Ministerial Meetings

Ceisteanna (119)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

119. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on his meeting with the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer; the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38836/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I have met with my colleague the UK Chancellor Sajid Javid, on three occasions since he took office. On 6 August in London, on 13 September in Helsinki at the informal ECOFIN meeting, and most recently I hosted him in Farmleigh House for a bilateral meeting on 19 September.

My meetings with Chancellor Javid have provided an opportunity to engage constructively on the strong relationship between our countries, the importance of trade between the two economies, and on the many areas of common interest shared by Ireland and the UK.

Whilst of course Article 50 negotiations are a matter for the EU Commission, through the Article 50 taskforce, led by M. Barnier, this meeting was also an occasion to exchange perspectives on Brexit and provided a useful opportunity to better understand the UK Government perspective in the negotiations and to outline the Irish Government position.

In our discussion, the Chancellor set out the current position of the UK Government and I in turn outlined the Irish Government and EU 27’s well-stated position that, while we are open to considering detailed, credible and legally-operable UK proposals, unless and until it is shown that any alternative arrangements can achieve the same aims as the backstop, the EU position remains that the Withdrawal agreement, including the backstop is the only way forward. I welcomed the intensification of discussions between the European Commission and the UK. I also outlined the importance of protecting the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.

Duty Free Sales

Ceisteanna (120)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

120. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Finance if he has discussed the introduction of duty free in the event of a hard Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38837/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The UK Chancellor announced, on the 10th September, that the UK Government intends to reintroduce duty-free shopping for passengers travelling to EU countries, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October next.

If the UK leaves without a deal, the UK will assume the status of a ‘third country’ in terms of their trading relationship with the European Union. Earlier this year, the Oireachtas passed extensive legislation covering contingency arrangements in relation to the exit of the UK from the EU under these circumstances. The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 was published on 22 February. It completed all Oireachtas stages on 13 March and was signed into law by the President on 17 March 2019.

The legislation introduced a specific measure relating to Duty Free sales between Ireland and the UK in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. The provision, contained in the Act, was designed as a contingency measure as it was anticipated that a solution to such matters would form part of a future relationship agreement between the EU and UK.

In the Act, I made provision to impose restrictions on duty-free sales in Ireland to UK bound travellers, which I planned to implement if the UK introduced similar restrictions in respect of Ireland bound travellers in the UK. As the UK has now decided, in the event of a no deal Brexit, to apply an unrestricted duty-free scheme, in line with this reciprocal policy Ireland will not now commence the relevant legislative measure. Therefore, European Union Duty Free rules, in relation to passenger travel between the EU and third countries, would apply from 31 October.

This policy is in compliance with EU law and Ireland’s international obligations.

Budget Timetable

Ceisteanna (121)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

121. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the options open to considering European semester requirements and other conventions of a second budget once the outcome of Brexit negotiations is known. [38868/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Regulation (EU) 473/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council (part of the so-called ‘two-pack’) introduces a common budgetary timeline for euro area Member States. Specifically, Draft Budgetary Plans for the forthcoming year must be submitted to the European Commission and to the Eurogroup by 15th October each year.

I will present Budget 2020 to Dáil Éireann on the 8th of October and I intend to submit Ireland's 2020 Draft Budgetary Plan to the European Commission by the 15th October. As agreed by Government, this Budget will be based on the assumption - purely for budgetary purposes - of a disorderly exit of the UK from the European Union.

I have outlined on several occasions that, irrespective of the actual Brexit outcome, there will be no additional Budget for next year. This position has not changed.

Living Wage

Ceisteanna (122)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

122. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of workers employed by his Department and in each office or agency under the aegis of his Department who earn less than the living wage of €12.30 per hour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38242/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, the National Minimum Wage is a statutory entitlement and has a legislative basis. The Low Pay Commission annually assesses the appropriate level of the National Minimum Wage. The current national minimum hourly rate of pay, since 1 January 2019, is €9.80 per hour, as set out in the National Minimum Wage Order 2018. The Living Wage, to which this Question refers, has no legislative basis and is therefore not a statutory entitlement.

My Department employs 57 members of staff earning less than €12.30 per hour, 29 of which are employed at the Office of Government Procurement. The remaining includes 6 apprentices taking part in an ICT Associate Professional Apprentice Programme.

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to the bodies under the aegis of my Department is set out in the table below.

Bodies under the Aegis

Number of Staff earning less than €12.30 per hour

Office of Public Works

212

Office of the Ombudsman

15

Public Appointments Service

73

State Lab

4

National Shared Services Office

343

Office of the National Lottery Regulator

1

Public Sector Pensions

Ceisteanna (123)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

123. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the case of a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; the status of full restoration in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38416/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I would advise the Deputy that while pensions for An Garda Síochána (the employer in this case) are a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality, as the matter raised relates to pension policy for the public service generally, I will address the questions raised.

