Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 19 September 2019
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, as a permanent witness to the committee, and he is joined by Ms Orla Duane, deputy director of audit. I would like to welcome the Comptroller and Auditor General and all the members back after what I hope was a good break. I also welcome a new member of the committee, Deputy Imelda Munster. We look forward to her input while working with us. I thank Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, whom Deputy Munster is replacing, for all his work on the committee.
The first item is the minutes of the meeting of 11 July 2019. Are they agreed? Agreed. We will move onto correspondence received. Because of the summer break, we have a substantial amount of correspondence in front of us. We will go through as much of it as we can but we might not get it all dealt with today. We can come back next week to deal with anything not dealt with today. There will be no voting session in the Dáil today. We will commence with Bord na gCon at 11 a.m. and we will be able to follow the timetable.
We have lengthy correspondence and I have a letter about the public services card, PSC. There is a hearing about it next week and I wondered whether there was a chance to have a discussion, at some point, about that meeting, particularly in the context of some of the issues that have been raised since the publication of the report. I have in mind a quick couple of minutes on the matter.
We will spend a couple of minutes on the work programme before we deal with Bord na gCon and accounts received and part of the work programme is next week's schedule. The first items of correspondence are category A correspondence, which are briefing documents and opening statements for today's meeting.
Category B, which is Nos. 2387A and 2388A, dated 17 September, from Bord na gCon, includes the opening statement and briefing documents for today's meeting. Is it agreed that we will note and publish those? Agreed.
-----and we will see how we get on.
No. 2389Adated 17 September 2019 from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is a briefing note for today's meeting on the financial position of Bord na gCon in 2018.
Category B is correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers and follow up to PAC meetings, and other items for publishing. The first item under this category is No. 2301B, held over from our meeting on 11 July 2019, from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, dated 5 July 2019, providing clarification requested by the committee on information previously provided by the Department regarding the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. Is it agreed that we will note and publish that? Agreed.
No. 2318B is from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, dated 10 July 2019, responding to the committee's recommendation in Periodic Report No. 4 for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to make arrangements for a liaison or monitoring capability in respect of property acquisitions above a certain value. This arose from two third level institutions in Cork city essentially competing for the same project and driving the price up against each other, which may have resulted in extra costs to the taxpayer. Mr. Watt's reply acknowledges the point. He says there are potential risks in trying to influence bodies that are statutorily independent. However, he understands the Department will consult the Higher Education Authority, HEA, on this matter with a view to issuing a communication to all higher education institutes in due course on potential measures that can reasonably be taken by them to minimise the risk of this occurring. The Department will update the committee on developments in this matter.
I originally raised this issue. It is bizarre. We have got University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, competing against one another and costing the taxpayer money. I understand the point being made by the Secretary General but can we also ask the Department of Education and Skills to send us a copy of the circular it will issue, according to this letter, as soon as possible?
I think he called it a communication. We will see the format of that and ask for a copy of it when it is received from the Department or the HEA. That is agreed. There is an issue that we want this dealt with across the public sector generally but the specific issue we highlighted was third level education, so we will stick to that rather than broaden it across every Department and State agency. It is something we will watch in future but we will deal with the specifics of third level education, which is where this arose.
No. 2319B from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General, Department of Health, dated 11 July 2019, is a response to matters raised at our meeting on 27 June in respect of the scoping inquiry being undertaken by Dr. Gabriel Scally and the delay in publishing the supplementary report. The July reply was addressed to Deputy Alan Kelly because he had raised the issue but it was also an issue for the Committee of Public Accounts, PAC. Is the Deputy happy for this letter to be published?
I am very happy to publish it. I have had an amount of correspondence with the Department of Health on this matter. I am not satisfied with the responses I have received. I received further information on this issue at the health committee yesterday. The jigsaw is coming together gradually but I am happy to publish the letter.
I do not have to suggest that to the Deputy. That is agreed.
Next is No. 2320B from Mr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, dated 11 July 2019, providing a further note as requested by the committee relating to our meeting on 19 June 2019. It includes details of funding family resource centres and childcare facilities under the national childcare investment programme. We will note and publish that
correspondence. It gives a breakdown of all the family resource centres by county and also details of the funding provided to each of those under the various funding categories. It contains quite a bit of information.
We have not received one item. The first one we asked for was to do with pending claims for the Department being managed by the State Claims Agency. In the reply Mr. Lynch states:
The State Claims Agency (SCA) has been requested to provide this information. The information is still being collated by the SCA and will be forwarded to the PAC [as soon as it is received].
We will ask for an update on that because this letter is more than two months old. We want the balance of that information, if it has not been received, to be forwarded to us as quickly as possible. We will note and publish that.
No. 2321B from Mr. Paddy O'Keeffe, Tax Appeals Commission, dated 11 July 2019, is an update on the large cases on its files because we were concerned about very large cases.
No. 2376B, also from Mr. Paddy O'Keeffe, dated 9 September 2019, gives us an update regarding tax appeals in hand. We will publish both of those. Can I see that last one on the screen? I read the earlier one for 11 July in detail. This is the most recent one and it gives a detailed list. It is good to publish them. Most of them relate to corporation tax where major disputes arise. Some individual cases are in excess of €100 million. They give a brief note, which we will publish. It is not possible to give a timeline in respect of some of them. These cases are in the early stage of being processed. Information is being received and examined in respect of some of them. There has been a request for submissions to be made in respect of others. Some of them are before the courts and are being held over until the appeals are dealt with. One of them was the subject of a decision of the Supreme Court and they are examining that. Those ten cases amounted to €2.558 billion, which is a phenomenal amount.
It is indeed. I understand the Revenue will not and should not give us information on individual entities. It would be useful to see if any trends can be identified. Most of those who do not pay the full 12.5% corporation tax do so because they can write items off. The pharmaceutical sector is a big one. We lose on the double because we pay high prices for our medicines and, at the same time, we have a very generous tax system. It would be useful to see if we could identify trends at the end of a year in respect of certain sectors. If there is a reduction in the amount demanded, what was the family of things, so to speak, that it falls within? There will be unusual ones but it would be interesting if trends are emerging because that is where budgets can pick that up.
We will ask them if they can give the category in the next update. In earlier reports, there were some income tax or capital gains tax cases. All the big cases now are to do with corporation tax, certainly in the latest two reports we received, which says something in its own right, and the figures involved are massive. I suspect they must be multinationals of some description to be involved in cases, all of which on the schedule involve amounts of more than €30 million, although there is also an environmental levy among those top ten.
We will ask if they can without, potentially, identifying the companies involved and the category of the industry they are involved in. We will ask whether that can be done.
I suspect, for most of these, the company believes they are doing what is right, the Revenue or Tax Appeals Commission has a different opinion and there is legal interpretation. Maybe the Comptroller and Auditor General might-----
It could be property, pharma or IT. We do not know the sector but it would be interesting to start to see that.
What I can say about the trends, the amounts outstanding in the Tax Appeals Commission, only about two years ago it was just over €1 billion, between €1.3 billion and €1.6 billion, and it jumped to €3 billion very quickly. There is a handful of massive multinationals with a phenomenal amount in play. These are the ones in play. I am not even talking about the ones not in play. The trends, I think, are clearly concentrating on the corporation tax side of it. We will ask for a breakdown on that but I think we ourselves have seen where all of the big categories are coming from. We will ask for that, as best we can. We are getting regular reports, and we can refine them as we go along. Is that agreed? We will publish that particular schedule. Is that agreed? We will note and publish.
