MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin, 23ú Iúil, 1953.
Thursday, 23rd July, 1953.
The Committee sat at 11 a.m.
Mr. W. E Wann (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste), Mr. M. Breathnach and Mr. J. Mooney (An Roinn Airgeadais) called and examined.
Mr. T. O’Brien called and examined.
559. Chairman.—In the note to subhead C there is a reference to the removal of special office machinery. What type of machinery was that?—I understand that was some of the Hollerith machinery which was installed in connection with the mechanisation of the collection of accounts. Normally, the Board of Works would remove it, but for some reason I am told that it had not been anticipated or budgeted for, and it was charged up to us, instead of being treated as a usual allied service.
560. Why had it to be removed? Was it satisfactory?—It was not in the proper location and there was some dismantling and re-erection involved.
561. On subhead G, there is a note to say that there was an increase in the amount of warrant fees paid during the year, due to the effect of the bank strike, which was the cause of more arrears of annuities than anticipated. I confess that I was a bit shocked when I read that. Surely, you do not mean that because people, during the bank strike, were unable to pay their land annuities on the due date, you had to put in the sheriffs on them?—The bank strike in itself would not be a sufficient reason for people not paying their annuities. They could have paid them by means of a postal or money order.
562. But if their money was in the bank and they could not get it out, how could they go to the post office for the money order?—All we know is that there were substantial arrears, and we knew that the reason for these arrears was not entirely attributable to the bank strike. The fact is that the money did not come to us.
563. Is there not a statutory provision that you pursue this matter through the sheriff by warrant if a certain time has elapsed?—No. There is not a statutory provision to pursue it by warrant after a specified time. I would say it is discretionary.
564. It seems to me to be rather harsh in the circumstances, but that is hardly a matter for this Committee?—It did happen that a number of warrants were issued to people who, we knew, were consistently paying by means of money order remittances and who were only using the bank strike as an excuse to withhold payment; these were principally for small amounts of annuities.
565. Supposing some one had sent you a cheque drawn on his account when the bank strike was on, would you have accepted that cheque?—Yes. We took a general decision to accept all cheques.
566. Then, if people did not send a cheque because the bank strike was on, that was their own fault?—Yes.
567. Deputy O’Sullivan.—The people in the rural parts of the country were in a difficult position during the bank strike, particularly those in the dairying districts, who were sending milk to the creameries. When they received their monthly cheques at that time they had no means of getting them cashed.
Deputy McGrath.—Quite a number of people had cheques at the time and had no means of loading them. In that way, a number of people might not have enough money in their current account to warrant their sending on a cheque.
Chairman.—It seems to me to look a bit harsh.
Mr. O’Brien.—As I have said, we knew that there were a number of people who, for years, had been paying’ consistently by postal order or money order, and they just used the bank strike as an excuse for not sending on the money. At that time we accepted cheques in any form, even on odd bits of paper.
Deputy McGrath.—There were a lot of people who could not get the payments that were due to them during the bank strike, and were, in fact, prevented from making payments themselves.
Deputy O’Sullivan.—That is exactly what I say occurred in many of the rural areas, and particularly the creamery areas.
568. Chairman.—Are you able to say, Mr. O’Brien, how many warrants were issued?—I am sorry I cannot give the figure.
569. Perhaps you would give us a note on it?—Yes.* As well as an outlay subhead on that, there is also an income subhead, under the appropriations in aid, which appears in item 7. Our estimate of outlay and income were practically the same, amounting to £7,000 for that year. The receipts for the year, as well as outlay, were higher.
570. I am at a loss to know why some of the losses are charged to subhead I and some to the losses subhead. How do you strike a dividing line by charging some to subhead I and some to the losses subhead?—I have often wondered at that myself, and I leave it to the purists in the Department of Finance to settle the particular subhead. It does not make any material difference.
571. The last paragraph under the heading of losses on page 139 deals with a case that went into court. I was just wondering whether you were not afraid of being charged with contempt of court for saying that the obstruction in this particular case was “alleged to be caused” by the flow of water from the spring referred to. You use the word “alleged” where a court awarded damages in a case?—That was a most curious case. The Land Commission required a passageway in order to provide access to a migrant’s holding, and we unwittingly interfered with the water supply of an adjoining holding. There was an indication of a spring in the passageway and we believed that by deepening and cleansing the drain we would improve, rather than diminish, the flow of water to the adjoining holding. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way, although our engineers did genuinely believe that it would. The aggrieved person took us to court and got a decree, a pretty high one, against us in this case. The total amount involved is £177 18s. 4d., made up of £20 for damages, £50 for a reservoir to conserve water for the person concerned and £107 18s. 4d. costs, which were measured on the Circuit Court scale. We genuinely believed, on the best technical advice we could get, that the spring or the water supply would not be interfered with by the construction of the passage.
