Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Appropriation Account 2018

Mr. Peter Finnegan(Secretary General, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission) called and examined.

We are examining the 2018 appropriation account for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. We are joined by Mr. Peter Finnegan, Secretary General; Mr. Michael Errity, assistant secretary, corporate and members services division; Ms Elaine Gunn, assistant secretary, parliamentary services division and Clerk Assistant of Dáil Éireann; Ms Mellissa English, assistant secretary, chief parliamentary legal adviser, Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers; Ms Máirín Devlin, principal officer, finance division and Office of the Commission and Secretary General.

Seated behind them are Ms Margaret Crawley, principal officer, HR services, Ms Denise O'Connell, principal officer, the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO, Mr. Conor Morrison, finance officer, Ms Angela Branigan, management accountant, and Dr. Finn de Brí, IT digital transformation office. I remind committee members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery that all mobile phones must be switched off or put on airplane mode, as merely putting them on silent can still interfere with the recording system.

Mr. Finnegan probably wrote this next bit, so I will read it back to him now. I advise the witnesses that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

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

While we expect witnesses to answer questions asked by the committee 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.

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

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

As members will be aware, the primary function of the Houses of Oireachtas Commission is to provide the services necessary to support the functioning of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The commission operates under the framework established by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003. The commission's accounts are a cash-based record of receipts and payments compared to the Estimates. Funding for the commission is provided for statutorily every three years, with Estimates proposed annually to draw a tranche of the three-year budget. The overall funding approved for 2016 to 2018 amounted to €369 million. By the end of 2018, a total of €363 million had been used. The balance of €6 million is no longer available to the commission.

The commission's 2018 account recorded gross expenditure of €134.4 million, distributed among service areas as indicated in the diagram on screen. Pay-related expenses are distributed across a number of the categories and amounted to approximately 65% of total spending in 2018. Further expenditure related to the operation of the Houses of the Oireachtas in 2018 was borne by some Votes and the Central Fund of the Exchequer. This includes spending by the Office of Public Works, OPW, on the premises used to accommodate the services, totalling an estimated €11.6 million; parliamentary activities allowances paid to political parties and Independent Members, totalling €8.6 million; funding for political parties related to their share of the vote in Dáil elections, totalling just under €6 million; and pensions and retirement gratuities of retired staff members, totalling €4 million. Payments in respect of the pensions of Members of the Houses are accounted for in the appropriation account in the form of an annual grant to Ciste Pinsean Thithe an Oireachtais. This amounted to €11.8 million in 2018. A separate account is prepared in respect of the ciste.

Receipts of the commission in 2018 were just under €2.8 million. This included just under €200,000 remitted to the commission under an agreement governing the operation of the Houses catering and bar services. Those services are accounted for separately from the appropriation account and a summary of the transactions is included as note 7.3 to the account.

Members will be glad to note that I issued a clear audit report in respect of the 2018 account.

I thank Mr. McCarthy. I invite Mr. Finnegan to make his opening statement. He is attending for the first time as Accounting Officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I thank the Chairman. A Chathaoirligh agus a chomhaltaí, fáiltím roimh an deis seo teacht os comhair Choiste na gCuntas Poiblí agus cabhrú le scrúdú a dhéanamh ar chuntais Choimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais don bhliain 2018. Is é seo an chéad uair dom a bheith i láthair mar Oifigeach Cuntasaíochta Sheirbhís Thithe an Oireachtais.

I welcome the opportunity to attend before the committee to assist in the examination of the accounts of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission for 2018. This is my first appearance as Accounting Officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am joined by members of my management team, who are sitting alongside me, and some senior colleagues who are sitting behind. In this statement, I propose to give the committee a brief overview on the funding allocation and 2018 appropriation account, some key activities during 2018 and beyond, our corporate governance system, and our strategic goals for 2019 to 2021.

The commission is funded on a three-year statutory cycle basis, as approved by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and paid out of the Central Fund. The 2016-2018 allocation was €369 million. The total outturn for the period was €363 million, or 98.5% of the allocated budget. The unspent allocation of €6 million was not carried over to the 2019-2021 funding period.

The accounts under consideration relate to 2018, which is the third year of the current Dáil and the final year of our three-year allocation. The audited accounts of the commission show that the gross expenditure for the Houses in 2018 was €134.4 million against an Estimate provision of €135.9 million, representing a 1% underspend. Salaries, pensions and allowances accounted for €97.4 million, or 73% of total spend, which can be classified as non-discretionary spend. Interparliamentary activities, broadcasting services, committee expenses, parliamentary printing, legal costs and essential consultancy and administration costs, including office premises, facilities, basic ICT equipment and services, and postal and telecommunication services, amounted to €26 million, or 19% of total spend. This was also non-discretionary. The remaining budget of €11 million, or 8%, provided for ICT, Library and Research Service project spending, and training and development costs. This was the discretionary element.

The committee should note that the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is now a large organisation. We have a total payroll in respect of 2,027 people, catering for the salaries, allowances and pensions of Members and former Members, political staff, MEPs, former MEPs and Civil Service staff, including some former State industrial, officeholder and catering staff. On 31 December 2018, the commission employed 564 full-time equivalent, FTE, staff, comprising 511 Civil Service staff, 17 State industrial and officeholder staff and 36 catering staff, at a cost of €31 million or 23% of the budget.

I will draw the committee's attention to some of the key activities in 2018 and beyond. The expenditure for 2018 reflects the considerable changes implemented in the Dáil reform programme agreed in response to the needs of the Houses and Members. These include the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office; the development of the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers to include drafting and advisory services on Private Members' Bills; the increase in the number of parliamentary committees from 15 to 28, including eight specialist committees to date during this Dáil term; the extension of services by the Library and Research Service, Rannóg an Aistriúcháin, the Debates Office and House services; the establishment of the Business Committee, which members will know has become an important support for the running of the Houses; and some incidental and ancillary costs arising from sitting hours, security arrangements, etc.

One of the key areas that we focused on in 2018 was our ICT investment programme. The service made a significant financial investment in new technology and systems in 2018 under its digital transformation programme. This key strategic decision for the service was taken by the commission in 2016. We have invested in our key business processes, systems and in-house ICT expertise, and have mapped more than 1,000 business processes.

We are now developing a parliamentary procedural system and this is being delivered on a phased basis.

Some other notable outputs from our digital transformation programme include: the upgrading of the Wi-Fi system across Oireachtas buildings; a new website to facilitate greater public engagement; and the roll-out of Microsoft Outlook to replace Lotus Notes, which was the email system for many years in the Oireachtas. We have also upgraded the Chambers and committee rooms, adding in simultaneous translation to allow us to host meetings conducted in Irish in any of the four committee rooms. The commission will continue with its investment in digital technology in the coming years to advance the modernisation of the processes and systems.

