Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Departmental Resourcing: Discussion

1:30 pm

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are in public session. I welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, Mr. John Murphy, Secretary General at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and their officials to the meeting. They are here to discuss resourcing in the Department. I invite Mr. John Murphy to address the committee.

Mr. John Murphy:

I thank the Chairman. It is important to put our resourcing in the context of the operating priorities we have had since 2011. The statement of strategy for the Department from 2012 to 2014 set out a mission and key goals for the Department on the taking of office by the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton.

The mission the Minister set was to support the creation of good jobs by promoting the development of a competitive business environment in which enterprises will operate to high standards and grow in sustainable markets. Our Department was structured to meet this mission, and resources in a resource-constrained environment were allocated accordingly. Our strategy sought to clearly articulate the challenges facing the organisation, identify the options for meeting those challenges and plot the milestones towards delivering solutions. In framing our mission in 2011, the Department had particular regard for the Programme for Government priorities, especially employment creation, against a backdrop of a very challenging economic context framed by acute financial and human resource constraints. In summary, our mission was centred on a strategy for jobs, with an ambitious vision of Ireland having 2 million people in work by 2020.

The key supporting goals for that jobs mission were framed around getting the business environment right and helping enterprises to develop their own potential. Those goals, and therefore priority areas for the allocation of resources, both financial and staffing, were set as championing enterprise through making Ireland the best small country in which to do business and enlisting the widest possible support within and outside Government for this goal and, secondly, improving competitiveness and access to finance to regain the competitive edge necessary to underpin a successful small open economy. The third goal focused on enterprise development and jobs and maximising jobs growth, especially through the development of a strong indigenous enterprise base, the attraction of foreign direct investment and the development of cross-enterprise networks. The fourth goal was to increase exports and to support enterprises achieve challenging export targets. The fifth goal focused on regulation and making markets, including the labour markets, work more efficiently through smart regulation which encouraged innovation, keen competition, high standards of compliance and consumer protection, but without unnecessary regulatory costs. A further goal focused on innovation and developing a broad based innovation strategy to make our enterprises more competitive and developing sectors with potential so as to prioritise sectors of opportunity and systematically remove obstacles and develop enabling policies.

That jobs mission and those key supporting goals informed decisions, since 2011, and resource allocation across the Department and our agencies. Such resource prioritisation was a key management challenge for the Department, and for our individual agencies, at a time when resources were being reduced as the national finances were being brought into better shape. Since the economic downturn in 2008, the Department has had to operate, as have all publicly-funded agencies, in an environment of reduced resources.

The well known phrase of "doing more with less" was a goal. Our Department saw its resources reduced from approximately €2 billion, which included the budget for FÁS and related activity, to €804 million in 2014 and from 1,075 posts to 802 by the end of 2014. Some 200 posts were lost separate to the FÁS related Departmental transfers. It is on record that the Department advised the Minister that it had, in its view, reached the limit of its capacity to downsize while delivering the Government's ambitious agenda on the jobs, regulatory, enforcement activity and related fronts. On the reduction of posts, the net loss of 200 staff, since the moratorium on recruitment was introduced in 2009, is a decrease of over 20%. Naturally, as a result of that decrease in staffing, pressure points have developed in the Department as well as in some of our agencies. This has required careful workforce planning responses such as, for example, the assignment of additional resources to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement at the height of its work in the Anglo and related investigations. In addition, we proactively prioritised tasks to match the reduced staffing levels as well as working with staff to work smarter and more efficiently, including, for example, streamlining business processes for the workplace relations bodies and merging various activities in the employment permit application process. Also, on foot of Government decisions and at the request of the Minister, Forfás was reorganised and its core policy staff integrated into the Department.

That decision was taken to streamline policy-making on the enterprise, science, technology and innovation and broad competitiveness agenda and to enhance the Department's capacity to directly influence those key areas of policy across other Departments and agencies which would be crucial to the delivery of the action plan for jobs and fostering economic recovery.

