Business of Committee

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy. Apologies have been received from Deputies Bobby Aylward, Catherine Connolly and Alan Farrell. The minutes of the meeting of 3 May 2018 and 10 May 2018 have been circulated. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. The only thing to note is that we want to ensure the State Claims Agency supplies the information requested from it in writing as soon as possible.

I do not believe there are any specific matters that will not arise by way of correspondence or otherwise while we are conducting the business of the meeting.

There are three categories of correspondence. The first is briefing documents and opening statements. No. 1299A, one to four, from Mr. James Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Health, dated 15 May, enclosing documents concerning the Department's engagement with the HSE and the CervicalCheck clinical audit. We will note and publish that. It will all be a part of today's meeting.

I have just received answers to specific questions posed by Deputies, including some of Teachta Kelly's questions. I asked many detailed questions about the times and dates of each of the three memos. I asked who signed off on the memos and all associated correspondence; who sent the memos to the Department; who received the memos; for sight of all communication between the HSE and the Department re the memos and circulars; who sent the memos from Mr. Tony O'Brien's office; for sight of a detailed list of all HSE and departmental meetings that the memos were discussed at; and a detailed list of all HSE and departmental memos on the issues of the incorrect smear tests and the audit process. There are about five pages of response, containing very helpful information. The problem is that I have just received the answers now and the witnesses are due to appear before the committee in a few minutes. I sent my questions on Monday, and received the answers very late last night. We are only really receiving the answers now. If they were sent last night, when was it sent to us?

I believe they were sent this morning. None of us has had the opportunity to read the answers.

We are supposed to start at 9 o'clock, and we received five pages of important information this morning. We have to digest it.

Once we are finished correspondence we might suspend for a number of minutes.

I asked a number of questions on Monday. Considering the issues we are looking at in the Department of Health and the HSE, to send the information as late as it did is frankly disgraceful. We have not had time to look at these answers. We will have to go through our correspondence in all other matters and suspend for a significant period of time. This is a big jigsaw, and we are getting pieces all the time. We have to add the pieces in and have time to prepare.

I believe this is a management strategy.

I agree with the Deputy.

It happens too often. I asked for some documents at the meeting last week on the communications strategies, including communications to the women and to the media, which I believe might tell us something about the thinking behind this. I also asked for some other materials, and we were given an assurance that we would receive what we asked for before the meeting. I have not seen the bundle of material yet, but if what I requested is among that material we will barely have time to read it, never mind give some serious consideration to the questions that we might pose to the people who are going to appear before the committee today. This is a way of managing the meeting from their perspective, rather than ours. I object strongly to that approach.

Hear, hear. I agree 100% with the Deputy.

We are going to have to do something about it, because we have seen other organisations, including the HSE, using this strategy when they may well be under serious pressure, with a number of things going on at the same time. This late arrival of a volume of documents is not an isolated incident. We are going to have to put some markers down, not just for this meeting, but for future meetings, in terms of the behaviour of the HSE and other organisations.

The Secretary General's opening statement says that "we will learn lessons", but from the HSE's perspective it seems to be the same old story. It has an acting director general, and it is still providing information very late in the day. There are no lessons being learned about public accountability, that is for sure.

I agree with Deputy Kelly by the way. We are going to have to have time to read these documents.

We will move very quickly through this correspondence. Surely 45 minutes is enough to read all of the documents. In fact, I would have thought that half an hour is enough to go through the documents that arrived last night.

Until I see them-----

I agree with the principle, but I am not proposing to suspend the whole meeting.

There are issues with the Department of Justice, the Garda, the Department of Health and NAMA.

It is not that. I will not know how long it will take me to digest it and add it to the jigsaw until I see it. We should get through our business and then have a look at it.

We are agreed that we will have to suspend for a period to allow members to read the documents. We will decide what to do in a few minutes. I still have not seen the documents. I am aware that they arrived at some stage, but I have been travelling. Most of us have been on the move and have not been in our offices to print off the documentation in order to have copies at this meeting. It is only being copied and circulated as we speak. We will come back to that at the end of this session.

The next item is No. 13001A, the opening statement from Mr. Bill Prasifka, chief executive officer of the Medical Council, and Dr. Audrey Dillon, chairperson of the ethics and professionalism committee and a member of the Medical Council. It includes the Medical Council Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners and supplementary information related to the guide for the information of the committee. We will note and publish this will come back to it later.

Correspondence item B is from Ministers or following up issues raised at previous Committee of Public Accounts meetings.

The next item is No. 1277B from Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, dealing with many questions we put to him at our meeting on 19 April. We have now received a response.

I think we need to hold some of the routine correspondence over until next week.

I will see is there anything we have today. There is correspondence from Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, providing information, reference No. 12878B. We will hold it over until the next meeting.

