Appropriation Bill 2015: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Appropriation Bill 2015 is an essential element of financial housekeeping that, as Deputies are aware, must be concluded by the Dáil this year. The Bill serves two primary purposes. First, it is necessary to authorise in law all the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2015 on the basis of the Estimates that have already been voted on by the Dáil. The amounts included in section 1 and Schedule 1 to be appropriated for supply services all relate to amounts included in the Estimates set out in the Revised Estimates volume 2015 of €41.7 billion in aggregate, voted on by Dáil Éireann in March 2015, as well as the Supplementary Estimates of €1.4 billion, also agreed by the Dáil in 2015. Second, the passage of the Appropriation Bill 2015 is essential to provide a legal basis for all existing voted expenditure to continue into 2016 in the period before the Dáil votes on the 2016 Estimates.

Under the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in budget 2004, Departments may carry over from the current year to the following year unspent capital up to a maximum of 10% of voted capital. The multi-annual system is designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the management by Departments and agencies of capital programmes and projects. It recognises the difficulties inherent in the planning and profiling of capital expenditure and acknowledges that capital projects may be subject to delays. The carryover facility allows for a portion of unspent moneys, which would have been lost to the capital programmes and projects under the annual system of allocating capital, to be made available for spending on programme priorities in the subsequent year.

The Appropriation Act determines definitively the capital amounts that may be carried over to the following year. The aggregate amount of proposed capital carryover is just under €112 million, which represents less than 3% of the total capital programme of €3.8 billion. The proposed amounts to be carried over by Vote are set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill. The 2016 Revised Estimates volume, to be published in the coming days, will set out detailed financial and key performance information for Departments and offices. In Part II of the Estimates, for each Vote availing of the capital carryover facility, a table will be included listing the amounts to be deferred by subhead.

Deputies will be aware that the first payroll payments of 2016 are to be paid to staff and pensioners on 1 and 4 January 2016. Departments and offices must have the funds for these payments in their commercial bank accounts before the end of this year to ensure that staff and pensioners have access to their money by the due dates. In addition, An Post makes certain payments on an agency basis on behalf of the Department of Social Protection. To disburse payments to social welfare recipients in the first week of January 2016, An Post needs to be pre-funded before the end of 2015 to be in a position to convert electronic funds transfer payments from the Department of Social Protection into real cash and physically transfer it to its network of post offices throughout the country. The idea is that we pay before end 2015 moneys that are to be paid out on 1 January. These Exchequer pay and pension and social welfare payments will form part of the supply services for 2016 and, consequently, the funds to cover these costs will be included in amounts disbursed from the Central Fund to the paymaster general's supply account as part of the 2016 supply issues and will come under moneys voted by the Dáil in 2016 in respect of which the usual processes and mechanisms for voted moneys in 2016 will apply. However, as the funds need to be available in the paymaster general's supply account before the end of the year, to facilitate timely payment section 3 of the Appropriation Bill includes a specific provision to allow for an advance from the Central Fund to the paymaster general's supply account of the appropriate amounts of money. Any amounts advanced to the supply account will be repaid to the Central Fund in January.

I remarked at the outset that the Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping which those of us in the Dáil are required to undertake. The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2015 on the basis of the Estimates debate and voted on by the Dáil during the year. Of fundamental importance to those who depend on our essential public services, the passage of the Appropriation Bill will allow the payments required to deliver these public services to continue into 2016 in the period before the Dáil approves the 2016 Estimates.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Appropriation Bill 2015. As the Minister said the purpose of this Bill is to give legal sanction to all expenditure by Departments as approved under the Estimates and Supplementary Estimates processes, the latter of which we discussed recently.

The Estimates are based on the choices made by Government in terms of its priorities for 2015. As spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, I do not accept many of the choices made by the Government in 2015. The budget allocations for 2015 were set out in the Budget Statement in October 2014, which included the Estimates figure for 2015. What we are being asked to approve today is how the Government spent that budget. I said in my contribution to the debate on that budget, and have continually said in the months since, that that budget could be categorised as tax cuts for the wealthy. Last year's budget provided for a reduction in the top rate of tax for those earning over €70,000 while those earning below €70,000, when account is taken of the water tax, were worse off as a result of it. That is only one of the choices made by this Government. While some of the choices made by this Government were reasonable, others were unfair and showed a callous attitude by this Government towards Irish citizens and how removed from reality it is in terms of the position of people on the ground.

