Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 27 January 2022
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
The business before us today includes minutes, accounts and financial statements, 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 20 January, 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 is accounts and financial statements. Between 13 December 2021 and 21 January 2022, 27 sets of accounts and financial statements were laid before the Dáil. I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to address these before opening the floor to members.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
As stated by the Chairman, there are 27 sets of financial statements. In general, they relate to the 2020 year of account and, in most cases, a clear audit opinion. No. 1 is the special EU Programmes Body, which is a North-South body that I audit in conjunction with the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland. It gets a clear audit opinion. No. 2 is the National Library of Ireland, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 3 is the Local Government Fund, which is a substantial amount of €1.5 billion, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 4 is An Bord Pleanála, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 5 is the Credit Institutions Resolution Fund which, again, gets a clear audit opinion. No. 6 is the Food Safety Promotion Board, again a North-South body, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 7 is the National Council for Special Education, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 8 is the National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland. In this case, I gave a qualified audit opinion. The accounts give a true and fair view except in regard to pension funding, in my view. Unlike most other grant-funded bodies, the financial statements of the National Tourism Development Authority do not recognise a deferred retirement benefit funding asset in regard to some of its pension liabilities. This is on the basis that the authority considers that it has not been provided with a statutory or other guarantee in regard to the future funding of the scheme. As a result, it has a net liability position on its statement of financial position, but it still believes that it is appropriate to prepare the accounts on a going concern basis. I have drawn attention to that. I think it should be recognising a matching pension funding asset.
No. 9 is Tourism Ireland, again a North-South body, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 10 is the An Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 11 is the Intestate Estates Fund Deposit Account, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 12 is the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and its accounts for 2020. I give a qualified opinion in that case also. The accounts give a true and fair view except that they account for the costs of retirement benefit entitlements of staff only as they become payable. That is a standard instruction for health sector bodies from the Minister for Health. Otherwise, the accounts give a true and fair view. No. 13 is the special account Hepatitis C Insurance Scheme, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 14 is the National Training Fund, again a sizeable fund of €718 million, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 15 is St. Angela's College, which is a college of education in Sligo, to which I gave a clear audit opinion but I draw attention to Note 11, which again relates to retirement benefits accrued by current and former staff. That is standard for the university sector. No. 16 is the National University of Ireland, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 17 is the Law Reform Commission, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 18 is St. James's Hospital, which is one of the section 28 hospitals. It is given a clear audit opinion, but I draw attention to non-compliance with procurement rules in that case. No. 19 is the Sport Ireland Facilities company, which is a subsidiary of Sport Ireland, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 20 is the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, which gets a clear audit opinion, but I draw attention to Note 9 to the financial statements, which deals with the superannuation arrangements for staff. Discussions are ongoing between the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Finance about the responsibility for the funding of pension liabilities under the schemes. That has not been resolved.
No. 21 is the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 22 is the Leopardstown Park Hospital Board, again a section 38 hospital, which gets a clear audit opinion. No. 23 is the special account for the purpose of the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006.
This is a relatively small turnover and it was reimbursement of charges that were improperly levied. A scheme was put in place to provide for that. It is a clear audit opinion. Related to that is the health repayment scheme donations fund, which had a nil turnover but the account continues to exist. There is a clear audit opinion on that. The Health Service Executive consolidated patients' private property account, which had a turnover of €41 million and net assets as of 31 December of a total of €103 million got a clear audit opinion. This is actually private funding of individuals but it is being managed and held in trust by the Health Service Executive.
No. 26 is the Institute of Public Administration and that got a clear audit opinion. No. 27 is the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which gets a clear audit opinion. There were three of the accounts that were signed on 30 June and only presented in December. They are within the committee's scope for asking for an explanation. Those are No. 4, An Bord Pleanála; No. 8, the Fáilte Ireland accounts; and No. 27, the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The certificate for the National University of Ireland was signed on 30 August but the Department has already provided the committee with an explanation for why it was late. That is in the correspondence for today.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
There is not a definitive figure. The hospital looked at a sample of its procurement. The figure was approximately €60 million and it found 6% by value, I think, that was non-compliant. I will get the exact figure if the committee bears with me for a second. I can get the figure before the end of the session but I do not seem to have it to hand.