The next item is No. 2322 from Declan Hoban, head of administration, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, dated 12 July 2019, which provides clarification on information in periodic report No. 6. Mr. Hoban drew attention to two matters. One is that the title of "Deputy Director General" was used in our report, whereas "Deputy Director" is the correct term. The drafting was based on a transcript where the term was used. We will put that on the public record.
The second relates to a point in paragraph J.8 of our report where a reference is mistakenly made to the Attorney General rather than the Director of Public Prosecutions. I propose to note the correction. The error occurred in drafting. It was a factual correction. No conclusion was drawn in relation to that issue. Is it agreed that we will note and publish that? Agreed. I am delighted to see people are reading our reports with a microscope. We are impressed by that.
The next item is No. 2323 from Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer, Road Safety Authority, dated 17 July 2019, responding to matters raised in correspondence from the Irish Road Haulage Association in respect of the authority's functions that impact on the licensed road haulage sector. The authority has advised it is liaising separately with the association on the particular issuesand has invited the association to furnish specific information and evidence to back up its assertions regarding enforcement activities by An Garda Síochána. In its conclusion, the Road Safety Authority acknowledged that its enforcement checks are constrained by limited resources, absence of fixed charges, deficits in powers and lack of access to information held by other agencies. However, the authority rejects any assertion that there has been a misuse or misapplication of public funds and that assertions to the contrary should be sustained with evidence or withdrawn.
I propose that we suggest that the Irish Road Haulage Association accepts the Road Safety Authority,'s offer to liaise directly with them, with regard to these matters. We will note and publish the response.
To paraphrase what the Irish Road Haulage Association was saying, in layperson's English, is that its members know the approximate number of trucks in the country, they know the approximate number of trucks that are from outside of the State and the number of drivers who are from outside of the State. They believe that Irish domestic road hauliers, because they registered here and are resident here, are far easier to be picked up and checked. They feel that the trucks coming in from outside of the State are not being checked to the same extent. They gave the figures whereby 7% or 8% of the checks are in respect of lorries registered outside the State or where the drivers are non-resident in the State. They pointed out the difficulties with enforcement. They have succeeded in some litigation in getting enforcement against some of the hauliers. Obviously, by definition, it is more difficult to get a judgment against a driver who is from another European country. There are difficulties. The Irish hauliers believe they get a harder time than the foreign trucks and the foreign truck drivers. It is all there.
The one thing that was a little bit difficult, and people may comment, is what the Road Safety Authority then kind of says. If the Irish Road Haulage Association supplies evidence to the Road Safety Authority such as the name of the truck, the date of the truck, where the truck left and where it was going to and who was driving it, the authority will investigate the matter. The details nearly even include the driver's date of birth and where the lorry owner is incorporated. It is an unreasonable request, I think, to ask the Irish Road Haulage Association to do that level of investigation. There is a little bit of toing and froing between them. I do not know how further we can take this matter. We are going to publish it, send it to the Irish Road Haulage Association and suggest that they continue their meetings. I think that is fair. We have gone as far as we can.We have elucidated the issue quite a bit.
Presumably, if they are coming from other European countries, there is an equal spotlight on their own industry or people from their own area. Is there anything inequitable about how we do things in comparison with other countries?
No. I think they said they do not know. They have no information on the enforcement procedures in the other EU countries. They do not know. It is something that the Irish Road Haulage Association can take up through its European associates. There must be associations at an EU level for road haulage because I am sure there are issues that are not just specific to Ireland. Perhaps that is a useful point. From our point of view, we will note and publish the correspondence. We have obtained a lot of information, which was not in the public arena but it is out there now. I hope that it will be in some way helpful to the people who contacted us.
The next item is No. 2324 from John O'Sullivan, Commissioner, Valuation Office, dated 17 July 2019, responding to a request for details regarding the valuation appeals process. We asked about the appeals on commercial rates for business owners, the revaluation programme, the details regarding the resourcing of the Valuation Office and details regarding the Valuation Tribunal. We welcome the information on the basis of information. It would take approximately two years to clear the current backlog of appeals.
We also have related correspondence No. 2341 from the same Mr. O'Sullivan, dated 30 July 2019, responding to correspondence that we sent from the Irish Petrol Retailers Association. Mr. O'Sullivan distinguished between the role of the Valuation Office and the Valuation Tribunal. He stated that the association's comments, in relation to the independence of the Valuation Tribunal are unwarranted and misplaced, as far as they are concerned. There is also information regarding a freedom of information request and the freedom of information appeals process that is available to the association. We will note and publish that.
It has given, as I have said, a chart that shows the publication dates. I also have seen the chart where it has completed revaluations. The office seem to be saying, for several counties, that they have looked after local authorities and that the percentage of ratepayers experiencing a rate reduction in nearly all cases is well over 50%, and is anywhere between 50% and 70%. The percentage of ratepayers experiencing rate increases is in the region of 30% to 40%. For a small number, generally, there was no change. We all know from our own counties where we hear from the 40% who maybe had an increase but we do not hear much from the 60% who had a decrease. I have just given the information as they have given it.
I will make one last point. The Irish Petrol Retailers Association said it was denied information under freedom of information legislation. The association is saying in their correspondence that they gave the legal reason information could not be released as part of the freedom of information, FOI, request and there is an appeals process. We are not the appeals process. It is up to them to go through the appeals process in relation to the FOI non-release of information.
People may have made alterations to business and things like that. Petrol stations have changed quite dramatically over the years and most of them have a very strong retail aspect at this stage.
I am still unhappy that we are not really getting to one of the issues, and it may not be for this committee, which is how they model the valuations.
In a shop, is the first couple of metres valued at A rate, the next at B rate and the area beyond that at C rate, which is a lower rate? I am discussing this in very general terms.
The problem is that the proportion of the area at the front of smaller shops compared to the rest of the floor space is much larger. Areas which have a very large floor space in that scenario will win. It is all very well to talk about winners and losers in general terms - we know the overall take is intended to be neutral - but it may be inequitable even where it is neutral. We all know shops with paid parking on a main street will compete with a supermarket with free parking outside of a town. Shops are struggling and one needs one's main street to be a functioning area. There is a social component to that.
I may not be correct in this regard but things that give an extra advantage to a much larger space outside of a town can be problematic. That particular aspect, as well as delays in revaluation, are the critical points in understanding the thought process for designing the revaluations. Particular sectors were hit. This committee does not deal with the nitty-gritty of such matters. Which committee would address them?
Deputy Murphy mentioned car parking. People pay to park on a main street but not if they are in a shopping centre. That is a simple question. If anyone here has the answer, I ask them to tell me what it is. Are rates charged on car parks outside-----
I ask for a note on that. Some of the major multiples have large car parking spaces. That is not free; they pay to build car parks in order to attract customers but customers do not have to pay for parking while they are there. I suspect that must be included in the rateable part of the property.
I suspect it should be. It would be crazy if it was not because it is part of the commercial premises.
Deputy Catherine Murphy:I am using it as an example. How is it modelled? I may be wrong in my description. If people understand the process, it is much easier to accept a revaluation. There is an absence of that type of information.
We want to know if the part of a premises closest to the main street gets a higher valuation than the area further back. We will ask for a note on the matrix used, or whatever the appropriate word is. It would be useful for people to have that information.
The next item of correspondence is No. 2325 from Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, providing an information note requested by the committee regarding the accounts of the Credit Union Restructuring Board. We requested that because the fund was on the list of bodies which were late in submitting their accounts. The letter states that legislation to dissolve the board is currently going through the Oireachtas and is expected to be passed later this year. The organisation is being wound down and that is why we did not receive the accounts. I am sure Mr. McCarthy will, in due course, do a final audit on the body when it is eventually wound down. God knows who will be on this committee at that stage. We will note and publish that.
