Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 October 2015
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
Are the minutes of the meeting of 1 October 2015 agreed? Agreed. There are no matters arising.
We will now deal with correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers. Correspondence has been received from the HSE on prompt payment compensation, to be noted and published. This is an ongoing issue, particularly within the health sector, and chapter 19 of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report deals specifically with this issue. The HSE will be before the committee on 22 October and this chapter and particular issue can be dealt with at that stage.
Correspondence has been received from Dr. Maria Hinfelaar, president of Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, regarding the issue of surplus staff in LIT, to be noted and published. This letter clarifies the position of staff who were supernumerary following the amalgamation of Tipperary Institute to LIT. I note the four surplus staff have been redeployed and the whole amalgamation, on the basis of the points being made by the president, is delivering a better utilisation of resources.
Very briefly, on the concept of supernumerary positions, this is the first time it has come up regarding the positions in LIT. I received recently correspondence from the HSE stating it is unable to provide information on the number of supernumerary positions, if any. Does the Comptroller and Auditor General examine this in the other organisations he audits? It hit the headlines when it came out that three people did not have positions for a number of years. How widespread is this?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
A distinction needs to be made. A framework level of employment is set for each public body. We can have a situation where further people work in the organisation, and a distinction needs to be made regarding people who have jobs even if they are in excess of the permitted level, and this does arise and we do look at it. Most, or all, of the appropriation accounts should declare numbers. Financial statements should also declare the number of staff employed in the organisation. This provides information and feedback to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and supervising Departments in order that they can state they told an organisation it could only have 400 staff but it has 450. This is the feedback mechanism. I draw a distinction between additional nurses or teachers working in classrooms or wards and a situation where staff have no specific purpose delivering outputs or services.
This is the question I wanted to get to, because the HSE told me it does not provide details of staff who may be in supernumerary positions. Based on the LIT experience, do we have any indication as to how many more of these types of positions there are in the public sector whereby people turn up for work who do not have a job?
We will now deal with individual correspondence. Correspondence has been received from an anonymous source regarding funding to Mannix College, County Cork, to be noted and forwarded to Cork Education and Training Board for a note on the matter.
We will now deal with documents relating to today’s committee meeting. Nos. 3C.1 to 3C.6 are the opening statements and presentations for today’s session, to be noted and published.
No. 4 is reports, statements and accounts received since our meeting on 1 October. I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to comment on some of the audit outcomes.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There is clear audit opinion in all cases. With regard to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and the matter reported last year, the same situation was continuing but obviously the aggregates had become greater and I have drawn attention in the audit certificate to two notes relevant to this. Note 2 discloses that pension related deductions from staff salaries held by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service stood at €10.3 million on 31 December 2014 and had still not been remitted as of that date to the Department of Health. On the pension scheme side, the deficit shown by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service financial statements on 31 December 2014 had risen to €92 million from €42 million at the end of 2013.
The 2013 financial statements of the national paediatric hospital development board were listed for consideration today, but the financial statements for 2014 were signed on 1 October and have been submitted.
Is it agreed to note these accounts? Agreed.
We have received further correspondence from HL Commodity Foods regarding previous comments and hearings of the Committee of Public Accounts and I will circulate it to members. I want to have it noted and published in due course. We should get a reply alongside it. Members will not have seen it, so perhaps we should also ask for the reply from the Department in order that we have both before us when we are considering it.
With regard to the report on Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, and our meeting with the Secretary General of the relevant Department, the cost of doing the report was noted at €65,000.
New figures indicate that the cost was €100,000. I am referring to the redacted report which we received. We need to get back to this issue and deal with all the aspects of the report that have been raised with us. I will ask the clerk to put the issue of the CIT on the agenda for next week.
The Committee of Public Accounts seems to be mentioned a great deal in the Dáil these days. Yesterday, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Damien English, responded to a Topical Issue matter on the University of Limerick that was dealt with by this committee. The correspondence dates back to 27 April 2012 and March 2012. There are serious issues to be addressed and yesterday it was revealed that it had been brought to the Minister's attention that there are now legal proceedings in this case. We should receive an up-to-date report on the University of Limerick and the issues that were raised yesterday so that we can discuss them with the HEA when its representatives are next before the committee, which will be shortly.
