Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 13 March 2014
Public Accounts Committee
2012 Annual Report of the Comptroller General and Appropriation Accounts
Vote 24 - Justice and Equality
Chapter 9 - State Pathology Building Project
Before we begin I remind witnesses, members and those in the Gallery to turn off their mobile telephones and I particularly ask the members and witnesses to move their mobile telephones away from the microphones.
I advise witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they will be entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against a Member of either House, a person outside the Houses, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind Members of the provision within Standing Order 163 that the committee should also refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such policies.
I welcome Mr. Brian Purcell, Secretary General at the Department of Justice and Equality, and I ask him to introduce his officials.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The appropriations account for the Vote for Justice and Equality recorded a gross expenditure of just over €357 million in 2012. Salaries accounted for 37% of gross expenditure. At the end of the year just under 2,300 whole-time equivalent staff were employed in the Department and its related offices.
As well as the administrative costs of the Department, expenditure was incurred on a wide range of services, including legal aid, immigration and asylum, the Probation Service, equality, integration and disability, charities regulation, the Irish youth justice service, the State pathology service, and the Forensic Science Laboratory. The Vote also includes funding for a range of statutory services operating under the aegis of the Department, including the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
The committee is also considering today a report which concerns an ongoing project to provide new facilities for the State pathology service and the Dublin coroner's office, which operates under the aegis of Dublin City Council. The State pathology service has operated since the 1990s from prefabricated accommodation in Marino on a site owned by the city council. In embarking on the project, the Department acknowledged that the current accommodation lacks the range of facilities required for a modern pathology service. There were also concerns about the security of the current accommodation, given the sensitivity of the work undertaken by the service and the critical dependence of certain prosecutions on the results of the service's work. The location and physical condition of the coroner's mortuary and morgue were also considered unsuitable.
The Department and the council decided in 2006 that the two services could be accommodated in one new building on the site at Marino. Jointly, they developed plans for a new medico-legal centre project which included the construction of a new autopsy facility, body storage facility, a mortuary and other related accommodation. It was agreed that the Department would fund two thirds of the cost of the new centre, with the council to provide the site and the balance of the construction costs. The council took the lead role in project management, including procurement of the necessary professional services, contractor and so on.
In March 2007, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government raised a planning objection relating to the location of the proposed project site adjacent to an important national monument, the 18th century casino at Marino. It took around a year for the parties to resolve the planning concerns. A tender competition for the construction project was launched in August 2008 and a contractor identified. The proposed contract had been based on what was called the Government Departments and local authorities or GDLA form of contract. However, the Department of Finance had issued new forms of construction contracts in February 2007 which all Government Departments and agencies, including local authorities, were required to use. The project was re-tendered to use the new form of contract.
Following the second public procurement competition, a contract between the council and a builder was signed in June 2010. Work started on the site in July 2010 on what was expected to be a 13 month build. The building contractor went into receivership in November 2010, however, leaving a partially completed structure. Following legal advice, a decision was taken to tender again, this time for completion of the project. The Department informed the city council in 2012 that it would not have the funding to proceed. As a result, the project was deferred indefinitely. The partially constructed premises was demolished in 2013 after deterioration in its physical condition which resulted in it becoming a health and safety hazard.
When my report was being completed, the Department, in conjunction with the city council, was examining the feasibility of pursuing a significantly scaled down project using the vacated Whitehall Garda station which is owned by the Office of Public Works. The net expenditure by the Department and the council on the abandoned project, after recoupment of money under a bond, was €3.3 million with no material benefit from the expenditure accruing to the State. The State pathology office and Dublin coroner's facilities remain in their existing prefabricated accommodation. While lack of availability of funding was a key factor in the abandonment of the project, we noted that ample provision was made in the Vote over the life of the project to cover the Department's contribution had the project proceeded in a timely fashion.
In light of these findings, and those of an examination of the bridge project which I reported on in the 2011 report, I recommended that the Department should review its project risk assessment procedures to ensure adequate steps are taken to secure necessary planning permissions, and to ensure the prevailing procurement and contracting rules are complied with. The Accounting Officer will be in a position to update the committee on developments regarding the currently planned relocation of the service's facilities to Whitehall.
Mr. Brian Purcell:
I propose to keep my opening remarks brief in the interest of making best use of members' time.
The Justice and Equality Vote covers a wide remit, encompassing both the administrative divisions of the Department and a broad range of offices and agencies across the justice sector. These areas include immigration, disability and equality services, the Criminal Assets Bureau and newer organisations such as the Insolvency Service of Ireland. In line with the new programmatic approach, the various strands of the Justice and Equality Vote have been grouped into six separate programmes and details of the breakdown have been provided in briefing to the committee.
