Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2019

Vol. 991 No. 2

Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Mary Lou McDonald


1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [49039/19]

Michael Moynihan


2. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure last met. [49129/19]

Brendan Howlin


3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure last met; and when it is next expected to meet. [50153/19]

Joan Burton


4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [51526/19]

Michael Moynihan


5. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on infrastructure has met to date in 2019. [51535/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on infrastructure last met on 4 November and is next scheduled to meet on 16 December. In 2019, Cabinet committee D met twice, and post the restructuring of Cabinet committees in July, the Cabinet committee on infrastructure has since met twice. The Cabinet committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach in the areas of infrastructure investment and delivery, Project Ireland 2040, and Rebuilding Ireland. There is significant work under way across each of the areas covered by the committee through Departments, agencies and a range of interdepartmental groups such as the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. These matters are also regularly considered at meetings of Government and in bilateral meetings with the relevant Ministers.

Significant work is continuing to deliver Project Ireland 2040. Recent projects delivered on budget include the M11 Gorey-Enniscorthy road, which was under budget, the N22 Tralee bypass, the Luas green line infrastructure and capacity upgrade, a 100-bed community nursing unit in Tymon North and the Cork radiation oncology unit, among others. Long-term projects under way include the national broadband plan, the contract for which is now signed, and the north runway at Dublin Airport, which is now under construction. The four funds launched under Project Ireland 2040 have a total of €4 billion to invest. The first round of funding allocations under these funds, amounting to just over €150 million in 2019, have been announced. Second round calls have been launched for the disruptive technologies innovation fund and the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF. A further call for the urban regeneration fund will be announced soon, and work is continuing on legislation to underpin the climate action fund, to be funded by a levy on the oil industry.

As we know, effective project delivery needs effective governance. The Government is considering some reforms to oversight and governance of project selection, appraisal and delivery. This includes updating the public spending code, which was approved at Government yesterday. Targeted interventions under Rebuilding Ireland are also working to respond to housing needs. In the 12 months to the end of quarter 3, more than 20,000 new dwellings were completed and we have seen strong growth in leading indicators such as planning permissions, commencement notices and housing registrations. Next year we will invest in excess of €2.6 billion in housing, making it the highest investment in housing by any Government in a single year since the foundation of the State.

The Taoiseach mentioned various infrastructure projects that are going ahead throughout the State. All of that is welcome where it is happening. I want to take this opportunity to raise healthcare infrastructure, namely the Cuisle home in County Roscommon. It is unique infrastructure as a resort that provides for people with disabilities, which many people across the country use for respite. Even people from the North of Ireland travel and use that facility, which is run by the Irish Wheelchair Association, IWA. The community in Donamon is annoyed and frustrated to see this service being taken away from them and from the entire country. The Department of Health has been in contact with the IWA to see what assistance can be put in place. My understanding is that to date there has been a denial of funding to keep this infrastructure in place. It is vital that this be funded. The excuse being used that they do not own the building is clearly off the table as the owners have stated they have no difficulty in extending the lease and they have even stated that they are prepared to pay back the money they have received in rent over the past number of years to assist the redevelopment work that needs to be carried out in the facility.

Will the Taoiseach use whatever emphasis is required in speaking to the Minister for Health to ensure that this unique infrastructure, the only facility in the country offering a holiday home for people with disabilities and providing for all their care needs, remains open? The users of the service are determined that it is where they want to go. The offer has been made to put them in hotels and other facilities, but they do not want to use them.

We agreed that the Deputy would have one and a half minutes. His time is up.

