Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 27 September 2018
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy as the permanent witness to the committee. Apologies have been received from Deputy Pat Deering. The minutes of the meeting of 20 September have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. There is a small change to be made to the minutes of the meeting of Tuesday, 25 September, which we will clear next week. There are no matters arising from the minutes.
I move to correspondence. There are no external witnesses before the committee today. We are using this as an opportunity to consider correspondence received since the meeting in July, which numbers well in excess of 100 items some of which are routine. People who have an interest in certain matters should watch proceedings as some of the items that we will publish today contain very interesting information. We will not get to discuss them all in detail, inevitably some will have to be held over, but we will attempt to clear as many as we can. This meeting should conclude at the latest by the time the series of votes comes before the Dáil and so we would not return in the afternoon. I propose that anything that is not dealt with is held over.
The first item is No. 1479 B from Dr. Graham Love, Chief Executive, Higher Education Authority, dated 11 July 2018 providing the following information requested by the committee. It is a comparative note on the financial position in terms of annual deficits-surpluses of all institutes of technology; and an update on the financial position of the accounts of Waterford Institute of Technology which has a substantial deficit of €4.4 million. Dr. Graham Love has indicated that he will leave his post soon. At last week's meeting we asked him to come before the committee before he leaves the post at the end of October. That request is in the system and we are waiting for a date. We are keen for that meeting to happen.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
They are not meant to be in deficit. We have drawn attention in the audit certificate for several years past where any material deficit emerges. A small deficit which is frictional from one year to the next would not be of concern but a number have built up cumulated deficits to which we have drawn attention.
I understand that, I am just trying to establish the fault. There is a direction from the Department that the institutes of technology should not be in deficit yet some of them have accumulated deficits over a long period.
That is one of the reasons that we want to talk to Dr. Graham Love. The Department should not accept that. Just because they know of an infringement does not make it correct. We will return to this topic. The expectation would be that steps would be taken by the relevant institute to rectify the position and ensure that a deficit position does not continue.
I know that we are dealing with the deficits only now, however at the last meeting I did ask that Dr. Graham Love and the Department would be here to discuss Dr. Love's departure. There are reports, although they are only in the media, that raise question marks over the relationship between the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the Department which form part of questions that we have put in the past around who is responsible for what, whether or not the HEA is getting the support from the Department that it needs to drive the reforms that we have been looking for and that we have been pushing the HEA to get. I do not expect Dr. Love to say it in those terms, that would be unfair on him, but it would be responsible for us to follow that logic.
We have called the HEA in several times and have put it under pressure in relation to the need for reform in several areas and the kinds of governance structures that are in place. What is the relationship between the institutes, the HEA and the Department? Dr. Love is telling us that he is trying to drive reforms. If it is the case that the HEA is being met with resistance from the Department, then surely that is a problem that should be examined.
If one has a deficit, one must fund it from somewhere. There would have to be approval within the organisation's board to raise a loan from a bank or whatever. Is there any common denominator in that? Are there governance issues about which there are obvious problems? How are the deficits funded?
In other words, the accounts will include charges for depreciation on assets that will create a loss but depreciation is not a cash outflow. Therefore, even though the profit and loss account may show a loss due to charges like that, there could still be cash in the bank. Just because there is a trading loss does not mean that an entity will be in overdraft.
Some of the unpaid creditors have not yet been paid. An organisation can be in deficit but still have cash in the bank. It is a subtle accounting difference but an important one. They will be the same in the long run but at any time a body can be in deficit but have cash in the bank.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The whole point of the financial statements is to give a true-up of one's trading position in a year. The board is signing off and declaring that it has been in a deficit position in a particular year. The whole point of the financial statements exercise is that one does know what one's position is at the end of any period.
I appreciate the clarification about deficits. Following on from Deputy Cullinane's comments, we need to prioritise Dr. Love coming in here. We need to really prioritise it and put it at the top of our agenda. I found the letter saying that he was going to be very alarming. Its tone suggests that he possibly needs to talk to us. It would be a good exercise. As we saw from the discussions, we really need to tease out the issue of the relationship between the HEA and the Department. There are obviously problems there and issues that would be of concern to this committee. These issues fall back to the report that we did on third level which appear as though they are not being cleared up.
The demarcation lines, responsibility and who does what are unclear. Obviously that raises a range of issues relating to accountability and expenditure. We should invite Dr. Love to appear before the committee. There are also specific issues relating to some of the third level colleges and issues relating to WIT on which he needs to speak. Furthermore, there are considerable issues relating to Carlow Institute of Technology, CIT, and a number of other institutions as well. When we do our work programme we should prioritise this and invite Dr. Love and representatives of the Department of Education and Skills to appear before the committee at the same time.
Not yet. The invitation was only issued arising from our last meeting. He is leaving by the end of October and we will try to facilitate a time that suits him. If it involves an out-of-sequence meeting we will do that. We have had Dr. Love appear before the committee with representatives of the Department together. Is your request that they both appear together or separately?
I concur with the other members on this. Apart from the issues we have in correspondence that we wish to pursue and raise again, and there are other items in correspondence that may relate to him that we will come to later, the committee would do the State a service by having exit interviews when somebody is leaving an organisation such as this. Obviously there might be personal reasons associated with somebody's exit and that is fine, but to get somebody's view of, perhaps, necessary improvements and so forth on their way out is very useful. I concur that it is a priority, notwithstanding the other issues that are relevant, and a line of questioning that day could certainly be: "You are on your way out and as you leave if you had a magic wand what would you change, what would you do, what is missing, what is good, what is bad and so forth?".
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There is a special report on a number of matters in UL and the Institute of Technology, Sligo. It is with the Department. We sent it to the Department at the end of August. The timing for its presentation to the Oireachtas is in the hands of the Department, within the three month limit.
I raised that point because at the second last or third last meeting we decided we would hold off on following up on some of the institutes and universities until the special reports are complete, because then we would have a report to work from. If they are there-----
That might require a single hearing. There is probably a list of things relating to both colleges in the third level sector but because of the nature of the report, and I am not judging it before it is released-----
Before moving on from this item of correspondence I should put on the record the contents of the correspondence. It says with regard to the deficits of institutes of technology that three have accumulated a deficit. Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology has accumulated a deficit of €3.299 million, the Institute of Technology, Tralee has a deficit of €1.843 million and Waterford Institute of Technology has a deficit of €4.438 million. The three organisations have a combined deficit of €9.5 million.
The deficits have to be seen in the context of the size of the institutes and I can see where there are problems. Smaller institutes that have smaller numbers have big deficits, which shows that there is a bigger problem.
Yes. We will return to the third level sector.
The next item is No. 1481 Bfrom Mr. Timothy Owens, chief executive, Cork ETB, dated 12 July 2018, providing information requested by the committee regarding whether the ETB as part of any settlement agreement with a claimant imposes a condition on the individual prohibiting the person from applying for work with the ETB. Mr. Owens states that the ETB does not do this. We can note and publish it. He said there was a legal agreement with legal representatives on both sides. It is a short letter. Is there any comment?
It is short, but there is an evocative tone to the letter. The letter says the ETB does not do this, but it does and did do this. The tone of the letter implies to me that the ETB viewed this person as troublesome. Whether that is right or wrong, the ETB inserted a clause in a contract that the person would never again apply in the ETB sector. It is obliged to answer questions about that. It is not reasonable to suggest that it does not do that as a matter of policy except when it suits it. If that was only on one occasion so be it, but such arbitrary clauses need to be prohibited in the public sector.
I want to send a letter back to Mr. Timothy Owens, with a copy to be sent to the chairman of the board, stating that the committee is not happy with the tone of the letter from that point of view. The first sentence in the letter states that Cork ETB does not have a policy or practice prohibiting people from applying for employment or re-employment. When he continues the entire substance of his letter deals with the individual concerned. He identifies that person and makes comments on whether the person was successful at other interview processes. It was unfair to put this on the public record. We should say in our letter that he should have stuck to the specific issue and that he made some injudicious remarks about the individual concerned, who can be identified, and he should not have done so. I want a letter in that format to go to the chief executive and to the chairman of the board, to be brought to the attention of board members at a subsequent meeting. I am not happy that he went into that detail about the individual.
The committee will note that letter but not publish it. I would be conflicted if I put that letter in the public domain.
My point is that there is obviously a level of plenipotentiary status and authority in the ETB sector that allows people, willy-nilly, to adopt a policy on an individual basis. The issue here is that I hope we do not live in an authoritarian state where if I decide that somebody is troublesome, a thorn in my side and not capable of job A, I have a right to exclude the person from applying for job B at some stage in the future. As a practice for a democratic state it is fundamentally wrong. If we do not invite Mr. Owens does it fall under the remit of Mr. Ó Foghlú, the Secretary General, or the Minister?
We need to take a position on this and to see if there are other matters in terms of Department circulars which are left open-ended and can allow for the discretional adoption of individual policies or issues that might be included in exit clauses for people. It is a little too loose. In fact, when these end up in the courts, because they state there is an element of discretion following circular X or circular Y the courts are left with no option but to say the process has been followed in accordance with the criteria laid down. However, there is a level of discretion permitted within that, with no guidelines or definitions of what that discretion will include in terms of process and procedure. There is an issue here, and it might not just be this instance. I seek the committee's view on who we should address on this.
This happened and regardless of whether it is a repetitive policy or a one-off, it should be prohibited. That is a personal view; we will see what other members think.
It refers to the individual concerned and I think we would be identifying the person. I think we should hold off on publication. I am not happy with the letter Mr. Timothy Owens sent us, which is not, in my view, fair to publish. There should have been a presumption that we would get a letter that we would be happy to publish. However, I am not happy to publish that letter.
He has referred to an individual case, which is the entire substance of his letter, but we want to know about the general policy. We will write back to him on that basis. We will note the letter received and respond to it but we are not publishing it. We will ask that when he writes back to us that he does not do so in such a way as to make a person specifically identifiable. We are interested in the main issue only. The letter is noted but will not be published. The matter will be followed up on further.
No. 1482B is correspondence from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, dated 13 July 2018, providing an information note requested by the committee in respect of the structures in the public service for dealing with pre-payments, the risk associated with such structures and the lessons learned from the Dublin Institute of Technology case whereby €700,000 was lost on pre-payments for library services to a company that went into liquidation. The Department accepts our recommendation on the need for appropriate guidance in respect of this matter. I have read the letter closely and the contents of appendix 1 are extraordinary. In the context of the pre-payments issue, reference is made to section 24 of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act of 1866. If that is the legislation the Department is operating under, we will have to write to Mr. Watt and ask whether, in the intervening two centuries, anyone has considered whether it is still fit for purpose. If that is the basis then it is no wonder there is an issue here. That legislation was written long before the advent of things like cyberfraud. We will write back to the Secretary General to ask his views on this matter.
It is a Victorian concept and the accounting structures being presented to us every year through the appropriation accounts are based on Victorian rules. They predate independence. We will write back to Mr. Watt and ask him if he has considered the matter and if he will make the accounts more modern and more suited to a republic.
Just because the legislation dates from 1866 does not mean that it is wrong. My memory of the particular case is that money was unnecessarily paid in advance of goods being received. Further controls were put in place afterwards. Would a change in legislation have made any difference?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The point being made here is that the principle of only paying when the liability is due has been around for more than 200 years. Regardless of whatever modernisation we undertake, if we go with cash accounting, we will continue to look for that test to be honoured. One does not pay ahead of a delivery of service, effectively.
We have noted the correspondence and will ask Mr. Watt for his views on whether the legislation needs to be updated in any respect. We will note and publish that correspondence.
No. 1483B is correspondence from Mr. Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA Ireland, dated 11 July 2018, providing an update on the ConnectIreland dispute with IDA Ireland. An arbitrator has now agreed to deal with this matter. Mr. Shanahan has been told that the substantive matter will probably not be heard until 2019, so on it goes. We will note and publish that.
