Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 16 November 2017
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, as a permanent witness to the committee, and he is accompanied today by Ms Maureen Mulligan, the deputy director of audit. No apologies have been received.
The first item on the agenda is the minutes of our meeting on 8 November, the private meeting last week. Are they agreed? Agreed. The minutes of the meeting of 9 November will be before us next week. There are many items still to go through to finalise them. Do Deputies wish to address matters arising from correspondence?
At the last meeting, when the Secretary General from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment was here, I asked questions about the funding for RTÉ. There was then a discussion about whether or not a service level agreement was in place. I have a number of concerns. I fully understand the need for there to be independence and separation between politics and the national broadcaster, and that we should not stray into policy or seek to ask questions which could be seen as us trying to influence the programmes of RTÉ. Those are not the questions I have. Some 40% of the budget of that Department goes to RTÉ. The majority of RTÉ's funding comes from the taxpayer. There are issues with regard to bogus self-employment within RTÉ and how some well-paid people in RTÉ are using legitimate tax avoidance schemes. It is legitimate but they are avoiding paying income tax. There are various issues, including issues related to the disposal of assets, which I would like to put to RTÉ.
The Secretary General was not able to give us a line by line breakdown or even answer basic questions about how that money is spent. It is reasonable for us to have RTÉ before us. I understand that it is not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. That is fine, but it gets substantial money from the taxpayer. A number of people from RTÉ came forward to me following last week's meeting to say that this is an issue. Philip Boucher-Hayes, who people will know works for "Drivetime", did a programme on this where he talked about the prevalence of these bogus self-employment contracts in RTÉ. It costs the taxpayer money and is an issue the Chairman said he wants to look at. If there is a loss of revenue to the Exchequer, we should focus on it. I propose that we examine the matter and invite RTÉ in to address those specific issues which are important. We know the issue is prevalent in the construction sector, among others. We will have Revenue in and can put the matter to it. If the national broadcaster is involved in this sort of practice, facilitated by the taxpayer, we should be given the opportunity to put questions to RTÉ about how it spends public money.
I understand everything the Deputy is saying. He correctly said that auditing RTÉ is specifically excluded from the Comptroller and Auditor General's remit. In a way, it might not be directly under our remit but as we have clearly established, over 50% of RTÉ's funding comes directly through the Department from licence fees. RTÉ is in an unusual situation. It leads to the question of whether it should be on the State balance sheet. Is it a commercial semi-State company if the majority of its income is a direct subsidy from the taxpayer? It raises a few interesting questions. We asked the Secretary General at the last meeting to give us a detailed response. Can we study that detailed response and keep it on hold? I am not disagreeing but information has been requested, which I am sure we will get back promptly. We can include it on our work programme.
I understand that. The problem is that the cheque is written by the Secretary General and is given to RTÉ, but any questions that are put about how that money is specifically spent is then a matter for RTÉ. There is not a service level agreement in place and from what I hear from the Secretary General, it would not be appropriate for him to intervene in how RTÉ does its business, nor would it be appropriate for us as a committee. We do, however, have a job to probe how money is spent. I am not sure that the responses we will get from the Secretary General will answer my concerns. At some point, we will need to hear from RTÉ. If we were to agree to it, which I think we should, we should set out clear parameters of what exactly we want to talk to RTÉ about and have a clear understanding between us and RTÉ before it comes in. I have raised the issues I would want to put to RTÉ, which I think are very legitimate questions which RTÉ should answer because they concern taxpayers' money.
I support that request. I do not wish to add to the burden of the committee. I know that RTÉ does not come under the Comptroller and Auditor General's remit. However, we have made a decision, and rightly so, to invite in some big companies like Google. In this situation, it was unfortunately portrayed by a Member as an attack on RTÉ. It certainly is not. I am on the record as supporting public service broadcasting. It is essential for a functioning democracy. It is extremely important that this message goes out but that, at the same time, the public money that is given is used in a cost-effective manner. We will explore the ways that it is being used.
