Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 17 January 2019
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director of audit. Apologies have been received from Deputies Cullinane and Deering. On behalf of the committee, the staff and myself as Chairman, I offer our sincere condolences to Deputy Cullinane on the passing of his mother in recent days. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
The minutes of 13 December is the next item on the agenda. Are they agreed to? Agreed. We just have to make one typographical correction. The next item then is matters arising from the minutes. There is nothing specific that we will not come to in the course of our meeting. The next item is correspondence received since the last meeting. There is quite a bit because it has been a month since the last meeting. We will give this an hour or so and try to complete as much of it as we can. I do not want to hold too much over indefinitely. We go into our public session dealing with the Irish Prison Service some time after 10.30 a.m.
The first item of correspondence in category A, briefing documents and opening statements, is Nos. 1835 A and 1845 A from the Department of Justice and Equality, dated 10 January 2019 and 16 January, and the briefing papers and opening statements for today's meeting. We will note and publish those. Is that agreed? Agreed. The next category of correspondence is from category B, Accounting Officers or Ministers or both, as well as follow-up to Committee of Public Accounts meetings and other items for publication. The first item of correspondence is No. 1761 B from Ms Mary Lawlor, Communications and Public Affairs Manager, NAMA, dated 29 November 2018, providing further information requested by the committee in relation to Project Nantes and the question of the sale of assets. We raised the issue in respect of section 172 disclosures. I suggest we note and publish this letter from NAMA on the breakdown of the €24 billion in asset sales categorised by the jurisdiction of purchaser. In respect of the section 172 declaration, we are getting legal advice on that. We might take that in private session early next week. We will publish that documentation but we will have to come back and get legal advice from the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor, as NAMA has sought its advice as to where we are with this issue.
The next item is No. 1792 B from Mr. Phelim Quinn, CEO, Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, dated 11 December 2018, enclosing a copy of HIQA's workforce plan for 2018 as requested by the committee. It is good and positive to note that the Department has sanctioned 47 additional posts for the authority. We will note and publish that, including the workforce plan. It may already be in the public arena but we will publish it in any event. The next item is No. 1794 B from Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, dated 11 December 2018, providing notes requested by the committee in relation to Galway as the European Capital of Culture in 2020, including the role played by the Department's representative on the board as well as a note on monitoring reports and meetings. We will note and publish that. There are dates of meetings and reports.
That is helpful and I thank Deputy Connolly. The next item is No. 1795 B from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, dated 11 December 2018, providing a briefing note on the national broadband plan and metropolitan area networks, MANS. We are going to have some of the private providers in that sector here at a special meeting. This document has quite a bit of information provided on the national broadband plan, the reasons given by companies which exited the tendering process and a briefing note on the metropolitan area networks. That includes specific reference to the maintenance of MANs contracts with Enet and the roll-over of that contract. I know Deputy Catherine Murphy will want to speak on this. I want to let people know to which document we are referring. There is also an update on the national broadband plan as to where we are with that at the moment. There are also some appendices attached showing the lists of various areas where the MANs network exists. Finally, appendix 2 gives statistics on the increased use of Eircode. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.
A lot of the information given is useful. There are some specific pieces of information that we sought.
One was the percentage of the investment by the Irish Infrastructure Fund that came from public funds. Is that separate?
The other issue is the coverage. Some areas in the country covered by metropolitan area networks, MANs, contain blackspots. We also looked for that. It is more to do with mobile phone coverage than it is to do necessarily with the MAN. However, it is one of the documents that was requested. We should specifically go back after that.
Okay, we will ask specifically for that where there might be parts of the metropolitan area not covered by the metropolitan area plan where there are obvious gaps in it.
For people who will read this document when we publish it, I want to highlight the reason Eir gave for withdrawing. That is in this document. The rationale for the State purchase of a €200 million stake in Enet is there. It continues to deal with the broadband plan. We will come back to that because it keeps referring to high-speed broadband. We have asked it to define what it means by that. It refers to download speeds of 30 Mbps and upload speeds of 6 Mbps. That is not high-speed broadband. High-speed broadband is the biggest misnomer of all time. That is not high-speed broadband by anybody's definition in this century. If those figures are mentioned in any of the contract details, we are not getting what it says on the tin. Before we finish with that we need specific data. It has to be future-proofed. If those types of references are in the contract, it is a waste of space before we start. There should be no investment in broadband that is delivering 6 Mbps of upload speed. That is a waste of money in this day and age. If that is what the plan entails, we will need to discuss that in more detail. We will be talking to a number of private operators here as set out in our work programme. We have quite a bit to come back to on that. For the moment, the letter contains interesting information and we are noting and publishing that.
No. 1797 from the HSE provides information as requested by the committee on the national ambulance service. Deputy Lahart had requested information on this. I propose we publish this and forward a copy of this to the Deputy.
Next is further correspondence from the HSE providing information on the development of national screening guidelines for hepatitis C; the reviews that have been undertaken in Portiuncula Hospital and the Portlaoise maternity hospital; issues relating to miscarriage diagnosis; and an update on the changes being made in clinical assessment. We asked for this in the context of medical negligence issues. We also asked for a note on the project team established to examine local reviews. We asked for a note on the plan to enhance learning from incidents.
I wish to make a few comments on aspects of concern. On page 4, the HSE confirms: "Doctors may require retraining as part of the outcome of a disciplinary hearing, investigation of an incident or following a legal settlement with or without admission of liability." The idea that they may require training is not good enough if there is a major incident. It should be almost mandatory. We will come back to that.
On the current practice of local reviews of an issue that arises in a particular hospital, at the bottom of page 5, it is stated: "At a local level, once a review has been completed, learning is expected to be shared across the service...". That is harmless. If that is the policy, we expect something might happen. The final page refers to the plan to enhance learning from incidents. That is what we want. We want the HSE to learn to reduce future incidents. The letter states:
Though the current practice outlined above remains valid, the HSE has identified that there are also a number of other ways in which learning can be captured...
The second project is focused on putting in place a system whereby ‘lessons learned’ from incident reviews can be provided to a single point within the organisation.
We are hearing that the HSE does not have a single point where lessons from medical incidents can be learned and it is now developing a project to centralise the lessons to be learned. It is decades behind what is acceptable. That will be the recommendation when we come to issue a recommendation on that; it is so obvious. It is dreadful that it is saying that.
This applies in other parts of the public service. For example, a local authority has a legal requirement to give a decision for planning permission within a specified time. It becomes almost the number one requirement because there is a legal requirement. While it is a different scenario, the lack of a legal requirement to do this puts it down the pecking order. When we issue a recommendation, we should consider requesting a statutory obligation rather than anything that would fall within the voluntary category because this is of such importance in changing the culture. It changes the mindset if they can be sanctioned for not doing it.
I welcome what is set out in this letter. Is it adequate? It certainly is not. We should not just leave it to our report. We need to look into this further to identify how to save money. I could tackle this in many ways. I could tackle it on an emotional level from my personal experience with family, which is most people's contact with the health service when something happens and they are left in that place. Alternatively, I could tackle it in the way I should as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. What is proper governance? When reviews are set up local independent outside the country, what do they cost? What do they learn from them? What can we avoid in the future? That is the purpose. Like the Chairman, I am in no way reassured that that is happening here.
I will give a specific personal example without going into any details whatsoever of an independent review of a family member that was carried out. It was anything but independent. It was absolutely forced from the system. It was not proactive in what was an open-and-shut case involving admission. Notwithstanding all that, it placed unacceptable pressure on a family to try to get some accountability. I am only giving one tiny example. This is repeated. If we go back to Savita Halappanavar in 2012, there was no openness and accountability in that case. It was dragged from the system and eventually an independent review was set up.
