Apologies have been received from Deputies Catherine Connolly and Pat Deering. The first issue on today's agenda is the minutes of the meeting from 21 June. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. There are no items under matters arising that will not come up by way of correspondence or the work programme for now.
Business of Committee
Has the committee received any correspondence from RTÉ?
Is there any correspondence at all from them?
I will raise the issue then.
Yes. We will certainly speak about that RTÉ correspondence. I turn now to correspondence.
Category A is briefing documents and opening statements. First is No. 1415A from Ms Brenda McVeigh of the Tax Appeals Commission and is a briefing note for today's meeting. We note and publish it. No. 1420A is from Niall Cody, Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, and is a briefing note for today's meeting. We note and publish that. No. 1431A is from Mark O'Mahoney, commissioner at the Tax Appeals Commission, and is an opening statement for today's meeting. We note and publish that. No. 1434A is from Niall Cody, Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, and is also opening statement for today's meeting. We note and publish that.
Category B is correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers following up on previous meetings. The first item is held over from the previous meeting. Some Deputies were not present and asked for documentation and correspondence to be held over. The first item is No. 1371B from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, in response to a committee request to clarify the process and criteria for designation as a technological university, in particular stage 3 of that process in 2014 regarding the Munster technological university consortium. We note that correspondence as published.
The next item is No. 1380B from Dr. Graham Love, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, dated 13 June and providing follow-up notes requested by the committee on the cost of the Munster technological university merger to include a table setting out the figures; the borrowings and funding of institutes of technology, any changes that may happen following the transition to technological university status and how this compares with existing universities; and the various skills mixes of the boards and governing bodies of the third level institutions. Can we note and publish that?
I have a related issue on the HEA which is not on correspondence but is one which I have raised before. This is the HEA report on Waterford Institute of Technology. I received correspondence personally from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, and I was in contact with some of the officials of that trade union. A number of current staff members met the author of the report, and while I do not know whether what they said would be considered protected disclosures, they feel vulnerable in the sense that drafts of the report have been given to individuals within the institute of technology. It might be easy for individuals and management to discover who exactly said what to the author of the report. Given that there is a delay in the publication of the report, they feel a bit let down as well as apprehensive and nervous at having been left hanging. It would be appropriate for the committee to write to the HEA outlining that. I asked the TUI to write directly to this committee and, if it has not done so, that is a matter for it. It has written directly to me, however, and I can send on a copy of the letter.
We would be happy to forward that document setting out those concerns.
They are genuine concerns. More than 50 people were involved, some of whom have left the organisation and some of whom still work there. Some of them are going for interviews for promotion. Given that they spoke to Mr. McLoone and provided him with information, they feel vulnerable. It is something we did not raise with Dr. Love when he was here. It was one of the concerns I did not raise with him, at least.
We will also ask for a timeline on the report.
Another issue we were to come back to under that heading involved Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board. In the past week or so, there was a television programme which outlined some of the procurement issues there. Some of those will fall under a criminal investigation. Some of the issues, however, will not. Certainly, I am picking up deep concern about the waste of public funds in a sector that is under pressure. People are being asked to pay voluntary fees while others are having meetings at the K Club. That is how people are, understandably, absorbing what is happening. We need to determine those aspects of it that have been referred to the Garda and will be investigated so that we can come back to this issue because it is not just about Kildare and Wicklow ETB but the oversight by the Department in the context of the historical connection. A previous report was done and the oversight simply was not there. We cannot leave that one, although I accept that some of it is not within our remit because it has been referred to the Garda.
We will write directly seeking an update on that report.
There is another thing in relation to the HEA. I have just looked at the transcript of our meeting with the HEA and I have a concern about the way in which it is managing protected disclosures and how the various institutions under its remit are handling such disclosures. I flag to the committee that this is something we may wish to come back to. I am due to have a conversation with Dr. Love. In fact, I have been trying to have it for the last week but we have not been able to talk. I have a concern that there is an issue here about historical disclosures which should be interpreted as disclosures but which are, perhaps conveniently, not being. I record that I believe I may have to come back to this issue in the coming weeks.
We will have a discussion on protected disclosures during the course of correspondence as there are one or two items there.
I know that.
There is a big picture here on protected disclosures so we will have a chat on that in a few minutes. We will write to Dr. Love on that. We will also write to the Department regarding where we are on the Kildare and Wicklow ETB.
Next is No. 1385B which is held over from the previous meeting, is dated 15 June, and is from the director general of RTÉ in response to an email received from an individual querying information provided to the committee regarding the possibility of an RTÉ 2+1 channel. Ms Forbes clarifies that RTÉ 2+1 as a channel does not exist. We have a separate item of correspondence from Mark Griffin which I will put on the screen. It is No. 1421B. He is the Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. His correspondence on the exact same issue is dated 22 June as departmental officials were here that day. He states:
I refer to the letter from the committee dated 18 June in relation to a letter from Ms Patricia Cronin, Assistant Secretary of the Department, which was discussed at the committee's meeting on 14 June. At the committee's meeting on 3 May, Ms Cronin stated that RTÉ had made an application to initiate an RTÉ 2+1 service which is with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for consideration. This was not correct. The factual position is that RTÉ had forwarded a draft proposal for discussion with the Department but has not submitted a formal proposal to date. Therefore, the BAI has not yet been requested by the Minister to conduct a sectoral impact of any such proposal as provided for in the Broadcasting Act 2009. I apologise to the committee for the fact that Ms Cronin's evidence to the committee was not accurate and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.
We will happily do that. I give that as an example in the context of the next item on the same topic. The evidence presented was not accurate. People should just come in, tell us that and let us correct the record. People should not dance around or try to justify it. This is a straight correction of the record and that is the way we want to proceed.
People make mistakes. Just admit it.
We accept that. We want to move on now to the correspondence from RTÉ on the same topic. This is No. 1413C. RTÉ spoke at the same meeting on the same issue, even though the Department made that particular statement. I had asked about this RTÉ 2+1 channel. It started off as a harmless issue, but the fact that I am not getting a straight answer says something about the people responding. Mr. Hurley was watching proceedings and took it up. I do not know who he is. He said regarding what was being said at the committee on RTÉ 2+1 that the channel did not exist and we were not being given the exact position.
Thanks, Mr. Hurley.
Thank you, Mr. Hurley, whoever you are. I want to go to the third page of this correspondence. Mr. Hurley has been corresponding directly with RTÉ and that is what I want to deal with.
He sent a copy of the correspondence to RTÉ, which wrote directly back to Mr. Hurley and copied the committee. I want to put on record that RTÉ are dancing around this. If it would just come up like the Department and set the record straight, we could move on. However, for some reason, it is not inclined to do that. RTÉ stated it had asked for the RTÉ 2+1 to be on the Sky platform. I will now read the letter from Ms Forbes to Mr. Hurley, which the committee did not get but which Mr. Hurley sent to us.
Thank you for your email of 5 June 2018.
By way of clarification, Mr. Jennings response at the Public Accounts Committee ... [on] 3 May 2018, relate to RTÉ's submission to the BAI's five-year public funding review, which on the date in question was still under ... consideration ... This submission confirmed RTÉ's intention to formally request permission for the creation of an RTÉ2+1 channel.
By definition, she is saying that it does not exist, as she says that they had not yet made a formal application. She is now saying, which is not fair to the committee, that when we asked a straight question about RTÉ, the response given related to an RTÉ 2 submission to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI's, five-year public funding review. There was no such reference at the meeting. She cannot now state that the reference to RTÉ related to some document that it had sent to the BAI as part of a five-year review. She is actually giving Mr. Hurley the run-around. There was no reference to that and I cannot accept the validity of the assertion that what was said here related to the submission to the BAI five-year public funding review by RTÉ. I am not buying that. I think we have agreed to write back to RTÉ and ask if it could please look at what the Department did, correct the record and let us move on, and not drag things into it that we know were not part of the discussion at the meeting. I hope that will be conveyed to RTÉ. They are only putting trips on us and on themselves and they are doing themselves no good by dancing around in circles.
I have a separate issue with RTÉ.
