Full EPA response to article in Sunday Independent, 17th July

Date released: Jul 17 2011

Introduction


Expenditure in the EPA is subject to a rigorous system of internal financial controls and robust financial accounting systems and procedures.    The EPA is always highly aware of ensuring value for money in the way that all budgets are managed and accounted for.

The EPA’s Annual Accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who reports the audit results to the Public Accounts Committee of the Oireachtas.  The EPA is answerable to the Public Accounts Committee for every aspect of EPA expenditure.

In addition to the scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the EPA further established an Internal Audit Committee in 2004 to ensure that all expenditures, all processes and systems are subject to ongoing scrutiny and review. 

The Internal Audit Committee is chaired by an external Chairperson, and has three other external members with relevant expertise.  The five-person Internal Audit Committee also has one senior internal representative from the EPA. 

Since 2004 the EPA has undertaken eighteen internal audits, covering a total of twenty-five work areas. All of these audits are conducted by an external auditing firm.

All policies such as the Travel and Subsistence Policy are regularly reviewed to ensure that best value for public funds is obtained.  For example, all air travel is by economy class.  All travel is booked centrally through Corporate Services to ensure that best value for money fares are obtained.  The EPA does not pay for any travel expenses for partners or spouses.


EPA Financial Controls

Arrangements for all purchasing are conducted and controlled through the EPA’s financial management system and procedures. These include:

  • A comprehensive budgeting system with an annual budget, which is reviewed and approved by the Board of Directors.
  • The assignment of budgets and budgetary authority and responsibility for specific functions to selected managers. 
  • Restricting authority for authorising all payments of EPA monies, payment of salaries, pensions, creditors, and expenses etc. (whether by cheque or electronic fund transfer) to Directors and three named Programme Managers. 
  • Segregation of the transaction processing duties in advance of these authorisations into two steps: 1: confirmation that goods/services were received and salaries, pensions and expenses were due, by staff responsible for these transactions and 2: calculation of the total monies due by the Finance Unit, prior to seeking authorisation for payment.
  • Regular and ongoing review of payments by senior management.
  • Regular reviews by the Board of Directors of periodic and annual financial information and reports (including management accounts), which indicate financial performance against budgets.
  • A system of control on the overall approval of capital and consultancy contracts.

Travel and Subsistence 

In accordance with the EPA’s Travel and Subsistence Policy, the EPA pays travel and/or subsistence expenses necessarily incurred in the course of an employees work. All foreign travel on official business is authorised in writing by a Director. Air travel is by economy class and is booked centrally through Corporate Services to ensure that best value for money fares are obtained. Staff members do not book their own flights.

Responses to specific questions are set out below:

Question 1

Three EPA staff Gerard O’Leary, Kenneth Macken and Deputy DG Dara Lynott travelled to Canada in June 2011 for an international conference.  How much the trip cost (flights, hotels other expenses). Did any of the travellers fly business class. Why did the EPA need to send 3 people?.

Response- EPA Policy and Processes

The EPA is the Competent Authority for a wide range of environmental regulations and directives that require regular attendance by EPA staff at international meetings, working groups, negotiations, etc. 

In many cases EPA staff are the primary national representatives in meeting Ireland’s international environmental obligations at EU, UN, EEA, OECD and other fora. In addition, staff of the EPA provide technical support to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, other Government Departments and in some instances to the European Union at meetings relating to European and global obligations.

The roles discharged by EPA staff in an international context are a reflection of staff expertise and the high regard in which the EPA and its staff are held at European and global level.

Each requirement/invitation/request to attend such a meeting/conference is subject to EPA policies on travel and subsistence already outlined. 

All air travel to meetings and conferences is by economy class.  All travel and subsistence paid to staff of the EPA is in accordance with Civil Service guidelines and approved rates.  The EPA does not pay for any travel for spouses or partners.  All travel is booked centrally through Corporate Services to ensure that best value for money fares are obtained. 
 
The enforcement conference in Canada in June 2011 was hosted by the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE).  The conference takes place every three years and attendance is by invitation only.  

The invitation to three EPA staff was based upon their "demonstrated leadership in the field of environmental compliance and enforcement".  The objective of attending the conference was to share Irish expertise with more than 150 governmental officials from 100 countries and international organizations through facilitated workshops, plenary discussion, field visits, exhibits, trainings, and networking activities. 

All three staff wrote technical papers on their area of expertise – these papers are available to view on the INECE Website.