As the Chairman has pointed out, something must happen about learning. That is an extraordinary statement. Those of us on the committee are endeavouring to get value for money. The health service is under pressure and I am the first to acknowledge that. I have great admiration for most of the staff. However, mistakes are being made. Some are part of life and others are because of the extraordinary stress they are under, lack of training and lack of learning.
It ties in with the State Claims Agency, which ultimately picks up on behalf of the public the claims that inevitably come which people do not want to bring at all. They want accountability and want someone to apologise. They want someone to explain how something went wrong. Most important, using my family as an example, they want assurance that this will not happen again and that the next patient will not suffer as experienced by a family member. I do not see that happening. I seek the Chair's assistance as to how we deal with this in terms of the HSE and the State Claims Agency because I am tired of this type of language.
More important, it is not bringing accountability to the system. It is not saving money and it is not giving value for money. I will finish on an issue, which I have raised previously. I tabled a parliamentary question which asked what independent reviews had taken place in the hospital in Galway over the past ten years and I received the extraordinary answer that there was no system for recording reviews or their cost. That is just about the review and the cost, without mentioning the learning from the reviews. As a Deputy in Galway West, I do not know how many independent reviews were carried out over the past ten years, what they cost or, most importantly, what was learned and what changes were made. I am referring to independent reviews but we also have the language of "local reviews". We cannot leave this. I would like to come back to it. I will take direction on how to deal with it, but it is certainly a big issue.
I thank the Deputy. What she is saying echoes my own view. We are going to come to it in the work programme. I will specifically recommend a special report on medical negligence. We have flagged that well. The cost to the Exchequer is €2 billion. That liability is sitting there and climbing every year. The State Claims Agency and the HSE are involved. I will just jump to the work programme for a moment. Aside from our periodic report, I will propose that we do two special reports in the coming months on work we have commenced. I propose one on medical negligence dealing with exactly what both Deputies have mentioned and a second on the issue of housing. The chief executives of local authorities will come before the committee. I expect two special reports. I propose to pull these two separate reports together and that the committee publishes two separate reports. We have commenced work on both of them. That is a definite. That will be a key part of our work programme in the near future.
No. 1799B is from the Department of Health providing information notes in respect of the profile on infection between primary claimants and others; the Health Research Board drug prevalence study; a breakdown of the administrative costs of the hepatitis C tribunal; and the individual original primary claimants. We will note and publish all of that, arising from our previous meeting.
Next is No. 1800B from the Higher Education Authority, HEA, providing information regarding the breakdown of direct and indirect costs breakdown in respect of the Munster technological university amalgamation process. We will note and publish that. It is there for everybody to-----
We will note and publish it then. The Deputy can raise it again at a subsequent meeting.
No. 1801B is from Mr. Paul Dunne, CEO of the Local Government Management Agency, responding to a request from the committee for a copy of the value for money report in respect of Irish Public Bodies produced in 2015. It includes a letter dated 13 November 2018 from Irish Public Bodies that sets out its position, which is not to release the full report due to commercial sensitivity. It also includes a summary report prepared by PwC in 2016 and the report of the Irish Public Bodies value for money steering group prepared in 2016. To summarise, the Information Commissioner has recommended that this be published. The matter is before the courts because Irish Public Bodies has objected to this being released under freedom of information legislation. That matter is proceeding. It has given us a summary document, which members will want to read and study, even though there is not much commercial information in it. It has given us the summary report prepared by PwC in respect of the value for money review, which will be useful for members who have an interest in this area to review this document. Finally, it includes a report from the Irish Public Bodies value for money steering group, which deals with the County and City Managers' Association, education and training boards, ETBs and the Office of Government Procurement, OGP. We will publish that. There is, however, one request in the letter, which is that some appendices not be published. That is a separate item. Irish Public Bodies is saying that, in its view, the publication of the summary does not unduly prejudice its interests. It has happy for that summary to be published. We will do that here today. We note and publish that.
Yes, but even local authorities will cover a certain component of their liabilities themselves. We are not seeing the totality of the claims throughout the public service. Is that stated anywhere in the accounts? Is there mention of the liabilities that do not go up the food chain to Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance, IPBMI? I refer to claims that would normally fall under the category of insurance but which, because they are below a certain threshold, are not stated. A large number of small claims can represent quite a sizeable amount. Where is that captured? Is it captured across the-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I cannot speak about the commercial State bodies because I do not audit their accounts. In respect of Departments, claims that were settled in year are set out in a note in the appropriation accounts. There is a figure and there is generally a separate figure for compensation and associated legal cost payments in the appropriation accounts. Many State agencies will carry commercial insurance but insurance costs are not isolated as a separate item. There is an element of initial or minimal payments that would be made. It might be difficult to extract them directly from the financial statements, however. There is not a single place to which one can go to find that information.
When they are all combined, it could be quite a sizeable amount. That is carried as an insurance cost but it is funded directly from the Vote as opposed to by an insurance company such as IPBMI. There is no collective figure.
This came up with the State Claims Agency. Interestingly, it said that it had just recently taken on dealing with section 38 bodies and major hospitals which are voluntary organisations. The agency is now handling all of their claims. We asked why the agency did not take on the insurance for local authorities. I still feel that there is unnecessary duplication when the agency is handling all of the insurance claims for most Departments but there is a separate parallel insurance scheme for the ETBs and the city and council councils in respect of claims by members of the public, their own staffs, or whatever. We are running two separate schemes to deal with the one issue. I was trying to get at whether it made sense to have one State agency dealing with it all. On the face of it, it would appear that it would. That is why we are trying to get information. It would be useful to be able to compare the experience of Irish Public Bodies with that of the State Claims Agency which deals with the HSE and every other Government body. We have not been able to get there yet. I do not know how far we will get on it. We are the first to start pursuing this. That is all I will say at this stage.
The report of the Irish Public Bodies value for money steering group was also commissioned by, as I said, the County and City Managers' Association, ETBs, and the OGP. We will come back to that because this insurance issue is definitely on our list. We will note and publish that.
The next correspondence is No. 1802B, from Mr. John O'Connor, the CEO of the Housing Agency, providing information requested by the committee in respect of the breakdown by local authority of the 2,424 properties that have been offered to local authorities but which were considered unsuitable. Detail has been produced on a county-by-county basis.
Within each county, every single offer is listed for every individual town, village or townland where the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, felt it had a property that might be suitable. We will note and publish the correspondence. Some of this information is possibly already in the public arena. It should be available through the local authorities. I suggest members will want to study it in their own right and use it at local level to find detailed explanations for why various local authorities did not take up various offers of housing.
No. 1805 is correspondence received from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, providing information requested by the committee on correspondence received on allegations of unauthorised state aid to Horse Sport Ireland. The Department refutes the allegations which are being investigated by the European Commission and provides details of the Department's position. We will note and publish the correspondence and forward it to the person who wrote to us directly about the matter.
No. 1806 is correspondence received from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, providing information requested by the committee. There is a lot of very interesting information. First, the Department was asked for the gender breakdown and age profile in respect of sick leave taken within it. The details given include age and the number and length of absences. We will note and publish the correspondence. Copies of the reports on the back to education allowance and JobPath are also available. The Department also deals with false self-employment cases. There is a detailed chart showing the savings achieved in that area as a result of employer inspections.
