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Thursday, 14 Jul 2022

Business of Committee

The first item on the agenda today is consideration of minutes of previous meetings. We will consider minutes, accounts, financial statements, correspondence, work programme and any other business.

The minutes of the meeting of 7 July have been circulated to members. Do they wish to raise any matters arising from the minutes? If not, are the minutes agreed? Agreed. As usual, the minutes will be published on the committee's web page.

Moving to accounts and financial statements, we will consider a good few of these today. There were 13 sets of financial statements laid before the Houses between 30 June and 8 July. I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to address these before opening to comments from the floor.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The first set of financial statements for noting are the accounts of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and members will be glad to know it got a clear audit opinion. That is for 2021.

The second set is from the Mental Health Commission, again for 2021, and this received a qualified audit opinion. The accounts, in my view, give a true and fair view, except that they account for the costs of retirement benefit entitlements only as they become payable, and that is standard for many health bodies. It is in the nature of a technical qualification there and it is only qualified in regard to that point.

There are nine sets of financial statements that come from the National Treasury Management Agency stable, if you like, and it has a very broad remit.

The first one is the accounts of the national debt of Ireland for 2021. That received a clear audit opinion. The next one is the administration account for the National Treasury Management Agency. These are the expenses of the organisation. There is a clear audit opinion for 2021. Next is the Post Office Savings Bank Fund for 2021. It is a clear audit opinion.

The State Claims Agency received a clear audit opinion for 2021, but I do draw attention to the disclosure in the statement on internal control that there were a number of erroneous payments made in 2021 to service providers due to the agency's manual payment processing. The service providers returned the payment so there was no net loss, but still it was a control failing.

Next is the Dormant Accounts Fund for 2021. It received a clear audit opinion. The National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) for 2021 received a clear audit opinion, but that is a nil account where there is no balance in the account at the moment. No. 9 is the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund for 2021, which received a clear audit opinion. No. 10 is the National Pensions Reserve Fund. This is a fund that is now dissolved, and these are the final accounts for 2021. It received a clear audit opinion. The Ireland Apple Escrow Fund for 2021 received a clear audit opinion.

Moving on from the NTMA accounts, No. 12 is the Child and Family Agency, also known as Tusla. For 2021 it received a clear audit opinion, but I drew attention to the disclosures that are made in the accounts on material non-compliant procurement and the implications for Tusla of the cyberattack on the HSE's ICT system. Tusla relies on support from the HSE for its ICT system.

The next one is the Cork Education and Training Board. These are the financial statements for 2020. It received a clear audit opinion, but I drew attention to disclosures about material non-compliant procurement, which occurs in other ETBs. I also drew attention to significant delay and additional costs incurred by the board on a capital project for the building of an extension to one of its schools, due to the failure of the first appointed contractor in December 2017. Last week, when the Department of Education was here, Deputy Murphy drew attention to that kind of situation. There is another ETB coming forward where I draw attention to a similar problem. Undoubtedly, there is or has been an issue there.

The final one for noting this week is the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for 2021, which received a clear audit opinion.

This might be because I am a relatively new member, but I was just wondering when was the last time the Mental Health Commission was before the Committee of Public Accounts.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I do not remember it being here in ten years.

Could I make a request that, while I note it has a clear audit opinion, in terms of governance and good operations it would be very helpful to get the Mental Health Commission in for a review? It is not urgent but if it is possible, I would like to put it on the work programme.

That is okay. We can add it on to the list. I thank Deputy Hourigan for that.

I wish to raise a couple of points in regard to the State Claims Agency. Am I correct in saying it receives the money back?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Where it makes a payment in settlement of a claim, it typically recovers it from the agency in respect of whom the claim is made.

I got a response to a parliamentary question that indicated that the State Claims Agency received 90 claims in regard to Covid-19. They relate to service unit staff etc. It states in the reply that the State Claims Agency does not disclose its contingent liability figures for reasons of litigation sensitivity for a particular series or cohort of similar claims. However, it does presumably have a contingent liability. I am slightly confused about the issue. Does each Department hand over responsibility to the State Claims Agency?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct.

Is the contingent liability in the individual Department or in the State Claims Agency? Where does it reside? Is there a contingent liability stated?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

If Deputy Murphy remembers the HSE's financial statements, it discloses its share of the contingent liability that is disclosed in the State Claims Agency account. It has a note in the accounts, but it does not make a provision for it. I cannot recall the figure offhand but if, let us say, the value of claims is €4 billion, what we might see is that €3.6 billion of that is reflected as a contingent liability in the HSE financial statements, because ultimately it will be passed back to it.

