Business of Committee

We are joined today by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined by Mark Brady, deputy director of audit.

No apologies have been received. I propose that we hold over the minutes of the meeting last week to our next meeting. We will deal with anything related at that point.

There is one item I wish to bring up relating to last week's meeting. I will bring it up at this stage. It relates to the national paediatric hospital. As part of our meeting we circulate to all members follow-up items relating to the session. It is not formally part of the minutes but it is a follow-up note for members. I want three other items put onto the list from last week's meeting. We did not get to clarify everything we had intended on the day because of time and everything else.

The first thing is the big issue relating to the design and extras. I want to write to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board seeking confirmation that the design works are now fully completed, all design work drawings have been given to the builder, and there is no ongoing design work at this stage. If there is, then by definition it could lead to extras. We want to know the position of the paediatric board in respect of managing the builder and all obligations. The builder is on the site building phase 2 at this stage. I want absolute confirmation that the builder has completed all works and that, a year and a half into the project, it has completed the design of the hospital. If it is not completed at this stage, no one can talk about the estimated future cost. Have all drawings and estimates been given to the builder?

We got the report with the figure of €1.433 billion last January or thereabouts. That was the figure at that stage. We want a summary of any changes to the design that have been made since that date. Have all changes been agreed with the builder as feasible? We want an estimate of any design work that was completed since we got the final gross price of €1.433 billion. That is reasonable. We need to know whether the builder is free to build it out or whether is he waiting every month for new designs and different aspects. That matter has to be clarified.

The second matter I wish to clarify is whether there is a confidentiality agreement in the contract. We hear about commercial confidentiality every time we raise an issue. This matter has come up. Is the board bound by any confidentiality agreement? If so, what are the constraints to what it can say? We had quite a discussion at this committee on certain aspects, including inflation. It dawned on me that perhaps there is a confidentiality agreement and there may be limits on what the board can tell us or otherwise. I would be concerned if the largest capital project in the country has a confidentiality agreement and the contract is completed.

The board told us in the end but it took some time to get there.

Yes, we should clarify it. I agree. The board mentioned the claims that are put in every month. I gather there is a monthly system. Is that in line with the contract? We mentioned the windows. I think ten or 12 are in now. Will there be a claim for the windows? I am using that as an example since it is the most visible aspect of the building. What if something comes up relating to claims for windows? I am using that example because it is obvious. I am sure it will take months to complete all the windows and fenestration of the building. Is a claim put in every month for the windows being put in? Is that part of the contract? Should there be a claim for the thing in toto? We want to get a feel for how the process is running. I am sorry that they are small points but they are issues that I had meant to mention the previous day. We will include that on the list of items for the paediatric hospital board.

Last week I looked for an updated list. Does the Chairman remember the itemised list we had? I am keen that we get it because while the overall figure may well stay the same, there may be movement within it. It is important that we keep an eye on that.

We asked about the €1.433 billion. Is the Deputy asking about any movements within the constituent figures?

I am looking for an updated table. We asked the committee to give that to us last week.

We will check whether it is on the list. We have the list of a dozen points. It might well be on the list. If it is not, we will add it to the list. It is such a big project. Those are the few items that dawned on me as the meeting came to an end. We did not formally put them on the note completely.

We are on to correspondence. The first category is the briefing documents and opening statements for today's meeting with Pobal. We have correspondence items 2616 A and 2630 A. We will note and publish these and discuss them with Pobal shortly.

The next item of correspondence is B, correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers following Committee of Public Accounts meetings and other items for publishing. I will say at this stage for people watching that comprehensive correspondence is sent to us by various Departments. We will move through it as promptly as possible. Some of it is significant and merits discussion.

The first item is 2592 B from Mr. Ray Mitchell. We discussed it here the last day. It relates to the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Cuisle holiday resort. We never published it but we will formally publish it as we discussed it the last day.

The next item is 2598 B from Mr. William Beausang, assistant secretary, Department of Education and Skills, dated 29 November. It relates to our request for the Department's position on the Minister appointing an investigator under the relevant legislation to examine matters in the Comptroller and Auditor General Special Report No. 104.

I wish to take a couple of minutes on this because it is an important issue that we have followed over the course of approximately two years. I was speechless when I read the letter and I want to make a number of recommendations.

I will give some context to the letter. We had a report or examination of the commercialisation of intellectual property from 2009 to 2011 carried out by Peter McLoone on behalf of the Higher Education Authority, HEA. We know that it is an unpublished report. The Attorney General has said that the HEA had operated outside its remit and for that reason the report could not be published. I understand more than 50 people contributed to the process, including whistleblowers who had concerns about the process and, to be fair, others who had an alternative view. Having said that, there was a report but it was not published.

We had asked the Department to use its powers. A Minister could appoint an examiner or investigator and the examiner could look at the functions of the board and the governance, oversight and management of potential conflicts of interest between 2009 and 2011, including Aceno mobile technologies. That would have been covered under the examination. It looks like the Minister had signed off on it and procurement was put in place to allow it to happen. This needs to happen to ensure that we follow this process through fairly for all of those who have come forward and made submissions for the previous report.

Bizarrely, the Department is saying that it met the board of Waterford Institute of Technology on 24 October. The board informed the Department that it is carrying out its own external expert review looking at "governance procedures currently in place". These are two completely different issues. Whatever is currently in place is great. We know there have been improvements in some areas since the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Accounting Officer accepted many of the recommendations and points in the report. We know improvements have been made in governance of this area since these issues first came to light.

An external examination by Waterford Institute of Technology of current arrangements is not the issue here. While that will be of value, it does not in any way supersede, and should not interfere with, the process that looks back at 2009 and 2011. They are two entirely separate processes. I do not see any overlap whatever here.

I will put a question to the Comptroller and Auditor General, although I will not ask him to comment on the response of the Department. The Comptroller and Auditor General has experience of producing reports. Does he see an overlap between the two examinations that will now be done? In other words, if the board is appointing an external contractor to examine current procedures and the Department had an examination done of a different time period, is that an overlap? Would there be a difficulty in conducting the two processes at the same time? Are the two examinations doing two different things? Would the Department's review, as set out here, do something entirely different from what the external contractor appointed by the board of Waterford Institute of Technology is doing, namely, examining contemporary issues and what is in play at the moment? Are they two separate processes?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I suppose the key risk that I would see in a situation like this where the same subjects are being looked at but in different time periods is that one would have different standards and different criteria being applied. However, that is then a debate about what is the appropriate set of criteria to examine. Looking at a process that is currently in place and a process that applied a decade ago, it should be capable of being managed in a way that there would not be an unmanageable overlap.

That is how we should proceed. Other members of the committee may take a different view but I utterly reject the content of the letter and the proposal made by the Department. It is not acceptable. I would also go a bit further than the Comptroller and Auditor General because the two processes are entirely different. A review of what is happening now will not examine anything that happened in 2009 and 2011. The review is looking at what procedures are in place now to oversee potential conflicts of interest when intellectual property is commercialised in the here and now, as opposed to what happened in 2009 and 2011, which is entirely different. That was the basis of the McLoone report, which was never published. We cannot throw whistleblowers under the bus, which is what the Department would be doing here.

The Department's letter also states that, following the Waterford Institute of Technology external review of what is currently in place, "a decision will be made as to whether it is necessary to re-engage with the HEA". Of course, that is necessary because two different issues are being examined. This is a case of kicking the can down the road and conflating issues. It is completely and utterly wrong and it is doing an injustice to all of those who have come forward.

