Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 24 January 2019
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined by Deirdre Quaid, deputy director of audit. Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering.
I want to hold over the minutes of the last meeting. I have not had an opportunity to review them. In terms of matters arising, we will move on from the minutes and go straight to items of correspondence. In category A, briefing documents and opening statements, Nos. 1848A and 1877Aare from Professor Desmond Fitzgerald, president, University of Limerick. The items in question are dated 17 and 23 January 2019 and comprise a briefing paper and opening statement for this meeting. We will note and publish these and discuss them later.
Nos. 1853A and 1854A, dated 16 January 2019, comprise briefing papers and opening statements from Dr. Brendan McCormack, president, Institute of Technology, IT, Sligo. We will note and publish these and discuss them later.
Nos. 1855A and 1878Aare from Professor Willie Donnelly, president, Waterford Institute of Technology. They are dated 17 and 23 January 2019 and comprise a number of briefing documents and an opening statement for this meeting. We will note and publish these and discuss them later.
No. 1856A and 1879A, dated 17 and 23 January, are from the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and comprise a briefing paper and opening statement for this meeting. It is proposed to note and publish these and discuss them later. Deputy Cullinane wishes to comment on this document.
I want to raise an issue before we meet the representatives from the institutes. The HEA's opening statement refers to its draft report into Waterford Institute of Technology.
This is the investigation conducted by Mr. McLoone. We raised this several times with the HEA because the report itself was referred to the Attorney General and legal advice was sought from the legal team of the HEA. During the latest meeting we had with the HEA, its outgoing CEO was confident that some report would be published but the correspondence received since seems to suggest that there will be no report. The board will have to formally decide this but the correspondence suggests that there will not be any report and that the HEA will write to the 50 whistleblowers, thanking them for their input. That is not acceptable at all. We must call in the Secretary General or, if he has a conflict of interest, the next best person from the Department and the HEA to explain the options now.
The key issue is that the HEA is claiming that it did not have the authority to prepare the report it prepared but it is more a question of the information that surfaced in the course of the investigation rather than the HEA being able to conduct an examination. In any event, there seems to be precedent here. In Waterford and in other areas, the Minister appointed inspectors to examine issues and that mechanism does allow for an examination of the types of issues that were examined in the course of the McLoone report. We simply cannot accept that we overstepped our powers. What has not changed are the facts and I imagine that whatever conclusions or recommendations are contained in the report are not in dispute. The only contentious issue is the extent of the HEA's powers. We need to look at the issue of the powers of the HEA if it does not have the power to conduct this type of examination. It expects the Committee of Public Accounts to do some of the work, which we are doing, although we are not equipped for it. It is hiring all sorts of outside organisations at significant cost to the taxpayer. Some reports are being discredited by whistleblowers saying that they do not agree with the findings. Individuals can have their own opinions on them. A number of issues are at play here but the primary one is that we do not simply accept the HEA's assertion, if such an assertion is made, that it cannot do anything and allow this to be dropped. That cannot happen. We said that we would come back to this issue, even though it is a matter of policy. We can still make recommendations to the Minister if we so wish. The powers of the HEA are being considered currently and at some point this committee needs to reflect on that issue as well because it has an impact on our work. My primary concern is the first part so I ask the Chairman to provide guidance on how we go about-----
It is clear from the opening statement, which will be discussed, that there is a big matter of principle here. We were assured that a report of some description would be concluded and published. However, we are now being told that the advice provided to the HEA makes it clear that this is "not possible". The authority has gone down a long road with a lot of people only to find, at the end of the day, that it had no authority to go down that road at all. If the HEA does not have the authority to do the job that people think it should be doing, that is a legislative matter to which we will have to return. There was a general understanding that there was a need for such an investigation and report, and I am sure that is accepted by the Department. Some alternative method of providing such a report will have to be found by the Department or the Minister. One cannot go three quarters of the way down a road and then say that one should not have come here. The job still needs to be done. Perhaps this was not the right way to go about it but the process cannot just stop. We will have to raise this with the Secretary General to see if the Department has the power to bring this matter to a conclusion.
We should not leave here today without an indication from the Department as to how it believes we should proceed. The Comptroller and Auditor General would have been across this area in the context of dealing with the Quigley report into Waterford, furnished to a previous Committee of Public Accounts. An inspector was appointed by the Minister to conduct a statutory inspection. Is that correct?
