The HSE has been dragged kicking and screaming, in many respects and on many occasions, to give us information.
Public Accounts Committee
Meeting in Special Session
February 2, 2016
HSE officials including Tony O'Brien, Director General, Pat Healy, National Director of Social Care, Aileen Colley, chief officer for community health organisation CHO 5 (Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and South Tipperary), called and examined; also Frances Spillane & Grainne Duffy from the Department of Health.
Deputy John Deasy: The hallmark of this entire issue with Mr. O'Brien's organisation has been when anyone asks a question, in here or at ministerial level, they are given just enough information to suffice with regard to kicking the matter down the road.
The hallmark of this matter is that full information has not been given by Mr. O'Brien's organisation at times. The HSE, as the Chairman has said, has been dragged kicking and screaming, in many respects and on many occasions, to give us that information.
That is the hallmark of this entire issue and that has been our experience in this committee. I am afraid that is a big problem for me.
We now have a commission of investigation. It has been announced. Why has it come to this?
Ms Frances Spillane: There has been huge concern voiced by Ministers, and, obviously, within the Department as well, about everything that has gone on here and that was reflected in the decision by the Minister to appoint Mr. Conor Dignam SC to do the review of everything that happened in the south east.
John Deasy: The Minister of State stated last night that the reason they are going ahead with a commission of investigation is that they were not sure of the information that they were being given any longer, there was counter information and gaps in the information that the Department had been given.
The Chairman was on radio last week and somebody in RTE asked whether the committee has a remit here. The Chairman replied that we did given that we looked at the value-for-money issues surrounding the commissioning of reports, but it was probably a fair question.
In reality, when it comes right down to it, the Committee of Public Accounts probably should not be dealing with this; the Department should be. Ms Spillane should have dealt with this. We should not be dealing with this today.
There is a theory that if it had been dealt with better in the Department of Health, a commission of investigation probably would not have been announced. That is a reasonable point. The reason Mr. Conor Dignam SC was commissioned to conduct a desktop review was because we raised this in this committee.
When it comes to constituents who came to me, I had to fight for the most basic care for some of those who were involved and who were subjected to the most horrendous rape. We did that through what we do on a daily basis within this committee....
The Department of Health is absolutely pivotal in this with regard to its oversight of an organisation that has failed, and failed miserably... Ultimately, it has led to a commission of investigation because the Department of Health did not deal with this matter.
PAC Meeting, Nov 5 2015
Department of Justice called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: The Chairman has asked me to finish. The last thing I have to ask concerns the issue of the foster home that we have dealt with in this committee over the past year. There are policy issues arising from that. It is currently being looked at by a senior counsel. The terms of reference are too narrow. The senior counsel will come back with his report shortly.
The third aspect of this is the release of reports by Resilience Ireland and Conal Devine on these matters. Since the last time this was brought up in this committee, the reasons given by the HSE and others have been that the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána have expressed concerns that the investigations into these matters are ongoing. Since this was brought up in the last committee hearing, I have gotten a sense of what those investigations are.
They are serious and are being dealt with seriously by the Garda. I know the tenor and substance of them. It has gone on too long. Whatever the Garda is investigating, and I think I know what it is investigating at this point, it needs to expedite this.
The Departments of Justice and Equality and Health and Children need to express the view that any current investigations or lingering investigations into this matter need to be dealt with quickly. That is all I will say.
Mr. Noel Waters [Secretary General]: We have no knowledge of the contents of the reports in question and it is something that we have not been directly involved in. We accept that it is desirable for the information contained in those reports to be put into the public domain as quickly as possible. It is a matter of great public interest and we are strongly supportive of that.
Our understanding is that there may be difficulties around publication because of the possible implications for any Garda investigations that might be going on. We have no role in the Department in criminal prosecutions. It is a matter for the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Commissioner after the meeting that the matter is brought to finality as quickly as possible.
PAC Meeting | Sept 24, 2015
Re: Waterford IT / IT Carlow merger; Department of Education called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: I welcome Mr. Kelly back to the committee. I will start where he left off. The overriding point he makes in his report is that he gives affirmation and validation to the concept. He makes that very clear when it comes to policy and when he looks at the business model. Universally, people who have read the report would say it is a necessary step to restart this process. I think it has worked. That is all positive and good.
I think people in Waterford and the south east would probably expect me to ask what has happened since the report has been published and presented to both institutes. Maybe it is also a question for the HEA and the Department.
Mr. Michael Kelly [external consultant]: I certainly think others can comment on that, but I will provide an initial response to the Deputy. Based on my close contact with both institutes over quite a protracted period earlier in the year, I am confident there is a strong belief in both academic communities, and indeed among the staff more generally, in the concept of a technological university and in the value of doing that in the south east. Both institutes prepared very ambitious and well-informed vision statements setting out their stalls, as it were, as to how the TU might materialise. Alongside that, there were also indications of real stresses in relationships between the two institutes at many levels. There is a very strong rationale, therefore, for recommending a preliminary facilitation process in order to ventilate some of those problems from the past, to try and deal with them, to get them out of the way and to get on with the substantive business. A very strong recommendation in my report was that nothing substantive should commence before going through that preliminary stage in a serious way. My understanding - although the Department may be able to amplify this - is that the process is under way. I have no reason to believe it is not successfully grappling with the issues that should be addressed.
Deputy John Deasy: Would it be helpful and appropriate at this point to ask the Department what has happened with that particular recommendation?
Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú [Secretary General]: I thank the Deputy. The Minister met with Mr. Kelly on 2 July and talked through the report with him. Prior to publishing the report she met with the chairs and presidents of the two institutions. That was on 21 July and the report was published on 27 July. As was outlined at the time, it was agreed that a project plan for a process of facilitation would be developed for the consideration of the two governing bodies at the end of August, and that happened and was agreed upon. The facilitation process is now under way. A facilitator has been engaged and the initial meetings have taken place. The feedback we have got has been that there is good engagement at those meetings.
Deputy John Deasy: Can Mr. Ó Foghlú outline the specifics involved? How many meetings are there and who they are with? Mr. Kelly make some very specific recommendations and points with regard to why this has failed and what needs to happen.
Seán Ó Foghlú: Again, there is a facilitation under way to bring the two of them together. There have been meetings at senior level between the two institutions. I happen to know there have been meetings with the chairs and presidents but we are not aware of any more detail other than that those initial meetings have taken place. The aim is to complete an initial phase of that facilitation so that it can move to actual co-operation towards building towards the next stage.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fine. I think Mr. Ó Foghlú will understand where I am coming from when I ask the questions. This stems from the view which Mr. Kelly has in his report, that this could be completed within three years. That is critical for people looking in from the outside because of how long, laborious and painful the process has been up to this point. When I ask these questions, it is important the parties concerned understand that there is keen and constant oversight of this process from day one by the Department. What we have seen in the past ten, 12 or 14 years in which I have been a Deputy is that there have been lapses with regard to governance, not just in Waterford Institute of Technology - we can talk about those - but also in Dublin. It is just critical that there is this kind of constant attention. We will get to the financial side of this in a moment. Will the witness explain to the committee what he perceives to be his role as this process begins? Is it just about receiving the odd telephone call from the people involved saying that everything is grand and that meetings are taking place or is there somebody in the Department constantly checking to see how this process is evolving and whether Mr. Kelly's recommendations are being followed through on?
