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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 1 Oct 2015

Vol. 891 No. 2

Other Questions

Flood Relief Schemes Status

Billy Timmins


5. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when approval will be granted for the flood relief scheme for Arklow in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32880/15]

My question refers specifically to a flood relief scheme for Arklow in County Wicklow. This project has been in the ether for a couple of decades and lay on the shelf during the lifetime of the last Government. In fairness, however, the current Government has resurrected it. I am conscious that €400 million has been allocated for flood protection works in the capital programme announced in the last few days. What is the prognosis for the scheme in Arklow? Can we have an update?

I thank Deputy Timmins for raising the matter and providing me with an opportunity to update the House on the status of plans for the Arklow flood relief scheme.

A flood relief scheme for the town of Arklow is being advanced by Wicklow County Council in partnership with the Office of Public Works, OPW, which is providing the funding. The project is being overseen by a steering group which comprises representatives of Wicklow County Council, the council's engineering consultants, environmental consultants and the OPW. The scheme is moving through the required stages of design and development and has progressed to a stage where a feasibility report is nearing finalisation following detailed consultations between Wicklow County Council, the consultants involved and the OPW. There is an absolute commitment on all sides to progress and complete a flood relief scheme for Arklow to ensure that the people and businesses of the town are protected from the flooding that devastated the town in previous years. I confirm that on the basis that a viable, cost beneficial and environmentally acceptable scheme is proposed to the OPW, funding will be made available as required. The Arklow scheme is provided for in the OPW's multi-annual capital expenditure profiles. In fact, the Arklow scheme is specifically listed in the capital plan published by my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, this week.

I understand the frustration of communities over how long it takes to bring major flood relief schemes such as that for Arklow to the point of commencement of construction. However, it is in the nature of flood defence schemes which involve complex civil engineering works within a river environment in an urban setting that the amount of planning and preparation required is necessarily very detailed. I note in this context, however, that my office provided funding to Wicklow County Council in 2012 under the minor flood mitigation works scheme to carry out interim flood relief works in Arklow. These works comprised the construction of a new flood protection wall and have now been completed to offer protection to properties and businesses in the river walk and town centre area of the town.

As I mentioned earlier, a feasibility study to identify possible flood mitigation measures for Arklow Town is nearing completion. The study was commissioned initially by Arklow Town Council and is being progressed by Wicklow County Council with funding provided by the Office of Public Works. In addition, environmental consultants were appointed by the OPW to carry out an environmental impact statement and to work in tandem with the engineering consultants to identify environmentally acceptable measures. It was also necessary to commission separate surveys of the quay walls and an assessment report on Arklow Bridge when it became evident that a number of potential flood alleviation measures might impact on the bridge. All of these assessments will be brought together in a draft final feasibility report which I expect to receive shortly.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The purpose of the report is to identify and assess using technical, environmental and economic criteria the viability of a range of possible flood relief measures for Arklow. Based on this assessment, the report is to identify and recommend a preferred flood relief scheme and set out an outline design of the recommended scheme.

The OPW has been engaged in extensive consultation and discussions with Wicklow County Council and its consultants in relation to technical aspects of the proposals for the scheme and also on the methodology employed in early drafts of the feasibility report with regard to cost-benefit assessment. To enable additional flood relief options to be considered, further hydraulic modelling was also carried out this year and a workshop involving the relevant personnel will be held in the next month to consider the various options from a multi-criteria perspective in terms of the study objectives - technical, economic, social and environmental. I am confident that any remaining issues can be resolved without undue delay and that Wicklow County Council will be in a position to provide the final draft feasibility report for the scheme shortly. When the final draft is produced and provided that the preferred scheme is economically and environmentally viable, it is proposed to hold a second public information day, PID, in Arklow to afford the public an opportunity to view the proposed scheme works and to invite their comments and feedback in relation to these proposals. The comments received at the PID will inform the progress of the scheme. It is envisaged that this PID will be held early in 2016.

