Freedom of Information Legislation

Questions (29)

Barry Cowen

Question:

29. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to restrict the National Treasury Management Agency and its subsidiaries, the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the National Asset Management Agency, from the full terms of the proposed freedom of information legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42483/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Freedom of Information Bill 2013, which I am currently sponsoring, passed Second Stage in the Dáil last Thursday (3 October 2013). The Bill as currently drafted provides that FOI will apply to the bodies referred to in the Deputy's question.

It was necessary to provide certain exemptions to these bodies to guard against the possibility that release of certain records under FOI would result in significant risk of a serious competitive disadvantage arising which would have the potential to give rise to substantial costs to the State and its citizens. The measures which I have proposed therefore aim to strike the right balance between the public interest in allowing access to official information held by these bodies and safeguarding highly commercially and market sensitive information against release.

The main exemptions that I have provided to the bodies mentioned in the question relate to the following:

(i) records concerning investors or potential investors in which the NTMA, NAMA, and the NPRF have invested or could potentially make an investment are exempt;

(ii) the NTMA will hold an exemption to protect records relating to the functions of the State Claims Agency (as set out in Part 2 of the NTMA Act 2000) other than in relation to the general administration of these functions.

(iii) an exemption is being provided for the NTMA operating in its NewEra capacity, covering records it receives from state bodies for the purposes of the management or disposal of an investment of public money if such bodies are exempt bodies for the purposes of FOI.

(iv) Notwithstanding the established and strong general principle that pay information relating to any person employed by a State body should be subject to FOI, having consulted with the Minister for Finance, I accepted the case made by the NTMA and supported by an independent report that the disclosure of full information relating to the remuneration of staff would place the body at a serious commercial disadvantage in terms of recruiting and retaining the expertise that it needs.

Public Service Reform Plan Measures

Questions (30, 96)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

30. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements have to date achieved their targets; when he expects the benefit of such savings to manifest themselves by way of economic growth and improved employment prospects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42439/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

96. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he is satisfied that the combined benefits of the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements will be adequate in terms of delivery of the objectives set; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42742/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 96 together.

It is clear that the Public Service Agreement or ‘Croke Park Agreement’ has delivered on its objectives. In this context, I would highlight the final report of the Implementation Body, which concluded that the Croke Park Agreement delivered significant cost savings amounting to €1.8 billion over its lifetime. The Agreement also ensured the delivery of central reforms while acting as a facilitator for a large number of reforms at sectoral level, across all sectors of the Public Service, in a climate of industrial peace. The report also concluded that the overwhelming majority of commitments around cost extraction, reform and changed work practices had been substantially delivered.

The Haddington Road Agreement sets out the basis for the contribution of a further €1 billion by the public service pay and pensions bill to our fiscal recovery, which would not have been possible under the framework of the Croke Park Agreement. The €1 billion reduction in the public service pay and pensions bill is critical to ensuring that we deliver on our targets for fiscal consolidation.

The Agreement has already started to deliver on its objectives. Approximately €300 million in savings arising from the Agreement were incorporated into the Revised Estimates for 2013. Since 1 July, a number of changes in work practices and reforms have been implemented. In addition public servants are working longer hours which will result in the provision of a total of 15 million additional working hours across all sectors of the Public Service.

The additional working hours by public servants will help us to deliver long term and sustainable increases in productivity by reducing the requirement for paid overtime hours and agency costs, thereby leading to direct cash savings; and allowing management to maintain services against the backdrop of decreasing staff numbers.

The various reforms under the Agreement will allow us to implement long term sustainable change with a view to delivering a more efficient and effective modern Public Service capable of delivering high quality services to the citizens of this country.

Semi-State Bodies Privatisation

Questions (31)

Michael Colreavy

Question:

31. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when, as part of his Department’s asset disposal programme, he expects the sale of Bord Gáis Energy to be complete; and if negotiations have begun on the future terms and conditions of BGE staff. [42517/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

As referred to in the Deputy’s question, Bord Gáis Éireann is in the process of selling its energy business, Bord Gáis Energy. BGE and its advisors, working with NewERA who are advising the Government in relation to the sale, are currently assessing the latest bids received for Bord Gáis Energy. The Deputy will understand that, at this very sensitive stage of the process, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further public comment on the matter.

