Chapter 6 - Procurement and Management of Contracts for Direct Provision (Resumed)

The first speaker now will be Deputy Alan Farrell, followed by Deputy Cullinane.

I welcome our guests and thank them for their forbearance in this somewhat truncated appearance before the Committee of Public Accounts. I welcome the fact they have been given a clear audit opinion for 2015, with a number of highlighted items, which I would like to briefly touch upon.

In one particular instance in Mr. Waters's opening statement, he said the Comptroller and Auditor General outlined that it was unreasonable for the Department to rely on the legal advice provided on the purchase of a property on Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. I appreciate Mr. Waters's earlier remarks that the matter has been subject to Comptroller and Auditor General reports in the past and is now broadly settled with the exception of the planning permission issue. It is mentioned that assurances were provided by the vendor. In the due diligence, which any person would complete, did Mr. Waters seek in-house or external advice on the purchase of the property? Will he outline to the committee when the planning permission issues will be resolved or have they have been resolved in terms of the occupation and use of the property?

On foot of the response to that question, is there any possibility of come-back on the basis of flawed advice which, effectively, have resulted in a very significant sum of money being paid by the taxpayer to resolve the matter?

Mr. Noel Waters

A very significant sum of money has been spent on this failed project on behalf of the taxpayer. As Accounting Officer for the Department, I greatly regret that. I greatly regret that public funds have been used in that manner. As I said in my statement, this has a long history. Ultimately when the Department and the Probation Service engaged on this, they relied on legal advice and the advice of the Chief State Solicitor who indicated it was in order to sign the lease on the basis the planning permission was in order. At the time, the Comptroller indicated it was in order for us, that we were entitled to rely on that advice and we did. The process by which advice is given in these cases is that the vendor or leaseholder warrants that the planning is in order which he did in that particular instance. As far as we were concerned the planning was in order. We went to refurbish the property and we spent about €1.9 million doing that. At that point, some of the local people objected as they are entitled to. They notified the Dublin City Council planning office which in turn served us with an order to say we could not proceed. The actions followed from that. Ultimately we found ourselves in a situation in which we had a property with a 25-year lease period with a break period after ten years and an annual rent in the order of €300,000 which we could not use because of what happened. My predecessor decided at that point we should cease paying the rent because the State was already subject to expenditure which was nugatory. He also decided on foot of legal advice to seek to bring the leaseholder and the planning architect to account for having made a mis-statement. That process went ahead and ultimately it led to a situation in which our legal advice was that if it had gone to a full court hearing, we would have lost. I cannot entirely give our legal strategy here. We were left with a situation in which we could risk further taxpayer money going to court or get out of it.

What was the cumulative cost of the purchase, planning, the works and the payment of rent up to the point where the Department stopped paying?

Mr. Noel Waters

It was €3.9 million in total.

Does the €3.9 million include legal costs and everything associated with Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. Had we gone to the point where the lease was broken after ten years, which would be June next year, and still found ourselves in a situation where we had to walk away, the exposure to us would have been €4.7 million.

When did the Department stop paying rent?

Mr. Noel Waters

In November 2011.

The lease commenced in 2008.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Let me just go back to that issue. The legal proceedings are settled. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is all done.

The State is no longer in any way liable for this particular property.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are completely out of it. Our best estimate was to walk away from it. It is quite counter-intuitive. I came into this on my appointment about two and a half or three years ago. I found it incredible because we had done nothing wrong as a State organisation and the other side had clearly done something. It is a matter of legal opinion about whether or not it was a mis-statement but we found ourselves on the wrong side of this, which was completely counter-intuitive. My initial reaction was to ask if we could find an alternative use. At that point, I looked within the organisation to see if we could find some other body within the organisation that would take up the accommodation. Ultimately, it did not come to anything. We had a number of new bodies about to be established but it did not suit for one reason or another.

Did Mr. Waters discuss it with the OPW?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. The OPW was brought into this almost from the word go to see if any other State organisation or one of its clients could use it. At some stage last year we approached the Dublin homeless regional executive to see if it would have use for it in the context of the homelessness situation. That did not prove possible. Had another use been found for it, we would have had to go for planning permission.

That would have presented the same problems.

Mr. Noel Waters

It would have presented the same problems but it also would have led to a situation where we potentially would have to take ownership of the issue of planning whereas we had nothing to do with it in the first instance.

Forgive my ignorance - I know Wolfe Tone Street but I do not know the building. What are we talking about?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is a building with a commercial ground floor space which is quite deep and there are residential units overhead.

Is it a redbrick?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is not an old building. It is a building that was constructed in the 2000s or around that period.

I mentioned the clear audit but obviously there are some other issues, in particular with compliance with national procurement rules. My question is on the 22 supply agreements valued at almost €5 million which were entered into in the subject year. Does Mr. Waters believe if the Department and its various sections entered into compliant procurement, there would have been a saving made?

Mr. Noel Waters

I have no sense there was any loss to the State by what we did. The arrangements we entered into are allowed for and we were fully compliant in ensuring we were transparent about it. They related to a number of different areas involving specialist knowledge, urgency or security considerations. An example that is very much in the news is the commission for the location of victims' remains. There was quite a significant amount spent in respect of it. It is very specialised work, which involves people seeking a particular type of equipment or travelling abroad. It would not be readily available on the open market. The amount for the year was almost €700,000.

In terms of that specialised service, surely there was a sufficient period of notification for the need to do this or are we talking about an instantaneous requirement to exhume or discover?

Mr. Noel Waters

That is essentially it. During the week there was a recovery which is wonderful for everybody.

Was that in France?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. In terms of victims' remains, people operate on the basis of information they get which can be received at very short notice which means an opportunity may present and may be gone very quickly again.

Asylum seeker accommodation in direct provision came up at the justice committee a number of years ago. With regard to the overall costs, on the basis the State-----

There is a phone ringing.

My phone is off. I can still hear it.

Silent is not enough; phones need to be on airplane mode. If they are on silent, messages can still come through.

There are 22 private institutions providing the service and assisting the State and there are procurement issues in respect of some of those and the Office of Government Procurement, OGP. In his opening statement, Mr. Waters contended that the Department is compliant with EU guidance on such matters but it is clearly not compliant with the OGP. Given that the OGP was, I think, established in 2014 - please correct me if I am wrong - I appreciate that there may have been rules that the Department is getting used to adhering to, but in the context of this budgetary year, 2015, and-or any other budgetary year, it has had knowledge of the Comptroller and Auditor General's assessment for some time. Has it put in place measures to comply in so far as possible with procurement rules as applied to those 22 private service providers?

Mr. Noel Waters

This is a very difficult issue as I indicated in my opening statement. We continue to work with the OGP with a view to having a completely open and transparent procurement arrangement and we have ambitions in that respect. We hope to be able to make some progress on it this year but our colleagues in the OGP have indicated to us, and we accept, that the particular model we use is such that it is very difficult to devise an open tendering competition that will deliver the service that we need. That is the nature of direct provision. It is demand-led. It can fluctuate dramatically in a matter of months and go down to very low levels. That is one aspect of it and another, which people generally do not mention in respect of direct provision, is that Government policy is also dispersive, with a balanced dispersal around the country. From the word go, the Government wanted to ensure that every community in the country got its fair share of asylum seekers balanced in accordance with the medical facilities, general practitioners, education and all the local services available. Our job at the time was to ensure we gave effect to that while at the same time dealing with a humanitarian crisis.

There has been a very significant increase in the number of asylum seekers in Europe from various crises, wars, etc., and we will likely become accustomed to it continuing to grow, albeit work is being done in parts of the world where asylum seekers originate. In terms of the remit of the Committee on Public Accounts, however, does Mr. Waters believe in the long term that continuing to invest in private service providers gives value for taxpayers’ money or should we provide such facilities directly, given that there was a 130% increase in the number of asylum seekers in 2015? Over a long period, would that net a reduction in the overall expenditure?

Mr. Noel Waters

We have looked into that, and continue to be open to that possibility. I have some knowledge of this from my time in charge of this area at the start. The Government decided then that we should have a balanced mix of options, commercial owners such as we have, hotels, hostels, guesthouses and State-acquired accommodation. We were quite successful in acquiring State accommodation at the start of the process but we ran into difficulties almost immediately once we started to move people into provincial Ireland where we had ten properties. This featured at this committee in the mid-2000s, where it was not possible for us to place asylum seekers because we ran into very serious difficulties with communities.

Given the chronic shortage of housing and consumer sentiment in respect of expenditure on tourism-related activities, presumably Mr. Waters is talking about the perfect storm whereby the Department does not have properties and cannot get hotel rooms, etc. I would have thought on that basis the projected increase in this area would result in quite extensive increases in public expenditure over years, and notwithstanding the regional approach adopted by the State it would be more advantageous to the State to put together plans for such expenditure for ten or 15 years.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is a point, and I do not dispute that, but the downside is that it would require significant capital expenditure on the part of the State. I take the Deputy's point about the numbers of people coming into Europe which impacts on Ireland, but there is no guarantee that they would be needed in ten, 15 or 20 years' time. Our colleagues in The Netherlands found themselves in that exact situation. They had acquired significant numbers of properties for the state and found five years ago that they had to offload approximately 15,000 spaces onto the market. That demonstrates the difficulties. We are committed as best we can to having an open tendering competition and we remain in close liaison with the OGP with a view to ensuring that.

In terms of a pattern of expenditure within direct provision in the State, I presume we are seeing a steady increase.

Mr. Noel Waters

I thank the Deputy for raising that point. The daily rate per person is of the order of €30. Two years ago, it was a little higher at €31 or touching €32. It varies according to the nature of the services provided in different centres. I am talking about an overall rate. It has come back a little. Conversely, in the State sector, where we have a full procurement exercise and we have gone to the market and have just completed the exercise, the rate has increased from €15 per person per day to €20 per person per day. The effect of going to an open tendering competition has been to increase the cost to the State. There are, however, other issues around ensuring that this is a completely transparent process.

There are two or three areas I would like to touch on including payroll, where overpayments unfortunately are pretty normal in Departments.

Mr. Noel Waters

Regrettably, yes.

Would Mr. Waters give us more information on the prospect of resolution of the 25 cases with capacity problems in the Magdalen fund?

Mr. Noel Waters

I might ask my colleague, Mr. Martin, to respond but before he does, we did find ourselves in a situation where applications continued to come in, albeit at a very low level. We are considering several options, for example, that perhaps we would make the people in question wards of court so that we can make the payments because they are entitled to the money, we are anxious to pay, time is passing and we want to do whatever we can to make sure they get paid.

We are talking about cash payments here. Is there non-cash provision of services that individuals can avail of and have they been doing so?

Mr. Noel Waters

I will ask my colleague Mr. Martin to answer that.

Mr. Jimmy Martin

There are. Once a person is in the scheme, there is an upfront cash payment. There are ongoing payments in the form of a contributory pension. There is entitlement to health benefits as if the person had a medical card and certain other things. These people would be missing out on all those aspects. We hoped that the early implementation of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 would make it easier but the latest word we have is that it probably will not start until 2018.

I think we are down to 19 people. We are exploring with the homes they are in whether it would be suitable for them to be made wards of court. This would allow the payments to be made and would give them those health entitlements.

There is no-----

Mr. Jimmy Martin

There is no halfway house.

Okay. I do not need to ask that question. I know the answer. I appreciate that there is no intermediate position. Clearly, that is not satisfactory. I struggle to see how that is the Department's problem, given that the legislation was drafted by this House. I served on the committee that wrote it. At the same time, it is a very difficult position from a compassionate perspective. It is very troubling that we are talking about another year and a half, at least, before this matter is resolved. I do not know whether there is anything Mr. Martin can say to indicate any relief for these individuals.

Mr. Jimmy Martin

As I have said, we are actively exploring the various options. Up to now, we were waiting for the assisted decision-making legislation. Quite a few private individuals had their relatives made wards of court so that their cases could be processed in that way. Nearly all the 90 women are in forms of sheltered accommodation like nursing homes. We are going to approach the authorities in the nursing homes to see whether they might be willing to take on this role by making ward of court applications. I hope progress can be made in this way by the end of the year. When the assisted decision-making legislation kicks in, it will take over.

(Interruptions).

I can hear that mobile phone again. If people could switch off their phones, it might resolve the issue. I know iPads can interfere as well.

Mr. Noel Waters

I would like to pick up on what the Deputy said. We are completely seized of the humanitarian issue here.

(Interruptions).

I am going to suspend the meeting for a minute. The staff who are recording the meeting will not be able to record it properly because of the mobile phone interference. We do not want some of it to be missed.

Sitting suspended at 2.42 p.m. and resumed at 2.43 p.m.

I ask Deputy Farrell to continue.

I thank the Chair. My final question to the Department relates to payroll overpayments, which is a common issue in my experience. There is clearly a discrepancy between the number of payments that have been made and the number of recovery plans, full repayments or both that have been made. Can the witnesses highlight to the committee the reason for that? Given the reduction in the number of personnel in the Department in the period in question, what is being done to minimise the overall number of incorrect payments that are being made? Could the witnesses outline briefly any particular rationale or reason for those overpayments in the first instance?

Mr. Noel Waters

I ask my colleague, Ms McPhillips, who is in charge of our corporate services, to come in on this issue.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

There are a number of reasons that we attribute to these overpayments. The new sick leave scheme for the public service, which began in 2014, halved the amount of sick leave people can take. It was a considerable reduction. Every time somebody goes over that limit, every absence thereafter is without pay. That kicks in earlier. That is one of the elements of it. As payrolls across the Civil Service are generally processed in advance, changes cannot be made at short notice. That means we are automatically in arrears when these limits are exceeded.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

The new shared service office - PeoplePoint - kicked in during 2014. Issues arose when this was bedding in at the same time. That gave rise to the increase in overpayments. There was a substantial reduction of 16% in overpayments during 2014. We are still working on it to get it down further. Various options are available to employees who have overpayment situations. We have to bear in mind that there are hardship cases. People have housing and mortgage issues, etc., as a result of the downturn in the economy. When the hardship option has to be applied, it is applied with sensitivity from the human resources side.

I would like to go through the figures that have been presented.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

Yes.

Plans are in place in 105 of the 216 cases of overpayment

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

Yes.

No plans are in place in the other cases.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

I will explain what one will find if one looks at those cases. Various options are available to people as they go through the process. After someone has made a case to PeoplePoint, the matter goes to the human resources side to check whether he or she has a serious illness, for example. Obviously, a different approach is taken if he or she has a terminal illness. Differing approaches are taken depending on the person's age and the amount of the overpayment. In the case of an employee who has 30 years of service ahead of him or her, a certain approach might be taken in the case of a small overpayment. The actual plan is only deemed to be in place at the end of the process of putting a plan in place.

I remind Ms McPhillips that we are talking about 2015.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

Absolutely.

This is an interpretation of 2015 with knowledge of the present day.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

Yes.

It is still highlighting a significant number of cases that have no resolution in place. I appreciate what Ms McPhillips has just said, but I cannot imagine that statistically, there would be 100 or even five cases of terminal illness among a group of approximately 2,200 people.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

Not at all.

I suppose the point I am making is that it might be helpful to the committee if Ms McPhillips were to provide a little more information.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

Sure.

If I see in documentation provided by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Department that there are 111 unresolved cases, it would be helpful if-----

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

We can break that down for the Deputy.

It would be helpful. We are not looking for personal information here.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

I can give the Deputy an update. At the end of 2016, there were 78 employees who did not have a plan in place, but there was a process in train to put a plan in place for all of them.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are happy to provide that information. I do not doubt that the members of the Committee of Public Accounts are meeting other Accounting Officers who are in the same situation.

Mr. Noel Waters

This is an issue for one of the sub-committees of the Civil Service Management Board, which comprises all Secretaries General. It is a matter of great frustration for us, as the heads of our organisations, that we are unable to get to the bottom of this to drive it down to the point where the State is not left in this situation. The work is ongoing. We are not giving up on it. It is proving particularly difficult to get to the bottom of it by reaching a point at which the numbers are what we would consider to be acceptable. I assure the Deputy that there is no lack of energy in our attempts to tackle the problem.

Okay. How many of the 216 cases were voluntarily brought to the attention of payroll? I refer to cases in which people volunteered the information they had been overpaid.

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

I cannot answer that question off the top of my head, but I think the number in question would be relatively small. It is generally a question of these cases being picked up by payroll.