Firstly, I should clarify that retirement lump sum payments under public service pension schemes were not directly reduced by the Financial Emergency Measure in the Public Interest (FEMPI) legislation. The FEMPI legislation implemented measures that directly reduced the pay of serving staff and introduced a Public Service Pension Reduction for pensions in payment, subject to certain rates, thresholds and exemptions. As both the annual pensions and lump sum payments of members of pre-existing public service pension schemes (i.e. excluding the Single Public Service Pension Scheme) are directly linked to salary at retirement, the reductions to the pay of public servants would have had a knock on impact on the lump sum payment they received at retirement.

However, because of what is known as the first ‘grace period’, those who retired between 1 January 2010 and 29 February 2012 did not have the first FEMPI pay reduction (imposed 1 January 2010) reflected in the salary rate used to calculate their annual pension or their lump sum. A second round of FEMPI reductions was imposed in 2013 (imposed on 1 July on public servants with an annual remuneration above €65,000). The second ‘grace period’ meant that those who retired from that point onwards (assuming their pay was affected by those reductions while still serving) did not have those reductions reflected in the salary rate used to calculate their annual pension or lump sum.

Rather than enter into the details of the individual case, which, as I say, is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality, I would note that where retirement occurred after 1 March 2012, the retirement lump sum would be calculated by reference to the salary rates in payment on 1 January 2010 (i.e. following the first FEMPI pay reduction). If the salary was subject to the second FEMPI reduction on 1 July 2013, the operation of the second grace period would mean that the lump sum would still have been calculated by reference to the 1 January 2010 rate.

In accordance with normal public service pension arrangements, retirement lump sums are calculated on the rates of salary that a public servant is in receipt of at time of retirement (with the exception of the 'grace period' protection I have described above). I have no proposals to make any change in this regard.

Secondly, in relation to pension increases, the current policy applying to pensions paid under pre-existing pension schemes was agreed by the Government as part of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 (PSSA). This policy is essentially a time-limited (expires end-2020) resumption of the non-statutory pension increase arrangements, sometimes known as pay parity, which formerly prevailed, but which lapsed in 2010. Under that policy, pay increases applied to serving staff over the course of the PSSA are passed on to those annual pensions where the salary on which the annual pension is based, in any case, does not exceed the salary of a serving staff member with the same grade and scale point, after the pay increase has been applied. If it qualifies, the annual pension is eligible for an increase to the extent that this will ensure alignment with the pay of serving staff.

Guidance on operation of the pension increase policy is set out in my Department’s Circular 02/2018, while further instructions have recently been issued in Circular 19/2019.

Finally, if the pension in question remains subject to the Public Service Pension Reduction (PSPR), the individual will qualify for a further lessening of its impact, or, indeed, its total removal in 2019 or 2020. The Deputy should also note that, no later than 31 December 2020, I will make an order which will specify a date for the full removal of PSPR from the residual group of PSPR-affected pensions.

Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General

Ceisteanna (124)

Michael Fitzmaurice

Ceist:

124. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of requests his Department received from the Office of Comptroller and Auditor General seeking approval for the recruitment of extra staff since 1 January 2018; the number of requests that are approved or refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38571/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Revised Estimates Volume 2019 provided €14,638,000 (Gross) for the operation of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. This allocation was provided following consideration of a business case received from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

This allocation represented an increase of some €661,000 (5%) on the gross amount of €13,977,000 for the operation of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General for 2018.

The year on year increase was driven, in part, by the Office’s need to increase their staff complement to further increase capacity in their examination and reporting programme.

Furthermore, and in line with the estimates process, I wish to inform the Deputy that a budgetary submission has been received by my Department from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding Budget 2020. This submission is currently under consideration by officials within my Department and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General will be informed of their budgetary allocation for 2020 as a matter of course.

Freedom of Information Fees

Ceisteanna (125)

David Cullinane

Ceist:

125. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the estimated full-year cost of abolishing all fees under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. [38673/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

It should be noted from the outset that in practice fees for making FOI requests were largely abolished under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. In general, no fee whatsoever is charged for applications under the 2014 Act by an individual for their personal information. This applies at all stages the FOI process, including with respect to a review by the Information Commissioner. Based on 2018 figures, this category amounts to almost 60% of all requests.

With respect to non-personal requests, application fees at the initial stage of the process were abolished under the 2014 Act. Fees of €30 and €50 respectively apply to internal reviews and reviews by the Information Commissioner, although these can be reduced to €10 and €15 respectively, or waived, where a requester holds a medical card. Based on 2018 figures, over 97% of non-personal requests were satisfactorily handled without the need for review, and as such no application fee was charged.

Available statistics do not dis-aggregate internal reviews of requests for personal information, to which no fee applies, and internal reviews of non-personal requests, nor are instances highlighted where reduced fees or a fee waiver applied, therefore it is not possible to state a precise sum recouped in application fees. Given that, in 2018, 40% of requests were for non-personal information, 1,082 internal reviews overall were carried out by public bodies, and the Commissioner carried out 328 reviews to which an application fee potentially applied, the total figure for all application fees paid in that year may be estimated at well below €40,000.

