Civil Service

Ceisteanna (126)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

126. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of civil servants recruited with a competence to do their business both through Irish and English in each of the past five years to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26475/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Public Appointments Service (PAS) is the independent, statutory body which provides professional recruitment and selection services for appointments to the Civil Service.

Irish language usage is a core Government policy objective as stated in the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 and its associated 5-Year Action Plan for the period 2018 to 2022. A Government decision of 30/10/2013 approved the introduction of measures to support Irish language proficiency in the Civil Service with a focus on increasing the cohort of functional bilingual Civil Servants to reflect the requirement for a more equitable, competency-based approach to recruitment.

PAS initially included Irish language proficiency as a separate stream for general service recruitment competitions. More recently, stand-alone competitions are being held to establish panels for entry grades; in these cases, all of the selection processes are conducted through Irish. This included a Clerical Officer competition in 2018 and Executive Officer in 2020 from which panels of qualified candidates were established.

General Service Grade assignments to Irish Language Posts since 2016 to date are set out below:

Grade

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Total

CO

0

20

0

15

0

35

EO

18

4

0

1

4

27

AO

0

4

0

0

0

4

HEO

0

1

0

0

0

1

AP

0

2

0

0

0

2

Total

18

31

0

16

4

69

In addition to General Service Grades, PAS separately recruits for posts across the Civil Service where the ability to communicate effectively in Irish is a requirement. These are specialist roles (e.g., School Inspectors, Aistritheoir, Parliamentary Reporter) and a summary of recruitment to such posts since 2016 is detailed below:

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Total

Specialist

8

4

11

14

4

41

Civil Service

Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 107.

Ceisteanna (127)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

127. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of civil servants that are paid less than the living wage of €12.30 per hour; the number paid the minimum wage of €10.10 per hour; the percentage of public sector workers on less than the living wage of €12.30 per hour by county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26808/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

It is important that Ireland’s statutory National Minimum Wage and the Living Wage concept are not confused. The Living Wage has no legislative basis and is therefore not a statutory entitlement. It currently stands at €12.30 per hour according to the Living Wage Technical Group document 2020.

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 February 2020, is €10.10 per hour, as set out in the National Minimum Wage Order 2020.

The actual number of employees working in the public sector with salaries below the living wage would require individual level data on the position of staff on each salary scale across the public service and details of the standard working hours per week for each individual grade. This data is not available to the Department.

However, an analysis of the most recently available (Q2 2020) pay band data indicates that some 97% of all public service staff are on salary points in excess of €25,000 per annum. The suggested wage at €12.30 per hour based on the Civil Service 37 hour standard net working week equates to an annual salary of €23,747.

More detailed data on Civil Service staff indicates that only some 0.2% of staff (FTE) in the Civil Service are on salary points less than €23,747. Further to this, all civil servants are paid at rates above the minimum wage of €10.10 per hour.

Any of those currently on an annual salary of less than €23,747 may be receiving remuneration in excess of the suggested living wage through additional premium payments in respect of shift or atypical working hours or are on salary scales that progress to the suggested living wage and above through incremental progression.

Pay increases within the public service are set through collective agreement. Pay increases under the Public Services Stability Agreement 2018-2020 include: 1% January 2018; 1% October 2018; 1% for those earning under €30,000 January 2019; 1.75% September 2019; 0.5% for those earning under €32,000 and 2% October 2020. These annualised pay increases, which have been banded in favour of those earning under €32,000, have reduced the cohort earning less than the suggested living wage.

Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 107.

Heritage Sites

Ceisteanna (129)

Ciaran Cannon

Ceist:

129. Deputy Ciarán Cannon asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if there has been an increase in visitor numbers at OPW heritage sites in view of the recent waiving of admission charges at certain sites; and if he envisages the development of these sites as significant drivers of tourism in rural towns and villages. [26270/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The 2020 visitor season has clearly been an exceptionally difficult one for the national tourism industry and the visitor attractions sector, which embraces many different types of visitor venues right across the country has been especially hard hit. Many private sector attractions which have a significant outdoor element, in particular gardens and other types of open air venues where visitors can remain socially distant, have been able I think to rescue some of the season at least following the then Government’s decision to begin reopening society after 18th May last. Those which have primarily or wholly indoor spaces were however unfortunately presented with a very difficult situation, and of course these attractions continue currently to operate under significant constraints, assuming that they have been able to reopen at all.

It was against this background that I made the decision earlier this summer that most paid admission OPW sites would be available free of charge to visitors, understanding that, as the prime domestic visitor season arrived in August, it would be important to offer an added incentive to domestic visitors to start circulating and to try and get them spending in the tourism and hospitality economy again. OPW visitor sites have always been seen as not themselves primary generators of income, but as anchor attractions that draw people into local areas around the country, enabling private sector businesses to service the tourists they bring and driving secondary spending locally. This has always been a strong attribute of the Heritage visitor portfolio and the OPW sites around the country will I think continue to participate to drive and support local tourism enterprise in this way.

