Dec 4, 2014
Revenue Commissioners: Chairman Josephine Feehily called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: I welcome the witnesses. The authorised officer in this case would have been a source of information for Revenue and would have assisted Revenue's investigations as a matter of course. If Revenue, as an organisation, settled with somebody, would he have known that?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, apart from the 58 cases which we have published. We have no way of advising him of same and I referenced that fact in one of my earlier answers.
Deputy John Deasy: This is a critical issue because to a great extent, we are talking in the dark here. He would not have known because Revenue would not have divulged such information to the authorised officer at any point because, as Ms Feehily has said several times, Revenue does not divulge personal information relating to the tax affairs of any citizen. If Revenue had pursued an individual, even someone who was identified in the reports of the authorised officer, and had settled with that individual, the authorised officer would not know about that, even today, would he?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, he would not have known unless it came into the public domain through our defaulters' list. He would have known that we were making progress with the class because we regularly published updates but not at case level.
Deputy John Deasy: So, the individual who has pursuing this issue for many years has no information with regard to how Revenue has pursued prosecutions or made settlements. If Revenue made settlements with individuals, some of whom are named in the dossier, he would not have that information.
Ms Josephine Feehily: That is correct. He would not know what we did in individual cases.
Deputy John Deasy: So we really are talking in the dark here.
Not to beat around the bush, the accusation has been made that the Revenue Commissioners and other organisations did not complete investigations into particular Ansbacher accounts appropriately or properly. Accusations have been made of political interference. As Deputy Ross said, the main accusation relates to things Revenue did not do. Were there things that Revenue could not do, under legislation?
I refer in particular to the ten-year rule mentioned by Deputy Ross which was introduced in the 1997 Taxes Consolidation Act. Did Revenue have an opinion on that? Ms Feehily said that Revenue was given special powers in 1999 which really assisted it to prosecute. When it came to the ten-year rule, did Revenue have reservations? That rule obviously prevented Revenue from pursuing some cases.
The Revenue Commissioners are the administrators of the tax code. They are not the policy makers but it is fair to say that they have views and opinions on legislation that affects the tax code and they give those views and opinions to the Department of Finance regularly. It is expected that the board of the Revenue Commissioners would have an opinion on legislation, both formally and informally. Was a view presented by Revenue to the Department of Finance on the ten-year rule?
Ms Josephine Feehily: First, I am not entirely sure, without checking, in what year that provision was introduced because the Taxes Consolidation Act was a consolidation of the tax code. Deputy Ross said it was introduced in 1992 and he is probably the best source on that, subject to checking. I would have to check the papers around the drafting of that section to see what view was expressed. That said, my strong understanding on the basis of recent explorations of this issue, is that in the common law, even if we did not have that section in place, a prosecution for an offence committed more than ten years ago in this regulatory space, as opposed to other forms of jurisprudence, would be likely to fail the justice delayed - justice denied test.
Our role in a prosecution is to prepare cases and bring them to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Certainly, engagement with the DPP would confirm the view that such a time period is an impediment, regardless of the section that is in place. I can say that based on my own discussions in Revenue in recent years because I have explored it. I would have to research and get my officials to check the papers from the year that the section was drafted to see what view Revenue may have expressed then. I was not even in the Revenue Commissioners at that time.
Deputy John Deasy: Ms Feehily made reference to the fact that when a criminal investigation would not pan out, her office turns to civil action. Does the ten-year rule apply in those circumstances too?
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes, in fact in civil actions, the common law view would be that the time period is even shorter. We have a four-year rule, generally speaking, vis-à-vis our authority to go backwards and that is considered relatively long.
Deputy John Deasy: I ask this because for the public looking in, this is the main issue. The public want to know why Revenue cannot go back 20 or 30 years in the course of an investigation. It would be helpful if Ms Feehily spelled out why that is the case. Is it because Revenue cannot get its hands on the original documentation, some of which may date back to the 1970s? Is it because of common law and the ten-year rule under the Taxes Consolidation Act that Revenue is prevented from doing so? It would be useful if Ms Feehily spelled out the various reasons Revenue cannot pursue an investigation after a certain period of time.
Ms Josephine Feehily: When one has two huge reasons, one tends not to go looking for three, four or five more. One needs original documents and evidence first.
One needs to be able to prove a connection between these documents, the person involved and tax evasion done knowingly, willingly or negligently. There needs to be a criminal standard of proof which is beyond reasonable doubt in respect of connections of this nature. This must all be done within ten years. We are talking here about events which took place in the 1970s and 1980s. That is a real difficulty. That was codified, so to speak, in law in the form of the ten-year rule.
Those are the reasons. They are common reasons which are not confined to Revenue, they apply across processes relating to the legal system and in terms of natural justice and fairness. In general law they have been commented on several times by judges in the context of fairness, the due process to which people are entitled, in the context of how far back regulatory bodies are permitted to go and so on. If it would be helpful, I can send a note to the committee in which I will set out all of the background considerations. However, it will come down to the issues to which I refer, namely, evidence beyond reasonable doubt, original documents and the ten-year rule.
Deputy John Deasy: I return to the reason we are here, that is, the accusation that Revenue did not investigate this matter properly. I would like Ms Feehily to provide information on the special projects team that was appointed to investigate the Ansbacher accounts, the number of people who were involved and the expertise they possessed.
Ms Josephine Feehily: The team was led by a very senior and experienced principal inspector of taxes who had previously carried out many investigations. He had available to him 20 staff, including half a dozen experienced investigators and research and clerical support staff. We invested in computer technology - the file magic system - we never had before and this proved to be an incredible asset to the team in sifting through all of the documentation. As the 2000s progressed and as I mentioned to Deputy Ross, other investigations were taking place. The investigation into bogus non-resident accounts ran in parallel in 2001.
We were also dealing with matters relating to High Court orders, offshore assets and tribunals. During those years, Revenue received sanction for 300 additional staff. We increased the number of people dealing with this group of cases from 20 to 30. The number of people on the team reached 30 in 2001. We maintained that number of people working on these cases until 2005. The ratio of people to cases was extraordinarily high by Revenue or any other standards. By the time the case base reached 289, there were 30 officers involved.
There was also a structure in place for the first couple of years of the process whereby very regular meetings were held. These were led by very experienced assistant secretaries who were all qualified inspectors of taxes in their own right and one of whom was a qualified barrister. There were also regular meetings with the then chairman, at which direction, strategy and decisions were continually questioned. The matter was taken extremely seriously.
