Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 5 October 2017
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness at this committee. He is accompanied by Mr. Mark Brady.
Before we begin, I extend the sympathy of the Committee of Public Accounts to the family of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Liam Cosgrave, who passed away yesterday evening. May he rest in peace. With the agreement of the committee, I propose that we adjourn at noon to allow members be in the Dáil Chamber for the expressions of sympathy. The Business Committee has indicated that all Dáil business will be suspended for the day, other than the expressions of sympathy, but this has not had an impact on committees which are meeting this morning. The request is that, as a mark of respect, we adjourn at noon in order that members may attend the Dáil Chamber. Is that agreed? Agreed. There will be no business conducted after the expressions of sympathy.
We will be very tight on time.
Apologies have been received from Deputies Alan Farrell and Josepha Madigan.
Are the minutes of the meeting held on 28 September agreed to? Agreed. One item brought to my attention as arising from the minutes is that we received a letter last week about the Higher Education Authority, third level institutions and consultancy fees. It relates to our ongoing concern about and interest in spending by the various third level institutions. We have discussed the Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, on a number of occasions. I have been presented with an article from the Evening Echowhich indicates that Cork Institute of Technology recently spent almost €13,000 in marking the retirement of the outgoing president. This information was provided as part of the freedom of information process. There was €5,000 spent on catering and €3,000 on providing tables. There were also pipes and drapes and other elements. I propose that in view of current difficulties we write to Cork Institute of Technology for a detailed explanation as to why it felt it was appropriate to spend €13,000. The student hardship fund would have benefited more from the €13,000 rather having than a banquet to celebrate a retiring official. Is that agreed?
We can agree to it. It seems similar to the portraits about which we know. I have been going back through the documentation on Cork Institute of Technology and have a couple of other questions to ask. I know that we are waiting for the redacted document to be given to us, but it may not. May I add a couple of questions, all to be sent in one item of correspondence?
Is that agreed to by the committee? Agreed. I will ask the clerk to consult me about the letter to be sent from the committee. We will include in it the questions to which I referred.
The next item on the agenda is correspondence. The first items, Nos. 784A and 785A, are the briefing document and opening statement from IDA Ireland for today’s meeting. We will note and publish them.
Item No. 774B is correspondence received from Mr. Neil McDermott of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, confirming that third level institutions have been requested to provide details of the engagement of all external consultancy firms and consultants and associated costs, as well as of those appointed to carry out investigations and provide legal advice. The HEA expects to be in a position to provide the information requested by the committee later this month. We will note and publish the correspondence.
Item No. 775B is correspondence, dated 26 September, received from Mr. Tony O’Brien, director general of the Health Service Executive, HSE. It includes the independent review of the cost associated with the care of "Grace" and the Deloitte report to which we referred. Does any member wish to comment on it? We are scheduled to meet representatives of the HSE on 26 October to discuss section 38 and section 39 organisations. It might be worth having this matter as part of the discussion and engagement with the HSE on that day. We will put it on notice that we will raise the specific matter at that meeting. We will, however, have to be mindful of the work of the commission of investigation established by the Oireachtas. We need to stick to that exact report. It could go very far and deep, but we do not want to trespass across the work of the commission.
Perhaps that is a sensible suggestion. The inquiry is none of our business, but we are concerned with the expenditure of money and a specific report. We do not have many occasions on which to do this, but there is a whistleblower and two people have put their names to a letter sent by them; they deserve a medal for doing so. They deserve some award as they have taken so much time to go through a report we have difficulty in going through because of time constraints. They have analysed it and perhaps we might deal with their letter now also. They have written to the committee.
Okay. Will we leave it until next week to comment on it together? It should all be dealt with together, as they have now sent a letter. Serious matters have been highlighted. I will leave it at that and will not take up the committee's time.
Yes. I think we will discuss it on that day, perhaps in a specific period. The section 38 and section 39 organisations have available to them €4 billion of taxpayers' money. The Comptroller and Auditor General has a comment on it in the annual report.
That will be part of the discussion, as well as the ongoing issues. As we will need a full day, people can schedule it at this stage.
