Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 20 January 2022
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
The business before us today includes minutes, correspondence, the work programme and any other business. We will go into private session before adjourning. The first item is the minutes of the meeting from 16 December, which have been circulated to members. Do members wish to raise any matters relating to those minutes? If not, are the minutes agreed? Agreed. As usual, the minutes will be published on the committee's website.
The second item relates to accounts and financial statements. At this point we usually consider accounts and financial statements but as these are derived from the Order Paper of the Dáil, which returned yesterday, we will resume consideration of accounts and financial statements next week on 27 January.
We can move to correspondence. As previously agreed, items not flagged for discussion for this meeting will continue to be dealt with in accordance with the proposed actions that have been circulated. Decisions taken by the committee relating to correspondence are recorded in the minutes of the committee meetings and published on the committee's website. The first category of correspondence under which members have flagged items for discussion is category B, correspondence from Accounting Officers or Ministers and follow-up of Committee of Public Accounts meetings.
The first is No. 967B is from Mr. Ken Spratt, Secretary General at the Department of Transport, dated 9 December 2021. It provides the information we requested during our meeting with representatives of the Department on 11 November. We held this over from our previous meeting in December because there is a substantial amount of information in it. The detailed response runs to 22 pages and addresses 19 specific requests for information across a wide range of areas, including the operation of the port tunnel, the number of electric vehicles in the State and steps towards the 2030 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 51%. Before I open this to debate on the floor, I should say that it is proposed to note and publish this correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. This has been flagged for discussion by me and Deputies Catherine Murphy, Matt Carthy and Imelda Munster.
I will probably hold off on making a contribution on this because we will have representatives of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the National Transport Authority, NTA, before us and some of the information would be useful in that regard. On that basis, this item is fine.
Does Deputy Carthy want to keep his powder dry as well or speak to this now? I am not sure if he is on the call. I have a similar perspective. There is much information in this and we will have representatives from the NTA before us, with representatives from TII in the following week. It would be better to deal with some of the points in it then. We will send a response to the correspondence and bring to the Department's attention that matters in the correspondence will be raised at that committee hearing.
No. 968B is from Mr. Eamonn Quinn, head of the major capital projects unit at the Department of Health, dated 10 December 2021. It concerns information requested by the committee relating to the national paediatric hospital. The substantive response to this query was provided by the national paediatric hospital development board back in December and it was No. R0974. It was circulated for that meeting because it was relevant. It is proposed that we note and publish the item before us today from the Department of Health. Is that agreed? Agreed. Again, this has been flagged for discussion by me and Deputies Cormac Devlin and Catherine Murphy. As Deputy Devlin is not on the call, I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.
Essentially, what we have been told is that the Secretary General will not be engaging further on this and the national paediatric hospital will deal with us if we have queries. The Department of Health is not a disinterested party, however, and if there are escalating costs, they will come through in the budget at the Department of Health. I want to flag this and none of us will be fobbed off with an argument that this is nothing to do with the Department of Health. At the end of the day, that is where the Vote will be relating to any escalation in cost. When we engaged on this before Christmas, it was very clear that the €1.7 billion cost may not stay at that.
I concur and it is not acceptable that the Department is essentially refusing to provide information on the basis that this is going to the board of the paediatric hospital. Of course, we will get the information from whatever source we can but we must be confident there will be robust oversight by the lead Department. On a number of occasions we have discussed the huge increases in costs of which we have already become aware. We are now in a position where it seems neither the board nor the Department can provide us with an estimated final cost for this project. Therefore, Deputy Murphy's point is absolutely valid and we should follow up on it.
I apologise for coming in late but I take it the committee has dealt with the correspondence from the Department of Transport. If it has, I ask for us to return to it briefly in order to make a point.
We can deal with the questions in a substantive manner then. My point relates to the figures we have seen on the targets for electrification of passenger cars.
Obviously, there is a broader debate about our climate action obligations and that is all well and good, but the Committee of Public Accounts will have to have a view over a period, including with a review of this in the form of a report at some stage with regard to the value for money of this aspect. There is a suggestion that, between 2025 and 2030, 670,000 electric cars will be sold, a key plank of our climate action targets. That suggests that 134,000 cars will be sold on average every year. Given the total number of all cars sold in 2019 was 117,000, there are questions as to whether that will be possible.
