Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
“Dáil Éireann, without in any way approving of, or agreeing with high levels of professional fees, reaffirms the independence conferred on the Comptroller and Auditor General in relation to value for money audits by section 9 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, and rejects any attempts to undermine that independence or override the terms of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts, having regard to section 9 (4) of the Act and paragraph (4) of Standing Order 130.”
Mr. Durkan: The question of professional fees is an emotive issue. Over several years questions have been raised in this House about the level of fees charged and the manner in which they were charged and various allegations and counter-allegations have been made. A professional person has the right to charge the going rate whether to the public or private sector, but nobody is entitled to special treatment or to disregard rules and regulations simply because they happen to have contacts in certain areas.
The necessity for the Comptroller and Auditor General to become involved to the extent that he has is a clear indication of his concern that constant vigilance is of the utmost importance. During the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday considerable time was given to a discussion on the manner in which professional fees are agreed, the level of the fees, the method of appointment and so on. This is obviously a sensitive issue and I will do my utmost not to refer to the specific case in order to comply with Standing Orders.
The manner in which consultants are appointed is one issue but the necessity for those consultants in some situations is a totally different matter. We live in the era of consultancy; consultants are engaged for every possible reason. They are all high fee charging people who are professionally competent and capable but there is a danger of having a multiplicity of people doing the same job. My theory has always been that if the job is being done properly, it should not be necessary to employ somebody to give it a spin or to create a public perception that the job is being done somewhat better than it is.
Politics being the game it is and with the interlinking at times of business and politics, the two roles become vague and very often merge into one another. A difficulty then arises because even if the job is not being well done, someone decides that there should be a consultant engaged to advise and another consultant engaged to handle the public perception of the activity that is taking place. It is at that point that we must question whether the State can get value for money or if the State's money is being aptly spent.
Whatever about the consultant being employed to do the actual work, to employ a consultant simply to tell everybody else that the work is being well done is an absolute waste of public funds. There is no necessity for that, certainly not in the political arena, for the simple reason that Ministers or Departments have full control over the job they want to do, creating the necessary impetus and adhering to their own time schedules.
If one examines previous reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the degree to which expert opinion is being needlessly and, in some cases, recklessly paid for by the taxpayer is alarming.
Dr. McDaid: Most people in this House, as well as the public in general, become quite alarmed when they read about the range of fees paid to consultants, and barristers in particular, for services rendered to the State. There may well be a case for seeking a change in the system of evaluating fees which has operated for many years but certainly not in the way proposed in the motion. We are usually led to believe that these fees are dictated by market forces. As in many other walks of life, we are told that if we want the services of the top professional people, we must be prepared to pay accordingly.
This debate has been brought about, I am sure, by the scandals of the past years and in no small way by the legal costs that arose from the beef tribunal and the fees paid to consultants during that tribunal. Before proceeding further I would make the point that figures are not always what they seem to be when the client is the State. When we read about “X” millions of pounds paid in legal or consultancy fees, we should remember that, unlike the rest of us, the State has the unique privilege of deducting approximately half of those fees at source. This little exercise is known as income tax.
Deputy Gay Mitchell served the Committee of Public Accounts extremely well as its chairman over a period of six years. I am disappointed, however, at the manner in which the committee is currently managing its affairs, particularly where issues such as the tribunal, etc. are concerned. For example, two of the members of the committee — and I have raised this matter with our colleagues in  the Public Accounts Committee in the UK — were material witnesses at the tribunal, which we have discussed, and they have now assumed the mantle of prosecutors. If Deputy Gay Mitchell were present in the House, I would say to him that those members have a vested interest in the proceedings of the Committee of Public Accounts and, time and again, they are keeping the issue of the tribunal and other matters on the committee's agenda.
Dr. McDaid: I wonder what Deputy Gay Mitchell's ruling would be regarding such people being members of this powerful committee during those particular debates. I know the chairman of the British Public Accounts Committee would not have tolerated such a situation. At the last few meetings it has been a case of déjà vu; we have seen it, we have read it and we have heard it all before.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but I am anxious that there would be no reference whatsoever to matters before the committee to which he has referred while these matters are under consideration.
