Vote 2 - Department of the Taoiseach

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

In this session we will be examining the 2017 Appropriation Accounts for the President's Establishment, Vote 1, and the Department of the Taoiseach, Vote 2. We are joined from the Department of the Taoiseach by Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General; Mr. Denis Breen, head of corporate affairs; and Ms Geraldine Butler, finance officer. From the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform we are joined by Ms Victoria Cahill and Mr. Brian O'Malley.

I remind members, witnesses and those in the Visitors Gallery that all mobile phones must be switched off or switched to airplane mode. Leaving them in silent mode is not enough as they may still interfere with the recording and broadcasting systems.

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

Members are reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 186 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such policy or policies.

While we expect witnesses to answer questions put to them clearly and with candour, they can and should expect to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in accordance with the witness protocol.

We will take the Comptroller and Auditor General's opening statement first.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The 2017 Appropriation Account for the President's Establishment, Vote 1, shows gross expenditure of €3.7 million, of which expenditure under the centenarian's bounty scheme accounted for €1.13 million. The balance, totalling €2.6 million, is related to expenses of the President's Establishment.

In addition to the direct charges on the Vote, other costs relating to the operation of the Presidency were charged to other Votes and to the Central Fund of the Exchequer. These amounted to an estimated €5 million in 2017. This includes €2.3 million spent by the OPW on maintaining the grounds and premises at Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s official residence. A breakdown of the net allied expenditure is given in note 1.1 of the appropriation account.

Vote 2 provides for expenditure by the Department of the Taoiseach in support of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet. Gross expenditure in 2017 totalled €28.3 million. All the expenditure related to one programme, with a breakdown given in note 3. Administration costs, including salaries, totalled €15 million and accounted for 53% of the total spend. Almost €9 million was spent on various statutory inquiries. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is the only agency under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. The council received €1.9 million in grants in 2017.

There was a significant underspend on the Vote in 2017, relative to the amount provided by the Oireachtas. As a result, just under €9.2 million was liable for surrender at the year end. Explanations for the variances are given in note 3.

I now invite Mr. Fraser, as Accounting Officer for the Department of An Taoiseach and for the President's Establishment, to make his opening statement.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Good morning. I am attending at the request of the committee to assist in its examination of the 2017 appropriation accounts for the Department of the Taoiseach and the President’s Establishment. As the Chairman stated, I am accompanied by my colleagues, Mr. Denis Breen, head of corporate affairs, and Ms Geraldine Butler, finance officer. The committee will have received, in advance of this meeting, briefing documents detailing the 2017 expenditure and outturn of the Department of the Taoiseach and the President’s Establishment as set out in the 2017 appropriation accounts and other supporting documentation. I propose to briefly outline the role and structure of the Department of the Taoiseach and to give an overview of the Department’s 2017 appropriation account as well as an overview of the President’s Establishment appropriation account for 2017.

The Department of the Taoiseach’s work centres on supporting the work of the Taoiseach and the Government both at home and abroad. The core functions of the Department are delivering the Executive functions of the Taoiseach and the Government, providing the Government secretariat, supporting the Taoiseach in carrying out his duties as head of Government including in relation to the Oireachtas, constitutional issues, protocol, the European Council, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, working with the Office of the President and with the Oireachtas and engaging with the formulation and implementation of Government policy mainly through the system of Cabinet committees, senior officials’ groups, the programme for Government office and the parliamentary liaison unit. The Department is responsible for the office of the Taoiseach, as well as providing some support for the Tánaiste and Independent Ministers in Government. The Department is also the site for the Office of the Government Chief Whip, who also has responsibility for the Central Statistics Office. We provide support for the Ministers of State assigned to the Department who have responsibility for Defence, European Affairs and for data protection. The Department also provides the Government Information Service, provides briefing and advice to the Taoiseach on the full range of domestic policy issues and on international affairs, including through the work of the NESC, to which the Comptroller and Auditor General referred earlier. The Department also supports the Government in the formulation and implementation of Ireland’s EU, Northern Ireland and international policies, including co-ordination across the whole of Government. We also deliver support services through our corporate affairs division which includes human resources, finance, ICT and other services.

In 2017, changes were made to the structure of the Department following the appointment of a new Taoiseach and Government. These included new Ministers of State, responsibility for Brexit co-ordination moving to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the establishment of new Cabinet committees. The Department supported the Taoiseach's intensive engagement and negotiations with EU leaders on a wide range of issues, including Brexit. Through the Cabinet committee structure, the Department engaged with other Departments on a wide range of national policy issues, as directed by the Taoiseach, such as housing and homelessness, climate change, health and justice reform, infrastructure planning and investment, gender equality and disability, economic planning and rural development.

In addition to the existing responsibilities, the Department undertook additional preparatory work during 2017 in the areas of pensions reform, Ireland's bio-economy, the national planning framework, the national development plan, Global Ireland - Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025, and the establishment of the North East Inner City, NEIC, programme implementation board. Press and protocol support services continued to support the large programme of events including the state funeral of the late Taoiseach, Mr. Liam Cosgrave, and visits by Heads of State and senior EU officials. The Department was centrally involved in supporting the Taoiseach and the National Emergency Co-ordination Group in its response to Storm Ophelia in October 2017. Across all areas of the Department’s responsibility, considerable time and effort also went into answering parliamentary questions, preparing material for use in the Oireachtas, processing freedom of information, FOI, requests, answering letters and queries from the public, organising events, preparing speeches, and responding to media queries.

The outturn for the Department of the Taoiseach in 2017 was €27.58 million against an Estimate provision of €36.74 million. This lower than anticipated expenditure resulted in €9.16 million being surrendered back to the Exchequer at the end of December 2017. The significant variations in expenditure relate primarily to programme spending. Under subhead A4 -Tribunal of Inquiry - spending was €3.5 million less than estimated due to the number of legal cost claims settled in 2017 being lower than expected. Obviously, we have no control over third-party legal costs incurred by tribunals and it is impossible to predict the timing of settlement of third party costs or the level of costs falling due at any particular time. Under subhead A5 - Commissions of Investigation - spending was €2.4 million under estimate. The commissions are independent and their expenditure levels depend on the needs and requirements of their investigations.

Subhead A1 - Administration Pay - was also under estimate due to a significant turnover of staff and delays in filling posts at some grades during the year. Just over €15.3 million was expended on pay and administration in 2017, with the balance expended on programme expenditure. As the Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out, quite a lot of our spending is on investigations.

The Department’s 2017 appropriation account was audited by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. In his report, the Comptroller and Auditor General noted that, in his opinion, the account properly presented the receipts and expenditure for the Department for the year ended 31 December 2017 and that it has been prepared in the form prescribed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Comptroller and Auditor General also stated that he had no matters to report with regard to the statement provided by me, as Accounting Officer, on internal financial control.

My role as Accounting Officer for Vote 1 is very different to that of Accounting Officers for other Votes. Generally, the Secretary General is the Accounting Officer for the Votes and also the administrative head of the Department and as such can answer for the actions of the Department. Although I am the Accounting Officer for Vote 1, I have no executive or operational responsibility for the Office of the President. This is entirely appropriate given the constitutional position of the President. As the committee is also aware, Article 13.8.1o of the Constitution states:

The President shall not be answerable to either House of the Oireachtas or to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of these powers and functions.

As Accounting Officer, I obtain assurances that the office operates properly through my direct contact with the Secretary General to the President and from the audit performed by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The outturn for the President’s Establishment for 2017 was €3.6 million against an Estimate provision of €3.9 million. This lower than anticipated expenditure resulted in €294,236 liable to surrender back to the Exchequer. The account for the President’s Establishment was audited by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. In his report the Comptroller and Auditor General noted that, in his opinion, the account properly presented the receipts and expenditure of the President’s Establishment for the year ended 31 December 2017 and the audit evidence obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for that opinion.

That concludes my statement to the committee.

I thank Mr. Fraser. Before I call the first speaker, I acknowledge receipt of Mr. Fraser's opening statement, briefing note and the annual report for the Department of An Taoiseach for 2017. I also want to acknowledge receipt of information in respect of Vote 1, the President's Establishment and the opening statement in that regard. I further acknowledge receipt of the document, The Presidency in Review, 2011 - 2018, which was published towards the end of last year. That contains some financial information of which the public may not have been aware. It is welcome that its publication has been achieved. As a matter of course, the Committee of Public Accounts will be examining all Votes on a routine basis, which is what it should do. Today's meeting includes an examination of the Vote for the office of the President. Last year was the first time that we conducted such an examination but it will be a normal part of our work from now on. We also indicated earlier that we will be reviewing the accounts of the Comptroller and Auditor General's office. I do not know if any Committee of Public Accounts has done that before but we will be doing it. We will also be reviewing the accounts of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I do not know when the commission was last before the Committee of Public Accounts. Every one of the Votes will be examined by this committee at some stage and there will be no exceptions from now on. I just wanted to put that on the public record in case people think we are picking and choosing particular items. Everything is on our agenda.

