Appropriation Bill 2014: Committee and Remaining Stages

SECTION 1

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“(3) The Minister shall, within 12 days of the passing of this Act, publish a report providing a breakdown of savings in 2014 arising from the Haddington Road agreement, on a vote by vote basis.”.

For the record, I have submitted five substantial amendments on the appropriation accounts. I know we will not have time to discuss them all here as we have only 20 minutes to deal with them. While this Bill might be considered a piece of housekeeping and a rubber stamp job, I take all legislation going through the House far more seriously than a rubber stamp. If legislation is to be a rubber stamp exercise, I will not be part of it. That is why we have this debate. Our Whip sought a debate on this because we felt it necessary to have a debate on the appropriation accounts, which normally slide through on the last day of the session.

Sorry to interrupt, but we never used to have a debate on this Bill and did not have it when Fianna Fáil was in government.

I accept that. This is probably the first time ever and the Bills Office was surprised to find somebody putting forward amendments, probably for the first time ever. I am proud of that, because the Government should be answerable to the Chamber. I expect the Minister of State would agree with that.

My first amendment asks for the Minister, within 12 days of the passing of the Act, essentially the end of the year, to publish a report providing a breakdown of the savings in 2014 - we are talking about the 2014 appropriation accounts - arising from the Haddington Road agreement on a Vote by Vote basis. The reason I have asked for this is simple; the Minister has said time after time that the Haddington Road agreement will deliver savings of €1 billion over three years. This is simply not true. The Minister has never backed this up and has never shown the savings on a Department by Department basis or shown how the figures add up. He speaks about €200 million for this, €100 million for that or €160 million for something else. He has never provided a breakdown and I say that is because he knows that the savings promised have not been delivered.

The majority of the savings in the public sector pay bill have come about as a result of retirements, not as a result of the Haddington Road agreement, yet, the Minister continually attributes the reductions and the savings to the agreement. This is not true as they are attributable to the normal ebb and flow of people and retirements from the public service. Last year, there were approximately 850 retirements. This year, we are told the figure is 1,300 plus, which is why we had a Supplementary Estimate. This is the reason the public sector pay bill will reduce over the lifetime of the agreement, from 2013 to 2016.

When I have asked about these issues previously, the Minister - the Taoiseach has confirmed this - has told us the figures on savings are masked in the overall Estimate, cannot be identified separately and are unidentifiable on a Vote by Vote basis. This amendment has been submitted to call the Minister's bluff. I do not believe he is capable of delivering the figures, but he will give me some answer or other. He cannot provide a breakdown, even if he had from now until Christmas 12 months to provide a breakdown of the savings adding up to €1 billion on a Vote by Vote basis.

Because I believe this to be true, I wrote to every Secretary General and Accounting Officer of the various Departments during the summer, asking each of them to provide me with a breakdown for his or her Department as a result of the Haddington Road agreement and asking for specifics as to whether these savings related to salaries, reduction in hours, change in pension payments for people on salaries over €32,500. Before that, I had submitted a parliamentary question to every Minister, but each of them referred the question back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. They were afraid to respond because they knew they did not have the answer. The Department says there is €1 billion in savings, but that is a nonsense answer. I should have complained to the Ceann Comhairle about my questions not being answered, but I am accustomed to not getting a proper response from the Minister, Deputy Howlin.

When I wrote to every Secretary General, two, three or four of them made a genuine effort to provide some information, but the majority did not reply to me, the main Opposition spokesperson on public expenditure. I know why they did not reply; it is because they do not have the figures. Therefore, I raised the issue again during our discussion on the Supplementary Estimates and asked for a breakdown from the Minister's Department on Vote 12. I asked how much of the savings in the Supplementary Estimates - we had this debate last Tuesday week - was attributable to the Haddington Road agreement. I wanted to get a figure, but the Minister bluffed in his reply. He told me the savings from the Haddington Road agreement were not relevant to the Vote or the Supplementary Estimates. His response was shocking.

He then said he would provide information "tomorrow". Three times he said on public record that he would provide the information. "Tomorrow" was last Wednesday. We then voted here on Thursday, without the information having been provided. I am used to getting a snide remark from the Minister, who seems aggravated when people ask about taxpayers' money. He said he briefed the media. That reply was issued by the Minister's office to the Clerk of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform on 15 December and is a public document. It says more about the Minister and the people he has doing his bidding for him that he accused me of issuing this. It was a public document that had been issued to the committee on Tuesday, or perhaps Monday, 15 December, but it only came one week after the Vote when we had sought it.

I would like a quick reply from the Minister of State on this amendment - as I want to add a supplementary question - and on whether he can provide a breakdown on a Vote by Vote basis of the savings from the Haddington Road agreement. I have provided time for this, until the end of the year, but the information should already be in the system. I know it will not be possible to produce the information if it is not in the system, but the Minister keeps telling us there have been savings. He mixes up savings happening in the public payroll area, savings that would have happened in any event, with or without an agreement, and masks these savings as a result of the Haddington Road agreement.

