Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
The first item on our agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 9 May 2013. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. No. 2 is matters arising from the minutes. No matters have arisen.
No. 3 is correspondence received since our meeting on Thursday, 9 May 2013. No. 3A is correspondence from Accounting Officers. There is correspondence dated 13 May 2013 from Ms Geraldine Tallon, Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, forwarding information requested at our meeting on 2 May 2013 regarding the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. That is to be noted and published.
No. 3B is individual-----
On that correspondence, I have a question. At the same meeting, we talked about the allegations made to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, about a conflict of interest. Has there been an update in this regard? Members sought further information on it.
It would be important, given that the committee was talking about conflicts of interest. As someone had made an allegation at the time, it would be good to see exactly what was alleged and how SIPO responded, if at all possible.
We will deal next with individual correspondence. No. 3B.1 is correspondence dated 8 May 2013 from Mr. Hugh Rance, Bantry, County Cork regarding County Cork VEC. It is to be noted. We have received previous correspondence from Mr. Rance regarding County Cork VEC which has been passed on to the Department, which has replied. The level of correspondence on County Cork VEC is so large that perhaps we should get an overall note on accountability issues from the Department and we should also review the next audit report of that body.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
In the context of the 2011 financial statements of County Cork VEC I have asked for all of the issues that arise in the various correspondence to be examined from a current perspective. I have not initiated an investigation of the history of each of the cases but anything that looked like a systemic issue is being addressed in the context of the 2011 audit. As a result, the completion of the audit has been significantly delayed. We are still awaiting certain explanations and further matters require investigation and to be finalised. I expect at this stage that there will be a report on all those matters.
Is that all right? Agreed. No. 3B. 2 is correspondence dated 10 May 2013, from the office of the Secretary General of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government re information previously requested regarding flooding in Ballinasloe, County Galway. It is to be noted. The correspondence has been forwarded to the OPW for a note on the matter.
No. 3B.3 is correspondence dated 11 May 2013, from Mr. Matthew Merrigan re the committee’s examination of special report No. 80 of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the administration of national health and local authority levy fund. It is to be noted. Mr. Merrigan is claiming that he cannot give evidence as the subject matter of the committee's examination is also being examined by the Garda. The clerk has been in contact with the HSE who did refer the matter to the Garda when it became clear that public moneys paid to SIPTU were claimed by the union not to have been lodged in an official account. We now know a lot more about the payment and use of this public money and we should ask the HSE to review the complaint it made to the Garda so as to enable the Garda to make a decision on whether to continue its investigation. I am anxious that we hear the evidence from Mr. Merrigan. Any issue that we will deal with will not overlap with a Garda investigation. The Garda was examining the possibility of fraud and we need to get the evidence directly from Mr. Merrigan. I will ask the clerk to check with the HSE. We will pursue the matter that way and move towards insisting on Mr. Merrigan appearing as a witness before the committee. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 3B.4 is correspondence dated 14 May 2013, from Mr. Lar Bradshaw, former chairman of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority re the committee’s examination of special report No. 77 of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. It is to be noted. Mr. Bradshaw has indicated a willingness to help the committee and we will facilitate him. We might, because of scheduling, have to hold a special meeting on Wednesday 19 June or Wednesday 26 June in order to deal with the matter. We will try to accommodate Mr. Bradshaw. We issued other invitations to the various persons concerned. I understand Mr. Bradshaw was the only one to indicate his willingness to co-operate. None of the others have replied as yet.
We will issue a reminder to those who have not responded to date. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next heading is 3C concerning documents relating to the committee meeting of 2 May 2013. No. 3C.1 is correspondence received on 14 May 2013 from Mr. Martin Callinan, Commissioner, An Garda Síochána, re briefing paper on matters to be considered today. It is to be noted and published.
No. 3C.2 is correspondence received 14 May 2013 from Mr. Martin Callinan, Commissioner, An Garda Síochána, re his opening statement. It is to be noted and published.
The next heading relates to reports, statements and accounts received since the meeting of 9 May 2013. No. 4.1 is the annual report Kerry County Enterprise Board 2011.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
You asked last week, Chairman, about delays in the submission of the 2010 financial statements from two county enterprise boards. They were south Dublin county and Galway city and county. As I indicated last week they had been certified during 2011 and we did not receive a clear explanation for the delays in submitting them. The process is that the county enterprise boards send their accounts, usually with the annual report on their activities to Enterprise Ireland, which then sends them on to the Department, which then submits them to the Oireachtas. The practice in some of the county enterprise boards of submitting the two documents together – the financial statements and the performance report – is probably the main reason for delays. As we understand it, Enterprise Ireland received those two sets of financial statements earlier this year, one set in January and one set in April and there has not been too much delay since they were received there in coming to the Oireachtas.
No. 5 is our work programme. It is shown on the screen for members. One outstanding matter relates to Waterford Institute of Technology and the ongoing investigation there by Mr. Quigley. We had written to the Department of Education and Skills about it. The clerk informs me the report was completed. Could we ask the Department whether the report is available and for an update on the current position? The clerk could also ask if we could then proceed with the completion of our investigations on the matter. Is the work programme agreed?
