Flood Relief Schemes Funding

Questions (40)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

40. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide details of all flood relief and large scale water drainage works carried out by the Office of Public Works in the past five years including the location of each scheme, the cost of each scheme and the numbers employed; his views on whether the use of OPW resources for such works represents a saving over the potential cost of contracting the work to the private sector; if he has considered advancing other public works projects under the auspices of the OPW that may provide employment to suitably qualified individuals who are long-term unemployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17842/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Question has been taken to refer to flood relief schemes carried out directly by the OPW's labourforce in the past five years.

The majority of OPW capital flood relief schemes are carried out through private sector contractors. However, in some circumstances it is considered more appropriate and efficient to undertake the works directly using OPW's own staff - permanent and temporary. In deciding which approach would be the most appropriate use of resources in any instance, the OPW has regard to a number of factors such as the scale and complexity of works involved, their geographic location relative to OPW's regional depots and the extent of other work commitments.

Using a direct labour approach to undertaking capital works offers advantages in some respects over using private contractors. It is generally a faster way to get the works commenced as the onerous and time consuming process of procuring a private contractor is avoided. It also allows more flexibility in managing risks on a project through targeted deployment of resources to deal with delays caused by unforeseen events and conditions which frequently arise in these type of works. It is the case that, in certain circumstances, using direct labour is a more cost effective way of undertaking works compared to engagement of a private contractor. However, each case must be looked at and decided on its own merits as there are a muliplicity of factors that must be taken into account in considering the most appropriate approach to use.

In terms of the employment generating potential of using a direct labour approach over a private contractor approach, it is considered that there is not a significant difference in either model as, in broad terms, both would employ the same number of staff. It has to be borne in mind that the OPW, like all Government Departments and Agencies, is required to manage it staff resources within the Employment Control Framework total allocated to it by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Therefore, the OPW is constrained in the scope it has to recruit additional staff to allow it to undertake any significant expansion in its direct works programme.

The number of staff involved in the construction of a scheme varies over the course of the project as the elements of the works being carried out changes. As indicated, the numbers employed would be broadly similar irrespective of whether the scheme is being carried out by contractors or through staff employed by OPW. Where OPW is carrying out a project directly, in addition to recruiting temporary staff on contract for that scheme, the Office generally also uses members of its permanent workforce. While the primary and core function of this workforce is the maintenance of completed arterial drainage and flood relief schemes, staff members are also deployed to the construction of capital schemes where appropriate. It is important to mention also that, even where a scheme is being carried out "in-house" or directly by the OPW, it is often the case that private contractors are employed to carry out discrete specialist elements of the works such as stone works, cladding or sheet piling.

Details of the main large flood relief schemes carried out in the relevant period are given below. Because OPW staff, including supervisory staff, are deployed between projects, the full overhead cost in relation to these staff would not be reflected in the cost figures shown for each scheme. In addition to these schemes, a number of smaller-scale projects were carried out, generally as agents of the relevant Local Authorities for schemes approved under the OPW's Minor Flood Mitigation Works scheme.

Scheme

Average number of staff*

(permanent and temporary)

Total cost

Mornington Flood Relief Scheme, Co. Meath

11

€4.2m

Dodder Flood Relief Scheme, Dublin

15

€10.9m

Johnstown, Co. Kildare

9

€3.0m

Tullamore, Co. Offaly

9

€1.0m

Claregalway

13

€1.0m

(*These numbers would not include staff employed by any contractor engaged for specialist elements of the project.)

The number of temporary staff recruited by the OPW in any given year is decided on the basis of the work programme for that year and the financial and supervisory resources available.

It should be noted also that since its introduction in 2009, the OPW Minor Works programme has to date funded around 400 flood mitigation projects throughout the country, through the Local Authorities with a total allocation of €28m.

Flood Risk Assessments

Questions (41)

Denis Naughten

Question:

41. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the current steps which are being taken to address flood risks within the Shannon basin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17703/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The River Shannon Catchment Flood Risk Assessment & Management Study is being progressed. This is an in-depth examination of the flood risk in the Shannon catchment and a detailed plan with specific recommendations on measures to manage that risk will be produced by consultants, Jacobs Engineering.