Right. That is okay.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think the point it is making is that for a class of claim, it does not want to disclose the contingent liability because that would give an indication to claimants and could act as a benchmark for what they would be looking to claim.

That is in advance of cases being decided.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy


I want to ask a question about the Child and Family Agency, Tusla. Is it structured as a charity?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think there was an issue at some point about it claiming charitable status for one purpose. Was it to do with foundation funding or philanthropic funding?

But it would not be for the entire organisation.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, I think it would have to be as an organisation.

The HSE is structured as a charity as well. Is that correct?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think that is correct, but I am open to correction on it. I will find out and come back to Deputy on it.

It would be quite useful to understand why that would be the case.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

My understanding is that it is related to philanthropic receipts. For the philanthropist to contribute, it must contribute to a charity for it to be tax deductible or whatever, and that might be the situation. Schools would typically be charities and a lot of third level institutions are registered as charities as well.

It would be quite useful to understand if Mr. McCarthy could give us a note.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We can certainly see if we can pull something together on that.

That is great. I thank Mr. McCarthy.

I thank Mr. McCarthy for that. Could we agree to note the listings of financial statements? Agreed. As usual, the listing of the accounts of the financial statements will be published as part of our minutes.

I will move on to correspondence. As previously agreed, items that are not flagged for discussion at this meeting will continue to be dealt with in accordance with the proposed actions that have been circulated. Decisions taken by the committee in regard to correspondence are published on the committee's web page and recorded in the minutes.

The first category of correspondence under which members have flagged items for discussion is B – correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers, and follow-up from committee meetings. The first is No. 1335. It is from Ms Rhonda Evans, communications manager, National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. It is dated 29 June 2022. It is an update on the previous recommendations made by the committee. At our meeting last week, we agreed to note and publish this item of correspondence. Deputy Carthy requested that we hold it over for consideration today. Does he want to comment?

As we approach the recess, and in advance of September, I welcome the fact we have got this progress report, but it omits the core issues on which this committee wants to get a handle, namely, how much this hospital is going to cost us in the end and whether we can be assured of the timeframe the board has informed us of.

The fact the Department and the board are refusing to divulge that information as of now is deeply worrying and concerning. Their refusal to provide us with the documentation we have requested is equally not acceptable. I ask that we put this item on the clár when we return after the recess to assess whether there are other options available to the committee to get forthright answers, particularly from the Department of Health, which has overall responsibility. I do not know how we can have a long-term plan for our health services in the financial sense without knowing how much the biggest infrastructure project within that sector is going to cost us in the long run. This is something the committee is going to have to remain vigilant on.

I note that a number of recommendations we have made have been accepted. Clearly, lessons have to be learned from this. We cannot have another open-ended situation like this where the State and the taxpayer are left exposed. We will note and publish that.

We move on to item No. 1342 B, which is from Mr. David Gunning, chief executive officer of the National Children's Hospital. It came as a cover letter. Does Deputy Murphy wish to comment?

I am unhappy about this. I specifically asked a question on whether there were other triggers. This goes to whether there can be counterclaims, at what point one would trigger a counterclaim and whether it is just at the end of the contract. They went through in some detail that they had to wait until all of it was completed before they could decide whether there was a counterclaim. We are being told something different here. On the day when they were before the committee, I asked them whether there were any other triggers and it was an immediate “No”. This is going back on that. The Comptroller and Auditor General can tell me if I am wrong, but my interpretation is there are opportunities to make counterclaims and there are other triggers. There is this moratorium where they have all started to be nice to each other to try to limit claims and, for that reason, they backed off putting in counterclaims. There are other triggers. Am I right in my interpretation of that?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

“Yes” is the simple answer. I was surprised by the answer the Deputy was given at the meeting. I think there was a piece of correspondence which No. 1342 is correcting. I was surprised by that as well. We made some inquiries after last week's meeting and I think that is what prompted this week's letter, No. 1342. It reverses completely what was stated previously and does acknowledge there are potential triggers for claims by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB, against the contractor.

When the Comptroller and Auditor General contacted them, did they say what they were? I would have pursued that line and that is what I had intended to try to pursue. In contracts, there are often a range of different things and it is not just all the eggs in one basket at the end.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The reason we went back was because we were aware there were provisions in there for what are called subsector triggers or claim points. We were already aware there were those in the thing.

