Dog eats Dail homework July 4, 2012Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Uncategorized.
Tags: Dail, Irish Politics
Just a quick note from the Leinster House yesterday, overlooked by the papers today.
Taking questions on his department’s spend on consultancy an Taoiseach told the Dáil QTS were engaged to carry out a risk assessment and update the Department’s 2011 health and safety statement at a cost of €1,271 while Towers Watson facilitated a series of workshops in responses to the Civil Service organisational review programme coming to €12,100.
He concluded the total spend by his Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.
After some toing and froing regarding the shortfall we were told.
The Taoiseach:The EU communications contract was given to a media and public affairs consultancy firm for 60 days to deal with the EU affairs and co-ordination division of the Department of the Taoiseach. It was to assist in the development of a media and communications strategy in respect of Ireland’s role in the European Union and to identify and advise on the media and communications challenges relating to the Union in a complex environment with increasing demands for public information. The work also involved identifying concrete actions to deliver on priorities and develop an initial communications plan, including logistics, for Ireland’s Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers. Following a competitive tendering process, a person was appointed on 28 March to provide EU communications advice. She commenced work on that for 60 days. The person concerned, Ms Erskine, has completed her work and finalised her duties.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying the matter. In the case of QTS and the EU media consultancy contract, competitive tendering procedures were applied. Is that equally true of Towers Watson and the work on the departmental action plan? I am calling on the Taoiseach to confirm that all consultancy work is subject to the standard and required procurement procedure. The media consultancy contract to assist the Department in communications on our position in the European Union and so on was for 60 days. Did it coincide with the referendum period? Will the Taoiseach clarify the matter?
The Taoiseach:It was about the key message to be communicated during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Council and associated preparations. I confirm that the logistics and the preparations for Ministers for the Presidency are intense and will become even more so in the run-in from September. It had nothing to do with the referendum issue but with preparing for the EU Presidency which we will assume on 1 January next year.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:I am sorry for getting up and down, but I was keen to clarify those matters. The Taoiseach was asked about the in-house expertise available and, no doubt, it is considerable within the Department. I understand there are matters which of necessity require consultancy support and for which the Department must buy in skills. It strikes me as rather odd, however, that the Taoiseach would need a media consultant to work with him on his political messages, to use his phrase, for the Presidency of the European Council. As the Head of Government, he and his departmental staff should be more than well equipped to crunch down on these issues and decide on the messages they reckon it will be appropriate to communicate in that time. Will he clarify the matter? He has stated this work started on 28 March and that it was a 60 day contract. I presume the work was finished in or around 28 May. There was a referendum held on 31 May. Will the Taoiseach be clear on the nature of that consultancy work? I find it odd that he required it to be done, but nonetheless he has suggested it referred solely and exclusively to the upcoming European Council Presidency and that it had no bearing on the treaty referendum. Will he tell the House off the top of his head, if possible, how much the Department spends per annum in dealing with European communications issues? Is it common practice for the Department to bring in media advisers for his public enunciation of the European message.
The Taoiseach:The Department of the Taoiseach only brought in personnel in the European section when the Government was formed last year. There was a unit dealing with questions on the European Union but to streamlinee matters and to be more effective personnel dealing with European issues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade came to the Department of the Taoiseach. There was a more hands-on approach as a result, with a specific Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs reporting both to the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I cannot indicate what was spent in the past in dealing with European affairs isues by the Department of the Taoiseach, although I am sure that figure is available for the Deputy. We try to keep costs to a minimum in the best way possible.
The Deputy referred to the date of the referendum and the period for completion of the work by the advisory service. I am sure that since the dates overlapped to an extent, there would have been some advisory work done in respect of the Government preparing for the referendum and the EU Presidency. Things will overlap, although the remit was specifically the EU Presidency and what it meant for us. It is fair to say the range of questions and requests for information to the Department is rather extensive. The Deputy would be surprised by the range of questions and what people ask about the European Union and how the Government intends to deal with issues as we prepare for this, our seventh Presidency which we want to be as effective as possible. Several matters may fall to be dealt with during the Irish EU Presidency. I am glad the Danes concluded on the patent agreement, the work on which lasted for 30 years. The multi-annual financial framework, which is the budget for the European Union from 2014 to 2020, may fall to be decided during the Irish Presidency. One cannot reform the CAP without having in place a multi-annual financial framework. That is of such importance to the Union, 80% of whose budget is related to the CAP, but also to this country in respect of the single farm payment and what it means for the agriculture sector and exports. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, was in France with 35 companies during the week. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, was in the United States following through on clear opportunities.