Dr. McDaid: The motion was tabled as a result of fees paid to consultants some of which were incurred by Members. I do not wish to pre-empt the findings of any hearing on the matter but it is common knowledge that some Deputies who raised the matter of legal fees and tossed allegations about like confetti were not prepared to substantiate them outside the House. They have far exceeded their brief when they are responsible in no small measure for a large amount of these fees. Some witnesses who are Members of the House are responsible for legal and other fees——
Dr. McDaid: The Deputy outlined the amount of fees incurred by each Department. The motion deals with the fees paid to consultants who were employed on behalf of the State on a number of occasions but I doubt if it would have reached the floor of the House had it not been for the fees paid to a certain PR company and consultants who were employed——
Dr. McDaid: Much debate centred on whether senior civil servants could provide the necessary advice at these tribunals. Civil servants have been called as witnesses. I wish to quote from Mr. Dowling's statement to the Committee of Public accounts on 10 March——
An Ceann Comhairle: For the information of all Members participating in the debate, Deputies should refrain from making assertions on matters currently before the Committee of Public Accounts before that committee has issued its report.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will obey the Chair. At a recent meeting of  the Committee on Procedure and Privileges an instruction regarding the matter was issued to which Members ought advert.
Dr. McDaid: The motion was brought about as a result of recent accusations and allegations regarding consultants' fees which were considered unnecessary by the Opposition. The Accounting Officer of the Department of Agriculture claimed they were necessary because his Department did not have the necessary facilities and were obliged to appoint consultants on behalf of the State.
Dr. McDaid: The Department said it would not be able to undertake a major economic analysis of agri-business. There would be little point having economists and civil servants, experienced and all as they may be, as their testimony in many tribunals would not be regarded as independent.
Dr. McDaid: They would not be independent of the State's clients. Five Government Departments were involved. It would have been impossible not to appoint consultants. All relevant Departments, including the Department of Industry and Commerce, were fully aware that economists and consultants were employed by the State.
Dr. McDaid: The Department of Industry and Commerce co-operated fully with the consultant and supplied him with material throughout the tribunal. It supplied files, publications and answers  to questions and sought information from him. Deputy O'Malley, in his capacity as Minister — for whom I have the greatest respect and who was on top of his brief — stated he was unaware consultants were appointed and yet they were in daily contact with his Department and officials. Members of the Committee of Public Accounts do their utmost to find out the facts. As Deputy Durkan knows, when he asked staff of the former Department of Industry and Commerce to come before us they refused. I cannot imagine how Deputy O'Malley could be unaware of the appointment of the consultants when they were in daily contact with his Department.
Deputy O'Malley said he made no application for costs. Perhaps his counsel should update him because he has applied for costs to be paid out of State funds. Yesterday I was accused by Deputy Rabbitte at the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts of not knowing anything about the beef tribunal.
Dr. McDaid: The costs incurred were not only those of the consultants. Members of the House were responsible in no small way for them. Why are we privileged to inquire about their fees and bring a motion before the House when we are responsible for twice the amount——
Dr. McDaid: Deputy Rabbitte made that accusation against me and I wonder what his contribution was to the beef tribunal. He was one of the forerunners regarding the allegations in relation to consultancy fees. What does he know about it when all his allegations were discredited? My information did not cost the State anything but Deputy Rabbitte has applied to have his costs paid by the State and they were in the region of £3,000 per day. I will not deal with the allegations he made which were discredited. His costs will be about £500,000 and Deputy O'Malley's will be close to £1 million. Both Deputies were fore-runners——
Dr. McDaid: Many people are concerned that the State is too generous when setting fees for legal advisers and consultants. I am sure this will be borne in mind if the need arises for a further tribunal. This affair, and the Committee of Public Accounts, have been used as a political gimmick in the run up to the Euro elections. It is no coincidence that the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Mitchell and Deputies Rabbitte and O'Malley, who have been loud in their condemnations are candidates in that election.
Mr. Power: It is unfortunate that elections should affect Deputies in this way. This motion calls on Dáil Éireann to “request the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out a value for money audit of the cost to the State of professional  fees and to report its findings to Dáil Éireann”. The Minister outlined in no uncertain terms why the Government must oppose this motion. I am sure it does not come as any great surprise to the Opposition to hear that the Government is taking this line.
Mr. Power: In view of recent events, this motion is very irresponsible. The Minister said that the Government would oppose the motion mainly because it is an attack on the statutory independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the functions of the Committee of Public Accounts. If there is one committee of the House which seems to be working reasonably well it is the Committee of Public Accounts. Members of this House have a duty to ensure that we get value for taxpayers' money. However, the method proposed by Deputies Mitchell and Yates for ensuring that we get value for money could not be supported by the Government, we cannot put the Comptroller and Auditor General under a microscope to that extent.
The functions of the Comptroller and Auditor General are set out clearly in legislation. The Exchequer and Audit Departments Act, 1866 provided that “there shall be a Comptroller and Auditor General to control on behalf of the State all disbursements and to audit all accounts of moneys administered by or under the authority of the Oireachtas”. The Committee of Public Accounts has worked well——
Mr. Power: ——in examining the expenditure of money, and it is important that it continues along those lines. Members of the Government are probably keener than members of the Opposition  to ensure value for money as we have to account for it.
