Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (2)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

2. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that Tusla is implementing the recommendations aimed at rectifying shortcomings identified in the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts periodic report of September to October 2017; the correspondence she has had with Tusla on the issues raised in the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9029/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

I ask the Minister if she is satisfied that Tusla is implementing the recommendations aimed at rectifying governance shortcomings identified in the Committee of Public Accounts report of September to October 2017. What correspondence has she had with Tusla regarding the matter raised in the report?

The Committee of Public Accounts recently published its periodic report covering the period September 2017 to October 2017. Following Tusla's appearance before it on 19 October 2017 in respect of the examination of its 2016 financial statement, the committee made a number of recommendations. These covered the following areas: ensuring that service level agreements are in place for 100% of grant-funded agencies; ensuring that current weaknesses relating to procurement are addressed; ensuring that timelines are established for the implementation of an action plan with An Garda Síochána to improve inter-agency co-operation in the area of child protection; and ensuring that Tusla supports An Garda Síochána in implementing recommendations in a timely manner.

When I issued the performance statement, which is a statutory communication from the Minister to Tusla, in November 2017, I brought specific attention to similar concerns. I also requested early progress on the research being commissioned and managed by Tusla regarding actions taken following the invoking of section 12 of the Child Care Act, 1991 by An Garda Síochána.

Officials from my Department requested a written update from Tusla on 1 February 2018 with regard to the specific recommendations contained in the committee’s periodic report. Tusla provides grant-aided funding to 986 separate organisations. These include national organisations in receipt of over €7 million annually, as well as organisations in receipt of less than €1,000 per annum. Tusla has confirmed that it has put in place processes to achieve better compliance on the part of grant-aided organisations. It has, however, also identified that it will take some time to achieve 100% compliance in this area.

Tusla is making progress in improving its procurement arrangements. This will assist with proper planning and evaluation of Tusla’s requirements and will facilitate timely and appropriate procurement exercises to be carried out, ensuring good governance and value for money. In addition, a procurement training programme is being implemented for key personnel. I will deal with the audit by Dr. Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection, in later questions but I am pleased to confirm we have had substantial engagement with key stakeholders on his key recommendations.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, made a number of recommendations and I am working with the special rapporteur and Tusla to ensure that they be fully implemented.

I will be dealing with the audit by Dr. Shannon in detail in later questions. I am pleased to confirm, however, that I have had substantial engagement with the key stakeholders on Dr. Shannon’s recommendations. This has included visits to locations recommended by the special rapporteur and others in order to develop a model so that children who are sexually abused receive more child-friendly services.

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, also accompanied our delegation, which comprised personnel from my Department, the Department of Justice and Equality, Tusla and An Garda Síochána, on these visits.

I will continue to work to progress the various recommendations in Dr. Shannon’s report.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She will agree that some of the findings were very worrying when it comes to public money being spent and whether there has been proper oversight by Tusla. I specifically refer to paragraph A.21, which indicates that Tusla could not identify where €700,000 was spent. The Comptroller and Auditor General had to figure out where the money was spent, which is absolutely incredible. Who is overseeing the process to which the Minister refers? Does she believe we will see a significant improvement in the context of next year's report?

The Deputy inquired specifically as to who is overseeing the process. It is Tusla's executive and board. Ultimately, my oversight is provided through ongoing quarterly meetings with Tusla's board and executive on these matters. In the context of the Minister's oversight of Tusla, there is a process to identify, in a performance statement, the priorities and concerns from our Department for the agency for the upcoming year. This is what we suggest it needs to focus on in particular. With the performance statement, I have highlighted all the different areas, including the specific matters raised by the Deputy, on which Tusla will focus an improvement plan. I have also identified that it should implement actions for all those areas, including the value-for-money aspect of expenditure.

I thank the Minister. I recognise that efforts are being made to rectify many of the difficulties faced by Tusla and they are historical. I nevertheless have concerns. I understand that Tusla has said some of the issues are legacy problems, such as the €5.2 million paid in respect of non-competitive processes, including private foster care, interpretation services, insurance and agency staff. Given all the concerns we have, does the Minister have confidence in Tusla overseeing the process? I understand that there is a three-year procurement plan in place. Is the Minister happy with that process?

Yes, I am. I have identified that Tusla has in place a number of plans relating to the report. There is a section in my Department working with Tusla on oversight and the provision of support, as well as use of moneys being properly expended.

The Deputy referred to procurement. The management of Tusla is establishing procurement support within the agency. It is developing a three-year procurement plan for the agency in conjunction with the HSE's procurement service in order to identify the key procurement requirements of the agency. It is also incorporating a procurement training programme which is being implemented for managers, budget holders and relevant staff with responsibility for non-pay expenditure. Not unlike other major organisations throughout the public sector and beyond, procurement is absolutely critical, and Tusla has identified a number of programmes to ensure that improvement will happen.