Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 21 January 2016
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
A number of matters need to be finalised today to finish the business of the Committee of Public Accounts as we come to the end of our term of office. We are meeting a delegation from Debt and Development Commission Ireland later. We acceded to its request for a meeting following receipt of its position paper in late 2015. Are the minutes of the meeting of 10 December 2015 agreed? Agreed. Are there any matters arising from the minutes?
We asked the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to provide the following: a breakdown of the figures and costs arising from the creation of the three planned technological universities in Munster, the south east and Dublin. Have the figures come in?
It is noted in the correspondence later on. I will deal with the correspondence received since our meeting on 10 December 2015. At this stage, I wish to note correspondence that has just come from the HSE today. I will give members an opportunity to reflect on it before we deal with it.
No. 3A.1 relates to correspondence from the HSE, dated 10 December 2015. It concerns the report on the foster home and we will deal with that with the issue we have just discussed later. No. 3A.2 relates to correspondence, dated 8 December 2015, received from Professor Andrew Deeks, President of UCD, and concerns the UCD financial statements 2013. This is to be noted and published. No. 3A.3 is correspondence, dated 9 December 2015, received from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and is a follow-up on information requested at our meeting of 19 November 2015. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.4 relates to correspondence, dated 15 December 2015, from the HSE in regard to the North Meath Communities Development Association. This is one of the long running issues we have dealt with. I asked the clerk to review the entire process and his note on the suggestions we are making to deal with the matter was circulated prior to this meeting. It is appropriate to put these recommendations to the committee at this stage. The Committee of Public Accounts recommends as follows: 1. That the current 30-year lease, which is due for review, which can be backdated to 1 May 2014, now presents an opportunity for both parties to correct the lease so that it is no longer capable of multiple interpretations. 2. That the HSE should acknowledge it has now been repaid in full the development grant it paid and that a discount of four ninths will not apply in the future. 3. That both parties agree an appropriate rent, which represents the full market value, that is to be paid with effect from 1 May 2014. If necessary, this rent is to be determined by way of arbitration. 4. That both parties seek to resolve this dispute so that the organisation is given adequate compensation for the fact that it did not receive an appropriate rent for the period from 1 May 2004 up to the proposed review date of 30 April 2014.
This is a community project which gives great benefit to the local area and region. Those involved in the project are volunteers. They have gone through a process and hearing and feel they have been hard done by. Judging from the correspondence and engagement this committee has had on that, this seems to be the case. The recommendations being put this morning are reasonable and I believe they will help resolve the matter and ensure adequate financial payments will be made to the organisation to ensure its continuity and to rectify the rent situation from 2004. I propose that these recommendations be accepted and that we notify the parties involved of the outcome of our discussions on this matter. Is that agreed?
No. 3A.5 relates to correspondence, dated 23 December 2015, received from Mr. Aidan O’Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, concerning the milk superlevy. This is to be noted and published. No. 3A.6 is correspondence, dated 17 December 2015, received from Ms Eileen Creedon, Chief State Solicitor, and is a follow-up on our meeting on 12 November 2015. This is to be noted and published. No. 3A.7 is correspondence, dated 22 December 2015, received from Professor Willie Donnelly, President of WIT, and is a follow-up from our meeting on 10 December 2015. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.8 is correspondence, dated 22 December 2015, received from Mr. Frank Daly, chairman of NAMA, and relates to correspondence with the Northern Ireland Assembly’s finance and personnel committee. This is to be noted and published. No. 3A.9 is correspondence, dated 23 December 2015, received from Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and relates to social housing refused by local authorities. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.10 is correspondence, dated 10 December 2015, received from the HSE. This is a follow-up to our meeting in October 2015. This is to be noted and published. No. 3A.11 is correspondence, dated 8 January 2016, received from the HSE. This is a follow-up to our meeting on 22 October 2015. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.12 is correspondence, dated 15 January 2016, received from Mr. Tom Boland, CEO of the Higher Education Authority. This is a follow-up from our meeting on 10 December 2015. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3A.13 is correspondence received from Mr. Aidan O’Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This concerns the case of Douglas Fannin v. the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This correspondence, along with the correspondence on No. 3B.4, relates to the same issue. A briefing note has been circulated to members on this case outlining the steps we believe should be taken and I will read over this briefing note now.