Mr. Broughan: I am very proud to be a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, which has carried out its functions during the 27th Dáil in an exemplary and efficient manner. A few weeks ago Deputies had an opportunity to debate a very fine report on the Kilrush Creek Marina project.
Mr. Broughan: Deputies of all parties played a very important role in establishing what went wrong with that project and putting forward recommendations on how interaction between the public service and enterprise could be improved.
One of the major issues examined by the Committee of Public Accounts since the start of the 27th Dáil has been the level of professional and consultancy fees and why civil servants regard this kind of assistance necessary at times. Consultants and other professional——
Mr. Broughan: The committee has been mainly concerned with the level of  fees charged by those in the legal, economic, accountancy, medical and consultancy areas. This raises questions about the market forces which determine the level of fees which can be charged by professionals and the extent to which the Civil Service should have access to most, if not all, this expertise on an ongoing basis.
Mr. Broughan: This motion must be rejected for the simple reason that it totally ignores the historic role of the Comptroller and Auditor General from the time of Disraeli under the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act to the present day. One of our first great Ministers, Michael Collins, was a specialist in this area. The legislation introduced last year gave the Comptroller and Auditor General extra auditing powers and, by correlation, made the Committee of Public Accounts more formidable and powerful. The committee was delighted to be given new terms of reference and Standing Orders some months ago, I hope these can be developed in the future.
Having regard to the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General in terms of control on the expenditure of money under Votes and the auditing of accounts, the motion cannot be sustained. The 1992 legislation introduced value for money audits and new management systems for Government Departments and bodies. The key point is that the legislation enables the Comptroller and Auditor General, following consultation with the Committee of Public Accounts, to proceed along the lines outlined in the motion. It is sad that a former long-standing chairperson of the Committee of Public Accounts should put down a motion which proposes to cut across the role of the committee, which  has carried out its functions very efficiently on an all-party basis.
Members of the committee are unhappy that there is still no television coverage of its many interesting investigations. We remain in the age of newspapers, yet the 12 of us, members of the Committee of Public Accounts, put in a lot of work which cannot be seen by our constituents. As the Minister will know, it is related also to legislation on the compellability of witnesses.
Perhaps one avenue we should explore is the extent to which our investigatory powers can be extended. If one looks at other democracies such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, they appear to be quite prepared to go down a very long road to carry out such investigations themselves, thus avoiding some of the angst and unhappiness we have had to endure recently.
There is genuine concern about the overall matter of professional fees. There is still restricted entry to the accountancy profession and, to some extent, also the medical and legal professions. There is still a type of monopoly within those three so-called labour markets. At the end of the day, under the great dome of the Four Courts, if there are people who can charge £2,000 a day for their services, perhaps that is a matter for the administration of those professions. The Minister and her colleagues in both Government parties could devote some time to examining that.
Mr. Martin: It was somewhat careless of Opposition Members to table such a motion because it tends to subvert in a most dangerous manner the constitutional independence of the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. One should be extremely careful when dealing with an office of State which has been specifically established by an Article of the Constitution ensuring above all, that its independence is preserved.
Mr. Martin: It should never be under the direction of this House, irrespective of who may be in power. While not wanting to be personal, I detect Deputy Gay Mitchell's philosophy as being one of dictation, that one should perpetually dictate to public officials and civil servants generally. Perhaps he is happiest in the role of directing people to do A, B, C and D, this motion being another example of that philosophy.
The constitutional independence of this office is extremely important. From day to day and week to week, political controversies will emerge right across the board pertaining to different Departments. It would be a sad day indeed were those controversies to be extended, or offices like that of the Comptroller and Auditor General used deliberately to advance a particular political case. We should not under any circumstances embroil the Comprtoller and Auditor General in political controversy. We should always refrain from doing so.
Last year fairly comprehensive legislation was passed by this House, with a considerable degree of consensus from the Opposition benches, in terms of broadening the powers of the office of  Comptroller and Auditor General. It provided for a specific line of communication between an arm of this House, the Committee of Public Accounts, and the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. This means the Committee of Public Accounts, has the power to make suggestions to the Comptroller and Auditor General to pursue certain lines of inquiry if he so wishes.
Mr. Martin: Within the provisions of that legislation the Comptroller and Auditor General can pursue issues of this kind, and has powers to inquire into any area of public funding to ascertain whether there has been efficiency or value for money. Given that it was only last year that legislation was passed, the tabling of this motion is totally unnecessary on any logical grounds. Therefore one can conclude that it was tabled solely to pursue a certain political agenda, perhaps in advance of 9 June, to promote certain individuals. It is sad and regrettable that, in pursuit of such an agenda, an office as important as that of the Comptroller and Auditor General should be used, perhaps even abused, in this manner.
