PAC denies ‘poaching’ headline-grabbing issues

Public spending watchdog accused by other Oireachtas groups of waging a ‘turf war’

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (L) has alleged PAC had strayed outside its remit in a recent hearing on sick leave and other issues in the prison service. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (L) has alleged PAC had strayed outside its remit in a recent hearing on sick leave and other issues in the prison service. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A powerful Dáil committee which acts as a watchdog on public spending has robustly denied it is “poaching” major headline-grabbing issues from other Oireachtas committees.

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) Seán Fleming has said it does not stray outside its remit, which is to ensure that public money is not being wasted. He rejected the suggestion it was encroaching on the work of other committees.

It comes as the chair of the Justice Committee submitted a formal complaint to the Ceann Comhairle about the public spending committee. Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has alleged Pac had strayed outside its remit in a recent hearing on sick leave and other issues in the prison service.

It is understood that Independent TD Clare Daly also made a similar complaint about the Pac hearing into the prison services at the Dáil business committee, where whips decide the business of the Dáil.

Incursions

The Health Committee has also accused the Pac of incursions into its territory, when it held hearings on the cervical check scandal and, more recently, on cost overruns at the national children’s hospital.

Separately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised the all-party committee for inquiring into the finances of Áras an Uachtaráin on the eve of the Presidential election campaign in October.

Mr Fleming strongly dismissed any suggestion the Pac was involved in a “turf war”. He told The Irish Times the committee has always rigidly adhered to its brief.

“We are very clear in the Pac that we have a duty relative to taxpayers’ money. Many departmental activities have financial dimensions and it is our duty to carry out diligence on those.”

He gave the CervicalCheck scandal as an example.

“We started to a look at it because of the costs of medical negligence. There was a bill of €2 billion facing the State and we needed to interrogate that,” he said.

‘Within our remit’

“Bernard Durkan [of Fine Gael] criticised the Pac at the Health Committee [on Wednesday]. But the national children’s hospital project is audited by the Comptroller & Auditor General, so it is 100 per cent within our remit.”

He said the Pac took great care last week to ensure that its work did not duplicate the work of the Health Committee on the hospital project.

“As far as our examination of the prison service, there are 1,600 cases being taken against the State on ‘slopping out’. We have rigidly concentrated on finances in our inquiries.”

Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach, will appear before the Pac on Thursday to discuss spending in Áras an Uachtaráin. Mr Fleming said it was routine and was born of the aim to include the President’s office in its regular work schedule.