At this stage in the year, it is perhaps difficult to draw substantive conclusions about the season and the performance of OPW sites which we have managed to open. Some OPW sites remain open to the public year round and therefore continue to operate currently. Many other seasonal sites which would normally be closing at this stage as we draw to the end of September, are in fact remaining open for additional weeks in many cases to continue to try and incentivise any late traffic and extend the visitor season further. It is clear however that the pattern at OPW sites to date has largely mirrored the broader Private Sector experience. Outdoor locations operated by OPW such as Parks and Gardens have experienced extremely strong visitor attendances right throughout the period since March with record numbers reported indulging in walking, cycling and other outdoor activities. Indoor locations on the other hand, most of them opening later and only able to deal with restricted numbers of visitors, have fared less well and in all cases have fallen well below what they have previously achieved.

For the purposes of comparison we have taken a representative basket of 35 of the OPW’s ticketed sites which are primarily indoor locations but which have some outdoor facilities also and which were all open in the period from late June until the end of the first week in September. Comparing them to the equivalent period last year, we have calculated that there has been an approximate fall of 72% in overall visitor totals at those sites since the equivalent period in 2019. Within this aggregated average however, some individual locations have fared better than others: Garinish Island in Cork for example has experienced a 10.8% reduction in the season up to 6th September, but there were a number of weeks in August when weekly numbers were up by 20 to 25% over the same time last year. Scattery Island in Co. Clare is another such example; in the week ending 16th August, the site had 893 visitors, an increase of over 123% over the total of 400 for the same week in 2019. I know the Deputy will also be interested to hear that Portumna Castle in Galway, which experienced an overall drop in the period of about 36% nevertheless has had a similarly strong performance in August. In the week to the 16th August for example, the site had 2,169 visitors, an approximately 55% increase on the same week last year. All these 3 sites which I mention have a strong outdoor element which is obviously particularly prized by visitors currently and as such their performance, as I say, reflects the broader experience nationally.

Clearly, with only partial statistics available and many sites experiencing particular local constraints, it is too early to arrive at any definitive results for the year overall. I remain personally convinced however that making the majority of OPW’s paid admission sites available free of charge was a necessary and an opportune move and will have helped at a local level to sustain, even if only in a small way, many other attractions and tourism businesses through an exceptionally difficult period.

Heritage Sites

Ceisteanna (130)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

130. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to bring the landmark site, St. Laurence’s Gate, Drogheda town centre back into use and open to the public to draw much needed tourism to the town; if a financial assessment has been undertaken to ascertain the overall cost to bring the landmark back into use; if so, the cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26272/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As I have indicated to the Deputy in a recent Parliamentary Reply, the Office of Public Works are open to the idea that the St. Laurence's Gate Monument in Drogheda would in future be available to visitors and would play a part in the tourism attractions within the town. Indeed, access to the public is already available on special occasions such as Heritage Week, Fleadh Ceol etc and this will continue to be the case. However, opening the site on a more permanent basis is challenging because of a number of factors and as I explained in my recent reply, is dependent on the successful resolution of two major issues in particular which must be addressed in sequence:

- the structural condition of the building, which is poor currently

and

- the need to develop a sustainable and efficient visitor presentation model

In regards to the necessary works, I think it has been well understood in PQ responses by my predecessor that there are multiple serious structural issues with the building and I believe former Minister Moran widely shared the relevant Structural report with local public representatives. Currently the OPW are working on a range of project solutions for this work. I cannot at this stage promise the Deputy when that will come to fruition as there are many challenges currently at various National Monument sites throughout the North East and many demands on the OPW team in that area. However, I can assure the Deputy that we will make every effort to progress the project as quickly as is feasible.

The visitor management issue is, in fact, potentially much more challenging and I would suggest will require the participation of a number of actors outside the OPW to resolve it. The Gate building is very confined and has a very limited access so it can only admit a small number of people at any one time. It is unlikely therefore to ever be a high visitor volume proposition and will in all likelihood remain as a local visitor site rather than a national attraction. Ideally, in OPW's view, it should be managed locally and, to this end, OPW have had a number of discussions with Louth Co. Council to try and see if this can be achieved. No firm outcomes have emerged to date from this but I would like perhaps to take this opportunity to seek the Deputy's own advice and assistance in making progress on this. It may be that there is a local group, such as a business development organisation or a historical society who might be willing to work in partnership with the OPW on this issue, perhaps sponsoring a TÚS trainees or a volunteer group. Is there perhaps a possibility that a local keyholder might be available to manage the access on the ground on request, as happens in many other locations managed by the OPW around the country?

There has been good progress on working with local organisations on these kinds of initiatives in a number of places - including most recently Carlingford Castle which I visited a few weeks ago - where strong partnerships have emerged to work collaboratively on issues such as these and perhaps that should be the focus in Drogheda also. I would therefore encourage the Deputy if he has any ideas on this front to bring them to me and I will certainly have them considered by my officials.

Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Programme

Ceisteanna (131)

Thomas Gould

Ceist:

131. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when a feasibility study will be carried out on the future need for a tidal barrier in County Cork in view of the rising sea levels [25021/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I am assuming that the Deputy’s question relates to a feasibility study the on the future need for a tidal barrier for Cork City.

