We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, a permanent witness at the committee, who is accompanied by Mr. Peter Kinsley and Mr. Ger Enright.
Business of Committee
Before we proceed with the business of the committee, I am sure we all wish to extend our condolences to the Chairman on the loss of his mother. We convey to him our sympathy and solidarity at this time.
I thank the Deputy. It is very much appreciated.
The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 4 May 2017. Are they agreed to? We will come to correspondence shortly. I propose to hold onto the dossier I received from Mr. Barrett until the end. We will discuss anything related to last week's meeting when we come to it.
I usually accept the minutes, but Caranua is mentioned in paragraph 6, under the heading of "Any Other Business". We asked specifically that the committee write to the Department of Education and Skills on the issue of rent. I would like my point to be recorded at this stage. I might come back to it.
I am informed that we received a response this morning.
I would like it to be recorded to ensure the accuracy of the minutes.
It will be noted in them. The minutes, as amended, are approved. Are there matters arising from them?
Last week I raised a number of issues, one of which was the level of reporting back to the committee. When we hold hearings and listen to witnesses on key issues, there is some level of reporting back. There was a discussion of issues related to third and fourth level institutions and a lot of documentation and correspondence was sought from a number of institutes and universities. Some of it has come in but most of it has not. I propose that we have some structure for it. We agreed that we would meet to examine all of the documentation received. Can it be done in a structured way to identify the key, headline issues? It is an issue on which the committee should report. There is a lot of work yet to be done and we will need to receive all of the correspondence sought. I am not sure if the Chairman or the secretariat has the given the matter any thought.
We have held public hearings on a variety of topics, but that is only half our job. The other half is to follow through with information, recommendations and conclusions. I am advised by the secretariat that we will deal with the issues related to education on 25 May. I hope that by that date we will have assembled all of the information we require from the six third level institutions, the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority. We can review where to take the matters from there. Some structure will be proposed in advance.
Will the Chairman expand on what we will do on 25 May and what the structure will be?
By the next meeting we will have a draft structure for discussion in order that we will have an agenda for the meeting on 25 May.
The next item is correspondence received since the last meeting. The first items are Nos. 463A and 472A, briefing documents and an opening statement from the Department of Justice and Equality. Is it agreed that they be noted and published? Agreed.
Category B is correspondence received from Accounting Officers as a follow-through on previous meetings. No. 495B is correspondence, dated 3 May 2017, from the director of finance at the University of Limerick. It is noted and will be published. We will include it in our work programme for our meeting on 25 May. I welcome the news that the Department of Education and Skills is to launch an independent inquiry into a series of allegations of misconduct at the University of Limerick.
That is very welcome news. At the hearing in question we referred to the need for a fresh inquiry. I wonder if the Department proposes to provide us with the terms of reference. It would be appropriate to do so, all things considered. The Department might also allow us the facility to offer some reflections on the terms of reference. The issue has been ongoing for some time and the inquiry will only be valuable if it is properly cast, with robust terms of reference. The Department could furnish us with the terms of reference and take feedback from us on them.
We will ask for the draft terms of reference to be sent to us and we may have an input into them. I do not know timescale but normally they take a little time and I would be surprised if they were completed at this stage.
Nos. 460B (i) and (ii) is correspondence dated 3 May 2017 from Dr. James Browne, president of National University of Ireland Galway, providing following up issues. We said that we would deal with that again on 25 May. It was agreed last week to review all the correspondence received from the third level institutions together. As we are meeting Bord na gCon again next week, I suggest that we agree 25 May to examine the third level institution documentation.
No. 461B is correspondence dated 3 May 2017 from the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, in reply to a letter from the committee following the appearance of the president of Waterford Institute of Technology before the committee. Is it agreed to note and publish? Agreed.
It is great to see that my constituency colleague is paying such close attention to my work and that of Teachta McDonald on the committee.
Nos. 462B (i) to (v) is correspondence dated 3 May 2017 from Dr. Graham Love, chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority providing follow-up information. We will deal with that on 25 May but we will note and publish all that in the meantime.
No. 464B is correspondence dated 8 May 2017 from Bord na gCon in respect of incidents outside this committee room in which there were three situations in which witnesses were intimidated or abused by visitors in the Gallery, despite the fact that Deputy Kelly, who was in the Chair, issued a warning to the visitors. The clerk to the committee also had to ask visitors he saw surrounding a witness at the end of the meeting outside the committee room to desist. Members who request passes for visitors are responsible for their conduct. That is a long-established practice. I propose to bring this matter to the attention of the Captain of the Guard to make him aware of the incidents. While I will not suggest that we close the Visitors Gallery, we have to be careful and fair to witnesses.
There was also a great deal of noise and many comments coming from people in the Visitors Gallery. I appreciate passions were high and there are many strong opinions but that can disrupt our work. It can be seen as disrespectful to witnesses, irrespective of the questions put. We put the questions fairly and robustly. It was difficult from that perspective and it is something we need to be conscious of.
I thank the Deputy.
No. 467B is correspondence dated 8 May from Mr. Noel Waters, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality regarding a request for information on receipt of a motion by the committee from Clare County Council. The note is quite a comprehensive response to issues on the cost of administration in respect of fixed charge notices. There are ongoing attempts to address the issues, which will be assisted by the commencement of Part 3 of the 2010 Act on 1 June. Is it agreed to note and publish, and forward a copy to Clare County Council? Agreed.
Nos. 468B(i) and (ii) is correspondence dated 8 May from Mr. John Barrett. I will hold this over until the end of this business.
Nos. 474B(i) to (vi) is correspondence dated 9 May from Ms Mary Higgins, chief executive officer of Caranua providing follow-up information to our meeting on 13 April. It includes a note on the Towards Healing organisation, a breakdown of the budget for travel and subsistence, a note on agency staff employed, a list of the internal and external audit reports and costs associated with each, a note on the rent to be paid for the forthcoming move of premises, a note on liaison officers and a note on the board meeting held in April 2016 at which the financial position of the organisation was discussed. There is considerable information in this. I propose we note and publish it for the moment but we will come back to it next week.
I do not see the list of liaison officers. I may have missed it but could that be checked? There is reference to an appendix to the list. More important, I need the Chair's assistance regarding the note on rent. Based on parliamentary questions, etc., tabled by myself and other Members, the Department of Education and Skills and the OPW do not seem to know what is happening. Caranua says it has to move but I do not know why. I would like to highlight this because, presumably, the committee has made its views known to the organisation.
We have written to the Department of Education and Skills and we are waiting for a reply.
The problem is Caranua could sign a rent agreement, which is extraordinarily high, using public funds. I acknowledge there are serious issues but this is also a serious issue. When will we come back to it? I am concerned that this agreement will be signed. I have read the Dáil reply but I cannot make head nor tail of the cause for this move. The Department has to give permission, as far as I understand it, under section 7(7) of the legislation before Caranua enters into any contract. I raised this in the Dáil yesterday and the Minister said he did not know what the position was and that he would get back to me. The CEO of Caranua said in this correspondence that from day one it was made known to them that they would be obliged to leave the premises. I do not know by whom. We cannot leave the Caranua accounts without coming back to this. We should send the message again that no rent agreement should be signed. It is not a good use of money and there are many buildings that could be used.
We have communicated with the Department. We will communicate again within 24 hours and we will insist that a full and complete reply be before the committee before next Thursday and that Caranua and the Department should not proceed with any contractual arrangements in the meantime.
To be clear, Caranua will enter into the contract and, therefore, it needs to be told this. The Minister needs to clarify whether he has given permission for this. We also need clarification from the OPW as to why Caranua has to move since the organisation is based in one of its buildings. There should be three letters.
We will follow up with all three organisations and we will insist on a written response before next Thursday. Perhaps the Deputy might assist the secretariat by forwarding the replies to the parliamentary questions in order that the staff can know the reference point.
Category C is correspondence from private individuals and any other correspondence.
