MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin, 6adh Meitheamh, 1935.
Thursday, 6th June, 1935.
The Committee sat at 11 a.m.
Seóirse Mag Craith (Ard Sgrúdóir), Mr. F. J. Feeney, Mr. C. S. Almond and Mr. O. J. Redmond (Department of Finance) called and examined.
VOTE 62—POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
Mr. P. S. O’Hegarty, called and examined.
583. Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General has the following note on losses by default:—
“As shown in the Statements appended to sub-heads H 2 and O 6 the losses borne on the Vote for the year under review amounted to £986 4s. 4d. and £5 10s. respectively.”
Mr. McGrath.—Details of the losses are given on page 188 of my report.
584. Chairman.—The first item refers to deficiency in accounts—due to armed robbery of old age pension cash from Clogher-Westport postman, the amount being £23 9s. Were the guilty parties duly caught and convicted?
Mr. O’Hegarty.— Informations were refused in this case against the two persons charged.
585. The second item deals with a deficiency due to a shortage in an old age pension remittance from Athlone to Pigeons sub-office and the amount is £3. That is put in a very impassive way. Of course, we know that pigeons have wings, but what happened to the amount?—It was the case of an official remittance letter. When received it contained £3 less than ought to have been in it. There were indications that the seal had been tampered with, but there was no evidence to connect any person definitely with it.
586. The next item deals with a deficiency due to loss of remittance letter, containing £26, from Letterkenny to Meenbanad sub-office. The note states that an officer was required to contribute £5 of the total loss for not adequately safeguarding the remittance letter. The amount in question is £21?—That was a case in which a remittance letter disappeared altogether out of the bag.
587. It seems to me that if an officer was held to be guilty enough to be charged £5 that he was responsible for the total loss?—Well, he was made pay portion of the loss, not because he was supposed to have stolen the letter but because he did not seal the bag effectively. The bag was so sealed that it was difficult to say, when we examined it, whether it was tampered with or not. It was regarded as contributory negligence on his part.
588. The next item deals with a deficiency of £9 due, the note states, to armed raid on Gurteen sub-office, Sligo. What happened in that case?—That was an armed raid and the authorities were unable to find anybody.
589. If the members of the Committee have no questions to raise on any of the remaining items set out here, with regard to these deficiencies, I think that we may turn back to the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, page xxi. He has the following note on sub-head H (3)—Incidental Expenses:—
“Among the charges to this sub-head I observed an amount of £40 paid by authority of the Department of Finance under somewhat unusual circumstances. In 1927, a person was injured in a street accident in which a post office motor-cyclist was involved.
An action for damages resulted in an award for £65 compensation and £2 2s. 0d. medical expenses, in favour of the claimant and against the motorcyclist, which award could not, however, be enforced, as the motor-cyclist had no property. Ultimately, it was decided to refer the facts to the Department of Finance, who sanctioned an ex-gratia payment without admission of legal liability.”
This was the case of a post office employee?—Yes.
590. Mr. McGrath.—The members of the Committee will observe the lapse of time that there was. The Department at first refused to entertain this claim, but the injured person kept on writing and at last an ex gratia payment was made with the sanction of the Department of Finance.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—The point that we were concerned in was this—that we did not think that the post office servant had been seriously in fault.
591. Chairman.—But the Court gave a decision?—The Court decided against us, and we could not very well evade it then.
592. I think that justice demanded that that should be recognised. The Comptroller and Auditor-General has the following further note:—
“In the course of my audit I observed several instances in which payments were made to insurance companies in respect of damages alleged to have been caused to the property of their clients by post office vehicles. In reply to my inquiry, I have been informed that the question of entering into mutual forbearance agreements with insurance companies is under consideration by the Department of Finance.”
Has any decision been come to on that yet?
Mr. Feeney.—We are still dealing with it. The matter is at present in the Chief State Solicitor’s office. We are trying to come to some arrangement with the insurance companies. The matter is rather complicated and will take more time.
593. I think that the Army has a knock-down arrangement with insurance companies?—I think that, so far as the Department of Defence is concerned, it was in a somewhat similar position to ourselves. So far as the Post Office is concerned, this was an arrangement that was inherited at the time of the transfer of functions in 1922, and it continued afterwards. This knock-for-knock arrangement with insurance companies was in existence at the time the British Government were here. There is some doubt as to whether that arrangement has still legal force in this country.
594. I understood that the Army had a knock-down arrangement with insurance companies. It would seem to me that, as the Army has less transport on the roads than the Post Office, what is right for one Department would, on analogous matter be right for other Departments?—That would appear to be so, but I am speaking without knowing what precisely is the arrangement as regards the Army.
Mr. McGrath.—On 26th October, 1932, Mr. O’Hegarty gave the following promise in respect of this matter: “I understand that the whole matter will be cleared up in the course of a few weeks.”
Mr. O’Hegarty.—The Post Office is not clearing it up. The Department of Finance is clearing it up. If the Post Office was clearing it up it would have been cleared up.
Chairman.—Not necessarily so.
Mr. Feeney.—Expedition is not always the most economic arrangement in a matter of this kind.
Chairman.—Neither is procrastination.
Mr. Feeney.—The State is not suffering any loss under this arrangement.
595. Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General has the following note on superannuations:
Sums paid in respect of the pensions of officers who were not included in the staffs transferred to the Irish Provisional Government under the terms of Article 7 (1) (b) of the Provisional Government (Transfer of Functions) Order, 1922, continue to be charged to a suspense account pending completion of the reciprocal arrangements contemplated by section 7 (2) of the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1922. The total amount so charged to suspense account up to the 31st March, 1934, was £2,166 19s. 9d.
I think this is a matter that we had before us on a previous occasion.
Mr. McGrath.—Yes, it was brought up on two or three previous occasions. It is not the fault of the Post Office and it is not the fault of the Department of Finance that it is still in suspense. The reason that I bring it up is because there is an item, totalling £2,166 19s. 9d., not finally charged. It is in suspense, and the Audit Office generally looks on suspense items as unsatisfactory. We are bound to bring such matters forward.
596. Mr. Feeney.—There is on the stocks at the moment a Superannuation Bill, one clause of which, if passed by the Dáil, will dispose of this matter and remove this suspense account.
597. Chairman.—There is the following note dealing with stores:
A test examination of the store accounts was carried out with generally satisfactory results.
I observed, however, that the stock of certain flame proof cable, to which I referred in paragraph 35 of my report for 1931-32, appeared to be considerably in excess of that which would be justified by current issues, the stock on 31st December, 1934, amounting to 59,973 yards, whilst the total issues for the three years immediately preceding amounted to only 448 yards.
Mr. McGrath.—It will be seen from my note that if the rate of consumption continues as at present the stock is altogether out of proportion to the needs of the Department. I should say that the total value of the wire does not represent a very big sum. I understand that the Department is doing its best to deal with this.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—We are using it since the Comptroller and Auditor-General reported on the matter. We have used 2,700 yards of it. It was wire which we had in stock for ordinary needs. When we introduced automatic working in Dublin this wire was found to be unsuitable for the automatic exchanges and we are now using it, as we require it, in the provinces.
598. Chairman.—There is the following further note from the Comptroller and Auditor-General:—
“The stocks held for other Government Departments on the 31st March, 1934, were valued at £18,262 as compared with £18,259 on the 31st March, 1933.
In paragraph 44 of my report for 1931-32 I drew attention to the fact that the cost of installation of the automatic system in Dublin had been credited with the value, at full rate book price, of subscribers’ instruments recovered, though many of the instruments were obolescent and items to the value of £5,000 had been condemned. During the year ended 31st March, 1934, the accumulated recoveries of telephone apparatus of obolescent type were written down to the value of the superseding type, viz.:—from £14,786 to £7,722. Telegraph apparatus which had a book value of £5,484 was scrapped during the year, the residual value being £299.”
Mr. McGrath.—It will be noticed that the writing down here was rather drastic. That is in accordance with the promise that was made by Mr. Plaisted in 1933, after discussion here, as to certain instruments being taken into stock at their face value. The matter is now settled by the writing down of these stocks.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—It should be borne in mind that the drastic writing down is attributable to the fact that the Post Office here has been compelled by financial considerations to keep on with apparatus which other Governments have scrapped years ago.
599. Chairman.—That is a matter of policy that does not come within our purview. The final paragraph of the Report sets out:—
“In my last report I referred to a change in the method of financing expenditure in connection with the purchase of stores for other Government Departments and stated that the new arrangements would be in operation during the year ending 31st March, 1934. It was not, however, found practicable to introduce the new procedure in its entirety until 1st April, 1934.”
