Estimates 2020 – Justice Vote Group

Introductory Remarks by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD

 

 

9 July, 2020

 

I am seeking the House's approval for the Revised Estimates for the Justice Vote Group, to provide for much needed expenditure across the Justice Sector.  Subject to a small technical adjustment of less than €1 million, the estimates being discussed today are those that were published last December.

 

Pending the estimates being passed by this House, Departments may spend an amount not exceeding 80% of the amount included in the Appropriation Act of the previous year. A number of votes within the Justice Group could be reaching this four-fifths limit over the period July to September and hence the necessity to have the existing estimates considered at this point.

 

As will be evident from my remarks today, there will be a number of areas to review and revisit later in the year including in relation to Direct Provision and the impact of the Covid pandemic in certain votes. The transfer of functions arising from the reconfiguration of Government Departments will impact the Justice and Equality vote in particular but these estimates reflect the existing vote structure.

 

The Justice Vote Group is made up of 7 different votes with a combined gross expenditure allocation of €2.99 billion in 2020, which comprises €2.72 billion in current expenditure and €269 million in capital expenditure.

 

The gross expenditure estimate for the Garda Síochána Vote (Vote 20) is €1.879 billion which amounts to 63% of the funding for the entire Vote Group. 

 

Since the estimates were published last December, An Garda Síochána has been confronted with the challenge of Covid 19 and has had to put in place a number of measures to maintain the front-line and visible nature of the actions it has taken to counteract the impact of the pandemic throughout the State.

 

These measures include a revised emergency roster arrangement to facilitate longer shifts for teams to avoid cross over of members as much as possible thus minimising the risk of infection to members while at the same time maintaining a front-line service for members of the public. This revised roster has led to additional costs for unsocial hours payment.

 

In addition, 319 trainee Gardaí were attested ahead of schedule in March to provide more front-line resources. This followed the attestation of 201 trainee Gardaí in February having completed the full training period in Templemore.

 

An Garda Síochána has had to purchase significant quantities of personal protection equipment and on the expectation that this requirement will need to continue to year end; the estimated cost is in the region of €13 million.

 

While €9 million is being made available to the Garda Commissioner to strengthen and expand the Garda Fleet in the estimates, it is the case that further additional investment in the Garda Fleet (including fit-out) of €3.0 million approximately will be required in 2020 directly as a result of the COVID 19 response. An Garda Síochána were also required to hire 210 additional vehicles for community policing, which it is estimated will cost €1.5 million over a six month period.

 

Significantly the 2020 estimates provided for an ICT investment of almost €74 million in 2020.  This will support existing Garda ICT systems and develop them further, to meet the ongoing business requirements of An Garda Síochána, enabling them to deploy the latest, cutting-edge technologies in the fight against crime. This includes the deployment of the front-line mobility hand-held devices giving Gardaí unprecedented flexibility on patrol and at crime scenes to access Garda ICT systems in real time. The very significant level of investment has also facilitated remote working throughout the organisation during the current Covid crisis.

 

In addition to these resourcing measures, An Garda Síochána were given specific additional powers by the Government under the COVID 19 Regulations. The previous Minister had requested the Policing Authority to conduct a regular and independent assessment of An Garda Síochána’s exercise of the temporary powers in support of the public health guidelines. In all, 5 reports have been completed to date and it was found that An Garda Síochána are continuing to police the health crisis in a sensitive and proportionate manner and to use the powers under the Health Regulations only sparingly and when necessary.  

 

Throughout this emergency period, across all our communities, rural and urban, Garda members have been reaching out to those who are most vulnerable, who are alone, or who are afraid. Gardaí continue to encourage anyone who needs help to call their local Garda station. I wholeheartedly commend the Gardaí in the role they have played in keeping us all safe in these unusual times.

 

The estimates also provide for €32 million for the Capital Building and Refurbishment Programme, including the completion of the Fitzgibbon Street redevelopment project and the project to relocate An Garda Síochána from Harcourt Street to Military Road in Dublin. Similar to most building projects in the State, these projects were on hold for a period during the emergency period but are now up and running again. The OPW, who manages these projects on behalf of An Garda Síochána, is working with the various contractors involved to ascertain the progress and expenditure levels for the remainder of the year.