I am all in favour of the changes that have happened in the public service, difficult and all as some have been. The biggest cuts were made by Fianna Fáil and minor ones came later. We introduced the various emergency measures and the Government has added to our legislation. All I am asking for is simple information. I am not querying whether the cuts should or should not have been made. They were accepted by the trade unions and their representatives, so there is no argument about them. All I want is a breakdown of the savings, but the Minister gets hostile when asked for a breakdown. He promotes himself as a Minister who supports freedom of information, but he gets hostile when asked to provide information regarding Government expenditure. Perhaps the Minister of State can provide the information I am looking for.

I remind Deputies we have only 14 minutes left. We have a number of other amendments and sections to deal with, but I must put the vote after 20 minutes of debate.

I reject the assertion that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is hostile in regard to the provision of information. He has done a lot to ensure there is more information available than there was, including in regard to freedom of information and has rowed back on the curtailment introduced by Fianna Fáil. He has enhanced the legislation to ensure there is more openness in regard to government. I do not think the Deputy's criticism is fair.

I do not propose to accept this amendment. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has previously announced the intention to publish an annual report on public service reform, including the issues addressed in the Haddington Road agreement, in early 2015, in line with the commitment in the Government's public service reform plan 2014-2016. I understand this commitment was previously conveyed and confirmed to the Deputy in response to a parliamentary question in October. It should also be noted that the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 obliges that a statutory report be made on the requirement for and effectiveness of the legislation. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will make a further report to the Oireachtas in June 2015 in line with these statutory obligations.

The Haddington Road agreement, which came into effect on 1 July 2013, is underpinned by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 and forms the cornerstone for public service policy over a three year period. Over the first 18 months of its lifetime, the agreement has been key in enabling reduced costs in the public service pay and pensions bill. The impact of the 2013 Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 and the Haddington Road agreement has been to deliver cost reductions and substantial productivity increases. The additional hours which the agreement has facilitated have allowed the Government the scope to reinvest in key front-line services by recruiting additional staff and we are now moving into that space. The demonstrates that the agreement is delivering and contributing to achieving the Government's fiscal target of bringing the deficit target below 3% GDP by end 2015.

It is important to differentiate when trying to calculate the benefits of the Haddington Road agreement versus the Croke Park agreement and previous agreements. It is quite different.

The agreement provided for a number of pay cuts for people at the higher end of the public sector pay scale. As a result, the effects were fed into the system immediately. That was quite different from the Croke Park agreement, under which there was a thorough implementation process and a need to scrutinise whether various reforms or objectives had been met. The Haddington Road agreement was clear-cut in terms of what it did and the pay cuts it implemented. It was a fairer agreement than previous ones in respect of where it tried to strike the balance in savings. We do not propose to accept the amendment because we do not believe this is the legislation under which a report should be provided within 12 days. This is technical legislation. The Minister has given a commitment to publish a public service reform annual report in 2015, which will address key issues, including issues under the Haddington Road agreement. He has reiterated that commitment to the Deputy in the House. Thankfully, we are moving into a space in which we can look at engaging on the future of public sector pay and working conditions and recruitment to key front-line services. Therefore, the amendment is not necessary.

That is the response I expected, because the Minister is not capable of producing a breakdown. That is why he will not produce a report. It would not hold up the legislation, because I specifically asked for the report to the published following the passage of the Bill in due course. He would have time to do that, and it would not interfere with this legislation.

The Minister of State is the first Minister to acknowledge that the cuts under the Haddington Road agreement were clear-cut for those earning more than €65,000 and for those with pensions in excess of €32,500. Given that he is boasting that these were simple, clear-cut, black-and-white changes, the Minister should be able to provide figures for the impact of the cuts on a vote-by-vote basis, but he is essentially saying that will not be done because the Minister will present an annual report. There is zero chance of that information being provided in this report. It will be a global public service report and there will no breakdown. If it is as simple as the Minister of State says to quantify the savings as a result of the different cuts, I would welcome that. I want to verify the Minister's statement, which he has repeated ad nauseam, that the Haddington Road agreement provides for €1 billion in savings. I do not believe that for a minute. It is similar to the flawed Estimates he issues every year. In an hour, we will be presented with Revised Estimates for 2015, which will be another set of false statements.

For those who do understand these technical Bills, the Minister of State's reply sounded good, but it is not relevant. He gave the impression that there would be a report on the FEMPI legislation. That is a simple report explaining why we need the FEMPI legislation and dealing with the sustainability of the national debt, the general government deficit and so on, but it does not address the savings under the Haddington Road agreement, as the Minister of State will be aware. It is a different report entirely, which will not give the savings I have sought on a vote-by-vote basis or even on a heading-by-heading basis. The Minister has studiously avoided dealing with this issue since the agreement was introduced. His bluff has eventually been called and I am sorry he is not present. He wittingly or unwittingly called his own bluff in the letter he issued to the Oireachtas committee to which I referred earlier on 15 December. I asked a series of questions and I was not happy with the reply. I met his officials following the vote last Thursday.

