Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 5

Ceisteanna Eile – Other Questions

Question No. 6 answered with Question No. 2.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Colm Burke


7. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the detail of the latest Exchequer figures which showed a record €9.9 billion in gross capital expenditure in 2021; the way the 2021 figure for spending under the national development plan will compare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2376/22]

Can the Minister set out the detail of the latest Exchequer figures, which show a record €9.9 billion in gross capital expenditure in 2021, and the way the 2021 figure for spending on our national development plan will compare, and will he make a statement on the matter?

Information on expenditure is published each month in the Fiscal Monitor, with the provisional end-December 2021 gross capital expenditure position recorded as €9.9 billion. A breakdown of both current and capital expenditure for each Department is set out on pages 19 and 20 of the Fiscal Monitor, published on 5 January this year.

The provisional data in the Fiscal Monitor indicate an increase in gross capital expenditure of just under €300 million or 3% above the expenditure level recorded in 2020. However, when account is taken of capital carryover from 2020 spent in 2021, the increase in capital spending compared to the prior year is over €600 million or 7%. This year-on-year increase was recorded in spite of the closure of non-essential construction activity between January and April last year.

The €9.9 billion figure includes a capital drawdown of approximately €820 million, which will be carried forward into this year. The gross capital expenditure of €9.9 billion when compared with the full allocation of €10.5 billion, including supplementary estimates, shows a provisional underspend of €580 million for 2021. In order to meet additional current expenditure costs, €360 million of this underspend was vired or transferred from capital to current expenditure by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Adjusting for this virement, the underspend will be in the region of €220 million or approximately 2% of the 2021 allocation.

The review of the national development plan, NDP, was published last October and it sets out an Exchequer investment in capital allocations of €136 billion over the plan period out to 2030. The NDP also set out departmental allocations out to 2025, which will see them increasing to €13.6 billion or 5.1% of GNI*.

The Revised Estimates volume for this year has set out an overall capital allocation of €11.1 billion. When account is taken of the capital carryover from last year, this will leave almost €12 billion available to Departments for capital investment this year. That is a record budget of €12 billion in 2022 for capital investment.

I will refer back to the €580 million underspend. Is any review being carried out of the way public service contracts are processed? I refer particularly to the tendering process and the delay in the acceptance of the contract. In the last six or seven months we have had inflation in the building sector, which has caused its own problem about acceptance of tenders. Is any review being carried out in respect of those contract issues?

The outturn that we achieved in 2021 represented a strong performance, particularly in light of the fact that non-essential construction was closed for so long. My overall message is that, with a record budget of €12 billion in 2022, I want to see that money spent on new schools, our hospitals, climate action measures, public transport projects, road projects and so on.

Working with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, we have introduced changes in the area of procurement that recognise the reality of the existing inflationary pressures. Those pressures often present at the point where the tender is submitted and before the award of the contract. They often present during a live contract as well. As such, the ability to vary the price is an issue that we have addressed through a reduction in the period of the fixed-price contract and an improvement in the ability of contractors to recover unforeseen exceptional costs above a certain threshold.

I wish to ask about the carryover of projects. Does the Minister believe we can get many of the projects that were delayed completed by the end of 2022? What process is being put in place to ensure we can meet the targets that have been set out?

In my time in the Department, I have introduced new reporting requirements whereby the Departments with the largest capital budgets report directly to the Cabinet on their outturn from capital expenditure. It is an issue that I review regularly. I have emphasised the importance of and need to implement the public capital programme. This is money that we want to see spent. I will be monitoring the issue closely over the course of this year. If we see a scenario where significant underspends emerge in one area and we conclude that it is unlikely that they will be spent over the course of the year, we have the ability to transfer capital budgets from one area to another. We will not be recalcitrant in doing so if it is merited.

We want Departments to spend their budgets. In the main, they do. They have significant carryovers into the current year. We expect this to be a year without any closure of construction due to the pandemic, so there will be no excuses for not spending these budgets.

May I ask a question?

The Deputy has to contribute at an earlier point. The Minister has concluded.

I am sorry. I did not realise.

If the Deputy wishes to contribute on another question, that will not be a problem. He just needs to indicate.

Since I do not have a list of Deputies substituting for others, we will move on if Members are not present. The next question is in the name of Deputy Nash.

Can I ask Deputy Doherty's question?

That would have to have been notified beforehand.

Okay, but he is on his way.

If there are notifications, tell me, but I have no notification of substitutions before me.

Apologies. I did not realise I needed to give prior notification.

Deputy Nash is next.

Deputy Naughten has just arrived and I am happy to cede to him.

I am losing my eyesight as well as my hearing.

Question No. 8 answered with Written Answers.