The president of Waterford Institute of Technology has asserted a number of times that much of the commentary in this committee in respect of WIT is unfair. I have rejected that view in the past. I want to be fair to everybody concerned, namely, Waterford Institute of Technology, those who were in place in the research bodies in 2009 and 2011 and those who came forward. The only way to do that is to have a proper independent process appointed by the Minister in which there is a proper examination of the issues. Whatever that report says, it says. All we are interested in are the facts of what happened at that time. That is fair to everybody.

We need to tell the Department there is no overlap and the Minister's recommendation on this review should proceed forthwith. If the Department is not agreeable to that, we should ask Mr. Beausang, who is acting on behalf of the Secretary General who had to recuse himself from dealing with this issue due to a conflict of interest, to appear before the committee in January, if necessary. We will see what his response is but I put Mr. Beausang on notice that I am not happy with the response the committee has received.

I support Deputy Cullinane's position. I would not be as au fait with the minutiae as the Deputy but I followed this case when representatives of Waterford Institute of Technology, including its president, appeared before the committee. I had concerns at that time about intellectual property rights and spin-out companies. I know now that there are also spin-in companies. There were issues with the college itself and then bigger issues that we need to look at in the future.

The third paragraph on page 3 of the letter states that the Minister for Education and Skills recently approved a recommendation for a review. He made that recommendation with the usual caution that there should not be any comment on the actions of any individuals. However, a sensible decision was made that "a review should be carried out of the performance of the Governing Body of WIT of its functions concerning the governance, oversight and management of potential conflicts of interest arising in relation to commercialisation activities of TSSG in WIT between 2009 and 2011". That is a sensible, practical decision referring to a specific period of time and looking at governance issues. The letter goes on to state that the terms of the review had been finalised and the Department had initiated a procurement process for a reviewer. This is followed by the caution. However, the next paragraph bears no connection with that paragraph. It starts with the word "Finally", which just does not make sense here. The Minister makes a decision, sets the terms of references, decides the period of time and then the next paragraph states, "Finally, the Department met with representatives of the GB of WIT on 24th October". It goes on to advise that the Chair told the Department of Education and Skills that the board was doing its current review now. Suddenly, the Department rolls over and says that is okay.

However, there is no review of that period.

I understand that. The review is of the current position. The use of the word "Finally" at that point is disingenuous and wrong and does not mean anything. A follow-on paragraph should have been included explaining that when the Department met the governance board of Waterford Institute of Technology, it decided to give in or that the board's arguments were stronger. It should have given some reason for the Department deciding to give up with regard to its decision to have an independent review. This does not make sense. I doubt the Chairman has ever seen a letter like that. I certainly have not seen one, certainly not with regard to the two paragraphs I have cited which have no connection with each other.

This has serious implications for the committee in terms of when issues emerge or members have concerns. We took a moderate approach and we did not go overboard. We raised concerns and tried not to personalise the issue. The provocation was not on our part. We could have ended up personalising the issue but we resisted that temptation and tried to stay with the issues. This has serious implications beyond this issue. It also has serious implications for intellectual property rights generally and how the universities and third level institutions are dealing with them and what the State is getting back.

We will conclude on this issue. I agree with Deputies Cullinane and Connolly. What is clear is the long saga of these so-called spin-out companies-----

And spin-in companies.

We are informed there is no legal definition of a spin-out company but they have characteristics which help to identify them. These issues occurred in Waterford Institute of Technology between 2009 and 2011. Deputy Cullinane outlined the history of the reports that were to be carried out and that have not been completed for legal reasons. The Higher Education Authority did not have the authority to do so. It is clear, however, that the Department had agreed to examine these matters. According to the letter, the terms of reference for the review had been finalised and the Department had initiated the relevant procurement process to appoint a reviewer. Therefore, the Department had committed money to this process by commencing the procurement process. It was well down the road of doing this. It had decided to do it and had commenced the process of appointing the reviewer. That report will be in relation to 2020. The board is conducting a review, which is fine and good. We welcome that and the board should do that because it should be happy with the current arrangements. However, that has no relevance to what happened in 2009 and 2011. I do not accept the statement in the letter regarding a "clear potential for overlap". I cannot see for the life of me the overlap between something that happened in 2010 and something that might happen this year or next year. If there is potential for overlap between two different groups looking at a particular topic, they should be able to manage any conflict or overlap.

If the Department is saying it is not capable of managing an overlap, I would be very worried about it. We have the Accounting Officer from the Department of Education and Skills in this committee to ensure there is governance right down the system in terms of the €1.7 billion spent on third level education. It went down a road to do this review and, as has been said, it capitulated to the board of Waterford Institute of Technology. We will note and publish this letter but we are sending a copy of it back to Mr. Beausang stating that the view of this committee is that they are to complete the road they had gone down in commencing procurement and that we will hold the Department to account if it walks away from the process it stated it was necessary to do without an adequate explanation. We will ask Mr. Beausang to have a letter confirming that the Department will reconsider the matter in light of this discussion, that both reviews can proceed and that any conflict or overlap will be managed. We want to have that letter for our next meeting in January and if we do not, we will discuss the letter we receive from him at that stage and invite him back in if the Committee of Public Accounts is not satisfied with the response. Is that agreed?

We might ask the Department about its contractual obligation with the reviewer. Is there one? We might also ask if there are terms of reference. That might give us an insight.

We will ask for the terms of reference it had agreed.

Waterford is not an exception here. The problem is that this is a repeated failure among many of the colleges. It struck us in this committee that in many ways we were doing the work the Department of Education and Skills should have been doing. Permanent oversight, rather than an individual reviewer, is required. Otherwise, this committee will continue to repeat the same piece of work. It is clear that there is conflict between the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the Department of Education and Skills in terms of remit. If the Department does not want to do it, it should give the HEA the authority and broaden its powers because there is a process failure here.

Could we get clarification on spin in and spin out companies? What does that mean?

We will ask him to clarify that.

They refer to spin in companies.

They refer to spin-ins also. We might ask him to explain the characteristic of a spin out and a spin in company.

There is a lot of spinning going on.

It is like bail in and bail out. We used to have the banks bailing in and now they are bailing out, or vice versa. There is a spin in and a spin out.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

As I understand it from the explanation given here, a spin out would be where an entity or a unit within the third level institution separates and sets up separately whereas a spin in is where somebody who already exists on the outside comes in and has access to and use of resources and staff of the institution. That is broadly the explanation given in the letter.

We will ask for a note on that particular point also. I think we have dealt with that and it is clear where we are going on it in January.

The next item of correspondence is 2599 from An Bord Pleanála, referenced 29 November, relating to information requested by our committee. There are three issues dealt with, one of which is the review recommendations in respect of a report that was carried out some years ago. There is a comprehensive report and the actions taken in respect of that previous report. We will note and publish that.

On another item of interest, we asked about the number of material contraventions of local development plans that arose as a result of the An Bord Pleanála decision. They state, which is interesting because it means the Committee of Public Accounts is doing its work, that they do not have any statistical information on this and that they are now making arrangements for statistical recording of planning decisions of An Bord Pleanála which materially contravene the relevant planning authority development plan. They state: "This protocol is being developed with a view to implementation in relation to Board decisions made on or after the 1st of January, 2020 with a view to having a complete data set on this for 2020 which would be included in the Annual Report ...". They are now commencing the process for the first time ever to gather this information. We felt it should have been a basic function but at least they are now doing it now as a result of the matter being raised here.

