Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Flood Relief Schemes

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

50. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the judicial review window has closed on the Glanmire flood relief scheme; if observations or challenges were received; when it will be progressed for tender; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19931/21]

I would like to inquire this evening about the status of the Glanmire flood relief scheme. I understood the period when it was open to judicial review was to be concluded this week. Can the Minister of State give an update on whether any observations or challenges were received? When will it be progressed to tender? Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?

I am pleased to provide an update to the House on the progression of the River Glashaboy flood relief scheme at Glanmire and Sallybrook, Cork. This scheme was confirmed on 18 January 2021 by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform pursuant to section 7 of the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 and all other powers enabling him in that regard. The confirmation is subject to the conditions that were agreed to by the Commissioners for Public Works in Ireland, which is the approving authority for the scheme.

The 12-week period for judicial review expired on 12 April 2021 without receipt of any objections. The procurement to appoint the civil works contractor for this scheme is being progressed. I am advised by Cork City Council, as the contracting authority for this flood relief scheme, that it expects to invite tenders for this civil work contract during the third quarter of this year.

The scheme will provide protection to some 103 properties, including 78 residential properties and 25 commercial premises. It will address the flood risk in a number of locations in the Glanmire area and will include defences such as walls and embankments, culvert upgrades, channel widening and road regrading.

The flood relief scheme is being funded through the Government's €1 billion investment in flood risk management over the period of the National Development Plan 2018-2027 as part of Project Ireland 2040. Provision for the cost of the scheme is included in the OPW's multi-annual capital allocation.

A project steering committee with representatives from Cork City Council, Cork County Council and the OPW is in place, meeting monthly with the engineering consultants to oversee the delivery of this project. I know that moving to appoint a civil works contractor and to construction is welcomed by the residents who have been affected by flooding in Glanmire. I am ensuring that my officials and officials in Cork City Council are working closely with other State bodies, including Irish Water, to ensure that all of the flood risk in the area is being addressed.

I reassure residents and business owners in the Glanmire area that, as with the other flood relief schemes completed in other towns, this scheme will provide the standard of protection against significant flood events, which the Deputy and other public representatives in the area have been contacting me about.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I am obviously glad to hear the possibility of a judicial review is now off the table. We need no reminding of the disastrous impacts that the absence of a scheme in this area has had on businesses and residents. In that respect, I welcome the Minister of State’s statement. However, it is difficult to accept that tendering needs to wait until the third quarter, that is, July, August or September. I implore the Minister of State to do everything in his power to ensure this happens early rather than late in the third quarter. It goes without saying that the sooner work starts on the scheme, machines are on the ground and walls and embankments are built, the sooner we can give people the peace of mind they have not had for many years.

I have one or two questions on the process that will unfold in the weeks ahead. Will the Minister of State clarify if the remaining work requires the appointment of a new contractor or consultant to bring the project to tender stage? If so, will this add a cost to the scheme and how much will this be? Will he provide, either today or by way of written response, details on the total cost of consultants on this project so far?

Before moving on, I remind Members if they are watching proceedings that we are moving through the questions pretty smartly, and they may miss their turn if close attention is not paid.

I do not have details on what has been paid out to date but I can obtain the follow-up information the Deputy has requested. On the Deputy's fear of further delays, I assure him that if it was up to us, we would be in Glanmire building this project. However, we have to go through statutory processes, including engagement with other State agencies. We also have to have regard to landowners. I pay tribute to the landowners, residents and neighbours with whom we have to engage to ensure that we do this appropriately, are mindful not to disrupt them and are good neighbours during the process of construction. We have jumped some of the biggest hurdles. The Deputy is correct about the process of judicial review, which is topical at the moment and on which I have my own views.

The total estimated cost of the project is €13.9 million and approximately €2.6 million has been spent to date. This is a significant investment in the Glanmire area. I can get a detailed breakdown for the Deputy later if he wishes.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. He visited Cork city during some of the flooding events last year. To be fair to him, while we were visiting the various businesses affected that day, he acknowledged that we needed to get on with the majority of these flood schemes. Cork is built on low-lying ground and there are obvious problems in the city. I reiterate the Minister of State's point that we need to get on with these schemes. While we have only a short distance to go to get this scheme over the line, if it is possible to shave off a few weeks here and there in anticipation of the third quarter, I ask him to do everything in his power to ensure that happens.

