Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 103 replied to with Written Answers.

Earcaíocht san Earnáil Phoiblí

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

104. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe an bhfuil sé i gceist aige dlús a chur le hearcú tuilleadh státseirbhíseach chuig an státseirbhís, a bhfuil cumas acu oibriú tríd an dá theanga oifigiúil, á chur forálacha an Bhille leasaithe Teangacha Oifigiúla atá faoi bhráid an Oireachtais faoi láthair san áireamh; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [31515/21]

Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, tá Bille ag dul trí na Dála i láthair na huaire agus beidh, faoin mBille sin, dualgas ar an tseirbhís phoiblí 20% a earcú a mbeidh Gaeilge agus, glacaimid leis, Béarla acu. Faoi láthair, tá painéal ann agus is beag duine atá tógtha ón bpainél do dhaoine, ní hamháin a bhfuil cumas sa Ghaeilge acu, ach cumas sa Bhéarla. Ba mhaith liom a fháil amach céard atá i gceist ag an Aire Stáit a dhéanamh faoin gceist seo.

Is é an tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí, PAS, an t-earcaitheoir neamhspleách i gcomhair cheapacháin na státseirbhíse. Tá an earcaíocht ar fad faoi stiúir an éilimh agus téann PAS i gceann comórtas thar ceann na státseirbhíse chun painéil a chur ar bun ónar féidir tarraingt de réir mar a thagann folúntais aníos i Ranna nó oifigí Rialtais. Féadann iarratasóirí a bhfuil Gaeilge acu iarratais ar róil ghinearálta sa státseirbhís a chur chuig PAS trí chomórtais shainiúla dhátheangacha nó, de rogha air sin, féadann siad iarratais a chur isteach ar chomórtais neamh-dhátheangacha agus a léiriú spéise i bpoist Ghaeilge nó dhátheangacha a shainiú. D'fhéadfaí sainchomórtais ar leith a eagrú ó am go chéile maidir le róil níos teicniúla inar gá líofacht sa Ghaeilge amhail aistritheoirí dlí, tuairisceoirí parlaiminteacha agus cigirí scoile.

Cuireann oifigigh chléireachais agus oifigigh feidhmiúcháin croísheirbhísí ar fáil don phobal i Ranna agus oifigí Rialtais ar fud na tíre. Is in 2019 go deireanach a eagraíodh comórtas oifigeach cléireachais, OC, Gaeilge agus is le déanaí a chuaigh an painéal sin in éag. Tá PAS chun comórtas nua Gaeilge OC a sheoladh an mhí seo. San idirlinn, tá d'acmhainn ag PAS an t-éileamh ar róil Ghaeilge ag leibhéal OC a riar ón bpainéal náisiúnta neamh-dhátheangach OC 2020 ach na hiarratasóirí sin a léirigh go raibh cumas Gaeilge acu ag an gcéim iarratais a shannadh.

Eagraíodh comórtas oifigeach feidhmiúcháin, OF, Gaeilge in 2020 agus tá painéal ann go fóill i gcomhair sannadh ón gcomórtas seo go dtí Meán Fómhair 2021 nó go dtí go mbunófar painéal nua. Tuigtear dom go dtosóidh PAS ar phleanáil i gcomhair comórtas nua OF Gaeilge ag tarraingt ar dheireadh an tsamhraidh.

Tá an tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí sásta gur leor na painéil Ghaeilge atá i bhfeidhm faoi láthair, le cois na gcomórtas atá beartaithe roimh i bhfad, chun riar ar an éileamh reatha ó Ranna agus Oifigí Rialtais ar bhaill foirne dhátheangacha a bheadh páirteach i seachadadh seirbhísí don phobal.

Mar is eol don Teachta, moltar i mBille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) 2019, atá ag Céim an Coiste faoi láthair os comhair Thithe an Oireachtais, sprioc uaillmhianach go mbeadh líofacht Ghaeilge ag 20% de gach duine nuacheaptha sa státseirbhís agus sa tseirbhís phoiblí faoi 2030 ar aon dul le tiomantais sa Chlár Rialtais.

Cé mhéad duine ar roghnaíodh iad don phainéal Gaeilge, mar a thugann an tAire Stáit air, agus cé mhéad duine atá fostaithe cheana féin ón bpainéal sin? Cén fáth nár fostaíodh tuilleadh?

An nglacfadh an tAire Stáit leis go bhfuil sé cineál seafóideach painéal Gaeilge amháin a bheith ann nuair atá Béarla den scoth ag gach uile duine a bhfuil Gaeilge acu freisin?

An aontaíonn an tAire Stáit liom, gur cheart go mbeadh duine ar bith atá ar an bpainéal Gaeilge go huathoibríoch ar an bpainéal dátheangach ag an am céanna, ó tharla gur ar éigean a bhfuil aon duine ag cur isteach ar an státseirbhís a bhfuil Gaeilge acu nach bhfuil Béarla den scoth acu freisin?