Departmental Schemes

Denis Naughten


10. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the plans he has to reopen the home relocation scheme for families impacted by flooding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1772/22]

As the Minister of State knows, the home relocation scheme - it was the second such relocation scheme that I secured to take families out of homes where there was no solution to their particular flooding problems - was introduced in 2017. However, a number of families failed to avail of it at the time even though they were eligible and they should not be excluded.

The voluntary homeowners relocation scheme was introduced by the Government in 2017 to address the serious flooding of those properties that flooded in the winter of 2015 and 2016, including those properties flooded by turloughs. To be eligible for assistance under this one-off scheme, a homeowner had to meet a number of conditions, including that floodwater entered and damaged the building during or as a result of flooding during relevant dates such as to render it uninhabitable and that there was no viable engineering solution that could protect the property from future flooding.

Under this national scheme, 174 potentially eligible properties were identified to the OPW in two ways, those being, by the local authorities or through direct expressions of interest from homeowners. At all times, participation in the scheme has been voluntary for homeowners. Through follow-up meetings with the homeowners and both desk-based and engineering assessments, approximately half of those homeowners either were not interested in engaging with the scheme or did not meet the scheme's criteria.

Some homeowners identified as being potentially eligible will benefit from engineering solutions that will protect their homes from future flooding. The OPW and local authorities have identified 33 homeowners who would otherwise be eligible for relocation who will benefit from inclusion in planned flood relief schemes and minor works projects. In addition to these projects, an important element of the administrative arrangements of the relocation scheme was the establishment of a unique and one-off scheme of remedial works for identified engineering solutions for eligible homes for which there was no other funding source. To date, remedial works have been identified to protect 19 homes from future flooding and work is continuing to explore possible engineering solutions for a further three homes.

Where an engineering solution is not feasible based on best available information at the time of each decision, the OPW offers financial assistance towards relocation to a replacement dwelling - equivalent to the cost to the relevant local authority - on a like-for-like basis. To date, 29 homeowners have received formal offers of financial assistance for relocation, with a further two applications being considered. Thirteen homeowners have now completed the process at a cost of €3.22 million, which has enabled them to relocate and purchase or build replacement dwelling houses under the scheme.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

To reopen the scheme as proposed by the Deputy would require Government approval and there are no plans at present in this regard.

I thank the Minister of State for that information. I have been dealing with three families, two of whom live in the catchment area of Lough Ree. We are never going to be able to hold that back regardless of whatever remedial measures are put in place. The two families naively believed that the Government's announcements after the 2016 flood regarding water management measures would address their problem. They did not want to leave their homes, so they did not apply at the time. They were marooned again some years later.

The third case was brought to the attention of the environment section of Roscommon County Council but never reported to the area office and was never included on any list. That family has three turloughs converging on the site of their home. If they were flooded in 2016, they should be considered for relocation.

As the Deputy will appreciate, a long-standing precedent means I cannot comment on individual cases in the House because I do not have the details. If the Deputy furnishes them to me, I can have them examined by the OPW and the relevant officials in the Department.

I have brought the case to the attention of the chairman of the OPW and have engaged directly with him on the matter. I have also brought it to the attention of the local authority. However, I will take up the Minister of State's offer and provide him with the details.

We successfully secured the home relocation scheme but there was also a scheme for farmyard relocations. This is not under the Minister of State's direct remit but it is something in which I know he has an interest. Will he provide the House with an update on any progress that has been made in that regard?

The Minister of State spoke about the pilot individual flood prevention measures that had been applied in respect of a number of homes. Is there any intention of rolling the pilot out beyond its cohort of families now that we have learned from the scheme?

My two immediate predecessors in this role - Deputy Canney and former Deputy Moran - worked on the development and design of this scheme and the OPW will always hold it in our arsenal. If we need to revert to the Government with a similar request for relocations on a case-by-case basis, the OPW, together with the relevant authority, will seek to do that based on the lessons we have gleaned.

As the Deputy rightly alluded, the farmyard relocation scheme is a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I have had bilateral meetings with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on this issue, specifically as it relates to the Shannon. I have also raised it with directly with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett.

There are farmyards for which there is no viable option other than a relocation. I think the farm representatives have raised this issue as well. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his officials are working towards that.

Flood Risk Management

Pearse Doherty


9. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the catchment flood risk management plan for Donegal town; the progress on the implementation of same that has been made to date; the funding that has been allocated to the scheme to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2555/22]

I have previously asked the Minister of State about the issue of flood defences in County Donegal through parliamentary questions and when he has appeared before committee meetings. He has acknowledged that works in Donegal town were being planned but stated that the "project for Donegal town is not in the first phase of projects to be progressed" and that "the OPW and [Donegal County Council], DCC, are working closely to ensure that it will be commenced as early as possible in the current programme". What is the update on Donegal town? Many Ministers have made promises and visited the area. At what stage are the works now?