The priority since 2011 has centred on the jobs agenda in particular and ever more scarce resources have been allocated accordingly in the context of aggregate resources reducing significantly. We have taken steps to address that shortage of resources and have worked with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to obtain sanctions to fill critical posts because now that we have come below the employment control framework target that was set for us we are in a position to do that. We have received sanction to fill several critical vacancies. We are in the process of doing that at principal and assistant principal level and at other grades. We will also, for the first time in five years, recruit at the recruitment grade levels in the new year.

1:40 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Every Department has had to deal with constrained resources. It is one of the facts of post-crisis Ireland and every Department has had to ensure that it delivers but had to do more with less. Against the backdrop of the objectives we set ourselves, which the Secretary General read out, we have delivered very strongly with diminishing resources on championing enterprise and seeking to make this a good business environment. We have gone up in all the rankings for ease of doing business, recorded by the World Bank and the various competitiveness bodies and even the National Competitiveness Council has recorded very significant improvements in key areas.

There is also a strong resurgence in start-ups. Many of the policies we have pursued, such as the establishment of the local enterprise offices, LEOs, have helped deliver that. Our most recent initiative was the Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition, which was massively oversubscribed. More than 1,000 young entrepreneurs applied and we announced the winner last week. This resurgence is due in no small part to the efforts of the Department.

The harmonised competitiveness index has improved and for access to finance we have put out a large number of new non-bank financial sources that were not there before, some administered through our Department such as the micro-finance, the loan guarantee, the development capital fund, the seed and venture capital funds and the innovation funds. They have shown significant take-up and impact in filling what all Members recognise as a gap in access to finance. Most recently the Strategic Bank Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, is being developed and the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF, has put money into that.

The Industrial Development Authority, IDA, has had a record performance in each of the past three years, each one better than the one before, the best in over a decade. We have protected the IDA from any diminution in resources. Even though we have cut staff numbers we have protected the IDA because in the teeth of the crash we believed that winning new external investment was an absolute priority.

On the other front, Enterprise Ireland had a record year last year. It has battled back from a tougher environment.

Enterprise Ireland companies hit their target for 2015 exports in 2013. They well exceeded the targets set by the previous Government and are now setting themselves more ambitious targets. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will be publishing their strategies for the coming years within the next month or two, in which they will set out their ambition to continue this high level of performance and address some of the issues that the committees have frequently raised around regional enterprise.

In terms of regulation, we have undertaken a lot of rationalisation to deliver, as stated by the Secretary General, more effectively in a constrained environment. There has been a number of elements to this, including the merger of the Competition Authority with the National Consumer Agency into a single market focused agency and the reorganisation, by way of legislation currently before the Houses, of the five employment rights bodies to create a single first point of access and a single appellant body. The performance of those bodies is already showing great improvement.

In regard to work permits for Irish based and overseas companies, for which there is considerable demand, the legislation in this regard has been rationalised to ensure more efficient procedures and delivery of the current service in a much more effective manner. A major amendment to our company law structure was recently passed, in respect of which I thank committee members for their support. As a result of this more streamlined legislation it is now easier for businesses to understand their obligations to comply in terms of the management of their businesses.

Our objective throughout all of this is to maintain the highest standards in terms of observation of competition law, observation of employment rights, observation of health and safety standards and so on, while at the same time creating a back office that is more efficient and allows us to deliver in these areas with fewer resources. Much of the same has been done in the area of innovation. Members will be aware of the research prioritisation exercise which examined how our resource budget was being deployed. We sought to focus in that exercise on areas where we could sustain a long-term competitive advantage while having world-class science. We are delivering that reprioritisation of our resources. A measure of this is that all of our science budget allocation now requires a 30% non-Exchequer element as standard. In other words, companies must show they can leverage additional resources to those that we put in.

On developing sectors, we have looked hard at what sectors have a long term and sustainable future and have sought to create an environment within which we can build on them. We have looked at sectors such as the big data initiative, innovation health hub and so on where we can grow long-term competitive advantage and have sought to deploy our resources within those sectors. In terms of resourcing, there will always be a need for more resources and more things we could do if allocated more. To be fair to Government colleagues, they have recognised the importance of enterprise and employment and while we have suffered constraints on the manpower side, we have been able to maintain our capital budgets, which most other Departments were not permitted to do. This has allowed us to support the type of employment expansion we are enjoying. We are determined to continue to support this area. This relates to our central mission, which is a balanced mission that puts employment at the heart of what we do but in enterprises that work in sustainable ways to high standards, protecting employment rights and environmental standards and observing competition and health and safety. That is our mandate. I hope that we are delivering it effectively.