The next item is No. 782B, correspondence dated 3 October in my name. I forwarded a link to the Garda interim report as I did not think it had been formally sent to the Committee of Public Accounts. I think we all got a copy of it so I have made sure that the committee received one. We note that. The Garda will feature on our work programme later on again.
No. 783B is correspondence dated 3 October 2017 from HIQA providing some of the follow-up information requested last week. The correspondence includes details of an error in staffing numbers in the business plan, a breakdown on source of concerns raised with HIQA, human resource risks and risk profiling in the organisation. We will note that and await receipt of the full information. Also, we will ask the Department of Health questions on that day. I am sure that we will receive all of the information within the week.
No. 788B is correspondence dated 4 October 2017. I shall sigh with exasperation before I deal with this matter. The correspondence is from the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, on the payment of moneys due to Console staff. We awaited this item. The Minister has pointed out that the liquidation is ongoing but, in the event that there is no money to pay staff, he considers it inappropriate to pay the money out of voted expenditure. I think the committee has made its views very clear on this matter. I wish to reiterate publicly the opinion that there is an onus on the Department to make an ex gratiapayment to these individuals because a significant reason these people were not paid moneys due to them can be attributed to the lack of oversight by the HSE, in the first place, in terms of monitoring the Console organisation. While we cannot force the Minister to take action, we again appeal to him to reconsider. I propose that we do not let this matter go. The Committee of Public Accounts will issue a report in the course of the coming month on various issues. I think it is an issue that the committee will not stand back from. I know, technically, there might be a point. I think there have been other precedents where payments have been made and if there is a will, there is a way. Can we agree to note his response? Effectively we are saying we are not satisfied with his response. We will examine the topic again but there it rests just for today.
The next item is two documents, Nos. 790(i) B and 790 (ii) B, which have just come from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. They are on the screen but I have not had an opportunity to print them. The documents update the committee on the audit status of the educational and training boards and third level colleges. The documents can be viewed on the screen now and I suggest that we start at the top.
Document No. 790(i) B clearly shows that the audits for 2015 have all been cleared until we reach the line that refers to Kildare and Wicklow where audit queries are still outstanding, Limerick and Clare has an audit "in progress" and Louth and Meath has "audit queries outstanding." Is that the end of the ETBs?
In the first instance, and we will get some details, I propose that this committee, today, write to the chairman of each of those ETBs, in respect of the 2015 audit, stating that we will not accept any excuse. I will allow people to comment but I think we need to write to the chairmen. We are asking that the chairmen formally put our letter on the agenda of their next meetings, not just dealt with inhouse but at their ETB meeting, publicly, and at local level. I propose that our letter expresses our displeasure, or whatever the appropriate word is, that these matters have not been resolved, and asking that they take every action to ensure that their 2015 and 2016 financial statements are signed off, completed and audited as soon as possible. I call Deputy Kelly and then I will come back to other Deputy Murphy.
That is fine. I have some serious concerns, and it is not just the stuff in the media, about some of the ETBs and some issues there. Also, the Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, is the body that governs ETBs. I believe we need to consider its role as well.
I have a query about the work plan even though I know that we will get to it later. Shall I presume that we will bring in a selection of ETBs as part of our work plan?
I raised the issue of the Kildare and Wicklow ETB last week. The Comptroller and Auditor General was considering whether to hold an investigation.
I know there was an investigation into Kildare VEC some years ago. It was not that long ago. Maybe it was five or six years ago.
The letter that can be seen on the screen was received this morning so we have not had an opportunity to circulate same. It just arrived this morning from the Secretary General for the Department of Education and Skills. He referred to the 2015 audit, to the fact that a number of issues were brought to the attention of the Department of Education and Skills, and that the Department sought a response from the ETB on the issues. He continued:
Having considered the issues raised by the C&AG and the subsequent correspondence between the Department and the ETB, in exercise of his power under Section 40 of the ETB Act 2013 the Minister for Education and Skills has appointed an investigator to carry out an investigation into the performance by the board of its functions particularly in relation to public procurement, usage and disposal of assets and propriety matters and to submit a final report to the Minister as soon as practical ....
Mr Richard Thorn, President Emeritus of Sligo Institute of Technology has been appointed to carry out the investigation. It is envisaged that the investigation will be completed in Quarter 1 2018.
