Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 13 June 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Statement by Chairman
In accordance with an agreement made with committee members yesterday, we have set aside the time until 11.45 a.m. to deal with media reports relating to the Chairman, Deputy John McGuinness. This must be done now in order to ensure these issues do not deflect from the integrity and importance of the work the committee is mandated to do. That is the key issue for us as members of the committee.
The media reports deal with a number of matters to do with the conduct of the Chairman when he was Minister of State at the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment between June 2007 and April 2009. Deputy Shane Ross has requested that members be allowed, for the purpose of examining this issue, to question the Chairman. The sole issue for members is the need to protect the committee and ensure its work is not hindered by constant newspaper revelations in regard to the Chairman.
I thank the Vice Chairman and members of the committee for agreeing to set aside the time this morning from the busy schedule of the Committee of Public Accounts for me to make this brief statement and answer any questions they might have about the matters that have come into the public domain between the end of April and now. We have dealt with some of these issues but I am quite prepared to deal with them and the new issues that have emerged. In doing so, and in agreeing to allot the time this morning to allow this to happen, I am conscious of the importance of the work of the Committee of Public Accounts and its members. I am also conscious of the importance of the committee itself in relation to the House. I believe it to be the most important committee in this House and it has carried out its work down through the years without fear or favour and in a non-political way. During my time on the committee from 2002 to 2007 I experienced the challenges that can present to a member of government. I had to get over those challenges and work with the other members as they did the important work of scrutinising spending for the State. I admire the work of the current committee in carrying on that tradition. It is true to say that since 21 April there has been a certain distraction from that work because of public comment or public media reports about the position that I held in 2007 for a brief period of 18 months as Minister of State at the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, with responsibility for trade and commerce.
The first issue that arose in respect of that appointment was the provision of an office. I believe the Accounting Officer dealt fully and adequately with that in the past few weeks. I quoted at the end of that meeting from the freedom of information request I had put in to the Office of Public Works, OPW, the reply to which stated clearly that it was senior officials within the office of the OPW who scrutinised this work, provided the plans, carried out the tendering process and delivered the finished office. The Accounting Officer and that written reply to my FOI request clearly demonstrated, in my opinion, that I had no hand, act or part in the decision-making about the materials used in that office, its size or its extent. I am quite prepared to answer any other questions that might have emerged for members since then.
There were other reports after that which came into the public domain. I apologise to members of the committee because I know that Deputy Harris asked publicly why members were not informed or why I had not informed members of what the FOI request was about and the response to it. I will start with 21 April, or sometime around then, and what happened afterwards. I did not receive from the Department any copies of that FOI request by way of that process. I had to go to the Fianna Fáil research office to ask if it could get a copy. I was not quite sure of the procedure but I did not have copies. That is why no one was informed. I tried to respond as best I could to those articles by casting my mind back six years by way of preparing myself and so on. It was hard to do that when, day after day, something different and significant appeared without my knowledge and without my having the paperwork to back it up.
Last Friday - this relates to current events - I received a telephone call from the Department to say that certain information was being given in response to an FOI request. That was on 7 June at 5.34 p.m. That is when I received the e-mail. I studied that e-mail and its contents on Saturday and I spent all of Sunday trying to respond directly to the reporter concerned by e-mail. Sometime late on Sunday night, I think, I finished providing information in response to the queries addressed to me. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to forward the information to Deputy Harris and the other members of the committee, but I did not have it until that late hour. At that stage the articles were ready for publication and the information was put into the public domain. It consisted largely of what was known about the office and about toilet rolls, and then it touched on some other subjects, including the fact that I had employed my son when I entered the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as it was known then. That was in 2007. In the course of 2008 a key member of our staff went on maternity leave and we had staffing issues during most of my time in that office. In order to compensate for the work that was required to be done, overtime was claimed. It was claimed in the normal way according to the standards of the Civil Service. It was not signed off by me, as was suggested in different places. I did not have anything to do with that process. It is true that in hindsight I could have managed things better in terms of staff, and I accept that, but I ask members to understand that during that time I ran a busy constituency office on one side, and when one is appointed a Minister - I hope some members will enjoy that some day - one's constituency office workload doubles or trebles. I took on the Department role as well and I expected my staff at local and national level to be able to respond to the massive number of queries that we received from organisations and individual business people who were facing difficulties in doing business abroad and at home. All of us in that office dealt as best we could with all of those issues. As I said, the overtime was appropriately and properly claimed. My regret now, looking back, is that maybe we could have organised things better, but all of this was within the guidelines that were set down.
I thank the Chairman. Before calling the members I wish to pose some questions to the Chairman. Is this the end of the matter, Deputy McGuinness? Are there further revelations to come? Is he aware of any other freedom of information requests in respect of his period as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment? In the questions we are posing the Chairman made reference to his own credibility. This is about the integrity of the Committee of Public Accounts. The Committee of Public Accounts is bigger than one person. It is about the work we do collectively as a group, the work we have done in the past and the work we will do into the future. This is not about personalities but there are issues. I ask the Chairman to address those three questions but I ask him to first address the question: is this the end of the matter? I put that question in the context of the distraction from the work we are doing as a committee. Is the Chairman aware of any other freedom of information requests in respect of his period as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment?
The first question is impossible to answer because I do not put in freedom of information, FOI, requests. Our colleagues in the media are the ones who put in the FOIs. In this case it was a number of FOIs-----
If I can answer the Vice Chairman, he has asked a question. I do not know what FOIs might be in but out of the FOIs that were submitted, what has to be asked here, away from the mix of the media and the mix of the replies, is what was the response to each and every one of those FOIs. What did they find within those FOIs that shows that I stepped beyond the line of authority during those 18 months? I do not know what FOIs are in.
I do not believe that the coverage of this issue reflected in any way negatively on this committee. It certainly stalled us in terms of our work, and we see that here this morning, and I regret that. I can only express a regret that we have not been able to conduct our work without the hindrance of this coverage but I cannot account for the coverage. I apologised to the members earlier for not being able to inform them because I do not know what is next but having gone through what I have gone through from 21 April up to now, I cannot imagine that there is much left.
To add to the response, efforts were made by the paper to contact various people locally in my constituency to ask of them if there was anything they believed should be investigated by the committee. I think I am quoting them accurately. In fact, during the course of the last two to three days questions were also asked locally about my wife's activities outside of my own political activities. I do know and what would ensue from that - I cannot say, as much as any Member of this House could answer that question in relation to their own circumstances or what might be asked of them.
I agree with the Vice Chairman that the Committee of Public Accounts is bigger than any individual. I am the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and therefore I am the one who is in the spotlight here, and that is why I am anxious to answer as best I can.
I have two further brief questions. The Chairman made reference regarding the freedom of information request on travel that he sent an e-mail on 29 August 2007 to the assistant secretary in the Department Enterprise, Trade and Employment and it was copied to various officials in the Department up as far as the Secretary General. Does the Chairman stand over the points he made in that letter where he said that there was a strong case to be made for State spending, despite the cost, in respect of the taxpayer paying for Ministers' spouses to go on trade missions?
I am going to explain it to the Vice Chairman. He is incorrectly interpreting what is in this correspondence. I asked whether it was possible to pay for my wife to go on a trade mission. I said all of this in my earlier remarks and the Vice Chairman is now referring to this which I referred to as the 27th but which is actually the 29th.
It says here in the e-mail you will be able to establish that it was always my intention to pay for my wife relative to this trade mission the Vice Chairman is speaking about. Once it was explained to me, then my wife did not go.
The Chairman's view was that there was a strong case to be made for the State paying despite the costs which such a position would generally create across Departments. Does the Chairman still hold that position?
As I said in my earlier remarks, there are two issues here. One has to accept clearly that I accepted the first issue and my wife did not travel. It is important for me to state that even though I was going to pay.
In relation to the travel generally, I then raised the question in what I have already admitted to being a poorly communicated opinion six years ago. Do I believe that the spouses of Ministers should travel at a cost to the State willy-nilly? No, I do not. Do I believe that in exceptional circumstances, which is the point I was making - I mean seriously exceptional circumstances - a case could be considered and could be rejected? That is the point I was trying to make in the correspondence. This was a philosophical exchange which went nowhere. It was an opinion expressed. The Vice Chairman asked me, and rightly so, whether I hold that opinion today. Circumstances have changed considerably, and I respect they have changed considerably, so I do not hold that opinion.
The view has to be "No" on trade missions. In exceptional circumstances, I think it says in the other correspondence that the Taoiseach can view that. There are and can be exceptional circumstances but generally speaking "No."
The Vice Chairman referred to the correspondence and asked why I wrote back. In the course of August, this correspondence was entered into without me knowing about it. I did not know that my simple question was going to cause 25 or more e-mails to senior civil servants in a Department taking their time to answer them when the economy was going into collapse. I did not know that was going to happen. I did not know it happened until I came back and I felt that I should answer it because I wanted to make the point in relation to the issues.
I will finish on this point and let the other members come in. The Chairman just acknowledged that at that time the economy was going down the tubes. If that was the context - we have to ask these questions for the ordinary people looking in at the Committee of Public Accounts - why did the Chairman put in a request, which based on the e-mails would appear to have been a reasonably persistent one, and write on 29 August a relatively lengthy and strongly worded letter and subsequently over a month later on 9 October or thereabouts request that his wife go on a trip to Canada with him when, as he said, the economy was going down the spout and the officials should have been dealing with far more important matters than e-mails from the Chairman? Why did the Chairman put them in the position where they felt it necessary to deal with him by way of e-mail?
