Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 30 May 2019
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness at the committee. He is joined by Ms Josephine Mooney, deputy director of audit, and Mr. Ronan McCabe, senior auditor. Apologies have been received from Deputies Deering, Jonathan O'Brien and O'Connell.
The first item is the minutes of the meeting of 16 May. Are they agreed? Agreed. On matters arising, everything that we might want to discuss will come up during the course of the meeting.
There are three categories of correspondence. Category A deals with briefing material and opening statements. Nos. 2187 and 2190 from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General at the Department of Finance, are the briefing documents and opening statements for today's meeting. We note and publish them.
Category B comprises correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers, and follow-up responses to previous meetings. We will note and publish these. Held over from the last meeting is the minute from the Minister for Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform, regarding our periodic report No. 4. I propose we hold it over until the end of our discussion on correspondence. I want to clear that document but we will go through the other items of correspondence first.
No. 2160 from Mr. Maurice Buckley, chairman of the Office of Public Works, provides information requested by the committee on the leaking roof in Schull Garda station.
The OPW states that there was no obligation on the construction company to fix the roof as the six-year liability period had elapsed. I propose we forward a copy of this correspondence to the person who raised the matter with us. We will note and publish this.
The next item of correspondence is No. 2161 B from Mr. Paul O'Toole, chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority, dated 10 May 2019, enclosing the report regarding the review of the relationship between Cork Institute of Technology and certain named companies and entities, which was undertaken by Mazars. We will note and publish this but we will also discuss it now.
As the Chairman will know, I have been looking for this for a couple of years. I would like to point out that it has taken two years for the HEA to produce this report. I would like an explanation of the second paragraph of Mr. O'Toole's letter, which states:
The Board of the HEA has determined that the recommendations contained in the report would apply, as appropriate, to all institutions. [That is fair enough.] It has also determined its preference, that similar reviews in the future should, in the first instance, be carried out by the governing body of the institution concerned unless there is a specific reason not to.
I take from this that Mr. O'Toole means that the institution should carry out reviews before the HEA does and that we should not be asking questions about it. I would like that clarified but I take it that is what he is saying.
This report is not acceptable. It is too generic, it lacks specifics, and there are issues around roles as regards how it was carried out, which I might talk about in private session at some point. There are no details in respect of positions, roles and responsibilities within the organisations or companies. While I do not necessarily expect names to be mentioned, I do expect titles, roles, and responsibilities to be referenced. The report is too vague. There are no figures of substance in it. Granted, I have only just had a chance to read this report because it only came in yesterday evening and these are my initial views on it, but it is not what I was expecting. It does not assuage the concerns of the committee. I am not even sure that all of the companies referred to in our discussions with the HEA and the college are covered. There is a huge volume of detail missing.
As we only got this report last night, I propose to put into writing some of my issues, requests, concerns, and questions for consideration at a meeting so that we could write back to the HEA in the coming weeks. I suggest that we put this on hold to give us time to consider it further, given we only got it at 6 o'clock yesterday evening. The report is very disappointing and it does not deal with the issues.
I support what has been said. I will add a few observations to what the Deputy has said. We will write back to the HEA seeking further specifics on the matter. People can send information to the secretariat in the meantime. We will hold the item over for discussion at our next meeting after the June bank holiday weekend.
I agree with Deputy Kelly. It is a response to our query but it is not an answer. As Deputy Kelly has said, it does not remotely give the sort of detail required for us to say that we have no concerns regarding governance. Unfortunately, it does not provide any of the specifics that would give us that sort of peace of mind. I agree 100% with Deputy Kelly's proposal. I look forward to his analysis, and that of other members, when we have time to go through it.
That is good. I agree with what is being said, but I took a little while to read the report and I want to put some remarks on the record. In the first paragraph the report reads: "This review was also informed by a recommendation of the Dáil's Committee of Public Accounts ... in July 2017 [when we said that we were] not satisfied that there was sufficient clarity [in] relation to relationships with CIT's Maritime College and other corporate entities". To a large extent this report has flowed from our work and our recommendations. It was not necessarily going to be initiated in the first instance.
I want to make one or two observations. I know the Deputy accepts this. Based on the information available, there were eight Cork Institute of Technology employees working in a company called GAC Training and Service Solutions Designated Activity Company, GTSS, and there was one more CIT employee working in a company called SEFtec NMCI Offshore Training Designated Activity Company, SNO. The report goes on to say that the conflict of interests register in respect of CIT had only been completed in respect of one case. It recommends that this should be done immediately. It provides the pay grades of the people working in the National Maritime College of Ireland. Nine people are mentioned, one of whom was receiving a salary of more than €40,000 from the subsidiary. One person working for SNO was in receipt of payment of more than €50,000 and was an employee of CIT at the same time. The point the Deputy raises is very well founded. The committee was right to pursue this matter but we have not got all of the information we require yet. Those points can be taken on board. There is agreement that it is, as Deputy MacSharry put it, a response but not a full answer.
No, and I do not want to be giving us even more work, but I believe we need to make this same request regarding campus companies of all third level institutions. I have concerns about a number of them with regard to governance, the crossover between staff, ownership, equity, salaries, money, and the potential - although everything may be great - for such companies then to win internal tenders.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
They are very common. When we reported on the University of Limerick there were questions around subsidiaries. We have been examining subsidiaries. They are all required to operate to the code of practice for the governance of institutes of technology, or universities as the case may be. The same standards and governance expectations apply. I would prefer not to respond specifically to the report on CIT as I have not had an opportunity to study or examine it in detail. We will be examining the implications and looking for similar concerns in other institutions.
As Deputy MacSharry has suggested, we will have to write to the HEA and ask for a report on each body under its remit and separately to the universities. We may not need the same level of detail but we should at least get the corporate structure, the breakdown, and details of compliance with procedures in the legislation under which the college or university, as the case may be, was established.
I wish to indicate a particular interest in that. I am usually at every meeting but I have a particular difficulty with the meeting on our return as it clashes with a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands. I ask the Chair to consider that and to discuss this item when I am here.
We will be happy to do that because if we send off correspondence in the meantime, we will still be waiting on the reply. We have touched on the issue and we now know it is a broader issue. We will come back to it.