I will do that and bear the Deputy's point in mind. He and the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, know better than I do that the Irish name for Cork is Corcaigh, meaning marsh. It is no accident, therefore, that there are many issues confronting the OPW in the city. My priority is to focus on the victims of flooding. It is unfortunate that I am getting bogged down in a large number of processes which are adding not months or weeks, which Deputy O’Sullivan is worried about, but years. I am conscious that many of Deputy O’Sullivan’s constituents in Cork North-Central and many of the Minister's constituents in Cork South-Central face mind-numbing delays. Letters and emails are constantly pouring into the OPW, Cork City Council and Cork County Council asking why flooding continues and why people face the fear of flooding. On my watch, the approach of the OPW, including in the constituency of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, will focus on the victims of flooding.

Táim ag bogadh ar aghaidh. Some of the Deputies who tabled the subsequent questions are not in the Chamber so I will skip their questions. Unless I have missed someone, Deputy Ó Murchú's question is next.

I am substituting for Deputy Carthy, whose question is before Deputy Ó Murchú's question. I received confirmation in that regard. I was not expecting to be on my feet again so quickly.

I will go back to the correct sequence as I see Deputy Calleary is here now.

Deputy Farrell will have an opportunity a little later.

Departmental Policy Functions

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

51. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the programme for Government commitment to introduce a more open budgetary process, less dominated by existing level of service, with small incremental additions each year but focused on major public goals and proven policy performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20386/21]

Gabh mo leithscéal, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá an cheist seo i m'ainm féin. This question is about the commitment in the programme for Government to change the budgetary process to one that is more open, less dominated by existing levels of service and rewards ambition and innovation.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question. The Government's commitment to introducing a more open budgetary process focused on major public goals and proven policy performance is aligned with the ongoing process of budgetary reform that seeks to increase the focus on how public money is used to provide services, and on the impact these services have on people’s lives. This commitment is also reflected in the approach towards the review of the national development plan, NDP. My Department recently published the Phase 1 Report - Review of the National Development Plan following a detailed process of engagement. This report, which outlines the various strands of the review process, provides an evidence base to inform capital investment decisions to support economic, social, environmental and cultural development throughout the country.

Another recent element of the reform process relates to the commitment to develop a set of well-being indices. The Department of the Taoiseach is leading an interdepartmental working group, co-sponsored by the Department of Finance and my Department, which is focused on developing an initial well-being framework. This framework will create a well-rounded view of how Irish society is faring.

Furthermore, it is intended that the framework will be utilised in a systematic way across Government policymaking in setting budgetary priorities, evaluating programmes and reporting progress as a complement to existing economic measurement tools. This work is the most recent in a series of initiatives that seek to increase the capacity of the Civil Service to undertake evidence-informed policy work through the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service; increase the focus on performance through the performance budgeting initiative; critically assess key policies and expenditure programmes and support evidence-informed policymaking through the spending review process; provide an opportunity for engagement through a whole-of-year budgetary process, including the summer economic statement, the mid-year expenditure report; and engagement with a broad range of stakeholders at the national economic dialogue.

I welcome the changes the Minister is beginning to introduce in the system. The emphasis on existing service levels does not sufficiently acknowledge the need for innovation and change. I particularly welcome the Minister's ongoing commitment towards regional balance. We need some regional imbalance where extra expenditure is given to the regions. Many Departments have introduced programme budgeting but that is yet to happen in the Department of Health. In the context of the appointment of Robert Watt to the position of Secretary General in that Department and given Mr. Watt's background, is it the Minister's intention to see the introduction of programme budgeting in the Department of Health and greater alignment between the budget process in that Department, the Minister's Department and the HSE service plan?

I will make a few points.

