The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meetings of 19 and 25 July. The draft minutes of these two meetings have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. Nothing arises from the minutes.
The next item on the agenda is correspondence. There is a schedule of correspondence which will take a few moments to get through because some was received over the summer. Members will have received the detailed correspondence in the post last week.
The first item of correspondence is document No. 479. It is a letter to the clerk to the committee from the budget and economic division of the Department of Finance enclosing a report of the expenditure review of the grant-in-aid to the ESRI. It is noted. Any member who wants to read it can obtain a copy through the committee secretariat.
The next item is document No. 480, a letter to the clerk to the committee from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the section 32 review relating to the Freedom of Information Act. It is for the purpose of clarification of a report by this committee. It was too late to consider it at the last meeting but we had concluded on the matter. It can be taken into account when a future committee carries out a further review.
The next item is a letter to the Chairman from the Information Commissioner regarding the FOI review. It was too late to consider it at the meeting but the points raised in the letter were discussed by the committee. Speaking from recollection, some of the agencies are not included under FOI legislation. Where they are available in the parent Department the commissioner wanted them to be accessible through the Freedom of Information Act. The point in the commissioner's letter had been discussed in any event.
The next item is a letter to the Chairman from the Minister for Finance regarding an individual taxpayer. As we are holding our meetings in public session and this case is ongoing, nobody should refer to the taxpayer by name as it would not be fair to the individual involved. Members should refer to the taxpayer as "the taxpayer". It is a detailed reply. This committee invested much time and effort in this case on behalf of the taxpayer who received a favourable judgment from the Ombudsman. The full recommendation of the Ombudsman was not accepted. There was a negotiated settlement. The taxpayer was ultimately dissatisfied.
The committee wrote to the Minister for Finance earlier this year. He replied that there was nothing further he could do. We wrote back in more detail to the Minister for Finance on behalf of the committee. The Minister has replied to the committee essentially saying that he has discussed the matter with the Revenue Commissioners, that he does not believe there is any reason for them to change their original decision on the case and that he is taking no further action. The taxpayer in question has contacted me as he is unhappy with that outcome. He feels the Minister's reply did not deal with the essence of what we raised with the Minister.
In his opening paragraph the Minister referred to the recent correspondence regarding the long-standing issue the individual has had with the Revenue Commissioners over a disputed tax matter. That could not be further from the truth. We never sought, and we specifically stated that we did not want to deal with the individual tax affairs of the taxpayer concerned. The Ombudsman, who is under the remit of this committee, had made a recommendation after a special investigation, and it is the only case on record where a public body has not accepted the recommendation of an Ombudsman.
We were as much concerned about the handling of the issue from the point of view of the Ombudsman. The Minister's response to this committee implying that we are talking about a disputed tax matter misses the point entirely. I am disappointed with the response from the Department. There is no reference to the Ombudsman anywhere in the response. The essence of our involvement in this was that an independent Ombudsman had made a recommendation which seems to have been set aside and there is no reference to that in the letter. At the same time the Minister makes it clear that he can do nothing further in the matter. The Revenue Commissioners are adamant that they see no reason to change their decision.