Another major feature of the spend in 2018 was the Leinster House restoration project, which is coming to an end. This involved essential restoration and structural works to Leinster House and was managed by the Office of Public Works, OPW, on behalf of the commission. I am pleased to be able to report that the sittings of the Houses and their committees continued uninterrupted during this work. The work will be completed in time for the return of the Houses after the summer recess.

Are you sure about that?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Absolutely, and I will provide an update on that point. The OPW briefed the commission on Tuesday and the handover of the building takes place on 2 August. All is on track.

Another notable feature of the spend in 2018 was expenditure on legal proceedings. During 2018, the O'Brien and Kerins Supreme Court cases were managed by the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers. The judgments were delivered in 2019. Liabilities arising from the Kerins case remain to be quantified and should fall due for payment during the current three-year funding allocation period 2019 to 2021.

A major feature of our work during the past three years has been our public engagement programme. When the Ceann Comhairle took up his position he spoke about a Parliament of the people. We have pursued that during the past three years. Part of this involves the Vótáil 100 commemorations during 2018, which provided the opportunity to increase public understanding and improve perception of the Oireachtas, especially the role of women in our national Parliament. The programme of events reflected positively on both the Oireachtas and on the service and provided an appropriate platform for the Dáil 100 programme, which is ongoing. In addition, our public engagement programme included a significant parliamentary education programme which is delivered by our education officer, Conor Reale. This has been strengthened significantly following Conor's arrival in the Oireachtas.

In 2018 we published a new policy on dignity and respect. The parliamentary community, which comprises Members, their staff, civil servants and service providers, have signed up to the dignity and respect statement of principles and policies which developed over the course of the past year.

I will turn briefly to corporate governance. The main policies and procedures for corporate governance of the service are outlined in the governance framework. This includes the assurance framework that sets out the key sources of assurance, internal and external, underpinning the governance arrangements and activities of the service. A review of the management committee was completed in 2018. A new structure of management board and strategic committees evolved that focuses on providing strategic direction to oversee and account for the performance of the service through collective leadership. The board reviewed the risk and corporate governance controls of the service. We are now in the process of further professionalising our governance functions to include a chief risk officer, chief financial officer and a qualified internal auditor. Our new chief financial officer is due to start at the beginning of September. The commission's audit committee advises me on financial matters relating to my functions and advises the commission on matters of corporate governance relating to its functions. The reports are published in the commission's annual reports.

For the next three years up to 2021, the budget allocated for running the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is €422.3 million. The commission adopted its strategic plan last Tuesday and has identified four key strategic goals. These are: the development of an effective Parliament; an open and engaged Parliament; a digital Parliament; and a well-supported parliamentary community.

I wish to acknowledge the support and assistance provided by the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach and members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. My colleagues and I in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service take immense pride in serving our national Parliament and its members. We look forward to contributing to its development during the period 2019 to 2021. I am now happy to take any questions members of the committee may have.

Thank you, Mr. Finnegan, for your opening statement. The lead speaker for today's meeting is Deputy Alan Farrell, who has 20 minutes. The second speaker has 15 minutes. All other members have ten minutes. Members have indicated in the following sequence: Deputies Farrell, Jonathan O'Brien, Cullinane, Cassells, Connolly and Catherine Murphy.

I thank the officials for coming in and I will start by complimenting them. That is probably not a surprise but I wish to compliment the officials on the centenary celebrations of the Oireachtas because they have been exceptionally well performed or pulled off or whatever one calls it. In particular, the Dáil 100 events were well managed and some of the finances for this were expended in 2018. There have been some well-put-together programmes, especially in respect of public engagement. As this is the only opportunity I will most likely get to note that, I think it appropriate to do so.

I will turn to a somewhat less important matter but it is probably as important for the persons who use the bar in this establishment. There has to be some pun thrown into the debate this morning about rats. There was mention of a certain dish being on the menu today. I will put it out there. It would be interesting if the canteen put on ratatouille. Equally, with a slight element of seriousness, I appreciate the building is old and various works have been undertaken. It is a concern to all those individuals who are on the payroll, including this one, in respect of expenditure on pest control and so on. I have a genuine concern about it and I imagine the officials share this because of the proximity of all the services provided by the catering unit and bar and so on. It is not a question but a badly-performed pun on my part.

I will comment on the information and communications technology side of things because it is probably the only really point in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report that is worth discussing. I note that the commission has come in under budget. The commission is consistent in that regard. I understand the commission was significantly under-budget in the previous year - the figure was €13 million. This year the figure is €1 million. I am citing the figures from memory - I read the material yesterday. One thing that jumped out at me was the provision for certain expenditure programmes compared with the actual expenditure. There was a significant disparity. The figure that jumped out was for ICT. There was provision for €14.6 million but the commission spent €22.7 million. I appreciate a great deal of work has been done. My office was reissued with new laptops for the first time since I was elected in 2011 and I thank the commission for that. There was expenditure on software licences and so on. Can Mr. Finnegan be specific about where the overrun came to pass?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Before I answer that question, I thank the Deputy for his kind words on the commemoration. I will pass that onto the team. It was truly a team effort. It was a great privilege to be involved and to be in Leinster House at the time of the centenary of the Dáil.

The ICT expenditure has exceeded the budget but this was due to a conscious decision taken by us in the first quarter of 2018. We track our expenditure carefully. We have monthly management meetings and it became apparent to us that we were going to have a significant underspend in 2018, which was the last year of our financial cycle. Under the funding regulations that apply under the Act, we cannot carry forward the allocation to subsequent years. We took the view that the most appropriate thing to do was to invest €8 million further in services and essentially bring forward expenditure that we had planned for later years. That is why we did that.

We consider the ICT programme to be very important. The background is that there was significant underinvestment in ICT in the Houses, probably for 15 years. Statistics indicate that one should spend in the region of 10% of one’s annual budget on ICT, but we hovered around 6% or 7% and that dropped during the downturn. Our systems were quite old and outdated and we needed to significantly upgrade them. One of the things of which we are conscious in terms of ICT expenditure is our ability to support Members. We have a new generation of Members within Leinster House, with 70% having spent fewer than ten years here. All of our Members use modern ICT in their work and we need to be able to support that, particularly things such as mobile devices.

The second big issue relates to what we discussed earlier, namely, public engagement. ICT is a key strategy in our engagement with the public because it allows us to reach out and it allows the public to reach in. It is about having a Parliament that is accessible to the people. That has been a strong objective for us over the past year. Understandably, there has been criticism of the Oireachtas from time to time, but our view is that unless people experience it and see the work being done by Members, such as at committees, it will be impossible to change that perception. People who come to Leinster House are invariably impressed. The type of ICT investment we are making will allow people to do things they do anyway on their phones. If one is going home on the bus in the evening, one will check the news and weather and one might look up real-time passenger information for the next bus. One can also look at what is going on in the Oireachtas, including the committees. It is very important to be able to showcase the work that is going on in the Oireachtas and allow people to form an independent view of it.