No. 1484B is correspondence from Mr. Niall Cody, chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, dated 13 July 2018, providing information requested by the committee including data on cases under appeal to the Tax Appeals Commission, cases of seizures of tobacco products, the 289 cases published in the 2017 quarterly list of tax defaulters and a note on good citizen reports. I wish to make a number of observations on the detailed contents of this letter. I draw members' attention to appendix 3 which outlines unpaid amounts, an issue that has been raised at this committee on previous occasions. There was always a presumption that defaulters on a published tax defaulters list had paid the taxes owing, as detailed in the list. However, we now know that the list only details the taxes due and does not necessarily mean that the tax was ever paid. Appendix 3 provides a breakdown of the data relating to cases in 2017. Of the total amount of cases published in 2017, the total debt as published at that time was €53.13 million and the amount that remained unpaid was €25.96 million. Essentially, only 50% of what was published had actually been paid. The most recent information relating to the unpaid €25.96 million at the end of June 2018 is that €11.64 million is not collectable, €8.4 million of which relates to cases of an inability to pay due to liquidation. There is still a balance that the Revenue Commissioners believe is collectable of €14.1 million and this is being actively pursued. We would like an assurance that a special effort is made by the Revenue Commissioners to collect the moneys owed by those on published tax defaulters lists. Mr. Cody has said that of the total debt of €53.13 million, an outstanding amount of €14.1 million is collectable and is being pursued. We would like to see a greater effort being made in this area.
The other part of the letter to which I draw the attention of members is that relating to the issue of the Tax Appeals Commission. We asked for a detailed breakdown on the level of tax in dispute and the amounts settled by the Tax Appeals Commission. Mr. Cody summarises the position by stating, "The wide range of practical and operational complexities is such that it is not possible to forecast the proportion of the debt under appeal that is likely to be collected". There is definitely a lacuna in the information available from the Revenue Commissioners and the Tax Appeals Commission. Nobody seems to be able to provide a clear cut figure on what is collectable as a result of the Tax Appeals Commission process. That is something that we will have to include in a periodic report. We do not have a full breakdown of the figures yet. I just wanted to make those two points about this correspondence from Mr. Cody.
When we met the representatives of the Tax Appeals Commission, what they told us about the circumstances under which they were working was jaw-dropping. They referred to computers going on fire, moving office with only two week's notice and so on. If we do not have a proper system in place we should not be surprised that we are not getting information in a timely manner. In actual fact, investment in an organisation like the Tax Appeals Commission is needed in order to enable Revenue to obtain the relevant information and to follow through on collecting the taxes. We need to find out if circumstances have changed at the Tax Appeals Commission. It might be appropriate to write to the commission seeking an update, if we have not obtained one already
We have a reply from the Department of Finance on staffing arrangements, further to that meeting. Separately, we have received a very strong letter from the OPW expressing dissatisfaction with what was said here. Representatives of the OPW are due before us in two weeks' time so we will ask them about their interactions with the Tax Appeals Commission. As I have said, there is a letter from the Department of Finance dealing with the staffing arrangements and when we come to that, we will take it into account. We will note and publish this correspondence for now, bearing in mind that there is further correspondence relating to the Tax Appeals Commission.
No. 1486B is correspondence from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, dated 12 July 2018, providing an update requested by the committee on the review carried out by Dr. Richard Thorn into Kildare Wicklow ETB.
There is further correspondence on this exact copy, where he provides a copy of the review on the Kildare Wicklow ETB. We will note and publish both items and we will add this to the committee's work programme. This is reference No. 1566B.
The Accounting Officer and the chairman of the board from that ETB board have been before this committee. They were not in a position, to put it mildly, to answer questions but they did say they would come back to us once the report was finished. It is somewhat complicated by the fact that the report is now subject to a criminal investigation. That needs to run its course. There were other issues with regard to other ETBs. Is the Comptroller and Auditor's office doing a follow-on audit?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
In relation to the Kildare Wicklow ETB, the origination of this report was as a result of work we did on the audit where we felt we could not continue with the audit. The audit was suspended. We have resumed it and I propose to include a report attached to the audit certificate in relation to this. The draft of that is with the ETB for comment, which I am expecting back by the end of next week. Hopefully we will then be able to proceed fairly quickly to complete the audit and present it. This is the 2015 audit.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Separately, yes. We are going to look at financial management maturity in ETBs. It is interesting that the Thorn report as presented to the committee this morning contains recommendations about the governance systems in place, which will have an implication for all ETBs. The cover letter from the Department also indicates the steps that are being taken to address weaknesses that have come to light as a result of the Kildare Wicklow ETB issues.
There is one issue arising from that, which I raised at the last meeting but we said we would hold it over. One of the issues at the heart of this report is procurement, the rules around procurement and the non-adherence to procurement rules. We touch on this aspect every week when this committee receives audited opinions from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. In some 50% of the audits there appears to be some comment about the lack of adherence to procurement rules. It is rampant in the health sector, the HSE, the Department, and in education. We need to look at the consequences of it. Sometimes there are extreme manifestations of it such as in this case, which is subject to a criminal investigation. There are other consequences in that there are risks to the organisations themselves if they do not follow the rules because there are always opportunities for those who feel they have been hard done by in the procurement process to take a case. For example, when the Garda was in about the IT system, those concerned just got there too late. When they looked at the new contract, they did not plan and not enough time was given to the organisation with the staff they had and-----
Because of the lack of planning. It is a huge issue. There is no sanction in place whatsoever. There is frustration . I am aware there have been changes and the Comptroller and Auditor General has noted that. This committee comments on it and there has been some progress. Perhaps more cognisance is given by organisations than was given in the past, but it is still pretty much just a rap on the knuckles and that is it. The issue of procurement is such a problem that I believe we should examine it in its own right as part of our work programme.
Obviously the Garda are looking at an aspect but will not be looking at the totality of the report. How do we get to the point where we can isolate what we can do and what is subject to the Garda investigation? We should not simply bypass the totality of the report by virtue of the fact that there is a Garda investigation. There are other aspects of the report that merit scrutiny.
For the next meeting, I will ask the secretariat to look at the report to identify those chapters and sections that are not involved in the Garda investigation, to list those topics, and to list the topics that are not appropriate for us to proceed with. The Deputy's point is right. I will ask the secretariat to do this in order that the committee knows and agrees the aspects we will and will not look at. The Garda investigation could go on for a long time.
My sympathy goes out to the secretariat if the Chairman thinks this can be done within the week. I welcome the Thorn report. I have read it. I would like the direction put into context. A direction was issued by the Minister. Can someone put that into context? Is that the first direction or is it the first of many to different organisations?
The report refers to effective governance and accountability as crucial. I believe it is premature to go down the procurement route. I agree with my colleague that the issue of procurement comes up repeatedly but there is a bigger picture here. Effective governance and accountability is crucial. The report outlines, in relation to Government procedures, that adequate arrangements to manage procurement and conflicts of interest were in place according to the documented procedures, however it highlights the shortcomings on an operative basis. And so we are back again, and it was the same last Tuesday with the Department of the Taoiseach with regard to the President's Establishment, notwithstanding any attempts to deflect from the issue. On paper we were learning in the reports that everything was fine but in practice it was not. Here we have the same thing; on the ground everything is in place but on an operative basis it is not happening. The Department has issued a very strong directive, has issued recommendations and has set timescales. They had two weeks to respond to this but have they responded? I do not know. When the Department issued this letter and direction they had two weeks to reply to it. As there are many recommendations with timescales, we need to ensure those timescales are being complied with. The committee should not be doing this, the Department of Education and Skills should be ensuring these timescales are complied with.
There is so much in this that one would despair. Now they need an external agency again on this. It is only thanks to those people who took a great interest, and to the Comptroller and Auditor General's office which deserves the main praise, and to the other people who paid attention to this, that we waded through all of this as best we could. Now we have this direction and outside help is needed again. There is also the role of the Institute of Public Administration to consider, a concept for which I have great admiration. I served on a previous vocational education committee, VEC, for ten years and I am aware that one can be left struggling. There are many general serious issues in this regard.
I have sympathy for the secretariat if, after one week of looking at it, they have to try to tell me what this committee should be discussing.
There is a serious direction from the Department, serious guidelines and serious things that must be done. Separately, there is more cost to the taxpayer as there will be more external help required. This is from a procedure that was absolutely rushed when the decision was made to amalgamate all of these ETBs.
The Deputy has raised a correct issue. I have a request for the Comptroller and Auditor General. Every week this committee notes accounts and regularly, a procurement issue is mentioned. From the last full set of accounts in the last year I would like to see a list where there were procurement issues and the value of them. As some of them were on a sample basis, it might only be a fraction of the issues. Is there any way the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General could go through the appropriate accounts that have been published in the last year to summarise the procurement issues to give a schedule or a summary?
May I just say something about procurement as well? There is a process which we see repeatedly that all public bodies are expected to go through, but there is another issue with procurement in terms of value for money. We saw this with the library services, for example. They were bundled together and in fact what happened was that we lost the local jobs and local availability and they were outsourced to other jurisdictions. We are an outlier in respect of the number of tenders that go to other jurisdictions when one looks at France, Germany and so on. There is a value for money issue with this as well. Is it within our remit to look at this? Is it within another Department's remit? There is a very valid issue there that has an equal standing in terms of value for money.
Yes, and the contradiction is that, given we are an island, one would have thought we would have fewer external contracts being filled in Ireland. All the countries on the Continent are well able to look after businesses within their own jurisdictions to a greater extent than we are. I find the whole concept quite contradictory. We will consider it again. We will discuss it as part of our work programme if there is a mechanism for us to do so, but the issue is broader than the Committee of Public Accounts. We will come back to it.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The Chairman may recall that, maybe at the previous Committee of Public Accounts, there was discussion with the small firms and small traders about this issue of aggregation or disaggregation or bundling. That does have an implication for the value for money achieved. The theory of it is that the bigger the scale on which one operates, the more one benefits from an economy of scale. That then militates against small suppliers, however, so what one is looking for is a kind of happy medium. With greater aggregation there are also longer chains of supply and one is more dependent on one supplier and can kind of get locked into a big supplier, so it is a very complicated process. I think the Office of Government Procurement is very expert in all this and should be able to provide information to the committee and have a dialogue with them at the strategic level as to what they are doing, why they are doing it and what is needed.
I agree with that. I think we should be having more - I do not know about the word "conversation", but something. I agree with the issues raised by Deputy Murphy. I see this locally. In the guise of allowing greater competition there is actually less. I have made this point repeatedly, particularly in respect of information and communications technology, ICT. Regarding the Department, may I come back just to clarify what we are doing with that report?
We will ask those questions of the Department in writing as a result of this.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1487 B from Ms Carol Boate, the regulator of the national lottery, providing information requested on the mechanisms to deal with unclaimed prizes and clause 6.9.2 of the licence to operate the national lottery. Does anyone want to comment? Generally, she says unclaimed prize money can go back into promotion of the national lottery and other lottery games. I do not know whether sufficient detail is given, but we will note and publish that. If any member wishes to pursue the matter separately, he or she may do so.
The next item is No. 1488 B from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, providing information on staffing requests from the Tax Appeals Commission and the response from the Department, and information on other resourcing requests. We will note and publish this.
No. 1585 B is from the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, advising that he has commissioned an urgent staffing, governance and operations review of the Tax Appeals Commission by an independent reviewer. We will await the outcome of the review. In the meantime, we will note and publish the correspondence. Essentially, what he says is that the Department received a very comprehensive request for additional staff. It says it would involve doubling the budget for next year if it were to be fully agreed to, as a result of which the Minister has commissioned a staffing review. I think we will get that fairly quickly, so we will note and publish both items and ask the Department to keep us updated. We will keep it on our list of matters to follow up with the Department if it does not come back to us.