I am advised by the Office of Public Works that a major flood relief scheme for Donegal town was identified in the flood risk management plans for the north-western river basin. The proposed project, at a preliminary cost estimate of €8.5 million, consists of floodwater storage and a series of flood embankments and walls, which will provide flood protection to approximately 73 properties when completed. The flood scheme will be funded through the Government's €1.3 billion allocation for flood risk management, funded through the national development plan up to 2030.

While the proposed project to which Deputy Doherty refers, and to which I have alluded in my committee appearances, is not part of the first phase of projects to be progressed, the Office of Public Works and Donegal County Council are working closely with the intention of delivering the scheme within the timeframe of the current national development plan, subject to no external and unforeseen challenges, which, unfortunately, do arise, for example, through the planning process. The Office of Public Works works closely with its local authority delivery partners at all times to strive to expedite and progress capital relief works with the minimum delay within the resources available to it.

Once consultants are appointed to progress this scheme, consultation with statutory and non-statutory bodies as well as the general public will take place at the appropriate stages to ensure all parties have the opportunity to input into the development of the scheme.

In addition, the Office of Public Works minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme provides funding to local authorities to undertake minor flood mitigation or coastal protection works or studies costing less than €750,000 each to address localised flooding in individual areas. In 2019, funding to Donegal County Council amounting to €369,000 was provided for a scheme in Donegal town. The works include upgrade works to walls along the riverbank, installation of three large-diameter non-return valves, replacement of the existing culvert, removal of overhanging trees from the riverbanks and associated works. These works are being progressed by Donegal County Council.

As the Deputy will be aware, 15 projects were identified in County Donegal under the flood risk management plans announced in 2018. Following consultation and discussions between the Office of Public Works and Donegal County Council, six of the projects were selected and are being progressed in the first phase of implementation in addition to a project already being progressed for Raphoe.

Donegal town needs to be moved into phase 1. It is located in the mouth of the estuary where the River Eske meets the Atlantic Ocean at Donegal Bay. It is an absolutely breathtaking place but, unfortunately, is susceptible to all types of flooding. In the past we have seen flooding from rivers overtopping, flash flooding and flooding from high tides and storm surges. There have been a number of devastating events in Donegal town since 2019, in the aftermath of Storm Abigail and Storm Desmond in the winter of 2015 as well as Storm Lorenzo in 2019, and only for the Trojan work of council staff during Storm Barra at the end of 2021 we could have seen further devastation. Donegal County Council has predicted that over 70 properties in the area, both residential and commercial, are at risk. Residents in Clarendon Drive, Brookfield and New Row live in fear of new downpours and storm surges. What is the timeframe for delivery of this project? The end of the programme is 2030 and these residents cannot wait, hoping that it will not rain or that the seas will not rise and that they will not be visited by this devastation again.

In the immediate aftermath of Storm Barra, I met the commissioners and chairman of the Office of Public Works and senior officials on a regionalised basis, dealing not only with the north west but with all our regions, to see if we could expedite those projects not currently in tranche 1. We have an issue in that, unfortunately, some of our projects are logjammed in judicial reviews, court challenges and a pile of other delays outside our control and the control of our local authority partners. It is a matter of trying to see if we can expedite some of the projects in tranche 2 and other tranches. The Office of Public Works engineering staff, together with our local authority colleagues, are working to see if we can do that, but we have a limited number of personnel and finite resources to do so. It is not that we are in any way holding back anything; we are animating as many projects as we can. It is my intention, as soon as I can in the coming weeks, to visit County Donegal and meet officials from Donegal County Council to discuss not just Donegal town but the other projects we are progressing through the CFRAM projects to see how they are progressing and to see the investment of the Office of Public Works. I hope to be in a position to give a fuller timeframe in respect of Donegal town and the other CFRAM projects at that stage.

I am aware of some of the projects being held up that are outside of the Department's control but, as the Minister of State said, that provides an opportunity to move this scheme into phase 1. If it is possible to move the scheme into phase 1, is the Minister of State willing to do so? He mentioned that he hopes to go to Donegal. I welcome that. The local councillors, if they have not already done so, will in the coming days invite him to Donegal town to meet with them and the residents again and hear about the huge risk to residents and commercial property. Crucially, if there is a way to expedite this project, and if the engineers on the ground come up with a plan to do so, is the Minister of State willing to look at moving this project into phase 1?

I said in answer to an earlier priority question from Deputy Cairns from Cork South-West that we do not have the capacity, capability or even legal standing to move projects any faster because we are a party to planning processes. If we were to decide to try to gazump the planning process, people inside and outside this House would be looking to try to get us into the Four Courts. We have to move flood risk management processes through a sequential process. We are conscious of the risk to Donegal town and to all the other communities in County Donegal. I am conscious of the scourge of flooding in Deputy Doherty's county, as I am of the scourge of flooding in every county. We are trying to alleviate it as quickly as we can, but we have to do so on the basis that we know there are people out there who would be only too happy to get us into the High Court, injunct us and seek judicial review.

