Business of Committee

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness at the committee. He is joined by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director of audit.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering.

The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 7 March. Are they agreed to? Agreed. They will be published. As I cannot see anything arising that will not be dealt with when we deal with correspondence and other items, we will move on.

The next item on the agenda is correspondence. The first category is category A - briefing documents and opening statements. Nos. 2076 and 2077, dated 26 and 27 March, are a briefing note and the opening statement for today's meeting from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We will note and publish them.

The next category is correspondence received from Accounting Officers and their Ministers following previous meetings of the committee. The first item is No. 2031, correspondence, dated 11 March 2019, received from Mr. Tom Grady, chief executive of Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board, on governance standards, the internal audit function, the finance committee and internal controls. The ETB acknowledges the shortcomings in 2017 which were highlighted. Corrective action has been taken to improve compliance. We will note and publish the correspondence. We have seen a general improvement in the ETB sector, but there are still problems throughout with internal audit. We will keep an eye on the matter.

The next item is No. 2032, correspondence received from Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, providing outstanding information requested by the committee on the Irish Prison Service. It relates to the level of compensation paid in cases involving an injury to a prisoner. The issues involved were not dealt with in previous correspondence. The correspondence provides details of the compensation paid in cases in which prisoners had harmed themselves and a note on cases which involved protected disclosures and non-disclosure agreements, including where payments were made. We will note the correspondence, but I want to highlight one or two issues in that regard.

The fourth letter highlights a very sad situation. It reads:

I can advise the Committee that payments for self-injurious behaviour for the years 2016 and 2017 were €50,000 and €51,737 respectively. The payments were made to the families of prisoners who had died from self-inflicted injuries while in custody.

I would like to write back to ask for an update on cases involving prisoners who died from self-inflicted injuries while in custody since 2017. I do not know if it was mentioned at our last meeting, but before we meet the Secretary General again, we will need to receive a note on potential claims or claims that have already been lodged as a result of an outbreak of tuberculosis in a prison. There are some cases in the system. I understand there is a significant issue in one institution.

We return to the State Claims Agency and will have to address the issue in our periodic report. There is a demarcation line. When an issue arises, it is referred to the State Claims Agency and, as far as the Irish Prison Service is concerned, that is the end of it. The agency is required under legislation to process and manage cases. However, we asked about confidentiality agreements. In the last paragraph Mr. O'Driscoll writes:

The State Claims Agency considers and treats all settlements as confidential as between the State Claims Agency and the Plaintiff. The State Claims Agency does not routinely request confidentiality agreements in relation to claims' settlements but does so from time-to-time as it deems it necessary and appropriate. In some instances, confidentiality agreements are sought by Plaintiffs.

Officials of the State Claims Agency will come before the committee again to deal with the handling of confidentiality agreements and claims against the State. We were told that they were almost unique. This indicates something slightly different. We will, therefore, need to verify the matter. We need to examine the TB outbreak and receive an update on cases in which people died from self-inflicted injuries while in custody. We will note and publish the correspondence.

The next item is No. 2033, correspondence received from Ms Carol Hanney, chief executive, City of Dublin Education and Training Board, providing information requested by the committee on the internal audit function. We will note and publish the correspondence. It makes for sad reading from a public accounts point of view. Essentially, the ETB had one internal auditor who retired in December 2016. There were communications between the ETB and the Department on what grade the internal auditor should be, whether he or she should be an assistant principal officer or at a higher grade. One body said "Yes", the other said "No". They then changed their minds and changed them back again. They tried to recruit but could not find anybody. They tried again but still could not find anybody. We are now told that the internal auditor should be recruited through the national ETB internal audit function. This is a great example of the parcel being passed around for years, sheets of paper being issued from one Department to another and nothing being done. I know that there are difficulties in recruitment, but the correspondence states that in the period from September to December 2017 the ETB internal audit function carried out one audit of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. It is utterly and totally unsatisfactory that there is no evidence of any internal audit having been carried out of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. It is not fair to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to answer off the top of his head, but what turnover does the organisation have?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It has a turnover of hundreds of millions of euro because it encompasses Student Universal Support Ireland. I think its turnover is €500 million.

Is the SUSI grants scheme supposed to be audited by the ETB internal audit function?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It it is within its scope. It is a processing function. There are many aspects to which the internal audit function should pay attention.

Does the Department have any role to play in carrying out the internal audit?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No.

That is dreadful. This is an organisation through which €500 million of taxpayers' money passes each year and the correspondence appears to show that no internal audit reports have been carried out in at least the last year and a half. That is not acceptable.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

All of the ETBs have been drawing attention to the lack of capacity to carry out internal audit reports.

We will send the letter to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, noting the serious concerns expressed. It is up to the Department to get a handle on the issue. The solution is not in the hands of individual ETBs. It is obviously a departmental issue. I will pass on the concerns that have been expressed. The Department must come up with a detailed plan to resolve the issue. To do our work, the committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General need to rely on the internal audit function, but there is a big gap in the system. It is just not on that an organisation with a turnover of €500 million has no internal audit function. I have made my point. We will ask for a detailed timetable.

Tangentially, last week I met representatives of the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, GRETB, with other Deputies. This does not concern the internal audit function, but I note that the implementation of shared services is moving very slowly. The GRETB representatives said the technology was not fit for purpose. They highlighted payroll and finance operations. They said it openly, which is the problem. I must say it is in spite of their best efforts.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The ETBs are operating legacy systems which were inherited from the vocational education committees. More than five years have passed and they are still relying on these out-of-date systems.

We often complain that they do not raise the matter, but they are raising it openly and telling us about it.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It was raised in practically all of the 2017 financial statements.

I do not know where we are going or what we are doing about it.

Is a move afoot on shared services?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

A project is being co-ordinated by the Department and Education and Training Boards Ireland.

We will ask for a detailed note on the matter.

We have discussed it and heard the theory, but the reality on the ground is that there is a huge delay in the roll-out of shared services. The ETB's representatives explained to us the issues related to payroll. I am trying to get my head around the finance aspect. I do not know how far behind we are in the roll-out, but the people who are speaking to us identified it as a risk.

Has an individual ETB been given the contract to provide shared payroll services? Has that point been reached?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I do not have the details. I am aware that the Secretary General wrote to the committee some months ago giving a position on the project.

We require a detailed specific update on where it is at now and the timetable to completion, not on the original plan. I would appreciate that. This will be noted and published. Is that agreed? Agreed. It follows on from the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, CDETB. I believe that the Galway and Mayo situation is replicated in many places around the State.

No. 2041B from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General, Department of Health, provides information requested by the committee as follows: a breakdown of the cost of services provided by laboratories in respect of CervicalCheck and further details in on the provision of out-of-cycle smear tests. Both of these are in line with what was said at the meeting here on the out-of-cycle tests and the costs of approximately €10 million for the services provided by the laboratories. Mr. Breslin has outlined in the correspondence that it is €9.6 million and he gives a small breakdown of those costs. We will note and publish this. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2044B from Mr. Maurice Buckley, chairman, Office of Public Works, provides information requested by the committee on the negotiations on the rent for Miesian Plaza and the basis of measurement to determine the rent. This matter is still under discussion. Mr. Buckley said that the matter has not been concluded. The committee will note and publish this and will ask for an update on that by a maximum of three months' time. We will give him a little bit of time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2045B is from Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach, and provides information requested by the committee on the costs of commissions of investigation, which we received subsequently from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That was a very detailed and comprehensive note that we discussed at this committee.

