Vote 6 - Office of the Chief State Solicitor (Revised)

We are joined by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Chambers. I remind members to turn off their mobile phones and to observe the note on privilege, which provides that members who are in Leinster House or the convention centre have full privilege for the meeting. Members are asked to remove their masks when making a contribution as it will help with the quality of the sound recording.

We are dealing with the Revised Estimates for Vote 1 - President's Establishment, Vote 2 - Department of the Taoiseach, Vote 3 - Office of the Attorney General, Vote 4 - Central Statistics Office, Vote 5 - Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Vote 6 - Office of the Chief State Solicitor. The format of the meeting will be that we will ask the Minister of State for an opening statement and then members will question the figures or facts before us. I invite the Minister of State to make his opening statement.

I thank the cathaoirleach and I thank everyone for the opportunity to appear before the select committee as it continues its consideration of the Revised Estimates for 2021 for Votes 1 to 6, inclusive. The committee has been supplied with a detailed briefing document for Vote 4, the Central Statistics Office, in advance of this meeting. A briefing for the other Votes was provided prior to the previous meeting of the committee on 27 April. As the Taoiseach has already provided a statement to the committee, I will limit my opening comments to the CSO which has not yet been discussed.

The sound quality is very bad.

I apologise. I will use headphones. The WiFi in the convention centre does not always work 100%. Will I start again or continue?

Continue, please.

The Central Statistics Office is Ireland’s national statistical institute and is responsible of the production and oversight of the production of all official statistics for Ireland. The CSO is an independent office of the Civil Service under the aegis of the Taoiseach. The role of the director general of the CSO, as prescribed by the Statistics Act 1993, provides that the officeholder acts independently and exercises sole responsibility in professional statistical matters. The National Statistics Board, with the agreement of the Taoiseach, has the general function of guiding the overall strategic direction of the CSO. This independent position reflects international best practice for the organisation of official statistics.

The Central Statistics Office plays a vital role in the functioning of the State in providing independent and verifiable data to citizens and policymakers on a broad range of topics, including social, economic and environmental issues. The ability of the CSO to inform has been evident throughout the current pandemic. The CSO delivered on the vast majority of its planned statistical work programme for 2020, publishing 421 releases and publications. Of these, 29 were new products specifically related to providing insight on the impact of the pandemic across society and businesses, for policymakers and citizens alike.

The CSO delivered 59 individual publications from the 29 new products, which included publications focused on the business and social impact of Covid-19, the numbers of deaths and cases, the impact on the labour market and experimental outputs on excess deaths and on mobility during the pandemic. Alongside the new products developed and delivered to provide additional insight, the CSO provided statistical and analytical expertise and new data services to support analysing health data sources in a safe and secure environment. The CSO has supported modelling, analysis of health and of real time data and analysis to provide insight regarding trends and identifying emerging issues all to support central government’s response to the pandemic.

Covid-19 has, of course, impacted on the CSO's statistical work programme during the past year, with the greatest impact on processes that require face-to-face interactions with survey respondents. The single largest casualty by scale was the postponement of the census of population from 2021 to 2022. On consideration of the challenges caused by Covid-19, the Government decided to postpone the 2021 census until April 2022 to enable the CSO to undertake a comprehensive, inclusive and safe census in 2022, which will provide valuable and accurate data for our country in the years ahead.

Other surveys, such as pilots for the programme for international assessment of adult competencies and the household budget survey, were postponed until 2021. Face-to-face collection at airports and ports also ceased during 2020. While face-to-face interviewing for household surveys ceased, new technological solutions and mixed mode collection options were implemented to maximise the delivery of the statistical work programme. The CSO has also developed new interactive graphics, infographics, new formats, namely, bulletins and frontier series, and outputs to provide the additional insight needed by the public, businesses and policymakers on the impact of the pandemic.

The CSO has continued to publish key economic indicators and has tracked the impact of the crisis on business sectors and the economy, including via the monthly exports and imports of goods, the quarterly national accounts, Government deficit and debt, the quarterly balance of payments, the labour force survey, the monthly unemployment and live register figures and the survey on income and living conditions, among others.

