Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 27 June 2019
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined today by Ms Ruth Foley, deputy director of audit at the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering.
The first item is the minutes of the meetings of 30 May 2019 and 13 June 2019. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. We will hold over last week's minutes until next week, when we will have had an opportunity to review them.
As there are no items arising that are not on our agenda, we will proceed to No. 3, which is correspondence received since the last meeting. There are three categories of correspondence. The first category is A, briefing documents and opening statements for today's meeting. Correspondence Nos. 2273A and 2276A from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Health, are the briefing documents and opening statement for today’s meeting. We will note and publish these. Nos. 2272A, and 2275A from Mr. Paul Reid, director general of the HSE, are the briefing documents and opening statement for today’s meeting. We will note and publish these.
The next category is B, correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers and follow-up to meetings of the committee and other items for publishing. Some items have been held over from previous occasions. No. 2161B is from Mr. Paul O'Toole, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, dated 10 May. We have held this over three times so far, on 30 May, 13 June and 20 June. It is in regard to the review of the relationship between Cork Institute of Technology and certain named companies and entities which was undertaken by Mazars. We have already noted and published this. Deputy Kelly indicated he might have some observations. I suggest we note and publish this and move on. If the Deputy wants to raise it again-----
We will hold it over for next week. Also held over from last week's meetings is No. 2231B from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, dated 7 June, and providing an update to an inquiry the committee made in regard to a protected disclosure regarding St. Munchin's community centre, Limerick. We had received anonymous correspondence in regard to this matter. Mr. McKeon advises that an investigation of the issues raised was undertaken by the Department under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. The alleged issues related to funding provided by the Department under the job initiative scheme.
The Department concluded its examination of the issues raised and a number of areas for minor improvement were identified, including governance, purchasing control and attendance records. This was accepted by the management of St. Munchin's. The Department has liaised with and met those involved in the job initiative scheme to discuss these issues. We will note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is No. 2244B, correspondence, dated 11 June 2019, receivedfrom Mr. Crónan Goodman, private secretary to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, in response to an inquiry from the secretariat about the Irish Prison Service. The information was requested to feed into our periodic report and has to do with a procurement issue. It is being considered as part of our consideration of the periodic report. Is it agreed that we note and publish the correspondence? Agreed.
The next item is No. 2246B correspondence, dated 11 June 2019, from the Department of Justice and Equality in response to an inquiry made by the committee about the operation of CCTV systems by local authorities. We had previously received responses from the Department and An Garda Síochána. The Department is now forwarding a response from the County and City Management Association, CCMA. The Department advised in December 2018 that 28 of the 31 local authorities had undertaken the role of data controller for specific community schemes. The CCMA's response highlights an important distinction between local authority CCTV systems which are utilised for the purpose of exercising law enforcement powers and community-based CCTV schemes that typically are operated for the purpose of securing public order and safety in public places. Essentially, there are three items of correspondence, the first of which contains subsections (1) to (4), inclusive. The second is the actual response from the CCMA in October submitted to the Department which it has made available to us. I ask those with an interest in this matter to note that we are putting this correspondence on our website. Is it agreed that it be noted and published? Agreed. I highlight that of all the local authorities, only one - Laois County Council - operated a CCTV system for the purpose of exercising law enforcement power or a community-based CCTV system for the purpose of securing public safety without Pobal CCTV grant funding or grant funding under the Department scheme.
The next item is No. 2254B, correspondence, dated 17 June 2019, received from Mr. Peter Wood of the Irish Prison Service, providing further details requested by the secretariat of the breakdown for non-compliant procurement in the 2017 appropriation account of the Irish Prison Service. We will note and publish this correspondence and incorporate it into our next periodic report as being relevant. We will ask for specific details of non-compliant procurement. In the case of many of the reasons given, those supplying the particular service were the only ones in a position to do so. The equipment was installed and in the interests of consistency people wanted to deal with the same supplier. It was a significant issue. In other cases, people were awaiting finalisation of a centralised tender arrangement with the Office of Government Procurement, but in the meantime they proceeded with contracts at local level.
