Chapter 7.1 Agency Services - Control of Advances to Pobal.

Mr. G. Kearney (Secretary General, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs) called and examined.

We are now considering the 2005 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Vóta 27, An Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, caibidil 7.1 - seirbhísí gníomhaireachta, smacht ar airleacain le Pobal.

Ba cheart go dtuigfeadh finnéithe nach bhfuil pribhléid iomlán acu. Tarraingítear aird finnéithe air go ndéantar, le halt 10 den Acht um Choistí Thithe an Oireachtais (Inordaitheacht, Pribhléidí agus Díolúintí Finnéithe) 1997 cearta áirithe a dheonú amhail ar agus ón 2 Lúnasa,1998, do dhaoine a aithnítear le linn imeachtaí an choiste. Tá siad seo ar áireamh sna cearta sin: an ceart chun fianaise a thabhairt; an ceart chun láithriú os comhair an choiste, go pearsanta nó trí ionadaí; an ceart chun aighneacht scríofa agus ó bhéal a dhéanamh; an ceart chun iarraidh ar an gcoiste ordú a thabhairt go láithreoidh finnéithe agus go dtabharfar doiciméid ar aird; agus an ceart chun finnéithe a chroscheistiú. Go hiondúil, ní fhéadfar na cearta sin a fheidhmiú ach amháin le toiliú an choiste. Daoine a n-iarrtar orthu teacht os comhair an choiste cuirtear ar an eolas iad faoi na cearta sin agus aon daoine a aithnítear le linn imeachtaí agus nach mbeidh i láthair, b'fhéidir gur gá iad a chur ar an eolas faoi na cearta sin agus scríbhinn den chuid iomchuí d'imeachtaí an choiste a chur ar fáil dóibh má cheapann an coiste gur cuí é ar mhaithe leis an gceartas.

D'ainneoin na forála seo sa reachtaíocht, is ceart dom a chur i gcuimhne do na comhaltaí go bhfuil cleachtas parlaiminteach ann le fada ar dá réir nach ceart do chomhaltaí tagairt, cáineadh ná cúiseamh a dhéanamh i leith duine lasmuigh den Teach nó i leith oifigigh trína ainm nó a hainm a lua nó ar shlí a fhágann gur féidir é nó í a aithint. Cuirtear i gcuimhne do chomhaltaí freisin nach mór don choiste, de réir fhorálacha Bhuan-Ordú 156, staonadh ó fhiosrú a dhéanamh maidir leis na fiúntais a ghabhann le haon bheartas nó beartais de chuid an Rialtais nó de chuid Aire den Rialtas nó maidir leis na fiúntais a ghabhann le cuspóirí na mbeartas sin.

Ar mhaith leis an Ard Rúnaí a chuid oifigeach a chur in aithne dúinn?

Mr. Gerry Kearney

Liomsa tá Seosamh Ó hAghmaill, Rúnaí Cúnta, agus Colm Treanor, príomh-oifigeach sa rannóg airgeadais.

Ms. Sylda Langford

I am Sylda Langford of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and with me is Mr. Gerry O'Regan from the finance unit and Ms Moira O'Mara, principal officer in the child care directorate.

Mr. John Thompson

I am Mr. John Thompson, chairman of the sectoral policy division.

Mr. David Denny

I am Mr. David Denny from the organisation management training division.

I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to introduce Vote 8 and chapter 7.1. Chapter 7.1 reads:

7.1 Agency Services – Control of Advances to Pobal

Pobal

Pobal (formerly Area Development Management Ltd.) is a not-for-profit company with charitable status initially set up in the early 1990s to manage programmes on behalf of the Irish Government and the EU. Following a consultancy review in 2003, the Government agreed to a fundamental reform of the company to address accountability issues, to define its role as a delivery agent for Government programmes and to provide for the appointment by the Government of the Board and Chair. Pobal operates within the ambit of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and its annual accounts are subject to audit by me.

Pobal has no independent source of funding. Contractual arrangements, negotiated with the Departments and Agencies for which it delivers a service, provide that it receives advances to enable it meet the cash requirements of the programmes it manages. The financial statements of Pobal for 2005 show that it had received cash advances of some €174m in the year. €10.5m of this went to meet its administration costs, agreed as part of these arrangements.

Year-end Departmental Balances in Pobal's 2005 Financial Statements

The financial statements for Pobal for 2005 indicate that at 31 December 2005, the company held balances on behalf of Departments and the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board amounting to approximately €34.5m. It had cash balances of some €37m at that time (an increase of some €12m on 31 December 2004) and earned some €700,000in bank interest on foot of these cash balances. Table 29 shows the balances Pobal held on behalf of its main clients, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs at the beginning of 2005, how much was paid to it by way of advances, the administration costs it was entitled to, the payments made by it under each programme and the amount still on hands at the year-end.

Table 29

Balance 1 January 2005

Advances Received

Less Administ-ration Costs

Less Programme Payments

Balance 31 December 2005

€’000

€’000

€’000

€’000

€’000

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Grants for Community andVoluntary Service

0

6,142

183

0

5,959

Local Development/Social Inclusion (LDSIP)

497

47,697

2,112

44,760

1,322

RAPID

462

1,333

783

679

333

Rural Social Scheme

172

24,287

360

23,036

1,063

Other

181

0

0

126

55

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme

12,047

72,549

3,207

64,417

16,972

Equality for Women Measure

32

3,490

315

1,555

1,652

Enhancing Disability Services Programme

0

3,000

146

3

2,851

Other

3

345

75

2

271

Total

13,394

158,843

7,181

134,578

30,478

As the amount of interest earned by Pobal in the year suggested that it had a daily average of the order of €20m on deposit throughout the year, I sought the observations of the Accounting Officers of both Departments.

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Response

The Accounting Officer pointed out in his response that Pobal is a private company limited by guarantee without access to funding in its own right. It was therefore necessary for it to be put in funds by his Department to enable it to discharge the obligations placed on it in terms of the delivery and administration of programmes on behalf of his Department. Oversight and control procedures varied according to the requirements of each programme. Budgets for each programme and associated administrative costs were agreed with Pobal annually.

He stated that funding was provided to Pobal on the basis of advances, drawn down in accordance with the contractual arrangements particular to individual programmes, to meet commitments and forthcoming expenditure. Expenditure incurred by Pobal in previous periods was taken into account in deciding the amount to be advanced on foot of each drawdown request. Funds were only advanced where they were considered warranted to meet commitments on hand or demands likely to arise within the subsequent operating period.

He informed me that an independent review of the drawdown procedures and the funding arrangements in place between his Department and Pobal for the delivery of Departmental programmes was currently being undertaken by the Internal Audit Unit of his Department.

In subsequent correspondence the Accounting Officer informed me that following recent meetings with Pobal, the Company would, for the larger Programmes (e.g. LDSIP, Rural Social Scheme and the Community Services Programme),

Receive two months' funds at the commencement of the financial year and

Not make an application to draw down the next tranche of funding until it has a month's or less funding remaining.

In effect, bearing in mind that it took 15 days to process payments at Departmental level, this meant that the operating cash for programmes could run as low as a fortnight's advance payments. Such an arrangement was intended to ensure that Pobal was not at any time holding more than two months' funds, and would generally hold substantially less. These revised payment procedures would be subject to the verification checks already carried out by his Department on all requests for funding received from Pobal.

In regard to smaller Programmes, such as the Annual Community Grants Scheme, it was proposed to make payments to Pobal only in respect of actual commitments under the Scheme and based on careful ongoing appraisal of actual expenditure.

He stated that with all programmes, the final payments each year would be calculated to ensure that there was no significant carryover of funds from year to year. In the case of larger Programmes, however, it would be necessary to pay an advance of 2 weeks' funding to ensure that projects were kept in funds until the first draw-down of the following year's funding could be processed.

In regard to the level of interest earned by Pobal, he informed me that, in light of the increasing value of the programmes being delivered by Pobal on behalf of the Department, the question of interest earned was now being addressed in the ongoing review of the apportionment of administration costs associated with those programmes.

