The Committee of Public Accounts is a standing committee of the Dáil (that is to say, a committee required by Standing Orders of the Dáil to be established after a general election), and is responsible for scrutinising departmental and certain other accounts. The orders of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts are set out in Standing Order 218 of Dáil Éireann.
The Committee plays a significant role in ensuring accountability and transparency in the way government departments, offices and certain public bodies allocate, spend and manage their finances. The Committee seeks to ensure that taxpayers receive value for money for every euro spent by the Exchequer.
The Committee’s role in examining public expenditure
The Committee is responsible for examining, and reporting to Dáil Éireann, on the annual accounts of government departments and of other public bodies, following the audit of those accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). The roles of the Committee and of the C&AG are interlinked as the bodies that are audited by the C&AG are those that are accountable to the Committee.
The C&AG’s audit remit extends to approximately 289 sets of accounts and financial statements produced by public bodies. Two kinds of public bodies are specifically excluded from the C&AG’s audit remit:
- Commercial semi-state bodies and their subsidiaries (e.g. Córas Iompair Éireann, Coillte, Bord Gáis, Irish Water and RTÉ)
- Local authorities
The Committee also examines and reports on other reports of the C&AG. This includes the C&AG’s annual Report on the Accounts of the Public Services, and special reports of the C&AG. These special reports may relate to value for money examinations or inspections, or to general matters that arise from the audits the C&AG and his staff conduct. These general matters may relate to a common theme or concern across a number of public bodies.
Matters outside of the Committee’s remit
In accordance with Standing Order 218(11), the Committee does not examine the merits of government policy. Sectoral Committees of the Dáil are responsible for examining government policy matters.
For example, a policy matter relating to the Department of Justice is a matter for the Committee on Justice. The Committee of Public Accounts looks at how rather than why public money has been spent.
The Committee cannot assist in resolving individual cases. That is the role of local and constituency representatives.
Allegations of criminality
Allegations of criminality are not within the remit of the Committee and should be brought to the attention of An Garda Síochána.
In accordance with the separation of powers provided for in Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution of Ireland), the Committee cannot interfere in matters of law or decisions of a duly constituted court.
The Committee does not examine the spending of individual local authorities, which are audited by the Local Government Audit Service rather than the Comptroller and Auditor General. The National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC) is the national independent oversight body for the local government sector in Ireland. That body is accountable to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which has an oversight role in relation to the local government sector.