I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and I invite him to make his opening statement.
Vote 19 — Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Revised).
I welcome the opportunity to appear before the committee as it considers the Estimates for my Department's group of Votes. The five Votes in question comprise more than 100 subheads covering capital, pay and programme spending across a wide range of fields. Taken together, the five Votes amount to a total provision of nearly €2 billion, a 6.8% increase over the previous year, reflecting the Government's commitment to the development of services in the justice and equality area. These services span a broad spectrum of activity: from the Garda Síochána to child care facilities; from the Land Registry to immigration; and from the Legal Aid Board to the Prisons Service. Obviously, in the short time available today, it will not be possible to cover all of this ground, so I will keep my opening remarks brief.
I propose to highlight a few key areas where significant investments are being made. In many of these areas we are already reaping the benefit of the investment made in recent years and the 2005 Estimates are intended to maintain and accelerate this momentum.
Beginning within the criminal justice system itself, I believe the funding provided for 2005 underscores my commitment and that of the Government to ensuring each of the agencies involved has the necessary tools and resources to combat crime and to deal with its consequences. A clear indication of this is the 2005 budget for the Garda Síochána, which exceeds €1.1 billion. The truth is the Garda Síochána has never in its history been better resourced, whether in manpower, equipment or other resources. To put this in context, the Garda budget in 1997 was €609.6 million, on which this year's budget represents an 82% increase.
Included in the 2005 allocation is a provision of €61 million for Garda overtime which will yield in excess of 2 million overtime hours. This represents an increase of more than 4.6% on the 2004 overtime allocation. Deputies will be also aware of my decision to make available €6.5 million from my Department's allocation to resource Operation Anvil. This will be one of the most intensive policing operations ever undertaken in the State and will involve an additional 15,000 overtime hours being worked each week in the Dublin area to confront the serious problem of gun crime. This is an immediate, effective and appropriate response by me to this type of crime. Criminals who resort to the use of guns to pursue murder and mayhem should be under no illusion whatsoever about the determination of the Government, the Garda and me to ensure their activities will not be tolerated.
I do not wish to dwell on any particular item within the Garda Vote but I would like to mention developments that have occurred in the national digital radio project. I am aware that the adequacy of the current radio system has been a concern to this committee. I share that view. It is my view that an effective telecommunications system is a key tool for modern policing. Following the successful completion of a pilot scheme for digital radio in 2003, the Garda Síochána presented a detailed business case to the Department for the extension of the system on a nationwide basis. After extensive discussions between officials of my Department, the Garda Síochána and the Department of Finance, it was agreed that the procurement model to be adopted in respect of Garda requirements will be based on an outsourced service provision model, rather than the traditional approach of an outsourced capital acquisition of equipment model. This will involve the bulk of the infrastructure being provided by the private sector with detailed service level agreements in place with the Garda Síochána. This approach also gives scope for participation by other emergency and public services, colloquially known as blue light services.
The committee will be aware that on becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I arranged for the publication of headline crime statistics on a quarterly basis to improve the quality of information available to the public. In interpreting these figures, account has to be taken of the introduction of the new PULSE computer system in 1999, which led to more complete and comprehensive recording of crimes reported than was previously the case. The committee will no doubt be interested to note that, taking into account the significant increase in our population since 1995, the headline crime rate has fallen from 29 per 1,000 of population in 1995 to 25 per 1,000 in 2004. While the population has been increasing, the level of headline crime has been decreasing over a ten year period — just in case members have any illusions about it.
The Minister need not worry, we have none.
On the prisons Vote, an allocation of €389 million has been made, representing an increase of 12.6 % on the original allocation for 2004. An additional €4.88 million is also available in 2005 due to the carryover of unspent capital from 2004 under the scheme whereby Departments are allowed to carry forward unspent capital provision
Following rejection by prison staff of the proposal for organisational change negotiated over two years between the Prison Officers Association and the Irish Prison Service, which followed on from the Sort Step Process, which has a five to seven year gestation period, with assistance from the Labour Relations Commission and the Civil Service Arbitration Board, I have taken immediate steps to impose stricter spending controls. These measures include the recent publication of legislation to privatise the prisoner escort service and, in parallel, arrangements for tenders for the privatisation of prisoner escorts are proceeding. I intend to invite tenders before the end of this month and to award a contract in the autumn. Other measures include the permanent closure of Curragh and Fort Mitchel Places of Detention and the transfer of staff from these prisons to other prisons, the withdrawal of the two open centres at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey from the Prison Service and the re-establishment of post release centres at these locations run by external staff on an expanded basis. My Department is progressing this and I expect this will be in place by October-November this year. I have informed the Director General of the Prison Service and the prison governors that spending in each prison will be managed on a strict cash basis with monthly limits and that staffing levels will have to conform to these limits.
Since I became Minister I have allowed both sides a generous period of time and space to use all the available industrial relations machinery to devise and agree new working arrangements which would work to the benefit of both management and staff. I believe working lengthy overtime is not in the interest of staff and the annualised hours system, as negotiated and arbitrated, is in the interests of all staff. I think it is a bit generous, but I was willing to go along with it in the spirit of partnership.
It comes naturally to the Minister.
The Government cannot accept a situation where the prison officers seem to think they can reject the findings of the Civil Service Arbitration Board and negotiate a better deal. They will not negotiate a deal that costs the taxpayer any more money or that is in any way detrimental to the taxpayer's interests. I am also determined to press ahead with the prisons building programme. The most significant aspect of this will be the closure of Mountjoy Prison and the development of a new facility at Thornton, North County Dublin. The redevelopment of Mountjoy would cost in excess of €400 million and I am not going to waste money on a cramped site of that kind. I have also announced my plans to develop a facility at Spike Island. The primary driver behind these developments is the need to provide a modern prison estate that will service the State into the future. We have a growing population and even though I do not believe prison is a response of first resort, it would be very naive not to provide an enlarged prison. The provision of single cell accommodation, along with the elimination of the practice of slopping out is something to which I have outlined my commitment on numerous occasions in the past.
Turning to the Courts Service, the provision in Vote 22 of €69.3 million will make possible key infrastructural developments. An additional €1.6 million is also available in 2005 due to the carryover of unspent capital from 2004. As members of the committee will be aware, I have given the go-ahead for the new state-of-the-art Criminal Court complex — to be located at Infirmary Road, Dublin — at the junction of Phoenix Park and Parkgate Street, which will be the first such public private partnership project in the Justice family. The new complex will mean that for the first time, the administration of justice will be separated into two streams, the civil courts in the Four Courts complex and the criminal courts in the new PPP facility. I have also given approval to the Courts Service to progress nine greenfield court complexes, by way of public private partnership, as part of a new envelope of €50 million for such projects to be expanded on behalf of the agency over the next two years. Projects to be progressed include full District Court and Circuit Court services for locations in the greater Dublin area and in North Kildare. Also included are similar projects in locations on the eastern seaboard, in the north west, the south east and the south west.
Under the leadership of the Courts Service, major progress also has been made in the area of courts administration. New technology is being introduced to streamline and update office systems, and the use of video conferencing to reduce the need for personal attendance in court is being actively pursued. The introduction of a new commercial court in the High Court, and its success in streamlining proceedings of this type, is a good example of the positive impact investment and modernisation can have on the delivery of a quality public service in this area.
Provision of €38.048 million has been made in Vote 23 for the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds. This represents an increase of 16.5% on the original allocation for 2004 and will contribute towards the realisation of ongoing modernisation plans in this area. In particular, implementation of a digital mapping project is commencing in 2005 with expenditure this year of €5 million and in excess of €19 million by its completion in 2010.
Members may be also aware that the Government has approved my proposals for a restructuring of the Land Registry. I intend to bring forward a series of amendments to the Registry of Deeds and Title Bill 2004 on Committee Stage which will convert the Registry of Deeds and the Land Registry into a statutory body on the lines of the Courts Service.