The option of a tidal barrier for Cork City, in particular, was considered, both as part of the Lee Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Study that commenced in 2006, and the Lower Lee Flood Relief scheme that commenced in 2013, and was screened out in both studies as not being viable.

As part of a range of reports undertaken for the Lower Lee Scheme, a detailed report on the option of a tidal carrier was completed. Four locations were considered in the report and were ruled out for varying reasons, including environmental impacts, technical difficulties, impacts on the safety in the harbour, limited upstream storage capacity or inadequacy in terms of climate adaptability. A tidal barrier for the City would not address the issue of fluvial flooding, which is a great risk to the city, and would have an estimated cost between €1Billion and €2Billion. Such costs would be prohibitive at this point and any such project would not be cost beneficial when all financial benefits are taken into account. The Report concluded that a tidal barrier is not currently viable for the City and will not likely become viable for approximately 50 years or more.

The report can be viewed at:

https://www.lowerleefrs.ie/project-info-reports/.

OPW is continuing the design of the flood relief scheme for Cork City which addresses both fluvial and tidal flood risks and expects to submit the scheme to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for confirmation in the first half of next year.

Departmental Staff

Ceisteanna (132)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

132. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of requests on hand from his Department and from State agencies under the aegis of his Department for approval to increase staff levels; the number of public and civil servants in total involved in these requests; the method by which decisions are made on the requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26474/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I wish to advise the Deputy that there are currently no requests to increase staffing levels in my own Department or in the Office of Government Procurement, which is also part of my Department. Decisions regarding 2021 Voted Expenditure will be made in the context of the overall budgetary strategy that has been adopted by the Government.

The table below outlines the position with regard to the bodies under the aegis of my Department.

-

Number of staff requested

National Shared Services Office

28

Office of the Ombudsman

25

State Laboratory

5

Office of Public Works

Nil

Public Appointments Service

Nil

Regulator - National Lottery

Nil

I understand that the Deputy will receive separate replies from a number of Ministers in respect of their Departments and the bodies under their aegis.

Flood Prevention Measures

Question No. 134 answered with Question No. 125.

Ceisteanna (133)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

133. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if additional funding will be provided in 2021 for flood mitigation works that are undertaken by local authorities with particular reference to the need to approve projects in counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26730/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I am advised that localised flooding is a matter for the local authority in the first instance. However, it is open to local authorities to apply for funding under the Minor Works Scheme which was introduced by my Office on an administrative, non-statutory basis in 2009.

The purpose of the scheme is to provide funding to local authorities to undertake minor flood mitigation works or studies to address localised fluvial flooding and coastal protection problems within their administrative areas. The scheme generally applies where a solution can be readily identified and achieved in a short time frame. The works to be funded are carried out under local authority powers and ongoing maintenance of the completed works is the responsibility of the Council.

Under the scheme, applications are considered for projects that are estimated to cost not more than €750,000 in each instance. Funding of up to 90% of the cost is available for approved projects. Applications are assessed by the Office of Public Works having regard to the specific economic, social and environmental criteria of the scheme, including a cost benefit ratio and having regard to the availability of funding for flood risk management. Full details of this scheme are available on www.gov.ie/opw.

To date, over 550 Minor Works projects have been completed to the end of 2019, providing local flooding solutions to over 6,800 properties with expenditure amounting to over €51m since the scheme began in 2009. In 2019, €4.75m has been approved for 49 projects with €4.4m been drawn down by local authorities to end of 2019.

The OPW is currently considering applications for projects at Ballyhaise Pitch, Ballyhaise Cavan Rd, Breandrum Kilmore Lower, Corgarve Castletara, Mullinavaranogue Redhills,Drumliffe Ballyhaise, Knockateery Cloverhill and Aghadreenagh Redhills submitted by Cavan County Council and an application for Drumfalra, Ballybay submitted by Monaghan County Council under the OPW Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme.

Since assuming my role as Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, I have seen the benefits of the Minor Works Scheme and I am actively encouraging Local Authorities to avail of the Scheme and I will ensure that funding is provided for viable projects.

The OPW also has statutory responsibility for and carries out a programme of Arterial Drainage Maintenance. These maintenance works relate to arterial drainage schemes completed by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945, with the primary purpose of improving the drainage of agricultural lands.

The OPW’s annual Arterial Drainage Maintenance Works Programme includes the following river catchments in the Cavan and Monaghan areas: Boyne, Inny, Blackwater and Glyde & Dee.

The Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme, the largest ever flood risk study carried out in the State, culminated with the launch on 3rd May, 2018 of 29 flood risk management plans which propose 118 new outline flood relief projects on top of the 42 major projects already completed and the 33 major schemes within the existing capital works programme of the Office of Public Works (OPW). All of these projects are to be funded under the Government's 10 year flood risk investment programme of almost €1 billion under the National Development Plan 2018 – 2027 .

