Public Service Pay Commission Reports

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers

Ceisteanna (6)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

6. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the Public Service Pay Commission will publish its reports on recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5763/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

While we are on the subject of the Public Service Pay Commission, notwithstanding the difference of opinion we have as to the credibility of the entirety of the recommendations, I seek an update on its similar responsibility with regard to recruitment and retention issues within the Defence Forces.

The Deputy will be aware that the Public Service Pay Commission was established by the Government in 2016 and tasked with examining pay levels across the public service. The commission made its first report to the Government in May 2017; we are debating that report today.

In respect of the Defence Forces, in its first report the pay commission noted that the force was experiencing a significant exit of trained and experienced personnel in areas such as engineering, ICT, pilots, avionic technicians and air traffic controllers, as well as encountering challenges in attracting direct entry personnel in specialist streams, including doctors, marine engineers and engineers.

In the context of these observations the commission, in its first report, suggested that:

consideration [should] be given to commissioning a more comprehensive examination of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams where difficulties are [clearly] evident.

As the Deputy will be aware, the first module was published by the commission in August 2018. The commission is currently examining recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces and certain other health grades and has not yet indicated a timeline for completion of this important module.

I defer to Deputy Jack Chambers.

A very unusual thing happened in autumn of 2018. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, informed the Dáil that the joint submission had been sent to the Public Service Pay Commission, which was between military management and the Department of Defence. We found out, in January of this year, that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had a central role in the aftermath of the apparent submission.

What did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform do around the changes made between military management and the Department of Defence? Why did it take three months for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to intervene in that process? In response to a parliamentary question the Minister said there was a collaborative basis between the management side parties to provide the commission with accurate and complete information. Is he saying there was inaccurate or incomplete information from military management and the Department of Defence? It appears that the Department is delaying on the issue of recruitment and retention and unusually intervening in a joint submission made by the civil and military sides in the Department of Defence. The Minister needs to clarify his Department's role in the matter. If he is playing a role in diluting the serious issues surrounding pay and conditions in order that he can uphold his top line on public pay, people working in the military will not place much hope in the report that will come from the Public Service Pay Commission. The Minister needs to clarify the matter.

The role my Department plays in these matters is entirely consistent with the one I have outlined for Deputy Shortall. My Department has responsibility for overseeing total pay policy and acting on behalf of the State as employer. My Department plays a role in making submissions to the commission that then looks at pay.

Deputy Jack Chambers should join together the two strands of the debate we are having today. I know that he will because I know how heavily engaged he is in this issue. If we get to the point where the Oireachtas believes the Public Service Pay Commission is not the appropriate way and does not accept the recommendations in respect of the health service, it will have profound consequences in how we deal with issues related to the Defence Forces.

I appreciate the fact that the Deputy wants to see the case advanced. However, if we do not have a collective agreement to deal with these matters, we will end up with sector after sector looking to leap ahead of other parts of the civil and public service. If we end up in that place, I am really concerned that the people who will ultimately suffer from the absence of a collective agreement are those on low and middle incomes. It is for that reason I believe the pay commission is a good tool to deal with these issues. The views the Oireachtas may offer on the work of the commission on health and the views on its recommendation will have a major effect on how the issues the Deputy is raising related to the Defence Forces can be resolved.

The commission is absolutely a tool to resolve pay complaints and difficulties. The issue I have is that I want to know what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform did in contaminating the joint submission made by military management and the Department of Defence. The Minister delayed the process for three months by interrupting the joint submission. I want him to clarify the Department’s role before the submission was made to the pay commission. The issue I have is whether the Department, in effect, muzzled the Department of Defence and military management. If the Minister diluted some of the recommendations and removed some of the serious issues for members of the Defence Forces, there is no credibility to the pay commission because it has not received the data or is not aware of the real-life circumstances of people working in the Defence Forces. We need to clarify what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform did in removing, adding to or diluting the core information sent in the joint submission from the Department of Defence and military management. The Minister has not clarified the matter today. In fact, he is involving himself and trying to filter and remove some of the core recommendations being made by the other parts of civil and military management. He needs to outline his role in that process. Otherwise, there is no credibility to the pay commission because it is not receiving real-time information on members of the Defence Forces.

Despite the Deputy not being clear on my role, the lack of clarity does not stop him from making the charge that we are contaminating or muzzling - to use his language - another part of government.

Did the Minister interfere?

As I said in response to the questions I have dealt with, it is simply our role, as the Department that represents the State as the employer, to ensure there is consistency of approach in how applications are made to the pay commission.

The Minister needs to clarify the matter.

What the Deputy does not acknowledge is that our submission is only one of many. Others will be made by groups that have views on the matter. It will then be up to the pay commission to reach an assessment of the matter.

I will give Deputy Cowen 30 seconds, but that is all he has because time is almost up.

Does the Department adjudicate on or mark the submissions made? Does it amend or alter them?

We will let the Minister answer.

Does the Department amend or correct submissions before it passes them to the commission?

The Deputy has asked the question. Let the Minister answer it.

We are involved in the drafting of submissions, about which I have been perfectly clear.

It is inappropriate interference.

