Vote 24 - Justice and Equality (Supplementary)

I welcome members and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and his officials.

The purpose of the first part of today's meeting is to consider a Supplementary Estimate for 2019 in respect of Vote 20 on the Garda Síochána and Vote 22 on the Department of Justice and Equality. Before beginning I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, may now make his opening statement.

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.

I thank the Minister for appearing before the committee today. On additional investment in transport, I note the total Garda fleet allocation of €11 million in 2019. I come from a Border county and live in Dundalk. It is important that we see a Garda presence along the Border from Omeath to Donegal. The Minister referred to end-of-life vehicles. There are problems with some of the Garda cars in Dundalk caused by high mileage and so on. Where will the €11 million be spent? The Minister mentioned the front line. Will most of it be spent in the Border areas, Dublin, Cork or elsewhere? Will many extra vehicles be provided and will many vehicles be taken off the road? Will this money be used to replace old vehicles or to pay for additional vehicles? With Brexit, the M1 corridor and easy access to motorways, the last thing we want to see is fuel laundering, people coming across the Border and everything else. In what way will this €11 million be spent on the Garda fleet?

Transport is an important issue for all the reasons the Deputy mentioned. In the northern region, transport has seen a greater level of engagement, consequent on the investment. A further €11 million is being provided this year for augmenting the Garda fleet. The projected figure is for in the region of 300 vehicles, be they patrol cars, vans or large sport utility vehicles, SUVs, for the armed support unit, with which the Deputy will be familiar as they are very much in evidence in the Border area. As of 31 October, the €11 million allocation has delivered 287 vehicles. The disbursement of those vehicles across the various divisions is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. I assure the Deputy that the Garda Commissioner has prioritised the Border areas with particular reference to ongoing criminal activity. I refer to the new armed support unit in Cavan that is up and running. As well as having up to 23 personnel, the new unit also has vehicles. There have been armed support units in situ for a number of years in Dundalk and Ballyshannon. The extra armed support unit in Cavan will augment Garda personnel and equipment, including vehicles, in that area. I am happy to assure the Deputy that new vehicles are on stream in the area. On the replacement of vehicles, members will be aware the stock within An Garda Síochána is in need of ongoing replacement. It is estimated that once a Garda car travels more than 300,000 km, its life is probably at an end.

I welcome the 287 new vehicles but are many vehicles being taken off the road this year? Will the new vehicles replace 287 vehicles?

No, there will be a net increase, depending on the area. The allocation is made by the Garda Commissioner. The priority is areas of need but the 287 new vehicles already been procured and the balance of approximately 13 or more to come before the end of the year will allow for a net increase. The latest figures I have show that 22% of the fleet is under two years old compared with 5% of the fleet being of that age in 2012. We are ensuring that, over a period of time, emphasis can be placed on replacing the older vehicles in the fleet that are standard vehicles with high powered cars, vans, motorcycles and 4x4 vehicles. I can give the Deputy a note on the position in Dundalk and County Louth but, as it is his constituency, he will be familiar with the situation in Drogheda where we saw a considerable increase in Garda numbers and appropriate equipment to meet a specific requirement in recent times.

I am concerned not about the age of the vehicles but the mileage. Many of the cars in the Dundalk and Drogheda areas could be used on a 24-hour basis and it would not take long to get 300,000 km on the clock. The vehicle could be only two or three years old. The age of the vehicle does not bother me. The figure of 287 new vehicles seems high but I have a feeling that many more cars are coming off the road. That is my main concern. I appreciate the Minister's statement that he will revert to me with more details.

I welcome the increase in the budget for 2019 to 1.882 billion. That is a large amount of money for the Garda Síochána but it will be money well spent. The Minister referred to the larger Garda presence in Drogheda, County Louth, which, in fairness, seems to be working. I also welcome that 700 extra gardaí passed out from Templemore in 2019. It is important to see more gardaí on the beat, more patrol cars and more speed checks. A couple of years ago, the Minister stated that approximately 400 civilians would be employed by An Garda Síochána to take over clerical work. I note that part of the €1.882 billion is for additional Garda staff. Will they be civilians? The sooner we get these people trained and working, the sooner we will have more gardaí on the streets doing the job they are supposed to do. What is meant by the reference to additional Garda staff?