The correspondence from Mr. Fraser also includes a breakdown of figures on the Office of Government Information Services staffing and a copy of the Government's 2018 national risk assessment is also enclosed in No. 2045B(2). This risk assessment is an 87-page document that has been signed off by the Taoiseach. Mr. Fraser, in his letter, says that each Department looks after its own risk. The committee will write back to him because we had asked specifically about the national risk register, which he has given to us, but in his correspondence he refers back to the Department's risk register. The letter states:

The Department's Risk Register includes five categories of risks including Reputational Risks described as Risks to the public reputation of the Department, alongside Strategic, Operational, Financial and Legal & Regulatory Risks. The National Risk Assessment is in place to highlight national risks so for the Department a significant proportion of the risks are in the corporate and operational sphere.

The committee will ask Mr. Fraser to give us a note on what I would call a whole-of-Government approach. When we put the question to him, I thought we would get a response with the report such as a short observation on the whole-of-Government approach. He has come back with only the implications relating to his Department. This is produced by the Taoiseach's Department and signed off by him, but I would ask Mr. Fraser to give an observation from a whole-of-Government approach, to give us a similar overview to that which has highlighted at departmental level on the national risk register. I assume that he is the most appropriate Secretary General to answer that question. We will come back to see where that is. It is as if each Department has its own risk register, and this report is a compilation, but this committee always likes to see a whole-of-Government approach. That is what we are about. We will ask for that and will await a response on it. It is not an extensive document.

We are not looking for something that size. We are looking for headings with a short synopsis underneath. Some of them might be self-evident. We are not asking them to go off and write a huge response to us.

They talk about geopolitical, economic, social, environmental and technological risks.

What about social cohesion and housing?

I would ask members to read those matters. They can be taken up with the respective line Department's committees if there is a risk register for each Department. That job should be dealt with by the respective sectoral committees from their own points of view. This correspondence has been produced for the Committee of Public Accounts, and it was overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach, but we would like an overall whole-of-Government comment on that.

Could I have some clarification on the first part? Did the Chairman say that the committee had received that information?

Yes. We discussed it here at our previous meeting: the costs of all-----

The tribunals-----

Yes, the tribunals and the commissions of inquiry.

Mr. Brian O'Malley undertook to provide that information. Has it been provided?

Yes. We had that information at the last or second last meeting. That was definitely published and is on our database. If the Deputy has any problems, she will be able to get it through the system here. We had a good discussion on that the last day.

No. 2046B from Mr. Ray Mitchell relates to the Hannaway report on the national human resource division. The correspondence states:

The Human Resources Division contacted Mr. Conor Hannaway who was involved in the process, and he has advised that the intervention was an organisation development initiative which resulted in a briefing (set of presentation slides, which were provided to the Committee) which was shared with management and staff to help address the particular situation in 2006 at the Estates Office in Kilmainham. No formal report or minutes was required or prepared as a result of the intervention.

While there was a briefing, I do not recall what the presentation in Kilmainham was called. Mr. Mitchell has given us the best information he has. He has said that there was no formal report, minutes or documents from that presentation. We will note and publish this. If anyone here would like to take it up directly, he or she is free to do so. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2047 from Mr. David Feeney, chief operations officer at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, provides information requested by the committee on Project Ireland 2040. This correspondence was noted and published at the last meeting but it was not in time for our normal correspondence list. We had it at the previous meeting. We are formally noting and publishing it now. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2050 from Ms Rosalind Carroll, director at the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, is on the single public service pension scheme. This is a follow-up letter. Members will be pleased to know that when the committee does its periodic report, if staff see there is a gap in the information we have not been provided with, they go back to get an update. This correspondence deals with the single public service pension scheme and the cost to the RTB. The committee dealt with those issues specifically in our report and we had a chart on it. That was fully dealt with in the report we published two weeks ago. This will be noted and published.

No. 2051 is from Dr. Mary Lee Rhodes, head of regulation with the interim regulatory committee at the Housing Agency. This regulation office is a voluntary body - not statutory - that is not established yet. The correspondence covers the overall staffing levels in approved housing bodies, AHBs, including the numbers of staff dealing with housing and accommodation and those providing support services; details regarding how many of the 260 AHBs who have signed up to the voluntary code have ensured their financial statements are published and audited within nine months of year end; and the number of AHBs that do not meet the Companies Registration Office requirement for the publication of accounts.

We will discuss the next correspondence with this because it is on the same issue. No. 2052 from Dr. Donal McManus, chief executive officer with the Irish Council for Social Housing, provides details regarding security of tenure for clients in AHBs, including life tenure and any reduction in tenure in properties acquired under the NAMA scheme; overall staffing levels; details on the payment and availability scheme; information on local property tax paid by AHBs, paid at the minimum rate of €90 or thereabouts, which is the first step on the ladder; and a note on the number of new builds delivered by the sector. There are a few points here. We had the Irish Council for Social Housing before the committee because we are dealing with housing. We have had three meetings on the housing issue and we will bring it to a conclusion soon. With regard to the staffing numbers in AHBs, I am having trouble reconciling the two letters, one of which is from the regulatory office stating there are 10,067 staff and the other stating 1,236 staff are employed directly in the provision of housing. This implies that the other staff are either involved in administration or in providing care and support services for people in that area.

The letter from the Irish Council for Social Housing, if I am reading it right, suggests that the overall number of staff is 4,600 and the number of volunteers is 5,922. I am just not sure how these two letters gel.

I was really surprised to see that number of total staffing in approved housing bodies. I have exactly the same conundrum as the Deputy. I am trying to figure out what they would be doing and what their function would be. Most approved housing bodies, as far as I am aware, allocate houses. There would be a degree of administration but I am not aware that there are care services provided in most cases. I cannot figure out where they would have a requirement for 10,000 people. How does that end up being factored into the cost of that housing?

It is baffling. That is the letter from the regulation office and the Irish Council for Social Housing gives a staff figure of 4,600 and mentions almost 6,000 volunteers. Maybe the other letter should have referred to staffing, including volunteers. I do not know. It is not clear so we need clarification from both bodies. I do not follow the two letters. They seem to be saying different things. It is amazing if there are 10,000 employees involved in the sector. We need to know how many houses are under the control of approved housing bodies. We are going to ask the Department for the housing stock of all the local authorities.

What is the number of units?

The figure is 28,000.

On that page, on the social-----

Of which letter?

In page 2 of the Irish Council for Social Housing letter, it says the number of units under various levels is almost 30,000.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The council does not represent all AHBs. It is very complicated. The figures are not reconcilable. I might suggest that the committee sends the ICSH letter to the regulator because that is the more official body and the one that is more accountable to this committee. I would ask it to investigate and come back to the committee.

Where is the confusion about the number of units? Am I reading it wrong?

What paragraph is that?

The Irish Council for Social Housing letter, on page 2, in the diagram at the bottom-----

Tier 1, 2, 3, and the-----

The number of units is 29,803. Yes.

They are all under the Irish Council for Social Housing. That is all voluntary housing.

Yes. How could there be 10,000 staff associated with that?

I do not know. Even before we get to that, do we take it from the figures that there are 30,000 units in question?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is at least that but the ICSH does not represent all the AHBs. There could be 3,000 or 4,000 more in the sector.

It still would not be double or triple the number. I would not say that all the local authorities put together have 10,000 staff - they might not even have 5,000 staff - for a much bigger housing stock.

It is just difficult to reconcile. If it is captured within the cost of housing, it may be making that housing more expensive. Are we doing something when we do not understand what the remit is?

It could be that some of the homelessness organisations that do not have houses have a big complement of staff carrying out other work. We understand that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes. Support services.