One of the things from which Members and their staff have benefited is the upgrade from Lotus Notes email to Outlook. I cannot remember for how long Lotus Notes was used in the House of the Oireachtas. It was a very clunky system.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It was used for 17 or 18 years. It has been used here for as long as I can remember.

A long-serving member of staff in my office is also a long-serving member of the political system. On some mornings, it took an hour before the computer started up and one could get into it. The upgrade was desperately needed.

On personnel and payroll, I wish to specifically address overpayments. It is a problem across all Departments and I am sure it is commonplace elsewhere also. There are payment plans in place for a number of overpayments to personnel, with the exception of in six cases. Has progress been made in that regard since the end of the 2018 financial year? A sum of €12,122 was carried forward on 1 January 2018 in regard to six overpayments for which recovery arrangements were not in place. It is a very small sum, but the principle is important. I ask Mr. Finnegan to enlighten me. If he does not know the answer, he can revert to the issue.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

There are 27 cases involving overpayments. Nine have fully paid, ten are on a plan, three are not on a plan and four have been written off. I will check the position regarding the three personnel who are not on the plan.

It is a point of principle.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is a matter of which the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is very conscious. Where overpayments arise, it is difficult for the individual concerned. We try to put in place an appropriate repayment schedule for them and to work with them.

On personnel of a different type, secretarial allowances and overspends relating to assistants for non-office holders of the Dáil and Seanad, there are significant sums involved and I am somewhat confused about it. I would have thought that overtime would be fairly consistent in respect of those employment categories. By looking back at previous years, one could probably extrapolate the sort of expenditure to expect in any given year. A cumulative sum of €1.5 million or €1.6 million is significant. The report states that the estimate relates to pay increments and overtime. Obviously, the staff are on a scale and, as such, I would have thought it would be fairly easy to predict the increases. Why was that prediction not accurately made?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The Deputy is correct that the increases are reasonably easy to predict. During the downturn, the overtime for secretarial assistants was reduced. Many of them qualify for a payment based on six hours overtime per week.

Maximum.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes, a maximum of six hours overtime per week. Our information is that many of them work far in excess of that.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The commission took a decision based on negotiations with the staff associations for the people concerned to restore the payment to a level of eight hours per week. That is the reason for that spend.

I see. It is specific to that two hour agreement.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

That is fair enough. I will tread carefully on the next issue.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

May I make one additional point on the last issue?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

In the course of dealing with that issue we analysed the number of people who were working those types of hours. Approximately two thirds of secretarial assistants work at least eight hours overtime per week, which is a significant amount. They are a hard-working group of people and it is the nature of the job that they are required to be flexible and so on.

Yes, absolutely. I know that when I am in the Dáil, my staff are here also.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. It is linked.

Yes. I will move to a slightly more concerning matter related to something referenced in the 2017 accounts. An allegation of fraud was made in respect of salary increments over a period of 18 months. It was to be classified whether it was a matter for the Garda to pursue. Is there any update on the matter? I assume that Mr. Finnegan put in place a more robust arrangement to ensure that increments are carefully reviewed.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

As the matter is under investigation, I cannot comment on it.

It is still under investigation.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I can address our response in terms of controls. Following the emergence of that issue, we carried out a detailed examination and now have six or seven additional controls in place which apply to that system of incremental credit. They were agreed with the relevant associations and I am satisfied that we have the appropriate controls in place to avoid a reoccurrence of that issue.

I appreciate that. On expenditure, unusually, there is a nil expenditure for the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association. Only €51,000 was set aside for it, but nothing was spent. Is that due to the fact that the Stormont Assembly is not operating?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. One of the great tragedies of the fact that the Assembly is suspended is that that association, which had very much begun to find its feet, is not currently functioning. The Ceann Comhairle is very anxious to keep North-South links alive and has taken several initiatives. He regularly contacts the Speaker of the Stormont Assembly, Mr. Robin Newton, and hosted a talk in the Members' restaurant in May on Edward Carson to reciprocate a talk which took place in the Assembly in January to commemorate the First Dáil. We hope that the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association will be back up and running once Stormont is.

On the theme of interparliamentary associations and communications with other parliaments, it is an integral part of what we do in terms of our ability to learn from what others are doing. I am the head of the delegation for the OSCE, for instance. I am also involved in the parliamentary friendship group. I compliment the Ceann Comhairle and Mr. Finnegan on the supports that have been provided because we cannot sit in these offices and learn about the world. Sometimes we must physically be there. The group is very beneficial and many Members engage in the process. The supports that are provided are appreciated.

On the obvious impacts that Kerins and O'Brien cases will have, my only question relates to provision for future expected liability that will befall the commission and, from an accounting perspective, whether it is being ensured there is adequate provision for that in future budgets or the budget for this year, next year or whenever it might be. Is it possible for the Oireachtas to quantify that as of yet? I know it has been mentioned in the accounts that it is not.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

No, it is not possible to quantify it.

Is it still not possible?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We have made some provision in our accounts. For obvious reasons, I will not say what the provision is, but it is not possible to quantify it.

In terms of contractors that are used by the Oireachtas, is it Mr. Finnegan's opinion that the service provided by those contractors in the support of the ICT unit represents value for money?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is, yes. We did a review of that recently - our managed IT service. That review demonstrated that there was value for money. It brought forward recommendations in terms of how we might approach the service next time around. I feel, overall, that it is a good service. The feedback from Members on the technical support - it is Fujitsu Siemens that is the company concerned - is very positive. It provides a good service nationwide to Members.

Yes. I cannot fault it, to be quite frank. In terms of the upgrade of Leinster House and all of the work that has been done over the past year or so, which I know is being managed by the Office of Public Works, did the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission or OPW incur the cost for the movement of the Seanad Chamber to the National Museum?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The commission incurred some costs relating to the move to the Seanad Chamber. One of the big costs that was incurred in that related to the arrangement that was made between the Houses of the Oireachtas and the National Museum. In return for facilitating the Seanad, we agreed to provide funding towards the provision of a lift within the National Museum. We transferred that amount - it was €500,000 - at the end of last year, and that will be used now in terms of the capital programme for the museum.

But otherwise there was not rent paid per se.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

There were some other additional costs related to security, which we picked up as well because they were costs that were directly arising from our occupancy of the Ceramic Room.

Does that relate to securing the doors and things like that?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. It would be securing the doors.

As opposed to personnel?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes, it is on the museum's side.