I thank the witnesses.

The next speaker is Deputy Cullinane. A number of people indicated during this morning's session that they wanted to be put down as speakers. They indicated in the following sequence: Deputy Cullinane, Deputy Kelly, Deputy Madigan, Deputy Catherine Murphy, Deputy Connolly and Deputy Cassells.

I welcome Mr. Waters and his team. I have a number of questions. I would like to get clarity on the relationship between the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána.

Will Mr. Waters please talk me through the current relationship between the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána from an accounting perspective?

Mr. Noel Waters

The Garda Commissioner is the Accounting Officer for An Garda Síochána since 2006.

I understand that.

Mr. Noel Waters

I am the Accounting Officer for the Department of Justice and Equality. Everything follows on from that.

In a wider sense, if I go back a little bit, the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day is the person responsible person for delivering the resource allocation for the entire justice Vote. That includes the Garda Síochána, the Prison Service, the Courts Service, the Department itself and all the agencies of the Department. That is negotiated in the Estimates process. The Minister for Justice and Equality is responsible to Parliament. That is a key issue for the Department in supporting the Minister of the day in negotiating that budget for the Garda and all the other bodies.

The up-to-date position on oversight and accountability is that the Policing Authority was established at the beginning of last year, 1 January 2016. The Policing Authority is an independent body and its role is to provide oversight of the provision of policing services in Ireland by the Garda Síochána. It is independent of Government and reports to the Minister on its role. When the legislation to establish a Policing Authority was being considered, the Government and the Department sought legal advice on how far it could go in giving the accountability function for the Garda Síochána to the Policing Authority. It was deemed at that time that policing was a core function of the State and in those circumstances the Minister continued to remain accountable in the sense of political accountability for the Garda Síochána to Parliament. In respect of financial accountability, the Accounting Officer is clearly delineated to the Commissioner.

In order to be clear, I will outline my understanding of what Mr. Waters has said. Prior to 2005, the Accounting Officer would have been the Secretary General of the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. From 2005 onwards, the Accounting Officer would have been the Garda Commissioner.

Mr. Noel Waters

That was from 2006.

That is from 2006 onwards. Would the application, management and oversight of the Garda Vote still remain in the Department?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

There was a discussion as to how much authority should be ceded to the policing authority but essentially-----

Mr. Noel Waters

Sorry, Deputy, the application of the Vote-----

-----the application, management and oversight of the Garda Vote

Mr. Noel Waters

No, this passed entirely on to the Garda Síochána when the Commissioner became the Accounting Officer.

Does the Department have any oversight in respect of how money is spent by An Garda Síochána?

Mr. Noel Waters

No.

None whatsoever? From 2005 onwards?

Mr. Noel Waters

From 2006 onwards.

Obviously Mr. Waters is aware of the interim audit report that was published by Mr. Niall Kelly.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Is Mr. Waters aware of issues that arose at the last sitting of the Committee of Public Accounts when the Garda Commissioner and her team were present? Has he been briefed on that?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am aware of it. I did not see the entire proceedings.

Was Mr O'Callaghan present on the day?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. Mr. O'Callaghan was there on that day.

Did Mr. O'Callaghan brief Mr. Waters?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

We had discussions on foot of it.

When Mr. O'Callaghan states he had discussions, did he have a sit down meeting?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, we did.

So Mr. Waters was briefed.

Mr. Noel Waters

I want to be clear, Deputy. Not every chapter and verse of everything that happened in the course of the meeting was spoken about.

Obviously not, but Mr. Water was briefed by one of his officials who was present at the meeting. Mr. Waters is obviously aware of the general discussion that took place. Had Mr. Waters read the interim audit report?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

In that report, a reference was made to an incomplete report in 2006 from internal audit. Is Mr. Waters aware of that?

Mr. Noel Waters

From the interim audit report, yes.

Obviously Mr. Waters was not there at the time, but is he aware of when the Department became aware of that report?

Mr. Noel Waters

No. We have checked our records in the Department to establish if we have that report. From what we have been able to establish, we do not have that report.

Is Mr. Waters aware of when the Department first became aware of alleged financial irregularities in the Garda Training College in Templemore?

Mr. Noel Waters

When the audit report, which Deputy Cullinane referred to, was completed and sent to the Department in November 2016. That is when we became aware of the accounts.

Is Mr. Waters telling me that was the first time the Department became aware of multiple bank accounts? Was the Department ever aware before the 2016 report was furnished that there were multiple bank accounts operating in the training college?

Mr. Noel Waters

I will ask my colleague, Mr. O'Callaghan, to come in on that because he is familiar with the detail of this. There was a process prior to 2016 involving the Garda and information would have emerged from that. It related to the issues around the Templemore Golf Club.

That is what I want to get to because Mr. Waters told me a second ago that the first time the Department was made aware of the alleged irregularities which are in the internal audit was when he was presented with a copy in 2016. Obviously these alleged irregularities centre around a number of bank accounts. Mr. O'Callaghan, when was the Department made aware of the 40 plus bank accounts that were operating in the Garda Training College?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

In the context of issues that had arisen around the Templemore Golf Club, the Department became aware in 2015 that the golf club was occupying land that was under the control of the Sportsfield company.

May I stop Mr. O'Callaghan? Does he understand that when I ask a question, I expect the question to be answered. I do not want a history lesson. I want a straight answer to a question that was asked. The question Mr. O'Callaghan was asked was when was the Department made aware of at least 40 bank accounts operating. What day, what month and what year was the Department made aware of that?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

In and around October 2015 we became aware of issues in respect of the financial arrangements-----

About 40 bank accounts plus?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

-----about a number of bank accounts and investment accounts and so on.

When was the Department made aware of the leasing arrangement in respect of the Dromod farm?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Issues arose in the earlier part of 2016 in respect of the golf club because there had been a move by the Sportsfield company to remove the golf club from the lands in Templemore. Representations were made to the Minister in relation to that and we sought a report from the Commissioner. Part of that report informed us that the Sportsfield company had licensed the lands to Templemore Golf Club. That was in July 2016.

When was the Department made aware that money was being generated from the lease of these lands and was being put into a bank account that was supervised by the Garda Training College?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

In September 2015, the head of legal affairs in the Garda Síochána sought legal advice from the Attorney General in respect of the Sportsfield-----

Was it at that point?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes. He copied us, as a Department, in his request to the Attorney General for the legal advice in relation to the Sportsfield company and the golf club. Included in his request for advice were a number of documents which pointed to the financial arrangements on the leasing of the land. At that time, they were in arrears for about five-----

When was the Department made aware of the presence of what was called a laundry account? Is Mr. O'Callaghan aware of this laundry account that is cited in the internal audit report?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I am, yes. What happened is that the Commissioner decided to set up a steering committee to look at all the issues that had arisen in relation to the Sportsfield company, including issues around investment accounts and so on and invited the Department onto the committee. The Department then became aware of these issues through that.

I am trying to establish when that was.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The Department attended the first meeting of that committee in December 2015. Once the head of legal-----

To clarify, it was in September 2015 that the Department was first made aware of the existence of the laundry account and, we will say, almost all the issues that were cited in the interim audit report. Would that be fair?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes. As I said, we became aware of it as the head of the legal section sought advice from the Attorney General and included documentation to clarify for the Attorney General the financial arrangement relating to the leasing or licensing of the land in Templemore. In the following period, we were aware there were issues around the financial arrangements and we started to discuss these with the Garda Síochána.

The witnesses would have been made aware there was essentially double charging of laundry and 38% of the money in the laundry account was used for purposes other than laundry. That is what is in the internal audit report. Was it in September 2015 that they were made aware of that as well?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I do not recall that we were explicitly made aware of that at that point.

When were the witnesses made aware of the transfer of €100,000 to the Garda boat club?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The first time I became aware of that was when it appeared in the internal audit report. It was the draft internal audit report.

Does the Comptroller and Auditor General know when the €100,000 was transferred? What year was it transferred?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

My recollection from the internal audit report is the transfers occurred over a period of years between 2000 and 2003.

One of the predecessors to Mr. Waters would have been the Accounting Officer. Does that concern him?

Mr. Noel Waters

Of course, if something has emerged that is wrong, not in accordance with proper accounting procedures and unlawful, I would be concerned.

Something has occurred. The witness says he read the interim audit report. He will be aware a reference was made to the transfer of this €100,000 to the boat club. We have not established exactly where that money came from and it is possible it could have come from voted expenditure. It was in an account with a mix of different revenue streams so this happened on the watch of the Department when its Secretary General would have been the chief Accounting Officer. When the Department was made aware that this happened, what action did the Department take?

Mr. Noel Waters

Is the Deputy referring to the 2003 period?

No. The Secretary General would have been the Accounting Officer in that period. We know the payments were made, as the Comptroller and Auditor General has said, between 2000 and 2003. It may have been inappropriate and it is alleged it was inappropriate. The witness was made aware of this in 2015. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

What action did the Department take when it was made aware of that in 2015?

Mr. Noel Waters

We were made aware of this in the audit report. As I understand it, this is an interim audit report.

Mr. Noel Waters

Further auditing is required.

The witness is waiting for the complete audit report before any action is taken, if any action is to be taken at all. Is that what the witness is saying?

Mr. Noel Waters

Do others have anything further to add?

Mr. Waters is the Secretary General of the Department.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely.

One of his predecessors was the Accounting Officer at that time. I am not asking Mr. Waters to account for that person. There is a strong possibility it was wrong and there is certainly an allegation it was wrong. These accounts would have been signed off on from 2000 to 2003 by the Department. References were made by a Mr. John Barrett, who is the executive director of human resources, that many of the accounts that were signed off were potentially compromised. If I were sitting in the witness's position, I would be looking at the possibility of compromised accounts that were signed off on, with money transferred from accounts managed by An Garda Síochána at a time when one of Mr. Waters's predecessors was an Accounting Officer. There is the potential for irregularities so I would be looking at taking some sort of action; I am wondering what sort of action did Mr. Waters take.

Mr. Noel Waters

When the interim audit report was received, it was made clear a range of measures were accompanying it to address the issues in it. That programme, as I understand it, is under way under the leadership of the chief administrative officer of An Garda Síochána. It includes external accountants and advisers to get to the bottom of the issue and put in place new measures and procedures to ensure any issues that have arisen will not reoccur. That process is under way.

I will read, if I may, from the dossier we received from Mr. John Barrett. It is from a letter sent to Mr. Niall Kelly, who is head of internal audit, dated 12 October 2016. It states:

I am particularly concerned about how this matter was deliberately and systematically kept outside the purview of the statutory audit committee? How it came to pass that reports specifically prepared on the financial arrangements in the Garda college were not shared with either you or the audit committee? The open and essential question is how the annual returns made to the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Finance, signed off on by the Accounting Officer over all the years since the 2005 Act made no reference to millions of euro held in these unauthorised accounts

One could argue it pertained to the time prior to the 2005 Act as well. Does that concern Mr. Waters?

Mr. Noel Waters

Of course. If, following the appropriate inquiry, any of this emerges as the true position - I am not doubting anybody's bona fides on this - I would of course be concerned. That applies if any issues arose giving rise to a completely inappropriate management of public finances and taxpayers' money. Of course I would be concerned. As I understand it, we must establish what has happened here and that process is still under way.

That is the question I put to the witness. Of course we need to establish that. We will do our work and internal audit will do its work. With respect, it has its job to do in An Garda Síochána. I am asking what the Department will do, as we need to get to the bottom of this. Is Mr. Waters not concerned there was an incomplete internal audit report from 2016 which could have done and probably attempted a look-back exercise on spending that would have covered a period when the Secretary General of the Department was the Accounting Officer?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The report referred to by the Deputy was in 2006 I think. It was the incomplete one.

Are the witnesses aware of the time period being examined by the incomplete report?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

It is safe to presume it was a period prior to-----

If I was in the witness's position I would not presume anything and I would want to be clear. Have they sought clarity from the internal audit of An Garda Síochána about the period being examined in the incomplete audit from 2006?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

No, as we have seen in the report that there was an incomplete audit report done at that stage and there was a report in 2008 and so on.

With respect, I know about the 2008 report, as well as the 2010 and 2015 reports. I am specifically asking about the 2006 report. We need to establish that if all the agencies were doing their job, we might have been able to get to the bottom of all this much more quickly. It took until 2016 and it was 2015 before the Department became aware of all this. There was a flag that would potentially have been raised in 2006 but there was an incomplete report. I have already asked the Comptroller and Auditor General at a previous sitting when he believes his office should have been alerted to issues. He said it should have happened in 2006, if my memory is correct.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct.

If the Comptroller and Auditor General says that, would the Department also indicate it should have been informed in 2006?

Mr. Noel Waters

If irregularities arose, we should of course have been informed at that time, in 2006.

Was it informed?

Mr. Noel Waters

We have no information that would suggest that at all.

When it became aware of the 2006 report, it would have been more appropriate for the Department to establish the period being examined by the 2006 report. Why was that not established? Why has the Department not asked internal audit for a breakdown on that? What was the Department doing and what was the look-back exercise seeking to achieve? What years was it covering? The witnesses read the report and know many of the issues go back an awful long time. They involve multiple bank accounts, leasing of land, money shifting from different accounts and, potentially, money that is spent inappropriately. Some of this goes to a period when Mr. Waters's predecessor was the Accounting Officer. The 2006 report was one of the first flags and I am asking why the Department did not follow up with internal audit on the period being examined by the report.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is something we can follow up with internal audit.

Why has it not been done?

Mr. Noel Waters

We have been focused on trying to solve the problem as it currently exists, putting in place measures to ensure this does not happen again.

That has been our immediate focus.

What work has the Department done to make sure of that? I ask Mr. Waters to illuminate us on what work the Department has done.

Mr. Noel Waters

On receipt of the interim report, we immediately went to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. In the period that followed, a group was set up to look at the implementation of the recommendations and we were involved in that. We reported in due course on how that was going. The final report came through in March of this year. We know that there is a whole range of issues being addressed in that. It was referred to the Policing Authority for-----

Okay. I have one final question on this issue and then I want to move on-----

The Deputy's time is up. He will get a second opportunity later. There are several speakers indicating-----

I will come back in on the second round to ask some questions on direct provision but I have one final question for Mr. Waters on this issue. It is very important for us to get a sense of where people who have responsible positions in the public service sit on all these issues. While the Department is no longer the Accounting Officer, obviously there is still a relationship between it and An Garda Síochána. Given the gravity of the issues raised in the report, the strong inferences from some of the civilians in management positions that information was concealed, that reports were not given to audit committees or to the Comptroller and Auditor General and that information was not acted on or was withheld from interested parties, including the Department, I ask Mr. Waters to give us his views on all that.

Mr. Noel Waters

I would welcome the fact that somebody has come forward and raised all of these issues. I would welcome that. That is a major development as far as I am concerned. Whatever needs to be done on foot of that will be done in respect of the Department. There is one point that I need to make here. The Department is not a back seat driver of An Garda Síochána. The Department did not run Templemore training centre. It is important to note that we were not involved in the nitty-gritty details of what was going on in Templemore at that stage, no more than we were in terms of any other part of the Garda estate or apparatus. We were not involved in that.

I am not going to accept that as Mr. Waters's final point because I did not suggest that the Department was a back seat driver at all-----

Mr. Noel Waters

I just wanted to make that clear, in case there was any confusion-----

I am very clear about this. I established, at the beginning of my questioning, the relationship between the Department and An Garda Síochána. We established that prior to 2005 the chief Accounting Officer for the spending of money by An Garda Síochána, including by the Garda training college, was Mr. Waters's predecessor. That is the issue and my questions were framed in that context. This is not about the Department micro-managing An Garda Síochána. It is about processes and financial controls which seem to have failed. They seemed to have failed not only on the watch of the current Garda Commissioner and her predecessors, but also on the watch of the Department.

I am sorry to interrupt but we must move on to Deputy Kelly now. The sequence for speakers is as follows: Deputies Kelly, Madigan, Catherine Murphy, Connolly, Cassells and McDonald. There will be a second opportunity to pose questions if members stick to the time allocated.

I ask the Chair to put my name down for a second round of questions.

I thank the witnesses for coming in today. To carry on with the car analogy, I appreciate that the Department is not a back seat driver but it is our job to make sure that the Department makes sure that the Garda Commissioner and senior Garda management are passing their NCT every year but from what we are reading, they are not.

