numbers, restrictions on recruitment, redundancy programmes and so on. The 19% reduction in the pay bill delivered an annual saving of €3.3 billion for the Exchequer for the year. It is a concrete figure for up to last year. There were further substantial falls this year through implementation of the pay reductions under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act and the productivity increases under the Haddington Road agreement. In 18 months, we have made over €800 million in underlying savings.

I indicated to Deputies before that as we recover, I do not want simply to pocket these savings in order to retire debt. Nobody in this House would disagree that we should reinvest some of that money in front-line services. We can do more through efficiencies in back-line services but we should release some of those savings to provide for more nurses, special needs assistants and gardaí, which we have begun recruiting again. We should use it for the elements we need on the front line. Nobody opposite would object to that strategy as we emerge from our difficulties.

Of course, I agree with the last part of the Minister's comment. He mentioned a €3.3 billion figure earlier, amounting to a 19% saving in the public service pay bill from 2009 to 2014. We know who achieved most of that, as it occurred when my party was in government. Most of it happened outside of the Haddington Road agreement. I ask how much of the €3.3 billion that is repeatedly mentioned comes from the Haddington Road agreement. It would be good for the public service and the public as a whole if the Minister could demonstrate how much of the €3.3 billion arises from the agreement. We would support savings being reinvested but we do not know what are the savings arising from the Haddington Road agreement. The Minister mentioned public sector pay and pensions cuts and recruitment freezes; all these contributed to savings, which can be estimated, but we have not got a figure for the specific savings arising from the Haddington Road agreement. The Minister keeps saying the figure is in the annual Estimates.

The Deputy knows they have been included in each Vote and I have explained this repeatedly. In the 18 months of the Haddington Road agreement to date, we have made over €800 million in underlying savings. That has enabled me to invest €250 million more in meeting the costs of employing more front-line workers, as I have indicated. There are more gardaí, nurses, special needs assistants and so on. It is a better strategy. As our position appeared to be improving earlier in the year, I discussed how we would not simply retire all the money from the Haddington Road agreement savings but redeploy some of them into front-line services in order to ease pressure. We have invested €250 million in that process, which will continue to next year. I do not want to give a false impression that all the restrictions will be undone but we do not want simply to retire all the money saved into the Exchequer to pay down debt. We want, in a structured way, to meet the real pressures pent up over the past six years about which all of us know. These are real issues for the delivery of front-line services.

Equality Proofing of Budgets

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if budget 2015 will be equality-proofed with respect to proposed increases and decreases in expenditure allocations; and, if so, if he will provide details of the process involved. [38187/14]

This question relates to equality budgeting. The Minister is aware I have raised the matter with him and some of his colleagues consistently over the past number of years. Through the budgetary process, the Government has the power either to address inequality or foster deeper income divisions in society. I know the Minister is familiar with the concept of equality budgeting. In three previous budgets there was the opportunity to address best practice but the Minister failed to do so. If the Minister is committed to equality, as I hope he is, he has the power to take action, so will he tell me why he has not done so?

The key priority of recent budgets, as everybody in the House and the country knows, was to return a stability that had been fractured to the public finances, while seeking to spread the required adjustment in as fair and equitable a manner as possible and protecting the most vulnerable. While implementing the required budgetary adjustments to ensure that Ireland successfully exited the troika programme, the Government has prioritised expenditure on social protection, health and education, with expenditure in these areas now accounting for over 80% of gross voted current expenditure.

Primary core social welfare rates have been protected and remain unchanged since this Government came into office. The educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities have been prioritised by protecting funding in respect of DEIS resources. More of our young people are entering education at all levels and the number of people in receipt of medical cards has increased significantly. In order to meet these additional demands, the Government directed resources towards these areas. On budget day, proposals in respect of expenditure allocations will be underpinned by the reforms introduced to the budgetary process. These reforms bring greater focus in deciding how we use our limited resources so they can have the greatest impact.