It has been agreed that once an environmentally and economically viable scheme has been identified, the works will be carried out under Wicklow County Council's legislative powers with funding provided by the OPW. This will involve the council acting as the contracting authority to progress the project through the next stages of planning and statutory consents, detailed design and procurement of a works contractor. Pending this, it is not possible to give a definite timescale for the implementation of the scheme. However, I assure the Deputy that the OPW will work constructively with the local authority to ensure that the scheme is progressed as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Can he give me any indication of a timeframe for when the project will go on public display?

What is his guesstimate for when the job will go out to contract?

I would be delighted to indicate that. It is my hope and belief that we will be able to hold a public information day in Arklow in early 2016 at the latest. If all goes well following that consultation and there is an acceptance of the scheme by local residents and business owners, I expect the county council to lodge a planning permission application with An Bord Pleanála in mid-2016. A scheme which has been discussed for a long time but which was left on the shelf to gather dust is nearing the point of being put on public display for the input of local people, if not by the end of this year, which would be my main hope, then by early 2016 with a view to having the planning permission application lodged in mid-2016. When completed, the scheme will protect approximately 600 properties that are at risk, of which 450 are residential, and prevent road closures and traffic and economic disruption in the town.

I am pleased to confirm that funding is in place for the scheme. We must await the finalisation of the feasibility study, but the likely works involved include channel and bank maintenance, tidal and fluvial flood containment walls, non-return valves at pumping stations, a debris trap in the river channel, the removal of built-up river sediments, modifications to and underpinning of the existing bridge and the removal of a pinch point downstream of Arklow Bridge.

Drainage Schemes Status

Seán Kyne


6. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform , in light of the provision of funding in his departmental budget, if the River Clare drainage scheme will be proceeding, given the necessity of the works for this region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33328/15]

I raised this issue on 9 October 2014 and I believe that we are all sitting in the same seats. According to the Minister of State at the time, "The Claregalway scheme is the first flood relief scheme submitted for confirmation following the coming into effect of the 2012 regulations", which "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". This has not happened. There has certainly been no confirmation. What is the delay?

I thank Deputy Kyne for raising this question and for his persistence on what is an important matter. I confirm that the River Clare drainage scheme will be proceeding. The Office of Public Works, OPW, in association with Galway County Council, has developed a flood relief scheme under the Arterial Drainage Acts for the River Clare in the environs of Claregalway. In recognition of the significant flooding problems in the area, it was agreed to proceed with interim measures to reduce flood risk. In 2012, the following remedial works were carried out in advance of the main scheme works: construction of a flood eye at Claregalway bridge; and construction of new bridge at Crusheeny. These advance works have been successfully completed at a cost of €2.5 million. While they have significantly reduced flood risk in the area, they do not provide the OPW standard level of protection that the overall scheme will provide, which is to protect against the one-in-100 year flood event.

As the Deputy will be aware, a public exhibition of the River Clare scheme was held in late 2012 and stakeholders were afforded an opportunity to submit their observations on the proposals. A number of responses were received, including a detailed submission by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on nature conservation and the underwater archaeological aspects of the proposed works. Where necessary, the issues raised were considered fully by the OPW with in-depth technical input from the environmental consultants and were addressed where appropriate. The proposed scheme was subsequently approved by the OPW and submitted to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in late 2013 for confirmation, that is, statutory approval.

Regulations were introduced across a number of Departments in 2012 in order to ensure that Ireland was fully compliant with EU environmental impact assessment, EIA, laws. These regulations introduced necessary changes to Departments' EIA consent systems. In the case of flood relief schemes carried out under the Arterial Drainage Acts, the regulations require that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, as the "consent authority" for such schemes, undertake an independent assessment of the environmental impact statement, EIS, submitted with the scheme documents by the OPW under the confirmation process. The Minister is also required to publish his decision to confirm or not to confirm a scheme and to provide for a process of appeal of his decision. The Claregalway scheme was the first scheme to be submitted under this process. I will respond further and with more detail in a moment.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply, but this information is the same as that provided last year. The Claregalway scheme was the first that needed to be approved under the new regulations and the EU directive. Presumably, this means that no flood relief scheme has proceeded in the interim. They are all waiting.

