Finance Act 2004 (section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2020: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Order in draft:

Finance Act 2004 (Section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2021,

copies of which have been laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 12th January, 2021.

At the outset I would like to say that despite the extraordinarily difficult circumstances over the past year, we have successfully maintained investment in Ireland's public capital programme. The programme, which was outlined in the National Development Plan 2018-2027, will continue to address infrastructure deficits in key social and economic areas.

I welcome the opportunity to make an opening statement on the deferred surrender process, which is an important technical instrument to allow the Dáil formally approve the expenditure by Departments and agencies in the current financial year of capital moneys carried over from last year. The ministerial order, which is before the House today, is, as I say, a technical instrument and does not involve any new policy decision or any additional funding allocations.

The provision of the capital carry-over facility recognises the fundamental difficulties in the planning, procurement and profiling of capital expenditure and acknowledges that for any number of reasons, capital projects may be subject to delays. This type of approach to managing infrastructure expenditure makes sense and, thus far, has been very successful. It helps to ensure better project management and to avoid uncertainty in project delivery. The multi-annual system also gives more certainty to contractors that they will be paid for the work they do. The carry-over facility also helps to improve value for money and eliminates the potential for wasteful spending on non-essential works to ensure full capital allocations are spent before the end of the year.

The Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866 generally requires the surrender of unspent Exchequer moneys to the Central Fund at the end of each financial year. However, section 91 of the Finance Act 2004 gives legal effect to the carry-over of unspent voted Exchequer capital to the following year, up to 10% of capital by Vote, subject to certain conditions, by deferring this surrender requirement.

Among those conditions are that the amounts of capital carried over by Vote be specified in the annual Appropriation Act of the year from which the carry-over is proposed. The actual decision in principle on the amounts of carry-over by Vote is therefore determined in the Appropriation Act. The Dáil again has the opportunity to endorse the amounts in its decision on the Revised Estimates volume, which shows the capital carry-over amounts separately in the relevant Votes.

The carry-over amounts provided for in the Appropriation Act are required to be confirmed in an order to be made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform by 31 March of the following year, after approval of the order by the Dáil, to allow expenditure to take place. The order sets out the amounts by subhead consistent with the amount by Vote specified in the Appropriation Act.

It should be noted that the Department of Health had sought a carry-over of €107 million and this sum was provided for in the 2020 Appropriation Act. However, it subsequently transpired that the Department did not have sufficient savings at year end and the carry-over amount has been adjusted accordingly.

Deputies will be aware that 2020 was far from an ordinary year, as reflected in the higher than usual requests for capital carry-over. The construction industry was not immune to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in delays to the delivery of some projects.

In addition to the capital allocations committed to in the NDP, a substantial package of supports was granted to Departments to assist employment-intensive economic activity in 2020 in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government increased the overall 2020 capital expenditure allocations by an additional €1.7 billion, bringing total capital investment in 2020 to almost €9.9 billion. This is the highest ever investment in capital projects and programmes in the history of the State.

A review of the NDP has commenced, with the objective of updating the existing plan in line with commitments outlined in the programme for Government. The review will take on board developments since 2018 such as the impacts of Covid-19 and consider important areas such as climate action, housing, balanced regional development, healthcare, transport, education, and the associated resourcing requirements.

The review is being conducted in close partnership with all Departments and relevant agencies and includes a strong element of stakeholder engagement and public communication.

The public consultation element of the review, entitled Review to Renew, was launched last November and will run until 19 February. It offers everyone in the country the opportunity to have their say, to inform and influence important policy decisions, including the distribution of people, jobs, businesses, houses, roads, public transport, education and health infrastructure, as well as social, cultural and sporting facilities.

I take this opportunity to invite stakeholders such as local authorities, community groups and representative bodies to put forward submissions for consideration on what infrastructure projects should be prioritised in the coming years. The updated NDP will be published this summer and will set out the overall capital allocations to 2030 along with five-year multi-annual departmental allocations.

The 2021 draft order sets out the subheads or programmes under which Departments and agencies propose to spend their capital carry-over amounts specified by Vote in the 2020 Appropriation Act. The total level of carry-over sought from 2020 into 2021 is just under €710 million, which is 7.2% of the total gross voted capital allocation for 2020.

The total gross Exchequer capital allocation for 2021 amounts to almost €10.1 billion. The capital carry-over of €709.7 million will bring the total Exchequer capital available for spending in 2021 to more than €10.8 billion. The main priority areas for spending the capital carry-over of almost €710 million include: €214 million, which is being allocated by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for key areas of activity, including the urban regeneration and development fund, the water programme, local authority housing, pyrite and mica, energy efficiency and peatlands. A total of €151 million will be spent by the Department of Transport on regional and local roads, public transport, rail projects, regional airports, IT upgrades, carbon reduction, greenways, the Irish Coast Guard and cycling and walking projects.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will use €106 million of a carry-over for the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, local enterprise development, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI loan schemes, Microfinance Ireland and subscriptions to the European Space Agency.

The remaining balance of capital carry-over of approximately €170 million will be allocated to 15 further Votes to continue investment in a range of projects. Departments and agencies have delegated responsibility to manage their capital programmes and projects. The availability of these capital carry-over amounts in 2021 will assist them within this framework in tackling economic and social infrastructural priorities in their sectors. I commend the motion to the House.

I apologise for calling the Minister, the Minister for Finance, at the outset of his contribution.

This is a technical motion and it relates to capital carry-over from one year to the next. Sinn Féin will be supporting it. This year it represents money included in the 2020 voted allocation that has been unspent. Since the 2004 Act we have a facility to carry over unspent capital expenditure. Section 91 of the Act specified that the provisions would be up to a maximum of 10% of the capital allocation by Vote. This applies only to capital expenditure and not current spending. To allow for spending of the capital carry-over amounts in the following year, the Minister is required to make an order not later than 31 March of that year determining the capital carry-over amounts by subhead, which will be available for expenditure in those subheads, consistent with the amounts by Vote included in the Appropriation Act.

Dáil approval of the draft ministerial order is required before the Minister can make the order. Once the order is made, the carry-over amounts become a first charge against the subheads considered. This allows for spending of the capital carry-over amounts from the previous year. This process was put in place in the hope of improving departmental budget management and improved flexibility rather than rushing to spend the budget at the year end, Departments can carry unspent money over and look at budgets more in terms of multi-annual envelopes.

