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.