The new body will be known as the Property Registration Authority and its board will include representatives of conveyancing activity as well as consumer, staff and other relevant interests. This new structure will put the registries on a sound administrative footing and will underpin the modernisation process which is already well advanced. I will make major announcements regarding the modernisation of land law in July.
Turning now to my Department's Vote, another area where the investment of resources is paying off is in the field of asylum processing. As a consequence of the huge commitment of resources by Government to the development of a fair and efficient asylum system, processing times have been dramatically reduced as have the number of cases on hands. The improvements in legislation, processing and enforcement in this area have all contributed to a marked reduction in the number of persons claiming asylum in Ireland. This in turn will limit expenditure on accommodation and support services well into the future. To give the committee an example of that, if a person now comes in from an accelerated procedure country — Nigeria or Romania — he or she can expect to have all stages of the consideration of one's case dealt with within six to ten weeks. People who are rejected will be sent back as quickly as possible thereafter. The message will get across to the people traffickers who lie behind the whole process of bogus asylum seeking that it is not worth the air fare to come here with a fanciful claim.
A provision of €43.417 million has been made in Vote 19 for the asylum and immigration services, which covers the determination of asylum claims but also provides for processing citizenship, visa and other immigration applications. Earlier this year I obtained approval from Government to the establishment of a new Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service which will have as a key focus improved customer service. More recently I launched a discussion document dealing with immigration and residence matters which will help to inform the development of policy and legislation in this field. It is my intention that the success achieved in the asylum area will in turn be replicated across the full range of immigration and visa services, where there have been unnecessary delays and under-investment in proper systems to guarantee speedy outturns.
The estimated total spend last year by the Government across Departments — principally Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform — on asylum and immigration services is in the region of €376 million. My Department alone accounted for more than €128 million of that spend. That sum represents more than one third of my Department's entire Vote. Seven years ago fewer than 30 staff were working in this area and the budget for the work hardly registered in the context of my Department's spend. Now there are close to 700 staff involved in the detailed and often complex work of assessing claims for asylum, processing claims for citizenship, processing visa applications, procuring accommodation for asylum seekers and a myriad of other activities. Regrettably, these very salient points are either glossed over or frequently completely ignored in public discourse by those who tacitly accuse the Government of doing nothing on the immigration issue.
I emphatically deny those allegations. I challenge anybody to say what they would do and how much it costs to deal with immigration and asylum issues.
Staying with my Department's Vote, I would like to briefly touch on the equality area which is an area where the Government is deeply committed to making real progress. I believe we are achieving this progress and our commitment to developing the wider equality agenda is clearly demonstrated by the fact that €101.5 million, of which €83.4 million is for child care measures, is being provided for in this area in 2005. This represents a 20% increase, or €17 million, on last year's allocation.
I particularly draw the committee's attention to the considerable funding designated for the equal opportunities childcare programme. This seven-year development programme now has a much expanded budget of almost €500 million. The funding under the capital and staffing strands of the programme will ultimately lead to the creation of more than 36,000 new child care places and will enhance or support more than 30,200 existing child care places. I understand more than 24,600 of these new child care places were in place by the end of 2004, with a good regional mix. It is clear that the programme is already making a significant impact on the capacity and capability of the child care sector.
On the capital front, an additional €90 million was made available to the programme in Budget 2005 to cater for the increased level of demand for capital grant assistance. Since then, I have announced allocations totalling almost €68 million in capital funding to community based not-for-profit groups, in two tranches. I hope to make further significant capital commitments during the remainder of 2005 and thereafter.
The programme also includes a measure which offers grant assistance towards the staffing costs of community based child care services which provide child care for disadvantaged parents who may be in employment, education or training. More than 775 community-based, not-for-profit projects receive ongoing staffing grant assistance, and approximately €30 million of EU and Exchequer funding goes towards this measure each year.
These groups offer child care to people who are unable to meet economic fees to ensure they can participate in training in work and help to break the cycle of disadvantage for families. With this in mind, I am pleased to inform the committee that, following a detailed review of the staffing grants under the programme, I have recently extended the terms of staffing grants to qualifying groups to the end of December 2007.
Much is being achieved across the justice and equality sector, but time does not permit me to draw attention to each activity. In summary, the gross budget in 2005 for the justice and equality sector is €2.068 billion. This compares with €1.909 billion, or an increase of €159 million in gross budget on the original 2004 allocation. In addition there is also an allocation of €6.48 million available in 2005 due to the carryover of unspent capital allocation from last year.
The financial resources provided by the Government for the justice and equality sector are significant; in current spending terms more than 5% of all voted expenditure is for the sector. This is the clearest indication of the very high priority the Government attaches to resourcing the criminal justice system, to building a safer and more equal society and to ensuring we meet our international commitments in the field of asylum and immigration.
We are dealing with enormous sums of money — €2 billion, i.e. €2,000 million. Neither the Government nor the Oireachtas is doing its job properly in allocating 70 or 80 minutes for a discussion on expenditure of such an enormous amount. When we are talking about such large sums of money and such major issues as are involved in the expenditure of those moneys, we should have a system which allows for a far more detailed examination. That is an issue we should examine for the future. I am not making any political point regarding it.
Regarding broad political statements, I am not sure I want to spend too much time on that. However, the Minister has provoked me somewhat. I hear continuous statements from the Minister to the effect that crime is decreasing, but the facts speak for themselves. The number of headline crimes in 2000 was 73,276. The number of headline crimes last year was 99,018. That is an increase of 35%. I do not say that with any great joy but as a matter of fact. That is what we are confronting.
Much of the moneys spent in the justice brief are to deal with the problems of crime. If the Minister is in denial about the problem from the point of view of favourable press release that is the wrong approach. Let us be realistic, there is a serious problem with crime in our society apart from anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is below the radar and does not figure at all.
Whatever moneys are available for the Garda Síochána are needed. It does not have the numbers and the facts speak for themselves. Over the last three years the figure of 2,000 gardaí has resulted in an average of 80 extra for each year. There can be plans, programmes and promises but we have had all these before. I will not believe it until I see fully qualified gardaí on the streets, nor will the public.
Why were there such delays after the pilot scheme for digital radio two years ago? I want to see it in operation as soon as possible and I want to see an upgrade of the PULSE system. Our gardaí must have the best technology available and they do not have it at present.
From the Opposition side I, and my party, have supported the Minister in dealing with overtime in prisons. Having overtime built into pay on a permanent or semi-permanent basis is the wrong approach. We have been constructive in our approach to the prison officers' dispute. If possible I want to see a settlement and I believe there is a window of opportunity now. I have had discussions with individuals in the organisations and with people involved with the executive. I have made it clear that any backing I have for a settlement will have to be within the financial envelope currently available. There is no support available from me or my party for figures beyond that. There is scope for settlement and I urge the Minister not to succumb to the temptation to play a macho role. At times it is necessary to be tough but if a settlement is possible it should be achieved. There is a willingness on the part of the prison officers to find a common basis for a settlement within the financial envelope available.
I have previously asked for a meeting of this committee to examine all aspects of Thornton Hall. I believe there are serious questions to be asked regarding the unseemly haste with which it was purchased. I referred to it as the most expensive farm in Europe and paying eight times the price of agricultural land qualifies it for this title. It seems crazy to rush into paying this without proper investigation. Let us consider the archeological side which, when I raised it in the Dáil, the Minister dismissed as so much guff.
The Minister also said there had been an archeological survey done before purchase was arranged.
I said it was walked and the records were checked. There is nothing there.
The Minister would not know much about the northside. Southsiders do not understand the northside.
The Minister said there was an archaeological survey complete before the purchase was arranged. That is not so.
I said it was walked by inspectors. The Deputy should check the record.
The Minister should check the Dáil record, which was shown to me yesterday.