When I spoke on the Appropriation Bill in December we thought the underspend was approximately €740 million, but this was only an estimate and today we know that the actual underspend was approximately €710 million. To be precise, the exact capital carry-over for 2021 was €709.9 million. This represents approximately 7.2% of the 2020 allocation that will be carried over. This reduction is accounted for largely due to the Department of Health having a larger spend than was thought in December. The Department did not have a sufficient level of savings at year end and, accordingly, its carry-over has been adjusted on the order to the lower amount of €68 million. The total underspend is striking when compared to 2019 when approximately €200 million was carried over. Covid restrictions have obviously played a major part in that. The furloughing of large sections of the construction industry brought many building sites to a standstill and that has meant that many Departments were not able to progress capital projects in the manner they had envisaged pre-Covid. Delays have arisen not just in construction but also in the areas of planning and procurement. It goes without saying that the amount of carry-over being sought this year is considerably higher than the amount requested in previous years and this is against the backdrop of the impact of Covid-19.

We must ensure the capital expenditure allocation and the amount that is carried over is used to deal with the creaking infrastructure.

One example of substandard infrastructure that is not fit for purpose and is extremely dangerous for local people is the pier at Inis Oírr. Last Sunday night the passenger boat could not dock at the pier because of heavy swelling and overtopping. The boat attempted to dock again on Monday morning to bring the doctor who serves both Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin to the latter but could not do so. As a result, Inis Meáin was left without a doctor in the middle of a pandemic. I have seen footage of this overtopping, with waves coming over the pier wall onto local residents who were attempting to get the boat. This is extremely dangerous. Those people could have easily been swept into the sea and there could have been fatalities. I will send copies of that video to the Minister so that nobody in Government can claim they did not know anything about it. The weather was bad this week but it has been a lot worse previously.

This development was promised in 2015. I have written to the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands, Deputy Humphreys, about this and have raised it with her previously. I urge the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to work with her on this as a matter of urgency. The Government must communicate with the islanders who have been left in the dark and must ensure that funds are made available for this development before someone is seriously injured or killed. Nobody here can say that they did not know.

Tá contúirt mhór ag baint leis an gcéibh, rud a chonaic muid arís ag an deireadh seachtaine. Ní raibh an bád farantóireachta in ann dul i dtír oíche Domhnaigh agus arís maidin Dé Luain nuair a rinne sé iarracht eile. Mar gheall air sin, ní raibh an dochtúir in ann dul ó Inis Oírr go hInis Meáin agus ní raibh dochtúir ag muintir Inis Meáin i lár géarchéim sláinte. Bhí éirí mór san fharraige agus bhí an taoide ag dul trasna na céibhe. Chonaic mé físeán dó agus tá mé chun é a sheol chuig an Aire. Bhí beirt ag siúl chuig an mbád agus chuaigh an taoide os cionn balla na céibhe agus thar na daoine sin. Ba éasca go dtitfeadh duine isteach san fharraige mar gheall air sin. Tá sé fíor-chontúirteach. Gealladh céibh nua in 2015 agus táim ag impí ar an Aire anois é seo a phlé lena chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Humphreys, agus a cinntiú go bhfuil an t-airgead ar fáil agus go dtógtar an céibh nua sula ngortófar duine go dona nó níos measa fós, go maraítear duine. The Minister has no excuse. He must speak to his colleague, Deputy Humphreys, and make sure that this development happens.

As mentioned by my colleague, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, the motion pertains to capital carryover from one year to another and is required before the Minister can make an order for the spending of the carryover. In that regard, the motion and the order itself are essentially technical in nature as the decision on the amount of carryover by Vote has already been determined in the 2020 Appropriations Act, with the carryover allocations by Vote and subhead already set out in the Revised Estimates that were published in December. The motion and the order before us do not involve any new policy decisions or specific funding allocations. The motion is concerned with money included in the 2020 allocations voted by the Dáil that has gone unspent. Rather than going back to the Exchequer, the 2004 Act allows for unspent allocations to be carried forward up to a maximum of 10% of capital allocation by Vote. This was an important and welcome development, ensuring our economy is not starved of investment due to delays in a given calendar year. This is particularly important in the context of Covid-19.

Under the rules, Dáil approval of the draft order is required before any carryover amounts can become a first charge against the subheads concerned, which allows for the spending of capital carryovers. This provides the kind of flexibility that is needed now, more than ever before. The capital underspend was just under €710 million for 2020 with the equivalent capital carryover for 2021. That represents 7.2% of the total capital allocation for 2020. I recognise that the primary reason for this level of underspending is Covid-19 and the associated restrictions. The underspend is both understandable and unavoidable. However, we have suffered from an infrastructure deficit as a result of years of underinvestment by successive Fine Gael Governments which really underscores the need for sustained levels of capital investment in the years ahead in major transport, housing and health infrastructure as well as local projects.

On 22 January the Central Bank in its quarterly bulletin estimated that unemployment will not return to pre-pandemic levels until after 2022. We all know that capital expenditure is a key driver and lever in supporting employment and it will be absolutely crucial in the years ahead. Capital investment by the Government can ensure jobs are supported State-wide, including in Donegal and other regions that have been forgotten. These are regions which the figures show clearly have the highest levels of deprivation and unemployment and the lowest levels of disposable income. We need policy development that is based on facts and figures and data shows that Donegal is one of the hardest hit counties in terms of job losses as a result of Covid-19. The Minister and the Government cannot allow some bureaucratic blockages to delay projects that would provide jobs for Donegal. Many such projects have been proposed by myself, my colleague Deputy MacLochlainn and other Members from the area.