The next item is No. 2326 from Sharon McGuinness, chief executive officer of the Health and Safety Authority, dated 18 July, in response to a request regarding matters raised with us in correspondence in regard to the installation of cell windows in Garda stations. The authority is satisfied that there are no matters of concern which require further action under its legislative remit. It advises that the relevant Department is the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. There is related correspondence from Maurice Buckley, Chairman, Office of Public Works, OPW, because it relates to Garda stations and the OPW was involved in the construction of the cases. He advises that a due diligence review of cell windows provided by two approved suppliers was undertaken by an independent structural engineer, who concluded that both suppliers produce windows that are fit-for-purpose. Mr. Buckley also provided an information note regarding the controls in place for ensuring tenders are delivered the specifications set out in the tender. We will note and publish both of the items and forward them to the person who originally corresponded with us on this matter. I do not think we can take the matter any further. We have received a lot of information on a specific issue and we will send it on.
Yes, exactly. From our perspective, the matter is now closed. We will send on the correspondence. We will note and publish that.
The next item is No. 2327, from Paul Quinn, chief procurement officer, Office of Government Procurement, dated 18 July, providing a note requested by the committee regarding the Construction Contracts Act. This relates to a request for clarification in regard to a situation where the main contractor puts in a claim for costs associated with additional work carried out and we wished to find out where the subcontractor stood while the matter was awaiting approval. He has essentially said that there is no provision in the legislation in respect of that matter. He stated that the construction contract does not get into commercial arrangements on those types of issues between the main contractor and various subcontractors. It does not take into account all of the different commercial arrangements which parties may enter into but does set basic standards which are intended to regulate payments between them. Nor does it involve itself in the complexities which arise on a project but rather provides a framework within which parties on all tiers of the supply chain can engage to ensure the cashflow of those executing the works.
We asked about a specific point. There can be delays when there is a dispute between a main contractor and it was a question of where stands the subcontractor in the meantime. Essentially, he has said that they are at the mercy of what happens on a particular site. He said there is a framework but was not specific. We will note and publish that correspondence. It answers the query we raised.
The next item is No. 2328 from Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, dated 19 July, providing the note requested by the committee regarding the difference between national debt and general Government debt. I can state in one sense what that means, which is very good. People become confused. Mr. Moran stated that the general Government debt, which is a measure of total gross debt of the State compiled by EUROSTAT, does not have any netting of cash balances, whereas the national debt is the net debt incurred by the Exchequer after taking account of cash balances and other financial assets. General Government debt is the gross figure and when we refer to the national debt we are referring to the net amount, net of any cash balances. We know the NTMA has approximately €30 billion in cash balances. There is quite a difference.
It is not so much the wording as trying to understand the concepts. We asked for that because we did not understand it and then, having looked at it, I still do not understand it. Mr. McCarthy is saying one thing and the Department is saying another.
I do not mean simplify but clarify. No. 2329 B is from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director of the HSE, providing notes on matters requested by the committee on 27 June about the national incident management system and the number of category 1 incidents. We sought this information to feed into and help draft our next periodic report on the State Claims Agency, in which medical negligence and other claims against the State will be a significant element. Category 1 is major and extreme events, category 2 is moderate events, and category 3 is minor events. The notes give a breakdown of the top five minor events, including slips, trips and falls, clinical procedures, self-injuries, behaviour on medication, and violence, harassment and aggression. The note states that the main problems in category 1 are with clinical procedures. This will feed into our report on medical negligence, the cost to the State and the State Claims Agency. We will tease that out for our next periodic report. We will note and publish that.
No. 2330 B is from Dr. Jack Golden, interim chief executive officer of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, dated 18 July, providing information on the communications consultancy services contract. We asked for that at an earlier meeting. The note states that the amounts paid to Q4 Public Relations under the communications consultancy services contract were €204,000 in 2015, €274,000 in 2016, €276,000 in 2017, and €248,000 to date in 2019. It gives the scope of that contract and what is involved. We will note and publish that. Somebody specifically asked that question the last day the board was here.
I asked. I do not know why it needs to spend that much money on consultancy services for communications. For the record, I think it is unacceptable that that much money is being spent. I do not think it is good value for money and I do not think it is necessary. I might come back to it.
That is a point that will raise its head again. We will note and publish it and make the information available.
No. 2332 B is from Ms Aoife Ní Fhearghail, deputy director of Irish Aid at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, dated 24 July, providing an updated version of a note supplied in No. 2026 B regarding the election observation roster. The previous information note was provided on 1 March. The update includes further details of the findings of the High Court on the matter. Related to this is No. 2362 C, dated 17 August, from an individual who has previously corresponded with the committee regarding the Department's previous information note. He believed the previous information note provided by the Department was defamatory. The committee decided on 18 April to advise the correspondent to raise the matter with the Department directly and that if the Department wished to change or withdraw the note to the committee, then the committee would duly consider that request. As the Department has requested an update of its note, I propose that we remove the previously published note from the website and replace it with the updated note from the Department. We will note both items and we will advise the correspondent accordingly. We will replace the note on the committee's website with the new one. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 2333 B is from Mr. William Beausang, head of higher and further education and training policy at the Department of Education and Skills, dated 24 July. Enclosed is a press release issued by the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, inviting views on detailed legislative proposals and a consultation report on reform of regulation of higher education. We have considered legal powers available to the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the proposed legislation includes reconstituting the HEA as the Higher Education Commission with statutory responsibility for the regulation and oversight of the performance of higher education institutions. We will note and publish this. The Department has written to us because we have been involved in this area. If we want to make a submission to that consultation process that the Minister of State is engaging in, I suggest we resend a copy of our periodic report with our earlier recommendations to be taken into consideration. I do not propose to go any further. We have said what we have to say and will ask the Department to take it into consideration as a submission to the consultation process.
The next item is a big one. No. 2334 B is from Mr. Ray Mitchell from the HSE, dated 26 July, providing information on more than 20 matters raised at our meeting on 27 June, including notes on various items. We will have a quick look through this fairly substantial correspondence. Health is so important that I would not consider it proper for us to note and publish it without discussing it. Did Deputy Munster want to comment on this correspondence?
Of the list of 78 primary care centres, 14 are PPPs. It caught my eye for the simple reason that I understood that PPPs were used when there was a risk associated with a building or the running of a particular project. I do not understand what risk is involved in building a health centre, unless we are saying that people will stop getting sick, will not need public health nurses anymore, that schoolchildren will not need to attend the dental clinic in the primary care centre, or that elderly people will not need to have their bloods checked. Could we write to the HSE to ask it to outline what risks it identified such that it used PPPs to build health centres?
According to some research I did, the 14 PPPs involved cost in the region of €115 million, but I do not know if that included the cost of the sites. Can we write and ask that question? I would also like to find out the duration of the contracts and an estimation of their final cost. In particular, I would like the HSE to explain why it felt there was a risk involved.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The rationale is really a policy area but there is a question around how one designates the method of delivery used in each location. That is a question that does fall to be addressed by this committee. I suggest that the committee bears with my office for a fortnight and then considers whether to write further to the HSE or to examine it first on the chapter.
