Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 21 September 2016
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are now in public session and are moving on to our normal, routine items. Before we do that, however, I want to make people aware of the discussions we had in private on our work programme and specifically on our examination of the special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on Project Eagle, the sale by NAMA of its Northern Ireland loan book. I wish to confirm that we will be examining the report, as we are obliged to do, and that at our meeting on Thursday next, 29 September, the Comptroller and Auditor General will be our first witness and we will have a question-and-answer session with him. After that, we will move on to meet with the chairman and chief executive of NAMA. The latter will take up a considerable amount of time on Thursday afternoon.
On the following Thursday, 6 October, we will meet the Minister for Finance in the afternoon. It has been proposed to put arrangements in place to invite the other members of the board of NAMA to appear, as a group, and Mr. Brian Rowntree, who was a member of the Northern Ireland advisory board of the agency. We will also invite those who were party to the phone call with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in early January 2014. The participants in that phone call were the Minister for Finance, Mr. Frank Daly, chairman of NAMA, Mr. Declan Reid from the Department of Finance, Mr. Ronnie Hanna, a NAMA staff member, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and Mr. Frank Daly have already been confirmed as attendees. We will be asking Mr. Reid to attend. We will not be inviting Mr. Hanna at this stage because of other issues. We will also invite Mr. Robinson and Mr. McGuinness to attend a meeting. In addition, we will be inviting officials from NAMA and from the Department of Finance and, in particular, the officials who were liaising with each other in 2013 and 2014, including not just the current Secretary General of the Department of Finance but also the person who held that post at that time.
Following those few meetings, we will review the situation and determine where we go next with our examination of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report.
May I suggest that we do not entirely close the book on that. I know the Minister has, at last, confirmed that he will be here but we might require him to return. We also need to inform the NAMA representatives that their appearance on 29 September will not be a one-off but-----
The committee will probably have to consider holding some meetings on Tuesdays because we have our normal work to do on Thursdays as well but we will come to the dates of the meetings in due course.
The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 21 July, 2016. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. The second item is matters arising out of those minutes not already covered in the rest of our documentation. I do not believe there are any matters requiring further consideration. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is correspondence received since our previous meeting. No. 69A is a briefing document from Mr. Gerry Quinn from the Central Bank which we dealt with at our earlier session. No. 73A, from the Central Bank, also relates to our earlier session. The briefing document we received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was also discussed at our earlier session, as was the opening statement from the Department.
Nos. 17B, 18B, 19B, 20B and 21B are responses from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform arising from reports produced by the previous Committee of Public Accounts on the Bytel project, wards of court, fishery harbour centres, costs associated with undelivered capital projects and the Dublin Docklands Authority. At this point, I suggest that we dispose of the responses from the Minister on the Bytel project regarding fishery harbour centres, costs associated with undelivered capital projects and the Dublin Docklands Authority but that we hold open the one on the wards of court because we are still receiving correspondence on that. We will move on with the rest.
No. 47B is a follow-up letter from the HSE arising from our meeting on 15 July and providing information that the committee requested. That is noted.
No. 48B is correspondence from Professor Brian Norton, President of Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, providing information requested by the committee regarding the non-competitive procurement and advance payment for library services by the DIT. We all know that the company concerned went into receivership or administration and that approximately €700,000 had been paid upfront for a service that was not delivered. We received a very extensive report, over 100 pages long, on that so we will hold the matter over until members have had a chance to look at the report. We will not dispose of it yet.
No. 49B is a letter from the Minister for Finance providing up to date information on the NTMA and the remuneration of its director, which was requested in July. That is noted.
No. 52B is a follow-up letter from the Office of Public Works providing information arising from the strategic planning and flood risk meeting we had in July and that is also noted.
Item No. 57B is a follow-up letter from the HSE, arising from our meeting in July, providing further information regarding the oversight of section 38 and section 39 agencies. We will note that and hold it over because we will be returning to that topic in due course.
No. 64B is an e-mail from Ms Orla Kenny of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation relating to the late payments legislation and how it is being interpreted differently by Government Departments and agencies. Ms Kenny points out that the Department is taking steps to address this issue and that a memorandum for Government is being prepared. She has expressed the wish that we delay writing more formally to the Department until this memorandum has been finalised. It appears the matter is progressing well and we will await the finalisation and approval of the memorandum to Government and look forward to receiving a copy of it.