The next item is No. 1489 B from Mr. Maurice Buckley, chairman of the Office of Public Works, regarding accommodation for the Tax Appeals Commission. He takes great issue with what he believes was a misleading impression given by the Tax Appeals Commission that the OPW had forced the commission to move to substandard accommodation. We will note and publish this. We can discuss the letter with the OPW when its representatives are here in two weeks time, and there will be many other issues for the OPW.
The next item is 1490 B, which is from Mr. Stephen Blake of the Government accounting unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, enclosing a minute from the Minister in response to our periodic report. We will take note of this but we will not complete our work on this yet. Whether there are two or three reports back on our previous periodic reports, we will just hold them all over until everyone has had an opportunity to study the full contact.
There is a time factor involved in some of these issues. This was a report on a variety of issues but one of the substantial ones was the opening and reopening of Garda stations, which we gave a very good hearing here. It was quite obvious to this committee that decisions were being made to reopen certain Garda stations that did not chime with the priorities of senior gardaí on the ground, and we made a number of recommendations in this regard. I am not at all satisfied with the responses we have got back on this. They are parliamentary question-type responses that go through the motions but do not say anything, really. It seems they will continue with the course of action on which they have embarked. Some people have called this stroke politics. That is how I see it, to be honest. It is not good practice; it is bad practice, in my view. That is the first issue.
There is also an issue I was following up concerning the IDA and the methodology used to verify the number of jobs created. It does not accept the recommendation from this committee and is still holding to the view that it should be self-assessment. I do not think that is right because we deserve to have the accurate figures. Everybody benefits from having accurate figures, not figures that are based on self-assessment and a questionnaire that goes out to a client company asking how many jobs were created, with no verification process and a request to take at face value what is being said. I do not think that is any way to make an evaluation because policy decisions arise from these figures as well. They are also used, as we know, for propaganda purposes, which is fine as well. Notwithstanding that, I am not happy with that response either. The Chairman is saying to hold off on the matter. My question is, given that we are doing periodic reports and getting responses - and it is good that we have got a response as at least they are reading our stuff and have to respond to it - should we have another leg to our work? Do we follow up with the Accounting Officer to say we are not happy with the response?
I propose we list the responses, perhaps even at the next meeting. Deputy Kelly has indicated. We have a couple of these responses from a couple of our periodic reports received over the summer period. We will put this as a specific agenda item the next day and discuss it. The last time we got a report from them on this specific issue was concerning the total investment by the State in respect of some of the companies, not specifically the one in Waterford.
They keep telling us if that they sell off-----
-----the spin-off companies, they will get a great return. We asked for the details of the public funding put into them at all levels and they said it was not possible to provide them. We rejected that and said it was an insult to say the public service could not account for what was put into various spin-off companies. They came back a month later with very detailed information. Sometimes if we are willing to accept what they send us, they will be happy with this. Most of what they send us is probably as good as they can do, but that is not always the case. My first observation is on a report we sent last January. It took quite a while to receive a response. We listed a couple of the reports as agenda items next week. If members are not happy with any of the recommendations of the Department, we will go back to them before we sign off on the response.
There is a response on the opening of Garda stations. It is a "Whatever you say, say nothing" type of response. We were around the houses on this issue with the Department of Justice and Equality. When its representatives were answering questions, they referred to the fact that the OPW would have a huge role to play. In advance of representatives of the OPW coming here, can we ask for all cost and expenditure figures on the announcements made to date on all of the Garda stations outlined at the committee by representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality? Will they send them to us in advance of the meeting in two weeks' time?
We will write to the Department, as well as to the OPW.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1492B, dated 18 July 2018, from Mr. Paddy O'Keeffe, Tax Appeals Commission, providing information requested by the committee. There is a note on the money accrued as a consequence of appeal cases taken for 2016 and 2017; a note on the legislative changes that have taken place and further improvements; and a note on the number of cases in hand and the age analysis. For the information of the public, there is very interesting information in this document and I will ask for it to be put up on screen in order that people will see to what I am referring.
Question No. 1 relates to a note on the money accrued as a consequence of appeals received in 2016. It is alarming. We are told that there are three cases under active appeal and that the amount of tax involved is €361 million in respect of these three cases. That means that there is an average sum of €120 million involved in each of the three cases. We ask that these matters be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. They are cases that were lodged in 2016 and 2017. They were not lodged this year.
The next line deals with cases over €100 million. We asked that question and I am surprised to note that there are three still in the system, with an amount potentially due to the taxpayer of €361 million.
With regard to cases involving amounts greater than €10 million, there are 14 cases, with a total value of €350 million, which gives an average figure of €25 million for each case. With regard to cases involving amounts greater than €1 million, there are 61 cases involving a total sum of €166 million.
In total, there are 78 cases with the Tax Appeals Commissioner, with a potential value of €878 million in outstanding tax. Whatever the issues are, we will write back on foot of them to ask what special measures are being taken to bring the 78 cases to a conclusion. It is fine to talk about the 342 cases in which the amounts involved are less than €1,000 each. I hope it does not have a system under which it deals with matters in date order and that instead there is in place a system of streaming and prioritising, especially when there are three cases involving a sum of €120 million each. Some of the cases involve a dispute about a tax clearance certificate and there might be no money involved. We want a detailed report on the top 78 cases. We do not want to identify the people involved, but to know what special measures in the interests of the taxpayer are being taken to resolve them as promptly as possible. Are we agreed on that point? I think people will be surprised by the extent of the moneys involved in that handful of cases. The point has been made.
The next item is-----
I have to leave for about a half an hour and do not want to miss the discussion on this issue. I have just asked the secretariat about the correspondence on the HEA report on Waterford Institute of Technology.
If the Deputy has to leave, we will assist him by taking it out of sequence. It is correspondence from Mr. Neil McDermott, system funding, Higher Education Authority, providing an update on our request regarding the review of the spin-out and sale of companies from the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group, TSSG, at Waterford Institute of Technology. It appears there are ongoing legal issues. There is another item of correspondence, No. 1557C, which was received from the Waterford branch of the Teachers Union of Ireland. It raises concerns about the delay in the completion and publication of the McLoone report on Waterford Institute of Technology and spin-out companies. We will note the correspondence. Does the Deputy want to comment on these two issues?
Yes. I have raised this issue half a dozen limes. When we had Dr. Love here before us, he spoke to the committee in private session about this issue and explained some of the reasons the report had been delayed. I am beginning to get very frustrated because I do not think we can tolerate a situation where an independent report has been produced on institute of technology and simply because mistakes were made by the HEA, as it seems there were, there is no report coming out at the other end. The letter from the TUI is a cry for help and assistance from the many people who came forward in the institute at the request of the person carrying out the report who wrote to all staff members asking them to come forward if they had any information and meet him in confidence and they did. I received a lot of protected disclosures and never put them into the public domain. We went through the structures appropriately and brought in the Accounting Officer. We put questions to the HEA which put a process in place. We were to produce a report which was to be published last September. One year on there is no sign of it. There are very wealthy and influential people who have a right to defend themselves if they believe they need to legally challenge the report.
I have no difficulty with that but it should not hold up the report forever and there is no sense at this point that we will ever get a report. That is unacceptable because there were strong findings in that draft report according to the information that I received. How can we have a situation where there are strong findings against the institute and practices within the institute after a thorough examination only for the report to not come out? People have come forward to tell me that they are now going for interviews for promotion and they are concerned about whether they will get the promotions. There is a lot at stake here in terms of the reputation of the institute and the protection of individuals who came forward and because the HEA did not carry out due diligence in compiling the report, we are constantly told that it is being pushed back to the extent that we may never see it. That is not acceptable and I do not know how we will remedy the situation but it must be remedied because we have to get a report, we have to get answers to the questions we put and we have to do justice to the people who came forward.
It is a first on this committee for me. Many internal reports have been done and we have always got something back but this is the first time that an examination has been done and we have not got the report.
It was more than legal challenges. It seems to me that there were issues around the scope and terms of reference that were set for the person who compiled the report and it seems that mistakes were made by the HEA in establishing the terms of reference for the person who was doing the job. There may have been mistakes made where perhaps the author strayed outside of the terms of reference, I do not know. In any case a range of mistakes were made which have resulted in us not getting the end product so should we just accept that?
All that I can suggest in the first instance is that when Dr. Graham Love and the Department are here that the Deputy puts those questions directly to them and we will see where we are after that. The meeting will happen in a few weeks because he is leaving at the end of October. Is that fair enough for today?
A report is coming from the Comptroller and Auditor General but that is small piece of this jigsaw which looks at one particular company and one particular element of it. If we call a spade a spade, the HEA report was probably too broad as well and that was one of the problems.
In any event, I am aggrieved because many people came to me in confidence and made protected disclosures. They also went to Mr. Michael McLoone and spoke to him in confidence while people in senior management positions were given draft copies of the report due to their senior positions. They could easily identify the individuals who came forward. That is not a good culture to have within an organisation. It is not fair to people to put them in that position where they come forward and a draft report is sent to the management of the institute whereby they can work out who has been talking to Mr. McLoone and then they are just left there. That is what the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, is saying in its letter. It is saying that these people have been left hanging with no back up and no report. I accept that we have to wait for Dr. Love to come in but I am not sure what he can do considering he is leaving in October.
We note and publish these except for the letter from the TUI, which we will send directly to the Department and to Dr. Graham Love asking them to have a response ready for us for the special meeting we will have with them on that. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will take it up with them then.
No. 1575B is correspondence from the HEA. We note and publish that.
No. 1577C is correspondence from the TUI. We will not publish that at this stage; we will wait until the next meeting.
The next correspondence is from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance on the High Court case against the Minister for Finance in respect of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, liquidation. Mr. Moran states that there has been no settlement in the case but he will keep the committee updated. The clerk to the committee was informed recently that there have been no significant developments over the summer on this. I will call Deputy MacSharry because he raised this issue the last day. The correspondence is from the Secretary General who is the Accounting Officer and we asked the official from the Department who was here at the previous meeting to follow up on a specific issue that the Deputy raised. I understand that we were asking the Secretary General to respond to that issue rather than the particular official who was here the last day. I ask the Deputy to comment on this.
I read it back in July. They are taking issue with correspondence between parties in a case and that is a matter for them. We have to play with the deck that comes our way and some of those cards did come to us. The only interest I had - and the committee was in general agreement - was in whether there was a role for us there to prevent a court case being taken and for us to ultimately get what we wanted in our report back in January, which was the establishment of a committee of inspection to provide relevant oversight. I take Mr. McCarthy's point that it might not be correct for the Comptroller and Auditor General to be on that committee of inspection for different reasons but there certainly seems to be an absence of oversight. As I said previously, this may already be in the process of being handled in the manner that provides the best value for money going but it is the most expensive liquidation in the history of the State and probably close to being the biggest in Europe, if not the biggest. Because of the money involved, any perception of it being on autopilot due to the lack of a committee of inspection is an issue. The applicant in the case before the courts appears to have the same motive as us, except that it is costing us all money there.
Correspondence that was shown to me - and I put this on record at a previous meeting because I Deputy Cullinane had been asking if I had been shown correspondence that I did not share with the committee - showed that the Chief State Solicitor's Office, CSSO, had made an approach to the solicitors for the applicant asking if they would withdraw their case if the CSSO were to defer to the Committee on Public Accounts, which is something that I would agree with if it was possible for it to happen. I have a problem with us being used as a pawn in somebody else's game. If they want us to be involved, then they should involve us but it is not within the gift of the CSSO, any more than it is within the gift of the Department or of the Taoiseach to offer the work of this committee as an olive branch to anybody else, notwithstanding the fact that I would agree with that happening. I do not know where it is going. We have put it on record that we would like to engage and we have noted the importance of appropriate oversight in our report on what is heading for €300 million in costs so far. It could rise as far as €1 billion by the time it is finished. Nobody knows, but we have KPMG here, which I am sure is doing a fantastic job and paying itself from recoveries. Those amounts, while agreed in terms of the lower rates negotiated by the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, would be questioned by a committee of inspection as to whether two partners, four juniors and a technician are needed for a specific course of action for example. That level of oversight would be there with such a committee. We do not have that now and while the Act theoretically vests a lot more power in the Minister than a committee of inspection would, Ministers are busy people and they depend on officials. Despite the excellent work of Mr. Carville and his team, it is a relatively small team and following our exchange with him on the matter, we established that there was not a lot of legal expertise on the team, even though that was something that had just been rectified or was about to be rectified at the time.
