Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 11 October 2018
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
As we have a quorum, the committee is now in public session. We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, as a permanent witness to the committee and he is joined by Peter Kinsley, deputy director of audit.
Are the minutes of the meetings on 27 September and 4 October agreed? Agreed.
A couple of matters arise from the minutes which I want to move through quickly. Some are of particular interest to our work. In the minutes of the meeting of 27 September we referred to item of correspondence No. 1585 from the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, regarding the Tax Appeals Commission which is doing an independent review of staffing requirements and it was agreed that the Department keep the committee updated on the review. I do not think we have yet got a copy of the review. The Minister announced on budget day that it was published. It should be here by now and we want that urgently because the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is coming in next week.
At that meeting we dealt with correspondence from Mr. Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills regarding the contribution of the religious congregations to the cost incurred by the State for residential institutional child abuse and he gave us an appendix in that letter, which we received on 23 July, about several properties and transactions that were to be completed by the end of quarter 3, 2018, which was the end of September. We expect to see the outcome of that by next Thursday and to see whether that the promise made in July has been fulfilled. We want that for next week because it should be completed. It is a question of sending us that summary.
In respect of correspondence No. 1507 from Mr. Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the general indemnity scheme that arose when we were talking about local authorities, he will be here next week to discuss the Office of Public Works, OPW. We want that report before he comes in. Nobody has any work to do on it. I do not know how long the report has been sitting there.
We did say in the minutes that we would include the national broadband plan and the information and communications technology, ICT, programme for the Department in our work programme for that meeting. We want answers to every single item of correspondence we have sent to the Secretary General of the Department in recent months before he appears here next week. Maybe we have got all the replies but I would like that doublechecked.
The next item arising out of the minutes of the last meeting, on 4 October, is that we noted all the financial statements over the course of the summer. We noted with regard to No. 412, that the accounts of the Dublin Greyhound and Sports Association Limited were certified in June 2018 and were received in August 2018. It received a clear audit opinion and the Comptroller and Auditor General noted on the documents given to us last week that the committee ceased trading in February 2017 and the agreement was reached for the sale of the premises, Harold's Cross Stadium, for €23 million, which is sufficient to allow the company discharge its residential liability. I think that is a fair assessment of how the price was arrived at.
Arising from the minutes we want a detailed report from the Department of Education and Skills on how it felt it was appropriate to spend €23 million of the schools land acquisition budget to bail out the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB. It would have been far more transparent if the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had wanted to bail out the IGB and clear its debts to put in a supplementary Estimate and do it that way. That might have been in breach of state aid rules but maybe it said if it put a value on the asset and got another Department to buy the asset for €23 million perhaps that would not breach state aid rules. I do not know if that was a factor. Bord na gCon was in here some time ago a day or two after this sale was announced but there was a lack of candour. It did not tell us that it had two in-house valuations discussed by its own board of €6 million and €12 million. That was not made known to the committee.
I am coming to that. I will call members to speak because I am not letting this issue pass. It specifically arises out of the minutes the last day when we noted the accounts. We want a detailed report from the Department of Education and Skills. It wrote the cheque. The IGB is the happy camper. It got its money. We want a detailed report on how it agreed to pay the €23 million and whether that was that included in its Estimates for that year.
It will talk about the Valuation Office. The Valuation Office is a State body and all State assets are a matter of concern to it, including the assets of Bord na gCon and the Department of Education and Skills. It was not working for the Department, it was working for the State. Whether that asset transferred for €2 million, €22 million or €42 million is a matter of indifference to the Valuation Office because the land was staying in State ownership, either with the Greyhound Board or the Department of Education and Skills. Its setting of a price is not the issue. The issue is why the Department agreed to proceed with the payment of €23 million. It is very coincidental. As the Comptroller and Auditor General remarked it was sufficient to allow the company, Dublin Greyhound Sports Association Limited discharge its residential liability.
I am suggesting that next Thursday, when the Department of Education and Skills is here with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, we must allocate a separate portion of the meeting, maybe before we bring in the HEA, whether it is 30 minutes or an hour, to discuss this payment out of its budget, if members are agreeable. It is fishy to say the least that the Department of Education and Skills came up with €23 million to solve the greyhound board's problem. This is arising strictly out of the minutes of last week's meeting.
There is a report today in The Times, Ireland edition, by Sean McCarthy who has done some good work on this through freedom of information. Under circular 11/15 Bord na gCon as the seller, being a State body, was obliged to go to the Valuation Office. It went to Savills, a private valuation company instead. It never went to the Valuation Office. My first question is why did it breach that circular. The purchaser, the Department of Education and Skills, then had the valuation done on a property which it did not own and is counter to the circular because it is the State body selling that goes to the Valuation Office. We now know the difference between the two prices which amounts to €11 million. We need to find out why the IGB did not go to the Valuation Office as it should have done and what prompted the Department of Education and Skills to go to the Valuation Office. Surely it is aware of this circular too. Would it not have found out that the IGB should have gone to it and if the IGB did not go to it and was aware of it did it not ask why?
Did the Department of Education and Skills not ask why it rather than the IGB was going to the Valuation Office, as per the protocol and the circular? A reason would have been needed for the Department to be informed that it had to take an action, that being, to get the valuations done. This brings me to the need to determine who knew what in the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Education and Skills. There is no way that the latter could have gone to the Valuation Office, given that it would have been aware of the circular stating that the IGB should go to the Valuation Office. Who told it? How was the Department aware that it should go in breach of the circular? Were there discussions between the two Departments and between Bord na gCon, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Education and Skills? We need to find out all of that. Ultimately, we need to find out why the Department of Education and Skills accepted the requirement to pay this amount of money, which I understand was €23 million of a total budget for land purchases of €28 million, or more than three quarters of its money for the year.
Recall the day when its delegates appeared before us. Their happy attitude, based on their understanding that this bailout was effectively coming anyway, raised questions about what it was that people understood was really happening. There was no transparency in the process.
What galls me is that the Department of Education and Skills wrote the cheque. Did the Department get value for money? We all have constituencies, and I have several schools on my books for which I am trying to get sites acquired. The Department has come back with reams of stuff to the effect that this or that site is not value for money, but those amounts pale into insignificance compared with Harold's Cross. I would like to know how consistently the Department is applying its methodology if one deal can be justified as being value for money when the smaller projects that we are dealing with are not. It would shine a light on the situation.