Deputy John Deasy: Ms Feehily referred to the ten-year rule being a serious impediment. Were there other impediments? The legislation underpinning the 1993 tax amnesty was introduced. Did the then board of Revenue or any senior officials give an official opinion to the Department of Finance with regard to this amnesty? Some people, including a number of academics, remain of the opinion that the tax amnesty in question was unnecessary. There were massive differences between the 1988 amnesty, which was operated on the basis that all outstanding taxes be recouped, and the 1993 amnesty, which was known as the "15% incentive amnesty".
There is a theory - I have heard it outlined on a number of occasions - that as the investigations into the Ansbacher accounts proceeded in the period 2003 to 2005, plenty of people in senior positions in Revenue had major misgivings with regard to the way in which the legislation relating to the 1993 amnesty was drafted. Some Ansbacher account holders availed of the 1993 tax amnesty and when they were pursued, they had the certificates they had obtained as a result of that and these made them immune from prosecution.
This is a really important point. Some 20 Ansbacher account holders availed of the tax amnesty and there is a suggestion that the legislation under which that amnesty was established was politically motivated. I accept that Ms Feehily cannot comment on that matter to a certain extent. However, I am going to ask her about the kinds of reservations which continued to be expressed in Revenue while the investigations to which I refer were ongoing.
Ms Josephine Feehily: To be clear and as the Deputy stated, I must be careful not to comment on the policy area. I joined Revenue at the end of 1993 as the closing date for the amnesty approached. It was common currency among senior officials in Revenue that we were not exactly excited about this matter.
Deputy John Deasy: It is fair to say Revenue does not like amnesties at all.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Exactly.
Deputy John Deasy: It particularly did not like the one to which I refer.
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, we particularly did not like it and that is well known. Without reviewing the relevant files, I cannot inform the Deputy as to whether that was ever written down in a letter. However, it is well known - information in this regard has been placed in the public domain in the past - that the then board of the Revenue Commissioners was not in favour of it. I recall there being some criticism of the then board because the amnesty yielded a lot of money.
The board had stated that it was not necessary and should not be done because there would not be very much money forthcoming. I remember that aspect of a conversation taking place after the yield emerged. Revenue was not in favour of amnesties in general and would not have liked this one at all. The committee will be aware that in the past there have been various voluntary disclosure schemes, which are incentivised.
However, the Revenue position would always be that we should get the tax. That is just a general position of revenue organisations across the globe. We do not like to walk away from tax. I do not think I am commenting on policy when I say that the general position of Revenue and similar organisations elsewhere is that we do not favour amnesties which let people off paying tax. The amnesty was a huge impediment.
Deputy John Deasy: Specifically, what were the impediments involved?
Ms Josephine Feehily: The amnesty was designed to create a brick-solid Chinese wall between everybody and the office of the chief special collector, which was specially established. The chief special collector and his staff handled all of the amnesty declarations. On foot of those declarations - they were not allowed to examine them and they had no access to the tax files of the declarants - they issued the declarants with certificates. In law, those certificates were sufficient evidence to the rest of Revenue to the effect that, at any time in the future, we could not look behind them.
A special unit was established. Those present from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General will recall that Revenue had to suspend its internal audit function because of the difficulty of finding officials who had never seen tax files. An assurance had to be given that such officials would never see such files in the future and this meant that their careers had to be managed. I recall this because I worked in human resources, HR, at the time. We were obliged to suspend the internal audit function in order to find people who we could state were in compliance with the law because they had never been involved - as tax inspectors within the Collector General's office or anywhere else - in cases in the past. There was a logistical dimension involved which I do remember. An impervious wall - behind which the amnesty declarations are to this day - was put in place.
To this day we have a chief special collector and if a taxpayer produces an amnesty certificate to an inspector in the context of any investigation, the inspector, once he or she has it, can verify by asking the chief special collector whether the certificate is authentic and that is all that can be done.
Deputy John Deasy: Let us stick with the 20 Ansbacher account holders who availed of the tax amnesty in 1993. While Revenue was investigating this in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the Chairman had been there for ten years. For example, Revenue was not able to trace the source of moneys, which I understand to have been a major bugbear within the Chairman's organisation.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: At that time, when Revenue had made its considerations regarding its difficulties with the legislation that had been drafted and had been availed of by 20 particular Ansbacher account holders, did Revenue make its displeasure known to the Department of Finance?
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: How did Revenue do that?
Ms Josephine Feehily: We wrote to it.
Deputy John Deasy: What was the response?
Ms Josephine Feehily: We wrote in the context of looking for additional powers and we got most of what we looked for. However, as for the response with regard to the amnesty legislation, it was not revisited.
Deputy John Deasy: Was the reason given for that? Revenue obviously spelled out serious concerns with regard to particular individuals because it was precluded from pursuing them.
Ms Josephine Feehily: We spelled out concerns with regard to the process and the difficulties it created for us. I have not been able to find a reply to the letter but I know that the other powers in the letter were secured. This one was not.
Deputy John Deasy: Which one?
Ms Josephine Feehily: Revisiting the amnesty legislation.
Deputy John Deasy: Did the Chairman state there was no reply?
Ms Josephine Feehily: I have not been able to find it in the time allowed.
Deputy John Deasy: Can the Chairman remember what the Department of Finance said to Revenue?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No. I certainly cannot remember but the fact it did not happen I guess is the answer.
Deputy John Deasy: It is an important question. The Revenue Commissioners are and at the time were the administrators of the tax code. They had one hand tied behind their backs with regard to particular individuals. Revenue made its opinion clear that it was not appropriate and that the legislation underpinning all of this needed to be changed but that was ignored.
Ms Josephine Feehily: I am reviewing a piece of paper to make sure I am giving the Deputy the complete answer. Our final paragraph stated that when the Department had had an opportunity to peruse the contents of this, it probably would be appropriate to have the views of the Attorney General and that we were available to discuss it with the Department and with that office, if required. This would not be an unusual process for us.
Each year, we write submissions to the Department of Finance and then certain results are achieved. That Department does not usually write back to say it is not doing X. That is not usually the way it works. What it tends to do in a normal year, and I imagine this was no different, is that it feeds into a tax strategy group paper and then the decisions emerge from a process, rather than in an itemised reply. We would not have got a reply in respect of the answers that were positive either. It is not that kind of process. We make our submissions and make known our views, analysis gets done and a finance Bill emerges. Policy decisions get made by the Government and a finance Bill emerges. However, we did try.
Deputy John Deasy: The Chairman outlined the profile of the people who were Ansbacher account holders. Of the 20 people who availed of the tax amnesty and who were Ansbacher account holders, can she tell me what was their profile?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No.
