Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

National Broadband Plan

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

33. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will report on delays to the national broadband plan announced by the Taoiseach. [42315/19]

The Minister will be aware that the Taoiseach announced recently that there would be a further delay in signing the contract for the national broadband plan. He cited the intervention by Imagine, a wireless broadband provider, whose interaction with the Department is leading to delays. Will the Minister outline the nature and extent of the delays which have been encountered as a result of that intervention?

The Deputy is aware that the Government appointed National Broadband Ireland as the preferred bidder for the national broadband plan in May. This followed a tender process designed to ensure that every home and business will have access to future-proofed high-speed broadband that will cater specifically to an estimated 1.1 million people, representing almost 25% of the population of rural Ireland who would not otherwise have access. Since then my officials have been performing the due diligence work needed before a contract can be concluded. The Taoiseach recently commented, in the context of that considerable due diligence nearing completion, that it is expected that the contract will be signed before the end of the year.

My Department recently consulted publicly in order to close the ongoing mapping exercise, seeking submissions from operators that wish to have their existing high-speed broadband networks, or who have developed plans to invest in high-speed broadband networks over the next seven years, to be included on the Department’s high-speed broadband map. In response to requests from a number of operators, the duration of that consultation was extended by more than five weeks. Over 180 submissions have been received from a variety of stakeholders, including 30 from large and small telecoms operators, with the remainder from local authority broadband officers and members of the public.

Operator submissions will be assessed against the Department’s published assessment criteria. Operators submitting planned investments were required to sign a declaration that they would enter into a commitment agreement with the Department if their plans satisfied the assessment criteria and were accepted by the Department as being concrete and credible.

The findings of the consultation will ensure that the State's intervention area is up to date and reflects commercial operators’ plans and the responses from householders and businesses, in advance of a contract being signed later this year. This will be an important element in concluding the state aid approval process with the EU Commission.

I thank the Minister for outlining the nature and extent of that consultation. It is well recognised from different media reports that Imagine intends to cover approximately 234,000 premises in the intervention area. I understand Eir has already announced its intention to cover in the region of 80,000 homes in the intervention area. The Minister indicated that there have been 180 responses, but taking those two alone, we can estimate that of the order of 214,000 homes, farms and businesses will now be covered by commercial operators. The assumption must be that they would have to be excluded from the 540,000 premises already mapped. As a result of state aid rules, the Government will not be in a position to support the provision of broadband to those premises. That leaves 214,000 or so. If one divides that number into the €3 billion cost of the provision of the service, one arrives at a figure of approximately €13,000 per home. Will the Minister comment on that?

I will not comment on a hypothetical situation of the sort the Deputy outlined. As stated, any submission by any company - and I will not name companies - will be thoroughly evaluated. Companies will be evaluated against the criteria set out, including the need to hit the 30 Mb threshold, that they themselves are future-proofed and that they can guarantee to deliver to all those within the areas to which they lay claim high-speed broadband that is future-proofed and that will not be subject to diminution. They must also show that they have financial plans which show they are capable of delivering. Those are the criteria. I will not comment on individual applications and how they will be evaluated. That must be done properly. It will be done by the Department but the process is not yet complete.

Does the Minister accept that the two companies to which I refer have considerable track records, presence and know-how and that their response to him, if it is as reported in the media, will provide a considerable dilemma for the Government, particularly in the context of state aid rules? Does he also accept that this development has the potential to delay the signing of the national broadband plan further? When there was a rush to appoint the Granahan McCourt consortium as the preferred bidder in the summer - I assume this was necessitated by the advent of the local elections - the Minister indicated that the capacity existed to have the contract signed by September. The latter has passed and October is well under way. The period for responses has been extended and the Government still requires state aid approval. Is it somewhat foolhardy to indicate that the Government hopes to have this contract signed by Christmas?