I agree with the previous speakers. I will be as brief as I can. Questions were asked of the Department and Bord na gCon when they were last before us. Casting my memory back to the exchanges, it was not a good showing from the board and its CEO. Their performance left much to be desired. The overall question related to whether a bailout had been given by a Department to an organisation audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, namely, Bord na gCon, which is accountable to us, and whether the sale of the property was effectively that bailout. I was not aware of the two valuations and I am unsure as to whether the Comptroller and Auditor General was at the time. Maybe that information would not have come across his desk anyway.
The record of our previous meeting does not show that. According to the record, the question was whether the IGB had a valuation, and the answer was that it did. When asked who did it, the answer was "Savills". We asked whether we could have it, but we were told "No". When we asked why, we were told it was because the deal had not been closed and it was sensitive information. That is what is in the transcript.
There are many issues that we want to put to the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills. We need to be focused in how we approach this. It may require more than one session. There are many issues involved. Before Thursday, can we separate out the issues that we know will be returning to us, given the forthcoming reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General and other reports that we still must reach, for example, the Thorn report, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report into Limerick and the Waterford report? We could deal with them when they are before us. I want to have a sense of what it is exactly that we will be doing on Thursday. What are the issues that we want to put to the HEA?
If this was banking, it would be called "kiting". For example, if I owe €5,000 to Bank of Ireland and I have a €5,000 overdraft in Permanent TSB, I pay the cheque off that. When that is paid off, then I start paying off the Permanent TSB one and the money keeps going around in circles. If this was a bailout for Bord na gCon, it should be called that. Do not treat the people like fools and claim that this was worth €23 million. Pages 48 to 56 of the transcript of the meeting of 18 May 2017 contains the exchange on the valuation. Bord na gCon stated that it had received a valuation from Savills. Whether it was a red book valuation or one that was invoiced out at €10,000 plus VAT, companies like Savills are not going to risk their reputations over a Mickey Mouse fee, which is what that amount would be to it, by valuing it at €12 million and not referring to it as a formal valuation. A valuation is a valuation. It might not have been accompanied by the 50 pages and background material that accompany a full valuation, but neither was it a verbal or informal valuation of €12 million that then became €23 million. In fact, it would not even become €12.1 million.
This is a disgrace. This is Departments clearing up the sloppiness of organisations' debts. Arguably, Dublin City Council is implicated. It voted down a rezoning for the private sector. I am not saying that was right or wrong, but everyone was at the party.
My next point probably feeds into some of the matters that we will discuss with the OPW, but no one is paying the price. Consider how this was structured. If it was a State bailout of Bord na gCon, that is fine. Was the Minister involved, did he know and did the Government sanction it? If so, fair enough. Alternatively, was this creative accounting by officials on the premise that a school was needed in that area - of course it is - and here was the money to pay for it? A figure of €23 million? Forget it. I valued it. I do not have the experience of Savills, but zoned as it was, I think it amounted to €750,000 per acre. If it had the appropriate institutional zoning, that could have increased to €1.5 million in cost to the Department of Education and Skills. The Savills valuation was slightly higher than that at €12 million. I said at our previous meeting that, once Bord na gCon was prepared to supply it to us, we would see that the Savills valuation would be substantially less than €23 million. Although the witnesses told us that it was sensitive information because the deal had not yet been closed, I asked them to provide it to us for our examination. I assume it did not come.
In addition to the €23 million paid for the school, the Department of Education and Skills is not providing access for children in Dublin 8 or Dublin 12. A sum of €23 million was divvied out for a site and a school will be built on it. A football could be kicked to Dublin 8 or Dublin 12 from the site in Harold's Cross, but the children in those areas will not be allowed to attend. That problem is in addition to dishing out €23 million of the taxpayers' money.
Its delegates clarified matters, for example, whether their wives owned hounds. A circus was at the back of the room watching. We were struggling in our questioning. We were informed that Harold's Cross was a going concern and that, while it and Shelbourne Park were doing great, they had debts that had to be cleared.
There was a budget on Tuesday. What increase in resources was given to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General?
David and Goliath does not capture what we are trying to do and the burden we are putting all the time on the staff and indeed on ourselves. It has taken hours even to read a little bit for today, and then we are waylaid into something else. There is the issue of Bord na gCon and the Department of Education and Skills, and I definitely agree with Deputy Cassells that we need a separate session. We struggled to try to make this open and accountable and it certainly did not happen. If a freedom of information request is trumping a constitutional committee, we are in serious trouble. It has serious implications for all the other work on our desk. I asked from the very beginning about staff, and the Chairman was very supportive of the staff, but this is a big issue. If this is the committee to which the public is looking to try to bring some measure of accountability, we cannot continue like this. It is not possible. I for one cannot continue like this. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it has taken a huge amount of work for all the Deputies-----
Absolutely, and I am using myself as an example. Every single member who is turning up for these meetings is trying to keep up even with a small amount of work, not to mention the voluminous correspondence. That is also important.
Absolutely. There is Bord na gCon, the Office of Public Works today with another rental matter, etc. Maybe we can come back properly to this committee and discuss how we can work more effectively. I think we do a great job but we need help. I certainly want clarified what additional money the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General got.
I think we all have a memory of those meetings because they were pretty exceptional. It seems to me, however, that there are two streams of issues for us. One is certainly value for money, but the other is the process. It seems to me that we were presuming that there were two separate processes, but there is a question mark as to whether that was the case. It is perfectly valid for the State to have first call on a-----
-----piece of land if there is a need for something in an area, but it must be separated in terms of value for money. The €12 million valuation we hear about is now only €12 million if it was for housing. In fact, it was a lower valuation if it was for something else. I think I recall €6 million being talked about, so it is actually multiples of what the valuation was when one considers that if it had been a site for a school, the amount of the valuation would have been an issue. What is really getting to be more than infuriating is that the word "candour" has been used in here and commercial sensitivity almost inhibits the candour we require of public bodies to hold them to account. They can come in here and validly say a matter is commercially sensitive and that they cannot tell us whether there is a valuation, and then it can end up in the newspaper. The whole issue of commercial sensitivity is therefore something we must find some way of defining or find a way through when we are trying to deal with an issue such as this. It feels to me like they bought something in Limerick, they ran into trouble, they were not getting the numbers in Limerick, they had to sell one of the assets, the asset that would get them out of trouble was Harold's Cross, but Harold's Cross would not get them out of trouble unless it was of a particular value, and it was not of that particular value if the valuation that appeared in the newspaper at the weekend was the true valuation. Can we go back and get a valuation on it, even at this stage?