These people have few choices in life. They should be given a choice as to where they avail of respite services. I implore the Taoiseach to use whatever influence he can to make that happen.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach came out with another of his increasingly desperate attack lines, with the bizarre claim that we, on the Opposition side, are calling for the re-profiling of capital projects and to delay them. His memory is, again, very selective. The statement that capital projects would be re-profiled was made by his Government. For example, on 4 April, the Minister for Finance announced that he had decided to re-profile money allocated to Project Ireland 2040, the new marketing name for the national development plan, NDP. One of the direct cuts involved in this was a €24 million reduction in funding for repairs and renovation projects in the health sector this year. I am looking for some honesty about the timing of projects on which the Government has spent millions of euro in public money marketing to national and local audiences. When the now inevitable video with drone shots of the Cliffs of Moher was published at the start of this marketing campaign, we were told there would be absolute transparency about funding and timing. Yet, when we seek clarity following billions of euro in overruns, the Taoiseach comes out with this nonsense that we are seeking cutbacks.

It takes a special form of almost childish brazenness to sign a contract rapidly to make a project irreversible and then attack others for not proposing to incur massive costs for the State by reversing it. This appears to be the core Fine Gael strategy now, so we will all have to get used to it. The Government not only wants to pretend that it is funding projects, which will not be planned or funded for many years; it wants to deny the impact of overruns. It should be noted by the House that each of the major overruns has been hidden from the public until the last moment. The Taoiseach accused us of conspiracy theories about broadband and the children's hospital when we said the cost in each case would be what it has turned out to be.

The Deputy's time is up.

When will the Taoiseach publish the reprofiling timetable and costs under the plan? I note his indication that the code for public spending will be updated. I note, too, that the Secretary General said in a memorandum to the Taoiseach and Cabinet that the Government had breached existing spending codes.

It is more than a year since the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, promised that the new national maternity hospital would be publicly owned and run. Twelve months on, there has been absolutely no legal clarity on the matter. In fact, a bizarre situation is ongoing whereby the Vatican, apparently, can veto the new hospital set to be built with public money and determine which procedures may be carried out there. It is reported that this €350 million project - that is the current estimate; it could be a lot more than that - may not be put out to tender until these matters are determined. Even when the hospital is finally built and funded, with a significant outlay of taxpayers' money, we have no legal certainty in terms of its public ownership. Put simply, we will have to negotiate for a place on the board of a hospital for which the public has paid and which the public should rightly own. It is time for absolute clarity in this regard. We have gone around this issue during several debates. Will the Taoiseach indicate clearly to the House when the national maternity hospital will be built, confirm that the commitment made by the Minister that it will be publicly owned and run will be fulfilled to the letter, and tell us when the tendering process will begin?

The Taoiseach advised me yesterday that, in his view, the problem with air quality in Dublin is down to diesel cars. A promise was given by the Government of which he and I were both members, as had been given by the previous Government, to electrify the railway lines to Maynooth. If the Taoiseach is concerned about diesel cars, the only way of getting a significant number of those cars off the road is to develop public transport. However, there has been neither sight nor sound of a project to electrify the Dublin to Maynooth railway line. It seems to have been put out to the back end of 2040. The Taoiseach probably knows, as he uses the line from time to time, that when one gets to stations such as Ashtown and Pelletstown, it is almost impossible and even physically dangerous in the case of a pregnant woman, for instance, to get on the train and access the railway carriages. It is also impossible to board at Broombridge.

I do not want a list of the things the Government of which we were both members did. It did quite a lot, including extending the Luas line to Broombridge. That project was championed by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and me over a long period of time. When will the capacity of the railway lines increase, given that can only come about if they are electrified? It would also enable significant numbers of houses to be built in the Kildare area at a much cheaper price than is currently available in Dublin city. The Government is sitting on its hands with promises of "mañana, mañana" and no action at all is being taken.