The Minister promised three times on the record of the House last Tuesday week to provide the information the following day. On Thursday morning, I spotted that he was to take the vote on the Supplementary Estimate in the Chamber. I rang his office and said that I had not received the information. He did not contact me, having promised it to the committee three times. I asked him to withhold the Supplementary Estimates until Tuesday of this week or until he had provided us with the information, and he refused to do that, saying that he had to publish the appropriation accounts. This all happened before the vote last Thursday, with the public unaware that there had been direct calls between me and his office. I then offered to take the Supplementary Estimate last Friday because the House was sitting, giving him another day to supply the information. I did not object to the content, but I wanted the information in the public interest. However, the Minister would not agree to take the Supplementary Estimate that day. The vote went ahead on Thursday. He asked a senior official, whom I was happy to talk to, to phone me. The official said they could not issue the information I was seeking because it would breach data protection rules, as it might be possible to identify some of the people based on their scales and the limited number of people retiring out of the 1,300 people mentioned. That was the first time this had been mentioned. The Minister, therefore, was not capable of supplying the information he had committed to providing on Tuesday. I said I would meet the official following the vote. I had no other option and that was one of the reasons I voted against the Supplementary Estimate. We were not happy with the choices that led to it anyway.

I met three officials from the Department and I agreed to narrow the scope of the query and have the information put in bands in order that there was no way people could be identified by Department, by category or by name. The information was supplied to the committee on 15 December. The Minister's bluff was eventually called. I had been asking him about the lump sum savings in respect of the pension levy, which the Minister of State says are laid out simply in black-and-white under the Haddington Road agreement for the public service in Vote 12. I asked for a breakdown and the Minister supplied a table to the committee. A total of 3,653 people in receipt of public service pensions were hit by the public service pension reduction, PSPR. Some of them were affected by a reduction under the original FEMPI legislation and the third FEMPI Act, both of which were implemented during our time in government, and then they suffered a further reduction under the fifth FEMPI Act, which relates to the Haddington Road agreement. I wanted to isolate the saving under FEMPI, which could not be simpler. The Minister, in reply to the committee earlier this week, stated:

Please note that a significant number of the payees involved were already paying PSPR prior to the implementation of FEMPI 5. These cases had their PSPR increased in line with the new relevant applicable deduction percentages. The FEMPI Act 2013 gave effect to the terms of the Haddington Road agreement. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform advises it is not possible to extract the portion of PSPR payable that relates directly to the increases in the PSPR in that Act.

The Minister, therefore, at long last told the committee that it is not possible, even in respect of that specific black-and-white item, to extract the portion of PSPR attributable to the Haddington Road agreement and the FEMPI Act 2013, yet he bandies about a figure of €1 billion in savings over three years How can he make up a figure when he cannot work out a basic, simple calculation? The Minister has been bluffing about the savings all along. He cannot provide them and he will not do so because they do not add up to €1 billion.

I cannot let the assertion of bluffing go unchallenged. I could make pointed comments but I will not, given the limited time available. The Deputy should not try to drag me into a row that he has been trying to keep going for well over a week. The Haddington Road agreement reached with the public sector unions was clear-cut in how it went about its business. It made it clear where the savings would be achieved on pay and pensions and at what levels they kicked in. The sum the Minister has put in the public domain is one we will stand over proudly. He and his officials have engaged with the committee and the Deputy on this.

We are very proud of what has been achieved under the Haddington Road agreement in maintaining and extending services through significant gains in productivity. As I said in my initial contribution, we are moving to higher ground, where as a result of budget 2015, we can finally look at increasing front-line staff numbers in key and important sectors such education and health, as well as the number of gardaí. We can also look at engaging, post the Haddington Road agreement, with public sector unions on where we go from here. The Minister will be publishing an annual report on public sector reform which will deal with the Haddington Road agreement in line with the commitment he has given. He is a Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform who has done nothing but add to the level of transparency in government and who will continue to do so.

I cannot accept the amendment for the reasons outlined. It is not appropriate to include such requests for reports in primary legislation.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I am opposing section 1. In the past 60 minutes the Minister of State has got the gist of what I want to say. As he rightly said, there is no new Government policy decision being announced today, there is no change of approach by the Government and there is nothing new in the legislation. All it does is give statutory effect to every expenditure choice the Government has made during the course of the year in the Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. I have given the Minister of State several reasons I disagree with the choices the Government made during the year. I reject the choices it made owing to a lack of fairness.

In opposing the section the Deputy misses the point; this is the section that will ensure public servants, pensioners and those in receipt of disability and jobseeker's allowance are paid. The Deputy has picked the wrong part of the Bill to oppose because while he can take comfort from the fact that he will be paid from the Central Fund in January, all of the people I have mentioned - vulnerable members of society - would not. We must pass legislation today. Opposing the section is pantomime politics.

As the time permitted for the debate has expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 17 December 2014: "That each of the sections undisposed of is hereby agreed to in Committee; that Schedules 1 and 2 and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; that the Bill is, accordingly, reported to the House without amendment; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed; that the Bill is hereby passed; that the Bill which is certified to be a Money Bill will now be sent to the Seanad."

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 28.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.

Níl

  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Sean Fleming and Mattie McGrath.
Question declared carried.

The Bill, which is certified to be a Money Bill in accordance with Article 22.1.1° of the Constitution, will now be sent to the Seanad.