I welcome what the Deputy has said about the investment. We will continue to invest in the Garda fleet to allow the Garda Commissioner to ensure he has the best possible tools available to him. Some 53% of the Garda fleet is less than four years old, whereas 12% of the fleet is less than one year old. I take the point the Deputy makes about the mileage or number of kilometres done by Garda vehicles. That is an issue I have discussed with the Garda Commissioner. It is important the Garda ensures its fleet is up to the highest standard.

The object of the exercise, in terms of Government policy and also in terms of the ambition of the Garda Commissioner and his team, is that by 2021 we will have a Garda service of 21,000 personnel. That will comprise 15,000 sworn members, of which we have just over 14,000 now, 4,000 Garda staff and 2,000 Garda reservists. The Garda staff is extremely important in the context of the overall composition of An Garda Síochána. The Commissioner is recruiting specialists in many areas, for example, in human resources, bookkeeping and accountancy, and IT. An important theme throughout the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is ensuring that a level of expertise is available to the Garda Síochána that oftentimes involves more than just the involvement of sworn members of the Garda. There are currently just under 3,000 full-time Garda staff undertaking administrative and technical duties, which accounts for up to 15% of the Garda service. Progress is continuing to be made on the matter of civilianisation. Since 2018, over 500 gardaí have been deployed from what might be regarded as desk, administrative or office duties to front-line policing duties. Members of this committee will be very much aware of what the people want. Citizens feel most assured by the availability and visibility of members of the Garda Síochána. That is what the Commissioner and his team are really keen to ensure.

I did not think the figure was as high as that or that there were 3,000 full-time civilians. I know the target is 4,000. I welcome the extra 500 front-line gardaí in the area. Will the extra Garda staff coming on stream in 2019 help to increase the civilian staff from 3,000 to 4,000? Is that going to happen in a short period? If we can get a couple of hundred more gardaí on the beat and on patrol, it would be very good. I cannot complain because, in fairness, the situation we had in Drogheda was very serious and when the Garda Commissioner and Minister were asked to come, they left no stone unturned. The people in Drogheda can sleep an awful lot better at night. The sooner we can get the other 1,000 civilians into the Garda, the better. I welcome that the Garda force is 14,000 at present. By when is it hoped to have the full strength of 21,000?

By 2021, the year after next. If I may say by way of concluding comment, this is a very difficult undertaking. We need to acknowledge the extent and breadth of change in An Garda Síochána under Commissioner Harris and his team and the modernisation project. It involves recruitment of specialist administrative staff. It also involves change in work practices and issues that impinge upon industrial relations. I am satisfied, as is the Garda Commissioner, that the Government objective of having 15,000 sworn members, 4,000 civilian staff and 2,000 reservists by 2021 is on target to be met. The reservists figure is subject to implementation of the findings of a review. I am sure the Garda Commissioner will have an opportunity to explore this further with the committee as we move nearer to 2021.

I have a couple of practical questions. On the Data Protection Commission, why is there an underspend of €4.5 million in an office that is so vitally important to democracy?

This is in respect of the recruitment of staff.

There are currently new staff members being recruited. Obviously, the office has changed in profile substantially in recent years, particularly with the new GDPR regime. The bulk of those funds have been allocated for the recruitment of staff.

In the note we have, on page 13, a figure of €4.5 million is given. Payroll is €1.8 million so that accounts for the staff who have not been employed. Is that the case? Non-pay is given as €2.7 million, also on page 13 of the explanation notes.

There was the issue of a new office premises. The costs for accommodation this year were somewhat less than anticipated as the OPW was not in a position to acquire a new office premises as it had hoped. These savings were offset by additional costs of the temporary service accommodation here in Dublin. There is also the issue of staff recruitment. There was a budget for pay of just under €9 million this year. That pay allocation was intended to cover a full year's cost of 180 staff, an increase of 50 on this time last year. That programme of recruitment has not been concluded.

It is extremely important for the Commissioner for Data Protection and the staff to have the full complement in place.

I very much agree.