In his subsequent communication, he stated that it had recently been agreed with Pobal that his Department's approval would be sought before any surplus on the Company's accounts was distributed in future years. It was anticipated, given the revised cash-flow management procedures being implemented, that the surplus accruing from interest would, in any event, be significantly reduced.

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform Response

The Accounting Officer of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed me that the drawdown of advances by Pobal was fully supported and evaluated by his Department and took account of the need to ensure that payments would not lead to an excessive cash reserve in the accounts of Pobal relative to its requirements to spend drawdown funds and to make a prudent provision for expenditure by it in the subsequent operating period.

In respect of his Department's funding of the Childcare Programme capital expenditure he pointed out that by December 2005, his Department considered it prudent, given the level of outstanding capital commitments, to increase its funding of Pobal by approximately 10% of these commitments. This was considered essential to avoid unnecessary delays within Pobal in processing applications for payment. He said that even allowing for stringent evaluation of drawdown requests, unanticipated delays outside the control of both Pobal and lead Departments could arise.

However, the Accounting Officer suggested there was a need to review the way in which Pobal interacts with all Government Departments. He considered that the role of the Department of Finance in any cross departmental review would be crucial both in terms of the way Pobal operated, and as regards the impact of any changes on the annual estimates process. The way funding was allocated on a year on year basis for schemes operated by Pobal on behalf of Government Departments would also have to be examined.

He stated that there was no provision in terms of engagements or contracts for Pobal to retain interest earned on any balances provided by his Department under the Equality for Women Measures, Enhancing Disability Services or Community Based CCTV programmes. This matter would be clarified with Pobal in due course. The issue of interest earned on the funding provided under the Childcare Programme had been the subject of ongoing discussion between Pobal and the Childcare Directorate but had yet to be fully resolved.

In subsequent correspondence, following a meeting of the key parties, the Department informed me that new accounting procedures would be implemented in the very near future to ensure that Exchequer funding provided to Pobal would be based on documentary evidence of corresponding expenditure by Pobal via standing imprest arrangements for rolling grant-aided programmes such as Childcare, Equality Measures and Disability Projects. These procedures would minimise bank account balances held by Pobal and thereby its potential to accumulate bank interest.

Mr. John Purcell

The Vote covers a diverse collection of activities, ranging from the funding of bodies such as Údarás na Gaeltachta and Waterways Ireland to co-ordinating drugs initiatives. Subhead K covers national lottery funding to community organisations and the list of organisations gettting more than €6,350 in the year is on pages 193 to 200.

The Exchequer extra receipt of €6.6 million referred to on page 189 is a technical adjustment arising from the previous year's audit.

There is just one chapter, chapter 7.1, which examines the management of cash advances to Pobal by the Departments of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform in respect of various programmes operated by it on an agency basis for those Departments. Pobal, previously known as Area Development Management Limited, was established in 1992 as a not-for-profit company with charitable status. Its aims were to promote social inclusion, reconciliation and equality and to counter disadvantage through local social and economic development. It has managed social and economic programmes on behalf of the Government and the EU since its establishment. The responsibility for the largest single programme, child care, moved to the Department of Health and Children with effect from January this year. Pobal's annual accounts are subject to audit by me.

During the course of the audit of Pobal's 2005 accounts and the appropriation accounts for the two Departments concerned, my staff noted that advances to Pobal in 2005 were significantly greater than needed by Pobal to meet payments to the final beneficiaries of the various programmes administered by it on the behalf of these two Departments. Two undesirable consequences resulted.

By the end of 2005 Pobal had accumulated cash balances of €37 million, including some €700,000 in bank interest. Charges initially shown on the programmes' subheads in the appropriation accounts were overstated. If left uncorrected it would have resulted in the surplus to be surrendered to the Exchequer being understated by €32 million in total. I raised these matters with the Departments which agreed to make the required adjustments to the appropriation accounts. This meant the correct surpluses were ultimately surrendered.

Following discussions with the Department of Finance, new procedures were introduced for approving drawdown requests for funds from Pobal, so that funds would only be issued strictly in line with requirements. This should have also the effect of minimising the bank balances held by Pobal which, in turn, should limit its potential to accumulate bank interest. The operation of the new procedures will be kept under review.

Thank you, Mr. Purcell. Will Mr. Kearney make his opening statement?

Mr. Kearney

A Chathaoirligh agus a chomhaltaí den choiste, is mór onóir agam an deis seo a fháil chun ráiteas gairid a dhéanamh ar an ócáid seo ag a bhfuil an cuntas leithghabhála don bhliain 2005 do Vóta na Roinne Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta á scrúdú ag an gcoiste. Ag an tús, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt d'Oifig an tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste as an obair phroifisiúnta atá déanta acu i ndáil leis an gcuntas sin.

This is the third full year of operation of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. In line with our strategy statement 2005-2007, the Department's work during 2005 focused on six main sectors relating to community and local development, tackling drugs misuse, rural development, Gaeltacht and islands development, the Irish language and North-South co-operation.

With regard to community and local development, the Department delivered several programmes designed to counter disadvantage and promote equality in accessing employment, training and education. The Department delivered grant programmes such as the scheme of grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations and the scheme of support for older people. Funding was also provided arising from commitments under the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity.

The Department co-ordinated the RAPID programme, targeting the 45 most disadvantaged areas in the State, as well as providing leverage funding to support small scale projects at local level. The Department improved alignment of local, community and rural development organisations to ensure simplified and enhanced delivery of community and rural development programmes. Services remained a key focus during 2005 and considerable progress was made, with some €4.8 million provided to support measures by local and community bodies.

The local drugs task forces continued their work during 2005 in implementing local action plans at community level, covering areas such as education, local treatment and rehabilitation support. The regional drugs task forces began to implement their regional action plans. Funding continued under the young people's facilities and services fund, bringing the total allocated by end-2005 to €102 million. Under the fund, the Department has supported approximately 460 facility and service projects including 198 youth and outreach workers and 19 sports development officers with a total allocation to date of over €108 million. Those figures in aggregate stand at 320 persons.

The mid-term review of the national drugs strategy was completed in 2005. It was undertaken by a group chaired by the Department and comprising community and voluntary interests directly involved in tackling drug misuse, along with the relevant statutory agencies. While recommending several changes for improved impact, the review found the fundamental aims of the national drugs strategy were sound. It also concluded that progress was being achieved across the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. In the light of the review, several priorities in the strategy were re-focused and new actions identified, including a focus on a fifth pillar of rehabilitation.

Significant progress was made in rural development with the advancement of preparatory work on a new EU rural development strategy for 2007 to 2013. Other measures included the continued implementation of the Leader programme, the introduction of new measures under the CLÁR programme and the roll-out of the rural social scheme. Comhairle na Tuaithe, an advisory body established in 2004 to address issues of access to the countryside, the development of a countryside code and recreation strategy, made significant progress in respect of all three issues in 2005.

The European Council made a landmark decision to afford recognition to Irish as an official and working language of the EU. This decision will take practical effect from 1 January next. Work continued on the major sociolinguistic study of the Gaeltacht, as did the increased emphasis, both by the Department and by Údarás na Gaeltachta, on language planning and language-centred activities in the Gaeltacht. Work also continued during 2005 to improve infrastructure and advance employment in Gaeltacht areas and to support enhanced access and development works on our inhabited offshore islands.

The Department promoted North-South co-operation across a range of its activities in 2005, particularly through measures such as co-funding of two North-South implementation bodies, Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga, the provision of support for the PEACE and INTERREG programmes and close working at both ministerial and official levels on matters of mutual interest relating to these areas.

Developments in legislation included the coming into force in mid-2005 of the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Act and the preparation of the General Scheme for the Charities Regulation Bill, subsequently published in early 2006. The Department's programmes and initiatives are drawn together through its underlying focus on communities. This underpins the Department's mandate and involves working in partnership with community interests and a range of other public bodies directly involved.

With regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General's findings on the control of advances to Pobal, contained in his 2005 report, all payments made by the Department to Pobal are in accordance with formal service-level agreements. However, a high level of balances arose in late 2005 on an exceptional basis in respect of advances from the Department. Most of this arose on foot of the introduction late in the year of new arrangements to manage the scheme of once-off locally based community grants, to the order of €6 million. On foot of matters raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General, specific steps have been taken by way of better cash flow management and enhanced drawdown arrangements. I would be glad to provide further information on these matters.

Gabhaim buíochas leatsa, a Chathaoirligh, agus leis an gcoiste as an deis a thabhairt dom chun an ráiteas seo a dheanamh. Beidh mé lán-sásta, ar ndóigh, aon cheist a fhreagairt chomh fada agus is féidir liom. Go raibh maith agat.

An bhfuil cead againn do ráiteas a fhoilsiú?

Mr. Kearney

Cinnte.

What is the structure of Pobal? Does the Comptroller and Auditor General audit its accounts?

Mr. Purcell

Yes, I have always audited its accounts even when it was known as ADM Limited. It was initially established to fulfil an EU requirement that certain funding be dealt with at arm's length from the State. That was when most, if not all, programmes were funded from European moneys. The character of the organisation changed as the funding arrangements changed, and there was concern three or four years ago, when a review was undertaken of where it should fit in regarding accountability and governance. As a result, it was reconstituted, with the appointment of directors and so on responsible to the Government.

At that stage, it came within this committee's remit. Before that, I carried out the audit by agreement, meaning that its accounts were not subject to review by the committee, since the funds were mainly European. Now, however, it is a non-commercial semi-State body and subject to the full range of accountability arrangements applicable.

Chapter 7 examines Pobal and the accumulation of funds over the course of the year. At the end of the year, it had approximately €35 million, accumulating interest payments on those funds of €700,000. Where is the €700,000 now?

Mr. Kearney

Perhaps I might answer in the context of arrangements put in place on the advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General some years before in accordance with which it would be desirable for ADM to establish an arrangement covering the deployment of such funds to a contingency fund to meet unexpected liabilities, as well as a seed fund. ADM had established a fund to protect the company against unexpected liabilities and to provide moneys from which administrative costs of programmes might be alleviated through offsetting them against the proceeds of interest.

From 2002 to 2005, over €1.17 million of interest earned by Pobal was used to defray programme-related costs in the context of a massive expansion in the range of programmes undertaken. The bulk related to accommodation costs of almost €1 million, with the money spent on refurbishment. That spending fed into lower costs on our programmes. As of 31 December 2005, €1 million was in a contingency fund. In the core fund to support programmes and development of the organisation itself there was €900,000. Over the period in question, the majority of the surplus earned went mainly on costs relating to accommodation.

There was also HR support and a write-off of bad debts. Costs were incurred through our initiative concerning corporate branding and publications relating to the change from ADM to Pobal. However, the bulk of expenditure relating to interest not put into the contingency fund or other account went on accommodation facilities to support an expansion in the range of programmes.

Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds somewhat unsatisfactory, since Mr. Kearney is effectively saying that Pobal accumulated €35 million over the year, although it did not have it on balance until the end of the year. However, I believe that I read somewhere that it had an average of €20 million at any given point. It accumulated interest of €700,000, which it kept, saying that it could achieve lower-priced service level agreements on the various administration costs for the programmes administered on the Department's behalf, since it was keeping the €700,000 to cover branding, human resources, accommodation and so on. That does not seem a very satisfactory way to run a business.

Mr. Kearney

Perhaps I might clarify that Pobal's turnover this year will be of the order of €250 million, expended on behalf of public bodies.

I fully agree with that point. For all the money that Pobal distributes across the various programmes, it charges an administration cost. Should that not cover its costs, and is it not designed to do so? Is Mr. Kearney saying that the correct level of administration costs is not being set?

Mr. Kearney

While we have service level agreements in respect of all programmes with Pobal, we negotiate administration costs annually. It is not done on a medium-term basis but yearly, with reference to the costs and the work that it is to do for that year, taking into account whether offsetting costs are available from interest deployment. It is not an open-ended arrangement, since administration costs for our programmes are negotiated annually by reference to what is available.

The second point was the level of balances available at any time to Pobal. In the context of expenditure of €250 million, under arrangements agreed with the Department of Finance and notified to the Comptroller and Auditor General, it is not unusual that there should be funds of the order of €20 million at any given time during the course of a month, given the cash movements involved. However, given the instances that gave rise to this report, in our case there was a €9 million surplus at the end of the year, some €6 million of which related to the introduction of new arrangements for a scheme of one-off community and voluntary grants.

We have now addressed issues arising therefrom and we anticipate that, by the end of this year, there will be no more than approximately €2.8 million in a suspense account under arrangements agreed with the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Department of Finance to address immediate liabilities at the beginning of next year.

I address Ms Langford. At the end of the year in question, child care accounted for almost half the funds in the account. What is the current situation?

Ms Langford

We will have approximately €1 million at the end of 2006, and it is quite possible that we will not have anything. It is also quite possible that we will need to move in €1 million early in January to meet current commitments. To assist the committee, I should add that a significant amount related to the child care programme, a seven-year, rolling EU programme in the national development plan. One of our problems was that the EU programme used an EU accrual accounting system. We were trying to manage an accrual accounting system alongside that of the Exchequer, which is non-accrual.

For the first two years of the national development plan EU programme, there was very little activity thereunder, and we were also working under EU rules that required us to use a formula called "N+2", N being the year in which the EU made money available to us. The year 2005 saw the peak of the programme, and we had to ensure that we spent the EU money in accordance with N+2, which meant that any money the EU had committed up to 2003 had to be spent by the end of 2005. December of that year marked the peak, and we were working flat out to get as many projects as possible across the line so as not to lose EU funding to Ireland.

I will give the committee a flavour of what was involved. In December 2005, we were working with 333 projects that had been assessed and satisfied all the criteria. They had been advised of that and were informed they would receive funding of approximately €154 million. Of those 333 projects, 59 were informed that they qualified for capital funding in excess of €1 million, and 71 for amounts of €500,000 and up to €1 million. At the end of 2005 our problem was that potentially all these programmes could come in by the end of December. We decided that if 10% of those with commitments for more than €1 million came in, the €60 million would actually be absorbed. We were constantly faced with the dilemma that there might be what we called a run on the bank, so that if they all crossed the line at once we would not have sufficient funding. We had the dual conflict of EU accrual and trying to meet the requirements of the Exchequer, as regards not spending. We were at risk as regards Exchequer accounting, as the Comptroller and Auditor General has pointed out, since we were not in compliance. However, we were in compliance with EU accounting. I do not know whether that clarifies matters for the Deputy.

It does, yes. I have a question for Mr. Kearney as regards what I was asking the Comptroller and Auditor General at the beginning. He referred to the fact that prior to Pobal-ADM, a particular report on the operation was carried out by Indecon. There were probably two areas of concern, but one was to do with cost effectiveness. How does the Department benchmark the cost of services? In other words, has it carried out an internal review of the type of services being provided by Pobal, which it is buying? I fully appreciate Pobal is a non-profit organisation, but if these services were provided within the Department what would the costs be? How does the Department determine the actual costs it will pay Pobal for because there is no competition in the market. It is not as if the Department were tendering for services, as happened, incidentally, with other schemes where private companies delivered to deliver various programmes. However, there is no tendering in this specific area, so how do we know, because that was the nub of the Indecon report for ADM, that the services it gets today from Pobal are delivering value for money?

Mr. Kearney

I am sure the Deputy is aware that the Indecon report covered a wide range of issues and set a pathway for us as regards radically changing the governance arrangements at a number of levels in respect of the organisation - not just in terms of board membership, but also as regards its operation and accountability. I should respond, perhaps, by talking about two or three schemes that we made decisions about which will answer the questions raised by the Deputy.

