I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his elevation. I wish him as much luck and success as possible in his new position.
Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage
I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his election. As this is my first visit to the Seanad I congratulate all the Members and wish them well in the important work they have ahead of them in what is to be hoped will be mapping a course for our country and society to a better place.
I am privileged to introduce this Bill. Its primary purpose is to provide the legislative basis which will allow for the formal establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform and the transfer of certain functions from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for public expenditure and reform. It is intended that the establishment of the Department will place the two important issues of expenditure management and public service reform at the heart of Government.
It is highly significant that for the first time a Cabinet level Minister has been given responsibility for driving the reform agenda. Turning first to the reform agenda, we all know that delivering a programme of reform in the coming years will not be easy. The Bill represents the beginning of a challenging journey to achieve the vision of a public service that we have set out in the programme for Government. The people deserve a public service that will be high performing, value for money and accountable.
The Bill places public service reform functions on a statutory basis for the first time. As a Government, we realise that the reform agenda cannot simply be imposed on a system of more than 300,000 people without discussion and agreement, active engagement and co-operation, and proactive and ambitious leadership at every level of the public services. I recently welcomed the conclusions of the implementation body on the Croke Park agreement which indicated that there has been solid and measurable progress to date. Nevertheless, it must be clear that there is a lot yet to be achieved.
We need to see an accelerated delivery of the full range of reforms and efficiencies envisaged under the agreement and I look forward to active engagement with public service management and unions in the task over the coming months. I, together with the Taoiseach, intend to have a formal meeting with the implementation body this afternoon. For that reason, unfortunately, I will not be able to take all Stages of the Bill but I will return to the House as quickly as I can. I hope the House will excuse my absence.
In tandem with the extensive public service modernisation reforms being pursued, the Government has an ambitious agenda for budgetary consolidation over the coming years to put the public finances back on to a sound footing. This will involve further, major savings and efficiencies in the expenditure area, coming on top of the expenditure consolidations of the past two or three years. There is acceptance that we cannot afford to spend the same amount on our services as we currently do. Maintaining key services requires prioritisation and smarter, more efficient and more effective ways of delivering those services.
We find ourselves today facing unprecedented economic challenges. The recent flow of economic data provides some grounds for cautious optimism. The public service must play its part in our national recovery. We have to be ambitious and ensure that the reform initiatives we undertake, informed by the outcome of the comprehensive expenditure review I have initiated and delivered within the Croke Park agreement, will deliver a slimmer, more streamlined, efficient and effective public service. This is essential if we are to bring permanent sustainability to the Government finances and ensure the public service can, and will continue to, make a positive contribution to our economic growth. The introduction of pay ceilings for higher posts across the public service, last week, was intended to send a clear signal that reform must begin at the top.
I turn to the Bill before the House today. It marks the final part of the first of many steps to achieve the vision we have set out for the public service. In its own way, it will make a positive contribution to restoring economic growth and sustainability to our national finances. I will go through the sections and give a brief outline of their content and purpose.
Part 1 deals with preliminary and general matters. Specifically, section 1 deals with the Short Title, collective citation and construction. Section 2 defines certain terms used in the Bill. Section 3 defines a "Public service body". Section 4 allows for regulations to be prescribed for any matter referred to in this Act.
Part 2 deals with the new Department of public expenditure and reform. It transfers many of the general statutory functions of the Minister for Finance in relation to the public service to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and puts public service reform and modernisation functions on a statutory basis for the first time. Section 5 provides that the Government may determine, by order, a day to be the "appointed day" under the Act. It is intended that it will be 5 July. Hopefully, we will have the assent of both Houses, the President's signature and the formal commencement order signed by the Taoiseach. Section 6 provides for the establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform, and the Minister for public expenditure and reform in the English language; and An Roinn caiteachais phoiblí agus athchóirithe agus an tAire caiteachais phoiblí agus athchóirithe in the Irish language.
Section 7 provides that the Minister for public expenditure and reform will have responsibility for the management of gross voted expenditure and the annual Estimates process, general sanctioning powers on expenditure and policy matters relating to the appraisal, review and evaluation of expenditure, while the Minister for Finance will retain responsibility for overall budgetary parameters. Section 8 contains a broad provision transferring the general public service statutory functions of the Minister for Finance to the Minister for public expenditure and reform. A number of offices currently under the aegis of the Minister for Finance will also transfer to me, as Minister for public expenditure and reform, under this section. These include the Commissioners of Public Works, the Commission for Public Service Appointments, the Public Appointments Service, the Valuation Office and the State Laboratory.
A large number of remaining statutory functions which are appropriate for transfer to the Minister for public expenditure and reform, will be transferred by way of a Transfer of Functions Order, which will be timed to commence as soon as possible following the commencement of this Act. In essence, rather than have a recitation of a very long list, we will only formally transfer on a statutory basis that which the Parliamentary Counsel indicated would have to be formally transferred statutorily. The rest will be transferred by a Transfer of Functions Order.
The Schedules to the Bill list the functions which will be exercised in co-operation with the Minister for Finance. Section 9 details the specific public service reform and modernisation functions which are being put on a statutory basis to reflect the new reform function included in the name of the Department. The Minister will also assume responsibility for existing non-statutory functions of the Department of Finance and the Department of the Taoiseach in the area of public service modernisation, development and reform. In fact, the sub-element of the Department of the Taoiseach concerning modernisation, has already been transferred to my Department.
The statutory functions will include the formulation and development of policies required for the modernisation and development of the public service, and making proposals to Government on the implementation of those policies, along with the co-ordination and review of the implementation of those measures across the public service. The functions also include the promotion of value for money in the provision of public services and the development of policy and procedural frameworks in relation to the procurement of goods and services by the State.
Section 10 provides for the transfer to the Department of public expenditure and reform of the administration and business connected with the transferred functions. Section 11 provides that if legal proceedings involving the Minister for Finance are in train in relation to a transferred function immediately before the appointed day, these proceedings will, following the appointed day, be deemed to relate to the Minister for public expenditure and reform. Section 12 provides that any work commenced before the appointed day, by or under the authority of the Minister for Finance in relation to a transferred function, will be carried on and completed by the Minister for public expenditure and reform.
Section 13 provides that any legal document made by the Minister for Finance in relation to a transferred function will continue to have effect as if it had been made by the Minister for public expenditure and reform. Section 14 provides that any references to the Minister for Finance in relation to a transferred function in any legal document or in the memorandum and articles of association of any company shall be deemed to be references to the Minister for public expenditure and reform.