I commit to the Deputy that I will go to Donegal in the coming weeks. When I do so, I will let him and all the other Oireachtas Members representing Donegal know. I will work with Donegal County Council to arrange a time for my visit to see the progress of those schemes. We will try to make as full a visit as possible to the county.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Gerald Nash


11. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the national recovery and resilience plan; the steps taken to date to meet the nine reform commitments under the plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2485/22]

I would welcome an update on the nine reform commitments under the national recovery and resilience plan. I know that, in essence, there were three overarching themes in the plan, namely, climate action, digital transition and employment. All three are critical to sustainable development for our country, including economic development and allowing us to meet our decarbonisation targets. I am particularly interested in getting from the Minister an update on priority projects for 2022.

The EU's recovery and resilience facility will make some €724 billion available to member states in the form of grants and loans to help repair the economic and social damage brought about by the pandemic and to make post-Covid European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. Ireland will receive almost €1 billion in grants over the lifetime of the facility. In order to access this funding, the Government developed the national recovery and resilience plan, which has a total value of €990 million and sets out the reforms and investments to be supported by the facility. An implementing body is being established in my Department to drive progress and delivery of the plan.

The overall objective of the plan is to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery in a manner that complements and supports the Government's broader recovery effort. It is based on 16 investment projects and nine reform measures aimed at advancing the green transition, accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformation and driving social and economic recovery and job creation.

All recovery and resilience plans are required to address all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in country-specific recommendations under the European semester process for 2019 and 2020. Ireland's plan contains nine reform measures which address nine important areas: climate action; base broadening; the digital divide; reducing regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship; aggressive tax planning; pensions reform; social and affordable housing; anti-money laundering; and healthcare.

We submitted our draft plan to the European Commission in May. It was endorsed by the Commission in July and approved by the Council of Ministers in September. It will now be the subject of a financing agreement between the Commission and Ireland. Once the financing agreement has been signed, the focus will be on implementation of the plan over the period to 2026. We are required to report regularly to the Commission on the achievement of agreed milestones and targets to enable the drawdown of funding each year over the course of the plan. I expect that drawdown will commence this year.

What are the Minister's priorities for 2022? Where does he want to see real progress? He has said that there will be milestones along the way and they have to be reported and monitored by the European Commission. What are the priority projects for 2022? How does the Minister see progress evolving this year?

The timeframe for the delivery of these projects is tight. My understanding is that there is a requirement under the regulations governing this process to complete the relevant programmes by 2026. One of the commitments that I know has been made is for a retrofitting programme for public buildings. That will be very important and the Government needs to lead by example on it. Some €60 million will be allocated for retrofitting public buildings. I would welcome an update on that. It is obviously a matter for the Office of Public Works but an update on it would be appreciated. Is that achievable within the timeframe?

As the Deputy has indicated, we have 16 investment projects and nine reform measures. While my Department has the implementing body and the delivering committee which will monitor the implementation of the plan and will be responsible for all of the contact with the EU bodies, responsibility for implementing the individual measures will lie with the relevant Departments and bodies.

Looking across the range of projects, both the investment and the reform projects, many of them are very much live projects that are currently being developed. To take the area of retrofitting as an example, the Deputy mentioned the energy pathfinder project. Of even greater importance is the national retrofitting plan, which the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications will bring forward shortly. As the Deputy is aware, part of that, under component 1 in the advancing green transition section, is de-risking a low-cost residential retrofit loan scheme. It will be just one part of the national retrofitting plan and will involve improving the grants that are currently available to support homeowners who wish to retrofit their homes. That is just one project. I am happy to go through any of the individual reform projects and provide more information to the Deputy.

I am also interested in getting an update from the Minister on progress in respect of the shared Government data centre and what that will involve. It is a key public sector reform initiative which is absolutely required. When does the Minister expect that particular project under this programme to be completed?

I note there is also reference in the plan to digital transformation for Irish SMEs. We know that SMEs employ the vast bulk of Irish workers and they are a neglected sector of our economy. They need to be partnered with to assist them in becoming more innovative, productive and export-orientated. The future of our economy very much depends on that. If the Minister has the opportunity in the time remaining, he might advise me as to what particular headline initiatives have been taken with the SME sector around the digital transformation programme to help them become more productive.

I have been told recently that as we accelerate and expand on digital reforms and transformation, our mobile phone networks are not secure. They are easily hacked and tracked. As we become more dependent on this technology, what guarantees can the Minister give us that these networks are secure and people cannot be tracked and hacked, have our conversations listened into and so forth? An expert recently told me that this is quite easily done. VIPs, such as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can be targeted, especially if they travel to other countries.

