Business of Committee

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General who is a permanent witness at the committee. He is joined by Ms Maureen Mulligan, deputy director of audit.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering. We will hold the minutes over until next week.

I wish to raise an item arising from last week's meeting, the seeking of additional information. We have discussed it, but we will consider the formal minutes next week. At last week's meeting there was quite a discussion about the correspondence which had been received from the HSE, item No. 2334. We discussed the breakdown of consultancy costs for the children's hospital group. Expenditure under the heading of ICT-digital was €3.6 million; expenditure under the heading of clinical operational support was €3.5 million; expenditure on medical equipment was €1.8 million; expenditure on corporate services was €1.6 million; while expenditure under the heading of programme management was €421,000, giving an approximate figure of €11 million. We said we would seek additional information, but I want us to be more specific about what we are seeking. I want to write back to the HSE telling it that we want a description of each consultancy project and information on when it started, how much has been expended to date and the estimated total cost of each project. We saw the payments for consultancy arrangements for one year. Is it just part of a bigger picture? We want to have a full picture of each item included in the figure of €11 million. If it only involves the consultancy aspect, is there a larger project to be delivered at the end of the consulting work and is there an estimate of what it will cost? The HSE tells us that it is related to the children's hospital group which encompasses Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght hospitals and that it is integrating all of the children's hospital networks in Dublin that will form part of the national paediatric programme. We have discussed the cost of construction at length, but we have always known that several hundred million euro is to be set aside to cover IT, patient and non-construction costs which will be significant. Nobody had really addressed this issue. As we have only looked at the increasing cost of construction, we want to know how this aspect fits in.

We want to put the same letter to the Department of Health. Has it been incurring any expenditure on the project that is not showing through the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board? In particular, we want to write to Children's Health Ireland, the CEO of which is Ms Eilísh Hardiman. It has been mentioned here before. Ms Hardiman is probably involved in what we are talking about. To my knowledge, the group was formally established as a public body on 1 January 2019. Up until then it was operating under the HSE, but on 1 January a new board was established for Children's Health Ireland. We want to write to it also. We want to pull all of the strands of the extra elements together - the Department of Health, the HSE and Children's Health Ireland - in order that we can get a full picture because when the national children's hospital opens, we all want it to function properly from day one. It is obvious that there will be extra costs. What is beginning to happen is that there are extra costs. When we know to ask the right questions, I want to have a comprehensive picture of all of these elements. I think members understand from where I am coming. It is that we will know where we are going, rather than have another €100 million pop up about which nobody will have told us.

The Chairman is right to try to get a comprehensive picture. There is a deeper issue about consultancy costs and fees paid by Departments and State institutions, an issue on which we have focused for some time, but we need to look at it in a more singular way. We had it with the third level institutions and the Department of Education and Skills. It seems that some State institutions cannot make a decision without engaging the services of a consultancy firm. Questions must be asked about the wisdom of doing so given the amounts of money being spent. If one was to add the amounts of money spent every year by every Department and State institution, be it hospitals, schools, ETBs, institutes or universities, it would come a significant amount. I imagine the private sector does not work on that basis. Where is the in-house knowledge? Much of it amounts to repetition. It should be best practice. Consultancy work seems to be done when the same work would have been done on change management in a different organisation. It is sloppy and a little lazy at times. It is easy because they are spending taxpayers' money. I am not saying there is no justification for spending money on consultancy because there is a place for it, but it seems as if significant amounts of money are being spent on pretty much the same work. Rather than learning lessons, they repeat the same work and hire the same consultancy firms to do it. Is it something at which the committee could look from a value for money perspective?

It sounds like the subject of a special report, but we will-----

Is there any way we can find out? Can any Department can find out what the total cost is in any given year and put all the information together?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

In general, in the appropriation accounts, there is a subhead for non-pay administration that indicates the level of spending on consultancy and the achievement of value for money. The code of practice for semi-State bodies requires the accounts to disclose the level of spending on consultancy. It is included in each governance report. There is a job of work to be done to compile it, but it can certainly be done. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has always had a remit to set the framework within which consultancy work is contracted out.

We did a report on consultancy but it was nearly 20 years ago. There is a framework and guidelines are issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for how consultants are to be used.

I never see a figure for how much Departments or the State have spent on consultancy, so it would be a useful exercise for us to do it. The secretariat cannot do it but some Department, such as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, could give us a figure or seek the information from every State body at our request so that we can look at the figures.

Perhaps we could give a project to the Library and Research Service on our behalf. I am sure they are busy people but we do not trouble them very often. We will ask the secretariat what the options are. We cannot do the heavy lifting ourselves, though Mr. McCarthy has done some work on it. We will formalise that at a later stage.

I asked parliamentary questions about consultancy contracts in each Department just before the summer. I asked what work they had undertaken, and the costs ran into tens of millions of euro. Some of them are one-off projects and one can understand why they are necessary for speciality services, but there were things like internal audit etc. I understand there is a shortage of accountants, but this was in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and they were routinely used. The Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was at a summer school and said it concerned him, and that there was a need to be much more thoughtful about engaging consultants from the point of view of value for money. We should start with value for money because it has to be questioned whether people are taking a risk-averse approach or whether behaviour needs to change. There is an issue with building up an institutional memory and institutional capacity with regard to capital projects, where we build up the expertise in the entities in question, meaning we have to engage them repeatedly. It is almost self-fulfilling that we keep going to these companies. There is a multiplicity of aspects to this and I will send the Chairman the replies to my parliamentary questions as they suggest an agenda to this.

I agree with colleagues. We need greater transparency but I am not sure what the best process would be. We have to be sure that some of the breakdown of costs is not hidden behind construction inflation. We should write to the board of the national paediatric hospital about the three layers that have now been flattened. We should ask for an update on the status of the project because it has been brought to my attention that there are concerns about the rapid escalation of costs in the past six months, something I will talk about on another day.

Have the 2018 accounts for the paediatric hospital board been completed yet?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I do not know off hand.

Perhaps Mr. McCarthy could find out during the course of the morning. I propose that its most recent audited accounts come back before us. We will put it in our work programme.