Seán Ó Foghlú: We have somebody in the Department who is constantly checking this but it is the responsibility of the institutions. We have engaged the facilitator and we engaged Mr. Kelly, so we are the engager of the facilitation. We are taking that role and engaging facilitation. We are getting informal feedback on a constant basis from both parties and the facilitator.
John Deasy: How long will this initial stage take?
Seán Ó Foghlú: It will take a number of months.
John Deasy: A number of months. Okay. Is it possible within the timeframe pointed out by Mr. Kelly of three years?
Seán Ó Foghlú: That is absolutely the Minister's aim.
John Deasy: Okay. Then again, Ministers come and go, as the witness knows. Mr. Ó Foghlú will be dealing with this after the current Minister and her successor. I am not trying to be smart but that is the reality.
Seán Ó Foghlú: It is the Department's aim as well. It is a policy, so it is the Minister's aim that is implemented. I was just trying to make that distinction.
Deputy John Deasy: That is grand.
Seán Ó Foghlú: I am not trying to separate them.
John Deasy: That is fair enough. As far as the Higher Education Authority, HEA, is concerned, there are a couple of roles. It adjudicates in the process to a certain extent but it is a facilitator. Does Mr. Boland have any comment with regard to that initial process that has been set up and how he sees the authority's role in this? The Department has explained that it has somebody on point who is facilitating in this instance and reporting back from both institutions. Will Mr. Boland explain the authority's ongoing role in this new process?
Mr. Tom Boland [Chairman, Higher Education Authority]: First, we welcome the new process. There is a sense in the HEA that, in a way, this project was not given a full chance on its first outing and this is an opportunity to put it back on track, as has been said. As a process, that is very valuable. The building of trust between the institutions at leadership level and more widely is absolutely crucial - ultimately, to a successful outcome - and the institutions want the successful outcome of a technological university in due course. For the reasons mentioned by the Deputy, we are the ultimate adjudicator of the process so I do not want to say anything to predict the outcome. Our interest is to see this project progress well in the interests, first, of the region, as the case has been well made for the social and economic benefit that would come from technological university there, but also in the interest of the institutes. As two very strong institutes serving their region, they cannot put resources and time on a very long-term basis into a project that will not succeed. Our wish is that there should be a fair wind behind the project.
We will be supportive, as we have been supportive with the other consortia. The Deputy mentioned that he may want to discuss finance. There is some limited - I stress that word - capacity for the HEA to provide a certain amount of funding to support the institutions as they do their planning. We had made some funding available before but that had to be paused when the process was paused. Overall, we welcome Mr. Kelly's report and, as a very constructive first step, the facilitation process. We are very positively disposed to an early positive outcome. With regard to the Deputy's other question, I assure him that we will keep in regular contact with the institutes at leadership level on what is happening exactly.
John Deasy: I thank Mr. Boland. Having served as a member of this committee for the past four years or so, I know we have received continual assurances that everything that could be done was being done from the HEA's standpoint, as well as that of the Department of Education and Skills. Nevertheless, the process collapsed and we are back here again. I suppose this is a question for Mr. Kelly. Notwithstanding the fact that everyone agrees with his analysis on cause and his recommendations, is there a utility for a check in the system as it goes along to see if the process is working and those recommendations are being implemented properly? That is where the problem is and has been in the past. This was abruptly ended by an e-mail in October 2014 from WIT which indicated that was it, it was done. My difficulty is I deal with officials in the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills who are trying to do their job but, frankly, the process did not work because they did not know what was going on. Mr. Kelly repeatedly makes the point in his report that while people were collaborating on the face of it, when we scratched the surface there was very little going on in the form of substantive and progressive work towards the ultimate goal. It was almost like a facade, and the process was self-serving. The outcome did not amount to a great deal.
Should there be a process whereby we all sit back after a particular point and ask if we have reached the milestones and recommendations set out? This could be after six months or a year. My fear is that no matter how good are the recommendations, I could be back in a year's time - if I am elected - and see the same situation. The witness can understand that, especially if we consider the historical recurrence of the issue over the past ten or 15 years.
Michael Kelly: Let me rewind a little. With respect to the motives of the two institutes from the beginning of the process, I have no doubt that both entered this with enthusiasm and got on with what they felt had to be done in a conscientious way from the beginning. The stage 1 report they prepared bears testament to that. They then ran into difficulties and some of those were occasioned by what I term "external events"; they were external to this process and caused interruptions. I can contrast my experience with the Dublin consortium with what I have observed retrospectively with respect to the south east. In Dublin, from the beginning, the momentum flowed consistently, led very much by the three presidents in the colleges. I chair the steering group, and that is where the dynamic for pushing ahead needs to emerge.
At the end of the day in any of these consortia, the people who decide whether it happens are from the institutes concerned. We cannot make that happen. I am absolutely of a view, based on what I have observed in the south east, that given a chance to ventilate some of the issues from the past and given a proper framework within which they can progress their stage two business plan, this is perfectly achievable. Rather than a whip hand from outside, the incentives need to be of a more positive kind and they need to be around understanding what will support the process, propel it and incentivise people to go the extra mile. That is what is required; we require extra effort in addition to the day job in order to do everything that needs to be done.
Deputy John Deasy: Effectively, by extension, Mr. Kelly is saying he has faith in the people in the leadership positions in both of these institutions to do that. Does Mr. Kelly believe the leadership is there for that to occur?
Michael Kelly: Yes. I have made careful recommendations around the construction of the steering group, for example, and the project team that should be in place. The main competency I would seek is enthusiasm. Again, based on the experience in Dublin, enthusiasm from the top and in the project team is what propels something such as this forward. Beyond that, an amount of material support must be provided to make it happen.
Deputy John Deasy: I will pick up on that. In Mr. Kelly's report and opening statement, he referred to the competing demands throughout the education sector. It surprised me, and Mr. Kelly is very strong on it. Mr. Ó Foghlú deals with the entire education sector and has me constantly pestering him about national schools in west Waterford. I understand how busy and demanding the education sector can be. A couple of days ago, I met with the INTO with a list of reasonable issues, as does every Deputy. What popped out of the report was how critical the proper resourcing of the process is. An example to which Mr. Kelly pointed was that when he puts together the steering groups and the key groups of people engaged in the process, they must be taken out of their regular day jobs and there is an issue regarding compensation and funding. Can Mr. Kelly talk about it, where it may have fallen down in the past and what funding and resources we need to make it work?
Michael Kelly: Let us examine the evidence. The evidence on which I rely comes from the report I mentioned in my statement, which comes from examining the experience of this type of process across the EU during the past 15 years. My interpretation of the evidence is that the rationale for working with the merging and consolidation of institutes is not about knocking things together but building stronger capability. It is through, for example, cross-disciplinarity, multi-disciplinarity, stronger quality processes and so on in the larger institution that we can achieve, not just efficiency gain, which should be part of the agenda, but also a step change in quality of outcomes in terms of the student experience, the quality of graduates, research excellence and the engagement the institutions have with their local communities and in responding to real needs.