Section 15 provides that all property, rights and liabilities, moneys, stocks, shares and securities held by the Minister for Finance in relation to any transferred function will transfer to the Minister for public expenditure and reform without any further legal actions. Section 15 also provides that the consent of the Minister for Finance will be required in the disposal of assets and the application of the proceeds from the disposal of assets of State bodies, where such assets exceed a value of €50 million.
Part 3 deals with the performance of certain other functions including those relating to the Estimates. Section 16 sets out the responsibility of the Minister in the annual Estimates process. This provides that the Government will approve an "annual approved expenditure amount" — in essence, an envelope of expenditure — which can be reviewed in the course of a financial year if circumstances require. The Minister for public expenditure and reform will have full responsibility for the management of gross voted expenditure as set out in section 7, within the annual approved expenditure amount or the revised annual approved expenditure amount, as appropriate. The Minister for Finance may make recommendations to the Minister for public expenditure and reform on the apportionment of the "annual, or revised annual, approved expenditure amount" as between current and capital expenditure.
Section 17 provides for appropriate changes to the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act 1965 to give effect to the powers of the Minister for public expenditure and reform in relation to voted expenditure and to link the policy function of the Minister for public expenditure and reform with the payments role of the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Finance will retain technical responsibility for payments from the central fund. The Secretary-General of the Department of Finance will remain as Accounting Officer for the central fund and the finance accounts. I wish to clarify that point. The central fund, from which all public expenditure comes, will remain in the control of the Minister for Finance. However, the dispersal of funds from the central fund will be made automatically by the Minister for Finance on request from the Minister for public expenditure and reform. The Accounting Officer will remain as the Secretary General of the Department of Finance.
Section 18 provides that certain functions relating to the promotion and co-ordination of economic and social planning for the development of the economy and the identification of policies for general economic and social development may be exercised by either Minister separately but that they shall consult from time to time in regard to these functions. This is an interesting element. One of the tasks we had to do, which is why it has taken so long to bring this Bill before the House, was to trawl every statutory enactment and order back to the early 1920s and, as Members can imagine virtually every Act and statute references in some way the Minister for Finance. We had to disaggregate what is now appropriate to the new Department and the new Minister. I do not know if any Member has been here long enough to remember the old Department of economic development that was established at one stage, but the residual economic development function, which was transferred on the abolition of that Department to the Minister for Finance, will be now be shared jointly so that each of us will have an economic development role.
Section 19 provides that the functions transferred to the Minister for public expenditure and reform, referred to in section 8(2) and detailed in Part 1 of Schedule 2, may be performed with the consent of the Minister for Finance. These include provisions of certain Acts mainly relating to borrowings by State agencies. Section 19 also provides that the functions referred to in section 8(3) and detailed in Part 2 of Schedule 2 may be performed only following consultation with the Minister for Finance. These relate mainly to the review mechanism in the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation. The FEMPI legislation, as it is sometimes vulgarly called, which is an important part of the process of accruing money to the State, will now transfer to me and any amendment of it will be done following consultation with the Minister for Finance. The overall macroeconomic state of the economy will remain the purview of the Minister for Finance.
Section 20 ensures that responsibility for matters relating to superannuation, remuneration and so on of bodies under the aegis of the Minister for Finance remains with that Minister. The Minister for Finance will perform those functions following consultation with the Minister for public expenditure and reform.
Some functions are transferred collectively under section 8. These relate to the broad public service functions of the Minister relating to superannuation, remuneration and so on and also to the functions of bodies under the aegis of the Minister.
Sections 21 and 22 are intended to provide for a potential scenario where one Minister may inadvertently perform a function of the other believing it to be a relevant function of that Minister. Therefore, a function of the Minister for Finance performed by the Minister for public expenditure and reform shall be valid if at the time the Minister for public expenditure and reform believed that the function vested in him under the section andvice versa. This does not include those functions for which the specific statutory provisions are explicitly transferred under this Bill. It refers only to functions transferred by way of a general description. In case Members are concerned about this particular section, it is a genuine Parliamentary Counsel belt and braces job. We have trawled every function and assigned responsibility either to the new Minister for public expenditure and reform or to the Minister for Finance in regard to all these functions. However, if matters arise in the future that we have not thought about and it is presumed to be the role of the Minister for Finance but on legal challenge it was deemed actually to be more appropriate to the Minister for public expenditure and reform, they will remain valid as if they were exercised properly with the expectation that they were exercised with the appropriate authority.
The Minister is curing the defect in advance.
Just in case. I am always intrigued——-
Prevention is always better than cure.
——by the ingenuity of the Parliamentary Counsel to have sabre clauses. The most egregious for democracy I always found was the normal sabre clause in Bills where at the end of a Bill the Minister is deemed to have the power to do anything that might occur to him or her in the event that the powers are not contained in it. We do not have that sabre clause in this legislation, but Members will find that the Parliamentary Counsel and the team who worked on this legislation were extraordinary thorough. They found enactments — unfortunately, the Members will not be exposed to them because they were measures we expunged from the purview of the Minister for Finance in the other House — which related to functions going back to Victorian times that were transposed into the authority of the Minister for Finance on the creation of the State in regard to corn and all sorts of interesting matters that have long since ceased to be of direct relevance to the Minister for Finance and over which he has no control now.
We might have to go back to them.
We might well. It is a neater, cleaner Bill that is before us and the functions of both Ministers have been exhaustively trawled in the creation of this.
Section 23, which is another belt and braces job, states that any disputes arising in regard to the performance of functions set out in this Act for Ministers shall be determined by the Taoiseach. This is a standard provision from the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939.
Part 4 provides for the necessary amendments to miscellaneous legislation to take account of the establishment of the new Department. Sections 24 to 98 set out those Acts in chronological order from 1924 to date that need to be amended to link the policy role of the Minister for public expenditure and reform. Many of these provisions relate to the payments role of the Minister for Finance in regard to the Central Fund. The responsibility for the Central Fund will remain with the Minister for Finance. However, as a large number of related policy matters are transferring to me, the Bill provides that such transactions on the Central Fund shall be carried out upon the request or with the approval of the Minister for public expenditure and reform. In addition, some of the provisions in Part 4 deal with references to the Minister for Public Service which need to be tidied up. There used to be a separate Minister for Public Service at one stage. These provisions also deal with borrowing matters where the nature of the provision was not suitable for inclusion in Schedule 2.