It involves physical things.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

That is not surprising, I suppose. I compliment the Houses of the Oireachtas on the work that it has done in the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO, and the legal services that have been provided. It is important to note that. There was a time in 2011 when I started drafting a Bill. It was only through the assistance from the Library and Research Service, which I believe was beyond the normal scope, that I was able to put a Bill together. That was very strange. I was brand new to the building and I thought it was very odd that there was no direct support. I had to go to the Law Library to get additional assistance. The situation is different now, which should be noted. I compliment Mr. Finnegan on it, particularly the Parliamentary Budget Office and the periodic reports it issues, because they are very helpful. Again, without the normal opportunity to raise these things, I use this opportunity to do so. As Mr. Finnegan has been given a clear audit and nothing of major significance jumped out at me from the pages, I am very pleased with the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and thank Mr. Finnegan for appearing this morning.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I thank the Deputy.

I thank Deputy Farrell and the next speaker is Deputy Cullinane.

I welcome Mr. Finnegan and all of his team. Can I assume that they are happy to be here?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Very happy.

We are happy to have them.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is an important part of my function to speak at the Committee of Public Accounts.

Very good. I will start with the accounts on page 12. Mr. Finnegan touched on some of it in his opening statement and I ask him to expand on the matter. I refer to line (e), under administration, "Office equipment and external IT services". The 2018 estimate was €14.6 million. Is that right?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes

And the outturn was €22.7 million.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

That was an increase of €9.7 million. What was done? What was the €22 million for? Why was there an increase of €9.7 million?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

To answer the Deputy's last question first, the increase of €9.7 million resulted from a strategic decision that we did because there was funding available in the final year of our three-year budgetary cycle. The service basically recommended to the commission that we bring forward ICT expenditure. Hence the reason the extra €8 million was invested in ICT.

Was that decision made before the estimate of €14.6 million was put in?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It was, yes.

At what point was that estimate made? At what point was the decision made to increase it?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The estimate would have been the year before. The estimate would go through, typically, in October of the preceding year.

Was that in 2017?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Correct.

At what point was it decided to expand it?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It was in the first quarter of 2018, because when we were profiling our spend, it became evident very early on, especially on the salary side, that we were not going to hit the numbers that we had originally envisaged. We took the strategic decision, then to invest money in ICT.

What was it for, specifically?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It was in a number of areas. It was on project expenditure relating to digital transformation - our digital parliament programme. We purchased our new Microsoft licences, which account for almost €2 million - €1.9 million approximately. We purchased hardware equipment as well.

Was all of that put out to tender?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Absolutely, yes.

Can I have a breakdown on what the €22.7 million was spent on - the line items?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. In terms of the programme itself, the programme came in at €11.36 million. Software maintenance, which would include things like Microsoft licences, came in at roughly €2.6 million. Our managed serviced support with Fujitsu was €1.37 million. On printing equipment, we replaced our printer and the print unit came in at approximately €1.3 million. Hardware was approximately €864,000. Our sound contract came in at €678,000. That would be the sound contract in the Dáil, Seanad and four committee rooms. Our network expansion, which would be our Wi-Fi and so forth, came in at €618,000. The final items within that overall figure of €22.7 million would be things like consumables and stationery for the Oireachtas, the cost of our website, servers and backup units, our managed print service, office equipment, and some kinds of minor miscellaneous costs.

Mr. Finnegan might supply the committee with a detailed note, if he can. I do not have a quarrel with a decision being made to upgrade the systems. Where it needs to be done from an ICT perspective, it should be. I am looking at the outturn for the headings and most of them are either under budget or on budget, so this heading is one that jumps out and where there is a significant overspend. If we could have a detailed note of the exact breakdown and what exactly the money was spent on, that would be useful for us.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I will provide that, yes.

On page 19 of the report, it talks about variations in expenditure and with regard to office equipment, external IT services and office premises expenses, it says the overspend arose through additional costs incurred due to the relocation of the Seanad to the Natural History Museum. It only deals with that at paragraph length which means we cannot really get under the bonnet of exactly what it was all spent on unless we ask questions or get a more detailed note. What was the cost overrun on that project?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The overrun there is €194,000.

What was the total cost of the project?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The OPW move to the National Museum was probably around €1 million for the refurbishment.

Why was there an overspend of €194,000?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

That is actually the cost we would have picked up in relation to that. The other costs would be met from the OPW.

But it is an overspend. The overspend arose due to additional costs. Is that because the additional costs were not foreseen?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

They were not foreseen, correct.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We had to upgrade the alarm system when the Seanad was moved over to the National Museum.

My next questions are on the refurbishment of Leinster House and conservation works. We all look forward to that being completed and opened. If there is a grand opening, we will all be there. I just want to look at the costs. While I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers, no more than anyone else, the initial reports on the project in an article in The Irish Times of May 2017 were that it would cost €8 million. The article stated:

While the final cost of the work has yet to be determined, the OPW said last December that it would be at least €8 million.

At what point were the initial costs worked out? Was that figure accurate and was the OPW accurate in saying it would be at least €8 million? Was that an estimate or what was that based on?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It would have been an estimate but quite a rough one too. The costs on the refurbishment project - the total project spend, including construction fees, design team fees, VAT and various bonds, etc. - come in at €14.87 million. That is the key figure.

I know that. We will get to that in a moment. I am going back first and we will work towards what the actual cost was. Back at that point, a number of newspaper articles were talking about a cost of €8 million. Mr. Finnegan says there was a very rough estimate by the OPW of €8 million. It would be better if we did not have rough estimates because once figures are put out like that, if it costs more, we are into the cost overspend territory.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I agree.

I downloaded the following from a website. It is on Leinster House restoration and conservation works and was published by the contractors, Duggan Brothers. It refers to works over a 12 month period and an Office of Public Works contract with a value of €10 million.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The contract is €12.87 million, inclusive of VAT and the bond.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That might be a VAT difference. Businesses tend to focus on the price exclusive of VAT.

I might provide a copy of that and it might be confirmed if it was a VAT difference. To cut to the chase, was there an overspend on that work? What was the estimated cost and what is the estimated total outturn? Has there been an overspend?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I would not describe it as an overspend. It is under negotiation between the OPW and the builder but it is in the public domain at the moment that the final project cost will come in at roughly 15% above the figure of €14.78 million. That is attributable to the fact that some of the items that resulted in additional cost could not have been foreseen when the tender documents were being done. There is only a certain amount of surveying that one can do with a historic building. It is when one actually gets in at it that one knows precisely what-----

I am reading from an Irish Examiner article. Again, it is just newspaper articles and if they are wrong, Mr. Finnegan should feel free to correct the figures. This was published on 8 July 2019, which was this week in fact. The article says the total cost of renovating Leinster House will top €17.5 million. Is that incorrect?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Doing very rough maths, if one adds 15% to €15 million, one is roughly at €17 million.