600. That is informative. Have you anything to say on that?—No.
601. Chairman. — With regard to Revenue, the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Report sets out:—
“A test examination of the accounts of Postal, Telegraph and Telephone Services was carried out with satisfactory results. In previous reports I drew attention to the fact that no agreement had been reached with the Revenue Department on the annual amount payable by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in respect of postage stamps sold for revenue purposes and that payments at the rate of £48,000 per annum continued to be made to the Revenue Department. The question has since been examined by the Department of Finance and it has been decided that, as from 1st April, 1934, the payment to the Revenue Department shall be at the rate of £36,000 per annum, the arrangement to be subject to review after five years at the option of either of the Departments concerned.”
Mr. McGrath.—We are not concerned, as a matter of fact. It does not matter what arrangements are made between the Post Office and Revenue. They look after these, but I understand that the figure is much more favourable to the Post Office than it has been.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—It is. This is a halfway house. We asked for an amount of £25,000 and Revenue wanted £48,000. The Department of Finance split the difference.
602. Chairman.—Under the heading “Post Office Savings Bank Accounts” the Report says:—
“The accounts of the Post Office Savings Bank for the year ending 31st December, 1933, were submitted to a test examination with satisfactory results. No charge has yet been included in the accounts to provide for the pensions of staff wholly employed on Savings Bank work.”
They are due to get pensions?—Yes. That is another general question. It is a Finance question.
Mr. Redmond.—That matter also is being provided for in the Bill to which Mr. Feeney referred. There is a clause being inserted to cover it.
603. Chairman. — Under the heading “Post Office Factory” the Report says:—
“A test examination was applied to the accounts of the Post Office Factory with satisfactory results. The expenditure on manufacturing jobs, including work in progress on 31st March, 1934, amounted to £7,430; the expenditure on repair works (other than repairs to mechanical transport) amounted to £13,544 and the expenditure on mechanical repairs was £1,570.”
We will now turn to the sub-heads of the Vote. With regard to sub-head BB— International and other Conferences and Conventions—that Postal Conference in Cairo was not announced when the Estimate was prepared?—The exact date was not announced when the Estimate was prepared. We thought it would occur later on in the year, but it was actually held in the middle of January.
604. With regard to sub-head D—Purchase of Sites, etc. (Postal and Telegraph Services only)—what was the Supplementary Estimate of £1,000 for? It was not even a mere token Vote and you spent somewhat more than half of the total amount. Was there any special thing on for that Supplementary Estimate?— I am afraid I shall have to look that up; I do not know what it was at the moment.
605. With regard to item E (5) of sub-head E—Conveyance of Mails by Air— that money that you spend is all presumably paid over to foreign Governments?— Yes.
606. None of it comes under our own expenditure?—We get it all back. What we charge for air mals is our own 2d. postage plus what we have to pay.
607. A number of people have commented to me that you charge extra for air mails and that you have not got any air transport. What you are doing is paying the other people?—Yes. These people compare our charges with the British charges. The British are charging less for their air mails than they pay the air company. They can afford to do that with their £12,000,000 surplus and we cannot.
608. With regard to sub-head F—Railway Companies, etc., for services in connection with telegrams—have there been any complaints of inconvenience caused by the withdrawal of telegraph facilities from railway stations?—No, I do not think so.
609. With regard to item H (1)—Law Charges—of sub-head H, what was the important criminal case for which you had to bring witnesses from England?— I think it was a case in which somebody robbed a post office here and cashed postal orders in Liverpool. Some of the Liverpool Post Office Officials had to come over to give evidence.
610. With regard to item H (4)—Compensation for Cancellation of an appointment as sub-postmistress—what happened? You appointed a postmistress and then appointed somebody else?—The appointment was made, in the first instance, subject to the premises being made suitable.
611. She was the owner of the premises? —Yes; and before the premises had been finished, it was considered undesirable to appoint this particular individual and another appointment was made.
612. What was the disadvantage of the one and the advantage of the other?— In the first instance, the person who had been appointed was a sister of a previous sub-postmaster who had been dismissed for defalcation.
613. It does seem to me that we have to suffer for our relatives’ faults?—There was a difficulty in guaranteeing that the dismissed sub-postmaster would be kept out of the post office premises.
614. Deputy McMenamin.—How long was she appointed?—About a month.
615. Chairman.—She had already incurred expenditure in reconstructing her premises?—Yes.
Chairman.—I would not like my relatives to have to bear the burden of my sins or vice versa.
616. Deputy McMenamin.—Did she get this amount of pay?—She got a month’s salary in lieu of notice and repayment of the expenses incurred in connection with the premises.
Chairman.—It seems to me that there is a possible injustice there.
Deputy Murphy.—We have not got the circumstances.
Chairman.—We have not, but I presume you had good grounds for changing your course?
617. Deputy McMenamin.—Why was she appointed originally? Were these facts known to you?—The appointment was made by the Minister originally.
618. Had he not all the facts before him then?—Yes.
619. Was it he cancelled the original order?—It was a new Minister cancelled it.
620. Is that the explanation of the thing?—I am not giving an explanation; I am only giving facts.
Chairman.—The Accounting Officer cannot give any information on that point. We are only interested in the loss of the money.
621. Deputy McMenamin.—On this transaction, there was a loss of £94 13s. 4d.?—Yes.
622. A former Minister had made the appointment?—Yes.
623. And his successor cancelled it?— Yes. The appointment had not actually been carried into effect because the premises were not ready.
624. Owing to the premises not being ready?—Yes.
625. Was that the only reason why the appointment was not carried into effect?
Chairman.—I think that is going into questions of policy.
Deputy McMenamin.—I want to know whether this appointment would have been made had the premises been completed. Surely the Accounting Officer would know that. I want to know was there any obstacle which prevented the appointment other than that the premises were not structurally complete.
Chairman.—What I understood from the Accounting Officer was that this woman was told she was getting the place, and that she had to make certain structural alterations in her premises, which she proceeded to do. A change took place in the meantime, and I judge that as her brother had been a defaulter that was considered grounds for debarring her from the appointment.
626. Deputy Smith.—Was he a sub-postmaster previously?—Yes.
627. Was the post office situated in the same house?—I do not think it was.
628. On what basis was it contended that he could not have been kept out of his sister’s house?—You are asking me to interpret a Ministerial decision. I am giving you the facts. Apart from those questions, the Minister at any time can dismiss a sub-postmaster without giving any reason.
Deputy Murphy.—We cannot inquire into his reasons.
Chairman.—It only comes before us because there was a financial loss through it.
Deputy Smith.—The only point I wanted to bring out is that if the Committee is asked to adjudicate in this matter it is only right that we should have some information before us.
629. Chairman.—This is a Ministerial decision. We are really asking the Accounting Officer what was operating in the Minister’s mind, which we should not do. It does seem to me, as a general principle, that if a person is to be blamed for the acts of a relative, all our relatives have a lot to worry about.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—It is a consideration which does not apply except in very exceptional circumstances.
630. Deputy Keyes.—Is there any degree of relationship specified?—No.
Chairman.—The same as prohibits marriage.
Deputy Smith.—The point I should like to bring out is that the public, who are being served by the officer, are entitled to have an appointment made which will inspire confidence.
631. Chairman.—I do not think it is right to attribute to a particular person any acts done by somebody else. I know it is done in this country, but it is hardly compatible with justice. We will now pass to sub-head I—Engineering Establishment. With regard to sub-head I (1), that slight increase was due to the blizzard that year?—Yes.
Deputy Keyes.—With regard to sub-head K, what would be the explanation of that big deficit?
632. Chairman.—That arose also, I suppose, out of that blizzard period?—Yes.
633. We now pass to sub-head L. I take it that in regard to L (4), that figure of £521 11s. 7d. is due to an increase in rates?—Yes.
Deputy Smith.—To what is the increase under N (2) due?
634. Chairman.—There is very little in the increase. There is a note on it which says:—
“The expenditure under this sub-head, in consequence of retirements under Section XIV of the Civil Service (Transferred Officers) Compensation Act, 1929, was greater than was anticipated (£2,430), off-set by a saving due to a lower cost-of-living bonus figure than that estimated for operating throughout portion of the year (£1,740).”
Can you know beforehand, approximately, how many men are going to retire under those provisions?—We cannot know beforehand, but in this particular case the applications were pending, and the accountant made a guess.
635. Deputy Smith.—Is there any time limit?—The Compensation Board is always there. Those particular retirements arose out of the Public Services (Temporary Economies) Act, 1933.
636. Chairman.—We will now go on to sub-head O-Post Office Savings Bank. With regard to sub-head O (3), the saving there is largely due to payments anticipated under this sub-head being allowed in under another sub-head?—Yes.
637. In regard to sub-head O (6)— Losses by Default, Accident, Etc.—those, of course, are things that cannot be foreseen?—Yes.