I am going to ask a series of questions and would appreciate if the witnesses would indicate in their answers whether they are speaking on behalf of the Department or in a personal capacity, that is, on the back of departmental or personal knowledge because there is a difference. I understand that the witnesses have not been in the Department forever and they cannot know everything. That is impossible because they have only been in their current roles for a limited period. However, I ask them to distinguish between departmental knowledge and their own knowledge and to specify when they need to find out more information.

We had a very long engagement last week and a lot of questions were raised. Regarding the financial reports from 2006, 2008 and 2010, are the witnesses saying that the Department had no knowledge whatsoever of their existence? What level of knowledge did the Department have of the existence of all three reports?

Mr. Noel Waters

In respect of 2006, my information is that we had no knowledge of that report. In respect of 2008, in the course of An Garda Síochána preparing for the meeting of the committee, it found a document on file that indicated that the then Commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, spoke briefly to the then Secretary General some time in June 2008 about issues in the Garda training centre. I know that my colleague Mr. John O'Callaghan referenced this last week.

In fairness, he referenced the year but he did not know the month. I would not have expected him to know the month-----

Mr. Noel Waters

I just want to add, for complete transparency, that there were further indications in another note on the same document that a meeting was arranged in the Department in June 2008 involving the then Secretary General, Mr. Sean Aylward, the chief administrative officer of An Garda Síochána, Mr. John Leamy and the then Garda Commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy and myself. I have to say, I have absolutely no recollection of that meeting. We have no documents on file in the Department on it and we have been unable to unearth any documents relating to it.

There was a meeting in June 2008 attended by those mentioned by Mr. Waters and by Mr. Waters himself-----

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

-----but Mr. Waters has no recollection of it at all.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely zero recollection.

According to the records, the meeting was convened to discuss issues relating to financial management in Templemore. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

Issues in relation to Templemore, yes, but to be clear, I do not think it mentioned financial management but rather "issues" in Templemore. However, I cannot be certain about that.

It was not an alarming meeting, obviously, if Mr. Waters cannot remember anything from it.

Mr. Noel Waters

I will put it this way - if the information which subsequently emerged in the audit report in recent months was raised at that meeting, I have no doubt in my own mind that I would have remembered it.

Nobody in the Department, on a day to day or month to month basis, was managing the relationship with An Garda Síochána since 2006, in terms of its financial management. No one in the Department had a co-ordination, oversight, communication or other role in terms of liaising or working with An Garda Síochána on financial management, financial requirements, the total of the Garda Vote or anything else. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

No, that is not true.

Was there not a Mr. Harris who was in charge of this whole area?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. Just to pick up on that-----

Was he not aware of any of this? Did anyone in the Department ever ask what was happening to the revenues that were being raised in Templemore? Did anyone ever ask these questions?

Mr. Noel Waters

Mr. Harris was what was known as the Department's professional accountant at that time. He retired in 2002. He would have been working-----

Who followed on? I am trying to establish whether there is somebody within the corporate structure of the Department who works with An Garda Síochána on managing its Vote. What if the Garda Commissioner decides, for instance, that An Garda Síochána needs a new fleet of cars? Surely there is somebody from the Department who meets Garda management regularly, asks what is needed, whether the Department can help financially and so forth.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely, yes, and there are two aspects to that-----

So how in the name of God did that person not know what was going on in Templemore?

Mr. Noel Waters

I would make the assumption that he or she was not told what was going on-----

Did the person not ask any questions?

Mr. Noel Waters

What reason would he or she have had to ask questions about Templemore?

There were revenues being generated down there and land was being bought. In terms of the Garda Vote over a number of years, did no one notice that money was coming in - I think it was €37,000 per annum - in rent that was not going to the OPW but was included in the Garda Vote?

Mr. Noel Waters

The Deputy is talking about a certain level of detail there in terms of the management of the Garda Vote and I do not think anybody in the Department was involved at that detailed level.

We have established that there is always somebody whose job it is to liaise with the Garda to manage its Vote and financial affairs. We have established that and I presume there is somebody doing it at the moment.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is the responsibility of the policing division of the Department.

It comes under Mr. O'Callaghan now. Is that right?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, that is correct.

How long has Mr. O'Callaghan been in the role?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Since September 2015.

There has been somebody there all the way through. There has always been somebody in the Department to take on that role. I presume the person has other roles as well, to be fair. There were questions asked in 2008 and there was a meeting. From 2006 on, did anyone in the Department of Justice and Equality ever say anything or question anything about financial management in Templemore even though we know, for example, there were lands being purchased and there was no rent being paid? Did anyone-----

Mr. Noel Waters

We know that now.

Did the Department not know it in 2014?

Mr. Noel Waters

I do not believe we did.

Did the Department not know in 2014 that this had been going on? Was there not a repayment in 2014? Did the process of getting back some of the money, or discussions about it, commence in 2014?

Mr. Noel Waters

It may well have but I have no knowledge the Department knew anything about it.

The lack of knowledge is incredible.

Mr. Noel Waters

This would not involve the Department. The Commissioner was the Accounting Officer and the Department-----

We have established that it was somebody's job to manage the process. We see from Mr. Barrett's letter to Mr. Kelly he talks about the returns that are done every year. It was somebody's role in the Department to manage this to make sure they have the funds they need and everything is okay and working fine. This is not personal but it lacks credibility. It lacks credibility to say there was nobody in the Department who ever had any reason to question what was going on. It lacks credibility to the general public. It lacks credibility to us.

Mr. Noel Waters

It may well be the case but we had no knowledge of what was going on. That is my point.

To confirm, was it in October 2015 the Department first became aware? How did the Department become aware?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

In September 2015, the head of legal wrote to the Attorney General seeking legal advice about the lands that were occupied by the golf club. Attached-----

Head of which legal?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The head of Garda legal.

Not the Department. Garda legal.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The head of Garda legal sought legal advice on the lands the golf club was occupying in Templemore. Attached to that email were a number of documents relating to how the Sportsfield company had been financed and so forth.

What did the Department do then? Presumably the Department went berserk and asked how in the name of God this went on. Presumably Mr. O'Callaghan has documentation to show he asked a whole load of questions.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I spoke with the CAO of the Garda on 1 October about the issues. We also wrote to the CAO on 6 October saying that serious issues were clearly arising in relation to the Sportsfield company, the golf club and the financial arrangements around it. We felt it needed to be brought to the attention of the audit committee and we also said there should be an early meeting between the Department and Garda management. We met the Garda on 5 November. In the letter they sent us at the start of October, they said they had set up this committee and they were going to invite us to nominate someone to sit on it and that was to work through and address the issues that were then known about the Garda College and the golf club. We then nominated someone to that committee.

What date was that?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

We nominated someone on 10 November.

I have read the entire transcript of the proceedings of last week's meeting a couple of times. In evidence, the Commissioner said she acted promptly. She repeatedly said she acted promptly once she was aware in July and she immediately set up a group and the Department was on the group. She said "I also took the decision that we needed to have representatives from all the relevant sections in that group, along with the Department of Justice and Equality representatives." Mr. O'Callaghan is now telling me the Department was not invited onto the group immediately but months later.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I am telling the Deputy-----

I believe Mr. O'Callaghan. That is not the issue.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The CAO invited us to nominate someone for the committee on 6 October.

When was the Department made aware of the existence of the committee?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

At that time.

On 6 October.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes.

Mr. Noel Waters

To clarify, my sense is we were made aware the committee was actually functioning at that stage.

Hold on a second. We need a little bit more than Mr. Waters's sense of it. This is serious stuff here. The committee was set up immediately, according to the Garda Commissioner, which presumably was July 27 or July 28. Mr. Waters's sense of it is the committee was established and then the Department was asked to go on it by the email in October. Is that correct?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes.

It would go with Mr. O'Callaghan's evidence from last week. It was consistent. Last week, Mr. O'Callaghan said it was October 2015.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes. In the letter inviting us, the CAO refers to him already chairing a committee.

Mr. Noel Waters

Currently chairing the committee. That is my point.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Currently chairing the committee.

Mr. Noel Waters

To clarify, when I said my sense of it, that is what I was referring to. That committee was already in existence.

So the Garda Commissioner set up this committee promptly, as she said last week. She said she was anxious for the Department to be on it. The committee was established. As an afterthought, months later in October, the Department was asked to go on it. The Department was not on it at the beginning, was it?

Mr. Noel Waters

No, but to characterise it as an afterthought-----

Hold on a second. A committee is set up to examine the financial management of Templemore by An Garda Síochána and the Department is not on it. This is fact according to what the witness is saying. The Department is not on it when it is set up.

Mr. Noel Waters

That is correct.

The Department is invited on it. What date is the email?

Mr. Noel Waters

Early October 2015.

I would not say the Department was foremost in their minds. Perhaps the Department was not an afterthought but it was certainly not foremost in their minds because they did not bother to ask the Department to sit on it in the first instance. We have established that now. Is that not accurate?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Mr. O'Callaghan gave very good evidence the Department was notified about this in October. I have said before that for me and the public it is incredible the Department was not aware of the issues going back further. The Commissioner, to be fair to her, on numerous occasions stated that she believes the Department was aware. She said, "To clarify, it is clear that the Department had knowledge going back to 1988, though I am not sure of the exact date." To be fair to her, I do not think she could be sure. She continued, "There were indications, prior to the Commissioner becoming Accounting Officer, that the Department had an involvement in the structure put in place for a funding model for the Garda College." She also makes reference to 2008 and that there was a meeting with the Secretary General. For me, given that and what we have established through the other questions, it astounds me there was not knowledge in the Department about these issues. It also astounds me there was no knowledge of this. It is, frankly, incredible there was no knowledge. When the Secretary General became aware of these issues in 2015, what did he do? I presume he acted with great haste.

Mr. Noel Waters

In 2015, the knowledge came to us in respect of issues that had emerged in Templemore. Mr. O'Callaghan, who is head of the policing division-----

I will cut to the chase. It is something I do not understand. The internal auditor was not told until March. The Department knew in October. Did one of the witnesses not ask why the internal auditor had not been notified and was not involved in it?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

We engaged with the Commissioner and her CAO.

We made it clear straight away that the audit committee needed to be informed. In the letter that the CAO wrote to us he said that he had advised the audit committee at the last meeting and he had asked them to put it on their audit plan for 2016, so as far we were concerned the audit committee was seized of the issue and it had been decided that there would be an audit conducted by internal audit in 2016. It was on their work plan.

Did Mr. O'Callaghan insist that internal audit would be brought in and they did not do it?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

No, I am not saying that. I did not insist. I said that-----

Why did Mr. O'Callaghan not insist?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Because they told us they had briefed the audit committee in September about the issues and that they had asked the audit committee to put it on their audit programme for 2016.

Does Mr. O'Callaghan think it was appropriate that the internal auditor was not sitting on the committee that the Department started in October, that was established in July?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

This is just my opinion, I think that there are issues of independence. That committee's main purpose was to try to resolve the legal issues that had arisen in relation to the Sportsfield Company and the ownership or leasehold of the land that the golf club was on, and also to address and resolve a number of other issues that had come to the fore in relation to accounts, including investment accounts. It was a group that was addressing issues. For the sake of his independence, it was not a place for the internal auditor to be. The internal auditor's job was to independently-----

So Mr. O'Callaghan does not believe that the internal auditor should have been on the committee even though he felt he should have been on it.

Mr. Noel Waters

Whether we believe it or not it was not our call at any rate.

I am not saying it was the Department's call. Mr. Waters should hold on a second. I did not say it was the Department's call. My question was very specific as to whether any concerns were voiced that the internal auditor was not on the committee or that he had not been told or information had not been sent to the internal auditor, and that these issues had not been brought to his attention. Did the Department voice any of those concerns? It is a simple question.

Mr. Noel Waters

I do not think we had knowledge.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Our clear understanding from what we have been told is that the audit committee had been informed, had been asked to put it on its audit programme for 2016. It was implicit in that that the internal auditor would know, given that he would be the person doing the audit in 2016.

How often did the steering group meetings take place?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The first one that the Department's representative attended was in December 2016.

Was it every month or two months?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I am sorry, I meant 2015. The next one was held in March 2016.

The internal auditors were not told until sometime in late March.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

It is my understanding that the internal auditor was asked to do the audit that month.

Is that not just insane? Although it is a different Vote and a different Accounting Officer, ultimately for the Vote and finances of the Garda college the buck stops with the Accounting Officer of the Garda Síochána but the layer up in terms of the parent and child rule is that the Department is responsible. Was that not incredible?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

As I say, from when we were informed in October 2016 it was our clear understanding that the audit committee had been told and the audit committee had been asked to put it on the audit process.

Mr. Noel Waters

We cannot ignore the legal position here in that the Commissioner, legally, is responsible for the Garda Vote, not the Department, so we could not superimpose our-----

Does Mr. Waters believe the Commissioner should have notified the Department of the issues in relation to Templemore before she did?

Mr. Noel Waters

That was a matter of judgment for the Commissioner.

No, I asked Mr. Waters a specific question. It is a "Yes" or "No" answer.

Mr. Noel Waters

I am reluctant to put myself in the position-----

If Mr. Waters is refusing to answer the question, that is fine, but does he believe, as the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, that the Garda Commissioner should have notified him, the Department or the Minister, whichever way he wants to take it - those entities collectively - before she did?

Mr. Noel Waters

Again, I am not putting-----

Could Mr. Waters please answer the question?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am not prepared to put myself in a situation where I am trying to recreate what-----

I am not asking Mr. Waters to recreate. It is a very simple question. Mr. Waters either believes that she should have notified him before she did or he does not.

Mr. Noel Waters

The Deputy is putting me in a situation where-----

I am not. I am entitled to ask questions and as Secretary General of the Department I expect Mr. Waters to answer them to the best of his ability. I will repeat the question one last time. Mr. Waters should consider how he answers it. Does he believe the Garda Commissioner should have notified him before she did? Does he accept that the time gap, which is considerable, is acceptable?

Mr. Noel Waters

I will put it to Deputy Kelly this way.

I will just have it minuted.

Mr. Noel Waters

If the Commissioner was of the view that some criminal activity had taken place, that some theft or fraud had occurred, I would expect that she would have told me about that.

We are moving on.

I am just finishing up. I raised those issues in the Dáil on 12 April. In the contributions last week no witness from the Garda or the Department was aware of that contribution. That is incredible.

Mr. Noel Waters

I am not sure that is the case.

I asked the question.

Mr. Noel Waters

I think Mr. O'Callaghan indicated otherwise.

No. I asked the question. I read the transcript.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes, and while this does not appear in the transcript, from what I recall I was sitting there and when Deputy Kelly asked the question I indicated that I was aware of it.

I will take Mr. O'Callaghan's word for that. To be fair, I did not see him. This is my last question and it relates to that issue. On 12 April I raised very specific questions in the Chamber, many of which were raised again last week. Since 12 April, what has Mr. Waters done about the issues that have been raised? What actions has he taken? I presume, straight after 12 April or even straight after last week the Department went into action mode and made big decisions and went to find out what the hell was going on. Could Mr. Waters list what has been done?

Mr. Noel Waters

We have to go back to the point of who has responsibility for what here. As Deputy Kelly knows, the Policing Authority was given responsibility for ensuring that the actions that were identified by the Commissioner would be followed through. That happened immediately on receipt of the audit report. We were concerned to ensure that happened. We are following up on that and we are maintaining our interest in that, and we will that continue over a period.

For the sake of clarity - I am not trying to put words in Mr. Waters's mouth - no other actions were taken. Mr. Waters notified the Policing Authority, which he had to do, but have no other actions whatsoever been taken? Now is Mr. Waters chance to list them if there are others.

Mr. Noel Waters

Does Mr. O'Callaghan want to add anything to that?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

No, because the audit report was completed.

No, I am talking about since last week or since 12 April when those issues were raised. The witnesses can pick whichever date they want, but what have they done from when they became fully aware of the issues?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

We were aware of the issues all along from the point when the audit report was published, and the audit report contains a number of recommendations which are to be implemented. The Tánaiste has referred those, under the Act, to the Policing Authority to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and to report to her on a quarterly basis on that. So that is where it sits, and outside of that there is the examination of this committee in relation to the audit report.

Does the Secretary General want to say something?

Mr. Noel Waters

No.