I may ask the committee to help in getting one or two bits of information from the board to assist in bringing about greater transparency. I will liaise with the Chairman on this point.

Great. I saw that a new chief officer was appointed to the board in recent weeks. It was not a chief executive officer but a chief officer. We would like to get all the costs that are out there and that have not been made clear to us to date.

We will move onto category A documents, briefing documents and opening statements for today's meeting. Correspondence No. 2390 A, dated 20 September 2019, No. 2392 A, dated 24 September 2019, and No. 2408 A from the Data Protection Commission are briefing documents and opening statements for today’s meeting. We will note and publish these. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to take two items of correspondence relating to today's meeting from the Data Protection Commission. They are correspondence No. 2403 B and No. 2404 B. We have been in contact with the commission about getting the report. No. 2403 B makes it clear that the commission was concerned about the fact it could not issue the report without the consent of the Department. It sent the report to the Department and it had implications for it because the Department resisted. The letter is from Mr. John O'Dwyer, deputy commissioner, Data Protection Commission, who said the Department had already written to the commission to object formally to the publication by the commission of a short summary containing details of the eight findings made in the report, and the steps the commissioner called on the Department to take on foot of those findings. The Department had asserted that publication of this material without its prior agreement was prejudicial to its interests and, as a matter of law, was not within the commission's power. The letter from John O'Dwyer said they believed the report should be published by the Department. On 23 September, we received a further letter from Mr. O'Dwyer confirming the report had been published by the Department. We will note and publish these items.

Correspondence category B is from Accounting Officers and Ministers in follow-up to previous meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts. The first is from Mr. John Madigan, head of marketing and research, Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, dated 31 July 2019, providing information requested by the committee regarding the number of jobs supported by the SBCI in Ireland. We will note and publish this

Is it possible that we could request a breakdown by county, just to analyse it a bit further and see if we are getting value for money?

They have given the breakdown by region. They should have it by county so we will ask. There is a phenomenal amount of double counting here. They say they have assisted companies supported by SBCI projects amounting to 148,000 people. There were probably 148,000 people there before they gave them a loan or grant. If IDA Ireland approves 200 jobs in a place where there are already 2,000 it states it has supported the company with 2,200 jobs. All the State agencies count the total employment in these companies as though it had something to do with that, even if they have had a minuscule impact on some of the companies.

IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, local enterprise offices, and the SBCI all count the same people in the same jobs multiple times just because there is some level of engagement with a State body. The figures do not pertain to jobs specifically created by or supported specifically by SBCI.

Heaven forbid politicians would use those figures.

Absolutely. I am really just saying these are the total employment figures for companies that had some contact with and support from SBCI, not necessarily the figures for jobs initiated or supported by SBCI. The figure is just for total employment in the areas in question. We will seek the information on a county-by-county basis.

It might be possible to get a bit more information.

If we publish this, it becomes a de facto-----

I have a problem publishing this.

To be perfectly honest, I take the Chairman's exact point. We encountered this before when debating a company associated with IDA Ireland. There was a difference of opinion on whether IDA Ireland or the particular initiative created the jobs. Accommodation and food services might have received €5,000.50 each. It is daft to include those numbers and have them circulated as facts. I have genuine concerns over this. There is either rigour or there is not. A lot more evidence has to be provided on the supports.

There are two other issues. We got the organisation's financial statements in the Oireachtas. It did not do very much. It had a very limited number of transactions and a very limited number of loans to a very limited number of organisations. There were a couple of big transactions. When we asked about the employee numbers, it was said to us that employee data are gathered in two ways, depending on the kind of grant or loan the business avails of. It is said that, by and large, employee data are gathered at the stage when a business is eligible to make an application. It is just the total number of employees in the organisation that is obtained when an application form is received.

Maybe we will hold over the question of whether we want to discuss with the organisation the number of loans it has given and the number of recipient companies. The applications probably pertained to particular projects in particular companies. It is a question of how many employees were going to be employed or retained in respect of the projects specifically funded by the loans. That is all we want. We all understand that. IDA Ireland will quote the same figures, as will Enterprise Ireland and all Departments. One would believe there were about 6 million people working in Ireland if one added up all these figures.

They are doing a great job but that is not-----

That is not their job.

There are obviously question marks over the data. That is not to say they are not accurate. There needs to be more rigour in examining the data, as was said. Should we just hold over the correspondence until we get additional information?

We will hold over this correspondence for now. We are not publishing it for now. We will put SBCI on our work programme and then decide how to deal with the correspondence and its accounts. Its accounts are in. I saw them over the summer.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is likely to be the easiest way to make progress. The questions the members have raised are perfectly legitimate so they can be put to the chief executive.

We will put it on our work programme. We will hold this over as part of that. We will not publish it for now.

I agree with the Chairman. I have no problem with it. We wrote to the organisation seeking information and asked for the number of jobs supported. It gave us the figure by sector and it gave us the region. We also asked for company size. Was that information given?

It used the established terms, such as SME.

To be fair to it, it gave us the information we asked for. It is now up to us to decide what to do with it.

I accept that but I respectfully disagree. The first letter refers to the letter we wrote seeking information on the number of jobs supported by SBCI. The number of jobs the loans supported is exactly what I wanted. SBCI gave us the total number of employees in the organisations in which particular projects were supported. In fact, it specifically did not answer the question.

It is not on its own.

That is what I am getting to. I read the document and see that we asked for the number of jobs.

Supported by it.

I am not defending the organisation. I believe this is very interesting. We do need to bring in the representatives and talk to them. I agree with the point the Chairman is making, which he is making very well, but if we asked for the number of jobs supported and it gave us the number of jobs supported-----

It did not. Its heading refers to the breakdown of employment-----

Underneath are the sector, category and number of jobs.

It is a breakdown on employment supported. However, the support for some of the companies-----

It does not state the organisation created the jobs.

No. It is just giving us the employment numbers in the organisations it has had dealings with.

We had a similar issue with IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in respect of how they collate the information.

They seemed very vague on how they do it.

I fully support the Chairman. We had Údarás na Gaeltachta yesterday. It is in áit na leathphingine. It is not at the races in regard to the funding received by comparison with IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and all the other such organisations. I support the Chairman in teasing it out. I am just trying to clarify what we asked for.

We will have the letter we wrote to the organisation circulated. We did ask for the jobs it supported, not the number in the companies. We were given an answer. It is illuminating to read SBCI's opening sentence. I was quite specific in what I was looking for when we sent the letter.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

With a lot of this performance information and with these definitions, what is meant when "jobs supported" is said is very often a cause for confusion. It is certainly worth probing.

It is a useful discussion. We will not note or publish the information at this point. We will hold it over and include the organisation on our work programme. We will come back to the correspondence at that stage.

The next item of correspondence is No. 2343B, from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, providing information requested by the committee on the number of active claims for the Minister being managed by the State Claims Agency. At the end of June 2019, the figure was 316 cases, with an estimated liability of €67.9 million. When the witnesses were here, we asked for the breakdown. The reply we received last week stated the State Claims Agency was collating the information and that when it was available, we would be contacted. We got information from the agency that we noted at the previous meeting. It told us separately that Tusla cases on its files point to a figure of €50.76 million. We are told in the letter it relates to 254 cases. When the two figures are added together, the agency has, in respect of each of the 254 cases in respect of Tusla, an average provision of €200,000. With regard to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, we are told there are four cases. The State Claims Agency told us in its meeting last week that the cases managed by it in respect of the Department resulted in a figure of €460,000. It is providing an estimate of €115,000 for each of the four cases. Interestingly, the total amount covered is €67.9 million. When one removes the figures of Tusla and the Department, the balance refers to Oberstown Children Detention Campus. There are 58 claims in that regard. There is €16.68 million for claims in respect of the campus currently in the State Claims Agency files. That gives an average provision of €288,000 in respect of the 58 claims. I am just putting that on the record because, unless one combines the correspondence of last week and this week, one could not work out the figure. We will republish No. 2335B from last week with this week's correspondence where we picked our information from, if anybody is looking at it.

When I looked at the figure for the Child and Family Agency, it jumped out at me. It is significant and very high. Could we have a breakdown, in broad terms, on types of cases and perhaps a breakdown by county? I would like to see if there are clusters of particular types of cases because the figure is very high.

Could we ask for some sort of breakdown?

We will contact the State Claims Agency and-or the Department directly.

We had this before with claims against hospitals and paediatric units. The agency does not want to identify a particular region because it might be unfair to the region in question if there happened to be a large number of claims in a certain year. If the information on the public record is overanalysed, it could give the people who are taking the claims against the State an indication of how much it is setting aside in respect of their claims before they go to court. That would disadvantage the taxpayer, and we need to be responsible for the taxpayer. We will ask for the breakdown of the categories to the extent that this can be provided without compromising their defence of the cases.

The breakdown should be in broad terms of the cases and then the geographical spread.

I want to be fair to the State Claims Agency in respect of this matter because there are two sides to every story.

It would be helpful if we could see information on the children’s detention campus and if claims are being taken by staff.

Or children.

Or children. There is something that needs to be considered in terms of how that is run. It could be slips and falls. My understanding is that there are many-----

Assaults.

Yes. There are a lot of temporary or agency staff and there may be structural issues involved.

It is very difficult. There have been many problems managing that. We will ask and see if we can get the breakdown of that between claims by staff or claims by children in Oberstown. We will see what information emerges. The agency will know not to compromise its own defence when supplying information. It probably thinks I have overanalysed what it gave us already and might regret it. We will note and publish that. Is that agreed? Agreed.

No. 2344 B is correspondence from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Health, dated 2 August 2019, providing information requested by the committee including summary of the control processes and compliance framework re private work by consultants in public hospitals Deputy Kelly will be interested in this because, as outlined on page 2, the percentage of work carried out by private consultants in the University of Limerick hospital group seems to be the highest. The Deputy raised an issue in that regard. We can see from the correspondence that the private work being carried out in that hospital is the highest of any of the groups. Perhaps Deputy Kelly has not had the opportunity to study that particular item.

I studied it. The figures were not a surprise to me, particularly as I had them near enough to what is outlined. It just goes to show that the hospital with the greatest issues, the highest level of overcrowding and the least flexibility as regards consultants going across the network group of hospitals is the one with the largest amount of private consultancy use. That all ties into why we have these issues.

It is also the case with inpatient and day cases. It is high in both categories. Given that I heard the Deputy mention that topic yesterday, I thought I would follow through on it.

I just cannot follow the figures. How many of them are non-compliant?

They are shaded in blue. The number of consultants included in this particular survey – they only do so many every quarter – was 3,026. The figures along the bottom are 451 and then 491 under day cases. Let people study the document. We will note and publish it in any event. If members want to study it in detail, they can use the printed version. There are too many different colours on the document. They are trying to be helpful but it makes it hard to actually read it. Does that help Deputy Cullinane in any way?

My point is if it is the hospital groups are not compliant in terms of getting the appropriate mix, should we find out if there are hospital groups in which there are particular problems? Should we be writing to those groups?

It has been given by hospital groups. That is why I said University of Limerick hospital group is the worst.

Should we not write to those groups which have the most troubling figures?

That is University of Limerick hospital group.

We could do that as a start. There are problems with rest as well. If University of Limerick hospital group has the highest number, perhaps it could outline what the challenges are? It is a cost to the taxpayer.

Jim Breslin sent us that information. We will write back for a breakdown and ask him what action the Department is taking on foot of that. We will just deal specifically with the University of Limerick hospital group. It is the outlier in the chart given. We will ask him to know what action it has taken and what additional measures it is putting in place to prevent it reoccurring.

It will give us an idea from the group’s perspective. It might well be funding issues or problems in the HSE and not necessarily the group itself.

That is fine. The correspondence also contains information on the cost of the Scally inquiry and details of the consultant contract settlement to include an overview of the 1997 consultant contracts. We know there was a settlement with consultants recently. However, some older employees were not part of that. There is a detailed note. I raised that matter. We will note and publish the correspondence. It will be of interest to some people in this area. There is a copy of the directive issued by the Minister and a note on the most recent directive on the specification of accounting policy to recognise HSE assets regarding obligations acquired by public private partnership concessions. Deputy Munster may be interested in this.

