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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 6

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 89 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Expenditure Policy

Richard Bruton


90. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department has considered the need to front-load public investments in areas including health, education and transport if compact development is to be a success. [31241/22]

One of our key challenges as we try to take a more sustainable approach is to build compact communities, which will bring less travel in cars and require fewer parking places, lead to more sustainable public transport and allow us to right-size buildings more easily. In many areas in constituencies such as mine, however, and I am sure in that of the Minister of State's constituency in Cork, there are long stretches where the only amenities are takeaways, bookmakers and barbers. We need to see a front-loading of investment in transport, education, childcare and sports facilities in order that these communities will have a chance to develop, and it must be a sustainable, social approach as well as an environmental one.

As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I am responsible for setting the overall capital allocations for Departments and for monitoring monthly expenditure at departmental level. The responsibility for the management and delivery of individual investment projects, within the allocations agreed under the national development plan, rests with the individual sponsoring Department in each case. The Government has committed €165 billion for capital investment, as set out in the national development plan, NDP, published last October. The figures announced in the NDP represent a substantial increase of almost 50% on the previous NDP of 2018 and they target investment levels among the highest in the EU, at 5% of GNI*.

This year, €12 billion has been made available to Departments to spend on vital infrastructure in areas such as transport, education and health, as well as housing, water infrastructure and cultural amenities. The NDP includes indicative Exchequer allocations for each Department for a five-year period, 2021 to 2025, and overall capital expenditure ceilings out to 2030. This expenditure was considered and agreed to support those sectors that will be key to delivering the ten national strategic outcomes identified in the national planning framework, NPF, including NSO 1, relating to compact growth. NSO 1 aims to secure the sustainable growth of more compact urban and rural settlements supported by jobs, housing and essential services.

Initiatives such as town centre first, Croí Cónaithe and the urban regeneration and development fund are aimed at supporting the regeneration of our towns and cities and encouraging compact growth. In addition to these specific measures, substantial investment has been prioritised for sustainable transport, including active travel, BusConnects for all our major cities, MetroLink and DART+, all of which will further contribute to more sustainable cities and boost infilled development.

Will the Minister consider that he has responsibility not just for the cash spent but also for the overall coherence of the investment? If our goal is sustainable communities, it is not adequate that the Department of Education, for example, will typically not build a school until ten years after children have been there, following many years in prefabricated buildings. Similarly, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media will not provide sports grants to these communities if they do not have established clubs and facilities to develop. Childcare is also often very delayed, while transport projects often arrive even longer than a decade late. On the north fringe of my constituency, we are committing to very substantial expansion, but to make that feasible, will we not need to front-load some of these key public service infrastructure projects to make those communities viable as living, working centres, with the 15-minute city for which everyone now advocates?

In agreeing an NDP out to 2030 and setting capital budgets for each Department out to 2025, we now have a multi-annual framework that will enable Ministers and their Departments to plan the delivery of vital infrastructure projects over a number of years. At €12 billion this year, we have the largest ever capital budget and there is an obligation on every Department to ensure we are working in a coherent and consistent manner towards the implementation of the national planning framework and implementing the NDP in its totality. That involves working towards compact growth, and we need to ensure all the levers we have, whether that is investment in healthcare, education or transport, are consistent with that objective. Moreover, there is the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board, which has overall responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the NPF and the NDP. As the Deputy will be aware, I recently concluded a process whereby I appointed a number of external members to that board to complement the experience and skills of the Secretaries General who continue to serve on it.

The Land Development Agency now has 56 ha, most of which is located well outside the city boundaries and does not have established facilities, schools and so on. Surely the Minister recognises that if we are to develop that land into sustainable communities, the Department of Education will have to change its policy whereby it will not build until five or ten years after the need has been clearly established. That is too late if we are to allow them to become strong communities. Likewise, we cannot wait to roll out the public transport until years down the line. That is a challenge. We recognise green and sustainable climate consciousness has to be embedded in our NDP, but I do not think it is at present in the practice of many Departments, and I look to Deputy McGrath as, perhaps, the best Minister to challenge the coherence of that.

On that point, as the Deputy may be aware, we are setting up a new climate division within my Department because we sit at the centre of government and have a key role in ensuring Government policy will be applied consistently throughout the Departments. Agreeing the multi-annual capital framework has enabled Departments to undertake that co-ordinated forward planning he talked about. It is important schools be built in tandem with the delivery of homes in order that as children grow up, school places will be available and we will not always be playing catch-up in trying to retrofit infrastructure where homes have been built. When it comes to transport, for example, we have made an exception to our multi-annual policy and provided transport with the certainty of a €35 billion capital budget out to 2030. It is about ensuring all these Departments work together towards that NSO 1, which is about compact growth.

Public Sector Pay

Seán Canney


91. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his intentions in relation to adjusting public sector pay in view if the exceptional increases in the cost of living; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29035/22]

I would like the Minister’s overview on how we will deal with public sector pay in light of the exceptional increased costs of living and also how we will deal with the overall pay structure to make sure work pays in order that people who go to work get the benefit of an income into their pockets rather than being the victims who must pay for everything.

We already had a priority question from Deputy Patricia Ryan on this issue. I will reiterate some of the key points I think are relevant.

First is the importance of having a collective agreement. We have collective agreements now consecutively since 2010 when the Croke Park agreement was negotiated. It has by and large served us well over the last 12 years in that we have had continued industrial peace through that period although, of course, there have been different disputes at different points in time. We have sought to resolve them at all times, however, within the framework of the industrial relations machinery we have within the State.

