Dáil Éireann - Volume 482 - 12 November, 1997
Written Answers. - Non-Commercial Agencies.
Mr. R. Bruton Mr. R. Bruton
65. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Taoiseach when annual reports were most recently published for each non-commercial agency under the aegis of his Department; when annual accounts were most recently published by these bodies; whether they are subject to outside scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General or another independent audit body; whether the public have a right to see a register of members interests in relation to these bodies; whether they allow members of the public attend their meetings; whether board papers or minutes are available for public inspection where matters of commercial or legal confidentiality are not involved; whether there is a procedure specifying the circumstances in which he may direct these bodies; and whether they are free to publish advice relevant to the public without recourse to him. [18936/97]
The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
The Taoiseach: The information requested by the Deputy is presented as follows in relation to each of the bodies under the aegis of my Department.
National Economic and Social Council: the NESC is an advisory body and does not publish a report on its own proceedings but instead publishes reports on economic and social topics from time to time. Its accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and a summary statement is included in the Revised Estimates Volume. The council is funded through a grant-in-aid. No register of members' interests is maintained but council members are requested to abstain from decision-making where possible conflicts of interest might arise, that is in the placing of contracts for consultancy or research work. The National Economic and Social Council publishes its reports after their submission to Government and the reports are invariably laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and copies given to each Member of the Dáil and Seanad. Members of the public do not attend its meetings and the working papers and minutes of the meetings are maintained on a confidential basis, irrespective of the items under discussion. There are no formal guidelines laid down which limit the areas in which the Taoiseach or Government may direct the council. The council regulate themselves in terms of working procedures and choice of research but also comply with requests from the Taoiseach or Government for the conduct of particular research. As indicted already, while not specified in legislation and so on, the council only publishes material after its submission to Government.
 The Information Society Commission: In its terms of reference the Information Society Commission is obliged to produce an annual report. The commission has only been established since May this year and, therefore, an annual report is not yet due. However, the commission is working on an interim report which will be produced before the end of the year.
The commission is funded through Subhead N of the Department of the Taoiseach's Vote. The commission's accounts are kept as part of the overall accounting process of the Taoiseach's Department and as such they are open for scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
There is no official register of members' interests. However, it is a matter of public record which organisations they represent. Members are required to abstain from decision-making where any conflict of interest might arise.
The commission meetings are for commission members only. However there are a series of six advisory groups which meet independently and report to the commission. These groups have a wide membership ranging across the public and private sector. Consultation with interest groups takes place on an ongoing basis. Members of the public are not permitted to attend.
There is no mechanism to allow public inspection of commission papers or minutes. The commission will be publishing annual reports of its activities and these will be submitted to the Taoiseach before publication.
The commission was established by Government decision. There is no procedure in place governing specific circumstances in which the Taoiseach may direct the Information Society Commission. The commission is currently operating as a unit within the Department of the Taoiseach and it has authority to determine its working procedure and areas of research within its terms of reference. It will also comply with requests from the Taoiseach and Government to undertake specific projects.
The commission was established in the first half of this year and is still operating on an interim basis only. No final decision has been taken in relation to its future status.
Under its terms of reference, the commission is mandated to “both develop and implement awareness programmes itself and in conjunction with relevant state agencies, Departments, and private sector groups, targeted at all sectors of the community on the benefits and opportunities of the Information Society”. In this context, the commission will engage in the publication of information for the public without recourse to the Taoiseach.
The Law Reform Commission: The 18th annual report of the Law Reform Commission for the year 1996 was published on 24 April 1997. The Taoiseach has no function in relation to the accounts of the commission which, by statute, are presented to the Minister for Finance. There is no register of members' interests nor is there any provision for such. Annual reports of the Law  Reform Commission are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
There is no provision for the attendance of the public at meetings of the commission. There is no provision for making papers of the commission available to the public other than commission publications. The commission is statutorily independent in devising it procedures. The statutory functions of the Taoiseach in relation to the commission are set out in the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975. The Commission's statutory functions do not encompass the giving of advice to the public.
National Economic and Social Forum: The NESF is not strictly a non-commercial State agency but may, nevertheless, be of interest to the Deputy. The forum does not produce an annual report but prepares a number of specific reports throughout the year in line with its work programme. In accordance with its constitution and terms of reference, all of the forum's reports are submitted to the Government and laid before each House of the Oireachtas before publication. They are also widely circulated to Government Departments and agencies as well as other relevant bodies.
The forum is funded through a grant-in-aid and its accounts are subject to scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General. In accordance with standard practice, its operating budget is shown in an appendix to the Vote.
In addition to the forum's management and standing committee meetings, plenary sessions are held between five and eight times a year. These plenary sessions are held in public. From time to time, the forum may also invite interested parties to put forward their views in informal public hearings.
National Centre for Partnership: In accordance with Partnership 2000, the National Centre for Partnership was established this year and is under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach. It is intended that the centre will publish an annual report next year. The centre is funded through the Department of the Taoiseach's Vote and, as such, the accounts will be open for scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
There is no official register of board members' interests. The board consists of representatives of the social partners and civil servants and is independently chaired. As its remit is derived from Partnership 2000, a shared commitment to enhance partnership in the workplace, no conflicts of interest are envisaged. Members of the public are not allowed to attend board meetings. However, wide consultation is taking place with employers and employees and the outcomes relayed at board meetings. There is no mechanism to allow public inspection of the centre's papers or board minutes but its annual report will contain details on its activities. There are no procedures in place governing specific circumstances in which the Taoiseach may direct the centre. The centre's role of fostering partnership arrangements will entail the dissemination of best practice  and this will be done without recourse to the Taoiseach.
Dáil Éireann 482 Written Answers. Non-Commercial Agencies.