It is important, given the number of different offices and agencies and the range and breadth of functions carried out, that strong governance arrangements are in place across the Department. From my perspective, as Accounting Officer, strong oversight is vital to ensure the highest standards of financial control apply and that value for money is obtained from all the expenditure in the Justice and Equality Vote. It is also important to acknowledge that a number of the Department's offices and agencies have been established on a statutory basis with independent functions, and with specific governance relationships with the Department. A key feature of the governance structure within the Department is that each office and agency attached to the Justice and Equality Vote, while operating according to its legislative status and its own business plan and objectives, is accountable to the central Department in terms of budgets and expenditure.
As far as the financial aspects in particular are concerned, most of these, including financial, payroll and accounting services, are dealt with by the Department's financial shared services centre in Killarney. The expertise in the centre is supplemented by a financial management unit in the Department located in Dublin. Representatives from both these areas sit on the justice sector financial management committee. It meets every month and is chaired by the relevant assistant secretary to oversee financial developments across the justice sector.
In my role as Accounting Officer for both the Justice and Equality Vote and the Prisons Vote, I am supported in my task of ensuring there is a strong system of internal controls in place by the Department's audit committee.
The committee comprises four external members and one departmental representative. The chairperson is external to and independent of the Department. The committee is supported in its work by an internal audit unit which is headed up by the internal auditor, a professional accountant at principal officer level. The internal auditor works closely with the Department's risk unit in identifying and managing risk. The internal audit unit comprises four persons, being a combination of both internal and external resources. The unit, through its audit work programme, provides assurance that there are effective financial and other controls in place. In 2013 there were 29 audit reports completed and the corresponding figure in 2012 was 26.
Turning specifically to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for 2012, chapter 9 outlines the position in relation to the State Pathology building project in Marino, Dublin. This project was a joint venture with Dublin City Council, the aim of which was to develop new facilities at a site in Marino for the Office of the State Pathologist and the Coroner Service in Dublin. The objective was to relocate these two related operations in one building at a site owned by Dublin City Council. While it was agreed that the costs of the project would be shared between the Department of Justice and Equality and Dublin City Council - with the Department funding two thirds of the cost and the council funding one third - the council took the lead role in managing the project, including the procurement of contractors, etc. While the project experienced delays in the early stages due to unforeseen planning and form of contract issues, the build began in July 2010. Unfortunately, the main contractor went into receivership in November 2010, which halted work on the building. The receivership gave rise to a number of legal and procurement difficulties, culminating in legal advice to re-tender the project with a view to completing the partially built structure on the Marino site.
However, in 2011, and following a reduction of up to 30% in the capital budget for the justice Vote group, it became necessary to defer the project again, due to a lack of funding to complete it. The Department then examined various other options to bring the project to completion, including the use of a public private partnership, PPP, funding model. However, following professional advice, it was concluded that this was not a viable option, given the specialised and complex nature of the building. The Department then considered, with Dublin City Council and the Office of Public Works, OPW, whether the State Pathology Office and the Dublin Coroner Service could be jointly relocated to the former Whitehall Garda Station. Initial examination indicated that this was a viable option, and the Department, the Council and the OPW agreed to progress the project. The OPW, which is the owner of the Whitehall premises, has agreed to make the building available and to undertake the necessary refurbishment work.
A project oversight team, chaired by the Department, and comprising senior personnel from Dublin City Council and the OPW, is overseeing the project. The primary task for the team is to take matters forward to a successful conclusion as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. Plans have been developed to meet the relevant requirements and they are being taken forward by the OPW. The costs incurred will be shared by the Department and Dublin City Council.
I must inform the committee that legal proceedings are ongoing by the Chief State Solicitors Office on behalf of the Department in relation to the lease of accommodation for a Probation Service project in Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. Therefore, as was the case at my last appearance before the committee, my legal advice remains that any further discussion of or comment on the facts of this matter could prejudice the State's case in the legal proceedings currently under way. I can confirm that I will, obviously, be happy to discuss this matter at a future date when the case has been concluded. Aside from this matter, I will go into further detail as the Members require.
I welcome Mr. Purcell and his colleagues, and also the officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to the committee. As the witnesses will the aware, this committee has been examining the issue of penalty points and fixed-charge penalty notice cancellations for some time. I think it is fair to say from our own examination of the issue that confidence in the justice system has been badly affected by the administration of the fixed-charge penalty notice system, highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his examination of the issues, and further confirmed, if I may say that, by the report from the Garda Síochána Inspectorate yesterday. The reason I want to ask the Accounting Officer questions about it is that it was reiterated yesterday in the report from the Garda inspectorate that legitimate revenue has been lost to the State. Does he accept the criticisms inherent in the Garda inspectorate's report in respect of the operation of the system and the recommendations in their entirety, and how is it proposed, essentially, to fix the system?
What is the timeframe involved given, that there is an urgency in respect of this issue on foot of the reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate? There is a need to restore the confidence that has lost in the system recently due to the consistent breaches of policy uncovered by the Garda inspectorate, which is detailed in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. What is the timeline?
Mr. Brian Purcell:
It will commence an assessment of training requirements in relation to the operation of the fixed-charge processing system - recommendations 2.2 and 3.7.
