Thursday, 14 November 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Barry Cowen


1. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when Supplementary Estimates will be brought forward for 2019; the estimated amount required for Supplementary Estimates in 2019; the Departments that will require extra funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46823/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

Deputy Cowen's Priority Questions are being taken by Deputy Calleary.

Since 2012, €6.3 billion has been brought forward in Supplementary Estimates. This is the time of year when such provisions are normally introduced. What is the anticipated figure for Supplementary Estimates for this year and the timeline for introducing those Estimates? In particular, what is the forecasted Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Health?

Expenditure Report 2020 outlined the requirement for Supplementary Estimates for a number of Votes in 2019. These supplementary provisions arise as a result of policy decisions, including the provision of a 100% Christmas bonus, and expenditure pressures, particularly in the health sector. At that point, it was estimated that the aggregate amount required for Supplementary Estimates would be approximately €660 million.

At this week's Government meeting, 11 Supplementary Estimates were agreed. With the agreement of the Business Committee, it is proposed that these Supplementary Estimates will be presented to Dáil Éireann next week for referral to the relevant committees, before returning to the Dáil to be voted on in December. Eight of the 11 are substantive Supplementary Estimates, namely, those relating to the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Department of Finance, An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Army pensions, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The remaining three are technical Supplementary Estimates relating to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The total amount being sought in these Supplementary Estimates is €204 million.

The expenditure report outlined that there would be a requirement for Supplementary Estimates in health, education and to fund Brexit-related expenditure to ensure the relevant authorities are in a position to carry out necessary compliance checks at ports and at Dublin Airport. The aggregate amount outlined in the report across these three headings is €450 million. It is planned to seek Government agreement for presentation of these Supplementary Estimates next week when the amounts required are finalised. In addition, any further Supplementary Estimates, which would be of a minor or technical nature, will also be finalised for next week.

As set out in the expenditure report, the main driver of the increase in the projected outturn for this year is health expenditure. The budget challenges for that sector relate to demand-led pressures in key service areas, primarily in acute hospitals, in both pay and non-pay areas, in services for older persons and persons with disabilities, and in hi-tech drugs, State claims and pensions budget lines.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He indicated that he has approved 11 Estimates for discussion in committee, including one relating to An Garda Síochána. Can he give a figure for that particular Estimate and indicate whether it will have an operational impact between now and Christmas, with particular reference to Border area policing?

In regard to the Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Health, the figure we have heard is €335 million. Is that sum correct and, if so, does it include the additional €27 million that is being announced today for the so-called winter initiative? There is an effective moratorium on recruitment in the health service at this time. The Government says there is no such moratorium but it is clear from talking to anybody who works in the sector that there is. When only one person has sanction on appointments in the entire service, it is a moratorium by another name. What level of appointments will be made in January to address the serious pressures on waiting lists and services around the country?

To give further context to where we are with the Supplementary Estimates, while they continue to be at a level which I want to see reduced further, they are significantly lower than they were a year ago. I said last year that a number of things which happened from September onwards would not be repeated, and they have not been repeated. Furthermore, the Supplementary Estimates for this year have been brought into our budget-day package for next year, as opposed to on top of it. Those Supplementary Estimates, excluding one or two technical matters, are in line with what I indicated on budget day.

The Supplementary Estimate for An Garda Síochána is €17.5 million. It is a substantive Supplementary Estimate as opposed to a technical one, which is required to meet the Garda overtime costs that accrued from the visits of the United States President and Vice President. It does not have any operational consequence and relates to the costs of an activity that has already happened.

In regard to health, the Supplementary Estimate is in line with what I indicated on budget day. No change beyond that is proposed. There is no moratorium on recruitment in the health service. Posts which must be filled or recruited for are ones that are budgeted for.

The Minister confirmed that the Supplementary Estimate for health will be €335 million. The parroting by the Government of claims of an increase in the health budget is not exactly true because that money will be taken out of next year's health budget.

The Minister says there is no moratorium on recruitment. In the case of an occupational therapist in early intervention services who is going on maternity leave, the Health Service Executive put in writing to me that it does not have the resources to cover that leave. That is a moratorium on recruitment. Maternity leave is something that is planned and envisaged but the health service does not have the resources to cover it.

That then impacts on children who need intervention at the very earliest stages of their lives. That is a moratorium.

The Supplementary Estimate, on which the Deputy's final question touched, includes some funding for the winter initiative plan. I clarify that point because the Deputy put that question to me. We are simply ensuring that the health service is recruiting for posts for which there is a budget. The total funding available to the Department of Health is at the very high level of €17.4 billion. Additional recruitment will take place next year due to the additional funding the health service has received. The Deputy is saying that we are taking the cost of the Supplementary Estimate out of the additional funding we are making available for next year. I am seeking to do a better job next year in order to respond to the charge the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council levied against me. I want to ensure that if extra money is put into the health service for this year, the service will be properly funded for next year.