In the budget for 2004, the Minister for Finance announced the establishment of a rural social scheme, RSS, to provide income for part-time farmers and fishermen in the provision of services of benefit to local communities. The question was how the Department would configure and organise itself to deliver those services within a short timeframe. We operate in an environment, quite frankly, where there are very clear restrictions on public service numbers. Literally, we are not permitted, and did not see it as an option, to get the staff in the numbers we wanted from the Department of Finance. The basic function of the RSS was to be payroll-related. My preference was to use the existing payrolls of the State, that is, the payroll of the Department of Social and Family Affairs - which a number of these people were on - and that of FÁS, where there were a number of community enterprise people.

After exhaustive efforts, with both the Minister and myself getting nowhere on that, we finally devised a model whereby the decision making and the delivery of the scheme would be carried out through local Leader groups. That was the appropriate level and we would set the policy and the cash, but the actual payments system would be delivered for us by Pobal. That was the best we could do. For the first year we worked out the most competitively imaginable rate of around €300,000 plus to provide that service for us. That is a terribly imperfect science.

Staying with the question raised by the Deputy, which is very valid, as to why this was not done within the Department, we were not optimistic about getting the support from the Department of Finance to provide the staff we needed in the context of the current Government restrictions on staffing numbers. Neither did we believe the additional capital costs involved in securing the payroll arrangements would be profitable. As the Deputy is probably aware, although Pobal operates within the framework of the public service - that is, subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and subject to the ethics Act and FOI - it has the freedom of a private company in terms of hiring and recruiting and is not subject to public service restrictions. That just gives the Deputy a flavour of the RSS, and it was simply a payroll function.

A second example is the once-off grants programme, which we inherited from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. When that Department operated the programme, however, it used its network of regional offices to process grant applications from across the country. We did not have that mechanism and issues were raised by this committee as to the degree of control the Department was exercising over the payments arrangements, particularly where these were substantial, in respect of that scheme.

We identified the cost the Department was incurring in trying to run the programme on a veryad hoc basis, with less than ideal risk control. For an amount less than that we secured an agreement for Pobal to run the programme for us. It is important to point out to the committee, however, that we retained responsibility for the programme. That is to say, we hold on to the policy aspects of the programme, take responsibility for the schemes, determine the eligibility issues and the selection criteria. We have determined how the payment is to be done, the advertisements, design of forms and the application deadlines.

Although we require them to do the donkey work, it is significant in the context of the criticisms over outsourcing schemes which are not effectively controlled, that we have retained responsibility for the programme. That is an example as regards schemes that we have inherited recently. The benchmark is how much it would cost the Department or comparable public bodies. In general, and given that there is enormous variation across the schemes, we are talking about an administration cost in the order of 5% or less on most of the schemes administered by Government.

Obviously, Pobal administers a range of Ms Langford's schemes. Is she satisfied from the viewpoint of cost effectiveness as regards the services being provided by Pobal? Could they be done more cheaply, directly within the Department? Are there the same issues in terms of staff recruitment and so forth?

Ms Langford

In terms of the decision we made when we started the programme, Pobal was already running other EU initiatives. We decided that given that it had systems in place, it made sense to piggyback on these. If it was to be run by the Civil Service we were aware this would mean taking on full-time pensionable and permanent staff, and that the nature of the programme we were undertaking, by definition, was time limited. It therefore made more sense for ADM to employ people on a contract basis. As the work expanded and contracted, people were employed on contracts.

We arrived at an arrangement with Pobal to pay it no more than a certain percentage of the amount of money it was managing for us. The agreement arrived at was to the effect that it would not get in excess of 4%.

That is 1% better than Ms Langford's colleagues.

Ms Langford

We enjoyed economies of scale in a sense and believed this was value for money as compared with how we might do it. We were piggybacking on the fact that Pobal had an administrative structure in place.

As regards reviewing Pobal's operations, apart from the actual cost effectiveness the other clear issue raised in the Indecon report was the unusual degree of linkage between what was then ADM and the various organisations as beneficiaries of the funds. I presume both of the Departments have oversight views and are satisfied that is being disbursed in line with the guidelines and programmes they are setting up.

Mr. Kearney

I will go back and link that with an earlier point raised by the Deputy. Since 2003, we have been strengthening the governance arrangements and accountability to the Government. We have also been strengthening the nature of the engagement between the Department and Pobal, by specifying what we want and how we want it done.

I believe that the next step will be a form of framework agreement which would have a greater degree of control over the totality of the programmes rather than individual programmes. We have travelled quite a distance in three years but we have more to do to bring in a fully integrated approach.

One of the first steps, agreed with Pobal earlier this year, was for a more explicit direction by the Department regarding the distribution of the interest arrangements. Given the scale and the growth of expenditure by Pobal, more is needed than just a good focus on the agreements for individual programmes. A more integrated approach is needed and we hope to have advanced that next year under a service level agreement.

Following the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, I wrote to the other Accounting Officers to draw their attention to the matters raised in the report, especially the end-of-year balances.

I welcome the witnesses. I want to ask specifically about the €185,000 contract that Údarás na Gaeltachta gave to its former chief executive, Mr. Ó Bric. Were officials in the Department aware of this project before the award was given?

Mr. Kearney

No, we were certainly not aware.

Was it normal that the officials would not have any idea about how this money is being spent? Would the Department be informed that a project like this was being put together?

Mr. Kearney

No, but I wish to clarify that by outlining the bigger picture. The Department normally does not have an involvement in decisions by Údarás na Gaeltachta, which is appropriate. However, in a case like this which involves a former CEO taking up an appointment, strict guidelines are set out by a Department of Finance circular governing retirement packages. We were not aware of this case and when it came to our attention, we wrote to Údarás na Gaeltachta indicating our view that the guidelines had not been complied with and setting out particular steps to be taken to protect against that in the future.

The Irish Times reported on this extensively. Department officials obviously gave the letter to that newspaper, which is fair enough. Can we get a copy of that letter?

Mr. Kearney

Yes. This issue has been raised a few times in the House by Deputy O'Shea and others. Our letter was provided to Members of the Oireachtas and to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr. ÓhAoláin recently admitted that in normal circumstances, a State body should publicly advertise such contracts. What was abnormal about this case?

Mr. Kearney

I would simply reiterate what we pointed out in our letter. We did not regard the circumstances in the filling of this post as consistent with good practice——

Mr. Kearney has answered the question. It is not abnormal. Mr. ÓhAoláinspoke about political correctness and he stated that one cannot make a black and white rule to cover every situation. His last comment bordered on the moronic. He wondered how many jobs in constituency offices of Deputies are subject to open competition. I am only in the job five years, but I have never had to put out to tender any project from my office. We are not funding entities.

Did anybody in the Department contact him by phone and ask him about this? Did anybody pick up the phone and say that there was an obvious breach and that the individual involved is the former chief executive in the agency?

Mr. Kearney

We were in contact with the CEO and the secretary of Údarás na Gaeltachta on 18 October. We expressed our concerns about the CEO's retirement package and the process attaching to it. We informed them that we felt that the Department of Finance circular had not been adhered to by the agreement with the acadaimh. We told them that we saw this as conferring an additional advantage on the former CEO on top of the package that he had got.

What was the response?

Mr. Kearney

They stated that the correct decision was made, that there was a partnership between Údarás na Gaeltachta and the acadaimh to——

I do not mean that. What was his response to the fact that there was a clear breach of the guidelines? Anyone remotely connected to the Government would realise that it is a clear contravention of the guidelines to award a contract to an individual who was a former chief executive in the particular agency we are talking about. The Department has a responsibility to take appropriate action. I know that a strongly worded letter was sent, but were the Department's actions appropriate in these circumstances? There was a clear breach involving an individual who was a chief executive in Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Mr. Kearney

In late November, we received a formal reply to a letter that we issued at the beginning of that month. We are considering our response to that and the matter is also with the Comptroller and Auditor General. That is where things stand at the moment.

Are they considering their response with regard to Mr. Ó hAoláin?

Mr. Kearney

We are considering our response to the reply we received from Údarás na Gaeltachta at the end of last month.

Does Mr. Kearney think Mr. Ó hAoláin has compromised his position?

Mr. Kearney

I am not sure if the terms of reference of this group allow me to speak about individuals. I can reiterate the clear view of the Department which is that the cheapachánand the packageare not consistent with good practice.