Deputy Aylward is first and he will have 20 minutes. Everyone else will have ten minutes because we will have a second session this afternoon and there will be a different main speaker at that stage. Speakers will be called in the following sequence: Deputy Aylward, Deputy Cullinane, Deputy Catherine Murphy, Deputy Connolly and Deputy MacSharry.

I welcome Mr. Fraser and all our other guests. I will begin with Vote 1, the President's Establishment. I note €3.7 million and then €2.6 million under various headings and then a sum €5 million. That comes to a total of €11.3 million in costs for the President's Establishment. Am I correct? I see €3.7 million in total gross expenditure and then on the next page, a sum of €2.6 million for allied service expenditure and then €5 million is mentioned for maintenance and other works. We are talking about a total of €11.3 million. Am I reading that correctly?

Is it that one of the sums is part of the €5.03 million.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No. Allied services are included in the €5 million.

From where does the €5 million come?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I ask the Deputy to bear with me for a moment.

Out of the total of €11.3 million-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think the cost of the programme in total would be about €8.7 million. There may be double counting in what the Deputy has outlined.

We will state it correctly. We have received a summary. Net voted expenditure in 2017 was €3.609 million. Allied services expenditure, including the amount from the Central Fund, was €5.039 million, thus giving total expenditure of €8.918 million. The figure includes the salary and pension payments of the President and the particular allowance referred to previously. The total is €8.918 million for the year under review.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is the gross figure.

The figure is approximately €9 million. That clarifies the matter.

I wish to clarify the position on the discretionary fund. I was looking at the documentation and the presentation submitted last night and could not see a reference to the €317,000 discretionary fund. Why is it not included in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is actually included in the figure for charges to the Central Fund. It includes the emoluments and allowances of the President. The total figure is €894,000 which includes the figure of €317,000.

The reason I am asking the question is it was controversial at the time. It was raised during the presidential election and we were all being told that it should not be debated in the Houses because of the sensitivity of the issue and so on. Now that the election is over and we have a new President in place, I am keen to know about the funding of €317,000 and accountability for it per annum. As it accumulates, it will come to big money over five, six or seven years, or whatever the term is. Why is the figure not included? It is not explained. Perhaps Mr. Fraser might add something to explain to the public the sum of €317,000. What explanation do we have for it? I simply wish to appease minds among the general public.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The first point is that I am not the Accounting Officer for the President's Establishment, as I think the committee knows. We were before it previously. As the Comptroller and Auditor General said, it is included in the figure for the Central Fund, from which it is paid.

I will explain it for the benefit of the public because it relates to the President's Establishment. There is a payment of €894,000 from the Central Fund to the Vote. It includes the allowances for the President, pension payments to former office holders and what is called the 1938 allowance paid under a statutory instrument.

Does it include the figure of €317,000?

The figure of €894,000 includes the sum of €317,000. It is important to note that it is paid from the Central Fund by the Department of Finance. The Secretary General of the Department of Finance is the Accounting Officer for the Central Fund. Am I correct in saying he is the person responsible? The Secretary General of the Department of Finance will shortly be before the committee to deal with the Vote for the Department of Finance. We will put him on notice in that regard. We will ask him to answer the question as it relates to the Central Fund. Am I correct, Mr. McCarthy?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

He is responsible for making the payment to the President.

The question arises of what happens after that. We will take up the matter with the Secretary General of the Department of Finance.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is a separate matter.

Is the money included in the figure of €8.9 million, about which we have spoken, or is it extra?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is included in it.

I know that I am not an auditor or anything like it - I am only a lay person - but I could not find it in the system. It should be explained to the public that the figure is included in the sum of €8.9 million.

I want to talk about the audit committee. It did not sit in 2017 and there was no chairman. That was also controversial at the time. Has the position changed? Is the audit committee now in place and has a chairman been appointed? Does it meet on a regular basis?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It does. The chairman had been appointed in advance of our last discussion on the matter.

Who is the chairman?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The chairman is the former Secretary General of the Department that was responsible for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs, Mr. Joe Hamill, who has been in place since well before our last conversation. I think the committee has had three or four meetings. Certainly, there were three meetings last year. That structure is in place. Committee members understand what happened before and the circumstances surrounding the chairman.

Does the committee meet regularly? What is its role? It had no role in 2017.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The committee did have a role, but it did not meet because of certain unfortunate circumstances surrounding the chairman.

We understand someone was incapacitated for a period.

That is right. I remember it. I simply wish to have it clarified that the committee is now up and running and whether it meets on a regular basis.

Mr. Martin Fraser

As far as I know, it met four times, or at least three times, last year. There is an audit programme and the audit is proceeding. That was also the case the last time I was before the committee but not previously.

I will move on to other expenditure. There was expenditure on An Garda Síochána of €197,000 and €428,000 on security and defence. The figure for the Office of Public Works is €2.3 million and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, €667,000. Will Mr. Fraser explain these figures? I am especially interested in the figure for the OPW of €2.3 million and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade figure of €667,000.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not across the details because I am not responsible for them.

I can understand the costs for the Garda and the Army. It is a matter of security.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I hope the Deputy will bear with me while I get the accounts.

If Mr. Fraser does not have the details, that is fine.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I had the details before me a few seconds ago. I do not know this stuff as well as I know the material for the Department of the Taoiseach. It comes under the heading of net allied services. The figure for pensions is among the main items. The biggest figure is for the OPW, as someone mentioned. The OPW does a great deal of work in the upkeep of Áras an Uachtaráin, the grounds and so on. That is the main item of expenditure. There is a little expended on shared services, of which every Department avails. The figure for An Garda Síochána is related to security. The figure for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade relates to foreign travel.

Does it all relate to travel?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It relates to state visits. It is not for airplane tickets but all of the facilities the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides for the President, both at home and abroad. The briefing material provided for the committee states where the President visited in 2017. It is, of course, a matter of public record, but it is included in the briefing material somewhere. There were state visits to Cuba, Australia and New Zealand. The state visit to Australia and New Zealand was nearly one month long. There were then official visits to Colombia, Peru, Italy, Vatican City and Scotland.

Is there a set expenditure figure every year, or does it depend on where the President wants to go? Is he asked to go? Can he ask whenever he wants to travel?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would not like to put it like that.

Is there any limit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Obviously, the cost depends on where the President visits. When it comes to where the President visits, his personal wishes are important, but it is part of the diplomatic statecraft of the State. If countries offer the opportunity to make a state visit or if we offer people the opportunity to make a state visit, it is obviously based on whatever we think is in our national interests and where we want to deepen friendships. The obvious example is the President's visit to Britain a number of years ago. We see incoming and outgoing visits. Obviously, the farther away he goes, the longer he will be there and that will be reflected in the costs of the state visit. He was in Croatia and Greece last year. That would not have cost as much as visiting Africa, Australia or New Zealand. As committee members can see, the cost was a little higher in 2017 and 2016. The differences are in the region of hundreds of thousands of euro, depending on where he visited. It is included in the detail of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade figures. The figures for the Department Defence relate to Army services, including soldiers.

That is self-explanatory.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is also the Central Fund. I am keen to be helpful, Chairman, but I am not the Accounting Officer. It was mentioned that the President had published a document. I had no involvement in its preparation because, as I said, it is quite properly none of my business. He sets out in some detail in the report what he does and the fact that there are 20,000 visitors each year and 223 in-house events. I gather he will publish a report annually. I also understand he has set up an audit committee for the allowance and that he has refunded the surplus to the Exchequer. Again, these are not my responsibilities. I simply know this from my contacts with the other Accounting Officers.

Does Mr. Frazer know whether the surplus has been received?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. As it was sent, I hope it was received. I presume it was done electronically, unless it was taken by bus from the park.

It was an electronic transfer, but it has been remitted.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It has been remitted.

Mr. Fraser can understand why we are asking these questions. It is for the benefit of the public because it is all taxpayers' money.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do, but as I said before, I am in a unique position because I work with the Constitution all of the time. That is why I am a little sticky on these things. I am not trying to be unhelpful.

It has to be right that the President has taken it on board and will provide the information.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Exactly.

Although, there were some complaints to the effect that the explanation provided was not detailed enough. I did not go there or even get into it, but there was a report in the newspapers which suggested it was not detailed enough. However, that is for someone else to decide, not me.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Anyone is entitled to criticise the President. It is simply the case that he is not answerable to the Oireachtas.

I will move on. I wish to ask two quick questions, the first of which is about procurement. There is reference in the document to one contract for €37,555. The figures are in compliance, bar that one. What goods and services does the contract cover?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Is the Deputy referring to the President's Establishment?

Yes, to procurement compliance. It states: "The President's Establishment complied with the guidelines with the exception of one contract to the value of €37,555". Why were the guidelines not complied with in that case?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not overly familiar with the details of that procurement.