Because it was made clear to them - I am glad in a way to be able to repeat the point for the Vice Chairman and the members - that they would be able to establish that it was my intention to pay. I wanted to pay for my wife on those trade missions. I asked about it. I accepted that could not be done and she did not travel. We are not talking about something which cost the State anything. It was a request and I point again to the fact that in more recent times, a Minister asked and was told "No" and his wife did not travel. That is a fact.
I do not think it is proper for me to ask the FOI officer if further requests have been made. I am not sure one can do that. If it is the view of the committee that I should make such contact, I have no difficulty doing so. I have never contacted members of the committee with a view to influencing their direction in any way. I have always allowed things to happen in a public, transparent way, as in the case of this meeting. I have not pursued the FOI officer. I do not want to place a media person or FOI officer in the position of being able to say I had pursued this matter with him or her.
That is fine. The Deputy's argument appears to be that he did not break any rules and we were in different times. Nobody has publicly contradicted him in that regard. The Deputy mentioned on numerous occasions this morning that this happened six years ago. The difficulty I have is that Deputy McGuinness, as Chairman of this committee, would not accept that from another witness such as, for example, Mr. Rody Molloy, former CEO of FÁS, a man whom Deputy McGuinness has commented on publicly on a number of occasions and about whom he wrote in his book, The House Always Wins. The following is a direct quote from that book:
Mr. Rody Molloy broke no rules, rather he operated within the guidelines. However, Deputy McGuinness arrived at the considered position, as did the then Committee of Public Accounts, that FÁS should not have paid for those tickets. How does the Deputy tally those two views? The Deputy believes he did everything right and that all this happened in a different time when the country was not in an economic mess. The key issue is why that is acceptable for him given the level of scrutiny he applies to others who appear before this committee.
The following day, seemingly oblivious to the growing public anger about the revelations, Rody Molloy, speaking on "Today with Pat Kenny" on RTE radio defended his practice of exchanging one first-class airline for two business-class tickets so that his wife could travel with him. In fact, he claimed he was "entitled" to do so.
In comparing me with Rody Molloy, Deputy Harris is comparing chalk with cheese. I want to be absolutely clear about that. The guidelines are set down by the Department and have been followed by past and current Ministers. Ministers do not sign off on their own foreign travel, including hotel arrangements and so on.
The Deputy asked a question, which I would like to answer.
The Department makes all of the Minister's travel arrangements, including payment of same and so on. I did not do that. I can only answer for myself. I cannot answer for anybody else. The Deputy asked how having done what I did I can chair the Committee of Public Accounts. I put it to him that I was appointed as a Minister of State and worked within the conditions, rules and regulations as set down. Others within the Department charged with responsibility for doing so looked after the specifics of what I was doing. In other words, where approval was granted to travel, the arrangements were made by senior civil servants in accordance with protocols, which are set out in Circular 6/59 from the Department of Finance, which I support. I have read the document closely, which I had not done previously. It is fine. I accept it.
In relation to the Deputy's question - I will answer it only as it applies to me - that is the answer. As regards whether I can chair a meeting the answer is "Yes, I can" because I did not do anything wrong. I did not sign off on anything that I should not have signed off on or for which I was not responsible for signing off on.
Other people who have appeared before this committee have made that very point. The Deputy was not an innocent bystander. He made the decisions, which we will get to later. This is not about the Deputy's wife; rather, it is about the Deputy and his public office. The only reference to the Deputy's wife is in relation to that. The Deputy is the one who made the decision that his wife was to travel at a cost to the taxpayer. It was the Deputy who made that decision. The civil servant did not tell the Deputy, then Minister of State, that he had to bring his wife or that he had to fly business class. The Deputy made those decisions.
Other people who appear before the Committee of Public Accounts also make similar decisions. In my time as a member of this committee, which is not as lengthy as that of Deputy McGuinness, I have rarely, if ever, come across a person sitting on that side of the room who had broken a rule or not operated within guidelines. Generally, they have. However, the Deputy, as Chairman of this committee, and the committee collectively, has been critical of their not questioning or probing issues. The committee has produced pretty hard hitting conclusions in such situations. That is what is at issue for me. I am not asking the Deputy to answer for Rody Molloy or anybody else. I am only using him as an example in terms of the level of account to which the Deputy, as Chairman of this committee, has held people and the level he now wishes us to hold him to.
Go ahead. The Taoiseach of the day nominates his Cabinet. The Cabinet handbook - I did not receive a copy of it as I was not a Minister - sets out how things are to be conducted. As I said in my opening remarks, in 2007 I was nominated to travel on a St. Patrick's Day mission. I brought my wife with me and, yes, the State paid. That was part of what was agreed could be done at that time. I made no decision about the tickets. They were booked and paid for by civil servants in accordance with the regulations in that regard. That happened six years ago. The question that has been asked is should it be permitted now. I have already outlined my position in relation to travel.
I want to get the Deputy's current views in a moment. The Deputy said the other night on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" and repeated again today that this was done six years ago when it was usual for wives to accompany their husbands and the State paid for it. It is not true to say that every Minister brought his or her spouse.
No. I am just clarifying the situation. It is fair to say that certain Ministers, including the Deputy's then senior Minister, the current Leader of Fianna Fáil, did not bring their wives on official business and when they were accompanied abroad on St. Patrick's Day by their spouses, they paid for them. The point I am making is that it was not that under the guidelines the Department booked the tickets and off one went.
My understanding of the guidelines from reading the pretty comprehensive freedom of information file is that the view at the time was that the Department could pay if one's spouse travelled abroad on a St. Patrick's Day trip but the Department did not pay for trade trips. Then there is the vague area of exceptional circumstances.
I am looking at the correspondence. I am referencing from the e-mail trail on 16 August. There seems to be a view within those e-mails that St. Patrick's Day trips could be paid for, if was deemed appropriate, but on trade missions one should not bring one's spouse regardless of whether one paid for them. I think the Taoiseach of the day had a degree of discretion. I am wondering which category the London trip would have fallen into? If his spouse was paid for to go on the trip, it was not a St. Patrick's Day trip.
Perhaps the Deputy could get the details. As Deputy McGuinness was the Minister of State at the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for trade and commerce, presumably there was a significant amount of travel. Who else accompanied him on foreign trips as a Minister of State?
Generally speaking, when one is a Minister of State with responsibility for trade and commerce, one travels with the various companies. From an official point of view, one travels with one's secretary and sometimes the people who are in charge of different sections in the Department of trade but always Enterprise Ireland.
The official trade missions were always Enterprise Ireland and officials. One would be joined by one's officials on arrival at one's destination, wherever they were from - the embassy or Enterprise Ireland.
I think the issue that caused us concern and caused some public concern were the Deputy's comments on "Morning Ireland" which are not historic, having been made on Monday last. May I discuss them with the Deputy? In terms of trade missions he said that: "The protocol is that the wife does not travel." We all accept that. He then said, "but there are circumstances that should be considered when Ministers are away on State business for long periods of time, and where they believe that their wife should travel, they should pay". I do not have a difficulty with that.
These are Deputy McGuinness's words. He said there are circumstances that should be considered where Ministers are away on State business for long periods of time and where, if they want to pay for their spouse to accompany them, that is fine. He then said that there may be other circumstances where the Minister can then make a case, within a new set of guidelines, where he believes the State should pay because work practices have certainly changed. The family is now central to everything and it may be that a Minister might want to make that case. I really do not understand that. Perhaps Deputy McGuinness would just explain to me what he meant by the last part and what occasions there might be-----
The Deputy is correct. The last point is the one about which people are confused. It relates to the 1959 regulation and it is simple. In thinking about it, it is a thought, it is an expression of an opinion, and it is only an opinion. It is not an opinion that I canvassed. It is an opinion that was articulated.
It is an opinion that I did not canvass or ask to be put in place. I was talking about it. It was that in seriously exceptional circumstances, maybe there should be an arrangement where a Minister could make a case to the Taoiseach - it is provided for in the 1959 regulation - which had to with illness or a bereavement or any personal circumstances, and that he should be allowed to articulate it. I made this point in my reply to the reporter on this issue. It is not one that gives a carte blanche travel arrangement to every spouse right across any Department. Would it be done now if I was a Taoiseach sitting down looking at it? It would want to be seriously exceptional.
What does that mean? I think I have explained what I consider to be serious exceptional circumstances. These rules are rigid. For example, we said at one of our meetings on allowances and payments and so on that all of that system was out of date and should be looked at. We also said about ourselves that we needed to have someone to define our work for us. We needed someone to say, "this is the job one is applying for and this is how one will be paid", so that it is upfront and transparent and people can actually see and understand it and there are no grey areas here. On one side the Deputy is saying we should challenge the status quo here. That is what we do here. On the other side there is a voice saying: "What were you doing challenging the status quo?". I am trying to get a mixture of both.