Nos. 434C(i) and (ii) are carried over from last week. This is correspondence received from the chairman of NAMA regarding to the committee’s report on Project Eagle. It is a short letter and I will read it to members. We will not have a detailed discussion on it but we have to make some response. I will read it and I will ask at the conclusion of the meeting that we will note and publish it and forward it to the commission, in regard to which the Government has agreed terms of reference during the week, together with a statement from the committee in response, which will issue later. The letter is dated 19 April and addressed to me. It reads:
Thank you for forwarding copies of the Committee's report of its examination of the sale of Project Eagle. Whilst there are a number of opinions in the report with which we strongly disagree, I do not wish to rehearse again the various arguments and counter-arguments which have been well aired at this stage. I do, however, wish to draw your attention to two material errors in the Committee's report.
First, the Committee states as its opinion that the NAMA Board was not explicitly informed of the extent of the financial loss that would be recorded in NAMA's accounts as a result of setting the Project Eagle minimum reserve price at £1.3 billion (Paragraphs C.9 and 144 of the report). I wish to point out that this was unequivocally refuted by a former member of the Board at the PAC's hearing on 17 November 2016 when Mr John Corrigan stated that "when we decided to set the minimum price of £1.3 billion, we were conscious that there was a probability that there could be a loss of up to £180 million, that is to say, the difference between the reserve price and the carrying value of those assets in the balance sheet".
Second, the Committee is of the opinion (Paragraphs C.26 and 208) that the Board was not informed of the meeting held between NAMA representatives and Cerberus on 31 March 2014. This is incorrect: a number of Board members recall that they were so informed - this is clear from the testimony of Mr Oliver Ellingham and Mr Willie Soffe to the PAC on 18 October 2016.
I would like to make a brief response and we will not try not to labour this for too long. It was our opinion that the board members were not explicitly informed of the extent of the financial loss.
While Mr. Corrigan may have been conscious that there could have been a loss of up to £180 million, he did not say that all board members were explicitly informed of the matter. Regarding what he said in the conclusion that the size of the loss implied that it would have been made clear to all board members, we were not provided with evidence that this statement had been made, despite several board members being present. If we accept for a moment that it was the case that they were aware of the probability of a loss of £180 million, why has NAMA argued so vehemently against the Comptroller and Auditor General's conclusion that the decision to sell the loans at a minimum price of £1.3 billion involves a significant probable loss of up to £190 million? It simply makes no sense.
NAMA's defence was that they were not informed specifically of the extent of the financial loss of setting the price at £1.3 billion, which actually would have reflected a loss of £173 million. We refer to the loss in our financial statement. Mr. Daly is now saying that the board was made aware of a probable loss of up to £180 million. Why, in God's name, did they spend several months attacking the Comptroller and Auditor General for suggesting that there was a probable loss of up to £190 million? His defence against the Committee of public Accounts is to say that the Comptroller and Auditor General was right. That is essentially it.
I want to move on to the second matter, which is even more puzzling. As regards the chairman of NAMA's point about not informing the board about the meeting with Cerberus, we wrote specifically to NAMA at my request on 13 December 2016 on this matter. We asked NAMA:
Please give us the details of any and all recorded responses, if available, of each of the NAMA board members when they were informed during the board meeting on 3 April regarding the meetings between the Chairman and the Chief Executive and Cerberus on the day before the bids closed. If this was not communicated to the board members provide a note for why this was the case.
That was in our letter to NAMA. On 22 December 2016, NAMA replied to the committee. The reply is on our website. It responded to the committee as follows: "As is evident from the minutes of the NAMA Board meetings, the meeting with Cerberus was not discussed at Board level as Project Eagle was not discussed at the meeting with Cerberus". Therefore, his response to the committee to say that the members were informed is 100% contradicted by NAMA's own letter to us on 22 December when it said that the matter was not discussed at board level. NAMA's response to our letter is a flat contradiction of its written evidence to this committee on 22 December 2016. We are going to issue a statement to that effect. We will send both documents to the commission for whenever it reports.
That is all we can do.
That is all we can do. We will send it. We are not going to re-open it. I believe it is clear and I believe we have dealt with that letter effectively. We will send that and our statement, which the secretariat will draft after the meeting, off to whoever constitutes the new commission as soon as it is established.
No. 451C is correspondence carried over from last week from Deputy David Cullinane with regard to the practice of boards to refer matters to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, rather than make formal complaints. Does the Deputy want to elaborate? The Deputy is saying that there is a difference between referring a matter to SIPO and making a formal complaint.
I would like the Comptroller and Auditor General's view on this as well, because I am not sure whether his office was aware of this case. It raised a very serious issue for me in that there is the potential of some boards saying that they complied with the SIPO Act and regulations by simply referring issues on. However, unless they make a complaint, SIPO is not obliged to carry out an examination. It seems to me that this was missed for a huge amount of time. It was only SIPO itself that decided it would carry out an examination. I am not sure whether the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General was aware of it or had been alerted to it. My issue is whether there is a difference between informing SIPO and noting issues arose and organisations actually making a complaint.
Through the Chair. Is the Comptroller and Auditor General a member of SIPO?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
I am a member of SIPO.
Is he free to discuss it here? Is he wearing his Comptroller and Auditor General hat or his SIPO hat?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
I am wearing my Comptroller and Auditor General hat here.
Does he have any difficulty speaking on the topic from his perspective?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
There was an investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission into this matter and a report has been published. The origination of it was actually in the audit of the Family Support Agency for 2012. We discovered that a director of the Family Support Agency had been claiming for attendance at the meetings, but the individual was also employed by a family resource centre in Waterford and was claiming there for attendance at the same meetings. That created at difficulty. The audit found that. We brought it to the attention of the Family Support Agency. In the audit certificates for 2012 and 2013 for the Family Support Agency, I drew attention to the fact that there was a difficulty there and that the matter was being pursued by the Family Support Agency.
I cannot comment on the individual or on anything to do with the individual, but I think the point raised by the Deputy relates to the agency and the governance of the agency. The report produced by the commission on the matter does point out that the Family Support Agency reported the matter to An Garda Síochána, but An Garda Síochána reported back to say that it cannot proceed because it did not receive a complaint. Similarly, when the matter was brought to the attention of the Standards in Public Office Commission, it was reported that there had been a double claiming but it did not name the individual. Therefore, it did not constitute a complaint that the commission could act on per se. The commission did pursue it with the agency, got the details and carried out an investigation subsequently. I believe it does point up the difference between reporting something to an investigatory body and making a complaint to an investigatory body. As it stands, the agency's last stated position on the matter was that it was satisfied that the moneys were appropriately paid to the individual. As auditor of that agency, I do not take the same view.
Okay. Does the Deputy want to take it any further?
As a case study, it shows that there are clear process failures. In my view, a number of different agencies did not act in the way we would expect them to. The Family Support Agency is gone as it has been subsumed into Tusla. In view of this we should write to Tusla at the very least and outline our concerns on this matter and on how there is a difference between reporting a complaint and making a complaint. The issues that the Comptroller and Auditor General raises as well, in terms of his opinion, and-----
We will also write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is over this from a Government point of view.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
One of the actions we took after the audit when the issues had come to light regarded circumstances in which public servants were involved in more than two agencies. We suggested to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that claims for travel and subsistence should always be through the employer. If there was a basis for reclaiming those travel and subsistence expenses, we suggested that it be done agency to agency in order not to have a public servant claiming in two different places unknown to both sides. The Department issued a letter of instruction. Across the Civil Service now, that is the expectation.
What about the public service?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
Across the public service.
Does that include local authorities?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
Yes, it should.
Okay. We will check up on that. I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General.
No. 458C is correspondence dated 2 May from Shannon Protection Alliance requesting the appearance of a report writer before the committee. We decided at last week's meeting that this is a matter more suitable to the Joint Committee on Planning, Housing, Community and Local Government, as it is about a proposed plan that it has been examining. Is it agreed to note that? Agreed. That is noted.