We have an existing agreement in Building Momentum, which is in place to the end of this year. As the Deputy will be aware, the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, some time ago triggered the review clause in that agreement because of the exceptionally high level of inflation that is being experienced at this time and the cost of living pressures that are resulting for its members and public service workers.

Of course, the same applies across the private sector where we are seeing individual pay deals being done across the country as well. That agreement is now the subject of that review clause and at this very moment, officials from my Department are negotiating with representatives from the public services committee. This is the critical phase of those talks. They have been having informal discussions over a number of weeks and this has now moved to the formal stage. Those talks are being held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and I expect we will have a good sense of the outcome of those discussions within the next short number of days.

In seeking to agree on new public service pay arrangements, there are a number of key considerations. Of course, cost of living and inflation will be among them. There is no denying the impact the current level of inflation is having on the living standards of workers both public and private. Though these talks relate to the public service and the importance of securing industrial peace, it is important for us and our economic model to ensure that we can offer stability with regard to industrial relations.

The importance of ensuring that we retain our competitiveness as a country and an economy is fundamental to Ireland’s future as well. We must ensure that any deal is fair to the public servants who are represented in the talks but also to taxpayers generally. We must ensure it is affordable and sustainable for our country at a time when there is much uncertainty in the global economy, which has resulted in the downgrading of growth forecasts pretty much across the board, including in respect of the Irish economy.

The Exchequer is facing much pressure. There is a cost to looking after refugees who come here from Ukraine, which we will absolutely continue to do to the best of our ability, and others who seek international protection in our country as well. Of course, there are always legitimate demands to improve public services across the board in healthcare and education, to continue to invest in infrastructure and provide a budget package that enables us also to address cost-of-living measures through welfare increases and improvements in the taxation system for low and middle-income workers in particular.

There are, therefore, many issues on the table but the talks that are ongoing at the moment are focused on pay across the public service. Some 365,000 public servants are essentially represented at those talks and it is at quite a sensitive point at this stage. I hope that within the next day or two, we will have a clear idea of where we stand.

The Minister is right; we are at critical stage. However, I believe that people who go out to work want to see the benefit of that work. It is not all always about the pay scale. It is actually about what will happen in terms of tax credits, especially for the lower and medium income earners. If they get an increase in wages, what often happens is that it puts them over a threshold for student grants or medical cards or whatever. I also think the transition from a 20% to 40% tax rate is too much. There has to be a more graduated form of taxation. This all has to come into line because the private sector just cannot keep paying out more wages.

The person who is working needs to see more money coming into the household to meet the cost of living. There should also be tax credits for the cost of traveling to work where a person does not have public transport such as trains and buses. People have to go to work and pay for that themselves. It is important that we get all of this in line in order that working pays as opposed to not paying.

On the question of tax, we have a programme for Government commitment that I strongly support. If we were to have a static tax system in which no changes were made at a time of rising incomes, it would be the equivalent of an increase in income tax. I do not believe it is fair that workers who earn that little bit more would then be paying more than half that in tax through USC, income tax and PRSI. Therefore, I anticipate there will be changes in respect of income tax but it will be about keeping pace with the reality that we have rising incomes for many workers across the country and we do not want more and more of their income to be taxed by stealth at the marginal rate of tax.

There is, therefore, a programme for Government commitment, which I believe is important that we continue to honour. The forthcoming budget will have a cost of living focus, however, and it will not be all about tax. It will predominantly be on the expenditure side, as it has been in recent budgets. That is where we can make the greatest difference and target the limited resources that are available to the people who most need it.

Public Sector Pay

Richard Boyd Barrett


92. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the current public sector pay talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31318/22]

The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report makes for very stark reading today. It says that the number of people living in energy poverty is now nearly one third of all households and that is set increase to as high as 43%. Are the pay increases the Government is going to consider going to be in line with this absolutely shocking increase the cost of living?

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, estimates that the average worker has lost €2,500 in income in real terms. It is obviously necessary for workers to have that returned to them in pay increases. I think that should be pay increases in the order of what we have seen in terms of Dunnes and Tesco workers with 10% to compensate for that level of loss. It is also in the interest of the economy, however, because that is purchasing power those workers no longer have, and if they do not get compensated with significant pay increases and increases in things like the living wage, it will actually lead to a significant hit on the wider economy.

We are not going to agree a new public service pay deal here; it will only be done at the WRC. Those very issues the Deputy legitimately raised are the subject of discussions at this very moment. We need to allow that process to take its course and conclude and, hopefully, it will reach a successful conclusion. I want a deal. It is in everyone's interests to have industrial peace and reach a settlement that is fair to public service workers and that takes account of the level of pressure people are experiencing in respect of cost of living.

The Government and I must also take into account wider considerations, however. We are seeing the cost of borrowing rise for all of us. It is now up at approximately 2.5% for the Irish State. Not too long ago, it was essentially zero. Therefore, there are changes in the wider economic outlook here which, unfortunately, has deteriorated globally. We must make sure whatever we do is affordable.

We have levers other than pay, some of which we have used so far. We acknowledge that we will need to do more in the budget to address the cost of living. It will not solely be addressed through pay mechanisms and we must watch the competitiveness issue. It is important for the future of our country. We have seen the employment growth we have experienced in recent months. We want that to continue but we must also make sure that work pays for people.