There is a lot to get through in a minute. First, in relation to SMEs, we very deliberately made the decision that under both the green transition and digital transformation, there would be an opportunity for grants to be made available to the enterprise sector to assist them in that transition. Those grants will be brought forward over the course of the national resilience and recovery plan.

In relation to the shared Government data centre, the site has been identified. It is an important project to build a State data centre on State land to be operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on behalf of the State. The aim of the State data centre is to close down the current disparate, inefficient server rooms in data centres that are no longer fit for purpose and badly in need of refurbishment. This will cover off operational risks, reduce power use and help to improve the delivery of digital services that the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is leading across government.

On the issue of cybersecurity, I am working closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. We have significantly increased the resources to our national cybersecurity centre. I would be happy to engage with Deputy Stanton on the details of that.

Question No. 12 replied to with Written Answers.

Office of Public Works

Brendan Griffin


13. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the up-to-date position regarding the provision of an improved landing facility on An Blascaod Mór; the progress he hopes to achieve in 2022 in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2553/22]

This question concerns the landing facility - or the lack of an adequate one - for An Blascaod Mór. It is a very important and popular heritage location and tourist attraction. I ask the OPW prioritises improving the landing facility on that important island.

An Blascaod Mór is a nationally and internationally significant heritage site due to the important literary and cultural output of this tiny community in the first half of the 20th century and the substantial collection of books – nearly 100 in all – that have been written about life on the Blasket Islands in the past century. An Blascaod Mór is also part of the Blasket Islands special area of conservation with the highest level of environmental protection. The State purchased the majority of the holdings on the island in 2009 and the OPW has restored a number of the houses on the island since then. Ionad an Bhlascaoid, located on the mainland at Dún Chaoin, was built in 1993 as a cultural centre to present and interpret the extraordinary cultural and literary heritage of the Blasket Islands to visitors. It is being substantially upgraded at present by the OPW with support from Fáilte Ireland as a flagship visitor destination on the Wild Atlantic Way and will reopen in the coming months.

Improved landing facilities, whereby boats could embark and disembark passengers directly to the island, are desirable for two reasons. The first is safety while the other is that this will be an essential element in the sustainable management of the island from a heritage, tourism and environmental point of view. While ferry services are confined to licensed vessels with specific tender permits, it is not currently possible to manage access and visitor numbers to achieve a balance between sustainable tourism access and maintaining the fragile environmental balance of the island. It is the advice to OPW from Kerry County Council that it is necessary to secure fresh planning permission for a pier at An Blascaod Mór, given that there have been significant changes in the designated status of the island and in environmental regulations in the period since the original permission was granted to Kerry County Council in 2003. This will necessitate updated environmental and other reports to support such an application, as well as the preparation of a detailed updated design for the project.

In 2022, the OPW intends to engage with the relevant stakeholders to consider the key challenges in undertaking this project and to develop a strategic working group to advance the development of the project. It is anticipated that the OPW will commission updated reports to inform the development of a coherent solution to the development of landing facilities on the island. Additionally, efforts will continue to secure capital funding for the project through the relevant agencies and Departments.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I know he is no stranger to that part of the world and spent time there learning the Irish language many years ago. More recently, he was with me in Dún Chaoin and helped resolve a matter relating to the local playground site. The island is not far from where we were in September 2021. I invite the Minister of State to come down and take the trip across later this year if he can and ideally stay the night on the island, which is a wonderful experience. It is important to see the lack of facilities on the island and in particular, the danger for people trying to disembark and board vessels on the island. It is dangerous and needs to be improved. When I was working with the former Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht , Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, as his parliamentary assistant back in the mid-2000s, I recall this issue being on his desk and the Minister trying to progress it. It has been an issue for a long time and needs to be addressed finally.

I get many invitations, but the Deputy's invitation to spend a night with him on the Blasket Islands is a unique one. I probably cannot resist it, to be fair. I know that part of the world well.

I visited recently and there is a great community there. The Office of Public Works was delighted to be able to sort out the issue with the playground with the local community. I thank Deputy Griffin for facilitating that meeting. I was there previously ag foghlaim na Gaeilge. I commit to going down again as soon as the weather permits to see the conditions. It is a long time since I was on the island as a student. I would like an opportunity to return to see the conditions for myself. It is a place the OPW holds dear. We welcome the opportunity to be able to invest with the local community because it is an important part of our heritage.

I thank the Minister of State. It is a very important part of our heritage. Unfortunately, the State failed to keep island life alive but we want to keep the stories and traditions and the brilliant heritage there alive. To do so, we need to be able to make the island accessible to people. One of the first books I read, when I was eight or nine years of age, was the English translation of Fiche Bliain ag Fás. Marvellous literature has come from the island. People such as the great Micheál de Mórdha have done great work keeping all of the heritage and literary history alive. It is nothing unless people can immerse themselves on the island and experience being on the island. The OPW has done marvellous work on restoring some of the cottages on the island but we really need to be able to open it up to the world and bring people from all over Ireland and all over the world to see it and to do so safely.