We need to write to the HSE. Deputy Munster has asked a good question. We know that the Government invited the world and its mother to apply for PPPs in a list of locations throughout the country. That was a policy decision but we can ask the HSE to set out the criteria that were used. I would love to see the whole-life cost of a PPP. If it is a 20-year contract, how much is it going to cost over the 20 years? That is more important than what is paid upfront or what was paid in the first three years. The Deputy will be aware that PPPs have caused enormous difficulty for this committee because there is a deliberate policy of not adequately reviewing them. Departments often wait for several years when it is too late to have any meaningful contribution. Also, because PPPs involve private companies, this committee does not have access them, even though there is substantial State funding involved. This committee has decided, and reaffirmed on a couple of occasions, that it will never note a Department's accounts for any year if there is a substantial amount of a PPP in the Vote because we cannot get behind what is in the PPP. I know that members will not sign off on any Department's accounts when we are prevented from examining how taxpayers' money is being used. It raises a big issue and there is clearly a lack of public accountability here. The Deputy's questions are correct. We will do that in parallel with the Comptroller and Auditor General. If he covers it, well and good but if our correspondence raises a nuance that his report does not cover-----
The contractual cost is important, but I am particularly keen to get to the root of what the HSE saw as the risk. What was the risk identified by the HSE in building health centres and how was that measured in the context of the 14 PPPs?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
My recollection is that, going back to 2012, a decision was made to progress a certain number of capital projects, not just primary care centres, using the PPP model because of the financial position of the State at the time. That included courthouses and schools, so there is possibly a cross-cutting issue there. Time has moved on and perhaps the lease model is now more available to the HSE.
It is very important that we deal with this and I am glad that the Comptroller and Auditor General is preparing a report on it. I will not repeat the issues that have been raised but will add my support to what has been said. In addition, as a result of the PPP model, which I consider to be utterly faulty and adopted for the wrong reasons, the health service suffered. We did not roll out the health centres and that is the most important point. In Galway as well as nationally, there was a call for expressions of interest but not many companies came forward. Those that did come forward backed out, so Galway did not get designated primary care centres. In one sense, I am happy because I do not think they should be PPPs. However, there is no primary care. The one centre that did go ahead went ahead by way of a private model with an enormous rent. The other area did not get a centre at all. There were consequences all round in terms of money, value for money and for our health service. The rolling out of primary care centres in many cases did not happen.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
No. In fact, what I was especially interested in was the very point that Deputy Connolly has made around progression with the programme of roll-out. We prepared a report in 2010 that looked at the progress made from 2001, when the programme of primary care centres began, to 2010. I wanted to do an update on that. We touch in the chapter on the issue of the method of delivery. I hope that it will be a starting point for the committee as it begins to look at primary care centres. Obviously, there are the cross-cutting or tangential issues of the method of delivery, and perhaps there are wider implications for the public sector vis-à-vis PPPs or the lease model.
We will return to the correspondence and move as quickly as we can through the remaining points, although some will require further discussion. The first point relates to a question on the number of people looking for step-down services at a particular date, which is replied to in No.1. No. 2 refers to the budget for home care services, including the percentage increase in money terms and the amount of the increase that is dedicated to meeting commitments in respect of remuneration, that is, salary costs. Details are provided on the home support budget for 2018 and 2019 for each of the regions. I know that all members will be surprised to see that the budget increased because we know that services have not increased. There is quite a bit in that on the Estimates. There is also a note on St. Conlon's nursing home in Nenagh.
There is also a note on the breakdown of the 1,030 staff recruited by the HSE this year. The note explains that the HSE does not include whole-time equivalents, WTEs, or pre-registration nursing and midwifery interns. The correspondence gives a figure for the total health service WTE of 118,888. I was quite clear on the day of our meeting that I wanted to know the total number of WTE staff involved in providing health services. Many of the services are now being provided by agencies, as we all know, particularly home help services. Essentially, agency staff are now doing work that used to be done by the HSE's own staff. There is a clear move towards providing more services through agency staff and fewer through the HSE's own staff. The HSE is not recruiting as many staff as before. In terms of the total HSE budget, whether one refers to voluntary organisations, those that describe themselves as charities, those providing home help services, as well as agency doctors and nurses in hospital, I want to know the total WTE numbers engaged in delivering the health service in Ireland. I include here all staff who are on the direct HSE payroll as well as those working in any of the HSE-funded organisations, including section 38 organisations and the agencies from which services are contracted. I suspect that there are another 20,000 WTEs on top of the figure given. If that is the case, we need to know. We need to know how many people are involved in delivering the health service, but that information is not provided here. We have been given a figure for the HSE's own staff. We will seek that additional information.
A question was raised-----
I have a question on that. That may well be a difficult figure to find because it cannot be measured against the WTE, especially if an agency is an intermittent service provider. How would one go about calculating that?
It is very simple. Agencies are contracted to provide a specified number of hours of service. The HSE wants four hours today, 30 hours this week and so on. The hours can be added up and converted to the WTE. The HSE should know what it is paying for, although I accept that it may not be as easy as it might seem. However, we should know how many staff are involved in delivering the health service. I am not saying whether the figure is good or bad, just that we need the information.
The next item is a breakdown of all loans to section 38 organisations over the past five years, which was raised by Deputy Kelly. The HSE says that it does not provide loans but does provide cash advances.
I will let the Deputy take up the subtly of that response.
I will not take up too much time because this is going to be a long day but this is garbage. The HSE has for decades been providing advanced loans to supplement the organisations because they are not being funded appropriately. This is a play on language.
These organisations simply would not be able to operate without these loans. They provide vital services for many people in vulnerable situations. This is a play on language. Everyone in the HSE working in this area knows what is going on. All of the section 38 organisations relying on these loans, and there are many, know they could not operate without them. This is not correct and cannot continue. I would like if this committee could delve further into this issue. We cannot have a situation where all of these organisations - of which there is a huge number are living month to month because of loans being advanced by the HSE because of the funding crisis in the area. As a State, we have outsourced our responsibility to all of these vulnerable groups and people reliant on these section 38 organisations. I suggest that we might put this area into our programme to seek to include more detail than we did previously. When one lifts the bonnet on this, there is a major issue to be dealt with in this area.
Representatives from the HSE did appear before the committee regarding its annual accounts. Much information is still flowing from that engagement and we will have to have another meeting with that organisation regarding its financial position.
I would like the public to listen to this type of public service language. The question asked of the HSE was whether it provides loans. The reply stated the HSE does not provide loans to section 38 organisations. In some circumstances cash disbursements are accelerated beyond the agreed monthly profiles to ensure continuity of service. The HSE, therefore does not give loans but it does advance cash. This is wonderful language. The people who are spending their time inventing this language would be better off spending all of their time delivering a health service. Regarding the information we received, and we will ask for further information, in 2016 the HSE gave cash acceleration advances to nine organisations at a cost of €16.9 million. In 2017, cash was provided to 25 organisations and the total was €31.3 million euros
It is going way up. These are not loans, they are just cash accelerations. It is fantastic. It is within our remit to write and seek details of the 27 agencies funded last year, the 25 funded the previous year and the nine the year before that, including how much money each organisation received in cash acceleration. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I understand that and in the normal course of events they would be part of the health service. If that money is sitting in a bank account, the HSE must draw it down as revenue in a particular way. Is it costing the HSE money to draw down those funds? Why not re-profile? We might ask that question of the HSE as well. If there is a history of one section 38 organisation having to constantly seek these type of funds then there is a need to do something more permanent. Why would this be repeated each year and where would the HSE get the money? If the HSE has these funds, why would it not reprofile them?
I also have concerns because of the terms governing charities. One of the conditions is that such an organisation is not permitted to make a loss and the Charities Regulator would look closely at that. Similar to underproviding for the ratio regarding provision for nurses, which may put their professional qualifications at risk, what the HSE is doing may well put some of these organisations at risk as well. If the HSE is doing that and still relying on the services provided by these organisations then there is a double issue regarding how precarious they are.
