I welcome the Taoiseach and his officials. We will get straight into our consideration of the Estimates.
Vote 6 - Office of the Chief State Solicitor (Revised)
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to appear before this select committee to consider the 2019 Estimates for Votes 1 to 6, inclusive. The committee was supplied with a detailed briefing document on the various Votes in advance of this meeting. I will outline the work of my Department and its proposed 2019 Estimate as well as the proposed 2019 Estimate for the President's Establishment, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. While I have certain responsibilities to the Oireachtas for administrative matters in these offices, they operate independently of my Department. My colleague, the Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Deputy Seán Kyne, will outline the 2019 Estimate allocations for the CSO and will take any questions relevant to that Vote following the committee's consideration of the other Votes in my Vote group. I am joined today by Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General of my Department, Mr. Denis Breen, head of corporate affairs, and Ms Geraldine Butler, finance officer.
The Estimate for Vote 1, the President's Establishment, for 2019 is €4.43 million. That includes €3 million for pay and administration, with the balance of funding for the centenarian's bounty. The 2019 revised Estimate for Vote 2, the Department of An Taoiseach, is €35.26 million, which includes €22.52 million for staff and administration costs. The primary role of my Department is to support me in Executive functions as Taoiseach, to support the Government and to oversee the implementation of the programme for Government. It also supports four Ministers of State who are assigned to the Department. These are the Government Chief Whip and the Ministers of State with responsibility for defence, for European affairs and for data protection. The latter is also assigned to a number of other Departments.
In addition to assisting my work as Taoiseach and that of the Government, the Department's strategic priorities are as follows: building a sustainable economy; building a better and fairer society; building strong relationships in Europe and the rest of the world; Brexit; and future planning. The Department is also responsible for a range of other issues such as State protocol, including, for example, the Papal visit last August, national commemorations and the organisation of the Presidential inauguration ceremony and State reception last November. The Department also engages in the formulation and implementation of Government policy and advises me on the full range of domestic policy issues and on international affairs. An important part of my Department's work is providing a secretariat for meetings of the Government and Cabinet committees. The Department also funds a number of inquiries, including the Moriarty tribunal and the Cregan and Cooke commissions. Other areas of responsibility include constitutional issues, relations with the office of the President, relations with the Oireachtas, the Government Information Service, GIS, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, the Policing Reform Implementation Programme Office, the Citizens' Assembly and the Dublin North East Inner City initiative.
Last year the Government published Project Ireland 2040 which for the first time ever links a national spatial plan with a national development and infrastructure investment plan. It gives us a framework for future development that will enable us to grow over the next 20 years in a manner that provides for better and sustainable regional balance, less commuting and greater vibrancy in our villages, towns, cities and rural areas. Ireland continues to experience sustainable and balanced economic growth. Employment continues to rise and now stands at just under 2.3 million, a record high. Unemployment was down to 5.7% in January, the lowest since August 2008. The Government’s focus now is on achieving full employment, that is, a job for everyone who wants one and on ensuring that the jobs created are quality jobs. By this I mean jobs that raise living standards, reward employees and provide for protections and pensions. Quality jobs must go beyond salary and include good working conditions and benefits, including pension coverage on retirement. Last year, alongside the Ministers for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Finance, Deputies Regina Doherty and Donohoe, I published a five year roadmap for pension reform, including the introduction of an auto-enrolment pension scheme for private sector workers, with first enrolments taking place in 2022. A wide ranging public consultation has been completed and the Government will shortly make decisions on the next steps.
The enactment of the Technological Universities Act means our focus is now on working with the various consortia to get these new technological universities up and running. Project Ireland commits the Government’s financial resources to the development of technological universities, with a particular focus on the establishment of a technological university in the south east where there is currently no university.
Under Project Ireland 2040, €21.8 billion is committed to the objective of transitioning to a low-carbon and climate resilient society. This is the highest amount allocated to any of the ten national strategic objectives of the plan. We have strengthened existing measures such as retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency. We have also made major decisions such as the banning of the registration of any new non-zero emission cars from 2030 onwards and taking coal off the national grid by 2025 and replacing its use at Moneypoint with a cleaner alternative.
It is important to Government that gains from the growing economy and prosperity are shared fairly with all Irish citizens and felt in all parts of the country. We want to create a society in which there is true equality of opportunity and where nobody feels left behind. The Department supports the work of shaping and reforming public services, especially those requiring a cross-Government response, through the Cabinet committee structures.
Over the recent period, Government has introduced reforms that seek to improve lives and living standards. To ensure the youngest in society are provided with the best possible start in life and afforded every opportunity to grow into engaged and active citizens, the Government launched First 5, A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families. This is very much led by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs but is a cross-Government strategy. The aim is to assist families and babies at this critical juncture in their lives, create a well-functioning early childhood system and broaden the range of options for parents to balance working and caring. As part of this, Government announced an additional two weeks paid parental leave in the first year of a child's life to take effect from November. Government has also made significant progress in delivering the affordable childcare scheme. The scheme’s primary legislation, the Childcare Support Act 2018, has been enacted with work on regulations, policy guidelines and IT systems ongoing.
During 2018, a set of actions to improve gender equality were advanced, including efforts to reduce the gender pay gap, promote wage transparency and increase women's membership on State and corporate boards. The Government approved a General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap (Wage Transparency) Bill. The Bill will promote wage transparency by requiring companies to complete a wage survey periodically and report the results showing the gender pay gaps.
Work on the north-east inner city initiative continues with the programme implementation board, which is assisted by my Department, meeting on a monthly basis to oversee and progress the implementation of the 54 actions set out in the Mulvey report. The board recently published its 2018 annual progress report, which highlights some notable achievements, including new gardaí assigned to the area, refurbishment works of the Lourdes day care centre and the P-TECH initiative in three second level schools to link industry and education through mentorships and internships. The board's aims for 2019 include initiatives to improve supports for families affected by addiction and drug-related intimidation, to build on relationships with local businesses and employers to create sustainable employment and improvements to the physical environment to make the area a better place to live and work.
A new initiative, Better Balance for Better Business, was announced in 2018 to increase women's representation in governance and senior management positions in the private sector. In June 2018, the Government published the world’s first LGBTI+ youth strategy, which aims to create a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for LGBTI+ young people. A youth advisory group was created to ensure that young people were at the heart of the strategic planning process with input from almost 4,000 young people.
Housing and homelessness continue to be among the greatest challenges we are facing as a Government and society. Increasing the supply of housing of all forms is our focus. In 2018, 21,450 new homes became available to live in, of which 18,072 were new dwellings. This is encouraging considering that in 2012, housing output was at less than 9,000 and most of that consisted of one-off houses in rural houses. Progress has been made but it is evident that much more needs to be done. We need to increase this to 25,000 units this year, which is our target. In August 2018, the Government published our Sláintecare implementation strategy, which sets out a vision for the future of healthcare over a ten-year period.
My Department supports me in an extensive programme of international engagement to advance Ireland's strategic interests both within and beyond the EU. In June 2018, we launched Global Ireland 2025, a strategic initiative to double the scope and impact of Ireland's global footprint by 2025. This is the most ambitious renewal and expansion of Ireland's international presence ever undertaken in terms of diplomacy, culture, business, official development assistance, tourism and trade. We have made considerable progress in implementing the Global Ireland strategy. In 2018, Ireland opened a new embassy in Wellington and a new consulate in Vancouver. Throughout 2019, we will open six new embassies and four new consulates. We will also strengthen existing missions and expand our international State agency presence. This increased engagement and presence internationally will enable our Departments and agencies to take on more ambitious targets during the coming years. Also in 2018, the Government launched Ireland's campaign for election to a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 term. Our candidature reflects Ireland's continuing engagement on issues of international importance and the centrality of the UN to our foreign policy.
Earlier today, alongside the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, I was pleased to launch the Government's new policy for international development entitled A Better World. This policy sets out the context in which we will increase our official development assistance, ODA, over the coming years and the priorities we will focus on. The policy restates the Government’s long-standing commitment to increasing ODA to 0.7% of national income by 2030. It highlights that Ireland's international development policy will focus on gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action, strengthened governance and the pledge of the sustainable development goals to leave nobody behind and to reach the furthest behind first.
At EU level, Ireland is also actively engaged in the debate on the future of Europe where we have highlighted the need for an ambitious and forward-looking agenda. EU leaders will discuss this further at our informal summit meeting in Sibiu in Romania on 9 May ahead of agreeing a new strategic agenda for the period ahead at the June European Council. The EU is the common European home we have helped to build. As a small country, our experience regarding Brexit has only served to reinforce our commitment to EU membership. Ahead of the summit in Sibiu, it is intended that the Government will publish a statement on Ireland's perspectives on the future of Europe, which will be informed by last year's citizens' dialogue led by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, as well as the Oireachtas engagement that will take place in the coming weeks.
The withdrawal agreement agreed last November reflects the Irish Government's priorities in the negotiations on Brexit. These are to protect peace and the Good Friday Agreement and to ensure the continuation of the common travel area in all circumstances. It sets out arrangements required to avoid a hard border on this island in light of the UK Government's own red lines and our need to protect the integrity of the Single Market and the customs union - our Single Market and our customs union. Since the vote in June 2016, we have been very conscious of the need to ensure that the rights and citizenship protections currently available to all the people of Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement are not undermined by the UK's withdrawal. The deal that is on the table contains a commitment from the UK that Brexit will not result in any diminution of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. This is a firm undertaking made in a legally binding international agreement.