The other item in that letter is the integrity of the appeals issue where a Deputy commented in the previous meeting on a particular planning matter. Some of the objections were not from people whose names were on the letter. They were fake objections that resulted in an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. They say that they take the person's name in good faith. They ask the applicant to comment on the objections. Essentially, they are putting the onus on the applicant to verify the identity of the objectors to determine if they are bona fide people. If they are satisfied as a result of that process, they have the statutory authority to dismiss or otherwise determining such appeals but they are saying there has been only a very small number of such incidents over the years. I believe there is a weakness in the system in that regard.

I welcome the clarification and I welcome that they will note from now on the number of material contraventions but I want to zone in on the identity issue raised on which they have replied. They state that they have clarified that the board is satisfied that the existing statutory provisions enable it to address these issues and so on. They further state: "In addition, it is the experience of An Bord Pleanála that doubts over the identity and/or the existence of named appellants have arisen only in a very small number of appeals over the years." It is important that An Bord Pleanála clarifies that because there is a certain narrative and we will hear more of that narrative when the planning and development Bill comes before us in January and February relating to serial objectors. It is not my experience on the ground. I believe it is time we began to have discussions around planning based on evidence and facts. That is a beginning in terms of it.

The categorisation of material contraventions is to be welcomed but, in most cases, strategic housing development will bypass the local area plans. We may be getting only a partial look at material contraventions. They do not have to be in compliance with local area plans or county development plans. For example, the national planning framework requires phasing in particular locations. That can be thrown out the window with strategic housing development. We can take it that they are non-compliant as well but they will not feature in that categorisation.

Will they not feature under strategic infrastructure? Does that not get looked at in terms of the-----

In terms of compliance and non-compliance.

That is a good point. We will ask them to clarify it. We will talk about the routine ones that go through. They are going to gather statistics on cases where an An Bord Pleanála decision materially contravenes a county development plan or a local development plan. We will write back and acknowledge that that is progress but include that we also want material relating to applications under the strategic infrastructure-----

Strategic housing

Strategic housing and infrastructure also because there is more to planning than just housing. There are many offices and other big developments also. We will ask them to incorporate a figure on any planning applications that went directly to the board and not through the local authority. I am sure they would look at the development plan anyway and include those figures with this also. That is an improvement.

The next item is correspondence 2620 from An Bord Pleanála, which draws attention to a small error in document 2599 that we have just discussed. We will note and publish both of those. The correct version is 2620. That is the one we will publish.

The next item is 2600B from Ms Dee Forbes, director general, RTÉ, dated 29 November 2019, providing the update we requested regarding the implementation of the Eversheds Sutherland review on the use of freelancers-contractors. The correspondence also includes a note clarifying the arrangements for the use of contracted individuals as a company contract.

A number of staff members who have been affected by this have been in communication with me.

In fact, even in terms of how this was presented, this was a review of freelance or contract staff. The whole point is they were never freelance or contract staff in their eyes or should not have been. As a number of them have now been offered contracts, it was a vindication of the issues we raised.

To outline the difficulty, a number of staff who have contacted me have been offered what they would describe as very low grades. For example, without naming names, somebody might have been on a contract for seven or eight years. When RTÉ considered what grade and contract to allocate a person, its terms of reference stipulated they would only look at the years of 2017 and 2018 and yet some of these people were on contracts as long ago as 2012 to 2016. Therefore, these people have been put at a disadvantage. They believe that they have been offered grades and salaries that are simply unsustainable for them to work in Dublin. That is the reality for many of them, about which they are very sore. An issue has been corrected but, according to these people, it has been unfairly corrected. Yes, these people have been put on contracts and moved away from freelance contracts they should never have been on but they have been put on low grades, which is unfortunate.

RTÉ does not come under the purview of this committee, which arose when it came before us. We can return to RTÉ again and ask questions on this matter or we can ask the sectoral committee to take up this matter. One way or the other, these staff have issues that must be dealt with by the Oireachtas. If it is a case that we cannot do so because it falls outside of our remit and if the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment is the appropriate committee, we should ask it to consider this matter.

I welcome the fact that it has been acknowledged that people were on contracts they should not have been on. That is a step forward.

The acknowledgement is a vindication of the questions that people here raised collectively. The manner in which RTÉ has tried to correct this and regularise the situation has not been to the satisfaction of the employees and the terms of reference were too narrow. I am open to being guided by the Chair as to how we proceed from here. I am still being contacted by staff who perhaps assume that we can deal with the issue but if we cannot, then we need to be honest with them and tell them that another committee needs to do so.

The backdating issue has not been addressed and it was specifically raised. This issue was raised in the context of a wider issue beyond RTÉ about bogus self-employment. There are consequences later on in terms of pension rights and things like that, which is why the backdating aspect is quite important.

At this stage we will note and publish this. Essentially, RTÉ says that as a result of the Eversheds report, 157 individuals were highlighted as in need of further review. They have met those people since the report was done. They have issued contracts of employment in 81 cases, 58 of which have been accepted, 21 are expected to be accepted or rejected between now and the end of the year, and two have not been accepted to date. The issue of backdating has not been mentioned. We will send this matter to our colleagues, as RTÉ fairly regularly appears before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate and Environment. We will put this matter on the list because this is part of its financial review and that committee is considering the issue as well. We will ask for the issue of backdating to be raised by that committee in its dealings with RTÉ. Is that agreed?

When RTÉ was here, its initial response was one of there is nothing to see.

But we persisted that there was an issue. Staff have now been offered contracts, albeit perhaps not the contracts they wanted but they have been offered proper contracts they should have always been on and that came directly from this committee.

As Deputy Catherine Murphy stated, the backdating aspect has not been resolved. First, we had a wider discussion with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, I think. It said that bogus self-employment contracts, if offered in the wrong way in the first instance, are illegal.

The Department was very clear about that. Second, there is a cost to the State and the Exchequer because there is a loss of revenue. Also, the State has to pick up a loss of employment rights that goes with these freelance contracts. There was a value-for-money perspective-----

-----which we came at but I am happy for the matter to be sent to the sectoral committee.

We have aired the matter quite a bit. We will ask the secretariat to forward the matter to the other committee for its ongoing consideration.

The next item of correspondence is No. 2603B, from John McKeon, Secretary General, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, dated 2 December 2019, providing information we requested after meeting him on 7 November. He gave a very comprehensive response and I will touch on the topics. He supplied a 42-page document that contains outstanding information. I am saying to the public, and especially to other Accounting Officers, that this is how Accounting Officers should deal with the Committee of Public Accounts when asked questions. Mr. McKeon was given a list of 20 follow-up questions, provided good information on the day, and answered everything that was possible on the day. There was openness and candour from them. We gave them a list of 20 questions and they have come back within a number of weeks with a 42-page response to each of the 20 questions. They are to be admired for doing so. Other Accounting Officers should follow suit because it falls into the point whereby people say that people often get a hard time at these meetings. Witnesses who come prepared and offer information have no trouble at this committee. Other people who do not have a level of information do not find our meetings as easy but that is our job.

I shall call Deputies Munster and Cullinane to speak but first I shall give people a flavour of the contents of the letter. First, it includes information on the number of fraud cases identified in 2018, and the figures to date for 2019. There were 32 last year and 16 to date.

There is a note on outsourced training and retained courses by Turas Nua and Seetec.

Can we start with that note because I asked a question on that matter?

Let me put this document on the record first. I suggest that the Deputy marks the points that he wants to deal with because there might be more than one.