Mr. Martin: Yes we see here an attempt to subvert the role of the Committee of Public Accounts, to involve the full House in inquiring into a matter which is proper to or falls within the remit of that committee.
Mr. Rabbitte: I will be supporting the motion in the names of Deputies Gay Mitchell and Yates. I find it very difficult to understand the construction being put on the motion by the Government side of the House. Deputy Gay Mitchell has a record as somebody who has been concerned with monitoring public expenditure. He was Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts for five or six years and earned the respect of parties on all sides of the House for his performance in that office. I cannot see why the motion attracts the kind of comment I heard on the monitor last evening. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I was unable to hear this evening's debate but I did hear a quick précis of what Deputy McDaid had to say. I trust, Sir, you will allow me deal with that in due course.
It is extraordinary that we appear to have entered into a new fashion — no matter what the issue, consultants have to be engaged to advise on it. There was a time when the Government was always one committee or task force away from taking action on whatever may have been the issue of the day. Now we must obtain the advice of consultants. It seems reasonable and fair to suggest that somebody should monitor the consultants to ascertain whether the taxpayer is getting value for money. Many of these consultancy reports are allowed lie on shelves. Whether they are ever acted on, to what extent they are ever acted on, or  the value of their recommendations is not something that ever seems to attract scrutiny in this House.
An article in The Irish Times, I think it was of 30 April last, listed the big spenders. Here was a gallery of Ministers competing with each other in terms of who could spend the most money on public relations advisers and consultants. The Taoiseach was listed as paying Carr Communications £36,000, that must be this year because there were other moneys paid to Carr Communications by the Taoiseach in the preceding year. The Tánaiste, Deputy Spring paid, £84,817 to Carr Communications. Deputy Walsh, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry paid £385,000 to consultants. Deputy McCreevy, Minister for Tourism and Trade paid £291,000 to Carr Communications. Carr Communications is very fortunate to have this inside track. Deputy Bhreathnach, Minister for Education, paid £23,800 to communications companies. Deputy Smith, Minister for the Environment, spent £494,422 on advertising campaigns.
Mr. Rabbitte: I will come to that. The Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, paid £835,281 to communications companies and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, spent £31,107. Without making a meal of it, that is an unprecedented array of expenditure outside the Civil Service to recruit advisers, cosmetic spin doctors and so on to put a gloss on the Government's performance. It is an extraordinary situation having regard to the extent of knowledge in the Civil Service.
Mr. Rabbitte: I cannot see the Minister  for the Environment spending much money on AIDS advertising unless the Minister of State is suggesting that falling into some of the potholes is advertising on AIDS.
Mr. Rabbitte: Deputy Mitchell is right in saying we have to examine whether we are getting value for money from these outside consultants. We have to examine how they are chosen and selected and the terms of reference of the task they are given. If the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fitzgerald, intervenes and says that a certain amount is for the AIDS awareness campaign she is clearly referring to the health budget, which I support. That is correct and proper and one is not necessarily adopting a position of opposition in arguing that it be scrutinised, put out to tender and that the procedures be transparent and fair. When you find the name of one or two companies recurring time and again, one wonders whether it has been put out to tender——
Mr. Rabbitte: It is especially disturbing when you find that advertising agencies, advisers or spin doctors who were involved with political parties during the course of an election campaign subsequently have these contracts miraculously awarded to them.
Mr. Rabbitte: It could be coincidence. Deputy Mitchell has a point in getting the House to examine the motion if it is only coincidence. This is cosmetics, not politics. You are nowhere in Government now unless you have someone to teach you on which side of the head to part your hair, how to brush your teeth and look into a camera. That has not much to do with politics.
One is amazed at the feeble attempt by the Minister last night to rebut the motion. The Minister's amendment seeks to replace the motion by the substitution of the words “...without in any way approving of, or agreeing with high levels of professional fees...”. The Minister wants to be on the side of the angels. He does not want to support the motion but he wants to make it clear to his northside constituents that he does not support the high level of professional fees we have been hearing about.
Mr. Rabbitte: I will get around to Deputy McDaid in a moment. In the interim I want to make it clear that the professional fees to which the Deputy has referred were agreed with the then Attorney General, who was appointed by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government of the day. Mr. John Murray agreed that same scale of fees. It is the height of humbug and hypocrisy for Fianna Fáil backbenchers to be jumping up, professing to be indignant and outraged by the level of fees when they fixed them. If the old boys' network and the old boys' tie applies, it applies here.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Members should not refer to the fees being discussed at present. This matter is being dealt with by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and its view was recently made clear. I ask for caution in that regard from all Members.