Members will recall the Douglas Fannin case, which has been the subject of examination by the committee, dating back to the meeting on 18 June 2015. The committee has since followed up with the Department on issues specific to Mr. Fannin’s case. In particular, it has sought a transcript of the court proceedings and a copy of the Owens report. Mr. Owens was the senior counsel in the prosecution of Mr. Fannin.
As outlined in the Department's letter and the letter from the Chief State Solicitor, the requests from the committee cannot be considered as the matter is sub judice.The Department’s line now is that its hands are tied and that any comment could potentially damage the State's defence in any forthcoming proceedings. Members will be aware that the prosecution case taken by the Department against Mr. Fannin led to a severe reprimand from Judge Reynolds, who accused the special investigations unit of being heavy-handed and she questioned the integrity of the prosecution case.
The committee’s position on this case is already part of the public record and there are three key issues, two of which have nothing to do with the civil action being taken by Mr. Fannin. Three key issues remain to be dealt with. First, the Department should confirm whether Mr. Fannin is entitled to compensation in respect of the animals that were seized from his farm in 2009. These animals were subsequently slaughtered and entered the food chain. A TB reactor grant is payable but it is the committee's understanding that this has not been paid. Second, in dismissing all charges against Mr. Fannin, Judge Reynolds questioned the integrity of the prosecution case. Arising from this case, an internal review of the handling of the case was commissioned by the Minister and undertaken by officials of the Department. That internal report has not been published. Given the criticism made by Judge Reynolds, a better outcome could have been achieved if a full independent review of this whole case had been taken. This has nothing to do with the civil case and should still happen. The third issue is the civil case which, as outlined by the Chief State Solicitor, is for damages. While the Department cannot engage with the committee on this, the committee can make a call and ask that both parties engage in some form of mediation.
The case involving Douglas Fannin has taken almost eight years so far. It is time for all parties to move on and get agreement as that will happen anyway. There should not be a need for a court case to sort out the issues. We can take this issue no further, as we are coming to the end of this Committee of Public Accounts, but it is clear from the details I have given now that Mr. Fannin should, in the first instance, be compensated for the animals taken. Also, the issues raised by Judge Reynolds should be dealt with and the report published. Some form of mediation or arbitration should be entered into so that, in view of the findings made by Judge Reynolds, Mr. Fannin is not put through this whole process again. This committee should add its weight to the recommendations I have repeated in support of Mr. Fannin and encourage the sorting out of the matter as soon as possible. He and his family have been put through enough. I ask the committee to agree to the note and the recommendations therein. Is that agreed? Agreed.
We move on now to individual correspondence. Nos. 3B.1 and 3B.8 deal with the an issue of investigation of fraud in Teagasc. We have received a reply from the director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, and this information will be forwarded to Mr. Jarlath Reilly who raised the issue. No. 3B.2 is correspondence, dated 11 December 2015, from Mr. Martin Whelan of NAMA, concerning issues raised by Mr. Patrick Coughlan. This is to be noted and forwarded to Mr. Coughlan.
No. 3B.3 is correspondence, dated 11 December 2015, received from Ms Deirdre McKeogh concerning An Modhscoil, Limerick. This is to be noted and forwarded to the Department of Education and Skills. No. 3B.4 is correspondence, dated 16 December 2015, received from Ms. Eileen Creedon, Chief State Solicitor, regarding the case of Douglas Fannin v.the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
We just dealt with that matter.
No. 3B.5 is correspondence received from Deputy Sean Fleming regarding State funding through the HSE to a medical website, myGP.ie, to be noted and forwarded to the HSE for a note.
No. 3B.6 is correspondence, dated 14 December 2015, received from Mr. Paul Quinn, chief procurement officer, and No. 3B.7 is correspondence, dated 23 December 2015, received from Ms Clare McGrath, chairperson of the Office of Public Works, OPW, regarding the Phoenix Park hire concession. This is to be noted and forwarded to Mr. Paul McQuaid.
No. 3B.9 is correspondence, dated 12 January 2016, received from Mr. Dermot Sparrow, Moss Veterinary Partners, County Kildare, regarding the special investigations unit in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This is to be noted.