There is one last thing. As part of the group we have requested a lot of documentation. We have received some of it already and we will receive more in the next few days. Through this examination, if there is any documentation in the Department that the witnesses consider we need to be made aware of, will they please do so before next week's meeting? I mean anything at all.

Mr. Noel Waters

We will do it as quickly as possible.

For the sake of clarity, the documentation is coming on foot of a formal request from the Chair. It was not a request from an individual member.

I thank the witnesses.

I thank Mr. Waters and other officials from his Department for coming here today. He is subject to quick-fire questioning. The main focus of my questions today is on direct provision, which is the main item on the committee's agenda today. Deputy Farrell touched on some issues earlier.

I appreciate where Mr. Waters is coming from when he said the Department is not a back-seat driver. From the perspective of the Committee of Public Accounts and the public in general I will use the analogy that they do not want to see the Department as the driver of an uninsured vehicle. When one thinks of it in those terms it is quite a strong metaphor and that is the reason the Committee of Public Accounts is taking this line of questioning today, in particular bearing in mind last week.

I appreciate Mr. Waters's bona fides in this regard and the efforts the Department is making to ensure this does not happen again. Mr. O'Callaghan has already gone through the sequence events on what is happening at the moment. When will we have the report that Mr. O'Callaghan mentioned?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

What I was referring to was that the audit report and the recommendations in the audit report have been referred by the Tánaiste under the Act to the Policing Authority to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and to report to her on a quarterly basis. The authority has written to the Tánaiste since to say that given that a lot of the recommendations are due to be implemented by the Commissioner by July, the authority's view is that a report by the end of July would be more appropriate and the Tánaiste is satisfied with that. So we expect the report to come towards the end of July or maybe early August.

Mr. O'Callaghan's colleague, Mr. Waters, has said that if there is mismanagement of public finances obviously the Department will take that very seriously. I appreciate all the witnesses' bona fides in that regard. Could the Department do anything further on this matter that is not being done at present to allay the public's concerns? As the witnesses will appreciate, we are under pressure to represent the public at large who want to have confidence in the Garda. To use the analogy again, the Department is neither the driver nor the back-seat passenger. What can we do to ensure this does not arise again?

Mr. Noel Waters

The arrival of the Policing Authority taking possession of this is very important because for the first time we have independent assessment of what is going on and reports back to the Tánaiste, which will enable us to take those forward. We need to get that process. As the Deputy knows, it is under way and we are getting the first report in July. Listening to the conversations here this morning, if this committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General were to examine this by whatever means that would be a useful exercise as well.

We did discuss the special report, but the Comptroller and Auditor General is not in a position to do that before September anyway when he will do his appropriation account. I am not sure if that will be an option. Apart from that, could the Department be doing anything else?

Mr. Noel Waters

I think the auditing function has changed remarkably - completely - going back 15 or 20 years. That clearly needs to have a focus on what is happening. We also need to support the process that is under way within the Garda in terms of any support that we can offer to ensure that all the issues that are there now can be resolved as quickly as possible.

Could such a situation arise again in the future? Have the controls been improved to the extent that the Secretary General believes we will not be in this position where we are discussing an eventuality?

Mr. Noel Waters

I would certainly hope not. I think we have all moved on immeasurably since the events that gave rise to this, but one can never rule out in any organisation that one gets a rogue situation. I think we have structures of governance, audit, oversight and supervision in place now which-----

The oversight, and checks and balances will be key.

Mr. Noel Waters

Going back to the Policing Authority, given its public role and very public scrutiny of the Garda, the possibilities of this issue emerging again and in view of the general transparency that is in all our communities now, I would be more than surprised if we ever found ourselves in this situation again.

While I do not want to put Mr. Waters in a position, I want to clarify some of his comments. Earlier he said that the Commissioner has legal responsibility for the Garda Vote, which I understand. He also said he would have expected her to have informed him earlier where there was criminal wrong-doing. Am I correct in that?

Mr. Noel Waters

Where there is criminal wrong-doing, if there was fraud or theft, I would have expected that she would have done that if she had that knowledge. I have no doubt in my mind that had she been aware of that, she would have done that. I would see no reason as to why she would not have.

The Commissioner will come in herself and will be able to-----

Mr. Noel Waters

As I say, I cannot say what is in her mind.

I will move on to ask about direct provision. In his opening statement the Secretary General said that the Department now has responsibility for Ordnance Survey Ireland. It has come from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Why is that the case?

While on that, it is a total mystery as to why the Valuation Office and Ordnance Survey Ireland has come into the Department of Justice and Equality.

Mr. Noel Waters

They have a separate Vote. It arises from a reorganisation of roles and responsibilities. We have responsibility for the Property Registration Authority. It was agreed back in 2011 or 2012 that it would be a good idea to merge the Valuation Office and Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Property Registration Authority into one body, called Tailte Éireann. That is essentially why we have it. Given that we have the Property Registration Authority which is the bigger of the organisations and which, as the Deputy knows, is involved in anything to do with property, it was believed by Government that the other two organisations would come to us and that we would effect the merger of the three organisations. We are awaiting the legislation to be put in place to enable that to happen.

How is that transition working out?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is working on a shadow basis at the moment, pending the legislation, but-----

Why is it the legislation not in place?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is one of those issues. We have a huge legislative programme and actually getting to it is the issue - getting the priorities for it and getting to it.

It would be good if that were expedited.

The Secretary General's opening statement referred to direct provision and the working group. It stated that data had been compiled for that. Did this working group make recommendations on direct provision? I was struck by something in that opening statement - I am sure Mr. Waters did not mean it in any derogatory way at all and I am not suggesting that he did. The final paragraph stated that there is no cheaper alternative to direct provision. With respect it is not just about economics; it is also about making it a more humane system. Did the working group make any recommendations in that regard?

Mr. Noel Waters

It did. This is the McMahon working group, chaired by Mr. Justice McMahon. It acknowledged, as we do, that time is a major issue in respect of direct provision and that every effort should be made to ensure that people were not left an inordinate amount of time in direct provision. That is why I referenced the fact that the International Protection Act, which is now law, is a real game-changer when it comes to that. We expect it-----

What benefits does that provide that the previous Act did not?

Mr. Noel Waters

Instead of having a number of discrete, separate stand-alone steps in the asylum and protection process, applicants are now required to put all their case upfront at the start. So they can apply for asylum; they can apply for what is known as subsidiary protection, which is a protection which is slightly less than asylum; or they can apply for leave to remain. All of those are concerned in one step. Hitherto the situation was that one applied for asylum; one appealed a negative decision; and one then moved on to the subsidiary protection. If one got a negative position, one appealed that; equally with leave to remain and one appealed that. Then in the middle of that-----

It is in line with EU legislation.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is. In the middle of that one had significant judicial reviews as well.

Syrians and others have come in and have been accommodated in recent times. Is it Syrians who come in?

Mr. Noel Waters

Syrians, yes.

Under what category do they fall? They are not categorised as refugees? Where do they come into this equation of accommodation?

Mr. Noel Waters

There are two strands to this programme. There are people who are brought here under what is known as the relocation strand, who are brought to Ireland and are already deemed to be refugees before they arrive in Ireland.

Mr. Noel Waters

They are identified by our staff in camps, generally in Lebanon, and brought here. The second strand to that are people who are brought here under the rules that were established by the European governments in the wake of the crisis in 2016 where each country was given a number of people it could bring to the country. That is the second strand. We are now working our way through that with bringing people here from Greece to Ireland.

How did they fit into this accommodation system or is it separate again?

Mr. Noel Waters

Both those strands are put into what is known EROCs.

What is that?

Mr. Noel Waters

EROCs are emergency reception and orientation centres. That is of a different order to our direct provision centres with far more significant services available for them.

The first strand is already recognised as refugees and they are brought there for orientation after leaving the camps and before they are allocated accommodation throughout the country. The second strand, which is what I am speaking about, will, in the vast majority of cases, go through the process here and will be recognised as refugees very quickly, within eight to 12 weeks.

How many have come through that process into Ireland?

Mr. Noel Waters

At this stage it is in the order of 1,200 people.

Where are they accommodated? We hear about Ballaghaderreen and Monasterevin.

Mr. Noel Waters

They are in Ballaghaderreen, Monasterevin, and Clonea in Waterford for initial reception. Then they are moved to housing throughout the country. The preponderance of housing is along the west coast at this stage.

Will Mr. Waters sends us a detailed note separately on this new group that was not there in 2015? It was not a principal item for today. I apologise to Deputy Madigan.

That is fine. As far as I recall, Mr. Waters in his opening statement acknowledged direct provision is not a perfect system, and we are all aware of this. It is difficult to know what the alternative to it is. I am very concerned about the basic tenets of entitlement for people looking for assistance from our country, such as shelter, safety, food and education. I note that some of the measures with regard to fire safety have not been done. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

No, there is no question of-----

That is all done.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely. There is no question whatsoever-----

I am looking at the new home cooking arrangements in Mosney and I would have difficulty with it if there was no-----

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely.

It has all been done.

Mr. Noel Waters

There is absolutely no question I can assure the Deputy.

What about third level? This is a bête noir of mine. There is access to first and second level education but we want these people to continue, hopefully, if they are not deported, and I will speak about the deportation criteria. I know the figures have improved over the years, but 23%, which is 950 people, remained in direct provision even though their cases had been finalised. Then there are children born in direct provision. We want to make sure they are educated and can transition as smoothly as possible out of the system. What is the issue with third level? How can we address this?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is basically a matter of cost in the sense that-----

Yes, I saw that.

Mr. Noel Waters

Ultimately, it is a matter for the Department of Education and Skills. I will put it in this context-----

Has the Department of Justice and Equality worked with the Department of Education and Skills on it? I see that typically international fees of €10,000 would have to be paid. Education is vital and I would really like to see the Department working with the Department of Education and Skills on getting people to third level.

Mr. Noel Waters

A scheme was put in place a number of years ago. I must say it was quite limited. It was for people who had acquired leaving certificate standard and reached a certain point in the system where they could transition to third level education. I would not overclaim on this. It is an issue in terms of ensuring people who are in the system for a long time can get the appropriate-----

I saw that it was launched in 2015 with the Department of Education and Skills, for people who are over five years in direct provision.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Only two applicants were approved as far as I could gather because the criteria were so strict. There were only 39 applicants anyway. I am not saying it is necessarily within Mr. Waters's remit but it is something I want to highlight because it is important.

With regard to complaints procedures and translation, a booklet is provided in basic English so it is easily comprehensible.

Mr. Noel Waters

And other languages also.

There are other languages.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely.

Okay, I did not see that.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, in other relevant languages.

So that they can understand-----

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely.

-----because it is difficult enough for them when they are trying to-----

Mr. Noel Waters

There is no question of us requiring people to adopt English and nothing else and that we deal with them on that basis.

They have somebody there if they want to make a complaint so that they can do so through their own language-----

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely.

-----if they do not speak our native tongue, which is Irish but-----

Mr. Noel Waters

I have to acknowledge the role of NGO groups in supporting people in this situation in various direct provision centres.

I see a new complaints procedure was introduced in 2015. There was supposed to be an appointment of somebody. Was that done? I know there is an ombudsman as well.

Mr. Noel Waters

That was superseded by the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children taking on the role. They are now effectively-----

Has Mr. Waters seen a notable difference in the volume of complaints since the new system has come in?

Mr. Noel Waters

It only started in early April so it is probably a little early at this stage to make an assessment on it, but we would expect that it will be taken up. Every effort has been made to make sure people are aware of it and the Ombudsman's office has been very active in ensuring this also.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said there is a low level of complaints.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

I am not suggesting for a second people are afraid to make a complaint, but one would not want that to be a barrier, that there is a fear there that would prohibit them in any way from making a complaint for fear they might be deported or anything like that.

What are the criteria for deportation? I saw a figure of 9% or 7% and-----

Mr. Noel Waters

There are two strands-----

-----some of them were deported after quite a number of years living here.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. There are two strands to deportation as practised. The first strand are people who, for example, arrive in Ireland off a flight today at Dublin Airport who do not have the appropriate documentation and who are refused leave to land and returned. This happens pretty much immediately. In some cases, depending on the flights, it may be the following day. Last year, approximately 4,000 people who attempted to enter the State were returned on this basis. Primarily the great majority of them were on the basis of fraudulent documents. Some, approximately 400 people, applied for asylum at the airport and they were allowed into the country on this basis.

The second strand are people who have been through the entire asylum process, or who have been detected living illegally here, and have no permission to remain. They had their cases assessed and judged and they were asked to leave the country.

I note the figure that 4,075 people left the State voluntarily but there are no checks on this.

Mr. Noel Waters

No.

It is a bit of an anomaly to be deported voluntarily. How does that actually-----

Mr. Noel Waters

The law actually requires that if a deportation order is made against a person he or she is required to leave the State voluntarily.

It is not really voluntarily.

Mr. Noel Waters

The law requires that. If people do not abide by it they leave themselves open to the fact they will be removed by the Garda.

Has the appeals process been expedited in any way over the years? It is easy to appeal and appeal again, and people are entitled to access to justice, but we do not want them unnecessarily delaying and then at the end being deported.

Mr. Noel Waters

This is where the new legislation, the International Protection Act, has come into play where the opportunities for people-----

Mr. Noel Waters

-----to abuse the system have been reduced to the point where they can make an appeal to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal in respect of their applications. That has been functioning since the beginning of the year.

Have all of the sections of the Act commenced?

Mr. Noel Waters

At this stage I do believe they have.

I want to go back to some of the issues around the report from Templemore. Mr. Waters was invited in October 2015 onto the committee or group which was going to take this further after it was identified in July.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Mr. Waters took up that position in November. Am I correct to presume the Tánaiste would have been fully informed at that stage?

Mr. Noel Waters

In respect of the existence of the group?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot say for definite that she would necessarily have been at that point. I am just checking with colleagues. No, she was not informed at that stage.

Last week, the Commissioner made the point that even though there was an obligation on the Commissioner to inform the Minister by virtue of the fact the Department was informed she was making a presumption that the Minister was informed, so that would not be correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

The Commissioner would not necessarily have a detailed knowledge of that. Given the volume of business we do in the Department it would not necessarily be the case that an action was happening and the Tánaiste would be aware of all aspects of the action.

Mr. Waters would have had some understanding of the importance of the subject matter. Would it not have been of large enough importance to bring to the Tánaiste's attention?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am speaking personally; my colleagues may wish to speak on this also. The trigger for us in the Department in that respect would be if we were aware at that point that unlawful activity such as theft or fraud had taken place. Then, of course, we would have advised the Tánaiste immediately. At that point we had been assured that there was no misappropriation.

Would Mr. Waters be aware that the Tánaiste should have been informed by the Commissioner when this came to light and that there was an obligation on the Commissioner to do so? Would Mr. Waters not have spotted that, as a double safeguard, and brought the matter to the attention of the Tánaiste?

Mr. Noel Waters

No, I think the Deputy is referring to the section 41 issue with regard to the Commissioner.

Mr. Noel Waters

Whether or not the Commissioner brought that issue to the attention of the Minister by way of a section 41 letter was a matter for the Commissioner's own judgment. I cannot put myself in a situation where I could recreate what assessment the Commissioner made when she was doing that.

I raised this issue in the Dáil through parliamentary questions in January within days of a report in The Sunday Times on the draft interim report. I raised the issue on the floor of the House on 9 February during Leaders' Questions with the Tánaiste who said, in a very dismissive fashion, that the report had been sent to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and the Committee of Public Accounts and that it had received full scrutiny. I did not challenge the Tánaiste on that but when back in my office I checked and found there was no evidence that this was the case. I e-mailed the Department of Justice and Equality and drew attention to the fact that the information I had been given was incorrect. I had written to the Committee of Public Accounts seeking this matter to be timetabled and for the report to be provided to the Committee of Public Accounts at that stage. This was in early February. I accept that this was a draft report until February because it was February when it became an interim report and ceased to be a draft. Was Mr. Waters aware of that? Somebody must have replied to me because the reply said that there was an error and it was not the Committee on Justice and Equality that dealt with this issue but that it was the Committee on Public Accounts that dealt with it. I then had to take it up with the Tánaiste because the only reference to the Committee of Public Accounts and this issue was my notification to the Committee of Public Accounts seeking the publication of this report. Is Mr. Waters aware of that dialogue?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am aware in a general way. It is my understanding that the Tánaiste spoke to the Deputy on foot of that.