Perhaps I am asking the wrong person.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have the answer. There were difficulties with mobile phone signals. The Áras only had one mobile phone service provider. However, it carried out a mini framework process last month and will award a contract in March. The item relates to mobile phones.

Will the contract be subject to a public procurement process?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. An Office of Government Procurement, OGP, mini framework process was carried out.

I note that administration expenditure was overestimated by 33%. What were the reasons?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have no involvement with the Estimates for the President's Establishment. It was 33% of a very small number.

It was overestimated by one third.

Mr. Martin Fraser

In other words, money was saved.

Overestimation does not mean that money was saved but, rather, that there was overspending.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is not the case.

I am sorry; it is the other way round. I interpreted it incorrectly.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know why money was saved in that instance, but I am glad that it was.

On Vote 2, I wish to hone in on the cost of the Government Information Service, GIS. The strategic communications unit, SCU, was established by the Taoiseach's office and the Government and in existence for a certain period before it was disbanded. How much did it cost to establish it? How many personnel were involved? Does Mr. Fraser know why it was disbanded? The Taoiseach reverted to using the existing communications units. The SCU was the subject of much public discussion. The public should be given an explanation as to why it was established and abandoned.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was wound down on foot of a recommendation I made which I addressed on the most recent occasion I appeared before the committee.

Why was it established?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The SCU was established in 2017 when it spent approximately €50,000. It received an allocation of €5 million in 2018. Approximately eight extra staff were appointed to the former GIS.

How many extra staff were appointed?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Eight.

They were to staff the SCU.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. There was then controversy over the unit. I compiled a report in March 2018 which recommended that the unit be wound down. That was done.

Why did Mr. Fraser recommend that it be wound down?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is a very long report, but, in summary, the SCU was taking away from the core priorities of the Department of the Taoiseach. We have many reasonably important things to do and people were talking about nothing other than the SCU. In addition, I was of the opinion that we were losing the trust of people who might need to trust the Civil Service in the future.

Why was that trust lost? Why was the SCU established and disbanded?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have given the two reasons it was wound down. It is not for me to say why members of the Opposition were unhappy with the unit. The Dáil voted that it be disbanded.

I was unhappy with it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Exactly. The Deputy must have a better idea than I do as to why he was unhappy with it.

The Deputy walked into that one.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The unit has been disbanded.

That is not an explanation.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I explained the reasons it was disbanded.

It was our call.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is probably true.

It is always our call. What happened to the eight extra staff when the unit was disbanded? This is like drawing teeth. I cannot get any information.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The staffing number peaked at 20 or 21. It is now 16, which represents a reduction of approximately 25%. The eight staff were redeployed.

What benefit was provided by the SCU? The Taoiseach proposed its establishment and set it up. However, things went wrong and people did not like it. The unit got a kicking and was withdrawn on the basis of public opinion. Is that the case?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know if it was disbanded owing to public opinion, but it certainly got a kicking and was wound down. I gave the reasons I recommended that it be wound down.

Mr. Fraser's recommendation was taken on board.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

That is as good an answer as I will get on the issue.

On employee numbers, there were 228 staff at year-end in 2017 and 204 at year-end in 2016. What was the reason for the significant increase of 12% or 24 staff in 2017?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Our staff numbers may fluctuate significantly year on year. As the Deputy is aware, ours is probably the smallest or second smallest Department. The SCU was the main reason for the increase. Some staff were assigned to data protection, justice reform, the north east inner city initiative and internal records management and data protection encompassing the GDPR and so on. Five staff were assigned to various support services such as HR, finance and private offices. That accounts for the 14 extra staff. The nature of the Department is that the amount of work for which we are responsible varies.

Are they permanent or contract staff?

Mr. Martin Fraser

They are civil servants, mainly permanent civil servants. A significant number of staff join on secondment for a few years and allow us to draw on their experience gained in other sections of the Civil Service and the public service. We have an above average percentage of staff on secondment, but they are all public servants, most of whom are civil servants. The work comes and goes. In 2018 there were changes to the Citizens' Assembly; the staffing level of the GIS was reduced and more staff were appointed to work on Brexit, justice reform and commissions of inquiry. It varies each year.

What was the staffing level at year-end in 2018?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The number I have for 2018 is 234.

It is still going up.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. It has gone down in the past, but it is currently going up.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Is Brexit the cause of the fluctuation?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We probably had more people working on Brexit in 2018. We have more commissions of inquiry and are doing some work on justice reform and reform of the Garda, for which a couple of staff are required. It has been recommended that the Department undertake several other projects in 2019 which will require more staff. It comes in phases. Sometimes we are told that it is a massive empire that needs to be cut down in size, while at other times we are told that we should take on more work.

Most of the staff are civil servants and still within the system. They transfer from other Departments.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

The figure for edundancy and severance payments increased from €47,000 in 2016 to €414,000 in 2017. What was the reason for the signficant increase?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There was a change of Taoiseach and a Cabinet reshuffle. Many of the staff of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, received redundancy or severance payments.

That is the reason.

As did the former Taoiseach.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not know. I do not think so. He is still a Member of the Dáil.

Yes. I beg your pardon. It was a flippant comment.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think he received a redundancy payment. He certainly never thanked me for the cheque. If I am wrong about that, I will-----

I apologise for interrupting.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think he received a severance package. He is still a Member of the Dáil and working away.

His redundancy payment is not referred to in the appropriation accounts.

The figure for pay and travel and subsistence amounted to €13.11 million out of a total administration spend of €15.32 million. There was non-compliant procurement expenditure of €698,754 in 2017. Will Mr. Fraser explain the reasons?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Is the Deputy referring to the six contracts?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The biggest by far is a contract with the company which designed and supplies the eCabinet system which was developed in the mid-2000s. It is proprietary software and it is the only company which can work on it. That accounts for most of the expenditure. Eir provides the switchboard in Government Buildings which is run by a couple of Eir telephonists who have been with us for a long time.

We have tendered for newspapers since, but it is very difficult to get value on them because they cost the same wherever they are bought. We buy them from a newsagent on Leeson Street. There was a company carrying out secretarial services for the Moriarty tribunal. Obviously, we do not decide on that. The Cregan commission employed an office equipment firm. The Moriarty tribunal also employed another company. I do not know what it was doing. We have to let the two tribunals and the commission do their thing.

My final question is on the disposal of capital assets. Does that refer to IT equipment? Why is that disposed of? Who is interested in buying it? Was that IT equipment out of date? I see that €321,000 was realised.

Ms Geraldine Butler

The lifespan of computer equipment results in a write-down every year. It depreciates.

To whom is it sold? Does disposal mean that it is sold?

Ms Geraldine Butler

It is sent for recycling.

It is just destroyed.

Ms Geraldine Butler

It is recycled.

How was the €321,000 realised then?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The original cost of the equipment was €321,000 but it had depreciated. The net book value was very low, approximately €14,000.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has given the Department a clean bill of health so I do not have anything else to say. I cannot find any loopholes here. The Department's representatives are free.

The centenarians' bounty is quite a large component of the Vote relating to the President's Establishment. Approximately 400 such bounties are paid each year, although, unfortunately, there were fewer last year. How much is that bounty per individual?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is €2,540. It started out as £2,000.

It is £2,000 converted into euros.

It makes up quite a sizable amount - approximately one third - of the Vote.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

The bounty has not changed in recent years.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Is the Deputy referring to the amount?

I will give the Deputy the background to the issue because I am uniquely placed. I chaired the committee on-----

The Chairman is not 100, is he?

He is looking forward to being 100.

I am not but I chaired the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service when Charlie McCreevy was Minister and Deputy Noonan - another former Minister - was the main Opposition spokesperson. At that time, the bounty was £100. At the turn of the millennium, Deputy Noonan suggested that, because it was the year 2000, the bounty should be increased from £100 to £2,000. The then Minister accepted the proposal. It went through in the Finance Act and the amount has since been converted to euros. That is from where the figure came.

Getting to 100 is a fairly significant milestone. We will have to do an actuarial assessment because it is predicted that a sizeable number of children born now will-----

Will live longer.

-----live to 100. That is a very positive development. The bounty comprises approximately one third of the Vote.

There was one contract that did not comply with procurement guidelines. It was a new contract awarded in 2018. Does Mr. Fraser know what that contract was for?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Is the Deputy referring to the President's Establishment?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It must be the one about which I was talking earlier on, namely, that relating to mobile phones.

Was that the only non-complying contract?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As far as I know, there was only one. As I informed Deputy Aylward, I have a note from the Áras which says that it was a contract for mobile phones which has since been put out for tender.

A sum of €37,000 is quite sizeable for a mobile phone. Would the contract have been for several mobile phones?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I imagine the contract would be for mobile phones for the entire establishment.