Tá an-deacracht againn.

Tá an-deacracht ag an Státseirbhís daoine dátheangacha a earcú. Mar shampla, bhí comórtas ann do dhaoine a raibh Béarla acu gur spéis leo a bheith ina n-oifigigh chléireachais agus sainchomórtas eile do dhaoine dátheangacha a raibh líofacht acu sa Ghaeilge. Bhí 60 uair níos mó iarratasóirí don chéad chomórtas. I leith comórtas i gcomhair oifigigh fheidhmiúcháin, bhí 100 uair níos mó iarratasóirí don chomórtas Béarla. Léiríonn sé sin go bhfuil fadhb oideachais ann agus gur fadhb níos leithne ná fadhb earcaíochta é.

B'fhéidir nach é sin an fhadhb ar chor ar bith. B'fhéidir gurb é an fhadhb atá ann ná go bhfuiltear ag srianú daoine trí iad a chur ar an bpainéal Gaeilge amháin. Níl daoine ar an bpainéal sin in ann fostaíocht a fháil sa tseirbhís phoiblí ach i bpoist atá bainteach leis an nGaeilge. Má tá Gaeilge agus Béarla ag daoine, a oiread liom féin, oibríonn siad trí Bhéarla nó trí Ghaeilge de réir mar a oireann. Cad chuige a shrianfadh daoine iad féin go poist ina gcuirtear i mbosca beag na Gaeilge iad nuair a bheadh an Státseirbhís oscailte do dhaoine dátheangacha má théann siad ar an bpainéal Béarla, mar a thug an tAire Stáit air? An ndearna aon scrúdú air sin? An ceann de na fáthanna é nach bhfuil daoine ag cur isteach ar an bpainéal sin toisc go srianann sé sin a dtodhchaí sa tseirbhís phoiblí le hais cur isteach ar an bpainéal eile, mar a bhíodh sé fadó? An bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag rá liomsa nach bhfuil cumas Béarla ag na daoine atá ar an bpainéal Gaeilge? Cén fáth nach mbeidh siadsan in ann a bheith earcaithe sa Státseirbhís ginearálta go huathoibríoch, ag glacadh leis go bhfuil Béarla agus Gaeilge acu? Níl aon uireasa ag na Gaeilgeoirí. Tá an uireasa ar na Béarlóirí.

Tá an ceart ag an Teachta go bhfuil gá leis an gcóras seo a athrú. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) 2019 ag teacht, chun fadhbanna mar seo a réiteach. Tá orainn níos mó daoine atá dátheangach a earcú. Tá orainn freisin oideachas a chur ar fáil do dhaoine atá fostaithe roimhe chun a gcuid Gaeilge a fheabhsú. I mo Roinn féin, tá seirbhís mhór oideachais ann chun an sprioc seo a bhaint amach. Tá iarracht á déanamh agam chun feabhas a chur ar mo chuid Gaeilge freisin.

Data Centres

James Lawless

Question:

105. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans for the development of a shared public sector or Government data centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32337/21]

Mairéad Farrell

Question:

112. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the shared data services centre outlined in the recovery and resilience plan will be publicly run and not contracted out to a private provider. [31888/21]

My question relates to a commitment in the recently published national resilience and recovery plan to provide a Government data centre. Will the Minister elaborate on plans for that? Is it to be a physical data centre, a system to provide a single view of the citizen or both? What exactly is it to consist of and how exactly will it work?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 112 together.

I thank Deputies Lawless and Mairéad Farrell for their questions. It is proposed to develop a new Government data centre. This will be a purpose-built facility on State land and will be operated and managed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on behalf of the State. The new Government data centre will be developed at the Government’s Backweston laboratory campus in Celbridge, County Kildare, with which Deputy Lawless will be familiar. This campus currently accommodates various facilities for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the State laboratory.

This project is part of the Government’s ICT strategy, which is focused on creating ICT shared services to support integration across the wider public service in order to drive efficiency, standardisation, consolidation, reduction in duplication and cost control. The data centre will provide the foundation and platform on which our digital reforms and transformations will be built. It will also help facilitate a more environmentally-efficient use of technology across Government.

The objective of the Government data centre is to deliver high-quality data centre facilities which are fit for purpose and are capable of meeting the Government’s requirements now and in the future. In doing so, it will support and enable the Civil Service Renewal 2030 strategy, the Public Service Data Strategy 2019-2031 and the Government’s 2021 digital strategy and thereby provide a much better experience of Government services for the people of Ireland.

I thank the Minister. His response was very interesting. I am delighted to hear the centre is to be located in Backweston in my constituency of Kildare North. I am aware of the forensic science laboratory and other State facilities already located there. This will complement the facilities at that location. I know that centre is operating well and it is good to see it growing with this new establishment.

