Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

 Header Item Written Answers Nos 1-23
 Header Item Public Sector Pay
 Header Item Public Sector Pensions
 Header Item Fiscal Policy
 Header Item Capital Expenditure Programme Review
 Header Item EU Funding
 Header Item Public Procurement Regulations
 Header Item Public Service Pay Commission Reports
 Header Item Freedom of Information Legislation
 Header Item EU Funding

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 953 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 68 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos 1-23

 The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

  Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, answered orally.

Public Sector Pay

 15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe his plans to renew the FEMPI legislation at the end of June 2017 in view of the fact that the economy is no longer in a state of emergency; if so, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26270/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe As the Deputy is aware I am obliged under the legislation to undertake  an Annual Review of the operation and effectiveness of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts (FEMPI) which is laid before the Oireachtas by the end of June each year.

The most recent review, laid before the Oireachtas on 29 June last, found that there was a continued necessity for the measures provided for under the Acts. My decision at that time was informed by the instability in the international economy (including risks posed by Brexit), the still fragile nature of our economic recovery, the need to protect hard won competitiveness gains, the high level of debt, the continuing fiscal deficit, the obligation to comply with the Stability and Growth Pact, and the need to balance competing demands within the available fiscal space.  All of these factors remain challenging.

The Programme for Partnership Government committed the Government to establish a Public Service Pay Commission to examine pay levels across the public service. The Public Service Pay Commission produced its first report earlier this month. The independent evidence-based analysis is a key input to the negotiations currently underway on the extension of the Lansdowne Road Agreement and further unwinding of the financial emergency legislation. The outcome to these negotiations and the ongoing economic and budgetary environment will inform my necessary considerations for the next statutory report under the FEMPI legislation which will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas at the end of June. 

Public Sector Pensions

 16. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe his plans to address the anomaly of those public sector workers who pay the pension levy but do not receive a public sector pension; if his attention has been drawn to the number of persons impacted by this; and the amount collected to date. [26206/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe The public service Pension-Related Deduction (PRD) is provided for under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. PRD applies to the pay, including any non-pensionable pay elements, of pensionable public servants.

Specifically, section 2(1)(b) of the 2009 Act provides that any public servant who is a member of a public service pension scheme or who is entitled to benefit under such a scheme or receives a payment in lieu of membership of such a scheme is subject to PRD.

Across the public service certain cohorts of employees in a few specific occupations are not members of a public service pension scheme, but may instead qualify for a one-off non-recurring gratuity payment at retirement provided that they meet certain conditions.

It is understood that the possibility of qualifying for such a gratuity would exist in particular for certain retained firefighters and for certain home help workers.  The overall number of such affected public service employees is believed to be quite small.

The payment of such a one-off non-recurring gratuity at retirement to qualifying public service workers constitutes a payment in lieu of pension scheme membership. On that basis the pay received by those workers before retirement and gratuity award, is liable to PRD.

It should however be noted that in practice many of those employees may already be free of PRD, or may be paying much less PRD than previously, on account of the significant amelioration of PRD provided for under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015.  This amelioration means that, from 1 January 2016, all persons with annual public service earnings of up to €26,083 were exempt from PRD, and from 1 January 2017, this exemption threshold has risen to €28,750.  

Fiscal Policy

 17. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the extent to which he expects to be in a position to maintain prudent fiscal management while at the same time meeting requirements in terms of rejuvenation of the economy and wage restoration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26238/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe 2015 marked the turning point where expenditure reductions were no longer required to meet our fiscal targets. In the three year period 2015 to 2017 there is annual average growth in gross voted expenditure of 3 per cent. This represents prudent growth in expenditure following the period when significant fiscal consolidation was required to put the public finances on a sound footing.

The Government continues to prioritise investment in economic and social infrastructure to underpin the economy’s growth potential. The Revised Estimates Volume 2017 provides an additional €0.3bn in capital expenditure over the 2016 outturn, bringing the total to €4.5bn. Furthermore, as indicated in the Stability Programme Update published last month, gross voted capital expenditure will increase to €7.3bn by 2021.

Within a context of increasing resources, managing the delivery of public services within Budgetary allocations remains a key responsibility of each Minister and their Department, and important measures are in place to help ensure that these budgetary targets continue to be met.  The drawdown of funds from the Exchequer is monitored against the published expenditure profiles.  There is regular reporting to Government on these matters, and information is published monthly, as part of the Exchequer Statement. Gross voted expenditure of €17,849 million to end-April was €282 million (1.6%) below profile.