As it is not possible to progress all 118 proposed new schemes at once, funding of €257 million for an initial phase of 50 flood relief projects throughout the country was also announced which would be progressed to detailed design and construction, including the five largest schemes identified in the Plans and 31 small or minor projects under €1 million which will be progressed directly by local authorities. Aside from the 5 largest schemes and the 31 small or minor projects, the remaining projects in the initial phase of implementation were selected on the basis of those projects which would provide the greatest benefit in terms of the greatest number of properties protected on a regionally.

A flood relief scheme for Cavan Town has been included in this initial phase of implementation, and Cavan County Council confirmed in May 2019 that the Council would act as lead agency on the management and delivery of the proposed flood relief scheme in Cavan Town and a steering group, comprising of representatives from the Office of Public Works and Cavan County Council, is now in place to progress the Scheme.

Potentially viable flood relief works for Cavan, to be implemented as appropriate after project-level assessment and planning (or Exhibition and confirmation), would include Fluvial Flood Defences comprising of walls and embankments.

These measures have a preliminary Total Project Cost Estimate of €4.4m and would protect 110 properties. Cavan County Council, in partnership with the OPW, is currently finalising tender documentation for the procurement of Engineering Consultants to progress the development of this scheme and the tender is due to be advertised very shortly to the OPW Framework of Consultants.

Once consultants are appointed to progress the Flood Relief Scheme for Cavan, consultation with statutory and non-statutory bodies, as well as the public, will take place at the appropriate stages to ensure that all parties have the opportunity to input into the development of this scheme. In the meantime, the Council continues to carry out treatment of Invasive Alien Plant Species (IAPS) in the scheme area.

While the three proposed schemes in County Monaghan, for Ballybay, Iniskeen and Monaghan town, are not in the first tranche of projects to be progressed, the OPW and Monaghan County Council will work closely to ensure that they will be commenced as soon as possible.

Question No. 134 answered with Question No. 125.

Garda Stations

Ceisteanna (135)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

135. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status and timeline for commencement and completion of works for the new Garda station for Macroom, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25969/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As part of a major reorganisation of An Garda Síochána’s structures, the Garda Commissioner announced new Regional and Divisional Headquarters under a new Operating Model. This resulted in Macroom Garda station being changed from a District Station to a Regional and Divisional Headquarters in late 2019. The Brief of Requirements was issued by An Garda Síochána to the Office of Public Works in early 2020. The OPW has been progressing the project by providing expert services in relation to the design, which is expected to be complete by the end of Q3 2020. In conjunction with the design completion, the OPW has been arranging for Appropriate Assessment Screening and Environmental Impact Assessment Screening to be carried out on the design proposals. Site ground investigations and other required site surveys have been undertaken. Pending the conclusion of the required screening processes, it is expected that the planning process, under Part 9 of the Planning Regulations, will commence in Q4 2020.

OPW is working with the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA), An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality in progressing this Public Private Partnership (PPP) project. As PPP projects can take between 18 to 30 months to go through their extensive administrative and procurement process, it is not possible, at this stage, to say when the construction contract will be awarded and the project completed. However, a project of this scale would be expected to take 24 months to complete.

Public Expenditure Policy

Question No. 137 answered with Question No. 113.

Ceisteanna (136)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

136. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the degree to which he expects the Exchequer to benefit from public expenditure and reform strategies in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26669/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

With a view to increasing transparency around the budgetary process and to facilitate meaningful dialogue around key elements of the Budget, over the last number of years, a range of reforms have been implemented in order to enhance Ireland’s budgetary framework and ensure that expenditure is managed in an efficient and effective way.

Adopting a ‘whole-of-year’ budgetary framework is a key component of this process. This ensures that consideration of budgetary priorities are continued throughout the year and are not confined to focusing on the budget discussions announced on Budget Day. This process is facilitated by the publication of a range of documents at various points in the year to enhance engagement on relevant budgetary issues.

Further to this, improving and supporting the evaluation capacity within Government Departments has also formed an important part of the reform programme. Supported by the establishment of the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, this has led to the development of a number of additional processes and reports to support the budgetary framework. In this regard, the spending review has become a key step in the budgetary cycle. It has and continues to assist in preparations for the Budget by providing analyses of existing expenditure programmes. By continuing to expand the evidence base, the process also enables longer-term improvements in how policy is designed, implemented and evaluated.

Looking forward, from 2021 onwards, the Programme for Government commits to continuing reform and improvement of the Budgetary process and proposes that each Minister will be required to produce service improvement and reform plans in conjunction with my Department, within an overall context of an enhanced focus across Government on issues of well-being. In implementing this reform, my Department will look to build on the budgetary reforms already in place and the significant work on public service reform already completed.

Adopting this approach will ensure stronger dialogue in this House on key elements of budgetary policy and will help to facilitate the continued development of budgetary decisions, consistent with the maintenance of stable public finances.

Question No. 137 answered with Question No. 113.

