MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Dé Céadaoin, 27ú Meitheamh, 1945.
Wednesday, 27th June, 1945.
The Committee sat at 11 a.m.
DEPUTY COSGRAVE in the chair.
Mr. J. Maher (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste), Mr. C. S. Almond, Mr. G. P. S. Hogan, Mr. P. O’Kelly and Pádraig S. O Ceallaigh (An Roinn Airgeadais), called and examined.
VOTE 55—INDUSTRY AND COMMERCE.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson called and examined.
309. Chairman.—There is a note by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and Mr. Ferguson is here to assist us in dealing with the Vote. The note is as follows:—
“47. The expenditure under subhead J.I. relates to advances made under section 9 of the Slievardagh Coalfield Development Act, 1941, to Cómlucht Gual-Láthrach Shliabh Árdachadh Teoranta. The total amount of such advances up to 31st March, 1944, is £67,951. Pursuant to sections 10 (2) and 11 (3) of the Act, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, agreed to the postponement to 1st January, 1945, of the payment of interest on advances and of the repayment of instalments of advances which fell due on 1st July, 1943, and 1st January 1944. In accordance with sections 10 (3) and 11 (4), the company became liable for interest on the deferred payments and the Minister for Finance has directed that this interest also should be paid on 1st January, 1945.
The charge to subhead J.2. represents a further non-repayable grant under section 12 (3) of the Slievardagh Coalfield Development Act, 1941, to cover expenses incurred by Cómlucht Gual-Láthrach Shliabh Árdachadh, Teoranta, in carrying out prospecting operations in the Leinster coalfield. The total amount of non-repayable grants made in respect of these operations, which have now been completed, is £1,105 2s. 2d. The expenditure incurred by the company under this head is not, in accordance with the terms of the estimate, subject to audit in detail by me. Under a lease dated 6th April, 1944, granted by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to Irish Coal Mines, Limited, it is provided that the lessee shall, within three years from the date of the lease, pay to the Minister by three equal annual instalments the sum of £600 in respect of borings made for the demised minerals in the course of the prospecting operations.
Advances to Cómlucht Lorgtha agus Forbartha Mianraí, Teoranta, under section 10 of the Minerals Exploration and Development Company Act, 1941, are charged to subhead J.3. The total amount advanced to the company under this section up to 31st March, 1944, is £134,393 1s. 6d. The Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 11 (2) and 12 (3) of the Act, has agreed to the postponement to 1st January, 1945, of the payment of interest on advances and of the repayment of instalments of advances which fell due on 1st July, 1943, and 1st January, 1944. In accordance with sections 11 (3) and 12 (4) of the Act, the company became liable for interest on the postponed payments and the Minister for Finance has directed that this interest should also be paid on 1st January, 1945.”
Mr. Ferguson.—In connection with this particular Vote I have a fairly long financial statement which may or may not interest the Committee, and I shall read it, Mr. Chairman, if you wish. It contains information which your committee might like to have. I have a copy of it here.
310. Chairman.—Well, if it is a very long statement, perhaps we could dispense with reading it.
Mr. Ferguson.—I might say, for your information, that the two companies, the Coal Co. and the General Minerals Co. are now, from the 1st of June, I think, amalgamated into one. In the case of the Coal Co., as you know, the motive was to get as much coal production as we could, particularly in view of the emergency. In that connection, I may say that the moment when the company will become profit-making in the ordinary sense has not yet arrived, but good progress has been made. The same applies to the general minerals company. The company had to devote first attention to the production of phosphates from Clare and of pyrites from Wicklow, that is, at Avoca. That meant, particularly in the case of pyrites from Avoca, that they had to go straight ahead with whatever was immediately available rather than a profit-making point of view. It was a question of production rather than of profit-making during the emergency. This was done partly as an insurance against the possibility of a complete failure of supplies of imported pyrites, and also to contribute to the total quantity. Fortunately, the supply never completely broke down. During the emergency, of course, there has been a shortage, but the company performed that service of being a kind of insurance against a complete break down in supplies and also of adding to the total supply available. As a result, a lot was learned as to the quality of the pyrites in Avoca and, apart from the necessity for producing as much as we could, it was useful from the point of view of the future when the company can go ahead and develop Avoca in the ordinary way. You know the history of this pyrites deposit in Avoca. About 60 or 70 years ago, I think, before the discovery of Spanish pyrites, our Wicklow pyrites deposits were largely worked, and I think output ran up to 100,000 tons a year. When the Spanish pyrites came on the market their greatest value was that they had a higher sulphur content than our pyrites, and the result was that our production declined and whatever way they were burned in the old days is an art that has been lost. Now, they can be burned with a certain mixture of fuel. At any rate, we are getting back on that. In richness, they cannot compare with the Spanish pyrites but, undoubtedly, we know a great deal more about their qualities now. That is the background. I can also give details as to the finance of the company. Money has not exactly been lost, but instalments on advances had to be postponed and interest payments. I can give the Committee detailed figures, if you wish.
311. How much has been advanced to the Wicklow Co. up to the present?—The total amount up to 31st March, 1944, was £67,951.
312. Have you no figure since that?—I have not them here, but they would be in the office and I can send them to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
313. Deputy Sheldon.—How much of that represents normally repayable advances or grants?—I think the whole of that is repayable. A very small amount towards the foundation of the company—quite a trivial sum—was advanced, but all of this is repayable.
314. In the second paragraph of Paragraph 47 there is a reference to a sum of £600 in respect of borings. That, I presume, comes under this matter of repayable advances?—It does. That refers to borings that were made in the Leinster Coalfield. In the Avoca area borings were exploratory, but the Leinster borings referred to here were made with a view to finding out if certain areas were worth working. In the meantime, however, a new company, Mianraí, Ltd., came along and took over responsibility for the cost of the borings. A bargain was made, and I think some £600 was paid by that company as a fair settlement because some of the borings were not of much value.
315. Chairman.—Is there a large deposit of pyrites in Avoca as a result of the borings you have made?—I presume that you are thinking of possible future development. If that area is developed in the future, it would be for quite a number of minerals. There are low-grade lead, copper and other minerals in that area. It is what is called low-grade ore, but that does not mean that it cannot be worked, and the company is considering developing the whole of that. They have had one expert report on the matter and they propose to get another in order to determine what the total deposits would be. There are fairly large deposits there of low grade. The grade is low, but the quantities are very large.
316. Deputy Sheldon.—Could you say what is the present output of Slievardagh?—I do not think I have the figure here at the moment. I mentioned a figure last year in reply to some one who asked the same question. I did not have the actual figure but I think I made a good shot at it. I have not a copy at the moment, but I can send the figures to Mr. Maher afterwards, as I think it would be better to give the precise figure.