To fill in the jigsaw, when we discussed that issue regarding Scally and the questions which came up as a result of information provided to the health committee last week, we found out through the Irish National Accreditation Board, the accreditation body for the labs, that from its accreditation of the famous Manchester lab, it looks like that was the missing piece of the jigsaw which would have influenced the timelines of the Scally report and delayed it.

That was one of the reasons for the delay.

I would say it was the reason.

That is fine.

I cannot say that definitively.

Then there is a breakdown of a figure for primary care reimbursement services. That is broken down by prescription charges, manufacturers’ rebate and pharmacy claims. There is a breakdown of the drugs payment scheme, the long-term illness scheme. It is all outlined on page 19 and is useful information for people to have.

Then we asked for a note on the whole-time equivalent staff working in the health services. That is listed on page 20. It states there are 77,473 direct employees of the HSE. The section 38 hospitals which are the big ones are St. James’s, 25,642. The section 38 voluntary agencies, which was the missing piece of the jigsaw, stand at approximately 16,000. There are in the region of 119,550 whole-time equivalent employees delivering the health service in Ireland. It is just to get the total picture because we always knew the HSE. It does put the caveat in that the number of people brought in on agency basis from the section 38 agencies. It takes the pay rates of what they are paid and the number of hours they work. It converts it to a high-level estimate, as it calls it, back into whole-time equivalents. It is as much as we were looking for. It gives us a close enough picture that a significant portion of 16,000 out of 119,000 people delivering the health service every day are pure agency staff through section 38. That is a significant percentage and has probably been increasing. We will note that and publish it. There is a lot of useful information there.

We still do not have full transparency on section 38 stuff. It is a time bomb It is a topic to which the committee should return. I know we spoke about potential special reports. This area is completely underfunded. There are loans being given out to these organisations but they do not call them loans.

Advances.

They would not function otherwise. They would close down and we would have a collapse of service across health care. It cannot go on. The trading scenarios here are unusual in some cases. It cannot continue.

The point is well noted. We will have that on our work programme. We will note and publish that.

No. 2345B is correspondence from Mr. Peter Finnegan, Secretary General of the Oireachtas Commission, on various queries put to him at the meeting of 11 July. It gives a breakdown of expenditure on ICT in 2018 and information on the costs of disseminating output from the Houses of the Oireachtas to local media, including regional newspapers, local radio and national newspapers.

It also gives a breakdown of the costs associated with the High Court and Supreme Court cases involving Mr. Denis O'Brien and states in regard to that particular case that senior counsel, Sara Moorhead, was paid €136,948, Michael Collins was paid €118,824 and David Fennelly was paid €85,325.

There is a note on a range of issues regarding the six legal cases involving staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service and their cases, on which we asked for details. Nobody is identified, but some of the listed cases have gone to the Workplace Relations Commission. The information has been provided to members and will be published later today. There is another note on the work of Rannóg an Aistriúcháin, involving information regarding the backlog in regard to the translation of Acts. There is an extensive report on that backlog and the estimated cost and timescale involved in addressing it. I understand the plan will cost €3.5 million over a five year period.

There is a note on liabilities, which were bills due to be paid at year end. There is nothing significant in that regard.

We asked who was responsible for paying the Army. It is covered by the Department of Defence.

We asked for a breakdown and they told us that there are 2,027 staff on the payroll system, including retired Members and retired staff. The breakdown indicates that Members and political staff number 790, including Deputies, Senators, political personnel who work for Deputies and MEPs, former Members, political staff and MEPs and staff who work in constituency offices. A figure of 584 is provided in regard to Oireachtas staff, including Civil Service bar and catering staff and clerical staff.

There is a further note regarding the ongoing ICT training provided by the service. We made a suggestion that there should the some facility to provide training in the constituency offices, in particular for Members who do not have offices in Dublin. It is easy for Members who are based in Dublin to avail of training. It was suggested that when equipment is being upgraded the personnel delivering the new equipment would be asked to provide, say, a half day training in some of the constituencies. That would be a major help to the more remote offices.

The final note is a response to our request for a note on the energy rating for the building that was refurbished. The note states that an energy certificate is displayed in the Leinster House complex and the rating is D1. The rating system is A to G, with A being the most efficient, such that D1 is a poor pass, at best. A display energy certificate is used in this case, which is slightly different from a BER rating, but is appropriate. It is based on the consumption of energy per square metre of the building. It also includes the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine building and other buildings adjacent to Leinster House. Essentially, the energy rating of the refurbished building is D1.

Some of that information comes in under No. 2409. We will note and publish all of that information.

The Chairman skipped through this item and gave only the headline figures in regard to the senior counsel. It is important to put on the record that the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser, OPLA, is engaging with cost accountants regarding the recoupment of legal fees paid to the counsel in regard to the High Court proceedings.

That is noted.

It is not just an outlay; there is a recoupment, in particular for the High Court aspect.

The point raised by Deputy Murphy has highlighted an issue for me. In this correspondence reference is made to certain barristers’ legal fees. In regard to the Apple case, for some time now, through parliamentary questions and other formats, I have been trying to get the fees paid to certain barristers and information on whether they have any other public sector jobs and, consistently, I have been refused this information, citing personal information. The State is paying these barristers significant sums with taxpayers’ money. I understand that some of them hold other publicly funded roles. Despite my having been previously given such information, I have consistently been refused it recently, yet this correspondence makes reference to that information.

To individuals.

Can the committee write to them and ask for a consistent approach and transparency with regard to the information I have requested?

The Department of Finance is managing that case.

I suspect the Deputy will be able to put that question to the Data Protection Commissioner when she appears before us shortly. It could be a data protection issue.

I am not sure that it is.

We will raise it with the Data Protection Commissioner.

Can we also ask the Department of Finance to provide us with the information?

Yes, we will ask for it but we will also raise the matter with the Data Protection Commissioner because it could be a data protection issue.

I will forward the relevant parliamentary question to the Clerk.

We have a lot of correspondence to go through yet. There is a voting block today which does not affect me because I am first in but if we do not start by 10.30 a.m., other members may not get in.