I forgot to put a bit into the question. We also want to know how many of these cash disbursement acceleration payments were outstanding at the end of each of the years concerned. Let us suppose that an organisation is going to get €120 million to deliver a service over a year. Let us say it is €10 million a year. It is also known that there is a problem and we want to know what happens towards the end of the year. There is a necessity to be cash neutral during the course of the year and everything has to be balanced by the end of the year. I do not know how that works but such organisations are required to be cash-neutral at the end of the year. We will ask for confirmation of that. The Deputy is correct in stating that some of the organisations might require re-profiling. If cash advances have increased from €17 million in 2016 to €73 million in 2018 an issue is building up somewhere in the system. Now is a good time to highlight it. We will ask the HSE for further details because it seems to be an emerging problem.
The next topic concerns primary care centres being operated under a service level agreement with private companies to include any centres being leased from private consortia and a range of private companies involved. I refer to the PPP that Deputy Munster mentioned earlier. We asked for information on that. There was also a query regarding the total value of claims received by the HSE in 2008. There is a large chart on page 16 and the information from that will feed into our report on the State Claims Agency.
The next matter was the cross-Border initiative, including the number and value of claims paid out in 2018. That figure was €12.3 million, which represented 6,728 claims. I estimate that is an average of €1,828 per claim. We know that many cataract operations take place in Belfast, as well as hip, knee and similar types of operations. There has, however, been a serious slowdown in reimbursement. Some people were able to borrow €5,000 to go and get the operation and some had to go to the credit union. I am told by my constituents that credit unions are not now giving out those types of loans because of the delay in the HSE doing the recoupment. That is making it more difficult for people who would have relied on the credit union to get a loan. We will ask for a note to be provided on the payment record and how quickly payment is being made. We all know from constituency level that there is a growing problem.
The next topic concerns expenditure on legal services by the HSE. We queried this as part of its financial statement. It was €17.5 million in 2008. Some €9 million was spent on solicitors working for the HSE, €3.37 million on barristers, €3 million was reimbursed for third party legal costs and the cost of the guardian ad litemservices, in respect of associated legal services, was €161,000. That figure of €17.5 million spent on legal services is a large one. A new arrangement for the provision of legal services is being examined.
This all follows from the HSE's financial statement. We next asked for a breakdown of consultancy costs incurred by the HSE. We also need further details on this issue. I am on the bottom of page 8. Regarding the national children's hospital, the HSE - not the National Paediatric Hospital Board - incurred consultancy costs of €11.2 million regarding the Children's Hospital Group in 2018. We want the figures for each of the previous years and the current spending to date. We are asking for further information. A breakdown is given of the €11 million. Some €3.6 million was spent on an ICT digital hospital project, while clinical and operational support was €3.5 million. Design, operation, commission, transitioning and medical equipment cost €1.8 million. Corporate services workforce change management was €1.6 million and project management and other costs were €400,000.
There is €11 million in consultancy services in respect of the Children's Hospital Group that has not come into anybody's figure for the cost of reconfiguring the children's hospital. The costs are popping up all over the place. The other consultancy costs can be seen down the line. We will note and publish this. Some people will want to read this documentation in detail, and members are free to raise any point arising.
The next item in the correspondence was the insurance bill for the HSE, including a breakdown of categories of cover. The HSE spent €6 million on its own insurance. We told the HSE we thought it was covered by the State Claims Agency. The HSE said it has other costs outside the State Claims Agency. Obviously, it has some of its buildings insured. The premium was €3.4 million. It spent €6 million on insurance. This is all laid out in the different categories of equipment and assets it has. Then we asked about private contributions to nursing homes.
I have a concern about the State Claims Agency. There is a piece of correspondence further down that lists all the Departments and agencies for which there is State Claims Agency cover. What is that cover? What does it cover? The State Claims Agency has a general indemnity but that must be a limited indemnity. For example, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will not be indemnified if it takes a case against the Data Protection Commissioner because, I presume, that would be separate as one would be initiating a claim. What does the State Claims Agency cover in terms of legal costs?
It is interesting that, apart from everything the HSE is paying to the State Claims Agency, there are items not included that are covered by the State Claims Agency. We will ask the agency to give us a breakdown in respect of the principal organisations and what is covered and not covered. This all emerged at our earlier meeting. There are aspects that are dealt with directly by the various organisations. Maybe they feel that with some of the smaller items, such as somebody having a trip on a carpet in a hospital, they do not want to clutter up the-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
From recollection, I think the key risks it is covering are clinical indemnity and public liability, so claims being taken on those grounds would involve the State Claims Agency. Here the HSE is listing the other types of risks.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Members may recall the flooding in Letterkenny a number of years ago. There was a claim taken by the HSE itself for reimbursement under buildings damage insurance.
The next item in the correspondence was private contributions paid to nursing homes. The total contributions levied for collection in 2018 was €61 million. This is connected with the fair deal scheme, under which people have to make a contribution. I think we understand that. We raised the replacement of direct home help by agency staff here. The HSE puts the number of healthcare support assistants at 6,000. We have all seen at a local level that there was curtailment in some of the HSE's own staff weekend work over the summer period. I encountered this in a number of counties. They were being replaced by State agency staff. We also had the situation during the summer, which I found frightening, whereby when the HSE's own healthcare support staff went on annual leave during the summer, families were left with zero cover during that period, whereas if the service had been provided by agency staff, who have 52-week contracts, while the agency worker went on his or her two weeks' holidays he or she would have been replaced by an alternative agency worker. Therefore, in lots of homes in Ireland there were perhaps two different people providing the service: the HSE healthcare support providing the service at a certain time of the day and the agency staff perhaps doing something else at another time of the week. When it came to the holiday period, the HSE's own staff were not replaced. The families were told, "Go fend for yourselves." I have letters to confirm that. That is not the HSE's wording but it is the reality. However, the agency staff were covered because they had 52-week contracts. That is where that question came from, and people can read the correspondence. My worry is that now that the HSE has done this - to my knowledge, for the first time this summer - it will do it again at Christmas and at Easter. It has got its foot in the door this time in not providing holiday cover for its own staff, which I thought was dreadful. I have made my point.
Can the Chairman not write to the HSE then and find out about that? There is no point in saying it is terrible if we do not follow it up. Perhaps it is the case that it is simply not putting in place contingencies for-----
Or whatever. Can we just point out the problem, say it has happened over the summer and that we do not want to see it happen at Christmastime, and ask whether it will guarantee that it will put in place contingencies, or outline to us what contingencies it will put in place, to make sure that people are not left without services?
We will ask about its arrangements. I thank the Deputy. I raised the matter verbally with the HSE representatives the other day. That is why this reply is here. However, as the summer evolved - it was early July when we met them - it found more and more cases. We need a breakdown by each of the nine regions around the country. It might have just happened in my region; maybe it did not happen anywhere else. I do not know, but we would like that information broken down by region as well.
This is a policy matter for the Government and the health committee. Like the Chairman, we all have a particular interest in it because it is not working on the ground. I would love the health committee and our committee to look at home help. It has become more and more privatised. I am not sure where we are getting value for money in this regard because we do not know. It just went down that road, with fewer and fewer direct employees in home help. That is one problem, and maybe there is an aspect there for us to discuss. The second aspect is that in my area there is a limit on home help based on-----
No. Well, based on budget, but justified by what is called an international standardised way of assessing somebody for home help, which consists of two hours filling out a form on a computer. Magically, 99% qualify for only ten hours' home help, regardless of whether one has Parkinson's, another progressive disease or senile dementia at an early stage - say, in one's 60s. I could not sit here and not make this comment. I know this comes under the remit of the Committee on Health but it has to be said. We tinker around, and the Chairman is doing a great job and is right in asking about this and teasing it out, but there is a bigger problem with the pretence around home help. If the maximum number of hours for somebody with senile dementia is ten, that person is being put to bed in their home. I will not go into the details but I am raising this in a general way. The service is not being used appropriately. It would take the strain off the hospitals - we all know that. Most people do not even want to go near a hospital. If they got proper home help, it would be cheaper for us.