What I said in my opening remarks was that the point made in the e-mail of 29 August was poorly communicated, a point that was not developed, an opinion that was held on that date six years ago. Is it an opinion now, or is it something different? An awful lot of my opinions of that many years ago have changed and they have changed out of necessity because of the current circumstances. Value for money and wanting to get the job done properly and efficiently - to use that awful phrase: doing more with less - is all part of our vocabulary now and is part of my belief system now-----
I appreciate the Deputy's comprehensive answer. I have a rake of questions but I am happy to come back in, other than to leave it on this point. Deputy McGuinness said that the stories about his own time as a Minister of State have been in the media since April, so I imagine he has been doing quite an amount of research to check his time in office and to check that he has all his facts and figures lined up. I find it somewhat surprising that he does not have the details of the London trip but perhaps during the meeting they might come to him. There are three occasions the Deputy was able to volunteer to the committee that he travelled abroad with his spouse, paid for by the taxpayer. He has been able to tell the committee the details of two. It would be very helpful if we could have the details here at this committee rather than this trundling on.
Since 21 April, I have been looking at what has been written about me in the newspapers and wondering where it all came from and how far it is away from the fact that we have travelled. There is the fact about the office and the fact about the toilet roll which have been dealt with.
We need to move on. As Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, with due respect, Deputy McGuinness would be well aware that when witnesses come before us, we expect them to have information available. If there were three trips abroad with his wife, which were paid for by the State, and two were being dealt with, it would be reasonable to expect that the Deputy would feel it would arise on the order of business today. It is the nub of the point that is in the public domain. That is a general point.
I thank Deputy McGuinness for responding to the request to have an open meeting to answer questions from members of the Committee of Public Accounts.
Like Deputy Harris, I would like to preface my remarks by saying he has been an extraordinarily good Chairman. There has been no indication that he has held back or had any political bias. He has been an independent Chairman and I have no quarrel whatsoever with his tenure. I echo his interesting point on whether it would have been better if all these things came out in hearings beforehand rather than now. It is a lesson the committee and others might learn when choosing a Chairman in the future.
It would be far more appropriate if there were not an adversarial session but rather one where those who wanted to could come before the committee and answer questions of this sort rather than information appearing in the press two years later. The journalism involved has been excellent and laudable. It was something that should have come out earlier. As a result the committee has, willy-nilly, become politicised.
The Deputy is a member of a political party and I am an Independent Deputy. The Taoiseach has become embroiled in this. There is no doubt the committee has been damaged by the fact that people have been forced to take political positions on matters being discussed by a committee which has traditionally not been politically tinged. It is something with which we will have to deal, and it is deeply regrettable.
The nub of the questions is that over the three issues, namely, the Deputy's office, his son and his wife, the McGuinness family seem to have done pretty well out of the State and taxpayer in 2007. We have to ask whether that is consistent with the drive the Deputy and the committee leads to save as much public money as possible and make public officials and Ministers as accountable as possible for their tenure.
I would like to ask the Deputy a few questions about that. I take his point about it being five or six years ago. I did not quite understand his answer to the questions asked by Deputy Harris and the Vice Chairman. Is it unambiguously now the view of the Deputy that Ministers' spouses should not travel at the expense of the taxpayer?
I said in answer to Deputy Harris that it is clear that should a spouse be permitted to travel, the Minister must pay. That is clear. I said the exceptional rule needs to be clarified in terms of cases which are seriously exceptional. It is the Taoiseach who signs off on them, and in this day and age, that would not be acceptable. I gave myself as an example. I said if I was asked to sign off on it, I probably would not. What constitutes an exceptional case needs to be established. I did not say or mean at any stage that there should be a carte blanche arrangement for anyone and everyone to travel. I do not agree with that.
The Taoiseach would be one. I do not think any Ministers should have any spouses travelling with them at the State's expense. I do not think there is justification for that. Maybe the Taoiseach, in exceptional circumstances, should be able to do so. The President should probably also have the right. They are the only exceptions I can think of. I include the Tánaiste. I cannot see why he should have his wife travelling with him. Would Deputy McGuinness agree with that?
My opinion varies slightly. Ministers should pay if their spouses are travelling with them. There is no case to be made for a spouse going on a trade mission. We have established all of that. In general terms, the circular states a seriously exceptional position may be established. That is the only point I was making in 2007. I said already that if that were in today's terms, the answer would probably be "no". That is a given. I cannot be any clearer than that.
In the interview to which Deputy Harris referred, I was talking in terms of the spouse of the Minister travelling where the Minister would be asked to pay. I then said "in exceptional circumstances" and referred to that in the interview. I gave the example of poor health on one side or the other. I said it was not for the Minister to decide. In some regulations it states it is for somebody else to decide.
It is an opinion and does not affect the coffers of the State or the view around this table and how we question Ministers. In fact, we should all resign from the Dáil if we have opinions. Is that what the Deputy is saying? He has an opinion and I respect it. I have an opinion which varies only slightly from his. I do not push it. I have already said that in these straitened times, the answer would be "no". It is an opinion.
I accept it is an opinion. It is important that the committee can establish that the Deputy's opinions are consistent with the purpose of this committee, which is to save taxpayers' money. That is what I am trying to establish.
Deputy Ross does not have to ask me that. He has been a member of this committee since 2011. He could easily establish from my contributions to the committee that the opinions I hold do not cause me any difficulty in undertaking my task as Chairman. I want to take up the Deputy on one point. He stated that the McGuinness family did well. I reject that comment completely. He has no understanding of the contribution that we made. I have already told him that the payments to my son were checked. He did the work in accordance with the rates and, if I had the same judgment now and could apply it back then, it would have been done differently. Any of us can say that about anything we do in life. We learn from experience and we move on. Sometimes we change our opinions and move on or else we develop our opinions. None of the matters put in the public domain or under discussion today means I did something wrong in the context of the State and how I was paid. I do not think the Deputy has anything to worry about in respect of my opinions and how I conduct business in this committee.
I will move on. In my view, there are two elements to this matter. One is whether Deputy McGuinness's position is consistent with being Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. The other is the strange way that the matter entered the public arena. There should not be criticism - as a journalist I speak with prejudice - of a journalist pursuing a story like this with determination. That is absolutely fair. A journalist is only as good as his or her source. Deputy McGuinness said in answer to Deputy Harris that he spent some time wondering where it all came from. There appears to be consistency or a pattern in raising events which occurred a long time ago. I would hate to think they are all coming from a source that wishes to damage the committee or its Chairman. What is his view on where the consistent information about the furnishing of his office, his son and his wife came from?
I have said publicly on radio when I was interviewed on this subject that I have no difficulty with the media, whether television, radio or newspapers, using FOI provisions to get information. I never complained about such practices and do not know where the Deputy got that from.
I want to correct Deputy Ross because he cannot be allowed to get away with remarks either. He might write about them on Sunday. To be clear, that was not a criticism. I have said that to the journalist, who is sitting in the Gallery. I told him he has to do his job. Let us not speak about him as if he was a shadow behind Deputy Ross. He submitted the FOI requests and he knows whether he has made further requests. He is only doing his job. When I met him on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" the other night, I shook his hand and on he went.
I know it does and that is what I will try to do if I am permitted. I said that I was wondering where it all came from. I was referring to the information that came out after the FOI request. The FOI request was submitted and the information came out. I do not know why he submitted that particular FOI request. I think Deputy Ross is asking me whether he was prompted to do so by somebody.
That is the area he is encouraging me to enter. Perhaps he was. I do not know. The Deputy is asking me to develop conspiracy theories. I am here to answer questions on the information these FOI requests brought into the public domain. I am not here to answer the Deputy's questions about conspiracy theories.
There is a pattern in putting this information into the public domain which, in the minds of some members, leads to damaging the Committee of Public Accounts. I can surmise as to where that may be coming from but I would be entering into the conspiracy theory.
The Chairman has at least posited the notion that there may be a witch hunt against him or this committee and that it may have something to do with undertaking a banking inquiry. He also suggested that he may be more sinned against than sinning. Others may say that he is the architect of his own misfortune. Where does he sit on that question? Who does he blame?
I am not going to offer any blame because I am not here to do that. I am here to answer questions on the specific issues raised and what has been said about me in respect of the information revealed under FOI. I have no difficulty in doing that. I am not going into conspiracy theories. Deputy Nash used the expression "more sinned against than sinning". I do not consider anything I did to be a sin. I know that is only an expression.
Is Deputy McGuinness suggesting that others, such as the press, Government or the Civil Service have an agenda of trying to do down the potential of the PAC under his chairmanship to lead a banking inquiry or to do down the capacity of the committee to do its work? Does he think this is part of that sort of agenda?
I may have done that but this meeting is dealing with issues relating to my period as a junior Minister. The issues that Deputy Nash is raising and inviting me to discuss are theories that I am not prepared to discuss at this time as they are outside the business of this meeting.
Not necessarily. I am not particularly satisfied with the response but I understand that other speakers want to contribute.
Has Deputy McGuinness spoken to the Fianna Fáil Party Leader about this particular fiasco? Has the Leader spoken to him?
He has expressed a view. Let us be clear, the leader has expressed a view publicly on the "Six One" news. Let me say that the Fianna Fáil Party leader considers, as Deputy Ross has pointed out in terms of the independence of this committee, that the PAC is an independent committee. He has never interfered or asked me about the work of this committee. I attend meetings, both parliamentary party and Front Bench, and this would not be a matter for discussion.
There is a long-standing tradition that the chairmanship of the Committee of Public Accounts is in the gift of the main Opposition party. Deputy Micheál Martin appointed Deputy McGuinness to this position with the agreement of the committee. Has he full confidence that the Deputy will continue as Chairman of the PAC?