I have a couple of questions on the centre itself. Data centres can be very useful and I welcome the fact that the State is progressing this project and centralising its view of citizens' data. That will present synergies and benefits for all public services. They can be very energy hungry. Is there a renewable energy plan to accompany this particular centre? With regard to the skills and talent required, we can be thankful that there is no shortage in north Kildare. In the context of employment opportunities, however, particular skill sets are required for any technology project. Such skill sets will be required for any data mining that might follow on from this project and to operate this single view of the citizen. There are also synergies with our Defence Forces, some of whose members may have been trained in those areas. Perhaps we could begin to build a centre of excellence for these skills in Ireland. In light of the recent cyberattack on the HSE, we must also be alert to cybersecurity concerns. Will building talent and bringing talent in from the private sector or the Defence Forces be an aspect of this project? Will there be a renewable energy component to driving the centre on?

There is much merit in creating a shared Government data services centre. I have been looking at the area of public procurement and data collection, analysis and review in this area needs to be improved. A shared data centre could help to improve the interoperability of public administrative databases and could help cut down on data entry and the collection of duplicate data. As part of the drive towards digitisation, efforts are being made to cut down on paper records as these are seen as less efficient. However, it is equally inefficient to have multiple people across multiple Departments collecting the same, or similar, information. I welcome the data centre on that basis but I do, however, have concerns as to how it will operate. I apologise; while I did listen to the Minister's response, for the sake of absolute clarity, will he confirm that the centre will be State-run and not run by a private provider?

I thank the Deputies very much. By way of further background, this facility is initially designed to accommodate 600 racks. The project is initially intended to replace four of the State's most essential data centres, which are operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection and An Garda Síochána, with one purpose-built data centre facility owned and operated by the Government. It is intended to then make the facility available to organisations across the public service. With regard to the timeline, it is intended for construction procurement by the Office of Public Works to take place in the third and fourth quarters of this year, for the tender to be awarded and contracts signed in the fourth quarter and for construction to commence in the first quarter of next year. It is hoped that the facility will be completed and commissioned by the end of 2023.

With regard to the environmental impacts of this data centre in particular, it has been designed to be at least twice as efficient as most existing data centre facilities. This represents a large saving of power in the new purpose-built facility. In conjunction with the construction of the data centre, a sustainable energy project is being pursued on the site by the Office of Public Works. This may potentially involve photovoltaic solutions. In addition, hardware rationalisation and upgrading physical to virtual programmes will be a key part of the migration project from existing server rooms to the new Government data centre, which will see both a reduction in overall hardware and the upgrading of hardware to modern energy-efficient models.

I assure Deputy Lawless that the centre will be designed to adhere to industry security standards and will be certified to the International Organization for Standardization security standard, ISO 27001. It is my understanding that the data centre will be operated and run by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but I will get that confirmed for Deputy Mairéad Farrell.

I thank the Minister for responding to my comments.

I am familiar with the campus at Backweston and have followed its development. Indeed, I was there for the launch of Forensic Science Ireland and the turning of the sod a couple of years ago. It is great site and it is well located. There is a valuable skill set and talent pool in north Kildare. I thank the Minister for the continued investment in the centre.

There are synergies there. As a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, I have had opportunity to engage with the Defence Forces. The cybersecurity skill set is one in respect of which we can develop synergies within the State. The Defence Forces may have a role in conjunction with the private sector. We could create talent which would then lend itself to projects such as these. That would be the State helping itself in terms of developing synergies along the way. That is something that could be considered. Is it part of the plans in this regard in the long term?

If the data centre is to be State-run, that is very good news. Deputy Lawless mentioned that the data centres based here which are owned by private companies can use significant amounts of energy. We know there has been a sharp rise in the number of such centres operating here. In fact, a report prepared by the data hosting industry confirmed that the number of operational data centres in the State increased by 25% in the past year. The data centre industry currently consumes 11% of the energy generated on the grid and that is forecast to rise to almost one third by the end of the decade. Not only does it consume significant amounts of electricity, it consumes large amounts of water. For example, the average data centre uses an estimated 500,000 l of water per day. However, a particular data centre in Dublin reported it could use up to 4.5 million l of water per day. At a time when our offshore islands are experiencing water rationing, that is mind-boggling. The Minister has given assurances regarding the environmental aspect of this project. I ask him to be clear that the facilities will be run on renewable energy and will conserve as much water as possible.

It is good to hear that the centre will be built to the highest standards but has there been a review of cyber-vulnerability in the context of consolidating in one centre? It seems to involve exposure to greater risk.

