Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 20 June 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
No. 1 is the minutes of the meeting of 23 May 2013. Are they agreed to? Agreed.
We will now deal with correspondence received since the meeting of Thursday, 23 May 2013. On correspondence received from Accounting Officers, No 3A.1 is correspondence, dated 22 May 2013, from Ms Eileen Quinlivan, acting chief executive officer of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, providing additional information requested at the meeting of 2 May. The correspondence is to be noted.
Clerk to the Committee:
The former chairman of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority will be appearing before the committee next Wednesday at 3 p.m. We have received some correspondence from other members of the board, having written to the entire board. We will come to the correspondence from Mr. Fitzpatrick. The next stage will involve having Mr. Bradshaw before us. Mr. Maloney has written to us.
No. 3A.2 is correspondence, dated 24 May 2013, from Mr. Dermot Quigley, principal officer at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, providing information requested on 7 March. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.3 is correspondence, dated 24 May 2013, from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director at the HSE, providing additional information requested at the meeting of 25 April. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.4 is correspondence, dated 19 June 2013, received from Ms Clare McGrath, chairperson of the Office of Public Works, providing information requested at the meeting of 23 May. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
We will now deal with individual correspondence. There is correspondence, dated 16 May 2013, from Ms Geraldine Tallon, Secretary General at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, concerning "The Warrens" wet and dry homeless hostel. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Ms Therese O'Sullivan, the original complainant. No. 3B.22, received from Ms O’Sullivan, also relates to this topic.
No. 3B.2 is correspondence, dated 17 May 2013, from Ms Mary Jackson, principal officer, cancer, blood and organs policy unit, Department of Health, providing information previously requested on the cost and effectiveness of the hepatitis C compensation tribunal. The correspondence is to be noted and published and a copy forwarded to Mr. Edward Stevenson, the original complainant.
No. 3B.3 is correspondence received from Mr. Tom Bourke, Richmond, Templemore, County Tipperary, regarding the purchase of two apartments at Hanover Quay in 2009 under the affordable housing scheme. The correspondence isto be noted. It alleges that there was mis-selling on the part of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority of affordable housing. As it relates to the operation of the affordable housing scheme, we will forward it to Dublin City Council and the director of local government audit and ask them to follow up on the issue.
No. 3B.4 is correspondence, dated 20 May 2013, from Mr. Brendan Ryan, CEO, Courts Service, regarding the Wexford courthouse project. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Bernie Lloyd, the public relations officer of the residents committee, Windmill Hill residents group. No. 3B.10 also refers to the same matter.
No. 3B.5 is correspondence, dated 20 May 2013, from Mr. Fergus Hayden, deputy registrar, Property Registration Authority, regarding Mr. Harry O’Reilly of 6 Robinson’s Court, Cork Street, Dublin 8. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Michael Brosnan.
No. 3B.6 is correspondence, dated 15 May 2013, from Mr. Harry Lawlor, managing director, HL Commodity Foods Limited, Emly Road, Hospital, County Limerick, regarding units 6 and 7, Hospital, County Limerick. The correspondence is to be noted. No. 3B.18 refers to the same issue.
No. 3B.7 is correspondence, dated 20 May 2013, from Mr Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, regarding works carried out by Mr. Frank Power, Bantry Skip Hire, at Schull Community College. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Frank Power, Bantry Skip Hire. Mr. Power provides another example of a subcontractor who has not been paid by the main contractor, even though the main contractor has been paid by the State for the work undertaken. We will return to this matter, if we can.
No. 3B.8 is correspondence, dated 21 May 2013, from Mr. Kevin Finger, 8 Millrace, Duleek, County Meath, regarding Luas. The correspondence is to be noted. Is that a complaint?
We can have a look at it. There is no role in regard to the correspondence which is just being noted.
No. 3B.9 is correspondence, dated 27 May 2013, from Ms Anne Davis, secretary to the board of The Equality Authority, regarding correspondence from Ms Naomi Byass concerning Newbridge Educate Together school. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Ms Naomi Byass. No. 3B.20 refers to the same issue. It concerns an issue of racism, as I understand it.
