PAC eyeing up government funding in advance of local elections

Sean Fleming

The Dáil's financial watchdog could insist on examining local authority funding from Government departments despite some fears any PAC interest could impact on local election results, this coming May.

Public accounts committee chair Sean Fleming (FF) said he wants to lay down a "marker" on the issue after the PAC was accused of interfering in last year's presidential elections.

At the launch of the PAC's latest quarterly report on its work up to November last, Mr Fleming accepted the debate over the committee's presidential costs examination was still raw.

Acknowledging local authority spending was outside the PAC's remit, he confirmed the committee would, if necessary, examine funding to city and county councils from the departments of environment and housing.

Further, if required, the PAC would not back off amid risks of any interference affecting the outcome of the early summer local elections.

"There was criticism over the closeness of the examination to the [presidential] election, but we will come back to that on a regular basis, aside from the election cycle," Mr Fleming said.

"I understand concerns over the closeness [of examinations] to elections; however this is a marker I'm putting down now for the PAC.

Some people have suggested we shouldn't examine an issue in such close proximity to an election, lest it influences an election.

"Some people have said we shouldn't be looking at local authority funding, that the PAC should in some way stand down."

But he stated that will not happen and insisted discussions can be had about funding from Government departments.

He was backed by Shane Cassells (FF) who said the PAC's presidential costs examination showed the scale of money going to the Aras.

Meanwhile, the latest quarterly review report for September-November last also reflected on meetings with NAMA, Revenue and other bodies.

Among its key findings are:

  • Questions over the level of transparency in NAMA loans
  • The lack of a statutory audit of the presidential office €317,000 allowance
  • Concerns over the Office of Public Work's management of millions of euro in office rentals

Mr Fleming was asked whether Fine Gael members were showing full support for the committee's conclusions as no Fine Gael TDs had attended the launch of the report.

He insisted all PAC members had shown full support to the committee and its conclusions.

Meanwhile, the PAC confirmed the State's public procurement chief who failed to attend for questioning last Thursday, over the children's hospital scandal, will appear before the committee in the coming weeks.

Despite being requested to attend, Paul Quinn did not appear as the Department of Public Expenditure's secretary general Robert Watt had declined to bring him.

Mr Quinn is seen as crucial to clarifying the issue as to when exactly the Government first heard of the budget crisis, as he has been the 'public interest' official on the national children's hospital development board throughout the saga.

Mr Fleming explained that Mr Quinn will appear before PAC in the coming weeks when a meeting with the hospital board also takes place.

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