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.