One of the most striking things about what has unfolded since the UK's decision to leave has been the remarkable solidarity and unity on the EU side. It has been strong and resolute. Ireland's concerns on the Border have become EU concerns. Our insistence on a legally binding and operable means to avoid a hard border has become an EU insistence. In my recent contacts with the Presidents of the EU institutions last week - Presidents Tusk, Juncker and Tajani - I was again assured in the strongest terms that the EU stands by the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish protocol and the backstop therein.
Unfortunately, the political situation in the UK and the rejection of the agreement by Westminster means that the terms on which the UK will depart are unclear. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March. Augmenting the ongoing work of my Department's international, EU and Northern Ireland division on Brexit is the Brexit preparedness and contingency planning unit, which assists the Secretaries General group overseeing ongoing work on national Brexit preparedness and contingency planning. The unit works closely with other divisions in my Department, including the economic division, and with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has overall responsibility for Brexit. The work led by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has overseen the detailed preparations for the negotiations at EU level, engagement with the administrations in Belfast and London and the co-ordination of planning around the economic impacts of Brexit. Across Government, relevant Departments, agencies and overseas missions have also been further strengthened to deal with Brexit. Preparation and planning for a range of Brexit scenarios, including contingency planning, was initiated well in advance of the UK referendum. Over the past 18 months, the Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade has led efforts to deepen and intensify this planning.
The whole-of-Government response to Brexit is underpinned by a comprehensive set of Government structures, which ensure that all Departments and their agencies are engaging in detailed preparedness and planning, including through the development of sectoral action plans.
While the Government and the EU are committed to securing a negotiated outcome, that has not yet been achieved and we are now 29 days away from the UK's withdrawal from the Union. Government therefore considers that preparations for a no-deal outcome must be intensified as the risk of a no-deal Brexit increases day by day, posing unique and unprecedented challenges. The unprecedented risks associated with the departure of the UK from the EU featured strongly in the 2018 National Risk Assessment – Overview of Strategic Risks, published by my Department in August last. Among the geopolitical, social, economic and environmental risks identified were new risks associated with the impact of social media on public debate and elections and the risk of an overheating in the economy. Brexit brings great uncertainty and risks which require steady and strategic management in both our policies and relationships. We must continue to manage the public finances and protect the economy and seek new opportunities to diversify and grow.
Technological developments are transforming lives and driving change in every corner of the world and it is essential that Ireland should be at the forefront of these developments and engage with emerging issues. For this reason, my Department organised the data summit in September 2018 to demonstrate Ireland's leadership in digital and data. The summit brought together stakeholders from across the world to discuss emerging issues such as the ongoing implementation of the GDPR and the implications of artificial intelligence for society. Preparations for a similar event in 2019 are under way.
An advisory group, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, is developing a vision and roadmap for the Grand Canal innovation district. The advisory group will submit a report to the Government in the second quarter of 2019. It will have a particular focus on strengthening links between existing multinational companies in the area, small and medium enterprises and start-ups and academic and research institutions to build a better innovation ecosystem. The Department, in conjunction with others, is also leading the development of a new overarching national digital strategy. The strategy will set out Ireland's vision and ambition to help Ireland to maximise the economic and societal benefits from ongoing digitalisation and its transformative effects.
My Department also assists the National Economic and Social Council in providing forward-looking, strategic advice on economic, social and sustainable development issues. The current NESC work programme includes housing and land - transport-led development and housing policy; social insurance and the welfare system; and towards a sustainable developmental welfare state and climate change and low-carbon transition. The Secretary General and an assistant secretary from my Department serve as chair and deputy chair, respectively.
Vote 3 is the Vote of the Office of the Attorney General. The 2019 Revised Estimate for the office is €15.59 million. The majority of administrative expenditure relates to staff salaries, which will cost just under €12 million in 2019. The next largest expenditure item is the grant of almost €2.3 million to the Law Reform Commission.
Vote 4 relates to the Central Statistics Office, CSO. As I mentioned, the Chief Whip will present the 2019 Revised Estimate for the CSO to the committee.
Vote 5 is Vote of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The 2019 Revised Estimate for the office is €42.8 million. The Estimate for 2019 represents a decrease of 2% on the 2018 Estimate. This principal reason for this decrease is a reduction of €1.54 million in input A3 – fees to counsel. This is partially offset by an increase of €540,000 in the provision made in subhead A5, for the local State solicitor service.
Vote 6 is the Vote of the Chief State Solicitor's office. The 2019 Revised Estimate for the office is just over €34.6 million. Salaries, wages and allowances account for just over €18 million out of a total administrative budget of €20.5 million. The remaining €2.4 million is attributable to the general running costs of the office. A provision of €15.8 million is allocated for the payment of legal fees incurred, of which €13.5 million is for counsel fees and €1.3 million for general law expenses, which includes expert witnesses and stenographers. The balance is for use of external solicitors.
I thank the Taoiseach for his presentation. What further expenditure is anticipated for the remaining tribunals which come within the remit of his Department? Does he have a guesstimate of the likely timeframe involved?
There is a vote in the House. With the agreement of the members, we will continue with the meeting.
If it is a vote on the Brexit legislation, we should suspend the meeting.
I understand there is an agreement not to vote on that Bill.
The vote is on the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019.
In that case, it might affect Deputy Cowen.
It does not affect me, although it might affect the Chair.
Members can sit on their hands here rather than in the Dáil. Deputy Burton does not seem to have an issue with it.
They could have abolished the European Parliament by the time we get to the Chamber.
In terms of staff, I note the Department of the Taoiseach has 19.6 politically appointed staff. In addition, in terms of divisions and business units, the Government Information Service, GIS, has 16 staff and the corporate affairs unit has 32 staff. In terms of the discussions we have had over the past year and a half about the Government's messaging, one of the Taoiseach's innovations on taking office was to have common Government messaging and a common banner on all Government messaging under mygov.ie. The Taoiseach stated recently in the Dáil that he is transferring this function to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. His Department still has a significant number of staff dealing with public relations, messaging, etc. What do these staff do now that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform taken control of the spin unit and mygov.ie?
The Taoiseach spoke at length about housing and is obviously concerned about the issue. What I do not understand, and this applies to all constituencies, not only the constituency I share with the Taoiseach, is that the figures published today show that significant numbers of children are in long-term homelessness. As with long-term unemployment among young people, particularly young men, homelessness among young children is very damaging. When children do not have a place to call their own for a protracted period, which is generally considered to be more than six months, the damage done to them can be severe. What does the Taoiseach do to have himself briefed on the crisis, particularly affecting children living in homelessness with one or both parents?
The Taoiseach has said on many occasions in the Dáil that he does not like the style of Cabinet sub-committees where detailed papers from various Departments or institutions are discussed. I accept that his style and preference is to discuss everything at the full Cabinet with his colleagues around the table. That is a fair choice. Who in government now examines and audits the many detailed reports that are available on the devastating impact of homelessness, in particular, on children? I note the paper appears to have a target of building 25,000 houses per annum.
As 18,000 of these were new dwellings, I presume the others are boarded-up houses that are being brought back into use. The Taoiseach might clarify the position in that regard. All housing experts have suggested that for the next five years, as a result of the backlog and the base from which the country is coming, we would need to increase the number to approximately 35,000.
The Taoiseach, as head of his Department, has stated that he has overall responsibility for social advancement, for people's well-being and for the headings he read out. How does he address those matters? Who now discusses and examines the detailed briefings on a range of issues that are provided from a variety of sources? Those issues used to be discussed, possibly at excessive length, by Cabinet sub-committees. In my experience, the time for detailed discussion in Cabinet is relatively short. No one has suggested that this Cabinet sits for very long. The general understanding is that the meetings are brisk enough, as we would probably expect. Where does that discussion now take place?
It would also point to questions regarding what is happening with the children's hospital. In the context of the Cabinet, which is the Taoiseach's responsibility, there no longer seems to be a space for those issues to be discussed in detail. I presume there must have been some warnings that not everything was right with the cost structure and the progress on the children's hospital.
I thank the Deputy for her questions. The first one relates to tribunals. I imagine she is including commissions of investigation in that because the Moriarty tribunal is the only tribunal extant under my Department. It is never possible to know what the final cost will be because it will depend on third-party legal fees and many other things. When it ends will depend on how long it takes for it to do its work. To give some approximate figures, the spend to date on the Moriarty tribunal has been €65 million. Our best estimate - it is only an estimate - is that it will top out at approximately €75 million, depending on further legal cost awards.
The spend to date on the Cregan commission, which is the Siteserv-IBRC commission, has been €7 million. However, we anticipate that the final cost could be as much as €30 million and it is difficult to say when the commission will end. I sought an interim report but have not received it as yet.
The spend to date on the Cooke commission, which is investigating NAMA and the allegations about Project Eagle, is €2 million and it is estimated that it will top out at approximately €10 million. Again these are just estimates.
On the 20 politically appointed staff, I know we have discussed this previously-----
I wish to raise a point. The Taoiseach anticipates costs of well over €100 million.
Yes. Again this is something we should all bear in mind. Not a week goes by that an Opposition spokesperson or leader does not call for an inquiry, commission of investigation or tribunal to investigate something. While they may well be merited, we need to bear in mind the time they take and the fact that they often do not give people the answers they want or need and that they cost the taxpayer a considerable amount of money. We all need to bear that in mind in our demands for further inquiries, commissions and tribunals in the future.
