Vote 2 - Department of An Taoiseach

Mr. Martin Fraser (Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach) called and examined.

We are joined today by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is accompanied by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director. Apologies have been received from Deputy Alan Kelly, the Vice Chairman. We are rearranging the sequence of our agenda for today's meeting and are starting with matters relating to the strategic communications unit. It follows on from the appropriation accounts 2016, both relating to the Department of An Taoiseach's strategic communications unit. We are joined from the Department of An Taoiseach by Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General, Ms Mary Keenan, head of corporate affairs and Ms Geraldine Butler, finance officer. We are also joined from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform by Mr. Brian O'Malley, Government accounting unit. You are all very welcome to today's meeting. I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to switch off their mobile phones entirely. That means putting them on airplane mode, and not just on silent.

I advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members of the committee are reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 186 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such policies. While we expect witnesses to answer questions put by the committee members clearly and with candour, witnesses will be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times, in line with the Oireachtas witness protocol.

I call on the Comptroller and Auditor General to make his opening statement.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Vote 2 provides for expenditure by the Department of the Taoiseach in support of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet. Gross expenditure in 2016 was €23.3 million, with pay and non-pay administration costs totalling €15 million and accounting for almost 65% of the total spend. The Vote records expenditure of €3.6 million on various statutory inquiries. These include: the Fennelly commission of investigation into the recording by An Garda Síochána of telephone conversations; the Cregan commission of investigation into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation; and the Moriarty tribunal of inquiry into payments to Mr. Haughey and Mr. Lowry.

The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is the only agency under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. The council received €1.8 million in grants in 2016. For the Vote as a whole, there was a net underspend of just over €6.7 million which was liable for surrender. This underspend represented 23% of the Estimate provision for 2016. Explanations for the variances are given in note six to the account.

I call on Mr. Fraser to make his opening statement.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am attending today to discuss issues in relation to the Department’s 2016 appropriation account. As the Chairman said, I am accompanied by my colleagues Ms Mary Keenan, who is the head of corporate affairs, and Ms Geraldine Butler, who is the finance officer. The committee will have received in advance of this meeting a briefing document detailing the 2016 expenditure and outturn as per the appropriation account. I want to briefly outline the role and structure of the Department in 2016 and give an overview of the 2016 appropriation account and our administrative and programme expenditure.

The year 2016 saw significant changes in structure arising from the formation of a new Government, the changed relationship between the Government and the Oireachtas and a response to the new challenges posed by Brexit. The Department continued to engage in national priority issues, as directed by the Taoiseach, such as jobs, unemployment, housing and homelessness, health, justice reform, social inclusion, rural development and Brexit. In addition to its existing responsibilities, the Department was assigned new responsibilities in areas as diverse as the Citizens’ Assembly, the Creative Ireland programme, data protection, the renewal of Dublin’s north east inner city and the establishment of several independent commissions of investigation. The Department continued to be involved in the reform and renewal of the Civil Service through the work of the Civil Service management board.

The year 2016 was a particularly important year for the Department of the Taoiseach as it saw the successful culmination of several years of careful planning for the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

The core functions of the Department in 2016 are set out as follows: delivering the executive functions of the Taoiseach and the Government; providing the Government secretariat; supporting the Taoiseach in carrying out his duties as head of Government, including in relation to the Oireachtas, constitutional issues, protocol, the European Council, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council; working with the Office of the President and with the Oireachtas; engaging with the formulation and implementation of Government policy, mainly through the system of Cabinet committees, senior officials’ groups, the programme for Government office and the parliamentary liaison unit; support for the Office of the Taoiseach, as well as support for the Tánaiste, although that changed during the year because the Government changed; support for Independent Ministers in Government which also changed during that year; support for the Office of the Government Chief Whip, who also has responsibility for the Central Statistics Office, CSO; and support for the Ministers of State assigned to the Department, which includes the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, the Minister of State with responsibility for data protection and at least for part of that year, if my memory serves me, the Minister of State with responsibility for diaspora affairs. We also support the Government press office; provide briefing and advice to the Taoiseach on the full range of domestic policy issues and international affairs, including through the work of the NESC, which as the Comptroller and Auditor General said, is one of the bodies under our aegis; and support the Taoiseach and Government in the formulation of Ireland’s EU, Northern Ireland and international policies, including co-ordination across the whole of Government. We also deliver support services through the corporate affairs division, including HR, finance, IT and other services as any other Government Department would deliver.

Across all areas of the Department we spend a lot of time on parliamentary questions, preparing material for use in the Oireachtas, freedom of information requests, answering letters and queries from the public, organising major events, preparing speeches for the Taoiseach and Ministers and responding to media queries.

The outturn for 2016 was €22.58 million against an Estimate provision of €29.35 million. The lower than anticipated expenditure resulted in €6.76 million liable to surrender to the Exchequer at the end of the year. Significant variations relate mainly to the programme subheads. The tribunal subhead was €3.4 million less than Estimates due to the number of legal cost claims settled in the year being lower than expected. We have no control over third party legal costs incurred by tribunals. It is impossible to predict the timing of settlement of third party costs or the level of costs. This moves around year on year as Deputies will be aware.

The commissions of investigation subhead was €911,000 less than the Estimate. Two commissions were active in the year and both are independent. Their expenditure levels depend on their needs and are not a matter for our control.

Subhead A1 was also less than the Estimate due to delays in filling some vacancies and the transfer of functions relating to the diaspora and EU engagement to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the fourth quarter of the year. Just over €15 million was expended on pay and administration. As the Comptroller and Auditor General stated, this accounts for our main spending, with the balance expended on programme expenditure as listed in the Appropriation Account. The 2016 account was audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, in whose report he noted that the account properly presented the receipts and expenditure of the Department for the year. He further stated that he had obtained all of the information and explanations he had required for the purposes of his audit. In his opinion, adequate accounting records had been kept by the Department and the account was in agreement with those.

I will briefly outline the Department's administrative and programme expenditure in the year. The lion's share is spent on salaries, with a total expenditure of €11.9 million. At the end of 2016, the total staff numbers were just over 200. That this was much less than we had estimated was mainly due to the changes relating to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the EU division.

In line with other Departments, we have non-pay administrative subheads. These are small and are as follows - travel and subsistence; training and development; postal and telecommunications; office equipment and external IT; premises expenses; consultancy services; and value for money policy reviews. The non-pay spend was €3.2 million against an Estimate of €3.8 million. The briefing document provides a breakdown of this expenditure across. Some €433,000 was allocated in 2016 to cover the exceptional costs relating to the centenary commemoration programme, which was mainly organised by the Department of the Taoiseach.

The Department's 2016 programme expenditure was broken down across the following subheads: the National Economic and Social Council figure was €1.8 million; the tribunals of inquiry figure was just over €1 million; the EU engagement figure was €276,000; the figure for Irish personnel in EU and international institutions was €1.553 million; the commissions of investigation figure was €2.489 million; the data protection figure was €248,000; and the figure for diaspora affairs was €825,000. The document provides further briefing on these elements.

I thank members for their attention and am happy to respond to whatever questions they may have about the account.

I thank Mr. Fraser for his opening statement. Deputies Murphy, MacSharry, Cullinane and Connolly have indicated in that sequence.

Good morning. Obviously, members will only have a small amount of time each, so I will try to keep my questions brief. I would appreciate succinct responses so that we might cross the territory I wish to cover.

Of the two matters I wish to focus on, the first is the strategic communications unit. Mr. Fraser might correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that it was set up at the request of the Taoiseach and Mr. Fraser was charged with setting it up, but the latter gave some warning about the separation of the administrative side from the political side. Am I correct in that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The first point I must make is that that is not in the 2016 account and is a matter of Government policy. However, I had expected to be asked these questions anyway. The Taoiseach asked us to set up the strategic communications unit, SCU. We tried to do so in such a way that it respected the Civil Service rules as a Civil Service unit.

Was the warning that Mr. Fraser gave one that-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not believe that I gave a warning. I am also not sure about whether I should be discussing my conversations with the Taoiseach about Government policy in 2018.

Mr. Fraser is here as Accounting Officer to discuss the 2016 accounts and provide an update. Every week when we examine Department's 2016 accounts, we receive an update. Our discussions are not purely historical, as we want to make them relevant. Mr. Fraser is not obliged to discuss any policy matter or answer any question for the Taoiseach, but his advice as Accounting Officer is relevant for us. We are not asking Mr. Fraser to relay the view the Taoiseach expressed in those conversations. That is my understanding of the situation. It is not for Mr. Fraser to speak for the Taoiseach, only to speak for himself as Accounting Officer.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I answered the Deputy's questions, notwithstanding my reservations.

Mr. Fraser is quoted in a newspaper article. It reads: "Mr. Fraser has also met the unit's civil service staff to 'reinforce the importance' of other measures, taken by him at the outset, of 'maintaining our independence and political impartiality'."

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not believe that is a quote from me, but it is true that I met the unit.

It is an article in the Irish Independent dated 23 March 2018. It contains those quotation marks.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Is it a quote of something I said?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is true that I met the unit and reminded its staff of their duty to remain impartial.

Now that the unit is being wound down, will it be dismantled? What is the situation?

Mr. Martin Fraser

What is happening is exactly what is outlined in the committee's copy of my report to the Government, which has been published. We are implementing that report. The recommendations listed on pages 26 to 28, inclusive, were accepted by the Government. The Deputy probably has the document. We are implementing each of those recommendations systematically and will have it done by July.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We are winding down the unit. It will no longer exist by July. It will have fewer staff. We have already cut the budget by €2.5 million. The other measures that are outlined in the report are being taken.

When the unit was being set up, a business case had to be made. In a reply to a letter from the clerk to the committee, reference No. PAC32-I-810, it-----

To whom was the reply written?

To Mr. Kieran Lenihan, clerk to the committee, from Mr. Robert Watt.

Call out the reference number again, please.

It is PAC32-I-810. The reply reads:

By way of background, Government decided on 6th September 2017, to establish the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU). Subsequently, a meeting was held at official level in my Department ... The business case fully reflected Government policy ...

According to this, an amount of €5 million was sought. Given that the Government wanted to establish this unit, was it ever in doubt that it would be established once the request was made? It looks like the decision had been made. What supported it? Was there a SWOT analysis? In terms of communications, there was a spend of €178 million per annum across Departments and agencies as well as 700 people working in-house, 388 external contracts, 452 websites and 220 paid communication campaigns. There was a lot happening. According to the business case, savings would be made, but nothing before us demonstrates how that money would be saved by setting up this unit. That was one of the stated objectives. Perhaps Mr. Fraser will talk us through it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Establishing the unit was Government policy. That decision was made in September. Of course our colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform asked for information, but it had been Government policy since September.

It did not require a business case.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Government decided-----

It was Government policy.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The business case was contained in the memorandum for the Government. We are now talking about Government business from 2017.

This is an update.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not want to be unhelpful. A memorandum was prepared for the Government. The substance of that memorandum is contained in my report, the audit report and the business case. Essentially, the Taoiseach wanted to set this up and reform how Government communications were handled. The business case is probably a good summary.

Over time, €5 million was to be saved. It can and still should be saved. As I wrote in my report, given the number of contracts, staff, websites, campaigns and PR companies, a large amount is being spent.

It has not been nationalised or consolidated so I think we can definitely save that money over time.

I do not disagree with Mr. Fraser on that. When the extent of what it is is seen, there is a huge fragmentation as well. I do not believe I have seen anything that is convincing that would show how this unit would do that. Mr. Fraser might address that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is Government policy so I can only explain what the policy is, streamlining communications, doing cross-Government campaigns and improving capacity through training and consolidation. There might be a list, if not here it is in one of these reports. It is about improving how it is all done, rationalising it, consolidating, buying, getting better value for money.

A lot of that would be behind the scenes stuff.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It does generate savings.

I do not doubt that better value for money can be gotten by consolidating. I get all of that but a lot of that is what is done behind the scenes. There was a perception that there was a change in how communications happened with this unit but it was not about how the change in communications happened from the point of view of rationalising. It was how things were politically communicated. That is the change that was obvious from when that communications unit came into being.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I understand that. That was what the political debate was but that was not the entire purpose of the unit and is not what we will be doing in the future. All the work that the Deputy talks about going on behind the scenes, was going on behind the scenes.

I would like to see more of what that approach should be in terms of value for money. There is no doubt that there is a case to be made on that. That function is a separate thing. I do not disagree that that is needed. I said that during some of the debate that occurred. For example, we saw a high profile campaign on the national development plan and the national planning framework. The thing about it is that a sizeable amount of the money for the unit was spent on that campaign alone. It is not that both of those plans are not important but they would merit coverage in local media anyway by virtue of the fact that a plan would be something that would be happening over such a long period of time and there was going to be capital spending over 20 years. There was something for everyone in the audience. Local media would be very happy to cover that yet public money was spent on that campaign.

Reading some of the claims made on the project 2040 content in the print media, the advertorials essentially looked like they were normal coverage. In a lot of cases they had a little banner across the top and fitted in as though they were normal news items. Even the perception that they are normal news items is a problem. That was a very well planned campaign that was done across the country. I am not saying there is not merit in communicating a new approach to the national planning framework or how the capital spending should happen in parallel with that, but is Mr. Fraser, as the Accounting Officer, comfortable with the way it was communicated and the amount of money that was spent? In terms of how it might blend the political with the administrative, does Mr. Fraser think there was an appropriate separation there?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I did a very long report on the matter. I addressed all those issues. As the Accounting Officer I am comfortable because the money was allocated by the Government for a stated purpose. It is not unprecedented, it has happened before. It was done in a more modern way because we are in a more modern era, but I was uncomfortable with the outcome and that is why I recommended that the unit be wound down.

With the outcome.

Uncomfortable with the outcome.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I did recommend winding down the unit.

Yes, I accept that and I have read Mr. Fraser's report just in case he thinks-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sure the Deputy has but that is my opinion in the report.

Would analysis normally be done when something like that is being set up if the initiative came from the administrative side or the Civil Service side?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Not especially, no.