Deputy Paul Murphy's name is not attached to these questions because they were carried over from yesterday. Under Standing Order 39(1)(e), it is necessary to advise the Questions Office in such instances. However, I will use my discretion and allow the Deputy to contribute.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I wish to follow up on Deputy Howlin's point regarding the ownership and management ethos of the national maternity hospital. The Religious Sisters of Charity own the land on which the new facility is being built and the Government is negotiating with the order through its company, St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. That group will have a majority on the hospital's board of management and will chair it. If things do not change, the reality is that women's healthcare will be at risk, as well as the State's finances. Ethos will follow ownership. It is unrealistic to expect a Catholic maternity hospital owned by the nuns' company to provide a full range of services, including contraception, sterilisation, abortion, IVF, etc., because those services contravene the Catholic code. There must be a review of the contract agreed between the Minister for Health and the Religious Sisters of Charity and measures proposed to bring the hospital into public ownership with a secular ethos and a secular board of management.

I have a question regarding the carbon emissions specifications to which the national maternity hospital and the national children's hospital are being built. When I asked about this in a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health, I received an answer from the HSE stating that the maternity hospital is being built to A3 standard. The expert advice I have received on the matter makes clear that this is nowhere near the near-zero energy building standards required for all new public buildings from 1 January 2020. In fact, the building is being designed to 2008 building regulations rather than the 2019 regulations. If it continues to be built in the current way, the hospital will need to be retrofitted at up to ten times the cost of building it to near-zero standards from the outset, if a deep retrofit is even possible. That change must happen urgently while the building is ongoing.

The Taoiseach has five minutes to reply.

I thank Deputies for their questions. The Cuisle holiday home is operated by the IWA but is not owned by that body, as Deputy Martin Kenny mentioned. I acknowledge that there are real concerns from people with disabilities who have used the home in the past for their holidays and want to be able to do so again. Local people, too, are concerned because the facility provides employment and is a large part of the economy in the area. We do not want to see that lost because it is a part of the country in which, unfortunately, there are not many other economic or employment opportunities. In terms of grant aid from Government, we would need to know that there is a long-term lease in place, as is always the case when it comes to Government capital funding. We do not want a situation where we provides hundreds of thousands or millions of euro for works to be done only to find out a year or two later that the owner has decided to do something else with the property. I am sure the issues can be resolved by way of a long-term lease being provided. I will raise the matter again with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who is responsible for disability services.

Deputy Micheál Martin referred to cutting back the roads budget and re-profiling it. In the interest of clarity, I was referring to a Green Party motion that Fianna Fáil voted for-----

I said re-profile the whole plan.

-----which called for the reprofiling of funds away from roads to public transport, even though Project Ireland 2040 already favours public transport over roads at a 2:1 ratio. It is on the record of the Dáil that Fianna Fáil did vote for that motion. Deputy Eamon Ryan has raised it on Leader's Questions and is concerned that Fianna Fáil backtracked so quickly on a motion that it voted for. Perhaps it did not understand the motion.

The Taoiseach is gas.

I think it is part of an increasingly anti-rural agenda by the Fianna Fáil party, opposing the national broadband plan, advocating that we cut back the roads budget-----

Is this the Taoiseach's stand-up comedy routine?

-----and going down a road that will end in the banning of the burning of turf and wood in rural areas-----

The Taoiseach is turning into Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

-----which Fianna Fáil seems to want to support, even though it does not seem to realise it.

I do, of course, understand why it is doing this. The party wants the Greens to put it in office after the next general election. I totally understand the strategy behind that but Fianna Fáil cannot have two faces. It cannot cosy up to the Greens in Dublin and pretend to be the party of rural Ireland when its members are not in Dublin. I am glad that we have been able to expose the party on that.

The Taoiseach is very worried about the Greens. I wonder why.

Updating the profile for Project Ireland 2040 is done twice a year at the time of the budget and the summer economic statement. There is an online tracker, which I accept is not up to date, but we will-----

It is not up to date.

I just said that.

It has not been up to date for ages.

We will update it.

Deputy Howlin asked about the new national maternity hospital. It is our policy that the hospital will be publicly owned and that the land it is on will be in public control. It is important to acknowledge that the National Maternity Hospital, not too far from here, is a good hospital and already has a Catholic ethos. The chairman of the board is the Archbishop of Dublin. He does not attend but its Catholic ethos has not prevented it performing terminations and providing fertility treatment. We should not get involved in unnecessary church bashing when it is not fair and I do not think it is fair on this occasion. Work is being done on the St. Vincent's site. A new pharmacy is being built and works are happening on the car park. Those works have to be done before the new national maternity hospital is built. It is intended that it shall go to tender in 2020. The Minister for Health is ambitious that we can get it started in 2020. At the very least we can get it to tender next year.

On the railway line to Maynooth, I will not irritate Deputy Burton by listing all the achievements of Fine Gael and Labour in the five years that we served together in government. I will mention only those done by Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and the Independents in the past three and a half years in respect of this railway line. First, we have on order new carriages for a number of railway lines. They are coming from Japan and will be in service by 2021 and will increase by 34% the capacity on the Maynooth, Drogheda------

In 2021, which is two years away.

-----and Kildare lines. It is now 2019, so 2021 is just under two years away. They are on order. If they could come any faster, they would but no Government can make carriages come from Japan any faster, unfortunately, so it would not be any different if the Deputy was in government.

I will have to double check but I think the new locomotives are on order as well and they will by hybrids - electric and diesel. That will allow us to shift on a phased basis from diesel to electric on that line. We have also approved €100 million in funding for the national train control centre at Heuston Station and that will allow us to organise the slots better and get more trains in and out of Heuston and Connolly, which are pinch points.

We are eating into the time.

That is a big project. It is being done in phases.

I asked the Taoiseach about electrification. Is that scrapped?

We have to allocate the time.

No, it is not but I cannot answer when I am constantly interrupted. I will send the Deputy a briefing because she is misinformed.

National Economic and Social Council

Micheál Martin


6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [49132/19]

Brendan Howlin


7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [50154/19]

Mary Lou McDonald


8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [50202/19]

Joan Burton


9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of his Department with the National Economic and Social Council. [51527/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, together.

The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is an independent statutory agency operating under the aegis of my Department. The council analyses and reports on strategic policy matters relevant to Ireland's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development. The NESC is a valuable forum where economic, social and environmental issues can be discussed between a variety of actors and Departments. The council's work focuses on the strategic and long-term view and its current work programme comprises four themes: Ireland's transition to a low-carbon and digital future; reforms to the social welfare system; land use, land value and urban development; and climate change.

Future Jobs Ireland 2019 also includes a request for NESC to develop policy recommendations for the operation of transition teams to manage the impact of economic transition on vulnerable workers and sectors. The project will provide a forward look at the economy in the context of a transition to a low carbon and more digital future.

I present council reports to Government prior to their publication, or prior to laying them before the Houses, as in the case of the annual reports. Council reports published in 2019 include Transport-Orientated Development: Assessing the Opportunity for Ireland and Climate Change Policy: Getting the Process Right.

I appoint members to the council under the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006 and the NESC (Alteration of Composition) Order 2010 - SI 603 of 2010. Each of the following sectors nominates three representatives to the council: business and employer interests, ICTU, farming and agricultural interests, community and voluntary sector, and the environmental sector.

A further six members are public servants, mainly Secretaries General, and must include a representative of my Department and the Department of Finance. The Secretary General of my Department, Mr. Martin Fraser, is the chair of the council and an assistant secretary of my Department, Ms Liz Canavan, is the deputy chair. There are also seven independent members on the council. This composition means that it plays an important and unique role in bringing different perspectives from civil society together with Government. This helps NESC to analyse the challenges facing society and to develop a shared understanding among its members of how to tackle these challenges. Since becoming Taoiseach, I have made 12 appointments to the council in line with the legislation and the guidelines on appointments to State boards. The council is funded through my Department's Vote and my Department also has governance responsibilities regarding the council.

