Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 24 January 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
I welcome Deputy Robert Dowds, who replaces Deputy Keaveney on the committee. I wish Deputy Keaveney well. Are the minutes of our meeting on 17 December 2013 agreed? Are there any matters arising from the minutes?
My question relates directly to last week's meeting dealing with the 2011 accounts for the Commission for Aviation Regulation, Commission for Communications Regulation and Commission for Energy Regulation. While we discussed those accounts during that meeting it was only following the meeting that I got a proper look at the accounts, which were for the year ended 30 June 2011 and as such were a year and a half old at that stage. I then looked at the commissions' websites and noted that those accounts had been posted on 13 January, which was a few days prior to that meeting. The 2011 accounts were audited and signed off by Mr. John Buckley on 21 December 2011. Perhaps the Comptroller and Auditor and General will tell us if the 2012 accounts have been signed off.
It would have been far more beneficial for the committee to have had the most recent annual accounts as the topic on the agenda for our meeting on 17 January. However, there was so much going on we did not get into that. During a meeting last summer with another organisation - I think it was the NTMA - it transpired that we were dealing with accounts which were a year and a half old. Within hours of that meeting finishing the organisation's accounts for the following year were published. While they had been fully available within the system they had not been published. It is important organisations are asked about the status of their most recent accounts prior to appearing before the committee. We were way behind the clock last week in terms of the accounts with which we were dealing. Have the commissions' annual accounts for the year ending 30 June 2012 been signed off?
The annual accounts for the year ending 30 June 2011 were signed off on 21 December 2011, which led me to query whether the 2012 accounts had been signed off. It would have been far more beneficial for the committee to have had those accounts. On two occasions during the past couple of months we discussed accounts that were a year and a half old. It would be far more beneficial and make our business more relevant if we were discussing more up to date accounts. I accept that the situation in respect of the Departments is more straightforward. However, our business would be far more relevant if we were discussing agency accounts for 2012, even if not published.
We can check prior to each meeting that the accounts before us are the most up-to-date ones. The fact that the accounts are up to end June is unusual. We will check in future. As there are no other matters arising, we will move on to correspondence received since our meeting on Thursday, 17 January 2013.
Correspondence 3A.1, dated 4 January 2013, is from Mr. Brian Murphy, Chief Executive, National Development Finance Agency, providing information requested at our meeting on 13 December, to be noted.
Correspondence 3A.2, dated 17 December 2012, is from Mr. Brian Murphy, Chief Executive, National Development Finance Agency, providing further information requested at our meeting on 13 December.
Correspondence 3B.1, dated 21 December 2012, is from Mr. Jim O'Brien, Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan, regarding financial oversight of school funds, to be noted and forwarded to the Department of Education and Skills for a note on the matter.
Correspondence 3B.2, dated 22 December 2012, is from Mr. Daniel O'Mahony, Kinsale Road, Cork, regarding the National Property Services Regulatory Authority and Cork County Council, to be noted. A note will be requested from the Department of Justice and Equality on the work and cost of the National Property Services Regulatory Authority given the complaint made by Mr. O'Mahony. The second issue is a matter for the local authority and is outside the remit of the committee. However, we will forward it to the Local Government Auditor for his information.
Does the National Property Services Regulatory Authority come under the remit of the committee?
Perhaps the clerk would request a brief about the authority. I am aware of a number of complaints in regard to its issuing of auctioneers' licences in particular. While fees have been paid licences have not been issued leaving auctioneers operating with only a letter of comfort. It would be of help to the committee to get a note on make-up of the office and so on prior to its appearing before us.
Correspondence 3B.3, dated 14 January 2013, is from Ms Jacinta Somers, Drinagh, County Wexford in relation to previous correspondence with the committee regarding alleged misappropriation of funds at Pairc Charmann. All of the issues raised by Ms Somers are outside the committee's remit as they relate to local government. I understand some of her complaints are the subject of a report by the Local Government Auditor. I presume this correspondence is to be noted only and that Ms Somers will be informed of our position.
Correspondence 3B.4, dated 16 January 2013, is from Mr. Tom Moran, Secretary General, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, providing a note previously requested by the committee regarding affinity fraud, to be noted and forwarded to the complainants, Sean and Elaine Moran.
Correspondence 3B.5, dated 16 January 2013, is from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, providing a note previously requested by the committee regarding County Cork VEC, to be noted and forwarded to the complainants, Bev and Miriam Cotton.
Correspondence 3B.6, dated 18 January 2013, is from Mr. Tom O'Mahony, Secretary General, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, providing a note previously requested by the committee regarding the National Aquatics Centre. The Accounting Officer has confirmed that this reply also covers the letter which was received last week from Mr. Moriarty. This correspondence is to be noted and forwarded to John Moriarty, Dublin Waterworld Limited.