So the benefit would not be robustly teased out.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It did not come from the Civil Service side. It was an initiative of the Taoiseach and the Government.

I will move to another aspect of the accounts. Following this, Mr. Fraser says that some of that work will continue to go on across the Civil Service on the rationalisation of the very considerable spend and the 452 websites. One would have to spend the whole day trying to find the 452 websites and it may not be a good means of communicating, in such a fragmented way. What are the plans on how that should function, what change has happened or what learnings have there been from the most recent debacle?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Debacle is Deputy Murphy's term. If the recommendations are looked at, we are changing how we do our own business but as regards the things that should be done, it is in my report and I list the ways this can be improved. It is Government policy but I think it is sensible to have cross-Government collaboration on big campaigns, more efficient use of technology platforms, consolidated media buying, efficient third party contract management, which means not having hundreds of different companies doing work for the Government in a fragmented way, rationalising design-----

On that one, how would Mr. Fraser rationalise that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

This is something that will happen over time. The fact of the matter is that for €178 million, with all of this staff, websites and contracts, we are not getting value for money for the State. I know people do not like the term, but there is no whole of Government perspective. We do not necessarily communicate the things that are most important to people so we will keep going on the streamlining work and the capacity building which is training people. Politicians often say that people working on communications have no training as they might have been working somewhere completely different so training, professional development and the single identity project will keep going. I think the Deputy knows what that is, everything will have a consistent look and feel. The single web portal is an approach to eliminating these 452 different websites. That will obviously take time, the gov.ie-----

What work has been done on that at this stage, has it been scoped out or-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes it is live. My colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are mainly running it and the strategic communications unit, SCU. The SCU will not do it anymore because we had to give the money back but we will still work on it. Gov.ie is supposed to be a single portal. It is live and it is being used for various things. I think it was used for Storm Emma, or Storm Ophelia, for example. It is used for lots of things.

If the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is working on that already, that is obviously a different Department and they are driving that, so that was happening anyway, is that right?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is fair to say that when the strategic communications unit became involved it would have added more vigour to certain aspects of that. They have done very good technical work on that website. I am pretty sure it is live and it is quite widely used. It was going to be done as a partnership but it will not be anymore because the SCU will not be there anymore.

It did not require the strategic communications unit, that is happening anyway.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do no think that is fair. I think it was much better as a result of the input from the strategic communications unit but it will not be involved in the future because it will not exist.

The work will still go on.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes it will go on but there will be less money and I think it will take a bit longer.

In what other rationalisation functions is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform involved?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on all sorts of things.

The Department is driving public sector reform.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Saving money would also be one of its functions. What else?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it is everyone's function to save money.

In terms of this aspect, there is a Department that has a specific role across the public service and the Civil Service. Does the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have a function in considering communications, other than rationalisation or the development of the port?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot speak for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but it has a role in everything. The reason the Department of the Taoiseach has a more prominent role is it has the Government press office. For as long as there has probably been a Government, the Government Information Service, GIS, has been in the Taoiseach's Department; obviously, therefore, it has a very important role. We have an important role across government, the same as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I work very closely with my colleagues in it. We did make this communications reform project part of the Civil Service renewal plan and are going to keep going. We have a group of assistant secretaries working on it and, as I said in the report, will keep working on the things that are still going ahead.

Does the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have rationalisation and reform functions in the public service, but are they mostly in the Civil Service? Does it work more on the administrative side in the work it does. I mean the administrative side as opposed to the political side. Is it fair to say the Department of the Taoiseach has a different focus?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, I do not think that is quite true. It is partly true, of course, because, obviously, try as it might, the Taoiseach's Department cannot avoid politics.

The Deputy asked me about websites. As the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Office of the Chief Government Information Officer developed gov.ie, they have developed the technology platform. Obviously, they would be very involved in the development of technology platforms. That is a certain function they have. They also have a function in shared services. If one likes, they have lots of central functions.

Where are they located?

Mr. Martin Fraser

In the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The strategic communications unit became involved in gov.ie as part of the overall reform of communications. Therefore, gov.ie will still continue, but, obviously, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has a wider role in the management of the Civil Service in terms of renewal and reform. It will certainly work with us on the changes we still want to make. It is a two-hander. As I said, I find myself dealing with communications matters out of necessity and it has been like that under every Government. The GIS is in the Taoiseach's Department and cannot actually be located anywhere else. The people who want to deal with us want to deal with the Taoiseach's Department and the Government. That is the way it has always been done.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Years ago it used to be two people, but now they are a lot more because there is a lot more stuff to deal with and a lot of more people deal with us.

Mr. Fraser gave us a number of staff. The number has increased in recent years.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Are there over 20 involved?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The figure is below 20 because, obviously, we are winding down the strategic communications unit.

Yes.

I have a few questions about the commissions of investigation. On page 15 of the 2016 appropriation accounts tribunal of inquiry payments are listed. In one column is the year of appointment of the Moriarty tribunal which is given as 1997. The payments made in 2016 were related to Messrs Haughey and Lowry. Obviously, they followed a court decision on the awarding of their costs. Just below the columns in which the amounts are listed the page reads: "There will be further payments associated with this Tribunal of Inquiry". We are discussing the 2016 accounts. Will the witnesses indicate what further amounts might be outstanding?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sorry, but the Deputy confused me slightly when she used the word "payments". Of course, the payments were not made to Messrs Haughey and Lowry who were being investigated.

No. I meant to say they were related to them.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The tribunal investigated payments made to Messrs Haughey and Lowry.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sorry, it was my fault. I did not look at the screen. As the Deputy will have seen, in the case of the Moriarty tribunal, the spend in 2016 was €1.086 million. In 2017 it was €6.5 million. So far this year it is €885,000, giving total expenditure of €61.2 million.

That is an awful lot of money.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Are there more payments outstanding?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think there probably are. As the Deputy will know from our other areas of work - I do not know what goes on at tribunals - I am pretty sure there are more to come. I am pretty sure from media reports on a court case, but that is-----

Will the money come through the Department of the Taoiseach?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think there is one person working at the tribunal who processes payments. I am pretty sure there are more to come. Not too many more, I hope, but I think there are still some to come. We have something in the Estimate for this year.

The final report was issued in 2011.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Mr. Martin Fraser

My colleague has pointed out that there is a figure of €4.5 million for it in the Estimate for this year.

A figure of €4.5 million.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Is that sum in addition to the figure of €61.2 million?

Mr. Martin Fraser

One is heading for a figure of €65 million. I cannot tell the Deputy that they will stop this year either.

I understand the Secretary General can only deal with the matter when it arises. An extraordinary length of time has elapsed and a very large amount of money has been spent.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy knows my views on that matter.

In the past the Secretary General has mentioned the cumulative amount for tribunals of inquiry and commissions of investigation-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

-----which catch things after there has been a failure or when something has to be inquired into, rather than catching them in realtime. Have lessons been learned? The Secretary General is more aware than anyone of the amounts of money involved because the funding must come through his Department. I know that some of the tribunals of inquiry were caused because of the way people in positions of authority had dealt with things. Have lessons been learned such that we can catch issues in realtime? Have initiatives been introduced in that regard? My own party has advocated the establishment of an anti-corruption agency that would catch issues at an earlier point or be large enough and less fragmented in how we deal with things in the future, thus avoiding spending the amounts that are being expended. Sometimes an investment in the system that provides for checks and balances can avoid some of these spends. Will the Secretary General tell us whether lessons have been learned? What does his Department do to save money? Has it learned from the tribunals of inquiy and put better processes in place?

Is that the last question from the Deputy?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As the Deputy knows, the reason these matters are in the Taoiseach's Department is we had nothing to do with the actual events. Sometimes I wish I was in more trouble as I would not have so many tribunals to pay for. Let us look at the numbers. What the Deputy has talked about is the most important aspect, but if the figure for the Moriarty tribunal is going to top €65 million plus and the Fennelly commission costs €3.5 million - some of the other inquiries are a lot cheaper - we first need to be very careful about setting up tribunals. As the Deputy knows - it is nobody's fault - we have a problem with one of the commissions of investigation which is more like a tribunal of inquiry. I fear that the more something becomes like a tribunal of inquiry, the more expensive it will become. We all should reflect on the matter, but I know that we do-----

Will the Secretary General elaborate on how one becomes more like the other in order that people will understand?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is no doubt whatsoever - this is topical today and there are pros and cons - that the closer-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sorry, Chairman. I do want to respond to the substance of what Deputy Murphy said but first I wish to comment on spending. Commissions of investigation are clearly quicker and cheaper than tribunals. It is self-evident from the things I have to pay for. We have one commission, which is a little bit more like a tribunal, and I predict that it will cost-----

Which one is that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is the commission of investigation into IBRC and Siteserv because it has more tribunal-like powers. Everyone knows very much today that it is not just about how much it costs or how long it takes, although how long it takes is really important, but the commission of investigation model is stronger in terms of spending, which is the Committee of Public Accounts' concern. There are other tribunals. Deputy Murphy has heard me speak about this in another space. I have an estimate of how much all tribunals and inquiries cost and it is an enormous amount. Obviously the Committee of Public Accounts-----

The figure quoted by Mr. Fraser was €500 million.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think that is not far off, if one adds them all up over the years. I do think the Deputy has a point in that we should have more robust processes in the State -it is not really the Taoiseach's Department but in the State - for stopping these things in advance. Some of these things are just illegal, underhand activity that is being investigated, and there is not much one can do about that. I agree with the principle of what Deputy Murphy said.

I will wrap up on this issue. Mr. Fraser said that some of the things are illegal. Sometimes when there is some discussion about that and it is said something done was clearly wrong but it was not illegal. Why was it not illegal? I refer to the learnings from such situations. For example, legislation was put in place following on from the Moriarty tribunal, and the same happened after the Mahon tribunal. Are the findings examined from a Government perspective and are the failures then considered in the context of how it can be avoided in future?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We are now way off the 2016 accounts for the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr. Martin Fraser

They are supposed to be and some of the measures in the planning Act flow directly from the Mahon tribunal. The Moriarty tribunal was about payments, which is different thing. I do not want to comment on the outcomes of the tribunals for any of the individuals concerned.

Much legislation was introduced such as on donations to political parties and standards in public office, SIPO, regulations which followed on from the tribunals.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, there has been a lot. I think Deputy Murphy and I would agree that if we had €500 million to spend, we would be much better off investing in prevention rather than in inquiries. That is what I believe.

Yes, I completely agree with Mr. Fraser on that.

We will move on to Deputy MacSharry.

Before you start the clock, Chairman, I would like to get some clarification. When I wrote in to ask the committee to consider the matter relating to the strategic communications unit, I understood that we would have been inviting people specific to that unit not just the Secretary General. I know he is trying to answer the questions we are putting to him, but I do not recall us deciding not to invite those people.

There are three people here and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Yes, I know that, but none of them was attached to the strategic communications unit. Why is that? It is done now, but I do not remember us as a committee making such a decision, in particular about witnesses at assistant secretary and principal officer level. I do not know whether I inquired of you, Chairman, or whether it was the clerk or fellow members as to when we would be dealing with this matter, but that was my assumption.

We did mention the head of the unit.

I can see that it is difficult for the Secretary General to answer some of the questions, but that is what I expected of today. With respect to the Secretary General, I am not on the Committee of Public Accounts exclusively to look at issues from a couple of years ago when accounts are available. If an issue arises today, I will ask a question about it because I see that as part of my role and responsibility. I seek the Chair's guidance that it is perfectly legitimate and valid. If I have a question that relates to expenditure in the here and now, it should be perfectly legitimate for me to put that question.

What would be normal at all meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts is that we would get a briefing note that includes an update on developments subsequent to the year end we are talking about. We have always received an update. It is normal to discuss more current matters.

I say that because of the Secretary General’s response that we have gone away from the 2016 accounts. Before we start the clock, to be quite honest, I am probably going to say very little about the 2016 accounts.

We are talking about the strategic communications unit.

I am also just going to start with a question that is very up to date, as in, from this morning. I hope that is not a problem for the Secretary General.

Deputy MacSharry should put his question.

I will start. In terms of communications, does the State Claims Agency keep Mr. Fraser or the Department of the Taoiseach abreast of how things are going, how many cases there are, or any problems that arise?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Deputy MacSharry is asking me about the current situation in relation to-----

I am just asking about communications. Are there pathways for communications so that the Department of the Taoiseach is kept abreast of events in various Departments, such as if a national scandal arose or there was something cooking beneath the bonnet that might blow and might have an impact on society? Are there any update mechanisms? I know there is the Civil Service Management Board. Within that remit are things considered such as there being a number of cases against the State at the moment?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Government is miles off the accounts.

I clarified that earlier. I do not mean to be disrespectful to Mr. Fraser but, equally, if he was misled to think there was a very narrow focus today, then I apologise.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I accept Deputy MacSharry's apology. I do not feel misled or surprised-----

That is okay. Good.

Mr. Martin Fraser

-----but I am the Secretary to the Government and I am somewhat devoted to the rules that I have to apply in my work and the rules of the Oireachtas, so Deputy MacSharry will have to forgive me for that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Of course there are procedures for letting the Government know in advance of anything that might cause a problem. The Civil Service Management Board does not really get into that. The Government gets regular updates on legal cases and so on.

On all legal cases?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Not all.

There is a lot in the media today about 11 cases in particular. I know I am putting Mr. Fraser on the spot, but would updates have been provided on them to senior Ministers or the Taoiseach?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know what people tell other people, and I certainly cannot breach Cabinet confidentiality.

I am not asking Mr. Fraser to do that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy sort of is, because I just told him the Government gets updates and therefore one is talking about material being given to the Government at a Government meeting, so it is impossible to answer that question.

I did not ask Mr. Fraser what material. I asked him if it would be normal, if there are cases of this nature that are ongoing, for there to be a pathway for the Taoiseach or Mr. Fraser to be informed of what is going on. I am not asking whether they knew about case A or B and identifying it. I am just asking if it is reasonable to expect that the Cabinet of the day, of whatever party, colour or creed, would be aware of what cases are cooking over in the State Claims Agency.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think there are quarterly reports on major or sensitive cases which are given to the Government.

