Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
No. 1 on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 27 November. Are the minutes agreed to? Agreed. I note that there are no matters arising from the minutes. The minutes of yesterday's meeting will be before the committee at its meeting next week.
No. 3 is correspondence received since the meeting of Thursday, 27 November. No. 3A is correspondence received from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers. No. 3A.1 is correspondence, dated 29 November 2013, from Dr. Ruaidhrí Neavyn, president of Waterford Institute of Technology, regarding further information requested at the meeting of 10 October. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.2 is correspondence, dated 5 December 2013, from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director, parliamentary and regulatory affairs division, HSE, on foot of further information requested at the meeting of 14 November. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
No. 3B is individual items of correspondence received. No. 3B.1 is correspondence, dated 24 November 2013, from Ms Mary Farrell, Karinya, Johnstown Bridge, Enfield, regarding Headway (Ireland) Limited. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to the HSE for a note on the issues raised.
No. 3B.2 is correspondence received on 27 November from an anonymous source regarding Stewarts Hospital in Palmerstown. The correspondence is to be noted and a copy forwarded to the HSE for a note on the issues raised.
No. 3B.3 is correspondence, dated 21 November 2013, from Councillor Paudge Reck, Mulgannon, Wexford, regarding further correspondence related to County Wexford VEC. The correspondence is to be noted and the committee will follow it up with Councillor Reck personally.
No. 3B.4 is correspondence, dated 26 November 2013, from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, regarding the Institute of Technology, Tralee. The correspondence is to be noted.
No. 3B.5 is correspondence, dated 22 November 2013, from Ms Anne Nolan, Montenotte Park Residents Association, regarding concerns about the use of funds allocated for school buildings. The correspondence is to be noted.
No. 3B.6 is correspondence, dated 3 December 2013, from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director, parliamentary and regulatory affairs division, HSE, regarding St. Catherine's special school. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
No. 3B.7 is correspondence, dated 2 December 2013, from Mr. John O'Brien regarding an outline submission by the FCPS on the penalty points issue. The correspondence is to be noted. Mr. O’Brien has requested to make an oral submission to the committee. We are scheduled to commence the examination of the penalty points issue on 23 January 2014. We can use the material Mr. O'Brien has given to us as it is relevant to the issue of weaknesses in controls. It will be a matter for the committee to invite him to make an oral submission once we have concluded the examination of the issue with the Accounting Officer.
I want to return to No. 3B.5, correspondence, dated 22 November 2013, from Ms Anne Nolan, Montenotte Park Residents Association, regarding concerns about the use of funds allocated for school buildings. There is a clear conflict between the residents association and the Department. While the core issue is whether there is a need to build a school, the Committee of Public Accounts can only examine issues where the Comptroller and Auditor General has produced a report on an issue. This matter warrants further investigation and the Comptroller and Auditor General is free to examine it in the context of his audit of the Appropriations Account of the Department of Education and Skills. I will ask the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection to examine the matter in more detail as it falls within its remit.
No. 3B.8 is correspondence, dated 6 December 2013, from Mr. William Treacy regarding the lack of investigation by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General of animal welfare issues. The correspondence is to be noted.
No. 3B.9 (a-d) is correspondence received on 9 December from Mr. Lar Bradshaw regarding correspondence to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts further to meeting the Committee of Public Accounts on 26 June. The correspondence is to be noted. It is relevant to today’s meeting. It is not a matter for the Committee of Public Accounts to amend a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General who is entirely independent of the committee. The committee will issue a report at the conclusion of its examination of the DDDA. The issue raised by Mr. Bradshaw can be dealt with in that report. As regards the issue of the circulation of draft reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General, again, given the independence of his office, the issue is not one for the committee.
No. 3C is documents relating to today's meeting. No. 3C.1 is correspondence received on 12 December from Mr. Paul Maloney, former chief executive officer of the Dublin Docklands Development Agency, regarding his opening statement which we will hear shortly. The correspondence is to be noted and published.