Part 5 deals with miscellaneous provisions. I should explain why these are in the Bill. Sections 99 and 100 were transposed into the Bill in the other House at the request of the Minister for Finance. In essence, they have nothing to do with the establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform. They are two finance measures but the Minister was anxious that they would both be enacted into law — I will explain why in a moment — and this was the most suitable vehicle. There are other finance vehicles going through the House currently but they are money Bills and to transpose these sections into them would rob those enactments of their money Bill status. It was determined that they would be better placed in this Bill.
Section 99 clarifies the legal status of staff of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA. As these staff remain employees of the NTMA and will not be civil servants during their period of assignment, there is a need to ensure no legal ambiguity exists in regard to their ability to perform their duties on behalf of the Minister. That is a little impenetrable if one does not know what is happening in this area. Senators will be aware that there has been a thorough review of the functionality of the Department of Finance, in particular of its banking division. There have been a number of overviews, including external overviews by people such as Mr. Nyberg, of which Senators will be aware, and a set of very strong recommendations to strengthen the banking division and its capacity. The Minister for Finance has been engaged in that. He has brought in a number of experts and has also seconded a number of individuals from the NTMA to work directly in the Department of Finance. Since they are not established civil servants and remain employees of the NTMA on secondment, this measure is to ensure there is no legal ambiguity in case there might be any legal doubt about their capacity to act in the name of the Minister under what Senators might be aware is the old Carltona principle, whereby in law, officers of the Minister are deemed to acting with the authority of the Minister. That is established Irish law, replicating what was established in the Carltona judgment under British law. This measure gives the same legal capacity to the NTMA staff who are on secondment in case there might be any legal challenge to their ability to sign affidavits or do anything else in the name of Minister.
Section 100 gives effect to the recommendations of the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters, better known to us all as the Moriarty tribunal, conducted by Mr. Justice Moriarty. That tribunal recommended that the principle or convention of the independence of the Revenue Commissioners be given a more robust status through legislative provision. Therefore, the proposed provision places on a statutory basis what has actually been a long-standing convention in this area stretching back to the establishment of the Revenue Commissioners.
I will clarify the intention. Mr. Justice Moriarty's tribunal report recommended that the independence of Revenue to determine the taxation affairs of every individual citizen should be clear and put on a statutory basis. It has always been there by convention and no Government since the establishment of the Revenue Commissioners has breached it, but it was believed that we should make the convention clear beyond doubt in law. That is what this provision addresses. It will be possible to have the proper overview of the Revenue Commissioners in the normal way in general policy terms.
Schedule 1 contains a list of commercial semi-State bodies that are not included in the definition of "public service body" for the purposes of section 9 relating to the reform functions. Schedule 2, Part 1 lists the functions of the Minister for Finance that are transferring to the Minister for public expenditure and reform and that will be exercised with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Sections 8 and 19 refer. The functions largely relate to borrowings and indemnities. The Bill provides for a joined-up approach to overseeing borrowing transactions impacting on the Exchequer and to monitoring overall debt levels.
Schedule 2, Part 2 lists the functions of the Minister for Finance that are transferring to the Minister for public expenditure and reform and that will be exercised following consultation with the Minister for Finance. Sections 8 and 19 also refer. These provisions relate to the review provisions in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts.
Schedule 3 lists the legislation governing payments of superannuation and remuneration from the Central Fund to link the policy role of the Minister for public expenditure and reform in respect of this legislation with the payments role of the Minister for Finance in respect of the Central Fund. Section 17 refers.
In addition to the Bill's provisions, I will also be introducing a small number of technical amendments on Committee Stage. The list has been circulated. They are technical in nature and include such items as the inclusion of commas that we missed and so on, but we can discuss those later.
The new architecture that we have designed to disaggregate the old functions of the Department of Finance and to create the new Department of public expenditure and reform was come to separately by both Government parties as being the only way in which to drive reform. In advance of entering into government, I was asked by my party to draw up a reform agenda for the public service, which I did with the help of a co-ordinating crew of academics, experts and people who have held senior positions in other countries' public services. I was strongly advised that, to achieve real reform, we needed a Cabinet-ranked Minister in control of expenditure. As it transpired, exactly the same advice had been given to Fine Gael. There was no difficulty during the negotiations on the programme for Government in constructing the architecture we are now presenting to the House. Most external oversight and those who have been involved in reform initiatives in the past have accepted this architecture as being the way to go.
I have not mentioned one over-arching structure where the Departments are concerned, something that will co-ordinate economic policy generally. The Government has established an economic management council, which has been up and running since day 1. It consists of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and myself, supported by those staff who are appropriate to the topics in the Department of Finance, the Department of public expenditure and reform, the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, the Central Bank and other agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Presenting in a coherent, structured way the message of our economic position was an extremely important item on our agenda. Unfortunately, a coherent message had not been emanating from Ireland until recently.
I am asking the House to support and approve the Bill and, in doing so, to provide a sound legislative basis to underpin the formal establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform and the transfer of certain functions from the Minister for Finance to me as the new Minister for public expenditure and reform. The Bill is an important step on our reform journey and I heartily commend it to the House.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Cabinet and wish him the best in his endeavours over the next four or five years. He will be undertaking a crucial role and he can expect my side of the House's support in most of what he will endeavour to do. Setting out a separate ministerial structure as the Bill does is important if we are to focus on public sector reform and modernisation and driving Exchequer savings.
The Minister was probably slightly delayed in attending the Chamber because of our votes this morning. It is not an indication that my party opposes the Bill, as we do not, but we have grave reservations about the manner in which it is being introduced in the House. It is important that the Minister be aware of this. Last week, the schedule listed a reasonable gap between Second Stage on Wednesday and Committee and Remaining Stages on Thursday. In the Minister's opening remarks, he mentioned the date of the Department's establishment as being 5 July, not 1 July. While that is welcome, I am concerned by the haste with which the Bill has been introduced in the House and the fact that our schedule has undergone four changes, either at the request of the Minister or his new Department, to facilitate it being dealt with in one day.