No. 3B.10 is correspondence, dated 29 May 2013, from Mr. Bernie Lloyd, public relations officer of the residents committee, Windmill Hill residents group, c/o Davitt Road, Wexford, regarding the Wexford courthouse project. The correspondence is to be noted. No. 3B.4 is related. The item raised relates to the actions of a local authority which falls outside the remit of the committee. We will forward the correspondence to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for appropriate follow-up. Did it not involve the Office of Public Works also?
No. 3B.11 is correspondence, dated 28 May 2013, from Mr. Myles Duffy, Bellevue Avenue, Glenageary, County Dublin, regarding Vote 30 - funding public broadcasting. The correspondence is to be noted. We raised the matter of television licence fee evasion and will forward Mr. Duffy's letter to the Department to ascertain what steps are being taken to reduce the level of evasion. We dealt with the issue.
No. 3B.12 is correspondence, dated 28 May 2013, from Mr. Paul Maloney, former chief executive, Dublin Docklands Development Authority, regarding the committee’s examination of Special Report No. 77 of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. The correspondence is to be noted. We will schedule a meeting with Mr. Maloney. On that point, the committee has now written to those who were members of the executive board in 2006, some of whom have been in contact with the secretariat. No. 3B.21 from Mr. Sean Fitzpatrick is related. Does this relate to Deputy Kieran O'Donnell's question? Mr. Maloney has arranged to come in.
We can take all of the letters together. No. 3B.13 is correspondence, received on 29 May 2013, from Mr. Hugh Rance, regarding County Cork VEC. The correspondence is to be noted. We will await the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit report on County Cork VEC before dealing further with this matter. Mr Rance is to be informed accordingly.
No. 3B.14 is correspondence, dated 30 May 2013, from Mr. Gerry Murphy, chief executive officer of the National Transport Authority, regarding the maintenance of rolling stock by Irish Rail. The correspondence is to be noted.
Did they deal with the matters raised at the last meeting?
3B.15 is correspondence dated 31 May 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, re Macroom Youthreach. It is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Bev Cotton. This issue relates to County Cork Vocational Education Committee and we will await the audit outcome. Mr. McCarthy compiled a report on the issue.
3B.16 is correspondence dated 3 June 2013 from Mr. Pat Geoghegan, secretary, Irish Environmental Forum, re the Environmental Protection Agency. The correspondence is to be noted. The EPA will appear before the committee on 27 June when issues about the cost of pollution may be raised. As the forum has also been in contact with the Comptroller and Auditor General, it is a matter for his independent office if he feels it is appropriate to report to the Dáil on the matter.
3B.17 is correspondence dated 6 June 2013 from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director, parliamentary and regulatory affairs, Health Service Executive, re examination of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the health and local authority fund - Garda investigation of SIPTU fund. The correspondence is to be noted and published. The committee is scheduled to examine this matter today. Does it have any impact on the hearing?
Clerk to the Committee:
We received correspondence last week from Mr. Merrigan stating he could not give evidence because there was a matter being investigated by the Garda Síochána. At the time the committee asked me to contact the HSE to see what was the current position on the Garda investigation. The Garda said its inquiries were ongoing.
As the issue is still being investigated, Mr. Merrigan cannot appear before the committee.
3B.18 is correspondence dated 10 June 2013 from Mr. Vincent Cunnane, chief executive, Shannon Development, re disposal of property at Hospital Enterprise Centre, County Limerick. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Harry Lawlor, managing director, HL Commodity Foods Limited, Emly Road, Hospital, County Limerick. Was that done?
Okay; he can come back after he has considered it.
3B.19 is correspondence dated 12 June 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, providing information previously requested on the use of funds for school buildings. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Ms Anne Nolan, Montenotte Park Residents, the original complainant.
3B.20 is correspondence dated 13 June 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, providing information previously requested on Newbridge Educate Together. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Ms Naomi Byass. Correspondence 3B.9 also refers.
3B.21 is correspondence dated 13 June 2013-----
3B.22 is correspondence dated 13 June 2013 from Ms Marie Therese O’Sullivan, Wicklow town, re “The Warrens” Wet and Dry Homeless Hostel, Wicklow town. The correspondence is to be noted. This is a matter for Wicklow County Council which is going to use two houses purchased for social housing as a hostel. It appears that this is allowed under Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government rules and is in line with housing policy. As the Committee of Public Accounts cannot question policy, we have no remit in the matter.