I welcome the Deputy's comments regarding the emphasis on existing levels of service. Of course, it is always the case that ministerial colleagues will seek to add to the existing budget with new ideas and new policy initiatives drawn from the programme for Government, but there is also a need for an emphasis on reform. We must always be asking ourselves whether we are spending our resources wisely, whether we are doing it in a manner that is getting the best outcome and whether we are ensuring there is value for money in everything we do. Those are vital questions.

On the issue of regional balance, it is important to state that under Project Ireland 2040 the vast majority of growth is pencilled in for outside the greater Dublin area. In fact, 75% of population growth is to take place outside Dublin. We need to make sure that the new national development plan, which is to be agreed during the summer, supports that.

I will address the Deputy's point relating to the Department of Health in my next contribution.

I thank the Minister. I emphasise that in order to achieve those very ambitious levels of growth, we need similarly ambitious levels of investment. We will not get that growth without investment to drive it. I will give the Minister the rest of my time to deal with the Department of Health issue and programme budgeting.

On the issue of capital investment, as the Deputy is aware, in the current year we have a budget of €10.8 billion, which is the largest in the history of the State. Learning from the previous crisis and taking account of the different conditions at this time, we will protect the public capital programme. That is a really important commitment from Government to which I look forward to giving effect as part of the review of the national development plan.

On the issue of the Department of Health and the HSE, they have a budget in the overall Health Vote of €22 billion in the current year. While it is true to state that almost €2 billion of that is specifically for Covid, the key change in the context of the budget for 2021 is that we are now making the step-change towards investing in Sláintecare. Covid has underlined but not created the need for a permanent improvement in the capacity of the public health system. I want health budgeting to be very much performance-based. I want outputs. When I sat down last year with the Minister to negotiate the budget, I was very anxious to get specifics, such as the number of extra beds we would get in the acute hospital system, the number of extra critical care beds we would get and the staff we would recruit in the areas we identifiably have a deficit. For me, it is about outcomes and performance and I will certainly be adopting the same approach when it comes to negotiating health budgets in the future.

EU Programmes

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

52. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the PEACE+ cross-border EU programme 2021-27; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20384/21]

I am asking this question on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Niamh Smyth, who was delayed. The PEACE+ programme is crucial. It has delivered enormous achievements in the Border areas for many years. It has never been as needed as it is now in order to build infrastructure but, most important, to build confidence in the context of the Brexit vacuum and all that is associated with that. I am seeking an update on the current position of the programme and I ask the Minister to outline not just the expenditure, but the aims he and the Government seek from it.

I welcome Deputies Calleary and Niamh Smyth raising this really important question for Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Border counties of Ireland as well. PEACE+ is a special new cross-Border EU co-operation programme which will combine the existing PEACE and INTERREG funding streams into one cohesive new programme for the 2021-27 period. The programme area covers Northern Ireland and counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo. There is also scope for co-operation outside the programme area.

The programme development process is being led by the special EU programmes body, SEUPB, which is a North-South implementation body jointly sponsored by my Department and the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland. A cross-sectoral programme development steering group, consisting of representatives of central and local government, as well as business, trade union, rural, equality, environment and community and voluntary sector groups, is supporting the development work of the SEUPB.

Since 2019, the SEUPB has been working closely with a wide range of stakeholders and Government Departments, North and South, to identify and develop areas of potential cross-Border co-operation for the new programme. This included an initial public consultation between December 2019 and February 2020, with 16 public events across the region attended by 1,000 people, while 320 written submissions were received.

I am pleased to report that programme development for PEACE+ is now at a very advanced stage. The SEUPB has developed a draft programme with six themes which aim to foster peace and prosperity in the region. The draft programme is based on an indicative budget of €1 billion.

A further public consultation on this draft programme opened in March and will remain open to submissions until 12 May. I am encouraging all interested stakeholders to make their views on the draft programme known during this consultation period.

This is a very important programme and it is essential that the Minister's Department engages with all other Departments in publicising the consultation period and publicising and encouraging community involvement in the consultation. I ask the Minister to provide a breakdown of the various cohorts from which the €1 billion funding is coming. Will there be co-operation between the PEACE+ programme and the ambition of the Taoiseach's shared island unit in the context of its capital expenditure? I ask the Minister to focus on the key themes of peaceful and thriving communities, economic regeneration and transformation, empowering and investing in young people, healthy and inclusive communities and supporting a sustainable future. I ask him to focus in particular on the involvement of young people as they are the ones paying the biggest price for Brexit.

