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Ceisteanna – Questions. - Departmental Estimates.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 1. Mr. Kenny Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the allocation to his Department in the spending Estimates for 2003 published recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22139/02]

 2. Mr. R. Bruton Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if increases in charges to individuals, companies or groups have been sanctioned to be charged by agencies or units under the aegis of his Department; and the charges being made in absolute and in percentage terms. [23204/02]

 3. Mr. Kenny Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the level of funding provided for the e-Government project in his Department's Estimate for 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23282/02]

 4. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the allocation which was made to his Department in the 2003 Estimates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23548/02]

 5. Mr. J. Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if he will report on the allocation to his Department in the recently published spending Estimates for 2003. [23556/02]

 6. Mr. Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the reason for the reduction of 14% in the allocation for the National Economic and Social Council in the Book of Estimates for 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24413/02]

 7. Mr. Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the reason for the reduction of 34% in the allocation for the information society, e-Cabinet and other initiatives in the Book of Estimates for 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24414/02]

[862]

 8. Mr. Sargent Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if he will report on the allocation to his Department in the spending Estimates for 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24690/02]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, together.

The abridged Estimates for public services, which were published on 14 November, include an Estimate of €23.641 million for my Department in 2003. This includes a provision of €1.65 million for information society initiatives in my Department, of which approximately €1.1 million relates to the e-Cabinet project. The revised figure is based on the latest estimate of the cost of completing the project, which is still on target for completion next year.

Funding for the National Economic and Social Council is provided in subhead C of my Department's Vote, which has been reduced by 14%. NESC, together with the National Economic and Social Forum and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, will come under the umbrella of the new National Economic and Social Development Office next year. Funding for the four bodies taken together reflects the efficiencies which will be achieved by co-ordinating the activities of the three existing bodies under NESDO.

No increases in charges to individuals, companies or groups have been sanctioned by agencies or units under the aegis of my Department.

The Estimate will be submitted to the House early next year in the usual way and will be considered by the Committee on Finance and the Public Service in accordance with the procedures set out in Standing Orders. It is only in the context of that process that the matter of a general statement arises.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The defeat of the first Nice treaty referendum caused considerable controversy for the political process, the Government and political parties. The second referendum on the Nice treaty was carried because of the ability to interact and empathise with people and the attempt to deal with their concerns over the treaty. The preparations for the next phase of European integration are well under way and there will be an even more important and fundamental treaty to come arising from the next Intergovernmental Conference. Why has the Estimate for the budget of the National Forum on Europe been slashed by 65%? Is it not important for that body to be properly funded in order to continue its work of dialogue and interaction with the community?

Given that the Northern Ireland Assembly is in suspension and the desire of every Member of this House not to see a vacuum created, after setting up the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, why does the Taoiseach's Estimate only contain an allocation of €1,000 for next year? Does the Taoiseach not envisage further meetings of the body?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Deputy has two questions; I will start with the second one. When the Esti[863] mates were prepared in mid year, it was not envisaged there would be a meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation this year, so the figure was an indicative amount. If there are more meetings, obviously there will be more costs than that. The figure was just to keep the subhead alive. At this stage I assume there will be more meetings and I will need to find the resources from within my Estimate. Even if all goes well it will be late spring at the earliest before we get anywhere.