I have been considering this matter since the last meeting. I have submitted a series of parliamentary questions relating to RTÉ's funding, the public service obligation, its standing as a commercial semi-State entity on the State balance sheet and so on. What concerned me most of all last week was that when we asked the Secretary General about the service level agreement, he did not know and came back about it. I had submitted a parliamentary question about that, which we produced over the lunch break. The Secretary General then said, and I am paraphrasing, that a circular was issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2016 saying that an oversight agreement should be in place. I have the circular and have made sure that members have received it in their correspondence. It is the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies from August 2016. It stated that Government Departments should ensure they have a written oversight agreement with State bodies under their aegis to clearly define the terms of the State body's relationship with the relevant Minister or parent Department.
Some 15 months after that circular was issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Secretary General does not have it in place. I will be adding to why RTÉ needs to come in the failure of the Accounting Officer to have the oversight agreement, as specified in public policy, in place. If he had an adequate service level agreement that he could bring in and prove to us that everything was kosher, it would be fine, but he has not done his job 15 months afterwards and does not have an oversight agreement. The failure of the Accounting Officer to comply with Government regulation leaves us no option but to do his job.
Teachta Connolly made a point. Any questions that are put about practices such as bogus self-employment are not an attack on RTÉ itself. It was unfair for one member to characterise asking questions about how money is spent, which is why we are here, as an attack on an organisation. I am not even asking for a response but saying that it is a bit unfair. I have put it on the record that we support the independence of RTÉ as a national broadcaster. I support its editorial independence and so on. When we write a cheque for €179 million and there are practices which I believe need to be examined, I do not think it is an attack on an organisation. It is good accountability, which is what we should have.
I am sorry to bring it up, but time is obviously finite. Last week, with the Comptroller and Auditor General, we dealt with no valuations in some instances and one that was out of date by ten years. What is the Comptroller and Auditor General's view on that? How can he stand over something when capital assets are either not valued or are very seriously undervalued?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
What is important is that there is consistency, that is, that one declares what one's accounting policy is, and that is applied and stuck to. There is an opportunity for a body to value or to re-value in generally accepted accounting practice, but again, it needs to be done on a systematic basis. What the committee was looking at last week was an appropriation account, and the accounting policies on appropriation accounts are different. It is cash accounting. What accounting policy is to be applied is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. If a Department deviates from the standard policy, which is based on the historic cost, then that must be disclosed, so that any user of the accounts is aware that that is what is being done.
It is a poor practice, however accepted it may be. The GPO Arcade was a property that we had as an example last week. It was valued at €895,000 but the rent was €200,000 a year. The basic formula for the value of that property would be a figure of ten times the rent at the moment, though it could be much more. That is a figure of €2 million. That skews the people's picture of the assets the State has. It seems that accepted practice is so much on autopilot that the State does not care what a property is valued at, provided it is consistent. If a property was purchased in 1975 for £25,000, and we stick with the acquisition cost, then everything is fine. From a basic business point of view, that would be absolutely incredible. There are valuers employed by the State permanently in the Valuation Office, and indeed for relatively modest fees, auctioneers all over the country would be prepared to undertake valuations. If property was valued last year in detail, then a desktop valuation or upgrade, which I have often done in the private sector myself, is a very nominal cost, but at least it gives us accuracy.
I also have a fear, and perhaps this is something that we engage with the Office of Public Works on, that we have a whole series of properties all over the country that we are not really up to speed on, regarding squatters' rights, rents, or valuations. You yourself, Chairman, in parliamentary questions, have noted that when businesses are struck off, properties accrue to the State, and we have also learned that there is not even a register of these properties. We could have hundreds of properties or five, and the people in control on the ground, who may hold squatters' rights on those properties may again impede upon the State's holdings. Practice, that word that scares the life out of anybody who has been around politics for a few years, is one thing, and the law and what is best is another thing, and this is a problem. We need to set aside some time to look at this, because it has highlighted what I believe is a serious problem.