No. 2170 is next from Mr. Ciarán Breen, director of the State Claims Agency. It provides information requested by the committee regarding the sums involved in potential claims or claims lodged in respect of an outbreak of tuberculosis within the Irish Prison Service. The agency has not attached confidentiality clauses to any settlement. Mr Breen states that the figures provided are commercially sensitive and requests that we do not publish them.
We may not publish them, but an article dealing with the matter was published in a newspaper today. When taken together with No. 2174, it is obvious that the State Claims Agency is indicating-----
I will put that correspondence on the record. No. 2174, dated 21 May, is from Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. It provides information requested by the committee regarding the lessons for the Irish Prison Service to ensure issues as the outbreak of tuberculosis will be prevented. We will discuss the two letters together as they deal with the same topic.
The State Claims Agency seems to be taking a whole-of-prison approach. It is welcome that it has indicated what are the lessons. However, it was quite a sizeable outbreak. It is a very serious illness and a very expensive lesson. Large sums have been paid out in settlements. Obviously, people suffered significant damage. We should put this matter back to the appearance of representatives of the State Claims Agency before the committee.
There are several issues. We have set aside the issue of the contingent liability in regard to the HSE, but this is a significant issue, as is the matter in respect of the Air Corps. We must examine further the role of the agency in pre-empting matters such as this and what other illnesses they are screening for in addition to looking at the lessons that can be drawn from this kind of experience.
I agree with the Deputy. I am concerned most by the letter from Mr. O'Driscoll on this issue. It states that following the outbreak of tuberculosis in 2011 in the Irish Prison Service it was recognised that a whole-of-prison approach to TB control was required. It further states that the tuberculosis management policy was completed on 3 January 2019. It took eight years from the outbreak being notified in 2011 for the Department and the Prison Service to come out with a management policy for TB, which they only completed earlier this year. That they were writing a policy eight years after the event shows there was no learning of sufficient quality in the intervening period. That is utterly unacceptable and it leaves the State and the taxpayer wide open. It is clear that the line Departments, such as the Department of Justice and Equality in this case, the HSE, the Air Corps and other agencies do not seem to learn but, rather, just pass the bill on to the State Claims Agency to be paid by the taxpayer. That must be addressed when the agency representatives come before the committee. The outbreak occurred in 2011 and a management policy for TB in the Prison Service was compiled eight years later. That speaks volumes as to how seriously the Department took the matter. We will note and publish that correspondence. I agree with the points made by the Deputy.
Prisons are a unique environment, but a significant number of prisoners with an illness may have attended court, hospital or elsewhere. We should follow up on how the State Claims Agency deals with that particular aspect because it must be wider than taking a whole-of-prison approach.
The issue of TB is not for this committee, but issues involving money and risk are. Earlier this year, a patient with TB was hospitalised in Galway in a way that exposed other patients. The matter was covered in the media. The same issue occurred again. Several people contracted latent TB. The matter is factual and has been documented. The handling of the issue and the exposure to the disease left a lot to be desired. Naturally, people are now seeking due redress through the legal process. This occurred this year in a hospital. There are policies on the ground, such as those referred to in regard to the Prison Service, but the operation of those policies is the next question.
Absolutely. Risk management must also be considered. Prevention is better than cure. We will take these matters up with the representatives of the State Claims Agency when they appear before the committee in five weeks to deal with its annual report.
No. 2173 is from Mr. Drew Harris, the Garda Commissioner. It is a request that the record be corrected in respect of a comment he made at our meeting with An Garda Síochána on 9 May. We will note and publish this.
It is right that he corrects the record, but he was categoric in his responses, so somebody must have given him the relevant information. I find this a little unbelievable because a person has been-----
Yes. This is not a minor matter. Obviously, the record of committee proceedings must be correct, but I am sure he was advised and he gave a categoric response as a consequence of that. This is not without consequence for the individual in question. I am not happy that correcting the record is sufficient in this case. I would like to know who briefed and advised the Commissioner on this matter. It is a serious stuff.
I will not get into the details of the matter, but in order that people know what is under discussion, at the meeting Deputy Cullinane asked the Commissioner in respect of a particular case about which he had read in the media. He asked:
Does that mean the Garda has conducted an examination of the case? Has Mr. Harris examined the claims made by the individual in question?
Mr. Harris responded, "That is also the subject of a public complaint to GSOC." In the correspondence, Mr. Harris clarifies that no public complaint has been made to GSOC. As Deputy Murphy points out, it is right to correct the record, but we need to write to the Commissioner and seek an explanation of the circumstances in which incorrect information was given to the committee, such as what notes or briefing were given or where the gap was in the information. As the Deputy stated, it is a serious issue. That is the essence of her point. We will note and publish that correspondence.
We have dealt with No. 2174 from the Department and Equality in regard to tuberculosis. We note and publish it.
No. 2175, dated 17 May 2019, is from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills. He provides a further update for the committee in respect of the property transfer from religious congregations and contributions towards the cost incurred by the State in responding to the residential institutional child abuse issue. We will note and publish this. Deputies may wish to comment on it.
We are making good progress, at long last. This committee is driving this matter because Mr. Ó Foghlú is responding to us and meeting the congregation. It has been 15 years but we will keep at it until the matter has concluded, as long as we are here. I welcome the progress but it is long overdue.
I welcome it as well. It arose from this committee and the questions we asked. It was brought to my attention by the story of Lenaboy, the former industrial school in Galway. It has still not been finalised but Mr. Ó Foghlú is keeping his word and keeping us updated. There was a narrative that St. Anne's, Lenaboy, was given as a gift to the city but it was given as part of the redress scheme. Unfortunately, it remains empty. It was given over, theoretically, in 2009 but because they held onto it for so long, I have no idea of what the cost of bringing it up to par will be. What the council will get as redress has to be seriously questioned, as has the security issue.
The Committee of Public Accounts has played an important role but it needs to be asked if we should have had to play that role. On page 3 of the correspondence it states that there has been further dialogue with the congregation of Christian Brothers on the proposed transfer of playing fields. That does not tell us anything, other than that the two sides are talking to each other. We need to get details of when it is likely to come to a conclusion. The cash contributions are incredibly important. They go directly to Caranua, which is there to assist people who have been damaged in these institutions. Some €6.4 million in cash contributions is required to achieve the maximum amount of €110 million, which is set down in statute. Some of it will come in as a consequence of these transactions but the speed at which they come is an issue. We are not here to supervise the Department of Education and Skills as it is not our function, but that is essentially what we are doing.