Apart from that we are not going to deal with Thornton Hall now. As someone who has been dealing with property all his life I cannot understand how anyone could approve a deal at eight times the market value. It raises issues and questions besides the lack of infrastructure, access, water, sewerage or any of the things that are needed. I am advised these services may cost an additional €20 million or €30 million to provide if rights of way can be resolved. I will not elaborate on this now but I want a special hearing before this committee with all those involved, as I requested three months ago. Let us give all the people involved, including the Minister, the opportunity to justify it and I will be happy if he can do so. I am prepared to listen but I want to ask the questions to which I have received no satisfactory answer so far.
The Deputy will understand that the committee has been very busy with the Disability Bill, the Garda Síochána Bill and the criminal justice Bill.
I am facing judicial review of these matters in the High Court and I am not going to participate on two fronts. I have to meet and take on this challenge in the courts and that is the first duty I have. I will account to the Oireachtas for this expenditure. The Committee of Public Accounts and this committee are free to have an inquiry but I will not compromise my court proceedings by having to fight a twin-pronged campaign.
I am not involved in, and I am only vaguely aware of, the court proceedings. I have nothing to do with them. My job as Fine Gael spokesperson on justice is to raise legitimate questions in this area.
I appreciate that.
It is more of an inquisitorial nature to inquire why certain things were done in a way I believe to raise issues taking into account the time factor and the lack of investigation. It is from that point of view that we want the matter investigated.
The committee shall write to the Minister and will await the Minister's response.
I wish to discuss the matter of money spent on asylum seeker accommodation and services by the Reception and Integration Agency. I briefly mentioned this in the Dáil yesterday. This agency was set up in 2000 and operates directly in the Department with people seconded to it from other public services. As it does not produce an annual report, there is no detailed information available on its operations. In response to Dáil questions tabled on 4 May and 10 May I received a certain amount of information on the operations of the agency. Question No. 385, of 10 May, in which I was particularly interested was a request to furnish the details of various contracts entered into by the agency over the last number of years. That information was not furnished to me and the response was that the agency would provide the information as soon as possible. I want that information now, not in three months time.
Issues need to be examined, such as expenditures of approximately €80 million per year. I saw the incorrect figure of €18 million in one of the newspapers today. The issue of value for money also arises. I appreciate the pressures on this agency when huge numbers were arriving in a semi-emergency situation three or four years ago. I am not joining the queue to criticise people for not having all i's dotted and t's crossed. Can lessons be learned from that period on how best to cope with the possibility of such a situation in the future? While that is not the main focus of my inquiry at present, it is an issue that must be addressed.
It has been suggested that in a number of instances the ultimate beneficiaries of funding from the agency were people from the criminal and paramilitary world. If that is so, I want it investigated. I believe it is an issue that needs to be investigated by the committee as well as by the Comptroller and Auditor General. There are also issues that require investigation by the Criminal Assets Bureau.
A third issue requires investigation, if the information supplied to me is correct. I have responded to the Minister's invitation to give him the names of the people who have been mentioned to me. It is not proper to mention names publicly and I will not do so. However, the information on those ultimate beneficiaries and the go-betweens has been furnished to the Minister. If my information is correct, it raises questions as to how the agency could have allowed it to develop. I am not pointing the figure at anybody, but it is our duty as Members of the Oireachtas to find a way of having information supplied checked out to ensure that proper procedures are followed, in particular proper procurement procedures. It appears that the normal procurement procedures may not have applied in all cases when accommodation and services were being sought by the agency.
I believe enough questions have been raised to require investigation. Enormous sums of money are involved. I give notice that the affairs of the Reception and Integration Agency must be examined in detail by the committee as well as the examination that I have suggested to the Minister. Let us confront the problem and if procedures need to be altered, let us deal with them and ensure that full and proper procedures will be in place in the future. We have a duty to ensure that we safeguard taxpayer's money.
There are a range of other issues to be examined, however, I will conclude as I began by saying that all the subheads require detailed examination but we are not in a position to do so due to a lack of time. Having made the general point, I wish to see an improvement in our surveillance of expenditure of enormous sums, in this case totalling €2 billion. I want an assurance that Thornton Hall and the Reception and Integration Agency will be separately examined by this committee and on that basis I will not oppose the Estimates.
Will the Deputy set out the points in writing regarding the Reception and Integration Agency, as the joint committee must consider them in relation to its terms of reference and work load? Let me assure him that we will facilitate a meeting but we must work within our terms of reference.
I want these subheads examined separately by the committee, with officials being available to answer questions on the expenditure of money under those subheads during the past three years.
That is fine, and the joint committee will respond on the basis of the Deputy's contribution.
I am entitled as a member of the Opposition to take any area of expenditure and ask that it be fully examined and assessed. The Chairman will appreciate there are certain constraints on what I can say publicly, and although names have been given to me, it is not appropriate for me to do other than I have done, which is to give them to the Minister. I will not name a person without absolute proof.
I presume this is a matter for the joint committee and the request by the senior spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Law Reform would receive the attention it deserves.
I appreciate that.
To follow on from Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, the Estimates for the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform have increased substantially in recent years and the Department is now spending €2 billion annually. I am pleased that more money is being provided for the Department.
It is impossible for members to deal with the Estimates thoroughly because we do not have sufficient information, an independent assessment of the breakdown of the various headings and we are not in a proper position to give the approval to the Estimates. We approve the Estimates on the basis of the information provided by the Minister and following a brief discussion. We need to look at the issue of having an independent assessment of the Minister's figures for the €2 billion expenditure in 2005 as well as the Department's assessment of it. That is something we could usefully discuss at a later stage so that we would be able to audit properly what is proposed before we discuss the matter with the Minister. It is also not good enough that we get the documentation a day or two beforehand as this leaves very little time for a careful examination.
The provision of accommodation for asylum seekers has given cause for concern. Questions must be asked about the method used when property was rented or purchased by the Department. I have repeatedly raised questions about the facility in the Minister's constituency, Brock House, which was purchased for €9.3 million in 2000 and has never been used. It was the subject of a judicial review for four years. We have been told that it will be transferred to the Department of Health and Children as it is now surplus to needs. At the same time, the Department purchased a premises in my constituency in Gardiner Street for over €2 million and the premises changed hands at remarkably short notice. Everybody wonders how the premises was sold and how, following that, it secured an agreement with the Reception and Integration Agency for 100 asylum seekers. At the same time I was being told in reply to questions in the Dáil that Brock House was never very suitable and was now surplus to needs.
The Department also purchased the Parnell West Hotel for €3.3 million. That remained open for approximately two years and was then considered unfit and is now out of use. Surely the OPW did a full structural examination of the building to find out whether it was suitable on safety grounds. If it did not it was negligent. If it did, it must have been negligent in carrying out its work because here is a property that was purchased and nobody can live there. Hatch Hall, again in the Minister's constituency, was purchased this year.
It has not been purchased. The other building on Gardiner Street has not been purchased either. They were rented. They are under a service provision. It is not a lease of a conventional kind.
The contract was allocated very rapidly after the premises was purchased. Other hoteliers in the area are somewhat mystified regarding the nature of the transaction and how it happened so suddenly — quite a number of them were interested in tendering for the contract. I would like answers to these questions. We need clarification on the amount of property that was purchased. Brock House was purchased and never used. A number of other properties were purchased and never used. I want to know how that happened. The Parnell West Hotel was purchased, used for a time, and is now declared unfit for use.
There is a problem with the roof at this stage.
It is closed. There is nobody in it. For how long has nobody been in it?
Approximately six months.
It is closer to 12 months. Why was that not examined properly before State money was expended? A problem with a roof would be obvious. That matter of asylum accommodation, which relates to the Minister's Department, requires clarification.