There is a note on the number of people participating in back to work initiatives. They include the figures which add up to about 50,000 people, and that is on page 5. Most of those people are on community employment, rural employment schemes, back to education allowance scheme, and Tús schemes. Whereas there is only about 5,000 people on back to work enterprise allowance schemes, short-term enterprise allowance or the part-time job initiative. It is good to get that information.

There is a profile of the debt written off. A sum of €32 million was written-off in 2010 with, I think, values of under €10,000. There is a detailed schedule there of what was written off by the Department and written off by the Social Insurance Fund - €35 million. We discussed that at the meeting and asked for a breakdown.

We asked about the cost-effectiveness of An Post's banking charges, and to include the difference with standard banking fees. They say that approximately 60% of payments in 2018 were by electronic funds transfer, 40% were where the payee presents to the post office and about 1% were where cheques were issued in the post. There is detailed information.

There is a breakdown of all payments that were made by the Department that directly support families. We were given very detailed information on that.

There are details on prepayments at the year end.

There is further information on the public services card, the contract and everything relating to that.

There is a note on Turas Nua and Seetec. Deputy Cullinane wants to comment on that.

There is a note on the number of refusals that were subsequently appealed and their decisions and they gave a complete breakdown. The appeals office allowed approximately 32% of appeals, partially allowed 2% and made a revised decision in 21% of the cases and in about 37% of cases, the appeals were disallowed by the appeals office. It is roughly 60% where there was some improvement for the applicant and about 40% where the decision of the Department was fully upheld.

There is a note on the requirements for a qualified adult allowance in the context of the State contributory scheme. I raised this issue myself.

While people will find this interesting, I will not read out the note. We asked for a breakdown of the reasons claims are rejected based on the means of the applicant and those rejected based on a lack of contributions or other reasons. The Department gave the reasons for all of their major schemes as to whether it was means or a lack of information. A full breakdown consisting of three pages was given and it is important that people take a look at that. I know many people will want to read the note in detail.

There is a note on the review of the 94,000 cases by the Department, to include a breakdown by gender. That refers to people who had left the workplace early. The Department gave all of the figures and we mentioned that.

There is a note on the five contracts not subject to competitive procurement. The details have been supplied.

I wish to highlight the note that we received on the school meals schemes, to include the number of eligible schools which did not receive a payment in the first term and an update on the operation of the scheme for 2019 and 2020.

If I read it correctly it gives the number of pupils on a county by county basis for the DEIS schools not participating in the school meals programme. There are 3,317 children in DEIS schools which have not put in place the school meals programme. That is dreadful. Those children should be getting those meals. We will ask the Department in the first instance to communicate with the chairman of the board of each of those schools to find out why the children are not getting what they are entitled to in those DEIS schools. In Mayo, there are 408 children entitled to this scheme who are not getting it. That is not acceptable. Some other counties have much fewer. The Mayo figure appears to be the highest.

The Department had a separate initiative for non-DEIS schools and there are 6,455 children eligible in schools to receive the school meals programme and those schools have not yet put that in place. That is approximately 10,000 children entitled to the school meals programme but for some reason the schools are not providing it. We want the Department to follow up on that and contact each of the schools because it is not fair to the children involved and we want a report on that by the end of March. We will give them a couple of months to make progress on that but it is something people should know about.

We mentioned fraud cases earlier and in the interest of balance I always ask for the top five settlements, in this case for 2018, pertaining to the Social Insurance Fund to include the amounts recovered. This refers to employers in respect of redundancy and insolvency payments and in one case the debt was €2.882 million and the Department recovered €2.871 million. There are other cases for €252,000, €258,000, €313,000, and another employer owed €1.069 million but the Department recovered only €227,000. A lot of money has to be recovered from employers as well as individual claimants. We want always to maintain the balance. It also gives a detailed breakdown of the customer debt where the figures were less than €10,000 and which were written off. Some go back to 1984, a long time ago.

There are other items in respect of the back to education allowance and exceptional needs in the housing support which will be relevant to the housing topic. There is also a detailed note on the free travel scheme, the travel pass and the integrated ticketing system. I am just highlighting points. There are 42 pages which I ask people with an interest to study. I have only touched on the topics.

On page 3, of section A in respect of the number of fraud cases identified and the public services card, there are two points, namely, failure of a person to complete the registration process and the detection of identity fraud through facial recognition. Could failure of the person to show up for the process be considered fraud? In some cases people might have got a job before the appointment date. The facial matching process detected 220 cases of suspected fraud over six years. That equates to 0.004% of the overall social welfare budget of €20 billion. I seem to recall in the hoo-ha about the public services card at the time it was announced the Minister said it would stamp out fraud. That seems a minuscule percentage. We recall the billboard campaign that almost demonised people who were unemployed as welfare cheats. Do we know how much was spent on that campaign? Was it more than we got back from the facial recognition fraud detection?

We touched on that before but we can ask for a clarification because time has passed.

It would be interesting to find that out because that was a massive campaign at the time but the figures for fraud detection are minuscule. Did the Department spend more on the campaign than it got back from fraud detection over those years?

That is to presume that the fraud would not have been detected without the facial recognition. If it is doing its job it should be picking up some of those false claims in any event. We will ask for an update.

On page 15, the payment to JobPath contractors of more than €200 million is an obscene amount of money considering that I read somewhere that fewer than 4,000 people held a job for more than 12 months. The Department did not give us a breakdown of the number of people in each year who have kept a job for longer than a year.

It is important in the context that the Department will extend it for another year citing Brexit.

On that same note, it is an extraordinary sum of money. I had asked questions about whether people were referred more than once, in fact twice, three or, in some cases, four times. I am not saying the Accounting Officer misled us but he was of the view at that meeting that referrals for a third time were very unlikely and I think he used the words almost impossible for a fourth time. I furnished this committee with a response to a parliamentary question from the Minister which showed that there were people referred for a fourth time, and a substantial number for a third time. We asked the clerk to get that information. Is that breakdown in this submission or did it give just the overall amount? We need to go under the bonnet on this.

I do not see it in this.

Deputy Munster asked for a breakdown of the numbers who have gone through the scheme, once, twice, three or four times and how long they have been in employment to see are we getting value for money. We all know that job activation schemes are important but it is €200 million. That is a lot of money. If people are being referred a second, third and fourth time it seems there is something wrong. Every time somebody is referred the payment is made. That is how the companies get paid so there is an advantage to the companies to have people referred more than once. These are private companies making an exceptional amount of money from the taxpayer. I am not saying they are doing anything wrong. I would be looking for a much more detailed breakdown of that €206 million.

At the end of that section on page 16, it states that people who have had a third referral could in theory be brought back again.

A total of 750 of those could be called a fourth time, although I am not saying they will be. The document says there are a small number of jobseekers - eight in total - for whom the Department has paid a fourth engagement fee. Eight people have been paid the fourth engagement fee. That figure is at the end of page 16.

That has moved on from what we were told when representatives were before the committee. It is not so much the fourth referral, because the fourth in itself is extraordinary. I suppose to have only eight would be correct, although there should not be any. Anyway, thousands were in the third category and more again in the second referral category.

I want to pick up on the same table because it jumps out at us. I would have thought there was correlation between the unemployment rate and the number of people going through the schemes. In 2016, when there was a higher rate of unemployment, the cost was €25 million. The unemployment rate began to fall after that. In 2017, the scheme cost €57 million. The unemployment rate fell again in 2018 but the cost was €71 million. To the end of October, the figure is €51 million. It strikes me that there is no relationship between the falling unemployment rate and the amount these companies are getting.