Mr. Rabbitte: I intend to exercise caution and I do not intend to refer to names. Having engaged in some modicum of Dáil reform we have circumscribed the sub judice rule. We now  have a sub judice rule imposed on ourselves and if something is being inquired into by a committee of this House it may not be raised in the Chamber. I never heard a more fantastic ruling. I am a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and that matter was never agreed at that committee. I did not refer to anything as yet but Deputy McDaid was allowed to refer to it at length. He imputed to me an abomination of the truth in respect of fees he claims my lawyers sought before the beef tribunal. I know nothing about it. If Deputy McDaid has inside information, such as he read from a script to the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday, I do not have it.
Mr. Rabbitte: It is a very serious matter that after years in this House fighting against the unreasonable application of the sub judice rule, which means that something is being looked into by the courts, we should now devise a new rule — off the top of someone's ahead — that because something is being inquired into by a committee of the House we may not consider it on the floor of this Chamber.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will have to clarify that, Deputy. The report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, with regard to disorderly remarks, was adopted by the Dáil. That report was emphatic on this issue.
Mr. Rabbitte: There is a document in existence and no decision of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges ever said that because a committee of this House is considering anything — a legislative committee, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee of Public Accounts — it may not be discussed here. I intend to write to the Ceann Comhairle about it. I have not referred to the matter.
I raised with the Taoiseach recently  the question of outside consultants being employed by him to assist in the preparation of his case before the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Industry. We are teasing out a similar issue in this motion, why it is necessary to go outside the panoply of the Civil Service, with all the knowledge, experience, training and loyalty to the State reposing in it for outside expertise to assist Government Ministers or the Taoiseach. That has not been explained to Members. It is the most fantastic proposition for which there is no precedent in legal jurisprudence, that in any case before a court, not to mention a tribunal of inquiry, the plaintiff, the defendant or a litigant before the court ought to have available to him or her a public relations consultant to try to put a spin on the day's happenings for the media. Since the foundation of the State and setting up of the courts, the media has translated what happens in the court to the public according to their own lights and have been doing so reliably for many years.
Mr. Rabbitte: It is legitimate to question why a practice has arisen of going outside the Civil Service and paying taxpayers' money, the purposes for which in the case to which Deputies Martin and McDaid refer we do not know. There is no reason for it and our attempts to inquire into it by way of parliamentary  question or at the Committee of Public Accounts have yielded nothing.
Mr. Rabbitte: I assure Deputy McDaid that I am very familiar with that report but the Chair has made a ruling on it and I do not wish to weary him unnecessarily. However, I will refer to the way the Opposition is stymied in trying to get information.
In the matter to which we may not refer, I tabled a parliamentary question initially to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. It was innocuous, as a question must be, and asked about the recruitment of a company to advise his Department and so on in regard to the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Industry, the total amount of fees paid, the terms of reference of the appointment and if tenders were sought. The Minister replied: “The company referred to was recommended to my Department through the Department of the Taoiseach”. In view of the Minister's statement I then tabled a question to the Taoiseach. I will not repeat it but it was basically the same question I had tabled to the Minister. Having regard to the fact that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Joe Walsh, said it was recommended to him by the Taoiseach I then asked the Taoiseach if he would answer some questions. Rather than answering the questions put to him the Taoiseach ran for cover and transferred the question to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry who had already transferred it to him.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am referring to the circuitous manner in which a question tabled to one Minister is transferred to  another and then transferred back. We have got to the stage where a question tabled to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry was transferred to the Taoiseach and he has now transferred it back to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
Mr. Rabbitte: When the Minister came to answer questions on 24 March I received a letter from the Ceann Comhairle advising me that parts of the question had been disallowed on the grounds that they were repeats in view of my original question to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, to which he had not replied. The parts of the question which were allowed appeared on the Order Paper of 24 March in the following way, the qualifications of the company concerned, if the company provided any specific service for the Department of the Taoiseach arising from the tribunal and so on. The question was not reached for oral answer, but given the importance of the issue I asked that it be held over until the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry was due to answer questions on Tuesday of this week. However, on that day I received a letter from the Ceann Comhairle telling me that the question, which was perfectly in order on 24 March and appeared on the Order Paper for that day was now disallowed on the grounds that it related to a matter which is currently before the Committee of Public Accounts and on which the committee has not reported to the Dáil. I do not want to go into the issue but I have been a Member of this House for some years, I have been a member of the Committee of Public Accounts since the last Dáil and this is the first occasion on which I have ever come across a question disallowed on the grounds that it relates to a matter currently before a committee of the House. The net result of this saga is that Members of this House have been unable  to secure answers to legitimate questions regarding a matter of public interest involving the expenditure of substantial amounts of money——
Mr. Rabbitte: ——and this cannot be regarded as being in the public interest. It is most unusual that Deputy McDaid would have absented himself from Lansdowne Road to be here tonight. There is almost a Praetorian Guard protecting the Taoiseach, to whom I scarcely referred. I do not want to comment on why the Taoiseach brought in private sector consultants to bolster his case, dig up dirt and do down the rest of us, but if the Members opposite keep heckling me I will deal with it at some length.