Would it give specifics on sensitive cases?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, it would list every case.

So it would be reasonable that if there were significant cases, they would be highlighted and passed on to Cabinet.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

And that is the practice quarterly.

Mr. Martin Fraser

My memory of it is that it is quarterly.

Okay, that is very good, so we will be able to pursue that in another way. Could we write to the Taoiseach as opposed to the Secretary General and ask if any of the quarterly updates that were provided on State claims in recent years included any mention of the terrible cases we are reading about in the media this week? I will leave that issue.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would not like anyone to be confused. I had no knowledge of those cases until I read about them in the media.

I have no doubt about that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

If I did not have any knowledge, then obviously-----

Does Mr. Fraser get everything first?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, but I am Secretary to the Government.

I am just wondering if Mr. Fraser gets everything first. If he did not know then nobody knows.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, that is not what I said.

That is my interpretation of what Mr. Fraser said. I am sorry.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not want Deputy MacSharry to be under the impression that people knew about the case he is talking about.

Right. We do not know because there has been no inquiry yet. I am just trying to inform myself of what processes exist.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Of course, but I do not want there to be ambiguity that I am avoiding the question because I somehow knew or that somebody-----

In fairness, Mr. Fraser has not avoided the question at all. He has told me there are quarterly updates provided to the Government of cases in the State Claims Agency. That is important for us to know. We now know there is a process. I asked Mr. Fraser if he is the first person to know. Does it land on his desk before it goes to the Cabinet? Again, we are not talking about the contents of anything so we are not breaching any confidentiality.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not the first person to know because I do not write the reports.

Who compiles them?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know, but, presumably, they are compiled by a combination of Departments, the State Claims Agency and the Office of the Attorney General.

The State Claims Agency is under the Department of Finance, as is the National Treasury Management Agency. Surely the Department of Finance would then be reporting on it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There are two reports. I am so far off the reservation in terms of the 2016 accounts and the strategic communications unit-----

We will come back to the SCU.

Mr. Martin Fraser

-----but there is one report from the Office of the Attorney General and one from the State Claims Agency. I will seek clarification. There are two reports which come quarterly to the Government which are supposed to list all of the sensitive cases.

Will Mr. Fraser forward an information note on the matter to the committee?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will do so. I am a little lost in the forest.

Mr. Fraser is a knowledgeable man. That is why we are asking these questions.

Mr. Fraser has said he has no knowledge of these cases, which I accept, but that there is a process whereby either the Department of Finance, a group or perhaps the State Claims Agency, in conjunction with the Department, sends to the Government a quarterly report on all sensitive cases and that he will send the committee a note on the process.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will send a note which will clarify the process.

I thank Mr. Fraser. It does beg the question that we will be able to legitimately ask when we find out who compiles the reports as to whether these cases were mentioned in it and, if not, why not.

Let us return to the strategic communications unit. The staff of the unit were seconded from existing positions.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Not all of them, only some.

According to the note Mr. Fraser sent us, they were all-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, some were seconded, while some were reassigned from within the Department. The majority are probably reassigned staff.

To me, seconded and reassigned are the same.

Mr. Martin Fraser

They are not the same to me.

In the public interest will Mr. Fraser explain the difference between seconded and reassigned?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There are three categories. There are people who were already doing communications work in the Taoiseach's Department, whose job did not change; there are people who operate the MerrionStreet.ie website and there are people who were working on communications in the Department but not actually GIS communications - most recently on Brexit.

GIS is the Government Information Service.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

It is important to use the full title of organisations.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think everyone knows what the GIS is.

The politicos would, but the people in the bubble would not.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is true.

Mr. Fraser has mentioned that-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is a list.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Secondment occurs essentially where people are transferred at the same grade from another part of the public service or the Civil Service.

At the same grade.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. Six staff came from outside the Department, while nine were departmental staff who were reassigned.

Have all of those staff been redeployed?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, not all of them. There were 13 staff at the end of 2016. The staff complement increased to 21 and will probably end up at 16 or 17.

On Mr. Fraser's point that the number of staff who will remain will be 16 or 17, does that mean that the unit has not really been done away with?

Mr. Martin Fraser

A lot of the work was being done already.

Does the Government Information Service still exist?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The press office, the MerrionStreet.ie website and all other communications work will be run or done by the GIS which will continue to do what it has been already doing. It will do the press office work and also the things which are mentioned in my report which we are going to keep doing in the reform of communications.

Is Mr. Fraser saying everything will continue and that only the title "strategic communications unit" will be dropped?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, I am not saying that.

That is the gist of it. That is what I am picking up from what Mr. Fraser is saying.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, that is not the case. It will not be running campaigns anymore. That is one of the points that was made earlier. The budget has been cut to €2.5 million and there will be no more big spending this year. The number of additional staff has been reduced, probably by 50%.

The campaigns on Healthy Ireland and Sláintecare will still be run but through the Department of Health rather than the SCU?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Correct.

There is no change.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know if there is no change. It is being done differently. There will not be a central unit spending the money.

I am a little confused. The GIS was set up n the 1970s. There is also a Government Press Office such that there are two outfits. Is that correct?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, not really. As I said in my report, I do not think there is much of a distinction between the GIS and the press office, but they have got much bigger in recent years. Years ago we had one Government Press Secretary. We have had a number of additions and a number of name changes. Essentially, there is a group of people dealing with communications and press matters in the Taoiseach's Department.

Does the winding down of the SCU represent a win for the Civil Service?

Mr. Martin Fraser

A win.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

In terms of a blurring of the lines and Mr. Fraser's view on winding it down.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, it is not a win-lose. A lot of very good people did a lot of very good work.

It is not about the individuals. They are all exceptionally talented and well qualified. It is not personal.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not see it as a win. It is not a loss or a win. It is what it is. It has to change.

Yes. I have read Mr. Fraser's report. Why did it have to change?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I gave the reasons in my report. The first was that it was taking up far too much time in the Taoiseach's Department, which comprises only 200 staff. I have read all of what we do. For 200 people, we do quite a lot. The second reason was that I had concerns that we were losing the trust of people who might serve in future Governments.

Am I correct that what remains is to be called the Government Information Service?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

It will do a lot of the work done by the SCU, but it will not run campaigns and will not have the same budget.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It will be smaller.

On the amount of money spent cross-departmentally on communications, will it have power to direct it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, it actually never did. We will continue the reform programme because, as I said, I do not think it is right that we have so many external contracts, so many people who are not trained and so many websites.

How many websites did it amalgamate during its existence?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As it was cut short well before its prime, it probably did not do much of that.

Other matters were prioritised over the streamlining of websites.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. It is not possible to shut down 450 websites quickly. The first thing that would have happened was that the identity would have been rolled out and people would not have been developing new websites. They would have been migrating to gov.ie over time. It is a very long process to migrate 450 websites. We never got to the point where we decided how many we would have. I still think the Government should not have a multiplicity of websites.

Mr. Fraser has said the number of websites was not known. Is that still the case?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I did not say that. We identified 452 websites. There are a lot more in the public sector.

Do they all still exist?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know. I presume they do.

Did the SCU shut down any website on the basis that it was no longer needed?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I said, it is not possible to shut down a website. It involves a lengthy migration programme.

When I closed my business, I shut down my website with the press of a button.

Mr. Martin Fraser

But you would have to close the agency.

Yes, if other industries were doing the same thing.

Mr. Martin Fraser

If you close an agency, the website can be closed, but if it is still working, it needs a website.

Is it fair to say there was a level of priority associated with the website end of the streamlining jof communications that was a little further down the trough than other issues in terms of campaigns and so on?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Not especially. It was all being done in parallel.

What was Mr. Fraser's opinion on the tag line a "Government of Ireland announcement"?

Mr. Martin Fraser

A Government of Ireland announcement.

A "Government of Ireland Initiative".

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is Government policy to have a common identity for Government programmes.

Would Mr. Fraser agree with me that the words a "Government of Ireland Initiative" confer the impression of political ownership, or does he think that is an unfair comment?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am secretary to the Government and have worked for all of the political parties represented in this room, or at least with some and for others. I do not associate the Government with a political party.

That is the personal view of Mr. Fraser as a civil servant, as per the code of conduct and so on. I get that. However, there are only X amount of civil servants and such announcements are not made to inform them but the public. Is it reasonable to say the words a "Government of Ireland initiative", as opposed to a Revenue Commissioners initiative, a Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection initiative or a Road Safety Authority initiative, would confer the impression that there was political ownership of it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is the Deputy's opinion. I do not know what to say. The Government is not-----

Mr. Fraser does not agree and is sticking to what he said earlier.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is Government policy to continue with the identity programme and it will continue under any other Government, unless another Government stops it.

"A Government of Ireland announcement" is now the official tag line for all communications.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is the identity programme. It is still Government policy.

Mr. Fraser does not think there is any problem with that. It is not blurring the lines.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think the Government is a creature of any political party.

I agree that the Executive, as opposed to the Government, is not a creature of any political party. I ask Mr. Fraser to take a look at it. Whether it is Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Independents or whoever else in government, it very specifically gives a sense of false political ownership of what are ultimately people's entitlements. I recall one for the invalidity pension some time back. It does do that. That is the thing that started me off on this particular issue.

In terms of the various advertising campaigns, Mr. Fraser said in his report there is no evidence to suggest there was instruction or advice or whatever to include certain politicians or certain quotes. How did Mr. Fraser assure himself there was no evidence?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is a very long report from my colleague, Ms Canavan, in which she goes through all of it and published all the emails,-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

-----investigated it all and ultimately-----

The public might watch proceedings for a few minutes but might not read the report. That is why I am asking.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I understand that. There is a very long report that goes through it all. It goes through the full sequence of events, publishes all the emails, outlines what happened and finally, and most important, asks the editors concerned if they came under any pressure to do it. They confirmed they did not and that it was their decision.

That is the editor of the newspaper getting paid to do it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The editor of the newspaper who published the material the Deputy is talking about.

The editor of the newspaper who was getting paid-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

-----was asked if he or she was forced to put the quote in. If I am putting an ad in a paper, the editor does not ask me what is in the ad. These were advertorials, not editorials. Is that not right?

Mr. Martin Fraser

They were advertorials.

I looked at Mr. Fraser's brief, which he gave us. He said the people who were included in quotes and pictures were not exclusively Fine Gael. Six were Senators running for the Dáil. One was a councillor running for the Dáil. There was one lucky Deputy from Fine Gael. There was a Sinn Féin councillor from Donegal and an Independent councillor from-----

Who was not running for the Dáil.

Who was not running for the Dáil. That is right.

There was also a councillor who was a mayor of Waterford. The quotes were used. The Seanad by-election might have been something to do with it last week. Did it not trouble Mr. Fraser greatly?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I addressed that in my report. There are two parts to it. The first thing that is really important was whether anyone in the Civil Service caused it to happen. The answer to that question is "No." The second question is: was it satisfactory? The answer to that question is "No."

Who told people? I was a Senator for 16 years. For the many years in that period that my party was in government, when I am sure there were all sorts of advertising campaigns, I never got a call from a newspaper asking for a quote on an ad the Government was paying for. Here we have many Senators and a councillor running for the Dáil, including their pictures in some instances, although I only found three, so it is not credible that there is no evidence that somebody - I am not saying it was a civil servant - did not ask for Senator X, Councillor Y or Deputy Z to be included in it and told "this is the quote". One does not go to Senator X from county whatever to tell us what proportion of the development plan will be workable. There is not a Minister on the planet who would let a Senator out to say that if there was something to say. Mr. Fraser knows that. He has been around long enough. I was a Senator long enough. A Senator would be told to go back to the back. We are wheeling them out in the Sunday World, The Irish Times-----

They obviously did not put Deputy MacSharry to the back.

It was difficult. Does Mr. Fraser not agree with me?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not sure what Deputy MacSharry is saying to me. All I can say is-----

What I am saying is it was not credible to say there was no evidence to suggest it. We have all the evidence we need in print and pictures.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am only responsible for the Civil Service. It is in the report. The editors said they received no directions and there was no pressure from the Civil Service.

They were getting the soup. They were getting the cash for the ads.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I can only say what happened. I am afraid I cannot speak for the views of Ministers or Senators or what anyone might be doing. All I can tell the Deputy is what the SCU and the Civil Service did. The editors, along with all the evidence which we published, said that nobody caused this to happen in the Civil Service. That is all I can say to the Deputy. If the Deputy does not believe that he is not believing the editors. I have to take it at face value.

Mr. Fraser can chalk down that I am not believing them.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is fair enough. It is the Deputy's opinion.

In the bounds of credibility, Mr. Fraser is the Secretary General of one of the most important people's Departments in Ireland, the Department of the Taoiseach-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Did Deputy MacSharry say something about my credibility?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I misheard the Deputy.

Absolutely not. I am saying Mr. Fraser is around a long time. He is the boss of one of the most important Government Departments. Does he think it is credible?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it is true.

Mr. Fraser thinks it is true.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, I think what is in that report is true.

That The Irish Times, the Sunday World and all of these people picked Senators and councillors randomly-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it is true what it says about the role-----

-----on a €100 billion project and said a specific Senator had a particular insight into this and they thought-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

What it says about the role of the Civil Service is true.

With regard to the contract with PHD, which was the media company, and INM, did the SCU just do a deal and say there was a bunch of money to promote that project?

Mr. Martin Fraser

They provided material which was given to the papers and, famously now, the papers were asked to run that material as an advertorial and the SCU did not seek sign-off on it.

They never suggested "this is the person for a quote here we want to use".

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

If they are advertorials they are already written.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, the material-----

There is the ad. Print that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

This is all in the report. The material was given to the publications and the publications used it. They were advertorials. They were paid for. There was no attempt by the Civil Service to place any of these people in those newspapers.

What about the SCU? Is the SCU the Civil Service?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The SCU is the Civil Service.

We, effectively, contracted people and gave them plenipotentiary status, and said "here is a bunch of money, promote this".

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

They unilaterally decided they needed to include Senator X or Deputy Y in the photos.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is what they said.