What is the view of the Minister in respect of centres other than the top four he mentioned? For example, the State has been exposed in terms of a lack of e-health capability which could have been invaluable in the course of the pandemic. Is there an element where health will soon be integrated into a similar phase of ambition?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. As I stated, the data centre is designed to be at least twice as efficient as most existing data centre facilities. That is an important point to underline. In conjunction with that, a sustainable energy project is being pursued by the Office of Public Works, OPW, on the site. I very much welcome that and will ensure it proceeds as part of the plan. The OPW has signed a contract with the ESB for the additional power connectivity required to ensure power reliability for the new data centre on the Backweston site, which is fundamental to the success of the project. There is an interdepartmental steering group in place to oversee the project, with senior officials from the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, the OPW, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Revenue, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and An Garda Síochána. They will consider the synergies and benefits that may be available by using the resources and expertise in the wider State sector.

For the information of Deputy Bruton, the review of the National Cyber Security Centre which, as he is aware, was under way well before the recent ransomware attack, has now been completed and has just been provided to the Minister. Its contents will be taken on board in the final plans for the development of this data centre.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Brendan Smith

Question:

106. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if capital expenditure was on or within profile at the end of May 2021; if he expects expenditure to come in on profile in 2021; if not, if he has received requests for a reallocation of funding; if such requests will be supported; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32351/21]

There was a big underspend last year. Was there an underspend in the capital allocation up to the end of May? Is it projected that will carry on again this year to the end of the year? Has the Minister received requests from Departments to transfer funding within the Department to funding streams that might be spent more quickly this year to make up for the shortfall in expenditure so far?

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív and I acknowledge Deputy Brendan Smith, who spoke to me about this issue yesterday evening. As reported in the Fiscal Monitor, net capital issues to the end of May 2021 amounted to €1.885 billion. This is €408 million, or 17.8%, behind the end-of-May profile of €2.293 billion. Expenditure for the same period in 2020 totalled €2.121 billion. In year-on-year terms, expenditure is €236 million, or just over 11%, below the end of May 2020 position.

The main underspends are the Department of Transport, which was just over €158 million, or 30%, behind profile at the end of May, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which is just under €93 million, or almost 17%, behind profile.

In the transport sector, there is a backlog of work because of the Covid-19 restrictions and a later than anticipated allocation to Transport Infrastructure Ireland. The Department of Transport is satisfied that capital expenditure will realign with its profile as the year progresses.

As a result of building site closures during level 5 Covid restrictions, local authority housing is €20 million behind profile. Irish Water is €74 million, or 33%, behind the published profile. The capital contribution was not drawn down as profiled because capital expenditure is progressing slower than anticipated due to a restricted operating environment under Covid health and safety protocols.

It is too early in the year to definitively state whether expenditure will be on profile at year-end. However, my Department will continue to engage with all other Departments throughout the year with regard to expenditure management. Expenditure will continue to be monitored in order to assess the implications of the Covid crisis on capital expenditure profiles.

Last year, an underspend of more than €700 million was carried forward into 2021.

I thank the Minister. We are over time.

It is undoubtedly the case that the restrictions on construction in particular in the early part of the year have had an impact. I have not had requests to date for the transfer of funding but I would be favourably disposed to same, depending on the specific ask.

I ask for the co-operation of the Minister because we have limited time.

The Minister referred to the Department of Transport. It has profiled 25% expenditure in the first five months of the year, even though that period accounts for 40% of the year, but it is significantly behind on that expenditure, that is, by €150 million. At a time when county roads are screaming out for money and the Department of Transport has spent nothing on non-county roads, that is, local improvement scheme, LIS, roads, in the past ten years, if a request came to the Minister from the Department of Transport to spend more on county roads that urgently need work and on LIS roads, would he be willing to look favourably on such a request in view of the fact that these are projects that can give quick spend as the year goes on?

I thank the Deputy. That is the specific issue Deputy Brendan Smith raised with me and intended to address this morning through this oral question. It is very much a matter for the Minister for Transport to manage his capital budget. Deputy Ó Cuív has correctly pointed out that there is a very significant underspend in the year to date. The feedback we are getting in my Department is that the Department of Transport expects to bring spending in line with profile. To answer the Deputy's question directly, if it is the view of that Department that a reallocation of funding to road improvements or resurfacing of non-national roads, county roads and local improvement scheme roads in the course of the year is what it wishes to do in order to fully avail of its capital envelope, I would be favourably disposed to facilitating that. However, the request for such an initiative has to come from the relevant Minister and the Department of Transport. My door is open and I will engage positively with any such request that might come.

Only that I do not want to gum up the Minister's Department with unnecessary work, I would love to submit a freedom of information request in respect of the assurances the Minister got in June, July, August, September and October last year that all the money would be spent by all the Departments.

He has ended up with an underspend of €700 million. I know what happens within Departments, with each principal officer being asked whether he or she will be able to spend the money. For fear it might be taken from them and allocated to somewhere more productive, they will all assure the Minister they can spend the money. Then it is too late and there is a big heap of money in November that cannot be spent. In the meantime, ordinary people need things done urgently but this game goes on year after year. Even the profiling is skewed towards the back end to cover this particular hobby that goes on within Departments.