I was going to make the point, which An Teachta Murphy has made, that the valuation was based on the zoning and the use. The Accounting Officer for the Department, the Secretary General, when he was here, however, was absolutely adamant that they were paying at market value. It strikes me now that maybe they were not, given the information we have, which to me is serious. What was fishy, to use the Chairman's word, at the time was that the valuation, or what was actually paid, almost hit the bulls eye in terms of the debts that were owed. That is what jumped out of the pages - why does the valuation pretty much come in at the amount in legacy debts the organisation had? It seems that our concerns and what was pretty obvious to many of us at the time have now come to pass. A separate session is therefore needed, to be fair, to get to the bottom of this. We need the Department and Bord na gCon in at the same time. To have them in separately would be wrong. Both need to be here at the same time for us to get to the bottom of this.
I wish to make a tiny point. I agree with what members are saying. I think it needs to be a separate session. This is a symbolic issue, however, given what is going on and what people are saying here and how we can actually do our job. There is the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Bord na gCon, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Valuation Office, which I think comes under the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, does it not? I presume it does. Does it come under the Department of the Taoiseach?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Yes, it is a mixture of non-pay and pay. Regarding the pay element, we proposed to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that we get additional resources specifically for third-level education, so we are expecting to be able to build our presence in audits of universities and other third-level institutions.
-----and one of the flaws with the OPW, if you ask me, is the lack of property management. It is something Mr. McCarthy should look at because I am sure when it came to writing the report we are about to consider in a few minutes it might have helped in a level of understanding. It is not a criticism of Mr. McCarthy because he brought this good work to us, but I also understand-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It is a difficulty for a small organisation, particularly in a small country, given the level of competition in the market for these kinds of services on a consultancy basis. If I had to choose whether I would be better off going for a doctor, a medical professional, because of health or somebody-----
I am not saying the office does not need that, in fairness. It is not a case of either-or. I am suggesting, given the amount of money involved, the potential for deals like this and the fact that the OPW pays €96 million in rent every year and that there are property disposals and acquisitions, it would be prudent to have a small team of property professionals at Mr. McCarthy's disposal. I am not asking whether we should have a doctor instead. It is not a case of either-or. I have asked Mr. McCarthy before whether we value State assets as a matter of form. We do not. We just have a book value versus what it was booked at last year. I think that is remiss of us as a State, not a reflection on Mr. McCarthy, and it is something he should look at.
I think the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General should come back to us on what it needs.
Is it the case that the money will allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to work on the third level?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Our proposal to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform involved a bigger sum, but the decision was made. I do not deal with applications for additional resources as they are dealt with by the secretary and the director of audit who is the Accounting Officer. I am the auditor.
We will bring the discussion on the topic to a conclusion. We have to compliment the journalists and newspapers on the freedom of information requests, but it is sad when a freedom of information request trumps a constitutional committee.
It is unacceptable and it is not the only incidence in recent times. There is consensus that it merits being the subject of a separate meeting, although there is enough to be done next Thursday. I will ask the secretariat to draw up a list of the people involved and questions. It can be circulated during the course of the week.
We need to see the documentation and the minutes of meetings for the discussions in the Department of Education and Skills. I know that it looked at the site two years earlier and did not proceed with it, but it was on the radar. There have been a lot of emails and discussions. We need to know what happened between the two Departments, namely, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Education and Skills. We also need to know what went on in Bord na gCon and put a structure on it.
If we have skipped any aspect, I ask members to contact the secretariat. It is important, when we hold the special meeting, that we have all of the information in advance and that we do not lack important documentation, only to read it next January when another journalist publishes it.
I suggest that on that day, perhaps separately, we invite one of the big five or six valuation houses to send a representative. It does not necessarily have to be Savills; it could be Colliers or DTZ, or whatever it is called. It could give us an insight into some useful information.
We will take matter that into consideration. It might be a separate meeting from the one with the Accounting Officers. If we require a number of Accounting Officers on the day, they must all be present. We cannot have a liaison officer in place because that would mean we would continue to have a lack of transparency.
The next item is correspondence. There are three categories, the first of which is category A. The first item is Nos. 1621A and 1624, correspondence received from Ms Ann-Marie Walsh, Office of Public Works, enclosing the briefing document for today’s meeting, including information requested by the committee. We will note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1632A is correspondence received from the Office of Public Works, enclosing the opening statement for today’s meeting. We will note and publish the correspondence.
Category B is correspondence received from Accounting Officers and/or Ministers and follow-up to Committee of Public Accounts meetings and other items for publishing. We held over a number of items from last week’s meeting. I propose that we continue to hold them over until we work them into our work programme. They include No. 1482B, correspondence received from Mr. Robert Watt; Nos. 1486 and 1566, correspondence received from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú on Kildare Wicklow ETB; No. 1490, correspondence received from Mr. Stephen Blake, government accounting unit; No. 1502, correspondence received from Mr. Fergal Costello, Department of Rural and Community Development; and No. 1510B, correspondence, dated 9 August 2018, received from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, enclosing a minute from the previous meeting; No. 1513, correspondence received from Mr. Ciarán Breen of the State Claims Agency; and Nos. 1526, 1528 and 1530, correspondence received from the HSE. They have all been published, but we are holding them over because the correspondence is so detailed. Some of it is very extensive.