 

It is expected there will be some reprofiling of expenditure across subheads before the end of the year. For example, if as expected there will be an underspend in building capital, this will be utilised to offset the additional fleet investment costs due to Covid etc. While An Garda Síochána are looking at every means possible to offset the other additional Covid costs, the options are limited. In the region of 84% of the Vote relates to pay and superannuation costs – which are in effect fixed costs for the most part- so it limits the capacity to absorb additional costs. The position will become clearer across the vote later in the financial year but the Commissioner has indicated that some additional funding will be required due to the scale of response required in respect of the Covid pandemic after taking into account certain offsetting measures within the vote. 

 

In all of the circumstances outlined, I am pleased to present an estimate of €1.879 billion for 2020. There are now 14,700 Garda members in the Service and 3,020 civilian employees and to date in 2020 a further 49 members have been redeployed to frontline policing duties. That brings the total number of redeployments to 650.

 

A capital provision of €116.5 million is being provided, an increase of 40% on the final estimate for 2019.  Despite the Covid restrictions and the delays to certain projects it is anticipated that the vast bulk of this funding will be spent at year end particularly in relation to ICT and the Transport Fleet.

 

A well-resourced and funded Garda Force is a top priority for the Government and these levels of investment are complemented by an extensive Policing Transformation Programme which will ensure a modern and fit for purpose policing service for the many outstanding people who work in An Garda Síochána and the public that it serves.

 

 

The Justice and Equality Vote (Vote 24) has a gross estimate provision of nearly €536 million broken down into five separate programmes comprising almost 60 separate subheads.

 

Substantial funding has been made available to agencies who play such a pivotal role in the criminal justice area such as Forensic Science Ireland and the Criminal Assets Bureau.

 

A total budget of €57 million is being provided to Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) in 2020 of which €39.6 million is capital. While a contract has been awarded and work has commenced on the construction of the new laboratory in Backweston, in Co. Kildare, it appears likely that there will be a significant underspend in this budget in 2020 and will need to be reprofiled to later years. The OPW is currently working with the contractor to determine the impact of the restrictions on spend in the current year. Further additional funding of €2.1 million in current expenditure has been provided in response to the increased workload of FSI combined with the complexity of cases.

 

Additional funding of €0.5m will bring the total allocation for the Criminal Assets Bureau to €9.1 million.  CAB plays a crucial role in tackling money laundering and targeting the proceeds of crime. All over Ireland, CAB is working to ensure that criminals cannot enjoy the spoils of their illegal activities.  The increased resources will support CAB in this vital work. 

 

It has been possible to increase the resources available to a number of the regulatory bodies including the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, where an additional €0.5m has been allocated, bringing the total allocation to €11.2 million.  An additional €0.5m will bring the allocation for the Private Security Authority to €3.8 million in 2020.

 

A significant increase of €0.7m brings resources for the Inspector of Prisons to €1.2 million.

 

Funding of €1 million has been provided for the establishment of the Judicial Council, bringing the total allocation to €1.25 million.

 

The Legal Aid Board has been allocated €42.2 million for 2020, which includes a further €1m, in addition to existing funding to continue the Abhaile Scheme for mortgage arrears.

 

The Department’s mission is to make Ireland safer, fairer and more inclusive and I am pleased that a total allocation of over €0.93m allocation is available for Equality and LGBTI+ initiatives.  Funding for victims of crime has also increased by €0.2m, bringing the total allocation to €1.9m.

 

It was acknowledged in Budget 2020 that the funding requirements and policy responses in relation to International Protection Seekers Accommodation will need to be kept under review on a whole of Government basis throughout 2020.  The budgetary provision in 2020 is €80.6 million. Expenditure in 2019 was €130 million and is almost €83 million to the end of June 2020.

 

The Covid19 restrictions have also had an impact on costs, including the need to secure additional hotel spaces to help reduce contacts within centres and provide, in conjunction with the HSE, self-isolation facilities in a number of locations, and the purchase of necessary PPE, sanitiser etc. to help reduce the risk of an outbreak in centres.

 

This area is giving rise to significant additional costs which will need to be addressed in the autumn.