The Deputy asked about the 20 politically appointed staff. They, of course, are for the entire Department and not just for me. They include civilian drivers for the Ministers of State and constituency staff and staff for the Ministers of State and also for staff for the Independents. From answers given in the Chamber people will know the amount spent on politically appointed staff by me, as Taoiseach, is less than my last three forebears holding the office. I intend to keep it at that notwithstanding increments, pay rises and all the rest of it that cause it to edge up bit by bit every year.
While I may be wrong, I believe mygov.ie has always come under the remit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It never fell under the remit of my Department. It is headed up by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, OGCIO. The only role my Department had with mygov.ie and gov.ie was that mine was the first Department to embrace it and transition its website over to it. However, we never ran the project; that is being run from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The GIS has a press function. It provides a press office, takes queries from journalists, organises press conferences, organises events and launches, and, obviously, is responsible for merrionstreet.ie, which is the Government news website set up 15 or 20 years ago. We have really reverted to the previous model with campaigns - where they happen - generally being run from outside the Department from the line Department with a degree of co-ordination from my Department. I still take the view that it would work better were it centralised, but it became such an area of political controversy and distraction that we took the decision to wind it down. As I think Deputies will acknowledge, all the inquiries since have found that the vast majority of charges and allegations made were without foundation, but that is all history now.
On housing and homelessness, of course the figures for those in emergency accommodation were published yesterday, which, again, are bad and very disappointing for all of us struggling to deal with the issue but, most of all, for the people who are affected by it and who are forced to live in emergency accommodation. On the positive side, to the extent that there is a positive side, it shows that the number of families in emergency accommodation is down to its lowest for a year. The number of families in hotels is also down as we move more towards the use of family hubs. However, there is nothing to celebrate in any of that. The figures seem to be stabilising at around 10,000. That is where they have been for the best part of a year, but that is not good enough. In the next couple of months, I want to turn the corner and start to see those figures reducing rather than stabilising. That is definitely where we want to be in the next few weeks.
I do not have the figures for length of stay in emergency accommodation. I am advised that the average length of stay for a family in emergency accommodation is approximately six months. I take the Deputy's point about the long-term psychological impact that stays longer than that can have on children. However, in some cases where it is longer than six months one will find that offers of accommodation have been made but have not been accepted. That is also part of the mix that we need to bear in mind.
As the Deputy can imagine, I receive many briefings on housing. I have a big one on my desk for a trilateral meeting with the Ministers for Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government, and their officials and advisers. We discuss these things in different formats: sometimes at full Cabinet; sometimes at Cabinet sub-committee; and sometimes at a meeting of the three or four key Ministers, which I find to be quite useful. Cabinet sub-committees have their value but they involve 50 or 60 people. Sometimes a meeting of seven or eight can be more productive. Those of us who spend a considerable amount of time at meetings will understand why that will be. All formats are used and it depends on which is the most appropriate.
I also receive briefings from the CEOs of the major NGOs working in the homelessness and housing sectors. I have been involved in round-table meetings on two occasions with all the CEOs from Simon, the Peter McVerry Trust and Focus Ireland. I had a very good one a few weeks ago and will follow that up again later in the year. I get briefings, of course, directly from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. NESC, which comes under my remit, has done some really good work on land use and housing. I would have been briefed directly by NESC on that. Obviously, one of my political advisers also follows housing and looks at a considerable amount of the reports and research that exists.
Housing and homelessness are two issues in respect of which we make good use of the Cabinet sub-committee system precisely because they relate to a few Departments. I think the last Cabinet sub-committee meeting on infrastructure and housing was last week or the previous week. At that meeting, we particularly examined the inter-agency report on homelessness because that requires a response. We all know that homelessness is about much more than housing. Dealing with homelessness requires a response from the Departments of Health, Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Finance, and Justice and Equality in respect of immigration. There is a big focus on that with the last Cabinet sub-committee really putting pressure on the other Departments to do their bit and understand that housing is not just a problem for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. As there are immigration issues, the Department of Justice and Equality needs to be on board.
We do not know the exact figure but approximately 20% to 30% of people who are in emergency accommodation are non-EU citizens. Some of them may not have a right to be here. There are also issues around addiction and mental health. Lifting people out of homelessness requires action from the Department of Health, particularly when it comes to issues around better addiction and mental health services. We have had a detailed discussed around that issue and what we are going to do with the Simon Community, in particular, in responding to some of its requests. There are also issues around social protection. The Cabinet committee system is used, where appropriate. It is often equally appropriate to have discussions with the full Cabinet. In fact, we took that memo from the Cabinet sub-committee to the full Cabinet this week. In addition, I meet Ministers on a one-to-one basis and on a trilateral basis, which I find quite useful.
On housing supply, the Deputy is right that the target is 35,000 new homes annually. We want to move away from what we had in the past in terms of the provision of 80,000 homes one year and 10,000 the next year. We want to achieve a steady stream of approximately 35,000 per annum but we are also realistic that we can only ramp up at a certain pace. There are limiting factors. Approximately 20,000 new homes and apartments were built last year. In regard to the Deputy's request for me to expand on those data, that total includes ghost estates being finished and voids being brought back into use. Approximately 19,000 new homes and apartments were built last year. The target for this year is 25,000, with a view to getting to 35,000 but we are being practical, honest and realistic about how quickly we can ramp up housing construction in a sustainable way. Even though the number of houses built last year was greater that in any other year this decade, we think a reasonable target is 25,000 this year, 30,000 next year and 35,000 the following year.
The Taoiseach made three comments by way of explanation for some of the difficulties in housing, which were of a similar shade to those made last weekend by the Dublin city manager. For example, he referred to one of the causes for homelessness being that people refuse offers. Another cause was that 27% of people are international people who have come to Ireland. The figure of 27% is relatively low in terms of the number of international people who have come to Ireland in the past. The third cause cited was addiction. I asked the Taoiseach about children in homelessness. I recognise that a lot of people who are homeless have problems. As far as I am aware, the people who sleep rough and have serious mental and, possibly, addiction problems are not included in the housing statistics published this morning. As with women in refuges, they are taken account of but they are not actually, as far as I am aware, included in the figures published this morning. According to the Taoiseach, everything is the fault of people who are homeless but the real cause is the serious breakdown in our housing provision structure, which is worsening.
I am glad the Taoiseach responded to my question regarding the 35,000 target. Is there a Government plan to increase output from 25,000 to 35,000, which is what we need to do if we are to catch up?
I would respectfully ask the Deputy not to put words in my mouth. This is too important an issue to play politics with. The cause of homelessness and the housing crisis is a lack of supply of housing and a lack of affordable housing but there are plenty of other factors involved as well. Those of us who are interested in this area and have spent time visiting facilities and NGOs will understand that there are other factors at play as well. As the Deputy mentioned, for many of those who are rough sleeping mental health and addiction are at play. There are lots of people who, thankfully, are in shelters and emergency accommodation, who also have problems with addiction and mental health. For this reason, just providing housing is not enough. We are trying to adopt a holistic approach, particularly under the banner of Housing First, which is providing shelter and housing, as well as the additional supports that are needed to help people maintain tenancies and not fall back into homelessness. These are the things we need to do, and are doing, around mental health and addiction supports. We are working with Simon in this area, which is a splendid NGO in the work it does in terms of ensuring people discharged from hospitals do not end up in homelessness. There are other initiatives around addiction in particular on which we propose to work with Simon into the future. Dealing with homelessness requires a holistic approach. It cannot be resolved by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government alone. We could build 40,000 or 50,000 houses in a couple of years' time and still have homelessness because it is a social problem as well as one that is related to the number of roofs in the country.
The Deputy is correct that the rough sleepers are not included in the statistics published today, nor are people who are in domestic refuges but people who do not have an entitlement and people who have turned down offers of housing are included. The figures will never be exact. I do not like to get involved in statistical debate. No matter what the correct figure is, there are too many people in emergency accommodation and we need to change that.
I thank the Taoiseach for making himself available today and for his extensive presentation on the Revised Estimates associated with his Department and others under his remit. I will concentrate on a few key issues, in particular, the primary role of the Taoiseach's Department, which is to support him in his executive functions as Taoiseach, to support the Government and to oversee the implementation of the programme for Government. Allied to this are the key strategic priorities of the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure that happens. In terms of progress and efforts around relationships with Europe and the wider world and in regard to Brexit, in respect of which there is unanimity in the Dáil in support of the Government's stance and efforts to ensure the least worst outcome emerges, we applaud and support all efforts in that regard. We expect the Department's whole commitment to that effort and we support the provision of any funds required to ensure the least worst outcome.
I propose to focus on four issues. I am conscious of the Taoiseach's role in implementing the programme for Government and his efforts in that regard while at the same time maintaining a sustainable economy and planning for the future. The areas of critical importance in the public domain, in the context of the success of this Government's time in office, are health, housing, insurance and broadband. Without getting into the debacle associated with the existing and potential further overrun in the Department of Health or by the board of the national children's hospital, the Taoiseach mentioned in an interview this morning that he found the whole episode scandalous. What aspect of it specifically did he find scandalous? That being the case, what actions are under way that will arrest the overrun and eradicate anything of that nature happening again and thus ensure value for money is achieved? As has been said on many occasions, we all welcome the provision of a children's hospital and we want to ensure it is provided as quickly as possible but that does not mean we should not investigate forensically the contract provided in the first instance, how it was arrived at, whether it was porous because of the rush to get on site such that we are now being punished.
In regard to housing, in the final paragraph on page 27 of the Revised Estimates it states that a new council was appointed in May 2017 and that its work programme up to September 2019 comprises three themes, one of which is housing and land, which is to be a transport-led development in housing policy. How many times has this council met?
