Business of Committee

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness at the committee, and Ms Sinead Keane, senior auditor. Are the minutes of 10 October agreed? Agreed.

There are three categories of correspondence. In category A, No. 2451, dated 10 October, and No. 2466 from Caranua are briefing documents and opening statements for today's meeting. Is it agreed that we note and publish these? Agreed. Category B is from Accounting Officers and their Ministers in follow-up to meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts, and other items for publication. The first is No. 2432 from Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, dated 4 October 2019 providing an update relating to the post-project review requested by the committee of the Pálás cinema project. Related correspondence is No. 2465, also from Ms Licken, dated 15 October enclosing a copy of the mentioned post-project review. We will note and publish this. I brought along the periodic report No. 3 which the Committee of Public Accounts published in July 2018, in which there is a specific chapter, including timelines, on the Galway arthouse cinema.

We made a number of recommendations, including the need for a post-project review. That is referred to in this report. I have a number of comments to make on this post-project review but perhaps Deputy Connolly will comment first.

I was going to ask for this to be postponed. I looked at it before but perhaps we could look at it in the next session.

I understand. We will hold it over. I have comments on the specifics, which we will come to next week.

I have a general point on this post-project review process. I am sure the members will agree with what I have to say. This had to be published on budget day and it has come to us now. I will not discuss the recommendations because they relate to the specifics of the report but the gist is that the culture section of the Department should learn lessons from what happened. This review was approved by that Department of Public Expenditure and Reform before it was published. The scope of a post-project review for any project in future must include recommendations from which the public sector can learn. There are clear lessons to be learned from this that could have benefits across the public sector if they are implemented. Everything in this report has a very narrow focus on this project and one section in one Department that should learn from what took place. It is too narrow in terms of the scope of its recommendations. All future post-project reviews must extract specific lessons and when they go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it must see what benefits can be obtained across the public sector. This report displays a silo mentality and focuses narrowly on one project, one section and one Department. All the recommendations are confined to that Department. I suspect that because it is so narrow in its conclusions, there will be no learning process across the wider public service. It will be deemed to be for a specific narrow area. All spending reviews in future must have a section on learning lessons across the public sector. Any report I see that does not have it in future will be seriously challenged by this committee as not being effective in terms of learning the required lessons.

I will not get into the specifics. I expect Deputy Connolly will have much to say about the matter on the next occasion. It is a comprehensive report and we need to devote some time to its examination. I am happy to postpone that examination having made some general comments. They pertain to more than just the specifics of the case. This came from an earlier report of the Committee of Public Accounts and it is why we have a particular interest in it. We will publish the reply and hold it over.

I welcome that it was published on the day of the budget.

We note and welcome its publication and we will hold it over for a detailed discussion next week.

This came up last week, albeit in a more abstract way, when we discussed the leases pertaining to the National Transport Authority and the Commission for Taxi Regulation. That commission had a long lease on a building and the commercial lease now is nearly half of what it was. We were told that another public entity gained from talking up the lease. Who decides to carry out these reviews that measure public gain or loss? Who can pull these together rather than having the issues siloed or fragmented?

I do not think it is done.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Every Department has a responsibility to carry out appropriate spending and value-for-money reviews and account for that value for money in areas of expenditure that they control. It is a legitimate question to ask an Accounting Officer the Department's programme of reviews, how the elements are selected and when other spending priorities will be dealt with.

It is vague. It is something we must take on.

We could make the same argument about the Harold's Cross property. There have been a number of cases involving two public entities.

It probably ties in with my earlier comment about broader lessons needing to be learned rather than trying to narrow the focus in that regard to one section in one Department. People like to keep things in silos as if they have nothing to do with the rest of us. This has everything to do with every Department that spends taxpayers' money. This is a broad matter and we will come back to it.

No. 2434 is correspondence from Mr. Mark Ferguson, director general, Science Foundation Ireland, dated 8 October 2019, responding to our request for information regarding the laying before the Houses of the Oireachtas of the accounts and financial statements of Science Foundation Ireland. We were concerned about the late arrival of these accounts. Mr. Ferguson advises that he has referred our query to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which is responsible for laying the accounts before the Oireachtas and they will let us know the position. I wish to let people know that we are continuing to follow up on this. The Comptroller and Auditor General has indicated separately that in the year to date there has been a continued improvement in parties submitting their accounts for audit within three months of the year end. We have made that a little part of our mission. We will note and publish this item.

No. 2436 is correspondence from Mr. Gerard Dollard, chief executive officer, Irish Greyhound Board, dated 7 October 2019, providing information requested by the committee at our meeting on 19 September. I will detail the types of matters included. They comprise details of animal welfare cases and the number of inspections of kennels, at approximately 500 per year. He lists catering, which was outsourced, and he was asked about a separate care fund established by the Irish Greyhound Board for greyhounds retired from racing. There was a question about the rehoming organisations for greyhounds and the grants given to various organisations. These are quite small, with several at €3,000, although there are one or two bigger examples. They are not major sums. He also dealt with the foster care process. It is good to know about this.

Mr. Dollard also dealt with the breakdown of consultancy fees for 2017 because the issue was raised at our meeting. The €663,000 paid by the organisation in one year for those services is phenomenal. Legal consultancy fees amounted to €138,000, taxation and financial advice amounted to €12,500 but there also different reviews taking in strategic and organisational restructuring totalling €227,000. That comprised work by Preferred Results at €130,000, Tandem Consulting at €12,000, Professor Dermot Duff at €4,800 and Power Economics Limited at €6,690. We made the point here that there appeared to be four consultants examining the organisational structure within a relatively short period. It defies logic to an extent. There is also mention of public relations and marketing consultancy, as well as pensions and fees management and human resources consultancy fees. The four different consultants involved with strategic and organisational restructuring being paid in one year seems extraordinary, and that is why we highlighted the matter.

We asked for details of travel expenses as they were not provided on the day. The vast majority of people, or almost 90%, get less than €5,000 and they have to travel to race meetings all over the country. That is not unreasonable. We asked about the spend on welfare and the information is included. There is also information on the impairment review summary for 2018, specifically asset and capital grant impairment. It is quite technical. There is also a section on organisational restructuring, which has some redaction as various individuals are mentioned. Generally, it is a comprehensive reply.

I will come back to the consultancy spend as we have raised this at a high level in the context of how much money the State or organisations funded by it are spending on consultancy. It is similar to what we are doing with other matters and when we see consultancy spend we should seek a breakdown of what exactly the money is being spent on. We must examine this a bit more closely.

There is a lot of change management within the Civil Service. I imagine that there is a great deal of commonality involved when change is taking place. When money is being spent on strategic and organisational restructuring, that happens as a matter of routine across many Departments and organisation. There are examples of it when very large changes are being made. For example, in the context of technological universities, a lot of change management has to take place in order to merge two institutes to become a new university. There were issues around the level of consultancy being used to fund all of that. However, there is a broader point about where lessons can be learned and how they can be applied. There are also lessons regarding consistency, guidelines and in-house expertise.