No. 465C, dated 28 April 2017, is from an individual who refers to Teagasc. The correspondence states that if, in his opinion, the grievance procedure had operated correctly in Teagasc there would have been no need for the matter to go to the Rights Commissioner or the Labour Court. However, the fact is that it did and both of these dismissed the person’s claim. The matter is now ten years old and I understand that this individual has retired from Teagasc. I accept that he still feels aggrieved but it is not for the committee to deal with such individual cases or reopen a case that has received a hearing through all of the proper mechanisms available. I propose that we write to the individual informing him that we cannot take his case further. I ask the secretariat and the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to draft an appropriate letter. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Nos. 466C(i) and (ii) and 473C are two items of correspondence dated 8 May 2017. They are from an individual who has contacted the committee many times on a wards of court issue. She claims, with regard to losses sustained by the wards of court fund, that the State should carry these. She cites a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts held on March 2001 where the then Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform gave evidence to that effect to the committee. She enclosed a copy of the transcript and I propose that we forward a copy of her correspondence to the Department of Justice and Equality for a response.
A response to the document was submitted by the individual on the Aon Hewitt Report of the Wards of Court Investment Scheme Spectrum Growth Fund, which was forwarded by us to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform some months ago. The clerk has informed me that the report is expected within the next week. We will hear back on that and we will also write to the Department of Justice and Equality because the wards of court issue continues.
No. 469C is further correspondence from a firm of solicitors, dated 8 May, on a client who seeks to address the committee in connection with the Grace issue and the standard of care provided by the HSE. This item follows on from our discussion at last week's meeting. We await a response from the HSE on final questions that were submitted following last week's meeting. What do members propose we should do? The whistleblower has requested a private meeting with the committee to discuss the issues. We have already decided that Mr. Tony O'Brien will be invited back here to discuss the issues. I remember reading the letter and I think her letter dealt with public procurement issues, which fall within our remit. We will not stray into the care issue because it will be dealt with by the commission. The person referred to procurement issues that may be part of the commission's terms of reference.
We should focus on the procurement issues, if the witness were to come before the committee. I originally supported having the witness before the committee and I still do. I understood that we were to get legal advice. Has that been done? What is the legal advice?
We have requested advice but it has not been received yet.
I did not request the advice. I believe she should be invited to appear before the committee and other members can express their view.
Deputies Farrell, Catherine Murphy and McDonald are next.
I shall wait.
We talked about what we should focus on last week.
We all now understand that there is a particular piece that does not stray into the inquiry or commission. As I said last week, and still believe, it would be logical to have the whistleblower in here before the HSE.
Deputy McDonald is next.
I am a bit puzzled about the legal advice, although maybe it is no harm. A precedent for hearing directly from a whistleblower has been set. The person voluntarily came before the committee at his own request. The person to whom I refer is Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The session was in private because there were big concerns at the time about Sergeant McCabe's own legal protections, standing and, indeed, some of the material that we were dealing with even though at the time we had a very robust debate in terms of public session versus private session.
It would be astonishing if we refused the whistleblower access to this committee given that the person is anxious to come here, particularly given all that has happened and given the fact that the HSE and others have an open platform here, in public session, to deal with issues and answer questions but also to put forward its account of events. I am in favour of the witness presenting-----
In private session.
-----in accordance with her request.
I agree with having the whistleblower here in private session but I would like to hear the legal advice.
I understand the legal advice is that we are not to stray into areas being covered by the commission.
I want to make it very clear that we are bringing in Mr. Tony O'Brien to deal with the issue as well. It would be very unbalanced of us to hear from the agency but not the person who raised the original issues, once the meeting is in private session. I want to make the following very clear. There are procurement issues and various issues of a financial nature that are not specific in the commission's terms of reference so we can operate within our remit. We will not stray into matters that will be examined by the commission.
I agree that the witness should come in here. I expressed my concern about the meeting fitting with precedent and it was clarified that there was precedent. We did not decide that the meeting would be in private or public. The option was left open.
The requestor has asked for the meeting to be in private.
That is fine. We did not know that and I thank the Chairman for clarifying the matter.
In terms of the health executive, we receive many documents. The HSE was to publish a report and it was imminent.
The Deloitte report.
Has the report being published?
Not only that. What surprised me, and I think it will surprise a lot of people-----
-----and we have dealt with the Grace case at length here but we all turned on the radio a fortnight ago only to hear that the matter had been dealt with in the High Court and a settlement had been issued.
That is right.
There was a figure for costs that the agency had incurred but had not been paid by the HSE, which was being examined by Deloitte but it still has not completed a report. The preliminary findings of that report were accepted by the HSE. Included in the award, I think, was €600,000 in respect of unpaid care services. That matter has been agreed. All along while we talked here the matter was trundling away on the civil side of the courts. The matter was before the courts when it was before us. I was not aware of it at the time but we did not conflict with any of the issues.
That is the aspect I wanted to mention, following on from the procurement issues and the report.
The report has still not been issued.
It still has not been issued. When was the last time that we received correspondence from the health board? We outlined that there were three pieces. The first one was the report and then there were two other matters.
Then we heard about a settlement.
When was the last time that Mr. O'Brien came back in here to clarify matters for us? He claimed that the report was imminent.
We think it was on a certain date but I shall ask for the debate to be displayed on the screen.
I am not sure but we will come back to the matter.
I have a question on the precedent set for whistleblowers giving evidence or testimony in private session. Other than Sergeant McCabe, have there been other whistleblowers? If so, can we have the details? This is the first term that some members have been on this committee. I would like, if at all possible, to see the transcript of that evidence. Is a transcript available when a meeting is held in private session?
No. That is the essence of private session.
We discuss the matter.
Do members of the committee have access to the transcript?
No. The whistleblower legislation is quite new.
So there are not many established cases.
In terms of discussions in private session, I do not think matters were discussed in private session for the Angela Kerins case. Private debates are recorded but they are not transcribed.
Was Sergeant McCabe the only whistleblower to give evidence?
Yes, as I recall. It is relatively new legislation.
Has there been no one else?
In terms of today's matter, this is only the second whistleblower that I am aware of who has formally requested to meet us in private session.
Interestingly, the first one led to a commission of investigation and this whistleblower has ultimately led to a commission. There are strong parallels.
I would like to have seen how the private session was conducted in terms of dealing with the whistleblower.
There will be no written record of the meeting.
For what purpose are private sessions recorded?
The machine records them but they are not transcribed. They are in the bowels of the building.
But they can be transcribed. If they are not available to the courts-----
They are deemed private documents in the Oireachtas.
Are they available to members?
No, they are not provided.
Why are private sessions recorded?
I am going to be open.
There is a difference between being provided and available.
My understanding is that they can be available to members.
I can give my own personal experience. An issue arose previously a couple of years ago in terms of something that I was meant to have said and it was not transcribed. I went over to somewhere in Kildare House and put on headphones.
I was able to listen to the tape recording of what was actually said but there was never a transcript produced. That was a one-off, following a request by a member who wanted to hear what the member had said but it is not generally available.
The Digital Audio Recording, DAR, system in the courts allows one to listen back to evidence that was given. It is very important when whistleblowers are coming in that the meeting is conducted properly, particularly when we are in private session. I would find it very useful, as a member of this committee, to have access to Sergeant McCabe's evidence, for example, and to hear how that meeting was conducted, in terms of questioning and so forth, if at all possible.
I would expect that there is a minute of that meeting but not a full transcript because-----
I am requesting that. I would like to have access to that.
To the transcript?
There is no transcript. It was never done.
We will get it checked out. As I understand it, there is no transcript but we will see if it can be done. That is not a commitment that it will be done, however. We will inquire about that. We have agreed to invite the whistleblower in, to meet in private session to discuss the relevant matters and not to stray into the areas that are being investigated by the commission. The legal advice will be that we should not stray into any areas that the commission is examining. We do not have that legal advice yet but the committee members have decided to invite the witness to appear before us. In advance of that meeting, we will be advised, if necessary, by the legal staff of the particular areas that are under the remit of the commission into which we cannot stray. The meeting will proceed on that basis.