Deputy John Deasy: That is not possible, no?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No.
Deputy John Deasy: Is that a reason-----
Ms Josephine Feehily: I do not know who they are. I cannot know who they are.
Deputy John Deasy: Okay.
Ms Josephine Feehily: They are behind a wall.
Deputy John Deasy: The Chairman knows the profile of the overall group of Ansbacher account holders but she does not know the profile.
Ms Josephine Feehily: What I have said to the Deputy earlier, because I am in danger of getting close to classes and breaking confidentiality, I referenced the profile of the cases that were published as being the most suitable source of information for the committee and the profile there was of very wealthy people, the occupation largely being company directors and the behaviour as being about sheltering wealth. I need to be safe.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough and I totally appreciate that. However, I must clear up something in this regard. The inference is that of those 20 people who availed of that tax amnesty in 1993, there was political pressure or a political motive behind the drafting of the 1993 legislation. My question is whether Revenue ever expressed a concern related to that.
Ms Josephine Feehily: I doubt very much if Revenue in 1992 or 1993 would have expressed a view-----
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about 1993. I am talking about ten tears later as Revenue was investigating this matter.
Ms Josephine Feehily: -----about a political motivation. No. I want to narrow it and that is the Deputy's question.
Deputy John Deasy: This is clear. It is important this is said.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Revenue did not express a view nor would ever express a view about the motivation of a policy decision taken by the Government.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough.
Ms Josephine Feehily: A policy decision validly taken by the Government and passed into law by the Oireachtas. Revenue would then simply operate that law. The independence works both ways. While we have our independence we have our - incidentally, in the context of the amnesty, 38,000 people availed of it. The frustration that perhaps caused us to write letters was not related to Ansbacher. The 20 people were not the issue; it was the 38,000 people and it was a bigger issue for us.
Deputy John Deasy: A lot of money was raised but the argument is that a lot more should have been raised because it was only a 15% tax. That is a view expressed by the Chairman's organisation at the time.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: Another observation that is worth making is that 145 people did settle who could have availed of the amnesty at 15% but did not.
Deputy John Deasy: I have a couple of quick questions. I refer to the two reports under discussion today and acknowledge the Chairman does not have them to hand. Can she tell me whether they identified new cases?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, and perhaps I can explain why. We are talking about the two dossiers that Revenue received from the relevant Ministers in 2008 and 2011. The reason is I am saying they were not new cases but there were new documents. There was supporting evidence and there was validation. However, there had been highly significant engagement with the authorised officer right through the period before that.
Deputy John Deasy: That is important and let me ask the Chairman a different question. Did that new information or those new documents cause Revenue either to bring a case to a conclusion or to reopen a case?
Ms Josephine Feehily: They certainly did not cause us to reopen any cases. They would have been helpful in advancing cases because the Deputy saw the graph and we really were in settlement mode there. However, I must repeat that by then, we had secured substantial documents, definitely more numerically, than those to which the authorised officer ever had access. As we had our own sources and our own documentation, what we were getting largely was validation and supporting documentation and that always is helpful.
Deputy John Deasy: I think that is it but if I may comment, I believe the first question I asked is very important and the response that was given is critical to this entire episode and that is that if Revenue actually have settled, for arguments sake, with individuals who have been named in a particular dossier, the authorised officer would not know about it. The authorised officer would not have any details with regard to the settlement, would not know how it was pursued or whether prosecution was pursued. The authorised officer would not have that information. We are talking in the dark and it is critical that this information be made known.
December 4, 2014
Deputy John Deasy: I do not know if this is the correct time to bring this up. With regard to what we have been dealing with over the past couple of weeks and what transpired on the floor of the Dáil yesterday, an impression was given and picked up by the media that the Committee of Public Accounts had exhausted the options available to it when it came to dealing with the whistleblower and everything around the issue. Any member may correct me if I am wrong. It is important that the public has set out for it what exactly were the options we were given and where we were in that process.
My understanding is that two recommendations were made to us by the legal adviser. The first was characterised as the quickest and cleanest option, which was to interview representatives of the Revenue Commissioners about all these issues. There was a second option, upon which we had not decided. It was that we could apply for a resolution to be laid before the Dáil to deal with these matters. That would have taken an application to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, but we had not decided on that. There was agreement by all committee members that the decision would not be taken until representatives of the Revenue Commissioners had testified before the committee.
One member, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, gave the impression on the floor of the Dáil that the Committee of Public Accounts was not in a position to deal with these issues when two recommendations had been made by the legal adviser and we had not definitively decided on the second one. It is important that people understand that and the record is corrected in that regard. It is not the case that we have exhausted the options given to us in this regard. It is important that this is stated today and that the public understands it.
Deputy Joe Costello: May I add to what Deputy Deasy said? What he described is the factual position and the record should be corrected as this committee has not exhausted all mechanisms for dealing with the dossier which came before it. It was incorrect to seek to put on record that this had been the case. In having representatives of the Revenue Commissioners before us today, we will have the opportunity to explore the issue further. It is clear from the statement of the Accounting Officer from the Revenue Commissioners that she is quite happy to discuss aspects of the dossier which came before us in the context of the work she has done relating to tax evasion.
It was agreed that we would reconsider the issue after this meeting with representatives of the Revenue Commissioners. It is totally untrue to say we had come to the end of the road and we could not proceed. We had acted within the context of the legal advice received. It was not a matter that had been dealt with and it was still in progress, and it is important to recognise that fact.
Chairman: Before Deputy McDonald responds, I ask members to remove mobile phones from the desks.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The legal advice to us has been consistent and clear that the Committee of Public Accounts can deal with some of the matters contained in the dossier but only in fairly narrow confines. That was reiterated very clearly and I checked and rechecked that with the legal adviser. It was made very clear that any matters pertaining to specific individuals or allegations of political obstruction are beyond the remit of this committee.
The dossier contains essentially two elements, or possibly three elements. One relates to allegations of tax evasion, and they are only allegations. Allied to that is the possibility of improper or corrupt payments, and those are only allegations. To top all of this off, there is a narrative of political obstruction and blockage. That is what the whistleblower alleges in the dossier. The legal person has made it absolutely clear to us repeatedly that it is beyond the remit of the committee to capture and investigate all those matters.
There will be witnesses from the Revenue Commissioners before us today and I have read Ms Feehily's opening statement, like everybody else I am sure. We will make what progress we can on the issue. It remains my view that the full breadth of what is alleged in the dossier cannot be fully, fairly and adequately assessed within this committee unless we stray beyond our remit.