I thank the Deputy for raising those questions. To add to my earlier remarks, following the consultation that is currently ongoing and any necessary revisions to the draft programme that may arise from it, the final PEACE+ programme will be bought to the Government and to the Northern Ireland Executive for approval. The draft programme will subsequently be submitted to the European Commission for final approval later in 2021. I have already had several engagements with Conor Murphy, the Minister of Finance in the Northern Ireland Executive, on this issue.

The funding is provided by the Government, the UK Government and the European Union. We are confident at this point of a total envelope of in the region of €1 billion.

There are six themes in the draft programme: building peaceful and thriving communities; delivering economic regeneration and transformation; empowering and investing in young people - I thank the Deputy for highlighting the need for that aspect; healthy and inclusive communities; supporting a sustainable future; and building and embedding partnership and collaboration.

I ask the Minister to focus specifically on the role of young people in the new programme. How can they become more involved in the consultation process that is under way? We have seen in recent weeks the alienation of young people from the political process. This programme is something in which we need them to get involved. We should make it as accessible as possible to younger communities across Northern Ireland and within the Border counties.

The points raised by the Deputy are really well made. I have been briefed on several of the projects that have already been undertaken under the current PEACE and INTERREG programmes. They are inspiring and I am looking forward to visiting several of these programmes in person as soon as the public health restrictions allow.

It is absolutely appropriate that one of the key themes in the draft programme is about empowering and investing in young people. Such a commitment from the Irish Government, the UK Government and the European Union is absolutely necessary and has never been more needed than it is now. I will take on board the points made by the Deputy to ensure that the voice of young people in Northern Ireland and the Border counties is heard as we finalise the plan for the new, ambitious and really exciting PEACE+ programme.

Question No. 53 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Sector Pay

Matt Carthy

Ceist:

56. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role his Department played in setting the salary level for the Secretary General of the Department of Health; if he is satisfied that the new salary is justified; if he has concerns that the increase in salary for this position will lead to further pay claims in other Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20042/21]

What role did the Minister's Department play in setting the salary level for the Secretary General of the Department of Health?

Is the Minister satisfied that the new salary is justified? Does he have concerns that the increase in salary for this position will lead to further pay claims in other Departments?

As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I have statutory responsibility for the terms and conditions of service, including remuneration, of civil servants, as set out in the Civil Service Regulation Acts. In meeting these responsibilities as regards the terms to apply for recruitment to the post of Secretary General in the Department of Health, I engaged with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the Secretary General to the Government. In that context, I took account of a number of factors, including that the post is a highly complex one with a very challenging brief, particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic. There are very significant responsibilities attached to this role including the ongoing management of the response to the Covid-19 public health emergency, implementing the Government’s ambition for the roll-out of Sláintecare and the management of the greatly increased budget of €22 billion for health in 2021. Reflecting these, I consider that the agreed salary is commensurate with the scale of the responsibilities and the unique challenges attached to this role, not least at the current time.

There are no changes to pay rates for other Secretary General posts and I do not envisage this decision resulting in any change to general pay policy at senior level. As the Deputy may be aware, I have previously provided information relating to my responsibilities regarding this matter in the context of my statement and appearance before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach on 2 February last. The Deputy participated fully in the course of that hearing. As the Deputy knows, documents related to the matter have been published by my Department and are available on the Department’s web page.

An increase of €81,000 is a huge amount of money. We have heard all of these things, such as that this increase is commensurate with the scale of responsibility. How many people never see a salary of €81,000, let alone an increase of €81,000 to €292,000? The issue here and what really angered people is that it was so brazen. An increase of €81,000 is massive and in response to the Minister saying that it is commensurate with the responsibilities, I say there are plenty of people doing very serious jobs for half the amount of the increase that has been granted for the position in question. In hindsight, having heard the public reaction and how outraged people are, the Minister would surely agree that an €81,000 increase is outrageously high. We are now seeing that there is a person who is willing to do the job and waive the €81,000 increase. Would the Minister agree that the €81,000 increase was not needed in the first place?