The Chairman must see how it would be useful to members, given that there is a precedent for this, in terms of how it is conducted-----
There has to be a minute. If the Committee of Public Accounts had a meeting in private session, minutes would have been produced-----
I would appreciate a copy of same.
I will have that circulated to members. The meeting has to happen before Mr. Tony O'Brien comes in.
Was the follow-up information we requested sent by Mr. O'Brien?
Yes. Members can see the letter of 5 April on the screen now. We will circulate copies of that again to refresh everyone's memory and will come back to it again. The letter is 20 pages long so we are not going to go through it now. I will ask the clerk to the committee to email it to everyone again.
I am specifically asking about the report. Can we ask where the report is?
The Deloitte report?
We will write again this morning to ask for that. It was stated in court that the Deloitte report was not completed. We will ask if it has been completed since then. We were told we would get a copy of it once it was completed. We will ask the HSE if it has been completed and, if so, to forward a copy to us.
The next item is correspondence No. 470C, (i) to (iv), from Deputy Thomas Broughan, enclosing copies of figures provided by the group Promoting Awareness Responsibility and Care on the Roads, PARC, in relation to drink-driving offences. I propose that we send these figures to the Department for a response. Is that agreed? Agreed. I thank Deputy Broughan for the work done in that regard.
The next item is correspondence No. 471C (i) and (ii) from an individual which is dated 9 May relating to Howth Harbour, the management of which is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We also received another item of correspondence from the same individual last week and, as agreed, the clerk contacted the individual and clarified that the matter is being examined by the Ombudsman. The individual told the clerk that although he was thankful that the previous Committee of Public Accounts took an interest in this matter, he feels that raising matters with the committee did not help in terms of how he has been treated by the relevant authorities. I propose that we let the Ombudsman conclude his investigation and write to the individual to say that if there are matters outside of that investigation which this committee should examine, to itemise these for our consideration. We will write back to him on that basis.
The next item is correspondence No. 468 B, (i) and (ii), a report from Mr. John Barrett. We will not conduct an analysis of this report now but we have a substantial document in front of us today. I want to make a number of observations arising from this document, which follows last week's meeting. The first observation I will make, about which there is no dispute, is that the matters were brought to the attention of the Garda Commissioner in July 2015 and 22 months later, she still has not gotten to the bottom of them. I would argue that 22 months is long enough to have dealt with an in-house matter in An Garda Síochána. I am not satisfied that the Committee of Public Accounts was told last week that further audit work may not even be completed by the summer. This committee is not going to wait beyond two years for a follow-through on these matters. These matters were known in 2015 and were probably known to the Commissioner in 2014 when she was acting Commissioner. In 2014, repayments to the OPW had started on foot of people being aware of the situation at that stage. This is not a legacy issue. It is an issue that is current to the current Commissioner. It was brought to her notice on her watch and she has known about it for the past 22 months. The meeting last week was outstanding but was not the conclusion of this matter. We will want to see a further response sooner rather than later.
Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan has two roles. She is the Garda Commissioner and is answerable to the Minister for Justice and Equality in that respect. She is also the Accounting Officer for An Garda Síochána and is answerable to the Committee of Public Accounts for financial matters. I just want to read something into the record so that everybody is clear on the position of the Committee of Public Accounts. The 2015 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General refers to the responsibilities of Accounting Officers. It states:
In accordance with section 22 of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1886, the Accounting Officer is required to prepare the appropriation account. By law, the account must be submitted to me [the Comptroller and Auditor General] by 31 March following the end of the year of the account.
The Accounting officer is also responsible for the safeguarding of public funds and property under her control, for the efficiency and economy of administration of An Garda Síochána and for the regularity and propriety of all transactions in the appropriation account.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published a document which was prepared by the current General Secretary of that Department for this committee. It states:
In their Accounting Officer role, which is personal and cannot be delegated, they are responsible for the stewardship of public funds and are required to give evidence on how they discharged this responsibility to the PAC.
It goes on:
The fact that the duties of the Accounting Officer are vested in the most senior official in the organisation, who is personally answerable to the PAC, gives an important focus to managerial accountability for regularity, propriety and value for money in the operations of the Department.. The Accounting Officer cannot be acquainted with the detail of every transaction in the [organisation]. He/she ensures that proper mechanisms are in place to provide appropriate assurance about the regularity, propriety and efficiency of the [organisation's] operations. These mechanisms are robust internal control systems; sound internal audit and Audit Committee arrangements; and effective risk management
The Department of Public Expenditure document elaborates further on the role of the Accounting Officer.
Ms. Nóirín O'Sullivan is the Accounting Officer to this committee. She is not here solely as Garda Commissioner but has a dual role. The Accounting Officer's responsibilities are also set out in the Comptroller and Auditor General Act 1993. I will not go through that now. The statutory responsibilities of Accounting Officers vis-à-vis the appropriation accounts are very clear. The accounts, which are submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General, must be accompanied by a statement of internal financial control. In addition, the Accounting Officer is responsible for safeguarding assets, the financial implications of policy, economy and efficiency, evaluation of effectiveness, internal audit, sanctions and grant procedures. Those duties are personal to the Accounting Officer. Our discussions here are in relation to the Accounting Officer.
I will invite members to comment on this presently. As I have said already, these matters were brought to the attention of the Garda Commissioner in July 2015 but 22 months later, we still have not got to the bottom of it all. This committee - I am sure the members will agree with me on this - is not waiting any longer because 22 months is long enough for her to have gotten to the bottom of this. The promise of another internal report, possibly after July 2017, is not the issue. There is enough information in the interim report that was concluded in September 2016.
I want to move on to one other point about which I am personally concerned. It might seem like a small point to some but it is significant, in my view.
We all know about the meeting held in July 2015. Several months later, in 29 March 2016, the deputy commissioner requested an internal audit report on the Garda College in Templemore. That is mentioned on page 10 of the report that we saw last week. In September 2016 the interim audit report was presented to the head of the internal audit unit. That was the first draft. The reason I am referring to it is the correspondence received from Mr. Barrett refers to the fact that the head of the internal audit unit did very well to have the matter referred to in the statement of accounting policies and principles signed by the Accounting Officer on the 2015 accounts. That was all agreed to in the first few days of September. The Comptroller and Auditor General signed his audit report on 5 September 2016 on the 2015 accounts. As a result of the internal audit, these matters were coming to a head. The Comptroller and Auditor General insisted on there being some reference to them. When I look at the statement of accounting policies and principles on page 318 of the 2015 appropriation accounts, signed by Nóirín O’Sullivan, Accounting Officer of An Garda Síochána, on 31 March 2016, the last paragraph reads as follows:
Audit of the Garda College
A number of issues associated with the provision of ancillary services in the Garda College, Templemore, have been identified which are not in compliance with current public standard corporate governance procedures. A draft internal audit report has made a number of recommendations to ensure compliance with the public financial procedures which will be incorporated into any action plan to address these issues.
As Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, that paragraph could only have been drafted and agreed to in the first week of September 2016. The Accounting Officer, Nóirín O’Sullivan, signed the document to include that paragraph later than 31 March. That is the one signed document she has presented here before today. Essentially, for items agreed to in September 2016, she backdated her signature by over five months. I do not find it satisfactory that an Accounting Officer presented the appropriation accounts and the statement of accounting policies and principles to deal with matters to be dealt with in September 2016 and signed and dated them 31 March 2016. I find it unacceptable; it is not accurate or appropriate. I have to question the honesty of people who sign documents and have them backdated by over five months.
I will be requesting her to come and answer that specific question, the reason being that she would probably have prepared a draft – I am now trying to help her – as there is a requirement to produce the accounts for the Comptroller and Auditor General by 31 March, but it would have been far more honest if she had re-dated them in September, the day before the Comptroller and Auditor General issued his report. I am not going to place any responsibility on the Comptroller and Auditor General who published the document. His audit report of 5 September is clear. This is the document signed by Nóirín O’Sullivan as Accounting Officer. I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to respond. It might seem to be a small matter.
It is not small at all. It is very serious.