That is the end of the March. He continued: "The terms of reference for the investigation are enclosed for the information of the Public Accounts Committee. The Department will keep us updated."
The Comptroller and Auditor General expects that he will be unable to complete his audit until after that report is completed.
How can one provide oversight if one does not have information? That may well be something that we need to consider in the context of bringing people in.
Chairman:Coincidently, last Thursday afternoon I chaired a session of the ETBI's annual conference that was held in Kilkenny and this issue was very paramount. The organisation talked about training that had been provided to various board members, etc. across all of the ETBs, and the training modules it has in place. However, I think it is important that the letters we issue to the three or four ETBs that we have already highlighted insist that our letter be put on their public agenda because it may be possible that some members are not fully aware of everything that is going on.
We will send out those letters in relation to 2015 and we will ask for a response from the chairmen immediately after their next monthly meeting. Is that okay?
The next item is category C, which is correspondence that relates to private individuals. No. 769C is correspondence dated 25 September 2017 from Deputy Bríd Smith requesting the committee to consider inviting representatives of the National Transport Authority to a meeting of the committee regarding bus routes following a tendering process. It appears the contract remains to be awarded. I propose that we refer the matter to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. Is that reasonable? I think that is reasonable. If that is okay, we will refer it to the transport committee.
No. 770C is correspondence dated 25 September 2017 from an individual requesting the committee follow-up on a matter raised in relation to what has been referred to as a SIPTU-FÁS slush fund. Recently we have written to the Garda fraud office for an update on this matter but we have yet to receive a reply.
The secretariat has followed up on the matter. I propose that we write to the individual informing him of this and reminding him that it is not within the committee's remit to examine criminal matters. This is an ongoing issue that the Garda is examining. It came through us, so we are asking the Garda for an update on whether there has been a prosecution. However, it is not our job to investigate potential criminal matters. We will notify the correspondent of this.
Next is No. 771C, correspondence from an individual regarding a property deal relating to NAMA. The individual believes that a sweetheart deal was done and wants to know what we can do about it. The clerk has had other correspondence from the individual. I propose that we respond to the individual and say that, while we do not investigate individual cases normally, we can seek a response from NAMA to the details if he sends them to us. He has given us no details of what he is talking about. He just refers to a sweetheart deal. Unless we receive specific information, we will take the matter no further and we will tell him that.
No. 776C, correspondence dated 18 September 2017 from an individual, relates to Dublin City Council's entry into an insurance contract to a value of €5 million more than its previous contract. The individual questions the value for money of this. I propose that we write to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for a response regarding Dublin City Council and its procurement process specifically, but also regarding the insurance contract procurement process followed by other local authorities throughout the country. We all know of claims against local authorities. Many have been paying these claims themselves while others have had some insurance cover. Dublin City Council seems to have entered into a contract, the value for money of which someone has queried. We need to get a picture of this topic across all local authorities from the Department. We will write to it.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It is not. There is a mutual insurance arrangement that involves the local authorities and the ETBs. I believe that the HSE used to be involved in it as well. There is some access to the general issue, but not to the actions of individual local authorities.
Next is No. 777C, a budget submission from the Irish Hospice Foundation. We will note it.
No. 778C is correspondence dated 5 September. I forwarded an email that I received from an individual, Mr. Douglas Fannin, who has been in contact with the committee numerous times. He circulated a copy of a newspaper article from a few years ago. The secretariat informs me that we last dealt with this item on 7 July 2016 and, following correspondence from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding an ongoing case, it was decided not to pursue the matter. The individual was sent a copy of that letter last year. I propose that we write to the Department to see if the case has proceeded and what the up-to-date position is.
Next is No. 779C, correspondence dated 28 September, from an individual regarding the JobPath programme. He raises questions about the administration of the scheme. I propose that we write to the Department for a detailed response. We will deal with the matter when we get that response.
When I read this, it seemed similar to something that I had raised in the Dáil this week and on which I have had others contact me with the same profile of complaints. We should get a response from the Department.
Yes. It is the system. When we get a response, we will decide what to do.