As the Deputy has acknowledged, the successful candidate, Robert Watt, has waived the salary increase in light of the economic conditions that apply now. That is being done on a voluntary basis and I acknowledge the decision he has made which is appropriate in the circumstances we are all facing.

I will point out, as I did over the course of the hearing before the Oireachtas joint committee on finance, that only a short number of years ago, an openly advertised competition to recruit a CEO for the HSE, with a salary of €300,000 on offer, failed to attract a candidate who could be appointed. As we know, Mr. Paul Reid was subsequently appointed on a higher salary and he is doing a great job as CEO of the HSE. Over the course of the past Government, a bespoke salary was agreed for the appointment of the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris. He is of the highest calibre and is doing his job to an excellent standard.

I do not think that anyone is suggesting that anyone else is not doing a good job but on the best day of any job, one would not even dream of an €81,000 pay increase. It is absolutely laughable while, at the same time, one wonders what is going on. There are plenty of people doing excellent jobs on a salary of €20,000-plus or, if they are lucky, €30,000-plus. Let us not suggest that anyone is saying that another person is not doing a good job but it is outrageous when we are talking about wages of €292,000 or €300,000.

The Deputy spoke earlier about international talent, as he did when he was before the committee. He has said that there was a good, open competition process, and nobody is suggesting there was not. The point of the matter is that there was an increase of €81,000 when we now see that somebody already employed by the State is perfectly capable of doing the job and has accepted the role. Why was the increase of €81,000 needed?

As the Deputy knows, we did have an open, competitive process. We had a significant number of applicants, all of whom were treated fairly and assessed on their own individual merits. We had a shortlisting process and an interview process. Independent people were appointed to the Top Level Appointments Committee and they, ultimately, arrived at a decision and made a recommendation.

This Government has ambition for our health service. We are serious about implementing Sláintecare. As the Deputy knows, we recently agreed terms with public health doctors to have a consultant-led public health function in our health service which is an important reform and statement of intent by this Government about the need to dramatically reform the way we do business. The health budget, at over €22 billion, provides the capacity not only to deal effectively with Covid, but also to bring about the reforms that are needed to significantly improve the service for the Irish people. That is very much what we are focused on and it is what the leadership of the Department of Health and the HSE will be concentrating on delivering on behalf of the Government and the Irish people.

National Development Plan

James Lawless

Ceist:

54. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the key recommendations for his Department of the recent report Supporting Excellence: Capital Project and Programme Delivery Review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20399/21]

In early March, the Department published a report, Supporting Excellence: Capital Project and Programme Review Delivery. Will the Minister outline how this report and its contents will mean a better delivery of projects for the public?

I thank the Deputy for raising this question on behalf of Deputy Lawless. The Supporting Excellence: Capital Project and Programme Review Delivery report to which the Deputy referred was produced by EY for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and funded by the European Commission’s structural reform support programme. It is a key interim output for the ongoing review of the national development plan, NDP.

The report identifies a range of strengths and weaknesses in the public capital delivery system. It highlights that there are many examples of best practice throughout the public service but there are also some areas where enhancements are required. It identifies that these challenges are experienced most acutely by those entities and sectors that have limited experience in substantial capital programme delivery, or those which, through a hiatus of investment activity over a number of years, have had their expertise and resource base eroded. However, the capability challenges vary by sector and entity and they need to be better understood and addressed on this basis.

The report proposes several solutions to the various challenges but recognises that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and the need for supports and initiatives must be tailored to the entity, sector and industry challenges. The report also recommends that when assessing the maturity of programme capability, a focus should be placed upon the sectors and sector programmes which do not currently have a singular asset delivery specialist but are forecasting increased activity and scale through their mandate under the NDP. Many of the solutions being proposed in the report are supportive of the reform agenda already under way, including developing an external assurance review process for major infrastructure projects and connecting construction professionals, while other recommendations address a need for clear and co-ordinated supports from the centre.