The revised budgetary timetable, with earlier publication of the Revised Estimates volume, REV, allows for timely consideration by all Oireachtas committees. Performance budgeting information is published in the REV. As part of the second comprehensive review of expenditure, Departments have assessed expenditure with a view to effective prioritisation of resources. These reform initiatives and the analytical work being carried out across all Departments, in particular as part of the second comprehensive review of expenditure, allow careful and due consideration of the impact of every spending proposal on gender equality, preventing further or any marginalisation of socioeconomic groups and greater inclusion into society and the labour market of people with disabilities.

The Minister's use of terms like "fair" and "equitable" and the claim to have protected the most vulnerable simply marks how out of touch he is. Outside these walls, when one meets people in vulnerable positions, one can see the Minister's budgets have had exactly the opposite effect. For example, families headed by a single parent have been hammered over the past number of budgets. All of that is documented. It seems the Minister is of the mind to continue that trend. The Government has penalised young people and is just short of packing their cases and driving them to the airport. The Minister specifically mentioned education and we understand the Government is heading towards another cut in the capitation grant to primary schools. That would be of no assistance to any child and particularly to children in disadvantaged positions.

The Government's approach is not working and there is a clear issue of political will. There is also an issue with process and how the Government is making its assessments. We should not have to take these matters on the Minister's word and we need a comprehensive, objective and transparent budgeting process.

The Deputy's party is doing very well in today's opinion polls and it is peddling the notion that we can make substantial reductions magically, without impacting on expenditure. I note the party is in favour of the quantum of reduction. I have explained to the House that more than 80% of our current expenditure goes on the three pivotal social areas of health, education and social protection. We have protected those to the greatest extent possible and our focus has been on getting people back to work. We have been very successful with that. As I have indicated, there are 76,600 more people at work; they are not leaving or packing bags to go. We are not massaging figures, and there are now more people at work than at any time since 2009. We will continue this strategy for young people and everybody else, including single parents, who should not be confined to receiving social protection. They should be given an opportunity to use all their talents and work in this economy. We are determined to help such people break free of any dependence and allow them express their talents to the full by having a job in this society.

What the Government is proposing for lone parents is not nearly as noble as that articulation suggests. It is proposing to force many parents with very young children into a position where they have no option but to work outside the home, irrespective of the type of job they might find. Did the Minister notice that the OECD ranked us second, just above the United States, in terms of low-paid employment? Will that be the legacy of the Labour Party as part of the Government? That does not shout "equality" or "quality employment" loud and clear.

Of course, there is no magic in any of this.

Specifically, I put it to the Minister that the reason the equality budgeting idea is so important now as he speaks of recovery is the notable gallop by his Government the minute there is any notion of recovery to head straight for reductions in the higher tax rate. That suggests to me and to the broader public that, far from being interested in repairing the damage the Government has inflicted on communities or taking any equality measures, the Labour Party, true to Fine Gael form, will go along with a taxation measure that clearly has not been equality-proofed. Equality is the last thing on the Minister's mind as he floats this idea before the general public.

The Deputy is fanciful in her notions. The facts speak for themselves. Our first action was to restore the minimum wage.

Did the Minister read the OECD report?

Our first action was to take 300,000 people out of the universal social charge net that was visited upon them by the previous Administration. This was in the teeth of the worst economic climate in our history.

I do not regard the minimum wage as a great wage. That is the reason we have now established the low pay commission to ensure people have a liveable wage. That is the priority of the Labour Party in government as we get people back to work and allow them to escape from dependency. The notion that we thrive on failure is being peddled by some of the parties opposite; they are fearful of success as we emerge from a broken economy but job creation is taking place-----

Low pay and slave labour in the case of JobBridge.

-----we will have well below the European average rate with people back in work. We can now begin to give back to hard working people more of the fruits of their labour because we know the pressure that has been on families for the past number of years, but the alternative would have been ruination. The position of the Deputy's party in the last general election was to tell the troika to get lost and take its money with it, but if we had taken that approach, we would have been destroyed. We would have been like Zimbabwe or Argentina now. Thankfully, we travelled a different route-----

Thankfully, we have lots of poorly paid people - people on yellow pack schemes.

-----a route that has brought us recovery and a real prospect of providing decent social provision for all our people.