What is worrying is that they do not seem to have a breakdown available, even to themselves, of their staffing. In that same paragraph, just before the chart, it is stated that the Irish Council for Social Housing does not have a breakdown available of the split between staff engaged in housing functions and those engaged in care and support services. They should have that. It is a big area. We are dealing with a housing crisis and the approved housing bodies, which are the ones dealing with a lot of the housing nowadays, cannot even give us this breakdown. It is a basic bit of information. I think we will also have to write to the Secretary General. He is ultimately the person who is handing out all this money on taxpayers' behalf. We should ask him to respond to these two letters as well.

Before we make a final decision, I would point out that on page 2 again of the same letter, it kindly sends on information I asked about in respect of security of tenure. It was always my understanding that people had security of tenure for life, subject to complying with the tenancy agreement, and that there was no difference between being housed under a voluntary body and a local authority except that tenants could never buy the house outright. That is what I understood. Over the last few years, I have seen voluntary bodies acquire housing and it is not clear what security of tenure the tenants have. It is not clear whether they are on four, five or ten year leases. That is what I was asking. What the ICSH has done in reply is quote the legislation back to us referring to Part 4 tenancies and so on. It was very kind of it to clarify the RTB and the legislation. However, what I asked was what security of tenure is in place in those almost 30,000 units. Are they offering life tenure or five-year leases? My question applies particularly to the last few years when accommodation was acquired from NAMA and so on. It is an important question.

Yes. It says that under the RTB, tenancies commencing before 24 December 2016 are four years in length. Are we saying people have only that much tenure?

That is what we need to know.

We need that clarified. When people get a social house from a local authority, they have it.

They have it for life.

The idea that these can come up every four or six years is way out from that.

I do not even know what the figures are and I think we need clarification.

We are going to write back to the Irish Council for Social Housing to clarify that remark in respect of the length of tenure.

It is not so much the remark as that it has not given us the information. It has told us how the RTB functions and what is in the legislation. We want a breakdown of the number of tenants who have tenure for life, subject to complying with their tenancy agreement.

Yes, and to know how many have three, four, six or ten year leases. We know these bodies came under the RTB a couple of years ago. We understand that. However, we want to know about the housing bodies in their own right and what tenure they offer their tenants.

The RTB was only to give extra protection to a tenant, and it applied only to private tenants until these bodies came under its aegis as well. That did not change the leases; it was extra protection.

It should not have changed them. They do not deal with that at all.

It will apply to whatever houses they got in a particular way under NAMA or something, if they only got them for a short time. We do not know. We need to tease it out.

What we are asking is, in respect of their 29,803 housing units, what tenancy is in place for those tenants? How many have life tenancies? How many have tenancies for maybe four or six years? We need that information.

In addition, returning to what the Comptroller and Auditor General has said, we should ask how many other units exist that are not accounted for here.

All the ICSH can account for is its own members. We are also going to write to the Department and will include all these items of correspondence. We want the Department to respond to the issues in these two letters and the issues we are raising. It is all well and good getting something from a voluntary regulatory office. It is fine getting something from the Irish Council of Social Housing. However, we need something from the Department on this.

At the end of this, we will have a report on housing. There have been figures bandied about and disputed, on which we got some clarification only in the last few weeks. It is primarily going to be a factual report so that we can also look at it from the point of view of value for money. In simple terms, that is what we are trying to achieve.

We probably will not be able to do a report on leasing versus ownership because that is a long-term thing and we have not done enough. However, there are lots of things such as the HAP and various other matters that we have covered in our three meetings. When we get these clarifications, we will be able to do a report on the areas we have covered, exactly as the Deputy has said. There are other issues in housing for other people to address. In respect of what we have done, we have enough information gathered or in the process of being assembled for us to do a project ourselves directly in the very near future. I said to the secretariat before the meeting started that there are two issues.

I am just throwing that out; I am not asking for members' views. There are two issues which are more time sensitive rather than waiting for a periodic report. The first one is the broadband issue. There is no point in the matter being concluded and this committee issuing a report two months later. The second is housing on which I believe we have most of our work assembled as far as we are going with that. The Comptroller and Auditor General's audit this year might throw up something else which we will come back to on another day but we might bring those two issues together. I am just asking members to think about it and we will decide on it the next day. I believe there are two issues. We have had three or four meetings on housing and at least three meetings on broadband. They are the two bigger projects that we have and I believe we should work on producing a report just covering those two items as soon as possible. It is advance work. It will not be in our next periodic report. There seems to be a general logic in that approach so we will follow up on this one and come back to that. I thank the members. We understand what is required. The Department has to come in on all of this as well because we will be issuing a report as soon as we get all our information back.

The next item is No. 2053B from Mr. Paul Quinn, Chief Procurement Officer, Office of Government Procurement, dated 12 March 2019, providing information requested by the committee as follows: a copy of the capital works management framework; a note on the required delivery timeline for the national paediatric hospital; and a copy of the minutes and attendance list for the meeting of the Government Contracts Committee for Construction when the request for a derogation by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board from the standard forms of contracts was considered and agreed. We will note and publish that.

There is a second item of correspondence relative to that on the list which I will skip down to. It is No. 2075B, which we will put on the screen, from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, specifically on the children's hospital. It is dated 25 March 2019 regarding our invitation for a second meeting. It states that given that the PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, report will not be discussed by the board until 1 May, it has asked that the meeting be scheduled after that. I want to look at the correspondence. There is quite a time gap in respect of No. 2075B. The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board states that PwC is currently targeting to complete its review on 5 April and the report will then be issued to the HSE, which commissioned the report, and not to the hospital board, and other relevant stakeholders for consideration. The board will not have its subsequent board meeting until 1 May so it is suggesting that it would be premature to come in on 18 April, which we accept. We will not have had an opportunity to discuss it. I will call Deputy Cullinane on that shortly. It is asking us to agree an alternative date after it has had an opportunity to consider the report. No. 2075B states that the board would like to invite members of the committee to visit the construction site of the new children's hospital to hear more about the project and view the work to date. They kindly ask that we would progress this invite with the members, and it suggests some date, one of which is this week. I will ask members for their views on that. Deputy Cullinane has commented on that.

I am not sure about the wisdom or the need for us to go on site. What is the date we had pencilled in to have the Department come back in with the board?

It is 18 April but they will not be ready by that date.

It makes sense from our perspective that we wait until the PwC report is concluded.

Obviously, people have different views on the report and whether it was the appropriate mechanism to establish the facts but it is the mechanism that has been used and it is fair to everybody - the Department, the board and even the members of this committee. Let us see what the report states. If we do not, we will bring them in and they will just say that they have to wait until the report is concluded.

Yes; a waste of time.

We will be wasting our time. It is probably best that we postpone that meeting until the report is concluded and reasonable time is given to allow us and them to discuss the report.

The letter indicates that it will be 1 May before the board gets to consider it. We have provisionally pencilled in 16 May.

That makes sense.

That is on our work programme.

Will we get to see it?

I can guarantee that we will.

It is up to the HSE; it is its report.

We saw the Mazars report. The funny thing about that report, relating to substantially the same issue, was that it was completed in December and two weeks later we heard, "Let us do a PwC report". We had the Mazars report on the desk.

The Comptroller and Auditor General should have been doing it, as I said the previous day. Will we have had time to go through the report before the witnesses come in?

That is guaranteed.

Provided the HSE release it to us.

It will.

It is a HSE report.

I am taking the view, as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, that we have seen the Mazars report. We are seized of this issue. We are dealing with this issue and we will want that report. That is it. If somebody wants to stop the Committee of Public Accounts examining it-----

Are we agreeing then on the proviso that we would have had reasonable sight of the report-----

-----within a reasonable timeframe before that?

Exactly. The members of the Joint Committee on Health have been invited to visit the hospital and I know various regional health committees and members of local authorities who are on regional health forums have had tours of the site. I do not know if it will add much to our work.