The next item is No. 2262B, correspondence, dated 20 June 2019, received from the Secretary General’s office in the Department of Finance, advising that the Department is working on its responses to the 16 items on which information was requested by the committee following its meeting on 30 May. It is expected that we will receive a full reply in the first week of July. We will note the correspondence and await the full response.
The next item is No. 2265B, correspondence, dated 20 June 2019, received from Ms Mary Donohoe, Office of the Director General, Environmental Protection Agency, providing further information requested by the committee on the availability of data for water testing. The EPA advises that Irish drinking water is at low risk of containing illicit and legal drugs because the majority of wastewater discharges in Ireland occur in estuaries which discharge into the sea and are, therefore, downstream of drinking water abstraction points. This environmental issue will be of concern to many. I want to read one or two sentences from Ms Donohoe's letter. The issue was raised by Deputy O'Connell. The response deals only with drinking water. Ms Donohoe states: "Irish Water has a comprehensive annual drinking water monitoring programme..." Essentially, if there is a problem, it has to notify the EPA. She further states:
The associated annual monitoring reports can be accessed on the EPA’s website ... Irish drinking water is at low risk of containing Illicit and/or legal drugs because the majority of wastewater discharges ... occur in the estuarine ... and are therefore downstream of drinking water abstractions and, hence, are not included in the routine drinking water monitoring programme. Therefore, EPA does not hold any data in relation to specific illicit and/or legal drugs in Irish water supplies.
We will ask for the issue to be clarified in respect of bathing water because if illicit and/or legal drugs are discharged into estuaries which dischargin into the sea, it may have implications for the quality of bathing water. We accept that the EPA is stating it may not affect drinking water, but we would like the matter to be clarified. If it is not checking for it in bathing water, we will suggest it consider doing so. We will ask for a response on the monitoring programme for bathing water. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next item is No. 2266B, correspondence, dated 20 June 2019, received from Ms Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ, enclosing further information on the ongoing review of contracts. RTÉ states it will continue the review into the second half of 2019 in a sequenced manner. I know that Deputy Cullinane will want to speak about this item.
Yes. It is welcome that there is a process in place to meet staff members on individual contracts. There seems to be some movement in that regard. I have spoken to some staff members who may have their contracts reviewed and be put on normal contracts. That shows that there was a problem. Even the response from Ms Forbes in which she states it is a complex matter is a massive step forward from where we were when it was said there was no issue. There is an issue and I understand it is complex to deal with it. Ms Forbes is right that everybody's circumstances are different. She states the process of discussing individual contracts will continue into the second half of the year. Can we note the correspondence to which we might come back after the summer recess? Having regard to a number of other issues, including a couple of unintended programmes or coverage of events that led to greater losses for RTÉ, we should keep an eye on the matter. We could consider inviting RTÉ representatives to come back before the committee at the latter end of the year. I ask that we include it in our work programme for discussion. I know that they do not have to come before us, but they could do so voluntarily. On the issue of individual contracts, we need to keep an eye on the matter. Given that RTÉ has stated it will continue the review over the summer months, we might write to it when we come back after the summer recess.
We will look at the matter at the end of September. We will put it down to be dealt with in correspondence at that stage.
The next category is correspondence the Committee of Public Accounts has issued to organisations subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General asking them to submit their draft accounts for audit within three months of year end. There were 18 bodies on our list and at our previous meeting we noted 13 replies. A further four have been received as follows. No. 2267B is correspondence, dated 17 June 2019, received from the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council. No. 2268B is correspondence, dated 13 June 2019, received from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, on the environment fund. No. 2269B is correspondence, dated 17 June 2019, received from Mr. Gabriel Cooney, chairperson, The Discovery Programme. No. 2270B is correspondence, dated 18 June 2019, received from Mr. Aidan Farrell, CEO, State Examinations Commission. Can we agree to note and publish these items of correspondence? Agreed.