The point we made at the previous meeting is that it is far too easy for organisations funded by the taxpayer to reach out to private consultants or to get consultancy firms to carry out some work before decisions are made. However, it is the same firms doing the same work, often with the same recommendations. There is a need to examine this in terms of whether we are getting value for money and if enough is being done by the line Departments that fund these organisations to ensure that better direction is given and that better guidelines are in place in the context of how transition and change are managed. There is a lot of money involved. The question I asked on the previous occasion was whether it is possible to get a figure for, say, 2018. How much did the taxpayer spend on consultancy? The clerk to the committee is shaking his head. It might be difficult to get that figure but we should be able to get it. Every Department should be able to come back to us and tell us how they fund the different organisations and what they spend on consultancy. Is it listed in their accounts?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It should be, yes.

It is a desk-top exercise for somebody. As an exercise in good, prudent examination of how taxpayers money is spent, would it not be good to have a figure for how much the State spent, directly or indirectly, on external consultancy in a particular year? I would say the figure would be frightening.

We will try to do something on that.

It is not a case of trying. We need to do it.

We will do it. The only issue is our definition of consultancy. To take information technology, IT, which is one of the biggest levels, we can have a consultant and sometimes that consultant's work continues in terms of developing the system. That is really IT development. Where does the consultancy stop and the carrying out of a project commence? It is about getting our definition of where we stop and start.

We can agree the definition.

That is the only caveat.

The secretariat might come back with a definition.

The Comptroller and Auditor General might help us with a note on how he defines it.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Certainly, yes. It is many years since we did it. In 1994 or 1995, we compiled a report on consultancies and there is a definition in that distinguishing between contracting out of normal work. One would often have that with the running of, say, an IT system but developing an IT system from scratch would generally be regarded as consultancy work-----


Mr. Seamus McCarthy

-----because it is a one-off function. The difficulty in going down the route of making a definition and then forcing everybody to report in the context of that definition is that they will start from scratch, whereas in the governance statement attached to every set of financial statements now, they have a listing of consultancies so it is available for harvesting, so to speak.

Yes. It is collating-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It would be better to just collate the information they are already reporting. Then, where there is a high level of spending, if the committee wants to probe it at that stage, it could apply more refinement in terms of categorisations of the consultants.

Is that in the Appropriation Accounts?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

In the Appropriation Accounts there is a consultancies heading; it is one of the subheadings of administration spend.

Mr. McCarthy spoke about governance. Where is that shown?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The governance statement is in non-departmental, non-Appropriation Account financial statements.

Would we start with the 41 Department Votes?

The Department could come back with that, absolutely.

We will start with all the Votes-----

Let us say 2018 because some organisations will not have their accounts up to date any way, therefore, 2018 would be a reasonable year with which to start.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Given that we are nearly at the end of October, if the committee corresponds with Departments, by the end of the year it should be getting a fairly comprehensive report from each one.

We will start with all Departments. We can talk about State bodies after that.

I tabled parliamentary questions on that subject last week.

The Deputy did so. I thank her.

I take the point that a one-off capital project is very different but there was other information, for example, every year, an internal audit was put out to a consultant rather than-----


There was then the general data protection regulation, GDPR, for several Departments. It strikes me that is where we could obtain efficiencies and where there needs to be a joined-up approach. There should be a building up of information and expertise within the public service that can be relied on instead of having to get external consultancy. That is the point I would like to examine.

It is useful to have got that correspondence, which was comprehensive. However, when somebody gives us confidential information, we do not want to-----

Not discuss it.

We do not want to add to the issue on which we are going back to them. If we consider that the amount of money for Sport Ireland and all the organisations is €60 million, the vast majority of those would not look for assistance by way of consultancies because they are operating on very tight-----

A shoestring.

-----shoestring budgets. That suggests to me that there is a good deal of financial scope within that organisation. We have another increase in this budget, which is unbelievable.

Is the Deputy talking about the Irish Greyhound Board?

Yes, I am. I refer to the information it gave us on the rehoming of dogs.


We got the information from its representatives when they were before us. It is a very small number of the dogs that are bred on which this has any bearing.


I did not know, for example, that it was the Irish Coursing Club that is responsible for the stud book. It might be worth sending some of that information, or even that document, to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine; it will come under that Department in terms of welfare. This is a wider welfare issue that is not in our remit but it is not getting to the totality of the animal welfare issue. I have concerns in this regard and for that reason we should send it to the joint committee.

The committee will also decide to send this to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine because it may be of interest to it.

I support that but I do not think we know the question yet. I agree with the Comptroller and Auditor General that we need to tease it out. He may not have used those words but he said we should not go down the road of a definition yet. I agree totally. If we look at Caranua, for example, which is coming up later today, there is a jump of €43,000 for other consultancy. That is the same for every organisation. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in one of the organisations mentioned - Preferred Results. We get reports to give us the preferred results. I am not saying anything against this organisation but the clue is in its name. We have the Grace case, on which we are awaiting the result from the commission of inquiry. How many reports were compiled in that regard? How many Preferred Results consultancy reports were compiled in respect of the national children's hospital?

There is a much larger issue here and the first step is collation to see the nature of the beast, to use a bad pun. We do not know what are talking about at the moment in respect of the money spent on consultancy.

Deputy Connolly hit the nail on the head. When we refer to money spent on consultancy, some of it will need to be spent. We are not stating there is no place at all for spending on outside consultancy. The volume and the repetition involved is a worry, however. Leaving aside the definition of what consultancy work is, I imagine a shocking amount of money is spent in any given year. It would be far cheaper if a unit existed within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, or some other Department, to give these organisations the assistance they need, whether with change management, strategic development or finance.

That is fine. A few points arise from this correspondence. It has opened up the issue of consultancy services. Is it possible, via the liaison officer, to pull the figures that were published in the appropriation accounts? That would give us a starting point.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That should be a very easy thing to do.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's office and the liaison officer will provide us with that information. We will then write to each of the Accounting Officers for a breakdown, including the categories and companies involved. We might pick a figure greater than €5,000 or €10,000. We will not get lost in the little stuff when there are such large amounts involved. We will move on that list, when we get it, with the 41 Accounting Officers responsible for the 41 different Votes. We will start with all the Departments and move on to other State bodies.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It occurs to me that there may be spending on consultants under other subheads. That might be the question to be put to Accounting Officers.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Let us take the example of an IT area. Money spent for the development of new IT would be a charge under an IT subhead, as opposed to the consultancy subhead in the appropriation account. We will start with harvesting the figures that are on the face of the accounts.

In our letters to the Accounting Officers, we can show what was included under consultancy, ask for a breakdown but also ask them to please-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

They should confirm whether there is any other expenditure.

That is a good start. The point mentioned by Deputy Catherine Murphy relates to this correspondence as well. Some five weeks ago representatives from Bord na gCon were here and we asked for information, all of which we now have. On the same day, I spoke specifically about the Irish Coursing Club. It is intended that body will now register all new-born dogs. That information will then be transferred to the Irish Greyhound Board's database, if the dogs concerned are going to be involved in greyhound racing.