We are involved, whether with the Department of Health, the Department of Defence or any other Department. At the end of the day, it has always been the case that the Department representing the State as the employer has a view on submissions. My colleagues in the Department of Defence and the Department of Health also look to have their views represented in the submission. That is what happened in this case.

Deputy Curran has tabled Question No. 7, but he is unavoidably absent. As Deputy Deering is not in the House, we will move on.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Flood Risk Management

Ceisteanna (9)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

9. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to outline the status of the flood relief works on the Upper Lee at Inchigeelagh and Ballingeary, County Cork; when the tranche of projects involving Inchigeelagh and Ballingeary will be announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5959/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

The threat of flooding is a source of constant concern for people in Inchigeelagh and Ballingeary. Residents in 14 houses in Inchigeelagh are under threat, as are 14 businesses, while there are 21 homes and 25 businesses in Ballingeary. The impact on people's lives and homes when a flood comes is severe. There have been plans - we have discussed them in the House – talked about previously to advance flood defences, but they do not seem to be advancing. Will the Minister of State update us on what is happening in the provision of flood defences in Inchigeelagh and Ballingeary in the interests of the people who live there?

In May 2018 I launched flood risk management plans for 29 river basins in Ireland. I identified a total of 118 flood relief projects to protect the main flood risk areas throughout the country. The plans and projects are a key part of the overall flood risk management strategy set out in the national development plan 2018 to 2027, involving a total investment of €1 billion over the ten years of the plan.

The proposed schemes for Ballingeary and Inchigeelagh are not in the first tranche of the project to be progressed. The OPW and Cork County Council are working closely to ensure the programme of flood relief projects identified by Cork County Council is kept under review and that all projects will commence as soon as possible within the ten-year timeframe of the programme investment. However, it is still open to Cork County Council to submit an application for funding under the OPW operated minor works flood mitigation and coastal protection scheme to undertake minor flood works to deal with problems in the area. The scheme's eligibility criteria include the requirement that the cost be beneficial. The details set out on the Office of Public Works website apply to all applications. Once consultants are appointed to progress the flood relief schemes identified in the flood risk management plan, consultation with statutory and non-statutory bodies, as well as the general public, takes place at the appropriate stages to ensure all parties have an opportunity to have an input in the development of the schemes.

I thank the Minister for outlining the up-to-date position. I am aware of the opportunity under the minor works scheme. The council has been undertaking various works, but the minor works are temporary in nature. They involve removing gravel and vegetation. As anyone knows, the river will bring back the gravel and vegetation will return. They are not long-term or real solutions. What is really needed is the long-term solution of flood defences. I realise the Minster of State is saying the schemes are not included in the first tranche. It was a real disappointment for people in Ballingeary and Inchigeelagh that they were not prioritised. Can they be prioritised in view of the constant threat? There are 21 homes in Ballingeary, while there are 14 householders in Inchigeelagh. When the flood comes, there will be no stopping it. Can the schemes be prioritised for inclusion in the next tranche of the project or even within the current tranche? By their nature, temporary works are not going to last long. We need to provide relief for people. We should also bear this in mind.

I fully appreciate from where the Deputy is coming. He has raised the issue several times in the Dáil. I respect the people he represents. However, I have outlined the position in allowing for minor works to take place.

I disagree with the Deputy. They actually work. We are open to the county council seeking help on the work in the interim for the benefit of the people for whom the Deputy fears. I am open to it but I have not received any application from Cork County Council relating to the two areas in question. If that happens, I will take it on board and work with the council. However, as I outlined, we have launched schemes under tranche 1 and are looking at some schemes under tranche 2, which I have announced. The Deputy has put questions to me but he needs to tell Cork County Council to talk to us in the Department. We will work with it but it must do that.

The smaller works are helpful and they give temporary relief but they are not the solution. Different temporary works have been carried out in both Inchigeelagh and Ballingeary but the long-term scheme must be advanced. People have seen the different drawings which have been presented and have given their input on where they see the flood and how the situation can be improved. The expectation is there. What is needed is for the wider scheme to be advanced and that there be no danger that smaller or temporary works might reduce the priority of a scheme at Inchigeelagh and Ballingeary which must be advanced so that the designs that have been presented to people are made a reality.

The county council is working with my Department on the larger scheme. As I said, we are still open to this. It is some time since Cork County Council came in on minor works. We changed the minor works application to allow substantial moneys to go to the local authorities to help with this issue while we deal with the overall bigger scheme. Cork County Council has had plenty of engagement with my Department in advance of the overall big scheme for the area and we are working on it together.

Deputy Deering has arrived in the Chamber and I have decided we will return to his question. I am sure no one will object. I ask him to keep it brief as he is being accommodated.

Climate Change Policy

Ceisteanna (8)

Pat Deering

Ceist:

8. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on whether the public spending code adequately takes carbon impact into account when decisions are being made on capital projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53194/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me in. I apologise for not being here earlier but my question came up earlier than I expected. I have come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action which has been very busy in recent weeks. Does the Minister believe that the public spending code takes adequate account of carbon impact on capital projects in the coming years? The Project Ireland 2040 plan announced some months ago was very ambitious. Does the spending code take into account the ambitious projects in that scheme?

