Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 18 July 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
I acknowledge the appointment of Deputy Paschal Donohoe as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and wish him well in that role. I thank him for his contribution to the Committee of Public Accounts. He was a very effective member who analysed the subject well and had a great grip of the general work being undertaken by the committee. He will certainly be missed but no doubt he will excel in his role as Minister of State.
I join the Chairman in wishing Deputy Paschal Donohoe well. He was a highly effective, hard-working and efficient member of the committee. I have no doubt that he will excel in his new role as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs.
On behalf of the Labour Party members, I congratulate Deputy Paschal Donohoe on his appointment, which was well deserved. He manages to combine ability and being a nice person, which do not always go hand in hand, but in his case they do. I wish him well in his future role.
Today we will meet officials from the Valuation Office and the Department of Social Protection.
No. 1 is the minutes of the meetings of 4 and 16 July. Are they agreed to? Agreed. We will reschedule the meeting we were due to have last week to after the summer recess.
No. 3A is correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers. Nos. 3A.1 to No. 3A.5, inclusive, deal with the Wicklow Enterprise Park and were deferred from the last meeting. We have discussed the matter with Deputy Simon Harris who is anxious that the correspondence be published. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 3A.6 is correspondence dated 1 July 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, regarding Waterford Institute of Technology and the Quigley report. Now that we have the report, we will arrange a meeting with Waterford Institute of Technology, the HEA and the Department as early as we can after we resume in September.
No. 3A.7 is correspondence dated 8 July 2013 from Mr. Joe O'Flynn, general secretary of SIPTU, providing additional information requested at the meeting on 20 June. The correspondence is to be noted. Our work on this matter is ongoing and we are seeking compellability under the new legislation. That issue is being progressed by the clerk.
Clerk to the Committee:
The new legislation, Houses of the Oireachtas (Powers of Inquiry) Bill, should be passed by the Seanad today, if it was not passed yesterday. It includes a new section. The compellability legislation, dating back to 1997, has been completely replaced. The advice was that we should deal with this issue under the new legislation because if we were to do so under the old legislation, there was a likelihood we would end up in trouble. There was a slight risk somebody could have said we were compelling him or her under legislation which was no longer on the Statute Book.
No. 3A.8 is correspondence dated 2 July 2013 from Mr. Paul O'Toole, director general of FÁS, providing additional information requested at the meeting held on 4 July. The correspondence is to be noted and published. We will deal with this item under No. 3A.12.
No. 3A.9 is correspondence dated 2 July 2013 from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, regarding the committee's report on public sector allowances. The correspondence is to be noted and published. I will ask that the reply and the other two minutes be discussed at another meeting.
In each case Mr. Robert Watt states the recommendation is acceptable or not acceptable. He makes a comment on it. Is it normal for a civil servant to tell the committee what is acceptable to him? On whose behalf is he responding?
I was slightly concerned when reading through it that it was not a letter from and was not endorsed by the Minister. Mr. Watt states what is acceptable. I do not give a hoot what is acceptable to him. Obviously, it is important that it is acceptable to the Minister.
It is for that reason we have asked for the other two minutes which have been returned from the HSE and Irish Aid. I ask that they be placed on the agenda in order that we can understand exactly how the responses are made up, who replies and, as the Deputy asked, to whom it is acceptable. We will deal with it as a specific item early in September.
The committee has not discussed the replies, although they have been published and each member has received a copy of each one. I am glad Deputy Ross has raised the suggestion that the three minutes - the three replies - we now have should be discussed by the committee. Some of the recommendations we have made have been rejected. We need to understand who is rejecting the recommendations and why. That might allow us to inform ourselves in advance of other reports that we might submit.
No. 3A.10 is correspondence dated 12 July 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, regarding the Quigley report. We have dealt with this.