There is a lot of concern about the moneys involved and the lack of public oversight. I put in the rider that perhaps everything is in order and better than it could be with 40 committees of inspection. However, it may not be. That is why we should continue as a committee to promote the establishment of a committee of inspection in line with our report in January. Perhaps we can write back to the Department to say we stand ready to assist it if there is a way to avoid wasting taxpayers' money through the Department defending this. To the best of my knowledge, however, the Department has not issued a defence, which itself is the subject of a court hearing in early October. That is more money being cost to the State whereas we all want the same thing here. Can no one sit around the table and crack heads? In any legal proceedings in which I have had the misfortune to be involved, legal teams tended to communicate through the back channels. Perhaps we could save the State some money and get the level of oversight the committee, on behalf of the people, yearns for.
At the meeting the last day, we asked the official from the Department of Finance, Mr. Carville, whether there was a reference to the Committee of Public Accounts in connection with this case from the Office of the Chief State Solicitor without any consultation with us in respect of our views on that matter. That was the matter we wanted clarified last week. Will we put that in writing in response?
Mr. Carville said the advice from the Attorney General was that he could not answer any of those questions. Fair enough; that might be the advice he had received. I ambushed him somewhat. He was not expecting those questions as he was before the committee on other business. However, I wanted to use our time efficiently when he was here.
I want to come in on it and reinforce the point. It is very unsatisfactory that this is still going on. I echo the points made about the person taking the case. He is trying to achieve exactly the same thing we would want to achieve by having the kind of oversight which has been suggested. It is unusual for the Department of Finance to be the supervisor in a liquidation. Notwithstanding the size of the liquidation, if I recall correctly one or two people in the Department were supervising it. This was Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society and we all know the cost that has had to be carried following the collapse and the assumption of the debt by the State. The idea that there is no full scrutiny or full visibility on the scrutiny is completely unacceptable. I am concerned that this is not only adding to the costs, but that there is delay. All year, assets are being disposed of and, as this goes on, the problem is reinforced. There was a very poor relationship between the Department of Finance and IBRC before the liquidation. The rules around how assets are sold changed post liquidation but I want to see, as a member of the committee and as a citizen, exactly how that is working. It is completely unsatisfactory. When Deputy MacSharry raised this first, it was simply a question of asking whether we could have a conversation and to see if it would be possible in terms of the court case. That was months ago.
I have a difficulty where proceedings are in being with us having any role at all. It has been clarified that we do not and the question that has arisen is whether the Department has written without telling us. The Chairman is going to clarify that. When this was discussed following the issuing of the plenary summons, the Department accepted that the questions were justified. Certainly, my understanding was that the issues raised in the plenary summons were practical questions on the overall supervision and monitoring. We asked at that point if those questions would be answered clearly because the Department had a duty to answer them. We asked why we had to go through a plenary summons and a statement of claim. At that point, the official said he did not disagree with that interpretation. I emphasise that this is my understanding of it. However, he said the Department needed a statement of claim to see the issues teased out more clearly before it would look at it. A statement of claim has been served and that should be clarified. Deputy MacSharry says a defence has not been served yet. Our role was to ask whether the issues raised were legitimate and whether there was any way they could be answered because we wanted them answered. I was waiting for the official to come back on that once the statement of claim was served. This was without discussing the proceedings, but on the issues being raised, which is a role for all of us. At this point, we are getting silly letters as to who says what as opposed to on the issues. I support the concerns around the lack of accountability in relation to the matters which have been raised. I will not repeat them.
To be helpful, my recollection of the meeting was that the papers had been served the Friday before, which prevented us having a wholesome discussion on the Tuesday. That was the official position. The discourse of the day was very much that the Department had a great story to tell but was not allowed to tell us it. Of course, we were frustrated with that and pointed out that the Department could tell the High Court but could not tell us. It was then said that the Department did not even have a statement of claim. The statement of claim is long since in and there would not be much in it that we have not sought here ourselves. To the best of my knowledge and the last time I checked, no defence had been lodged but there is a hearing on that. I defer to Deputy Connolly on the legal term.
Where no defence is lodged, a plaintiff can take a case to get the judge to rule that one must be put in or the case settled or whatever. The bottom line is that this is all noise and scenery. All we are interested in is the oversight and how we get there as quickly as possible. The Department using us as a tool in its arsenal without consulting us is a matter for a slap on the hand certainly, if it happened. However, the Department's ambition is perhaps no different than ours in having the matter resolved and providing for appropriate oversight.
The Chairman should get the clarification and, I suggest, ask why, a statement of claim having been served, the Department has not lodged a defence, where matters stand and whether the committee has a role. I asked Mr. Carville the last day what the Department's position was on the formal recommendation of this committee in its report in January on the establishment of a committee of inspection. He was not in a position to answer that. As such, it is a reasonable question to ask now.
We move now to the next item of correspondence, namely, No. 1495 from Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, on the points we raised in our periodic reports in previous meetings on the contribution from religious congregations towards the costs incurred by the State in responding to child abuse in residential institutions. It is an extensive letter from which I wish to highlight a couple of points. Deputy Connolly has an interest in some of this also. Regarding to the 2002 indemnity agreement, which takes us back 16 years at this stage, Mr. Ó Foghlú refers to table C and says €4.21 million remains to be realised from that 16 year-old agreement. He refers to appendix 2 in relation to the 2002 agreement and the position in relation to Mounthawk in Tralee and says it is not possible to provide a timeframe for completion in that regard as it depends on the resolution of litigation. The property is being used as a primary school currently and, as such, we have the benefit of it, if not yet the legal title. The same applies to Waterpark, Newtown Road, Waterford, where the estimated timeframe for completion is the end of the third quarter of 2018, which is this weekend.
He also says that he will have the matters concerning Coiscéim, Cappoquin and the Sacred Heart Centre in Waterford cleared by this weekend. The estimated timeframe for completion of this is the end of this week. This is the letter we received from him in July. I propose we give him ten days and write to confirm the day. The timescales he gave us of his own volition in July have been upheld. Concerning the second agreement, that is, the 2009 voluntary offer, there are still outstanding moneys. A cash contribution of €8.8 million remains outstanding from the Christian Brothers. The contribution is expected to be completed before the end of this year.
Appendix 3 concerns properties to be transferred as part of the 2009 voluntary transfer agreement. Some items are still outstanding. I refer to St. Bernard's Group Homes, Fethard, Tipperary. The estimated time for completion of that transfer is this weekend. The transfer of the adult education centre on Ozanam Street in Waterford is to be completed by the end of this year. The transfer of lands at Convent Road, Cahir, County Tipperary is to be completed by this weekend. Lands at Ballyjamesduff in Cavan are to be transferred by the end of this year. Also to be completed at the end of this year or possibly next year is transfer of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.
The following items have an estimated time for completion of the end of the year; the Blaithín childcare facility at Gracepark Road, Drumcondra; St. Patrick's primary school, Altamont Street, Westport, County Mayo; and St. Anne's Industrial School for Girls and Junior Boys, Lenaboy, Galway. In ten days we will want a report on the commitments that have been made to completing those by the end of September, outlining whether these commitments were met. We will want a report in January on whether commitments have been met to complete projects by the end of this year, bearing in mind that the most recent are nine years old and the older projects ones are 16 years old. We should not be here talking about matters that should have been resolved 15 years ago. However, we will not let them go. Unfortunately it is the nature of this committee. We will write to Mr. Ó Foghlú on that basis.
I recall that I raised this issue in connection with the redress board and the very detailed report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. We realised then that there were outstanding moneys and there were two different agreements. The 2002 agreement is legally enforceable. Some 3%, €4.21 million, of what was agreed under that has yet to be realised.
The Ryan report was then published, with all its stories of pain and horror. I will not go into it. In a different life I was there and had the privilege of seeing it first-hand. As a result of that, the 18 congregations were again asked to contribute. Some 15 of them did. They came forward with a new agreement in 2009. I want to thank Mr. Ó Foghlú for doing his best with all of these letters. It has certainly improved the detail. It has taken some time and I thank him. I hope that level of clarity will continue because it will help us get our heads around it. Even with this level of clarity it is difficult, because the Christian Brothers are thrown in there with €127 million. I am sure Dublin TDs will have a particular interest in that.
Where am I going with this? We were unaware of this except for the general assurances that these two agreements were in place, one legally enforceable and the other not. In Galway there is a particular property which is symbolic. It is an industrial school in Taylor's Hill that by the Department's admission has been empty since 2011. My knowledge tells me it has been empty for even longer. It was functioning as a childcare centre. It has been empty since. Why I am zoning in on this? Galway 2020 made the very positive announcement that the nuns had contributed this building as a gift to the city. That upset me and a lot of other people. There is no place for emotion on this committee, but that was wrong. It was not a gift. It was part of a package from 2009. As such, the narrative continued to be a false one right up to 2017 and 2018. That is the difficulty about openness and accountability. If the city council had announced that this was not a gift but part of a redress package, particularly the 2009 one, it would have been very helpful to the narrative and to healing. Had they put the survivors at the top of the list, that would have been very helpful.
I notice that there has been a change in language today. I note the property I have mentioned has still not been transferred. The report states that if the city council assumes ownership of the property it plans to renovate "this will include consultation and engagement with interested stakeholders, especially persons who were associated with the property in its many previous guises". That is the first time this has been recognised.
I will come to a general point in a minute if members will bear with me. This is one example where a building has remained unnecessarily empty since 2009. Whatever value it had then has depreciated because it is has become dilapidated. While there is a positive story, in that the city is going to gain, no explanation has ever been given for the building being empty from 2009, despite the fact that the city council tabled a motion at the time asking for it to be transferred. That is just one example of how these agreements are implemented, or not implemented, without monitoring.
I refer to the second agreement in 2009, as part of which 15 congregations came forward. Somebody may correct me here, because I am not an expert in figures. Some 53% of that has yet to be realised. That is outlined on page 1 of the report. This is subject to a few small considerations. That is totally unacceptable. This is 2018. Notwithstanding that it is not legally enforceable, the congregations came forward willingly on the basis of what was set out in the Ryan report, the results of that report and the amount paid by the State for the redress board. The Comptroller and Auditor General might remind me. I think it was €1 billion but that may be clarified. The congregations came forward with a contribution of which 53% still has be implemented in 2018.
I thank the Chairman. Some 71% of the 2009 agreement is still outstanding and 53% of the total. Finally we had Caranua, which took up a lot of our time. It has been closed to applications since the end of August. That was a dreadful experience for those coming forward. We have gone into the governance, or absence of governance, in detail. I gather from this document that the money for that has still not been fully paid over. What percentage, or what is the amount-----
Caranua is closed to applications. I note all the problems we have discussed, money going on rent and money still outstanding. Maybe the Comptroller and Auditor General could clarify what the redress scheme cost in total.
To date. A further €253 million has been promised but not yet handed over. That is the second big issue. We have dealt with this matter. It has been going on for years. It crops up every so often and we just want it concluded. It is money due to the State.
We said we would write back in ten days' time - after the end of September - for confirmation that all the dates given in respect of it being handed over this weekend have been dealt with and, if not, why that is the case. We will be writing separately in January for confirmation on all the commitments given in respect of the end of the year. If one read what I have in front of me, one would gain the impression that it will all be done by Christmas. I have been hearing that for 12 or 13 years; I do not believe it.
