Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021

Vol. 1005 No. 7

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Secretaries General

Mairéad Farrell


45. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the Number of international applicants to the Top Level Appointments Committee for the recently vacant position of Secretary General of the Department of Health; and the number of international applicants who were shortlisted for the position. [20796/21]

One of the reasons given for the necessity of a massive salary of €292,000 for the position of the new Secretary General of the Department of Health was the need to attract international talent. How many international applicants were there for the recently vacant post of Secretary General of the Department of Health and how many international applicants were shortlisted for the position?

As the Deputy will be aware, the selection process for the appointment to the position of Secretary General in the Department of Health was undertaken by the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, with the assistance of the Public Appointments Service, PAS. The Government is committed to ensuring a policy of open recruitment and the role of TLAC, as an independent body, is to support that and ensure that the recruitment and selection process for the vast majority of senior Civil Service posts is accessible to the widest pool of qualified candidates. TLAC operates under the code of practice issued by the Commission for PAS in accordance with the principles of merit, consistency, accountability, probity, best practice and professional confidentiality.

The position of Secretary General in the Department of Health was openly advertised on 8 January 2021. Applications for this competition closed on 28 January. In addition to being published by PAS on its publicjobs.ie portal, the position was extensively advertised internationally online on selected relevant websites and through targeted social media. PAS also issued job alerts by email and text message to those who have registered their interest in positions at this level on the publicjobs.ie website. TLAC has also circulated it to Departments as well as other public service bodies. In this instance, TLAC received 23 applications for the position of Secretary General in the Department of Health. Of the 23 applications received, 20 identified as being Irish nationals and three identified as being international. Three candidates were shortlisted for final consideration under the TLAC process. All three shortlisted candidates identified as being Irish. Following the conclusion of the independent TLAC process, the appointment of the next Secretary General in the Department of Health was considered at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. The Deputy will be aware that Mr. Robert Watt has been appointed to this critical role.

In addition, TLAC makes available an annual report to me which is published on my Department’s website. The report provides summary information on all TLAC competitions completed in the previous year, including reporting of key trends and analysis having regard to the composition of all applications for TLAC competitions.

It is interesting that the justification for the €81,000 pay increase, similar to the €350,000 per annum salary for the head of the HSE in 2019, was that we needed it to attract international applications. However, the Minister has just outlined that 20 of the 23 applicants were from this State. The old Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been successful in his application to become the new Secretary General of the Department of Health. He had also been acting in an interim capacity before his appointment was approved by Cabinet during the week.

We had three international applicants in what we can only describe as an arduous international recruitment process where TLAC scoured the globe to find the best candidate for the job. Little did we know that he was right under our noses and already in an interim position. How fortunate was that? It was precisely for the reason of attracting international talent that we had to raise the salary by €81,000.

The job was openly advertised; that is not in dispute. In my initial reply, I outlined the various platforms that were used for the open advertisement of this particular post. Regarding the background of the applicants, while it is true that 20 of the 23 applicants described themselves as being Irish nationals, that is not to say that they did not necessarily have international experience. Three of the 23 applicants identified themselves as being international. As the Deputy knows, a short-listing process was carried out. Three candidates were shortlisted for final consideration under the TLAC process. As she knows, the members of TLAC are independent and they guard their independence closely. They conducted their job professionally and presented the Minister for Health with the recommendation of one name, which in this case was Mr. Robert Watt.

Nobody is suggesting that this position was not advertised correctly or that people from all walks of life could not apply for it,. The issue here is that we had been told specifically that the €81,000 pay increase was needed to be able to attract international talent. We now know that only three of the 23 people who applied came were international candidates. We actually had 20 people who were willing to apply for the job and indeed we already had someone already working within this Department who was willing to take up that position. That is the concern we have. It is not about the way it was advertised, but the fact that we were told that an €81,000 pay increase was needed. We now know that the person who has accepted the job has said he is happy to waive that on a temporary basis. Why was it needed in the first place?

I have seen the latest TLAC report from 2019 which outlined concerns over the downward trend for people outside the State sector applying. However, was that €81,000 increase necessary in order to attract international talent, when in fact we were so lucky that we had the person right here already working for the State? Clearly that €81,000 increase was not necessary.