We are looking forward to reopening the centre on the mainland. Deputy Griffin is right. We also want to be able to reach out to the diaspora from the island who emigrated to North America, in particular to Springfield in Connecticut where many people from the island settled. We want to allow people to see where their people came from and from where they were evacuated to the mainland because of safety concerns of the Government at the time. Many of them emigrated to the United States and beyond. If we want them to be able to go back to find their roots, we have to be able to disembark them safely. This is a process on which we will engage with Kerry County Council. It will take time and we will walk through it with the local community and stakeholders. We will do it sensitive to the fact this is a special place not only to the people of Kerry but the people of Ireland.

Irish Language

Éamon Ó Cuív


14. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if work has commenced in his Department to implement the provisions of the new Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021, which was passed just before Christmas 2021; the details of this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1358/22]

Bogfaimid ón teanga mar a bhí go dtí an teanga mar atá mar tá sé beo beathach i gcónaí. Buíochas le Dia, tá sé thar a bheith beo beathach sa nDáilcheantar atá againne. The targets in the newly enacted Official Languages (Amendment) Act relating to the provision of services through Irish and, as a consequence, the number of people to be recruited with the ability to do their business in Irish are very challenging and will require urgent action. This has been in gestation for a long time. What work has been done to date to progress this?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Cuirim fáilte roimh achtú Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021. Is nóiméad tábhachtach é seo do lucht na Gaeltachta, do na daoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge agus dóibh siúd a bhfuil suim acu sa teanga. Tagann sé i ndiaidh tréimhse fhada chomhairliúcháin agus dhíospóireachta. Feabhsóidh an tAcht seo na forálacha do chainteoirí Gaeilge.

I welcome the enactment of the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021 on 22 December. It underpins a key programme for Government commitment. It is notable that this coincides with Irish becoming a full working language of the EU institutions at the start of January. As the Deputy is aware from submissions made to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community, the achievement of an ambitious 20% recruitment target of proficient Irish speakers by 2030 requires a cross-government approach. It is ambitious and it is what we must work towards. This is against a backdrop whereby only 0.4% of posts are designated by Civil Service employers as being Irish-speaking posts.

The Act provides that within six months of the date of enactment, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media shall establish an Irish languages services advisory committee. The functions of this committee are set out in the Act, as the Deputy knows, and include the preparation of a national plan within two years of its establishment to increase the provision of services through the medium of Irish as well as periodic surveying of the number of Irish speakers employed in the public service. The work of this committee may include consideration of approaches to the future recruitment of Irish speakers. My Department and the Public Appointments Service, PAS, as the principal recruiter for the Civil Service and public service, will be appropriately represented as members on this committee. The Deputy is aware of a number of actions the Department and PAS are already taking to increase the number of fluent Irish speakers in the Civil Service.

I know people wish to achieve this but it will not happen of its own accord. Passing the Act will turn out to be the easy part of this. The Minister said it would take two years to prepare the plan. This will take us to 2024. I believe it will be impossible to achieve it by 2030 unless we start now. There are some obvious measures that do not need two years to plan. What has already been done in anticipation of the Bill to increase the number of people who will be capable of doing their business through Irish? There is no point in advertising the jobs if people are not there. Has the Minister had a serious talk with the Minister with responsibility for higher education on the need to provide more courses through Irish and in Irish at third level to ensure there will be qualified people to provide the services and we will not once again hit a wall and state we will not achieve it?

I thank the Deputy. I agree with him that this will not happen of its own accord. The Government has signed up to this. The legislation is in place and we will all have to work together to meet this goal. There are dedicated recruitment and promotion competitions targeted at Irish language speakers. As the Deputy has rightly said, this in itself is not enough. Last year, PAS held general Civil Service competitions for individuals with fluency in Irish for clerical officer and higher executive officer level. Today PAS is launching an Irish executive officer competition. We are dependent on the quality of applicants and the availability of a pool of people to apply who can meet the requisite level of competence. In addition, we are investing significantly in providing training for existing civil servants. Irish language training courses continue to be made available for new hires and all existing civil servants via One Learning, the learning and development centre for the Civil Service based in the Department. Close to 500 such enrolments took place in 2021. I accept the Deputy's overall point that this has to be a cross-government approach, including through further and higher education.

I welcome anybody improving their Irish but I am a realist. I am very hard-headed about this. There are approximately 100,000 daily Irish speakers in the country. There are interesting standards laid down in Canada on this issue. To provide a service competently through the Irish language people would need to be daily Irish speakers. They would need to be absolutely at home with the language. There is no point in advertising the jobs if we have not made comprehensive plans that there would be people with the competencies to apply for the jobs. The plan should focus on the higher education sector as well as Gaelscoileanna. We are a bit better off at second level and primary level than we are at third level. This is one little step we need to challenge. Will there be a comprehensive all-of-government response to make sure that when the jobs are advertised there are people with a real competency in Irish to apply for them?