Even if it is possible - I return to the issue of value for money - the information we have on where electric vehicles are being purchased suggests they are being purchased predominantly in areas that are well serviced by public transport. There are up to 46,000 electric vehicles on our roads and 21,000 of them are based in Dublin. If that trend continues, we will be subsidising the provision of new cars in areas where there is adequate public transport - I am not saying that cannot be improved; of course it can - to the detriment of areas in more rural-based counties that have virtually no public transport. Over the coming months, this committee will have to have a view on the value for money, where money is being expended and whether it is delivering for the taxpayer, as well as whether it is helping us to achieve our climate action obligations, something other committees will deal with the specifics of.
The figures outlined in the documentation suggest that, between now and 2025, the total number of new electric vehicles will increase to 170,000. From 2025 to 2030, the figure will increase to 845,000 vehicles, or an average of 134,000 per year in those five years.
I was referring to the overall average. In County Laois, only 210 electric vehicles were purchased last year, while the figure for County Offaly was 167 and that of County Monaghan was low as well. I suggest we write to the Department of Transport to highlight the point. The difference between the number sold in Dublin compared with that in the more rural counties jumped out to me as well. Even the figure for County Cork, a very large county, is relatively low, with a total of fewer than 5,000.
If the committee agrees, we will write to the Department of Transport to ask about the cost of the subsidy and the fact that - this is not to penalise anyone in Dublin - it seems lopsided that the bulk of the funding and subsidies would go to the people who have the shortest journeys, while those who have the longest journeys are stuck with diesel or petrol. There is a total of 21,519 electric vehicles in Dublin, which is obviously good but the same is not happening throughout the country. If the committee agrees, we will write to the Department of Transport to seek figures on that. We need also to ask about the first point the Deputy made, regarding how the figures will be met. The average over the seven-year period, and particularly the increase over the final four years, as he pointed out, seems unachievable given the number of new-car sales in the State. Is that agreed?
The point I was making is a broader one. The committee might carry out long-term work on the value-for-money aspect of the State or Exchequer subsidising somebody who, perhaps, has access to public transport to purchase a brand new car while people in other parts of the country cannot afford a brand new car and have no access to public transport. They are, essentially, paying towards those new vehicles. In the context of our remit to ensure value for money, it is something that warrants work on our part.
We will seek answers to those initial questions, in any event. I agree that work needs to be carried out.
To return to the correspondence relating to the national paediatric hospital, there was a substantive response, which members will see in their copy of the correspondence, from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in December, namely, No. R0974. I agree the response from the Department of Health is disappointing, which is the best I can say about it. If members agree, particularly those who raised the issue, I propose we write back to the Department of Health to express our disappointment with the response and to point out, as members have said, that the Department is not just a bystander in this but rather is the line Department with responsibility for the matter. We might ask it for a comprehensive response. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 970B, from Ms Aileen Healy, director of administration in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, dated 14 December 2021, is a response to correspondence the committee received from the Department of Justice regarding GSOC's resourcing. Members may recall this being raised last year. GSOC remains concerned regarding its workload but is working with the Department to ensure it has the resources to deal with its increasing workload and the draft policing, security and community safety Bill, which, if enacted, will increase its workload. The correspondence also addresses an industrial relations dispute in An Garda Síochána and its impact on GSOC's work. The committee considered the information provided on a confidential basis in respect of that dispute from An Garda Síochána in December. GSOC is on our draft work programme for early this year. It is proposed to note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. This item was raised by me and Deputies Devlin and Catherine Murphy.
It is fair to criticise an organisation only if it is given the ability to do the job it is asked to do, and there are some serious issues in this response in respect of just that. This is not the first time we have had something drawn to our attention by GSOC or Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, who gave us quite a lengthy response on a previous occasion. A couple of paragraphs in the response before us are of concern. GSOC is being reformed and we are told in the reply it is important to note this level of resourcing will allow GSOC to deal only with the current workload under the existing legislation. It goes on to state these resourcing levels do not take into account the additional requirements consequent on the intended transition to the successor complaints body provided for in the draft policing, security and community safety Bill. That is pretty serious stuff, given we know there are already significant delays and backlogs. While it is positive that resources are being allocated to deal with that, we need that successor organisation to be fit for purpose.
