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Home > Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

[Oireachtas] Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage. (15 Nov 2011)

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Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Vol. 746 No. 3
Question proposed: “That the Bill now be read a Second Time.”
Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):I welcome the opportunity to introduce this Bill, which has already had a speedy passage through all Stages in the Seanad. This short piece of legislation is needed to allow for the dissolution of the Dormant Accounts Board and to transfer the statutory functions of the board to me as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. This is in line with the recommendations of the McCarthy report and ties in with this Government’s promise to reduce the number of State bodies.
Under this Bill, the objectives underpinning disbursements from the fund will remain the same so that moneys from the fund can be used to assist persons who are economically, socially or educationally disadvantaged or have a disability. The Bill will also allow simpler arrangements for disbursements than heretofore, as all expenditure from the fund currently require the approval of Government.
The Bill provides that a statement containing details of the approvals will be laid before the Oireachtas and a list setting out the approved measures and projects, and specifying the amounts to be disbursed, will be published within one month of the approvals being given. These rigorous and extensive measures confirm the Government’s commitment to ensure that decisions on the fund are informed by the policy of the Government and will have regard to the public interest, and measures will be accessible to public application and fully subject to Oireachtas and public scrutiny. This ensures the process is transparent and fair, and seen to be fair.
A couple of issues were raised during the course of the discussions and debate in the Seanad that I would like to address to the House. These relate to the size of the fund, its possible augmentation and whether it could be ring-fenced for any particular sector or group. Since its establishment in April 2003 to the end of August 2011, transfers to the fund have totalled some €626.59 million, which includes interest earned of €35.53 million. Funds reclaimed in that period by account holders amounted to approximately €218 million. Some €267 million of disbursements have been approved, with €239 million spent on projects of community benefit to date. The net value of uncommitted funds in the fund is currently €82 million.
Furthermore, as I indicated in the Seanad, moneys disbursed from the fund increase Government debt levels as the money continues to belong to the account holder, who can reclaim it at any time, and not at any stage, from the State. Consequently, every euro spent from the fund is regarded in accounting terms as a potential Government liability, regardless of how unlikely it may seem. Therefore, as I said before, the fund cannot be regarded as free money.
Sections 43A and 44 of the principal Act, as amended under section 3 of the Bill, provide that the Minister within whose remit lies responsibility for a programme or type of project specified in an action plan is required to publish, or cause to be published, an invitation to apply for disbursements, which must include the assessment criteria, application procedure, deadline and any other information the Minister wishes to include. They also make provision for applications to be assessed by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government. As is currently the case, following assessments, recommendations must be made as to which measures or projects should receive disbursements. These recommendations are submitted in the first instance to the relevant Minister before being submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government for approval, subject to the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government’s recommendations are submitted to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for approval and the list of approved measures or projects are laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Deputy Brian Stanley: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, which comes at a time when many of the beneficiaries of the Dormant Accounts Fund are worried about further cuts being imposed by the Government in the forthcoming budget. Unlike the previous Government and the current Government, Sinn Féin values the community and voluntary sector. This sector is worth €6.5 billion to the Irish economy, employing up to 50,000 people. I take the opportunity to acknowledge the ongoing work being carried out by the community sector. This sector provides the services which the State and private sectors are unwilling or unable to provide because of the nature of those services. One of the cornerstones of the sector’s success is its independence. This has come under sustained attack particularly by the former Government when it closed down a number of active community development projects. We view any attempt to undermine the sector’s independence with suspicion.
Deputy Seamus Healy: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. As stated by previous speakers, this Bill is necessary because moneys in the dormant accounts fund are not public but private moneys belonging to individuals. It is rightly believed that there should be a board to disburse these funds and to ensure they remain at arm’s length from the political process and Minister of the day, be that as heretofore the dormant accounts fund board or, as suggested by previous speakers, an Oireachtas committee. The disbursement of these funds must remain at arm’s length from the Minister of the day.
There is no doubt but that moneys arising from this fund have resulted in excellent work throughout the country. Three RAPID areas, Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary town and Clonmel, have received moneys from this fund for worthwhile initiatives such as child care, after school homework clubs, drug rehabilitation and the community and voluntary sector. I would like to put on record an appreciation of work done through funding from the dormant accounts fund. Elm Park, Clonmel, is a large estate of 310 houses. The Elm Park Area Childcare Committee has, with dormant accounts funding, built and is now operating a child care facility in that area. It is a modern building which provides an excellent service of the highest standard. This facility is a huge support to the local community and young children. We all know that there is huge advantage in supporting and educating children at a young age. Moneys utilised for the operation of such facilities result in huge pay-back over time. Work done with young people in the education field results in huge benefits and savings to a community in later years. I would like again to put on record an appreciation for the work done by the Elm Park Area Childcare Committee and other committees throughout south Tipperary and I am sure the country. Pobal operates these funds. I am involved in the child care facility in Elm Park and in my experience, Pobal is an excellent organisation which is very supportive of local committees and voluntary organisations.

[For the full debate please click on the link above]

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