"I can smell and sense political correctness and an air brushing of history coming into this already."
PAC Meeting | Jan 29, 2015
Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht called and examined
Vice Chairman (Deputy John Deasy, in the chair): I perused the budget for 2015 and discovered that €22 million has been allocated for seven flagship capital projects at the GPO and Kilmainham. There are plans for ceremonies, parades, cultural and youth projects, plus events concerned with the diaspora and language.
I read the document or package in front of the committee some time ago and, like everyone else, I have read bits and pieces about the commemorations in the newspapers. Can Mr. [Joe] Hamill [Department Secretary General] tell me how the Department will commemorate the people who died in 1916?
There were roughly 64 Irish Volunteers killed, and 16 were executed, 254 civilians were killed, 116 British soldiers were killed and 16 policemen or RIC men who were all Irish were killed.
I have seen nothing in what I has seen so far from the Department to indicate how everyone who was killed during the Easter Rising will be remembered. For me, remembering them is the most important.
The commemorations seem to be based around parades and cultural events which is fine as people enjoy them. I have seen no indication of thought being given to remembering the people who were killed in 1916. Can the Secretary General give an idea whether anything is being planned?
Mr. Joe Hamill: I reiterate that the document launched in November was a framework one and was not meant to be definitive or to cover all the angles. Part of what was wanted at the time was to get some sort of a more structured debate going around how this should look and how it should be developed.
Proposals have been put forward that cover all of the groupings the Vice Chairman mentioned. There have been some contacts around, as he is probably aware, and there has been some media interest in, for example, the children who died over that period.
Vice Chairman: Joe Duffy featured that issue about three years ago.
Mr. Joe Hamill: There has been some attention recently.
Vice Chairman: Can Mr. Hamill give me some specifics of what he is talking about?
Mr. Joe Hamill: No, not at this stage. By way of background, there is a group working on some of these things. We are trying to work our way through them at the moment. The Government decided in recent days to set up a Cabinet committee on 2016 which the Taoiseach will chair. It will have its first meeting next week.
Part of the thinking on this is to have a closer focus by Government on the different issues and their co-ordination. One of the things which has been greatly emphasised, and my Minister has been strong on this, is the need for this to be inclusive, historically accurate and respectful.
The Vice Chairman will be aware of the committee of historians, chaired by Maurice Manning, advising us. They are very keen that all of these kinds of things would be historically true and accurate-----
Vice Chairman: Mr. Hamill is not really answering the question. I understand what has been going on. I have read the list of historians and am aware Mr. Manning is chairing that committee.
I see a danger in having politicians dealing with 1916. The people in Cabinet are fine people and many of them probably know more about history and the Easter Rising than I do, but the danger is that this will be used as an event for politicians to put their own political spin on things.
Mr. Hamill takes direction in many respects with regard to policy when it comes to Ministers and politicians. The Civil Service should make it absolutely clear that this needs to be completely dispassionate when it comes to politics and that the brutal and clinical historical fact needs to be recorded.
The people are ready for it. The use of events such as this by politicians across the board to spin things would disgust them. They are ready for clear, historical fact, warts and all.
When I go through the documentation that has been circulated, I see nothing about plans to commemorate or remember the people on both sides who died or the people who were caught in the middle, which is a very significant number.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I am confident that the kinds of processes and discussions which are going on now will lead to these kinds of events. There are lots of events being discussed with different sectors which will be absolutely independent of any official or Government influence.
We are having lots of discussions with third level institutions, historians' groups and so forth which will do all these things and will do them very independently of Government or officials. We will get the same in the artistic sphere. No one will tell artists how to do this.
Vice Chairman: That is fair enough. However, Mr. Hamill mentioned Joe Duffy. What he did was a very good example of what needs to be repeated. I have been listening to and reading takes from historians and other experts for the past year and it is leaving me cold at this point. They are not focusing on the people who died.
It seems to be irrelevant to some of them. There is a dearth with regard to the people who died in 1916. All one has to do is go around Dublin. There is a monument which does not even name the Volunteers at Upper Mount Street bridge which is where the biggest battle took place. It mentions the Volunteers and no one else. Michael Malone's name is commemorated with two others on a gravestone in Glasnevin.
