The purpose of my meeting with the committee this morning is to seek its approval for a net Supplementary Estimate of €24.5 million for the justice Vote group, representing an increase of 1.15% of the original net allocation for the group.
The requirement for substantive additional funding arises in respect of two of the group's Votes — the Garda Vote, where an additional €15 million is required, and the prisons Vote, where €52 million is being sought. Technical Supplementary Estimates are required on both the Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Courts Service Votes. Combined net savings of €42.5 million on those two Votes and on the Property Registration Authority Vote will be surrendered at year end to offset against the additional funding required.
The additional investment proposed in these Supplementary Estimates should be seen in the context of my wider commitment to ensuring that the justice and equality sector has the necessary resources to deliver on its wide-ranging and complex mandates. As the committee is aware, the overall allocation across the justice group Votes is up 9% in the 2007 Estimates.
The 2007 Estimates build on the considerable investment made in recent years, which has made it possible to increase Garda strength to record levels, to establish a dedicated traffic corps, to provide for successful focused anti-crime operations such as Operation Anvil and to provide the transport, communications and IT support necessary for effective modern policing. In parallel, the accountability structures within which the Garda operate have been transformed and community ownership bolstered in the form of the joint policing committees initiative and the creation of the Garda Reserve.
In the prisons area, the focus of today's Supplementary Estimate is the prisons capital programme and should also be seen against the broader canvas of what has been and is being achieved under this heading. The prisons building allocation for 2007 is up 13% on the 2006 Estimate. Long-standing criticism of our prisons as to their over-crowding, lack of appropriate segregation, as well as inadequate training and other services, are being addressed under this ambitious programme. Clearly, Thornton Hall and the new Munster prison are the headline items in delivery, but today's Supplementary Estimate encompasses a very broad range of projects which are transforming the prisons estate nationally.
While the prisons and Garda Votes are therefore, by far, the items of greatest financial significance within these Supplementary Estimates, for ease of reference this morning, I will address each of the Votes in the traditional sequence in which they appear in the Book of Estimates.
Beginning with the Justice, Equality and Law Reform Vote, approval is sought for a €1,000 technical Supplementary Estimate. While an overall net saving of €39.8 million will be realised by year end, additional provisions are required under a number of headings within the Vote.
Specifically, a provision of €4 million under subhead A5 is required arising from once-off IT costs associated with the creation of a new data centre for the Department. An excess of €0.5 million will also arise under subhead G5 to meet the cost of a contribution to local authorities to cover the retrospective cost of a pay agreement reached between the coroners, my Department and the Departments of Finance and Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Finally, a new subhead has been established within the Vote to meet the requirements of the new Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board. As the committee is aware, I established this body on 27 September pursuant to the provisions of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006.
Savings are, however, anticipated under several subheads under the justice Vote, the largest of which arise under the following subheads: B1 — commissions and special inquiries; D1 — the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service; E10 — child care; G13 — the Garda Ombudsman Commission; and H3 — probation and welfare services to offenders. In many cases, these savings have arisen due to timing issues in respect of projects in preparation or under way but also due to factors such as the level of demand arising under particular grant schemes. In addition, there is a surplus of €4 million in appropriations-in-aid, mainly due to a greater than expected intake of film censorship fees.
Turning next to the Garda Vote, I am seeking the committee's approval for a net Supplementary Estimate of €15 million. On subheads A2, A3, A4, A7, B, H and I, which concern travel and subsistence; incidental expenses; post and telecommunications services; consultancy services; clothing and accessories; transport; witnesses' expenses; and compensation, I am proposing an increase of €15.2 million to cover additional expenditure on these areas.
On subhead A5 — office machinery and other office supplies- I am seeking to increase the provision by €6.3 million arising from costs associated with IT support, additional costs associated with replacement of photocopiers and additional expenditure on consumables associated with new hardware.
On subhead A8 — station services — I am seeking to increase the provision by €5.3 million due to the requirement to purchase additional furniture and increases in utility charges, particularly electricity.
On subhead D — transport — I am seeking to increase the provision by €17 million to enable the Commissioner to make substantial improvements on the age profile of the Garda fleet and also to cover increased running costs, due mainly to the increase in fuel prices throughout 2006. Total spend on the purchase of new vehicles in 2006 will be in the region of €25 million, allowing for the purchase of in excess of 1,200 vehicles, more than half the entire Garda fleet. This expenditure forms part of a major investment programme, which includes an expansion in specific areas which will target organised crime and traffic in particular. Investment in vehicles is obviously an important component of the expansion of the Garda traffic corps, which I am pleased to say, will reach over 1,000 members next year and is on track to reach 1,200 by 2008.
On the savings side of the Garda Vote, I am anticipating that these will amount to €22.8 million. These are made up of the following: €3.5 million on salaries, wages and allowances — roughly 0.4 % of the allocation; €0.5 million on Garda SMI; €0.8 million on the Garda Reserve; €7.5 million on communications and other equipment; €1.5 million on subhead F — aircraft; and €9 million on superannuation. In addition to these savings, there is a surplus of €6 million in appropriations in aid.