317. Chairman.—Very well. Could you say if the maximum output is being maintained from Slievardagh and Castlecomer? Of course, Castlecomer is a private company, but could you give us the figures?—We have figures. Castlecomer is a private company, but I could give the figures if necessary. First of all, however, perhaps I should say that in the case of Castlecomer the bottle neck is the lack of skilled miners, and in fact that is the bottle neck in all our mines. In spite of every effort by the company and ourselves through the Employment Exchanges, advertisements and other efforts to get skilled men we have been held up all over by that difficulty. That difficulty has affected even the Castlecomer Company very seriously, because some of the men there drifted into the newer mines at Wolfhill. One can understand that, of course, as men are free to work where they like, but the limiting factor in the old mine at Castlecomer has been definitely that, and the same also applies to Slievardagh. Men had to be taken from the fields and trained in this very difficult job. As you know it is a type of work for which men had to be trained from their boyhood. It is highly skilled work and workers are not of much use unless they have been trained from youth. In spite of that difficulty, it is amazing that Slievardagh has reached its present output. The output from Slievardagh is at the rate of about 400 tons a week. In one sense, that might seem a little disappointing, but it is mainly due to the absence of miners. It is also due to the fact that during the emergency necessary machinery could not be got; even ordinary cables could not be got, or were in short supply. That is another difficulty, but the main difficulty is the lack of skilled miners.
318. What were the causes of the workers going from Castlecomer to Wolfhill? Was it because of bette conditions? —Well, it is very hard to answer that. They were tempted, I suppose, by slightly better conditions here and there. The conditions were theoretically at least, uniform in the Leinster field. We made a standard rate order but, as you can understand, wage arrangements in the case of a coal mine are very complicated. There were different rates for this, that and the other. I have been present at many conferences, and it would be a most impossible for a layman to understand them. However, there was finally a kind of gentlemen’s agreement with regard to transfer of workers. I may say that the same difficulty occurred in the west, in the Arigna area. There was a certain amount of difficulty there, but it has died down now.
319. Chairman.—If there are no further questions, gentlemen, we can go on to paragraph 48:—
“As explained in the account, the charges to this subhead arise in connection with the New York World Fair, 1939 and 1940. In the reports on the accounts for previous years, references were made to a sum of £1,448 15s. 6d. which had been charged to a suspense account and which represented payments made on behalf of a firm of display experts which had gone into liquidation. Owing to variations in rates of exchange the amount which it was found necessary to charge to the subhead, in order to clear the suspense account, was £1,258 1s. 1d. A sum of £20 paid to an exhibitor in respect of the loss of goods consigned to this firm is also charged to this subhead. As noted in the account, £1,246 claimed by the firm for work done by it at the Fair was withheld.
The total expenditure charged to the vote in connection with the Fair up to 31st March, 1944, amounted to £72,866 8s. 10d. and the receipts credited to that date amounted to £4,932 10s. 9d.”
Have you anything to add, Mr. Maher?
Mr. Maher.—As the Suspense Account is now clear, this closes the transaction relating to the New York World Fair, and, presumably, it will not be necessary to refer to it again. I understand that there are no items outstanding.
Mr. Ferguson.—I understand that is the position.
320. Chairman.—Did we pay for a stand at the Fair, and did we get any recoupment in respect of the attendances at the stand?—No. We paid for so much space and the working expenses, but we got no share of the receipts arising out of attendances.
Paragraph 49 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General:
“Extra Receipts Payable to Exchequer.
“Fees Under the Sugar (Control of Import) Act, 1936.
“The sum of £1,576 6s. 11d. credited to the exchequer extra receipts represents fees paid by Cómhlucht Siúicre Eireann, Teoranta, during the period from 1st July, 1942, to 31st March, 1944, at the provisional rate of 1d. per cwt. in respect of licences issued to it by the Department of Industry and Commerce to import sugar under the provisions of the Sugar (Control of Import) Act, 1936. Section 7 (4) of the Act provides that there shall be charged on every licence issued such fee as the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may from time to time appoint, and I have inquired whether the fees finally chargeable in respect of sugar imported in the period mentioned above have yet been determined.”
321. Chairman.—Have you anything to add, Mr. Maher?
Mr. Maher.—The determination of the final fee depends on an examination of the accounts of the Sugar Company.
Mr. Ferguson.—Originally, we had reason to believe that the Sugar Company would make a profit on the importation and sale of sugar, but since 1939 it did not. This is really a matter of the adjustment of the accounts, the principle being that the Sugar Company should not make a profit or a loss on the business of importing sugar. It is really a matter of accounting and adjustment.
Mr. Maher.—I think Mr. Ferguson informed us semi-officially that the examination of the accounts will be undertaken soon. I do not know if it has been undertaken yet?—It has not, but the matter is under discussion with the Department of Finance. We want to get it cleared up. As I have said, it is simply a matter of the adjustment of accounts.
322. Chairman.—Have you approached the Department of Finance yet?—No. The position at the moment is that we are getting the particulars from the Sugar Company in regard to its trade in importing sugar during the whole period. When we get these particulars, and have an opportunity of examining them, then the matter will go to the Department of Finance.
Paragraph 50 in the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General:—
“Receipts From the Great Southern Railways Company Under Contract with Drumm Battery Sales, Limited.
“In paragraphs 58 and 48 of the reports on the accounts for the years 1939-40 and 1940-41, respectively, references were made to the agreements between Drumm Battery Sales, Limited, (a subsidiary of Drumm Battery Company, Limited) and the Great Southern Railways Company under which the latter company covenanted to pay the sum of £45,600 by twenty half-yearly instalments, with interest at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum. The net amounts of the half-yearly instalments, after deduction of any sums required to meet the commitments of the Drumm Battery companies, were treated as in part repayment of Grants-in-Aid made from the former vote for Electrical Battery Development and were accounted for as exchequer extra receipts. In May, 1943, a sum of £22,790 0s. 5d., which had been paid by the Great Southern Railways Company to Drumm Battery Sales, Limited, in discharge of the principal sum then outstanding under the agreements, was transferred to the Department. Of this amount, £790 0s. 5d. was retained to meet certain commitments of the Drumm Battery companies and the balance, £22,000, is accounted for as an exchequer extra receipt.”
323. Chairman.—Is there anything you have to add, Mr. Maher?
Mr. Maher.—This paragraph is for information merely. The sum of £22,790 0s. 5d. referred to represents the present value of the instalments.
324. Chairman.—Is this company functioning at all now?
Mr. Ferguson.—It is in process of liquidation.
325. Chairman.—The entire Drumm battery business or Drumm Battery Sales, Limited?—The Drumm Battery Company —both.
326. —Chairman.—If there is no other question we can now turn to the subheads of the Vote?
Deputy Sheldon.—On Subhead C.—Incidental Expenses—the note to the subhead refers to the difficulty of obtaining technical equipment. What type of equipment would that be?
Mr. Ferguson.—It might, for example, be equipment for our Weights and Measures Department. They require equipment in the Castle for their work. It may include one or two other items such, for example, as instruments and apparatus for the office of the Geological Survey.
327. On Subhead D.—Telegrams and Telephones—the note to the subhead states that the excess was due to increase in telephone services and to the payment during the year of account for five quarters in respect of the central offices of the telephone services. I wonder how did that occur, a payment in respect of five quarters. Was it due to the fact that the telephone services were not foreseen at the time the Estimate was being prepared?—The Estimate, of course, is prepared on the best information available at that date, but that position may have changed three months afterwards.