I have a couple of points for clarification. On the special EU programmes body, Mr. McCarthy has indicated this is done in conjunction with the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland. How does that work if there are essentially two audit processes?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Effectively, we agree on the plan for the audit and then one or the other audit office carries out the actual audit work. When the report on the audit is prepared, it is assessed by both management teams. If I raise a matter, the Northern Ireland audit office may pursue it with the client if that is what is required, for example. We each lead on three or four of the actual audits.
Okay. On Fáilte Ireland, Mr. McCarthy mentioned an issue with pension liability. Is that an issue for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform or the line Department? With whom should we correspond to get clarification?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
That is the line Department, really. The obligation is on the board of the agency to form a view as to what is the appropriate accounting policy to pursue. It has taken a very strict line but when we analyse the circumstances of the pension liability, it is effectively saying there is no guarantee it will be funded in the future to meet the pension liabilities that staff have already accrued. To my mind, that does not actually reflect the reality and there is an implication. If an action was taken in law, I think the funding would have to be provided.
I suggest we write to Bord Fáilte in the first instance to get clarification. It would also probably be appropriate to at least raise the matter with the line Department. We should reference that it is has been brought to our attention.
There are a couple of accounts with very small amounts of money. The special account for hepatitis C has €1.7 million, and this is small in the wider comparison. Will Mr. McCarthy explain the current purpose of that account?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
In the mid 1990s, because of HIV contamination and certain people suffering as a result of blood transfusion contamination, they were not able to get life insurance. There was a difficulty around things like mortgages and so on. A scheme was put in place where the State would, effectively, subvent their insurance. Payments are being made year on year to allow them to cover the risks.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I do not think so. Around 2003 or 2004, it was determined that residents in long-term care institutions had been charged on a basis that did not have a legal foundation, so moneys had to be repaid to them. The special account was used to make the payments back to those who had been improperly charged or to their estates. It was recognised that some people might feel they need it because they had gotten a service and paid for it. It was anticipated that some people would feel it appropriate to donate the money instead of receiving it back. The donations account is there to receive that money instead of it going to the individuals. There has been very little turnover on that.
I am sorry for holding us up and the Chairman will be glad to hear I must go to the Dáil Chamber in approximately ten minutes so he will be rid of me for a while at least.
I have a general query in the first instance relating to accounts and financial statements, particularly financial planning. This arises from the commentary relating to the scandalous case of the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, in County Kerry. It is a scandal in the first instance in health terms. It is clear from reading the reports that there will be a significant financial outlay in potential legal proceedings and in the resolution of the matters. There is a Garda investigation and a review ongoing but this is not the first time we have had a case like this. In fact, our health services are littered with stories and scandals of this nature.
Where is such a case reflected in terms of the potential liabilities that could arise as a result of such cases in accounts and financial statements? I am talking about the ultimate cost to the taxpayer. How do we as a committee examine the financial obligations? Whatever the findings of the Garda investigation or the review, we can probably say with absolute certainty that there will not be a single individual in the HSE who will pay a price with a job, reprimand or future entitlements. That, in itself, is as big a scandal as the actions in Kerry. I am seeking the Chairman's guidance as much as anything else in asking what role this committee can play in such cases to hold people to account.
A HSE spokesperson is quoted as saying: "It would be unfair of us as an organisation to single out any identifiable individual or individuals." I would say it is unfair on the people affected for the individuals responsible not to be identified and singled out in this instance. I would like clarification on the role of this committee in that regard.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I would expect that the claims that will be lodged will be lodged with the State Claims Agency, or at least handled by it. It will, in due course, identify what it expects the implications of the claims will be. That will be added to the contingent liability that it reports in its financial statements each year. Ultimately, when payments come to be made, there will be a charge on the HSE at corporate level, as it were, and it will not appear in any other set of financial statements.