My party colleagues have tabled some reasonable amendments. Subject to hearing the Minister's contribution, we reserve the right to submit further amendments post Second Stage. The usual procedure is for a Second Stage debate, following which Members of all parties are allowed time to consider the Minister's contribution and to table amendments as they see fit. When one can only do this between 1.30 p.m. when Second Stage concludes and 2.30 p.m. when Committee and Remaining Stages are taken, to be concluded at 5 p.m., it is far from ideal. Why is there a mad rush in this House in particular if the date of the Ministry's establishment on a firm statutory footing is 5 July? Why does the Dáil's Order of Business for tomorrow, as published by the Government, state that the Lower House will deal with amendments from the Seanad when the Seanad has not even voted on anything yet? The Minister cannot know whether we will pass any amendment. The Government enjoys a sizable majority in the Seanad, albeit not as large a one as it enjoys in the Lower House. Many of us take our roles seriously, but the way in which today's business has been scheduled and the listing of a discussion of Seanad amendments in the Dáil tomorrow are retrograde steps. Perhaps the Government has people who use crystal balls. I hope it does, given how we could do with a great deal of foresight where the Minister's role is concerned.
I have got this matter off my chest. We support the Bill in principle, but we have been left in a difficult situation, in that many of my colleagues are annoyed by the way in which it is being handled. Members of the Lower House can speak for themselves, but we cannot guarantee the Bill's smooth passage through this House. However, we support the Bill and the crucial work the Minister will need to do.
Section 15 deals with the transfer of assets and the Minister's oversight of any sale of assets valued at more than €50 million. Many parties have discussed the issue of strategic——
It is the other way around. I need the Minister for Finance's consent for the disposal of any assets where their value exceeds €50 million.
But everything with a value of lower than €50 million falls under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Howlin. This seems to be an opening for the future privatisation or sale of State assets. We live in the real world and the State must find money, but I seek a commitment from the Minister. He is in the middle of his reform programme and is looking for ideas from people, but practically all parties made commitments in respect of strategic State assets. I refer to our airports, energy providers, water services and so on. It is important not to pre-empt decisions Government will make. However, it has reiterated that the sale of strategic State assets is not on the agenda, and I do not believe it should be. That section of the Bill screams "privatisation". That is what one reads into it.
We must have capacity to sell.
That is agreed. In terms of strategic State assets and the definition of what they are, I take it that it would include our airports.
The Minister mentioned procurement, an area which has been greatly overlooked by previous Governments, including the Government of which my party was a member. The State spends in the region of €15 billion per year procuring goods and services. Last year the Committee of Public Accounts produced a detailed forward-looking report on procurement. The Minister highlighted procurement and it is an area in which substantial savings can be made which will not affect the terms and conditions of employees of the State. Will the national procurement service, which is under the Department of Finance, be under the Minister's wing? Will it have a remit to drive savings in each Government agency? A 10% saving in procurement would provide €1.5 billion to the State. Many experts, the Forum on Public Procurement and others believe that further savings can be made.
Senator Clune, former Deputy Bernard Allen, the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, myself and others co-authored the report I mentioned and there are many good ideas in it. The Minister does not have to reinvent the wheel, he should look at the report.
The Bill's digest brief we received spoke about staffing levels in the Department of Finance. I refer to staffing levels in this new Department. Will the Minister recruit additional staff? What will the staffing levels be? Obviously, this is outside the current recruitment embargo which the new Government has not lifted. What further scope does the Minister have? He will need the latitude to recruit the best. Is recruitment of new staff complete? Is the Minister recruiting from outside the Civil Service and the public sector to get the expertise he requires?
The first Dáil sat in 1919 and the Minister for Finance is one of the few Ministers mentioned in the Constitution. We take seriously the transfer of power from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for public expenditure and reform. We are interested in what looks to be a dispute resolution clause. If, God forbid, the Minister and the Minister for Finance fell out on a particular matter, although I cannot see that happening——
——will the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste be brought in so there can be balanced dispute resolution? To be serious for a moment, there will be contentious issues. The Minister will be back in the House to discuss Sunday premium hours, joint labour committees, etc., which we have already discussed, so I will not discuss them now. However, members of all parties, including the Government parties, have different views on them. What will be the timeframe for dispute resolution? Some of the decisions the Minister will have to make will be crucial. The joint labour committees and Sunday premium hours have been kicked to touch until January. What mechanism will be available to enable the Minister to deal with future disputes?
I refer to pay and conditions and pensions. The Minister mentioned the National Treasury Management Agency. Some pseudo State bodies and third level institutions have transferred all their pension schemes into the National Treasury Management Agency for it to manage. Rules and regulations were set down by the previous Minister for Finance that no additional benefits should be added to those schemes to enhance the liabilities of those pension schemes. Unfortunately, under the previous Government's watch — I brought it to its attention — that directive from the Department of Finance was ignored by many State bodies and institutions. I am glad to hear the Minister is considering it.
We are dealing with a budget deficit. The State, not to mention the private sector, face a pensions timebomb. In terms of State pension schemes operated by the NTMA, how will the Minister ensure a directive from him or from the Minister for Finance——
We will bring in a pensions Bill before the end of this term.
It will deal with that. I thank the Minister.
I welcome the Minister and wish him the very best in his endeavours on behalf of the country. The setting up of this Department will involve real reform which will not be imposed but will be done through consensus, agreement and engagement as it would not be possible otherwise. The Minister has started very well.
This Bill proposes to transfer functions from the Minister for Finance to the new Department which will be headed by the Minister. The Department's main focus will be on modernisation and development of the public service. Key to the modernisation of the public service will be the implementation of the Croke Park agreement. The new Department will oversee the agreement and its progress. Genuine reform is being achieved under the Croke Park agreement but the pace must be accelerated, in particular this year and next year. This is the key focus of the Government in the coming weeks and months.
The public service employs 300,000 and delivering change will be complex if it is to be done correctly. Public service numbers have been reduced by almost 16,000, or 5% of the total number, between the end of 2008 and the end of 2010. The programme for Government requires an additional 5,000 to 8,000 voluntary reductions by the end of 2014 and a further 4,000 in 2015.
It is between 18,000 and 21,000 by 2014.
Yes. The Croke Park agreement provides an agreed framework for the management of this process.
The gross pay bill fell by €1.3 billion between 2008 and 2010 while the pensions levy raised almost €1 billion last year, amounting to total savings of €2.3 billion.
Senator Sheahan cannot claim credit for that.
That is the progress which has been made and the way the Minister will get the country, which Senator Darragh O'Brien's party destroyed and brought it to its knees, back on track.
The Minister has taken on this task and he will get the country off its knees.