That is what they said.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

The Deputy is well over his time. He will get a second opportunity.

Can I put one last question?

It is entertainment.

It is not entertaining. It is very important. I have one final question.

I will put Deputy MacSharry down to speak again.

Do the politically appointed staff of the Taoiseach hold regular meetings with the SCU?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is a big difference between "regular" and "never".

Did they have any periodic meetings? Was there a sit-down organised on a monthly or weekly basis?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is in my report. It was not regular, as I have just said to the Deputy. I said that in my report and am very clear on it. The political staff meet regularly. I do not go to those meetings and nobody from the SCU goes to those meetings. They meet special advisers in the course of their work. That is very normal in Government Departments. They were absolutely prohibited from speaking to any party political official. I have no evidence they ever did.

Were they based in a different building?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Who?

The SCU and the political staff?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The political staff are probably here in Leinster House or in the party offices.

I was over there on a tour at one stage. It is a long corridor. The Taoiseach's office is at the end and the staff are all along-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Party political staff are staff from the political parties.

No. The political special advisers are on the staff.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The special advisers are in the building. As I said, they did not go to their regular meetings nor did they meet them regularly. They of course engaged with them in their work, and that is true in every single Department.

I will give the Senator a second opportunity.

Okay. I will come back in.

I welcome Mr. Fraser. My questions will centre on the SCU and I have some questions on tribunals. Who is responsible for the spend of the SCU?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am the Accounting Officer.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

One would not think that from his answers today so far. He has been very defensive, in my view. Our job is to shine a spotlight on this issue. That is our responsibility. We will ask questions and his job is to answer them. We need to get as much information as possible to allow us to determine whether taxpayers' money was spent in an appropriate way. He is entitled to his opinion and view, but he is here to answer questions which are put fairly. It is fair to put questions about the SCU to him as the Accounting Officer.

Government policy is Government policy. If it decided to set up the SCU that is fair enough, but his job is to implement that policy. Is that his job as an Accounting Officer and civil servant? Once the Government decided it would establish the unit, I imagine the Department would have to put in place plans to do that. At that point, what metric, performance indicators or targets were set by the Department in regard to the SCU?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Government decided to set up the unit and it gave it its mandate to do the various things I discussed earlier. Our job was to do that.

Yes. I know it was Mr. Fraser's job to do that. That is not the question I asked. I think Mr. Fraser understands the question so I will ask him to answer it. He is looking at me a bit strangely.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not understand the question.

My question was not odd. My question is very straightforward. I ask Mr. Fraser to answer the question and to be a little bit less defensive if he can. If we are going to set up a unit for a specific purpose and it is to do certain things, there would have to be targets, performance indictors and benchmarks so that people could say they are achieving something. I ask Mr. Fraser to explain what they were.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The target was to implement Government policy which, as I said, was to carry out five or six different streams of work.

Were the targets met?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It did not last very long. It certainly did a lot of the things it was asked to do.

Were the targets met? I did not ask how long it was in place. What specifically were the targets? I am not talking about what targets the Government set. I am talking about the mechanics of what the Department and Civil Service is about. I imagine Mr. Fraser had to put in place a set of metrics that would look at performance indictors, targets, how things were benchmarked and how to know he was getting bang for his buck - in essence, what was it trying to achieve and how could it achieve it. What work did Mr. Fraser's Department do to put such a structure in place?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I said, the Government made a decision in September.

I know about the Government decision. I have not asked about that. Mr. Fraser keeps referring to the Government decision. I am talking about his role. The Government decision is a matter for the Minister. He appears before sectoral committees. Mr. Fraser appears before this committee. He is accountable for the Civil Service. What did he and his Department do to ensure that whatever targets, benchmarks or performance indicators were agreed were put in place and achieved?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Government decision to establish the unit was made in September. It set out all of the things the unit was supposed to do. We then had to recruit people to carry out that work. We had to engage various people to fulfil various contracts which were set up. That took a while. In December the Government agreed the roll-out of the unit's identity, the migration of websites and priority campaigns, as well as some of the things I talked about earlier such as consolidation and continuous professional development. Some surveys, research and insight were supposed to be done but that never really got going. Some work was done and some was not. It was not fully active for more than a few months.

Okay. If it was only active for a couple of months and it was disbanded, what Mr. Fraser is saying is that it would be wound down and eventually disbanded. Why?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is in my report.

I am not interested. Mr. Fraser keeps saying it is in his report. I am asking him a question. He can answer it now rather than saying the information is in his report. I ask him to answer the question I asked.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have not finished any of my answers yet. If the Deputy lets me finish this one-----

He can finish whatever question-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot-----

Mr. Fraser is not answering the questions. That is the whole point. I will give him as much time as he wants. I will put the question again. Why, if it was only up and running for a short number of months, was it disbanded? He can take as much time as he likes to answer that question.

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I said in my report, there were two main concerns. The first was that it was taking up far too much time in our Department where we have far greater priorities than this. The second reason was that we were endangering the trust that other Members of the Oireachtas should have in the Civil Service if the thing persisted.

I ask Mr. Fraser to explain his second point a bit more and unpack that a bit.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I formed a view. There was a Dáil vote which bore this out, namely that Members of the Oireachtas who could serve in future Governments had very genuine concerns about this unit.

Were they genuine?

Mr. Martin Fraser

They were genuine.

Would Mr. Fraser share some of those concerns?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, I do not share them all.

Does he share any of them?

Allow him to finish. You said he could take as long as he wanted to answer.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, exactly. I respect the views of the Members of the Oireachtas concerned. Even though, as I said in my report, the vote is not binding on the Government I regarded them as sufficiently important that I had to recommend winding down the unit.

Is that a tacit admission that this unit did cross a line and became more political in the sense that if Mr. Fraser had a concern that future Ministers and parties which may be in government had concerns that this had crossed the line and was a good enough reason to disband the unit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is a very good and profound reason to disband the unit. I do not think it crossed a line, but I do believe the concerns were genuine and sufficiently important for me to recommend that the unit be wound down.

If it did not cross a line and the concerns are genuine, which concerns were genuine and real and which were not?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am certainly not going to start saying that certain views held by Members of the Oireachtas are not genuine.

With respect, Mr. Fraser said one of the reasons the unit was wound down was because he had concerns about the wider body politic and people in opposition who may be in government. He talked about their genuine concerns. It is reasonable for me to ask him to outline in broad terms, without reference to individual parties, Deputies or Senators, those genuine concerns he said led him to disband the unit and which ones does he agree or disagree with. It is a reasonable question to put.

I wish to be helpful. What Mr. Fraser has said so far, I gather, is that Members of the Oireachtas expressed major concerns about the operation of the unit. He said he personally did not share than view but he respects the view that if a large number of Oireachtas Members had that view-----

He agreed some of them were genuine. Deputy Cullinane is trying to find out which ones are and are not genuine.

Mr. Martin Fraser

With all due respect, I am not going to start saying some Members of the Oireachtas are genuine or not. I am saying they had genuine concerns. I do not necessarily think they were all well grounded-----

Which is why I am asking, when Mr. Fraser says "they"-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not going to start saying that one Deputy is right and another is wrong.

That is not what I am asking. I wish to stop Mr. Fraser for a second because the Chairman is trying to be helpful. What the Accounting Officer is saying to us is that one of the two substantial reasons the unit has been wound down was a concern from the wider body politic and that he was the one who said there were genuine concerns, some of which he agrees with and some of which he does not. I am not asking him to talk about individual Deputies or the views of any political parties. When he did his report, he came to a view that there were concerns within the body politic. He said some of those concerns were genuine and some he did not agree with. In broad terms, I want a sense of what those concerns were and which ones he does not agree with.

That is not asking Mr. Fraser to put himself in a position of responding to any individual Deputy.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is exactly what the Deputy is asking me to do.

I am not asking that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am afraid I am not going to list the concerns of Members of Dáil Éireann and then begin to say whether I agree or disagree with their concerns. What I have said is that I believe they were sincerely held and it was sufficiently important for me to recommend the unit be wound down. I do not need to feel any stronger about them than that they are sincerely held because the independence of the Civil Service is extremely important to me.

With respect, Mr. Fraser is avoiding answering the question.

I will intervene at this point because many people will watch proceedings at some point today. When did the Dáil vote on a motion on the strategic communications unit? I do not have the date.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it was in March.

I ask Mr. Fraser to get a copy of the motion passed by a vote in the Dáil. While he may not have agreed with the motion, he respected the views expressed in it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is not quite true. I have an obligation to maintain the trust of anyone who might serve in a future Government. As I have said in my report, it is clear that Members of Dáil Éireann who are potentially members of future Governments have very deep concerns about this and it is one of the two reasons I gave for winding down the unit.

I have a number of specific questions on the operation of the strategic communications unit.

I ask for a copy of the motion because people will forget which motion we are discussing. I am not asking Mr. Fraser to respond to it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I did not recommend the unit be wound down because of the motion. The motion is the very good and obvious evidence I gave to Deputy Cullinane of the grave concern held by Members of the Oireachtas.

I am glad that a motion passed by the Dáil had some impact on some aspect of Government policy.

It is good it had an impact on the Secretary General. However, it may not have had any impact on Ministers.

I have a couple of questions on the operation of the unit, after which I will ask a number of questions on tribunal costs and commissions of investigation, which we dealt with earlier. I will be as brief as I can on this matter on which I ask the Chairman to show me some latitude.

Mr. Fraser dealt with some of the criticism of the strategic communications unit and I will not go back over old ground. Mr. Juno McEnroe published an article in the Irish Examiner in which he referred to a parliamentary question submitted by my colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, to the then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. The reply was drafted almost word for word by the strategic communications unit. Is that appropriate?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is not here on screen but I presume the Deputy is referring to an article from a newspaper from-----

No, the newspaper article was reflecting something that happened.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There was a parliamentary question.

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan submitted a parliamentary question to the then Tánaiste and the response was drafted word for word by the strategic communications unit.

Mr. Martin Fraser: Was the question about the SCU?

Mr. Martin Fraser

What was it about?

I am not sure what it was about but it was drafted specifically-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

If it was about the SCU, it would not be unusual. I would not find that strange at all as one has to get the right answer. If it was not about the SCU, it sounds strange to me.

Deputy David Cullinane: It was not about the SCU. That is what I am saying.

Mr. Martin Fraser

What was it about?

I do not have the details of what it was about. What I am saying is that we were told the SCU would be at arm's length from Ministers and the Government.

Mr. Martin Fraser

If it was about the SCU, I would expect the SCU-----

As Mr. Fraser is aware, the Tánaiste at the time was the Minister for Justice and Equality. It was a justice issue. I do not have the specific details but it was a justice-related issue.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was a justice issue. It sounds very strange to me that the SCU would-----

It sounds more than strange to me.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would have to check. If I could get a copy of the question, I might contact the Deputy about that. It sounds strange.

We will forward a copy and Mr. Fraser can revert to the committee with a response.

To be clear, will Mr. Fraser take a note that he will obtain a copy of the reply and respond to the committee?

Mr. Martin Fraser

If I knew what the question was, I could maybe explain why the SCU was involved, if indeed it was.

To follow up on that question, did the SCU draft responses to parliamentary questions submitted in any other area? It would be helpful to have information on the unit's role in drafting responses to parliamentary questions. I ask Mr. Fraser to provide a note on that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Absolutely. I am sure if there were questions to other Ministers about the SCU or their interaction with the SCU, the SCU will have been involved. However, I would be very surprised if it was involved in questions about justice matters.

I was surprised as well, which is the reason I posed the question. I ask Mr. Fraser to revert to us with a response.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will do so.

To return to the point raised by Deputy MacSharry concerning advertorials and the use of Fine Gael election candidates, who made the decision to include the individuals in question, whether Senators or councillors, in the advertorials? Who made the decision?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The editors of the newspapers.

Did they so independently?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

The SCU did not give any advice.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

The editors made that decision. Why would they make that decision?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know. I wish they had not made it.

Mr. Fraser carried out a review. Did he not ask why they made the decision?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is a quite a lengthy passage in the review about what they said. At the bottom of page 10, it states that the editors of four newspapers were asked whether they had been pressurised to promote local candidates. Specific claims had been made in respect of the certain newspapers, namely, the Limerick Leader, Roscommon Herald, Longford Leader and Sunday World. All the regional editors confirmed no directions were received from civil servants in respect of any aspect of content.

Mr. Fraser does not know why the newspapers used Fine Gael election candidates.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know actually.

We do not know of any political direction because there may be a difference between a direction from the SCU and civil servants and a political direction that may have been given. There is no evidence that a political direction was given.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is no evidence that any direction was given but I am obviously not answerable for whatever local politicians are doing.

While I understand that, Mr. Fraser is answerable for the way in which the money was spent and what process was used.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

He found no evidence in his examination of any political interference. Is that what he is saying?

Mr. Martin Fraser

What the editors said was that it was their own decision.

That is fine. I will move on to the cost. How much was spent on advertising Project Ireland 2040?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it was €750,000.

Does Mr. Fraser have a breakdown of that spending?

Mr. Martin Fraser

My colleague might have it.

The figure in the public domain was €1.5 million.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The overall budget was €1.5 million and I think the spend to date is €756,000.

There was a budget of €1.5 million and €750,000 was spent. On what specifically was the €750,000 spent? On what stages of the process was the money spent?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The numbers I have here are that €497,000 was spent on media and €258,000 was spent on production. It was spent on videos, events, advertorials-----

Was the majority of this money spent before or after the report was finalised and published?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The vast majority was spent beforehand.

I have a response to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleague, Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, which states that at pre-draft consultation stage of Project Ireland 2040, costs of €60,000 were incurred on advertising-related activities and a further €70,000 was incurred at the draft stage. This would not account for the majority of the €750,000 figure. How much of this money was spent after Project Ireland 2040 was published, which was when we saw advertisements on bus stops, Luas stops and so forth? Is the response to the parliamentary question wrong or am I misinterpreting the statement that costs at the pre-draft consultation stage amounted to €60,000 and a further €70,000 was incurred at the draft stage? What is the breakdown?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sure the Deputy is not misinterpreting. As far as I know, the advertising on public transport was free because it is the National Transport Authority and that would have happened before, as the Deputy knows. I have a breakdown here. There have been many parliamentary questions. If they asked about expenditure to date, the number was quite low but we were always very clear that the budget was €1.5 million. I think in the end we will spend roughly €750,000.