At the previous meeting, we asked the Comptroller and Auditor General for an update on the submission accounts.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It is not giving a blanket assurance but I imagine that the specific concern that a significant number of credit unions might need stabilisation has passed. There was a specific requirement in the legislation for a formal appraisal of whether there was a need for the restructuring board to continue.
Will the credit unions that contributed to the €250 million which, in hindsight, was never necessary get their money back? While I acknowledge that it may be unfair to ask Mr. McCarthy, given that he is the auditor, will he shed any light on whether we should write to the Department?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The environment fund is outstanding. I refer to the letter from the Secretary General, when he said the Department and officials from the Comptroller and Auditor General agreed bilaterally that the fund account would be submitted by 30 June each year. We accepted that the Department would present it only by 30 June. The previous year, we received the fund account in September. We asked for it in March together with the appropriation account but it said it was not able to do that. While we have accepted receipt by 30 June, we have not agreed that is appropriate. It should be presented earlier.
The letter from Mr. Mark Griffin, therefore, needs to be corrected. He stated, as the Comptroller and Auditor General indicated, that last year, the Department agreed bilaterally that the environment fund account would be submitted by 30 June each year. That needs to be corrected.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
We would like to see it earlier. We would like to see it coming in with the appropriation account. It is a relatively simple cash account and it is not a big ask. In fairness to the Department, in the year it was submitted late, in September, it was at the point when the function was being transferred from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. A certain leeway can be given in the first year but it should have been bedded down by now and I would have expected to get it earlier.
We have read Mr. Griffin's letter into the record and the Comptroller and Auditor General has provided clarification. We accept that. The main issue is obtaining immediately the accounts for last year, while for the current year, we will want to have received them by the end of March 2020.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
For the education bodies, there are three accounts. For University College Cork, we still await the 2017-2018 account for audit. St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra and Church of Ireland College of Education are being wound down. In one case, there is a cessation account, while in the other, there is a residual liabilities account. There was an accounting difficulty with the previous year but that will be resolved. Very few transactions are involved in either account.
For the health bodies, we still await draft financial statements from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, and the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council. I believe that the committee has received letters from both bodies.
It is good to know that. The reason I say it on the public record is to keep the pressure on all public bodies, as a part of good governance. I refer not only to the chief executive of such bodies but also to the chairperson on the board. The obligation is on the boards to submit their accounts and I want chairpersons of respective boards to be conscious of that.
We will continue with correspondence. No. 2271, from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, dated 17 June, provides further clarification to his evidence to the committee on a specific employee case that was mentioned on 9 May. We will note and publish this.
The Commissioner states the matter has been referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is not appropriate, therefore, for us to comment on it and he is correct that he is not in a position to do so either. We noted that his previous correspondence contained a mistake that everyone accepts was inadvertent because he was not given prior notice of the issue and may not have been apprised of the details. It was helpful of him, therefore, to write to the committee.
He seems to express some concern about our discussion that followed. Perhaps he does not know how the committee works but if we receive an item of correspondence, it has to be noted and can be discussed. The only reason it was discussed was it was a correction of something that had been said. Further information was sought and the clerk to the committee has followed up in that regard. One such piece of information was the exit surveys that are done if somebody leaves the Garda. We wondered whether there had emerged among Garda stations a pattern of reasons for leaving. In one station, anecdotally at least, there seemed to be a suggestion of bullying and similar issues. While we cannot say that was the case, we asked for a flavour of what was coming up in the exit surveys. We do not want individuals' names or other details. The Garda indicated that it does that type of work in any event. I think Mr. Nugent responded to us on the matter. We should follow up and keep an eye on it, and I hope we will receive a response in due course.
No. 2274, from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, dated 25 June, concerns information requested by the committee and the Department's communication with the Department of Health on the national paediatric hospital. A number of freedom of information requests on the matter have been processed by the Department. Mr. Watt indicates that the information will be shared with the committee.
