Business of Committee

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness at the committee. He is joined by Ms Deirdre Quaid, deputy director of audit.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering.

The minutes of the meetings of 14 and 21 February have been circulated. Is it agreed that they be published? Agreed. Any matter arising will be dealt with in the course of the next topic.

There are three categories of correspondence, the first of which is category A, briefing documents and opening statements. The first items are Nos. 2010 and 2015, correspondence, dated 22 February 2019, received from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, providing a briefing note and opening statement for today’s meeting. We will note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Category B is correspondence received from Accounting Officers or Ministers, or both, as a follow-up to requests made at previous meetings of the committee. The first item is correspondence, dated 18 February 2019, received from Ms Rhonda Evans of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, providing the minutes of meetings of the finance and construction committee. They were circulated prior to last week’s meeting and I propose that we formally note them today. At our meeting on 14 February we requested the board to publish the minutes of its other meetings. I suggest it also publish these minutes. It is not for the committee to publish the minutes of meetings of the board. We will note the correspondence which was discussed at the previous meeting.

The next item of correspondence is No. 1999 received from Mr. Paul O'Toole, chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, in reply to the committee’s request for a report on the review of the relationship between Cork Institute of Technology and certain named companies and entities. Mr. O’Toole advises that a draft report is in the process of being finalised by Mazars consultants and that the HEA will consider the report when completed and revert to the committee at the earliest opportunity. We will note and publish the correspondence. The field work has been completed and a draft report is being worked on.

The next item of correspondence which is dated 20 February 2019 is No. 2000 received from Ms Elaine Sheridan, vice president for corporate affairs and finance at Waterford Institute of Technology, providing information requested by the committee following its recent meeting at which we considered Special Report No. 104 of the Comptroller and Auditor General - Waterford Institute of Technology - Development and Disposal of Intellectual Property in FeedHenry.

There are a couple of issues with the letter received from Professor Donnelly, president, and Ms Elaine Sheridan, vice president for corporate affairs and finance at Waterford Institute of Technology. It is on the back of the meeting regarding the special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which mentioned several documents, one of which was a memorandum sent to Professor Donnelly by a subordinate highlighting concerns about the process involved in the establishment of FeedHenry and other governance issues. I sought a copy of the memorandum. If my memory is correct, it was accompanied by an email stating it should be sent to the president and the financial controller, but it did not reach them. The president who was vice president at the time went back to the author of the memorandum and asked questions about its contents. I am aghast that the correspondence states, "In light of the threat of legal proceedings issuing on foot of any disclosure of the Memorandum, it would not be appropriate for us to provide it to the PAC". I do not understand why there would be any legal impediment to the memorandum being provided for the committee. There has been an ongoing issue with transparency in dealing this matter. That is one of the reasons the committee has looked into the process involved in the establishment of the companies. However, there has been a full examination and the Comptroller and Auditor General has completed his report which mentions the memorandum, yet Waterford Institute of Technology is stating it cannot provide it for us for legal reasons which are not outlined, other than the possibility that certain individuals may be named in the memorandum. However, it should be possible to redact the names of such persons.

The committee also requested an information note on the shareholders in FeedHenry, given that WIT was one of the shareholders, but the correspondence states that information cannot be provided either. The information is available on the website of the Companies Registration Office, but WIT is not in a position to provide it for the committee. This goes back to the stalled HEA report.

We need to refer back to the Department and ask it if it has considered appointing a statutory inspector to deal with this. If it is the case that with every item of information being sought, there is a legal impediment or legal advice is offered as to why we cannot get it, somebody with the authority to look at all of these memorandums and documents is necessary if the committee cannot get them. I propose that we write back to the HEA and the Department, with copies of the correspondence we received from WIT, to ask them their current position with regard to having another look at the report, which is stalled at present, and what the next steps will be.

I have a question for Mr. McCarthy. In his report, he refers to this document that we are calling the memorandum. He obviously saw it as part of his work.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Correct.

I will be guided by him. If it is suitably redacted - the committee has not seen it - Mr. McCarthy might need to check it out-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I would not give a view-----

I understand that Mr. McCarthy could not do so off the top of his head..

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No.

Mr. McCarthy had access to that as part of his audit. If he feels that, with suitable redactions regarding names, etc., it is safe to give it to us-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I cannot give the committee the document.