I have a question which is related to the HSE's report. It runs to hundreds of pages and contains a huge amount of interesting information which, in itself, would almost warrant a follow-up meeting with the HSE and the Department. For example, some of it deals with the expenditure of €176 million on private ambulances, which is an extraordinary sum. There are issues surrounding CervicalCheck and how the audit was carried out. That plays into what Dr. Scally said yesterday to the effect that, because the audit process had concentrated only on women who had cancer, it was not really a proper audit. It was never recorded in the risk register. There are issues at Mount Carmel with the private operator which is managing it. It was meant to be managed on a temporary basis, but it will now be long-term. The company is owned by Mr. Denis O'Brien, something which will raise concerns for some as he seems to have his finger in lots of pies. There are lots of other issues such as those surrounding the figure for private patient debt - €270 million - in acute hospitals. There is extraordinary stuff in the report.
One or two big reports are attached. We asked 40 questions. Fair play to it - it answered each of them in chronological order. The Deputy has only touched on what is contained in the report. We need to come back to it separately.
My concern is that when we ask Accounting Officers questions, they should be able to answer on the day, but they do not. It is very easy for them to say they will send the correspondence afterwards. It is our job to hold them to account for money that is spent. There is no point in them giving us information afterwards because it is never put to the test or scrutinised. We receive a large volume of documents after a meeting which we should receive in advance. Is there a way we can be smarter about what we do, perhaps by requesting some information before they come to make sure they will have it available? There are 400 pages.
We have sessions in which we are meant to scrutinise these issues, but Accounting Officers say they do not have the information to hand and have to get back to us. It is easy for them to do so. They go out through the door and we receive the stuff afterwards, but we do not follow up on it because we have too much to do and our staff are too busy. How efficient are we in that regard?
In fairness, we are fairly thorough. If we are not happy, we do not let much go once we receive the information in writing. However, because of its sheer volume, it has us snowed under. The point has been well made. We need to discuss it one of the days in private session.
The next item is No. 1538, correspondence received from Mr. Ray Mitchell, providing further information.
No. 1560 is correspondence received from Dr. Barry O'Connor, Cork Institute of Technology, which we have held over, but we will come back to it. We will also hold over No. 1561. There is nothing new in any of it. However, No. 1609 is new. It is correspondence, dated 2 October 2018, received from Mr. Derek Finnegan of the parliamentary affairs division of the Department of Health on a capacity review, providing information requested by the committee on the health service capacity review, including details of the audit of empty beds in public hospitals. We will note and publish the correspondence, to which we will come back.
No. 1614 is from Mr. Nick Reddy, private secretary to the Taoiseach, in response to our inquiry regarding data protection issues and commissions of investigation. This seems to be a copy; we dealt with the matter previously. The letter states that changing the terms of reference of a commission of investigation would not change the general law which applies to commissions of investigation and data protection. In other words, the Taoiseach was saying that they have powers of the High Court when carrying out their investigations. In the context of data protection, therefore, they can make their own orders regardless. We will publish that.
The next item is correspondence held over from the last meeting. There is correspondence from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We have noted it before and we hold it over.
No. 1572 is related to the previous item. We have noted it and held it over.
Nos. 1605 and 1616 relate to the remediation of a landfill site in County Wicklow. We will note and hold that over. At our meeting on 27 September, we agreed to send the response from the Department to the correspondent and last week we noted that the secretariat had done this. The individual has since responded to say that he believes the issues will be ventilated and resolved in due course. We note this correspondence.
Nos. 1611 and 1612, dated 4 October 2018, are from an individual regarding human resources, HR, practices in the HSE. We sent the individual a response received from the HSE which confirmed that all divisions of the organisation and the section 38 agencies were notified of the provisions of the agreement and of the necessity of advising those who had been unsuccessful in their applications for regularisation or who had otherwise not received any outcome to their applications. This further correspondence requests that committee make inquiries with the HSE regarding evidence that it circulated the circular to the relevant staff. I propose to forward the item to the HSE - in redacted form, if necessary - for a response to the questions raised. This is an ongoing issue. The HSE claims that it informed everybody about this matter regarding one of the pay agreements. People could apply for regularisation. Members of staff are saying that they never received notice and, as a result, we want the HSE to prove its statement that people were notified. If there was a breakdown in communication from the top level to the people on the ground, we need to know where it happened.
No. 1613 is correspondence, dated 29 September 2018, from an individual questioning the Department of Defence's spending on ships at a time when, according to the correspondent, wages and allowances are driving personnel out of the Naval Service. Essentially, this correspondence states that we have eight naval ships but only enough staff for seven. The Naval Service is bringing a ninth ship into service. There might only be sufficient staff for six by the time that vessel comes into service. While this is a staffing issue, it is also a financial issue because what is the point in having nine vessels if we do not have the people to man them? We are writing to the Secretary General of the Department of Defence for a detailed response.
No. 1615 is from a co-ordinator in Chartered Accountants Voluntary Advice. We dealt with this at a previous meeting. The secretariat has already sent the transcript to the correspondent and communicated the decision of the committee which was that we considered the matter closed at our previous meeting. I think the correspondence essentially crossed in the post; that is all.
No. 1617 dated 5 October 2018 is from the whistleblowers who corresponded with the committee regarding issues at the University of Limerick. We had said that we would meet them and they are inquiring about where that stands. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on handling of remuneration for certain senior staff in the University of Limerick and the Institute of Technology Sligo is related to this and is with the Minister. We expect to receive it shortly. I propose that we arrange a meeting following that to engage with the two whistleblowers mentioned. We will inform them accordingly. I ask the secretariat to set up the meeting with those people and to come back to us with a time for it.
No. 1623 is correspondence from Deputy David Cullinane providing radio clips relating to Waterford Institute of Technology and the McLoone report. Does the Deputy want to speak about this?
To provide the background, last week I raised concerns about the fact that a report by the HEA into research and development, spin-out companies and process at the institute and which was supposed to be in September 2017 has still not been published. We are now in October of the following year and there is still no report.
The concerns I raised at our previous meeting were not necessarily directed at Waterford Institute of Technology, they were directed at the HEA and whether it had dotted the i's and crossed the t's with the terms of reference and, perhaps, overreached in the context of the scope of the report. Anything we put on the record is a matter of fact. We know, as a matter of fact, that strong legal letters were issued by a number of individuals, as is their right. They felt that the draft report might have been unfair to them. That is how it appears and that is what Dr. Love told us previously.