So, it is correct.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is not far off it.

Is there an overspend then?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The estimated cost of the overspend is probably of the order of 15%. That is basically about costs in respect of itemised work that is done at the unit cost built into the contract.

I ask Mr. Finnegan to explain in a little more detail so that people can understand it. Why is there an overspend in the first instance? If it is approximately 15%, how much is that in money? What is it directly related to?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

To answer the Deputy's first question, the reason there is an overspend is that a certain amount of this work was not known in advance and could not have been known until the contractor arrived on site and certain things were stripped away.

Can Mr. Finnegan give examples of that?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It would be brickwork, chimneys, additional fireproofing, and addressing some of the voids that were discovered in the structure of the building that were not known when the surveying took place. There was an extensive amount of surveying done to the building beforehand, but it is impossible to catch everything as part of such a process. There will be a number of items that remain undiscovered right up to the point at which one moves on site.

Is there no limit then on what it could cost?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

There is.

In other words, anything could have been found that could have increased the cost.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

No. It is not that anything could have been found. The OPW carried out a very good survey.

A number of things were found that were unforeseen. Mr. Finnegan said very extensive surveys were carried out but that there were still things that were not detected that led to an overspend.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

That is correct but the nature of restoration of historic buildings is that there will be things that one discovers once one gets on site and looks at things in detail. These are the issues I have just referred to and that gave rise to some additional cost.

I will quote something back to Mr. Finnegan that I found extraordinary. I will not name the individual because I do not think he is in the role he was in. It was the Superintendent of the Houses of the Oireachtas and he was quoted in The Irish Times when it was asking about the costs. He said "As Michelangelo said to the pope, 'It will cost what it will cost'." That is not really an appropriate response when somebody is asking genuine questions about how much a project will cost. I put it in the context of all the other cost overruns, which are outside of Mr. Finnegan's control, involving State money. People take these issues seriously so when a question is asked and the response is "As Michelangelo said to the pope, 'It will cost what it will cost'," that is a very flippant response and almost sounds like saying "Whatever it is, it is." However we are talking here about our money - taxpayers' money. Did Mr. Finnegan see that quote in the first instance?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I saw it at the time, yes.

Did Mr. Finnegan think it was an appropriate quote?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is unfortunate to make that comment. We have been particularly conscious of cost control on this project. We have our own internal team that works on it. That team meets every month. The commission is getting progress reports from the OPW and the management of public money on the project has been a key priority for us. Of all institutions, the Houses of the Oireachtas must ensure that public money is spent appropriately and that there is proper management of resources.

Regarding my final set of questions, it would be remiss of us not to ask about our own expenditure and what we incur. My first question in that territory is on the funding for political parties. It is something that is largely misunderstood. There is an obvious logic to it as it reduces the dependency on corporate donations, which we have very strict controls on, thankfully, in the State. I am personally in favour of State funding for political parties, groupings and Independents. How does it work? As we do during the so-called silly season, we will have any number of articles on expenses for politicians and how much political parties and Independents cost the State. That is all grand as we all have to be held to account. Sometimes, however, the facts underpinning it are not always put out there. How does it work? How are political parties funded and what was the total cost for each grouping in 2018?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I preface my remarks by saying it is a very important source of funding because it really is the funding of the democratic system. This funding is not administered by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The way it works in broad terms is that there is a sum of money - I think it is €61,000 - for the first ten Members and it is on a sliding scale.

Is that €61,000 for each Member?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

For each Member, yes. It is for the first ten Members, and it is on a sliding scale. Any party in government, its overall funding is reduced by one third. That money then can be used for-----

What is the logic for that? Is it because they have access to civil servants?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is because they have access to services etc. I apologise; for the first ten Members it is €64,000 per Member. For 11 to 30 Members it is €51,000 and for more than 30 Members it is €25,000.

Is that the only funding to parties? Are there other allowances to parties?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

There is other funding that goes to parties via the Electoral Act based on electoral performance. On the parliamentary activities allowance, it is very tightly drawn up. There is a series of categories the money can be spent on and it is fully audited.

I will come to that shortly because I want to ask a question about the difference between allowances for party leaders and Deputies and allowances for Independents. I believe some changes were made to those recently but I will come to that.

Mr. Finnegan gave headline figures in his opening statement as to State funding for political parties. Will he remind us of that?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think I was the one who gave those figures.

I am sorry, Mr. McCarthy. Is that because it is not directly related to the work of the commission?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is not directly related. The money is actually paid from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to the parties. We do not have an involvement in those payments. It does not come through-----

Is it listed in Mr. McCarthy's accounts?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is classified as a net allied service in the way it is in other appropriation accounts. One sees the expenses-----

Who is the Accounting Officer for it?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The Department of Finance.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The Department of Finance.

We might wait for the Department of Finance witnesses to come in.

The next speaker is Deputy Cassells.

I extend a warm welcome to Mr. Peter Finnegan and all the team and thank them for their work. I refer to page 4 of Mr. Finnegan's opening statement. He referenced the Kerins Supreme Court case, which involved this particular committee, and the ramifications of it. Additionally, Mr. Finnegan wrote to all the members last night setting out his thoughts in respect of the establishment of a working group that would examine this particular Supreme Court case and the need for Oireachtas committees to have clear terms of reference and to remain within them. One of the points he made in his letter to us was about the conduct of meetings, the conduct of hearings by the committee as a whole and the supervision of such hearings by the Chair. In terms of the implementation or scope of these changes, who will be policing who? My fear would be about the ethos of the group and how far it would be prepared to go in terms of the implementation of changes.

In recent committee hearings we saw the Irish Greyhound Board, which is in receipt of huge amounts of public money, and the need for proper scrutiny of the expenditure of that public money. We have seen, in recent committee hearings, witnesses from the Football Association of Ireland stonewalling in respect of questions and citing legal cases in that particular week as a defence. In the end, it lost its State funding but the fear is that this working group would go so far in trying to rein in committees that we would not have that proper scrutiny of public expenditure. In the context of the letter he sent us last night, I ask Mr. Finnegan for his views on the ethos of this working group and how far it is prepared to go.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

As an initial remark, in its judgment the Supreme Court identified four particular areas that it recommended the Oireachtas examine in order to safeguard constitutional rights. They were remit, clarity around invitations, the conduct of meetings and remedies. Following the issuing of the Supreme Court judgment, the Committee on Procedure of the Dáil met and established a working group which reports to it. That working group is chaired by Elaine Gunn, who is on my left.