I will take Mr. McCarthy's view into consideration as to whether we should pursue it directly again with Waterford Institute of Technology on the basis of the names being redacted.

We could write back to the institute and ask it to supply the document with whatever redactions it considers necessary. However, I do not understand why it cannot be given. The email we received cites legal reasons.

It is stated that a letter was received on 2 February from two individuals indicating that there are a number of false allegations and potentially defamatory statements.

Was this in the memorandum?

No. I will read the second paragraph of the letter. We will put it up on the screen. It states that the institute is eager to facilitate the committee. However, it also states that on 2 February it received legal correspondence on behalf of two individuals-----

Yes, the memorandum contains a number of false allegations.

-----named in the memorandum. In the letter, counsel for the individuals communicated their clients' position that the memorandum contains a number of false allegations and potentially defamatory statements which could put their clients' good names at risk and materially prejudice their commercial interests and professional reputations. The letter suggests that any disclosure of the memorandum would breach the individuals' constitutional rights of privacy and their right to their good names and would be actionable on that basis.

My understanding of the memorandum, in general terms, is that somebody in the research office had written to Professor Donnelly, who was the vice president, raising concerns about the process and asking that the memorandum be circulated higher up. However, this was never done. In fact, Professor Donnelly came back to the person in question to ask him to substantiate the concerns he had raised. I still cannot see how that would be a difficulty.

The Deputy's request now is that we write to the Department-----

I doubt that it will give it to us now, based on this. I will not say it but I can speculate on who one of the two people is who has concerns about what is in the memorandum. We need to refer back to the Department and the HEA and ask them where they are with their report and if they are going to embark on a different course of action if they cannot publish the report that is in draft form.

I wish to clarify one matter. With regard to the information given to us regarding the shareholding, they have asked us to remove it because it is not accurate. However, did we not receive that from them?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

It is up to them to issue a statement indicating that they are not happy with it and we will publish any amendment they seek, but I am reluctant to take down information we received from them in good faith.

The problem with them not giving us the information on the shareholders is because-----

They cannot do it now. There is only one shareholder.

Historically, this was about the relationship between the institute and the company. Obviously, the institute was one of the shareholders. I believe what happened, from memory, is that a confidentiality agreement was reached between the shareholders and the institute that there would not be any disclosure. Perhaps it was with the company. Again, that raises concerns around the transparency of these processes when it is an institute of technology, a spin out company from the institute, and there are these confidentiality clauses surrounding who the shareholders are. It just adds more intrigue to the issue.

We will write directly to the HEA and the Department and give them a copy of this correspondence-----

I support that. It is difficult to tease out where we are going with it. The processes were working in a sense. Somebody was alerting somebody higher up that there were questions. That is my understanding.

Again, we cannot see those processes. The memorandum is part of a process. Somebody is concerned and is theoretically doing the right thing. The person notices something is wrong and wants it checked out. The person alerts somebody with higher authority so everything was being done correctly, theoretically.

To add to that, the memorandum was in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. He cited the memorandum.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The memorandum is not in the report.

No, I am sorry. It is referenced in the report.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The context of it is there.

It is referenced in the report. I imagine that the Comptroller and Auditor General would have received similar correspondence from WIT regarding concerns about the memorandum when he was doing his report, but he still referenced the memorandum.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I reference the memorandum. I do not reproduce it.

However, the context of what is in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report is that this individual raised concerns. The reason we know what happened with the memorandum is that it was in the report. The report says that Professor Donnelly, as vice president, received the memorandum. It was to be sent higher up the chain, but it was not. It went back to the person who sent the memorandum and the vice president asked for clarifications. The memorandum could be referenced in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Whatever the functions of the Committee of Public Accounts, and there are many questions about that at present, referencing and examining special reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General is certainly one of them.

We will write to the Department and the HEA, as the Deputy suggests, and give them a copy of this correspondence. We will ask them for their current position on these matters. With regard to the shareholding, they say the information may be misleading. We will ask them to clarify what they mean. If they tell us precisely what they are talking about, we will publish that letter when we receive it. It is not for us to guess what is misleading. We are asked to remove it but I am not happy to do that just on the basis of somebody saying it is potentially misleading. They must spell out what is misleading and we will publish their letter.

Incidentally, we also asked for the emails that would have been exchanged between the individuals.