There is action to be taken in the medium term. The criminal justice working group which, as I mentioned, has its first meeting scheduled for this afternoon will identify the measures necessary to ensure all penalty points are applied to driving licences - recommendation 2.10. It will examine options for the online payment of fixed-charge fines - recommendation 2.14. It will consider alternative measures for collecting unpaid fixed-charged fines - recommendation 2.15. It will consider how legislative proposals could address difficulties in collecting fines and applying penalty points in respect of company rental or unregistered vehicles - recommendation 2.9. It will also consider the provision of clear statutory parameters for the discretionary cancellation of fixed-charge notices - recommendation 3.2.
I will stop the Secretary General. Clearly, there are significant developments in the offing. The first meeting of the review group is taking place today, which is to be welcomed.
There is urgency about issues surrounding the appropriate serving of summons. According to the Garda Inspectorate's report, €7.5 million in fines revenue was forgone. The matter should be pursued urgently by the group and acted on quickly. I thank Mr. Purcell for his response to that line of questions.
I will move on to the Vote for the Insolvency Service of Ireland. I note that 87 staff were in place with the service in 2013 and that there was a budget of €7.5 million set aside in that year. That budget would have covered the establishment of the operation last year. How many inquiries have been received by the service and is it ahead of the anticipated number of inquiries that it envisaged?
There is quite a significant figure of €2.7 million allocated under a non-pay heading for the establishment of the Insolvency Service of Ireland. Is Mr. Purcell in a position to inform the committee, for example, of the level of external consultancies taken on by the Department or the insolvency service when it was being set up? A sum of €2.7 million under a non-pay heading seems high in the context of a total budget of €7.5 million last year to cover the establishment of the service and pay. I accept that there would have been once-off establishment costs, but can Mr. Purcell be clear on how that funding was spent on external consultancies engaged by the service or the Department in setting up the organisation?
I will move on to the Magdalen fund which was established to facilitate the making of ex-gratiapayments to those who were in those institutions some time ago. How many applications have been made to date to the fund to access ex-gratiapayments? How many formal offers have been accepted and how many payments have issued to date to the women concerned?
I am led to understand there may be issues for women who were in these institutions and who are living abroad. They may not be able to access the same kind of health care supports as would be available to women who currently reside in this country. Is this an issue the Secretary General has encountered and, if so, how will it be addressed to ensure the scheme is applied consistently and that no individual is disadvantaged in any way?
I will move on to the State Pathology Service for which the development of a new facility was first mooted in 2006. However, the State remains without an adequate building in which to house the State Pathology Service and the Dublin coroner's facility. I note that in his opening statement, Mr. Purcell consistently reiterated the Department's commitment to strong oversight and the highest standards of financial control. He referred to the Department's risk assessment mechanisms and audit facilities and essentially spoke on how good is the Department with regard to oversight, managing projects and managing its budgets. However, in the case of the State Pathology Service farrago, this comedy of errors, there is no evidence to suggest, at least between 2006 and 2011 or 2012, that any of these traits were in evidence. In his contribution earlier, the Comptroller and Auditor General went through in chronological order the series of events that led to this impasse and to a point at which considerable sums of taxpayers' money were spent on a project from which no benefit is being derived and that has lost well in excess of €3 million for the taxpayer, notwithstanding the fact that in each year from 2006 to 2011 or 2012, the Estimates of the Department provided resources for this facility to be developed.
I am seriously concerned about the lack of oversight the Department had in respect of this project. It is clearly that from an investment point of view, Dublin City Council managed the project and invested one third of the resources into it, with the Department investing two thirds. From the documentation I read arising from the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, it appears there was no single overarching document that detailed clearly who was responsible for what in respect of managing this project. In itself, that constitutes a serious indictment of the Department and of Dublin City Council and may have led to the current situation, whereby the service now will be developed at the vacated Whitehall Garda station. I simply am not convinced that any proper oversight was involved in this particular project and there is no evidence to suggest it was. The project first moved from concept, that is, from the page to the stage as such in 2006. It went out for public tender in 2007 at one stage but then had to go out for public tender again because the Department was not conforming with the 2007 framework instituted by the Department of Finance. The Department claims it was not foreseeable that an objection might arise from anyone, even though this particular site was located right next to a national monument, namely, the Casino at Marino. One would not need to be an expert to anticipate that the then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, as the line Department, would have had a view in this regard. This clearly delayed the project, as did the fact that the original developer went into receivership at that point. I accept this could not have been foreseen but why, for example, was the second firm on the panel not engaged to complete this project? This has been a complete waste of money, there still is no facility, and this highly sensitive operation, the State Pathology Service, still is being carried out in prefabs in Marino.
How was that not anticipated? It is right next door to a well-known national monument. This would have come within the purview of someone in the Department of Justice and Equality but either was ignored or someone was negligent and simply decided it was not an issue and it would proceed anyway. In fairness, Dublin City Council would have been aware of this as well.
Is it the case it never came up in discussions with the Department of Justice and Equality? Did Dublin City Council not ever state its belief that its line Department might have an issue with this project, because it is responsible for national monuments? The council is a planning authority that gave the Part 8 permission but it never anticipated this. It really is an unfortunate comedy of errors.