As the motion relates to the Appropriations Bill I will again raise a project in Donegal that I have raised on numerous occasions with the Minister, most recently last December when the aforementioned Bill was before the Dáil. I refer to the new Finn Harps stadium. Tá an tionscnamh seo geallta agus tá muintir Bhealach Féich agus Srath an Urláir ag fanacht agus ag fanacht leis. Tá an coiste áitiúil, na himreoirí agus an lucht tacaíochta fágtha ag fanacht. Leis an toil cheart pholaitiúil tá an deis ann an rud ceart a dhéanamh. Seo tionscnamh atá ina shuí ansin, réidh le dul chun cinn. Dá dtabharfaí an cead dó, bheadh poist á gcruthú sa cheantar agus bheadh dul chun cinn i dteannta chúrsaí spóirt sa chontae. Seo an t-am anois le solas glas a thabhairt don tionscnamh seo. As I said before, the Finn Harps stadium is a shining example of how we can get shovel-ready projects moving. It is a project that can create employment in one of the counties worst hit by unemployment as a result of Covid-19, a county that was already starved of employment before the pandemic. It is a shovel-ready project that would create jobs locally and enrich the sporting community in Donegal. A total of €1.2 million was spent by the State on this project over a decade ago but it has been left sitting idle, with work stalled since 2014. The project has planning permission and is ready to go ahead. Commitments were made by the Department previously and now it is time to deliver. As I said, this is a shovel-ready project that would support jobs and serve the local community. I urge the Minister to ensure that funding is provided to move the Finn Harps stadium project forward in 2021.

There are many other projects in need of funding and I note that the Minister said that walking projects will be part of this new capital allocation. In that context, I draw his attention to the main street in Glenties. As I pointed out previously to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, people are regularly tripping and falling and are, unfortunately, taking cases against the local authority. There are many other projects that could be funded with this money.

As we know, this is a technical matter in many senses. Indeed, a similar motion last March attracted no debate or real attention at all. However, the sheer scale of the carryover and the magnitude of State spending last year and this year warrants debate and further examination.

There are now 607,000 people, or 25% of the labour force, out of work, all of whom have their own stories, circumstances and struggles. Hundreds of thousand more are having their wages paid through State subsidies. They are all looking for some sense of hope, some sense that even in this dark time they can look forward to a future where jobs, businesses and prospects are secure. They long for a signal of a brighter, fairer future.

The sense that increased spending by the State will drive better value and more equal outcomes is often missing from the dry, detached analyses we are treated to here. The long-promised national economic recovery plan has been postponed twice already and many of the much vaunted initiatives like the stay and spend scheme have plainly flopped. Do not get me wrong - the additional investment is essential. Services, supports and inputs into those are both welcome and necessary but now the debate must shift to how we use the resources we have to set out our vision for a better Ireland. We know that strategic capital investment in areas such as housing, healthcare, childcare, climate and transport will not only provide jobs and sustainable growth but will also drastically improve our quality of life by finally building the type of public services in this country that have been the basic norm for decades across Europe. We were already playing catch up, with the lowest level of Government expenditure in the EU and OECD and this crisis must be a catalyst for lasting change.

In recent weeks the IMF advised governments across the world to spend "as much as you can and then spend a little bit more", citing evidence which suggests that investment in green infrastructure in particular provides two thirds more in terms of growth, which is exceptional value. We must ensure that we spend in the right areas so that we get the biggest bang for our buck, economically and socially.

Effective oversight of, and accountability for, this historic expenditure is, therefore, needed yet it has been sorely lacking so far. The Minister knows and acknowledges that fact and that the situation is, and has been, imperfect. We have already seen a de facto suspension of many of the robust budgetary oversight practices we had come to expect and demand over recent years in respect of the presentation of Government spending plans. The scale of this carry-over causes yet more problems of transparency and accountability, as noted by the Parliamentary Budget Office from time to time.

Despite this, not only is this Government failing to spend transparently or wisely, but the carry-over figures show that it is also failing to spend fully in critical Departments despite the problem of creaking public infrastructure and a raft of shovel-ready projects across the country which have not yet been started. Although the historically high capital carry-over of some €700 million is, to a degree, to be expected due to Covid-19, what is more worrying is the high capital underspends under the headings of housing, transport and climate. We all understand the circumstances. For example, building sites have not been operating at full tilt. That is entirely understandable but it does not tell the entire story. By my reckoning, we will not be anywhere near our targets in respect of social housing, new builds or home retrofitting and that is worrying. Even more worrying is that this Government, which is led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and which includes the Green Party, which might be said to have lost its colour, is incapable of imagining the role of a bigger state, a state that could provide a new social contract for its citizens while putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work securely.

To refer to housing again, we all know the demand for the building of affordable homes. Through the local authorities, the State must play the lead role. Despite this, we have seen the Minister's Government propose a €75 million scheme for so-called affordable housing which officials of the Minister's own Department have said "will push up prices [...] at a time when prices are starting to rise anyway." This represents another gift to developers and proves yet again that this Government will continue to rely on a failed private sector model rather than driving State-led capital investment. The Government cannot make the same mistakes again. The social price will be paid if we go down that road.

I look forward to hearing more details regarding the forthcoming national economic plan from the Minister and about how he plans to address the issues I have raised today and repeatedly over recent months with regard to the enhancement of transparency and accountability in respect of expenditure and the management of the public finances.

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the motion the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, has introduced this afternoon. It is technical, as others have said, but it is also vitally important. We all know that, at the heart of it, this is not a contentious motion. It is necessary. It gives us an opportunity to raise particular issues but I expect, and hope to see, the support of the entire House for this sensible measure.

I will pick up on a few of the comments Deputy Nash made. This motion shows the true impact of Covid-19 on the infrastructural ambition of the State. It is only wise of me to ask some questions of the Minister. He might not necessarily answer them during this debate but perhaps he will take them back to the Department where they might factor into wider considerations on Government policy. Housing is rightly seen as central and necessary. I refer to the development of State-built housing and social, affordable and private housing. It is necessary that the likes of the Land Development Agency truly realise their potential and fulfil their mandates. We have seen the necessary slowdown of many sectors, particularly the construction sector, due to the pandemic. The vast majority of sites, whether small, medium or large, are closed. We are already one month into another year and the impacts of the pandemic are still painfully felt, first and foremost by the victims of this terrible virus and their families, but also by the economy and the entire operation and development of the State. There is one month down with another 11 to go but, with the best will in the world, we know there will be some element of restriction for a large part of this year, if not for all of it. The Minister might be able to come back to me in writing or through informal engagement in due course on the measures that can be taken to fast-track these vitally important infrastructural projects, particularly the very necessary provision of social housing, when we get the green light.