This is where the focus of Mr. Hamill and his officials should be. Historians will know about this. I am just giving a viewpoint. I started a committee in Waterford and we put together the First World War memorial which is located in Dungarvan. We had one rule: no politics. When it was unveiled, people from every political party came to the unveiling.
When asked questions which were politically inclined, we made it clear that we were not going to get involved in it and that people could make their own interpretations on the First World War, who was right and who was wrong with regard to who served. There is a danger here and I see it beginning already.
Politicians and ex-politicians are giving their interpretations. I will not say that this is happening ad nauseam but it is leaving me cold at this point. Direction needs to be given by the people in the Department in this case when it comes to, at the very least, the people who died.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Looking back at what we have been involved in since the decade started and since we were asked to take this on, we have been involved in or supported a range of events, not always directly or financially, which have ran the gamut.
The Chair mentioned an event in Wexford. We have been involved in lots of those kinds of events around the country. Speaking personally, if I may for a moment, we have seen a massive sea change in the openness of people on the First World War.
The National Library will have seen it at open days when people brought memorabilia and that kind of thing. This is how we started this process and this is the way we will go on. This is our approach.
Vice Chairman: I find it disappointing that Mr. Hamill cannot specify any particular direction on remembering the people who died. He is making the case that he is giving money to the local authorities and that this will be dealt with over the next year. It is clear that the focus is not on the individuals who died but rather the pomp and parade.
Mr. Joe Hamill: The ceremonial part will have to be part of it. There is no question about that. In the kind of thinking and discussing we are doing at the moment, I see the kind of elements the Vice Chairman has been talking about as very much part of this.
Being very direct on this, proposals will have to go to Government, to Cabinet committee, to be cleared. There will be a further announcement fairly soon giving more information on how this is starting to work itself out. The Vice Chairman mentioned local authorities. We see this as very much being led by local people in local areas deciding on the kinds of things they wish to do.
Vice Chairman: I would not, to be honest with Mr. Hamill, when it comes to local authorities. Both my grandfathers were in the old IRA. A few local authorities - Cork, Wexford, Tipperary - passed rules that ex-servicemen who came back from the front could not be employed by those authorities.
I am not saying that opinion still exists. I think Mr. Hamill should be very careful about devolving money and responsibility to local authorities. The leadership should come from Mr. Hamill's Department and his officials, and it should be clinically, historically and brutally frank. It should not be left up to politicians to put their spin on things when it comes to this commemoration, because this is what is going to happen and it has been going on already...
In order to avoid any ambiguity with regard to my view and my position with regard to 1916, this is the Committee of Public Accounts and a lot of money is being spent this year with a lot more to be spent next year. I believe that equal weight should be given when it comes to commemorating British soldiers, RIC men, volunteers and civilians, who were casualties in the Easter Rising. I will let people make their own interpretations after the fact.
I refer again to Mount Street Bridge and the 28 Sherwood Foresters - boys - who were killed in that action. It is my opinion that they were victims of British military mistakes because they could have been sent around to Baggot Street but instead they were sent into a hail of bullets. In my book they, too, were victims.
However, I think it will require additional leadership from the Secretary General and his officials in this case because I can smell and sense political correctness and an air brushing of history coming into this already. I believe this will require a little difference of emphasis from the Secretary General and his officials.
I am disappointed that with all the money we are spending, the Secretary General is unable to mention one specific project or initiative. I commend the great work done by Joe Duffy. The Secretary General knows where I am coming from in this regard.
From what I have seen, read and heard, I think it is valid, so far. I do not mean to take anything away from those fine historians on that committee and the people involved but I think the point I have made is important.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Absolutely. I will take that on board. Events are being planned that will touch on some of those aspects. I will revert to the Deputy if I may.
Vice Chairman: I ask if the Secretary General would do so.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I am very happy to take on board the Deputy's views. I refer to the riding instructions given to the Department which include a significant emphasis on inclusiveness, historical accuracy and all of those things.
Vice Chairman: The problem is that we need to take the politics out of this but it is now a political process, to a certain extent. This is different from that standpoint. It has become entangled in politics already. That is where it is a little different when it comes to the Secretary General and the kind of leadership that is necessary from his Department and from him. The Secretary General knows where I am coming from on this issue.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I will make the point I should have made earlier. We have been working on the chronology so much of our emphasis in recent years has been around the First World War and those issues. However, in my view, much of that will feed into the way in which we move into the next phase.
