Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Public Accounts Committee

Business of Committee

9:00 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail)
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We have a quorum. We are joined today by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, as a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director of audit. Apologies have been received from Deputies Deering and Farrell. The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 31 January, which was our last meeting. Are those minutes agreed? Agreed.

The next item is matters arising from the minutes. I have one serious item to raise, which we will be coming back to discuss. It relates to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. We had an item of correspondence here the last day, reference number 1897. It was signed by Paul Quinn, chief procurement officer, Office of Government Procurement. We had written to him well before our meeting asking for information about the role of the Office of Government Procurement in respect of the national paediatric hospital. He summarises the limited role it is playing, said it was established and that there is a procurement process and a contracts committee, called the Government contracts committee for construction. He states that the hospital board commenced its engagement with this committee in May 2014 and goes on to say that it sought a derogation because of its unique nature. The Office of Government Procurement, of which Paul Quinn is the chief procurement officer, notes that the derogation was given in respect of working through that committee. Nevertheless, the contracting and sanctioning authority were responsible all the while. He addresses the use of the frameworks and of eTenders and provides a summary of the role of the Office of Government Procurement in the procurement arrangements for the national paediatric hospital. He says his office is at the disposal of the Committee of Public Accounts should we require more detailed information.

What I find totally unsatisfactory with that letter from a very senior Government official is that he makes no reference to the fact that he was a member of the board of directors. He states that the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board commenced its engagement with the Government construction contracts committee in May 2014. His office provides the chair and secretary of that committee. He was appointed as a member of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board on 2 August 2013 and there is a clear conflict of interest between the two positions, given the derogation, his being a member of the board and his being on both sides of that debate. What I find more disturbing is that he did not inform this committee of this. He should have at least highlighted it. This level of not providing information in response to a letter from the Committee of Public Accounts is totally unsatisfactory. I accept that he had a dual role. We were entitled to be informed of that. This letter is not acceptable from a person of that office. We know there are issues in respect of that matter.

I will take comments on this issue. I propose that we write back to Paul Quinn expressing our grave disappointment that the information we would expect as a matter of courtesy and candour to be made available to the committee should have been omitted.