Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Restructuring of Office of Public Works.

Tuesday, 28 February 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 449 No. 7

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  26.  Miss Quill  Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill   asked the Minister for Finance  Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn   the proposals, if any, there are for the restructuring of the Office of Public Works involving the separation of its principal functions and the reassignment of responsibility for these functions to the Department of Finance, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1913/95]

  64.  Miss Quill  Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill   asked the Minister for Finance  Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn   the statutory powers relating to heritage and cultural institutions which are to be transferred from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1906/95]

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 64 together.

The document A Government of Renewal sets out the Government's plans in relation to the restructuring of [1723] the Office of Public Works and the reassignment of its principal functions. As that document indicates, these changes are to be carried out on a phased basis.

Since taking office, the major thrust of my and the Government's activity in this area has been to prepare and effect changes in the heritage and cultural functions of the Minister for Finance and of the Office of Public Works. Accordingly, the functions of the Minister for Finance in relation to wildlife and whale fisheries have been transferred to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht by Government order under section 6 (1) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, 1939. Arrangements are in train for the making of a similar order which will transfer to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht the functions of the Minister for Finance in relation to St. Stephen's Green, Phoenix Park, Bourne Vincent Memorial Park, the Royal Botanic Gardens, national monuments and the Shannon navigation.

The only function in these areas being retained by the Minister for Finance are functions of a fiscal nature akin to those exercisable in relation to Departments and offices generally.

Various enactments over the years have conferred powers and functions in the heritage and cultural area on the Commissioners of Public Works rather than on any individual Minister. These functions are currently being indentified with a view to determining the most appropriate legislative and institutional mechanisms for ensuring their discharge under the aegis of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It seems from the Minister's reply that the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will have a whale of a time looking after wildlife. Will the Minister say if the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht is the Minister who will make a decision on the location of the interpretative centre at Mullaghmore?

[1724]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  The Deputy is raising specifics which were not referred to in the question.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It relates to the division of responsibilities. It is very hard to decipher whether the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht has been given responsibility for this matter.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I do not want to go into the specifics of a decision which has already been taken. We are talking about the transfer of functions and, broadly speaking, the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will have responsibility for the formulation and implementation of policy in these areas. In so far as it is an executive agency carrying out and implementing that policy, the Office of Public Works will assist the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in its implementation.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Can I take it that the current position on the division of responsibility in terms of policy matters is no different from what obtained when the Fianna Fáil and Labour parties were in Government?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  As I stated in my reply, there have been two transfers. One has already been made and another is in the process of being made.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Will the Office of Public Works be under the direction of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht or under the Minister's direction?He used the phrase “assisting the Minister with the implementation of policy”. Can the Minister tell the Office of Public Works what to do?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Office of Public Works will be under the direction of the Minister for Finance and of the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins. As the Deputy is aware, the office predates the establishment of the State. In regard to the implementation of heritage and cultural policies, under previous Administrations when there was no specific [1725] department of culture or Minister with responsibility for arts and culture, cultural functions in general were assigned to the Office of Public Works. We are now systematically identifying and transferring functions to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht where it makes sense to do so. Where the Office of Public Works is in situ and in a position to provide or maintain a service, the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Office of Public Works will arrive at the most efficient, effective and common sense approach to the matter, on a case by case basis. To answer the core of the Deputy's question, the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will determine policy and ensure its implementation, with the co-operation of the Office of Public Works, and give direction if necessary.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  When does the Minister envisage a decision will be taken about the separation of functions confirming that the Office of Public Works will effectively be a sub-contracting agency of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  It would be a mistake to conclude that. The Office of Public Works is more than 150 years old and from time to time has had functions assigned to and taken from it. For example, at one time it was responsible for the primary school building programme but that was transferred to the Department of Education. It also had responsibility for harbours and harbour repair works, but that responsibility was transferred to the Department of the Marine when it was established. We now have a Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht which has been a great success and it is appropriate that it should formulate and implement policy in terms of functions which are properly within the remit of such a Department.Where it can avail of the resources and experience of the Office of Public Works, common sense and public prudence in terms of taxpayers' [1726] money demands that should be done, with the co-operation of the Office of Public Works.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Will the Minister accept that this is a ludicrous way to treat the Office of Public Works and that there is no strategic decision at the root of this, rather it is a political decision relating to the political nuances of the relationships between the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Finance? Will he accept that as a result of this we will have a Department incapable of making a decision? The Minister stated that decisions will be taken on a case by case basis to determine who should take responsibility for projects. That will lead to conflict between the two Departments, nobody will take charge and the Office of Public Works will be emasculated. In no way could this be considered a strategic decision. It is political balderdash.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I hope I have not inadvertently misled the Deputy. I stated clearly that statutory responsibility for heritage and cultural matters, in so far as they were within the legal remit of the Office of Public Works, is by order of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, 1939 being transferred to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Minister should relate that to Mullaghmore.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The question of the implementation of specific policies in certain areas utilising the agency services of the Office of Public Works will be evaluated on a case by case basis where it makes good economic sense from the point of view of the taxpayer, having regard to the existing experience of the Office of Public Works. Under the orders which will be laid before the House in due course — one of which already has — legal responsibility for the formulation and implementation of [1727] policy is now a matter for the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.This is similar to what happened when primary schools was taken from the remit of the Office of Public Works.