When it comes to an openly advertised competition, the truth is that one never knows who will apply. This post was advertised on a number of websites. The competition was open to any person around the world who had an interest in applying for this position. A number of international candidates applied. We should not discount the international experience of the 20 candidates who applied and who described themselves as Irish.

Of the 23 applications received, 17 were from the private sector and six were from the public service. Ten of the 23 applicants were female and 13 were male. I will endeavour to provide any additional information the Deputy might need about the process. As I said, TLAC provides a report to me, as Minister, which will be published in the normal way.

Climate Action Plan

Gerald Nash


46. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role his Department will play in ensuring that annual departmental spending proposals as part of the annual budgetary cycle are aligned with climate action and carbon-reduction targets; the way in which his Department plans to assess the National Development Plan 2018-2027 against Ireland’s carbon-reduction plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20242/21]

Earlier, we took Second Stage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill. I am sure the Minister will agree that budget policy, public spending policy and infrastructure spending would be central levers to allow targets relating to carbon neutrality to be met. Climate action is far too important an issue for it to be sacrificed for short-term political expediency. How does the Minister, who is in charge of public expenditure, plan to align the annual budget process with the five-year carbon budget process? How does he plan to ensure that the national development plan becomes an enabler for us to reach climate neutrality and not an obstacle?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. The new Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill will, on enactment, require the Government to adopt a series of economy-wide carbon budgets on a rolling 15-year basis, starting in this year. These economy-wide budgets will then be translated into specific targets for each relevant sector. Ministers will be responsible for achieving the legally binding targets for their own sectoral area, with each Minister accounting for their performance towards sectoral targets and actions before an Oireachtas committee each year. It will be the responsibility of each Minister to ensure that their Department's priorities and spending allocations are aligned with the emissions ceilings in their sectors.

The role that I and my Department will play in this process is twofold. First, in the consultation under way as part of the development of the next climate action plan, I have committed that I will develop a methodology to ensure that any compliance costs that arise from a failure to reach climate and energy targets will be borne by the sector responsible for this failure.

Second, I have committed to the progressive implementation of green budgeting in Ireland. This means the budgetary process will be used to promote the achievement of improved environmental outcomes. This is in parallel with other reforms to the budgetary process on well-being, gender and inequality, which are intended to improve the outcomes in these areas.

My Department has developed and published a methodology for identifying expenditure that is having a positive impact on Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. Identifying the quantum of Government spending dedicated to addressing climate change is a necessary first step in assessing the effectiveness of this expenditure against climate and environmental goals. Ireland chairs the OECD Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting and the specific green budgeting reforms that I will implement will be guided by the emerging international best practice from this and other groups.

Additional information not provided on the floor of the House.

On the review of the national development plan, my Department published the phase 1 report of the review on 4 April. As noted in this report, Departments are required to assess every spending proposal against a range of environmental outcomes. The aim of this is to ensure that our public investment priorities are aligned with Ireland’s climate and environmental objectives. It is important to note that all projects included in the plan will be subject to the detailed rigour of the public spending code, which is updated regularly to reflect lessons learned and international good practice. The phase 1 report also sets out the ongoing body of work under way in my Department to strengthen the environmental and climate factors underpinning the code. In particular, I anticipate altering the shadow cost of carbon that applies to all projects once the higher targets envisaged in the draft climate action Bill are adopted. This will ensure that the amount of emissions a project may give rise to is quantified, and a value placed on those emissions that reflects the cost that society will have to bear to eliminate these emissions in the future. I aim to finalise and publish the new national development plan by July 2021.

I thank the Minister. I am really interested to find out how all of this will work in practice. For example, the revised national development plan covers almost the entire period set out in the climate action Bill, during which the target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51% over two carbon budgets. The Minister will acknowledge that how we spend our money and which national development plan projects we prioritise will dictate and mean the difference between meeting our targets and not meeting them. Will the Minister accept that carbon interim reports will be a driver of budget policy and that his Department, from now on, needs to work on that basis? What specific changes is the Minister planning to allow for that to happen?

The Minister mentioned that he is working on new methodologies in this space. I would appreciate it if he could elaborate on that. We will now have binding mandatory carbon reduction targets. On that basis, will the Minister accept the logic that when we are preparing budgets, Estimates and multi-annual funding envelopes, logically, the money must follow the policy and the law?

