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Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Written Answers Nos. 173-192

Financial Services

Questions (173)

Denis Naughten

Question:

173. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if he will review the operation of debt recovery by vulture funds that are using the threat of court costs against heavily indebted persons as a mechanism to bully them into accepting financial terms that will still leave them with substantial residual debt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2769/22]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

In the operation of debt recovery creditors are obliged to operate and enforce agreements within the law and the terms of the relevant agreement.

Where a creditor is a regulated financial services provider, such as an investment fund, they must in addition operate within the framework of relevant Central Bank regulatory and consumer protection requirements.  

When a consumer takes out a loan from a regulated lender it is subject to all the relevant Irish and EU consumer protections.  By virtue of the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Acts, if the loan is subsequently sold to another entity those consumer protections will continue to apply and the new holder of legal title to the credit must, unless it is already authorised by the Central Bank, be authorised as a credit-servicing firm and it must act in accordance with Irish financial services law and regulatory framework that applies to ‘regulated financial service providers’. 

The operation of funds purchasing loans from regulated lenders such as banks fall within these requirements which are the result of legislation that has been put in place by the Oireachtas and changes made by the Central Bank to its own consumer protection framework in recent years.  

This existing framework ensures that consumers, whose loans are sold to another firm, maintain the same regulatory protections that they had prior to the sale. This includes various statutory Codes of Conduct issued and amended by the Central Bank, such as the Consumer Protection Code 2012, Code of Conduct for Mortgage Arrears 2013, Lending to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Regulations 2016, and Fitness and Probity Standards (including minimum competency requirements).

The Central Bank has advised that, within the remit of its responsibilities for safeguarding stability and protecting consumers, its approach to debt resolution is focused on ensuring the fair treatment of borrowers through a strong consumer protection framework and ensuring that regulated entities have appropriate arrears resolution strategies and operations in place. 

The Consumer Protection Code 2012 (the Code) sets out the requirements that regulated firms must comply with when dealing with consumers in order to ensure a similar level of protection for consumers, regardless of the type of financial services provider. The Code specifies that regulated firms must, at all times, act ‘honestly, fairly and professionally in the best interests of its customers and the integrity of the market’ and that they do not ‘exert undue pressure or undue influence on a customer’

In relation to a mortgage loan which is secured on a primary residence, the Code of Conduct for Mortgage Arrears 2013 (the CCMA) provides a strong consumer protection framework, requiring relevant firms to ensure that borrowers who are in arrears or pre-arrears are treated in a transparent and fair manner.

Where an Alternative Repayment Arrangement (ARA) is offered to the borrower, the regulated entity must inform the borrower of the reasons why the ARA offered is considered appropriate and sustainable for the borrower’s individual circumstances. Where the borrower’s circumstances have changed, in line with Provision 40 of the CCMA, any change to the ARA must be appropriate and sustainable for the borrower’s circumstances. 

Where the entity does not offer an ARA, for example where it is concluded that the mortgage is not sustainable and an ARA is unlikely to be appropriate, the entity must provide the reasons on paper or another durable medium to the borrower, as well as other relevant information including other options available to the borrower and an estimate of associated costs or charges where known and, where not known, a list of the associated costs or charges. 

Furthermore, the arrears handling provisions in Chapter 8 of the Consumer Protection Code apply when the loan is not a loan which falls within the scope of the CCMA. The Code requires that regulated entities have in place written procedures for the handling of arrears. Where an account is in arrears, a regulated entity must seek to mutually agree an approach that will assist the personal consumer in resolving the arrears.  

Specified information in relation to arrears must be made available to personal consumers, including general information to encourage the consumer to deal with arrears and stating the benefits of dealing with arrears. 

If the debtor is not happy with the service they receive from a credit servicing firm or any other regulated entity, they have the right to complain to that firm. The firm will handle the complaint in accordance with its complaints handling process.

The Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 also includes rules that firms must follow when they handle the complaint. If the complaint is not resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction, they can refer the complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, where they are an ‘eligible consumer’ covered by that Scheme. Further details on the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman can be found on www.fspo.ie.

More generally, details on the protections and options available to a borrower or any other debtor under Irish personal insolvency legislation can be found at isi.gov.ie.  This aspect of the framework of protections for individuals (including mortgage borrowers) is overseen by the Insolvency Service of Ireland and falls within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Justice.