When we start from there, the other message that comes through in the evidence is that one pays for this sooner or later, at the start or in lower-than-expected quality outcomes later. When we put a university brand on any Irish institution, we need to do it with great care, and this is reflected in the standard, in the very exacting designation criteria, for example. This also needs to be reflected in the preparation we put in. In the Dublin context, we have taken three years thinking it through and beginning to action some of the pieces of it. It will take much investment, and although finding this investment within the overall higher education budget is challenging, we cannot rely on institutions to find the great majority of what needs to be invested from existing pools, given that they would have to take it out of something that is already happening.
Deputy John Deasy: There are practical issues surrounding WIT regarding managing legacy debt. Major strains still exist. We are talking about funding this critical measure with all those issues still remaining, and it requires support from the Department and the HEA.
Michael Kelly: It does, and it is beyond my brief.
Deputy John Deasy: I am not saying something Mr. Kelly does not know. It would be useful, and many people working in WIT would ask this question of the Department. They would have a concern about the appropriate funding of the process as it continues.
Seán Ó Foghlú: One of the helpful aspects of Mr. Kelly's report was that it placed the project in an appropriate regional context and is trying to build up a regional rationale for it. The support in the region as a whole is a very important dimension. Mr. Kelly has outlined his recommendations for a project steering group or team and a regional stakeholder forum. When the facilitation is passed, putting such a structure in place will be very important. There was no question of resourcing in the past impacting on the situation, given that there was no lack of resources. More resources were available that they could have drawn down, but they were not in a position to do so given that they were not working together well enough and did not have the plans in place. We must recognise that there is a challenge for us and a need to resource it appropriately, particularly for the back filling and the change in the nature of institutions that is needed to enable the institutions to grow into an amalgamation This is part of the challenge we face in considering the future funding of higher education.
John Deasy: Administratively, where does the funding stream come from? Is it the HEA? Is it both?
Seán Ó Foghlú: We fund the HEA. The HEA provides a limited budget for these issues and a number of amalgamations and technological university applications are under way. There is an existing limited fund. The question is how we can seek to enhance it. For State funding, it is an estimates issue.
John Deasy: Some €381,000 was spent jointly, with €170,000 from the HEA. Ultimately, Mr. Ó Foghlú is saying it is his remit regarding the overall budget.
Seán Ó Foghlú: The Deputy mentioned the debt overhang. It was unfortunate that we had to loan WIT the money and we have had an investigation about it. Arising from the investigation, the Minister made a decision to invest the money. We recognise that WIT is in a difficult position and WIT has asked us to re-examine the repayment schedule. While we are examining it, we have not agreed a revised repayment schedule.
John Deasy: When will you make a decision about it?
Seán Ó Foghlú: In the near future, although it is not imminent this week or next week.
John Deasy: It would be a good idea to deal with it sensitively. It would send a message to everybody who works in WIT that the Department is taking seriously the funding issues in the institute. It would probably be a supportive measure if the Department were to deal with it differently.
Seán Ó Foghlú: We are aware of that.
John Deasy: Good... We know where we are with this. We have been down this road before to a certain extent. It is fair to say, and it should be acknowledged, that there are people with differences of opinion on any relationship between both institutions and there are those opinions that exist and dwell in both institutions. However, the important point is that the report stresses that this is feasible, necessary and makes sense. That is why we are going to continue with this and move on. That is the overriding and overarching issue.
As a commentary, and this is not pointed towards anyone in this room, I have noticed that this became very fractious and emotive. It became very political. It became an issue everybody had a comment about. It would be naive of me to expect or try to prevent political representatives from commenting on this as the process is rolled out and develops, but it is worthwhile expressing the view that we should allow this process to grow without the political commentary that has existed and been harmful and damaging to this venture over the last ten years. That makes me suggest that it is incumbent on the Department of Education and Skills and the HEA to have a more committed role with regard to oversight of this process. We will be relying on them to do that. I will not get into the historical stuff with regard to what I think has not happened when it comes to oversight, in terms of dealing with this, over the past ten years. We have dealt with that sufficiently in this committee. It is incumbent on both organisations to provide that oversight. More keenly, that has occurred in the past to make this work. I thank Mr. Kelly. I appreciate his assistance.
Michael Kelly: I thank the Deputy.
PAC Meeting | June 11, 2015
Department of Education called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: While Mr. Ó Foghlú is here, I want to ask him about the report on Cork Institute of Technology and Waterford Institute of Technology and the issues surrounding potential amalgamation.
I spoke to Mr. Kelly, as have others, and my understanding is that the report was to have been finalised in late April. There were issues about two governing bodies being changed and the change in the position of president of WIT. Can Mr. Ó Foghlú tell me where we are at with the report? When will it be published?
Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú [Secretary General, DoE]: My understanding is that Mr. Kelly is finalising the report, but still has to conclude another set of meetings the week after next with one of the institutions. In discussions with us, he judged it was best to take his time to complete the report given the turnover of the chairperson and president at WIT.
He will come to us with the report, we hope, within a couple of weeks. The publication of the report is obviously a matter for the Minister to consider and decide. We hope it will be in the public domain in the near future.
Deputy John Deasy: I asked Mr. Kelly if he would come to the committee and answer questions when his report is finally published. Can Mr. Ó Foghlú come to the committee with him if or when he attends?
Seán Ó Foghlú: I am back here again in four weeks and am happy to answer questions on that day. I have already had discussions with the secretariat about answering on that day. Mr. Kelly is not available in July and August as he will be on leave, but I am certainly happy to answer questions. Of course, if Deputy Deasy wishes, I understand Mr. Kelly has indicated a willingness to talk to him.
Deputy John Deasy: As such, we are not looking at any time before the end of August.
Seán Ó Foghlú: I would not have thought so with Mr. Kelly. However, I am back here in four weeks and I understand institutes of technology issues will be among those covered. We will be happy to discuss any issues then.
Deputy John Deasy: Does Mr. Ó Foghlú expect this to be finalised and dealt with by then? In fairness, we are hanging around here dealing with this for a long time. I accept Mr. Kelly's point.
I spoke to him about the issues surrounding the changes in the governing bodies and presidential offices. That makes sense as it makes sense to delay and prolong the report. This has gone on for a very long time, however. Can we get this dealt with within that four-week period?
Seán Ó Foghlú: I hope so. I have discussed it with the Minister and it is her intention to try to do that. Whether she manages will depend on the fact she must see what is in the report and come to an opinion. She may want to consult her colleagues in government in advance of publication. That is her call, not mine.
PAC Meeting | June 11, 2015
Chairman [John McGuinness TD]: Item 3A.4 is correspondence, dated 5 June 2015, from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Heath, regarding an investigation into abuse of people with disabilities in a foster home in the south east.
It is to be noted and published . . . There are HSE issues regarding the foster home that was being investigated. I express my absolute dismay that the gardaí who have come back to me directly have said that there may not be prosecutions owing to insufficient evidence and so on. I find it absolutely appalling and it needs to be discussed again by the committee.
In the course of the replies from the HSE there are issues about those who were employed to investigate and the committee needs to revisit the matter. The correspondence mentions that the HSE spends €40 million on legal fees and we need to investigate that.
Deputy John Deasy: The committee has dealt with the foster home issue. We need to remember that the Garda investigated all this in the early 1990s and no prosecutions resulted. The fear I and other committee members had was that it would be repeated.
For that reason there was an imperative on Government to take the review or investigation process very seriously. That was what the committee was asking the Government to do. I believe the Government is about to make a definitive decision not only on the course of action the Department will take, but also on the policy issues that arise from the contents of the report we will submit to it.