What gets me is the indignation involved and the response of this individual after this occurred. There is an indignation that anybody would dare to question this man and his organisation, even though a €185,000 contract was given to a guy who was head of the Department until very recently, with no tender or competition for the job.

I remember being at a county council meeting a few years ago and we were given the agenda five minutes before the meeting started. The agenda related to an extension to the new county council offices. I put my hand up and asked about the new building. As it turned out, there was no tender and the person who originally built it was given the job without any notification to the public. That is bad enough, but in this circumstance today, the person who was given the job worked in the organisation itself. That is like a retired county manager being given a consultancy contract from the local authority that has not been put out to tender. It is very serious.

I appreciate that the letter was written. To be fair, the Department is obviously taking steps and is concerned about this matter. However, it must be asked whether its actions were sufficient. The indignation involved here really annoys me. It is public money. The Department should take serious consideration of his indignation and the kind of contempt he is showing to the public process involved. The matter is serious and the public would genuinely be annoyed at these circumstances. There must be transparency and accountability. He is annoyed that anyone would even ask the question in the first place, which is absurd.

It is open to the committee to bring in Údarás on this specific issue.

We should do so.

We will discuss the matter. I have no objection to the suggestion.

Mr. Kearney

The Deputy raises two issues. One is the position of the Department in regard to the substantive issue. The second is the handling of the matter by the head of Údarás. With regard to the substantive issue, the Department took legal advice on the absolute parameters of our actions. I want to be clear that this was not a token gesture. We considered the outer parameters of our actions. The matter is still under consideration by the Department. I note the points made by the Deputy on the second issue.

I appreciate Mr. Kearney's response and I appreciate the steps he is taking. Did Mr. Kearney ask Mr. Ó hAoláin what kind of communication he had with Mr. Ó Bric before the contract was signed over? Did Mr. Kearney ask Mr. Ó Bric what communication he had with Mr. Ó hAoláin prior to the contract being finalised?

Mr. Kearney

I do not have the records directly available to me. I did not put those questions. I had no dealings with Mr. Ó Bric prior to or since his retirement.

Somebody in the Department must have telephoned him.

Mr. Kearney

Not to the former chief executive.

The gentleman to Mr. Kearney's right is nodding his head. He is now shaking his head.

Mr. Kearney

We definitely did not contact the former chief executive. That would not have been appropriate. The safest way to have this discussion with the Deputy is in the context of the written records that exist. There is a written record of the matter having been discussed by the board of Údarás while the person was in the post.

I thank Mr. Kearney for his response.

Mr. Kearney's opening statement referred to the national drugs strategy, specifically the mid-term review of that strategy which was completed in 2005. He stated that the review was satisfied that the objectives of the programme were being met. The opening statement continued:

The fundamental aims of the national drugs strategy were sound. It also concluded that progress was being achieved across the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research.

From my perspective, no progress is being made on supply reduction or prevention. Cannabis is available in every community - it is readily available to teenagers and adults in the smallest rural villages - heroin is still wrecking deprived urban communities and cocaine is the drug of choice for people of high disposable income. There is now more cocaine in urban Ireland than Johnsons baby powder.

For a review group which is supposed to have expertise on this matter to give assurances that progress is being made in supply reduction and prevention does not correspond with the facts. This city has been turned into the equivalent of Al Capone's Chicago in the past couple of weeks yet this group of experts tells us there is supply reduction. The internationally recognised best measure of supply reduction is based on the theory that no matter how effective the forces of law and order, they will only seize a percentage of what is being imported into the country. It is a very depressing measure of reduction of supply because, effectively, it assumes the more gardaí seize, the higher the evidence of supply in the country.

There have been major drugs seizures in the past 12 months or so but, internationally, that would be taken as proof that the supply has increased enormously rather than a measure of the effectiveness of the Garda in this very difficult task - I do not take from the excellence of the individual gardaí involved in combatting the importation of drugs or from the work done by customs officials. I do not understand how the assessment of the group matches up with my experience and that of my colleagues in Leinster House, who represent communities throughout the country. Will Mr. Kearney comment?

Mr. Kearney

To put the mid-term review in context, it did not conclude with any sense of satisfaction that the drugs issue was resolved or near resolved. It drew on research that found a stabilisation in the heroin situation in Dublin and some disimprovement countrywide. It arises in the context of the rising use of cocaine among occasional drug users, which the Chairman noted, but also against the background of a radically improved level of seizures and activities by the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise in the first five years of this decade.

It is important to reflect that this is a societal problem which is not just particular to our own country but to others also. The group included representatives from the community development sector who are directly involved with this area through local community initiatives. Its conclusion was that the basic approach of the strategy is sound but it is not a panacea for resolving the problem. What the Chairman reflects, particularly with regard to cocaine use, was the findings of a report produced this autumn by the NACD, which is a research body, which confirmed some of the points raised by the Chairman with regard to the prevalence of cocaine across strata of society, the misconceptions around that issue and the challenges it poses. While it would be unrealistic not to accept these points, to be fair, the mid-term review identified a range of strategies that needed to be adjusted and it put increased emphasis on the importance of rehabilitation itself.

What progress is being made on treatment and rehabilitation? Will Mr. Kearney indicate the figures and throughput?

Mr. Kearney

At this time, there is a core of approximately 8,000 people in treatment. Some tentative figures were published recently which suggest the number might be considerably, perhaps 40%, higher. With regard to rehabilitation, a group has completed most of its work in that regard and is due to report shortly. It will probably recommend putting co-ordinators in place in the HSE to improve the management of services for drug users in recovery. It will also argue for additional community employment places, especially for recovering drug addicts, and an interim recommendation for a number of detox beds.

Are the treatment programmes for the 8,000 users principally methadone programmes?

Mr. Kearney

Yes.

How many detox beds are available in the country and what is the regional distribution?

Mr. Kearney

I do not have the figures to hand but I would be happy to provide them.

The Chairman referred to methadone treatment. No comparable treatment is available for cocaine, which is treated simply by counselling activity. As there is a different form of treatment, there is a different requirement in terms of frontline services. Under an emerging needs fund established last year by the Minister, we have been promoting a number of projects with local drugs task forces to pilot treatment in those areas.

Mr. Kearney contends the Department is not complacent.

Mr. Kearney

Certainly not.

The Mountview community centre, in respect of which I understand negotiations are ongoing with the Department and the various agencies to which Mr. Kearney referred in his report, serves two communities in Fortlawn and Whitechapel. These are communities devastated by the quantity of drugs flooding this area and where, unfortunately, there has been a significant number of drug deaths. Many families will be sad this Christmas as they sit down to their dinner.

The section of Mr. Kearney's report to which the Chairman made reference speaks of fundamental aims and progress being achieved across the four pillars, including supply reduction and so on. In the context of the devastation endured by many working-class communities, these statements border on the arrogant. More and more, I am called to houses where a family member has died as a consequence of drug abuse. The supply of drugs and the associated criminality in terms of gun crime, violent attacks and murders are as bad now, if not worse, than the period leading up to the murders of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin.

Mountview and other communities are faced with many obstacles in their dealings with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and its associated agencies. In this instance, a community centre is sought in return for land which the community gave up to allow for the construction of housing. This community went through all the necessary hoops to attain funding under the young people's facilities and services fund but little progress has been made because, at the end of this year, there is a shortfall in funding of just under €400,000. If this shortfall is not met, the cost of the project, which was agreed with the contractor, will double.

Does the management structure of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs include any mechanism to deal expeditiously with urgent issues such as this? In cases where communities have consulted all the experts, produced all the reports, held meetings with Area Development Management Limited and Pobal, and secured co-funding from the local authority, is there any way of cutting through the red tape? This is particularly important for communities such as Mountview, where so many young people were buried this year. I am sure the Chairman is aware of similar communities in his constituency.

