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Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin]  They must be laid before the Dáil not later than 30 September each year. As discussed on Committee Stage, debt servicing requirements are encompassed in the budgetary arithmetic and are shown in the annual budgetary papers on the presentation of the budget every year. The Bill before us does not deal with debt service or any other Central Fund charge. Consequently, the Bill does not propose any change to the long-standing practice with regard to such non-voted expenditure. Such practices are in accordance with the Constitution and, as I stated on Committee Stage, changing them in the way Deputy Fleming suggests would primarily be a matter for the Minister for Finance rather than for me. I am speaking about treating the annual expenditure voted Estimates in the way I am describing. I understand the transparency issues the Deputy has raised and they are something we can work on.

Even in terms of the Estimates process, we can do much better. The Deputy is right in this regard and I hope we can do this proactively. We will have an opportunity this year as the budget will be in October and all the Estimates must be debated and passed between October and December. Before any euro is expended next year it will have been debated, rather than doing it afterwards, which has been the practice for as long as I am here. This is an innovation in and of itself. This is an evolution rather than a revolution and Deputies will embrace this detailed analysis. I hope more resources will be available to the committee system, particularly if we move to a unicameral House, so we have not only ongoing analysis of expenditure in advance of the money being expended, but also a look at options for expenditure so we will have a real Estimates debate.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming The Minister stated the various items I have mentioned in amendments Nos. 1 to 13 are matters which the Oireachtas has decided by law are to be paid. If the Oireachtas can decide by law that they should be paid, the Oireachtas can equally decide by law to remove them from the arrangement they are in and make them voted expenditure. We will return to this issue.

Thank God for Europe and the six pack because they are forcing us to do something which is right. It is an indictment of the Oireachtas and all of us that if we were left to our own devices, we would happily speak about next year's spending next summer when half the year had gone. Europe has brought financial discipline to how we do our business and forced us to consider these matters before the money is spent. The European Parliament has rules whereby if the budget is not passed by the end of January, one twelfth will roll forward until the budget has passed. We have arrangements in place whereby we cannot go over 80% of the previous year's budget and on occasion we had to rush measures through. It had to be done with regard to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform this year.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Correct.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming One reason we had to bring it forward was for the shared services programme because the budget figure last year was not big enough and we could not spend too much this year. The system is up and running and I hope it is working well. Thank God for Europe, and perhaps Europe might tell us to do this by way of voted expenditure at a future date.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I move amendment No. 3:

  Question put and declared lost.

  Amendments Nos. 4 to 13, inclusive, not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendment No. 14 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 14 and 17 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I move amendment No. 14:

We discussed this matter at Cabinet-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin A future promise.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I am getting ahead of myself. That was quite a Freudian slip.

Deputy Noel Grealish: Information on Noel Grealish Zoom on Noel Grealish A left-wing government.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald We discussed this matter on Committee Stage and I proposed two amendments to clarify that where the legislation states, "Each financial year the Government", this should include all Cabinet members. I made the point that significant criticism has been made within the Cabinet because of what is perceived by senior Ministers to be their exclusion from key expenditure and budgeting discussions and decisions. I instanced comments made by the Ministers, Deputies Joan Burton and Simon Coveney.

There is certainly a view that the core of power in Cabinet now resides in the hands of the four Ministers on the Economic Management Council. The four men involved in the group have the balance of influence and this excludes others. I have tabled this amendment to make the point yet again that where expenditure ceilings and spending plans are being set out which represent discipline and rigour to be adhered to, it is only right that Cabinet Ministers and the line Ministers should be fully involved at every stage of the decision-making process. To ensure this is the case in reality it would be most helpful to introduce words after "the Government" to clarify that this includes all Cabinet Members.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin As I informed the Deputy on Committee Stage, the Government is defined in the Constitution, which sets out the role and principles under which the Government operates. A decision of Government represents a decision undertaken by the Government acting collectively, inclusive of all members of the Government. The word "Government" in the Bill automatically constitutionally and legally encompasses all members of the Government.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald That being the case and given this clarification - of course, I know the constitutional definition of the Government - this definition should be borne in mind when budgetary decisions are being made and when expenditure plans and binding plans are being set out. The inclusivity of the definition cited by the Minister should be recalled and honoured.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I do not think I will breach Cabinet confidentiality if I state every decision on a budget, including the two most recent budgets in which we have been involved, was individually and then collectively agreed by every individual member of the Government.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Amendments Nos. 15, 18, 20 and 22 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I move amendment No. 15:

It was a very positive move that the programme for Government stated explicitly that decisions of public bodies would be taken with due regard to the State's equality and human rights obligations. This was a very important statement of political principle and political intent. If this is to mean anything, the same equality and human rights obligations need to be hardwired into the entirety of the budgetary process and decisions on expenditure ceilings. It is for this reason I have again tabled these amendments.


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