 

In this context also, an expert advisory group chaired by Dr Catherine Day, which was announced in December 2019, is now expected to provide its final report in September 2020.  The group has been tasked to examine, unconstrained by current or past policy, the provision of state supports, including accommodation to the people in the international protection (asylum) process.  The Programme for Government commits in the short-term to acting on interim recommendations from the Chairperson of the Expert Group to improve conditions for asylum seekers currently living in the system. In addition, the Programme also contains a commitment to replace the current accommodation model with a new International Protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. It is expected that the report of the Expert Group will contain recommendations on new models for accommodation and other supports for applicants for international protection which will inform future policy in this area.

 

In addition, the travel restrictions as a result of Covid 19 will have a significant negative impact in Registration and Visa fee income in 2020 in particular. The precise impact depends on how long the restrictions are in place. A proportion of the registration fee income relates to renewal of registrations rather than new registrations and a clearer picture will emerge closer to the end of the financial year.

 

Turning to the Prisons Vote (Vote 21), the Gross Estimate in 2019 is €392.4 million.

 

The additional current expenditure of almost €19 million, compared with the corresponding budget in 2019, includes €14 million in respect of additional payroll costs as well as €5 million across a number of areas to meet the demands arising from higher prisoner numbers and increased maintenance costs of the prisons estate.

 

The capital budget for 2020 has increased significantly from €32.3 million last year to €46.7 million. Most of this will be utilised for the redevelopment of Limerick Prison. The potential impact on the project in 2020 due to Covid is as yet unclear. However, there is likely to be an underspend due to the site restrictions and also the impact of social distancing and supply chain issues after the restriction period. A full financial analysis is currently being carried out with the contractor but while progress will be made, there may be an underspend in capital by year end.

 

On the other hand, additional COVID 19 related costs in the Prisons are currently estimated to be in the region of €4 to €5 million in total. These are preliminary costings and the final cost depends on the length of the emergency and the impact on the Prisons. The costs mainly relate to PPE equipment, additional video link facilities for remote Court attendance and additional payroll costs to cover for officers in isolation.

 

To date, no prisoner has been infected with COVID-19 and the Irish Prison Service has been internationally recognised for its work in controlling the spread of the virus. The IPS has now shared its experience with other countries through the submission of a paper to the World Health Organisation on its approach to the outbreak.

 

It represents a very strong collective effort that has been made to date by Irish Prison Service staff, management, prisoners and Red Cross Volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new infection prevention and control teams that are in place in all prisons have made a significant contribution to the successful handling of the virus and this work is something which should be particularly commended. It is vitally important these efforts should continue in order to maintain this remarkable safety record

 

A total estimate in gross terms of €156.4 million is being provided for the Courts Service (Vote 22).

 

This encompasses an additional €1.5 million in day to day running costs; €10 million in capital expenditure and a further €4.5 million in gross expenditure (capital and current building works) which has been funded from the Dormant Courts fund.

 

However, since the estimate was published the Courts Service income has been severely impacted by the COVID emergency. The full impact will not be known until later in the year but there could be a shortfall of €17 million (40%) in fee income which would be unsustainable for the Courts Vote and will need to be addressed before end of the year in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In the region of €9 million is accounted for in the fall off in fee income from special exemption orders (SEOds) for the licensing trade and hospitality industry. In addition, the Courts Service is projecting that the equivalent of 3 months civil business (April, May and June) will be lost due to Covid-19, with a forecast shortfall in income of circa €8.0m.

 

A gross estimate of €16.9 million is being provided to the Data Protection Commission (Vote 44) which is a separate vote for the first time in 2020. This allocation includes an increase of €1.6 million (11%) compared with the previous year. The Data Protection Commission budget has increased significantly in recent years as the responsibilities and functions of the Office have expanded also.

 

A gross estimate of €3.4 million has been provided for the Policing Authority Vote (Vote 41) and the gross expenditure budget for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) (Vote 25) is €6.8 million to enable it to continue its important work in promoting and protecting human rights and equality.

 

With the approval of this House, these Estimates will fund the seven votes in the Justice sector with the financial resources to continue to provide the necessary and varied range of functions and responsibilities across the Justice Sector.

 

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Revised Estimates with Deputies.

 

ENDS