There is a note on various other items, specifically historical debt in cases where there were overpayments. I would like to highlight some of them. The Department states in the report that 156,000 debts are due to the Department from individuals, totalling €475 million. We asked for a breakdown of debts amounting to more than €30,000. There are 3,208 cases where the debts are in excess of €30,000, totalling €178 million. We asked how many of the debtors were in receipt of a payment from the Department, meaning that some of the debt can be recouped by way of a reduced payment on a weekly basis. Where the person concerned was no longer in receipt of a payment, we asked what mechanism the Department had in place.
We asked for details where debts amounted to more than €10,000. There are 11,580 cases where the outstanding balances exceed €10,000 and they add up to €319 million. Some 48% of these are making repayments, which is good. The Department says that 25% of cases are suspended. No recoveries are taking place because the cases are under appeal, there are bankruptcies, the cases concern deceased persons and the Department is dealing with their estates or the Criminal Assets Bureau or other agencies are examining them. The Department states there is a residue of 25% of cases in which it has no specific arrangements in place. This is money that is due to the State and there are very large cases. In more than 11,000 the amount exceeds €10,000 and in half no serious effort is being made to actually collect the money owed. We are asking the Department for a systematic effort to be made. This will have to form part of our periodic report. These are cases where the Department is satisfied that the amount listed is due, but it has not got around to devoting the resources needed to follow up on them. It is as simple as that. We will come back to the issue. As I said, we will note and publish the correspondence.
The next item of correspondence is from the Secretary General of the Department of Finance. A short note was requested by the committee on the procurement competition for the delivery of Government banking services which led to the award of the contract to Danske Bank. In order that members are aware, I note that last summer as a result of an EU competition Danske Bank won the contract to handle and process all social welfare payments and public sector salaries. I propose that we write back to the Department to request an indication of the volume of payments being handled by Danske Bank across each Departments. We would like to get an indication of the scale of payments being handled by Danske Bank. I do not think the Department will have the answer, but I propose that the committee send a brief note to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. It should be very simple to prepare a report outlining how many of the 28 EU member states use banks from outside their jurisdiction to handle all social welfare payments. I would like to know if it is normal across the European Union. Is Danske Bank doing this in several countries or is Ireland the only country that has chosen to have a system where a bank from outside its jurisdiction is handling all social welfare, pension and salary payments? I was surprised to see it. Perhaps the matter might be put in context and it is a regular feature. I do not know, but I would like to know. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with it as it did go through a procurement process. As I said, I would like to know what happens in other jurisdictions.
There was at least a perception of encouragement to have social welfare and pension payments and so on made through the banks which had the consequence of undermining the post office system. The perception - I will put it no stronger than that - was that it was really intended to improve the health of the banking system by having additional activity, but there was a consequence for post offices. It undermined something that could be an organic third force in banking, or at least part of one. There are other issues. As well as the winning of a contract, there is the potential undermining of another State entity by the policy followed by the likes of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in pretty much directing that people be paid by direct debit or standing order, rather than collecting their payments at a post office. That is the other side, of which we should not lose sight.
That is valid. My concern is the number of jobs we have exported from Ireland as a result of the giving of the contract to a bank located outside it. Perhaps all of the Danske Bank staff processing the payments are based in this town; I do not know, but we have seen the library in Dún Laoghaire outsource library provision to a company in England. Is this another example of Ireland's procurement law giving firms outside the State business with which other countries may deal with differently? We will receive information on the levels of payments made. We might ask the Department of Finance if it knows where the jobs involved in processing payments are based. Are they based in the State?
It follows on from other information we have received on how Ireland compares with other countries. We would be complaining if procurement law was not being followed properly. There is a conundrum in that when we compare Ireland to other European countries, we see that the leakage here is much higher. That might be because of our size, but we do not have an answer to that question. This does not concern jobs in this area only but in other areas also. The Chairman is right; the library service is a very obvious example.
We will write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform asking for information on where the jobs are based. Is it the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which we should contact to ask for the breakdown?
We will ask for the information, insofar as the Department has it. When it went to tender, it had to give an indication of the levels of payments and transactions across Departments. We want a copy of that information to know what we are talking about, that is, the values involved in specific parts of the tender process. As that information should have been included in the tender documents, it is probably publicly available.
No. 1808B is correspondence received from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, providing information requested by the committee on the contract of employment for the authority's CEO. We will note and publish the correspondence.
No. 1809B is correspondence received from the Department of Health, providing information notes requested by the committee on the costs associated with the decision to offer free cervical screening; the records retention policy in place, in particular, for procurement-related documents and changes to be made to the policy; and the terms of reference and assessment criteria used in linking thalidomide with injuries and comparisons made with current international criteria highlighting the differences. We will note and publish the correspondence.
Appendix 1 is very interesting. During the crisis the Minister made a decision to provide for free screening, a decision that had profound consequences. I will not criticise him for making it because one could take the argument either way, but the introduction of free screening has had serious consequences for the screening programme. The delay is now 20 weeks, which is having a detrimental affect on women's health. Furthermore, following questioning by me, it has been determined that there is no prioritisation mechanism or way to deal with priorities. The system cannot distinguish between a woman who has to go back for screening quickly or a woman attending for routine screening. The 20-week delay affects equally the woman who needs screening as a priority and the woman who is going back for routine three-year screening. The decision has had other impacts down the line that could have a detrimental effect on women's health because of the delays caused. As a consequence, it has had other impacts outside what was intended and the Minister and the Department did not have the capacity or chose not to provide adequate resources to deal with the excessive demand created by the decision. On top of that, we have a breakdown of the figure of €4.7 million required to provide women with a free GP consultation, with €2.36 million being the estimated cost of the consultations.
There are further costs related to how the laboratories undertaking the work were paid. For commercial reasons, the Department has refused to tell us the cost. I am not sure that this is fair or appropriate. I fail to see a reason it would not tell us. It states the total is €10 million. Therefore, if we deduct the other two amounts, the total is approximately €3 million. Why it cannot state the cost is beyond me because we can add and subtract. I am not happy that it is not telling us what the cost is. There has certainly been secrecy surrounding the dealings with the laboratories from day one. The Royal College of Obstetricians review will probably not be completed this year. It has already been saidit will probably be completed six months from now. There is a secrecy surrounding the relationship with the laboratories. Following the money trail to determine the cost of cervical screening and the work done by the laboratories is shrouded in secrecy and this is another example. I fail to see why the Department cannot give us the figures. I, therefore, ask the Chairman to write back and ask for them.
The committee agrees to write back to ask for them. The final paragraph in the appendix to which the Deputy has referred states women who availed of an early repeat smear test with CervicalCheck will be called for their next routine appointment according to their individual screening recommendation. This means that most of the women who have been screened will be recalled for screening in either three or five years and that the future cost of providing smear tests will be offset to a degree by this out-of-cycle smear testing. I think that at the time people thought in good faith that there would be extra screening, but it is now being said that if a woman avails of extra screening, the next test will be three or five years later. Essentially, therefore, they are only bringing forward the tests women were due to have. No extra screening is being offered. Essentially, upcoming planned tests are being brought forward such that they are being done now, rather than when the women concerned were due to have them, for example, next year. I was not fully aware of that until I read that paragraph.
It is important to indicate that there has never been an offer of a repeat or an extra smear test. All they are saying is that if a woman had a test and is concerned, they will bring forward the next test, rather than doing it at the regular time, but she must then wait three or five years for a further test. Therefore, there is no extra screening.
Effectively, we have deciphered two things, one of which is that costs related to the laboratories are secret or not being broken down indicating the cost per smear. The second is that, effectively, free screening was not offered. What was done was a woman's next test was brought forward. Essentially what is being said is that the women concerned will now go to the back of queue.