Planning has continued for census 2022 with the options for a potential census in 2026 are also being considered. In both cases, an increase in the use of administrative data is being explored and the possibility of the development of an online response facility is being considered in respect of census 2026 which, if approved by Government, would mark 100 years since the first State census.

The CSO is continuing to work on a survey on the prevalence of sexual violence, with a pilot going into the field in 2021, and is progressing work on the data collection and processing of the next wave of the State's longitudinal study of children and youth, Growing up in Ireland, from 2023.

The CSO now faces a different challenge in measuring how our economy and society emerge from the Covid restrictions. Sustainable, secure access to data and the reuse of high-value data sources in the form of administrative data and some private data sources are essential for the CSO to provide timely and accurate data that are meaningful to policymakers. To enable this, the CSO has been to the forefront of building the national data infrastructure under action 24 of the Civil Service renewal programme on improving how data are collected, managed and shared.

The pandemic has confirmed what we have always known, that along with access, the quality of the data sources is crucial. Continuing to build the national data infrastructure across the public service is a key component to delivering on the quality necessary for the creation of official statistics and to deliver the broader data framework to serve the needs of the State.

There is a significant international dimension to the work of the CSO. The EU institutions, primarily EUROSTAT and the ECB, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and other international bodies are all important users of official statistics. These bodies also have a significant role in defining and monitoring standards for the compilation of comparable information. The CSO subscribes to the standards set out in the UN's fundamental principles of official statistics and the European statistics code of practice.

New EU legislation introduced in 2015 fundamentally changed the role of the CSO, and that of its director general. Following this legislation, the director general of the CSO now has responsibility for co-ordinating and overseeing the quality of all European official statistics in Ireland. It is now the responsibility of the CSO to ensure that all compilers of European statistics in Ireland are adhering to the quality and methodological standards set out by the EU and detailed in the European statistics code of practice.

Turning to the CSO's budget, the net allocation for 2021 is €63.155 million. The funding provided reflects the Government's commitment to the office to meet its obligations under national and EU law, to continue developing the Irish statistical system, and to produce new outputs to meet domestic demand through the provision of trusted and robust official statistics. Members of the public are increasingly aware of, and able to access, statistics and indicators on social, economic and environmental issues, as demonstrated by nearly 15 million web hits on the CSO website in 2020.

I commend the values and principles that inform the CSO's work. The CSO makes an important contribution to Ireland's public service and public policy by providing a high-quality and, importantly, independent statistical service.

I thank the Minister of State. Apologies have been received from Deputy Doherty.

I thank the Minister of State for appearing before the committee and for his address. I have a couple of questions on various sectors. Is the CSO satisfied with the resources available to it to carry out its job, which is expanding? Has it the structures and finances to deal with the upcoming situation?

There is provision in its Vote. Given the multi-annual cycle of statistics, demand arises in certain years because of particular surveys, for example, the national census. If the Deputy looks through the Vote's various elements, he will see there can be a fluctuation in spending between years. With the National Statistics Board, NSB, the Government is strategically supporting our national and EU responsibilities. Provision is made in the budgeting. For example, a significant underspend is projected in certain heads and there were also underspends last year, but the CSO will roll out the national census next year. We have provided for the needs of the census. It is important we do so to meet our national and EU obligations.

Is the CSO satisfied with the quality of facilities available to it and the quality of the product it produces in the Irish and European contexts, in which respect it has ongoing requirements? It appears that the CSO will have an expanded role. Has it done the necessary forward planning to accommodate such a requirement?

It will have an expanded role. Through the NSB, we have set out a new strategy for 2021 to 2026. It has been authorised. At its launch in recent weeks, I spoke about having trusted and independent sources of data. I am trying to embed some of the key priorities that the CSO has set out. We will support those priorities, for example, monitoring transformations in the environment, economy and society to assist policymakers, communicating data and taking action to enhance official statistics and sources. Embedding Eircode postcodes in all public sector data holdings is work the NSB wants to drive forward, and the CSO will have an important involvement in that. Big data has a potentially valuable role in the compilation of official statistics.