Just to press the same point, we assumed that the HEA had a specific remit which appears not to be the case. There is a gap the institutional oversight structures and this committee appears to be the final point at which the institutions can be held to account. The problem is that we could spend a small fortune on the well-known organisations that crop up here all the time. There are four or five whose names crop up all the time. This is costing money, by virtue of the fact that it is an historical look-back on things that have gone wrong but it is also undermining the institutions themselves. If people think that there is no proper oversight, that prompts behaviour, which we end up having to look at retrospectively rather than preventing such behaviour. We must get to the root cause of this because the entire sector is featuring too prominently. We must explore this issue with the Department of Education and Skills as much as with the HEA.
I agree 100% with both of my colleagues. There is a gap in the competence and authority between the Department, the HEA and the institutions themselves and it is totally unclear as to who is responsible for what. On another issue, the ETBs are out there on an arm that is independent as well. There does not seem to be anybody to tie it together. It just gets kicked back into this committee and we all know what happens in here then. They say that it is the subject of investigation, there is a protected disclosure or it is before the courts and they cannot say anything. While I appreciate that this is a policy issue, which is not part of our remit, we can make recommendations. There are major deficits in the overall oversight of the education sector, particularly at third level, but also at second level with the ETBs. We should consider devoting a session to protected disclosures and the fact that the legislation governing them is defective. That legislation needs to be reviewed because it is focused on internal investigation of one's own problems, whereby people selected as those responsible may well be closely associated with the investigation of a protected disclosure or where their proximity to such an investigation would not help the perception of integrity.
Just to add to what Deputy MacSharry has said in regard to the gap in the HEA's powers, that is precisely my understanding of the why the previous CEO of the authority resigned. We lost the head of the HEA because of the authority's lack of powers and its inability to do the work that we want it to do. This has an impact on our work. Apart from the Waterford issue, for which we may be able to get an inspectorate appointed, we must have a say in the wider issue because it will have an ongoing impact on our work. We have shone a spotlight on the institutes of technology and universities and have shown up on awful lot of issues. How many have we had appear before us? Indeed, more are due to appear. An awful lot of them are dependent on the reports to which Deputy Catherine Murphy referred. It is a key issue for us and whether it is in a periodic report or whether we do a separate, stand alone letter to the Minister, we must stress that this needs urgent attention.
We will come back and review that after today's meeting. The points are all well made and noted. We will take the matter up with Mr. Ó Foghlú, the Secretary General later this morning.
The next correspondence, Nos. 1881 and 1882, are the opening statements from the Department of Education and Skills, which we will note and publish. We will discuss them later this morning.
The next correspondence is category B, from Accounting Officers and Ministers following up on previous meetings. The first letter relates to NAMA, Project Nantes and the legal advice. We will try to schedule that in the next week or two. We had a private meeting on Tuesday but we need another half an hour on that issue alone, as well as some time for a few other issues. We will have to schedule another private meeting for an hour in the near future. We will not set a date today and will hold over that item.
We have published that already. We have arranged for that to be published, but we will get the legal advice shortly.
The next correspondence is No. 1795B from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment dated 11 December 2018. It provides a briefing note on the national broadband plan and metropolitan area networks. We decided that we would hold this over. We published it but we are holding it over for discussion. We will be dealing with some of the other people in that industry in two weeks' time and, well in advance of that, everyone will have had an opportunity to review and discuss the matter.
The next correspondence is No. 1816B from the National Treasury Management Agency providing information requested relating to the percentage of ownership by the State of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. We agreed to note and publish this but we decided to write to the NTMA because we did not believe those responsible answered the questions that the committee wanted answers to. We have written to them and we are waiting to get a reply to the more specific question next time.
Is there something to go back to when the agency comes back to us? I reckon there is something more to look at before it comes back to us. It appears that there is a parallel arrangement. The agency has no idea or appears not to have been aware that the remainder of Enet was being purchased or that contracts were being extended when it was considering purchase of it. There is potentially public money at stake. For two arms of the State not to know that there is something happening shows that we are in a kind of silo. The problem is that the public purse comes a cropper in such an environment if those responsible do not know that something is going on. I am not suggesting they should know the detail, but they should certainly know that something is happening.
We are coming back to that for definite as soon as we get the response on the broader issues.