On the Garda Síochána Vote, the Minister announced yesterday and again today that €6.5 million will be allocated to fighting crime and that there will be a new overtime arrangement. Perhaps he would indicate from where the savings have come in his budget. He has not indicated that so far. It has been reported in the newspapers, even though the Minister has not said so, that there is a time scale of four months for the expenditure of the moneys. Is it the Minister's intention to allow further overtime or to get a supplementary budget, or does he intend not to do anything at all after those four months have elapsed? What does he mean by a new sustained relentless attack on gangland crime if there is a time scale that implies it will last only as far as the money will stretch? Clarification is required because these are the Estimates for 2005. Either we are going ahead with that amount of money to deal with gangland crime on an ongoing basis or we are going to stop, as happened with Operation Crossover, and allow matters to get worse than they were before.
The prison officers' dispute has been going on as long as the Minister has been in the Department. It was his stated intention to sort out the prison officers in the context of overtime and he embarked on a particular course to do it. He was quite confrontational in terms of the language and the action taken. The Minister has closed or is in the process of closing five prisons, taking 500 places out of circulation. He has created prisons such as Cork where there is double capacity and overcrowding and the revolving door syndrome has returned. For somebody who is talking about expanding the prison system and providing extra space there is something inherently contradictory in that approach.
If the Minister had taken a more conciliatory attitude earlier, this matter could have been resolved. It can be resolved. Nobody is talking about more money. Everybody is talking about having a more flexible arrangement for the allocation of hours. We spoke to the prison officers outside the gate yesterday and they are quite happy to go along with realignment of the annualised hours as long as the pool is worked and there is a 10% variation in it.
There will be some prison officers with young families who do not want to work overtime. People should never be under an obligation in any profession to do a certain amount of overtime every year. Most people will do it, nevertheless, there will be circumstances when some people are unable to do it. If the Minister provides for flexibility a solution will be found. The Minister's methods of dealing with industrial disputes leave much to be desired and it gave rise to many of the problems.
I turn now to research and consultancy services. Subhead A.8 provides funding to develop the Department's capacity for generating research in the criminal justice and equality areas. Subhead A.9 provides funding for a shared service centre. The research the Department does is virtually nil, at a cost of €500,000. The allocation for the shared service centre reaches €6 million. There are other sections relating to, for example, equality issues, including gender mainstreaming and positive action for women, where the pay element is very small but the non-pay element is colossal in relative terms at €4 million, increasing to €6 million. Where does that non-pay money go? Is this tied in to consultancy services, commissioned documents and so on? I recall asking questions last year regarding the cost of consultancy services the Department commissions and was told it was €29.3 million for a period of less than two years. This is not reflected in the figures before us. Perhaps the Minister might clarify that in the first instance.
There is an increase regarding civil legal aid of €3 million. However, there is still a very considerable backlog in the provision. Could we have a breakdown of figures for the various centres throughout the country?
That does not relate to free legal aid.
It relates to the Legal Aid Board, to civil legal aid.
The figure for asylum accommodation is still huge. The amount for the task force is increased from €35 million to €43 million. Why is that being increased if the number of asylum seekers has decreased by almost 75%? Its a bit like the Department of Social and Family Affairs where unemployment may go down and employment may go up but the budget of the Department goes up as well, even though there are fewer people to be dealt with.
There has been a decrease in the asylum seeker accommodation figure, but it is still substantial. In addition, this was transferred from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. What year did the transfer take place? Was the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government originally responsible for the acquisition of accommodation or did the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform always have that responsibility, given that it seems it was the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that entered into contracts in 2000? I would also like clarification on the history of the asylum process. My colleague, Senator Moynihan-Cronin, will deal with the child care issue.
In the Dáil yesterday I referred to the coroner service, under subhead G.5. Clearly it is the Cinderella of the system. Given that the pay element is only €110,000 there is very little going into that service. I will be interested to see the breakdown of that pay element and why there is not a non-pay element also to provide for the service adequately.
I did not know we had a parole board. There is no statutory one. Will a State car be provided for the State pathologist?
We could borrow it from Senator O'Rourke.
We might fuse the two positions.
Order please, Deputy Costello.
Given the increase in the number of homicides and until such time as the recently announced allocation of €6.5 million to address the issue is more successful than the previous operation, it is essential to provide a proper scientific and professional service. Under subhead G.11, crime prevention measures — the national crime council, crime prevention community initiatives, community youth justice initiatives — I would welcome a greater increase in funding than has been provided for heretofore. Under subhead G.13, €1,000 has been provided for the Garda Ombudsman Commission. I think that is the same amount that was provided last year. One of these days we will get to spend it.
Under subhead H.4 — EU receipts — the projected receipts last year were €16.9 million and the estimate for this year is €15 million. For some reason the total is given in the Garda Síochána Vote as €33,486,000. Is that the total bill? I recall asking the Minister that question on a few other occasions but he did not have the total receipts. Can I take it that is the total bill arising from our Presidency of the European Union? Does it coincide with the two receipts under European Union receipt list?
I wish to refer to a couple of items in the Garda Síochána Vote. Undersubhead A.6, maintenance of Garda premises, there is a budget of €7 million. Is the Minister proposing to close any Garda stations under the SMI proposals? There are still questions around one or two stations in my constituency. Is this amount adequate given the number of complaints from the Garda at its annual conference and in its journals regarding the quality of Garda stations? Has the Minister an actual plan for a certain period? We have heard that Dundrum Garda station is waiting 20 years for its face lift, that people are tripping over each other and do not know where they can speak to a prisoner and so on.
Under subhead E.4, I note a substantial increase for closed circuit television in urban areas but there has been no action. Is the money being spent in 2005 and, if so, where? The Minister indicated he was setting up a particular body to streamline this area. Every time we put in a request we are told the matter is being discussed, debated, reviewed, decided or determined by the Department and yet no action has been forthcoming.
Under subhead K.4, receipts from banks in respect of cash escort service, have been reduced from €5 million in 2004 to €3 million in 2005. Does this mean the banks are paying 60% less n 2005 for cash escort services than they paid in 2004? The excellent Minister for Defence stated that he was negotiating a deal whereby the banks and the other financial institutions would pay 100% to the State in his Department. Surely the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform can be as strong and assertive in regard to the banks. He told us in the Dáil yesterday that he knew virtually all the chairmen of the banks personally since he has had much toing and froing with them. As well as ticking them off in regard to their security measures perhaps he would extract 100% cash from all the escort services.
In regard to the Prisons Vote, subhead E.1, the actual overtime bill in 2004 was €71 million which was increased from 2003. The Minister has not done much in regard to 2002, 2003 and 2004 and the projected overtime figure for prison staff is €38 million this year. Am I reading the figures correctly?
I do not think so. It has been decreased from approximately €60 million to €45 million and is projected to decrease further.
Under subhead A.1.5, extra attendance, the amount is up from €45 million to €63 million.
The provision was for the cost of the implementation of the deal. The money that is spent has reduced each year.
Why has €45 million increased to €63 million?
It has not gone up.
The estimate is €63 million.
I asked the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to make provision for the full implementation of the agreement with the prison officers, the sum for which was included under that subhead. The amount is going down each year.
The figures suggest differently but time will tell.
In 2002 the amount was €59.3 million, in 2003 it was €58.9 million while in 2004 it was €45.5 million.
Does that include a lump sum payment?
Therefore, it is going down. For some reason I mixed it up with the probation overtime which had reduced dramatically from €71 million to €38 million. Surely we could make a greater contribution to the probation and welfare service.
Under subhead J.3, proceeds from the sale of prison property, Shanganagh Castle which is a 30 acre site, has realised only €8 million. It is in the heart of the wonderful green belt.
That is not true.
That may or may not be true. What has the Minister sold? Has he sold the building or some of the land. The Minister can explain that in a minute.
We have sold nine acres to the local authority for social housing.
It is described as "the estimated proceeds from the sale of Shanganagh".
The Minister has told the Dáil that 30% of prison officer overtime came from the prisoner escort provision. According to the figures, however, there is only €1.5 million for the prisoner escort service, which will decrease this year to €1.3 million.