3B.23 is correspondence dated 18 June 2013 from Mr. Alan Smith re examination of Special Report No. 80 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Administration of National Health and Local Authority Levy Fund. The correspondence is to be noted. We are going to deal with the issue of this SIPTU fund today and members can ask whether Mr. Smith co-operated fully with the HSE's internal inquiries and with the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Clerk to the Committee:
He is saying he has co-operated fully. This is in contrast to the evidence the HSE gave at a previous meeting. It is a matter for the committee to follow it up.
3B.24 is correspondence dated 19 June 2013 from Mr. John Murphy, Secretary General, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, re travel undertaken to London by the Minister of State with responsibility for trade and commerce in November 2008 - me. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
In the interests of completeness, have you had an opportunity to consider the correspondence and does it concur with your own knowledge of the trip? Have you had a chance to consider it? It is a relatively short memorandum from the Department. Have you seen it?
I want to get the agreement of members. I did this properly last week for four hours. As far as I am concerned, last week I was told by the Secretary General. I asked for completeness and accuracy. According to the records, I deputised for a senior Minister and made that trip for Enterprise Ireland for the two days. I spoke at a function and there was a social aspect to it. The letter confirms the question which arose from it, which members asked. That confirms the position.
3C is documents relating to today's committee meeting. 3C.1 is correspondence received on 18 June 2013 from Mr. Tony O’Brien, director general designate, Health Service Executive, re opening statement. 3C.2 is correspondence received on 18 June 2013 from Dr. Ambrose McLoughlin, Secretary General, Department of Health, re opening statement.
Okay. Next is reports, statements and accounts received since the meeting on 23 May: 4.1, National Treatment Purchase Fund; 4.2, Higher Education and Training Awards Council; 4.3, National Qualifications Authority of Ireland; 4.4, Arts Council; 4.5, Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; 4.6, Pensions Ombudsman; 4.7, Dublin Institute of Technology; 4.8, Letterkenny Institute of Technology; 4.9, Health Service Executive; 4.10, City of Limerick VEC-----
The HSE has issued its report and the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit certificate is included in it. In the report the Comptroller and Auditor makes specific reference to people's ineligibility for medical cards. The HSE was not able to quantify the cost and the Comptroller and Auditor General was not able to quantify the cost in his audit.
That is in the future, but we have a set of audited accounts before us with an open-ended question, both in the accounts and in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on them. I have no query about this because he has to finish it. However, I do not think we should let this pass. We should not note the accounts without making a reference to the fact that the Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted this issue. I think he has highlighted two issues. I do not have it in front of me, but I remember looking at the report last week and he had highlighted two issues.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has not finished outlining his examination but I ask him to make a brief comment. There is an issue of concern in the audited accounts for 2012, so I do not think we should just note the accounts as if everything were in order. It is not good procedure that the HSE cannot quantify the cost of this issue to the taxpayer. Perhaps Mr. McCarthy will explain the HSE's audited accounts for the benefit of members who have not had an opportunity to examine them.
I am just saying that we should not note the account just as we note every other account that passes through without hearing a brief comment from the Comptroller and Auditor General. I do not seek a debate. I want him to elaborate on the issue that he referred to in his audit report for the benefit of members.
There is one thing that would be helpful, if there is any form of addendum - I will not say qualification - or emphasis of matter. An emphasis of matter is not done for the good of one's health. It would be helpful if we could be provided with the audit report itself. In a clean audit, opinion is not required because of the principle of a true and fair view, but in the case of a variation, an emphasis or matter or whatever, I ask that the audit report be provided. As Deputy Fleming said, maybe the details could be provided as well. This would give a flavour of the issue.
It would be wrong for us to pass the audit report. The HSE is the largest organisation in the State and has a turnover of €13 billion. The Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted a matter in his annual report on the HSE and that organisation highlighted it too.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
One must bear in mind that there are two sets of financial statements for the Health Service Executive. There are the accrual accounts, which are completed, and this is the certificate for that. Then there is the appropriation account, which will be included with the other appropriation accounts when they are duly published.