Next correspondence is No. 1837B from Mr. John O'Sullivan, Commissioner of Valuation, Valuation Office, dated 11 January 2019 providing information requested by the committee on the basis for the valuation of Harold's Cross stadium and comparisons used. We will note and publish this. People can read it if they wish. He gives two tables. One relates to the comparable transactions in the market around the time of the Harold's Cross issue in 2017. They range from a property on Harold's Cross Road to others in Sandymount, Rathgar and Montrose. I know they are not all in the same location as the Harold's Cross stadium, but the office is using distance from the city centre. The price per acre in many of those areas was more expensive than the Harold's Cross stadium, although some of them were perhaps in a more valuable location. Then, table number 2 gives subsequent transactions for approximately the same distance from the city centre. Reference is made to transactions in Donnybrook, Grand Canal Harbour and Dunville Avenue, which would be close to that area, as well as Swords and the cinema in Harold's Cross. People can make their own views known. Some of those properties are well in excess of the price per hectare put on Harold's Cross. I realise every property is different and I am not suggesting they are all comparable. I am simply outlining the information provided by the Valuation Office. People can digest it and comment if they wish.
There is a critical paragraph on page 2. It is the third paragraph and it relates to the valuation. Halfway through the paragraph the commissioner states that the Valuation Office will have no regard to the motives or strategic interest of either party to the transaction. He goes on to state that the duty of the office under the circular is to provide a form of independent professional evaluation based solely on market evidence and that no other factors can or would be taken into account.
There were different valuations depending on the zoning. This is a well-located site – I completely accept that. It is difficult. We can look at the tables and the valuation put on the properties. I accept the point you are making, Chairman, that they are different. Yet, we still come back to the same point. It is something of a stretch to say the figure happened to be exactly the same amount as the amount that would have got the racing board out of trouble. If this was to be replicated for the purchase of sites for educational campuses, then we would have very expensive educational campuses indeed.
There is one concerning thing about the valuation as far as I am concerned. The price assumes that Dublin City Council, or the relevant local authority, would amend the zoning needed by material contravention of rezoning. Perhaps another public body was going to assist in the matter. Maybe that is not an unreasonable assumption. Anyone who has been a member of a local authority would assist any school development if it required a material contravention. However, we could not make any of those assumptions in respect of all the other sites those responsible are comparing Harold's Cross to in the private sector. Such an assumption certainly would have had an influence in terms of future use and future zoning that planners assumed would come through. That is perhaps something of a leap but perhaps they were being pragmatic about it.
One point is that the higher valuation would be residential. An educational zoning would result in a lower valuation. Yet the city council assumed a higher valuation. Had it been earmarked to the city council that this was for an educational campus, the council would have zoned it for educational use. In that scenario, it would not have premium residential zoning but educational zoning, which would be lower. Whether that would have been fair to the owners of the site is another matter altogether. In any event, there is a happy coincidence that the valuation happens to be the higher amount and it got another entity off the hook in the context of the balance sheet.
Let us cut to the chase and what I believe will be helpful in this case. It looks like a remarkable coincidence that €23 million was precisely what the Irish Greyhound Board required. That was what the parent Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, wanted for that site. It is a remarkable coincidence. We have no evidence yet, but I want the committee to write to seek a copy of all communications, emails and correspondence between the Valuation Office and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of what price would be acceptable and whether the Department had an indicative price that it was looking for. That will be instructive. The Department of Education and Skills wrote the cheque but the person selling the site – the person who wanted €23 million – was the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We need the full communications trail between the Valuation Office and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to see what toing and froing happened in respect of that price. That request is to go to both organisations.
The problem is that we have a great deal of communication already and this has gone over and back. We can seek more documentation - we could fill this room with it. At the end of the day, I do not believe this committee is in a position to make a determination on whether there was anything wrong. If that is the case, then we need to look at who is. Does this need to be examined? I am unsure whether this comes up in any of the routine audits that the Comptroller and Auditor General undertakes.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
A significant purchase like this would be typically examined as part of the audit. It was a 2018 purchase. I plan to look at this in the context of the audit.
Deputy Cullinane's points are well made and there is a question of how we take it forward from here, seeing as professional opinions have been presented. If we were to try to look into it, we would have to hire professionals to look at it. I do not want to pre-judge it. I want to look at it and then determine whether something further will be required.
I wish to make a point generally. We have only heard a selection of the papers today. It is not possible to go on like this. We have made this point repeatedly from day one. We need help from a research officer, or whatever title the official is given. It is not possible to continue to hold systems to account on the budget we have.
