Appropriation Bill 2019: Second and Subsequent Stages

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Appropriation Bill 2019 is an essential element of financial housekeeping that must be concluded by both Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of the year. The Bill serves two primary purposes, the first of which is to authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2019 on the basis of the Estimates that have been voted on by the Dáil during the year. Section 1 and Schedule 1 set out the amounts to be appropriated for supply services. These relate to the amounts included in the Revised Estimates for 2019 voted by the Dáil earlier this year and the Supplementary Estimates voted by the Dáil on 12 December. In aggregate, these Estimates amount to €54.6 billion. The comparable amount in the Appropriation Act 2018 was €50.9 billion. Therefore, the amount to be appropriated this year represents an increase of €3.7 billion on last year's net voted expenditure. The second key purpose of the Appropriation Bill is to provide a legal basis for spending to continue into 2020. The passage of the Bill will allow for continued funding in the period before the 2020 Estimates are approved of social welfare payments from the social protection Vote, Exchequer pay and pensions and other voted expenditure. If the Bill were not enacted before the end of December, there would be no authority to spend any voted moneys in 2020 from the start of January until approval of the 2020 Estimates, since this authority for 2020, as contained in the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act 1965, is based on the amounts provided for in the Bill.

Under the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in budget 2004, Departments may carry over from the current year to the following year unspent capital up to a maximum of 10% of voted capital. The multi-annual system is designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the management by Departments and agencies of capital programmes and projects. It recognises the difficulties inherent in the planning and profiling of capital expenditure and acknowledges that capital projects may be subject to delays. The carryover facility allows for a portion of unspent moneys which would have been lost to the capital programmes and projects concerned under the annual system of allocating capital to be made available for spending on programme priorities in the subsequent year. The Appropriation Act determines definitively the capital amounts which may be carried over to the following year. The aggregate amount of proposed capital carryover from 2019 into 2020 is €215.4 million, which represents 2.9% of the total Exchequer capital programme of over €7 billion for 2019. The amount carried over from 2018 into 2019 was €93 million. The proposed amounts to be carried over by Vote are set out in Schedule 2. The Revised Estimates Volume for 2020 sets out detailed financial and key performance information for Departments and offices. In Part II of the Estimates for each Vote availing of the capital carryover facility, a table is included listing the amounts to be deferred by subhead.

Certain Exchequer liabilities and social welfare payments are due for payment by electronic funds transfer on 1 and 2 January next. The banking system will be closed on 1 January so funding will need to be in place in departmental bank accounts before the end of this year in order to meet those liabilities on a timely basis. In addition, An Post needs to be pre-funded before the end of the 2019 in respect of certain benefit payments due in the first week of January 2020 in order to physically transfer cash to its network of post offices throughout the country. These Exchequer pay and pension and social welfare payments form part of the supply of services for 2020 and, consequently, the funds to cover these costs will be included in amounts disbursed from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account as part of the 2020 supply issues. These costs will come under moneys voted in 2020 in respect of which the usual processes and mechanisms for voted moneys in 2020 will apply. In line with last year, section 3 of the Bill includes a specific provision to allow for an advance, not exceeding €185 million, from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account, with this advance then being repaid to the Central Fund in January.

The signed Appropriation Act is required by the Comptroller and Auditor General for clearance of the end of year issues from the Exchequer. Under Article 25.2.1° of the Constitution, the President may not sign a Bill earlier than the fifth day after the date on which it is presented to him. However, there is provision in Article 25.2.2° whereby, at the request of the Government and with the prior concurrence of Seanad Éireann, the President may sign a Bill on an earlier date than the fifth day mentioned. In view of the urgency of this Bill, the provision in Article 25.2.2° is sought and a motion to this effect is placed before the Seanad. Such an early signature motion has also been sought in respect of the Appropriation Bill in previous years.

The Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping which those of us in both Houses of the Oireachtas are required to undertake. The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2019 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil during the year. Of fundamental importance to those who depend on our essential public services, the passage of the Bill will also ensure that payments funded from voted expenditure in 2019 such as housing assistance payments, jobseeker's allowance, disability allowance, non-contributory State pension, nurses' pay, teachers' pay and all other pay and pensions funded from voted money, can continue to be funded in 2020 in the period before the Dáil approves the 2020 Estimates.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. He is very welcome back to this House. His opening statement pretty much says it all. This is the fourth time I have contributed to a debate on the Appropriation Bill on behalf of Fianna Fáil. We support the Bill, which is very technical in nature and allows for money to be carried over to make sure there is money in post offices and for other purposes, as the Minister of State outlined in his speech. I will not delay the House. My party supports the Bill and we do not have any amendments to it. No amendments have been tabled to the Bill and I do not think there is any opposition to it. We all want to make sure people get their pensions, social welfare, children's allowance and other payments in the first week in January. We want to make sure the bookkeeping aspect of the State is up to date and has legislative backup. We support the Bill and, equally, I commend it to the House.

I thank the Minister of State for outlining in detail the purpose of the Appropriation Bill. As he indicated, if the Bill is not passed before the end of the year there would be no authority to spend in 2020. While we may disagree with the Government and its partners in government about how resources are spent and directed, and the policy that underpins the spending, given the reasons for the Bill we will facilitate its passage through this House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. This is a short technical Bill but it is a very important one. As the Minister of State outlined, it is a mechanism that allows for the payment and carryover of unspent moneys so that social welfare, pensions and the pay of nurses and teachers can continue to be paid into the new year. It is a very important piece of legislation that has to be enacted every year before the end of the year. I support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation, received for final consideration and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.