The slides go out of date, but the knock-on consequences down the line could affect women's health and result in other cases of negligence or other issues because they were not dealt with within the appropriate timeframe.
The Minister was asked whether a note on the costs associated with the decision to offer free cervical screening and advice received could be provided. He is talking about free cervical screening, but women are only have the test they were due to have in the future. I am concerned because a large number of women will be screened less in the future. They will be screened three or five years into the future because of a test being brought forward.
The problem is that it has actually increased the delay in obtaining results. That has been an issue. If somebody is to be screened, there is an interval between screening that is appropriate.
It is right and appropriate that there be such delays. If a test was to be done now, a woman would not want to have another one in six months' time because it would not give her any extra information because there are intervals for a very specific purpose. The key issue was the way the information had been presented and the lack of transparency in determining the associated costs.
We will write to the Department requesting more detailed information on the laboratories and asking it to elaborate futher on and clarify what is stated in the last paragraph. We will note and publish the correspondence and look forward to receiving a reply.
On the other important information on thalidomide, the letter will be published and interested parties will be able to read it. I welcome the information set out in it. It is something to which I will return, but at this point I want it to be noted for those who are interested that the information on thalidomide is available.
That is fine.
No. 1811, dated 11 December 2018, is from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform informing the committee of the appointment of Mr. Liam Duffy as Accounting Officer for the Office of the Ombudsman. We will note and publish this.
No.1813, dated 20 December 2018, is from Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, providing information requested by the committee regarding closed circuit television, CCTV, schemes. The debate on this matter is ongoing in several local authorities. We will note and publish this.
Several issues, including data control and the local authorities, arise from this. There is no obligation on the local authorities to assume responsibility for the control of data but they can do so. Many questions arise in this regard and while it may not be appropriate to do so today, I would like to put questions to the relevant person at some point.
I have a history on this matter. When I was a Minister some years ago, I provided the first funding for one of these schemes. At that stage, the Department of the Environment and Local Government rather than the Department of Justice and Equality had responsibility for the matter. The funding was provided to pilot a CCTV scheme in the Chairman's county. It is up and running and has been successful, which shows this can be done. We are facing into Brexit with all the potential complications arising from that, whatever the outcome. It is a farce if we cannot sort out data protection and CCTV schemes. This has been going on for years. We all know the issues relating to crime, which I will not go into, but this is a cost-effective way of helping areas to deal with crime. The Chairman and I both deal with the issue of criminals in high-powered vehicles using the motorways to travel up and down to Laois and Tipperary, left, right and centre. A number of areas in my constituency affected by this because they are close to motorways have been granted funding. The issue that arises is who will control the data and where it will be held. The matter has gone back and forward between the Department with responsibility for local government to the Department of Justice and Equality. It is farcical that this cannot be dealt with. A fund is available to be drawn down but there are insufficient applications because the local authorities will not bother to do so on the basis that this issue has not been sorted out.
There are issues which need to be teased out, including value for money issues. The research I read suggested the jury was out on the value of CCTV schemes in certain areas, although there is definitely a place for them. Sometimes CCTV comes under the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána and then there are community schemes, but in my experience they often do not work. Vast amounts are spent installing cameras but they have never worked. In addition, there are privacy issues and the question of a private company being employed. There are serious issues, in our case primarily related to value for money, with money being spent on cameras that are not used. I understand is the position with a number of cameras in Galway and throughout the country.
The local policing board in Kildare discussed this matter and adopted a policy on it. There is an expectation that if one puts a camera up out in the countryside, it will solve all sorts of problems but the practical experience is that it does not. There are locations where they work and others where they do not work. Too much is expected of CCTV schemes. The other issue is that communities must find a sizeable amount of matching funds. If we are to criticise the scheme, we should do so in the round and understand that it is not merely a problem regarding data collection but also with what is expected of the scheme and the requirement for matching funding.
The frustration arising from the failure of this scheme to kick on has been debated here and in the Chamber. Frustration is shared by members of the Opposition, the Minister, who has spoken frankly about this matter, and the Department. The scheme is motivated by genuine concern to help communities but its format has not worked, which is borne out by the level of take-up.
On the broader issue, CCTV does work and I have given examples of previous schemes going back three Administrations. Deputy Kelly referred to his time as Minister for the Environment and Local Government and he is correct that responsibility has moved from Department to Department. Previously, the Department of Justice and Equality ran a scheme in a different format which worked well. My county benefitted from it and the chamber of commerce was the applicant which drew down the funds. It has been successful because the Garda use it as a pre-emptive tool and to help with traffic management around the towns. It has an impact.
We must ask why CCTV is wanted and if cameras are located in the right areas. The crucial question is who are the applicants. In many cases, community-minded volunteers do not have the wherewithal or fundraising capacity to make the application in the first instance. Given that the joint policing committees are effectively a collaboration between the Garda and local authorities, the local authorities need to apply for the scheme. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government must work with the Department of Justice and Equality if this scheme is to be successful across the country. Otherwise, it will only operate on an ad hoc basis, where it works in a small number of communities but will be largely unsuccessful in the rest of the country.
If the matter I raise is not relevant, the Chairman may dismiss me. The current scheme - I do not know its exact name - sees €1 million provided annually, but only €430,000 has been drawn down. I was looking at the figures yesterday. Not to disagree with my colleague, but the reason is that there are problems with drawdown. There is a policing committee which theoretically includes everybody in the community, all of whom have a seat at the table. However, the data controller has to be the local authority and most local authorities, with the exception of Fingal County Council which has €100 million on deposit, do not have a red cent. Sligo County Council, in particular, can barely pay its librarians, which has been an issue in recent years. For this reason, local authorities are not queuing up to assume additional overhead costs and further responsibilities with GDPR and everything else to be the data controller. We could usefully suggest to the Department that it needs to review who can apply for the scheme and who can be the data controller. Perhaps the scope can be broadened. There is a network of community councils - chambers of commerce, for example, to which Deputy Cassells referred - and others, who, if provided with adequate training, may be better placed to be the data controller given the financial constraints on most local authorities.
On a technical point, there is a difference between a data controller and data operator and where the onus on the work output lies. In our case, the Garda is the data operator. It is the gardaí who do all the work. We want that role to be performed by the professionals, in other words, An Garda Síochána. The Garda does all of the work.
Last night, I spent two hours at a meeting of Laois County Council attended by the chief executive of the council and members of various groups from around the county which discussed this exact issue. People refer to the previous CCTV scheme for urban areas, which involved the chamber of commerce in the various towns and the Garda taking a direct monitoring role. That system worked. For some reason, the community CCTV scheme was linked to the local authorities, although I acknowledge it is based in the community.
I saw the document produced last night by the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality. The format laid down by them is that the local authority has to be the data controller. There then has to be a data processor and people can then have access and can look at it. In fact, it can only be gardaí who have access to that to get copies of what is in the system for evidential purposes.
The system approved by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána referred to somebody having access in order to view what is on CCTV - this is exactly what the Department has written down. There must be a written request from an officer not below the rank of superintendent to the data controller, which is the local authority, and there must be confirmation in writing that this can happen before the officer can see it. What happens at weekends? The local authority has to have a staff member at the end of a phone 24-7, 365 days a year if it is to meet the data protection rules under the responsibility given to it. It cannot allow anyone else to access it without that specific request to the data controller. The involvement of the local authorities has put an awful ream of responsibility on them, although I know it was brought in through the policing committee.