No. 780C is correspondence from Deputy MacSharry following up on the acting Commissioner's appearance before the committee last week. Deputy Kelly has sent correspondence on the same matter. Does Deputy MacSharry wish to speak to the issue? We will deal with the----
It speaks for itself, but I will refine it if possible. It is not our practice to have the Minister attend, but it should be considered in light of the level of importance attaching. There is an omission. On further consideration, the assistant commissioner for Dublin, Mr. Pat Leahy, could usefully contribute to this discussion. One meeting would do it, but, if possible, we will need the Minister as well. That would be my preference. One meeting with Mr. Noel Waters, Mr. John Barrett and Mr. Pat Leahy would do it. Perhaps it could be a morning session. We would get the opportunity to put these issues on record.
I am conscious that some of our colleagues are not present and that people might view pursuing this as being political. However, there are tangible reasons for this to be of concern - value for money in the first instance. Political considerations come second. Previously, Deputy Cassells gave clear examples in the context of Meath. I cited an example relating to Sligo whereby a Garda station that had been condemned was awaiting this process. We received the interim report and there were media leaks over the weekend. The committee was told approximately five times in a row that the criteria for opening and closing were exactly the same, but we have reason to believe that is not the case and there is a suggestion that the decision was based on population increases. To follow on from Deputy Cassells's contribution at our previous meeting, County Meath has had precisely the same percentage increase that Dublin has had, namely, 5.9%. It has suffered closures and downgrades to brass buttons and the Deputy cited an increase in crime levels there, yet these other Garda stations were opened.
A decent morning session of three hours - with the Minister present if possible, but certainly Mr. Waters, Mr. Barrett and Mr. Leahy - would be useful.
I support Deputy MacSharry 100%. We need to do this quickly and put it to bed. I have read the report from cover to cover, and it asks more questions than it gives answers based on the evidence that was provided last week. Value for money and appropriate spending are major issues. What was cited at the committee's meeting last week does not come across in the report that was released. Some people would like to believe that the report put the matter to bed, but it did not. The criteria that were outlined to us and those that were used, and the fact that the Department of Justice and Equality set the criteria, which is unacceptable, do not add up.
As to how certain stations were picked, there is the problem of the report referring to crime levels actually decreasing in an area where a station is to be opened but where the population is increasing. If that is the case, then there are many Garda stations in areas where populations are increasing that will be opened. Many others will have arguments for same.
I subscribe 100% to this request. We can handle this in a morning or afternoon session, whichever the committee decides, but we cannot do it without the attendance of the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. He has many questions to answer and a considerable role to play. Previously, we requested that the human resources director, Mr. Barrett, attend because he would have had a critical role, particularly in view of the fact that a decision to open a Garda station cannot be made in the absence of resources. They are a key component.
There is no "maybe". Gardaí and civilians must be assigned and the station must be ramped up. Three individuals are intrinsic to this issue. Mr. Waters and Mr. Barrett are the first two and the third is Mr. Leahy. He is the assistant commissioner in charge of Dublin. Surely he will be able to give us in detail the information that we require.
I do not disagree with the proposal that witnesses come back before the committee but I will add just one caveat to it. I was away last week so I missed last week's exchanges, but it was more of the same: witnesses came in and gave their views, members asked questions and the witnesses were away on their toes. Now we are looking for them to come back again, not, I hope, in order that we have the same exchange and the same one-day outing again, after which we are none the wiser. When we say we want to put the matter to bed, what do we mean? I see it this way - the central question being put was whether the reopening of one Garda station was a stroke. That is the question people were asking. Let us cut to the chase - that is it, or was the reopening based on evidence, proper process, proper procedures and so on.
We have a report and we should examine it. The job of this committee is to come down one way or another on the practice, process and procedures followed. This goes back to what I have been saying about all the work we do. Again, people are coming before the committee for the sake of it. We have our say, they have theirs, they are away and we and the public are none the wiser. Either this was done right or it was not. I believe the committee must look at the report and hear from the witnesses. It does not have to be a big report; it can be a one or two page view of what we believe happened or did not happen. However, there must be some conclusion, in my view. Otherwise, what are we doing? I would, therefore, put that caveat on people coming back in. There is a logic to it. I speak in an unbiased way because I do not know what the answer is, and it may well be that proper process and proper procedures were followed or that may not be the case. Let us examine the matter and then let us adjudicate on it based on what we are here to do, which is to examine the practices, processes and procedures around the decision-making that led to the reopening of this Garda station.