It is worrying to see an underspend. If it is just this year and there are practical teething problems, that is one thing. However, I would not like to see an underspend this time next year for that office, particularly given its broad remit and the European responsibility that came up earlier at this committee.

I very much agree and was very pleased that the Government was in a position to increase substantially the amount of funding available to the Commissioner for Data Protection, having regard to the points mentioned by the Deputy, the importance of the office and the acquisition of full-time headquarters and staff based in Dublin rather than the former decentralised structure. To give one example, a competition for lawyers yielded a far lower candidate pool than was envisaged. That resulted in the under-filling of posts in that area. I am very keen, as is the Commissioner for Data Protection, to ensure that these posts can be filled and that suitable candidates can be sourced.

There is a reference on page 11 to Cosc. That is under the Department of Justice and Equality and relates to domestic violence, I think. Again there is an underspend with Cosc of €300,000. If I am correct that Cosc is the domestic violence agency, I would be very worried about an underspend. Is that correct?

I see organisations on the ground struggling to survive and to provide essential outreach services. Why would there be an underspend?

We have the new domestic violence regime now, particularly having regard to the ratification by Ireland of the Istanbul Convention. For example, we are midway through the national awareness campaign, which is a six-year, two-part campaign, on the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Funding through Cosc continues. There was the new campaign; I am not sure if the Deputy was at the launch. Another national campaign is the What Would You Do? campaign, focused on aspects of domestic violence this year. The No Excuses campaign was recently developed and rolled out on the national airwaves, again with significant results in terms of visibility.

My question is why there is an underspend.

I am more than familiar with the positive nature of the Department's campaigns but I am also familiar with the statistics for domestic violence, which are shocking. Though I hate referring to economic statistics, a conservative estimate is that it costs €2.5 billion every year. Why is there an underspend? What is the Department doing about it, given that organisations are desperately struggling on the ground? I know that from my experience in Galway.

I assure the Deputy that the saving is a technical matter in respect of staff being paid from the administrative pay budget of the Department for the Department's transformation programme. It is not as if there is a sum that has not been drawn down.

That €300,000 is a technical matter relating to a pay issue.

It is not an underspend on services.

No, it is a technical issue.

There is a significant underspend on page 11 for the office of promotion of migrant integration. It is a vitally important office. Why is there an underspend on that and on the decision support service? The Minister might clarify what that is. These are subheads D4 and D10 on page 11.

There was a reduction in the number of staff in the office of promotion of migrant integration, which resulted from loss of staff on promotion. That caused a decrease in pay and has resulted in something of a saving. Some funding was not drawn down for the projects funded for the integration and employment of migrants. These projects draw down 80% of funding. My understanding is that there are difficulties in making accurate predictions, which may result in something of an underspend, but these are balanced out over time.

I hope that is the position but it is a significant sum. Perhaps I will table parliamentary questions. These are vital offices and the work is vital. What is the decision support service and why is there an underspend?

There was underspending related to an ICT project that has not yet concluded. It is not possible to say precisely at this stage how much it will cost in total. These is also an issue in respect of moneys that were projected to be spent on specialist legal fees and a review of the codes of practice. The service has been tendered for and procured. It was scheduled to take place this year but there has been something of an extended timeframe involved in the drafting of the codes. That is reflected as an underspend. Similarly, there is an estimated underspend in respect of general legal fees.

Will the Minister clarify in plain English what the decision support service is?

The director continues to work to ensure the appropriate and necessary level of staff resources, ensuring the completion of IT projects and systems and ensuring that the codes of practice are in place. The object of the exercise is for the decision support service to be up and running at the earliest opportunity.

So the decision support service is not running. When will it be running and what will it do?

The director was appointed in October 2017. Since then, much work has been undergone in respect of appropriate arrangements for the office, staff resources, expert panels and the codes of practice. It is not possible at this stage to put an exact timeframe on it but work is proceeding apace and I expect that within the course of spring and summer next year, considerable progress will have been made.

The director was appointed in October 2017. In that period, the director has been working to ensure codes of practice and ICT-----

Over that two-year period, the director has been working with a team.

I understand. When it is ready to run, what decisions will it support? Who is it supporting and what is the purpose of the service?