The next item is No. 1287, from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, regarding the Department determining the employment status. It is substantial documentation. We must hold that over also.

Correspondence No. 1289 is from Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, regarding information for Foras na Gaeilge moving into a new building. We will hold that over until next week.

The next item, No. 1291, is from Mr. Ray Mitchell from the HSE dated 10 May. This is the HSE memo regarding the cervical cancer clinical audit process, which was presented to the committee at last week's meeting. We are merely formally noting it today because it arrived during the course of the meeting.

The next item is correspondence No. 1292 from Mr. Neil McDermott, funding of the Higher Education Authority, dated 10 May, for information requested by the committee on the Higher Education Authority. We will discuss that as part of our work programme because the authority is scheduled to be here next week. We will note it. We can publish that but it will be part of our work programme for next week's meeting.

The next item is correspondence from private individuals and other correspondence. We will hold over No. 1294 from Deputy Alan Kelly for today's meeting. It is a list of information requested. We will discuss that as part of today's meeting.

Correspondence No. 1295 is an email from Deputy Cullinane dated 14 May requesting specific information for today's meeting. We will come back to all those issues when we have the people in public session.

The next item is correspondence from the Data Protection Commissioner dated 1 May regarding a decision regarding a complaint received by a correspondent against the committee. Can we agree to note the correspondence? We need to note that because the secretariat will want to deal with that over the next day or two. By way of information, if members have not had an opportunity, the Data Protection Commission made a determination and there is an option, if the Oireachtas or the Committee of Public Accounts wishes, to appeal that decision. The recommendation is to accept the decision and that there be no appeal. The procedures that they highlighted have been improved in the meantime.

The next item is statement of accounts received from the last meeting. There is one statement of accounts, which is from Sport Ireland. It is a clear audit opinion. Attention is drawn to the statement of internal financial control that discloses weaknesses in the development of a construction contract that Sport Ireland took over, on 1 October 2015 from the National Sports Campus Development Authority following its dissolution. I will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General whether the statement of internal financial control explains the issue.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

It is fully explained. The Comptroller and Auditor General is highlighting the explanation that is in the financial statement. It is all there if anybody has any queries. It is contained in the details of that. We will note and agree receipt of that set of accounts.

On the work programme, I am looking at next week. We have a short meeting on Wednesday next at 5 p.m. on the lack of submission of draft financial statements for the period of account ending in 2017. A fund in the Department of Education and Skills has not been presented for audit. In the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Local Government Fund has not yet been presented for audit. The Abbey Theatre has not presented its accounts for last year for audit. The ESRI has not presented its accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General. We are bringing in the four of them to explain why, by the middle of May, they have not completed last year's accounts. The first step is merely to present them to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Based on the most recent information, there are 37 others which have not presented their accounts.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Thirty-seven in total.

Thirty-seven in total. A letter has gone directly from me to each of the other 33 for a written explanation as to why they have not submitted their accounts and we will get that correspondence back. We want to make a point in the case of these four substantial organisations on corporate governance and the submission of accounts for audit. That is a specific meeting on Wednesday next. Two hours would be the maximum length of that meeting.

On Thursday, we will have the Higher Education Authority, UCC and Cork Institute of Technology appear in relation to the 2016 accounts. We will be dealing with that at 9 a.m. Perhaps, after that we can go on to the business of the committee. We want to start with that particular group early in the morning and the rest of the day's work programme is unchanged from the previous week. In the following week, we will have in the Garda Síochána in connection with an internal audit report on the IT contracts. The 14 June meeting is to be confirmed.

That is it, essentially, for the next week or two. We will note the work programme. We will come back to it at every meeting. We will come back to it again on Thursday next.

As there is no other issue in private session, I am now asking the members about the volume of material we received last night.

Can we see it first and then make a judgment call?

As everyone wants to have a look at the material, it is being copied as we speak. It will take ten minutes to get copies for all the members.

Will we suspend? I do not mind going back to my office at this stage. With respect, that might be quicker.

It might be good if each of us got a few minutes' silence. I propose we suspend for one hour, until 10.30 a.m. That has to be enough.

If we get the document, we would need only ten minutes.

I propose suspending for half an hour.

I would say an hour, until 10.30 a.m.

Yes. We will suspend until then.

When will we get the document?

I am going up to my office to get it now.

In ten or 15 minutes, they are bringing it over.

Will they give them to us here?

Yes. We will have to wait for ten minutes until the document is copied. We will suspend until 10.30 a.m. to give us an opportunity-----

For clarity, will it be printed and given to us here?

Yes. We have only one or two copies here.

I am located miles away. I am up nearly in the Shelbourne Hotel.

It is for members to decide where they want to read the document. We will commence in public session with the witnesses. We will suspend the sitting until 10.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 9.30 a.m. and resumed at 10.40 a.m.