Vice Chairman: It is completely different. A benchmark will be needed for dealing with 1921 and 1923 and those who died in that time and this commemoration will be the test.
The test will be how one deals with those who were victims or who died in 1916, as there will be a resonance in 1921, 1922 and 1923. This must be borne in mind.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Yes. I might be stating the obvious, but after the Rising in Dublin, of course, there was the Somme just a couple of months later. That is something we have been discussing also. We must keep watching in both directions. We are very conscious of this.
Vice Chairman: Perhaps Mr. Hamill might refer back to us.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I will.
Vice Chairman: Given all of the money we are spending here, I would like to find out what specific projects have been planned or are in the pipeline. It would be interesting to find out.
Mr. Joe Hamill: I will refer back to the committee on that matter.
PAC Meeting | Jan 29, 2015
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): The financial statements from the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee are accompanied by a lengthy note which I ask Mr. McCarthy to explain.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy (Comptroller and Auditor General): What I was drawing attention to in the audit opinion was the disclosure by the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, CDETB, as it is now known, that there had been an overpayment totalling about €4 million in student grants, including maintenance grants. There are a couple of elements making up this overpayment. Approximately €1.9 million was paid in maintenance grants to students already in receipt of the back to education allowance. Where a student receives the back to education allowance, he or she is not entitled to receive grant payments. In addition, €653,000 was paid in fee grants to postgraduate students to which they were not entitled, while €1.2 million was paid in fees and maintenance grants to students who did not have citizenship eligibility. There was a figure of €310,000 identified which was paid in respect of students who were initially eligible, but the money was an overpayment because they were not attending their course or withdrew from it.
Chairman: Given the degree of scrutiny to which applicants are subject to obtain a grant from Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, and the hassle involved in terms of bureaucracy, it is staggering that this has occurred. It shows a complete lack of proper administration procedures.
Deputy John Deasy: Where do oversight and audit start and finish in City of Dublin VEC? What steps need to be taken in any regular audit or accounting of what a VEC does and where it dispenses money? Does it deal with these matters internally and does this subsequently work its way up to the Department of Education and Skills? How does the system work and how should it work? How did this issue get so badly out of control?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: To put it in context, the figure works out at approximately 2.6% of the total amount the VEC paid out. Obviously, it is a complex system of payment. The controls are exclusively within Student Universal Support Ireland and the City of Dublin Education and Training Board and subject to audit by us. The CDETB would also have its own internal audit unit which would check these matters. The payment of €1.9 million to individuals in receipt of the back to education allowance would have come to light when the CDETB received a set of data from the Department of Social Protection which threw up this anomaly when it was matched with its own data set.
Deputy John Deasy: That was after the fact.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: The education and training board had its own internal auditors who waited for the Department of Social Protection to provide a data set. How did the disbursement of this money go so badly wrong when clear rules apply to students who are in receipt of the back to education allowance in receiving a maintenance grant?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: Somebody who submitted an application may have overlooked to tell VEC that he or she was already in receipt of the back to education allowance.
Deputy John Deasy: Overlooked is a-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: I have to be careful in the case of individuals.
Deputy John Deasy: We all deal with people who receive payments from the Department of Social Protection, including some who are liberal with the truth when it comes to payments. That is fine because we usually sort out these things with the Department and the individuals in question. However, the rate of overpayment is high.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: A difficulty also arose because there was a change of policy in this area. Some people who were in receipt of the back to education allowance and already in receipt of grants and who were, for instance, entering their second or third year of a course would have been entitled to retain the allowance and receive grant assistance. This changed with effect, I believe, from the 2012-13 year of account.
One of the issues when the SUSI system was put in place was the potential for it to get that information from the Department of Social Protection in advance of making the awards, but it did not have that system in place. It is in place now. It is unlikely that particular aspect of it would have been repeated.
I should say I have a special report coming out - it is due to be finished this week - in relation to the development of SUSI and the bedding down of it. That will be coming before the committee in due course.
Deputy John Deasy: It was €4 million altogether.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: Some €4 million in total.
