I thank the members of the deputation for coming in. I will run through some questions. Then perhaps the members of the deputation can address them as they see fit.
My first question relates to who is responsible for equality budgeting. I take the point made by the representatives of the IHREC to the effect that the Departments need to do this in the first instance because it needs to be part of the policy development process from the start. In fact, it needs to seep into the mindset as well. I recall carrying out some policy work in the United Kingdom. At the end of it, someone asked me if I had gender proofed it. I had never heard of gender proofing. I thought about the work I had been doing and I realised that I had not. Not only is proofing good for the analysis but it actually changes the way people think fundamentally. I fully understand that.
There is a quality control role similar to the relationship the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has with the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Even with the best will in the world, civil servants may come under political pressure. There may be a culture that does not necessarily seek the absolute truth. Certainly, that is the case in some Departments. The basic distributional analysis we get on budget day is politicised and basically sets out best-case scenarios. I can come up with scenarios of how a given measure affects Linda and her two sons versus the scenarios that come out on budget day from the Department which hide all the bad news and highlight all the good news. The only vaguely equality-proofed document we get is a political one and there is nothing independent about it. Therefore, someone needs to be in a quality control role. I am of the view that it would be useful for the relevant people to report to the budgetary committee with their view on the analysis in the same way the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, does for the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance, particularly as questions arose in respect of attempts at political interference.
It is something to consider. The only two groups I am aware of that could do that are the commission and, potentially, the ESRI. It does not have the capacity now but it could hire it in. From an analytical perspective, it could do it. I would like the witnesses' thoughts on that.
In terms of scope, the witnesses said they are bringing together a group of experts on Friday, which is great to hear; I would be grateful if they could send us a copy of their findings. Do they have a position for this committee and the subsequent budget committee? If we take the standard equality budgeting framework, there are nine dimensions. Some of them are more important than others. Do the witnesses have a view on those? There is also poverty proofing, which is slightly different from equality budgeting and requires a different analytical approach, and the rights-based approach requires an entirely different quantitative and qualitative approach. It is a big piece of analytical work, both qualitative and quantitative. In terms of this budgetary cycle, if the Oireachtas was to pick three or five areas, and there is the standard distributional one, should it be gender, geography, age, race or disability? What are the areas the Oireachtas needs to get its head around quickly?
In terms of timing, I notice the witnesses' report states that it is an ongoing process with the budget but this committee is looking at the arrangements for the full committee that will come into force. When do they believe the permanent committee should be getting substantive equality and human rights proofing analysis from the Departments, with input from them? By what month does the committee need to get its head around those issues? This is somewhat of a chicken and egg situation in that budgetary measures are not announced until budget day but if one wants to do an ex ante analysis one needs to know the measures ahead of time. It is a difficult one.
In terms of the standing committee, presumably someone will have to come up with a detailed specification on equality proofing, poverty proofing or whatever the catch-all phrase is for this process. A detailed specification will have to be put together with exactly the kind of analysis the sectoral committees and the budget oversight committee will need. Perhaps that will be the commission but do the witnesses have a view as to who should do that and how quickly the standing committee can get that?
In terms of the Civil Service, I was surprised to hear Dr. Murphy say that she thought the expertise already existed. Section 42 of the 2014 Act is a big piece of legislation; it is potentially a game changer. I would be happy, but surprised, if the Departments have that capacity because it is a new task they are being asked to do. It is a very specialised skill set. I was surprised to hear Dr. Murphy say that is not a criticism of the Departments. It is a new piece of work they have not had to do previously. Why does Dr. Murphy believe, especially in the middle of a hiring embargo, that they have this very specialised skill set already in-house?
I have one question. How many analysts will the commission have to do the analysis? I know it will not do the proofing but I refer to the people who will attend the standing committee to give an expert opinion on the equality proofing of the measures that will come from the Departments. What will be the size of its analytical team? Will it comprise Mr. Bond, Mr. Bond plus two others or Mr. Bond plus 20 others? Can the witnesses give us a sense of the number the commission has been sanctioned to hire? How much fire power will it have? Can it hire serious people? Is it hiring 22 year olds with a master's degree or serious analysts with a PhD in econometrics? This is a technical area and it is not one the Oireachtas knows its away around terribly well.
I have a thought in terms of our report.
There is an initial piece of training to be done. There is probably an annual piece to be done. Continuous professional development is one thing about which the Oireachtas does nothing. This is really technical stuff and really important stuff, so even one-off training or, ideally, refresher courses every year or at the start of a Dáil term for everyone on the committee might be something to consider. It seems that this group might be the right people to run that kind of training.