There must be some means of reducing the bureaucracy, especially in view of the volume of resources to which the Department has access. Pobal is like a bank, and the job of a bank is to oversee the distribution of moneys for consumption. It seems, however, that Pobal is concerned mainly with erecting barriers which take an incredible amount of time for working-class communities to surmount. At the end of each year, funding that was not disbursed is reallocated elsewhere. We have heard of amounts of €50,000 and €60,000, for example, being assigned for playgrounds. These projects, which are often not even planned and where contractors may be obliged to redo work, are not worthwhile.

Will Mr. Kearney respond to my concerns? Perhaps he might write to me to explain how communities such as Mountview can cut through red tape by means of some departmental mechanism for reviewing urgent issues. These are matters of life and death for poor communities.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge Deputy Burton's point about the suffering endured by some communities. It would be inappropriate and arrogant not to do so. To clarify, the young people's facilities and services fund operates mainly through city councils and the HSE rather than Pobal. Between €103 million and €107 million was allocated under this scheme and much progress has been made.

I assure Deputy Burton that I will respond to her concerns regarding Mountview. I do not consider the Department as the key decision-maker in this process. We are at the end of the chain in that we generally work through intermediary public bodies. The management and operation of such facilities requires the co-operation of a local authority or agency.

Is there a mechanism whereby the Department checks that projects to which funding is allocated adhere to an agreed implementation timeframe? The Department is the primary funding source and has access to more than €100 million for these projects. Are any checks carried out to ensure programmes are delivered within the specified timeframes? Is there, for example, a telephone number one can contact to learn how a project is progressing and the timeframe within which it will be completed?

Mr. Kearney

I referred to the question of how savings arose on the capital side in 2005 in respect of several projects under the young people's facilities and services fund. Some half a dozen projects were on the books but were not advanced because of planning difficulties, local issues with committees and so on. A national advisory committee, which is chaired by departmental representatives, makes recommendations in regard to project approvals under the scheme. I do not consider this committee an obstacle in terms of progressing projects. The resources and mechanisms are in place. I cannot, however, give the Deputy an answer as to the particular difficulty in the case to which she referred.

Cén fáth gur thug an tAire €17,000 do shiopadóirí agus trádálaithe Shráid Chill Mhantáin in aice le Sráid Grafton chun soilse Nollag a chur suas? I and several other female politicians regularly frequent Wicklow Street because it is where we get our hair done. This is one of the most expensive shopping streets not only in Ireland but in Europe. I am delighted it has a sign as Gaeilge but I wonder why the traders on that street merit a deontas of €17,000. Could this ciste not have been spent otherwise? Is there not a gaelscoil in a disadvantaged area or a disadvantaged community where soilse Nollag would be more appreciated? I do not wish to refer specifically to the Minister in regard to this matter.

I do not know whether the Minister gets his hair done on Wicklow Street.

I am sure the Chairman does not do so.

Mr. Kearney

As I understand it, there is a fochoiste gnó, a business ciste, whereby chambers of commerce throughout the State were invited to submit tenders for co-funded initiatives as Gaeilge. This is one such initiative that came through. It is an open, competitive process that is open to all areas.

What is the total of that ciste?

Mr. Kearney

The maximum funding was of the order of €1 million over a three-year period.

That is great.

I wish to ask another question pertaining to the Official Languages Act. Mr. Kearney may be unaware that last Sunday, a run and walk took place through the port tunnel before it was due to open, in which I took part. While Mr. Kearney may not have had occasion to visit the port tunnel, its multilingual signs are in four languages and I do not know how this is affected by the Official Languages Act. Obviously, there must be such signage for emergencies and so on. The first language is Gaeilge, which is accompanied by the Irish flag. Such notices appear throughout the length of the tunnels, each of which is approximately 4.5 km in length. However, English is designated by the union flag while the other languages are designated by other flags. In respect of the Official Languages Act, what is the position regarding the use of the union jack as the designator of English? I would have thought that, with the Official Languages Act, English in Ireland is recognised as the language of many Irish people. Why would the union jack be used?

Mr. Kearney

I agree in a general sense with the point raised by the Deputy. At present, such signage does not come within the scope of the Official Languages Act. Consequently, the construct witnessed by the Deputy is not a result of the Official Languages Act. However, the Deputy is correct. The effect of the Official Languages Act is to create effectively an equality between the languages, although obviously the Irish language has primacy within Gaeltacht areas. However, the signage to which the Deputy referred does not result from the Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla.

I am aware Mr. Kearney's Department takes a detailed interest regarding Irish and English. Is it Government policy at present that English will be designated by the union flag while Irish will be designated by the tricolour? Can Mr. Kearney find out?

Mr. Kearney

I will find out. I have no knowledge of this at present.

Obviously, the Department takes an interest in Irish. However, English is the language of many people in Ireland who do not believe it should be thus represented. While English is also the language of Australia and the United States, I am unsure whether the latter countries represent it with the union flag.

I refer to the proposals in the Official Languages Act regarding people who use Departments' telephone systems. As I understand it, the departmental messages will be in Irish first, or they will be in Irish and English. The Official Languages Act also has provision for the use of additional languages. In respect of those people who will telephone Departments, is it the intention of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that when one telephones a Department, the first message will be as Gaeilge? Or will the message be as Gaeilge and subsequently as Béarla? There is such provision in the Official Languages Act.

I ask because as Mr. Kearney is aware in respect of some Departments, particularly the Departments of Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs and so on, people who may not have a good understanding of Irish might become confused. In addition, they will be obliged to hold on and to listen to a full Irish language message followed by a message as Béarla. Thereafter, they will be obliged to press one, two or whatever to choose their desired option. Have the witnesses used such computerised telephone answering systems? They are extremely complicated.

Has the Department investigated this technology? While it is good that those who want to use Irish should be able to access Irish messages, a significant number of people want or need to be able to access an English language text.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge this is a subject of draft regulations that are before the Houses at present and decisions must be made in this regard. I am also aware that some work is being done with An Comisinéir Teanga, who has raised some issues with us directly on the points raised by the Deputy. This will be reflected in the deliberations that are under way at present. I gather there were discussions in the House yesterday on this issue and such discussions will be reflected in the deliberations. I will leave it at that.

Has the Department explored the software? I cite the example of an older person who telephones the Department of Social and Family Affairs in respect of pension rights or other social welfare elements. Can Mr. Kearney give a commitment that such people will be able to have easy access to the language they use, which may be English, and which, in a percentage of cases, will be Gaeilge?

Mr. Kearney

Within the obvious parameters of the decisions that must be made ultimately by the Minister and the Government, the point raised by the Deputy is entirely reasonable.

I have a few questions. First, a very worthwhile and long-running voluntary group in Cork is giving up its work because it is running out of volunteers. However, it has fairly prominent city centre premises that are probably worth a considerable sum of money. As the group winds up, its thinking has been that any funding gained should be distributed to named charities, as specified in its constitution. However, it has run into some difficulty, namely, that one of its former tenants that may have been housed voluntarily and that did not pay rent regularly, is threatening to sue. The group that may sue is funded directly by Pobal.

I have been asked whether it would be appropriate to use public funding to take such a case. It may involve significant legal fees and much money may be lost to the voluntary sector. Does the Department believe this would be appropriate? I know of a similar case in the west involving a women's action group. Do the witnesses believe this to be appropriate or should such groups use their own funding for this purpose? The fear on the part of all concerned is that much money may be lost on legal fees.

Mr. Kearney

I will reply to the Deputy's question in a general way by stating I anticipate that money is provided to groups through Pobal to perform specific activities, rather than to fund litigation. An exception might arise in cases where there was significant loss of funding or breach of a contract that was of a substantive nature, and where specific agreement was reached with those concerned to so do. However, on a routine basis, the aim of providing funding to groups is to fund particular activities, rather than litigation.

I will pass on that information.

A long time ago, in 1984, I made a proposal to the Southern Health Board that was adopted and became policy. The board set up a drug and alcohol prevention committee and programme and a great deal of work has been done in this regard subsequently. However at that time, the board encountered an impediment that still appears to be there 22 years later. I refer to the refusal to fund what I will describe as a joint programme. As the mover of the motion at the time, I was informed by medical personnel that prescribed drugs constituted the biggest difficulty and that alcohol came second. Consequently, they asked me to link the two issues, which I did.