With regard to the main objects of the legislation, it will provide assistance to people who are of limited capacity in managing their affairs. It is a replacement of the current wards of court system. There are issues to be resolved between the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health. I assure the committee, notwithstanding the fact that the legislation has been enacted for a couple of years, that we are anxious to prioritise matters over the next year.

I thank the Minister for clarifying that. He answered about it very openly in the Dáil recently. The legislation dates from 2015. I know it is not fully operational. There have been more than 1,000 wards of court in that period. I was attempting to clarify how many people have had to go through the process and be deemed wards of court. That is okay and was on a separate day-----

Some of the provisions were commenced as far back as October 2016.

It still has not been commenced in full. The system where people are deemed wards of court is progressing until such a time as this office is up and running. We clarified that recently. The final two matters are Garda overtime and the cost of the asylum process. I welcome the fact that there are two committees. I wish that they had been set up much earlier in a proactive manner. The increasing numbers in direct provision is unacceptable. It was eminently foreseeable by the Department. We raised it many times at the Committee of Public Accounts and we have asked for forward planning. Subject to being corrected by the Department, some 847 currently have permission to stay, and while I do not like the word "stuck", they have to remain in the direct provision system, which is unacceptable. We have 1,500, or one less, in emergency accommodation. If we look at the past 20 years, with the Committee of Public Accounts having published a quarterly report recently, since it was brought in as a temporary measure, this year is no higher than other years. There were three or four years where the figures were also very high. If one looks at the graph for the 20-year period, it was eminently foreseeable that there would be ups and downs in the numbers that we have to take under our obligations. At this stage, we have set up two committees. The Minister said in his opening statement that one would report in January. Is that correct?

Does the other, chaired by Dr. Catherine Day, have a time limit?

I met Dr. Catherine Day last week and she is very much aware not only of the importance of the project but of the urgency involved. I expect that she will report to me within 12 months or maybe earlier.

Has any progress been made on multi-annual budgeting for the Garda? I understand that the Garda Commissioner stopped all overtime at some stage in the past year for a while. It is not the overtime that I am objecting to. What analysis has been done on overtime and how to deal with the multiple challenges facing the Garda in a more effective manner? The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has recommended this more than once. The Garda Inspectorate report in 2015 recommended it. Will the Minister address multi-annual budgeting generally and the cost analysis of the effectiveness of overtime?

The management of the Garda overtime budget is a priority of Commissioner Harris. Since he has taken office, the overtime budget has been reduced by more than €11 million. This year it is running to a figure of the order of €100 million. This is a sensitive issue. It often surprises me, and sometimes disappoints me, to see so much of the debate on Garda issues focusing on overtime. I support the Commissioner in the management of overtime. This issue has engaged this committee and my Department.

In the context of the recruitment of gardaí, if there is a net intake of 400 or 500 gardaí each year, allowing for the retirements of 250 to 300 gardaí of retirement age, the overtime budget will not need to be as high. We now have thousands of additional gardaí engaged in full-time duties up and down the country. The Garda Commissioner is keen to manage the overtime budget over the coming years in a way that will not impact upon the work of An Garda Síochána in ensuring that communities are protected and safe.

I had asked what policy analysis had been carried out. That was a recommendation of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I have the greatest respect for An Garda. I want to see more gardaí on the street and out among the communities. To do that, we have to use finances effectively. The money has to be allocated appropriately. I am not making an issue of overtime. I ask the Minister and the Department what policy analysis, as recommended by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, has been carried out?

Favourable consideration has been given to a form of multi-annual budgeting. In fact, one of the reform initiatives with regard to An Garda Síochána on which my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have engaged relates to multi-annual budgets. The best means by which to adequately plan is to ensure that budgets are secured. The Garda Commissioner and I are keen to make further progress on that, particularly with regard to an issue that accounts for as much of the Garda budget as overtime.

I will make two comments in respect of the Supplementary Estimates. I welcome the fact that the additional policing costs arising from the visits of President Trump and Vice President Pence are not to come out of existing Garda resources but the Minister will agree that they represent a significant amount. Additional policing for the two visits cost €15 million. We want to be hospitable and welcoming but perhaps we should be careful in the manner in which we issue invitations to high-powered and important guests.