I thank the Deputy. This is an issue on which I would be really happy to engage further with the Deputy because it is going to be at the heart of the new national development plan. I will outline what the climate and environmental assessment of the plan involves. As a first step in the climate and environmental review of the national development plan, Departments are required to perform a qualitative assessment of every measure they are putting forward for inclusion in the revised plan against each of seven climate and environmental criteria, including climate mitigation, climate adaptation, water quality, air quality, waste and circular economy, nature and biodiversity and just transition. The cumulative score of each measure across all outcomes will be used to assign a traffic light style rating to the measure. This assessment aims to give Government a high-level view of the compatibility of all measures being considered for inclusion in the national development plan with broader Government climate and environmental policy. The assessment will inform the resource allocation decisions that will need to be taken into account in the context of the review of the national development plan.

On the detail of this, I am interested to know how the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will act. For example, if it is clear that a sector like transport or agriculture may miss its targets, what levers are available to the Minister? Does he envisage a situation where he would pivot away from what might be a budgetary norm or an agreement with a Department to prioritise and refocus attention in that Department in order to enable it to meet its sectoral demands and requirements? Will the Minister apprise me of the relationship between his Department and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications will work and change in practice in respect of the five-year carbon budgeting cycle process? Will that structure of engagement become more regular and more formalised? Will the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications become more embedded in the annual and multi-annual budgeting process? We know that the system of making budgets is not perfect. It has hardly changed over the past century. The annual Estimates and bids process needs to change, culturally and for every other reason, particularly in the context of climate action.

I thank the Deputy. I am happy to provide as much information on this issue as the Deputy would like. Under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, where a sector has not complied or is projected to not comply with the assigned sectoral emissions ceiling, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications will, following consultation with the Minister responsible for the relevant sector, set out sector specific actions in the annual update to the climate action plan to address the failure or projected failure. My Department is developing a methodology to ensure that any compliance costs that arise from a failure to reach climate and energy targets will be borne by the sector responsible for this failure. In light of the binding requirements that are now being imposed, this is a particularly important initiative. The traffic light scoring of all national development plan measures will inform the resource allocations that have to be taken by Government. As the Deputy will know, we are hoping to agree on a reviewed national development plan by July.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Mairéad Farrell


47. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on whether there will be a return of austerity given the stability programme update forecasts that Government expenditure as a percentage of GNI* is to start contracting from 2021 until 2025; and the taxes projected to rise over the same period. [20797/21]

One of the lessons of the last crisis was that cuts to public spending and tax increases during a time of recession do not ameliorate the downturn; they make things worse. The fiscal response to date is justified based on the dire situation in which we find ourselves. In terms of the stability programme update, I am concerned that there could be a return to austerity. I know that the projection in the update is on a no-policy-change basis. Can the Minister rule out a return to austerity in the coming years?

Over the course of 2020 and 2021, over €28 billion has been provided for additional expenditure to respond to Covid-19, with €12 billion of this amount included in the overall Government Expenditure ceiling of €87.8 billion for 2021.  This is, by any measure, a substantial additional allocation in addition to core public spending, and allows for measures to support our people and businesses and to sustain key public services during the pandemic. The expenditure report for 2021 outlines the expenditure amounts in respect of both core expenditure programmes and Covid-19 expenditure. In setting out the technical expenditure position for the period to 2025, the stability programme update published last week maintains this approach of separately identifying core expenditure and Covid-19 related expenditure, with the aggregate amounts by year outlined in table 7 on page 37 of that document.

In setting out the technical expenditure position for the period to 2025, the key assumptions are that the exceptional Covid-19 related expenditure unwinds as the public health situation improves and as the economy and society recover from the pandemic, and core expenditure will increase over the period 2022 to 2025 by an annual average of approximately 3.5%. With Covid-19 related expenditure of almost €12 billion this year, amounting to over 5.5% of GNI*, this unwinding of exceptional Covid-19 expenditure is a key driver of the reduction in expenditure as a percentage of GNI*. Given the technical basis, which the Deputy has acknowledged, on which the expenditure projections in the stability programme update are prepared, the position in respect of the exceptional Covid-19 supports reflects current policy decisions.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. I note that the stability programme update forecasts growth capital expenditure to rise from €11.5 billion in 2020 to almost €16 billion next year. I welcome that, but in 2022, gross capital expenditure is projected to drop to 21%. No sooner had I got my hopes up when they were dashed. Taking the four years after the high point in 2021, gross capital expenditure will be down, on average, by 22%. I am concerned that the increase in capital investment might come at the cost of squeezing public services and social protections. There is a risk that the Government in trying to balance the books before balancing the economy and will end up doing neither. Are we not better served rebalancing the economy in the medium-term rather than trying to balance the budget and running the risk of failing on both accounts?