No. 3B.10 is correspondence, dated 13 January 2016, received from Mr. Philip Cantwell. This is a letter about the unauthorised dumping of waste by contractors working for Meath County Council on the upgrade of the R158. This is be noted. Mr Cantwell has been in correspondence with this committee for a long period of time. He has concerns about the following matters. One is the legal status of certain companies that have contracts with Meath County Council. The matter should now be examined in detail by the Local Government Audit Service and I also ask that his correspondence be forwarded to the chairman of the audit committee of Meath County Council for appropriate follow-up. Second, the illegal dumping of waste was from the R158. Nobody knows where this material was dumped and it should be followed up by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. This matter was dealt with by way of correspondence, and with the Secretary General. The answers given were unsatisfactory and, at times, the correspondence from Meath County Council on this issue was somewhat misleading and contradicted other statements. I believe Mr. Cantwell has been hard done by in this case in terms of attempting to seek a resolution. Immediate intervention is needed by the Department and the audit committee, both locally and nationally, to ensure that this matter is dealt with in a satisfactory manner. I suggest we take the action outlined in our note and, accordingly, notify Meath County Council and the Department, request that appropriate action and investigation take place and that Mr. Cantwell be involved in the correspondence and that investigation to give his side of the story.
I agree with your proposal, Chairman. I was not present when Mr. Cantwell made his original remarks and brought to our attention his concerns about the unauthorised dumping of thousands of tonnes of waste and the manner in which various contracts were made. However, I have met and spoken to Mr. Cantwell and the issues he raises are very substantial. We read in the letter he sent to the committee that at least 56,000 tonnes, plus 60,000 tonnes and 28,000 tonnes of waste, which is a total of 144,000 tonnes, from phase two of the R158 contract is unaccounted for, and that the possible total may well be approximately 300,000 tonnes. The amount of unauthorised and illegal dumping that has taken place has been one of the banes of the country over the last number of years. To think that even at this point in time we do not know where that unaccounted waste went means there are serious questions to be answered by Meath County Council and by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I agree that the matter should be pursued and that we do it in the fashion the Chairman has outlined.
Is that agreed? Agreed. I should mention, regarding the Fannin case, the matter relevant to Mr. Cantwell, the North Meath Community Development Association and the general correspondence we have had regarding CIT, WIT and the other third level colleges, that the file on each one should be sent to the Taoiseach for information purposes. Before an election is called, the House will be discussing the make-up and chairmanship of committees and their work in terms of the reform that is being put forward by the Government. The four cases I have mentioned give an insight into how the State does not work for the citizen at times. The response from the Departments must be brought to the attention of the Taoiseach and the Government, so they are clear about how the committees function and how often we are frustrated in our attempts to get recognition for problems that individuals and organisations face when dealing with the State.
Sometimes the ingredient that is missing in all of this is a common-sense approach, an approach whereby the State can recognise the wrong it has inflicted or brought about in a particular case and can rectify it without it costing the State a fortune. In the Fannin case, significant moneys have been paid out by the State. When dealing with the office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, we were told that a better approach can be put in place in respect of how the State deals with legal matters and getting better value for money and better outcomes in each case. These four, particularly the first three, highlight the issues that individuals face. Even in the case of the universities, we have dealt with Waterford Institute of Technology and the case of Mr. Byrne, how we feel about it and how wrong was done in that case as well. It might be helpful for the understanding of those who are creating the legislation dealing with reform to be informed about these matters, to assist in prevention rather than what is happening at present, which is throwing good money after bad in the defence of some of these cases. We have agreed on all of that so can we agree to forward those files, by way of information, to the Taoiseach's office? We will return to the item on the HSE.
There is a last item of correspondence. No. 3B.11 is correspondence received from Mr. Lar Bradshaw regarding the Committee of Public Accounts report on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. The correspondence is to be noted. Mr. Bradshaw has raised concerns about the committee's report on the DDDA which dealt with the purchase of the Glass Bottle site. A briefing note has been circulated to members and with the agreement of the committee a reply to Mr. Bradshaw will issue. Perhaps the committee will agree to, first, a comprehensive reply being issued to Mr. Bradshaw along the lines contained in the note; second, that we revise the report to correct the typographical errors; and, third, that we include, as a new appendix, his letter and the reply of the committee. Members have a further note on that detailing the background and so forth. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Before we conclude it, with the Chairman's indulgence, I wish to add an item. I received it from Mr. Kevin Browne, who had a catering contract with the OPW, then with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and subsequently with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I provided it too late for it to be circulated to the members but I would appreciate if the clerk would take the opportunity to look at it. It indicates that certain irregularities took place with regard to the contract itself and with regard to matters relating to the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The end result is that Mr. Browne lost his contract and incurred a bill. He feels that the terms under which he had operated his catering contract in the past were unilaterally done away with. I would appreciate it if we could consider how we might deal with it. He lost his tax clearance certificate and there were irregularities with certain officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in terms of improper contacts to ensure that would happen.