The Garda was examining an issue and someone backdated a signature by five months to give the impression that something was signed on 31 March 2016, but it was not actually dealt with until September 2016.
On the face of it, Nóirín O’Sullivan needs to account to the Committee of Public Accounts as Accounting Officer for this and other issues dealt with in the Barrett report. Is what I have said accurate?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
I would like to make one correction to what the Chairman said. The obligation is to present the appropriation account. This, per se, is on page 7 and effectively the statement of moneys provided and the outturn which is compared with that of the previous year. The practice we have adopted over the years is that we require the account to be presented to us. Our audit process is a process of verification of what has been presented. If we find at any stage that there is a figure in the appropriation account which is incorrect, we will ask the Accounting Officer personally to re-sign the new appropriation account with a current date. However, in the course of an audit we may find that the explanations of variances are inadequate or the disclosures insufficient.
In that situation we go back to the Department – in this case An Garda Síochána – and say it needs to make this adjustment, that it is not explaining it properly or that a figure in a note needs to be amended. We do not require the Accounting Officer to re-sign in that situation. Similarly, if there are changes in the statement of internal financial control, we will say to the Department that it must put in something extra because there is a breach of controls not noted in the account and that it is appropriate to bring it to the attention of the committee by disclosing it in the statement of internal financial control. We have not insisted on the Accounting Officer re-signing. Physically, the Accounting Officer did not re-sign and backdate it. It would have been noted by the executive director of finance.
The Comptroller and Auditor General is saying Nóirín O’Sullivan signed the document on 31 March, the one presented to us, on which we rely, but that a paragraph was added to it five months later.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
That is right - at our request.
Yes, at the request of the Comptroller and Auditor General. However, the onus is on the Accounting Officer of every Department who has responsibility for the statement of accounting policies and principles. The Comptroller and Auditor General signs his audit report, while the Accounting Officer signs his or her report. The clarification is that a document was signed on 31 March 2016. We are entitled to rely on that document as having been signed on that date, as presented to us. We now find that a paragraph written five months after that date was inserted into the document and that it was physically impossible to have signed off on it on 31 March. I would have said the onus was on the Accounting Officer to re-date it because the Templemore College issue was significant. It might not have changed the financial accounts, but it was an issue of significant concern to An Garda Síochána.
I do not understand the Chairman’s point. The Comptroller and Auditor General has made the position very clear.
What he has made very clear is this. The Accounting Officer, Nóirín O’Sullivan, signed the statement of accounting policies and practices for the previous year on 31 March 2016. Five months after she had signed it, she added a new paragraph in September 2016. The document we have signed by her at the end of March 2016 could not have been signed at the end of March 2016 because its contents were not confirmed until five months later. We have been misled. I am putting it simply. The Committee of Public Accounts-----
I am sorry, but I listened precisely to what the Comptroller and Auditor General said.
The Comptroller and Auditor General said he had asked her to insert the paragraph.
One second, Chairman-----
I am finishing.
The Chairman used the word “misled”.
The speakers are in the following sequence.
We need to hear from the Comptroller and Auditor General to know if we were misled.
It is not for him to tell us if we were misled. When I see a statement signed by an Accounting Officer, dated 31 March 2016, I am entitled to believe, as the Deputy is, that the document and its contents were signed on 31 March 2016. It is in black and white.
That is not what the Comptroller and Auditor General said.
The document, as printed and presented to us with those paragraphs, could not possibly have been agreed to before signing it on 31 March 2016. The document we have is something that was agreed to five months later.
On a point of order, I do not believe this is the correct way to proceed.
We should ask Nóirín O’Sullivan for an explanation.
We are here to consider the issue of value for money. My opinion on confidence in the police is on record. I am here, however, in a different capacity. I am here as a member of the committee to consider the issue of value for money. Matters arose on the last occasion on which clarification is certainly needed. The Garda Commissioner needs to be given an opportunity to come here. That is the way we should deal with the matter. If we go down the route of saying “misled” and “dishonest”, we are making findings.
We may well want to do it but it is not our role. Our role is to look at value for money and examine what is before us.
On the last occasion, Mr. Barrett produced a document that we received this week. We need to look at it and see the context of it. It was referred to as "minutes" but it is his personal recording. I advise caution and I say this as somebody on the record questioning the police and having a certain opinion. I am hearing a different context. We should put this down for a meeting as quickly as possible and it should not wait until July.
We should put the matter where we can look at it in the context of the role we have in this committee
Speakers have indicated in the following sequence: Deputies Connolly, Kelly, MacSharry, Madigan, Cullinane and Murphy. The clerk noted the sequence in which the hands went up.
I was just making a point of order in that we should proceed with caution.
Fine. We will invite in the Garda Commissioner at an early date to respond.
On that point of order, I agree with the Deputy that we should not use inflammatory or judgmental language.
There is a reason documents are dated, and it is to verify the facts as presented on that date. It is as a matter of fact misleading to present the facts in that way, not least as I understood from last week's hearing that it was very late in the day when the Comptroller and Auditor General was alerted to the facts of what was happening in Templemore. I do not say that with the view that we need an explanation-----
We do, as early as possible.
-----but dates must mean something.
We should not wait until July and we should call a meeting, if necessary, on a different day. Due process must be gone through. Very serious issues came up after a very long day. We need to look at what Mr. Barrett produced, come back and discuss it. I urge caution and we should do that as quickly as possible in the proper context of our role in this committee, bearing in mind the delays we have seen. There was a draft of a report in 2006 and reports in 2008, 2010 and 2015. Various people, including the Comptroller and Auditor General, were not aware of the issue.
I will clarify something before finishing. Yesterday in the Dáil the Taoiseach stated the Comptroller and Auditor General was still looking at this. I understand his report has been completed and it is what we are discussing. He stated there were three inspections or analyses going on, with one of those coming from the Comptroller and Auditor General. Could we have clarification on that?
Could that be clarified? It was stated in the Dáil by the Taoiseach.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
We are carrying out the audit of the 2016 appropriation account. Clearly there are control matters that arise and we are examining the issue in that context. I expect I will have a report in September in that regard. That is the normal business. The appropriation account examination must be completed by September. I am not doing a special report.
There is no investigation separate from the ordinary programme of work.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
There is no other current investigation. If, having carried out the appropriation account audit, I judge there are matters requiring a further report, I may proceed to that at some point. As it stands, I am doing the audit of the 2016 appropriation account.
There are a few issues we must discuss before proceeding. The matters raised last week are serious not just for the Committee of Public Accounts but for the State. I have the transcript of last week's meeting and I have read it a couple of times. It is incredible to do so in conjunction with the documents that Mr. Barrett has now sent us. It is like a jigsaw but the problem is the pieces do not fit. There are contradictions all over the place. There were contradictions in the evidence last week with the Garda Commissioner and her staff and between the Department personnel and Garda Commissioner, when they basically said opposite things. The Garda Commissioner stated last week she started a process after the meeting of 27 July but was that process not begun beforehand, on 2 July by Mr. Cyril Dunne, the head of administration? Did he not commence that process before the Garda Commissioner said she commenced her process? In evidence, the Garda Commissioner said she started a process and the Department of Justice and Equality - representatives of which are coming before us in a few minutes - was involved straight away. It is my understanding that may not be the case and it might not have been brought into the process until October. It is important that the assistant secretary who sat here last week said the Department was not aware of the issues relating to Templemore until October. If it was involved with the process from July, how was it not aware of the issues until October? How in the name of God is there a Department of justice that is not aware of these issues in the first place, given the Vote it must manage? Frankly, it is incredible.
I have another point before moving on. On 12 April I raised many of these issues in Dáil Éireann. In evidence last week, the Garda Commissioner and every witness, including those from the Department of Justice and Equality, stated they were not aware of the very specific issues I raised involving dates, times and people mentioned in the Dáil on 12 April. How is that possible? There was a motion of no confidence in the Garda Commissioner but the Department of Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner and all the staff were not aware these issues were raised. It is incredible.
