Tuesday 23 January 2018

€3.6bn? Time for our auditors to stand up and be counted

Liam Fay

Never underestimate the safety to be found in numbers. That's the unlikely lesson of a week in which officials at the Department of Finance have been shown to be at sixes and sevens. Yet, despite the discovery that an accounting error by finance mandarins inflated the already gargantuan national debt by an eye-popping €3.6bn last year, there is to be no accountability. Civil servants may be in the business of auditing the lives and livelihoods of others but the last thing they are likely to face themselves is, it seems, a day of reckoning.

It was in no uncertain terms that Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, outlined his determination that no stone would be left unturned in the construction of a rock-solid cover-up. An external review of "systems" would be conducted, he declared, but there would be no question of ascribing responsibility for the blunder to any individual or individuals.

"So far, it looks like human error on the part of a particular official," Noonan told the Dail. "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 ensure that the figures are correct?'"

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