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North-South Implementation Bodies (Continued)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 823 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Dinny McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley Zoom on Dinny McGinley] The Comptrollers and Auditors General have noted the actions taken by the agency to improve its financial controls surrounding grants in general, which include additional staff training, revision of internal processes, revision of claim forms and enhanced requirements for documentation in support of claims for payment. I understand that the matters referred to in the 2010 accounts relate to legacy issues which have since been addressed by the agency.

In regard to the publication of annual reports and accounts, it is worth noting that the production of consolidated accounts is particularly complex in this case, arising from the unique organisational structure of An Foras Teanga as a North-South body comprising two distinct agencies, and from the particular legislative requirement that the annual report and accounts of the agencies be published as a single consolidated document. It is also important to note that the delays that have arisen in recent years in publishing the annual reports and accounts of An Foras Teanga may be seen, in many ways, to have their origin in issues that arose with regard to the 2000 and 2001 accounts, which were not published until 2005. In accordance with a direction from the North-South Ministerial Council, a high level of priority has been given to tackling the backlog in recent years, as a result of which 11 annual reports and accounts have been published since 2005 for An Foras Teanga. It is envisaged that the annual report and accounts for 2011 will be certified by the Comptrollers and Auditors General and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly in the very near future. Finally, I should point out that the Ulster-Scots Agency is up-to-date with the submission of its own individual draft annual reports and accounts up to and including 2012.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I welcome the Minister of State's response, to some extent. This is really unfortunate in the context of the valuable work that the organisation does, and we all wish it well as it faces fairly major challenges. The public, both North and South of the Border, want to be absolutely certain that every cent of public money being devoted to causes such as these is being properly expended, with proper approvals in place. The difficulty is that it appears the agency spent £126,000 on rent and service charges for its Great Victoria Street offices in Belfast city centre without getting formal business approval. In addition, the audit revealed that £176,000 was paid in 2009 and 2010 for the production and distribution of the agency's newspaper, The Ulster-Scot, again without the proper procedures being in place. The Minister of State told us the publication of the annual accounts was a complex issue, but we have not seen accounts since 2010. It is time, irrespective of the complexity of the issue, for the accounts to be published and dealt with in a normal and transparent manner, as is expected of these bodies.

Deputy Dinny McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley Zoom on Dinny McGinley As I stated, there are legacy issues, and the 2000 annual report was not published until 2005. I am sure the Deputy agrees that major progress has been made, and the 2011 report will be published in the very near future. It was discussed at a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council the week before last. I am glad the Deputy recognises the excellent work engaged in by the Ulster-Scots Agency, which is a significant part of our cultural history in Northern Ireland and the Border counties, including my own constituency. I have had the pleasure and privilege of attending a number of functions organised by the agency in recent weeks and as recently as last Saturday night.

There have been legacy issues. Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, our opposite number in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, and I have given top priority to ensuring the accounts are brought up to date. Major progress has been made. The Deputy identified areas where procurement was not as it should have been in the past, including the office space and the newspaper. These matters have been addressed.

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