This means there is a smaller cohort of people and there has to be multiple referrals. That matches our experience. It corresponds with what people are telling us. For example, a person may do a year on a Tús scheme, then come back in and be referred again. Then the person goes to sit at a computer and looks at something she could examine at home and there is little intervention. That is what people are telling us. I guess other things can be said on another side but that is certainly what we are routinely being told. There is something out of synchronisation with the unemployment rate and the transfer of funds when we drill down into it. We should match it against the unemployment rate in each of those years.

Another issue is cropping up with the appeals or outcomes of appeals. This is why it is useful to get these tables. Let us consider page 19. There are two areas where I expect the figures to be high. We have live examples by virtue of the fact that we are assisting people when they come to our constituency offices. The domiciliary care payment and the invalidity pension are the two I would examine first. Where the number of reversals of decisions on appeal is high, we have to ask whether the job is being done correctly in the first place or whether there is a waste of money on administration. I tell people applying for the domiciliary care payment that if they get it first time the should treat it as a bonus, but that they should expect to have to appeal it. That has been the experience. This is borne out by the figure of 47% allowed under appeal.

For invalidity pension, a person has to be presumed to be ill for at least a year into the future to be considered. A medic puts that in a letter but it is rejected. Then we see 36% get it on appeal. It may well be that the applicant is not giving enough information, but if that is the case, then the Department needs to up its game in terms of the information sought to make a decision on an application. These schemes require a high level of administration. This imposes a cost on the Department. There is a value for money issue apart from the fact that community welfare officers have to discharge a separate function while something is being decided under appeal.

In some of these cases, like those referred to by Deputy Murphy, the applicant has gathered more information for the appeal. Perhaps certain information was unavailable to the Department in the first place. I always tell people that if they are going for an appeal, they have to have new information to justify a reversal of the decision. However, that should be done early in the process rather than people having to go through the Department, go for review and then get a file under freedom of information provisions. I always tell people anytime they get a refusal to put in a freedom of information request. This allows us to see the reason an application has been refused before appealing it. We need to know what the Department is thinking.

It takes several months to get all of that. There is nothing in the document about how long people are waiting. They could be waiting 12 months in some of these cases. That is a big issue as well in terms of how long the process takes. The Deputy's comments are totally correct. If the Department had a better way of getting information earlier, it might obviate the need for so many appeals having in the first place.

I have one question on page 4. I echo the Chairman's comments on the detail given. I thank the Department for giving us all the details. Page 4 relates to Seetec and Turas Nua. There were 500,000 referrals to educational and training interventions as advised by both contractors. The document goes on to say what these are. Predominately, they relate to internal courses delivered about interview skills and CV preparation. However, of this figure, some 31,201 programmes were delivered by providers external to JobPath contractors. There is a breakdown for the two companies, Turas Nua and Seetec. It seems 31,201 programmes were delivered by providers external to JobPath. I am unsure why that is necessary. Is more intensive or specialist training required? Is that an additional sum?

Yes, we need to clarify that. Whether a person is referred back to the local ETB for a course or goes to a programme that is delivered and paid for by the contractor I do not know, so we need clarification on that point. It is in paragraph 2 on page 4. We will move on. We note that. There is good information. The Department is to be complimented on responding comprehensively to all our questions on the day.

No. 2606 B is from Professor Patrick O'Shea, president, University College Cork, dated 2 December 2019, providing the information regarding non-compliant procurement. We note this and hold it over as part of our work programme for early next year.

No. 2613 B is from Ms Angela Denning, chief executive, Courts Service, dated 4 December, providing follow-up information requested by our meeting on 14 November. The correspondence includes the cost of the development of the Hammond Lane. There is detailed information. There is a reference to temporary use of the site.

Reference is made to the number of people convicted of being in possession of drugs with a minimum value of more than €13,000. Most people thought there was to be a ten-year mandatory prison sentence or a certain minimum sentence for those caught over that value or a certain number of sentences. The document gives the breakdown of the 142 people convicted in this category in 2018. A total of 39 got over five years and four got over ten years while 61 got over three years. It makes the point that of the 142 persons some 98 of those convicted had part of their suspended by the court. That is a matter for the judges but often parts of sentences are suspended. People have asked about the length of sentences. Sometimes the prison term is part of it and the suspended sentence is part of it too.

We asked about the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act. A chart is highlighted in the document and the Courts Service gives us the figures. The document states the number of fines where the due date has passed as a percentage of the total number of fines imposed in the period before the commencement of the Act was 17%. After the Act was brought in, the figure jumped to 46%. The value of those payments was 20% before the commencement of the Act. This relates to the where the fines were paid where the due date has passed. The figure is now 50%. The Courts Service is saying that the data suggests more people are waiting longer to address the fine imposed than was the case under the old regime. The document makes the point that the new regime is not speeding up the collection of fines. We will note and publish that.

No. 2614B is from Ms Anne Marie Walshe, tax division, Department of Finance, providing a note on the VAT rate of food supplements. This was raised at our meeting and the matter was clarified by the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. There is a note for the public accounts. The figure is now 13.5% confirmed as part of the Finance Act.

Have we moved on from the-----

Sorry. I will go back to the courts.

There are two issues I want to raise quickly.

Please do.

First, the family courts have been very much in the news. We have some information now on the Hammond Lane site, but is it giving us any kind of resolution to the gap in funding to develop that site which we asked about? I do not see that we have been given a resolution. It may well be that that is not possible and that it is not a matter for this committee. There is a gap in what is required. Will this site ever be developed if that gap cannot be bridged? Will the family court be built there? If not, there is a site there that is-----

Does the Deputy want clarification on that point?

We can seek clarification on it.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is stated in that correspondence that a review of the project costs and options is ongoing, so there is no resolution or decision yet.

It is not a matter for this committee then.

The review is still ongoing so it is a matter for the future.

Since the coming into force of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, the number of wards of court continues to be consistent. I know that a new system is being put in place, but the longer that takes to put in place the more this will have to be unpicked. One of the questions I am fairly sure I asked was what the process would be. As for moving people to the new system, would they initially be the people who would present before the court or would they be people involved in the hard cases that already exist? It was not very clear. A parliamentary question might be a way of getting that information, but-----

The Deputy is asking whether those who are currently wards of court will be dealt with, whether they will be individually examined and their cases decided and whether they will be brought in under the new scheme.

It is quite difficult to get one's head around how long this will take because there is a growing number. I would like to see some information on-----

The timetable or timescale.

-----the timetable and the crossover.

We will ask that. The Deputy's question concerns those who are currently in the system being individually assessed. Obviously, they must be individually assessed before they are transferred. The Deputy is asking whether there is a timescale and what resources are in place to deal with this.

How would it be done with new people presenting as opposed to people who are already wards of court?

What level of medical assessment is taking place? Generally, a medical assessment is required in these cases.

The question has been asked. I asked it on that day and I welcome the fact that the Courts Service has given us the information. I had since got it in any event by means of a parliamentary question. It is unacceptable, though. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act was passed by the Dáil in 2015, and here we are four years later and there is absolutely no certainty as far as anyone can see. Regarding the process of making someone a ward of court, which is really the end result, it is all unnecessary. The whole purpose of the Act was to stop that. One can see that the figures have risen but with a little dip, I think. A process is going ahead that we decided, or the previous Dáil decided, was unacceptable after a very long campaign and people suffering and bringing it to the House's attention. The previous Dáil finally did the right thing back in 2015. The current Dáil is going to fall, however, and we will still have not implemented that. This matter has also arisen at meetings of the justice committee as well.

Does it come under the remit of Tusla if minors are involved? Somebody else might be involved. We will write to the Department.

