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Estimates for Public Services 2020 (Continued)

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 995 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ossian Smyth: Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth] I see great potential for the digital technology sector to help to drive recovery through the establishment of a govtech ecosystem, as it is called, which could further accelerate digital government while also stimulating our indigenous SME start-up sector. The recent success of the Covid-19 contact tracing app, which was developed by an Irish company and is now being replicated across the world, is evidence of what can be achieved when we all work together.

I will turn now to my responsibilities for public procurement. The Office of Government Procurement, which is covered in Vote 39, has played an important role in recent months in supporting the national response to Covid-19. This has included direct procurement support to the HSE and other public bodies engaged in the delivery of front-line services to the public. The office has issued a number of important policy information notes to public bodies providing guidance on managing the procurement implications of Covid-19. The office has ongoing responsibilities as the central purchasing body for eight categories of commonly purchased goods and services, leading the ongoing reform programme for public procurement, setting national policy in regard to public procurement, supporting the professionalisation of the practice of public procurement and managing the national procurement platform, eTenders.

The programme for Government sets out a number of ambitious policy objectives in the areas of environmental and social considerations through public procurement while also delivering value for money and supporting the continued participation of small and medium enterprises in this important business opportunity. I look forward to working with the Office of Government Procurement to build on its ongoing work in these areas. I am happy to present the 2020 Revised Estimates for the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer and the Office of Government Procurement, approval of which will allow them to continue to meet their responsibilities and deliver essential services. I look forward to the debate on these proposals and I am happy to answer any questions that arise.

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell Táimse ag tosú do Shinn Féin. Tá sé dochreidte go bhfuil muid anseo inniu ag plé athruithe airgeadais agus muid i lár paindéime. Sa tseachtain chéanna inar chlois muid go mbeidh Airí Stáit ag fáil ardú pá d'os cionn €16,000, tá daoine agus gnólachtaí faoi bhrú uafásach. Níl a fhios acu cén t-ioncam a bheidh acu sa todhchaí. Léiríonn an cinneadh seo nach bhfuil tuiscint ar bith ag an Rialtas ar shaol an gnáthdhuine. B'fhéidir, fiú, nach bhfuil suim ag an Rialtas i saol an ghnáthdhuine.

This has been another chaotic week for the Government. Once again, it has proved itself to be completely out of touch with reality. On Tuesday, I questioned the Minister on the use of taxpayers' money for the hiring of excessive numbers of well-paid advisers, 17 in total, for the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party. That same evening, media sources reported that a decision had been made at Cabinet to increase the wages of the three super junior Ministers by €16,000. Does the Government need a reality check? In the middle of a pandemic, a wage increase of €16,000 is massive. Are they called super junior Ministers because they have some kind of superpower? Unless they do actually have superpowers, I do not understand why the Government thinks they need an extra €16,000 in income.

In regard to the Revised Estimates, the manner in which the information has been presented to us is lacking in specific detail and does not allow for as much scrutiny as we would like. A consistent approach to performance budgeting, including metrics on financial allocations, would help to facilitate more effective scrutiny, which is surely in the public interest. In addition, it would be helpful if there were a proper breakdown of capital expenditure into subsections for the acquisition of new non-current assets versus the enhancement of existing ones. I am aware that there will be a difference in how capital expenditure and current expenditure can be reported given that the former must go through several stages before construction begins. Nevertheless, greater clarity and transparency could be provided on forthcoming capital expenditure projects that are proceeding to the implementation stage.

With regard to capital expenditure, there should be no doubt, in the midst of an economic crisis, that we need shovel-ready projects that will put people directly to work in good jobs and support ancillary jobs in local communities. We need strong procurement contracts and to move away from the cost overruns we have seen in the past. We need the inclusion of social clauses that allow people to get jobs in their communities and enable apprentices to be taken on and upskilled. There is an opportunity for the Minister to do this right. However, as I alluded to, the lack of detail in the Revised Estimates makes it more difficult to know what the capital expenditure consists of.

In my own constituency, there are numerous badly needed capital projects, many of which have already been subject to a cost-benefit analysis and given initial approval. The much-needed Inis Oírr pier development, for example, was promised in 2015 under the Government's capital investment plan, Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-21. It is now more than four years since that plan was published but no works have been done on the pier. I put in a parliamentary question on this issue to the previous Minister, who was unable to give an exact update as to when the works would commence. This is a critical piece of infrastructure for Inis Oírr. The project is essential for public safety as well as being fundamental to the survival and sustainability of the island's economy. The development of Inis Oírr pier cannot be rowed back on by the Government under any circumstance.

Another example of a project in my constituency that has not progressed is the development of Rossaveel Harbour in Connemara. A cost-benefit analysis report on the proposed deepwater quay was undertaken by DKM Economic Consultants for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, following which planning permission was sought and obtained in 2018 for the new development. However, there has been no further movement on the project and the people of Rossaveel and Connemara have been left in the dark, with no explanation or justification for this lack of action and progress. The report clearly states that the development of a deepwater quay in Rossaveel is a worthwhile project that would yield significant and substantial benefits for the local economy in terms of tourism and employment, something that is made all the more pressing in the current economic climate.

I strongly welcome the funding that is to go towards flooding prevention. It is absolutely essential for Galway, the west and the midlands. We have seen time and again the devastation that flooding can visit on communities, businesses and family homes. It is essential that the work is done to alleviate it.

I have a question regarding the allocation to the secret service. I have seen an indication that there will be a 60% increase in this provision from €900,000 in 2019 to an estimated €2 million this year. I would like clarity as to the accuracy of that apparent jump.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty We are, in effect, in committee when debating the Revised Estimates and, as such, I expect a back-and-forth engagement with the Ministers of State during the five minutes available to me. I want to make the point again and send a clear signal to the Government that the way some of the business in this House is conducted is not acceptable and is showing disregard to the Dáil and to Members. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform should be here for this discussion. It is standard practice that it is the Minister who brings forward Estimates. With no disrespect to the Ministers of State, they are not responsible for the vast amount of the Estimates that are being put forward here. We had the Tánaiste not turning up for legislation last night. We had the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform leaving after 30 minutes of Question Time. We had the Minister for Finance not turning up for legislation last week, which meant the Dáil had to be suspended. That has to stop and we must send a clear signal in this regard. The Ceann Comhairle needs to intervene if this is the way Ministers think they are going to treat the Members who are in here representing the public in their constituencies. Ministers must start attending the relevant business. If there is a scheduling issue with committees or subcommittees, that issue will have to be dealt with.

My main question for the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is whether he can confirm that a memorandum went to Cabinet to approve a €16,288 increase for a Minister of State who is already receiving a salary of €124,439. I ask him to answer that question first.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I will try to respond briefly to the questions from both of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State should only respond to Deputy Doherty.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan This is Sinn Féin's time.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Deputy Doherty has asked the Minister of State to respond in the time allocated to the Deputy.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I will try to answer both sets of questions because the Deputies are from the same party. First of all, as I said out at the outset, I apologise for the fact that the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is not available. There is a Cabinet meeting on the July stimulus which he had to attend.

Deputy Farrell referred to a lack of detail in the Revised Estimates. We are fully prepared to take on any additional scrutiny measures that might be needed in terms of the metrics for financial reporting.

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