This reply was issued on 20 March 2018.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, while all of the expenditure may not have been made by that date, it was incurred by that date.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There was no question but that the budget for this was €1.5 million.

I ask Mr. Fraser to bear with me for a second while I explain what specifically I am looking for. In the case of Project 2040, there was a pre-draft stage and a draft stage before the completed document was presented with bells and whistles. According to a response to a parliamentary question that I have received, the strategic communications unit spent €60,000 at the pre-draft stage and €70,000 at the draft stage. Logic would tell me that the rest of the money was spent after the report was published. I am asking Mr. Fraser to help me with the breakdown of those figures.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I understand. I am fairly certain that the vast majority of the spending took place before my report.

That is why I am asking for a breakdown. I can read the response to the parliamentary question again. Maybe Mr. Fraser should read what he has.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The note I have with me is a reply to a parliamentary question from 17 April last.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The reply states that the budget was €1.5 million.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It confirms that "the Department has committed to spending almost €500,000 on this campaign". I think the number is higher now. That was the number in April. The reply provides a figure of €184,000 for the national press. The figure for national radio is nil because, as the committee is aware, we stopped the radio at the time of my report. The figure provided for regional press was €127,000. The figure provided for regional radio was €29,000. The figure provided for digital was €75,000. The figure provided for cinema was €80,000.

That is a great breakdown of how it was spent but it does not tell us at what stage it was spent, which is the question I am asking. I will ask it again.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sorry. What stage of-----

Okay. Will I go again? There was a pre-draft stage and a draft stage before the report was published. Mr. Fraser will have to give me a breakdown in response to my question. I would have expected-----

Is the Deputy referring to the plan or the report?

I am referring to Project 2040.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Project 2040 is the entire national development plan over ten years and the national planning framework up to 2040. It involves expenditure of €116 billion. It is a massive Government policy.

Maybe I will read the response to the parliamentary question in full. It might be helpful to Mr. Fraser and the rest of us.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, was responding in March of this year.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Okay.

His reply stated:

Public participation and consultation was a key element in developing the National Planning Framework since preparatory work began on developing the framework in late 2014. There have been two formal phases of public consultation, including the publication of an Issues and Choices paper over February/March 2017 and the publication of a consultation draft of the National Planning Framework over October/November 2017, as well as a range of other regional and stakeholder events. Some 700 submissions were generated by the publication of the Issues and Choices paper and over 1,000 submissions were received during the 6-week public consultation on the draft NPF.  Finalisation of the NPF benefited substantially from these submissions. Public awareness was key to ensuring a broad range of citizen and stakeholder engagement and in this regard, an effective awareness and advertising campaign was crucial and the costs incurred were modest in comparison to the breadth and duration of the Framework. At pre-draft consultation stage, costs of €60,000 were incurred on advertising-related activities and a further €70,000 was incurred at the draft stage.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. I understand now. That seems to be a reply to a parliamentary question from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. I think it refers to the national planning framework rather than to any work that was done in the Department of the Taoiseach. That is what it sounds like to me.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think the Deputy said the reply was in the name of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think he is talking about the national planning framework. As people know, the framework was in development for quite a long time. Obviously, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government did some public consultation. That appears to be what the reply quoted by Deputy Cullinane refers to.

I am still looking for a breakdown of the €700,000 that was spent.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is as I have just read to the Deputy. Does he want me to read it again?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The numbers I am providing are based on a reply to a parliamentary question from 17 April last. Obviously, it is fairly recent. Some invoices might still be coming in. The figures for national press, national radio, regional press, regional radio, digital and cinema were €184,000, €0, €127,000, €29,000, €75,000 and €80,000, respectively. As I said earlier, the regional radio campaign has been stopped.

There is some confusion. Can Mr. Fraser give me a breakdown of the specific timeframes involved? I am looking for a breakdown not of whether it was spent on radio advertisements or whatever, but of the expenditure at each stage.

I am sure Mr. Fraser will be able to give us the timescales.

I am looking for the timescales, essentially.

The Deputy wants to know what weeks certain moneys were spent.

There is a bit of confusion about the spending of money on pre-consultation or on advertising, etc. That was ever before-----

There was a lot going on with the national planning framework and the national development plan. Obviously, they are very much related. Can Mr. Fraser give me the kind of breakdown I am looking for? It would be helpful for us to see what stage the money was spent at.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sure.

If Mr. Fraser is right and it is the case that the vast majority of expenditure took place before the plan, I will not have a difficulty. If most of the money was spent afterwards, then-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I misunderstood. When the Deputy spoke about my report, I humbly thought he was referring to my report on the strategic communications unit. I now understand that he was referring to the Government's entire national development plan.

That was the confusion.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was my mistake. The money I am talking about was all spent, broadly speaking, in or around the launch in the first half of this year. It is a campaign. I thought the Deputy was asking about my report on the strategic communications unit, but he was asking about the actual Project Ireland 2040 report.

Now that we have cleared that up, Mr. Fraser will understand the point I am making about the majority of the money being spent on the launch. The whole point of having a consultation period is to hear from individuals and get the message out there that this is actually being done. If a small fraction of the money is spent on that element of it and the lion's share of the money is spent on publicising it, it suggests that this was more about spin than about spending the money to make sure people knew in the first instance that this was happening.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was certainly about communicating to the general public what was in the plan.

It seems that the vast majority of the money was not spent on communicating before there was any plan that there was going to be a plan. A small fraction of the money was spent on saying to Joe and Josephine Soap that they could actually make an input into this. The lion's share of the money was spent on going out to promote the report and all the bells and whistles that go with it as a document. That is fine as well. There might be logic in that. The point is that the vast majority of the money was spent when it was done rather than on letting citizens know what was being done in the first place and engaging with them.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy is correct in his representation of what the Government did.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It spent this money-----

The Government may have done it, but which Department was-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was Government policy to do this.

I ask Mr. Fraser to bear with me. It would be helpful if we could be given the timescale for the major spend we are talking about. It will probably be possible to provide it week by week. There would be a separate figure for the week of the launch. Mr. Fraser might not have it now.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I might not have it. I will see if I can do that for the committee.

The Department will know from its invoices.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, I know. I can find out. All of the money was spent in the run-up to the launch, on the launch itself and as part of the campaign afterwards. That is where all the money was being spent.

It would be helpful to get those details. I have a couple of final questions on the commission. I will move on then.

After these questions, we will move on to Deputy Connolly. Deputy Cullinane will get a second chance.

I will be quick. Mr. Fraser dealt earlier with Note 6, which relates to money spent on tribunals of inquiry and commissions of investigation. He mentioned that €54.7 million has been spent on two commissions of investigation - the Fennelly commission and the Cregan commission - and he said that this figure could increase to just over €60 million. Are there other commissions at play? Are there commissions that were set up since those commissions that will also incur costs?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think there is any such commission in our Department, but I will just check.

Not in that Department anyway. Okay.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sorry, there is one. Judge Cooke is looking at Project Eagle.

Yes, that is a separate one. Okay. Regardless of whether it is a tribunal or a commission-----

I want to clarify that we issued a special report on Project Eagle. The Department of the Taoiseach had to be the sponsoring Department because it involved the Minister for Finance. It could not be the Department of Finance because it is part of the issue. I want to put that on the record.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Every one of these is on our books because we were not involved.

The Department was not involved.

Mr. Martin Fraser

They account for the vast majority of our spending.

Why do we need all of these tribunals and commissions? Why are they set up?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Oireachtas established every single one of them.

No. I am asking Mr. Fraser for his view, as the Accounting Officer for-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Oireachtas established them.

No. Hang on a second here. I ask Mr. Fraser not to be flippant in his response. I was not intending to be funny. The issues are not funny. I contend that we are setting up all of these commissions and tribunals because the system itself is not able to give information to the public and to Members of the Oireachtas. We have a very current live crisis in relation to cervical screening. Nobody is able to give us a global picture of what is happening. As a result, there are fact-finding missions going on. Now there is more talk about whether we should have a tribunal or a commission. Why are all of these being set up? Does Mr. Fraser share my frustration that many of these issues arise because the system does not give us the information we need? The information is there, obviously, but we are not getting it. For that reason, we are scrambling to figure out what to do. We are deciding whether to set up a commission or a tribunal, but we would not need to have all these commissions and tribunals if the Civil Service did its job in the first instance and subsequently, when mistakes are found to have been made, if the Civil Service was upfront about them and gave us the information. Would Mr. Fraser agree with that in the first instance?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I was not being flippant. The Deputy asked why these things were established. I have to account for them to this committee because the Oireachtas established them. Our Department is not explicitly involved. It is not a flippant reply, it is the truth. Of the four concerned, one relates to one current and one former Member of the House. That is the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters, or the Moriarty tribunal. One relates to the activities of the Garda in Cork many years ago and another to allegations about a private sector business transaction - that is the Commission of Investigation into Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, or the Siteserv inquiry. Another relates to Project Eagle, which the Chair has mentioned. I do not think any of those arise from the Civil Service not giving out information. I do not agree with that.

The 2016 one does-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Which one?

-----and certainly the potential one that is being looked at now. I return to something Mr. Fraser said earlier. It was an interesting point and very topical. He spoke about the difference between tribunals and commissions of investigation. I do not want to put words into his mouth. I want to clarify that he said the commission of investigation would be stronger from a spending perspective. It would be less costly than a tribunal. Is that what Mr. Fraser was saying?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is only part of what I said.

Will Mr. Fraser remind me of what he said?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think what I said, or what I meant to say, was in respect of three things Deputy Catherine Murphy asked me about. The first was that, clearly, a commission of investigation is quicker and much cheaper. I also said to Deputy Catherine Murphy that I shared her view that we do not have sufficiently robust frameworks for dealing with some of these things. I share her view and she shares mine that I would not like to be spending this amount of money on tribunals, lawyers and consultants. That is where the money goes. I would rather have money spent on preventing these things-----

Here is the problem-----

Let the Mr. Fraser finish.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The third thing - because for the second time today I am being invited to comment on present matters in the health service - is that it is also a very important consideration how the people involved are treated in these things. It is not all about money. It can be about speed. Speed is generally better and cheaper is generally better - but not always.

The problem with the quicker-and-cheaper model in the context of the commission of investigation is that all evidence given to such a commission is automatically disbarred from being used in evidence in any criminal proceedings.

It is the same with a tribunal.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is.

Exactly. That is the first point. It includes all oral and written evidence and it even extends to documents that are merely listed as being in use. That is my point. We set up these commissions. It will examine the issue. If it is a commission, I think it is behind closed doors. Then much of the information complied and used is put in some vault and cannot be looked at for a long time. I think there is some time limit on when we can even look at many of the documents-----

For the Deputy's information, the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners normally get copies of these reports if there are relevant matters. They are free, based on that, to investigate and prosecute if they see fit. However, they have to establish their own evidence trail if they are going to court. The documents are not locked up. The Garda and Revenue Commissioners have followed through on some.

I understand that and I appreciate that it is not Mr. Fraser's role to comment on what is happening in the health service. In terms of his Department, however, there was spending of €54.7 million on a combination of tribunals and commissions of investigation. Unfortunately, we may have to establish more. I am not sure if they will come under the remit of the Department of the Taoiseach's. The witness listed one that is not listed here. It will incur further cost. Those already listed may incur further costs again. In some of the cases, certainly the live one - and I do not want Mr. Fraser to comment on the issues - a lot of it could have been avoided if we just got the Civil Service to give us answers to questions. There is an interesting angle for the Committee of Public Accounts to look at. Surely, there are better mechanisms in place to ensure that we get full disclosure-----

We will come back to that. I have to move on to Deputy Catherine Connolly. There is a famous phrase from a former Minister and political leader who said that if parliamentary questions had been answered as asked, there would have been no need for some of the earlier tribunals. That might not apply to every single case-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will just say-----

-----but it might apply in some instances.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is important to say that I believe in freedom of information and parliamentary questions. I agree that they should be answered properly.

Okay, that is good. It is the Minister who is responsible for the answer when it lands in the Dáil Chamber. I call Deputy Catherine Connolly.

Fáilte romhaibh agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as an tuarascáil bhliantúil as Gaeilge. Tá éacht déanta agaibh. I will come back to those points but I am going to start with the accounts. The Comptroller and Auditor General has given a clear opinion and that the accounts are properly presented etc. He did raise one issue in respect of procurement. Given that it is the Department of the Taoiseach, there is a particular onus on it to show an example. I ask Mr. Fraser to deal with the four contracts that were given outside of the procurement guidelines.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am sorry, I will find that now.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I have a point of information. This is contained in the statement on internal financial control. It is actually Mr. Fraser's reporting of the matter, rather than my reporting of it.

I thank Mr. McCarthy for the clarification. It is on page 3.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General. I have it here. There were four of them. One is the Cabinet system. That is a system developed some time ago now. It is used for Government meetings, memos, agendas. etc.

What is the Cabinet system?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is the computer system that the Cabinet and the Government use. It manages all the agendas, all the memoranda for the Government, the decisions and the whole process around government. There is an electronic system. Ages ago there were screens in front of the Cabinet. It is now more modern but that is what it is. We have a long-standing contract with one company. Nobody else can do that work - that company built the system. That is the reason for it.

What is the value of that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is €403,000.

Is that per annum?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, it is per annum.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It was €403,000 in 2016.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Broadly speaking, it is per year.

Ms Geraldine Butler

There is an upgrade going on at the moment.

Mr. Martin Fraser

So it is a bit more.

Ms Geraldine Butler

There is an upgrade going on at the moment. I will get the figures.

The total figure for the four contracts is €643,939. Of that, €403,000-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Some €400,000 is for the maintenance of the Cabinet computer system.