Public Procurement Contracts

Mick Wallace

Question:

9. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of contracts that have been awarded to companies part-owned by a person (details supplied); the total net worth of all contracts awarded to companies owned by or part-owned by this person in the lifetime of this Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38013/14]

There will be some unease about the fact that Denis O'Brien's close political links may have been instrumental in his bid to buy Siteserv, the company that won the State contract to install water meters for Irish Water. The idea that powerful businessmen with close ties to the establishment still end up profiteering from decisions made by governments or semi-State bodies must be a worry for this Government given that it promised that things would be different.

The Deputy talked about a person who is outside the House who is not here to defend himself. We do not do that here.

The information sought by the Deputy is not collected by my Department and would not be collected by contracting authorities as part of a procurement process. Individual contracting authorities in the public and utilities sectors would hold information in relation to contracts awarded by them. They are not required to collect the details of all the shareholders that have invested in a company that has been awarded any particular public contract.

Public contracts are awarded following a transparent and competitive process conducted in compliance with very stringent national and European law. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. Public bodies cannot favour or discriminate against particular candidates and there are legal remedies which may be used against any public body infringing these laws. It is the responsibility of each contracting authority to ensure that tenderers comply with all the requirements of the process.

The Deputy will be aware that the reform of public procurement is a key element of the Government's public service reform agenda. The new approach to public procurement involves integrating procurement policy, strategy and sourcing in one office, the Office of Government Procurement, OGP; ensuring a consistent approach to procurement right across the public service; strengthening spending analytics and data management; much greater aggregation of purchasing across public bodies to achieve better value for money; the examination of the specifications set out for goods and services; evaluating demand levels to assess how demand and volume can be reduced; and strengthening supplier and category management.

The OGP is engaged in changing the administration of procurement throughout the public service, ably overseen by my colleague, the Minister of State to my left. Currently, public service procurement activity is transacted by several hundred contracting authorities across the State. The OGP, together with reformed sector procurement functions in health, education, local government and defence, will enable the public service to speak with one voice to the market for each category of expenditure, ensuring a consistent approach is taken to public expenditure.

It is disappointing this information is not available but it should be available in the interests of transparency and accountability in respect of how people make decisions. The very nature by which this gentleman ended up in possession of Siteserv is very questionable.

This is not appropriate.

He did a deal with IBRC where €100 million of debt that Siteserv owed to-----

Serious charges have been,

I have not mentioned anyone's name.

The Deputy should not make any criminal charges.

The deal with IBRC where €100 million of debt that Siteserv owed to IBRC, which is really the taxpayer, was wiped off is very worrying. Two higher bids for the company that would have earned the State more money were rejected. A former Fine Gael Minister was chairman of IBRC at the time the deal was approved.

The chairman of Siteserv, who I will not name, has acted as an adviser to the National Treasury Management Agency and sits on the board of Enterprise Ireland. As Siteserv has won various State contracts, it raises the question with regard to-----

That is not a question.

-----the revolving doors that exist between the corridors of power and governmental bodies and it further undermines the Taoiseach's assertion that he wants to separate the ties between Government and big business because that is not what we are seeing.

That is a very worrying set of assertions as opposed to a question. In terms of procurement, we procure in accordance with law. We do not blacklist people from being able to apply for particular contracts. That politicisation of the public procurement system would be quite improper and unlawful both under national and European law. Bluntly, considering the Deputy's position, I am surprised at some of the assertions he has made.

The Minister may be surprised but I am not saying his is the first Government to oversee non-transparent practices in this area. I am saying it has gone on for years in Ireland, but I thought this Government would do things differently. We need more transparency and accountability in this area. In 2011, there was so much talk of reform and doing things differently but, sadly, the Minister will have to admit that very little has changed in this entire area.

The Deputy is fundamentally, absolutely, completely and wholly wrong. Everything has changed in public procurement. I invite him to meet the OGP, look at the website and come to one of the "Meet the Buyer" seminars that are held throughout the country. Will he take up that invitation and inform himself of the fundamental transformation in procurement?

We certainly will not politicise it in the way the Deputy suggested we should.

Question No. 10 is in the name of Deputy Bernard Durkan but as he is not present it cannot be taken.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Sale of State Assets

Seán Fleming

Question:

11. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the manner in which cash received from the sale of State assets has been deployed to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38160/14]

I ask the Minister about the manner in which cash received from the sale of State assets has been deployed, and if he will provide detailed information on the matter.