It is appropriate to raise that now. Item No. 1428, from Deputy Cullinane dated 26 June 2018 requests that the committee write to RTÉ to request a copy of the Eversheds Sutherland report, which we note and publish. Will the Deputy speak on that?
This was a very good report. I have not seen the report itself but I have seen the media coverage and RTÉ responded to it. It states there are issues with bogus self-employment and confirms that about one quarter of RTÉ staff are on these contracts. Worryingly for RTÉ, although it is good news for the staff, it states there may be issues in respect of back pay and a cost to RTÉ in implementing the report's recommendations, which it should do. This is something that we might return to because indirectly that would be a cost to the taxpayer. The committee should certainly write and get a copy of the report as it came directly from a hearing of the Committee of Public Accounts. It is good that there has been a response. There is an independent report and it confirms there are issues. There are also wider issues for other media outlets. If we could, we should write to the sectoral committee, which I think is the employment affairs and social protection committee, to ask it to examine the wider issues associated with bogus self-employment in semi-State bodies, as it might not be something peculiar to RTÉ.
That is a very good suggestion.
My recollection of that meeting with RTÉ was that there were many questions that we would have like to have answered on that very specific topic. However the report that was being prepared was referred to constantly and, as a consequence, it is unfinished business. We have no choice but to return to it to close off that topic and get a full understanding as to whether people genuinely have the option to change from self-employment to direct employment. It gives us an understanding for other sectors, as the Deputy noted.
We will contact RTÉ and ask for a copy of that report immediately because we are doing our periodic report. Next Tuesday, we will have a short private meeting to consider a draft report, which will have a chapter on RTÉ and it would be good to have it before then. I suspect we will want to include reference to this in our periodic report, which we hope to clear next week before publication.
I do not think that we can rule out returning to it. Once we have a copy of the report, we may or may not return to it, depending on its contents. Let us get a copy of it first.
Let us get a copy of it. Writing to the sectoral committee is a possibility but I ask the Deputy to hold off on that until next week. We might include a recommendation that the sectoral committee examine that in our report. We will deal with the issue next week and we will be able to move on immediately after that.
I now return to correspondence. Item No. 1384 is from Dr. Graham Love, which was held over from the last meeting. It provides information on what constitutes a part-time and a full-time student and whether the HEA is satisfied that UCC adheres to the requirements in respect of declaration of numbers of part-time and full-time students. We note and publish that. Deputies are free to pick up this issue as they wish.
The next item is No. 1385 held over from the last meeting from Dee Forbes, RTÉ, which we have dealt with. I am asking Ms Forbes to help the committee dispose of the topic.
The next item is No. 1387 from Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, providing information requested by the committee regarding protected disclosure to Cork Institute of Technology. I want to link the next item of correspondence to this, namely, No. 1397 from Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, dated 18 June, providing information -----
Regarding the letter that the Chairman just had on screen, who was it from? When did it come in?
It is correspondence No. 1387 B, from Seán Ó Foghlú dated 12 June. It provides information to the committee regarding the protected disclosure to Cork Institute of Technology. The committee had raised concerns about how the terms of reference were set. I have not studied that particular letter myself.
I do not recall coming across that.
I have never seen that letter. Considering what I said in my previous statement here, I have never seen this.
I cannot find it either.
Can we have that printed and come back to it?
That is a good idea.
We will print that. There is so much there, we may have missed it.
The next item is No. 1397. I want to deal with this broad issue. It is from Robert Watt about protected disclosures. This committee has people coming to us with protected disclosures. The committee probably needs to take a bit of time to consider how we deal with these. We have had them from justice, education, and third level institutions. They are coming from a variety of sources. Rather than deal with each one on an ad hoc basis, telling one person to go here and another to go there, we, as a committee need to get a briefing on how we will handle all these in a consistent manner. The final paragraph of his circular to us, Robert Watts states:
the Protected Disclosure Act is subject to statutory review, which is almost complete and will be published shortly. This will review the operation of the Act since its commencement in July 2014 and has included a public consultation process in which 25 submissions were received ... A report will be made by the Minister to each House of the Oireachtas by early July on the findings of the review and conclusions drawn from those findings.
According to the Secretary General, there will be a report on how the Act is operating in the next week or so. We know there are serious deficiencies and inconsistencies all over the place in public bodies. We have a group of protected disclosures before us and we might set aside an hour to deal with them together rather than dealing with each one. That is only a suggestion but I want to be sure that we are dealing with them properly.
I do not want to be accused of dealing with one in one way and another in a different way. I am not trying to rule anything out; I just want to be comprehensive in what I am doing.
There are two issues. There are protected disclosures that the committee receives and, because of the nature of the committee, protected disclosures that we receive as individual members. It would be worthwhile and useful having a session at which we would be briefed on the process and how we could protect ourselves.
Other Members of the Oireachtas could come too. I call Deputy Marc MacSharry who will be followed by Deputy Catherine Murphy.
A briefing to apply a level of consistency in approach is fine, but there are problems with all of them. We are not going to have a set formula that will work for all because the inconsistencies are so diverse. It would be great to have a briefing, but we cannot be trenchant in defining in advance an approach to each one.
It would be to give us some background information to help us, not on how to deal with each one. We could do with being briefed on the legislation and the statutory review.
There is a statutory review. Do we know the timeframe involved? No two cases will be the same, but there will be a trend. We will see things that are not working or which may need some amendments.
It will be early July. The last sentence in the last paragraph of the letter from Mr. Robert Watt states it "will be made by the Minister to each House of the Oireachtas by early July 2018".
How does a statutory review take place and we only find out about it by accident?
I am reading the legislation-----
That is my question.
The legislation provided for a statutory review. We know what happened. It was printed somewhere-----
And we were forgotten about.
There was an advertisement in a newspaper-----
It is a box ticking exercise.
Yes. Some 25 submissions were received. The issues centre on what happens to people in their employment after they make submissions. The process can go on for a long time.
Did we receive any correspondence directly from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform seeking our input, given that we are recipients of protected disclosures?
We did not. We also need to ask Mr. Watt how the process was carried out-----
When did it start?
-----who was notified and what the procedure was. I am guessing that line Departments were probably aware of it. I was not aware that the report was coming within a week or two until I read the letter.
I am concerned. This a box ticking exercise. As Deputy David Cullinane said, there is a difference between the protected disclosures legislation, the process by which Departments are dealing with them and the process by which we, as individuals, receive them. I will have no issue with sitting down with them once this is done, but I have two concerns. Learning how well it is working and about its failings is one thing, but time is a big issue. Many protected disclosures are current and if we do not act on or deal with them, I am afraid that they will be lost. Some genuine issues will not be addressed promptly. I have no problem with sitting down to engage in a review and a discussion, but I find it unusual that the committee was not contacted. I am concerned about holding it up to look at these issues in the meantime. The letter refers to early July, but it could be the end of July or September because we will not be back until then, if we do come back.
I ask the secretariat to have a note for us on this issue at the next meeting, or as soon as possible, because we will not be here for too many more weeks.
It might not be comprehensive, but we need the three or four in front of us. In the meantime, we can find out about it because it is a public process. We will come back next week for definite to the issue of protected disclosures and discuss how we will handle it from there. I understand we do not want to leave things in abeyance for a long period.
The next item is No. 1400B, also from Mr. Robert Watt, responding to a request from the committee on the specific questions raised by it in respect of the national lottery and unclaimed prizes. Deputy Jonathan O’Brien was keen to raise this topic. Will we hold it over or note the correspondence? We will publish it. The Deputy can come back to it the next day, if he so wants.
Does the Comptroller and Auditor General audit the company?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
No, we audit the regulator but not the franchise holder.
Is the Comptroller and Auditor General told anything about unclaimed prizes?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
I certainly do not have any information on it, but I can look at information the regulator has, particularly where it relates to any collection or transfer of moneys from the franchise company to the fund.
I know that this correspondence is going to be published and noted, but when Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is back, or if he is here later, we might get his view on hte matter. The position on unclaimed prizes does not feel right.