This researcher who sent the email-----

-----and the responses that would have come back from the vice president. There was correspondence around the memorandum.

Yes. There is an email attached to this letter with many redactions in it. I propose that we not publish that at this stage.

We will forward this correspondence directly to the Department and the HEA.

I am happy with that.

We will ask them to follow it up and come back to this matter as soon as possible. We will write to WIT specifically on the issue of the shareholding and ask it to clarify the issue. We will publish its letter.

We could ask for a redacted version of the memorandum.

It has given us a redacted version of the memorandum today.

No, that is a version of the emails.

We will ask it to provide us with a redacted version of the memorandum too, if it is concerned about individuals being identified. That is agreed.

No. 2002 is from Professor Donnelly, Waterford Institute of Technology. It relates to the same issue. He states that the institute is seeking clarification in response to the committee's request. That was an earlier acknowledgement of the email. We received the more comprehensive reply that we have just discussed in the week following that earlier email. That is noted.

Nos. 2003 and 2007 are from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board regarding the committee's request for written consent from Mazars before the relevant document or any part of it is disclosed. Ms Evans advises that permission was requested and is still awaited. Mazars stated that the document is confidential and we cannot publish it until their consent is given. We are waiting for that.

We note that is the position and we will publish that reply.

The next item is No. 2011 from Ms Carmel Whelan, Kildare-Wicklow ETB, providing information requested by the committee about the valuation report for a building in Arklow. This is an extensive document and the valuation runs to several pages. The final paragraph of the letter includes a note from the valuer stating that, in accordance with standard practice, neither the whole or part of this report, or any reference thereto, may be included in any document or circular without prior consent. We have to ask Kildare-Wicklow ETB to get the consent of the valuer before we can publish it. It should be standard practice that whenever this committee writes to an organisation seeking a report from a consultant, we should include in our first letter a request of the organisation to get consent from the consultant. That would be better than us getting the letter and spending another couple of weeks writing back to ask the organisation to seek consent. On foot of these types of issues arising, we need to put that request for consent in our original request.

In this case, we have the valuation report but we cannot publish it because we do not have the consent of the valuer. We have seen it and can discuss it but cannot publish it without consent.

We should make that standard practice from now on. I acknowledge we got the valuation report for that building but there are a number of other items that we requested from the ETB that have not been forthcoming. We need to follow up on those in the same letter. There were three other things. The first was about block E of the Civic Centre in Bray. There was a list of all properties that the board is leasing which it previously owned. There was also a list of any other buildings it is leasing which did not have signed contracts. Those were the three things I was looking for.

People will have noticed the format of how we handle our business since 1 January is that we have the minutes which we publish and then the secretariat always now issues, with the minutes, an internal briefing note for us.

It is not a public document; it is our own working document. It is a members' note for follow-up items and other matters. I hope the points the Deputy has requested are covered in that document. It is being actioned if they are. If anything is not included in that, we will ask the secretariat to issue a further letter.

I have a question on the leasing of block E in the Civic Centre in Bray about which Teachta Jonathan O'Brien was asking questions. Was that not signed off on by the board?

That is extraordinary. The Comptroller and Auditor General is looking at the years 2016 and 2017. Will he be examining these issues in that audit?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We will consider any issues that arise in the course of the audit.

Could there be a supplementary report on some of these issues?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Certainly, if there is a matter that warrants it.

In this case a lease cost €8 million, including the fit-out, which was not signed off on by the board. Would that be a normal procedure?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I would prefer not to pre-judge the matter.

Okay. Will it be dealt with in the 2016 and 2017 audit?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Any issue of concern that arises will be examined in the audit.

That is fair enough. Is Deputy Jonathan O'Brien happy that the points he raised are in that briefing note?

It is a follow-up item in the action note for the committee. I think it is covered in that.

It says we are looking for a note about the rent-free period for the Bray Civic Centre.

I am actually looking for everything.

Including the sign-off.

Yes, everything that relates to it.

We will ask for the process of approval by the board or otherwise for the Bray Civic Centre and not just the rent-free period. We will follow that up. We will hold over this item because we are awaiting consent from the valuer. We will not publish that until we get consent.