In the budget of October 2017 the Government set up the Land Development Agency. I welcomed that and hoped it would be afforded the right legislation, authority and remit to implement policies that could help and assist in ensuring it made a difference. Yesterday, I heard its chair, John Moran, say it had met for the second time recently. I do not know when he was appointed but it was October 2017 that this agency was being put in place in the first instance. In response to Seán O'Rourke, when he was asked how it would help and assist in regard to the housing crisis, addressing the issue of homelessness and the huge and terrible figures associated with that, Mr. Moran said it was not necessarily his remit, job or role. He was quickly reminded that it would not have been set up were there not a housing crisis. Many councils throughout the country, unfortunately, do not necessarily have the capacity or the sort of professionalism and commitment to the provision of houses that they had previously. With that in mind, this agency could have had a greater role in so far as it could have provided a vehicle for either public or private finance to engage private developers to build houses on State lands, and rent them to local authorities for 100 years, if necessary.
I am particularly conscious of credit unions and the role they can play. The credit union in my county this week had €285 million at its disposal; it has €65 million out in loans so it can adequately cater for that; and it was laying off €50 million this week and getting 0% return. It does not have the capacity under present legislation or Central Bank rules to participate in a scheme such as this, when it is more than willing to do so and more than willing to get a return on it. Any return would be far greater than 0%, and if it was only 2%, it would be 200% better than what it is getting at present. I hear the Taoiseach ask what difference exists between us and the Government in regard to policies or what recommendations we are making. That is a recommendation I made some time ago and I was given to believe we were moving in that direction, yet here we are, nearly two years later, and I do not see any progress in that area. I would like the Taoiseach to respond on that also.
In regard to broadband, I am nervous that this too could end up like the children's hospital. To date, €22 million has been spent and not an inch of fibre optic cable is in the ground yet. The Taoiseach said in response to a question in the Dáil yesterday that he is afraid the cost might be many multiples of what was initially envisaged. The national development plan provides for €275 million this year. If it is many multiples of that, when we will know how many multiples it is? Will a decision be taken to share that information with us before the contract is signed or afterwards? It it materialises to be many multiples, apart from the ability of the contract to deliver or the quality of it, what then happens with regard to the commitments in the national development plan? We have yet to get much of the detail associated with the €100 million that is to come off this year's spend in regard to capital development in the national development plan, let alone the spring statement that is to tell us what the story is for next year, given €100 million-plus is to come off it for the next four years, in light of the commitments that have been made since the launch of Project Ireland 2040. If this cost is many multiples of that, where do we stand and when will be put on notice as to what the consequences of that overspend is going to be in regard to the national development plan?
I want to raise the issue of insurance. I am talking broadly because I acknowledge the detail that is contained with the Estimate and the spend within the Department of the Taoiseach. As the Taoiseach said in his initial statement, the primary role of the Department is to support him in his functions as Taoiseach, which in turn supports the Government and oversees implementation of the programme for Government. In regard to insurance, is it true to say the delay and procrastination in regard to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is blocking the efforts of the Department of Justice and Equality to bring forward a judicial council which might assist in regard to the whole area of insurance, which is a major difficulty for business, unfortunately, and the ability to do business in many parts of the country. Is that the case? I would have thought the Department would be well able to multitask and that this legislation could be brought before the House in parallel with the other issue.
The Taoiseach answered questions in regard to Project Eagle and the cost associated with it. I take the point he makes and it is well made, yet there is an interest and expectation on the part of the public, further to the recommendation of the Dáil, to ensure that information in that regard could be brought back for adjudication on people's involvement in it, and so on. That was to be ready last June and we are now told it will be reporting this June.
What is that?
The commission of investigation into Project Eagle. Can the Taoiseach commit that it will be forthcoming? Does he have any indication at this stage as to the lessons that might be learned from that and any cost implications it would have for his ability to implement the programme for Government as initially envisaged?
I thank the Deputy. He asked me about my interview this morning on Newstalk. I was asked if I found any aspect of the national children's hospital controversy scandalous, and I said that I did. What I found to be scandalous was that some of our agents - agents employed by Government, albeit indirectly through the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board - underestimated the costs so significantly. They did, and while I was not terribly surprised the hospital might turn out to cost more than we thought, I was really shocked that it was €450 million more than we thought. That was down to a number of factors, ranging from VAT to construction inflation, which nobody could have controlled, but the underestimate of some of the costs could have been foreseen and should have been foreseen earlier. That is the element I said I found scandalous. Obviously, as Head of Government, I take responsibility for that. I cannot come in here and claim credit for the public finances being in balance, for full employment or for all of the aspects of the capital programme that are happening on time and on budget, whether Luas cross-city, the Gort-Tuam motorway, the schools programme or pretty much everything else for the past ten years, and then wash my hands of this. I take responsibility, as Head of Government, for the fact people we employed and trusted to get their numbers right got them so enormously wrong. That explains a significant chunk of the unanticipated higher cost of the children's hospital project.
As to what we are doing about it, first, the PwC analysis is being carried out to see what can be learned and also to see if there are ways that we can pare back the cost. I am sceptical as to whether that will be possible but we have to leave no stone unturned in seeing if there are ways that we can pare back the cost of the project, provided it does not in any way result in downgrading, diminution or de-speccing of the project. We had that before with new hospitals built 20 or 30 years ago, where corners were cut and phases were removed, and we spent 30 years adding all that back on at much greater expense. I would only be in favour of cost-cutting if it did not diminish the value of the project in terms of healthcare and paediatric care.
The project is now very much under way. It is something that has been promised for as long as I can remember. It was first talked about in the 1960s, first called for by doctors in 1993 and it is now well under construction. The first aspect of it, the satellite centre in Blanchardstown, will open to children this year, Tallaght next year and then the main campus at St. James's in 2023. At long last this is being done, albeit at 50% more than we anticipated it would cost.
There are definitely lessons in terms of public procurement into the future. While we have made no final decisions on this, among the areas we are examining is factoring in a risk premium around big projects when we are projecting the cost of a project. There is always a degree of what is called optimism bias or promoter bias, where the people or the agency promoting the project will often believe it is going to come in cheaper than it really does, and that applies from all-weather pitches to major projects. We would factor in some risk premiums around that. The other thing we are considering is whether we should pay a bit more attention to the median price of the bids.
There has been criticism from some quarters that, in the public sector, we tend to go for the lowest priced bid or tend to weight very heavily who comes in with the cheapest price. Perhaps that is not the right approach. Maybe we should look at the median price and then give a score to those who are below it. I will talk about that in the future.
The third is one that I strongly believe in and I am determined to make happen, that is, what I call a past form or public sector reference clause. It is not possible for us under EU procurement law to ban a contractor from tendering for a job even if it has not done a very good job in the past. I am not talking about any particular contractor. There are numerous examples, quite frankly, of companies that have done a bad job in providing public buildings or doing other work for the Government. I would like to see written into public procurement a sort of reference. If the Deputy was going for a job in any office in this city or any business around the country, he would come with a reference based on what his previous employers thought about how he did. I would like to work something like that into public procurement so that, in respect of those companies - contractors and professional services companies, whoever they are - we would be able to take and weight more heavily their previous form in doing work for the Government. These are the kinds of reform that we should make in future.
The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, has done three reports relating to housing. There is the Urban Development Land, Housing and Infrastructure: Fixing Ireland's Broken System report, which was published back in May. There are also the International Approaches to Land Use, Housing and Urban Development and the Land Value Capture and Urban Public Transport reports. They are all very good and worth a read. They helped to inform the decision to establish the Land Development Agency, LDA, which I see as an ESB for housing. I see it as a semi-State and as the Government getting involved more in the business of development, construction, building houses and building communities. A lot of that is done through local authorities already and through approved housing bodies, but this is additional to that. That is what we need - additionality. We need councils building more and we need approved housing bodies building more, but we also need the LDA, particularly when it comes to high-density, high-rise sites in more urban areas. What it will do is build housing of all sorts - social housing for people who are on the housing list; cost rental housing, which is a model that we have not used much of in Ireland, but it has merit and is going to start in places like Emmet Road; affordable housing scheme houses, particularly in urban areas where there is a real affordability issue; and houses for purchase. However, the LDA is only getting started. At the moment, it is just a board established by statutory instrument and a small number of executive staff, so it will take it a bit of time to ramp up, but we anticipate it being on site building houses in 2020. That is what I want to see happen.
What about the role of credit unions?
That is something I need to study more closely. I know it is not a new idea - it has been around for quite some time. I know the Deputy's party has put it forward that credit unions should be able to lend for housing construction. I am not entirely sure that that is a Government decision at the end of the day. It may be a matter for the Central Bank to decide whether they can do that. I could be totally wrong. Maybe it is something that I need to explore a bit better, but there is always something that we have to bear in mind when it comes to enabling credit unions to get involved in development finance, and that is the potential risk to savings. The credit union model is all about small savings and small loans. When credit unions start to do things that banks do-----
In the absence of options for investment, credit unions are only lending 20% of their capacity. They have €1 million coming in per week that they cannot use. Under the law and the Central Bank, credit unions can only invest in the pillar banks, but the pillar banks are not giving them a return. The credit unions want to have a role in assisting their own communities. Here is the primary way for them to do that to the benefit of us all. It is a matter that needs to be investigated. The LDA offers a vehicle by which that construct can be put in place. It would also allow for private investment, including by pension funds. It would have the same return, that being, the provision of homes and of vitality in our communities that, despite the best will in the world, many councils and various Departments, including the Taoiseach's, cannot deliver. I was on a council from 1992 on. It is no reflection on councils' willingness to do this work, but the professionalism, capacity and expertise that they possessed in this regard 40 or 50 years ago is not there anymore. With the Department, they have supposedly been doing their best for the past seven or eight years. They are not able to do this as far as I can tell, although, so we have to think outside the box.