People are exasperated by this situation. We are told that the money is available under the capital plan, but it was available this time last year. The scheme has been announced repeatedly, including by the Minister of State's predecessor. People are wondering about the reason for the delay and when these schemes will be approved. Will this be the process for all future relief schemes? Will there be a couple of years of a delay or is the Minister of State still trying to fine-tune a template for approvals? Must the existing environmental impact statement, EIS, be approved or must the Department conduct an assessment of its own? There was some confusion in that regard last year, so I am wondering whether it has been decided.

The Deputy is correct. As a result of the Claregalway scheme being the first, it is fair to say that it has taken longer than one would wish. We have consulted the Office of the Attorney General on putting in place an adequate, streamlined and efficient system to deal with schemes. However, there is news for the Deputy that differs from that provided last year, namely, the process in my Department will be completed in October and we are moving towards finalising the evaluation. Being the first, not only was it important to evaluate the Claregalway scheme, but also to put in place a template for further schemes. Lessons should be learned.

Following completion of the confirmation process by the Minister - assuming that it is a positive decision - and allowing the necessary time for the Department to inform the public of that decision, the OPW will be in a position to commence works on the scheme in a matter of weeks subject to their being carried out within environmental windows and satisfying any precondition that may be attached to the confirmation process. When VAT and future cost fluctuations are taken into account, the total budget for the scheme is €7.1 million, including the approximately €2.5 million that has already been expended.

I thank the Minister of State for the positive statement to the effect that the process will be completed in October. Following completion, when is it likely that a decision will be made? The major capital investments that were announced in the capital plan this week are welcome, but I would not like such delays to ensue in other projects. In that regard, it is important that schemes under the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme be expedited within the environmental requirements and legislation. Sometimes, a good news story that provides relief and assurance to people can be negated by delays.

I largely agree. It is important that we have systems in place to deal speedily with schemes. It is also important that the State carry out this work in accordance with the law, including our European commitments under environmental law.

I am pleased to be able to update Deputy Kyne on the significant progress that has been made with the Claregalway scheme. Under the capital plan announced by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, this week, the Government has pledged to spend more on flood relief in the next five years than was spent in the past 20 years combined. This shows the Government's commitment.

Maintenance works have been carried out on the River Clare. The OPW employed two long-reach machines to remove a build-up of silt from bends on both banks of the river from Lough Corrib upstream to Crusheeny Bridge. I am informed that this work has been substantially completed. The Minister has assured me that, as soon as the process is completed in the Department, there will be no delay on his end and there will be none on mine. We are eager for the scheme to progress as quickly as possible. I reiterate that the funding is in place.

Rural Development Policy

Thomas Pringle


7. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the long-term capital spending plan will have a strong focus on rural regeneration, including active targeting of geographical barriers to economic growth, for counties such as Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33420/15]

This question relates to the capital plan that was announced this week and how it will focus on rural areas and assist them in trying to address regional imbalances across the country.

I thank the Deputy for his question. I published the plan, Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021, this week.  It sets out the Government's €27 billion Exchequer capital plan for the next six years.  It includes a new third phase in the Government's public private partnership, PPP, programme and is in addition to other State-led investments, bringing the total to €42 billion.

In terms of transport, the plan outlines an investment of €6 billion on roads across the country over the next seven years, including roads projects targeted at removing critical bottlenecks, some of which will be known to the Deputy, and upgrading inadequate sections. Additional investment will be provided for the continued development and improvement of sports facilities at regional and local levels and for further enhancement of the tourism offering through further investment in the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and other innovative tourism products.

As well as building schools across the country, which will be focused on demographic need, we will fund the installation of wireless networks and ICT hardware in all schools.