Obviously the HEA needs to protect itself. I have no difficulty with that. People are entitled to due process. If people have concerns, they have a right to take legal action and that is what is happening. At no point did anyone ever undermine their right to do that. However, what the Accounting Officer and the president of the institute said is that I was trying to deconstruct 20 years' hard work by the institute, that I was being negative, that I was trying to do down Waterford and that my motivations were not to protect the staff at the institute. He suggested that there was an ulterior motive. I am dealing with facts. I have not responded publicly because he talked about due process. This is due process. The Committee of Public Accounts has a job to do. I will respond at the Committee of Public Accounts, which is part of the due process to which he refers.
We received a letter from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, which represents the staff. Members of staff obviously approached the union and stated that, having come forward and been part of a process where the HEA was conducting a review, they are concerned that there is nothing at the end of it and that they feel isolated. That is their concern; it is not an invention of mine or an invention of any other member of the Committee of Public Accounts, it is real.
There a number of different issues arising. There is an attempt by the Accounting Officer - he used the words himself - that I should stop asking questions. I resent being told by an Accounting Officer that I should stop asking questions. Even by saying that, it makes it very difficult for me to raise these issues again. I will raise them in any event because I will not be deterred. We need to get information from the HEA as to whether the report will ever be published. Does it need to go back to the drawing board? Where is it? What is its status? It is reasonable that we get responses to those questions. It is very disingenuous and almost unprecedented for an Accounting Officer to attack, in my view, a member of the Committee of Public Accounts on his local radio station in that way and to suggest that I have an ulterior motive. I do not have to defend myself; I think my record speaks for itself. I represent the city and county of Waterford. I will always do that to the best of my ability. I have no ulterior motive other than to protect and defend staff who work at the institute and who have raised concerns separate from those articulated in the TUI report. I have received separate emails from individuals who go further and say they are concerned that they came forward. I have not put any of that into the public domain.
I seek the Chair's protection in the first instance. Accounting Officers - especially this Accounting Officer - should understand there would be no HEA review if it were not for the Committee of Public Accounts. That is due process. There would not have been any examination of this if the Committee of Public Accounts had not examined it. That is due process. It is perfectly reasonable for me or anybody else to ask questions about the status of a report that should have been published in September 2017. We can all be vulnerable. It happened to Deputy Kelly in the past, although that was political. It is a horse of a different colour when an Accounting Officer says, "I want to take on Cullinane and look forward to taking him on at the Committee of Public Accounts." That is a bit much; it is overstepping the mark. I am uncomfortable with his choice of language and with the way in which he has chosen to respond to issues.
I will make a final point. Given that he was the vice president of research and development who oversaw the process that is being examined, to then attack me in this way is highly problematic and unusual. I am very concerned about it and have put my concerns on record. I will continue to ask questions without fear or favour. Whether issues impact locally, regionally or nationally, we are here to do a job and I will do my job.
Yes. That type of attack may well be counterproductive. There is an attitude within some of the third level sector - I do not say it is the entire sector - that this concerns their independence, that they have put in 20 years of hard work but that we are sticking our nose in. There are very valid issues in terms of spin-out companies, the funding of universities and all of the rest of it. It is welcome that the additional money allocated to the Comptroller and Auditor General is for this sector because it is the sector where issues keep on reoccurring.
What can we do? There is very little we can do except make sure to invite people in when that kind of an attack happens.
There is a difference in that it was the Accounting Officer and I fully support Deputy Cullinane on that. It is our job to ask questions, end of story, regardless of who says what on a radio or in a newspaper. I would not like it if we were obliged to deal with who said what in a radio broadcast. I do not mean Deputy Cullinane, who has raised a very serious issue to which I will return later.
The third level sector, no more than Bord na gCon and many other public bodies, did not distinguish themselves when they came before us. Serious questions must be asked about spin-off companies and research and development.
My main points are as follows. Where is the McLoone report? Can somebody update us precisely on what time span has elapsed, where the report is at and when we will get it?
-----in terms of his concerns. A huge amount of work went into this and he was very fair about the spin-off companies. I have serious concerns about the unaccountability of spin-off companies. That is a whole new area for this committee that has only been touched on - a ripple on the water. Where is the report?
Yes. I support the previous speakers. First, the obvious question is where is the report so let us find that out.
Second, I agree with the previous speaker that, potentially, we have to bring the individual back in here again. That could be a way of dealing with some issues.
Third, there is a more generic issue of principle. I have been down the road where issues were brought up inside here. Park the politics because given my constituency in particular, there was always going to be politics, as is the case in every constituency. When issues are brought up in here of a national importance that certainly have political consequences and direct political issues in a constituency, I have not seen people shy away inside here.
I have not seen anyone across any of the people who come here regularly, because I cannot account for the ones who do not come here. Maybe they are not turning up for different reasons but I have no idea. For those of us who are here regularly, I have not seen anyone shy away and that means we are doing our job.
Where there is a case in which Accounting Officers, dare I say it, or others who are in some way connected to Accounting Officers etc., are actually using processes to possibly influence - I use these words very loosely - intimidate or have some form of consequence on the potential direction of this committee because it would have a political consequence for a member in here, that is very dangerous territory. I do not know how we should deal with it, Chair. I have had to deal with this down in Tipperary in terms of the obvious issue at Templemore, where the discourse around Templemore was that I was inside here, talking about the Committee of Public Accounts, and it was having consequences for tendering and so on. I have had direct political hits, continuously up until last week and I have had other commentary from other people, all because I did my job in here. Now we have an Accounting Officer directly taking on what is going on here in the Committee of Public Accounts. We need to set some ground rules and while I will be guided by the Chairman, we need to do something as otherwise people who come in here will do so, and I mean negative political value.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I do not have any information on the status of the McLoone report. It is not something I have been involved in. However, I am doing, I think, what is a narrower scope report in relation to the disposal of FeedHenry intellectual property. I have been reviewing it. I am in the middle of the process of doing the final review. We have had an extended and very careful clearance process in relation to that but I would expect to be completing the report very shortly.
