We have a quorum and are now in public session. We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director of audit. Apologies have been received from Deputy Pat Deering. We will take the business of the committee as normal on Thursday next. Today we will be dealing with the 2016 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Vote 1 - President's Establishment. We will also have an update on the 2017 position.
I welcome Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of An Taoiseach who is the Accounting Officer for the Vote relating to the President's Establishment. I thank him making himself available, especially as I understand he had an accident. His arm is in a sling and he is somewhat incapacitated. We wish him a speedy recovery.
I draw the committee's attention to some distinctions relating to Vote 1. First, while Mr. Fraser is the Accounting Officer for Vote 1, he does not have operational responsibility for the Office of the President. Second, our examination will be carried out in a way that respects the constitutional independence of the Office of the President, as per Article 13.8.1 of the Constitution which states, "The President shall not be answerable to either House of the Oireachtas or to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of these powers and functions." I know members appreciate this point.
As Chairman, I want to put the purpose and timing of this particular meeting in context. An Taoiseach discusses the Estimates and related information for Vote 1 before a select committee of the Dáil every year. The related appropriation account is voted on in the Dáil at the end of each year. The actual appropriation accounts for 2017, which include Vote 1, the President's Establishment will be published by the Comptroller and Auditor General on Friday next, 28 September. The Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform will publish the 2019 abridged Estimates for Vote 1, the President's Establishment, as part of his Budget Statement on 9 October. Our role as the Committee of Public Accounts is to complete the cycle by examining the allocation of moneys to the President's Establishment and how they were spent and to look at the governance and oversight measures adopted by the Accounting Officer relating to that expenditure.
Regarding the timing of this meeting, certain questions regarding the President's Establishment were raised over the summer months. The first opportunity this committee had to discuss these was on Thursday last. As already stated, this committee has a clear role in respect of the examination of all voted expenditure. However, I was concerned that we would do so in a way that is respectful of the upcoming election process. As a result, I proposed - and the committee agreed - that this examination should take place at the earliest opportunity and in advance of the closing date for nominations, which is tomorrow. Unfortunately, it was not feasible to hold this meeting any earlier and I wanted to put that on the record.
Before we begin, I want to summarise guidance for members because of the unique nature of this particular Vote. Objective questions relating to oversight and control of moneys allocated to or for the benefit of the President's Establishment are obviously in order. Detailed questions relating to expenditure that would, of their nature, potentially concern decisions or actions of the President are not in order. For other matters, I will carefully weigh up the question asked before deciding whether a particular matter is in order. We expect to get answers to all of our questions today. However, any matters that are not clarified will be dealt with at a later date. I ask for full co-operation from all members in this regard.
I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery that all mobile phones should be switched off. I wish to advise that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence.