Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Public Accounts Committee

Business of Committee

9:00 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness at the committee. He is joined by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director of audit.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering.

The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 7 March. Are they agreed to? Agreed. They will be published. As I cannot see anything arising that will not be dealt with when we deal with correspondence and other items, we will move on.

The next item on the agenda is correspondence. The first category is category A - briefing documents and opening statements. Nos. 2076 and 2077, dated 26 and 27 March, are a briefing note and the opening statement for today's meeting from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We will note and publish them.

The next category is correspondence received from Accounting Officers and their Ministers following previous meetings of the committee. The first item is No. 2031, correspondence, dated 11 March 2019, received from Mr. Tom Grady, chief executive of Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board, on governance standards, the internal audit function, the finance committee and internal controls. The ETB acknowledges the shortcomings in 2017 which were highlighted. Corrective action has been taken to improve compliance. We will note and publish the correspondence. We have seen a general improvement in the ETB sector, but there are still problems throughout with internal audit. We will keep an eye on the matter.

The next item is No. 2032, correspondence received from Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, providing outstanding information requested by the committee on the Irish Prison Service. It relates to the level of compensation paid in cases involving an injury to a prisoner. The issues involved were not dealt with in previous correspondence. The correspondence provides details of the compensation paid in cases in which prisoners had harmed themselves and a note on cases which involved protected disclosures and non-disclosure agreements, including where payments were made. We will note the correspondence, but I want to highlight one or two issues in that regard.

The fourth letter highlights a very sad situation. It reads:

I can advise the Committee that payments for self-injurious behaviour for the years 2016 and 2017 were €50,000 and €51,737 respectively. The payments were made to the families of prisoners who had died from self-inflicted injuries while in custody.

I would like to write back to ask for an update on cases involving prisoners who died from self-inflicted injuries while in custody since 2017. I do not know if it was mentioned at our last meeting, but before we meet the Secretary General again, we will need to receive a note on potential claims or claims that have already been lodged as a result of an outbreak of tuberculosis in a prison. There are some cases in the system. I understand there is a significant issue in one institution.

We return to the State Claims Agency and will have to address the issue in our periodic report. There is a demarcation line. When an issue arises, it is referred to the State Claims Agency and, as far as the Irish Prison Service is concerned, that is the end of it. The agency is required under legislation to process and manage cases. However, we asked about confidentiality agreements. In the last paragraph Mr. O'Driscoll writes:

The State Claims Agency considers and treats all settlements as confidential as between the State Claims Agency and the Plaintiff. The State Claims Agency does not routinely request confidentiality agreements in relation to claims' settlements but does so from time-to-time as it deems it necessary and appropriate. In some instances, confidentiality agreements are sought by Plaintiffs.

Officials of the State Claims Agency will come before the committee again to deal with the handling of confidentiality agreements and claims against the State. We were told that they were almost unique. This indicates something slightly different. We will, therefore, need to verify the matter. We need to examine the TB outbreak and receive an update on cases in which people died from self-inflicted injuries while in custody. We will note and publish the correspondence.

The next item is No. 2033, correspondence received from Ms Carol Hanney, chief executive, City of Dublin Education and Training Board, providing information requested by the committee on the internal audit function. We will note and publish the correspondence. It makes for sad reading from a public accounts point of view. Essentially, the ETB had one internal auditor who retired in December 2016. There were communications between the ETB and the Department on what grade the internal auditor should be, whether he or she should be an assistant principal officer or at a higher grade. One body said "Yes", the other said "No". They then changed their minds and changed them back again. They tried to recruit but could not find anybody. They tried again but still could not find anybody. We are now told that the internal auditor should be recruited through the national ETB internal audit function. This is a great example of the parcel being passed around for years, sheets of paper being issued from one Department to another and nothing being done. I know that there are difficulties in recruitment, but the correspondence states that in the period from September to December 2017 the ETB internal audit function carried out one audit of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. It is utterly and totally unsatisfactory that there is no evidence of any internal audit having been carried out of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. It is not fair to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to answer off the top of his head, but what turnover does the organisation have?


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