So he says. Let me refer Deputy Nash to his comments on "Six One" news or in the Chamber - Deputy Martin has expressed a view about this but he respects the independence of the committee in the work it does. I must say clearly that he has never ever interfered in that.
I have always acted in a way and conducted the business of this committees so that the Committee of Public Accounts is above and beyond politics or reproach. Deputy Nash is asking again and again about the party leader's confidence in me as Chairman. That is for the Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party to express and he has made a number of statements about this leading into this week.
With the permission of the Vice Chairman, I wish to refer to the e-mail of 29 August 2007 in which the civil servant, having checked the views of the then Minister, now the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, about bringing his wife on business trips with him, is attributed by an official to have "very strong ethical views on the matter". I want to quote the fourth last paragraph of Deputy McGuinness's e-mail in which he states: "Strong views do not ethics make. He could be mistaken." Was he mistaken?
He has raised the issue of confidence in the Chairman. He is also asking about the Leader, who is not a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, to express confidence in members of the committee. This is the first issue we are dealing with.
On 29 August 2007, the then Minister with responsibility for trade and commerce, sent an e-mail to the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the fourth paragraph opens as follows:
The "he" in this case is Deputy Micheál Martin.
Is there a suggestion in your memo that the case would be different if Minister Martin was accompanied by his wife? Strong views do not ethics make. He could be mistaken.
Deputy Micheál Martin had an opinion, which he expressed to an official and it is contained in that e-mail. This was a philosophical discussion about travel. He had his views and I had mine. I am not saying that Deputy Martin was right and I was wrong. I am not saying that I was right and he was wrong. I am simply saying that we should have been discussing those views, as we do in the House everyday.
Deputy Nash has views and I listen to them and I do not see anything wrong with including a mixture of views in what might be a better solution to a problem that we are trying to resolve. I have no difficulty with a cross-party view emerging from individual views. The same applies to Deputy Micheál Martin or anybody else in this House who has a view.
Yes. In the e-mail of 29 August 2007, Deputy McGuinness states in the second last sentence: "I am logical, reasonable and tolerant, but I will not be intimidated by you [the assistant secretary], the Minister, an "ethical" position or the attitude of the press." This is quite a terse exchange between the Deputy and the assistant secretary of the Department. Obviously tensions were running high and it was quite frustrating for the Deputy to be in that Department and dealing with the civil servants who were trying to impose a view that the Minister of State did not appreciate or accept. Deputy McGuinness is a high profile critic of the Civil Service and sometimes those particular criticisms are justified but have these exchanges coloured his judgment on the efficiency or otherwise of the public service? I was just wondering.
Deputy Nash is referring to the final paragraph in the e-mail. The concern that I had in writing this e-mail was that in my previous life in business, if somebody asked me a question such as "Can I do X or Y?", I would probably answer them directly. "No, you cannot," or "Tell me why I should let you do X or Y." In this instance the simple question was posed and it resulted in all of these e-mails, which were not addressed to me but to each of the officials. They were pondering on this issue and starting their e-mails with the "I am given to understand that the Minister may be contemplating bringing...". They were discussing a request. When I responded on 29 August 2007, it may have been a poorly presented argument in a poorly presented e-mail. As I have said already, it may have been written in anger or frustration. I was not getting things done. There was pressure building up in terms of delivery from policy on the Department side. I was stuck without an office, without the appropriate staff, without many of the necessary things to function. That is where some of the commentary came from.
Deputy Nash also raised the efficiency of the Civil Service. Right across the Civil Service there is no doubt that one meets good and efficient people but when I see people working with ancient regulations and in some cases poor work practices, one tries to articulate an argument around change and efficiencies and so on.
I thank the Vice Chairman and Deputy McGuinness for his contribution. I have a small number of factual questions. On the overtime claimed by Deputy McGuinness's son while working for his father when he was a Minister of State, the rationale put forward was that when a member of staff in the then Minister of State's office took maternity leave the position was left unfilled and this created a need for overtime. Will the Deputy confirm that the position was unfilled in the period when his son claimed overtime?
No, it was maternity leave and there was a difficulty in getting appropriately skilled staff to take up positions in the office. There was, therefore, a turnover of staff and a difficulty there and the people who worked directly for me prior to the maternity leave being taken had to provide cover. In addition to constituency and other work, they were expected to do departmental work because they were dealing with delegations which came in and out of the office. They also dealt with information technology issues that emerged in the office at that time. That is the work they did.
That is fine. My next question is on the operation of the freedom of information request. As many Deputies are aware, if a freedom of information request is made about an individual, that individual must be notified. I checked the Freedom of Information Act this morning and the explanatory memorandum states that this process must be initiated within ten working days of receiving a freedom of information request. It is not a case of me having to telephone an official to ask if a freedom of information request has been submitted about me. If a freedom of information request is submitted about an individual, the person in question must be notified. Has the Chairman been notified of other freedom of information requests related to his tenure as Minister of State?
I will answer the Deputy's question but I must first respond with regard to his description of how individuals are notified of freedom of information requests. Notification depends on the freedom of information request. If the request relates directly to one's role in this House, one is notified. However, I was never notified of the freedom of information requests submitted about me. The Deputy can check that with the Secretary General of the Department. The only time I was notified was not when a freedom of information request was submitted but when a response to a freedom of information request was being released. That was last Friday at 5.30 p.m. or whatever time it was.
I will finish my response. Deputy Donohoe asked whether I have been notified that other freedom of information requests have been submitted to the Department in respect of me. The answer is "No" and nor was I ever notified that FOI requests had been submitted about me. I want the Deputy to understand that. He stated one would not have to go to a third party to obtain a copy of the freedom of information request. I did have to ask a third party. When the initial information was released at the end of April, I obtained that information through a third party. I did not think I could ask the freedom of information officer for a copy of the information and as I did not want to intervene in that way, I asked somebody else in the House to check the matter for me.
That is true and the Deputy can check that. I reiterate that the information released last Friday was released in the evening, almost at the close of business. I cited the time and date earlier. I believe it was on 7 June after 3 p.m. but I will check it again. That is when I got the information. The reason I apologised to the committee was that I could not inform it.
I will restate my understanding of the procedure relating to freedom of information requests related to me or anyone else. I understand that if information is to be released about a person, he or she is made aware of and supplied with the information before it is released. That did not happen in the case of the Chairman.
Before I question the Chairman, I should point out that I have always found him to be very fair, strong and independent in chairing meetings of this committee. I will pick up on a point made by Deputies Ross and Nash. The Chairman expressed admiration for the work of the current committee, which he described as a collective and the most important committee of the House. The Chair can be held to account by members when matters arise that impinge on the integrity and reputation of the committee. Deputy McGuinness implied in the media this week when answering questions on this topic that, regardless of what has occurred, he intends to pursue a banking inquiry and matters relating to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and so forth. This gives the impression that, for some reason, the other members of this collective entity either have no interest in furthering these investigations or are incapable of doing so. By implying as much, the Chairman has damaged the reputation of the committee which is bigger than one man. It is not just Deputy John McGuinness but the rest of us who work in it every week. This was a negative and while it may have been an error on the part of the Chairman, it should be pointed out that the comments he made damaged the committee. I put that to him.
I did not intend to damage the committee. I would not set out by way of comment or action to damage this committee; I have far too much respect for it. In my opening remarks I made clear that I have respect for the members of the Government parties on this committee who must often take difficult positions or listen to difficult challenges that may reflect on the Government of the day.
I thank the Vice Chairman and ask him to help me out here. With regard to the documentation we have received - we have 20 or 30 e-mails circulated in 2007 - is that the extent of what we received from the Department with the covering letter? The request to the Department was-----
Under a freedom of information request we had already received the information from the OPW and we then requested information on travel. That is the most recent information requested and that is what has been provided by the Department.
Thank you. The Chairman has confirmed a point I wished to raise and which Deputy Donohoe dealt with, namely, that although these memos concern the Chairman personally and individuals connected to him, he and they were not supplied with copies of the information until last Friday, despite the fact that some of these requests had been submitted some time ago and had been responded to before now. Were they released into the public domain before the Chairman had sight of them?
My understanding is that on the day I would have received correspondence on this, the 7th or whenever it was, letters would then have been issued to the other people concerned. To return to the point made by Deputy Donohoe and to link it in, these people were never told that FOI requests had been submitted concerning them. I do not know the reason for that. Obviously-----
I know, for example, that my son was identified. The drivers were also identified and so were my secretaries. Perhaps they were not identified. I do not know what the FOI request was. However, these others were informed the FOI had been issued and that the information was about to be released.
The copy we received from the Department gives a schedule of officials by grade. All of their names are redacted, but their grades are included. I wonder why the Department would seek to identify some names but redact every other name.
I am confused because I see some names redacted, but grades included while other names are made available. I do not understand why that is. There could be more freedom of information requests, whether about the Chairman or anyone on the committee for all we know. That is something we can never ask. Long may freedom of information requests be possible and people allowed make them. There should be no suggestion that there should be no further freedom of information requests or that this should be the end of it. As long as we are here, and even long after we are gone, it will be possible for people to make freedom of information requests,
The issue of spouses travelling with Members has become a big issue. Does the Chairman have an issue with the Comptroller and Auditor General looking at this issue and the costs involved?