This is incredibly serious and I agree with the previous speaker and the comments of the Chairman on the national airwaves. We must deal with this quickly. I do not believe we will deal with it in one meeting and if we need special sittings, we should have them. We should do that very soon, possibly starting the process in a fortnight. How far are we going to go with this? This goes very deep and there are layers of issues. There is a gold, silver and bronze amount of issues here. There is the matter of what happened with the Garda Commissioner over the past couple of years. There is the matter of how the internal auditor was not made aware of reports in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2015. There are also the issues relating to Templemore. Mr. Cyril Dunne has left the organisation and Mr. Michael Howard is the external auditor. Ms Anne-Marie McMahon has certain knowledge about Templemore. Will we look into these matters by bringing in everybody who was here last week? Will former Garda Commissioners be invited in? Will we bring in the individuals who were here last week, those who have left the organisation or those who are currently in the organisation and who have critical knowledge? Assistant Garda Commissioner Twomey has been referenced numerous times. These are critical issues we need to decide now on behalf of this country so we can get to the bottom of what is going on.
I agree with much of what has been said already and with the Chairman's sentiments on the national airwaves this morning. I was at most of last week's meeting, except for the end, but there were contradictions before that, particularly in terms of assessment of potential for criminality. The Garda Commissioner clearly stated there was no question of that but Mr. Barrett was less sure. I agree very much with Deputy Kelly in his sentiments about how deep we can go. As Deputy Connolly stated, we are here specifically to deal with value-for-money and accounting issues but we cannot fail to be cognisant of the fact that in parallel there are many other issues facing the Garda. There is a major morale issue and people are entitled to have confidence in the police force. Whereas there is no specific relationship, these accounting matters will contribute in a very serious way to undermining that even further. Whatever we do, we need to do it quickly and to do it properly we will need to go into some level of depth. That involves seeking to bring in former Garda Commissioners and people who have been involved so we can determine value for money and where money was used.
The second issue is the level of contradiction in last week's meeting. As the Chairman stated, it is not a legacy issue; it is current.
To me it is a complexion and culture of delay to facilitate containment, damage limitation and cover up. This seems to be the sort of autopilot that is allowed to run in Departments and it is wrong. I do not know how we will manage this in terms of time but it needs to be our top priority given the implications. I would also like to see Mr. Barrett, Mr. Ruane, Mr. Kelly and the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality without the Commissioner in the room if possible. Whether it is appropriate to do this in private or public session I am agnostic, but I would like the ability to have an engagement with these individuals and put certain questions without, as it were, their boss sitting beside them. These are my thoughts so far.
Serious concerns are raised not only by the evidence to the committee last week but by what we has been said today. The allegations being made against the Commissioner-----
Against the Accounting Officer.
I would really like to see this dealt with expeditiously. The public will want to know why this culture seems to be at play in the Garda, which Mr. Barrett has raised and Deputy MacSharry has raised, with regard to a cover-up. Many witnesses are involved, and whether we bring former Commissioners before the committee will be up to the committee. We must be mindful of Standing Order 186 and we have to look at the public finances above all. We cannot pre-empt any political attacks for political purposes. Obviously, having said that, there are serious issues here that need to be looked at and addressed. If we are going to have credibility in the Garda with regard to internal mechanisms, in my view we need to question the Commissioner further and question any other witnesses whereby we can throw light on this. We cannot have a situation where contradictory statements are being made and there is no clarity about what is happening. I would like this dealt with expeditiously with regard to all of the witnesses brought before the committee. There is also the caveat raised by Deputy Connolly regarding proceeding with caution. We must be very careful of due process in this and ensure it is done correctly.
Before we proceed, and before we have more meetings and invite in more witnesses, my view is we need to be very clear as a committee about what it is we are doing. A committee established by the Commissioner is examining a number of issues. Internal audit is still doing its work; what we have received is an interim report and it must conclude its work. Mr. Kelly said this will not be done by July and that it will take some more time, but it is in process. The Comptroller and Auditor General will do his work on the appropriation accounts. It is not an actual examination, although that might come following whatever comes from his examination of these issues for the appropriation accounts.
It is very clear there was a breakdown in process, policies and procedures. We have to get under the bonnet of all of this. We have contradictory evidence. We received a huge amount of information from Mr. Barrett, which is very helpful. It is documented and contemporaneous. We do not have the same level of information, by the way, from the Garda Commissioner.
I would like to see us putting some structure to our work. First of all, we need to get all of the information we have sought. We have the incomplete audit report from 2006, which has been referenced, the 2008 report that was ignored pretty much and a 2010 report. There are documents that were over and back between the director of financial services and the Commissioner. There are documents the chief administrative officer had. There was information that should have been given to board meetings which was not given. We need minutes of those board meetings. There is a list of documentation and a range of documents we need first. Then we need to look at who we need to bring in and who are the key witnesses. There are people who were not in the room last time, for example, the chief administrative officer who, in my view, has questions to answer. Even if retired, that person needs to be in the room.
I do not want to go into all of Mr. Barrett's points, but there is a key statement in his documentation which goes to the heart of all of this. He stated:
More worryingly it appears that a coordinated effort was made to ensure that Mr Niall Kelly, Head of Internal Audit, was actively delayed, dissuaded, or precluded from becoming involved. Despite Mr Kelly's best efforts to get a copy of the 2007 report, he was denied access to it by senior Garda management. This process of exclusion essentially closed down any prospect of the matters going beyond the walls of Garda HQ and becoming a matter visible to your committee [as in the internal audit committee], the C&AG, the Public Accounts Committee and thereby into the public domain.
It is quite clear that information was withheld from the Comptroller and Auditor General's office, this committee, the Department and Garda internal audit. These are allegations that are being made and that we need to examine. They are more than allegations as there are also statements made by internal audit. The head of internal audit said himself he was frustrated he did not get the information he sought. We need to put structure to it. I say, based on my reading of it, that all of this screams cover-up and collusion. We as a committee need to take it seriously because it goes to the heart of the culture in An Garda Síochána.
My recommendation to the committee is when we come back the next time we have a report which looks at structure, we get as much information as possible and we have a list of potential witnesses, then we decide when we do it and for how long we do it, and then we look at the internal controls in place within An Garda Síochána and the failures. Essentially our job is to do all of this. I propose this as a way to advance this. What we do not want to have is a scattergun approach, whereby we end up bringing in witnesses who are in and out with a slap on the wrist and that is it. I do not think that would be useful for us. I want a Committee of Public Accounts report at the end of this.
I agree strongly that the dates of audits and the statements are as important as the signature. We definitely need to have this dealt with much earlier. I raised this matter with the Tánaiste on 9 February on Leaders' Questions. I was looking for a copy of the draft report that had been leaked to a newspaper and there was quite an extensive article in January as to parliamentary questions. I was told by the Tánaiste at that point that the Committee of Public Accounts and the justice committee had debated this at length. I went back that same afternoon and I disputed this with the Tánaiste. I could find no record of it. I pursued her for six or eight weeks, forwards and backwards, and she corrected the record in April in the Dáil. That was during the debate on the Charlton commission, at the beginning of February. It is very important, and it was something that was quite interesting last week, that the Commissioner agreed the interim report came in draft form to her in September 2016. Last week, on the record before the committee, she said there had been no change to the draft report. The report on Templemore we debated has an interim report dated February 2017 which was published in late March or early April. The role of the Department of Justice and Equality in this is important because when something is leaked to a newspaper it screams of frustration that there was something that was required to be publicly available. There are questions to be asked when we are speaking about this with regard to the Department of Justice and Equality and what its knowledge was.
Why was this, when there was no change made to it between September and February?
It did not take that long to read the report. It was quite clear that what was included in that report was very significant. Why did it take that length of time when we are talking about the frustration in bringing this into the public domain with the Garda? There is an equal question regarding the Department of Justice and Equality bringing it into the public domain. I want to see that dealt with by the people who come in front of us as well.
I would like to state my full agreement with the remarks of Deputy Cullinane. It is a rare thing.