Perhaps we should hold off for a week or so. I always had the fear, which I expressed, as, I believe, did the Chairman, that it was going to be very difficult for the Garda because of the timeline involved and because most of the individuals who were affected were non-verbal. Some of the people involved have died since these issues arose. However, we need to wait a little longer because those decisions are being made right now.
Chairman: That is why I am saying we will revisit this batch of correspondence, which covers a considerable amount of ground.
PAC Meeting | May 14, 2015
Chairman: [John McGuinness TD]: . . . a number of reports were given to us by a whistleblower relating to Cork Insitute of Technology. I know this is a different matter but it is still part of the third level sector.
Then there were reports on Waterford Institute of Technology, there were problems in regard to the amalgamation of Carlow and Waterford ITs and Tralee and Cork ITs. Within what was said at those meetings, there were serious issues which have not been addressed in an adequate way.
We should not just remind the Department of Education and Skills but, if necessary, bring forward the date of our hearing with it if we do not get the appropriate replies. Extremely serious allegations were made but it seems to me that the Department has not taken them seriously.
In the context of the amalgamation of institutes at both Carlow and Waterford and Tralee and Cork, significant moneys are involved and the Department has not clarified the matter yet the amalgamations continue apace.
Again, it is a question of having the information before us, being able to make a decision and not allowing a process to continue that will further cloud the financial circumstances of the colleges involved so that we will never get to the end of the matter.
We should express our concern directly to the Department about these matters that have been raised. If we do not receive a comprehensive reply to the queries raised by members and whistleblowers, then we should have an earlier than planned meeting with the Department, the Higher Education Authority and representatives from the different colleges concerned.
Deputies could deal with the issues raised in the correspondence supplied by the Department at that meeting. The allegations are far too serious for this committee to ignore.
Deputy John Deasy: We should wait until Mr. Michael Kelly finishes his report. It might be more useful to have him in when we meet the HEA and the Department. I have spoken to him and he has agreed to meet the Committee of Public Accounts once he has finalised his report.
My understanding is that he is taking a look at some of the issues you raised as well. He has had to wait until the two governing bodies in Waterford and Carlow met and until they have been put together before he issues his report.
There has been a delay because of that and I believe that is reasonable. However, if we are asking in the Higher Education Authority with the Department of Education and Skills then I believe it would be useful to bring him in and discuss his report and findings as well, because he is examining the issues you have raised.
Chairman [John McGuinness]: I have no difficulty with that, Deputy Deasy, save to say that what Deputy Costello has raised and what I have raised are almost separate from the particular issue of Waterford and Carlow ITs.
Deputy John Deasy: Yes, that's grand.
Chairman: It is a broader issue of governance and reporting between the colleges and the Department, and, in turn, reporting between the Department, the HEA and the Committee of Public Accounts. It is obvious that we are not getting the information. It is clear to me that there is almost an attempt not to give us full information, and that is not acceptable.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough. He is probably the one person who has been tasked with independently reviewing the governance matters that you are talking about. Therefore, if we are going to have a meeting on the matter it might be useful to have him before the committee to talk about his findings when it comes to the governance and the stream of information between the Department, the Committee of Public Accounts and the HEA.
PAC Meeting: April 23, 2015
Re: Procurement by the Health Service Executive
Those called and examined included Mr. Tony O'Brien (Secretary General), and Mr. Pat Healy (national director of social care), HSE.
Deputy John Deasy: I will start with Mr. O'Brien's opening statement and the section dealing with procurement practice in establishing inquiries. He said "inquiries are often urgent and the time periods for open tendering do not permit the conduct of a tender process in circumstances where the establishment of an inquiry is urgent."
The issue with which we are dealing concerns the alleged sexual abuse of mentally disabled children. It has been alleged that there were dozens of children involved. The allegations date back about 24 years.
I have looked at this issue inside out and there was no urgency in dealing with it. In fact, it was the exact opposite. There was resistance to dealing with it, from start to finish, within Mr. O'Brien's organisation. To actually characterise any of it as being "urgent" in any respect within the organisation is false.
On the tender process, Mr. O'Brien said inquiries were related to sensitive issues which it would not be appropriate or even permissible in some cases to discuss or publish for the purposes of an open tender process. I wish to delve into that specific point initially with the staff from the Office of Government Procurement at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who are present. It might also be worthwhile seeking the opinion of the Comptroller and Auditor General on what Mr. O'Brien said about the reasons this was not put out to tender.
A couple of things really strike me. Mr. O'Brien has said the necessary expertise was not available in Ireland, but how does he know that if it was not put out to tender? Tenders are not just about cost, they are also about getting the appropriate person with the appropriate skills set, but there was no attempt to do this.
When it comes to the rules on contracts, the relevant regulation is No.32 of the EC (Pubic Authorities Contracts) Regulations which permit awarding authorities to engage in a negotiated procedure without a call for competition in exceptional circumstances.
Was there a negotiated procedure when it came to Resilience Ireland and Mr. Conal Devine? Was the Office of Government Procurement involved in the negotiated procedure with the HSE in this regard? I ask Mr. Ryan and Mr. Bresnan to indicate whether that was the case.
Mr. Karl Ryan (Office of Government Procurement): We were not actually involved in that process. The Office of Government Procurement was not involved in the tendering process which was handled by the contracting authority. The general position is that our guidelines require a competitive process. That should be the norm when purchasing or awarding contracts, except in duly justifiable cases.
Deputy John Deasy: Therefore, there was no negotiated procedure. Is that correct?
Mr. Karl Ryan: Correct.
Deputy John Deasy: The other thing that really struck me about his opening statement was that Mr. O'Brien said the expertise required was not readily available in Ireland, but the HSE ignored the expertise available within the organisation. That is why we are in this position. The in-house experts were continually ignored.
Senior social care officers were continually ignored, which is the reason we have ended up in this position. Frankly, the last line of the statement is insulting, where Mr. O'Brien refers to the two whistleblowers who had made protected disclosures and says, "neither has ever held management responsibility for service delivery-----
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I am sorry, but I must interrupt the Deputy. I am not referring to the whistleblowers but to the two people procured through Resilience Ireland. I hope the Deputy will forgive my interruption.
Deputy John Deasy: Fair enough, but I put it to Mr. O'Brien that this has come about because the two individuals who blew the whistle were not in management...
I will go back to the issue of urgency. The two whistleblowers who made protected disclosures contacted their senior managers in September or October 2009, but they were ignored. They were then forced to go to the Department to make protected disclosures. A report was commissioned in March 2010, approximately four or five months after the protected disclosures had been made. It took two years to finalise the report, but at the time of its initiation, it was announced that it would take eight weeks. There was no urgency - absolutely none. We must remember that the allegations date back to 1992.
Regarding investigations, persons involved in the health care system and the health boards then in place reported what they felt were improper practices in the foster home mentioned by Mr. O'Brien. When he uses the word "urgency", I do not take him seriously because there is absolutely no evidence that urgency was shown in any of this. The report was then sent to An Garda Síochána. When was it officially sent to the Garda? When did it first get sight of the report finalised by Mr. Conal Devine?
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I will ask my colleague, Mr. Healy, to answer that question.