Turning to public service pay the Government Expenditure Ceiling for 2018 includes a provision of €0.3 billion relating to pay commitments arising under the Lansdowne Road Agreement. As the Deputy will be aware, negotiations are currently taking place with the Public Service Unions on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

Given the many competing priorities and demands for resources, the Spending Review currently underway will support prudent fiscal management and assist with prioritising between policy initiatives to ensure resources are allocated to areas where they can have the greatest impact in terms of social and economic gain.

Capital Expenditure Programme Review

 18. Deputy Peter Burke Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe when the review of the capital plan will occur; and if key preliminary projects will be prioritised such as the extension of the N4 from Mullingar to Rooskey and the provision of a motorway serving County Longford and the north west. [26100/17]

 39. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the levels of capital expenditure which will be allocated for infrastructure projects for Kildare North; the timeframe for these allocations; the projects for which funding will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26227/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 39 together.

The Mid-Term Review of the Capital Plan is still currently ongoing. This process will result in capital allocations being made by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to other Government Departments, rather than allocations being made by my Department to specific projects or geographic areas.  Any decisions on the capital allocations will not be made until after that process is complete.

The Deputies will appreciate that it is a matter for each Department, in the first instance, to identify its sectoral priorities and projects in their submission for any additional funding under the review.

Submissions in relation to the review and the additional funding available for allocation were sought from Departments in January and are currently under review by my Department. 

Assessments and recommendations made by each Department will play an important role in ensuring that the additional funding is aligned with priorities in terms, for example, of overall economic and social returns from increased public capital investment.

A public consultation process was also held in April to ascertain the views of the public and key stakeholders on what our national infrastructure priorities should be.  This consultation also sought views on infrastructure investment priorities beyond the period of the current Capital Plan, which will help formulate a longer term Capital Plan for the next 10 years.

My Department's assessment of the submissions received as part of the Capital Review will be based on, for example, an Infrastructure Capacity and Demand Analysis carried out by the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service.

My Department is also liaising closely with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in order to ensure close alignment with the new National Planning Framework due to be published later this year.

This work being carried out by my Department will ensure that the additional capital resources available are targeted on priority public capital infrastructure required to support Ireland's medium-term growth potential and underpin social cohesion.

It is expected that the review process will be completed in Quarter 3 of 2017, to enable the Government to make final decisions in due course on how the remaining additional capital funding should be allocated.

EU Funding

 19. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe if he has held discussions with the European Commission on the possible allocation of cohesion funding for the Border region post-2020 in view of the particular challenges that will arise in that area following Brexit and the need to improve infrastructure to assist existing businesses remain competitive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26097/17]

 33. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe if he has discussed with the European Commission the need to maintain the maximum possible level of financial support for cross-Border programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26098/17]

 127. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe if he will raise at the European Council the possibility of having cohesion funds made available for infrastructural development in the Border region post 2020, in view of the particular challenges that will arise in that area due to Brexit. [21881/17]

 128. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe if he will ensure that the possibility of having cohesion funds made available for infrastructural development in the Border region post-2020 will be given urgent consideration, in view of the challenges that will arise from Brexit; and if such a proposal will be raised at the European Council. [21882/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I propose to take Questions Nos. 19, 33, 127 and 128 together.

I can assure the Deputy that I share his appreciation for the contribution that EU-funded cross-border programmes make to the border region and the importance of ensuring continued funding for the programmes.  I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss this matter with him and other colleagues when I appeared before the All Party Committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in February.

Ireland takes part in two cross-border programmes with Northern Ireland, namely the PEACE Programme and the INTERREG Programme, the latter which also involves Western Scotland.  The programmes have a combined value of €550 million over the period 2014-2020.

As part of my Department's contingency planning for Brexit the risks to these cross-border programmes, which are 85% funded by the EU, were identified.  The Irish Government has been clear about its commitment to the successful implementation of the current programmes and to successor programmes post-2020. 

Last October the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance, Máirtín Ó Muilleor, and I were able to announce that, following intensive discussions with the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland, agreement had been reached on a safeguard clause that has enabled Letters of Offer to issue to programme beneficiaries for both the PEACE and INTERREG programmes. 