What would be an example of that?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

To be honest, I have information that I got as part of the audit and it is not for me to come here and explain this. It is for the NPHDB to provide the information. I recall that, on an earlier occasion, the committee wrote quite a detailed letter to the NPHDB and one of the things it asked for was a copy of the clauses of the contract that deal with claims and counterclaims. My recollection is that when it responded to that, it gave other information but it did not give the committee the clauses.

Can we go back to it and very specifically-----

I want to make sure the Deputy has full information in regard to that record. During the engagement on 16 June, during Deputy Carthy's contribution, the chief officer stated that claims continue to come in during the moratorium. It would appear from the correspondence before us that while the contractor continues to make claims, even though they cannot be progressed through dispute resolution, the board has not done so. I propose we request clarity from the board on this.

Witnesses are generally invited to assist us in examining their accounts. Although I could not be present at the meeting, I understand there was a poor level of engagement by the board with the committee and that was brought to the chief officer's attention. He committed to: “take it away and take note of it to consider how we can do better to fulfil these particular requirements.” The correspondence does not, to my mind, represent improvement in that regard.

Members might also recall that we requested information from the board in regard to certain contractual provisions in advance of the engagement on 16 June, and that was not provided and no explanation was given on its omission. I suggest we reiterate that request, as well as seeking an explanation for the failure to provide the information to the committee. I would also suggest we afford the chief officer the opportunity to review the transcript of the meeting on 16 June to ensure he is satisfied that the information he has provided to the committee is entirely accurate.

I want to make that point because I was not at the meeting, which was chaired by Deputy Murphy.

I want them to tell us exactly what the other triggers are. The ultimate cost of this hospital will be determined by a number of things. It will also be determined by the number of counterclaims that can be made where they have not abided by their side of the contract. We have both been pursuing this particular line. I do not want a general letter like this. I want the specifics in regard to what those triggers are and there should be some detail in that. It is obviously things that are already gone. I would have pursued this in much more detail. It is very frustrating they can just send in a letter a couple of weeks later, yet we do not have the opportunity to expand on something when they are here and we are just writing to them to try to drag more information out of them. It is utterly unsatisfactory.

I fully support Deputy Murphy on that and I also support the recommendations of the Chair. It is crystal clear to me that we are going to have to consider whether our work plan in the autumn includes another hearing with the board and the Department. It is not technical. This is a substantial issue. If there is a situation where, as I mentioned previously, the board and the Department are refusing to give an estimated final cost, then it is imperative that every other question is clarified, especially in regard to claims, because we know those claims are going to be a substantial part of whatever the final overrun is. Looking at the construction inflation costs announced today and where we are heading with this, the mind boggles as to where this project could finally end up, considering again the geniuses who signed off on this contract agreed the State would take the full hit for everything over and above 4%. We have a legitimate interest in pursuing these issues and I would consider that the board and the Department have an obligation to respond in a frank and forthright manner.

There are two suggestions here. One is that we may need to bring the members of the board in before us in the not too distant future. My opinion is that given the nature of what we have witnessed in the past two years and the responses we are getting from the board, we should certainly keep that proposal under active consideration. We need to include it in the work programme with a question mark as to timing. It is not a question of whether we bring them back; it is a question of when we do so. It would crystallise the issues somewhat in terms of-----

In the meantime, there is information I want to know. This correspondence is very short and does not give us the kind of detail we need and that we would have got from the members of the board had they been in front of us. They need to give us the detail of what the other triggers are, apart from the completion date. I want that information in detail, including how many triggers there are, examples of them and that kind of thing, highlighting where this is set out as part of the contract. We probably have some of that information but they should be asked to provide it. Their role in coming in here was for us to hold them to account. If they do not give candid replies on issues as basic as this, it is very difficult to do that. Let us see what information we can get from them. There is no doubt that we must have them back in before us.

We will ask the secretariat to request more specific information from them.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

May I suggest that given we are working to get the audit completed earlier this year, our aim being to do so by the end of August, it probably would be useful to have the 2021 financial statements available for when the committee schedules the meeting?

I thank Mr. McCarthy. The next correspondence is 1341B from Mr. Mark Griffin, Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, dated 4 July 2022, providing information requested by the committee regarding inflation in respect of the national home retrofit scheme. It is proposed to note the correspondence and publish it to the website. Is that agreed? Agreed. Deputy Carthy flagged this correspondence.