Returning to the question about the overall tax position and the idea of having people working and making sure they get their due reward, it is important that all the social welfare thresholds are also increased in line to ensure people do not lose entitlements whereby they have gone over a threshold due to a pay increase, are taxed on that and end up being a lot worse off. A great deal of synchronisation has to happen between Departments to make sure that if there is a pay rise, the effect of that is in the pocket of the worker and is not eroded by other services being taken away from the worker, such as a medical card. I encounter many situations where young people who work for the summer do not qualify for a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant as a result. In these times when people are crying out for workers, we are penalising people who want to work for the summer to earn a few euro because that is being taken into account when they are being assessed for the SUSI grant.

The Deputy raises an important point about the secondary effects of a pay rise. We will have to pay close attention to the issue of ensuring that work pays because we are seeing job vacancies and labour shortages throughout the economy. We have to examine all aspects of the system and how they interact with each other to make sure that any disincentives to work currently embedded in the system are weeded out so we can enable, encourage and facilitate people to work and we do not punish them in that way. The Deputy makes an important point, but it is complex when getting down to the nitty-gritty of how individual schemes interact with each other and their entitlements. It is an important point that we are awake to and are examining.

This Saturday, the Cost of Living Coalition will see thousands of workers, students, pensioners and people on low incomes coming out to protest the cost-of-living crisis. One of the messages they are seeking to convey to the Minister is that this is not an either-or issue. There must be pay increases for workers and income increases for those on pensions and social welfare to match the level of inflation. Otherwise, in real terms, people are taking income and pay cuts. That is the reality. There is no justification for that.

In addition, we have to reduce the basic cost of living with regard to accommodation by introducing measures such as rent controls, actually deliver affordable housing and reduce the cost of childcare, public transport, education and so forth. It is not an either-or matter. The Minister says we cannot borrow too much. Yes, we cannot borrow too much, but the elephant in the room in all this is that there are some people making a lot of profits at present. There have been some winners in the inflation crisis, and perhaps they can contribute to ensuring that ordinary people do not see their incomes fall and that they get the pay increases they deserve.

As we approach budget 2023 there will be many demands, and we will not be able to meet all of them. The Government will have to prioritise and make choices as to what the priorities are. At a time when people are under considerable pressure, the priority will have to be to address cost-of-living issues, particularly for low-income and middle-income households, to ensure we assist them at this time. There will be many ambitions across the government to implement the programme for Government in full and to expand and improve public services. This is a Government that has prioritised investment in public services. Public expenditure has been increasing significantly, and we have a very ambitious national development plan. We must ensure that the basics people need in their lives are looked after. I understand that point. That will have to be the focus of the forthcoming budget and I will be determined, working with colleagues across the Government, that this is where the focus will lie.

I have two brief questions. First, I commend the Minister on his efforts to get a deal. How does he estimate the impact in percentage terms on pay of the existing concessions he has provided - VAT, excise, transport, fuel scheme and medication - to give us an idea of how that is relieving pressure on families? Second, how does he factor in the fact that we all cannot be compensated for external cost increases that arise from world energy and commodity prices? We do not produce them so we have to pay for them. In net terms, somebody in Ireland has to pay. How will the Minister factor that in as well into the discussions on the future of pay trends?

The talks under way are focused on public service pay. There have been wider discussions at the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, on other issues that the Government can assist with in respect of the cost of living and public policy on a range of key issues for employers and employees. We have implemented a range of measures so far. The Deputy will be well aware of them. If one goes back to the most recent budget and what we have done since, it was in the order of €2.4 billion. That is why I have made the point that we cannot solely address inflation and the cost of living through pay. If we were to do that, it would put at risk the competitiveness of the economy as well as creating and sustaining further jobs into the future. That is a consideration. We have to make sure that we remain competitive, so it is about ensuring that through pay, tax and other levers the Government has we are, insofar as possible, providing sufficient support to people at this time.

All the advice has been to do it in a targeted way and to take account of the impact of one-off measures, some of which have been implemented so far, and of temporary measures. The Government is working on that. However, public service pay is approximately one third of current expenditure. It is approximately €24 billion so securing certainty about that bill for the remainder of this year and all of next year is an important ingredient in the overall budgetary mix.

May I raise a point of order? Not for the first time, although it is the first time in respect of the Minister's Department, my question has been grouped with Deputy Haughey's question, which is identical to the previous two questions, which were also grouped, and which is identical to the priority question the Minister has already answered. That means the Minister is now going to revisit the question for a third time. It is a dreadful waste of the Minister's time and absolutely a waste of mine. I know it is not in the gift of the Chair, but I respectfully ask the officials to note it and to do better.

It will obviously be noted because you have just said it, so we will leave it at that and move on.

I do not think my Department groups the questions.

I understood it was the Department, but if it is the Bills Office, I point my ire at it.

I will check that, but the substance of the Deputy's point is fair.

It is the Department that groups them.

I understood it was.

The next question is in the name of Deputy Shortall, who indicated she would not be in attendance.

Question No. 93 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Sector Pay

Seán Haughey


94. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the exploratory discussions on public service pay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29645/22]

Alan Farrell


97. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on his Department’s engagement with the representatives of an organisation (details supplied) regarding public sector pay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30552/22]

I do not mind how the questions are grouped. I was listening to the discussion earlier and I wish the Minister and his Department well in these talks. I wish to examine a particular angle. Is any work being done in respect of sectoral-specific challenges within the public service, where vacancies cannot be filled? For example, is there any focus on vacancies in health and disability services? Those vacancies are causing major deficiencies in the delivery of public services. We cannot currently fill them because of pay and also because of other issues, and I believe this provides the opportunity to do that.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94 and 97 together.