With regard to the direct provision budget, the estimate for the year was €70 million but that costs have increased to €130 million. I hope that we will be able to challenge and deal with this issue in the near future, particularly through the provision of secure accommodation, which will not result in excessive charges on the State. Does the Minister wish to comment on either matter?

VIP visits are important to the State's conduct of its business and to our international relations. The Government is often not in immediate control of the timing or extent of such visits. In that regard, it is important that security issues are met to ensure the smooth conduct of such visits. They are not new and I have no doubt they will continue. I accept that they are the main reason for this Supplementary Estimate. As Minister, I am keen to ensure that we manage our budgets in a way that obviates the need for Supplementary Estimates. We have discussed this at the committee in the past. Suffice it to say that the Supplementary Estimate we are discussing is, by and large, a result of a visit from the President of the US and a visit by the Vice President later in the year. I would not call the visits unexpected or unannounced. They are part and parcel of the work of the State. Having regard to the special relationship between Ireland and the US, it was essential that an appropriate welcome to the State was given, with all of the attendant security issues attached thereto.

On the matter of direct provision, this is one of the greatest challenges within the Department. It is not possible to say with certainty the amount that will have to be expended next year. I point to the two committees Deputy Connolly mentioned. One of these, the interdepartmental committee is of great importance as it acknowledges that direct provision requires a whole-of-Government response rather than a response from the Department only. We must engage with the Departments of Education and Skills, Health, Rural and Community Development and Housing, Planning and Local Government. I agree with Deputy Connolly that we have almost 850 overstayers, as they may be regarded. These are people who have been given status and who are in a position to work and engage in our society and economy in the same manner as Irish citizens but who are unable to transition. This is why I acknowledge the work of housing agencies, particularly Depaul Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust, and the local authorities in ensuring a reasonably smooth transition.

Deputy Fitzpatrick has indicated that he wishes to put one short question to the Minister.

In my time as a member of this committee, I have never once mentioned or criticised Garda overtime. I come from County Louth where two gardaí were murdered in recent years. When a garda leaves the house for the day, there is no guarantee that he or she will come back. I have always said that the Garda does a fantastic job and has done over recent years, especially when Templemore college was closed and Garda numbers were decreasing. It is great that the Garda college is open again and all these new recruits are coming out.

I refer to direct provision. The increase from €70 million to €130 million seems like a lot. The Minister mentioned in his report that the Government is considering using State-owned sites. Does he have any in mind? What locations are being talked about? He also says that he is looking for expressions of interest for the provision of accommodation and sites. Does he have any places in mind for this? There are 39 accommodation centres. At present more than 6,000 people live in them. There are also 37 emergency accommodation locations housing approximately 1,500. This has been steadily increasing in recent years, increasing from 5,000 to 7,000. What are the Minister's plans for the future? As he has included this proposal in his statement, I am sure he is looking at some sites.

That is a straight question. What is the answer?

I have an open mind. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who works most assiduously in this challenging area, and I are anxious to look beyond the private sector. We are now looking at State lands and premises across the public sector estate to explore the idea of the public sector playing its part in making suitable premises available, if possible. It is important that at all times we speak about suitable premises. In this regard, I will mention the importance of the McMahon principles and the work of independent persons such as Mr. Justice Bryan McMahon, the Ombudsman, who I understand was recently before the committee, and the Ombudsman for Children, all of whom act as independent agents to ensure high standards.

I do not underestimate the challenge we are facing or the less than satisfactory nature of what we are doing. I am keen to improve this area, but we must acknowledge our national and international obligations in what is, from an accounting point of view, a demand-led scheme. This year, the number of people arriving at our ports and shores has increased by up to 60%. We often receive up to 50 or 60 people a week who are in need of international protection. When they apply for international protection, we have a solemn duty as a State to ensure they are given appropriate accommodation, shelter and food, and that their well-being is looked after while their applications are being processed. I am keen to move towards a mix of public and private sector accommodation, rather than relying exclusively on the private sector as we have done up to now.

I thank the Minister and his officials for assisting the committee, answering the questions raised by members, and assisting our consideration of the Supplementary Estimates.