I completely accept that this Vote is different in terms of Mr. Fraser's responsibility. Does the OPW Vote cover things such as marquees for garden parties or is it purely responsible for matters such as keeping the house and grounds in good condition? Does the Vote stray into that other area?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not absolutely certain but it probably includes infrastructure such as PA equipment and marquees relating to events held in the Áras. If I am wrong about that, I will come back to the Deputy.

Are there people from the OPW based in the Áras? If so, are they counted as being members of the staff?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Again, I will correct myself if I am wrong, but I believe many of the staff in the Áras work for the OPW.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The staff number in the Vote refers to those whose salaries are charged to the Vote. These would be the administrative staff, whereas the household staff are an OPW expense and are counted on the OPW Vote rather than here. What is shown here is the charges on the OPW Vote that are associated with the costs of Áras an Uachtaráin.

There is quite a bit of crossover in this particular office. It involves the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other Departments. That is understandable. To move on to the Department of the Taoiseach's Vote, I want to explore redundancy and severance. It has always been my understanding that a job is made redundant as opposed to an individual. Is it then accurate to count it as a redundancy if someone new is recruited because there is a different officeholder? Is it actually the job that is made redundant? What I am really trying to get at is whether there is the same number of people.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There are rules and circulars around what severance and redundancy is payable. In the event that there is a change of administration those rules are applied to the individuals. The amounts can vary depending on service, salary and all sorts of things. We apply the rules. In 2016, as the Deputy can see, almost nothing was paid - €47,000. That looks to me as though one person got severance. To look at 2017, as the Deputy will know there is quite a lot of turnover when the Taoiseach changes, even if the party stays the same. Staff lose their jobs because the jobs go with the officeholder. They get paid in accordance with finance circulars.

Nobody would dispute that should occur and that people should be treated fairly, the issue at which I am trying to get is how it is described in terms of numbers. The numbers will not decrease but the personnel will be different.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is correct.

Mr. Fraser already dealt with disposal of assets. I had picked some of the issues which he has already gone through. I will move onto the tribunals of inquiry. I understand that it cannot be predicted in advance but some of the legal costs arising from the Moriarty tribunal related to Deputy Lowry. Am I right on that? That was quite a long time ago. Does Mr. Fraser know the total cost of those tribunals as opposed to what is paid out each year?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

If I might interject, the Deputy will see note 6.1 on screen. This lists the payments per inquiry in 2016 and 2017, but also gives the cumulative figure or total cost incurred to the end of 2017. The figure for "Tribunal of Inquiry (payments to Messrs Haughey and Lowry)" is €61.3 million so far.

Are there outstanding amounts, which are perhaps with the Taxing Master, which Mr. Fraser is aware will arise? How is that predicted year-on-year?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As stated earlier, I cannot predict it. The Deputy is talking about the Moriarty tribunal. The McCracken tribunal, which was held previously, does not cost us money any more. Ultimately, we spent approximately €2 million on the Moriarty tribunal last year. That is up to €61.3 million. Although I am not aware of the details, there are outstanding claims. We have a figure in the Estimate of €4 million for this year.

The final report relating to that tribunal was published in 2011.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It probably was.

It was very soon after the new Government came into office and, within months, it was one of the political bumps that the latter had to be overcome. It is now 2019.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy knows my views on this.

Yes. When it estimated the €4 million for this year, the Department could fairly accurately predict what is likely to come in.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We cannot. As the Deputy knows, we gave back €9 million in the year we are talking about. It is very difficult because some of these claims are very big, and there could be a claim of several millions. The Department spend runs at €20 million a year and we then have these things hanging over us, which are nearly twice the size of the whole cost of the Department. We guessed €10 million in the 2017 Estimate and it ended up being €6.5 million. We guessed €4.5 million last year and it ended up being €2 million. There are claims out there that could be big but we do not know, and we are guessing €4 million for this year. We know who has not been paid yet, so we are guessing from there.

Can Mr. Fraser provide an indication of how old claims can be? We can see that this dates from 2011, which is when the tribunal concluded its work. It was going on for some years before that. I will use that as an example. Can claims be outstanding for 15 or 20 years? Is there a cut-off point or a statutory limit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Comptroller and Auditor General might know. I write to the heads of these tribunals annually and ask them if they are nearly finished. They write back to me dutifully stating that they are not yet finished. The tribunal decides what the fees are and it goes to the Taxing Master; they sort it all out and we just get a letter saying what the amount is, and that is our only involvement. To say that I am unhappy to have this stuff on our Vote all these years-----

Do they charge interest according to the age?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think so.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The State Claims Agency provides a service to the commissions and they handle the legal cost processing.

It would engage with the Taxing Master if necessary.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

If necessary, yes, but it will also be challenging and examining the bills. I think it has been discussed by the committee on a previous occasion with the State Claims Agency. It is undoubtedly a difficulty for Accounting Officers because of the independence of commissions and tribunals to provide that level of detail. We would certainly in the past have pressed for some estimate of what is the residual cost outstanding to try to include that. However, it is a very difficult matter. It may be that certain potential claimants have not even lodged a claim yet, so one cannot begin to estimate how much of that would survive through taxing and through challenge.

With regard to the Citizens' Assembly, the outturn was less than the estimate, so, obviously, there was some flexibility. That went on almost every weekend over 12 months and it was a forerunner to a number of successful referenda. I remember the first and second divorce referenda. Had we had something like the Citizens' Assembly in advance, we may well have ended up saving money by virtue of the fact we were spending on a useful initiative. I was on the Constitutional Convention, which was a forerunner to the Citizens' Assembly, and a number of referenda will happen as a consequence of that.

This is an historical figure. I presume it is because it is set up under the Department of the Taoiseach that this happens.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That the money is on our Vote.

Mr. Martin Fraser

They operate completely independently, although the Constitutional Convention and the Citizens' Assembly were both paid for from our Vote and substantially staffed by civil servants from the Department of the Taoiseach. The secretary of the convention and the secretary of the assembly would have been assigned by me, although, after that, I do not go near them because of the nature of their work. It was effectively civil servants from the Department of the Taoiseach who designed and ran both of those.

Would there be follow through? Is there somebody in the Department to make sure there is follow through on the reports that are received?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes. What happens in general is that those reports are sent to the Oireachtas and the Government, and the Government responds to them. As the Deputy knows, the convention gave rise to two or three referenda, that on marriage equality being the one people remember best and one on how old the President could be was defeated, and there may have been others. We are going to have one in October on presidential voting rights which I believe dates back to the Constitutional Convention. The Government or the Oireachtas either go with these things or they do not. The assembly dealt with some policy matters, for example, on older people and climate change, and the one that is best known is the eighth amendment, which was the hardest piece of work done.

It is an example that reflects Deputy Aylward's point. I could be asked to set up a Citizens' Assembly from scratch and I might have to find six or seven people from nowhere and they have to be quite skilled people because these are very difficult and sensitive jobs. In this case, we have run the assembly since the arrival of the last Government. It is not in place at the moment but there is talk of having another one on a few issues.

Go raibh míle buíochas as ucht an t-eolais. I thank Mr. Fraser for all of the information. I note the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on both matters and I welcome that there are no issues arising.

In regard to the extract on the Presidency in the review on the 1938 allowance, to which the Chair referred, is that generally available and published?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

That is fine. I welcome the clarification. We presume it comes under a separate Department.

With regard to the President's Establishment and the internal audit, Mr. Fraser has already clarified there was no change and the committee did not meet. Have provisions been put in place should a chair be sick in the future? Has it been pre-empted so it will never happen again that an audit committee will not meet?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It will not happen again. As I on the previous occasion-----

Explain to me why it will not happen.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will not allow it to happen again. If I found myself in the same situation, I would ask somebody to do that.

Have procedures been put in place? Things happen, people get sick and there are accidents.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Of course. The procedure is that I appoint the committee so if I became aware of the unavailability of someone, and with hindsight-----

Somebody else would step in.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

How many meetings took place in 2018?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As far I know, there were three in 2018.

Was there an internal audit in 2018?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is an audit programme.

It is a rolling programme.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It has an audit programme. The Comptroller and Auditor General has been auditing the Áras all along, as the Deputy knows, but-----

Do not mind the Comptroller and Auditor General. We will leave the Comptroller and Auditor General alone and just answer the questions.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I understand. There is an audit programme.

We all misuse the Comptroller and Auditor General on occasion to justify different things. These are specific questions about the procedures in place.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is an audit programme. In 2018 it was looking at the centenarian bounty and this year it will look at payroll.

In 2018 the issue it looked at was the centenarian bounty. What will it look at this year?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Payroll.

Procurement has already been mentioned so I will not repeat that. In regard to the commemorative medals, out of interest, are they made in Ireland?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have no idea.

It would be interesting to know.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would be amazed if they are not.

I would be amazed too.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I hope they are.