The next item is No. 2012 from Mr. Paul Quinn, chief procurement officer of the Office of Government Procurement, dated 25 February 2019 in response to the committee's request for information on his role as a member of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board about the code of practice for the governance of State bodies and the role of the Government contracts committee for construction. We will note and publish this. He will be coming in with Mr. Robert Watt next week and we will have a detailed discussion. This is a comprehensive letter. I do not expect the public to read all ten pages of it but I want to make a few brief points in order that people will know what Mr. Quinn is saying in this letter.

He deals with the role of the Government contracts committee for construction and he states that, in this instance, it considered a request for a derogation for the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board from the standard form of contract. He refers to the standard form of contracts and deals with certain major contracts. He gives a timeline on the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and confirms he is a member. In the first paragraph of his letter, Mr. Quinn states that he accepts in hindsight that, in his letter to the committee of 25 January, he should have advised that he was a member of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, having been appointed in a personal capacity by the Minister for Health in 2013. He states that is separate to his duties at the Office of Government Procurement. He accepts that the committee should have been informed in that earlier letter that he was a member of the board.

I want to highlight one or two other points. He states that there is a capital works procurement policy and refers to the capital works management framework, which consists of best practice guidance. As a result of this, we are asking the secretariat to ensure we have a copy of this best practice guidance in advance of next week's meeting. We might be sorry we asked for it but we should see it in advance of next week because it is important.

Mr. Quinn also gives the membership of the Government contracts committee for construction. There are 22 members on that committee to consider the various items. He gives a timeline in appendix summary 2, which we will publish. There is a summary of engagement between the Office of Government Procurement policy unit, the construction contracts committee and the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. In the second paragraph, he states that, from this early engagement, it became apparent that the scale, complexity and required delivery time associated with the hospital presented a range of challenges. We want to know what timeline was suggested in that early consultation before next week.

In the fifth paragraph, Mr. Quinn states that the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board commenced its formal engagement with the committee in May 2014 with a view to securing a derogation. He moves on to state that there were subsequent meetings. I do not see the date the derogation was granted, and by whom, in this memo. I want the minute of the meeting at which the derogation was granted, who attended that meeting and the full minutes of the meeting. There are three references to the fact that there were meetings about this matter but no reference in the document to when the derogation was actually approved. We want that in advance of the next meeting.

I am only mentioning those items. There are a few additional bits of information we require before next week and I am flagging those so we have them here in advance. This is very complicated. There is a big issue we will take up with him but, in essence, Mr. Quinn is saying that he was appointed to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board by the Minister for Health and, as a civil servant, he was responsible to the Minister for Health in that respect and not the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. He was appointed by the Minister responsible for this and he is essentially saying he is satisfied, based on the cost overruns that came to light during that summer - and I know Deputy Jonathan O'Brien wants to comment on this - that the matter was being progressed up to the HSE and the Department of Health in a proper manner. That is why he felt no reason to raise it with the Minister. He again reiterates, from his point of view, that the Minister for Health is the line Minister for this project. He is also saying he raised it with neither the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform nor the Secretary General because they were not the line Minister.

In fairness to Mr. Quinn, I am giving his side of it because there has been much criticism on that issue. We will tease this out next week. To be fair to everyone, I wanted to say that.

I think it should also be noted that we do not know when the Government contracts committee for construction, GCCC, signed off on it, but we know that Mr. Quinn was appointed in July 2013.

While the GCCC signs off and gives the derogation, that does not give an indication or direction on the negotiations that take place beyond that. That is down to the contracting authority, which I presume in this case in the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB. Mr. Quinn was a member of the development board while the contract negotiations were taking place.

Perhaps the Chair will provide guidance on what exactly Mr. Quinn will discuss at the meeting next week. I certainly want to discuss with Mr. Quinn, in his role as a member of the board, some of the issues around the strategy for the tendering process and not so much in his role as chief procurement officer in the Office of Government Procurement, OGP. I seek direction from the Chair as to whether that is-----

Mr. Quinn is a civil servant and a member of the NPHDB, as a nominee of the Minister for Health. Some people might not agree with his point of view that he was responsible to the Minister for Health. We have invited him before us in respect of his role on the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB, as opposed to his role in the OGP. We will run through those points again because some people might not fully accept what they could describe as a Jesuitical interpretation of his role, but he makes a good case on that particular point.