That is without tender?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is not so much that it is without tender. It is that nobody else can do it.

Am I wrong that it is without tender?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There was a tender to build the system-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

-----but the company that built it-----

The company that got it is rolling it over.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. The second one is telephonists. From now on we have a framework with the Office of Government Procurement, OGP. A couple of people run the switchboard in the Department of the Taoiseach. The third one was someone engaged directly by a tribunal. That was €54,000. The last one is the newspapers. To be honest, I cannot see how newspapers can cost any different from anybody else, but we nevertheless have tendered for newspapers.

What does that mean? Can Mr. Fraser clarify that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We used to get one of the newspapers from a newsagents on, I think, Leeson Street.

Ms Mary Keenan

It was near Holles Street.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was near Holles Street. A local newsagent used to send us in the newspapers. We did not tender for that because the newspapers are all the same price. We have tendered now and I suspect they are still the same price.

Can we go back to the main contract.

Ms Mary Keenan

It is cheaper.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is cheaper. We got money off the newspapers.

Going back to the major contract that was rolled over, how does the Department know it cannot get anybody else?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is because-----

The reason I am putting this in context is that it comes up every week with every organisation.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I know that. The company built the system and we are a very small department. We have 200 people. In light of all the things we do, there are single figures in any given part of the organisation. We contracted this out to the company at the time the eCabinet system was built.

Essentially, they are the only people who can maintain it because it is their proprietary software.

It is an interesting concept - proprietary - which I would like to come back to some time. The HSE uses a particular type of software and there seems to be very little competition. One group always seems to get the contract. In this so-called free market, we are seeing reduced competition all of the time. That is Mr. Fraser's answer for today, that the Department can get nobody else-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

My answer to the Deputy's general point is that we always tender and that Departments should always do so but-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

We did tender-----

The Department did tender originally and contracted a company but that company owns the software.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. It is the only company that can upgrade the system so we must keep using it.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Certainly the issue is a very serious one in areas like the health sector, defence spending and anywhere where there is specialised equipment. The important point is that when one decides to use a particular system, one must look at it on a whole-of-life basis. When one is originally selecting somebody to build a system or to customise it, one must take into account that it will be used for ten years. One should be factoring into the evaluation and the business case for it the fact that it is going to be used for ten years, that one will be paying maintenance costs, an annual licence fee and so on. One can approach the value for money issue at the beginning but what very often happens is that at the end of ten years, one continues to use the system and so every year one needs to be thinking about whether now is the time to look again and move to a new system. Technologies move on and so on. It is certainly something that is worth thinking about. A serious mistake could be made where, for example, one looks at a three-year contract for something, the maintenance costs then become exorbitant but one is locked into the system and one has to incur a fairly major capital expense to change it. Taking a long-term perspective on something like a technology system is certainly necessary.

Mr. Martin Fraser

If we tried to replace it, I am not sure we would have the money to do so. I do not know what it would cost. I know that is not the point the Deputy is making but-----

No, the point I am making is that I have serious concerns about this. I am no expert and this is not my area at all but I am concerned on the basis of representations that have been made to me. The Comptroller and Auditor General has given a very good outline of the issue. I will leave it for now and move on.

I want to go back to the issue of claims. I had intended to ask why commissions of investigation are under the remit of the Department of the Taoiseach but that has been answered. Last week we had representatives from the Department of Finance before us. They told us that the Moriarty tribunal, for example, cost almost €70 million

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have a figure of €65 million; it is in that range.

Yes, €65 million but it is going to go up because there are still some payments outstanding.

Mr. Martin Fraser

What happens with both tribunals and commissions of investigation is that there is always a Minister responsible but in general, it must be a Minister whose Department is not involved. That is why our Department ends up with the responsibility for a lot of them.

Mr. Fraser made a very good comment in terms of keeping an eye on costs but remembering that people are also very important. It was Mr. Justice Hamilton who a long time ago said that if questions put in the Dáil had been answered, we would not have needed the beef tribunal at the time. Certainly, in my limited experience of two years, if questions were put and answered properly, we would not need tribunals or commissions of investigation. I now want to focus on the State Claims Agency, the role of which Mr. Fraser kindly outlined. I asked in the Dáil on Tuesday how many cases other than that of Ms Vicky Phelan were with that agency but I got no answer. That is one very practical example from Tuesday last. Mr. Fraser might say that he is not here to answer those questions but he is, in fact. It is all about governance structures - either they are in place and are not operating properly or they are not in place at all. I specifically asked about the State Claims Agency and the reporting mechanism therein. Subject to checking the record, I think I was told it was an independent body. There has to be a learning mechanism. It is fine to give an organisation independence in terms of cases but there has to be a report-back mechanism in place. What reporting mechanism is in place for reporting back to the Department? Mr. Fraser made reference to quarterly reports. Is that correct?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Does the Department have any input into those quarterly reports?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

Is there is a mechanism by which the State Claims Agency informs the Department of cases?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Is there a learning mechanism?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Obviously I do not know the specifics of the question the Deputy asked on Tuesday but in general, what should happen is that the Departments concerned and the State Claims Agency should always be looking at these things, making sure that they are thinking about them and learning from them.

Absolutely. Does Mr. Fraser, as Secretary General, have any knowledge of such learning at the Department of the Taoiseach?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We do not have many legal cases.

I am trying determine levels of input. We are heading down the road of an independent investigation, which I fully support. It is a very good idea to do a scoping exercise first because we simply do not have the facts. We do not have the facts because there is a complete lack of accountability in the various organisations. We have no report before us, nine days after the initial report. At the very least Deputies should have a written report outlining what happened and so on but we have nothing. Nothing has been outlined as yet.

To return to the State Claims Agency, where is the mechanism in the Department of the Taoiseach for learning in order to avoid tribunals? What mechanism exists to ensure that taoisigh can go into the Dáil fully informed?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I said, I do not think we have any cases with the State Claims Agency.

There are serious implications for the Department of the Taoiseach in relation to the information being given in the Dáil. Is that not correct?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think the Deputy means there are serious implications for the Taoiseach and the Government.

No, there are serious implications when the Taoiseach is coming into the Dáil with insufficient information. Has Mr. Fraser or his Department any role in that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sometimes we do and sometimes we do not.

Did Mr. Fraser or his Department have any role in this particular case?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The answer to that is "No". Most of the information is coming from the health service-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Indeed, or not coming.

On the issue of governance-----

I am sorry to interrupt, Deputy Connolly but Mr. Fraser mentioned tribunals ending up in his Department and I would just like to make an observation in the context of the scoping inquiry. On the face of it and based on what we have seen so far, if there is to be a tribunal, it will be under the Department of the Taoiseach. The Department of Health will be a subject of the inquiry, as will the Department of Finance because of its handling of the State Claims Agency, as well as the agency itself. The Department of the Taoiseach is the only one that has had no involvement in this. The Departments of Health and Finance are involved, as is the State Claims Agency. I would argue that neither the Minister for Health nor the Minister for Finance are the appropriate people to head up an inquiry or a tribunal. It will probably fall back to Mr. Fraser, as Accounting Officer of the Department, to account for this when it comes down the road. Does Mr. Fraser see the logic in what I am saying? I cannot see that any other Department could take on a tribunal or commission of investigation or whatever transpires. The Department has been through a tribunal process previously and it is most disappointing that it cannot put a final estimate on the outstanding costs of the first tribunal of inquiry. Mr. Fraser has said that the Department must wait until all claims have been submitted but someone in the Department must be handling it and must know how many cases are still outstanding and have at least an estimate of what is out there. I would hope that if Mr. Fraser and his Department are going to be responsible for a future tribunal or commission of investigation, they will put a good system in place to deal with costings, financing and so forth, before it is up and running in order that Mr. Fraser's successor and my successor will not be saying in ten year's time that they still do not know how much the tribunal or inquiry has cost. That is not good enough for public confidence in the financial side of things. Does Mr. Fraser take my point? He has an opportunity, before the next tribunal comes across his desk, to put a more robust system in place than that which pertained during the previous tribunals.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will briefly comment on that and on what Deputy Connolly said. I know only what I read in the newspapers. I did not read too many newspapers this morning because I was preparing to come in here at 9 a.m. but as I understand it, the Minister for Health met Opposition spokespersons last night and they have agreed on a process-----

A scoping inquiry-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not privy to the outcome of that.

We know that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The most important thing is the women concerned and how they are dealt with but a scoping inquiry is a good idea. These things often go wrong when people do not think very carefully about the terms of reference, about who does the investigation and how it is done. As I said earlier to Deputy Cullinane, speed is important and a focus on costs is helpful.

The quicker it is done, the cheaper it is. There are also different methods. On the one we are discussing, which is entirely unconnected with the purposes of this meeting, it is good to think carefully about it to ensure we get the right combination of speed, transparency and that the victims are at the centre of it.

The only point I disagree with is that it is relevant to the subject matter of today's meeting. There were four tribunals of inquiry and this is learning from those for the future.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I appreciate the principle. I was just saying that this particular matter under investigation is not.

The principle of setting these up is.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The terms of reference will be determined by the Oireachtas.

And Mr. Fraser, or whichever Accounting Officer is given the job, will have to implement it then.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I know.

I am not going down the road of tribunals at this point. I am looking at processes because that is our role. We sat here examining the Project Eagle case. There would have been no need for the Cooke inquiry if answers had been given. A good and moderate report was done by the Comptroller and Auditor General simply highlighting the issues but the system did not deal with it.

We sat here examining the Grace case and three reports by a health board. Processes were not up to scratch and, even when they were in place, they were not implemented.

When I hear officials talk about speed, I agree it is necessary. The question for each Secretary General and Department is how do we end up with tribunals.

Is it the case that the Department of the Taoiseach has no knowledge of any cases regarding cervical smear testing?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not have any knowledge of any cases. It does not arise under the accounts.

Okay.

I thank Mr. Fraser for all the informative documents on the strategic communications unit. However, I do not see any document leading to the decision to set it up. Was there a business case setting it out?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, there was a memorandum for the Government in September.

Was there a document with a business case setting out the need for the strategic communications unit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was in the memorandum for the Government.

We do not have that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, we cannot give it to the committee.

Will Mr. Fraser repeat that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The committee does not have the memorandum for the Government for obvious reasons. It is confidential. The substance of that memorandum is in my report and in Ms Elizabeth Canavan's report.

Every week we are here with various examinations, such as universities and so forth. We are often looking at the absence of business cases. What was the business case for the strategic communications unit? Is Mr. Fraser's answer that it was in a memo for the Government?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is partly my answer. If the Deputy means the actual business case, it is in a memorandum for the Government.

I do mean the actual business case.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is in the memorandum for the Government. It is in my report.

This is the Committee of Public Accounts. We are looking at documents and I try to stick to the issues. A strategic communications unit was set up, presumably on the basis of a business case. However, we do not have a copy of that business case.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The committee has a copy of the business case that was given to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It was set up because the Taoiseach wanted it set up as Government policy.

That is okay. I cannot say if that was a good or a bad decision because I do not have a copy of the business case at the Committee of Public Accounts.

Now, Mr. Fraser is telling us it is being wound down and the spin unit has spun itself out.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not saying that. The Deputy said that.

It has a new name.

It has metamorphosed rather than spun itself out.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is being wound down.

We need to stick to the issues. I want to get to housing.

This may be helpful. We have on the screen the letter from Robert Watt about the business case.

I have read all the letters. I am blue in the face from reading the stuff. It is a sad life to be on the Committee of Public Accounts. The witnesses might not think so.

A unit is set up which is now being dismantled. Surely it is being dismantled on the basis that it was not complying with its objectives or the business case was not sound in the first place. Was the business case sound in the first place?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think the business case was sound in the first place. The reasons, which I gave in my report, were that it was basically getting in the way of far more important matters the Department had to deal with.

Does that mean that the publicity around it was taking up too much of the Department's time?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Dealing with all of the publicity and the political controversy was taking up far too much time. As opposed to what we should be doing, there are far more important matters-----

I find that difficult. If a business case is sound, then it should stand. It should not be wound down, spun out or changed just because there is political pressure. It should be based on solid reasons.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Much of the work that was in the business case will continue but some of it will not. That was my recommendation.

I have to say that I am most unhappy with that. If there is a need for a communications unit - I was outspoken on it during the budget statements - a business case will set out why it is needed, what will be saved and then a decision is made on that basis. There was a high monitoring group set up, the CSMB.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There was a group that met only once or twice.

Let me ask my question. A Civil Service management board was set up to oversee this.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Civil Service management board exists anyway. A subgroup of it was set up to oversee the reform of communications.

The mechanism for oversight for the strategic communications unit is a subcommittee of Secretaries General from the CSMB which acts as a high-level working group. Presumably, it was set up to monitor it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It met once or maybe twice. It did not meet that often in the time-----

Is that not a problem with governance?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Not really. I think if it met every couple of months that would have been fine. It will probably continue because some of the work that was to be done by the unit will continue. I do not think it is fair to suggest that the group was overseeing it. It did not really get going. That was the structure that was put in place. It only lasted a few months really.

In Appendix 2 of Ms Canavan's report, there is a reference to a Mediaforce email to regional newspapers signed Shane at the bottom of it. Will Mr. Fraser place that in context?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That was an email sent by Mediaforce to the regional newspapers which was provided to us by one of the editors of those newspapers.

It was sent by Mediaforce which acted for the company PHD which acted for the Department.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

That is unfortunate choice of name, PHD. Was it acting for the unit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I even get confused about the detail of this. Mediaforce was acting on behalf of the Department.

At the bottom of the letter it stated:

I understand that this is an unusual project. However I really need us to do a good job on this as I believe if we do, there should be more to come on this project and indeed other issues, such as Brexit, in the coming weeks and months.

That is interesting. Is Mr. Fraser happy with that sentence?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I did not write that sentence.

What does Mr. Fraser think of it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know. That is the world of media and advertising.

That is the world of media and advertising. That is the world that the spin unit engaged to lessen the distinction between news and advertisements. Will Mr. Fraser agree that is what happened?