It was quite justified to provide the extra five weeks requested by companies to have their submissions evaluated. From a state aid perspective, it is clear that we must be satisfied that any intervention area excludes localities that will be provided for commercially and without the granting of state aid. Giving that extra time was justified. I will not follow the Deputy down the route of speculating as to what would happen if different companies or different applications were to emerge. Clearly, this is an important part of the process. Companies must meet the criteria I set out. It would be foolish to speculate on how this might impact on the national broadband plan until that work is done. We should bear in mind that this is not the first time the map has been subject to consultation. There have been opportunities for companies to put forward ideas before against the background of what had to be achieved for future-proofed services. Some companies have indicated that they could do various schemes for much less money but many of those schemes did not meet the standards. We must give new submissions every opportunity to be evaluated in a fair and objective way. That is what is happening.

RTÉ Revenue

David Cullinane

Ceist:

34. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the additional funding outside of moneys from TV licence fees that will be given to RTÉ in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42322/19]

What additional State funding, if any, outside of the television licence funding will be given to RTÉ in 2020.

RTÉ is dual funded through a proportion of television licence fee receipts and the commercial revenue it generates. An Post pays my Department all TV licence revenues collected from direct sales of TV licences.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection also makes a contribution to my Department in respect of free TV licences issued under the household benefits scheme. In 2019, the Exchequer contribution from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was €59.9 million. RTÉ will receive additional funding of €8.6 million this year.

My Department deducts commission payable to An Post for its agency role and 7% of the net receipts goes to the broadcasting fund, which is operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI. In addition to licence fee funding, a total of €8 million was allocated in budget 2017 to compensate RTÉ for the relevant costs for re-engineering Saorview, the digital terrestrial television network. This is in line with an EU decision which obliges member states to migrate terrestrial broadcasting services from the 700 MHz spectrum band to allow for its use by wireless broadband services. A simulcast period commenced on 4 September 2019 and the migration will be completed in March 2020.

We had a lengthy debate on public broadcasting in the House recently. This is an issue we need to take very seriously. It was discussed yesterday in private session at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Environment and an the invitation will be sent to the Minister, the Department and RTÉ to come back to the committee to discuss some of the issues involved. There is no doubt that there are cultural, organisational, financial and structural changes that RTÉ has to make. The station must take the lead in that regard. It has stated that there is a funding crisis but there is a broader issue relating to public broadcasting which needs to be examined. There are casualties that arise as a result of a public broadcaster not having the resources to spend on, for example, independent productions. As the Minister is aware, the funding that was spent by RTÉ on independent production in recent years has decreased from €80 million to €40 million. That has not been without consequences. These are companies that produce good quality content domestically. Their work saves RTÉ from having to purchase syndicated programmes from America and Britain and creates jobs in communities. Is the Minister conscious of that and would he support putting in place not just targets but ring-fencing money for RTÉ in order to ensure that there is more funding for independent production?

As already stated, the approach to funding RTÉ is set out in law. Funding for the station comes from licence fee income. The only direct Exchequer payment is from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which pays a sum in lieu of licence fees for those who receive free television licences. In the context of the challenges it faces, RTÉ is developing a strategy. It has engaged PwC and the BAI to evaluate certain aspects of that strategy. At my request, the Department has asked NewERA to examine the strategy also. Work has been done by RTÉ in developing a strategy for sustainability, which is its responsibility.

As discussed previously in the House, there are issues as to whether we should reform the licence fee. I have proposed that the collection of licence fees should go out to tender because this would assist in reducing the evasion rate. I have also proposed a move, in the longer term, to a licensing arrangement that would be independent of particular instruments. Those decisions have been made.

If a cheque is written for RTÉ, it will be signed by the Accounting Officer of the Department, namely, the Secretary General. There is a service level agreement of sorts between the Department and RTÉ. Within that agreement, there is conditionality in respect of, for example, the percentage of money which must be spent on the Sound & Vision scheme.

My question relates to independent productions. The which goes to that sector has decreased from €80 million to €40 million. As already stated, that has not been without consequences. There are many independent production companies that hire young actors. There is a great deal of talent that we can showcase on the international stage. Some of the programmes that have been produced by these companies have been first class but they are being starved of money as a result of the cut in funding from €80 million to €40 million. Why can we not ensure that, as part of the service level agreement, more money is spent on independent production? RTÉ has stated that it does not have the money which means that we must return again to the issue of funding. Even with the funding the station has, greater investment should be made in independently-produced, quality programming that is made here and that creates jobs. Taxpayers' money must be spent much more effectively on this type of programming.