Perhaps the clerk would have a suggestion as to how we might progress it in respect of both the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
We could forward the letter to the Department and to Revenue, if that is necessary, and ask for a note on the matter. Following that, we will have to forward it to the new committee. My understanding is that when the work of this committee is interrupted by an election, the newly appointed committee can return to the work that was being done and continue from where the previous committee members left off, so that issues like the one the Deputy raised do not get lost in the transition. That is why the cases of Fannin and Cantwell, north Meath and the universities can be taken up again by a new committee. They are not lost because they will be recorded in the notes and minutes of this meeting. If the Deputy wishes, we can immediately write to the Departments concerned and ask for a response.
I want to mention one issue regarding road schemes, particularly in County Galway, although I am sure it applies right across the country at the moment. Road realignment works are going on, which the Department is funding local authorities to carry out. I am aware of two cases in which the land was subject to a compulsory purchase order, CPO, and taken away from the landowners, yet no payment has been given out. Some people get paid while some do not; some people get contacted and some do not. There is a goodwill payment that people in some parts of the country seem to be getting while others are not.
Although it goes through the local authorities, it is the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport that is funding these projects. It seems to be that once the CPO is agreed and the landowner gives over the land, negotiations stop completely. I am trying to find out if the Department is aware of this and why there is not a strict, set timeline. At the end of the day, the landowners are doing their best to help the road realignment works. Funding is allocated from the Department to take care of this cost, yet there are certain situations in which no one has had any contact regarding the purchase of their land. This is all taxpayers' money. Is the Department aware of this, and what can it do to make sure there is a more streamlined process? If a CPO and a goodwill payment are agreed, people should actually get paid.
The clerk can write to the Accounting Officer and send a transcript of the issue you have raised. The same applies to the appointment of arbitrators in the case of Padmore & Barnes in Kilkenny; they were told they would have to wait 12 months. That delay does occur, and maybe the Department should be made aware of it. Perhaps a letter to the appropriate Departments would place it on record at this stage.
There was one item I missed out on, No. 3A.9 from NAMA, on the provision of units for the purpose of social housing. We got a report from NAMA, but when we read it we are scarcely the wiser. This concerns the famous 6,574 units which were originally identified by NAMA for consideration by the local authorities. The local authorities decided that 4,048 of the units were not suitable. NAMA breaks down the reasons for those decisions as follows: for 1,130 units, no demand; for 1,175, no sustainable community; 84 units were rejected as not suitable; and the last 1,579 were no longer available. This is extremely confusing and raises major issues. The matter was raised in the Dáil yesterday by Deputy Micheál Martin. Although 6,500 units were made available to local authorities for social housing in the present housing crisis, over 4,000 were declined as being unsuitable in one way or another. In the last month or two, however, NAMA went ahead and sold them all and they were snapped up by private developers. Yet they were not suitable for social housing even though we have the biggest social housing crisis in the country. The explanation certainly only confuses the matter.
Even though the local authorities are not answerable to us in any way and we cannot bring them before us, I do think we should write to them. We have the list of all the local authorities here and the numbers of units they accepted or refused. We should write to them and make them answerable - ask them to explain why in this crisis they were able to refuse out of hand two thirds of the units offered by NAMA.
Because NAMA was before us and it is a Department issue as well, maybe we can ask the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for a response along the lines you have requested. It is an issue that will remain relevant after the election and will certainly be part of the work of the next Government also. We can do that.
Did Deputy Deasy want to contribute on the HSE issue?
I will start it off anyway. All the members will be aware that we received a report from the HSE. The main reason it was sent to members is contained in the last couple of pages. The issue is an apology to what they refer to as the "service users" of the foster home in the south east, in respect of which there have been allegations of very serious sexual abuse. It also addresses the poor care across the board for the 46 or 47 families or children that were involved, and cites significant failings on the part of the health boards and the HSE in dealing with this entire issue over the course of 30 years plus. On the face of it, getting an apology and an admission of failings from the HSE was important. In some cases people had been fighting legally for some kind of redress from the State for seven years. The Chairman has been involved in this as well and is aware of the issues.
