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Estimates for Public Services 2020 (Continued)

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 995 No. 5
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan] It is unfortunate that we are in the current position. As Deputy Doherty and other Members will know, this procedure normally takes place in February. We are where we are because there was no functioning Dáil due to Covid and everything else. A Government had not been formed. We now have a situation whereby gross voted expenditure is almost hitting the four fifths threshold----

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty With respect, I have five minutes to make my points. I asked the Minister of State a direct question: did a memorandum go to Cabinet last night----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State without interruption.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty -----to increase the wages of a junior Minister who is already on €124,000 by €16,288?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State is in possession. Deputy Doherty may not interrupt while another Deputy is on his or her feet.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I am trying to be-----

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty The Acting Chair is obliged to protect Deputies. I asked the Minister of State a direct question but he is speaking about something else-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath He has answered the question.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I am trying to be respectful to the Deputy's party and answer the questions asked by the previous Sinn Féin speaker, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, as well as those asked by Deputy Doherty. She deserves answers to the very important questions she raised.

On the issue of capital expenditure within my Department, Deputy Farrell raised a very interesting issue in the context of Covid in particular. There is a €200,000 allocation within the voted Estimate for additional ICT expenditure. Much of this funding will help to support staff of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who must work from home, including staff of my section, the OPW.

The Deputy raised the issue of shovel-ready projects. I am the Minister of State with responsibility for most of the capital works carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because they come under the auspices of the OPW. We are on target to spend €1 billion over ten years. I will have to revert to the Deputy on the issues she raised in respect of Inis Oírr and Rossaveel in Galway because I think they relate to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

I thank the Deputy for her support for the OPW in the context of its work on flooding. The more support I get from Deputies and the more the issue is raised, the better.

On the secret service, there has been a convention in the Dáil that the Vote for the secret service is noted but it is not discussed in detail. There has been a marginal increase in the allocation and I think the Deputy will accept it.

I understand that Deputy Doherty is not happy. I was here last week. I cannot do anything about the matter. A Cabinet meeting is currently under way. I hope he will respect the fact that I am trying to answer his question. On the issue of the memorandum he stated was brought to the Government last night, I will try to get that confirmed for him before the sitting is finished.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty I believe I am correct in my understanding because legislation is being brought forward tomorrow. The priority of the Government in the middle of a pandemic, at a time when cancer patients cannot get medical cards, people are seeing their PUP being cut and students are wondering how they will get back to school, is to introduce legislation to give a junior Minister who is already on €124,000 an extra €16,000. The former Tánaiste did not know that this even happened at Cabinet. Can the Minister of State confirm whether Ministers nod off at Cabinet meetings as well as doing so in the Dáil? Can he explain to me and, more important, to the public, how under God the Government thinks it appropriate at this time to increase the salary of a junior Minister who is already on €124,000? A sum of €16,000 is a significant amount of money. This sends out all the wrong signals. Just a few years ago when Fianna Fáil was in opposition it stated that it is adequate to have two super junior Ministers and that it is not a matter for the Dáil to pass legislation to solve an informal Fine Gael demotion or promotion issue. What has changed? We know that Fianna Fáil could never be trusted. The only thing that has changed is that it is now the beneficiary of the super junior Ministry and the bump of €16,000.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I thank the Deputy and call the Minister of State.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty The Minister of State does not have the right to respond. It is the turn of my Sinn Féin colleague to speak. The Minister of State was waffling for long enough.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I remind the Deputy that I am the one in the Chair.

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan: Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan On Vote 13 - Office of Public Works, I wish to raise the issue of flood defences. The Minister of State will be well aware of the flooding problems in Limerick city in recent years. In 2014, a massive flood destroyed parts of the city. A report was carried out under the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, but it is now six years later and most of the required defences have not been put in place. Is there any way to prioritise them or speed up their delivery? The Minister of State referred to the CFRAM programme and stated that 95% of flood areas in the country will be protected under the programme. What will be done for the other 5%? Is the Minister of State looking at a plan to bail out people living in houses that, unfortunately, cannot be protected by flood defences?

The Minister of State was at a meeting last week with Shannon Group which I also attended. I raise the matter as it relates to Vote 13 - Office of Public Works. Will the OPW consider taking Shannon Heritage into its charge? The Minister of State will be well aware that many people have no confidence in Shannon Group. I and other Sinn Féin members representing the mid-west have asked that the board of Shannon Group would step down. We believe it has not focused on Shannon Heritage whatsoever. The sites are to close at the end of August. Staff are concerned about their jobs. We believe many of the sites, which include Bunratty Castle in County Clare, King John's Castle in Limerick City, my constituency, and, believe it or not, Malahide Castle in County Dublin, could remain open all year around. They were profitable last year. We understand that there has been a drop in the number of foreign tourists, but people are being encouraged to take staycations. I was in Bunratty Castle last Sunday and it was packed. One had to queue for everything. There is demand for it. I respectfully ask the OPW to consider taking Shannon Heritage into its charge because Shannon Group has not looked after it to date.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I point out to Deputy Doherty that I do not come to the House to waffle. If he does not like the answers I give, that is fine, but he should not try to insult people. I am present and I am answerable to the House. I provide answers to the questions I am asked. If he does not like the answers, that is fine. He should try to show a bit of respect.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty It is the Minister who has responsibility for-----

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Through the Chair, there is a way to take that issue up without insulting somebody who is here trying to answer questions.

On the issue of King's Island, as Deputy Quinlivan is aware, it is at design and planning stage. The current level of expenditure is approximately €4.18 million. The expenditure for 2019 is €452,000. I have an interest in this issue because it affects my local area. I understand the issues raised by the Deputy.

On the issue of Shannon Heritage, I was at several meetings organised by Deputy Carey specifically in respect of the Shannon Group's handling of its heritage portfolio. It is an issue about which I am concerned. I understand that Clare County Council and Limerick City and County Councils have engaged on the matter. If there are specific forms of support the OPW can give, such as advice and so on, it will certainly consider that. It already has a comprehensive portfolio of sites which take up a substantial amount of money. My understanding is that there was a development plan for Bunratty Castle and King John's Castle. I will request further detail in that regard and have it circulated to the Deputy. No formal request for the OPW to take on those properties has been received. Obviously, we are prepared to engage in dialogue regarding Bunratty Castle and King John's Castle because we understand their significance in the context of tourism.

Deputy Ged Nash: Information on Ged Nash Zoom on Ged Nash I share the disappointment of the Sinn Féin Deputies that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, is not here for this matter. I mean no disrespect to the Ministers of State who are present. It is incredible that the Minister, Deputy McGrath, is not present, but it is more incredible that there have been several Cabinet meetings so far this week. That is not a good image for a Government that is in its early days to portray. A Government that holds so many meetings in such a short time is a Government that is under serious pressure.

The belated July stimulus will be announced today after the Government spent the past three weeks inventing a mini July stimulus for itself. There are now a near-record 20 junior Ministers. There have not been so many Ministers of State since the days of Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy. Some 17 special advisers are soon to be appointed to work with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Green Party leader and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan. As has been noted on the record, yesterday it emerged that the three super junior Ministers will receive an additional €16,000 each in allowances. I am old enough to remember when two super junior Ministers were sufficient. This is a very anxious time for families and businesses, but there is no sign whatsoever of the Government tightening its belt and acknowledging or understanding the pain and difficulty in which many people find themselves.


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