Return flights for this conference were economy class and cost a total of €3,328.70-or €1,109 per person.  Hotel/subsistence/mileage costs for the conference amounted to €3,195.63 in total for the three attendees, an average of €1,065 per person. Attendance by the three EPA representatives was fully justified on the basis of their specific expertise and experience in the areas of Emissions Trading, Risk Based Enforcement and Drinking Water Enforcement.  The EPA considers that the expenditure on this conference is a legitimate business expense.


Question 2

What was the total travel & subsistence (including training course bills) paid to O’Leary, Lynott and Macken in 2010 and 2011?


Response
 In accordance with the EPA’s Travel and Subsistence Policy, the EPA pays travel and/or subsistence expenses necessarily incurred in the course of an employees work.   All travel and subsistence (T&S) paid to staff  of the EPA is in accordance with Civil Service guidelines and approved rates and is in for official EPA business.

Total T&S paid to the three named individuals is as follows:
2010
D. Lynott €9,830
K. Macken  €11,888 (updated figure, 22.07.11)
G. O’Leary  €8,581

2011(Jan – June)
D. Lynott €5,339
K. Macken  €3633.40 (updated figure, 22.07.11)
G. O’Leary  €3,755

Question 3

How much has been paid by the EPA to Michael Ruane for maintenance since 1997. Is Ruane’s wife in charge of building maintenance? Was this not viewed as a conflict of interest by the EPA?

Response
The EPA has detailed procedures in place in relation to the procurement of goods and services.  The services of Ruane Property Maintenance were engaged by the EPA following public advertisement for the provision of mechanical and electrical maintenance services.  Ruane Property Maintenance has provided minor maintenance services at EPA headquarters over a number of years.  The annual value of these services averages €5,000 and the EPA is satisfied that the service provides excellent value for money.

Ms. Geraldine Ruane is a member of the Organisational Services team that is responsible for building management and maintenance services.  There is a clear segregation of responsibilities in relation to the supply of services by Ruane Property Maintenance to ensure that there is no conflict of interest and all payments for these services are certified for payment by the Programme Manager, Corporate Services.

Question 4

Is former EPA director Declan Burns a member of the EPA’s internal audit team? How much has he been paid by the EPA since his retirement?

Response
The EPA established an Internal Audit Committee in 2004 which is comprised of an external Chairperson, three other external members with relevant expertise and a senior representative from the EPA.  From 2004 to date the EPA has undertaken eighteen internal audits, covering a total of twenty-five work areas. The actual audits are conducted by an external auditing firm.

Mr. Declan Burns served as a Director of the EPA from 1993 until his retirement in 2004.  He is currently a member of the EPA’s Internal Audit Committee, a role he discharges in a voluntary capacity and for which he receives no payment.

Question 5

Were any other former EPA directors paid to undertake work for the EPA since they retired? How much have they been paid?

Response
Of the eight former Directors, three have undertaken some work on behalf of the EPA.
The work undertaken related primarily to assessments of environmental research proposals submitted to the EPA. 

Dr. Padraic Larkin retired as a Director of the EPA in April 2008 and since then has undertaken a series of assessments of such research proposals.    The total payments to Dr Larkin over the past three years amounted to €3,634. Mr Iain McClean retired as a Director of the EPA in April 2003 and since then his company has carried out some work for the EPA. The total payment to Mr McClean’s company over the past eight years amounted to €29,070. Ms. Anne Butler retired as a Director of the EPA in April 2003 and since then was paid a total of €1,358 for work undertaken. 

The EPA publishes a list of consultants engaged each year in its annual report.

Question 6

How much did the EPA paid to the Wexford Opera festival during Declan Burns’ tenure?

Response
The EPA is a major employer and an important part of the local Community in Wexford.  It plays an active role in the community through staff participation in educational, cultural and sporting activities.  Wexford Festival Opera is also a key part of the community and relies upon a significant level of local voluntary effort and support.  The EPA believes that its association with and support for Wexford Festival Opera satisfies its sponsorship criteria and is part of the integration of the EPA into the local community.

As per our response to your questions last week the EPA provides sponsorship for events or initiatives that satisfy one or more of the following criteria:

  • It will raise awareness of environmental and scientific issues, and of the EPA, in accordance with the key themes set out in our Corporate Strategy 2020Vision
  • It will help to get the EPA message out to a key audience such as schools, farming sector, environment groups etc
  • It will support social, economic and cultural well-being in the locations where the EPA is based.

Support for Wexford Festival Opera falls into the latter category and the EPA supports Wexford Festival Opera to an approx. value of €20,000 per annum.  The level of support for Wexford Festival Opera in the past was no greater than the current level of sponsorship.  

Question 7

Would it be possible to get a list of all recipients of Wexford opera tickets over the last 10 years?

Response
There is no such list of ticket recipients available.