I want to touch on one particular aspect that could be characterised as troubling. When word reached the individuals who were representing these children that an apology had been issued by the HSE, it was countered very quickly that the apology had not happened. Some people might have said a mistake was made - that people were instructed but forgot to do so, or whatever. As it turns out, it is a bit more sinister than that. A meeting was arranged for 10 December with one particular service user and the individuals who care for her. The meeting was flagged by the HSE as an update process which would deal with the recommendations within the Conal Devine report. Those recommendations were published only after the Information Commissioner got involved and forced the HSE to publish them. There was no mention of an apology and no acknowledgement or mention of any failings being discussed at this meeting. All the social workers were informed of was that it would be an update process, and that is what it was. The crux is that the people who organised the meeting did not even know they were supposed to apologise. It is incredible. At the meeting, no apology was given.
This is the firm opinion of some of the individuals who were in attendance. They make a good case. After seven years of fighting the HSE legally and otherwise and given the fact that a civil case was ongoing, had an apology been given, they would have asked for it in writing immediately. This was a significant development. Were the HSE to admit failings, it needed to be recorded and the people involved would have jumped on that, but it did not occur.
There is another part to this issue. The HSE has today rebutted a story in yesterday's Irish Examiner. According to the HSE, it contacted the birth mother to apologise to her for the failings regarding her daughter. I have had that checked out - it did not occur. People tell me that the birth mother has now been contacted independently but that she says that has not occurred either. If one stands back to consider this, it is amazing. If it is the case - I believe it is - that a story or sequence of events has been constructed by the State agency tasked with the care of these individuals after the fact, it is disturbing. The depravity of it is unbelievable. One would expect some sense of justice and compassion from the HSE. The health boards placed these individuals in care. Subsequently, those people were treated appallingly because the State did not provide reasonable oversight. They are now being treated as the enemy because of the potential legal cases that would cost the State a great deal of money and, more importantly, endanger people's careers. That is what we are getting at.
Yesterday, the Chairman was quoted as saying that the HSE had been dragged kicking and screaming into this apology. On examination, the situation is actually worse than that. If the State agency that is responsible for the care of mentally disabled children and the alleged savage abuse over years that has been described to me - I will not go into detail - is now involved in constructing stories about apologies that have not been given so as to sate public affairs considerations and members of the Committee of Public Accounts, we have a serious problem with the HSE internally. That is just rotten, but it is what has occurred. The depravity of it is staggering.
Someone from the HSE will revert to me and say that it did not happen, but I know exactly who was in that room, what occurred, what did not occur and the tenor and content of the phone call that occurred subsequently. One might wonder whether a mistake had been made regarding the apology, but I am questioning what value the HSE places on the mentally disabled individuals who were subjected to this savage abuse. That is at the core of the issue and is what we have been dealing with for the past year. We have come to this conclusion and are beginning to question the value that the State agency places on these individuals. I do not believe that it puts a great value on them. That is clear. The HSE's response to something like this typifies what our committee has been doing and what we have forced it to do.
I am on firm ground regarding my facts about the phone calls made, the meetings conducted, what was said and what was not said. This points to a greater issue within the HSE. This is appalling and disturbing.
I am appalled by what Deputy Deasy has revealed today and previously. It demonstrates that it is still the inclination of State institutions to circle the wagons when there is a major problem. This is one example. Although the dumping of waste in County Meath that was mentioned is much less serious, it is another example. I am also aware of a case relating to the old County Dublin VEC.
All of this means that much more work needs to be done to make people who try to avoid their responsibilities pay. Some people in those institutions need to be removed. While the Government has done a fair bit of work to reform the public service, more needs to be done. I hope that it will be. The case raised by Deputy Deasy is a particularly appalling one, but the wider culture still exists and must be changed.
I agree with Deputies Deasy and Dowds. What is happening is frightening, in particular given that these people are the most vulnerable in society, but I am not surprised. This seems to be a problem across the service. In a case in my constituency, foster parents had a child in their care who was removed from them. For the three years since, they have been trying to get information, but the wagons have been circled. They have been through turmoil, never mind what happened to the poor child who was only two or three years of age when taken from the home. Nothing was proven. It is shocking. That such a culture has been allowed to develop to this extent in supposedly trustworthy State bodies is beyond belief. This is a Government issue and, although the Government cannot manage the running of every State agency, there need to be major changes.