I agree with the Chairman. There is a reputational issue for the University of Limerick and it is in everybody's interest that it be clarified as soon as possible. These allegations are serious and have been around for a while, so the sooner either the Comptroller and Auditor General or the committee itself deals with this the better.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The allegations that were brought to the attention of the committee in March 2012 were sent to my office but they were also sent to the university, which responded to them by the end of April 2012. We subsequently examined the issues. We were finishing the audits at the time and the fieldwork had been completed on the periods in which these incidents had occurred but we also examined them when we went back in again. Our focus was on whether control lapses, if there were any, were continuing in the organisation. We have followed up on the type of problems that were identified and have drawn to the attention of the university matters in the management letters concerning control lapses.
I will ask the clerk to circulate the correspondence from Deputy Niall Collins and the attachment to it, which outlines everything - as well as the correspondence from the University of Limerick - so that members are kept informed. I will also seek an up-to-date report on the position from the Department.
Our work programme is on the screen. We have agreed with Inland Fisheries Ireland that its representatives will come before us next week. The HSE and the Department of Justice and Equality will also be coming before us in the near future.
As the Chairman will be aware, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill is before the Dáil. When it is passed it will have transferred the functions of the authority to Dublin City Council. I do not know what are the implications of that for the relevance of a non-existing board coming before this committee. How are we getting on with the report we are putting together? At the last meeting, we referred to Longboat Quay and whether or not a couple of paragraphs could be included relating to that. We also asked whether we could have the DDDA before the committee. I do not know what the Comptroller and Auditor General would have to say about that but there is not much sense in a non-existent board coming before us after this legislation has passed.
The report will be completed tomorrow and then circulated. The request to have a comment in it, including the possibility of some recrimination, relating to Longboat Quay was agreed at our last meeting and it will be included. If the legislation is passed and the board no longer exists then we cannot bring them in. There will be recommendations in the report but if members want to make further strong recommendations on the current issue and any other issues that arise in the report they should contact the clerk. That, then, will be our work done.
I suggest that in the context of the work programme we would agree a date for them to come in before the legislation is passed. I do not know how long it will take but the legislation will be dependent on a ministerial order stipulating the date on which the functions will transfer, so I imagine it will be at least some weeks, at the very earliest, before the legislation can be passed.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There will certainly need to be an audited wrap-up set of financial statements in any event, even if the dissolution was to happen immediately or before the end of the year. I would expect there to be continuing accountability arrangements in place. Members should note that it is the chief executive who is accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts, rather than the board, and it is unusual to have a board before the committee, though it has occurred occasionally and, indeed, the chairman of the board was before the committee relating to the Irish Glass Bottle site report. I cannot recall if the 2014 financial statements have been examined. The audit has been completed but they may be available and the committee could centre a hearing around these. I can check the position and get back to the Deputy.
Depending on time, we can conclude the report and circulate it for consultation with members and then decide on a date to bring in the CEO. We can have a session based on the accounts and on our report.
Last week, when NAMA was before the committee, its representatives went through the numbers of social housing units that had been allocated to local authorities, particularly in the Dublin region, but which had been refused. Would it be possible to get a report from the CEOs of the four Dublin local authorities on why, in the context of what is on the news every day, they refused the houses offered to them by NAMA? Would it be possible for us to examine this closely again? The numbers aired here last week took people by surprise and I would like to have an understanding of why they refused them.
We will circulate the list and arising from the Deputy's request we will ask NAMA to give us an explanation, as far as it knows, from each of the local authorities as to why they did not act on the offer.
Regarding the report on wards of court, I have had some correspondence from Ms Mary Farrell. I know that she has been in contact with the clerk to the committee. The question is whether there has been a response back to the committee on the basis of that report.
Yes, we cannot have that. I was just listening. The agenda for Thursday, 15 October, will be financial statements from Inland Fisheries Ireland. We will now invite witnesses for today's meeting to take their seats.