Friday, 9 July 1982
Dáil Eireann Debate
That a sum not exceeding £16,573,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1982, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Finance, including the Paymaster-General's Office and for payment of certain grants-in-aid.
Mr. Boland: Is it anticipated in respect of the Vote which has just now been moved that there will be any savings in the total sum effected before the end of this financial year? If so, could the Minister indicate in respect of which subhead and the extent of the amount which it is proposed to save?
Professor O'Donoghue: The Deputy will have to suffer me for quite a number of them. If the Deputy thinks this is the best way to use parliamentary time, then do so. He can then go out and do his hypocritical act on the streets, whinging and crying for democracy and asking how the time of the House should be used. We have a charade here week after week with time being wasted and not devoted to the matters set down and agreed for debate. If the Deputy wishes to debate the Estimate, do so. If the Deputy wishes to repeat with monotonous  regularity the same questions he will get the same answers. The answer is that the Government have been examining all the Departments and areas of spending within their control. They are seeking economies under those headings and are committed to bringing forward a programme of expenditure reductions to achieve at least the £45 million in question.
Mr. Boland: Is it anticipated that there will be a saving in respect of this Vote? This is the House of Parliament and not a collection of undergraduates to have some donnish person wave his finger at and give lectures to in outmoded economic theory. The House is entitled to demand an explanation before it passes sums of £16 million and which in their totality will represent hundreds of millions of pounds. It will take quite a long time. We seem to be moving away from the technical nature of the discussion in which the Taoiseach and I were engaged, now that the Minister is being obstructive. The House is asking for a reasonable answer. We are being asked to pass a vote of £16 million and have been told there is a considerable amount of money to be affected across all the Estimates. It is reasonable to ask if it is anticipated that there would be savings in respect of this Estimate and, if so, in respect of which subhead and the amount.
Professor O'Donoghue: The Government are seeking economies from all Departments and in so far as subheads relate to particular Departments economies are being sought. There is already sufficient indication of substantial progress in this area but since the totals have not yet been finalised it is not appropriate to indicate prematurely the precise scale of the savings which will be effected under any subhead. That is not a lecture on economic theory but a statement of common sense and fact.
Professor O'Donoghue: The Deputy appears to be under a misunderstanding.  What the House is being asked to do is authorise the maximum amounts of money which each Department may spend. If Departments succeed in achieving economies within those totals, I would have thought that is desirable and something the Opposition have been asking for in recent months. I fail to see the underlying rationale for complaining when Departments might actually bring in spending totals for the year which were less than the estimated sums voted. That is what we are doing. We are voting Estimates.
Mr. Boland: If the Minister for Education was around the political scene at all last year he must have realised that is precisely what the previous Government were trying to do. It is reasonable that the House should have identified for it the Departments in which these savings are to be effected. We are being asked to pass the Estimates in respect of all the remaining Departments. We are told it is anticipated that the totality of the estimates will not be spent before the end of this financial year. It is reasonable to ask in respect of which specific Department it is anticipated that the Estimates being passed this morning will not be spent in full. Is it anticipated that the Vote for the Office of the Minister for Finance is one of the Votes in respect of which the Government anticipate there will not be need to expend the full amount authorised?
Professor O'Donoghue: As the Deputy is aware, staff can be deployed or allocated to various duties in the course of the year. The fact that staff were initially  recruited for one purpose does not preclude them being gainfully employed on other activities in that Department.
Mr. Shatter: Does the Minister agree that the rationale of what he is saying is that Departments are being asked to achieve economies but that the reality is they may not achieve any? The sum of £45 million may not be recouped by way of economies in any Department.
Professor O'Donoghue: That is not an accurate way of putting the matter. That is why one must be careful about the way one replies to questions. It is feasible in the course of the year to bring in one set of proposals which will achieve an economy on spending of £45 million or any other sum. It is equally possible for other events to occur in the course of a year which would add to spending in various Departments, perhaps for matters quite extraneous to those considered to date. For example, some catastrophe could occur somewhere in the world between now and the end of the year and the Government might be asked to send funds. Between now and 31 December it is quite feasible that a number of events could occur which would add to or subtract from spending totals.
The Government have embarked on a programme of action designed to bring forward economy measures which will produce savings of £45 million on the Estimates prepared for the House. That cannot be a guarantee that the recorded figures on 31 December will show precisely that result because — other happenings may occur between now and 31 December. That is a perfectly common-sense, reasonable, factual presentation of the matter. If I am wrong I would be delighted if someone would point out in what respect it is incorrect.
Mr. Boland: In this respect: the Taoiseach gave the House a categorical assurance on his own Vote that savings of at least £45 million would be effected across all the Estimates. That was given in the light of his greater knowledge and parliamentary experience, over and above that of the Minister for Education, that catastrophies  could occur in other parts of the world or in a part of the world called Ireland during the course of the remainder of the year which may necessitate additional spending. In the full knowledge that such events may occur the Taoiseach was quite categorical that all these Estimates would not be spent but would be underspent to the tune of £45 million. The Minister for Education has put down a small but significant marker. He has explained to the House that in his view it is possible that by the end of this year these Estimates may be overspent because of events yet to arise in the remaining six-and-a-half months of this year. There is a lot of divergence, perhaps not for the first time, between the view expressed by the Minister and that expressed by the Taoiseach.
Mr. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): I take it that when the Minister speaks about a saving of £45 million between now and the end of the year he means an overall saving taking one Department with another. Am I right in thinking that indications so far suggest that that will be very difficult if not impossible to achieve? For the first six months of the year we appear to have overspent. We appear to have borrowed as much as we anticipated would be needed in an entire year, but the Government say that due to buoyancy between now and the end of the year they will not alone make their target for the second six months but will retrieve what they have overspent in the first six months. Furthermore, am I right in thinking that there are several Departments, including that for which I am spokesman, the Department of the Environment, for which substantial Supplementary Estimates have already been introduced to deal with overspending of one sort or another? The Minister said it was because the Estimates were not large enough. Be that as it may, the Government adopted those Estimates when they came into power. They could have altered them but they did not. They are their Estimates now. They rejected them in January of this year and in the March budget they adopted them.
In the Department of the Environment  alone there is a very substantial Supplementary Estimate to pay for additional sums given to county councils here and there all over the country and for other things. Does not all that suggest that the Government are really gambling in a reckless way, hoping that they will back a winner? They are suggesting that they will have this saving overall when all the indications are there that at the end of the year they will be heavily off target on all sides.
Professor O'Donoghue: I do not recall the Taoiseach saying at any stage that the overall level of spending for the year would show a saving of £45 million on the Estimates as presented to the House. I heard him say, and I repeat, that we were engaged on an exercise in Government designed to secure economies of at least £45 million. The Taoiseach referred to PRSI adjustment and other overruns. It would be at least £45 million and that certainly is achievable. But it does not tell us what the final overall total spending for the year will be because, as I have indicated in reply to Deputy Shatter, it is possible for many other events to occur between now and 31 December. When Deputy Boland asked a somewhat similar question I said that it was impossible to answer because no one can say at this juncture what the spending figure would be by 31 December. Nobody on either that side or our side could foretell that.
Professor O'Donoghue: No. The Minister said and is repeating that, just as you are identifying one item that is either adding to the spending side or in the precise case of the PRSI is reducing the receipt side of the account, we will match that with proposals on the other side. In effect those two items cancel each other out. What that does to the overall total of spending in the year no one can say.
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