During the last couple of months we witnessed a bonanza increase in corporation taxes from foreign direct investments in Ireland. While these are matters outside the control of anybody in Ireland, including the Government, these are welcome funds. I would like to see that continue. It is because of these additional taxes that our finances are strong. In light of this, there was no reason for Government to make many of the particular choices it made during the course of this year in terms of not providing proper public services. In regard to the homelessness issue, there was much comment during the debate on last year's budget about people, including families, sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin, which the Government promised to do much about. The legacy of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, who is a member of the Labour Party, in that regard is one of having increased the rate of homelessness and the number of people on housing waiting lists for social housing. His legacy is one of abject failure when it comes to homelessness and housing. While the Government has talked the talk and said that it has a plan in place in this regard, one day it is a plan of €3.6 billion for the next six years and the following day it is a plan of €4.2 billion for the next eight years. I am not sure how much money it proposes to spend in this area during the next decade but I do know it is not doing the job this year. The Government thinks that saying it has a plan in place for five, six or seven years time to deal with these issues is acceptable but it is not. Its plan will not be achieved in the lifetime of this Government or the next yet it is planning expenditure beyond the latter, which is too far away to take seriously.

In terms of health services, the crisis in our accident and emergency departments continues and nurses are now proposing to strike next week in the interests of patient safety in the context of the unsafe environments in which nurses are operating and patients are being cared for. There are currently 400,000 people on hospital waiting lists, which is embarrassing. A couple of years ago people were being seen within a reasonable timescale. Now people are waiting up to 15 months for a consultant appointment, following which, if they require a scan, they then have to wait a further lengthy period for it. Many of the patients who are having to wait 15 months for a consultant appointment are elderly people who are crippled with pain, for which they are on pain-killers, and need operations. I recently received responses to representations on behalf of several patients about the waiting times for particular appointments, which I am ashamed to forward on to those people because I know the distress receipt of them will cause. Opposition Deputies should not have to cover for Government in relation to how bad a service is being delivered through the Department of Health.

In terms of crime, the number of burglaries in rural and urban areas continues to increase. This issue is not being adequately addressed. Another topical issue is the flooding experienced last week and the previous week and that is expected to occur this weekend. The OPW is not properly addressing this issue. The Minister said on radio this morning that the OPW plans in this regard are available on its website. Plans on a website are of no assistance to people whose houses were flooded last week. It is hoped not too many houses will be similarly flooded this weekend. As I said, plans on a website will not address this problem.

In regard to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the choice of Tusla last year to cut grants to voluntary organisations was a bad one. All-in-all this Government made a number of bad choices this year. I accept that a lot of the money spent was properly spent on good services but the Government's choices in terms of the allocation of resources available to it this year were poor. As I said earlier, most of the additional revenue available to it went to high earners by way of a reduction last year in the top income tax rate for those earning over €70,000. They were the principal beneficiaries in 2015. 2016 is another year. In terms of 2015, those whose income was over €70,000 were better off and those whose income was below that amount were worse off.

We see that on the streets with the record number of new cars and the new posh restaurants that are full again on Friday and Saturday nights but ordinary people are sitting at home watching television because they do not have the money to go out. A further indictment of the Government is that even with tight resources and the need for money for critical services, there is a high deferred surrender of €112 million in respect of capital supply services to be carried forward into next year. I agree with the principle of carrying funds forward for capital purposes but the House, through the Estimates process, voted for work to be done in this calendar year. However, the Government parties have turned around at the end of the year to say they are sorry they were not able to do that and that they will try to do it next year and carry the funds forward.

The Government should be ashamed of the largest carryover, which is €41 million on the part of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Department is responsible for homelessness and housing. How can it have €41 million unspent this year with people sleeping on the streets? My colleague, Deputy Cowen, highlighted this issue and asked how much would be unspent and carried over during the Estimates debate. He was given vague answers but we have the real answer today for the first time. This amount is unspent by the Minister with responsibility for housing and homelessness. People will be homeless over Christmas and others will not have proper social housing. Despite all his talk, the Minister is not even utilising the funds he was given by the House properly. Shame on him for having such a large unspent allocation. If he did less talking and more work, action would have been taken on these issues.

I also have concerns about other unspent allocations. The Government should have had its house in order and ensured that projects were undertaken. A sum of €6.5 million remains unspent by the Garda for various projects that are needed. The money should have been utilised this year. For example, closed circuit television cameras could have been erected at junctions on all the main motorways out of Dublin. The Irish Independent published maps showing where burglaries are happening along the M7, M8, M9 and M11 and that issue could easily have been tackled during the year. I was contacted by various organisations the funding of which was cut by Tusla this year. I obtained a detailed list from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Organisations that received funding of €41 million in 2014 had their funding cut by €3 million this year, yet €3.5 million remains unspent in the Department. There were cuts right, left and centre for organisations dealing with children in abusive scenarios. The Minister had money sitting in a bank account and he chose not to utilise it properly.

This is unsatisfactory. Bad choices are the Government's legacy for 2015. Those on an income in excess of €70,000 are better off while those on less than €70,000 are worse off. The Government made bad choices for those dependent on public services. One will remain homeless if one is in that position today. I will vote against the Bill.