No. 66B is a letter from Mr. Fred McBride, chief executive officer at Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, regarding contracts awarded without a competitive tendering process in 2015. We asked for that at our meeting in July and have received a very comprehensive response, which we will note.
Category C correspondence is from private individuals who wrote to the committee. Nos. 14C, 44C and 45C relate to the wards of court issue.
We will hold them over for further consideration. These items were referred to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the clerk informs me a response was received this morning. Can we agree to note these items and, when the Department's response is circulated, decide at the next meeting what further action needs to be taken? I have not yet read the response.
No. 46E is correspondence from an individual concerning his relocation from his home by the HSE and mental disability services. It is a handwritten letter concerning Meath disability services. I propose that we write to the HSE for a response and, when we get one, decide what to do then. I would not like to dismiss the correspondence if it concerns mental health services.
No. 50C is a letter from Mr. Gerard O'Leary, director of the office of environmental enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency. He provides an update on the matter raised by an individual, namely, dumping on his land in County Meath. I propose that we forward a copy of the correspondence to the individual and if he reverts to us, we will deal with it.
No. 51C is a copy of a letter that was sent to the Minister for Health regarding the promotion of private health care and the wastage of public moneys by the HSE. The letter was circulated to most Oireachtas Members and we will note it.
Correspondence has been received from an individual concerning the alleged misuse of public funds within the National Ambulance Service. I propose that we forward the correspondence to the HSE for a response. When we receive a response, we will consider the matter.
No. 54C is a copy of correspondence sent to all Dáil clerks and Deputies regarding the Central Remedial Clinic pension fund. A copy of the independent actuarial report is attached. We will note the correspondence. I am sure the issue has been dealt with directly by the health committee.
Nos. 55C.1 and 55C.2 are a letter and a briefing note from Mr. Ray Mitchell of the HSE regarding abuse at a Brothers of Charity facility in Glanmire, Cork.
A copy of the letter from Ms Una Nagle, director of services at the facility, is also enclosed. Is it agreed that we send a copy of the correspondence to the individual who contacted us about the matter? Agreed.
No. 58C is an e-mail from Deputy Josepha Madigan asking us to invite the Olympic Council of Ireland to appear before us in the light of the public funds it receives from the Irish Sports Council. I understand she wants to withdraw the letter, but we will hold it over and let her formally do so at the next meeting.
No. 59C is a letter from the operations manager of a translation company. The person concerned raises an issue with the evaluation process for mini-tenders under the Office of Government Procurement framework. I propose that we write to the Office of Government Procurement for a response, at which stage we will deal with the matter.
No. 60C is a letter from a group called Active Members of Bord na gCon Employee Benefits Plan. Enclosed are three items of correspondence to Bord na gCon's CEO and a copy of the public statement made by Bord na gCon on a newspaper article. While the letter requests the committee to put certain questions to the Minister, it deals primarily with policy issues. Given our role, we should ask the clerk to refer a copy of the letter to the relevant Oireachtas committee, namely, the agriculture committee, as this is a Bord na gCon issue. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 61C is a letter from Freight Transport Association Ireland concerning the rising cost of motor insurance. This is a matter for the Oireachtas finance committee which held meetings on the issue last week. We will note the letter.
No. 62C is a letter from IBEC drawing the committee's attention to priorities in the context of Brexit. It has been sent to other committees also. We will note the correspondence.
No. 63C is a letter from the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies, with a number of attachments, notifying the committee of the fourth annual public accounts committees symposium in London on 17 and 18 October. It was probably directed to me as Chairman, but I am not in a position to attend. If any member would like to represent the committee at the symposium, will he or she, please, contact the clerk and we will make an estimate of the cost of the travel proposal. I would be interested in attending, but am not in a position to travel. Someone can deputise for me, if he or she so wishes.
No. 65C is an e-mail from Deputy David Cullinane in which he refers to the issues raised in the "Spotlight" programme on Project Eagle. This issue has been well discussed and we will deal with it in the context of our examination of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report.
No. 66C is a letter, with various newspaper articles attached, from an individual regarding Horse Racing Ireland, HRI. The individual concerned has been in regular contact with other committee members about the matter. I am unsure as to how we might progress it. I propose that we return to it. Deputy Bobby Aylward wishes to make a point.