Mr. Brian Purcell:
It took approximately a year for the objection to be resolved. The issues did not relate so much to the project but the broader historic and archaeological landscape around the casino. They could only be resolved between Dublin City Council and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government as they raised issues concerning planning and development for the entire area and not only the site of the new build. This led to archaeological reports and excavations as well as the development of an archaeological conservation area under section 81 of the planning Act. The issues went far beyond the nature of the proposed project and, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems the project was the trigger that may have been used to resolve long outstanding issues related to the national monument and its situation in the broader surrounding landscape.
Given what we know from the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and from Mr. Purcell's submission, I cannot accept that a proper risk assessment was done. This should be identified by Dublin City Council as well. In fact, one would expect Dublin City Council to-----
I will conclude in a moment or two and I appreciate Deputy Harris wishes to contribute.
Ultimately the building was demolished and significant security costs were racked up over a two or three year period in securing the site, and I imagine the site was patrolled by a private security company. How much in total was spent on security on the site?
This was in the middle of a decision being taken as to whether this would be proceeded with. There was a vacuum, as such. A decision was not taken. No one took the decision to bury this project until 2012, to take the wrecking ball to it and to move on.
The Department has moved on from that to locating the State pathology building project in the vacated premises at Whitehall that once belonged to An Garda Síochána, and obviously it is managed by the OPW. What is the cost of fitting out that building, making sure it is fit for purpose? We are talking about a building that will store sensitive material, have a mortuary, an autopsy facility and storage for evidence that may be used in court proceedings, and it needs to be essentially hermetically sealed, controlled properly and all that goes with that. How much will that cost and when will this facility be open? Is that building fit for purpose or will it need to be extended in future? What other sites had the Department looked at that would have allowed it to develop something cost effectively, or was this the only site that recommended itself?
I thank Mr. Purcell and his team for being here today. Obviously, we are talking about the casino in the meaning of Italian word as opposed to a place one would go to gamble, but it seems the Department might have been better taking the €3.3 million and going to a casino with it because, as the Comptroller and Auditor General's report has clearly stated, €3.3 million was spent and there is no material benefit from that for the taxpayer. My colleague, Deputy Nash, touched on the issue of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government lodging an objection or a planning concern because of the location beside a national monument. However, the problems did not end there because after that difficulty was dealt with, when the tender competition was launched in August 2008, another problem arose with another Department raising concerns, and this time it was the Department of Finance objecting to the form of contract used. Mr. Purcell might explain that.
Mr. Brian Purcell:
A contractor was selected in September and permission to proceed was sought from the Department of Finance. However, in October 2008 that Department objected to the use of the GDLA form of contract and directed that a new form of contract drawn up by the Government construction contracts committee, GCCC, be used. The new form of contract is focused on fixed price lump sum bids, with risks transferred to the contractor. This decision obliged the project board to completely revise the tender documentation to comply with the new GCCC contract and required a painstaking and detailed upgrading of all tender documentation and specifications.
The project board used the GDLA form of contract because the relevant paragraph of the circular on construction procurement reform provided that where detailed development tender documentation had already commenced, the GDLA contract could be used. The project board decided in January 2008 to use that form of contract to avoid incurring considerable additional costs and delay. The contract notice was placed in the Official Journal of the European Union in April 2008 and in August 2008 tenders were invited from eight pre-qualifying contractors. However, in February 2008 the Department of Finance issued a new circular on construction procurement reform and the facility to use the GDLA form of contract was withdrawn from early March 2008. The April contract notice thus missed the deadline by a number of weeks.
As it would not have been possible for the project board to foresee that the provisions of circular 33/06 would change so radically and that permission to use the GDLA form of contract would not be forthcoming, it proceeded as planned. Having considered the matter, I can understand the decision of the project board to use the GDLA form of contract. The decision was taken in good faith based on a desire to avoid spending additional money on reworking the project documentation and further expensive delays, and in the belief that it was permissible to do so given that the documentation was in place prior to the introduction of the new contract. As we now know, this did not prove possible due to the decision taken.
I thank Mr. Purcell. These were the costs when the Department was planning to proceed with the project. Additional costs would have been incurred in securing the site. The cost for security amounted to €303,779. The word "consultancy" appears again in this category at a cost of €123,364.
Demolition costs were €52,062. There are also costs for other professional services amounting to €41,000, plant hire amounting to €13,000 and miscellaneous costs amounting to €15,000. All I can take from the information provided is that architects did very well out of this project. Perhaps Mr. Purcell can provide a breakdown of the two sets of miscellaneous costs.
In the accounts, a saving of €113,000 was achieved on the disability awareness initiative. This concerns me because when it comes to the area of disability, Mr. Purcell's Department has quite an important role in terms of public awareness of, understanding of and education about the equality agenda. The budget had already been slashed from €865,000 to €307,000 between 2011 and 2012 because of the economic situation in which the country found itself. Considering there has been such a drop in the budget from €865,000 to €307,000, I am concerned how the Department managed to save €113,000 and was not able to spend that.