That clarifies one aspect. Another is that this committee is not in a position to deal with this on its own. Due to situations like this one, the cervical smear tests and so on, compensation is running into the billions of euro at a time when we are trying to get investment to fill gaps in key areas of the health services and other services. This is a question that the Oireachtas needs to address. There are very few people who would disagree with the Deputy.
There will be an inquiry. I want to be careful about the Kerry situation because there will be legal proceedings and we do not want to do anything to jeopardise them, but on the face of it, what has happened looks scandalous.
In situations where there is clearly mismanagement or some other problem, no one is held to account and there is no penalty. Until we reach a point where there is some kind of penalty in such situations, they will keep happening one after the other. These situations have arisen during each of the three Dáileanna of which I have been a Member. There were inquiries and reports were issued. The people who are responsible can shrug their shoulders and say there is a report, but there is sometimes very little action taken on those reports. More important, no one is held to account. If that changed, people would be more careful to avoid giving rise to these situations.
We have to be cognisant of the fact that, if I make an inquiry about health services in Wexford, I am directed to CHO 5. To get an answer from CHO 5, I have to ask a parliamentary question. Someone could go around in circles for a long time all while a situation is developing. I have a situation where a GP has referred three teenagers to CAMHS. They were all rejected, in that they could not be seen. It will take weeks, if not months, to get an answer. I hope there will not be a loss of life.
Regarding Deputy Carthy's point, the consultant in this case will be adjudicated on by his profession. He will face the Medical Council. We purportedly have systems in place that protect children, but they are clearly not working. The system is broken.
If the Secretary General of the Department just took €81,000 in an increase, someone has to have a key performance indicator, KPI, somewhere and be responsible. Is it a big wage with no responsibility or burdens? I do not get it.
It is clear that there is a problem with the systems of accountability. I find it frustrating. As an Oireachtas, all parties should come together and try to do something to put in place not only checks and balances, but also penalties for when people clearly allow a situation like what happened in Kerry or with the cervical smear tests to arise.
I want to move on.
I agree with the Chairman, but if this committee does not pursue the need for accountability in such instances, then no one else in the Oireachtas will do so. We need to be cognisant of that when we are compiling reports.
I accept that.
I wish to raise the debacle of the pay of the Secretary General of the Department of Health. The Chairman will recall that, when we asked the Secretary General about his publicly stated position that he was waiving a portion of his salary, he refused to answer our questions. Having submitted parliamentary questions to the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, I was struck to see there was no mechanism to find out whether individuals were returning some of their salaries to their line Departments. It strikes me as strange that €80,000 could be handed back and it could not be identified in accounts. I wish to make two proposals in this regard. The first is that-----
-----and how it is addressed in the accounts. I am happy that the matter is on the agenda under any other business, AOB, but it raises bigger questions about the type of information that we are getting from Departments.
I wish to discuss the CAMHS issue. In terms of medical negligence, my understanding is that we will be paying out approximately €540 million this year. This figure has been increasing every year and will continue to do so. When the State Claims Agency appeared before us, it stated that there was over €4 billion in claims now. The problem in the Kerry situation is that there were no checks and balances. Who was responsible for putting those checks and balances in place? This person was not a consultant. How was someone who was not a consultant put in place without appropriate checks and balances? This question needs to be answered.
I do not want to delay us but there have been reports, particularly in the media, that the whistleblower has been asked to take time off. We cannot have situations where people are victimised for speaking out about issues like this.
We are dealing with the accounts. With members' indulgence, I suggest that, for next week's meeting, they put together a proposal that we can send to the HSE and the Department of Health. That is the best way forward. There is a feeling in this committee that we need to follow through on this matter.
