Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, answered orally.

National Lottery Licence Sale

Questions (9)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

9. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide an update on his plans to sell off the national lottery licence; if he will outline his timetable for when the legislation will be passed and when he estimates that the sell off will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17738/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

As the Deputy is aware, I announced in April 2012 that there will be a competition for the next National Lottery licence. The competition will involve an upfront payment by the operator of the next licence to the State, a portion of which will be used to help build the new National Children’s Hospital.

The National Lottery Bill was published in December 2012. The Bill was debated at Second Stage in the Dáil on 29th January, 5th February and 6th February 2013. It passed Committee Stage on 27th March 2013 and Report and Final Stages on 17th April 2013. It is expected that the Bill will be enacted in May of this year, subject to its successful passage through the Seanad.

The preliminary phase of the competitive process is expected to commence in the next few days. However, the full and formal process will not commence until after the Bill is enacted. The process is likely to run until August or September 2013, at which stage a preferred bidder will be chosen. It is anticipated that receipt of the upfront payment will materialise in the fourth quarter of this year. It is expected that the new 20 year licence will commence in 2014, subject to transitional arrangements.

National Lottery Licence Sale

Questions (10)

Seán Fleming

Question:

10. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the mechanism he is putting in place to ring-fence part of the proceeds of the sale of the national lottery licence for major capital projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17844/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

As the Deputy is aware, this issue was discussed in depth during the debates in the Dáil on the National Lottery Bill 2012. At Committee Stage, I gave a formal commitment that when the competition for the next National Lottery licence is concluded and the Exchequer is in receipt of the upfront payment, which will be payable by the successful bidder, I will revert to the Committee in relation to the arrangements for the upfront payment.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, it is intended that part of the upfront payment will be used to help build the National Children’s Hospital. I am committed to ring-fencing the sum involved for that purpose.

EU Funding

Questions (11)

Barry Cowen

Question:

11. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has contacted the EU Commission on the latest Central Statistics Office figures revealing the current GDP per capita in the BMW region; its impact on the region's status; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12677/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

On 8 February 2013 the European Council reached agreement on the EU’s budget for 2014-2020. The budget has to be agreed with the European Parliament and discussions are now taking place with the Parliament under the aegis of the Irish Presidency.

In line with reductions to the overall EU budget, Cohesion funding across Europe is expected to be reduced from €347 billion to around €325 billion. Nevertheless, while the precise details remain to be worked out, Ireland’s overall Structural Funds allocation is expected to increase from the €901 million we receive under the current round to €979 million in the 2014 - 2020 round. This represents a considerable achievement, and is due to the consistent efforts of the Government to maximize support from Europe for our Structural Funds programmes and take particular account of our serious unemployment problems.

In the case of the Border, Midland and Western Region however, the allocation it receives was reduced. This is because the region no longer qualified as a transition region since its GDP per capita exceeded 90% of the EU average in 2007-2009 - the period used to determine the status of regions across the EU for the purposes of the Multi-annual Financial Framework 2014-2020 and the new cohesion spending round. This meant that the BMW Region is now considered a more developed region relative to other regions throughout the EU 27 Member States.

The Government was concerned that the EU budgetary assumptions, which use older GDP economic datasets from 2007-2009 to determine the funding categorisation of EU regions, were likely to lead to a reduction in the BMW Region’s allocation from Brussels. Indeed, the Deputy will be aware that the latest Central Statistics Office figures reveal that the Gross Value Added (GVA) per capita - a similar measure to GDP per capita - in the BMW Region in 2010 was 84.1% of the EU average, less than the 90% threshold used to categorise regions as more developed.

However, in recognition of the new position of the BMW Region since the 2007-2009 period was used to categorise the Region as more developed, the Government, in the recent MFF negotiations in February, was successful in securing a special allocation of €100 million for the BMW Region to mitigate the effects of its change in status and in recognition of the significant economic downturn that the region has experienced.

The Government also negotiated a special allocation of up to €150 million for a PEACE IV Programme from which the BMW Region is expected to benefit. The European Council also agreed a special Youth Employment Initiative using €6 billion of Structural Funds for regions with levels of youth unemployment above 25%, from which it is expected the BMW Region will also benefit. The focus on youth unemployment is something the Irish Government had been pressing for.

In the light of this, it is my opinion that an intervention direct to the EU Commission is not appropriate at this stage.

Work in my Department, in conjunction with the Regional Assemblies, has already commenced on the preparation of a new Operational Programme 2014-2020 for the BMW region, which will be submitted to the European Commission for approval later this year.

Estimates for Public Services

Questions (12)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

12. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the Oireachtas will commence consideration of the draft Estimates for 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17854/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012-2014, published in December 2011, introduced a Medium Term Expenditure Framework which set out multi-annual expenditure ceilings on a rolling three year basis. It was envisaged that this reform would facilitate Dáil Committees in engaging in constructive dialogue with Ministers and Departments and input their views on which areas of spending should be prioritised in advance of the Budget each year. These viewpoints can then inform the Government in bringing forward its detailed Estimates for the year in question.