There was a great deal in the report, covering both pluses and minuses, as the Minister has outlined. One of the issues that arose in the report was a fragmented approach on capital programme delivery across Government, which was resulting in silos forming and that the sharing of information and knowledge was, therefore, being curtailed. Will the Minister outline how this will be dealt with and what learnings will be taken from the report in this area so that there will be better sharing and exchanging of information and learnings between different sectors?

I assure the Deputy that we are acting on the recommendations made in this report. An action team for the Supporting Excellence: Capital Project and Programme Delivery Review report has now been convened and work is under way to maintain the momentum of delivery and implementation.

On the issue Deputy Moynihan raised, I have confirmed a number of important reforms. I am setting up a new major projects advisory group involving people with expertise and experience in delivering major public capital programmes. It will advise my Department in its assessment of projects. In addition, I am expanding the membership of the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board to include up to five external members, who I think will bring a fresh perspective and their own life experience to bear as well. In addition, there will be a panel of experts available to sponsoring Departments to try to address the deficit the Deputy touched on, and to address the pluses and minuses which are outlined in the report. The panel of experts is going to be put together very shortly.

The report also highlights the need for a dedicated centre of excellence. I am not sure if that is the group of experts to which the Minister referred or if is intended that there will be a separate stand-alone dedicated centre of excellence. I ask the Minister to clarify that point.

Will the report be of use in tackling the issues that arose with the new children's hospital and in making sure that the likes of that will not occur again?

It is undoubtedly the case that lessons need to be learned from the national children's hospital. That is one of the reasons I have focused on introducing these reforms to the oversight of the delivery of major public capital projects. If the Deputy looks at the three measures that I have outlined, I refer to the setting up of a panel of experts to advise Departments at critical decision gates, for example, before a project goes to tender to ensure that all of the work in the detailed appraisal has been completed properly. To my mind, analysis and work done in advance of pressing the button is time and resources well spent because it pre-empts and prevents problems that would otherwise likely arise. That is a key reform. The establishment of a major projects advisory group to advise my Department will also assist in better decision-making for the Government and in ensuring we get a speedy and efficient delivery of the public capital programme.

Flood Relief Schemes

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

55. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when flood defence construction works will advance in the upper River Lee area for Inchigeelagh, Ballingeary and Ballyvourney, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20493/21]

The need for flood defences on the upper River Lee in Ballingeary and Inchigeelagh and the River Sullane in Baile Bhuirne has been well established. It is a real cause of concern for residents in the various villages that in the event of heavy rainfall the water will come up from the river in the dark of night and will flood their homes. There is nothing more frightening. People do not know how much of a threat exists. Plans were being advanced. Could the Minister of State outline the progress that has been made to protect people's homes and property?

I am advised by the Commissioners of Public Works that the Ballyvourney and Ballymakeera flood relief scheme is currently at outline design stage and the OPW is working to schedule a public exhibition for the scheme at the end of this year. The Deputy will be aware that the flood risk for this area is complex, as he has raised the matter a couple of times. In my previous role in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, when I responded on behalf of the previous Minister with responsibility for the OPW I had recourse to answer questions asked by Deputy Moynihan so I am familiar with the case. The main sources of flooding along the River Sullane arise when the capacity of the river channel itself is exceeded, along with the three tributaries to the north of the village. The flood risk is also impacted from the storm network that can independently cause flooding through the gullies and overland flow.

As the Ballymakeera study area has the potential for a large number of flood relief options, it is essential that the environmental screening of each option is considered carefully, having regard to sensitive environmental constraints in the area. To date, these environmental considerations have included, among other matters, translocating pearl mussels. Currently, the project team is assessing the potential impact of any proposed flood relief measures on the high water quality status of the respective water body in the area around Baile Mhic Íre and Baile Bhuirne.

The OPW is working to provide proposals this year for public exhibition to inform a scheme that is technically, environmentally and economically able to proceed to detailed design stage and formal confirmation by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. Following this confirmation, construction can commence. In the interim, in 2018 Cork County Council has been approved funding of €187,248 under the OPW's minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme for the provision of temporary flood defence measures, including a sandbag defence structure, two non-return valves at existing drainage outfalls and pumping sumps to allow over-pumping during flood events. In May 2018, 29 flood risk management plans for all the main river basins identified a total of 119 additional flood relief projects to protect the main flood risk areas.