328. On subhead J.2.—Payments to Cómhlucht Gual-Láthrach Shliagh Árdachadh, Teoranta, for prospecting for coal —the note says that the requisitions on the company were not made to the extent anticipated. What does requisitions on the company refer to?—The word “on” there puzzles me a little bit. We have the power to ask the company to do a certain job for us. That would be a requisition on the company. Then, of course, we have to pay for that. That is probably what it means, assuming that the word “on” is correct. It means a requisition made, say, by the Minister to the company to explore a certain area, for example.
329. Chairman.—On Subhead J.4.— Payments to Cómhlucht Lorgtha agus Forbartha Mianraí, Teoranta, for prospecting for minerals—the Estimate was very far out. Would the explanation be due to this, that the company did not do as much prospecting as was anticipated?—That is what it means.
330. —Deputy Sheldon.—On Subhead J.J.—Minerals Exploration—is the provision in the subhead for prospecting quite apart from any prospecting done by any of the companies referred to in the Vote?—Yes, for exploration done by, for example, the Geological Survey or, perhaps, by special persons appointed to the Survey. This subhead leaves us free to do that, if necessary.
331. On Subhead K.4.—Special Investigations—the note states that the amounts provided for Peat Waxes research and new investigations were not utilised. Does that mean that there was no research done on the Peat Waxes?—That Peat Waxes investigation, as you probably know, has been going on for a number of years, and had reached a fairly advanced stage. The question was whether it had reached such a stage that it could be used commercially. That was the reason why there was a pause in carrying on the research work. Personally, I think it has reached that point, but, owing to war conditions, it was practically impossible to get plant so that it could be produced commercially.
332. On Subhead L.—Appropriations in-Aid—the note refers to receipts from fees for special statistical returns. I take it that refers to a case where, say, some private company would ask the experts to carry out the investigations?—That is so. They pay the expenses.
333. I find that the first note on page 106 of the Appropriation Accounts states that the expenditure under Subheads C. and D. of Vote 33 includes sums of £2,896 15s. 6d. and £91 2s. 0d., respectively, incurred in connection with the preparation of the Register of Population?—I take it that what that means is that it covers more than the use of the Gárda Síochána, and that that is the total cost.
VOTE 56—TRANSPORT AND METEOROLOGICAL SERVICES.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
334. Chairman.—Under Subhead A.A. —Provision of Canal Barges—Paragraph 51 states:
“The charge to this head comprises the cost of constructing fifteen additional barges, and further expenditure on some of the barges already in service. The total expenditure to 31st March, 1944, amounted to £30,211 1s. 10d., and the number of barges provided is twenty-nine. The arrangements for the letting of barges for hire through the Grand Canal Company, as described in paragraph 46 of the report on the accounts for the year 1942-43, continue, and barges have also been hired to the Great Southern Railways Company for use on the Royal Canal. The hireage charges received in the year under review, which are credited to exchequer extra receipts, amounted to £917 18s. 4d.”
Mr. Maher.—That is a continuation of a similar paragraph that appeared previously regarding these barges.
Mr. Ferguson.—It may be of interest to the Committee to state that the amount has gone up definitely this year and that the barges have proved of great use. They are used frequently over 90 per cent. of the whole time. In a few cases the figure dropped to 60 per cent.
335. Deputy Sheldon.—I notice that the hiring of the barges represents about three per cent. of the outlay. Is the idea to encourage the use of the barges at low hirage charges?
Mr. Ferguson.—I understand that they are being let at about the same rate as the canal company charges. In other words, we were not trying to undercut the rates, but to have them at about the same level.
Mr. Maher.—I think that figure would be affected by the fact that towards the end of 1943 some of the barges were laid up for a considerable period. They were not actually in service every day.
336. Deputy Sheldon.—I look upon £917 18s. 4d. as representing three per cent. on the total expenditure.
Mr. Ferguson.—The sum has gone up now to nearly £1,500, whereas the first year that the barges were in use the amount was £453.
Mr. Maher.—And some barges that were constructed the previous year were laid up.
Mr. Ferguson.—That is so. For example, some of the barges were not paid for and as a result £16,000 went into the accounts for the year 1943-44.
“Subhead B.6.—Shannon Airport,
Foynes, Limerick Omnibus Service.
“52. During the year additional passenger accommodation was provided on the service, which was made available to members of the public as from August, 1943. The receipts from fares paid by passengers during the year amounted to £5,455 10s. 1d. and are credited to appropriations in aid.”
337. Mr. Maher.—The purpose of that note is to show the extension of the service to the general public.
338. Chairman.—And a considerable profit is being made?
Mr. Ferguson.—Definitely a profit is being made.
“Subhead C.—Subsidy in Respect of Air Services.
“53. The charge to this subhead represents payments to Aer Rianta, Teoranta, under the Subsidy (Aer Rianta, Teoranta) Order, 1943 (Statutory Rules and Orders, No. 199 of 19 3), to meet the estimated losses by the company and the subsidiary company (Aer Lingus, Teoranta) in the operation of air services. The actual loss was determined by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Commerce to be £23,715 9s. 4d., and the sum of £2,884 10s. 8d., being the excess of the estimated over the actual loss, has been repaid and will be accounted for as an exchequer extra receipt in the year 1944-45.”
339. Mr. Maher.—The tendency is for this subsidy to fall. As compared with previous years there is a reduction of £5,700, and as compared with 1940-41 a reduction of nearly £10,000.
340. Chairman.—Is that due to a greater use of the services?
Mr. Ferguson.—I think that is the only answer, and that as the Company is getting into a normal way of working the tendency will be in that direction.
341. How many aeroplanes has the Company?—Three, I think, at present.
341a. Are the pilots trained here?—I think most of them had experience outside. I cannot be positive on that.
342. They do not recruit any pilots from the Army Air Corps?—I cannot answer that. They try to get the best pilots. I am sure the Army would get preference, if possible.
343. Deputy S. Brady.—I take it that it is intended to develop the service. I understand that at present it is necessary to book seats six weeks in advance?—The trouble is shortage of machines. That is the secret. The Company is very anxious to get more machines, and until they do there would not be any easing of the position.
344. Do you anticipate that they will be able to do so?—They are trying to purchase machines. The chance of the deficit going down depends upon getting machines to provide the service.
345. Chairman.—I suppose until more machines are got there is no possibility of a service through the country?—I would say that the external service will have to be seen to first. It is a matter of gradual development and getting back to normal.
“Subhead F.—Appropriations in Aid.
“54. The receipts from landing and accommodation fees, etc., at the Shannon Airport, which in previous years were brought to credit as exchequer extra receipts, are now accounted for as appropriations in aid. The gross receipts during the year amounted to £6,949 2s. 2d., out of which sums amounting to £684 8s. 2d. were payable to the Foynes Harbour Trustees in respect of facilities afforded at Foynes Har our, leaving the net credit for receipts £6,264 14s. 0d., as shown in the account.”
346. Mr. Maher.—That note is for the information of the Committee. Foynes Harbour Commissioners are paid ten per cent. in consideration of providing harbour facilities.