The issue that we face is a process issue. We need to determine what this process is going to be. More important, we need to determine what it will be from the professional end of the process in terms of investigating what precisely went on and the manner of the investigation.
I would be of the firm view that, given the work the Comptroller and Auditor General is doing with regard to 2016 and the imminent completion of that work, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General should go back and look at Templemore as a specific unit, as well as all of the various processes that took place there and the various transactions involved.
It is very clear from the evidence given by the Commissioner and her staff that the internal audit unit within An Garda Síochána is under-resourced. I would question how seriously it is taking the matter in terms of its presentation of information, not just to the committee but also the fullness and openness to the State and Department of Justice and Equality. The fact that it was withheld historically from the Comptroller and Auditor General speaks volumes in its own right.
Another issue comes down to the budget within An Garda Síochána to be able to get the work of the interim report done quickly. In order to do that, it occurs to me that An Garda Síochána needs to bring in expertise to complete that work and support the section which currently comprises eight personnel. I made that point last week, and I am making it again today because it is imperative that the Garda adequately deal with this issue so that we can get the interim report into the public domain in order that the Comptroller and Auditor General has an opportunity to review it at some point. I appreciate that he has, no doubt, a full list of entities to audit. It occurred to me and, I am sure, many others, that the only way we can achieve full disclosure in regard to the actions and behaviours in Templemore over a period of decades is for the competent authority of the State to go in and do it, and that competent authority is the Comptroller and Auditor General.
It was an incredibly damaging revelation for all of us when the report on issues in Templemore was published. With the greatest of respect to my colleagues, as Deputy Connolly pointed out there is no doubt that we will stray into territory which will effectively turn this committee room into some sort of courtroom. We are not qualified to do that, nor are we allowed to do that. Therefore, I am in agreement with Deputy Cullinane. We need to set a very strict set of terms of reference for ourselves on what it is that we are seeking.
It would amount to an unqualified witch-hunt if we were to start line questioning the Commissioner, the Accounting Officer and other individuals in regard to gaps in the production of information and-or receipts etc. within Templemore over a period of years. We need to consider a special report from the Comptroller and Auditor General or other competent investigative organisation, whatever that may be. It may involve an inquiry of some kind from an accounting perspective or some other mechanism.
It would be very easy for all of us to go into a committee structure and quiz the Commissioner, the Accounting Officer, the head of internal audit and all the rest. It would make great headlines, but would we actually achieve anything? The scattergun approach to which Deputy Cullinane referred is entirely accurate. There is a question of competency. I appreciate we are all very good at what we do because otherwise we would not be here, but the truth of the matter is that there are competent individuals who are capable of getting to the bottom of the accounting practices and trying to come up with information. If that information is not available, competent individuals need to draw their own conclusions as to that.
My final remark concerns the comments of the Chairman and the Comptroller and Auditor General on the audit process and a correction or clarification – whatever one wants to call it. I would like the Comptroller and Auditor General to restate what he said earlier for the purposes of clarity. What I and the Chairman took from what he said are two totally different things. I want to make sure that we are all on the same page. I am not an auditor or an accountant, but what I heard the Comptroller and Auditor General state was that in the course of his verification of the information that was provided an error or a lack of information was identified. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General sought to have that clarification made. It was made and signed, and the document was changed, as is the norm in an audit process. I wanted to clarify that so we are all on the same page.
At the moment, I do not see that the Chairman is on the same page. I appreciate his professionalism------
We will come back to the issue. I will finish with the members.
I remind the committee that the issues around the public domain and the matters of public concern were unearthed in this committee room. This is clearly not a court of law, but it clearly is the Committee of Public Accounts of the Oireachtas and is regularly cited as the most influential and powerful committee of the Oireachtas. Vested in us is the responsibility to follow the money from a value-for-money perspective and to follow the attendant processes and procedures. That is what we should do.
It falls to us to get to the bottom of these matters. For the purposes of assisting the committee, let me say that there is a very long historical hinterland to the story. As a Deputy said it goes back decades. I do not believe that we are in a position to, nor should we attempt to, examine all of that. Rather, we should look to the here and now, the duration of the stewardship of the current Commissioner, as Accounting Officer, to examine exactly the turn of events, the audit, its procedures, the quality of the audit and so on. In other words, the issues that we began to consider and examine in this committee room last week are what we should focus on.
Deputy Cullinane's point is that we need an orderly approach to this and conduct our business in a way that sheds light rather than simply heat. That point is fairly made. Any suggestion that holding the Accounting Officer, in this case the Garda Commissioner, to account amounts to a witch-hunt is very inaccurate and very dangerous from the point of view of the work that we do as a committee.
I suggest that we decide we will investigate these matters, and look to set out the parameters of our inquiries and their sequencing. We need to put the Garda Commissioner, Garda management and all others on notice that we are looking for their full co-operation and active participation in this procedure.
I want to make a final comment. Maybe this is a matter of technicality and detail for people from the auditing world. I have to say I attach very significant importance to dates on documents. I think most people would be in the same position as myself. I am shocked to hear not that an alteration was made to a document, but that the alteration was not made explicitly clear. I do not think that is the correct way to proceed. I have no interest in a witch-hunt or anything else. We have to be determined to do our jobs and our work. I am not looking for a deferral mechanism to push this down the pipe. These issues are at play now. They are of huge public concern. They are relevant. They fall squarely within our remit. We should decide precisely how we are going to do this. I refer to the dates and so on. Maybe the Garda Commissioner and her staff do not watch Oireachtas TV, but if they happen to tune into this episode of the Committee of Public Accounts, they should be on notice that we will be looking for all of them, individually and collectively, to co-operate fully and honestly with our inquiries.
I will not repeat what has been said. I agree with everything the previous speaker said. This is no witch-hunt. We have to do a job here. This is a constitutional committee. We need to get to the bottom of what is going on here. I know we cannot go back forever. We have to concentrate on the current Accounting Officer, who happens to be the Garda Commissioner in this instance. Even more serious questions have been raised today. Specific questions have arisen regarding the evidence that was given last week. I am conscious that there is a huge amount of documentation. I have gone through the transcript of what was said at last week's meeting. I went through it twice. I am conscious that various Deputies asked for specific documents, reports and emails. For instance, we asked the Commissioner to check whether there was any email traffic during a certain time period which said that the internal auditor was to be kept at bay. We asked for documentation in relation to certain financial stuff. Anyone who goes through the transcript will see that many such requests were made. I think we need to analyse the documents we asked for before we go through the next stage of this.
I will set out my suggestion. We have some documentation from Mr. Barrett. Requests have been made for other documentation. We need that documentation as soon as possible. I suggest we should write to the Garda Commissioner and the Department of Justice and Equality, as the two main players here. The OPW is also relevant in this context because questions have been asked about the lands. The OPW probably did not know for a period of time that it owned the lands. It certainly did not know about the rent it was not actually getting. We should write to the Department, the Garda and the OPW to ask for the documents and references that were sought last week. After a gap period of a week has been allowed to enable us to analyse that information, we should start the process of looking at the issues we all know we need to get to the bottom of. I agree with what Deputy MacSharry said earlier on. I believe multiple sittings, including special sittings, will be required. This will have an effect on our diaries. If we were to bring in the gardaí and the Department in two different segments, that might be a good process. We might have to break it up like that.
I suggest that in the next few days or the next week, members of the committee who feel that certain individuals in various roles need to give evidence should write to the clerk to ask for those people to be included and to justify their inclusion by explaining why they think those people are relevant. This will be necessary so we can make sure we can bring out the fullness of what we need to bring out. I suggest that we write to the relevant parties to ensure we get the documentation we asked for, in addition to any further documentation my colleagues might wish to get, and that we begin this process the following week by bringing in witnesses as suggested by the Chair.
Fine. Okay. We are going to conclude this aspect shortly.
As Deputy McDonald has said, this is a very powerful committee. My personal belief is that the power enjoyed by the members of this committee is accompanied by a great responsibility. We have a huge responsibility to assess the evidence in a very fair manner. We have to be very careful to focus on getting to the bottom of the truth here.