I could not agree more. I have been harping on about this for years. There are two critical issues. First, an employment order is needed to bring up the level of wages because there are not enough employees in the area and people will not work in it.
I know, but an order is needed for all the agency workers, all the other workers. Second, we need to just cop ourselves on. The more people we can get home help to the more money will be saved in the health service, so it should be demand-led. That is what we discussed in the health committee but, alas, the Department listens sometimes and does not at other times.
In terms of using money wisely such that one is not saving it or stopping it from being spent but actually spending it in a much more expansive way, exactly the same thing happens with the home care packages. In my area the budget for them was exhausted in February. One cannot then complain if people are taking up beds in acute hospitals.
The budget is obviously not adequate, but it is being spent. The argument seems to be that as the bed would be filled, there is no saving. That tells us something about the thinking and the approach to the budget.
There are a lot of issues in the area of home helps and home care. It is a vast area, one that really should be dealt with by the Joint Committee on Health. We can come back to it and ask questions when representatives of the HSE are before us, but it is a very substantial issue. There are issues surrounding creeping privatisation and achieving value for money. If the service is not demand-led, it is governed by criteria, but, as Deputy Catherine Murphy said, they are cumbersome.
From a financial point of view, we could ask for a breakdown of the cost in each of the CHO regions of the home care support services provided by healthcare support staff and the cost where they are provided by agencies. We will see if there is a disparity in the figures. Is the ratio 50:50 in one area and 90:10 in another? We will get details of the numbers of hours and costs as between the home help services provided by HSE staff which we know number 6,000 and the services provided by agencies. It is in everyone's interests to have this information.
Yes. The people concerned know what they are paying their own staff, whether by hour, week or year. The easiest way to manage the pay of home helps pay would be by hour, but we can work out what the figure of 1,000 hours comes to in weeks. The Department of Health is the biggest spending Department. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection also has a big budget, but this issue involves the expenditure a lot of money.
We asked for an update on cash collection from insurers and details of key delays. It is very interesting. We also asked about private patient charges in hospitals. This covers Laya Healthcare, VHI and Irish Life. If a private patient goes to an emergency department, the private health insurer reimburses the hospital. Now they are only paying from the date a form is signed, which could be a couple of days later. In 2016 the private health insurance companies paid €334 million, but in 2017 this figure dropped to €305 million. It dropped again in 2018 to €278 million. Perhaps the hospitals do not have their paperwork in order. They are stating a publicity campaign is being run by private health insurance companies to encourage people not to give details of their private health insurance policies because it is irrelevant in the emergency department whether somebody has private health insurance. The private health insurers are trying to reduce what they have to pay out.
The next item concerns an age analysis of the outstanding amounts owed by the HSE to patients. The issue of public private partnerships comes up again.
Deputy Cullinane asked for a note on the building works planned for the morgue at Waterford University Hospital. He will be able to see it in the correspondence received.
We asked for a breakdown of the number of women who had availed of the grant to assist them in their interaction with Professor Scally. That information is also available. We asked for the figure for the annual cost of CervicalCheck. The figure is available.
We asked for a breakdown of the figure for primary care reimbursement services. It is available.
There is a note on the investigation into the hospice at Harold's Cross. It states that the matter is with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which is addressing some further queries with An Garda Síochána. No further information is available. We have been receiving correspondence directly on the issue and that is the position, as it stands. We will forward any response we receive.
A new wing at University Hospital Waterford, the Dunmore wing, was completed in July and has been kitted out. It consists of five floors, with the bottom two due to be used to provide a new palliative care services unit, the first such unit in the south east. It is to be operated by the CHO. The top three floors will have 72 acute beds which will be managed by the hospital. A joint application for revenue funding has been made to staff the beds and the palliative care unit, but they have not yet received one cent or hired the staff necessary to open the services. Those involved have been given a tour of the facility and say it is first class, but it cannot be opened. Now we are being told that it is being opened on a phased basis, which means that it is not really being opened at all. There is a value for money issue and an issue about the process. If capital funding is made available, revenue funding should be allocated in parallel such that when something is built, it is opened. It is crazy that it has been built and the equipment provided but not opened. Can we write and ask why there is a delay in opening it?
When I raised it in the Dáil, with Deputy Mary Butler, the Minister for Health agreed to meet a delegation of Deputies, which might help to answer some of the questions. If it is happening in this case, it is probably happening elsewhere. We are not joining capital funding with the revenue funding necessary and not getting value for money. Can we ask at what stage the project is and why revenue funding has not been made available?
During the course of the summer we received all of the correspondence received up to the end of July. We received batch 1 in the first week of August. We will have to defer consideration of the items we received in the past couple of weeks until next week. We will clear the correspondence received in the first half of the summer. Only a couple of items remains.
No. 2235 is correspondence received from Mr. Ciarán Breen, a director of the State Claims Agency, on National Treasury Management Agency headed paper. We had asked for a note on mass actions. It will feed into our periodic report on claims against the State. We had received a note on settlements reached by the State Claims Agency in the past five years and an information note on periodic payments. We have received a note on the mechanism used in the evaluation of cases by the State Claims Agency, some of which take years to develop. There is also a list of agencies covered. We are writing back to ask them to explain the areas they cover and the aspects of their work not covered by the agency.
They are included in the Vote of the Chief State Solicitor's office. We have had its representatives before us. The State Claims Agency is only involved in cases involving clinical imdemnity and public liability. All other things, fires, buildings, flooding, etc-----
Sometimes one wonders who gives the advice to take a case. The State has to defend itself if there is a case that it has to defend itself in and it has to evaluate that. Obviously, moving to a different model where there is mandatory reporting, it would be different. However, there may well be Departments that are gung-ho about taking cases. If such Departments are not the ones picking up the tab from their budget, does that drive their thinking a little?
Even in the cases where the SCA does the work, they have to reimburse the agency, as the HSE does every year. The State in taking the Apple case to Europe, for example, will not be covered by the agency. That will come out of the Vote of the Department of Finance. Is the Deputy with me? It is not a public liability case. For example, where the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or Revenue prosecute those caught with the wrong diesel or social welfare fraud and take legal cases, they are not covered by the SCA. They pay that directly. We need to clarify up-front what the agency covers in respect of these Departments because we all assumed it covered everything once a Department was involved and that is not so. We will get that clarification.
Coincidentally, as a result of the State Claims Agency's earlier visits, I asked the Department of Justice and Equality - I can share the PQs - all the agencies under the aegis of various Departments that had powers to take prosecutions, such as the EPA and the fisheries boards. I asked for the number of prosecutions taken by each of the agencies. The agencies all got back to me in letter form and I have a large file of cases the different State agencies have taken. Some of them are for a lot less that one would have expected. I will see about forwarding that file to the committee. It is useful information that I extracted before the summer, Department by Department. It was a slow process and I have a file built up on it.
That is an important point for another forum. I am sitting on information that nobody else has access to only because I asked the questions. The reply to parliamentary questions, PQs, should be put on the record.
That is another day's work but we would probably agree with that.