Although we are discussing this year's Vote, I can go into more detail on the strategic direction, which is about using many of the other official data sources and how that informs our public policymaking and decision-making. With the NSB, the CSO will move in an ambitious direction. We can forward the 2021-26 strategic report that was set out by the NSB. It is important we support and fund the strategy, and that is our intention.

Has the CSO or any other office under the Minister of State's remit been asked about a national identifier, for example, a patient identifier in our health services, that would bring data together in a way that assisted the delivery of services? Does that fall within those offices' remits?

As the Deputy is aware, e-health activity is led by the Department of Health specifically. As part of our engagement with Europe, e-health is referenced in the recovery and resilience facility. The national recovery plan was launched this week. We all recognise we need to strengthen the provision of e-health, but I do not know whether it is a direct competence of the CSO. The combined data we take from healthcare is important for making informed public policy decisions.

In light of the recent cyberattack, how protected is the CSO? Have there been previous attempts? Has the CSO taken specific precautions, given it has at its disposal a considerable bank of statistics?

The CSO was not subjected to the recent cyberattack that impacted the health service. It monitors its data and systems constantly and tries to follow best practice in that regard.

My final question is on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. Are they satisfied their technology is up to date? Have particular shortcomings been flagged? If so, what is being done about them?

No specific shortcoming in either office has been brought to my attention. If there is any, we can communicate that to the committee. The Estimates set out their respective Votes.

I apologise for being late. I had some technical difficulties, but I seem to be okay now.

Ar dtús, gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as teacht os comhair an choiste. Tá sé i gcónaí suimiúil nuair a thógann daoine an t-am chun labhairt linn faoi chúrsaí éagsúla. The Minister of State said, "The single largest casualty by scale was the postponement of the census of population from 2021 to 2022." As part of the recovery package that was just announced, there will be a new online facility for people to fill out the census. Will the Minister of State tell us a little more about that? I apologise if Deputy Durkan has already asked about this matter. I did not hear all of his questions.

I can go into some detail on that. The census is a large-scale field operation that involves more than 5,000 staff and a number of visits to every household over a ten-week period. The success of the census requires the co-operation of every household. The decision to postpone it was not taken lightly. As the Deputy will appreciate, foremost in that decision was the safety of the public and the field staff.

The census of population is a major logistical challenge and will commence in 2022. There will be technological advances, which are referenced in one of the subheads.

In subhead 4 the technological advances relate to the census management system, which is in the fieldwork itself. What is being explored specifically in terms of an online census is for 2026. That is the distinction earmarked. A census case management system will be used. The Deputy will see some of the detail on that in subheads 4 and 5. That is related specifically to the fieldwork and the 5,000 plus people who will be involved in it. The online response facility will be considered in respect of the 2026 census which, as the Deputy knows, will be 100 years since the first State census, so it is really important.

I have a question on the census and the Irish language. It is my understanding there is a question about speaking Irish, and around 2 million people would say "Yes". Can there be a follow-up question, potentially, that drills down into this and is a bit more specific? Can oral or written ability be rated so we can clarify the level of Irish spoken? That would be very useful.

It is a very good suggestion. The questions and follow-on questions have already been set. My understanding is that much of the paperwork around the census has already been printed in preparation for what would have gone ahead this year. I will ask my officials to take the Deputy's suggestion back as part of considerations for the 2026 census. We obviously want to get an in-depth picture of the Irish language in every community, as the Deputy said, and be able to respond properly to that. Unfortunately, the one thing the census has shown is the need to try to rebalance the trend in the right direction with everything else we are trying to do with the Irish language. I know the Deputy shares that aim. I am very much open to allowing her, or anyone else, engage prior to the 2026 census. There is a methodical process around that where a range of questions and options are examined. We will take the Deputy's feedback on that as well.

I thank the Minister of State. That is very interesting. That will be great, especially since 2026 will be a centenary year. I fully understand the forms are already printed. We will not ask the CSO to redo and reprint them all.

