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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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FROM 12 O’CLOCK this afternoon Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore  and Brendan Howlin will be announcing the government’s capital spending plans, detailing what exactly will be happening with major infrastructure projects such as Thornton Hall, the DIT campus at Grangegorman and the Metro North. Join us as we’ll be liveblogging all the big news from their speech.

Afternoon all – thanks for joining us for this liveblog. There’s been rumours a-plenty about what exactly the government is going to announce this afternoon in the excitingly-titled Medium Term Exchequer Framework 2012-2016:  among the projects rumoured to be on the chopping block are the Metro North, the long-awaited prison at Thornton Hall, and the even longer-awaited move of DIT to a new site in Grangegorman.

The government is looking to slash €750 million from its capital budget, and while it’s unlikely that they’ll be springing any surprises today, who knows? €750 million is an awful lot of cuts…

All due to be kicking off in the next few minutes so stay tuned.

And here we go…

Enda Kenny has just taken the podium. He will be followed by Eamon Gilmore and then Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.

Enda Kenny: “I would love to say” that all of these projects could go ahead.  However “The reality is that the country simply cannot afford to do everything we’d like to do. This plan is based on what we CAN afford”.

Kenny is emphasising that there will still be schools and hospitals built – and, in the first piece of big news, that the link-up between the two Luas lines in Dublin WILL still be going ahead.

The State will still spend €17 billion on capital investment over the next five years as part of its plan to prioritise job creation – but “this is about choosing what the country needs most over the next few years and deferring other projects” until money becomes available.

Kenny seems to be sounding the death knell for the Metro North. He says that it was first agreed by a government eleven years ago – “but even in the years of plenty, nothing was done”. He stresses that it’s changed times and the money is not there for some of the major transport plans proposed by the previous government. Kenny says it would be “dishonest of me” to continue with the planning of these projects.

Kenny just announced a new Strategic Irish Infrastructure Fund, which will use €250 million from the National Pension Reserve Fund to invest in Irish infrastructure assets.

Eamon Gilmore speaking now, building up to Brendan Howlin’s announcement of the key facts and figures. Says the government has prioritised “jobs, schools and hospitals” but that it “needs to be straight with people” about what is feasible.  The government has gone through a “reprioritisation” of what is and isn’t possible.  ’Reprioritisation’ is great politician-speak, isn’t it?

Brendan Howlin has now taken to the podium. After a soft build up from Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, Howlin will be the one who’ll actually give us the facts of what projects will be surviving.

He says the government has decided to fund the new National’s Children’s Hospital. Part of the funding will come from the licence for the National Lottery. Commencement of the hospital is planned for 2013, with initial work taking place next year.

Howlin is emphasising the importance of public-private partnerships – which seems somewhat odd given how catastrophically they collapsed when the housing boom imploded. He says that PPPs are  ’the most suitable met for securing additional private funding’ for capital projects.

Howlin again emphasising that an increasing share of capital spend will be on schools, healthcare and jobs – which seems to be the mantra today.

He says that demographic changes over the next decade will mean 70,000 extra pupils in Irish schools, so the plan allocates €1 billion euro for 40 extra schools – 20 primary and 20 post -primary.

Howlin is now talking about public transport. He says that some of the large-scale plans are not longer feasible – but that “it’s our job” to ensure that plans which are put on hold will materialise in the future.

However he does confirm that the Luas BXD, which will link the two Luas  lines, will take place. Expansion of QBCs will also take place. There will also be money focused on providing a major programme of road maintenance.

Howlin says that there have been critics of the government for not committing to a stimulus plan. His response is that even in these tough times, a public capital programme of €17 billion is still  a “remarkable amount of money”.

Howlin has now finished and goes to sit down beside Kenny and Gilmore at the top table in front of all the reporters. He extracts a handshake from Enda Kenny, who didn’t look like he was expecting that at all. Photographers all scramble to get a photo of the handshake.

Howlin says the DIT Grangegorman project is ‘still a priority for the government’ – but it’s just not going to happen in the immediate term. He suggests that it could happen in a public-private partnership (at some stage. Definitely not committing to any dates on this one).  Should be noted that plans for Grangegorman were first mooted a decade ago…

David McCullagh from RTE says that the government has clearly chosen to focus on jobs – but are there any figures on how many will actually be created? He then asks the Minister if this is the easy part of his job.

Howlin laughs and says: ”The word ‘easy’ never came into any day’s work so far”.

He discusses jobs in a roundabout optimistic way but notably, he doesn’t answer the question about exactly how many jobs the government aims to create.

Kenny is answering a question as Gaeilge now.  It’s a long, complex answer and it seems to be about…  fishing issues, development and culture? Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right. My Irish is a tad rusty so I’ll leave that one.

Fionnan Sheehan from the Irish Independent throws a bit of a curveball by asking about Kevin Cardiff’s appointment to the European Court of Auditors and whether the Taoiseach or Tanaiste have been contacted by their colleagues in their European party groupings about the issue. Kenny and Gilmore look uncomfortable.  Kenny answers first and echoes what Joan Burton and Michael Noonan said yesterday about how it is now up to the committee in the European Parliament to make a decision on Cardiff’s suitability. Gilmore says almost exactly the same thing.

This is obviously the government party line and they’re sticking to it.

Kenny is answering another question in Irish, this time about the presidency. He praises Mary McAleese’s work as president over the last 14 years and wishes Michael D Higgins all the best in his new position. Again, Gilmore echoes Kenny’s sentiments.

And that’s all, folks. The three men huddle in a small semi-circle for the cameras and talk among themselves. They all look relaxed. There’s smiles from Kenny and Gilmore.

So there you have it. €17 billion on capital projects over the next five years, but a lot of projects being deferred: Thornton Hall, Metro North, Grangegorman DIT site and the DART underground are all being postponed for the time being.

The government focus was very much on the good news though – especially the ‘jobs, health education’ mantra, which was mentioned every few minutes in the briefing. The Luas BXD line and the National Lottery licence funding for the National Children’s hospital were both welcome surprises.

You can read full details of the plans here and we’ll have a news story up in the next few minutes with all of the main points. Thanks for reading, and please do leave any reactions in the comments section below.

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