347. Chairman.—Is it proposed to use either Foynes or Rineanna to the exclusion of the other site? I understand they are developing both places at the moment, and that while one is being used, considerable expenditure is being incurred in developing the other place?—To put it simply, the original plans were held up until war conditions indicated the position regarding water dromes or land dromes. There are little facilities for people arriving at Foynes, and there was then the trouble of driving thirty-eight or nine miles. That was a bad arrangement but it was inevitable until dredging was done at Rineanna. A contract for that work has not actually been signed, but it is about to be signed. We hope to get that work done and to go ahead. Once the water drome is ready at Rineanna both water and land planes will arrive there. It is difficult to forecast the future of Foynes. It is a question of the volume of traffic. Foynes will be always there as an auxiliary landing-place. Everything depends on the future of the land plane against the seaplane. The views of the experts are 50-50 on that question. It is necessary to keep Foynes going and to give as good a service as is possible there. The future is any man’s story.
“Stores, Equipment, etc.
“55. References were made in previous reports to the question of accounts of stores and equipment used at the Shannon Airport. An inventory relating to equipment and certain store items has been submitted to me and I am in communication with the Accounting Officer regarding the form in which it has been prepared. I have also asked to be informed regarding the procedure followed in connection with the write-off of items on the inventory.
I have not yet been furnished with store accounts of petrol, oil and other consumable stores, and I have addressed a further inquiry to the Accounting Officer in regard to the matter.”
348. Mr. Maher.—Since the date of my report I have been informed that store records in regard to the receipt and issue of petrol are made at the airport, that there is physical stocktaking from time to time, and that log books are kept showing the mileage of transport vehicles which consume almost the entire supply of petrol. A test examination of the petrol records gave satisfactory results. I have been informed that as from May 1, 1945, a new system of stores accounting has been set up by which a complete inventory of all stores is taken. Prior to that date the stores system was not complete, and prior to September, 1944, there were no stores accounts in operation. The working of the new stores accounting system will be reviewed by my office during the year.
349. Chairman.—Is there a separate check of consumable and non-consumable stores?
Mr. Ferguson.—Yes. They are divided into consumable and non-consumable. Each is classified and shows the number or quantity of each item held. Specimens have been sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General whose statement is quite correct.
350. Is the Department of Finance aware of the system of control?
Mr. Almond.—No. We have been approached only in connection with the writing off of small losses and only on that aspect of the matter. We have not been approached as regards the actual accounting for the stores. Of course that is really the Comptroller and Auditor General’s job. If he is satisfied with the system adopted we shall hear nothing about it.
Mr. Ferguson.—There were only a few cases of actual losses of a few articles representing a matter of £5 and some shillings.
Mr. Almond.—We are prepared to relegate the writing off of small amounts up to £5 a year. In the meantime we have asked for particulars of any losses up to the present.
Mr. Maher.—Actually there was no store accounting system in force prior to September, 1944, and it would be impossible to determine what losses there were.
Mr. Ferguson.—I may say that this is a matter to which attention is being directed. The difficulty was that there was no store. There is considerable difficulty in getting proper buildings. We had an old store but it was not of a character that could be kept properly. The plan was to keep the amount of new buildings down to the minimum seeing that we did not know what the future would require. We will have to get a proper store. That is the basis of the whole thing. The arrangement at Foynes was difficult as the physical accommodation was not there. With the store that had to be used no amount of supervision could keep things right. The difficulty was a physical one more than anything else.
351. Chairman.—Are the renting companies erecting buildings?
Mr. Ferguson.—They were in competition with us for existing coal sheds and stores. We had to divide the accommodation as best we could. The only new building they put up was housing for some of the staff outside the village. Beyond building huts on the quay or pier nothing else was built.
352. I do not know if I have been correctly informed, but I understand that our equipment and the equipment of the renting companies is all mixed up?
Mr. Ferguson.—No. We have ours separate. The equipment was never mixed up at any time.
353. Deputy Sheldon.—Under Subhead E.5., I notice that there has been difficulty in getting equipment. Were special facilities given for getting equipment under E.3. (Incidental Expenses)? —I suppose that that is the explanation. Obviously, the difficulty was to get any kind of equipment. We got facilities through the companies using the port, both American and British, because they needed this equipment for the purpose of safety. On some occasions, we got more help than we did on other occasions. We had to get special facilities from the U.S.A. and Great Britain to import special classes of goods. I think that the item referred to here was obtained for the safety of craft and, for that reason, it was obtained more promptly.
354. I was wondering why the item appears under “Incidental Expenses” rather than under “Equipment”?—It does seem strange that it should so appear but I have no doubt that there is an explanation of it. I should have to ascertain the explanation.
355. It might have been some item that was not provided for?—It might have been.
356. Under “Extra Receipts”, where does the £6,000 towards the cost of Transatlantic Air Services come from?—I think I had better send a note to the Committee on that point.*
VOTE 57—RAILWAY TRIBUNAL.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
357. Chairman.—This is the last occasion on which this Vote will come before the Committee?
Mr. Ferguson.—That is so.
VOTE 58—MARINE SERVICE.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
358. Chairman.—Under Subhead G.— Relief of Distressed Seamen—is provision made for payment to dependents of seamen who have lost their lives or to seamen who have been injured in the service?
Mr. Ferguson.—Provision is made in that regard under I.3.
359. Chairman.—What does Subhead G. refer to?—It refers to shipwrecks and to money spent by our Coast Life-Saving Service on shipwrecked sailors.
360. Deputy Sheldon.—It really refers to foreigners rather than to our own nationals?—It, probably, would, if they were stranded here.
361. Subhead J.I.—Grants in respect of the Equipment of Ships for Protection against Magnetic Mines—will now cease to operate?—It has already ceased.
362. As regards K.3., there has been some trouble recently about the coast communication telephone service. Is it capable of improvement or what is the difficulty?—Our responsibility in connection with the coast communication telephone service referred to here is limited to the duties imposed upon us in connection with the Coast Life-Saving Service. We have no general responsibility around the coast with regard to bathers or yachts. Their service is confined to the Life-Saving Service in connection with shipwrecks.
363. Has it to do with the communication between the lighthouses and land?— No. That is the responsibility of Irish Lights.
364. As regards Subhead L.(Appropriations in Aid), are the fees for survey and inspection of ships fixed on a tonnage basis?—I take it that they are fixed on the amount of work involved. There are certain fixed fees. I shall send you a note on that, if necessary.
Deputy Sheldon.—No. The question was merely a casual one.
VOTE 59—UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE AND UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
365. Chairman.—Paragraph 56 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General refers to this Vote and is as follows:
“Subhead L.—Appropriations in Aid. —Amount received from the Unemployment Fund under Section 12 (3) of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, as amended by Section 8 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1922, Section 3 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1930, and Section 3 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1933.
“Under the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Acts payment is required to be made from the Unemployment Fund, and credited to appropriations in aid of the vote for Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance, in respect of the expenditure out of voted moneys incurred in carrying the Acts into effect. I am in communication with the Accounting Officer regarding the basis of calculation of the amount transferred from the Fund.”
Mr. Maher.—This paragraph relates to payments mainly from the Fund to the Vote and the basis on which they are determined. Under the Act of 1920, a particular rate was fixed. This has been varied since by our own Act of 1933 but there are other items which, under existing statutory rules and orders, should have been taken into account and they relate mainly to the determination of the income from investments of the Fund and also to interest on borrowings by the Fund. It is an extremely complicated matter. It extends over a number of years and we have been in communication with the Accounting Officer as to the correct procedure. The present position is that we have asked the Accounting Officer to approach the Department of Finance to get approval for the existing practice, if they so decide—
Mr. Ferguson.—We have approached the Department of Finance and we are awaiting their decision.
Mr. P. O’Kelly.—The matter is under examination in the Department.
366. Chairman.—Will there be a decision in the current year?—We hope so.
367. Chairman.—Paragraph 57 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is as follows:
“Receipts from County Borough and Urban Area Councils under Section 26 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1933, as amended by the Unemployment Assistance (Amendment) Acts, 1938 and 1940.
“In paragraph 55 of the last report reference was made to the legal opinion that, for the purposes of calculating contributions by county borough and urban area councils, the valuation of small dwellings on which no rates are payable should be excluded from the rateable value of the areas concerned. On the basis of that opinion a number of local authorities had paid more than was due and, as noted in the account, adjustments in respect of amounts over-contributed have been effected in the year under review.”
Mr. Maher.—The question of the method and procedure adopted in calculating these contributions of the urban area authorities was discussed before the Public Accounts Committee last year and has been referred to in the Report of the Committee for that year. In these circumstances, I do not think that we need deal with the matter further on this occasion.
Mr. Ferguson.—A full statement regarding the matter was made last year. It is really a legal point and there is nothing new to report.
368. Chairman.—What are the associations referred to under Subhead H?— They are trade unions and associations —the Bricklayers and the Plasterers’ Unions, for example.
369. You get a bulk contribution on behalf of the members?—Instead of paying through an exchange, the men pay as individuals through one of these associations when an arrangement has been so made. This sum does not represent the amount paid out. It represents the cost of having it paid out through the associations rather than at the exchanges.
370. Deputy Sheldon.—Arising out of Subhead J.2.—Special Register of Agricultural and Turf Workers—it appears that there was a very big surplus left over from the amount granted. Was it due to the fact that it was late in the year when the scheme came into operation?—No, but the farming community gave estimates of the shortage of labour which really were not borne out by the facts. The mistake was not due to our estimate. There was a clamour about a shortage of labour which events proved did not exist.
371. Chairman.—This was the scheme under which workers could be brought from one area to another area where a shortage of labour existed?—Yes; it was a very good scheme and, in fact, the farmer was more or less subsidised in the payment of these men.
372. Deputy Sheldon.—Has there been any improvement in the working of the scheme since?—Well the time has not come yet when we can judge of that.
VOTE 60—INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL PROPERTY REGISTRATION OFFICE.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
373. Deputy Sheldon.—I note that there has been an increase in the receipts from the various fees. Was that due to increased business or to increased rates? —It was due to the increased number of applications.
VOTE 71—FOOD ALLOWANCES.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
374. Chairman.—Paragraph 86 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General:
“Regulations relating to the scheme for the issue of vouchers exchangeable for food are contained in Emergency Powers (Food Allowances) Order, 1941 (Statutory Rules and Orders, No. 412 of 1941). The Order provides that every eligible person shall be entitled to receive weekly a voucher exchangeable for a number of units of milk, butter and bread. It is further provided that every reference to a unit of bread shall be construed as a reference to 2 lbs. of bread, and that on presentation of a voucher to the Department by a wholesaler, who had accepted it in exchange for bread, payment shall be made at a rate determined by the quantity of bread for which the voucher was exchangeable. An amendment of the scheme was effected by Emergency Powers (Food Allowances) Order, 1941 (Fifth Amendment) Order, 1942 (Statutory Rules and Orders, No. 399 of 1942), which provides that every reference to a unit of bread shall be construed as a reference to 4 lbs. of bread if the date of issue of the voucher, as shown thereon, is a date in any of certain specified weeks, and, also, that the rate at which payment to a wholesaler for a voucher presented by him shall, if the date of issue of the voucher is a date in any of the specified weeks, be at a rate double that payable in respect of a voucher issued in any other week.
In the course of a test examination of vouchers for which payment had been made it was observed that numerous vouchers which did not bear a date of issue in any of the weeks specified in the amending Order had been issued for exchange on the basis of 4 lbs. of bread per unit and had been paid for at the double rate. As the payments made in respect of these vouchers do not appear to be in accordance with the provisions of the statutory regulations and in view of the possibility of excess charges on public funds I have asked for the observations of the Accounting Officer.”
Mr. Ferguson.—I can explain this in a very few words. It was arranged that every person should receive in return for a voucher a three pound unit of bread per week instead of a two pound unit but after that arrangement was made, it was found that there were no three pound loaves made. We then had to devise this system whereby each person received a two pound loaf and a four pound loaf on alternate weeks. What happened in the cases to which the Comptroller and Auditor General refers was that a four pound voucher was issued quite correctly but the date in quite a number of cases was stamped wrongly. That did not mean that a person got more or less than he was entitled to but simply that the date stamp was wrong. We have sent a fairly lengthy explanation on the matter to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Mr. Maher.—That is so, but I have to be guided by the very definite stipulation in the Order that the vouchers are to be paid for on the basis of the date stamps. We have come across a very large number of vouchers for four pound allowances bearing dates which would not correspond to the weeks in which the higher allowance was due.
Mr. Ferguson.—We thought there was not a very large number of cases.
Mr. Maher.—I realise that out of 60,000 cases the percentage may be very small, but the percentage in the number of cases which we came across was quite appreciable.
375. Chairman.—Was there an excess charge on public funds?—There was not. I quite accept what the Comptroller and Auditor General has stated, that the dates were wrong. From a legal point of view the allowances may not have been in order but the errors in dates did not affect public funds. It is not desirable, of course, that such things should happen but I thought that the number of cases was very small in relation to the total.
Mr. Maher.—For the information of the Committee, perhaps it would be desirable to read the stipulation in the Order which binds me to pass only charges which are in accordance with the stipulations. The statement occurs in paragraph (3) of the Emergency Powers (Food Allowances) Order, 1941 (Fifth Amendment) Order, 1942: “Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph (3) of Article 5 of the Principal Order, every reference in that Order to a unit of bread shall, as regards every food voucher, the date of issue of which, as stated thereon—”. I am bound by that phrase. Where there is a discrepancy in the dates, I have no power in my opinion to pass a voucher.
Mr. Ferguson.—I quite accept what the Comptroller and Auditor General says. We do the bulk of these vouchers for the unemployed and the Post Office does the rest. Asking oneself how the mistake occurred, one can only say that it may have been that we were preparing these vouchers for issue in advance and that in a certain number of cases the wrong date was put on. It is a question of making an effort to see that it does not happen again.
Mr. Maher.—In practically all cases the voucher questioned was not a voucher issued by the Post Office. It was a voucher issued by an Employment Exchange.
376. Chairman.—Could it happen that a person who received 4 lbs. of bread should have got only 2 lbs. in that week?
Mr. Maher.—That is the position. On the test check of the vouchers, we came across cases in which the voucher was for 4 lbs. of bread when only 2 lb. was due.