In a sense, we are providing the illusion that we are doing so. We are doing our best. I pay tribute to the Chairman in that regard because he is doing tremendous work going through the correspondence and teasing it out. In itself, that process equates to a full meeting. We are then left with correspondence. We need a meeting - I do not mind if it is private or public - on how we can move forward in respect of this matter in view of the fact that we do not have enough staff to examine it. That to which I refer will become very obvious later today when we are dealing with the University of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology. It is simply not possible despite our best efforts.
That is agreed. We will move on. The Committee of Public Accounts established by the 32nd Dáil has reached item No. 1850 in correspondence and this is just letters received. The volume of letters sent out to follow up on various issues is a multiple of this. This far exceeds correspondence received by all other Oireachtas committees combined since the 32nd Dáil was established. We need research staff. The staff provide fantastic administrative support but we need more. We have three sets of financial statements, two special reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General and several reports from independent commission on various colleges. It is a full-time job on its own to deal with-----
We will definitely discuss this matter because if the committee is to be thorough in its work - we are very thorough and exact in our interim reports as much as is humanly possible - we need a research facility specific to the committee. We will try to move through the correspondence as quickly as possible but we will come back to this. I call Deputy Cassells.
I have no intention of holding up proceedings. This was not just an issue in terms of moneys paid by the Department. There were the protracted discussions when the Irish Greyhound Board came before the committee and we were trying to extract answers on the massive amounts of money of which it is in receipt from the Exchequer. As Deputy Catherine Murphy stated, a very coincidental amount was paid from one arm of the State to another that assisted the Irish Greyhound Board with its financial difficulties. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred to this as a significant purchase. I am not asking him to prejudge matters, but what is his professional opinion regarding value in this instance. Wearing his other hat, Deputy MacSharry would indicate that the value is whatever the buyer pays for a particular site.
In the context of making a determination on the value, will the Comptroller and Auditor General inform the committee that he cannot get involved because it was a policy decision taken by the Department of Education and Skills and that if the latter wants a facility in an area, it will end up paying whatever price is demanded? On the process involved, the Chairman used the term "remarkable coincidence". I wrote it down. In the context of what he will assess, does the comptroller and Auditor General consider it a remarkable coincidence in light of the protracted discussions the committee had with the Irish Greyhound Board regarding the very perilous position in which it found itself? As the Chairman stated, it was a remarkable coincidence that the board received a cheque from another arm of the State that just so happened to match the amount of money it needed to get out the gap and keep the dogs running.
I appreciate that we cannot prejudge. I share Deputy Connolly's frustration. This was a major transaction. I do not want to see another set of witnesses come in, bluff the committee and leave again. Quite frankly, some of what was said during the meeting with the Irish Greyhound Board was remarkable. We need significant examination of the matter.
We will leave it to the audit but I still want the committee's agreement that we seek the correspondence between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Valuation Office on the negotiations and the price settled for or sought. That might be helpful and I do not think the volume information would be too high. There will have been some transactions.
I now ask the committee's indulgence. I want to go into private session to discuss documentation we require for our next session. It will only take a moment.
On the topic we have been discussing, could what is on the screen be scrolled up slightly? There was a heading, "Valuations Comparison", but I cannot see it now. We came across this with the Office of Public Works, OPW, when people had made information available to Deputy Kelly and I in advance of the meeting and we were able to ask certain questions. With regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General examining issues, it seems that moves are determined at a high level on whether a site works and a decision is made to buy it. For example, a decision was made that Miesian Plaza worked for the Department of Health. This is at a policy level where there is no expertise other than identifying a need, such as the Department of Education and Skills requiring a site for two schools in Harold's Cross, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine needing €20 million because of a problem with Bord na gCon and the OPW needing a new building for the Department of Health at Miesian Plaza. Then it goes to the various experts. While it might not be stated, they retrofit the case to fit the outcome determined at the top. I doubt that we will prove any malpractice. However, I know from being contacted some weeks ago by a journalist fromThe Irish Timeswho had made a freedom of information request seeking much of the same material the Chairman is going to seek that approximately 20 comparisons were provided and that there the sites were identified in only four instances. One of them related to the land at RTÉ in Dublin 4. That is like stating that land in Sligo was sold at the same time. Dublin 4 and Harold's Cross do not even involve the same sports and nor are they in the same league or ballpark. The reality is that, in Ireland and Britain, Savills is the go to evaluator. Before the deal was finalised, I asked who valued the property and I was told it was Savills. I asked for the valuation and was told I could not get it because the information was sensitive. The only thing that made the information sensitive was that it had the potential to block a deal going ahead for, arguably, €10 million more than should have been the case. I wish the Chairman best of luck.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1839B from the HSE about Console staff. It corrects the wording of a previous letter and whether it referred to a person who was previously employed, an employed person or existing employees. It is only a technical question. We will note and publish it.