EU Funding

Ceisteanna (138)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

138. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his attention has been drawn to plans being considered by his Department to centralise funding under the European Regional Development Fund, taking it away from being managed by the regions and the impact that such plans would have in view of the need for such funding in rural areas across the northern and western region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24459/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

Ireland’s allocation of European Regional Development Funds have in the past, and will continue in the future, to support projects in all parts of Ireland. Moreover, in accordance with the EU Regulatory requirement, stakeholders at local, regional and national level will continue to have a key role in the planning, monitoring and delivery of these programmes.

A decision will be made shortly regarding the role of Managing Authorities for the 2021 - 2027 European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) Operational Programmes. In the meantime, the three Regional Assemblies are playing a very active role in the process of programming for the next round of ERDF, in conjunction and cooperation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. They are also represented on the Partnership Process Steering Group, which guides and advises on the programming of all of the European Structural Investment Fund (ESIF) programmes, through the development process of the Partnership Agreement for the period 2021 – 2027.

The Steering Group oversaw the development of a Needs Analysis by Indecon Economic Consultants, which specifically looked at regional development needs. This report has a chapter focused on the needs in the Northern Western region. This chapter was included in the report in recognition of the change in the region's status under the European Commission's methodology to a region in transition, and the unique challenges faced in the region.

The Northern and Western Regional Assembly and the other two Regional Assemblies are also part of a working group which launched a consultation process to inform the selection of priorities for the use of EU cohesion funding for the next period. As part of this consultation a webinar was held on the 28th of July, breakout sessions were organised on a regional basis, and this included a focus on the main priorities of the individual Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies. The working group is currently preparing a report, the primary purpose of which is to present the findings and analysis from the public consultation submissions, including the qualitative messages from the national workshop event conducted on 28th July. This report, along with the Needs Analysis, adopted by the PPSG in July, will inform the ERDF programming for 2021 – 2027.

Heritage Sites

Ceisteanna (139)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

139. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of a scheme to promote school visits to OPW sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26358/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I recognise that our heritage sites are a fantastic educational resource and engendering an appreciation of those sites amongst our younger population is a core aim of the Office of Public Works' Heritage Services.

Under the OPW’s Educational School Visits Scheme, school groups of primary and second-level students can explore our sites free of charge. Visits must be during the school year and follow the national curriculum approved by the Department of Education and Skills. The Scheme has been in place for many years and has proven hugely popular with students and teachers alike. In 2017 76,928 children visited our sites under the scheme, 83,769 in 2018 and 90,472 in 2019.

In the current circumstances, the OPW will be operating the Scheme in line with prevailing NPHET guidelines and in this context, they have advised me that they do not feel that an active marketing campaign to publicise the offer would be appropriate, as any resulting rush by schools to the Scheme in the short term would inevitably lead to problems of overcrowding at popular sites. Within the capacity constraints currently in force at sites I can, however, assure the Deputy that the OPW will continue to welcome and accommodate school visits where they can. Teachers can book visits directly with the sites; full terms and conditions are available on the Heritage Ireland website.

In recognition of the fact that some visits planned previously may be not now be possible, our sites are working on outreach to schools and on developing new ways of engaging with students. For example, at Brú na Bóinne , the guides will send the teacher a free DVD which is a 20-minute film about the monuments and in particular, the Winter Solstice at Newgrange. They will also send out free school worksheets and invite schools to get in touch via video-conferencing so that their pupils can ask questions and chat to some of the guides.

Another example is Glebe House and Gallery in Letterkenny, where the staff have put an art teachers focus group together and are developing a series of blended learning tools for Junior and Leaving Certificate students. This represents an expansion of the services previously offered at the site as they could only work with Leaving Certificate students in the past due to the time resources necessary to facilitate each group. They will reach a lot more students than in ordinary circumstances as a result of this new initiative.

I am confident that OPW guide staff will continue to find new and innovative ways of engaging with this most important segment of their audience.

Information and Communications Technology

Question No. 141 answered with Question No. 124.

Ceisteanna (140)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

140. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to move Government services online; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26656/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

Through the Public Service ICT Strategy, the eGovernment Strategy and the Public Service Data Strategy, Government has set out its ambition to accelerate the delivery of digital public services. These strategies outline Government plans to deploy digital technologies and shared approaches for more efficient, effective, and joined-up services for citizens and businesses.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on all aspects of life in Ireland, and Government has had to react, adapt and seek alternative means of engaging with citizens and businesses in the delivery of public services. In addition, there has been a significant increase in demand placed on public services during this challenging time.

Digital Public Services such as the COVID-19 app, the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme, the Pandemic Unemployment payment and many others have seen very significant demand. It is clear that the capability to provide Public Services digitally is more important now than ever before when responding and adapting to the volatile situation and the related needs of citizens and businesses.

While there has been much progress in recent times across a wide variety of sectors, there continues to be opportunities to leverage digital to streamline and automate our back-end processes. Digital can be used to join up Government and reduce the burden on people and businesses accessing public services. Importantly, digital can allow us to free up resources to deliver all services in a more impactful way in line with our citizen’s expectations

The Digital Leaders Group , established in late 2019 is driving and overseeing activities to raise the profile and priority of digital, digital services and digital transformation in the Public Service.

