Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 15 February 2024

Public Accounts Committee

Appropriation Accounts 2022
Vote 24 - Justice
Vote 21 - Prisons

9:30 am

Mr. Seamus McCarthy:

The appropriation account for Vote 24 - Justice records gross expenditure of €502 million in 2022. This was an increase of around €35 million, or 7%, on the prior year. Expenditure under the justice Vote in 2022 was distributed across two programmes, namely, a criminal justice pillar, which accounts for €333 million, or two thirds of the expenditure, and a civil justice pillar, which accounts for the remaining one third, or €169 million.

The largest single component of spend in the criminal justice programme was criminal legal aid, in respect of which expenditure of €77 million was incurred in 2022. Expenditure on Forensic Science Ireland, totalling €57 million, was also included in this programme. This includes €32.6 million incurred in 2022 in respect of the new forensic science laboratory developed at Backweston. The total expected project cost is €106 million, and it was substantially completed by the end of 2022. For the civil justice programme, the largest area of spend, apart from pay, is on the Legal Aid Board, with expenditure of €45 million in 2022, or 27% of programme spend.

I issued a clear audit opinion in relation to the appropriation account for Vote 24. However, I drew attention to disclosures in the statement on internal financial control in respect of material instances of non-compliance with national procurement rules that occurred in respect of contracts that operated in 2022.

The Irish Prison Service is formally part of the Department of Justice but is funded and accounted for separately through Vote 21. While the Secretary General of the Department is the Accounting Officer for Vote 21, the Prison Service is headed operationally by its director general. The 2022 appropriation account for Vote 21 - Prisons records gross expenditure of almost €413 million. A total of 70% of the expenditure, totalling €290 million, relates to pay. The remainder is spread across a range of areas including maintenance and improvements to the prison estate, equipment purchases, education and services for prisoners and other operating costs.

Note 6.6 of the appropriation account provides an overview of certain non-Vote accounts operated within the Prison Service, including accounts for prisoners’ personal funds and prisoner welfare accounts. The note includes an update on progress made by the Prison Service in respect of voluntary mess committees, which have been an area of attention for the committee in the past. The note states that an operational review of the mess committees concluded in 2022 and that development of a model for the provision of staff meals is ongoing. I issued a clear audit opinion in respect of the account.