Does Mr. Purcell see my point that even though the budget for disability was so sharply reduced, which was regrettable, the full amount was not spent? People with disabilities depending on such disabilities awareness initiatives did not get the full bang for their buck which they should have got. It is a concern of mine, which I have noted.
We seem to have a pretty restrictive asylum regime with 10% of applicants granted permission in 2012 compared with a European average of 27%. The former Irish Ombudsman and now the European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, raised concerns about the safety of children living in direct provision, and she noted the very unsuitable conditions in which they were living. Considering direct provision has no legislative basis, can Mr. Purcell provide us with an update on the number of people living in direct provision and the cost to the State of that each year?
Mr. Brian Purcell:
Our aim is not to keep anyone in direct provision for any longer than we have to.
I accept that and I welcome Mr. Purcell's comments in that regard but the original idea was that this would be a short-term solution with people staying six months on average. We now have an average stay of three years and eight months with many spending more than seven years in the system, which is the equivalent of a childhood. In the meantime, we, as taxpayers, paid €62 million in 2012 to private operators for direct provision. The firm behind Mosney received €4.1 million and it received €101 million over the ten years between 2002 and 2012. I welcome a number of initiatives the Department has taken to reduce waiting times through the INIS and improvements to the citizenship process but there needs to be a sense of urgency about this.
I welcome the progress the Department is making on the charity regulatory structures and I note Mr. Purcell's comments earlier. I hope he can allay my concerns. The committee opened a can of worms that needed to be opened in our examination of a number of sections 38 and 39 charitable organisations, although many charities do not fall under these sections. Will the new structure be able to cope? I am sure the Chairman and other members are taking inquiries from small charities up and down the country wanting to know how the new structure will work and seeking reassurance that supporting structures will be in place as well. How many departmental staff will be allocated? What will be the cost? What happens if they are overwhelmed?
As we examine sections 38 and 39 organisations, there is increasing concern, particularly among smaller charities, about their income and funding. We must allay fears they have about what will be required of them under the regulations in the context of their ongoing work in order that those that are generally compliant within the charity sector are promoted and acknowledged just like those that are non-compliant will appear before the committee. I encourage the charity regulator to at least engage with the small charities that are expressing concerns with some speed. It is hugely important from the public's perspective that we would be seen to support those that are compliant.
The Department has handled the charity sector generally up to now. Has it information that might assist us in respect of the analysis we are carrying out in respect of sections 38 and 39 organisations?
Has the Department expressed a view to the HSE, SOLAS or other agencies regarding the remunerations level in this sector, particularly in the charities we have examined so far?
Would you have had any engagement?
For example, we are examining the CRC and we are examining the Rehab Group. As you are dealing with those charities, would you ever have expressed a concern that their salaries were getting to be a little out of kilter with the sector?
To go back to the Minister's statement, he raised the question about the low level of profitability. Did that concern those four people? Did they raise the issue within the Department? What was their concern and what was their engagement with the charities sector? Or were they just-----
It is not as if that structure went from one country to another. It went between two Departments. You are all civil servants. Surely the background to the charities structure and any issues that might have been there would have been given from the Department of Finance to your Department. Did anyone have any engagement with the charities sector prior to the investigation of section 39 and section 38 organisations? Did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have anything to do with it? Have you any comment to make on the charity end of it?
No, with respect to the information that the Department of Finance would have had relative to the charities sector and the handing over of that information to the Department of Justice and Equality.
Did they sit on their hands, or were they actually doing something about what was going on within the charities sector? What were they doing? Why did this issue just arise now? Did nobody engage with the charities sector? I just want to get an idea of the structure that was there prior to the enactment of the new legislation. Was the structure effective? Did it gather information on the charities sector in terms of how it had developed over the last ten or 15 years?
You might give us a bit of detail on the history of what the people within the two Departments were actually doing in terms of their jobs and functions relative to the charities sector.
With regard to the charities regulatory authority, the chairman will get €8,978 and members will get €5,985, as a general figure. That may be the figure, but it probably has not been decided on yet.
I would like to ask one more question in respect of the various tribunals. At how much did the Smithwick tribunal start?
Has the Department appointed a new tribunal? Do these figures for the tribunal relate to cases? I presume that the figures of €76,000 and €88,000 describe what was awarded in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
-----contact details and so on as soon as it has been set up? I just want to see its structure.
I do not know whether Mr. Purcell is the Accounting Officer responsible, but is it correct that the returning officers of each county - their other title might be the sheriff offices, but I am unsure - have been appointed as judges? They were given that title.
Some €4 million in taxpayers' money is being paid out under this scheme. On the State pathology project, it was stated earlier that a little less than €4.3 million was spent on the original project. What is the anticipated spend on the new project and the combined cost of the original and new projects?