While COVID-19 has had a significant impact on plans for digital initiatives in 2020, Departments will continue to prioritise digital projects, including

- the adoption of the Digital Postbox service;

- the drive to consolidate and simplify access to Government services through gov.ie;

- the first phase release of a citizen health portal; and

- the digitisation of the electoral register.

We will also continue to engage the public to help shape the future digital policies and priorities for Government, including the expansion of the use of Government digital infrastructure outside of the context of Government.

Question No. 141 answered with Question No. 124.

Office of Public Works

Ceisteanna (142)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

142. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his officials will undertake to establish the level of openness or otherwise from landowners in relation to the possible use of OPW flood embankments as walking routes or potential cycling routes such as the River Maine banks from Farranfore to Keel and Callinafercy and other similar schemes nationwide; if the potentially huge benefits for landowners and communities from fully utilising such assets through a consultative and cooperative approach has been recognised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26339/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As the Deputy is aware the Office of Public Works is responsible for the maintenance of embankments that form part of arterial drainage schemes it completed under the Arterial Drainage Acts. These embankments are not in State ownership but are on lands that are for the most part privately owned. I am advised that these embankments were not designed or constructed to cater for cycleways or walkways and might not have the capability to have any sort of walking or cycling infrastructure placed on top of them.

The provision of walkways and cycleways is a matter for local authorities and the OPW would be happy to work with the local authorities and other State bodies with their planned development of such community assets, where feasible.

In respect of the OPW’s planned programme of flood relief works that involve embankments, the OPW works with those local authorities that wish to explore opportunities for the provision, where feasible, of additional public realm elements such as cycling and walking.

Flood Relief Schemes

Question No. 144 answered with Question No. 124.

Ceisteanna (143)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

143. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the Ennis south flood relief project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26267/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Ennis South Flood Relief Scheme is being advanced by Clare County Council, with advice and funding as appropriate from the Office of Public Works. Ryan Hanley are the engineering consultants and the construction contract is being progressed by Ward & Burke Construction Ltd.

Construction of the works is under way with 3 discrete elements being progressed at locations in St Flannans College, Ballybeg, and the embankments at Clareabbey. The works at St Flannans and Ballybeg are substantially complete with only minor snagging remaining, and I have been informed that the new culvert overflow system constructed at St Flannans operated very successfully during recent bad weather conditions.

The works at the Clareabbey area had suffered a delay recently due to unforeseen difficult ground conditions which necessitated a re-design of the original embankment proposal, to a combination of sheetpiles along the stretch of riverbank in question. The re-design has been successfully completed and works have recommenced in this area. The contractor has indicated that these substantial additional works are progressing more rapidly than initially expected and the works have largely been brought back into line with the original programme.

Question No. 144 answered with Question No. 124.

Flood Relief Schemes

Ceisteanna (145)

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

145. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of progress for the Crossmolina flood relief scheme; his plans to review and expedite the timeline in view of the ongoing flood threat in winter 2020 to the residents of the town; the proposed timeline for completion of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26373/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

Deputy Dillon,

I wish to thank you for your recent query in relation to the status of the flood relief scheme for Crossmolina, Co. Mayo.

There were some delays to the programme as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions, due to the consultants being unable to carry out the final environmental surveys during the nationwide lockdown. Since the easing of restrictions, the consultants carried out the final elements of these environmental surveys, and the project team are now in the process of finalising this suite of documents for the confirmation process. It is anticipated that the scheme documents will be finalised and submitted to DPER in the coming weeks.

The Scheme now requires formal confirmation to proceed from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (MPER). This is a statutory requirement under the Arterial Drainage Acts , which now, under the recent European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Arterial Drainage) Regulations 2019, also requires the MPER to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed Scheme. This will involve, inter alia, a formal review by MPER of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) prepared by the Commissioners and recently submitted (along with a Natura Impact Statement) to the MPER as part of the formal confirmation process.

In order to assist the MPER in making an informed decision to consent to the scheme, the EIA will require appropriate assessment, as required under the 2019 regulations, public consultation for a period of 30 days and a detailed technical review of the scheme by environmental consultants appointed by the MPER.

If DPER find that they are satisfied with the proposed scheme, the next stage in the process will be the construction phase. In order to expedite this timeline, the project team will prepare for construction in parallel with DPER’s review. This will ensure that we are in a position to mobilise as soon as we are given approval to implement the flood defences for the town of Crossmolina. It is anticipated that the construction phase will take up to 24 months to complete. This may be subject to change as otherwise unforeseen issues may become apparent once the construction team are on the ground.

With regard to preparing for the flood threat in winter of this year, Mayo County Council, with funding provided by the OPW, have already rolled out an Individual Property Protection project, which has provided flood gates to over 100 residents in the town of Crossmolina. Additionally, the OPW has also approved Mayo County Council’s (MCC)’s application for funding for a number of minor works projects in the town, and these have been put in place by Mayo County Council. Since 2016, €230,000 has been approved for minor works in Crossmolina. And finally, the OPW Western Drainage Maintenance Section have carried out a number of maintenance works along the River Deel, and continue to do so in line with their maintenance plan. I understand that residents of Crossmolina will be fearful coming into the winter months, and empathise completely with their situation.