Primary Medical Certificates

Questions (174)

James Lawless

Question:

174. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Finance when he plans to hold a review of the primary medical certificate criteria given that the Disabled Medical Board has resigned due to concerns in relation to the strict criteria for the primary medical certificate scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2823/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Disabled Drivers & Disabled Passengers Scheme (DDS) provides relief from VRT and VAT on the purchase and use of an adapted car, as well as an exemption from motor tax and an annual fuel grant.

The Scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons who also meet one of six specified medical criteria, as a driver or as a passenger and also to certain organisations. In order to qualify for relief, the applicant must hold a Primary Medical Certificate issued by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer (SAMO) or a Board Medical Certificate issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal. Certain other qualifying criteria apply in relation to the vehicle, in particular that it must be specially constructed or adapted for use by the applicant. In the event that a PMC is not granted by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer an appeal may be made to the independent Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal (DDMBA) who operate out of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.

The members of the DDMBA wrote to me recently tendering their resignation from the Board. My officials are engaged with the Department of Health and the Public Appointments Service in terms of seeking expressions of interest from medical practitioners to participate in the Board. It is hoped to move this process along as quickly as possible so that appeals can recommence early in the new year.

Requests for appeal hearings can be sent to the DDMBA secretary based in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. New appeal hearing dates will be issued once the new Board is in place. Assessments for the primary medical certificate, by the HSE, are continuing to take place.

As the Deputy will appreciate this Scheme confers substantial benefits to eligible persons and changing the medical criteria to more general mobility-focused criteria, would raise the already considerable cost of the Scheme in terms of tax foregone to the Exchequer. Any increase in the cost of the Scheme would require a concomitant increase in tax, reduction in public expenditure, or increase in the Exchequer deficit.

I gave a commitment to the House that a comprehensive review of the scheme, to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities, would be undertaken. In this context I have been working with my Government colleague, Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. We are both agreed that the review should be brought within a wider review under the auspices of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy, to examine transport supports encompassing all Government funded transport and mobility schemes for people with disabilities. Its work was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This the most appropriate forum to meet mutual objectives in respect of transport solutions/mobility supports for those with a disability.

It is anticipated that the NDIS working group will be meeting shortly. My officials will continue to work closely with officials from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, to progress this review, and on foot of that will bring forward proposals for consideration.

Office of Public Works

Questions (175)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

175. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will clarify the span of control of each of the OPW Management Advisory Committee board members; the requisite qualifications of each; and the reforms that have occurred at this level within the estate management area since the OPW replied on this matter in particular to the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts in October 2018. [2707/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The qualifications of the OPW’s  Management Board incorporate a diverse and wide range of professional, technical, academic and executive qualifications, skills and experience. The broad scope of functions carried out by the OPW requires a leadership team that is qualified to meet the evolving needs of government, to respond effectively to changing environmental and policy priorities and to comply with extensive governance obligations.  Strategic vision, governance and leadership capabilities are core requisites for OPW’s Management Board and have been the focus of recent continuous professional development with a view to adding to the Board’s competencies in areas including chartered directorship, talent management and executive leadership.  

In terms of reforms that have occurred over the past number of years, these are set out in the Deputy’s PQ 2709/22 for answer today.

Office of Public Works

Questions (176)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

176. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of persons by role (details supplied) directly employed by the OPW by the grade at which they work, that is assistant principal, principal officer, assistant secretary and so on. [2708/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

Information is presented in the following table.

Details as per PQ

Grade equivalent to

Numbers

Architects

1 Principal Architect at Assistant Secretary Level 3 Assistant Principal Architects at Principal Officer level 37 Senior Architects at Assistant Principal level 41 Architects at Administrative Officer level 18 Architectural Assistants at Executive Officer level

100

Engineers

6 Assistant Chief Engineers at Principal Officer level 75 Engineers at Assistant Principal level 33 Engineers at Administrative Officer level

114

Mechanical & Electrical Engineers

12 M&E Engineers at Assistant Principal level 14 M&E Engineers at Administrative Officer level

26

Quantity Surveyors

1 Principal Quantity Surveyor at Principal Officer level 5 Quantity Surveyors at Assistant Principal level

6

Valuations Surveyors

9 Valuers at Assistant Principal level 1 Valuer at Administrative Officer level

10

Technicians and Draughtsman

9 Engineering Technicians at Administrative Officer level 6 Engineering Technicians at Executive Officer level 2 Senior Engineering Draughtspersons at Executive Officer level