In the certificate for the accrual accounts I indicated that the Health Service Executive had not quantified the element of expenditure under the primary care reimbursement service that relates to individuals who are not eligible for medical cards. I am examining this issue further and may report on the results of my examination in due course. I expect to deal with it in the annual report that will be published in September.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I was just going to go back to that. In the certificate I draw attention to note 35, which elaborates on the issue. I will summarise it. Note 35 states that medical cards were not renewed for 2.7% of renewal applications received in 2012 because the applicants no longer satisfied the eligibility criteria. At the point at which a person who had been a medical card holder applied for its renewal at the end of the normal cycle, the HSE review found that 2.7% of them had become ineligible. The likelihood is that at least some of those were not eligible for a medical card during the period in which they held one. That is the element that has not been quantified. It is quite difficult to project backwards to find out at what point somebody ceased to be eligible for a medical card.
There was an additional group involved - again, this is outlined in more detail in note 35. Eligibility for medical cards was removed for 0.8% of the total medical card population in 2012 following a request from the HSE for card holders to confirm their residence in the State in cases in which a medical card had been inactive for significant periods. Essentially, the HSE, in a review of medical cards, selected the group of individuals whose cards had had no transactions or charges other than the flat rate payment and asked those people to confirm their details of residence in the State. I do not recall the number of individuals who lost their eligibility but it represented 0.8% of the total number of medical cards held. There are issues that seem to indicate that there is a material level of card holding by individuals who are not currently eligible, and it is a challenge for the HSE to put a precise value on this.
This matter does not affect the charges on the account. We are satisfied that the amount paid out is correct. It is more an irregularity, akin to overpayments or excess payments in the area of social protection.
I have a direct question for the Comptroller and Auditor General on the 0.8% of people in receipt of a medical card who may not have been resident in the State or were not using the card. In both cases, does the taxpayer pay for the card?
It is a week since I saw the report but I will speak from recollection. The figure of 0.8% means we are talking about 12,000 to 14,000 medical cards that are out there and being paid for. We will move away from percentages and talk about numbers. I do not know what the capitation fee is but a doctor is paid a standard capitation fee even when the card holder never goes near him or her. It must cost a few million euro each year.
There is an issue in the annual report of the HSE that is mentioned in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. In simple English, there was an overpayment for medical cards amounting to between €3 million and €5 million. With all of the difficulties in the health service, instead of just noting the account, we should write to the HSE now requesting that it quantify the amount of money that has been paid in respect of those 14,000 cards. I know the HSE has made cuts and I will not make a speech about its cuts to front-line services, but if it were not paying out that €4 million or €5 million, maybe to people who are back in employment or have emigrated and are no longer legally entitled to a medical card, it could use it for other purposes. The committee cannot gloss over the matter. I request that we decline to note the account and seek an explanation from the HSE, asking it to quantify the amount and explain how it will rectify the matter.
I support the Deputy's request. I also support his request from the point of view that conscious changes were made to the eligibility criteria for medical cards in order to make savings and those changes affected a proportion of card holders. What we are saying, to return to percentages, is that 1% of people who had a medical card either were not using it or were not living in the State, yet the capitation grant was being paid by the taxpayer. Can the Comptroller and Auditor General estimate, even roughly, how much money was paid in capitation fees?
Clearly, the HSE has a problem with its control and review mechanisms for medical cards. Has the Comptroller and Auditor General examined the HSE's review mechanism? Has he identified why the discrepancy was not discovered?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The background to this is that the centralisation of the processing of medical cards may be throwing up anomalies and inconsistencies, but it has probably improved the controls, so there should be more consistency in the system. My office is examining that aspect and we will report on it in September.
I agree with the proposal of Deputies Sean Fleming and Donohoe. In correspondence to the HSE, I would like to ask about the review mechanisms used. We have come across the HSE reviewing those with terminal illnesses in respect of their eligibility for medical cards. They are obviously not applying the same level of review to the funds paid to GPs if there is inactivity and the GP is still receiving a capitation fee. I would like to hear the HSE opinion on why it is not applying a greater level of review to the GP fees as opposed to patient reviews.