We are being told that the resources are not being provided to do that. We should express our concern to the Department of Justice on that. I do not believe that we can criticise an organisation in the full knowledge that we know it is not being resourced.
My second point is about the pay dispute involving the senior Garda officers. On the last page of this reply we are being told that senior Garda officers have withdrawn from work they consider outside their core duties. Can we check with GSOC whether this is deemed to be a core duty, and if this is something they are obliged to do? I do not see how GSOC can function without this co-operation. I believe that this dispute has been going on since last July. We must check again with the Department of Justice exactly what exactly is the plan of action to deal with this, and to find out if this is regarded as a core duty.
The paragraph that caught my eye was the pay dispute and the difficulties this is causing for GSOC. Aileen Healy, the director of administration in GSOC stated: "We have been informed that, since July 2021, as result of a dispute over pay and allowances, some senior Garda officers have withdrawn from work they consider outside their core duties." The question arises as to whether some Garda officers were not taking that line. We do not know. The reply also states: "Such duties include the investigation of complaints referred to them by GSOC under section 94 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005." It is very serious if complaints that have been referred to the senior gardaí to investigate are not being investigated. Even more serious is the following statement: "These are complaints involving alleged breaches of discipline and do not include criminal allegations." If senior gardaí are refusing to investigate complaints alleging breaches of discipline, that would be a very serious matter. Deputy Murphy has suggested that we write to GSOC to ask if this is correct and if these duties are outside the core work, which would be surprising. We will see what GSOC has to say about that. We will seek that clarification from the ombudsman.
Deputy Devlin is not with us. Is it agreed to that we should seek that clarification? Agreed.
I am not sure if I have heard the Chairman's suggestion fully but it would be incumbent on the committee, having received the information, to also ask the Minister for Justice for an update. Every group of workers is fully entitled to take industrial action. I do not believe there is anything that we would like to do to undermine the workers' rights to take industrial action, but it is my understanding that there are other implications. For example, the appointment of sergeants in the force is also being impacted by this. Perhaps we should also seek information from the Minister for Justice on the matter.
The Deputy is happy enough with that. When I see the term "consider outside their core duties", I am a little concerned about that and whether people are defining what are core duties and what are not. We will seek the Secretary General's take on it, and GSOC. Deputy Carthy wants to come in on that.
I agree with everything that has been said. I believe the dispute is incredibly serious. Of course, any group of workers can take a stand when required, but essentially we have an indication from GSOC that senior gardaí are refusing to engage with it on alleged breaches of discipline within the force. I concur entirely with Deputy Murphy that this would put a serious question over how GSOC can operate in those instances. I agree with everything that has been said, including Deputy McAuliffe's proposal that we would seek clarification from the Department. While the Department is probably aware of this, I suggest that we share this correspondence with the Oireachtas justice committee, which clearly has a role in the operation of this matter. Given the overall tenor of the correspondence in considering the challenges that have been outlined by GSOC around to its ability to do its work in an effective and timely manner, as a result of the increasing complaints and other issues, we need to bring its officials before this committee as quickly as possible to tease these matters out. I am often critical of GSOC and the way it does its work, but these delays have a real impact. When GSOC spends several years investigating a particular complaint, it has wider implications. I have previously referred to the case of Shane O'Farrell. The time that GSOC took to carry out its investigation meant that every other agency and individual involved was able to say: "We cannot deal this because GSOC is conducting an inquiry." This led to several years where, essentially, nothing happened in the family's pursuit for justice. We learned last week through TheSunday TimesIreland journalist, Mark Tighe, that in the findings of GSOC in that case, the Garda Commissioner had revoked the findings of negligence in respect of two of the three gardaí who were cited. That report was telling in its omissions as opposed to its findings, and yet even those findings have not been implemented. These delays have real impacts on real people, real cases and the real pursuit of truth and justice. We need to pursue this matter further. When we are dealing with our committee work plan I will urge that we expedite our hearing with GSOC.