I have concerns about some of the comments that have been made, especially those questioning the honesty of the Accounting Officer. That is not appropriate until we have done a stress test on the evidence of both sides of this debate. We have to do stress tests on Mr. Kelly's evidence and Mr. Barrett's evidence. I believe we are putting ourselves in a position where we are prejudging the outcome. We need to be very careful on this. I would like the Comptroller and Auditor General to set out the position in respect of the comments that have been made about the signature. Was the Commissioner and Accounting Officer asked to re-sign the document when the paragraph in question was inserted? In his view as an auditor, did she do anything wrong in that process?
Deputy Madigan will be followed by Deputy Cullinane.
The Comptroller and Auditor General mentioned that he will be doing the 2016 appropriation accounts in September. He also mentioned the possibility of doing a special report. If he decides to do a special report in the interim, how long would that take?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
It would not be possible within that period, absolutely not.
Would it be possible to have a short report at the next meeting - I use the word "report" loosely - setting out the documentation which has been sought? The interim internal audit report cites all of the documentation anyway. We may have additional documentation we are seeking. Maybe we could contact the clerk to make our own requests. I suggest that at the next meeting, after we have gathered all the information, we have to agree on the scope of whatever examination we are to do and on who will be called as witnesses. t would be useful if we could get a report that maps or scopes that out.
I hope my proposal can be agreed.
I think it is clear for next week. Thirteen documents that were requested from the Garda Commissioner are listed in the minutes of today's meeting. We will confirm with the Garda today that we want those documents by the end of next week. A full fortnight will have passed by then. If Deputies are seeking any other documentation that is not included on that list, they should contact the secretariat by the weekend. We will give people an opportunity to try to get the information back as urgently as possible. When we meet next Thursday, we will have a list of the documentation, a proposal - we will call it a plan - for how we are going to do our work and an approximate timescale. It is not going to go on for months like the NAMA inquiry. There are some net points here. We will keep it specific to what is in front of us - the financial process and all of that. We will come back next week.
I will call the Comptroller and Auditor General after Deputy Farrell has spoken.
I want him to clarify his remark about a special investigation. I think that rather than saying he was not able to do such an investigation, he was inferring that it would take too long.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
It could not be done between now and September.
Yes, that is fine.
Could I ask for timelines to be included in the report as well? There were different dates when things were known.
I think it would be quite useful to put them in.
The secretariat will circulate all of that to us in advance of next week. We will try to sign off on all of that, including the work programme and the suggested dates. I will help in that process. I invite the Comptroller and Auditor General to make some concluding remarks.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
I would like to clarify-----
The Comptroller and Auditor General was asked about the signature and whether he had a role in it.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
Okay. The legal obligation is for the Accounting Officer to submit the account by 31 March. The account was submitted by 31 March. There was no change to the account per se. That process dates back to 1866. There have been many additions to appropriation accounts since then. The statement on internal financial control has been around for approximately 20 years. It is an extremely important document, but it is not one that we completely and wholly audit. We look at it to see whether there is any information known to us in the course of the audit that would suggest there is anything wrong with the statement. My understanding is that the internal audit had started by 31 March, or at least that internal audit had been notified of the thing. We were only told about it on 31 May.
When the statement on internal financial control came to us, signed by the Accounting Officer with a date of 31 March, there was no reference to the internal audit in it. We pointed out that there should be such a reference because it was so significant.
When did you find that out?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
It would have been raised as soon as we heard about the problems. Over the summer we engaged with them and told them we needed to know what was going on in order to complete the audit. My understanding, and something which becomes clear from Mr. Barrett's documentation, is that the interim internal audit was needed before the appropriation account was produced. We were pushing all summer to get something. Without having the report itself, but only the summary, we said to the Garda Síochána that it had to put something into the SIFC. This is, apparently, a breach of controls and this is the whole point of the SIFC. We need to ensure that the appropriation account is right and if there is any different treatment of transactions, balances or liabilities, even contingent liabilities, they need to be recognised. We are looking at the implications for the OPW appropriation account too, because there may be issues there and disclosures may be required.
It is for An Garda Síochána to sort this out and to make the changes to structures and controls, etc. We will be looking to see that An Grada Síochána is addressing the matter and if continuing adjustments to its system of control are needed in respect of the college, it should disclose them to the SIFC for 2016. We already have it and at the moment, what is in it is not sufficient for the purposes, so there will be an adjustment required-----
There is a bigger issue here-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
May I finish? It is also apparent from the engagement last week that the fundamental controls in An Garda Síochána around the operation of the audit committee give rise to questions and their effectiveness needs to be addressed. The issues are already on the table and it is proper for the committee to inquire into them.
Did Mr. McCarthy say the statement of accounting policies and principles for 2016 has already been presented and requires amendment? Is it correct that what he was given on 31 March for last year is not adequate and he will be looking for changes to it?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
In light of last week's engagement we will need to engage as part of the audit. I do not, however, want to prejudge the audit and I have not given my opinion yet.
Was the document re-signed? Was there any issue-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
It was not physically re-signed by the Accounting Officer.
It was not re-signed.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
She did not put her signature to the revised document.
That is a totally different story. We need to be very careful here.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
That is what I said previously.
She signed the document on 31 March. Is it correct that, at the end of August or early September, a paragraph was added to the document dated 31 March?
It was at the request of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
It was at our request. It was signed off by the executive director of finance. I would expect that he would be authorised by the Accounting Officer to make such changes.
The document signed on 31 March had a paragraph added to it in September but it is still dated 31 March.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
Was that after a request from the Comptroller and Auditor General?
The Comptroller and Auditor General requested it.
Besides the date, to which we will return, the issue was that the comment was not put in by the Accounting Officer herself.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
That is correct.
Is it usual to have to pick up on such a thing from an organisation covered by the Comptroller and Auditor General? Is it usual to have to come back to an Accounting Officer over such issues?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
The statement on internal financial control specifically requires an Accounting Officer to disclose any significant breaches of control and the steps being taken to address them.
Were these things absent in this case?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
They were not in the statement I received on 31 March.
The real issue is that what was included afterwards was not in the original SIFC. When the insertion was made, was there an obligation on the Accounting Officer to re-sign it? Should there be a note to say additional information had been included?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
Circumstances such as these have not arisen. I said that if there was a change on the face of the appropriation accounts, if the figures changed or the surrender changed, we would always insist on the Accounting Officer re-signing with the current date.
In this case the figures did not change. Is the Comptroller and Auditor General saying there is no obligation on her to re-sign?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
We did not ask her to re-sign.
At the start of the meeting there was an implication that there was impropriety in the form of the Accounting Officer signing and backdating stuff. The issue of a person changing the face of a case to suit themselves was raised but we should withdraw that comment.
What I said was very clear. I said the document in front of us, signed on 31 March 2016 by Nóirín O'Sullivan and which included the paragraph in question, did not include the reference to the auditor. That was added subsequently by the Comptroller and Auditor General. He recommended that it was a function of the Accounting Officer to add this. The paragraph was added in September, even though the document is dated in March.
There was no requirement for her to re-sign.
We will ask the Accounting Officer that.
I just think a bigger issue was made out of this than actually existed.
That is a point of view. We will ask the Accounting Officer to explain why that date is on it.
It is a fact, Chair.
The date is 31 March but that paragraph was not signed off on 31 March.
Can we agree what we are doing next week?
Next week we will have a detailed work programme and a plan of where we are going. We will have asked for everything to be submitted. If members have additional information they should get it to the secretariat straight away. We will have a list of both the suggested meetings and will move on promptly.
Can we correspond with the clerk on any evidence or witnesses, etc.?
Yes. I am holding the accounting statements over. The only item we have is Bord na gCon. We only have two financial statements to be noted next week. Next today, we will try to take the opening statements and suspend.
At what time are we coming back?
When is Bord na gCon coming in?
Next week. We will suspend while the witnesses take their seats. They will make opening statements and we will suspend again to return at 2 p.m.