17

Planners

3 at Assistant Principal level 1 at Administrative Officer level

4

Property Managers

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Property Strategic Advisors

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Project Managers

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Building Surveyors

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Technologists

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Economists

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Financial Advisors

Not a Civil Service grade

0

Departmental Reviews

Questions (177)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

177. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of recommendations that have been implemented since 2016 in relation to the Capacity and Capability review of the Estate Portfolio Management function carried out from 2014 to 2016. [2709/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

In 2014 the Chairman of the OPW commissioned a review to specifically assess the OPW’s Estate Portfolio Management capacity and capability to deliver the Government’s property-related reforms and on the recommendations contained in the Property Asset Management Delivery Plan (PAMDP), 2013.  The Capacity and Capability (C&C) review was one of the recommendations contained in the PAMDP.

The main objectives of the 2014 C&C Review were to:

- ensure that the OPW was delivering property services in this evolving environment in the most efficient and effective manner;

- ensure that the OPW could deliver on the actions in the Property Asset Management Delivery Plan; and

- identify areas where existing resources within the OPW may need to be strengthened, organisational and management structures re-aligned and working methods changed, bearing in mind the ongoing limitations on the overall resources available to the OPW and across the public service.

The recommendations contained in the C&C Review covered areas such as customer engagement, portfolio planning, project management resources, cost reduction, value release strategies, potential service delivery models, charging regimes, service level agreements, organisation models, process review, performance management and expertise, among others.  A Business Transformation Unit was established in 2014 to oversee the change management process, to be determined, arising from the recommendations in the C&C Review. 

Following the extensive consultations on the recommendations that followed, the OPW determined a range of actions to be implemented, to reflect the C&C findings and recommendations in line with the Programme for Government and the actions arising from the PAMDP.  

In that regard, a significant reorganisation and restructuring of the Estate Management area was undertaken to realign structure to project planning and delivery functions.  The following recommendations in the C&C Review were implemented:

- The appointment of a senior manager at Assistant Secretary level to oversee the Estate Management function within the office.  This included a restructuring and re-organisation of the OPW’s activities and functions to support planning and delivery of its capital projects and of its property related commitments. 

- The establishment of a Project Oversight Group, chaired by the Chairman of the OPW, to oversee the management, assignment and implementation of intermediate and major capital projects and programmes of work; together with the establishment of a project pipeline planning process to inform the work of the Oversight Group;

- The reorganisation of the capital project management area into Intermediate and Major projects, with project assignment to these areas dependent on scale and cost of each project; 

- The establishment of a Governance and Evaluation Unit to support senior managers in relation to the requirements of the Public Spending Code;

- The establishment of a Portfolio Planning Unit , made up of additional qualified property personnel to facilitate more in-depth strategic portfolio planning, property option appraisals along with identifying potential opportunities in the market, in consultation with the Property Advisory (Valuation) Services in the OPW;

- A review of the resources in the OPW’s Property Advisory (Valuation) Service in 2017/2018, whereby additional professional Valuers were recruited and a dedicated team assigned to the Dublin area;

- The development of an overall Estate Management Strategy to provide a high level framework for a coordinated planning approach of the functions covered within the Estate Portfolio Management area; and to take account of any future alternative funding models that may arise from the engagement with the NDFA;

- Ongoing engagement with the NDFA to examine the availability of alternative funding models that could provide for greater flexibility in funding opportunities in the market, combined with reinvesting in the portfolio through targeted property disposals;

- The establishment of a property Acquisition and Disposals Committee to identify potential strategic acquisitions, matched with planned disposals (to re-invest disposal income);

- Strengthened processes relating to structured multi-disciplinary option appraisals and the completion of business cases on significant acquisition proposals, in line with the Public Spending Code;

- Strengthened sign-off on property acquisitions with an independent verification of Heads of Terms agreed on leasehold or freehold acquisitions to ensure alignment between the agreed Heads of Terms and the final legal documentation;

- The ongoing implementation of an Integrated Workplace Management System, to consolidate and streamline the range of property-related information held across the organisation.  The property maintenance element of this system is now live and it is expected that end user testing of the property management element will be complete and the system will go live in mid-2022; 

- The hosting of regular Accommodation Workshops with client Departments, in light of the OPW’s intelligent client role, in addition to hosting an Annual Accommodation Officers Network Conference. 

