Saturday 1 October 2016

Ministers tussle on priorities for spending

Government hopes next month's multi-billion euro Capital Plan provides pre-election boost

Miriam Donohoe and Niall O'Connor

Published 11/08/2015 | 02:30

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is adamant that the original plan, which runs from 2017-2020, falls in line with current fiscal rules and must be followed
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is adamant that the original plan, which runs from 2017-2020, falls in line with current fiscal rules and must be followed

Tensions are growing within the Coalition over next month's capital spending spree, as Fine Gael and Labour ministers tussle over which projects are prioritised.

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Fine Gael is pushing for the rollout of a beefed-up spending plan, which involves a major focus on Justice and Transport - two departments currently led by Fine Gael ministers.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's officials are also understood to be keen to lengthen the plan beyond the current target of 2020, in a move that is being resisted by the Labour Party.

Fine Gael sources say a larger-scale plan will allow the Coalition to commit to a greater suite of projects in the areas of roads, transport, schools and housing prior to the general election.

"Rolling out a five or six-year plan, instead of the usual four years, will give us greater flexibility to deliver on promises," a Government strategist told the Irish Independent.

However, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is adamant that the original plan, which runs from 2017-2020, falls in line with current fiscal rules and must be followed.

The emergence of any such plan that appears to favour departments under Fine Gael's control will cause anxiety for the Labour Party.

One Labour minister said he was concerned Fine Gael will try to "outmuscle" the party once again and present the Capital Plan as being "Blueshirt-led".

It's believed that the wrangling between the two parties over the time frame of the plan was a factor in the decision to postpone the announcement until September. The plan was originally due to be announced prior to the summer recess.

Pressure

A senior government source said Mr Howlin is coming under "massive pressure" from ministers who have issued their list of demands for consideration.

"An election is around the corner and the Capital Plan will hopefully help us deliver the message that the coalition has done its job in turning the country around," said the source.

"Brendan Howlin is coming under massive pressure from his cabinet colleagues, all of whom want as large a slice of the pie as possible, and talks are ongoing."

Fine Gael ministers are adamant that the plan must satisfy the rural vote. Party strategists see this as crucial as the party attempts to position itself for a second term in government.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is also understood to have warned Mr Howlin that failure to invest €300m a year in the transport system will raise the prospect of roads and other infrastructure falling into disrepair.

Mr Donohoe is also pressing for significant funding to accommodate the completion of the Metro North project.

The capital plan will focus heavily on the justice system, with hundreds of millions of euro being used to revamp the Garda IT system following the hard-hitting and critical Garda |Inspectorate report.

The report highlighted the absence of up-to-date technology as a serious issue.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is understood to have told Mr Howlin that a significant package is required to modernise the Garda Command and Control Unit, as well the file management system and the HR unit.

Fine Gael is also pushing for a substantial cash pile to be put aside for the establishment of a single national property database.

And Minister with responsibility for the OPW, Simon Harris, is looking for money to fund a flood relief system which will target 33 areas around Ireland that are at serious risk.

Irish Independent

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