Business of Joint Committee.

The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meetings of 19 and 25 July. The draft minutes of these two meetings have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. Nothing arises from the minutes.

The next item on the agenda is correspondence. There is a schedule of correspondence which will take a few moments to get through because some was received over the summer. Members will have received the detailed correspondence in the post last week.

The first item of correspondence is document No. 479. It is a letter to the clerk to the committee from the budget and economic division of the Department of Finance enclosing a report of the expenditure review of the grant-in-aid to the ESRI. It is noted. Any member who wants to read it can obtain a copy through the committee secretariat.

The next item is document No. 480, a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the section 32 review relating to the Freedom of Information Act. It is for the purpose of clarification of a report by this committee. It was too late to consider it at the last meeting but we had concluded on the matter. It can be taken into account when a future committee carries out a further review.

The next item is a letter to the Chairman from the Information Commissioner regarding the FOI review. It was too late to consider it at the meeting but the points raised in the letter were discussed by the committee. Speaking from recollection, some of the agencies are not included under FOI legislation. Where they are available in the parent Department the commissioner wanted them to be accessible through the Freedom of Information Act. The point in the commissioner's letter had been discussed in any event.

The next item is a letter to the Chairman from the Minister for Finance regarding an individual taxpayer. As we are holding our meetings in public session and this case is ongoing, nobody should refer to the taxpayer by name as it would not be fair to the individual involved. Members should refer to the taxpayer as "the taxpayer". It is a detailed reply. This committee invested much time and effort in this case on behalf of the taxpayer who received a favourable judgment from the Ombudsman. The full recommendation of the Ombudsman was not accepted. There was a negotiated settlement. The taxpayer was ultimately dissatisfied.

The committee wrote to the Minister for Finance earlier this year. He replied that there was nothing further he could do. We wrote back in more detail to the Minister for Finance on behalf of the committee. The Minister has replied to the committee essentially saying that he has discussed the matter with the Revenue Commissioners, that he does not believe there is any reason for them to change their original decision on the case and that he is taking no further action. The taxpayer in question has contacted me as he is unhappy with that outcome. He feels the Minister's reply did not deal with the essence of what we raised with the Minister.

In his opening paragraph the Minister referred to the recent correspondence regarding the long-standing issue the individual has had with the Revenue Commissioners over a disputed tax matter. That could not be further from the truth. We never sought, and we specifically stated that we did not want to deal with the individual tax affairs of the taxpayer concerned. The Ombudsman, who is under the remit of this committee, had made a recommendation after a special investigation, and it is the only case on record where a public body has not accepted the recommendation of an Ombudsman.

We were as much concerned about the handling of the issue from the point of view of the Ombudsman. The Minister's response to this committee implying that we are talking about a disputed tax matter misses the point entirely. I am disappointed with the response from the Department. There is no reference to the Ombudsman anywhere in the response. The essence of our involvement in this was that an independent Ombudsman had made a recommendation which seems to have been set aside and there is no reference to that in the letter. At the same time the Minister makes it clear that he can do nothing further in the matter. The Revenue Commissioners are adamant that they see no reason to change their decision.

On that issue, it is important to note two points, the first of which is the point the Chairman just made. We did not intervene in the tax affairs of an individual. The issue for us was the question of the implementation of the Ombudsman's report.

My understanding, from recollection, is that this was dealt with by both the current Ombudsman and the previous Ombudsman. My understanding of the legislation is that in the event of a Department or other group not implementing the Ombudsman's recommendation or advice, then it is open to the Ombudsman to make a special report of that to the Oireachtas.

I made that last point.

Apart from clarifying the matter for the Minister for the record, we should just copy the correspondence to the Ombudsman. Much as I have much sympathy for that taxpayer in my reading of it, there is nothing we as a committee can do at present. We have taken that far. If the Ombudsman feels that she can take it a bit further, that is her call at this stage.

The last point I would make is this. It is clear from the sub-committee, which investigated this matter previously, that the taxpayer concerned had met personally with the previous Minister for Finance, who advised the taxpayer to go to the Ombudsman. Perhaps the taxpayer should seek a meeting with the Minister or the Minister's office. The Minister may or may not concede it, but our committee, much and all as we would like to, has no further powers. Will we proceed on the basis of recommending, given that he met with the previous Minister for Finance who recommended this course of action, that now it has concluded he might take it up with the previous Minister's successor and deal directly with the Minister's office?

The Minister will be delighted with that.

He may or may not concede. I am not putting any obligation on the Minister to concede to the request, but we should make possibly the suggestion and the Minister can judge accordingly at that stage.

The next item is a letter to the Chairman from the Minister for Finance on an addition to the second report on section 32 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997. The letter is noted. We dealt with all of those issues comprehensively in our FOI report at the last meeting.

The next item is No. 484, a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Revenue Commissioners regarding correspondence received from Western Motors Limited. A reply to this query was sent to the Revenue Commissioners from the committee and I propose we do not get into it any further.

The next item is No. 485, a letter from the Department of Social and Family Affairs regarding the freedom of information review. While it was received too late, all the matters were taken into account by the committee.

The next item is No. 486, a letter to the clerk from the Department of Finance regarding mortgage switching. I suggest we note that and members are free to use the information concerned as they choose.

The next item, the Central Bank Bulletin, is noted and copies are available on request.

Is that sent to every Member of the Houses?

It is, but they formally send a copy to the committee as well. It is duplication.

The next item is No. 488, an e-mail from the Irish Bankers Federation regarding our meeting on 26 July last. It contains information arising from its follow-up of its appearance at that meeting.

If I recall correctly, there were a couple of matters on which we were to get further information from the Irish Bankers Federation. Was there some follow-up information that we were to get?

This is it, document No. 488 in the bundle. I am happy to postpone this item of correspondence until members have had an opportunity to see whether the information deals with the matters raised. We will hold over consideration of that item until the next meeting. If Deputy Finneran wishes, he may take my copy. If he is not happy, we will raise it at the next meeting.

The next item is No. 489, an e-mail from the OECD regarding a seminar taking place in Paris on 5 October. Do members wish to comment on that?

If I can be guaranteed to get my photograph on the front page of a Sunday newspaper, I will go.

It is a high-level parliamentary seminar on growth and jobs.

Senator O'Toole has found other ways to do that in the past. Is that not the case?

On what day of the week is that?

The date is Thursday, 5 October in Paris. Do members want to send a maximum of one from the Government side and one from the Opposition side? We can agree to get the clerk to the committee to get costings and a proposal, but the committee does not have a meeting between now and the first week of October to approve it.

I propose the Chairman.

I agreed to go.

Is it agreed that I attend? Agreed. To get the formal approval, the items under discussion are within the terms of reference and such a visit would help us in our consideration of our duties as the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service.

What are the proposals?

We will leave it to the Whip to put forward the——

However, Senator O'Toole, although not necessarily a member of the Opposition, has invited himself.

That is fine.

I do not intend to go.

If I am not available to go, the Whip from the Government side can come forward with the name. There will be a maximum of two to attend, including the Chairman or the Chairman's representative.

The next item is No. 490, a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Financial Regulator enclosing its annual report. I suggest we note that.

The next item is the annual report of the National Women's Council of Ireland. I am sure there has been duplication here also and individual members would have received it in the post.

The next item is a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Registrar of Credit Unions regarding the invitation today. We note that and we will be dealing with it shortly.

The next item is a letter from the OECD enclosing a copy of the OECD Observer. A copy is available on request.

The next item is a letter from the Credit Union Development Association regarding the meeting of 13 December, on which Senator O'Toole wants to comment.

It is important that we arrange to meet the Credit Union Development Association. One of the matters on which the committee has touched previously is that with the de-mutualisation of the traditional co-operative group within the financial services, that is, the building societies, there is every likelihood that all the building societies will be de-mutualised in a short period of years and that the credit unions will be filling that space.