The whole thrust of the Minister's speech was that somehow this motion was a slight on the Comptroller and Auditor General. I do not believe that any such argument can be supported. The Comptroller and Auditor General got new powers under the Bill we have just passed; value for money audits is an instrument that has produced considerable results in the very few cases in which they have been carried out. The House, in asking the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out this kind of assessment, is by no means reflecting on his office and if the House were to agree this motion we would be in a better position to assess whether the unprecedented amounts of money being paid to consultants is reasonable——
Mr. Rabbitte: ——and gives value for money from the point of view of the State. Sir, I ask your colleagues in the Fianna Fáil benches to forget their partisanship  for a moment and to consider the position of the Opposition.
Mr. Rabbitte: We have sat here during the lifetime of this Dáil while unprecedented appointments were made to the offices of every Minister and Minister of State in the form of programme managers, advisers and so on. The Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerld, may well be disposed to saying that it has worked very well. That is a matter of opinion, they have certainly made a botch of selling it to the public, but that is a different question. If Ministers have programme managers, advisers and other people to deal with constituency work must we also go outside the Civil Service to recruit from a very narrow stream more private sector consultants and spin doctors to try to make the Government look good? We would be failing in our duty as an Opposition if we did not draw this to the attention of people who are desperately looking for a small amount of money to keep community organisations alive and those who cannot get access to health services and a range of public services. The Labour Party, after its think-in last week, has decided to focus on housing because it contends it has done a fantastic job in Government in this area. We have not moved on to another topic yet, but there must be another; I suggest health. The Minister for Health has done a good job, the Labour Party should focus on health as well as housing, but it stops at that. However, there are still 30,000 on the housing waiting list.
Mr. Rabbitte: I ask the Government parties to reconsider the reasons they have given this motion the thumbs down. If we are to enter an era of Government by consultancy we would be failing in our duty to the people if we did not ensure that this was measured against the benefits in employing consultants.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am not sure that that is the case and that, for example, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General has the staff to do the job. We have been speaking about inordinate professional and other fees. If memory serves me correctly, in the last Book of Estimates the budget for the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General was in the order of £1.9 million or £2.1 million. It is best spent in terms of the return. Each year the annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General highlights the areas of wasteful public spending. The changes which have been made have resulted in savings. I do not know if Deputy Martin is correct that such an examination could be undertaken within present resources——
Mr. Rabbitte: I have just returned from Lansdowne Road and I would welcome interruptions until I find another  point that I wish to make. In the absence of interventions or interjections I will conclude by referring to what Deputy Martin said, that the Government is agreeable to contracts awarded during the lifetime of this Government being subjected to a study by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Mr. Rabbitte: In a nutshell, there is growing public concern about public moneys being lavished on chosen consultants outside the Civil Service to do jobs which in the minds of most people the Civil Service could perform. People are concerned that there are favoured agencies and consultants who are being selected by one means or another. They are concerned about the procedures that are being operated; that many of these contracts have been awarded without being put out to tender; that there is no transparency and no yardstick of measurement as to whether the conclusions of these consultants have been value for money and are just an excuse for ministerial indecision and inaction. That is the nub of the argument.
I am pleased to support this motion which is timely if it causes the Government to pause. It seems to think because it has an unprecedented majority — it  has developed complacency and smugness already — it can continue to dole out public money in this manner for reports by consultants which in some cases are of dubious value.
Mr. J. Mitchell: This debate on the level of professional fees is both important and timely. Even from a cursory glance at the Exchequer accounts for the past five years one can see that the taxpayer is being ripped off. It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is a golden circle, making millionaires out of a few at a cost of the public at large. Political ineptitude is the only possible alternative to political collusion in allowing mega bucks to be paid for all kinds of so-called consultancy services for the State.
At the beef tribunal senior counsel were paid more than twice the daily fee paid to the Queen's Counsel at the Scott inquiry in Britain. At the beef tribunal there were 160 lawyers most of whom are senior counsel. This is but one example of manna from Merrion Street falling into the bank accounts of a few in the know. In many cases well drafted guidelines from the Department of Finance are ignored without rebuke or sanction while many contracts and payments are approved retrospectively when it seems nothing else can be done about it.
The Government's amendment to this motion which refers to the Committee of Public Accounts is interesting. The Committee of Public Accounts cannot discharge its functions properly without the power to summon witnesses and demand papers and to hold those who refuse in contempt. This week the committee could not compel key witnesses to attend to establish the facts in two cases involving consultancy services costing £385,000 and where Department of Finance guidelines and procedures were completely ignored.