We will include that in correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. We have covered the other submissions from the Dún Laoghaire VEC and the Office of the Disability Appeals Officer and we will now deal with the work programme. I ask the clerk to outline the correspondence we have received, the responses we received and how we will deal with the programme of witnesses.
Clerk to the Committee:
Next Wednesday, we have agreed to meet Mr. Bradshaw, the former chairman. We wrote to him and he wrote back expressing a willingness to attend and help the committee. The other key witnesses we wrote to were Mr. Maloney, whose letter says he welcomes the opportunity. He is out of Ireland but I will arrange a suitable date in early September. He is the other key player in respect of the DDDA. The wider group is the board. We have a letter from Mr. FitzPatrick's solicitors, which members can now see. The letter points out that the solicitors have been instructed the client is willing, and would welcome the opportunity, to attend our hearings but he believes he is currently before the courts on foot of two separate criminal investigations and where his attendance in any such hearing may be widely reported in the media the solicitors do not believe it is advisable for him to attend. Therefore, he declined the invitation.
We will meet Mr. Bradshaw next week and we will get Mr. Maloney, who was the CEO and central to the issues covered in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, to attend. We will schedule a short meeting with the other members of the executive board. We have already met Ms Moylan. One or two of the board members have phoned me to say they have no difficulties coming in. After that, Professor Niamh Brennan has expressed a wish, which the committee agreed to at the last meeting, to wait until we have taken all the evidence before she presents evidence of what she found when she went into the DDDA in 2009. That is where we are at the moment. It is a rolling ball.
I read the letter from the solicitors of Mr. FitzPatrick. It mentions trusting that we will understand his position but I do not understand his position. However, not being legally qualified, I wonder if the committee can seek legal opinion on this. When we set out on this inquiry, we envisaged this potential problem with people not wishing to appear before the committee or saying they are unable to appear. We said we would examine all tools within our kit to ensure the truth came out and that we had the relevant witnesses. I respectfully suggest we consider getting legal opinion on whether there is a conflict for Mr. FitzPatrick.
This matter is coming up a lot in terms of the workings of the PAC. We need strong counsel opinion on requesting witnesses to attend. If witnesses are running into court and matters become subject to legal proceedings, we must get full clarity on the working of the Committee of Public Accounts. Are there circumstances in which witnesses appearing before the Committee Of Public Accounts presents no conflict to a legal investigation under way? It is inhibiting the work of the committee. I ask for a wider legal review of where the committee stands. It is becoming a feature of the working of this committee.
I support the call my colleagues have made but I want to put it in context in respect of an item of correspondence noted earlier. Item No. 3 A.1, from the DDDA, includes notes for a sub-committee meeting of the board on 5 October 2005 in respect of the Glass Bottle site. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we have had reference made to the meeting. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. The note makes reference to a small meeting that took place on 5 October with regard to the Glass Bottle site. All of the meetings we discussed have been of the full board and this is the first time a sub-committee of the board met on the matter of the site. What is significant about the information in the minutes of the meeting is the reference to the concept of development profit varying from €350 million to €1.1 billion. It is the first time, during discussions on this, that we have heard talk of profit. It is a discussion about the Glass Bottle site but the Glass Bottle site is not mentioned once in the minutes of the meeting. Reference is made to Dublin Port and the fact that the DDDA sought 5% in regard to its role as a broker. What is the 5% figure referring to? Why has no one brought this up before? Mr. Bradshaw will attend next week and we are having a discussion on how to progress this. We have not had reference to this meeting previously. It brings a new dimension to the issue that was not visible in the contributions witnesses made with regard to development profit and the fact the authority was, at one point, looking to put in place a fee structure in respect of negotiation between it and Dublin Port.
My contribution is not related specifically to the last two items but it is germane to the discussion. Mr. Matthew Elderfield appeared before the committee last week and was questioned by me and Deputy Donohoe on prosecutions over the past five years and the lack of progress in bringing people before the courts and attaining prosecutions. He made some comments that were so weighty that they need to be acted upon.