I just wish to make the point that page 11 states it would have been easier to start with a blank sheet and decide rather than have the criterion that there had to be a previously existing station for reopening to be considered. We must be careful not to stray into the area in which the justice committee most properly would have an involvement. There are costs in picking particular stations out for refurbishment. I heard something on the radio about Rush, where a community group has put €20,000 into the refurbishment of a former Garda station because it is using it as a community facility. There are issues regarding the refurbishment costs and there are other costs. There are also sometimes incomes from these stations in respect of the masts, on which I have asked a question to which I hope to have an answer this week. I asked Nóirín O'Sullivan when she was before the committee about the deployment of resources. For years, I have been running up and down to meet Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners because the census of population has not been used in the determination of the deployment of Garda resources. In fact, the lowest ratio of gardaí to population is-----
-----in Kildare, Meath and a few other places. They are all areas that have had high growth and are now playing catch-up. This is the first time I have seen the census of population used for this purpose. I warmly welcome the idea that we are taking a strategic approach if this is the new approach to the deployment of resources, but it has not happened before. We also must understand what is the role of the Policing Authority, not to be crossing lines, because my understanding is that it has a role in the distribution of resources and I do not know whether it has been bypassed in respect of this initiative. We need to separate the lines of our responsibility and value for money. The refurbishment is one thing, but why are some stations picked out over others? The area we need to consider is whether there is a value for money aspect to this. The one thing we do not want to do is give the impression that we have a remit beyond the remit we do have.
Deputy Murphy has on numerous occasions got to her feet and spoken of the policing issue in Kildare in precisely those terms, so I can vouch for that. It is all set out on her record. I think we are clear as to what is our remit. It is public money and decisions to allocate, spend and discharge public moneys and the associated processes and procedures around that. We are not proposing to stray beyond that, and we need to bring people back before the committee.
I broadly agree with the proposals to bring back those individuals who have been cited but, as my colleague, Deputy Cullinane, said, there must then be some outcome as a result. I have read the report and I will go back and read it again to try to ascertain what kind of systematic application of criteria, if any, was in place and to get under the bonnet of that issue. The reason that is important, including for this committee, is not simply in respect of this particular case study of decision-making, but also lessons that might be learned or advice that might be given regarding how work within the system happens generally. There is a concept used in the North called targeting objective need, and to those right-minded among us it sounds sensible that one would target resources where they are needed. It has not always been straightforward in Northern politics for many different reasons, but we have battled to get that concept embedded in decision-making processes. As I was reading the report, I wondered to myself the extent to which this was about targeting objective need, or indeed the use of census data and so on, so I agree with Deputies Kelly, MacSharry and others that we need another session on this issue. However, I would like it to be a conclusive session shaped in that way around the use of resources and decisions. We should bear in mind that we are not just about counting up the pounds, shillings and pence; we also have a very specific duty and remit in respect of processes and procedures.
By the way, I had asked about the criteria used in the closure of stations and their provenance. I do not think we have had a response to that, although the acting Garda Commissioner said he would get back to us on it. I am broadly in agreement with the caveat that Deputy Cullinane has entered.
It has all been said. On the previous occasion I asked for the Department of Justice and Equality, as the most important Department in the context of this issue, to come before the committee so I have no difficulty with it doing so whatsoever. However, I believe we must be clear what is our remit. It has been said, and I will not repeat it, that we should not stray into the remit of the justice committee, which I think we are in danger of doing. Our workload is heavy, so I suggest an afternoon session that does not interfere with the extremely important workload we have laid down. I agree with the Deputy who outlined the practice, process and procedures. That is our role.
People have talked about conclusiveness. That depends largely on witnesses being willing participants in answering questions. We have seen this to be an issue with Project Eagle and Templemore, when we thought we were arriving at conclusiveness and that our meeting would put the matter to bed, only for the process to have to go on and on. A large part of it depends on the people coming before us and their not being smart or stonewalling us. I agree with Deputy Connolly about the Department of Justice and Equality. Its role in the Templemore issue is most pertinent in terms of this particular issue as well. I do not think anyone is straying beyond his or her remit whatsoever because, as we proved the previous day, in terms of what people have said about value for money and impact on communities, this goes to the very heart of what we are talking about.
