The Dáil’s spending watchdog has claimed unknown officials are attempting to "muzzle" its work after it received "unsolicited" Oireachtas legal counsel advice warning it not to examine Irish Water.
Public accounts committee chair John McGuinness said all members of the committee want to know why the letter was sent — and who requested it.
The Fianna Fáil TD said the PAC “took exception” to being warned off questioning Irish Water chief executive John Tierney about the group and his involvement in the controversial Poolbeg incinerator while Dublin city manager.
He said the legal advice, from Oireachtas official, Ramona Quinn, had dropped “out of the sky” without warning on Wednesday night, adding that he wants to know who requested the letter to be sent.
According to the correspondence, which is understood not to have been sent to any other Dáil committee, the PAC has been told that it cannot question Mr Tierney about a series of scandals to hit the group because its accounts are not examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Although the PAC’s work is restricted only to bodies which fall under the C&AG’s remit, this has usually been interpreted to include groups funded by a particular department — in this case the Department of Environment — which in turn is examined by the C&AG.
While Irish Water can still be questioned by the Dáil’s environment committee, the group previously attended a grilling by the more probing PAC in April which is now supposedly not possible — further complicating the situation.
It is also unclear what, if any, role, the ongoing legal action by ex-Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins against the PAC over the scope of its inquiries into the charity had on the correspondence.
Rejecting the legal advice, Mr McGuinness said the PAC is entitled to interview Irish Water due to the public funds involved, and added that he will “establish our right to look at those accounts”.
Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said the letter is another “attempt to trim the sails” of the PAC, while Fine Gael’s John Deasy said officials are reaching a point of “absolute absurdity” if they believe Irish Water is outside the spending watchdog’s remit.
The Oireachtas press office has yet to clarify to the Irish Examiner who asked for the letter to be sent to the PAC, and if it has also been sent to other Dáil bodies.
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