Deputy Colm Burke mentioned something that was also in my mind, namely, the raft of claims that are coming. Some €4 billion was the figure we last heard in that respect. Are we going to see another €2 billion or €4 billion on top of that? Somewhere along the line, this has to stop.
Can we agree the accounts and statements as-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
May I respond to the question on the scale of the non-compliant procurement at St. James's Hospital? The sample examined involved 20 suppliers and a total spend of €59 million. Of that, it was found that 6% by value - over €3 million - was non-compliant. It was sizeable. That was not a full survey of all procurement.
We will deal with the substantive issue on the agenda. Are the statements noted? Agreed. As usual the listing of accounts and financial statements will be published as part of our minutes.
Moving to correspondence, as previously agreed, items that were not flagged for discussion at this meeting will continue to be dealt with in accordance with the proposed actions that have been circulated, and decisions taken by the committee in respect of correspondence are recorded in the minutes of our meetings and published on the web page.
The first category of correspondence under which members have flagged items for discussion is B, correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers and follow-up to matters relating to previous meetings.
No. 1009 B is correspondence from Mr. Niall Cody, chairman, Office of the Revenue Commissioners, dated 14 January 2022. It provides information requested by the committee on ten diverse issues, including the taxation of couriers, the number and associated value of seizures of drugs and cigarettes from 2019 to 2021, expenditure on facilities at Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort due to Brexit, a monthly analysis of the support Revenue has provided to each sector during the pandemic, and the settlement between Revenue and Perrigo. It is proposed to note and publish this item. It was flagged for discussion by me and Deputy Matt Carthy.
Two separate pieces of correspondence come under No. 1009. One gave a breakdown of the use of the voluntary PAYE scheme over the 15-year period from 2004 to 2018. There is a table of the gross pay of the taxation by a number of employees and number of employers. One thing that stood out, which I found very unusual, was that in 2018 the gross pay of those ten employers for 154 employees was €1,524,970 and tax paid €22,329, and the number of employees 154. That means that the wage for each employee was about just over €10,000. The taxation the PAYE paid was €144 for the year by employee. I want to take more time with this but it is something that we may have to follow up again with Revenue. There is certainly something unusual about that.
Deputy Carthy has left, but other members may wish to comment on the second document. It relates to bogus-self employment. Revenue have sent a document from the Chief Inspector of Taxes. It is copy of a document dated from 1997. It says that compliance of tax by couriers "was 'put on hold' until the status of couriers for tax and PRSI was concluded". This is from 7 March 1997. It states:
As you are aware, the Department of Social Welfare Appeals Office have decided that a motorcycle courier who provided his own equipment (e.g. motor cycle, special gear etc.) and was engaged under the standard courier contract was insurable as a self-employed contractor under the Social Welfare Acts.
While the decision is not binding on Revenue I propose, as previously stated, in the interest of uniformity and with a view to bringing the matter to a conclusion, to treat couriers as self-employed for tax purposes, whether deliveries are made by van, motorcycle or bicycle ...
That appears to be at complete odds with what we were told when Revenue was before the committee, namely, that there was not a uniform decision to treat all couriers as self-employed. The document refers to treating couriers as self-employed for tax purposes elsewhere. It can be seen that the decision was made to treat all couriers as self-employed. I wanted to bring that to the attention of the committee. If any member wants to come in on that, feel free. Any future engagement may have to revert back to that. We will note and publish that correspondence.
Yes, I have it in front of me. This is the document that they have in front of them when they are making these decisions. Before we get to the nebulous definition of whether a courier paid for his or her own helmet defining or whether he or she is self-employed, I must state that any document dating from 1997 completely predates any of the current business models relating to couriers. I just want to record my surprise that it is a document from 1997 that we are referring to when we are making these kinds of decisions. Is it worth following up with Revenue whether this is really the most up-to-date piece that it has?
It is from the Chief Inspector of Taxes to Mr. Kieran Ryan, chartered accountant. There is absolute clarification in that letter dated 7 March 1997. That is the point I am making. It seems to be at odds with many of the answers we got here.