He said that in the case of individuals against firms, the law had not been changed. The capabilities had not been improved sufficiently to bring people to justice where there was suspicion they had broken the law when it came to infractions in regard to finance, etc. As a committee, and based on the evidence he gave, we need to have some kind of follow up quickly. I think he tried to nudge and prompt the committee to look into this matter. My take on what he said was that there really was not a spearhead in Government looking at this sufficiently even after five years and that there were lacunae in the law when it came to bringing prosecutions.
I understand there is some opportunity for us, when we look at the issues surrounding banking, to include something which could go to Government, based on what Mr. Elderfield said. He was quite open and I believe it is something on which we should act immediately and to which we should give the time it deserves. We should ask the questions of the Garda Síochána, his own office, the Central Bank, everybody involved in this in government, in particular the Department of Justice and Equality, and the Office of Corporate Enforcement. We should ask if suggestions have been made by the Financial Regulator in this regard, have they been followed up? What is the reason, in particular in the case of individuals, the laws are not sufficient to bring prosecutions against people?
I return to the point Deputy Paschal Donohoe made. While this meeting was alluded to by Ms Moylan when she appeared before the committee, this is the first time that we have seen the minutes of the meeting, or the notes arising from it. It is likely we will need to hear from Ms Moylan again. I am extremely concerned that Ms Moylan, who is the most senior planning official in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, attended this meeting, was involved in this discussion and the impact this has on the knowledge the Department had at the time of the workings of the DDDA. This correspondence raises significant questions for the Department. Ms Moylan's recollection at the last committee meeting was not complete and was perhaps sketchy. It is likely we will have more questions for her in regard to her role as a member of the board of the DDDA and wearing her other hat as an Assistant Secretary General in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It raises very serious questions in regard to what the Department knew about ongoing transactions in the DDDA. That is something to which we can return.
To take up the point Deputy John Deasy made that Mr. Elderfield stated the sanctions and the legislation dealing with white collar crime were not fit for purpose, when I was in the Chair on the day, I gave an undertaking that it would form part of the module on banking. We are doing a review on banking and we gave a commitment on the day. It is on record that the Committee of Public Accounts will look at this issue as part of the whole inquiry on banking.
I will separate the two issues if I can to try to help the committee to make a decision. The issue raised by Deputy John Deasy was raised a number of times at the last meeting. It is important we keep the two separate. The issue raised by him is hugely important and we do not want it to appear as if we are allowing it to run into the other issue, or that we are implying anything by doing that. What I would suggest is that in the context of the report which we are finalising, this would be a very important part of it in terms of Deputy John Deasy and others making the point about advising Government or whatever action might be taken and exploring all of the comments made by Mr. Elderfield when he appeared before the committee. That report is due by the end of the month. Can we separate the two? Is that a reasonable way to deal with that?
Fair enough. I want to be clear about the administrative procedures at this committee. We have a work plan in place. We are going to include that in the report we do on banking. That will be completed within two weeks. Everything Mr. Elderfield said and the issues he raised will be included in that. Can we get the timeline on that? Will we send that to the different agencies, Departments and the Government and ask them for a response within a particular time period? Is that how it works?
That is how it has worked until now. That is the process laid down and we cannot deviate from that. Everything will hinge on the content of our report and what Mr. Elderfield said on a number of occasions will have to be included in a very specific way in that report. The committee will have an input into how that is presented and then after that publication, which we expect in the next two or three weeks, it will follow the process of going to the different Departments and Ministers and will be published.
We wait for the minute to come back. That minute can take a long time but because of the specific nature of this particular issue, we can draw attention to it and say that whatever about the rest of the report, we would like a response directly to this particular issue because it has been raised by someone very senior in the world of finance.
People in these agencies and Departments read newspapers. They will have read what Mr. Elderfield said. I am sure people in the Department of Justice and Equality will either disagree violently with it or will say it is very interesting and will ask if there was something they missed or if there is something they can do. It is so important for people who were victims of what happened over the past five years. Perhaps there is a case to be made to expedite our system in regard to getting an answer from Government and for putting it in those terms. This is out of the ordinary. I deal with people who were wiped out; they were destroyed. We all know such people in our constituencies. What Mr. Elderfield said was incredibly important. He is leaving his office and was given the opportunity to say something and he was more open than he normally would have been. We have our system and it just so happens the banking module, as Deputy O'Donnell explained, is there. It is a vehicle we can use but this is out of the ordinary when it comes to what somebody appearing before the committee said and the relevance it has to the public. It is unique.