I thank the members for their comments. I agree with Deputies when they say that we cannot respond to every criticism levelled at members of the Committee of Public Accounts because we all get criticised-----
In this particular case, when the criticism is personalised and a member is singled out and then accused of doing down their own city and country because they have asked genuine questions about concerns that have been articulated by people in an institute, and we are just doing our job, that is serious. It does have implications for us and needs to be responded to. This is an Accounting Officer. This is somebody who has a responsibility to come and be held to account by the Committee of Public Accounts. He said there has been a breach in due process, called into question the motivations behind the questions being asked, and claimed that false information was being put into the public record which, in view, is not the case.
In general overall terms, in my view, and the words were used that the Deputy, which is me, - he did not refer to me by my first name or call me a Deputy but I will leave that aside - should stop asking questions and stop doing what he is doing. It is serious when an Accounting Officer says stop. It is not an Accounting Officer's job to tell us what we should or should not do. We, as members, have to follow through on all of the issues.
On the McLoone report, we had Dr. Love here to discuss this matter in private session. My understanding is that he sought to redraft some elements of it. The report, as with all of these reports, goes out into the institute. Obviously people then have an opportunity to respond, which they did. They then got a number of legal letters, which were with the legal unit of the HEA. Dr. Love hoped that he would be able to resolve all of that and then produce a draft report very quickly. Unfortunately, six months have elapsed and we are nowhere closer to having the report.
The Comptroller and Auditor General is preparing a separate report, which is only one element. It is one company. We will have that report, which will give us an opportunity to invite the Accounting Officer to return here. I agree with my colleagues that we need to find out what issues are delaying the McLoone report because I think it would be unacceptable if we ended up with no report.
On the McLoone report, we will contact the HEA and ask for an immediate response early in the week, not just next Wednesday night and we have discussed the response. We need to hear the current position early in the week.
In terms of the issue that Deputy Cullinane has raised, the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts has to stand four-square with any member who has been attacked by an Accounting Officer in public in respect of the work of the Committee of Public Accounts. I think the committee needs to write to that Accounting Officer and ask him to set out, the comments he made, in writing to this committee because it is to this committee he should be responding.
When the committee gets his letter outlining his criticism of the committee, or individual members of the committee, we will consider that. He has to man up now and put in writing to the committee what he may have said locally. I propose that in the first instance. We need to do that at this stage. I thank the Deputy for raising that because it is a difficult issue.
The next item is No. 1625 from Deputy O'Connell requesting representatives from the approved housing bodies to be present at our meeting. That is agreed. We will work it into our work schedule. We will talk about the format of that meeting as part of our work programme.
We will discuss it in a moment.
There is also No. 1626, a letter from Deputy Kelly requesting a copy of the resignation letter of Dr. Graham Love, chief executive officer of the HEA. We will ask the secretariat to follow up on this request. I have seen media reports but I have not seen his letter.
Graham Love will be in here next week. I look forward to it - I cannot wait - but the Department of Education and Skills genuinely cannot wait.
There has been a lot of media reports about his resignation letter and the reason for the resignation. Thankfully he will come in here before he leaves the role. A copy of that resignation letter is paramount to our discussions. The letter has been requested and refused under freedom of information for some media outlets but it is essential to our discussions next week and a copy of it should be supplied to the Committee of Public Accounts because next week's discussions relate to a range of issues that have been brought up before the committee. Furthermore, as we saw in the committee, the relationship between the Department and the HEA is of serious concern. According to reports, that is reflected in the contents of the letter. I would like to see the reasons for Mr. Love's resignation in order that we can go to it.
In view of the fact he is an accountable person to this committee, the committee will write and ask for a copy of that because it is directly relevant to the work of the Committee of Public Accounts. We ask for the letter especially as he has a reporting function to the committee.
The next item is statements of account received from the last meeting and I have a short list. The first item is a clean audit opinion on the travellers' protection fund and travellers' rights and tour operators' bonds accounts.
The next item is the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, which got a clear audit opinion, as one would hope.
The next item is a clear audit opinion on the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange.
The next item is a clear audit opinion on the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency. Attention is drawn to the statement of internal control, which discloses a number of instances on non-compliance with public procurement guidelines. Those will be discussed as part of the committee's work programme as to the housing issue.
The next item is a qualified audit opinion on the National Tourism Development Authority, Bord Fáilte, or Fáilte Ireland as people know them. The financial statements give a true and fair view, except for non-compliance with accounting regulation FRS 102 in respect of recognition of retired benefit deferred funding assets. It has to do with the pension issue.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
FRS 102 requires any entity that is using the standard to account for future pension liabilities that already have been accrued. Payments that will need to be made in the future must be recognised now and put on the balance sheet.
Pensions operate on a pay-as-you-go basis in the public service. Most State bodies recognise a matching funding asset so that the liabilities are on one hand but there is an expectation that the funding will be got in the future to meet the liability. One balances out the other. Fáilte Ireland has taken a different view.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There are four pension schemes. One was a funded pension scheme and its assets were taken to the Exchequer in 2009 with a statutory guarantee that the liabilities would be met by the Exchequer in the future. There is another scheme that also has a statutory guarantee but there are two schemes it operates that do not have a statutory guarantee. That is similar to other State bodies which also do not have a statutory guarantee. On the basis that the establishment of the schemes is statutory, there is a well-established practice that pensions are funded on a pay-as-you-go basis.
There is also the fact that employee contributions are being taken. In effect, there is an existing contract with the employees that the pension benefits will be delivered in due course. It is not within the gift of the Department to say it makes that guarantee.
My opinion is that Fáilte Ireland should be recognising a matching asset in relation to those liabilities but it takes the view it should not. That is why I am drawing attention to it.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The pension benefits will arise at the time they reach the pension payment age. From an accounting point of view, one must recognise that liability exists. It is a cost associated with the service that was delivered in the year. Every State body has this overhang, or liability to be met in the future. What most of them will do is recognise that the State, in the future, will fund them to that extent and so they recognise an equivalent liability. Effectively it neutralises the liability on the balance sheet so that one can see what is the underlying net asset position.
There are legacy issues there because there was an organisation before Bord Fáilte, then there was Bord Fáilte, then the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training, CERT, merged with Bord Fáilte, which was called Fáilte Ireland and there are also new entrants in Fáilte Ireland.