638. The figure of £223 6s. 10d., shown under sub-head O (8), is again due to an increase in local rates?—Some of it is. The note says:—
“The excess was due to claims for the years 1932-33 and 1933-34 materialising for payment during the financial year.”
I do not know how that arose. There must have been some special circumstances.
639. We now pass to sub-head P-Provision to meet deficiencies due to the withholding by the British Government of sums in connection with claims for Superannuation Payments and Telephone Annuities disputed by the Saorstát Government. Actually, it cost more than that Supplementary Estimate had adverted to. This is subtracted in part payment of withheld annuities, police pensions, etc.?—Yes.
Mr. McGrath.—Of that amount of £53,608 the sum of £37,195 3s. 2d. is for superannuation payments, and £15,608 for telephone annuities.
640. Chairman.—What are those telephone annuities?
Deputy O’Reilly.—They were grants made to erect telephones.
641. Chairman.—I suppose when we took over from the British we accepted a certain debt with regard to telephones, which was to be met by an annual payment. In stopping paying the land annuities we stopped all other annuities too. When the Post Office were making their Estimate they anticipated that the British Government were just going to let this pass, and when it was found that this was not so a Supplementary Estimate had to be brought in?—A Supplementary Estimate was introduced to provide for the stopping of money in respect of pensions granted before the Treaty, and also the telephone annuities.
Deputy O’Reilly.—This arose on the Estimate last year.
642. Chairman.—When that Supplementary Estimate was introduced, apparently you had not got exact figures?
Mr. Plaisted.—You can never tell in any financial year how many pensioners will be left.
Chairman.—Unless anybody wants to raise any question on the Abstracts and Appendices which follow, we will now turn to the Vote for Wireless Broadcasting.
VOTE 63—WIRELESS BROADCASTING.
Mr. O’Hegarty further examined.
643. Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General has the following note:
“In my Report for 1930-31 I referred to the system of accounting for and control of broadcasting equipment and stores. In the course of the current year’s audit I noticed that the arrangements for the cataloguing, filing and custody of the stocks of music and gramophone records are still unsatisfactory.”
Mr. McGrath.—We know that the Post Office are doing their best to get the Broadcasting people to keep proper records of their stock, but during the examination of the 1933-34 accounts we found that there was no complete catalogue of music. While such a position exists there can be no effective check on the stocks.
Chairman.—Is that being remedied?
Mr. O’Hegarty.—The various matters to which the Auditor-General has drawn attention are being looked into, and we propose to settle them in conjunction with the Post Office Accountant and the Auditor-General. I might say, however, that the total losses on music stock for nine years amounts to 14/10 per year. That is the total loss on music unaccounted for according to our record. I think that is a very good record.
Chairman.—I think it is, in view of the fact that music so easily gets frayed and torn.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—Of course the staff in the Broadcasting Station has been cut to the finest possible point, and if we are to provide proper facilities for checking and controlling the stock, there will be an expenditure of forty or fifty times as much money as is being lost. We have no objection to doing it, but it will mean increased expenditure.
644. Chairman.—With regard to sub-head B—Cost of Daily Programmes—we did at one time have an analysis of the expenditure. On a previous occasion we did request an analysis of these daily programmes and it was produced. It is a thing that we might ask for occasionally, but not as a general rule. In connection with sub-head H, What were the fees to Counsel for? It says here:—
“The excess is due to unanticipated expenditure in respect of fees to Counsel…”
What were the fees for?—It was in connection with the sponsored programmes, the contract we had with the Company at the time.
645. Did you have to take action in Court against that Company?—They went bankrupt and an Insurance Company took over the contract. The members of the bankrupt company were fighting—they thought they ought to be allowed to continue, and we had to get Counsel’s opinion on various points.
646. Mr. McGrath.—With reference to the Accounting Officer’s comment on the necessity for having a proper record in connection with the stocks, I would like to make a few remarks. He mentioned that their losses over a number of years amounted to a very small sum. If the Audit Office could be convinced that that sum really represented the loss each year, we would not say one word; but it is because we are not certain from the records and because of the way in which the records are kept that we are not satisfied the losses are properly recorded. There may be losses which may be hidden now and which a proper system of recording would bring out. The Post Office people are doing their best to have proper records kept, but we find that the position has not improved within the last three years and we must press until a proper system is adopted. It does not follow because we want a system adopted that it will cost £50 to save £1. That is not a fact, and I would like to correct any impression the Accounting Officer may have created in connection with that. There is no proper system of records kept at the present time and the Audit Office must keep that fact before the minds of the Committee. There may be very considerable losses—I hope there are not—but the point is that we do not know. In the Government service there are assistants enough to keep a proper record and we must see that the records are reliable.
647. Mr. O’Hegarty.—I quite see the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s point, but I do not agree with him. There are certain deviations in every system from perfectability. We are perfectly willing to go into this question with the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Post Office Accountant, and whatever they and the Department of Finance consider necessary the Post Office will be quite prepared to go through with it.
Mr. McGrath.—I know your own officers do not consider the present system a perfect one.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—There are not much losses.
Mr. McGrath.—I did not say there were much losses.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—You more or less implied it.
Deputy McMenamin.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General said that there could be, that the system permitted something like that.
Chairman.—If there is this proposed conference between the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Post Office and Finance, they could consider what steps could be taken.
Deputy O’Reilly.—This matter was considered last year, but it was not decided who was responsible for setting up a system.
Mr. McGrath.—I would not have made any comment if the Accounting Officer had left out his ridiculous figure of 14/10 a year. I hope that is true, but I am not satisfied that it is.
Mr. O’Hegarty.—We are not going to agree on that.
Mr. McGrath.—Under the present system of recording, it is quite possible that there may be undisclosed losses. I do not say there are, but there may be.
Deputy O’Reilly.—It is not the responsibility of any Department to devise a perfect system; it is someone else’s responsibility.
648. Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General is right. One must know that there are not considerable losses. Mr. O’Hegarty is satisfied that the figures would be remarkably small, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General says he would be quite satisfied that that was so, but he thinks that the system of recording needs to be improved. At any rate, if the proposed conference takes place, it is quite possible a satisfactory arrangement will be arrived at.
The witness withdrew.
General P. MacMahon called and examined.
Paragraph 68. Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General:—
My attention has been directed to the issue to the Forces on the 23rd December, 1933, of three days’ pay and allowances. As this advance of pay is contrary to the provision contained in para. 22 of Orders No. 7 that “pay shall be issued to soldiers weekly in arrear,” I am of the opinion that the prior sanction of the Department of Finance should have been obtained. It appears, however, from papers submitted to me that the Department of Finance had refused to approve of the issue of two weeks’ pay in advance and that the issue of three days’ pay in advance was made without further reference to that Department.
649. Chairman.—I expect this arose out of some special circumstances?—In actual fact the three days’ pay issued to the soldiers had been earned by them. It was on the eve of Christmas. In the case of the Civil Service, where the pay day falls on a Bank Holiday, they are permitted to issue pay on the previous day for the Bank Holiday. Had we adhered rigidly to the letter of the regulations, the soldiers could not be paid for a fortnight and the Minister felt that that would be most unfair to the soldiers at any time, and particularly at Christmas.
650. Have you had subsequent Finance sanction? No. In this case I got a direction from the Minister to issue three days’ pay. I did so and I notified the Minister for Finance and the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
Mr. McGrath.—The Secretary stated his objections to the Minister and they were overruled by the Minister. It is purely a Ministerial action, I presume.
Chairman.—Then we cannot go into that.
General MacMahon.—I would like to bring out those two points, that the pay was earned, and that in the case of the Civil Service, what we did would be quite regular. We think the attitude of the Minister for Finance in this case was unreasonable.
651. Chairman.—We had better ask the representatives of the Department of Finance. They may be able to give the views of their Minister.
Mr. Almond.—I will read the letter in reply to the application, if you wish.
Chairman.—I do not think it is necessary. Anyway, it is a Ministerial decision, and we cannot go further unless we had some arrangement for impeaching the Minister.
Deputy Smith.—What did Finance expect the Department to do if the money was earned and due?
Deputy McMenamin.—Pay it according to the regulations.
652. Chairman.—As a matter of fact, the law is that the Minister for Defence interprets his own regulations?—That is correct, Sir. The Comptroller and Auditor-General may say that we might alter the regulation to cover a case like this. We could have done that, but we thought it would be undesirable. The Minister for Defence, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, has in exceptional circumstances varied a regulation. I think the Minister was absolutely justified, if I may be allowed to express an opinion.
Mr. McGrath.—The position is peculiar from the Audit Office point of view. I did not know that the Accounting Officer would make this defence at all. I had a note where the Accounting Officer stated his objections.
Chairman.—He was bound to do that.
Deputy Murphy.—He got one in on Comptroller and Auditor-General this time.