What steps will the Minister take to make sure that when officials tell him they can spend the money, they really will be able to spend it? How will he ensure that, this year, we do not have the scandal of €700 million not being spent for the good of the people within the calendar year?

The Deputy makes a number of valid points. For the record of the House, the actual overall underspend last year was more than €900 million. There is a restriction on the amount that can be carried forward, which is 10% of the capital allocation within the relevant Vote. This meant the amount carried forward into 2021 was more than €700 million.

The Deputy is correct that Departments will guard their capital allocations very closely. In recent months, we have put in place new requirements for reporting directly to Cabinet by the main spending Departments, a number of them on the current expenditure side and, in the case of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Transport, in respect of capital expenditure. I am a firm believer in getting small works done where that is possible, and many of them can be done in a relatively short period. We will keep a very close eye on this issue. If decisions have to be made on reallocating from one subhead to another within a Department, I am very much open to that. Any such request needs to come from the line Department.

Civil Service

Neale Richmond

Question:

107. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the Civil Service Renewal 2030 strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31971/21]

This question is being taken by Deputy Bruton. I apologise to the Deputy that I did not bring him in on the previous question. I will give him a little leniency to make up for that.

May I raise a point on the last question?

This question relates to the Civil Service renewal plan for 2030, which seeks to provide evidence-informed policymaking, harness innovation and build an organisation for the future. What are the concrete targets the Minister is setting for delivery under this strategy?

I thank Deputy Bruton for his question. An Taoiseach and I launched Civil Service Renewal 2030, a new ten-year strategy for the Civil Service, on 21 May last. In addition to publishing the strategy, the launch provided an opportunity to highlight a number of projects undertaken across the Civil Service that show the important work carried out by civil servants up and down the country, particularly in responding to the challenges we have faced over the past 18 months. The strategy provides an ambitious framework for the future for the Civil Service and its staff. It builds on the strengths of the Civil Service and the initiatives delivered under the first renewal plan for the service. It provides a long-term framework for continuous improvement and is focused on achieving meaningful outcomes for society, the Government and stakeholders.

The strategy's vision is for "an innovative, professional and agile Civil Service that improves the lives of the people of Ireland through excellence in service delivery and strategic policy development". It has three core themes, namely, delivering evidenced-informed policy and services, harnessing digital technology and innovation, and building the workforce, workplaces and organisation of the future. The strategy's development is the result of an extensive consultation process informed by experience and expertise from across the Civil Service. A task force of senior officials, representing all of the Civil Service management board, CSMB, Departments and offices, has shaped the strategy. It draws on evidence collected from staff engagement during the implementation of the first Civil Service renewal plan and the results of the 2020 Civil Service employee engagement survey. It is also informed by the lessons learned in the six organisational capability reviews completed to date and the civil and public service response to the challenges of Covid-19. The strategy acknowledges the environment in which the Civil Service operates and identifies important challenges facing the service now and in the future.

The strategy will be implemented through a cycle of three-year action plans. Work is under way on the first plan, which will set out the priorities for the next three years. I will publish the first action plan in the autumn.

I welcome the plan. However, does the Minister share my concern that, at this stage, there is only one concrete target set out in the plan, which is that there be 90% availability online of services? Does he agree that some higher ambitions need to be set out, particularly in the context of innovation? Should there be a concrete figure for the amount of money that will go to innovative practices within the public service? Should we have concrete targets in respect of investment in leadership and skill capability to deliver change? Is the Minister's experience the same as mine, namely, that the public service has not invested sufficiently in the capacity to deliver change management within the system?

This is an area on which we must continue to focus. When it comes to innovation, we have an annual award scheme for innovative projects across the Civil Service. I intend to continue to develop that scheme because it is important that we reward excellence and encourage and support innovation in all its forms. It is a very important scheme, which recognises achievement in the area of innovation. It can help to improve services for our citizens, which is ultimately what we are all about.

There is significant investment in the area of skills and talent development and providing educational opportunities for people working across the Civil Service. I am keen to see greater mobility in order that people working in one part of the Civil Service have an opportunity to move, deploy their skills elsewhere and enhance their experience. There is an existing mobility scheme but it is an area we can develop further.

Deputy Bruton has a minute remaining. If he would like to raise the issue that I inadvertently prevented him from raising earlier, this is his opportunity to do so.

Very briefly, will the Minister consider lifting the 10% carry-over restriction in respect of capital spending? When a body like Irish Water is already nearly 40% behind in its capital spending, there is a possibility that very important infrastructural projects could be held up in our regions.

In respect of Civil Service renewal, is the Minister aware that Enterprise Ireland invests substantially in taking Irish executives to Stanford University and other high-quality centres to develop their leadership skills? Should the renewal programme include a similar commitment for the public service? Should we have excellence funds in operation in most of our Departments in order that money is available that is not devoted to day-to-day spending but is focused on innovation?