The previous Committee of Public Accounts, of which I happened to be a member, asked questions of HRI. I do not have the exact facts. We wrote to HRI and received a response, but it was not satisfactory for the person who wrote this letter.
I think so. I will be up front, in that we all received the letters. I spoke to the Minister. There were issues about the man's contract, but he has been appointed for a third term. That is unusual, but there were reasons for it which might have been good or bad. We will ask the Minister to respond to us on the issue.
What is our role in this regard? Can the Comptroller and Auditor General become involved? The issue has been kicked to touch each time. Either we deal with it and remove it from the agenda or we do not, but we need to examine it at some stage. We need guidance on where to go. What are the issues involved? It sounds like there may be a history, but I do not know. We have been snowed under. I have spoken to the person concerned. I make no apologies, as we are dealing with as much as we can deal with, but at some stage we must make a decision on how to proceed. Does the Comptroller and Auditor General have knowledge of the issue? Has he examined it?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I have also received correspondence over a number of years from the individual concerned. On the specific issue of the contract extension, I mentioned during the first part of the meeting that there was a requirement in the annual financial statements of a public body to disclose the full remuneration of chief executives. It is a matter that is perfectly within the scope of the committee to discuss. It is the body that pays the money-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
As in our discussion on remuneration matters, with sanction. To a certain extent, this falls within a policy area and is not something I can examine. I cannot make recommendations or comments on the level of salary approved for an individual. I can only ensure it is reported in line with-----
I understand what Deputy Catherine Connolly is saying. We will write to the Minister about the specific issue. The individual concerned is contacting the committee because he believes a body that receives substantial public funding - HRI receives a substantial grant, as does Bord na gCon - should be answerable to the committee. He has a complaint against the organisation and believes we have a role in terms of accountability.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There is a relatively unusual provision which enables the committee to examine HRI. The same applies to Bord na gCon. It is included in specific legislation and the clerk might need to look at it. There are some activities in respect of which the agencies are accountable to the agriculture committee.
Some matters come to be examined by the Committee of Public Accounts. I have not looked at it recently. There may be demarcation issues in this regard.
That is fine for now. There has been protracted correspondence with many organisations. As Deputy Connolly states, we need to bring it to a conclusion at some stage. We are not in a position today to do that, but we will come back to it.
The next item of correspondence is a letter from an individual in respect of Meath County Council and previous correspondence to the PAC. The person involved has contacted the clerk to the committee and asked that we defer consideration until next week, which we have agreed to.
Finally we received a protected disclosure before the recess and have been contacted again by the individual. I would like it noted that we will return to this. We are getting legal advice on that disclosure. We did not get to deal with it before the recess but we will come back to it. That is the biggest item on the agenda.
Other items are the financial statements and accounts received since our meeting on Thursday, 21 July. Members can view the schedule on their screens. We can address these quite quickly. I have looked at them and some of them do not present a problem. No. 4.1 is the accounts of Pobal, which has received a clear audit opinion but the statement on internal financial control discloses that an audit, by Pobal, of a child care organisation funded by it identified irregular payments estimated at €500,000 in relation to the community child care subvention and early childhood care and education programmes.
I think we will write to Pobal in respect of its 2015 accounts and ask it for a detailed information note on that issue. Is that agreed? Agreed. When we get that note, we can decide what to do then.
No. 4.2 is the accounts of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.3 is the finance accounts and the annual statement of the transactions of the Central Fund is only €58.6 billion. That is the entire State finances -----
It has received a clear audit opinion. We are safe for the moment. No. 4.4 is the accounts of the Pensions Authority, which has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.5, Teilifis na Gaeilge received a clear audit opinion, but attention is drawn to note 5, which sets out that the director general operated without a contract since March 2014. The appointment of a director general requires Government approval. Government consent was not obtained for the director general's previous contract which covered the period 2010 to 2014. Do we know if the director general has a contract now?
We will write to Teilifis na Gaeilge asking for the up-to-date position. No. 4.6, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.7 is the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland which has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.8 is the Heath Insurance Authority which has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.9 is the Dublin Docklands Development Authority which received a clear audit opinion for the accounting period 2014. However, professional services availed of in 2014 at a cost of €578,000 were not procured in compliance with national procurement guidelines.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Yes, it is. The assets and liabilities will be transferring to Dublin City Council, but in the meantime the authority continues to exist. Effectively, the staff have mostly gone. The management and the accounting and financial control is being exercised by a contractor. They are continuing with the same contract on the basis that the authority is not in a position to put it out to tender. It is a roll-over of contract.