Deputy John Deasy: What happens now with regard to the moneys that were given out erroneously? In some cases incorrect information was supplied. What are the consequences?
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: I think discussions are still ongoing between the CDETB and the Department in relation to whether or not moneys will have to be recovered from students who were overpaid or in respect of whom overpayments were made. In relation to the payments where students withdrew, I think they are seeking to recover that money.
Deputy John Deasy: In the normal course of what I do every day, I deal with many people on issues with the Department of Social Protection. It is par for the course that somebody who is overpaid will be asked to pay the money back. One would expect that to be the case in this situation also.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: I would expect that in any situation where there is a payment made to which somebody is not entitled, the public body would seek to recover it.
PAC Meeting | Jan 22, 2015
Deputy John Deasy: I wish to ask the clerk whether he knows off the top of his head how many times the Department of Social Protection and the HSE come before the committee per year. Is it normally once or twice?
Clerk to the Committee: It depends on the number of chapters in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Normally the HSE comes before the committee at least twice a year and the Department of Social Protection generally comes before the committee once a year although it is a big spending Department.
Deputy John Deasy: That is my point. The Department of Social Protection spends approximately €20 billion. The amount has been reduced slightly in recent years. The Department of Health spend is probably approximately €13 billion. We must deal with every agency, and in some cases we deal with them once every two or three years.
Some of the agencies do not see the inside of this room during the term of an Administration and I understand this. Is there a case to be made that the Department of Social Protection and the HSE should come before the committee more frequently considering the amount of money involved?
The remit of the committee is to examine spend and value for money. The Department of Social Protection comes here only once a year. An argument can be made it should come before the committee more frequently. This is not to say it is doing anything wrong or spending money improperly, but based on the spend it is reasonable.
Clerk to the Committee: It is a matter entirely for the committee. Sometimes the issue with the Department of Social Protection is regularity, as the majority, or 99%, of the payments are fine. It is only when the Comptroller and Auditor General raises specific concerns about individual schemes that we are inclined to examine the issue.
I will speak to the Chairman about it and we will see whether we can have a more regular schedule for the Department of Social Protection. Sometimes it is difficult when it comes before the committee because members want to raise a range of issues. It is very hard to compartmentalise and deal with one scheme.
Deputy John Deasy: Ultimately the question is for the Comptroller and Auditor General. Given its budget of €21 billion can he really deal with the Department of Social Protection in one meeting per year considering the complexity and variety of issues?
I know what I deal with in my constituency offices. The problems people experience usually take up half a day because they are complex. Policy issues arise all the time with regard to how money is spent or not spent. An argument can be made that the Department should come before the committee more frequently.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy (Comptroller & Auditor General): I suggest the committee examines the programme and schedule issues to discuss with the Department. Rather then bringing before it the Department of Social Protection to cover everything, the committee could identify some issues to be discussed with the Department. The meeting could focus on these and the committee could explain to the Department that it will be brought before the committee again to discuss the remainder of the issues.
Accounting Officers coming before the committee for a meeting which has a completely broad canvas must prepare everything with regard to their business. They are able to deal with many issues, not exactly off the cuff but because they have general familiarity, but if the committee flags specific interests to an Accounting Officer it could lead to a more focused and effective meeting.
PAC Meeting | Jan 22, 2015
Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú (Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills), and Mr. Tom Boland (Chief Executive Officer, Higher Education Authority) called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: I welcome everyone to today's meeting. I am beginning to think we might have an oversight problem in the area of education generally. Obviously, the oversight or lack of oversight by the Higher Education Authority is the issue we are discussing here. The other members of the committee have dealt with that. I do not want to stick with that. I am going to get into the merger between the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow. The historic governance issues within Waterford Institute of Technology, which have been very well publicised over the past few years, have been dealt with by this committee for a number of years. We had recommendations issued to us a few months ago with regard to the institute. It is fair to say - we can ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to comment on this - that governance issues in the institute which have been going on for a couple of years have been dealt with, most recently last year. It seems to me that this being is the case - it is well known, documented and publicised - the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills would have paid particular attention to a merger process that has amounted to €380,000 or €400,000. I was struck by the fact that the merger process involving Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Tralee has cost significantly less than that. By all accounts, the merger process in the Cork and Tralee case is more successful and is continuing.