The Expenditure Report 2013, published 5 December 2012, included Departmental level current expenditure ceilings for 2014 which the Oireachtas Committees can consider. While it is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle and the Oireachtas to determine the timing, in the first instance, I would be hopeful that Committees can begin their ex ante look at the future spending of Departments, in the context of the expenditure ceilings already set out, before the summer.

The full Estimates for 2014 will be set out, as usual, at the time of the Budget later this year after detailed discussions have been taken by Government.

Legislative Programme

Questions (13)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

13. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when he will introduce the Freedom of Information Bill 2012 in the Dáil. [17839/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

In July 2012 the Government approved the drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel of a Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) on the basis of the General Scheme of a Bill. The General Scheme was also published at that time and was submitted to the Oireachtas Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Committee for a pre-legislative scrutiny process.

As the Deputy will be aware the purpose of the Bill is to address the main substantive restrictions in access to official information introduced in 2003, to extend Freedom of Information to all public bodies, to provide a framework for the extension of FOI to non-public bodies in receipt of significant funding from the Exchequer as well as to consolidate, modernise and update the legislation, including in light of detailed recommendations made by the Information Commissioner.

Pending receipt of the report of the Committee and consideration of its recommendations, drafting of the Bill is at an advanced stage and it is currently planned that following Government consideration the Bill will be published during the current Oireachtas session. It is also expected that the final Bill will reflect issues emerging from the operational review of Freedom of Information which I have recently initiated which may be amenable to a legislative solution. The review is being conducted by an expert external group and an internal group composed of representatives of Government Departments and some public bodies in the health and education sector.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (14)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

14. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans for the establishment of a register of lobbyists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17856/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

My Department is currently finalising the General Scheme of a Bill which will provide for the statutory regulation of lobbying. It is my intention to present these proposals to Government shortly and to submit them to the Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Committee thereafter for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The aim of regulating lobbying activity through registration and reporting requirements is to strengthen public confidence in politics and in the business of government to increase the accountability of decision makers and to subject public policy making, and those who seek to influence it, to greater openness and transparency. It would facilitate the appropriate independent scrutiny of lobbying activity.

The development of policy on lobbying regulation has been informed by several very valuable sources of information, analysis and experience.

The OECD has developed a set of principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying which have been adopted as a recommendation by all OECD Member States. The OECD principles formed the basis of the consultation exercise carried out by the Department earlier this year.

The project has also drawn on information on regulatory regimes operating for example in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and several European countries. The voluntary register in place in the European Union institutions was also analysed along with proposals for a self-regulatory regime in the UK.

There have been five Private Members Bills published on the regulation of lobbying since 1999. These have proved very useful in illustrating the key detailed features of the possible shape of lobbying regulation.

My Department’s assessment has also derived significant benefit from the work of Irish researchers in TCD, DCU and DIT who have provided guidance and insights drawn from the authoritative work that they have published comparing global approaches to lobbying regulation.

Croke Park Agreement Issues

Questions (15, 16)

Mick Wallace

Question:

15. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the equality audit of the Croke Park II proposals, conducted by the former head of the Equality Authority, which shows that women will be disproportionately negatively affected by the proposals in the new public service agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17831/13]

View answer

John Browne

Question:

16. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on whether the proposals under the Croke Park II Agreement represents a retrograde step for family-friendly work practices in the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17845/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 16 together.

I reiterate some of the points I have already made in response to Deputy Wallace’s priority question on a similar topic today.

As I have already said, following Congress’s decision not to accept the Labour Relations Commission’s (LRC) proposals, the Government is reflecting on the outcome of the ballot and the manner in which the required savings can be achieved this year. However, it is still worth clarifying some of the issues which were raised recently, including those made following the publication of the Equality Audit Report which was commissioned by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

Flexible working arrangements, including flexible starting and finishing times, generous leave entitlements, the capacity to take career breaks and avail of the shorter working year scheme and so on, are available across the public service. Had the LRC’s proposals been accepted this would have continued to be the case.

When you look at the range of work-life balance arrangements that is available to public servants it is clear that they are among the best available options provided by Irish employers, particularly when considered in tandem with annual leave and other provisions.

If the unions had accepted the LRC’s proposals the most popular and widely availed of worksharing arrangements would not have been affected. Those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance were exempt from the worksharing proposals and were not being asked to increase their hours above the 15 hour a week limit for payment of their allowance. Employees with disabilities who had reached a reasonable accommodation with their employer to work less than 50% of the full time hours were also exempt from these proposals.

Flexi-time would still have been available which facilitates employees in varying their starting and finishing times and the length and timing of their lunch breaks. In addition, most employees would have been able to use additional hours worked to avail of, potentially, an additional 13 days’ leave a year.

Some of the LRC proposals in respect of flexi-time and worksharing simply reiterated management prerogatives that are currently in place in line with previously agreed arrangements.

The Equality Audit makes reference to the proposals in respect of longer working hours and their potential impact on sections of the public service. In implementing the arrangements management would have facilitated staff members who wished to opt to remain on their current hours with the appropriate pro-rata pay reduction for a period of time. This would have given these individuals an opportunity to make necessary arrangements to balance their responsibilities at work and at home. They would then have moved to one of the standard worksharing patterns after a set period of time.

