Dáil Éireann - Volume 581 - 09 March, 2004

Priority Questions. - Dormant Accounts Fund.

  103. Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason he believes the dormant accounts disbursement board should not distribute all dormant fund account moneys in view of the fact that other independent State agencies are permitted to allocate moneys without Government involvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7743/04]

[1167]   104. Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the organisations to which money has been disbursed from the dormant accounts fund; the amount of money in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7740/04]

  Mr. N. Ahern:I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 104 together.

  Mr. O’Dowd:On a point of order, I do not mean any disrespect to the Minister of State, but I thought the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, would answer these questions as he addressed them on radio.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:That is not a point of order.

  Éamon Ó Cuív:I live nearer to RTE.

  Mr. O’Dowd:I would appreciate answers from the Minister to supplementary questions

  Mr. N. Ahern:Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the dormant accounts disbursement board. The board is an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board is currently deciding how to disburse up to €30 million. At its meetings on 19 December 2003 and 17 February 2004, the board approved 18 projects for funding totalling approximately €1.7 million. The details of these approvals, including the names of the individual organisations involved as well as the specific grant amounts follow in tabular form. The board will next meet on 16 March 2004 when it is anticipated that a further list of projects will be submitted to it.

Given the emerging size of the fund, existing legislative provision is inadequate. Shortcomings are evident on a number of fronts. There is no explicit provision for a properly developed organisational structure to support the board. Current arrangements, which involve a handful of seconded civil servants in a secretariat role, are not designed to support disbursements on the scale now emerging. Existing provision requires that a part-time chairman should be wholly accountable for expenditure running into hundreds of million of euros which is, clearly, unsustainable. Existing arrangements do not adequately support the aligning of expenditure by the dormant accounts board with policy priorities debated in this House and approved by Government.

If we are serious about tackling disadvantage, we must target resources. There is a considerable wealth of expertise and practical experience residing in public bodies which routinely deal with areas of disadvantage and disability. Current arrangements do not adequately allow this key [1168] resource to inform decisions on expenditure from the fund. These alone were the reasons the Government reviewed arrangements for dormant accounts in December 2003. In view of these issues, it was apparent there were two possible routes that could be followed. One was to set up an independent agency with a large staff, CEO, offices etc., to administer the fund. The other was to use the existing mechanisms of State and accounting procedures, including accounting officers of different Departments, to support clear criteria, a transparent application process, and rigorous evaluation of projects.

The first approach would have led to an inordinate amount of the fund being dissipated on administration. Implicit in the second route, using existing agencies was the requirement that Departments or their agencies would support and inform the disbursement of funds. The advantage of using the existing infrastructure of State to carry out this work is that much less of the money than otherwise would be the case will be spent on overheads and administration, and the benefit or the expertise of the whole State system will be available for the evaluation of projects. Under this, legal responsibility for decisions would ultimately lie with the relevant Minister and accounting responsibility with the relevant accounting officers.

The objectives of the disbursements scheme — as set out in the board’s first disbursement plan — will remain unchanged. It is focused on funding to assist programmes or projects targeting three broad categories of persons, namely, those affected by economic and social disadvantage, those affected by educational disadvantage, and persons with a disability.

As regards the integrity of the proposed future system for disbursement, it is important to note that the Government decision of December 2003 provides that decisions in this area would be taken following a transparent application and evaluation process. With regard to the board itself, the Government proposes key roles for it, with particular regard to advising on priority areas to be considered annually for funding, and preparation of the disbursement plan.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Furthermore, the board will critically assess the additionality and impact of spend on a regular basis. This is of critical importance and arrangements will be put in place to ensure that spending under the Dormant Accounts Board will be kept separate from the normal Estimates process, so that additionality can be verified. Draft legislation is to be brought forward this year with a view to giving effect to these decisions. I expect the draft legislation will be published over the coming months. The proposed improved arrangements will lead to much better governance and improved impact and will secure and enhance accountability to the Oireachtas.

[1169] List of Approved Grants

Group/Organisation

Grant (€)

Proposal Description

St. Paul’s Scout Unit, Lisduggan, Waterford

95,000

Scout hall renovation

South Westmeath Literacy Scheme, Athlone

17,500

Assistance for After Schools Programme

Mountmellick Development Association

60,333

Building renovations to ensure accessibility for persons with a disability

Sligo County Council

117,800

Development of urban regeneration plan for Cranmore area

Leitrim County Council

40,000

Renovations to Drumshanbo outdoor swimming pool

North Cork Adult Basic Education Service, Mallow

49,331

Education programme for adults who missed out on second-level education

Mallow Daycare Centre, Cork

6,030

Provision of furniture for daycare extension

Tralee Community Development Project Ltd., Kerry

199,912

Refurbishment of first floor of centre

Monsignor McCarthy Steering Committee, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

110,300

Renovations to existing community recreational facility

Merchants Quay Project, Dublin 8

157,709

Managing drug-related neighbourhood programme

Wexford Borough Council

160,000

Provision of three play areas within local disadvantaged estates

Crosscare Aftercare Support Unit, Dublin 7

103,000

Development of community programmes to benefit young people

Youghal Youth Committee (Foroige), Co. Cork

137,271

Programme enabling at risk young people achieve optimum benefit from school

National Adult Literacy Agency, Dublin 1

69,555

Develop literacy CD

Mayfield Employment Action Project Ltd., Old Youghal Road, Co. Cork

10,462

Conduct study of community education needs

Tallaght West Education Support Forum, Dublin 34

48,300

Training programme for isolated women

Co. Wexford Community Workshop, Enniscorthy

250,000

Provision of sports facility for persons with a disability

Irish Rural Link, Moate, Co. Westmeath

45,110

Building renovations to ensure accessibility for persons with a disability

Total Grants (€):

1,677,612

No of Approvals: 18

  Mr. O’Dowd:I have never heard such rubbish in all my life. It is clear that ADM has the full knowledge and support of the community and voluntary sectors. As the board stands, ADM assesses all applications. An assistant secretary from the Minister of State’s Department is a member of the board. Therefore, the Department is fully cognisant and knowledgeable in every aspect of the decisions the board takes.