An issue that arises continually in the context of Government bodies which appear before the committee is that of overspend of taxpayers' money. The money we are talking about today is effectively money down the drain. Mr. Purcell said the project is a product of the time we are in. Equally, €4 million of taxpayers' money forgone is a product of a time when issues such as this arose owing to a lack of due diligence. Of the €4.3 million spend, €2.5 million was for consultancy and professional fees. How did that happen? Mr. Purcell might elaborate on the spend between 2006 and 2010 of €1.9 million on consultancy fees and €425,000 on professional fees and, in 2011, €123,000 and €41,000, respectively.
I know of a school building project in Limerick in respect of which the building contractor went into receivership, the contract was retendered and the school was effectively completed, and at better cost. When did the contractor concerned go into receivership?
Could the Department not have gone through public procurement, allowing Sisk to be one of the parties tendering in the public domain? The company was clearly willing to do it for a value for the bondsman. Surely it would have been a no-lose position as any company getting the contract would have had to come in at a lower value than Sisk was doing it for the bondsman? If the Department could not lose, why did it not go through public procurement?
Considering this from the outside, it seems the Department got funding for a project that was half-built. Effectively, the company went into receivership and the rules of the game changed. It seems that if the project could not be completed in that year, the money falls away from the project. Is that correct?
The problem is €4 million in taxpayers' money is being written off and the Department is getting a yellow pack version of what could have been achieved with the €13.8 million. These are two different buildings. Mr. Roycroft referenced the state-of-the-art elements that will not be in the new building.
I will make a comment or observation. There must be a change in strategic thinking within Departments so there is not so much emphasis on cash. They seem to operate on the cash available in a year. There should have been a way to consider that project strategically. This was an unusual issue and there should have been a process that would not involve the waste of €4 million in taxpayers' money. The witnesses have indicated the project could not be completed so the funding was not made available. However, the Department put €4 million of taxpayers' money down the drain. There should be strategic commercial and financial decision making within Departments, particularly with capital projects. I can understand the issue with revenue projects. Capital projects should be considered on a multi-annual basis as distinct from a yearly basis.
There was a process that arrived at a decision not to go ahead with a structure and rather to demolish it. How did that work in the Department? Who takes the final decision and who makes the recommendation?
I did not ask that. On whose recommendation was the decision made to stop the process of seeking the money for these partially commenced building? Someone made the decision in the Department not to go ahead and to knock the building.
Before getting to that, someone had to decide on the issue. The Department was 30% down on funding and the project would not be realised. Is that correct? Who in the Department looked at the building because there was no money to complete it? Who made the decision not to cut anywhere else other than the building and to demolish the building?
Who takes the decision about the money the Department receives, in terms of the Department of Finance giving it funding for the year and the Accounting Officer deciding that because the funding has been cut by 30%, he will have to cut somewhere else?
Two years elapsed before the Department made the decision to pull the plug. Would that have been sufficient time for the Department to go back to the public procurement rule and retender? There was a two year period.
Not all. As Mr. Purcell will be well aware, the project is significant for Limerick because of its proximity and location within the city. I welcome the project and thank the Department.
I wish to make a final observation. Perhaps the committee will look at the way capital projects are appraised within Departments. Clearly this project included advanced technology. I ask the Departments to look at these projects on a multiannual basis as distinct from a yearly basis. The project may have become hostage to the way public finances are apportioned and allocated on an annual basis and operated within Departments.
Mr. Brian Purcell:
In terms of timing, it can be advantageous to commence a project at the tail end of one year and operate on the basis of spending 20% in the first year, 60% in the second and the balance in the third year. That can enable one to be as flexible as possible with a diminishing capital budget. A significant level of planning goes into it and the bigger projects, of their nature, must be completed using a multi-annual plan. The points made by the Deputy are very valid and we will certainly try to take them on board as far as we can.
We have been here for a long time so I will be as brief as possible. I apologise if this has come up previously, but I have a question about the company car and penalty points issue. The Comptroller and Auditor General examined this issue and his investigation found that the State was losing approximately €1.12 million every year because drivers using company cars were evading their penalties. The report showed that one company alone had more than 200 unresolved cases. Many companies responded to the effect that they did not know who was driving the car at the time of the offence. Almost one quarter of road traffic offences involving a company car during 2011 and 2012 were quashed and almost half were not pursued. I raised this issue with the Garda Commissioner when he came before this committee recently and asked him why, after ten years, it has still not been resolved. The problem was first noted in 2002 or 2003 and it has still not been resolved.
I understand that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is obviously key in this matter. I heard a report on radio yesterday which was based on what the Garda inspectorate had reported. What kind of input does the Department of Justice and Equality have in this situation, where a problem has gone on for so long? When I asked the question of the Garda Commissioner I found his answer to be unsatisfactory. I asked him if the legislation that was passed in 2003 was ineffective and if new legislation was needed. I now understand that further legislation was passed but was not acted upon. The relevant elements within the legislation have not been dealt with by the responsible Departments. What role does the Department of Justice and Equality have in this? Whose has the lead responsibility for this within Government? In my opinion, there has been a real dearth of leadership on what is a very simple issue. A problem has been identified, legislated for but not resolved. We are talking about sizeable amounts of money and I want to know why somebody has not taken this by the scruff of the neck and dealt with it, once and for all. What role does the Department of Justice and Equality have here? What does the Department intend to do about it?