I requested that the head of the Office of Government Procurement appear before the committee as part of our consideration of this issue. The wider point is that there appears to be an institutional gap in terms of some large capital projects. That aspect would be useful to explore in the context of process. That is part of the reason it is appropriate that the committee have Mr. Quinn before us, but the issue is not exclusive to the national children's hospital. It is useful to have an example when we try to explore how something happened. This issue is much wider in terms of capital projects and institutional gaps. If there is an institutional gap but no institutional memory, what will happen is that the mistakes will be repeated. That is central to what we are doing.

Absolutely. The invitation to the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Watt, is exactly as Deputy Murphy indicated and relates to capital projects. There is a section in this letter dealing with capital works procurement policy. We want a copy of the capital works management framework, which I am sure is a substantial document. We need to see the capital works management framework and that is essentially what we want to discuss with Mr. Watt. We do not want to focus solely on one project, although that will be part of the discussion. We want to discuss how several other projects are being managed and how the capital works procurement policy is working. Our invitation to Mr. Watt was clear on that from day one.

I am seeking clarification on the follow-up meeting with the Department. We should ask that the Department come back in-----

Which Department?

The Department of Health. Have we set a date for that meeting?

We will deal with that later in the work programme. The date we pencilled in was the week before the PwC report will come out. I see no benefit in having it then. We will come to that matter in a moment.

Next week's meeting will start at 9 a.m. and we will get down to the main business because Mr. Watt, the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, has another commitment with the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Taoiseach in the afternoon. He has requested that we finish by lunchtime and we will facilitate him on the basis that we will start at 9 a.m. We will take a short break but if we meet from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., it should be sufficient to do our work.

I have looked at relationship framework documents for banks. They can be lengthy documents but much of the content is routine material. They could absorb all of our time. It would be useful to have a short synopsis of the document from the Department, if possible.

The Department will have a big folder but I hope it will have some guidance notes or operational manuals. We will request documents that summarise or list the key points and guidance for officers on the key issues as well as requesting the large document. I could probably find the document on the Department's website but we will ask the Department to send it to us in the next day or two to give us time to study it before our next meeting. We do not want it to arrive next Wednesday evening. I think we are all happy about that.

No. 2014 is from Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General, Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, dated 26 February 2019 providing details requested by the committee on housing assistance payments, HAP and other items. We will discuss that when we meet the officials shortly. We will note and publish the document. We will also note No. 2017, a copy of the social housing delivery report for 2018, which we received yesterday from Mr. McCarthy. We will discuss that report with him shortly. We will note and publish this.

Correspondence under the heading C is from private individuals. We received a letter from Deputy David Cullinane, dated 18 February 2019, on Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, Dublin. The Deputy has momentarily left the room. We have received correspondence on that in recent times. It is on our work programme. We will ask the secretariat to give us an update on this issue, which we dealt with last year and on which there has been recent media coverage.

Nos. 2001 and 2008 are from Deputy Alan Kelly on the Higher Education Authority report on Cork Institute of Technology and certain companies. As mentioned earlier, we received a letter stating the report is being finalised and the HEA will consider it and revert to the committee at that stage.

No. 2004 is a letter from Deputy Jonathan O'Brien in regard to speaking at next week's meeting when officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform come before the committee. The Deputy may have thought the meeting was scheduled for last week but it is this week. We will go through our work programme shortly.

No. 2009 is a letter from Deputy O'Connell requesting a number of items to be included in the follow-up information requested from Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board. We will note that. The additional information that Deputy O'Brien asked for in respect of a building in Bray will be included in the request for information.

The next matter is the statements and accounts received.

Before we proceed, may I have a copy of the information provided by Mr. John McCarthy? One or two members do not have copies.

The correspondence arrived late, so I will ask the secretariat to print off hard copies of the document on HAP payments and the social housing delivery report for 2018 for members.

We could then read them before the meeting starts.

I am pleased to note that no statements and accounts have been received in the past seven days.

Members will see the draft work programme on the screen. We will deal with housing this morning and the Local Government Fund and central government funding for local authorities in the afternoon. We will have one lead speaker in the morning and one lead speaker in the afternoon and a ten-minute slot will be allocated to every other speaker. We must finish our session on housing this morning.

On 7 March 2019, we will discuss the oversight and implementation of capital projects. Officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will appear before the committee in the morning.

We are going to deal with the role of public officials in capital projects, not just in the context of the national children's hospital.

