A Ceann Comharaile I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I do feel that it is worth noting and acknowledging the link between this motion and the recent one sponsored by Deputy Coveney in relation to the provision of Broadband in this country. The core issue here and it is shared by both motions, is that of positioning ourselves economically for the future. I still feel and wish to restate that in the provision of Broadband the Government must move beyond its mere regulatory role and become active in the provision of service, and recognise that this is an issue of strategic importance.
Tonight’s motion allows the Government to restate it’s commitment to the provision of e-Government. I think it is interesting to note the history of e-Government.
In January 1999, the Government launched an action plan for implementing the information society in Ireland. This set out a series of actions and initiatives for the period 1999-2001. A second action plan for implementing the information society, called New Connections, was launched in March 2002, covering the period 2002 to 2005. I think there was a commitment to this process at the time. However we now find ourselves apparently rudderless with nobody willing to push the concept any further. I think it is worth asking, Why is this?
I have my suspicions as to why this is the case and wish to state them for the record.
Quite simply various projects did not fulfil what it was they were anticipated to do during the giddy days of our own Governmental dot.com bubble. Our Media Lab in Temple Bar, PPars, whilst not strictly part of the initiative was enough to frighten anyone, The HealthIreland Portal abandoned by the HSE and the perhaps overly ambitious Public Services Broker analysed recently by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Having said this I do think it is worth noting the advances made by the Revenue Commissioners with ROS, and the work done by both Departments of Agriculture & Food and Social & Family Affairs and some of that achieved by Local Authorities around the country.
Funding heretofore has not been identified as a barrier to progress in many cases of e-Government initiative. The issues would appear to be the direction of Government, the commitment of senior management in the Civil Service and the resolution of organisational issues. According to the Comptroller & Auditor General the main reason given for delay in the provision of e-Government was unanticipated complexity in the business process, or in the technical solution.
It is critical that Ireland would perform well in external e-Government benchmarking processes. This is how we will be analysed and assessed and it can be classed as a measure of our International Competitive Advantage.
In the EU Commission’s benchmarking exercise, Ireland’s overall ranking regarding on-line sophistication of e-Government has fallen from 1st place in 2001/2002 to 17th place in 2007. It is no coincidence that this period mirrors exactly the initial drive and flurry of the Government to the apparent aimless drift of today.
With various survey results the indication is that Ireland is consistently ranked among the top twenty or so countries in relation to development of on-line public services, which is to be expected given relative levels of economic development. However, among developed countries, Ireland is not a leader on e-Government, and our relative position has been slipping. Many other countries are now significantly more advanced. Emerging economies such as Estonia have taken the issue very seriously and will benefit. As we search for international competitive advantage it is not good enough to merely stand still.
For the future, the feasibility of e-Government projects has to be examined early and planning has to be strong. Ownership and responsibility for delivery must be crystal clear.
It is time for the Government to reaffirm its commitment. The Information Society Commission has not been reappointed or replaced since its term ended in May 2005. Likewise, The New Connections action plan up to the end of 2005 has not been succeeded by a further plan or specific strategy.