I seek to have the Central Bank come before the committee. I have discussed the matter with the clerk. It is proposed to invite the Central Bank to come before the committee to talk about supervision, as it is under that particular category that we can ask it to come. Could we send a letter to the Central Bank to that effect?
We can. The accountability of the Central Bank is limited vis-à-vis the committee but there is a report from 2009 which deals with a number of issues. The report was considered by the committee during the term of the previous Dáil on 13 May 2010 and the issue remains open. We should invite Mr. Elderfield back to update the committee on the new regime of regulation now in place, as the debate in 2010 preceded the legislation that reformed the operation of the Central Bank at the time. The change is to regulation being contemplated, including extra staff and the fitness to practice provision for senior bank staff, which were not in place. The committee is currently drafting a report on bank stabilisation measures which covers the period 2008 to 2013, and an updated account on regulation would feed into the report also. I will ask the clerk to make arrangements to have the matter placed on the agenda. We will send the letter and the invitation to attend the committee to discuss these matters.
I wish to raise an issue on which I am aware people have corresponded with you, Chairman, and on which I have also spoken to the clerk. There is a huge emphasis in the current climate on enterprise and doing everything we can within communities to help people create jobs, support jobs and job creation. People would have read in the national media in recent weeks about the most disgusting possible example of the use of the word “enterprise” to create a culture of junketeering, not just for members of a board but also their family relatives. I refer to the Wicklow Enterprise Park in my constituency which had a board stuffed full of county managers, former county managers, councillors and FÁS executives. They certainly like to travel.
The board spent two nights in Killarney at a cost of €17,000. Between 2005 and 2007, board members went on US junkets costing between €22,000 and €26,000 and, as much as I love Wicklow, when they visited the Kennedy Space Centre, Universal Studios and Disney World, I am not sure what they thought they would bring back to the county.
This would all be appalling but laughable to a degree if it were not for the fact that it drew down millions in State grants over a sustained period. It drew down grants from Pobal, FÁS, Enterprise Ireland and possibly from the Department of Social Protection. Pobal went in to carry out an audit on its funding and the Pobal chief executive wrote to me to say that he believes a comprehensive, in-depth review is required of all public funding accessed by the company but that such a review significant exceeded Pobal's scope so it wrote to the Department of Social Protection to advise it of that and requested the matter be brought to the attention of all relevant accounting officers and the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
There is obviously a specific issue concerning this so-called company but there is a broader issue about the checks and balances that were in place when money was doled out under the headings of enterprise, job creation or community support from a variety of State agencies and Departments over a period of time in the early 2000s. I am interested to know the Comptroller and Auditor General's perspective on this. Did that request ever arrive from the chief executive of Pobal? The committee should consider corresponding with the relevant accounting officers because we must be able to have faith in organisations involved in enterprise in our communities.
We do not need to see what we read in the Mail on Sunday, whereby people were writing to the University of Texas to beg for a visit and it took the manager of the Austen Technology Incubator to write back and say there is nothing magical about the physical location, it is just a set of run-down offices in a university building. He said that what was special about was what they did there and how they added value, and that was not observable on a visit. The FÁS executive who was on the board said that it does not look good and the letter from Austen makes progress in this area impossible.
This company brought together councillors, managers and FÁS executives and this was how they treated public funds. It is a serious issue both for Wicklow and in a much broader sense.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The letter from Pobal to the Department of Social Protection did not result in a referral to me. We have no record of receiving any correspondence from the Department. I only became aware of concerns around Wicklow Enterprise Park when there was a press inquiry asking if an investigation had started in my office on foot of the recommendation from Pobal.
In a way this case raises some of the concerns we had looking at the SIPTU fund and the proliferation of funding from many sources to grant funded bodies. If we follow the amount of grant funding down through any particular line, it does not look like a significant amount. Wicklow Enterprise Park Limited is established as a company and will only come within my remit if over 50% of its income in a year is sourced from public sources. That is the first thing I would have to establish. It is something I will examine to see if I have a role to play.
On the general point about the oversight of grant funded bodies, we made recommendations in the SIPTU report and the committee will have the opportunity to discuss those with the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The SIPTU report is listed for hearing and the recommendations about the regime that is in place for oversight of grants will be outlined. We have also agreed with the Department to engage with it on a process of reviewing the arrangements in place around oversight of grants. One of the things that must be addressed in that context is understanding how much public funding goes into a grant funded body. There must be a system in place to draw that information together if we are to get proper oversight of these bodies.
That would be great. The only other element is the new information the Comptroller and Auditor General has provided on the fact the referral was never made from the Department of Social Protection. Pobal expressed concerns about this and wrote to the Department and asked that the Comptroller and Auditor General's office be alerted. I would be interested to hear from the Department why that referral was not acted upon.
Clerk to the Committee:
In fairness to the IDA, this time the meeting was postponed by us because its 2012 accounts would not be available to us if it came in on 30 May. If we wait a couple of months, the up to date accounts will be available. We are rescheduling. The postponement was at our request and we will reschedule the meeting for early September. That is why it happened.
The IDA will come in as soon as possible. Are there any other matters? Can we agree the agenda for the next meeting on Thursday, 23 May at 10 a.m.? We will meet with the Office of Public Works and the agenda for the meeting will consist of the 2011 appropriation accounts and annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Vote 10, Office of Public Works, Chapter 14, Measuring Procurement Performance.