I will add my voice. The whistleblower in this case made a disclosure to me and, in turn, I brought it to the attention of Pearse Street Garda station, which I was obliged to do. I have had one telephone call since making that public disclosure. Following that, I met a local sergeant who told me that there was no body of evidence on which to bring forward a prosecution. At least, that is what the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, had stated. This is extraordinary. As Deputy Deasy mentioned, 47 families are involved. The social worker involved who has been very professional and deeply concerned has fought the system for years to try to represent one of the individuals concerned.
After reading the paperwork on these cases, one feels sick.
It is also disturbing that it can take place in this country and that the particular foster home was receiving vulnerable individuals with profound intellectual disabilities from the health boards at that time and another agency dealing with such cases. Independently and at the same time, State agencies were told there was deep concern about the individuals involved by the UK authorities. Having had the matter reported and raised within the HSE and then publicly at a HSE conference, nothing happened. The questions raised before the committee related to the cost of reports. The costs in this instance are insignificant. However, the issue came to our attention on foot of the costs involved, value-for-money issues and so on. When Deputy Deasy and I raised the matter with HSE officials, their response clearly demonstrated the culture that still exists within State agencies to circle the wagons and defend the organisation at all costs, regardless of what further damage that might do to citizens or the organisation in question. We have had this in the Fannin and Cantwell cases, the north Meath organisation and, indeed, with some of the universities. This culture is demonstrated in clear terms when it comes to issues within the HSE.
The rebuttal, to which Deputy Deasy referred, is dated 21 January 2016. I am not aware of the detail outlined by the Deputy but I am absolutely appalled that, at this late date, such a line of defence would continue. It is perverse and insane that the organisation would continue down this road when it should address the professional needs of those who were sexually or otherwise abused and try to identify - within the organisation - why this was not uncovered. The lady in question turned up and acted out sexual acts on the prompt of a word. She is profoundly intellectually disabled. The fact that we are discussing this issue might put pressure on the Garda and the HSE to bring about action on it that would show a State that is compassionate and that has retained some humanity. I would like to believe that there is at least that much left in the State.
At the last count, when we were dealing with the other four cases, I suggested that because we are coming to the end of the Dáil term and in order for this to continue, we should minute this issue comprehensively, as we would do, from today and send a copy to the Taoiseach's office to bring to attention of Government the failings of the State in the cases Deputy Deasy has outlined, to ask it - at this late stage - to address them and to deal with the inaccuracies in this correspondence from the HSE. We cannot stand by and have these individuals who have been deeply affected by this left without professional help and without knowing that they will get that help. I support the Deputy and I ask the committee to recommend that the HSE be responded to in the context of this discussion. I also recommend that our correspondence on this be forwarded to the Taoiseach's office for information in order that, in terms of the reform, it knows about this. That is the least we can do.
Deputy Deasy is dealing directly with that individual. The individual is outside the HSE in an organisation providing the service. That organisation is supportive of the individual because it is aware of the lengths to which the individual went in order to protect one of the clients involved. I have also been told that it has been difficult for the organisation to maintain its funding. The Deputy can take from this that the whistleblower and the organisation are in a pretty cold place at present.
The Deputy has asked a question that probably should have been asked a long time ago but was not. I have contact with the individual in question and it is clear it has been a nightmare dealing with the HSE, on a professional level, in a number of ways. This particular individual is tough, however, and she is a person of conviction regarding what happened and what needs to be done. It has been an appalling experience. As far as the incidents and the apology are concerned, they will be contradicted. We know the playbook with regard to the HSE. They have put it in writing now. I think I know what happened or did not happen on a number of occasions. We are getting to the end of the road regarding who can provide accountability and the Chairman has alluded to this. It rests with An Garda Síochána. That investigation has ended on one level but, as I understand it, a new investigation could potentially take place. That centres, under legislation on the Statute Book, on whether there is a case to be made for criminal negligence when it comes to the people tasked with caring for these children who, effectively, were thrown into a particular foster home and forgotten about without any oversight in the years afterwards. When the warnings occurred, they were ignored. In one case, serious concerns were documented and backed up and the girl involved was sent back to the home.
We are getting to the end of the road regarding accountability. The Garda may be considering this, possibly for the first time in the State's history, from the standpoint of criminal negligence on the part of State employees regarding the lack of care provided to vulnerable children. I cannot say if that is happening but it is on that basis that any new Garda investigation will proceed.