No. 3A.11 is correspondence dated 9 July 2013 from Mr. Brian Purcell, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, regarding the additional information requested at the meeting of 16 May 2013. It is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.12 is correspondence dated 17 July 2013 from Mr. Paul O'Toole, director general of FÁS, providing additional information requested at the meeting of 4 July 2013. The correspondence, which is marked confidential, relates to the lease of a property in Tolka Valley business park that could not be used for its intended purpose. We should come back to this in the autumn. I will be guided by whether members think this matter warrants further examination. When Deputy McDonald raised this issue, she asked for those papers to be submitted. Maybe we will check with her to see how she wants the matter to be pursued.
No. 3A.13 is correspondence dated 15 July 2013 from Mr. Tony O'Brien, director general designate of the Health Service Executive, providing additional information requested at the meeting of 20 June 2013. It is to be noted. This correspondence relates to the operation of the unofficial SIPTU account. We will return to this matter in the autumn.
No. 3A.14 is correspondence dated 17 July 2013 from Mr. Ray Mitchell of the parliamentary and regulatory affairs division of the Health Service Executive, providing additional information requested at the meeting of 25 April 2013. It is to be noted and published.
We will move on to individual correspondence. No. 3B.1 is correspondence dated 28 June 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, regarding an issue previously raised by Terry Melia regarding National University of Ireland, Galway. It is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Melia.
No. 3B.2 is correspondence dated 28 June 2013 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, regarding an issue previously raised by an anonymous source regarding University College Cork. It is to be noted.
No. 3B.3 is correspondence dated 3 July 2013 from Mr. Bev Cotton of Clonakilty, County Cork regarding Youthreach Macroom and County Cork VEC. It is to be noted. We are getting a great deal of correspondence from employees and former employees of County Cork VEC. While we cannot deal with the individual grievances, the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit of the 2011 accounts will examine whether these complaints show up systemic weaknesses at the VEC. If they do, we will deal with them in that way.
No. 3B.4 is correspondence dated 10 July 2013 from Mr. Brendan Ryan, chief executive of the Courts Service, providing a note previously requested regarding digital audio recordings. It is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Kevin Fitzgerald, who was the original complainant. A further letter was received from that person this morning. We will ask that it be circulated to the various Departments for response.
No. 3B.5 is correspondence dated 10 July 2013 from Mr. Dick Brady, assistant city manager of Dublin City Council, providing a note previously requested regarding issues raised by Mr. Tom Bourke. It is to be noted and a copy forwarded to Mr. Bourke, who was the original complainant.
No. 3B.6 is correspondence dated 11 July 2013 from Mr. Harry Lawlor, managing director of HL Commodity Foods in County Limerick, regarding a note previously provided by Shannon Development regarding units 6 and 7. This relates to a dispute between a private company and a State body in relation to the sale of property. I suggest we should ask the Accounting Officer of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to review the papers to ensure all appropriate steps were taken by Shannon Development during the disposal of this property. We will forward the correspondence in the expectation of an early reply.
No. 3B.7 is correspondence dated 9 July 2013 from Ms Anne M. Nolan, secretary of the Montenotte Park residents association, regarding a note previously provided by the Department of Education and Skills regarding the use of funds allocated for school buildings. It is to be noted and a copy is to be forwarded to the Department of Education and Skills for a note on the issues raised.
No. 3B.8 is correspondence dated 17 July 2013 from Mr. William Treacy of Portlaoise, County Laois, seeking a correction of the record of the committee in respect of previous correspondence submitted. It is to be noted. The request has no basis and he will be informed accordingly.
No. 3B.9 is correspondence dated 17 July 2013 from Mr. Ray Mitchell of the parliamentary and regulatory affairs division of the Health Service Executive, regarding a list of internal audit reports for the third and fourth quarters 2012 released under freedom of information. It is to be noted and published.
We will move on to documents relating to today's committee meeting. No. 3C.1 is correspondence dated 10 July 2013 from Mr. John O'Sullivan, chief executive and commissioner of valuation in the Valuation Office. It is a briefing paper on matters to be considered at today's meeting and is to be noted and published.