In advance of the detailed analysis which is being carried out under the Shannon CFRAM Study the consultants were requested by the Office of Public Works (OPW) to prioritise a formal review of the operating regulations and procedures of the control structures along the river Shannon with the purpose of identifying potential improvements with respect to flood risk management that could be introduced in the short term.

That report and a non-technical summary of the Report - ‘Understanding Water levels on the River Shannon’ was circulated to all public representatives in the region, last Autumn. In addition, a direct briefing on the report was made by Jacobs Engineering in late 2012 to the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

As the Deputy is aware, operational control of water flows and levels on the Shannon is a matter for both the ESB and Waterways Ireland, in the first instance.

The OPW meets regularly with both organisations to review matters relating to the River Shannon. As part of these consultations and in the context of the ongoing work under the Shannon CFRAM study being undertaken for the OPW by Jacobs Engineering, it was agreed to explore the possibility of carrying out a water level monitoring exercise, involving controlled raising and lowering of weir boards at selected locations, subject to favourable hydrological conditions.

For the monitoring exercise to go ahead three criteria have to be satisfied. The first is that the level downstream of Athlone must be sufficiently low not to cause flooding in the callows. The second is that the level on Lough Ree is not below the recently agreed ESB lower target operating level in early summer and the third is that a significant rainfall event is forecast.

At the moment only the first of the above criteria is clearly satisfied. The situation is being monitored closely so that when suitable conditions prevail the exercise can proceed.

In addition to the water level monitoring exercise and following consultations between the OPW, the ESB and Waterways Ireland, the ESB has indicated agreement to a change in the existing control regime, which will remain in place until the publication of the Flood Risk Management Plan for The Shannon Catchment. The change will provide for a trial lowering of the Spring/early Summer target levels in Lough Ree. By increasing the storage capacity in Lough Ree this change will reduce somewhat the risk of summer flooding in the callows.

Government-Church Dialogue

Questions (42)

Gerry Adams

Question:

42. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the recent meetings he has held with the trade union movement. [10975/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I met with representatives of the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in December last regarding the commencement of discussions with public service management on a new agenda for reductions in the cost of delivering public services and substantial longer term productivity improvements and workplace reforms.

Following intensive discussions earlier this year, I attended a plenary meeting of the parties to the public service discussions on 25th February last at which the Labour Relations Commission presented proposals for a draft Public Service Agreement.

I also hold periodic meetings with trade union leaders and officials of my Department meet with stakeholders including representatives of public service trade unions on a regular basis.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Questions (43)

Dara Calleary

Question:

43. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he expects the fall in capital expenditure in the first quarter of the year compared to 2012 to be reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17847/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The net capital expenditure allocation for 2013 is €3.097 billion, as set out in the Revised Estimates Volume published yesterday. The end March Exchequer returns showed that €387 million was drawn down by Departments and Offices during the first quarter of the year. This is just €50m below the level they had profiled to end-March. I fully expect that Departments and Offices will utilise their full capital allocations over the course of the year.

In line with the five year capital envelopes, the total allocation in recent years has been progressively reduced because of the need to find savings from all areas of Government spend as part of our bringing the overall public finances back onto a sustainable footing. Therefore, the 2013 capital spending will not be profiled to eventually reach the 2012 level, as the allocation this year is lower than for 2012.

Capital spending has general characteristics which influence the allocation drawdown pattern. Expenditure on capital projects typically occurs in large tranches at fixed milestones, unlike current expenditure which is generally continuous throughout the year. This will, of course, affect the phasing and profiling of capital expenditure from year to year. Given the one-off nature of much capital expenditure, year-on-year comparisons may not accurately reflect progress on capital expenditure, particularly during the early part of the year. A more appropriate measure of how capital expenditure is progressing is the comparison with published profiles.

Strategic Management Initiative

Questions (44)

Joe McHugh

Question:

44. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the efficacy of the Strategic Management Initiative of 1994; the action that he has taken to promote greater systematic incentives for public service workers in this decade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17736/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Strategic Management Initiative (SMI) was launched by the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, in February 1994. The stated objective of the SMI was to present Public Service management with an opportunity to make a substantial contribution to national development, through the provision of quality and effectively delivered services. It should be noted that while the focus of the SMI was primarily on the Civil Service, parallel initiatives took place in the other sectors of the Public Service.