We started all this as a result of the amount being spent on reports compiled by former HSE employees. Recommendations were made by the HSE and sent to the Department of Health. Where are they? Two months later, they have not seen the light of day. What is going on there? The lack of urgency about this across the board is stunning. A senior counsel is examining the terms of reference. Reports that cost hundreds of thousands of euro, which were concluded years ago, have also not seen the light of day. There has been no accountability within the HSE when it comes to managers who dealt with this. We have seen many press releases stating, "We have changed the system", particularly in the past year, funnily enough, because we got involved. Guidelines and procedures have changed miraculously within the executive. Substantively, there has been no accountability.
It rests with the Garda Síochána. I am not holding my breath. No offence to the senior counsel, but his terms of reference are very narrow. We are getting at something a little different. As well as sending it to the Taoiseach's office, we should send it to the Garda Commissioner's office.
I was not here when the original allegations were brought to light. The work Deputy Deasy and the Chairman have done reveals an appalling catalogue of failures by the HSE and the arrogance of the attitude that all it has to do is circle the wagons and defend its system.
We are discussing the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people. The matter must be kept on the agenda and we must ensure it is pursued to the greatest level of accountability possible. It should go to the Taoiseach's office as an example of a State body that defends its ethos and protects its people rather than acknowledging what has happened and going out of its way to ensure it never happens again. This defensiveness - pulling down the shutters and refusing to say openly what the situation is, acknowledge it accurately and take steps to deal with it - is the worst thing in a public body. In such a situation, it must be pursued at whatever level. I welcome the suggestion that we write to the Garda Commissioner to ascertain whether it can be examined in terms of criminal negligence.
We will write to the Garda Commissioner and Taoiseach and respond to the HSE, perhaps send a transcript of the meeting and say for the HSE to treat vulnerable individuals who are intellectually challenged in this way is to deprive people without a voice of their rights. Strikingly, the Committee of Public Accounts has been the committee to take up the challenge and I commend Deputy Deasy on his work on it. We note it and will pursue it as agreed.
Documents relating to today's delegations, including the opening statement, are before the committee and are to be noted for our next sessions. Reports, statements and accounts received are noted from Nos. 4.1 to 4.16. No. 4.13 is a report on the Special EU Programmes Body. According to the audit outcome, "Attention is drawn to Note 23 which sets out the current status of investigations into two projects, funded in past years, where ineligible expenditure of £581,000 has been identified." The audit outcome of No. 4.15, County Limerick Vocational Education Committee is, "Attention drawn to weaknesses in the committee’s control over capital projects and the steps being taken (by Limerick and Clare ETB) to resolve the matter." No. 4.16 is University College Cork, and the audit result states:
UCC recognises a deferred pension funding asset (a total of €1 billion), which is consistent with the approach to pension accounting generally across the university sector. However, within the total is an amount of €10.7 million in respect of professional added years.
These are issues to which our attention has been drawn regarding these accounts and they can be taken up by the next committee. All of those accounts are to be noted.
No. 5 is our work programme. We have scheduled a meeting for next week to deal with the postal code project. Most committees are finishing their work this week. Do the members want to schedule a meeting for next week to deal with the matter?
We should do it. One issue that has not been dealt with is the set-back distance of wind turbines, which the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources deals with. We could ask about it. It is reasonable. I am flagging it.
Are we agreed that we will hold a meeting next week? Agreed. We will deal with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources regarding postal codes and the issue Deputy Deasy raised.
The set-back distance is 500 m and there is a suggestion that it be extended to 700 m. The Department is preparing reports, but no decision has been made. It is a point of contention between the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. A resolution is needed.
The Chairman raised the case of Danny Byrne and theSkifjordand the correspondence that was sent, which he raised on numerous occasions regarding the Ombudsman's report. It is a shocking indictment that, despite the report, the money has never been settled with the family concerned.
It has been going on for five years. A clear precedent was set. It went to the European Parliament. The father was lost at sea off Donegal and a ruling was given that the family was not eligible for the lost at sea scheme. The Chairman knows the case very well. It is a major injustice that it has not been dealt with over the past four or five years.
The man's widow is seriously ill and it is not just the money but the principle and the recognition that a grave injustice was done. It is not a huge amount of money. More important is the recognition, understanding and respect for the family concerned. The Ombudsman's office ruled against the Department and it should have been settled. No Minister has taken responsibility to do so. It is not good enough.
Is there any other business? That brings our public session to an end. We will go into private session to deal with the Debt and Development Coalition Ireland delegation. I ask members to stay on for it.