Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 7 December 2017
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined today by Mr. Andy Harkness from the Comptroller and Auditor General's office. He is accompanied by Jennifer O'Halloran. Apologies have been received from Deputies Bobby Aylward and Alan Farrell. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald sends her apologies for the morning session; she will probably be here for the afternoon session.
The first item on the agenda is the minutes of meetings. There is a bit of catching up here from 9 November, 16 November and 23 November. Are they agreed? Agreed. With regard to matters arising from those minutes, most items have been covered and will come up in the course of correspondence so there is nothing specific arising.
This afternoon we will meet in private session and we will discuss the Kildare-Wicklow Education Training Board situation because some of the documents and correspondence received may have legal implications. There are High Court proceedings referred to in some of the correspondence. That is for the afternoon meeting. We will come back to Kildare-Wicklow Education Training Board.
I do not know. We have to wait. The legal people will have some briefing note or briefing material for it. The legal people in the House have given a briefing to the secretariat for us to consider in private session this afternoon. We will just have to decide in private session. We are not in the business-----
Yes, exactly. We will come to the Kildare-Wicklow Education Training Board. We are conscious that the chairman and vice chairman of the board have resigned. There have been some developments. We will discuss that in further detail this afternoon.
The next item is correspondence received. The first is items Nos. 957 and 966 from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, on today's meeting. We note and publish those.
Category B is correspondence from Accounting Officers or Ministers, follow-up correspondence and other items for publication. The first item under this heading is No. 889, which is carried over from the previous meeting, from Dr. Graham Love, chief executive of the HEA, and dated 8 November. It is a report from Dr. Richard Thorn regarding the independent review of certain matters and allegations relating to University of Limerick. There is an extensive document and probably the best thing to do is to put it on the work programme. That report runs to well over 100 pages.
The work programme is on our agenda. It will come up in a few minutes. The next item is No. 955 from Mr. Graham Doyle, Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is a follow-up to the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts on 12 October on the Transport Infrastructure Ireland financial statements. It gives information and a breakdown of various allocations of funding.
The next item is No. 960 from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, following up with additional information arising from the Committee of Public Accounts meeting of 9 November. It includes information on the remediation costs of landfill sites, the results of energy efficiency changes in the Department, conservation programme for restocking of rivers and analysis of the funding to RTÉ as well as a note on the Department.
The next item is No. 961 from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, regarding the delay in laying NAMA 's individual group company accounts. I want to call that up on screen. A week or two ago we noted the publication of accounts of a large number of individual companies within the NAMA group going back over a five-year period. All had been audited on time and sent to the CRO. All had been sent to the Department but they were not sent to the Committee of Public Accounts as was required. It was probably an administrative oversight. It is unusual that people overlooked the laying of these accounts before the Oireachtas. The letter explains that and apologises for the administrative oversight. Every year we have reviewed the NAMA group accounts, which included these individual subsidiaries, but there is information in those subsidiaries' accounts that would not have been in the consolidated accounts. We will note and publish that.
The next item is No. 962 from Mr. Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, replying to the committee's request for information on funding and outputs in comparison with Northern Ireland. We will note and publish it.
The next item is No. 963 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, providing additional information that was sought by the committee on 16 November on the education and training boards. We decided last week that if we had not received a comprehensive response by Tuesday, the Secretary General would be here in person to explain why we had not received a response. We received this response from him on Tuesday, and it runs to several hundred pages in a full lever arch file. The secretariat is putting it in electronic form to be uploaded to our correspondence file. We have it in electronic form. The first question we asked that day was the total funding to the education and training board sector. The Department has given a detailed analysis in the first page, stating that it comes to €1.781 billion, which is broadly the figure arrived at after the discussion. We will have to consider the full document in due course. I acknowledge it has been received and the volume is so big that we cannot get into it today. It has been circulated.
The next item is No. 965 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, providing details on the progress made to complete the contributions being made by religious orders under the 2002 and 2009 agreements. It is an ongoing process and we ask the Department to keep the committee up to date on the matter on an ongoing basis. Deputy Connolly had a number of questions on the last day and hopefully the update will be of some assistance. We will continue to-----
The bigger issues are that in the voluntary agreement, it was agreed that buildings would be handed over. We noticed that they have not been handed over but on top of that, when they are in the process of being handed over, conditions are attached. I thought these buildings were being handed over to the State or some agent of the State full stop, but it is not quite that simple. We need to tease that out at some stage.
We will hold it over. We are not moving on from it. It will be on our correspondence list next week. The next item is No. 967 from Mr. Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA Ireland, on contracts between IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland. The correspondence provides clarification on the verification process used by IDA Ireland in respect of payments to ConnectIreland.
This issue is not about ConnectIreland and the information we sought had nothing to do with ConnectIreland. The questions I asked were on the annual employment survey and how it arrived at the figures for how many IDA Ireland sponsored jobs had been created. In its response, it gives a very detailed breakdown of the verification process used by IDA Ireland in respect of grants. That is fine. I have no difficulty with that but it does not use the same verification process in terms of the annual employment survey.
They do not, for example, do site visits, payroll reports or company bank statements. ConnectIreland has to do all of that in terms of verifying what jobs were created. That is where the comparison comes from. The annual employment survey is quite weak and is a self-assessment system. Bear in mind that this is the key report we use as a benchmark for the performance of IDA Ireland. Ultimately, it is about how many IDA Ireland sponsored jobs are created each year. If it is a simple self-assessment process and it is not really properly back up or assessed then I have a difficulty with it. I believe this is quite serious and I would like to come back to it at some point. I would want to put questions to IDA Ireland in this regard. I am not satisfied with it and every response the committee gets back from them reaffirms my concerns that the survey is quite weak in process terms. It is this committee's role to probe the process. We should come back to this.