We have a remit. We have absolute jurisdiction to ask what happened with regard to this merger process. What went wrong? Mr. Boland has characterised the case of the National College of Art and Design as "certainly not an attractive picture". I suggest there is more than one unattractive picture here. I am thinking of the now failed attempt to merge the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow. I will ask Mr. Ó Foghlú and Mr. Boland about that merger process. I want them to start by bringing us through it from point to point. Can they set out their personal, professional and organisational involvement? How did it begin? How did their involvement proceed? Why did it break down? It is particularly interesting for me because if I am correct - maybe the Comptroller and Auditor General can back me up - it was mentioned in a recommendation that the involvement of the Higher Education Authority was lacking in the case of previous issues, including financial issues, when it came to Waterford Institute of Technology. There was a lack of communication on a number of different fronts. As a substantial amount of public money was spent on the merger process, I need to ask what kind of interaction, communication, involvement and oversight occurred within the Higher Education Authority with regard to that process. I ask Mr. Ó Foghlú and Mr. Boland to run through where we are at.
Call it a brick wall or a Mexican stand-off that is where we are and it is not a good situation.
Tom Boland: I would not characterise this yet, and hopefully not at all, as a failed attempt at a merger. There is still scope and it is still a feasible project.
I will try to sketch out the history. We go back to the publication of the Hunt report on the national strategy for higher education that recommended the establishment of technological universities as a positive way to allow institutes of technology develop to university level. One of the other objectives of that policy approach was to consolidate the institute of technology sector because there were several small institutions, in the interests of quality and scale. Moving on, and over a period of time, the Higher Education Authority, HEA, published a landscape for the higher education sector which included the potential for a number of technological universities to be formed, including a university of the south east encompassing Waterford and Carlow. That was accepted as ministerial and Government policy and therefore passed to the institutions for implementation.
One of the very important aspects of mergers of institutions, and it forms part of national policy, is that forced mergers of institutions do not work. We have seen how it does work. It is extremely important that the institutions themselves quickly develop a shared interest and vision for what the institution will ultimately be. The HEA has also had to be-----
Deputy John Deasy: Are you characterising this as a forced merger?
Tom Boland: No. I am getting to the point of whether the HEA could have forced these institutions to do certain things. I am trying to emphasise the importance of the institutions themselves getting on with it and getting on with each other. The HEA, in the context of a technological university application, has to be somewhat hands off. We cannot be part of the development of a technological university because we have to review, make a decision and advise the Minister as to whether any particular entity should be a technological university. There would be a conflict of interest.
We have a very direct and lively interest in ensuring in the first instance that the merger of any of the institutes is done successfully. To that extent the HEA has allocated some funding, by no means the amount sought or required, for merger activity but in the context of the financial difficulties generally it cannot be and never will be enough.
In respect of Waterford-Carlow, as with all the other mergers, and not just the technological university but also the important merger of Dublin City University, St. Patrick's and Mater Dei, we have kept in close touch with the institutions to assess progress. While we were aware of some difficulties in this project up to a media announcement I was not aware that the discussions were going to break down. I had no expectation that would be the case. We had to stand back a bit but the Department appointed a facilitator to the group. Several efforts were made and many assurances were given to me as chief executive officer, to the Department and Ministers, by the presidents and chairpersons that things would work out. Ultimately, Waterford took a fairly dramatic action to withdraw from the process. I do not think it is a failed process.
Deputy John Deasy: What I said was it is a failed process to date and it is. Whatever happens in the future, that is what I am interested in. There is a process in bits. Let us be clear about the situation now.
Tom Boland: As matters stand it has not progressed at all well. It is a failed process to that extent. I agree with the Deputy.
Deputy John Deasy: So you were under no illusions with regard to negotiations or discussions between the two entities that there was a problem. Who was assuring you that there were no issues?
Tom Boland: No I did not say there were no issues. We were always aware that there were issues but in a merger of this kind there are bound to be issues. The assurance was that they could be worked out. I had every expectation that they would be.
Deputy John Deasy: This involved public money. Can you give us an idea what those issues were? Let us get down to the nitty-gritty.
