Saturday 22 October 2016

Committee has done the State some service

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

Fine Gael's John Deasy. Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael's John Deasy. Photo: Tom Burke

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has had its detractors over the past five years.

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Only last week, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern accused the PAC of acting like "a shower of wolves".

Former Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte claimed the Dáil spending watchdog had gone "off the rails" because of "grandstanding and exotic creatures wanting to display their plumage".

So fearsome is the committee's reputation for dishing out grillings that one senior Government official claimed potential candidates were put off applying for top civil service jobs.

There is no doubt the PAC chamber at Leinster House has indeed had its fair share of grandstanding in the lifetime of the present Government and more than a few officials have left it battered and bruised.

There have also been occasions where it has stretched its remit. But equally, it must be recognised that the committee has done considerable service for the State. We have seen this in the private audience it gave garda penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe in the face of considerable pressure not to take evidence from him.

It was a brave decision and one that played no little part in the vindication of Sergeant McCabe.

The committee was also pivotal in bringing about wholesale changes at the Central Remedial Clinic and Rehab.

It is perhaps fitting then that the final PAC hearing of the current Dáil related to the foster home abuse scandal. This issue more than any other has typified the doggedness with which the committee has pursued matters of public concern.

On the face if it, the topic did not appear to be one within the PAC's remit. But in reality, it was. Huge sums of money were spent by the HSE investigating the failings of its own staff, yet the extent of the scandal had been largely kept under wraps.

The PAC has been following the issue since autumn 2014 when it received a protected disclosure from a whistleblower. Since then rarely a meeting has gone by without the matter being raised by its vice-chairman John Deasy or its chairman John McGuinness.

There is little doubt that much of what happened would not have been exposed were it not for their efforts.

Without their work, a commission of investigation into the scandal would never have been proposed by the Government.

Irish Independent

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