The Garda can operate this very effectively in urban areas because the local authority is not involved. In rural areas, under the informal arrangements that applied before the data controllers came in, gardaí would come out and look at the issue straight away, for example, they would see two strange cars in the area and they would be moving on it in a few minutes. Now, we are bringing in the local authorities, and they are expressing concern that their staff will be subpoenaed to give evidence every time a case arises in court. I listened to the chief executive in my area and I understand the position. In addition, there is no funding from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government or the Department of Rural and Community Development for the ongoing costs of operating this system. Everything we are talking about comes under a capital grant to get it up and running and then, after maybe three years, the volunteers get tired maintaining the system and technology changes, and what they have is not as good.
It is a very complicated system. We put the Department of Justice and Equality on notice that we are going to raise it. We want to simplify the system given there are too many layers of people getting involved. Unless the local authority signs a consent to act as the data controller, the application cannot be accepted by the Department of Justice and Equality for funding. It is not that there is not drawdown; it is that, in certain areas, there is a block on the applications going in. We will raise that with the Department of Justice and Equality when it comes in, although not today as it is dealing with the prisons issue. I believe it is scheduled for a visit in the near future. This is of relevance to many people in certain areas of the country.
The next item is No. 1814 and 1834 concerning the Higher Education Authority providing information in regard to employee assistance helplines in higher education institutions. The January item received is a more complete version of the item received before Christmas. We will note and publish that.
This is a bit confusing. Employee assistance helplines, as we know from dealing with protected disclosures and all of that, should be mandatory and that is why I asked for a list of when they were put in place. We can see that it was done in some institutions in accordance with the timeframe, in some others it was done beforehand, and in others it was done quite late. It is alarming that some institutions were doing it and others were not. That is one issue. The fact it took months for the Department to get this information through the HEA is concerning.
There is another issue. As I understand it, employee assistance helplines are also meant to be the first port of call for people who have issues which could potentially end up being protected disclosures. Having looked at the names of some of the firms involved - this is no commentary on them and they may all have a role in regard to well-being, employee assistance and so on - but I am not sure these organisations can deal with those sorts of issues. I want an inquiry in this regard. We have all the issues in regard to third level institutions and they are in again next week. I want clarity on this issue. If somebody has issues that concern them and which are not necessarily about their well-being but concern what is happening in their workplace corporately, for want of a better phrase, are these the right organisations to be going to? I genuinely do not know. I have a suspicion these are not the organisations that many individuals feel would be able to deal with their concerns.
We will write to the HEA in regard to one company, Inspire Wellbeing, which I am sure is a very reputable and good company that provides a very good service. We will ask the HEA to give us some information in regard to the service. When we see that, we will see if it matches what we are looking at. We will note and publish this.
When we write to the HEA, we should ask if it is satisfied that these organisations can deal with any issues employees could have, particularly issues that could potentially end up as protected disclosures or corporate issues relating to the institution.
Okay. We will write to the HEA on that basis and ask if the service being offered typically covers those issues, which it should know as it is funding this. This focuses on the ability to help people whose cases might be-----
Many of them have been there since 2002. The last one on the list was 2009, which is ten years ago. We will ask why there was such a time lag but it is ten years since the last one was implemented. We will note and publish that, and we will write to the HEA on that basis for further information in regard to the service provided.
The next item is No. 1815 concerning the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland providing information requested by the committee in regard to SBCI, how much it has provided through the banks and how much is provided through non-bank on-lenders. The correspondent states that the information provided in the appendix is commercially sensitive as it concerns amounts provided to different banks. I propose that we publish the letter on our website but that we do not publish the appendix because it contains this commercially sensitive information. The person has requested that. He said the attached appendix 1 sets out details of SBCI's current lending relationship and the facilities provided to those on-lenders, and some of the details are commercially sensitive. Obviously, there is competition between all of these financial institutions. SBCI has asked that it be deemed confidential and not be published or circulated to a wider audience. We can circulate the letter, which will not give the specifics that the committee had sought. At least the members of the committee have the answer.
No, that is the next item, which concerns the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. This is the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, No. 1815. Do we agree to note the entire document but only publish the covering letter and not the appendix? Agreed.
We now turn to No. 1816, from the National Treasury Management Agency, providing information requested by the committee in relation to the percentage of ownership of-----
No and we need to get the information. Essentially we were told that an extension was given to a contract years in advance of when it was required, that may well have ended up costing a State entity - not necessarily the one that was dealing with it - more. The committee wanted to know if public money was used, and whether public money was used in any of the amount that came from the infrastructure fund. The funding can be raised in different ways but we want to know if any of that was public money. That was the net point.
I will now go back to the earlier document No. 1795. There are three documents touching on the same organisation, namely, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. On the rationale for extending maintenance of metropolitan area network contract with Enet, the earlier document stated:
Enet was awarded the first Concession Agreement for an initial 15 year term in July 2004. In July 2009, following a further procurement process, Enet was awarded an initial 15 year contract to manage the 60 Phase II MANs.
They say that in that original contract there was provision for a roll-over for another ten years. On page 4 and 5 they also state "Norcontel Consultants were engaged in April 2016 and provided advice and modelling on the financial and commercial aspects of both options", as in "an extension of the Term or [a] return to the market for the purposes of securing a new Concession Agreement". They are saying that the consultants came back and recommended an extension of the contract was the most beneficial from a financial perspective.
Yes, I am sorry, I am referring to No. 1795 because the Deputy mentioned this earlier and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund is mentioned across three different items of correspondence today. Perhaps members could take time to read that and we could come back to it.
I have read it. It is item No. 1795. Rather than getting into it now - there is information there that we had glanced over earlier - but maybe it would be helpful if people had an opportunity to read it in more detail.
I think we will come back to this topic the next day. The committee has to write to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to know what investment was made. I am aware it provided investment of €250 million-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There is €250 million of private or other investment funds. One would be investing on a 50% share. In the second last paragraph of the correspondence, they also say that the ISIF has no involvement whatsoever in IIF's decision making or asset management. The actual decisions of what to invest in do not come back to ISIF, which is not consulted on it-----
This is something we have to come back to. I read that letter. I did not read the other letter in detail but I read this email in detail. It is illuminating really; the €250 million is going in and it says it is for transport, energy and utilities. As the Comptroller and Auditor General has pointed out, the ISIF has no involvement whatsoever in the Irish Infrastructure Fund decision making on assets. We have got an initial clarification here, which is very welcome, but we need to tease that out a bit and come back to it.
The reason the Deputies and I have been following this issue is that I am confused by the terminology. In document No. 1795 reference is made to the rationale for the State’s purchase of a €200 million stake in Enet:
The Irish Infrastructure Fund, a domestic pension fund manager established by Irish Life Investment Managers, purchased a 78% shareholding in enet in 2017. [They have the share in Enet.] The Irish Infrastructure Fund has a number of investors, one of which is the Irish [sic] Strategic Investment Fund...The Department has no role in investment decisions by the Irish Infrastructure Fund.
I thought we were writing to the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund asking for information on its investment. I read phrases on the public documentation about the-----
Yes, the Irish Infrastructure Fund. One would almost think it was a State organisation with that name they put on it, which is confusing. I see in public documentation that the Irish Infrastructure Fund has regularly stated that it is a State-backed investment. I took this to mean that the State had a shareholding. I thought that our correspondence from the committee was to know what percentage of the shares are held by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in the Irish Infrastructure Fund. They have come back to say that the Irish Infrastructure Fund has a number of investors, one of which is the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. When I read "State-backed" and "investor" I took it to be a percentage of ownership. Now it appears that the investor in this case really only has a financial interest in the outcome of the investments. Using the words "State-backed" and "investor" I was under the impression that the State had a shareholding in it. This committee wanted to establish the amount of that shareholding. Now it is said that it is just a joint venture to the extent that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund has put in €250 million, the others have put in €250 million and they hope to benefit. It is, therefore, more of a joint venture than an investment or a shareholding.
