Seanad Éireann - Volume 178 - 16 December, 2004
Appropriation Bill 2004 [Certified Money Bill]: Second and Subsequent Stages.
 Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Parlon Mr. Parlon
Mr. Parlon: I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on the Appropriation Bill 2004. In light of the House’s busy schedule I appreciate that today’s debate will be brief. However, I understand that we will have further opportunity to discuss the matter early in the new year.
The main purpose of the Bill is to give statutory effect to the departmental Estimates for supply services, current and capital, including all of the Supplementary Estimates which have been approved by the Dáil since the previous Appropriation Act. It also makes provision for two excess Votes in 2003.
As has been the practice in recent years, the Bill includes a technical provision to allow for deferment of the end-year deadline for the financial resolution passed on budget night. Also in line with recent practice, the Seanad is being asked to approve an early signature motion to facilitate a request to the President to sign the Bill earlier than would normally be the case. A new feature of the Bill is that it provides for the first time for the carryover into the following year of unspent voted capital under the multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in 2004.
Section 1 makes provision for the grant of excess supply from the Central Fund for 2003 of €71, 280 for the Civil Service Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman. The excess Votes, which arose due to the changeover to new financial management systems, have been approved by the Committee of Public Accounts, the Minister for Finance and the Dáil.
Section 2 appropriates for the year 2004 the net sum of €33.1 billion to the various services listed in Schedule 1, comprising just over €33 billion for the supply services in 2004 and the sum of €71, 280 for two excess Votes in 2003. The 2004 sum includes Supplementary Estimates of €133 million on 11 Votes which have been approved by the Dáil. The services covered range from €60 million for the Department of Education and Science to grant extra funding for redress, pensions and special needs, to token Estimates of €1,000 for the Departments of Finance and Transport in order to allow moneys to be transferred to the North-South INTERREG programme and to fund the taxi hardship scheme, respectively. Notwithstanding the Supplementary Estimates, current indications are for a saving on net total voted spending in 2004 of some €250 million. This comprises €170 million on the current side and €80 million on the capital side. The latter excludes capital carryover. The actual end-year outtum will be published in the end-year Exchequer statement on 5 January next. As usual, the Bill also seeks approval for the use of departmental receipts, some €2.9 billion, as  appropriations-in-aid of the services listed in Schedule 1.
Multi-annual capital envelopes give Departments and implementing agencies certainty in the medium term in regard to the resources available to them to fund their capital programmes. The facility to carry over unspent voted capital from the current year to the next is an important element of the capital envelopes. The new arrangements give Departments and agencies more flexibility and allow them to plan and implement their programmes and projects more efficiently and effectively.
Statutory authority for the carryover of up to 10% of unspent voted capital was provided for in section 91 of the Finance Act 2004. That Act requires that the proposed capital carryover amounts for each year must be specified by Vote in the Appropriation Act of that year. Section 3 of the Bill provides for the carryover of some €237 million — or 4.3% of total voted capital — from 2004 into 2005. The Votes involved are listed in Schedule 2. The €237 million will issue from the Exchequer at the end of the year to the credit of the PMG accounts of the Departments concerned. However, it will not be available for spending in 2005 until the Dáil approves an order — at the beginning of the year — specifying the capital subheads in each of the Votes concerned against which the money will be spent.
Article 17 of the Constitution requires that the financial resolutions of each year must be enacted into law by the end of that year. However, the end-year deadline can be deferred if an Act to that effect is passed before the end of that year. This section makes provision for this deferment to be invoked. The inclusion of this provision in the Appropriation Bill will maintain the normal statutory deadlines for passing budget measures into law. Identical provisions have been included since the Appropriation Act 1997. The Seanad is also being asked to approve an early signature motion. This is sought each year in order to ensure that the necessary legislative authority is in place for the final end-year issues from the Exchequer.
Sound and effective management of the public finances by the Government have enabled it to make gross provision — including for the non-voted social insurance and national training funds — of over €41 billion for spending on the public services in 2004. We have provided substantial additional resources for the priority areas of health, education, social welfare and capital investment and we have again done so within budget.
I commend this Bill to the House.
Mr. J. Phelan Mr. J. Phelan
Mr. J. Phelan: Fine Gael has no difficulty with the Appropriation Bill. However, I am not sure I would agree with the Minister of State’s concluding remarks about sound and effective management. Given the time constraints, I do not believe we will have much of an opportunity to discuss that matter today.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
 An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator aware that the broader debate on this matter will take place in the new year?
Mr. J. Phelan Mr. J. Phelan
Mr. J. Phelan: Yes, and I am glad we will have the opportunity to debate it further.
There is one issue which may not relate directly to the Appropriation Bill but I want to raise it with the Minister of State because this is probably as good a time as any to do so. I refer to the roll-over relief scheme. From comments she made previously, I am aware that the Minister of State’s party leader, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, has serious reservations about the adjustments made a number of years ago. This is particularly relevant in terms of the new national roads infrastructure that will be put in place throughout the country in the coming years and the impact the latter will have on landowners. However, it also relates to business people seeking, in the interest of upgrading, to sell their premises and purchase new ones. These individuals were affected by the changes made two years ago. I urge the Minister of State to use his influence with the Government to ensure that these changes, which were a step in the wrong direction, are reversed as soon as possible. I have no difficulty with the Appropriation Bill and I wish the Minister of State and all Members the best for Christmas and 2005.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the Minister of State and this Bill to the House. It enables us to go into Christmas and the new year with good cheer from a financial and economic point of view. The public finances are in excellent order, as is the economy, with strong growth, employment rising and inflation below 3%. I also pay due tribute to social partnership as well as the Government for achieving this. I welcome the capital carryover from 2004 to 2005, which is an important and valuable innovation.
Mr. O’Toole Mr. O’Toole
Mr. O’Toole: I welcome the Minister to the House. In recognising the state of the national finances, it is an appropriate time to pay tribute to the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, for the job he did. We had differences of opinion along the way but there is no doubt that great credit is due to him for his work. I admired him in his time in office and I have no doubt his successor, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, will do equally well. Between the two of them there have been two astute people in the job.
I welcome the fact that the Department of Finance has finally listened to its own propaganda after 12 years and agreed to multi-annual budgeting.
It will be more appropriate to discuss the detail of this Bill when we come back to it in January but in supporting Senator Mansergh’s remarks, we should congratulate ourselves on the importance of social partnership and what it has delivered. In spite of all that the prophets of doom said about benchmarking, it has been an extra ordinary success. The public service has enjoyed the best 18 months anyone can remember and there have been no stoppages at all. It is significant that the current problem in An Post is related to the fact the staff have not been paid the amount due under the last agreement. We should not forget that security of tenure for the worker and certainty for management are prizes indeed. We may have to look for this in future and we may have to pay for it but I look forward to discussions to achieve something similar in the next year.
Mr. Parlon Mr. Parlon
Mr. Parlon: I thank Senators for contributing to the debate on the Appropriation Bill 2004. I appreciate how busy the House is and that we will have the opportunity to debate this at greater length in the new year.
I listened to Senator John Paul Phelan’s points about roll-over relief and I will discuss them with the Department and the Minister. Likewise, I join Senator O’Toole in recognising the astute financial management of the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Charlie McCreevy. I am delighted he is being followed by an equally astute Minister for Finance.
 I extend the greetings of the season to all Members of the House and look forward to the debate in the new year.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill put through Committee, reported without recommendation, received for final consideration and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.
Seanad Éireann 178 Appropriation Bill 2004 [Certified Money Bill]: Second and Subsequent Stages.