However, the Department refused to provide funding for such a joint programme and attempts to employ councillors, mediators or anyone else became very complicated. Does Mr. Kearney propose to change this somewhat ridiculous position? While the drinks trade or some other group might have objections, I do not know why they should be funded individually as the two problems are inextricably linked.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge the point raised by the Deputy. There is an inextricable linkage. I believe some work was done by the regional drugs task forces. It is very interesting that one of the areas they are coming up against is the gateways and linkages between alcohol and drug misuse. There is a description of polydrug misuse.

A practical problem and a concern for policymakers and those involved in delivering on the national drugs strategy, is that they do not want the scale of alcoholism as a problem to eclipse the particular mechanisms and four pillars of the strategy. It is a very difficult policy issue. I am aware the HSE has established a working group to look at some common themes in alcohol and drug misuse, on which we are represented. This is something which has been raised repeatedly with the Minister of State. The linkages between the two are evident. There is a practical problem related to diluting the efforts on drugs. The door is not closed on this and we are still talking to the HSE about it. However, I acknowledge the points raised by the Deputy.

I have challenged Mr. Kearney's predecessors and Ministers at every conference on this issue. A total of 22 years have passed so, hopefully, they might become a bit more enlightened following a study of this case.

If I could be a bit parochial, I wish to discuss a report on page eight of today's edition of theIrish Examiner which I have not yet read. The article concerns a study being carried out by the Office of the Minister for Children under the Minister of State with responsibility for children in respect of centres for young people with difficulties. We like to call such centres drop-in centres, but the centres which are the subject of the study are probably more serious than the ones we would build in community centres. The Office of the Minister for Children is now taking over this issue. The youth cafe is the name of this policy, of which Ms Langford will be in charge. Will the Office of the Minister for Children automatically pick up all existing material?

One reason I asked this question is because an excellent presentation was made during the year by CorkCAN, the Cork enterprise initiative which is a voluntary community group. I was with the group when it made its submission to the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern. Will the Department automatically pick up the details of the submission? The submission was very much based on a countrywide initiative in Denmark known as the walkers. I have not seen it in action but, apparently, it is very good. I am very keen to see it picked up because it has been funded for a feasibility study involving the city council and the Garda. I am not sure if this one relates to the same study or if it is something the Department came up with separately. I would like to know this so that we would all be singing from the one hymn sheet.

Ms Langford

In respect of the newspaper article referred to by Deputy Dennehy, the Office of the Minister for Children carried out a consultation process with young people, which has been done many times by different groups over the years. Nine times out of ten, young people always say they badly need facilities. They claim that because they do not have facilities, they end up going to pubs and hanging around corners with people asking them to move on. They said they needed a place where they can hang out in a safe environment.

Some of this work involves youth cafes, which are safe places for kids to go to and which also offer possibilities for providing services such as mental health services and counselling as a backdrop to the cafe. The Office of the Minister for Children does not have money for services, apart from the child care programme. We would like to work strategically with other Departments, such as the Departments of Arts, Sport and Tourism; the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs, as well as local authorities and the HSE.

All these Departments are spending money from their budgets on various activities relating to children. Arising from the policy, we would like to look at the needs of young people in each county, perhaps get the various Departments to work strategically together and, in that way, achieve joined-up funding. It is also possible to have duplication. Some of the problems one faces working with a Department in respect of a grant scheme are that very often projects exist side by side, with one project funded by one Department and another project funded by another Department. We are looking at how one would meet the needs of children with the various Departments and agencies working strategically together and doing this on a county basis.

A commitment has been made to set up county children services committees by 2016. Under such an arrangement, the statutory agencies would get together strategically and plan their services for children, identify local needs for children and plan together strategically. We believe that if this is done, one of the needs would be to have places like youth cafes for children and young people and that if everybody worked together, one might end up with a good outcome. At this point, there is no one Department that has a funding line for the type of projects the Deputy has in mind.

We have tried this many times and even if we go to the Ministers, they always refer to the people who will not join the scouts, the GAA or soccer clubs. I will name two individuals if I may because what I do not want to happen is that we would waste funding. A third person whose name I cannot remember was also involved. The two individuals whose names I recall are Ann O'Sullivan, a professional working in a centre in Blackpool, and Maurice McCarthy, who is chairman of the group. Two or three years ago, they went to Denmark, saw the initiatives in place and brought the people over here. They then went to their own group in Cork which said it would name three projects for the year under its different columns of activities. This was one of the projects picked. If it is there already, the Department could pick it up. I am not sure if the group wants some money from the Department, but the Department could pick up the work it is doing. The group has involved gardaí, the city council and all the other prison liaison services.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, action has already been taken. It may not be the final solution, but this group would be very much geared towards the people who do not join clubs or organisations and who are already in trouble. Some people have told me that if these people are brought in, they will wreck any organisation, but this is not true. It is working out there and the first initiative was in the central train station in Cork, which was where the real problems were.

I heard this meeting was being held and I compliment the secretariat for being able to do what I could not, namely, have the documentation ready for me before I got here. I reiterate two points. Work should not be duplicated, thereby wasting money, and we should give recognition and ensure that the Office of the Minister for Children will pick up whatever is floating around elsewhere in other Departments.

Would it be possible to contact one or both persons mentioned by the Deputy and communicate with him?

Ms Langford

It would certainly be possible to find that out. However, as I said, we do not have a funding line for this type of activity. We are trying to implement best practice in respect of what young people in Ireland need and to bring about funding lines by Departments working strategically together.

In fairness, the funding may already have been there. All the group wanted was the feasibility study to be funded and I think this is on board. I do not want this money, which is €20,000 or €30,000, to be wasted. I want the Office of the Minister for Children to get the benefit of it even if it is in another Department. This is my primary concern when I ask if we are going to tie it all together.

Ms Langford

I will follow up on the Deputy's question.

Ann O'Sullivan is a full-time executive in CorkCan. I can get the details for Ms Langford.

Ms Langford

I will follow up matters for the Deputy.

How successful has the rural social scheme been? What kind of numbers are involved in it?

Mr. Kearney

At this stage, we have reached the full complement of 2,500. With Government approval, I think it has gone up to approximately 2,600. In addition, I think there would be between 100 and 200 supervisors on it. I will get the precise figures for the Deputy in a moment.

In the current year expenditure on the rural social scheme which is at its top level will be of the order of €43 million, comprising €24 million in Exchequer funding and approximately €16 million from the dormant accounts fund. I can give a precise figure for November when there were 2,514 participants and 119 supervisors involved in the scheme. If it would be helpful, I have details by county or participants in terms of where they came from.

Which region has the greatest take-up figure?

Mr. Kearney

County Donegal has the greatest take-up figure, with 352 participants among 1,245 farm assist clients.

Must all of the participants come from the farm assist group?

Mr. Kearney

They must be farm assist clients or part-time fishermen. There is a particular requirement relating to community employment scheme participants.

By way of clarification so as not to mislead the Deputy, there are in excess of 500 participants in the scheme from County Mayo. Dropping down the list, counties Kerry and Galway are strongly represented.

What numbers are moving from the scheme to others? While the scheme has only been in place for a short time, is there evidence of movement from it?

Mr. Kearney

There is strong evidence of a reluctance to move from it at this stage.

Why is that?

Mr. Kearney

The scheme provides services of real benefit and value to rural communities and its participants find that its structure enables them to continue with their part-time farming or fishing activities.

Will the numbers involved rise?

Mr. Kearney

Without straying into policy matters or troubling the officials from the Department of Finance in attendance, the Minister would be interested in seeing the numbers rise.

Will Mr. Kearney supply the committee with a copy of the county-by-county data?

Mr. Kearney

Certainly.

On rural transport, the subject of much debate recently in respect of pubs and the law on drink driving, is the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs responsible for the ring-a-link system?

Mr. Kearney

No. It is dealt with by the Department of Transport. If the Deputy wishes to raise issues of concern, I would be happy to refer them on.