The rest of my questions have already been answered. We will move on to the Department of the Taoiseach. I am not sure if Mr. Fraser answered on the contingent liability on page 19. Did my colleague address that? Could we deal with it? It is stated that an indemnity provided by the Department may generate costs. Can Mr. Fraser clarify the position in that regard? What is the nature of the indemnity? To whom was it given? What is the status of the litigation, if any?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I was just checking with my colleague that it is what I think it is. That is an indemnity that was provided to a lawyer who conducted an inquiry. I want to be very careful. It is Sean Guerin, who conducted an inquiry into the Maurice McCabe situation. That is a subject of litigation between him and the former Minister for Justice. Anyone who has done an inquiry for the State is given an indemnity in respect of the work they do in that inquiry. That is the subject of litigation so there is every chance that it will give rise to costs, depending on the court's decision.

Is Mr. Fraser in a position to give any idea of the level of the costs?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not. It depends how far they go and how many lawyers they employ.

That is fine, I just wanted to clarify it. In respect of tribunals, these are the tribunals or commissions that come within the Department of the Taoiseach. Then there are others like the Grace inquiry and so on.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Is anybody in a position to tell us the cost of the tribunals to date, even that for the past 15 years? Where would we source that knowledge?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is probably held somewhere. I used to have a figure in my head. It is hundreds of millions.

Yes. It would be nice to know that in respect of tribunals and commissions of inquiry. At the moment, how many are outstanding? We are going back to Lowry here and the other matter. I am sorry, I do not mean to mention names.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Wherever there are expenses still outstanding, there should be an account of it in the relevant appropriation account. I think, though, to go back over a 15-year period, some might have existed for two or three years. They would not currently be reported. This note has been around for quite a while, at least ten years. For those who have a particular interest in it, it is possible to aggregate the figures going back through appropriation accounts for a decade, for example.

We are not getting an overview. We are getting what is due for 2017 or what was paid out during that year. Is that right?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The committee is getting the total expenditure to end 2017 for the ones that are within this Vote. There would be similar notes in the justice Vote, in finance or whatever.

Mr. Fraser said hundreds of millions.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

All for the sake of not answering questions, generally, in various Dáil sessions.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not sure about that. Most of them are investigations into activities in the private sector.

In respect of administration, I have one specific question about page 14 under subhead A1. It is stated that the underspend was due to a delay in the planned filling of vacancies due to lack of availability of panels and security vetting. Why was there a delay with security vetting?

Mr. Martin Fraser

When we get staff, some of them are serving civil servants whom we get from promotion panels. If they are from external recruitment panels it is through the Public Appointments Service, PAS. In 2017 there was a lack. In terms of security vetting, staff are vetting by the Garda.

I understand that but why was there a delay?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would say it was the volume of work. From memory, the recruitment ban was lifted around this time in 2017 and the reversal of pay cuts began. There was a bit of a problem with ramping up and extra people coming in. That gave rise to delays, both on panels and in security vetting. It takes a while.

I thank the Accounting Officer for the comprehensive opening statement and briefing notes. There are no real issues with any of the accounts signed off on or the appropriation accounts. On the President's Vote, on page 3 of the appropriation accounts it is stated that there is one contract of €37,555 that has been rolled over for a number of years.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That matter was already discussed.

Maybe very quickly then.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was discussed twice.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was a mobile phone contract. Apparently they only had one mobile phone provider so they have since tendered for it.

Perfect. I will go back over the Official Report. I thank Mr. Fraser. On page 7 of the appropriation account, the figures for Vote 28, Foreign Affairs and Trade, show a marked increase in expenditure from €241,000 to €667,000. Was that dealt with?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was but I am happy to answer on it again. It is not an enormous figure. It is a function of the extent and duration of the President's official visits. In the year in question there were quite a lot of State visits. There was one to Cuba and quite a long one to Australia and New Zealand. The further one goes and the longer one is away, the more expensive it is, including for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has fewer people on the ground in some places. That figure fluctuates depending on the extent of diplomatic engagement.

Perfect. Mr. Fraser referred earlier to the core functions of the Department of the Taoiseach and, I suppose, of the Taoiseach. One of them is engaging with the formulation and implementation of Government policy. There is a focus at the moment on the relationship between different Departments, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Taoiseach. I think the national children's hospital overspend is an obvious case where people became aware of it whenever they did. It is a very significant problem and is very much in the public domain at the moment. What would be the Taoiseach's role in that area apart from it being raised at Cabinet level? What would the reporting structures be? If a board identifies a problem, which then goes to the Department of Health, which then goes to the Minister for Health, at what point does it get to the Taoiseach? Is it only at Cabinet level that it would be brought to the Taoiseach's attention? If his role is to formulate and implement Government policy, and it is Government policy to build the national children's hospital, what would his role be in terms of oversight?

Mr. Martin Fraser

That depends. He obviously does not engage with every single thing in Government. He can only-----

This is not every single thing. This is a big issue, is it not?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I understand that, but he also can only engage with what he knows about. There is no particular role if there is no problem. The nature of our engagement tends to be the more difficult issues.

When did Mr. Fraser's Department and the Taoiseach become aware of the serious overspend?

Mr. Martin Fraser

When?

Mr. Martin Fraser

This has nothing to do with the 2017 accounts whatsoever.

I know that. It is to do with the role of the Department of the Taoiseach, which is in Mr. Fraser's own opening statement.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It has nothing to do with the 2017 accounts. I found about the children's hospital overrun, I think, in November, the same time as the Taoiseach did.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Was that because information was being brought to Cabinet or was it before?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. It was mentioned at a meeting in the Department of Health.

It was mentioned at a meeting in the Department of Health that the Taoiseach was at?

Mr. Martin Fraser

A meeting that the Taoiseach was at, yes.

That was the first time, at a meeting.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Was Mr. Fraser at the meeting as well?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Moving on to the commissions of investigation and tribunals, obviously there is a cost to the State. The various tribunals and commissions and their cost are listed on page 19. A number of them are live. The Cregan commission - is that the one into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

When was that set up?

Mr. Martin Fraser

In 2015.

At the time it was set up, what were its terms of reference? What was its life span?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot remember, to be honest. I think it was to finish at the end of that year.

It is still sitting.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Did it have its reporting timelines changed at any stage? Can Mr. Fraser talk us through the various changes that were made to the timelines?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not have it to hand. The first thing to say is that we only pay for this. It is actually established by the Oireachtas. The terms of reference were set by the Oireachtas and changed by the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas legislated to give this commission of investigation extra powers. I have almost no influence over this other than that I have to pay the bills for it.

Did meetings take place between party leaders?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Who convened those meetings?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Taoiseach.

Exactly. Did Mr. Fraser attend those meetings?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Some of them.

There is a role for the Taoiseach's Department in this regard, which is the reason I am asking the question.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, absolutely.

Perhaps Mr. Fraser will answer my question regarding how often-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I literally cannot remember. They were changed a couple of times. The Government legislated to change the powers of the commission.

That is done of the basis of advice from the Department.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Department's view of the wisdom of this is probably different from what happened.

Who signs off on it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Deputy's party leader would have been at these meetings.

I appreciate that. I also attended one of them.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, the Deputy was at the last one so he will know the Department's views on this matter.

I am asking the question of Mr. Fraser in the Committee of Public Accounts. I am asking questions in regard to a commission of investigation. I am not doing so to trip up anybody. I am asking fair questions in regard to a commission that has been set up. Mr. Fraser is the Accounting Officer. The Taoiseach held a number of meetings with the Opposition to brief them on what are problems in this process. This is the place where we tease out those problems in terms of cost, in my view. What is the estimated cost of this commission and how much has been spent thus far? What is the anticipated overall cost as opposed to the initial estimation? I ask Mr. Fraser to talk us through those costs.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sure.

Mr. Fraser should be sure because the purpose for which he is here is to answer those questions.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Sure, as in, "Yes". I will answer the Deputy's question.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The overall cost to date for this commission, as I have it, is €5 million. As can be seen, it was €3 million at the end of 2017. I believe it will cost north of €20 million, or more.

The initial cost was €5 million.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, the initial cost was probably less. I am sorry, I cannot remember what it was in 2015, but it is a matter of public record. It was probably in the single millions at the time.

We can lay the blame for this with the Oireachtas.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not blaming anybody for it.

I am not saying that this is the fault of any one individual but it is reasonable for us to ask the question at this point. We have a commission that was established and given terms of reference for which the budget was an estimated cost of less than €5 million. The estimated cost is now €20 million, which indicates to me that there is a problem. I attended one meeting and I can have my own perspective and others will have theirs but from Mr. Fraser's perspective, as the Accounting Officer for the Department of the Taoiseach, how have we arrived at a situation where the cost has increased from less than €5 million to €20 million?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Because it has taken far longer than people thought at the time and it is has become far more complicated. With respect, Chairman, I am not responsible for the commission of investigation and I do not think I should comment any further on it.

