I thank the Acting Chairman and offer my congratulations to him on accession to the prestigious position of chairing the Select Committee on Justice and Equality. I hope it is the sum of his ambitions for the foreseeable future.
I am pleased to be here this afternoon. I am joined by Mr. Doncha O'Sullivan, Ms Liz Downey and Mr. Seamus Clifford from my Department and Mr. Michael Culhane, who is from the Garda Síochána. I thank the committee for making time available to consider the Supplementary Estimate for the Garda Síochána and Department of Justice and Equality Votes. The net amount of the Supplementary Estimate is €17.5 million for the Garda Vote and €33.3 million in respect of the Department of Justice and Equality Vote. The Supplementary Estimate requirement in respect of the Garda Síochána Vote comprises a gross expenditure requirement of €32.4 million that is offset by a projected surplus in appropriations-in-aid of just under €15 million, giving a net additional requirement of €17.5 million for the Garda Vote.
Significant measures have been taken by An Garda Síochána throughout the year to remain within budget and minimise the amount of any Supplementary Estimate that might be required. The additional expenditure requirement mainly arises as a result of the security costs associated with the visits of United States President Trump and United States Vice-President Pence to Ireland this year. This accounts for approximately €15 million of the additional requirement. The balance of €2.5 million is to maintain capital expenditure for certain information and communication technology, ICT, projects, including the deployment of mobile technology. This amounts to approximately €1.5 million and additional investment in the transport fleet of approximately €1 million accounts for the balance.
The additional investment in transport is mainly to replace older vehicles now reaching end of life and the increasing demands on existing fleet resources to support extra members assigned to front-line duties. This brings the total capital fleet allocation to €11 million in 2019, with a further €9 million being provided in 2020. An Garda Síochána is in receipt of Internal Security Fund, ISF, funding for certain ICT capital and other projects. On receipt of clearance from the European Union, EU, funding typically amounting to 90% of relevant expenditure is received. Funding of almost €3.4 million has been received in 2019 to match prior year expenditure of €3.7 million. As part of the Supplementary Estimate, a technical adjustment is being done to charge the expenditure to the relevant subheads and reflect the EU funding as an appropriation-in-aid. The largest ICT project being funded in this manner is the Prüm project, the objective of which is to provide for automated sharing between EU member states of certain categories of information for the purposes in particular of combating terrorism and cross-border crime.
I am particularly pleased that the Government is in a position to provide an additional €17.5 million to the Garda Vote in 2019 to effectively provide for once-off events. The Garda budget has been increased to a record €1.882 billion for 2020. This includes funding for recruitment of up to 700 gardaí and additional Garda staff, depending on the Garda Commissioner’s operational decision on the balance required. This allocation includes a capital provision of €116.5 million a further increase of €24 million, or 26%, from 2019. This will provide for continued investment in ICT in the order of €75 million, €9 million for the Garda fleet and €32 million for the capital building and refurbishment programme. An Garda Síochána is being provided with unprecedented funding and a major reform process is being supported to ensure the best possible policing services are provided to communities on the ground in all regions of the country. I acknowledge the work of the work and engagement of the committee with the Garda Commissioner and his team in this regard.
Turning to the Department of Justice and Equality Vote, there is a requirement for an additional €33.3 million in the current year. This arises despite every effort being made to deal with the pressures within the Vote, including with respect to the scale of the demands on direct provision, subhead E5. It is estimated that the total outturn in this subhead will in the region of €130 million compared with a budget allocation of €70.65 million and this is the reason for the Supplementary Estimate this year.
The challenges in this area are well documented and were included in the spending review report published in August. In summary, the trends underpinning the increasing costs in direct provision are as follows. There has been a significant increase in the number of people seeking protection, and that number is up 60% to date this year. As of 17 November 2019, there are 6,058 applicants being accommodated in 39 accommodation centres located nationwide across 18 counties and a further 1,499 applicants are residing in 37 emergency accommodation locations in hotels and guest houses. This brings the total number of applicants for international protection to 7,557. By comparison, the numbers in all forms of accommodation at the end of 2018 was 6,139 and in 2017 the figure was 5,096.
In order to manage matters the Department has put in place a number of measures aimed at reducing the time it takes to determine applications. The International Protection Act 2015 introduced the single procedure process for the determination of protection applications. Under the single procedure, all elements of a person’s protection claim, including refugee status, subsidiary protection status and permission to remain, are considered together rather than sequentially. The aim of the single procedure is to help reduce waiting times significantly. The Department is aiming to reduce processing times for all first instance decisions to nine months by the end of this year.
The Department is also actively working on securing additional capacity both in existing centres and through sourcing new centres. The International Protection Accommodation Service has sought expressions of interest from parties that would be interested in providing accommodation and related services and has also launched a nationwide, regional tendering process to source new accommodation centres.
The funding requirements and policy responses relating to direct provision will need to be kept under review on a whole-of-government basis throughout 2020. An interdepartmental group has been established recently to enhance the provision of services from the range of Departments and agencies involved in providing direct provision services. As part of that group's work, it is considering the use of State-owned sites. The interdepartmental group is due to report shortly and the group’s recommendations will have an impact on this area of expenditure. The report will undoubtedly be on the committee's agenda early in the new year. Former European Union Commission Secretary General Ms Catherine Day is currently chairing a separate group examining international best practice in the provision of services to international protection applicants with a view to advising the Government on medium to long-term service provision.
There are a number of other areas in the Vote where there are overspends and underspends and they are set out in the Supplementary Estimate briefing provided to the committee. The overspends primarily relate to a number of the administrative subheads, including salaries and ICT, criminal legal aid, the Magdalen fund, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and the coroner service. The objective of providing an additional €2.3 million to the Magdalen fund subhead is to finalise applications under the scheme at the earliest possible time. It has been possible due to underspends in certain subheads and surplus receipts to offset these additional requirements and reduce the amount in respect of the costs of direct provision.
The larger underspend relates to the capital provision for the forensic science laboratory. An amount of €19.5 million, including capital carryover, was provided in 2019; it now appears that the underspend will be in the region of €17 million. Site preparation works have been carried out but the construction work has not commenced, pending the outcome of the tender process, which I understand is due to conclude very shortly. Project management and delivery, including planning, procurement, architectural, mechanical and electrical aspects, will be the responsibility of the Office of Public Works, OPW, with funding being provided from the Department of Justice and Equality capital budget.
The OPW will chair the project team, comprising representatives of the OPW, Forensic Science Ireland, An Garda Síochána and the Department, and this will remain in situ for the duration of the project. It is expected there will be surplus receipts of about €20 million, which will also reduce the amount of additional Exchequer funding. The surplus receipts are generated from a continuing upward trend in immigration registration and visa fees, together with approximately €6 million in additional EU funding, mainly under the European Social Fund and the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. I thank the committee and I look forward to engagement on this issue. I recommend the Supplementary Estimate.