Facing challenging and legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, it is imperative that the assessment of public investment projects includes an appropriate valuation of the cost that society will bear in dealing with these emissions.

Under the national mitigation plan, my Department committed to “undertake a review of guidance on public expenditure appraisal and evaluation to ensure their suitability to capturing key costs and benefits of climate measures”. This review concluded that the model used for pricing carbon in the public spending code is outdated. As such, in 2018 my Department published a consultation paper proposing significant reforms of how carbon is priced in the appraisal of capital projects.

The consultation paper proposed that future greenhouse gas emissions should be valued according to a shadow price of carbon that is based on the estimated marginal cost that will be faced by society in achieving Ireland’s legally binding 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target. In practical terms, this means a new shadow price of carbon for emissions not covered by the emissions trading scheme of €32 per tonne in 2020, rising to €100 per tonne by 2030. Beyond 2030, it is proposed that the shadow price of carbon will rise by 5% a year, reaching €265 by 2050. For any elements of projects that will affect emissions in sectors of the economy covered by the EU emissions trading scheme, ETS, the shadow price of carbon will continue to be based on the estimated future value of allowances in the ETS.

To be clear, the shadow price of carbon applies only to the public spending code which covers the evaluation of direct Government investment. It is not a direct cost borne by consumers, it is not a carbon tax, nor does it imply any future direction for carbon taxes.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. The greenhouse gas emissions challenge will be one of the biggest challenges of our generation as we try to reach our 2030 targets and beyond. Are the projects which have been announced, including some of the large, very ambitious projects included in Project Ireland 2040, still under the existing emissions targets or must they be repriced in future?

We will have to make decisions about projects when we consider the revised public spending code. I will decide the elements of the revised code shortly. I expect that when we do that with many of the key projects in Project Ireland 2040, particularly in the area of public transport, the case for doing them will become only stronger, especially given that the plan already has such a significant allocation for climate change related funding.

Will the action plan for climate change that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is to announce in coming months tie in to whatever revised estimates that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform may have to announce? I am glad to hear the Minister's commitment to the projects that are already there. It serves to re-emphasise a point I would make myself, namely, that the large infrastructural projects are needed to join up the dots for things that were missing during the lost years of the recession.

That is the case. We will complete the work we are doing on the public spending code. The public consultation on this only finished on 14 December. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is setting quite the pace in looking to publish the new climate action plan. I will do my best to try to keep up with that and ensure that any decisions we make on the public spending code, which must be integrated from a policy perspective, will conclude at the same time as the work being undertaken by the Minister, Deputy Bruton.

National Children's Hospital Expenditure

Ceisteanna (10)

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

10. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role of the Office of Government Procurement and the chief procurement officer in his Department in the delivery of the national children’s hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5954/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

The chief procurement officer was appointed in a personal capacity to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB, in 2013 for a five-year term by the then Minister for Health. He was reappointed in 2018 by the current Minister for Health. He is a member of several of the board’s committees.

The members of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, in line with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies and the board’s code of governance, have a fiduciary duty to the board in the first instance, a responsibility to act collectively in decision-making and communication, and an obligation to observe its confidentiality arrangements. The Department of Health, as the accountable Department for the children’s hospital project, established the reporting and governance arrangements for the project through which the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board provided regular updates to it on the project.

On the role of the Office of Government Procurement, responsibility for construction procurement policy and the associated capital works management framework lies with that office. Government policy requires the use of the capital works management framework on all projects delivered under the Exchequer-funded element of the public capital programme.

The public works contract is a key component of the capital works management framework and is a lump sum fixed-price contract that is to be used on all public works projects. It is possible for public bodies to seek a derogation from the use of the standard forms of contract. The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board commenced its formal engagement with the Government contracts committee for construction with a view to securing that derogation.

It is important to note that a derogation does not sanction the approach or strategy of the contracting authority, but simply acknowledges that the circumstances are such as to warrant a different approach than the standard. It is a matter for the contracting authority and the sanctioning authority to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the approach in terms of compliance with procurement rules and project appraisal in accordance with the public spending code.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am sure he is aware that there has been much discussion of the role of the procurement officer in question and whether he should have brought information on the cost overruns to the Minister. While I accept that a relevant code of practice is in place, one that clearly outlines that it is the chairman of a board who brings information to the relevant Minister, I am sure that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is aware of the circular setting out the procedure that a civil servant should follow if he or she believes there are issues of public concern. Has the Minister held discussions with the officer since the controversy about the cost overruns broke?

Does Deputy Cowen wish to ask a supplementary question?

Yes. When the Taoiseach was asked about this earlier in the week, he said that the duty was, as the Minister said, to the board and that it was the duty of the chair of the board to report to the line Minister. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, did not mention that. Rather, he said that it was the duty of the board to report to the Department of Health. Is it also the duty of the chair to report to the line Minister? If the chair was not regularly reporting to the line Minister, is it not the fault of the line Minister not to have sought that information, given that, according to information now in the public domain, he was not aware of progress on this matter for up to a year?

Regarding the first question, I met the official to whom the Deputy referred. I am absolutely satisfied that he met all of the responsibilities that he had as a member of the board. I have worked with him since becoming Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and have seen at all times his professionalism and expertise in discharging his responsibilities.