I think that is correct. A lot of local authorities have lost practice and have lost the corporate knowledge when it comes to building housing. What the LDA can become is a house-building semi-State that builds houses in the way the ESB builds electrical infrastructure, Gas Networks Ireland does the same in respect of gas, and so on.
On the credit union issue, I do not want to pretend to be an expert on it. I know it has been a topic of discussion before. What occurs to me, though, is that local authorities and, indeed, the Government and the LDA can borrow from the European Investment Bank, EIB, at an extremely low interest rate. We would not want to end up borrowing more expensively if we can already get loans from the EIB at a very low interest rate.
We would just need to bear in mind the safety of people's small savings in credit unions. I imagine the reason they are only allowed to invest in certain areas is because they are low risk. We all know that development finance and investing in the property sector are potentially high risk.
Therefore, one needs to have large capital ratios to insulate oneself for when things go wrong. Maybe the Deputy is absolutely right, but we just need to bear in mind those factors. We need to protect people's small savings in the credit unions and we need to make sure that any interest rate that the Government would pay to borrow for development would not be a high one. It would make no sense to borrow for 3% off the credit unions when we could borrow for 1% or less from the EIB.
I would be happy if the Taoiseach took on board what I have said. He has acknowledged the potential and is willing to consider the issue possibly with a view to arriving at a decision that is more akin to our way of thinking.
I am, Deputy, and I will. I do not think I have all the answers. I will do that. That is a reasonable suggestion.
What about broadband?
On broadband, and as I have indicated in the Dáil on a number of occasions, we do not yet have a preferred bidder. We have one bidder left, yet to be designated as the preferred bidder. We have yet to make a decision as to whether we go ahead with the national broadband programme. The cost is going to be multiples of what was projected many years ago. Going ahead would not have a significant impact, or any impact at all, on this year, but it would have an impact on future years. We will have to bear that in mind in making a decision. Very different from the children's hospital, this is a 30-year project, so the cost is spread over 30 years. It involves private finance and user fees, so it is a very different financial model, but it would have an impact on the capital envelope in 2020 and beyond, and we will have to take that into account.
Is the 2019 envelope €275 million?
I cannot remember the exact figure, but any impact on 2019 would be between zero and €11 million. It would be minimal.
I will pick up on that point. Is it correct to say that the Taoiseach cannot say at this point in time whether the national broadband plan will proceed?
I cannot say that until the contracts are signed. That would be the case for any project.
It definitely will not be-----
That is a fair enough answer, Taoiseach, but it is not a real one. Is there a question mark over whether the national broadband plan will proceed, given the escalating cost of the project?
It is Government policy that it should proceed. This is something that we want to do. We have got to the point where, from three years ago where only about 50% of premises in the country had access to high-speed broadband, it is up to around 80% now. That is mainly private sector driven, but there is very much a Government role involved, too. However, that still leaves about 500,000 homes, farms and businesses that do not have access to high-speed broadband. I want them to have access to it. When I think about what Ireland will look like in ten or 20 years time, I think of a country in which people work for multinationals at home.
That is already happening with Apple, for example, where 25% of its staff work from home. There is no reason-----
I am just trying to understand this on behalf of the person in rural Donegal or the business in the Údarás na Gaeltachta enterprise park with no access to broadband. The business may be at the cutting edge in IT but does not have basic broadband. Can the affected individuals and businesses be certain that the national broadband plan is going to proceed?
There is no certainty on any project until the contract is signed.
The original cost of the project was estimated at €500 million. It is now reported that it could be in the region of €3 billion, which is six times as much. Has the cost-benefit analysis been updated as a result?
Yes. The cost-benefit analysis is being updated, obviously recognising that the benefit is the same but the cost is higher.
Does that still allow for the project to proceed on the basis of the cost-benefit analysis?
Ultimately, the decision on whether it proceeds will be one made democratically by politicians. There have been projects that have proceeded with a negative cost-benefit analysis.
A negative cost-benefit analysis-----
I am not saying it is negative, by the way. It is not simple. There are many projects that did not happen although there was a very high benefit-cost ratio. There are others, such as the western rail corridor and the motorway between Carlow and Waterford, that had a low benefit-cost ratio but still went ahead. Therefore, it is not just a mathematical decision as to whether the benefit-cost ratio is more than 1.5:1 or less than 0.8:1, or otherwise; it is also a political decision. It is fundamentally a question of whether there is something we want to do.
What knowledge does the Taoiseach have on the costs at this point?
I have knowledge based on that last briefing I got from the Department.
Is the Taoiseach in receipt of the information on the likely cost of the project to the Irish taxpayer?
Not a definitive one but the likely range.
The Taoiseach said there needs to be a process of consultation. When does he expect to share that with the public, who will be footing the bill, and the political parties that, given the length of the project, may be in government when the funds have to be sourced?
My target date for making a decision is before Easter. I am conscious that there will be great uncertainty over the next couple of weeks as to what will happen with Brexit. We may find ourselves in late March or early April coming to the Oireachtas seeking a very substantial Supplementary Estimate to bail out our beef industry and keep people in employment, particularly in rural areas and the agrifood sector, to support our exporters. I have to bear that in mind. For the Oireachtas to vote more money to the Government, it will want to know what other bills are coming. I would like to know.
The Taoiseach referred on the record yesterday to a conversation with the Opposition. Is his intention to have the Government make a decision and then to have a conversation with the Opposition on what it has approved, the cost and what can be done? We have one bidder. We are over a barrel in regard to that bidder. There is infrastructure for which rural communities have been crying out. This process was supposed to have ended in 2017. I am not even sure whether it can still go ahead based on one of the reports that was to be commissioned on the integrity of the process. Maybe the Taoiseach can shed some light on that. What is his intention regarding engagement with others? Will it solely be a Cabinet decision to proceed?
The report on the integrity of the process was favourable so I do not have concerns about the integrity of the process. There is a benefit-cost analysis being done. There is an external review involving international experts. One of the major consultancy firms - it is either KPMG or PwC - has done some work on it also. My intention is to consult the Opposition parties before signing any contracts precisely because this is a 30-year commitment that will extend beyond the life of this Dáil and Government.
Is this matter scandalous in the same way as the cost overrun or underestimation in regard to the national children's hospital, as described by the Taoiseach?
I do not believe so. We are still in a process on this so I do not have clear sight of everything yet.
The Taoiseach has more sight of it than we do. I am just trying to figure out what we, being in the dark, can know. We know the likely cost is multiples of €500 million. The overrun is well above that for the national children's hospital. We are not talking about hundreds of millions of euro but potentially billions. Is it not scandalous that the Government got its estimates for this project so wrong?
No, because this is a totally different project. It is totally different in scale and substance. When it was originally mooted, a large area was to be part of the national broadband programme. Probably the bit that was profitable would have cross-subsidised the rest of it. Owing to EU state aid rules and factors beyond our control, the private sector went in and has been able to provide broadband to those areas where it has been profitable to do so. That has left the Government picking up the tab for the most unprofitable area. That was something that changed during the course of the process. There are also changes in technology as things go on, in addition to the fact that, with any project, one can never know for sure what it will cost until the tenders and bids come in. The tenders and bids — or at least the one bid — have come in for this. This is totally different from the national children's hospital, where, well into construction on a phase-2 basis, the escalating costs emerged. That will not happen in the case in question because we actually know what the cost is going to be before we start. It is quite different on a number of grounds. Also, private finance is being invested in this. There are also user charges. People try to say this is the same as the children's hospital but it is actually nothing like it.
No, it is not because the reality is that the overrun involves a lot more bloody money. It amounts to billions of euro in addition. What we are hearing from the media is that the range is between €1.5 billion and €3 billion.
There is no overrun because there is no contract signed-----
There is no contract signed, no money spent and no work actually done. What happens with a major project, be it a road, metro, runway, bundle of schools or new hospital, is that one puts it out to tender. When one gets the tenders in, one can then decide whether one is willing to go ahead with the project based on the cost. That is how big projects work. One of the differences with the children's hospital was the two-stage process, whereby we did not know the full cost.
Before anything is put out to tender, an assessment is made of the range of potential costs.
Yes, there is.
There was a cost-benefit analysis already done on this project at the early stage based on a cost of €500 million. This could end up in the region of €3 billion. This is a spectacular underestimation, or overrun, on a planned project of national importance. It really questions how the Government is handling major capital infrastructure projects. I refer to the fact that the Taoiseach does not believe this is scandalous or that lessons can be learned from the fact that we now have only one bidder. What if we do not agree with the bidder's price? What is plan B?
When considering plan B, C or D, one must always ask whether it would be cheaper or quicker. That is part of the examination we have been doing. Of course, if there is a plan B, plan C or plan D that is quicker and cheaper, one opts for it but if there were not maybe one would not. These are decisions that have to be made.
To be very clear and very straightforward on this, there is no overrun here; this project has not even started. A tender has come in at a certain price. It is now our decision, as a Government and an Oireachtas, as to whether we want to pay that price and believe it is worth it. There is no overrun here.