With regard to the Deputy’s question on the future terms and conditions of BGE staff, while I have had no direct role in the sale transaction, I understand that discussions commenced some time ago between BGE management and the BGE Group of Unions on the terms and conditions of the BGE staff that are due to transfer under the new ownership arrangements.

State Properties

Questions (32)

Micheál Martin

Question:

32. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if charities will be given access to currently unused State properties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42493/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Office of Public Works stated policy for dealing with vacant State properties is to identify, in the first instance, if other government departments and/or agencies has a use for the properties. If there is no other State use for a property the OPW will then consider disposing of the property on the open market, if and when conditions prevail, in order to generate much needed revenue for the Exchequer.

If no State requirement is identified or if a decision is taken not to dispose of a particular property the OPW would consider, community involvement including charities, subject to the receipt of an appropriate business case which would indicate that the charity has the means to insure, maintain and manage the property. OPW is actively engaging with a number of community groups in respect of vacant properties.

Public Sector Staff Sick Leave

Questions (33)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

33. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he is satisfied that sufficient progress is being made in reducing the cost of sick leave within the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42488/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, in July 2012 sick leave arrangements for all public service employees under the Croke Park Agreement were the subject of a Labour Court Recommendation for the introduction of a comprehensively reformed Sick Leave Scheme for the public service.

The basis to the reformed scheme was the unsustainable cost of sick leave for the public service (i.e. approximately €500m) and the urgent requirement in that context to reduce those costs by curbing absenteeism.

Under the new arrangements for most employees in the public service the amount of paid sick leave which they may be granted will be halved.

It is envisaged that significant cost savings will be achieved under the reforms through a parallel approach of revising the current paid sick leave arrangements and implementing more robust systems to manage sick leave actively by line managers.

Arrangements are currently being made by my Department, including through necessary legislative change to ensure that the new arrangements are fully in place from 1 January 2014.

The changes to self-certified sick leave were introduced from November 2012. The impact of the reduction in access to self-certified paid sick leave is, therefore, expected to be reflected in the costs of self-certified sick leave for 2013. The changes to certified sick leave, where the majority of sick leave costs arise (i.e. estimated at almost 90 per cent in 2012), will be implemented in January 2014.

My Department will be examining, in consultation with other Departments and the main sectors of the public service, appropriate arrangements for monitoring the impact of the reforms to paid sick leave in the public service.

State Properties Data

Questions (34)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

34. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the State’s exposure to rents on vacant properties has decreased since the Government came to office; if he will provide an updated list of all properties rented by the State that are vacant at present including the annual rental amounts due in respect of each and the agency that acts as tenant; all former vacant rented properties which have become occupied in the past year; all formerly occupied properties which have fallen vacant in the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42298/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The property portfolio of the State covers lands and buildings owned or leased by a wide variety of organisations in addition to the Civil Service, including local authorities, organisations such as the Health Services Executive and non-commercial State bodies such as the Industrial Development Authority and SFADCo. It would be necessary for the Deputy to obtain the information she requires from the different organisations concerned.

In the time available, it has not been possible for the Office of Public Works to collate the data required by the Deputy insofar as the Civil Service is concerned. The Office will, however, furnish the relevant data to the Deputy shortly.

Coastal Erosion

Questions (35)

Clare Daly

Question:

35. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the communication his Department has had with Fingal County Council over the past 18 months in relation to the provision of funding to deal with dune erosion and coastal protection. [42296/13]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

In February 2013, the Office of Public Works approved funding of €57,800 under the Minor Works Scheme to Fingal County Council for a coastal erosion and risk management study for Portrane/Rush and I am advised that the Council expects to have the report to hand shortly.

In March 2013, the OPW received a Minor Works Scheme coastal erosion funding application from the Council for Emergency Sea Defence Works for the R127 Balbriggan to Skerries Regional Road. This is currently being assessed. Further information with regard to this application has been received from the Council.

In June 2013, the Council submitted a coastal flooding application under the Minor Works Scheme for a study to develop the design of flood mitigation works at the Town Centre, Malahide. The OPW has sought further information on the application from the Council.