Regarding Deputy Cowen's question, the circular is very clear. It says that if the person who is on the board does not feel that his or her concerns about an issue are being relayed by the chair of the board to the Department, that person has a duty to raise issues with the line Minister himself or herself. It was the view of Mr. Quinn that this matter was being dealt with by the board. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has outlined how the information was made available to his Department and then to him.

I want to be sure I understand this. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is saying that Mr. Quinn was happy with the reporting structure that was in place and that information on the cost overruns was being passed to the line Minister in question. We can only presume he was happy because he did not do any of the actions outlined in the circular.

Will the Minister confirm when he met Mr. Quinn and whether they discussed the cost overruns at the children's hospital? Did the Minister ask Mr. Quinn whether he had raised any concern with the chairperson with a view to that information being passed on? Was Mr. Quinn under the understanding that such information was being relayed to the line Minister in a timely fashion?

I met him on Tuesday. He was satisfied that the issue was being dealt with appropriately in the board. I am absolutely satisfied from my engagement with him that he was handling his responsibilities appropriately. He was satisfied that the information was being shared with the Department of Health. I am satisfied that that happened too.

Flood Risk Management

Ceisteanna (11)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

11. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details on the management of the River Shannon as part of the Managing Flood Risk in Ireland report; the timelines of the projects announced in the report; the annual allocation until 2027; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5764/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

I would like details about the timelines of the projects contained within this report and the annual allocation up to 2027, and confirmation that this week's events relating to the capital development plan will not impinge on this report or the funding that is needed to implement it. I trust that, given where the Minister of State is from, he will ensure that.

On 3 May, I was delighted to launch 29 flood risk management plans and announce investment of €1 billion in flood risk management as part of Project Ireland 2040. These plans are the output from the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, the largest flood risk study ever carried out in the State. They set out the measures proposed to address flood risk nationally and include 19 new flood relief schemes to protect towns in the River Shannon catchment in addition to the scheme already under way in Athlone. Twelve of these have been prioritised as part of the ten-year programme.

Since the launch of the plans, the OPW and local authorities have been pro-actively engaging to advance the implementation of these schemes. Engagement with the local authorities is ongoing in respect of Springfield, Ballinasloe, Nenagh, Longford, Rahan, Castleconnell, Mohill, Leitrim, Clonaslee, Carrick-on-Shannon, Killaloe and, in Limerick city, King's Island and its environs. The procurement of consultants for the detailed design of these projects will commence in the near future.

Capital funding for the delivery of the existing schemes and the additional schemes identified by the flood risk management has been provided by the Government in the Project Ireland 2040 plan. Expenditure on flood risk management will increase to €100 million annually by 2021.

In January 2016, the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group was established by the Government to support the CFRAM programme and further enhance the ongoing co-operation across all of the State agencies involved with the River Shannon, including the ESB, Waterways Ireland, Bord na Móna, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the OPW and the relevant local authorities. The Shannon group has taken a number of significant decisions since its establishment, including targeted maintenance at a number of locations, trialling the lowering of the levels on Lough Allen, studies to explore managing flood risk at the Shannon callows and lowering the Shannon below Parteen weir.

I will ask Deputy Eugene Murphy to take my supplementary question.

That is agreed.

I thank the Minister for State for his reply. Like him, if I go out my back door or front door, I am not too far from part of the River Shannon, be that Roosky, Termonbarry or Ballyleague-Lanesborough. The Minister of State and his staff keep in contact with me, given my role in this matter.

Questions are being asked following what we have been told about the overspend on the children's hospital. Is any of these projects going to be hit? The Minister of State will agree that many areas that will experience difficulties are not included in the CFRAM programme of maintenance. Climate change is having an effect and we will have more severe storms. For example, the west coast has been promised very bad weather tonight and tomorrow. We hope it will not be as bad as people are saying. As the Minister of State knows, even inland areas are being flooded that never flooded before. Will he confirm that the €100 million he mentioned will be spent per annum?

I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from on this matter. We work together and have regular phone calls on it. He will acknowledge our commitment regarding the money. Since I started in this job, the amount has increased from €40 million to almost €70 million, and we will increase it further to €100 million. However, spending that money can be difficult at times.

One could have an objection to a scheme or judicial reviews or all such issues that can hold up the delivery of the schemes. My Department is working with the local authorities right around the country. The Deputy himself can see that.

In particular, on the question proposed regarding the River Shannon, it is probably the first time in years. The Deputies will be well aware that many taoisigh travelled around the country on the back of a tractor along the River Shannon. Commitments were given and things done, and nothing has happened. Over the past three years, and particularly since I came into office, the Deputies will be aware of the risks with the high levels and what we have done to maintain them through working with all agencies across the Shannon catchment. Work is happening. They are up in Carrick-on-Shannon, as the Deputies are aware, and we announced its funding recently. Athlone is well on the way. Even in Portavola, Banagher, which has been talked about for years, the job is finished. It is done. As for the targeted maintenance, we received nine licences. We have done the work on seven and are back in there at present doing more work. We are actively involved with each one. On the question regarding the country overall, I am committed to spending the funding I have available but it is not always easy to spend all of it.