I have looked at the letter again and propose that we write to the regulator which comes within the remit of the committee, while the operator does not. The letter from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform reads:
Expired unclaimed prizes are transferred on a regular basis from the Prizes Bank Account to Premier Lotteries Ireland DAC General Bank Account where they are used for the purposes set out in Clause 6.9.2 of the Licence [agreement]. When expired unclaimed prizes are transferred from the Prizes Bank Account to Premier Lotteries Ireland DAC General Bank Account, there is a corresponding journal to release the transfer amount from the Prize Liability balance. The amount of that journal is then accounted for in accordance with the use to which it is put under Clause 6.9.2 of the [agreement]... as a special, additional or top-up prize, as an offset against the costs of incremental marketing or in accordance with [the] basis approved by the Regulator.
We will write to the regulator to ask what mechanisms are in place to implement clause 6.9.2 of the licence agreement and what is covered in the letter. That is our line. It is incumbent on the regulator to be on top of this issue as part of the agreement. As the regulator comes within our remit, we will send a letter straightaway to ask for the full procedures as to how he ensures full compliance with the licence agreement as mentioned in the letter. It is like pulling teeth, but we are not finished yet. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien can come back to the issue. I expect to receive a response from the regulator.
The next item is No. 1404B from Ms Oonagh McPhillips, acting Secretary General in the Department of Justice and Equality, in response to a request for information on the restructuring of the Department. The information will feed into our third periodic report. We will note and publish the correspondence.
The following three items are from the Health Service Executive-----
I have a concern about the manner in which this is happening following the report of the independent review group on the Department of Justice and Equality, the Toland report, and the length of time it is taking. We have thrashed out the issues involved in detail. I ask the committee to express a concern about the length of time it is taking to come to conclusions on the implementation of the report. It is deeply concerning based on-----
Is the the report of the independent review group on the Department of Justice and Equality the Toland report?
Yes, based on what is written in the letter. I ask the committee to express concern considering the evidence given here. I also want to flag, as part of the review of the Department of Justice and Reform and its handling of the matters in question, that we will have to focus in on the Irish Prison Service.
Specifically, I would like to see what progress is being made by the Department of Justice and Equality on restructuring, review and implementation. There are two issues. The first is the overall implementation, the timelines and the speed at which this happening, based on the evidence that was given here today. Dare I say it, I went into the justice committee as well. The second issue is how much progress is being made on implementation of review and change, specifically in the area of the prison service.
We will do that directly. We will also consider all the responses as part of periodic report, but that is in the autumn. There are three items from the Health Service Executive. Correspondence No. 1406 from Mr. Ray Mitchell is a copy of the contract for the CervicalCheck provider. One relates to the master contract for MedLab Pathology Limited, while the other relates to a copy of the main contract with Quest Diagnostics Incorporated and it includes a copy of the contract, the signature on the contract and the extensions which were issued in each case. In the case of Quest Diagnostics, an extension was issued on 15 June 2017 and on 19 December 2017. In the case of MedLab Pathology Limited, there was an extension granted on 15 June 2017, on 18 December 2017 and on 9 January 2018, confirming extension of the contract. Some of those had already been put in the public domain. It is by way of reference. We asked for a copy of the contracts. People are free to deal with those issues. Correspondence Nos. 1412 and 1417 both deal with the topic, which I just referred to. We will note and publish them.
Correspondence No. 1407 is from Mr. John McCarthy, the Secretary General at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, providing a response about CCTV and the role of local authorities. It appears local authorities discharge this role within the policy, legislative framework and statutory instrument as set down by the Department of Justice and Equality.
I would say you would have sympathy with me on this view. I am as confused now as I was beforehand. For a bit of background, a number of years ago, when I was Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, a community group in your county came to me about putting in CCTV. Everyone believes in CCTV on motorways.
They are very good people. They set a precedent and did it very well. In fairness, the superintendent there played a blinder in everything. We have an issue now where funding has been given - it came under community grants when I was there - to put up CCTV around the country in a number of locations. As a result of success and pressure, in fairness, this Government has given a substantial amount of funding for this to be replicated by groups all over the country. Very little of it has been drawn down, I understand.
Communities are looking to local authorities and An Garda Síochána. As no one can take responsibility, particularly about where the data will be stored, these CCTV groups cannot conclude and put in place the CCTV. We have a situation where many areas, in particular, motorways, are not being surveyed or reviewed by CCTV cameras, even though the infrastructure is available, can be put in place and is supported by the communities and the gardaí. The local authority and An Garda Síochána cannot agree where the information will be stored, who is going to monitor it, general data protection regulation and so on. The public and the communities have no idea why this is the case. In fairness, this letter does not clarify anything. This is taxpayers' money. The fact is that crimes are being committed. CCTV will be able to help in solving some of these crimes, particularly on motorways. You and I are both in constituencies with motorways running straight through them. People are at a loss because of the difference between the two organisations. If we cannot force an answer, some protocol or some pathway by which this can be solved, this will go on forever.
I am on a joint policing committee, probably like everyone else here. In Kildare, a protocol has been agreed and our money has been drawn down. The expectation from CCTV very often does not meet the reality. We have plenty of motorways in Kildare. I would say we have more than in any other county. There is an agreed a protocol. Maybe a suggestion is that the City and County Management Association, CCMA, would tell us which ones have and, if there is a model, it may well be that it does not have to be duplicated all over the place. There is no point in having this scheme unless it is usable. If this is an impediment, that is a way to get through the impediment. Maybe we could write to the CCMA to see where the best practice is and where it is working, and we might be able to see if that can be replicated.
I refer to a Department of Justice and Equality-led scheme and to chambers of commerce. There are two parts to this. One is that it is not working. There are only four drawdowns on this. I asked a parliamentary question about this. It is not working from a practicality point of view because many of the community groups cannot find the 40% balance that is required for the implementation of this. Previously, when this worked well, the chambers of commerce worked with local authorities in delivering the fundraising, with the Department of Justice and Equality, to accomplish the CCTV schemes across the country. Deputy Murphy talked about best practice. In my county, we retain the data and the gardaí have a live feed, but if they require any of the data, they have to go to the chief executive and put in a request for the film.
Let me clarify our suggestion. The local authority in my county has contacted me. Funding was provided but they cannot agree on issues like those I outlined because of data and all that. If we are going to the CCMA, and it is a good suggestion, we should also write to An Garda Síochána.
The Department of Justice and Equality.
Both. Ultimately, this is a situation where in some cases they can do it while in other cases they cannot. There is no consistency. Surely, they can create a protocol that works for the whole country. If we are writing to the CCMA, we should also write to the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána.
I am looking at the letter closely. We wrote to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government because local authorities are involved. The last of this paragraph essentially says to talk to the Department of Justice and Equality, which is the appropriate Department to deal with our queries on this matter about local authorities. That is the last paragraph of that letter. One can see in a previous paragraph that this matter was decided under the SI 289 of 2006 - Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006. We will write to the Department of Justice and Equality asking it to give us a report on where agreement has been reached on a local authority-by-local authority basis. We will also write to the CCMA, as you asked, and to the headquarters of An Garda Síochána, which implements it, but the Department of Justice and Equality wrote the statutory instrument. We are writing to all three. We have to close this circle. We are asking them on a local authority-by-local authority basis for a report.
Let them talk to one another before they reply, otherwise what will happen is we will get three-----
We will get three different letters. That is what will happen.
I know, but perhaps we should tell all three that we have written to the other two. We will send each of them a copy of the letter. I know the Deputy is being facetious, and quite rightly, because the public service is not good at that. It has a silo mentality.
We know that. We want a comprehensive reply signed up to by those three organisations, namely, the CCMA, the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána.End of Take
We will seek a local authority by local authority report on the operation of the CCTV scheme referenced in this letter and on who acts as the data controller, not whose responsibility it is. If local authorities have a good model, we would like a copy of the template and everyone else could use it.
If we are writing to the Department of Justice and Equality, perhaps we could ask about how successful its previous scheme was.
Yes. That was an urban scheme.
Yes, but we accessed it-----
There is a difference between the two.
The Garda acted as the data controller in that scheme.
Did it not?
No. We operate the scheme in Navan, not the Garda. The Garda has a live feed from it, but the Garda is not the data controller.
Okay. Next is No. 1407B. We have referenced this letter. We will note and publish it, then make a detailed response to follow up on it.
Is this not No. 1408B?