Clearly, the Bill represents moneys spent and is just a rubber-stamping mechanism. As a result of the fact that the Bill gives effect to what we have voted on during the year, and what has been spent during the year, we are merely engaged in a procedural motion which, in the past, went through without any debate. To some extent it is good we are having this 45 minute debate, although the cost will be almost €1 billion for every minute of our discussion. In order to engage in a serious debate about such expenditure and really to get to the heart of the issues relating to what has led to the need for this €43 billion of expenditure, included in which is a Supplementary Estimate of €1.4 billion, we need substantially more time. In addition, more forensic analysis would be required. It is unfortunate to say the least that the Estimates every year have been highly dubious. They are presented in the full knowledge that substantial additional funding will be required in the near future, particularly for the Departments of Health, Education and Skills and Social Protection in order that they might continue to function and move forward. Each year, therefore, we have a budgetary process during which Estimates are knowingly presented with a shortfall included.

Other criticisms can be levelled at the process. A recent report by the OECD concluded that, "Scrutiny of the budget by TDs is under-developed by international standards, with the Cabinet in control 'to the point of dominance'." The organisation's officials made recommendations and suggested reforms that would allow parliamentarians to better influence and critique financial allocations and priorities. They stated that Ireland did not have a good track record on budget oversight and is at the bottom of the international rankings of the parliamentary engagement point of view. The OECD report suggests that the annual Estimates should be considered and voted on by the Dáil before the start of the budget year. Currently, the Dáil vote takes place after the year has begun. The current Estimates process, as evidenced today, is just a rubber-stamping job. The report also proposed a parliamentary budget office. This office would equip Deputies to engage more effectively on budgetary matters, for example, with policy costings and analysis of taxation and expenditure measures. There is merit in their proposals and hopefully in the future these rubber-stamping exercises will end and real debate will happen.

Rather than having this cursory debate on the Appropriation Bill, why not have the debate that is required on the OECD report or, for that matter, the Constitutional Convention reports, in particular, the convention report on Dáil reform? One of its proposals, which would be of major benefit to the Opposition, is to remove the constitutional bar on proposing amendments even if they are positive. The reason for the bar is that they may lead to a charge on the Exchequer or the people. Let us hope both reports and their proposals and recommendations do not end up like many things here, gathering dust on some shelf.

I thank both Deputies for their contributions. It is difficult to listen to a representative of Fianna Fáil talk about making economic choices. They ruined the country and crashed the economy and we have spent the past five years picking up the pieces after them.

I will refer to a number of issues raised by Deputy Sean Fleming. He mentioned a bonanza increase in taxes outside the control of the Government. The reason corporate taxes are up is corporations are making profits again. More people are at work and we have rebuilt a successful economic model. That is the reason more cash is flowing into the State coffers and that we can plan with some confidence into the future. We have put the dark days of Fianna Fáil behind us and we can look to, and plan with a sense of optimism for, the future. However, there are challenges and there are legacy issues, some of which the Deputy mentioned. Homelessness is an issue and that is why this year we reversed a decade of Fianna Fáil policy during which not a single social housing unit was built. The party abandoned the concept of social housing and funding local authorities to buy or lease properties from developers. We are building social housing again. A total of 3,000 units were provided this year, with in excess of that number to be built next year, while an additional 10,000 people will receive the housing assistance payment. There will be more gardaí as well 2,260 more teachers. Under the new early childhood programme, 75,000 children will get a second free year of preschool education.

Flooding is an important issue right now and that is why climate change and flood prevention featured so prominently in the capital programme. Over the next six years, we will expend more money than was spent over the past 20 years on flood defences. We will spend more than that if we have the capacity to do so because I have requested the OPW to outline how much could be spent year-by-year. That will be our number one priority. Proper flood defences need to be provided. People are looking at the weather forecast and, unfortunately, another inundation is due over the country in the next 24 hours. Every State agency has been mobilised to try to mitigate the damage as much as possible for the poor, unfortunate families that face having their homes flooded. We have established two separate funds. One will be administrated through the Red Cross to deal with businesses that were never compensated in the past.

The Department of Social Protection has a €10 million fund to help households that have special needs payments immediately on foot of damage done. Unfortunately, more might be done because of the dreadful weather we have been experiencing.

The final point relates to capital carry-over, which is a good budgeting issue. Rather than people scrambling at the end of the year to spend money because they must, where a project cannot be concluded for planning, objection, legal or a variety of reasons, a proportion can be carried into next year. The amount I am recommending is less than 3% of the capital programme. That is prudent, wise and a good way to do our business.

Question put and declared carried.

We proceed to Committee Stage in accordance with the order of the Dáil from yesterday.