That is correct. It is an example of members' commitment to their public duty that they want to see this matter through. We could have easily declined to insist on quarterly reports and allowed the matter to just hang there. We will publish the letter. There have been improvements in a number of areas. The Christian Brothers have recently contributed €2 million but they still owe €6.4 million to bring the balance up and Caranua is waiting for that cash, which we are told will come in the months after the sale of the lands in Clonkeen, Dublin. It is all contingent on that. It is a progress report and we will keep at it by asking Mr. Ó Foghlú to use the Committee of Public Accounts in his negotiations with the various organisations. He is under pressure to bring the matter to a conclusion. We should not have to supervise this and some might say it is not within our remit but we are happy to do it anyway, in the interests of the public.
The next item is from from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, dated 10 May 2019, providing information requested by the committee on proposed legislation regarding the court poor box. A reparation fund is to be established which will be used to provide additional funding for services for victims of crimes and compensation payments by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. Moneys must be paid to the reparation fund unless provided for by law. There was a practice that a judge could direct a defendant to make a contribution to a third party charity or organisation but it all has to go through the reparation fund, other than compensation as directed by a judge under the legislation. That is good to hear.
The next item is from Ms Mary Donohoe, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, dated 22 May 2019 providing follow-up information requested by the committee relating to 12 items. It is very thorough correspondence and it is good to put it on the public record. I will highlight some key points, while other members may want to make additional points. We asked about the EPA data relating to testing water supplies for illicit or illegal drugs. The agency confirms there is an issue but nothing on the scale of London or Amsterdam because we do not source most of our water from rivers in the cities. The vast majority of urban wastewater discharges are located in coastal or estuary areas, with none of it located downstream from any of these plants. The agency is doing a study on it but it will be nothing like on the scale we have seen in other European cities. There is a detailed report on landfill sites licensed by the EPA, unlicensed sites, historical land sites, private landfills, illegal landfills and a lot of great information that will be of interest to people. There is a lot of information on the radon strategy and details of costs that we had requested and there is information on the river basin catchment areas.
The EPA also gives information on the emissions trading scheme, which is interesting. It states that overall emissions of greenhouse gases from Irish power generation and industrial companies in the EU decreased by 4.8% in 2017 and a further 8% in 2018. The decrease in emissions is due to a significant drop in power generation emissions of 13.9% as a result of the ESB Moneypoint coal-fired plant being offline. That happened by accident and the EPA is taking credit for the place being closed but it is a fact that emissions are down. Conversely, greenhouse gas emissions from the main industrial sources increased in 2018 from 2017, with the cement industry recording a 4.7% increase, dairy a 3.6% increase and the pharmagen industry an 8.8% increase. The EPA states that this is on account of economic growth and that a wide group of industries contributed to the increase. Emissions from aviation showed a 6.8% increase in 2018, arising from flights in and out of Ireland but also flights anywhere in the EU where the aircraft carrier has an operating licence from the Irish Aviation Authority, including Ryanair and Aer Lingus. It means that emissions from Ryanair flights across Europe are booked in Ireland so it is important that people understand it is not all as simple as it seems.
That is why I am putting it on the public record. The public might not appreciate the significant nuances around this. We also asked about enforcement. Up to 2018, all operators were fully compliant with their obligations but in 2018, two operators failed to comply with their obligations to surrender emissions trading allowances to cover their emissions for 2017. The two operators were St. James's Hospital and Vodafone. The EPA proceeded with enforcement action under EU regulations which resulted in a penalty for St. James's Hospital of €210,000 and the agency is working with St. James's Hospital on a payment plan. It is extraordinary that our health services are involved in non-compliance with EU emissions trading regulations. The penalty for Vodafone was €51,000, which has been paid in full.
The final point was on a question I asked about whether people applying for planning permission had to apply for a waste licence first.
It says that people can do either but the EPA is required in cases involving an environment impact assessment or an environmental impact assessment report to ensure that the grant of planning permission has been made before they grant the licence. We will note and publish that comprehensive reply and I thank the EPA. It is an example of an organisation which comes before the committee with good information and which comes back with a comprehensive reply when asked for information. We would like all other State organisations to follow suit and to do so in a timely manner, as the EPA has done. We will note and publish that.
No. 2185 B is from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, dated 22 May 2019, provides comparative information requested by the committee regarding the cost of accommodating individuals in direct provision centres and in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme. We will note and publish this. It relates to how much money someone residing in a nursing home can retain for personal use and a comparison with how much a person living in direct provision has for personal use. I think it is approximately €30 in both cases.
No. 2186 B is from Mr. Mark O'Mahony, commissioner, the Tax Appeals Commission, dated 22 May 2019, provides clarification requested by the committee in relation to the bimonthly progress update which we considered at our last meeting on 16 May 2019. I did not understand its contents. The commission is saying that when it came before the committee last year, the number of cases on hand had a total quantum of €1.7 billion. I emphasise, that is not necessarily €1.7 billion due in tax, some of it might have been paid and there might be refunds due. Cases with a value of €2.1 billion were lodged with the Tax Appeals Commission in the last week of December last year, which means it now has €3.7 billion worth of cases on their books. That is a phenomenal figure. Two of the big ones have €1.6 billion are before the courts so the commission is precluded from dealing with them until those cases have concluded. It is an example of the complex cases arising in the commission. We will note and publish that letter and it is good to get clarification.
No. 2188 B is from Ms Dee Forbes, director general, RTÉ, dated 24 May 2019, in response to our request for further information regarding the review of employment contracts. Ms Forbes reiterates that the review of the 433 contractors providing services to RTÉ concluded that the majority of those reviewed were appropriately engaged and classified as freelancers or contractors. It also concluded that the cases of 157 individuals were in need of further review. Ms Forbes advises that RTÉ has commenced discussions with individual contractors and that this process will continue into the second half of 2019. She states that RTÉ cannot accept that anybody should be described as being on a "bogus self-employment" contract - a remark to that effect might have been made - and that RTÉ has at all times acted in good faith with respect to this matter. We will continue to monitor this issue and will request a further update at the end of July.