If the Government is serious about its amendment it should circulate and enact without further delay the promised compellability  and privilege of witnesses Bill which is of vital importance in terms of the effectiveness of the committee system, in particular the Committee of Public Accounts. We were promised several items that it would be published before last Christmas; we were then promised that it would be published during the Christmas recess and, later, in this session. It should be circulated and enacted without further delay. We would then be able to avoid the need to hold costly tribunals in which the taxpayer is ripped off and Oireachtas committees would have some chance of ensuring that we get value for money and overcoming coverups and obfuscation whether inspired politically or by administrative inertia.
Moreover, it is important that under the Bill the Committee of Public Accounts should have the power to take evidence under oath. This is important because it is not a crime to give false evidence without an oath whereas to do so under oath amounts to perjury and the matter could be referred to the courts. Without this power the committee will continue to be a paper tiger.
Several cases in recent years suggest a certain tendency in public sector circles to pay above what would be considered reasonable. The Telecom affair, the Glackin report, the beef tribunal and the Davy affair are but a few examples which point to a golden circle but a halt must be called to this largesse with public money.
During the past 14 months as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts I have been greatly impressed by the way the Department of Finance has developed its attitude and systems. The fault does not lie with the officials of the Department of Finance who were as shocked as Members of this House by the fees charged and paid in many areas. They are shocked by the fact that guidelines drawn up by them, approved by Government and circulated to Accounting Officers are frequently ignored without adverse consequences.
The fees for the beef tribunal have  been well debated. At the time we were told they were fixed by the Attorney General and they had to pay the going rate. We were even told by some sources that the fees were much less than those paid for tribunals held in London. We realise now that is not the case. We know that the fees paid to those appearing at the beef tribunal are more than twice those paid in respect of the Scott inquiry in England. We have also learned that there are clear controls on the establishment of tribunals and the fixing of fees in the British jurisdiction. If we learn anything from the beef tribunal, it should be that a tribunal should never again be set up without an interdepartmental committee setting down the issues to be addressed, particularly its costs and the fees to be paid out. Proper controls must apply in future.
In the case of the beef tribunal a decision was made as a result of a Government motion, but thereafter it appears a Department or person was not charged with examining the issues to be addressed. In other words, what was everybody's responsibility was nobody's responsibility and as a result the outcome was very unsatisfactory and costly.
That is not the only example of extraordinary largess with public money. It is not only within Government Departments that extraordinary fees are claimed and conceded. In the Telecom Éireann affair an auctioneer paid two visits to a site without the knowledge of senior executives of the board and claimed a fee of £150,000. It was considered a major achievement to have that figure reduced to £40,000. That is another extraordinary example of how people believe they can rip off the public purse and get away with it.
The House must address not only the question of the level of fees, but the frequency with which we use consultants. We appear to use consultants more frequently than we did ten years ago and their fees escalate by the year notwithstanding the fact that the expertise  we buy in may be available in the public service. We must examine areas of public expenditure which are not under the control of an accounting officer. Legal fees are set by the Attorney General without reference to an accounting officer. All such loopholes must be closed. The gravy train must be stopped whether it is being fuelled by political considerations or administrative inertia.
Mr. E. Kenny: I support the motion in Deputy Mitchell's name calling on the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out a value for money audit of professional fees paid by the State. I listened with some incredulity to a number of the contributions.
I was elected to this House in 1975 and am a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I would like to put the record straight on matters arising from comments made by Deputy Rabbitte. I was a member of the committee which recently dealt with a report arising from allegations made by Deputy Jim Mitchell concerning the President of the High Court, the Attorney General and the Judiciary. I was pleased the committee concluded its deliberations and that the matter was brought to finality. The second part of the conclusion of the draft report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges referred to an aspiration that members of any party “ . . . should refrain from making any assertion on a matter which is currently under consideration by the committee and before the committee has had an opportunity to report to the Dáil on its findings thereon.” The problem in this regard — and you, Sir, as a serving Deputy will be aware of this — is that when information is made available to those committees it is in the public domain. It may be necessary to make such information available to the public, but a restriction cannot be placed on a Member of any party who is democratically elected to this Chamber by the  people to represent their views to state his or her concerns in regard to those views.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should be aware that he is challenging a ruling of the Chair, based on a Committee on Procedure and Privileges ruling, which the Deputy has read into the record of the House.