Mr. McGrath.—What I have in view is the possible continuation of this system, a repetition of it. I think if the Department of Finance make an objection the Committee must take note of it. It cannot be got over by merely stating that the Minister said so. If the Department of Finance objects to the payment being made, it is a very serious matter.
General MacMahon.—I would not have raised any objection to the instructions of the Minister were it not for the reply I got from the Department of Finance. That reply compelled me to put my objections on paper.
Chairman.—The thing has now been brought to our attention and I suppose the two Ministers will have to fight it out between themselves. Physically, I would back the Minister for Defence.
653. Deputy O’Reilly.—Such a situation might arise next year?—I think it will certainly arise every Christmas.
654. Chairman.—Suppose a similar case arose again, I expect the two Departments would have to fight out ab initio the same fight all over again. This is not according to precedent.
Mr. Almond.—We do not admit the right of the Department of Defence to make this payment.
Deputy McMenamin.—Could the regulations not be changed? You could set forth the specific purpose for which the regulation was being changed.
Chairman.—One might not always be able to visualise contingencies.
Deputy McMenamin.—It might be possible to get a regulation to cover this particular aspect.
Chairman.—I think it better to have the regulations rigid and when a special case comes up the Minister interprets the regulations to meet that case and the whole thing has to be considered completely on its own merits.
655. Deputy Keyes.—In view of the chance of hardship being inflicted upon soldiers in future, and as this matter must come up again because we have Christmas every year, I think there should be an understanding about it. There is a danger, as a result of what is said now, that the Minister might be influenced into worsening the position. I endorse strongly the decision of the Minister the last time.
Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General has called attention to this because it is a departure from regulations.
656. Deputy O’Reilly.—Is there no elasticity about the Department of Finance?
General MacMahon.—We will put up the matter in time next Christmas.
Deputy Keyes.—This practice operates in all large Corporations that the employees are paid in advance over the Christmas days.
657. Chairman.—As Saint Columbanus said to the Pope:
“An error may claim antiquity but it is none the less an error.”
We pass on to sub-head A 3, paragraph 69 reads:—
An Army Equitation team competed at Toronto, Chicago and New York shows in October and November, 1933. The Show Committees paid the greater part of the cost of transport and maintenance, but additional expenditure amounting to £491 16s. 0d., which has not so far been sanctioned by the Department of Finance, is charged against this sub-head. In the course of my examination of the documents relating to this expenditure I noticed that other horses which were stated to be the private property of certain officers of the Equitation team, successfully competed in certain events in which Army horses were engaged. I am informed that those horses were not official mounts of the officers of the team, but they accompanied the State-owned horses only seven of which were sent to America. The participation of privately-owned horses in competitions abroad were the subject of comment by the Public Accounts Committee for the year 1929-30; and it appears to me to be undesirable for members of Army teams to take privately-owned horses abroad for private purposes on the occasions of official visits to International Shows.
658. Now, the transport of these horses was not paid out of the public funds?— No, Sir, the State was not aware that these horses were being taken.
659. Is this £491 16s. 0d. an additional expense?—That had nothing to do with it. The Department of Finance held up sanction until we had time to go into this.
660. Did the Department have official information that privately-owned horses were being taken out to compete in the Shows?—They had not that information in advance. They were only aware of it when they discovered by press reports that horses not the property of the State took part in the competition. It was only then we discovered it. A regulation has been made by the Minister for Defence, countersigned by the Minister for Finance, and this regulation will insure that this cannot happen again.
661. Mr. McGrath.—I did not catch what the Accounting Officer said with regard to privately-owned horses?—That a regulation had been signed by the Minister for Defence and countersigned by the Minister for Finance which will secure that this thing cannot occur again.
662. Chairman.—I notice under paragraph 70, sub-head B, Marriage Allowance, this paragraph from the Comptroller and Auditor-General:
Allowances are paid to the dependants of soldiers on the married establishment in accordance with the scales set out in Army regulations. The rates of allowances payable in respect of the dependants of soldiers who were admitted to the married establishment after the 2nd March, 1932, and of soldiers whose extension of service was approved subsequent to that date were reduced by Defence Force Regulation 15/32. I observed that the original rates have been paid in respect of the children of widowed soldiers, whose extension of service was approved subsequent to the 2nd March, 1932, but it appears to me that the reduced rates should have applied in those cases.
Has the Accounting Officer any comment to make on that?—In these cases there were three rates—there was the rate for the children of soldiers where both the parents were living, and that was altered; there was a special rate for children who were looked after by a guardian, where the mother had died. The new regulations have changed the amount payable to the guardian. We continue that particular rate because the Minister had authorised that this rate would be paid to the guardians. We were quite clear on the matter. The Comptroller and Auditor-General raised it and we went to the Department of Finance and the Department concurred in our view. We propose getting out a regulation to make the matter perfectly clear.
663. Paragraph 71. Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General:
In accordance with regulations officers are provided free with quarters, fuel and light. When quarters are not available lodging, fuel and light allowance is paid in lieu. The regulations under which this allowance is payable provide that an officer who marries without the prior sanction of the Adjutant-General shall be regarded as a single officer unless and until it is determined otherwise. I observed then, an officer who was married on the 16th December, 1932, without obtaining the prior permission of the Adjutant-General, and who remained in occupation of single quarters up to the date of his retirement, 21st February, 1934, was paid lodging, fuel and light allowance at the rate applicable to married officers under an order dated 15th February, 1934, which determined him to be a “married” officer as from the date of his marriage. The total amount paid on foot of this order was £246 14s. 6d., of which £117 8s. 6d. was included in the gratuity of £880 13s. 9d. paid to the officer on retirement. As it appears that this officer did not incur expenditure on the maintenance of a home, and having regard to the circumstances as stated, I am of opinion that the payment in respect of lodging, fuel and light allowance are not properly chargeable against public funds.
General MacMahon.—Candidly, Sir, I do not know what point the Comptroller and Auditor-General is now making.
664. Chairman.—What I understand is that the regulation savs that marriage allowance is paid to an officer who gets married with the prior sanction of the Adjutant-General, but that where permission is given subsequent to the marriage, the marriage allowance dates from the day he has got that permission?— Unless the Minister otherwise decides. The Minister has otherwise decided in this case. He made an order and dated it from the time of the marriage.
665. He has stated that this man continued to live as an unmarried officer?— That is also governed by the regulations. The regulation was adhered to.
Paragraph (2) of 71 says:—
“In the course of my audit I observed that at a number of stations married officers’ quarters remained vacant over long periods though officers to whom they could be allotted continued in receipt of lodging, fuel and light allowance. Considerable expenditure has been incurred in renovating and furnishing those quarters, some of which were built only in recent years, in order to provide adequate accommodation for married officers. In view of the additional expenditure consequent on the failure to reallot quarters as they become vacant, I have communicated with the Accounting Officer.”
The regulations state that if quarters are available for a married officer he is not to be paid these allowances?—Well, certain officers were in receipt of marriage allowances because quarters were not available to them. But the Quarter-master-General was reluctant to order a man who had committed himself to any undertakings outside in connection with the house to give that up and go into married quarters. This whole matter was fully gone into a month ago, and as a result of the decision then reached, an officer will have to occupy a vacant house no matter what outside commitments he may have made. But a matter like this will not occur again.
666. Paragraph (3) of 71 reads:—
“Subsistence allowance amounting to £80 15s. 3d. was paid at the maximum rates to ten officers in respect of periods of duty at certain temporary camps, at which detachments of N.C.O.s and men were messed and accommodated. I have deemed it necessary to draw attention to this expenditure, which does not appear to be usual or in accordance with regulations.”
Have you any comment to make on that? —Well, the thing arose in this way: the Army was occupied on certain work for another Department. The work was day-to-day work. We did not know whether it would be for a day, for a week, or ten days. As a result, we had to make day-to-day arrangements. We could not estimate at the time how long it would last.
667. The rates will be applicable if it were only for one day?—Yes. There is one case in Fermoy Aerodrome. In Fermoy we might have been able to make other arrangements were it not for the fact that the officers’ mess there was in the hands of engineers and we did not want to knock off the work.
Mr. McGrath.—The information of the Audit Office is that these were camps where men were receiving certain training and they were accompanied by the officers.
General MacMahon.—The work was done for the Department of Justice and we did not know how long it was going to last.
Mr. McGrath.—The information I have is that these are ordinary camp arrangements. We thought that an officer under active service conditions should not go to a hotel. They were paying the highest maximum rate per day at the hotel, 17/9. If they only charged half of that we would be quite agreeable to pass it.
General MacMahon.—The regulations provide for a certain amount. We did not know whether it would last for a day or five days. It is quite possible that the Comptroller and Auditor-General may have been misled on that account.
