I move the following Revised Estimates:
Vote 1— President’s Establishment (Revised Estimate)
That a sum not exceeding €4,500,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Secretary General to the President, for certain other expenses of the President’s Establishment and for certain grants.
Vote 2 — Department of the Taoiseach (Revised Estimate)
That a sum not exceeding €54,013,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of the Taoiseach, including certain services administered by the Department and for payment of grants.
Vote 3 — Office of the Attorney General (Revised Estimate)
That a sum not exceeding €16,180,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Attorney General, including a grant.
Vote 4 — Central Statistics Office (Revised Estimate)
That a sum not exceeding €65,690,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Central Statistics Office.
Vote 5 — Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Revised Estimate)
That a sum not exceeding €43,968,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Vote 6 — Office of the Chief State Solicitor (Revised)
That a sum not exceeding €37,381,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2020, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor.
The group of votes which we are discussing today involves my Department and five others. While I have certain responsibilities to the Oireachtas for administrative matters in some of these offices, they operate independently of my Department. I will first briefly outline what is involved with the other Votes and then address them in greater detail.
On Vote 1, the Estimate for the President's Establishment is €4.5 million. This includes some €3 million for pay and administration, with the balance to fund the centenarians' bounty. On Vote 3, the Estimate for the Office of the Attorney General is €16.18 million.
Of this, just over €12 million relates to staff costs and almost €2.45 million is allocated to the Law Reform Commission.
Vote 4 relates to the Central Statistics Office, CSO. The CSO plays a vital role in the functioning of the State in providing independent and verifiable data on a broad range of topics including social, economic and environmental issues. In a world where alternative facts are regularly circulated to try to distort debate, institutions such as the CSO are becoming ever more important in providing the essential foundation of expertise to underpin policy. In recent months, the CSO has taken a lead in gathering data relevant to understanding and overcoming the impact of Covid-19 on our society and economy. It has also moved rapidly to adapt its methodologies, and its work will be fundamental as we plan for a recovery which benefits all of our people. The Estimate for the CSO is €65.7 million and provides funding for additional cyclical work, in particular the delivery of a census of agriculture in 2020 and planning for next year's full census of population.
Vote 5 relates to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the allocation for which is €43.97 million. This Vote provides for fees to counsel, costs awarded against the State arising out of legal proceedings, and the cost of the local state solicitor service.
Vote 6 is the Estimate for the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and amounts to €37.4 million, the bulk of which relates to salaries and administration.
Vote 2 is for the Department of the Taoiseach. The largest provision in this group of Votes relates to my Department, for which the Estimate is just over €54 million. Approximately 41% relates to staff and administration. This funding is intended to enable my Department to play a unique role in co-ordinating Government and leading on certain critical issues. The programme for Government sets out transformative policies on the full range of issues of concern to the people. Starting with urgent action for social and economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and continuing with actions on health, housing, climate change and education, the three parties in this Government have jointly committed to a programme of sustained action. In order to deliver this, we need a new approach to managing Government. We have begun establishing a series of new Cabinet committees that will mark a significant departure. They will cover more topics, will meet more regularly and will allow a much deeper engagement with policy development and oversight of delivery. They will ensure that all relevant Departments take responsibility for their roles in delivering priorities rather than placing sole responsibility on a single lead Department. Reflecting its new roles and the priorities set out by Government, a new departmental strategy statement will be published in the coming months.
The Department of the Taoiseach has taken a central role in co-ordinating the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This will continue to be an overriding priority for as long as is necessary. We are only just beginning to understand the full impact of the pandemic and we continue to face new challenges as we work to control the spread of the virus, treat it effectively and move towards recovery. In the fifth month of an unprecedented national effort, and with three steps of the reopening plan implemented, we simply cannot let our guard down. We are reopening, but this reopening absolutely requires us all to continue to act to control the possible spread of the virus. When people ignore basic precautions by gathering in large numbers with no social distancing, no masks and no hygiene measures, they represent a direct threat to the control of the virus. I do not intend to provide a running commentary on major instances where guidelines have been breached, and all of the evidence is that the vast majority of people continue to act responsibly, but let no one be in any doubt, the virus has not been defeated and we must all continue to play our part.
We also need to understand that there are still many in our society who are vulnerable and many others who are fearful. All of the economic and social research available to us confirms that the impact of the crisis is not being felt equally. We must do everything possible to protect those who are vulnerable and to help those who are suffering other impacts such as to their mental health. The first step in showing continued solidarity is to accept the restrictions which remain in place.