I think it is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, if the committee requests that. Normally, in cases where one is going to make recommendations generally across the political or administrative system, the Secretary General would look at the various Departments and make the recommendations. I am sure the committee could also make recommendations.
The issue of me travelling in 2008 has been taken as if I was the only person who travelled then. Many others travelled in 2008. I remember being a member of this committee, between 2002 and 2007, when members and wives travelled and members paid for their wives. This was not unusual.
Yes. One can examine the activities of committees, chairmen and Members down through the years and one will see that down through the years, Ministers, Ministers of State and Members travelled at a cost to the State. They may have brought their wives with them and paid for their wives.
I do not know that. As I understand it, the Member would reimburse the Department or committee at that time. What I am being asked - I want to answer the question - is should all of that and all of the costs associated with every Minister or Minister of State who travelled be referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General. I heard the Comptroller and Auditor General answer a question asked by Deputy Ross one day when he asked about the Central Bank and he said that if the committee asked for that to be done, he would consider it. Therefore, if Deputy Fleming wants to ask for an inspection of this matter, as he did in regard to the allowances, he should ask the Comptroller and Auditor General when he is here tomorrow whether he will undertake an examination of all costs, rather than single out a member. I do not mind him examining mine, but they would be included in such an examination anyway. He could do an analysis and recommendation on the whole area. I do not have any difficulty with that.
I do not want to identify anybody not in this room or even any of those here. The Chairman has said that previous members of this committee when travelling on Committee of Public Accounts business brought their spouses along by agreement, but reimbursed the committee. Therefore, it has happened that spouses travelled, but the member subsequently reimbursed the committee the costs.
I am going to help the Deputy out here. One of the issues here is that freedom of information has cost Departments a considerable amount of money. However, long may the facility to make FOI requests last. I have no problem at all in that regard and I have said that. Under the chairmanship at the time of Deputy Michael Noonan, a group travelled from this committee to Sacramento. I was part of that group and that is how I know of it. Our wives were brought with us and we paid for our wives. That is a fact. I am sure there are other examples to which this committee can turn. The Deputy asked about this and pressed me on it, so I am giving this example.
What seems to be unusual about travel is that it seems as if I did it and no one else did it in 2008, but that is not the case. That is not my case. I am answering questions for me today.
We do not have all day so we will try to go by the Vice Chairman's maxim on brevity.
Deputy McGuinness initially gave the impression that when he made the inquiry about his wife travelling with him it was almost a casual inquiry which sparked a litany of e-mail traffic. I put it to Deputy McGuinness that on reading some of the correspondence one does not form that impression. I will quote from one official. She said that if there was official guidance she would appreciate it and that she was refusing for the moment to sign the authorisation which was solely for the Minister's wife and so on. She continued by saying that she did not particularly like starting her relationship with the then Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, with a row but that it had to be and so on. It strikes me from reading that correspondence that in the mind of the official it was not a case of a casual inquiry into whether it would be okay to bring his wife along. That correspondence suggests that there was a vigorous exchange or that the official might even have felt under pressure to agree with Deputy McGuinness's position and go along with it.
I do not accept that there was pressure in it. There was not. It was like anyone going into a job. In my case I could say I was trying to get my feet under the table and get on with it, but there was no table. There was no office.
I am not questioning it. Deputy McGuinness has made it absolutely and abundantly clear. I absolutely accept that the issue of Deputy McGuinness carrying the costs was made explicitly clear and it is implicit in the documentation. I am not questioning that. I am suggesting that on reading the correspondence it strikes me that this official, at any rate, did not interpret Deputy McGuinness's request as something casual. She said she was refusing to sign and that she did not like starting off on a row. That suggests it was not simply an exchange of the type that Deputy McGuinness has indicated. That is my objective read of it.
I accept that. Deputy McDonald will have to take my view on this, that is, factually it was put casually. Bear with me for a minute. I was in the Department and attached to it and so on but there was no office for me and therefore I was not there. Then the officials went into what is almost an overdrive of correspondence. I find it hard to believe that a simple question triggers that, but it did happen.
I cannot answer differently. Let us bring it to the end of the correspondence because it may help in understanding what went on. They went into this overdrive of correspondence. Apparently, that is what civil servants do. They check things out and go from HEOs to APs up along the line. That is fine. I only discovered that at the end of August and therefore I cannot say how they felt about me. Maybe on a human level I can understand that they might have said that the Minister asked them to do something. I only consider myself as John McGuinness; I do not attach any other extras to me either as a Chairman or as a Minister, but they might have done so. They were trying to be specific and, I would suggest, helpful.
I wrote an e-mail to the official at the end of all of these e-mails. I am referring to the correspondence with the official that triggered this and which I am being quoted from. Perhaps it was a bad day when it was written. I had not met the official in question. That was my first time in the Department. I met him later on. Deputy Nash asked about the Civil Service. If I had met him beforehand and known him better, I probably would not have written the e-mail. He was a gentleman and a man that was well informed about all that stuff.
I will step us through the correspondence to keep us somewhat focused and with an eye on the clock. I put it to Deputy McGuinness that this official was an assistant secretary. Let us take that window into what occurred. It strikes me that the official did not view it simply as a casual throwaway consideration.
Let us move forward to the correspondence of Deputy McGuinness. I understand it was sent by e-mail on 29 August. I accept that Deputy McGuinness has said that it was written a long time ago and that all of us have written letters at times that we could have couched in better terms. However, the language used is quite strong. Deputy McGuinness said he would not be intimidated. This suggests to me objectively that what we were dealing with was not simply a casual request followed by a flurry of activity among civil servants and a response. I suggest it was more charged than that. Following an objective read of the words on the page, that is the impression one forms.
I call on Deputy McGuinness to reassure the committee that in his tenure as a Minister of State at no stage did he attempt to force a situation with officials to succumb to his wishes in respect of the travel of his spouse. I call on Deputy McGuinness to tell the committee that this was in fact the case.
I will make the point to Deputy McDonald again. I said it earlier several times - Deputy McDonald has acknowledged as much - that perhaps in the context of the reply at that time one might have done differently. I did not expect the flurry of e-mails. My life beforehand was about one-to-one and "Yes" or "No".
I appreciate that and Deputy McGuinness has said as much. It was a casual request. Deputy McGuinness did not seek to coerce or pressurise any officials. That is his testimony.
Let us fast forward to October. There had been a flurry of e-mails. Deputy McGuinness had sent correspondence and then he went back again, having been knocked back in respect of the trip to Dubai, and asked in respect of Canada. He made a request again of the system in respect of a trade mission to Canada. Deputy McGuinness said that when the answer was "No" he accepted it and his spouse did not travel. That is the factual position. How is it that Deputy McGuinness went back a second time?
I was away in August and perhaps on a trade mission in September. The particular e-mail that the official wrote was out of a reconciliation. We were sitting down at that stage, talking to each other and there was a better understanding of these trade missions and my role in the context of the trade section. I do not have the document in front of me but I believe he acknowledged in the letter that the exchange in the conversation about Canada was a reasonable one. I believe that was the term used. We talked about Canada but it was a question and it was around the expectation. It was my first time, or perhaps the second time, to sit down with the official in the context of all of what had happened. Fences were being mended and we were sorting things out and that was the end of it.
Was it the case that when the answer given in respect of the trip to Dubai was no, Deputy McGuinness understood that to be the end of the matter? Did he accept that while he may have had a contrary view, they were the rules and regulations? If that is the case, why did he again pose the question in respect of the mission to Canada? That is what I am really getting at.
I think we met in my office - his office was beside mine - and it was time to bring to a conclusion this correspondence and these e-mails. It was after the e-mail of 29 August. I was obliged to work with the officials and, as stated, we did not get off to a happy start. This concluded that round of discussions and it was no more or no less than that. If I asked about the trade mission to Canada, he was reaffirming the position and explaining it. It did not happen.
My point is that when Deputy McGuinness had established the position in respect of the mission to Dubai, it is strange that he would have posed the question again with regard to another mission. The Deputy referred to mending fences. It is clear that there were tensions within the Department and I have no doubt that some of these arose because the Deputy did not have an office or a desk. Again, however, this gives rise to the question as to what was his level of interaction with the officials. The Deputy has indicated in his testimony that at no stage was any official placed under duress or any pressure to go along with any arrangement. I accept what he has said in this regard.
The tone of the correspondence is also cranky in respect of Deputy Martin, the then line Minister and now the leader of Deputy McGuinness' party. It is quite a stretch - even accepting the pressures involved - to insinuate any level of intimidation or ethical high-handedness on the part of the man who was both the Deputy's line Minister and party colleague. The atmosphere which obtained was clearly charged. At the time did Deputy McGuinness approach Deputy Martin and inform him that he was obliged to travel a great deal, that he had made an inquiry about his spouse accompanying him, that he was prepared to pay her way but that he was being stonewalled by the officials? Did Deputy Martin approach Deputy McGuinness and say, "Listen, John, there are ethical issues here"? Did any conversation take place six years ago in respect of this matter?
I wish to make something clear. The Deputy used a particular word and I am conscious of what words mean. There was no intimidation. There was nothing like that intended. I accept that there was a difficult start to my time in the Department and it was probably not the happiest of starts. However, even without the happiest of starts, one can still get things to work.
Some of the crankiness might have arisen from the fact that if I wanted to ask a person something, I would go and do it. I would then expect a reply. I did not expect all of this to happen, but, apparently, that is the way of the world there.