Where it is found that someone should more properly have been in the PAYE system, it is important that is recognised from when employment commenced or when this was found. In other words, there is a question of whether the decision will be backdated, because there will be issues arising with pensions and so on. We should seek clarification on that.
The next category of correspondence is C, correspondence from and related to private individuals and any other correspondence which is not for publication.
No. 2166 C is from an individual dated 13 May 2019 requesting the committee to undertake a detailed scrutiny of the proposed BusConnects project. Our position is this is a policy area and an ongoing project. No. 2171 C from an individual dated 15 May 2019 also requests the committee to undertake a detailed scrutiny of the proposed BusConnects project. I propose we forward these items to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for whatever action it deems appropriate. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 2167 C from an individual dated 13 May 2019 relates to decisions related to a tourism project made by Cork County Council. The correspondence is addressed to Cork county councillors and while the individual seems to be requesting that the Committee of Public Accounts reviews an alleged loss of public money, the local authority matters raised are not with the remit of the committee. We will advise to the correspondent that the matter could be brought to the attention of the local authority audit service and note the item. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 2169 C is from the clerk to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, dated 14 May 2019 advising the committee that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published the Public Service Performance Report 2018. We note this item. The report has already been published. We have seen copies of that report in recent weeks.
No. 2172 C from Professor Kerstin Mey, vice president, academic affairs and student engagement, University of Limerick, dated 30 April 2019 providing information requested by me as Chairman regarding grade recheck and grade appeal processes. It was a matter I raised on behalf of a constituent and which arose out of our meeting on the regrading in the University of Limerick. I propose we note the item and write to the correspondent that the information supplied by the university is all we have been able to extract. It goes back to 2011 and there is no mechanism to regrade those exam papers at this stage.
No. 2182 C is from an individual dated 17 May 2019 in relation to an alternative site for the national children’s hospital. We will take that correspondence on board when we do our periodic report on that matter and note the item.
No. 2184 C is from Deputy David Cullinane dated 20 May 2019 in relation to Commissioner Harris’s evidence to the committee regarding a particular case within an Garda Síochána. As mentioned earlier, the Commissioner has corrected the record and we note that. As we already have dealt with that particular issue, we will ask the secretariat to let the Deputy know we have dealt with it.
No 2177 C is from Mr. Allen Morgan, dated 16 May 2019 inquiring about his attendance at a private meeting of the committee in relation to the management of State-owned property by the Office of Public Works, OPW. We had previously advised that this item is on our work programme but due to other pressing business, we have not been in a position to schedule a meeting. He wrote following the committee's discussion of the Miesian Plaza on Baggot Street. We discussed that and other matters relating to the OPW in detail. We have written our periodic report and made our conclusions on the matter. Mr. Morgan has information on other projects, including Thornton Hall and the property in Fairgreen in Galway, Nos. 91 to 93 Merrion Square, a Mullingar site and Batty Langley Lodge, in relation to overspending. That goes back over a long period. He is asking if we will invite him into a meeting and to conclude one way or another as he has other things to move on to. We can thank him for his input. We have taken everything he said on board and have considered it as part of our periodic report. We will return to the OPW again in the autumn. The information he supplied will help us in our work when we return to the OPW on the next occasion. I do not think that there is time between now and the recess for a meeting on this issue. He has asked us to let him know if we are not proceeding and I think we should. That is my suggestion.
I agree. This man has made considerable effort to inform us. He has gone to great trouble and gone out on a limb. That is important. He is asking us to make a quick decision which is difficult for us in our work programme. He did ask to meet us and I believe we did agree to do so in theory. Perhaps I am wrong. The issues he is raising are not merely historic. He is raising processes and he is also talking about the inadequate, according to him, financial model under which the Office of Public Work operates. I am no expert. I can only read it and note the concerns. I will be guided by the committee but we should listen to him and take it from there.
I would not dismiss this at all. We have gone through an awful lot in relation to the OPW, I understand that, but as Deputy Connolly noted, there are issues involved which are ongoing. If the modelling by which the OPW does its work continues, it could have similar problems into the future. That is a real issue and concern. There must be some forum on this. Much work was done.
He is raising valid issues and I would hate to be left in a situation in years to come whereby, because of what he is raising and the modelling not changing, further issues arise. Given the volume of effort he has made - he has gone out on a limb - there has to be some process by which we at least give him an outlet to air the matter. Then we can make decisions and move on, or not.
I believe his preference is to have a private meeting. We will check that directly with him. If his preference is to have a private meeting, we will have it some afternoon. There will be some afternoon when we will be finished to 3.30 p.m. or some such time.
We have to time this and have some output from it. There is no point in meeting and not doing anything about it afterwards. We have to timetable in such a way that we meet the individual and then follow up, but we need to know what the follow-up is likely to be. Could we get any correspondence we have on this in advance of the meeting? There are matters concerning the OPW in regard to some of the work, for example, on historical buildings where the contingency is set at a certain level. The position is not realistic. It is very hard to see how a Department can budget for works if there are flaws. There are a number of issues that merit full understanding, not just a meeting for us to gain an understanding. It is a matter of our gaining an understanding in order to do something. That is what we have got to decide.
That makes sense. Will we contact Mr. Morgan directly with a view to setting up a meeting? It will be on a Thursday afternoon. We can determine whether he wants a public or private meeting. It he wants a private meeting, we will go private. If he wants a public meeting, we will have it in public. It will be on a Thursday afternoon. That would probably be the best.
If it is on a Thursday, the quorum will already be established. If there are ten of us or three of us, the meeting can proceed. That is why I am suggesting a Thursday. I thank Mr. Morgan for his continued communication with the committee on this issue. Obviously, he has a lot of experience.
The next correspondence is No. 2178 C, from the European Lotto Betting Association, which is requesting a meeting with the committee. This matter is not within our remit. The licence was issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Perhaps it is a justice issue. I believe it is about gambling. We will write back. It is certainly not within our remit to hear the association's views. It has probably written to every Deputy and its representatives are probably meeting Deputies individually. We will let them proceed as they are doing on that matter.
No. 2180C is from Deputy Niall Collins on behalf of an individual. It concerns a donation to the Irish Cancer Society in Kerry. This matter is not within the remit of the committee and I propose that we advise the Deputy accordingly.