The Exchequer has to date received special dividends of €150 million from Ervia and €197 million from ESB arising from sales of State assets. The Ervia special dividend represents the first instalment of approximately €1 billion expected to be received from Ervia arising from the successful completion in June of the sale of Bord Gáis Energy. The balance will be paid, over time and as required by the Government, following the completion of an internal reorganisation of Ervia and establishment of a networks subsidiary, Gas Networks Ireland, in accordance with the Gas Regulation Act passed by the Oireachtas this year. We will require the transfer of Ervia's debt facilities and renegotiation of its debt covenants under that Act.

The ESB payments arose from ESB's disposals of its 50% shareholdings in two overseas assets in the UK and Spain. A further €200 million remains to be paid by ESB, representing a realisation for the Government of the value of ESB's two midlands peat plants, as announced by ESB in July. I can give the Deputy some more detail on that if he wants it.

It has been the Government's consistent position that funds released from asset disposals should be used, to the greatest extent possible, to support job creation. Realisation of these proceeds has allowed for additional capital investment of approximately €0.5 billion to date. This includes €160 million for a project preparation facility for the new public private partnership, PPP, programme, including enabling works at Grangegorman for the new DIT campus and for the preparation of the PPP roads projects, including the Tuam project which started earlier this year.

It also includes an additional €150 million investment in county roads, schools and energy efficiency works in local authority housing which I announced in June 2013. Finally, it includes additional investment of some €200 million, announced in May of this year, for a range of projects including a further allocation to county roads, social housing, tourism related projects - the Deputy will recall money for the greenways and Lough Derg - and a number of projects commemorating the foundation of our State. I will provide all the details.

I thank the Minister. Perhaps he would arrange for the details to which he referred to be forwarded to me as quickly as possible. There was originally a target of €2 billion or €3 billion. Today the Minister tells me he has received €150 million from Ervia and €197 million from the ESB, a total of €347 million, approximately 10% of the target. What happened to the rest?

There was €405 million from the national lottery.

The Minister did not mention that. Where is that money? We keep asking whether it is ring-fenced for the children's hospital. I am sure it has gone into the national finances somewhere and the Government will bring it back out, or is it held in an escrow account for the purpose? We would like to know. Has any of it been used generally for debt reductions? We all agree the sale of assets should be used for reinvestment and job creation. The programmes the Minister mentioned – the PPP programme for Grangegorman, secondary roads throughout the country, schools, tourism projects and housing – are significant and welcome. However it does not tally with the amount of money the Government received. Could the Minister give us a good reason why Ervia, which has approximately €1 billion from the sale of Bord Gáis Éireann’s business, is still holding onto it? Is the Minister waiting to balance the books on budget day and say he will have €500 million from this for next year and €500 million for the election the following year?

Regarding the national lottery, we spent €200 million as I indicated to the House and we have kept €200 million for the national children’s hospital. That money is there and available. Regarding bringing the money from Ervia onto the balance sheet, as I explained, there are restrictions on bringing it all on in one go. It must be done by special dividend and there is a process and a legal limit on what can be done, which we will do on the basis of need to meet the specific purposes we have set out. To date, €500 million has been allocated and is in the process of being spent. I can give the Deputy a note on issues such as the PPP preparations, the additional money on county roads, the energy refit of local authority housing and additional schools such as the 28 in the first round.

It will be good to get the note. Will the Minister also give me a detailed note on the rules on the special dividend? I can understand that there probably are regulations on how much can be transferred from a semi-State company onto the State balance sheet. We will study the note. There is a capital investment programme of approximately €3.3 billion per annum. When the Minister gives me the details of all the projects he mentioned, could he separate what was spent from the normal annual capital investment programme from the extra money coming from these sources? Some of those matters would have been presumed to have come from capital investment programmes or other normal annual budgets. The funds generated from the sale of the assets to date seem to be the €150 million from Ervia, the €197 million from the ESB and the €200 million from the national lottery and perhaps the €200 million extra that is on its way from the lottery.

