Varadkar warned over calls to limit PAC powers

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other senior politicians have been warned to stop trying to silence the Dáil’s financial watchdog by suggesting its powers should be limited after a series of high-profile investigations.

Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) members issued the warning yesterday, saying they are convinced recent calls to limit their powers are a “deliberate” attempt to prevent in-depth investigations into controversial issues.

Speaking at the launch of the group’s latest periodical report, PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming, Independent TD Catherine Connolly, and Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward criticised the attempts to limit PAC powers.

The PAC members referred to comments made by Mr Varadkar in September when the Taoiseach said that he was “concerned” about the extent of PAC questioning about presidential spending, saying the remarks were part of a wider attempt to silence the PAC.

I don’t accept for a minute a comment directed by the Taoiseach or indeed the Opposition, in respect of who was being investigated at the PAC, could be a throwaway comment. It was a very deliberate, specifically motivated comment.

“If we fold to that pressure we would do public confidence in what happens in the Oireachtas serious damage. We have a duty to hold people to account,” said Mr Fleming.

He was supported by Ms Connolly who said she found the criticism from Mr Varadkar and others “particularly worrying” as “the message was ‘it’s okay to question some bodies but not others’, but our role is to question everyone”.

The comments were made at the launch of the PAC’s periodical report, which showcases the committee’s key work in recent months on a number of high-profile issues.

Among the issues highlighted in the report, which focussed on the PAC’s summer work, were concerns over rising embassy costs, concerns over lengthy delays in State groups providing up-to-date financial accounts, and calls to reform the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.

Meanwhile, the PAC will this morning meet with senior Department of Communications officials over the ongoing National Broadband Plan scandal.

The meeting is likely to be dominated by questions about the future of the multi-billion euro plan, long-term delays in rolling out the plan, the resignation of former communications minister Denis Naughten, and the Peter Smyth report into what happened.

PAC chair Mr Fleming also confirmed last night that he will ask committee members today to agree to hold a special public meeting on the issue of prison whistleblowers on Tuesday week, amid ongoing issues in the service highlighted by the Irish Examiner.

The prison whistleblowers meeting will be held with the secretary general of the Department of Justice and the head of the Irish Prison Service, and comes after the PAC met privately with whistleblowers in recent weeks.

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