With regard to supporting regional development and sustaining communities, there are substantial investment commitments to support the roll out of broadband. The rural economy will benefit from the critical investment set out in the investment framework by a provision of €235 million for Leader. A new village renewal scheme has been set out to support the revitalisation of towns and villages.

As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, said, we are providing an investment of €430 million in flood risk mitigation across the country in areas where there is the greatest risk. We have provided extra funding also for the peatlands restoration programme to restore peatlands to their natural state.

The Government is committed to rural Ireland. We are committed to creating jobs on a sustainable basis across the country. The roll out of local enterprise offices provides an opportunity to increase engagement with the wider enterprise community to provide micro and small enterprises, which are the main employers in rural Ireland, with the funding and the supports they need. Over the lifetime of the plan, Exchequer investment will support 45,000 jobs in every part of the country.

With Dublin making up 42% of Ireland's GDP, there is a need to restructure and rebalance regional development and ensure that other rural parts of Ireland can compete with Dublin, never mind internationally.

I will focus on two aspects the Minister mentioned. On the village renewal scheme in rural Ireland, the plan provides for Exchequer funding of €5 million in the budget but that amounts to about €200,000 per local authority. That level of funding for each local authority is hardly what one would class as a significant investment that would help to regenerate rural areas.

On the broadband plan, it is vitally important that the roll out of the broadband plan targets the most disadvantaged areas, the regions and the most distant areas first to try to give them some chance to play catch-up over the coming years. I ask the Minister to focus on that when he is talking to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources about it.

I totally agree with the Deputy that we need to have regional balance. That has been the focus of the Government from the outset. If we consider job creation across the country, the national figure is a 3% increase in the past 12 months. The regional figures are much better than that. In my own area, for example, the south east, it is better. The focus of the Government has been on ensuring that every region is supported by this measure. The strategy to ensure fast-track broadband is available across the country to everybody is very important in that context.

Although the Deputy mentioned the €30 million for the new rural programme, that is a small subset of the moneys that are available. As he will know, I have agreed a multi-billion euro investment for rural Ireland, co-funded by the European Union with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which will impact on every village and area of the country. The schools, roads and primary health care systems we are building will support and enhance every region of the country.

On schools, there is a commitment in the plan to do away with temporary accommodation within schools but arising from a question to the Department of Education and Skills, and I accept that is not the Minister's Department, it did not even have a list of all the schools in Donegal that are in temporary accommodation so how can we expect that it will deal with the problem?

That leads me to the question of whether the funding projections are correct. What role does the Minister's Department play in terms of dealing with other Departments to make sure they have the right figures?

The Department of Education and Skills has direct Exchequer funding over the horizon of this programme of €3.8 billion and another €200 million in public private partnerships, PPPs, aimed at the IT sector, which again can assist the regions.

In terms of prefabs, the first objective of this Government was to eliminate hired-in prefabs in all schools. That has been achieved. The next objective is to eliminate the temporary buildings the Deputy spoke about, namely, bought prefabs, and I am assured by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, that the resources she has asked for and that I provided will achieve that objective in the lifetime of this programme.

Departmental Expenditure

Seán Fleming


8. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the cost of the operation of the national procurement office in 2014; the estimated cost in 2015 and for 2016, his views on its operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33417/15]

I ask the Minister to give us an indication of the cost of the operation of the national procurement office in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and his views on how that office is operating.

The Office of Government Procurement, OGP, is the office responsible for public procurement.

The OGP Vote for 2014 was €12.4 million, of which €6.7 million was transferred from the Office of Public Works, OPW, for the national procurement service and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's, DPER's, national public procurement policy unit.

Actual spend in 2014 was €6.1 million; we allocated €12.4 million but actually spent €6.1 million. A total of €6.3 million returned to the Exchequer, which was mainly due to the delays in recruitment of staff to the OGP, which impacted the pay bill. The total allocated for 2015 is €18.9 million. Expenditure for next year will be a matter for the Estimates process.