Mr. Pat Healy: I am not sure of the exact date, but a redacted version of the report was provided for An Garda Síochána. It has been fully advised-----
Deputy John Deasy: I asked when the report was given to An Garda Síochána.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not have the exact date.
Deputy John Deasy: Come on - do not start the "I don't know" business. Mr. Healy is the one in charge.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not have the exact date.
Deputy John Deasy: This is very serious stuff.
Mr. Pat Healy: Absolutely.
Deputy John Deasy: In the past couple of weeks Mr. Healy was well able to tell An Garda Síochána that the report would be published "soon" and asking for its comments. This issue has been hanging around for years and when Mr. Healy knew he was coming here and that this issue was going to come up, he was well able to contact An Garda Síochána.
Mr. Pat Healy: Let me clarify a few points.
Deputy John Deasy: Can Mr. Healy tell me in what year An Garda Síochána was given the report?
Mr. Pat Healy: The report was concluded in March 2012.
Deputy John Deasy: I said that.
Mr. Pat Healy: There was engagement between the chairman, Mr. Conal Devine, and the Garda on the issue of whether the report could be completed. The reason there is confusion is that during the undertaking of the investigation, the Garda Síochána asked that there be a pause on it because of the work it was undertaking.
There was ongoing engagement between the chair of the investigation team and the Garda Síochána and, subsequently, he was able to continue his review. He sought and received clearance to complete the review and publish the report.
Subsequently, in light of additional information that became available to the Garda Síochána, an investigation was opened and continues today. In that context, there has been movement over time about whether there was clearance to publish the report. In relation to the current position, we have-----
Deputy John Deasy: Can I stop Mr. Healy there? This is a question for both witnesses. I am going back to the opening statement.
Mr. Pat Healy: Can I just clarify the situation with regard to the Garda Síochána?
Deputy John Deasy: Hang on now. I want to get to the bottom of this as far as I can. I will encapsulate it. The process began in September 2009. Two weeks ago, the HSE contacted the Garda Síochána to ask for its comment before publication.
It is now April 2015, almost six years on. Where is the urgency with regard to the protected disclosure that was made? Why has it taken so long to get to where we are now? How can Mr. Healy possibly characterise this, in any sense, as urgency?
Mr. Tony O'Brien: My comments about urgency in the opening statement are clearly addressed to the issue of procurement at the time of the investigator and the exemption from procurement requirements that attached to it. My comments relating to urgency do not extend back to 1992 or forward from the point of view of the procurement time. My comment about urgency is very specific.
Deputy John Deasy: When did Mr. Healy find out about these allegations?
Mr. Pat Healy: I found out about them in late 2009 and early 2010.
Deputy John Deasy: What position was Mr. Healy in at that time?
Mr. Pat Healy: At the time, I had just been appointed as regional director for the south, and my previous post was as assistant national director for community services in the south. Someone had been appointed to that role on an interim basis.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy did not know anything about this when he was in that position and was not aware of these allegations dating back to the 1990s?
Mr. Pat Healy: I was not aware of the allegations. They became known at corporate level. There were protected disclosures in late 2009, but there were three disclosures over a period from late 2009 to early 2010 and they were notified to our authorised officer who deals with this.
Immediately after it happened, engagement took place with those who had made protected disclosures and the work in establishing an investigation commenced immediately. In the note submitted to the committee, I mentioned that the preparation to undertake an investigation commenced immediately. The discussions with Mr. Conal Devine were undertaken by the authorised officer.
Deputy John Deasy: They were not started immediately. The people who brought this up were ignored for months before anything was done. They had to go and make a protected disclosure because the HSE ignored them and stonewalled them.
Mr. Pat Healy: The point I am making-----
Deputy John Deasy: No. This started with a particular senior social care worker who was employed in 2007 and started looking at the cold cases. He started going back to old files and found certain issues that concerned him gravely. He brought up these issues and the HSE management ignored him.
Then he felt compelled to make a protected disclosure, and he was not the only one. Six years later, here we are, and the report has not been published. I will keep going with the people contacted to do these reports, one of whom is a former HSE employee. Mr. Ger Crowley certainly is. Does Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley?
Mr. Pat Healy: I did not contract anyone on this.
Deputy John Deasy: At a workshop held by Mr. Crowley in September 2014, he said that Mr. Healy had phoned him directly in May 2014 and asked him to write the policy.
Mr. Pat Healy: That is a different issue and concerns safeguarding policy. With regard to this review-----
Deputy John Deasy: That is what I am talking about-----
Mr. Pat Healy: The Conal Devine report was initiated by the authorised officer nationally-----
Deputy John Deasy: Does Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley professionally and has he known him for years?
Mr. Pat Healy: He was a colleague at one point.
Deputy John Deasy: Is it appropriate to ask a colleague to deal with something as sensitive as this - someone who has worked in HSE apparatus?
Mr. Pat Healy: The report by Resilience, which he works for now, was commissioned locally in the south-east area.
Deputy John Deasy: Is it appropriate that the HSE commissioned someone who was a former employee to deal with something like this?
Mr. Pat Healy: It is important that the procurement rules and rules about former employees are followed, and they were in this case. The individual in question works for a company that was contracted to undertake the work and is in full compliance with the rules.
Deputy John Deasy: That is a real bureaucratic answer if ever I heard one. I will start with taxpayer. How does the taxpayer get value for money when someone contracts individuals he is familiar with to do the work?
I will repeat that we are dealing with allegations of the rape of mentally disabled children in a foster home. The allegations centre around not one but potentially dozens of people. How does HSE continue to contract people who had worked in the organisation for years, knew the people who were in management in the south east region and had had contact with them over years? Who in their right mind would consider that independent?
I have nothing against Mr. Conal Devine but I have been dealing with the families who dealt with Resilience and the process was appalling. I have never come across anything like this and I have been a public representative for 16 years. The process is a sham.
Mr. Pat Healy: The limitations of what I can say today about the inquiries mean that when both reports are published-----
Deputy John Deasy: I asked Mr. Healy a question about the appropriateness of hiring people who are former HSE employees to deal with allegations that go back to the 1990s. There must be an answer for that. Mr. Healy cannot just sit there and say that they are in compliance.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: In the 1990s, Mr. Crowley was an official of the Mid-Western Health Board and had no connection with the services in the south east.
Deputy John Deasy: Stop. Mr. O'Brien must be kidding me. He worked in HSE. This is absolutely absurd and Mr. O'Brien cannot stand over it, given the gravity of the allegations made over the course of 20 years...
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Does Deputy Deasy want an answer?
Deputy John Deasy: I am not sure I am going to get one, but I ask Mr. O'Brien to go on.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I asked the Deputy if he wants an answer.
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): I want one.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I thank the Chairman. I can speak with an independent mind about what happened in 2009, because I was not in the HSE when any of this was done in 2009. Given the range of requirements, it is not appropriate to automatically suggest that someone who worked in a different part of the system for most of his career, not in HSE at all but in its predecessor bodies-----
Deputy John Deasy: That is what I thought Mr. O'Brien would say. I am talking about the appropriateness of the HSE doing it in the first place and not the individuals and their professional integrity.
