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 Header Item National Economic and Social Council (Continued)
 Header Item Civil Service Renewal Plan

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] The national training fund, which is meant to fund apprentices, has been allowed to run a cumulative surplus of €460 million in spite of the fact that the NESC recommended its greater use to fund apprentices and get people in unemployment black spots, the areas of the country with unemployment rates of 30% or more, back to work. Will the Taoiseach act on this issue, use that available funding to create apprenticeship places for unemployed former construction workers and address the needs of our economy by building houses, retrofitting homes and ensuring the fund is deployed?

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny Last year, the NESC published its important report No. 145, entitled Urban Development Land, Housing and Infrastructure: Fixing Ireland’s Broken System, which described the housing system as speculative, volatile and expensive. Launching the report, Dr. Rory O'Connor stated, "We know from experience that in countries with more effective, affordable and stable housing systems - such as Austria, Germany and the Netherlands - public bodies actively manage land supply, housing provision and affordability." NESC research indicates that public institutions need a strong development mandate, political authority and executive capacity to drive housing supply. It appears the Government has abandoned the report's recommendations. Everything that has been done since its publication has gone in the other direction. For instance, the Land Development Agency, LDA, which does not have compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers, is off-balance sheet and, effectively, is a fully independent commercial entity that only has regard to Government policy rather than delivering on it. It is under no statutory obligation to deliver social or affordable housing. When a conflict of interest between commercial concerns and social goods arises for the LDA, the commercial interests always win out over affordable housing, as was previously the case with NAMA. My question is simple. Can the Government provide examples of the policy outlined in the NESC report being implemented or applied through legislation or anything else it is doing? It seems to be one of the reports that went straight to the top shelf to gather dust.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton When the issue of the NESC last arose, it was noted that the legislation governing it appeared to have stalled. It could be a very useful forum for dealing with some of the difficult problems besetting our society. At the time, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of drugs gangs in Blanchardstown and the report that had recently been issued regarding young children in the area being used as runners by the gangs. Today, a devastating report was published regarding the south city area of Dublin. It delivers a similar message, namely, that drugs gangs are seeking to take on many young children who may become the serious criminals of the next 20 years. They are paid with money, mobile phones, the latest runners and other shoes and so on. Has the Government used or considered using the NESC to bring in a variety of people to talk to it about how drugs are destroying many communities in this city and other areas? The greater Blanchardstown area, which the Taoiseach and I represent, as well as the adjacent areas of Finglas and Cabra, are suffering dreadfully from the scourge of drugs. Has he considered using the NESC as a forum to bring in representatives of the Garda and other organisations to try to make sense of the matter to deal with the drugs problem before it destroys many young lives?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputies for their comprehensive questions.

On climate action, I welcome that Ireland has gone up seven places in the climate action index produced by environmental NGOs. We came from a very low base and, as such, the improvement is not something to celebrate or crow about. However, it indicates measurable progress by Ireland on climate action in the view of NGOs. It is based on data and interviews from 2017 and 2018 and, as such, does not take into account the significant progress in the past year, including the publication and implementation of the climate action plan. When I became Taoiseach, I set the ambition for Ireland to go from being a laggard on climate action to a leader. I am glad we are no longer considered a laggard, although we are certainly not a leader yet. It is good that we are going in the right direction and I am confident that we can become a leader in the years to come.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin What was going on before the Taoiseach was appointed to his current office? What universe was he in?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I acknowledge our electric vehicle targets are ambitious. My understanding is that the starting point for all targets in the climate action plan was the extent to which we needed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The targets must combine to reduce our emissions by approximately 30%.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin What is the evidence base for how we can achieve that? Surely, there must be documentation.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will provide it if it exists. I am not sure it does. I will check that out.

It is correct that there is a significant surplus in the national training fund. We are liberating some of the surplus. Some €300 million of it was assigned to human capital initiative announced and launched a few weeks ago by me and certain Ministers at an event in Trinity College Dublin. Most of it will go to third level institutions, including institutes of technology, but some will go to apprenticeships. I will have to double check that. We have liberated €300 million from the large surplus in the fund for higher and further education.

On the LDA, as Deputies will be aware, it has been established by statutory instrument but we need to put primary legislation in place to give it full powers and teeth. It has not been decided whether it will be on or off-balance sheet. It may have CPO powers, but the legislation governing such powers is very out of date. We may need to bring in primary legislation to address CPO powers generally rather than another Bill to give an agency some form of CPO power. That area of law needs to be tidied up. The Law Reform Commission has done very good work in that regard.

On land use, the scheme at O'Devaney Gardens is a good example of where we are following the advice contained in the land use report referred to by Deputy Martin Kenny.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny It is the opposite.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is a high-density housing development on a city centre site involving housing for all and incorporating a mix of social and private housing as well as homes to rent. The Enniskerry Road site, which is our first cost-rental development, is under construction in Dún Laoghaire.

I replied to several questions on the Connolly report earlier today. I will give consideration to whether the NESC could have a role in examining drugs policy and drug-related crime, but the best place for people to come together on that issue is through the existing joint agency response to crime initiative.

Civil Service Renewal Plan

 10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the way in which his Department provides collective leadership to the Civil Service renewal programme. [49996/19]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform has overall policy responsibility for the Civil Service renewal programme. The Civil Service Management Board, CSMB, provides collective leadership of the programme. The CSMB is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government and its membership comprises all Secretaries General and heads of major offices in the Civil Service. Staff in the social policy and public service reform division of the Department of the Taoiseach provide secretarial support to the CSMB. They work closely with the Civil Service renewal programme management office in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in that regard. The civil service renewal programme management office co-ordinates and drives the renewal programme, with regular progress reports provided to the CSMB.

  Achievements to date include the establishment of OneLearning, the implementation of a range of initiatives to improve gender balance across the Civil Service, organisational capability reviews, a common governance standard for the Civil Service, the Civil Service people strategy, structured and transparent talent management programmes, the Civil Service excellence and innovation awards, Civil Service employee engagement surveys and a Civil Service-wide mobility scheme for clerical and executive officers. Detailed progress reports on the Civil Service renewal programme, CSMB annual reports and minutes of CSMB meetings are available on gov.ie.


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