The Minister of State is correct: we have discussed this a number of times in an effort to advance the work. The last time the matter was discussed during Question Time it sounded as if the plan for Baile Bhuirne was more advanced, with a view to having an exhibition late last year. At that stage, the construction environmental management plan, as well as an operations and maintenance plan were being completed. An environmental impact assessment report was also being completed. It almost feels like a year has been lost given the fact that the Minister of State is talking about a plan for late this year. Can he confirm that the construction environmental management plan has been concluded and that an environmental impact assessment report has also been concluded? We know that RPS consultants had been engaged. I seek clarification from the Minister of State on the matter.

Deputy Moynihan will appreciate that a lot of time has been lost due to Covid. It has been extremely difficult for my officials and officials in Cork County Council, but we have done a lot of desktop studies and the environmental impact assessment report will be progressed in tandem. It takes into account a number of factors, including the presence of the Kerry slug in St. Gobnait's Wood, which is a special area of conservation. This is a new one for me. A site investigation was carried out in 2018. The Deputy will be familiar with the pearl mussel and the complicated nature of the issue. They add to the complications of the OPW and Cork County Council in translocating a lot of these species. We cannot translocate the people we are trying to protect. They are contacting the Deputy, Deputy Creed, Deputy Michael Moynihan and all the other Deputies and councillors and asking when the flood protections will be constructed, rightly so. The matter is being raised in the House. I can sense the Deputy's frustration. He is right. As soon as we can progress the issue, we will.

I agree with the Minister of State. I take what he said at face value and that he will be progressing the scheme as quickly as possible. I know the significant effort that has been invested in the matter over a number of years. Many of the reports are desktop studies and should not be impacted by Covid. We need clarity on whether the various reports that looked like they were ready last summer are now concluded. I refer to the construction environmental management plan and the environmental impact assessment report. They should be out of the way at this stage and the scheme should be much more advanced. It is worrying to hear the question of the freshwater pearl mussel being raised again because we understood that the issue had been definitively addressed a year and a half ago. I am concerned to hear it might be back on the radar again.

Could we be assured that those various stages are concluded and that we are in a position to move more quickly to a public consultation, which we understood we were at last year?

I provided background information to the House to explain why the scheme has been delayed for so long, in terms of all of the hurdles the OPW has had to jump through. Every time we hit a hurdle, whether it is the pearl mussel, the Kerry slug or any other species that we have to put a framework around and design protection for, all of that adds to delays. The reason I am articulating that is to drive home the fact that we always encounter delays, and the delays can be unexpected. We have objections and judicial reviews. That has not been the case here, and I hope it will not be the case. We hope to get to a situation whereby we can carry out public consultation, design and construction. We have a commitment in terms of finance; that is not an issue.

National Development Plan

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Ceist:

57. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the date by which he plans to publish the results of the review to renew the National Development Plan 2018-2027. [20539/21]

Emer Higgins

Ceist:

103. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if common themes were identified in the consultation process which has formed part of phase 1 of the review to renew examination of the national development plan; when the updated national development plan will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20405/21]

I want to ask the Minister the date by which he plans to publish the results of the national development plan. We accept we are in changed times. I assume the answer will contain some information on the necessary supports that we are delivering, combined with the outworkings of a stimulus programme that we will require after that.

I propose to take Questions No. 57 and 103 together.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The review of the national development plan provides an opportunity to reassess capital investment plans, particularly in light of the new programme for Government and the ongoing impact of and recovery from Covid. There has been significant progress in delivering a range of infrastructure projects throughout the country, since the launch of Project Ireland 2040. However, as committed to in the programme for Government, my Department has brought forward the review of the national development plan.

The first phase commenced in October 2020, which included the public consultation, review to renew, as well as further evidence gathering by way of sectoral submissions for Departments and a series of technical papers. The results of phase 1 were published on my Department's website on 4 April last.

