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Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 23 Feb 2010

Vol. 201 No. 1

George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 1:
In page 4, line 10, after "manager" to insert "with the consent of the Minister".

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.

This is an important amendment. I commend Deputies Ruairí Quinn and John Perry for alerting the Government to the need for it in the other House and I commend the Minister of State for bringing it forward here.

Given the fund manager is American, would he or she listen to an Irish Minister, would he or she be compelled to do so and how would we enforce that requirement? The amendment is being made in order to oversee and safeguard the management of the fund. How would such a measure be enforced, if that had to be done?

There has been protracted discussions between my Department and the alliance on all of these issues and satisfactory safeguards have been put in place with regard to oversight. We have given this serious consideration. There is absolute co-operation between the alliance and the Department and these things are dealt with in a spirit of co-operation. The consent of the Minister will be provided for in legislation if the Bill is passed. It will be taken into account and acted upon by the alliance and by the fund manager.

Will that be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas?

Will what be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas?

The annual audited accounts.

Yes. The accounts are laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. In the Dáil, some Deputies felt it would be a good idea for the Joint Committee on Education and Science to examine this issue from time to time. The accounts are laid before both Houses in the normal course of events.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ag 10.30 ar maidin amárach.