The Minister of State has given us a list detailing how the board has disbursed €1.6 million. It was notified to the public and Members at the same time. When the Minister of State brings forward his legislation, this will become the Minister’s stroke list. It will then be for the Minister to decide and his deputies will inform the public. The credibility of the applications will be in question as it will become a slush fund. In 2001 the Minister for Finance said this should not be allowed to become a slush fund. Is the Minister of State not ashamed about what he is doing? Does he not feel it is disgraceful that he will manipulate and stroke €400 million so that the Minister and his minions on the county councils will inform community groups that they have been so good to them?

  Mr. N. Ahern:Certainly not. If the Deputy listened to my answer, he would have heard the factual position.

[1170]   Mr. O’Dowd:It is a load of rubbish.

  Mr. N. Ahern:ADM is currently carrying out the processing.

  Mr. O’Dowd:It has the full knowledge of community groups. What is wrong with this?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Order, please. Please allow the Minister of State to continue.

  Mr. N. Ahern:ADM carries out the processing. We could have done this another way and set up a——

  Mr. O’Dowd:It could have been left alone.

  Mr. N. Ahern:The Deputy had his say. We might have left it alone. However, in three or four years’ time the Comptroller and Auditor General would complain that the system is deficient. The system that was set up was not sufficient for the fund that is available. We are using ADM to process the cases. Spending and accounting for the money is a different matter. There must be proper management, governance and procedures. This is down the road.

While we could have done this by establishing a new body, all parties have often said there are too many organisations and independent bodies [1171] duplicating work that could be carried out with the expertise within Departments and State organisations. We should be careful about setting up new organisations. We have looked at this matter and consider the best way to proceed is to use the skill and expertise of Departments and their accounting officers.

From the Government’s perspective, what was set up was deficient. The part-time chairman would be accountable for large funds.

  Mr. O’Dowd:The part-time chairman happened to be a senior barrister.

  Mr. N. Ahern:He may well be, and while I am not casting any doubt on his ability, he was part-time. A proper structure is required when we are spending, controlling and governing a couple of hundred million euros. This is what we are trying to do.

  Mr. O’Shea:It is sad that by 9 March 2004 only €1.6 million has been disbursed. There is obviously a problem. To paraphrase Deputy McCreevy when the legislation was before the House, the dormant accounts disbursement board was put in place to prevent these moneys becoming a slush fund. It cannot be denied that this was seen to be the fairest method.

I do not agree that the board cannot be strengthened. There is also a cost factor if civil servants in other Departments are working on these applications. The State is already paying for their time. The public sees this for what it is. The money in question belongs to the community and is not Exchequer money in any sense. Many of the people that held these accounts are dead and there are no apparent heirs.

If there is a deficiency in the operation of the board, and there obviously is, it will not be solved by giving the final decision to the Government. Will the recommendations go to Cabinet where it will add to or take from them? The statement indicated the Government will make the decisions. Does this mean the Cabinet will take the final decisions or will it be the Minister? Whatever way it emerges, this is the wrong road to travel. The Government saw the crock of gold and decided to grab it so that it could manipulate votes at election times.

  Mr. O’Dowd:Hear, hear.

  Mr. N. Ahern:That is entirely untrue. The board ran advertisements and has allocated €1.6 million. It has the authority to allocate up to €30 million within the year. Last year, it spent some months in drawing up a disbursement plan that was submitted to the Department and approved. There are no difficulties and the applications are being processed.

[1172] The role of the board will change. However, it will still advise Government and review, evaluate and monitor allocations. We will have the best of both worlds.

  Mr. Durkan:That is exactly it.

  Mr. O’Dowd:The Government will have a slush fund for spending on projects in constituencies with marginal seats.

  Mr. N. Ahern:We will use the expertise of Departments and State agencies. The independent board will monitor and evaluate this and report to the Government on it. The disbursement plan will continue to be the board’s plan. I do not see the concerns.

  Mr. O’Dowd:Who will inform the groups?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:That concludes priority questions.

  Mr. O’Dowd:On a point of order, am I not entitled to a supplementary question?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Only if time permits and it ran out.

  Mr. O’Dowd:The Minister of State was talking such rot that we could not——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:We are over time.

  Mr. O’Dowd:Who will inform the community groups in this new scheme of things? Will it be the Minister of State?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:The Chair has called Question No. 105.

  Mr. Durkan:A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, allow us that supplementary question. The Minister of State wants to answer the question.

  Mr. O’Dowd:That is the key question.

  Mr. N. Ahern:We can discuss this when the legislation is taken. As I understand——

  Mr. Durkan:That will be lovely. I like that one.

  Mr. N. Ahern:Different agencies will be used. If that is the Opposition’s only objection to the whole scheme——

  Mr. O’Dowd:That is the Minister of State’s objection.

  Mr. N. Ahern:——we will allow it to do so now and again.

  Mr. O’Dowd:The people will resolve this. The Minister of State’s arrogance is unacceptable.

[1173]   Mr. Durkan:He is beginning to believe it himself.