My mistake. We dealt with No. 1407B on CCTV. Next is No. 1408B from Mr. John McCarthy, providing a response on the number of statutory inspections of rented accommodation supported by the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. The Secretary General states that the Department is working to identify a streamlined process. I will not read the note any further. The Department is in breach of its statutory duties. A housing authority must either have inspected and been satisfied that the property meets the rental accommodation standards within 12 months prior to the HAP application or have arranged to inspect the property within eight months of HAP commencing. The Department and the local authorities under it are in breach of their statutory duties in this regard. I am not interested in what plans, processes and arrangements are to be put in place. According to the letter, the Department is targeting a 25% inspection rate, but I see nothing in the letter explaining why it can ignore the other 75%. We discussed this matter as part of our periodic report, which we will revisit next week. The function of these bodies is to implement the law, not to cherry-pick and inspect on a sample basis. I am rejecting what is in front of us as unsatisfactory. These bodies should comply with the law.
It ties in with correspondence No. 1370B which outlined what the Department asserted had been done. As we discussed during our periodic review, this sector must be on our work schedule in its own right. I believe that is what we will recommend. According to this letter, property standards were cited as the reason for 210 exits. All of those must be in my constituency, given that I encounter this problem constantly. People make a complaint about mould on the wall in an expensive property that is being rented under the HAP scheme. Invariably, they then get a notice to quit. We are all encountering such cases. Large sums of public money are involved. That the tenant has to complain about these conditions puts him or her at risk of being excluded from the property.
The Department also says that HAP can be provided in respect of a property that is the subject of a subsisting improvement notice. An authority can know that a property is not up to scratch and give the landlord a notice to improve it, but even before that work is done, tenants can still be moved in under HAP. A property is not accepted for HAP, however, if there is a prohibition notice or the property is subject to legal proceedings. The threshold for standards is low, even in the legislation. We will revert to this matter as part of our report. We could usefully discuss costs in the rental sector in the autumn.
We must decide to do that.
I have made that proposal and agree with it. It will be in our autumn work programme, but we will also refer to it in our periodic report which we will issue in the meantime. We will note and publish No. 1408B.
Next is No. 1419B from Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General of the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht, about whether Foras na Gaeilge considered in its business case the purchase rather than rental of a building. The attached business case states that Foras na Gaeilge believed that this purchase would not have been supported by the sponsoring Department. We will note and publish this correspondence. If members wish to pursue the matter, they are free to do so.
Next is No. 1422B from Mr. Fergal Costello of the Department of Rural and Community Development, dated 22 June, providing information on a review of the Dormant Accounts Fund's disbursement and other matters. This will feed into our periodic report. We will note and publish it.
Next is No. 1423B from Ms Maria Browne, Chief State Solicitor, dated 22 June, providing information requested by the committee. The Comptroller and Auditor General's 2011 report made a recommendation regarding planning compliance. It related to the waste of €4 million of taxpayers' money on the Probation Service's office, which we are dealing with as part of our periodic review. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor did not accept the report, stating that it was bound to follow the Law Society's guidance on planning compliance. However, it has not communicated the difficulties that this presents with the Law Society and that contributed to the loss of €4 million in respect of the building on Wolfe Tone Street. There is a thread of emails relating to the 2011 report dating back over a period. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor says that, although it followed the Law Society's standard guidance, this is now an issue. We asked the office to take the matter up with the society, but there has been no communication between the two. The office has ignored the previous recommendation. Our views on how the Office of the Chief State Solicitor contributed to the loss of €4 million to the Irish taxpayer will be included in our report. We will be firm on this point in our report when drawing our conclusions in the coming week or so.
Next is category C, correspondence from private individuals. No. 1342C was held over from a previous meeting, as were Nos. 1355C (i) to (vi), inclusive, and 1362C from an individual, dated 24 May and regarding wards of court. This is a major issue. Can we hold it over again?
It requires a morning.
I have checked up on this. The Committee on Justice and Equality examined the matter this year and recently put together a detailed and comprehensive report. It has put weeks of extensive work into this. So much is going on that we do not know about that I only saw the report last night. The justice committee has taken the lead. Perhaps members might consider the recommendations in that report. We will not duplicate what the other committee has done. Anything we could cover in a day has been covered.
A number of us met the person involved. Deputy Ó Caoláin-----
The Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Equality.
We will hold this over for a week. The report will be circulated. I got a copy last night. Members might not want to read it in full, but anything we would consider has been covered in recent months. We will see what the justice committee does. It seems to have taken the lead on this.
Are there recommendations in the report?
Yes. We will support the justice committee in its work and will not duplicate exactly what it has done. We will hold this correspondence over. Regarding the third item of correspondence from this individual, I propose that the secretariat start working on providing the information requested, but with the exception of legal advice from the Attorney General, which is mentioned. We will revert to this matter next week, having had a look at the justice committee's report.
Next is No. 1347C from Mr. Seán O'Reardon, Office of the Garda Commissioner, providing a response requested by the committee regarding a report on the operation of GoSafe cameras. This is quite a comprehensive response that members may wish to consider. I propose that we forward a copy to the individual who wrote the report and publish the correspondence. I propose that we note and publish this correspondence. If any member wishes to raise the matter, he or she is free to do so.
Next is No. 1350C, which was also held over, relating to a submission to the committee regarding another protected disclosure. We will have a discussion on protected disclosures next week and hold this correspondence over to be part of that discussion.
Next is No. 1386C, an anonymous letter requesting the committee to make inquiries with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection from an individual who has made a protected disclosure about alleged wrongdoing in St. Munchin's community centre in Kileely, County Limerick. We will also hold this over until our discussion on protected disclosures.
I am aware of this issue. Given the discussion we had earlier, I have no issue with holding it over. I believe that this needs to be actioned or put into a pathway where it will be dealt with one way or the other. If the Chairman wants to hold it over for a week, I will wait.
For one week.
I believe it needs to be put in a pathway.
We will consider anything that comes to us with the words "protected disclosure", whether it is for us or not, or if it is a copy of something.
To clarify, while I know what we are doing next week, when we receive documentation like this, we have to send it. We have to look for answers. We have to have a process because otherwise it will stay in limbo. We cannot do that. This will have to go to relevant Departments one way or the other. I know we are holding it over to next week but let us not think that because we are holding it over, it will not be-----
That we will not deal with it. Okay.
Did we skip mine or did the Chairman defer it for a further week?
There was a letter related to the Prison Service.
We mentioned it a minute ago.
What did the Chairman say?
I said that because it is a protected disclosure issue, we will hold it over for one week.
I did not hear the Chairman say it.
I did not either but the secretariat kindly informed me.
I must be talking too fast. I will go to the note. It is No. 1350C from an individual about the management of protected disclosures in the Prisons Service. I probably just said it too quickly.
The Chairman did and we did not hear it.
I will slow down.
Deputy MacSharry might contribute first and then I will speak.
Some of us have been in contact with this person.
I would be concerned and upset about the treatment of the individual. I do not know whether something has happened in the past 24 hours but I was informed in recent days that his salary has been stopped again and that does not seem consistent with the judgment under the review by Judge William Early or letters from the Prison Service to him to apologise. We should seek answers to the issues raised in the letter. We should seek an agreement on mediation if possible. It was only accepted by the Prison Service in 2017 that his September 2016 disclosure was the first disclosure. Following a freedom of information query, I saw an email that highlighted knowledge of it in February 2016.
For the record, I received that letter and submitted a parliamentary question in the hope of getting a written answer in the next day or so about this salary being stopped in that case.
I know we are dealing with all of this stuff. This is not just a protected disclosure. There is a process here, which does not make sense, as to how the Irish Prison Service is dealing with this. It links in to what I spoke about earlier about the Toland review and the issue of how the Department of Justice and Equality updates its implementation of justice in the Prison Service. The disclosure is one thing. I have met this individual and have had much correspondence with him. The issues that he raises are one thing and need to be dealt with. I believe that there has to be mediation to deal with this. The Prison Service keeps stopping his salary even though he gets permission from his superiors to take leave. This happened multiple times.