I think the Minister has done enough photo-calls on the site. I certainly will not be anticipating one for the committee.

At this stage we will thank them for the invitation and just hold it over.

Yes. I do not think there is any value for money in it.

Walking around the site wearing hard hats will not increase our knowledge.

There is no harm in writing to the HSE telling it that we expect to get a copy of the report shortly after 5 April.

Yes. I thank Deputy O'Brien because it is the HSE which commissioned the report. We will put it on notice that we request that as well. We will come back to the other issue about the capital works management framework and the Government contracts committee at that meeting. We will hold over all the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board correspondence to that meeting.

The next item of correspondence is No. 2054B from Ms Geraldine Larkin, chief executive officer, National Standards Authority of Ireland, again relating to the single public service pension scheme. The NSAI had a potential liability of €395,375 for the years 2013-2018 but we covered that topic in our interim report. We will just note and publish that correspondence.

The next item of correspondence is No. 2058B from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, providing information on a number of matters related to the national broadband plan and the metropolitan area networks. We will note and publish that and discuss it in our meeting with Mr. Griffin after this session.

The next item of correspondence is No. 2059B from the chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority, which again is in connection with the single public service pension scheme. That topic was covered in our periodic report, which we published recently. We will note and publish that.

The next item of correspondence is No. 2060B from Mr. Paddy O'Keeffe of the Tax Appeals Commission, dated 13 March 2019, providing information requested by the committee for a bi-monthly update from the Tax Appeals Commission regarding 17 high value appeals. We will note and publish that but I want to remark that some very big cases are concluded and we intend to ask about them, without identifying any of the people involved. In one case the quantum of the appeal was €138 million. These are the biggest ones. It is to be reviewed at the end of the second quarter but there is a case for €119 million, which is an appeal against a refusal of a corporation tax deduction in the cumulative amount of €120 million. That case was closed in January 2019. If that case is closed, we want information on the agreed figure, the amount for the taxpayer, if it has been paid since or had it been paid in advance. There was another case for €103 million against a refusal of a corporation tax deduction. That case was closed very recently, in February 2019. There was another case of €68 million which was an appeal against refusal of a corporation tax deduction. That was also closed last month. There are cases relating to corporation tax deductions worth €370 million that were closed in recent weeks. We want a report on the outcome of those cases. The taxpayer need not be identified but we want to know the final agreed figure, if it has been paid and, if not, when it will be paid.

Most of the other cases are scheduled for hearing. There was another case of €23 million relating to corporation tax, which was closed in October. Another one of €19 million was also closed in October. Another case of €10 million was closed in October. It is the same issue. We will ask for an update on the financial issue of all the closed cases in terms of the outcome of those cases and the payment to the taxpayer. It is a great schedule. We will ask the Tax Appeals Commission to continue to provide us with a list of the top ten current cases from now on. A good few have gone off the list. We want to make it a manageable list from our point of view.

There was another case, an income tax appeal, involving a sum of €19 million, that was closed in January. A number of cases have been settled in recent weeks to a figure of as much as €400 million and we would like to know the outcome for the taxpayer in each of them. We will change our format. We will ask the Tax Appeals Commissioner to give us every two months the top ten cases in terms of the quantum of money involved and indicate how they are progressing. That will help us to make sure there is a resolution of these matters. There were appeal cases, in respect of which the quantum of money involved was €1.6 billion. I know that the amount of tax to be paid was probably about €1.1 billion. It is in our interests to make sure tax due to the State is collected as speedily and efficiently as possible. We will note and publish the correspondence. We will also write to the Tax Appeals Commissioner to thank him for the information provide and request a further breakdown.

No. 2062 is correspondence received from Mr. John McKeon, Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, providing information requested by the committee on the capital assistance programme. We will note and publish the correspondence and take it into consideration as part of our work on the housing issue which we will be concluding soon.

No. 2063 is correspondence, dated 14 March 2019, received from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill. It explains that the Bill "provides for a replacement of the Court Poor Box by the establishment of a statutory Reparation Fund. These funds will be allocated to ... victims of crime and for compensation payments payable by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. The reparation fund ... will be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General". Is the Comptroller and Auditor General aware of this?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I am.

It is another job for the Comptroller and Auditor General. At least the position is being regularised, which is probably the key point because the practice varies in the District Court throughout the country. We understand the money in the poor box is accounted for through the Courts Service, but there may still be a gap. We will ask the Minister to clarify what is meant by the phrase "the replacement of the Court Poor Box by the establishment of a statutory Reparation Fund". We also want to clarify what is meant when a judge says in the District Court that someone must pay so much into the Garda Benevolent Fund or to the local homeless charity. That money does not go into the poor box.

Garda Benevolent Fund.

I have seen it in the newspapers. It happens where a garda was injured in an assault and something is paid into the fund.

It is in that context. I beg the Chairman's pardon.

I have seen such cases reported numerous times during the years in which a garda was injured in an assault and something was paid into the fund.

There is possibly a category that is not captured by the legislation. I am referring to money that does not go into the poor box and is meant to be paid directly to a victim or an organisation. As we want to know how such instances will be captured under the legislation, we will write back to the Department on the matter. All I can say is that we are keeping on top of it. We will ask the Minister when the Bill is expected to be passed. I do not even know if it is a Government or a Private Members' Bill, but we will ask for details.

No. 2064 is correspondence received received from Mr. Paul O'Toole, chief executive officer, Higher Education Authority, providing information on the independent review of the sale of companies at Waterford Institute of Technology. The authority advises that we cannot proceed further on this matter and provides an update on the latest developments. The next item is related. No. 2065 is correspondence received from Mr. William Beausang, Department of Education and Skills, providing information which sets out the Department's position on correspondence received from the Waterford Institute of Technology on the independent review of the sale of companies at Waterford Institute of Technology. The Department has put a number of questions to WIT. When the responses are received, we will consider them and advise the Minister on the next steps to be taken. We note and publish the correspondence. Deputy Cullinane wants to speak about the matter.

Can we group three items of correspondence together?

Is there a third item of correspondence?

There are items Nos. 2064, 2065 and 2074 which is a very lengthy letter received from Professor Donnelly.

No. 2074 was received from Professor Donnelly about a memorandum sent by a researcher to the then vice president. It is mentioned in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is also a note on the institute's concerns about the list of FeedHenry shareholders that we published on receipt of the information from the institute. Professor Donnelly requests that we remove the information provided for us from our website as it is inaccurate. It was published by us in good faith. There are three items of correspondence. We will note and publish the correspondence.

I will first establish the facts because the correspondence raises a number of issues beyond Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, in terms of process and how we conduct our work. The Higher Education Authority, HEA, has produced a report on the governance of intellectual property, which we welcome. It is a national overview and a review of policy. We also received a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General which was published and we discussed with Professor Donnelly. It looked specifically at the company FeedHenry and its disposal only. That was one part of the issue at Waterford Instituted of Technology. We then received a separate report from the HEA, which cannot be published for the reasons we were given in correspondence received from the Department and the HEA. The difficulty is I received correspondence from a number of individuals who were part of that process. They are very upset at the letter sent by the HEA, which is very similar to the letter we received. Essentially, the HEA states we cannot publish the report for legal reasons, that it has carried out a global review of intellectual property, that the Comptroller and Auditor General's report also looked at the issue and that that is the end of the matter. The problem is that the Comptroller and Auditor General looked at it very narrowly in the sense that he looked at one specific issue. The HEA's report looked at the issue more broadly and raised a number of issues. The former head of the HEA has confirmed to us that it raised substantial issues. Simply, it seems that the HEA did not have the power to produce the type of report that it did produce. Essentially, we are being asked to forget about it as if it never happened and simply accept that the national review of policy and the Comptroller and Auditor's report which looked at one narrow element are sufficient. I do not believe they are sufficient and that it is fair to all those who took part in the process, especially those who have concerns who I imagine might also write to the committee about the issue.