I thank the Deputy. In the current year, taking account of the carry forward from 2020, we have a capital budget of €10.8 billion, which is the highest amount in the history of the State. It is more than 5% of GNI* and it compares very favourably with other EU member states. The Government is committed to an ambitious public capital programme and we are currently reviewing the national development plan with a view to ensuring that its content is properly aligned with Government priorities and the national planning framework as well. For the purposes of the stability programme update, the central assumption we have made on a technical basis is annual expenditure growth in core terms, as we measure it, of approximately 3.5%.

While that is the assumption, policy decisions will be made by the Government over the coming period that will have an impact on the actual level of expenditure in the years ahead.

We are all very much aware of the scale of the crises we face. To put matters in context, we have an emerging crisis in credit provision due to the recent exit of two main banks, as well as the prospect of an estimated €2.2 billion a year of our corporate tax revenues drying up. Moreover, we face the prospect of significant numbers of businesses not returning to work as the stability programme update states that the Government will have no role in propping up firms the business model of which is no longer viable. Ireland's economic growth model, based largely on low corporate tax rates, is now seriously at risk from changes to the international tax regime. This will require a new vision for, and approach to, industrial strategy that will more than likely require greater State intervention and investment within the economy. Given that the European Commission will be reopening its public consultation into the reform of EU fiscal rules, where does the Government stand on this matter?

First, I disagree with the Deputy's assertion that Ireland's economic model, or projection of economic growth, is based on low corporate taxes. We are forecasting, in the stability programme update, a strong rebound in the domestic economy, with domestic demand starting to recover in the second half of this year, and strong underlying growth over the course of next year. That will be driven by consumer confidence, which will be rebuilt. It will also be based on the pent-up demand that currently exists because of the impact of Covid-19.

One of the core priorities we will have in bringing about economic recovery is helping people to get back to work. Helping the more than 400,000 people still on the pandemic unemployment payment, who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, to return to employment will be a top Government priority over the period ahead. If we can make sensible decisions regarding the management of the public finances, the SPU demonstrates that there is a pathway back to sustainable public finances and a broadly balanced budget within a short number of years, avoiding the type of austerity our country has experienced in the past.

Office of Public Works

Róisín Shortall


48. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the recoupment of the €10 million overpayment of rent for the Miesian Plaza; the specific engagement that has taken place with the landlord; the details of the way in which that overpayment will be repaid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20812/21]

I want to raise again the building in the Miesian Plaza, Baggot Street, that houses three Departments. An error that was made by the Office of Public Works, OPW, in measuring that building has resulted in an overpayment of rent of approximately €344,000 per year, amounting to an estimated total overpayment of €10 million over the lifetime of the lease. What progress has been made in addressing this issue and recouping the overpayment?

The rent being paid by the OPW in respect of the offices at block 1, Miesian Plaza is in accordance with the terms of the lease as set out. However, the OPW has acknowledged that an error occurred and that it should have engaged with the landlord and sought to recalibrate the rental rate as a result of the new measurement standard, international property management standard 3, IPMS 3, introduced in early 2016. The error should not have happened and from my discussions with the Commissioners of the OPW, I know they very much regret that it did. I reiterate that regret this evening on behalf of the OPW.

The annual rent associated with the additional area under IPMS 3 is €279,827 plus VAT. The impact to date is in the region of €1.2 million plus VAT and, if the situation continues unabated, the impact over the 25 years of the lease could amount to between €7.7 million and €8.6 million plus VAT, depending on the rate of inflation. The OPW processes have been reviewed and strengthened to ensure such a situation does not arise again. Approval arrangements now include an independent verification of heads of terms agreed on leasehold or freehold acquisitions to ensure alignment between those heads of terms and the final legal documentation.