1:45 pm

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The first speaker is Deputy Calleary.

1:50 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister, Secretary General and the officials for their input. The Minister will be politically aware that we want to focus on one specific issue - to which neither the Minister nor the Secretary General referred - that of the management of correspondence within the Department from the authorised officer. He has said that the correspondence was sent to the Minister's home address and office by registered post in 2012 and that no action was seen to have been taken on that correspondence until earlier this year. The Minister has avoided any comment on specifically his role in managing that correspondence and in forwarding it on to the relevant authorities.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This is not a policy matter. The Deputy should address that matter to the Secretary General. I am advised this is not a matter he should raise with the Minister.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It relates to him as the specific complaint, the circumstances of which we are trying to get to the bottom of, is that information was provided directly to the Minister as well. As the Minister is the political head of the Department, I assume he has a role in answering that complaint.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am advised that the question is not specifically policy related. The question of what happened documentation within the Department is not something the Minister micro-manages, rather it is within the remit of the management of the Department.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will rephrase the question. Did the Secretary General receive from the Minister correspondence that was purportedly sent to him in 2012 by registered post? Was that correspondence passed on to him as Secretary General and what subsequently happened that correspondence or information within the Department? What processes were in place within the Department? The Minister has previously publicly said, and I referring to his statement on this, that there was an issue about a retirement around the management of this information. Within the constraints that have been pointed out to me, I ask the Secretary General did he receive from the Minister correspondence or information that was sent to him in 2012 and, as the head of the Department, what he do with that correspondence?

Mr. John Murphy:

I think the Deputy was conflating a couple of different things when he mentioned correspondence sent by registered post and he mentioned an earlier date. I think the document to which he is referring in 2012 is a substantial witness statement which was forwarded at the beginning of December 2012 to the Minister, which we received and which was accompanied by a very large volume of supporting documentation, over 5,000 pages of supporting documentation. That material was examined in the Department but the Deputy needs to understand the context in which this was being provided. The investigations we referring to about are those by an authorised officer under section 19 of the Companies Act 1990 and they go back to 1997. They have their roots in the McCracken tribunal which reported in August 1997. At that time the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment appointed the authorised officer to examine books and documents of Celtic Helicopters and subsequently over the following two years the authorised officer was authorised to conduct a total of seven investigations. Of those, four were completed and three have continued since then and are not yet complete.

The witness statement that was forwarded in December 2012 had originally been requested back in 2004 and 2005 by the Garda in order to complete the documentation that had been made available to it. Over that period of time in the early 2000s, on a number of occasions large amounts of material that had been identified by the authorised officer were forwarded to all the relevant authorities. The Minister is on record as confirming that.

The witness statement that was forwarded in December 2012 was not new.

1:55 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Was it September or December?

Mr. John Murphy:

It was December. It was actually the last day of November and we received it in early December. It was not a new statement and it was not new material. All of the material had been with all of the relevant bodies, including the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Revenue Commissioners, the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. It is a substantial body of material which requires to be carefully examined. There was an issue about a shortage of people, not just of officers in the Department, but of somebody with exactly the right background and skills that knew the context in which the material had been provided and would be in a position to review it. It is a matter of regret that it was not processed as quickly as it might have been or should have been. I have no difficulty in saying that.

One must also understand the volume and complexity of what we were trying to deliver in that particular part of the Department. The receipt of the statement and supporting documentation exactly coincided with finalising the Companies Bill. We had to put together a large team, for example, just to proofread the document, which contained more than 1,000 sections. It coincided with the beginning of a very busy EU Presidency. Our Department had the largest role in the 2013 EU Presidency, because we directly service Council formations across a number of areas including competitiveness, research and employment. We had an extremely busy workload at that time, not just in the immediate division but also across the rest of the Department. Ms Breda Power is from the division and can confirm that. The Minister referred to a number of the things we have been seeking to deliver in that period.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am on record as acknowledging the huge input of the Department in the Presidency. As recently as last Wednesday I acknowledged in the Minister's presence the huge input and co-operation of departmental officials in the Companies Bill. However, as the Secretary General said, the matter had been the subject of previous investigations and it was one of great importance to the State. The Secretary General spoke about the highest standards of compliance being an aim of the Department. The Minister spoke about maintaining the highest standards. Surely, when a new dossier arrived in December 2012, alarm bells should have gone off immediately and an attempt should have been made to get the proper skills, as had been done previously? I point to the recruitment of a Queen's Counsel previously from outside the jurisdiction to examine some of the issues involved. Surely given the political importance that attached to the matter, that should have been done.