The figure of €700,000 for the National Forum on Europe covers the expenditure to complete the work set out by the chairman of the forum last year on two separate occasions. The forum travelled throughout the country, which built up some considerable cost. The costs of setting up the forum were incurred last year and the small secretariat is in place. However, the forum will continue and it has a work programme certainly up to next summer. I believe it will continue throughout 2003 and I am told by our finance officer that the resources provided are sufficient to meet the expenditure to complete the work agenda, as set out by the chairman.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The Estimates indicate that €9.8 million is set aside for salaries, expenses and allowances. How much of this is earmarked for special advisers and media advisers in the Department of the Taoiseach? How many people in each of these categories are hired on a contract basis? From the press reports I have seen, at least one of these people is receiving remuneration in excess of a Cabinet Minister. Can the Taoiseach give me his views on that? I have no doubt that many Members will share the surprise and concern of members of the public at that fact.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Some €9.8 million or 68% of the budget for my Department goes on salaries and wages. There are approximately 250 people in my Department and that excludes the Offices of the Attorney General, the DPP and the Chief State Solicitor, which come under my Vote. About five of those would come within the category of the people mentioned by the Deputy. I gave the full information in answer to a question tabled by Deputy Rabbitte in the past week or two. Obviously we are talking about the programme managers. When people come in at that level, they can retain the salary they had, plus up to about 10%. That is the system in operation. It always depends on from where an individual comes and the work he or she does. I have given the figures a number of times previously. That is the basis of the figure. If, as in this case, a person comes from the private sector – he had been employed in the public sector before – he or she will be employed on the basis of his or her previous salary. This will then be updated as per the national agreements. The person in question has been out of the private sector for five years.

[864]Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Taoiseach informed us that the allocation for the Central Statistics Office will require that consideration be given to phasing a number of initiatives and deferring a number of new projects. To what initiatives is he referring? Do they include, for example, the national employment survey? Does he agree the survey ought to be allowed to carry out its work fully in order that it is completed in early 2003 and that it is an important benchmark, to use that word again, of how the economy and employment are performing? Will the Taoiseach take stock of the widespread concern that the Government lacks interest in the Convention on the Future of Europe? When one considers that the Forum on Europe is having its funding reduced, this concern appears to have some validity.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison I am not sure how this relates to the issues covered by the questions. The Deputy is getting into the detail and specifics of the matters raised.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent My questions relate to the allocations for the Taoiseach's Department which indicate the Government's lack of interest in the Convention on the Future of Europe.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I have already answered that. There are sufficient resources for the Forum on Europe to continue its work both in Dublin Castle and on a countrywide basis. Its set-up costs are not repeated. This work has now been undertaken and the forum uses the same secretariat as the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Therefore, no additional expenditure is required. This would be the case if a number of meetings of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation were held which, I hope, will not be the case.

With regard to the CSO allocation of more than €32 million for 2003, there is a cutback related to exceptional expenditure associated with the undertaking of the census of population. The Estimate figures for the CSO this year were high because of the census, the cost of enumerators and other associated costs. The net allocation of €32.96 million is lower than what the CSO required. The changes cover the planned implementation phase of an IT strategy which depends on additional funding and will not be able to go ahead. Census processing will be limited to core requirements, including place of work coding. The new short-term, economy-wide earnings survey will be phased in more slowly, although it will still start next year. The IT systems for the management information framework will probably not be purchased next year. Even after these changes, the CSO claims it will be able to carry out all its other work. Next year, it will probably not be able to get involved in some of the areas it wanted to enter.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The employment survey will proceed.

[865]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern All its normal work will proceed. Only new work will be affected. The monthly employment survey forms part of the CSO's everyday costs.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Is the Taoiseach aware that the recently published global competitiveness report indicated that Ireland has slipped from 11th to 24th position in terms of overall competitiveness? Is he also aware that Ireland now ranks 25th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of broadband access? Relating this to his Department, how does he justify the 9% reduction in the budget for the Information Society Commission, the body charged with driving the entire broadband roll-out? How does the Taoiseach justify the cut of 34% in funding for the information society and the e-Cabinet initiatives? These are fundamental to our overall competitiveness and the way that outside investors look at this country.

Is there a formal Government decision to go ahead with the implementation of broadband cable access in every house in the country, taking into account the question of wireless and what it would mean, in terms of efficiency and speed, in regard to using the same facilities?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The last question might be more appropriate to another Minister.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I appreciate that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern There are technical issues that need to be resolved in regard to the e-Cabinet initiative, centring around the security of the system. It is not yet possible to anticipate precisely how this might impact on the overall costs of implementation. Additional funding is required in the context of leveraging wider benefits in regard to secure e-mail for Departments.