We will have a private meeting next week to complete our consideration of the draft periodic report for September through to the end of 2018. We had a discussion about this issue previously and the secretariat will bring forward the amendments proposed. We are nearly there in our consideration of the report. The time slots available next Tuesday for the aforementioned private meeting are 1 p.m. and 7.15 p.m. Which would suit members best? In respect of the 1 p.m. slot, I remind them that Leaders' Questions in the Dáil will begin at 2 p.m., which may be a little too tight. I suggest Tuesday evening, at 7.15 p.m., would be better, given that we will all be in Leinster House. The meeting should not take too long because we have already had a run-through on the report.

We might not all be here.

That is all right. If Deputies cannot be here, we will still put their names to the report. If Deputies have nothing to say or add to the report, we will take it as consenting to its publication.

I was thinking of the officials more than us.

They do not mind.

We will book the 7.15 p.m. slot. The meeting will not take too long.

I wish to point out, with the media listening, that reports on the aforementioned document appeared on the front page of a newspaper yesterday. I must stress that the document sent to members by email was a working document produced by the secretariat based on its best summation of the meetings of the committee. I am saying this in order to inform members of the media that when they receive copies of such a document, they must be aware that it is not a document into which members of the committee had an input. It is not an official committee document. What was printed in the report I read yesterday may not concur with the final document issued by the committee. We intend to publish our report on Wednesday, 13 March, having signed off on it next week. Those who attend the meeting next week will be given a hard copy. No further electronic copies will be prepared or issued. Some member of the committee has acted unfairly by circulating the working document, but I do not know what I can do about that matter. There are 13 committee members, one of whom has acted unfairly. In that context, no further hard copies will be issued until the launch of the report.

It is not actually the hard copies that caused the difficulty.

No. What was reported-----

Let us be clear. I attended the meeting the last day, but the electronic copy had been sent to the entire committee.

Yes, but the electronic copy that had been sent was just a working document.

Yes, but obviously it what was leaked.

Its contents were reported in the newspaper yesterday.

I understand that, but the source of the newspaper report was the electronic copy which had been sent by somebody.

Yes, the electronic copy was given to a journalist. There are three references in the working document that may not be relevant in finalising our report. It was only a discussion document which had been prepared by the secretariat and circulated in electronic format. It runs to between 70 and 80 pages and we need time to read it before next week.

Perhaps we might include a provision whereby both sides - the sender and the recipient - would need to give permission before contents would be shared.

Yes-----

Alternatively, we could include something that was very off the wall and which would be bound to get into the newspapers, thus making the journalist look very foolish for not checking.

That is a good suggestion. We could be tempted to do so. We will think about that one.

We could change one word in the document given to each member and whichever one was published-----

We could add a couple of zeros at the end of some figures.

We have made our point. The plan is to sign off on the report next week and publish it on the Wednesday of the following week, 13 March. We want to have it done before St. Patrick's Day.

On Thursday, 14 March, we will discuss the national broadband plan with representatives of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We want to bring our consideration of that topic to a conclusion in order that we can include our views on it in an interim report which will take some time. We have pencilled in a meeting with representatives of the Central Statistics Office, CSO, in the afternoon on 14 March. Do members consider we are taking on too much on a single day? I am happy to leave it as is, but it is the Thursday before St. Patrick's Day. I presume the Dáil will be breaking for that week. Is the afternoon on 14 March a good time to start to discuss a new topic or should we defer our meeting with representatives of the CSO? I suggest we finish our deliberations on the broadband issue on the Thursday morning and arrange a new date for the meeting with representatives of the CSO. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We had hoped representatives of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board would come back to us on 28 March, but the report from PwC may not be completed by then. In that context, we will have to move the meeting to April. I have had a look at some of the Departments, representatives of which have not been before us recently. There are two key Departments, with which we have not discussed Votes in recent times, namely, the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I suggest we meet representatives of the former on 28 March, if members agree.

On 4 April we will meet representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality to discuss the appropriation account. There is also a chapter in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on Garda overtime with which we will try to deal on the same day. We may have to schedule the meeting to start at a slightly earlier time.

There is also the question of the Irish Prison Service. Some members have asked for its representatives to be invited to appear before us again. The committee received detailed correspondence from the service last week. If that correspondence which runs to more than 20 pages is considered inadequate, we must write back to seek further clarification. We should do that first before deciding to invite back representatives of the service. When they were before us, we had a detailed discussion with them, but there were some unanswered questions which, as usual, we followed up through correspondence. We should not jump to arrange another meeting until we have completed the necessary preparatory work. Let us follow up on the correspondence received by seeking further details. When we receive them-----

What is the reference number for that correspondence?