I have another question on Vote 6. I did not realise this discussion was really about the census. If the Minister of State does not have the response to Vote 6, that is fine. I do not exactly remember this when I filled out the census form, but an issue was brought to my attention relating to people being asked to clarify their religion. A variety of different religions are listed and then there is "other". Somebody questioned whether being an atheist or of no religion could be included in that. That was brought to my attention. I do not recall from reading the census what is there, but it is something I have been asked about previously.

I will ask officials in the Department and the CSO to communicate to the Deputy the options that will be available to people when they are asked that particular question. I do not have that information to hand, but I will try to get it to the Deputy.

I have a question about Vote 6. It does not relate to the census, so maybe it can be brought back if the Minister of State does not have the answer. It relates to legal fees paid to counsel. Under Vote 6, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor stated that it is fair to say fees paid by the State are lower than those in private practice. I am quite interested in the State's overall level of expenditure on legal fees. It is information that is not collected by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In the context of the statement that fees paid by the State are lower than those in private practice, has a study been carried out on this? As I said, it does not relate to the census, so if it is something that can be brought back to me, that would be great.

For clarification, the Minister of State is dealing with Votes on the Department of the Taoiseach and the Central Statistics Office. The Deputy is free to ask him the question.

I thank the Chair. When I joined the meeting all I heard was "census" so I got confused.

I can answer the Deputy's question on Vote 6. I will give her the position, and if she needs more detail, I will try to get it to her directly. The Deputy is referencing Vote 6, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. The majority of expenditure on external expertise by that office and by the Office of the Attorney General is on engagement with counsel, whose services are required so the State can adequately defend itself in legal proceedings taken against it and ensure it is not exposed to significant financial or reputational risk as a result of such proceedings. They jointly operate a system of evaluating the work done by each counsel and then decide on the appropriate fee in each and every case.

The Chief State Solicitor's office has, since 2019, instigated a far more intensive process of evaluation of fees to be paid in a tight budgetary management process. This is being supported in that particular office by the work of a high-level professional fees control group and greater guidance to staff. The methodologies for assessing fees at the higher levels consist of the application of the assessment process. Following nomination by the Attorney General, counsel undertake the legal work and submit a fee note. That is evaluated and a decision is then made on what level of fees are reasonable for the work, taking into account the complexity of the case, the amount of work done by counsel and his or her performance.

As the Deputy stated, it is fair to say that fees paid by the State are lower than those in private practice. Expenditure under that particular subhead is difficult to predict as it is a demand-led service. The number of cases before the courts and the value of actions taken against the State is outside the control of that particular office. Projections are based on expenditure in previous years but it can fluctuate as well. If the Deputy needs any further detail, I can ask that it is sent to her.

I have a quick follow-up question. I note the Minster of State said there are cost controls on legal fees. Is that across all Departments?

I would have to follow up with each of the Departments. Cost controls are a feature of financial prudence across every Department, but I would have to follow up with every Department. I am here on behalf of the Department of the Taoiseach, but I can try to get that information to the Deputy.

On the different offices, there are consultancy services, value for money and policy reviews-----

Which office did the Chair reference?

The Department of the Taoiseach. The table in section 2 relates to consultancy services, value for money and policy reviews. That same subhead is used for the Office of the Attorney General and other offices as you go through the Estimates. What consultancy services are being talked about, generally? Who carries out the value for money and policy reviews? In 2020, the cost was €55,000 while it is €30,000 in 2021. That is just for the Central Statistics Office. I ask for information on what that heading is all about in each of the offices. Is the Comptroller and Auditor General not the one who carries out value for money reviews, or is there another purpose for it?

On Vote 2, which is the Department of the Taoiseach, the Chair will see there are currently no plans to engage consultancy services in 2021 but provision is made for them. No expenditure was incurred in the provision for 2020, for example. On the CSO-----

To clarify, under the Department of the Taoiseach there was provision of €18,000 in 2020 for consultancy services, value for money and policy reviews.

The total was €18,000. Likewise, in 2021, €18,000 is set aside. Presumably the €18,000 in 2020 was spent. Is that correct?

The provisional outturn for 2020 was zero.