A number of sites are still open and construction is proceeding with the necessary precautions but they represent an extremely small part of the sector. We all know the need to construct not only homes, although they are the foremost concern, but also developments in the commercial and State sectors. We are now, in 2021, talking about a capital carry-over. I wonder if we will be having the same conversation in 2022. If we need to do so, so be it, but how can we plan for a system under which we can make up for lost time when it is possible to do things properly and within health guidelines?

I will also refer to a couple of other areas. I hope the entire House would agree that housing is the first and foremost priority, as is the development of our health service, but I will also address some niche matters, although I will not go into any constituency concerns as such. I will refer to the overall economic response to Brexit, the pinch of which we are starting to feel, and necessary infrastructural developments. I am thinking about roads to the major ports, including Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. We were all pleased to see the announcement made by Brittany Ferries of an increase in the number of direct sailings to France from the Port of Cork. This is very important because the Continent is our largest market and has the potential to be our largest growth market in the coming decade. It is very important that we realise every opportunity in this regard and put every necessary element in place to do so. I refer to the infrastructural work which has not been able to progress, for example, the M11-N11 upgrade or, more pertinently, the really important development of Rosslare Europort. Perhaps the Minister, after discussion with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, may be able to get back to me with his opinion on the latter project. Dublin Port has expanded massively over the last year or two. Rosslare Europort is also expanding but the traffic leaving the port has now increased by 500%. This traffic is going directly to the Continent, to the ports that are vital in servicing our largest market. There is, however, concern over the port's ownership. It is jointly owned through the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company. The Minister and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, need to resolve this matter because if we are to realise opportunities in the Single Market and on the Continent, we will do so through the development, expansion and modernisation of Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. That is vital. Dublin Port is big and moving well but we have to look at those two alternatives. This will require the continuation of capital spending on the arteries into, and the areas servicing, these ports into 2022 and beyond.

The last area to which I will refer before giving way relates to the €106 million funding to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as mentioned by the Minister in his speech. The vast majority of the focus provided by IDA Ireland and Microfinance Ireland is on Brexit preparedness. Even though Brexit has nominally happened, we cannot stop preparing. We are starting to see its fallout on companies, individuals and citizens across this island every day. I will return to my hobby horse of maximising the potential of the Single Market and the Common Market. Infrastructural and capital spending is required in our State agencies to ensure this potential is realised and to ensure IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are able to exploit every single opportunity. This may involve Irish producers and goods replacing British producers and goods on the Continent. That cannot happen without the support of the State and without proper investment in the measures that will, in co-ordination with European funding, allow Irish businesses to realise those opportunities.

I commend the motion to the House. It is very timely that we have this opportunity to raise some key points about spending. It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity, in the remaining two and half minutes, to mention once again an issue I have brought up with the Minister by way of parliamentary question, Topical Issue debate and written letter. I refer to the use of cash related to criminal activity seized by An Garda Síochána. Last year, €16 million in cash was seized, which was an increase on €7 million in the previous two years. We are only one month into this year and already more than €2 million in cash has been seized. That cash needs to be ring-fenced for capital and current spending aimed at addressing the causes of the criminality by which it was raised. It is about getting into communities, constructing physical resources and structures, such as schools and education centres, and providing early intervention and outreach programmes.

I urge the Minister to look again at this matter when he and his fellow Minister, Deputy Donohoe, start the budget projections and calculations for next year - I know it is early to talk of that now - in order to use the €16 million that came into the Exchequer last year and to ring-fence it for investment in addressing the causes of crime at source.

This order, as the Minister will know, is not the most exciting matter we will speak about during this term but it is nonetheless quite an important piece of housekeeping that we, as a Parliament, need to complete. It is a technical motion to ensure that unspent capital is carried over from 2020 to 2021. The amount of money we are discussing are not insignificant, however, standing at more than €709 million. It is important, therefore, that we give this the level of consideration that it deserves.

The pandemic and associated restrictions have put a pause on some capital projects. There are several, however, that I would like to refer to briefly. These are projects in my home constituency that need to be completed as a matter of urgency. The Minister will have heard me raising some of these over the past number of years and I wish to raise them again today and state that capital programmes need to be done.

There is a road in my constituency called the Coonagh to Knockalisheen road and the Minister is probably tired of me talking about this. This is a critical piece of infrastructure in the regeneration programme for the city of Limerick, not just for the north side of the city but for the whole city, particularly the Moyross area and the area around Caherdavin and south-east Clare. At my request and that of other Deputies, I understand that the Taoiseach met with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, last week to talk about this road. Unfortunately, on Monday on local radio a Green Party Deputy spoke about how the Government was looking to deliver two thirds of this road.

That is actually bonkers. The only way to describe this is as a crackpot decision. An Bord Pleanála suggested that the plan being discussed by the Green Party would not be feasible, would not get planning permission and would end up with Moyross becoming not just the cul-de-sac that it is now, but a rat-run which would increase traffic. I am pleading that the Coonagh to Knockalisheen road is put back on the agenda. It is partially built and €70 million has been poured into it already. The contract is there ready and is sitting on the desk of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who is in ideological opposition to signing this contract tender. The company which has been awarded the tender is ready to start in the morning. I appeal to the Minister to speak to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who should not delay this. The communities are frustrated and outraged. This critical piece of infrastructure needs to be delivered as this is not just a simple road.#

The other issue I raise is University Hospital Limerick. We have a consistent problem there with overcrowding. It is the most overcrowded hospital in the State. There is a plan there to develop a 96-bed unit. I would very much appreciate it if the Minister could keep this project on the radar and that it is expedited as fast as possible. Unfortunately, the last three days have seen an average of 50 people a day on trolleys, which is the highest in the State by a country mile. In January of this year we had 949 people lingering on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick, which is totally outrageous and needs to be looked at. We opened a 60-bed modular unit there recently and, unfortunately, it did not have the impact that we had anticipated. There is a plan for a 96-bed unit that needs to be expedited as fast as possible.

The third issue I wish to raise is the flood defences. This week marks the seventh anniversary of the devastating flood where Limerick City was very badly affected, particularly the King’s Island and St Mary’s Park areas. Seven years later we do not have the flood defences built or put in place and very little has been done. I urge that this capital project and that those flood defences be progressed and put in as quickly as possible. This is an older community where people are very stressed and get very worried when the tide a higher and the rain is like we have seen in the last number of days.

I am happy to have the opportunity to speak in this short debate on this technical order on the carry-over of capital expenditure. The Social Democrats are happy to acknowledge that they do not, in principle, have an issue with this and will comply with the requirement of a Dáil approval for that order. There is no doubt that the figure we are carrying over is very substantial at close to €710 million. It will be added to the expected capital expenditure for next year, bringing the total capital expenditure to €10.8 billion. This is a massive sum.

I am not going to stand here today calling for particular projects in my own constituency to be funded because that is not the approach that should be taken, even though we will hear those pleas from many Members. That is one of the fundamental problems associated with how we spend money in this country. This is not the money of any party or of the Government, it is the people’s money. There should be an assurance from the Government that that money will be spent wisely and fairly. Unfortunately, we have not seen that in the past. Big decisions about big capital and other expenditures are very much related to what are regarded as political priorities. It is more about holding seats than doing what is right by the people. There is a very strong public demand to get away from that nonsense and to stop this idea that if one does not have a Minister in Cabinet then one’s constituency is going to lose out. That has probably been the case since time began in this country but it is wrong and should not be the case. It has also resulted in a great deal of money being wasted and spent in areas where it was not needed. The corollary of that is that there are many areas which have been completely starved of funding. That kind of approach is just not good enough and is not one that is taken, for example, in other countries. I have looked at this in some detail in respect of health expenditure but this applies right across the board. It should not be a matter of who shouts the loudest, who has the most well-resourced lobby group or who has the most clout in Cabinet. That is a very outdated and unfair way of approaching the whole issue of spending. We should move to a much more transparent and progressive way of taking decisions on public expenditure. It should be on the basis of an objective resource allocation. This is standard practice across the rest of Europe. When it comes to spending in whatever area it is, one builds a resource allocation model that is objective. One looks at and profiles the different parts of the country in terms of socioeconomic status, from an age perspective, from a rural perspective or from an intense urban deprivation perspective. All of those types of factors play into the status of any particular area.

That is what we should be doing. We have the data to do that in small areas. The late Trutz Haase did exceptional work in this area which fed into some of the model that we built into the Department of Health back in 2011-2012. That work needs to be built on. Let us do away with this pork barrel type of politics, about who can shout the loudest or who has political clout and develop a way spending money in this country, which is the people’s money, in a way that is fair and achieves the objectives that we have set out for the country in developing into a modern, progressive and fair country that actually works. That is why we have services that just do not function. People ask why on earth we cannot have decent public transport, why housing is so expensive or why we cannot have access to proper healthcare. All of these things are taken for granted in other modern, progressive countries but do not happen here. My fundamental message to the Minister is to take an objective and transparent approach to the spending of money and set criteria by which he can gauge the wisdom of those decisions.

I am very pleased to speak on this motion. The year 2020 was an exceptional one and we have not been able to achieve the capital expenditure that we wanted to. It is sensible to roll it over in this way. What Covid-19 has done to the management of our economy and to the management of our public finances is to provide an extraordinary counter cyclical opportunity. This is situated against a completely different approach from the European Central Bank and a different approach generally in how we think about economies, stimulus programmes and in how we plan and imagine our economies and societies for the future. There are, of course, no advantages to Covid-19.

We have had an opportunity to reflect on how we live our lives and to think about how we want to continue to live them in future. I refer to where we want to live our lives, how we want to get to and from work and how we are going to plan for those aspects over the next ten years. I am not sure we would have ever had this opportunity in other circumstances, or it might have taken an extremely long time.

The national development plan, NDP, and the national planning framework on which it is based, was conceived in earlier times and before we had this opportunity to reflect. The effort at that earlier time, with which I was privileged to be involved, was intended to try to dampen development in Dublin and push it out to the other cities to achieve a better regional balance across the island. The primary driver of that process was the climate agenda in respect of trying to ensure we were not overdeveloping a single location. The aim was to provide real communities, where it would be possible for people to do all that they wanted to do in cities on the rest of this island, and not just in Dublin. Included in that aim were activities such as going to a cinema or to the theatre, to work in the high technology area or anything that people may have wanted to do around the different parts of the island. It was a process, however, driven by an urge for compact urban development, so that people would not have been commuting long distances to and from work.

That idea concerning commuting to work, and over long distances to work, has now been turned on its head. We must now think differently about work and commercial space and the repurposing of those spaces in the years to come. We have a major opportunity to reconceive our cities. There is a great opportunity to reimagine how Dublin has been used, the scale of commercial space and whether, and how, it may be possible to convert some of that space into residential space. I refer to reinvigorating our city and town centres and making them vibrant places where people can really live. Such a process could, in its own way, help to suppress the demand for more and more housing out in the hinterland of the city. That demand still exists, notwithstanding the national planning framework and its placement on a statutory footing.

This is a creative opportunity which we may not get again because we may not have the political, social and cultural space to do it. In the repurposing of this money, and in planning for the next two budgetary cycles, I urge the Minister to really think about whether a team might be put together to imagine creative changes which need to be made to the national planning framework, about which a national consultation is ongoing. Thought must also be given to how that undertaking is going to be driven from within the Civil Service and how that process of reimagining can be driven for the benefit of our people in the years to come.

On this specific spending, I agree with the previous speakers regarding not mentioning constituency projects. It is difficult as a Teachta to reconcile the challenge posed by being, on one hand, a national legislator here to speak on the planning of the national finances as much as anything else, while, on the other hand, addressing the needs of constituents concerning schools and other similar things. Instead of mentioning different schools or other issues, therefore, I suggest that it is not sustainable for us to reach the point where Teachtaí must beg for the redevelopment of schools. We cannot get to a point where schools are based in prefabricated buildings for years, without any certainty about what will happen the following year. That is an unsustainable financial and political model which favours clientelism and local lobbying. It is not a sensible and grown-up way to plan. The need for school developments is already visible. The schools themselves are well able to articulate those needs, and they have done so.

Projections of our growing population allow us to know where people are living and where the resulting demand is. We can see from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, data where more schools are going to be needed. We cannot have a situation where schools are begging for money and begging the Department of Education for redevelopment and for an architect to visit. It is an unsustainable way of planning, and I urge the Minister to use his offices and his Department to require that a different model be adopted in the Department of Education. I refer to a model which is better planned, frankly, than the current model and which would not require me and other Deputies to come in and beg for money for different schools in different places.

This is the final opportunity that can be availed of in respect of this money, and other moneys, in the broader context of what I said about the existing opportunity to operate counter-cyclically, in the area of addressing our overwhelming climate agenda and the associated projects which are essential to allow us to continue to survive. An example is the substantial water treatment upgrades necessary in different parts of the country, particularly in my constituency. These are massive capital projects requiring urgent investment. There will be financial implications for the State in respect of environmental fines if we cannot resolve these problems, which would just be wrong. While we have this counter-cyclical opportunity, and it will not come along all that often, we must invest in the manner that I have outlined.

We must also think about how we can use our existing space in respect of horticulture and waste management to try to drive ahead with the development of horticulture, food provision and food security for this island. Several opportunities are evident when we look around our cities for developments in vertical farming, for example, and for taking steps that have not been available or desirable thus far. This is a unique opportunity to reimagine Dublin city centre and city centres generally. The revision of the national development plan, on foot of the national planning framework, if that itself needs changes, is a substantial opportunity, and I urge the Minister to use the best resources available in respect of imagination and creativity to try to drive this endeavour.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on this motion. In other years, attempts were made to dispose of this matter without debate and I am pleased the Government has not tried to go down that road this time around. I also accept that there will be occasions when money will remain unspent. However, some of the areas where spending has not occurred are inexcusable. I have many concerns about the 2021 Revised Estimates for the public services.

I am concerned that we underspent in our current and capital spending on housing last year. We are also planning a €721 million reduction in the Estimates in current spending on housing this year, which is a 23% reduction. We are in the middle of a housing crisis and we should be increasing our spending in this area, and not reducing it. I note that there is an increase in capital spending, but it is nowhere near enough. Only small, single digit, increases are proposed for our defence capital and current spending. We must pay the personnel of our Defence Forces more and ensure that they have up-to-date equipment. The members of the Defence Forces have stood up to the plate during the pandemic and it is time to start reversing the years of underfunding and neglect.

There is also a pittance of an increase in current spending of 1.2% for An Garda Síochána, which comes at a time when there have been two attacks on elderly people in their homes in south Kildare in as many weeks. Garda visibility is at an all-time low. I do not blame the Garda for this situation, because the force can only work with what we give it. We can and must do more. Remaining in the justice area, there is a 10% reduction in capital spending in respect of An Garda Síochána, a 24% decrease in spending on the Courts Service and a 21% decrease in spending on the Prison Service. What kind of message is this sending to criminals? It is an absolute disgrace.

There is a 9%, or €34 million, reduction in spending in the area of rural and community development. We must repurpose many empty buildings in our towns and villages to provide employment opportunities, as well as homes, and give people a reason to stay in rural Ireland. It seems as if this Government could not care less if the last person leaving rural Ireland switched off the lights. The Government forgets that the country does not end at the ball in Naas.

While I welcome the increased spending in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, we must ensure that there is a just transition. It cannot all just be about carbon taxes, which affect our older people disproportionately. Microgeneration must be at the heart of our policy. Subsidising foreign-owned wind farms is not working. We must fast-track the ability in respect of microgeneration for retail customers. They must also be able to sell power back to the national grid and we must make it more economical for them to invest in renewable energy.

This is a technical motion on one level, but it is, nonetheless, an opportunity to highlight some important issues. We are talking about underspending of €709 million in many areas of capital spending, which is an indication of how significant the impact of Covid-19 has been. We must also add to that figure the roughly €20 billion in additional spending which is also related to the pandemic.

To be honest, this exposes the Government's false narrative concerning its strategy balancing public health with the economy. The truth is that the living with Covid-19 strategy has been a disaster from a public health perspective, which we can see when we look at the number of tragic fatalities.

It has also been a disaster economically because we are caught in a cycle of surge and then lockdown, and the Government has no strategy to get out of that cycle. It is not pursuing the strategy that has been pursued in Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and in many other places where most of the time most of the people are living normally, and where the economic damage is far less. I wanted to underline that.

The area of music, arts and events has been most devastated by this. I have spoken about it many times but it has to be highlighted again. The people in this group have been locked down for the full 357 days of this pandemic. Their livelihoods, like their industry, are absolutely devastated. When we talk about capital investment, it is very important to stress that the greatest capital we have is people. They are the most important capital we have. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of arts, music and cultural events. The people who work in those areas are the capital. To be honest, the Government has abandoned that capital. The creative and imaginative human talent that is at the cornerstone of what this country is and its culture, and the things that have made our lives bearable through this grim and terrible pandemic, have effectively been abandoned.

I will give the House some figures around the musicians. These are possibly new figures from a survey by the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, which show that 41% of those surveyed, who are musicians and people in the events and music industry, have had 100% income loss; 24% have had 90% to 99% income loss; 20% have been forced into other employment, which is human capital leaving music; 56% feel they will have to take up other employment and effectively leave; 22% have had to sell the equipment essential to their work; 26% are struggling to pay their mortgage; 31% are struggling to pay loans; 45% struggle to pay their bills; 17% are on the verge of losing their vehicles; 25% receive support from services for mental health problems; and 45% are concerned about their mental health. This is the damage being done to our musicians, our events workers and our artists who have been completely locked down. Many of the grant support schemes such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the grant announced in the past couple of days continue to exclude the vast majority of these musicians, arts workers and so on. I could add in taxi drivers because they do not happen to have a premises or fit the other criteria for such schemes, but we will talk about them on another day.

There is a €709 million underspend, which is a lot of money because the €10.1 billion will be now €10.8 billion in 2021, as the Taoiseach has said. I am sure that most of it at least goes to important projects but it is interesting that some industries have recorded super profits. Some of them have been getting supports during the pandemic and have been doing well out of the pandemic. The huge numbers of musicians, arts and events workers, however, are devastated and their mental health is on the floor. They are selling the equipment and the vehicles they need to ply their trade, and yet they are excluded from the Covid support schemes. I ask the Minister, that given we have all of this money underspent, to consider a bespoke scheme to support those music, arts and cultural workers who are on their knees and who have been locked down for the entirety of this pandemic so we still have a culture and a music industry when this is over.

