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 | 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.