We will finish the correspondence under section B and hold over the items under section C.

On the backlog in regard Irish translation of the Acts and the finding of the court and the statement that it may be in breach of our Constitution, I would like to come back to that matter.

We will note and publish it.

We should be ready to meet the Data Protection Commissioner at 10.30 a.m.

We will conclude this part of the meeting at 10.30 a.m.

No. 2346 is from Mr. Ciaran Dooly, Central Statistics Office, regarding various information we asked for about staffing numbers when he was before us in April, which we will note and publish.

No. 2347 is from Mr. Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, providing further information regarding the gender balance of the health budget oversight group. Mr. Watt provides details of the percentage of female participation at various meetings at Appendix 1. We will note and publish this item.

No. 2354 is from Professor Phillip Nolan, president, Maynooth University, dated 29 July 2019 providing information requested by the committee regarding loan guarantees in respect of a debt that the university had to write off. In fairness, this is a 40 page document so I suggest we hold it over to another day. I have not had an opportunity to read through it. It is too large to discuss today. Is it agreed to hold it over? Agreed.

No. 2373 is from An Garda Síochána dated 5 September 2019 providing information requested by the committee at the meeting on 9 May 2019. There is some interesting information provided. We asked why there was an increase in money for Garda masts and the response is that it was a timing issue in that it did not receive payment in one year and it came through the following year.

Members will be interested in the next note, which is an update on the approximately 14,000 people affected by the fixed charge notices to include the number of people who had lost their licences as a result. Members will recall that an examination of summonses and charges issued between January 2006 and December 2016 identified a significant number of summonses and charges issued for persons who had committed offences, but were brought before the courts incorrectly, which required further examination. I remind Deputies that this is nearly three years old. The letter is detailed. We asked for an update because the fines collected in 12,000 cases had to be repaid. The note states that it has been difficult to track down all of the people affected and that some of the registered letters sent were returned. They were then sent to the divisional offices for delivery but when officers tried to deliver them they found the people were no longer at the addresses. They tried to get their new addresses and are still following up and making inquiries. Three years on, in the cases of the approximately 12,000 people affected, more than 4,000 letters of consent have been received. What they are saying is that they want to go back into court to get the case struck out and the points removed but they need the consent of the persons before they bring their names into court. Of the 12,000 affected, only 4,000 consents have been granted to date. There are a further 8,000 people who got penalty points.

Maybe some of them feel they have expired and they are not interested. Let us be clear about that. They should be able to get to the bottom of it. They are saying that in the absence of the consent from the individual, they cannot do anything about it. They are saying that in respect of the driving licences, no response received from a person affected has indicated to the Garda that they had actually lost their driving licence as a result of the extra penalty points shoving them over the figure. People were on the radio and television stating that was happening. The Garda states it has no proof that that happened.

It is interesting it is taking so long. It is not a good administration system where, three years on, they have not been able to tie down two thirds of the people concerned. It speaks for itself. I want to be fair to the Garda. For many people, perhaps the points are now extinguished and they are not bothered with it anymore.

Details are given of the cost of establishing a cybercrime unit, of the internal affairs unit, and of the training costs for An Garda Síochána. A note is given on prepayments and advance payments of ICT provision.

Details are also given of the collection of insurance premia by the Garda on behalf of insurance companies. It is stated it is for medical insurance – we were worried that this related to cars that were found on the road that were not insured and premia were being collected. It merely seems to be an internal payroll issue. They seem to get a commission from health insurance companies for processing and collecting the premia.

The status of the canine unit is given. It is stated that each handler has responsibility for the care and maintenance of his or her training dog. I had raised this issue that there were nine new ones attached to the dog unit in Kilmainham. Two of these kennels were erected towards the end of 2018 and a further seven require construction. A year on, there are only two of the nine done. Agreement had been reached with Office of Public Works, OPW, to provide the kennels to the remaining seven members of the Garda Síochána. In some cases, they have the dogs in their own back yards at home without proper facilities. That is not the way. These are highly specialised, trained dogs that are of considerable assistance in crime detection. I urge the Garda Síochána to spend the money, do the job, get it over and done with, and look after that area properly.

The number of speeding fines that were not followed up on was announced on the news in recent days. That is an income. The Chairman is talking about spending money on the canine unit. I would say there is an income that has not been recouped. It is not only an income. The whole point of the speeding fines is to make the roads safer. There could be a price to pay in terms of human cost. When there is such income-----

We need to trace it.

We need to follow that through.

With speeding fines, where does the money go?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Some of it is used as appropriations-in-aid to pay for the GoSafe camera system. The rest of it is surrendered to the Exchequer.

There is no incentive for the Garda to spend its time collecting money that goes into the central Exchequer. That is something we will come back to. I am not suggesting debt collectors, because that was raised. The point is that, in some regions people, even when they are handed down fines in court, ignore them and the fines are never paid, collected or followed up. That is another day’s work. We note and publish that.

No. 2374, from Mr. Robert Watt, provides copies of documentation released under freedom of information, FOI, pertaining to the national children's hospital. Some members will have seen that previously. It has been out under FOI for a period, if members want it followed up. We note and publish that, although it is already published under FOI.

No. 2375, from Mr. Eoin McLoughlin, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, is regarding agri-biomethane. We can note and publish that. Some will want to watch that.

The next item, No. 2381, from Ms Louise O'Meara, head of policy and secretariat, Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, dated 11 September, provides an information note requested by the committee on the inquiry regarding EU funds for training purposes in the Garda College, Templemore. We will ask for an update on that. The letter is clear. We note and publish the letter stating that the commission refers to EU funds for training purposes in the Garda College. It states there are legacy issues. There are two different sources. One relates to the issue and one was raised at the Committee of Public Accounts. They state the account was maintained in Templemore with the consent of the Department of Justice and Equality but it has nothing to do with the Garda Training College - that is merely where somebody was administering it – and the bank account was sanctioned by the Department of Justice and Equality. The last paragraph states that during its investigation, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission obtained a significant amount of documentation from the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality, the financial institution and the European Union itself, and that as this is a criminal investigation, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is limited in what information it can release at this time but, as stated above, the investigation is now at an advanced stage. We will just have to wait, if there are criminal proceedings, for them to take their course. GSOC confirms that criminal proceedings are being investigated in this case. We note and publish that.