The legal person has told us that such action will land us in all sorts of difficulties. I wish the position were different and we did have the scope to investigate all these matters. Notwithstanding what I did, I was perfectly entitled to do so as a Member of the Oireachtas and I acted in a considered fashion. It remains open to us to make the application to which Deputy Deasy refers to the CPP. I would wager that even in doing that, we would still run up against difficulties in terms of scope. The allegations in the dossier are considerable and wide-ranging. They are very profound. That is the position as I understand it and as I clarified it on Tuesday evening, when the legal adviser came before the committee.
Deputy John Deasy: I have never experienced the kind of misinformation and disinformation that I am now hearing. The Deputy is speaking out of both sides of her mouth. At the very end of her comments, she mentioned the option I had mentioned. That was an option given to us on the first day. It was the second recommendation, to be taken after we had dealt with the Revenue Commissioners.
If we consider that we wanted to proceed beyond that, we had the option of applying through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for a resolution to be laid on the floor of the Dáil to deal with all these matters. Very conveniently, Deputy McDonald did not mention that on the floor of the Dáil yesterday. We decided as a committee that we would wait until Revenue came in and then make a decision with regard to that resolution.
The Deputy conveniently ignored that decision that had been made by this committee. Rather than having commentary going back and forth between the Deputy and myself, I will ask the Clerk what were those two recommendations and to confirm that those were the two recommendations made by the legal adviser or the Chairman and that we had agreed as a committee that we would make a decision on that after Revenue had come in today.
Chairman: It is outlined in the minutes. Rather than having commentary between the Deputy and Deputy McDonald, it is fair to say that the issues pointed out by Deputy McDonald are not within the remit of the committee. The two points Deputy Deasy raised as to the two options were the options that were discussed on the last day. It is reflected in the minute of the meeting and we are proceeding on that basis. That is by way of agreement from everyone.
Deputy John Deasy: Okay.
Chairman: That deals with that matter. I will ask the Clerk to reflect on the minutes. We are not going to enter into a debate on this, Deputy Costello.
Deputy Joe Costello: I am not going to get into a debate but I agree that is precisely the situation, that there were two options that we had decided to leave until after the Revenue Commissioners had appeared before us. I would like to get a steer for the future in regard to the one categorical statement that had been made to us by our legal adviser, which was that under no circumstances were we to reveal any of the names in the dossier. If that is done under privilege in the Dáil, does that mean that the advice that was given to us was incorrect?
Chairman: Let me be clear about this. The advice we received was in regard to the workings of the Committee of Public Accounts. It was absolutely and totally in relation to that. The information we received from the official in terms of the dossier is information that was given, as the legal advice said, to the individual Members of the House who happen to also be members of the Committee of Public Accounts. The document is not a document of the committee. Each member will have it as their personal papers.
The matter that was raised by Deputy McDonald in the Dáil yesterday is a matter for the House. We have agreed on how to dispose of the issues here before us in terms of the two options, in terms of the legal advice we received and in the context of not naming individuals. That is what we normally do here. What has been described by both speakers and by Deputy Costello is in line with the decision taken last week. Members are free after that to use their own judgment in relation to what they do in the House. I cannot allow what happened in the House yesterday under the Ceann Comhairle to pertain here at this meeting because it is against legal advice, and I think we all understand that. Is that right?
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Certainly, Chairman. For the record, I would say that prior to the committee receiving any legal steer on these matters, I, as an individual, had sought advice from the parliamentary legal adviser. In fact, I understand I was the first person to bring the dossier to the attention of that individual. At every step anything that I have done or said has been guided by the legal advice afforded to me but I agree with the Chairman. We in the Committee of Public Accounts should strive to do as much as we can and the options have been set out.
I do not think there is any disagreement on that. I remind committee members that we were told very clearly by that same legal adviser that we would run into issues around the Abbeylara judgment in terms of how we deal with these issues. That is where not only this committee, but any committee of the Oireachtas, runs into the sand. That was in the part the rationale for taking the decision and making the statement that I am fully entitled to make as a Member of the Oireachtas on the floor of the Dáil yesterday. I would point out to Deputy Deasy that in the final analysis I am answerable to those who elect me for the utterances I make rather than, with all due respect, to a Fine Gael member of this committee.
Chairman: I am not going to allow this to proceed.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fine. There is a reason Deputy John McGuinness, a member of Fianna Fáil, is the Chairman of this committee. It is meant to be non-political and bipartisan. Deputy McDonald is using this committee for political ends. She has been doing it for a while and she needs to stop because she is affecting the workings of this committee, which is important. The public and the people she represents in her constituency and beyond believe it is important and she is damaging it. She is using this committee for her own political ends and she needs to stop that. She thinks she can use this committee any way she feels like doing so but she cannot.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Where is the evidence of that, Chairman?
Deputy John Deasy: The debate in the Dáil yesterday is the evidence.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: That is a nonsense.
Chairman: I will move on. We will take on board what has been said and I will ask the Clerk to reflect again on the minutes and ensure that views of the members are included.
PAC Meeting | Nov 27, 2014
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): I will move to correspondence from Accounting Officers and Ministers ... There is correspondence, dated 26 November, from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. It is regarding correspondence received from the committee regarding a protected disclosure dossier. We agreed to write to the Minister last week and we are now scheduled to discuss with representatives of the Revenue Commissioners next week its investigation into the Ansbacher accounts. This is the issue that was raised in the protected disclosure. After this, the committee can review whether any further examination is required on its part. Our first port of call is with the Revenue Commissioners and we can decide from that point what is required next. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy John Deasy: Who is coming in?
Clerk to the Committee: It is the Accounting Officer of the Revenue Commissioners.
Deputy John Deasy: Will there be somebody from the Department of Finance?
Chairman: We can ask.
Clerk to the Committee: We can ask if the Deputy wishes somebody from the Department to attend.
Deputy John Deasy: It might be useful. I do not know who drafted the regulations or legislation followed by the Revenue Commissioners at that time. Was it the Department of Finance?
Chairman: It might be useful to complete the investigation.
Deputy John Deasy: It might be useful to delve into the area of constraints under which the Revenue Commissioners operated.
Clerk to the Committee: One of the constraints would probably be the tax amnesty.
Deputy John Deasy: That is really what I am getting at.
Clerk to the Committee: That is fine. I can ask the Department to send somebody. It is not a problem.
Chairman: We can have somebody here to explain it. After we hear from the Revenue Commissioners, we can decide on our next step...
Nov 27, 2014
Re: Legal opinion on the protection afforded a would-be whistleblower on Revenue matters under the protected disclosures legislation.