Question 8

How much did the EPA spend on the OEE departmental meeting in the Landmark hotel, Carrick on Shannon in October 2010 – including travel and subsistence, cruise on the Shannon, band expenses and taxis to and from the pub? Who authorised the expenditure on the cruise and adventure games at Lough Key park during this meeting?

Response
The Office of Environmental Enforcement has 90 staff based in 5 locations throughout the country and brings them together once a year for a full office planning, review and development meeting.  The meeting takes place over one and a half days and focuses on technical enforcement issues and developments.  This annual meeting is part of normal business management to ensure that staff are kept fully up to date on developments and that the EPA maintains its policy of having competent committed people.

In September 2010 the annual meeting was held in a hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon.  Meals are provided for staff at these meetings in lieu of paying subsistence.  Due to the location of the hotel on the river, lunch was provided as part of a lunch hour boat trip at a similar cost to that quoted by the hotel for lunch.

The EPA did not seek or pay for a band during the annual meeting nor did the EPA pay for any taxis.  The EPA did provide for a 2 hour team challenge/problem solving session at Lough Key Forest Park, which was located close to the hotel, on one evening.  This activity took place on the staff's own time at an approximate cost of €10/person.

The second lot of questions relate to the documents released under FOI

Question 1

Credit card statements indicate that the EPA paid for 1,200 flights over an 800 day period costing hundreds of thousands of Euro. How can the EPA justify this level of travel?

Response
The EPA is the Competent Authority for a wide range of environmental regulations and directives that require regular attendance by EPA staff at international meetings, working groups, etc. In many cases EPA staff are the primary national representatives in meeting Ireland’s international environmental obligations at EU, UN, EEA, OECD and other fora. In addition, staff of the EPA provide technical support to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, other Government Departments and in some instances to the European Union at meetings relating to European and Global obligations. The roles discharged by EPA staff in an international context are a reflection of staff expertise and the high regard in which the EPA and its staff are held at European and global level. The vast majority of foreign travel relates to essential attendance at EC meetings in Brussels where EPA staff discharge the obligations set out above.

Question 2

Were any of the flights business class? Did any spouses or partners travel?

Response
All travel and subsistence paid to staff of the EPA is in accordance with Civil Service guidelines and approved rates.  The EPA does not and has not paid for any travel for spouses or partners.  All travel is booked centrally through Corporate Services to ensure best value fares are obtained.  All foreign travel is approved at Director level. All air travel to meetings and conferences is by economy class.  One exception was made in 2010 where a long haul flight was allowed at business travel class based on the individual having a medical condition.

Question 3 

Why did EPA staff stay at the Westin in San Diego or the Sheraton in Vienna….were cheaper hotels not available?

Response

Hotel bookings are made through a central booking facility within the EPA which ensures that the best value in hotel bookings is achieved.  For example the Westin hotel was a conference hotel for which special rates were available.

Question 4

Why did the EPA spend €1,750 in the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in Dublin in June 2010 and €1,114 a day earlier at the Pig’s Ear restaurant? Why did it spend €1,771 on another dinner at the Hilton

Response
The EPA is the Competent Authority for a wide range of environmental regulations and directives that require regular attendance by EPA staff at international meetings, working groups, negotiations, etc.

In addition as part of its work, the EPA is required, on occasion, to host international meetings, working groups or conferences.  Expenditure incurred in the Oliver St John Gogarty pub and the Pig’s Ear restaurant in June 2010 was related to the EPA hosting an international meeting of the CIRCLE ERA–NET (Climate Impacts Research Response Coordination for a Larger Europe).  This is a European Research network comprising of climate research funding bodies throughout the European Union and further afield.  The Network comprises 34 institutions from 23 countries committed to funding research and sharing knowledge on climate change adaptation. 

The EPA hosted the initial meeting for CIRCLE- 2 in Dublin from the 14th to the 16th of June 2010.   This meeting was attended by 35 people from 18 different EU member states and included presentations by the European Environment Agency and EC Directorate for research.  It is accepted practice for the Member State hosting the CIRCLE meeting to provide evening dinner for attendees.  The cost of dinner provided ranged between €37 and €45/person.

Question 5

Why did the EPA spend €5,100 on 57 hampers from a Northern Irish company baskets Galore over a 30 month period from Jan 2008 onward?

Response
The EPA values its staff and is happy to mark the birth of a child to a staff member as a significant life event by providing the parent with a baby gift pack. The cost of these baby gift packs is approximately €90 each. 

Question 6

Does the EPA plan to review its spending policies?

Response
The EPA is confident that its expenditure is properly managed and controlled and that it obtains value for money in the discharge of its roles and responsibilities. The EPA keeps its spending policies under review on an ongoing basis 

END