I suggest that the Deputy might assist the secretariat in drafting the specific letter to IDA Ireland and we will go back. I believe there is a misunderstanding all around. We use the process that was used for ConnectIreland. We did not want a direct comparison. It alerted us to the issue of how they do it themselves in regard to their own job announcements. That is what the committee really wanted to query, not the comparison.
Yes it is. It is only a survey. If the Deputy wants to talk to the secretariat about that we will issue a more specific letter. This is noted and published.
Correspondence item No. 958 is from Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, dated 24 November 2017 in regard to an individual who has made a protected disclosure regarding the Irish Prison Service. The correspondence states that there is a review taking place in the Irish Prison Service which should be completed by the end of this year. It is suggested that we write to the director of the Irish Prison Service and request that the committee get an information note on this review in the new year. Do members have any comments on this? I suggest that instead of writing to the Irish Prison Service we keep the correspondence directly with the Minister, as the safest way. This is about a protected disclosure. We have a correspondence from the Minister and I suggest we keep that line of communication open rather than dealing the committee dealing with the body under the Department. Agreed? Agreed.
The next item is correspondence item 959 from Deputy Jim Daly, dated 15 November 2017, relating to tracker mortgage rates converting to variable rates, and the correspondence encloses various communications with the Central Bank as well as replies to parliamentary questions that Deputy Daly has received on this matter. As this matter is being examined by the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach I suggest that we forward this to that committee for inclusion in their examination and we will inform Deputy Daly of same. I have looked at the correspondence and I believe it should have gone to the other committee rather than this committee. The secretariat will forward it on to that committee. It is more appropriate for them. We will also notify Deputy Daly of this. Agreed? Agreed.
Finally I wish to raise an issue that is not an item of correspondence on the schedule. The clerk and I have looked at a piece of correspondence in respect of a particular case that was sent to me as the Chairman of the committee, by a company concerning a client and the client's dealings with the Irish Permanent TSB, where an incorrect interest rate had been charged. The letter and the attached documents contain a considerable amount of personal and private information about the individual concerned such as amounts borrowed, date of birth, address and income. The matter is not within the remit of the committee and I propose to not circulate the correspondence or include it on our list. It is not a matter for the Committee of Public Accounts, it is an individual case and I propose it is returned to the company who sent it to us to ask them to pursue the matter with the Financial Ombudsman who deals independently with unresolved complaints from consumers about their individual dealings with financial service providers. This specific case came to me as the Chairman. If it had come to me in my constituency office I might have looked at it but it is certainly not a Committee of Public Accounts matter. We will ask the company to take it up with the Financial Ombudsman. Agreed? Agreed.
The next item is statements and accounts received since the last meeting. These figures are on screen now.
Okay. Make sure the secretariat has it as an item on our correspondence list for next week. I thought we were to have it for this week. We received the Deloitte one and we have been back to the HSE. We were expecting it but it is not here just yet.
Okay. We will certainly deal with that next week. The Deputies are right. While we deal with correspondence, sometimes the items of correspondence the committee has not received can be more important that the correspondence we have received.
The next item is financial statements and accounts received since the Thursday meeting. These are financial statements from the Financial Services Ombudsman Bureau for 2016. This is a clear audited opinion. It has the standard note on the provision of pension funding arrangements, which we see in many of the public bodies.
The next item is the sundry moneys account, which was established to hold certain receipts pending determination of the ultimate destination of the funds. Examples are sums in legal disputes, state aid recoveries, and EU refunds. Some €153 million went through the account and it is a clear, audited opinion. I am not familiar with this account. Obviously we can get it in the Oireachtas. Are these the main items that would be in it?
Most of the money that comes in gets washed out and through in due course? Okay. Those accounts have been published and laid before the Oireachtas. If any member has a particular interest they are free to examine them. The accounts have a clear audited opinion. It is interesting as I had not heard any details on that account before. Every day is a learning day.
With regard to regulatory bodies that are not semi-State bodies, such as the Irish Aviation Authority. Are these bodies audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General? How does the Oireachtas see those accounts?
I submitted a parliamentary question to every Department under the aegis of the relevant Ministers in respect of funding provided to two organisations of over €1 million, and whether or not they are audited, and the proportion of those funds to their overall funding. have received replies but I have not gone through them all yet. I believe that the Committee of Public Accounts will take the view that where 50% of their funding is public funding, even if they are not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, if the majority of their funding is public funding, will be inclined to go there.
That relates to RTÉ, but separately, there is an awful lot of outsourcing going on also. Some of this will be relevant to the hearings we had this morning, where some services are outsourced. In circumstances where some services by a Department are outsourced to organisations I imagine there would have to be service level agreements in place. If it concerns substantial amounts like tens of millions of euro, are those outsourced companies audited?
So Mr. Harkness will raise that issue at this morning's meeting?
The next item is the work programme. Next week we will examine the cost of bank stabilisation with the Department of Finance and the special liquidators to IBRC present. I have asked the committee secretariat to put together draft headings for the new year. I ask members to examine it and contact the secretariat if they have any suggestions before we sign off on the programme next week. My only caveat is that we must deal with the chapters in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. We cannot put our basic work to one side. The committee can take on additional work but we cannot skip over the basic work of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I ask members to examine the draft schedule for the first months of the new year and we will sign off on it next week.
There being no other business, we will suspend while the witnesses take their seats.