No. 3C.2 is correspondence dated 11 July 2013 from Ms Niamh O'Donoghue, Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection. It is a briefing paper on matters to be considered today and is to be noted and published.
No. 3C.3 is correspondence received 16 July 2013 from Mr. John O'Sullivan, chief executive and commissioner of valuation. It is his opening statement and is to be noted and published.
No. 3C.4 is correspondence received 16 July 2013 from Ms Niamh O'Donoghue, Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection. It is her opening statement and is to be noted and published.
We will move on to reports and statements and accounts received since our meeting of 4 July last. We have received a number of such documents, including from Limerick County Enterprise Board, Cork Institute of Technology, the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council, the National Oil Reserves Agency Limited and Microfinance Ireland. We have also received the annual report of IDA Ireland, which will be of relevance to our next meeting. We will note all of those documents.
It is great to see that many of the reports mentioned by the Chairman are coming in on time. They relate to the year that ended last December. Why are 2011 reports still coming in at this stage, more than a year and a half after that year ended? I know I have asked this question previously. Perhaps the Comptroller and Auditor General might indicate why this is happening.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The Deputy might recall our previous discussion on county enterprise boards. The issue is that they basically do not have the resources to produce annual reports. They generally want to submit their financial statements with their annual reports. It takes time for the boards to put those reports and statements together. When that has been done, the documents in question go to the Department before coming to the Oireachtas Library. That is the position with regard to the county enterprise boards. Some of the financial statements were not certified until the end of 2012, or even until 2013 in a few cases. That might have been because explanations were not provided, for example. That is why some of these reports are delayed.
We will move on to the draft work programme for September and early October, which is being displayed on a screen. We have three meetings lined up regarding the ongoing Waterford Institute of Technology, SIPTU and Dublin Docklands Development Authority issues. We can finalise the rest of our work programme when the Comptroller and Auditor General launches his report in September.
I would like to refer to the meeting we had a couple of days ago about the banking report. I think it is fair to say there was a consensus about doing something through the committee about what Matthew Elderfield said when he attended a committee meeting approximately a month ago. We agreed to send the transcript of what he said at that meeting to various Departments, State agencies and governmental bodies. Has that been done? Are we doing that? To whom are we sending the transcript of what he said? What are we asking those people to do?
We sent a covering letter with the transcript to the Taoiseach and to the Ministers for Finance, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and Justice and Equality. The covering letter reflected the views of the committee on the matter. We included the transcript with the letter, as I have said. We asked the Taoiseach and the Ministers to undertake a root and branch review of legislation governing individual liability, for example by legislating for offences such as reckless trading in financial services and the concept of presumptive liability for directors. We also asked them to review the structures involved in investigating white collar crime, which are currently spread across three bodies - the Garda, the Central Bank and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. That is part of what we have said.
We spoke about the Law Reform Commission and how it could look at any specific lacuna in the law with regard to the prosecution of white-collar crime as it pertains to individuals. Will a letter be sent to the Law Reform Commission on that?
We can copy it directly to the Law Reform Commission also. We also agreed to look at the draft bank stabilisation report. When we get that, the final draft and the list of witnesses will be sent to each committee member as agreed.
We agreed on how to proceed on the banking report. I think we can take an alternative route to that proposed by Mr. Elderfield. We need to take a different road, rather than wait to deal with it and have it buried in a comprehensive consolidation of everything that has to do with banking.
Can we agree our agenda for Thursday, 19 September 2013, at which we will meet with representatives from the IDA? The agenda will consist of the IDA Ireland annual report and accounts for 2012. Is it agreed? Agreed.
I wish to comment on what Deputy Deasy said. When Matthew Elderfield came before the PAC, in my opinion he came specifically to make the point on white-collar crime and the lack of support on that. Taking on board what Deputy Deasy has said, there is a strong argument for considering the issue as a stand alone matter. Mr. Elderfield put huge emphasis on the matter on the day he came before the committee.