First, in regard to the capital carry-over restriction, any change in that provision would certainly require a change in legislation and may require a constitutional change. From discussion with my officials on this issue in recent months, it is not a straightforward matter. It is something I will examine further. It has implications, of course, for overall expenditure control and management because, from a public expenditure point of view, the more multi-annual dimensions we have to our public expenditure framework, the more the complexity is increased. What the Deputy is proposing can be achieved but my understanding is there will be a constitutional issue in respect of removing the 10% requirement.

Regarding the particular scheme being run by Enterprise Ireland, I will have a look at it. The Civil Service renewal strategy does not encompass all the initiatives that are under way within individual Departments. We are placing a focus on talent and skills development on a continuous basis across the Civil Service.

Public Expenditure Policy

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

108. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if public expenditure for 2021 is within profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32332/21]

This question is being taken by Deputy Lahart.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating me in taking this question for my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, who has responsibilities elsewhere this week. The question relates to whether public expenditure for this year is within profile. Will the Minister give us a picture of below-profile spending and some of the reasons behind it, if he has been able to garner them at this stage?

I thank Deputy Lahart for raising the question on behalf of our colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan. The Revised Estimates for Public Services 2021 outlined an overall Government expenditure ceiling of €87.8 billion. This provided for both an increase in the core expenditure allocations to Departments and for almost €12 billion in funding to respond to Covid-19 and Brexit.

In 2021 to date, Covid-19 has continued to pose a huge challenge for society and continued measures have been necessary to support our people, businesses and the delivery of public services. Within the overall expenditure ceiling, €5.4 billion was set aside in reserve to be used as required during the year for temporary targeted measures to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19. This reserve was partially utilised to fund the extension of the PUP and the employment wage subsidy scheme to the end of June. In this regard, and including expenditure of the Social Insurance Fund, the further Revised Estimate for the Department of Social Protection, presented to Dáil Éireann recently, reflects additional gross expenditure of €4 billion. In addition to this, further Departmental Estimates will be presented to the Dáil in due course, reflecting the various measures set out in the national economic recovery plan.

Given the exceptional level of funding being provided this year, careful monitoring of spending against profile and progress on programmes and projects is required. It is a key responsibility of every Department and Minister to manage expenditure within their respective allocations. During 2021, the main spending Departments will be reporting to government quarterly on their respective areas.

Based on departmental Estimates presented to the Dáil to date and as set out in the most recent Fiscal Monitor, total gross voted expenditure to the end of May amounted to nearly €33 billion. While this is nearly €1.5 billion ahead of the same period in 2020, the public health restrictions in place this year have impacted on spending plans of Departments. Accordingly, gross voted expenditure is running almost €1.4 billion or 4% below profile at the present time.

I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank him, on behalf of my constituents, for his capable and prudent management of his responsibilities in respect of public expenditure. We all know the enormous resources that have been devoted to supporting people, their jobs and businesses over the past 15 months. There is not a constituency that has not been impacted positively. I have heard very positive feedback, particularly from businesses in relation to Government supports and how they helped them to survive.

Nonetheless, it would appear that many Departments have been spending significantly below profile in the period to the end of May 2021, as the Minister outlined. While I know that may appeal to the chartered accountant in the Minister, as will the way in which those underspent resources could be utilised in a positive way, what is the Minister's view of the underspend in areas such as health or social protection? Does he see any underlying reasons for it? Does he envisage those moneys being available at the end of the year or being expended by the end of the third and fourth quarters?

It is important that we look at the overall context. As I stated, the expenditure ceiling for 2021, as agreed in the Revised Estimates Volume published late last year, is just under €88 billion. However, it is expected that this level of expenditure will be exceeded over the course of 2021. For example, in respect of Covid-related costs, we had made provision for around €12 billion of expenditure, given the length of the restrictions that were imposed in the early part of the year. The decisions made in the national economic plan to extend supports in some instances to the end of the year means that the Covid-related expenditure is now more likely to be around €15 billion rather than €12 billion.

Some of the underspends require context. In the case of the Department of Social Protection, the reason for the underspend is that we transferred an extra €4 billion into the Department recently through further Revised Estimates. In other Departments there are underlying underspends, which the Deputy correctly highlighted. While I am a chartered accountant, as a Minister, I want to see Departments meet their policy objectives and spend the money allocated to achieve Government policies. We are continuing to monitor that and keep it under review.

From this vantage point, how does the Minister envisage this playing out until the end of the year? Will Departments meet their spending targets? If not, how will those moneys be used? Will they be transferred to other capital projects, for example?

To date this year, the underspend in the Minister's Department is 11%. Can he paint a picture of how he thinks the figures will look at the end of the year?