I am going to stop Mr. Purcell there. Why did it take the Garda inspectorate issuing a recommendation for that to happen? This has been obvious for ten years. It has been legislated for twice. Why does the Department need the Garda inspectorate to tell it something that is already evident? It is evident to anyone who has looked at it.
That is fair enough, but a punter might ask Mr. Purcell why it is taking so long to deal with this. The Comptroller and Auditor General has conducted his investigation and found that very significant amounts of money are being lost to the Exchequer. Why does it take so long for two Departments and An Garda Síochána to get around a table? Why does it take a Garda inspectorate report to precipitate that? That question must be asked. The Public Accounts Committee has to ask that question. We are now potentially talking about a third tranche of legislation, assuming we amend the 2010 Act, to get this right. The question must be asked as to how efficient problem solving within our Departments really is, in the face of the company car issue. Mr. Purcell has answered my question - he has a road map and the group is meeting. However, even a cursory look at the history of the company car issue would lead one to assert that the Government has failed dismally to deal with it in a reasonable time period. I do not know if the Comptroller and Auditor General has anything to say on the issue, given that he is the person who came up with these recommendations.
Fair enough. On foot of Mr. Purcell's response to the question, I must address the issue of penalty points in the broad sense. I have reflected on what has happened in the past couple of years and the processes that have evolved as the penalty points became an issue in the media, the Oireachtas, the Garda Síochána, the Department and among the public. Let me list the reports: we now have a Garda inspectorate's report; we are looking forward to a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission report; Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney's report; countless reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General; and other reviews. Why has nobody in the Department taken a leadership role and with PULSE technology dealt with infractions that were easy to identify? The Garda inspectorate has obviously done this. Why has it taken so long for Government to deal with this issue? Why was it a case of pushing the problem from desk to desk and passing the buck? We have ten reports. The question I pose may not be for the Secretary General directly or the Department of Justice and Equality, but they are involved, but what is the reason for the myriad of reports on an issue that should be reasonably simple to address? Should there not have been an easier way to deal with this issue? Why are elements of government in turmoil over something that should have been nipped in the bud if problems, such as those identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General years ago, were addressed? Why are we now waiting for another report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission? Does the Secretary General have a response?
I know the Minister referred the issue to the Garda inspectorate, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and so on, but having looked at it, I see a common thread. We are not dealing with issues as quickly as we should be, issues are put on the long finger and in some cases this may be up to ten years. I would add the penalty point saga to that. I do not think it is necessary for the Minister and the Department of Justice and Equality to refer it to somebody else, I think the Department should deal with it. In some cases, officials may think that is impossible and the matter should be referred to an independent arbitrator, but the leadership in the Department should deal with issues that the Comptroller and Auditor General has flagged.
I put questions to the Commissioner and frankly I could not believe some of the responses because they were so scant. That is the reason I raised the company car issue. As I have said, I have come to the conclusion after drilling into the figures that issues, which are simple to explain, are put on the long finger, when there is no need to do that.
The Secretary General has answered the question. In respect of penalty points, company cars and statute barred summonses, there is a distinct lack of action, whether that is the responsibility of the Department of Justice and Equality or of collective Departments. I think the group should focus on how to respond quickly to issues as they arise and deal with them collectively.
Mr. Brian Purcell:
I give an assurance to the Chairman and members of the committee that we will ensure this is driven forward from now on, regardless of what may have occurred and whatever failings there may have been in dealing with some of these issues in the past. I have been given very clear instructions by the Minister that we have to ensure this group deals with these problems quickly. If there are resource issues involved, we have to deal with that element. As I stated, however, I assure the Chairman, members of the committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General that they can expect to see progress being made quickly in this area. I take the Deputy's point which is a valid one.
Mr. Purcell will see that there is a significant danger that members of the public will decide that the Department and the criminal justice system are inherently inefficient if these issues are not addressed within a reasonable timeframe. They look at the entire penalty points saga and ask what is going on and why people cannot simply step in and deal with it. While Mr. Purcell is correct that the system as a whole works well, it was known for years that the use of discretion was a major factor in the penalty points system, yet the issue was not dealt with appropriately and was left hanging. We now have four or five reports which clearly point out that the problem with the system has been known about for a long time. Members of the public believe the matter should have been addressed a long time ago.
With the indulgence of the Chairman, I will ask a further question on training, education and development programmes for former prisoners and the reintegration of former prisoners in the community. One such programme, U-Casadh, is located in Waterford. How much money is the Probation Service allocating to these organisations? Does the Department intend to increase funding for these groups? Do these programmes work and would it be worthwhile investing more money in them?