We inquired about the Irish Coursing Club. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine replied that it was nothing to do with it because it was a private organisation and did not get any funding from that Department. I am amazed to hear that we are handing over that function to a private organisation that probably has charitable status and which has zero accountability to the Department or to this House. We asked the Department for a note on whether a traceability system similar to that used for cattle or bovines was explored for greyhounds. We also asked for a detailed briefing on the Irish Coursing Club, its role in greyhound traceability, Bord na gCon's reliance on its system and the level of assurance provided to the Department regarding the process.

We asked the Accounting Officer of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for that information some five weeks ago. We have not received it and that is not acceptable. It is fortuitous that representatives of that Department will appear before this committee next week as part of our work programme. The answers to those questions will be the first item on the agenda, and it will be six weeks since we made the request. While it is fortuitous that the Accounting Office is here next week, had he not been scheduled to appear, he would be coming in specifically to give us an answer as to why we have not received that information after six weeks. I make this point to all Departments. If they do not provide the information requested within four weeks, their representatives will be back here in week five to explain to the public why questions were not answered.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is lucky. Its representatives happen to be here next week. I think my point is well made. I am tired, as the Chairman, wondering if we got replies to questions we asked five, eight and even ten weeks ago. We should not have to wait that long. Departments should be efficient. If it was a case of a parliamentary question, there would be an obligation on a Department to answer it promptly and a request from this committee should be treated with the same sense of urgency. We are obliging the Accounting Officers by giving them time to provide us with written responses. They should come to this committee prepared to answer most questions in the first place. The letter of invitation to all Accounting Officers states that they have to make someone available to appear before the committee. That is so information can be provided to the committee during the hearings. They normally run for a few hours. We have taken a lenient approach by deciding to allow answers in writing in due course. We are not, however, going to accept this delay of a month in future. I have said this before, but I think my point is well made now and we will follow through on it. We will note and publish the correspondence received. My other comments have been well noted regarding the situation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The next item is No. 2440B from Mr. Derek Moran, Secretary General of the Department of Finance, dated 8 October 2019. It provides an information note on the difference between the national debt and general Government debt. I am going to summarise this for the public. We got a very detailed answer from the Central Statistics Office and the Department of Finance reconciling one to the other.

The gross national debt consists of Irish Government bonds and borrowing from the EU and the IMF, short-term borrowing from ministerial funds and State savings products, excluding the post office savings account. That is the gross national debt, because those moneys are owed to all those people. The national debt is the net debt derived from the gross national debt by subtracting cash Exchequer balances in respect of any liquid assets on hand, as well as non-liquid assets such as the Housing Finance Agency guaranteed notes, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, term loans and credit support account collateral funding. That is the net situation, consisting of the gross national debt minus cash and other resources that could reasonably be converted to cash. That is managed by the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA.

General Government debt is a measure of the total gross consolidated debt of the State. It is assessed by the CSO and takes into account the debt and liabilities of central and local government and Government funds such as the Social Insurance Fund. We have been provided with a detailed note on all this, but generally the gross national debt is how much we owe, the net debt is that figure, generally, minus the cash balances and perhaps assets held by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland that could be made liquid fairly easily. General Government debt is the measure of the total gross consolidated debt of the State, which includes other agencies such as local authorities. I am summarising it and it is not 100% accurate, but it is as accurate as people will appreciate. The full note is several pages long, giving a full reconciliation of the national debt to the general Government debt. It is great reading and I encourage people with an interest to read it. It is good to ask the question.

We should send it on to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. It would be delighted to have it.

This arose from a letter sent by the Department.

A letter that was unclear.

We highlighted that and this is the result. Has that clarified things?

It is very clear.

It is also very detailed.

We might go back to the original letter to see what it missed. Is the Department accepting that there was some lack of clarity?

We did not ask it to specify.

That is fine. Confusion arose from the letter sent to us.

It needed clarification.

We have now been confounded with detail.

That has softened the Deputy's cough.

I will have to go back and see what was the original misunderstanding. There might be an apology somewhere or a clarification.

There might be, but I did not see it.

I will look for that myself.

The Deputy can come back on that issue. The essential information is contained in a one-page reply and then there is a second one-page briefing note showing the reconciliation. That is it and the rest is subsidiary material.

When we read all this, we will know that we are really heavily indebted, no matter which measure we use.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We are.

That does not say anything.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

They are all big numbers.

It is stated that at the end of 2018, the general Government debt was €206 billion.

It is also costing us billions to service that debt every year.

I suspect it will be about €5 billion in the coming year. It is good to get that information and we have it now. It shows that we will be on the case when we get an answer from a Department that is not exactly correct. We got this clarification as a result of asking. We will note and publish this reply.

The next item is No. 244B from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, dated 30 September 2019, providing a copy of a communication issued by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to higher education institutions in respect of property acquisitions.

This was in regard to our request for a liaising or monitoring capacity in respect of capital acquisitions above a certain value by educational sector bodies to ensure the institutions were not competing against each other to acquire particular assets with taxpayers' money. Mr. Ó Foghlú states that the Department has a liaison role and is asking organisations that are in the same geographic area to liaise with each other. It does not have a legal role. It will ultimately go back to the Department for sanction. It was a good point for the committee to highlight and a circular has been issued to the various higher education institutes.

When are the Department and the HEA due to appear before the committee? It has been a long time since we had them in.

We will come to the work programme in a few minutes. I do not think they are due to appear in the immediate future. We will note and publish that correspondence.

The next item is No. 2447, dated 10 October 2019, from Ms Lorna Gallagher, appeals commissioner at the Tax Appeals Commission, responding to our request for an information note and further details on the ten highest value appeals in the bi-monthly progress report provided to the committee. We asked the commission to identify the industry sectors of these high appeals. The commission states it cannot do so because that might identify the parties involved in the big sectors. The level of debt at the tax appeals commission has been increasing. The commission was established in March 2016 and by the end of 2016 the quantum of cases on hand was €1.4 billion. It then got €600 million of new cases, meaning that at the end of 2017 there was €2 billion in outstanding cases on its desk. In 2018, it had five high value appeals which brought the debt to €4 billion. Those cases had a value of €2 billion between them. Obviously, if the commission were to identify the sector, it would make the organisations in question easily identifiable. Of interest is that to date in 2019 the quantum of appeals closed by the commission has exceeded the quantum of new appeals received by €300 million, resulting in a current balance of appeals on hand of approximately €3.7 billion. These are significant figures. Obviously, five companies account for over 50% of the overall figure.

When we last discussed this matter, I raised the issue of the categories into which the appeals fall. For example, a dispute may relate to a pharmaceutical company writing off research and development expenses. I read an article in The Sunday Business Post or The Sunday Times last week or the week before. The article was a bit eye-watering as it outlined that the amount paid is 10% of the amount adjudicated. For example, if there is an adjudication of €100 million, the liability will end up being €10 million. I acknowledge that we do not need to see the individual cases, but we need some sort of profile of what the settlements end up being because while a figure of €3.7 billion is eye watering, it is a different matter if only 10% of that is realised. We need to get a better understanding of that.