The purpose of the working group is to consult with all relevant parties within and outside the Oireachtas. The group has written to all the party leaders. My letter last night was to alert individual members to the work of the group. A key part of the group's work will be to undertake a broadly based consultation of all the stakeholders involved. Having done that, it will take the views of people within the Oireachtas and people who come before Oireachtas committees. It will do its analysis. It will take its advice and report to the Committee on Procedure of the Dáil. The Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges will also be involved in the process. Any decisions in respect of the matters concerned are a matter for the committees on procedures of both Houses.

Across the Oireachtas, people are acutely aware of the need to find the correct balance. People have spoken about the issue of a chilling effect on Oireachtas committees. That is not what this is about. This is about addressing issues that have been highlighted to us by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has essentially said to the Oireachtas that it has a wide margin of appreciation in how it conducts its affairs but it must safeguard the constitutional rights of third parties. That is what this is about. It is finding that balance, working with people who sit on committees and with people who come into committees and bringing forward recommendations.

Mr. Finnegan does not believe that the ethos of this group will have that chilling effect on committees in terms of neutering the scope of the questions asked.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Absolutely not, no. That is not what is intended at all.

Mr. Finnegan alluded to it and he does not have a final figure but does he have a figure in terms of the legal costs of that particular case thus far?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. I think the figure is €485,000 for the two cases. That would be the Denis O'Brien case and the Angela Kerins case.

What would be the legal costs incurred by the Houses in a normal year?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

They would be far below that. These are major constitutional cases that required very senior legal teams. To explain the representation for the Oireachtas in the courts, on the Angela Kerins case we had two senior counsel, namely, Paul Gallagher and Brian Kennedy. Paul Gallagher is a former Attorney General. We had two junior counsel. We did all the in-house solicitors' work ourselves in the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, so there was a considerable saving on that. We also had two senior counsel in the Denis O'Brien case. That is in recognition of the important constitutional dimension to both of those cases. Where we are involved in normal litigation cases, the costs would be nothing like that but such were the issues at stake we had to ensure that the position of the Oireachtas was well argued by some of the top legal brains in the country.

Moving to the Leinster House renovation programme, Mr. Finnegan outlined earlier the potential final figure. He referenced areas of overspend that could not have been envisaged when the initial scope was done. At every point when additional work was required, was that referenced through Mr. Finnegan's office? Did he sign off on that as well, in terms of working with the Office of Public Works, OPW, in that respect?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We are, in a sense, the client. The OPW is acting on our behalf but we have a steering group that oversees the project, which Mr. Michael Errity chairs. That group meets on a monthly basis. It was presented with monthly reports and all of those issues would have come through. We also brought in our own expert to work for us who gave us a good independent take on what was being done as part of that project.

Potentially, Mr. Finnegan would have anticipated additional costs because of the fact that he was dealing with an old building.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We would have had to, yes.

He may have had a ballpark figure. Does he believe the €17 million spend on the building represents value for money in respect of the work?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I do. Having been in Leinster House for the duration of the work, having walked the site on many occasions, having been up on the roof and in the basement, and having seen every part of the building, I know that an enormous amount of work was involved in the project. It is detailed work. At any given time, 80 construction workers were on site - everybody from electricians to stonemasons. It is good value for money. The building was constructed in 1745 and we are coming up to its 275th anniversary next year. The sum of €17 million has been the only major capital expenditure on the building and its restoration. If that is averaged out over 275 years, it is outstanding value for money. One nice aspect of the project is that there will be a building for the people at the end of the project. We want people to come in and see the building because the work is to a very high standard. Ultimately, we say it is the people's Parliament and it is their building.

On the subhead of consultancy services, there was a provision of €3.4 million. Expenditure amounted to only €1.5 million. Why was such a large provision made for consultancy services?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The variation is mainly attributable to legal advice. We had an original estimate of €2.5 million-----

Legal advice comes under the subhead of consultancy services.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes, that is the way it is categorised in our Vote. There was a big underspend-----

Are any other consultancy services, such as public relations, PR, and so on, engaged by the Houses?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

No, not on PR because our communications unit does all the internal communications. There are some consultancy services for information and computer technology, while there are procurement services for facilities. There was some spend on communications around the time of the Dáil 100 and Vótáil 100 programmes as well as some spend on the library, human resources and internal audit.

I turn to communications and the broadcasting services. What is the full yearly cost of the operation of Oireachtas TV?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The full cost of Oireachtas TV is in the region of €1.3 million. That is over and above the normal day-to-day spend. In the broadcasting area, 75% or 80% of the spend would probably arise in any event because we televise the in-House proceedings. On any given day, six studios cover the two Houses and four committee rooms, and the feed is fed to all the major broadcasters. Somewhere in the region of 35 people work on it. The issue with Oireachtas TV is that the content is there in any event and the additional expenditure arises from some of the transmission costs we incur. There is also a small element for programme-making.

Within the communications spend, for a number of years there was a provision for the Houses of the Oireachtas to be broadcast on local media too. I refer to regional newspapers and local radio stations. Proceedings in the Chambers were broadcast every week on local radio in order that, as Mr. Finnegan noted earlier, there could be public engagement and the Parliament could be accessible.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

What was the cost of providing that service every year?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We will get a figure for the committee. My recollection is that it was somewhere around €100,000. That is the sort of money we are talking about.

It is considerably less than the national spend on Oireachtas TV. Am I correct that the regional contract has ended?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. It came to a natural end. The two extensions that were provided for had been availed of.

Will a provision be made for a new contract in respect of that service for regional papers and local radio?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The commission has considered this and there were meetings. The Ceann Comhairle met people who availed of and benefited from the service time ago and listened carefully to the points they made, which were valid. It was subsequently brought to the commission, which decided to go in a different direction for local media. The issue with the local media service was that it worked for a category of Members. Our estimates are that 27% of Members were covered by the previous contracts. On the local media platforms, only four of 19 local radio stations were covered. We now seek to design a service that has much broader coverage for Members generally, where there is more equal access to the service. We are also trying to get nationwide service on the local radios and so on that pick up the service.

It is very disappointing that the service was effectively ended and I made that point to the Ceann Comhairle when he convened those meetings. Local radio and newspapers are an important part of democracy in allowing people access to what happens here. Rather than allowing the contract to end, the provision should have been rolled out to the full 19 local radio stations and the local newspapers. On behalf of Members and for local media, I reiterate to Mr. Finnegan that it should be pursued. Local media is under significant pressure in an age when social media, which is not subject to proper kinds of press regulatory mechanisms, effectively skews the news. The Houses need local media engagement and I ask that Mr. Finnegan seek to provide it.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The Deputy's point is well made. To reassure him in respect of the local media element of the new strategy, there is a considerable local media element and it will involve engaging with local media organisations every quarter and bringing them to Leinster House at our cost. We will facilitate meetings with Members and allow radio stations that wish to broadcast from Leinster House to do so. We will provide them with training on the web in order that they can access much of our material, given that so much of it is now online.

