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Finance Act 2004 (section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2020: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ged Nash: Information on Ged Nash Zoom on Ged Nash] Effective oversight of, and accountability for, this historic expenditure is, therefore, needed yet it has been sorely lacking so far. The Minister knows and acknowledges that fact and that the situation is, and has been, imperfect. We have already seen a de facto suspension of many of the robust budgetary oversight practices we had come to expect and demand over recent years in respect of the presentation of Government spending plans. The scale of this carry-over causes yet more problems of transparency and accountability, as noted by the Parliamentary Budget Office from time to time.

Despite this, not only is this Government failing to spend transparently or wisely, but the carry-over figures show that it is also failing to spend fully in critical Departments despite the problem of creaking public infrastructure and a raft of shovel-ready projects across the country which have not yet been started. Although the historically high capital carry-over of some €700 million is, to a degree, to be expected due to Covid-19, what is more worrying is the high capital underspends under the headings of housing, transport and climate. We all understand the circumstances. For example, building sites have not been operating at full tilt. That is entirely understandable but it does not tell the entire story. By my reckoning, we will not be anywhere near our targets in respect of social housing, new builds or home retrofitting and that is worrying. Even more worrying is that this Government, which is led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and which includes the Green Party, which might be said to have lost its colour, is incapable of imagining the role of a bigger state, a state that could provide a new social contract for its citizens while putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work securely.

To refer to housing again, we all know the demand for the building of affordable homes. Through the local authorities, the State must play the lead role. Despite this, we have seen the Minister's Government propose a €75 million scheme for so-called affordable housing which officials of the Minister's own Department have said "will push up prices [...] at a time when prices are starting to rise anyway." This represents another gift to developers and proves yet again that this Government will continue to rely on a failed private sector model rather than driving State-led capital investment. The Government cannot make the same mistakes again. The social price will be paid if we go down that road.

I look forward to hearing more details regarding the forthcoming national economic plan from the Minister and about how he plans to address the issues I have raised today and repeatedly over recent months with regard to the enhancement of transparency and accountability in respect of expenditure and the management of the public finances.

Deputy Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the motion the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, has introduced this afternoon. It is technical, as others have said, but it is also vitally important. We all know that, at the heart of it, this is not a contentious motion. It is necessary. It gives us an opportunity to raise particular issues but I expect, and hope to see, the support of the entire House for this sensible measure.

I will pick up on a few of the comments Deputy Nash made. This motion shows the true impact of Covid-19 on the infrastructural ambition of the State. It is only wise of me to ask some questions of the Minister. He might not necessarily answer them during this debate but perhaps he will take them back to the Department where they might factor into wider considerations on Government policy. Housing is rightly seen as central and necessary. I refer to the development of State-built housing and social, affordable and private housing. It is necessary that the likes of the Land Development Agency truly realise their potential and fulfil their mandates. We have seen the necessary slowdown of many sectors, particularly the construction sector, due to the pandemic. The vast majority of sites, whether small, medium or large, are closed. We are already one month into another year and the impacts of the pandemic are still painfully felt, first and foremost by the victims of this terrible virus and their families, but also by the economy and the entire operation and development of the State. There is one month down with another 11 to go but, with the best will in the world, we know there will be some element of restriction for a large part of this year, if not for all of it. The Minister might be able to come back to me in writing or through informal engagement in due course on the measures that can be taken to fast-track these vitally important infrastructural projects, particularly the very necessary provision of social housing, when we get the green light.

A number of sites are still open and construction is proceeding with the necessary precautions but they represent an extremely small part of the sector. We all know the need to construct not only homes, although they are the foremost concern, but also developments in the commercial and State sectors. We are now, in 2021, talking about a capital carry-over. I wonder if we will be having the same conversation in 2022. If we need to do so, so be it, but how can we plan for a system under which we can make up for lost time when it is possible to do things properly and within health guidelines?

I will also refer to a couple of other areas. I hope the entire House would agree that housing is the first and foremost priority, as is the development of our health service, but I will also address some niche matters, although I will not go into any constituency concerns as such. I will refer to the overall economic response to Brexit, the pinch of which we are starting to feel, and necessary infrastructural developments. I am thinking about roads to the major ports, including Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. We were all pleased to see the announcement made by Brittany Ferries of an increase in the number of direct sailings to France from the Port of Cork. This is very important because the Continent is our largest market and has the potential to be our largest growth market in the coming decade. It is very important that we realise every opportunity in this regard and put every necessary element in place to do so. I refer to the infrastructural work which has not been able to progress, for example, the M11-N11 upgrade or, more pertinently, the really important development of Rosslare Europort. Perhaps the Minister, after discussion with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, may be able to get back to me with his opinion on the latter project. Dublin Port has expanded massively over the last year or two. Rosslare Europort is also expanding but the traffic leaving the port has now increased by 500%. This traffic is going directly to the Continent, to the ports that are vital in servicing our largest market. There is, however, concern over the port's ownership. It is jointly owned through the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company. The Minister and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, need to resolve this matter because if we are to realise opportunities in the Single Market and on the Continent, we will do so through the development, expansion and modernisation of Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. That is vital. Dublin Port is big and moving well but we have to look at those two alternatives. This will require the continuation of capital spending on the arteries into, and the areas servicing, these ports into 2022 and beyond.

The last area to which I will refer before giving way relates to the €106 million funding to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as mentioned by the Minister in his speech. The vast majority of the focus provided by IDA Ireland and Microfinance Ireland is on Brexit preparedness. Even though Brexit has nominally happened, we cannot stop preparing. We are starting to see its fallout on companies, individuals and citizens across this island every day. I will return to my hobby horse of maximising the potential of the Single Market and the Common Market. Infrastructural and capital spending is required in our State agencies to ensure this potential is realised and to ensure IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are able to exploit every single opportunity. This may involve Irish producers and goods replacing British producers and goods on the Continent. That cannot happen without the support of the State and without proper investment in the measures that will, in co-ordination with European funding, allow Irish businesses to realise those opportunities.

I commend the motion to the House. It is very timely that we have this opportunity to raise some key points about spending. It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity, in the remaining two and half minutes, to mention once again an issue I have brought up with the Minister by way of parliamentary question, Topical Issue debate and written letter. I refer to the use of cash related to criminal activity seized by An Garda Síochána. Last year, €16 million in cash was seized, which was an increase on €7 million in the previous two years. We are only one month into this year and already more than €2 million in cash has been seized. That cash needs to be ring-fenced for capital and current spending aimed at addressing the causes of the criminality by which it was raised. It is about getting into communities, constructing physical resources and structures, such as schools and education centres, and providing early intervention and outreach programmes.


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