We will attach that importance to whatever way it is expressed in the report. We will do it in the way the Deputy said. He will have an input into finalising that before anything is published.
On the second issue, which goes beyond the Dublin Docklands Development Authority hearing, I suggest to members that we should have a separate private session around the information we now have because Deputy Donohoe raised a very important issue in that regard. I have looked at the correspondence and the background to it and we need to understand how we timetable this. All of us need to know what the approach to this will be and we need to get the legal advice around it, so that we are quite clear on where we are going and why we are going there. It might be of benefit to members if we sat in private session and to know about the process first. It would not hinder the committee in any way and it might support it in terms of information as we raise the issues in public session.
No, it is wider. The members can ask questions in that private session relative to this inquiry. They will have the benefit of that knowledge as they proceed to public session. That will be beneficial to members. Perhaps that is how we should proceed on that particular issue. Is that agreed? Agreed.
It would be helpful if we could be re-acquainted with the sequence of events in the run-up to this.
If one looks at the last sentence under point number three, it says it would be better if it could be "orchestrated so that the Port requested the authority to undertake this role". We are talking here about a State body referring to another State body and none of this has come up in the hearings we have had on this subject to date. To what are they referring here? What was the role? I am not making any inferences here but simply stating that this is a dimension of the issue that has not been proactively offered to us so far in the discussions we have had. It is very timely that this has come in before our meeting next Wednesday.
We want to leave work programme flexible, depending on what happens here. We will agree that the work programme we have before us is only indicative. Deputy Deasy wanted to raise a matter under any other business.
The issue I wish to raise relates to the Valuation Office and what it is doing nationally. Representatives of that office appear before this committee on occasion and it is a number of years since they were last here. The office has begun a systematic revaluation of property as it relates to commercial rates in the country. Parts of Dublin, Limerick and Waterford have now been revalued.
The city and county of Waterford. It is based on a 2011 analysis but it has become very problematic. I am not exaggerating when I say that in the region worst affected by the recession, the sector most badly affected within that region, the retail sector, has been very negatively affected by this process. In some cases, the retail sector in Waterford city and county has seen commercial rates double or even treble. The average increase in the retail sector is between 40% and 50%. At the same time, the large industrial players in the region have seen their rates decrease substantially. The accusation that is being made by the retail sector is that there is a massive disconnect between Dublin and what is going on at ground level and having examined the data in recent days, I believe there is some truth to that. The administrative system was devised and put into operation in a different economic time. The policy behind it needs to be examined. It is an issue for everyone in this room because the entire country is going to go through this process. It is not confined to Waterford, Dublin and Limerick. We have a problem here. The people in the Valuation Office are doing their job and doing it well. They were given a task and indeed, there is some logic to revaluing properties but the effect it is having on one sector is extremely detrimental and does not make sense for the economies that exist, particularly in Waterford. There are issues here with regard to value for money. The Valuation Office has appeared before this committee before and we need to ask about the processes and procedures being followed. There is also a policy issue here vis-à-vis the Department of Finance and whether it understands the effect this is having on businesses around the country. It is not an insignificant matter, at a time when people in businesses are on their knees, to get a bill which amounts to a doubling or tripling of one's commercial rates. Such bills will send a lot of businesses to the wall. In many cases, business people have told me that will have to lay off staff if they have to pay their new commercial rate bills. That has an effect on the State in terms of the payment of unemployment benefits and so forth. The process that has been undertaken by the Valuation Office is having a significant impact and it cannot be ignored. My region is one of the worst affected by the recession, with 20% unemployment. The worst-affected sector within that region, retail, is being targeted here and I do not think we can ignore that.
I am asking that we contact the Department of Finance to ask about the larger, macro-economic issues that are resulting from this revaluation process, if possible. At the very least, it would make sense for this committee to do that.