668. Chairman.—This was a case where the Minister for Justice on behalf of the police applies to the Army for certain protection work. Does not that information appear on the file?—It was not available to the Audit Office.
669. Mr. McGrath.—Perhaps I might explain what the attitude of the Audit Office is on the matter. There were autumn camps at Fermoy, Kilkenny and Waterford in connection with the air force training in June, 1933. One of the officers spent eight nights in the hotel; five other officers spent eight nights each in the hotel, and the seventh officer spent seven nights there. The position, as represented to me, was that these officers were supposed to be under active service conditions. It would appear that if the officers on the annual manœuvres did the same thing we would have them stopping in hotels in the same way, but under active service conditions they should not be stopping in hotels.
General MacMahon.—If the Comptroller and Auditor-General doubts my word about the purpose for which these officers were on that duty, I can produce evidence.
670. Deputy McMenamin.—That is not his point. The case he is making is that these officers went out under active service conditions.
General MacMahon.—I hold that the Comptroller and Auditor-General cannot define the conditions under which officers must go out. The Minister has authority in that matter.
Deputy McMenamin.—His allegation is that they went out under active service conditions.
671. Chairman.—This is headed “Temporary Camps at Fermoy, Waterford and Killarney, in connection with Air Corps training in June, 1933.” If the Air Corps training was to be under active service conditions that would be an act of the Army’s own volition. The Minister for Justice would not notify the Minister for Defence that he wanted the Army trained for air work. That is the Minister for Defence’s business. I presume from what General MacMahon says that the heading is completely misleading.
General MacMahon.—It is; but at the same time no one will understand better than yourself that it is not possible on all occasions to explain the circumstances. As far as the general public and the civil population were concerned, they were on manœuvres or training; but the actual fact is that they were doing certain work at the request of the Minister for Justice.
Deputy McMenamin.—His point is important with regard to officers going out for general training—that they lived in hotels instead of being in camp.
Chairman.—The regulations advert to these things, but I think this should not be pursued any further in view of what the witness has said.
672. Deputy McMenamin.—Your point is that these men had no alternative?
General MacMahon.—This was not active service and the Comptroller and Auditor-General had no right to assume it was. The Minister for Defence is the authority to say the circumstances under which it will be done.
673. What kind of an order did you issue with regard to these men?—That is not a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
Chairman.—Or for us.
674. Deputy McMenamin.—How, then, is an inference to be drawn as to what expenses they are to get?
Chairman.—There are regulations about hotel expenses for officers, but I suggest that this was a completely exceptional circumstance in which men were sent down and they did not know whether they were to be there for one day or ten days. It was a day-to-day arrangement.
Mr. McGrath.—Paragraph 69 of Orders No. 7 says:
“Travelling allowances for periods of necessary absence on duty from their stations will be paid to officers at the following rates.” The Audit Office contends that they were not away from their stations but were with their men at the time.
General MacMahon.—When men whose station is Baldonnel are scattered over the country in six or seven camps they cannot be held to be at their station.
675. Chairman.—They were air officers? —There were individual aeroplanes and a certain amount of ground personnel had to accompany them.
Mr. McGrath.—If the Accounting Officer says that this is a matter really for the Army and is not an accounting matter, I have nothing further to say.
General MacMahon.—As far as the accounts are concerned, I hold that we acted according to the regulations.
Mr. McGrath.—If the Accounting Officer puts up the defence that this is a matter of administration and of policy, I will accept it.
676. Chairman.—It seemed to the auditor who audited the accounts, on the face of the files, that these men were in camps with their men for training and that under the circumstances there would have been accommodation for them in tents or otherwise. The Accounting Officer tells us that that was not the case, that they were sent not on Army volition but police volition, which is a totally different circumstance which does not transpire on the files.
Deputy McMenamin.—For the purpose of the auditor should not it be? How is he to audit the accounts then?
Chairman.—He has made his note on it.
Deputy McMenamin.—Unless what the Comptroller and Auditor-General points out is attended to, there will be complete chaos and no such thing as an audit of the accounts.
Chairman. — The Comptroller and Auditor-General has pointed it out and the Accounting Officer has explained the circumstances.
Deputy Smith.—The Comptroller and Auditor-General has not pointed out that it was impossible for him to audit the accounts as presented. The only question is this matter of the hotel expenses. He has not at any time made the point that he had any difficulty in auditing the accounts.
677. Chairman. — He questioned the payment of these hotel expenses. If the men were going to a camp they would have been provided for otherwise. We have the Accounting Officer’s word for it that this was not an ordinary training camp. Air officers were sent round the country with aeroplanes, which meant a certain amount of ground personnel. They were away from their station and were sent away in special circumstances where they could not foresee whether they would be away for a long or a short time.
Mr. McGrath.—I should add that this is the first occasion on which such expenses have been met. We found those expenses in the account for officers going away on what appeared to be training and charging hotel expenses.
Chairman.—We are told it was not training.
Mr. McGrath.—It appeared to us to be training.
General MacMahon.—In actual fact, you would not send one aeroplane for training. Your contention is that they were at headquarters when, in fact, they were not. Even if this had been training, they would still get some expenses, but not at quite the rate they got them. They would get the expenses that the regulations provide, if it were known in advance that they would be there eight days. There would be additional expenses, but not so much. We could not apply the eight-day rate because we did not believe they would be there for eight days.
678. Deputy McMenamin.—They were not paid until the end of the eight days, and you knew then that they were there for eight days?—If you are sent down the country and do not know whether you are to be there for 24 hours or 24 days, and in fact are there for 24 days, you can only make an arrangement with the hotel from day to day.
Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General: Sub-head K—Provisions and Allowances in lieu. Paragraph 72:—
“Cost statements have been furnished to me showing the cost of production of bread at the Curragh Bakery, and of meat at the Dublin and Curragh Abattoirs to be as follows:—
“The reduction in the cost of meat was due to the lower prices paid for cattle. An average price of £13 19s. 9d. was paid for beasts purchased for the Dublin area, as against £20 6d. 9d. in the previous year.
“In the course of a period of training of a Reserve Battalion in 1932, certain irregularities in the issue of meat rations were brought to light. It appears that after the daily meat ration for the battalion had been issued from the Abattoir to the Quartermaster some of it was diverted to the Officers’ mess. A Court of Inquiry investigated the matter and found, among other things, that fictitious invoices were obtained from a local trader to cover the supply to the mess of certain quantities of meat, which had been irregularly received, but owing to lack of evidence it was unable to place responsibility on any individual or to ascertain the extent of the irregularities. The relevant monthly provision accounts were duly certified as correct, and it was also certified that the issues were strictly in accordance with the scale laid down in regulations, and that no provisions were issue to persons other than those entitled to receive them. I have inquired of the Accounting Officer whether in view of all the circumstances he is satisfied that the system of control is adequate to safeguard public funds, and whether the case was reported to the Department of Finance in accordance with the instructions of that Department in cases of fraud.
679. Chairman.—Did you get this reply?
Mr. McGrath.—Yes, we had a reply. The Accounting Officer stated:
“As far as the Supply Account was concerned there was nothing to indicate that the discharge of the supplies was not in order and it was through an oversight, which is regretted, that the fraud, subsequently discovered, was not reported to the Department of Finance. This is now being done.”
680. Chairman.—This was a fraud on the part of officers?
General MacMahon.—On the part of one officer. The State did not suffer as a result, but the men did. The meat had been issued and was the property of the men. The case was referred to the Attorney-General as to whether we should not take action against the officer. He was a reserve officer, who only came up for training for a month. It is impossible under the Defence Forces Act to take proceedings during the other 11 months. We approached the Attorney-General to have civil proceedings taken against him, but the Attorney-General, after going through the papers, advised that the case might not be sustained, and that we had better not proceed with itb.
681. He was dismissed from the reserve?—Yes, as a result.
682. Is the machinery for guarding against such frauds adequate?—As far as the State funds are concerned, yes; but you have to depend on the honesty of the officers as far as a case like this is concerned.
683. It is really a terrible thing that the unfortunate men should have got less than their rations?—On the other hand, the cost of having a civilian staff to see that each man got his proper rations would be prohibitive.
684. Deputy McMenamin.—Would not the men know that they were entitled to a particular amount and why did they not report?—It is very hard to distinguish between four ounces and six ounces of meat.
