Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 7 February 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We will commence our meeting. I want to place on record again our thanks to the delegation from Trinidad and Tobago for the positive exchange we had this morning and wish them well in their continued work as a public accounts committee. I hope they are fully informed and enjoy their visit to the Oireachtas.
No. 2 is the minutes of our meeting of 31 January 2013. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. The minutes of yesterday's meeting will be dealt with at our next meeting. Are there any matters arising from the minutes? No.
No. 4 is correspondence received since 31 January 2013. No. 4A. is correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers. No. 4A.1 is correspondence dated 31 January 2013 from Mr. David Cooney, Secretary General, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, re providing information requested at our meeting of 20 December 2013, to be noted and published. We will now be in a position to finalise our draft report on Irish Aid. We hope to do that and launch it with the report on the Health Service Executive, HSE.No.4A.2 is correspondence dated 1 February 2013 from Mr. Tom Butler, public affairs manager, Commission for Communications Regulation, re providing information requested at the meeting of 17 January 2013, to be noted and published. No. 4A.3 is correspondence dated 1 February 2013 from Mr. Tom O'Mahony, Secretary General, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, re providing information requested at the meeting of 20 September 2012. This is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. F.J. Gleasure, Gleasure Roofing Limited, the original complainant.
While dealing with the correspondence from Accounting Officers I take the opportunity to say that there are a number of outstanding matters where Accounting Officers appeared before us and agreed to forward information to us relative to questions asked by members. I refer in particular to the HSE which has a number of outstanding matters that need to be dealt with. I will ask the clerk to write to each Accounting Officer to remind them of their responsibility in that when a commitment is given to the Committee of Public Accounts to provide further information, it is expected that within the week following the date of the Committee of Public Accounts meeting at which they appeared, we should have the information submitted to the members in answer to the questions raised. I ask the clerk to make that perfectly clear to the Accounting Officers.
Where this matter arises in future meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts we have to be firm and direct with the Accounting Officers. It is expected that when they appear before us on their accounts or annual reports, all information is to be furnished before or during the meeting. If they fail to provide the information within that week and if they do not have it on the day, we will have to take up the matter with the Minister responsible. That is the direct action we have to take because we can no longer accept the inefficiencies in providing the answers required by members. That is the reason I raise the matter this morning. As Deputy Dowds is aware, I have consulted the members regarding this and I believe I am supported by the members in asking for the protocol to be observed.
I would assume that at this stage the bulk of the data would be on computer systems within Departments and therefore they might bring computers and so forth with them. If the information is not available, I do not see any reason they should not be able to access the bulk of it on the day. If we put them on alert that we expect them to have complete and comprehensive access to information on the day, we will find that sufficient information will be brought to committees during the timeframe.
No. 4B is individual correspondence. No. 4B.1 is correspondence dated 24 January 2013 from Ms Jacinta Somers, Drinagh, County Wexford, re alleged misappropriation of funds at Páirc Carman, to be noted. The committee is awaiting a response from the Department on that. No. 4B.2 is correspondence dated 25 January 2013 from Bernie Lloyd, Windmill residents group, County Wexford, re proposed courthouse complex at Wygram, Wexford town, to be noted. A comprehensive reply will issue to Bernie Lloyd this week outlining the role of the committee in respect of this issue.
It is fair to say that some members of the public and groups that write to the committee often ask why we would write to each Department or agency to get the up-to-date position on the issue raised. That is an important part of our work, and perhaps in replying to individuals and groups it should be explained to them that the first step in the process of the work we undertake is to obtain the information from the relevant Department or agency in answer to the query raised and, arising from that, it may be judged by the committee that a more in-depth response is required or that an investigation of one kind or another is necessary.
No. 4B.3 is correspondence dated 30 January 2013 from Mr. Ray Mitchell, parliamentary and regulatory affairs division, Health Service Executive, re providing information previously requested regarding right of place, to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Thomas W. Brennan, the original complainant.
I want to deal with an item of correspondence that came before the committee in recent weeks regarding Charles Farrell. It is in the members' correspondence. Mr. Michael Brosnan was presenting the case on behalf of the farmer concerned. I draw the members' attention to the fact that while this issue dates back to 1977, it has been ongoing since 1977. It is my understanding that there was a court case in the middle of this period which Mr. Farrell won, and that some of the information on which he was relying was not made available until he requested it under the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act. Further correspondence on this was received yesterday and in spite of the fact that the Department would say it has already stated that it does not intend to engage in any further futile correspondence on this matter, and that that remains the position, I believe it is necessary for the Department to provide the information Mr. Farrell has requested because it has a bearing on his case. There is an exposure to the State in regard to what might be due to Mr. Farrell and, therefore, in my opinion the Committee of Public Accounts should request the documentation necessary for us to make a judgment call on this matter. Arising from the correspondence, I will ask the Department to furnish the information to us so that, with the other correspondence we received, we can make a call as to whether further action is necessary, but I believe the Department must give us this information and that there is a case to be answered by the Department. It is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and it is correspondence dated 19 December 2012.
I am of the belief that Mr. Farrell kept the case open during that time in regard to his herd and testing and that he could not get the information that was necessary for him to complete the inquiry into his own case. It was only in the past five years, under a freedom of information request, that he received documentation which contradicted earlier positions taken by the Department.
No. It is not sub judice. It is another matter, and that is the reason I am asking members to revisit the correspondence. I will ask the clerk, Mr. Ted McEnery, to circulate the correspondence again with the up-to-date correspondence. We are simply making a request of the Department today to make all of its files available to us to allow us make a call on that.
No. 4C is documents relating to the committee meeting of 7 February 2013. No. 4C.1 is correspondence received on 31 January 2013 from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport re briefing paper on matters to be considered at the meeting of 7 February 2013, to be noted and published.
Item 4C.2 is correspondence received on 31 January 2013 from the National Roads Authority regarding the briefing paper on matters to be considered at the meeting on 7 February 2013. It is to be noted and published.
Item 4C.3 is correspondence received on 4 February 2013 from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding the opening statement. It is to be noted and published.
Item 4C.4 is correspondence received on 5 February 2013 from the National Roads Authority regarding the opening statement. It is to be noted and published.
On No. 5, reports, statements and accounts received since the meeting of 31 January 2013 are listed from 5.1 to 5.6 and cover the Institute of Technology, Carlow, the Health and Safety Authority, the Railway Safety Commission, the National Education Welfare Board, the National Transport Authority and the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown. Has Mr. McCarthy up-to-date information on the most recent accounts of the Institute of Technology Tallaght?
Perhaps Mr. McCarthy can acquire some copies of the most recent accounts and those for the year before.
No. 6 is the work programme. It includes meetings scheduled up to 2 May 2013. The HSE will appear before the committee on 25 April 2013. At a previous meeting, we requested the internal report on its accounts. It will be made available to members prior to the meeting.
Under the heading "Any other business", can we agree the agenda for the meeting with representatives of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners at 10 a.m. on 21 February 2013? The agenda for the meeting will cover the 2011 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10, and Revenue accounts 2011. Is that agreed? Agreed.