We have our work programme for early March, and we have not formally engaged yet. We will ask the secretariat to formally notify them of our intentions and try to have that engagement at the earliest opportunity.
No. 975B from Ms Orlaigh Quinn, Secretary General, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, dated 15 December 2021, responds to a request for information regarding the numbers of people classified as self-employed. The Secretary General states that this is a matter for the Department of Social Protection and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, so it is proposed to note and publish the correspondence and refer the query to those bodies. Is that agreed to? Agreed. Deputy Munster had flagged this.
That is okay.
No. 978B from Mr. Graham Doyle, Secretary General, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, dated 16 December 2021, provides information requested by the committee on the funding of An Taisce. We have requested similar information from 11 bodies and have now received all of the responses. It is proposed to note and publish this item and to consider the responses together at next week’s meeting. The secretariat will pull all 11 responses together. Is that agreed to? Agreed. This was flagged by Deputy Carthy. Would he like to come in on that?
I am a little bit concerned. I welcome and acknowledge the fact that the Department has corresponded with us in respect of An Taisce.
However, I am a little confused about questions Nos. 3 and 4, specifically the reply to question No. 4, which states:
On 5th August 2021, An Taisce responded to the Department's letter noting the concerns expressed therein and confirming that they are "fully in compliance with the DPER circular 13/2014."
That still does not answer the question about the issue of restricted funds and whether or not the Department is fully satisfied that there should have been, within the final accounts, specific reference to Circular 13/2014 and those same restricted funds. I am wondering if, with the agreement of my colleagues and the Chairman, we can ask the Department for further clarification on questions Nos. 3 and 4 and whether there is an obligation for specific reference to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Circular 13/2014. We should ask how the Department has asked questions and satisfied itself that An Taisce is fully compliant with that circular. It seems that the Department has merely said it accepts the response from An Taisce. That is my interpretation and I am open to correction on that and to guidance from the Chairman. I would like to interrogate that further to satisfy my mind.
Can we work on a response to this correspondence from the Secretary General asking for a further articulation of Circular 13/2014 and what happened when the Department was engaging with An Taisce in respect of that circular? The Secretary General stated:
there are robust arrangements in place to monitor funding from the Department to An Taisce and to ensure that such funding is in compliance with the conditions of Circular 13/2014. This includes service level agreements, ongoing engagement, reporting and vouched expenditure.
I am still not satisfied that the 2019 accounts were as they should have been. If the Secretary General comes back to us and states the Department is absolutely satisfied it has done everything, then fair enough, but I would like to pursue the issue a little further, if I may.
That is clear. Is the committee agreed that we will seek that clarification and further information relating to Circular 13/2014? Agreed.
The next item of correspondence is No. 980B from Mr. Ken Spratt, Secretary General at the Department of Transport, dated 16 December, providing information requested by the Committee of Public Accounts relating to non-compliant procurement. The committee has a standing agreement to request explanations for material instances of non-compliant procurement identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General to a value of more than €500,000. The quantum here is €1,131,000. It is proposed to note and publish that item of correspondence.
Deputy Devlin had flagged this matter but he is not with us. Does any other member wish to comment on that issue? No. We will note and publish that correspondence.
The next item of correspondence is No. 982B from Dr. Orlaigh Quinn, Secretary General at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, dated 17 December, providing information requested by the committee during its meeting with representatives of the Department on 18 November. It includes responses to the 12 questions asked on a range of issues, including the restart grant and the number of jobs created through foreign direct investment since 2019. It is proposed to note and publish this item of correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. Deputy Carthy flagged this matter for discussion.
Many of the questions that arise can be dealt with during our future engagement with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. There is clearly a policy issue here. We can see that some counties are being particularly badly served in terms of foreign direct investment, FDI. My home county of Monaghan, across 2019 and 2020, saw the creation of an additional ten jobs through FDI, which compares badly to almost every other county, notwithstanding those that suffered significant job losses. An additional ten jobs is a dismal return. There is a wider issue around the regional breakdown of the creation of jobs. Government representatives all always at pains to say that two thirds of jobs created by the IDA are outside Dublin. That still means that one third of all FDI employment is in one county and regardless of whether that county contains our capital city, it still points to a strategy that is badly balanced in regional terms. I look forward to dealing with that matter further when representatives of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are before us again. Is the IDA under the auspices of the Comptroller and Auditor General?