There is one tangential point which, I accept, may not be of relevance to the committee. I refer to the fact that the Lenaboy traffic surveys and so on that have to be finalised. That is irrelevant, but there is a geophysical survey that was agreed. I understand that an independent group carried out that geophysical survey in respect of the Tuam home. In this case it is not clear who is charged with carrying out the geophysical survey. From my knowledge, either the nuns or somebody acting on their behalf is responsible. I would like the matter to be clarified. It is stated on the final page that-----
It might have been the council. I will ask Seán Ó Foghlú separately to specify the position in respect of that final property. The heading is "Current/Proposed Use", and he gives the details of what is planned. There are costs involved in all of that, so I will ask him who is dealing with it and from where it comes. We can deal with the matter separately.
No. 1496B is correspondence from Trinity College Dublin. We wrote to John Coman, secretary to the college, recently seeking details regarding an incident of cyberfraud that cost the college €790,000 and also in respect of an associated cost of €184,000. This matter relates to the Trinity Foundation. Mr. Coman states that there is still a considerable amount outstanding. What I find extraordinary is his statement in the final paragraph to the effect, "I would also like to clarify the previous statement that the University has covered the loss from its commercial revenues". There is one set of accounts, including the State revenue and commercial revenue, yet Trinity is stating that this only came from the other half. It gets worse. Mr. Coman goes on to state:
... and therefore there is no loss of donor funds and no impact on the projects supported by philanthropic funding. To be more specific, the amount will be funded from revenue generated by visitors to the campus to view the Book of Kells and the Old Library.
He is saying there was a loss and that the money collected from visitors who viewed the Book of Kells and the Old Library was used to offset it. That is an extraordinary accounting process. I am just putting on the record that this is how Trinity says it recovered the loss. I do not know whether the college is increasing the charge to see the Book of Kells but it is kind of pathetic, and that is all I would say about that reply. We will note and publish the letter. It deserves to be published.
No. 1498B is correspondence from Michael Nolan, CEO of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, on the report of both project reviews that have been undertaken in respect of the national public private partnership, PPP, projects. We will note and publish that. I was almost skipping over that is because the file is so big; there are 546 pages in the report. People are welcome to review it but we have said we will come back to the issue of PPPs as part of our work programme.
That is a special job in itself. There are different motorways throughout the country. I suspect everyone will have a close look at the motorway that relates to his or her own geographic area. If we did that among ourselves, we would probably cover them all. We will note and publish that large file of documentation. I do not know how much is in it or the conclusions. There are 546 pages, which we will look at, and we will come back to that broad issue as part of our work programme.
On Transport Infrastructure Ireland, an issue that came up at a previous meeting was to do with people who, for convenience, put in a large amount of money when travelling through a toll but do not wait for their change or whatever. That amounts to a significant sum. I do not know whether we were in correspondence about this after the question was raised or whether I read it in a newspaper but it amounted to a lot of money. I am interested to know how that is treated in terms of taxation. Are the companies allowed to keep it as profit or should we be prevailing upon them to make it available to charitable organisations?
We raised this previously. The money goes into the company's revenue. It is treated as revenue in terms of corporation tax but I believe the private sector toll booths are subject to VAT. There is a VAT issue in respect of the private operators and an element of that would have to go through VAT.
No. 1499B is correspondence from Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, providing an information note on Circular 7/2015 regarding the timely production and submission of accounts of bodies audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and laying them before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Comptroller and Auditor General is issuing his report tomorrow and the follow-through on that circular will be evident. I do not think he will give us a preview today of what will be in tomorrow's report but according to that circular, that issue will be well covered in his report tomorrow.
No. 1500B is correspondence from Katherine Licken, Secretary General, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, regarding the committee's request for information on the timeline for the post project review in respect of the Galway Art House-Pálás Cinema project, and a note in respect of learnings that are being applied to the European Capital of Culture Galway 2020 project. Is Deputy Connolly happy that we note and publish that?
Sorry, this letter is dated 28 July and it goes on to say what has been learned. They are going to do the post project review and then Part 2 refers to Galway 2020. I would say the Chairman has read it; he has read everything.
I will leave the first one, the Pálás Cinema, for a moment because the project review will take place in the first quarter of next year. Arising from that and in terms of what it has learned, the Department states that has been working to ensure robust project management structures are put in place for the European Capital of Culture Galway 2020 project, drawing on what it has learned from the Pálás Cinema project and the Limerick designation. I do not need to go into the rest of it. I have serious concerns about the robust governance structures but, importantly, many people on the ground have serious concerns also. I welcome that the Department is saying this, but what robust governance structures are already in place for the money paid out? There is €15 million committed. A substantial amount has been paid out. I tabled a question on that previously but I am sure money has been given since. What robust governance structures are in place?
I do. I want to know what is in place now, what will they improve on, when is it going in and so on. We sit as a committee so often, and we were here on Tuesday. The Pálás Cinema project did not have robust governance structures in place. That is why the cost went from in the region of €6 million to approximately €8 million over a period from 2006 to 2018. Regarding this one, I checked this today. Let us stick to the facts. The latest person to resign was the chief executive officer.
Yesterday I received an invitation to an event which was signed by the personal assistant to the CEO. The website for the Galway European Capital of Culture still lists Ms Kiely as CEO. One might say these are minor details but they are a reflection of the situation. It sends the wrong message if the website still lists her and letters are being issued on her behalf by her personal assistant inviting people to an event in spite of her having left her post over two weeks ago. There are many other issues which may not be within the remit of the committee, such as the lack of an Irish language officer and so on, but in the context of value for money, what robust structures are in place to safeguard the spending of the €15 million being allocated by a Department? What will be delivered for that money? What service level agreement is in place? A performance level agreement is now under discussion. At what stage is that process?
Deputy Connolly knows that an official who is a member of the board of directors will be told he or she has a fiduciary duty to the company and cannot discuss the matter with the committee outside a board meeting, or even with the Minister. That conflict arises for State appointees to State boards.
The issue of a member of the Department sitting on the board is very important in terms of robust governance. What is his or her role and should he or she be on the board? Should there be a hands-off approach involving the situation being properly monitored with proper accountability? I raise these issues because I am seriously concerned. I do not need to say that I am a proud Galwegian. I am proud that Galway is to be the European Capital of Culture but I am not proud of the absence of robust governance structures at every level.
We will write directly to the Department on that issue.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1501 from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, in response to the committee's request for a note on the appointment process for the investment committee of the NTMA. We note and publish that. There is a straightforward procedure for those appointments.
The next item is No. 1502 from Mr. Fergal Costello of the Department of Rural and Community Development, dated 31 July. He provides a copy of the statutory review of the Dormant Account Fund. I suggest that we hold that over. A very sensible report has been produced. The committee has previously examined the Dormant Account Fund. It will probably come up as part of our periodic report. It was a shambles which moved from Department to Department. Nobody cared about it or was proactive.
Commitments were given out of thin air and money was locked up in the account. We will consider the report and ask the secretariat, which is working on the periodic report, to go through this issue as part of that process and we will come back to it as part of our periodic report. I stand corrected - we have already reported on this.
I read this report. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General indicates that almost 50% of the Dormant Account Fund remains underused because of a lack of preparedness. All members know that three Departments have been involved. However, I do not understand the Dormant Accounts Fund sufficiently to explain it to others. I would like some assistance to get clarity on this matter, although possibly not from the secretariat which is overburdened. I have tried to understand it.
We will hold it over until next week, the following week or thereafter.
The next item is No. 1505 from Ms Oonagh McPhilips, the then acting Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, dated 3 August providing a response to information requested on the implementation of the Toland report and progress on the implementation of change in the Irish Prison Service. Can we agree to note and publish this? We will revert to the Department on the matter.
I acknowledge that. The response notes that the concern was raised in consideration of correspondence on the Irish Prison Service, IPS. Have we since received that information? The correspondence states that a note regarding the IPS would shortly be submitted. Can we ask the Department for its definition of "shortly" because that commitment was made two months ago?
Two months ago. The committee has a date in its diary regarding a whistleblower in connection with the Irish Prison Service, as the Chairman and I are well aware. I hope there is no overlap between those issues.
The correspondence also states that material in respect of a request by the committee on 3 July for information regarding the operation of CCTV by local authorities would be submitted shortly. Have we received that information?
This matter has been going on since 3 July. Is the Department hoping the Government will collapse and the committee will fall away? That correspondence issued three months after our basic request for information regarding CCTV. I have significant experience of this issue because I allocated funding for it when I was Minister. Three months after the request was made, the Department has not given us a basic report. Can we write to it to remind it that the reply must be comprehensive and received next week? The information in respect of the Irish Prison Service is also needed next week.
We should note that the Department in question is the Department of Justice and Equality. In the light of previous replies on other issues in that Department over the past year, it needs to up its game very quickly under its new Secretary General.
This issue has rolled on and on. On the "This Week" programme on RTÉ Radio 1 last Sunday, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, again defended the scheme in spite of the fact that only six communities across the country have taken up the CCTV scheme. He put the onus back on local communities and did not address the fundamental questions raised by the committee in respect of data and how they are managed. Judging by the interviews carried out with members of local communities, the communities are crying out for assistance. They have been left with an onerous task. The questions raised by the committee have not been answered but the scheme is still being defended publicly, as was the case last weekend. I wish to support the cause of those communities. The current situation is unacceptable. No one should stand over a scheme which has only been taken up by six communities across the country. The scheme is not working and that is not defendable.
We will return to the topic next Thursday.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1506 from Mr. Martin Whelan of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, dated 3 August and providing up-to-date information requested by the committee at a previous meeting. A number of matters arising from the meeting are covered. In regard to the funding of debt management, a chart is provided which outlines cash balances since 2004. That information will be of interest to some. The correspondence provides information on the Irish Strategic Investment Fund relating to a schedule of projects excluded for environmental and tobacco reasons. The next item details the amount of funding for residential housing. However, the information given in that respect is inaccurate and is corrected by the subsequent item of correspondence. Details are provided on the State Claims Agency and the list of public bodies under its remit. There is information on the role of NewERA and details relating to the corporate governance of the NTMA. We will note and publish that. The information will be of great interest to some people.
The next item of correspondence concerns a similar topic. It is No. 1507 B from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, providing an information note requested by the committee on to the possible inclusion of local authorities and other public bodies on the general indemnity scheme. Mr. Watt points out that it would require a decision of the relevant Minister to include local authorities in the indemnity scheme. There is a later item of correspondence on this issue which we can also discuss later. There is a big issue in respect of this letter. When the State Claims Agency was here, we asked what public bodies were included under its aegis. It gave us a list and I asked for the main areas that were excluded. Going back to the previous correspondence, the sectors that do not come under the State Claims Agency are the university sector, the voluntary secondary schools sector, the primary schools sector, local authorities, Teagasc and semi-State bodies. I raised it because the section 38 bodies recently come in under the State Claims Agency's brief and I asked if that could not be extended to others. That is what prompted this. We also wrote to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the issue. In correspondence No. 1507 B, the Secretary General said they are insured by Irish Public Bodies, IPB. I want to know why we have two bodies insuring State organisations with the State Claims Agency handling their cases when they have an insurance policy. We asked about the value for money. Mr. Watt writes:
However, the value for money provided by Irish Public Bodies has been examined. In April 2015, a Value for Money Steering Group was established with representatives of the County and City Managers Association, the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and the Office of Government Procurement (OGP). The objective of the Steering Group was to oversee a value for money review by IPB and it concluded that "at an aggregate level, IPB is providing an insurance service that represents value for money for its members and is operated efficiently".
We want a copy of that report immediately, nothing more and nothing less, with no prevarication.