While there are, as the Deputy stated, provisions within the legislation which direct that money be streamed from the licence fee income of 7% towards Sound & Vision and while RTÉ meets certain obligations in respect of independent broadcasting, its primary relationship is with the BAI, which is its regulator, not with the Minister of the day. The BAI evaluates RTÉ's performance against key performance indicators it sets. As the Deputy is aware, the BAI has indicated that additional funding should be provided to RTÉ. To date, the Government has provided €10 million in this regard. The figure suggested by BAI was €30 million over the period to 2022. The pressure was on this year, particularly within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to try to find money when no social welfare funding increases were made. The Deputy will understand how difficult it was to find money against that background.

We can consider issues relating to the broadcasting legislation that is before the House. If Members wish to discuss ways of amending the position in respect of funding, that can be done. The approach favoured by the Oireachtas of having a charge independent of device was evaluated. I am advised that this could only be done within a certain period. As a result, a period of five years has been set before that will be produced.

Climate Change Policy

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

35. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will make moneys from the just transition fund available to those affected by redundancies at Moneypoint; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42316/19]

In budget 2020, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, announced a new €6 million just transition fund by means of which carbon tax revenues will be used to assist businesses and communities affected by the phasing out of fossil fuels. He noted that the new fund will initially be targeted at the midlands. There are, however, other regions that face immediate disruption. It was disappointing that the Minister did not mention the impact of job losses at the ESB coal-fired station at Moneypoint in west Clare. While I accept that there is a continuation of activity at Moneypoint, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will be aware that there has been a considerable loss of jobs in the region. In that context, the number of employees at the plant has decreased by approximately 100 and there has been a considerable reduction in the number of contractors at the site. The impact has already begun in the region, notwithstanding the fact that the station is due to continue to burn coal up to 2025.

I thank Deputy Dooley for his question.

Ireland's necessary transition away from carbon-intensive sources of energy, towards more sustainable, renewable energy sources, will have a significant impact on the workers in these carbon-intensive sectors, their families and communities. This Administration has committed to delivering a whole-of-Government approach and to working with local stakeholders in order to ensure that a just transition is provided to those on whom that transition will impact. The most immediate challenge arises in the midlands. I have met key stakeholders there including the midlands regional transition team, the midlands regional enterprise plan steering committee and the midlands regional skills forum, all of which have adopted a central objective of a transition to a low-carbon economy for the region.

Budget 2020, as the Deputy correctly points out, includes a number of measures that will form part of the Government's approach to supporting a just transition. These include: €6 million for a just transition fund; €5 million for bog restoration and rehabilitation; and €20 million to deliver the new model to group housing upgrades. These measures will be immediately targeted at the midlands and will support retraining and reskilling workers and assisting local communities and businesses in the midlands to adjust to the low-carbon transition.

There will be further engagement with local stakeholders on the application of the funding and further details on the just transition fund will be announced shortly. Following extensive engagement between the ESB and the staff at Moneypoint and their trade unions, I understand that staff have accepted a proposal relating to the reconfiguration of the station based on a new lower-running regime. This proposal was accepted in a staff ballot which concluded on Friday, 4 October. This is a positive step in retaining an ongoing operation at Moneypoint. The ESB will continue to work with staff and their representatives to implement the agreement in a collaborative way in the face the challenges ahead. I assure the Deputy that the ESB remains committed to Moneypoint and, in line with its Brighter Future strategy and Government decarbonisation policy, the company is examining technology options for the plant that will deliver large-scale, low-carbon electricity generation, fuel diversity and security of supply when generation from coal ceases no later than 2025.

The agencies of the State will, through the services they provide, support the workers affected. I am open to receiving submissions from regional stakeholders on remaining challenges in respect of which support might be needed in the context of just transition.

