Tuesday, 16 December 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
The total allocation for my Department for 2004 is €35.254 million, of which €18.588 million is for administration and €16.616 million is for other services. Details of the Estimates are set out in the Abridged Estimates for Public Services, which were presented to the Dáil on 13 November. I look forward to addressing specific issues relating to the Estimates provisions when they are considered in the usual way by the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service. I also look forward to responding to questions which Deputies may wish to table separately on specific aspects of the work of my Department.
Mr. Kenny: The country will face another referendum on the future of Europe possibly in 2005. Is the Taoiseach happy with the allocation given to the National Forum on Europe? I am sure we have all learned lessons from the first Nice referendum campaign when inadequate information resulted in the public not supporting the treaty because of confusion about the issues involved. Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the allocation for 2004, which is included in his Department's Vote, will be sufficient to ensure a proper presentation of the many difficult European issues? This places the Taoiseach in a challenging position for the next six months.
The Taoiseach: I agree with Deputy Kenny that the National Forum on Europe is important and that it is one of the ways in which information can be disseminated to help the people to understand the issues. There is an increase of 25% in the provision to the National Forum on Europe. In line with the desirability to continue to have a forum in which to discuss matters relating to the future of Europe and to bring them to the attention of the public, especially in light of the ongoing Intergovernmental Conference, our Presidency of the European Union and, ultimately, a referendum on the constitutional treaty, the Estimate includes €1.15 million to provide for the ongoing work of the forum. This increase reflects the expected increased levels of activity. Javier Solana will be here early in January to begin the activities for 2004. I am satisfied that we have the resources to keep us going at the current high level.
As we come to the end of this year, it is worth recalling the excellent range of speakers from across Europe and from the senior ranks of the Commission who have been here. I hope we can continue that in 2004.
Mr. Sargent: There are some interesting aspects to the Estimates for the Department of the Taoiseach. The incidental expenses have increased by 28%. Perhaps the Taoiseach could outline the nature of those expenses. As regards the money for tribunals of inquiry, this is taxpayer's money which would not be foreseen as being necessary in a perfect world. However, while there has been no increase for the tribunal into the Dunne payments, there has been a 182% increase for the tribunal into payments to Mr. Haughey and Mr. Lowry. Perhaps the Taoiseach could indicate why there has been such a significant increase in that case.
Deputy Kenny referred to the National Forum on Europe. There is a contrast between it and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which does not get an increase. Is money being withheld from the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and, if so, is that an indication that there are other ways to remedy the logjam in Northern Ireland which do not involve the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation?
The Taoiseach: On incidental expenses, this subhead provides for a number of services, including training, official and State entertainment, the Library, the Government Information Service and other miscellaneous services. The 2003 provision for this subhead was subject to a considerable reduction of €973,000 compared with €1.311 million in 2002. Greater efficiencies were achieved in the subhead during the year. The 2004 provision is set at a more realistic level given the commitments in a number of areas, including training commitments under Sustaining Progress. This provision shows a reduction on the 2002 provision, demonstrating better value for money, despite additional commitments arising which will have to be met from this subhead, for example, the dual language publication requirements. As always, my Department makes every effort to ensure best value for money in the procurement of goods and services consistent with maintaining the quality and range of services it provides. There is an increase of 27% to 28% in that area.
The increase of 182% is for the Moriarty tribunal. The allocation is to provide for the ongoing legal and administrative costs of the tribunal. This provision relates to the annual running costs of the tribunal for next year. Based on the 2003 cost, this should be approximately €3.8 million. The provision also relates to the costs which are expected to arise next year should the tribunal complete its work. These costs include report publication and an element of legal costs. The provision of €6.66 million is only an estimate of what some of those costs, and hopefully all of them, will be. No provision for this element was included this year and that is the reason for the increase.
The third question was about the resources for the forum next year. We need to keep that going. We hope we will be able to renew discussions and the political activities of the Assembly and the other institutions. For that reason we have not put in any additional costings for the forum.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: A significant element of the budget for the Taoiseach's Department is for the Moriarty tribunal. The allocation for 2004 is €10.3 million. Does the Taoiseach believe the Moriarty tribunal will come to a conclusion in 2004, as speculated in his last response? Can he confirm that closure in that instance can be reached in the next 12 months?