- In parallel with the above, the OPW supports both formal educational and professional development programmes for staff and ensures that experiential learning opportunities are provided, in keeping with HR best practice.

As with all organisations, the reform process in OPW is not a static, point-in-time exercise but an ongoing, evolving process.  The process responds to emerging Government, environmental and market demands as well as the ongoing Civil Service Reform agenda, staff requirements and union agreements.

The reform initiatives in OPW positioned the organisation particularly well in the past 2 years in the context of major delivery programmes around Brexit and the national Covid emergency.

Office of Public Works

Questions (178)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

178. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way in which the multi-disciplinary teams are structured in OPW estate management; and the level of professional expertise at which this is usually controlled and led by in relation to property. [2710/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has an extensive network of technical and professional property personnel. The nature of the work of the OPW requires the input of professional, technical and administrative staff working in multi-disciplinary teams across a wide range of Estate Management Functions, including the acquisition and disposal of property, the design, project management and delivery of major capital projects. The roles cover professional managers, architects, engineers, mechanical and electrical specialists, surveyors, planners, financial advisors, quantity surveyors, project managers, supplemented by other various specialists as required. Estate Management includes many of these roles among a cohort of staff who are widely experienced in managing a diverse portfolio of properties. The nature of the work / project being undertaken determines which discipline takes the lead role on a case by case basis.

The OPW, as required, also retains the services of external consultants and professional service providers to supplement its capacity for particular specialist projects.

Cybersecurity Policy

Question No. 180 answered with Question No. 179.

Question No. 181 answered with Question No. 179.

Questions (179, 180, 181)

Alan Kelly

Question:

179. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if Departments or public service computers, devices or network systems were compromised due to a computer system vulnerability (details supplied); if online or other services stopped working due to same; if so, the details of such incidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2738/22]

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Alan Kelly

Question:

180. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the costs to date of addressing a computer systems vulnerability (details supplied); if this issue has been resolved; if specialist teams were established, recruited or contracted to address the issue; if additional resources were procured; if so, the details and costs of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2739/22]

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Alan Kelly

Question:

181. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of computers and devices impacted in Departments and the public service by a computer system vulnerability (details supplied); if data was compromised; the number of servers that were impacted; if the issues have been resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2740/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 179, 180 and 181 together.

My Department implements a multi-layered approach to cyber security and to protecting ICT systems, infrastructures, and services. Information relating to services provided and or responses initiated to events in other Departments should be directed to these Departments.

The threat landscape is constantly evolving and significant effort is expended to continually enhance and strengthen ICT security to mitigate against emerging threats, risks, vulnerabilities and cyber security issues. In addition to deploying intrusion protection systems, software vulnerabilities are managed by maintaining up-to-date versions. 

The vulnerability referenced in the question was identified by my Department on Friday 10th December. In accordance with current standard operational procedures my staff immediately began to examine the Department’s internal and external facing systems in a coordinated fashion to identify potential vulnerabilities.  Vendors of key software applications, equipment, and services were consulted to identify any potential issues with their applications, equipment or services. The recommendations that were detailed in advisory alerts issued by the National Cyber Security Centre on the vulnerability were followed which included checking through system logs for exploits and ensuring that mitigation measures such as applying security patches were put in place.

There were no unplanned stoppages of my Department’s online or other services and there is no evidence to indicate that any computers, devices or services were compromised by the vulnerability.

No additional costs have arisen to date to address the vulnerability. As the vulnerability was investigated and addressed where necessary by existing Department resources and under existing support arrangements, there was no need for additional dedicated specialist teams to be established, recruited or contracted.

Question No. 180 answered with Question No. 179.
Question No. 181 answered with Question No. 179.

Departmental Policies

Questions (182)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

182. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he has reviewed all Departments in the context of the use of reform as a means of creating better efficiency and efficacy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2846/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

Action 20 of the Civil Service Renewal Plan provides for the implementation of a programme of organisational capability reviews, the purpose being:

 ‘To embed a culture of regular and objective assessments of the capacity and capability of each Department to achieve its objectives and take the necessary action to close any gaps.’

Six reviews have  been completed to date: 

1) Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

2) Courts Service

3) Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation

4) Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

5) Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and

6) Department of Rural and Community Development

The reports from the above six reviews and the follow-up Action Plans are available on gov.ie, along with a Synthesis Paper which sets out the principal findings from all the reviews and possible lessons for the Civil Service as a whole.