The focus of the committee is on saving money and obtaining value for money. Does investment in rehabilitation programmes for offenders save money in the long run? The Department obviously has conducted cost-benefit analyses in this area and of some individual projects. What is Mr. Purcell's opinion of the investment it is making in rehabilitation projects? Do they pay dividends and would it be worthwhile investing more money in them? Has the Department carried out an analysis?
Mr. Purcell has made a significant statement. He has said he believes these schemes are effective and that it is worth investing money in them. I do not know if the Comptroller and Auditor General has ever examined this issue or if his office has a role in analysing the expenditure the Department and the Probation Service allocates to these organisations in terms of its effect and the end result for the Exchequer in reducing the level of reoffending and the recidivism rate among those who enter these programmes compared to that among those who do not do so. Would it be worthwhile examining this issue? Would such an examination be helpful to the Probation Service or the Department?
Mr. Purcell has stated these programmes have had a considerable effect on the recidivism rate. Given that a study of the programmes in which we are investing €10.3 million has not been conducted in the past ten years, surely we need to analyse them to ascertain how effective they are? All of these organisations keep track of the people who avail of their programmes and each of them will, therefore, have statistics. We have all read reports on the success the Scandinavian countries have achieved in this area. I do not know if there is anything more scientific that could be done to bolster our belief and faith in investing in this area.
That is what I am getting at. Notwithstanding the intangibles the Comptroller and Auditor General has mentioned - I accept all that and what he has said - I do not know if it is within his remit to take another look at this issue and, perhaps, assist the Department, notwithstanding the work those two individuals do within the Department, to see if this money is being well spent or if more money would result in a lower recidivism rate.
On the other matter of the lottery and the charities, I understand Mr. Purcell will get a note for the committee, perhaps from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and his own Department.
Will he please include in that note information on whether the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of Finance or the Department of Justice and Equality were lobbied? Can he answer that question now?
We were told last week that Rehab had a figure in its account for €700,000 and that it had to do with advocacy. It could be for PR or for lobbying. I am trying to establish if the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would comment as to whether it was lobbied and, if so, by whom and when, and likewise, in respect of the Department of Justice and Equality if, Mr. Purcell or his officials were lobbied and, if so, when and by whom?
Perhaps he would check it for us to be absolutely clear and let us have a written note on it.
In relation to Mr. Purcell's comments on the penalty points system, I believe it is a very serious issue, and one that has been highlighted not only by the Comptroller and Auditor General but by many others. As the witness will be aware Sergeant McCabe appeared before the committee in private session. In spite of what you say about two per district and so on in terms of your analysis,28% were not paid. In my opinion that results in a serious loss to the State and as leakage from the State it shows up governance issues in terms of how the whole system was managed. I will not go into the detail of it but I would not like any comment from this committee meeting to be taken as implying it is not that bad. I believe it is very serious and I would like to see much more action taken to resolve the matter. We were talking about delivering summonses or delivering the paper to the offender in person at the end of it. Is itnot amazing that courier companies can go to apartments, the most far-flung places and can deliver to individuals and yet we have a problem. If these summonses and these pieces of paper were not delivered in the private sector they would be bust. They would not accept the percentages of non-delivery that the Department or those involved in this particular instance seem to accept. The percentage of non-delivered items of paper in the case of these issues was 11%. Non-delivery in the transport business is down to 1%. The Department lags behind in terms of a commercial comparison. I am aware there are complications but to allow that situation to continue over the years, without dealing with the issue in some way, is an awful reflection on all of those involved in the Departments or whoever else is steering this through. I would hope Mr. Purcell would take into consideration all of what has happened on this issue recently and get to grips with it rapidly.
Let us not ignore that. The Department has a job to do. The couriers are doing it, the Department should be able to do it and no amount of discussion around this issue will convince me that an efficient system in place; there is not.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
They do not see the distinction between whether it did not arrive because there was a failure of post, or just because a summons did not arrive. They see it in terms of one in five fixed charge notices that are issued do not get acted upon. Once people start to understand that, they can start gaming the system and try to avoid it. Fundamentally, that will undermine the acceptance of it. From a managerial point of view, we have to manage it as a set of processes, but we must always understand the combined effect of it and what it looks like to people from the outside.
I wish to go back to the point made by Deputy Deasy about why change does not happen. Change is difficult. It is hard to make change happen. Very often it can be easier to get over a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and move on. That is one of the reasons we have tried to be more explicit about recommendations in recent reports. We will be coming back, checking, and reporting back to the committee, in a more routine way, on whether or not recommendations made have actually been implemented. Hopefully that will effectively keep the pressure on to ensure that the change happens.
I accept that change is slow and is difficult sometimes. I am not sure that it should take three attempts at legislation to deal with something which Mr. McCarthy characterised as a pretty simple issue, when he identified it and recognised it all those years ago. I accept that in some cases it is slow and can be hard, but I am not so sure that it is acceptable that three different Bills are necessary to correct it.
Is it agreed that we dispose of Vote 24 and Chapter 9 of the 2012 annual report and appropriation accounts of the Comptroller and Auditor General? Agreed. I thank all the witnesses for attending.