Do we know do if the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund has any shareholding in the Irish Infrastructure Fund?
I would like clarification on that point. That was my first question. I have read different phraseology around it, and if one was reading over it one might not pick up on the subtleties of what is there.
We might not be able to clear all of our correspondence; we will discuss it for just a few moments.
Correspondence No. 1816 B is from the National Treasury Management Agency, providing information requested. I have just mentioned that item.
No. 1817 B is from Mr. William Beausang, assistant secretary, Department of Education and Skills, dated 18 December 2018 concerning the issues and legal advice pertaining to the Higher Education Authority’s independent review on the spin-out and sale of companies from telecommunications software and systems group at Waterford Institute of Technology. It appears that the legal advice obtained by the Department has been passed to the HEA and it is now for the HEA to consider how to proceed.
We will note and publish this.
The next item, No. 1818 B, is from the Office of Public Works, OPW, and concerns the cost of the Papal visit.
I want to make a particular point. We were provided with a very useful table about procurement. There was procurement for this event but can we ask the OPW for greater detail about one or two of these suppliers? The same suppliers seem to emerge from the process because there may not be the kind of competition available to enable a genuine procurement process. Can we drill down into that a little bit and perhaps pick one or two items? There is no point in looking at the multiple suppliers. The first one is an obvious candidate for further scrutiny. We should ask the OPW to provide us with further detail about the procurement process, certainly as it concerns Actavo and the provision of platforms, media risers, trackways, fencing and that kind of thing. What was the procurement process?
As a second request, we could ask about the multiple suppliers. Many items have been combined to reach €2 million. We will ask that the OPW provides us with a breakdown of any individual company that received over €50,000. That should not be too difficult; there cannot be too many of them. We will ask the OPW for the information requested by Deputy Catherine Murphy.
The next item is No. 1819 B from Mr. Martin Shanahan concerning the annual employment survey. We will note and publish this, and if anyone wishes to comment on this at a later stage please feel free to do so.
No. 1820 B is from Mr. Niall Cody, Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, providing information regarding the legal costs for the prosecution of cases of tobacco-related offences. There are no legal costs because people can effectively do what they like in that area. There are no prosecutions to any meaningful extent, as we established on the last occasion. We note and publish that.
The next item is No. 1821 B, a bimonthly update from the Tax Appeals Commission, providing information on high-value appeals, which we had asked for. We have seen one of the lists before, and we also have an updated list. We have asked for an update every two months about how it is progressing, because we are very concerned that there are cases worth €1.6 billion sitting on its desk. We want to keep the pressure on it, and for it to keep the pressure on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for additional staff to ensure that it is more efficient in dealing with those issues. We are following up with that for a good reason.
The next item is 1822 B, from Ms Jackie Maguire, chairperson of the County and City Management Association, clarifying that local authority chief executives will make themselves available to assist the Accounting Officer from the Department at a future meeting, for which we have a provisional date. It is good that there is agreement on this issue; there was some confusion about the letter we received on the last occasion. We will note and publish that.
The next item is 1793 C, requesting that the committee makes inquiries from the Residential Tenancies Board about a landlord who has not been registered since 2012. This is not within the remit of the committee, and the individual should seek clarification directly from the board itself. We will write to the person on that basis. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Item 1796 C is from an individual requesting that the committee makes inquiries into the procurement arrangements for section 38 and 39 organisations, and senior HSE managers taking up positions in those organisations. We will ask for an information note from the HSE to that end. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is 1803 C, from an individual to a number of newspapers. It is a copy of a letter concerning Galway GAA, which is not within our remit. We will simply note the item.
I wish to make a brief comment. The last line of the letter asks that this committee investigates this matter. The Chairman has pointed out that it is a letter to the newspapers to which we have been cc'd. I do not want to overstate the matter, but I want to comment because it has been published. It states that we should remember that the taxpayer has funded the GAA over many years, with many millions of euro received from the Exchequer. Any cent of money received by an Cumann Lúthchleas Gael from the Exchequer is accounted for. The issues pertaining to Galway GAA are issues pertaining to internal GAA issues concerning ticketing and credit cards and are, as the Galway GAA chairman has stated, damning. The issue of public moneys paid to the GAA are accounted to at the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport in terms of revenue or capital, and every cent received from the Exchequer is utilised to the maximum for the benefit of local communities throughout this country. The GAA provides a focal point for many communities, not just in a sporting sense but also in a community sense. Any negative inference that could be drawn from that letter, or any attempt to conflate issues, is wrong in the extreme.
I do not know the person who wrote this letter but it is certainly the case that this issue was in the public domain before Christmas. Despite the assurances from Deputy Cassells, who is passionate about the GAA, we are not here to be passionate about the GAA or to defend it. We are here to discuss public money and accountability for its spending. That is the issue here. I am aware that we have not been written to directly, which is a difficulty. However, the issue being raised is accountability for public money. It arises everywhere, including, for example, in the charity sector, and I am reminded of the issues faced by Console in the past. There are always people who come forward who say that charities do tremendous work. It is irrelevant; it is important to remember their work but that is not our role. We have to look at whether public money is being spent on an organisation and how it is accounted for. I do not know about the extent of the issues raised in the letter. I was made aware of it via the media before Christmas and it certainly made me wonder about the public moneys provided to the GAA and how they are accounted for. The same question will arise when we talk about the prison services, and Government moneys being provided to, for example, the Red Cross for a particular programme. I will be asking questions about how that money is accounted for. It is a legitimate question. I require guidance on whether-----
I was very clear in my contribution that the money provided to the GAA from Exchequer funds is fully accounted for. It is a large organisation. I can be very dispassionate when dealing with Exchequer funds and I hope Deputy Connolly knows that. When I attended my own GAA club's annual general meeting last week, I saw that the public moneys it received were fully recorded and accounted for. The GAA is a large organisation, operating at central council level, provincial county level, county board level and club AGM level, which all have separate accounts.
Public moneys paid to the GAA must be fully accounted for and are subject to scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. My point is that public moneys were not the issue here. Instead, it was ticketing issues and a personal credit card. Public moneys must be properly discharged and accounted for not just by the GAA but also the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, or any other sports organisation in receipt of such moneys, and rightly so. There was an inference in that letter that tried to conflate two things which are completely separate. That was my point.
The basic question is: where do we go with this in the context of guidance on it? I do not want assurance from a member because I am not here for that. I am here to ensure that public money is accounted for regardless of the organisation involved. I do not know enough about this, just what was on the radio and in the newspapers, which is that there was, at least, serious mismanagement of funds. I do not have the details but what was published was extremely worrying. It is legitimate to ask about public moneys going to the GAA if this is the such moneys are being handled. I seek guidance on that. Clearly, the GAA does not come under our remit, but public money and value for money do.
I agree with Deputy Connolly. It is not a question of us examining GAA funds but the public money going to it. I agree that there is an attempt to convey the perception that public money is being mismanaged. If that is not the case, let somebody in the GAA tell us that and show us how the organisation is managing the money. It is a genuine question. Guidance is needed.
Only the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is accountable to us on this. I presume we could consider writing to seek confirmation from the Department regarding payments to the sporting organisation concerned, the GAA, and that it is satisfied that the moneys it has allocated from public funds have been properly accounted for. We cannot get involved with the other funds the GAA has beyond what the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport gives it.