No. 4 is reports, statements and accounts received since the meeting of 27 November. No. 4.1 is the annual report and accounts 2011 of Leitrim County Enterprise Board. There is a clear audit opinion in respect of all county enterprise boards. Members can read the remainder of the reports that have been published. The accounts are noted.
No. 5 is the work programme which is on screen.
Many issues were raised at the meeting with the Central Remedial Clinic. I seek clarity on exactly where we will go from here in regard to the CRC. I presume we will ask representatives of the Mater Hospital to attend next week's meeting, with representatives of the HSE. On the absence of Mr. Conlon, considering that Mr. Kiely was forthcoming and decent enough to attend yesterday and considering that, from our discussions yesterday and the correspondence circulated by the HSE, we know the HSE had written to the CRC, of which Mr. Conlon was a board member, on more than 20 occasions, telling it not to proceed with his appointment, asking questions about his remuneration and pension, the lack of an open competition for the position and prior approval, I imagine Mr. Conlon's attendance is now more important than ever. I want to know what we are doing about it. Do we intend to formally encourage him to attend and request that he do so or are we intending to go down the compellability route? I know that different views have been expressed by members and that every member is entitled to his or her view, but I reiterate that it is my view that the board of the CRC, in its totality, should resign with immediate effect.
I agree with virtually everything Deputy Simon Harris said, but I would go further and say we want to see Mr. Conlon. He has said he is not coming. I do think, therefore, that there is any point in asking him again to do so. We should go straight for compellability powers and look to him to answer questions. There are many questions about him to be answered, into which I will not go, and we should go to the Committee of Procedure and Privileges to ask for these powers. When we seek them, perhaps he might decide to come under the threat of their use, but we should go through with it and take that step because the Committee of Public Accounts cannot be treated in that way, as otherwise it would set a very bad precedent.
The entire board should resign. Deputy Simon Harris has said representatives of the Mater Hospital should come. Last night they issued a statement which goes some way towards explaining what was happening. It does not explain it totally, but it goes some way towards explaining it. However, we need clarity and to talk to them. If the representatives of the HSE are coming next week and they are going to look at the Mater Hospital also, it would be appropriate to have representatives of the hospital here with them at the same time.
In addition to that point, I also want to ask about managing our work programme. We have to examine section 38 agencies and their compliancy. While the CRC issue is extremely important and there are many more matters to be examined, we cannot let it dominate our investigation into section 38 agencies. I am wondering if we need to open up a side track for the CRC, while keeping a focus on the other agencies that also have difficulties, as we know, arising from the audit report.
I agree with Deputy Shane Ross that during the proceedings yesterday - at 1.44 p.m. to be precise - Mr. Conlon issued a statement which he directed towards the Committee of Public Accounts on foot of my questioning yesterday. I made reference to the fact that he had been overpaid by a top-up payment of €40,000 above the agreed salary level with the HSE and that I believed it should have been refunded to the CRC, rather than the HSE.
He wrote back to us to confirm that he would refund the CRC. He issued a statement of which he sent a copy to the PAC. I found it incredible that he would not appear before the PAC yet he issued a statement to the PAC during our hearings yesterday. I would prefer if Mr. Conlon would do the decent thing and appear voluntarily before the PAC. I agree with Deputy Ross that in terms of the integrity of the process we have no option but to compel the witness to attend. There is a slight contradiction in the fact that he was unwilling to attend the hearing yet he issued a press statement during the hearing itself.
Given that the Mater hospital will appear before the committee next week we need the relevant parties to come before the committee. The Mater hospital has issued a statement in which it indicated that the four parties involved are the Mater hospital, the CRC, the HSE and perhaps the Department of Health. It is important that we invite representatives of the Mater hospital, the Department of Health and the HSE.