I raised it with the Tánaiste on the floor of the House. She accepted it and corrected the record of the Dáil in late March. The interim report was provided to the Department in September 2016 and I believe this was to comply with a requirement from the Comptroller and Auditor General with regard to its fulfilling the requirement for the accounts. The Department got that in September 2016 and this satisfied the Comptroller and Auditor General's requirements-----

Mr. Noel Waters

I just wish to clarify for the Deputy that it was for the Garda accounts.

Sorry, yes, so it was. The Department, however, received it then.

Mr. Noel Waters

The draft interim report was received by us in September 2016.

This is not a very long document and it does not take a long time to read, except when one must stop and start as it is quite a substantial amount of information for quite a short document. Between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner - I do not know whose decision it was to publish this report - it took until a month ago in late March or early April to publish the draft report. Why was there such a delay in doing that?

Mr. Noel Waters

In a moment I will ask my colleague to address this, but just to be clear, the report was not the Department's report, it was from the Garda. The question, therefore, of the Department attempting to influence the publication or content of it simply would not have arisen. It was a matter for the Garda to complete the report and to turn it from a draft report into the final interim report. We would have had no role in terms of how long that would have taken.

Can I make the point that the Commissioner confirmed last week that the draft report did not change at all from the interim report that was published.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

If I could clarify for the Deputy. I was sent the draft audit report by the head of internal audit in An Garda Síochána in September 2016. It was sent to me to fact check and to see if there was any reference to the Department that we might want to question or query. In his letter to me the head of internal audit requested that I treat the contents of the draft report as confidential and not divulge in any way the extract of the report that had been sent to me. He said that consent was given for the disclosure of the extract of the report to our legal professional adviser. Most of this is irrelevant as I was not named in the report, but at that stage the report was in draft and it was my understanding that he had equally sent it to everybody else who was named in the report asking them to check and to make sure they were happy and to consult any advisers that they wanted to consult. The report was still in that process until it became the completed report in March 2017. It is not about the fact that the report did not change much between coming to us in September 2016 and what it finally looked like. During that period it was out with all the parties that were named in it so they could go back to the internal auditor and for him to then finalise his report on the basis of the observations he received. It was not open to the Tánaiste to publish the report. It was not her report in the first instance and it was still in process at that point.

I actually asked the Tánaiste to ask the Garda Commissioner to publish the report. I will move on.

With regard to the negotiation of procurement procedures for the commercially owned and run direct provision centres, the Comptroller and Auditor General said in his report this morning that use of that procedure is only permitted in certain limited circumstances which we could not see existed in regard to direct provision. Why was it presumed that it would be appropriate in that particular context?

Mr. Noel Waters

Essentially because there was no other option available to us to procure accommodation and services throughout the State on the basis of Government policy. We had looked at all the other options. We started out on the basis that when people arrived into the State, they were given supplementary welfare, accommodation and apartments and that very soon we had reached a crisis situation, which is not dissimilar to what we have at the moment. More people had been encouraged to come in and we found ourselves in a situation where people who had arrived to Ireland as protection applicants were living homeless in Merrion Square and the Phoenix Park. The Government decided to introduce a system of direct provision and dispersal. It also decided that when this happened there would be a mix of accommodation options comprising commercially run centres, State-owned accommodation and what were then known as flotels. The floating hotels were not sustainable and did not become an option. We went about giving effect to that Government decision and we managed to acquire some State properties but we ran into serious difficulties with other provision. The commercial sector, effectively, took up the slack in dealing with that.

Is that still deemed to be in breach of procurement rules?

Mr. Noel Waters

We believe, as I said in my report, that this equates to the negotiated procedure. We want, if it is feasible, to be able to get to a more open tender situation as quickly as possible. We want to do that but as I indicated earlier, the irony is that when we did that in respect of the State sector, it ended up actually costing more than in the commercial sector. However, that is no reason, as far as we are concerned, not to put this out to the market. We are engaged with the Office of Government Procurement to try to get that done. It is very difficult because it is not a question of just procuring accommodation, but also of procuring services in local communities all over the country and trying to establish a marking system that will take that into account and not favour one group of people over another. It is a serious difficulty.

According to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, the contracts did not set performance measures and there were limited provisions for penalties for underperformance by suppliers. Clinics were then set up as a control measure in terms of seeing what the standards were like. Very vulnerable people were asked for information which they may well have perceived, rightly or wrongly, that it would not have been to their advantage to give. Has the Department done anything about the provision of penalties for underperformance by suppliers? If so, I ask Mr. Waters to provide details.

Mr. Noel Waters

We have accepted that recommendation from the Comptroller and Auditor General and have initiated a process where, in cases of non-performance, a contractor may lose up to 10% of the entire population of the centre over a particular payment period. A centre with 300 people, for example, could end up losing €3,000 if it does not perform to the measures set down which could relate to food, the cleanliness of rooms, the provision of other services and so forth. There are clear performance measures in place which contractors are obliged to adhere to, which is a new development.

The report goes on to say that there were significant levels of dissatisfaction among residents about the quality of accommodation and-or services provided. I read somewhere that there was an intention to set up an independent complaints mechanism. In terms of complaining, people in a dependent or vulnerable position will hold back because they perceive that it may well make their situation worse. I would have thought that the setting up of an independent complaints procedure would have been a priority. Has the Department done that at this stage? If not, what is the situation in that regard?

Mr. Noel Waters

That has been done at this stage by the appointment of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children to receive complaints on behalf of residents in direct provision centres.

The Office of the Ombudsman is the independent appeals mechanism. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. We had considered having an internal mechanism as well but we believed that it would be much more effective-----

I am very familiar with the Ombudsman process. People can make a complaint to the Ombudsman and if that office decides to take up the complaint, the process involved can be quite lengthy and sometimes the office does not take cases on. Was there a beefing up of the offices of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children to ensure that there would be sufficient capacity to deal with complaints from direct provision centres?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot answer "Yes or "No" on that but I do know that both offices had strongly signalled to us for a long time that they wanted to take on that role. I am assuming, on that basis, that they had their own internal resources to enable them to take on the additional workload that would go with that.

In his opening statement, Mr. Waters made reference to the fact that there were no "cheaper alternatives" to direct provision. As a country we have been criticised repeatedly about direct provision in the context of human rights. We can always do things more cheaply. However, we must look at things in the round. We must balance the cost of direct provision against meeting our human rights obligations. Where does that come into the equation?

Mr. Noel Waters

The Deputy has put her finger on it. That is the balance we are trying to strike in respect of the process that we have in place at the moment, the negotiated procedure versus ensuring that we get appropriate value for money for the taxpayer. We could put a contract out for tender and look for a facility for a few hundred people. Let us imagine that a facility exists already in Skibbereen but a bidder in Bandon comes back with a lower price who can meet all of the service level requirements. In that situation, we would be uprooting hundreds of people from their home in one town to bring them to another town. We must consider all of the trauma and issues that go with that, in terms of access to housing, health services and so forth. We do not do that and that is why we have found it so difficult to find a tendering process that meets our needs so that we can continue to act in a humanitarian way. We have no interest whatsoever in uprooting families and people from their homes just for the sake of moving them on to another town up the road.

We all know that there is a very significant housing and homelessness crisis at the moment. In his opening statement, Mr. Waters made reference to the sizeable number of people in direct provision who should be moving on but cannot do so because housing and other services are not available to them. Is the Department dealing with that issue? Is this coming out of the Department's Vote? Direct provision was originally intended to be short term and this is prolonging something that is already overly long. I know that the time spent in direct provision has been reduced but it is still overly long. Is the Department engaging with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government on this issue? Is the Department of Justice and Equality picking up a cost that should be picked up by another Department?

Mr. Noel Waters

I will ask my colleague Mr. Banks to come in shortly on that particular point because he is in charge of the Reception and Integration Agency. We have found ourselves in a situation where approximately 640 people are in direct provision centres who are entitled, in law, to be in Ireland. They have the Minister's permission to be here but they remain in direct provision because they are not in a position to access housing. Our Department is picking up the costs associated with that. Again, to go back to the humanitarian point, other European countries might force people to leave State-provided accommodation in those circumstances but we do not. We think it would be completely wrong to put people who have gone through the process and ended up being recognised as refugees or granted leave to remain, out on their ear. We do not do that to individuals or to children and families. We are meeting the costs in that regard.

I will ask my colleagues to give the committee a sense of our engagement with NGOs and other Departments to try to expedite the process of moving people on.

I ask that the reply be very short because I have two other questions that I am anxious to pose.

Mr. Eugene Banks

I will be as brief as possible. As people in State-provided accommodation get status, they are linked up, as far as possible, with the local authority and any local housing agency to see if they are eligible for the HAP scheme or to receive rent allowance. The managers in most of our direct provision centres will provide references if necessary. The NGO community has been given funding under the Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund, AMIF, programme to assist people to move out of State-provided accommodation into permanent homes.

All of that happens organically on the ground daily.

These centres are dispersed around the country.

Mr. Eugene Banks

That is correct.

Is there a cluster of people in one location or in a small number of locations who find themselves in this position?

Mr. Eugene Banks

I suspect that more people who are in State provided accommodation in the Dublin area are finding it difficult to find accommodation. People who are in other locations around the country might find it easier to get accommodation in that area.

To go back to another point in respect of expenditure of the Magdalen fund, there was an underspend in 2014. The explanation given for that underspend was that fewer new applications were received in 2015 than was expected. A number of applications could not be processed as further investigation was necessary in order to make a determination in those cases. In some cases there is a shortage of information. I am working with one individual who is very dissatisfied that she is not being believed at this point, because there are no records that back up where she was. She spent four or five years in a Magdalen laundry but she was told that she spent six months there. She has spent her whole life in institutional care. Are there many other cases in which there is that kind of dispute about where people were and where people will not accept what they feel is not truthful? Are there cases where people who have been denied justice for their whole lives feel that the lack of records sides with the institutions rather than with the individual?

Deputy Shane Cassells took the Chair.

Mr. Noel Waters

Perhaps Mr. Martin wishes to come in on that.

Mr. Jimmy Martin

To answer the Deputy's question, no, there are not many cases like that. When we started off in this, we were concerned that while some of the institutions have good, comprehensive records, some have no records at all. In practice, we have built up a certain level of expertise within the Department. We do not rely on institutional records alone. We check out school records, social welfare records and tax records to see whether somebody was active. There are very few cases of disputes about whether a person was in an institution. If a person was in an institution with records, and the record shows that a person went in and went out, we tend to rely on those records, but we double-check that against other evidence. This would include whether the person was making social payments, which suggest he or she was working, and whether there is a record of the person in another institution - for example, he or she might have been in hospital. Therefore, it is quite rare that somebody would be concerned about not being paid because of a lack of records. Normally the dispute centres around a person having been in an institution which that person regards as a Magdalen laundry, but which is not one covered by the scheme.

In this particular case the institution was covered. I will take that up separately. I have written to the Department and given information about the case to the Minister. One often looks at a case and wonders if it is replicated. That is the reason I raised that matter.

I have a number of questions for Mr. Waters. Did the Department of Justice and Equality ever give permission to any garda to open an account, not to mention 50 accounts?

Mr. Noel Waters

I may ask my colleagues who would be more familiar with the technicalities, but as I understand the process involved in opening a bank account in the formal sense, the permission of the Department of Finance or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is required.

There are a lot of questions I wish to ask on direct provision and other matters, but I have a few quick questions that have arisen. I am not into demonising any organisation. We need An Garda Síochána. We had its representatives and the Department of Justice and Equality before us at the last meeting. Questions for the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána emerged. I will ask my first question again. It seems that permission had to be given by the Minister. Will Mr. Waters clarify whether permission had to be given and whether 50 permissions were given, or 48, 42 or whatever the number of accounts was?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am advised that the consent of the Minister is required under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. To answer the Deputy's question about the numbers, I am not aware of any information in the Department which would indicate the number.

I am sorry, I am mixed up. Is Mr. Clifford saying that permission was necessary under the Act of 2005?

Mr. Seamus Clifford

Yes, permission was necessary for any bank accounts created subsequent to the Act.

Was permission given?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

It is not clear at this stage whether the accounts in question were opened before 2005. I am not aware of any authorisations that have been given since 2005.

What was necessary before 2005? Did An Garda Síochána have a free hand to open as many accounts as it wished?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

It would not have had a free hand.

What would have been the restrictions or obligations on it?

Mr. Seamus Clifford

Ultimately, sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was required then to open a public bank account, as it is currently in respect of Departments and offices.

It was required then as well.

Mr. Seamus Clifford

Yes.

Therefore, is whether permission was given 48 or 50 times not a very simple question that demands a simple reply? We need clarification on how many accounts there were, because sometimes it seems to be 42, sometimes it is 48 and sometimes it is 50. I will take the easier figure of 50.

Mr. Noel Waters

We will agree to check the records which are available in the Department to establish that figure.

Does that not go to the heart of the matter in terms of trust? A working group was set up. What has been happening? Is this not a fundamental question? How could so many accounts have been opened without permission? If permission was given, let us have proof of that.

Mr. Noel Waters

These are the things that we need to find out.

At this time of the evening, as I seem to be the last Deputy, or one of the last to speak, tiredness is getting to me.

That is a fundamental question that should be answered and should certainly be answered before Mr. Waters appears before the committee again. Companies were formed. As I understand it gardaí of higher rank and lower rank were directors. Was permission given for that?

Mr. Noel Waters

I have no information which would indicate that it was given.

Mr. Waters should have. I am sorry, we should have this information. This came up. He is fully aware of this in respect of the directors. Did they have permission to do that? The Department of Justice and Equality should be in a position to tell us.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

We have found no records in the Department.

Did they have permission? Can gardaí form companies using public moneys?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

In the normal course of things, one would say "No", but because we have no records regarding this issue I cannot say that back in 1992 or 1993-----

We are not talking about 1992.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The Sportsfield Company was established in 1992 or 1993. We do not have records from that time, when it was established, to say whether the Department was involved in it.

There are no records in the Department of Justice and Equality.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

Yes.

Has the Department done a timeline and looked at the interim audit from its point of view and what was brought to its attention? Has it looked at that and noticed a half-completed report in 2006? What was the Department of Justice and Equality's response to that in 2006?

Mr. Noel Waters

As I said earlier on, our focus has been on supporting An Garda Síochána in getting to the bottom of the issues that have now emerged. Anything that follows on from that will be followed up on.

I was giving out earlier about people making statements and I am reluctant to do so but I have no confidence in what I have heard today and on the last occasion. I simply do not. There was a report in 2006, that seems to be incomplete. There was a report in 2008 that went to the Commissioner, who acted, and which went back to the person in charge of Templemore, who said that the money belonged to it. That is what I read at least - that he said that this money was Templemore's, that it was not getting enough from the Government and that it could invest the money. Is Mr. Waters aware of that logic which I pointed out?

Mr. Noel Waters

I did see that part of the committee's meeting, yes.

Was I telling a mistruth or misreading the situation when I read it out?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot make a judgment on that.

I do not want judgments. It is not a court of law.

What I want to know is what concerns Mr. Waters had about that and what he is doing about that.

Mr. Noel Waters

It seemed to me that if a Commissioner of An Garda Síochána directed somebody in the organisation to do something and it was not done, there are questions to be answered around that.

I am only talking about the role of the Department of Justice and Equality now.

Mr. Noel Waters

But the Department cannot second guess that. It cannot impose itself.

The money was coming through the Department of Justice and Equality. It was public money.

Mr. Noel Waters

No, no.

Sorry, it was all public money that was going to Templemore.

Mr. Noel Waters

In terms of the payroll, sorry, yes. Sorry, I misunderstood what the Deputy said there.

Mr. Noel Waters

I beg the Deputy's pardon. I will clarify with my colleagues.

Mr. Seamus Clifford

What the Deputy is alluding to is maybe some of the funds that were the subject of the-----

I am talking about public funds, per capita or however it was allocated,-----

Mr. Seamus Clifford

The capitation.

----- to Templemore that went into 50 accounts.

Mr. Noel Waters

That was in the Garda Vote. Those public funds, yes.

There is no misunderstanding about this. It is public funds going in, and we have a Commissioner or somebody under the Commissioner saying that is right but they were not getting enough money from Government and they were entitled to invest this, open up accounts and do what we want with it. I read that out, did I not?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

What is the reaction of the Department of Justice and Equality to that?