Mr. Martin Fraser

They set out to do advertorials and, as I said earlier and in my report, the outcome was unsatisfactory because some of the stuff that appeared should not have appeared. That is one of the reasons we are going to wind it down. To be honest with the Deputy, no, I am not tremendously comfortable with this.

That is good because I am not comfortable with it either. This plan was never discussed in the Dáil. Was Mr. Fraser aware of that? The final plan, the changes made, were never discussed in the Dáil.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The overall Project Ireland plan?

Yes. We have a plan that has significant implications for the country that was never discussed in the Dáil but which then it is sold by way of spin. In my own city, the Taoiseach was going to the university to spin it. It is interesting that it was not to use the university to question. None of this was used for the newspapers to question the document, to say what was good and bad. It was to spin the document. If there is not a crisis there for democracy, I do not know where there is a crisis. There was Government money to spin a story. It is very serious not to use our third level institutions to question but to use the media to spin.

My last question, because the Chair is looking at me, is on housing and Mr. Fraser's opening statement. What role has the Department of the Taoiseach in housing? Mr. Fraser's opening statement refers to it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was referring to 2016. The Department is involved in most things that are a priority of the Taoiseach. On housing, I suppose it was mainly in support of the Cabinet committee, which is now on infrastructure, which probably at the time was dealing with housing.

Earlier Mr. Fraser stated that the Department continued to engage in national priority issues, as directed, such as housing and homelessness. What is the Department's role in housing and homelessness?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Mainly, we provide a secretariat to the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, as it is now, which would deal with housing matters. There is a Cabinet committee that deals with housing.

Is it just practical assistance?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is that and more.

What is the "more" part?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We try to influence policy. We try to bring the system together.

The Department tries to influence policy.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Okay. In terms of talking about or dealing with homelessness, how does the Department influence the policy there?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We are not the main influencer on policy there. It is mainly the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Public Expenditure and Reform.

I understand all that. I was merely struck by it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We would have-----

My interest is a city where there is a huge housing crisis-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I know.

-----worse than that of Dublin. On the ground, we receive representations. Only last week, I had a couple with a four week old baby, who are getting respite in an apartment accommodation, being moved out on Sunday back to a hotel. That is the policy of the organisation on the ground. Following a little respite for that mother in an apartment, it is back to a hotel room where she cannot even sterilise the bottles. That is an example of where I am coming from. What is the Department of the Taoiseach's role, if it is not merely help? What other role has the Department in forming policy?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I say, we engage with other Departments, we support the Taoiseach and Ministers in the Cabinet committee structure, and we try to work to help solve these problems.

I will come back to it. I have run out of time. I beg Mr. Fraser's pardon. He is trying to answer it. I am not phrasing it correctly and I will come back to it.

I have been giving members a good bit of time. The next speaker is Deputy Jonathan O'Brien. Am I correct that Mr. Fraser must leave by 12 noon?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I am on an interview board on the north side at 12.30 p.m., if I could leave at 12 noon-----

In fairness, we started at 9 a.m. Three hours is enough.

The vast majority of questions have been asked.

It will be tight. Whether everyone gets in on the second round depends on how quick members are.

If everyone gets five minutes, we will all get in.

On Mr. Fraser's own report, section five states the progress to date about which he spoke. He states that the SCU has made rapid progress across the three main workstreams approved by the Government, and lists them. He states, "As well as streamlining and improving communications capacity, there has been huge public interest in the campaigns run by the SCU in conjunction with other Departments and agencies." Mr. Fraser then goes on to state "Metrics are available to demonstrate the level of public interest". Where we can find those metrics?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The main metric is the number of people who have looked at the material produced by the unit. On the level of interest of the public, there has been quite a lot of interest in the material it produced. I may even have data here. I just cannot put my hand on them but I do have data here. Certainly, there have been millions of views of the material that it produced. That is what I mean by metrics to demonstrate the level of public interest.

Does Mr. Fraser mean online views?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Mainly online, yes.

Are the metrics publicly available?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. I will get them for the Deputy. I actually have them here. If I can put my hand on them, I will tell the Deputy. Certainly, that "Global Ireland" video that went out around St. Patrick's Day got 6 million or 7 million views around the world. There is quite a lot of interest. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a fact.

I return to the previous questions on the perception that some of the SCU material, particularly around the Project Ireland 2040 material, bordered on promoting particular candidates in particular areas. I fully accept that in the review that was carried out, Mr. Fraser stated there was no evidence that any direction was given to editors to place Senators and councillors into those advertorials. I note that the report he was dealing states with there was no Civil Service direction. There was no direction from the SCU. Is Mr. Fraser aware of any political direction given to those editors to place election candidates?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not responsible for any political party does but the editors said it was their own decision.

Does Mr. Fraser believe them?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have no reason to disbelieve them.

I am just asking does Mr. Fraser believe them?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do believe them. I have no reason to disbelieve them.

I take it Mr. Fraser has no evidence of any political direction being given to those editors? Was that question ever asked as part of the review?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know that but it would not be our responsibility to ask what political parties were up to. In any case, the editors-----

There was a responsibility to answer the question. The accusation was that preference was given to certain political candidates of a political party in the advertorials. I presume that as part of the review, one of the questions to the editors would have been, "Was there any direction given to you, not just by the civil servants or the SCU, but in general?"

Mr. Martin Fraser

What I and my colleague who carried out this report wanted to find out was how did those pictures get in those newspapers. The quote is there, on page 11, on the editors:

All were adamant that decisions regarding the choice of photos and commentators were made locally by themselves and were not the subject of any outside influence.

The editor of the National title [which I take to be the Sunday World] also confirmed that their choice of photos and commentators was entirely an editorial choice within the newspaper.

I have to believe them when they say that. It was a very bad effort if only three or four newspapers did the thing anyway if someone else was doing it. I just have to believe what they said.

It is just that those three or four newspapers are in key constituencies for the party in government.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot comment. Now the Deputy is way outside my reach of what is a key constituency for anybody.

Is Mr. Fraser adamant there was no evidence of any interference, that it was completely an editorial decision and there was no pressure put on any of the editors from an external source?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is what they said.

There have not been many Senators appearing in those newspapers since. They must have changed their editorial strategy since.

It did them more harm than good.

As for Mr. John Concannon, is Mr. Fraser aware correspondence to Mr. Brian Murphy, special adviser to the Taoiseach, stated that communications under the SCU would be deployed to support strategic Government priorities and decision-making under an overarching theme such as a republic of opportunity?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am aware of that because that was released under freedom of information. There have been newspaper articles about that.

Is Mr. Fraser also aware-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sorry, I beg the Deputy' pardon as I do not wish to interrupt him. That never happened. The phrase, "republic of opportunity" was never used by anyone in the Civil Service. That is really important.

Why was it not used?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Because it is a political slogan.

Mr. Fraser can understand why people would then-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I completely understand why the Deputy is asking me the question which is why I am being so clear in my answer.

It was not used. Whose decision was it in the end not to use it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would have prevented it, but I am not sure anyone actually tried to do it in the end. That was a memo written in July in the first couple of days of all of this, but I would never have permitted it.

So Mr. Fraser would have-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is not to say anyone tried to make me do it. It just did not happen.

I know it did not happen. So it was the civil servants, themselves, who said, "We're not using this."

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would not have allowed that.

Okay. Did Mr. Fraser express that concern or articulate that view?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not actually remember but it did not happen and I would never have permitted it.

Brian Murphy stated that the cost of Government rebranding through the SCU could be enormous with a budget of €5 million for the purpose of streamlining Government communications. Does Mr. Fraser agree with that comment? What mechanisms were put in place to ensure that communications were not duplicated between the SCU and other Departments to avoid costs and unnecessary wastage?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I say - this is work we still have to do - we should not duplicate. We should not have all these websites, all these contracts and everyone doing the same thing over and over again. We should have a much more rationalised joined-up approach to all these things - a much more professional approach. Even if the content is exactly as it is today, at €178 million with all that resource being deployed, it definitely can be done better and it will have to be done better in the future.

I return to the metrics and how we measure how successful the SCU was in terms of messaging. One of the purviews of the SCU is that it was not confined to Departments but also extended to the activities of what is referred to as "Government of Ireland". Given that these activities are so broad, it is almost impossible even to put a definition on "Government of Ireland". What metrics were being put in place or what metrics were put in place to ensure that we could measure the success of the SCU in terms of that messaging and to verify its value for money?

Mr. Martin Fraser

In terms of value for money, in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, I still think even under the new arrangement we will save money over time by doing this much more effectively. One of the things we were going to do - I understand it is best practice - was to do a survey, which we still will do, but only after the Opposition parties have cleared it. Over time one can survey the citizens as to what they think about the Government and over time, presumably one will see the impact of any sort of communications work. That is obviously going to be different now because we are not going to have the SCU.

What does Mr. Fraser mean by "survey the citizens as to what they think about the Government"?

Mr. Martin Fraser

This will be shared with the Opposition parties before anything is done about it. What is the understanding of the citizens of what the role of the Government is, what the Government does, what agencies do and what Departments do? It would not be a political thing-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

-----just the Government itself, the Departments and agencies. We do an engagement of our own staff in the Civil Service; it was published a few weeks ago. We did an engagement survey two or three years ago. We identified a load of things in the Civil Service we need to work on - mainly internal management stuff. We worked on those things and we can see in our engagement survey our results are better in those areas, not in every area. In fact I mentioned they are bad in some other areas like innovation and so on. That is the thing.

The other metric, as I say, is the amount of engagement - the number of people who looked at the stuff.

Just to be clear, the survey will ask questions such as what people know about the role of Government and the various Departments. It will not be asking people what their opinion of Government is, because that is-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Definitely not.

Asking that question is more or less asking people what their opinion of Fine Gael is.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Absolutely not. It will not feature any politicians either.

Mr. Martin Fraser

May I say something else?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I also wanted to ask people about - I am saying this to the Deputy because he is from Sinn Féin - Northern Ireland, but that is only because I think we do not have enough engagement in the South with the North. That is an example of the type of thing, but we will only do that by agreement because one can see how that could be open to misinterpretation depending on the politics of the day. I mention that. I think there are lots of things about our society and our Government on which we should have more engagement with the citizens. We should try to find out what people actually think is going on.

How hands-on was-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I know we have to get this agreed with the Opposition because otherwise people become very suspicious - that is not the intention. We always said we would publish it immediately, but in fact I would recommend it has to be agreed with the Opposition. If it cannot be agreed, then it should not go ahead.

Okay.

How hands-on was the Taoiseach in the messaging?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Varying degrees. It depends. If I look at all the campaigns, some more than others, but not particularly hands-on in any of them, to be honest.

What about the childcare subsidy scheme?

Mr. Martin Fraser

On the childcare subsidy scheme, the Taoiseach asked at the very beginning. I think he was only in office for a few weeks. He wanted communications around all the things for parents with children. He wanted a sort of whole-of-Government approach taken to that. That was one of the things he mentioned.

Therefore, he was pretty hands-on.

Mr. Martin Fraser

He was pretty hands-on in that one. Yes.

Was it just that one?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Varying degrees, genuinely. He is very interested in this stuff though.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Regional enterprise development funds, the Luas cross city, Healthy Ireland - not really. Education action plan - not at all. Global Ireland - no. Project Ireland - yes. On social protection he has a particular interest because he was the Minister. So it varied.

Would it be fair to say he had an interest in the politically juicy ones?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know how one judges that.

I am talking about childcare, social protection-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I really do not know how he makes those judgments.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Storm Ophelia?

He was practically in every-----

Is the Deputy referring to the commander-in-chief shot?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will say something about Storm Ophelia.

I will say something first. That was an example of good communication.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was really important.

I agree with that, but that is different from-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I accept that. If the Chairman does not mind I have an important point. It is an example. Of course I understand all the concerns people have and that is why I have made the recommendation I have. It is also important that if we cannot communicate in the modern world, we have a real problem. The skills that the SCU - I think all members know there is one person in particular who is very skilful at all this stuff and it is not a politician - brought to that were really important because we had to ring all the editors of all the national newspapers and in RTÉ and TV3. If we could not have done that there would have been implications. From my point of view, that is quite important. I do not want to lose that capacity. The GIS used to do that. In the days of three newspapers and one TV station, that was one or two people doing it. Now we have the online world and everything else. I will not go on about it, but it is quite important.

The Deputy has-----

I have just one last question. This is a genuine question; I am not being flippant here. Page 16 of Mr. Fraser's report stated that some of the public comments about the SCU were very hurtful and offensive to members. I ask Mr. Fraser to expand on that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would rather not.

When he talked about "hurtful and offensive"-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would rather not.

Does Mr. Fraser know of any members of staff who had to take leave of absence because they were so hurt and offended by the comments?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. That does not mean the comments were not hurtful and offensive.

As I said, I am not being flippant. I was genuinely asking because Mr. Fraser had a whole section in his report on the treatment of public servants. He referred to their health and well-being and how some of the comments were so hurtful and disproportionate. I just wanted to know if he was willing to comment further on that since it is in his report.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not want to comment on the individuals. I think it is an issue, although, frankly, the events of this week do not make it a very good week to discuss it because we have real problems this week.

As we said earlier, Mr. Fraser has to be out of here at noon.

It is now 11.40 a.m. I will divide the time equally between us. I will be abrupt and stop members mid-sentence. Members indicated earlier in the following sequence: Deputies Catherine Murphy, Marc MacSharry, David Cullinane and Catherine Connolly. There are slots of four to five minutes, and I have to be mercenary about the five minutes. I will call the next speaker promptly. If a member has something to say-----

I will give up my slot to the Chairman if he wants it.

We will start with five-minute slots in case a member comes in.

To pick up the point that Deputy Catherine Connolly made about the quote on page 39, signed by Shane, to the effect that if the publication did a good job, there would be more to come. I want to come back to the editors and the editorial decisions for the photographs. Does Mr. Fraser think the editors might be influenced by the fact that there might be more ads to come, given the precarious nature of the media? Does he think this is something that should be on his radar in terms of caution?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, I do.