The moneys from Sport Ireland are payable to the central council. The moneys then permeate through the provincial councils and to the counties. If individuals wish to draw people into something, there is a structure for how the organisation works.
We must ask questions. That is our purpose. Reassurances are not good enough and they never have been. I am not talking about the GAA but, rather, about why we are here as members of the Committee of Public Accounts. I am seeking clarification. I agree with the Chairman's proposal that we write to the bodies about public moneys and what goes to the GAA, particularly in the context of what has emerged in Galway. What investigations have been made? Are the bodies satisfied in that regard?
It is to show him to what we are referring. The committee will write to the Accounting Officer of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport enclosing this correspondence for his information, so he knows the context and the reason, and asking him to outline the processes and procedures in place with regard to granting money directly from the Department's sports capital grant programme or through Sport Ireland and the control and accounting mechanisms. We will ask if they are satisfactory. Let us get that assurance. It will be belt and braces for the GAA to be able to say we back it.
Once we get that, we can consider the matter further. We will write to that person.
No. 1804C is correspondence from an individual making observations regarding cases that have been before the courts recently and an EU directive that apparently prevents police from using historical telephone records. I propose to note this item. The Committee of Public Accounts is not getting into that issue. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1812C is correspondence from an individual refuting information that was provided to the correspondent on foot of a committee request to the HSE regarding the refunding costs for the provision of services in the Brothers of Charity in Roscommon. We have put this matter on our work programme. We will note that for now and return to it. I had agreed to meet that person in the new year and I will arrange to do so.
Grand. I gave a commitment that I, as Chairman, would arrange to meet him in the new year. We are not proposing that the person meet the full committee. We will put that arrangement in place.
No. 1823C is from Professor Mey in the University of Limerick providing information regarding an in-house psychiatrist at the University of Limerick. We will note that. It is not for publication.
No. 1824C is from Mr. Mark Rea, secretary, Northern Ireland Standardbred Association, requesting the committee to make inquiries regarding the monitoring of State funding to the Irish Harness Racing Association. I propose to forward the correspondence to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for a response.
No. 1825C is from an individual who has undertaken research relating to the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. I propose we write to the individual to thank her for her offer to meet us. We may make further contact at some point.
No. 1826C, dated 27 November 2018, is from an individual who has provided some observations regarding the University of Limerick, UL. We will note this item and it may inform our engagement with UL on 24 January 2019. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1827C is from an individual who has copied the committee on a letter to the HEA regarding the UL. There is no specific request to the committee so we will note this.
No. 1831C is from Deputy Catherine Murphy. We will consider this as part of our work programme regarding the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. We note it.
The final item, No. 1832C, is from Deputy David Cullinane proposing a number of questions for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We agree to requesting the Department to provide this information. Is that agreed? Agreed.
We will hold over the next item, which is the 15 accounts and statements for review, for the next day as we wish to move on.
We will agree not to have a long discussion on the work programme. We might have a longer discussion on it on the next day. The work programme is up on the screen so we can get things moving in the meantime and so members are clear on it. Today we are meeting officials from the Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Prison Service. At 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday next we will have a private meeting with specific staff members or former staff members who have made protected disclosures or raised particular matters relating to UL. It is not our main meeting of the week. It will not be a long meeting and it will take place over at lunchtime. Next Thursday, 21 January, we have report No. 103 from the Comptroller and Auditor General's special report on the UL and the Institute of Technology Sligo regarding the remuneration of certain senior staff. We will have an update on the Thorn report and a special report, No. 104, from the Comptroller and Auditor General on Waterford Institute of Technology regarding disposal of intellectual property in FeedHenry. We will have witnesses from Waterford Institute of Technology, the Institute of Technology Sligo, University of Limerick, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills.
With regard to 31 January, before the summer recess last year, Deputy Catherine Murphy had written us a letter and I suggested that we might invite members of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board to discuss the overrun and the fact that they do not appear to know how to prepare a tender. They have obviously entered into many commitments and I suggest that we examine the board's most recent financial statements to see how it is running the organisation. Members of the board appeared before the health committee yesterday but I was not aware of that when I suggested putting this on the agenda. We will try not to duplicate what happened in the health committee so we might have to look at what it did. With a €1.7 billion investment, it would do no harm to have a second pair of eyes look at it without specifically duplicating or repeating what happened in the health committee.
It would be in the context of the 2017 financial statements. The Taoiseach stated in the Dáil that the Committee of Public Accounts should examine this issue. He has clarified that he intended to refer to the Joint Committee on Health.
I have written seeking that the Minister appear before the committee because there was political sign-off on this project. The Taoiseach is well aware of the project because the go-ahead for it was given while he was the Minister for Health. It would be of use for the committee to investigate the checks and balances that are in place for other projects as well as this one from which we can learn a great deal. There are often significant overruns in capital State projects. Other countries are far better at managing the cost of such projects. There is a process issue in regard to the management of these projects which we need to investigate. There is a section of a Department which deals with procurement but that relates to buying things rather than dealing with matters such as the roll-out of infrastructure. Local authorities have been responsible for a significant number of positive projects through the years because they built up an expertise in how to tender. The expertise is not in place for once-off or occasional procurement such as a national children's hospital, which, obviously, is a hundred year project. There is a very significant process or oversight gap in that regard and this is an example of it.
I concur with Deputy Murphy that the Minister should appear before the committee. I spent four hours at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health yesterday going through this issue. It was useful in terms of what the Committee of Public Accounts will be doing for separate reasons. Prior to the meeting, I was not fully aware of certain facts. The board that was set up is a publicly constituted board which reports to another board which reports to another board which then reports the Minister. The reporting line is that the chairperson of the board reports to another chair, namely, Mr. Dean Sullivan, who then reports to Mr. Jim Breslin who reports to the Minister. There are four layers and it is important that the people in charge of each layer appear on 31 January because that is the decision-making process.
A significant amount of documentation was requested at the health committee. I ask the clerk to contact the clerk to the health committee to obtain that documentation in advance of our meeting on 31 January. It deals with issues of great importance which this committee would examine such as the scoping of the project, financial decisions, tendering and so on. I ask that all of those relevant documents be provided to the committee. The meeting yesterday was quite an enlightening experience. Although there is a role in the matter for the health committee, there is certainly a role for this committee. This is the first time this form of build has been undertaken in this country. The chair of the board yesterday made repeated reference to best practice and stated that he would not change any of the decisions that were made. He stated that he was disappointed and that there were issues in respect of tendering for electronics, electrical work and so on but that he would not change any of the other decisions that were made. It is critically important that all of that documentation be provided in advance of the meeting. For information, the relevant figure is €1.733 billion.
They are the same person. There is a chairperson and there is an individual who is almost a direct liaison construction officer. I ask that those persons, whose names I will provide to the Chair, appear, along with Mr. Dean Sullivan.
I second that request.
As members are aware, the refurbishment of Leinster House is ongoing. As a former member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, I can testify that the refurbishment is many decades overdue. I am sure all members support it and look forward to its completion. Regardless of the cost involved, the work is vitally important, given that Leinster House was built in 1745. The work continues on from the construction of Leinster House 2000 in the 2000s and the refurbishment of Government Buildings, which is home to the Department of the Taoiseach, in the 1990s and late 1980s. That said, €8 million was provided for the work on Leinster House but according to media reports the funding has been exhausted. Although I am certain the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is considering the matter, against the backdrop of the overruns regarding the national children's hospital and in the light of the media coverage of the matter, the committee could usefully inquire as to the outlook in terms of total expenditure and completion dates in order to ensure that adequate oversight is in place. This is a horse of a completely different colour to the issue of the national children's hospital. Regardless of the cost involved, all members agree that the work is many decades overdue. Some €8 million or €10 million is a modest sum compared to the billions being discussed in regard to the hospital. I suggest that the committee write to the Office of Public Works and the Ceann Comhairle to ask what is the situation, how works are progressing, what is the budget outlook and so on. As I stated, I am sure the Oireachtas Commission is giving close consideration to the matter. It has a finite budget that is allocated on a multi-annual basis over three years and I am sure it is not happy about cost overruns. The committee should write to the head of the commission, the OPW and perhaps the Ceann Comhairle to ask for an update on the budget, the status of the project, how much more will it cost and the likely completion dates.