He said the officials are happy to share the records from the documents released under freedom of information. We will ask that that be submitted as soon as possible. I take it other freedom of information requests are in the system, and some have been dealt with. We will ask for those immediately, as they should be on the public record, and that we receive the new ones as they become available. We note and publish that and will keep an eye that we be given new ones in due course.
No. 2278B is from Mr. Gerard Dollard, CEO, Irish Greyhound Board, dated 25 June 2019 enclosing an organisational restructuring report and a note in relation to the "Prime Time" programme that was broadcast last night. This was referred to at last week's meeting on Bord na gCon and the grants which it receives from the Exchequer every year. Deputy MacSharry mentioned that a report had been produced by Preferred Results Ltd., dated 29 September 2017. We undertook to seek a copy of that report. The Greyhound Board was aware that it had been mentioned and forwarded it to us. I have not had an opportunity to read it. It is 60 or 70 pages. We will not discuss last night's programme but the report is there arising from the grant the Exchequer pays to Bord na gCon.
There is one line in the report which I find interesting or fascinating, depending on how one reads it. It fits into last night's programme, and the Chairman is right that we will not go into it. On page 3, the last paragraph reads "While for the most part the findings of the analysis raise serious issues, on the other hand, nothing was identified which could not be fixed and there is every reason to believe that IGB could, within a short number of years, become a financially viable entity, drugs free and with an impeccable record on animal welfare." That suggests that at present it is not financially viable, it is not drugs free and it does not have an impeccable record in animal welfare. These are all issues that were raised in the programme on the slaughter of puppies, loss leading where they were being sold for 50% less than their value, and there being no checks on animal welfare. When is its appropriation accounts due?
It would be up to the committee to decide. Some 300 organisations are audited. This arose the context in a discussion with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in relation to what has happening in Horse Racing Ireland.
It is very much within the remit of the Department and this committee, as the Comptroller and Auditor General audits Bord na gCon.
We will list it for the committee's work programme in September. We have the report. It accepts it will take a number of years. This is two years. By implication, as the Deputy said, it is not there yet, which was the essence of last night's programme.
We now move to correspondence with private individuals, category C. No. 2243C is from an individual dated 9 June 2019 in relation to the wards of court issue. The correspondent previously made a number of inquiries regarding this matter and a Dáil debate is awaited in relation to a report by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on the matter. While the individual would like to see the Committee of Public Accounts' terms of reference amended to allow it to look at the matter, amending the terms of reference is a matter for the Oireachtas. The Committee of Public Accounts cannot unilaterally do it. This is a matter which has been looked at by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I have spoken to the Ceann Comhairle. The matter is listed, but I do not have a date. A report was produced by our colleagues on the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality specifically on the wards of court issue. I encourage members of this committee to participate in that debate in the Dáil when it takes place and during which they can make the relevant points. The Dáil debate on the justice committee's report is the next step.
I asked the Ceann Comhairle a few days ago but he was not sure. He said that it is in the lottery, but there are only two weeks left and there are many other things in the system. It may or may not be, but I have asked. I can say no more than that. We note that.
No. 2245C received from an individual dated 11 June 2019 provides his comments and views in relation to the recent Supreme Court judgment regarding the Kerins case. We will note this item, but we will not discuss it. It is a matter for the Oireachtas and others.
No. 2250C is from an individual dated 14 June 2019 who has previously corresponded with the committee in relation to Government policy regarding climate change. I propose with the individual’s permission that we forward the matter to the appropriate sectoral committee for any action it deems appropriate. It relates to climate change policy which arose at our meeting on the cost of the State purchasing carbon credits from other countries. However, this is a policy issue and we will pass it on to the relevant committee.