In the past couple of years, NESC has focused much of its work on climate change and sustainability. This has been welcome and constructive work. This was acknowledged earlier this year when the Government launched its much delayed climate plan. For the past two months, I have been trying and failing to get the Taoiseach to summon up his reputation for straight talking, which used to be promoted by his supporters, to answer some basic questions about the targets in the climate plan. At its launch, and during the extended period of partial briefing and marketing that surrounded its appearance, it was claimed by the Government that the plan was specific, ambitious and credible in setting out exactly how Ireland can reach its emissions targets. One of these targets is that, within ten years, Ireland will have 1 million electric vehicles on the road. It has been estimated that to hit the Government's target every car sold from January onwards for the next ten years will have to be electric. This is obviously nonsense. The cars are not available, the charging network is not available and there is no policy in place capable of delivering even a fraction of the target of a one hundredfold increase in sales starting in three weeks. Can the Taoiseach tell us how exactly he believes the target for electric vehicles will be met? We need precision, not the general stuff that he has been going on with for the past few months. What measures in the recent budget will deliver the proposed dramatic turnaround in the immediate future? When will we see an update on progress towards achieving the targets in the plan?

According to the latest census figures, there 79 black spots across electoral divisions in Ireland. These are areas where the average unemployment rate is above 30%, with those between the ages of 25 and 34 the largest segment of those without a job. Those who are jobless most frequently cite the construction sector as their previous occupation. In short, a large pool of potential construction workers are being left behind. This is a time we need a massive housebuilding programme, and a massive investment in retrofitting the existing housing stock to deal with climate change. The Central Bank stated that we need 34,000 homes per year and the Society of St. Vincent De Paul report on energy poverty launched yesterday highlighted the fact that a massive retrofitting project is urgently needed.

The national training fund, which is meant to fund apprentices, has been allowed to run a cumulative surplus of €460 million in spite of the fact that the NESC recommended its greater use to fund apprentices and get people in unemployment black spots, the areas of the country with unemployment rates of 30% or more, back to work. Will the Taoiseach act on this issue, use that available funding to create apprenticeship places for unemployed former construction workers and address the needs of our economy by building houses, retrofitting homes and ensuring the fund is deployed?

Last year, the NESC published its important report No. 145, entitled Urban Development Land, Housing and Infrastructure: Fixing Ireland’s Broken System, which described the housing system as speculative, volatile and expensive. Launching the report, Dr. Rory O'Connor stated, "We know from experience that in countries with more effective, affordable and stable housing systems - such as Austria, Germany and the Netherlands - public bodies actively manage land supply, housing provision and affordability." NESC research indicates that public institutions need a strong development mandate, political authority and executive capacity to drive housing supply. It appears the Government has abandoned the report's recommendations. Everything that has been done since its publication has gone in the other direction. For instance, the Land Development Agency, LDA, which does not have compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers, is off-balance sheet and, effectively, is a fully independent commercial entity that only has regard to Government policy rather than delivering on it. It is under no statutory obligation to deliver social or affordable housing. When a conflict of interest between commercial concerns and social goods arises for the LDA, the commercial interests always win out over affordable housing, as was previously the case with NAMA. My question is simple. Can the Government provide examples of the policy outlined in the NESC report being implemented or applied through legislation or anything else it is doing? It seems to be one of the reports that went straight to the top shelf to gather dust.

When the issue of the NESC last arose, it was noted that the legislation governing it appeared to have stalled. It could be a very useful forum for dealing with some of the difficult problems besetting our society. At the time, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of drugs gangs in Blanchardstown and the report that had recently been issued regarding young children in the area being used as runners by the gangs. Today, a devastating report was published regarding the south city area of Dublin. It delivers a similar message, namely, that drugs gangs are seeking to take on many young children who may become the serious criminals of the next 20 years. They are paid with money, mobile phones, the latest runners and other shoes and so on. Has the Government used or considered using the NESC to bring in a variety of people to talk to it about how drugs are destroying many communities in this city and other areas? The greater Blanchardstown area, which the Taoiseach and I represent, as well as the adjacent areas of Finglas and Cabra, are suffering dreadfully from the scourge of drugs. Has he considered using the NESC as a forum to bring in representatives of the Garda and other organisations to try to make sense of the matter to deal with the drugs problem before it destroys many young lives?