It is discrete and separate from the money allocated under the public capital programme, which is approximately €3.3 billion, as the Deputy said, and which is apportioned across all agencies of the State. I would not have been able to do those additional projects and tee up the PPPs, allocate money for the voids and energy refits in local authority housing if I had not got the additional money. I have set it out several times, and I will do it again to make it clear to the Deputy.

Public Sector Staff

Joe Higgins

Question:

12. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of temporary contracts in place for the public sector as a whole including State agencies and other public bodies (details supplied) under the remit of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38303/14]

I want to ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of temporary contracts in place for the public sector as a whole.

There are 216 out of 823 staff in my Department on fixed term contracts. Some 178 of these, almost all of them, are temporary clerical officers, TCOs, in PeoplePoint. PeoplePoint, the Civil Service human resources and pensions shared service centre, became operational in March 2013 and brings together shared HR and pension processes and systems to ensure a more consistent and efficient HR and pension service. More than 24,000 employees are availing of services provided by PeoplePoint across 20 Government Departments and offices. The use of contract staff for these posts was necessary to ensure business needs were met and as a temporary response to the demands of the new service. Plans are progressing to replace TCOs with permanent staff.

The Public Appointments Service, PAS, is running an open clerical officer competition and it is expected that panels will be in place by early November. Once panels are in place, it is intended to assign permanent clerical officers to PeoplePoint, ending the need for the current fixed term contract arrangements. All contract staff are managed within budget, the employment control framework numbers for each area and in accordance with the Department of Finance letter of 27 March 2009. In the bodies under the remit of my Department the total number of contract staff is 22.

There has been a very debilitating tendency over recent years, accelerated during the period of austerity, for decent jobs with pay, pension and security for low-income and middle-income workers to be replaced with temporary, low-paid and insecure types of employment. If I understand the Minister, a quarter of his departmental staff are temporary, which is extraordinary. This is carried to its most obscene conclusion with the public sector hiring workers under a so-called internship scheme called JobBridge. Is it not incredible that the public sector is hiring school teachers, school secretaries and classroom assistants on what is essentially a slave labour scheme? What is the dividend of recovery here for these temporary workers?

The Deputy has a point regarding temporary staff to do permanent work, and that is why I am putting it right as the finances become available. I am delighted to have an open competition for new clerical officers to replace the contract staff in my Department. There will be residual contract staff, for example, people who work directly for me and who are fixed to my term of employment – such as my civilian drivers and special advisors – who are not permanent. Other than this, we will migrate to normal full-time employment. As the Deputy knows, I do not agree with him on JobBridge. There are many people with skills who, rather than being left at home, are happy to do a job of work that will enhance their employability. Approximately 60% of people on JobBridge have migrated to full employment. This is a good and valuable outcome, does the Deputy not agree?

It is extraordinary that some of the most powerful, wealthy and profitable companies operating in this country have the gall to advertise for JobBridge candidates. Tesco tried to get 200 people last year for its Christmas work under the guise of training. It is a scam designed to massage the official unemployment figures and is a gross abuse of young people and workers who are being threatened if they do not take this type of made up scheme.

To come back to the public service, is the Minister saying that from now on this phenomenon of hiring workers on temporary contracts will be a thing of the past?

I am saying that there will always be a requirement when there are temporary jobs to have temporary contracts. That is the normal pattern of employment. There is no point in having a cohort of staff if there is no work for them. Where there are permanent jobs, they should have permanent contracts, and that is what we will work towards.

The JobBridge schemes I have seen and on which persons I know have been often have been highly valuable at giving skills. There are a number of people in the public service who have contacted me and asked that I help them get a JobBridge place.

Deputy Higgins's point is a simple one. In the time of the worst economic recession when there is significant unemployment, he is happier for the unemployed to stay at home than to do anything.

That is ridiculous.

That is the long and the short of it.

Teachers have been trained.

Finding solutions is not in Deputy Higgins's purview. It is finding problems and wallowing in them. When we find solutions, such as when we get unemployment down below 10% next year, his rhetoric becomes increasingly hollow.

We have time for one more question.