685. Chairman.—It is not easy for the men. The officer was duly dismissed?— He was.
686. You are satisfied that public funds are protected?—Perfectly satisfied.
687. The men ought to be protected too?—Undoubtedly.
Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Report:—sub-head O—General Stores. Paragraph 73:—
“A contract was entered into with a cross-Channel firm for the supply of aeroplanes at a cost of £10,522 18s. 0d., including delivery to Baldonnel at the contractor’s own risk and expense, but no provision was made for any payment until the contract was completed. I observed that a sum of £10,342 18s. 0d. was paid to the contractors on the 27th March, 1934, though the planes were not delivered until the end of April. In reply to my inquiry regarding the disbursement of this amount before the liability had matured I was informed that it was known as far back as the 12th January, 1934, that delivery of the aeroplanes at Baldonnel could not be made by the 31st March, 1934, and that arrangements were accordingly made for final inspection and acceptance at the contractor’s works. The Public Accounts Committee has on previous occasions expressed its disapproval of the practice of including payments which do not normally appertain to the year of account, and I have deemed it desirable to draw attention to this case in view of the disbursement of moneys before the end of the financial year, which would normally have become payable at a later date.”
688. Chairman.—I notice the date 31st March, there. Was this payment made so that it would come within the previous year?
General MacMahon.—It was made in accordance with previous practice. This is really a practice of the trade as well, and we had authority from the Department of Finance before we paid it. We asked the Department of Finance for authority to send an officer over to examine the machines. He spent three days examining them and he accepted the machines, and we had Finance authority for paying for them. There were previous cases which are absolutely similar. There was a case where, owing to weather conditions, a machine was held up for a considerable time after examination.
689. Mr. McGrath.—Were the previous cases in connection with aeroplanes?
General MacMahon.—Yes. In 1930-31 a similar contract was entered into for four machines, which were accepted at Weybridge on the 30th March and the account for £19,400 was paid on 31st March. The machines were not delivered until a later date. Again, in 1931-32, we ordered six Avro Cadets from Messrs ——. Three were delivered before the end of March and were paid for with delivery charges on March 30th, 1932. The others could not be delivered before the 31st March owing to climatic conditions, and, with the sanction of Finance, the machines were accepted at the contractor’s works and paid for on the 31st March, although delivery to Baldonnel did not take place until April. This is really in accordance with our contract. It is also in accordance with previous practice and we had the concurrence of the Department of Finance.
690. Chairman.—Prior concurrence?— Yes.
Mr. McGrath.—As I say here, we object to the Department paying for things before they get them.
General MacMahon.—We did get them.
Mr. McGrath.—The planes had not been delivered in Ireland at the time.
691. Deputy McMenamin.—The moment you accept delivery of an article, the contract is complete, no matter where it is, whether in Hong Kong or anywhere else. For instance, the moment you accept delivery of this pencil that I have in my hand, although the original contract may not have been in this room, the contract is complete.
Mr. McGrath.—The original contract stated that the aeroplanes were to be delivered at Baldonnel.
General MacMahon.—The contract said more than that. It said that they would be paid for on acceptance.
692. Deputy McMenamin.—On delivery?
General MacMahon.—No; that is not the contract to deliver.
Mr. McGrath.—Was there a clause in this particular contract that the aeroplanes were to be delivered in Baldonnel?
General MacMahon.—The contract for delivery was separate.
693. Chairman.—As far as I understand it, the contract said that the payment would be made on acceptance and there was also a contract by which the contractor agreed to deliver them at Baldonnel.
General MacMahon.—An additional amount was paid for delivery under the contract.
694. Mr. McGrath.—Perhaps I might be allowed to read a note of mine in connection with this matter. It reads as follows:—
“The provision for delivery by air to Baldonnel, at the contractor’s own risk and expense, was made apparently to protect the Department against loss in the event of any accident to the planes in course of flight from England to Baldonnel, and also served the purpose of a trial flight. The planes were accepted and paid for in full before they were ready for delivery. Consequently this provision lost most of its value, and if a plane was lost or damaged in course of delivery a very awkward position would arise regarding the liability for the loss.”
General MacMahon.—A sum of £180 was mentioned in the contract to cover delivery at Baldonnel, insurance during the course of delivery, and so on. They were to be delivered at the maker’s risk. We arranged for them to be paid for on acceptance. They were accepted on the other side, and the further arrangement was made of £180 to cover delivery at Baldonnel.
695. Mr. McGrath.—You say that you had the sanction of the Department of Finance for this?—Yes, and we had sanction before we went over to accept the planes.
Mr. Almond.—Generally, the acceptance of stores does not take place outside Ireland, but we realised that, in the case of aeroplanes, exceptions must be made: that you must accept on the spot and make separate conditions for delivery.
696. Chairman.—The next paragraph of this sub-head reads as follows:—
“Motor cycles were purchased from a continental firm in 1933, and were issued to the Signal Corps in September of year. In the course of audit of Signal Corps stores in 1934 it was noticed that a number of those machines had been in workshops for long periods awaiting repair, and some of them were incomplete. I was informed that it was impossible to obtain the necessary spare parts, as the firm that supplied the motor cycles was unable to supply a catalogue of spare parts for them. In order to maintain essential services it was found necessary to transfer parts from some of the machines to replace defective parts in others. The dismantling of new machines in order to provide spare parts may be justified in the circumstances, which are exceptional, but the practice is, in my opinion, contrary to the regulations and undesirable under normal conditions. I understand that steps have been taken to arrange with the firm concerned for the compilation of a catalogue of parts, and that the necessary material for repair of the machines now out of commission will be obtained when the catalogue is available.”
General MacMahon.—I agree with the Comptroller and Auditor-General that, as a practice, the transfer of spare parts in this manner would be undesirable, but, under the particular circumstances prevailing at the time, it was the only sensible thing to do. We purchased these machines from a Continental firm. We did not purchase a lot of spare parts. During that particular period these machines had to do particularly hard work and, at the end of the period, some of the parts became defective. We had to keep the machines working at their ordinary work and, while waiting for spare parts to arrive, we took parts from one machine and transferred them to another, which was defective. Now we have other machines and that necessity no longer arises. We agree that the practice is undesirable.
697. Chairman.—Did you know at the time that there was no catalogue of spare parts?—In actual fact, we did not consider that the question of spares would arise for some time, and, in ordinary circumstances, we probably would not want spares for six or nine months; but this turned out to be a particularly difficult period.
698. Par. 74—Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General—Sub-head S.— Barrack Maintenance and Minor Works. —“The cost of ordinary repairs, renewals and maintenance of barracks and camps is provided for under this sub-head, and the work is carried out by the personnel of the Corps of Engineers. In the course of examination of the maintenance work sheets it was noted that certain work was undertaken, the cost of which did not appear to be chargeable to the Army Vote, and expenditure incurred on certain new work was also included in the cost of maintenance. I have communicated with the Accounting Officer on those matters and on the extent of the authority for expenditure delegated to the Officer Commanding, Corps of Engineers.”
Mr. McGrath.—We have been in touch with the Accounting Officer in connection with this matter and have brought certain details before him. He examined these details and found that some of the work done was chargeable to unofficial Army Associations, such as the Army Athletic Association. The Accounting Officer is going generally into this matter with a view to seeing whether this idea is one that ought to be carried out.
699. Par. 75—Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General.—“Towards the end of the financial year the approval of the Oireachtas was obtained by way of a Supplementary Vote for the expenditure of £24,990 under various subheads to meet the requirements of the Volunteer Force, which was formed under the powers contained in Part III of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. Owing to the delay in obtaining supplies, and in organising the various Volunteer areas, only a relatively small part of the sum provided was disbursed before the 31st March, 1934.
“Par. 76—In my report on the accounts for 1927-28 I had occasion to refer to expenditure on the purchase of Barrack Service Stores which appeared to me to have been in excess of normal requirements. Most of the material was intended for the equipment of and replacement of breakages in officers’ and N.C.O.’s messes. I understood at the time that the stocks would be considerably reduced in providing for the needs of the Reserves, then in course of formation. The present position regarding these stocks, as disclosed at a recent local audit, appears to be unsatisfactory, as most of the material is still held at Central Stores and some of the articles seem to be of a type which are unsuitable for Army requirements. As I am of opinion that the retention over long periods of stores for which there is no demand is not economical if they could be utilised to meet the requirements of other branches of the Service. I have inquired whether other Departments have been consulted, or whether any proposals regarding the disposal of these stocks have been considered.”
General MacMahon. — These services were required when we had an Army of -6,000 strong. They are larger than our requirements at the moment, but we found that it is not desirable to dispose of surples stock of that type at a sacrifice. For instance, we were about to dispose of greatcoats and would have lost heavily on the transaction but as it turned out, we were able to give them to the Volunteers. The same thing applies to cycles. We had too many of them and disposed of the surplus at a cheap rate to the Post Office.
700. Chairman.—Are the stocks under review here likely to be absorbed?—A good deal of them will be absorbed but, at the same time, we have communicated with the Office of Public Works and the Government Contracts Committee to see if they will take them from us at a reasonable rate. If not, we shall hold on to them.
Mr. McGrath.—I know that the Accounting Officer did not agree with me altogether as to the amount of stocks, but I am sure that we will agree on certain items that are probably very much overstocked. I understand that the Accounting Officer is getting into touch with certain other officers and that they are going to hold a general enquiry as to how these things will be disposed of. On that account I would say that the Committee need not worry further about this matter as I feel sure that the Accounting Officer and the Audit Officer will fix it up.
701. Chairman.—The next section of paragraph 76 reads as follows:
“In the course of examination of the records of stocks at a local station and of receipts from Central Stores it was noted that the supply of many articles was in excess of requirements as reflected in the inventories of articles in use. In view of this position it seems to me that a greater degree of co-ordination in the purchase and distribution of these stores is desirable.
“In 1927 a workshop lorry was purchased for the use of the Army Air Corps at a cost of £1,734 10s. 0d. It was stated at the time of purchase that this lorry was absolutely essential for the purpose of repairing aircraft in the event of accident away from head-quarters. I observed from the records that it was not used for the purposes of the Air Force, and that it was transferred to the Mechanical Transport Force in January, 1931. On inquiry I was informed that it is regarded as an emergency unit which is indispensable for military requirements, and that it was used during the Army Exercises in September, 1933. In its report on the accounts for the year 1928-9, the Public Accounts Committee commented on the lack of financial control shown in the purchase of special equipment for the Air Corps, which was afterwards found to be unnecessary. As this lorry, which cost £1,734 10s. 0d. was not used for the purpose for which it was purchased, I have deemed it desirable to draw attention to the matter.”
702. Chairman.—That was before my time, I think.
General MacMahon.—No, I think it was during your time, Mr. Chairman. In actual fact, the lorry is used not alone for the purpose for which it was purchased but for other purposes as well. The only thing that might appear extraordinary is that it is housed at Island Bridge and not at Baldonnel. The reason for that is that it is available in the event of transport breakdowns. During the manœuvres it was very useful in the event of a break-down of armoured cars and also in connection with this aeroplane that we were discussing. If anything happened in such cases, the lorry was available at Island Bridge, but it is used for the purpose for which it was purchased originally.
703. Chairman.—It is used in connection with the breakdown of armoured cars?—Yes. I may say that undoubtedly, it has well justified the expenditure.
704. The next section of the paragraph is as follows:—
“From inspection of stock records it was observed that stores are held on charge by the Army Signal Corps which are surplus to requirements. They include signalling lamps and a large quantity of cable which, I am informed, it is not possible to sell at reasonable prices under present market conditions. It appears also that wireless valves have been purchased in excess of requirements, and those purchases included valves which had been superseded and were not subsequently used.”
General MacMahon.—We have to agree with the Comptroller and Auditor-General there. Some supplies were purchased that should not have been purchased, due to the fact that a Signal Officer did not take the precaution, before ordering certain materials, of ascertaining whether it was available or not. However, we are tightening up matters in this connection.
705. Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General (Paragraph 77).—“Statement of Losses—Losses written off during the year are detailed in a statement appended to the account. The total is made up of:—
The increase in the amount (£4,655 16s. 5d. as compared with £1,066 2s. 11d. in the preceding year) in respect of deficiencies of stores in mainly due to the inclusion of a sum of over £3,000 in respect of the loss of an aeroplane which was totally destroyed in a crash.”
706. Paragraph 78, item No. 1—£26 3s. 0d.—“The deficiencies in this case include, as well as items of personal clothing which the Volunteer keeps in his possession, items of public clothing and necessaries, which the Regulations do not permit to be taken out of barracks. In view of the absence of any effective periodical check of kits in certain circumstances, it appears to me that these items of public stores are not adequately protected under the existing system.”
Chairman.—This occurred under the old Volunteer system?—Yes.
707. These stores were kept in barracks?—The Volunteer took part of his kit home. The other part was kept in a box in barracks. He had the key to this box. Unfortunately, there were certain deficiencies, as there are, more or less, bound to be. That unit is now disbanded.
Mr. McGrath.—I took the opportunity of bringing this matter before the Committee in order to ensure that, if possible, a periodical examination would take place as regards the clothing and other articles held by each man. If there were periodical examinations, these discrepancies might be avoided. What happened in the old days when the Volunteer Force was very small will be multiplied if we have not a proper system of examination when the Volunteer Force is largely increased. This note was inserted with a view to having periodical examination of these stores, so that each man would realise his responsibility. In a number of cases, the discrepancies are due, to a great extent, to carelessness. I realise that there is a certain amount of pilferage, but most of the losses are due to carelessness and want of system. I thought that I would avail of this opportunity to suggest to the Accounting Officer that there might be a tightening-up in connection with the new Volunteer Force.
708. Chairman.—That will be very difficult under the new system.
General MacMahon.—It will.
709. Chairman.—We have read in the papers of the houses of these men being raided and their uniforms burnt. In the future, you are bound to have a fair amount of loss all over the country if State property is in possession of these men. All you can do is tighten up the system as far as practicable.
Mr. McGrath.—I wanted to let the Accounting Officer know that we appreciated his difficulty. It will be much more difficult to deal with this matter in the future than it was under the old system.
General MacMahon.—The greater the number of Volunteers, the greater the loss is going to be.
710. Chairman.—When the men are in barracks some kind of control can be kept over stores, but when the men are scattered all over the country, a certain amount of liberty will have to be given.
General MacMahon.—The regulations on the matter are very comprehensive and go as far as it is possible to go. We may learn more by experience.
711. Chairman.—If a man’s house is raided and his uniform is taken, I do not see how you are going to hold him responsible?—We shall have to go to the Department of Finance for a write-off.
712. Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General (Paragraph 790), Item No. 15— £257 1s. 11d.:—
“Apparently there was considerable laxity in the checking of kite of some reserve battalions on demobilisation after training in 1931 and, as a result, deficiencies in the kits of three battalions were found to amount to over £150. I understand that the system of checking kits has since been altered with a view to reducing the extent of the losses on this service.”
General MacMahon.—These reservists were officered by Reserve officers and, in that particular year, the officers were demobilised on the same day as the men. The examination of kits was, consequently very hurried. As a result of our experience, we arranged that the men would be demobilised a day before the officers. I think that the Comptroller and Auditor-General will admit that, since then, there has been an improvement.
Mr. McGrath.—The position was much improved in the following year.
713. Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General (Paragraph 80), Item No. 36— Incidents of Service, £175 16s. 0d.:—
“A sum of £40 is included in this figure in respect of the loss of an Army horse which was purchased for the School of Equitation in March, 1932, for £175, and was valued at £100 prior to death. It appears that the animal was injured while being used by the officer to whom he was allotted, for general purposes. This officer insured the horse, in accordance with regulations, for a sum of £60, which has been brought to credit in the account for the year 1934-35. Before the introduction of horses of this class, Army chargers, the maximum average purchase price of which has been fixed at £60, were normally allotted to officers for general purposes on condition that the horses so allotted were insured against fatal injury for a sum of not less than £60 each. As I was of opinion that the insurance cover was inadequate in cases in which horses purchased for the School of Equitation were allotted to officers for general purposes, I inquired whether it was proposed to amend the regulations in order to protect public funds against loss in these cases. I am informed, however, that in view of the Department, any horse which was purchased for the Equitation School and was subsequently found to be unsuitable could not be valued higher than the average cost of chargers purchased for general Army purposes.”
Mr. McGrath.—The horse mentioned in the paragraph did not receive the injuries while being used in the public service. That is the reason why I brought in the question of the insurance.
714. Chairman.—Was this horse used for hunting?
General MacMahon.—In the Army, we have a class 1 charger and a class 2 charger and the ordinary trooper. This was a class 1 charger and was one of the horses used in connection with jumping competitions at home and abroad. It was found unsuitable for that purpose and was re-graded class 2. The regulation is that, where a horse is allotted to an officer, the officer shall insure the horse for £60. It is only class 2 horses which are allotted to officers. Class 1 horses are never allotted to officers. This officer insured the horse for £60. The horse got injured while hunting and the State was paid £60. I think that the Comptroller and Auditor-General was of opinion that, because the horse cost £175, the State should receive £175. I should like to mention here our experience of a couple of months ago. Five horses were held to be unsuitable for jumping competitions and it was proposed that they be re-graded class 2. We thought it might be better to sell these horses than to re-grade them as class 2—that we might be able to buy class 2 horses more cheaply. We got in touch with a number of persons who purchase horses for export. The largest sum we could get for any of the horses was £30.
715. Chairman.—These men would get a bounty from the Government covering any duty they paid on export? They would get some bounty.
716. Would it be equal to the duty paid?—I do not think so. This horse, at the time, was not valued for more than the sum insured.