Additionally, an organisational capability review of the Department of Defence is under way at present.  Work on the report is at an advanced stage and on its completion, the Department will prepare an action plan to address the recommendations made. The report and action plan will subsequently be submitted to Government and then published. 

Regarding the remaining Departments and principal Offices to be reviewed, they will be reviewed in line with a sequence agreed by the Civil Service Management Board. 

Departmental Policies

Questions (183)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

183. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he and his Department continue to assess the potential to utilise innovation and reform as a means of improving performance throughout the domestic economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2847/22]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that in November 2020 my Department published Ireland’s first Public Service Innovation Strategy – ‘Making Innovation Real’. This strategy aims to develop, foster and sustain innovation capacity and capability across the public service. High level goals focus on developing user-centred services; developing an innovative culture and mind-set; scaling up innovations across the public service; and engaging in transformative innovation using new and emerging technologies.

In addition to the Innovation Strategy, the Reform Division of my Department has developed a number of resources and supports to enable public bodies to develop their own Innovation Strategies as well as an Innovation Scorecard which supports public bodies to measure and improve their innovation capability.

The Reform Division provides ongoing support, initiatives and learning and development opportunities to public service bodies to assist them in developing innovation capacity, to encourage collaboration and to promote best practice across the public sector.  Some examples include:

- The Public Service Innovation Fund provides funding to projects that encourage new ways of working and the use of experimental or emerging technologies.

- The Public Service Innovation Network enables connections between people, teams and organisations to share ideas, experiences and best practice. 

- Embedding Robotic Process Automation and other intelligent automation technologies across government through a simplified procurement framework developed by DPER. This technology proved to be pivotal in the Covid-19 response in areas like the HPSC and the development of the PUP.

- Learning and Development interventions to hundreds of public servants in innovation-related modules and principles of design thinking. 

In respect of the domestic economy, boosting productivity is key to ensuring the competitiveness of Irish enterprises, and investment in research, development and innovation is known to boost firm-level productivity and aggregate economic performance.  Government support for public and private sector investment in digital skills and technology, research, development and innovation, allows Irish enterprises to seize opportunities to develop innovative new products and services to allow them to survive and thrive in competitive domestic and international markets.

The EU Innovation Scoreboard shows Ireland is considered a strong innovator, now ranked eleventh in the European Union, but the Government has ambitions to do more and make Ireland a Global Innovation Leader.

Furthermore, the development of a new national strategy for research and innovation is a key commitment in the Government’s Economic Recovery Plan 2021, which sets out the “dual ambition of placing research, development and innovation at the heart of addressing Ireland’s economic and societal challenges, and building capacity and capability across the research and innovation system to move research and innovation up the value chain.” The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are leading the development of this new national strategy, in consultation with key Government Departments, agencies and stakeholders. The new Strategy will be published in 2022.

 I can also advise the Deputy that my Department is currently engaging with stakeholders to develop the next framework for Public Service Reform which will further contribute to improved performance across our Public Service. I expect this framework to be published later this year. 

Departmental Expenditure

Question No. 185 answered with Question No. 184.

Question No. 186 answered with Question No. 184.

Question No. 187 answered with Question No. 184.

Questions (184, 185, 186, 187, 191)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

184. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the degree to which his Department is alert to possible increases in expenditure as Covid-19 recedes; the particular measures to offset negative developments in the context of costs to the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2848/22]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

185. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which his Department has examined all Departments and agencies under their remit with a view to ensuring that every possible action is being taken to protect the public and national interest in terms of spending strategies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2849/22]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

186. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his objectives for 2022 with a view to ensuring strategic and targeted spending in order to ensure maximum benefit for the economy and general public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2850/22]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

187. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if spending in any particular Department or their subordinate agencies has given concern in the past twelve months; if corrective measures can be taken without negative impact on the future development of the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2851/22]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

191. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the degree to which he continues to engage with various Departments and their subsidiary bodies with a view to ensuring cost-effectiveness to increase efficiency and strategic spending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2857/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 184, 185, 186, 187 and 191 together.

Since the onset of the pandemic, significant additional funding had been provided by Government to allow Departments respond to the impact of the pandemic on citizens, businesses and public services. This expenditure, to fund temporary measures to address the impact of the pandemic, has been dealt with separately from expenditure on the delivery of core programmes and infrastructure and the careful phased withdrawal of this spending is essential both to support society and the economy to recover from the impact of Covid-19 and to return our public finances to a sustainable position.