Tom Boland: Some of the issues would have been around where the headquarters of the entity would be, the relative strengths of the institutions vis-à-vis some of the criteria for technological universities and the extent to which the institutions were or were not taking action to address that. That was an issue. None of these issues was impossible to work out. If memory serves, they had reached a level of agreement on many of these issues when to the surprise of a lot of people Waterford withdrew from the process.
Deputy John Deasy: I am getting a different story. The difficulty is that those assurances or opinions given to you by those individuals were wrong. I am afraid the HEA accepted those assurances or opinions and it was incorrect to do so. Perhaps the Secretary General could give the Department’s-----
Tom Boland: I do not accept that we were wrong to do so.
Deputy John Deasy: There is too much form here in respect of governance not to take a really forensic view of this merger. If I was in your position I would have kept a very close eye on everything that was occurring when it came to that merger between Waterford and Carlow. I do not think the HEA gave it the kind of oversight that was necessary. I want to hear from the Secretary General.
Tom Boland: We cannot make mergers happen. It has to be done by the institutions.
Deputy John Deasy: Okay.
Sean Ó Foghlú: Thank you Deputy Deasy. I wish to correct something Mr. Boland said, which I know was an accidental use of language. Waterford IT suspended its engagement with the process. It did not withdraw from the process. The process is not finished. Waterford suspended its engagement.
Deputy John Deasy: I have to correct you. Waterford has made it clear that it is not going to engage with regard to any other entity or Carlow and that it would prefer to go it alone.
Sean Ó Foghlú: No it has not. Waterford has suspended its engagement with the process. As far as I am aware that is its principal announcement in that regard. The technological university concept is Government policy, as is the process whereby criteria have to be met. There is a distance that has to be kept between the agents of Government in ensuring a fair and appropriate process is undertaken and the institutions which voluntarily put together applications, with a political background but voluntarily. It is their role to do that and they advance it in a combined way.
As Mr. Boland said, we were hearing on the grapevine that there were difficulties and there was a process put in place to bring them together. They moved away from having an external facilitator and the two institutes decided to work together without one but right down to two or three weeks prior to the announcement of the suspension by Waterford Institute of Technology the two presidents assured the Minister, and I was at the meeting, that the process was advancing.
Deputy John Deasy: That was two weeks before the announcement.
Seán Ó Foghlú: A couple of weeks. I do not have the exact date. There were difficulties. As officials, we must take the assurances that we are given. I do not agree with the Deputy that we get into micro-managing.
Deputy John Deasy: Was that a joint meeting between both presidents?
Seán Ó Foghlú: It was a joint meeting. We were informed by the two presidents that it was advancing and then at relatively short notice, there was an unravelling. Immediate action was taken on the unravelling. I was present at one of the meetings. I could not make the other. The Minister met either the chair or the vice chair and the presidents of both institutions and the process was put in place, which is led by Michael Kelly. This process is underway. Clearly we cannot be sure of the outcome of that process but dialogue is underway with Michael Kelly and we hope there will be a positive outcome for this endeavour.
Deputy John Deasy: I am aware of that and that is fine. I am really not concerned about Mr. Kelly at this point. I am concerned about the job that the Department and the HEA did with regard to this merger process and its involvement and oversight. I am not concerned about the Port, Hunt or Quigley reports. It is endless. What Mr. Ó Foghlú has outlined to the committee is very significant with regard to the meeting between the two presidents and what was imparted to the Minister - that there was progress and that there were no issues that could not be resolved.
Seán Ó Foghlú: I did not say that there were no issues. I said that there was progress. This is not the only merger process underway at the moment. There is a wide range of merger processes underway within higher education. The overall issue about how the merger processes are advancing has to be taken in the round rather than just in respect of one individual one. There are a number of different process within teacher education and the institutes of technology and in all of those processes, the institutions must take ownership to ensure they happen effectively. Even on Monday of this week, I met, as did Mr. Boland, with the presidents of the three institutes of technology in Dublin which are merging. They also have an independent facilitator in place and that merger is advancing very well.
Deputy John Deasy: Nobody is going to say that there will never be problems with anything. Mr. Boland said it is an unfinished process that has not failed completely. It is important that we discover the reasons why it has failed to date. Surely that is critical before we move in any new direction with regard to a merger or non-merger? If the two presidents were giving assurances two weeks before this broke down, we have a problem. It is not Mr. Ó Foghlú or Mr Boland's problem. We may have a problem that needs to dealt with. I am just trying to be fair here. Once both of them found that this process was broken, they obviously moved in and asked what the issues that led to that point were. What were they told?