Next year will not be a difficult year in most of the areas in the e-Government project. The project is up and running, as is the test work. Much of the expenditure in 2001 was of a substantial nature and a similar investment will probably be required in a year or two in order to purchase equipment and hardware. There is no difficulty for this year.

Much of the work on broadband for the information society falls within the remit of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern. There are few charges on my Department, apart from staff who are involved in the administration end, which is covered in the Estimate.

If resources were more plentiful there are many projects on which the Information Society Commission would like to make progress, some of which are more expensive than others. This year we need to be more prudent than, perhaps, we were in the past few years when we were able to get a number of these projects up and running. We will continue to work on e-Government, which is our main project. It will not be affected.

[866]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin In the Taoiseach's reply to me earlier, he indicated that the programme manager was possibly the individual I focused on in regard to the generous level of remuneration received. Are there others within the Taoiseach's Department, or indeed, any other Department, who are currently in receipt of remuneration in excess of that of a Minister?

The Taoiseach made the point that such people are recruited on the basis of their level of income in the private sector, plus 10%. We have a highly professional Civil Service and it begs the question, are we paying an exorbitant rate, given that the skills would be there among the experienced professional civil servants from which could be drawn the appropriate personnel to cover these respective functions. It merits some clarification of the Taoiseach's thinking on that issue.

The National Forum on Europe has already been mentioned in regard to the allocation of some €700,000 in the Book of Estimates for the coming year. The Taoiseach has, in part, answered some of the questions which I would have wished to put to him in this regard. How does he envisage it progressing in the current year, and will the National Forum on Europe be used to address in open debate the proposed EU constitution?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison As I pointed out to Deputy Sargent, I cannot see how that is included under the eight questions the Taoiseach is answering.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin There is an allocation of €700,000 for the Forum on Europe in the Book of Estimates for the Taoiseach's Department. I am trying to establish how that will actually be used and if the sum incorporates addressing the issue of the EU constitution.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Yes, is the answer to the latter question. The Forum on Europe will resume next year. Its work will primarily, but not exclusively, be on the convention on Europe and matters related to that. The broad basis of open discussion over the past 16 months or so should continue and the forum has sufficient resources to continue to work and to travel to the regions, as it did previously. There is no difficulty with that.

Returning to the staff issue, not many individuals are involved. There are no others in my Department but if an individual is attracted from the private sector to take up work in the political system, he or she is hardly likely to do so for less money. A small number of people have been attracted over the years and brought their own expertise to the system. Once they are in the system, they do not get increases other than the normal national agreement increases.

Among my five people, there are civil servants who receive less remuneration but one takes on the responsibilities of the job and they are not spread equally. A person who undertakes the job of programme manager to the Taoiseach takes on [867] more responsibilities than others and that is why he or she is paid the salary he or she is paid.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Was it ever considered that the funding for the Forum on Europe and the Convention on the Future of Europe should be allocated by the same Department? Why is it envisaged that a two-pronged approach will continue given that the Forum on Europe will undertake considerable work that will be required in discussing the outcome of the convention? Why is the Taoiseach's Department dealing with one aspect of the job while the Department of Foreign Affairs deals with another aspect given that the Irish participants on the convention on Europe complain that it is not getting sufficient funding? The Taoiseach ought to take a lead role in remedying that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The secretariat of the forum is based in my Department and the practice has been that if there is a forum, such as the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, it is a function of my Department. The Department of Finance dealt with the difficulty regarding the convention, to which the Deputy referred, and I understand the difficulty has been resolved for those individuals. Staff and resources were made available to the individuals on the forum by the Department of Finance, even though the Department of Foreign Affairs takes the lead role in the administration of the forum.


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