Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ceisteanna (43)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

43. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if the interdepartmental group pursuant to recommendation 7 of a report (details supplied) has been established; the number of times it has met since its establishment; the membership of the group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51856/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

Has the interdepartmental group been established? If so, how many times has it met? Who are its members? This arises from the review established by the Minister's Department which reported in July 2018. The review was further to a chapter of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which came before the Committee of Public Accounts in February and identified significant underspending and serious problems. Is a copy of the reply available?

No. Only replies to Topical Issues are available. The reply will be available later.

That makes matters difficult.

The review of the Dormant Accounts Fund disbursement scheme, which was published in July 2018, set out 15 recommendations aimed at improving the management and administration of current and future disbursement schemes.

One of the recommendations was to establish an interdepartmental group for the Dormant Accounts Fund to meet on a six-monthly basis. The stated purpose of the group is to inform and monitor progress in the implementation of disbursement schemes and subsequent action plans and to ensure that up-to-date co-ordinated information is maintained.

The interdepartmental group has been established and it met for the first time on Thursday, 25 October 2018.

The group is chaired by my Department and membership consists of those Departments making use of dormant accounts funding. These include the Departments of Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Health, Children and Youth Affairs and Education and Skills. Given its role in the operation of the fund, membership also includes the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Pobal is also represented in the membership of the group due to its administration of some measures on behalf of Departments and with a view to having it act as a link to the community groups which often utilise dormant accounts moneys.

I am informed that the first meeting of the group covered a range of issues, in particular information management and the development of guidance documents around how the fund should operate. The next meeting of the group is planned for April 2019 which will allow the group to inform the preparation of the 2019 dormant accounts action plan. This group will play an important role in supporting the implementation of the recommendations in the review and ensuring that the available funds are utilised for measures targeting disadvantage.

I thank the Minister of State for his clarification that the group has been established and that it is going to meet again. However, it is important to put this in context. It did not come from the Department. The inefficiencies and serious problems with the Dormant Accounts Fund were identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Among many other things which are of great concern to me and other Deputies are the significant underspending, the fact that fewer measures are actually being delivered to the community, that there was no single database, that many of the reporting requirements set out in the legislation were not met, that there was insufficient incentive to undertake dormant account measures and that there was no awareness or communication strategy with regard to selling this to the public. There were also many other deficiencies. That is why 15 recommendations were made, one of which I am dealing with today. It is important to bear that in mind. Will the minutes of those meetings be available?

The Deputy is right. As recommended by the Comptroller and Auditor General, my Department completed a review in 2017. The 15 recommendations seek to improve information gathering, simplify the operation of the fund and ensure that funding is used by the Departments or returned to the fund for use in other projects. Some good progress has been made, with comprehensive information on the measures being funded being brought together and maintained by my Department. My focus is on ensuring that these recommendations are implemented and that the best use is made of the funds available. I will check about the minutes of the meetings for the Deputy. I presume they will become public, as they should. I will confirm that for the Deputy. The fund allocation in 2017 was €30.192 million across all Departments. It is important that we are confident that the funding is going where it should.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State came back to me with the minutes because it is absolutely vital that we have transparency. Again, this has arisen because of a lack of transparency, significant underspending and a lack of preparedness. The review was finally carried out this year on foot of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and due to the fact that recommendations in the report for the period 2013 to 2016 had not been implemented. No action plan was implemented in 2015. I do not say this to embarrass but because this is serious funding for the community that is not actually getting to the community. Later this week, my colleagues in Galway West and I hope to raise a Topical Issue debate regarding an autism project in Galway. The Minister of State is aware of the project. While organisations are struggling, millions are sitting in the Dormant Accounts Fund. These millions are dormant and that should not be the case. That is the importance of this issue.

I again thank the Deputy. She is right. The diligence of the committee in coming up with the 15 recommendations has to be lauded. It is important that we take the recommendations on board. As the Minister of State with responsibility for the disbursement of the Dormant Accounts Fund, I will certainly be ensuring that everything is transparent. I repeat that €30 million - a not inconsiderable amount - has been allocated across the Departments of Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport; Health, Children and Youth Affairs, Rural and Community Development, Education and Skills and Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and the Prison Service. The money is being allocated. There are issues in that, perhaps, we may not have enough money for everybody. The Deputy mentioned the autism service in Galway. I was at the meeting. There are other groups like it which find themselves left in the crevices and not being picked up for funding. I have come across many more like that.