We had separate correspondence from Ms Dowling, the former chairperson of the insurance body that looks at those figures. Having seen the conversations, she wished us luck. As chair of the board that dealt with some of those insurance issues, she could never get it. The section 38 bodies - all the hospitals - can move in under the State Claims Agency and have it handle the cases. Maybe Irish Public Bodies gives a great service but nobody can say that except by looking at that report, which we want to see. We will write back to the Secretary General saying that he is to get the report because he is the one who told us about it. It comes in under the Office of Government Procurement, the City and County Managers Association and the ETBs. I do not care who gives it to us but Mr. Robert Watt is to secure that report for the committee. It will tell us whether there is value for money and will deal with the whole issue of claims to local authorities. The State Claims Agency handles the central ones. We need to see that. It is not just about local authorities. We note No. 1522 C, which also relates to these issues.
The next item - some of it is a bit slow to go through - is another minute from the Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in response to the committee's periodic report. There are three such items, which we will over, so people can have time to study them in the meantime. We will hold that over until next week.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1512 B from An Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, dated 2 August 2018, responding to the committee’s concerns about data protection issues impacting on inquiries and commissions of investigation. The Taoiseach advises he has referred the matter to the Attorney General. Can we agree to note and publish this? Agreed. The Cook report or somebody else raised that issue with us and we passed it on to the Taoiseach to be considered in respect of the terms of reference and if there were going to be data protection issues.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1513 Bfrom Mr. Ciarán Breen, director of the State Claims Agency, providing further details requested by the committee on the status of the non-screening cervical cancer misdiagnosis claims. We will be coming to that matter separately. We might go into private session at the end of this part of the meeting to discuss the best way for us and the Joint Committee on Health to handle it. We will note and publish that.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1514 Bfrom the NTMA, concerning the €526 million provided for residential housing. I want to deal with this. We got a previous letter from the NTMA which I referred to a moment ago. Clearly, the figures in that were wrong. This is essentially a correction of No. 1506. When it was before the committee, in respect of the €526 million for residential housing, we asked the NTMA for a note on the number of houses delivered by the end of 2017 and the projected numbers for each year from 2021 from this investment. This was as part of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, which is under the NTMA. At the meeting, we were told that it had allocated €526 million. We asked how many houses it had built by the end of 2017 and the reply, No. 1506, said that from the €526 million referred to in the annual report for residential housing, 1,747 units had been completed to date. Then this letter comes back to say that the number of units completed at the end of 2017 was 894. That is a different figure from what was given before. Maybe it is just correcting that. The money did not produce the number of houses we thought it had. We note and publish that item.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1515 Bfrom Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, providing a note as requested on the timely submission of financial statements of education organisations that receive over €1 million in funding from the Department. We note and publish that as part of our ongoing work to make sure organisations provide their accounts in a timely manner. These are organisations that receive funding from the Department but are not directly under its remit.
Next items of correspondence are Nos. 1526 B, 1528 B and 1530 Bfrom Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director, Health Service Executive, dated 17 and 20 August 2018. There is a considerable amount of information enclosed. I think we will have to hold it off.
Yes. We will note and publish it in the meantime but will hold over the discussion of it. We will come back to it on our work programme.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1537 Bfrom Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Health, dated 24 August 2018 providing follow-up information requested by the committee about general adult mental health services; costs of hiring private investigators in relation to consultants' compliance with contracts; non-disclosure of legal costs in the accounts; an explanatory note on the three different schemes available for treatment abroad; an up-to-date note on the National Children's Hospital funding; and a note following the review of recovery of moneys from insurance companies. Can we agree to note and publish this? We will keep it on our work programme and come back to discuss it in further detail.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1538 B from Mr. Ray Mitchell of the Health Service Executive, providing follow-up information regarding records relating to quality assurance visits to include minutes of discussions and final reports submitted following the visits. I presume this is in connection with CervicalCheck. We will include that as part of our further discussion. Can we agree to note and publish this? Agreed.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1558 B from Professor Patrick O'Shea, president, University College Cork, providing details on procurement matters. The information provided will feed into our next periodic report. We will be coming back to that and will note and publish it for today.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1560 B from Dr. Barry O'Connor, president, Cork Institute of Technology, providing a detailed note requested by the committee on the preparation of terms of reference for the KPMG review of anonymous allegations against CIT in 2014. We note and publish that.
I am not happy, anyway. I do not know if other people have read this. It is going on for a number of years now. This letter is as if they were not here at all. That is my view on it.
The issues we have are as follows. We have disclosures, and the people mentioned in the disclosures were responsible for providing legal briefs to companies to come up with terms of reference for what, ultimately, was a desktop audit. The people who did it only talked to senior management, many of whom were allegedly mentioned in the disclosures. Several meetings ago, I said that we needed to start at the beginning with this KPMG report and to work through it. There may be an issue in how disclosures are dealt with nationally from a procedural point of view and as a matter of public policy. Without prejudice to anyone involved, one cannot have people named in a disclosure having any hand, act or part in setting terms of reference or providing a legal brief. Many of the answers we had on that day were to the effect that they got solicitors to come but they drafted the terms of reference. Solicitors will do nothing for somebody without being given a brief, though they might give an idea of what is best practice.
I am told that there were people on the audit committee. Forgive my language - I am mixing up internal audit and the audit committee. The people on the audit committee were potentially mentioned in the disclosure. The same individuals secured the services of another legal firm and set the terms of reference for them. The same people who advised them on how to handle the fallout from the KPMG report had a hand in determining the brief for KPMG in carrying out the desktop audit. It was not thorough enough and the same people were involved. We cannot have a perception of a conflict of interest, however misplaced it might be. There may be an national issue but I am certainly not happy about this individual case. There are missing pages and other stuff. The people mentioned in the disclosures are investigating themselves so CIT is, in effect, investigating itself. That is not right and we cannot sit here comfortably and say the matter has been dealt with.
I know that a previous Committee of Public Accounts, of which I was not a member, looked at the KPMG report but we need to start at the beginning again as it is unsatisfactory.
CIT is the gift that keeps on giving. The president, Dr. O'Connor, had an opportunity to break from the past but we are going around in circles and it has been going on for years. Nothing has been learnt. Last year, the committee said governance was poor and risk management non-existent, and now CIT is trying to tell us again that there is nothing to see here. I could talk on this for hours but I will not do so as we have been through it so often. They are effectively investigating themselves and they are trying to justify themselves again with this letter, saying they have processes in place to deal with it.
Where does the committee from here? Do we make a recommendation that somebody goes in and investigates them? What powers do we have? We will have a meeting in a couple of weeks on third level education with Dr. Love but he will not be able to answer questions specific to CIT. We can talk about how the process was investigated but we will not be able to deal with the other issues.
This has been going on for the guts of four or five years and we have not yet even got to the €13,000 that was spent on the lavish party, on which I have some correspondence separate from that of the committee and about which I will talk in a while. Where are we going to go? The Chairman, Deputy MacSharry and I have gone through this many times and we cannot keep going round in circles. How are we going to get a body to go in, once and for all, and investigate what has happened here?
The new president was here the last time CIT was before us and he has had an opportunity to do something about it. We gave him that opportunity but this is more of the same. It is like being wrapped up in the same clothes again. What are we going to do? We cannot keep going on like this.
We will have to think about it for next week. I will leave it with a final comment. As a collective, we will have to come to some decision because it is insulting to keep having to go around in circles. We are getting nowhere. Everyone knows this has to go further but we cannot go any further with this type of correspondence. Where, as a committee, do we go next?
We can all give some thought as to recommendations we could make. That is all we can do and it is for others to enforce them. Between now and the next meeting, we could explore the options. Could we recommend that a senior counsel goes in and looks at this stuff? Should we recommend another inquiry or investigation? At the moment, everyone is claiming plausible deniability based on a process but perhaps the process is flawed. As I said at the outset, the process seems flawed but that does not mean we are not entitled to seek answers. On the one hand, we are encouraging whistleblowers to come forward to improve governance and risk management but as soon as they do, the practical reality is that they are thrown under a bus or the shutters come down. Perhaps the secretariat could take advice from the legal office of the Oireachtas to see what we could recommend. Whether it is acted on is a matter for Ministers, Government and other authorities.
There may be things to learn from Dr. Love's departure and the issues he raised in his resignation letter about the HEA and the Department. There are different interpretations in how this was conducted. We all know that the terms of reference, and the manner in which the investigation was done, was wrong. One cannot investigate oneself.
To help the committee, I will step forward to the next correspondence, which deals with this.
No. 1561 is from the Higher Education Authority, HEA, in relation to examination of expenditure at Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, and the ability of technological universities to borrow, which they have an entitlement to do. In fairness to the HEA, it gives us a response in its letter, No. 1561, a paragraph of which I will now read into the record as there has been quite a bit of discussion about it. We had written to it about the weakness in control. The letter states:
[Our] correspondence was considered by HEA Board’s Finance and Governance Committee at its meeting on 24 July 2018. At the meeting the Committee agreed that that the HEA should reply to CIT noting the process changes the Institute has implemented and recommending a change to the sign-off process. Specifically, the Committee recommended that in relation to the change made to CIT’s hospitality procedure that requires prior approval from the Vice-President for Finance and Administration for President or Governing Body-related expenditure over €500, the Committee was of the view [that is, the HEA board's finance and governance committee] that it would be more appropriate for such expenditure to be signed off by the Chairman of the Governing Body’s Finance Sub-Committee. A letter to that effect issued to CIT on 29 August 2018.
In relation to the amount of expenditure incurred for these events that the HEA considers was not subject to appropriate controls (ca. €6,700), the HEA is currently considering the most appropriate means of recouping this money from CIT.
In fairness, I could have read that before the conversation started, but there is a system in place and at least somebody is doing something. I do not know how €6,700 will affect the CIT. There is a strong point being made here as a result of the ongoing discussions related to that particular function. For the first time at national level, the HEA will specifically recoup money that in its view was not subject to appropriate control. It is a small victory but there is a matter of principle established here, which must be widely circulated. Where the HEA or other bodies come to the conclusion that the expenditure was not subject to appropriate control it will have to be recouped from the body. There is a point that is being well made, and it has been helpful. Once the message gets out that that money will have to be recouped where HEA is satisfied that it was not appropriate, there is a good lesson learned here. This item of correspondence is helping with the conversation we are having, and we will note and publish it. We want confirmation in due course that the money has been recouped.
It is helpful. I know the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, for instance, in the Cork branch has passed motions looking to recoup this money, including from the president. There has been much correspondence and commentary on it, and it is a welcome development. Having said that, we will see what happens. It is a small component of a bigger picture.
That is generally welcome because there is a consequence. We will not change behaviour unless there are consequences, and the public element was part of ensuring there would be a consequence. We saw it with the HSE when certain amounts were not paid, or they were paid in retrospect if they were in compliance. In fact, it changed behaviour markedly. It might be worth at some point considering talking to someone about institutional culture and how to change behaviour in order that we can have a range of things that might be available to us to suggest in the future. In other public account committees in other countries, what are the things that produced that kind of outcome? We should have a range of things we can suggest. I am putting it out there as a general point.
I listened to Mary Wilson on RTÉ's "Drivetime" the other evening talking to an expert about how we should not allow people get away with saying "the culture", because it lets individuals away with wrongdoing, and I do not mean the Deputy. They blame the culture, the system, the policy and so on. It is about individuals as well. It is not about an ice sculpture or a portrait, which is the visible stuff, the window dressing that we get to see, and which makes me worried about what is under the bonnet, particularly when one looks at investigations done by KPMG and so on where there has been at least the complexion of people investigating themselves. There might be no wrongdoing at all, but then again there might be. It is all wrong. It is great that the chairman of the governing body will sign off from now on, but as things stood I have no doubt the chairman of the governing body would have signed off for the ice sculpture, the party and everything else. In fairness to Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, when he was here and we raised this matter, he said it was a matter of fact that the contribution of someone who has served his or her country and institution so well would be acknowledged, and I agree with that.
