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To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the new open Government initiative proposed by his Department will extend to increasing transparency and accountability in budgetary matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace

For ORAL reply on Thursday, 9th October, 2013.

REPLY

Following Government approval, I submitted a letter expressing Ireland’s intent to participate in the Open Government Partnership on the 15th of May and Ireland therefore joined other newly implementing countries who are developing a national action plan.

Development of Ireland’s first national action plan is now well underway.  The participation of civil society in the Open Government Partnership process is fundamental to the development of the action plan - proposals and recommendations for inclusion in the action plan were discussed at three public meetings of a network of civil society and other interests held over the summer months, as well as through online contributions.

The Report of a Consultation with Civil Society Representatives and Citizens on Ireland’s Participation in the Open Government Partnership process was submitted to me on 1st October. The report, which proposes a number of recommendations, is available on my Department’s website.

The recommendations made in the course of the OGP consultation process are consistent with the Government’s commitments to bring about a major transformation of Ireland’s budgetary system; indeed a number of initiatives are underway which increase budget transparency and accountability.  The key elements of the budgetary reform agenda were outlined in the Public Service Reform Plan published on 17 November 2011.  These reforms include:

· The annual Stability Programme Update (published in April each year) updates the medium term fiscal targets and extends them by a further year, allowing advance planning by Government based on the resources available

· The annual Estimates campaign has been replaced by a modern, multi-annual framework which allows for full transparency on the allocations available to each Department over the coming three year period.  It opens the way for structural, medium-term planning and prioritisation within each area, with full public input and parliamentary oversight

·

Departmental Estimates

are now presented in a new format organised on the basis of ‘strategic programmes’ linking the Estimates process with the Statements of Strategy and allowing for performance information to be scrutinised by Dáil Committees at the same time that public money is being requested

·

Performance Budgeting initiative

– the Government has decided to extend the Ireland Stat approach to all Departments and a data collection process is underway.

·

The Expenditure Ceilings were on an administrative basis but are now on a statutory footing through the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2013

·

The Government has increased its on-going scrutiny and evaluation of public expenditure and all value for money studies are now published

·

All of the above reforms allow greater opportunities for the Oireachtas members, as representatives of the public, to play a more substantive role throughout the entire budgetary process, from initial allocation of funds, through to holding Ministers and public service managers to account for the achievement, or non-achievement, of stated performance targets.

· Moreover, the Government is moving towards a whole of year budgetary timetable that allows for greater, more meaningful engagement by Oireachtas Committees in contributing to Estimates discussions in advance of the allocations being finalised.  In this regard, my Department has supported the Oireachtas Service in piloting this new approach to briefing Select Committees.

This framework of budgetary reform will facilitate further consideration of the proposals on budgetary transparency contained in the report of the consultation undertaken by civil society.

As part of the next phase of the OGP process, I intend to bring a Memorandum to Government shortly outlining the civil society group’s report and submissions received.  I expect, subject to Government approval, to establish a group comprising both public officials and civil society representatives who will give further consideration to all recommendations made, including on budgetary matters, to prioritise in terms of what is realistic and achievable over the next two years for inclusion in the first action plan. Action plans cover a two-year period and we will report on progress on an annual basis.

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