This is not a personal issue in terms of the board of the CRC but its continuation as a board is casting a cloud over the fantastic work done by the CRC. It is also casting a cloud over the entire charity sector in terms of fund-raising. The integrity of the overall charity sector is being called into question. The positions of board members are untenable. We had in excess of five hours of hearings yesterday. There comes a point when it is no longer a personal issue regarding individuals but it is about the common good for service users within the CRC, those working in the CRC and the services they provide and the overall charity sector. For those reasons the board must step down with immediate effect.
As the person with the closest contact with staff in parts of the CRC I agree with the previous speakers who have called for the resignation of the board. It is really important in terms of the integrity of the CRC that it would happen as soon as possible. I agree with the points made about the knock-on effect on the charity sector generally.
I also agree that Mr. Conlon should be compelled to come before the committee as a witness. I seek clarification in that regard because no one has yet been compelled to come before the committee. I am aware that we are trying to get Mr. Merrigan to appear before the committee. I would like some guidance as to what the situation is in that regard given that one has an implication for the other. Once the committee has established the right to insist on people coming they are less likely to refuse to come when asked.
I sent an e-mail to the PAC asking that other voluntary bodies such as Enable Ireland would be brought before the committee. There is a need for a wider examination of how the voluntary bodies in the health sector are operating. I wish to add my name to the list of members who will ask questions during the course of the meeting.
I agree with my colleagues. If we are broadening the inquiry to section 38 agencies, could we also extend our remit to section 39 agencies which do similar work but they were reformed? I understand the HSE is due before the committee next week. Before then I would like to ask it what the position is with the interim CEO on foot of yesterday’s discussion. An interim CEO should be appointed immediately from outside the staff who were there, as was discussed yesterday. I wish to put the HSE on notice that we require a response in that regard.
Next Thursday the Department of Health and the HSE will be before the committee. After yesterday’s meeting I asked Barry O’Brien to ensure that someone who is knowledgeable about the entire matter on the HSE side would attend. I suggest that we should ask for someone directly connected with the fund to come along as well. Yesterday also, I asked Ms McGuinness for the report of today’s meeting and an update on other matters that were discussed at yesterday’s meeting. We can ask about the CEO again on Thursday. The relevant witnesses will be present to provide further updates on yesterday’s meeting.
In response to Deputy Murphy, following that, we can decide on our work programme in terms of who else we will invite to attend. Let us see the lists that are forthcoming and the information provided by the HSE and the Department of Health next Thursday and then we can decide specifically what we want to do.
There is no report before us on section 39 organisations. I feel strongly that having looked at the section 38 organisations there is a need to look at section 39 organisations as well. We have to deal with that as a committee in order to bring in witnesses. I am supportive of that proposal.
The other matter that was discussed was in relation to Mr. Conlon. I have been following his public comments. I was not aware until Deputy O’Donnell mentioned it that he had released a statement yesterday while the meeting was taking place.
I did not see it until now. I have just read it. The clerk made a significant effort to have Mr. Conlon appear before the committee and we have no other option but to seek compellability. We should immediately do so. Deputy Dowds inquired about the compellability process. As I understand it, we must apply to the CPP. If it is the wish of the committee I will ask the clerk to do so today so that we would set the wheels in motion to make that happen as soon as possible because Mr. Conlon is doing untold damage to the sector by his megaphone diplomacy and refusing to appear before the PAC. We will move immediately to secure compellability. We will speak to our legal advisers about framing the letter and making the application.
We have already applied for compellability in terms of the investigation on the SIPTU-HSE fund. As I understand it, we have had no reply to date. Is it two months since we made the application?
I have raised the issue at one or two meetings since then. It is not good enough that the PAC would be stalled in its tracks by another committee of the House. The CPP needs to deal with the application by the PAC for compellability relative to the SIPTU case and our new letter of application relating to Mr. Conlon. I urge the CPP to give us a speedy response on the matter and to allow us to get on with our work.