I accept that one can run into difficulties and problems. However, a few things concern me in this regard. I acknowledge the Minister of State's undoubted role in this. He is in contact and some works are being carried on. In my county, however, because of the flooding and because the River Shannon runs from one end of the county to the other, people who should be relocated have not been relocated. I accept certain works are being done on the River Shannon. In terms of maintenance and the amount of silt and peat in the River Shannon, I had thought there was some agreement with Bord na Móna that there would be a pilot scheme to remove some of it. Finally, my party brought forward a Bill on the ESB's control over the levels of water on the River Shannon. That Bill has been sitting there for probably two years at this stage and it needs to be progressed. I am sure the Minister of State agrees that we need to provide a single management board in charge of the River Shannon, rather than having all these groups.

I appreciate the effort the Minister of State has made. I do not question that in any way. Because of climate change, however, we must get twice as busy and twice as serious about this.

On the Deputy's first question on relocation, he referred to County Roscommon, which I have visited on many occasions. As for Lough Funshinagh, plenty of people have made promises. I have delivered in terms of the funding to the local authority to come in looking for a scheme, and we will make that happen.

The Deputy talks about the relocation scheme. I have sat in kitchens with people around this country. One hundred and thirty-four people applied for it. There are now 36 looking to move. People do not want to move. In some cases, people have come and said that they would move and we are working with those people, but when one returns and engages with them, they say it did not rain this year or they did not experience high floods and would like to stay. We are asking people to give up their family home to move. In some cases, people just do not want to and they work on it.

What was the other question the Deputy posed? The Deputy asked three questions.

A broad authority.

On an overall authority, I totally disagree with Deputy Eugene Murphy.

We must agree to differ. I can only commend the co-operation I am getting from all State agencies on the Shannon, from the ESB to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which many Members in this House have criticised. They have worked closely with me. We made things happen. In Portrane, people were talking about houses falling into the sea for years. We sat down with the different agencies, in particular, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, that made that work happen. We are doing that right around the country. A single agency around the Shannon will not work. What we have, in terms of the steering group, is working and work is happening.

Heritage Sites

Questions Nos. 13 and 14 replied to with Written Answers.

Ceisteanna (12)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

12. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to make improvements to the round tower in Kells, County Meath. [5756/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

Currently, the round tower in Kells, County Meath, is not accessible to the public. Last year, however, the Office of Public Works, OPW, started a project to facilitate visitors. Some early work has been done to clear the tower of decades of accumulated bird debris and to carry out building surveys. These surveys will facilitate the development of a design solution that it is hoped, once it has been approved by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, will result in the provision of a safe access for visitors to the tower.

I welcome the Minister of State's answer. I will try to flesh out a little more detail. The Kells round tower is one of the most important monuments in the country. People in Kells have felt historically, and justifiably, that Newgrange, which is a world heritage site, has got most of the attention but there is considerable potential to have our heritage on show from the side of the street or from the grounds of a church-owned monastery and that the public would be able to have access to it.

When would the Minister of State expect design solutions to be put in place and when would he expect those then to go to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and for there to be public access? Is there a plan to fund public access as well? Obviously, one can have the design solution, which is welcome and important and must happen, but then one needs the ongoing expenditure and money it will cost to allow the public in to see this monument.

As for my role in heritage, the Deputy will be aware that on my first appointment, I let children and persons with disabilities and their carers into the heritage sites for free. I am very much committed to heritage.

This is a site I have visited. This is a site on which the Minister of State, Deputy English, has me wound up to make something happen and we made something happen towards the end of last year. We are now progressing that. However, there are engagements. Deputy Thomas Byrne knows the tower better than do I. The safety of the public is most important. Given that the work has now started, we will see it come to conclusion. We must work with the other Minister to achieve a successful outcome for the people and the heritage of this country.

I strongly encourage the two Departments to work together with the Kells and district tourism network, the Kells municipal district council, Meath County Council and the local community. People will welcome this. They are delighted that something is happening in this regard and certainly would like to see that come to fruition. There is much effort in Kells at present to promote the town and to bring people together and this will help enormously. Obviously, we are impatient, while welcoming everything the Minister of State said today.

I appreciate that and I thank the Deputy. I met the heritage group and I am aware of what it is trying to do. I like to work with such groups that have shown the enthusiasm to make things happen, and that is what I intend to do. We are working with the other Department to make it happen.

Questions Nos. 13 and 14 replied to with Written Answers.

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Programme

Ceisteanna (15)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

15. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way in which his Department monitors expenditure on large national capital projects; the way in which spending controls in relation to procurement and construction of these projects compare to other EU and OECD jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1098/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (24 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, might remember a few months ago I asked him about procurement systems from the Department. We had been talking about the chief procurement officer in earlier questions. I note that in the previous Government, in May 2014, the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board recommended a derogation, in other words, a different two-stage approach to procurement. This is the context.

There is a budget oversight unit in the Department and there seems to have been a formal approach about that to the effect that there would have to be a two-stage procurement process.

I thank the Deputy.

Then there was another circular in January of 2016, also in the lifetime of the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, and then, subsequently, a date in early 2017. Given the dangers of two-stage procurement, was this poor oversight and a crazy performance by the Department?

The question the Deputy just put to me bears no relation to the one I have in front of me.