Now that that short term objective has been achieved, the medium term objective is to ensure the full and successful implementation of the programmes out to 2020, during a period in which the UK is expected to leave the EU and the UK allocation of ERDF funding may no longer be available.  The long term objective is to secure agreement to successor programmes post-2020.

In that context I raised the impact of Brexit on the two programmes at last month’s meeting of the General Affairs Council devoted to Cohesion Policy in Luxembourg.  While in Luxembourg I also took the opportunity to have bilateral meeting with Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Cretu where I impressed upon her the enormous contribution that EU funding has made, not only to the process of peace building and reconciliation but also to the economic and social development of the region, as well as the vital importance of continuing this funding.

My officials and I are continuing to work to ensure the successful implementation of the current programme as well as successor programmes post 2020.

Public Procurement Regulations

 20. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe his plans to support the passage of the Public Services and Procurement (Social Value) Bill 2017 which passed Second Stage, and was referred to select committee on 22 February 2017; the measures he is taking to ensure that contracts are structured in a way that enables SMEs to compete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26204/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe Whilst the reform of public procurement has been a key element in the ongoing Government reform programme, care has been taken to ensure it is carried out in a manner that encourages SME participation. The EU Procurement Directives, transposed into Irish law in May 2016, contain provisions to make it easier for SMEs to tender for public procurement contracts.  These include the following:

- financial capacity criterion is less demanding and generally limited to twice the contract value;

- there is discretion to divide public contracts into lots;

- there is a provision for "consortia bidding" to encourage SME involvement; and

- there are reductions in the time limits for receipt of tenders;

Moreover, Government Policy as set out in Circular 10/2014 updated and strengthened measures aimed at facilitating SME participation in Public Procurement.

My colleague, Minister of State Eoghan Murphy TD, in accordance with the Programme for Government, chairs the SME Advisory Group which meets quarterly and seeks to enhance the measures already in place to support SME access.  This group comprises of SME industry representative bodies (IBEC, ISME, SFA, Chambers Ireland, and CIF) as well as the Office of Government Procurement (OGP), the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Inter-Trade Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.  This positive initiative shows a willingness to engage with and learn from private sector counterparts.

In terms of assessing involvement of SMEs, data from the Public Service Spend and Tendering Analysis Report for 2014, published by the OGP indicates that 95% of the analysed expenditure is with Irish based firms and the majority of the spend analysed is with SMEs. In addition, the OGP conducted an analysis of the 122 Framework Agreements it has in place which shows that 67% of Framework members are SMEs and 63% of the Frameworks had multiple lots, facilitating SME access.

In relation to the Bill, you will be aware that it was not opposed by the Government in the Dáil.  However, care must be taken not to disproportionately impact on SME's bidding for public contracts. If a blanket suite of social benefit clauses was attached to all public procurement opportunities, it is likely that this would be ineffective, disproportionately favour larger enterprises, reduce competition in supplying goods and services to the State and drive up the costs. SMEs representative bodies have raised similar concerns. 

Social clauses impose additional costs on both the State and suppliers in meeting their requirements and demonstrating and verifying compliance.  In general, the inclusion of social clauses in a procurement process would appear to be most effective where the benefit could be considered a core requirement and can be directly linked to the contracting authority's policy or strategic plan. The appropriateness of including social clauses in public procurement projects needs to be examined on contract by contract basis.  There needs to be sufficient flexibility to allow each individual contracting authority to decide what, how and when social clauses can be used taking account of, for example, the economic environment and labour supply in a specific sector.

In conclusion, the reform of public procurement across the public service is on-going and will continue to provide opportunities to the SME sector to win business.  The OGP will continue to work with industry to ensure that winning government business is done in a fair, transparent and accessible way and to ensure that government procurement policies are business friendly.

Public Service Pay Commission Reports

 21. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe when he expects to receive the report of the Public Service Pay Commission; his priorities in respect of restoration of pay levels in the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26045/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe The initial Report of the Public Service Pay Commission was published on Tuesday, 9 May 2017. For its initial report the Commission was asked to provide input on how the unwinding of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest legislation should proceed having regard to:

  - The evolution of pay trends in the public and private sectors, based on published data;

  - A comparison of pay rates for identifiable groups within the public service with prevailing non-public sector market rates;

  - International rates and comparisons where possible; and

  - The state of the national finances

  The Commission was also asked to give consideration to other conditions of service of public servants, including tenure and pension, as well as recruitment and retention trends in the public service.