I am talking about the concept of employing people and tendering contracts as sensitive as this to people who are former HSE employees. It is absurd. I do not believe Mr. O'Brien's assertion in his opening statement that the expertise does not reside in Ireland. I do not think the HSE tried.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: The statement does not say that. Clearly the expertise resided in Ireland, because this individual-----
Deputy John Deasy: The reason they were picked was because nobody else at work in the HSE had that expertise.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I understand that the purpose of having witnesses is that they can answer questions. The Chairman wants to hear my answer. I understand that the Deputy is unhappy about the situation and I understand why, but the reality is that the particular set of skills required to carry out an investigation like this are not widely available and when-----
Deputy John Deasy: How would Mr. O'Brien know if he did not tender it?
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Would the Deputy let me answer the question?
Deputy John Deasy: I have asked Mr. O'Brien this before and he did not answer the question. How could he possibly know that the expertise did not exist if the HSE did not put it out to open tender? He would have absolutely no idea whether the expertise existed if it was not publicised.
Notwithstanding the sensitivity he just mentioned, how would he know? The reason Mr. O'Brien and the organisation did not make an attempt to do this was because there was a comfort factor in finding individuals known by the senior officials in the HSE to deal with this. This stems back to 1992. It was 17 years previous to this commissioning of the report, in terms of Mr. Conal Devine, that these issues arose.
Surely there was an urgency within the HSE to take it out of the HSE and deal with this independently. There was never an attempt to do that - it remained in the fold and the fold got stronger.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: To reiterate, I was not involved and I was not in position so, I hope, I am taking an objective view. Conal Devine was not part the HSE. His piece of work was directed specifically at the specific allegations. The secondary decision was to have a broader look back.
The skill sets that the individuals have is an appropriate skills set and I told the committee what the exemptions are under EU procurement. Clearly, the Deputy is not happy with that situation. I am simply putting forward the rationale for the decisions that were made at the time and I do not believe there is any basis to question the integrity of the individuals concerned, particularly those whose names have been mentioned today.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. O'Brien is the one putting those words in my mouth. I am not questioning the integrity of any individuals, I am talking about HSE procedures. This is the Committee of Public Accounts.
Surely we are allowed to ask about procurement procedures and whether it is appropriate to hire people who are former HSE employees - Mr Crowley, as was said, and not Mr. Devine. Is it appropriate to do that in cases like this? It is not and Mr. O'Brien would have known that. He would have known the history of this issue going back to 1992 and, institutionally, people would have understood the allegations that had been made back in 1992 and 1993.
Chairman: Deputy Deasy, allow Mr. O'Brien to answer the specific questions that you have put to him.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: What I can tell the committee is that those who were charged with making these decisions at that time would have been aware that there was no basis upon which they could exclude persons merely because they were former employees of the health system, particularly in circumstances where they never, ever held an operational role in that part of the country.
Deputy John Deasy: In other words, Mr. O'Brien does not have an answer to the point I raise which is the inappropriateness of employing people when it came to Resilience Ireland. It was not just Mr. Crowley, but Mr. Drohan and Mr. O'Dwyer.
There were plenty of former HSE employees involved in this. This is endemic. It is just unbelievable. In terms of investigations, one name that comes up is a Mr. Tennant, who is recommended by HSE staff when it comes to section 39 bodies. It is par for the course - that is what the HSE does and has done for years. It employs former employees to deal with these issues. It was not once or twice.
I am not questioning their integrity but am talking about the HSE's unbelievably, incredible, illogical procedures when it comes to procurement and tendering these contracts when it comes to issues like this.
I remind Mr. O'Brien of a couple of things that occurred. In the case of one girl who was placed in placement, there were significant concerns of abuse back in the 1990s which led to a number of Garda inquiries. Files were submitted to the DPP. After a decision was made that it was in her best interests to be removed owing to allegations of sexual abuse, the child was left in that foster home for 13 years.
That was in the 1990s. Nobody has ever been sacked or disciplined. The decision was reversed. The senior care worker - Mr. O'Brien knows his name - arrived on the scene ten years later and went back over the files, making his disclosure in 2009. Here we are six years later. There have been news reports about this but they have been scant.
As Mr. O'Brien knows, it has been on RTE's "Prime Time Investigates". The big finger of the HSE points at people who try to air this, which is worrying when it comes to an organisation like the HSE.
There are other questions regarding the costs involved here which are directly related to the Committee of Public Accounts and the case of that girl. A fully funded residential bed, held open for two and a half years for the client in question at a cost of €120,000 per annum, was never used.
The costs with regard to Mr. Devine and Resilience Ireland came to a couple of hundred thousand euro. There were five legal firms involved, also. I believe the committee should be given the amounts involved in the costs of those legal firms.
Chairman: Has Mr. O'Brien got those costs?
Mr. Pat Healy: We have the costs involved and they can be provided to the committee. I will have them sent on.
Chairman: Can Mr. Healy give them to the committee now?
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not have the specific detailed costs here but they can be provided. Two firms were involved. From a corporate point of view, Arthur Cox was involved in more recent times. Local firms were used by the local team when involved in this.
In any investigation of this order, the investigation team itself has to be provided with legal advice separate from the HSE, so we use our own corporate lawyers, Arthur Cox. When the investigation was undertaken and the completed report was circulated for due process and fair procedure, there was correspondence from lawyers of some of those who received extracts, and that had to be engaged with.
To correct the record in respect of two names mentioned by Deputy Deasy, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Drohan. They have never been involved in this in any way. It is important to clarify that.
Chairman: Deputy Deasy was referring to general work done for the HSE.
Mr. Pat Healy: The Deputy mentioned it in relation to this particular issue.
Deputy John Deasy: They are directors of Resilience Ireland.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not believe Mr. Tennant is a-----
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about Mr. Tennant, I am talking about Mr. Drohan and Mr. O'Dwyer. They are directors of Resilience Ireland. Is that correct?
Mr. Pat Healy: The Deputy mentioned Mr. Tennant's name as having been involved-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy mentioned two people. The people I mentioned were Mr. Drohan and Mr. O'Dwyer as directors of Resilience Ireland and they are former staff of the HSE.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: The Deputy mentioned Mr. Tennant and Mr. Healy is only making a point-----
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about Mr. Tennant being involved in this at all. He is just hired for investigations.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Mr. Healy was just confirming for the record that Mr. Tennant is not involved in the matter we are discussing.
Deputy John Deasy: I did not say he was, so Mr. O'Brien should not mix it up. I said Mr. Tennant was involved in investigations and he is referred by HSE staff to other investigations. The two people I mentioned in respect of Resilience Ireland are directors and are former HSE staff. Is this correct?
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not believe-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy does not know.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not believe Mr. Drohan is a director of Resilience Ireland.
Deputy John Deasy: Does Mr. Healy not know Mr. Crowley or Mr. Drohan?
Mr. Pat Healy: I said to the Deputy I know Mr. Crowley.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy does not know many people in the organisation of the HSE when it comes right down to it, an organisation he worked in all his life. I mean, this is-----
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I think the Deputy is being very unfair at this point.
Deputy John Deasy: I think this is unbelievable and Mr. Healy is having a laugh. I think he knows all these people. In many respects, the witnesses are the ones who actually hired these people. They knew exactly what their backgrounds were. They knew them intimately, in my opinion.
Mr. Pat Healy: If I could respond to that, Chair.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy is giving us the impression that he does not know these people. Of course he knows them.