The technical and consultative work carried out as part of phase 1 will underpin the decisions to be taken as part of phase 2 of the national development plan. The objective of phase 2 will be to set out revised sectoral capital allocations for the upcoming ten-year period, including non-Exchequer investment, as well as providing a renewed focus on the delivery of efficient and cost-effective public infrastructure. The range of indicated sectoral priorities will be identified as part of the final national development plan which, it is anticipated, will be published in summer 2021.

As the questions refer to the review to renew public consultation process, I will touch on that. I can confirm we had 572 submissions, and we can provide a detailed breakdown of those to the Deputy. There was, by any measure, a very strong level of public engagement. From inception, the consultation process was a fundamental part of the process to develop and deliver the revised national development plan and a range of events, platforms and strategies were used to engender dialogue and encourage feedback.

I will throw a question to the Minister on the connection between the national development plan, the national planning framework, the RESS and local development plans. We all know the difficulties certain county councils are currently experiencing. They are also awaiting additional information on rural housing and so on. They believe they are in a situation whereby they cannot necessarily deal with this.

Does the Minister have a view on whether we should hold off on carrying out some of that work until we are in are in a better position post pandemic when people can meet and examine the results of the national development plan?

If we have time, I ask the Minister to deal with the national development plan and cross-Border planning, and any interaction he has had with the Minister, Mr. Conor Murphy MLA, on that.

As the Deputy knows, the national development plan relates to the public capital programme. We have a record envelope of €10.8 billion this year and are keen to proceed with and set out an ambitious capital development plan for our country out to 2030 to make sure it is properly aligned with the priorities in the programme for Government of housing, transport, health and, of course, climate action. The national development plan is, in essence, a sister document to the national planning framework and both make up the overall Project Ireland 2040 overarching strategy for our country.

I dealt with the new PEACE PLUS programme earlier which, as the Deputy knows, is being developed by the special EU programmes body, a North-South implementation body. It will have a €1 billion fund over the next number of years for a range of cross-Border initiatives. I am in dialogue with the Minister, Mr. Conor Murphy MLA, of the Northern Executive to try to get the maximum benefit for Northern Ireland and south of the Border.

I appreciate the Minister's response. We are operating a national development plan from the point of view of changed times, wants and needs, along with the issues we have consistently had in respect of housing. We are talking about dealing with climate change. There are retrofit schemes which are not necessarily fit for purpose at this point in time. I know just under €1 million was given to Louth County Council to deliver 36 houses, which is not what we need.

Can the Minister deal with the specifics of a plan post pandemic and the national development plan relationship to delivering a stimulus? Once we have secured people's personal safety, we need to then secure businesses and provide a stimulus to ensure we do not follow the austerity path that led to deprivation for many people.

I want to commend the Minister on the energy has brought to the review of the national development plan, but I wish to raise a number of matters. In the context of the increased budget, what proposals does the Minister have to reform the delivery mechanism for those projects? There is nothing more frustrating than a budget being allocated and the project then not being delivered owing to a lack of capacity.

I know the national planning framework is an aligned document and a different administrative responsibility. I refer to the ministerial responsibility for the public service, the whole notion of accountability within the national planning framework in the various positions and accountability to the public and elected representatives. Does the Government have any thoughts on that?

I refer to the N26 road and the western rail corridor. They are essential capital transport projects that are necessary in a regional context.

I thank the Deputies for raising these issues. The revision of the national development plan will take account of the pandemic, our learnings from it and the impact it is likely to have on the development of Ireland in the years ahead. In addition to reviewing the national development plan, we are also preparing a new national economic recovery plan. The intention would be to publish that document in early summer.

On the question of economic supports, as Deputy Ó Murchú knows we have given a commitment that supports will not end abruptly at the end of June. I would anticipate that in the next short number of weeks we will finalise our intentions with regard to vital schemes such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, the Covid restrictions support scheme and others.

In response to Deputy Calleary's point, I wish to highlight again the reforms that are being introduced to the external assurance to strengthen our capability to deliver. He touched on a vital point, namely, the ability to deliver on the national development plan. It is one of the great challenges we face. Money is not always the real constraint; rather, it is the capacity to deliver. We are determined to make improvements in that area.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 22 April 2021.