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to raise a number of issues in this debate. An underspend of €709 million is a substantial sum of money. It also raises the issue of how we assess projects and why it takes so long for them to be assessed and approved. I especially want to address the projects identified by the Office of Public Works, OPW. It appears to be quite a slow process in the context of dealing with projects coming through. How can we fast-track some of those projects?

I welcome the Minister's approval of funding for the Glashaboy flood relief scheme some weeks ago, but the need for that scheme was identified more than eight years ago. It was only recently approved. More than €2 million has been spent on that project in environmental impact studies, which must be done. However, €2 million spent without a sod yet turned raises very serious questions about the process. The Blackpool flood relief scheme is awaiting approval and I hope it will be approved very soon. Again, however, it is a case of waiting eight or ten years for approval. There must be a faster way of dealing with these projects, assessing them to determine whether funding should be made available and ensuring it is made available in timely manner. These are important projects. These are just two projects, but there are projects right around the country where the OPW requires new infrastructure to be put in place.

I will also raise the issue of elective hospitals. Ireland has a serious shortage of hospital beds and we need to tackle this. Covid-19 has emphasised more than ever the need to deal urgently with the issue. We have identified the need, and a clear plan is set out, to build three new elective hospitals around the country and yet we seem to have made very little progress on simple things such as identifying sites and even on consultation. A recent report in the Irish Examiner from a group identified a site for the new elective hospital for Cork. There has been very little consultation, however, with the current voluntary or private hospitals in Cork, including the Mercy University Hospital and the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital. There must be consultation but these three building projects must now be prioritised. They should not be delayed further. The consultation has gone on for the past three years and now we need to prioritise it. It should not be another three years before we even start to apply for planning permission. Even if we decided the sites in the morning it would still take 12 months to come up with designs and a plan, and 12 to 18 months to come forward with full planning permissions. Then it would take another three to four years before we would have them built. We are talking about five years down the road before any of these projects will be delivered. I ask the Minister that these three projects would now be given priority because we need them.

We also need to address the whole issue of elderly care. The Joint Committee on Health yesterday had a report from the Department of Health and the HSE showing that 81% of people who are in nursing homes are in private nursing homes. We have community hospitals and HSE nursing homes, but many of these require major refurbishment. Can we fast-track those projects? The population over the age of 65 is currently 720,000 but by 2030 it will be 1 million. There will be an increase in demand for nursing home care, as well as trying to roll out additional home care support.

We need to look at how we progress the building of schools. I recently had to deal with some issues in the context of a school building project. I ended up dealing with six different authorities, including the OPW, the Department of Education, the county council and the ESB. I could not get a straight answer because it appears there was no one person co-ordinating the project in real terms, even though the boards of management in the schools were working very hard to get the boxes ticked and the decisions made.

In projects such as that, there must be somebody who is able to co-ordinate all the State agencies so there is no undue delay. We are discussing €709 million that has not been spent. Part of the reason for that is the lack of co-ordination between different State agencies, local authorities and other people involved. It is something we must examine.

I wish to return to the health sector, particularly mental health facilities. I recently spoke to somebody who is working in a mental health facility in which nine of the 27 people in the facility died. The facility had six residents per room. When Covid-19 arrived it was not possible for the facility to control it. A number of mental health facilities have not received adequate funding over the last number of years. They have to be refurbished and upgraded to ensure they can provide the proper standard of care that people deserve. These are some of the issues we must focus on and ensure that with any project that is identified, be it in Cork, Dublin, Galway or Donegal, there is not the delay that appears to be occurring in many projects. These projects have been identified and deemed urgent yet, two years later, we find there is very little progress made. We must review that. Due to the various issues that Covid has revealed, the prioritisation of healthcare facilities more than any other facilities is necessary to ensure we can deliver a healthcare service and that we have the facilities in which to do so.

Those are my thoughts on this issue. It is important to look at the mistakes that have been made in the last number of years and to plan for the future. We must also plan to ensure we can deliver in a timely manner. I acknowledge the Minister's work and the work of all departmental officials. They work extremely hard within the rules, but sometimes we need to change the rules in order to deliver on time and within budget.

This is a technical measure, but it provides an opportunity to speak about necessary capital projects. I wish to add my voice to those of other speakers who spoke about difficulties with the audit system, the planning system and with moving major capital projects forward, be they schools, hospitals, certain housing developments and the like.

Representatives of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. and the National Transport Authority, NTA, attended the transport committee meeting yesterday and they spoke about the difficulties they have with the planning process. We are all aware that from time to time local residents are not necessarily happy with situations. Sometimes there are projects in planning for years, but they may lie dormant and the conditions change. This can be brought to the attention of TII or some other agency. The difficulty is that the agency accepts that there are demographic changes, geographical changes and certain things that must be taken into account, but it has to re-enter an entire new process as regards planning, so the projects are put back. The Ardee bypass is one such project. This must be circumvented. It is a matter of a process that works for the project leader, whether it is TII or the local authority, and for residents, whereby one can get into pre-consultation and get the problems dealt with as quickly as possible.

We need to get to a greater level of audits and pre-planning. We all know the difficulties relating to the housing crisis, but within that there are areas such as Blackrock and Haggardstown in my constituency where a number of housing developments have been built. There has been a serious increase in population, especially of the young population. That impacts on the need for schools, be they primary or secondary. We need a better system to address this across the board.

It would be remiss of me not to deal with the fact that Louth County Council has two major requests in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage at present for urban renewal development funding. The port access route in Drogheda is absolutely vital for the future of Drogheda and impacts on every issue ranging from housing to everything else. I would not be allowed to speak in the House again if I did not mention that, as it is constantly being championed by Deputy Munster and Councillor Joanna Byrne. I must also refer to the fact that the county council has an application in respect of Linenhall Street and Bridge Street to finish the work that is necessary to improve the centre of Dundalk. There is a wider body of work that must be done with regard to urban planning into the future, given the changing nature of urban centres.