It is No. 1942, dated 14 February 2019. While it is comprehensive, it does not answer every question we asked. We will go back to the Irish Prison Service to seek for more information, but I ask members to contact the secretariat if they are seeking clarification on any matter related to the service. We will write to it again to seek further clarification on certain matters.

As some of the issues are related to policy, will we be circulating the responses to the relevant sectoral committees?

We can do so.

On prisoner welfare, issues might arise involving the State Claims Agency in respect of medical negligence cases. We have established that there are only four doctors in the service and that 63% of prisoners are on medication. I have received private correspondence from people who claim that they are not receiving adequate medical treatment. I do not want this issue to end up at the door of the State Claims Agency. We want all of these bodies to have procedures in place to log all of these issues in order that the agency will be aware, in advance, of potential medical negligence cases that could cost the State a lot of money. We are looking at that broad issue. We can give the information to other committees too, but we are here to deal with the issue of medical negligence in the context of costs to the State through the State Claims Agency. We are not going to get into how the prisons are run. The committee does not need to know that information.

The issue I wanted to raise concerned the State Claims Agency. Do we have any idea as to when we will be coming back to it?

We will definitely be meeting again with representatives of both the State Claims Agency and the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, on which there is a chapter in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General with which we must deal. The NTMA was very quick in carrying out its business and publishing its annual report. Its representatives appeared before us prior to the summer break last year to discuss the annual report. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General was released at the end of September. It contained a chapter on the NTMA and we need to bring back representatives of the agency to discuss it. A key element of that meeting will be a discussion with the State Claims Agency on issues to do with medical negligence. We have been assembling a lot of information, but we need to close off the issue as part of our next periodic report. We will set the date for the meeting as soon as possible.

Will the meeting with representatives of the State Claims Agency be related exclusively to potential medical negligence cases? We know that there is an enormous contingent liability, but it is not the only area covered by the agency. There is, for example, a significant issue in the Air Corps. Are we going to try to capture more than the contingent liability, or are we going to keep the focus quite narrow?

In its last annual report the State Claims Agency recorded an estimated liability of €2.6 billion, of which approximately €2 billion was related to medical negligence cases.

It is therefore the biggest element, but it is not the only element. We will look at the full €2.6 billion, the main element of which relates to health, although there are other issues. We will examine the full State Claims Agency, not just the one key aspect.

That will probably be one of the most significant things we do this year because it leads to things such as a change in culture with regard to open disclosure. There are some serious recommendations we can make that will be valuable in the future. Given the extent of the potential liability, it strikes me that this should be a priority for us, even if we have to spend a number of days on it.

We will schedule that-----

On that, there was something I raised and about which I was to come back to the Chairman. He left the issue open and I thank him for that. It relates to medical negligence and to the prior step where independent inquiries are carried out. I have gone back to check on this and I was to come back to the Chairman about it. I have asked a very straight question regarding Galway. Over a ten-year period, how many independent investigations were carried out? It is a simple question. I also asked about the cost of any such investigations. I got back a letter which said that information is not recorded.

How independent could the investigations have been if there is no record of them?

I am left with my mouth open. I went back twice and in two different ways. I then went to the Minister to ask him whether he was happy with this situation. I will now refer that question and those two answers to the committee. Before we get to medical negligence, things inevitably happen because we are only human. One learns from that and one should set up an investigation, whether internal or external. I only asked about the external independent investigations. I asked how many there had been and what they had cost and the people I asked were not in a position to give me that information. They had no record of it. How can we learn, how can we now what things costs, and how can we avoid costs in the future? How can we find out how the issue ties into subsequent medical negligence cases?

We are going to write again. Will the Deputy send us her correspondence so that we can follow up on it?

Yes. There are parliamentary questions.

If the Deputy sends it on we will follow up on it. Between now and next week, let us have a quick look at the accounts of the State Claims Agency to see whether they include information on non-medical negligence. If not, we will agree next week to write to the agency seeking this information as soon as possible so that we will have it well in advance of the meeting. On the Deputy's point, we have letters from the HSE which essentially accept that there is no learning process in the system. It is very obvious what our conclusions will be when we come to conclude our work. We have to go back through the correspondence.