Mr. M. Kitt: Information on Michael P. Kitt  Zoom on Michael P. Kitt  Does it not state in the Government's programme that the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will give written instructions to the Office of Public Works in relation to certain matters? Will the Minister agree that this is a new procedure? Which Minister Higgins is running the show? Will it be a question of Higgins v. Higgins?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  To avoid confusion, all instructions must be given in written form. The Deputy would not want to read much into that statement. There is very positive co-operation between the Office of Public Works and the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.We are systematically reinforcing and consolidating a Department set up by the previous Administration that is less than two years old in terms of its legal incorporation and which, because of its age, has taken time slowly but surely to co-ordinate in an integrated and coherent way its statutory functions in the discharge of cultural and heritage matters.

Mr. Hilliard: Information on Colm M. Hilliard  Zoom on Colm M. Hilliard  Is the Minister aware that bodies are very confused because of the lack of information and clarification from his office? Can the Minister advise people where they can have matters negotiated? I seek the Minister's advice in regard to a problem relating to a heritage centre which is about to be established in County Meath. As we wish to bring the Book of Kells to the centre, will the Minister advise me where to go to have the matter negotiated?

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  To Trinity College.

Mr. Hilliard: Information on Colm M. Hilliard  Zoom on Colm M. Hilliard  I have written to one or [1728] two Departments about the matter, but cannot get informarion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  That matter is worthy of a separate question.

Mr. Hilliard: Information on Colm M. Hilliard  Zoom on Colm M. Hilliard  Is the Minister aware that the public is confused because of the lack of clarification from his Department?

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Let us keep the Book of Kells in Dublin.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  In reply to Deputy Kitt the Minister stated that what is contained in the Programme for Government should be taken with a grain of salt. Does that apply to the entire programme?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I did not say that.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  He did. When are we likely to get a decision in regard to the break up of functions? Can the Minister give a timescale in that regard?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I am not sure to what the Deputy refers.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  I am referring to restructuring of the Office of Public Works.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I do not have that information to hand but I can supply the Deputy with it.

Mr. McCreevy: Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  I offer the Minister my sincere sympathy in having to adjudicate between the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the Office of Public Works. When I hear him refer to positive co-operation I know he is in deep trouble and that things have reverted to the way they were for the past two years.

It is time to have a clear division of responsibilities. I am sure the Minister does not need to be told about the necessity for positive co-operation as he heard all about it in the past two months [1729] in Government. However, I advise him to get the matter out of the way once and for all and ensure a clear, unequivocal breakdown of the functions, because there is confusion right around the country.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The decisions we are taking on the transfer of functions under the legislation to which I already referred, the amended Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1939, remove some of the confusion and we will continue to eliminate all confusion.

Mr. T. Kitt: Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  We are trying to be helpful.The Minister should come back to the House at a future date and ensure greater clarity in this area. I agree with Deputy McCreevy that the issue is fudged by the idea that there is great co-operation between certain Departments.We, on this side of the House, greatly value the work of the Office of Public Works. Rathfarnham Castle, in my own constituency, is an example of work carried out by it and my colleagues could give many more examples. Much of its work is of an aesthetic quality and of a technical nature. The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Michael D. Higgins has a lot on his plate and has been applauded for much of what he has done, but giving him additional responsibilities may not be necessary.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  Question, please.

Mr. T. Kitt: Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  Will there be implications for staff in the announcements the Minister has made today?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  This work will be undertaken on a phased basis. We will examine the question of the implications for staff and come back to the Deputy on it. I concur with the Deputy, as would the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, that the work of the Office of Public Works is of a very high quality and renowned throughout the country. This [1730] is an effective and sensible division of responsibilities.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Will the Office of Public Works or the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht designate the national heritage areas which will have such a devastating impact on the policy of the Department of Agriculture? The Office of Public Works did this in the past.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I will get the information for the Deputy.


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