Clerk to the Committee: We discussed this issue last week. There are two conflicting opinions, but both are simply opinions. We will not get a definitive answer until the issue is tested in the courts. One of the key concerns last week was the scope of the protection. It was decided a risk analysis, covering both the committee and [a whistleblower], would be carried out before any decision was made on bringing [the whistleblower] before the committee. This was the decision taken last week and it still obtains.
We will hear from Revenue next week and we have the letter from the Minister on the information Mr. Ryan gleaned from the Companies Acts, which has all gone to Revenue. Therefore, Revenue should have all the information. It is for the committee to decide if it wants to or not. In looking at the risks, which is what the committee decided to do last week, we will have to see what the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 protects this individual from. This is especially so in the context of the Companies Acts because they have specific penalties in terms of giving information to anyone other than designated people.
This is my understanding of the situation. I have had just a preliminary discussion with those in the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser. When the Parliamentary Legal Adviser was here, we asked if we could forward the dossier to Revenue. We were told we could not. The Chairman then wrote to the Minister about this. It is information gathered under an investigation under section 19. The Act offers very limited scope on where it can be sent. All of this will have to be thrashed out with our legal people. Whether the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 applies and whether it protects the individual will have to be examined again.
Deputy John Deasy: Sometimes I feel like it is groundhog day in here. We made decisions as a committee last week. It seems that when a decision is made, we come back the following week and question that decision and find ourselves on a completely different course. Some of us raised the point that, regardless of how the legislation is written, there will always be different opinions on different laws. We received one opinion. The senior counsel acting on behalf of the whistleblower gave a completely different take on the legislation. There might be two other completely different takes on both those legal opinions if a person tried hard enough to find them.
We should wait and see what the Revenue Commissioners have to say on this issue before spending taxpayers' money on getting a second opinion. Ultimately, it will come down to the interpretation of the Act. I thought we had made a decision last week; we cannot continue coming back and redrawing decisions that have already been made. My understanding of what happened last week was that the legal advisers were to be here today to reiterate their advice on the specific issue of the whistleblower's attendance and the implications for him personally.
We did it that way because the Comptroller and Auditor General made the point that if we had the whistleblower before the committee it might compound things negatively. For that reason, we wanted clarification from our legal advisers and the parliamentary legal advisers. It is like Groundhog Day here. I am experiencing a bit of déjà vu and I do not know why we are turning back on decisions we made last week.
Chairman: We are not turning back on decisions. We are just trying to clarify the position on this legislation by requesting an opinion from the Attorney General.
Deputy John Deasy: My point is that we are never going to get definitive opinions on a piece of legislation that is entirely up to someone's subjective interpretation.
Chairman: We have to try and get the best advice on this because it is the first case. The person in question has made what appears to be a significant disclosure and his position is now in difficulty. There is no harm in asking the Attorney General if we do not want to ask the legal advisers.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fine, but I do not think our job here is to interpret legislation. Our primary role is to deal with entities such as the Revenue Commissioners and question them on this issue and their investigation of it. We should make decisions after the Revenue Commissioners have been at this committee and let members decide then.
PAC Meeting | Nov 20, 2014
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough. May I ask Mr. Ryan about Waterford courthouse?
Mr. Brendan Ryan (CEO, Courts Service): Yes, of course.
Deputy John Deasy: My understanding is that the tender process is to be completed by March 2015.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: We are down to four companies that have bid for the bundle of seven
courthouses. By May 2015 we will be down to a single company and anticipate that contracts will be signed by October 2015 approximately, with site work to begin straight away. As the Deputy is aware, we are getting the site in Waterford and will have six courtrooms. I have the details to hand-----
Deputy John Deasy: Will Mr. Ryan give me an idea of the date of completion?
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Everything will be completed. All seven projects will start at the same time. To let the Deputy know what they are, they include the courthouses in Drogheda, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, Limerick, Letterkenny and Mullingar. We expect work on all of them to be finished by the start of 2017 approximately.
Deputy John Deasy: In 2017.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes, it is in the interests of the public private partnership, PPP, developer to get things finished earlier. It is like the Newlands Cross project, on which work finished three months early. The developers started to be paid three months earlier; consequently, it is in the interests of the people concerned to finish early.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Ryan believes the work will be completed at the start of 2017.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes, in the first few months of 2017.
Deputy John Deasy: It has just changed from the start of 2017 to some time in 2017.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes, it depends on the particular project involved; some of them are small enough. For example, in Drogheda it is a greenfield site as such and the courthouse is small and will go up easily. The Deputy will appreciate that in Waterford there is a lot of conservation work involved. Moreover, it is an extension to an existing building in respect of which there are preservation issues; consequently, it will take a little longer to complete.
I was delighted when the courts bundle was included in the stimulus package announced by the Government couple of years ago. We have 12 projects outstanding. While we have carried out numerous building projects, 12 county towns remain and once these seven projects are completed, only five county town venues will remain to be dealt with. They will all be significant and efficient buildings; consequently, I was delighted when they were included in the stimulus package. I am also delighted that the work has proceeded to this extent. We have handed over the procurement process to the National Development Finance Agency which is working on it.
PAC Meeting | November 20, 2014
Brendan Ryan [CEO, Courts Service]; Joyce Duffy [Principal Officer, Courts Policy Division] called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: I have some brief questions, the first of which has to do with Circuit Court sittings leading to civil Circuit Court sittings. I understand in the past 24 hours nominations have been made for seven vacancies on the Circuit Court.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: If we take my constituency as an example, this month's proposed sitting of the civil Circuit Court was abandoned at the last minute. As far as Waterford generally is concerned, the last civil Circuit Court sitting was in May and the next one will be March. Can Mr. Ryan tell me how many sittings of the civil Circuit Court have been postponed around the country because of the vacancies that have occurred in the past six weeks? I checked with the Garda, and when it comes to criminal Circuit Court sittings, the opinion of one fairly senior garda was that they had not been disrupted, but can Mr. Ryan tell me how many sittings have been disrupted?
Mr. Brendan Ryan: I do not have that information. I know the Waterford position because I got correspondence from one of the legal practitioners in Waterford about it. The Deputy is correct that the eight vacancies in the Circuit Court have had an impact. The president of the court decides on the sittings and who should sit where and the cases.
Deputy John Deasy: I understand that. I am asking about the sittings nationally.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: I will have to get back to the Deputy.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Ryan must have some idea. This is what he deals with every day. Were there other sittings-----
Mr. Brendan Ryan: The Deputy can take it that if there are seven vacancies at the moment there could be-----
Deputy John Deasy: There are 40 Circuit Court judges-----
Mr. Brendan Ryan: No. There are 38 Circuit Court judges.