In 1996, the Delivering Better Government report expanded on the framework set out in the SMI and presented a vision for the Civil Service built around six key organisational themes. These were greater openness and accountability, quality customer service, the efficient and fair operation of simplified regulations, improvements in human resource management, better financial management and enhanced information systems management.

Under the SMI, progress was made across the six organisational themes in areas such as the introduction of more rigorous strategic planning and reporting; the introduction of a legislative programme including the Freedom of Information Act, the Public Service Management Act, the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Immunities, Privileges and Compellability of Witnesses) Act, and the Prompt Payments Act; the introduction of Customer Charters and Customer Service Action Plans; the introduction of the Performance Management and Development System for the Civil Service; the development of Regulatory Impact Assessment; the introduction of the Management Information Framework; and a greater focus on cross-organisational ICT provision.

Notwithstanding the progress made under the SMI and other reform programmes since, when this Government came to office it was clear that we needed a new, radical and far reaching reform programme, to contribute to economic recovery as part of the Government’s strategic response to the crisis. This was reflected in the commitments to reform made in the Programme for Government, which set the basis for the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan, published in November, 2011.

The Reform and Delivery Office in my Department was established to lead and coordinate delivery of the reform agenda. Under the Reform Plan, we are implementing a series of reforms under the following five key commitments to change: placing customer service at the core of everything we do; maximising new and innovative service delivery channels; radically reducing our costs to drive better value for money; leading, organising and working in new ways; and strong focus on implementation and delivery.

The Reform Plan has a particular emphasis on strong governance and programme management structures, in order to drive and monitor the implementation of reform across the system. The Public Service Reform Plan is complemented by Integrated Reform Delivery Plans produced by all Government Departments and major Offices. These plans outline the reform programmes at organisational and sectoral levels, as well as central initiatives.

A more effective and sustainable Public Service is in the interests of all stakeholders, including public servants. We are working hard to build a Public Service of which we can all be proud and a Public Service that values its most important asset – its people. Increased flexibility, mobility, development and up-skilling are key aspects of reform that will provide public servants with greater opportunities for more fulfilling, rewarding careers in the years ahead.

Equality Proofing of Policies

Questions (45)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

45. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has equality proofed the proposed Croke Park II proposals with a particular reference to the impact of the proposals on women working within the public sector. [17841/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

All changes in relation to work-life balance arrangements in the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) proposals were aimed at streamlining existing arrangements so that a satisfactory balance could be struck between the delivery of the business needs of the employer – in this case the consistent delivery of high quality services to the public – and the need for working parents and carers to have flexibility to meet their personal commitments.

Work-life balance arrangements in the public service are, and will continue to be, among the best available options provided by Irish employers. This is particularly the case when considered in tandem with annual leave and other family friendly provisions.

The range of flexible working arrangements that will continue to be available across the public service, includes flexi-time, work-sharing arrangements, the shorter working year scheme, career breaks, as well as all of the statutory entitlements such as parental leave and carer’s leave. This is an extensive range of options within which public service employees can balance their work-life commitments.

The Irish public service has a proud record of promoting these arrangements and the employee profile across the service reflects the strong efforts made over the last few decades to ensure that public servants’ employment terms allow them to balance their work and home commitments.

EU Funding

Questions (46)

Barry Cowen

Question:

46. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will outline the current status of the BMW region under the MFF following the heads of State agreement in February; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12676/13]

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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. Despite this, 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. This meant that the status of the BMW Region has changed from that of a "transition region" to that of a "more developed region" relative to other regions throughout the EU 27 Member States.

However, in recognition of the special position of the region, the Government, in the recent MFF negotiations in February, was successful in securing for the region an additional €100 million and additional special allocations under PEACE IV and the Youth Employment Initiative. The focus on youth unemployment is something the Irish Government had been pressing for.