The review of progress on the Croke Park agreement will be available next month and this will determine how the reduced figures set out in the programme for Government will be achieved. Even though a substantial number of retirements is indicated, targeted early exit packages may also be needed.
The Government is committed to reforming the way services are delivered and to ensure meaningful change is made. Even after a 5% reduction in the number of public servants in two years, it is a key objective of the programme for Government to reduce the number of public servants more quickly. We need to ensure the next phase is even more ambitious. If that is to be done without a negative impact on frontline services, a more integrated public service with greater mobility within and between sectors must be delivered.
In addition to the reduction in the pay bill from reducing the number of employees, some additional savings will be achieved in the cost of the pay bill through work restructuring, particularly where it reduces the amount of premium payments or number of allowances paid or by reducing substitution costs or the use of agency workers. Discussions are already under way on the following cost saving measures: changes to the working day in the health sector to roll out from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; revised rosters for gardaí; new ways to handle underperforming civil servants and reduce sick leave absences to improve productivity; and changes at local level to working practices around waste collection and similar services. The significance of the agreement is rooted in the reality that the scale of the desired changes and reforms cannot simply be imposed on a system of more than 300,000 people without their agreement, active engagement and co-operation, or without proactive and ambitious leadership at every level in public service bodies.
Under the agreement, public service unions have fully accepted that the guarantees the Government has given to avoid further pay reductions and compulsory redundancies are dependent on driving forward implementation of the programme of modernisation and improvements in productivity against a backdrop of significantly reducing financial and staff resources. In practice, this means staff must be willing to re-train where necessary, take on more responsibility, work across professional and technical boundaries and be open to travelling within a radius of 45 km to take up a new post. There is much more to achieve.
Senator O'Brien raised the issue of procurement procedures. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, is working on the issue and I believe he has been to Britain to investigate best practice there. It is envisaged there will be savings of €1 billion in procurement. If that can be achieved, it would be a massive help to the goal of the Minister, Deputy Howlin. A saving of €1 billion on top of the Croke Park agreement would have the Minister well on his way.
This Government has made it clear it wishes to honour the commitments made in the agreement but this will only be possible if the agreement is implemented in full. Notwithstanding progress to date, it is clear much more must be done, as the Fianna Fáil slogan goes. There is enormous pressure on us to cut expenditure significantly and reduce the size of the public service while at the same time making every effort to maintain services. If services to the public and to businesses are to be maintained with significantly fewer staff and resources, we will need to see accelerated delivery of the full range of reform and efficiencies envisaged under the agreement. These include much greater integration of public service organisations in order that services are designed around the practical needs of the citizen. There should also be better targeting of services to avoid duplication of effort, which is rife in the country at every level up to the Seanad and Dáil.
There should also be accelerated progress in e-government in order that we can deliver faster service to the user, minimise opportunities for fraud and reduce transaction costs for the Exchequer. There should be as much consolidation as possible for financial, payroll, procurement, pensions and human resources services in each sector, as well as the processing of standard information like medical cards.
The centralisation of medical cards is a folly and is not working very well. I ask the Minister to consider that issue again, as it affects people who are hurting and under financial pressure, with families suffering owing to unemployment and the economic downturn. Centralising the applications for medical cards does not work, and I know this from experience with constituents. People can meet Department personnel locally to fill out application forms and meet doctors but if the process is centralised in Dublin, there is no human side to it. There must be a human element to the medical card application process.
The first review of the Croke Park agreement, which was published earlier this month, showed the following. The Croke Park agreement can serve as an effective enabler of economic recovery by helping to create greater stability and certainty and, above all, a climate of industrial peace in necessary conditions under which difficult decisions can be taken and implemented. I am pleased the body has found sustainable pay bill savings of €289 million for the year. The reported non-pay savings detailed in the report amount to some €308 million. Costs of €87.5 million were avoided which would otherwise have been incurred, and the report shows that Exchequer pay bill costs fell from a peak of €17.5 billion in 2009 to €15.7 billion in 2010, or almost €15 billion when considering the effect of the pension related deduction of 14.4%. A further reduction to €14.8 billion is estimated for 2011, representing a 15.5% fall from peak by the end of 2011.
I wish the Minister the very best and any support I can give. The human touch should not be removed from processes. Any support I can give will be forthcoming if that is the case.
Like other Senators, I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him every success in this daunting task. By any standards, the Department of Finance was not fit for purpose, and the reason the country is in so much difficulty today is because the Department was dysfunctional. The Nyberg report stated that the Department of Finance was not consciously involved in financial stability issues but one could ask what it was doing. The Wright report refers to a lack of expertise, with only 39 of the 542 staff trained as economists to masters level or higher. That is 7%, as opposed to 60% in Canada and 40% in the Netherlands. There are problems in health and education because the Department of Finance was asleep at the wheel. I welcome the new troika of Howlin, Noonan and Hayes in looking to implement vital reforms.
There are no records of the meetings concerning the rescue of the banking system worth five times the country's gross national product. When the Minister contacted the spending Ministers regarding co-operation with the spending review on 11 April, he said it should be done quickly before they were captured. Surely the greatest case of regulatory capture of all time must have been the capture of the Irish economy and Exchequer by those banks in September 2008. They should have been put on the plane to Frankfurt and that is where the problem should have resided. There was a memorandum of understanding indicating that this would be a European problem and the Minister referred to the problems with the banking section of the Department of Finance. Those in the Department may have forgotten that there was a mechanism other than virtually bankrupting the country in dealing with insolvent banks.
There is also a moral hazard problem, as the taxpayers and unemployed have borne the costs of this performance, with banks and their regulators getting away remarkably free. We are now trying to reinvent the Department of Finance and the entire Irish economy. In his latest bulletin, the Governor of the Central Bank stated that the banking system must be downsized and reorganised. That should have been done in 2008 rather than going to significant expense to end up with a smaller banking system. We should separate the deposits which exist for storage and investment. The bondholders should be given equity and the Central Bank should involve itself in banking only for the purposes of liquidity and not for solvency.
We must also examine the accountancy profession. I am still waiting for the chartered accountants regulatory body to report on how money moved into banks at 11.50 p.m. and moved out at 12.10 a.m. is treated as if it were a real deposit. The accountants should be rebuked by the Government for their tardiness in dealing with the lack of accountability in accountancy, which seems almost an oxymoron but that is the truth of it.