We can write to the authority seeking an information note in respect of that contract. No. 4.10 is the Grand Canal Harbour Management Company Limited, which has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.11, the Dublin Docklands Affordable Housing Limited, has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.12, Enterprise Ireland has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.13, Kildare Wicklow Education Training Board has received a clear audit opinion. The statement on internal control discloses that the board did not perform a review of the effectiveness of the system of internal control in the 18 month period. I presume that was just after the establishment of the organisation.
No. 4.14 is the National Oil Reserves Agency Limited and it has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.15, An Bord Pleanála has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.16, the National Council for Special Education has received a clear audit opinion but no review of the effectiveness of the system of internal financial control was conducted by the council. This is a relatively new organisation but we will ask it for a report on that issue. No. 4.17, the Health Research Board has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.18, SOLAS received a clear audit opinion. However, note 7 of the SOLAS financial statements discloses costs totalling €1.5 million arising from a High Court decision in November 2015 against SOLAS in relation to a legacy action against FÁS. Mr. McCarthy probably knows about this.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Yes. Speaking from memory, a contract was entered into for the provision of a centre for use by FÁS, but for reasons that I cannot recall at present, there was a difficulty. The centre was not used. There were claims taken by the developer of the centre. There is quite a long history in that regard.
Members may read the accounts and raise this issue again at a subsequent meeting. No. 4.19, the Irish Blood Transfusion Board has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.20, the National Cancer Registry Board received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.21, the National Disability Authority received a clear audit opinion for the 2014 accounting period. No. 4.23, the Irish Sports Council received a clear audit opinion for the accounting period 2014. No. 4.24, the National Sports Campus Development Authority received a clear audit opinion for the 2014 accounting period.
No. 4.25, the Land Commission received a clear audit opinion. It is the final account. The Land Commission is gone at last.
The Land Commission collected €858,000 is 2015. The assets and liabilities of the Land Commission were transferred to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and will be dealt with as part of the Estimate for that Department from now on. Nobody will be getting their money back. Some people still owe money to the Land Commission. No. 4.26, the Cork Institute of Technology received a clear audit opinion. Note 28 disclosed that the institute incurred a deficit of €1.2 million for the year and had an accumulated deficit of €1 million at 31 August 2015. Is that a significant amount?
I think we said that we would look at the financing of third level institutions separately. No. 4.27, the Carbon Fund received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.28, the National Gallery of Ireland received a clear audit opinion. The gallery has not adopted the provisions of Financial Reporting Standard 30 Heritage Assets. It has not recognised on its balance sheet the cost or value of heritage assets acquired since 1 January 2011. Is that significant?
We will move on. We will watch it for future reference. No. 4.29, the National Museum of Ireland has received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.30, the Medical Council received a clear audit opinion. No. 4.31, the Dublin Dental Hospital Board received a clear audit opinion.
The next item is correspondence received, which has been dealt with. The report and statements of accounts have been dealt with.
The work programme is very straightforward. We have mentioned our NAMA special report. On Thursday, 13 October, the Revenue Commissioners will appear before the committee. We have already arranged with the Department of Social Protection to come before us on Thursday, 20 October. We will update the work programme and circulate it to members.
The next item is any other business. Do members have an issue they wish to raise?
The committee dealt with an issue in respect of the North Meath Communities Development Association Limited in January last. There was a very detailed outline of where there should be a resolution to this matter. The matter has not been resolved. I know the committee also referred this matter to the Department of the Taoiseach in January. During the summer the North Meath Communities Development Association Limited held a meeting attended by some hundreds of people, including myself, the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, Deputies Thomas Byrne and Declan Breathnach, who is a former chairman of the health board. We are all looking for this matter to be resolved. The correspondence from the PAC committee in January set out over a number of pages a very clear list of recommendations. What is the position in respect of the recommendations?
Significant sums of money are involved. Given that the organisation in question is a voluntary body which provides assistance to people in north County Meath, I ask that the committee seek a resolution to the problem. As far as I am concerned, the Health Service Executive has changed the goalposts with regard to the recommendations that were made.