Deputy John Deasy: -----there or thereabouts.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: One of them is on long-term sick leave. We are working off 30 judges at the moment. The president prioritises criminal matters, and after criminal matters it is family law matters.
Deputy John Deasy: I understand all that. I understand the process. Does Mr. Ryan have no idea of the number of sittings that have been postponed because of the vacancies?
Mr. Brendan Ryan: The representations I have got are about Waterford. I have no doubt there have been other cancellations, but I do not have those figures. It depends on the scheduling of cases in any Circuit Court in Ireland. They are scheduled a year in advance. They are scheduled either for criminal court, the civil court or the family court. If most of those scheduled sittings this month were criminal court, the impact on the civil court would be minimal because the judges are still dealing with criminal matters. If the scheduled sittings were for the civil court, as was the case in Waterford, unfortunately, the president has directed that criminal matters have to take priority because, as the Deputy will appreciate, people may be in custody.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Ryan cannot answer that question.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: No, unfortunately, but if the Deputy wishes I can come back to him on it.
Deputy John Deasy: No. I believe the issue will be dealt with now that the nominations have been made. I am trying to find out how this occurred procedurally and make the point to the Department that it should not occur again. We are in an unusual situation with the creation of an entirely different court, but at the same time, these things happen on occasion because of retirements, deaths, promotions and elevations of a kind, and always have done. In this particular case, seven vacancies were created as a result of one retirement, one elevation to the Court of Appeal and the elevation to the High Court of five individuals. The Government promoted judges from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and it promoted judges from the Circuit Court to the High Court, but what it did not do was make new appointments to the Circuit Court or the District Court in their places. That occurred in the past 24 hours, but there was a gap.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: There is a gap.
Deputy John Deasy: There is a gap.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: There was a gap, yes. I am not trying to defend the Department of Justice and Equality or the Government, but this was unprecedented. I have worked in the courts since 1981. This was unprecedented.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fine. I know that; I just said that. Even when it comes to civil Circuit Court issues, they are fairly serious.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: When we talk about criminal Circuit Court issues we are talking about very serious crimes.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: When we talk about civil Circuit Court sittings, those are serious issues.
Mr. Brendan Ryan: Yes.
"If seven principals of primary schools were being promoted from the ranks there would not be vacancies for the positions they left because teachers would be in place..."
Deputy John Deasy: If seven principals of primary schools were being promoted from the ranks there would not be vacancies for the positions they left because teachers would be in place. Yet when it comes to this area, it appears to be acceptable. It is a political process. I know it should not be, and it is something this Government probably has fallen down on when it comes to judicial appointments. In our programme for Government we promised that we would look at this, and I believe it is a failing. People such as Mrs. Justice Susan Denham have commented that it is a miracle our Judiciary has maintained its independence so well considering it is so political.
That aside, what we can do at the very least - I understand this is not Mr. Ryan's role - is to have a reasonable transition when something like this occurs to ensure there are no gaps and that sittings are not postponed.
I know Ms Duffy does not set policy, but she deals with it within the Department of Justice and Equality. I can raise this with the Minister, but it is a simple question. The suggestion I am making and that I will make to the Minister - I am raising it with Mr. Ryan now because he is the person dealing with policy in the Department when it comes to the courts - is that when this occurs, the appointments to the Circuit Court and the District Court should happen at the same time. They should happen in tandem or, at the very least, within a specified period. That is a simple suggestion.
Mr. Ryan makes a good case about the Courts Service's efficiency and talked about a 16% reduction in its staff. Some would state it is too efficient, while plenty of communities nationwide would suggest it has stripped down courthouses and so on. The service has done a good job in cutting costs and, at the very least, it is possible to have sittings take place. While one part of the Government system may be working well, another is not and has failed in providing judges to preside over sittings in the Circuit Court.
This is something that could be rectified easily. I do not know whether the witnesses have a comment to make on this. I again acknowledge to Ms Duffy that I am aware departmental officials do not set policy. I do not know whether this issue has been raised in the past, but it appears to be a reasonable suggestion that when something like this occurs - retirements and deaths take place all the time - this could happen in tandem.
Ms Joyce Duffy: I am certainly happy to take back the Deputy's comments to the Minister who probably will make the point that she has moved speedily to appoint judges and assist in the process of appointing them. In the past four to six weeks she has brought a series of memorandums to the Government on appointing ten judges to the Court of Appeal, the subsequent replacements to the High Court and, this week, on appointments to the Circuit Court. As Mr. Ryan stated, this has been unprecedented.
This is the first new court jurisdiction established since 1961. It has been a long time since we went through such a major change to the system. As for the nominations to the Circuit Court announced by the Government yesterday, the process was completed in as speedy a manner as possible. As the Deputy is aware, names are submitted via the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which conducts its process. The Government then has its part to play in evaluating the names and considering serving judges for the position. However, I appreciate that there has been a consequence, of which the Minister will certainly be made aware.
Deputy John Deasy: I take Ms Duffy's point. The situation was unusual. I received a reply to a parliamentary question on this matter a few days ago and what has happened in the past couple of days is miraculous, considering that the last line of the reply indicated that the Government would be dealing with the matter in the coming weeks.
What role does Mr. Ryan play when something like this occurs? Obviously, the presidents of the different courts have a major role to play in this regard, but as far as rostering is concerned, the issue about court sittings taking place on Monday afternoons or Fridays has come up repeatedly. Is this something in which the Courts Service gets involved in any way, shape or form?
Mr. Brendan Ryan: No, it is entirely a matter for the presidents of the courts. The Deputy will appreciate that we support sittings as they occur.
Deputy John Deasy: It may be an old jurisprudential cliche, but justice delayed is justice denied. Perhaps Ms Duffy might take the suggestion back to the Minister. While I can raise it directly with her, it is reasonable to avoid such delays because, as Mr. Ryan is aware, practitioners could not believe people had not thought about the gaps that there would be as a result of these appointments or elevations.
Ms Joyce Duffy: Absolutely.
PAC Meeting | Oct 23, 2014
Re: Sudden suspension of Waterford IT and IT Carlow merger discussions
Deputy John Deasy: At the risk of clogging up the work programme I shall raise something else, a matter concerning the Waterford Institute of Technology and Carlow Institute of Technology. Both bodies come under the remit of the committee and have been in here recently.
