Belfast Telegraph

32m euro budget shortfall: Shatter

There is a 32 million euro black hole in the budget needed to pay Garda wages and compensate survivors of the Magdalene laundries.

Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, has revealed that he has found 24 million euro from other areas of his departments to try to balance the books but he is still facing a massive budget shortfall.

The minister confirmed he needed a total of 56 million euro - five million euro of which would be allocated to Magdalene survivors and the remainder to the Garda budget.

But the shortfall has been eased on the back of tighter spending controls in other parts of his departments, including in the courts, prisons, justice and equality.

Mr Shatter said the extra money needed was only 1.4% of the total budget he is in charge of and not the 51 million euro quoted earlier this week.

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, the minister rejected accusations from Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins that he had misled the Government about how much money he needed for the Garda budget this year.

He said he "conveniently overlooked" the fact the supplementary budget he was seeking was much less than the total 56 million euro.

Mr Shatter also pointed out that it is not unusual for his department to require additional funds, saying when Mr Collins' own party was in government an extra 40 million euro was required to meet payroll costs.

"A supplementary estimate requirement is neither unusual nor unexpected in a financial allocation that is as broad and diverse as the justice vote group," the minister said.

"Nor is it unusual that savings in one vote within the group are reallocated to offset costs in another."

Mr Shatter explained the 24 million euro coming from within his own department would be made up of 17 million euro from justice and equality, five million from prisons, and a combined 1.5 million euro from the courts service and property registration authority.

The Garda budget is the largest within the Justice Department and accounts for 63% of all expenditure. About 90% of it goes on payroll and pensions.

Mr Shatter said: "The fact that there are potentially over 1,200 Garda members with the required service who could exercise an option to retire on age grounds means that Garda payroll costs are something of an imprecise science."

The minister confirmed that a four-year recruitment freeze across An Garda Siochana would end before the close of the year.

He said the force had taken its share of cuts like all areas of the public service with the freeze, which followed the last round of recruits entering Templemore in 2009.

"I am particularly pleased that this situation is to change during 2014, with a new recruitment campaign due to commence within the next few weeks," he said.

"I am also pleased that I was recently able to announce, in the context of the recent estimates for 2014, that the targeted objective strength of An Garda Siochana will be maintained at 13,000 members."

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