Does the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs provide any funds for it?

Mr. Kearney

The rural transport initiative was launched on a pilot basis and will be mainstreamed next year. I recall a parliamentary question to the Minister on the initiative being tabled this week. The Minister expressed his strong support for it but indicated that it was the responsibility of another Department.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs does not have responsibility for it.

Mr. Kearney

It has always been the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

Gabhaigí mo leithscéal. Bhí fadhbanna sláinte agam ar maidin, agus más rud é gur cuireadh an cheist cheana, tarraingeoidh mé siar í. Ar cuireadh aon cheist mar gheall ar mhórstaidéir theangolaíochta na Gaeltachta? Níor cuireadh. B'fhéidir go gcuirfeadh an tArd-Rúnaí in iúl dúinn cad atá i gceist leis an staidéar seo maidir le pleanáil teanga. An mbaineann sé le teorainn nua a eagrú do na Gaeltachtaí mórthimpeall na tíre? Cé chomh fada ar aghaidh is atá an staidéar? Cén t-am a mbeidh sé críochnaithe agus an t-eolas ag teacht os ár gcomhair? An bhfuil aon tuairim ag an Roinn i láthair na huaire ar cén saghas athruithe a dhéanfar sna réigiúin Ghaeltachta?

Mr. Kearney

Tá an staidéar ar siúl fós, ach tá dréacht ag an Roinn ag an bpointe seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an obair sin críochnaithe go luath. Ina dhiaidh sin, beidh an Roinn ag scrúdú thorthaí na hoibre sin. Is dóigh liom go ndúirt an tAire leis an Dáil cheana féin go ndéanfar scrúdú an-chúramach ar fad de na torthaí. Ina dhiaidh sin, cuirfear moltaí os comhair an Rialtais. Níl an tuarascáil críochnaithe go hiomlán ag an bpointe seo. Mar a dúirt an Teachta, baineann sí le forbairt phleanáil teanga sa Ghaeltacht, agus beidh baint aici le teorannacha na nGaeltachtaí. Tá an obair ar siúl fós.

Is cosúil nach mbeidh aon chinneadh déanta roimh an olltoghchán.

Mr. Kearney

Measaim nach mbeidh.

Is dócha go n-oireann sé sin don Rialtas chomh maith.

Seo an cheist dheireannach. An bhfuil aon bhaint in aon chor ag an Roinn, nó aon lámh aici, i gcúrsaí an Bhlascaoid, mar shampla, maidir leis an t-oileán a cheannacht lena thabhairt isteach in úinéireacht phoiblí agus páirc stairiúil nó a leithéid a chur ann tar éis na conspóide uilig?

Mr. Kearney

Measim gur chuir an Teachta an cheist chéanna orm an uair dheireannach. Níl aon bhaint againn leis, ach amháin leis na céanna - na piers agus mar sin de - ach baineann sé leis an Roinnt Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil agus an OPW. Ní bhaineann sé linn.

Seachas na céanna, ach tá baint ag na céanna le cad a tharlóidh san oileán go ginearálta. Chuirfeadh sé ionadh orm nach mbeadh idirghabháil idir na Ranna. Cad iad na pleananna a bhfuil an Roinn ag obair astu i láthair na huaire? Cén saghas ama a bheadh i gceist leis an fheabhsúchán agus na hoibreacha nua?

Mr. Kearney

Tá an comhaontú chun an t-oileán a thabhairt ar ais beagnach socraithe, agus nuair a bheidh sé sin críochnaithe, déanfaidh muid ullamh chun breis airgid a chur i dtreo na gcéibheanna agus mar sin de. Deir Joe Hamill go mbeidh 18 mí i gceist chun an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh ar na céibheanna.

Ach ní bheidh aon airgead caite go dtí go mbeidh socrú maidir le cad a tharlóidh don oileán agus do chúrsaí úinéireachta. An bhfuil sé sin ceart?

Mr. Kearney

Sin é go díreach.

Agus an bhfuil an Roinn cinnte go mbeidh socrú ann sar i bhfad?

Mr. Kearney

Táimid dóchasach.

Mar fhocal scoir, ba mhaith liom go ndéanfadh an Roinn a dícheall chun go mbeadh socrú ann agus an t-oileán in úinéireacht phoiblí. Is ceist an-tábhachtach é do mhuintir Chorca Dhuibhne sa nGaeltacht agus mórthimpeall na tíre go mbeadh an t-oileán oscailte i slí rialta i dtreo is gur féidir an t-oileán, an traidisiún agus mar sin de a chaomhnú. Dá bhrí sin, iarraim ar an Roinn a bheith ag obair leis na Ranna eile. Níl aon dabht ach go mbaineann na cúrsaí sin ach go háirithe leis an Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta.

Mr. Kearney

Tá mé breá sásta glacadh leis an tuairim sin.

Deirtear nach bhfuil aon léarscáil chruinn den Ghaeltacht ar fáil. An bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Roinn an scéal sin a leigheas?

Mr. Kearney

Ní raibh a fhios agam nach raibh a leithéid ann.

Bhí alt le Lorna Siggins sanThe Irish Times ar 8 Márta. Bhí léachtóirí ollscoile á rá sin, ach go háirithe ag NUI Gaillimh, chomh maith le hEmer Ní Bhrádaigh as Dublin City University, agus Dr. Stephen McCarron agus Professor Patrick Duffy as Maigh Nuad.

Mr. Kearney

Tuigim anois go bhfuil obair ar siúl ag an bpointe seo ag an Ordnance Survey, agus mé os comhair an choiste an uair dheireannach, bhíomar ag caint ar Údarás na Gaeltachta agus fadhb áirithe a bhíodh ann maidir le deontais a thabhairt do dhuine éigin.

Dá mba rud é go raibh léarscáil ann, bheadh a fhios ag gach éinne go raibh an teorainn taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht.

Mr. Kearney

Ba é an tuiscint a bhí agam ag éirí as sin ná go raibh léarscáileanna ar fáil agus go raibh siad in úsáid ag Údarás na Gaeltachta féin, ach cuirfidh mé an cheist ar ais chuig an Roinn agus rachaidh mé i dteangmháil léi.

Ach níl an saghas léarscáile atá bunaithe ar satellite technology ar fáil.

Mr. Kearney

Níl a fhios agam. Caithfidh mé ceist a chur.

Níl sé ar fáil.

Ar a laghad tá léarscáil amháin agus Baile an Daingin ina láthair, nó Daingean Uí Chúis.

Mr. Purcell

For one moment I thought we would revisit the quarry that occupied my attention for a number of years. I appreciate that State agencies must be funded in a certain way that will lead to the accumulation of funds. In recent years I have taken a tolerant approach and not been pedantic. However, it reached a stage where the financial position of the Votes was distorted. So, on this occasion I had to put my foot down.

Based on the Accounting Officer's comments, Pobal has grown into a large organisation which now employs over 200. He referred to the scale of the funds it disburses, some €250 million. I am pleased to hear the Department is considering putting the relationship on a more appropriate footing when an organisation is disbursing public funds to that extent.

Regarding the appointment of the former executive of Údarás na Gaeltachta, I can confirm that the Department sent the correspondence to me. We will review the matter from an audit point of view during the examination of the 2006 accounts.

The Chairman referred to drug treatment. For the committee's information, we have carried out a preliminary value for money evaluation in this area which we will extend to include a full examination. We expect to have a report completed in the new year.

May we note Vote 27 and dispose of chapter 7.1? Agreed.

At our next meeting we will discuss chapter 13.1, post mortem inquiry, of Vote 39 - Department of Health and Children, as well as chapter 14.1, discretionary medical cards; chapter 14.2, nursing home subventions, and chapter 14.3, extra remuneration, of Vote 40 - Health Service Executive, of the 2005 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts.

I thank the officials who attended. I wish them, committee members, the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff, as well as the committee secretariat, including Mr. Christy Haughton who has always briefed members so well, a very happy Christmas and a happy, successful new year.

The witnesses withdrew.

The committee adjourned at 1.45 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Thursday, 25 January 2007.