He is written to or emailed - it is usually a registered letter - to tell him that he did not turn up for work and his salary has been deducted. I do not think this is happening to every other prison officer who gets leave from local line management, who are not the problem here. He obviously has issues and has raised them in a protected disclosure, the timelines of which, as Deputy MacSharry has pointed out, have been contradicted with regard to how they have been dealt with. His situation has to be mediated so that he can continue to work or whatever else the mediation process will involve. The issues in his protected disclosure have to be dealt with comprehensively. There are issues relating to the process by which the Prison Service deals with protected disclosures. I do not think anyone, based on the information and conversations I have had with him and others, would feel comfortable in the Prison Service in making a protected disclosure in any way, shape or form. I know they would not. That is not right. It is completely wrong. There is a situation in Irish prisons where prison guards who do their job of finding drugs, mobile phones etc. feel that they get penalised because it looks bad for a prison for things to be found, the governor does not like that the statistics for these findings are getting higher, and then comes down on the prison officer. That is insane. I am telling the public that that is the reality in some cases.
There are three issues. There is the way the individual is dealt with and the need for mediation, which should be done quickly. I hope the Department of Justice and Equality is watching this. The issues in the protected disclosure are severe and serious, need to be dealt with, and correlate with other people who have had issues in the Prison Service. The third issue is the process by which the Irish Prison Service, supervised by the Department of Justice and Equality, has dealt with this, and the contradictions as outlined by Deputy MacSharry and me. That last bit is quite serious. The people watching this need to know that, as a committee, we will deal with these issues. Before we finish this term, if we do not see progress on these items, I will ask this committee for support to have the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice and Equality sitting here in the first meeting we have after the recess.
Not to labour the point, but the whole point of protected disclosures is not necessarily just to look at individual disclosures but also systemic failures. People are brave enough to put themselves at risk and come forward with protected disclosures, and protected disclosures are intended to reduce that risk. We are seeing something that does not fall into that category. This is not the first time an individual has come forward about the Prison Service. I agree with what has been said. I have no difficulty with it being timetabled. I do not think it is about this one individual. A problem in dealing with that individual and individual complaint is that when some things come forward, the wider issue of it not repeating itself is the message that the Prison Service has to hear.
We will have a session specifically about this next week. We will have to set a time.
I thank the Chairman.
We have all been coming to the conclusion that a lot is going on here that nobody has cracked yet.
I could not agree more.
The next item of correspondence is No. 1396C from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, providing clarification requested by the committee regarding an apparent inconsistency between an answer given at our committee and at the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection on 8 May. The last paragraph of his letter says the first question in our correspondence related to non-delivery of a contract service. It is about JobPath. It says the second question at the joint committee related to the operation of the payment model. They are two slightly different aspects of the same issue and he makes clear that he was answering different aspects. There is no contradiction and he is making that clear. We note that and will forward it to the person who sent it to us.
Nos. 1401C and 1402C are dated 11 May 2018 and request that the committee investigate matters relating to the censorship of a play authored by the correspondent and make inquiries about a programme broadcast on UTV. These matters do not fall within the remit of the committee and I propose that we write to the correspondent accordingly and do not circulate other items on the matter.
No. 1413C dated 21 June 2018 was received from an individual regarding the items we dealt with earlier in regard to the RTÉ 2+1 channel.
No. 1414C is from an individual requesting the committee to make inquiries regarding a landfill site at Whitestown, County Wicklow. I propose that, with the individual’s permission, we forward the item to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for an initial response and we can decide then how to proceed. The individual states that major remedial work was carried out. High Court proceedings were heard by Mr. Justice Humphreys. According to the correspondent, the judge excoriated various public bodies, Wicklow County Council and the Department as the job done is so bad that public moneys were wasted and a further remedial project must recommence. Much money has been expended on this matter. The topic was discussed by the committee recently and we will ask for a very detailed and comprehensive response on the matter and follow up on it when that is received.
No. 1416C, dated 22 June 2018, relates to the dossier submitted to the committee by John Miskelly. Deputy Catherine Murphy submitted No. 1412 in respect of the same item.
No. 1426C, dated 26 June 2018, was received from Ms Susan Gilvarry, solicitor to the Cooke commission of investigation, regarding documentation received by the commission and the committee. I ask that the letter be put up on the screen because I wish to read it into the record to set the context. I will then call Deputy Cullinane. The letter is addressed to Mr. Kieran Lenihan, clerk to the Committee of Public Accounts, from Ms Susan Gilvarry, solicitor to the commission, and is dated 25 June 2018. It states:
Re: Commission of Investigation (National Asset Management Agency) Project Eagle
I refer to our conversation of last Wednesday, 20th June 2018, in relation to the statement and dossier of Mr John Miskelly. I can confirm that following a preliminary review of the statement and documents provided, the Sole Member has formed the view that some of the information provided by Mr Miskelly may be relevant to the Commission's Terms of Reference.
Accordingly, I am to inform you that the Commission has written to Mr Miskelly, to ask him to provide sworn testimony under s. 16 of the Act, in relation to the matters contained within his statement and accompanying dossier. The Sole Member has asked me to draw your attention to s. 11(3) of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 and the constraints imposed on witnesses before the Commission in disclosing evidence to third parties.
Mr. Justice Cooke stated that he has asked for sworn testimony and is dealing with the matter. He highlights that witnesses before the commission are restricted from disclosing evidence to third parties, including the committee. All members are aware that the Oireachtas set up this commission of investigation. We asked for it and the Oireachtas established it. The commission is up and running. Mr. Miskelly is a witness before the commission and I think the letter deals with the issue. I call Deputy Cullinane.
I have no difficulty with the substance of the letter. To whom is it addressed?
It is addressed to Mr. Kieran Lenihan, the clerk to the committee. We must decide-----
Is it correspondence to the Committee of Public Accounts?
I propose that as we now have confirmation that the document is before and being dealt with by the commission, the copy received by the secretariat be returned to the person who sent it to us and he be informed that the commission of investigation------
I am not talking about the 600-page dossier but, rather, the letter addressed to Mr. Lenihan.
That was addressed to the Committee of Public Accounts and given to the clerk. I note that because the Chairman yesterday revealed the substance of the letter to RTÉ.
Last night, in advance of the committee having discussed it.
Before the meeting, I raised with Mr. Lenihan that the correspondence should have been dealt with by the committee before the Chairman made it public. It was not addressed to the Chairman but, rather, the clerk to the committee. That does not set a good precedent. If correspondence is sent to the clerk of the committee, it is for the committee to decide how it will deal with it. I wish to put that on the record. I do not wish to be overly critical. All members were given a copy of the dossier and is a matter for each member as to what he or she does with it. We received that from Mr. Miskelly. However, this letter was sent to the committee and the Chair was wrong to put its substance into the public domain before the committee had an opportunity to discuss it.
That is a fair point. Today's edition of the Irish Independent contains an extensive article on the correspondence received by the committee that we are now discussing. There have been many media inquiries on the matter. It featured on the front pages of some Sunday newspapers. It would be a bit unreal to pretend we did not receive the correspondence. I had it in my own right. I was speaking in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the committee. As I am Chairman of the committee, it might have been reported that I was speaking on behalf of the committee but I received the letter in my own right and was giving my own view. I intend to shred the file I received. That is a personal-----
With respect, I do not think the Chairman can separate himself from being Chair of the committee. All members had that letter yesterday and any of us could have given it to a media outlet but we chose not to because the committee agreed, during a private session at which we dealt with the periodic reports, that we would deal with the matter today in private or public session. As a Deputy, the Chairman is entitled to do as he wishes. However, as Chair of the committee, it was wrong to put that information into the public domain before it was discussed by the committee.
The Chair may disagree but I wish to put on record that the letter was sent to the clerk of the committee and the Chairman cannot act independently rather than in his capacity as Chairman when dealing with correspondence sent to the committee. Other members may have a different view.
Fine. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.
I echo the point made by Deputy Cullinane. The committee should not encroach on matters which are the subject of another process. This issue is being seriously scrutinised by the commission of investigation. The letter states, "the Sole Member has formed the view that some of the information provided by Mr Miskelly may be relevant to the Commission's Terms of Reference". Do we know what information that is? It might be one line of the 600-page report. It probably refers to the witness' statement. We need to know what that is in order to decide on how to proceed and whether there is anything in that very extensive correspondence that it is appropriate for the Committee of Public Accounts to investigate.
