Business of Committee

We will commence in public session. Item no. 1 is the minutes of the meeting of 8 October, 2015. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. Are there any matters arising from the minutes? No.

The clerk has spoken to Mr. Martin McGuinness, MLA, Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive. I understand that arrangements are being put in place should Mr. McGuinness wish to give evidence to the committee.

Does he wish to give evidence to the committee?

He has indicated that he does. I presume we shall see if that is still the case. We will come back with a date if the matter is progressed.

We requested that he clarify the reasons he would want to come before the committee. Has he given the clerk an indication as to why? I understand the clerk cannot speak.

He was in contact with the clerk. The Deputy First Minister wants to put on the official record his knowledge and involvement in respect of the sale of Project Eagle. His request to do that arises from the correspondence received by this committee from the Minister for Finance.

Am I correct that he will appear before the committee on his own and that there will be no further developments or will NAMA representatives be present?

I presume he will make an opening statement and answer any questions which members may have. We will allow him to deal with the issues that he believes arise from the documents that were released. That will be the extent of it.

Would it be appropriate that NAMA would be present to respond?

I do not think it is necessary to have NAMA at the meeting because he will be responding generally to what is written in the information that we all received from the Department of Finance. He will be, if you like, giving his response to that on the record. If there are issues arising from that we can take them up with NAMA on another occasion. I do not think there is anything-----

Will a further invitation to attend before the committee be issued to Deputy Wallace?

Three or four invitations have issued to Deputy Wallace at this stage. When I met him in the Dáil last night I asked him if he would come before the committee again so that we could have his views on the record.

I heard about that.

The response from Deputy Wallace is that he does not want to appear before the committee at this stage.

On the letter received from Mr. Jamie Bryson, the request to him was for written evidence. That is what was being referred to in light of what he had said. I, and I am sure other members, would like to know the content of what he might say. However, I understand that is not forthcoming and so we will leave that aside, deal with the other issues around this and move on.

The next item is correspondence received since the meeting on Thursday, 8 October 2015. No. 3A is correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers. Nos. 3A.1 and 3A.2 are correspondence received from the Mr. Joe Hamill, Secretary General, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Mr. Paul Quinn, Chief Procurement Officer, Office of Government Procurement, respectively, re air services to the Aran Islands. This is to be noted and published. I note that a one year contact has been signed and a new competition will be held. The correspondence does not outline why a new competition is necessary and also the cost of the service was to be capped at €920,000 but the one year’s extension will cost €1.6 million. The Department will have to deal with these two points.

I asked for a departmental note on this matter. There are issues arising with regard to the Office of Government Procurement in particular and to the construction of the tender. We are back into the same territory we were in that only a one year extension is being granted, such that a new tender will have to be drawn up and so on. In my opinion, the Office of Government Procurement did not do its job properly, given one of the people who applied for the contract did not even have a licence to operate out of Galway Airport. That is a very basic mistake. The committee has already dealt with this matter in the context of the amount of money involved. However, I believe it is within the remit of the committee to ask the Department and Office of Government Procurement to appear before it to answer questions in regard to the construction of the tender that is to be re-issued within a short time.

The people in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and other aviation entities in this country to whom I have spoken about this issue are incredulous with regard to how this could have happened and at the number of basic mistakes made by not only the Office of Government Procurement but the Department. The committee should do more than just note this correspondence. I acknowledge we are nearing the end of the current Administration but I think we should ask officials from the Department to appear before us to deal with this issue.

We can do that but we will have to review the committee's work programme first. We will seek a note from the Department in the first instance, following which we will decide on a date for the meeting on the matter. The clerk will review the work programme to determine on what dates the Department could be asked to appear the committee.

The head of the Office of Government Procurement is the person who needs to come in.

Officials from the Office of Government Procurement are due to appear before the committee on 19 November. We could, perhaps, ask officials of the Department to also attend on that date.