Mr. E. Kenny: I do not intend getting involved in a row with the Chair. The report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges suggests that Deputies should refrain from making allegations or discussing matters on which the committee has not had an opportunity to report to the Dáil. We discussed this in detail and from my experience in this House, if a Deputy from any party rises to make a contribution he or she cannot be stopped from doing so, irrespective of the aspiration of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to which I would always adhere. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges an all-party committee, was discussing a sensitive issue. However, when matters are public knowledge it should be legitimate to raise them in the House.
There is a great deal of concern among the public about the level of fees paid to “consultants”. I think it was Mr. Mark Kililea, MEP, who said that an expert or a consultant was someone in a pinstripe suit 50 miles from home, who carried a briefcase and who would know all the answers. It seems extraordinary that the level of fees paid to some consultants in one week is equivalent to three years social welfare for someone else having equal voting strength in our democracy. The level of those fees is set by the Government. The Taoiseach promised on 13 occasions that the ethics in Government Bill would be introduced and dealt with at an early date but there is still no sign of it. That must have a bearing on  the public's attitude to the manner in which the Government conducts its business.
On 17 April the Sunday Business Post observed that, since coming into office, four Labour Ministers had made 200 appointments to the public service. Though it was emphasised in the article that there was no hint of impropriety so far as the appointments were concerned, it does show how broad the field is for those in Government to act in that way. Many of the consultants involved, from the highest earners to those we do not hear about; merely have their names inscribed on reports that are left lying on shelves in various parts of the country. Whereas business people, for instance, must be familiar with the detail of the expenditure in respect of their businesses, we, with one of the highest taxed populations in western Europe, are spending vast sums annually on consultants and other persons without ever hearing whether the return represents value for money or whether the objectives set out in the terms of reference are adhered to.
Deputy Gay Mitchell reminded us last evening that in the early 1980s fees totalling £9 million were paid for the design of our prisons which have not been built. Today, the Taoiseach, the leader of the Government with the biggest majority in the history of the State, is applauding himself for having a prison sited in Castlerea in his constituency. A few years ago there would have been pickets outside the Dáil if anyone had decided on the building of a prison west of the Shannon. The Government allocates £3 million for the maintenance of the 3,000 miles of county roads in Mayo, roads that are traversed by legitimate taxpayers who pay £6 million annually in road tax but who have to contend daily with unimaginable horrors in gaining access to their houses, villages and towns while conducting their business. It is worth contrasting their plight with what happened in the early 1980s when three times the  annual amount allocated to a county was equivalent to that aid to consultants to design prison projects which were not proceeded with.
In the case of public moneys spent on consultants' and other professional fees we should know why a report was commissioned, what was its outcome and to whom the fees were paid. At local authority level the auditor produces an annual report which can be examined by the public. Such reports are complex and it may be difficult to extract information from them. The same position applies in the case of vocational education committees. The Committee of Public Accounts has been traditionally the public watchdog in terms of the investigation and inspection of public expenditure. We hear constantly from the Government about the necessity for efficiency. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment and representatives of agencies under his aegis are continually saying that if one is to manufacture quality goods and export them at competitive prices in a highly competitive marketplace, one must run an efficient business capable of keeping up with both national and international trends. The Government can hand out not only £50, £100 or the widow's mite as it were, but hundreds of millions of pounds on an annual basis in fees to consultants and various other professionals.
In Government one may be removed from reality. The Mercedes is waiting at the gate, the door opens automatically as the Minister approaches. There is never a question of his having to find parking space and walk for up to half a mile to a public meeting as the rest of us have to do. Spin doctors supply the scripts, indicating which points should be emphasised and which sections are for the information of the Minister only. Public funds are being used to have Ministers massaged politically and mentally so that they might feel good.
I recall an occasion when my good friend, Deputy Lenihan, having lost his  ministry, boarded a bus in Kildare Street without knowing where it was going. That was because of his having been ferried for so long by State car. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh, should never lose sight of the way ordinary folk perceive what is happening in Government. The perception is that there is a small golden circle who are there for the touch, that the tentacles of Government are spreading into the slimline, leanburn professionals. In many cases these professionals remain anonymous and a minority of them become parasites when engaged to complete a project. They appear out of the wings when there is mention of a report being commissioned offering themselves as experts in the area  in question. Later, whatever information they produce will, when fed into a computer, translate into ECUs in Brussels so that there is a take for the professionals who must be paid for their work. There is concern generally about the level of fees in many of those cases.
The motion in the name of Deputy Gay Mitchell was not tabled for political reasons or because he has a fraternal relation contesting a forthcoming election. We made this clear some time ago. This motion appeared on the Order Paper of the Dáil about 12 months ago and we made it clear on a number of occasions since that it would be moved at an appropriate time. This is an appropriate time and I commend Deputy Mitchell's motion to the House.
de Valera, Síle.
Higgins, Michael D.
Kitt, Michael P.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Dukes, Alan M.
Durkan, Bernard J.
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