The Deputy made a very good point. In the current agreement we provided for a sectoral bargaining fund. For example, on 1 February there was the option of taking the flat 1% increase or putting that into a sectoral bargaining fund. The public service was divided up into a large number of sectoral bargaining units and there have been examples where that fund was used to address specific targeted issues in individual sectors. There are still some ongoing negotiations, for example, in health, where it has not been fully settled. I have no doubt that the outstanding issues will form part of the discussions that are currently under way at the WRC.

The question of whether we have a mechanism in the future for addressing sector-specific issues is one that is under consideration at the talks.

I welcome that. The Minister knows himself, for instance in health, that there are so many challenges in filling vacancies in the therapies and for consultants and nurses, in particular advanced nurse practitioners, all of which would make a significant difference to the delivery of services. Similarly, vacancies cannot be filled across the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, and educational psychology services that we will talk about later. Pay is an issue, in particular compared to that in the private sector, but there are many other issues as well, especially when we dive into the conditions of work within the HSE, for instance, and in hospital groups, which seem to put people off applying to work in the public service. All that means is that we are not delivering proper public services. The Minister is investing significantly in public services, but we are not seeing the benefit of the investment on the ground. In particular, parents of children with additional needs are not seeing that investment. People on waiting lists are not seeing the investment because of our inability to fill vacancies. We have a short window in the context of the public service pay talks to address that.

There are a significant number of vacancies across the system, in particular in healthcare. Recruitment is too slow. That is definitely having an impact on service delivery and we need to address that. In addition to having a mechanism where we agree general round increases, the Deputy raised the specific point about individual sectors. Of course, there is always the potential knock-on consequence of relativities. Different groups will examine how other groups fare in discussions on public service pay. I am aware of recommendations that the Public Service Pay Commission has made about this particular issue, and having a mechanism to address outstanding matters. We endeavour to do that in the sectoral bargaining fund, with some if not complete success, and the issue of addressing pay at a sectoral level is one that is under consideration in the course of the talks currently under way.

Like my colleague, Deputy Calleary, I want to focus my attention on the consequences of the public service pay talks in the context of a cost-of-living crisis. Where we would like to see the Government head with these talks is towards targeted measures at lower-income public servants, the threshold for which I will allow the Department and others to decide. If we are to be realistic about the effect of public service pay increases at this time, we need to target them at those who need it most, as opposed to those in the upper echelons of the public service. I believe there is opportunity.

The cost-of-living crisis has had a profound effect on the entire economy and if the Government is to respond appropriately to that in addition to the substantial measures that have been introduced, we should target the public sector pay talks at lower-income individuals because it cannot be done in isolation.

I thank the Deputy very much for raising that point. It is a principle that we embedded in the current agreement, Building Momentum, that for each general round increase, a floor was set so that the benefit should be at least €500, even though it was to be 1% overall. If that 1% resulted in less than €500 for individual workers, then they would be given €500 in the general round. The percentage increase for them was greater than for workers generally under the public service pay agreement. That is a principle that we adopted in the current agreement and will again be considered in the context of the current negotiations. Some of the other measures in the existing agreement do favour lower- and middle-income workers in particular in terms of overtime rates, twilight payments and so on. Those in trades and with technical skills in particular benefited more under the existing agreement than people on higher flat salaries, for example.

I know the whole area of relativities is embedded in the concept of a lot of these talks, but if relativities and the need to restrict their effect is impacting on the delivery of public services, is there an argument to be made for some measure to be put in place to balance the need to deliver to people on waiting lists and parents of children with additional needs? There is a need to make a difference to citizens' lives and some balance must be given to that in regard to the whole area of relativities.

Of course. At the end of the day, we provide public services with a view to them reaching where they are needed and that citizens receive services. That is ultimately what having a public service pay deal or a fit-for-purpose public service is all about. We do need to have accountability, so that where public money is being provided through Votes in this Oireachtas, that it is used for the purpose for which it is intended.

Deputy Calleary's specific point about ensuring there is a mechanism to address particular pay issues so that recruitment can be successful is a fair one, which we will take on board. I acknowledge his consistent work in advocating in the area of disability services and special needs, in particular, and highlighting the deficiencies that exist in the provision of services currently. I assure him that it is a priority for the Government. I will ensure that the pay deal will not provide any barrier to addressing them by means of recruitment of the people we need.

My focus is similar to that of my colleague. What level of consideration does the Department give, in the context of the public service pay deal, and with the backdrop of the various tax measures that may be implemented in the October budget? As Deputy Calleary correctly pointed out, the difficulties in recruitment at certain grades and levels within the public service right across the board are of real concern. Many cite pay as the primary reason for not taking up posts. To be sector-specific, in the context of the Defence Forces, in particular at entry level, that is clearly an issue as well. Could the Minister please comment on that?

I think it is about a blend of measures. As I stated earlier, it is not solely down to pay to address cost-of-living pressures that undoubtedly exist. The Government has other levers. We have used some of them to date in the exceptional measures that have been introduced outside of the normal budgetary calendar. It is open to the Government to use some of those in the context of the budget as well. The cost of living can be addressed in a number of ways. Pay is one and obviously social welfare measures, and other targeted measures such as reductions in costs people face in accessing public services. The reduction in public transport fares was a very progressive and important move in that regard, in addition to taxation measures as well.