No. 1846B is from the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills providing information requested by the committee on the allocation of places on school buses. I suggest we note and publish it. There is a lot of useful information in it. It gives a rationale for why some buses do double trips. The next item is a note on cases taken against Bus Éireann by children and their families and the legal costs associated. There is a separate item of correspondence. The numbers are quite small. The next item is the maximum travelling time, waiting time and distance for children. Obviously those who have special educational needs may need to be transported to schools quite a distance from their houses and the time can be longer. There is a special note on the transport grant, including details of the maximum minimum payment and the averages. It is very useful for people who have to avail of it. The next item is about the transfers between Bus Éireann reserves and the school transport account back to the Department. Money has been refunded to the Department. There is information on regional cost differences. On those last three items on the last page, it says they are collating information with Bus Éireann and it will be forwarded to the committee shortly. There is quite a bit of information there. There is an acknowledgment that quite a bit of information still has to come. We will note and publish it. We will wait for further information.
No. 1847B is from the HSE providing a note requested regarding the business cases put forward by section 38 organisations for non-adherence to public health sector pay policy. I am sure the nurses will be interested in this one. It summarised that under the section 38 agreements - this issue was ongoing in the previous Committee of Public Accounts - 671 cases were closed in which recommendation was given or no action was to be taken. There are 153 cases still unresolved. Work is in progress between the HSE and the agency in 104 cases. Work is in progress with the Department in 14 cases. Various items are pending. There are 35 more cases to be dealt with. Table 2 gives the full list of all the section 38 organisations with regard to the major cases and salary scales that are in existence and have not been formally approved.
We will watch that and come back to it. People use that information. More than 600 cases have been dealt with and 153 still to be concluded.
Correspondence No. 1850 from Mr. Ray Mitchell of the HSE relates to our periodic report No. 4. We thank him for correcting a slight mistake we had on the nursing home support scheme. Approximately €1 billion is spent on that and we stated that two thirds of that went on public nursing homes. He pointed out that should be one third. The figures were in the report but we had the wrong percentage between private nursing homes and public nursing homes. We acknowledge that correction and thank him for that.
Correspondence No. 1851 is from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, providing detailed follow-up information requested by the committee on a number of matters. We note and publish this. Some of this will come up in our broadband discussion to take place in the next few weeks. It also covered the metropolitan area contract extension, an overview of the €9 million paid to KPMG, and an overview of projects before May 2018 and after with regard to the energy efficiency national fund.
The next item was an update on the clean-up in Aughinish.
The next item was an update on the sites in Avoca and Silver Mines; many people will be interested in this.
The next item related to correspondence on the European Commission ruling on the 300,000 homes and businesses and the issue of state-aid rules in respect of the national broadband plan mapping process. We will discuss that in our next meeting on the national broadband plan issue.
There was a note on the number of cars and models of cars with eCall service. That relates to the emergency call-out service. There is interesting information there.
There is a note on the rolling-out of brown bins. People can look at that.
People will find the next item interesting. It is a note on the capacity and life expectancy of the four landfill sites still operating in the State, to include the breakdown between recycling, landfill and incineration and the figures for the most recent year, 2016. The important thing to note is that four landfills operate in Ireland today: Knockharley landfill, Kentstown, Navan, County Meath, whose planning permission expires in August 2021; Ballynagran landfill, Coolbeg, County Wicklow whose planning permission expires in May 2021; Drehid landfill, Killinagh Upper, Carbury, County Kildare, whose planning permission is valid for the next nine years; and East Galway landfill, Kilconnell, Ballinasloe, County Galway, whose planning permission expired last year. At this point only a few years remain in the landfills that are available.