No. 2251C from Deputy Kate O'Connell, dated 14 June 2019, was also held over from the last meeting. The Deputy requests further details regarding information provided by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in relation to Tusla at the meeting on 13 June. The secretariat has included this request in the follow-up information requested from the Department. We note the Deputy's request and look forward to receiving the information.
No. 2252C is from Wind Aware Ireland, WAI, dated 14 June 2019 regarding renewable energy and emissions targets. While I made some comments recently on information provided to the committee regarding costs related to carbon emissions, this is ultimately a policy matter. The letter raises more queries than that. WAI has contacted the committee before. It produced a document some time ago on the cost of wind energy in Ireland report. We received a copy of it and decided that it was not a matter for the committee but more for the respective sectoral committee. WAI has now come back expressing confusion as to why the Committee of Public Accounts was debating the issue having indicated on 7 February 2018 that it had no oversight in the area. It asks that if we are examining the issue of the cost of meeting EU targets that WAI be included in our discussion. The reason it arose the last day was that officials from the Department were before the committee and we were dealing with the cost of purchase credits. It is not our policy area but we are looking at the financial aspects. I can understand WAI's point as we said we would not discuss it but that cost issue arose as part of the departmental vote. The letter stated that we may have confused the issue in relation to emission targets and that they are a good idea but that renewable targets are useless unless they are linked to emission reductions. We will note that correspondence. It is an issue that will be debated further, and I believe a special committee will be established on climate change. When that happens it will be in its direct remit. Financial matters in relation to all these issues will continue to arise at this committee, but not policy issues.
No. 2260C from an individual dated 18 June 2019 is further correspondence in relation to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. This relates to the use of test cases where there are a number of similar cases in the appeals office and where there are a number of workers engaged with the same employer who have individually submitted an appeal. They often look to make a sample decision on a number of cases, probably to see if there a systematic issue involved.
Perhaps it is a way for them to build up their knowledge so they can deal with the cases more straightforwardly and on an individual basis. This continually contests the appeals office's right to do that.
This correspondence raises some interesting questions. I will not go into them all because we have to move on but I have seven questions arising from the individual's documents that I believe would be good questions for the Secretary General. Could I submit those questions to the clerk? Given that other members have not seen them they could be submitted in my name. Perhaps these questions could be listed for next week.
The Deputy can include those the issues and I will ask the committee secretariat to clear it. I ask the Deputy to submit it today and we can deal with it next week. The individual has raised a complicated issue.
No. 2261C from IBEC dated 20 June 2019 encloses a position paper on the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 which includes some of IBEC’s key recommendations regarding the oversight of the commercial rates system. This will be of interest to members but the recommendations are ultimately policy matters. While the committee will forward this directly to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government for any action it may deem appropriate, we note that IBEC's correspondence states:
The collection of commercial rates must be improved [IBEC has included charts showing the collection rate] ... The revaluation process must be scrutinised including timelines and costs, with a view to expediting the process. The work of the Valuation Office and the Valuation Tribunal must be examined. Finally, we are calling for a full review of local government finance, including examination of replacing the commercial and domestic property taxes with a site or land value tax.
This is clearly a Government policy issue. The committee will, however, follow up on one aspect. The Valuation Office has been before the committee previously and it was included in our periodic report. We were very unhappy with the office's slow progress in doing its first valuation and even at this point, which is 15 years after the legislation was passed, it has not even got to some counties. The committee will write to the Valuation Office to ask for a full update on its work programme and which counties have been revalued. We will also ask for a summary of the outcome with regard to the percentages of rate payers who have experienced an increase or decrease or no significant change. The Valuation Office has those figures and has been quoting them extensively. We would like to see those figures on a county by county basis. We particularly want to find out if some counties have been revalued a second time while some counties have not been revalued a first time. The committee will want a detailed explanation and a detailed timetable. That issue was covered in an earlier periodic report and it is now incumbent on the committee to follow up our own previous periodic report. We shall not, however, get into the policy of the matter. Deputy Cassells might have an interest in this topic.