I thank Mr. Finnegan and all the team for the work they do and, in particular, for the Dáil 100 celebrations at the start of the year.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I thank Deputy Cassells.

Cuirim fáilte roimh na finnéithe. Is iontach an rud é go bhfuil cothromaíocht inscne i gceist inniu. Gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an tseirbhís sa chomhthéacs sin. Is rud neamhghnách é dúinn bheith ag cur ceisteanna ar oifigigh Thithe an Oireachtas agus ag éisteacht le freagraí uathu. The witnesses are very welcome and I thank them for making an effort with the Irish language. Go raibh míle maith acu. B'fhéidir go mbeidh tuilleadh Gaeilge le cloisteáil sa ráiteas tosaigh an chéad uair eile.

Ag fanacht le sin, I turn to the Coimisinéir Teanga's report that was published today. I accept that Mr. Finnegan will not have had a chance to read it, nor have I. Nevertheless, the headline figures are extraordinary. Of 21,000 members of staff, 3% have a competency in Irish. I do not know whether Mr. Finnegan had a chance to hear that but they are the headline figures. Some 550 of 21,000 have a competency in Irish. I, too, have yet to read the report but the figure is 3% or less.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I have not seen the report but the figures do not surprise me. As the Deputy will know, we have tried to promote the use of Irish around the Houses and we adopted an Irish language strategy a year ago, which we have been implementing. On our own organisation, bilingual staff in Rannóg an Aistriúcháin provide a translation service, bilingual staff work in the Debates Office, and Irish language skills are required in individual areas such as the committees-----

I accept all of that. Most of the 550 people are in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht or other areas specifically associated with Irish. The question is unfair, in a sense, given that the report has just been published but it would be remiss of me not to mention it. Is the figure of 3% not a huge problem?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It is an enormous problem.

Will that be something the Houses of the Oireachtas Service will look at again in its own strategic plan, given the starkness of those figures?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Very much so. I would be interested to have a read of that report later to see what exactly it has to say. It is a stark reminder of where we are at in the public service in terms of Irish. We have to do better because it is our first official language. In our own organisation we are trying to do better in terms of the promotion of Irish by organising Irish language classes. We have Irish language social events and we set up taisce na leabhar, a virtual library.

What is the availability of the Irish language classes? Are they free?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

What is the uptake on them?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The uptake for some of them is disappointing, to be frank. We are making the offering and trying to encourage people to attend them.

Rather than me digressing into the Irish language, I would love to come back to Mr. Finnegan on it another time. If people are not taking up the classes, we need to look at that. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of empathy and sympathy for and delight in the Irish language and the rate of its decline. We have a serious challenge but I will park the issue for the moment. On the rats, I take comfort from the fact that they have not deserted us. The ship is not sinking yet. It looks like we might be back and there is no election looming.

On the accounts, I will address the fraud issue first. On page 4 of the report, Mr. Finnegan states in note 6.2 that he has disclosed an alleged fraud but he cannot really say much about it. When did it come to his attention?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I would have to look up the precise date on which it was brought to our attention.

Can Mr. Finnegan tell me roughly when? I do not need the date.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I think it was the summer of 2018.

It was some time last year.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I will just check. It was in the summer of 2018.

How long has it been with the Garda?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It was reported almost immediately.

Does Mr. Finnegan have an update on the case from the Garda?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I do not. It is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

Okay. The service has put in new controls. We hear this all the time; after the event, the controls go in. Mr. Finnegan mentions six new items, I think. Why were they not in place beforehand? I welcome that they are in place now but week after week, we hear about something being put in place after the event.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The incremental credit scheme has been in place for a good number of years and has operated well up to now.

There was no red alert anywhere.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

There was no red alert coming through on our side. The issue was that the Members in question basically, who were the employers, were not required to sign the application form. That is one of the new controls that we have introduced.

What are the other controls?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The Member who is the employer has to verify all of the references. That is recognised by the signing of the application. The signature from the employer also ensures that our Members HR unit is aware that the application is in process. On receipt of the signed application, our Members HR unit sends an email to the employer. Essentially, there is a double lock system confirming that an application has been received. After the application has been confirmed or denied, Members HR again contacts the employer by email informing him or her of the outcome.

Those controls are now in place. We would hope there would not be another incident.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Absolutely.

Okay. On page 3, audits, there is a section dealing with the bar, which is currently closed. Is it not unusual that the staff are paid by the State?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

They are accounted for under subhead 1(a).

If we take out the staff payment, it looks like the bar is operating at a profit but if we put in the staff costs, it is operating at a massive loss.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Correct. There is a significant cost in running it but that cost is actually noted at the bottom of the account. If I can bring it to the Deputy's-----

Is this just historical in that it has been run this way for years?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes, it is historical. If the Deputy looks at page 28 of the account, those costs are highlighted in note 1. I should say in respect of those costs that because of the nature of Leinster House and the demands it imposes on people, there is a requirement for a facility like this. It would be what many employers would provide to their staff.

I am not going to go into the ins and outs of that. I am looking more at the control mechanisms that are in place. On page 3, six points are highlighted. There is a credit policy implemented now, automatic credit and debit deductions. The next two points are particularly important. An internal audit was carried out in 2018, giving a reasonable level of assurance. This begs the question as to whether that was after a drink or two. What does "a reasonable level of assurance" mean?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is good.

Is it good? That is fine.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We cannot get absolute assurance.

That is as good as it gets.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is reasonable, yes. We tend to understate things.

Okay. The next point is the financial results of the bar and restaurant. It states: "The Commission has procured the services of an external auditing firm to carry out a financial audit of the Bar and Restaurant Services 2018 Account." Has that been done?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It has. That audit was completed and presented to the Comptroller and Auditor General for consideration in the course of his annual audit.

Very good. Where is that at?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is finished. The results are represented in the accounts.

Did any issues arise in that external audit?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

No.

I will move on to the two cases involving Mr. O'Brien and Ms Kerins. I am glad the Secretary General made reference to a chilling effect because I am really tired of the phrase. I read the judgments and listened to Ms English's briefings. The Supreme Court judgment has anything but a chilling effect on the way we run our committees. We want to get that message out. I would like to hear from Ms English again on the key points. That would be helpful and educational for all of us. The wrong message is going out, perhaps for reasons that suit those who are putting it out. Mr. Finnegan cannot tell us the contingency cost that has been put aside.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

No.

I understand that. We won the Mr. O'Brien case in the Supreme Court, however, did we not?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We won it in both the High Court and the Supreme Court.

Perhaps Mr. Finnegan would give the committee a note as to why we are paying costs when we won those cases.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

The issue of costs arose and the Supreme Court decided we would get our costs for the High Court part of the action and that each side would carry its costs for the Supreme Court element.