It states that recycling and recovery is at 74% which is high internationally and only 26% goes to landfill. Where the operators' permissions have almost expired they will need to apply for further planning permission. Unless those are dealt with, somebody has a problem somewhere or else it all goes to Ringsend or whatever. Maybe that was the strategy all along; I do not know.
In respect of Drehid, a planning application was made because we reached crisis point. It looked like there would be nowhere to dispose of waste. I believe the permissions for both the Meath and Wicklow sites were extended on a temporary basis. The proposed Cork incinerator - I am not sure where that is in the process - was being relied on. I am not sure if it is appropriate to this committee or if it should be dealt with by the Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. A lot of these are temporary and a whole cost is not taken into consideration in that there is no landfill disposal in Munster at all. If one stands on the bridge in Sallins, one will see Cork, Kerry and Tipperary trucks every day.
This committee rightly went into the function and role of the Department. We are definitely publishing that and I believe some other committee or individual Deputies should certainly take it up. We have done our job by publishing this. We are not delving into the landfills again.
As it does not relate to money, it is not for us now. Back in 2000 in Galway a campaign started for zero waste. It was extremely successful. A model was rolled out and we had 70% diversion from landfill, across everything including composting. That was possible. It ran for six weeks as a pilot project. It was rolled out as a local authority service and had 56% diversion on a weekly basis from landfill. We showed what was possible.
The Government at the time had a plan for incinerators. We are now seeing increasingly bigger dumps in fewer areas. Galway showed we wanted to have a county plan and a city plan all in one. We were willing to deal with our waste in a very sustainable manner. The Government deprived the local authority of the ability to do that by bringing in legislation removing waste management from the local authorities. It is not popular to say this. They are the facts as happened. The power was removed and centralised.
We now constantly blame individuals as polluters. I do not believe they are polluters. I will not go into it here because it is not relevant, but it is important for the record to say that the people of Galway showed what is possible. They indicated that all the things from the engineers' reports and so on that had very low recycling rates were all wrong. We showed what was possible and did it. The Government took it from us, privatised it and took the power from the local authority. There was a combination of forces at work and we will suffer with the taxpayers paying even more money in addition to calling citizens polluters which is unacceptable.
If the operators of the incinerator in Ringsend do not get a threshold of waste, we have to compensate them. The incineration policy is possibly dictating that. However, the cost of transporting the waste has not been included, in terms of the damage done to roads and the unsustainability of that. There is a cost element to this policy, but it is not a matter for this committee.
We will move on. However, I want to clarify an issue that I might have glossed over. I say to those interested in the recycling issue the news is not half as good as I read out a moment ago. The table covers the 2.7 million tonnes of waste in the country in the year. Recycling was 34% and recycling involved in compost and digestion was 7%. In fact the recycling was only 41%. It goes on to state that incineration, which they call energy recovery, is at 33%. In other words then the other 26% in landfill. Really we are only at 41% for recycling, 33% for incineration and 26% for landfill. That is a bit different because it had included the incineration figure under recovery. I just wanted to spell out the difference between the original figures and the breakdown there now.
These are all very serious issues. I propose that if by 10.15 a.m. we have not finished correspondence, we hold over correspondence because we have a lot to do with representatives from the two institutes coming in. The time could slip by.
Grand. I will finish on this item. Members will indulge me on the issue of the RTÉ2 +1 channel. We have brilliant news. The letter states:
In June 2018, RTÉ made a formal request to the Department for the extension of RTE One+ 1 service and the introduction of a new service, RTE2 +1. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) was asked to conduct a Sectoral Impact Assessment on the proposal and the Department also conducted a stakeholder consultation.
Following consideration of the BAI Report and the outcome of the stakeholder consultation, the Minister approved the proposed extension of RTE One +1 service and the introduction of RTE2 +1 service in December 2018.
That is obviously just a number of weeks ago so now I will be asking RTÉ when we can see it on air.
The next item is No. 11 on mobile coverage. Members will be very interested in that note and the information about black spots around the country and repeaters for improving the signal which is referred to. The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, says it does not gather information about how many are in existence. We will note and publish that correspondence.
We will publish it and hold it over for discussion. We will keep it on the agenda for discussion but we will publish it in the meantime because people will be interested in that document.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1852B from Mr. Ciarán Breen, providing information requested by the committee regarding the total of all payments for compensation and the percentage of payments made by the State Claims Agency in respect of wards of court. It transpires that the majority of payments made are to people who have been made wards of court and last year 53% of the payments amounting to €121 million went to wards of court. This is a big issue. Over the five years under review, €500 million has gone in there, being managed by the Courts Service. We have to ask questions and the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, might manage that but that is a policy issue and we will come back to it.