The credit unions are operating currently under legislation that is almost a dozen years old. They are dealing with it as best they can and they are doing well. No doubt there is need for a review of that legislation but in the meantime, the committee should know as much as possible about the difficulties, the views, the policies and the kind of progress happening within the credit union movement at present. It would be important to meet the Credit Union Development Association, which represents a significant number of influential credit unions. With the changing times, following all the different financial instruments which have been put in place over the past ten or 12 years, we need to look at the future as well. That is a good reason to do so. I propose, first, that we meet the association on a date to be agreed.

Is there a seconder for that proposal?

Then it is agreed. We have not set a date for the next meeting. We could meet on Wednesday, 27 September but that is the day the Dáil resumes. I suggest we skip a meeting that week. There will be much other activity in the House that day. We will probably try to meet on the following Wednesday, 4 October. If that date is suitable, well and good. If not, we will pencil in the association for later in the month.

The next item of correspondence is a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Department of Finance enclosing copies of value for money and policy reviews of the IS fund. We note that and copies are available.

The next item is a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Department of Finance acknowledging a letter sent by the committee. Our letter to the Minister was about social welfare branch managers. We had correspondence. Deputy Finneran had asked us to write to the Minister for Finance on behalf of social welfare branch managers on their pension entitlements. The Department's letter is merely an acknowledgement.

Senator John Paul Phelan wrote a letter to the Chairman enclosing a submission received from the county secretary of the IFA in County Kilkenny. As Senator Phelan is not present, we will hold this item over until the next meeting.

I am aware of that item. I support what Senator Phelan is asking be introduced.

What is the issue?

It is a pensions matter. Senator Phelan enclosed a submission, which was given to local Oireachtas Members. I am sure it has to do with pensions and they are anxious to make a submission.

Perhaps, in the first instance, if we write to the Departments of Finance and Social and Family Affairs for a response, then we can decide.

I am just anxious that it be kept on the agenda.

We will forward the correspondence to the Departments of Finance and Social and Family Affairs for a detailed response to the proposal. That will come before the committee at our next meeting and we will take it from there. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is a letter to the clerk from the Department of the Taoiseach enclosing a copy of the Department's annual report. There is a string of statutory instruments which I will not list. They are included for information purposes. They relate to money-laundering arrangements with various Middle Eastern countries. A series of statutory instruments has also been notified to us regarding Civil Service regulations relating to the Office of the Ombudsman, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Revenue Commissioners. The instruments are similar. For example, the statutory instrument relating to the Office of the Ombudsman states, "Such a person as from time to time stands duly to act as the Director General of the Office of the Ombudsman is designated to be the head of the Office of the Ombudsman for the purpose of Civil Service Regulations 1956". Similar arrangements apply to the deputy Director of Public Prosecutions. It is proposed that the secretary and director of audit of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General be designated as head of the office. I would like an information note from the Department to explain why this is happening, although I do not have a problem with it.

I presume the changes have been made in consultation with the various bodies.

Of course but this is the relevant Oireachtas committee and I would like to know why. The Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance are involved and I will ask for a brief note on the background to these five or six statutory instruments.

The next item is SI 453 of 2006, Credit Unions (Alteration of Financial Limits). I am sure our visitors are aware of it. It is noted.

The next item is a letter to the clerk from the Combat Poverty Agency enclosing its annual report, which we will note. There is a letter to the clerk from the Bills Office regarding the timetable for receipt of amendments. It has been circulated to all Oireachtas Members. The final item is a letter to the Department of Finance regarding previous correspondence.

The next item is an addendum to the review of certain provisions of section 32(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, as amended by the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003. The committee cleared this report at its last meeting but when we were about to lay it before both Houses, we realised there were one or two minor omissions. Five items were omitted from Table A, on which the Information Commissioner, the Minister and the committee had fully agreed. We had omitted in error from the schedule presented the Irish Sports Council Act 1999, Pensions Act 1990, Comhairle Act 2000, National Archives Act 1986 and Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1998. There also was no dispute regarding Table B between the committee, the Minister and the Information Commissioner but we had omitted the Statistics Act 1993 and the Air Navigation (Notification of Investigation of Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 1997. I apologise for not including them in the schedule. We will lay the report before the Houses following this meeting because it would not be appropriate to sign off on it, as Chairman, without consulting the committee.