I will call the Comptroller and Auditor General in a moment to give his opinion. I am familiar with the article to which the Deputy refers. The committee has highlighted a couple of matters. First, only a fraction of the settlements published by the commission are paid. Although a firm may be adjudicated as owing €1.4 million or similar, there is no indication of whether that amount has been paid in full or in part. Sometimes it is paid and sometimes it is not. We have asked for details of the amounts collected following the publication of the appeals. We will receive those figures. The percentage is relatively low. It seems that the Revenue pursue the tax judgment to make a point. It may be aware that it will not receive the money, but it wants to follow cases through.

Second, in the cases referred to by the Deputy, the Revenue faced a legal challenge on grounds of delay. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred to this in his annual report. That means that we need to bring in Revenue quite promptly on this issue. I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to give his opinion.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

One of the chapters I presented this year looked at the area of the assessed liability, the settlement and the amount collected. I made recommendations on how the commission might improve its reporting in that regard such that in the case of published settlements we find out whether that amount was collected and, if not, why not. The case referred to in the Sunday newspaper is one that I provided as a case study.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It involved a delay on the part of Revenue that undermined its capacity to enforce the collection and, therefore, there was a settlement. It happened to be one of the cases we examined because there was no other way of finding it. It was by paring back that case and looking at how it evolved over many years and whether the amount had been collected that we found it had not been. On published tax defaulters, there is a diagram that indicates per quarter how much of the money had been collected. It outlines the payment rate at the end of May 2019 for the period from quarter 1 of 2017 to quarter 4 of 2018.


Mr. Seamus McCarthy

There are quite significant amounts of money remaining uncollected. For example, with regard to quarter 3 of 2017, at the end of May 2019 60% of the published amount was still outstanding for collection.

Of the published judgments.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes. Not all the judgments are published, for a variety of reasons. There are several matters arising from that chapter which should be discussed with Revenue. In fairness, with regard to quarter 2 of 2018, a year later only 29% of what was published was outstanding. The variances are quite significant but there is scope for better reporting of these figures, and that is what I suggested.

We need to see the trend because one high-value case can distort the quarterly figure.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It can, but there are figures of 29%, 26%, 42%, 45%, 60% and 50%-----


Mr. Seamus McCarthy

-----uncollected up to a year or a year and a half later.

After the event.

On the final issue dealt with in the letter, the commission states that the ten highest value appeals relate to a variety of areas of law and provisions of tax legislation, mainly in respect of corporation tax. Some of these cases could end up in court during this process. It is a matter of legal interpretation rather than a calculation of tax.

The article has jogged my memory. This issue is incredibly important because it these cases do not involve Joe and Josephine Soap. Most of them relate to corporation tax. We have a very generous corporation tax system and when that is in dispute, it brings it into disrepute. The commission gave us a very graphic description of how it functioned when it was set up first, making reference to computers going on fire and so on. It was quite a shocking session. Did that make a difference? If something is going to be problematic because of the length of time spent adjudicating on it, are we at a point such that we can see a difference in terms of the intervention being made by the commission?

There are a couple of points on which we are clear. This was addressed in the Budget Statement. All members are aware that the Government totally underestimated the task before the Tax Appeals Commission when it was established on a statutory basis. There was insufficient provision in terms of the number of appeals commissioners and other staff, as well as resources. The organisation established by the Government was not fit for the task ahead of it. When one sets up a new body, it will attract new interest. It has been playing catch-up. There are some historic appeals. Its funding has been significantly increased this year.

I think there was legislation to increase the number of commissioners the other day or I spoke on that issue somewhere recently.

Between 2019 and 2020 there were significant increases in resources to the Tax Appeals Commission for staffing and commissioners. It is playing catch-up and I accept it did not get it right at the beginning.

I just want to make an observation on the consultancy issue. I would like the Office of Government Procurement to come in on this at a later stage when we collate the information. Take the case of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. I suspect this is what is happening. There is a myriad of Government bodies and agencies which have to handle this. They go to the Office of Government Procurement to get a firm of consultants to deal with it. One could find ten different Government agencies ending up with the same company asking for a brief on how to handle GDPR. Given that the company will have done the job for the first agency, all it has to do is change the cover and charge the full price for the next nine. I have seen this happen before. All the big firms know they will be called upon. They have taken on big operations to deal with these queries. Say the company charges €20,000 for a project. Then another similar sized agency comes along. All the company has to do is change the cover and the names on it and the job is 99% the same. That is my concern.

I will be asking the Office of Government Procurement to look at categories of procurement. If there are umpteen agencies putting out a similar tender independently, is there any way of getting a reduced rate on the basis that one will get a similar project from ten organisations as opposed to a once-off? I am only speculating but my instinct is that there is some of that happening.

Alternatively, we could build institutional capacity and not have to go outside.

When there is new legislation, one cannot expect the existing public service to be geared up. Sometimes if we pass legislation, the capacity may not be in-house. I take the Deputy’s point, however. It was just an afterthought I had. We will note and publish this. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2448 B is correspondence from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, dated 10 October 2019, providing a further update for the committee regarding property transfers and cash payments from religious congregations as contributions towards the costs incurred by the State in responding to residential institutional child abuse. This is specific to today’s meeting.

I welcome the updates. However, it has taken this committee and reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General on the redress scheme to follow up on this. We have said it many times but it is important to say it again. It should have not taken that much effort. If an agreement was made, voluntarily or legally, it should have been followed up.

On a general point, for example, Lenaboy in County Galway, a former industrial school, was finally transferred after ten years. The site had remained vacant in that time. It has taken all this time to transfer it to the local authority. Now it has an empty building that is derelict and that will cost the taxpayer a fortune, not to mention security. I fought for and wanted it this transfer. That is just one example of what has happened in this case of absolute mismanagement and failure to follow up.

The last phrase is correct. I was on the previous committee and this question was often asked. At one stage, there was one staff member working on this part-time. It was neglected by the Department for years on end.

In that context, one of the points made by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his reports was the lack of co-operation from the religious orders. That is not acceptable.

I genuinely believe it was the Committee of Public Accounts that dealt with this and no one else. It should not take the committee to get these things sorted. If it is the only way it will happen, we will do it. However, this should not have to be the case. We will do it if nobody else seems to be actively or publicly on the case. We are probably helping the Department in our own way by raising this matter publicly in terms of its work in dealing with various organisations as well. Today’s main meeting will deal with this. We will note and publish this item. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2449 B is correspondence from Ms Marie Broderick, superintendent, An Garda Síochána, dated 9 October 2019, in response to a request from the committee for further details on information provided by the Garda Commissioner at the meeting on 9 May 2019. We will note and publish this item. Deputy Cullinane requested information on this case.

I want to respond to the letter and the response we received from the superintendent on behalf of the Garda Commissioner. This goes back to questions I put to the Commissioner on an individual. Her name is in the public domain but I will not use it. It concerns an individual who was arrested on suspicion of fraud relating to sick leave. At the time, it was an extraordinary situation where proper due process was not followed. There was no proper internal process followed where the person would have an opportunity to account for herself. It seems it went straight to a criminal investigation. A very strange arrest was made and then the case went to court where it was dismissed.