I wish to pose a number of questions which require simple "Yes" or "No" answers. We have established that Deputy McGuinness made an inquiry about his spouse travelling with him to Dubai and Canada. Did he make any subsequent request regarding his spouse accompanying on other trips?
Therefore, no in terms of trade missions and no in respect of any other travel. I thank the Deputy.
Reference has been made to Deputy McGuinness' son and his working arrangements when employed by the Deputy. I think the Deputy has dealt with the issue of overtime in that regard. Have other members of the Deputy's family worked for or with him and had their salaries paid by the State?
The Deputy's son was appointed by means of an internal process to the position in question. Who made the decision that he would take over the position of the member of staff who was on maternity leave?
The purpose of this session - for the committee and those who employ its members, namely, taxpayers - is to ensure full information is obtained from Deputy McGuinness who is the Chairman of this body and a Member of the Dáil. I am concerned that we do not have any information on the London trip. I urge the Deputy to provide this information as soon as possible. With respect, I certainly do not want to read details of that matter in tomorrow's or any subsequent edition of the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, in the Irish Daily Star, the Mirror or The Irish Times.
Yes, the Irish Daily Mail and the Irish Examiner too. Did I get everyone? People have referred to the credibility and standing of the committee. We have all noted the excellent job Deputy McGuinness has done as Chairman of this committee. I say this as someone who did not vote for him in the election to that position. What is really debilitating for the committee for it is to obtain information from newspapers and other media outlets. That places all of us in an entirely invidious position. If the Deputy could provide, as soon a possible, detailed information on the London trip, I would appreciate it.
There are two other members who wish to speak. I want to allow Deputy McGuinness, the Chairman, time to make a brief statement at the end. We will continue until 12.30 p.m. and ask Mr. Elderfield to come before us immediately thereafter.
I thank Deputy McGuinness for facilitating this session. I acknowledge the very important work he does in the pursuit of truth and discovering how public moneys are spent. It is extremely important that such work is done in as effective a manner as possible. I appreciate the Deputy's role in that regard.
I wish to concentrate on one matter, namely, that relating to the Deputy's son. In the context of the overtime he was paid, I may have missed out on one or two points because I was obliged to leave the room for a time. The amount involved was €31,000. How did such a sum build up? Did the Deputy's son submit travel or subsistence claims in respect of his position? Would it have been legal for him to do so?
Anything to do with the claims made by my son during that period was done in accordance with the rules of the Department. In other words, he would have had to have made submissions on his claims and had these signed off on within the Department.
Yes. I think the Oireachtas arrangement is different. The Department arrangement is different when one is employed at that level and any of the claims were made in accordance with the rules, the guidelines, that were set down at that time. In other words, he had to give information. He had to have the matter vouched. He had to have conducted his travel or his overtime, and they were then submitted to the Department for scrutiny and sanction.
I will make a statement but if I am wrong the Deputy can contradict me. It was the case at the time that travel and subsistence claims for PAs were acceptable in terms of working in a Government Department but not if one were a PA to, say, an ordinary TD.
Yes. That was the case at the time. It is the case now and it was the case then. The Deputy is drawing the distinction between an Oireachtas PA and a Department PA. My understanding is that the two of them are different.
No, they cannot. My understanding is that a TD's PA cannot, and when they are working in Departments they can. I believe that is borne out by the information in parliamentary questions recently across all Departments. That is my understanding of it.
This is a question-comment. I want to refer to the Vincent Browne programme but it is clear that the London issue needs to be addressed. Members made it absolutely clear that the details of that need to be forthcoming, and I would agree with them.
To refer to Vincent Browne's programme a few nights ago, at the end of the exchange between Deputy McGuinness and Mr. Browne - it was a typical Vincent Browne interview - the Deputy got quite combative and he mentioned the issue of Dublin Docklands and the banking inquiry as potential reasons, and Deputy Nolan might have alluded to this, this is happening. The Deputy put it out there that that was a potential reason individuals were leaking pieces of information, that freedom of information, FOI, requests were being made and that, as he said, a journalist was doing his job. The Deputy is in politics since 1979, as he said. He is a realist. He has made political enemies, as I have, but is he surprised by what is happening here today because I am not? The general view within this building is that the Deputy may have gone too far with regard to dealing with Government, civil servants - the mandarins. Is anyone really surprised that we are here today dealing with this in this fashion? I am not.
There is a balance in terms of the Government picking a member of the Opposition as Chairman of the most powerful committee in this building and that individual doing their job, as they see it, but we should be honest about that. The Deputy has been very combative with regard to elements of the Government, particularly when it comes to the banking inquiry. He has been very vocal in the media. In some cases he has raised the ire of members of this committee because he has done that singularly and, in some cases, without informing members of the committee, and that has been raised.
I am not surprised this is happening and, in my opinion, the Deputy made it clear on the Vincent Browne programme that he is not really surprised either. There is a reason for everything, and the reason somebody or some people are leaking information is to remove the Deputy from his position. That is my opinion.
Before the Chairman answers that question, there is a vote in the Dáil. Would members prefer to adjourn for the vote, come back and allow the Chairman make his closing comments? The vote is imminent. Is it agreed that we go to the House for the vote and come back? Is Deputy Deasy agreeable to that?
I am sure that on the basis of what is going on here, and the Whip system, it can be accommodated to allow us finish. I am conscious that I want to answer questions. I am also conscious that Mr. Elderfield has been waiting. I ask members-----
It is a question or comment and he may deal with it however he wishes. I will make a point at the end of it. I will give my opinion and will then ask him a question. I have mentioned the London issue, which he needs to clarify quickly. That would be helpful. I revert to the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" programme, at the end of which I thought the Chairman got quite direct and combative with regard to the reasons this could be happening. He mentioned Dublin Docklands and the banking inquiry as reasons we are sitting here today and that these questions are being asked. The reality is someone is leaking to the media. Freedom of information, FOI, requests are being made and stories are appearing in that newspaper. The Chairman has been around politics for a long time and has a combative style. Moreover, it is fair to state he has made political enemies. As to whether I am surprised this is happening, considering everything that has happened over the past two years with regard to the Committee of Public Accounts and where we are as a country, as well as the exchanges that have appeared in the media over the past couple of years, I am not surprised.
I will separate the leaking and the FOI requests with regard to what has been driving this issue over the last couple of weeks. That is important and I refer to the Chairman's style and the manner in which he has handled the committee. As to whether he has gone too far, in the opinion of some Government members and people within the Government, I think their answer to that question is "Yes". As to whether I think it is debatable, with regard to his position as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, I think it is. Equally, I think the opportunity this has given to members of the Government party to use this as an opportunity to get rid of him is also debatable. I think it is being used as an opportunity to remove him as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. Consequently, as to whether I am surprised that this is occurring, based on what has happened and on the Chairman's style over the past couple of years, I am not. That is the Chairman's opinion and in my opinion, he said so and made this clear on the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" programme. However, there are reasons for everything.
I have been asked by other members of this committee questions which I have not avoided. I have just said I will not answer them because one is entering into the area of conspiracy theories. That is how I feel. I am here to answer questions about specifics. Deputy Deasy has done something different in terms of the questions. He himself is fairly combative and fairly straightforward. He has put the questions in a different way and he deserves an answer. Given what he said, I feel that, unless he trumps me on that competitiveness, combativeness and everything else, I will have to answer those questions. There are probably two of us in it.
When one writes a book, as I did in 2010, one certainly makes enemies. I wrote the book out of my experience in the Department and in politics generally, and I outlined my case. Does that win you many friends? No, not in here. I now understand why people write books when they retire rather than when they are in their place of employment.
Was it a happy place for me in that Department? No, frankly, it was not. I experienced a Department that was not up to speed with what was going on and there was a reluctance or a very slow pace in terms of the response to everything. That brought about its own dynamic in terms of how one pushes matters on, how one develops a business and what one does. Did that win many friends? I think not.
Deputy Deasy stated he is not surprised that this is happening and I am not surprised that this is happening. He asked whether I had gone too far. He stated that Government members had asked whether I had gone too far. I do not know whether Deputy Deasy means members of the committee or senior members in his party or the Government generally believe I have gone too far.
I believe that they believe that I have gone too far. I would say they are quite upset with me over how far I have driven the committee, but I did not do that on my own. There are the members of the committee. Deputy Nolan just stated I am not on my own. All of those guys agreed with this and if they ask themselves for whom the bell tolls today, it tolls for each and every one of us.
It actually tolls for democracy. That is for whom it tolls, and I am not on my own in this. I chair the committee by consensus. I have very strong views. Deputy Nash probably differs strongly with some of the views that I express because he asked me in general about the Civil Service and so on, and I do not mind. I try to be accommodating, but I will not stray away from my belief that we must do a job as impartially as possible and a mouse will not suit. I do not know where I am on the spectrum between a mouse and whatever else one is looking for, but it is not close to the mouse.
The next question Deputy Deasy asked was where I thought this was coming from. I read newspaper articles recently where members of this committee admitted that they were under pressure in Fine Gael from their own Ministers. I read it in the Sunday Independent and there were other anonymous remarks about it. I do not ignore that; it happened. That is fine and that may be the case.