That is not the cost of overtime for prison officers.
It is the cost of the service.
No, it is not.
Does the Minister have another figure for the prisoner escort service? If that is the figure, it is not a justification for privatising a service. Will the Minister clarify that and let us know if there is a further figure for the service because that is the only one I can find in these figures?
I want to ask the Minister an overview question on value for money, particularly in regard to spending in the Department. The 2005 budget for the Garda Síochána exceeds €1.1 billion. There has also been the recent expenditure of €30 million. I take the point about the case coming up soon and I will not deal with that directly but in terms of an overview does the Minister consider he is getting value for money in terms of spending in his Department?
On the €6.5 million allocation announced yesterday, a contradiction appears to be emerging. On the one hand, the Minister is involved in a major row with the prison officers over overtime and on the other he appears to be providing for 15,000 extra Garda overtime hours. That is a contradiction. We have a serious gangland crime problem, with murders taking place on the streets, drugs issues and so on and we need consistent Garda shifts. I refer to the three eight hour shifts every day rather than have gardaí working excessive overtime on a regular basis. The gangland problem has got out of control and to tackle it we must first target the violent criminals and then support the communities where the violence and intimidation takes place.
Another aspect, which I will address later, is to tackle the problem of educational disadvantage and violent dysfunction in young people, who will be the gang leaders in five, six or ten years' time. Is the Minister getting value for money for the provision of 15,000 extra Garda overtime hours in the next few months?
I do not agree with the Minister's vision on the asylum issue, as he probably knows by now, and I challenge his view; I note he sought a challenge in his contribution. In terms of the way the Minister has handled that issue, particularly in the past 12 months, I do not accept that deporting children and families and sending gardaí into classrooms is constructive policy to deal with the immigration and asylum issues.
The Minister said he spent €376 million per annum on asylum services. Who benefits most from that money? Is it the asylum seekers or Irish staff working in the services? The public demands to know the truth about that issue.
On a positive note, I welcome the Minister's child care proposals to deal with disadvantaged families, which are part of an overall strategy dealing with crime. We talk about breaking the cycle of crime but the reality, particularly for those who work with children, is that happy and contented children do not join drug gangs or get involved in violent acts when they reach the age of 17, 18 or 19 years. This is an important strategy, which I welcome, but it must be a long-term strategy to prevent crime.
Is the Minister aware of the high numbers of unreported crimes in the community? There are certain communities in this city and other cities throughout the State where a great deal of violence, intimidation and unreported crime takes place. That is a reality and most Deputies who hold clinics will tell the Minister that they are jammed with people who feel alienated from the judicial system and the gardaí. What does the Minister intend to do to reach out to those communities?
There are elements within certain communities who are involved in dealing crack cocaine and other drugs. It is only a matter of time before international gangs get into a dispute with some of our local gangs over crack cocaine, other drugs, guns, violence and so on. Is the Minister aware of the potential for a major explosion, which will be a combination of the race and drugs issue, in the next few months? Are senior gardaí and the Department aware of it because it is something that might happen in the not too distant future?
I welcome the Minister and his staff. The Minister indicated he did not want to go into any particular detail on the Garda Vote but I want to ask a number of questions under it. First, on previous occasions in this committee I raised the issue of the need to upgrade Garda cars. I welcome the fact that the Minister and his staff have engaged with the Garda Síochána on that matter. I understand the type of car to be used in the future by the Garda Síochána will be one of increased cubic capacity and that there will be other provisions internally in the car. Is the funding for that included in the Vote the Minister presented to the committee? If so, when will this agreement come into effect and when will the improved Garda cars be visible on the streets?
While I welcome the development of the four storey Garda block at Templemore Garda college, I would point out that a greater increase is needed in the provision of domestic and ancillary staff at the college. I welcome the increase in Garda trainees but the number of domestic and ancillary staff has not increased in comparison to the increase in the number of Garda trainees. That is an area the Department will have to examine.
On the processing of asylum seekers and people seeking citizenship, we welcome the increase of over 700 staff but those of us who run clinics are aware that people endure long periods waiting for a reply from the Department to their applications. The provision of extra funding will see a marked improvement in that regard in that people will not have to wait as long to get a response from the Department on these applications.
My points will be relevant and brief because the Minister will need some time to reply. The Minister may be aware of recent reports of a survey done in one of the major maternity hospitals which found that the levels of violence against pregnant women is very high. One of the major problems experienced by the women who were interviewed on the issue — I hope the Minister may be able to address it — was that when they applied for a barring order they had to wait approximately 14 weeks before the issue came to court during which time they were very vulnerable, as we can all understand. Is there anything the Minister's good offices can do about that? Nobody applies for a barring order without good reason. Men and women apply for barring orders but it is very serious to hear women say they feel very vulnerable during the 14 weeks they have to wait for the court to hear their case. We have to deal with that problem and I ask the Minister to consider it.
I welcome the capital funding for child care but as the Minister is aware, the application form for funding is complex and much work on the part of the groups applying goes into completing it. Many of them are voluntary groups. There is no problem if their application is successful and they are granted funding but three groups met with me at the weekend whose applications were not successful. They understand there may be difficulties with the application but they want a line of communication between the Minister's Department and themselves so that they can address those difficulties.
One of the difficulties is that many of the groups spend a great deal of money on architects and engineers to draw up plans but when they go to the person appointed by the Department there is a problem with them. A huge amount of money is spent in this way. I agree that many groups are opting for fancy buildings that are not necessary. The Minister should produce a booklet of plans and guidelines. One can buy a book of house plans. If the Minister produced three or four plans in a book which the people could adopt, it would reduce costs for them and the Minister. That would deal with this problem. People are making money out of voluntary groups. These groups have collected the money for sites before applying to the Department for funding. The anomaly here is causing waste of money. We are discussing the budget today and there are areas where money is needed and areas where money can be saved. I will not call it a scam but many people are making money out of these vulnerable groups.
Could the Minister open communication with the groups that are unsuccessful? Three such groups were in contact with me at the weekend and they do not know where to turn because they do not know what mistake they made. Most of these groups are made up of ordinary people. The Minister should open up the lines of communication. He might not be able to respond on this today but perhaps he would do so later.
I welcome the staffing grants U-turn by the Department. A number of groups came before the committee some weeks ago and many of them said they would have to close down without staffing grants. I give credit where credit is due in that regard.
There are many questions to answer. I will not be able to give a comprehensive answer to every point made today. Some questions will require written communication. Where members have sought statistical information I will ensure that it is forwarded to them.
Deputy O'Keeffe spoke about the increase in crime. The figures chosen by the Deputy were produced in pre-PULSE days. Crime was manifestly under-recorded at that time. When PULSE was introduced, it was remarkable that over a two year period the 2001-02 figures of recorded crime went up significantly at a time when nobody in public was of the view that crime had got out of hand. The reason is that the PULSE system required a detailed record of every transaction. When I was appointed in 2002, crime figures were published a year, and sometimes 18 months, in arrears. I changed that and introduced the quarterly release of figures. It is noteworthy that in the period since my appointment, headline crime has been decreasing in every quarter in terms of gross numbers.
That is against the background of a rapid increase in population. Per head of population, headline crime has been decreasing even faster. The Garda deserves credit for what it is achieving. It is easy for Opposition spokespersons to claim crime is spiralling out of hand and they get support from certain minority elements in the media for that point of view. However, there is less crime in Ireland per head of the population than there has been at any time in recent years. It is decreasing, not increasing.
I said yesterday that I fully accepted that it was a good idea that Fine Gael spokesmen should be making inquiries about crime in their local areas. Regional and local accountability of the Garda Síochána is central to managing and responding to crime. When figures were 18 months in arrears, senior Garda management in some areas would be retired before the figures relating to their activities would be published. That is not a happy situation. We must have timely, accurate figures. Not only should they be broken down by time into quarterly figures but they should also be broken down by region in order that accountability is established and, if somebody is having difficulties, it can be noted. We should also understand that some Garda managements will have higher rates of crime in their areas because they are responsible for areas with bigger problems. It is rather like the school teachers league. It would be wrong to simply compare gardaí and say one is doing better than another.