We asked the Garda Commissioner several questions on process. I am not satisfied with the responses we got from the Garda Commissioner. I have no problem with the first two responses because he cannot be across every detail of every case. He was not aware that the individual in question had made a further complaint and he was not aware of a mediation process. He accepted that when he was before us.

However, another issue concerns the exit survey the individual did. My understanding is that she claimed bullying occurred. We asked whether this was a pattern in this particular Garda station. We asked for a breakdown of the exit surveys and whether any instances of bullying or harassment had been cited. We asked that the response include a breakdown for Store Street Garda station. We were not looking for individuals’ details just the data. The response is that An Garda Síochána has no record of any person citing bullying and-or harassment in an exit survey. It is qualified, however, by stating that exit surveys are conducted by local management and there is no organisational policy in place in this regard. That does not answer the question. It may well be that there are such instances but that they are not logged at a local level and the data are not collated. We need to tell the Garda to go back to the superintendents in the Garda stations and local managers and have them provide the data. If there is no structure in place for collating data, that is not our problem. That is the Garda's problem.

We also asked for information on the number of cases where civilians and members of An Garda Síochána were arrested for suspected fraud relating to sick notes. The response is that between 2016 and 2019, three disciplinary investigations were undertaken to investigate allegations concerning the altering of medical certificates and the claiming of allowances while on sick leave. We would not stand over any that if there were instances. It does not answer the question, however, as to whether any of these cases led to criminal investigations. I am taking from the reply that the answer is "No" apart from this one case.

One was found to be not in breach, one we do not know about and the other is still ongoing.

No. These were disciplinary investigations which is a different process. The question we asked is whether there have been instances of people who were arrested for suspected fraud.

The point is that this individual’s case is the only instance where there was an arrest and the person was brought before a court for alleged fraud relating to a sick note. The case was then dismissed in court. We asked were there any more instances. This letter does not answer the question. It talks about disciplinary processes. My point is that there is no candour here in terms of giving the responses to the questions that have been asked.

More importantly, we asked about the related policy and practice in An Garda Síochána for dealing with suspected fraud relating to sick leave and the details of it. The response noted that instances of non-compliance with sick leave regulations and falsification of records are reported to human resources. It states the Civil Service disciplinary code may be invoked for serious misconduct. In the case we raised initially, that did not happen. Why? That is the point. In this case, the Garda seems to have bypassed its own processes and went straight to an arrest.

What we know is that the gardaí who arrested this individual were known to her. That was an issue as well. There are issues with process here. It may well be that they are not for this committee to discuss - I do not know - but they came up in the course of an appearance of the Garda Commissioner before the Committee of Public Accounts. We need to go back to the Commissioner and get clearer answers to the questions we put. The obvious ones concern the exit surveys, which I have cited. Can he be clearer that there was only one case, as it seems there was, that led to a criminal investigation? That should be very easy for him to respond to. Furthermore, why was this issue not dealt with through the Civil Service disciplinary code, as per Garda policy?

I think we all recall the Garda Commissioner giving the information on this case. The committee subsequently received a letter stating that there was an error in his response to us. Whether he was before this committee or whether the information was given by way of correspondence, that certainly happened. Obviously, the Commissioner did not get the correct information internally from the people who were advising him. It strikes me - and this may not be a matter for this committee to discuss - that to carry out an exit survey with one's immediate supervisor is not the way to go. We certainly have to ask about the process used in this regard. If there is to be a change in culture, we have to make it possible for people to be honest and frank in exit surveys. That seems very obvious. If something is subject to a criminal investigation, the committee would have no business having a discussion about it, but we need to know if that is the case.

Gardaí are involved in a very dangerous job and some of them will be out on sick leave. One would expect to see that. Let us say there are allegations that there are a small number who have altered medical certificates. Would the various allowances apply while they are out sick? It is not at all clear what that would have amounted to in terms of the payments individuals have received. In the Civil Service people are paid a certain amount, but with certain other grades, such as garda, soldier or whatever, very often allowances make up a large proportion of their income. It would be useful to find out if people on sick pay lose their allowances.

Deputy Cullinane is right about separating out the reasons a disciplinary code would be used, when it is used and when matters go beyond the code. That is not clear from this correspondence. I am not sure whether this is a matter for the committee to discuss but it is difficult to ask another committee to follow up on something on which we have opened up a dialogue. We should close that off before we decide what to do with this.

I agree with Deputy Cullinane on this. This ends up becoming a value for money issue because if the systems in place are there in theory but do not work, they end up costing money. This is probably a matter for the justice committee as well. The points have been made. I recall the Commissioner's appearance before the committee. He came back and apologised or said he did not know-----

That is correct.

However, he also made the point that he did not have knowledge of the question beforehand, which was not a great reason.

Yes, I know.

If one does not know, one waits, but he said he did not have foreknowledge of the matter. This is simple. Exit surveys should not be carried out if one is not going to learn from them. The whole point of an exit survey is to learn from it. A simple answer here would have been very helpful to us. We asked a very simple question, namely, whether bullying and harassment were recorded in the exit survey. Instead of responding that the Garda has a system in place and its analysis found that bullying and harassment did not come up, the response was that An Garda Síochána had no record of any person citing bullying. That is not an answer to our question. The next question we asked was very simple, namely, whether anyone had been arrested in respect of fraud. The answer should have been "Yes" or "No" and in the case of "Yes", the number of arrests should have been given. These are simple questions, so it is not reassuring to the Committee of Public Accounts to receive such answers. Only two weeks ago, we had Garda representatives before us with their transformational presentation on their organisation and the justice committee. We want to believe them. I want gardaí on the street and in my community and I want to believe them, but answers such as these do not help.

I raised this case because it was brought to my attention before the Garda Commissioner appeared before the committee. There was a value-for-money element to it because there was an allegation at the time that due process was not followed. That led to a criminal investigation that cost the State money. It went to court and the charges were dismissed. Leaving aside that case, I have no problem with individuals within An Garda Síochána who are falsifying records for the purpose of defrauding the State and the system being dealt with. Of course they should be dealt with. Nobody on this committee would stand over anything else. The question, however, is what processes are in place to determine that. When it is an issue of sick leave, it should be dealt with first by human resources and then the other systems, the disciplinary code and so on, kick in. That is the procedure to be followed. The point is that in this case that procedure does not seem to have been followed and there were a lot of question marks over the nature of the arrest and so on, all leading to the case collapsing in court.

There is, however, a more fundamental point, which Deputies Connolly and Catherine Murphy touched on, about the exit surveys. An Garda Síochána says there is no record of bullying being cited, but we need to know whether that statement is factual, in other words, whether it is based on the fact that An Garda Síochána does not have an organisational record or whether it has actually carried out the trawl. There is a difference. It would not be factually right to say there is no record. There may be no records held, but that does not mean that in a local Garda station somewhere, when gardaí start to go through any exit surveys, there would not be a record of bullying. If there is a number of records in one particular Garda station, that would create a problem because there could be a culture, which is what we were trying to establish.