I welcome the correspondence. This is an issue that will become more prevalent in our work because the budget for retrofitting is going to increase as the climate action plan takes hold. It would be useful if we could get clarification from the Department on a number of issues, including the reallocation of €40 million of the carbon tax fund from retrofitting to the purchase of gas and diesel generators this winter. An update from the Department as to what impact that will have on the roll-out of the retrofitting programme would be helpful.

I hope the Chairman can provide some clarification on a second matter. It would be useful if the committee could get a sense of how much of each local authority's housing stock continues to be serviced by solid fuel heating systems. There has been much debate about the regulations that are coming in this week. We have a situation where some publicly owned homes have stoves as the only means of heating the water and the home. This is the low-hanging fruit in terms of what needs to be done if we are serious about reducing the use of solid fuels. I know the local authorities are not accountable to us but can we write to each of them asking for that information? The Department responds to parliamentary questions saying the information is in the hands of the local authorities.

We can get that information from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. There are some census figures as well, although that information might not be included in the latest data. Many people with stoves are looking to hold on to them because of the price of electricity and gas. However, I take the Deputy's point and we will seek that information from the Department.

Some local authorities are providing grants for stoves.

There is also a question over the number of homes with single-glazed windows.

There is a wider issue because if a stove is removed and a new heating system is just put in without ensuring a full retrofit takes place, including insulation, one can understand why people might not necessarily be too enthusiastic. However, if it is done as part of a full retrofit, people will take the opportunity. If their stove is taken out to put in a gas boiler, they will naturally be wary.

I will also request a calculation for the number of homes that still have single glazing.

Yes, within the local authorities. That must be the first move we make.

The Department must have some of that information in aggregate.

It does, but it generally responds to parliamentary questions saying it is a matter for each local authority.

Local authorities are probably not too bad in this regard but there is a large number of private houses that still have single-glazed windows. Unfortunately, they are generally the homes whose inhabitants are on the lowest household income. People are caught in a catch-22 situation. We will request that information.

The next correspondence is 1345B from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Health, dated 6 July 2022, providing information requested by the committee regarding the overall expenditure to date on the national maternity hospital project. It is proposed to note the correspondence and publish it to the website. Is that agreed? Agreed. It caught my eye that from 2014 to 2022, there was a sum total of €95.3 million spent on the national maternity hospital. I do not know whether there is a plan for construction and what the situation is regarding the site, the legalities and so on. There was a deal signed off recently. I do not know whether any of the members or the Comptroller and Auditor General can help me out on this. I can understand why there would be survey costs and that various different consultants had to be brought in to do different pieces of work, but nearly €100 million has been spent and I have not even seen a drawing. How does one spend €100 million and not even have the JCBs on site, as I often say? In fact, this amount was spent before we even had the deal for the site signed. It is an incredible sum of money. Can Mr. McCarthy shed any light on it?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I can shed a bit of light. The letter indicates that a new pharmacy was built. I understand the pharmacy for the hospital is on the site where the new hospital is to be built. That had to be removed first and a new pharmacy built to serve the whole campus. That was one aspect of it. The second issue, I understand, was that some of the car park space is being used to enable the building. That was being made ready and the car park had to be extended. Those are things that had to be done before the hospital could be built.

Was that done before the agreement was signed?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy


What if the agreement had not been signed? Would that money have gone down the tubes?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Some of it would have. Obviously, the pharmacy would still be used and there would be a question of whether the existing pharmacy still had life in it. There would have been a value for money question if the construction did not go ahead on the site.

I do not see reference to the pharmacy in the correspondence.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think there is a figure of €50 million or €51 million somewhere in the letter. This means that if there is €95 million spent in total, there is about €40 million on planning and design. It seems like a lot for a project that did not have a site.

The figure I had in my head all along was relating to the two projects, that is, the car park and the pharmacy. The pharmacy has been built on the roof of the existing block and it is on private land.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think it is located in the public hospital.

However, it is on the private St. Vincent's hospital land.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy


All of it will be on the St. Vincent's hospital land. We certainly need to query the difference between the cost of the pharmacy and the car parking and what else has been spent. We need to get more detail on that.

Another thing jumps out at me from the letter. We have just been talking about something very similar. It states:

As the construction contracts for a number of these works are ongoing, the individual contract costs are commercially sensitive and therefore are not broken out separately.

Somebody will be back here again talking about this. I am always very nervous about round figures. The €1 billion cost has been chucked around the place. It started off being €300 million. We have not seen any designs. We do not know what the budget is. The figure escalated from €300 million to €800 million and the figure being talked about at the moment is €1 billion. This is not on a difficult site like the children's hospital.