Do we need to discuss this correspondence?
Two letters of complaint were received, drawing attention to what he described as incorrect information being put before the committee. It is important we note this correspondence today and have a public discussion on the matter next week.
Members might update themselves on the issue and we will include the two letters of correspondence and the response on our agenda for next week's meeting.
Correspondence 3B.7, dated 17 January 2013, is from Mr. John Murphy, Secretary General, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation regarding correspondence previously forwarded by the committee from Mr. Don Curry, to be noted and copy forwarded to Mr. Curry.
We now move to documents relating to today's meeting. Correspondence 3C.1, dated 21 January 2013, is from Mr. Gerry Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, National Transport Authority and is a briefing paper on matters to be considered at today's meeting, to be noted and published.
Correspondence 3C.2, dated 22 January 2013, is from Mr. Gerry Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, National Transport Authority, regarding his opening statement, to be noted and published.
We now move to reports, statements and accounts received since our meeting on 17 January 2013. These are listed as correspondence 4.1 to 4.13. Any member wishing to raise a matter in relation to any of the organisations concerned or their accounts can do so now or can raise it with the clerk and the matter can be dealt with by way of agenda item at a future meeting. All of these accounts are to be noted.
I understand the issue with Leopardstown, the Cork race course and Fairyhouse. They are race courses involved with horse racing. I do not see the connection between Navan Golf Club and the horse racing industry.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It has been a long-standing subsidiary. There may be a connection between Navan Races Limited and the golf club. They may be contiguous properties and be strategically linked. I recall that there was 51% ownership, so there is still membership involvement in the ownership of the golf club.
Before coming to the work programme I again bring to the attention of members the numbers of items of correspondence from individuals regarding the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to which we have no direct access as a Committee of Public Accounts. The spending of money through that sector remains an unsatisfactory arrangement. I hope that in a future meeting - although not next week - we might get a briefing note of the work undertaken that reviewed the work being done by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the auditors in the sector to determine if there is a way of managing this so that the Committee of Public Accounts can have some sort of oversight or review of the various value for money audits undertaken or queries we receive. It is part of our work that should not be overlooked, as there is a substantial amount of money involved. Perhaps we can get a briefing note from the clerk and see how we can proceed.
In light of what we have been dealing with, there is no harm in asking. We will have a report on how the sector operates relative to the Comptroller and Auditor General and what reports go to and from each body, as well as how we can best deal with the queries that come before us. It is not right that individuals who make a complaint see it being kicked on further. There is an obligation on the Committee of Public Accounts to ensure that if we cannot answer a query, somebody else will do so. If we cannot achieve anything else, there should be co-operation between the local government auditor and the Comptroller and Auditor General. Perhaps after the briefing we could consider inviting the auditor to a meeting.
Are there any other matters relating to the work programme? Members may raise issues through the clerk after the meeting if there are queries. The next item is the draft report on HSE matters and if members have read the report and have no further addition to make, I suggest that we proceed to publication next week. Is that agreed? Agreed. Is there any other business?
I have a general question. I notice we always ask the Accounting Officer or chief executive when we bring in the people from the likes of the National Transport Authority today. In future, could we invite the chairman of organisations as well?
It is normal practice that we invite the Accounting Officer but given the increasing importance of corporate governance and the role of a chairman in signing off on the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, it may be appropriate to also call in the chairperson. If that is agreeable to the committee, in future for organisations like the one appearing today, we will invite both the Accounting Officer and chairperson.
There is a big gap where there are corporate governance issues, as well as matters relating to pay and overseeing the chief executive or Accounting Officer. It would be useful for our work if the chairman was invited as well.
Is it agreed that in future we will invite both the Accounting Officer and the chairperson? Agreed. Is there any other business before we invite the witnesses to join us? Will we agree the agenda for 10 a.m. on Thursday, 31 January, when we will meet representatives of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and Enterprise Ireland? The agenda will consist of a briefing from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the powers of inquiry Bill and an examination of Enterprise Ireland's financial accounts for 2011 in the second half of the meeting.
Clerk to the Committee:
Members asked for a briefing on the Bill and the officials who are drafting it in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will go through the different aspects of the Bill and the proposals for the legislation. This is in the context of future banking inquiries etc. and how the system will operate. Members felt they needed this briefing and it will probably be in private session, although that is a matter for the committee.
Yes. We should set a timeframe as there is no point in having the representatives of Enterprise Ireland waiting from 10 a.m. The briefing session will be at 10 a.m. and we will either go straight into the discussion with Enterprise Ireland at 11.30 a.m. or take a break. Either way, we will begin the examination of Enterprise Ireland at 11.30 a.m.