An appropriate level of staff must be available during the span of the working day to meet the business needs of the organisation and to provide services to the public. In the context of falling numbers and changing demands for public services, flexitime and work sharing should better reflect the current needs of public service organisations. The operation of these arrangements must support the business of the organisation and the provision of services to the public. The proposed changes were an attempt to balance the requirements of the business while enabling staff to balance work and personal life requirements.

Ministerial Advisers Remuneration

Questions (17)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

17. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide details of any and all pay increases awarded to special advisers in his Department over the last two years. [17838/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

As I have advised in previous Parliamentary Questions since I appointed Anne Byrne and Ronan O’Brien as special advisors no salary increases have been requested in respect of either appointment.

However, on appointment, Ms Anne Byrne was placed on the second point of the PO Standard non-PPC scale with effect from 10 March 2011. In accordance with the normal practice Ms Byrne has been awarded an increment on each anniversary of her appointment.

Since his appointment Mr. O' Brien has had no increase.

Public Procurement Regulations

Questions (18, 23)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

18. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reforms he has introduced since taking office to ensure a greater portion of all public procurement could go to small medium enterprises. [17834/13]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

23. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the distinction if any he makes between small medium enterprises and micro-businesses in public procurement tendering. [17833/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 23 together.

In relation to improving access for small and medium sized enterprises my Department has issued guidelines (Circular 10/10) that require public bodies to promote participation of such enterprises in the award of public contracts. The guidance does not distinguish between micro-enterprises and other SMEs, and the approach set out is intended to be applicable to them all. These guidelines set out positive measures that contracting authorities are to take to promote the involvement of smaller enterprises in a manner that is consistent with the principles and rules of the existing public procurement regulatory regime. The guidance also highlights practices that are to be avoided because they can unjustifiably hinder small businesses in competing for public contracts. The key provisions of the guidance include:

- supplies and general services contracts with an estimated value of €25,000 or more to be advertised on the www.etenders.gov.ie website;

- less use of “restrictive” tendering procedures and greater use of “open” tendering;

- ensuring that the levels set by contracting authorities for suitability criteria are justified and proportionate to the needs of the contract;

- sub-dividing larger requirements into lots where this is practical.

In order to promote and improve such practices the National Procurement Service (NPS) established its 'Working Group to assist Small and Medium Enterprises' in February 2012 to facilitate open discussion on the issue of public service procurement. The Working Group consists of representatives from the NPS, the Health Service Executive, the Irish Business and Employers Federation, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, Chambers Ireland, and the Small Firms Association. The Group has met on a number of occasions and has raised many issues relating to procurement and particularly how these issues impact on SMEs. Resulting from these discussions the NPS has issued two circulars to all buyers in, and suppliers to, the public service with the aim of improving practice in the procurement arena.

In order to encourage greater SME participation the NPS, over the past three years, has conducted a targeted programme of education for suppliers who wish to learn more about doing business with the Irish Public Service. This programme consists of seminars, workshops and large scale 'meet the buyer' events hosted nationwide. To date the NPS has facilitated workshops and presented at seminars to over 3,000 SMEs nationwide. Parallel with these events the NPS also works closely with business representative bodies such as ISME and IBEC to provide briefings for their members.

Circular 10/10 has been in place for just over two years. It is clear that there is a need to ensure greater consistency in relation to the implementation of this circular. In this regard, I have arranged for my Department to remind public bodies about this aspect of the public procurement guidance and the importance of contracting authorities ensuring they implement it appropriately.

Ministerial Travel

Questions (19)

Jerry Buttimer

Question:

19. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the overseas visits for St. Patrick's Day by the Minister of State at his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17734/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, I this year visited Luxemburg and Belgium as part of the Government’s St. Patrick’s Day Travel Programme.

I visited Luxembourg on 14 March 2013 and engaged in a full programme of activities, including a visit to a promotion of Irish food and drink at a local hypermarket, a courtesy call on Luxembourg's Minister for Finance, Mr Luc Frieden, and a meeting at the European Investment Bank with the President, Mr. Werner Hoyer, and Vice President, Mr. Jonathan Taylor. I was also the guest of honour and gave a keynote address at the Embassy’s official St. Patrick’s Day function in Circle Cité in Luxembourg.

I travelled to Belgium on Friday 15 March 2013 and met with Hendrik Bogaert, State Secretary for Civil and Public Service Modernisation. I also had an opportunity to build on trade contacts and meet with members of the Irish community in Belgium. I held a meeting with the Commissioner General for World War 1 commemorations and finally, on the evening of 15 March 2013, I was guest of honour and gave the keynote speech to the official Belgian Embassy St. Patrick’s Day function in the BOZAR Centre, an event that attracted over 600 guests.

I am sure that the Deputy will agree that the importance of these visits, which are aimed at promoting Ireland and enhancing the existing relationships between our countries, cannot be underestimated given the current economic climate.