When did the examination to which the Secretary General referred take place and when was it completed? The gap that has arisen and the lack of information in that regard has allowed the situation to arise, and is partially responsible for it arising, where people who are named in the report and who may not be guilty of an offence have had their names bandied about in Parliament. The Department received the material in December 2012. At what stage did the examination of the information that was provided get under way? Has the examination concluded or is it still under way? During the examination, were parties outside of the Department involved? I include the Garda in that regard, but I also include agents of the Department such as the ODCE or other body. I need a timeline from the Secretary General on the investigation throughout 2013 and into 2014.

Mr. John Murphy:

It was suggested by Deputy Calleary that the investigation might have been outsourced but this is not the type of work that could have been outsourced.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I do not mean outsourced, but skills are available that could have come into the Department, as had previously been done.

Mr. John Murphy:

What had previously been done was to seek legal advice on the appropriate way to bring certain investigations to a conclusion and to ensure that material that needed to be disclosed to other bodies was disclosed.

As a result, various directions were given by Ministers at that time. The job of examining the witness statement supporting document could really only have been done by a very few officers, including my colleague here, Ms Breda Power, who would have had the main responsibility as the head of that division and who was sufficiently familiar with the background. There were very few others upon whom one could call to do this piece of work. I do not know whether Ms Power wishes to add to that.

2:00 pm

Ms Breda Power:

In looking at the delay in processing the witness statement, it must be considered in the context of the overall staffing reductions in the division, and particularly the senior principal officer who was dealing with this issue on a day-to-day basis prior to his retirement in 2011. When the witness statement was submitted in December 2012, it was, as outlined earlier, in the context of us processing the companies Bill prior to its publication. It was also in the context of a considerable legislative programme and EU agenda. Since 2012 we have processed five Bills and, if one includes the Companies Bill 2012, that is six Bills in that period of time, and almost 40 pieces of secondary legislation.

To go back to the question about when it was processed, it was processed during the course of 2013 and 2014. There was no other official in the division at the time who was familiar with the section 19 investigation. The officials who had been dealing with it prior to that had all since retired for a number of years. The work on enforcement had transferred to the ODCE when that body was established in 2001 and there was very little expertise in the division on enforcement and on this particular piece of work but it has to be considered in the context of the wider agenda that we were facing in the division.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I accept the wider agenda. While I do not want to impinge on the committee, other Departments, including, I am sure, this Department, have brought in retired staff for specific jobs given their experience. Was any consideration given to that?

I am on record as acknowledging the work of the Department, but I want to know, specifically, from Ms Power, in what month in 2013 was an inquiry into this dossier activated?

Ms Breda Power:

I started looking at it in December 2012 when it came in first and then I processed it over the course of the following two years. I could not devote a month or two months on it, which would be required to process it because there were so many other issues with which we were dealing with it.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Did Ms Power discuss it at a management committee? Did she seek support from the Secretary General? Ms Power will be aware of the importance of the document. She will be aware of the Department's history in dealing with the document. Surely when a grenade arrives in on a desk, the grenade gets dealt with first. I am sure Ms Power must have had a sense of the importance of the document and of the seriousness of the allegations.

Ms Breda Power:

It has to be considered in the context that all of the material. The witness statement is based on information and material already submitted to all of the bodies since 2004.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is nothing new in it.

Ms Breda Power:

It is based on the information that was already submitted to all of the bodies. It is a witness statement and it is based on the information that was gathered over the course of the years and that has all gone to all of the bodies.