The commercially sensitive part of it is that if the pharmacy is built, first of all, it is a very expensive pharmacy at €50 million.

It would have to have a budget.

Surely, they can tell us how much that costs. If the work is done, where is the commercial sensitivity? It is the same with the car park. If that was a separate budget for those enabling works in the car park, and there is roughly €50 million for the two of those, I cannot see any reason they cannot provide us with the cost of both of those projects if they were separate or even a separate annex to the main contract. The main contract is not even signed so they had to be stand-alone contracts. Why would they not be able to give us that? Why would that be commercially sensitive?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think they were just in the interests of having an accurate record. There was a little bit of other work like road realignment, diversion of utilities and treatment for aspergillus, which is a site-specific issue. Certainly, it is open to the committee to ask why it cannot have details of the costs of individual projects.

I will finish by saying this. It is not that long ago that we had a piece of correspondence that talked about learning lessons from previous projects. I cannot remember where it came from but it jumped out at me. Would we have the benefit of learning lessons for this hospital from the children's hospital? It is not obvious how we learn lessons if the process is opaque, which this appears to be.

That was the point on which I was going to come in. I want to link it to the ongoing conversations we have been having regarding the national paediatric hospital. Up to this point, it appears that no lessons have been learned, even from the debates we had around the signing of the contracts, which many people continue to feel will have long-term repercussions in itself. Even the fact that works were carried out on the site before the State actually signed those contracts appears dubious. It reminds me of the time when I was on the council and the majority was voting to privatise the bin services. It turned out that before a decision had even been made, the private companies had already left the bins everywhere; a decision had been made. I was struck by something when Mr. McCarthy cited the €50 million cost of a pharmacy. I imagine that the-----

I think it is a pharmacy and car park and ancillary works.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, and other ancillary works.

It would be helpful if we were able to find out the cost of the private hospital that is being built in Spain that will cater for the people we are shipping over there because of the health services. I imagine it will probably compare fairly favourably with the pharmacy we have in Dublin.

This committee has a role to play and this follows on from Deputy Catherine Murphy's point. We need to get clarification in the here and now, from both the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as to what measures and provisions they are putting in pre-contract and pre-tender to ensure we can say, in the same way almost anybody else in the world can, that when a contract is signed, this is how much the project will cost. It does not need to be kept secret if it is defined in the contract, or if there are provisions that say it will potentially go to this cost if X, Y and Z happen or it could be less if A, B and C happen. That is the way contracts are supposed to work when we are talking about construction. We did not have that in respect of the national paediatric hospital. That is why we are still figuring out three quarters of the way through building it how much it will actually cost. It has not happened in far too many other areas so it must happen here. If it does not, and we end up in a situation where the Committee of Public Accounts in ten or 15 years is having the same conversations about this hospital as we are about the national paediatric hospital, one will have to say it is time to bloody take down the whole system and start again.

To follow on from the previous Deputy, I think it will be hard for us to get to a number. In light of the saga of the paediatric hospital, however, it is totally valid for us to ask what the clauses are in the tender, how that tender process is working and what we can do in that regard. When it comes to the numbers that are being bandied around, and I put this to the Minister at the time at the Joint Committee on Health, the proposed building is 55,000 sq. m. Health buildings at the moment cost approximately €5,000 per sq. m. Even with massive inflation, we are talking about a base cost of approximately €275 million. If we add in, let us say, one third for commissioning and one third for fees, we are still nowhere near €800 million, which is what we were talking about at the time of the decision-making. I do not know where we got to €1 billion, but even €800 million was a huge inflation. I do not know how we got there. When I put that to the Minister, I really got no answer to that. It was said that is what had been reported in the media. I would really like to understand this.

I know the decision has been made now. I believe it has all been signed off from a project quality index point of view. At the time of the decision, however, the business case had not been signed off by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It had been set out but the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform refused it and sent it back. I would love to understand and it would be really important for the Committee of Public Accounts to understand where the business case is right now. Has it been signed off by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? What is that situation?

There is an issue around spending when there has been no agreement. That is terrible in terms of public money and governance. I do not think we should ever accept that. To spend €50 million or €90 million - we are not even taking the number seriously now because it is all just a figure in taxpayers' money - when we do not have an agreement in place is atrocious.