The next item of correspondence is from, Mr. Pat Smyth, interim CEO of Tusla, dated 12 September, providing clarification requested by the committee in relation to the remuneration of staff employed directly by Tusla and agency staff. There was a little confusion and they clarify it there.

I welcome the letter. It sets out that the main difference between both positions, the directly employed ones and the agency staff, is the pensions. Tusla does not have to make a pension contribution to an agency worker. In fairness, Tusla recognises that if it directly employs people, the workers themselves have better benefits in terms of maternity benefit, career break options, shorter working year etc. I welcome all that.

There is a contradiction between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s stated view that there is a big problem with pensions - it is a ticking time bomb, we need employers to be paying into people’s pensions, and we need people to have private pensions - and the State employing agency staff who do not have pension protection. It is something of a false economy. There are a number of false economies involved in hiring agency staff. There is a contradiction between one Department talking about encouraging private sector companies to pay into their employees’ pension pots while other Departments are not doing so.

We had a similar situation with RTÉ with if-and-when contracts. We had it with other bodies as well. There is a price to be paid down the road for all of this in terms of people’s pension contributions that needs to be factored in when Government organisations are looking at employing agency staff versus direct employment.

We had confirmation from the Department of Health a moment ago that there were 16,000 whole-time equivalent agency staff in the HSE right throughout last year. That could involve 40,000 staff at different stages during the year but, in breaking it down to whole-time equivalents, there were 16,000 whole-time equivalent agency staff. It is a significant proportion. It is the same point Deputy Cullinane is making. We note and publish that.

The next item is from Mr. Maurice Buckley, chairman of the Office of Public Works, OPW, providing an update requested by the committee regarding the discussions on the rent for the Miesian Plaza, its new headquarters for the Department of Health in Baggot Street in Dublin. He states that he had anticipated a meeting with the landlord would have taken place at this stage, that due to availability of senior personnel in both organisations it has not been possible, that a meeting has been arranged for early October, and that Mr. Buckley will keep the committee informed. We will note that and give him a month. On 1 November, we will write for the update.

He wrote in early September.

Mr. Buckley stated that the meeting between OPW and the owner of the building, Miesian Plaza, is scheduled for early October.

I think we all know what that meeting is for - how are you doing, we made a mistake, will you reduce the rent.

The meeting is happening in early October. We will give them a few weeks after the meeting to give us a report of the meeting. It has not happened yet. We will note and publish that.

The next item is No. 2402 from Mr. John Uhlemann, Department of Finance, on the national finance accounts, copies of which have now been made available to us.

The next item, No. 2403, is from Mr. John O'Dwyer, deputy commissioner, Data Protection Commission. I dealt with that already. I also dealt with No. 2404. It relates to the Data Protection Commission's report.

The next item is No. 2405 from Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, Secretary General, Department of Justice and Equality, dated 24 September 2019, relating to today’s meeting and the witness list. We note and publish this. Technically, Mr. O’Driscoll is the Accounting Officer for the Office of the Data Protection Commission. That is scheduled to change in the coming year.

He felt that since Ms Dixon is the commissioner directly responsible for the office that is most appropriate, she is the person we need rather than him. He has given the list of witnesses. Technically, he could be here but I think it is reasonable that we have Ms Helen Dixon and the relevant officials from her office and the Department of Justice and Equality. He is putting on the record why he is not here. That is accepted and published.

No. 2407B is from the Journal Office and is a report of the Committee of Selection, dated 11 July 2019, discharging Deputy Jonathan O’Brien from the committee. I apologise for the late notification of this to the committee. It appoints Deputy Imelda Munster in substitution for Deputy O’Brien. We will note and publish this a week after Deputy Munster has joined the committee, having welcomed her here last week. The paperwork is only coming through now so we will note and publish it.

There is one item of category C correspondence that we want to deal with. We are getting phone calls relating to the school transport-----

Before the Chairman moves on, I would like to thank Mr. Robert Watt for his update on gender equality.

We have mentioned the one item of correspondence which I want to deal with. It is No. 2352C from Brian Lynch and Associates, dated 19 July 2019, requesting the committee make inquiries to the Comptroller and Auditor General about the special report of 2017 regarding the provision of school transport. The matters related to the accounts of Bus Éireann, which are not examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is quite a debate here about whether school transport worked on a cost recovery basis. There was a suggestion that it always did but it became clear recently that Bus Éireann had a surplus in that area, which has now been moved back to support school transport in future years. The essence of this issue was that Mr. Lynch had been involved in several court cases against Bus Éireann and the State related to this. We are going to note and publish this letter since it relates to the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Mr. Lynch mentions the report and the cost recovery. He asks if the Comptroller and Auditor General will confirm that cost recovery was not the correct basis, notwithstanding that he has issued the report, and that perhaps a profit was made on it when the Department told us that it believed there was no profit, just cost recovery. Can Mr. McCarthy comment on the letter and the request?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I think I dealt with the issues which were proper for me to look at. I am not the auditor of Bus Éireann and I do not have legal rights to examine and report on Bus Éireann. I have put what I had to say on the matter in the special report. I do not feel that it is appropriate to comment any further on the matter.

Mr. McCarthy has written his report and is not proposing to add anything further.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No. The matter was examined before the committee last year. I do not have anything further to add.

There is a request which we will note and discuss but I cannot publish it without his consent. The Data Protection Commission will attend in the afternoon.

I read that letter and took time to read everything that is related. Foolishly or otherwise, I read all of the case law on it. There is a fundamental misunderstanding about what we are being asked to do in the committee. The request is for the Committee of Public Accounts to ask or direct the Comptroller and Auditor General to confirm in writing four things which he found in the accounts. There is a fundamental misunderstanding generally, not just specifically here, that we are being asked to direct the Comptroller and Auditor General to go back to look again and find something that he has not said. It is important that he has an independent role. He has done a report and we have examined it. We are now being asked to go back. I do not think that is possible. Issues relating to value for money for school transport need to be teased out, but those are different issues and will be addressed in due course.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has given his definitive answer and that concludes this. It is now on the public record.