This was a witness statement that the Garda sought in 2005. In 2006, the Garda indicated that the end of that year was a critical point for the Garda in having the witness statement because of the ten-year aspect in prosecuting taxation offences. The Garda made that clear. In 2005-06, the Garda was actively engaged with the Department in seeking the witness statement but we have no communication from the Garda in regard to the witness statement since 2008 when the Garda acknowledged the huge-effort document that was submitted to them.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Gabhaim buíochas leo as ucht an cur i láthair. I, too, acknowledge the work of the Department in that period of time and also the shocking reduction in the level of resources that were made available.

We are coming from the perspective that the Garda was actively seeking the statement from Mr. Ryan.

There was a view that there was nothing new in the document so therefore its immediacy was not obvious to the Department. That was a decision made prior to going through the 5,000 supporting documents and surely that will be a decision for after those documents have been examined.

Why did this have to go through the Minister's office before it should have gone to the Garda? Should a copy not have been sent to gardaí anyway? Why did it have to spend two years there?

2:05 pm

Ms Breda Power:

It is not true to say a decision-----

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have been advised that it would have required legal advice.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It would have required legal advice to send it to the Garda.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Why would the legal advice not have been forthcoming normally anyway?

Ms Breda Power:

No decision was made in advance of going through the documentation as to whether there was anything new in the material. The Minister has to make a decision under section 21 to release information gathered under section 19 of the 1990 Act. It is our job to advise the Minister about the release of information under section 21.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In December, the initial work was started and we realised it will take quite a bit of time to do it properly. The Department has not had the time to deliver on it because of other issues. To be able to make a decision on the import of a document, it could only happen after it has been fully researched in order to understand if there is nothing new in it. From my perspective, a decision could not be made in advance of that. That would mean front-loading the research of the document.

Ms Breda Power:

No decision was made in advance of reading the material and going through it. It is a very complex piece of work and the witness statement is over 200 pages, with over 5,000 pages of supporting documentation. It had to be read in the context of the material already gone to the different bodies.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Resources are a large constituent element of when things can happen, with the other element being prioritisation. It is the responsibility of the management of a Department, which usually comes down to the Minister at some stage. Why was this resource not prioritised, given that we are talking about a report on tax evasion and the damage that would be done to the resources of the State?

It seems the Minister advises that all matters contained in the statement are covered by the document already submitted to relevant authorities. We know there was a delay in the research of the document, so that judgment of content could not have been made before the document was researched. Even at that stage, surely it is up to a court and judge to decide the relevance of a document sought by the Garda.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The context has been outlined by officials. When this statement was presented to me, I took advice from the officials and it was decided that the witness statement should be issued to the Garda. It was pointed out very clearly that provisions were very particular and not, as the Deputy suggested, a case of bundling this up and sending it to the Garda. The Department can only release information in accordance with companies legislation. It was made very clear that this research would have to be undertaken as to whether the witness statement and information could comply with a release process.

As the Deputy knows, to wrongfully release information under that Act would be a criminal offence so this was something that had to be done. I think the officials have explained the position. This was an inquiry that started back in 1997. It had run over a long number of years through a number of Ministers. A number of documents were produced. Every one of those documents was furnished to the authorities with the power to prosecute or proceed depending on their context. It went to the Revenue Commissioners, the ICDE, the Moriarty tribunal and the Mahon tribunal. All of that information had already been released to bodies that had the power.
The powers under section 19 as I understand it - the officials can explain it more fully - are preliminary investigation powers. The intention always is that where a prima faciecase is found it would be forwarded to the authorities; that had all been done. However, clearly when this witness statement, which had been requested in 2006, arrived in 2012, it had to be examined by the Department and, as I said, that took longer than expected. However, there are understandable reasons for that taking longer than expected - the very detailed work that had to be put into investigating the matters going back through the history of this and the requirement to ensure it was complaint with the terms of release under the Companies Act coupled with the fact of retirement.
There are obviously extenuating circumstances here. It took longer than expected. However, I remind the Deputy that every piece of information on which the witness statement was based was released to the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda, the Moriarty tribunal, the Mahon tribunal and the ODCE. The Revenue Commissioners have already signalled that they dealt with the matter. The Garda has also signalled that it dealt with the matter and reported to the DPP as appropriate.
I understand one of the issues was to ensure that the material was furnished to the Moriarty tribunal in time and it was furnished to that tribunal. The Moriarty tribunal also had full access to the material. That is the backdrop. As the Secretary General has indicated, it would have been better if this could have been processed more quickly, but nothing fundamentally hinged on it, in that all the evidence on which it was based had already been furnished to the various authorities.