In everybody else's office, however, it is "pass the hat around", everyone puts in a score, and there is a bit of finger food, a pint and a voucher for Brown Thomas if one is lucky. That is the end of it. As for the portrait thing, CIT has an art college. I am sure it is proud of its students, and I am sure the best student could be provided with a bursary of €200, €300, €400 or - let us really push the boat out - €500, as opposed to spending €22,000. I am sure it has confidence in its own students. That is the minutiae, the window dressing, the surface stuff, but the fact that it existed and happened worries me about what is beneath the bonnet. It is common sense; we should not throw lavish bashes. It is not Mr. Robert Mugabe's going away party that we run here. There is a way to do business and that is not it. In fairness, in most private-sector companies that I worked in, and certainly in the House, when an usher or someone else retires, an email goes out and if people want to give a few shillings they do, and there is a modest evening and maybe a gift given.
There is a good principle established here. We have been through this in a different guise, and it is something the Committee of Public Accounts should return to at a later date. The submission of accounts by various organisations, such as the education and training boards, ETBs and so on, was delayed in the past. However, section 38 and 39 organisations also had a poor record of submitting audited accounts to the HSE, and the HSE's former chief executive, Mr. Tony O'Brien, thanked the Committee on Public Accounts for putting the boot in on those delays. It allowed him go to every one of them and say that unless they got their accounts into the HSE in a timely manner their funding would be held up for the current year. Lo and behold, there was 100% compliance. There was a consequence for the boards. I propose that any time we suggest a sanction on an organisation for a corporate or cultural issue, or something that is under the board's remit, it should be directed at the board members and should not be taken out of the service that is provided. When a board is employed to do a job, where the members all get their couple of grand each year, if they do not do their job there should be consequences at board level. If the board sends down the right message through the chief executive, what will happen down the line is remarkable. It is a broader issue and we will return to it.
We will see that happening before he actually leaves the building.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1562. We noted No. 1561, which I have just read out and published. No. 1562 is from Ms Clare Campbell of the Government accounting unit in relation to the OECD meeting which I attended yesterday on behalf of the committee. We note and publish that.
The following item is No. 1584 from Mr. Paul McGowan, chairperson of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, dated 19 September 2018, providing information requested by the committee in regard to a report by Wind Aware Ireland, as well as on the commission's role and function.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1584B. The committee will understand why I skipped ahead to this one. It is a report from Wind Aware Ireland and the commission's role or function regarding an electricity substation in County Laois. The matters under dispute are ultimately policy issues which are not within the remit of the committee. I therefore propose that we note and publish the item and forward a copy to those who raised the matter and that we agree that this committee's consideration of the matter is closed. If there are any outstanding matters they could possibly be taken up with the relevant sectoral committee if it is willing to do so. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will note and publish that.
I will go back to items Nos. 1567B, 1568B, 1569B and 1570B. These are correspondence from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform from different dates in August and September informing the committee of changes in Accounting Officers in the Public Appointments Service, PAS, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Prison Service and An Garda Síochána. We note and publish all of those.
The next item is No. 1586B from Mr. Seamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, dated 6 September which is a copy of a letter sent to the Chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach on the collapse of the Carrillion group and public-private partnerships. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach was dealing specifically with that and we will not duplicate its work as it had special meetings on it. We note and publish that.
The next item is No. 1588B from Mr. Ken McCue, the director of the Dublin City Centre Citizens Information Service on the proposed dissolution of Dublin City Centre Citizens Information Service company by the Citizens Information Service board. The matter was raised before around the restructuring of the Citizens Information Service. It is an ongoing issue and while members may have their views on this it is not a matter for the Committee on Public Accounts. I recommend that if members wish to raise this matter they can do so with the relevant sectoral committee, in the Dáil Chamber or with the relevant Minister. The issue of value for money can be looked at in terms of future financial statements. We note and publish that information.
A lot of issues have been highlighted and brought to our attention by them. The Chair is saying that it is not for us but a huge effort has gone into it and there is lot of sense and a large number of pertinent facts and I wish to acknowledge that.
We will forward this directly to it for whatever action it considers appropriate because as the Deputy says it is very comprehensive and extensive. Perhaps the committee has received it already.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1590B from Mr. Neil Murray, director of the Abbey Theatre providing clarification to evidence provided to the committee. We note and publish that.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1593B from Deputy Mick Wallace dated 21 September requesting that the committee make inquiries with NAMA on Project Nantes. The secretariat has requested that NAMA follow up on this after last week's meeting and the queries raised by the Deputy are included. He was obviously watching last week's meeting closely and we have already been in contact about those issues as a result of that meeting.
The next section of correspondence is C and these are from private individuals and do not have anything to do with previous public meetings as such.
The only thing I will say about the work programme is that we have next week's work programme which is Teagasc and the following week is the Office of Public Works, OPW and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, I suggest that we have a special discussion on the work programme next week in light of the fact-----
It is. We should have a special discussion on the work programme next week in light of the fact that the Comptroller and Auditor General will be issuing his report and we will have it over the weekend or well in advance in any case. I do not know what will be in the report and I am sure he will not tell us but there may be some issues that will jump out at us as requiring our immediate attention next Thursday. Therefore, apart from what is in front of us now in the work programme, some other issues may come to light in that report.
We will have that clarified and if there is an early meeting we will send out that information to members.
We will proceed with the correspondence as best we can. No. 1485C is correspondence from an individual, dated 14 July, requesting that the committee make inquiries with the HSE on waiting lists for child psychological assessments. The individual has not been able to get a response to date from the disability manager. It is not a matter for the Committee on Public Accounts so how do we proceed?
We will write directly to the Minister even though it is not for us to follow up. If any member wishes to follow it up by way of a parliamentary question please do so. We note this and we will write to the Minister enclosing the correspondence asking that it receive urgent attention.
Yes we will send back the response from the Minister but other than that we are not able to actively pursue current waiting lists. That is straying into the job of the Joint Committee on Health.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1491C from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, dated 19 July enclosing information requested by the committee on what appears to be a far from complete remediation of a landfill site at Whitestown, Co. Wicklow. I recommend members to read this item. Does any member have a comment on this? We note and publish it and we may return to it next week because it is quite extensive.
The next item of correspondence, No. 1572C dated 15 September, is related to the previous item and is from the individual who originally raised the matter with the committee. He has provided further details. We will note and publish the response from the Department and send a copy to the individual who made the inquiry. We note the individual's correspondence and if members wish to discuss it next week please feel free to do so.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1494C from Ms Mary Lawlor from NAMA, dated 23 July replying to our inquiries on the sale of a property adjacent to AIB headquarters. It had been suggested that the property had belonged to a NAMA debtor. NAMA has confirmed that the individual was never a NAMA debtor. We will note and publish this. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will write back to the individual.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1497C from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on a protected disclosure made in respect of St. Munchin's Community Centre, Kileely Court, Limerick. Mr. McKeon advises that the Department will keep the committee updated on the outcome of this investigation. We will note and publish this.
I wish to come in on this because I am aware of the details of this issue. Given the fact that it is their responsibility I ask that the Secretary General of that Department take this very seriously because there are quite considerable issues here and they are not just based around the individual who made the protected disclosure.
That is noted and recorded.
The next items of correspondence are Nos. 1504C dated 30 July, 1520C dated 10 August and 1544C dated 24 August. They are from an individual on the abolishing of town and borough councils and the subsequent transfer of remaining funds-----
I apologise for interrupting again. I also want it noted that the individual who is the subject of that protected disclosure should not have his terms and conditions of employment altered and no attempts to remove him from his position should be made.
We as a committee would ask questions if that was done.
We are restating it. Nos. 1504 C, 1520 C and 1544 C concern the individual regarding the transfer of remaining funds from the town and borough councils. We previously received a similar inquiry on this matter and we replied to the individual and enclosed the information note that was received from the Association of Irish Local Government.
No. 1508 C was forwarded by Deputy David Cullinane, enclosing correspondence from the Irish Thalidomide Association which has queried the information provided by the State Claims Agency in relation to ongoing thalidomide litigation. Deputy Connolly indicated that she wanted to refer to the letter from the association.
There was an issue raised on it in relation to the Statute of Limitations. It seemed as if it was just the German company but if one goes through the transcript the State Claims Agency said it is also raising the Statute of Limitations, which is interesting. I would like to know the total number of outstanding cases because it is not clear from the transcript. If the agency could comment on it in the first instance we could take it from there. It seems clear that there was no mediation from a date in December 2016. Perhaps the agency could comment on it first and then we will come back to it. The association deserves clarification.
I think a Private Members' Bill was published yesterday by Deputy Jack Chambers in respect of the Statute of Limitations not applying in the thalidomide case. The issue has been raised outside of the committee also.
Yes, we will get detailed clarification. I think the association phoned my office directly as well, and I spoke to someone from the agency on the phone during the summer also.
Next, we have No. 1509 Cfrom Deputy Catherine Murphy, dated 7 August 2018 requesting the committee to include the national broadband plan and ICT programmes at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in our work programme. This appears to refer to the current year's accounts.
There are two elements to it. One is the fact that Enet was awarded the contract in 2004 and the contract was then extended until 2030 without going back to the market with a tender. Much of what has gone on in relation to the issue is opaque and requires scrutiny. In mid-2017 the infrastructural investment fund invested €200 million in Enet. To be honest, I find that curious given that it is buying into a company whose only product is owned by the State, so the investment was in the State's own asset, as it were.
There are probably two issues. The first is that when the investment was made, Enet was vying for the broadband contract. It is not clear which came first. That is something we need to know because it would have had a bearing on the investment. Broadband has been a huge source of frustration for a long time, given that much has been promised and the roll-out has been hugely disappointing outside of major urban centres. A lot of money has been invested. The situation is opaque and there is a need for scrutiny into what happened. We are now at the point where, currently, there is only one tender. We talk about the need for competitive tendering. The personnel within the company who made the tender has changed over time. I do not know if we can look at the issue but it is happening in real time. The problem is that Actavo, formerly Sitserv, was involved, and there is a commission of investigation into it. The whole issue is hugely problematic. At the very least in this term we should get the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come before the committee to get a better understanding of what has happened to date in terms of the investment that was made in relation to this contract and about having better oversight of this.
Yes, because it is the kind of thing one could predict in the future would require an additional spend. That additional spend could very well be by way of another inquiry or a tribunal. This is highly unsatisfactory and it is something we must look at.
I think we agree to put the Department and the investment in broadband onto the work programme in terms of lessons learnt from the past and where we are going. The Government programme divides the country up into various areas, including what is known as an amber area that will be subject to the new contract where there is only one bidder. My experience is that private companies who provide broadband commercially outside of the scheme are eating into the amber areas on the edge of towns. I fear the Department is trundling along thinking the amber areas will have X number of people and are constructing the contract on that basis. By the time the work is ready to start a lot of cherry-picking will have happened in the amber areas and there will be fewer houses available for incorporation into the plan. Broadband is a dynamic issue and is not fixed while tenders and revised tenders take place. The other operators are eating into the good bits of the amber areas as we speak and by the time a contract is signed the total population of the amber areas requiring broadband will have changed from today's configuration. Even though we are talking about future expenditure I hope the lesson has been learnt from the previous process. We will put broadband issues into the work programme.
The next matter is No. 1511 C dated 9 August, and No. 1556 C dated 31 August in relation to the audit processes in the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The individual raises issues about the opportunities afforded to organisations to "get their accounts right". The correspondent refers to a number of different versions of Dundalk IT accounts during the 2015 to 2016 audit.