The project is due to be completed in April and the building occupied before the summer. It is a matter to which the commission is giving close consideration but I do not have figures for any overrun.
I am sure all members agree that the refurbishment is necessary and must be completed regardless of the cost. However, against the backdrop of everything that is going on with the hospital, we should ensure that there is transparency on this matter.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It normally advises on the form of the project, such as whether it should be a public private partnership or a conventional project. I do not know whether this project was brought to the National Development Finance Agency. We can inquire as to whether it had an involvement in it. This is a specialist board. It is different to a situation whereby a Department is undertaking a capital project on a one-off or programmatic basis. This is a specialist organisation which only exists for the period during which the hospital is being developed. There is a separate structure for the new hospital to run with the management and integrate the services from the hospitals that are being amalgamated. Generally, instructions and arrangements for the adequacy of appraisal and control of projects are covered by the public spending code which is within the remit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
They do have some capacity to look at individual projects and examine and report on them. I might suggest looking to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform around what are the arrangements in place to ensure there is adequate control and appraisal of capital projects.
In addition to the four groups we have invited in, we are writing directly to the Department and the National Development Finance Agency, which is a branch of the NTMA in respect of their role and advice in this issue, which they may or may not have had. I do not think we will get six witnesses here. We will write to the Department and the National Development Finance Agency and say we want an early answer. Depending on the answer we get, we may need to bring them in. As of now, we are asking the others to come in on that.
On 7 February we want to deal with all the different Votes that go before the Oireachtas and the group of Votes for the Department of An Taoiseach. There are six of them there and there are Accounting Officers in most of those separate areas. I propose that we break it into two groups on that day, one dealing with the legal side of it, namely the Votes for the Office of the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor; and the other engaging with the Secretary General of the Department of An Taoiseach, which will cover the Department of the Taoiseach, the President's establishment, and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, which I think has a separate Accounting Officer. We will not have all six in together but will break the meeting into two halves.
On 14 February we have agreement in respect of meeting with broadband providers. Eir has accepted the invitation to come in. Imagine has accepted. Siro has declined because it pulled out of the bidding process and did not want to get further involved. Enet has accepted and we are waiting to hear from BT. They are only assisting us as a committee with no knowledge of this technical area. They are just coming forward voluntarily as witnesses to assist us in our understanding of the broader issues so that we will be more informed on the issues when we are talking to the Department. They are not required to be here. They are here to offer us knowledge on the whole broadband area to be of assistance to us in our work dealing with the national broadband plan.
As the Chairman has described it, I have no issue with those companies coming in. Smaller providers would actually be of more interest to me. However, we both know that is not going to be where we go during the course of a discussion with them. It is not my job to police the committee but I cannot help but feel that the primary purpose of that week's meeting would fall into the policy sphere, which we do not cover. That would be a matter for the line committee. Of course Siro has to decline; it is the only tender bidder left. I cannot help but feel that this is about the fourth or even fifth bite of that cherry in respect of the national broadband plan, which is exactly where the debate will go. I wanted to flag that at this stage.
It is very interesting and there is quite a range of companies there to help us because we do not have any technical expertise in this area. Our job is to look after the public purse. The National Children's Hospital started off at a couple of hundred million and is now €1.7 billion. This broadband is already at a-----
I think the Committee of Public Accounts has to watch the cost of the broadband decisions that are being made and commitments that will tie the taxpayer. The scale of the investment in the national broadband plan is at least double what is being proposed in the National Children's Hospital. If the Committee of Public Accounts were to say it is only €4 billion and we are not going to look at it, we would not be doing our job. We need to be as informed as possible when we are dealing with the national broadband plan. We already had a letter this morning from the Department which is shocking, saying that they specified 30 MB of download and 6 MB of upload, which is pathetic. They should not proceed if that is what they are talking about. We do not want the State to be spending over €3 billion on something that is out of date years before it is even switched on. They have not defined what.
Not, as I said at the meeting before Christmas, if 5G and the wireless developments are such that it is going to cost us and be a lot better value for money to do it. I know this was dismissed earlier but we did determine with the Secretary General that they have no analysis done of that. They do not have sufficient analysis. There was a kind of desktop judgment made, if we go back to the meeting with the Secretary General.
Sorry, I did not know I was in school. Mea culpa. How should one conduct oneself? Do not be guided by the Miriam Lord view of how we conduct ourselves at this meeting and just shut up and listen when people are talking. That is what I would suggest. There was a Secretary General here before Christmas. We asked him whether the Department looked at 5G and he said it did. When we got in under the bonnet, we discovered it had not. That is about spending €2 billion for this as opposed to X amount less for that. We established this at a meeting before Christmas as a fact, down to numbers, sums and expenditure, not policy.
Part of our remit is process. Another part is in respect of historical spends. There are issues that we would welcome talking to the like of BT about, for example in respect of the metropolitan area networks, MAN, contracts and some of the decisions that were made around them. It is perfectly legitimate for us to be getting a degree of expertise. Each organisation will have its own viewpoint or its own bias. It is a means for us to gather information. It is perfectly legitimate for us to proceed with this.
Okay. I am moving on. The policy issue in respect of the need for a national broadband plan is beyond dispute. Nobody in their right mind will debate that policy. We are talking about the implementation and the cost of carrying out that policy, not the policy itself. It is sacrosanct that we need the broadband plan. In respect of the processes, controls, implementation, value, cost and tendering process, we need to examine it.
On 21 February we have the financial statement of Kildare-Wicklow Education and Training Board, ETB, for 2015, which is the big bogey that really started us down the road of the ETBs. Will there be any more recent financial statement?
On 28 February we are dealing with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in respect of the housing issue. As well as the Department, we are going to have witnesses from the Irish Council of Social Housing. A lot of this work is done through social housing and the approved housing body interim regulatory committee.
There is a voluntary regulator who has no statutory function. We need to have them in. Certain chief executives will be available on that day. We will also deal with anything else regarding the Department as it has been here a few times. This might be our last meeting on it but we will be drafting a special report on housing expenditure, delivery and supports.
I am glad the correspondence from the CCMA, County and City Management Association, has been received. That is significant work in itself considering one has the Secretary General and the CCMA dealing with the housing issue. I note, however, that for the meeting, there will also be the chapter concerning central government funding of local authorities. That is a significant issue in itself and work was done in respect of it last year by the Comptroller and Auditor General. During the last discussion we had on this, there was such a myriad of financing and spending details, examining it proved difficult. It is good the CCMA representatives will be here that day. Will the secretariat make it aware that we will be discussing this issue? I would like the CCMA representatives to address the distribution and utilisation of local authority funding to ensure there is a structured discussion around it.
We will write to the CCMA about that. We will deal with the housing and central government funding separately. The CCMA personnel may change from one part of the meeting to the other. We will work that out.
The last item is the meeting with the Department of Finance on 7 March.
Any other items for the work programme can be parked until next week.