Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Micheál Martin: I ask the Taoiseach to be up-front with the Dáil and the people about a very fundamental issue. I was very surprised last week when it emerged, and was confirmed, that the publication of the comprehensive spending review would be held back until after completion of the budgetary and Estimates process. The Taoiseach said the Minister would not publish it.
In opposition, Fine Gael and the Labour Party waxed lyrical about an open and a transparent process on the budget. This is certainly not the case now. Each Department supplied the required information as early as last June and memos were circulated in July. The Taoiseach knows what is likely to be proposed. Will he tell us now and not one week after the elections on 27 October? The Taoiseach and his Ministers have repeatedly claimed they have revolutionised strategic planning in government. If they cannot even give us dates as to when decisions will be taken, how can we seriously believe this?
By law, the Taoiseach must propose spending figures well in advance of the budget and these must be voted on by the House. There are only weeks available for this to be done. If the Taoiseach will not publish anything and will not even say when basic information will be provided, the only implication to be drawn is that he is keeping the information hidden until after 27 October.
This issue is to be added to the list of broken election promises. The Government is delaying the publication of the comprehensive spending review when it knows, as we do, that essentially the work was completed by July. The Taoiseach has had the material from the Departments for three months and has had detailed reports for two months, so why is there a delay in publishing the comprehensive spending review?
The Taoiseach: The answer to the Deputy’s question is that it has not yet been completed. Detailed analysis of the way expenditure has been allowed to continue for many years cannot be carried out overnight.
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has asked every Minister to carry out an analysis of every section of his or her Department and report to him on the spending of public moneys and taxpayer’s money which, as the Deputy will be aware, was obscenely wasted in many instances. The Minister has not completed his public expenditure review, but he will have the information to hand when it is completed. There are more than two months to budget day and the process is in train. The pre-budget outlook will be available, while a three year fiscal plan will be published. The Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance will hold detailed discussions with every other Minister on what is submitted. The Deputy will have plenty of information to digest and discuss in due course. He has asked what is causing the delay in the publication of information on the comprehensive public expenditure review. It has not yet been completed.
Deputy Micheál Martin: He also noted that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, had stated it would be held back until after the budgetary and Estimates process had been completed. Let us not try to engage in sleight of hand. The Taoiseach knows that what I am getting at is the deliberate delay in publishing the comprehensive spending review because of the presidential election. The people are facing choices. The last Government published comprehensive spending reviews well in advance of the budget or the publication of any three year plan. It published them in isolation in order that the people would see the spending choices being put before them and to allow for a genuine debate in this House about the priorities and areas that should be protected such as the numbers of special needs assistants and class sizes.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach is deliberately hiding that information and preventing the publication of the spending review in isolation. Both he and the Minister promised in this House that it would be complete by September.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy has made the charge that information emerging from the public expenditure review is being held back because of the presidential election. That is absolute and utter nonsense. Given the complexity of conducting a detailed expenditure review of public moneys in every section of every Department, it is not something that can be done overnight. The Deputy will also be aware that the memorandum of understanding signed by the previous Government requires us to produce a timeline for complex legislation. This has taken up a considerable amount of Government time. His question is why are we not publishing the comprehensive review. The answer is that it has not been completed.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Nuair a tháinig an Taoiseach isteach in oifig, labhair sé faoin ghá ceannasaíocht a léiriú agus chuir sé pay cap ar special advisers. Mar is gnách, áfach, bhris sé an gealltanas sin díreach ar an nós céanna le gealltanais eile. It is disgraceful that nearly €300,000 of taxpayers’ money is being spent on employing constituency workers in his office. On taking office, he spoke about the need for leadership to be shown by those who held high office in the public sector. With great hullabaloo and as a sign of his Government’s commitment to sharing the people’s pain, he introduced a pay cap of €92,000 for special advisers. Why are two of the special advisers employed in his Department earning a salary of €168,000, nearly five times the average industrial wage? How did he manage to circumvent his own publicly stated pay cap for special advisers?
The Taoiseach: I am not clear on the Deputy’s point. My constituency office employs five staff — a personal secretary, three personal assistants and an executive officer. The Taoiseach’s private office——
The Taoiseach: The Taoiseach’s private office had 12 staff in 2009 and now has 11. The cost in 2009 was €627,473 and is now €574,000. The Taoiseach’s constituency office had a staff of seven and now has five. The Chief Whip’s private office had four staff and now has four, while the constituency office had four staff and now has three. The private office of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for European affairs had three staff and now has two. These salaries have been agreed and are far below the level that obtained previously. I indicated that there would be reductions both in terms of numbers and overall costs. I can forward to the Deputy the absolute details in comparison to what they were previously.