Essentially, the letter from the Department states there are a number of questions that it has put to the board, which is fair enough. However, the questions arise from the Comptroller and Auditor General's report only. As i said, that report is very narrow. Again, the Department seems to be stating that is at what we are looking. We are looking at it through the prism of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, not the wider examination of the issues involved undertaken by the HEA. That concerns me. The Department can do that in the context of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. My concerns are that there was a substantial report produced over the course of many months, for which a lot of people were consulted, including in the institute who were also defending their positions. A comprehensive report was compiled. At no time in our hearings or discussions were allegations made of wrongdoing by individuals. Again, the report looked at the process. It seems, both from the HEA's letter and that of the Department, that they think it is sufficient that the Comptroller and Auditor General has produced a report and that we can now move on.

I welcome the response from Professor Donnelly because it is good that an Accounting Officer takes an interest in the work of the Committee of Public Accounts, but there is a lot of correcting what Members said and statements made. I am concerned about that memo we sought to have released has been redacted. The response from the Accounting Officer is as follows:

With regard to the "Memo", as outlined in our letter dated 20th February 2019, we reiterate that the Institute has received legal challenges to the release of the Memo. Subsequent to our previous letter, a third person, who is a current WIT employee, also challenged the release of the Memo on the same basis and also on the basis that the Institute has a duty of care to them. As the Institute is duty-bound to protect itself against legal and financial exposure, and as it is of the opinion that providing even a redacted copy of the Memo would not provide such protection, we must respectfully decline to provide a copy of said Memo.

I find it extraordinary that even a redacted version cannot be given to us. I am not saying the institute has not received legal advice, but it is a memo that was cited in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Interestingly, the Accounting Officer has no difficulty in referencing the memo and, in fact, corrected the committee in its interpretation of the memo. However, we cannot be given a copy of it to adjudicate for ourselves and decide what the issues are.

I have a concern about page 2 of the Accounting Officer's letter where he takes exception to one of the members who had raised concerns about the memo. Can the Comptroller and Auditor General quickly remind us what the memo was and what the observations in his report were on that memo?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

What we found when we were carrying out the examination was this memo. It was on file and it related to a review carried out by a member of the technology transfer office into the relationship between Waterford Institute of Technology and Aceno Mobile Services. In January 2010, a memorandum on that review was sent to the vice president for research and it raised a number of concerns-----

So it raised concerns but did that-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

-----about that relationship.

So the memo was sent to the vice president and it raised concerns. Was it indicated in that memo that it should go higher up the chain?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, it was recommended that the memorandum be copied to certain parties, including staff members of the institute who were charged with dealing with matters relating to conflicts of interest.

Was it copied to them?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No. We did not find any evidence that it was copied to them.

This is the important point here. The Accounting Officer states:

It was also stated: "... somebody in the research office had written to Professor Donnelly, who was the vice president, raising concerns about the process and asking that the memorandum be circulated higher up. However, this was never done".

The Accounting Officer further states:

The Institute's position is that this last statement is factually incorrect. As the C&AG special report clearly highlights in sections 3.27 to 3.29, the issues raised in the memo were raised with the senior executive responsible for legal, financial and governance issues.

However, was this not later on in the process?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It was later on in the process and what we were advised by the institute at the time we were doing the report was that the concerns raised in the January memorandum were subsequently raised in another memorandum to the vice president of research. The January document was not given to anybody else that we know of. It was a different document but the different document was never produced to us.

That is my point. I do not accept the response from the Accounting Officer at all when he says that it was dealt with sufficiently because it is clear even from the Comptroller and Auditor General today that the original memo was to be circulated to those higher up and it did not happen.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That was the recommendation of the author of the document.

That is the factual position and the Accounting Officer is saying that is not factual because he is citing a different memo. In any event, I just cannot understand why we cannot get a copy of this memo. It is being said that there is legal advice from third parties but it is a memo that was from somebody who worked in the institute to somebody who was high up in the institute and was the vice president, outlining issues-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

With the relationship between the institute and a company.

-----which we were examining ourselves as part of our work. It is a memo that is in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. We have sought a redacted version, which I imagine would block out the names of the individuals, and they are saying that they still cannot give us this memo, yet they can still cite the memo in a lengthy letter taking the Committee of Public Accounts to task. In fact, it is inaccurate in terms of taking us to task on it and also then asking us to remove it, which I would have no problem with if there was inaccurate information that we had published. We should do so in that case. We have done good work on this and I commend the institute on accepting the recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. My broader point is that the bigger issue is that through our work we have ensured that the Higher Education Authority, HEA, did a more global review of intellectual property and we have come a long way on this. However, I have a concern about a HEA report which was done very comprehensively and cannot be published for legal reasons so then we just park it. I have a real concern about that because it examined issues beyond FeedHenry. The problem is that we will never know what those issues were and these are people on opposing sides with different views of the process and different interpretations of how the process worked. Professor Donnelly was very clear in making that point as well. It was the case that 50 people or more took part in the process, some of whom would have been management, some of whom would have been researchers and staff and there were different opinions but the point is that an independent process heard from all sides and then produced a report that outlined the facts and all we want are the facts and yet it seems now that we will not get them.

We have the correspondence from the president. Is the chairperson of the board a different person?

It is not about the board at this point. If the HEA cannot do the report, what was discussed at the last meeting with the Department, when it was in with the HEA, was that it can appoint a statutory inspector to do the exact same work that the author of the HEA report, which cannot now be published, carried out. We have to make a decision as a committee whether we are satisfied or content with leaving the process go and saying that it cannot be published for legal reasons. That is fair enough and we accept that if they stepped outside their remit but the issues have not changed. That is the point. None of the concerns and the issues that have been raised by individuals or by those who have a different interpretation of what was raised will be tested or independently examined if it is just left as the Department and the HEA seem to be advocating.

The letter from Mr. Beausang in the Department is saying that the chair of the governing body has acknowledged receipt of the correspondence and the Department has advised the governing body that once the response is received from it following the next meeting, the Department will consider it then. Will it come back through the Department?

No, that is to do with the memo. The memo is somewhat separate. Again, that is a different matter that we are not getting the release of the memo, citing legal reasons. Even a redacted version cannot be given to us. The broader issue is the HEA report which cannot now be published. The issue is whether or not we accept that to be the end of the matter.

If we got it, what would this memo help us to conclude if we had sight of it or even of a redacted version of it? The Deputy knows more about it than we do so I am asking for his help on this matter.

We are conflating issues. The memo was in the context of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and it was a memo that cited, so in the course of any hearing we have, if memos are cited and we do not have them, we can request them. We requested them when the Accounting Officer was here and the Accounting Officer said he would send on the memo. Subsequently, he obviously would have sought legal advice which said it cannot be released to us. There are two issues here. That is the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. The bigger issue is the HEA report.