It does. I asked how does the conduct procurement for large projects. We were talking about the metro last week, for example. I am asking about two-stage procurement. The Minister already provided me with a short written answer about two-stage procurement, given that we know about building contracts in the past.

Can we hear the Minister, please?

I am merely trying to help the Minister.

I am not sure Deputy Broughan is. It is Question No. 15.

We are dealing with Question No. 15, if the Minister would answer the question in front of him.

The role of my Department is in respect of the monitoring of overall expenditure by Departments. Of course, individual Departments play a key role in individual projects. The management and delivery of individual projects within the overall capital allocation is primarily the responsibility of the relevant sponsoring Department and Minister.

A public investment management assessment, PIMA, mission to Ireland was undertaken by the IMF in July 2017, which assessed our management of public capital resources compared with what would be expected in an advanced economy. Its final report was published on my Department's website on 10 November 2017.

The PIMA report concluded that, overall, Ireland manages its public infrastructure relatively well.

It highlights both strengths and weaknesses and contains a number of recommendations to improve future performance in terms of the efficiency of public capital investment. The national development plan, published in February 2018, sets out planned improvements for the management of capital spend, drawing in particular on the 2017 PIMA report.

More generally, in the context of the ongoing review of the public spending code, I will be giving consideration to how the current arrangements for procurement and management of major capital works contracts can be further refined and enhanced, with a view to maintaining and strengthening the focus upon value for money.

The Minister was asked how he monitors major procurement contracts. I looked at the agendas for the management board meetings and it appears that every quarter, there is an agenda item for high-level risks. During all the time the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has been the Minister, surely there was feedback through the Department of Health that there was a high-level risk with the escalation and ballooning of costs for the national children's hospital. Surely this was brought to the Minister's attention way back in early 2018 or even in 2017 since the formation of the Varadkar Administration. Was the management committee not aware, for example, that there was a derogation on the two-stage procurement? Was the committee aware that a contractor would be doing the pile driving and so on but another contractor would be coming along with a totally separate bill for the building itself? Surely the management committee knew this was the case and that the procurement was not working. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has appeared before the Committee on Budgetary Oversight several times with regard to the budget. I have a motion down in the Dáil clár about this.

The Deputy is out of time.

The Minister never told us about this risk when he must have known that it was ongoing and that it was happening.

Deputy Broughan has made his point.

Has this not been a failure for the Minister? It has been a grotesque failure by him and by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

I have outlined to the House on a number of occasions the timeline upon which I and my Department became aware of the overspend. We have outlined the timing during which this happened from early November onwards and we have outlined the work the Department of Health has done to get to this point. Clearly there are learnings we have to look at in respect of the implementation of a two-stage procurement process. It appeared to be appropriate then for a project of this scale. Amidst the language the Deputy used, such as "grotesque failure", I hope he also would give recognition to all the projects, including within the Department of Health, that are built and that are making differences for communities and citizens at present, as well as those projects that are being built as we speak through procurement and tendering processes that have worked well.

Is it not the case that the Department of Health and the HSE knew in April 2018 at the latest that there was no figure for the guaranteed maximum price for the second stage of this procurement project? There was no figure and we did not know what figure we were facing. There seems to have been total disagreement between the national paediatric hospital's quantity surveyors and the building contractors, BAM. Surely we knew that the issue existed way back, possibly this time last year, and that we were facing some guaranteed maximum price the size of which we did not know. I recall the Taoiseach speaking first of putting €400 million to €650 million by for this project. Was it a mistake by the Government to put the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform back into the Department of Finance? Would it not have been better if the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, had simply been the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and able to do his job-----

Please, Deputy.

-----which is to monitor our spending and not to spend €1 billion of the people's money in the way he has done?

It was due to the integration of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that we have been able to move ahead on projects overall such as Project Ireland 2040. Because the two Departments are located under me as Minister, we are able to make integrated decisions on taxation and spending. We are able to look at the level of money we need to raise to deliver new projects or to continue to deliver on projects currently under way. We are able to make taxation decisions that fit into doing that. Deputy Broughan is quick enough to point to the failure of this project but I put it to the Deputy that we have many other projects across the State and many other decisions that have been made.

Other trouble in other contracts also.

A decision was made this week on the Collooney to Castlebaldwin motorway, for example.

Other public private partnership projects to report.

This project is a much-needed motorway. It can and will make a very big difference to commuters and citizens in the State. Other projects are going ahead successfully about which we never hear a word of recognition from Deputy Broughan.

Public Sector Staff Retirements

Ceisteanna (16, 41)

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

16. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of the report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on the cohort of workers that will leave the interim arrangements and retire under the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5955/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

41. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the report under section 3 of the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 will be published; if the report will include options for persons that are working on interim arrangements due to reaching 65 years of age in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5766/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 41 together.

The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 provides for an increase to age 70 in the compulsory retirement age of most public servants recruited before 1 April 2004.

The Act provides that I, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will, within three months of the passing of the Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the public servants who were forced to retire between 6 December 2017 and the commencement of the Act, due to reaching the age of 65 years, and on potential remedies to assist this cohort of worker.