It is not enough to receive confirmation that the region around Moneypoint will be eligible for funding at some point in the future in the hope that new funding will address the concerns. Notwithstanding the fact that the ESB's operations are still there and will be for some time, it is a fact that 100 people will be let go by the company. At least 100, if not more, have already left. These people are subcontractors and there will be no pay-off for them when they go. In addition, this is having a detrimental impact on the communities, people, shops, schools and clubs in the region. There is a crisis there. I accept that it is not of the scale of what is happening in the midlands. If we are serious about dealing with this in a fair and equitable manner, then the Moneypoint region in west Clare must be included under the just transition fund. It should not be forgotten that, like those elsewhere, the people in this region will pay their carbon tax.

The expectation was that moneys, particularly in the just transition fund, would be used to assist those who have lost their jobs. The loss of those jobs also brings about a loss of spending power in the region which has a knock-on impact on businesses, schools and the general economic life of the region. It is important that the Minister now engages proactively with the task force established within the local authority with a view to providing the appropriate funding, commensurate with the size and scale of the situation. I accept that it is not to the same scale as what is happening in the midlands, but this is important to this particular region.

As I outlined in the last paragraph of my initial reply, we expect that existing State agencies, such as the education and training board, ETB, the local higher education institutions, local offices of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the ESB will engage actively with the workers. I refer to the redeployment options being offered. I am, however, open to receiving submissions from regional stakeholders on remaining challenges which might need support in the context of a just transition. As Deputy Dooley outlined, a broad-based transition team was established in the midlands region. That involves the local authorities, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland at the local and regional level and they are doing very organised work on the transition to a low-carbon economy. I am open to considering ideas coming from similar networks within the mid-west region, given the pressure Moneypoint power station is coming under already and the prospect of further challenges in the medium term. I am not, by any means, ruling out engagement. In the first instance, however, I would welcome a more strategic approach at local level so that we could interact with that process.

I thank the Minister for that statement. It seems to be a significant move on his behalf and I welcome it. I ask him, or his Department, to communicate with the chief executive of the local authority to provide official confirmation of a willingness to engage with it and receive submissions on how a collaborative approach might be put together. I will also be in contact with the local authority. I accept that the ETB and others will have a part to play, but expecting those organisations just to expand their existing role without the appropriate funding is a step too far. The Minister has outlined an approach that can be followed.

We understand the new just transition commissioner will be responsible for engaging with stakeholders on funding priorities. Will the Minister also confirm that he or she will engage with relevant communities, employers and employees in the west Clare region as well? If the Government is serious about ensuring the active participation of communities and workers affected by decarbonisation, it is important that the remit of the fund and the commissioner is not only limited to the midlands but has the capacity to address the situation at Moneypoint as well. It is essential that the Minister's Department and the Department of the Taoiseach provide for a fully independent commissioner and an associated just transition plan that is directed at the midlands and the west Clare region.

Work on the draft terms of reference for the just transition commissioner is ongoing. It involves not just my Department but also the Taoiseach's Department, which is co-ordinating much of this work. I will communicate with Deputy Dooley as soon as we have decided the approach to be taken.

Climate Action Fund

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

36. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the amount of funding being allocated to the climate action fund. [42523/19]

I pose this question to ascertain from the Minister what the total climate action budget will be for 2020. The carbon tax yield was pegged at €90 million in the budget last week. We were told that will be ring-fenced to protect the most vulnerable in society, support sustainable mobility, provide agri-environment schemes and plan for a low-carbon future. I would like the Minister of State to drill down a little further and elaborate on what that means in pounds, shillings and pence and the types of initiatives he is going to bring forward regarding climate action.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The climate action fund is one of four funds established under the National Development Plan 2018-2027 as part of Project Ireland 2040. The fund supports initiatives that contribute to the achievement of Ireland's climate and energy targets in a cost-effective manner. It also offers the potential for innovative interventions which, in the absence of support from the fund, would not otherwise be developed.

Following the first call for applications, the Department announced the seven successful projects which will receive up to €77 million in support. Funding was allocated following a competitive process with public and private sector organisations eligible to apply. Many of these projects will be developed over a number of years and therefore I estimate that the expenditure from the fund in 2020 will be approximately €10 million. As funding for the climate action fund is financed from non-Exchequer resources, no specific allocation provided in budget 2020.

The national development plan provided an allocation of €500 million for the fund from 2018 to 2027. This funding will be provided from non-Exchequer resources, with the majority coming from excess levy income collected by the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA. The legislation to enable these funds to be repurposed is expected to be published shortly for consideration by the Oireachtas.