  Following this initial report the Government will give consideration to what other matters the Commission may be asked to consider in due course.

  The Public Service Pay Commission's initial report to Government focused on public service remuneration in the context of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009 – 2015. The findings of the Commission are contributing to and informing  considerations in relation to Public Service remuneration by Public Service employers and staff interests in negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. These negotiations are currently underway and are being facilitated by the Workplace Relations Commission.  

Freedom of Information Legislation

 22. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe his plans to amend the current legislation governing freedom of information to include a requirement that all freedom of information requests and responses be published as is the position in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26054/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe As the Deputy will be aware, section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 obliges FOI bodies to prepare and publish a publication scheme, setting out information that they will publish as a matter of course.  My Department has prepared a Model Publication Scheme pursuant to this section, which includes among the information to be published on an ongoing basis, a disclosure log containing details of FOI requests received for non-personal information.  The Deputy will agree that the publication of requests relating to personal information would be inappropriate.

  The Guidelines to the Model Publication Scheme and the FOI Code of Practice for all public bodies on the implementation of FOI which are available at http://foi.gov.ie/ set out details of what should be disclosed on a disclosure log.  There is no requirement to publish responses to requests though some public bodies choose to do so.  It is open to requesters to seek the information which has already been disclosed on foot of the information provided on the disclosure log. 

  I am advised by my officials that there is no requirement to publish requests and responses in the comparable legislation in the UK.  There are however broadly similar provisions in relation to publication schemes, though the model scheme produced by that jurisdiction’s Information Commissioner does not require, rather recommends, that a disclosure log should be put in place.  Moreover, in practice where a public body in the UK chooses to operate a disclosure log, not all requests responded to are published, only those that meet certain criteria.  It would seem, therefore, that the framework in this jurisdiction is, if anything, more robust than that operating in the UK.

  The Central Policy Unit for Freedom of Information at my Department is in daily contact with FOI bodies in relation to the implementation of the legislation.  In general, indications are that the publication scheme provisions contained in the Act are operating well, with a growing awareness among FOI bodies not only of the obligation to publish information, but also the usefulness of proactive publication of information that is regularly requested, rather than expending resources on processing individual requests as they arrive.

  Accordingly, it is not proposed at this time to amend the FOI Act 2014, the model publication scheme or the published guidelines.

EU Funding

 23. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the potential investment projects regarding education, research, development and innovation his Department has submitted to the Department of Finance for the European Fund for Strategic Investment. [26228/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I should begin by pointing out it is the Department of Finance - rather than my Department  - that is the lead Government Department in relation to European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) or European Investment Bank (EIB) matters.  My Department does not coordinate applications for funding from EFSI or EIB, neither is it responsible for reporting on lending by EFSI or EIB to Ireland nor does it have any direct role in the submission of projects to EIB or EFSI for support. 

Where the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) advise that EIB or EFSI support for a project should be sought, it is the responsibility of individual Departments, in the first instance, to pursue such proposals.  This usually involves negotiations by the NDFA with EIB or EFSI on behalf of the Department in question.

I understand that the EIB is involved in financing a number of projects included in the Capital Plan including the Luas Cross City project; the redevelopment of Dublin Port; €200m support for investment in 71 Irish schools; and the N25 New Ross bypass.  I also understand that information on projects approved by EFSI, by country, is available on the website of the EIB at http://www.eib.europa.eu/efsi/efsi-projects/index.htm?c=IE&se=.  However, as I have already outlined, my Department is not responsible for negotiating these loans with the EIB or for submitting them to the Department of Finance or the EIB for support.  

Finally, I should also take the opportunity to clarify that, while EIB funding may help in reducing the cost of finance for some projects, it will not increase the overall envelope available to Government for capital expenditure due to the need to continue to comply with the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact.  In that context, owing to the importance of ensuring the long-term sustainability of the public finances and the contribution of sustainable public finances to long-term growth potential, clear prioritisation of sectors and capital projects remains as the central concern in infrastructure planning under the review of the Capital Plan which is currently underway.


Last Updated: 11/09/2018 13:23:16 First Page Previous Page Page of 68 Next Page Last Page