The Comptroller and Auditor General got that memo and had sight of that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

I know it is not appropriate for the Comptroller and Auditor General to release it. We are not even going there but the Comptroller and Auditor General got it. Could they have cited similar legal reasons not to give it to you? I do not know but they did not do so anyway because you got the report.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I have a legal entitlement to any record but obviously I cannot use it for any purpose. It has to be specifically for a purpose. We looked at the document. It was relevant to the examination of the development and the disposal of the interest in FeedHenry because in 2009, Aceno Mobile Services was a shareholder in FeedHenry but it ceased to be a shareholder at some point in late 2008 or early 2009. That was why it was relevant to us to look at it but it was looking at a broader relationship between the company and the institute of technology. I had set a scope for the examination, which was to look at the development and disposal of FeedHenry, so it was not appropriate for me to throw a wider net just as it happened. I would have had to commence a whole separate piece of work on it. We looked at the memo and the issues that were raised and we identified what we felt were the risks that the memo spoke to about the relationship between an institute of technology and a campus company and we examined those issues in relation to FeedHenry in chapter 4 of the examination. I formed no definitive view on the relationship between Aceno Mobile Services and the institute of technology. That is a matter that is dealt with in the memo and, as the Deputy said, there are different views to be taken into account on that. Different interests might take different views on that but that is where the matter rests.

I needed to complete the work on FeedHenry and I have done that. Whether there is a case for further examination might be judged when the institute comes back to the Department on the questions about how the system deals with the matters going forward.

I do not want to delay the meeting because the Accounting Officer from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is coming in. This raises questions beyond WIT. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General cited a memo which we looked for but which we were told we could not get for legal reasons, even in a redacted form. I do not know what the legal basis is for why we cannot get the document. It was said that legal advice was taken but the memo was shared by people who worked in the institute.

The Comptroller and Auditor General says the office received legal challenges to the release of the memo.

I do not know the details but I have read the letter and there is a bigger issue, which is raised by the memo. Somebody was concerned and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General analysed it in a limited way. The president said he would do the same tomorrow but that is where we come in. When risks are brought to someone's attention there is an extra burden on that person but he is clearly saying that he dealt with this in the right way.

Is it the point here that if there is a document or an email which we want to have for any of our hearings, a Department or an agency can say they cannot give it to us for legal reasons?

Yes, they can say that. If the documents jeopardise-----

Even a redacted version?

A reasonable explanation for that has to be given but I do not see one yet.

I am a layman but we can double check. It may be possible for the legal team to give us a synopsis of the memo, if not the memo itself, redacted or otherwise. If somebody could give us the key facts of the memo we could be satisfied that we had its content. There has to be a halfway house for this. I accept that some people do not want to be named and the college has to protect itself if there is a legal challenge. It is the content that is important, not the individuals. Is there a halfway house in which the Committee of Public Accounts and the college could be happy?

I am more concerned about the bigger issue of the HEA report, which cannot be published.

I know that.

Is it acceptable for it to be parked and for that to be the end of the matter?

It is not acceptable for the HEA to commence a process without having the authority to do so. It seems it was not sure of its legal powers before it started and went a long way down the road, with everybody co-operating. It exposed its own position and, at almost the final stage, somebody challenged its authority to commission the report and it is now an issue. It is dreadful for the staff who were involved in the process. I have not encountered such a thing and I do not know the answer.

There is an issue over the statement that this would happen again today all over again.

The statement has been confirmed in the letter.

We can talk further during the week. Maybe the parliamentary legal adviser could give us some guidance, even if we cannot have the formal report.

Leaving aside what is in the memo, we are being told that if the situation arose again today it would be dealt with in the same way. That is a problem.

That is where we make recommendations in our reports.

I would hope the HEA would come back on this as the oversight body.

All we can do is issue a recommendation on what we found to be wrong with the process and what needs to be corrected. We have held off from completing our work because of the other things that have not yet been completed. Maybe we will have to proceed on the basis of what we have found and issue a conclusion, sooner rather than later, notwithstanding the fact that issues might be ongoing.

The HEA's examination came on the back of our work and a commitment was given to this committee by the former head of that organisation to do a deeper dive into the issue of intellectual property at WIT. More than 50 people were engaged in the process and the report was concluded but it cannot be published. We then had a discussion with the Department of Education and Skills, whose officials said there were a number of alternative options including a ministerial appointment. We could go back to the Department and ask what the next steps are, given the fact that the report cannot be published. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is separate.

Will we write to the Department on that basis?

We will ask the secretariat to draft a letter and to let Deputy Cullinane and me see the draft before it goes out. It is right to go back to the Department. If we are not happy with how it goes, we will have to report on the case as we find it.

The next item is No. 2069 from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, with documentation for Kildare and Wicklow ETB. While I propose publishing the letter and lease agreement enclosed, I do not propose that we publish the communication in relation to the property leases as it includes details of names of individual staff, phone numbers etc. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Correspondence No. 2071 is from Mr. Kevin McCarthy, Secretary General, Department of Rural and Community Development, and provides information requested by the committee on the My Open Library service, which is a staffless library. He says there will be no reduction in staff and an improvement to services. It is an issue in several local authorities. We will note and publish this item and members are free to follow it up themselves. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Correspondence No. 2073 is from Dr. Deirdre Keyes, chief executive of Kildare and Wicklow ETB, providing a response to information requested by the committee including notes on: independent valuations; meetings of the board held in hotels; leasing of property by KWETB that was previously owned by it; and details of the rent-free period for Bray Civic Centre. Dr. Keyes also refers to a review of all KWETB leases and the difficulties collating the documentation. We will note and publish this item. Is that agreed? Agreed.

There is a specific item to which we will have to come back. Deputy O'Brien raised the issue but the information has not been provided yet. It concerns a particular premises.

It relates to a premises in Bray. We will hold it over until the meeting, by which time we will have read it in detail.

I suggest that we write to the Department as well because it has oversight of this area.

On the back of the Thorn report into this issue and the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Department recommended changes in the governance of ETBs. Given that many decisions were not approved by the board, perhaps we need to ask the Department what changes it is making to tighten that up and ensure that boards are making decisions and are central to key decisions. If it is happening in this case, it could be happening elsewhere.

It could be happening on a widespread basis.

It may have been captured in the-----

We need to examine how legally valid are such leases. I agree with the Deputy. Perhaps we will hold it over and conclude it at our next meeting, with specifics.

We will now move to correspondence from individuals. The committee has not met for a fortnight so there has been a slight build-up in correspondence.

No. 2038, dated 4 March, is from an individual who is querying new arrangements relating to access to primary dental care. The matter does not fall within the remit of the committee. Can we note the item? We will not publish it because it is an individual complaint.

No. 2040, dated 5 March, is from an individual who has several queries regarding the committee’s reports relating to An Garda Síochána. The individual is seeking an update. It is good to see that our reports are being examined carefully by members of the public. I propose we forward the queries to An Garda Síochána for a response. We will note that item and look forward to receiving a response.

No. 2042 is a note prepared by the liaison officer on non-competitive procurement. We will note that and deal with it as part of our next periodic report.

No. 2043, dated 6 March, is from Mr. Tadhg Daly, chief executive officer, CEO, of Nursing Homes Ireland, and requests that the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General provide an update to the committee regarding its proposed report relating to an examination of the nursing home support scheme. Is there a proposed report?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, we are working on a report on nursing homes. We started it and engaged with the nursing homes representative body in 2017, but the committee was doing its own work in respect of nursing homes. There are other aspects that we are pursuing. I expect to have a fairly comprehensive special report on nursing homes and expenditure on nursing homes this year.

Is that only in respect of private nursing homes? Does the report deal with all nursing homes?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Public and private nursing homes.

That is good.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It will look at the economics involved, as well as cost comparisons and so on.

What is the expected timeframe for the report?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I expect that a draft report will be ready to go to the various public bodies with which we are engaging by the end of next month. I expect it will be completed in the summer.

It may be September when it is laid before the Minister.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It will be after the summer, so possibly September, yes.

That is timely. It is a big item of expenditure. We touched on it in our report.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is a significant issue.