I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General, not necessarily in time for next week, to write a note on how fixed assets are recorded in the different groups of organisations, whether they are appropriation accounts, semi-state bodies or different bodies. Most of them say that assets are recorded at historical costs, notwithstanding the revaluation of certain fixed assets which are normally identified. In the accounting policies of most organisations, before you get to the figures, there is a detailed section saying how they revalued the assets, and it must be ensured that that is consistent. I would like Mr. McCarthy to put together a document on it, and we will come back to that document. It will be useful, because there are obvious questions. If, for example, one went to local authorities and asked the same question, they might ask if they are to put a value on the road network through our county, and question what constitutes a State asset. I would like the witness to prepare a note on that issue across the different groups. When we receive this, Deputy MacSharry, we will discuss it in detail. Importantly, I would like the document to specify where legislation specifies to do something which would not be normal accounting practice. I know that in the HSE, for example, assets do not accrue for the outstanding claims in the HSE accounts, because the Minister has legislated against this. Where there is some specific ministerial or legislative exceptions to normal practice, I would like the witness to tell us that as well.
There have been poor responses to parliamentary questions submitted by you, Chairman, and myself to do with cases where property has accrued to the State as a result of company default. There does not seem to be any register of that anywhere, nor any list of properties. I would like Mr. McCarthy to give a once-over on his own view of how we might determine what properties have accrued to us in such a way, and how we are managing those assets, if he can.
We will move on to the rest of our correspondence. Document PAC32-R-893 A is a briefing document from SOLAS, so we note and publish that. Document PAC32-R-895 (i) A. is from the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, providing a briefing document. His covering letter draws attention to the fact that there is an ongoing investigation in relation to the Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Board, ETB, and it is important that proceedings do not compromise that investigation, so we will deal with that at the commencement of the session when we have Kildare Wicklow ETB.
Document PAC32-R-895 (i) A is the actual letter from the Secretary General to the committee, and he moves on then towards the last paragraphs. He attaches a briefing note, and then he writes:
The Committee was previously notified by the Department about the commencement of the statutory investigation at Kildare Wicklow ETB. I have included the Terms of Reference for this investigation in the attached briefing material. Given that the investigation is underway it will be important to ensure that nothing is said at the Committee hearing that would compromise the investigation. The investigator, Richard Thorn, has also requested that the committee be advised [yes, we will be advised] of the need to avoid discussion that will potentially do so. I would be grateful if you can ensure that all members of the Committee are made aware of this. I and Department officials attending the Committee will be very conscious of this during the discussions at the Committee meeting.
That is the point, the other paragraph is on a different topic. Kildare Wicklow ETB will be here today. as well as the chairman and chief executive. I call on Deputy Cullinane.
I do not have a difficulty with the letterper se. However, I would like to make a number of points. This comes up an awful lot now, where there are what I would call parallel investigations into issues. It has been brought to our attention then that when we are doing our job where processes, policies and procedures are concerned, we are reminded that we have to be careful. We are deeply conscious of our responsibilities here. However, I do have a concern about this one, because there is an impression given that this is somehow sub judice. It is not.
It is not a criminal investigation and it is not before a judge or jury. It is simply that an examination is being done by the Department. Nothing we do in any way compromises or supersedes it. It is nothing other than us doing our job.
Exactly, which is even more bizarre when one considers the comments from Richard Thorn. It is bizarre for him to advise the committee what we should or should not do and what questions we should or should not ask. He does not have to watch the proceedings at all if he is in any way of the mind that he might be influenced by what is said. It is bizarre that he is referred to at all. He is not an investigator acting on behalf of the State and nor is he a judge. He is simply someone appointed to do a job. I have a difficulty with this situation in which the same person seems to be appointed to do a number of these examinations. At what point is such a person not independent, if he or she is on a retainer to do this type of work? Leaving that aside, the notion that the Secretary General would seek in any way to limit the questions we would put to witnesses or limit our ability to do our job is outrageous.
We will note the comment. The comment applies as much to him as it does to us. He might say something that could compromise the issue. We have to be cautious of everything. ETB is continuing as normal. Part of its work is to report to the Committee of Public Accounts.
We should note the correspondence. I share Deputy Cullinane's concerns, not alone that this might prove to be a pretext to limit the questions we ask but, more to the point, it might be the single transferable answer to questions that are provided by the witness today. While noting the fact of the investigation and this correspondence, it would not be acceptable for a witness to come before the committee today and say "I cannot answer that because there is an investigation under way." I appeal to the Cathaoirleach, as the person who runs these hearings, is ultimately in charge and who will make rulings, that it would be a most unsatisfactory and unnecessary impediment to us carrying out our function.