Under the Act, there is a system and someone has been appointed, but that is as far as-----

Yes, and there is an office there.

Yes, but the process-----

That is under the Department of Justice and Equality, is it not? I think it is under that Department separately.

Yes, but even in value-for-money terms it does not make sense. The system that was there was wrong. We decided to have a different system, yet four years later that system is not being implemented. We should write. We have to-----

We will follow it up with the Courts Service and put a similar request to the Department of Justice and Equality because it comes under that Department.

The courts simply carry out what-----

Some of the questions we are asking are really for the Department of Justice and Equality as to where it is implementing the matter. We will write to it directly as well.

No. 2614B is correspondence from the Department of Finance confirming the VAT rate for food supplements. There was quite a discussion on this, but the Finance Bill makes it 13.5%. We know that.

No. 2615B, from Mr. Gerard Dollard, CEO of the Irish Greyhound Board, is correspondence responding to a query regarding tenders for care centres. Mr. Dollard also advises that the Indecon report is completed and that he expects it to be published shortly. He will arrange for copies to be sent to members. There is a note on this and we will note and publish it.

No. 2619B is correspondence from NAMA and is dated 4 December 2019. It provides the information we requested on non-compliant procurement. There is a lot of it now that we are following it. That is all I can say.

No. 2625B, from Mr. Cathal Marley, chairperson and CEO of Irish Water and Ervia, is correspondence providing information requested by the committee on global valuation apportionment together with the latest estimates of the local authority multipliers and estimates of the rates payable to each local authority for 2020. We will note and publish that. People can see the figures. This ties in with the previous item.

It ties in with that but it also relates back to my previous point. Some counties have done well out of this and some have been left bereft of funding. I tabled another parliamentary question this week to the Minister asking how this would be addressed in the long term. The Department is working on the short-term situation, with funding streams for some of the affected counties, such as Wicklow, Waterford and so forth. However, this goes back to the central point of the sustainability of the books in the long term. When we raised this matter earlier in the month, the Comptroller and Auditor General stated that there was the chapter on local government. I will look to try to touch on this again in the new year as part of our work programme if we are here long enough to look at it because I would certainly like to revisit it in a substantial way. It is worthy of that.

We will come to the work programme in a few moments.

No. 2626B, from the NTMA, is correspondence providing an information note in connection with the number of procurements that were non-compliant. We have that list. There is quite a bit here. We will note and publish that and keep it on our schedule.

No. 2627B, from the Secretary General of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, providing information in respect of the public services card. He gives the details of the information specifically sought under the legislation for the standard authentication framework environment, SAFE, registration process. We will note and publish that, and if-----

It is also worth noting that the Data Protection Commissioner has issued an enforcement or direction against the Department since we were last-----

When did that happen? I missed that.

Just in the past week or so.

There will be developments on that matter then, obviously.

No. 2628B is a note from Mr. Paul Quinn, chief procurement officer at the Office of Government Procurement, providing information on the arrangements in place for balancing the requirements for competitive procurement with regional delivery of local demand for products and services that does not prohibit small and medium-sized enterprises from competing. We will note and publish this and hold it over because when we come back to the procurement issue in the new year, this is one of the seminal documents from which we will work.

No. 2629B is correspondence from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, dated 9 December 2019, providing information requested by the committee regarding the business case for the DART expansion programme. The note states that previous business cases were either for the tunnel only or for the full DART extension programme inclusive of the Phoenix Park tunnel. In line with the public spending code, a comprehensive business case must be prepared for the non-tunnel elements of the DART expansion programme. Demographic factors have changed in recent years. Regarding internal expertise, the note states that a multiskilled team is required for a large infrastructure project and that it is not feasible for a single organisation to retain all the required specialties over the coming period. We will note and publish that. We can see what has been said.

No. 2632B is from Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and provides the information we requested on the oversight and governance of Irish Water. We will note and publish that. It is clear. Following our previous discussion, we wrote directly to the Department and there is the reply on the public record. People are free to use that item and follow up on it.

The next item is 2634 B from Ms Anne Graham, chief executive of the National Transport Authority, NTA, dated 9 December 2019, providing the information we requested about the National Transport Authority's income from advertising on bus shelters. In a nutshell, prior to this, Dublin Bus had its contractual arrangements and Bus Éireann had its contractual arrangements. When the NTA came in, it took over responsibility of the bus shelters from those two organisations. It is detailed how that has worked out on page 2. The advertising revenue in 2017 was €5.4 million for the NTA, but it would have passed back €4 million of that to Dublin Bus and €634,000 of it to Bus Éireann, totalling €4.634 million that was passed back. The figures are broadly similar for every year and it looks like the NTA keeps about €1 million of the approximately €5 million to €6 million that comes from that advertising. The NTA says it uses that for the provision of new bus shelters, the replacement of corroded bus shelters, refurbishment and other sustainable projects. That is where the money from advertising on bus shelters goes. We will note and publish this item.

The next item is 2635 B from Mr. Maurice Buckley, chairman of the Office of Public Works, OPW, dated 10 December 2019, providing a response on its involvement in matters related to the new Oireachtas printer.

The next item is 2636 B from Mr. Peter Finnegan, Secretary General, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, dated 10 December 2019, providing a further report on the purchase of Oireachtas printing equipment and related matters. We asked the OPW and Mr. Finnegan to be on standby for the afternoon if the committee chooses to invite them in. What is the view of the committee? Do we propose to invite them in?

I would propose we invite them in. There are a lot of questions to be answered.

Is there a seconder for that proposal?

Yes, I second the proposal.

We will not discuss it now. We will discuss it in the afternoon at a provisional time of 3 p.m. The voting in the Dáil is scheduled for 1.50 p.m. and that will take approximately an hour so it will be 3 p.m. before we are ready to resume. We can put people on notice that they are expected to be here for 3 p.m. I was about to say we will note and publish this but that document has been well publicised and discussed before now. As a formality, we will note and publish it, notwithstanding it has been well publicised before now by various people. We will come back to those two matters at approximately 3 p.m. We note and publish those items.

The next item is 2637 B from the Charities Regulator, providing information on various queries we put to it at our recent meeting. We asked for the following information: a note on any cases involving funds that were not administered in an appropriate manner or used for the purpose for which they were intended, and there is a detailed note on that; a note on the amount of funds that went through each third level educational foundation that were registered as charities, and the figures are printed on page 4, some of which are familiar and they have been referred to in the committee previously; a breakdown of the concerns raised with the regulator, to include the State bodies involved, and there is a full list of the number of concerns received, and out of 686 cases, in 585 cases the concerned person gave a name, whereas in 101 cases the concerned person remained anonymous; a breakdown of the prepayment of €410,000 for IT services and the schedule for that is on page 6; a copy of the organisational structure, which has been provided; a breakdown of the €39.7 million fund being managed by Davy Asset Management, to include details of the 331 groups involved in the fund, including whether they are registered or unregistered charities, and this details the entities that have applied to be registered with the Charities Regulator and it also details the beneficiaries of the registered charities; a note on the relationship between the Charities Regulator and Davy Asset Management, which is a commercial arrangement to manage a fund on behalf of the Charities Regulator; and a point of clarification on the third level education foundations, as detailed on page 15. We will note and publish that. Members are free to follow up on those items in any way they choose. There is a lot of interesting information in that correspondence.

The next item is 2638 B from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. We have already discussed this in conjunction with the large document from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection we discussed a few moments ago. Essentially, it covers a point that had already been covered. We will note and publish that.

The next item is 2639 B from Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, providing a response to the committee on the following matters: an up-to-date note on the contributions of Irish Water to the Local Government Fund; the level of funding that will be available for each local authority; details of any Government subvention that will be available; an update on the review of the baselines set for each local authority; and an information note on the arrangements in the Department for monitoring the effects of changes to global valuations on funding of local authorities. The baseline valuation is referred to on the bottom of page 3 and going on to page 4. The correspondence says there was a review of local property tax conducted by the Department of Finance that was submitted to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which is considering it. When that review is completed, the review of the baseline will be recommenced and referred to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. On the local property tax, I understand from the committee that the work is completed.

That is critically important. We have been getting the same response for almost a year. Some of that work was complete at the beginning of this year and it is likely to have significant positive impacts for some parts of the country and it will have negative impacts. There will be a cost associated with that transition as well. Some of those baselines go back to 2000 and do not take any account of the growth in population in places such as Kildare, Meath, Fingal and the fringes of Cork and Galway cities. That feeds into the matter of Ervia because some of the local authorities are functioning on fumes at this stage.

To clarify this, there was a group doing a review on the baselines and it made recommendations in August 2018. In the meantime, the Committee on Budgetary Oversight was examining the report on local property tax and I am advised the committee has completed its work. We hope this baseline review will go to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. The correspondence does not say that but our understanding is the committee has completed its work on the local property tax. It was held over until the Committee on Budgetary Oversight's review of the local property tax-----

That was done ages ago. This is not new.

Is there nothing new here?

I call Deputy Cassells and we will come back on that point afterwards. We will ask for a timescale.

If this is an after the general election type postponement because there is-----

We will ask for a timescale.

I want to pick up on a point the Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government referred to. He said he read the transcript of the committee's discussion and that he interpreted that the main issue was the change in the Irish Water payments. That completely misses the point. In October 2018, there had been a pointed reference to the fact there had been an increase in local government funding and espousing the virtue of same. This year, when the figure dropped by €35 million, there was no reference to that whatsoever apart from one line. I remember that stood out like a sore thumb and I followed that up in the context that this emanated from that change. This goes to the heart of the matter, but the Secretary General's remark misses the point completely.

The subvention has gone off the books and it is akin to the local property tax. When the local property tax was introduced, the requisite amount of Exchequer funding dropped by some €400 million or €500 million in that case as well. The money is coming directly out of the Exchequer funding and county councils are moving towards an ideology of self-financing. That goes to the core of the matter. The interventions by the State are dropping and there is a focus on county councils becoming more reliant on their income strands, whether that be off the back of commercial rates, property owners or service charges. That is the key point. We need to drill that down into where we find the equilibrium and the balance, because to my mind there has been a rapidly decreasing intervention from the central Exchequer in recent decades and that is not allowing local government to perform to the standards it should be doing. That is the heart of the matter and that reference from the Secretary General misses the point completely.

We need to write back to the Department asking for a timescale on when this is expected to commence and when it would expect to report.

I suspect it is probably a political decision. I concur with the point Deputy Cassells makes that it was really a three-card trick. The expectation was that local property tax would be additional to the Local Government Fund. In fact, what happened is that the local property tax was substituted for it and there was a growth in commercial rates to fill up the shortfall. The Comptroller and Auditor General has referred to the complexity of local government funding, which those of us who have been in local authorities know. I do not think it is appreciated by the public, as there was an expectation that there would be some additionality. That is part of the problem, but it is reinforced by virtue of the fact that new needs are not counted at all, and that is where the baselines come in.

We will note and publish that and we will ask for a timescale from the Department. That is as much as we can do at this stage. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Next we will deal with category C correspondence. We will deal with No. 2595 C, dated 29 November, which is from an individual who makes some points concerning the Oireachtas printer. Members can read that, and those matters can be discussed in the afternoon. No. 2597 C is dated 29 November and is from an individual about the public services card. The individual makes some corrections to previous correspondence. We agreed to provide details of who was at the meeting when the individual's previous item was considered. He is unhappy with the level of consideration he believes the committee gave to his correspondence. It is important to point out that we have given the matter of the public services card considerable attention to date and we may return to it in the future. Members are free to raise matters referred to in the individual's correspondence if they so wish. We do not publish category C correspondence. We have discussed the matter at length and, no doubt, we will probably come back to it again. Is it agreed that we note this item? Agreed.

No. 2617 C is further correspondence from the individuals who call themselves B and C, dated 5 December 2019, providing a link to an item on social media regarding matters at the University of Limerick. Is it agreed that we note this item? Agreed.

No. 2618 C is from Deputy Alan Kelly, dated 3 December 2019, requesting the committee to make inquiries regarding Cork Institute of Technology. There is a detailed list of approximately 60 specific questions to which he wants replies. I have not read the details, but I think we will have to hold over the matter because the Deputy is not here. I understand the content, but in any event we would want the secretariat to be happy with the format, wording and appropriateness of the phraseology of any letter going out from the Committee of Public Accounts, rather than from an individual Deputy. I do not argue with the points Deputy Kelly raised but we would want a response to meet the norms of committee correspondence. Is it agreed that we hold over this matter because Deputy Kelly is not here? Agreed.

No. 2621 C is from an individual dated 14 November 2019 with further queries regarding wards of court. We wrote to the individual recently providing information that was requested from the Courts Service and providing a link to the transcript because some matters in relation to the wards of court were dealt with during the meeting. We have advised the correspondent that the matter can best be dealt with elsewhere and we do not intend to pursue the matter further. Our discussion on the wards of court today is about transitioning to the new arrangement. As we already know, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality did publish a report on wards of court which was debated on the floor of the Dáil some time ago. Given those debates that have taken place the Committee of Public Accounts cannot revisit the matter because we are subsidiary to the Dáil not above it. Is it agreed that we note the item? Agreed.

No. 2622 C is from an individual dated 26 November 2019, who is making some points about procurement in the HSE. The individual is advocating for the publication of award notices on foot of contracts as it could encourage SME participation in the tender process. That is a valid point. It probably arises from the person watching our discussion on the national children's hospital last week. We will be returning to procurement matters in the new year. Is it agreed that we note the item? Agreed.

No. 2623 C is from an individual dated 1 December 2019, who is requesting the committee to investigate the disbursement of EU funds by the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, and alleges that the authority is operating a confidential payroll. However, no details are given. I propose that with the individual's permission, we forward the item to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, as it is a transport issue, to provide a response regarding the disbursement of EU funds. The IAA is a wholly-owned commercial semi-State company. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is the main shareholder in the company. We will progress the matter once the person gives consent to forward the letter, because that is the era we are in now. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2624 C is from an individual dated 4 December 2019, who is making some points regarding the procurement of chaplaincy services in the third level sector. The individual alleges that a number of institutions are not compliant with procurement rules when it comes to chaplaincy contracts. With the individual's permission, I propose we forward the item to the Higher Education Authority, HEA, for a response. We have to go back and get permission to forward the person's details to the HEA for a response. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Are we then going to follow up with the HEA when we get permission from the individual?

Yes, when we have the permission.

I have read the letter and it is interesting in terms of the 2016 report from the HEA which makes recommendations on value for money and chaplains. The National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG, features rather largely in the letter.

We have probably gone through approximately 40 items of correspondence and I did not get to read the last one last night. It is the only one I did not get to read, so I will have to go on what Deputy Connolly says.

The HEA made specific recommendations on reviewing the current system for employing chaplains in various universities. Some universities have changed but others have not. NUIG as I still call it, has not.

With the consent of the correspondent who raised the matter, we will take it up with the HEA.

Next, we will deal with financial statements and accounts received that were listed on the Dáil Order Paper last week. The first one is from the Health Research Board, which got a clear audit opinion except for the normal reference by the Comptroller and Auditor General that the cost of superannuation entitlements are accounted for as they become payable rather than in the year entitlements are earned, which is standard in the health bodies. The Environmental Protection Agency got a clear audit opinion for its 2018 accounts.

Interestingly, the next one is the regulator of the national lottery. In 2018 it had an income of €1.5 million. The first thing that strikes me is that its accounts were certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General on 17 June and it has taken almost six months for them to be laid before the Oireachtas. We will write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The national lottery legislation was sponsored by the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, so it comes under the remit of that Department. We will ask the reason for the delay. Next, is the national lottery fund. I presume that is the prize fund of €494 million that is disbursed. Again, the accounts were certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General on 18 June and it has taken almost six months for them to be laid before the Oireachtas.

I know the matter of the regulator is being discussed by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach so we will not get into any unnecessary duplication. The only point I will make is that the National Lottery Act 2013 stated the regulator shall be appointed by the Minister on such terms and conditions, including remuneration, as the Minister may determine. That is in section 7(2). It also states that the accounts are to be submitted not later than four months from the year end for certification by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I take it if Mr. McCarthy had his work done by 17 June that he received the accounts in good time.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes. I believe so.

It would seem reasonable that the timescale for submitting accounts has been met. Because there is an issue in terms of how the regulator performs its functions, I think we should ask about the process involved in appointing the regulator by the Department. We will write to the Department to ask about two issues: first, to ask the reason it took the regulator of the national lottery and the national lottery fund almost six months to lay the accounts before the Oireachtas and; second, the process of appointing the regulator. All too often, as people have said in the past, regulators are asleep at the wheel. I do not suggest that is the case here, but we must be satisfied as to the process for appointing the regulator and the competence of the regulator. We can hand it over to the other committee then. We will not be holding any hearings on it but it would be remiss of us not to ask the question given that the accounts are before us today.

Next, we have the accounts for the Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT. It is the cessation account for the 16-month period up to the end of December 2018. There was a clear audit opinion. The statement on internal control discloses non-compliant procurement. Who is going to answer that question for us? Has DIT merged with Dublin City University, DCU?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No, it has merged with the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown and the Institute of Technology, Tallaght. It is now the Technical University Dublin and that body has responsibility for any follow-up. It prepared the financial statements for the three institutions that merged.

We will write to Technological University Dublin seeking full and detailed information on the non-compliant procurement of €1.63 million by the then Dublin Institute of Technology.

The Dublin Dental Hospital received a clear audit opinion but a statement on internal control disclosed non-compliant procurement of €677,000. We will write to the hospital seeking a detailed analysis and breakdown of the reasons for that non-compliant public procurement.

The Trade and Business Development Body, which is a North-South body, receives a clear audit opinion. A statement on internal control discloses that the board is at risk of being unable to meet its quorum due to board vacancies. We will note that.

The next items relate to Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board and An Bord Bia, both of which receive a clear audit opinion.

The next item on the agenda is the work programme. Several items are scheduled for January. Suggestions have been made regarding work to be carried out in the new year if we are still here. We will plan our work programme such that we are not caught when we come back in the new year. The secretariat can make the necessary arrangements. Deputy Cassells will be pleased to hear that our first meeting in the new year will be with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, although that is subject to confirmation. It is scheduled for 16 January. The next meeting will take place on 23 January and involve representatives of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. On 30 January, we will meet representatives of the Department of Education and Skills regarding its appropriation account, Vote 26, chapter 7 - purchase of sites for school provision and special report No. 107 on the delivery of capital projects in the higher education sector. The committee has not yet examined the latter report. We agreed at our most recent meeting that we would have the Office of Public Works, OPW, in on 6 February to deal with chapter 6 - expenditure under a maintenance contract. It has been suggested that we meet the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Communications, Climate Action and Environment, as well as Transport Infrastructure Ireland. I do not think we have had representatives of TII before the committee recently. There are plenty of suggestions for meetings up to February, although the secretariat may have some work to do regarding some of the suggestions.

We should invite NAMA to appear.

When will the final report will be completed?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is on my desk but I have not had time to sign off on it.

It will be completed in spring. We will not set a date to meet NAMA but I hope we will get to it in spring. We can move ahead with some of the other suggestions in order to have a work programme and if events happen, so be it.

On any other business, there are two issues I wish to highlight as Chairman. Members saw the volume of replies with which we dealt today. I ask the secretariat to ensure that any outstanding departmental replies to requests for information since we returned after the summer recess be obtained for our first meeting in the new year. It has several weeks to do that. Many replies have been received. I am not suggesting there is a problem, but I wish to ensure we receive all replies.

I do not recall whether we received a response from the Minister regarding the periodic report previous to the one we issued a fortnight ago. I ask the secretariat to check whether we received such a reply. There might be a reply outstanding. We do not yet expect a response to our most recent report. If an earlier one is missing, I ask the secretariat to ensure it is obtained before we resume in the new year.

Did the Chair mention the Department of Children and Youth Affairs?

It is important that representatives of the Department appear, particularly in light of the chapter of the annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General dealing with childcare programmes. We will touch on the issue today but we will not go into it in depth.

Pobal is responsible for the administration of the grant.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It also carries out compliance testing.

Two recommendations specifically relate to Pobal but the rest relate to the Department.

We will try to arrange for the Department to appear in early February. If possible, it will appear at the meeting following our engagement with the OPW. We will prioritise it for that meeting.

Is Tusla due to appear?

Its representatives appeared some time ago. Representatives of the Department itself should appear because there are many issues the origins of which are in the Department. We have listed four or five items for consideration.

On travel arrangements for the committee, at a previous meeting, it was agreed the secretariat would carry out further work regarding proposed travel by committee members in order to examine the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade humanitarian assistance programme. The clerk to the committee is preparing a breakdown of costs involved. As the committee will not meet again until January and the trip may take place in February, approval by email may be required in order to enable travel arrangements to be made as early as possible. Is it agreed that the secretariat will circulate the breakdown of costs to members and seek agreement thereto such that arrangements can be put in place? I make that proposal on the basis that the committee will have an opportunity at its meeting in January to confirm the specific details on the public record prior to the trip in February. It will allow travel arrangements be put in place during the recess such that there are no hiccups. That is agreed.

All members know how precarious things are. We should not book any trips until-----

We should get insurance in case the trip has to be cancelled.

The Chairman could reassure us that it will not be necessary to cancel the trip.

As part of the booking, we will ensure there will be no cost to the Oireachtas if the trip must be cancelled.

The production of our periodic reports is almost up to date. I propose that the secretariat work on producing a periodic report to cover the period up to the end of today's meeting. It should be launched early next year. We should set out a reasonable timetable. The committee will not produce a periodic report for January or February if an election is called before St. Patrick's Day. I suggest that if an election is not called before then, we aim to issue our next periodic report in mid-March. It might not be ready before St. Patrick's Day but it would be ready soon thereafter. If there is an election, so be it. If there is no election, we will be ready to launch a report as soon as possible after St. Patrick's Day. I acknowledge I am putting pressure on the secretariat but a fundamental part of our work is to follow up on our public meetings and correspondence. There is a couple of months in which to produce the report. We will agree to that general timetable.

The committee went into private session at 10.50 a.m. and resumed in public session at 11.19 a.m.