Can Mr. Finnegan provide us with a breakdown of those costs?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I would be happy to do that.

The most important thing for me is how we prevent this from happening in the future and how appropriate mechanisms are put in place. That is what was lacking. It was not this particular committee but the previous one which acted outside of its remit and went beyond the invitation that it issued. There was no existing mechanism to put manners on it, for want of a better phrase. Is that right?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

That was the determination of the Supreme Court; they acted unlawfully and-----

In those particular circumstances, for that particular meeting of that committee at that time. The message is not a chilling effect telling us to stop asking robust questions - quite the opposite. The court is saying it will not interfere with committees if the mechanism is in place and that it will only do so when it is forced into it by a lack.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Correct.

I want to get that message out. Ms English might put it a bit more articulately.

Ms Mellissa English

They are only set of papers that I appear not to have brought with me for today but that is absolutely fine since we have done this briefing on a number of occasions. As the Deputy rightly points out, there have been messages out there about this chilling effect on parliamentary committees, which is absolutely incorrect. The court is at pains throughout the decisions in both the Supreme Court judgments in Kerins in this regard.

As the Secretary General said, the court is asking Parliament to set up a system that will rebalance the rights of non-Members when they appear in front of committees. It is stating that if we put procedures in place to provide an avenue of redress for people who believe they have been unfairly treated in front of committees and that if such a system includes remedies that will come into play when a Member or a committee acts unlawfully, the rights that need to be given to non-Members will have been rebalanced. It is stating that when such a system is in place, the Judiciary and the courts will give Parliament a very wide margin of appreciation in how it runs its business. It is far from a chilling effect. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, a number of errors occurred in that case in terms of remit, the letter of invitation and how the hearings were actually run. When the working group has finished its consultations and reported back to the Committee on Procedure, a system will be put in place. We hope Standing Orders will be amended to allow for a redress system. In such circumstances, things should operate much more smoothly in the future.

I was trying to give the witnesses the briefing document that was given to us with my own notes, but perhaps that would be inappropriate. It is the briefing document the witnesses gave us.

Ms Mellissa English

It is. I thank the Deputy.

The document is crystal clear. It has been very helpful for the Chairmen of the various committees. There is a certain hysteria.

Ms Mellissa English

Yes.

Some Chairmen are coming under pressure from the press because of how it is being interpreted. It might be helpful to do this on a more regular basis. I thank the witnesses for setting out the functions of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The efforts to make Parliament more accessible are very welcome. I would like to know more about the key performance indicators, to use the jargon we have learned from the Comptroller and Auditor General, that will be used as efforts are made to make Parliament more effective. Money messages come to mind, but we will leave that matter for another day. However, I welcome the efforts being made to make Parliament more effective and open. Oireachtas TV has been an eye-opener for me. Many people watch it. We are empowering people and it is money well spent. Those who watch Oireachtas TV can see for themselves what is going on in their Parliament without having to rely on social media. It is important for them to be able to learn directly.

Before I refer to specific legal cases, I thank the staff on the ground. If the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is to learn anything, it must listen to the staff on the ground. When I leave here, my abiding memory will be of the ushers. Any visitor I have ever brought to the Oireachtas has spoken about them and the staff in the restaurants. They sell the Dáil to the people and us. In addition to officials like Mr. Finnegan, they made us comfortable from day one. If Oireachtas officials are to avoid misunderstandings and cases in the future, they should listen to people from the bottom up. There should be a mechanism for reporting issues that are arising and the things happening on the ground. That would help to improve matters.

I would like to ask about the extraordinary amounts paid out in compensation and on legal cases. I am referring to note 6 on page 25 of the briefing documentation. Will Mr. Finnegan explain why there were legal costs of €547,000 for six claims by employees and three by members of the public and that no legal fees were awarded? I am looking for clarification in that regard.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I would like to bring something to the Deputy's attention before I clarify the matter she has just raised. We discovered late last night that the cost of €62,000 for claims made by employees, as set out on the page in question, included a cost that should have been included in a figure further down the page. The cost in question arose in a case in Rannóg an Aistriúcháin that involved the non-translation of Acts. The correct figure for legal costs for claims made by employees is approximately €10,000. I apologise for the discrepancy.

The figure for claims made by employees should be €10,000.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes. The overall figure is correct, but the breakdown is incorrect because approximately €50,000 was included in the figure at the top when it should have been included in the figure at the bottom. Claims made by employees are typically human resources-related that arise when people exercise their rights under relevant circulars. Sometimes cases end up in the Workplace Relations Commission, which means that costs have to be met for the representation of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service.

I am sure Mr. Finnegan cannot go into the details of the six cases involving employees. Perhaps he might speak about the range of issues involved.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I will have to get the Deputy a note on it. Based on my recollection, there can be issues with competitions involving people who were unsuccessful in them and there was an alleged penalisation case.

Perhaps Mr. Finnegan might come back with a note on the range of cases involved.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I will give the committee a note on it.

The same point applies to cases involving members of the public. Why does the document state nothing has been awarded in compensation? Are the cases still pending? Where are we at with them? Who can clarify the matter?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We cover our own legal fees. We do not look for them if we are successful in cases of this nature because it would be punitive on the people concerned.

Is Mr. Finnegan saying there was no compensation paid because the Houses of the Oireachtas Service was successful in these cases?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Correct.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

None.

Are any of them ongoing?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Just-----

The figures are for 2018.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

There would be cases-----

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Six cases have been settled.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

Will Mr. Finnegan give us a detailed note on the cases inasmuch as he can do so?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

I will, absolutely.

Obviously, we do not need personal details.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

No.

I want the range involved. I want to know for what they were settled.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

I want to know what issues are arising in order that they can be prevented.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

Ultimately, it seems that-----

Mr. Peter Finnegan

There is a failure in the system when a case ends up in the Workplace Relations Commission.

There is an absolute failure in the system.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

We recognise that. On our human resources side, we put a great deal of effort into processes and systems and training our managers to ensure issues such as this do not arise. When they do, there is a failure somewhere.

There is. I hear about processes all the time, but I cannot judge it. I do not know what the percentage is without looking at it. Every week we hear about processes and process failures. In private session earlier we heard about a case in which the process had become abusive. It was in another situation, into which I cannot go. That is my opinion and I would say it is the opinion of my colleagues. When we read about the process in the other situation - it has nothing to do with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission - we found that the actual process had become an instrument of abuse. We are left looking at and dealing with it, which is not really our remit. There are messages to be looked at.

Mr. Peter Finnegan

Yes.

Does the translation of documents by the translation service come within the remit of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission?

Mr. Peter Finnegan

It does.