I am glad that the Minister of State mentioned NORA. It has been indicated that NORA's current surplus funds will be used for climate action measures. Is it legally possible for those funds to be used in that way now? My second question concerns figures given to the Joint Committee on Communication, Climate Action and Environment suggesting some 17.4% of households are considered to be fuel impoverished. There is nothing in any of the budget announcements that will do anything to generate programmes to deal with fuel poverty. I refer to ensuring a massive programme of retrofitting is initiated to take carbon out of houses.

NORA is currently funded by a levy at a rate of 2c per litre. This levy is charged on the sale of most petroleum products at the point of sale and paid for by consumers. It is collected by the oil companies each month and paid to NORA to fund its activities, including operating expenses incurred in the purchase of petroleum products and securing storage in Ireland and abroad. The NORA levy was increased in 2009 from 1c to 2c to reduce the €440 million debt NORA had accrued for the purchase of oil reserves in line with Government policy. On 29 May 2018, the Government approved the development of a climate action fund to fulfil the commitment set out in the national development plan. This Government decision approved the use of excess NORA levy moneys to provide financing to the fund.

A further Government decision, made on 27 November 2018, approved the general scheme of the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill, which provide for the use of surplus NORA levy funds for the climate action fund, subject to refinement following further discussions with the Office of the Attorney General. This legislation is being developed to amend the National Oil Reserve Agency Act 2007 to provide for the expansion of the use of levy funds collected to fund both agency expenses and the climate action fund. This legislation will be published for consideration.

Turning to fuel poverty, some €34 million has been allocated in that area this year and we have also doubled the allocation for the warmer homes scheme for 2020.

The Minister of State is telling us, de facto, that it is not legal to use the current NORA excess reserves for climate action measures, but that it is to be made legal by passing the Bill to which he referred. The reference to NORA's excess reserves can be taken off the table as being spoken of as part of the climate action fund. When the Government is allocating funds, it is important that it does not refer to funds to which it does not have access. I refer to not being legally entitled to take moneys from NORA to use for climate action. It is important to have that clarified.

Turning to the just transition commissioner, is it the case that he or she will now be funded by the private sector and industry? I also make the case that there needs to be a regional balance regarding climate action. We all support measures proposed for a just transition in the midlands.

It is vital that every region throughout the State is looked at and that each should come up with a set of proposals. I thank the Minister of State for his intervention in the context of hearing from the regions. It is vital there is equality in any of the proposals that come forward in respect of projects that meet the criteria relating to climate action.

It has always been the intention that legislation to facilitate the use of the NORA fund for climate action would be introduced. The commissioner will not be funded by the private sector. Just transition is high on the agenda when it comes to climate action. The Deputy will have heard the Minister replying to a question from Deputy Dooley on the issue of Moneypoint. In the context of just transition, the first project relates to the midlands in the aftermath of the decision relating to Bord na Mona's operation there. Then comes Moneypoint. This matter will be dealt with in a fair way in order that there will be a just transition for everybody in the region who is affected by climate action measures. It is important to note that the funding to be raised through carbon tax could be sufficiently substantial to allow us to deal with all of these issues. While there are challenges, we also have the potential to drive on and ensure that the jobs we create are sustainable and that everybody gets a fair share.

The €90 million from the carbon tax is just a drop in the ocean.

I must point out to the people in the Public Gallery, and to those who may be watching at home and scratching their heads, that NORA is not a lady carrying out research in respect of climate action. NORA is the acronym for the National Oil Reserves Agency. Acronyms and abbreviations are part of everyday life but people sometimes do not know for what they stand.

RTÉ Revenue

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

37. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the funding crisis in RTÉ in view of the failure to provide additional funding in budget 2020. [42317/19]

In light of the Acting Chairman's comment, I wish to point out that my question relates to RTÉ. In case there is any concern about what RTÉ stands for, it is Raidió Telefís Éireann.