Turning to the director's responsibility of the Minister, we need a council of economic advisers to bring in what the report calls a contrarian view, that economic policy was decided in too small a circle of people——
There is to be an independent fiscal council as the Senator is aware.
Yes, and the broader economic council as well. Some of the contrarians have been the subject of a media frenzy. I think they are extremely valuable people. I am glad the Minister is present and I hope he meets some of those as well.
We need a central office for project evaluation. For far too long, capital expenditure has been promoted by spending Departments and they have told the Minister for Finance afterwards that he cannot stop now because so much has been spent on it. Let us have the cost benefit analysis independently carried out, as recommended by the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, and let us have it published and debated for a year. Then we can decide whether a project is worth proceeding with. We need more openness. The documents on the benchmarking exercise, which we are trying to reverse, were kept secret. They should at least be looked at by the Minister and, perhaps, published.
We need a value for money culture, as the Minister said. We have to address the issue of a balanced budget because, without it, we have all the problems in health and education to which this House and the other address themselves.
I hope the Minister will address the issue of tax shelters. Mr. Micheál Collins of the department of economics in Trinity College estimates, without analysis, that we give away about €12 billion per year in tax shelters to people who went, mostly with tax lawyers and accountants, through some back stairs into the Department of Finance. This is another example of regulatory capture.
The Minister referred to trawling. He comes from a fishing county. I hope he goes after big fish. I see reference to such things as the adventure playground standards authority and the industrial alcohol body and so on. There is even a reference to the returning officer for the presidential election. In defence of the returning officer, he has not cost us a penny for 14 years. I advise the Minister to go after the big people in public pay, public private partnerships and dodgy capital projects. Although he may not wish to, the Minister has to concentrate on the bulk of public expenditure, which is in health, education and welfare. I just wonder if Sir Humphrey had blown him off course to look at some very minor bodies referred to in the Schedules to the Bill.
I wonder, too, about the exempted bodies. The airports have occupied our attention in this House and the Government's attention in the recent past, and we have raised the issue of the mysterious letter from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to the regulator ordering a 41% increase in airport charges, bypassing the normal functions of a regulator. I hope their exemption does not mean they receive less of the Minister's attention, because they are important bodies. The McCarthy report on the State companies refers to the fact that they seem to have largely exempted themselves from the controls of their parent Departments, to have spent large sums of capital without very much surveillance, to have paid their chief executives, until the last week or so, exceedingly large sums of money, and to have exempted themselves from the general pay restraint that is happening in the public sector.
In short, the Ministers, Deputies Howlin, Noonan and Hayes, deserve our support. It is vital that the finances of this country are put back in order. The concern I would have about the April document on progress is that it leaves expenditure largely unchanged and brings in a €10 billion increase in taxation. I would hope that the energies of the Department will not be spent on inventing new forms of taxation but concentrating instead on the value for money we get for the €70 billion or so the Government is spending.
There is a serious need to overcome what Wright saw by comparison with Canada and the Netherlands, which is the need to recruit top level economists and not have these decisions made by generalists or amateurs. There is also a need to write down. The Department used the Freedom of Information Act as an excuse for not writing things down in case someone might make a freedom of information request to see what it did. That did not serve the Department as we now try to find out from either the banks or the Civil Service what really happened that caused the economic collapse in this country. I welcome very much the efforts of the Minister and he may be assured of the support of the Seanad from all sides. Wright draws attention to that briefly. He said a very poor budgetary process obscured ministerial and Government accountability to Parliament. We recommend major changes to the budgetary process that would enhance ministerial accountability to Parliament. I commend the Bill.
I call a quorum.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
I wish to share time with Senators Bacik and Higgins.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Minister for coming into the House. On foot of Senator Barrett's comments, we might dub him part of the Celtic troika.
If that is not in bad taste.
Absolutely not. It is meant in the best possible taste. I am delighted to welcome the Minister and this Bill which places public service reform functions on a statutory basis for the first time. It seems extraordinary that it is the first time this has happened, so we welcome it as significant, albeit technical, legislation. There will be many opportunities in the months ahead for actions on the part of the Minister to be reviewed and discussed in this House. At that point I am sure we will all partake in such discussions in the spirit in which he himself would wish.
The urgency of this task is also highlighted by the situation in Greece as it edges towards potential default. The idea that we will not give them any more money rung loudly in their ears. That means they cannot pay their police, doctors and teachers. Effectively, the country cannot function. We all know how it feels when one's computer collapses for ten minutes. One goes into a complete high-octane fever. One can imagine if that were to happen to the country. It is simply unimaginable. We are making sure this country does not default. In order to do that, we have to own up to our debts and deal with them. That involves reviewing all the expenditure and calculating where money can be allocated, reallocated, withdrawn or increased. This is part of what the Department of public enterprise and reform will be doing. It is a large part of the task of the Minister, Deputy Howlin. It must be considered against that background. We do not wish to default. We do not wish to have a second programme of EU-IMF assistance.
The decision of the Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, to stop an investigation into local authority planning was criticised this morning. I have spent years investigating things. I have to say I enjoy a bit of an investigation. However, I can see that in this case, the Minister of State is wisely saying we need to spend the money elsewhere. A series of such decisions will have to be taken. We have to accept that this is what will be happening. Money will be reallocated or withdrawn. It is called "housekeeping" or "balancing the books". I welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has taken to this task with such enthusiasm. It is not what we have seen in the past. If we are to find our way out of where we are, we will have to balance the books. The Minister has pledged to be as fair as he can when he balances the books. That will be a difficult task because different people have different interpretations of fairness. We accept the Minister's pledge in good faith because the Labour Party's principles of fairness and equality are at the core of his endeavours. I have faith that fairness will be a hallmark of the spirit of the work he does along with his officials. We know the room for manoeuvre in the future is small because the EU-IMF deal left us in no doubt about that. Every effort we make to balance the books makes the room for manoeuvre a little bigger. We have to welcome the establishment of this Ministry and the work that will go with it because it will expand the room for manoeuvre, albeit in a small way.
At a time when we want to move confidently at home, in Europe and in the world, we would do well to say we are trying to put an end to the profligacy, sloppy housekeeping and lack of joined-up spending that we had for 14 years. I welcome the establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform, which will be responsible for public spending and accountable for the advice that is given on public spending. It is a first step towards more transparent, more efficient and more responsible government, which is the sort of government I want to see. Our citizens are demanding such government and they deserve to have it. I warn that it will not be easy. Reform is extremely painful. There will be harmony and there will be disagreement. There will be argument and there will be compromise. This Government has pledged over and again to take action in this area. The Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the various Ministers have committed to overhauling how government is done in this country. As we stand and sit here today to talk about this Bill, part of our responsibility is to encourage the reform of government at every possible stage. I welcome this Bill and the Minister's efforts. I wish him well.
