Department of Agriculture failed to keep proper accounts

The Department of Agriculture failed to keep proper accounts for a public body responsible for millions of euro in public funds.

Seamus McCarthy, the comptroller and auditor general, said the department was unable to provide financial records to allow him scrutinise the accounts for the Fishery Harbour Centres.

The centres handle the shipping dues and property portfolios at Killybegs, Castletownbere, Dunmore East, Rossaveel, Dingle, and Howth.

This week, Mr McCarthy published a special report into the financial mismanagement of the centres since they transferred from the Department of Communications in 2007.

The publication allowed for the delayed release of the financial accounts for the Fishery Harbour Centres for 2007 to 2011.

In an unusual assessment, Mr McCarthy said the department had failed in its duty to prepare the accounts in such a way as to allow an audit to take place.

“In my opinion, the department did not keep proper books of account of 2010. Entries in the books were not made in a timely manner, the books and records would not have enabled the financial position of the centres to be determined with reasonable accuracy throughout the year, and the books and records did not enable the financial to be readily and properly audited,” he said.

In a note to the accounts, the department said when it took on responsibility for the centres in October 2007, it was given a database of rental properties and incomes but could not establish if this was up to date.

The department then had to review all of the leases and change the accounting system used. This found some tenants had been under-billed. In 2010, the centres generated over €4m in harbour dues, with the majority of the funds being raised in Killybegs. The centres also spent more than €7m on capital projects.

Yesterday the special audit report was delivered to the Public Accounts Committee and listed for a hearing in the autumn. Committee chairman John McGuinness said it had also received correspondence from a member of the public regarding issues at the centres and this would have to be addressed by the department.


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