An abrupt announcement was made a couple of days ago that the amalgamation or merger of the two organisations was ending. A joint application was being worked on by those two bodies with a mind to ultimately putting together a successful application for a technological university in the south east. Similar applications by a number of different educational institutions in Dublin are ongoing.
I have a question for the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is my understanding that when it comes to a restructuring like this one, which has gone on for many years, there is a significant cost for restructuring. Those on the boards of these two organisations have a responsibility to account for the money that has been spent on the process of restructuring which I believe could be reasonably significant. They need to answer for that. The suspension of this amalgamation or merger, as abruptly as it has occurred, needs to be questioned because of the cost that has been incurred by the State over the past few years.
I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General the following. Is it the case that a significant amount of money accrues when it comes to this kind of restructuring? Does the Committee of Public Accounts have a remit to ask both of these organisations to come in here to explain the amounts of money that have been expended and find out why they decided to abruptly end the merger or amalgamation?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy (C&AG): Certainly there is expenditure in regard to restructuring. That is not just a question for Waterford and Carlow because there are other organisational restructurings in the offing. My recommendation to any institute of technology would be to disclose exceptional expenses of that nature in the financial statement. It is the Higher Education Authority that dictates the format of accounts and the type of analysis that is done on expenditure. If there was expenditure incurred it is in the financial statements that have been presented. Therefore, for anything that is an expenditure item, one would certainly be entitled to ask and to try to go behind if the-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. McCarthy is saying it should be itemised for the special cost with regard to restructuring.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: That would be my recommendation because it is exceptional expenditure. Normally, one would expect a restructuring to be on a slightly shorter timescale. In a way, it has become embedded in the institutions because this has been going on for quite some time.
Deputy John Deasy: I think what the Comptroller and Auditor General is saying is that the HEA should also be asked to come in to the committee, if we were to ask WIT and CIT to account for this. Time is of the essence here. I do not want to clog up the work programme any further but there is an imperative to ask these organisations to come in quickly. This has been going on too long. Depending on who one asks, one gets different answers as to why this occurred. It is unacceptable. Representatives of both boards need to be asked now what exactly has happened here.
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): In order to be able to focus on this directly, we should write to WIT and CIT and ask them to extract from their accounts over the years the exact amounts of money that were spent in regard to the project so that we get the figures. Otherwise, we will be looking at accounts and the figures will be wrapped up in some other figure for one thing or another. It is likewise with the HEA. We can bring in the three bodies and we will insist on it being done as quickly as possible.
Deputy John Deasy: Will you make it clear to them that the expectation is that they come before the committee in the short term?
Chairman: Yes, and they should bring these figures because we do not want a job of work to dig out the figures. They should have them on hand and we will then know the exact cost over the years since this began of the merger negotiations or discussions, or the project itself.
Deputy John Deasy: I think I speak for a lot of people in the south east, not just in Carlow and Waterford, who, when they look at this situation, view it as being messy. They are tired of it. It has gone on too long. They can reasonably expect a reasonable degree of governance when it comes to these two bodies and this joint application. I am coming to the conclusion that the governance of this application has not been adhered to. We need to get to the bottom of this sooner rather than later.
Chairman: I agree. We will set it up as soon as possible. We will ask for the figures beforehand because we need to see them.
PAC Meeting | Oct 23 2014
Re: Unsought legal advice sent to the committee by the Oireachtas Commission
Deputy John Deasy:
"The letter has not been forwarded to me and I have not read it. Will the Chairman outline what it is that is perceived to be unlawful? Is it the opinion of the legal adviser that it would be unlawful of the committee to ask representatives of Irish Water to appear before us or simply for its representatives to appear? What is the advice?
"... I have a practical question that applies to everything we are doing including the other court case. If we deal with the Health Service Executive or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or a body funded by a Department that wants to come in here to explain a situation to money expended from the public purse, is that unlawful then? We are getting to a point of absolute absurdity here.
"The Oireachtas commission should cop itself on with regard to the workings of this committee. It will constrain everything this committee does if it applies that kind of attitude. That should be registered. If the commission does not understand what this committee does - it is becoming clear it may not-----
Deputy Shane Ross: "It understands it very well."
Deputy Deasy: "If that is the case then, as I said, from a practical standpoint that an agency that is funded by a Department would request to be here, is it the case that the Oireachtas commission will prevent that by sending us a legal letter every time it occurs? This is a reasonable issue that needs to be dealt with now."
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): "... I was surprised and disappointed to get that letter. Second, while not speaking for the clerk, I am aware that he did not instigate this either. Therefore, I can only presume that there is another active section of the Oireachtas which is anxious that we would not do our work the way we have been doing it... There is an effort, however, being made to stall the work of this committee.
That does not make for good governance in the State. It does not send out the right signals to people who come before us. We have gained considerably from people who have come before us wanting to explain their story. After this meeting, as I have said, I will discuss this letter with the clerk and take it up immediately with whoever is responsible. I intend to defend the right of this committee to its independence in terms of how it is viewed in the Dáil and, indeed, in the public."
[... Later ...]
Deputy Deasy: Can I ask a further question related to something the Chairman brought up earlier? It joins up with what Deputies Ross, McDonald and others have mentioned. If it is deemed unlawful for Irish Water to come in to this committee, is there a committee within the Oireachtas that it would be lawful for it to appear before, for example, the environment committee?
Clerk to the Committee: The environment committee would be the first one.
Deputy John Deasy: Does its remit allow Irish Water to present itself?
Clerk to the Committee: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: On a second question, what is the process when it comes to changing a standing order?
Clerk to the Committee: An issue we are looking at and have been looking at is to go to the CPP and the Dáil. Ultimately, the Dáil decides on the terms and the powers of the PAC. It is a Dáil standing order and the Dáil changes it. If the Dáil decides we can look at what Mr. Watt has outlined in regard to the set-up costs, there may be scope to do a piece of work around that. I think that is what we should do immediately. We should look at the possibilities and get the advice we need in order to make a submission to the CPP in the short term.
PAC Meeting | Oct 23, 2014
Deputy John Deasy: I have a practical question that applies to everything we are doing... If we deal with the Health Service Executive or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or a body funded by a Department that wants to come in here to explain a situation to money expended from the public purse, is that unlawful then? We are getting to a point of absolute absurdity here.
Clerk to the Committee: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: The Oireachtas commission should cop itself on with regard to the workings of this committee. It will constrain everything this committee does if it applies that kind of attitude. That should be registered. If the commission does not understand what this committee does - it is becoming clear it may not-----
Deputy Shane Ross: It understands it very well.