Some €30 billion in direct expenditure supports has been made available across 2020 and 2021 and Budget 2022 outlined provision for up to €7 billion in Covid-19 related spending, with €3.1 billion of this already allocated to continue support measures. A further €3.9 billion is held in reserve to allow Government flexibility to respond to continued impacts of the pandemic during 2022, targeting supports at where they can have the greatest impact.

Along with the funding provision for Covid-19, significant increases in core expenditure have also been provided for 2022, in line with the sustainable level of increased expenditure set out under the agreed medium term expenditure strategy to 2025.  Core current expenditure in 2022 is projected to grow by €3.1 billion, about 4.6%, relative to the core expenditure position set out for 2021 in Expenditure Report 2022, while the Expenditure Report outlined growth of €1.1 billion or 11.7% in core capital expenditure allocations. Ensuring value for money from this expenditure is an ongoing priority of my Department.

The Programme for Government commits to continuing reform and improvement of the budgetary process, including an enhanced focus across Government on issues of performance and national well-being. This will build on a range of reforms introduced in recent years to enhance Ireland’s budgetary framework and ensure that expenditure is managed in an efficient, effective and strategic way. This ongoing work includes the ‘whole-of-year’ budgetary framework, the Spending Review process, Performance Budgeting and Equality Budgeting and the development of the Wellbeing Framework for Ireland.

Managing expenditure within their respective allocations is a key responsibility of every Department and Minister, particularly given the level of funding being provided, and careful monitoring of spending against profile and of progress on programmes and projects will continue to be required. Spending figures are compiled monthly and published in the Fiscal Monitor to report on spend against profile for all Ministerial Vote Groups. My Department engages on an ongoing basis with all Departments and will continue to monitor and develop our budgetary process with a view to ensuring that value for money is delivered across Government projects and programmes.

Question No. 185 answered with Question No. 184.
Question No. 186 answered with Question No. 184.
Question No. 187 answered with Question No. 184.

Project Ireland 2040

Question No. 189 answered with Question No. 188.

Questions (188, 189)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

188. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he expects the various targets in Project Ireland 2040 to be achieved on time and within budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2853/22]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

189. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he expects Project Ireland 2040 infrastructural projects to be met in full given the necessity to ensure necessary investment in vital areas of infrastructure affecting connectivity in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2854/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 188 and 189 together.

The National Development Plan (NDP) was published on 4th October 2021, committing to an overall investment of €165 billion in the years from 2021 to 2030.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of public investment projects are delivered on budget and on time and there is a high level of professionalism across the sectors. On the specific question of connectivity, as an island, continued investment in our port and airport connections to the UK, the EU and the rest of the world, is integral to underpinning international competitiveness. It is also central to responding to the challenges as well as the opportunities arising from Brexit. 

The relevant sectoral strategies here are the National Aviation Policy, the National Ports Policy and the Telecommunications chapter of the National Marine Planning Framework which relates to international telecommunications connectivity. These strategies play a critical role in identifying the goals and priorities for the sector and are therefore critical in informing the investment projects set out in the NDP.  

The Projects and Programmes Tracker was also updated amongst other publications with the launch of the NDP; this provides detailed information about the progress made on the implementation of Government’s investment priorities under Project Ireland 2040, including in relation to connectivity.  the tracker is available on gov.ie/2040.

Reforms are ongoing in governance and broader capability to help ensure successful delivery of Project Ireland 2040 - these reforms are set out in more detail here -

- The Project Ireland 2040 Delivery Board, comprises Secretaries General of the major capital spending department and oversees the delivery of the NDP. The Delivery Board will be extended shortly with up to 5 new members to bring additional expert knowledge, independent and regional perspectives, and an enhanced challenge function.

- Departments, Agencies and Public Bodies are constantly seeking to ensure that they have the necessary resources in place in terms of staff, structures and skills to deliver on their commitments. There are a number of ongoing measures which seek to further develop the capacity of the public sector over the coming period and ensure the effective delivery of the NDP. These include:

- ongoing work by the Commercial Skills Academy in the Office of Government Procurement

- the establishment of the Public Infrastructure Network (the InfraNet) for those involved in capital project delivery;

- expansion of the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES); 

- a range of reforms in the planning area including the establishment of a new Division of the High Court dealing with planning and environmental issues and 

- the commissioning of the Supporting Excellence report through the EU Structural Reform Support Programme to review the capability of the public service to deliver the capital programme. On foot of one of the recommendations in that report, my Department convened an Action Team comprising of internal/external experts to tailor and set out a roadmap for implementation of the proposed solutions in more detail. The Supporting Excellence Action Team published their report alongside the National Development Plan 2021-30. The Action Team’s report includes 34 specific actions aimed at supporting excellence in boosting capability in individual sectors; from the centre, and improving co-ordination and guidance to support excellence on a system wide basis. The implementation of the 34 actions in 2021 is being overseen by a Supporting Excellence Leadership Group.  