I think we should do that. Is the Chairman agreeable to the departmental officials being asked to attend the meeting on 19 November with the Office of Government Procurement?

Yes, as part of that session.

Do we know who will be representing the Office of Government Procurement on 19 November?

The person who deals specifically with procurement and the accounting officer, Mr. Watt.

I agree with Deputy Deasy in this matter. Does the Office of Government Procurement liaise with all Departments and agencies on procurement matters such that the overall public procurement process is overseen by it?

No, in general terms the Department and the procurement section work with other Departments and agencies but within Departments and agencies there are procurement processes that are undertaken that would be separate. It would depend on the value of what is being offered.

Am I correct that there are matters that would be dealt with unilaterally without any monitoring or oversight?

Perhaps Mr. McCarthy would comment.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The Office of Government Procurement is focused more on strategic and cross-cutting procurements, including strategic direction and analysis of what the spend is, identification of major suppliers, common types of procurement and putting frameworks in place that are then available for public bodies to draw from. Each entity should have a procurement office or section depending on the scale of procurement. They would procure particularly specialised types of procurement that would not be standard. For example, a public service obligation service in the transport area would have a large element of autonomy within the Department in that regard and could also draw on expert assistance from the Office of Government Procurement.

There is no monitoring mechanism operating across the Departments that is dealt with by the Office of Government Procurement.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Not that I am aware of.

It is more an enabling facility than a monitoring one.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is probably fair. The expectation would be that the annual financial audit would focus to a certain extent on procurement and implementation within the individual entities. There would be reporting by Departments and agencies to the Office of Government Procurement, in terms of what they are spending, how they are spending it and who they are spending it with but that, as I understand it, is to feed into the analytic process undertaken by the office.

So there is no consolidation system in place. In other words, there can be a series of procurement entities operating that are not monitored centrally from any source.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Not external to the body. However, one would expect that there would be co-ordination within a Department with substantial procurement activity. For instance, the HSE, which is probably untypical because of its scale, would have a national procurement function that should be setting frameworks and guidelines for how procurement is to be done locally to the extent that this is permitted.

The problem is that we have found that those guidelines have been more honoured in the breach, although that might be a bit strong.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think that might be a bit strong.

Nevertheless is this a matter that we could explore with the Office of Government Procurement when it next appears before the committee?

I would say yes.

There seems to be a gap between the theory, planning and guidelines-----

And the improvements necessary.

-----and the actual implementation. There is a plethora of procurement entities that seem to be abroad and operate almost on a stand-alone capacity even within Departments.

Yes, we can do that. Correspondence has been received from Mr. Tom Boland, Chief Executive Officer, Higher Education Authority which is a follow-up to our PAC meeting of 24 September. There is quite a lot of detail in the correspondence which members may wish to take up with the HEA when it comes before us again.

Correspondence has been received from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, which is a follow-up to our meeting of 24 September 2015, to be noted and published.

Correspondence dated 19 October 2015 has been received from the HSE which is a further follow-up to our PAC meeting of 23 April 2015, to be noted and published. Correspondence dated 19 October has been received from Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú re the 2012 financial statements of the NCAD, to be noted and published. Correspondence dated 21 October has been received from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General, Department of Health on the independence of selection processes for reports being conducted by the HSE.

I suppose this is something that we can bring up with the HSE. My question is a positive one. We spoke to the Secretary General of the Department of Health a couple of weeks ago. He followed through on what we asked him to do, to firm up what we had proposed in committee here over the past year and to put together an independent panel to deal with reviews and reports that are commissioned by the HSE by people who would not be former HSE employees. For the first time ever we have definite proposals in front of us and the question for the committee is when are they going to be implemented. It is a question that we can ask Mr. O'Brien today. We are moving in the right direction by having the proposals in black and white. Today will be about trying to figure out when the HSE will sign off on the proposals.