Question No. 95 replied to with Written Answers.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Willie O'Dea


96. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if capital expenditure to date in 2022 is within profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30528/22]

I wish to query where we are at currently with capital expenditure profiles given that we are nearly halfway through the year. I know the Minister is doing a lot of work to reform capital expenditure systems to make sure money is spent quicker and without the kind of delays we have been seeing. When can we expect to see changes?

As the Deputy will be aware, the drawdown of capital expenditure from the Exchequer is detailed each month and is publicly available in the Fiscal Monitor, which is published on the website. All line Departments and agencies submit information on their expenditure levels against profile to my Department, along with an explanation outlining details regarding any variance of underspending or overspending against profile.

The latest capital expenditure figures available to the end of May reveal that the net capital spend, including capital carryover, was €2.7 billion. When the carryover amount is omitted, the net capital spend amounts to just under €2.2 billion, which is €453 million or 17.1% behind the profiled amount of €2.648 billion, with all but two Departments declaring underspends against profile.

Expenditure on capital infrastructure and programmes for the first five months is some €310 million or 16.4% ahead of the same period last year. Capital expenditure by its nature tends to be lumpy, with a particularly high drawdown at year end. It is therefore not unusual for Departments to record an underspend or overspend against profile throughout the year.

The Government has committed to investing €165 billion in capital programmes and projects across a range of investment sectors, as set out in the national development plan published last October. In the current year, almost €12 billion is available to spend on vital infrastructure in areas such as housing, transport, education, enterprise, sport and climate action, and our annual capital investment as a percentage of national income is among the largest in the European Union. We will continue to monitor and report on capital expenditure developments as the year progresses.

Of the €12 billion projected spend, we had only completed €2.2 billion by the end of May. Is the Minister confident we will reach that €12 billion target? I understand and get the pattern of capital expenditure. Of all the Departments, only two are over profile. Is there any Department in particular the Minister or his officials are concerned about that is substantially behind profile? What steps are taken to intervene or work with a Department that, for whatever reason, is behind profile? Given we are halfway through the year, will there be a particularly focused review at this time to identify any particular outliers?

It is fair to point out we had significant underspends in 2020 and 2021, which were largely attributable to Covid and the shutdown in the construction sector that took place for a number of months in each of those years. However, that same reason does not apply in the current year. Every line Department is making the case to my Department that it will spend its capital budget. Having provided resources, we want to see them spent and we want to see the projects delivered across the implementation of the national development plan.

It is too early to come to a firm view on this. We are keeping it under review and there is always the opportunity, where there is an underspend in one Department and where projects are ready to go in other Departments, to transfer that additional funding. That requires a Supplementary Estimate and a process has to be gone through but it is one we have done in the past. I am very much open to it because I want to see the capital budget drawn down and spent and I want to see projects delivered. We need a competitive element between Departments. If some Departments are better at getting things done, they should be rewarded by means of their budgets.

It is coming towards the end of the session. We have four more sitting weeks. Does the Minister foresee any Supplementary Estimates around capital expenditure that may enable some projects to start? For instance, the Department of Education is doing some excellent work on its capital side at present. I commend the Minister, Deputy Foley, on that. However, there is a reluctance in that Department to commit expenditure to some projects ahead of 2023 that are necessary, for instance, e-hubs. I am sure there are many other examples. Are any supplementary capital Estimates planned before this current Dáil session ends?

At this time, we are not planning to transfer funding for capital budgets from one Department to another this side of the recess. We will keep it under constant review. The Deputy identified the Department of Education, which is a Department that is busy with the implementation of a school building programme. Like other Departments, it has experienced inflation in respect of public works contracts and delivering on the infrastructure it has. We expect Departments to stay within budget and to manage their budgets effectively over the course of the year. While there are underspends across a range of Departments at this time, it is certainly the case those Departments are providing reassurance to my officials that they will catch up and spend their budgets over the course of this year, but we will keep it under close review.

Question No. 97 answered with Question No. 94

Flood Risk Management

Pádraig O'Sullivan


98. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide an update on the selection of a contractor for the Glashaboy flood relief scheme; the length of time that he envisages this process will take; if he will give assurances that selection will be completed as quickly as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31073/22]

I ask for an update on the selection of a contract for the Glashaboy flood relief scheme, the length of time the process will take and an assurance it will be done as quickly as possible.

The Glashaboy River flood relief scheme at Glanmire and Sallybrook in Cork is being progressed by Cork City Council. The Office of Public Works, OPW, in partnership with the council is engaging proactively to progress the flood relief scheme for Glanmire.

The scheme was confirmed in January 2021 by my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, under the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 to 1995. The scheme is being funded from the €1.3 billion in flood relief measures under the national development plan to 2030, as part of Project Ireland 2040. Provision for the total project budget for this scheme is included in the Office of Public Works multi-annual capital allocation to the Department. The Office of Government Procurement inflation and supply chain delay co-operation framework agreement, published on 20 May 2022, will help address the appropriate inflationary costs.

The Glashaboy flood relief scheme will protect approximately 100 properties from a significant risk of flooding in the area. There is currently a procurement process under way, to which the Deputy alluded, to appoint a contractor for the scheme. As the procurement process is ongoing, it would not be appropriate for me as Minister of State to make any further comments at present. I expect the procurement process will be completed in the coming weeks.

The Minister of State is fully aware of the long history of flooding in Glanmire, as is the Minister who met with residents a few years ago. There were flooding events in 2009, 2012 and 2015. In 2012, approximately 51 residences and 42 commercial premises were affected by flooding that cost tens of millions in damage. We were delighted when, in 2021, the Minister of State and the Minister confirmed the scheme would progress. I believe it was one of the first schemes approved by their Department but, unfortunately, it seems to be one of the first that will fall foul of the inflation we are suffering.

I understand Cork City Council is working with the OPW to try to progress the scheme. Cork City Council is seeking a number of legal clarifications in the event the successful contractor drops out. Will the Minister of State allude to what discussions or legal clarifications the city council is looking for? I ask him to give a general progress update, if he can, on where we go if the contractor has dropped out.

The Deputy is right. This scheme was the first to be approved under the new arterial drainage regulations, which came into force in 2019. It is important to state on behalf of the Department that Cork City Council, as the Deputy said, is the lead authority in this and is the negotiating authority in the appointment of a contractor, which is commercially sensitive and confidential. I am precluded from uttering anything that would in any way interfere in that, other than to say the Office of Public Works is committed to working with Cork City Council to try to form a resolution around this.

The council has also taken guidance from the Office of Government Procurement in respect of the appointment of a contractor, which is normal in the appointment of contractors at this scale, because this is not an insignificant number of properties, when we look at the areas that will be covered. These include an industrial estate at Sallybrook, shopping centres, housing estates, and Glanmire village itself towards John O'Callaghan Park. The Deputy has raised this matter previously, as have other Members, including Deputy Colm Burke. The OPW is unwavering in its commitment to Cork City Council to move this forward.

I know the Minister shares my disappointment, and that of Deputy Burke, as he mentioned, about the way the scheme has progressed until now in respect of the possible withdrawal of the contractor. The Minister of State cannot specifically comment on that while the process is live but, generally speaking, in the event that an appointed contractor withdraws from the process, which I believe is the case, is the normal process to revisit the existing tender list that went out? Will the Minister of State clarify that?

As I said, it is disappointing for the residents and businesses in the area, especially when in other parts of the country and in other parts of Cork city we see OPW schemes and flood relief schemes being halted or slowing down for various reasons. This is a scheme that is ready to go. It would be a shame to see it delayed any further.

Regarding the Government's commitment to the council as the lead authority, I wish to make it clear that the Office of Public Works is committed to this scheme. There are residents, traders and representatives who are anxious, but the scheme has planning permission and is ready to go. Any commercial discussion around the appointment of a contractor is a matter for the council, which will receive guidance from the Office of Government Procurement. The council has also been in discussions with our officials. We hope that the issues around the appointment of a contractor by Cork City Council can be resolved in the coming weeks. We will then be in a position to move the scheme forward and support it financially.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Catherine Connolly


99. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of all projects costing more than €100 million approved under the public spending code in Galway in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30717/22]

This is a specific request for the details of all projects with a cost of more than €100 million that have been approved under the public spending code, PSC, in Galway.

My Department is responsible for maintaining the national frameworks within which Departments operate to ensure appropriate accounting for and value for money in public expenditure, for example, the PSC. This code sets the value for money requirements and guidance for evaluating, planning and managing capital projects. The management and delivery of investment projects and public services within allocation and the national frameworks is a key responsibility of every Department and Minister.

The PSC sets out the oversight and approval process for public expenditure proposals, which are incremental in nature, progressing through decision gates 0 to 3 in terms of a project life cycle. Decision gate 0 requires a strategic assessment report, decision gate 1 requires a preliminary business case, decision gate 2 requires a detailed project brief and procurement strategy, and decision gate 3 requires a final business case. Government approval is required for proposals with an estimated cost of over €100 million. Government approval is required for a preliminary business case, that is, the Government must approve decision gate 1. Government approval is required for design, planning and procurement at decision gate 2 to proceed to tender. Government approval for the final business case must be secured at decision gate 3 to award a contract.

My Department, while responsible for maintaining the PSC, is not the approver for projects under the code. Therefore, we do not hold data related to details of projects approved under it. However, an extensive list of projects that are planned as part of Project Ireland 2040 is provided for in the investment projects and programme tracker, which was updated in May. The tracker provides a composite update on the progress of all major investments with an estimated cost of more than €20 million. In addition, the MyProjectIreland interactive map includes details of 1,100 projects around the country. There are also regional reports, including the one published for the northern and western region, which set out project details for each year up to 2021.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate that he cannot give me the details, given the role played by his Department. I have in mind the status of the outer bypass in Galway - I have a view on that - and the hospital’s accident and emergency unit.

The Minister has set out the four decision gates. Decision gate 0 requires a strategic assessment report and decision gate 1 requires a preliminary business case. However, I am utterly confused by the answers that I have received from the Saolta University Health Care Group. The Minister might help me. On 13 June, I was told that a preliminary business case report had been completed and submitted to the HSE for approval. Following that, it was to go to the Department of Health and then the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Six months beforehand, though, I was told that a preliminary business case report was required, a draft of it was ready and it had gone to the HSE. As such, six months passed and nothing happened. The preliminary business case is for an accident and emergency unit in Galway, given that the current one is not fit for purpose. Those are not my words, but the then Taoiseach’s. In a letter dated 26 May, however, the Minister for Health wrote that the accident and emergency department project was in the early stages and a strategic assessment report was needed.