The implementation of this flood relief scheme is a priority for myself and for the OPW as a whole, and we have taken all possible measures to provide a standard of protection in the interim.

Community Employment Schemes

Ceisteanna (146)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

146. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of the engagement he has had with the Minister for Social Protection and other stakeholders with regard to resolving the issue of the community employment scheme occupational pension; when the 2008 Labour Court recommendation will be implemented for a pension scheme to be put in place for community employment supervisors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26681/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The Deputy will be aware that the matter of community employment schemes falls withihn the policy remit of my colleague the Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection.

I have however a strong appreciation of the role of Community Employment Schemes in communities right across the country and I know this role could not be fulfilled without the leadership of the Scheme Supervisors. In this context I have taken the opportunity to meet with the relevant parties involved in these schemes to hear at first hand their issues of concern.

The particular matter raised by the Deputy is a complex one that raises significant policy, legal and exchequer cost issues. The Deputy may be aware that the State is not the employer of the workers concerned. It is the posiiton that this matter was discussed extensively at meetings of the Community Sector High Level Forum between public service management, which included inter alia officials from my Department, and union representatives. My Department carried out a detailed scoping exercise in 2017 in order to comprehensively examine and assess the full potential implications, in both cost and precedent terms, of the issues involved. The outcome to the scoping exercise was that the matter has potentially very significant implications for the exchequer, particularly if consequential demands were to be made by all similar State funded Community and Voluntary organisations whose employees are in a similar position to the Community Employment scheme supervisors.

This is a factor which must be borne in mind in our approach to this issue. While CE supervisors and assistant supervisors represent a small part of the wider community and voluntary sector, consideration must be taken for the potential liability to the State if similar claims are made by the many workers in the broader community and voluntary sector.

As the Deputy will appreciate, we are now facing major challenges in managing the public finances. However, I intend, with my colleague the Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection to consider all the issues involved in relation to this matter and will continue to engage constructively with the relevant stakeholders.

Office of Public Works

Ceisteanna (147)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

147. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the preparations being made for Christmas events scheduled to take place on OPW sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26357/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The Office of Public Works cares for and operates some of Ireland’s most important historic buildings and properties which, each year, are at the heart of the community’s celebrations of Christmas. This year Christmas will be like no other but OPW is committed to ensuring that buildings and properties which traditionally presented a range of events at Christmas will continue to do so at a reduced scale and in line with the prevailing public health guidelines and Government restrictions as they might apply at the time.

OPW visitor sites have always been seen as not themselves primary generators of income, but as anchor attractions that draw people into local areas around the country, enabling private sector businesses to service the tourists they bring and driving secondary spending locally. This has always been a strong attribute of the Heritage visitor portfolio and the OPW sites around the country will I think continue to participate to drive and support local tourism enterprise in this way for the 2020 Christmas season.

Of course, all activity at heritage sites will have to undertaken in line with public health guidelines and Government restrictions relating to Covid 19. OPW is currently examining the roadmap for living with Covid19 which the Government published last week. In particular, officials are examining the thresholds in relation to indoor and outdoor events with a view to planning what Christmas programmes might be possible at the various levels in the roadmap.

I am pleased to advise that at Dublin Castle for example, ‘Christmas at the Castle’, which was a highly successful event in Dublin City last year will likely proceed albeit at a reduced scale. This event is devised in collaboration with Dublin City Council. It will feature as part of Failte Ireland’s ‘Winter in Dublin’ campaign to encourage Irish citizens to visit Dublin City in the run up to Christmas if possible and within the context of the prevailing public health guidelines.

A reduced programme of outdoor Christmas events will be presented at Farmleigh House, the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre and the National Botanic Gardens. At Kilkenny Castle, the team is examining what, if any, indoor events can proceed and will be working closely with Kilkenny County Council to ensure a Christmas programme at the Castle supports the local tourism economy over the season.

A number of OPW Heritage sites remain open to the public for people to visit during the Winter season and a range of our usual tours and self-guide opportunities at sites will continue to be available. OPW publishes very detailed information in relation to the operation of all heritage sites, including details of all events, on heritageireland.ie. Full details of all sites which are open in December and indeed all events taking place over the Christmas season will be published in due course online both here and on site-specific web pages and social media channels.

Flood Relief Schemes

Ceisteanna (148)

Colm Burke

Ceist:

148. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if funding will be made available for the Glashaboy flood relief scheme, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26409/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I am advised that the Glashaboy Flood Relief Scheme has been submitted by the Office of Public Works, under the provisions of the Arterial Drainage Acts, accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and Natura Impact Statement (NIS), to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for formal Confirmation.

On foot of the European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Arterial Drainage) Regulations 2019, which were published in Iris Oifigiúl on 27 September 2019, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has undertaken an environmental assessment of the proposed scheme in line with required legislative requirements. This involved an independent assessment of the EIAR / NIS and a public consultation process.