Mr. Pat Healy: Could I respond, Chair? Is that okay?
Mr. Pat Healy: Just specifically in relation to Mr. Crowley, who was, in terms of the look-back exercise, identified by Resilience Ireland as the lead consultant, he was engaged locally by the area manager in that area and, can I say, in looking at it, I have looked at the basis-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy was the head of HSE South when Mr. Crowley was hired and he is saying he was hired-----
Mr. Pat Healy: I was not, no. I was not the head of HSE South when he was hired.
Deputy John Deasy: Was Mr. Healy head of community care in the whole of the country or what was he?
Mr. Pat Healy: I was the national director of social care.
Deputy John Deasy: This is relevant. Is it not?
Mr. Pat Healy: But, if I could-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy did not know that this guy had been hired at all, did he?
Mr. Pat Healy: No, I did, and I suppose-----
Deputy John Deasy: Did Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley?
Mr. Pat Healy: It was in the-----
Deputy John Deasy: How long has Mr. Healy known Mr. Crowley?
Mr. Pat Healy: If I could answer, Chairman.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Can Mr. Healy be allowed to answer any of the questions?
Chairman: If Mr. O'Brien allows me to chair the meeting I will arrange for that.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy really has no interest in answering these questions whatsoever.
Chairman: That is my job.
Deputy John Deasy: The connections I have are like that.
Mr. Pat Healy: I have looked at the file in relation to the decision-making around the appointment of Resilience Ireland and Mr. Crowley and it speaks, in particular, to the point in relation to section 32 of the EU regulations in relation to the expertise that was required, the expertise that was identified as necessary. It is quite a complex and difficult situation.
Deputy John Deasy: Is Mr. Healy referring to the prolonged discussions that took place with the office of procurement?
Chairman: Deputy Deasy should allow Mr. Healy to answer.
Mr. Pat Healy: I am saying that in relation to the look-back exercise, the expertise that was required was: number one, senior management experience of running inquiries and that capacity; number two, a detailed knowledge and expertise in relation to disability and child care services; number three, a knowledge of safeguarding, which has significantly changed over recent years; and number four, an actual professional expertise in relation to social work.
Now, it is the rare individual who actually has all of those capacities. In this individual, one has someone who actually led the Madonna inquiry in Ireland, which gave rise to the basis of the establishment of the social care inspectorate.
He has been involved in, and led, on behalf of the regional health boards at the time, the child care guidelines, Children First. He was a key player in implementing that. He is currently a registered social worker. He was a head social worker for the mid-west for 12 years.
Deputy John Deasy: I know this. I have gone through all of that.
Mr. Pat Healy: One of the key pieces of both this-----
Deputy John Deasy: But I-----
Mr. Pat Healy: Can I explain as to the-----
Deputy John Deasy: The funny thing is that the question I asked Mr. Healy was: does he know this man and does he know him well?
Mr. Pat Healy: Can I finish the point I was making?
Chairman: Yes, please do, Mr. Healy.
Mr. Pat Healy: The point about it is that when one takes of all of that together, that is, in one individual, the expertise required.
Deputy John Deasy: I know plenty of people with great CVs.
Mr. Pat Healy: Over 40 families had to be met-----
Deputy John Deasy: I know tonnes of people with wonderful qualifications. It is not the point I am making. It is not the question I am asking.
Mr. Pat Healy: Sorry, Chair-----
Chairman: What is the question Deputy Deasy is asking?
Deputy John Deasy: The question I am asking is: how familiar was Mr. Healy with Mr. Crowley when he was hired?
Chairman: Let us take that question then.
Mr. Pat Healy: I was not involved in hiring-----
Deputy John Deasy: I did not ask Mr. Healy-----
Mr. Pat Healy: I know him. His reputation is well-----
Deputy John Deasy: Did Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley well when he was hired at that time?
Mr. Pat Healy: I know Mr. Crowley and his reputation. I am just outlining for the Deputy, he is well known within the health service. His reputation is very significant. The point I was trying to make was that a key piece here was that a clinical team had to go to meet very sensitively and in line with a protocol from the gardaí, in line with data protection and in line with legal requirements all of these families. He supervised, and had the professional capacity to supervise, that work.
Deputy John Deasy: The witnesses all knew these people. That is my point. They should not have been hired for that reason considering what we were dealing with here. It was inappropriate. It was wrong. I know plenty of people with good CVs and great qualifications. It was completely wrong for the HSE to hire former employees to deal with something that had existed since 1992. By the time they made their protected disclosure it was 17 years later. Surely, one would have copped on by that point that there was something wrong.
Mr. Pat Healy: I believe that the report when it is published will actually-----
Deputy John Deasy: In my opinion-----
Chairman: Is Deputy Deasy finished?
Deputy John Deasy: No, I am not. Over the course of 23 years, the HSE failed to deal with this issue. Over the course of many years in the 1990s, the HSE failed to protect these children. Mr. O'Brien may not have been in the health board but the organisation that he is head of now failed to protect these children and I think it is incredibly serious.
I think it is a dereliction such as I have never seen before. It is absolutely amazing stuff. Management that presided over this case had left by the time this inquiry had been completed; they are gone to places like Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I think everybody who was involved in a senior management position between the early 1990s to date needs to be investigated.
I think that, considering what I know, and what I think the Chairman knows, and considering the interaction we have had with the families, the social care workers who were involved in this and the gardaí, this needs to be taken out of the HSE's hands completely. I do not think the HSE has a role in this whatsoever any longer.
I do not think the HSE can be trusted to actually look at this independently. I think the HSE has failed miserably when it comes to the review of this and the investigation of it, regardless of the reports the witnesses have commissioned by their friends.
I think there needs to be a commission of investigation conducted under the appropriate legislation and I think the Minister for Health should look at it immediately with other members of the Government, and I think it should be taken out of this completely now. The HSE has mishandled this for 23 years. It is astonishing. That is it for now.
PAC Meeting: April 16, 2015
Re: Broadband infrastructure
Mr. Mark Griffin (Secretary General, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources) called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: I will tag onto what the Chairman has mentioned and what Mr. Griffin spoke about with regard to the national broadband plan.
Mr. Griffin has only been in place for a year and a half and I have not had an occasion to question him at this committee. Leaving the historical issues behind, something which I believe will define his time as Secretary General will be how successful he is in rolling out the national broadband plan.
I wish to ask about the way it was announced and is being operated in the Department. Rural areas with smaller population densities, or with fewer than 900 people, are not seen as economically viable. We have what is called State intervention on one hand, and I hope the commercial operators will actually provide the crossover so we will cover 96% or 97% of the entire country by 2020.
The mapping process was published last November, pinpointing the geographical areas requiring State intervention. The public consultation process on the accuracy of the maps closed for submissions in February of this year.
In my constituency, it is estimated that approximately 29% of the entire land area will not be covered by the commercial operators. The area has 17,000 or 18,000 households. In the past four or five years, in particular, and for longer in certain locations, including coastal villages such as Bunmahon and in Kill, broadband is the major issue for people with businesses. People who want to start businesses cannot get a proper broadband service.
I understand that the Department was meeting telecommunications companies in February and March of this year. I want to find out how much on schedule the Department is with regard to rolling out the project.
How is it going? I understand Vodafone made its announcements yesterday or the day before. It is in competition with Eircom. How is this going? What is the timeline considering what the witnesses announced, and what is the current position?