I have asked the Taoiseach previously about the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission on the provision of legal fees for legal costs and expenses. Does he agree that a new system needs to be devised that takes into account the fact that these counsel are employed for a significant period of several months and, in some instances, many years and that the current formula for calculation is based on normal case representation which invariably lasts only days or weeks? The formula currently used is unsuitable, costly and a major drain on the public finances. Does the Taoiseach have proposals to address this major deficiency in the arrangement and is legislation to do that being considered?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy asked if I am sure that the tribunal will complete its work next year. I am not sure but it was thought prudent to do this in the Department. We had thought it would finish this year but the tribunal moved into extensive examinations of other areas. It is prudent to make provision for 2004 but I cannot be certain that it will conclude. However, it is realistic to speculate that it might and that is the reason for the provision.
I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin's comments on the other issue. Over €100 million has been spent on these tribunals in recent years. When tribunals are due to sit for a long period of time, counsel costs should be more realistic. In the proposals he announced earlier this year, and in the legislation before the House on the investigations of tribunals, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform proposes to make enormous changes in this area. There will be far more budgetary control and more controlled costs for counsel opinion. That is how the Government would like to operate in the future.
Ms McManus: Is the Taoiseach aware that many members of the public are astonished, if not shocked, at the extraordinary amounts of money the Government has been spending on private consultancy firms and services? As highlighted by my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, in the last week, €100 million in three years—
Ms McManus: That is what I am coming to. In that context, will the Taoiseach explain why it is necessary to expend approximately €400,000 on consultancy services in the year 2003-04? What are the deficiencies within his Department that he cannot avail of the expertise of the Civil Service in this regard? Where in the Estimate has he hidden the allocation for the media monitoring unit? Perhaps he will explain where the cost of the unit is designated, how much will be allocated for 2004 and whether it is an increase or decrease on 2003?
The Taoiseach: On consultancy costs in my Department, there has been a 33% decrease in the provision for consultancy services next year. My Department has done a great deal of work in recent years in implementing modernisation reforms, including the implementation of new systems under the management information framework and human resource management systems. These items have accounted for most of the consultancy costs over the past two to three years. Given the full implementation of these systems, and with due regard to the need to minimise consultancy costs, only a limited number of projects which will require the expertise of external consultants have been identified, thereby accounting for the reduced provision in the subhead. Normally consultants from my Department are used. Generally costs are involved where there is no expertise or where IT services or some other function needs to be carried out to try to improve our services and resource capability. That is the position for this year.
A few weeks ago, I gave a detailed answer to a question from Deputy Kenny on media monitoring, including details on staff provisions. The staff in the media monitoring unit come from different Departments. They are paid by their Departments and my Department recoups the costs. I gave full details on the issue a few weeks ago.
An Ceann Comhairle: Question 5 is in the name of Deputy Kenny. We have a logistical difficulty in that there are a number of questions on Northern Ireland. Detailed questions to the Taoiseach on his Estimates might be more appropriate to meetings of the relevant select committee when they will be debated in detail.
Mr. Kenny: My question in on a particular issue. The Taoiseach's Department made a specific commitment regarding a public service broker, namely, a point of contact for the public, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, next year there will be a 5% decrease in the technological and innovative budget for the Department at a time when the Tánaiste has made references to innovation and technology and the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has referred to the importance of broadband As the project is already well behind schedule, will the Taoiseach indicate if he is still strongly committed to it?
Mr. Sargent: How did the Taoiseach manage to convince the Minister for Finance to sanction the trebling in the increase in funding for the Moriarty tribunal, from 3.6% to 10.3%? Did he promise that the money would be reimbursed in the form of future levies, penalties or whatever? Have taxpayers lost the moneys that have been allocated to cover the tribunal's legal costs or is the Taoiseach confident they will be recovered?
The Taoiseach: The Cabinet provision has been decreased by 5%. Work on the Cabinet project has been ongoing for the past two years, since 2001, and it is well into the implementation phase. I am satisfied that the Estimates provision for this project and other information technology initiatives is adequate to meet next year's requirements because most of the equipment has been purchased at this stage.
The Taoiseach: It would be nice if the State were not found liable for costs because if it is, the figures could be even higher than those I have mentioned, which do not represent the total cost but the Estimate provision to try to deal with the matter. If the State were to carry all the costs of the work, which is now into its seventh calendar year, I am not sure what the costs would be but I imagine they would be far more than is provided for.
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