Since the issue was identified, the commissioners have continued to engage with the landlord on the measurement standard applied. A number of meetings and discussions have already taken place and the landlord has again recently confirmed that he wishes to constructively engage with the OPW on the measurement issue, with a view to reaching a solution that is acceptable to both parties. The OPW and the landlord agree that the best way to progress the discussions is through further face-to-face meetings, which will be arranged once it is permissible under Covid-19 restrictions and it is safe for all to attend.

I am afraid the Minister of State's response does not align with what has been reported in recent weeks on this ongoing matter. It is one thing for the OPW to regret the mistake it made but what the public wants is for it to recoup the public money that has gone to the overpayment and ensure it does not continue. When I raised this matter with the Minister of State six months ago, he told me there would be ongoing dialogue. There does not seem to have been any dialogue at all since last November.

Thanks to Cianan Brennan of the Irish Examiner, we know that, on 1 April, the landlord in question, Larry Goodman, trading as Remley Developments, put a notice in The Irish Times denying that the OPW had ever communicated to Remley Developments that there was an issue with measurements at Miesian Plaza and stating that no downward adjustment to the rent was discussed or negotiated. What is the truth of the matter? Has the issue at hand been conveyed to the landlord? I understand there was to be a meeting last month. When can we expect real dialogue to take place?

As I said the last time this matter was raised in the House, it is important to point out that I am not in any way condoning what happened in this matter. This was an error and it is not to my acceptance or that of the OPW. We want to remedy it and make sure we move forward with as good a relationship as possible with the landlord. To that end, I have met the Chairman of the Office of Public Works on a number of occasions to see how we can best move forward on this issue. The best available route to do so is, as the Chairman has committed to do today, to have a face-to-face meeting, at the earliest possible opportunity, between the landlord and the Commissioners of the OPW. Covid restrictions allowing, that will happen as quickly as possible. In recent correspondence, which has been publicly enunciated through the medium of a "Prime Time" programme, of which I am sure the Deputy is aware, the landlord stated that he is anxious that the situation be ameliorated. The OPW will work constructively with the landlord on that basis.

Putting an advertisement in the newspaper does not sound like being serious about proper dialogue. We all know the constraints arising out of the Covid restrictions but they do not preclude a meeting from taking place with a small number of people in a large room. Can the Minister of State give an undertaking that this meeting will take place within the next month? That is reasonable. It is more than three years since the OPW and the Comptroller and Auditor General established that an error was made. The error in the overpayment is continuing all the time. I am asking the Minister of State to take action to address this matter. We cannot afford to waste any more time. Will he give a commitment that a face-to-face meeting will be set up with the next month?

I can give the Deputy a commitment and I have already taken action, in that I have already, on numerous occasions, met the Chairman and Commissioners of the OPW specifically on this issue. Neither the Chairman nor I want the matter hanging over the OPW as an organisation. It is an isolated issue. It is important to point out that the Office of Public Works is a competent organisation that deals with leases valued in excess of €100 million for the benefit of the Civil Service and public service across a range of agencies.

When will the meeting take place?

I did not interrupt the Deputy and I ask that she not try to shout me down. As I said, this is an isolated issue.

I am confident, as the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, having come in to the organisation last July and having reviewed the work, that the OPW is a modern, progressive and fit for purpose organisation. This is an issue but I am dealing with it. The commissioners and the chairman are dealing with it. I have given a commitment to the House. The landlord has given an opportunity. I cannot tell the House when the acting chief medical officer will allow face-to-face meetings, but when that happens I will be back to the Deputy with a reply as soon as possible.

Public Private Partnerships

Mairéad Farrell


49. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to explain the reason the phase 1 report review of the national development plan identifies the potential for the expanded use of public private partnerships given their poor past performance. [20798/21]

Not long ago I made my party's submission to the national development plan review. In one of the sections of my submission I cautioned against the use of public private partnerships because of their poor past performance. In doing so I was simply relaying the strong domestic and international evidence which highlights the risk they pose. The Minister will understand my shock when I saw that the phase 1 report on the NDP identifies the potential expansion of their use.

Public private partnerships are partnerships between the public and private sectors for the purpose of delivering a project or service. This is an internationally recognised model to design, build, finance, operate and maintain public infrastructure.