No. 2189C, from Ms Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, is a response to a request from the committee on foot of correspondence from an individual alleging a waste of public moneys by the authority. The authority provides a comprehensive response to the remarks. I propose to send the response to the correspondent. It concerns the production of CDs for the visually impaired. We dealt with this previously.
The final correspondence, No. 2151B, will take a few minutes to deal with but I want to try to clear the decks on it. We will move fairly quickly. It is the minute from the Minister for Finance. It concerns our periodic report for the May-July period. We can move quite quickly on this. It would be remiss of us, in view of the time, our issuing of our report and the time it took the Department of Finance to report back to us, not to move expeditiously. Members need not take out the previous report. It had 29 recommendations, I believe. I will make a fleeting reference to those we need to think about and then make an observation.
The first recommendation was for the Department of Finance and concerned a target for presenting the annual financial statements by all organisations. The recommendation is accepted and the Department will draft a new circular, which will be incorporated.
The next recommendation is that Departments should ensure circulars are fully complied with. That is in regard to the timeline for accounts. The first recommendation concerned presenting for audit and the second concerned laying before the Oireachtas after audit. It is accepted.
The next recommendation was to the Higher Education Authority to ensure boards or bodies under its remit have the range of competencies necessary to carry out their functions. We mentioned the finance area. The recommendation is accepted by the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Education and Skills. The boards are now being requested to ensure they have a balance of skills and experience. Under the Technological Universities Act 2018, it is a requirement that the boards agree with the HSE the competence required of external board members. That is important and that is accepted.
The next recommendation states, "The Committee recommends that where a public body is not totally satisfied that it can conduct an internal investigation objectively, it should recuse itself or, in the case of a protected disclosure, use the services available under the Office of Government Procurement's Framework Agreement for the Receipt and Investigation of Protected Disclosures." That is accepted. The framework is in place. It is a multi-sector framework. The recommendation is accepted.
The next recommendation is that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform consider measures to prevent unnecessary expenditure resulting from public bodies competing against each other in the purchase of buildings. That happened in Cork in respect of two institutions. The Department has noted the recommendation. It is stated each organisation has a right to bid for a property if it comes on the market but the officials are saying they are trying to co-ordinate. They see the merit but cannot prevent organisations from looking at property.
It is stated the Department of Education and Skills has the final decision regarding the acquisition of the property in any event. This is only at the end of the process. The price might have been pushed up excessively by the time it gets there. The Department takes the point but states that legally it cannot prevent bodies from bidding. We have made the point very clearly.
This seems a form of madness. I refer to two colleges, primarily funded by the taxpayer, bidding against one another for property, elevating the price by millions of euro. It is insane. Surely there should be a liaison officer in the Department monitoring capital acquisitions. Is that not a recommendation we could make? I refer to liaison when there are major capital acquisitions over a certain amount.
It could happen elsewhere as well. We will deal with education for now. We will write back on that basis, asking the Department to have some liaison or monitoring ability in respect of capital acquisitions above a certain figure, be it €5 million or €10 million. We are not talking about small acquisitions.
We will write back on foot of this. Part of this process is that we do not necessarily accept or agree with every response we get from the Minister. That is his response and it is not as strong as we would have liked. He says he is captured by the legislation and cannot prevent them, but we are saying some mechanism is required in the Department for a level of liaison. It is about protecting taxpayers' money. We will draft a letter accordingly. We might have one or two more observations.
I agree with what you are saying but is it not a much bigger issue? In Galway, the Corrib Great Southern Hotel is owned by the State. Beside it is the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, which is struggling for accommodation. The State sells the hotel and it ends up in liquidation. It is in private hands again and the State is seeking to buy it back. They are beside each other. It could not be a more acute picture of idiocy and madness. The hotel remains empty to this day. It was owned by the State and is located beside an institution that is struggling. Is it not a bigger issue regarding acquiring public buildings and Departments talking to each other? The hotel should not have been sold in the first instance. It should have been acquired by the Department of Education and Skills. This is happening throughout the country.
We are dealing with the education area now. The HEA has a role as well. We will write back to the Department. The point is well made. What we have suggested might be complicated but is very reasonable. All of us could probably find a myriad of cases.
I can give a simpler, practical example that we all will understand. In every town and city in Ireland there are various approved housing bodies funded by the State competing with each other to buy sites so they can build their houses and units. They are driving up the prices. It is happening everywhere now. Approved housing bodies and local authorities are often competing against each other. I saw it happen recently. That is a big point to which we will return. What we have touched on is the tip of the iceberg. That is all we can say at present. We can come back to it. We will draft a response to that particular recommendation.
The next recommendation is: "There is a lack of transparency in relation to the companies which have an association with the Higher Education Institutes." It states the Comptroller and Auditor General has access to accounts and financial statements and the Minister is aware of all the reports. Our earlier discussion dealt with that point and we will follow it up on that basis.
The next item is a recommendation relating to the Office of Government Procurement "to ensure that they have the necessary controls in place to allow themselves sufficient time to develop specifications ...". This followed the roll-over of an ICT contract in An Garda Síochána. It was caught as it did not have time. The Minister accepts what we said. The next recommendation is on the same point. There is the broader issue and the specific issue. It states that the Department of Justice and Equality is informed by An Garda Síochána that the recommendation is accepted. It also states that in 2019 An Garda Síochána initiated a planned update of the Garda procurement guidelines and will run training courses on this. It states it is also governed by future planning in "A Policing Service for the Future" and these issues are included in it. We note that.
The next recommendation was on prepayments and procurement guidelines. That involved making advance payments where there are ICT contracts. We are told it is the industry norm but there can be a risk to the taxpayer. The financial status of the companies should be checked. The Department accepts the recommendation. We will keep an eye on that.
The next recommendation was that "the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform uses a more nuanced approach to recruitment expenditure planning to ensure that initial headline savings do not result in additional costs in the long term". We are saying that due to the public sector employment embargo there is a lack of skilled resources in An Garda Síochána. The Department notes that recommendation. It likes it, but it is subject to Exchequer pay ceilings. That is probably the answer we expected.