There is a need to update, in a complete fashion, the website on the Irish Presidency with a view to outlining what it means for Ireland and our relationship with our colleague countries in Europe. That was also part of the work. It is a matter of taking into account the fact that the Presidency offers an opportunity to send out a positive message about Ireland and how we are moving towards economic recovery, and about decisions that are being taken that affect our society and the Government’s political vision on Ireland’s place in the eurozone and European Union. It is also a question of determining where the European Union should position itself globally.
Deputy Micheál Martin:Perhaps the Taoiseach could explain why he did not give a full answer at the outset. He did not mention the media and public affairs consultancy in his initial reply to my question and that of Deputy Adams.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach did not mention that a media and public affairs consultancy was used. He mentioned QTS, the ORP and Towers Watson, but he did not mention the other company. Is it in the official reply? Will the Taoiseach undertake to forward to us the exact details of the consultancy contract given that they may not appear in the formal reply prepared for the question I tabled? I do not know whether there was an attempt to hide the information. In response to a supplementary question, the Taoiseach articulated the information to the House. There may have been a genuine misunderstanding. It is incumbent on the Taoiseach, given the questions asked, to give the full answer. For some reason, we—–
Deputy Micheál Martin:I asked the Taoiseach “if his Department has recruited any consultancy service in the past year; if so, in what area; and if he will make a statement on the matter”. In his answer, the Taoiseach, for some reason, excluded any mention of the EU media messaging consultancy.
Deputy Micheál Martin:I am saying the Taoiseach excluded that information in the beginning. There was an attempt not to mention it, although I do not know why. The Taoiseach just did not mention it; it is not included in the answer. We are, at least, entitled to receive answers to the questions we ask. I hope there was not an attempt to bury the information because of the sensitivities associated with European issues and the referendum.
The Taoiseach:Questions Nos. 1 to 5 deal with the ORP report. Questions Nos. 6 to 17 deal with the media and public affairs consultant and Question No. 18 deals with the health and safety statement. When I finished at the end of page 2, I stated total expenditure by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.
Let me read the next three paragraphs, which state:
This includes a payment of €19,803 to Ms Caroline Erskine, media and public affairs consultant who was engaged to provide an EU communications advisory service to my Department following a competitive tendering process. This is a particularly intense period of EU-related activity for Ireland. Preparation for Ireland’s Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers has intensified since the start of the year. A major Government information campaign was also launched to inform the public ahead of the referendum on the stability treaty, which had not been foreseen at the start of the year.
The Government is committed to building public understanding and knowledge about Ireland’s EU membership.
A payment of €1,271 was made to QTS who carried out a risk assessment and updated the Department’s 2012 health and safety statement.
I apologise again to the Members. Page 3 got stuck to page 2 and, inadvertently, I did not read it out.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I accept the Taoiseach’s apology. I will now ask the supplementary question I was to ask before the misunderstanding. With regard to my question on the utilisation of consultancies to avoid paying tax, which avoidance is illegal in this country, I suggest that the matter be a broad Government policy issue. The bottom line is that it appears that in the Ministry for Health and Department of Health, consultancies are now being used as a basis for hiring senior advisers to the Department, with companies located in the United Kingdom avoiding the payment of any income tax. That is unacceptable. Does the Taoiseach agree it is unacceptable? Will he, as Taoiseach, take up this issue with his Ministers?
The Taoiseach:I will take it up with the members of the Government. I do not believe it is acceptable to have consultants involved in work if it has the effect described. Obviously, in the financial world, people often prepare reports on how to lessen the impact of tax payment. When the Deputy talks about tax evasion or avoidance, he should note these are other matters. I will certainly raise the issue with the Minister for Finance. There may be technical reasons requiring a response and I will revert to the Deputy.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:The Taoiseach stated that EU consultancy work did pertain to preparation and advice in respect of the referendum. He did not say that at the outset. I am working on the broad supposition, probably incorrectly, that the use of public moneys for that was fully in accordance with the letter and spirit of the McKenna judgment. The Taoiseach did not give a full answer although I acknowledge his pages stuck together. His figures still do not add up, however, because his revised figures give him a total of more than €32,000, rather than €21,074, as first articulated. I am more concerned about the fact that it is only in response to further questioning that the Taoiseach clarified the EU consultancy work was not simply about the Presidency, as he indicated at first, but also related to the referendum campaign. The work was concluded on 28 May and the people went to the polls on 31 May. The Taoiseach needs to clarify for the Dáil that the use of public moneys was in accordance with the McKenna judgment.
The Taoiseach:I said that, at the end of the page that got stuck, it is stated the total expenditure by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074. The next sentence stated this includes a payment of €19,803 to the media and public affairs consultant.