Appropriation Bill 2019: Second and Subsequent Stages

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Appropriation Bill 2019 is an essential element of financial housekeeping that must be concluded by the Dáil this year. There are two primary purposes of the Appropriation Bill. First, it provides authorisation in law for all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2019 on the basis of the Estimates, which were voted on by the Dáil during the year. Section 1 and schedule 1 set out the amounts to be appropriated for supply services. These relate to the amounts included in the Revised Estimates and Further Revised Estimates for 2019 voted by the Dáil earlier this year, and the Supplementary Estimates voted by the Dáil on 12 December. In aggregate, these Estimates amount to €54.6 billion. The comparable amount in the Appropriation Act 2018 was €50.9 billion. The amount to be appropriated this year, therefore, represents an increase of €3.7 billion or 7% on last year's net voted expenditure. In aggregate, taking into account expenditure of the Social Insurance Fund and the National Training Fund, total gross voted expenditure is forecast to total roughly €67.6 billion this year. This represents a significant investment to support the delivery of essential public services and to provide for the necessary infrastructure to support social and economic progress.

The second key purpose of the Appropriation Bill is to provide a legal basis for spending to continue into 2020 in the period before the Dáil votes on the 2020 Estimates. If the Bill were not enacted before the end of December there would be no authority to spend any Voted moneys in 2020 from the start of January until approval of the 2020 Estimates, since this authority for 2020, as contained in the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act 1965, is based on the amounts provided for in the Appropriation Bill 2019 itself.

Under the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in budget 2004 Departments may carry over, from the current year to the following year, unspent capital up to a maximum of 10% of voted capital. This reflects the difficulty in planning for major capital projects and provides some flexibility for Departments.

The Appropriation Act determines definitively the capital amounts which may be carried over to the following year. The aggregate amount of proposed capital carryover from 2019 into 2020 is €215.4 million, which represents 2.9% of the total Exchequer capital programme of €7.3 billion for 2019. This figure is higher than last year's carryover figure of €93 million, which amounted to 1.5% of the 2019 capital allocation. This is in the context of an increase of €1.3 billion of capital expenditure included in the Revised Estimates Volume 2019.

The proposed amounts in unspent capital to be carried over by Vote are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The 2020 Revised Estimates Volume will set out detailed financial and key performance information for Departments and Offices. In Part Il of the Estimates, for each Vote availing of the capital carryover facility, a table will be included listing the amounts to be deferred by sub-head. In line with last year's Appropriation Act, section 3 of the Bill includes a specific provision to allow for an advance, not exceeding €185 million, from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account, with this advance then being repaid to the Central Fund in January 2020.

The need for this provision arises as certain Exchequer liabilities and social welfare payments which form part of the supply services for 2020 are due for payment by electronic fund transfer on 1 or 2 January 2020. With the banking system closed on 1 January, funding will need to be in place in departmental bank accounts before the end of this year to meet those liabilities on a timely basis. In addition, An Post needs to be pre-funded before the end of 2019 in respect of certain payments due in the first week of January 2020 in order for it to transfer payments from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to its network of post offices throughout the country.

The annual Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping undertaken by the Dáil. The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2019 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil during the year. The passage of the Bill will also ensure that payments funded from voted expenditure in 2019 such as the housing assistance payment, jobseeker's allowance, disability allowance, non-contributory State pension, nurses' pay, teachers' pay and all other pay and pensions funded from voted money can continue to be funded in 2020 in the period before the Dáil approves the 2020 Estimates.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Fianna Fáil will be supporting this Bill, which, as alluded to by the Minister of State, is technical legislation. We will agree to support passage of the Bill through all Stages in the Oireachtas. As stated by the Minister of State, the Bill provides statutory authority for the amounts voted by the Dáil during the year. These amounts include the original Estimates, Revised Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could outline if the recent announcement that RTÉ is to receive an extra €10 million from the Government and reports that an emergency fund is to be established for childcare providers have been provided for in any of the Revised Estimates since budget day. In my opinion, it is a politicised move if this has taken place without any consultation with my party since October given that we had budget discussions and facilitated its passing. I ask the Minister of State to comment on that issue in his closing statement.

The sum of €54,582,294,000 is granted from the Central Fund to the proper supply of services. The sum of €2,691,119,000 is the appropriations-in-aid. Appropriations-in-aid are revenues received by the particular area that are retained by that area for the use of expenditure. In other words, they do not go to the Central Fund. For example, the Director of Public Prosecutions might have a gross expenditure of €43,719,000 but because of appropriations-in-aid of €910,000, the amount it would need to extract from the Central Fund is €42,809,000.

The Bill also provides for sums deferred into the year ended 31 December 2020. The term "capital supply service and purpose" means a supply service voted by the Dáil, the purpose of which is to create an asset intended for the use on a continuing basis with an expected life of more than one year. These are sums for which surrender is deferred into 2020. This is mostly salaries and expenses for 14 offices and Departments of Government to allow for the continuing supply of services. We note that many of the tables alluded to by the Minister of State are referenced, and in many cases, contained in the Bill. I ask that in his concluding remarks the Minister of State respond to the contention I have made, which I hope is not the case.