Next is correspondence No. 2336 from Mr. Brendan Gleeson, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We asked him to give the committee a list of the property sites managed by the Department around the country and the number of Labour Court settlements involving former employees of Bord na gCon. That is on page 8. Members will note, for the meeting later, that there have been no Labour Court settlements during the period September 2017 to July 2019 but a number of issues were referred to the Workplace Relations Commission for adjudication. This is about Bord na gCon. One claim for unfair dismissal was settled in August 2018. Under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 2005, and Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, a case was settled in 2019. A claim for unfair dismissals minimum notice was settled in May 2019. We will ask Bord na gCon about those. It is coincidental we have the information of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, if members want to raise that with Bord na gCon this afternoon.
We had several recommendations from our interim report, which Mr. Gleeson deals with, but we have the Minister's report already. We will come back to that. We also sought information on the breakdown of Department staff on a county-by-county basis and the number of premises it has in the various counties because the Department has quite a big footprint around the country. We note and publish that.
Next is No. 2337 from the EPA office, dated 15 July, providing further information requested by the committee in respect of water testing for bathing water and testing for illicit and-or legal drugs. Members can read that. We will note that.
No. 2338 from Mr. Derek Finnegan, parliamentary affairs, Department of Health, provides information requested by the committee on the appointment of members to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. We will note and publish that.
I am near the last item, for now. No. 2339 from Mr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, provides information requested by the committee relating to subvention payments and over claims for the early years schemes for 2018 and 2019. It states that there has been an increase in the compliance activity as well as strengthening of scheme rules. We note and publish that.
We also received No. 2377 from the Department providing figures for the years 2017 and 2018. We will note and publish that.
The last item we will take is from Mr. Paul O'Toole of the HEA providing information requested by the committee relating to employment contracts for tutors and part-time lecturers.
I propose to stop there on the correspondence at this point. That was the batch we received up to the August weekend. When we come back next week, we will have to deal with the correspondence received in recent weeks. I want to have a few minutes on the work programme and the accounts received and have a sos before we start into Bord na gCon at 11 a.m. I will move on. The rest of the correspondence will be held over until the next occasion. I am aware some Members were interested in the correspondence but that is as far as we have got. Hopefully, we will get to the rest of it on the next occasion.
No. 4 on the agenda is statements and accounts received. I will go through these as quickly as I can. Understandably, there are 30 or 40 items. We complain they do not send them in to us on time and when they lodge them, we should at least acknowledge it. They are the National Pension Reserve Fund Commission, clear audit opinion; the Ireland Apple escrow fund account on which we had a detailed discussion with the Department of Finance before the summer break, clear audit; the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, clear audit opinion; the Road Safety Authority, clear audit opinion; the Food Safety Authority, clear audit opinion, but the issue of the standard for the health bodies about superannuation entitlements is referred to by the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Private Security Authority, clear audit opinion; the Travellers Protection Fund investment account, which has €1 million in it, clear audit opinion; Teilifís na Gaeilge, clear audit opinion; and the National Oil Reserves Agency, clear audit opinion.
I will write to the National Oil Reserves Agency on an issue that is now relevant. I had a look at the agency's accounts this morning. The agency makes it clear that the State is required to have 90 days of oil supplies available to it under EU rules and if the agency does not have the reserves held in the State, it must have them in a bilateral contract with another country that is a member of the EU. I checked the figures in the agency's annual report this morning. I am aware that two thirds of our 90-day requirement - 60 days - is held in the State and one third is held outside of State, mainly in the UK, as we asked this question previously. The agreement we have with the UK holding some of our oil reserves is contingent on the country we have the agreement with being a member of the EU. I will write to the agency for clarification on where that stand in the event of the UK not being in the EU. It is not good enough to state that we have a bilateral agreement because, from my brief reading of the agency's annual report this morning, that bilateral agreement is contingent on the country concerned being in the EU. We want that clarified.
I do not know. We will ask the agency why it has not it all here. That is the first question we will ask. I thank the Deputy. Can we send that note to the agency? I will state we want a reply for next week. They will know the answer to that off by heart. It will be on the top of their head. It has to be top of their risk agenda as we speak and they could give us a reply by lunchtime. We will wait until early in the week but we want it before next week because it is urgent.
The list continues: the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, clear audit opinion; Dublin City University, clear audit opinion, with the standard note from the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding recognition of the pension funds; the finance accounts for the State, clear audit opinion; the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority, clear audit opinion. The Comptroller and Auditor General will comment on Science Foundation Ireland only now submitting its accounts for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Cén fáth? Why have we four years of accounts coming at us?
-----but they were never laid before the Oireachtas for the past four years. We will just ask for a brief note as to why.
Next is Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, clear audit opinion, except there is a note in respect of non-compliant procurement of €5.4 million. We have not got to the bottom of that.
Just as we did with the timely presentation of their accounts, when we made life a bit difficult for them, I am recommending that from here on, every time our attention is drawn to non-compliance in procurement, for example in the case of the €5.4 million, we write back to the Department or agency and ask for a breakdown of the sum, how many contracts there were, why they were non-compliant, and a report. That is just to make sure that they know we are watching this. There is no point in us and the Comptroller and Auditor General just noting it meeting after meeting. We have said time and again that there seems to be no sanction other than that they have to watch that they abide by proper competition rules and so on. In any event, non-compliance in its totality year on year is a colossal amount when we take in all the Departments. I recommend that every time it comes up, we write back requesting a detailed report broken down by the number of contracts and the reason each one was non-compliant. The €5.4 million in this case may be one contract or it may be multiple contracts.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
In general, we try to get them, and they co-operate and include a declaration in their statement on internal financial control where there has been non-compliance. There is a level of detail there. If the committee is not satisfied that the level of detail is sufficient and it wants more, it is its prerogative to ask.
It is to put pressure on them to get it right in future. They would have referred to their compliance statement, as the Comptroller and Auditor General said, but we want more detail. Asking for more detail will make them more alert. I know from the HSE's non-compliance that it is only based on a sample. Was that the totality in the case we are discussing now? Do many of bodies do this on a sample basis?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Increasingly, bodies are beginning to address the totality of their spending and to look at whether they are compliant. That is something we have pushed and we welcome it. Sometimes it is a blend. They may go through a process and identify a certain level of procurement that is non-compliant. We might look then at what they claim is compliant and find on a sample basis that there are cases that we consider to be non-compliant. In general, they will accept the point and add it to their list but there is that element of the adequacy of their own surveying.
We will ask that. The same will apply to Teagasc's financial statement with attention drawn to €1.2 million non-compliant procurement. We will write the same letter. Moving on to Solas, it is a clear audit opinion, and to Enterprise Ireland, clear audit opinion. However, as part of the disposal of its interests in a company in 2018, Enterprise Ireland recovered an amount loaned to the company in 1986 but formally waived its entitlement to €7.7 million of accumulated interest. I want the detail noted. I looked at their accounts this morning. I think they recovered €626,000 in the original loan. We want detail. I think they have restructured the company but I still do not know if they have sold all their shares. We want to know what their investment still is in the company and how that figure of €7.7 million was calculated. I know they never included it in their accounts. It was great to get all that money interest free for approximately 30 years; we just want more information.
Next on the list is the National Transport Authority, clear audit opinion; the National Haemophilia Council, clear audit opinion; Marine Casualty Investigation Board, clear audit opinion; the Higher Education Authority, clear audit opinion; the Medical Council, clear audit opinion; the National Cancer Registry Board, clear audit opinion with the same qualification in respect of superannuation in the health sector, the Economic and Social Research Institute, clear audit opinion; and Waterford Institute of Technology, 2017 accounts, clear audit opinion. There is a reference to its accumulated deficit. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The deficit has been building and I have drawn attention to it. I have drawn attention to a similar situation in other institutes of technology. One of them has been recently in the news about receiving additional funding. I wanted to flag that there is a significant deficit position here.