On the 5 May 2020, the Office of Public Works received correspondence from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that the independent assessment is now complete. This correspondence has requested, pursuant to section 7(B) sub-section 4 of the 2019 European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Arterial Drainage) Regulations, certain items of further information that are required to complete the process. My Office is working together with Cork City Council and environmental consultants appointed for this project to prepare the additional information requested - which generally relates to further detail on the processes followed and assessments undertaken in developing the scheme - to be submitted to the Department in order that the assessment can be completed and the scheme confirmed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. This information is currently scheduled to be provided to the Department no later than October 2020.

The procurement and appointment of a Contractor will be progressed for this scheme following formal Ministerial Confirmation. The flood relief scheme will be funded from within the allocated €1 billion for flood risk management over the period 2018-2027. Provision for the cost of the Scheme is included in the Office of Public Works' multi annual capital allocation.

OPW is committed to funding this project and attends monthly steering meetings to offer every assistance to Cork City Council to ensure a contractor is engaged, and the works commences, as soon as possible.

Ministerial Advisers

Question No. 150 answered with Question No. 122.

Ceisteanna (149)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

149. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the estimated amount the additional special advisers hired by the Government and pay rises afforded to TDs will cost the taxpayer in 2020. [26810/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The appointment of Special Advisers are subject to Section 11 of the Public Services Management Act 1997. The appointment of Special Advisers to the Ministers of State in question, that the Deputy refers to, was considered by my colleagues and I at the Government meeting of 22 September last with specific regard to the scale and complexity of portfolio, budgetary responsibility and Programme for Government commitments.

Special Advisers to these Ministers of State are to be placed on the Assistant Principal Officer (Standard) PPC scale: currently €67,659 - €74,977 as set out in guidelines for Ministerial Staff Appointments. While appointments should normally be on the first point of the scale, Secretaries General have delegated sanction to appoint to any increment on the Assistant Principal Standard Scale where they are satisfied that this is justified. Overall, the cost of these Special Advisers to these Ministers of State is expected to be broadly consistent with that for the 32nd Dáil and should be in the region of €676,000 to €750,000 per annum.

The pay of politicians is, in line with other Public Servants, subject to the phased pay restoration provisions of the FEMPI Act 2015 and PSPP Act 2017, which includes the 2% increase due on 1 October. However, as the Deputy is aware, it remains open to all members of the Oireachtas to forego pay increases on a voluntary basis and many have been doing so. In this regard, it should be noted that this Government decided that Ministers and Ministers of State, in addition to taking a 10% pay cut, will also forgo the 2% pay increase due in October.

The cost for the remaining 3 months of 2020 if all TDs salaries was increased by 2% is €76,690.

Question No. 150 answered with Question No. 122.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (151)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

151. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if funding will be allocated to the relevant Departments as part of budget 2021 to support those working from home due to Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26403/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The response to the Covid-19 crisis was swift, with many Civil and Public Servants transitioning to working from home at short notice. This was an unprecedented event, but was necessary to ensure the health and wellbeing of staff across the system was protected, while maintaining quality and continuity in the provision of public services.

No additional expenditure allocations have been provided to Departments to facilitate working from home arrangements or flexible working hours across the Civil Service in response to Covid-19. Any additional funding incurred by Departments including in respect of IT resources required is to be met from within existing resources. The management of resources in this regard is a matter for each individual Department and Minister. This approach will be maintained into 2021.

In relation to my own Department specifically, the OGCIO – which is an office of the Department - has spent €267,000 to date on capital equipment for the Department (including for itself) from its Vote. The vast majority of this expenditure has been aimed at facilitating staff to work remotely through the purchase of IT equipment. This cost is being met internally through existing capital budgets by reprioritising expenditure. My Department has also spent €22,000 on remote working equipment from its own Vote to date.

Live Register

Ceisteanna (152)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

152. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will consider amending the regulations for the collation of data for the live register in order to include persons with disabilities and those in receipt of a disability allowance in the live register since not to include them in the live register is to render them economically invisible and is discriminatory. [27229/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

The Live Register, which is published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), is a short-term measure designed to provide information on the labour market and those in receipt of a number of benefits. The Live Register is compiled from returns made to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) and comprises of persons under 65 years of age in the following classes:

• All Claimants for Jobseeker’s Benefit (JB) excluding systematic short-time workers

• Applicants for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) excluding smallholders/farm assists and other self-employed persons

• Other registrants including applicants for credited Social Welfare contributions but excluding those directly involved in an industrial dispute.

Although the Live Register is not designed to measure unemployment as it includes part-time, seasonal and casual workers entitled to JA or JB, it has however been used for many decades by the CSO as a key input in determining short-term trends in unemployment. The Live Register is a series which is of immense historical value and is available back to 1967 on the CSO’s StatBank tabular data service. Any amendment to the collation of the Live Register would have implications for the compilation of labour market statistics and the comparability of the Live Register over many decades.

Statistics on persons in receipt of Disability Allowance are published by DEASP in conjunction with the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES): https://igees.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/An-analysis-of-Disability-Allowance-inflows-and-outflows.pdf