Within the context of these savings and the overall management of the Vote, I have been able to authorise the Garda Commissioner to allocate an additional €15.6 million towards overtime, or an additional approximate 500,000 hours of Garda time in 2006. This expenditure was sanctioned by me to enable the Commissioner to continue and expand special operations targeting organised crime and traffic law enforcement.
On the prisons Vote, I am seeking a supplementary provision of €52 million, which is made up of additional expenditure of €81.701 million, offset by savings of €29.701 million elsewhere in the prisons Vote. A provision of approximately €37 million is included to enable the buyout of the loan for the Midlands Prison, which will result in a long-term saving for the State. As members of the committee may recall, the Midlands Prison was completed in 2000 and was built on a client lead design, build and finance basis. The construction project was financed by a 20-year loan. The early repayment of this loan will generate substantial interest savings of approximately €9.7 million over the remaining period.
A further significant element of the additional expenditure is accounted for by an increased investment of €33.045 million in the prisons capital building programme, which includes significant projects at Wheatfield, Portlaoise, Limerick, Loughan House, Shelton Abbey and Castlerea. These developments will provide for new prisoner accommodation and other facilities and form part of an ambitious, overall long-term capital programme, with which the committee will be familiar and, I am sure, appreciates the need for.
On savings under the prisons Vote, the largest single contribution arises under subhead A1 — salaries, wages and allowances — where a saving of €20.951 million is anticipated as a result in part due to the efficiencies introduced on foot of the successful implementation of the proposal for organisational change in the prison service. Another contributory factor is the delayed filling of vacancies within the service, which has now been addressed, with the vacancies set to be filled from a recently established panel.
It will be well appreciated by the committee that, down through the years, all other expenditure items in the Prison Service budget were dictated by the overtime issue. The savings which are now being realised thanks to the organisational changes in the Prison Service, together with the prudent management of the Vote generally, are providing the capacity for additional investment in prisons facilities. The impetus to the capital programme provided in this Supplementary Estimate will further enhance regime activities and prison accommodation, thereby improving the physical environment within which the inherently challenging task of offender management take place.
As I mentioned earlier, a technical Supplementary Estimate only is sought on the courts Vote. The Supplementary Estimate will provide for the utilisation of savings and a once-off surplus under appropriations-in-aid to fund necessary additional expenditure, primarily under subhead A6 — courthouse and office premises expenses, and subhead B — courthouse (capital works). This expenditure relates in the main to maintenance work at a number of court venues and to the cost of a number of newly-renovated courthouses.
Finally, the Vote for the Property Registration Authority is expected to provide a saving of €2 million in 2006. The authority was established on 4 November last pursuant to the provisions of the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006 and is responsible for the management and control of the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds. The savings arise due to timing issues under the digital mapping project which nevertheless remains on target for completion within the budget and timeframe originally indicated.
As I have indicated to the committee during our previous discussions, my approach to budgetary and expenditure management in the Justice and Equality area is to maintain a focus at a macro level on the overall Vote group. I do this with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance and it enables me to make adjustments to expenditure across subheads and across the five Votes, should this be necessary. It is inevitable, given the breadth of expenditure programmes captured under the justice group and the different factors influencing each of these, that circumstances will arise whereby certain areas of expenditure cannot proceed at the pace originally planned while others are under pressure to exceed original targets.
The net effect of this flexibility is, as I have indicated at the outset today, that the additional Exchequer funding I am seeking for the Vote group is no more than 1.15% of the total net allocation. I recommend this Supplementary Estimate to the committee and am happy to discuss any questions that arise.
In respect of recidivism rates, which I believe were commented on today, although I have not had the chance to study the findings of the report by the Institute of Criminology at University College Dublin, I very much welcome the report. While these studies are not always directly comparable, we should put on record that the reported long-term recidivism rate of 49.2% is considerably lower than that which was last reported when a report was produced in June 1997 and centred on Mountjoy Prison, which indicated a recidivism rate of 70%. The rates cited are not above rates found generally in western states, which are between 45% and 50%, and indeed seem lower than reconviction rates reported in the UK, where one recent study found that 59% of prisoners were reconvicted within two years of release. Another study indicated that up to 73% of young offenders in the UK were reconvicted within two years. I wish to put this on record because I know the UCD Institute of Criminology report is a very useful benchmark as to what is or is not happening in terms of rehabilitation in our prisons. Looking at it in terms of international comparisons and comparisons with what we knew previously, the figures are not going in the wrong direction, if I may put it that way. Rather they seem to be going in the right direction.
I make my next point without any degree of complacency. Given that certain penal institutions are heavily infiltrated by drug abuse, particularly the presence of hard drugs, we must, in this context, take a long, hard look at whether it is possible to rehabilitate prisoners if there is a significant presence of hard drugs in prisons. We cannot have it both ways. One cannot call for needle exchanges in prisons and then say how shocking it is that people leave Mountjoy Prison and come back in after a short period of time. Either we follow a drug-free strategy or we do not. Either we take the bold steps, such as those in the Prisons Bill 2006 passed by the Seanad yesterday, to introduce powers to back up a drug-free strategy in prisons or we do not. Anyone who says——