Mr. Fraser is responsible for the spend. The problem-----

Perhaps, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has a handle on the costs.

Mr. Martin Fraser

All the decisions about this were taken by everyone in the Oireachtas.

Yes, to set it up but the monitoring of cost is what Deputy Cullinane is asking about.

I will ask my questions in a different way. If it is going to cost €20 million, who will sign the cheque?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will have no choice but to sign it.

Mr. Fraser will sign the cheque. In my view, the person who signs the cheque is the person accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. Am I correct, Chairman?

Mr. Fraser is the Accounting Officer.

Is Mr. Fraser, as the Accounting Officer, accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts for the signing of that cheque?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Mr. Fraser is saying that he cannot give any explanation for the increase in cost from less than €5 million to €20 million because he does not think it would be helpful for him to comment.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is because it is far larger and taking far longer than anyone expected. It is a function of how long it is taking.

Surely, there has to be more to it. It cannot just be that it is taking far longer because we are talking about a cost that is four times the initial cost. I would like a little more detail as to why the cost has increased from €5 million to €20 million.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The cost of this is the cost of the people who work on it, the cost of the people who appear before it and, as they are all paid by the day, the longer it takes the more costs increase.

Was any lobbying done in regard to the cost of legal fees, for example? Were any representations made to the Department in regard to the cost-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

There was a request that the legal fees be increased, which was discussed with the Opposition, including the Deputy's party.

I ask Mr. Fraser to bear with me for a minute. On any issue that comes before the Committee of Public Accounts, there will have been a lot of meetings, public commentary and Dáil proceedings. I am not asking about them. I am asking Mr. Fraser questions. Whatever was discussed at previous meetings with my party leader or any other party leader is a matter for those meetings. Mr. Fraser is here today as the Accounting Officer. My question is if any representations were made to the Department in regard to the cost of legal fees? Mr. Fraser has acknowledged such representations were made.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Who made those representations?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The tribunal was of the view that costs should be increased. This was discussed with the party leaders and it was decided not to agree to that.

Leave aside party leaders because Mr. Fraser would be the first to remind me that party leaders do not make policy. Government makes policy. There can be discussions with party leaders-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

In this instance, Deputy, the policy is absolutely made by the Oireachtas.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is no question about that.

But it is not made by party leaders. Rather, it is signed off on-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

They have quite a lot of influence on what the Oireachtas does.

I will put my questions through the Chair, and in a different way. The Taoiseach can consult on any matter with whomever he wants. On this issue, he consulted with party leaders and so on, but the Department and the Taoiseach sign off on any decisions that are made. That is what happens. The Taoiseach may have the consent or the support, or not, of individual members of the Opposition but that is neither here nor there. The Taoiseach's Department signs off on it.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is not correct.

What is not correct?

Mr. Martin Fraser

What the Deputy just said.

Yes, but why is not correct?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Because the terms of reference are set by the Dáil.

Yes. Who brings them forward?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Government brings them forward.

Yes, the Government brings them forward, not the Opposition.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Well, in this in case - this is extremely important and is very clear - they do so with the agreement of the Opposition. That has been the case all along.

Okay. We are going around in circles on this particular issue. I do not accept what Mr. Fraser said. It is Government that sets the policy.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, it is not.

It is. It can be done-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

The Oireachtas sets the terms of reference.

The Government brings it forward. We are dancing on the head of a pin which is unnecessary because I am not suggesting anybody is culpable or responsible. I am trying to get answers on behalf of the taxpayers who will have to foot this bill. The cost has increased from less than €5 million to €20 million. I am not saying that is the fault of the Department, the Taoiseach, the Opposition or everybody here. Rather, I am saying it has happened and cost is an ongoing issue. Is it possible the cost could go north of €20 million?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I just said it would, in my view.

Mr. Martin Fraser

In my opinion, it will.

In Mr. Fraser's opinion, it will but we have no idea what that figure might be.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No, and I could be wrong but that is my sense of it. I have yet to see one of these things surprise me on the downside.

There is an issue here. The Oireachtas committed initially to writing a cheque for less than €5 million. The cost has now increased to €20 million. I appreciate the point that is being made by the Accounting Officer, that there has been consultation with Oireachtas Members and Opposition leaders, but people will be concerned about the fact that costs have increased from €5 million to €20 million and, possibly, €20 million plus. Mr. Fraser, as the Accounting Officer, will have to sign off on the cheque. As of yet, we have no indication of when a report will issue from this commission. Was an interim report sought?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think several interim reports were sought, received and published, as the Deputy will recall from the meeting we had.

Did they outline work actually done.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The latest - again, I am working from memory because my last engagement is the same as the Deputy's, which is the meeting we had about this - asked for a further fairly lengthy extension. Deputy Catherine Murphy probably can remember as well. It is, I think, until 2020.

It is extended until March, as far as I know.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, exactly. The Taoiseach decided, because no one was happy with this, to give them until March.

Again, I do not know what has happened since so I am asking-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

Nor do I because the last time we discussed this was at that meeting.

Am I right in saying that the extension is until March and that a further extension will be necessary?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We will see what the report says but I imagine we will have another meeting with the Opposition where we discuss all these things.

To be clear, there was a meeting with the Opposition and there was agreement to an extension until March. That means it either has to be extended again or a decision has to be made to do something else. Is that Mr. Fraser's understanding?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I am not sure what else can be done but that is correct.

Mr. Martin Fraser

To be clear, I have no knowledge - no one here has in the sense of administrative oversight of this - of what that commission is doing, nor should I. I would imagine the third party costs are going to be the largest part of the bill. Insofar as it has been going on since 2015, I would say that third party costs are fairly hefty already.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform must have some idea of how the costs are going.

If it has no idea, this is a bigger issue because it would mean there is a blank cheque. What information does the Department have? Someone must have some idea. If the position is that no one has any idea what the cost of the commission of investigation will be, then the commission should be stopped. Can the Department be helpful to the committee in this regard?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

I will try to assist the committee where I can. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform arranges for an informal collection of data on costs on a quarterly basis for commissions of investigation, tribunals of inquiry, commissions to inquire into matters and various reports, for example, the Ferns report. Those are the four key headings. We write to the Departments on an administrative basis quarterly to get that information so we can see what the actual costs are.

Which Departments now have a commission under their remit?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

If it is helpful, we will cross-check the informal data we have up to the end of December 2018 and send an updated version to the committee secretariat.

That would be very helpful. There is a method of collecting data on how many days are logged by the different legal representatives.

Mr. Brian O'Malley

It is the overall cost. We have the cumulative costs, the name of the commission, the topic of investigation, the status of the investigation - whether it is ongoing or if the tribunal or commission has concluded its work - and the cumulative costs to date. Where possible, we try to break that information down between administrative costs, legal costs and third party costs. If the Chairman will allow us to check the information, we will look to send it on to the secretariat.

Yes, please refine it.

Mr. Brian O'Malley

To be clear, the data we have are from 2007 up to the end of December 2018.

Does that cover all tribunals that have been in existence for the last 12 years?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

Some are beyond that, but the data are from 2007. The Moriarty tribunal, for example, is from 1997 so some of them go back beyond 2007. The data we have are the costs from 2007 up to the end of December 2018, if that is helpful for the committee.

It will be very helpful.

Mr. Brian O'Malley

The Chairman might allow us to check the information and then we can forward it.

We would be worried if there was no mechanism in place. I understand that the Department cannot estimate the third party costs until some of the figures come in, but there are daily rates and legal costs. In advance of this afternoon's session, will the witness indicate who sets the daily rate or who agrees the hourly rate on behalf of the State? Is the Department involved in that?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

We have no direct role in that.

Given that we have an afternoon session with the three legal offices, will the witnesses indicate who sets the rates? Is it the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor or the State Claims Agency? Who clears or signs off on the rates?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

There are guidelines established with each particular commission and the guidelines would set out rates. With the Fennelly commission, for example, the guidelines would have set out the rates for senior counsel, junior counsel and solicitors.

Did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform approve those rates?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

Sorry?

Was it Mr. O'Malley's Department that approved those rates?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

No. It would have been the relevant Department. In that case, it was the Department of Justice and Equality and the Minister would have looked for those rates to be approved.

Who signed off on the hourly rates for the Cregan commission?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

It would be the relevant Department.

Which Department was that?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

The Department of the Taoiseach. The Departments would write in to us. If it is helpful, we will try to get that list for the committee. We will send in an updated list.

The Department has offered to provide very helpful, useful and informative information which all members are looking for. We will give it time to prepare that.

May I ask a small supplementary question?