Why is it here? I am looking at 2020 Estimates. I see the figure of €18,000 for administration, and in 2021 the same figure is restated. From looking at this it would appear that €18,000 was spent in 2020 and I am just wondering what that is. I will point out, again, that under the Office of the Attorney General-----

To be clear, provision was made for that last year but nothing was spent on that last year.

Nothing was spent. That is just a provision then for 2021?

It is a provision. There are currently no plans to engage consultancy services in 2021, but a provision is made in case the need arises.

Under the Office of the Attorney General, on page 3, again there is the same heading. For 2020 it says the current total is €43,000 and in 2021 it says that the current total is €35,000. Is the Minister of State saying that under that heading nothing was spent either? Why put it in if nothing is being spent?

While the Minister of State is looking at that, the Central Statistics Office is exactly the same. It puts in a total of €55,000 in 2020. It allows €30,000 in 2021.

On the Office of the Attorney General, the subhead includes provision for information technology-related consultancy fees and for other consultancies. The savings in 2020 arose from fewer than anticipated audits as the office outsources its internal audit function. The 2021 allocation reflects the fact that the office expects a full list of a series of internal audits to be undertaken during 2021. That relates to the Office of the Attorney General.

On the Central Statistics Office figures, the subhead provides for the fees and expenses in respect of mainly IT or non-IT value for money and policy reviews by the office. The allocation for consultancy spending remains small and reflects Government policy to limit consultancy costs. Typically with the CSO it related to external advice, for example, for IT-related advice. That was the majority of the spend there. As the Chairman will see, the allocation was quite small.

It may have been quite small, but I am interested that under every office - the Central Statistics Office, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Department of the Taoiseach - these figures are included in the Estimates. It appears these Estimates for 2020 were spent and there is an arrangement in 2021 for a similar spend. Are these consultancy services, value for money and policy reviews carried out by an outside company? Are they private companies? Does all of this work go to tender? Are they outside companies that come in, are they in-house arrangements, or what?

Each section and each Vote, whether it is the CSO or the Department of the Taoiseach, must report on each subhead where a provision is made, regardless of whether it is spent. It is for accounting purposes. I will ask that a detailed report be sent to the Chairman on the mechanics of how any consultancy is sourced. I will ask that this information be provided to the committee.

On the procurement process also, relative to that. I thank the Minister of State for that.

I wish to check the detail on the Department staff and numbers of grades at the end of 2020. There is a grade of Secretary General, and is it correct that there is then a second Secretary General? Are there two? This is on page 16, under the Department staff and numbers of grades heading. There are two Secretaries General in that Department. Is that correct?

Yes. That is correct.

What is the breakdown and function of each one? I do not need detail, just in general.

I understand there have been two Secretaries General for many years now. The Secretary General to the Government is, as the Chairman is aware, Mr. Martin Fraser, who appeared before the committee yesterday. The second Secretary General is Mr. John Callinan, who has responsibility for EU and international affairs primarily. This has been the case for a number of years, I do not know exactly since what year. That has been the position for a number of years.

Yesterday before the committee, Mr. Fraser made the point that there is really no head of the Civil Service. There is no one person who takes the responsibility of the totality of the civil servants who are Secretaries General. Is this something that should be addressed so there is a Secretary General, perhaps the Government Secretary General, who should be responsible for the others? It seems odd not to have a person who is the head of an organisation. Perhaps the Minister of State would take up this point.

There is a note on the end of the table that says the staff and grades figures exclude politically appointed staff, commissions of investigation, tribunals of inquiry, citizens' assemblies and so on. Will the Minister of State give a breakdown of politically appointed staff and the other headings of commissions of investigation, tribunals of inquiry, citizens' assemblies and so on, and how all of these are handled?

I can get all of that information submitted to the Chairman and the committee. There is no problem to do that.

And the costings.

Will the Minister of State give the committee a list of the tribunals, and maybe an account of where they stand in the context of their processes and work? Are they coming to an end? Perhaps the Minister of State will start with the Moriarty tribunal.

Yes, I can go through them now if the Chairman wishes.