Finally, if we are going back to the Department of Health to ask for information, particularly now that we are talking about Spanish hospitals and stuff, as I did at the time I would like to flag the fact that a scoping exercise for the maternity hospital was done on the Elm Park site in 2012. There is a fully built hospital that has been empty for ten years sitting on the Elm Park site. My understanding is that the scoping exercise found it was suitable for a maternity hospital. The National Maternity Hospital did that scoping exercise and it found that it was suitable for a maternity hospital and for its needs. I would love to see that report and for the Department of Health to release that report in order that we could see that scoping exercise. My understanding is that the building is still empty.

There are a number of parts here, the first of which being that we will note and publish the correspondence in front of us. A number of issues have been raised, which, in no particular order, are the business case for the maternity hospital and the report published on the hospital that was built at Elm Park that is still completely vacant. There is also the breakdown of the figures regarding the pharmacy, car park and ancillary works that are being carried out. The question was also raised as to whether ancillary works were carried out on the car park prior to the final signing of the legal agreement this year.

It absolutely was because it is built. Not to add to the Chairman's work but could we get clarity from the Department on whether any agreements are signed without the business plan being agreed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform?

Okay. I will add to that the status of the tender at the moment and the clauses in it. I thank everybody for that very comprehensive discussion.

The next item of correspondence is 1350B, from Mr. Brendan Gleeson, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

It is dated 7 July. It provides information requested by this committee regarding the digitisation of the Land Commission records, including information concerning turf plots etc. Those are all contained there. It is proposed to note and publish this correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. Deputy Catherine Murphy flagged this item.

I raised this matter initially because it is a bugbear of mine. I thank the Secretary General for the comprehensive reply. I can see some of the issues involved, including the sheer scale of the information which exists. This is precisely the issue I was trying to draw attention to. If we compare our approach in the Republic to that taken in Northern Ireland, it is possible to walk into the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, PRONI, which is in a lovely new building constructed in the Titanic Quarter, and to look at the Land Commission records there. They are not digitised, but it is possible to go in and to look at them.

We have a 100-year rule on records but these documents seem to be an exception to this rule. The Department has said that these are working records and fragile. This is all the more reason, though, for why they would be digitised. This is a useful item of correspondence but I still think we should respond in turn and ask why we do not have a similar approach to these records, in the context of the 100-year rule not applying, and why there is a different approach in Northern Ireland to making the Land Commission's records there available. I ask this question because this information is a treasure trove. These are working documents for some people but they are also an important genealogical set of records.

We will ask those two questions. We will note and publish the item of correspondence.

No. 1353 B is from Mr. David Moloney, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, dated 11 July, providing information requested by the committee arising from a meeting with representatives of the Department on 19 May 2022. Information across a range of areas is included. Also included is a review of the business case for the Department’s funding of Benefacts. I suggest we deal with this item in conjunction with further correspondence we have received from Benefacts itself, which is R1346 C. These two items then are No. 1353 B and R1346 C. I will introduce this correspondence before opening it to the floor.

At our meeting of 30 June, we agreed to request the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to clarify, among other things, whether it is aware of the extent to which other Departments use Benefacts data. In its correspondence, Benefacts set out 94 instances of data provision to public, private and non-profit bodies between 2016 and 2021. Regarding its funding, the organisation has stated that it proposed that it be funded under the Teckal procurement exemption. The committee has been provided with a copy of the advice regarding the feasibility of instituting these arrangements from the professional firm that prepared it. Benefacts states that its board received no response to its proposal from the Department, nor was there any other opportunity to discuss alternative institutional, financial and governance arrangements. It goes on to state that:

Senior officials in the Department of Rural & Community Development advised Benefacts that they would not consider taking over responsibility for funding the company because they regarded Benefacts as a source of “massive procurement risk” [...] Notwithstanding this, the Department appears to have asked Pobal to explore the feasibility of providing a service that is on the face of it very similar to one of those already developed, tested and launched by Benefacts [...] even though of course Pobal is a provider to the State of what are by definition public goods under the Teckal exemption

It is proposed to note and publish this correspondence and to request the consent of Benefacts to also publish its correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I think we should write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for an explanation regarding the Teckal procurement exemption. There is a difference between a public good and a market good. Looking at the organisations that have used these data, including the Central Statistics Office, CSO, I would have thought there is a strong argument that this endeavour is a public good. Therefore, we should seek the response that Benefacts could not get from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Regarding the last paragraph of the correspondence in question, it relates to the same aspect of a market good. We should ask the Department of Rural and Community Development how it determined that work of Benefacts was a market good as opposed to a public good. We should undertake these two actions.

It was useful to get the information from Benefacts concerning the range of possible uses in this regard. They are comprehensive. We should also send the Greenville report that Benefacts commissioned to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and ask for its comments on it.

I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for that contribution. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will note and publish this correspondence.

We move to category C, correspondence from and related to private individuals and any other correspondence. The first item is No. 1347 C from Deputy Catherine Murphy, dated 7 July, and provides information to the committee in the form of a response to a parliamentary question relating to RTÉ's legal costs and settlements. The Deputy includes a related proposal. Does the Deputy wish to address the item?

Yes. Some of this relates to the Eversheds report. There is a second Eversheds report, which relates to the actors in "Fair City". We should ask RTÉ to provide us with that report and whether an in-house legal team was used to deal with this matter or if it was a legal team from outside. We should also ask what the cost of this undertaking was and whether the findings have fed into RTÉ paying additional PRSI contributions. We know what they were in the context of the first Eversheds report, but there is also a second Eversheds report.


We should have that report.

Do any other members wish to contribute? We will note and publish this correspondence and we will seek that extra information.

Next is No. 1348 C, from me, and this is a proposal to include an engagement with representatives of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, in our work programme. We will be deciding on that programme, so I just want to flag this proposal and I do not wish to open it for discussion now. It is a short and concise letter but it will be understood what I am asking for in it. No other items of correspondence have been flagged.

We move on to the work programme. Last week, we agreed that our first meeting in September would deal with correspondence and any other business of the committee that might accumulate over the summer recess. We have the item in respect of value for money. We also agreed to schedule an engagement with Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, to examine the 2020 financial statements the following week. Additionally, we also requested a representative of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to attend the meeting. To assist the secretariat in planning the meeting, do the members wish a representative of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, to attend the meeting as well?

That is agreed.

Another option would be to examine both sets of accounts together in light of their related remit.

That is what I would propose.

I ask members to wait until I go through them. If they want to add anything, I will let them back in.

I have a comment on this matter.

Go ahead.

We will have the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine before us. Because it is in the same fund, I wonder whether we could also bring Rásaíocht Con Éireann before the committee. A particular traceability system was launched in 2021. It would be very useful to get an update on that.

On a separate day.

No, on the same day because it is all in the same fund.

That is a good idea.

That is fair enough.

I recently raised the issue of Horse Sport Ireland and the Greenogue facility. I would like to speak about something that has happened since then. It has walked back from it. The matter is no longer being pursued. This information came to light last week.

I thank the Deputy for that information.

Following that, we will engage with the HSE to examine expenditure on mental health services. We may hold another meeting with the HSE to focus on expenditure on emergency services, in particular ambulance services. I suggest we firm up this. We definitely need to do an examination with the HSE of expenditure on emergency and ambulance services given what is happening at present. We have had discussions whereby a big budget is going in but the services are not happening at the other end.

I completely agree. I would argue against having health-related matters two weeks in a row. It is the body of work that takes the most time to prepare for. Will we be asking the Accounting Officer from the Department of Health to be present at these meetings?

We have written to him on a number of occasions requesting information on the waiving of his salary in 2021. Has he ever responded?

We have not received a response that gives us clarity. That is my memory of it.

On the next occasion the Secretary General is due to come, I ask that we inform him in advance that we will be asking him about it.

Do members wish to restrict the meeting to the HSE? We can have the Department in with it. Another option would be to include other bodies that are accountable to the committee and have responsibility for emergency services. If that is preferable I will ask the secretariat to put together a proposal for consideration. It is up to members how we proceed with this. My feeling is that the HSE is very big, as are each of these areas. Dealing with ambulance services and emergency services on the same day will be a lot. If we try to broaden it out any further we will get lost and we will not have an opportunity to deal with it properly. What are the views of the members on this?

I will rephrase my proposal. Can we write again to the Secretary General asking him to clarify the position regarding the information we have requested?

There is no problem-----

We can indicate that in the event he cannot clarify it in writing, he will be asked about it. It is not necessary for us to spend time discussing it. On his appointment, he issued a public statement indicating that he was waiving a portion of his salary. It is entirely legitimate for the public to know for how long he did so. It is not acceptable that he has not answered the questions.

I thought the Deputy wanted it dealt with by means of correspondence. If it is not answered by the date of the meeting, I have no problem with it being raised as a specific issue. That will take five minutes. It is an answer we have been trying to get for a while. I hope we will not need to raise it and that there will be clarity by way of correspondence before then.

