Amendment No. 1 ensures that accountability arrangements for the annual audit of the fund are further strengthened. This amendment ensures the auditor, which the fund manager is obliged to appoint each year, is appointed with the consent of the Minister.
The George Mitchell Scholarship Fund is held, controlled and managed in the United States by a fund manager, currently the US-Ireland Alliance, on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science. Under the existing agreement the fund manager is required to provide the Minister with a copy of the audited accounts of the fund on an annual basis. During the debate on Committee Stage in the Dáil it was suggested that consideration be given to having the Minister appoint the auditor each year. I explained then that, given the fund is managed in the United States, it is considered more appropriate that a US based audit firm conduct the annual audit of the fund.
The present arrangement whereby the fund manager appoints the auditor has operated since 1999. Copies of the audited accounts are also conveyed each year to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General before being laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is also considered more practical for the fund manager to select the firm to conduct the annual audit in the ordinary course of events. Under both the existing and draft new agreement, the Minister can request, and the fund manager must permit, additional independent auditors to examine the records related to all matters of the agreement.
However, having considered the issue in some detail, particularly the contribution by Deputy Ruairí Quinn in the Dáil last Thursday, I am satisfied that having the fund manager appoint the auditor each year, with the consent of the Minister, makes for an improved arrangement and hence the amendment.