No. 2048, dated 8 March 2019, is from Mr. Peter McCarthy, CEO of Enet, and provides information requested by the Committee. We will take it on board as part of our meeting with the Department on broadband. We will publish it because representatives of Enet appeared before the committee and this is a follow-on from that public meeting.

No. 2049 is from Mr. John O'Dwyer, head of regulation at BT Ireland, and provides information requested by the committee in regard to the Analysys Mason report, outlining recommendations. It was discussed at a meeting of the committee and we will take the correspondence on board as part of our forthcoming discussion. We will note and publish the correspondence. It is a follow-on from a previous public meeting of the committee.

No. 2055, dated 5 March, is from an individual and is in regard to a proposed new Garda station in Schull. The individual alleges that €300,000 of repairs was carried out on a building that was less than one year old and that the original contractor may not have been held to account. I propose that we write to the Office of Public Works for a note on the matter. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2056, dated 6 March, is from an individual who has a concern that nurses at KDoc, Kildare and west Wicklow, are being paid in excess of agreed pay scales. I do not think that KDoc falls under the remit of the committee. These GP practice groups do not fall under our remit. The individual states that nurses at the group are being paid in excess of agreed pay scales. If they were being paid less than agreed pay scales, I would be very worried. Mr. McCarthy has not dealt with the funding of out-of-hours GP practice groups.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I have not.

Is it in the State contract of GPs that they must provide a certain amount of out-of-hours services?

GPs do not have to participate. It is a voluntary coming together of GPs.

It is all voluntary.

It is all voluntary. From that point of view, it is an entirely voluntary process by groups of GPs in a region. Some GPs are involved and others choose not to be. It is a matter for them. We will forward the correspondence to the Joint Committee on Health. It is a matter for that committee. It is a voluntary affair and does not involve public funds. We will forward the correspondence to the Joint Committee on Health for any action it considers appropriate. I do not wish to ignore the correspondence but it would be very much stretching our brief to address it.

The next item is from Mr. Sean Bolger, the CEO and chairman of Imagine Communications Group, and provides information regarding 5G. It will be considered as part of our proceedings today. We will note and publish the correspondence. Agreed? Agreed.

No. 2070 is from an individual and relates to the operation of the Irish election observation roster and a response received from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The individual believes that the selection process was flawed. The individual was not granted a place on the roster and has taken an appeal to the High Court. The committee previously dealt with matters involving another individual in respect of this matter and decided that we would not pursue it any further. I propose that we note the matter. We should not become involved, particularly if a case has been taken to the High Court.

I do not know where we stand in regard to the issue of accountability.

Did we cover it in an interim report?

I think we covered it in our most recent periodic report.

Did we write to the relevant party?

I ask the secretariat to check where we left off on this issue. If we issued a recommendation on the issue, we will send it to the two people concerned. The Committee of Public Accounts can do no more than make a recommendation. We will receive a response from the Department as part of the minute. I think we have done all we can.

I was hoping that we would get a response from the Department.

If it is covered in our most recent periodic report, we will receive a minute from the Department. It is not off our desk completely in that regard.

The next item is statements and accounts received since the last meeting. We will move through this relatively quickly. I want to get these issues dealt with because if they are not, there will be a build-up for next week, the following week and every other week. The statements and accounts are before the committee. There is nothing major therein for discussion, apart from one unusual item. The first item is the National Library of Ireland, which has been given a clear audit opinion. The Royal Irish Academy of Music has also been given a clear audit opinion, as has the Cork Institute of Technology. Sligo Institute of Technology has been given a clear audit opinion but attention is again drawn to a severance payment which we dealt with in our most recent report.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct.

There are also issues in respect of procurement non-compliance. This is occurring across the board. It is being highlighted by ETBs. The need for internal audit has been recognised in that sector.

The next item is the Educational Research Centre, which receives a clear audit opinion. Attention is drawn to the recognition of deferred pensions. It is a new organisation in its second year of existence. It has not yet formally adopted a code of practice of governance and the board did not carry out a review of the effectiveness of internal systems of internal control. We will note that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The organisation is in a start-up phase and these matters will be addressed.

I suspect that improvements have since been made.

The next item is No. 4.6, the health repayment scheme (donation) funds. There is no turnover. It is a fund established a number of years ago to receive donations from long-stay patients or their estates arising out of the overpayment of charges.

The next item is a special account established for the purposes of the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act. There is no turnover and a clear audit opinion. The Environmental Protection Agency received a clear audit opinion. It is on the work programme of the committee.

The HSE received a clear audit opinion, apart from the inadequate monitoring of grants and the issue of the surplus on capital income and expenditure account brought forward. We examined the financial statements for 2017 last year. For some reason, the HSE was late in lodging them with the Oireachtas but the committee has already examined them.

The next item is the University of Limerick, which received a clear audit opinion. The Economic and Social Research Institute also received a clear audit opinion. The HSE patient and private property accounts, clear audit opinion. The HSE disclosed some inadequate controls of private property accounts in 2017, which was dealt with by the committee as part of our discussion of the 2017 accounts with the HSE.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

The Royal Irish Academy has been given clear audit opinion. A deferred pension issue again arises. Dundalk Institute of Technology has also been given a clear audit opinion. Again, however, internal control is an issue.

At least with the ETBs, we have gone from a situation where they were not producing accounts to a situation where they are now producing accounts. We now know they have an internal audit function. We are getting there with them. That is all I will say.

I agree with the Chairman. When people from Dundalk were in here, their significant problems were well aired and discussed. At the same time, we should note that they are coming through with a clear audit opinion. The Comptroller and Auditor General has drawn attention to certain aspects of that. They have gone through a period of considerable change at their campus. That is to be welcomed as well.

That is good. As I have said, we are finding an improvement. We are certainly not there yet with the ETB.

Some of this is predictable.

Yes. It was bad planning by the Government to set up organisations. I have seen three or four cases. We might have to deal with that. Three years after they passed the legislation, they did not know which public bodies should be included under the public service pension scheme. Where were they going? There was a lack of planning when they drafted the legislation.

Obviously, we are seeing a deficiency in internal audit. We can see where there was a lack of thought or planning in some of the amalgamations and things like that. We are seeing where computer systems might not be compatible and that kind of stuff. We are seeing what those organisations are presenting, even in terms of procurement. The fact that this is being done retrospectively should tell us something that we might need to say to the Department if we are finalising something.

New legislation-----

Yes. There must be a regulatory impact assessment that looks at these kinds of things. Some lessons must be learned from these amalgamations. They are not the only amalgamations that will ever happen.

Correct.

There is no point in saying we are getting there with them.

It is a question of how we stop this from happening again.

Yes. There is no learning. The Deputy is right. Everything we are seeing here was foreseeable in advance, if anybody had thought about it. There is nothing that should shock people. Everything we are witnessing in the context of the ETB sector, including the internal audit function, was foreseeable. There were approximately 30 old bodies - I am not sure how many of them there were - and each of them had a different accounting system. All of this was foreseeable.

We have made a national pastime out of creating problems and then going back and trying to solve those problems.

We are-----

Rather than deciding to change the culture and do things differently-----

-----we should plan, predict and avoid the problems. I do not see where that actually fits in. That is a process issue for us as well.

Fail to plan,-----

-----plan to fail. That is it.

It is doubly ironic that they were amalgamated to make them more efficient and better, but the opposite has happened. It is most unfair on the staff on the ground.

They are telling us that it is unfair.

We criticise them for other things.

Yes. There is a space here. We have seen this occurring a few times in the last period. When legislation is passed, no assessment is carried out.

We were about to do it again in the case of Galway city and county.

Probably.

No, we were. We stopped it in the Dáil. It was planned to create a bigger entity without any preparation.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I would like to draw attention to the amalgamations or likely amalgamations of some of the institutes of technology.