717. Chairman.—The regulation was fulfilled.
Mr. McGrath.—The Audit Office was influenced by the opinion of the Court of Inquiry, which assessed the value of this horse at £100. We thought that the officer who insured him should have insured him for £100. General MacMahon has explained that the officer would only insure the horse as an Army horse.
General MacMahon.—As a class 2 horse.
Mr. McGrath.—If I went any further, I might, perhaps, be taken as claiming to be an authority in horses or as criticising the administration. I do not want to do that. I merely wanted to bring the facts before the Committee.
General MacMahon.—A horse is not like a motor car or a piano for which a certain price has been paid and which is value for a certain sum after it has done a certain amount of duty. A horse may be bought at a £1,000 and the following week it might not be worth £100. Our opinion was backed up in this connection by experts in the Department of Agriculture.
718. Chairman.—Dealing with the Account proper, the supplementary vote under Sub-head A was in connection with the new volunteers?—Yes.
719. Is there an appropriation-in-aid in respect of A.3—Expenses of Equitation Teams at Horse Shows?—There is.
720. Under Sub-head D (Pay of Chaplains) one Chaplain was dispensed with?—Yes.
721. The supplementary sum under Sub-head G was also in connection with the new Volunteer force?—Yes.
722. Under Sub-head H (Transport of Troops) have you a new arrangement with the railway companies?—Not a recent one.
723. The note on that Sub-head states that the reduction is mainly due to a revision in railway rates. Is that a general revision and not a revision as between the Army and the railway companies?—We have a revised arrangement, too.
724. The Supplementary Votes under Sub-heads J. K. and M. are also in connection with the Volunteer force?—Yes.
725. On Sub-head R.—Fuel, Light and Water in Kind and Fuel Oils—there was a Supplementary Estimate. You really required a substantial sum?—Yes.
726. Deputy Murphy.—In the losses statement this note appears:—
Marriage allowance obtained by a soldier in respect of false certificate. The institution of proceedings was impracticable. The total sum involved was £386 11s. 0d., but a sum of £6 13s. 6d. was recovered from pay due.
What period would that cover?—A number of years. This soldier really had two wives. He claimed that he had children by the two wives. This extended over a number of years, from September, 1924, to June, 1933.
727. Chairman.—How was it discovered then?—We got an anonymous letter and we put the police after him.
VOTE 65—ARMY PENSIONS.
General MacMahon further examined.
728. Report of Comptroller and Auditor-General (Paragraph 81)—The work of investigating claims for pensions under the Army Pensions Acts, 1923 to 1932, was continued during the year by the two Statutory Boards set up for this purpose and awards were made in about 350 cases. The Military Service Registration Board was established under Section 6 of the Army Pensions Act, 1932, to ascertain and certify particulars of the military service of the applicants (as defined in the Act) and of the disabilities they incurred as a result of such service. The claims of applicants in respect of whom the Registration Board issue service certificates, are then referred to the Army Pensions Board which was established under Section 5 of the Army Pensions Act, 1927. This Board assesses and certifies the degree of disablement on which the amount of the award in each case is based.
An applicant for a pension under Section 13 (1) of the Army Pensions Act, 1927, in respect of a disablement due to disease attributable to service in the Irish Volunteers was examined by the Army Pensions Board on the 3rd June, 1929. The Board was unable to recommend the award of a pension, as it found that a degree of disablement from which the applicant suffered on the date of his examination was less than the minimum defined in the Act. In March, 1933, the application was again referred to the Army Pensions Board on appeal. The Board re-examined the applicant and reported that in the light of the additional evidence furnished it was satisfied that the degree of disablement was 80 per cent. on the 3rd June, 1929, the date on which the applicant was examined by its predecessor. It recommended the award of a pension as from that date.
It appears to me that neither the Army Pensions Act, 1927, nor subsequent legislation provides for the reassessment of the degree of disablement of applicants for pensions under Section 13 (1) of that Act, whose applications have already been refused on the ground that the degree of disablement was less than the minimum prescribed in the Act. I have, therefore, inquired whether legal opinion was obtained regarding the powers of the Minister to refer this case to the Army Pensions Board for reconsideration in March, 1933.
Mr. McGrath.—On receipt of my request the Accounting Officer got legal opinion?—That is so.
729. Chairman.—What was it?—The Attorney-General said that it was competent to grant the pension. He added:—
“I would point out, however, that my conclusion is based upon the particular facts of the case and to the finding that the disability on the occasion of the first examination exceeded the relevant minimum. There is nothing to suggest a time limit …. The question raised is of considerable difficulty and, if we were likely to have other cases involving this point, I would be disposed to invite the opinion of the court on the question.”
Mr. McGrath.—The Committee will see that there is considerable difficulty there.
Deputy McMenamin.—Has any court jurisdiction other than the Arbitration Board?
Chairman.—It is a matter of interpretation of the Act.
Deputy McMenamin.—Surely all these cases can be reviewed from time to time?
Chairman.—I think not.
Deputy McMenamin.—Why not? It would ultimately determine if there was disablement.
730. Chairman.—If I am 95 years old and feeble, and I want a board set up to see if my feebleness is due to activities on behalf of the State, it would be rather a ridiculous proceeding.
General MacMahon.—There should be an application to the Board within a certain period.
731. Chairman.—As far as I remember, the intention was that if a long time elapsed, the less likely would a person be able to say that disability was caused by specific services. When the applicant is before the Board the alleged cause of the disability is examined to see if he fulfils the minimum conditions of disability, and whether it is due to the services prescribed in the Act. If the man comes along a couple of years later, and says that he is more feeble, the only people able to judge are those who made the first examination. They could say whether Army services were the cause of the trouble. That is the reason I always understood that on the original application the Board decided whether a man’s services had caused disability within the meaning of the Act.
Deputy Smith.—That is not the real point at issue. The point at issue is that the application had been refused. The Comptroller and Auditor-General makes a note on it.
Chairman.—Deputy McMenamin said he did not see why a man should not come along later. I said that he comes along as soon as there is disability.
732. Deputy Smith.—You are giving what would seem to be a fairly commonsense point of view, but there is no reference to that in the Act.
Mr. McGrath.—In the Army Pensions Act of 1932 there is a reference to applications that have been refused.
733. Chairman.—Does this come under Section 13 (1)?
General MacMahon.—Of the 1927 Act.
Chairman.—The Attorney-General says that it comes under it.
General MacMahon.—We have the concurrence of the Minister for Finance.
Chairman.—If there was a doubt about a case, I understand the Attorney-General said to let the court decide. In effect, he said: give it to this applicant, but if anyone else comes along, test it in court.
734. Deputy Smith.—Is it not possible under the Pensions Act to revise a pensions award?—Yes.
735. Would you not think it a sensible proceeding if a claim is turned down to have it reinvestigated?—We claim that if an applicant supplies evidence that was not before the Board at first, we can reopen the case. In this case there was evidence from a specialist after some years, and on that evidence the Minister decided that the man ought to get the pension.
Deputy Smith.—You can review the case of an applicant who was refused, and who has got the opportunity of producing additional evidence.
Chairman.—But a long time has elapsed.
Deputy Smith.—That is not a matter of law.
Deputy O’Reilly.—Is it not a question of medical evidence?
Chairman.—Here is a case where there was something wrong. How can the doctor say now that it happened ten years ago?
Deputy Smith.—That point has no relation to the one at issue.
Chairman.—We have the Act.
Deputy Smith.—The point is whether a claimant who was turned down has the right to go before the Board again and have his application reinvestigated, on furnishing additional evidence.
Chairman.—This was a case where there was additional evidence?—Yes.
Deputy Smith.—I cannot see how the point you raise arises.
Chairman.—I may have a headache to-morrow which may be due to something that happened in the past.
Deputy Smith.—It is a matter for the Court and the evidence been brought before them in this case. The point is that a man has a right if his application was turned down, if he provides new evidence, to have his claim reconsidered. The Board can take all the information into consideration. The other issue does not come up now. The issue is whether there is such a right or not. I believe there is.
736. Chairman.—As I understand, the Attorney-General was in doubt about it? —Lest what I said might be regarded as giving a misleading account of what happened, I merely read what the Assistant Attorney-General put to the Attorney-General, who concurred. He went further when he said that he would like to see a case like this going to court.
737. Deputy O Briain.—Is this the only case that was reviewed?—The only one of this particular type.
738. Chairman.—With reference to sub-head D.—original, £50; supplementary, £100—that supplementary was in relation to the new Pensions Act?—It was.
739. And in the next sub-head F. the supplementary sum is also in relation to the new Pensions Act?—Yes.
740. With regard to sub-head J.— Military Service Pensions: grants, £142,89; expenditure, £139,973 1s. 8d.— is that different due to deaths in the meantime?—There were not as many granted as we anticipated.
The Committee adjourned at 1.20 p.m.