Mr. Ferguson.—The date was wrong, but the voucher was correct. I do not think the Comptroller and Auditor General had any evidence that a man actually got 4 lbs. of bread when he should only get 2 lbs.
Mr. Maher.—The position is that the Comptroller and Auditor General is bound by the phrase in the Emergency Powers Order, “the date of issue of which as stated thereon”.
377. Deputy Sheldon.—Could anyone get bread on a voucher on which the date was wrong?—The responsibility must rest on our Office. If it is a 4 lb. voucher, the grocer is not thinking of dates. The responsibility is ours. The only thing that can be done is to have a reminder issued to the officers that the greatest care should be taken in dating these vouchers.
378. Would it be possible to mark the voucher in some distinctive way, as a householder’s ration book is marked, with a couple of bars across it so that it would be easily recognised?
379. Chairman.—So far as I understand the scheme, a person entitled to these food allowances gets a 4 lb. loaf one week and a 2 lb. loaf another week—that is 3 lbs. of bread on the average. As I see it, a person who got wrong vouchers might get 8 lbs. of bread for a fortnight instead of 6 lbs.?—We have no evidence that that has happened. The date was wrong on some of the vouchers but it was merely a technical mistake. It is quite proper that attention should be drawn to these wrongly dated vouchers but the only remedy we have is to warn our clerks to be more careful.
380. Deputy Sheldon.—If a person got 4 lbs. of bread in the wrong week, would he get 2 lbs. of bread also in the wrong week, to balance the allowances?—He got the right voucher but it had the wrong date.
Mr. Maher.—But I am bound by the Order to have regard only to the date stated thereon.
381. Chairman.—Would it not be a simple way to have a different coloured paper for the two weeks?—It may be that a better system could have been devised but on the whole I think it appears to have worked satisfactorily.
382. Deputy Sheldon.—The real difficulty arises because all the issues of four lbs. do not occur in the one week?—Our real answer is that public funds were not affected. All we can do is to try to ensure that the correct dates will be inserted in future.
VOTE 76—CHILDREN’S ALLOWANCES.
Mr. R. C. Ferguson further examined.
383. Deputy S. Brady.—Is there any obligation on your officers in the different stations to notify persons that they are entitled to certain benefits? For instance, I came across a woman yesterday whose husband had been discharged from the Army The amount of money that she was in receipt of for the up-keep of herself, her husband and two children was 4/- or 4/6d. a week. When I made inquiries I found that she was not receiving free milk and other things to which she was entitled. My point is, is there no obligation on the officers, when a person approaches for assistance, to tell the person that she is entitled to milk for the children?
Mr. Ferguson.—That would be for the public assistance people. Whatever duty there is, hardly rests on us. We are not the assistance authority. We have a specific duty. I have no doubt that officers would say, in certain cases, that the person was entitled to these things but there is no obligation.
384. Deputy S. Brady.—But you would imagine they would?—I imagine probably they would. I would be surprised if they did not but there is no obligation.
385. I imagine you are bound to come across numerous cases, especially now, of people who are not accustomed to seeking relief?—I appreciate your point but once the assistance authority comes on the scene the obligation rests there.
386. This woman went to both and she was simply kept in ignorance of the fact that she was entitled to free milk and food vouchers, etc.?—The obligation undoubtedly would rest on the local assistance authority but in fact, I have no doubt, most of our officers would tell a person of that type.
Deputy S. Brady.—That is what I would imagine.
387. Chairman.—I suppose the complaint would be best made to the public assistance authority?—That is where the obligation rests.
388. Deputy S. Brady.—My point is that this particular woman went to both offices during the last week, let us say. She came to me yesterday and told me of her deplorable situation. When I rang up both offices I found that in fact she was receiving all that she was entitled to receive as far as money was concerned but that she had no knowledge, until I told her, that she was entitled to these other benefits?—That is a very unusual case. A person in that situation usually knows these things.
389. In the normal case, I take it, the person applying would know the regulations better than the officer?—She probably would. That is a very rare case that you mention. The obligation is definitely not on us, because that would create duplication. The obligation is on the local assistance authority.
390. The reason I mention the point is that it is possible, on account of men being released from the Army and that sort of thing, you would have a number of people applying now who would be totally ignorant of what they were entitled to and it occurred to me that it would be well if the officers were instructed to ask the people are they aware that they are entitled to these things?—I would hesitate about undertaking that obligation or duty because it goes very far. After all, the Employment Exchange has a definite duty to do a definite thing and you might as well say that the post office should take on the same duty. I think it would be improper for me to undertake that duty.
391. You would imagine that the duty would be more the duty of the relieving officer but in this particular case the woman went to both?—That is my point. It is unfortunate but I think that it is very rare. I have no doubt our officers are human enough to say to any person, what about this or that? Certainly they are not forbidden to do it and I would be surprised if they did not do it.
392. Deputy Lydon.—It is my experience that employment exchange officers do help?
Mr. Ferguson.—As far as I know, they do, but it is a different matter to make it a formal duty.
393. Deputy S. Brady.—I do not suggest that?
Mr. Ferguson.—Or even to issue a circular. I think the case you mention is an unfortunate one. It must be rather rare. As a rule the applicants are aware of the benefits to which they are entitled.
The witness withdrew.
VOTE 61—POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
Mr. R. J. Cremins called and examined.
394. Chairman.—I think this is the first occasion that we have had the pleasure of having Mr. Cremins here as Accounting Officer and I am sure we extend a hearty welcome to him.
Mr. Cremins.—Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman.—On this Vote there is a note by the Comptroller and Auditor General, as follows:
“Losses by Default, etc.
“58. The losses borne on the vote for the year ended 31st March, 1944, amounted to £6,671 11s. 2d., of which £4,781 19s. 9d. was charged to subhead H.2. and £1,889 11s. 5d. to subhead O.6. Classified schedules of these losses are set out at pages 207 and 212. At pages 210 and 213 particulars are given of 40 cases in which cash shortages or misappropriations amounting to £1,363 1s. 8d. were discovered; the sums in question were made good and no charge to public funds was necessary.
The schedule of losses charged to subhead H.2. includes sums of £1,790 0s. 2½d. and £2 5s. 6d. in respect of shortages of savings and postage stamps supplied for issue to savings associations, etc. As stated in the account, the shortages came to light after a comprehensive check up of all stamp transactions of the Central Savings Committee since its formation in 1924, as a result of which the official responsible was prosecuted. The Central Savings Committee has now been dissolved and and the work associated with it was taken over by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs with effect as on and from the 8th August, 1944. The irregularities were to a large extent made possible owing to the fact that stocks of savings stamps were issued on credit to the Central Savings Committee and, through it, to the subsidiary savings associations. It has now been decided that no further credit stock of stamps be issued to any savings associations, whether already existing or which may be formed in the future.”
Have you anything to add to that, Mr. Maher?
Mr. Maher.—This fraud extended over quite a number of years. A system has now been adopted by the Post Office for taking over responsibility for the issue of stamps and, I understand, for the control of them.