No. 1857B from Dr. Des Fitzgerald, President of the University of Limerick, UL, providing information for today's meeting. We will note and publish it.
No. 1861B is from Mr. Stephen Kent, Bus Éireann, providing information on school transport, which I read earlier.
No. 1836C is from Mr. John Keaney, SIRO Ireland, who has declined his invitation to attend the committee. SIRO Ireland was one of the bidders for the national broadband plan. We note and publish that.
No. 1838C was from Mr. Thomas Reed, breeding director of Warmblood Studbook of Ireland. We have corresponded back and forward with him and the Department and sent a reply to him about state aid. I propose we ask for a note on the oversight arrangements between the Department and Horse Sport Ireland and to request a copy of the service level agreement for that organisation.
No. 1840C is from an individual, providing briefing for the members to the committee on matters in UL. We will note this but we are not publishing that item.
No. 1841C is from an individual, dated 15 January, providing briefing for members of the committee on matters in UL. We will note that so that members are aware of it for today's meeting but we are not publishing it.
No. 1842C is from Adam Ledwith, public policy manager with Eir, dated 14 January, accepting the invitation to attend the meeting of the committee on the national broadband plan.
No. 1843C is from Peter McCarthy, CEO of enet, accepting the invitation to attend the meeting of the committee on the national broadband plan.
We are. I want to deal with one item on the work programme and then I will come to it.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1844C from Mr. Sean Bolger, CEO and chairman of Imagine Communications Group, accepting the invitation to attend the meeting of the committee on the national broadband plan.
No. 1858C is from an individual, requesting the committee to make inquiries on the selection process of the election observation roster. We have had detailed correspondence on this before and I propose that we forward it to the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Cannon, for his attention. Is that agreed? Agreed. Our consideration of this is now closed because it gets more voluminous. This particular individual was on a panel for over 30 years and he is not on it anymore. That panel is not within our remit as it is not a financial matter. It is really a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We got a response before-----
No, they are coming back to us. We have asked for information and they have updated the panel. Then it should expire and this particular one was a very specific personal matter so we will not go into that but we will refer it to Deputy Cannon. We will tell the individual that we have done so because the Committee of Public Accounts does not have a role in his particular case.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1862C, from an individual providing briefing to the committee on UL. We can note that and discuss it today if members wish, but we cannot discuss any personal details.
No. 1863C is from another individual providing briefing to the committee on UL. We will note that.
No. 1880C is from Mr. Jonathan O'Brien, regarding the national paediatric hospital board. That is a request for Mr. Robert Watt to appear before the committee but we have our meeting set up specifically and we will come back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Government procurement and the National Development Finance Agency but not on that particular day. We can decide who to invite if we want a further meeting on it.
We have invited the hospital board, the HSE's chief link in the chain and the Secretary General in the Department of Health. We need to get them out of the way. We agreed last week to write to the Office of Government Procurement, which may have a more direct role in it than the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It will set policy but it is up to the Secretary General. He is responsible and he is the man who signs the cheque in health; we have also written to the National Development Finance Agency should it have advised on the financing and structure of such a proposal and we are awaiting information. We have quite a range of people coming in for the first meeting already so we should speak to one Secretary General at a time. I am not saying we will not invite Mr. Robert Watt but I am concerned that we already have quite a bit on our agenda with the group that I have mentioned.
I will hold over the financial statements received since our last meeting before Christmas until the next meeting but there is one item on the work programme that I want members to think about. Several companies from the private sector are coming in to talk to us on the broadband issue. They are all asking what the process is, what they should say, what the issues are and what the topic is so I am saying that rather than spend time on this now, I ask members to think about that so that when we come back at 2.30 p.m. we will have a few minutes in private session to discuss how to give some guidance about the meeting to those people who are assisting us and who are not obliged to come here. We will come back to that at the commencement of the afternoon session in private session for a couple of moments.
We have quite a few people to meet today-----
We will ask for copies to be circulated. There are a number of opening statements and we want to hear them all in the next session because somebody might choose to only talk about UL and somebody else might choose to only talk about Sligo IT so we have to get all of them out there so we can have a logical discussion afterwards.