I will add my voice. Everyone else spoke so I suppose I should say a few words. I do not know if there is any use in having any more witnesses in here because I think we have gone nearly as far as we will go. As the previous speaker said, if we bring in further witnesses, will they stall and will they just give us the same rhetoric and the same answers? We all know what happened in Stepaside - everyone knows. The birds on the wire know the decision was politically motivated. Are we wasting our time here? The Chairman has put up a strong work programme between now and Christmas and we have a lot of work to get through. Are we going to waste time here bringing in witnesses and getting them to repeat what they have said? We are going to get the same answers and go nowhere.
As a caveat to that, while I do not disagree with the Deputy's comments, we cannot act on intuition and how we feel. Our job is to evaluate, probe, ask questions, ensure fair procedure and so on. My point was that I want to have something that does all of that. We do it and then we have the conclusion, which is the views of members as a committee.
I understand what is being said. Many different angles have been covered and there has been a broad-ranging debate. The committee must be clear and logical and ensure we get to a conclusion if we are revisiting this. I propose that we agree what members have accepted but I want a detailed and specific proposal to be prepared this week by the secretariat for the committee to sign off on next week as to precisely what our agenda will be. We will set the date for that meeting next Thursday. I agree about the importance of logic. At the risk of incurring the wrath of some members, there have been a few major gaps in the logic of what has been said. The assistant commissioner, John O'Driscoll, wrote the report. If anyone is to come before the committee, it should be him. I am amazed that members have suggested people from further down the ranks should come in and discuss a report they may have had no involvement in writing. One person wrote the report. I find it inconceivable that he would not be the person invited to appear before the committee. His name has not been mentioned by members so far, so there is a lack of clear thinking in what has been said this morning. We will come back to it next Thursday with clearer thinking.
It was said that the decision to allocate money is not the function of the Committee of Public Accounts, it is a function of the line committee in respect of the Estimate in the Department. Any cost to be incurred regarding Stepaside Garda station, staff moving there and so on will be incurred in 2018. That is a matter for the Committee on Justice and Equality to consider and approve as part of its discussion of Estimates for 2018. It is not the job of this committee to cut across an Estimates debate in another committee with regard to expenditure next year. We do not have a role in approving Estimates of expenditure that might be spent in an area next week. We must be clear on that. We want to see the logic and process of how decisions that have been taken were implemented. I make those points to ensure the committee is within its remit. Future expenditure is not our job; that is politics and an issue for the Government, Dáil Éireann or the Committee on Justice and Equality. There has been a major gap in the process of how the Committee of Public Accounts has been acting on this issue recently, given there was a debate on this matter without anyone mentioning the author of the report. I propose that we start with the person who wrote the report. We are agreed that we are going to do it and will need a conclusion but I will ask the secretariat to put an exact paper before the committee next week that we can sign off on and know precisely what will happen.
I have been most disappointed recently by the Department of Justice and Equality because when the acting Garda Commissioner was here in July, he committed to issue the report in good faith. When the Garda checked with the Department shortly thereafter, the Department blocked the issuing of the report. The Taoiseach was asked about that last Thursday or Friday after our meeting. He had no problem with the interim report being issued and that was done by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, last Saturday Had the Department not interfered with the commitment given by the acting Garda Commissioner, the committee would have had the report in July and last week's controversy that the Department brought on itself, the Garda Síochána, the Committee of Public Accounts and the political establishment would not have occurred. The Department of Justice and Equality caused the problem from beginning to end. From the day the acting Garda Commissioner appeared before the committee to the publication of the report it was the Department and the Department alone that stalled the issue and caused the problem. Consequently, it must be asked why it sought to block a public commitment by a very senior Garda officer. Members understand that we are going to do that and we will not discuss it any further.
We want a specific detailed paper so that we have an agenda, as members said, and will be able to start, show the logic of what we are doing and draft a report at the end of the process. We want to be able to sign off it. We will have that on our work programme next week. We will sign off next Thursday on who is to be invited to appear because------
The document will only be a proposal to be considered.