The HSE is saying the opposite, is it not? It is saying it sets up investigations, learns and implements recommendations.

There is no training-----

How can that be true if it does not even have a record of the number of investigations that have been carried out?

We can see where our interim report is going.

Too often when something fails we are told that it is a system failure. This is central to the kind of fragmented approach being taken. It is about processes and institutional gaps. The very least the HSE should have is a register. This issue is not exclusive to the HSE, however. It is something that cuts across various bodies. It may be something we could raise with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform next week. It strikes me that it is the overarching Government Department in respect of the public service. If there is going to be an outside investigation, at the very least there should be a requirement to register it so that we can know that it happened.

The health service has what is called the national incident management system, NIMS. We need to know whether there is a similar system in other State bodies. The State Claims Agency handles all these cases when push comes to shove. It comes under the NTMA, which happens to come under the Department of Finance rather than the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Deputy's point is, however, right. We will do a little bit of research to see what information we can get in respect of the State Claims Agency and we can decide what information we need before it comes back before the committee. We are proposing to deal with the Department of Justice and Equality and that chapter in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on 4 April. We are going to write to the Prison Service in the meantime and if we are not happy with the replies we can consider putting it on the work programme for that day. Until we get information we cannot jump to that conclusion. We are moving the meeting with the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board to 11 April, because the report scheduled for the end of March should be out at that stage. We will then move straight on to the State Claims Agency for our next meeting after that. We have agreed that we will also have the Department of Children and Youth Affairs before the committee.

While Deputy Cullinane was out, we mentioned his item of correspondence in respect of Harold's Cross. That is in our system. We had correspondence on the issue last autumn. I know that it has appeared in the media again. I am asking the secretariat to tell us precisely where we are in that regard. We will then action the issue for the next meeting. That was agreed in the Deputy's absence.

The last thing I want to say before we briefly suspend is that the Comptroller and Auditor General issued a special report on Ireland's transactions with the EU in 2017 yesterday. It will be circulated and we will discuss it, perhaps on the day on which we will have the Department of Finance before us. We all know that in recent years we have become a net contributor to the EU. The report deals with that. I have not had an opportunity to study the report. Members can have a look at it. In the public interest and for the public's information, it is no harm for it to be seen. We will schedule discussion of it for the day on which the Department of Finance will be before us. Would that be reasonable?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is perfectly reasonable. Part of the reason for compiling the report is that there is no single place where one can get an overview of our transactions with the EU. I felt it might be useful to present such information as a framework. There is a set of financial statements co-ordinated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the FEOGA accounts. I believe the committee has looked at these on previous occasions. To be quite honest, they do not give that much useful information. I was trying to suggest an alternative presentation that might be more useful and of more value to the public.

One of the issues is that Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine grants under FEOGA are audited by the auditor of the European Commission rather than the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct.

It is subject to the audit committee of the European Parliament rather than the Committee of Public Accounts, but it important that we at least get the picture. It is European funding so Europe audits it. I presume it also audits our contribution to the fund to ensure it is well spent in other countries.

Where is this captured? There is a two-way relationship in respect of European Union money. We are now a net contributor. That is an aspect of it. Where is the oversight of it? A second aspect relates to fines. Do fines go through one Department? Have fines been levied in reality? Are they captured in individual departmental Estimates?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

They are captured in individual departmental Estimates. It depends on the scheme.

That is why need this collation of information.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is the point.

It is a useful exercise. Payments out go through the Central Fund. We are the only committee which looks at the Central Fund. We will look at that when we have the Department of Finance before us. That is where the funds go out. It is based on a percentage of VAT. They can, however, come directly into the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or other Departments. This collation of the information will be useful.

I welcome that. On a separate issue and just to keep track, we got a letter from a doctor with which we did not deal.

Yes, it was on the paediatric hospital.

Yes. I just want to make sure we do not forget it. I do not mind when we deal with it, but we should deal with it.

I know which letter the Deputy is referring to. I will ask that it be on our schedule for next week.

Alternatively we could deal with it today in private session. We have not dealt with it and it was a very interesting and informative letter. We should be seen to make a decision on it, one way or another.

We will deal with it next week in either public or private session. We will suspend for five minutes while the witnesses take their seats.

Sitting suspended at 10 a.m. and resumed at 10.05 a.m.