We could send it to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for its consideration.

We will write to the correspondent and ask if he wants to do that. We will not automatically do it without being requested.

The explanation was-----

His request is specific to the Comptroller and Auditor General because he had a special report on the cost of school transport, and he had been following this committee.

I understand that. I acknowledge he is not the auditor for it but Bus Éireann is under the remit of the Joint Committee of Transport, Tourism and Sport. School transport falls under education, and the Joint Committee on Education and Skills might have an interest in the fact that it might be getting money that it does not need.

The correspondent will see what happened today in the transcript, if not on the screen. If he feels it is of value, we can forward it to the other committee in due course. That is as far as we can take it today.

There are two items which the Chairman might dispense with, Nos. 2361C and 2379C.

We will cherry-pick a few because we do not have time to get through them all. We have most of the work done but there will be a bit of an overrun to next week. Deputy Murphy had two in mind.

It is correspondence from Deputy Cullinane and from me. It has been dealt with.

It deals with the public services card, PSC. The correspondence is from Deputies Murphy and Cullinane and relates to our work programme.

I wrote in about the PSC issue. Whatever questions we have are primarily for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Department will come in within the next five weeks. The committee secretariat may have already written to it.

We wrote to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about the use of the card across other public bodies.

The Data Protection Commissioner mentioned the report of the Committee of Public Accounts in her opening statement. Within that is a reference to a special report that the Comptroller and Auditor General did on the PSC. There may well be an update on the costings related to that and how much it is costing the taxpayer. The figures went up to 2017 so there may need to be a projection.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I have a projection to the end of 2017.

We will not know that until after we finish our hearing today. Perhaps we could have some discussion on that next week. We will then be clear about what we want to discuss with the Department and we can get as much information as necessary from it. I know it will not be just that issue but if it is an issue that people want to talk to it about, we can.

We raised that issue in a small way when the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was last before the committee. The cost then was €60 million and we included that in our latest periodic report. It is scheduled to come back in shortly after the budget. It is the Department incurring the majority, if not most, of the costs. We can contact it. Ms Dixon will not be able to answer for the Department today. She can only give her perspective. Do Deputies Kelly or MacSharry want to raise any correspondence?

The Chairman may have dealt with this last week or before I came in. It is from the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, related to Noel McGree.

I have not dealt with that. It is on today's list, No. 2380C.

I have a problem with this letter. It is something of a whitewash. The letter states that the Department is liaising with Noel McGree, that it is a difficult situation but that everything is progressing. I do not believe that there is any goodwill here. I think we are throwing the kitchen sink at this man and that if anybody monitors this particular case, it would be a signal to never submit a protected disclosure because we would throw the person under a bus. There is a need for goodwill.

If what Mr. O'Driscoll says was morally true, in practical terms, they would be making contact with Mr. McGree and would be trying to mediate this. They are not. I am aware that Mr. McGree and his family have had a horrendous time where they have been stuffed into an administrative merry-go-round to blindly protect the State. No consideration is being shown for a person who gave 25 years of his life to public service. I do not accept this letter. It was written to tell the committee what it wants to hear to shut it up. In real terms, this man and his family are suffering. Some sort of proactive attempt should be made, rather than box-ticking exercises and superficial correspondence and engagement. They need to deal with this, mediate it in a timely manner with some level of consideration for a man and his family who has given 25 years to the State and who has done the State some additional service by having the courage to highlight some issues, the investigation of which may be still continuing. The person and his family are entitled to a little bit more proactivity and engagement rather than this.

I concur 100% with the previous speaker. This correspondence does not reflect what the Secretary General stated to us here. We have met and dealt with this individual and listened honestly. We certainly got a strong feeling from the Secretary General that these issues would be dealt with in a humane and sensible way; they have not been. This letter is just a generic response to tick a box without dealing with the issues. I propose that we write back to the Secretary General and state that we would like a more proactive response to the issues that this individual has raised, and to dealing with his situation.

I support doing that. Most Members will be aware that we have met the person concerned. For those who are new to this iissue, this individual made a protected disclosure on certain issues. This was not resolved satisfactorily within the prison service. Through the Department and the Prison Service, the services of a retired judge were requested to do a report. He gave a report that fully vindicated the individual. The Department has not acted on this yet. As a result of him being out of work, he has taken cases to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. Public determinations have been made in his favour at the commission awarding him money. The Prison Service and the Department, one or other or both, have appealed these determinations. He is out of work. He has the backing of a retired judge employed by the Department or the Prison Service to do a job. The WRC has made a determination in his favour. The Department has refused to pay this award and wants to appeal this decision. He is out of work in the meantime and his family are in financial jeopardy.

We will leave this matter by politely saying that this is unfair treatment. We are asking the Department to move and bring this to an amicable solution as quickly as possible. We can write legal letters from here to eternity but that will not solve the problem.

Which Department was sponsored the whistleblowers legislation?

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The difficulty is that we are seeing a trend. There is a perception that when one passes legislation, the box is ticked. The problem is that the trend suggests that there are cultural issues where whistleblowers are seen as a nuisance and are fought all the way. Several high-profile cases demonstrated this and have put people off coming forward with information that requires to be brought to the attention of the committee and various Departments. Unless there is a cultural change in how whistleblowers are handled, we are going to keep on seeing a repeat of this kind of scenario.

We will proceed with further work

The next item is reports and statements on accounts received: Carbon Fund, clear audit opinion; Pensions Authority, clear audit opinion; Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, clear audit opinion; Local Government Fund, clear audit opinion; The Gathering Project 2013, clear audit opinion; An Bord Pleanála, clear audit opinion - it is appearing here next week; Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board, ETB, clear audit opinion; Laois and Offaly ETB, clear audit opinion; Donegal ETB, clear audit opinion; Cavan and Monaghan ETB, clear audit opinion where attention is drawn to the in adequacy of the internal audit function available to the ETBs. We note this issue, which is ongoing.