Looking at the table of taxation for the ten companies, the income is in the region of €10,000 per employee and the taxation yield is €144 for a year in 2018 seems very much at odds with the reality of what that might be.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I think in the evidence given by the chairman when he was here last, he did say that a very substantial number are employees and they are taxed as employees through the PAYE system. The current figures are only in relation to those who are availing of a PAYE facility. Even though they are treated as self-employed, they are availing of a Revenue facility for payments. That completes their process. At €10,000 a year and with significant expenses deductions, there would be very little income tax liability.
You would not have a great lifestyle out of that.
No. 1011B is correspondence from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General, Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, dated 17 January 2022. It provides detailed information requested by the committee in respect of the national broadband plan.
That will be relevant to our meeting with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, and the Department on 10 February. We are meeting with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, next week. Information is also provided relating to grants under the retrofitting scheme. It is proposed to note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. There are a number of issues in it that I prefer to keep until next week, having had some time to look at it yesterday.
No. 1014B is from Mr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, dated 18 January 2022. This arises from information requested by the committee regarding compliance with procurement guidelines. Last week, we considered an interim response from the Secretary General, No. R1004, and the substantive response is before us today. In its 2020 accounts, the Department disclosed non-compliant procurement totalling over €91 million, and 151 of the 153 contracts concerned related to the provision of international protection accommodation, which is part of direct provision. Responsibility for this area was transferred to the Department from the Department of Justice in 2020. In No. R0939, the Secretary General explained that he took the view that these accounts, which the Department of Justice considered to be competitively procured, should be included in the disclosure of an uncompliant procurement for 2020. Linked to efforts to address this non-compliance is the Department’s work in implementing the White Paper to end direct provision and to establish a new international protection support service. The Secretary General includes an overview of that process. It is proposed to note and publish this item, except for details of the individual contracts which are provided on a confidential basis, and also to forward it to the relevant sectoral committee for its information. Is that agreed? Agreed. Two Deputies had flagged that for discussion but they are not present.
It was just about getting an update. There were recommendations from the advisory group, and that included the number completed in the fourth quarter of last year. Could we look for an update on that? Also, could we ask when we can expect a timeline for the implementation of the White Paper?
Okay, we will ask for that.
Finally, members will recall that we had requested information regarding 11 bodies that provide funding to An Taisce and agreed to consider those responses together today. However, while analysing the information the secretariat noticed that it is not complete. Any payments that were made to An Taisce from the then Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would have been made exclusively by the heritage division of that Department. Responsibility for the heritage function no longer resides with that Department as it transferred to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage as part of the transfer of functions in 2020. As the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage did not provide the requested information relating to its heritage function, for which it now has retrospective responsibility, the secretariat has sought an update on the heritage funding. While it is open to any member to address the responses now, I propose that we hold over consideration until we have the complete picture. Is that agreed?
Some Departments have five or six different roles. This one went to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Hopefully, we will have it soon.
No other items of correspondence have been flagged for consideration today.
The next item is the work programme. Next week, on 3 February, we will engage with Transport Infrastructure Ireland to examine its 2020 financial statements. On 10 February, we are scheduled to examine expenditure on the national broadband plan with NBI and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. As agreed last week, we have a series of housing-related meetings scheduled after that with the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government, the Residential Tenancies Board and Home Building Finance Ireland. The secretariat is working to make the necessary arrangements which would take us up to 3 March.
With regard to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, an issue that has arisen is the provision of women's refuges, and, unfortunately, it has become more pressing in the past fortnight for the wrong reasons. There are nine counties without a refuge and it is causing big problems. Perhaps we could add it in and take it as a small item in one of those meetings. We could address that with the Department regarding what is being spent on it, what money it has and what plans there are for the future. Nine counties, including Laois and Offaly, do not have a premises. Women and children are being sent miles away from schools, doctors, support groups and families, with no transport and nothing. That is along with the trauma of being out of the family home and in many cases being victims of domestic violence. One can imagine the extra layer of difficulty. I have dealt with too many of them, unfortunately, over the years. Does Deputy Hourigan wish to come in on that?