I support the two Deputies. We need to make a decision now on this because it is quite likely it is going to happen. Otherwise the whole flow of what we are going to do changes. The reality is it is not a criminal investigation. It is a process-----
Exactly, none whatsoever. This is a parallel process. The probing and questioning that collectively we might do here might very well help those who are participating in it to get to the bottom of anything that could be there. If there is a situation in which the Secretary General or anyone else says he or she cannot co-operate or answer our questions, we need to make a decision on it now. For me, it would be completely unacceptable and would negate our capacity as a committee to do our job.
I will put one thing on the record. Tony O'Brien, the head of the HSE, said information uncovered by the Committee of Public Accounts on section 38 and section 39 agreements which came here assisted him in his work in bringing them into line. It is information that might not have come to him otherwise. There can be a plus here.
I agree with the previous points. It is known that this sector is one we have concerns about. Even if we had not put it on our work programme, one could have predicted it would end up on our work programme. We do not want it to be seen as a way of organising or restricting the number of questions that can be asked because it has been set up to do that. That could happen. It could be taken out. I am not saying that is what they did. It is a kind of behaviour that we have to be very concerned does not happen. That is why we should be going on as normal today.
We will. We will carry on. I cannot force the witnesses to give a particular answer but we will ask the questions and we will take it from there. All of this and the investigation arose because of the issues highlighted by the C&AG during the conduct of his 2015 accounts. That was in the context of him providing accounts to ultimately report to us. This issue has come to light because of the audit process. We are conscious of that.
Items Nos. 896A, 897A and 900A are briefing documents from Kilkenny and Carlow ETB, City of Dublin ETB and Kildare and Wicklow ETB. I want to clear up one thing about this. We made it clear the last day that City of Dublin ETB does the processing for the SUSI grant. It is a totally stand-alone, separate exercise and not the business of today. If we want to look at SUSI, it is a separate issue. They have their own job to do. It is a side issue. The SUSI situation comes into the financial statements. We are not here to deal with SUSI. We are here to deal with the core activities.
Item No. 903A is a briefing document from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which is a copy of the code of practice for the governance of State bodies which I referred to a moment ago.
Items Nos. 904A, 905A, 906A, 907A, 909A and 911A are the opening statements from the ETBs before us today and also from the Department of Education and Skills and SOLAS. We note and publish them.
Category B is correspondence from Accounting Officers and other items for publishing. There are two items of correspondence from Martin Shanahan. I am going to make a suggestion. We have a very long day with all of these. We might hold over some of this correspondence because we could spend an hour and a half on correspondence if people wished. I am happy to give it time but we have a long day so if something can be held over in the line of correspondence until next week, we could perhaps do that. It is only a suggestion. That was from Martin Shanahan in response to the earlier correspondence to him. It was item No. 881B and 882B.
This was held over from last week. It was not in the correspondence at the time it was sent in so we agreed we would take it this week. It was follow-on correspondence because there was a discussion on the difference between how ConnectIreland and the IDA have to verify jobs that are created. There are two attachments. The first is PAC32R8482C, which is the requirements that ConnectIreland have to meet. Can we get that up on the screen for a second? What it has to do is identify somebody responsible within the organisation to ensure the jobs were created. It has to create a spreadsheet which then shows the name of the employee, the employee's position, the employee's start date and end date. It must be on company headed paper. There needs to be verification in terms of P30s, contracts and all of that. The verification process is very intense. If we then look at the IDA's one, it is a simple one-page survey and all it has to do is fill in a number of boxes recording how jobs are created. All it is is self-verification. I have a difficulty with that because we depend on that data to present to us the facts of how many jobs are actually created by the IDA. The process here is a joke as far as I can see. This self-assessment and self-verification is madness because we are being told there are a certain number of jobs created and yet there is absolutely no guarantee the figure is genuine. It is simply relying on information it is getting from the company.
