Labour TD concerned at advisory council's role ahead of budget
Kevin Humphreys claims giving sensitive forecasts to unelected council undermines Oireachtas
Labour TD Kevin Humphreys: concerned that sensitive information – including the actual amount of the agreed budget announcement – is being passed onto an unelected body while the Oireachtas , and its Finance Committee, is kept in the dark about all details of the Budget until it is announced . Photograph: Davd Sleator/The Irish Times
The Department of Finance’s decision to provide sensitive economic forecasts to the Fiscal Advisory Council weeks in advance of the October Budget has the potential to undermine Irish democracy, a senior Labour Party TD has claimed.
Kevin Humphreys, TD for Dublin South East, has written to the Government’s four-member Economic Management Council expressing concern that such sensitive information is being passed onto an unelected body while the Oireachtas will be kept in the dark until budget day.
Mr Humphreys has that the Oireachtas should have “equality of esteem” with the council and should get equal access to the forecasts at the same time.
“We as TDs are held accountable for the decisions we make on Budget day and in the Finance Bill. Therefore it is crucial that arrangements are put in place to provide us with access to these forecasts,” he has stated in his letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Finance and the advisory council, which provides independent economic advice to the Government, has been published on the department’s website this month.
The memorandum sets out a protocol where, three weeks before the budget, the department will furnish the council with preliminary forecasts for the budget in electronic form, as well as a presentation by finance officials. A week later, the council will receive provisional final forecasts including details of the measures that may be contained in the budget.
One of the formal functions of the council is to make a decision on whether or not it endorses the macroeconomic projections provided by the department. Its decision to give, or decline, an endorsement is contained in a letter that will not be published until the budget is being announced.
“If this type of data is being provided to an unelected body then it should also be provided to the joint Oireachtas committee on finance,” said Mr Humphreys. “And if finance staff provide a presentation to the council, the same should be given to members of the committee, as well as copies of the preliminary forecasts, in private session if necessary,” he added.
Mr Humphreys said the Coalition should be moving towards a more open and transparent budget.