We have a capital envelope for the period to 2021. Some €275 million has been allocated for this from the State's point of view. There has been an estimation, factored into our budgetary arithmetic, based on a figure of €500 million. Regardless of the way in which the Taoiseach wants to play with the words, there is a spectacular overrun on this project, if it ever sees the light of day. There has been a spectacular underestimation. If the Government continues to underestimate the cost of capital projects as it is doing with the national broadband plan or national children's hospital, this country will soon be calling for the IMF again. This never happened in the worst days of underestimation of capital projects. It never happened under Fianna Fáil at that level.
I do not think, in fairness, that the IMF will be called in because of anything that this Government has done. This Government got rid of the IMF and saw it out of here.
The point I am making is that if the Government continues to run over on capital budgets by €2 billion here or €0.5 billion there, then it needs to acknowledge that there are problems with how it dealt with the tendering process. We are now down to one individual company and are over a barrel, as the Taoiseach said. There is no other quicker solution. It has been delayed so long that we can either decide to do it all over from the beginning, and there are questions as to how that could be done because of decisions which allowed for the most lucrative part, that is the 300,000 premises, to be carved out of the system.
That was never a decision, that is how State aid works. There was never a Government decision to allow that. That is incorrect.
I will go onto some other points briefly. Does the Taoiseach believe that the Moriarty tribunal was value for money?
I have not studied it on a value for money basis, quite frankly.
I ask because the Taoiseach has raised questions about tribunals and commissions of inquiry ------
I think it did very good work and made some very relevant findings, many of which have caused us to change the law and have informed policy. As to whether it is value for money or not, the question is whether it could have done the same work less expensively; the answer is quite possibly.
Does the Taoiseach have any concerns about the Government relying on one of the key characters, the star of the Moriarty tribunal, and the Taoiseach's engagement on several occasions with Mr. O'Brien who was also one of the stars of the Moriarty tribunal?
I am not sure if the Deputy wants to elaborate on that. I am not sure what he is alleging.
The Government is supported by Deputy Lowry. The tribunal was very clear that payments were made from Mr. O'Brien to Deputy Lowry which amounted to close to £1 million in three different transactions. This is well documented. I am sure that the Taoiseach has read the report of the Moriarty tribunal. I am talking about the Taoiseach's engagements with Mr. O'Brien, for example his meeting with him-----
Is this part of the Estimate?
That is fair enough. I am asking about value for money and the integrity of the tribunals; does the Taoiseach have any concerns about the Government -----
I am afraid this is just mud-slinging. I bumped into Denis O'Brien in a corridor in Davos a year ago. What the Deputy is making out is pretty ridiculous.
No, I am just asking the Taoiseach a question. If he wants to correct -----
We are going to miss the importance of the Estimate.
-----in terms of Mr. Lowry.
What is the question?
Does the Taoiseach wish to comment on a tribunal which unearthed a lot of information, which I believe was value for money, and the Government's reliance on the support of Mr. Lowry who was democratically elected to the Dáil but had key findings made against him by the tribunal?
The Estimate relates to the numbers in the House, it does not relate to the numbers in the Taoiseach's office.
Does it concern the Deputy that in his party, on his benches, there are people with very serious convictions?
I am asking questions relating to the Taoiseach.
Let us get back to the Estimates.
Who does the Taoiseach wish to name?
I do not believe there is anyone supporting my Government -----
Can we move on?
-----who has serious criminal convictions. Does it bother the Deputy?
Deputy Lowry actually has criminal convictions.
Deputy Doherty, please move on.
I am just making the point about commissions of investigation and tribunals. They have been of great benefit to the State in the past, particularly ones previous to the Moriarty tribunal, and there is value for money in them. We should learn the lessons from them.
On the IBRC investigation, the Taoiseach asked for an interim report. Has there been any correspondence back from the judge on that, given that the extension is only until the end of March 2019?
Does that relate to Cooke or Cregan?
It relates to IBRC. The Taoiseach asked for an interim report on 19 December. There has been an extension until the end of March. We have been engaged in this as members of the Opposition. Has any correspondence been received on the interim report? Is it the Taoiseach's intention to extend it again if the Government does not receive the interim report between now and the end of March?
I have received correspondence from the judge in that case.
Will we receive the interim report before-----?
I do not know but I have requested it.
Okay. On the NAMA investigation about Project Eagle, is the Taoiseach satisfied that June 2019 will be the deadline and that it will not require an extension? Has the Taoiseach received any indication on this?
The indication I have had is that they have requested a further extension with a view to reporting until the end of June 2019, which I have granted. I have no reason to believe there will be a request for further extension but it is an independent commission of investigation and I am not across it.
Okay. The Office of the Attorney General has provided an impressive number of legal advices on requests relating to Private Members' Bills and so on. Given how the Houses of the Oireachtas are configured at present with a minority Government and the increase in Bills from the Opposition which require advice, does the Taoiseach believe that the Office of the Attorney General is sufficiently resourced to deal with the current demands from the Houses and the Government?
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, could benefit from additional resources. It is not a simple matter of allocating an Estimate, but also finding people who are available. Skills in drafting legislation are not as easy to obtain as we might hope. The OPC could certainly benefit from additional resources.
The Taoiseach's opening statement referred to reducing the unemployment rate. We recognise that the unemployment rate is falling. The Taoiseach referred to full employment, although something that was not in his script was "a job for everyone who wants one". What rate is full employment?
Economists put it at around 3%, recognising that there will always be a certain number of people who are between jobs. Long-term unemployment, that is people who are out of work for more than nine months, is about 2.7%. Based on that figure, we have full employment now. There will always be people who are between jobs, for one reason or another and who are receiving jobseeker's benefit. They may have been made redundant and be looking for a job.
I appreciate that, I just wanted to know the figure. There was some discussion that the figure ought to be a little higher but I will not push the Taoiseach on that. I raise this because I heard the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, make the same point that unemployment is falling, which is an excellent thing, and there is a job for everyone who wants one. That really annoys people in regions where the unemployment level is not coming down at the same rate. I come from Donegal, for which the Central Statistics Office gives an unemployment rate that is about 5% higher than the national average. When we do reach full employment, that will not mean that there is a job for everyone who wants one. I am asking the Taoiseach to be cautious about that because it stigmatises or attempts to label people in more isolated communities where the economic recovery has not reached and where there are no job prospects for people.
I think I said that our objective was to get to a point where there was a job for everyone who wants one, not that there is a job for everyone who wants one. I acknowledge that there are parts of the country where the number of jobseekers exceeds the number of vacancies. However, taking the country as a whole, there are almost as many vacancies as there are people looking for work and that is close to full employment.
My question relates to something that we discussed last night, which Deputy Deering raised. The Taoiseach's opening statement referred to Project Ireland and the Government's commitment to the development of technological universities, with particular urgency attached to the technological university in the south east. I think everyone will agree that this is urgent. The last official answer on this was given some weeks ago. The Minister of State told the Dáil that the application had not yet been received.
Somebody said in September that an application was expected within weeks and the president of Waterford Institute of Technology recently said it was progressing, albeit not as quickly as it should be. That is the understatement of the century considering how long this has been going on. The Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, wants a memorandum of understanding to be completed before the application is submitted. There is still an issue with regard to the possibility that the headquarters of the new technological university would be located in Kilkenny and negotiations are continuing in that regard. What is the Taoiseach's view on the timeline? Can people expect progress on the technological university that has been mooted?
The project to have a technological university for the south east is one of three things that I want the Government to get done for Waterford city. These are the opening of a second catheterisation laboratory for the hospital, the establishment of a technological university and the development of the north quays. These are all part of developing Waterford as the major growth centre for the south east. A technological university can be a significant benefit to a region. It means more students will stay in the region at least have the option of staying in it, more students will come into the region and more jobs, investment and employment will be spun off for the region. Attending the inauguration of the technological university for Dublin was bittersweet in a way. It was great that we had our first technological university and that it has a campus in Blanchardstown in my constituency. However, it is another university for Dublin when there is no university in the south east. That is why I am determined to get this done.
The major issues and hold-ups appear to be caused by differences and disagreements between the institutions that will make up the technological university of the south east. The process has been completed in Dublin. It is likely that the technological university in Munster will come in ahead of the south east, which should not have been the case. The south east should have been the first region to get a technological university over the line. I talk to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and the Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, but the problems seem to relate to some industrial relations questions and disagreements between the different sites and campuses. I anticipate that the application will be made this year and I will be very disappointed if that is not the case.
Picking up on the issue of a technological university for the south east, will the Taoiseach indicate to the parties concerned that he is anxious that this process should be brought to a head quickly? I am from a county that neighbours Deputy Deasy's county and we realise how important this is for the south east. If the university is to go ahead, it is wrong that the participants in it should be dragging their heels by not submitting the applications. The Taoiseach mentioned a catheterisation laboratory and cardiac care. The Taoiseach needs to consider that, in the context of the second laboratory, the argument being made is for 24-7 care. This is an issue on which thousands of people have marched in the streets and it is worth pursuing.
With regard to inquiries, we have spent €74 million and the figure will probably double. Has the Taoiseach studied other ways of having these inquiries with the Attorney General and advisers in his Department? I appreciate his point that Deputies ask for all sorts of inquiries. While some of these inquiries are needed, they cannot be open-ended. It would assist in some of these matters if the Department of the Taoiseach undertook work on devising new ways of having different tiered inquiries. The inquiry approved by the Dáil into the death of Shane O'Farrell should be a public inquiry but it has been kicked into some other arrangement, much to the annoyance, dissatisfaction and disappointment of the family. There should be a new, cost-effective inquiry with a tight timeframe rather than going down the same old route all the time. Has any work been done on that? Would it be worthwhile to do some work on a more efficient and cost-effective approach?