Deputy Catherine Murphy's point about the independence of exit surveys is also important. I do not think that is a matter for our committee, however, and perhaps we should refer it to the justice committee. We should send our follow-up questions. It would not be good enough for the committee to decide the answers to our questions were unsatisfactory. We need to get clearer answers from the Commissioner and then perhaps we can decide how to proceed from there.

The manner in which the investigations came to light will tell us something about the system in place for carrying out disciplinary investigations. If these cases came to light through a total review of, for example, sick leave, as opposed to somebody making a decision to carry out an investigation based on a belief that something was incorrect, that would be a totally different thing. Is a system in place to carry out a review? We want people who are out sick, who have been injured on the job, to be above reproach. If there is fraud in the system, it undermines that. What is the system in place to identify this?

I will make a few suggestions. First, while the name of the person mentioned in this letter is in the public arena, we have not put it in the public arena, and I propose we redact the person's name before we publish the letter. The name is out there but it is not for us to put it out there. The name is mentioned three or four times in the letter but it will be redacted when we publish it. Second, I think everybody is clear that An Garda Síochána does not have an organisational policy in place for exit surveys, so it does not know. That is the honest answer. If it does not have a policy, it could not have said there is no record. We will, therefore, ask the Commissioner whether he will put a policy in place. If he will, we will ask how it will be implemented, and if he will not, we will ask him for reasons.

I will move on. I am taking a slightly different approach to this. I see a distinction in this letter between the arrest and what we are talking about, particularly in the last paragraph, which states that where cases of fraud are suspected, they are escalated for criminal investigation. They have nothing to do with HR. If someone in the Garda believes fraud has been committed by another member of the Garda, the matter goes straight to a fraud investigation. The letter further notes that instances of non-compliance with sick leave regulations are reported to HR. Someone came to the conclusion that there was a suspected case of fraud here, but HR does not follow up on fraud. HR can do what it likes, but if the Garda suspects fraud, it must follow it up on a criminal basis. These are two different, unconnected tracks. One can follow the other, though it does not have to. I have seen cases over the years of gardaí being prosecuted for allegedly taking €200 or €300 out of a station from money handed in for gun licences. That is suspected fraud, which goes straight to a criminal investigation. That does not only go to HR, because if the Garda believes there is fraud it goes off on that track. That is the Garda's job. It has a second role as an employer and HR comes into that. I see why one went-----

I would add a caveat to that. I do not disagree with what-----

Allow me to finish. There is a complete distinction between suspected fraud and instances of non-compliance with procedures. Suspected fraud cases mean a potential loss to An Garda Síochána as money would be paid out in a fraudulent manner. Fraud is a criminal issue, not a HR issue. Do members understand the distinction I am making? I am not trying to muddy the waters, but rather trying to clarify. We will go back to what the Deputy said. I am not asking everyone to agree with me, but I see two different issues going on here which are independent of each other. One does not follow the other. I accept that this particular case was dismissed and was probably thrown out of court. However, I can see why, if the Garda believes that one of its members is involved in suspected fraud, it would be a straightforward criminal matter rather than a HR matter. I am just making that observation.

I do not think the Chairman is muddying the waters at all. He is quite right to point that distinction out. The second page of the letter refers to the three disciplinary investigations, which are the next step in the process. HR proceedings come first, then the internal disciplinary mechanisms kick in. The allegations in these three cases apparently related to altering medical certificates and did not get to the point of fraud, it would seem. We asked about suspected fraud and arrests but the letter talks about the disciplinary procedures. In this case, I imagine that it should have gone through the disciplinary procedures, where any errors would have been captured, rather than going straight to an arrest and a court proceeding. There are a number of different steps in the process.

We will send the transcript of this discussion to An Garda Síochána in order to give it a precise understanding of the issues raised. We need clarification on whether these three cases are separate from the case about which we are talking. It is quite possible that these cases were disciplinary and that the case to which we are referring is criminal. I want to know whether the one we have been writing about is one of these three cases, as I do not know that. There are two different processes involved, namely, criminal proceedings if there is suspected loss of money, or HR intervention if not.

We will send the transcript and put the questions to which members want answers. We will publish this letter, redacting the name of the person concerned. That is noted and published with redaction.

Correspondence No. 2450B is from Mr. Tom Doherty, chief operations officer of Teagasc, providing an information note requested by the committee about the number of contracts that were non-compliant with procurement rules in 2018. These were recorded in the statements of internal control or governance in its annual report. This committee now has a policy of immediately writing to an organisation for a detailed explanation, which can be put on the public record, whenever we meet instances of non-compliance with public procurement. Public bodies will likely not want their details read out to that extent in future and so it will probably encourage them to deal with the issue and not let it recur. The letter from Teagasc provides considerable details, much of them relating to the rollover of a Vodafone telephone account. It seems to be dealing with the issues. We will note and publish the letter. Our point is well made on that particular issue. Public bodies will have to give a detailed point-by-point full explanation of the issue, the action taken, the value involved and the remedial action taken. They will not want to be written to again next year. Let us hope they act accordingly. We will note and publish that. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Correspondence No. 2453B is from Mr. Ciarán Breen, the director of the State Claims Agency. It provides information requested by the committee on the general indemnity scheme and clinical indemnity scheme, details of the type of cover provided and information regarding which legal costs are covered or not covered. This is a follow-up inquiry for the purposes of our periodic report. We have asked for details where we felt there were gaps in our information. We will note and publish that letter, which will feed into our periodic report.

Correspondence No. 2454B is from Mr. Michael Goodwin from the energy security division of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It provides an information note on the National Oil Reserves Agency levy and its potential repurposing for use by the climate action fund, which will require legislation. Deputy MacSharry previously raised this issue. The Department states that legislation is required to achieve this goal. It also clarifies, in response to the Deputy's question from a previous meeting, that it is not in a position to hand over the surplus in its accounts to the Government by way of a dividend. It accepts that the levy is in excess of what it requires and it now wants it to be used for the climate action fund, which is Government policy. The Government has published the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill, which will provide for the surplus levies collected to be used for the climate action fund. The letter goes on to say that legislation is currently being developed to amend the 2007 legislation and provide for the expansion of the purpose of future levy funds. The letter has not answered the central question we asked about the existing build-up of funds, though we understand that future levies can have a new purpose based in the legislation. This question will probably be debated in the Chamber during the passage of the legislation, whenever that happens. The letter sets out the Department's position crystal clear. We will note and publish this item.

We need the Department to set it out crystal clear, because I did so two weeks ago. The reality is that that €250 million cannot be used for anything except that agency. The other issue is that people are paying 1.5 cent per litre for the climate action fund on top of the carbon tax and being hit doubly, though I acknowledge that this is Government policy. We will not get the benefit of that €250 million unless the Government stops levying the agency for a period and works down the funds. Alternatively, as was suggested to me, it could buy an extra few days' oil, which might use up the money. I am glad to have exposed this issue, but I wish we could use the €250 million for other projects.

