Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, a permanent witness to the committee. Mr. McCarthy is accompanied by his colleague, Mr. Paul Southern, deputy director of audit. No apologies have been received in respect of today's meeting. Are the minutes of the meeting of 13 October 2016 agreed? Agreed.
As there are no further matters arising from the minutes, we will move on straightaway to correspondence. I refer to correspondence items 105A.1, 105A.2 and 105A.3 and 11A. These relate to briefing material and the opening statement from the Department of Social Protection for today's meeting. Is it agreed to note them? Agreed.
Next is category B correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers following up on previous meetings. The first item in this regard is 100B, a letter received from Mr. Denis Leamy, CEO of Pobal, in response to a request for information on Pobal's 2015 financial statements which identified irregular payments estimated at €500,000 in respect of community child care subvention. The correspondence outlines that there is a Garda investigation into this case. It also details key controls put in place by Pobal to insure that such instances do not happen again. Is it agreed to note the correspondence, in particular the fact of the Garda investigation? Agreed.
I ask that all mobile phones be put in airplane mode as placing them in silent mode means they will still interfere with the recording system.
The next item is 104B, a letter from Mr. John O'Sullivan, commissioner of valuation, regarding the valuation of fisheries. The letter states that the committee will be kept informed of any planned revaluation. It is a matter for the Valuation Office as well. We will note that.
The next item, 107B, was received from Mr. Gerry Quinn, chief operations officer of the Central Bank. It is a follow-up to the meeting of 21 September 2016 on retention payments in the Central Bank. Can we note that? The bank gave us the overall figure at the meeting and the letter sets out some further breakdown of that.
The next item is 110B, correspondence received from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, responding to requests for a meeting with the Department on 10 November. Mr. Moran has nominated the second secretary, Ms Ann Nolan, to represent him, subject to the approval of the committee. Ms Nolan will be accompanied by Mr. Declan Reid, senior banking specialist, and Mr. Des Carville, head of the shareholding management unit. In fairness, we must acknowledge that Mr. Derek Moran was not in the Department at any time during the period relating to Project Eagle and that the people who are to attend are those who are most appropriate to answer questions. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is 112B, correspondence received from NAMA in respect of Project Eagle. This is important. The correspondence relates to the release of communications between Lazard and NAMA on the loan-sale process as requested by the committee. Lazard has agreed to this on condition that the committee does not publish the correspondence as part of its Project Eagle report or otherwise. We will proceed to consider the documents in private session and agree to the request. We will obtain and deal with the information but we will not be able to publish any of it as part of our work without Lazard's consent. We can acknowledge within the report that we received it and will be aware of the information. However, Lazard is asking that its correspondence not be published because it is confidential between it and NAMA. Can we agree to that?
To be helpful, have people seen the letter? It is very short, only half a page long. I ask people to think about it. We wrote to NAMA and the agency confirmed that the documentation it received from Lazard was marked confidential. On that basis, it sought Lazard's prior consent to providing the correspondence to the committee. In response, Lazard has stated that it is willing to provide its consent subject to an undertaking from the committee that the confidentiality of its correspondence will be respected and that the correspondence would not be published by the committee as part of its report on Project Eagle or otherwise. Do members want time to consider this matter?
It is just to think about it. Lazard has been quoted repeatedly at our meetings as backing up a certain viewpoint. I need to think about that. We have not used Lazard, but NAMA has repeatedly used it to say "This is what Lazard said".
Can I ask about the Tuesday meetings? The last Tuesday meeting was held at very short notice. How was the decision to hold it made? At the very outset, I asked that it would not be put in on a Tuesday as many of our colleagues are in difficulties. Thursday was always the day that was assigned.
Just to comment on it, this is tactics. Lazard is a professional adviser to NAMA. The latter owns the information. It solicited it, asked questions and got answers. We have to consider those answers and questions as part of our report. My answer is "No".
If NAMA has information, the ownership of that information and professional advice rests with it and not Lazard. We are only considering it in the context of it being in the ownership of NAMA. We are not judging Lazard on its advice.