There is no follow-up or real inspection and no way we can verify whether it is accurate. I imagine that in most circumstances it probably is and that companies give accurate figures. My point relates to the difference between the hoops ConnectIreland has to go through, rightly. It should be the case that ConnectIreland has to verify the information. If it claims jobs are created, then the company should prove it. IDA Ireland insists that ConnectIreland goes through this process. Yet, there is a far less rigorous process that IDA Ireland has to go through to verify the jobs that it claims to have created. I am not happy with it, to be honest. I am unsure how we deal with it. It may be a matter for the sectoral committee. I am unhappy with the process.
We should write to IDA Ireland. The agency must have some mechanism not only for one year but for the past five years of job announcements. The agency should be able to look back one year later to see the position. Normally, IDA Ireland announces jobs, for example, 300 jobs for the coming four years. Whether they materialise is another matter. Sometimes more materialise and sometimes less. Should we seek some information from IDA Ireland relating to what is announced?
That is neither the point nor the problem. IDA Ireland can give us any amount of data. The question is whether the data is accurate. The problem is when the data is not accurate. We can put up on the screen the actual survey that IDA Ireland companies are asked to fill in. It is a one-page document that includes the Companies Registration Office number and the number of employees or jobs created, but that is it. Where is the follow-up or verification? There is no process - it amounts to zero. We are taking at face value information being given by companies. The data is then given to Oireachtas Members in response to parliamentary questions. Statements on job creation claim X number of jobs have been created, but we cannot verify whether that is the case. That has an impact on policy and revenue.
Let us juxtapose that with the data on the screen relating to what ConnectIreland has to go through. It is a far more rigorous process. There is a problem here. I do not believe that responding in terms of data is the answer. Perhaps we need to write to IDA Ireland again to say that we are concerned about process and verification. If we do not get a satisfactory answer, we may need to bring IDA Ireland representatives before the committee again.
I suggest that during the next week we might discuss with the secretariat what kind of letter we can put together from the committee to capture the point you are making. We will take it further.
Correspondence number 882 from IDA Ireland states that ConnectIreland, a former contractor to IDA Ireland, is at present involved in a legal dispute with IDA Ireland relating to matters arising from the former contract. We will send this letter on to ConnectIreland for information because it had contacted the committee. We will offer ConnectIreland the opportunity to respond.
Next item of correspondence is 883B is from Jim Breslin, Secretary General, Department of Health, providing follow-up information relating to information requested at a previous meeting. There are 18 pages of documentation. I suggest people study it and raise the matter again if they so wish or take it if they want. We have noted it.
Item No. 887 is further correspondence from the Secretary General providing follow-up information relating to the issue of the HIQA chief inspector of social services. People should study and note it. If you want to revisit that issue or bring it up as part of a future work programme, please do so.
I have a question on the three-page letter. I welcome that the correspondence sets out the legislation under which the chief inspector works and that it can be delegated to other inspectors. The correspondence goes on to refer to 101 inspectors currently employed by HIQA. Are they all full-time or part-time?
The nature of the question was to establish whether they were full-time or part-time or whether they had other roles. Can the Department answer that point? Let us consider the amount involved. I feel for the staff, but in going through the documentation we find that there are 101 inspectors. There is no explanation of the status of these inspectors and whether they are part-time or full-time.
That is agreed. We will note and publish the correspondence.
Next is number 889B. This is correspondence dated 16 November from Graham Love, chief executive, Higher Education Authority, enclosing a copy of the independent review of certain matters and allegations relating to the University of Limerick. The review makes 36 findings and ten recommendations. The HEA has undertaken to keep the committee informed of developments. I have had a glance through it but there are over 30 pages. I note one paragraph is partially redacted in the document. People can study it and come back or whatever. We have it and that is good. The HEA will keep us informed.
I have a question relating to the set-up of the review. There are nine chapters but no review summary. It is difficult to read and I have not had a chance to go through it properly. I have only speed-read from chapter 1 to chapter 9. There is no summary, executive summary or highlighting. Readers have to go right through it.
We will write to the HEA, thank the authority and acknowledge the review. In view of the fact that Dr. Thorn is starting out on another review, it is a valid point to make at this stage. He will probably not re-write the report at this stage.