Laois did not see an enormous amount of additional jobs either. Eight new FDI jobs were created in 2019. That doubled in 2020 to 16. Offaly lost 19 jobs in 2019 and gained 43 in 2020. Some counties are doing very poorly. We will put that matter on the list of considerations for the work programme.
The next item of correspondence is-----
At the same time, we want to move some of the population out of Dublin and get more of them down to the midlands and up to the Border counties where there is loads of space.
No. 984 is correspondence from Ms Oonagh McPhillips, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, dated 17 December 2021, providing information requested by the committee relating to an independent review of the voluntary mess committees. This was undertaken following requests from the Committee of Public Accounts. It is proposed to note and publish this piece of correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
A number of members flagged this matter. Deputy Devlin is not with us. Deputy Munster also flagged this item.
Okay. The next item of correspondence is No. 985, from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Health, dated 20 December, providing information requested by the committee during its last meeting of 2021 regarding the final report in phase 1 of the Farrelly commission. The Secretary General states that it is due to be completed in July. It is proposed that we note and publish that item of correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This matter was flagged by Deputies Devlin and Catherine Murphy.
Okay. The next item of correspondence is No. 988B from Mr. Martin Shanahan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, dated 20 December, providing information requested by the committee regarding the procurement of ventilators during the pandemic and associated legal costs.
I ask members to bear in mind that any comments that might in any way prejudice the outcome of the legal proceedings or encroach on the functions of the court are to be avoided. Members know the importance of that. It is proposed that we note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. That matter was flagged by Deputies Munster and Catherine Murphy.
I certainly will not go into the area where the courts are involved. We need to keep an eye on when that court case concludes because it is one of the cases we will come back to. It is new information for us to learn that the IDA had engagement, face-to-face meetings, in relation to some of these companies. I presume the desktop evaluation was the only evaluation the HSE did. Presumably the HSE had engagement with the IDA on that if they met directly. There was one transaction that has been very problematic and did not work out. It is difficult to see how due diligence was carried out on that. Maybe we need to check what dialogue the HSE had with the IDA about that particular transaction, which we talked about, in regard to the ventilators.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I remind the committee that I am examining the procurement of the ventilators. Obviously, we will also take into account the information from the IDA. We must be mindful that there are legal proceedings ongoing. We do not want to interfere with those, but we will look at the issues that arise.
Yes, I am happy with that. I did not realise he was looking specifically at that. That is fine and I am happy that we are not leaving it. The fact that it is being looked at is the main thing.
No. 989B is from Ms Marie Mulvaney, executive assistant, TII, dated 21 December 2021, providing information regarding the agenda for our upcoming meeting with TII. With the agreement of the committee, we will consider this matter further under our work programme. For now, I propose we agree to note and publish it. Is that agreed?
No. 992B is from Mr. John Treacy, chief executive, Sport Ireland, dated 21 December 2021, providing information requested by the committee regarding compliance and governance controls relating to funding provided by Sport Ireland to Horse Sport Ireland. It is proposed to note and publish this correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I want to make one quick point. I see that KOSI has done a report and gave them a clean bill of health in relation to their finances. There may well be other issues that are value for money issues which we might come back to in the future, such as how they selected the location for the facility they are developing. There are serious questions around that and how the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine engaged with them as well. I wish to flag that issue.
No. 1004B is from Mr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, dated 10 January 2022. It is an interim response regarding information requested by the Committee of Public Accounts relating to the system of direct provision. The Secretary General states that work is under way on the White Paper proposals that seek to end direct provision and replace it with a new system of international protection, and he states that a substantive response will follow. It is proposed to note and publish this item of correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. This matter was flagged by Deputy Devlin but he is as láthair. The White Paper is promised. Substantive work is ongoing and this correspondence sets out that a more substantive response will be provided. We should await that, if everyone is happy to do so.