Drainage Schemes Status

Seán Kyne

Question:

13. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department has recommenced work on drainage schemes and other such works, such as that in the Claregalway area of County Galway, following the legal advice concerning the interpretation of SI 469 of 2012 which was necessitated by EU environmental directives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38170/14]

The question relates to the River Clare drainage scheme, the review of the environmental impact statement and whether the Office of Public Works or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is progressing the tendering for the review as required under legislation.

I thank Deputy Kyne for asking this question and giving me an opportunity to update him and the House on the position on the Claregalway scheme.

SI 469 and SI 470 of 2012 give effect in Irish law to EU Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. As the consent authority for flood alleviation schemes under section 7 of the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 to 1995, the regulations require my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to carry out an environmental impact assessment of drainage or flood relief schemes prior to confirmation or approval of the proposed schemes, publicise his decision to confirm or refuse to confirm a proposed drainage scheme, inform the Commissioners and the public of the decision, provide for a process for appeal or review of the decision, and inform the public of this process.

The Clare river or Claregalway drainage scheme was submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for ministerial confirmation on 2 November 2013. In accordance with normal procedure, the scheme documentation submitted to the Department included an environmental impact statement, which is a consultant's report of the environmental impacts of the works and the OPW's proposals to mitigate these impacts as far as possible. The Claregalway scheme is the first flood relief scheme submitted for confirmation following the coming into effect of the 2012 regulations and, understandably, the Department needed to consider fully the implications for the confirmation process of the new regulations. Consultations took place with the Attorney General's office to get clarification on how the new regulations should be interpreted and implemented in the context of the confirmation process for drainage schemes. Based on advice received from the Attorney General's office, the Department is in the process of engaging experts to carry out an independent review as part of the assessment of the environmental impact statement of the Claregalway scheme submitted by the OPW. The tender process is nearing completion and the Department expects to be in a position to place a contract shortly.

Deputy Kyne will understand that the scheme can only be confirmed pending the outcome of the expert's review and the conclusion of the required public notification process. I am confident, however, that the proposed works will be found to be environmentally acceptable and the scheme can be confirmed in due course by the Minister and proceed without too much further delay. I assure the House that I and the OPW remain committed to ensuring the scheme will be completed as soon as possible. I assure Deputy Kyne that the OPW has provided for the cost of the works in its profiles of capital expenditure to 2016.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and thank him for his engagement on this issue over the summer when I have been consulting him. It is, as he stated, the first flood relief scheme to go through this new process and there have been a few teething problems. This scheme was announced by the Minister of State's predecessor in February last in good faith and there was an expectation that work was to start in the summer. It is regrettable the delay has taken place. I acknowledge that work is progressing in terms of the tendering process within the Department and I thank the Minister of State for that. I am sure he will keep a good eye on that and ensure that process continues.

There is a view locally that this is bureaucracy gone mad in that the OPW prepared this review of the environmental reports and these have to be reviewed by the Department, but I appreciate the Minister of State had no choice in this. It is a legislative matter.

The Minister of State confirmed there is no issue. There is always speculation when there is a delay that the reason behind the delay is that there is a funding shortage. Can the Minister of State confirm that this is fully part of the programme, there is no delay and he is confident that works will go ahead as soon as possible?

I am happy to confirm that there is no funding issue and that the project is included in the capital expenditure of the OPW to 2016.

I wish to provide Deputy Kyne with some information. The total budget for the scheme, when VAT and future cost fluctuations are taken into account, is €7.1 million. Once we have this scheme confirmed, we will be in a position to commence works fairly quickly because these works will be carried out by our direct labour force which will reduce any delays that could result were we to put it out to contract. Works have already been carried out in this area. Remedial works include the construction of a flood eye at Claregalway bridge and the construction of a new bridge at Crusheeny.

I asked my officials in the OPW, considering the importance of this in the locality and the time delay that could not be avoided, to look at what interim measures can be undertaken to provide some flood relief. The OPW has employed two long-reach machines to remove a build-up of silt from the bends of the channel on both banks of the Clare river from Lough Corrib and they are now working upstream towards Claregalway.

I will continue to keep in touch with Deputy Kyne on this. I hope this is a scheme we can have confirmed as quickly as possible.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.