I am told we will have something circulated. It must have arrived yesterday. It will be circulated for the next meeting.
Next is number 890. This is correspondence received from Fred McBride, chief executive, Tusla, providing substantial follow-up information relating to a large number of queries on Tusla. There is useful information in the correspondence.
Yes we will hold over the topic.
Next items are numbered 901, 902 and 908. These three items of correspondence are from Barry O'Connor, president, Cork Institute of Technology. The correspondence covers several items and the requested KPMG report. I note this correspondence and suggest we hold it over. A report has been circulated to us. There is a lot in this but we have not looked at it yet.
We do. I have been following up on this. Some of the questions relate to questions I have put forward. It is important that we set aside some time for this. There is a great deal in it and it requires some analysis. Perhaps by working through the clerk we might find half an hour at some point. It is not simply a matter or noting the correspondence. This is based on the discussions and outcomes at the Committee of Public Accounts relating to the university sector. This relates to CIT in particular. It transcends this committee and dates back to the previous Committee of Public Accounts - it has been going on for that long. There is some interesting information available. We should set aside or designate some time to go at this as well.
That is fine. Category C relates to correspondence from private individuals and other correspondence. Correspondence number 878 is dated 23 October from an anonymous source. It raises questions about Garda-related bodies, including the Garda Benevolent Trust Fund and the Garda Holidays and Travel Club. I propose that we forward the correspondence to An Garda Síochána for a response. When we get a response we will consider it. We do not have the name of the correspondent.
The next item is number 884 from an individual in the Irish Prison Service who made a protected disclosure. The person had previously written to the committee. He maintains that he continues to suffer in several ways, including financially, as a result of making disclosures. The committee has written to the Minister on the matter drawing attention to the case. Have we received a response from the Minister yet? We have a holding response. We will come back to this when we get the response.
It is absolutely necessary that we return to this case in particular.
It is a case that requires further investigation, particularly in light of the issues that are being raised. The Chairman is aware of the individual.
This is not an issue we can kick down the road any longer. It is not one in respect of which we can be satisfied that the relevant Department will deal with it. We need to act in a way that we will, I hope, finally get the answers once and for all and one way or the other.
That is absolutely agreed. We will come back to this for an update at the next meeting.
The next item of correspondence, No. 885, dated 7 November, is from an individual enquiring about the cost of St. Francis Bridge in Kilkenny. It is proposed that we write to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for a response to the letter. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 886, dated 7 November, is from Mr. Mark O'Brien, chief executive of Louth and Meath Education and Training Board in response to recent correspondence. He states every effort will be made to produce the 2017 accounts by the end of March 2018. That is the sort of reply we want to receive. We want the boards to get their business done in a timely manner. We note that.
The next item of correspondence, No. 888, dated 8 November, is from NAMA and is replying to a query of the committee in regard to a hotel in Kinsale. I propose we forward the information to the individual who raised the matter with us. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 891, dated 8 November, is from Ms Marie Broderick, private secretary to the Acting Garda Commissioner, providing information, as requested by the committee, on the Charleton tribunal regarding the recruitment process and breakdown of the costs of the Charleton tribunal co-ordination unit. I suspect Deputy Alan Kelly has something to say.
I do not know how the Chairman would suspect that. I have many questions on this. The Chairman should not worry as they are not to cross over the tribunal. Effectively, there is a Charleton liaison committee in place in An Garda Síochána. It is effectively a unit to process all the information provided to the tribunal. There are many media reports on the lack of information going through the unit into the tribunal, but that is a separate matter. The issue for us is whether there was any transparency, public process or anything at all in regard to the setting up of this unit. I cannot find it. Who chose the individuals? Why were they chosen? How did the Department sanction them? Was the request for sanction put to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Did it go through the Department of Justice and Equality before the people were picked? I have been asking questions to the Department of Justice and Equality and the answers I have got are unsatisfactory, as usual. We are to have the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality next week. We may just ask this question.
We will put the witnesses for next week on notice that we will raise this issue specifically.