Mr. Noel Waters

The information that has been disclosed in the audit report is unacceptable. There is no question about that. It is unacceptable.

The standards of financial control and accounting at the time would not for one moment withstand any scrutiny now. It was wrong.

We are not looking at legacy issues here. This is something that went on and on. As ordinary Deputies we are here struggling, reading lots of documentation and trying to hold the system to account as best we can. The Department officials are the ones with the responsibility and the resources. Is it correct that the Department was made aware of this way back - Mr. Waters has given the timeline today - in September 2015?

Mr. Noel Waters

As soon as we were made aware of it-----

The Department undertook a trawl.

Mr. Noel Waters

-----steps were taken to stop this immediately.

What steps were taken?

Mr. Noel Waters

Does Mr. O'Callaghan want to fill us in on that?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

The issues that had arisen in 2015 were around the existence of these accounts, around the issues of the land that the golf club was on and the legal issues around that and the Sportsfield company. Those were the main issues that came to light at that point. The immediate focus of the steering group - the committee that was set up by the Commissioner - was to address those issues while at the same time causing an internal audit to be conducted that would get to the bottom of all the other issues and identify whether there was any fraud or irregularity. During the period that that committee was sitting and before the draft internal audit report was produced, the work that that committee was overseeing was around resolving the legal issues with the Sportsfield company, closing down the accounts, and using up or getting rid of the resources that were sitting in the investment accounts. It was aimed at addressing the issues that still existed at that point in time while awaiting the internal audit report.

I will leave those questions until I read in detail Mr. Barrett's report, which I have only sped-read, and I will come back to the officials. I have a great difficulty in that they only looked at certain issues and alarm bells did not go off and make them say that they should look back and see.

I will move on to direct provision. Direct provision was meant to be a temporary measure when it was brought in. In the executive summary of the report of the retired judge, Mr. Justice McMahon, asylum seekers were to be in direct provision for approximately six months. Is it correct that is what was envisaged?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

How many are in direct provision?

Mr. Noel Waters

Approximately 4,500 currently.

One in six of those has status and remains in direct provision.

Mr. Noel Waters

A total of 640 people, yes.

How long are they in that position?

Mr. Noel Waters

I do not have that precise figure for how long they would be there.

Why not? It is important to know that there are that many refugees with status still in direct provision. How long have they been in-----

Mr. Noel Waters

Sorry, to clarify, they are not being retained, as it were, in direct provision by the Department or the State. They simply are not in a position to access housing.

I understand that but it is a little disingenuous to say they have a choice whether to go into direct provision or not, which is a theme in the documentation that I have read. Am I right that asylum seekers do not have to go into direct provision? They have a choice.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

They really have no choice.

Mr. Noel Waters

Well-----

Wait now. If they do not go in, they get no payments.

Mr. Noel Waters

No. They do get the out-of-pocket money. In terms of the choice, traditionally, approximately 50% of applicants for asylum have chosen to access the facilities of direct provision whereas the other 50% have gone and lived in community with colleagues, friends or whatever.

That is correct. Somebody looks after them. They do not have access to funds. If somebody adopts them, as it were, and looks after them, they can stay. They are the lucky ones. Otherwise-----

Mr. Noel Waters

They do not have access to welfare payments-----

Mr. Noel Waters

-----but that is the matter of decision by the Government. It is a matter of policy.

I am not arguing with Mr. Waters. I am merely trying to put this in perspective, where we have direct provision which was supposed to be temporary.

Mr. Noel Waters

Sorry, it was not supposed to be temporary. The period we envisaged at the time was six months. Look, I put my hands up. We grossly underestimated that at the time.

Just one second, that was 2000. It is 2017 and we still have persons in direct provision for longer than five years.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

I accept the figure has reduced. Am I correct in saying that a substantial number are still there longer than five years?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. The cases that cannot be addressed at the moment are in the order of 250 cases.

Two hundred and fifty.

Mr. Noel Waters

About that. In or around that, at the moment.

Longer than five years?

Mr. Noel Waters

Of the cases that cannot be addressed, we have made enormous inroads in ensuring getting people out of direct provision.

How many are in there longer than five years?

Mr. Noel Waters

At this stage, in the system five years or more, as of 2 February, there are 355 people who have been granted status and 205 people who have a deportation order served against them. Two hundred and fifty one await a final decision.

How many are longer than five years in direct provision?

Mr. Noel Waters

A total of 811, those three figures together.

A total of 811 are there longer than five years.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

On top of that, we do not know the figure for those who are still in direct provision; we do not know what period of time they have their status.

Mr. Noel Waters

I will see if we can find that figure for the Deputy.

That is fine. Just one second now, we have a position where the Department of Justice and Equality and, indeed, those the country has elected, have allowed a system, from 2000 up to 2017, which has been the subject of serious criticism that has forced a situation where they had to set up a review in the charge of a retired judge who came up with 173 recommendations. Those did not come from the Department. Those were forced.

Mr. Noel Waters

This was Government policy.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are trying to find the figures for the Deputy.

I will not use up my time while Mr. Waters finds the figure. He can always interrupt me to give me the figure.

Mr. Noel Waters

Sorry, I beg the Deputy's pardon.

That is all right. Are there 35 centres?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, at this stage.

Seven are owned directly.

Mr. Noel Waters

By the State, yes.

Then we have 28 run by 22 operators.

Mr. Noel Waters

Run by private commercial operators, yes.

In five years, €50 million per year was given out.

Mr. Noel Waters

In or around that, yes. It varies from year to year.

Is it correct that somebody is making a huge and significant profit?

Mr. Noel Waters

Somebody is providing a service to the State. Whether they are making a huge profit, I do not believe that to be the case.

Where would their profits be declared?

Mr. Noel Waters

That is a matter for the companies themselves. Before we engage with them, they have to be fully tax compliant and compliant with our laws. Not alone have they to be fully tax compliant in terms of their contracts, but every time a payment is issued to them, they have to be tax compliant - every month.

Is it 28 running 22 centres or 22 running 28 centres?

Mr. Noel Waters

Can Mr. Banks help me there? Is it 28 running 22?

Mr. Eugene Banks

There are 25 non-State centres, commercial centres.

Mr. Eugene Banks

Twenty-five today.

How many entities run those 25?

Mr. Eugene Banks

Twenty-five.

Mr. Eugene Banks

It is very close to 25. I do not believe two centres are run by one entity.

I thought the one in the Montague Hotel in Portlaoise was run by a company that runs one in Bray or somewhere in Wicklow. I would merely make that observation.

Mr. Eugene Banks

We do not have any centre in County Wicklow at all.

Okay. Maybe it had one.

Mr. Eugene Banks

To the best of my knowledge, every centre is run by a different company.

I understand that was not the case in the past.

Mr. Eugene Banks

It may not have been the case in the past----

That is the position now.

Mr. Eugene Banks

-----but that is the case at present.

Is Mr. Banks saying that no one company owns more than one centre?

Mr. Eugene Banks

East Coast Catering runs a reception centre in Balseskin and two centres in Dublin. Another two companies run two separate centres.

When I first asked, you said "No". Can Mr. Banks write to us, through the Chair, with that information?

Mr. Eugene Banks

I certainly can.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

When we were doing the report, we compiled an annexe listing the names of commercial suppliers of accommodation and services. We drew attention to the fact that, while individual companies ran individual centres, there were connected persons and shared directorships of companies. While technically an individual company may run an individual centre, they are connected through their directorships.

The witnesses clarified how many of the recommendations of the Mahon report had been done. Which ones have not been done, and why?

Mr. Noel Waters

The main ones which have not been done relate to the allowances paid to people in direct provision. That is a matter of Government policy.

Can Mr. Waters give us a list of the ones that have not been done?

Mr. Noel Waters

We can provide that but the one to which I referred is the main one.

I have gone through the list and there are a few more.

Mr. Noel Waters

I beg the Deputy's pardon. There is another one. The other main one is the question of the right to work. Again, that is a policy matter for the Government.

We are one country out of hundreds that accept asylum seekers and do not give them the right to work. Is that right? We did not opt into the European directive on the right to work.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is a matter of Government policy and is a little more complex than that. In other countries asylum seekers have a very limited right to work.

In the context of 65 million people being displaced, the biggest displacement since the Second World War with thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean, I would have expected a slightly more human document, one which put the situation in perspective. We have rights and obligations under international law. This is not a charity. We have signed up to international documents. We put people into direct provision with huge consequences for their lives. Families share rooms, there is no independence and there is a huge impact on mental and physical health. Is that not right?

Mr. Noel Waters

We are making improvements to their quality of life. The asylum process is one avenue by which immigrants come to Ireland. Tens of thousands come to Ireland from outside the EU to live, work and study every year so it is not that our doors are closed to immigrants. Far from it.

I do not know why Mr. Waters jumped to that point. I did not say anything like that. I am specifically talking about the people in direct provision and about how difficult it is for those families who have been in direct provision for a very long time, in restricted accommodation and with limited choices for food. I am simply saying that it is very difficult for them.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely.

There is an onus on us to reduce the period of time within which they are in these conditions.

Mr. Noel Waters

Correct.

As a result, the Mahon review made 173 recommendations and I am asking how many have not been implemented. I am not talking about policy decisions or failures on our part but areas which are the Department's responsibility.

Mr. Noel Waters

I hesitate to call them failures.

I take back that word. Which ones has the Department not implemented?

Mr. Noel Waters

They are a work in progress. For example, we are trying to introduce catering facilities in all centres so that people have a degree of independent living and will be in a position to cook and prepare meals for themselves and their families. That takes time.

Listen to me, Mr. Waters. The biggest difficulty with direct provision has been the silence and lack of information around it. My experience as a councillor in Galway was of a process mired in secrecy. One way of helping would be for the Department to say which ten or 15 measures are outstanding.

Mr. Noel Waters

I have zero problems with that.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is not the case that direct provision operates in secrecy. It is one of the most debated issues in social policy.

I was a local politician for 17 years and was there when the first asylum seekers came, in 2000 and 2001. It was mired in secrecy. Under freedom of information we found that millions of euro was paid one month in advance but without any details.

Mr. Noel Waters

That has changed.

One could not canvass in local elections as one was not given access and there were all sorts of rules and regulations. There was a huge impact on people's lives and their mental health and a great number of people suffered. They had eating disorders. They want to work and do not want our charity. They want their case to be processed as quickly as possible and a decision made so that they can work. Does Mr. Waters accept that?

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely. That is why new legislation is in place.

That is for another day and I will not go into that. Mr. Waters is justifying the system, which is of concern to me. He says it is a matter of policy but the policy was forced, every step of the way, because of inhuman conditions. Can he give me a list of recommendations that have not been implemented? One was a diversity champion in An Garda Síochána; another was an annual review. Have they been implemented?

Mr. Noel Waters

The Garda Síochána has appointed diversity officers for immigrant communities. I will have to come back to the Deputy on the policy review.

I will keep to direct provision. It is a very challenging issue, not just for the Department and agencies but in respect of attitudes in society. We need to have a debate on it because everybody expresses outrage when they see the body of a dead child but, when people look for the provision of services, the outcry is "not here". People are outraged by images on Facebook but when faced with the reality of helping people there is a different reaction. A debate is needed, in a committee such as this and in wider society. These debates have happened in my own county of Meath over many years, with Mosney one of the largest centres. I have many happy memories of the area as a holiday camp as a child when cousins from Dublin would come out to see the country and breathe the country air.

And beat you at football.

They were happy times. I doubt if the experiences of people there today are as happy. The Department is faced with a difficult situation with the concept of the facility and the experiences of people within it. It has been the subject of much commentary nationally and locally, in the Drogheda Independent, the Meath Chronicle or LMFM. The centre looks well on a sunny day at the height of the holiday season but it is a different place in November and December. The vastness of the area on a cold day can resemble other types of camps. It has been described as a prison without the armed guards and the barbed wire.

On the issue of operators, the point has been made that it is a big business and it has also been the subject of a lot of commentary. In his opening statement, Mr. Waters said there were no cheaper alternatives to direct provision. He said that, in the open market, tenders came in with higher prices. I want to explore that.

Obviously, Mosney is commercially owned. Mr. McCluskey owns it. I served on the board of Meath Tourism with him. However, in terms of the profits being generated, can Mr. Waters explain the terms used when the Department is analysing the prices paid for a facility such as Mosney at the get-go?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am sorry. I do not understand.

I am referring to the facility. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred to the procurement process. I am interested in how the Department sets the acceptable rates for entering into an agreement with a facility like Mosney.

Mr. Noel Waters

I will ask my colleague, Mr. Banks, to speak to that point. He is in charge of the Reception and Integration Agency and is involved in this on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Eugene Banks

The specific rate is arrived at in light of all the facilities, as described by Deputy Cassells, that are available in the particular centre. It has to take into account the provision of food, light, heat, clothing, rates, water, television licences and the entire range of facilities available in any home. All the families in Mosney effectively have their own front door, if I can use that phrase. All the services provided to that home are paid for by the State through the payments to the companies in question.

I would not use the word "home". Mr. Banks is right about the front door. I know the place well.

Mr. Eugene Banks

I am using the phrase.

My question is about the facilities that the people are getting and the price that is being paid. Is it a fair price in the view of Mr. Banks? The report from the Department states that - because this is some years later - cooking facilities are now being provided for residents in Mosney.

Mr. Eugene Banks

I think it represents good value for money. A 2010 study on value for money was carried out. It identified that, on the basis of what was being delivered at the time, the services represented good value for money. It was very difficult from that report to identify another model that would represent the same degree of value for money in delivering the services.

Mr. Banks said the Department could not find another model. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General makes the point that, because there was no competitive procurement process, the risk of the best price and quality accommodation and services not being obtained was increased. That point was made in terms of the Department making that adjudication.

Mr. Eugene Banks

That was the adjudication in 2010 by the value for money study carried out at the time. It was the most economic method available at the time.

Mr. Noel Waters

Let us bring it up to date. We mentioned this earlier. The rates per person per day are remarkably similar to what they were five or six years ago. This year, they are a little lower than they were last year. The rate is approximately €30 per person per day. Some years ago, the rate was €32 per person per day. The rate paid in the State-owned sector, that is to say, where accommodation is provided by the State, at the moment is €20 per person per day. There is no capital cost on the contractors. It is provided directly by the State. On foot of a procurement exercise, that increased from approximately €15 to €20 per person per day. In the round, we are getting good value.

It is difficult to measure this when we do not have direct comparators. The nearest comparator we have is what is being paid, as we understand it, in respect of emergency accommodation in the Dublin area for homeless people in hotels. The most recent figures I saw suggested that something in the order of €50 million was paid last year to provide accommodation for approximately 900 families, of which 700 were in hotels and the remaining number were in different, mixed accommodation. That is the nearest equivalent. Apparently, that worked out at approximately €55,000 per family per year. Our metrics show that we pay approximately €12,000 per person per year.

Those are the cold figures. Even though what is being provided by the city council is not still acceptable, the point is that people can walk out their doors and access facilities in the city centre. People in Mosney are a long way from accessing any type of facilities for their day-to-day lives. Last year, the State paid €43.5 million to eight direct provision operators. Mosney was one of the biggest, and received €7 million. The point is that it is big business. I note the point made by Mr. Waters in terms of what was spent in Dublin as well.

Another point was touched on in terms of the low level of complaints. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred to that as well. Does Mr. Waters believe there is a problem in this regard? I know a lady in the camp in Mosney, Ms Khumalo, who is a former sportsperson of the year from Zimbabwe. She is living with her ten year old daughter, Ivana, in a small house in Mosney. She said that when she got there, she did not really care where she stayed. She simply wanted safety and that direct provision did not define who she was. She also said that it defines the Irish protection system towards asylum seekers and how it perceives the people as economic migrants, of second-class nationality and opportunists. She did not want to give out. She had positive energy towards bettering her life, rather than complaining about the direct provision system and possibly transforming and developing her life. She is beginning a course in legal studies at Drogheda Institute of Further Education. I know people in the Louth Meath Education and Training Board are dealing with the education facilities. How much is being invested in the educational facilities aspect? I know this is of interest to people in my constituency.

Mr. Noel Waters

This is one of the features of our system. The costs are picked up by the equivalent mainstream Department. The Department of Education and Skills provides them. I do not have those figures.