No. 1005B is from Ms Clíodhna Guy, interim CEO, Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, dated 11 January 2022, providing information requested by the Committee of Public Accounts relating to the installation of CCTV cameras at racecourses. The IHRB states that the board of Horse Racing Ireland has approved the budget required for the proposed CCTV system but the procurement process has not yet concluded. As such, timelines for installation are not yet clear but there is a commitment from the IHRB to provide progress updates to the committee. It is proposed to note and publish this item of correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. The correspondence states that the IHRB will provide them at racecourses that will be holding early fixtures. It appears to be dragging on and is an issue that we need to watch to ensure there is progress on it. The progress in the past four or five years on this has been glacier-like to say the least. Deputy Munster wanted to come in briefly on this.
The Chair is right; it has been dragging on for years. We were previously told that the IHRB had given an undertaking to complete it prior to the commencement of the 2022 season. At that time, I got the impression that it would be good to go for January. We were previously told that it would be completed by the end of 2021 and that was when the tender was at an early stage. I read recently that the IHRB was complaining about the use of drones and people live-streaming races and that sort of thing. People can set up personal streams for races using drones. Yet, the IHRB cannot organise installing cameras in 25 sites. It seems to be the case that the IHRB is prolonging the situation. I do not find this acceptable and I would like that expressed to the IHRB. Can we write to the board about the constant delay? It is hard to fathom at this stage. Each time the IHRB was before the committee it gave a commitment that it would be ready, there was no issue with it and it was only too happy to do this and all this sort of thing. It is delay after delay.
Yes. We can request that. There are 25 tracks. Two were not provided. It defies me as to why it is taking so long. We will seek an explanation for the delays. We will outline our concerns about the ongoing delays and ask for a timeline for putting cameras in place and the progress in that regard.
No. 1008B is from Mr. Maurice Buckley, chairman, Office of Public Works, dated 12 January 2022, providing one of the quarterly updates requested by the committee in relation to negotiations regarding Miesian Plaza, Baggot Street.
The chairman states: "Discussions are now at a critical stage in terms of reaching a solution that is acceptable to both parties.” It is proposed to note and publish this item of correspondence. Is that agreed to? Agreed.
I am glad to hear that good progress has been achieved because much is dependent here on the goodwill of the landlord. We hope that is the case because of the original figure of €10 million regarding the measurements of Miesian Plaza being wrong. Deputy Devlin has indicated that he wishes to speak on this. Deputies Carthy and Catherine Murphy have also indicated.
I thank the Chairman. It is an important update to recognise given the discussions we have had with the OPW on this previously. If I am not mistaken, it was December of 2020 that we were told there would be a resolution to this early in the new year and, obviously, Covid-19 got in the way of that. It is in all our interests that this issue be resolved as soon as possible. It looks like there seems to be a resolution now, which is to be welcomed.
I will believe it when I see it in terms of what good progress indicates. The Chairman mentioned that it will require goodwill. It will also require common decency. The State is overpaying, essentially, and, at the end of the day, the people who foot the bill for that are ordinary workers and taxpayers. We need to continue to monitor this because, as Deputy Devlin said, this has gone on quite a bit longer than any of us would have expected or liked.
Yes, it has gone on for a long time. There is a bit of good news there, hopefully.
We will move onto category C, correspondence from and related to private individuals and any other correspondence. No. 1001C is from our own Deputy Paul McAuliffe, dated 3 January 2022, and requests that the committee makes inquiries with the HSE regarding media reports that it bought a building adjoining Beaumont Hospital for €800,000 more than its asking price when it was listed on the market six months ago. Does the Deputy wish to speak to this? He is not present. To be fair to him, we can hold this until next week and take it then.
No. 1006C, from an individual, dated 17 December 2021, is further correspondence to the committee regarding Screen Ireland. I propose that the Committee of Public Accounts requests Screen Ireland to provide details of any loan payments it has made to the board of Screen Ireland from 2017 to present and to clarify its oversight and governance of the arrangement. It should provide details of any loan payments it has made or committed to applicants or members of the board. It is proposed to advise the correspondent of this and to clarify that the committee does not have a role in legislation or policy and that he might wish to consider contacting the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media in that regard. Are the proposals agreed to? Agreed. It is really for that committee. This was flagged by Deputy Munster.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I would need to review the whole set of correspondence. Certainly, when I looked at the financial statements, there is a board member who is associated with companies that has received very significant levels of grant funding. As to whether there was anything missing from previous correspondence, I would need to do an exercise. I am willing to do that and perhaps come back to the committee on the next occasion regarding this item. If the Deputy wants to hold it until then, I can give her a fuller response.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It is an issue that arises with a number of public bodies where the composition of the board is structured in such a way that participants in the industry or relevant industries are on the board. There should be procedures in place whereby they are not involved in the decision-making. To my mind, however, it is something that has to be managed very carefully. It is important that there are full declarations of interest and so on in advance and that there is not any potential for influence over the allocation of resources.