Deputy Gerry Adams: I have the absolute details and it sounded a little like the five sorrowful mysteries. Deputy Kenny was not Taoiseach in 2009. He put a cap of €92,000 on the pay of special advisers. Two of his special advisers are earning €168,000. I asked him to explain how he had circumvented this cap. Last week I asked him if he would give a commitment not to break the pay cap for the next CEO of Allied Irish Banks, but he would not do so. He did, however, clearly rule out any reversal of the cuts to pensions. We now know what is happening in terms of the Government’s commitments and its rhetoric of sharing the people’s pain.
Rather than putting a supplementary question, I will put the same question again. How did the Taoiseach manage to circumvent the publicly stated pay cap of €92,000 for special advisers, given that two of them are now being paid €168,000? Does he think this fits with the great pain people are feeling due to all stealth taxes and household charges? I ask him to tell us how he managed to do this.
The Taoiseach: He must be very busy. Obviously, these are individuals with long and considerable experience. Public salaries have been capped at €200,000 and there are categories based on experience. The remit and work of these staff have been set out for all to see. The salary scales on which they are employed are substantially lower than those of their predecessors.
Deputy Finian McGrath: Tomorrow in the Mansion House the Disability Federation of Ireland will launch its pre-budget submission on disability groups and services. Many parents and groups will attend the launch. I wish to raise the important matter of disability services in the State and the urgent need to support people with disability in these difficult economic times. Statistics indicate that 18.5% of Irish people have one disability or more and the percentage is increasing as the population ages. A total of 75% of voluntary disability organisations have reported that the demand for their services has increased although their public funding has been reduced. This is the tough world for many people with a disability.
Did the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste state on the “Prime Time” programme on 22 February 2011 that disability, including mental health, was to be their social justice priority? Did the Taoiseach give that commitment? It is stated on page 54 of the programme for Government that we need a realistic implementation plan for the national disability strategy, including sectoral plans with achievable timescales and targets. Where stands the plan now?
Will the Taoiseach outline what has been the impact of the recession on this historically disadvantaged group? Does he share my concerns that the social infrastructure is now being broken up and people are looking for hope on the matter?
The Taoiseach: This is a matter of concern. Yes, I did say prior to the election in the television debate to which the Deputy referred that the 300,000 people who have mental health challenges would be a priority. It is true that at the time, the leader of the Labour Party, now Tánaiste, did refer to those in the disability sector.
The delivery of mental health services has been allocated to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and is to become a central part of the delivery of normal health services. As Deputy McGrath is aware, those with mental health challenges were sidelined for many years. Yesterday I had the privilege of opening a primary care centre which will include the delivery of mental health services as a normal part of the delivery of services in the health sector.
I congratulate the disability authorities on the preparation of their pre-budget submission. I met a number of such groups. They are well aware of the constraints on the country and are happy to work with Government in putting forward credible proposals for the implementation of a plan for disability. From that perspective, their views and proposals will be taken into account.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Taoiseach for his response to the issue. It amazes me that there is always extra money for political advisers yet we see cuts in respect of special needs assistants, SNAs. Is he aware that a total of 2,461 independent assessment of need reports have been completed for children under five by the HSE up to 2011, and yet 751 are currently overdue, implying that 31% have not been completed within the prescribed time limits? A total of 13% more visually impaired people have accessed services that have recently been cut by 7%. Where is the fairness in that?
Will the Taoiseach halt the reduction in income supports for people with disabilities dependent on benefits? Will he maintain funding for the services needed by people with disabilities? An important issue for the Disability Federation of Ireland is whether he will publish and implement the national disability strategy and incorporate it into budget decision-making by all Departments and public agencies.
The Taoiseach: Deputy McGrath asked me detailed questions. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has referred to the difficulties that are being encountered in respect of assessments for children under five years of age. The putting together of all the requirements to have a Ministry for children which has the capacity to deal with all the various interconnected children’s issues took some time. The Minister is now focusing on that. In so far as the Department of Health is concerned also, there are direct connections between what is happening there and in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Education and Skills.
When I met a number of disability groups, I advised them that they should outline the priorities they think are credible and achievable given the circumstances in which the country finds itself. They are happy to work with that. The determination of what funding will be available for the disability and the mental health sectors has not been made yet but these areas must be given priority in the sense that one just cannot remove funding because of the concerns and difficulties that would present.
Work on the publication of an achievable national strategy for those with disability is ongoing. The Minister will publish a strategy when those involved finalise what they can agree on. I congratulate the disability groups on their continued and valued interaction with Government.
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