As the Deputies are aware, public servants who reached the compulsory retirement age of 65 before the new legislation was enacted were required to retire in accordance with the statutory compulsory retirement age in effect at the time. Those who availed of the interim arrangements did so in the knowledge that the contract was for one year only, until they reached the age of 66. The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 has no effect on those public servants who availed of the interim arrangements. The terms of their fixed term contracts will continue to apply and they will cease working at age 66 as previously provided.

Work on the report under section 3A(6) has commenced. The report will be prepared in accordance with the provisions and the timelines provided for in the Act.

When we were dealing with the legislation previously, Deputy Cowen and I outlined the issue facing this cohort of people and the unfairness attached to the situation. A commitment was given that the report would address these issues. I now hear that the report will not address this cohort of people and they will just have to retire at 66 and that is it. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this is the case.

During the passage of that legislation, and on foot of amendments put forward by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien and me, the Minister agreed that because the application of the legislation could not be retrospective he would - within three months - bring forward the report that has been alluded to. Are we still on that timeframe? If we are, when can we expect its publication? I do not expect any indication as to how it will be resolved until the report is before the House.

I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan to take this point.

At the time of the legislation going through the Houses, and on foot of the Deputies' amendments, we undertook to insert a provision into the Bill for a report. The report is under way, as the Minister has said. During the passage of the Bill in the Dáil and the Seanad, I had said that we also have to be cognisant of others, and Members agreed with me. There is this cohort, and we all share in concern for them, but we also must be mindful of those public sector workers who did not avail of those interim arrangements. If we were to enter into an arrangement - which the Attorney General has advised is not possible without legislative remedies on foot of the report - where would it leave those public servants who retired with a commitment from the Government that the interim arrangements were just that? We had good discussions in the Houses and on Committee Stage about what would we do with the public servants who had decided not to enter into interim arrangements. There was no real answer forthcoming on that. It was pointed out, and the Government and I understood, that there was a difficulty for those people. When the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, announced the Bill and the parameters of the legislation, and when the Bill was brought into the House, it was made very clear that - unfortunately for the people concerned - the arrangements for those reaching the age of 65 in 2018 were interim arrangements only for one year until they reach the age of 66. Some other people had also fallen out of their interim arrangements during the passage of the Bill, and the delay in the legislation.

I do not disagree with what the Minister of State says, but my understanding was that the report was going to look at possible remedies. While we all accepted the advice the Minister of State was given about this cohort of people who may not have accepted the interim arrangements and the unfairness in that regard, I certainly understood we would look at this issue as part of the report and, I hope, find a way forward. Whether it would be through a legislative or other solution, no one could say before the report was completed. However, that is not impression I am now getting in terms of what the report will indicate. We will just have to wait for it.

Without going that far, I have every faith in the commitment given at the time that a report would be put before the House which would possibly offer remedies to that cohort who we all agree were left in something of a limbo by the announcement, enactment and year's grace. They were caught in the middle. Will the Minister of State confirm when he expects the report to be finalised?

As the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said, work has started. We gave a commitment in the legislation to work within the timeframe of the Bill. I was very clear in pointing out at the time, both here and in the Seanad, that while a report might be laid before the Houses, it might not provide the remedies for which we had all hoped. If there is a remedy, it may require legislation to give effect to it. I made it very clear, as did the Government more widely, that there might not be a remedy, taking into account those who were included in this arrangement. More importantly, I refer to those who did not avail of the interim arrangements because of the very clear commitment of the Government that those who entered into them were doing so for one year only and that there would be no continuation, regardless of when the legislation was passed. I understand the concerns. The Government and everyone in the House understand them. However, based on the commitment given at the time of the publication of the Bill, we were left with the decision we were left with when the Bill passed into law.

Rather than pre-empt the content and negative connotations the Minister of State puts on it, when will the report be forthcoming?

As the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said, work on it is under way. We gave a commitment to work within the timeframe. I do not want it to be suggested there are negative connotations. I want to be upfront with the House. When I agreed to accept the amendment, I did so in the full knowledge that it was not a panacea or magic wand. I do not want false hope to be held out to the people concerned. They had a difficulty when they entered into the arrangement and I want to be upfront with them. I said at the time that if, when the report was brought before the House, there were remedies, the Government would look at them. However, I also want to be realistic and upfront based on the advice we have received from the Office of the Attorney General.

National Monuments

Ceisteanna (17)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

17. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans for permanent tourist access to St. Colmcille's house in Kells, County Meath. [5757/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

As with my last question, I refer to another unhappy situation with regard to access to St. Colmcille's house in Kells. There has been no access to it for tourists since last summer. While work is ongoing, the pace of change is slow. I am also concerned about other sites nationally where similar scenarios could emerge where a keyholder retires and access for tourists ceases.

Public access to the historic St. Colmcille's house in Kells was previously available through a local keyholder who lived near the site. This system worked well for many years, with a significant number of visitors gaining entry and good positive feedback being received from them. However, the person in question retired unexpectedly from the post early last year and has not yet been replaced. The OPW is working with Meath County Council to put in place a new arrangement whereby the key will be held in the local heritage centre facility which has recently been opened and which will in the future be a major focus for tourists in the town. In addition, the OPW is engaging with a local tourism group, with a view to appointing another local keyholder who will be able to address issues at the site that cannot be managed by the heritage centre. This is being done to ensure the greatest possible access to the site will be restored, while also making sure the historic building is not damaged.