Emigrant Support Services

Questions (47)

Brendan Smith

Question:

47. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the total funding provided in 2013 for emigrant support programmes; the organisations and the programmes to be funded this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18120/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Emigrant Support Programme, ESP, provides funding to non-profit organisations and projects to support Irish communities overseas and to facilitate the development of more strategic links between Ireland and the global Irish. The emphasis of the Emigrant Support Programme is on supporting culturally sensitive, frontline welfare services, targeted at the most vulnerable members of our overseas communities, particularly in Britain and the United States. These services have made a substantive difference to the lives of these communities overseas through reducing homelessness, tackling social isolation, and enabling Irish emigrants to access their local statutory entitlements. In addition, the ESP has facilitated Government support for a range of community and heritage projects, strategic capital projects and other initiatives aimed at creating practical results-orientated links between Ireland and the global Irish, including those that emerged from the Global Irish Economic Forums. Details of all grant recipients since 2006 can be found on my Department’s website at http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=298. I am pleased that, despite the difficult financial situation we face, the Government has maintained the 2013 funding for the ESP at €11.59 million, the same level as 2012. The focus in 2013 will be on key frontline welfare and advisory services and on projects aimed at supporting new arrivals.

The 2013 grant round closed on 20 February. Applications for 360 projects from 16 countries are currently under review. I expect to be in a position to make announcements in the coming weeks.

Good Friday Agreement

Questions (48)

Brendan Smith

Question:

48. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline the further discussions he proposes to hold with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State in relation to the proposed Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18121/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government remains firmly committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements. In contacts with the British government, we will continue to stress the importance of implementation of all aspects of the Agreements, including of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which takes account of the separate and specific context of Northern Ireland. I will avail of a planned meeting later this month with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to have a further discussion on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

I will also continue to urge all the parties in the Assembly to engage in constructive discussion with a view to reaching agreement on the substance of a Bill of Rights.

A Bill of Rights drawn up by agreement between the main parties of the Assembly could set out precisely and formally the rights upon which a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland can be based.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (49)

Brendan Smith

Question:

49. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there is adequate monitoring being undertaken to ensure that humanitarian aid is reaching those most in need in Syria and in neighbouring areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18124/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The conflict in Syria continues to escalate in scale and scope with devastating humanitarian consequences for the civilian population. There are now over 4 million people in need of life saving humanitarian assistance within Syria and over 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries. As the conflict enters its third year, the coping mechanisms of the internally displaced and the refugee populations are severely depleted and the numbers in acute need are increasing every day. The Tánaiste saw first-hand the terrible suffering being endured by people who are forced to flee the violence when he visited refugee camps in Turkey last week. Ireland has responded generously to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries, and to date has provided over €8.15 million in assistance through long standing and reputable partners such as WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Government recognises the significant challenges involved in reaching those most in need within Syria, and the Tánaiste has consistently raised concerns about humanitarian access at the EU Foreign Affairs Council. The constraints are many. Excessive controls on aid agencies working in the country, the fragmentation of the armed opposition and the intensity of military confrontations have made the operating environment extremely volatile and insecure, particularly in opposition controlled areas. Restrictions imposed by the Assad regime, combined with logistical constraints and increasing insecurity, make it very difficult to access the most vulnerable populations.

Despite these challenges, it is a fact that our humanitarian partners on the ground are succeeding in reaching increasing numbers of vulnerable people. During consultations this week in Dublin I was informed by Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of World Food Programme that her organisation is reaching 2 million Syrians, including about 500,000 in opposition held areas. This represents a scale-up of 300,000 people from the February distribution. Other partners such as the ICRC, working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have been reaching areas inaccessible to the United Nations. These are partners that have a demonstrated track record of effective humanitarian response in Syria, with strong strategies for targeting and delivery and robust systems for monitoring and accountability.

Despite these considerable achievements, it is acknowledged that many people still remain beyond the reach, particularly in the most insecure areas in the north of the country. The United Nations and other humanitarian actors on the ground are committed to urgently scaling up the scope and reach of the humanitarian response. The approval of additional NGO implementing partners and the decision to establish inter-agency operational field hubs is assisting the UN and other actors to reach the most vulnerable populations. UN hubs are already in place in Homs and Tartous, where the strengthened presence is enhancing outreach, and further hubs are planned for other areas.

Ensuring that our humanitarian contribution reaches people most in need, wherever they are, is a top priority for Ireland and we continue to closely monitor the humanitarian response in Syria and the region. As part of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union the Government has consistently raised the issue of humanitarian access and respect for humanitarian principles in Syria. This has also been a key issue for Ireland when represented at the ‘Friends of Syria’ conferences and the ‘Syria Humanitarian Forum’. Ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches those most in need will be part of any future assessment of how we can further respond to humanitarian needs in Syria and the wider region.