I welcome the Minister on behalf of the Labour Party. As Senator O'Keeffe has said, we are delighted to see him in the House. We are delighted he has been given this portfolio. We are delighted that this Bill, which establishes the Department of public expenditure and reform, has cross-party support. As Senator Barrett said, we accept the need to reform the Department of Finance and to overhaul expenditure management and public service reform. The seriousness with which the Government is undertaking this task is demonstrated by the fact that this Bill is being brought through the Oireachtas. We spoke this morning about the unfortunate manner in which it is being dealt with in this House in a single day. I know the Minister, Deputy Howlin, shares our sense of regret that it has to be done in this way. In future, we will try to ensure more time is made available to debate Bills.
This largely technical Bill will establish a much-needed Department with, as the Minister said, a reform agenda at its heart. The Minister spoke about economic reforms. Senator O'Keeffe has spoken about the need for the comprehensive spending review that the Department will undertake. She referred to it as a "housekeeping" review. I want to refer to another vital aspect of the role of the Minister and the new Department. We all know that on the doorsteps, the task of constitutional reform was almost as significant for people as economic reform. The programme for Government includes a commitment to establish a constitutional convention. There is great excitement about that among citizens generally. We need to see progress with that aspect of these reforms. I know that will be a priority for the Minister. I welcome the Bill. I am delighted that the Minister is with us to debate it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to the House. I commend him and the departmental officials for expediting the drafting of this legislation and its subsequent introduction in the Oireachtas. We should not doubt that this Bill puts flesh on the bones of our pre-election commitment to reform. The Government is determined to modernise and renew the way public services are delivered. The Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011 will play no small part in restoring economic growth and sustainability to the Government finances. The main purpose of the Bill is to place the establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform on a legislative footing. At the same time, it will transfer some functions that are usually within the remit of the Minister for Finance to the Minister for public expenditure and reform. The Bill establishes the Department and bestows the power to effect reform on the Minister. Consequently, it will make fundamental changes to one of our most important Departments.
It must be recognised that the old ways of the public service strangled the capable and ambitious public servants who were full of enthusiasm and dynamism when they entered the public service. However, these recessionary times have presented us with an opportunity to make changes and reforms. We need greater scrutiny of all functions and of expenditure, so we can ensure the best delivery of services and the best bang for our buck. We will all agree that the Department of Finance has enough to do without being expected to implement these changes as well. My thoughts, views and ideas on this matter are accompanied by a caveat. We must be hyper vigilant. We must ensure that when this Bill is enacted, the Department of Finance is not stripped of its best brains and experience at a critical time in our economic history.
I heartily welcome the commitment to cut the number of State bodies and quangos, which grew like fertilised grass during the Celtic tiger era. This should be one of the first tasks of the new Department. It would allow us to start saving money from the beginning. Many of these agencies can be amalgamated or made redundant. While some of these agencies do great work, we need to forensically assess every one of them and determine their necessity and efficiency with regard to every single euro that is spent on them. There are some questions we must ask. Are they relevant? Is their expenditure necessary? What is the alternative to them? How do their results benefit the people of this country? As I see it, the objective must be to guarantee the citizens of Ireland the best possible public service in areas like education, training and health.
Local authorities have been particularly affected by the reduction in frontline services in recent times. However, we are not seeing a ripple effect on the rest of the Civil Service. Many senior and middle managers in the Civil Service are on fat-cat salaries. They need to face reality and accept that things are changing. Their salaries are not inconsiderable. They need to take stock and be open to a voluntary pay cut. How can we possibly tell people earning the average industrial wage to take unpalatable medicine at a time when the economic elite are being left relatively unscathed? Change must happen from the top down. We saw that recently when the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste took pay cuts and Deputies and Senators followed suit. There may be more such reductions in the future. Now is the time for others earning above €200,000 to act similarly. I support this Bill because it provides the necessary legislative basis for the formal establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform.
I would like to share two minutes of my time with Senator Cullinane.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. We served together in the past.
We were on various councils.
I am conscious that he has the intellectual capacity to undertake the task he has been given.
I remind Senator Walsh that, in accordance with an order of the Seanad of this day, I will call the Minister at 1.25 p.m.
That is not acceptable. We should be allowed to at least finish this element of it. It will only run over for a couple of minutes.
My hands are tied. I am Acting Chairman.
I welcome the initiative the Minister took in recent days in the area of pay in the public service and in the semi-State sector. The quality and leadership skills of people in these senior positions is more important than pay. The NTMA, since it was established under the leadership of former Minister for Finance, Mr. Ray MacSharry, and former Taoiseach, the late Mr. Charles Haughey, more than 20 years ago, has done much good work on behalf of the State. That is an area at which we should look.
If we had staff of the right calibre who had the prescience to see what was coming down the tracks, whether in the Department of Finance, the Financial Regulator or the Central Bank, we had been paying them €10 million per annum, and they had taken the right decisions to ensure the correction in the property market and that the liquidity which led to the insolvency within the banks was corrected; if they had taken on the profligacy in the public service with the increase in numbers and pay, and good prudential policies had been pursued, it would have been money well spent. We must lay emphasis on the quality of staff, not only on the optics. I am concerned that we are dealing with the optics, having regard to some of what is beingsaid.
I am also concerned that I heard the Minister mention that some of the economic indicators are very positive. I do not know from where he is getting that. I suspect it is from those within the Department who advised previous Administrations. If one looks at what is happening globally, there are serious challenges ahead of us.
I stated that one could be guardedly optimistic, not very positive.
I advise the Minister to take as much external advice as he possibly can garner. Last year when the budget was published and the figures and prognosis were predicated on a 2.75% GDP growth rate this year, I stated that we would be fortunate to get anywhere near half of it. From speaking to the Minister, I am aware that he expects growth of 2.5% next year. Budgets should be based on a fairly stagnant economic position for the next five years. I would bet the Minister a Wexford Opera Festival ticket that during the currency of the Minister's term in Government, if it lasts five years, there will not be a cumulative increase of 5% in GDP. There are clouds on the international horizon, with a fall-off in exports, the possibility of a double-dip in the United States and the federal debt in the United States now reaching almost 100% of GDP. Professor Nouriel Roubini, at a meeting I had with him some months ago, mentioned that there is debt of approximately another 100% of GDP among the individual states which would lead to a situation where the United States could be approaching debt of almost 200% of GDP. The professor relates that once one's borrowings rise beyond 120% of GDP, one is insolvent.