Deputy John Deasy: If that is the case then, as I said, from a practical standpoint that an agency that is funded by a Department would request to be here, is it the case that the Oireachtas commission will prevent that by sending us a legal letter every time it occurs? This is a reasonable issue that needs to be dealt with now.
PAC Meeting | Oct 16, 2014
Special Report 82 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Financial Management and Reporting for Fishery Harbour Centres
Mr. Tom Moran (Secretary General, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine) called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: The witnesses are all very welcome and I wish to focus on a particular harbour, Dunmore East. I will go back 14 years and refer to the studies and reports that were done in conjunction with Mr. Moran's Department and other Departments over that time span. In many cases, Mr. Moran and his officials will have been aware of reports, recommendations and findings but it is useful to go back and list recommendations and findings to show the lack of activity.
In 2000, KPMG drew up a consulting report - a technical and socio-economic review of infrastructural requirements in Dunmore East and the significant need for development of the harbour. This was followed in 2003 by a Kirk McClure Morton report, which was commissioned by the Department then dealing with this - it dealt with preliminary designs and an environmental impact assessment was planned. It was found that the existing harbour was too small and did not permit proper development so the report was, effectively, a reiteration of the previous one. In 2004, a public consultation process commenced and planning permission for the fishery harbour centre was granted in 2005. In 2006, some €300,000 was provided for design and another €300,000 was provided for site investigation. The first phase was to begin in 2008 but then the economy collapsed, as we all know.
In 2007, Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Limited was commissioned to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and found a number of weaknesses. The harbour was deemed to be very old and in need of a significant upgrade. No significant dredging had taken place for many years at that stage and it is now 22 years since such dredging. Most of the large vessels had to steam to Cork or Howth to dock and there was no safe access to the shore for yachts. These findings are from 2007.
The five-year business plan for Dunmore East was proposed to increase fish landings to 9,100 tonnes and grow harbour dues and revenue to €267,500 by 2013. As the witnesses know, on 20 March 2014 the Department sanctioned maintenance dredging in Dunmore East. Consulting engineers finalised tender documents and a completed tender package was advertised on 24 May. The tender submission stage ended on 7 July 2014 but we have now learned there is a delay. The €4 million involved in this relates only to the dredging of the inner basin - the idea of overall harbour redevelopment is unmentioned. In 2013, some €827,000 was made available and €450,000 of that was to widen and extend the slipway at the west wharf. Some €220,000 was for the extension of the fishery harbour building.
The Chairman spoke of legacy issues and if one goes back over the past 14 years on the Dunmore East issue, there is a legacy of bitter disappointment when it comes to what the Government promised and what it actually delivered, or not delivered. Dredging was announced earlier this year but what is the situation on the tender process? When will dredging commence?
Mr. Tom Moran: I thank the Deputy and the Chairman. Before I answer those questions, I should point out that fish landings at Dunmore East are increasing. Between 2010 and 2013 fish landing increased by 43%, from 8,386 tonnes to 11,994 tonnes, and this is good. I understand the Deputy's point on historical investment levels but between 2006 and 2013 some €5.4 million was invested in Dunmore East. It is a fine harbour but the Deputy is absolutely correct that there is a dredging issue. He is also correct that we intended to spend money on dredging in 2014 and allocated €4 million in the capital programme for that purpose.
We ran into a difficulty with the tender in relation to that on the issue of value for money. My information is that there is an absolute intention to begin that as soon as possible in the new year under next year's capital programme. It is a top priority.
Deputy John Deasy: When can we expect it to begin? Will it be early in the new year?
Mr. Tom Moran: Whenever it is appropriate for dredging to start. We have to re-tender for the work.
Deputy John Deasy: In the first instance, the Department has to re-tender so when is it expected to have the tendering process finished?
Dr. Cecil Beamish: The tenders that were received were deemed after assessment not to be value for money for the State and to involve potential cost exposures for the State to claims. The responsible decision, that everybody here would agree with, was not to expose the State by going with the available tender. Let me outline what is being done. Further sampling and analysis is being done and in greater detail on all the sediments; one of the issues is the level of contamination in some of the sediment areas. We are trying to see if we can more precisely define in the tender documentation the extent of the contamination and the appropriate treatments that would be requirements for different elements of the dredging. In that way, we hope to achieve more cost-efficient tender bids that can be advanced and proceeded with. The work is ongoing on the sampling exercise which will lead to the construction of a different tender specification, with the hope and expectation of getting a better value for money tender proposition.
Deputy John Deasy: When will that work be finished so that one can start the tender process. I need to know when it will happen. It is very important at this point that the people of Dunmore East have some certainty.
Dr. Cecil Beamish (Assistant Secretary General, Dept's Marine Division): The steps are to do the sampling and see the results. We are also testing the possibility of alternate ways of dealing with the contamination, because the technology is moving on as are the systems. When there is engineering advice available on both of those elements, and the sampling surveying has been completed and analysed, then a tender specification will be put together. The tender will be advertised and we will analyse the response. The earlier in the year that this can be done, the easier it will be for a contractor to carry out the works in reasonable weather conditions while also taking account of the times that others use the harbour. The objective is to get a new specification for the tender process as early as possible in the new year so that the contract decision can be made as early as possible.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Moran has listed off the amount of money that has been invested into Dunmore East since 2006. I have the figures in front of me for the period 2008 to 2013 and the total in that period was €4.76 million. If I went to the other five ports and fishery harbour centres, I would probably find that the equivalent amount went into them. That is fine. When it came to the slipway in the west wharf, the level of effort and lobbying I had to do to get that money, €450,000, to extend the slipway was incredible. Dunmore East is a neglected port and has been for a long time. There is a litany of reports but no action was taken as a result, which is absolutely incredible.
I am going to chase the officials on this project for as long as it takes to get the dredging done. There comes a point when one cannot answer reasonable questions from a fisherman or a businessman in Dunmore East. It has come to the point that I have become hesitant about giving affirmation to any Government announcement as it affects Dunmore East, which is an unfortunate situation to be put in.
Not so long ago, we were talking about investing €60 million in the harbour and the studies were done.
The business community in Dunmore East is very resilient. The Waterford Institute of Technology has secured funding under the fisheries local area development scheme for feasibility studies of ideas that would stimulate job creation and economic activity in Dunmore East. The deficit has been on the Government side. The people of Dunmore East are trying to keep this village vibrant. There was a meeting last night about all of the issues. The Department has to focus on the infrastructural issues that have been identified ad nauseam for the past 20 years in Dunmore East but have not been acted upon.
I have made the case. It is not a personal criticism, but there is a case to be answered with regard to Dunmore East.