The OGP is still at an early stage of operation, having recruited the majority of its resources through 2015. Setting up the OGP will develop capacity to enable better value for taxpayers, better management of risk for the State and better management of suppliers. The OGP sourcing teams have completed 68 projects this year to date capturing an estimated annual spend of €1.3 billion. They are currently working on 187 active projects across all eight categories with an estimated value of €720 million.

In July, the OGP published an updated target schedule of contracts and frameworks giving public sector bodies and the markets a nine month horizon of planned OGP sourcing activity from the third quarter this year to quarter 1 next year.  This enables the markets to plan their bidding in a much more structured way. Savings enabled this year by the OGP and sector sourcing organisations are estimated at €66 million, with a balance of €58 million savings being enabled next year.

In March 2015, I launched a report entitled "Public Service Spend and Tendering Analysis for 2013", which provided, for the first time, an examination of detailed non-pay expenditure for a large portion of the public service.  This has brought much needed data to policymakers and to the markets. It is planned to issue a similar report for 2014 before the end of this year.

They all seem to be very busy but I do not get the impression they are achieving very much. I was a supporter of this office but I am disappointed not just with what the Minister said but, specifically, what he did not say in his response. I refer to the Revised Estimates for the Public Services 2015, and Vote 39, which is the Vote we discussed in committee. The Minister came into the committee earlier this year and said that these were the 2015 output targets for this new office to complete the recruitment of all staff. He has said now that has not happened. The Minister said he would secure Cabinet agreement to put the office on a legislative basis, but there was no mention of that.

In terms of how the office is operating, the Aer Arann fiasco in which it had an involvement clearly shows it is out of touch. Sometimes centralisation can be a good move and achieve efficiencies. I will not go into describing how it is excluding many small businesses from being involved in the procurement process but the way it handled the Aer Arann air service is an example of how much it is out of touch.

The Minister might give us an update on the service level agreements between the Office of Government Procurement and the various public bodies, in terms of the number that have been completed, and between the office and the various designated lead buyers.

I am disappointed in the attitude of the Deputy to the modernisation of procurement. The Deputy is quite content to have a dysfunctional procurement operation that was the hallmark of his own time in Government when nobody knew the price of goods and services and every State agency was buying the same products from the same suppliers at different prices. We professionalised that system but it cannot be professionalised in an instant. The recruitment process has been slower than we expected but I can tell the House now that as of 11 September there were some 178 of the expected 231 people recruited. There are some vacancies still in the process. Obviously, appointments have been made and people are waiting to take up those appointments. When we have recruited the full cohort of people, we will have a professional procurement system for the public service for the first time in our history.

It will give transparency to the way we buy goods and services that will be analogous to best commercial practices that we would expect of very large companies. The State and taxpayer deserve and expect nothing less.

When this office was set up I supported it, but I am disappointed at the rate of implementation. I said they seemed very busy. I said I supported the principle of centralisation, but I want it to be in touch. The Minister has said he is still waiting to recruit 60 staff into that organisation. It has been in operation for two years and the full complement of staff still has not been recruited. It was one thing last year to claim we had a plan of expenditure of €12.5 million and we spent less than half of it. I hope that was a lesson to the people involved to get on with the job. This House of the Oireachtas voted substantial funding for it this year, €18.9 million.

How many public bodies does it deal with? How many service level agreements are expected to be in place ultimately? How many are already in place especially for the organisations that are the lead buyers? How many service level agreements are in place for bodies such as Kerry County Council for local authority purchasing, the HSE which is still the lead buyer for other services, and the Department of Defence which still does its own work?

Reformed procurement activities have saved approximately €100 million over the past two years. In the embryonic stage of the OGP we have saved €100 million in direct savings and an additional €16.5 million in utility savings. This is before we really get operational to invigilate a proper professional procurement regime.