I do not have the full details of that project in front of me, but if the Deputy provides them to me, I will have them looked into and try to give her a proper assessment and summary of where the project stands. In essence, the line Department is responsible for ensuring compliance with the PSC. My Department has a role in overseeing the process. Formal approval for major projects has to be given by the Government at a number of decision gates. Where a preliminary business case is referred to my Department for assessment, I have ensured in all cases that it is dealt with expeditiously. The line Department is responsible for ensuring compliance with the PSC and taking a project through the various stages, and if my Department can assist in any way, we will do so.

I am happy to revert to the Deputy with a specific update on the timeline and what role my Department has played to date, if any. I would be happy to check that out for her.

I thank the Minister, but will he confirm whether the first gate requires a strategic assessment report?

A project cannot move on from that gate to the preliminary business case stage. Given that the Minister for Health has stated in a letter that the strategic assessment report is still due, the HSE is presumably confused in what information it is giving Ministers. I do not know where the fault lies, but this is confusing. We received the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath’s response, for which I thank him. We have worked through all of the information we have, but trying to make sense of it has been difficult.

The Minister has outlined the practices that are in place to protect public money, which I welcome. A new accident and emergency unit will be built in Galway at some point for more than €500 million. In the meantime, we are building a temporary accident and emergency unit for €15 million or €16 million. Somewhere in cyberspace are the results of the options appraisal that was completed a few years ago regarding a brand new hospital in Merlin Park. At what stage does the Minister’s Department examine what is happening with this higgledy-piggledy development of a serious piece of infrastructure? The focus should be on a brand new hospital, particularly given that the new accident and emergency unit will cost more than €500 million.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform does not interfere in the policy decisions made by line Departments, in this case the Department of Health and the HSE. When it comes to improving facilities and delivering new infrastructure, such decisions are made by them. What we insist on is that the PSC and the approval process be conducted properly and fully complied with. The strategic assessment report that the Deputy referred to is the first step. It involves an examination of the various options. A project then proceeds to the next step, namely, the preliminary business case. The line Department brings the project through the various stages. It comes to the Government if it is a large-scale project costing more than €100 million.

I will examine the issues that the Deputy has raised, particularly the application of the PSC and the approval process. If she wishes to furnish me with the two conflicting items of correspondence, we will try to get a coherent response for her that sets out the factual position.

Questions Nos. 100 and 101 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Sector Pensions

Seán Canney


102. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he intends to increase existing public sector pensions to take account of the exceptional increase in the cost of living; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29036/22]

Regarding public sector pensioners and the cost of living, are there plans to examine their fixed pensions with a view to increasing them in line with the prevailing cost-of-living issues?

I am acutely aware of the increases in inflation in recent months and the challenges faced by households, particularly in terms of energy costs. That is why a package of measures was announced by the Government this year dealing with the energy costs challenges faced by households.

The Deputy has raised the specific issue of pension increases. As he may be aware, the most recent guidance and instructions on this matter for most retired public servants is outlined in Department of Public Expenditure and Reform circular 10/2021, which is available on the website. Under the existing policy, pay increases under Building Momentum — A New Public Service Agreement 2021-2022 will be passed on to those pensions awarded under the pre-existing public service schemes where the salary on which a pension is based does not exceed the salary of serving staff at the same grade and scale point after the pay increases have been applied.

In practice this means that the vast majority of retired members generally receive pension increases in line with the pay increases due to their peers in employment. The next increase of 1% is due in October under the current deal, which is the subject of renegotiation at the moment, as the Deputy knows.

The position is different with wider public sector pension issues involving retired members of pension schemes in the commercial semi-State bodies. In the first instance, consideration of discretionary pension increases is a matter for review by the key stakeholders such as the parent Department, the scheme trustees and the relevant employer, in relation to each pension scheme. The understandable desire of retired scheme members of these schemes for pension increases to deal with inflation challenges must be balanced with the overall protection of pension benefits for all members of such schemes and with the long-term survival of schemes, particularly given the historical financial challenges which these schemes have had to face. The position of each commercial semi-State body is a matter for the relevant sectoral Department with primary responsibility for each of the bodies.

I welcome the fact that pensions will be pegged to increases as they happen. When I talk to pensioners they say they feel they are forgotten because they took cuts under the austerity measures that were taken after the bust. These are people who worked for this State all of their lives and contributed enormously to it through taxation, building our economy and getting the State to where we are today as a good place to live and work in. It is important that we recognise that contribution and ensure that if people are on a fixed income, they are helped with the increases in prices. People who are in pensions see their health costs and all that goes with that increase. If they have a car, their insurance costs and all of that also increase. It is important that we recognise that in a fruitful way.

In recent years, because we have been going through a process of unwinding the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, there was an issue that impacted on a large number of public service workers. The salary of a serving public service employee had to reach the level of the salary which formed the basis of the pension for the pensioner who was in payment. Until these had begun to match each other, as they now have in the overwhelming majority of cases, a lot of pensioners were not getting increases because the reversal of the measures took a period of time. We are now at a point, having pretty much achieved full restoration of the position pre-FEMPI, that the salaries of the existing employees have reached or exceeded the salaries on which the pensions of the pensioners are based. From this point onwards, in general terms, any increases in public service pay in general rounds are passed on to the pensioner as well. There was a gap period because of FEMPI and the outworking of that but that has essentially washed through the system at this point.