The legislation also provides for search and retrieval fees to be charged where a non-personal FOI request requires a minimum of five hours of work merely locating and gathering records. Therefore, a fee of this nature is only charged where a non-personal request is relatively large, and does not take account of the totality of the work involved in responding, but only the search and retrieval portion. The fee payable by a requester is capped at a maximum of €500, even where the cost of the work involved may exceed this, and may in appropriate cases be waived entirely on public interest grounds. Moreover, it should be noted that under the 2014 Act officials are obliged to assist requesters where appropriate in making a more focused request so as to meet their objectives by the most efficient possible means, and that there is nothing to prevent requesters making follow-up requests for additional information. No figures are available at present to confirm the exact proportion of non-personal requests that attracted a fee, or the total sum recouped by way of search and retrieval charges.

The final costing of a proposal to remove the remaining FOI fee provisions must also take account of the potential knock-on costs to the exchequer arising out of likely demands on the resources of both public bodies and the Information Commissioner through increased usage of their respective review functions, as well as, in the case of search and retrieval fees, the likely requirement to process a larger amount of more resource-intensive requests. An analysis of this nature has not been carried out to date, and as such no estimate can be provided in this regard.

As matters stand, administering the Freedom of Information system in the context of ever-increasing demand presents a significant administrative and resourcing challenge to public bodies. Since 2013, the last full year of operation for the previous legislation, the number of FOI requests received by public bodies has almost doubled to a total of 36,896 requests in 2018. The abolition of fees in most cases has been a significant contributory factor to this increase. In order to support this system, in 2019 the Office of the Information Commissioner was allocated a dedicated program budget of €3,292,000 out of the total allocation of €11,718,000 to the Ombudsman group, within which it shares certain support resources.

Estimating the true cost of the Freedom of Information system within public bodies has historically proven difficult, as doing so has been taken as necessitating an additional administrative burden on already hard-pressed decision makers to accurately record and collate the time spent on each request at various levels of seniority, as well as other associated costs. In this regard, the Central Policy Unit for Freedom of Information at my Department has recently initiated a project aiming at measuring the cost to the exchequer of administering FOI in a robust and user friendly manner. The methodology remains under development, however it is intended that a figure for the true cost of FOI should be available by mid-2020. Assuming that the number of requests continues on previous trends, it may be anticipated even at this juncture that the total cost will run well into eight figures.

Public Sector Pay

Ceisteanna (126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 136, 137)

David Cullinane

Ceist:

126. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time corporate compliance manager. [38674/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

127. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time legal adviser. [38675/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

128. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time principal solicitor. [38676/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

129. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time enforcement portfolio manager. [38677/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

130. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time enforcement lawyer. [38679/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

131. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time principal officer. [38680/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

132. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time professional accountant grade 1. [38681/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

133. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time State solicitor. [38682/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

136. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time executive officer. [38685/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

137. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time clerical officer. [38686/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 to 133, inclusive, 136 and 137 together.

The main civil service pay scales are published in circulars which are a matter of public record and available at https://www.gov.ie/en/circulars/. Rates from these scales have also been included in the list below for convenience.

Annual Wage Whole time as of 1st September 2019

Grade

Minimum Scale point PPC€

Max Scale Point / Long Service Increment as appropriate€

Corporate Compliance Manager

80,670

99,164

Legal Advisor – Assistant Secretary

139,628

159,725

Legal Advisor – Principal Officer

87,325

107,399

Principal Solicitor

87,325

107,399

Enforcement Portfolio Manager

87,325

107,399

Enforcement Lawyer

87,325

107,399

Principal Officer

87,325

107,399

Professional accountant grade 1

71,155

88,158

State Solicitor

32,716

83,740

Executive Officer

30,127

50,834

Clerical Officer

23,984

39,796

Public Sector Pay

Questions Nos. 136 and 137 answered with Question No. 126.

Ceisteanna (134, 135)

David Cullinane

Ceist:

134. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time assistant principal officer. [38683/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Cullinane

Ceist:

135. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time higher executive officer. [38684/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I am advised that officials from my Department have met with representatives of Wicklow County Council to discuss the future of Rockbrae House and surrounding lands and are currently waiting for an updated position from the Council with regard to any potential proposals they have for the property. Until these considerations are advanced I am unable to provide a position on the future of Rockbrae House at this juncture.

I recognise the outstanding contribution veterans have made to the State and in that regard my Department is committed to supporting IUNVA in recognition of their valued service.

Questions Nos. 136 and 137 answered with Question No. 126.

Garda Remuneration

Ceisteanna (138)

David Cullinane

Ceist:

138. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the yearly wage cost of a whole-time Garda Síochána detective inspector. [38687/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

This question would be a matter for the Minister of Justice and Equality as Garda Síochána staff are employed by his Department.