It is interesting that, in this day and age, €250 million has essentially been locked into a State agency's account. It has no immediate purpose for that fund and there is no provision to pay it back to the Government by way of a dividend, so it is locked in. We have to find a mechanism in order to use it for an appropriate purpose. I thank Deputy MacSharry for raising this issue. That is where it currently stands.

The next set of correspondence is category C, which is from individuals and other correspondence. Correspondence No. 2431C, dated 6 October 2019, is from an individual who has queried information provided to the committee on whether profits from the student transport scheme are or could be used to cross-subsidise Bus Éireann. This is a school transport issue, which was raised at a Committee of Public Accounts meeting on 28 Feb 2013. The letter quotes Deputy Paschal Donohoe, who was a member of the committee at the time, from the committee transcript. He was very concerned and wanted to verify that Bus Éireann was not using these funds for any purposes other than school transport.

The then Chairman, Deputy McGuinness, reiterated the same point. I think many people sought clarification on it. At this stage, we will request a note from the Department of Education and Skills on whether Bus Éireann's auditors have satisfied themselves on this question. As a member of the committee at that time, Deputy Donohoe wanted verification that this was the actual situation. We will try to get that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

As I reported in the special report, my understanding is that the auditors are giving an assurance that the estimate of cost has been prepared in accordance with the framework that was set down in 1973 or 1975. They are not giving an assurance that there is no cross-subsidisation. All they are saying is that it has been prepared as agreed.

Okay. Is there anyone else we can ask to try to give us that assurance?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We can ask the Department again if the matter has changed since I reported. That is my recollection of what I reported previously.

It is vague. We have not yet received a satisfactory answer.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

There is no assurance around cross-subsidisation. All the auditors are saying is that the thing has been prepared the way it was supposed to have been prepared.

Okay. We are going to write to the Department to clarify this point. Members can see that it is an ongoing issue. It has been before this committee for a couple of years. It was before the last Committee of Public Accounts as well. We will note the correspondence. We will not publish it because it is from a private individual. We will ask the Department to respond. I think that under GDPR, we have to get permission from the person if we want to contact the Department on his behalf.

Next is No. 2435, from the Irish Thalidomide Association, dated 30 September 2019. It relates to communication with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services. The association is looking for all-party support for a number of issues, including the lifting of the limitation period in the context of all thalidomide survivors, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the State and recompense for survivors. While we are all sympathetic and we all support the principle the association is talking about, it is not a matter with which the Committee of Public Accounts can deal specifically. It has been referred to the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Minister of State for them to deal with it. I suggest that we note this correspondence. This is really a matter to be dealt with in the Chamber. Members can show their support for this cause by asking parliamentary questions and raising it in the Chamber, but the Committee of Public Accounts cannot take it on. Any change in the legislation in this area is a policy issue. Any time limitations on the taking of cases are policy issues. We will note the correspondence. I ask members to support it as best they can and in a manner they deem appropriate.

Next is No. 2438, dated 7 October 2019, from an individual who represents a group that is raising the alleged misuse of resource allocations in schools. The correspondence refers particularly to resources for students with special needs. It lists a number of findings and recommendations in relation to whole-school evaluations. It suggests that the Department of Education and Skills has failed to deal with the educational matters raised. In my view, this is a matter of public funds allocated for special education purposes. It is alleged in the letter that funds are being used for school administration and other purposes. If this means that money being allocated for special needs purposes is not being used for those purposes, the Committee of Public Accounts will want to know why funding being allocated to a vulnerable group is possibly being used for other purposes in the school. I do not know whether it is. I met the correspondent in person outside a committee meeting a couple of weeks ago. He asked this committee to examine what he considers is the misuse of public funds in this case.

Surely it should be ring-fenced for whatever it is designated for. That is it.

Can we agree to send this correspondence to the Department, accompanied by a request for a detailed response? We do not want to hear what its policy is: we want to know what it is doing to ensure voted moneys that are set aside for children with special needs in schools throughout the country are being used specifically for such purposes. It would be dreadful to think that this is happening on any significant scale.

This is not the first time this kind of issue has been raised with me over a number of years. I would be very surprised if it has not been raised with other Deputies. What control does the Department have at individual school level? Can we ask it specifically about this critical issue? What inspections and controls are in place? Is there a complaints mechanism? What controls are put in place to ensure there is no abuse?

We need to ask those questions. I am not sure whether boards of management have to audit the income of schools, such as capitation grants and other grants. Maybe members can tell me whether they do. I am not talking about teacher salaries because they come straight from the Department. It goes without saying that all schools are tight on money. I am involved in my local community employment scheme, which has to have two audits, one of which relates to its own fund. The company that runs it has to have a second audit. The accounts of community employment schemes are audited to ensure the moneys that are paid for training, staffing, courses and materials are used for the purposes for which they are intended, as agreed with the Department. An audit has to be done. I do not know whether any audit is done in a school. I am just not sure. I am not suggesting that 4,000 audits have to be done in all the schools in Ireland. I think there should be an annual return from the board of management of each school, showing how the money received from the Department under various headings has been utilised. Maybe there is a need for some spot checks. The issue this correspondence highlights is that when the money is sent out, that is the end of it. That is not good enough.

I think there is a difference where it is a staff resource. We all know that schools are often-----

They are under pressure to stretch a limited resource. They often have to share a resource among a number of pupils. We might have to differentiate between certain things. I received a complaint about a laptop that was provided for a pupil, when in fact the pupil did not get access to the laptop. That is the kind of thing that has been brought to my attention. We might have to differentiate between those two things. Most schools are trying to do their best to share out things that might not be specific to an individual student. Each school has to define who has the most need. The resource in question might not cover all of the need. Complaints can be made when there is an expectation that a shared support will be used in a certain manner.

Okay. We will ask the Department for a detailed response. I know there are major gaps in whole-school evaluation reports. If a school building is collapsing, it will not be covered in the whole-school evaluation report. We will ask the Department to respond to what has been highlighted.

I would like to refer to special needs grants in this context. We know that every school in the State is under strain and stress because of shortages. The Chair has indicated that we will ask the Department what process or mechanism it uses for auditing school grants. Perhaps this is done through boards of management or through inspections. There is a need to ensure every single grant under every heading is spent in the right department of the school in accordance with the procedures. We should ask the Department how it supervises and inspects school expenditure. Maybe it can furnish us with the relevant details. How many cases have been brought to its attention? Did it investigate them? What was the outcome? If several cases were brought to its attention in the past, what has been done since then to ensure these problems have not continued?

I thank the Deputy. We will send a transcript of this discussion to the Department with a covering letter in order to ensure it is familiar with the issues members have raised. We will note this item of correspondence and we will contact the Department directly on it.

Next is No. 2445, from Deputy Kate O'Connell, who is requesting further information from Bord na gCon regarding the post mortems that are conducted when greyhounds die on the track at its events. I take it that the Deputy is happy for us to forward her letter to Bord na gCon for a detailed response.

Okay. We will do that. It is agreed that we will ask for a detailed response.