Carlow and Waterford.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is a better model in the sense that there is a lead time. Preparations are being done. There is due diligence. It is costing money. The committee has looked at that and drawn attention to the expense involved.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It may be a better model for how these kinds of things are approached.

The new bodies-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

One of the accounts that is coming up here is Dublin Institute of Technology.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

There will be one further audit of Dublin Institute of Technology. Now the technical university is in place. Three institutes have been amalgamated. It will be interesting to see whether lessons have been learned, whether systems come together better and whether governance comes together in a better way as a result of that experiment.

Okay. In the case of Carlow Institute of Technology, there was a clear audit opinion. In the case of Dublin Institute of Technology, there was a clear audit opinion but there was non-compliant procurement. In the case of the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange, there was a clear audit opinion. In the case of the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council, which specifies and monitors standards for the delivery of pre-hospital treatment, there was a clear audit opinion. Again, attention is drawn to the issue of when superannuation becomes payable.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is a health sector accounting issue.

All of the health sector accounts have that issue.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

They have their own accounting standards.

What does the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council do?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

In effect, it monitors delivery standards by the ambulance service and first responders. There is a training element and so on.

Interesting.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is involved in setting standards.

We will ask the liaison officer to send us a note on it, for the benefit of-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The financial statements may give a certain amount of information.

We will ask the secretariat to circulate them.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The committee might want to have a look at them if they are circulated.

If we get those emailed directly to us, we will get a good feel for what the organisation does. In the case of Sport Ireland, there was a clear audit opinion. Other people are dealing with that organisation at the moment. In the case of the Loughs Agency, there was a clear audit opinion. In the case of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, there was a clear audit opinion. Like all health bodies, it has its own accounting standards when it comes to superannuation. In the case of Louth-Meath ETB, there was a clear audit opinion, although there was some non-compliant expenditure and the internal audit function was raised again. We will move on. The point about learning lessons in advance is the most important issue we have covered there.

The next item is the work programme. We will be very brief with the work programme now. One or two changes have had to be made since we were last here, solely for logistical reasons. Next week, representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality will be back to deal with the Vote of that Department. There might be outstanding questions from the previous meeting. On 11 April, we will be joined by representatives of the Central Statistics Office and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I assume that means the Comptroller and Auditor General's Accounting Officer will be here instead of the Comptroller and Auditor General that day.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No. I will be here as well. I am the auditor.

Mr. McCarthy audits himself.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No, I do not. I audit the office, which is not me. I am not part of the office. The office supports me. I will explain it all on the day.

And the non-procurement issue.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

And the non-procurement issue, if there is one.

I will explain why that is in there. It had been scheduled that the paediatric board would be here that day, but we did not want to do that. We felt that we could slot in these two groups at relatively short notice. The Central Statistics Office was meant to come here at an earlier date. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General had already been provisionally mentioned. The Environmental Protection Agency will be here the following week. Then there will be two non-sitting weeks. The Garda Síochána will be back on 9 May. There is a chapter in the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report on the report and accounts to the public service on the management of overtime expenditure in the Garda Síochána. On 16 May, representatives of the paediatric hospital board will be here as part of their financial statements. The Courts Service will be here on 23 May. On 30 May, officials from the Department of Finance will be here. A lot of Votes come under that Department. On 13 June, we will consider the appropriation accounts of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. We have said that we will deal with the Vote for the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer. There might be a little variation in our plans for some of the dates that are a little further way.

The Chairman has said that officials from the Department of Justice and Equality will be here next week to discuss the broader Vote. Have we decided anything on the Irish Prison Service?

Yes, we have made a decision. In fact, we have received correspondence today. I asked for a couple of items of correspondence in relation to an outbreak of TB in a prison to be followed up.

I suggest that if there are issues which are not covered, members-----

It is just that from the response-----

I am saying that specific-----

When they were in, they sent a kind of substantial response.

The following week, I raised issues that arose with that response. I said I felt we needed a substantial hearing with them to cover a lot of issues, including the surveillance issue. The Chairman will recall one particular answer they gave. They confirmed that private companies were procured for surveillance, but they were not in a position to state whether they were surveilling staff. I felt that was an unreasonable response given that there is documentation in circulation that seems to prove, or certainly to strongly suggest, that such surveillance was taking place. The answers to do with the mess committees, tuck shops, cash, money and a load of things certainly require more work. I would certainly like to have them in.

It is the Department of Justice and Equality. The Deputy would like somebody specifically from the Irish Prison Service to be here on that day.

I noted that the Secretary General did a lot of the answering the last day they were in.

I do not mind who comes in, but I suppose it might be useful for them to have Irish Prison Service personnel with them.

I assume the Secretary General will not know everything and will need to consult with them. In the interest of efficient use of time, he might like to bring some of them with him.

I think the secretariat sent a note to members to ask if there were follow-up issues. I do not know if any members responded. The main issue is the justice Vote but there is unfinished business relating to some issues that the Deputy mentioned. I think the best way to deal with that is to have the head of the Prison Service for a portion of that meeting.

I am not fussy on timing if the Chairman wants to kick that back to a free date later in early summer. I am okay with that. I would hate to be confined to a ten or 15 minute slot at a meeting to deal with it.

Maybe we will do it that way. The Department of Justice and Equality is a big enough issue.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is quite a big Vote.

It is a big Vote on its own and could get lost.

There is no doubt that that will get lost. I am sure that other members have many issues relating to the justice Vote generally, so if I am depending on my own ten minute slot for the prison matters-----

It will not be enough.

It would not be. I imagine that members would like to revisit some issues relating to the Prison Service. I am certainly not comfortable with the mess committees. I have been wrongly accused, externally, by the Prison Officers Association, of being interested in closing down the mess committees. That is not the issue at all, but the concern is that they are functioning correctly with regard to cash management, oversight and auditing. I am not happy that they are. I believe there are also issues with the tuck shop and general governance of certain issues within prisons, and the level of knowledge that might pass between individual prisons and management in Longford. I am not certain that the appropriate level of communication and oversight is taking place.

We will hold that over. I have no idea of the answer to one point that Deputy MacSharry raises. I would like to know how many of the senior management of the Prison Service in Longford have been governors or assistant governors. In An Garda Síochána, there are senior gardaí at the most senior level as well as civilians. Do we have several governors and people who know how to run prisons, none of whom is at a senior level in the organisation? Is it effectively a Civil Service approach at a national level from people who may not have any knowledge of what is involved in running a prison? How many of the senior management have been directly involved in the prisons? It would be helpful to know. There should be a mix of people in the headquarters who have direct experience at senior levels on management committees in prisons, as well as maybe those who are not former governors or assistant governors. I think Deputy MacSharry's suggestion that we come back to that separately is probably the best approach. We raised one or two issues earlier this morning that we need to follow up too.

Absolutely. While there is the justice Vote next week-----

There is a lot in it.

It might be able to touch on prison matters but one of the free meetings on the agenda could be set aside to have the Prison Service management back, and if the Secretary General comes with them, so be it.

With regard to the doctor who wrote to us-----

Which is this?

It is not in correspondence but the work agenda.

It is on our own agenda.

It is in outstanding matters. Are we having the doctor who wrote to us come in? I am reluctant to say his name though it is a public matter. He has written and it is there on the top of the list.

There would be value in doing it beforehand.

We should meet with him before we meet the-----

Are we going to decide in private or public?

We will decide next week. I think there is agreement to meet him. I ask the secretariat to let that gentleman know that we will be meeting and will discuss the arrangement next Thursday. We will meet him before that. We will put him on notice and agree the format of that next week.

Sitting suspended at 10.45 a.m. and resumed at 10.52 a.m.