Deputy Catherine Murphy believes it may be relevant to the commission's terms of reference. She knows as much as I do; I have no further information in that regard. We should not second-guess Mr. Justice Cooke, who states that some of the information is relevant to his terms of reference. We have no idea whether it is a little of the information or all of it. I do not think we can ask him to explain what part of the information is relevant to him and which is not. I do not think we can question the judge on that matter. Each member received a copy of the information and that is a matter for each Deputy. The information was sent to the committee but the commission has indicated it is dealing with it to some extent and has asked for a sworn statement on the matter. I do not want the document to be put into public circulation or taken on board as a committee document. As Chair, I am clear on that. Parliamentary privilege could be claimed in regard to the allegations made. I do not wish for the Committee of Public Accounts to be used as a vehicle for people to make very serious allegations that may or may not have a basis in fact and have parliamentary legal privilege in that regard as a result of the committee taking a document on board.
The Committee of Public Accounts would not be wise to allow this document to be retained by the secretariat and I propose to return it to the sender, along with the letter from the judge.
Before we return the letter to the sender, the committee was to get legal advice. I am not sure whether we received it. The committee received correspondence previously that was "kept under lock and key". That was the phrase used.
Would it be helpful to the Deputy to go into private session to discuss this?
Yes. Before we do that, the vast majority of the issues are allegations of a criminal nature that should absolutely be dealt with by the Tax Appeals Commission. I fully accept that the commission is saying it cannot allow itself to be used by somebody who is under investigation - let us be honest about it - and then give privilege to the person who is under investigation. This committee must because of what it does in this regard in order to protect its own integrity. I have no difficulty whatsoever with that. There are, however, small aspects of the matter that encroach on governance issues and compliance with the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009, for example, and it might be prudent for the committee to keep a copy of the document. I want to get clarification on whether the committee keeping a copy confers privilege on the individual. I am not sure that it does. If it does, however, then we should hand the letter back. If it does not, then we should retain it in case we need it at some point.
Given that people are interested in the public hearings relating to Project Eagle, it must be pointed out that because some individuals were under investigation, we chose to not bring them into the committee so as not to give them any parliamentary privilege. We made the choice to not bring them in. In this instance, I would be of the same view; we have chosen not to go there.
I have a matter for the business of the committee. Would the Chairman like to cover it now before we go into private session?
We have yet to cover the committee's work programme, so we can discuss it then.
I propose that we go into private session for a short while.
There is one item of correspondence in respect of Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, which we mentioned previously and Deputy MacSharry wants to speak on it.
I had to laugh when I read the first page; I do not know whether anyone else did. We took issue with the fact that people who could be the subject of a disclosure may have a hand in putting together the terms of reference for the investigation. The Secretary General has written back to state everything was okay because the Higher Education Authority, HEA, has advised that the terms of reference were set by independent legal advisers for CIT's audit committee. We established that somebody who was on that audit committee was the subject of some of the disclosure. The audit committee is retaining solicitors to do a job and gives the solicitors a brief. Its members write the brief for the solicitor. There is no way that this is above reproach. What if I were to employ a solicitor, having told him or her that I do not want to be shown anything but that he or she should go off and do the job as best he or she can? It is a laugh. If a committee brings in solicitors and tells them the committee wants them to prepare the terms of reference, they will ask the committee what the brief is, what are the terms of reference and what does the committee want them to look at? They will get the brief in advance and then they will draw up terms of reference that suit those who are paying the bill, namely, the audit committee, some of whom were the subject of the disclosure. It is a laugh. This is totally unacceptable.
I call Deputy Kelly.
While the Chairman wants to deal with these matters in general next week, this letter is a joke. I am glad we have it. It is making the situation worse for the Department and the HEA. I do not know who is pulling whose chain here. Did the HEA consult with them? On what basis was the letter written? It is full of contradictions based on the evidence we have seen here on multiple occasions. CIT is the organisation that still keeps giving to us here in the Committee of Public Accounts. It opens up more doors for us all of the time.
There are two issues here. As Deputy MacSharry has said, if one checks how the terms of reference were set, it transpires that they set their own terms of reference. This is just a continuation of that argument that it was okay. It has just gone another layer down the ladder. We have established this is totally wrong. The whole process by which they conducted the investigation was wrong and was corrupted - I use that term in a generic way - by them setting their own terms of reference. This is going down a further layer of explanation.
Second - I revert to what I said earlier on - based on the transcript of what was said by the witness who sat right in front of us, it also contradicts how the institute manages protected disclosures. The second half of this letter is deeply concerning to me as regards how a 2012 protected disclosure was handled because there is a contradiction in what is being stated by the institute. In addition, I note we asked the individuals when did they have protected disclosures. Based on the evidence given to us, it was my understanding that there was no acknowledgement that there was a protected disclosure. The documentation provided to us here, however, relates to a debate on whether there was a 2012 protected disclosure and if it came under the Act.
The HEA and the Department have a serious problem. I acknowledge we will discuss how protected disclosures are being dealt with next week but there seems to be something going on here and we need to get to the bottom of it. First, I am deeply concerned that the Department of Education and Skills is willing to buy the line, and continues to do so, that it is okay for one to set the terms of reference to investigate oneself.
Second, it is quite obvious that there are issues with CIT declaring what was or was not a protected disclosure. Now with the HEA and, potentially, the Department, this line seems to have been spun, which I believe will be contradicted in the very near future.
Processes are really important as they determine the outcome. We have spent an awful lot of the past year dealing with this sector. I believe it would be fair to say that we were not impressed with the oversight by either the Department of Education and Skills or the Higher Education Authority. The oversight is part of several of the problems that we discovered. They have not learned the lesson that separation is necessary in this regard. I echo the concerns that have been expressed about the process. If we do not get the process right then there is no point pursuing such a disclosure because it will be undermined right from the word go.
What do members propose that we do?
I propose that we hold the matter over for one week. I have tried to arrange a discussion with Mr. Love for the past week regarding information I need to tell him. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find time to talk. The committee should hold off on making a decision for a week in order to allow time for more clarity. I believe that the Department, the HEA and CIT have serious questions to answer.
With respect to the Secretary General, if this is the disclosure process that exists in all Departments and State agencies then it is quite likely that they are all contaminated. I mean that they are not above reproach. I refer to people who are, as a matter of form, involved in setting the terms of reference to investigate and in some instances to investigate themselves. I find it incredible that their only excuse is "No, sure we did not do it. It was the solicitors we brought in."
It is absolutely abhorrent that the Department of Education and Skills would stand over this matter and then state that in mirrored circumstances, it would be okay to do the same thing.
The point has been well made. We will have a more comprehensive discussion on this matter next week.
Can I comment?
I must deal with one last item of correspondence now that we have resumed in public session. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien wrote a letter to us asking that Tusla be brought before the committee. He did not give a detailed specific reason but I suggest that we add the matter to our work programme. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Can we invite Tusla to attend on the same day as the HSE?
No. The HSE is due here next Thursday and we will meet Tusla in the autumn.
I wish to refer to correspondence that has been received on behalf of Mr. John Miskelly. Before we went into private session I read into the record a copy of the letter received from Ms Susan Gilvarry, solicitor to the commission of investigation into Project Eagle. I confirm that the clerk to the committee received a letter from KRW Law-LLP in Belfast, in respect of its client Mr. John Miskelly. We have considered the letter of correspondence and legal advice in private session. While there are matters of corporate governance involved that are within the remit of this committee, the matters are also under the remit of the commission of investigation. We have decided to take no action in respect of the dossier at this stage and the clerk will return the dossier received to the law firm that sent it to us. We will state for the record that as NAMA has not been before this committee for a considerable period, we will schedule NAMA to come before the committee in September when we will review its most recent set of financial statements. We also will review the section 226 progress report on NAMA that the Comptroller and Auditor General is producing and which we hope to have before then. We can raise whatever issues we choose at that stage. Does the Comptroller and Auditor General wish to add something on the timing of the report?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
Just that I am expecting to sign it this week.