That would hold true in terms of facilities for children and child care being picked up by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who is on our television screens at the moment. That was the subject of the Irish Refugees Council report on children in direct provision relating to decent child care facilities and so forth. What is the situation?

Mr. Noel Waters

There are, as I understand it, child care facilities at some of the centres.

Mr. Eugene Banks

That is correct. In particular, there is a child care facility in Mosney. It is provided through a combination of the centre and charitable institutions.

I wish to make another point in respect of the remoteness of Mosney. Where a centre is outside an urban area, the contractor is obliged to provide transport to meet the reasonable needs of residents.

If a person does not have much money in his pocket, there are not many places he can go in terms of accessing general free public services. It is a catch-22 as well.

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely, we are not for a moment suggesting that this is a Rolls Royce; far from it.

I know that. I am only teasing it out. Mosney has become a long-term centre. Has it been analysed in terms of alternatives?

That leads me onto my next point. We are all well aware of the difficulties in accessing accommodation. What is the Department's role in terms of this issue, the Rebuilding Ireland programme and the contribution of the Department to that programme? Is the Department dealing with this issue as well?

Earlier, Mr. Waters indicated that the Netherlands has purchased a lot of property. Mr. Waters indicated that the Department is not keen to go down that route on the basis that if it obtained property, it would somehow be a wrong move to commit to that process.

Mr. Noel Waters

That is one of the considerations. That has actually happened. Other considerations arise as well. We tried that at the outset. We acquired several hotels throughout the country. We found that local communities were not accepting of it. Some launched judicial reviews. In one or two places, they blocked us using the facilities. We found that this was not going to be a successful outcome so we moved away from it.

Does the Department share them? Obviously, this transcends to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in terms of the debates with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy English. How is the Department of Justice and Equality dealing with this? Is it sharing its strategy? Is the Department making the point that it does not want to go down that route because of the fear of long-term accommodation in communities? Is that a philosophy the Department is sharing with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government?

Mr. Noel Waters

I would not say that we are directly sharing that with Minister or his Department.

However, we have been engaged with the Department on the housing assistance payment and in ensuring people who have status and are in direct provision accommodation can move into the housing market. We are anxious to ensure-----

What is the reason for the one-in-six statistic? If the housing assistance payment is supposed to help them, what is the prohibitive factor in moving out for those who have been cleared?

Mr. Noel Waters

They simply cannot find accommodation. That is the long and the short of it. It is more difficult in the greater Dublin area, but-----

I appreciate that. It is the same in every town. There are towns in my constituency where there is one property for rent. That leads into the process of my philosophy of whether the Department should be acquiring property.

Mr. Noel Waters

There is another issue. Clearly it would require substantial public expenditure. The envelope available to the Department is limited. We also have our own priorities. For example, a big priority for us in the next couple of years, reflecting the views of Oireachtas Members, is to ensure we will have a new forensic science laboratory. It will be a very expensive project. We have to measure it against the available funding from the Government and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. If anyone can come up with a better model, we are quite open to considering it.

I wish to make one other point. We expect to be in a position fairly soon where people who apply for asylum will have their applications dealt with within a period of perhaps nine to 12 months. In the European model, if someone does not have status within nine months in particular cases and he or she has co-operated with the system, he or she will be given limited rights to work. Whether we would wish to do that will be a decision for the Government at some point, if we get to it, but it is important to demonstrate to the committee that our minds are not closed in examining the options.

I appreciate that. I am just trying to get a sense of the real long-term policy. On the one hand, the Department is ruling out actual integration, but, on the other, it seems to have been scared off the process of acquiring buildings for fear of threats in local communities. That is why I prefaced my remarks. As a society, are we not moving into that space? We saw what happened in Ballaghaderreen and elsewhere. Is that it? Are we moving away and saying there are no other options? On what is happening in the camp in Mosney, obviously improvements have been made, but, knowing the standard of facilities there, was it humane from the get-go?

Mr. Noel Waters

I do not wish to make a judgment on any place, but I think it has been improved.

I can tell Mr. Waters that, from memory, it was something a person might suffer for one week, but one would not live there long-term.

Mr. Noel Waters

I was there as a child also. However, it has been improved and we are working to improve all facilities. One of the key issues which was referenced in the McMahon report is that people need independence in their lives. One of the best means of ensuring independence is providing the opportunity to cook for oneself. We already have this opportunity in Mosney and are working with other centres to ensure it will be implemented as quickly as possible.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald is the next speaker. As it is 5p.m., she will be the last speaker.

I thank the witnesses for their forbearance and will keep it as tight as possible. Therefore, I would appreciate clear, concise, non-rambling answers.

I wish to return to the issue of bank accounts and the clearance required under the 2005 Act. Will Mr. Waters tell me what the procedure is or who the go-to person is in his Department to seek that sanction?

Mr. Noel Waters

Perhaps Mr. O'Callaghan might answer that question.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I cannot say definitively, as it has not happened in the time I have been in the division, but it is probably the policing division in the Department.

I think the gentlemen and ladies are perhaps being a little disingenuous with us or else their recollections are not great. They have not been in a position to shed any light on the business of sanctioning accounts, of which there were approximately 50, some of which go back, which I accept. However, they were in receipt of the interim audit report. Which of them read it on behalf of the rest?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

I read it.

Has Mr. Waters also read it?

Mr. Noel Waters

I have.

They will have noticed that on page 23 it cites the 2005 legislation and the necessity to seek the consent of the Minister. It states: "In 2015 a bank account (Garda Student Sport BOI) was opened without such consent being obtained". Will the witnesses, please, explain that to me? They have read the report and I am sure they did not miss that section of it. Whatever about other accounts, we have a specific instance in 2015. When did Mr. Waters take up his position?

Mr. Noel Waters

In October 2014.

Therefore, he was in place at that stage.

Mr. Noel Waters

I have to say no papers came to my notice requesting that a bank account be opened in that period.

Okay. Nonetheless, the audit report indicates that such an account was opened and that it was opened without consent.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

I am sure Mr. Waters was alarmed by this revelation when he read it.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes. We were alarmed by the entire set of revelations-----

So alarmed that he came to an Oireachtas committee today without having a bull's notion of what the procedure was should An Garda Síochána require sanction to open such an account.

Mr. Noel Waters

To be fair, we are here to discuss the justice Vote and the issues in our Department. My preparations were in respect of the justice Vote primarily.

Mr. Waters is also aware that matters pertaining to the Garda College in Templemore and, specifically, the audit report are now the subject of widespread public commentary and unease.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, absolutely.

Mr. Waters is also in receipt of the report which the witnesses have all read thoroughly and dutifully. They did not miss that bit. I find it incredible that, as Secretary General, Mr. Waters does not know what the procedure is for the Garda to seek clearance for the opening of bank accounts.

Mr. Noel Waters

None of them would have come to my attention. The matter would have been dealt with in the line division in the Department. It would not have ended up in the Secretary General's office, either in my time or previously. It would have been dealt with in the relevant area of the Department.

Mr. Waters read the report and about all of the accounts - up to 50 - and issues in seeking sanction. For the Garda to operate without the sanction of the Department or the Minister is to breach the law. It is a very serious matter. It is not a triviality. Did none of it spark a thought process in Mr. Waters' head? Did he ask himself if it was the right way to go about it or how one would seek or secure such sanction? Did that not occur to him?

Mr. Noel Waters

Our focus on receipt of the audit report was on addressing the issues raised in it.

This is one of them.

Mr. Noel Waters

It is. The audit report was immediately passed on to the Policing Authority or-----

By the way, as we will be coming back to this issue, if they have not carried out an extensive and in-depth trawl of the Department's paperwork, I suggest the witnesses need to initiate one without delay. I do not accept that it as an acceptable answer from Mr. Waters that he does not know what the mechanism is by which sanction would be obtained by the Garda for the opening of bank accounts.

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot be expected to know everything that happens in the Department.

I am not asking Mr. Waters to know everything but to know his Department.

Mr. Noel Waters

This is a detail in the Department which would be a matter for the line division.

That might be acceptable, except when a very big controversy erupts, as it has, and when a core component is the fact that accounts were being opened in large numbers without the sanction of the Department and the Minister. In the circumstances, Mr. Waters' plea of ignorance is absolutely shocking. I am shocked that he cannot answer these questions.

Mr. Noel Waters

All I have said to the Deputy is that these matters are dealt with in the line division of the Department.

What does the witness do?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am Secretary General of the Department.

Exactly. What is the purpose of the witness's function if he is not in charge? He is the Accounting Officer to this committee.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Coming in and singing dumb really is not the way to approach appearances here.

Mr. Noel Waters

I am not coming in here and singing dumb. I am here to tell the committee my state of knowledge.

The witness's state of knowledge is non-existent.

Mr. Noel Waters

I said that this did not come before me. No permission was sought from me.

What did come before the witness was the audit report. It also went to Mr. O'Callaghan. The audit report is very clear on many things, but I am citing one instance on page 23. It cites the opening of a bank account named "Garda Student Sport" with the Bank of Ireland in 2015, and it was opened without consent. For the auditor to arrive at that conclusion, he or she presumably had to go through a process of verification. I assume, on the basis of simple reason, that part of that process must have been to check with the Department of Justice and Equality. Did he check with the Department?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

He did not check with my division, as far as I am aware.

We are obviously not going to get back to this particular issue. We need clarity on this matter.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are happy to do that, of course.

We need to know exactly what the procedure is, how these matters are sanctioned, who deals with it now and who dealt with it historically. I have cited one bank account. There are dozens of others, and I believe that the witnesses are going to have to go on an expedition of discovery around that.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

In the Commissioner's evidence on the last occasion she said she had appointed an assistant commissioner to look at the audit report and see if there were any issues of either illegality or disciplinary matters arising from it, and that that investigation was ongoing.

How is that relevant to that point?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

It relates to the possibility that a bank account may have been opened without permission or without seeking the sanction of the Department.

I do not wish to be rude but we are tight on time. The Commissioner accepts the findings. These are not matters of contention. There is no "he said, she said, you said, I said" element to this. We accept that these are established matters of fact in this report. I would appreciate if the witness could come back with the facts on this situation.

Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 obliges the Commissioner to inform the Minister and the Secretary General of the Department in a whole range of different categories. These are not optional. One of those is in circumstances where there is evidence that matters might bring the reputation of the force into disrepute. We can surely agree that what has transpired in Templemore is very damaging to the reputation and standing of An Garda Síochána. Is that a reasonable statement from the witness's point of view?

Mr. Noel Waters

That, allied to other issues that have arisen, has been deeply challenging for the Garda, yes.

I take that as a diplomatic "Yes". How is it that the Commissioner did not, in accordance with her obligations under section 41, inform the Secretary General of these matters? She tells us that she came to understand the full gravity of things in July 2015. Mr. Waters was in situ at that stage-----

Deputy David Cullinane took the Chair

In July 2015 Mr. Waters was in charge of the Department. The Commissioner tells us that at that point that she discovered the full, terrible vista of Templemore, and yet Mr. Waters was not informed, as per section 41 of the legislation.

Mr. Noel Waters

The triggering of a section 41 report by the Commissioner is a matter for the Commissioner. I cannot put myself in the Commissioner's shoes and decide whether or not to formally send in a section 41 report.

I want Mr. Waters to stay in his own shoes. He is the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. He is therefore in charge. He carries statutory duties and obligations, as does the Commissioner. This is not a pick and mix situation, where one can decide to act or not act. The Commissioner had an obligation to inform Mr. Waters of these matters under section 41 of the legislation. Does he accept that there was such an obligation?

Mr. Noel Waters

It is a matter for the Commissioner to decide, having regard to the-----

Does the witness accept that the Commissioner, as a matter of law, has a legal responsibility and obligation to inform the Secretary General and the Minister in circumstances where there is jeopardy to the reputation of An Garda Síochána?

Mr. Noel Waters

The law is as it is.

The law is clear. Does the witness also accept that it is clear that the Commissioner did not exercise or abide by that obligation because she did not inform him?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot make that assumption.

Why can the witness not make that assumption?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot put myself in a situation where I am substituting a view that I might have on an issue for that of the Commissioner. I cannot do that.

The witness has read the audit report and has presumably followed developments in this because the audit report landed on his desk. He does not regard those issues as being of such seriousness that they would have merited his being informed under section 41 of the Act.

Mr. Noel Waters

On a point of clarification, I do not believe that the Commissioner had sight of the audit report at that point. The audit was underway in 2016, so the question of the Commissioner making a section 41 report to me in 2015 was a matter for her judgment.

She was informed and briefed in July 2015. We know that. When does Mr. Waters believe that the Garda Commissioner received the audit report?

Mr. Noel Waters

I assume that she received it at the same time as everybody else received it. We got it in September 2016. Again, I stand corrected, I-----

Has the witness discussed this with the Commissioner? Did he raise it with her at any stage and ask her what was going on or tell her that he was not informed and that he should have been informed?

Mr. Noel Waters

No, I have not had that discussion with the Commissioner.

What conversations has the witness had with the Commissioner on these matters?

Mr. Noel Waters

I have many conversations with the Commissioner, as Deputy McDonald can imagine, because of our respective roles. I have no specific recollection of any individual conversation on this matter.

The witness has no specific recollection. How often would he be in contact with the Commissioner in any given week?

Mr. Noel Waters

On some occasions it could be multiple times in a day.

There is regular contact?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

Yet he has no specific recollection of any reference to this.

Mr. Noel Waters

The nature and extent of the conversations we have means that we talk about many things.

Has there been no discussion with the Commissioner in recent days or weeks?

Mr. Noel Waters

I was conscious of the fact that there was a process under way and I have not had a detailed conversation with the Commissioner about this.

Does Mr. Waters think that his job in this committee is to protect the Commissioner or anybody else?

Mr. Noel Waters

Absolutely not. I am here to tell the facts and the truth as I know it.

Was the witness being fully frank with us when he told us that he has not had a conversation with the Commissioner on these matters around Templemore?

Mr. Noel Waters

To the best of my knowledge I have not had a specific conversation with the Commissioner around Templemore. I have had conversations with the Commissioner around other issues concerning Templemore over a period of time, including around ensuring that the training college was up to capacity for the number of recruits coming in.

There has been no discussion on any of the irregularities with the Commissioner? She has called them financial irregularities.

Mr. Noel Waters

To the best of my recollection I have had no detailed discussions with her.

It is extraordinary.

Mr. Noel Waters

My issue here is that there is a process under way to deal with these. We need to see that process out. The Policing Authority have oversight of what is going on.

The Garda Commissioner did not inform Mr. Waters as per the legislation. He has not had a conversation with her. This is extraordinary. Has he spoken to the Tánaiste directly on the matters of the audit and the irregularities in Templemore?

Mr. Noel Waters

We have had discussions.

When the audit report came in, a submission went to the Tánaiste and it was discussed with her at the time.

In the context of the internal audit function with An Garda Síochána, what is the relationship between the internal audit unit and the Department? Who is the go-to person for the head of internal audit or is there a bridging mechanism-----

Mr. Noel Waters

No, they are entirely separate arrangements. They are the Accounting Officer so there would not be a relationship of the nature the Deputy described.

So the Department has no oversight from that point of view?

Mr. Noel Waters

None whatsoever.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

To clarify, under the 2005 Act, there is a statutory audit committee for An Garda Síochána and then the internal audit unit of An Garda Síochána works to the programme of that audit committee and is within the realm of the Garda Commissioner, the Garda Vote and so on.

I have a request more so than a question because in light of the hour, we do not have the scope for it. Could the Department provide us with a briefing note on the mental health supports, including counselling, provided to individuals and families in direct provision centres? Deputy Connolly eloquently set out the circumstances in which people live and raise their families. I do not know about Mr. Waters but I would not like to live in Mosney or raise my children there, yet we are presiding over a system that allows that. This is a scandal unfolding under our very noses and it is in plain sight. As and when the unavoidable consequences of this play out, not least in the resentment of so many fine young people and children who are being forced to grow up in these circumstances, we will not be able to say that we did not know. I would like that briefing note from the Department.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are happy to provide that to the Deputy.

Two more speakers indicated that they want to come back in and we have 15 to 20 minutes for both. People have been in their seats for three hours and I will offer them the choice of a break for a few minutes or we can keep going.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are happy to keep going for 15 to 20 minutes.