There are major challenges. I very much regret that we do not have the opportunity in this debate to expand on many of these issues and interact with the Minister on these serious economic issues. What is happening is a disgrace.
I am not sure what I can say about public sector reform in two minutes. I welcome the Minister to the House. My party would have shared a broad view with the Labour Party, at least before the election, about the need to ensure that public sector reform was about meeting the needs of citizens. That is the ultimate benchmark in terms of what we need to do in terms of achieving savings. We all accept that we need to achieve savings in public spending, but it is most important that we protect frontline services and ensure that the citizens of the State have access to high-quality public services.
Recently I was disappointed to hear the Minister state that public services have been largely unaffected by the cutbacks or, as he put it, by "budgetary consolidation" by the previous Government. There have been cutbacks, for example, in health, education, policing, in special needs assistants and in the hospitals. For example, there is a crisis in many hospitals across the country due to a shortage of junior doctors and nurses.
Not to do with cutbacks.
It is part of public spending reform. The Minister should look at the recruitment embargo which is in place across the public sector. For example, recently I spoke to staff in Waterford Regional Hospital where, because of a shortage of nurses and doctors, it is recruiting staff through agencies and paying premium rates, and that is impacting on its budgets. Even the recruitment embargo is not having the desired effect of driving down costs. In hospitals, for example, it is driving up costs. From local authorities across the country which have seen their staff cut and curtailed, I am aware that services have been affected. I will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to deal further with the issue.
Tá am an Seanadóir beagnach istigh.
Go raibh maith agat.
I welcome the Minister to the House and call on him to respond to the debate.
It is great to be back and see an old friend in the Chair.
I apologise to the House. I regret we did not have more time. Those who know me know that I would love to debate every line of this. I will have opportunities in coming debate. However, this is largely a technical Bill to, if you like, legalise me and the work that I need to do. We will deal with the policy side of it in detail, line by line, because I have significant matters to bring to this House. Before the end of this term I hope to publish the Pensions Bill, and I will graft into that the changes in pay to formalise them legally, including to formalise the pay reductions for members of the Government, and so on, in legislation. I give the House this assurance. As far as I can, because I know the time frame on which we are working, I will not seek to curtail debate here in so far as it is practical not to. I apologise that Senators feel under pressure today but I hope that they will bear with us in terms of the technical nature of this legislation, which is simply an enabling Bill. Most of it is not much more than a recitation of current statute that simply disaggregates it into the functional work of the Minister for Finance and the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform. We need to have the bigger debate on a different platform in a more structured way and I am sure we will do that in the committee system as well because we cannot do it all in the House. I will not have time to deal with everything.
Procurement is a significant issue. In response to the commentary of Senator O'Brien, we need to do better. I have held many discussions with the Minister of State to look at procurement policies and best practice elsewhere. I had a meeting with all of the senior officials and international leaders in Google yesterday. I will go down to them because they do all their procurement for Google across Europe in Ireland and they are efficient at it. I have looked at how we can address all of those matters.
In terms of the staffing of my Department, I would like a chance, perhaps before the committee, to explain what I am doing in the Department. As the House will be aware, I recruited a new Secretary General. He was the only assistant secretary who spent some time outside the public system. I intend to establish a director of reform within the Department who will be an external driver of reform and who, I hope, will have experience in bringing about significant change in a significant private sector body. If there is such a person in the public sector who has experience elsewhere, of course that person can be considered.
I suggest Mr. Michael O'Leary.
I will not even respond to that.
On the pensions issue, I will have regard to all of the points made by Senator O'Brien.
Senator Sheahan spoke of the Croke Park agreement and the pace of it. To underscore the requirements for a faster pace, I intend meeting the implementation body this afternoon with the Taoiseach. That is why I cannot be with the Seanad for the full Committee Stage debate. I asked the Taoiseach to do that to underscore the centrality of the Croke Park process in Government policy.
I do not quite share Senator Sheahan's view on centralised services. We must have more centralised services. We cannot duplicate everything all over the country. There must be a consequence for rational decisions,——
The Minister might need to call on the Taoiseach.
——like in the VECs about which we made a decision this week.
Senator Barrett spoke of the Department of Finance. There is commentary on the Department of Finance. There are fine staff who have worked hard. They have been at the eye of a storm for a long time. However, we need to restructure it in the way we are setting out. We need external persons in it and that is why there is the section in the Bill to allow NTMA staff to come in.
In the minute available, I will not be drawn in to discuss taxation policy which is not my direct purview but I look forward to sharing my views on that elsewhere.
I omitted to say that we launched a website last week. It is part of the Department of public expenditure and reform website. It is intended that on a monthly basis all economic data of the State, in terms of procurement and expenditure down to subhead level, will be available for scrutiny. That should obviate the need for approximately two thirds of parliamentary questions to the Department of Finance, but all of it in real time. Currently, it dates back to 1994 so that one can have comparators. It is manipulative to allow for research and should be of use.
Senator O'Keeffe spoke of balancing the books and that is at the heart of my job. It links into the commentary of Senator Cullinane. Everywhere I go everybody wishes us to achieve the end but many want to deny us the means.
Welcome to Government.
I am willing to take the means and argue for it, and I want people to understand that.
The Acting Chairman wishes me to wind up and there will be other opportunities.
I hate to interrupt the Minister.
My final commentary is this. One cannot achieve the Herculean task we have to do, which is nothing less than to regain economic sovereignty for the State, and we cannot be beholden to the kindness of strangers for €18 billion this year to pay for teachers, doctors, etc., unless we get our own house in order. This Department is determined to play its full role in achieving that. The enactment of this legislation is an important milestone in that regard. I thank the Senators for their support.
As it is now 1.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D’Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Mullins, Michael.
- O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O’Keeffe, Susan.
- O’Neill, Pat.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Whelan, John.
- Zappone, Katherine.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- O’Brien, Darragh.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
In accordance with the order of the House this morning, the Committee Stage will be taken at 2.30 p.m.