I thank the Deputies for their comprehensive questions.

On climate action, I welcome that Ireland has gone up seven places in the climate action index produced by environmental NGOs. We came from a very low base and, as such, the improvement is not something to celebrate or crow about. However, it indicates measurable progress by Ireland on climate action in the view of NGOs. It is based on data and interviews from 2017 and 2018 and, as such, does not take into account the significant progress in the past year, including the publication and implementation of the climate action plan. When I became Taoiseach, I set the ambition for Ireland to go from being a laggard on climate action to a leader. I am glad we are no longer considered a laggard, although we are certainly not a leader yet. It is good that we are going in the right direction and I am confident that we can become a leader in the years to come.

What was going on before the Taoiseach was appointed to his current office? What universe was he in?

I acknowledge our electric vehicle targets are ambitious. My understanding is that the starting point for all targets in the climate action plan was the extent to which we needed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The targets must combine to reduce our emissions by approximately 30%.

What is the evidence base for how we can achieve that? Surely, there must be documentation.

I will provide it if it exists. I am not sure it does. I will check that out.

It is correct that there is a significant surplus in the national training fund. We are liberating some of the surplus. Some €300 million of it was assigned to human capital initiative announced and launched a few weeks ago by me and certain Ministers at an event in Trinity College Dublin. Most of it will go to third level institutions, including institutes of technology, but some will go to apprenticeships. I will have to double check that. We have liberated €300 million from the large surplus in the fund for higher and further education.

On the LDA, as Deputies will be aware, it has been established by statutory instrument but we need to put primary legislation in place to give it full powers and teeth. It has not been decided whether it will be on or off-balance sheet. It may have CPO powers, but the legislation governing such powers is very out of date. We may need to bring in primary legislation to address CPO powers generally rather than another Bill to give an agency some form of CPO power. That area of law needs to be tidied up. The Law Reform Commission has done very good work in that regard.

On land use, the scheme at O'Devaney Gardens is a good example of where we are following the advice contained in the land use report referred to by Deputy Martin Kenny.

It is the opposite.

It is a high-density housing development on a city centre site involving housing for all and incorporating a mix of social and private housing as well as homes to rent. The Enniskerry Road site, which is our first cost-rental development, is under construction in Dún Laoghaire.

I replied to several questions on the Connolly report earlier today. I will give consideration to whether the NESC could have a role in examining drugs policy and drug-related crime, but the best place for people to come together on that issue is through the existing joint agency response to crime initiative.

Civil Service Renewal Plan

Mary Lou McDonald


10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the way in which his Department provides collective leadership to the Civil Service renewal programme. [49996/19]

The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform has overall policy responsibility for the Civil Service renewal programme. The Civil Service Management Board, CSMB, provides collective leadership of the programme. The CSMB is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government and its membership comprises all Secretaries General and heads of major offices in the Civil Service. Staff in the social policy and public service reform division of the Department of the Taoiseach provide secretarial support to the CSMB. They work closely with the Civil Service renewal programme management office in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in that regard. The civil service renewal programme management office co-ordinates and drives the renewal programme, with regular progress reports provided to the CSMB.

Achievements to date include the establishment of OneLearning, the implementation of a range of initiatives to improve gender balance across the Civil Service, organisational capability reviews, a common governance standard for the Civil Service, the Civil Service people strategy, structured and transparent talent management programmes, the Civil Service excellence and innovation awards, Civil Service employee engagement surveys and a Civil Service-wide mobility scheme for clerical and executive officers. Detailed progress reports on the Civil Service renewal programme, CSMB annual reports and minutes of CSMB meetings are available on gov.ie.