2:10 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

People watching this now will be aware that a civil servant was involved in investigating a number of very serious allegations, created a witness statement and provided that witness statement to the Department. Under the Minister's management, the Department seems to have decided before the document was researched that there was nothing in it worth delivering and that it did not deserve the resources to expedite it and give it to the Garda. How could any of those decisions have been made at the start? Give that there are allegations that all of this was part of political obstruction, surely it would have been part of the prioritisation of a Minister to ensure that, first, it was researched and, second, it was passed on as soon as possible.

While there has been a reduction in staff at the Department, there were still 800 people in the Department carrying out a range of responsibilities. Why did the Minister not prioritise it at the start? How could any determination regarding prioritisation or relevance be determined before it was researched?

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As the Secretary General has made clear, no decision was taken before the examination of this witness statement.

No decision could have been made-----

2:15 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

But Minister-----

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

You have asked a question so please listen to the answer.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----and the Department and ultimately, the Minister - under whose name it would be released - in any information they release, have clear responsibilities under the Companies Act to protect people. The Minister and the Department have an obligation to ensure that any request for the release of information is done in accordance with the powers assigned to them. That is what they have done. The Deputy is correct that under the protected disclosure, an official of my Department has raised issues about how this was handled by previous Ministers and various bodies. We have allowed a process to be introduced into our legislative procedure whereby an individual can raise such concerns, and these have been brought to the attention of the Committee of Public Accounts.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

But Minister-----

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Through the Chair, please, and allow the Minister to finish his sentence.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We have a back and forth here, a Chathaoirligh.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is the case and the Committee of Public Accounts has the material available to it and we respect the role of the Committee of Public Accounts in this regard.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Through the Cathaoirleach, a Aire, it is clear there was a decision to deprioritise it. There was a decision not to prioritise it because if there had been a decision to prioritise it, it would happened in a shorter time such as within four months or six months. We know it was not complete until 2014 at some stage. That was a decision. For it not to have been processed meant there was a decision to deprioritise it.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Similarly, did the Minister receive a request in March 2011 to meet the authorised officer?

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Calleary, I am sorry but I cannot allow that question. Deputy Conaghan has already signalled in advance of you and you jumped in ahead of being called.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

A brief-----

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Mine is a very brief question.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Just a second, please. I must ask for order. Deputy Calleary was invited to speak first, then Deputy Tóibín and we are waiting on answers which we are perfectly entitled to do. You also received advice on what can and cannot be asked. It is nothing to do with anybody deciding what can and cannot be asked. It has to do with what legally can or cannot be asked. While it might be frustrating, the Committee of Public Accounts is already dealing with this matter and this committee can only deal with one element today. Deputy Tóibín is awaiting a response from the Minister, so I will ask for that response and I will then invite Deputy Conaghan to pose his question.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There was no decision to deprioritise this. When I met the officials concerned, we decided the best course of action was to release the witness statement as requested and then the work had to be done to prepare for that release. That is a complex piece of work because this is an investigation that has been ongoing since 1997 and which has a large volume of material appended to it, all of which material had been released to the relevant authorities - the Revenue Commissioners, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals, and the Garda Síochána. All of the evidence had been released but the witness statement had to be assessed to see whether it could be released under the terms of the Companies Acts. There was no deprioritisation of that work. I requested that it would be done and, as the assistant secretary said, it was undertaken during 2013 and 2014. I do not have responsibility for allocating resources but it has been acknowledged that retirements occurred in that time and that delayed the speed at which it was done. That is the context.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have about 30 seconds left.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Tóibín, I have invited Deputy Conaghan. You can come in later.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is a very short question and it could be answered by "yes" or "no".

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy, we have agreed that both of you will have ten minutes-----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have 30 seconds left of the ten minutes.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Tóibín, that includes both the answers and the questions. I will invite Deputy Conaghan and then you may come back in later.

