Business of Committee

We are now scheduled to deal with a vote for the Department of Justice and Equality and chapter 6 in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Before we take that, the Comptroller and Auditor General has asked me to say that he wants to make a statement arising out of this morning's meeting.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I would like to correct the record regarding a significant issue that came up this morning. It has come to my attention since the earlier session that I inadvertently gave incorrect information to the committee about the revision of the statement on internal financial control for Vote 20 - An Garda Síochána. I said this morning that we raised the requirement for the revision with An Garda Síochána, and that is correct. That arose from the audit. I asked that the revision be made when I carried out my detailed review of the audit on 5 September 2016. An Garda Síochána provided us with wording for the adjustment on 13 September and at the same time gave us the internal report summary. We agreed on the wording that should be included in the statement. The Accounting Officer did sign a revised statement on internal financial control on 16 September. It was supplied to us and I reviewed it on 23 September 2016.

We should have changed the date on the statement of internal financial control, as published and also on the audit certificate. I should have picked up on this myself and I apologise for that oversight. The circumstances were exceptional and we will be reviewing our finalisation process for appropriation account audits. I am happy to answer questions in regard to it.

I want to comment briefly before Deputy Cullinane comes in. The Comptroller and Auditor General brought this to my attention at the last moment. My statement this morning regarding the certificate of internal financial control that is in the published appropriation account was dated 31 March 2016 and that is the date on the document presented to us, signed by Nóirín O'Sullivan. I took that in good faith as presented, published and printed. Now the Comptroller and Auditor General has confirmed that it should have picked it up by themselves, and they did; the Garda Accounting Officer did agree a revised statement and did re-sign that statement on 16 September. That is the date that should have been in the documentation that was presented to us. I am in an unusual position but what I said this morning based on that date was in good faith on the basis of the dates and the signatures in front of me in the report. It was not the fault of the Accounting Officer in the Garda Síochána but I now realise that the wrong date is in the document and I regret any disturbance or upset caused as a result. I stress that this was in good faith and on the basis of the document presented to me at that time. We have clarified a matter which is helpful as a result of this morning's debate.

I fully accept that the Chairman raised these issues in good faith. I accept the unusual circumstances that prevailed that the Comptroller and Auditor General alerted us to. The difficulty is that this has made national headlines and we may need to go further than correcting the record of the Committee of Public Accounts. I am not sure if statements came from the Chairman in regard to this this morning but that needs to be clarified so that the media organisations also know, not only the ones who are listening here. All these issues are now tied into the wider matter of the Garda Commissioner and related questions and any of these attract national attention. That extra step may now be necessary.

I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General's office to issue a statement on that basis to all the media, and will arrange with the Committee of Public Accounts secretariat for a statement to be made about this morning's discussions and this correction. The Committee of Public Accounts recognises that there was wrong information before us this morning. We appreciate the Comptroller and Auditor General's honesty and integrity in coming forward at the first opportunity to correct this morning's record. He did so very promptly and we acknowledged that he did so at the first available opportunity. A press statement will go out from his office and our own.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We will do that today.

This afternoon.

I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General for clarifying the situation. There was some confusion earlier in regard to this. I appreciate the Chairman's bona fides but one of the reasons I mentioned Standing Order 186 earlier, is that we try not to pre-empt political attacks without having all the facts before us. There are very serious concerns regarding some aspects of the Garda Síochána without adding further, unnecessary attack.

We need to tread carefully in this committee. I have not seen the headlines to which Deputy Cullinane referred but I accept that there probably are headlines. There is a lot of attention on this committee. I am not saying that the Chairman is trying to maximise political capital but in future perhaps there is a way that if there are financial irregularities such as the Chairman mentioned these could be clarified with the Comptroller and Auditor General in advance. Otherwise we cause unnecessary furore and time wasting when it is not in anybody's interest to do that.

We have dealt with this matter.

Sorry, the last thing I wanted to say was for the Chairman to withdraw the comments. I know Deputy Burke asked him to do that earlier but I ask him to withdraw the comments.

This is new to me. I have made it very clear to the secretariat that as soon as the meeting is over we will issue a statement from myself as Chairman, in light of the information brought to us today and we will make sure it is fully verified and checked before it goes out this afternoon based on what we have heard.

I thank the Chair for his clarification. I did issue a cautionary word this morning in regard to this. These are the most serious issues that have arisen from the report that we discussed last week. I do not think that we should make statements, as Chairman or otherwise, or even in the media, in regard to this. There is a process under way and we should give it our full attention. We do that 99% of the time. We are here to look at value for money, the history of why it was not picked up sooner, the total mess that was made of it - which we will come back to - and our job is to get the Commissioner and the appropriate witnesses back in here as soon as possible.

The real issue which remains unchanged is that when the report of accounts was produced in March there was no caveat on it. Is that correct?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct.

That was the issue and that is what I said this morning. The reports were produced, they were signed off by the Accounting Officer, who happens to be the Commissioner, and there was no caveat or indication that difficulties had been discovered. On top of that, the comments in the Dáil from the Taoiseach, do not help. He referred to this as a legacy issue and he made reference to the Comptroller and Auditor General investigating, neither of which is accurate. It is difficult and we are trying to avoid that and remain neutral. We have all made statements but it is different in regard to our job here. Since his appointment the Chairman has chaired our meetings in an excellent manner. It would be well for us to learn from what has transpired today because we are heading into troubled waters and we have a serious job to do.

I was going to say something similar to Deputy Connolly's remarks. She is completely correct. I appreciate the correction and clarification and the suggestion of putting it out publicly. In the terminology I used this morning, this has highlighted how charged this subject matter is and how quickly media outlets and, indeed, ourselves will seize upon issues that are liable to cause headlines. I know the diligent manner in which members, and also including our witnesses, have approached this up to now, and it is very important to take note of such issues and how quickly the outlets pick up on them. I saw the article on the RTE website, I did not see it elsewhere but I am sure they were probably there. Deputy Cullinane's suggestion is welcome given that the media are no longer present because the issues that were of most interest to them have passed.

I want to reiterate one remark by Deputy Connolly about the manner in which the Chairman has chaired these meetings. He has been excellent and beyond reproach. I appreciate comments made by other members in this morning's session about the misunderstanding which derived from the particular publication of a document and the statement by the Comptroller and Auditor General that no date change was requested. We now know where we are and that is the most important thing.

We do and as soon as the meeting is over, the respective statements from the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General's office will be issued but we must wait until the meeting is finished. It will be later this afternoon and the members will all get copies.

It is good to clarify. If a problem arises, I prefer to hear about it straight up at the first opportunity.

In the interest of fairness, it has to be restated that the Chairman was working from the dates with which he had been presented.

I was working from the published documents.

That has to be acknowledged as well.

We will move on. I thank the members. I know that will generate its own news story but life is life.