We will ask the liaison officer for the Committee of Public Accounts to give us a detailed note on it. Is that agreed? Agreed. I thank Mr. McCarthy.
No. 4.6 is the North-South body Tourism Ireland which has been given a clear audit opinion.
I have a quick question. The staff of Fáilte Ireland or Bord Fáilte, whichever way one looks at it, transferred to Tourism Ireland. Can the committee receive a quick note on the figure of €65 million for 2017? For the purposes of transparency for the public, it would be good if it could be outlined to the committee how the body is funded and the proportion of funding that comes from the State and Northern Ireland.
As we did last week, we will ask the secretariat to circulate the full financial statements. Members can then review if they want to raise an issue.
No. 4.7 is the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission Loughs Agency which is also a North-South body. It has been given a clear audit opinion. It is noted.
I shall move on to discuss the work programme. The updated programme is on screen. As there will be no voting in the House today, we will have a three hour session, break for lunch and, if need be, return afterwards. It is not appropriate to move beyond that time period and expect witnesses to sit here for four hours. At the latest, there will be a break in three hours for lunch. We can come back afterwards, if required.
We will then break for lunch because in fairness we have to have a timescale as people are entitled to a break.
On Thursday, 18 October, in the morning, there will be a wrap-up by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on its 2017 appropriation accounts, various chapters and accounts for previous years to which we did not get. If members have a particular issue to raise, they should contact the secretariat. The committee wants to receive an update on where the Department is in the review of public private partnerships, an issue that was mentioned early last year.
On Thursday, 18 October, in the afternoon we will have representatives from the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the Department of Education and Skills before us. Notwithstanding the resignation of Dr. Graham Love, the meeting will not be personal to him; rather, it will be about the interaction of the HEA with the Department and the functioning of the HEA board. The chairman of the board will be coming. We will also discuss higher education matters. We will start with the HEA's 2017 financial statements. If members have particular issues to raise, I ask that they contact the secretariat.
That is the way to do it. We sought the meeting to discuss the governance arrangements between the HEA and the Department. There were some media reports following Dr. Love's resignation that there was tension. Obviously, we want to understand what is happening. We have been looking for reforms and changes in governance in a lot of areas and if there is an impediment or block, we will want to know about it. There are other issues related to the Cork Institute of Technology, the University of Limerick and Waterford ETB, which is why I am trying to separate them out. Are we agreeing that they should all be separated and that we should have some sense as to when they will be brought back to the committee? I am aware that we discussed the Waterford Institute of Technology earlier and that we have a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, but the less said about it the better because it is nearly finished and must be presented to the Minister. Is there not a separate Comptroller and Auditor General report on the University of Limerick? It is with the Department and may be published at some point. We can come back to it, if it is separate. Is there agreement on this issue? I do not know what the position is on the Cork Institute of Technology because there is no-----
It is a separate report. I will request the secretariat to send an information note to members in the next day or two. Not everyone will remember the status of all the colleges in that regard. The note will have a clear paragraph on the issue. It will indicate whether the report is with us, the Minister, the Comptroller and Auditor General or is still awaited. The reports that are not with the committee cannot be discussed, unless the discussion is about how soon we can expect to receive them. We will have the note circulated. Are members satisfied that the committee should discuss the matters mentioned in the afternoon? It will all hang on the financial statements, but we will be conscious that the reports that are not with the committee cannot be discussed.
The meeting to be held the following week, on Thursday, 25 October, will be about housing, in respect of which the secretariat has made a proposal. There are two issues to be dealt with. First, there is the housing supply issue which covers the building and provision of houses. Second, there is the issue of housing supports such as rent supplement, the housing assistance payment, HAP, and so on. It will take two meetings to consider them. There is so much to be discussed that we could not possibly cover every aspect in one meeting. I propose that we start with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The committee has received its 2017 accounts and we will deal with the issue of housing and the local government fund. Representatives of the Housing Agency will also be before the committee. As mentioned in the financial statements, it promotes the concept of sustainable communities. We will also discuss the issue of land use. Do we also need to speak to representatives from the Housing Finance Agency, the body that provides finance for local authorities for housing provision?
We could still invite them. I believe, however, that they are not available to attend that meeting. As the Irish Council for Social Housing had prearranged a meeting for next Thursday, its representatives also cannot be here. It will take a second meeting and we will have to divide the agenda. The meeting on 25 October will cover housing, the local government fund and the Housing Agency. I will also invite the chairman of the housing committee of the County and City Management Association to attend.
No, they are different people, but we can ask both to attend. Two local authority chief executives will also be invited. It is also done by rotation. We will need to have a separate meeting to deal with the voluntary housing sector, including the approved housing bodies and the representative bodies, the agencies that, to be truthful, are delivering most of the housing. The meeting will also deal with supports such as the housing assistance payment and rent supplement. We would get lost and not get our work done if we were to try to do everything in one meeting. Can we agree on that proposal?
My point is that all of the slots up to early December are taken. Given that earlier we discussed Bord na gCon and the Department of Education and Skills, is there a need to hold a meeting on a Tuesday or a Wednesday? If we do not, it will be next year before we get to these issues.
Today we will clear the details of the housing issue. The following week, for definite, we will hear from Revenue. Perhaps the meeting with the Department of Education and Skills and Bord na gCon could be held later. We will come back to the work programme every week to see where meetings can be slotted in. We do not have to sign off on that matter today. The purpose of the discussion is to allow the secretariat to confirm the date for the meeting on housing and 1 November as the date of the meeting with the Revenue Commissioners which will be an important meeting. If the secretariat believes we will have to consider holdindg another meeting, we will have to discuss the issue.
Essentially, the Housing Finance Agency is a funding agency. It provides a certain amount of funding for start-up projects. It sources the majority of its funds in the private sector to be provided on a commercial basis for approved housing bodies.
I am speaking on the basis of what I know. The Housing Finance Agency borrows funding commercially to gain value from the State being able to borrow at a good rate. It lends it on commercially to the approved housing bodies which pay back the loans over a period of time. I think some of the loans run forever. In many cases, the loans given out are interest-only. There are different schemes, which leads me to the next point. I want to receive a note from the Department early next week - well before the meeting - on what I call the different schemes. I am not referring to the housing assistance payment scheme but about the capital assistance plan and the long-term leasing schemes. We want to receive a note on each of these schemes. Otherwise, we will get lost as we use different names.