I wish to formally note where we see, as was mentioned by Deputy Cullinane last week, an observation of non-compliance with public procurement policy. As a matter of policy now, the committee will write to each organisation on each occasion. It is not good enough to have this reference buried in a governance report in a certain financial statement. Only a few people who might be interested in money matters would look at these figures to see a minor remark in a Comptroller and Auditor General's audit.

I went further than that and asked that we write back to them regarding the total amount, the total number of projects, and a justification as to why there was non-compliance.

We will get the transcript from last week but I want to formally minute that automatically even if we do not it from now to ensure that this will happen automatically. This will put direct pressure back on the chief executive officer of the organisation that if he or she does not comply with public procurement, it will be raised formally at the Committee of Public Accounts and the person will be written to formally by this committee. This might encourage the officials in the organisation under him her not to have this problem recur. We will do this. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The work programme is in front of members. Next week we have An Bórd Pleanála. The following week we have-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Excuse me, Chairman, but we have further accounts on the second page.

I apologise as we have accounts on a further page. We have been very environmentally-friendly by having some of these on the reverse side of the page and we are saving on paper.

Cork ETB have questions to answer.

Cork ETB have a clear audit opinion but attention is drawn to non-compliant procurement to the value of €2 million. We are writing directly to it, as we have just mentioned. Regarding Kildare and Wicklow ETB, attention is drawn to lapses of internal control-----

On Cork ETB, the adequacy of the internal audit is an issue.

This is a national issue for all of the ETBs. There is a national centralised service. They do not have their own internal audit function. They want a national service. They are based in Cavan and have trouble recruiting because staff are told that they need to spend a week in Cork, Donegal. This means they have trouble retaining staff.

The internal audit inadequacy did not raise its head in the other ETBs but it did in Cork. Why is this?

No, several ETBs raised this issue last year with us.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is correct, with Cavan and Monaghan-----

I am only reading what is in front of me. We have a clear audit opinion that everything is tickety-boo with some of them but it is not the position in Cork, where we have concern about the internal audit function.

The other ETBs raised the matter previously.

What is the story then?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

In fairness, the audit committees of the ETBs themselves are saying that they have inadequate resources for internal audit purposes. They feel that the service is inadequate.

Last year, for the 2017 accounts, many more of the ETBs raised this as a problem. Some of them may have felt that they had an increase in resourcing in 2018 and that perhaps improvement has come about in their assessment.

We move on Kildare and Wicklow ETB, non-----

On this ETB, I am trying to figure out if any of these data are historic as we have dealt with some of this previously. The Department and some of the ETBs were before the committee. We will deal with the non-compliance of public procurement but regarding the issue in respect of control in the procurement of capital projects in 2016, is this just noting a problem that we already-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes, this is something that I have already reported on in respect of the 2015 accounts. These are the 2016 accounts, where other ETBs are producing 2018 accounts.

It is carried over.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The 2016 accounts were affected as well by the same issues that I previously reported upon.

Are there any capital projects that there is now a concern about and that this committee has not discussed?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No, members would have been aware of most of them.

As each year passes, there are other concerns in respect of that matter but they all stem from the same problem. The matter is being investigated by the ETB.

Delays on the part of the board in establishing a comprehensive risk management system were also discussed with it. Is there still a problem in that regard?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No, this was for 2016. If the Deputy recalls, the ETBs were first formed in 2013. There was a delay in-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

-----Kildare and Wicklow ETB putting the systems in place. That was a problem in 2016.

It was a problem at that time.. Has the position improved in the interim? Have the systems been put in place?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I will not give a view on 2017 or 2018 until I have completed the work.

I appreciate that but we dealt with that when its representatives were before us.

When will the 2017 and 2018 accounts be available?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

They are being worked on. I would expect to have the 2017 accounts before the end of this year and then the 2018 accounts will roll into 2020. We are catching up.

The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General had to get the 2016 accounts out of the way before it could move forward.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Exactly.

Have they been submitted?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

Were those involved tardy in submitting their accounts?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No, and we have the accounts for 2017 and 2018 awaiting audit. We have to do it in sequence.

The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General could not move to the 2017 accounts until the 2016 accounts were noted and published. There is a sequencing issue but it will come back in front of some members of the committee again, depending on who is here next year.

The Chairman will be a Minister.

That is Kildare and Wicklow ETB.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Irish Fiscal Council and Ordnance Survey Ireland all had clear audit opinions. I will not really discuss the work programme today and the next few days are out.

I would like to mention the work programme for Caranua. I mentioned it last week but I do not see it.

It is there. Caranua has been invited to appear.

Yes, on 17 October.

We has issues but that is coming up soon. That is the main issue on 17 October.

When will the Comptroller and Auditor General will issue his report?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

On Monday.

We can discuss the work programme on Thursday next in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. We do not need to discuss it any further today. We will suspend in a moment.

I have a small issue to raise. I refer to Pobal. Does it come under the Comptroller and Auditor General's remit?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes.

Have representatives from Pobal appeared before the committee?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Not for a long time.

I ask that we put that on the agenda.

Absolutely. Pobal is listed on the work programme. We will try to schedule a date-----

There is a specific issue with the criteria that are being used in the context of funding applications. The criteria were changed in respect of the current round of funding. There are serious questions in that regard.

It will be on our work programme.

Do we have a date for it yet?

No, we will discuss it next week. I want to move on.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Pobal is referred to in one of the chapters in the report I will be publishing on Monday. It is in the context of childcare payments.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is acting as an agent for the Department in that case.

That is the very matter I have issues with.

The nail has been hit on the head.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I am ahead of the Deputy for once.

Has there been any progress in bringing Irish Water under the Comptroller and Auditor General's remit? I know there was dialogue ongoing with that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is a matter for the Department to bring forward. I have no update to give the Deputy.

Before we adjourn, there are two items of correspondence I want to deal with and dispose of in private session. The latter is the wrong term but I want to deal with them promptly because they are issues we need to tackle. I do not want to leave them hanging unnecessarily. It will only take two minutes. We will adjourn then for ten minutes or so while the witnesses take their seats.

The committee went into private session at 10.34 a.m., suspended at 10.37 a.m. and resumed in public session at 10.50 a.m.