Clerk to the Committee:
To be fair to the CPP, new legislation on compellability was introduced in September. Under its terms, guidelines were to be introduced to deal with the situation. We do not wish to rush into compellability before the guidelines appear because we could end up in the courts. That is the reason we are proceeding with caution in terms of our application on the SIPTU officials and Mr. Merrigan. I will speak again to the CPP. My understanding is that the guidelines are being legally tested as we speak and that they will be ready after Christmas. That is what I was told. My concern is that we do not end up offside. That is the only issue that is delaying the matter.
I am interested to hear that.
I asked the Central Remedial Clinic, CRC, representatives a question about the provision of adult services in the west Dublin area. Would the clerk mind writing a note reminding it that we expect a detailed answer on that?
On a different issue, the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform promised to give me an answer on possible sales of land by Coillte that may not have been authorised by the Government. That was about two or three months ago and I would like a reply from him.
On that, the clerk might include in that the recent response from that Department in which all the questions were not answered and all of the information was not given. He might ask him to kindly give us the information we asked for at that meeting because again, it is running into an extended time frame, which is not acceptable to the committee.
On the other issue raised by Deputy Dowds, a number of members asked questions of the CRC yesterday and they were given a commitment that we would have some of that information today. I believe one of them was Deputy O'Donnell's question about the sale of that company, and they said they would give some of the information today. Can we remind them about that?
To come back to the issue of the other section 38 agencies, we agreed at our meeting of 27 November that we would invite in the chief executive officers and chairpersons of the boards of section 38 institutions not compliant with the HSE. I have no difficulty with the timeframe the Chairman outlined in terms of having the HSE and the Department of Health in next week but are we envisaging that we will have a programme of work then in January? As the Chairman knows, this debacle is doing untold damage to the disability and the charity sectors and it would be helpful if we knew where we were going or will we still be talking about this in March? Logistically, how will we do it?
I propose that we would get into it immediately but based on the information we get next Thursday, because the meeting is today, we have asked for the list of the non-compliant ones, where they are non-compliant, what is a top-up and so on. When we narrow it down to the numbers we will know exactly what we need to do and we cannot do that until after the meeting today is reported on next Thursday. We can make a decision at that stage.
We have dealt with the work programme. Our business for next week is as we outlined earlier. We have a sub-group on Tuesday in regard to the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. On Thursday we will have the meeting, as we described earlier, and we will ask for the representatives of the Mater hospital and the others to come in.
Mr. Maloney has been waiting since 10 a.m. That is partially my fault and I want to apologise to him but before I ask him in I reiterate, on behalf of members, that people should continue to support the charities in terms of the support for the front-line services they offer. While the Committee of Public Accounts in my opinion did an excellent job yesterday and will continue to force the types of reforms that are necessary to restore public confidence in that sector, it is important for them to have that support at this time of the year.
One of the tangible issues that will help restore that is that the board of the CRC steps down. That is the reality of the situation on foot of the work done in the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday. This is a collective group but for me it is about the people up and down the country who are fund-raising for charities, and the service users. Something positive must come out of the proceedings.
A number of members made that point yesterday. As part of an issue raised by Deputy Dowds earlier, we can ask the board for their response because that is what we were promised yesterday. On foot of what is being said here today, we will ask them when we will get that response.
As far as the work of the Committee of Public Accounts is concerned, it is important to note that in 2011 we did extensive work into the Irish Red Cross over our financial and corporate governance issues. Similar issues were raised at the time in terms of people being reluctant to donate to the Irish Red Cross as a result of what was being discovered in our examinations but if I recall, one of the shortcomings we found at the time, and I believe it is in the report, is that the Charities Act had not been brought into force. I would have to look at it again but I think we might have said something to the fact that this should be done. In terms of what has happened in recent weeks and what will continue to be discovered over the next few weeks and months, that legislation must be proceeded with.
That is the general recommendation that has been spoken about by members. The Act of 2009 needs to be commenced and perhaps a regulator appointed. That might be an immediate message we can send to the Minister.
To follow on from the earlier comments, the area of corporate governance and the way charities are operated, the United Kingdom has a different model but there is not enough transparency in what is happening in that regard. We certainly need to look at that.