We had the Accounting Officer for the Valuation Office before us some time ago. He gave us an outline of the work being undertaken by his office. I understand that there is now a new Accounting Officer in place. We can certainly invite the office to come before the committee as soon as possible, if that is what Deputy Deasy wants.
If memory serves me correctly, our biggest criticism of the Valuation Office when it came before us was that it was not doing its work quickly enough. It was a different time, even two years ago and the difficulties in the retail sector have worsened considerably since then. We need to take a look at the implications that something like this has for a sector of society.
At the very least, contact the office and determine whether it, and by extension, the Department of Finance, takes these issues into consideration. I am dealing with Waterford city, parts of which have an unemployment rate of between 30% and 35%. The unemployment problem is enormous. A State body is, in fairness, only doing its job and is undertaking an exercise which made perfect sense in 2007 and 2008. However, we are now living in a different time and it does not make sense any more. The changed circumstances have not been taken into consideration.
We will send a transcript of this meeting to the Valuation Office and the Minister for Finance. As I recall it, the last time the Accounting Officer for the Valuation Office was before us, he mentioned the fact that he was making suggestions as to how the process could be speeded or expedited in the context of the rest of the country. Perhaps he could send us the recommendations that he has been making in terms of streamlining the process and making it more efficient. All of that can be done in the context of writing to all of these people.
Administrative efficiencies are not really the problem. I know I am straying into policy with my remarks, which I do not want to do because I know that is outside the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General. However, there is an issue here for this committee. There is a larger issue in terms of the Government spend involved here and it is legitimate to examine that. I do not think these issues were even considered when this revaluation process was initiated in 2008/2009.
We will reflect the Deputy's views in correspondence, coupled with a transcript of this meeting and send it to the appropriate agencies and Department. We will highlight the urgency of the issue and ask for a reply.
One more item, under any other business. When the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation appeared before the committee, there was an issue related to the pension scheme. It was a small issue but there has since been correspondence between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about signing off on the pension scheme. The issue arose in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and I asked about it. From the correspondence, it appears the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sees it as an issue for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, while the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport sees it as an issue for Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and, as a result, there is a logjam. Could we write to both organisations and ask for a timescale for getting this sorted out? This going back and forth is nonsense.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Deputy Harris raised the issue of Wicklow Enterprise Park a number of weeks ago. There were media reports about travel expenses for senior employees and directors. I have looked into this and it does not appear I have an inspection role. Public funding does not meet the threshold criterion of 50% of gross receipts in any year as far back as 2004. Consequently, we cannot go in and carry out an investigation of the enterprise park.
I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General for that. I understand the rules. I might have missed it but the committee did agree that it would pursue the relevant Departments and Accounting Officers who were giving grant aid without the proper checks and balances.
Correspondence was circulated from the committee of Chairmen of the Houses of the Oireachtas and I want to make it available to members to look at in the context of how the PAC does its work. It contains a recommendation on how the committees of the Houses should work and hear witnesses. I would like to hear the views of all members on it, particularly given the work we have been doing. It has an impact on the PAC and how we work.
I was in touch with the Chairman about the IDA. It was put off from coming in here on 21 May and it appears it would be appropriate it should come in in the near future because of the topical issue of Ireland being a tax haven because of the corporate rates, which is a matter of controversy and an issue of concern to the Exchequer. Could we fix a date for the IDA to appear before us? It is the key State agency for offering evidence on this.
We are trying to tie in with its agenda. The key players are working abroad, as they should be, and we must find an appropriate date for everyone. If it is the wish of the committee we can write back and explain we want an earlier date. We are not avoiding the issue, it has to take a number of people into account.
That is reasonable but we should not dance to the tune of the State agencies. It should be our time, not theirs, that dictates. For the IDA to say it will not be coming in until September is not satisfactory. I would be reluctantly willing to accept September because I can see our workload.
The committee decided that as we invite in these agencies, we ensure we have their up-to-date accounts. We will have the IDA accounts as well at our meeting in September so we will be able to have a wide ranging discussion based on those accounts and the issue Deputy Ross raised if we leave it until September.