Does Mr. Fraser think that might have influenced-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know and I cannot say, but I did refer in my report to some fairly profound problems that exist with the financial stability of the Irish media and the need for independent media. It is a very important issue and it arose in this general context. I do not know whether the editors felt that but-----

It is a possibility.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it is a possibility. It is a very obvious matter to think about. Obviously, I did not see this email until I got the report, but there are a couple of angles to this. I also said in my report that we have to be careful not to have a chilling factor because the media are increasingly moving to sponsored content. That is how the world works. This is a profound public policy issue. If we do not think about the financial health of our media, there will be all sorts of negative consequences.

I have actually called for a commission on the future of the media so I do not disagree with Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I hope to work with the Deputy some day.

Regarding Mr. Fraser's particular role, why was the secondment of the staff to this unit which he was charged with setting up not done through the Public Appointments Service? Some people came from within the Department, but-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. The head of the unit was chosen by the Taoiseach but he was already in the public service and was seconded into one Department, so he was moved to our Department.

He was headhunted by the Taoiseach, really.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. I think that is a well-known fact. For everyone else, we issued a circular to every Government Department, I think, and conducted a process. We do this all the time because we think it is good to get people in-----

Okay, I am just-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sorry.

I do not want to use up Mr. Fraser's time because he wants to be out of here by 12 noon.

Since the establishment of the unit, the Taoiseach has been much more prominent as the one communicating things. Attention was drawn to childcare, in respect of which there is a Minister with responsibility. Would the unit, the Taoiseach's political adviser or the Civil Service inform the Taoiseach's opinions? Mr. Fraser talked about housing and homelessness as being one of the priorities. One of the things the Taoiseach did was to compare our rate of homelessness with those of other countries, minimising in some of our eyes the extent of the problem of homelessness here. Who gives such advice? What role does Mr. Fraser have, from a civil servant's perspective, what role does the strategic communications unit have and what role do political advisers have in this? Who helps to form this particular strategy?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy is describing a particular political strategy of the Taoiseach. I do not know whether it is a strategy, but we would not be involved in advising him on his political strategies.

When the Taoiseach stands up at Leaders' Questions there is a book from which someone, the Chief Whip or whoever else, hands him a reply. Does Mr. Fraser not write those replies?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not write them. I have never even seen them-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is done by a combination of people. First, the factual material is supposed to come in from Departments but it is managed by the Taoiseach's advisory team. That is-----

Political advisers, then.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think it is a secret that Leaders' Questions is a highly political exercise.

Would that have blended into the strategic communications unit, though?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

Does any advice come from that to the political adviser?

Mr. Martin Fraser

For Leaders' Questions?

Mr. Martin Fraser

For when the Taoiseach is out doing things publicly.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Obviously, I advise Ministers and Taoisigh, as civil servants do. I cannot say I never gave the Taoiseach any advice on any matter of political controversy, but those who prepare his responses to Parliamentary Questions are not involved in shaping his political strategy.

I have to move on to Deputy MacSharry. He has five minutes.

I am going to move very quickly because I have five or six questions I want to get through. First, to follow on from what Deputy Murphy has just said, and to be clear, Mr. Fraser did not recruit and appoint the director of the SCU. Is that correct?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Taoiseach offered him the job, and he was already on secondment to another Department, so-----

I understand that, and I want to make crystal clear, as I have done in the House many times, that the individual in question is the market leader in his field. Mr. Fraser referred to his expertise earlier and I fully support that, so this is nothing personal. The Taoiseach recruited the director of the SCU.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Taoiseach offered him the job, yes.

He recruited him, then. Did Mr. Fraser say to the Taoiseach, "There is a good candidate," or did he just do it and then-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, it was the Taoiseach's idea.

It was his idea, he followed it through and he offered him the job. Really, then, Mr. Fraser's only role was to sign off on the matter after the fact. Is that fair?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Because he was already on secondment working in government, I advised the Taoiseach that we could just change his secondment from one Department to the other.

Is it true that his role now is to head up Ireland's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is part of what he is doing, yes.

What else is he doing?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Mainly international stuff such as Global Ireland. That is what he will be doing in the future.

I know we use different words: "seconded", "redeployed", "reassigned" and so on from various agencies. If all these people were reassigned, were they replaced in the organisations from where they came or were moved?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We are talking about probably six people. I do not know.

There were 15 in the unit, though, were there not?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Nine of them were already working on communications stuff-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

-----in our Department, though.

Was there a cost associated with replacing those six, wherever they came from?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know if they were replaced. If they were replaced, there would have been a cost, yes.

Mr. Fraser said the savings target for the SCU was going to be €5 million, and he is still going to go on that line, but if it cost €5 million and it was going to save €5 million, was it not going to be cost-neutral?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I just think we can save a hell of a lot more over time out of €178 million.

That is one view, but in terms of what was written on paper, it was going to cost €5 million and it was going to save €5 million. Is that not right?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think we can save more than €5 million over time.

How did the SCU end up answering Parliamentary Questions, PQs? What was its role in this regard?

Mr. Martin Fraser

If there were PQs about the SCU, I would imagine it was involved in drafting replies.

No. If there were PQs about social welfare, health, medical cards or-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Deputy Cullinane, I think, asked me this question. I do not think the SCU had such a role. I would be surprised if it did.

It would just be interesting to see-----

To be helpful to the Deputy, I can clarify that the PQ I was talking about earlier was in the name of Deputy Quinlivan and asked the Minister for Justice and Equality how her Department interacted with the SCU. The point is that it was a question to the Department, not to the SCU, but the SCU drafted the response, not the Department.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That does make more sense to me because it was-----

It was just for clarity.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I thank the Deputy.

Did the Department or the SCU ever have contact with or use for Cambridge Analytica?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I hope not.

Mr. Fraser does not know.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It did not.

That is fine. I have two other questions. I know Mr. Fraser will not like these and I know the answers already but I have to ask them. Did the Taoiseach's Department or the SCU have any input into the Taoiseach's new logo?

Mr. Martin Fraser

What is his new logo? Sorry, I-----

It is a nice blue icon with the name "Leo Varadkar" and a silhouette image of him.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have not seen it, but no.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not mind the question, though.

Did the SCU have anything to do with the Make Your Pitch campaign for a political party?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. That is a Fine Gael campaign, as far as I know.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it is.

I think Mr. Fraser is right.

Okay-----

I am only on three minutes, am I not?

The Deputy said he had two questions, and I gave him the-----

I did not say "two questions". I am allocated time.

Regarding the issue of training in the Department, I see training in unconscious bias is listed. What is unconscious bias?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Unconscious bias refers to the fact that all of us in our lives carry around with us certain biases about things, most commonly in this country about gender, but it could be about race.

Is Mr. Fraser referring to a suspicion?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. We are in very delicate territory here.

Given that we spent money on unconscious bias training, I would simply like to know what it is.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The reason people get unconscious bias training is that all of us carry around biases. It might be a gender stereotype or a race stereotype a person does not even know he or she possesses. The purpose of the training is to illustrate to the person how these biases may exist and try to eliminate them from people. I think I would rather talk about the strategic communications unit. One example of this is that some people think women should be always in the caring end of the spectrum and maybe not at the hard policy end of the spectrum in the Civil Service. That is one example the Deputy might-----

It is an issue of equality and perceptions.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is not like anti-bullying or anti-harassment. It is not to prevent explicit bad behaviour but to let people think about all the baggage they may not even realise they have. In the context of the Irish Civil Service, it is mainly around gender.

On a second issue related to training, it appears training was provided on protected disclosures four years after the law on protected disclosures was enacted. Was that the first time training was provided?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not even know if we did training on protected disclosures.

Ms Mary Keenan

It was not four years after the Act.

Has any training been provided on protected disclosures?

Ms Mary Keenan

The Act came into force in 2014. I think the Deputy is looking at the 2016 Appropriation Act so it is not four years after the Act.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It would have been a year and a bit afterwards. We know how to deal with protected disclosures.

Has training been provided since then?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know but I do not believe we have a problem with-----

This is important.

Will Mr. Fraser send the committee a note on that as this issue frequently arises at our meetings.

We cannot accuse Mr. Fraser of unconscious bias on gender or towards women given that he has two women on either side of him. Well done on that because we do not always get gender balance.

For the record, someone could have an unconscious bias for or against public transport, for example. It is not only about people.

I have a conscious bias against Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

We should stop this discussion now.

Yes, we have discussed this issue enough.

Mr. John Concannon has been mentioned a number of times. There is no doubt he is a talented individual - we all accept that - so any questions raised in respect of him are not personal and certainly not a reflection on his ability. There is no doubt he is a person of great ability. Mr. Fraser stated Mr. Concannon was head-hunted and appointed by the Taoiseach, which is fine. Was he a civil servant at the time?

Mr. Martin Fraser

He was working in the Civil Service, yes.

He was a public servant essentially.

Mr. Martin Fraser

He was on secondment from Fáilte Ireland originally.

At any rate, he is a public servant. We dealt earlier with correspondence from Mr. Concannon to Mr. Barry Murphy, a special adviser to the Taoiseach. In this correspondence, Mr. Concannon stated that communications under a strategic communications unit would be deployed to support strategic Government priorities and decision making under an overarching team such as the Republic of Opportunity. Did Mr. Concannon put this in a letter or email to Mr. Murphy?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I said earlier------

I know this did not happen but I am asking how it-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

It did not happen.

I know that and it is not the question I am asking. Mr. Concannon contacted Mr. Murphy, however.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think that went out under a freedom of information request and I think it has been in the newspapers but it did not happen.

I know and I am not asking whether the SCU used the phrase "Republic of Opportunity". I am saying that Mr. Concannon corresponded with Mr. Murphy and suggested to him that the phrase "Republic of Opportunity" be used.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is a matter of public record.

The answer is "Yes".

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Mr. Concannon is a civil or public servant. Mr. Fraser was horrified at the notion that this would be entertained and it is good that he is very clear that this would not happen under any circumstances. How could a public or civil servant believe that was-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it was a mistake to use that phrase, but as I say-----

On whose part was it a mistake?

Mr. Martin Fraser

On Mr. Concannon's part if he used the phrase. As the Deputy stated, Mr. Concannon is a person of great ability and integrity. It did not happen so-----

He is a person of ability in terms of communications and getting a message out. Mr. Fraser stated that one of the reasons he closed down the unit was that there were political sensitivities and the Opposition had concerns. Mr. Concannon essentially fed into that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That comment certainly fed into it, yes.

To whom was Mr. Concannon accountable?

Mr. Martin Fraser

He was working for me, which was why I stopped it.

Who set up the strategic communications unit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That comment was made - this is really important - in August, I think, before the unit was established and there was no hint whatsoever of that actually being done.

I have very limited time. Who set up the SCU? Which civil servant set it up?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was set up within the Department of the Taoiseach?

Who is accountable for setting it up?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I suppose I am.

Who is accountable for disbanding it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am.

This unit was set up with great fanfare and was to be cost neutral and save us money but ended up costing us money. It was wound down essentially because it did not work. Does Mr. Fraser, as the Accounting Officer and the person who set up and disbanded the SCU, take responsibility for the mistakes that were made?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I take responsibility for my part in it, yes.

What does that mean? What was Mr. Fraser's part in it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As we have been discussing for several hours, I do not accept that it was political or involved in some of the things in which it has been accused of being involved. However, it certainly caused damage to the trust of members of Dáil Éireann who could serve in a future Government. That is of paramount importance to me and, therefore, I took the action that was necessary, which was to recommend it be wound down.

I will make a final recommendation to Mr. Fraser and offer some advice, if he is interested in taking advice, regarding the establishment of units of this sensitivity in future. By the way, those of us who have concerns about the operation of the unit are not against streamlining or professionalising communications. That is a good thing and one of the issues that has been lost in all of this is that this needs to be done to address the silo mentality we have. I return to my earlier comment regarding the lack of a metric for measuring the performance of the unit and setting out the logic for such a unit, the reasons for its establishment, what it was trying to achieve and what would be the benchmarks and performance indicators. Teachta Connolly noted there was something in a memorandum that was submitted to government. We have not seen anything of that significance. The valuable lesson that should be learned is the need to set out the logic, processes and benchmarks and measure these against the logic for setting up the unit in the first place. That did not happen in the case of the strategic communications unit, which is the reason it was opened and shut down in a period of approximately five months. Mr. Fraser has to take responsibility for that.

Does Mr. Fraser have a quick comment to make?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy made a statement.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is fair enough.

I note the Chairman wishes to resume discussion of the strategic communications unit. I had offered him my speaking slot on this issue and I am paraphrasing him in pointing out that he would prefer if we discussed the SCU.

A number of planned media arrangements are on hold. Will Mr. Fraser clarify that?

One of the documents makes a reference to "...in partnership with Project Ireland" and includes the following: "Could you please ensure that ALL media partnerships for Project Ireland 2040 clearly identified as partnership..." The media were working in partnership and this was to be included. Does Mr. Fraser not see a problem with that?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Obviously, with hindsight-----

At the time, did Mr. Fraser not see a problem with an advertisement that involved working in partnership on a Government policy?

Mr. Martin Fraser

This is how advertorials work. It says it is-----

It is not how news works, nor is it how a Government should work. The Government was communicating a Government policy and the term "in partnership" was included in an advertisement. This means all the media that did this were compromised. Is that not the case?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not want to say that about the media that did it but I understand the point the Deputy is making.

Mr. Fraser's report states a number of planned media arrangements are on hold.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Which report is this?

It is the report on matters relating to the strategic communications unit project. The report states, on page 6, that a number of planned media arrangements are on hold.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We basically stopped a lot of things that were to go ahead as part of that campaign. For example, there was supposed to be a regional radio element. There were no further cinema advertisements or advertorials for other sectoral things. When I say they are on hold, they will not go ahead now.

At this stage we have given this item three hours. I thank Mr. Fraser and his officials from the Department of the Taoiseach, as well as the official from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, for attending. There are some items of information to be forwarded to the committee's secretariat. I thank the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff.

The witnesses withdrew.
Sitting suspended at noon and resumed at 12.07 p.m.