I thank the Deputy. There will be. This is the process that is set out in the legislation for which the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has taken responsibility. The core point, which the Deputy has acknowledged, is that the number of Irish speakers applying to join the Civil Service is quite low. This in itself is a problem we need to address.

I have been looking at the figures. To give context, when comparing the most recent analogous general Civil Service competitions undertaken by PAS at clerical officer level, there were 12,200 applicants where there was no requirement for fluent Irish and 165 where fluent Irish was required. The second figure is 1.35% of the first by comparison. There are some specialist roles that are presenting a number significant challenges in the context of recruitment. That is the reality. This is not an issue that can be resolved through the recruitment channel itself. The availability of people who have the requisite skills and who are willing to apply and take up these roles is key. This requires a whole-of-government approach and that is what the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is co-ordinating through her role as provided for in the Act.

Question No. 15 replied to with Written Answers.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Alan Dillon


16. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the external assurance process for major capital investment projects announced in December 2021; if part of the mandate for the associated major projects advisory group will be to improve the timeline of delivering major capital projects versus the risk of increasing bureaucratic delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2449/22]

It is vital that increased effort is made to streamline the delivery of large capital projects. Too many communities are awaiting the delivery of important capital projects. Any changes to or delays in timelines are simply causing a loss of good faith when it comes to informing the public. What is the Minister’s Department doing to deal with this issue?

I thank Deputy Dillon very much for his question. The update to the public spending code in 2019 combined, with lessons learned from domestic projects and international best practice, highlighted the need for more structured scrutiny of major public investment projects, particularly in the areas of planned delivery, costings and risk. This is to ensure that Government is making decisions with a full picture of the proposal, its costs, risks and benefits. The revised national development plan, NDP, pledges to restructure the oversight and implementation of capital projects to strengthen scrutiny of major public investment proposals and drive improved project performance and value for money. It is important to acknowledge that the majority of public investment projects are delivered on budget and on time and there is a high level of professionalism across the sectors. However, having recognised the higher-risk profile of larger projects, new procedures have been introduced in order to improve project outturns, avoid cost overruns and avoid scheduled delays.

As the Depuity is aware, my Department has put in place an external assurance process, EAP, to provide independent project scrutiny at key decision stages. This will involve independent expert reviews at two key stages in the project life cycle under the public spending code. The purpose of this is to improve value for money and to support funding Departments and the Government with expert insight. This process is for major public capital projects which cost in excess of €100 million. Very often, the public spending code and the external insurance process can get blamed for delays where that process does not even apply. This process focuses on issues such as cost, risk and ability to deliver.

As the Deputy will be aware, a new major projects advisory group has been established to further strengthen project management. As a prerequisite to seeking Government approval for projects at the relevant decision points, project proposals and external reviews will be scrutinised by the advisory group. These new arrangements bring Ireland into line with leading international performers and meet a recommendation of the International Monetary Fund's public investment management assessment of Ireland. It is my assessment that these safeguards will not delay projects but are there to streamline them and to avoid mistakes and risks materialising.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It should be noted that timelines associated with public spending code compliance are a fraction of the time required for compliance with the range of statutory requirements such as planning, environmental impact assessment, habitats directive and appropriate assessment. In addition, many public spending code steps can be undertaken in parallel with other project development phases. Experience in countries that have introduced similar independent assurance processes shows that such arrangements reduce project schedule delay and project cost overrun.

I thank the Minister very much for his reply. One very good example is the Crossmolina flood relief scheme. Local communities desperately need to see this project commence as soon as possible. They have waited patiently as it has gone through formal process after formal process. We must look seriously at the need to speed up such a process into the future. I am particularly disappointed with the delays relating to this project because I was previously advised in replies to parliamentary questions I submitted last December that a decision was imminent. Needless to say, the project appears no closer to going to tender commencement as of today. These delays are very frustrating to communities that need projects of local importance to proceed. We need to look seriously at the mechanisms to prevent project timelines being stalled beyond a reasonable period.

I again acknowledge the Deputy's continued interest in the Crossmolina flood relief scheme and, indeed, that of Deputy Calleary and others. It is a scheme that the Government is committed to advancing. I acknowledge the great work of the OPW on this project. As the Deputy will be aware, the specific role I have lies in either giving or not giving consent in respect of projects. I expect to receive a recommendation very shortly on this specific project. I assure the Deputy that as soon as I have a recommendation, I will make a prompt decision and will publish details of it accordingly. I look forward to doing that.