Yes, Chairman. To be honest, I was going to ask if we could include some of the issues regarding emergency accommodation in the 17 February slot. However, the issue you have raised is very pertinent at present so I second the proposal that we include that in it. I might come back to the emergency accommodation on another occasion.
Thank you. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The only other item I wish to raise regarding the work programme is that there are some more developments with the University of Limerick, UL. I propose to put it on the work programme again. Matters are far from being resolved there and there are a number of serious issues that might need further examination. With the agreement of the committee, I propose that we invite the chancellor, who is the chair of the board, to appear before the committee on the next occasion. On the last occasion, the president, who is a relatively new president, was put in a very difficult position. We have to ask the hard questions, but in some ways she was fairly new to it. That is not doubting her ability or anything like that, but she was dealing with a lot of issues that arose or started before her term.
The last issue I wish to raise relates to the three separate meetings scheduled on policing. Combined with the three on housing, that is six gone. With the mid-term break, we are looking at two months gone. Could we amalgamate two of the meetings on policing? There are meetings with the Policing Authority, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and An Garda Síochána. We are having three-hour rather than two-hour meetings now. The Garda Síochána appropriations accounts would need a separate day by itself, but perhaps we could bring in GSOC in the first part of one morning meeting and from 11 a.m. we could take the Policing Authority. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked for it to be included, but I am not sure that we have much to go through with the Policing Authority. She obviously has issues she wants to raise and I want to be fair to her, but I suggest that we do it as part of one engagement. Have members any strong feelings one way or the other on that?
If not, then we will seek to do that on the same day. If anyone has a better suggestion, he or she should feel free to make it, but I suggest that we take GSOC first because there are a number of issues involved. That would be from 9.30 a.m. until 11 a.m., after which we could take the Policing Authority. Would that order be okay? Agreed. We will ask the secretariat to arrange it that way, which will bring things back a week. An Garda Síochána would be taken as a stand-alone item.
Can we return for a moment to the issue of the chancellor of UL attending? Would it be helpful if we agreed a date that was far enough ahead? I agree that it is vital that the chancellor appear before, and talk to, the committee. There is no point in sending someone to us who is not in a senior position to explain what was happening in UL. I feel strongly that the chancellor should attend. Would it be useful to set a date that would give UL a few weeks' notice and allow us to ensure attendance?
There is one slot coming up. It would be after the justice matters. If we are addressing the issues relating to the Garda at two meetings instead of three, it will give us more space. We will try to schedule that so as to give plenty of notice.
That concludes our consideration of the work programme.
Under AOB, which is the last item on the public agenda, I wish to raise a matter and then open it to the floor. It arises from our consideration last week of R1000 from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform concerning the format and content of the appropriation accounts of Government Departments and offices. We agreed to include this as an agenda item for today's meeting. This matter has arisen several times, including last week. It is an area that we need to try to improve. Members might also recall that, last November, we agreed to request that the Department include the committee in any consultation process involving proposed changes to the framework for accounting by central government agencies, rules around management of public funds and the publication of codes of practice for governance of public bodies. It is welcome that the Department has agreed to do so. We also included a number of potential additions to the information presented in the appropriation accounts, including legal costs and pay and staffing. The Department has made changes in respect of reporting on legal costs. They will come into effect this year for the 2021 appropriation accounts. This is a good move and is welcome, as is the fact that the Department has committed to considering the other suggested changes for the following year's appropriation accounts.
However, there is one other change that, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the committee should request that the Department act on for the 2021 accounts. It relates to pay, specifically the remuneration of Accounting Officers. It is not detailed in the appropriation accounts and, as noted in our letter to the Department, this is significantly out of step with the standard of disclosure expected of non-departmental State bodies under the code of practice for the governance of State bodies.