What about civil servants? Deputy Deasy is pressing me on this. It is the same answer and he knows the answer. Being on this side of the committee, which I have experienced for the first time today, is not a comfortable place to be. I thought Mr. Elderfield might get me, as well as the country, out of the loop but he has not. I am still here and I am willing to answer the questions. I am sure that there are sets of civil servants who consider the Committee of Public Accounts with not that much respect, with concern or with a view that it is difficult to come here and the Chairman - to use a phrase from Deputy McDonald - might be cranky to say the least. I am not sure whether Deputy McDonald was referring to me, but that is the way I see it. Those civil servants probably do not like that I ask those questions.
Deputy Deasy asks where these matters are coming from. They come from freedom of information requests, but I am damn sure they are being leaked from the Department, whether by freedom of information request or by press inquiry, both of which are two different matters, but there is also other stuff which I am sure is being put into the public domain through one means or another. That is the nature of matters in politics. It is also the nature of matters within the Civil Service. If one goes back over the history of the State, one will see matters being leaked about people, and one can ask where they came from. I believe there are probably powerful forces that would not like to see a banking inquiry conducted, that would not like to see an inquiry into other spending in the State and would prefer to have it lie. I do not take that point of view. I am sorry, I do not. Maybe all those forces are at play. I do not know because now I am back to the other question, the conspiracy theory. I must say to all the members that in all my time in politics, I have never seen such reporting on an individual and his actions in the 18 months of a Ministry as I have seen over recent weeks and since 21 April.
That is the answer to Deputy Deasy's question. Deputy Deasy has answered the other parts of that question. He asked whether I had crossed the line. I have not crossed the line. I have taken the job seriously.
I have read the Department of Finance Circular 6/1959, which states "[w]here a member of the Government travels either as a representative of the Government or on the business of his Department and he decides that it is necessary in the public interest that he should be accompanied by his wife" - I presume that should also include "husband" but perhaps it was a sign of the times - "for the purpose of her attendance on some special occasion, or series of such occasions, arising directly from the Minister's duties, expenses claimed by the Minister in respect of such a journey by his wife may...be paid from public funds." That is the standard against which we must measure the London trip. These are the official guidelines according to which a spouse of a Minister can be paid to travel. I set that as the context for when the Chairman reverts to us with his information.
Correct, but I am concerned with the trip in respect of which the Chairman has been unable to give us information. He made an impassioned contribution but during 2008, the only full year in which he was a Minister of State, a parliamentary question on foreign and domestic travel and subsistence claims by individual Ministers or Ministers of State indicates, to the best of my knowledge, that he came out at the top to the best of my knowledge with claims of €54,126.77. I do not have time to go through all the figures but they are available from the Official Report. He was one of four Ministers of State in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and we was the top of the table in that Department, as well as at the top across Government. I acknowledge that he had responsibility for trade and commerce, a brief which involves travel, but so too does the job of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs. Why did he top the league table for travel and subsistence claims in 2008?
When I was appointed in 2007 I was told that if I was seen at home in Dublin I was not doing my job. That is how seriously the Government - not the Department - considered the matter. I challenge Deputy Harris to go forward in years and take out the Minister or Minister of State with responsibility for trade and commerce - it is structured differently now - to compare the figures. He should not just put a figure into the public domain.
My aim is very clear. Even when we were dealing with the issue of his office I have always been fair in asking for comparisons. I never wanted to take his office in isolation. I am presenting a comparison with every other Minister and Minister of State during the 12 months in question. These is the only 12-month period I can consider because he was not a Minister of State for any other 12-month period.
I have to answer this question. None of them was responsible for negotiations on world trade. That was my responsibility. It was my job. I hope Deputy Harris has that job some day. He will see then how much he has to travel and bear the costs.
I may be unique in being a member of this committee when my party was in government. There must always be severe tension between the Government and this committee. The day it has a poodle in the top chair, the Government has won and the committee should close up shop. I was a member during the last Dáil and recall several occasions when a majority of the committee, both Opposition and Government backbenchers, laid into Accounting Officers.
They are directed at everybody who is listening. I want to be straight about that in order to develop a perspective. I think I am unique, with the possible exception of Deputy McGuinness, in serving previously as a Government backbencher and now as a member of the Opposition. There was always tension between Ministers and the committee. When Accounting Officers got a hard time from us, they could not voice their complaints publicly. They would go home or back to their offices to complain to their Ministers about backbenchers giving them a hard time, with the result that Ministers collectively started to view the committee as troublesome or a nuisance. Fine Gael and Labour Party Ministers are feeling the same way as their predecessors. It comes with the territory. What is the purpose of having a Comptroller and Auditor General and a constitutional role for his office and the Committee of Public Accounts if we are to serve at the pleasure of Ministers? We would be better to close up shop. The day the committee does not trouble Ministers is the day we should go home. I hope there will always be tension between this committee and the Government of the day to ensure we hold it to account.
Irrespective of the tension between the Government and this committee, it is a serious matter if any member feels that a strategy has been deployed to undermine the Chair or mute and scupper the work of this committee. As this meeting is being held in public session, the comments and reflections from various members require a response from the Government. We are not naive. We understand that tension with the Administration is unavoidable and, arguably, necessary in the course of our work but I hope I speak for others when I seek an assurance from the Administration that, notwithstanding this tension, there will be no attempt to undermine the necessary work we do on behalf of the taxpayer. I would like to see a statement to this effect from the highest level. It was mentioned earlier that the Taoiseach remarked on the specific matters emerging in the media. We now need a statement of understanding of and respect for our work from that highest level. Whatever position the Government takes, the members of this committee will continue to pursue our work.
The outstanding issue from this meeting revolves around a particular trip to London. We need that information, ideally by close of business today.
That is conjecture. It is a conspiracy theory. I ask Deputy McGuinness to comment on a couple of points. It is a serious situation when a Government Deputy asserts that members of Government believe Deputy McGuinness has gone too far. There is talk on the Government side of conflicts arising between the committee and the Government. It appears that we are totally politicised and almost inevitably on a collision course with the Government because of the statements from the Taoiseach and the Leader of the Opposition, as well as today's meeting.
I am not necessarily sure it is appropriate for this committee to hold its own Chairman to account for something that happened in his Department but I went along with it because it was a question other people wanted. The first session of this committee hearing was useful and the Chairman answered all questions well. There is an issue about London that people want clarity on. No law or guideline was broken. Nothing was done that people could have a judgment on. The Chairman did nothing that was illegal and broke no rules and I see nothing, therefore, that would require him to vacate the Chair of the PAC. As I have said, I always thought he was a strong and independent Chairman.
What happened in the second session was a farce where we have gone into conjecture, nonsense and rubbish talking about conspiracies and all kinds of stuff. The journalist who wrote the articles said explicitly in one of his articles that there are no conspiracies, that he is not involved in perpetuating any conspiracies, that they are simply facts that exist. I have never been contacted or impugned in my work by any Minister, Government Member or member of my party to do anything to frustrate the work of this committee. Now the headline will be, "Allegation: Government trying to scupper work of PAC" when I have never come across any of that in any of my dealings, and I have been on this committee since day 1. That needs to go out there.
This conjecture, allegations and mud-throwing, which the Chairman has been subjected to in other arenas, has undermined this session. I thought we were getting out of it. By engaging in it the way he has done, Deputy McGuinness has created a greater problem for himself. His judgment on whether he should have gone there at this point has to be questioned. I had no question whatsoever in my head whether he was unsuitable until now and what this has turned into. If we are talking about protecting the credibility and reputation of this committee, it has certainly been damaged by this farce of the second half of the session.
I want to place very clearly and unambiguously on the record that in my two and a bit years on this committee I have never been contacted by a Government Minister regarding questions I have asked, reports I have sought or any matter I have raised in this committee. I have formed my own opinion on this matter, which I have expressed in this room independent of any member of Government and my fellow members of the PAC. Any inference that any other forces are seeking to influence my opinion is utterly incorrect and untrue. As other people do, I take my responsibilities on this committee with the utmost seriousness and my independence in that regard is respected by everyone in my party and across Government. For the impression to be created, as it has been in the last number of minutes, that the contrary is true, is something I refute firmly.
I am fully with Deputy Nolan's remarks. I found part of this process useful and the other section is as clear as mud and has created more issues, I am afraid to say. It is very damaging that any inference would go out - and that impression was being tried to be created - that Deputies who happen to members of Government parties are somehow being got at by Ministers. We all know and accept how the business of this committee should be conducted. If I were ever approached by a Minister on a certain PAC issue or how I should conduct myself on the PAC, I would resign from this committee and have nothing more to do with it. I would have a serious issue with that. I think I can speak for my own party colleagues. That view taken in the last few minutes has been really unhelpful and is being used as a deliberate distraction from the real issues. It is very damaging. For those who talk about the credibility of the committee and their presence here being about trying to re-establish that credibility, efforts to do that have undermined it further.
When the Chairman replies in his closing statement, I ask him to deal with the matter of coming back to the committee with the information on the London trip. I have one final question on his son taking on the maternity leave cover role. Would it be the norm that the Minister would decide who would take up a maternity leave position? Did he make the decision and what would be the procedures in the Department?
No formal decision was taken. It was a matter of people having to cover for other people. It was not just the maternity leave issue. There were staffing issues. People who had a range of skills had to take on what was required to be undertaken at that time.