The Civil Service renewal programme was launched five years ago by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and earlier this year, it was lauded for the improved gender balance across the Civil Service as an area of significant progress and achievement from the plan. Unfortunately for the women who work in the Civil Service and the public sector, the figures do not support the Minister's claims. In 2015, 20% of people in the top Civil Service jobs were female and in 2019 the gender breakdown in the top jobs remained the same. In fact, in the Department of the Taoiseach only 25% of the top grades are women, yet the reverse applies to the lower grades where 75% are women. That is the balance throughout almost all sectors we examined. We understand this is historical and that historical disadvantage for women takes time to resolve, but attention must be directed at middle management to ensure the disparity is addressed for the long term by putting in place work practices and employment protections that encourage and support women to move up the ranks.

Does the Taoiseach believe the Government is doing enough about this? Clearly, it is not. What actions is the Department of the Taoiseach taking to drive the objective of gender parity in senior roles throughout the Departments? Is that a strategy the Taoiseach and the Government have?

When the Civil Service renewal programme was launched in 2014 it unfortunately suffered over-hype from its early stages, which is now the dominant approach to all Government plans. At the end of the implementation period in 2017 it was declared both that the renewal plan had been implemented and that reporting would continue to ensure that the plan would be implemented. If we are honest, there have been ongoing improvements in the Civil Service over a period of 40 years. The Irish Civil Service appears to rate highly internationally in respect of efficiency and effectiveness. Problems certainly arise from the growing politicisation of all aspects of the public services, and this is a serious issue. However, I believe the core integrity of the service remains.

The core problem today continues to be the ability to attract and retain staff in critical roles in the civil and public sector. The number of vacancies in the health sector, in particular, is impacting directly on vital public services. The row about the moratorium on health service recruitment vis-à-vis the tortured language being used by officialdom in the Department of Health to justify the failure to recruit posts that have been advertised or to give people contracts for posts that were advertised 12 months ago reveals that.

I asked the Taoiseach last year and again this year to report on the growing habit of inserting Ministers into financing decisions where they had previously been excluded by changes introduced after 1997. For example, with regard to community development, advance research and culture money has been directed into funds where the relevant Minister has been given a role in deciding not just policy but also specific allocations. No justification has been provided for this strategy of re-politicising funding. The documentation regarding the Government's self-marketing campaign revealed that at least one Minister was personally deciding on the allocation of advertising spending between different publishers, broadcasters and newspapers, something that had not occurred for at least two decades. Will the Taoiseach agree to ask for the development of guidelines on how to reverse this trend towards the growing politicisation of day-to-day government?

The Deputy will not be surprised that I do not agree with him that the Civil Service renewal programme was over-hyped when it was launched in 2014. It was well presented and it was an important initiative for a number of reasons. We were in the middle of a crisis at the time. As I have said publicly, the day before the troika left this country the head of its team told me that the civil servants he had dealt with during the crisis were the best he had dealt with anywhere. That is an incredible tribute to the people who worked all hours of the day and all days of the week to address an existential threat to the country at that time.

I have two questions for the Taoiseach about ongoing issues. Constant renewal is very important in public administration and one of the objectives we were anxious to achieve was the recruitment of specialists. In general in the Civil Service, generalists were given jobs in, for example, human resource management or in carrying out economic evaluations. We created the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, in the public service to ensure we would have economists doing economic work and we recruited human resource specialists to manage human resources. Is that continuing?

My second question is about senior management assessment, which is probably be the most difficult nut to crack. Has it been cracked? Is there a proper evaluation of the conduct and output of the most senior public servants and is that available for public scrutiny?

Does the Taoiseach have thoughts on how to achieve equality between women and men in the most senior ranks of the public service? We have never had a woman at the head of the Department of Finance, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or a number of other Departments. In addition, in Departments such as the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection which were headed by women in the past, the women have now been replaced by men. As somebody who casts himself as a young leader, what plans does the Taoiseach have to achieve at the top of the Civil Service a public and visible declaration of a commitment to equality, as it were, through a rough parity of 40% of either men and women, moving to a 50:50 situation? We do not have that at present.