The Deputy asked about service level agreements. I do not have those data before me, but I will ask the OGP to forward them directly to him.

Every agency of State and every Department is transforming how they do their business in a professional way. It takes a while to recruit the professionals we need. We want to get the right people in place and we have largely done that. There are still a few more we need to recruit, but largely all the key people are in place. It will have a transformative impact on how the State operates in the right way so that all goods and services can be bought in a transparent way. There are no side deals or local deals that, unfortunately, used to be a feature of how the State operated in the past.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.

Government Expenditure

Mick Wallace


10. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the data from the International Monetary Fund's fiscal monitor, which reported that Ireland has one of the lowest Government expenditures in the European Union; his plans to consider this in his preparations for the upcoming budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33311/15]

According to NERI's Quarterly Economic Observer, which uses the data from the IMF's fiscal monitor, Ireland currently has the third lowest government expenditure in the EU. It stated that if the current trend of low taxes, leading to lower public service provision, leading to higher costs of living and consequently to calls for tax cuts continues, Ireland could end up with the lowest public expenditure in the EU. In the upcoming budget the Government is proposing a 50:50 split between the two. Does he not believe we should lean more heavily on investments rather than tax cuts given that so many people are in a difficult place?

The economic crisis obviously had a profound impact on the public finances. Nobody in this House would deny that. The fiscal adjustment implemented in order that Ireland could successfully exit the troika programme and return sustainability to our public finances required expenditure reductions. Gross voted expenditure was reduced from its peak of just over €63 billion in 2009, when infamously we were told we were awash with money, to €54 billion last year. Consequently any international comparison of Government expenditure needs to be viewed in that context.

In implementing expenditure reductions, the Government's priority was to ensure that a targeted approach was adopted in order to protect key public services and social supports to the greatest extent possible. The key sectors of health, education and social protection were prioritised throughout this period, and this year these three areas of health, education and social protection account for some 80% of the Government's gross voted spending on the current side.

The fiscal forecasts in April's stability programme update outline that in 2016 general Government expenditure, excluding debt interest, is projected to be just 32% of GDP or 37.5% of GNP. As a proportion of the overall economy, this would leave Government spending next year at roughly the same size it was in 2001.

Budget 2015 marked a turning point in our fiscal and economic recovery, as expenditure reductions were no longer required to meet our fiscal targets. The Government was in a position to hold overall spending steady and to make some targeted increases in selected areas. The capital plan which I published this week involves an additional €27 billion of capital spending over the period 2016 to 2021.

In setting out expenditure measures for next year's budget, Government will seek to enhance further key public services while building on the progress we have made in returning our economy to stability.

In 2015 public investment made up 1.8% of GDP. The €27 billion package over six years the Minister mentioned represents 1.9% of GDP. So between this year and 2021, the annual average increase in public investment will be less than €250 million, compared with the Government's intention to provide €750 million in tax cuts. Rather than a 50:50 split, I believe the Minister would have preferred to lean more towards investment in the services rather than tax cuts. As the Minister knows, indirect taxation in Ireland is pretty draconian and obviously impacts most on those with least money. Would the Minister not admit that he would rather see a better balance in favour of service investment?

The proportion of expenditure versus tax reduction will be debated in the course of the general election campaign next year.

Does the Minister mean this year?

In terms of the public sector spend, I frequently read different takes on what we actually spend and very peculiar analyses and comparisons being made. A very interesting article published by Seamus Coffey, the UCC economist, indicates that across all countries, health, education and social protection for families and working-age population represent the biggest chunk of expenditure normally. In 2013 the average expenditure across those three areas in the 28 countries of the EU was the equivalent of 19.7% of GDP. In Ireland we spent 22.8% of GDP, which ranked Ireland as the seventh highest spending EU country on health, education and social protection.

The different take we can get on figures is amazing.

That is what I am saying.