The Minister will appreciate the importance of public service journalism, especially in an environment where the fake news that appears on digital platforms is a worry for those concerned with the preservation and protection of democracy. We are aware that RTÉ - the one public service journalism outlet in the State - is under severe financial pressure, having reported a deficit of €13 million last year and expecting a similar deficit this year. Nothing was identified in the budget for that organisation. Will the Minister indicate if he has any plans in the Revised Estimates to provide support for RTÉ? Rumours abound that moneys will be found in the Revised Estimates on the social protection side.

The position, as outlined to Deputy Cullinane earlier, is worth repeating. RTÉ is funded by a combination of licence fee income and commercial revenue. The only element of Exchequer funding is that which comes from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which provided an additional €8.6 million this year and €1.5 million last year. The Department has therefore contributed an additional €10 million in the past two years towards the licence fee income. This is divided, as the Deputy is aware.

One of the issues that arises is the very high evasion rate of 12.83% when it comes to people paying for television licences. The Government has accepted the recommendation of the interdepartmental working group on the future funding of public service broadcasting to put licence fee collection out to public tender. I will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019. The Government also accepted the recommendation of the working group to move to a device-independent broadcasting charge in the medium term.

In the first instance, it is an issue for RTÉ's board and executive to develop the optimum strategy to allow it to meet its strategic and financial challenges. RTÉ is reviewing its strategy in order to map out a sustainable future. It has engaged PwC to validate aspects of the strategy and has met representatives from the BAI. At the Department's request, NewERA is also evaluating RTÉ's position and strategy.

On the additional question posed by Deputy Dooley, no additional funding is provided for RTÉ in this year's budget.

Back to Raidió Telefís Éireann. I call Deputy Dooley.

I thank the Minister for raising the issue of the report on public service broadcasting prepared by the relevant committee. Unfortunately, the Government has kicked to touch on that. The notion of extending for five years the introduction of a device-independent broadcasting charge reeks of a failure on the part of the Government to face up to the challenge that exists in the context of public service journalism. This is a decision that will be regretted by the State in due course. It is farcical to somehow believe that we will be better able to understand technologies five years from now, particularly when one considers the rate of development and change in that regard. The question remains. Like other organisations, RTÉ is in a perilous position. However, it has presented a particular problem to the Minister and the Government. Will he confirm that consideration is being given in the Revised Estimates to providing support for RTÉ by means of moneys from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection?

Deputy Dooley will understand that the budget, which was only announced last week, was drawn up against the background of a hard Brexit. The consequence was that there was very little discretion for the Government in setting aside new moneys. It meant there was no across-the-board increase in social welfare rates. The only source of funding for RTÉ from the Exchequer comes via a contribution from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Deputy will understand that against a background where it was constrained in the choices it could make - and where it could not make across-the-board provision for social welfare recipients - the Government was not in a position to make provision for RTÉ in the context of an increased contribution from the latter Department. That remains the position. I have no basis for suggesting that there will be any change.

If the Minister believes in the principle of public service broadcasting, if he believes in public service journalism and if he accepts that our national broadcaster is in a perilous position, then is it not appropriate that he would try to put in place a line item in the budget in a transparent way? Would it not be better to this rather than giving the impression that the station would somehow be beholden to the Minister at a later stage or suggesting that a particular approach could be taken in the context of providing funding in the Revised Estimates. The Minister stated that the context of Brexit is important. That is certainly the case. In reality, however, the budget was framed on the basis of the moneys available. A hard Brexit was referred to in the context of how the budget was framed, but the truth is that any funds required in the event of a crash-out Brexit would have to be borrowed. It is not as if additional funds would be available to the Minister or to the State for other projects in the event of a soft or agreed Brexit.

Deputy Dooley will be aware that no provision was made for social welfare increases in last week's budget. No tax concessions were made and, insofar as possible, little or no new tax revenue was raised. A sum of €1.2 billion has been set aside to deal with the consequences of a hard Brexit. That was the framework for the budget and it remains the case. A week on, and despite the Deputy's urgings, I cannot say that there is a new reality whereby we have money for desirable causes. There are many such causes but the position remains the same. We face the threat of a hard exit. Six months ago, the Minister for Finance indicated that this was the framework against which the budget should be put together. The Minister has taken the correct approach. It leaves the Government and the Exchequer in a position to manage the consequences that might come our way.