Sunday 23 April 2017

Finance chief faces grilling from EU over €3.6bn 'error'

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE head of the Department of Finance could be quizzed by EU officials before he takes up a new post with a European spending watchdog about the error that made our national debt €3.6bn worse than it was.

Kevin Cardiff is also due before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this morning, where he will be questioned by TDs on the blunder.

But he is due to take up a new position with the European Court of Auditors next March, and his term will last six years.

Before he is confirmed, Mr Cardiff will be questioned by MEPs about his candidacy and his past performance -- and the €3.6bn mistake is likely to come up.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan yesterday said the EU and IMF had been notified about the error, which was caused by double counting.

Last month, the Government asked Mr Cardiff, who played a key role in banking policy and the bank guarantee, to move to Luxembourg barely two years after he became secretary general of the Department of Finance.

The European Court of Auditors is responsible for monitoring and auditing the vast EU budget and Mr Cardiff insisted he wasn't pushed from his current position. His nomination also needs to be ratified by the European Council of EU leaders.

The PAC will meet in a special sitting this morning to deal with the error. As well as Mr Cardiff, senior officials from the National Treasury Management Agency and Central Statistics Office will also appear before the committee.

PAC chairman John McGuinness said the systems in the department also had to be examined to see how the error went undetected.

"We will have to see whether systems need to change as at the moment it appears that no one is checking the department's work," Mr McGuinness said.

"Maybe there is a need to add an extra check which can militate against the risk that materialised when the borrowings of the Housing Finance Agency were counted twice."

Mr Noonan said: "So far it looks like human error on the part of a particular official but I don't think that's the big issue, I don't think the big issue is chasing an official in the Department of Finance who made a mistake.

"I think the big issue is: are the systems in place to make sure the figures are correct. Is there a systemic problem in that section of the Department of Finance?"

Mr Noonan repeated that the error would have no effect on how much spending the Government would have to cut over the coming years.

Irish Independent

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