I pay tribute to Mrs. Carpenter and her family who have provided access for the public to St. Colmcille's house for decades. She retired last summer and the town, wider region, tourists, archaeologists and historians were very grateful to gain that access through her. Keyholders nationally provide access for limited reward and from a sense of love for their native towns and areas. They take on the role with the OPW for the greater good, for which I pay tribute to them. It is unfortunate, however, that when someone retires, having done tremendous work over many decades, significantly beyond normal retirement age, as discussed in the previous question I tabled, matters are left to stand with no access being provided. There is no succession plan from the OPW. I pay tribute to the Kells and district tourism network which the OPW is asking to find a keyholder. While it will be good if someone suitable and willing to do the work is found, which I hope will happen, it is a burdensome role from the perspective of what is required by the OPW. I accept that it is probably necessarily so, given what needs to be done to ensure a monument is protected and people are let in. However, the OPW and the local authority must play a more proactive role to ensure the huge gaps in access will not occur and that the particular gap will be closed as soon as possible.

I appreciate fully where the Deputy is coming from, but it is not fair to say the OPW is not engaging with the local authority and the tourism group. We had a meeting in my office just before Christmas and hope to advance the matter to a conclusion shortly.

While work is now taking place, there was a long period last summer - a very important time - when things were moving very slowly and people did not know what was happening. I acknowledge that work is now taking place, but it should not all be left to voluntary tourism groups. It is something to watch out for in the future. Last night I attended a meeting in Clonalvy, County Meath where there is another extremely important monument, FourKnocks, which is of equal standing to the momuments in Newgrange and Knowth. Mr. White continues to give out the key on a regular basis. There are so many such sites nationally that it was about time someone acknowledged it. The OPW probably does so, but the individuals in question should be acknowledged nationally for the work they do to keep the sites open, while places that are considered to be more important, whether it be World Heritage Organisation sites such as Newgrange or sites in other parts of the country which historically have had more political clout, have visitor centres, seen substantial developments or have full-time staff. The people in question do a great deal of work and it is important that it be recognised.

Certainly, I acknowledge all of the good work they have done throughout the country. The matter the Deputy has raised in his question was brought to my attention just before Christmas. Once I had the meeting, I commenced to move it to a successful conclusion. We are working closely with the parties involved. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, brought the matter to my attention just before Christmas and set up the meeting. The matter is now moving towards finality for those involved.

I brought it to the attention of the Minister of State's officials.

The Deputy might have brought it to the attention of officials, but if he brings it to my attention, I will act. No matter what Member comes to me with a query, I will follow it up. If it is placed in front of me like the matter in Kells, I will deal with it. I appreciate that it was brought forward.

River Basin Management Plans

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Ceisteanna (18)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

18. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to include more river systems under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 such as the River Erne system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5951/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

Very few of the river systems in County Cavan are included under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. The River Erne is a major waterway which, unfortunately, causes serious flooding in parts of counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Donegal. I ask that consideration be given to amending the 1945 Act to include further major river systems such as the River Erne navigation system which is a critical waterway through the three aforementioned counties. The river rises in County Cavan and flows into County Fermanagh and on to County Donegal. There are particular problems in County Fermanagh and I have been urging the Department, with its counterpart in Northern Ireland, to address the flooding issues. Adequate drainage works will never be carried out if they are only done piecemeal under small-scale schemes. The River Erne must be brought under the 1945 Act and a proper programme of drainage and remediation works put in place.

As there is no time remaining, the Minister of State's reply will appear in the Official Report.

Let me say the following. The Deputy has asked me to visit the neck of the woods mentioned to see if something can be sorted out. That is a commitment I will give him. Later in the year I hope to meet him and other Members from the area.

When the Minister of State is finished here, there will be a job for him in the United Nations.

I am glad that the Ceann Comhairle thinks of me in that way.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Historically, flood risk management focused on the arterial drainage of river catchments to improve agricultural land. The maintenance of arterial and drainage district channels, as designated under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945, is the responsibility of the OPW and local authorities, respectively. It includes maintenance by the OPW of the Boyne, Inny and Glyde-and-Dee arterial drainage schemes in County Cavan. In 2018 it included 78 km of river channel maintenance at an estimated cost of €460,000. Owing to nationally increasing urbanisation, the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 was amended in 1995 to facilitate the OPW's implementation of localised flood relief schemes to provide flood protection for cities, towns and villages.

Flood risk management plans were launched in May 2018, following the largest ever study of flood risk in Ireland. The study identified that Government investment was feasible to protect 95% of properties assessed as being at risk from significant flooding through flood relief schemes. Together with this legislative amendment and in line with the Government's 2004 policy on flood risk management, the OPW has no plans for catchment-wide arterial drainage schemes. However, to target the management of flood risk outside cities, towns and villages, in 2009 the OPW introduced the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to provide funding for local authorities to undertake flood mitigation works or studies to address localised flooding and coastal protection problems within their administrative areas. Since 2009, approximately €46.4 million has been approved for in excess of 720 projects throughout the country, which illustrates the scheme's many benefits for communities all over Ireland.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.