I welcome what the Minister is saying and I know every effort is being made to help pensioners who worked in public service. I refer, however, to semi-State bodies like the ESB and others whose pensioners are really caught in a bind. It is important that we look at that and assist these people. The Minister says it is left to each line Department or entity to deal with the issue but there is a case for the Government to consider it and see what it can do. Coming up to the budget, I know there will be hundreds of demands but we must look after the people who looked after us and worked for the State in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. We must make sure they have an income that will match the cost of living and allow them to live comfortably. It is our duty to do that.

In the case of the commercial State bodies, what generally happens is an assessment is carried out by the line Department. It has to have regard to the scheme trustees and make sure the benefits are protected for all the members. It will then make a recommendation. In some instances, the recommendation will come to my Department for approval and sign-off. I make sure those issues are dealt with quickly. For example, a recommendation was recently made to the line Department that there be a 2% increase in the pension for former RTÉ employees. That made its way to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and I signed off on it. That is the process that is in place. One has the specific details of an individual scheme and one must recognise the role of trustees of the scheme, the fact that there are existing and future pensioners and the role of the line Department. My Department is at the end of that line and the matter comes to us when we have a full assessment of the situation and a recommendation that takes account of all of those factors.

Earcaíocht san Earnáil Phoiblí

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


103. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe cén céimeanna atá glactha aige agus cén achmhainn bhreise atá curtha i leathaobh aige ó achtaíodh Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla chun na forálacha maidir le Gaeilgeoirí a earcú do 20% ar a laghad de na folúntais a chomhlíonadh roimh 2030; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [31336/22]

Catherine Connolly


123. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of his Department’s work to date on the implementation of the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021; if a representative of his Department has been appointed to the Irish languages services advisory committee to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30771/22]

Ba mhaith liom fiafraí den Aire Stáit cad atá déanta aige ó a ritheadh Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021 i mí na Nollag seo caite? Cén obair atá le déanamh laistigh dá Roinn chun déanamh cinnte de go mbeidh Gaeilgeoirí á earcú ag an leibhéal 20%?

Ba mhaith liom Ceisteanna Uimh. 103 and 123 a fhreagairt le chéile. Mar is eol don Teachta, tá spriocanna nua earcaíochta in Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021. Chun na spriocanna seo a bhaint amach, tá ar gach Roinn sa Rialtas comhoibriú le chéile. This is against a backdrop, in line with the July 2019 audit findings of an Coimisinéir Teanga, whereby only 0.4% of posts are designated currently by Civil Service employers as being Irish-speaking posts.

The Act provides that within six months of the date of enactment, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media shall establish an Irish language services advisory committee. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is finalising the establishment of this committee. My Department shall be represented on this committee at principal officer level and I understand that the Public Appointments Service, PAS, has similarly nominated a principal officer to the committee. The functions of this committee are set out in the Act and include the preparation of a national plan, within two years of its establishment, to increase the provision of services through the medium of Irish as well periodic surveying of the number of Irish speakers employed by the public service. The work of this committee may include consideration of approaches to the future recruitment of Irish speakers.

Some of the actions that my Department and PAS are already taking to increase the number of fluent Irish speakers in the Civil Service include dedicated recruitment and promotion competitions targeted at Irish language speakers. Since last summer, PAS has held general Civil Service competitions for individuals with fluency in Irish at clerical officer, executive officer, higher executive officer and principal officer levels. The outturn of these competitions reflects that the number of fluent Irish speakers applying to join the Civil Service, or otherwise declaring a fluency in Irish, remains low. Another action being taken is to have Irish language training for existing civil servants. In addition to new hires, Irish language training courses continue to be made available to all existing civil servants via OneLearning, the learning and development centre for the Civil Service based in my Department. Close to 500 such enrolments for such courses took place in 2021, with a further 200 enrolments to date in 2022.

Rinneadh achtú ar an Acht seo i mí na Nollag. Ní bhaineann sé leis an Aire Stáit ach bhí an coiste comhairleach le bheith i bhfeidhm roimh na seachtaine seo chugainn. Tá seachtain ag an Aire, mar sin, an coiste comhairleach sin a bhunú agus tá gach rud bunaithe timpeall air sin. An príomhrud anseo ná gur spriocanna uaillmhianacha iad. Glacaimid leis sin ach is poist le Gaeilge iad gach uile post sa státseirbhís. Sin an t-athrú bunúsach a chaithfidh teacht agus ní fheicim ón mhéid atá ráite ag an Aire Stáit go bhfuil an t-athrú meoin sin tagtha sa Roinn seo nó in aon Roinn eile sa tír. The key issue is that there has been no change of mindset, which is required from the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021, whereby every job in the Civil Service needs to be regarded as a job with Irish because 20% of all recruitments in the future to the Civil Service have to have a competency in Irish. That change has not happened and a lot more work needs to be done, not only in the Department but outside it as well.

Mar is eol don Teachta, tá deacrachtaí againn daoine a aimsiú a bhfuil Gaeilge líofa acu.

I accept we are not at 20% yet. We are still at the initial stages. The Minister, Deputy Martin, is setting up that committee. My Department will collaborate with her and we will do everything we can to meet what has recently been agreed in the Official Languages (Amendment) Act. If the Deputy has suggestions on how we could do it better, I am open to them.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar .
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.