There is one other item of correspondence, No. 760. Deputy Cullinane is aware of this or sent it to the committee. It deals with a person's engagement with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection regarding the carer's allowance. The person is an employee of the Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser advises that it is not appropriate for the committee to examine the details of individual cases such as this. In this case, it would be more appropriate for the individual to make use of the services of the Office of the Ombudsman. We recognise the general issues raised in regard to the social welfare appeal system. It is an independent office but we will put the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on notice that while we will be inviting it in to address the many chapters about social protection in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, we will also be separately inviting in the Social Welfare Appeals Office to consider that issue.
I agree with all of that. We should not concentrate on people's personal or singular issues but this individual has used his experience to highlight what he says are systemic problems that could have an impact on others. I am not sure whether that is an issue for the committee or the sectoral committee. What is it proposed that the committee do? The Chairman has said the person could avail of the Office of the Ombudsman and that can be communicated to him in writing. What else is it proposed the committee do?
The suggestion is that in advance of our next engagement with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection as part of our work programme, the committee will put it on notice that we will want to deal with its review and appeals mechanism.
The committee need a detailed note on that process. We will also bring in the Social Welfare Appeals Office in its own right.
Statements and accounts since the last meeting have been put up on the screen. There is a clear audit opinion for the Marine Institute, the National Transport Authority, Pobal and the Residential Institutions Redress Board. We will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to come in on the Appropriation Accounts, comprising 850 pages, and the 340-page Report on the Accounts of the Public Services 2016. I ask him for a brief comment on those accounts.
We will do so today. The next item is a clear audit opinion for Beaumont Hospital but attention is again drawn to expenditure totalling €1.3 million involving goods and services that were not procured by way of competitive process. There is a clear audit opinion in respect of Teagasc but with non-competitive procurement of services to the value of 725,000. I suggest we write to both organisations asking for a detailed explanation in reply. There is a clear audit opinion for Bord Iascaigh Mhara. The Comptroller and Auditor General wishes to comment on the appropriation accounts and report on the accounts of the public service he published last Friday.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There are 41 accounts included in the Appropriation Accounts so the list is significantly longer than is suggested there. One matter to which I draw attention in my report is an excess Vote in regard to Army pensions. It is a relatively technical matter. The Dáil voted a certain level of expenditure and the Department exceeded it by a small amount in the region of €23,000 to €26,000. A specific procedure called the excess Vote procedure is required in such a situation, whereby the committee considers the circumstances of the excess Vote and sends a message to the Oireachtas and the Minister for Finance. If the Minister proposes that an excess Vote be taken, it legitimises that additional expenditure.
The circumstances were that the audit discovered payments in the year that had been charged to suspense and not the Appropriation Account. When they are taken into account, the expenditure was over what was permitted. It is a relatively technical point. To my mind, there is no significant matter but a process has to be gone through. I propose to work with the clerk to have a paper for the committee next week with a view to putting that process in place.
It is a technical adjustment. It was not captured in the Supplementary Estimate of December of that year and when the audit later came up there was an issue with procedures requiring Oireachtas approval retrospectively. It happened to be small amount though it could have been bigger. It is a technical adjustment so I ask Mr. McCarthy to prepare a note in advance of the committee meeting next Thursday. We will write to the Accounting Officer for his views on the matter. We have two documents here for next week and we can formally note them and refer them to the Minister for Finance and the Dáil to give technical approval. It is a technical matter but it is the first time we have heard of it. We learn something new every day.
The next item, after the four statements of accounts received, is the work programme. It is on the screen in front of members. Next Thursday, we will have a paper on how to handle Stepaside Garda station and we will incorporate it into our work programme next week. I will go through the logic. Today, we have IDA Ireland financial statements. We decided at the commencement of the meeting that that meeting will adjourn at 12 o'clock as a mark of respect for the former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, because the Dáil is doing no business other than statements today. Committees that are already meeting have been asked to allow members to attend the Dáil Chamber for that. We agreed that we will suspend in two hours' time for those who want to attend. I will be very tight on people's time for these two hours.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland is due to attend next week, as is Tusla. The HSE is due to address section 38 and section 39 bodies. That is going to take a full day because we will also include the Deloitte report on the south east case.