There is the Moriarty tribunal and then there are the Cregan and Cooke investigations. As the committee is aware, the Moriarty tribunal was established in October 1997 and published its first report in 2006, with its second report in March 2011. Following completion of its final report the tribunal is dealing with applications for third-party costs. The tribunal is also subject to a number of legal proceedings. The total amount paid by this Department in respect of the tribunal from its inception in 1997 up to the end of April 2021 was €66.3 million. It will not be possible to ascertain the overall cost until all third-party costs have been settled. Provision of €4.209 million is included in the Estimates for 2021.

The Cregan commission of investigation, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, commission, was established by Government order in June 2015 following consultation with Oireachtas parties. The commission was originally required to investigate certain transactions, activities and management decisions of the IBRC between January 2009 and February 2013. Mr. Justice Cregan submitted an interim report in November 2015 that raised a number of significant issues that had arisen with regard to legal and professional privilege, banking confidentiality, and where the commission considered changes were required to its terms of reference. New legislation, the Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) Act 2016, was enacted to provide a new legal basis for the commission.

The commission’s terms of reference were amended following consultation with the Opposition representatives to provide that the first module of its work was the transaction with Siteserv plc.

In 2020, a total expenditure of €2.2 million was incurred by the IBRC commission with costs since its establishment in 2015 of €9.9 million. The commission’s original deadline for reporting, as members know, was 31 December 2015. The commission submitted its ninth interim report on 8 April 2021 in which it requested a further extension of it timeframe for reporting on the Siteserv transaction, until 31 October 2021. The Taoiseach granted the commission’s request for a further extension to its timeframe to report, given the apparent advanced stage of preparation of its final report. If the commission’s request was not granted it would have effectively dissolves the commission with no findings to show for in return for the substantial costs incurred to date and those incurred but not yet paid.

In relation to the Cooke commission of investigation, the NAMA commission was established on 3 June 2017. Mr. Justice John Cooke is the commission’s sole member. In the first module of its work, the commission is charged with investigating the sale by NAMA of its Project Eagle portfolio. The commission’s original deadline for reporting was 31 June 2018, but following several requests from the commission, its timeframe for reporting has been extended. Most recently, in March 2021, the Taoiseach granted the commission’s request for an extension of its timeframe for reporting until the end of September 2021.

In 2020, a total expenditure of €855,000 was incurred by the NAMA commission with a total cost since its establishment in 2017 of €3 million. There is a provision in the 2021 Estimates for both commissions for €4.43 million.

The Minister of State referred to Moriarty, IBRC and NAMA. The Moriarty tribunal continues to run in terms of costs. Is there any thing the Department can do to speed up the settlement of those costs in order to have them dealt with once and for all? Perhaps it can take initiatives to ensure we save taxpayers' money.

As the Chair is aware, work is ongoing to finalise the costs and the continuity of the Moriarty tribunal, to which he referred. I can ask the Department officials who are directly liaising with the Moriarty tribunal to submit a note to the committee about that interaction but until third-party costs are addressed, it will not be able to conclude.

In relation to the IBRC commission, the application was made and the Taoiseach is considering that. In that consideration, can the Department of the Taoiseach discuss with him the end date in this regard or are there any controls in relation to bringing it to an end, while at the same time dealing with all of the issues that are there?

That is the balance which is being struck. The ninth interim report was given on 8 April 2021 and the timeframe has been extended to 31 October 2021. The Taoiseach granted that extension, given the apparent advanced stage of preparation of its final report. If that had not been granted it would have effectively dissolved the commission without providing any findings, with limited return for the substantial costs incurred to date, as well as those incurred but not yet paid. That was the basis for the extension.