To counteract the Minister's argument, Michael Taft has stated:

The Government proposes investment levels not seen since the stagnation years of the early 1980s. Indeed, the Government six-year programme will be the lowest of any six-year tranche at any time since 1970.

The long-term annual average level of public investment is 3.5 percent of GDP with peaks in the 1970s and in the run-up to the crash. To reach our long-term average by 2021 would mean an investment package of €41 billion, or a 50 percent increase on the Government’s package.

Let neither of us get lost in the figures and in what the economists say. I return to my question: I will ask the Minister once more. Would he agree that, given that, we should lean more on the investment side rather than tax cuts? As a Labour Party man I would like to think that he would definitely think that. I ask him to answer that question.

The problem about quoting statistics and facts is that we all have facts to support our argument. However, there is objective fact: there must be some objective truth in all of this. In truth, I am reading from a UCC economist who has analysed the figures. He indicated that measuring as a percentage of GDP is problematic for Ireland because of the operation of multinational companies.

Deputy Wallace is aware that GNP is often a much more accurate assessment of Ireland. If one takes a hybrid of the two, Ireland ranks third in expenditure on the social areas. Only Denmark and Finland spend more of their income on those critical areas. We need to know the facts before we draw conclusions. This is taxpayers' money and we need to know what we are spending and what we are getting for it. We need to have a system based on the truth before we all, if one likes, arm ourselves with economic facts to bolster a theory we have.

To return to the Deputy's question, I will set out my view and that of the Labour Party on the division of tax and spend when the election campaign starts next year. In terms of this year, we have an agreement with our partners in government. In view of the very significant increase in taxes over the crisis period, including universal charge, all trade unions are campaigning very actively on it, as they consider it a punitive tax, in particular for low and medium income earners and they say we need to rebalance that this year. We will probably have a different view, as the Deputy might envisage, beyond this year.

Flood Risk Assessments

Seán Fleming


11. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the catchment flood risk assessment and management studies; when they will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33416/15]

I wish to ask the Minister the status of the catchment flood risk assessment and management studies, when the plans will be implemented and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Fleming’s question is timely in the light of the capital plan. Good progress is being made on the national catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme which is the principal vehicle for implementing the EU floods directive and forms the strategic focus of national flood policy for some years, since approximately 2006. Engineering consultants have been appointed by the Office of Public Works, OPW, to implement the programme, through six regional studies. Local authorities and other stakeholders are involved, in partnership with the OPW, on steering groups and progress groups across the six study areas. I am sure Deputy Fleming and all Deputies in this House are aware of and have been involved in the consultation days in their own areas. This programme is focusing on 300 mainly urban, areas for further assessment, AFAs, including 90 coastal areas. It involves the production of predictive flood hazard and risk mapping for each location, the development of preliminary flood risk management options and the production of flood risk management plans.

The flood risk management plans will include a prioritised list of measures, both structural and non-structural, to address flood risk in an environmentally sustainable and cost effective manner. Structural measures in the plans will be taken to outline design stage. The plans will be used to determine national priorities for State investment in flood defences, on a systematic and objective basis that takes into account social and environmental factors as well as economic criteria.

Under the programme, draft predictive flood maps have been produced. They are currently available to view on the website. They were the subject of a series of local public consultation days which concluded in April 2015. The flood maps will be finalised following a statutory national consultation scheduled for late 2015. A series of local public consultation days on the preliminary flood risk management options is under way in the west and Shannon CFRAM study areas. The flood risk management plans, namely, the solutions, are scheduled to be completed in late 2016. Further information is available on but ultimately, as the Deputy is aware, this is a major plan which has been undertaken over a significant period of years by the Office of Public Works. We are getting very close to the point whereby this time next year we will have the emergence of not just maps but potential solutions for many of the 300 communities. It will require significant investment. It is a matter for Government but the plan could take ten years to roll out at an ultimate cost of approximately €1 billion.