I have a number of questions and then Teachta Connolly will come back in to finish.

Teachta McDonald raised instances of where the Minister should have been informed of issues relating to the Garda training college. She specifically raised questions about the opening of bank accounts. The final paragraph on page 20 of the internal audit report, which is up on the screen, states:

The Garda Síochána Sportsfield Company Ltd continued to operate with Garda College Management as Directors. The legal standing of the actions of these directors since 2005 is questionable. Even in the period prior to 2005 it is questionable whether Gardaí as public servants should have been acting as Directors of what was set up as a private company without being appointed by or having the expressed permission of the Minister for Justice ... no evidence was found of any Gardaí having received permission from the Minister to act as a director.

To Mr. Waters's knowledge, did the Department receive requests from any member of An Garda Síochána to become a director of these companies? If so, was permission granted?

Mr. Noel Waters

I have no knowledge if such a request was received or given.

Does Mr. O'Callaghan have any knowledge?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

No, except in so far as on page 20 it is stated, "While there was evidence in some of the documentation [I presume this is documentation in An Garda Síochána] of the knowledge of Department Officials in the set up of this Company in 1992, no evidence was found ...". I do not know whether that might have implied approval but I have no knowledge of there being approval.

It says that no evidence was found of any gardaí having received permission. Is Mr. O'Callaghan indicating that it says that perhaps the Department had knowledge that the company was set up but that it did not necessarily know who were the directors? Is that a possibility?

Mr. John O'Callaghan

That is a possibility from the evidence in the audit report.

Mr. Noel Waters

But we have no evidence ourselves.

Mr. John O'Callaghan

We have found no evidence.

Mr. Noel Waters

We have no records about this.

I am trying to put myself in Mr. Waters' shoes when he read the report. There seems to be a lack of urgency on the Department's part in how it responded to some issues. Teachta McDonald asked what action was taken when he was made aware of this and read the report about bank accounts being opened without the express permission of the Minister for Justice and Equality, and specifically the bank account in 2015. I am sure he also read the paragraph I quoted and this should have sounded alarm bells. Private companies were established for which permission needed to be given by the Minister but it was not given. What did Mr. Waters do when he became aware of that?

Mr. Noel Waters

I asked during the week - I will be truthful and frank with the committee - to establish if we have any papers relating to this matter in the Department and the initial trawl indicated that we do not have any papers in the Department.

Mr. Noel Waters

I asked my colleague, Ms McPhillips, who is in charge of that area.

What did Ms McPhillips uncover specifically? Did she uncover any documents or has she had an opportunity to do that work yet?

Ms Oonagh McPhillips

No. We checked. Back to 1992 and the late 1980s, there would have been many paper records and there is a registry with Kardex cards and so forth. We checked the registry to see whether there were any registered files that referenced this kind of matter and there are not. Audit files are not retained in that form. Audit up to the noughties was not as professionalised and detailed as it has since developed into.

When Mr. Waters read the report, I imagine he would have had to ask the Minister whether she had read it. Did he have a conversation with her about the content of the report and the issues that were raised regarding information that was not given to her, as Minister, and bank accounts potentially being opened without her permission or that of her predecessor?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot recall at this remove specifically what conversation we had at the time the report was submitted but I know we had a conservation in respect of what we were going to do in to ensure the recommendations were implemented. On foot of that, it was agreed that the Policing Authority would be asked to have oversight of the implementation of the contents of the report.

Does Mr. Waters believe it is the role of the authority to do all this examination work? Is it is his view that he simply just refers issues on to the authority and that is the Department's job done?

Mr. Noel Waters

No, I do not believe so. The Policing Authority was set up specifically with an oversight role and we are obliged to ensure that it exercises that role.

Mr. Waters had a discussion with Teachta McDonald about section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act and the advice the Minister received. My understanding is, because there was confusion when he was having an exchange of views with the Deputy, that the Garda Commissioner became aware of the alleged financial irregularities and the issues that arose from the audit report at a meeting with Mr. John Barrett. There is some disagreement as to whether it was a five-minute meeting or a two-hour meeting but she was certainly briefed. Following that, she was given legal advice. If she was minded at that point to follow up with the Minister, what would that process involve?

Mr. Noel Waters

In the normal course of events - and there have been a small number of these - it would involve a letter to myself that would have cited section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act. In my time as Secretary General, this provision has only been exercised in that specific format about half a dozen times or thereabouts.

But it has been done a half a dozen times. The Commissioner would then write to Mr. Waters under that section to outline the seriousness or the nature of the issues and he would bring it to the attention of the Minister. Is that how it would work?

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, and we would discuss what actions needed to be taken on foot of it, whether we needed further information from the Commissioner or whatever would be needed.

That did not happen, however, because the request was not made.

Mr. Noel Waters

The Commissioner decided, in the exercise of her functions, not to make that request.

She made that decision and it did not happen.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

A number of Deputies have spoken about the human impact that direct provision has had on many people. Mr. Waters has obviously read much of the commentary around direct provision, so I am sure he is aware that it is not all positive. There has been a litany of articles through which we hear the testimony of their experiences from many residents in these centres. Some of it has been positive but much of it has not been. What is Mr. Waters view of the operation of these reception centres? What is his view of how they have treated people within the centres and has the Department ever carried out a human rights analysis of how people are treated within these centres?

Mr. Noel Waters

On the operation and running of the centres, there are very clear requirements set out in the contract of how people are to be treated in the centres. They are very clear requirements on the services they are required to provide and the manner in which they are to provide them. If they are not providing those services as required -----

Mr. Waters was himself in RIA for some time, it was two years.

Mr. Noel Waters

I was for a couple of years.

So Mr. Waters has a professional view as someone who has been involved with RIA.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes.

In Mr. Waters view, were these centres generally run well and were people treated well?

Mr. Noel Waters

In my experience, generally yes.

Can I give an example? Deputy Connolly spoke about the question of how some of these centres were run and the level of curtailment of the rights of some people who were residents in these centres. In 2009, when I was a local councillor in Waterford, I received correspondence from a residents association which was set up in one of these reception centres. They asked me to come and meet them in the centre, which I did but I was refused permission to meet them on the campus because I was told that it was a private company and I had to be given permission. I was not aware of that and I asked for an alternative date but was not given one. I asked why I was being refused permission and was told because it was a private company and it did not have to give permission. I was not comfortable with that and the residents wanted the meeting on site in the place they lived. They had issues in regard to how the centre was managed. I was then asked to leave and ultimately barred from the premises. Gardaí were called although they never arrived. I have heard the description being used a few times that these centres were being run like prisons. It struck me that was how I was treated as a public representative, if that was my experience when all I wanted to do was to have a meeting with residents, how then were people living in the centre treated when we were not there? There was a view that some of these centres were being run on the lines of "out of sight, out of mind". Given my experience as a local councillor and how I was treated, being told by a manager that I was barred simply because I was looking to meet with residents, how does that square with the idea that these centres are being run well and with people being treated well?

Mr. Noel Waters

I cannot comment on the individual circumstances of the case the Acting Chairman has raised. I take his bona fides in what he says but as far as I am concerned, subject to the law, subject to ensuring that whatever requirements around the protection of people and normal routine business are met people should be able to conduct their business in centres in a normal way.

Would it surprise Mr. Waters to know that there was a local election that year, in 2009, in which the residents in that centre were entitled to vote? I asked permission to canvass the centre and I was refused. I then posted a letter to each of the residents there with canvassing material in the letters and I was told by the management that the letters were put in the bin and that there was no political canvassing allowed. Would that surprise Mr. Waters?

Mr. Noel Waters

To the best of my knowledge there was a rule. Mr. Banks might be able to help in this.

Can Mr. Banks help us on this? I did write to RIA at the time and I was very disappointed with the response.

Mr. Noel Waters

There was a rule at the time that party politics was not allowed in centres. I am not sure if that still obtains.

Mr. Eugene Banks

I do not believe it does. I am not 100% certain but I can find out and get back to Deputy Cullinane.

I am trying to establish how there were rules around canvassing because I would think that was unconstitutional. I am now interested about whether or not these centres were being run unconstitutionally. People have a constitutional right to interact with elected representatives. They have the same right as anyone else to be canvassed and to receive electoral material. If the witnesses are telling me that there were circumstances in which the State allowed electoral material which was posted directly to residents in reception centres not to be handed or given over to people who lived in those centres and that was actually policy, that raises constitutional issues for the Department. Maybe Mr. Banks or Mr. Dowling can refer to what the policy was.

Mr. Noel Dowling

I was in charge of RIA at that time. There was a position regarding canvassing at the time, that political canvassing in the context of local elections would not be allowed within the centres on the basis that it was the private dwelling of, in several cases, several hundred people. We did allow -----

Was that constitutionally proofed?

Mr. Noel Dowling

There was no intention of stopping people from seeing any local authority candidate. What was being restricted there was having meetings in a centre, where there could be many candidates who wanted to have meetings around the same time in a centre and the centre would become a political forum.

We have private nursing homes, public nursing homes where canvassing is allowed, where it is possible to go in and hand the materials out. Are we saying that the only people in the state, in 2009, that were not allowed to be canvassed directly by candidates in a local election in which they were entitled to vote were residents in reception centres?

Mr. Noel Dowling

I am not clear what the position is in private nursing homes. What I am clear about -----

I am telling Mr. Dowling that we were allowed to canvass those areas. Is Mr. Dowling saying that all local election candidates were specifically not allowed to canvass people in their own residence in 2009?

Mr. Noel Dowling

There is a question about canvassing in their own residence. Most centres have private rooms for residents and there are public areas. What we were concerned about was -----

Were we allowed to canvass in the public areas?

Mr. Noel Dowling

No, that was not allowed. The policy may well have changed in the meantime.

Can Mr. Dowling find out if the policy has changed because I would put it to him that these are democratic rights of citizens. I was talking about the rights people have. People should have a right to be canvassed by people who put themselves forward in election to represent the people and represent all people. If there is a situation where people are not allowed to interact with local politicians, and I gave an example where I was not allowed to meet residents in the centre and there was nothing we could do because we were told that they were private companies.

Mr. Noel Dowling

Can I interrupt on that, there was never any restriction in terms of having canvassing material distributed to residents. If Deputy Cullinane wrote a letter directly to a resident in a centre it should have been given to them.

It was not given, Mr. Dowling.

Mr. Noel Dowling

That should not have happened. The rules did not restrict in any way, for example, Deputy Cullinane putting up a notice to say that he was willing to meet with residents at some place outside the centre or having his -----

Could Mr. Dowling furnish this committee with the past and current policy on this issue, please?

Mr. Noel Dowling

Okay, we can do that.

Mr. Noel Waters

If I may add, I would not for one moment stand over any suggestion that somehow we are impeding the right of people to participate in the democratic process.

Mr. Waters might not stand over that but my view is that if the only category of people in the State who, for a period of time, were prevented from interacting with local politicians - and I asked if they were allowed to be canvassed in the public or private spaces of these centres, and I was told "no" - so they were prevented from having access to local election candidates, that is a denial of their rights. Mr. Waters may not agree but that is my view.

I have also given examples of where I was personally told that I was barred from one of these centres, merely because I turned up to interact with the people who lived there at their request. That might not be an issue for Mr. Waters but it is an issue for me because everyone has a right to be represented, including the people who live in those centres. I will ask Deputy Connolly to come in.

Mr. Noel Waters

I completely agree with the Acting Chairman.

I could offer more anecdotes as I had exactly the same experience in Galway. Moreover, another politician was allowed to bring a bus to a direct provision centre. We could provide anecdotes until 10 o'clock tonight but these cases give an indication of how people in direct provision are treated. There should be complete clarity surrounding the rights of residents of direct provision centres. That is not the case at present and the Secretary General is not in a position to state whether the example cited reflected policy. I ask the witness to clarify the policy for the committee in writing.

I have a few practical questions. On the housing assistance payment, HAP, if someone receives refugee status and cannot find a home, for example, in Galway city where we have a major housing crisis, I understand he or she will be left in limbo, as it were, as it is not possible to access entitlements without an address. Is that correct?

Mr. Noel Waters

I am not in a position to either clarify or not clarify that because we do not administer the housing assistance payment. What we do, working with non-governmental organisations, is to try to ensure, as best we can, that people can access the housing market.

Mr. Waters is the person in charge of the Department of Justice and Equality.

Mr. Noel Waters

We do not run the housing assistance payment.

I am fully aware of that and that the Department has enough on its plate and certainly does not need any more burdens. It also has many other issues to look into. I am familiar with the position in Galway, where there is a major housing crisis. I cannot see people in direct provision who receive refugee status getting out of direct provision any time soon. I raise a practical one and ask the Secretary General to check what the position is for me. Are people who find themselves in the circumstances I described in a double bind? If they find a house, they will receive the housing assistance payment but if they cannot get a house, they cannot get a housing assistance payment. Is it the case that in such circumstances, the person is unable to access entitlements? Can Mr. Waters revert to me on that issue?

Mr. Noel Waters

I certainly can.

For example, do such persons have access to unemployment benefit?

Mr. Noel Waters

Once they have status in the State.

Is that regardless of whether they are still in direct provision?

Mr. Noel Waters

I ask Mr. Banks if he can reply.

Mr. Eugene Banks

To the best of my knowledge, they are not entitled to unemployment benefit while they are still resident in State provided accommodation, but again that it a matter for the Department of Social Protection.

I want clarity on the issue.

Mr. Eugene Banks

I will ask the question but I cannot give the Deputy clarity about actions in another Department.

The Department must have clarity because it has residents staying in direct provision and needs to know to what they are or are not entitled. I am not blaming the Department but simply seeking clarity on the matter. It seems my understanding is correct and such persons cannot draw benefits or access the housing assistance payment. They are, therefore, caught in a Kafkaesque scenario.

Mr. Noel Waters

If I can help, the Deputy can be sure it is in not in our interests to participate in that because we clearly want to ensure that people who have status move on as quickly as possible.

One in six of those who are in these circumstances do not move on and the onus is on the Department to find out why they are not moving on. For this reason, I ask the witnesses to provide clarity on the issue.

On another issue, access to university was raised. I understand there was a pilot project introduced in this area.

Mr. Noel Waters

Yes, there was.

Could the witnesses provide the committee with the results of the pilot project in writing?

Mr. Noel Waters

We could.

Mr. Noel Waters

Again, that is a matter for the Department of Education of Skills but we will check that and come back to the Deputy on it.

I forgot to ask how many children were in direct provision.

Mr. Noel Waters

We have that figure in the paper somewhere.

I did not see it, although I may have missed it.

Mr. Eugene Banks

It is approximately one third of the total but I will send the figure to the Deputy.

I do not want approximate figures.

Mr. Eugene Banks

That is fine. We will give the precise figure for the latest stage that is available.

A strong recommendation was made on a complaints procedure, an issue raised by previous speakers. Is it the case that there is no complaints procedure in place and residents of direct provision centres must take complaints straight to the Ombudsman?

Mr. Noel Waters

No.

Does the Department have an internal complaints procedure in place?

Mr. Eugene Banks

Yes. People take the complaint first of all to the manager in the centre because typically the complaint is about something that is happening to the resident.

Mr. Eugene Banks

If I may finish. If they are not happy with that, they take it to the Reception and Integration Agency and if they are not happy with that they may then take the complaint to the Ombudsman.

In all cases, complainants exhaust the existing complaints mechanism.

Mr. Eugene Banks

Of course, they can always take the complaint directly to the Ombudsman who will take it.

Has the Department carried out an annual review or audit of complaints and problems arising with a view to making improvements?

Mr. Noel Waters

We undertake information clinics on a regular basis within the centres.

I have seen and read about those and the Comptroller and Auditor General commented on them when he stated the Department is not collating information from them.

Mr. Noel Waters

We are accepting that recommendation.

When the Secretary General appears before the committee this time next year, will he will he tell us the Department is collating this information with a view to making improvements?

Mr. Noel Waters

That is our intention, yes.

Does the committee agree to dispose of Vote 24 and Chapter 6 of the Appropriation Accounts and Report of 2015? Agreed. On behalf of the committee, I thank all of the witnesses from the Department of Justice and Equality, the witness from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and our permanent witness, the Comptroller and Auditor General, as well as his staff.

The witnesses withdrew.
The committee adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 9 a.m. Thursday, 18 May 2017.