With regard to the technological university for the south east, I have been to Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow as Taoiseach where I met the senior management teams and encouraged, cajoled and impressed on them my desire to get this done and the Government's commitment to the project. One of my special advisers has a particular remit to try to get this over the line, working with the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and the Minister, Deputy McHugh. I am determined that we will get it done. It appears that Munster will have its application in before the south east which is great for Munster but very disappointing for the south east.
The Commissions of Investigation Act was intended to do exactly as the Chairman suggested for commissions of inquiry. At one stage, we had many tribunals running at considerable cost and for a long time. I accept that some were necessary inquiries that did good work but they took a long time and cost a lot of money. There was a view that commissions of inquiry would work better and to a significant extent they have worked better. However, they are also imperfect and there have been delays in many of them. The ideal inquiry, which everybody wants, is one that is quick, takes place in public and does not cost a large amount. I am not sure if that is achievable in the real world. If something involves findings of fact or potentially significant damage to people's reputations, people have a right to legal representation and to recourse to the courts. The utopian perfect inquiry is one that is in public, inexpensive and does not take years. I am not sure that is always achievable or if anyone has ever achieved it.
Is there an ongoing examination-----
Not at the moment.
-----into what might work better because the Government is spending so much money on tribunals?
Not at present but that was done in advance of the Commissions of Investigation Act. Now that we have had a critical mass of investigations, it may be timely to do that.
It should be done given the cost involved. The Charleton tribunal's inquiry was very efficient and we can learn from it. I encourage the Taoiseach, on the basis of value for money to the taxpayer, to carry out such an analysis.
The Taoiseach has a responsibility to help us.
Much of this can be down to the chairmen and the issue involved in terms of how efficiently an inquiry operates. Inquiring into commercial transactions or events that happened decades ago will never be straightforward.
The Dáil voted by a substantial margin to have an inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell. Why did the Government ignore that vote?
I do not accept that we ignored it. The Minister for Justice and Equality took the motion into account. He has established a process and appointed somebody to examine the different aspects and claims and potentially scope out what an inquiry would look like and do. It is important to get it right.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has been involved in that case for seven and a half years. Has that not provided enough of a scoping inquiry and enough information to give the Taoiseach an idea of what is required? I am talking about respect for the Dáil vote.
No. All GSOC can do is inquire into Garda matters, and the particular claims and allegations in this case extend well beyond the Garda.
What about respect for the Dáil vote? I just want to get the Taoiseach's perspective on it. That is all.
If one is going to set up inquiries, one needs to do so sparingly and in such a way that they will be successful in finding answers and making findings. This makes sense. The vast majority of inquiries, to my recollection, were not just set up in that a barrister, a judge or someone else with legal expertise scoped them out in advance. That is the sensible approach.
I will not pursue the matter further.
The Taoiseach mentioned in his opening statement the growing economy and it being shared by all and equality of opportunity. Both these statements should be compared with the issues of housing, homelessness and the activities of vulture funds in this country. The statements are fine but, as for actions, those who are caught up in issues pertaining to vulture funds and so on have been put through the wringer. I would love to see the Government acknowledge this in some way and in particular try to improve these people's lot. Dealing with banks and these funds, while it is said there is protection with existing regulation or legislation, there really is not in practice. Has the Taoiseach any analysis of the effect of these funds up to now on society, families and community, rather than just the financial aspect of it?
A very good analysis was done by the Central Bank of the code of conduct for mortgage arrears and how it differs from banks to what are described in that report as unregulated loan owners. That is a very informative report and paints a more nuanced picture than what often comes across in the media as to how vulture funds deal with debts and with resolving them. We have also accepted legislation from the Opposition to extend regulation to vulture funds. We also have legislation going through at present, championed by the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, requiring the courts to take many more factors into account before issuing repossession orders. That is the work being done to extend consumer protections to people who are in arrears, to have a code of conduct for mortgage arrears, to extend regulation to the vulture funds and to require the courts to take even more into account before they issue repossession orders. That is quite a large body of work. We know that Ireland, relative to other countries, has a very low rate of repossession but we also need always to be aware of the bigger picture when it comes to these things. It is a difficult thing to say but we live in a country where hundreds of thousands of people are paying mortgages and paying interest at higher rates than those in other European countries. Some of this is down to inadequate competition in the banking sector. If increasing numbers of people do not pay back their loans and do not surrender the security, the effect will be higher interest rates for hundreds of thousands of people who are paying their mortgages. It will also make it much harder for tens of thousands of people who want to get their first mortgage to get credit. We must take into account the wider societal impact, to use the Chairman's term, of anything we do in this space.
I disagree with the Taoiseach on the approach. I want to avail of this opportunity to say to him directly in this formal setting that the vulture funds are extremely difficult to deal with and are becoming even more difficult. The banks are now as aggressive and as arrogant as they were during the time of the crash and afterwards. I am talking about people who want to pay and want to engage with the banks. In spite of what the banks would say about the engagement, the banks are not engaging. That has been the experience of the hearings we have had at this committee time and time again. Tracker mortgages are another example. I am taking the opportunity to highlight these matters. I know the Taoiseach is aware of them. There is a different point of view, and that is fine, but we need to take into account the commentary of the individuals concerned, that is, the many thousands of people caught in bad mortgages, their cry for help and the fact that they continue to tell us that it is an issue of non-engagement from the side of the banks. That is the point I am making.
I encourage the Taoiseach to look at the Comptroller and Auditor General legislation suggested by my party. We have had an overrun on the cost of the children's hospital and we have issues, I will call them, with broadband. That is not an overrun, as the Taoiseach says. It is still at an early stage. There is an overrun on the works on Leinster House. This was flagged for us by the Department of Finance. Really, it is time to update the Comptroller and Auditor General legislation to give that office a greater role in the examination of the spend of public moneys running right down through the various organisations. If that were to be done, it would be a reform that would have a very positive impact on the activities of Government, Government officials and so on and would certainly raise the flag of value for money in this House. I am again just drawing the matter to the Taoiseach's intention.
That idea has merit. One of the reasons we decided at Cabinet not to oppose the Bill was that we think it has some merit. The traditional role of the Comptroller and Auditor General, as the Chairman knows, is to examine expenditure that has already occurred rather than planned expenditure. However, it might be a useful additional role if the office is able to take it on. At least we would then have a body that could look at issues such as the extra cost of the children's hospital and then come back to us and be able to tell us it has looked at the matter and that the overrun was unavoidable. Perhaps it is an idea worth exploring.
I want to flag just two other matters to the Taoiseach. One is affordable childcare in the community delivered through family resource centres in the main. They are dealing with Pobal, and an issue is now emerging across counties. A new group has been formed on the basis that there is not enough flexibility within the oversight of Pobal oversight to allow for the various social disadvantages that occur in communities such as these. They are experiencing huge financial difficulty in meeting the Pobal requirements in terms of bureaucracy and red tape. This is something that will come to the fore in the next few weeks. I have raised it with the Minister concerned. I just ask that it be flagged because, as I said, it will be an issue and will affect those who are most marginalised in our society and who cannot afford to pay. We are just talking about flexibility. The issue will come up.
What is the Taoiseach's opinion on Dáil reform and on this style of new politics? His Department looks at Dáil reform. How does he think the Dáil has worked? Does he think this Dáil has given value for money?
I think it has but, being a Member of it, I am kind of biased. Once one is a member of an institution, one will always think it is value for money. The wider public may think otherwise.
I am a Member and I do not think it has given value for money. There are many functions that go on in this House-----
There are good things and bad things. The fact that much more Private Members' legislation is being accepted is a real positive.
It is being parked on Committee Stage.
Yes, but more Private Members' legislation - some important legislation - has become law in this Dáil in the three years it has existed than probably the 15 years of the previous three Dáileanna. This is definitely a positive. We do have a problem with duplication of committees and committees warring with one another as to who will take on which issue and calling in people twice.
I just work within my remit. When the confidence and supply arrangement was renewed, were any new stipulations put into it or any new actions required?
No. What happened, and I am happy to put this on record, is I put forward a proposal last summer that the confidence and supply agreement be renewed and that we agree that the next election be held in the summer of 2020. I put forward a set of policy ideas that I believed could be implemented between now and then. The Leader of the Opposition took a different approach, which was to seek a review of the confidence and supply agreement, which occurred.
A great deal of work was done on that over a number of weeks. I had thought at that point we would start talking about the content of the next agreement. However, the decision of the leader of the Opposition was not to go down that route but rather to-----
Will the Department be publishing papers on the review?
Did the Taoiseach discuss opinion polls? In the context of the confidence and supply arrangement, the Taoiseach seemed to state at the weekend that the outcome was predetermined by virtue of our standing in the polls.
That is not quite what I said. It was more nuanced than that.
Will the Taoiseach be publishing any of the papers relating to the review? Will the officials who attended the detailed meetings at which all of these issues were dealt publish the relevant papers?
I do not intend to publish them. They are private-----
I did not ask Deputy Cowen.
I did not answer the Chairman.
I can almost predetermine the answer.
We do not intend to do so because they are inter-party discussions.
They are not Government to Opposition papers. Rather, they are inter-party papers.
That is correct.
In terms of job security for Members of the House, how does the Taoiseach feel about 2019?
I have no idea.
Job security is very important to all of us.
It certainly is but nobody goes into politics looking for job security.