However, I must offer a big health warning about what the Fine Gael backbenchers are doing. They are looking for crime figures for Arklow, for example. There was a parliamentary question on it in recent days. What about the population of Arklow? If they intend to make a comparison between the years 1995 and 2005 in Arklow, they must also look at how many people live in that Garda area. We must have a few basic benchmarks as to what values will be taken from these figures.
With regard to Operation Anvil, I act in close consultation with the Garda Commissioner. I do not dream up operations and say they must be carried out. He makes decisions as to how operations in particular areas to deal with certain types of crime should be devised and for how long they should run. There is an implicit criticism of what the Garda Commissioner is doing at present to the effect that operations are time limited. However, if one states that the operation is unending, that there will be a constant push and unlimited overtime, the sense of drive and purpose will be dissipated. It is in the nature of policing throughout the world that there must be specific programmes to tackle specific matters. If one simply says that everything is mainstreamed, operations slowly dissipate and the sense of impetus and drive goes out of the policing effort.
I strongly congratulate Commissioner Conroy for the way he is providing daily leadership for the force and leading it in particular campaigns at specific times. It is not fair to constantly imply that he should be doing this all the time in every part of the country with the same degree of vigour.
Our criticism is not directed at the Commissioner.
It is simply impossible to do that.
How did the Garda Commissioner know that it had saved €6.5 million?
With regard to Garda numbers, I came before the committee last year and had to endure the cynicism of Opposition members about the Garda recruitment campaign. They should go to Templemore and see the building. I will invite them to the Garda passing out ceremony which is due soon. They should see the increased size of the classes. Deputy Hoctor referred to the need for support services. The recruitment is happening now. Over the next 18 months the number of gardaí will be more than 14,200. The committee should mark my words. One of the committee members said it would take 20 years. It will take 18 months.
The gardaí themselves said that it would take until 2038.
It is like calling medical students doctors.
Having increased Garda strength to 12,300, as soon as I got the green light from my Cabinet colleagues to proceed with phase two, I implemented it and took the necessary decisions to ensure it would happen. I am confident that Garda strength will be over 14,200, that is, in uniform and in training, by the time of the next election.
I could easily do the type of trick Deputy O'Keeffe would do and state there will be a six month course in Hendon Police Training College and have 14,000 gardaí by Christmas——
I am only speaking on the basis of the Minister's promise.
——but I have been told to avoid having "yellow pack" gardaí and to maintain standards. I will do that and the public will see the difference. The problem is that this bone of contention——
The Minister is playing with the figures again.
——has been taken away from the Opposition. The rattle has fallen out of the pram. There are different issues now.
It has been with us for a long time.
The Army will be covering for the medical students in UCC next.
I wish to deal with the issue of asylum seeker accommodation and asylum seeking. I have stated here that it costs in the order of €370 million per annum to deal with the asylum issue. Some €120 million is allocated to my Department with the balance in the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science, and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Those are very large sums of money. I make no apology whatsoever for taking tough steps to stop bogus asylum seeking. In the near future, I hope to be in a position to say that the next flight of deportations will consist of people who have come in, have had a rapid engagement with the Irish authorities, have been discovered as bogus, and are going home.
It costs €50,000 to deport one family.
Every day I deal with cases involving people who came here from other countries with three or four children seeking asylum. They came here on the basis that if they were entitled to protection they would receive it, but if they are not entitled to protection they and their children will go home. That is the beginning, middle and end of it. The fact that one is bringing children into Ireland when one is not entitled to seek asylum, does not improve one's chances of staying here. They will go home with their children if they are not entitled to asylum protection. If I did not have that system and did not enforce the law, we would have a shambles.
Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to accommodation for asylum seekers. He has given me details in two brief conversations about information he has and I am grateful to him for that. It is a responsible thing for him to have done. I intend, in so far as I can, to investigate fully all of these things. I hope to get as much information as the Deputy can give me concerning this issue. He made three points in the Dáil. He is correct, in some respects, that top prices were paid for accommodation during a crisis. In the Dáil yesterday, I acknowledged that my predecessor found himself with people literally sitting in the streets. The crisis had to be solved overnight through purchasing residential accommodation in hotels and elsewhere. As we read in today's newspapers, although it was not stated in the Dáil, the UNHCR was suggesting at that stage that we should provide Army tents to accommodate people. The Government was not willing to create that kind of horrific scenario with people sitting in tents in open fields. Much money was spent, some of it in circumstances where afterwards legal challenges were made. In Broc House there was a legal challenge and an injunction which prevented the Department from opening that facility. I hope it will now be used for health purposes, as there is plenty of room there. An extra €1 million would have to be spent on it in order to get it up to an adequate standard of accommodation for asylum seekers and even then it would not be good value for money.
It could be provided elsewhere for the same amount.
I know but their investment will be a long-term one.
They have opened Hatch Hall and Gardiner Street since then. They could have gone into Brock House.
Let me make it clear — Hatch Hall is closer to where I live than Brock House. I want that to be clearly understood. Hatch Hall is the subject of a service agreement with the RIA. It was a former student hostel and is suitable for asylum seekers. It does not require large sums of money to be spent on it. It is within 800 or 900 yards of where I live. It is in my constituency and, therefore, the implication, which I have seen in a number of newspaper articles, that I am somehow ropy about allowing new asylum seekers into my constituency is not correct.
The Gardiner Street premises has not been acquired by the Department. It is the subject of a service agreement as well.
Approximately 11,000 asylum seekers went through the Parnell West Hotel in Parnell Square. It has been closed due to some problem with the roof. I do not know what the problem is and I am not in a position to give the committee a detailed account. It was open for four years.
The number of asylum seekers is decreasing and I intend to maintain that position by intensifying the drive against bogus asylum seeking. I read files every day and Deputies should see the stories with which I have to deal. I cannot reveal the claims that are made by asylum seekers in individual cases, even though people have called for the publication of decisions in such cases. Most of these asylum seekers provide stories as to why they came here, how they thought they were in Canada when they arrived, how anonymous people told them that Ireland was the best place to go, and how Irish priests and other religious pastors got them here. In addition, they tell cock and bull stories about having to come to Ireland to escape ritual sacrifice in the family because they are the third, fourth or seventh son selected for such a sacrifice.
That happened to missionaries in the past.
If the Irish people had even the remotest idea of the nonsense that lies behind a huge amount of these bogus claims, it would try their patience to the limit. I am making it clear that people do not get into Ireland on that basis any more. They will go home with their children as soon as we have dealt with their issues and have sorted them out.
The difficulty is that it takes so long.
Exactly. It used to, but now it does not take so long.
It could take two, three or four years.
I am making it clear that such people will now be going home within ten or 12 weeks of making a claim here. I would much prefer to have a system whereby we could interview people at the airport, find out their cock and bull story and say "You're going home on the next flight". Unfortunately, however the UN convention requires me to go through due process in respect of all these claims.
If members of the committee could see what I see, and realised the huge bills that accumulate as a result, they would realise how serious the matter is.
There are 700 cases before the courts.
Yes, I know.
It is outrageous and each case costs €20,000 to process.
Exactly and we provide legal aid through the refugee legal service, which pours money into bringing judicial reviews. As soon as gardaí arrive to arrest such people and put them on an aeroplane, long after they have gone through due process and have been told to leave Ireland, the knee-jerk reaction of many people is to phone a lawyer who seeks a judicial review to get them taken off the flight. That is the kind of thing that is going on. Currently, I have the added difficulty that one particular judgment in the High Court stated that once they apply to the High Court, I must stop the deportation process. That is the case before they have even appeared before a judge — once they have served papers on me, it is my duty to stop them being put on a flight. We are appealing that judgment.
