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 Header Item Finance Act 2004 (section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2020: Motion (Continued)
 Header Item Reappointment of the Ombudsman for Children: Motion

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] Disappointingly, last week the current Minister responsible for energy, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said there were changes coming to the scheme "to better target those most in need". In other words, quite a number of those 7,000 people who are in energy poverty and who are reliant on social welfare will now be excluded from his revision of that scheme. That is wrong.

The Minister also announced a new national retrofit programme for 2021 but we have no information on that as of yet. We are already into February. If we were trying to maximise the number of retrofits due to take place and the capital drawdown in 2021, then that scheme should have been operational in January of this year. This was committed to in the programme for Government. There has been ample time to design this retrofit scheme and it has not happened. The argument will be made that we cannot retrofit homes because of the lockdown. I accept that people cannot go into homes at the moment with the current restrictions, but much of the work that is required is external. That could be prioritised at this time and be carried out. It is not just about energy poverty. Regarding the Government's own objectives relating to climate emissions, energy efficiency is the first and most significant step on the road to reducing overall emissions and improving air quality throughout this country.

As a result of the pandemic, families' heating bills have gone up dramatically and that has been compounded by increased carbon taxes and the subsidising of data centres. It is immoral that people who are struggling to pay electricity bills are subsidising the electricity going into data centres, many of which have been constructed on a speculative proposition. There was a 9% increase in residential carbon emissions during the 2020 lockdown and we have seen a fall-off in the retrofitting of homes, which commenced in 2019 and collapsed in 2020. We need a step change in retrofitting homes and that needs to be prioritised as part of the capital plan.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl As there are no other contributors from the Government, the Rural Independent Group or the Independent Group present, I call the Minister again.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Michael McGrath): Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath I thank all the Deputies for contributing to the debate on this motion. In substance, it is a technical motion providing for the carrying forward of more than €700 million of the capital budget from 2020 into 2021, in order that those funds will be available for expenditure across a range of areas under the public capital investment programme. It will not be possible for me to respond to all the individual local projects that were mentioned during the debate but I am sure colleagues across the House will be engaging with the line Departments and with the sponsoring bodies in respect of all those individual projects.

The €710 million that is being provided in 2021, in addition to the budget already provided, will bring the overall capital expenditure allocation for 2021 to around €10.8 billion, which is a new record high in the history of the State. To allay some of the concerns that were raised, the actual expenditure in 2020, notwithstanding the significant impact of Covid-19, substantially exceeded the original budget. The original budget in 2020 was around €8.2 billion in capital terms and the actual spend across the public capital programme in 2020 exceeded €9 billion. It is important to put that on the record.

As colleagues know, we are undertaking the review of the national development plan, NDP, with a view to ensuring that it is consistent with Project Ireland 2040. Sitting alongside the national planning framework, the NDP is a vital document setting out a roadmap for the development of our country over the next decade and beyond. There will be a requirement to reconsider the priorities in the NDP in the context of developments that have taken place, including the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the changes that have been forced upon us are here to stay to a greater or lesser extent. There is a renewed commitment to tackling the climate emergency and that will feature strongly in the review of the NDP, in addition to investment in transport, housing policy, implementation of Sláintecare, and balanced regional development to ensure that happens in a meaningful and tangible way.

In addition to all the traditional forms of capital that we always associate with the public capital programme, such as the building of schools and roads and the improvement of public transport infrastructure, capital expenditure also relates to digitalisation, investing in e-health and ensuring we have modern systems across our public services. It can also provide funding for grants through IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, for example. Over the course of 2020, restart grants in the order of €700 million were provided to businesses. The traditional concept of capital expenditure has evolved and changed over that period. Of course, investment in broadband is also a key area and a very important plank of the Government's capital investment programme.

As part of the NDP review we need to improve delivery, and this aligns with the comments of a number of Deputies. It is a priority for me as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to improve the capacity of the system to deliver. As part of phase 1 of the review of the NDP, there is a lot of technical work under way evaluating the capacity of the public sector to deliver on major public capital projects. We are also looking at alternative financing methods, such as public private partnerships, for example. We are looking at investment trends and the return the State gets from its public capital programme. We will be moving on to phase 2 in the next few months and will eventually agree a new ten-year NDP, which will be exciting and ambitious and will align with the priorities of this Government and broadly with those of this House and the country as well. I again thank all Deputies for their contributions and support for this motion.

  Question put and agreed to.

Reappointment of the Ombudsman for Children: Motion

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (Deputy Roderic O'Gorman): Information on Roderic O'Gorman Zoom on Roderic O'Gorman I move:

That Dáil Éireann recommends Dr. Niall Muldoon for re-appointment by the President to be the Ombudsman for Children.

I am asking Dáil Éireann to pass a motion that Dr. Niall Muldoon be reappointed by the President as Ombudsman for Children. Seanad Éireann approved such a resolution last week. On 15 December 2020, the Government supported my intention to arrange for the moving of the requisite resolutions for consideration by both Houses recommending Dr. Muldoon's reappointment for a second term of six years, with effect from 17 February 2021. Dr. Muldoon has served as Ombudsman for Children since his original appointment on 17 February 2015.

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