Has the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sought to have a standing commission or commission of inquiry established? Have other methods of doing inquiries been considered? Inquiries will always be needed. Have alternatives means of inquiring, for example, those used in other countries, been considered that would achieve the same results without incurring the same costs?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

The commissions and tribunals are established and their terms of reference set by the Oireachtas. As Mr. Fraser said earlier and previously, we have looked at commissions of investigation as being a speedier and more cost-effective mechanism for dealing with these issues than the previous tribunals of inquiry might have previously been. As the Deputy will see, some of the costs referenced here are significantly lower for commissions of investigation vis-à-vis tribunals of inquiry. That mechanism is one that is being implemented going forward. Just to be clear, the Department's role in this process is to collate the data from the relevant Departments on a quarterly basis. We will try to furnish the committee with that information if we can.

Mr. O'Malley might also give us the provisional estimate for each of the Departments for 2019. The Department obviously had the figures, even if they may not have been approved. I am asking for the most up-to-date figures. I accept the 2019 figure will be an estimate. At this stage, we can park this issue and consider it again when we receive that information.

I see in the accounts that in 2017 there were 228 staff in the Department of the Taoiseach. How many are there now?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would say the figure is roughly the same, about 230.

It went up from 204 to 228 between 2016 and 2017.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

It is roughly the same today.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It may be one or two higher.

Has the Taoiseach completely disbanded the strategic communications unit?

Mr. Martin Fraser

All of the things that we said we would do have been done. Yes.

Where did all of those people go?

Mr. Martin Fraser

As I said when Deputy Aylward asked the question, I think we are down one quarter of the staff there and they were redeployed, generally speaking.

Were they redeployed within the Department?

Mr. Martin Fraser

From memory, that was generally speaking not the case.

We need Mr. Fraser to do a little bit more than speak generally because we focused heavily on this matter the last time. The unit was to be disbanded and according to various media reports, it has not really been disbanded. Mr. Fraser believes staff numbers are higher than in 2016 and, presumably, we had procured additional people to look after the strategic communications unit. What is going on?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The strategic communications unit is a small part of the Department.

It is the area I am focusing on at the moment and a pretty big part of our last focus.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was. I had a note in case the subject came up. The recommendations were that the unit should be wound down, which it has done, and that we should revert to-----

What day was the effective date of its completion?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I believe it was in July of last year.

It ceased to exist in July 2017.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was wound down, yes.

Did the wind-down begin in July or was it completed in July?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Completed.

How many people worked in the unit at that stage?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We had 21 people and it was back down at 16 or 17 people by August. That is about a 25% reduction.

Mr. Fraser told me there were eight staff.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was up by eight staff.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The staff went up by-----

Mr. Fraser said "it" was now down to 16 or 17. What is "it"?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The number of staff in the SCU, the Government Information Service, GIS, press and that whole area. We went over 20 but now it is down.

We no longer use the term "strategic communications unit" but in essence we have four fewer people doing the same work. Is that the case?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. I will have to go through this, just to be clear.

That is what we are here for.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I know. The recommendations were that the unit should be wound down, which it was; the traditional GIS should take over some of its functions while others should be devolved to line Departments; there should be a transition period that ended in July, which it did; the budget should be reduced by 50%, which it was. In fact, we reduced the Estimate in the Revised Estimates.

There was, therefore, only a 50% reduction in the €5 million figure? Was €2.5 million kept?

Mr. Martin Fraser

In the end, we only spent €2 million and this year, it is well less than €1 million. Obviously we incurred a lot of-----

What was the budget in the Estimates for this year?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It does not even have its own budget because it is just part of administration expenditure.

What is the GIS budget for this year?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Again, GIS does not have a specified budget. It is well less than-----

What does it come under then?

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is pay and administration, like any other section in the Department.

Does it come out of the pay or administration Estimate?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The pay of the staff comes out of the A1 subhead.

Is it reasonable to say that we had 21 people devoted to communications before July 2017 and we now have 16?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Before July 2018. Now we are down to 17. The Deputy asked about 2018.

We no longer use the term "strategic communications unit". It only spent €2 million out of a potential €5 million, which was cut from €5 million to €2.5 million. There is no specific budget this year and, instead of 21 people, there are only 16 or 17 people devoted to communications.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Is it not kind of smoke and mirrors without the budget?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

Then what do the 16 or 17 people do? What do they not do now that they used to do up to last July?

Mr. Martin Fraser

To continue with the recommendations, surplus staff were to be redeployed either within the Department or elsewhere. That was done.

Only four were deployed.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was recommended that the staff be put under the management of the assistant secretary for corporate affairs, which was done. There should be no new national campaigns run by the unit. Where expenditure was committed but not yet spent, it should be redirected to non-contentious campaigns like Healthy Ireland or Brexit preparation, which has been done. The Government Information Service, GIS, should continue to have a co-ordinating and supporting role for national cross-government communications, as has always been the case, but campaigns should be led and funded by the relevant line Departments, which is being done. Project Ireland 2040 should be the responsibility of the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board, which is outside our Department. That was done. International communications - Global Ireland, the Security Council campaign and the diaspora work - should be led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. All other activities should continue as before, including www.merrionstreet.ie, central support services, providing services to the media, managing media events and producing communication material across all platforms.

The committee endorsed these recommendations, which also called for us to continue the streamlining work, the capacity building work, the continuing professional development work, the single Government identity project, which members will see being rolled out, the www.gov.ie project, which we are doing, and efficiency measures, for example, rationalisation and consolidated buying. It was also recommended that the research survey proceed, but that has not gone ahead yet. All my recommendations, which the committee endorsed, have happened.

How many people were brought in before the unit was established?

Mr. Martin Fraser

There were 13, 14 or 15 people there, and I think eight-----

No. How many were brought in when it was established?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I think it was approximately eight to ten. I cannot remember off the top of my head.

Of those eight to ten, at least six of them are left.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Four or five. It is a 25% reduction. The rest are still there doing that work.

They are devoted exclusively to communications within the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Communications across the Government.

Communications across the Government is a grey area.

Mr. Martin Fraser

For example-----

It does not seem clear to me. Let me move on, as this is obscure and I do not believe we will get the kind of breakdown we are seeking. There are still many people involved in communications in the Department.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

The €5 million of this year's budget has been distributed elsewhere.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. It was cut from our budget.

In terms of this year's budget.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It was not distributed. It was cut.

That is what I said. It was spent. It is not lying around in an account.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

I mean the Exchequer funds. It is not in the Department's budget. Therefore, we are using it somewhere else.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It could be unspent.

Okay. It is in a credit union account. How many journalists and PR people were taken on by the Department of the Taoiseach in the past year?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not think any were. I do not remember any.

I think there were about six.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Does the Deputy still mean journalists and PR people?

Yes. Over the past year.

Mr. Martin Fraser

If the Deputy knows who they are, I would be happy to discuss the issue with him, but it is not ringing a bell with me.

Deputy MacSharry must have a good source of information.

Mr. Martin Fraser

He must.

Was anyone recruited on the communication side in the past year?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We saw a reduction in numbers.

By four or five.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

There would still be current expenditure relating to the pay bill for the eight to ten people who came in as part of the strategic communications unit.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The budget was €5 million. It was cut to €2.5 million. We spent €2 million and will now spend less than €1 million. That is the scale of the reduction.

It is less than €1 million for the whole GIS.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes, although I am open to correction on what it includes.

It has no involvement in other Departments. Mr. Fraser stated that the strategic communications unit covered other programmes and so on and that they have been pushed back to their line Departments.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

What Government communications are there, then? If the Government wants to say something, this is confusing. It looks like smoke and mirrors. The same people are involved, they are not allowed to speak about X and they should speak about Y. They comprise the Government communications unit, yet there will be no more communications. The perception is that, while the €5 million might be gone, this unit still exists and all communication is being streamlined through it, with many of its people still on staff.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Some of whom are still on staff to do the work I outlined, which the committee endorsed.

Which committee?

Mr. Martin Fraser

The GIS has existed for decades.

I know all that, but we seem to have beefed it up a good bit.

Mr. Martin Fraser

There is far more work to do.

While we got rid of the name, we still have a lot of the people around.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We do not really. I have explained what they are all doing. They do much more work than they would have done in previous years.

What do they do?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I just told the Deputy what they did. All the things-----

I thought that was work that had been farmed out to other Departments.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No. What we-----

Do not read it out again, as I do not have time.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Okay.

It will be on the record and I can check. Will Mr. Fraser provide a breakdown of everyone involved in communications, including when they were employed and the salary scales appropriate to them? He can send that information to the committee at another time.

Does Mr. Fraser have those numbers?

He was unsure of whether the figure was four, five, eight or ten, how many were gone and how many had been redeployed.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not have the numbers on me, but I will get them for the committee.

In writing.

Give us a specific breakdown of what those people do. The term "Government communications" is very general. If Department X wants to put a good spin on something but feels it is a bit light on the communications side, can it lift the phone to the GIS and ask how the something can be turned into a Government of Ireland announcement? The perception out there is that nothing has changed.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I do not agree with the Deputy.