That is a fair answer. That is all I have to ask the Taoiseach. He will not give us the date for the election. Is 2020 okay?
I do not necessarily think I will be the one making that decision.
But surely, as Taoiseach-----
The focus is on the job and getting the job done. The focus is on getting the country through Brexit, concluding a withdrawal agreement and dealing with all of the other issues about which the public is concerned. That is the focus.
The focus is on the job and getting the job done. The focus is on getting the country through Brexit, concluding a withdrawal agreement and dealing with all of the other issues about which the public is concerned. That is the focus.
I thank the Taoiseach and his officials for attending. We will suspend briefly to allow the officials accompanying the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to take their seats.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne and invite him to make his opening statement.
The Central Statistics Office, CSO, is responsible for the collection, processing and publication of official statistics on economic, social and general conditions in Ireland. Alongside satisfying the statistical requirements of Government, the information published by the CSO is also used by an extensive variety of public bodies, businesses, third-level colleges, research institutes and the general public. There is a significant international dimension to the work of the CSO. The EU institutions, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD and other international bodies are all important users of official statistics. These bodies also have a significant role in defining and monitoring standards for the compilation of comparable information. The CSO subscribes to the standards set out in the UN's Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the European Statistics Code of Practice.
The CSO net allocation in 2018 amounted to €48.746 million. The net allocation for 2019 is €54.714 million. The funding provided reflects the Government’s commitment to allowing the CSO to actively respond to significantly increased user demand for the development of new outputs. It also supports the development of the Irish Statistical System, ISS, in line with obligations under national and EU law and consistent with Government strategy for the development of trusted and robust official statistics.
As part of preparing for the census of population in 2021, the office will have to source a census processing system in 2019 and progress the development of a digital census enumerator record book that will replace paper recording and tracking. Technology systems support is increasingly required at every stage of the production of the CSO’s progressively more complex and varied outputs. The funding will allow for the upgrade of legacy office systems and improve digitisation of data analytics that are aligned to both the public service ICT strategy and the Government data strategy. The CSO will commence scoping the development of a significant new national survey on the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland. The Growing Up in Ireland, GUI, survey is the national longitudinal study of children and youth. The GUI study was started in 2006 and the CSO has been requested to take over responsibility for GUI from 2023. Planning for this will commence in 2019. During 2019, the CSO will issue approximately 300 releases and publications. All of these statistics are published online. Members of the public are increasingly aware of, and able to access, statistics and indicators on the social, economic and environmental issues which affect their daily lives. The online channel is the CSO's primary publication method. The CSO’s statement of strategy for 2019 gives priority to delivering the core statistics needed for policy, while keeping a strong focus on cost management. The office continues to meet all its commitments under the public service reform programme and is implementing a programme of reform and continuous business process improvement in the collection and processing of statistics. The CSO is leading the development of the ISS. It works closely with other Departments and the wider public sector involved in the collection, processing and dissemination of official statistics in order to promote a more coherent approach to meeting data needs. It has developed a code of practice for the ISS. It is also strongly promoting the development of a national data infrastructure, NDI, which will provide for better co-ordination and greater exploitation of the varied data sources available across the Irish public sector. It will also lead to greater understanding of the importance of data in supporting policy and decision-making and delivering efficiencies in public service provision. Making better use of data throughout the public sector is an important part of public service reform and will contribute to more evidence based decision making and better measurement of policy outcomes. Better co-ordination and greater use of administrative data also contributes to reducing the burden on data providers.
Since 2008, the CSO has continued to reduce the response burden of its non-agricultural business surveys, as measured through the response burden barometer. A decrease of 41.3% was measured between 2008 and 2017, exceeding the target reduction of 25% over this timeframe. The CSO vote for 2019 provides for a total of 825 staff. This represents an increase from 801 in 2018 and reflects the cyclical nature of the work of the office.
I commend the values and principles which inform the CSO's work. The CSO makes an important contribution to Ireland's public policy by providing a high quality and, most importantly, independent statistical service.
I have a question on the collection of data and information relating to the insurance industry. We were doing some work on the cost of insurance and the CSO provided us with some information on insurance, but it does not cover the cost of insurance to business so we are not getting a complete analysis. Is there a reason for that or is that work which could be undertaken?
In January 2018, the cost of insurance working group recommended that the CSO commence a study on measuring price information on the cost of insurance to business. The background to that recommendation was the absence of quality information on business insurance, including official statistical data to inform policy formulation by the Government. The CSO has provided a report on this work to the cost of insurance working group and that report will be published shortly. One of the findings relates to the lack of international precedent for a price index for business insurance and the difficulty of measuring price changes in this area. The report assesses several potential data collection methods and outlines a specific approach the CSO will pursue further. The CSO will continue its research into business insurance in 2019 before deciding whether to begin collecting and compiling a price index on this topic. If the working group has other recommendations, they can be assessed by the CSO within its resources to see if there is a possibility of providing data.
In the course of our work, we have collected much information from representative groups and bodies throughout the country that have complained to us about the cost of insurance, be it motor insurance or public liability insurance. Due to the fact that information about insurance in general is held by Insurance Ireland it would be an important piece of work that could be undertaken by an independent body such as the CSO for the Government or, indeed, the work of this committee. I encourage the Minister of State to consider that.
I certainly will take it on board.
The CSO is respected for-----
It is very much respected as an independent body. I will liaise with the CSO to see if it is something it might be able to take on board.
I thank the Minister of State and call Deputy Burton.
I welcome the Minister of State. My query relates to one issue. The Minister of State will be familiar with the sexual abuse and violence in Ireland, SAVI, report. There was an announcement some time ago that this survey was to be undertaken again. It was last published in 2002. It is a very extensive survey of several thousand people in respect of sexual violence against men, women and children in Ireland. It is considered a key survey by most people involved in issues relating to violence. The CSO is taking it on. The lead on it the last time was Professor Hannah McGee from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She and her large team carried out an extensive survey which is well regarded by people who work in the field and is considered essential by the rape crisis centres and other bodies that provide services to people who have been subject to sexual violence. Everybody who works in Leinster House is aware of the issue of sexual violence, whether it involves children or others, and we had a discussion yesterday with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, on the issues arising in Scouting Ireland, or other aspects of sexual violence.
The last time the survey was done it took three years, plus preparation, before it was finally published in 2002. It remains the only such survey until now. On balance, the CSO taking it over is a good thing and I support that. However, I see a reference here that the CSO is simply going to commence a scoping exercise. Issues relating to sexual violence in Ireland are very serious issues for our society so I am very disappointed that only a scoping exercise will be commenced. CSO surveys take a long time. Typically, the survey on income and living conditions, SILC, takes a minimum of a year and a half, and many of the changes take very long periods of time to establish. Can the Minister of State say when he expects the survey proper to commence? How long does he expect it to take? How long will the scoping exercise, as it is described, last before the CSO commences the survey? It is incredibly disappointing for all the organisations that work with victims of violence. It is also an important survey in assisting the work of the Garda Síochána.
I thank Deputy Burton for an important question on what is a challenging subject. The CSO has been charged with undertaking this important work. That will involve the CSO scoping a means of collecting sensitive personal data in a manner that is confidential, ethical and designed to support accurate and reliable survey results. Protecting the privacy and supporting the needs of all involved must be the priority in doing so. The challenge of SAVI is a departure for the CSO. For the data to be robust, explicit questions regarding behaviours associated with sexual violence will have to be asked of respondents. It will require specialist expertise and training, consultation with key stakeholders and consideration of best practice from international statistical organisations regarding the appropriate collection methods.
In view of the complexity and sensitivity of the survey, it is envisaged that the entire process of scoping, planning, executing and reporting may take approximately five years. Exact timelines will only emerge as the scoping exercise progresses. Obviously, we all hope that period could be reduced but if a five-year timeframe is due the complexity of the issue, then that is what will be required. However, if it can be reduced, it will be. The provision of reliable, robust, objective and internationally comparable information requires that the planning and execution of the survey are undertaken in a professional and comprehensive manner. There is an amount of preparatory work to be done in regard to what form and shape the survey will take. Then there will be a degree of training of the people who will have to conduct interviews about sensitive information where confidentiality is a must. People will not take part in a survey unless they can be assured that the confidentiality of their data is protected. We would love if this could be completed more quickly, but it may take approximately five years.
That is terribly disappointing. It means that it will be well over 20 years since the publication of the previous survey before the next is published. Has the CSO at this point even contacted people such as Professor McGee in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland who compiled the first survey?
She and her team did groundbreaking work and all of the factors to which the Minister of State refers were taken into consideration then. I find it extraordinary that he is talking about a five-year timeframe. The GUI survey is also being brought under the remit of the CSO. Will a five-year timeframe apply to that as well?
The five years began on 1 January last. Initial engagement has taken place. I cannot confirm if the professor has been engaged but we can get back to the Deputy in writing on that. The GUI survey was previously compiled by the ESRI. Due to its expertise and reputation, the CSO has been tasked with taking it over from 2023. That is still some time away. There were extensive discussions in 2018 with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the ESRI. The transfer of the study will offer a number of advantages. Most notably, it will be more firmly embedded in the official statistics for Ireland, thereby providing a more certain future for the study, which we all agree is very important and common sense. It will be part of the continuous programme of the CSO into the future.
What is the timeline for that?
We have been requested to take over responsibility for the GUI survey from 2023. The survey will not be interrupted before that. The CSO will officially take over in 2023 but the other groups will continue their work in the meantime.
I thank the Minister of State.