PAC told to ‘confine itself to issues within its remit’

Justice Committee chair Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin lodged a complaint about PAC with the Ceann Comhairle. Picture: Gareth Chaney

The high-profile Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has come under fire from another committee for straying beyond its remit and inquiring into areas in the prison services.

An annoyed chair of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, has complained about PAC and has now demanded that its chairman and TDs on that body “confine” themselves to “issues that are clearly within its remit”.

The criticism was lodged with the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, in recent days.

PAC has faced criticism previously for covering areas outside its remit, but rarely from a fellow committee chair.

Mr Ó Caoláin, in his letter obtained by the Irish Examiner, referred to PAC’s hearing into the prison service on January 17, which he said was ostensibly supposed to be around accounts.

But he added that the committee meeting “quickly strayed” into areas including about prisoners, mental illness, addiction issues, and allegations of bullying.

The Justice Committee chairman said: “Members of this committee have expressed their annoyance at the PAC again encroaching upon subject matters that are quite evidently within the proper remit of the Committee on Justice and Equality, and I fully endorse these sentiments.”

Mr Ó Caoláin also said he had written to PAC chairman Sean Fleming and asked that PAC “confine itself to issues that are clearly within its remit”.

The Ceann Comhairle has replied to the complaint saying that the matter has now been referred to the Dáil Committee on Procedures.

Meanwhile, the former master of the Coombe Maternity Hospital, Prof Chris Fitzpatrick, has asked for an opportunity to appear before PAC to discuss the financial overrun in the construction of the national children’s hospital.

He has told PAC that he has had “serious concerns about the complexity and costs of developing” on the current site at St James’ Hospital.

Prof Fitzpatrick told the committee that he strongly believes that a formal risk assessment must be now undertaken, as a “matter of urgency”, in relation to the sustainability of the project.

PAC is expected to discuss the request today.

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