Mr. Maher.—As stated in the report, the officer responsible for the fraud was prosecuted and, I understand, imprisoned. Investigations were carried out from time to time by the Department of Finance and the sum set out there is as near as can be determined the actual amount of the loss—£1,790 0s. 2½d.
395. Chairman.—I suppose it may be written off then?
Mr. Cremins.—As a matter of fact, the Department of Finance have written that off. There is a sum of roughly £400 which they referred to the Post Office to have inquiries made. They are cases which they were not able to settle by correspondence themselves.
Mr. Maher.—That is a separate case.
Mr. Cremins.—I am referring to the Central Savings Committee, in the middle sub-paragraph. As a matter of fact, the Department of Finance told us that they had established what the position was by correspondence in the great bulk of cases, but they said:
“In this connection, it will be necessary for your Department to institute local investigation, in the manner most convenient to it, to establish the exact position regarding a number of cases (involving £400) which correspondence has failed to determine and to submit periodical reports to this Department with a view to the write-off of any further shortages that may be disclosed.”
There were 382 associations concerned, and the amount was roughly £400. Since then we have completed the examination in 292 cases, amounting to £304 14s. 3d. and we have recovered that amount in stamps or cash. There are still 90 cases outstanding, representing £93 2s. 6d. Disposal of the outstanding cases will probably be protracted as in a large number of cases honorary secretaries have resigned, died or been transferred but we will pursue these inquiries as quickly as we can. They take some time.
396. Chairman.—I shall read the next sub-paragraph of paragraph 58:
“Of the amount of £1,889 11s. 5d. charged to subhead O.6., £1,863 9s. 7d. relates to misappropriations of deposits in, and fraudulent withdrawals from, various Savings Bank Accounts at one sub-office. As noted in the account, the gross Savings Bank loss is £2,263 9s. 7d., of which £400 is still under inquiry. I have asked whether any additional precautionary measures are under consideration with a view to preventing the recurrence of losses of this nature.”
Mr. Maher.—The Accounting Officer has since informed us that, taking into account the losses over a series of years and the cost of instituting any additional safeguards, he does not consider it would be desirable to alter the existing system and, on looking through the accounts, I accept that explanation and suggestion.
Mr. Cremins.—That is right. As a matter of fact, a committee was set up in 1933 to investigate the possibility of preventing savings bank losses at sub-post offices and the conclusion of the Committee was that, viewed over a period of years, the losses were not serious. Of course, while human nature is human nature, you will have dishonest people, but my personal opinion is that the percentage of dishonesty in the Post Office is not any greater than it is in the world generally and certainly that the dishonesty within the Post Office is not confined to the sub-postmaster class.
397. Chairman.—Has the percentage of dishonesty risen with the emergency?— No, Sir, when you consider all the extraordinary additional opportunities that were given, for example, commodities in scarce supply were all being transmitted by post and were being registered, indicating that they had some value. At any rate, we are not in the slightest bit uneasy in regard to it. I will read the final paragraph of the Report of the 1933 Committee:
“In conclusion, we think it desirable to point out that there is a sum of approximately £40,000,000 handled each year by post offices throughout Saorstát Eireann. Actual losses through defalcations average less than 5d. for each £1,000 of cash handled..”
That £40,000,000, in 1933, has risen to £85,000,000 and the losses at present average 1½d. per £1,000 handled. That is not too bad when you consider what is happening in the outside world in recent years.
398. Deputy S. Brady.—You realise that the general public have a totally different opinion, as a result of the numerous cases of prosecutions that appear in the press. The general opinion is that there is a great deal of dishonesty in the Post Office?—Of course, we go on statistics and the statistics reverse the position.
399. That is very interesting?—It is very interesting.
400. Chairman.—Whatever cases come to light get publicity?—One must remember also that where there is evidence of criminal offence—whether the sum involved is 10/-, £100 or £2,000, we are bound to prosecute unless there are some extraordinary extenuating circumstances. The post office man is splashed because he has pinched 10/-, while somebody outside who embezzles £3,000 or £4,000 gets the same headline.
401. Deputy Lydon.—Or no headline at all?—Exactly.
402. Deputy S. Brady.—It would be a good thing if that were generally known. The reverse is the case with the ordinary shopkeeper who knows that his assistant is pilfering. It is very hard in that case to prosecute. If the Post Office authorities must prosecute, it explains why there is general opinion that there is total dishonesty in the service.
Mr. Cremins.—I should like to say in regard to Savings Bank dishonesty that it is largely contributed to by the depositors themselves. They do not send the deposit books for annual examination. They do not insist on receipts for deposits of £20 and over and they leave the deposit books with the sub-postmaster. We intend, where there are prosecutions for Savings Bank fraud, to instruct the court that the depositors themselves have been negligent and also we intend to splash in the reprint of books the necessity for insisting on getting receipts and keeping the book in the depositors’ possession.
403. Chairman.—That is what happened in the Ballybay case?
Mr. Cremins.—There are seven or eight different ways in which one could commit Savings Bank frauds, but if the depositors did their part there would be no trouble about it. The 1½d. per £1,000 ought to give us a fairly clean bill for the next 12 months.
404. Are the Department of Finance satisfied with the additional precautionary measures?
Mr. P. S. O Ceallaigh (Department of Finance).—We wrote to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs making additional suggestions. We got a letter from them somewhat on the lines Mr. Cremins has indicated. We wrote to them recently making an additional suggestion about another precautionary measure they might consider taking.
Mr. Cremins.—That letter is under consideration.
405. Chairman.—Paragraph 59 of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report reads as follows:—
“A test examination of the store accounts was carried out with generally satisfactory results.
As in previous years, the method of purchasing supplies did not follow the normal procedure, due to difficulties arising out of the emergency, and contracts continue to be placed either without competition or divided among a number of contractors in order to obtain early deliveries. In a number of cases, where the prices quoted appeared excessive, reductions in prices were obtained by negotiation or after investigation of costs.
In addition to the engineering stores shown in Appendix II as valued at £221,527 on the 31st March, 1944, engineering stores to the value of £461 were held on behalf of other Government Departments. Stores other than engineering stores held at that date were valued at £271,791, included in this amount being a sum of £96,920 in respect of stores held for other Government Departments.”
Mr. Maher.—With regard to the first sub-paragraph, we have inquired into all those cases in which a departure from the stereotyped procedure was made, and are satisfied that it was justified in each case.
Mr. Cremins.—Two years ago, the Committee accepted the same view. It was discussed at length in 1941-42, and they accepted it.
Mr. Maher.—The final sub-paragraph is for information only.
406. Chairman.—Paragraphs 60, 61 and 62 of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report are as follows:—
“60. A test examination of the accounts of the postal, telegraph and telephone services was carried out with satisfactory results.
Sums due for telephone services amounting in all to £155 8s. 7d. were written off during the year as irrecoverable.”
“Post Office Savings Bank Accounts.
“61. The accounts of the Post Office Savings Bank for the year ended 31st December, 1943, were submitted to a test examination with satisfactory results.”
“Post Office Factory.