Fine. We will return to that at the next meeting because fair points have been raised this morning.
The next item is 113B, correspondence received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform informing the committee of the appointment of Commissioner John McMahon as chairman and accounting officer of the Office of Public Works. I take this opportunity to thank the outgoing chairperson, Ms Clare McGrath, for all the work she has done for the OPW and wish her the very best for the future. We will note the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is 102C, an e-mail from Deputy Cullinane enclosing correspondence from Nua Healthcare on concerns about public sector tendering for a residential disability service. We will hold that over until the Deputy is present at the next meeting.
Items 108C.1 to No. 108C.4, inclusive, constitute correspondence from an individual in reply to a letter issued by the committee following a discussion on the original submission made on behalf of that individual. We had a detailed discussion on this a week or two ago. He has requested other actions by the committee, including a meeting with the individual. I propose that we write to the individual confirming that the committee does not intend to take any further action and that any further correspondence will be held on file but not discussed by the meeting. It is the issue we discussed at length and he has written back again. We will hold future correspondence on file. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is statements and reports of accounts from public bodies received since the last meeting. There are only a couple on this list today. The list is coming up on screen for members. The first item concerns the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's clean audit report and the second concerns St. Angela's College, Sligo, which provides home economic teacher education and nursing and health studies. Attention is drawn to the recognition of a deferred pension funding asset. The same remark is there for many third level institutions.
The final item relates to Quality and Qualifications Ireland, which quality assures providers of further and higher education and training.
There was a clear audit report there.
We now move on to the work programme of the committee, the draft of which was circulated to members. Today's meeting will hear from officials of the Department of Social Protection. Next Tuesday, 25 October, a number of NAMA officials will come before us, possibly accompanied by former officials of the agency. The attendance list is not yet finalised. That meeting will commence at 10 a.m. We then have a gap because the Dáil is not sitting the following week. The next meeting will be on Thursday, 10 November.
Mr. McGuinness will appear before the committee on Wednesday, 16 November. The meeting was intended to take place next Wednesday, 26 October, but Mr. McGuinness will be out of the country at that time. The meeting was rearranged to accommodate his schedule.
No, it is a matter of accommodating all our commitments. My understanding on being appointed to the committee was that our meetings would be mostly on Thursdays. As well as next Tuesday's meeting, there is the engagement with Mr. McGuinness on a Wednesday in November. Who made these decisions on the scheduling of meetings? I am concerned because it is important to have as full an attendance as possible.
The committee decided that in order to avoid interference with our normal Thursday workload, our deliberations on Project Eagle would require additional meetings. Today, we are hearing from officials at the Department of Social Protection and last week we had witnesses from the Revenue Commissioners. Continuing our regular work programme has necessitated having additional meetings on a Tuesday or Wednesday. We never have more than two meetings per week.
We are not allowed to meet on Tuesday afternoons because the Dáil is sitting. That is one of the components of Dáil reform. I see the sense in having it Tuesday afternoon but the rules of the House require us to avoid meetings when the Dáil is in plenary session. That forces us to have the meeting in the morning. However, as the Deputy will see from the work programme, that is the only Tuesday meeting schedule and there is only one Wednesday meeting on the list, which is the engagement with the deputy First Minister on 16 November. As I said, the latter has been deferred in order to facilitate the witness. Subsequent meetings are on Thursday, 17 November and Thursday, 24 November.
It would be helpful to have a consensus on any future draft programmes. It is important that as many members as possible can attend meetings of the committee. I appreciate that the work we are doing is very important but everybody has commitments. There is a balance to be struck.
Yes, the Deputy will be next. We are taking speakers strictly on rota. On a few occasions, however, we have had to seek volunteers. Notwithstanding the rota arrangements, members are always free to say if a particular day does not suit them.
If a member has a particular interest in attending a meeting, he or she should contact the secretariat to see if it is possible to be accommodated as one of the two opening speakers, subject to agreement by other members.
Is there any other business?