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

My question is very brief. What is the relevance of this discussion to this Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It strikes me that it is more a matter of some historic review rather than about contemporary efforts to get more jobs.

It does not strike me as relevant to that agenda, which is a very urgent one.

2:25 pm

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The reason we have this engagement this afternoon is that there was a request from the committee to discuss resourcing in the Department in the context of-----

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It does not seem to be the-----

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is what the objective-----

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It does not seem to be the matter under discussion, unless I am completely-----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is. We have just been told that-----

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Deputies are going on about procedural-----

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Department also has regulatory responsibilities, over which we have oversight.

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is not resources. The Deputy is talking about procedural matters of 15 or 20 years ago.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It happened a couple-----

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This year - 2014.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Could we have comments through the Chair rather than sidebar meetings? Is Deputy Conaghan happy with that clarification?

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I just do not see it as relevant to what this committee is normally about.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Indeed it is. The matter was raised here some weeks ago and it was decided that we would address resources in this context. That is what we are trying to establish here today.

Photo of Michael ConaghanMichael Conaghan (Dublin South Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It seems more like a political jaunt than-----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Our responsibility is-----

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We were given advice previously on what Deputies and Senators could or could not ask and the remit of the committee. We have rights around resourcing and that is what we should be focusing on this afternoon.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Given that it took such an inordinate length of time to process that particular file, has anything changed? If it was not a deprioritisation, but simply the way the system works, given the pressure it is under, what confidence can the Minister give citizens that if another whistleblower delivered such a report to the Department, it would not take another two years for it to be delivered to the relevant authorities?

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It depends on the complexity of what is provided and whether it accords with the sections provided. I am not an expert in the assessment, but it has been acknowledged by the officials that there were resourcing constraints due to the retirement of individuals, which put a strain on the Department such that only one official was in a position to deal with this issue and who had the corporate memory and the knowledge of the history of this, which dates back many years. The Secretary General has acknowledged that was a constraint, which resulted in this taking longer than expected.

We would make every effort that should such a request be made, it would be handled expeditiously. The Department is managing resources to the best effect across a range of issues. That is what we were invited here to discuss. We have had much work to do across a range of issues and we have managed those. It has been acknowledged by officials that, because of a combination of events, this took longer than expected. The Secretary General indicated that it took longer than it should. We recognise that, but the deployment of resources is a matter not for the Minister, who sets the policy objectives, but for the Secretary General, who seeks to deploy the resources to the best effect. That has been done. I do not know whether Mr. Murphy wishes to comment.

Mr. John Murphy:

Deputy Tóibín suggested that there were 800 staff in the Department and surely someone else could have been found to be assigned to this. It is not as simple as that. There were very few people who could be assigned to this for a range of reasons, including in particular the expertise and the corporate memory plus the sensitivity of this matter. This is not a responsibility I could just give to someone else and tell them to sort it out in a few weeks. The Deputy asked whether if another file of that nature landed, we would deal with it more quickly. I hope we would, but I would not want to do it in a way that involved cutting corners in order to be seen to have done it as quickly as possible. It had to be done correctly and properly. That was very important.

It has to be borne in mind that it took a long time for the authorised officer to produce the witness statement in the first place. It was not likely to be possible therefore to review it in a couple of weeks or a month or two. That is not the nature of the task.

2:35 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Was any consideration given to bringing back on a contract basis retired officials who had worked on the file and in the area, as many Departments and agencies have done? Surely, given the importance of the issue - if it was thought to be important, which is subject to debate - and given their familiarity with the information, that would have been the way to deal with it? Were the resource issues around this particular file ever discussed at management meetings?

Mr. John Murphy:

The answer to the second question is no, we never discussed these investigations at the management board because of the sensitivity of the issues. That would have been the practice of my predecessors as well. If there were any discussions, they would have involved the assistant secretary, Ms Breda Power, and myself, or with the Minister as appropriate, but not with the management board or generally.

We did not decide to bring anybody back from retirement to deal with this, although we did in some other areas that were particularly relevant to the EU Presidency.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister and Mr. Murphy and his officials for coming in today. We will now go into private session to deal with housekeeping matters.

The joint committee went into private session at 2.40 p.m. and resumed in public session at 2.55 p.m.