The Appropriation Account for the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment is to be addressed. That Department has not had representatives here in quite a while.
There is a chapter in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report about bank stabilisation. Part of that is the cost of the bank restructuring. We can also deal with the IBRC situation which Deputy MacSharry mentioned earlier. They dovetail with each other so I suggest that we need to allocate the full day of 16 November. It might take more than one meeting but we need to start addressing the costs with regard to the entire bank stabilisation issue. I know the issue of the tax-free holiday will come up for the next approximately 20 years as part of that process. We need to bring in the Department of Finance for that. We might agree who, specifically, is to come later and we will have to check that they are available.
I propose to, early on 23 November, address the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on corporation tax receipts. There is a very strong comment about corporation tax receipts, the effective rate and some companies paying an effective rate of 1%. The issue of taxation, the collection of taxes and the voting of expenditure are equally under our remit. The issue of tax paid by corporations in Ireland is very much under our remit.
I propose that on 30 November, social welfare and the management of social welfare overpayments, the Department review of social welfare schemes and the appeals process should be addressed. There is a big chapter about social protection payments and people will want to talk about it.
I propose that on Thursday, 7 December, we address chapter 12, management of ancillary services in An Garda Síochána. We will come back to that and we might write to An Garda Síochána today because when we did our interim report before the summer, our first module, we said that we would return to that issue. We knew that other audit reports were being conducted. We should ask for the up-to-date status and if some are available to send on to us but I did not want to let the period go without returning to the Garda Síochána. There is definitely a chapter connected with Templemore. We want to see where we are with that.
That is a suggestion for the coming week. We will deal with Stepaside next week. I call Deputy Kelly.
We might have a second meeting some week, but not too many. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report came out last Friday. It has 24 chapters. The basic function of the Committee of Public Accounts is to review those. We have to go over them. Some will be combined; three chapters relate to social welfare. Our basic work, despite everything else on our agenda, is the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, which will encompass the next eight weeks and we will talk about the rest later.
At risk of sounding like a broken record, we should address the fair deal scheme. I know there are many competing items and that we need to get through the work as set out and structured by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Other members have raised this and I think we are missing something. I do not have a concrete proposal to make except to ask if we might look again and see where we might accommodate a meeting about the fair deal scheme.
I thank staff for the excellent work and overview for all of us about the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. It is worth reading. I have not read it in detail but I have read a significant amount. The Chairman said we are going to cover most or all of it.
That is right. I would like an individual breakdown. All chapters are very interesting but a specific one seems parochial yet is of huge significance, the Solas cinema in Galway, which is a disaster.
Another matter we will have to come back to is the issue of public private partnerships. There are some 17 big schemes, ten have been reviewed and no reports have been published, as I gather. The Committee of Public Accounts is in the dark about these. We will get to them all.
Are the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, and Citizens Information under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General and public money? I ask this because there are proposals by the organisations to change the procedural governance of the system they have in place. It is mostly on a county basis or an individual basis currently and now they are talking about having eight regional bases. There is much annoyance by people, particularly volunteers, involved in MABS and Citizens Information. I have been approached by several people. Do we or the Comptroller and Auditor General have any remit or could we bring them before us to find out what proposals they are bringing forward?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The committee has a remit. There are two points of access. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection oversees and funds Citizens Information but I audit Citizens Information itself, which has MABS as part of its structure. I cannot off-hand recall whether the account for 2016 is complete yet but it will be nearing completion if it has not already been completed.
We will write to the board of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, and the Department seeking an update on current proposals. We will put them on notice that when they come in, they will be asked about this specifically. We will write to them today asking for an update on the proposals.
We will have it for discussion when the representatives come before the committee. The fair deal scheme has been mentioned. We will suspend to allow the representatives of IDA Ireland to take their seat. At the meeting last week we had a complete discussion on two matters of protected disclosures. We had a briefing and agreed to write to the people involved. We asked the parliamentary legal adviser to give us advice on the drafting of the letter and the committee agreed that the letter should go out. I propose we go into private session to discuss the letter that the committee decided to issue last week. It is to clear the wording of the letter before it goes out.