The final item today is No. 2446, dated 10 October, from Deputy David Cullinane, who is requesting further information from the National Transport Authority. We sent a detailed list to the authority arising from last week's meeting. The Deputy has a few other issues he wants to raise. Is it agreed that those issues will also be sent to the National Transport Authority for its response? Agreed.

Having dealt with the correspondence, the next item on the agenda is three sets of financial statements that have been laid before and listed in Dáil Éireann. They will come up on the screen in a moment.

The Arts Council, the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and the Commission for Aviation Regulation all received a clear audit opinion. We will just note those and the fact that they have been laid before the Oireachtas.

The next item on the agenda is our work programme, which is on the screen now. Caranua will be before us today. Representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will be here next week to discuss accounts and there is also a chapter in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on this matter. The next item is our meeting with the Courts Service-----

Has there been any indication yet as to whether that will be a sitting week? If it is not a sitting week, will this committee sit anyway?

We probably will not sit if the Houses are not sitting, in which case we will have to postpone that meeting. It is up to members but if it is a sitting week, we should schedule a meeting. If it is not a sitting week, the members can decide-----

Is the Business Committee making that decision next week?

I do not know. Of course, it could make a decision and then be forced to change it, depending on events. The point is well made and there is a question mark over that meeting because we are not quite sure what will happen. If the Dáil is not sitting, will we take it that this committee will not sit? If the Dáil is sitting that week, we will proceed with the meeting. Is that agreed?

That is agreed.

I do not think people will come up if the Dáil is not sitting. We understand where we are on that and the difficulty will be rescheduling.

The next item is a meeting with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection followed by a meeting the following week with the Office of Public Works, OPW. There are chapters in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on both. We will meet the Charities Regulator on 21 November. On 28 November the HSE will come before us, provisionally, to deal with its financial statements and the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Following that, on 5 December, we will speak to representatives of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. At that meeting will be representatives from the HSE, the Department of Health as well as the new body, the name of which is-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Children's Health Ireland.

We want that organisation here that week because there is activity going on, outside of construction, which is under its remit. I refer here to getting patient records systems in place and so on. Children's Health Ireland commenced functioning on 1 January this year but work was being done on that project prior to that. That body has not been before this committee yet but it is a fundamental part of the national children's hospital project.

We have suggested a meeting with Pobal for 12 December. Last week we agreed to have a meeting on the carbon fund, fossil fuel levy and so on. The CSO has produced a report and the Comptroller and Auditor General has a chapter in his report on this issue. We know that well over €3 billion has been collected and the Comptroller and Auditor General has recommended that Departments be required to show how the money that has been collected under the name of the carbon fund has been utilised. The CSO has reported on this and the ESRI has produced two reports on it which have been circulated to members. One of the ESRI reports, published in October, provides a breakdown of the headings under the carbon fund. We will not have a big discussion on it now but I am proposing that as the aforementioned two independent organisations have done much work on the carbon tax collected and how it has been spent, I propose one or possibly two meetings on this issue. At one of the meetings we will talk to the CSO and the ESRI because they are independent of the Department and have done great work on this. We are not going to redo any of their work but it would be very helpful for the public if we have a public discussion on the carbon fund. There is a lack of transparency and the CSO and ESRI have done much work to try to get behind it and have commented on how the funds collected have been used and whether the spending has been detrimental or useful in terms of reducing our carbon emissions. Obviously, we will invite representatives from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment a fortnight later. We do not have confirmation from these organisations but we will ask the secretariat in November to make the necessary arrangements. We will try to make sure the meetings are not too long because people are under pressure. We should be able to do a nice piece of very important work on the carbon fund in terms of taxes collected and their use, in two meetings. We will confine it to two meetings - one with the CSO and ESRI and the other with the Department. It will be helpful to the public. This is 100% under the remit of this committee. Taxes have been collected for a specific purpose and we want to see how they were utilised in the context of environmental issues. It is 100% under our remit. Are we agreed that the secretariat will come back with the dates as soon as they are confirmed?

I asked some questions on this several years ago and was told that the Department of Finance does not ring-fence funds. I cannot remember the exact terminology that was used.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The Department cannot ring-fence.

It is not ring-fenced but is in with general taxation. It is not like the environment levy, which goes into the environment fund.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct.

It went into the central fund. That is what I was told.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, the central fund of the Exchequer. All funds form one fund.

I do not have an issue with it going in per se but if €400 million in carbon tax goes in this year, I would like to see projects across various Department, adding up to €400 million, that are related to carbon emissions reduction.

The Minister has guaranteed that the extra tax that will be collected this year will be ring-fenced and used for environmental projects.

No, what happened in this year's budget-----

I thought he gave that commitment on budget day.

No. We will not get into the politics of this but what was achieved in the budget is that there will be transparency vis-à-vis the extra €90 million that will be raised in carbon tax this year. What I, as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, want to know, is how the other €400 million-----

I am interested in the Chairman's use of the word "achieved".

Yes I used that word. I am not mentioning how it was achieved but it was achieved. We have transparency on the increase in the carbon tax but nobody mentioned the bigger issue which is that we are already collecting €400 million in carbon tax every year. Let us see how the funds already collected and those being collected are spent. We have opened the door but this committee will try to shed further light on the issue.

We talked about the Revenue Commissioners earlier-----

The Revenue Commissioners will have to come before us soon because there have been big issues around debt write offs by Revenue.

What about Sport Ireland? What is the situation with regard to a meeting with that organisation?

I think Sport Ireland is due to appear before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Yes, it will appear before that committee shortly. We will not set a date for our meeting with Sport Ireland until after the aforementioned joint committee meeting because we do not want to duplicate work.

Sport Ireland was due to appear before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport but then there was a delay in the publication of its report-----

There was a delay in the release of the report.

Yes and the joint committee-----

I suggest we wait until after that committee has its meeting and then we can decide on a date, if appropriate, for us to invite Sport Ireland to appear before us. I do not want to jump on the work that is currently being done by the other committee.

We have to deal with policy as well. We have to deal with how money is spent and holding Sport Ireland to account in that regard. It is a big organisation. This has been raised a number of times at this committee.

In terms of outstanding matters, we have NAMA, Enterprise Ireland and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. The HSE will be coming before us, as will the board of the paediatric hospital. Sport Ireland is an organisation that has been mentioned quite a lot here but we do not have a date for a meeting yet. We will try to get a date, preferably on a Thursday. We may find that one of our scheduled Thursday meetings is not a big one and we could do a two-hour afternoon session with Sport Ireland. I am trying to avoid going back to Tuesdays if at all possible. We have two meetings scheduled for two Tuesdays already. We will try to keep them as tight as possible. We will also have to deal with our next periodic report which should be published in November. We will try to get Sport Ireland to come in for an afternoon session on one of the Thursdays. We will set a time limit whereby we finish one session at lunchtime and begin the next session immediately after the voting in the Dáil. Otherwise, we will run out of dates. We will ask the secretariat to work on that.

Before we invite the witnesses in, we must go into private session to deal with one or two items of correspondence.

The committee went into private session at 10.39 a.m., suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed in public session at 11.09 a.m.