In Recommendation A.11 the committee "recommends that the Commissioner takes the necessary steps to ensure that the governance structures and systems in place within AGS are understood by all and supported at the highest levels". This is accepted and the recommendation will be taken forward as part of the Policing and Community Safety Bill, replacing the Garda Síochána Act 2005. That will come before the Oireachtas in due course.
The next recommendation is important. People will be interested in the fair deal issue. We had an issue regarding the nursing homes and we had asked if there was value for money. The Department of Health commenced a value for money report. It has noted our Recommendation A.12. A number of the recommendations flow together. It states that the Department of Health is currently undertaking a value for money review of nursing home care costs - a comparison of private and public sector care costs. Members will be surprised to hear the following:
A number of critical technical issues has arisen which has delayed the work of the Steering Committee and Review Committee. Following legal advice the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) was not in a position to provide the detailed data requested by the Department, given data protection concerns. Subsequent to this, the Department's legal advisors and the NTPF's legal team agreed an approach that would allow the provision of high level aggregated data, consistent with legal obligations.
Clearly, the information that is required to examine the value for money is within a State organisation but data protection is preventing the National Treatment Purchase Fund giving granular information to the Department team to provide a good report and recommendations. This is dreadful.
It goes on to say that the most cited reason for cost differential is that public nursing homes have a much greater cohort of high dependence residents. The Department will do a sample to determine if the resources provided are aligned with care needs. It will only do a sample. Then it says that this will extend the timeline further. It will take time to complete the value for money report, "but without this data the VFM Review would have to rely on hypotheses to explain a significant element of the cost differential. To proceed without the data may have significantly undermined any conclusions and/or findings reached by the VFM". Essentially, it is saying that this is being said but it has no evidence to support that hearsay. Despite what has been said by successive Ministers about the higher dependency it is saying it has no data or evidence anywhere to support that statement. It is what everybody thinks, but one cannot do a report on that basis.
It states that due to the body of work required to acquire sufficient data, a revised completion date at the end of 2019 is now proposed. However, it is already acknowledging that it will not have the necessary granular data to carry out a detailed report due to the general data protection regulation, GDPR. I am putting this on the public record because many people are asking when we will get the report on this issue. Many self-employed people who have assets want to see this report.
We need to understand better where the GDPR impediment is. If one names anybody now it could be used. Surely the report can be done without mentioning particular individuals. We need to understand this. If we accept this without understanding where the GDPR is the impediment, it will be repeated.
We have done our bit for the moment. I ask the Members of the Oireachtas to follow up on this matter through mechanisms other than this committee because we will be told it is not the business of the Committee of Public Accounts. It is, because it affects costs. I outlined it to put it on the record. That was the value for money report. We also spoke about a separate report. The committee recommended that the National Treatment Purchase Fund review its pricing mechanism. This response to the committee was probably drafted several weeks ago but it states that the NTPF is now close to completing the report and aims to discuss the draft report in the early part of this year. Once complete, the report of the review will then be submitted to the Department for consideration and for publication later in 2019.
There are two different reports. One is the value for money report and the other is the pricing report. We have seen neither yet and members can see some of the complications. The National Treatment Purchase Fund review of its pricing mechanism for long-term residential care in private voluntary nursing homes is ongoing.
That was one of the committee's recommendations last autumn and the Department is now saying that report is almost concluded. The pricing report, how much the nursing home has been paid, is a different issue from the value of money between public and private. It appears to me there are two, separate and independent mechanisms.
I have often mentioned Kafka but this really feels like I am reading a story of his. I do not know if the Chairman is familiar with the single assessment tool which the HSE uses for home care assessment. It was run as a pilot project. It takes at least two to three hours to administer it through a questionnaire from a computer. One's dependency is being assessed on a computer with a single assessment tool. It is time consuming. I am only giving an example and I know I am discussing minutiae here. The HSE is delaying things. The HSE is meeting people and doing a single assessment tool assessment on them with a computer and a standardised questionnaire.
Clinical judgment, whereby a doctor and a nurse will say a patient needs this or that, seems to have gone out the window. We are back to a computer and special assessment tool. I can give two specific examples of results from that process for people who were looking for home care in Galway. One person was in their early 60s and suffered from early-onset dementia and has qualified for ten hours' home help as a result of that single assessment tool.
I have lost the Chairman's attention and I understand that. I am talking about minutiae but it is difficult to look at that single assessment tool because it raises all sorts of other issues as to what is happening with our health system and our approach to looking after our people. I would not like a member of my family or a colleague to be assessed by a computer using that single assessment tool. I would like to rely on somebody's clinical judgment and expertise as a nurse or doctor. That is a separate point and is impertinent of me.
At our last meeting, we had a note from the National Treatment Purchase Fund stating the review of the system of pricing under the nursing home support scheme was being finalised to be submitted to the Minister two weeks ago. I understand that is done. That is the pricing report which is separate from the bigger report.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I have not found that to be the case for the work of my office because we have powers to access documents and so on. I am aware of organisations that are struggling with the obligations imposed on them by GDPR and finding the correct approach to take. It has certainly made administration of personal data much more complicated and there is a higher risk for organisations. I cannot comment on specifics because I have not looked at the nature of the data they are looking for and, obviously, it would be for the Data Protection Commissioner to issue a judgment on a matter such as that.
To complicate matters further, I have said previously that I am doing a special report on the costs of nursing home care. I am expecting to put a draft to the relevant organisations shortly and I aim to finish it over the summer. There may be a plethora of reports in this area.
It is complicated and I am trying to create a framework into which all of these individual pieces will fit so that there is a structure that will help to approach the issues that are raised. It is quite complex.
I may have missed the Deputy mentioning a part of the Department of Health's reply to the value for money review. The Department says that, as part of this work, it is proposed that there will be between 600 and 900 hours of direct contact with residents during the course of this study. I think that is what the Deputy is referring to.
Yes, 2151. We will say that is moving. Many people are inquiring about that value for money report and it is useful to put out information when we have it.