The circumstances that give rise to an exceptional number of judicial review cases also need to be investigated. The Minister should be aware of that.
Perhaps the Minister will give us the figures for successful judicial reviews.
Members of the committee have no idea whatsoever of the complete rubbish in the stories that people come up with in order to get into Ireland. For example, they may say that their first cousin was involved in acoup d’état 20 years ago, or that since they are the third or fourth son they have been selected by some cult for ritual sacrifice. They may also claim that they have been asked to carry out a ritual sacrifice themselves but cannot do so and therefore must travel from Nigeria to Ireland. What is more, they claim they do not know how they got to Ireland because there are no direct flights, and they cannot explain why they did not seek asylum in another state.
We have seen enough Irish people going to other countries.
Is it correct that a large number of appeals of judicial reviews are successful from some appeals commissioners, whereas such a success rate does not arise in the context of decisions made by one or more other appeals commissioners?
I do not think there is a pattern of that kind.
Perhaps the issue should be debated.
We are talking about large sums of money.
There is a large amount of political correctness in Ireland, much of which is manifestly bogus. I never see anybody involved in the NGO sector ever admitting that there is a major problem with the fraudulent and far-fetched nonsense masquerading as asylum seeking here. It is about time we said it.
There might also be a major problem with the system.
The Irish abroad are a major problem in a lot of countries too.
As regards the question of prisons, I am not going to start negotiating here with the prison officers. I have put that process on the record and will not repeat myself at length. However, I am not in the business of decreasing the size of the prison estate. I will build modern, sophisticated prisons with decent facilities in place of some of the premises which are, unfortunately, part of our prison estate, such as the Mountjoy complex and Cork Prison, in which prisoners must slop out in the 21st century. That is not acceptable. They will be places where there will be the opportunity to have playing fields, running tracks and so on to rehabilitate drug offenders in order that they do not sit in a cell with a television set all day. The acquisition of major campuses is required to do this type of work and it will happen.
There is no part of County Dublin — north, south, east or west — in which one would get a welcome from the residents if one went to acquire 150 acres. I always anticipated opposition whatever option I chose. It would have suited me greatly if I could have told one of the officials beside me to go to an auction, buy a farm at rock bottom price, not tell him or her what he or she is up to and come back with the title deeds. However, the first thing people would have asked if I had bought a farm in west, north, east or south County Dublin would have been, how did I select that site. They would have asked if I had waited for an advertisement in the newspaper, if I had sent an official to buy the farm in secret to avoid local opposition, if my selection process was based on who was putting a farm up for auction and if I considered any other place in the locality.
Instead we put advertisements in the newspapers saying we were looking for a large piece of land in the Dublin region. We asked for tenders from people in that area and many sent in tenders. The price paid for that land——
The people who sold the land did not send in a tender.
They approached the auctioneers involved.
The auctioneers approached them.
That is not so. An auctioneer, who was acting on their behalf, suggested going to the Department's auctioneer. Let us get our facts straight. The Department never approached them nor did any agent of the Department.
The auctioneer who was an agent for them did.
That is not what happened.
He was trawling.
An auctioneer suggested to them that they should come to us. We can examine all the facts.
I want them examined, particularly the fact that it does not comply with any of the criteria allegedly——
The Deputy is relying on a completely distorted view of the situation. A committee was established in my Department on which one of the Commissioners of Public Works sat. It was done above board and by the book. I am quite happy with the way it was done. I remind Deputy Jim O'Keeffe that no other Government has faced up to Mountjoy Prison as an issue. Deputy Costello does not want me to do anything and has done his level best to frustrate me.
I have pressed Government after Government to upgrade Mountjoy Prison. The Minister will not do much about it because this prison will not be built in his time. There will be another judicial review which will go on forever because of the manner in which the Minister planned——
I am confident the prison will be built and that it requires political courage to do so. I am confident that if Deputy Costello or Deputy Jim O'Keeffe were in my position, nothing would happen and everything would go on as before.
That is not so.
I was asked who gets and who does not get equality grants. The grants go to bodies such as NGOs and voluntary groups established to bring about equality for women. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin get grants for gender equalisation under these measures. Deputy Costello and I are in the minority among the registered political parties.
The Minister's party does not qualify for equality grants.
We have achieved equality in the Progressive Democrats. Of our eight Deputies, four are women. We give grants to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin to get a few women into their organisations.
Garda stations are the subject of significant capital expenditure each year. In addition to maintenance, which is set out in the Estimate, a capital programme of €100 million will be expended over the next three years by the OPW on Garda stations. That is a considerable sum of money in this day and age.
Deputy Costello asked whether Garda stations would close in my constituency. In Irishtown, plans are well advanced to rebuilt a state-of-the-art Garda station. I notice some of Deputy Costello's colleagues in the Labour Party suggested that I was going to close it, but that is wrong. In Harcourt Terrace, which is about 200 yards from Harcourt Square, a very valuable site is occupied by a Garda station. It would make sense to close that Garda station, to move it elsewhere and to realise the value of the property for the State. It is not only a case of realising the capital value of the property, but keeping a Garda station, which is only a few hundred yards from another one, means keeping it staffed and keeping people in the public office. For every person behind the counter in the public office on a 24-hour basis, it means the deployment of 5.2 gardaí in three shifts, overtime relief and the like. These are issues which require a good deal of effective management to ensure we get front-line policing rather than token policing by keeping Garda stations open where the police are needed on the streets.
Closed circuit television cameras have been mentioned. It is my intention to announce a new programme in the next three weeks in conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is intended to have a new system of community closed circuit television coverage and to have grants available for that purpose. What happened heretofore has not been satisfactory. I have been unhappy with the roll-out of Garda installed schemes and the failure to deliver on community initiatives in this area. I will give a new impetus and new funding and ensure it is outsourced in future.
Deputy Hoctor asked about Garda cars. A significant amount of money has been spent on Garda cars over the past 18 months. The average age of Garda cars is 2.4 years. They all have airbags and are built to a decent standard. A group is studying the best type of Garda car. A big tank-like car is not necessarily the best type for patrolling. It was suggested in the past that cars should be specially modified, strengthened and the like.
Why has the provision been slashed from €14 million to €10 million?
It has not been slashed; it has been increased year on year. Compared with last year's Estimate, there is an increase. Towards the end of last year, I expended a large sum of money on Garda cars because there was a need for it at the time and the money was available in the Department. I believed it was important to meet the demands of the Garda force. What one is looking at is an outturn not in accordance with the budget Estimate last year.
I am going by the figures presented. The figure was €14 million last year; it is only €10 million this year.
That is the outturn last year. An extra €4 million was spent late last year to improve the Garda fleet for the exact reasons stated. If one wants to look at year on year growth, one must look at what was budgeted last year and is budgeted this year.
Has the upgraded fleet been put in place? Will it be done under the next allocation of funding?
A significant number of vehicles were bought in the past six months. It is part of our programme to develop the traffic corps. The corps of vehicles should be in place. An assistant commissioner has been appointed with special responsibility to establish the traffic corps, organise it on a regional basis and ensure it goes ahead as a project. I am confident that over the next 18 months to two years, the number of people involved in traffic enforcement duties will go up from approximately 560 to close to 1,200.
Will a member of the force other than assistant commissioner be appointed to the traffic corps?
There are extra people.
It is a smaller number of people. The problem with Deputy O'Keeffe's cynicism is that he does not want us to make a start on any project. He does not like to hear of starts.
By your fruits we shall know you. The Minister will be judged by what he does, not by his plan or PR. So much is related to PR it is incredible.
Let us take that as a serious statement, "By your fruits we shall know you". During the period the Deputy's party was in government, the number of gardaí decreased. During the 2002 election campaign, the Deputy's party did not propose an increase in garda numbers. It proposed a commission to investigate the matter. I recall that Deputy Shatter wrote a letter to the paper pouring scorn on the idea.