Does Mr. McCarthy wish to reply orally or give a detailed written response? He has seen the individual's response, which talks about the accounts from when they were first presented until he signed off on them.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The issue is relatively simple. A draft set of financial statements is presented to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit. In an ideal world, the systems within the organisation would produce a set of financial statements that would not need any change thereafter, but we do not live in an ideal world and changes happen. We want to ensure that when a set of financial statements are presented, they give a true and fair view. Of course, organisations are allowed to make changes and we would require them to make changes. If they do not do something, that leads to a set of financial statements not giving a true and fair view, for which we give a qualification.
There were difficulties with this particular set of financial statements. The audit was signed off at the end of June, and as I understand it, they are with the Department and will be presented in due course.
It is important to give Mr. McCarthy the opportunity to let the public know. I went through the banking inquiry, where these issues came up frequently. She refers to the Central Bank and Anglo Irish Bank and her view of the proximity of the regulator and all those people. I do not disagree with her on that particular issue. It would be good for the Comptroller and Auditor General to state that no such cosy relationship exists and that people probably do not like getting a call from his office about accounts.
If, for example, I am the head of a State body, can I say to the Comptroller and Auditor General's office that it has been a rough week and ask for a few weeks so that we can work it out? Does that happen?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Let us say an organisation was dealing with a difficult live issue, I would not insist that I get the set of financial statements the following week, above any other issue. We are pragmatic. Very often, we are dealing with the part of the organisation that is not dealing with the crisis.
It is important to get the issue on record. When push back arises and the Comptroller and Auditor General decides to push back again, does anybody at a higher level lift the phone and say to him or her, "Look Comptroller and Auditor General, you need to cool the jets there"? Does the Comptroller and Auditor General report to anybody?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Certainly on the margins of a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, I might have a discussion privately with an Accounting Officer. If there had been a difficulty and a perception that there was something that we on our side had not done, we would have a discussion around it. We always endeavour to ensure that what we are doing is fully professional, that we are responsive; and that we are not the cause of delay, although there sometimes can be delays on our side because of the pressure of work.
I am sure I know the answer to this question, but again to leave this person who has written to the committee in no doubt, is there anybody who can trump the authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General?
No. 1522 is from an individual on the insurance costs for local authorities. I raised this matter earlier as part of the previous discussion on the letter from the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the value for money report carried out on the insurance costs of local authorities and the operation of the IPB. A report was published but it has not been circulated. We have insisted that we get a copy of that report. This correspondent, who has knowledge of the area and of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board had written a separate letter when he or she heard our conversation the last day, saying that he or she had sought a copy of that report, and it had gone as far as the Information Commissioner who found in the person's favour in 2017. IPB has applied to the High Court for a private hearing, which is listed for next month to prevent that report being issued. We are insisting that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issue that report. That somebody else wants to take a High Court action has nothing to do with us.
No. 1523 was sent to the Minister for Finance from an individual dated 15 August 2018 regarding the publishing of pension arrangements for the President. We note this but we will not discuss it.
No. 1527, dated 17 August, and No. 1543, dated 24 August 2018, requested the committee to investigate the GoSafe contract on a value for money basis. The person has offered to attend a meeting of the committee. We have previously made inquiries from the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána on foot of a report submitted by the correspondent. The replies we received were forwarded to the individual. The individual has offered to meet the committee. While there appears to be some validity in the points made in the correspondence, the outsourcing of this service is a policy matter for the Government and it is, therefore, outside the remit of the committee. We have brought the matter as far as possible. I understand the Comptroller and Auditor General reported on this issue previously.
There is a previous report. At this stage, if the individual wants to take up a policy issue on the matter, we refer him to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for whatever action it deems appropriate.
No. 1533 is a matter from an individual dated 20 August 2018 on a query from the committee on foot of our correspondence regarding the timely presentation of accounts. This body was incorporated into Dublin City University at the end of September 2016. That is the old St. Patrick's institution. We note it.
No. 1534 is from an individual, dated 20 August 2018, inquiring about the President's expenses. We note the correspondence but will not discuss it.
No. 1535 is correspondence from Deputy David Cullinane on Dr. Graham Love. We have discussed this issue at length and it is noted.
No. 1539 is from an individual, dated 15 August, on presidential remuneration. We note it but will not discuss it.
No. 1540 is from an individual, dated 23 August, who is inquiring about the costs associated with an inquiry into the Midlands Regional Hospital and the PRG investigation into Portlaoise. I propose we write to the HSE for a detailed information note on the direct and indirect costs associated with this matter. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1541 is a letter from Mr. John Devitt, chief executive, Transparency International Ireland, dated 27 August 2018, providing information on its integrity at work programme; the Speak Up Report 2017 and the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. Is it agreed that we note and publish this correspondence? Agreed. Mr. Devitt has offered to meet the committee and we will consider that suggestion as part of our work programme.
We will keep it on the list for consideration.
Nos. 1553, 1555, 1559 and 1564 are from an individual requesting confirmation that the Government did not incur expenses arising from the visit of the Pope to Ireland. I propose we request the information from the Department of the Taoiseach or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as appropriate. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1565 is from Deputy David Cullinane regarding a proposed invitation to Dr. Gabriel Scally regarding his report. We will deal with that separately in the context of how we deal with the cervical cancer as part of our role compared to the role of the Joint Committee on Health.
No. 1580 is from me, proposing that the committee examine Vote 1. There will be no further discussion.
No. 1581 is dated 18 September, from Dr. Gráinne Flannelly, looking for clarification on whether she is needed for next week's meeting on CervicalCheck, which was supposed to be this week's business, but we are rescheduling that. We will hold her offer to attend open until we finalise that work programme and the date for that. She was the clinical director of CervicalCheck but no longer works for the HSE.
Nos. 1516, 1517, 1573 and 1574 are from an individual with regard to a previous HSE human resources, HR, inquiry. The correspondence is further to previous correspondence that was dealt with at our meeting in July. It was agreed to ask the HSE to respond. The HSE to wrote to us on the matter and advised that an agreement was concluded between the staff panel, unions and the HSE under the aegis of the national joint committee in May 2015. The corporate employee relations service notified all divisions of the HSE and section 38 agencies of the provisions of the agreement and the necessity to advise those who were unsuccessful in their application for regularisation or who have otherwise not received any outcome of their application. I propose to send the HSE response to the individual and if the individual wants to come back to us with further information, he or she is free to do so. While all those wonderful provisions happened at national level, it appeared from what the individual wrote that staff members on the ground never got the information. They were never aware of this programme. While employee relations services, corporate committees and joint committees said it was all in order, staff members who may have been interested in being considered for that insist they were never notified. We will send all that. That is the official response. What happened on the ground may have been different. If he or she has evidence, we will look at that matter because it does not fully address the exact query with regard to individuals not being informed on a local level.
No. 1576 is from an individual, dated 30 August, who alleges unauthorised state aid is paid by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to Horse Sport Ireland. I propose we request a response from the Department. It does not like giving money to Horse Sport Ireland. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1578 is from an individual, dated 14 September, requesting the committee to make recommendations to the Government regarding accountability for the management of the State's property assets. This matter is related to a forthcoming report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and refers to an issue raised with the previous committee. I propose we await the forthcoming report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and consider it as part of our work programme at that stage.
No. 1579 is from Susan Gilvarry, solicitor to the Cooke commission of investigation, dated 14 September 2018, requesting documents submitted to the committee from Fortress during the inquiry into Project Eagle. The secretariat has sent the requested documentation to the committee and we will note the request. The letter refers to Deputy Catherine Murphy but it should have been Deputy Catherine Connolly.
No. 1587 is from a solicitor, dated 27 August, requesting the committee to make inquiries regarding increased cost of long-term care in West Kerry Community Hospital. That is probably funded by the fair deal scheme. The people who set the price for the fair deal scheme are the National Treatment Purchase Fund, or it might be a matter for the HSE. We will write to both organisations for a response to that matter because I am sure the State is paying most of the costs of care in that organisation, through the fair deal scheme or otherwise, even though there is a private element involved.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It seems to be a private patient in a public nursing home, so that would be determined by the HSE rather than HIQA-----
We will write directly to the HSE for a detailed response to the issue with regard to that West Kerry Community Hospital. The issue of the private patient is part of that but we want a comprehensive response on the issues raised in the letter.
No. 1589 is from an individual regarding the Waterford Youth Training and Education Centre, WYTEC, in Waterford city. This is an employment issue. It states that the individual contacted the committee in early 2009. It appears to be a ten year old issue. I will not mention the individual's name. The end of the correspondence indicates that the individual was encouraged to seek legal advice, and had done so initially but this time it was with protection. We will note it. We cannot get into it. We can refer the individual to the Workplace Relations Commission. It is not at our request but we can advise the individual that he or she might consider it.
No. 1592 is from an individual, dated 20 September, advising the committee regarding previous access by the Comptroller and Auditor General to information regarding presidential expenses. That is noted with no discussion.
Other correspondence not circulated includes No. 1545. It is from a co-ordinator of the Chartered Accountants Voluntary Advice service and is dated 22 August. The co-ordinator is making inquiries on behalf of an individual regarding access to funds in a particular bank account. This item has not been circulated as it includes personal financial details related to the individual. As well as being outside of the remit of the committee, the matter has been decided on by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman. Can we agree not to circulate that correspondence? Agreed. There is too much detail about personal financial circumstances. If anyone wants to see it, he or she is free to contact the secretariat but we will not circulate it. I advise the committee that we have not circulated it.
It came from the Chartered Accounts Voluntary Advice centre. It is a group of chartered accounts, which provides free advice and took it up with us, but the personal information should not have been sent to us, which is why we are not circulating it.
No. 1521 is from Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice, dated 14 August, forwarding correspondence requesting the committee to make an inquiry with the HSE regarding charges for medical care. The correspondence has not been circulated because there are some libel and general data protection regulation, GDPR, concerns. There is also considerable personal information. At Deputy Fitzmaurice's request, I met him and the person who made the complaints before the summer recess and asked them to send us a detailed letter. We will not circulate this. I will go back to Deputy Fitzmaurice and ask for the points to be made in a fresh letter without the personal details next time. It relates to the possibility of improper or illegal charging of residents for incontinence wear at the Brothers of Charity Services in Roscommon and the right of those residents to a refund. The matter relates to the general governance of sections 38 and 39 organisations. I propose we write to the HSE to establish whether it is satisfied that all residents who were improperly or illegally charged for incontinence wear at the Brothers of Charity Services in Roscommon have been refunded and to provide a note on the HSE's oversight of this matter and how and whether the matter has been fully dealt with. Is that agreed? Agreed. If members wish, we will redact or just revise the letter so people can see it.
It boils down to this. The charity provides a normal volume of incontinence wear. If somebody has a particular problem, it says the allocation is two per day and a person might require six, which it says is above and beyond the normal requirement, which means it is additional medical care and the person is being billed for it. It appears that has happened in this case.
We will ask the HSE about this issue in respect of that particular institution. I will review the letter with the secretariat to see if it can be shown to members because I would like them to see the case that is being made by the individual. I will ensure any personal information is redacted. If it is not possible to do that, we will seek a fresh summary from Deputy Fitzmaurice.
I have a question on No. 1526, which is from Mr. Ray Mitchell, director of the Health Service Executive. I sought a copy of the Hannaway report but we were provided with slides rather than a report. If the slides exist, are we sure that the report does not exist?
We will communicate with the HSE specifically on that matter. We received a large volume of correspondence from Mr. Ray Mitchell of the HSE, which we agreed to defer to a another meeting but I will seek clarification on the issue raised by the Deputy.
We have spent three hours at this stage dealing with correspondence received over the summer, some of which we have held over. Next week, we will deal with the Teagasc 2017 financial statements, following which we will resume our discussions on our work programme and other issues. The Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report will be published in the meantime and matters may arise in that regard.
Next Thursday. We are not discussing the work programme today because work for the next two weeks is set out. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report will issue soon and there may be something in that that members would like to discuss in the context of the work programme. As we have dealt with a lot of the correspondence today, we will have more time next week to discuss the work programme.