I appreciate what the Minister of State said about the three areas for further assessment in the 300 locations but perhaps he could give me an overall picture. A few years ago we had river basin catchment plans for the rivers Lee and Shannon and in the south east, among other areas. Perhaps they are the six regional study plans to which the Minister of State referred. I do not recall whether there were six or eight.

There are six.

I heard that Europe has indicated it does not want six bitty plans for Ireland but one national plan. Will much work be involved in joining up the six plans into one national plan? One could say that all that is required is for them to be added together. However, it should not be as simple as that. We are a single island. Could the Minister of State refer to the transition from that method of operating to following the EU advice that we should have one national plan? The view was that the island is too small for so many individual plans.

Could the Minister of State also elaborate on the statutory national consultation process, which he said would take place in late 2015? A reply to a previous parliamentary question indicated it would be held later “this summer”. We have missed the boat somewhat in that regard. Could the Minister of State clarify the position?

I accept the point made by Deputy Fleming. I expect the consultation to take place very shortly, in the coming weeks. We have carried out more consultation in this country than we ever had to do on CFRAM. That was the appropriate thing to do. We put in new layers of consultation, which exceeded our obligations under the EU floods directive. We must now physically publish the maps.

The various CFRAM areas will come together to offer Ireland’s national flood plan, which will be the CFRAM solution. The programme has involved the capture of approximately 10,000 sq. km. of detailed aerial survey data, which is approximately 13% of the total land area, 6,673 km of channel survey data and the development of models of all the major river systems in the country.

I am especially proud that we took the decision to factor in climate change to the CFRAM process. We did not have to factor that in under the current EU directives but it is likely it will be required in future. Both the flood maps and the identification and outline design of flood risk management measures will consider two potential future scenarios, including the potential impact of climate change. That will ensure our flood risk management strategies and the measures set out in the plan are robust in the face of an uncertain future. An incredible body of work that has been done by officials in the Office of Public Works in consultation with local authorities is coming to fruition. We need to ensure the political will to fund the plan is available. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has clearly shown that is the Government’s position. We must get on with delivering the process. I expect the solutions for communities to be delivered around this time next year.

I wish to raise two particular issues with the Minister of State. The first is the draft flood maps that are currently available. They are very important. I ask that the Minister of State would give a little guidance to local authorities in respect of their county development plans. I said previously to the Minister of State that some local authorities included the draft plans in their county development plans, as a result of which financial institutions refused to give loans in areas that were considered to be a possible flood risk within a 100-year period. The situation caused significant damage. I accept the Minister of State said one should not use the plans until they are finalised, but what are local authorities to use in the meantime given that they should take some account of the plans? Local authorities are in a limbo situation.

The second issue I wish to raise relates to Irish Water. Much of our drinking water comes from rivers and the adverse impact of flooding can affect water quality. Could the Minister of State explain the involvement of Irish Water in the process from a water quality point of view, given that some of the areas in question which are prone to flooding are the source of drinking water?

I am pleased the Deputy raised the issue of planning. I visited far too many homes where people have been flooded in houses that should never have been built but were, due to irresponsible planning by local authorities throughout the country. The publication of the CFRAM maps does not create risk. The maps tell people about the risk that exists. There is often a misconception that the maps are creating new risk. It is better to know. There are people who will be surprised at the information presented in the maps. Although they have lived in a home all their lives they are only now learning from the maps that their home is potentially at risk of flooding due to climate change and other factors.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, has developed guidelines for flood risk and the planning system. The guidelines on the planning system and flood risk management 2009 have introduced a comprehensive and transparent framework for the incorporation of flood risk identification, assessment and management into the planning process. The guidelines were issued in 2009 by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to have regard to the guidelines in carrying out their functions under the Planning Acts. Taken together with the flood maps, they should improve decision making on building in areas at risk from flooding. That should happen from now on. When analysing schemes, we will not factor into the cost-benefit analysis where councils decide to pursue irresponsible planning decisions and grant development.

I will seek an answer to the Deputy on the specific question on Irish Water and revert to him.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.