My Department has taken the lead in key elements of the public communication challenge of ensuring that we all know what is happening and what is required of each of us. This represents the largest unanticipated cost in these Estimates. The focus of the public awareness programme to date has been to build mass awareness and understanding of key information relating to the Covid-19 emergency response as quickly and efficiently as possible. The approach is aligned with World Health Organization and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advice. The scale of the effort required to reach as many people as possible, with regular messages to raise awareness and build public support for the collective effort required, has necessitated a significant spending. A provision of €20 million for this work is included in the Revised Estimates for 2020. In the early stages, the work in question involved providing information to the public on the various restrictions as they were implemented and on the wide range of business supports, social welfare supports and community supports available. Targeted campaigns have addressed specific issues such as social distancing and the leaving certificate. At the moment, the emphasis is on explaining each phase of the Roadmap for the Reopening of Society and Business as they come into effect. The public awareness campaigns have cost €10.5 million to date.
Comprehensive public communications with broad media reach will continue to be run for as long as is necessary to inform on crucial public health guidance. My intention is that in the coming weeks we will specifically review the most effective messages for the task of ensuring that people both take advantage of reopening steps and continue to take essential precautions. People must understand that until there is an available and widely-administered vaccine, full normality is not going to happen.
I would like us all to note that in a free democracy such as ours, the independent media is the principal channel of communication with the public during a major emergency such as this. I want to acknowledge the commitment of journalists to covering this crisis in often stressful circumstances and also for asking the tough questions essential to challenging us to be more effective.
In the Government’s first week in office, our two overriding priorities have been to take decisions relating to the control of the virus and to rapidly commence work on an initiative to address the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. We have been reviewing work by the Department of Finance on high-frequency data on economic activity to try to get a level of understanding of the current situation. Overall, the data shows that many sectors are seeing a strong rebound as the reopening of the economy has moved forward. However, we are also seeing that other sectors are stabilising at a lower level. This could become a new normal unless we act. We will act and we will do so with urgency. An investment-led, jobs and recovery initiative is being developed and will be finalised in the coming weeks. Our priority will be to protect businesses - and the jobs relating to them - which are still struggling and need help to be able to first survive and then compete as the international economic situation improves.
Later in the year, we will also produce a new economic plan. This plan, will detail how we will secure a strong and dynamic economy, prepare workers and businesses for the challenges and changes of the future, enhance our skills base, retrain and support workers to seize new opportunities, and bring about the transformation in our economy that the crisis of climate change demands. This work will be overseen by the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment which we established last week.
I intend that this Government will build further on Ireland's record of being an effective and active participant in both the European Union and international organisations. This is a grave moment in world history. Those of us who believe in free democracy and co-operation between nations cannot stand on the sidelines while they are under attack. As is signalled in the programme for Government, we will be promoting the strengthening of the European Union and the extension of its ability to be a driver of progress and a protector of core values. We will implement a whole-of-Government approach to cross-cutting EU and international issues such as the sustainable development goals and international trade. We will also take a seat on the UN Security Council for a two-year term from 2021 to 2022. This gives Ireland another opportunity to advance our foreign policy objectives and values, and influence decisions that impact the lives of millions of the most vulnerable of the world’s citizens. We will continue to increase the scope and impact of Ireland's global footprint in terms of diplomacy, culture, business, official development assistance, tourism and trade.
As part of the EU institutional changeover last year, EU Heads of State and Government agreed a new strategic agenda to guide EU policy, ambition and budgets over the next number of years. The scale and urgency of many issues has evolved rapidly since then and Ireland will use every opportunity to support this new level of ambition, especially where it is based on addressing entrenched problems and is fair to all members.
In recent months, Covid-19 has caused a crisis without precedent at global and European level. Focus has rightly changed to managing and controlling the pandemic and to mitigating and recovering from its impacts, including the extensive economic damage it has inflicted. In the European Union, this has involved intensive discussions at all levels on limiting the spread of the virus, ensuring the supply of medicines, equipment and goods, supporting research, tackling socioeconomic consequences and co-operating to bring citizens home from other countries. I will continue the work with other European Union leaders to protect our citizens and to secure the speediest possible recovery. Reaching an early agreement on the European Union's multi-annual financial framework for the period of 2021-2027 and on the proposed recovery fund for the European Union would be a strong signal that the Union is determined to come together at this difficult time. I hope that when the European Council meets later this month, it will be possible to make strong and positive progress.