“62. Reference was made in paragraph 62 of the last report to an outbreak of fire at the Post Office Factory on 4th November, 1942. The effects of the fire and of the abnormal circumstances obtaining in the year under review prevented the factory from resuming its activities in full.
In applying the usual test examination to the accounts of the factory it was observed that the percentage which is added to direct labour costs to absorb overhead charges was not adjusted in the year following the reduction in direct labour expenditure which resulted from the fall in production. In consequence, the accounts reveal a defict of £4,251 as against overhead charges.
Including works in progress on 31st March, 1944, the expenditure on manufacturing jobs during the year amounted to £9,827, expenditure on repair work (other than repairs to mechanical transport) amounted to £6,796, and expenditure on mechanical transport repairs amount to £1,707.
Mr. Maher.—I explained that the fall of contract labour is due to the inability of the factory to carry on its normal activities on account of the fire?
Mr. Cremins.—That is so.
Mr. Maher.—And the difficulty of obtaining raw material?
Mr. Cremins.—That is so. We have asked for Finance authority for the writing off of the deficit, and the matter is under discussion. As a matter of fact, our pre-fire overhead charge percentage was 100. If we were to cover all our costs, theoretically or otherwise, it would have to be 175, which would seem an abnormal thing altogether. The matter is under discussion with the Department of Finance.
407. Chairman.—We will now turn to the Vote itself, on page 200.
Deputy Sheldon.—With regard to Subhead A.3., I just want to inquire about the system of payment to sub-postmasters. Where a sub-post office carries several assistants, is the payment for the sub-post office made to the sub-postmaster, who then pays all his assistants out of that amount?
Mr. Cremins.—What is known as the scale payment to sub-post offices is based on the character of the work performed, each particular class of work getting certain unit value. All those units are totalled, and the total is simply translated into cash. That is paid to the sub-postmaster and the assistants are his employees.
408. The case I am thinking of does not come into this accounting year. I was just wondering, from a general point of view, where the sub-post office should have sufficient assistants but the sub-postmaster is not able to employ those assistants, and the work is carried out by officers from the Post Office in the area, is a deduction then made from the amount paid to the sub-postmaster?—I would have to know the circumstances of the particular case, because it must be a very unusual one. Where the work is carried on by officers from the Post Office, that is a case of placing the sub-office under their charge for some reason, and the sub-office salary is suspended.
409. I could give you particulars of the case, but it does not arise in this accounting year?—If the Deputy will write and give me the particulars, I will supply him with all the information I can about it.
410. Deputy S. Brady.—With regard to Subhead C., does that include the place in Henry Street—the shops?
Mr. Cremins.—Oh, not at all. That is the amount the Post Office pays for the renting of its premises in the various parts.
411. Deputy S. Brady.—With regard to Subhead G.3., I should like to remind you, Mr. Chairman, that when the previous Chairman was examining this Vote I raised a question about a stamping machine that was purchased. You may remember that I got a special report, and that I notified the Chairman that I was not satisfied with the report, and asked for further investigation. At that time, I pointed out that I did not know whether this item came under the Department of Posts and Telegraphs or under the Revenue Commissioners.
Mr. Cremins.—Did that concern the manufacture of stamps?
412. Deputy S. Brady.—It was a machine purchased some years ago for the manufacture of rolls of stamps for the automatic machines.
Mr. Cremins.—That does not come under the Post Office. We do not control that.
413. Deputy S. Brady.—I raised the question on this Vote before, and stated that I did not know whether it was the correct Vote or not. The point I would like to bring before the attention of the Chairman is that I do not want the matter to fall through. I should like further investigation of it on whatever is the correct Vote.
Mr. Cremins.—I will take a note of it, and look up the matter in order to make sure.
414. Deputy S. Brady.—Your Department sent me a pretty full note about it.
Mr. Cremins.—If we did, I take it it comes under us. I will look it up again.
415. Deputy S. Brady.—Personally, I am inclined to think it is not your responsibility, but I am not satisfied with the explanation.
Chairman.—I am afraid it may have to wait till next year, if it comes under the Revenue Commissioners.
416. Deputy Sheldon.—At the very top of page 207 there is an item which reads: “Receipts in respect of commission on repurchase of stamps”. What does that mean?
Mr. Cremins.—Supposing you buy 10/worth of stamps of a particular class which you find you have no use for, and you ask the Post Office to take them back, we charge you a certain commission. You do not get the full 10/- back. I am reminded that it must be £1 at least.
417. Have you any person in the Post Office such as a public relations officer who at times would instruct the staff, particularly the counter staff, as to their relationship with the public?
Mr. Cremins.—No, but we ourselves at headquarters are a sort of public relations officers, in the sense that we have always emphasised the necessity for courtesy to the public, and discourtesy to the public is visited with very severe penalties. The other day a Bishop from Africa happened to come in and was told where he got off. The officer who did that will be doubly told where he gets off; it will not occur again. It was a case of gross discourtesy. He allowed the Bishop to wait at the counter while he was finishing some checking he was doing. His explanation was that it was only a question of a few minutes and he wanted to finish his job first. On the whole, I do not think the Post Office staff are discourteous. Of course, every individual who has a bit of trouble magnifies it; he probably writes to the “Evening Mail” about it.
418. Before passing from the Post Office Vote I think the Committee should advert to the fact that the notes on the Post Office accounts are very full, and will save a great deal of inquiry by the Committee. Where there was a saving, the exact amount and also any surplus which would partially offset it are noted. I think that is a great help to the Committee and should be noted. It might be followed by the other Departments.
VOTE 62—WIRELESS BROADCASTING.
Mr. R. J. Cremins further examined.
419. Chairman.—Paragraph 63 of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report reads as follows:—
“I am in communication with the Accounting Officer on certain matters which came under notice during a test examination of the system in operation for the control and custody of the stock of gramophone records.”
Mr. Maher.—Since the report, the Accounting Officer has informed us that this matter has been gone into very fully; that the whole question is now being re-examined, and he hopes to be in a position to discuss it with us in the very near future.
Mr. Cremins.—It is a question of whether the losses of gramophone records are sufficiently great to warrant the cost of the additional checks which would be necessary in order to ensure that every record you got would be in your possession at the end of the year. It is like the old registering system in the Post Office. In the old days, every time a registered letter passed through, it was signed for at every stage. It was found to be costing the Post Office thousands and thousands, and the amount paid in compensation was only a few hundreds, so the system was abolished. We propose to discuss this matter with the Auditor General, and I think there will be no difficulty in coming to an easy arrangement.
Mr. Maher.—And you will report the position to us next year?—Yes.
420. Chairman.—We will now turn to the Vote itself. With regard to Subhead B., is there any possibility of increasing the number of hours in the daily programmes?
Mr. Cremins.—The conditions in regard to electricity supply during the emergency militated against it. As a matter of fact, we had to make a reduction. We made some increase during the last 12 months, and have considered a further extension of the hours. Of course, there is great difficulty in getting material to fill up the time. For a while we had sponsored programmes, and they did result in an extension. They dropped during the war, because the trouble was not that you had too much to sell but that you had too little to sell.
421. They might start again? Would that be considered?—Yes. In fact, we are considering one particular case at the moment.
The witness withdrew.