1.The Committee of Public Accounts, in further consideration of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report of 1997 (paragraphs 6-17), and earlier Reports on the Revenue Commissioners, wishes as a matter of urgency, on an issue of public importance, to make an Interim Report to the Dáil.
2.The Committee, for some considerable time, has been seriously concerned about the amount of uncollected taxes and the perceived extent of tax evasion. To this end the Committee has called before it the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners (the Accounting Officer) on a number of occasions.
3.The Committee is now considering, in particular, the Revenue’s record in collecting due income taxes, especially Deposit Interest Retention Tax (D.I.R.T) which also has been the subject of media reports which have received wide publicity and are clearly a matter of major concern to the public.
4.This matter was the subject of detailed consideration by the Committee on April 28, 1998. The Committee again called the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners before it on October 13th. During that hearing a request was received from Allied Irish Banks to be heard as early as possible. The Committee agreed to issue an invitation to the Chief Executive of the AIB Group to appear before it on Thursday, 15th October. The Chief Executive was accompanied by four other colleagues. It also heard the Governor of the Central Bank on the date.
5.The evidence of the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, the Governor of the Central Bank and the AIB executives have been the subject of extensive media reporting and comment and widespread public debate. The evidence of both the Revenue Commissioners and the AIB appears to be seriously contradictory.
6.The Committee as a consequence of its hearings to date
(a)requested 6 other witnesses to appear before it (viz. the relevant former Group Internal Auditor, AIB; the relevant former Group Taxation Manager, AIB; and the relevant 4 Senior Tax Inspectors who apparently met AIB officials on 13th February, 1991),
(b)furnished the Revenue Commissioners and the AIB with the transcripts of each others evidence and have asked them to comment, page by page, on where they disagree with each other,
(c)decided to request the full files of the Revenue Commissioners and Allied Irish Banks in the matter.
7.In considering how to proceed with its inquiries and in order to have as effective and speedy an investigation as possible, the Committee is concerned to:
(a)stay within its remit;
(b)be fair to all concerned, and
(c)provide, so far as is possible, that it would not be successfully challenged in any other forum
the Committee has sought detailed official and legal advice.
8.Pending clarification from the Dáil on a number of issues, in the light of the advice and to avoid foreseeable problems and delays, the Committee has decided not to proceed with public hearings in the matter for the time being, nor to proceed, for the moment, with its decision to send for documents.
The Committee believes that it is necessary, expedient and urgent that the Dáil be requested to consider the following recommendations of the Committee.
8.1. STANDING ORDERS AND ORDERS OF REFERENCE:
The Committee’s Terms of Reference may need to be changed in a number of respects namely:
(a)the power to appoint a sub-Committee or sub-Committees if considered appropriate by the Committee and the relevant power to delegate any of its functions and powers to its sub-Committees
(b)its right to inquire into such areas as it reasonably deems to be associated or connected with its consideration of any Account or any Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General covering Public Expenditure and/or Revenue
(c)other details upon which the Committee will seek clarification from the Committee of Procedure and Privileges.
8.2. THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL
8.2.1The Committee believes that the most effective and expeditious way of establishing the facts and identifying matters requiring further investigation by the Committee is, pursuant to Section 7(2) of the Comptroller and Auditor General Act, 1923, for the Dáil to pass a Resolution requesting the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out an investigation into the administration of D.I.R.T. by the Revenue Commissioners and the relevant Financial Institutions as he deems appropriate and to report back to the Dáil as soon as possible on his findings.
8.2.2.The Committee believes that the Resolution should provide an indicative timescale, a clear remit and allow for the Committee to convey to the Comptroller and Auditor General, as set out in its Orders of Reference (Standing Order 149 (8) of Dáil Éireann), the questions and issues which it feels should be addressed, and for such consultation with the Committee as may be necessary during his investigation.
8.2.3.However, it is apparent to the Committee that before such a Resolution is tabled a number of legislative changes may be necessary.
