At the Public Accounts Committee on 26 June 2014 the new Secretary General of the Department of Environment was before us to discuss his department.
Once again I used this as an opportunity to discuss the Poolbeg incinerator project, which by end of year will have spent in the region of €108 million euro over more than a decade, with nothing yet built, and with a series of highly critical audit reports citing weak financial governance.
You can watch the exchange by clicking here
I have raised this on a number of occasions in the PAC over the past three years and you can watch these exchanges here:
Yesterday I again raised the issue of Ireland’s bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 with Minister Ring in the Dail.
Click here to watch the debate.
Scroll down for the Minister’s official reply.
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport (Michael Ring)
Last November the Government considered a Memorandum on the discussions and examinations to date on a potential bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. While the Memorandum identified a number of challenges, the great potential of the event is also clear and I believe that hosting the Rugby World Cup on a cross-border basis in 2023 would be a great opportunity for Northern Ireland and Ireland. In response to the Memorandum, the Government expressed strong support for the proposal and for the conduct of further work to get to the stage of making a formal decision to bid.
To progress the matter further, Minister Varadkar and I met with Minister Arlene Foster and Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, who are the Ministers respectively responsible for tourism and sport in the Northern Ireland Executive, in Armagh on 22 January. We established a working group to examine some key issues further and to report back to Ministers in the Summer.
The working group, on which the IRFU and relevant Government Departments from both jurisdictions are represented, has held a number of meetings to date and indeed is meeting again tomorrow. I look forward to receiving their report later in the Summer.
Debate in the Dáil
In December 2013, the Oireachtas Committee on Education & Social Protection published its report on the draft Education Bill which seeks to reform the admission process for primary and secondary schools. You can read a summary of their findings here and the full report here.
This report was debated in the Dáil today in advance of the first draft of the legislation being published in the next six weeks.
Scroll down to watch my contribution.
The Minister & Chairperson will know that this is an area I am very interested and involved in. The Minister will know this in particular as we represent the same constituency and have debated the general issue of admissions, as well as issues particular to our own constituency, many times in this chamber.
We have a problem with admissions in some areas. Where there is oversubscription for places. Massive demand for particular schools.
Which has given us a waiting list system – 11 years in some cases – that discriminates against people who may have recently moved to an area. A system which creates anxiety and stress for parents who are given a holding number and do not know if their child will ever actually get a place in the preferred school. And a system where often, children cannot be educated in their local community, in their local school.
Which is incredible when you think about it. Particularly at primary level. Sometimes to educate ones child there is no other choice but going down the fee-paying route, even when it may not be affordable. Stretches parents financially. That is unacceptable.
When the Department of Finance appeared at the Public Accounts Committee on 8 May it was a good opportunity for the committee to examine the performance of the Department under the tenure of outgoing Secretary General John Moran, who had announced his resignation the previous day.
I chose to look at how Mr Moran had reformed the Department in light of the independent recommendations made by the Wright Report following the economic collapse. You can watch this session here.
Later I examined some of the headline figures and targets as contained in the Department’s Strategy For Growth (Medium Term Review) document, which was published as we exited the bailout. You can watch the exchange here.
The Social Welfare & Pensions Bill tackles many areas including:
- Fraud and Control
- Recovery of overpayments
- Entitlement to Family Income Supplement
- Habitual Residency
- Extending Social Insurance Cover
I focussed my brief contribution on 1) Extending social insurance cover and 2) Pensions.
The Bill proposes extending social insurance cover to assisting spouses/civil partners of self-employed contributors and is a long overdue, but very welcome step, in moving to protect employers in our economy. Small businesses are net job creators in the economy and it is only right that the social protection net be there for self-employed people and their partners equally, as it is for employed people.
Insofar as the area of pensions is concerned, the Bill provides for an amendment to the Pensions Act regarding the notification procedures from the Authority to scheme trustees. But I spoke on the wider point of the looming pensions crisis and how work to address the problem must be started now, and started with a new Minister for Pensions.
You can watch my contribution here.
The National Treasury Management Agency (Ammendment Bill) 2014 is currently going through the House. This Bill, when enacted, will create the new €6.8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund which is being created as a new national investment vehicle using the proceeds of the former National Pension Reserve Fund.
At second stage debate I spoke on this important legislation and made the following points (click here to watch a video of my contribution):
That employment practices in the NTMA should be examined and replicated across the civil service and public sector given the success of this state organ through the crisis and after;
A strategic investment fund should be seen as a long-term investment as opposed to spending, and that is must be invested based on an expected return and not used for political or other purposes;
That the fund should have an ethical investment policy to prevent the state from investing in companies that manufacture certain devices, for example nuclear weapons.
I also raised the possibility of using circa 7% of the €20 billion that the NTMA has ass cash on balance in the upcoming budget as a tax relief dividend for people earning €32,800 or more.
I will be tabling an amendment to this Bill regarding the ethical investment policy proposal. This amendment will be based on the legislation I produced previously on this matter. You can find out more here: ethical investment policy.
NAMA was in front of the PAC to discuss its 2013 Annual Report and the Special Report of the C&AG on NAMA’s first 3 years of operation.
The PAC has increased its number of meetings with NAMA in the last six months. This follows the establishment of a special sub-committee of the PAC to play a greater oversight role in relation to NAMA, following my request to the Committee.
The Special Report of the C&AG is a landmark event as it is the first such report (triennial) mandated under the establishing legislation. It can be accessed here. The NAMA Annual Report for 2013 can be accessed here.
The PAC will continue its oversight of NAMA with the completion and publication by the Department of Finance in June of its own review of the Agency.
The number of persons in receipt of two or more State Pensions – click here
New strategies for mortgage lending to counteract rising housing prices in Dublin – click here
Increased water allowance for individual with specific medical conditions and planning applications – click here
Closure of the creche in Tallaght Hopsital – click here
Additional measures to assist first time buyers? – click here.
An update on 2014 Sports Capital applications & Luas cross city – click here.
Making it easier for Chinese tourists to get visas for Ireland – click here.
Irish Water has today published its Proposed Capital Investment Plan for 2014 to 2016. Investment is prioritised where it can deliver the most urgently needed improvements in drinking water quality, leakage, water availability, wastewater compliance, efficiencies and customer service. It is proposed to deliver/progress over 380 projects under the Plan which has been submitted to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) for consideration.
Irish Water estimates that €1.77 billion will be required to deliver on the objectives of the 2014-2016 Capital Investment Plan (CIP). The current indicative funding available to Irish Water is €1.2 billion which includes the additional €200 million announced by the Government last week. This brings funding up from current levels of €310m in 2014 to €410m in 2015 and 2016…to continue reading, click here.
To access the Proposed Capital Investment Plan directly, go here.
For details of plans specific to the Dublin region, go here.
And, for a list of the proposed schemes nationwide, click here.