I will open the matter to the floor before requesting agreement that we write to the Department to request that this information, as well as the previous year's remuneration, be prioritised and included in the 2021 accounts. Members will recall that we went through a rigmarole trying to get information on the pay of Secretaries General and we only got vague answers or did not get answers at all. That is not satisfactory. There are now four separate grades of pay for Secretaries General. There used to be three. Exactly what is being paid out in this regard needs to be shown in the appropriation accounts when we receive them, which would normally be the following September. Does any member wish to comment?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
The standard in the accounts of State bodies as opposed to Departments and central government offices is to set out the chief executive's salary but also the fees paid to board members. Departments do not have boards, though. The chief officer of a Department or an office could be a Secretary General, a director general or, as in the case of my office, the secretary and director of audit. There are a variety of pay levels depending on the scale of the office. To be consistent with the code of practice, it is probably appropriate that there be such a disclosure in the-----
We are asking for it to be shown in the 2021 accounts when they are published so that we can see what pay was given over the past year to Secretaries General. Normally, we get the accounts in September. When we get them-----
We will correspond with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to get an answer on that now. Before Deputy Carthy rejoined the meeting, I mentioned that we had gone through a long rigmarole trying to get this information. We asked questions but have been led around the place for a number of months. That is not a satisfactory way of doing business. From here on out, we will seek for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to show this information in respect of Accounting Officers in the accounts of all Departments just as it is done in the accounts of State bodies.
It will not be a big part of the accounts because I do not believe it is a widespread practice. This is a specific issue. I agree it is not a personal one. The fault lies with the leaders of the Government who agreed to a salary increase of over €80,000 with no process used and, as yet, no justification given.
I took umbrage at the fact that one senior Government Minister, the leader of the Green Party, pointed back to this committee and stated that it is up to the Committee of Public Accounts to get answers when he knew that the committee had raised the questions in the first instance and the answer was refused. For the avoidance of any doubt and for clarification, it is appropriate that we would write to the Secretary General to ask for information about this specific case. I agree that we should have a process in place for the medium and longer term.
I agree with the suggestion that we should not have to write to request this information. As the Chair said, it is a battle a day to try to get the information. In future, it needs to be clear-cut that the information should be furnished to us annually. Deputy Carthy has a point about the special additional salary that was added under such controversy. We need to write separately about the fact that it was waived. That is important too. That is €81,000 of public money in addition to the normal salary. It is not to be sneezed at. We need clarification, given how much obstruction there has been about it so far. I see validity in writing to both.
Maybe the Comptroller and Auditor General can answer this for us. Would I be right in saying that the author of this legislation regarding the requirement is the current Secretary General at the Department of Health?
If what we are putting to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has taken on some of our suggestions, is acted on, that would be welcome. It should take this one on board. There is no reason not to. As the Deputy said, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We would then not have this again in the coming years. We would not have to go on a wild goose chase to get answers to questions. Regarding the role of the Committee of Public Accounts, the joint report from it and the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, is absolutely clear in the 14 recommendations. I do not see any reason for Government not to take it on board. We and the committee that Deputy McGuinness chairs did not work on that report for it to gather dust on shelves. That report needs to be acted on. It is clear with regard to benchmarking and how these figures are reached that there are issues with transparency and process. They are laid bare in the report. The case is laid out for what needs to be done. The recommendations are clear. This is an all-party committee. There are Government and Opposition members of this committee. The positions of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, which is the same, are clear.
Along with our duties in this committee, we have a responsibility as Members of the Dáil to make sure to raise this and keep an eye on it, to ensure that it is followed through on. The concern from last year was that if a small group of people can arbitrarily decide to jack up pay by €80,000 or €84,000, it does not inspire public confidence at a time when we are cutting back pandemic unemployment payments and other payments. I urge members from all parties to watch that and to make sure that it is followed through on. We will do what we can to make sure that it happens.
We will write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about the format in the appropriation account in future. We will also request a reply to the question that the Deputy proposed.