The Appropriation Bill 2019 provides authorisation in law for all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2019 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil in the course of the year. Section 1 and Schedule 1 outline the amounts to be appropriated for supply services. These are for amounts given in the Revised Estimates for this year and the Supplementary Estimates which were considered last week. In total, these Estimates amount to approximately €55 billion.

Without rehearsing the arguments made last week, I note that the Supplementary Estimate provided for the health service has become an annual tradition. It is the result of underfunding at the beginning of the year, only to be plugged by unsustainable corporate tax receipts at the end of the year. As has been made clear by the Parliamentary Budget Office, the Government is failing abjectly to convert additional funding into better outcomes for patients by pursuing the false economy of a recruitment freeze that inhibits the opening of more beds and inadequate home help hours that result in patients taking up hospital beds when they could otherwise be discharged. I suspect we will be in the same position next year if our public services continue to be run as they have been since 2016, and prior to that.

The other purpose of the Appropriation Bill is to provide a legal basis for spending to continue into 2020 before the Dáil Votes on the 2020 Estimates. If this Bill was not passed before the end of this year, there would be no authority to spend in 2020 from the beginning of the year until the 2020 Estimates are approved. Departments may carry over unspent capital resources from a given year to the following year up to a maximum of 10%, given the flexibility required to deliver capital projects. The Appropriation Act determines how much can be carried over.

Sinn Féin will not object to the passing of this Bill. It is a necessary piece of housekeeping that must be undertaken before the end of the year. We may disagree with Government and its partners in government about how resources are spent and directed and the policy that underpins that spending but given the reasons for this Bill, we will be facilitating its passage.

This legislation is to allow the Government to continue to fund essential services. As the Minister of State is aware, the Estimates will not be finalised until some time in the new year so this legislation is necessary to allow the continuance of payments. I regret that in regard to social welfare the Government chose not to give recipients of the State retirement pension an increase and so no provision in that regard is made in this Bill.

In regard to the Minister of State's responsibility in respect of insurance, it is a pity that the Government has not seen fit to try to make some arrangements for all of the businesses, community organisations and childcare facilities now under serious threat in terms of their future functioning because the Irish insurance market, despite being extremely profitable, is in disarray again under the watch of this Government. The Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, announced that she was astonished that in some cases insurance fees for crèches and such like had increased from €3,000 to €8,000 to €10,000 because of companies leaving the market.

A report was published yesterday by the Central Bank of Ireland in regard to how insurance companies are gouging ordinary people who are paying motor insurance and do not make false claims. The people who make the false claims should be dealt with, but they are a tiny minority among all of the people who properly pay their insurance and do not make false claims. It would have been possible to offer temporary insurance to many of the organisations to which I am referring, including crèches, using the facility of the Irish Public Bodies Insurance company, which is a State owned insurance company, to avoid the risk of valuable community and social enterprises and small businesses closing while the Government seeks to address the real problems caused by the difficulties in insurance. I am sure the Minister of State has met many of these business operators. The situation in regard to crèches coming into the new year is a disaster. The Government should consider the Labour Party proposal in regard to the Irish Public Bodies Insurance company. Such provision could have been easily made through the mechanism of these or other provisions and decisions of the Government.

The Labour Party will not be objecting to the passage of this legislation because it is necessary to make payments but it is a black mark against the Government that insurance is in chaos yet again and many valuable community services, particularly crèches, may be forced to close for lack of insurance.

I point out to Deputy Cowen that the moneys for various areas announced since the budget will be dealt with in the Revised Estimates next year. That is the way it happens every year. I am unsure whether the Deputy has met the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, since the budget arithmetic was concluded. Those are the numbers. The Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Health this year is €338 million. Last year, it was €655 million. In total, there was €1.35 billion in Supplementary Estimates last year, whereas this year there is €600 million.

Insurance is a major issue with which I am dealing. I have been in this job for almost two and a half years. On no occasion has any representative of the childcare sector come to me on insurance issues in the sector. Similarly, the cost of insurance working group, which was established almost a year before I was appointed, has not been contacted on the matter. For almost four years, no issue was raised regarding insurance in the childcare sector. There is currently such an issue. There are two brokers operating in the sector. One of them has lost its underwriter for the sector. The other broker is operating for the sector with an Irish-based insurance company with which there is no issue. It is open for business and has additional capacity to cater for the childcare sector.

It is clear that if there is a claim against a business, its premium will increase substantially the following year. If there are multiple claims against a business, many insurance companies will not offer it insurance. That is the case in almost every sector. In too many areas, whether sporting organisations, childcare or elsewhere, there is insufficient governance, oversight or structures in place for the overall sector. We must ensure that those elements are put in place because if that is done, insurance companies will be able to see that premises or businesses are being run correctly. This is not the right forum for a conversation on insurance.

I fully accept Deputy Burton's bona fides in raising the matter. I am happy to present on insurance to the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, of which she is a member. Last week, the Law Reform Commission, LRC, published its report on insurance, while the report of the Central Bank was published this week. The LRC will have received submissions by the end of January regarding the potential for the House to cap the level of awards. The Judicial Council Act was commenced today and is now fully operational. There will be a significant amount of work in that space.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.