As we have already asked for it, we expect to receive it. We have covered what is to be dealt with at the meeting on 25 October.
On 1 November we have scheduled a meeting with Revenue to discuss a couple of interesting chapters in the report, as well as its annual report. I am asking for a letter to be sent to the Department of Finance and Revenue seeking an explanation for the extra €700 million in tax that arrived from the multinational corporation sector. I have no problem with the money arriving and will explain why we need the note. We have been told that this money came to be paid because of changes in accounting rules. My view is that these changes in accounting rules were well known a year or two out. They did not happen during the course of the year. Regardless of whether the moneys relate to the accounts for the last accounting year, or even this accounting year, the rules were well known and established. When the Department was drawing up its estimates of corporation tax receipts for this year, it must have known that the rules had changed. It did not happen this year. It was well known at least a year ago and possibly two. I want to know about the work done by Revenue and the Department in the knowledge that the accounting rules were going to change in a way that would affect corporation tax receipts. This has been known for quite some time. What work was done by Revenue and the Department to estimate how much in additional taxation the rule changes would bring in? Is it possible that there could have been a loss of corporation tax, depending on how it worked? I do not believe the Department did not know this was in the offing. I do not accept it. If I were to accept that it did not know about the rule changes, I would be saying it was utterly incompetent. We want to receive information notes from Revenue and the Department breaking down the details of this matter. They can work together to clear the relevant memos. If we were to ask just one of them to clear up this matter, it would tell us that the other one had the answers and vice versa. We are asking the question. We need to know these things. It was probably well known at the time of last year's estimates that there was a possibility that much more would be taken in. Perhaps it was decided to hold it in reserve. We need to be a little more transparent and accurate.
That is a good follow-through question. We should ask whether other changes in accounting rules might affect corporation tax receipts positively or negatively. It is good for Ireland that the changes have had a positive effect, but the opposite could also have been the case. We will ask whether there are other potential changes. We will also ask what Revenue and the Department of Finance are doing to estimate the impact of the changes on receipts. A few years ago, we used to have big debates here about the inadequacy of the estimates of receipts of taxation prepared by Revenue and the Department. I know that, depending on the economic cycle, it can be difficult to make such estimates, but Revenue and the Department should have known about this one. We will have representatives from the Revenue Commissioners before us on 1 November.
The following week - on 8 November - we will consider matters related to cervical cancer and thalidomide litigation. We will examine how the State Claims Agency is handling all of these cases. The thalidomide issue is long-standing.
On 15 November we will ask the Department of Health about the hepatitis C fund, which has cost €1.5 billion to date. We really need to know what lessons have been learned. If lessons had been learned in dealing with the hepatitis C issue, we would not be heading into what we are heading into in dealing with the cervical cancer issue, potentially at major cost to the Exchequer. I feel lessons are never learned.
Second, the health committee had a long discussion with Dr. Scally yesterday. It lasted approximately three and a half hours. We had a detailed discussion on information coming out on this area and we should be concerned about it. It is important to have the correct lines of demarcation between the committees in order that we do not fall into issues in the way we did in the past. If there is a clear demarcation line, this committee will be responsible for looking at the contracts, the tendering process and the money spent on those matters. I ask the clerk to the committee to liaise with the clerk to the health committee. After I asked questions yesterday, Dr. Scally revealed that he had received no documents for the tendering process. He has found that the HSE shredded them as soon as the time limits were up, which is the only example of efficiency on the part of the HSE that he has found. Now the HSE has to go to the laboratories to obtain copies of its own tender documents. The second extraordinary thing is that, even now, Dr. Scally cannot guarantee that the HSE has provided him with every version of every contract with every laboratory. The third extraordinary thing is that Dr. Scally does not know whether there were other examples of laboratory work being outsourced in the past ten years. He does not know where it begins and ends but thinks he has some of it. However, he cannot guarantee that there were no more examples. The demarcation line that applies to this committee relates to our responsibility to examine the spending of taxpayers' money. It is important for this committee to liaise with the health committee to hone in on these areas in advance of our meeting on 8 November.
I agree with Deputy Alan Kelly that all financial aspects of this matter, including tender documents and contracts, could be dealt with at this committee and that issues of governance and accountability could be dealt with through the health committee. Like Deputy Alan Kelly, I am a member of both committees. There are serious issues with the tender documents. As Deputy Alan Kelly said, they have been shredded. I am not sure we will receive them from laboratories that did not receive contracts. Why would they give them to us? In addition to the lack of contracts, there is the lack of a paper trail showing how things were done. That is the job of this committee rather than the health committee.
I agree fully with what has been said about lines of demarcation. I advocated at our second last meeting that this issue be considered to be important. Has there been any interaction between the two clerks?
We said we would wait until after the meeting yesterday. There has been no interaction since yesterday. We indicated in advance. It was agreed that the two clerks would be in contact after yesterday's meeting.
We will come back to that issue. We will finish this discussion for the moment.
We have indicated that on Thursday, 22 November, in the second half of the meeting we will hear from representatives from the Department of Social Protection and consider rent supplement and housing assistance payments. The housing bodies' association will also be represented.
I know him, too. His day to day life is being affected.
This needs to be dealt with. We have made a commitment and a decision has been made by this committee. We need to honour it, and I stress we need to honour it, not in a few weeks but very soon.
Okay. I will ask for the date for that meeting to be finalised with the person concerned early next week at the latest and for a memo to be sent to the committee members in order that they know when that will meeting will take place.
We will ask the secretariat to confirm the date in the coming days and to advise the members directly at that stage.
We have completed this aspect of the meeting. I propose we suspend until 10.50 a.m. to allow the witnesses from the Office of Public Works, OPW, take their seats.
Yes. We will continue until 1.50 p.m. and then take a break. No voting has been scheduled today. We can sit for a maximum of three hours without taking a break. We will take a break and we can resume after lunch. We cannot continue for longer than three hours in any individual session. Therefore, we will adjourn until 10.50 a.m.