It is important to bear in mind that we are working from information based on five months of the year. When it comes to managing expenditure, Departments will have expenditure pressures at different points in the year. The spending is not always evenly spread throughout the year. At this point in time, our expectation is that most Departments will be in a position to spend their full allocation on the policies the Government wishes to have pursued. When it comes to capital expenditure, there will be pressure because of the shutdown of construction earlier in the year. That explains why there are significant underspends. There is a carry forward facility, as I noted previously. We carried forward over €700 million in unspent capital from last year into the current year. That increases the amount of funding that is available to be spent, but there is a limit. It is 10% of the budget within the Vote head that can be carried forward.

Every Department has its own individual story to tell. The overall picture is of very elevated Government expenditure to meet the challenges we are facing in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Question No. 109 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Expenditure Policy

Richard Bruton

Question:

110. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has studied the ESRI study which suggests that Exchequer investment could be increased by 50% provided borrowing is confined strictly to capital purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31586/21]

The Minister may have already answered questions on the ESRI report. Based on an assessment of growth rates and interest rates, the study found that capital investment by the Exchequer could increase by 50% or €47 billion. I would like to hear the Minister's reaction to the report and whether it means the NDP can be a great deal more ambitious than the €120 billion currently set out.

The total level of Exchequer investment is currently under consideration as part of the ongoing review of the NDP, as the Deputy is aware. The overall level of capital expenditure in 2021 stands at €10.1 billion, or almost €11 billion when capital carry-over is included. This represents a share of 4.7% of GNI*, well above the EU average in recent years of around 3% of GDP. This allocation is almost €5.5 billion or 119% higher than the amount allocated in 2017. In other words, capital allocations have already more than doubled under the NDP. The Deputy will be very familiar with that, given his role in the previous Government. It is also an all-time high in the history of the State, with a commitment to maintaining and further increasing it over the lifetime of the Government. This is in spite of the major challenges facing the Exchequer due to the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit.

It is also important to note that pre-pandemic, Ireland's level of public debt per capita was one of the highest in the developed world. This has increased as a result of our response to the crisis. That response was necessary and remains appropriate in my view. Total government debt is now approaching one €250 billion, or 112% of GNI*.

I note that the ESRI report states that the Irish Exchequer would be able to raise between €4 billion and €7 billion each year in additional resources for the State. The paper also notes that this would generate sizeable challenges in terms of efficient delivery. As part of the analytical processes underpinning the NDP review, a macroeconomic analysis has been conducted as to the appropriate level of capital expenditure for the period 2021 to 2030. It considered a number of factors, including the overall fiscal position, demand for investment, supply side capacity constraints in the public and construction sectors and international comparisons.

All of those factors need to be considered and balanced against each other as part of the national development plan review when setting the planned level of public capital investment for the period 2021 to 2030.

I am a little bit disheartened by the Minister's reply but he did leave a chink there that he is reviewing this.

I will move to what used to be called the golden rule, namely, that one only borrows for capital. This is a stringent test on the probity of public spending. Does the Minister agree that we are facing significant capital needs, particularly in climate and housing? Just to illustrate this point, do we not need to see the Land Development Agency build up a land bank in Cork in order that it can become a strong magnet for growth? I suspect the city does not have the resources to do that. Are we not at a stage now where the EU is reviewing its approach to the old balanced budget model and we have an opportunity for a developing country like ourselves to set out the new golden rule approach of borrowing money for capital?

As the Deputy said, fiscal rules are being reviewed. They have been suspended at the current time in the European Union. However, that will not last indefinitely. We may well see a different framework of fiscal rules emerging from the crisis. There is scope to account for capital in a different way, given its importance to our economy.

It is important to underline the context that capital expenditure, at almost €11 billion this year, has increased significantly. Four years ago, it was approximately €5 billion. We face considerable pressures in housing but also other areas such as climate action measures, transport, education, health infrastructure and so on. We will see an elevated level of capital expenditure maintained and built upon over the course of the lifetime of the Government and the new national development plan.

There are capacity constraints as well. It should be pointed out that the ESRI has also said that, in light of all of the expenditure commitments entered into with Covid, there may be a need to increase taxes. We are committed to an ambitious national development plan. We have prioritised investment in housing in particular in all the decisions we have made to date.

I fully accept taxes must cover current spending. The issue is whether we should take the opportunity to have higher capital spending. For example, our approach to public investment is in new communities. We see investment in transport, health and education arriving five years after people have occupied their homes, however. That is not a sustainable way to approach public investment. There is an opportunity to shift our dial somewhat at this stage if we can negotiate such an approach at European level.

I agree with the broad thrust of what the Deputy has said. The dial has shifted and continues to shift in the sense that the Government is genuinely committed to an ambitious public capital investment programme. However, we cannot ignore the reality of the scale of the national debt and debt per capita, which is high in the developed world. We are in an environment of historically low interest rates because of the exceptional interventions of the European Central Bank. Those interventions will not continue indefinitely. We will be returning to more normal market conditions, perhaps as early as next year. All of the borrowing we are doing now is appropriate but we cannot predict what interest rates will be when it comes to refinancing those bonds in ten years or 15 years. We must have a firm eye on the long-term debt sustainability of our country and protect that for future generations. There is a way of marrying that with having an ambitious public capital investment programme. I acknowledge the point that borrowing for capital is of a different nature to borrowing for current expenditure purposes.