The Public Spending Code (PSC) sets the value for money requirements and guidance for evaluating, planning and managing capital projects. Management and delivery of investment projects and public services within allocation and the national frameworks is a key responsibility of every Department and Minister. 

The update of the Public Spending Code in 2019 combined with lessons learned from domestic projects and international best practice highlighted the need for more structured scrutiny of major public investment projects, particularly in the areas of planned delivery, costings and risk. This is to ensure that Government is making decisions with a full picture of the proposal, its costs, risks and benefits.

In order to achieve this, my Department has introduced two key reforms:

- The introduction of an External Assurance Process (EAP) to provide independent project scrutiny at key decision stages. The EAP for major public capital projects (projects which cost in excess of €100m) will focus on issues such as cost, risk and ability to deliver, at two key points in the project lifecycle, Decision Gate 1 (Approval in Principle) and Decision Gate 2 (Pre-Tender Approval).

- A new Major Projects Advisory Group (MPAG) has been established to further strengthen project management. As a prerequisite to seeking Government approval for projects at the relevant decision gates, project proposals and external reviews will be scrutinised by the MPAG in advance of the decision to proceed. The new arrangements bring Ireland into line with leading international performers and meet a recommendation of the IMF’s Public Investment Management Assessment of Ireland.

These reforms, alongside ongoing engagement with the construction sector regarding capacity and innovation, will help ensure the effective delivery of Project Ireland 2040 on time and on budget.

Question No. 189 answered with Question No. 188.

Departmental Policies

Question No. 191 answered with Question No. 184.

Questions (190)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

190. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the degree to which he is satisfied that the action taken by his Department to date remains sufficient to protect Ireland from the double impact of Brexit and Covid-19; if he is contemplating any further measures in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2855/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

As the Deputy will agree, the global pandemic and the UK’s departure from the EU have dominated the policy landscape over the last two years. 

In relation to the global pandemic, significant direct expenditure supports have been put in place by the Government since early 2020 to respond to the impacts of COVID-19.  This funding has been critical in supporting people and businesses impacted by the pandemic and in providing the necessary funding to allow key public services respond effectively to the crisis. 

Some €30 billion in additional funding was made available to Departments across 2020 and 2021 for measures related to COVID-19, with provision for up to €7 billion made under Budget 2022.  This funding has supported the delivery of key public services while addressing the challenges of COVID-19 and providing critical income and employment supports to workers and businesses, including the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS). 

At an EU level, the Union has responded with an unprecedented €800 billion recovery package, NextGenerationEU.  At the heart of this package is the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. 

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan will enable Ireland to access funding under the Facility.  The Plan has a total value of €990 million.  Its overall objective is to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery, in a manner that complements and supports the Government’s broader recovery effort.  It is aligned with domestic policies, notably the Economic Recovery Plan and the National Development Plan.

The full implications of the UK’s departure from the EU remain to be seen but clearly will be significant.  Successive budgets since the UK referendum on EU membership have seen around €1 billion committed to preparing for Brexit, including supports to business and the agri-food sector, as well as for the infrastructure required at the ports and airports to maintain the flow of east west trade. 

At an EU level, the Union’s response includes the Brexit Adjustment Reserve which has a value of more than €5 billion.  The objective of the Reserve is to provide support to counter the adverse economic, social, territorial and, where appropriate, environmental consequences of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.   

I am pleased to say that Ireland has been allocated €1.165 billion in current prices from the Reserve.  This represents 21% of the total value of the Reserve, the largest allocation for any Member State.  Areas for support are likely to include enterprise supports; measures to support fisheries and coastal communities; targeted supports for the agri-food sector; reskilling and retraining; and checks and controls at ports and airports.