The article outlines an argument that the site may have been bought for more than the advertised value. The site is proposed to be used for the expansion of Beaumont Hospital. I have a few concerns around it. I would like the HSE to respond to the suggestions made in the article, and to the concern that public money was allocated to the purchase of a site which might in all likelihood be very well placed to serve as an expansion of the hospital site.
The difficulty is that it is currently zoned for housing by the local authority. The question is whether it will require a change of use. Has there been any interaction with the local authority on that? Were there any interactions in advance of the purchase of the site? There are a number of questions on which the committee could benefit from receiving answers from the HSE in advance of us pursuing the overall issue any further. I ask that we get the HSE to respond to the article and to the idea that the site is currently zoned for housing.
Okay. Rezoning may not be the problem but the cost might be. I thank the Deputy. We will seek that information.
We will move onto the work programme. Over the next two weeks, we are scheduled to engage with the National Transport Authority, NTA, and the following week then with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, to examine their respective financial statements for 2020.
The NTA and TII were both advised that the following matters are of particular interest to the committee: the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area; expenditure on MetroLink, BusConnects, the all-island strategic rail review, and DART expansion and underground; and public private partnerships, PPP.
If anybody has any other issues they wish to raise, they should flag it up with the clerk to the committee today or by tomorrow at the latest. People should really have a fortnight to give them time to prepare. Obviously, when witnesses come in, members start thinking of issues they perhaps want to raise. I ask members to give that a bit of thought in the meantime. I suggest, perhaps, that the ask for TII is to put the Ballybrophy to Limerick rail line on the agenda and that we discuss with the NTA its correspondence regarding its purchase of buses to serve bus routes.
Other than the all-island strategic rail review, which is the responsibility of the Department of Transport, all of this falls within the NTA’s remit.
On that basis, I propose to engage with the NTA first. Is it agreed that we engage with the NTA next week on 27 January and the TII the following week on 3 February? It is a better follow-on order. Agreed.
As set out in R0989, the TII does not have responsibility for the areas listed, other than public-private partnerships, and is the sponsoring authority for the MetroLink. If there are other areas of interest to members, they should please let the clerk know so that the TII can be made aware and be asked to provide a briefing before the meeting.
On 10 February, we are scheduled to examine the expenditure of the national broadband plan with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. As agreed on 25 November, we have a series of housing-related meetings scheduled after that with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Residential Tenancies Board and Home Building Finance Ireland. To allow for arrangements to be made, is it agreed to proceed with those meetings, which will take us up to the first week in March? Agreed.
Does anyone wish to raise any other matter in respect of the work programme? It is important that we plan in good time so that not only do the bodies and witnesses being called before us have the time to gather their information together, but members themselves can flag items. It also assists the secretariat in planning the work programme.
Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach discussed the wage subsidy scheme in terms of companies that were receiving assistance while also paying out large dividends. I suggest that our committee write to the relevant Departments to ask whether any analysis has been done of companies that are in receipt of supports paying dividends and the scale of same with a view to getting a further and possibly deeper analysis of the value for money for the taxpayers' funds that have already been spent.
I would like our committee to get in touch with the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Public Expenditure and Reform to ask for the rationale behind the decision to award a salary package to the new CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, that is worth more than €52,000 above the agreed rate. The CEO's starting salary was initially set at €137,356. Reportedly, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine successfully advocated in favour of a salary and car allowance worth in excess of €203,000. This is a matter of public interest. HRI receives a substantial package of taxpayer funding annually. Therefore, it is imperative that we get a sense of the basis on which this decision was made.