Seán Ó Foghlú: Can I answer first? The process has not broken down. The process is suspended.
Deputy John Deasy: Fair enough.
Seán Ó Foghlú: We have a facilitator in place to reignite the process. Do I think it would be helpful to bring all the reasons why the process broke down into open public discussion and have a wide-ranging debate about it? No, I do not.
Tom Boland: Can I add to that because what the issues are and what the resolution might be are on the public record. If we look at the terms of reference given to Mr. Kelly, they relate in the first instance to the extent to which there can be a shared vision for the kind of institution that could be created in the south east. One then had the very important practical issue of the feasibility of implementing that vision. Those are the two crucial pillars on which success will rest, in particular, the extent to which the two institutions, their academic staff and their governance can have a shared vision of what they want to create.
Deputy John Deasy: So Mr. Ó Foghlú is not prepared to discuss the issues-----
Seán Ó Foghlú: I am not saying I am not prepared to. Deputy Deasy asked whether it would be helpful. I do not think that is helpful at this stage. The most important thing at this stage is to support the institutions in their engagement with Mr. Kelly. Both institutions are hurt and challenged and are going through considerations and seeking to engage in a real way with Mr. Kelly. If we had a public session with the two institutes about why they are at this place, it would not be helpful. We have a facilitator. I do not consider this process to be lost. We have a facilitator in place and I hope the facilitator's actions will lead to a positive outcome.
Deputy John Deasy: I am going to give Mr. Ó Foghlú an opinion more than anything else. It might be a question of sorts. If this happened on my watch, notwithstanding Mr. Kelly's prospective work, I would get the officials and possibly people from the governing body - the chairman has left Waterford Institute of Technology - in Mr. Ó Foghlú's offices. That did happen to some extent. Mr. Ó Foghlú passed the buck to Mr. Kelly. Both organisations should have moved in immediately and dealt with the two organisations singly and jointly, dealt with this once and for all and made a decision as to the best way forward for both institutions as opposed to passing it on for someone else to write a report - number four or five. Here we are waiting for another report with recommendations ad nauseam about Waterford and Carlow. This has continued for years. Notwithstanding what Mr. Ó Foghlú has said with regard to the reasons and the non-publication of the reasons why it failed or suspended, that is the approach. The public purse would probably have been better served in the long term if you did that. It is necessary at this point. It includes drilling down into the governing bodies and the people who manage both institutions to find out what can be rescued from this, if it is possible to re-merge and begin that process again.
From the standpoint of the city and the region I am dealing with it, it is a critical infrastructural component. Progress has been stagnant for a long time. One of the reasons has been that it has not reached that stage. The process has been put together. In fairness, it is successful in Dublin but up to now, it has failed in the south east. Extraordinary measures need to be taken outside of just appointing Mr. Kelly and frankly regurgitating stuff that we already know about. It is a suggestion. Given that we are the Committee of Public Accounts and given almost €400,000 that has been spent, we will be re-engaging the public purse if this process begins again and the money needs to be better spent than it was in the past couple of years.
Seán Ó Foghlú: Subsequent to the suspension between the Department and the HEA, we did have some of that engagement and we came to the conclusion that the best way to address it was to put a facilitator in place to work with the two institutions. We did have some of that engagement but we did not think we were best placed to help draw those understandings out, which is quite close to what Mr. Kelly is undertaking.
Deputy John Deasy: If people in both institutions do not understand that the Department of Education and Skills and the HEA are exercising keen oversight of this issue and these two institutions, the Department and the HEA will be doing the same thing they have been doing for the past ten years. I appreciate Mr. Ó Foghlú and Mr. Boland coming in and they have been very frank with their responses but this has gone on too long. The two entities that are before us today are not responsible for disagreements between individuals and entities but they are responsible for finding a solution to this and they have failed so far. They are part and parcel of finding that solution be it a merger of Carlow and Waterford or some other direction. The Department and the HEA need to take extraordinary steps on this because the south east needs this. People in the south east are losing faith in government generally when it comes to this issue.