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PAC chair criticises Dept of Finance ‘culture of ignoring outside sources’ over €3.6bn error

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THE CHAIRMAN OF the Public Accounts Committee has called for officials in the Department of Finance to explain the error which saw €3.6 billion in state funds counted twice in the government finances.

After the error came to light, the CSO said that the state was neither better or worse off as a result of the mistake.

The Minister for Finance said this morning that a potential error was flagged in an email to the department last year, but was not dealt with until it came to light again more recently.

PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness told RTÉ Morning Ireland that the committee has called for further details on the situation from the Department of Finance, the NTMA and the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) in order to get a “comprehensive explanation” on how and why the account error occurred.

He criticised the department for what he said was a culture of ignoring outside sources, saying that the PAC had contacted the department 22 times last year with recommendations on a number of issues. The department failed to respond to any of them, he said.

McGuinness also said both the department and the NTMA were before the committee a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to talk about the €3.6bn so they’ve left the PAC and the public in the dark over the issue.

He claimed that over 2010, the Department of Finance allowed “significant overspend” across a number of departments last year.

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Speaking to Newstalk’s Breakfast programme earlier today, Minister for Finance said the mistake is “very serious”, but that he is more worried about ensuring the overall system works than if any one person is to blame.

“My concern is not about an individual error… my concern is that the systems are sufficient to ensure that if one person makes a mistake” crosschecks are in place to catch the error, the minister said.

An email from the NTMA questioning how the €3.6bn was being treated in the public accounts was sent to the department last year, he said, but was not followed up.

He said that in preparing the Budget this year, the issue came to light again and action was subsequently taken.

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