I do not know whether those titles were there at that time but she was a central figure in the office. As is the case, Ministers and Ministers of State are appointed and the staff move to the Department and are paid by the Department. It was not a formal decision. It was a question of what was happening in the office, the volume of work in the Department and the constituency, how best we could cover it, and people took up positions. Those who generally took the lead roles were best skilled in running the IT, the office, dealing with problems and liaising between Departments.
This is in no way personal. In hindsight does Deputy McGuinness think it was appropriate? He had somebody in a full-time position and then he appointed him to a position where he got nearly the same amount in overtime. It looked like almost a full-time position.
I will finish on this point. It seems unusual to have someone in a full-time post who basically took on another post which appears to be another full-time post. It was one person doing two full-time posts.
One person was straddling the work of possibly three different people. In doing that it was possibly the most cost-effective way of doing it. From an administrative point of view, it was certainly the most efficient way of doing it. The fact that the person had to work almost seven days a week meant they could cover liaison between Department and constituency office, keeping the other staff sorted, doing IT training which we paid for ourselves and so on. That is the reason for it. What was the other question?
I do not have another question. During the first session we dealt with the matters at hand and we veered into other areas in the second session. As a Government party Deputy, I agree with my colleagues that I greatly value the independence of the Committee of Public Accounts. I think I speak for all members in saying that regardless of who appears before us, we are robust in our questioning, which is extremely important. The message needs to go out from this committee that, collectively as a group of Deputies, we value the independence of the Committee of Public Accounts and we value the work we do. Today was about the integrity of the Committee of Public Accounts itself in dealing with issues that came into the public domain. It is something about which I feel very strongly. I see the role of the Committee of Public Accounts as being very independent of Government and I have always operated in that way. The work we do bears that out. We have produced reports, including the banking report, that I believe everyone has fed into.
Nobody, including me, questions the Chairman's very good and ongoing role as Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts. This is about different issues. This is about the credibility of the Committee of Public Accounts itself, how we do our work and the distractions from that work with various issues. If the Chairman was in this position, I believe he would be doing likewise. He would not expect anything less because that is what we do in the Committee of Public Accounts.
In his closing remarks, I ask the Chairman to deal with the issue coming back in terms of the London trip but equally that he would reflect on what the Committee of Public Accounts is all about, the reasons we are here today and the legitimate questions that we have had to pose on behalf of the taxpayer. Regardless of how these have come into the public domain, questions have had to be posed. The Chairman spoke about being robust etc. People involved in the Committee of Public Accounts want to question. That is what we are here to do. It is never a personality issue. To put a positive note on our deliberations more recently, we are an independent committee, we do our work and we value our credibility. We are a robust committee and will continue to be a robust committee, and that is down to the members of the committee and the work we do. Mr. Matthew Elderfield will appear before the committee shortly and we will question him in a robust way on behalf of the taxpayer.
I ask the Chairman to make his concluding remarks, including undertakings to come back about the London trip and so forth.
First, I am not going to delay the meeting with long closing remarks. I think they have answered all the questions. As previous speakers have said, I think it has been a very worthwhile exercise and I cite it as being an example of what might happen before anybody else is appointed as Chairman - to have these conversations first.
The only issue I was unable to deal with - because it is not in the freedom of information requests - was the detail of that trip to London. When we broke for the vote in the Dáil, I made a call to the Department to have that checked out. I do not have that information. I would not have it. It would not be normal for me to have it and I do not have it.
I also checked out a point raised by Deputy Donohoe. I only get notified when the freedom of information request is actually being released. I do not have a notification that the freedom of information request has been submitted to the Department. The other part of the response to the question the Deputy raised is that there are other ways of getting information, such as press queries and that. There would have been a lot of press queries handled in this way as well. The information I gave the committee earlier about the process that involved me is accurate. Therefore, those named in the freedom of information request, including me, would not have got the freedom of information request or known it was made until they actually were told the result of the freedom of information query. That answers that part of it. If I receive the information from the Department before we conclude our next session, I will make it available to the meeting.
In response to Deputy Nolan, in terms of the other specific political issues, as we might call them, which were raised in the latter part of the meeting, I was only responding to Deputy Deasy and giving an overall view on how things might happen or do happen in politics. The question ranged across surprise that this had happened, what was driving this and whether I had gone too far. I do not think I have. All the other questions I answered in the context of Deputy Deasy's query had to be raised because they were specific commentary on my style of chairmanship.
The Vice Chairman asked about assurances.
I will get those. From here on in, what happens? I hope the debate we have had today strengthens the committee. I do not see anything wrong with any of the things that have happened. It has been a good strong robust exchange. The members have proven to the public that regardless of whether one is a member of the committee, an Accounting Officer or a Secretary General, if one comes before the committee, one can expect to get what is a very direct, robust exchange of questions in the interest of the public and the detail required on whatever topic it might be. The members of the committee have proven that point today, in my opinion. I might not have liked it in terms of being the one who is sitting here, but an excellent job has been done.
I would be inclined to steer away from the political and get back to the point where it is the most important committee in the House. It is exercising that importance every week by scrutinising the Secretaries General and the Accounting Officers. It is not distracted in any way from its work. I admit this has been a distraction but not necessarily of my direct creation. I am happy to come to answer what needs to be answered. I have often had direct calls from senior civil servants and had an exchange with one of them over how the committee operates.
Let us bring down the tension a little bit at the end of this. I am as prepared as everyone around this table if Government, the Civil Service or any collective groups wants to say, "Look, we need to chat to you about how this thing is going because we believe it either could be done better or maybe you are going too far." Deputy Deasy told me that I was stepping across the line. There is no harm in having that conversation with people like that to establish if a direction needs to be taken and to re-establish the boundaries. That is fine. It is like having an opinion. Let us have a conversation about the opinion. That was part of our discussion today. I have no difficulty with that.
I firmly believe every member of this committee is as important as the next member. I just happen to be the Chairman and that is as much as I would like to say. I thank those who made their contributions and asked the questions.
I know we need to bring this to a conclusion and I know people have varying views as to the quality of the second half of this meeting but this is a secondary concern. The fact is that during public session a very troubling possibility raised its head in respect of interference. I am not in a position to adjudicate as to the rightness or wrongness of it, but it has happened. As a committee we need to ask for a response to this. I certainly feel very strongly in this regard. I am not a Government Deputy. Like others I come here to carry out my function week on week. I want to know that if there has been any funny business, and I am not in a position to say whether this is correct or not, at a minimum it will cease and get reassurance from the Administration there will not be any future episodes of this kind. This is a separate concern to the specific issues Deputy McGuinness had to answer here today. There are two concerns. I feel the committee should request this assurance from the Administration, whether one is a Government or Opposition Deputy. I feel very strongly on this. Things have been said here which are on the public record now and they demand response.
As an Independent Deputy I would like to say in particular the suggestion there has been methodical leaking from the Department has extraordinarily grave implications for Members of the House and people outside it. This should get a response immediately.
I reiterate I firmly believe in the independence of the committee. Across all political circles, including the Government, this is the case. I suggest we send a transcript of this meeting to the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and deal with it in this fashion. This is reasonable.
I do not have a difficulty with the assurance and the issue of the leaking is fine. They are separate issues to those which the Chairman has dealt with. It is very important to state as a Government member of the committee that if we want to explore this more it is very clear to anybody looking from the outside in and to colleagues on the committee, that Government members of the committee have participated in the publication and production of reports and the interrogation of witnesses which, it would be fair to say, would not have been comfortable for any Government of any day. This is important to note.
It is also important to note the committee has never divided on an issue other than the election of the Chairman. The Government has an inbuilt majority, were it to use it, which it never has. I make this point in the sense there is no evidence to suggest any Government Deputy on the committee has been less vociferous than any member of the committee who may not be a Government Deputy. I want to put this on the record.
Whatever way the remarks were passed or understood, it is easy to get from those concerned a simple statement which puts people at ease. Perhaps this is what is required. I do not see this as being a massive controversial issue. I see it as being a statement to put people at ease after which they carry on with their work. Otherwise we will get back into-----
What are we saying? Are we saying that someone in the Government instructed people to leak information on Deputy John McGuinness so he would be tarnished as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and that we now want to write to the Government to ask it to deny this and tell us it will not do this to our Chairman again? It is a farce and a nonsense.
With due respect, we have had many hours of lengthy deliberations. Deputy McGuinness is the Chairman of an independent committee, the Committee of Public Accounts. I put forward a suggestion which is reasonable. We are a cross-party committee and this meeting is in public session. I suggest we send the transcripts to the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. We will conclude on this point and move on.
I want to make a point on this. I firmly agree with the suggestion and the proposal made by the Vice Chairman that the transcripts be sent to the relevant Departments. A moment ago a member of the committee stated she wants a guarantee there will be no more monkey business from the Administration on this.
I want to reiterate very firmly, because this is a crucial issue, that nobody has ever approached me on the operation of the committee or my role on it. This message must go out very clearly from the meeting, otherwise the credibility and role of the committee will be in even graver difficulty than it was when the meeting started.
I accept what Deputy Donohoe stated. The Vice Chairman asked about the London trip and I have made efforts to get the detail because I do not want to close without it. I asked two questions. I asked how a freedom of information request operates. Section 29 of the Freedom of Information Act provides for consultation with individuals where personal information has been requested. However, details of official trips are not regarded as personal information. I do not have good recollection of the London trip. It was on 14 and 15 November 2008 and involved a function in London. The Secretary General will follow up with the relevant details. It appears I deputised for a Minister.