Yes. Correspondence dated 21 October 2015 has been received from the HSE which is a follow-up to our meeting on 23 April 2015, to be noted and published. I ask members to note the date of some of this correspondence from the HSE. The meetings were held on 23 April and just before the today's meeting and late yesterday we received this response from the HSE. That indicates there is a need to get Departments and agencies to respond to us within a given time period after the PAC hearing. I have not had a chance to look down through this correspondence but maybe members have. If anybody has an issue he or she can raise it today or it can be raised at our next meeting. This is an example of where improvements can be made and I have asked the clerk to the committee to notify the HSE of this matter.

The next item is individual correspondence. We have received correspondence from Mr. Mark Fitzsimons, secretary, Louth Environmental Group re waste of public moneys, to be noted and forwarded to the local government auditor for a note on the matters raised in this correspondence.

We have received correspondence from Mr. Harry Lawlor, HL Commodity Foods re units 6 and 7, Hospital Enterprise Centre, to be noted and published. I ask the clerk to review the file as this particular issues dates back and to bring the members up to date.

Clerk to the Committee

Yes.

I also ask him to circulate a note on the matter.

Clerk to the Committee

Yes.

I also suggest that following our examination of this matter, which is a serious issue for those members who dealt with it at the time, that if the note is unsatisfactory as far as we are concerned then we should set a date for bringing in the Department to explain what has happened here.

Correspondence dated 10 October 2015 has been received from Mr. Eugene McKenna, former CEO of WIT Diverse Campus Services, to be noted and presumably published.

Clerk to the Committee

We can publish it, yes.

We will now have to bring in WIT, the HEA and the Department to deal with the issues that have been raised as part of this correspondence and in the audit certificate of the Comptroller and Auditor General. This project would now be finished at a cost of €9.7 million had the project not been stopped. It will now cost €14 million and funding of €7.5 million is now required. On the last day the Department was here I think indications were given that the figure would be approximately €4 million. There is a significant difference between the figures that we received at that time and the figures that are being suggested in the correspondence received from Mr. McKenna. This is not just general correspondence. It is backed up by internal correspondence between banks and various parts of the college working out how this project was to be stopped at that time, the warnings that were given and the fact that the costs would be far greater at the end of the day to complete the project. I understand that the project has still not been completed and to do so will require considerable funding. We will come to this matter again in the context of our work programme but the HEA, with the Department and WIT, will have to be brought in to discuss this issue and other issues arising from what is happening in WIT. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Correspondence has been received from Mr. Jamie Bryson re a request for written evidence. We have already dealt with this matter. Correspondence dated 15 October 2015 has been received from Ms Anne Graham, Chief Executive Officer, National Transport Authority re bus rapid transit proposals, to be noted, published and forwarded to Mr. Thomas McKeon. Correspondence dated 20 October 2015 has been received from the HSE re prescribed drugs and the issue of branded products and inter-changeability, to be noted and forwarded to Mr. Joseph Haire. We are dealing with issues relating to drugs payments today and members can also raise this matter.

Correspondence dated 20 October 2015 has been received from the HSE re North Meath Community Development Association, to be noted and forwarded to Mr. Ronnie Owens. Members can raise this matter with the HSE today. There was further correspondence on this matter issued to members, I think overnight, by e-mail from Mr. Owens. I just happened to see it. He has asked us to urgently address the fact that the HSE had an issue with, I think, arbitration and to tease this matter out with it today, if we can.

Correspondence has been received from Ms Catherine Cox, the Carers Association, re insufficient funding and poor management in services for children with disabilities, to be noted and published. This matter can be raised today with the HSE and we have put them on notice of same.

No. 3C is documents relating to today's meeting. Nos. 3C.1 to 3C.4 are briefing documents and an opening statement for today's meeting. All to be noted and published.