Equality Proofing of Budgets

John Lahart

Question:

111. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way his Department is pursuing equality budgeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32361/21]

I served on the budgetary oversight committee in the previous Dáil. One of the outcomes of that was a positive recognition of and acceptance for the need for equality budgeting. What is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform pursuing specifically in the area of equality budgeting?

I recall our discussions on this and related topics during our work on the Committee on Budgetary Oversight.

Beginning with a pilot programme introduced for the 2018 budgetary cycle, equality budgeting is a way of approaching and understanding the budget as a process that embodies long-standing societal choices about how resources are used, rather than simply a neutral process of resource allocation. In practice, this means that equality budgeting attempts to provide greater information on how proposed or ongoing budgetary decisions impact on particular groups in society, thereby integrating equality concerns into the budgetary process.

Equality objectives and indicators are published every year in the Revised Estimates Volume and the public service performance report. The initial focus of equality budgeting was on gender, following which the initiative was extended to other dimensions of equality. Twelve Departments are now reporting equality budgeting metrics. An expert advisory group was established to guide development of equality budgeting policy. It has met regularly since September 2018. In 2019, the OECD published a report on equality budgeting in Ireland, providing 12 recommendations on how to drive this initiative forward. Implementation of the report's recommendations is now at an advanced stage.

In line with the OECD recommendation to develop an equalities data strategy, the Central Statistics Office completed a data audit, in co-operation with my Department, to ascertain the availability of public service data that are disaggregated by equality dimension. A report on this audit was published in October 2020.

Another OECD recommendation was the development of tagging and tracking functionality for departmental expenditure. Officials from my Department recently completed a two-day study visit, online, to learn about the approach of the French Government to tagging and tracking expenditure. This visit was part of an overall project to create a new architecture for performance budgeting. This project is funded under the EU structural reform support programme.

That is a comprehensive answer. I liked the reference made. We all knew that initially equality budgeting related to gender and it then spread out to areas like disability.

Interestingly, this morning at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, we had an interesting paper from the OECD which referred to some of our tax incentives around the area of climate action. Retrofitting and even the incentives for the purchase of e-cars are actually quite regressive. This is a view I have heard for a while, namely, that many of the incentives favour those people who have relatively positive incomes and savings. For example, when retrofitting a house, people need to have substantial savings before they can take advantage of the grants. The grants are generous but in order to take advantage of them, one must have substantial savings. Similarly, with the bike-to-work scheme for e-bikes, they are an expensive piece of kit and the tax incentive is generous but people need to have a lot of cash in hand in order to purchase them. This is another aspect we need to start considering for budgetary and taxation policy.

I thank the Deputy for highlighting a practical example of how equality budgeting has to be part of the decision-making process. When the Government, for example, decides to increase carbon tax, how will it ensure that people who are the most impacted are protected from that? That is why the decision has been made, for example, to provide some of those resources to deal with fuel poverty, to support schemes provided for by the Department of Social Protection and to provide significant funding for retrofitting. An ambitious programme of retrofitting is being implemented across the social housing programme. The Deputy is well familiar with the work the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is doing in that regard.

The interdepartmental group for equality budgeting is doing excellent work. It is facilitating the embedding of the initiative across all Departments. Equality budgeting does not belong to just one Department. It has to be a whole-of-government approach to make sure all of our decisions are guided by equality considerations.

An idea that came up this morning about fuel allowance concerned the State or local authorities getting involved. In South Dublin County Council, there are 10,000 housing social homes. If the State got involved in the bulk purchase of energy for those homes, such as gas and electricity, it could result in a significant reduction in energy costs and offset the need to provide any kind of fuel allowance.

Similarly, one of the suggestions that would also have a very wide-ranging impact would be if the State or local authorities got involved in the bulk purchase and procurement of retrofitting services. I know that I am straying into the area of climate action, but I welcome the Minister’s response and, in particular, his awareness of the emerging issues regarding the need for equality budgeting and the fact that while the latter was initially limited to gender, the situation relating to it is organic and evolving.

We are publishing a great deal of material in respect of equality budgeting, as I have said, including in the Revised Estimates Volume and in the public service performance report. We have to embed thinking on equality budgeting right across Government. Work in that regard is ongoing. As the Deputy is aware, retrofitting as part of our submission to the EU under the national recovery and resilience facility, where we provide a first loss guarantee which will enable the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to bring forward a comprehensive plan in respect of retrofitting homes. I reiterate that the Government is supportive of an ambitious roll-out of retrofitting of our public housing stock. That is particularly important. I take on board the points made by the Deputy about the fuel allowance and the bulk purchase of energy.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.