The Minister of State will have heard umpteen times in the Dáil from many other Members - I have an interest in this case - about the death of Shane O’Farrell. It is a significant issue and it runs across a number of Departments including the DPP, and so on. A scoping exercise is being undertaken. I raise it as often as I can with the Taoiseach because this is now the tenth year since the murder of that young man on the roadside. It is two years and almost six months since the scoping exercise commenced. The family is deeply upset that the scoping exercise has not concluded and the work of the inquiry, or whatever may be suggested, is more limited than it had expected. Is there anything that can be done through the Taoiseach’s office to speed up that process and ensure we have a wide-ranging investigation into all aspects leading up to this young man’s death and thereafter. I refer to the failure of the courts, for example, the failure of the DPP’s office and the failure of the Garda in particular, in this regard. There are many other questions Lucia O’Farrell, her husband and family have. Does the Minister of State think that, in the interest of fairness, it could be dealt with quickly? Can you bring that to the Department’s attention?

I acknowledge the Chair's concerns and the frustrations of the family. I was a member of the previous Oireachtas justice committee, and I am aware of the significant difficulty and trauma this ongoing issue is causing the family. I know the Chair has spoken about it regularly. I will reflect that to the Taoiseach and will ask him to follow up with the Chair directly. I acknowledge everything the Chair has said and I will ask him and his office to follow up with the Chair.

The Minister of State might also remind him of two other matters. I raised it with previous holders of the office of Taoiseach when they came before the committee, so I am not doing anything extraordinary in raising it here again with the Minister of State representing the Taoiseach. I refer to the Grace case and the 46 other cases which are being dealt with by the Department of Health. It is shocking that the State would not show more compassion in respect of those cases. These were non-verbal, mentally challenged young men and women. We do not know the outcome. While the investigations are ongoing, it has now been years spent on this. As Head of Government, I ask the Taoiseach to ensure this is brought to a speedy conclusion, not just for Grace, as she was known, but for the other 46 individuals. It is a reflection on the Government when we do not show this type of compassion and understanding in cases like these. I ask that the Minister of State ensures he is given that information.

As for the whistleblowing legislation, which this committee is undertaking to review on foot of the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, it is greatly important that there be a whole-of-government intervention in this regard because it does not pertain to just one Department but will spread across numerous Departments, as it has done. There are still outstanding cases being fought in the courts. There is one case in particular about which I have spoken to the Taoiseach and the Minister. It is to do with a whistleblower in Cork Institute of Technology, CIT.

When these matters are not dealt with, they linger on and affect the lives of people, whether they are those generally associated with the Grace case or the individual in the CIT case, as well as other whistleblowers. It is likewise with the Shane O’Farrell case. Perhaps driven through the Taoiseach’s office, we should be establishing a more efficient manner in dealing with all of these matters in order that they can be heard publicly and we can learn from the processes and give some closure and comfort to the families and individuals concerned.

As I have said to the Minister of State previously, I have raised this matter with the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, when he was Taoiseach, and the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, when they were before the committee. My intention was to raise it with the current Taoiseach, who is not before us. Perhaps the Minister of State will take it to the Office of the Taoiseach and ensure that we get some sort of response.

I will follow up on those matters and ask the Office of the Taoiseach to respond to the Chairman.

On the legal fees paid by the Department of the Taoiseach and the various agencies under its remit, are the legal services procured in a way that is open and transparent and gives everyone a chance to submit a quote for the service? How is the Government ensuring value for money in that area? Could the committee have a list setting out how much the various barristers and senior counsel are paid each year through the Department of the Taoiseach relative to all of the agencies that are under the Department? We got that information in the past and I ask that the Minister of State investigate the matter and provide us with the detail.

My understanding is that legal fees arising in any particular Department would be dealt with by the State Claims Agency or the Office of the Attorney General, for example. They have set out the detail under the various subheads but I will ask that a note on the matter be submitted to the committee.

They set out the information in general terms. For example, fees to counsel are mentioned and there is a reference to 40% of the expenditure of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It would be interesting to get deeper information on the individuals who are in receipt of this money from the State and any other information the Minister of State can give us on those legal costs. While we are discussing legal costs, is there any intention to reform or review the workings of these offices, especially the DPP?

I will ask that any further detail on those particular subheads be provided for the Chairman.

On the DPP and any specific reforms, I will have to get that information sent on to the Chairman. I do not have direct responsibility for the DPP but I will-----

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of the Attorney General are within the remit of the Department of the Taoiseach. The Minister of State might ask if any reform is being discussed, if the offices have set out any requirements they may have, and if they have sufficient staff and so on to do all the necessary work. We often hear of difficulties in getting cases dealt with in an efficient way. I wonder if we could have a note on that to give us an understanding of how all of this is being achieved and if further financial input is required.