Mr. Mark Griffin: The project is going very well. I will come back to the specific points the Deputy raised, because they are very important, but I will take the last point as an example and knit it into the broader discussion we have had today about project governance.
We have a very effective and robust project governance arrangement in place for the national broadband plan. I refer to a formal project plan setting out critical paths, milestones, deliverables, resources, funding, risks and issues, steering groups with the appropriate governance, financial, administrative and technical expertise, checkpoint meetings, risk and issue management and change request systems.
To pick up on the point raised [earlier] there is a reference to regular reporting to senior management. I am briefed on this very regularly. I have two meetings scheduled, for tomorrow and Monday, to go through some of the funding and cost-benefit analysis issues. The Minister is briefed on a very regular basis and is very much in command of where the project is at and where we need to go.
Obviously, we discuss it at the management advisory committee meeting we have with the Minister every four weeks. We also buy in external expertise to advise on key aspects of some of the projects, such as the CBA stuff, funding options, procurement and so on.
Deputy John Deasy: That was going to be published in July. Is that correct?
Mr. Mark Griffin: It is still on track. The intervention strategy is to be published in July for the consultation process. Work on the issues around funding, the cost-benefit analysis, the ownership model and all the technical work is under way and nearing completion. The intention is to go to tender towards the end of this year, with the first elements of the roll-out to commence in 2016, with the aim of completing the project in 2020.
As the Deputy knows - he is very familiar with the maps - one is talking about the intervention area the Government has to manage, covering 96% of the land mass of the country. It covers approximately 750,000 properties. If my memory serves me correctly, there are about 80,000 farm holdings within that. This is a big prize; it really is.
I have a number of key priorities that the Department will be dealing with over the next couple of years. I would set that up as among the top one or two. All the resources that are required in the Department to deliver that and any external resources we require to back us up are being put in place.
I am very comfortable about the governance arrangements in place for the management of the project. A very significant block of work that we have commissioned from external consultants concerns what governance arrangements need to be in place for the project for the five-year period. Also to be determined are the governance arrangements that need to apply, perhaps for a longer period, over a contract term.
Deputy John Deasy: Some of this was dependent on European Investment Bank, EIB, funding. What is the story with that?
Mr. Mark Griffin: We are looking at a range of funding options. We have a commitment of €75 million from the ERDF and we have been in touch with the EIB. We had been in touch with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and we have also been in touch with external private commercial lenders, as have some of the companies. Therefore, all that work is ongoing.
Deputy John Deasy: In rolling this out, Mr. Griffin is talking to funding entities, but he has not reached any resolution with them. I refer to the EIB, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and private equity.
Mr. Mark Griffin: I expect that to come to closure over the next couple of months. Obviously, we will need to be in discussion, as we are, with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of the Estimates and multi-annual capital programme in relation to whatever level of Exchequer investment is required to fund the programme.
Deputy John Deasy: People have been let down time and again over the past ten years, particularly in the area I am from, which is rural Waterford. I worry when I hear Mr. Griffin saying the funding has not been put in place for something that has been announced.
It has been announced that it will be completed by 2020. This is a fair point. We are dealing with public money here and talking about public expenditure and reform. There is no funding secured for this project as of now beyond what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will give.
Mr. Mark Griffin: Beyond what the ERDF has committed to. There is strong Government backing for this project. Before the final-----
Deputy John Deasy: That is not quite what I asked.
Mr. Mark Griffin: I know that.
Deputy John Deasy: This is important. I am asking questions that I am not sure I can answer any longer.
Mr. Mark Griffin: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: I have been asking them for far too long. There is too much riding on it. As Mr. Griffin said, this project is his priority as Secretary General for the next few years. This is why I am asking him about this. It is defining in regard to his role in the Department. We do not have the funding in place to roll this out right now.
Mr. Mark Griffin: There is a block of work to be completed first regarding the estimated overall cost of the intervention. In parallel with determining that, we need to assess what the available funding options are. Some of that will be commercial through the EIB, potentially through the ISIF, and obviously the companies that bid will place a strategic value of the investment.
Deputy John Deasy: There is no guarantee that they will tender.
Mr. Mark Griffin: I have no doubt whatsoever that they will. Our contacts suggest there will be a strong level of interest in it.
Deputy John Deasy: What is the problem with the strategic investment fund? It is well publicised these days. It is so under-subscribed it is not funny. There is a fund of €5 billion or €6 billion, but very little of that - just over €104 million - has been taken up. What is the problem in accessing the funding?
Mr. Mark Griffin: I do not believe there is an issue. Obviously, the fund will lend on commercial terms and will want to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's crossed in terms of the work we need to complete to feed into that.
However, that work is very well advanced. We have a number of draft reports from the consultants at this stage which should allow us to close out substantively on aspects of that.
Deputy John Deasy: The Department is finishing its intervention strategy in July.
Mr. Mark Griffin: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: It is meeting the companies in the meantime.
Mr. Mark Griffin: We meet companies on an ongoing basis.
Deputy John Deasy: Given my perspective on the Department, my understanding of what we are dealing with today and the fact that I agree with Mr. Griffin as far as the historical issues are concerned, I believe this project is the big issue and the big-money item that the Department will be dealing with for the next four or five years. It worries me slightly that the funding is not in place yet for something that has been announced many times. We should keep tabs on this.
Mr. Mark Griffin: In any project, there are several stages of planning before the final commitments around a number of things. I would like to think we have the bulk of the planning work done and that, over the next few months, we will be in a position to call it in relation to some of the key issues the Deputy has outlined.
Deputy John Deasy: The physical roll-out of this was planned for late 2016. Are we on track with regard to the beginning of that physical roll-out?
Mr. Mark Griffin: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: Will it be late, middle or early 2016?
Mr. Mark Griffin: Realistically, we are talking about the second half of 2016.
Chairman: The Department is before us in three weeks' time.
Mr. Mark Griffin: The committee will have many more opportunities to quiz me on this and a range of other things.
PAC Meeting | March 26, 2015
Chairman: I think we should discuss No. 4, lapses in controls at Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT. The issues raised there had to do also with Carlow, Cork and Tralee. We should put it on the agenda for our next meeting.
Deputy John Deasy: There has been significant movement in regard to Carlow, Waterford, the HEA and education. I understand the President of Waterford IT has left and is now working with the Higher Education Authority.
Mr. Michael Kelly who is carrying out a report on the merger between Waterford and Carlow ITs is probably finalising that work. Would it be useful to invite Mr. Kelly to present to committee after he makes his report?
Chairman: I understand the report has to go to the Minister before it is available to us. We have already agreed to bring back the Department and the HEA and we can ask them to invite in Mr. Kelly to discuss his report.
Then, we could perhaps bring into that discussion the report here relating to the WIT and the reports on the other institutes. We are still awaiting the report from the Department on the Vocational Education Committees, which is before the Minister.
Deputy John Deasy: It would be useful to have Mr. Kelly come before us. I believe the hearing we had with the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills woke some people up and that some issues were resolved after that hearing.
We should continue with that to bring this to a conclusion, if possible. Having Mr. Kelly appear would be useful in that regard.
Chairman: We do not have a date set for that meeting. If we can find out when the report will be available after the Minister completes her examination of it, we can set an early date for that hearing.