Can we get a note on when the deficit first started and the changes year on year? Cost containment measures have been put in place, which have had an impact on services. I am concerned if, even with them, it is still going up. Something is not right.
We will write to Waterford Institute of Technology to request the historical breakdown at the end of each financial year from when the revenue deficit commenced and by how much it increased each year up to the current position. Next is the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, clear audit opinion, and the Data Protection Commission, clear audit opinion. One was the cessation of accounts for the Data Protection Commissioner, which is now called the Data Protection Commission. They are on our work programme for next week.
I am moving on to our work programme for next week, which will only take a few moments, and then we will take a short break. I want to mention one issue that was brought to my attention yesterday. We are often hard on public bodies but we want to give a bit of credit to one body that was before us last year. We put them through the mill in respect of delays in the passport office. I received a text yesterday about the office. A person who is well known to me in Dublin applied for a passport online on Tuesday at 12.07 p.m. and received the passport in the post yesterday morning, Wednesday, at 8.30 a.m. That is a turnaround of less than 24 hours, a remarkable achievement. I asked if it was just a freak because we are over the summer hump and he said his daughter applied online in June and had the passport within 48 hours. I want to give a bit of credit to the passport office because it has been the butt of a lot of criticism.
And the guys in Donegal. That is the little bit of good news. We are moving on to the work programme. Bord na gCon is coming in in ten or 15 minutes. There is no division time in the Dáil so we will take it as we go. We will not be here too late in the afternoon because we do not have the break for voting. The following week, we have arranged for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner to come in.
Their new name for their financial statements for the second half of last year was that. The accounts of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner have ceased. It does not exist. The Data Protection Commission now exists.
Okay. The commission is here next week. We will also have a representative from the Department of Justice and Equality. Will that be the Accounting Officer? We are not sure. For the record, we had this prearranged before the summer. The public services card issue has emerged since and it will definitely be a point of discussion. People will wonder why we are doing it. Because the Data Protection Commission in Ireland has responsibility for EU-wide data protection in respect of Facebook, Google, Twitter and a lot these companies, I felt there was a very strong onus on our office.
I want to ensure that it is adequately resourced, given the number of challenges it could face at European level. If there are challenges in other countries, I want to know because it is the lead data protection commission. I want this matter fleshed out in case there is a risk to Ireland. The other issue has emerged in the meantime. They will both be discussed next week.
The Data Protection Commission, DPC, was due to appear before the committee routinely anyway. The public services card issue has since emerged, with a report on it published the day before yesterday. The issue has been in the public domain in recent months. Will the Chairman clarify what we can deal with at next week's meeting with the DPC? A section in the report refers to a chapter in a special report that the Comptroller and Auditor General published in 2015. The previous Committee of Public Accounts dealt with this matter. The chapter considered a number of matters, including whether there were proper business cases underpinning the model and the number of cards to be issued. The procurement contract was based on a target of 3 million cards, which has not been reached. What was most extraordinary from the report was the interaction between the Department and the commission. The pushback from the Department was extraordinary. I have never seen anything like it. The DPC is an independent statutory body and the thought struck me that, if that is how the Department treats it, how does the Department treat everyone else? Issues regarding how the Department treated journalists who made freedom of information requests also surfaced. There is a large amount to look at in terms of the process and value for money elements of the public services card. Our questions are more for the Department than for the DPC. Is it just the DPC that will be appearing before us?
When the Comptroller and Auditor General prepares a special report, he must provide a draft of it - perhaps he does not have to, actually - to the agency or Department under review. There was an extraordinary, almost unprecedented, pushback from the Department against even engaging. It sent 400 scanned pages with no numbers as its response. This is incredible stuff. The Department will appear before us next week and there will be an expectation that we will deal with this issue. Can we raise the issue of the report? What can we ask? Will these matters be clarified before Ms Dixon attends next week?
I understand that. As the Comptroller and Auditor General has stated, the dispute, if one wants to call it that, is between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the DPC. Mr. McCarthy is right concerning the specifics of this case, but issues around the powers, functions and responsibility of the DPC and how it interacts with Departments will arise. Those matters are within our purview. I am not talking about the Department of Justice and Equality or even the DPC. Rather, there are questions around value for money and process dating back to the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2015 chapter, which our committee has not picked up on since. A report now cites that chapter and states that there are still problems and that a contractor may have been given money for cards that were never produced. We need to pick up on these issues as well as the interaction between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the DPC. Perhaps we can deal with the purview, roles and responsibilities of the DPC, but it is the Department with which we need to have a proper discussion.
We have already contacted the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection about appearing before us as early as possible after the Comptroller and Auditor General issues his annual report. It is a large Department, but obviously the issue in question will arise. The budget is in the middle of October, which will be the Department's busiest couple of weeks of the year in terms of social protection issues. It will appear before us as soon as is practicable after the budget. We have been in contact and now have a date for that meeting, namely, 7 November. That is just seven weeks away.
If we are to deal with the public services card issue at that meeting, the issue of not having a business case is critical, not just in respect of that spend but other large spends as well. It is a process issue. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is not the only Department involved. It rolled the card out, but my understanding is that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is the main Department as the sponsoring Department. Why did it not look for a business case? Let us use this issue as an example, as there could be other incremental, longer-term initiatives affected. If a Department invests in IT, for example, it is often the case that, although an argument is made for a modest investment, it ultimately grows. That incremental approach could be costly, and this case is a very good example of that.
We touched on the public services card in our last or second last periodic report, mainly concerning the number of cards being issued and the increase in costs. We did not get into broad policy issues. The Department of Justice and Equality and the DPC will be before us next week. We will send out a note. We have written to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform already. Actually, no. We are suggesting that we write to it to establish a full list of all public bodies that are considering using, or have made the decision to use, the public services card to date and whether the use of the card may be impacted by the DPC's report. We will do that straight away. I believe that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform might be appearing before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach to discuss this topic today. Actually, that committee will be scheduling a meeting with him about the state of his knowledge of the issue. A couple of committees will be dealing with this matter. We will deal with the DPC and the Department of Justice and Equality next week. We will not have the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection before us until six weeks after that. We understand why. In the meantime, we will write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and send a briefing note to members. If necessary, we can have another discussion before we start our next meeting. We will move on, as it is approaching 11 a.m.
On 3 October of the following week, we will meet An Bord Pleanála. On 10 October, we will meet the National Transport Authority. We have a gap to fill on 17 October because of the availability of witnesses. We had a few in mind.
Concerns have been raised by athletes and those who have the capacity to represent Ireland in boxing at the Olympics about the support they get from Sport Ireland. Mr. Andrew Duncan, who is heavily involved in boxing has brought to my attention his concerns about the cost of administration and the absorption of increased costs in that area, rather than the funding going to our athletes.
As this matter was brought to my attention, I request that it be included in the work programme.
The accreditation issue. As I have already mentioned the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will come before us after the Budget Statement as they will need a bit of time around the budget. They will appear on 7 November 2019.
That is the provisional work programme. When the Comptroller and Auditor General issues his annual report at the end of the month, we will see the chapters he has highlighted and that will help us prioritise which areas we want to discuss. We needed to have a few meetings set up for the intervening time.
I propose that we suspend the sitting for 15 minutes and that members resume their seats at 11.20 a.m.