The next item is reports, statements and accounts received since our meeting of 8 October. I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to comment, if he has a comment on any of them.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No. 4.2 refers to Coláiste Mhuire gan Smál, Ollscoil Luimnigh which is the Mary Immaculate College of education. The 2012 financial statements have just been submitted. They were certified in October of 2014 so I am not clear on what the reason is for the delay. The 2013 financial statements have since been certified on 25 May 2015 and they have been presented by this date so I think there is a problem.

The matters drawn attention to in the audit certificate relate to the recognition of a deferred pension funding asset which is a standard issue in relation to universities and university level bodies. Also, I draw attention to the quite late review of the effectiveness of the system of internal financial control by the college.

With the Athlone Institute of Technology-----

I wish to discuss No. 4.2. Where does the fault lie in regard to the accounts being certified and then being presented here to us?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

My understanding is that they were with the Department rather than with the college. The college submitted them to the Department relatively soon after the certification. I do not know what the reason is.

Should we ask the Department for an explanation for Nos. 12, 13 and 14? If they have all come together, when ---

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, No. 14 is not completed yet but Nos. 12 and 13 should both have been with the committee by now.

We will ask the Department the reasons for that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Regarding Athlone Institute of Technology, I am drawing attention to instances of non-compliance with national and EU procurement guidelines to a value of €1.6 million. As we have discussed previously, that is a problem across the third level sector.

The Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board report is another one which is late and should have been with the committee previously. In addition, the board did not carry out a review of the effectiveness of the system of internal financial control. Regarding the Legal Aid Board, which is No. 4.8 in the documentation, attention is drawn to a provision being made by the board in respect of an assessment raised by Revenue for incorrect tax treatment of mediators engaged by the board. On No. 4.9, the National Transport Authority has incurred cumulative non-effective expenditure amounting to €135,000 on rent and associated costs related to office space which has been sub-let by the authority since July 2013. It is surplus space that the authority inherited which has a long lease. The authority has been able to sub-let it but not at full cost and so far, it has incurred €135,000 in that regard.

The rest are clear audit opinions.

We note all of these accounts. We will now move on to the work programme. The Dáil is not sitting next week. On 5 November we will meet officials from the Department of Justice and Equality to discuss prisons and the development of prison accommodation in Dublin, under Chapter 9. We will meet representatives from the Office of the Attorney General the following week, then the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and then the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. We will meet representatives of the Office of Government Procurement on 19 November.

Earlier we discussed arranging a meeting with Waterford IT, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills as well as the need to deal with an outstanding matter relating to Cork Institute of Technology. A meeting can be scheduled for 10 December. I suggest that we invite Waterford IT, the HEA, the Department and Cork IT in on the same day and hold two different sessions so that we can complete our investigations into those matters.

Is there any point in asking Carlow IT to come in too, while we are dealing with these matters, or is that something that is completely removed?

The Waterford issue is ---

I know it is different and we should finalise it. That is fair enough.

I did not want to have the two institutes here together because of the proposed amalgamation. I do not want to cast any doubt over that process because the issues are completely different.

When the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine appeared before us some time ago, officials committed to providing, within days, a complete rebuttal to each of the issues raised. To date, however, we have not received it.

Is the Chairman referring to the investigations unit?

I have been corresponding with the Secretary General's office regarding the Tom Galvin case, on the suggestion of the clerk to this committee. The Department has provided me with a general timeline on how it intends to deal with the issue. The new steering group met Mr. Galvin and it believes that a recommendation or decision will be made in December. The Department has acted in that regard and a timeline was officially communicated to me. In fairness, the Department is acting on it.

On the same issue, when the Department officials were in here, they gave a very strong rebuttal of all that we had heard from various parties and we were told that we would get a step by step breakdown of how what we were told was incorrect. I raise this issue again because I have come across another case in County Galway where a family has been treated quite poorly by the special investigations unit. The Department put up a strong defence at that meeting and told us that it would give us a step by step rebuttal of what we had been told. It is unbelievable that we have not received that rebuttal yet.