No. 892C, dated 9 November 2017, is correspondence from Mr. John Pollock, project director, National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, providing an update, as requested by the committee, in regard to the National Children's Hospital. According to the update, the main children's hospital is due to open in 2022 and the overall cost is estimated to increase from €800 million to €983 million, due mainly to construction inflation rising from 3% to 9 % and a longer project timeframe than previously envisaged. May we note this? Noted. This is information many people will be interested in receiving.
No. 894C is correspondence dated 9 November 2017 from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, providing information on the JobPath service. We will note this for the time being. If members have any further questions, we can raise them at the meeting with the Department on 7 December 2017. May we note and publish that? Noted.
No. 899C is correspondence dated 10 November 2017 from Mr. Adrian O'Connor, senior manager, Citizens Information Board, in response to a request from the committee regarding proposed changes to the governance arrangements for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service. The correspondence states the witnesses are scheduled to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection on 23 November 2017 and are seeking an extension to provide the requested information until after that meeting. We will hold this over until after the meeting with the joint committee, which has already been scheduled. We agree to the extension and will seek information after the meeting with the joint committee.
That was the last item of correspondence. On the screen now are the financial statements received since the last meeting. A number of accounts were received. The first is from Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board, which has a clear audited opinion for the 2016 accounts. We note that.
The next concerns the National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland. In respect of the 2016 accounts, there is a qualified opinion in regard to the superannuation schemes operated by the authority. We note that.
The next concerns Tourism Ireland, the North-South body that markets tourism for the island of Ireland. It has a clear audited opinion. Is it audited by both auditors?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Essentially, the body is accounting for the liabilities of the pension schemes but, unlike almost all other non-commercial state bodies, it is not recognising a matching pension funding asset. It is not accounting for it on the basis that it will receive funding in the future to match the liabilities-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Since it does not have a guarantee that the money will come, it is accounting for it in this way. What it means is that its balance sheet is showing a significant net liability situation. What I am doing with the qualified opinion is drawing attention to the fact that that is not a standard approach in public sector bodies. Given that it is a statutory scheme into which members pay, with pension funding as a policy matter on a pay-as-you-go basis, the organisation should be recognising a matching pension funding asset, as is standard.
I understand that.
I have one other question. With regard to Tourism Ireland, which is an intriguing organisation, Ireland has been the only country in the world in which, a number of years ago, two national tourism bodies came together in a room to create one but ended up with three. At some point in the future we might examine the funding of Tourism Ireland and the ratio of funding. Does the funding of the actual activities of Tourism Ireland represent value for money from a taxpayer's point of view when the outputs are taken into account? In other words, is the output for the South under Tourism Ireland proportional to that in Northern Ireland? What is the ratio of what goes in to the output? Obtaining this data would be a very interesting exercise.
We will send a letter seeking the information and then we will deal with the reply. If the Deputy wants to consult the committee secretariat and read the letter before it goes out, he may do so. When we get the information, we can discuss it at that stage.
The next item concerns the 2016 accounts of Institute of Technology Carlow. There is a clear audited opinion, except for non-recognition of pension costs and liabilities. This is normal in the institute of education sector.
The next item concerns the Royal Irish Academy, whose 2016 accounts have a clear audited opinion. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has a clear audited opinion for 2016. The broadcasting fund has a clear audited opinion. What is the broadcasting fund?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It is the Department of Education and Skills, funded from PRSI-associated levies.
It is a clear auditor opinion as well, which is fine. The next item is the work programme, which is set for the next number of weeks. We are engaging with the education sector today and next week we will have representatives of An Garda Síochána. It is very important we contact An Garda Síochána to see if there has been any further progress on the audits that were ongoing when we considered the matters well before the summer. If there is information, we need it urgently so we can have time to study it before next week's meeting. We will also have the Revenue Commissioners and representatives from the Department of Finance.
I raised last week what Deputy Murphy mentioned. We have to conclude a piece of work on the opening of Garda stations and we said it would have its own module. Two weeks ago I asked for that to be listed on the work programme as a part of this. Could we please put it in?
We can hold correspondence over for a week, bar there is something urgent. I would prefer to have it circulated as normal and we can seek agreement on what to do then. I would not like not to have it circulated. We will have it but we might not deal with it all. We can hold over some of it.