Question No. 191 answered with Question No. 184.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (192)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

192. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he has examined public procurement procedures with a view to identifying potential snags in the process and putting place measures to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2858/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

Public Procurement in Ireland is governed by EU and National Rules. The National Public Procurement Policy Framework (NPPPF) sets out the overarching policy which consists of five strands:

1. Legislation (Directives, Regulations)

2. Government Policy (Circulars etc.)

3. Capital Works Management Framework for Public Works and Construction related Services

4. General Procurement Guidelines for Goods and Services

5. More detailed technical guidelines, template documentation and information notes as issued periodically by the Policy Unit of the Office of Government Procurement (OGP)

To create a level playing field for all businesses across Europe, EU law sets out minimum harmonised public procurement rules. These rules govern the way public authorities and certain utility operators purchase goods, works and services. The rules are set out in three principal EU Directives which are transposed into national legislation and apply to tenders for public contracts whose monetary value exceeds certain thresholds. For tenders of lower value, national rules apply, which must also respect the general principles of EU law.

All public works projects that are delivered under the Exchequer-funded element of the Government's capital plan must be procured in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Capital Works Management Framework (CWMF).  The CWMF is a structure that has been developed to deliver the Government’s objectives in relation to public sector construction procurement reform. It consists of a suite of best practice guidance, standard contracts, generic template documents and procedures that cover all aspects of the delivery process of a public works project from inception to final project delivery and review to assist contracting authorities in meeting their procurement requirements.

A review of the CWMF commenced in March 2019 and is ongoing. The focus of the review is on improving the delivery of construction projects in terms of quality, timely delivery and cost outcomes. The Review process involves extensive engagement both with industry and public bodies charged with the delivery of public works projects on a broad range of issues including the deployment of digital technologies, enhanced risk management and information management for public bodies, contractors and consultants.

To mitigate the impact of the necessary public health measures on the delivery of projects under the NDP, a series of COVID-19 notes were published during the period March 2020 to July 2021.  These included guidance notes, supplemental agreements for site closures and ex-gratia scheme, and a COVID-19 Mandatory Closure clause in Public Works Contracts.

Engagement with the insurance sector and construction industry stakeholders has also taken place on issues relating to cost increases on Professional Indemnity Insurance premiums and the reduction in cover available.  Amendments to CWMF documents and additional guidance will be published shortly.

Significant increases in construction material costs is impacting live tenders and contracts. Interim measures to address the impact of the cost increases on Public Works Projects have been introduced. Procurement guidance for ‘live’ tenders was published in November 2021. Interim amendments to the provisions in the public works contracts were published in January 2022. 

Together these reform processes will lead to meaningful policy change and will assist in delivering better value for money for the taxpayer in the implementation of Project Ireland 2040.

The NPPPF also supports contracting authorities when awarding contracts for goods and services, including the Office of Government Procurement, four key sectors (Health, Education, Local Government and Defence), individual Departments, Offices, commercial and non-commercial State bodies, and private entities which are subsidised 50% or more by a public body,  and facilitates compliance with EU and National Procurement Rules.  

My officials are currently finalising a review of the Procurement Guidelines for Goods and Service which were last updated in 2019 to take account of new developments in the area of procurement and clarification of some aspects of the Guidelines. In addition, an updated Brexit Information Note was published in July 2021 and an updated COVID Information Note was published in September 2021.

Work has been undertaken by the OGP to ensure that the opportunity to compete in public procurement is accessible by all businesses, including SMEs. Specifically, the OGP has developed a suite of policy measures aimed at assisting SMEs to access public procurement opportunities (implemented through Circular 10/2014: Initiatives to assist SMEs in public procurement). These include:

- Proportionate financial capacity criterion (turnover requirements limited to twice the contract value);

- Contracting authorities are encouraged to divide public contracts into lots;

- Provision for “consortia bidding” to assist SMEs to participate in procurement procedures where they would not have the relevant capability or scale;

- Proportionate insurance levels; and

- Public bodies are required to advertise contracts for goods and services valued above €25,000 on the national eTenders portal.

The SME Advisory Group meets quarterly and ensures that the voice of Irish SMEs (through the industry representative bodies ISME, IBEC, SFA, Chambers Ireland, and CIF) is heard by Government. Furthermore, the OGP operates the Tender Advisory Service, an informal service provided free of charge, to facilitate suppliers to raise concerns in relation to live tender processes. 

My Department will continue to proactively review the National Public Procurement Policy Framework periodically, update as appropriate and communicate changes to relevant stakeholders.

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