The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board has been mentioned. We could include it between the two health engagements. We had three meetings on justice in a row, with the Department, the Prison Service, An Garda Síochána and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I thought that worked very well. It is the choice of the committee. We will have meetings on mental health services, the ambulance service and emergency services. These are big pieces of work.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I expect to have a special report on the procurement of ventilators in the Covid emergency also.

That warrants a hearing in itself.

Do we want to bring in the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in between? Perhaps we can take the other two and see how we go.

It is not the same. It is very distinct. I am conscious that we will have a report that will dictate our agenda once the Comptroller and Auditor General issues it. Will that be in September?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, it will be at the end of September.

I take it that the wish of the committee is to leave the children's hospital and see how things pan out with regard to responses to our queries.

We can judge it then.

We will have it on the programme as an item for definite discussion.

Did the Comptroller and Auditor General say the audit he is doing is due at the end of August or September?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is a special report on the procurement of ventilators.

I mean the one on the children's hospital development board.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I was speaking about the audit of the children's hospital development board for 2021. I expect it to be completed at the end of August. It will then go to the Department.

We should try to timetable the meeting so the report is available and we have more information.

We can see how things pan out.

Absolutely. That is useful. As mentioned, if the committee is agreeable, I suggest adding to the work programme for the autumn further engagement with the SEAI. A great deal is happening with retrofits and energy upgrades. A lot of money is involved. It is a growth industry and the State is playing a big part in it. This is all good but we need to have a look at it to see what is happening. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will schedule that in the autumn programme.

Broadband is something we will have to come back to. We can put it on the list but not schedule it.

I have it scribbled down here.

It gets bought and sold.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I am planning to have a chapter in the annual report on delivery of the programme.

That was the other one I mentioned last week. I thank the Deputy.

As discussed last week, we are looking to plan ahead. As members are aware, the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2021 report on accounts for public services will be available to us at the end of September. We might want to prioritise further areas for examination once we have sight of it. Do members wish to raise any other matters?

I would like to raise an issue. It goes back to the fact that, unfortunately, the committee ran foul of the work it was doing. It is with regard to the amount of money being paid out by the HSE to the various section 38 and 39 organisations. New procedures were put in place in this regard. Since the issue arose a number of years ago have we gone back and looked over these organisations? Between €4.5 billion and €5 billion is paid out to approximately 2,500 organisations. Is it worth looking at it again at some stage? I am not saying immediately but at some stage over the coming six months.

I suggest the Comptroller and Auditor General might come back to us with a note on this or with some information on it.

It is a massive amount of money. It is difficult because there are 2,500 organisations receiving funding. In fairness, the Committee of Public Accounts identified an issue previously. Perhaps it did not come out of the courts on the right side but at the same time this does not mean it is an issue we should park.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

There is a segment in the HSE's statement on internal control that deals with the control and oversight system it has in place for these bodies.

In the first instance, it may be useful for the committee to look at that. It provides an update every year on how it refines its systems. If the committee wanted additional information on aspects, or perhaps a clearer update on recommendations made by the committee previously, it could request that of the HSE and it would be available when its representatives come before it.

Is that okay?

That concludes the consideration of the work programme. We will continue with the practice of trying to schedule matters well ahead of people coming before us because it allows the secretariat to be able to line up people. Sometimes witnesses say they are not available or it does not suit them. Body A might not be able to come in on a certain day but we could move to body B. It is useful to try to plan a bit of a distance out. I will speak to the new clerk about that and trying to get those kinds of procedures in place. We want to ensure we deal with what the committee members want, along with dealing with the reports that might be scheduled throughout the autumn.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

There is also a chapter, discussion of which was deferred. The committee was trying to reschedule the discussion with the Central Bank and Revenue Commissioners about a specific account. The representatives from the Central Bank were not available but they offered to return in the autumn. That is another one to try to get into the programme.

The last item is any other business. If members do not wish to raise anything-----

The weather is getting warm. I thank everybody for their work. I know it will not be a complete break because when this places closes, members need to give their constituencies more attention. Staff are on holidays and we must make up the shortfall. I hope, in between, members get a good break and enjoy it. Much work has been put in. It is the same for the staff, including those in the Comptroller and Auditor General's office. I thank them for their efforts. Have a happy and safe summer.

The committee adjourned at 3.12 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 September 2022.