The next recommendation was that the HSE take steps to develop a protocol to ensure that all residents of nursing homes can avail of medical services when residing in nursing homes. That recommendation is noted. This is about the issue of transport to appointments and the Department of Health states that there is no statutory requirement on the HSE to provide transport. It provides some ambulance services on a discretionary basis. It is not a core health service and is not covered by the basket of services in the medical card or the nursing home support scheme. The Department also goes on to state that the nursing home support scheme covers some living expenses. Residents can still incur some costs in a nursing home. In recognition of this, anybody in receipt of financial support can retain 20% of their income. The Department is actually saying that, if a patient needs transport to a medical appointment, he or she can use that 20%. That is dreadful but it is what the Department says.
The next recommendation was that the Government develops a clear, multi-annual plan to meet the commitment to contribute 0.7% of gross national income to overseas development assistance by 2030. This is accepted by the Government and there is a plan in place to do all that.
The next item relates to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is about passports and the difficulties the Department had last year. We asked the Department to publicise the fact that passport renewal application is the fastest way of doing it. The Department accepts this recommendation and, in line with our recommendation, it has been extremely active in publicising this. I think the Department appreciated the input from Members of the Oireachtas on the passport service when we had Department representatives before the committee early last summer. That is good.
There was a further recommendation that the Department hire more staff for this year. It accepts that recommendation and says additional full-time staff have already been recruited and the Department will continue to monitor operational requirements. We will see how this year goes. It has not reached the deluge yet.
The next item is the recommendation that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade values the rental and leasing of property abroad versus purchasing of same. It accepts the recommendation. It will continue to do that and will continue, with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to examine the benefits of each in order to decide which is most suitable. That is fair enough.
The next item is the international election observation roster. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade accepts the recommendation to have the necessary procedures in place to establish a panel in adequate time. The Department will, in 2019, undertake a review of the operation including the optimal panel duration. The Department has said it is actually acting on that.
The next item brings us to the Department of Finance. We mentioned the Tax Appeals Commission earlier. This recommendation is that adequate, evidence-based planning takes place in advance of the establishment of any new public body. The point is, essentially, that the Tax Appeals Commission was set up without a proper plan and without knowing the extent of its workforce. The Department looked at the number of appeals that were there but, when a new office is set up, it attracts appeals. I do not think that was taken into account. The Department accepts the point and, in future, bodies will take it into account. The committee's point is well made.
The next one was the workload and operations review of the Tax Appeals Commission and that its recommendations are implemented on a timely basis. That recommendation is accepted and the Department and Tax Appeals Commission are in frequent contact, as mentioned earlier in correspondence.
The next item is the amount of tax under appeal at any time and that the committee recommends measurable targets be set for the Tax Appeals Commission. That is accepted by the Tax Appeals Commission and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and they are working on the procurement of a new IT system to help facilitate the management of cases.
The next item is about outstanding taxes and is a recommendation to the Minister for Finance. The committee recommends that Revenue reviews its approach to the collection of outstanding taxes with a view to identifying initiatives such as increasing the number of taxpayers in phased payment method arrangements in order to accelerate the receipt of collectable taxes. Revenue accepts this and says that it has updated statistics. It has improved and a new debt management service application was due to commence last month. I am hoping that will prove beneficial.
The next item is about cases of tax defaulters that are published. It became very clear to us, to remind people, that 289 tax settlements, totalling €53 million were published in 2017 and 91, which is 30%, had unpaid amounts of €25 million.
In other words, when they publish the tax defaulters showing the amount due, does it show whether it was ever collected or not? The committee recommends that in addition to publishing the tax settlement amounts, Revenue would consider publishing details of the amounts subsequently paid and outstanding balances and it does not accept this. This is an issue on which people may have a view. The Department accepts that Revenue is very strict but that legislation does not provide for this measure specifically and if it is to be done, it requires legislation. If legislation is to be changed then all aspects must be taken into account such as taxpayer confidentiality, the balance of the good versus the bad and the fairness of it. I believe that as we have already agreed in legislation to publish the person's name and the amount, it would not be a major step to publish the same person's name, the original amount and the amount ultimately collected. That could be an amendment to the Finance Bill if anybody wants one. It is a legislative matter.
Maybe I will put it in myself. I will think about it, seeing as I raised it.
Ireland's national debt stood at approximately €198.7 billion at the end of 2017. The committee had said that this remains at a very high level. The NTMA has noted this. It does not agree with the committee's conclusion but has noted it. That debate goes on.
The response has said that the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform is informed by the National Treasury Management Agency that it notes the issue. The NTMA has accepted most of the recommendations but does not accept the committee's comment that it is worryingly high.
I actually saw it on a league table. Ireland was way down the league table because it was counted as GDP. Obviously that is distorted by our unusual economy. The mind boggles that anybody in the Department of Finance does not think that the debt figure is high.
When one takes personal debt into account, Ireland is next to Japan in the world figures.
I will now turn to recommendation A.26. The committee recommended that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, publishes a list of housing completions on at least a quarterly basis. The idea is that the statistical information gathering is not last century but is prior to the last century. The Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform is informed that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, which is part of the NTMA, accepts the recommendation. It has published housing completions for the year end 2018 and a report was published in February.
The committee recommended that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform provides guidance to public bodies to ensure the short-term benefits of leasing of properties are not given undue emphasis when compared with those that outright acquisition may offer. Again, this recommendation is noted and the Department gives the various factors it takes into account in that regard. The committee will keep that matter under consideration.
The committee recommended that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform carries out a review of public bodies whose claims are not managed by the State Claims Agency, with a view to extending the remit of the State Claims Agency to such bodies. The response says that the committee will be aware that it is a matter for the relevant Minister to consider which agencies will come in under that. The Department does not comment "Yes" or "No". It says that it is a matter for each Minister. The committee approached this due to what came to light during our report, which is that all the voluntary hospitals and section 38 organisations - that receive some €4 billion in taxpayers' money - come in under the State Claims Agency. The committee had pointed out that local authorities are similar in their scale of activity and we asked why they do not also come in under the State Claims Agency in order to have one management structure for all the claims. We are aware that Irish Public Bodies Insurance is the body the county councils have set among themselves to monitor those claims. There is, however, very little public transparency in that regard. It is a private company. The freedom of information issue has been before the courts. The committee will come back to this issue because there is a lack of transparency for the public on that. We can revisit this recommendation again when representatives of the State Claims Agency are before the committee.
