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How Ireland spends its money, new UCD Geary report reveals how public money is being allocated

Posted 25 March, 2024

A new report from the UCD Geary Institute has, for the first time, shown how Ireland is spending its public purse.

This year almost €114.4 billion will be spent through government departments and state agencies, and ‘(opens in a new window)Ireland’s Public Spending Explained 2024’ accounts for each and every cent.

An example of where public money is going is that out of every €100 of public spending, €9.34 goes into the state pension, €7.02 on acute hospital services and €4.89 goes on welfare payments for illness, disability, or carers. 

At €21.25 these three spending programmes account for more than a fifth out of every €100 allocated to public spending.

“The purpose of this report is to make it easier for people to understand public spending,” said Dr Nat O’Connor, the report’s author.

“Public access to high quality information is an essential part of democracy, not least clear information about where public money is allocated. 

“The last time Ireland intensively scrutinised public spending was when the economy had collapsed in 2008. That was not the best environment in which to consider where the state spends money and what we get in return. 

“The 2008 crisis led to a rush to cut the spending that was easiest to cut, rather than any kind of strategic decision on what areas of public spending foster wellbeing, economic development or the kind of society we want to live in. 

“There is a need to examine public spending outside of crises and hopefully this report will enable more people to be part of that conversation,” Dr O’Connor added.

The ‘Ireland’s Public Spending Explained 2024’ report highlights that the national budget of Ireland is often voted through without a clear detail on just where the public’s money will be spent.

In October 2023, the Budget allocated €96.3 billion for public services but a further €13.8 billion was required for national debt repayments, Ireland’s contribution to the EU, and other ‘non-voted’ areas of public spending. 

Local government also raise funds for local spending that are not accounted for in the Budget, and the HSE does not provide detailed accounts of its spending until several months after the national budget is voted on.

As part of its analysis of this public spending the new report breaks down the State’s finances into 105 ‘spending programmes’, which not only shows where money has been allocated, but also summarises the types of services it is providing for the public.

The report highlights the 30 top programmes, which each receive 1% or more of public spending, 44 major programmes, that account for 0.1% to 0.99% of what’s spent, and 31 ‘smaller’ spending programmes that make up less than 0.1% each. 

Despite only accounting for 1% of total spending, these smaller programmes include whole government departments and many strategically important agencies such as the Central Statistics Office, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Public Appointments Service.

The top 30 spending programmes meanwhile account for more than 80% of all public spending across areas such as the state pension, primary schools, and acute hospital services.

Also described within the report are the tools available to analyse value for money and the impact of public spending programmes, as well as a detailed method showing how the numbers in the report were produced.

‘Ireland’s Public Spending Explained 2024’ is available at PublicPolicy.ie – the online platform for informing and debating public policy in Ireland run by the UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy.

By:David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations

To contact the UCD News & Content Team, email: newsdesk@ucd.ie