The people in Crossmolina are very anxious to see the scheme advanced. Much good work has been done to get to this point. The statutory processes can be frustrating for all concerned, but we have to ensure that in making a decision and that when consent is granted for a project, we insulate it, insofar as is possible, from the legal risk of a successful judicial review. The reality is that more and more schemes are becoming subject to judicial reviews. As result, we have to ensure that the process is rigorous and will stand up to the possibility of legal challenge.

I appreciate the Minister's commitment and that of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to deliver this project. I note the announcement on the formation of the major project advisory group last month. I understand that the group's primary role is to ensure strong governance at critical junctures in the context of the delivery of major projects, which is very welcome. I hope that we would operate on the basis of streamlining project timelines for delivery as opposed to adding further delays. I would appreciate the Minister's assurance that we will look seriously at project delivery in a more earnest manner. This matter has certainly highlighted for me the issues relating to project delivery. We do not want to drift into a situation where project timelines are moving at a snail's pace because that would be extremely damaging to public faith in the ability of this Government to deliver such as that to which I refer.

I again thank the Deputy. I want to reassure him that we have a very sharp focus on project delivery across Government. We have agreed a new national development plan with a total of €165 billion in funding out to 2030. I want to see that money well spent on the projects that we all want to see advanced over the next number of years. Ensuring that we have the appropriate checks and balances in place from the taxpayer's point of view is important. However, it is also important that we keep projects moving and achieve our end goal, which is to get projects built and delivered for the communities that require them. I assure the Deputy that this is an absolute priority for Government and we look forward to working to fulfil that over the period ahead.

Questions Nos. 17 and 18 replied to with Written Answers.

Flood Risk Management

Alan Dillon


19. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of a scheme (details supplied); the reason for the delay in his Department finalising the review, which was expected as imminent in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2448/22]

Dara Calleary


32. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the current position in relation to the flood alleviation scheme for Crossmolina, County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2228/22]

I ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the Crossmolina flood relief scheme and the reasons for the delays in the Department's timeline for review. The people of Crossmolina are eagerly awaiting further news on this. As we start the new year, I would appreciate an update from the Minister.

I thank the Deputy. This scheme is being progressed under the Arterial Drainage Acts, and therefore is the subject of formal confirmation by the Minister, as he just stated. This is a statutory requirement under the Arterial Drainage Acts, which, under recent European Union regulations of 2019, also require the Minister to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the proposed scheme. This involves a formal review by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform of the environmental impact assessment and a Natura impact assessment submitted to him as part of the formal confirmation process.

As part of the confirmation process, stakeholders were afforded a formal opportunity to provide comments on the environmental element of the proposed works. Following this consultation, independent consultants were appointed by the Department to carry out a review of the scheme documentation. Further to this review, the Department requested supplementary information in May 2021. The OPW provided this in July 2021. The Department has advised that it has received final technical reports from their environmental consultants on this supplementary information.

In September, the Department indicated to the OPW the specific conditions under which ministerial consent to progress the scheme might be granted under the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 and 1995, and sought confirmation from the OPW that it would comply with these conditions.

The OPW confirmed compliance with these conditions to the Department 6 October last. It is important to note that under section 7E of the Arterial Drainage Act Regulations 2019, the Minister can make an order confirming the scheme, refuse to confirm the scheme or refer the scheme back to the commissioners for revision in specified respects. Any decision taken by the Minister under section 7E is subject to judicial review and, as such, it is necessary to ensure that all legal requirements, including any existing or emerging case law, have been fully considered and complied with when making and confirming his decision to ensure that the decision is robust.

I thank the Minister of State for the update. As he is aware, I have raised this matter a number of times in the House. The people and businesses in Crossmolina that are affected by the risk of flooding have major concerns about the progress of this enormous capital project. The benefits of it would be huge. I compliment Mayo County Council, its engineers and the staff of the OPW on the work they have done to date for the people of Crossmolina. However, we need this project to progress to tender and project build and construction. I ask that every effort be made in the Department to progress it as swiftly as possible.

First, the commitment of the OPW and Mayo County Council is well documented. I thank Deputy Dillon and other Government Deputies from County Mayo who have given their support to this. I have been to Crossmolina and I am aware of the difficulties associated with this. The scheme will protect approximately 120 properties. The town has been inundated several times so we want to progress it. As the Minister stated with regard to his role in this, however, the Department has to be satisfied that when he makes a decision on any element of this it has to be insulated against any potential judicial review. Unfortunately, judicial reviews are now becoming more likely so the decision has to be insulated against any such potential likelihood. I know this is a cause of frustration. It is a cause of frustration for me, the OPW and Mayo County Council, but especially for those who are being inundated time and again and swamped with excrement, sewage and every sort of filth in flood water. We want to deliver these projects to Crossmolina and all the other towns such as Bantry, which was mentioned earlier. The money for Crossmolina is ring-fenced, so it is not a question of funding. Once the scheme is committed to and can be delivered, we will build it with Mayo County Council.