When will the report be available to the committee? Does it have to be sent to the Minister?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
It will go to the Minister and then he has up to three months. We will certainly communicate to the Department-----
Yes, we will.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
-----that the committee is interested in seeking a meeting in the autumn.
In any event, we are returning the dossier to the legal firm that sent it to us. We wish the commission every speed with its investigation. I believe it has indicated that it hopes to conclude by December. In the meantime, NAMA will be before us in September in the normal course of events.
I have noted that Deputy MacSharry wants to raise another matter.
I thank the Chairman. As members will know, I have an interest in the IBRC liquidation going back over the past year. On my recommendation, as a committee, we included in our last periodic report a recommendation to establish a committee of inspection within the liquidation. We discussed that it would include, for example, representatives from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
I had also made the unorthodox suggestion that we would consider making an approach to the person who has a legal case against the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance, for effectively the same reasons, to have increased oversight of the liquidation. There was agreement in principle by the committee to do that and I was to come back with a recommendation of what shape that might take or how we would proceed. In a personal capacity, and not on behalf of the committee, I contacted the plaintiff in that case and asked, in a personal capacity, how he envisaged such a thing would happen. He sent me some documentation that I received in the past couple of days and which I will circulate to committee members. His documentation seems to indicate to me that the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the Department of Finance clearly listened to our deliberations and have taken the unprecedented step to contact the plaintiff with a suggestion of exploring the possibility of withdrawing the case and that they would defer to the Committee of Public Accounts. While the suggestion is very unorthodox, it is something that could save the State a lot of money. It might also enable us to ask questions and provide the level of oversight that are required.
In the past number of weeks we have had the fifth progress report on the liquidation. On reading that report I am concerned that while probably legal in terms of accountancy law and practice, perhaps morally it was not as transparent as I would prefer, particularly from a legal fees perspective. I have been shown documentation, and I see that the matter was covered in the media last weekend, where Arthur Cox, which is one legal firm, received €23,000 in a given year. I have also been shown documentation that in one case alone, the company had billed out nearly £980,000, which is not obvious from reading the presentation.
The underlying issue is the kind of questioning and second guessing that ought to be required and is normal practice in a liquidation has not been done in this instance. Perhaps the Department and KPMG are doing the best possible job anybody could do. Given the hundreds of millions of euro that are now involved and the likelihood that the costs will grow substantially - this liquidation being the biggest in the history of the State and, perhaps, one of the biggest in European history - it requires a greater level of scrutiny.
I will circulate the documentation I have been given, which then will leave it up to members. I will pass it on. I sought the information in a personal capacity and I think it is useful. On the back of the documentation, when it arrives, we should write to the Department of Finance or the Office of the Chief State Solicitor or perhaps both and ask how we can assist. There is a basis for this case to be discontinued, which would save money for everybody. More importantly, we, as a committee, may be able to participate and provide the necessary level of scrutiny in terms of looking after taxpayers' money. At the moment, this matter reeks of autopilot. I found, having read the progress report, that while potentially it is perfectly legal in accountancy terms, it lacks the kind of transparency to which I believe the public is entitled.
I thank the Deputy.
Obviously, Deputy MacSharry is aware of the contents of the documentation he received but we are not.
Ideally, we would have oversight and the committee of inspection should have been set up right from the word go. What would be the basis of the IBRC coming before the Committee of Public Accounts? Is the Office of the Chief State Solicitor in agreement that a committee of inspection is required? Who would make that decision?
I have not seen correspondence between the plaintiff and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. He has copied what are a set of terms of reference under which he feels the case could be staged, which would involve the establishment of a committee of inspection. It suggests who would be included on that, namely, representatives of the Comptroller and Auditor General, a representative of this committee and others normally associated with a committee of inspection. It is not that this committee would become the committee of inspection. We would oversee its establishment and perhaps, given the unique circumstances, a member of the committee might be appointed to it. I imagine that it would certainly have representation from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General because the expertise would be there. If there is no case, we can then invite representatives from KPMG, as the joint special liquidators, to come before us, together with the departmental officials who were here before and who told us that they had a great story to tell but that they could not answer questions because there was a case before the courts. We could bring them in on that basis, but a committee of inspection would operate separately to this committee.
The worst outcome could be a case that might produce a committee of inspection as a remedy or recommendation. I do not know whether the courts have the right to do that because it has to do with the separation of powers. The worst of all worlds would be that we have the IBRC in and not get the committee of inspection, and the case would be withdrawn. A degree of caution is required. I know what Deputy MacSharry is trying to achieve and I agree with him. However, the basis of withdrawing the case is important and it would have to be that a committee of inspection was set up.
The terms of reference have been suggested by the plaintiff to me, which I assume are those he sent back to the Office of the Chief State Solicitor or the Department of Finance. We can rest assured that no case will be withdrawn until the committee of inspection is established.
The Comptroller and Auditor General wants to comment on this.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
I have not been approached and no one has discussed with me participation in a committee of inspection. I would have to be very careful and put down a marker that it may not be appropriate for me to be involved because it could compromise independence and it might leave me, as Comptroller and Auditor General, in a position of not being able to report on a matter. I have to protect that first. Certainly we will look at whatever proposal is made.
It does not surprise me that the Comptroller and Auditor General has not heard about it because it is relatively hot off the press and it is probably in the legal domain at present. Irrespective of the plaintiff's case, I raised the matter in the Dáil yesterday and asked the Taoiseach about it but he could not answer the question. He told me that he would come back to me in writing on the current status. We made a recommendation in January. Is the Department embracing this? Is it setting up a committee of inspection? Clearly, it has done something because it seems to have made contact with the plaintiff in the case to ask whether there is a basis on which he would withdraw. I understand he indicated quite clearly that he would defer to this committee. I do not think the Department was offering a committee of inspection but, equally, I do not think this man will take back his case unless there is such a committee. It is what is needed and I agree with the Deputy Catherine Murphy 100%.
I take the point made by the Comptroller and Auditor General absolutely in terms of his office not being the right body. However, the important thing is to have a committee of inspection and a representative from this committee, as an independent voice, would be good to have on that. As an accountant, the Chairman knows that committees of investigation are pretty prescriptive about who sits on them in normal liquidation situations. I will send this stuff around and I recommend that we make contact with the Department of Finance or the Office of the Chief State Solicitor or both, whichever the secretariat feels is appropriate to ask how can we assist with this.
The next item on the agenda is statements of accounts received since our previous meeting. Only one account has been received in the past week, which is that of IDA Ireland and to which a clear audit opinion attaches. We will note it and move on.
The next item is our work programme.
IDA Ireland was dealing with ConnectIreland.
We might need to get an update on that. I read something in one of the newspapers about it.
We will send a letter to IDA Ireland seeking an update on where the issue relating to ConnectIreland stands.
Today we are dealing with the Tax Appeals Commission and the Revenue Commissioners. The appropriation accounts for the Vote of the Department of Health, the HSE's financial statements for 2017, which were recently issued, and matters relating to consultants' pay, are on the agenda for next Thursday's meeting. The following week, on 12 July, we have the National Treasury Management Agency before us.
I want to make two comments on the work programme. I want to put the HSE on notice that we want it to deal with the following matters next week and I want to get this information to it. One is consultants' pay, which we already have on our schedule. This arose at our meeting earlier in the year. We are all aware of the situation whereby the HSE has private investigators following certain consultants. I asked a parliamentary question on what robust measures were in place to ensure that consultants comply with their contractual obligations. The reply I received from the Minister by written answer on 14 February stated it is the responsibility of management to make sure the contracts are being enforced, and that he had asked the HSE to ensure robust measures are in place in 2018. For next week, we want to know what measures have been put in place by the management of each hospital whose job it is, according to the Minister, to ensure that consultants comply with the contract. We want to know the hospitals where the private detectives were brought in. I do not know why they needed to be brought in if the hospital managers were doing their job. We want details of this. We also want the HSE to explain whether measures are in place anywhere to ensure that consultants comply with the contract. The parliamentary question to which I received a reply on 14 February can be referred to the HSE in order that it will be aware of the topic.