I will ask for that information to be sent to the Chairman.

Will the Minister of State indicate what plans there are for the Citizens' Assembly for this year? An allocation of €1.865 million is being provided for it in the 2021 Estimates. What work will the Citizens' Assembly undertake with that funding?

The details on the Citizens' Assembly are due to be announced shortly and the detail underpinning that Estimate will be more evident at that point. I will go through it. As the Chairman knows, the current Citizens' Assembly on gender equality was established in January 2020. Prior to Covid-19, it was expected to conclude its work in summer 2020 and it held its final meetings on 17 and 18 April, including voting. The Citizens' Assembly published its results on the 45 key recommendations recently.

Under the programme for Government, the Government aims to establish a citizens' assembly this year to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local Government structures best suited for Dublin. This citizens' assembly could be established shortly with a new chairperson and new members following completion of the current Citizens' Assembly.

The programme for Government also provides for the establishment of citizens' assemblies to consider matters relating to biodiversity, drug use and the future of education. The timing of these future citizens' assemblies is under consideration, as are the format and methodology they might take. Any decision will be guided by the experience of the current Citizens' Assembly and the evaluation of the independent researcher who has been appointed to monitor and record, among other things, the perceived deliberative quality of the Citizens' Assembly. As I said, there will be further detail on those shortly.

Where will that come through? Will it be through the Office of the Taoiseach or is it separate from the Citizens' Assembly?

The Office of the Taoiseach has responsibility for the Citizens' Assembly. It is in our Vote.

I raise the issue of the different committees we have in these Houses to make a point to the Minister of State. Last night, at another meeting, I raised with the Taoiseach the need to have someone as the head of civil servants. The point was made yesterday by the Secretary General, Martin Fraser, and I am hopeful the Taoiseach might comment on that. At yesterday's meeting, the Taoiseach may have misunderstood me as I was not talking generally about civil servants. Rather, I was talking specifically about the Secretaries General in terms of their appearances before committees. That needs to be strengthened in the context of the work that committees do to ensure that we achieve the type of transparency and accountability that are required. The Taoiseach, as the Head of Government, should reinforce that point with the Secretaries General of the different Departments to assist the committees in their work.

The Minister of State is going through the Estimates with the committee because we could not find a date to accommodate the Taoiseach. It is most unusual that the Taoiseach would not be present for the presentation of his Department's Estimates. I hope his absence today will not develop into practice in future because people look for transparency and accountability. These meetings have always been good exchanges in the past, including when the committee met the previous Taoiseach and current Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, his predecessor as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and those who went before them. They appeared before the committee to explain the figures in detail.

The Minister of State has to deal with a number of questions by way of providing further information. I ask him to do that as efficiently as he can.

I appreciate the committee's time. My understanding is that it has been the norm for many years that the Taoiseach attends the first session and the Chief Whip attends the second, which deals with the CSO. The Taoiseach dealt with the Estimates in the previous session. I will respond in writing to all the specific queries that members have raised. I thank members for their time.

I would like to say that is a fact but it is not. Normally, the Taoiseach comes before the committee and presents the Estimates for his Department. The Minister or Minister of State with responsibility for the CSO then attends separately. When the Taoiseach attended the first meeting we did not complete the review of the Estimate for his Department. It was expected that he would return and finish that Estimate but that did not happen. That practice should not prevail. I am making that specific point, not just for my chairmanship and the current members of this committee, but for the future. It is not accurate to say the Taoiseach presented and that this was a meeting to deal only with the CSO Estimate. That is not a fact and the Taoiseach is quite aware of that.

We said before concluding the previous meeting that the Members had not finished the examination of the Estimates. The reason we are dealing with it here today is because of the timeframe involved. If other Members have questions that have not been dealt with, they can ask them now, and, if not, I will bring the meeting to a close. The clerk will circulate the information requested when it is received.