Some of the advantages associated with PPPs include the fact that they allow the public sector to avail of private sector expertise and innovation and the private partner assumes responsibility for a considerable portion of the risk. The contracts tend to be long-term arrangements, typically spanning 25 years or more. A senior-level interdepartmental agency group was established to review Ireland's experience of PPPs and make recommendations on the future role of PPPs in the context of the development of the existing national development plan. The key findings and recommendations of the PPP review were made public and summarised in section 2.2 of the NDP and further detailed in section 6.7 of the plan. The full report outlining the findings of the group was published on the ppp.gov.ie website in 2018. In essence, the report found that PPPs have proven to be a useful element in facilitating the delivery of important public infrastructure projects.

The new programme for Government was adopted in late June 2020 and included a commitment to review the national development plan. As part of the preparations for the review, the recommendations of the expert group on PPPs, which informed the current NDP, have been revisited and updated. A summary of this updated PPP review has been published in the Phase 1 report and the full findings were published on 16 April. Broadly, the review finds that the PPP policy framework continues to be robust and that the current guidance on the use of PPPs remains fit for purpose with a track record of successful delivery. It includes examples of successful risk transfer to the private partner. Departments will continue to evaluate projects for suitability for PPPs in line with the 2018 review and value for money will remain the main driver of PPPs if they are chosen.

It is not that long ago since we had the collapse of Britain's Carillion group. The collapse of this British company led to significant delays in PPP contracts for the construction of schools here and raised serious questions about the whole PPP process. The process has tied the State into a system of large annual payments to PPP contractors for decades.

In 2016 the Comptroller and Auditor General report on PPPs stated that projects are vulnerable to legal challenges that can cause significant delays. Requested variations to a project after the contract has been agreed can lead to additional costs to the public sector partner. In 2018 a report by the Parliamentary Budget Office pointed out that PPPs represent a growing State liability and that they can potentially create private sector monopolies with the service being of poorer quality. Later that year the report of the interdepartmental agency group on PPPs indicated that the main purpose of PPPs was to get around spending rules during downturns. What role do these reports have in helping the Minister to decide whether the existing framework for PPP needs changing?

It is important to point out that from a public investment point of view PPPs are subject to the same robust and rigorous project appraisal process as traditionally procured projects. It is essential that projects are judged on their merits. In cases where PPPs can be demonstrated to give better value for money than traditional procurement, it is appropriate that they should be selected on that basis. The central point I am making is that PPPs are but one option. They are an option that should not be ruled out in all circumstances. If it can be demonstrated that better value for money can be secured through the PPP option, then it is one we remain open to.

Making cost comparisons is a valid exercise but can be difficult. Comparing the construction costs of a project with the total payments made by the Exchequer over a 25-year PPP contract does not compare like with like. The Deputy will be familiar with many of the major infrastructure projects in Ireland that have been developed using the PPP model. I believe it is an option that we should retain on the list of delivery mechanisms.

I read that in the phase 1 report of the NDP. The report concludes that the framework for PPPs is robust and it should be an option if they represent the best value for money. As the Minister said, the whole concept relates to best value for money. We have seen the 2016 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General stating they are vulnerable to legal challenges and that this can cause significant delay. We know that costly legal fees are then picked up by the taxpayer. The Parliamentary Budget Office observation was that PPPs represent a growing State liability. I take the point the Minister is making but will he commit that there will be increased monitoring of their performance as part of the NDP? As we know, legal challenges represent a cost issue. Of course there is always the quality issue as well.

I can certainly commit that any proposal to proceed with a project using the PPP model will be subject to the highest standards of examination and rigorous analysis of assessment of value for money. In my area of Cork some of the major projects developed in recent decades, such as the Cork School of Music and the National Maritime College, are fantastic projects. This building, the national convention centre, was developed using a PPP model.

Of course we need to ensure that when we are selecting the most appropriate delivery mechanism we apply all the same standards as to whether a project will be funded by direct Exchequer capital or using PPPs. There are certain advantages. For example, the upfront capital cost does not count as part of the national debt in the sense that it is off-balance-sheet, but that is only one consideration. We have to ensure the legitimate issues raised by the Deputy are fully taken into account when we are examining the possibility of using a PPP for a particular project.