I will come to the CervicalCheck issue in a moment. However, the other issue I want the HSE to deal relates to a particular point. We received a letter from a dental surgeon about the dental treatment service. The scheme is very limited and covers people with medical cards and those classified by the HSE as high risk. That high-risk group includes individuals with intellectual disabilities or sensory deficits. Recently, the dental surgeon to whom I refer sought approval to carry out work on behalf of people considered high risk. They are all patients the dental surgeon has dealt with for years. One was a blind patient, another was a deaf and dumb patient and the third was a patient in HSE residential care. It would be normal for this work to be approved. The HSE wrote back to the dental surgeon seeking written medical evidence of the patients' sensory and intellectual deficits before it would approve the dental treatment, although they had nothing to do with dental treatment. It wanted medical evidence of the disabilities. The dentist claims the disabilities had no relevance. I know the HSE needs procedures in place but the dentists cannot do their work. The HSE has asked for medical evidence for every high-risk patient It is awful for the dentist to have to say to his blind patient, his deaf and dumb patient, and his patient with an intellectual disability in residential care that a medical report on their position is required before he can do the dental work. This seems to be creeping into HSE. I want the HSE to give us a full briefing note to explain why it is going down this road.
It states in all its correspondence that it needs this information for other purposes in order to ensure that no claims that are not valid are being processed under the system. I think it has lost a bit of humanity in its approach.
That brings us to our second issue. I want the HSE to give us a detailed report next week on where the process of recruitment relating to the new director general of the organisation stands. I do not know whether the HSE or the Department of Health is here next as well. Brendan Drumm was the first director general or chief executive officer of the HSE from 2005 to 2010. Then we had Cathal McGee from 2010 to 2012 and Tony O'Brien from 2012 to 2018. John Cunningham is currently in the role in an acting capacity. A lot of people will feel that over the period since 2005, women's health has not been adequately dealt with by the HSE. We have had the recent cervical cancer issue, breast cancer issues and maternity services issues. I might be challenged on this but I urge those who are responsible for recruitment to give strong consideration to the argument that a woman should be the new director general of the HSE. We have had excellent men but I believe a woman could bring something to the role in terms of putting patients first. I ask that it be given a high mark on the scoring of any application. People may say we are straying off track. It is my own view and I am not asking the committee to endorse it. I will make that point to the witnesses next week.
I appreciate the sentiment but it is a very strange comment.
Ultimately, women's issues are very important to the Labour Party, as are the social agenda and the progression of women's rights and their role in our society. However, the best person has to be picked. I am sorry but his or her gender is irrelevant to me. The Chairman and I get on fierce well but the idea that we would tell those responsible to give higher marks to women candidates is not acceptable.
I will withdraw that part but I would like the recruitment process to be broad.
As the only female sitting here at the moment, I echo that. I am all in favour of women being promoted but I think there are many women who would get there on merit. In a recruitment process-----
Essentially, all I am asking is that recruitment process be as broad as possible. We have had four excellent men but the process should not be narrowed to one gender as happened in the past. It is a personal view and I am not speaking on behalf of the Committee of Public Accounts when I say that.
I think we will have to allocate one hour to wrap up the CervicalCheck issue with the HSE as part of our meeting next week.
Can we do it next week?
The HSE is here next week.
Will we allocate an hour next week?
Yes, the first hour and we will be strict about that.
The first hour of the meeting will be on CervicalCheck and I want whoever comes before us to deal with the following specific issues. Deputy MacSharry raised the first one and I do not know the answer. When Quest Diagnostics, MedLab Pathology and the Coombe laboratory compiled their reports, they went back to the HSE for sign-off. We want to know who signed off on them when they came back to the HSE. Was is somebody with a clinical or an administrative background? These laboratories were only contracted by the HSE. Somebody in the HSE had to take responsibility that the contractors did their job properly. We need know the qualifications of the people who signed off on the reports when they came back to the HSE.
Yes, 100%. Follow the money.
Since the cervical cancer issue blew up, the national director of the cervical screening programme, Dr. Gráinne Flannelly, has stepped aside. I have looked at her press release on a few occasions and the phrase used is "step aside". I want to know if Dr. Flannelly is still in the employment of the HSE. If so, she should be here. She cannot say that she is taking her salary and is just doing another job next door. I want to clarify whether she is still in the employ of the HSE. If she is, she should be responsible for her tenure. If she has resigned, that is a different issue.
It was a part-time role.
The programme manager during that period was Charles O'Hanlon. I am told he is just not available at the moment.
Just for clarity, in the context of whether Dr. Flannelly stepped aside or resigned, I am with the Chairman on this but I want to tease it out a bit. A consultant operates in the public and private spheres. The public sphere is headed by the HSE so in that sense, a consultant is contracted to the HSE, so there is a line. As a committee, can we leverage that line in order to ensure that she turns up to answer questions? Dr. Flannelly is central to all of this. The role was part time but it was overseeing the whole thing.
We are in agreement. If she employed, part-time or-----
"Employed" might not be the right word.
Yes. On the second individual, as I understand it, he just moved into a different role so he is still employed.
My understanding is similar.
In that scenario, why he cannot appear is beyond me.
We want that clarified. The public is looking to the Oireachtas, although I know we have Professor Scally's inquiry and we are going to have a commission of investigation. When the cervical cancer issue blew up, the director general of the HSE resigned, Dr. Gráinne Flannelly stepped aside and Charles O'Hanlon, who was the programme manager, has been unavailable. The three senior people are nicely off the pitch and it leaves a vacuum. If it is possible next week, we want that vacuum filled. Tony O'Brien is gone but if the others are still part of the HSE structure, we are requesting that they attend.
The HSE is coming in next week and we will be looking at some of the issues that are going to cost money by virtue of how things are being done present. The Chairman is probably encountering the same issue that I am in the context of home care packages being available but not being available. I do not know if this is a matter for the Committee on Health or the Committee of Public Accounts but it certainly indicates a poor way of spending money if very expensive hospital beds are being occupied because less expensive home care packages are not available. That has become quite a sizeable issue. It may not be universal throughout the country. I am just basing this on my own experience. The money is gone since February. With the agreement of the committee, I would this to be discussed.
Allied to that is the situation whereby they can pay for somebody to stay in a nursing home full-time under the fair deal scheme. Sometimes a good home-care package might be adequate but they say they have not the funds to do that although they will pay for the more expensive option of the nursing home. The lesser option might be to provide a greater service at home.
Not only a greater service but one that would be desired by the patients.
Yes, and their families. The last thing on the work programme is that I want to arrange to send a letter to the Department of Education and Skills. Our work went down very successfully with the HSE and it has thanked us publicly on several occasions for the section 38 and section 39 arrangements in respect of which many of their accounts were years out of date. There was a lack of proper accounting, traceability and governance. We now know from the HSE that all the organisations in those categories have their accounts in a proper manner. They do not fall under our remit but it is good that they have achieved improved accountability in respect of the funding the HSE allocates to them. I want us to do the same in the education sector.
We have improved the situation with the education and training boards. In our report on the third-level sector last year, we referred to time limits for producing accounts for the universities and ITs.
There is another group in respect of which I want to write to the Department of Education and Skills. This relates to a parliamentary question I tabled and a letter I received on 28 February 2018 from the Minister following that parliamentary question which I will put in the committee's documents today. I asked the Department to provide a list of all organisations to which the Department provides funding of more than €1 million per annum where the bodies concerned receive over 50% of their funding from public sources. I did not go down to every small grant. I have a list of 20 or 30 organisations. They may or may not be under our remit. We want the Department to give us a report on when it received the last financial statements in respect of each of them. We are moving to ensure that it does the same with these funded organisations as the HSE has done in respect of section 39 organisations. It will include the ETBs and third level. The organisations include the Educational Research Centre, Grangegorman Development Agency, the National Council for Special Education, the State Examinations Commission and Léargas. Some of them might already be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and some might not.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy
The first two the Chair mentioned certainly are.
I will pass that over to the secretariat. We want to bring the Department of Education and Skills funded bodies into line as we have done with the HSE.
This part of the meeting has taken a long time. As we did not have a full session on correspondence last week, we have had a double session today. We will suspend the sitting until the witnesses are seated.