I do Chairman. The Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 was before the select committee yesterday. The Minister brought forward a series of amendments. The Chairman has touched on the Valuation Office. We have had the Valuation Office in before this committee. Some of the particular points we raised covered the tardiness in fulfilling that process and the impact this has on businesses. I put this point to senior officials yesterday. The assistant secretary pointed out that in the last number of years we have gone from a situation where there were perhaps a couple of hundred cases on appeal with the Valuation Office to a situation where there are now more than 1,000 businesses appealing valuations. I have asked officials what is the cumulative figure. I do not know if the Comptroller and Auditor General knows the figure - or if it is the Tax Appeals Commission - on what is the cumulative figure, with regard to net worth, for more than 1,000 businesses that have appeals currently with the Valuation Office. Obviously there is a serious issue with the Valuation Office in conducting the business in the first place and now the fact that there are more than 1,000 cases on appeal.
Fianna Fáil brought forward proposals at the select committee providing for an inability to pay clause for the Bill, which will be on Report and Final Stages next Wednesday, 3 July. This is in the context of the revaluation process whereby - due to the Valuation Office's tardiness - a business might get hit with a significant increase in one fell swoop. A person could be hit with that cost in the following year. Fianna Fáil's proposal sought to stagger that cost over a course of payments. Both of those amendments were rejected on Committee Stage yesterday and I want this on the record. IBEC has put forward its position paper on the rates to this committee this morning. We are in a situation - as the committee has dealt with previously - where €1.5 billion was raised off commercial rates. This has increased by 14% over the past decade and is the main contributor to the funding of local government, yet the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018, which will go on to Report Stage next Wednesday will not deal with the significant issues of businesses facing an inability to pay outside of the greater Dublin area. This is a serious issue. Perhaps the Comptroller and Auditor General has this figure. I have asked the senior officials in the Department about this also. The Valuation Office has in excess of 1,000 appeals on its books. The Valuation Office could not give me a timeline for how quickly the cases would be taken off the books or for how long on average the businesses are waiting for a valuation on appeal to be dealt with. This is a serious issue also for this committee because the Valuation Office was before the committee for a whole day. It did not deal with the valuations, and as a result of yesterday's meeting we can see that it is not dealing with the appeals in a timely fashion either.
For clarification purposes the Comptroller and Auditor General might be able to help us on this. The Valuation Office was before the committee. It is meant to be doing the revaluations. The Valuation Office is not there yet in completing revaluations across the country. The Valuation Tribunal is a separate organisation. Is this the body that handles appeals?
In our correspondence on that Vote we want information on the Valuation Tribunal. This is a relatively new office, like the Tax Appeals Office, and we might find that it is just overwhelmed by the amount of business and may not be capable of dealing with it. What has happened with the Tax Appeals Office may also be happening with the Valuation Tribunal, according to what the Deputy is saying.
They are saying they are putting in additional resources but I am making the point and putting it on record that there are in excess of 1,000 businesses whose rates revaluations are on appeal. This goes back to cases from Westmeath, Longford and that area, whose revaluations were conducted more than one year ago.
In our letter to the appropriate body, whether that is the Valuation Office or the Accounting Officer for the Vote, we will seek information on the Valuation Office. We will ask for information on the revaluation programme and separately we will seek - not financial statements - an up to date information note on the position of the Valuation Office and how it is progressing. As part of the Vote this request is within this committee's remit. We will request they answer the questions on that basis. The sectoral committee will continue to deal with the legislation aspect of the query but any information the committee can obtain may be helpful in that regard.
No. 1630, dated 18 October 2018, was correspondence from NAMA on a full breakdown the committee had requested some time ago on the number of properties offered to each of the local authorities for housing and so on. The committee received detailed information. It was raised at the last committee meeting and we have it on file. I will ask the committee secretariat to email this to members, if it has not already been done. I have a copy and perhaps members already have it. That issue has been raised. Having had a fresh look at that schedule, if members want to raise it at a subsequent meeting, then they should feel free to do so.