We have to grasp this opportunity. I am aware of many of the national development plan submissions and the national development plan is being dealt with by the Minister. We must examine how we can put a better system in place as regards planning.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, more than one person died every week in Ireland as a result of asthma. One in five children and one in ten adults in Ireland have asthma. One in 14 people in Ireland have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. There is no doubt that these people are more likely to be hospitalised or to die as a result of Covid-19. Energy poverty has an adverse effect on health and cold, damp housing exacerbates these respiratory problems. I believe energy efficiency is the primary tool in tackling energy poverty. One in four people in Ireland today cannot afford to heat and light their homes. There is a moral imperative to ensure that everyone can afford to pay for their lighting and heating.

Budget 2017, which was my first budget as a Minister, saw a significant increase in investment in energy efficiency. That was expanded again in budget 2018, in which we looked at far deeper energy-efficiency upgrades. I was lucky to be able to secure, as part of Project Ireland 2040, a €4 billion budget for carrying out deep retrofits and energy efficiency to take dirty fossil fuels out of our heating systems, including in all homes, by 2035. The climate action plan brought that target back to 2033. However, as I said when Project Ireland 2040 was launched, it was not about the commitment and the targets, but about delivering on the targets, which would be the key challenge. One of the main measures relating to energy efficiency and particularly fuel poverty is the warmer homes scheme. Historically, that was focused on smaller, shallower measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes, but, as Minister, I provided the funding to carry out deep retrofits of homes across the country and dramatically expanded the investment in that in 2018. As a result, 5,255 homes had a retrofit carried out in 2018. These homes are occupied by people who are on social welfare and do not have the resources to carry out the type of retrofit that is needed for many homes and the older housing stock across the country.

In 2019, however, the number of homes retrofitted fell by 40% compared to what was achieved in 2018. Last year, 2020, it collapsed with a 70% reduction in the number of homes retrofitted compared to 2018. Today, there are approximately 7,000 families who are reliant on social welfare waiting for approval to have their homes retrofitted under that scheme.

Disappointingly, last week the current Minister responsible for energy, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said there were changes coming to the scheme "to better target those most in need". In other words, quite a number of those 7,000 people who are in energy poverty and who are reliant on social welfare will now be excluded from his revision of that scheme. That is wrong.

The Minister also announced a new national retrofit programme for 2021 but we have no information on that as of yet. We are already into February. If we were trying to maximise the number of retrofits due to take place and the capital drawdown in 2021, then that scheme should have been operational in January of this year. This was committed to in the programme for Government. There has been ample time to design this retrofit scheme and it has not happened. The argument will be made that we cannot retrofit homes because of the lockdown. I accept that people cannot go into homes at the moment with the current restrictions, but much of the work that is required is external. That could be prioritised at this time and be carried out. It is not just about energy poverty. Regarding the Government's own objectives relating to climate emissions, energy efficiency is the first and most significant step on the road to reducing overall emissions and improving air quality throughout this country.

As a result of the pandemic, families' heating bills have gone up dramatically and that has been compounded by increased carbon taxes and the subsidising of data centres. It is immoral that people who are struggling to pay electricity bills are subsidising the electricity going into data centres, many of which have been constructed on a speculative proposition. There was a 9% increase in residential carbon emissions during the 2020 lockdown and we have seen a fall-off in the retrofitting of homes, which commenced in 2019 and collapsed in 2020. We need a step change in retrofitting homes and that needs to be prioritised as part of the capital plan.

As there are no other contributors from the Government, the Rural Independent Group or the Independent Group present, I call the Minister again.

I thank all the Deputies for contributing to the debate on this motion. In substance, it is a technical motion providing for the carrying forward of more than €700 million of the capital budget from 2020 into 2021, in order that those funds will be available for expenditure across a range of areas under the public capital investment programme. It will not be possible for me to respond to all the individual local projects that were mentioned during the debate but I am sure colleagues across the House will be engaging with the line Departments and with the sponsoring bodies in respect of all those individual projects.

The €710 million that is being provided in 2021, in addition to the budget already provided, will bring the overall capital expenditure allocation for 2021 to around €10.8 billion, which is a new record high in the history of the State. To allay some of the concerns that were raised, the actual expenditure in 2020, notwithstanding the significant impact of Covid-19, substantially exceeded the original budget. The original budget in 2020 was around €8.2 billion in capital terms and the actual spend across the public capital programme in 2020 exceeded €9 billion. It is important to put that on the record.

As colleagues know, we are undertaking the review of the national development plan, NDP, with a view to ensuring that it is consistent with Project Ireland 2040. Sitting alongside the national planning framework, the NDP is a vital document setting out a roadmap for the development of our country over the next decade and beyond. There will be a requirement to reconsider the priorities in the NDP in the context of developments that have taken place, including the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the changes that have been forced upon us are here to stay to a greater or lesser extent. There is a renewed commitment to tackling the climate emergency and that will feature strongly in the review of the NDP, in addition to investment in transport, housing policy, implementation of Sláintecare, and balanced regional development to ensure that happens in a meaningful and tangible way.

In addition to all the traditional forms of capital that we always associate with the public capital programme, such as the building of schools and roads and the improvement of public transport infrastructure, capital expenditure also relates to digitalisation, investing in e-health and ensuring we have modern systems across our public services. It can also provide funding for grants through IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, for example. Over the course of 2020, restart grants in the order of €700 million were provided to businesses. The traditional concept of capital expenditure has evolved and changed over that period. Of course, investment in broadband is also a key area and a very important plank of the Government's capital investment programme.

As part of the NDP review we need to improve delivery, and this aligns with the comments of a number of Deputies. It is a priority for me as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to improve the capacity of the system to deliver. As part of phase 1 of the review of the NDP, there is a lot of technical work under way evaluating the capacity of the public sector to deliver on major public capital projects. We are also looking at alternative financing methods, such as public private partnerships, for example. We are looking at investment trends and the return the State gets from its public capital programme. We will be moving on to phase 2 in the next few months and will eventually agree a new ten-year NDP, which will be exciting and ambitious and will align with the priorities of this Government and broadly with those of this House and the country as well. I again thank all Deputies for their contributions and support for this motion.

Question put and agreed to.