The Minister made promises he did not keep, as did his Fianna Fáil buddies.
Let us deal with the 2005 Estimates.
This is a promise that will be kept this year and next year. The money will be provided.
We will believe the Minister when we see fully qualified gardaí on the streets. He will be gone from office by then.
That amuses me. A person was robbing a post office on the north side of Dublin a couple of months ago and a trainee garda in uniform took him on and was injured in the process. If the Deputy was drowning in a river and a trainee garda in uniform pulled him out, he would not say, "Excuse me, are you fully qualified?" He would say, "Thank God you were there."
The Minister did not say anything about trainee gardaí in his promises.
I might have words to say to that trainee garda afterwards.
I asked a question about consultancy services, the coroner and the State pathologist's car.
It is not the Garda Commissioner's intention to provide the State pathologist with a car and chauffeur service.
There are a number of pathologists throughout the country. It is not just one person who carries out these services. If the service was extended to one person, it would have to be extended to a number of people. When the State pathologist has to make a significant journey in any direction, or make a journey at an unsocial hour of the night, the Garda Síochána will collect her and bring her to the point in question, but the notion that two or three gardaí should be assigned to drive her at all hours of the day and night, even around the city of Dublin——
She is more important than many of the people who have this service.
There is no doubt she is a very important person. However, if I go down that road, where will it end? There will be more and more gardaí driving people and providing a chauffeur service than there will be carrying out their front-line duties, which is what I want to achieve.
On the coroners service, the reason this service is so underfunded in my Department's accounts is that the salaries, accommodation and most of the ongoing expenses, save for the Dublin city coroner, have nothing to do with my Department. I am bringing forward detailed proposals for reform of the coroners service. It will involve transferring moneys from all the other Departments which fund them to my Department. The budget will suddenly appear to be significant because it will be a new line of expenditure in the Department.
The Minister sold his offices some time ago, which is not reflected in the figures.
No, because the Office of Public Works owns all these offices, not the Department. Some properties belong to the Prison Service but, in general, the OPW owns most State property and most departmental offices. Some €53 million was realised from the sale of the former headquarters of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in St. Stephen's Green.
Is the Minister renting new accommodation?
We are renting our current accommodation from a trade union.
Is the Minister getting a good deal?
Trade unionists always give us a good deal.
It is a much more imposing building.
How much a year is it costing?
I do not have the figures. We are paying the market rate.
Is the Minister paying eight times the market rate like he did in Thornton Hall?
I doubt it very much.
Deputy Costello asked earlier from where did the €6.5 million come.
The Commissioner came up with this plan and suddenly the Minister found €6.5 million. Obviously two great minds were thinking at the same time.
When one has a budget of €2 billion in the justice family, under new arrangements within which Ministers are required to deliver the service from their financial envelope, on a day-to-day basis, one sees areas where for one reason or another expenditure is falling back. Each month, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform must submit figures to the Department of Finance. In some areas we are ahead of the profile,and in some areas we are behind profile. By prudent management, by month five of the financial year, within the overall budget of €2 billion I will be able to provide the extra €6 million.
It is essentially loose change within the Minister's overall funding.
If one puts money into a particular project and a contractor is slow in providing a new facility or whatever, one can end up in a position where one can fund sums of that size by way of cashflow management, if one is lucky. Sometimes things go pear-shaped. Sometimes there is a significant increase in asylum applications or Garda superannuation, demand-led measures which one cannot control. At the moment I can prudently say, on the basis of the figures available to me, that I can allocate that extra sum of money to that operation. If I were in here saying there is no money available because it is all allocated, and I will only know in December what the outturn will be, the criticism of me would be massive.
The Minister does not know where he will get the money.
I would be told that I ended up with a surplus in December, yet people were lying dead on the streets of Dublin and I had done nothing to help them.
It would not be the correct way to run the Department if I told the Commissioner I could do nothing for him because I had to wait until December to see whether I had a surplus of funds.
We are discussing the Estimates for 2005 and there has been a change in some of the figures to allow for the €6.5 million extra for overtime payments. The figure we are now discussing has been changed.
It has not changed; it has fallen behind profile. For example, there is contingent provision for entertainment for the Department, amounting to approximately €400,000. Last year, €33,000 was spent in this area. Sums of money are included on a contingency basis and as the year progresses I can determine whether the contingency will arise. The chairman will be aware of this because he is a financial whiz-kid.
Does the Department provide contingency funds?
For what contingency was the Minister providing when he increased the fund from €100,000 to €400,000 from an output of €33,000?
It was up from approximately €300,000 last year. All one needs is one major conference, a heads of state visit or whatever, for which one must carry the can.
I wish to bring to the notice of the Minister and his staff the issue of domestic and ancillary staff that needs to be increased in Templemore. Because of the increased numbers of trainee gardaí in Templemore, additional accommodation is being used. However, domestic staff numbers have not increased relative to the increased number of trainee gardaí.
I will look at that and consult with Garda management. While we are on the subject, the catering and domestic staff in Templemore do a wonderful job. Therefore, I was alarmed to read newspaper reports that there were two-hour queues in the restaurant in Templemore as a result of the increased numbers. When I checked it out, I discovered there was no truth in the report. The staff were annoyed by that publicity. Although there are more students, they are being treated and served in an exemplary manner that is second to none. I ask the Deputy to convey that to the people with whom she is in contact.
We did not refer to the Courts Service or the Land Registry. I welcome the establishment of the new Criminal Court complex on Infirmary Road and the video conference link, although I have a concern about the public private partnership and how it is proposed to operate as it is the first in the justice area. I welcome the provision of a statutory body for the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds and the digital matters. There is some good news.
I hope we will end the pretence that the taxpayer is providing moneys to fund the Land Registry when, in fact, it is funded by way of the fees that are paid on submissions lodged in the Land Registry. As I understand it, the Exchequer makes a substantial profit from it. The way the Estimates are framed gives the impression that the Land Registry is being run at a substantial expense to the Exchequer.
Let me put it this way. Currently, the Land Registry is required to cover its costs and to yield a sum to cover accrued pension entitlements and overhang of that kind. An advantage of making it an agency will be its ability to capitalise its own programmes from its fees. The Deputy is correct. It is not the taxpayer nor the legal profession who pays for it; it is the clients of the legal profession.
Solicitors must collect the registration fees; they are then alleged to be legal fees.
Is it agreed that we have considered the Estimates for Public Services 2005 (Revised) — Votes 19 to 23, inclusive. for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform?
What are we agreeing?
That we have considered the Estimates.
I refer to Vote 19, the asylum seeker accommodation aspect, subheads D.1 to D.4. I want those separately examined by the committee. That can be done in a number of ways. I mentioned that I wanted them examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General and by——
That is not a matter for the committee. We will take note of it.
Can I have them separately examined before the committee, perhaps on the basis that I am rapporteur of a group? On that basis or otherwise, I want a detailed examination.
We are considering the Estimates. Is it agreed that we have considered the Estimates?
With regard to the issue raised by Deputy O'Keeffe, I take what he said very seriously. I did not want to get in combat with him. I welcome any Deputy coming forward with information he or she thinks I should hear. He indicated that he believes the ultimate beneficiaries of some of these expenditures are shady characters. That is a serious issue. He also used a phrase in the Dáil yesterday, that some of these were "sweetheart deals". That implies that improper controls or wrong decisions were made within the Department, which is also a serious matter. I take these issues seriously and will push forward with them.
The Chairman has pointed out that some issues arise on foot of Abbeylara. I do not know whether they do. If there is any question of improper expenditures or improper motives attaching to proper expenditures, then between this committee, the inquiries I will set in train, the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General, they will be dealt with seriously.
There is a role for the Criminal Assets Bureau also.
Another point is that for future Estimates we should have an independent assessor.
That is another day's work. I thank the Minister and his officials for their attendance.