The Committee recommended that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the National Development Finance Agency should carry out a review of the impact of significant events, such as the collapse of Carillion, on public private partnerships, in order to document what lessons can be learned. The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform accepts this recommendation. In addition, the response says that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform chairs an interdepartmental steering committee on public private partnership, PPP, projects and that the building of the schools will go ahead. The public private partnership issue is on the agenda of this committee and we have taken the decision that we can never sign off on any Department accounts in which there is a significant PPP contract because if we do not get the information, we cannot have sight of what it is we are discussing and we cannot express an opinion on whether the contract is good, bad or indifferent with regard to value for money. When a contract has been signed and is up and running, such as with the motorways, then commercial confidentiality has to cease after a certain period of time. It cannot continue for the 25 years to the end of the project. That is an issue we will come back to.
I wanted to get it off those items off the agenda for now. It is a big item of correspondence. Is there any other business before we suspend today to allow or witnesses to come in?
On statements and accounts received since the last meeting, we note the clear audited opinion of the Western Development Commission.
On outstanding matters there is a practical issue. Could we have an update from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board? There had been a long list, although a simple one, including the total cost for the definitive business case conducted by Ernst & Young. The members have been given a list of the outstanding items from 16 May. Is there any update on those outstanding issues?
Not yet. The committee is not here next week. If we have not had a response to that request by the date of our next meeting, which is 13 June, and which will have been some five weeks since our last meeting with the board, then we will set a date to bring the board in to answer personally why its members have not replied.
I am aware that the Department of Finance will come before the committee later on general finance topics and there will be the opportunity to raise some of the issues relating to what I am about to say. I know it was late in the day, but yesterday I was provided with correspondence from the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation's chief executive, David Hall. It included a copy of a report Mr. Hall commissioned from Professor Constantin Gurdgiev on the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation, IBRC, liquidation. I circulated this to the secretariat and to each member. While people will not have had an opportunity to go through it yet I propose that we invite Professor Gurdgiev and Mr. Hall before the committee to discuss this matter.
Deputy MacSharry will note that we have received the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation special liquidation: progress report update, dated 22 May, which is just a couple of days ago and so have not looked at it yet.
It is. It goes back to when the committee took a position on the establishment of a committee of inspection for the liquidation. To date that has been, effectively, ignored by the Department of Finance. I accept that people may not have had time to read it yet, and while it was commissioned by a third party, Professor Gurdgiev's report very much supports that proposal. The report indicates that without such a committee of inspection, it is not possible for us to really be sure of value for money in that process. The periodic report is as per other periodic reports. One is heading for €306 million in expenditure in this regard. The level of transparency around the liquidation would not be remotely like that for a standard liquidation. There is an awful lot of stuff that is not there at all. Professor Gurdgiev's report makes recommendations and suggestions on how we might go about that, which is very much in keeping with our own position on this over the past couple of years.
We could usefully do the State some service by inviting Professor Constantin Gurdgiev to come in here and tease out some of his proposals and hope that the Department of Finance, which has not acted heretofore to establish a committee of inspection to give the appropriate oversight to this liquidation, may yet do so.
There is an ongoing case where the applicant is just seeking the same thing we are and the State is defending the case. I am sure we will raise the issue with departmental officials when they come in. We came across correspondence, which I shared, where the Office of the Chief State Solicitor offered the Committee of Public Accounts an olive branch, apart from that. One of my questions when the officials come in is: how much money has been spent so far on defending the case? Why can heads not be cracked together, make the appropriate improvements, get rid of this unnecessary case that is before the courts and give the public the level of oversight that they require? This is the most expensive liquidation in the history of the State and is probably comparable with the largest in Europe, and oversight is non-existent.
Yes, this liquidation is supervised by the Department of Finance and it is out of sight. Given the cost that the public have paid for the liquidation of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society, there is a public obligation to make sure that we have some oversight of the assets that were liquidated. It would be helpful to have these experts before the committee. I support the idea that there should have been a committee of inspection. The problem is that while this court case delays oversight, the liquidations are continuing and it will become almost a moot point if we do not have some change at this stage. This would be a very helpful way to move it on. I concur that this should not be playing out in the courts and that the Committee of Public Accounts should routinely have oversight.
I refer to one sentence in the report that encapsulates this matter. Professor Gurdgiev referred to the consequence of no committee of inspection, which the Chairman, as an accountant, will be very familiar with, along with the Comptroller and Auditor General and others. Professor Gurdgiev stated: "As a consequence of the failure to properly account, analyse, assess, challenge and-or monitor the cost the interests of the Irish taxpayer, and ultimately all creditors of IBRC, have not been/are not being adequately protected."
This matter forms part of today's meeting. Second, there is a proposal, which has been seconded, that we invite the two named people in. I do not think we want to get into holding meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The only time for a meeting such as this is a Thursday afternoon and if a meeting finishes at 3 p.m.
I am just indicating that. Unless members want to start meeting on Tuesday, I am happy to do so but members have other commitments as well. Are there any requests? We cannot have too many of them because we have a busy schedule from now until the middle of July. If this meeting is to happen, it will be on a Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the day's business, and the quorum will be in place.
We did not finish them and we are going to finish them. Work is proceeding on bringing them all to a conclusion because we had other chapters in the periodic report. What we will decide ourselves at our next meeting is whether we will launch them separately or together. If we launch them, it will take a couple of weeks to get it on the schedule so it will be towards the end of June one way or the other and we have a periodic report to launch around that time in any event. The work is proceeding but the question is whether we will do two separate launches before the recess or combine them? The work is well advanced and it is a question of presentation.
That is the real issue. Yes, it will be launched well before. It will be June or thereabouts. The only issue we have to decide as a committee is whether to have two launches or one launch one week and another ten days later. That is a scheduling issue but the report will be there but we must decide whether it will stand-alone or be part of the other, which we will discuss among ourselves.
No, not with that. On the capacity issue, we will try to bring our periodic report to cover the period up to the end of March. Aside from the major issues, whether it is broadband or the paediatric hospital, which we had been dealing with prior to that, the more recent meetings will fall to be completed over the summer for a periodic report, if we are back in September. We will generally stop at the end of March for a periodic report to allow us to compete that, including the topics mentioned by the Deputy, before the recess.
The work programme has been circulated. There are no significant changes to it and we will monitor it closely. We will suspend for ten minutes while the witnesses take their seats.