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Snippet Contents:

I thank the two Deputies who contributed to the debate and I will try to deal with the issues raised. Having raised the issue with the Tánaiste earlier, Deputy Sean Fleming makes much of this being the first debate on the Estimates. However, on the day of the budget, 14 October 2014, we published the comprehensive expenditure report, which laid out the expenditure allocation to every Department. We had an extensive debate on it with anyone who wished to contribute to the budget debate and many did so. The Revised Estimates were published subsequently and involve technical adjustments to it. Allocation choices were, by and large, determined and announced by me on budget day and debated extensively in the days following the announcement of the budget.
Subsequent to that, detailed Estimates were discussed line by line in committees. I agree strongly with the Tánaiste that it is a much better way of doing it. Having a general debate, with every Member talking about different things and the Minister trying to respond to 1,000 issues in a debate in the full Chamber, is not an effective way of doing the business. We changed the whole budgetary situation. We do it earlier than the time when Estimates were discussed well into the year, with most of the money spent. This was certainly true throughout the reign of Fianna Fáil. Most of the money was spent before people got around to voting on it and that is why we fundamentally changed the way we do budgeting. We do it earlier, according to the new European semester, and we do the Estimates earlier. The Estimates are sent to the committee and we have outcomes as part of the budgetary process so that Members can look into what they are getting for their money rather than simply seeing whether the money is spent.
Two points were made by Deputies Sean Fleming and Richard Boyd Barrett. With regard to health, we were able to provide additionality to health for the first time this year in the base Estimate because we had a growing economy with greater income for the State. When I introduced a large Supplementary Estimate, which caused Deputy Sean Fleming some agitation last year, I explained that we had the capacity to meet real demand. We did not have that capacity when we went into government because of the catastrophic state of the finances that the Government inherited from Deputy Sean Fleming's party. When we had the capacity last year, we reallocated money to those core issues. It is instructive how we spend the money on health services. Since 2011, administrative staff have fallen by 2%, core staff, like consultants, have increased by 7% and non-consultant hospital doctors have increased by 4%. We have tried our best to reprioritise, even where resources are constrained.
With regard to homelessness and housing, we regard social housing as a critical issue, which is why it was the most important focus of my budget speech in October. We allocated €2.2 billion into the housing area and we can go through it in some detail. I am sure the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government would be happy to do so.