The commitment was given that day. If Deputy Connaughton has another case now, he should refer it to the clerk of the committee so that we can try to get a response to it. The commitment was clearly given by the Secretary General, on foot of a very strong defence of the Department and the special investigations unit, that he would give a complete response. We had been told certain things but the Secretary General gave the totally opposite view. The least that we can expect is the reply that was promised. Deputy Deasy has had one response in terms of what is going on. I think there may have been one or two other issues that have been dealt with but I will ask the Secretary General to review what was said on that day and to compile a full report, bringing all of the responses together so that we can deal with them. If that does not happen, we can set up a separate meeting where he can be asked to deal with each of the specific issues raised and to give his reply here, on the record. I am proposing that we set that out for the Secretary General so that he is clear about our intention to seek the clarification we need to make up our minds about what happened. Is that agreed?

Agreed. Deputy McFadden has been raising the ward of court report for the last few weeks. Can we get an update on that?

There is nothing back from the Department on that as yet. We will remind the Department again but the Secretary General will be coming before us in the coming weeks anyway.

I will have to get on to the CIA to get an ear piece because I cannot hear the clerk to the committee very well. He could talk up his sleeve to me then.

Deputy Deasy and I visited Moore Street and the general battlefield site on Moore Lane. I was very impressed by the tour we were given. I was impressed by the significance of the site, not just in terms of Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street but the general area. Its value as a tourist destination is enormous. It is as a place where one can sense history as one is told the story while walking through the market. The area is quite dilapidated, however. I know that the Project Jewel portfolio is sold and that some of the properties are now in the ownership of the State. If a sensible approach is taken to the development of the area, some of the other properties that are central to the battlefield area could be saved. The Government should examine that.

It is a policy issue but when we were there we could not help but notice the number of young foreign tourists being brought through the streets, exploring our history. Many of the buildings are dilapidated and do not represent what we all speak about in the context of our 2016 celebrations next year. Some of the plaques are in the wrong location and some are quite dated in terms of their presentation and appearance. From a public interest point of view as well as in terms of the economy and what can be generated by way of tourism, the Minister and the Government should re-examine the battlefield area. They should examine what the families of the 1916 group are trying to achieve and give an appropriate response.

I ask for the appropriate response. Generally, we do not have a role at this stage. It is sold. However, it is only fair, having been invited there, that we reflect on it at this committee.

I am conscious that this is Deputy Costello's constituency and he knows a great deal more about this than I do having been involved in it for years. We are going to bring the Department in with regard to arts and heritage - it will be coming in with regard to the Aer Arann tender document - and surely we can ask the officials at the same meeting when we are going to raise Moore Street what their plans are. It is not clear to me what is going on here. Announcements were made late last year on the development of that battlefield site but they seem to have stalled slightly. It is clear that the people we met are not happy with things like the historic survey that was done on the site. There are other issues as well. Just because we deal with NAMA in this committee, that is not in itself a hook. We can ask about the amounts of money the State is planning to spend to redevelop the site in its entirety and whether or not that will be sufficient when it comes to the relatives. I do not know if we want to ask the relatives in. I think we will just deal with the Department and let it think about what it is going to say to us in the next month. That is enough time for it to put that together if it is coming into us. Can we ask the Department to deal with that when it comes in as well?

Yes. We will indicate to the Department the fact that we were there and visited the site and that we are looking for the general information on it. Then, we will ask the Department to attend, if that is what Deputy Deasy proposes, at an early date. I will ask the clerk to write.

We said 19 November to deal with Aer Arann and the tender. Can we deal with it then?

We will structure the meeting in such a way that people can do that. Is that agreed? Agreed. Is there any other business? No. We have agreed our agenda for next week which is 2014 Annual Report and Appropriation Accounts of the Comptroller and Auditor General - Vote 21: Prisons; Vote 24: Justice and Equality, and Chapter 9: Development of Prison Accommodation in Dublin.