I have the statistics which Deputy Martin Kenny outlined. We have gone backwards rather than forward. I am not saying that is the Taoiseach's fault per se. It is a collective matter for everybody who has been involved in government. However, the Taoiseach does not appear to be anxious to make progress. Where are the women who are going to be leaders in the Civil Service? I know from talking to civil servants in places like the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Finance that fantastic women with fantastic skills are not getting promotions at the same level as men. Ministers have a call when it comes to the most senior appointments. Has the Taoiseach discussed with the Cabinet the principle of ensuring, given the talents available, that the calls treat women at least equally to men?

As we all know, there is still a large gender gap at higher management levels in the Civil Service. The Civil Service renewal plan, whose implementation rests with the Minister for Finance for Public Expenditure and Reform, is working to change this. Our executive leadership programme is making a major difference. Thanks to encouragement and mentoring, more women are taking part in that programme. Since 2010, there has been a doubling of the number of women at deputy and assistant secretary levels but we have further to go, particularly at Secretary General level. Other initiatives in the plan that are driving this change include a wide range of initiatives to improve gender balance across the Civil Service, a study of gender in senior Civil Service positions in Ireland which was published in December 2017 and the development of guidance for Departments and an information pack on maternity and adoptive leave. I accept that we have more work to do in this area, particularly when it comes to Secretaries General.

In terms of problems attracting candidates and retaining them in employment, the Public Service Pay Commission was established to advise the Government on aspects of the public service remuneration policy. In the second phase of its work, the commission was tasked by its terms of reference to undertake an examination of whether and to what extent there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in the public service.

As part of this final module, the commission considered the issues and policy challenges associated with pay setting for top level posts in the public service at the current time, as evidenced by recent competitions to appoint a Garda Commissioner and a new director general of the HSE. In its final report, the commission included findings regarding senior executive recruitment and retention issues. It noted as a matter of fact that the pay reductions introduced during the fiscal crisis were structured with greater reductions at the most senior levels, steps that in my view, were appropriate at the time. The commission also noted that the unwinding of pay reductions, which commenced in 2015, has been progressive and focused rightly on prioritising restoration for those at the lower income levels first. That action will be ongoing at more senior levels until July 2022 under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017, which provides a statutory roadmap for the continued controlled unwinding of FEMPI as it applies to all public servants, including those in the most senior positions.

On the question of pay determination for future such posts, the commission stated it would be appropriate, should it be decided to conduct a review of remuneration of senior level posts, that the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector, which was in place between 1969 and 2009, be reconstituted for this purpose, given the diversity of posts in question, as well as the range of issues affecting them. I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has asked officials in his Department to examine the re-establishment of this review body.

In regard to Deputy Micheál Martin's assertion that financial decisions are being re-politicised, I would not accept that assertion. In fact, I would give an example of the contrary, which is the sports capital programme. When I was in the Department with the Minister, Deputy Ring, we put in place very clear rules to determine which projects were valid or invalid, and we put in place a points system which means it is the officials who score the different projects using that points system.

Who gets the points?

Mayo gets extra.

There is also an appeals system, which was a very significant change to the approach taken by the former Minister, John O'Donoghue, and the former Minister, Jim McDaid, before that.

The Taoiseach should talk to the Minister, Deputy Ross.

Mayo won on the grants, not on the field of play.

IGEES is a very good project and is continuing to develop. Deputy Burton is right to point out that we have never had a woman at the head of the Department of Finance or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of course, the person who is at the head of the Department of Finance or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in my view, is the Minister. Unfortunately, the Deputy's party leader decided not to appoint her to those roles and decided to appoint her to social protection instead, which is a great job and a really important one too. Perhaps if I have an opportunity to appoint a new Cabinet, I will be able to appoint at least one woman to one of those two roles.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.