Thursday, 18 February 2021
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
135. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the details of expenditure for each of the years 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021, showing consultancy, financial, legal, recruitment, quality assurance and training fees incurred by the election observation programme in tabular form; the amount involved for each service; the name of the suppliers; the nature of the services provided; if public procurement procedures were followed for these services; if his attention has been drawn to concerns in relation to the operation and management of the programme; his views on whether the programme would benefit from an independent investigation to assess the programme against international best practice; if he will direct that an independent investigation be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9035/21]
The Department's Evaluation and Audit Unit, which is independent and reports directly to the Secretary General and to the Department's external Audit Committee, recently completed a review of the Election Observation Roster as part of the standard, Department-wide approach of reviewing our procedures and working practices. The Evaluation and Audit Unit consulted the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, international counterpart Ministries, the EU, the OSCE, and others in the course of this review. I expect to publish this report shortly.
The draft report demonstrates that the Irish system for election monitoring to be robust and effective by international standards. It does however highlight the exceptional burden created by unreasonably voluminous correspondence, repetitive transparency requests and appeals, and via various other avenues which have significant implications for operational efficiency. The effect has been increase the cost to the State of the operation of the roster including through the deployment of an additional full-time official at Third Secretary level to the relevant unit, the reallocation of work to other units, and related opportunity costs.
In respect of the procurement items listed, verification of exact details requires checking against hard copy files which, unfortunately, is not currently possible due to Covid-19 restrictions. My officials will follow-up directly with the Deputy as soon as the requested information can be accessed.
Separately, significant costs arise which are incidental to the management of the roster itself, namely legal fees, as follows: the Department is a Notice Party in a case taken by an individual against the Office of the Information Commissioner regarding a decision on records pertaining to the roster. This required the Department to engage counsel, which the Chief State Solicitor's Office undertook on behalf of the Department in line with standard procedures. The High Court found in favour of the OIC in this matter and awarded costs to the OIC and the Department: however, the case was then taken to the Court of Appeal, which has reserved judgement following a hearing on 27 January 2021 and so final clarity on the question of costs remains to be determined.