I shall now turn to statement of accounts received since the last meeting. There are four items. The Marine Institute is a clear audit opinion. The National University of Ireland, Maynooth is a clear audit opinion. Attention is drawn by the Comptroller and Auditor General to the recognition of a deferred pension funding asset, standard for universities, which is a provision of €750,000 in the university statement of comprehensive income and expenditure on impairment of a loan to a loss-making subsidiary company set up to commercialise intellectual property and to provide consultancy and training services. I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to comment on this shortly. Fishery Harbour Centres accounts present a clear audited opinion. The Credit Union Fund accounts are in with a clear audit opinion. I invite the Comptroller and Auditor General to comment.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
On the National University of Ireland, Maynooth situation, the financial statements recognise that effectively a loan will not be paid back by their subsidiary. The business has not turned out as they anticipated it would and they are prudently recognising and charging a provision in 2017-2018 in the amount of €750,000 for that.
How extensive is the note in its financial statement? From our point of view, we want to know directly from the university how that €750,000 is going to be funded and whether it will impact students and education services.
We will write directly to NUI Maynooth asking for full background as to how the loan was given out, what measures it put in place to make sure it was prudent to give the loan and, if it has not been paid back, the implications for the finances of the college.
The Comptroller and Auditor General used the word “prudently” and this has been prudently recognised, which is very good, but was it prudent in the first place to do this? How do we look at that? This raises the questions that were raised before about these companies.
Here we go again. It is an issue we will have to come back to. We will write to NUI Maynooth on that issue.
The next item is the work programme. Today, we have the HSE and the Department of Health, and next week we have the NTMA financial statements. I want to get the agreement of the committee on the scheduling of the meeting next week. A big aspect of NTMA activity is the State Claims Agency. I ask the secretariat to arrange the timing for the meeting. I propose we deal with the other part of the NTMA business, that is, the national debt, the National Development Finance Agency, prize bonds accounts and those types of issues, in the first half of the meeting, and keep the issue of the State Claims Agency until the second half of the meeting. It will still be the one meeting but I do not want to have one question on the prize bonds, the next on the State Claims Agency and the next on the national debt. We will hold the State Claims Agency questions until the latter half of the meeting. The chief executive of the NTMA will be here throughout. It is just to make the meeting run a bit more logically. We will run the meeting in two halves and we will keep the State Claims Agency issue separate.
On 11 July, we will deal with the appropriation accounts for the Houses of the Oireachtas. We will then deal with matters in regard to the IBRC liquidation. With regard to outstanding matters in the work programme, we can take the Irish Prison Service off that as we have dealt with it and we will also deal with it in our periodic report. We have also dealt with the issue of the OPW meeting with a former valuer. We will see next week how complete we are in terms of our work programme.
It is. On any other business, we have two small items to deal with in private session. The first is the periodic report. In order to publish our periodic report before the recess, we hope to launch it on 9 July, so we will have a brief discussion on that in private session. We will also discuss the IBRC meeting in private session and we can bring the summary of that back into public session.
We are meeting the Department of Health and the HSE this morning but before that, I have an announcement to make as Chair of the committee. Our committee intends to issue its next periodic report on Tuesday, 9 July. A document has been provided to some members of the media which has been quoted from and referred to as a draft periodic report. The document that has been issued is not a draft of our periodic report, due to be published in two weeks, and it is not an accurate version of what will be published. The document which was quoted from is a document prepared solely by the secretariat with no input from any member of the committee. It was written to assist the committee in its consideration of the matters covered at various meetings over the previous months. The conclusions and recommendations in that document have no status. The document that was circulated had never been considered, discussed or approved by the Committee of Public Accounts. It was a document prepared by the secretariat. The document has no standing with regard to the committee. It is not a draft of a periodic report, just an internal document prepared by the secretariat. We will not circulate any draft versions of our work until we formally launch our report on 9 July.