8.2.4.The following amendments to the Comptroller and Auditor General Acts should be considered:
(a)To avoid any possible conflict with his Constitutional independence, Section 7 (2) of the Comptroller and Auditor General Act, 1923 should be suitably amended so that any Resolution should be in the nature of a request rather than a directive and a further amendment should be considered to limit the circumstances in which this provision can be invoked in the future to cases where there is a broad consensus in Dáil Éireann;
(b)A clear exemption for him, from any provision in any enactment or other law requiring, guaranteeing or otherwise providing for confidentiality, for the purposes of any investigation by him pursuant to a Resolution of the Dáil and permitting him in reporting to the Dáil to break any such confidentiality but only to the extent he deems necessary in the public interest;
(c)To provide absolute privilege to all documents of the Comptroller and Auditor General in the course of his duties under the Constitution and under Statute. This should be an ongoing provision. This should also cover all his Reports to the Dáil;
(d)To provide absolute privilege to persons giving evidence and providing documents to the Comptroller and Auditor General in the course of any investigation by him pursuant to a Resolution of the Dáil;
(e)To give to the Comptroller and Auditor General the power, when carrying out an inquiry requested under section 7(2) of the Comptroller and Auditor General Act, 1923 to compel the production of documents, files and things, and the attendance of individuals, for his assistance, under oath, in a similar fashion to the powers conferred on Inspectors under the Companies Acts and extending to all parties relevant to the matter under inquiry.
The scope of the documents files and things to be sought by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the powers to obtain information from the relevant persons should be as comprehensive as he considers necessary for the purpose of his inquiry.
8.3 THE COMMITTEES OF THE HOUSES OF THE OIREACHTAS (COMPELLABILITY, PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES OF WITNESSES) ACT, 1997
8.3.1.The Committee believes that amendments are urgently required to the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act, 1997 as follows:
(a)to provide that none of its provisions (except Section 15) come into play unless the powers to make directions are being invoked
(b)for the purposes of considering any report to the Dáil by the Comptroller and Auditor General pursuant to a Resolution of the Dáil the provisions of Section 5(1) (f) should not apply
(c)the constitutional, judicial and other implications of a Committee of the Dáil, which for the purpose of any investigation using the powers of this Act, having its necessary independence of outside influence or control jeopardised by having to seek permission for giving directions from another Committee or Sub-Committee need to be assessed
(d)the creation of the post of Parliamentary Law Officer as a permanent member of Oireachtas staff is now a matter that should be considered urgently for this and other reasons
(e)provision should be made for attendance at Committee meetings where powers of direction are being used of appropriate professional assessors, for example, legal and financial.
All of these matters should be resolved before the Comptroller and Auditor General reports back to the Dáil, if that is the course the Dáil resolves to take, so that the Committee can use the necessary powers and plan its future actions.
8.3.2.Section 13 of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act, 1997 provides that the appropriate sub-Committee (i.e. a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Procedure and Privilege) may make rules and draw up and issue guidelines. This matter is now urgent and should be resolved before the Comptroller and Auditor General reports back to the Dáil, if that is what the Dáil decides.
The Committee is strongly advised that such rules and guidelines should not be unnecessarily detailed and will make a full submission on this matter to the Sub-Committee in the coming days.
It has become abundantly clear that the resources available to the Committee and its members are wholly inadequate for the purposes of an investigation of this kind.
This relates to staffing, specialist advice, Committee room facilities, facilities for witnesses, facilities for the media and the public, and other connected issues.
The Committee will, within two weeks, make a detailed report on this matter so that an early investigation pursuant to a Report to the Dáil by the Comptroller and Auditor General will not be delayed or hampered by these matters.
It is also clear that if the Comptroller and Auditor General is to be requested to undertake an investigation by a Resolution of the Dáil that a Supplementary Estimate for his Office may be necessary so as to ensure his report is not delayed or hampered by lack of resources.
10. OTHER ISSUES
10.1There is a requirement to provide absolute privilege for actions of the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and other Committee Chairmen (in analagous situations) when acting on behalf of the Committee
(a)(i) in dealing with or conveying, as he deems appropriate, documents or other communications to and from persons and
(ii)in making decisions and taking actions between meetings of the Committee
where these are, in his opinion, necessary for the efficient discharge of the Committee’s business.
(b)any action by the Chairman under (i) and (ii) above and any actions by Members of the Committee in pursuance of their duties as members should be legally indemnified by the State
The minutes of evidence of the meeting of April 28, 1998 were previously laid before the Dáil on 15 October 1998 (entitled “Second Interim Report on the Appropriation Accounts 1996”). Copies of the un-edited minutes of evidence have been laid before the Dáil today by the Committee and should be considered part of this report.
JIM MITCHELL T.D.