From the moment the Brexit referendum was proposed, I have been very clear in describing it as an error of historic proportions. However, it is done and the challenge we continue to face is managing its impact and developing a new and constructive relationship with our neighbour without the framework of joint European Union membership which we shared for nearly five decades. Negotiations are continuing on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Achieving an agreement that fully protects Irish interests will be a central objective of this Government and Ireland will work tirelessly for that outcome as part of the European Union 27.
We will also continue to work with partners to ensure that the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is implemented in full, engaging closely with the European Union-United Kingdom joint committee and the specialised committee, to ensure bedding down of the new arrangements. My Department is also strongly engaged in the ongoing work on national preparedness for the outcome of Brexit negotiations, working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and all across Government in anticipation of the end of the transition period in January 2021. While much work was done last year, we still have much more to do, especially in helping businesses who face new barriers to trade with Britain. A heightened round of stakeholder engagement will be undertaken and contingency plans will be updated.
Regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland will take effect from the end of the transition period. During the remainder of 2020 we will engage closely with the European Union-United Kingdom joint committee and the specialised committee to ensure the bedding down of the new arrangements. The restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and the assembly provides a moment of hope for all who share this island. Among my first telephone calls as Taoiseach were calls with First Minister, Arlene Foster, and deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill. I told them that this Government is determined to work actively and constructively with them in their vital work.
The Good Friday Agreement remains the defining blueprint for our island’s future and a vindication of democratic politics. The very genius of the agreement is how it shows that we need not bring constitutional differences into every issue. It shows us how to work together for the peace and prosperity which everyone can hold as a shared goal. This new Government will move forward quickly to try to fulfil the vision set out in the agreement and will work closely with the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. A new shared island unit will be established within the Department of the Taoiseach and will begin a renewed push to use the potential of the agreement to deliver sustained progress for all communities. It is my intention that the new unit will be in place and its work programme agreed by the Government at the end of this month. The Government is committed to having an early plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council as soon as possible so that we can make progress on the many shared challenges that we face across this island.
Tackling the climate crisis is a key focus of this Government. The programme for Government recognises that the next ten years are critical if we are to address the climate and biodiversity crisis which threatens our safe future on this planet. Under existing plans, my Department is tasked with supervising delivery and now has a key role to ensure the critical co-ordination across all Departments and agencies. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, leads a new Department with a clear and ambitious agenda across a number of the key areas for climate action and, in particular, energy and transport. The climate action unit within the Department of the Taoiseach plays an important role in ensuring centre-of-Government co-ordination, which is essential in making sure that every Department plays its part.
It is a fundamental premise of this Government that gains from the growing economy are shared fairly with all Irish citizens. We want to create a socially inclusive and fair society with opportunities for all. Under the new Cabinet committees agreed in the programme for Government, we will implement programme for Government commitments in the context of a new national social contract between citizens and the State. The ambition of this Government is to provide each citizen with accessible and affordable healthcare, housing, education, childcare and disability services, as well as working towards a living wage, upskilling, and a dignified retirement.
My Department also supports the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality established last July. The first meeting took place in February but subsequent meetings were postponed due to Covid-19. An online half-day seminar for members took place last Saturday. The secretariat is looking at the best way to progress the work of the assembly in light of the current public health restrictions.
The Revised Estimate for my Department also includes an allocation of just over €2 million for the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, for its work in providing forward-looking, strategic advice on economic, social and sustainable development issues. The current NESC work programme includes Covid-19 research contributing to policy response and analysis. The work of the implementation group on policing reform is supported by an implementation office in my Department. I am encouraged to see the responsiveness and flexibility shown by An Garda Síochána in dealing with the demands of this unprecedented situation. This is building on good work already undertaken in the reform programme but it has also highlighted, and brought to the fore, core values about our approach to policing in this country - policing for and with the support of the community.
Provision is also made in the Estimate for a number of independent inquiries, including the Moriarty tribunal, the Cregan commission and the Cooke commission. My Department also organises State events, including the anniversary of the Easter Rising and the National Day of Commemoration ceremony, which will take place this Sunday at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. Work is ongoing with Cork City Council to plan the State commemoration in Cork on 1 November. Since it was first adopted in commemorating the 1798 Rebellion, the approach of expert and inclusive commemoration has proven itself time and again. Our history belongs to no one group and there is also no single correct version of history. I intend that we build upon this approach as we move towards commemorating a dramatic period in the foundation of our state and the assertion the will of the Irish people to live in a free democracy.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Revised Estimates with Deputies.