I appreciate that, so what I want is the proof, as Mr. Fraser has not been convincing. He has told us that there were eight, six, four or five, he was not sure, he does not know and, generally speaking-----

Mr. Martin Fraser

I have detailed every single recommendation that I made. This committee endorsed those recommendations.

I do not remember endorsing anything.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Well, the committee did.

It must have been buried in some document or other.

I will address the President's Establishment. The audit committee is now meeting. How were its members recruited? I noticed in the accounts that the audit function for the Department of the Taoiseach is the same audit function for the President's Establishment.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That is right.

Is it the same committee?

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

We have a new chair. I was watching on the monitor when Mr. Fraser stated that the committee had met several times and was going through everything in question. Was the 1938 Act specific in excluding the President's Establishment from being audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I do not recall off hand. I would have to check.

Could we check that? Presumably, it does. If it does not, Mr. McCarthy might supply a note on why the Establishment is excluded from his obligation to audit.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I have not examined that Act recently.

Mr. McCarthy might also supply a note on what would need to happen if the Oireachtas decided to include it. Would it require a statutory instrument, an amendment to the primary legislation or just political will, for want of a better expression?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

There is a constitutional provision, and my not having an audit role specifically in respect of the emoluments and remuneration of the President is probably consistent with that principle.

Probably. If Mr. McCarthy supplies a note on it, we will know for certain. No one is saying anything about misappropriation or the like and did not the last time we discussed this matter either, but it is appropriate that moneys be audited. We learned that these moneys had not been audited. How this Vote is laid out is general. There are broad headings, which probably do not provide the level of explanation that people expect or to which they are entitled. Obviously, there are costs involved in running the Presidency. That is important, as no one wants him to be cycling a bike or staying in a Best Western. Does the €317,000 include wardrobe, for example?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I discussed this matter earlier. I am not the Accounting Officer for the Vote.

I know that, but Mr. Fraser is the closest thing to an Accounting Officer that we can get today.

Mr. Martin Fraser

That does not mean I know.

The President has published a full account in the expenditure report.

He did not, actually, with respect to him.

Mr. Martin Fraser

Now, Chairman, we are really commenting on the President of Ireland.

Mr. Fraser brought up the President.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No.

I am talking about the President's Establishment. Mr. Fraser mentioned the word "President". There was an account published, which is not an audited account and which is not a detailed explanation of what the breakdown is. This is not about the current President. For the record, I voted for the President and my party campaigned for him. However, just because it is the President, do not drag an individual into what is taxpayers' money and the expenditure of it. There may need to be adjustments. I have asked for an explanation for the 1938 Act. Perhaps the President should be given more money in terms of this allowance. A refund was given, which is great, but it is about appropriate oversight. I am just asking a basic question, which is whether it includes wardrobe.

Mr. Martin Fraser

And I am telling the Deputy, I-----

That is grand. What I am most respectfully asking Mr. Fraser is whether he can give us a breakdown, without the amounts necessarily, because it is perfectly legitimate that it might include wardrobe. Mr. Fraser might inquire from the Accounting Officer, with whom he obviously has a relationship. If it is the same audit function between one and the other, I am sure it is not rocket science to ask the question. Can we get a broader list of what kind of things it includes and whether it includes things like wardrobe? I am just interested to know. It is perfectly appropriate that it might. I just want to know and the public might be entitled to that too.

I am going to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to help as we are on unusual ground. The payment of €318,000 is paid from the Central Fund and the person responsible for the Central Fund is the Secretary General of the Department of Finance. Am I correct so far?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

For the payment of the moneys to the President.

The payment out is under the functions of the Secretary General of the Department of Finance and not of Mr. Fraser. The Department of Finance will be here in a couple of weeks and is on notice that we will ask about this payment being made from the Central Fund, as other payments from the Central Fund get made. We can ask that Secretary General whether there is a mechanism for accounting for that onward payment. That is something we will tease out. The public sees it very simply. There was expenditure at June 2017 of €8.648 million for the President's Establishment and most of it was Voted expenditure while €317,000 was not. The public will ask why, if the Comptroller and Auditor General can audit €8.3 million of the €8.6 million, someone cannot audit the other €317,000. Of the fund, 95% is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. From a layperson's point of view, it is not unreasonable to ask why that is not 100%. That is another day's work and probably a matter for policy or legislation.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is.

We are not asking Mr. Fraser to answer.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I recall what I said earlier. The President has set up an audit committee and is going to report on it anyway. The committee should bear that in mind.

An audit committee and an audit are two different things.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot talk about the President anymore.

I am not talking about the President at all. I am talking about public funds. I have an issue with things being misrepresented and the phrase "We can't talk about that because...". I am sorry, but we can. The people's representatives can talk about the people's money - end of story. Some of it is not audited and the Chairman has quite reasonably said that some of us think that perhaps it could be. As I have said ad nauseam, nobody is saying anything about misrepresentation or anything like that.

It is an issue that the committee will consider as part of our next periodic report.

Is there a risk register in the Department of the Taoiseach?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Yes.

Is reputational damage on it?

Mr. Martin Fraser

Reputational damage to-----

On a normal risk register, it is usually one of the top ten. Is it in the Department of the Taoiseach?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot remember. We have a national risk assessment which we do for the whole country, which is more important to me.

I appreciate that. I am just talking about the Department now.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I cannot recall.

Can we get a copy of the risk register?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will see if I can get the committee a copy.

Does anyone else know if reputational damage is one of the items on the risk register?

Mr. Denis Breen

It is definitely mentioned.

Can we be sent a copy of the risk register?

Mr. Martin Fraser

We will get the committee a copy.

Can we define what reputational damage would include in the context of the Department of the Taoiseach?

Mr. Martin Fraser

I would have to have a look. The danger of reputational damage is extreme in all areas.

That is why I am asking the question.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I know.

I am just interested to know. Reputational damage for Kelloggs is "Our food is bad". I am just interested to know how we define reputational damage in the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We are involved in so many things.

Also, what grading is it given? Usually, it is between one and three.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will check it out for the Deputy. I am much more concerned about the risks of Brexit going wrong or really serious stuff but I will certainly get the register.

That is Mr. Fraser's concern. The risk register is something else. I am interested in a definition.

Mr. Martin Fraser

The national risk register is important.

Of course, Brexit is a risk. If there was a new risk register for the next six months, it would be the first item on the agenda of every Department.

Mr. Martin Fraser

We have a risk register for the country which we work on and that is more important in many ways, but I will get the Deputy the internal one.

It does not matter what is important. We are talking about a Vote today.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It does matter.

Mr. Fraser cannot be in answering on the Vote on the one hand and then deflect it by saying "A matter for the whole country that is more important". We are here to talk about the Vote.

Mr. Martin Fraser

It is a matter for the Taoiseach's Department. We do the national risk assessment.

That is great. I am interested to see if reputational damage for the Department itself is on its own risk register, the rating it is given from one to three and how it is defined in the context of the Department itself.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will have a look at the risk register and send the committee a copy of it.

And the definition. That is it.

I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General whether each Department has a risk register.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

Every Department has one. Are they updated every quarter?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Certainly, they are monitored on a routine basis and are definitely updated annually.

It is annual updates.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Obviously, one looks for emerging risks as one goes through the year.

It is every Department. We have had the HSE give us its quarterly risk. It does a quarterly update and it is voluminous. The HSE is the biggest State body out there. Every Department has a risk register and all we are asking for is a copy of the most recent one. When we see that, we will see what is in it. It is probably subject to freedom of information, if it comes to that.

Mr. Martin Fraser

I will give it to the committee. That is no problem.

Just send it on to us and it will probably answer the questions. If we have queries on it, we can come back.

Mr. Martin Fraser

No problem.

I will conclude this part of the meeting. I thank Mr. Fraser and staff from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Before they leave, are any of Mr. O'Malley's colleagues here this afternoon with the other three organisations?

Mr. Brian O'Malley

No, not this afternoon.

I want Mr. O'Malley to take them the message that the Committee of Public Expenditure expects to have representatives from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform here when it is talking about Votes. That is normal. We are dealing with three Votes this afternoon and no representative from the Department will be present to answer any questions. Take the message back.

Mr. Brian O'Malley

I will, certainly. We have raised with the secretariat before that there are difficulties.

That is why I am aware of it.

Mr. Brian O'Malley

There are 42 Votes in the system.

I am disappointed to hear that we do not have representatives. Mr. O'Malley was helpful today on the issue we spoke about. His intervention was helpful today but this afternoon no one from the Department will be here to help. Take that message back. At 2 p.m., we will resume in public session to deal with the Votes of the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. We will allow the witnesses to exit the room but the members should remain for the private session now.

The witnesses withdrew.
Sitting suspended at 11.39 p.m., resumed in private session at 11.41 p.m., suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed in public session at 2 p.m.