572. I should like to come back for a moment to subhead I. There is a note to the subhead dealing with compensation paid to the owner of a quarry. In a case like that, do you try to put part of the penalty on to the official concerned?— Yes, we do. This was a Donegal case and what occurred was quite understandable. We took over part of an estate, leaving a balance to the owner. The quarry happened to be on the owner’s residue and our workmen went in on the quarry to take out some material in the mistaken belief that the Land Commission were in possession of the quarry. The actual configuration of the ground would suggest that the quarry was in the area taken by the Land Commission and the ganger believed that it was. We made an attempt to blame the ganger, but, after inquiry, found that it would have been high-handed to saddle him with the liability.
573. You have a very big miscellaneous section, Mr. O’Brien—£10,000 estimated, £11,745 realised?—Yes, Sir.
574. Are there not considerable items in that which could be given separately? —No. I looked at that last year and again this year; they are very unpredictable items. It has for years been at that figure, from £9,000 to £10,000. I have looked over it for a number of years and I have not found anything recurring consistently in it.
575. Extra receipts payable to the Exchequer are given on page 137?—I think you mentioned these last year, Sir. I have arranged that they will appear on the face of the Estimate in future and they do appear in the Estimate for the current year.
Mr. O’Brien further examined.
576. Chairman.—In connection with subhead C.2., the Supplementary Estimate was late in the year, was it not, Mr. O’Brien? I take it you were not able to spend the money?—The Supplementary Estimate was taken in mid-February and it would, on appearance, seem to show us up in a poor light in relation to subhead C.2. The real cause of the trouble on this subhead was that when we were framing the Supplementary Estimate, apart from one item, we expected to have a saving of £5,000. The one item related to a consignment of wire purchased on the Continent late in the year at a very favourable price and subject to early delivery. The terms of purchase provided for payment on arrival of the consignment in Dublin. The amount involved was £35,000, being the cost of the wire. We, therefore, allowed for an excess of £30,000 over the original provision, but in the out turn the wire was not paid for until after the 1st April, 1952.
577. I think it was a good job we got it. I do not think the opportunity would arise again?—That is right.
578. In connection with subhead H.— Appropriations in Aid—for two years running you have been a bit unfortunate about the sawmills?—Yes.
579. In the previous year there was trouble also?—That is right. The Cong Sawmill has not been completed.
580. The Cong Sawmill was out of operation?—The Cong Sawmill was out of operation and rebuilding was commenced. Dundrum Sawmill also had not been finally finished in this particular year.
581. Are both now working?—Cong is practically finished. We expect it to be in operation in the next two or three months and Dundrum is in full working order.
582. Deputy D. J. O’Sullivan.—Is the increase in the figure for sale of timber attributable to an increase in output or an increase in price?—To both.
583. Chairman.—There was an increased output also?—Yes. It would have been more were it not that production was largely for our own use, that is, fencing stakes, gates and prefabricated parts for wooden houses for the accommodation of foresters.
584. Where do you get the plans for the prefabricated houses? Are they a Swedish type?—They are a special type; an architect within the Forestry Division has drawn up the plans.
585. There are notes on page 144. I take it that the reference to an amount written off in respect of losses incurred as a result of forest fires is to losses of timber. You also give an item for a piece of property, a sawmill. You give it separately. Is the first figure for timber?—Yes. About the second figure, I was looking at the accounts this morning and find that when the sawmill unit was being reported it was stated that it had been forgotten for inclusion. Normally, both would be reported together, that is, the forest fires and this separately-listed fire.
586. What about Shelton Abbey, Mr. O’Brien? Have you come to finality in the matter?—We have not. Purchase has been completed and the building is being reconditioned and fitted out as a school for the accommodation of about 40 trainees. The actual construction is going on at the moment under the supervision of the Office of Public Works and we expect to have the first group of trainees installed in October, 1954.
VOTE 49—GAELTACHT SERVICES.
Mr. O’Brien further examined.
587. Chairman.—Paragraph 51 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:—
“Subhead H.3.—Grants under the Housing (Gaeltacht) Acts, 1929 to 1949.
The aggregate amount of the grants and loans which may be made under the Housing (Gaeltacht) Acts, 1929 to 1949, is not to exceed £900,000.
At 31st March, 1952, the position regarding such grants and loans was as follows:—
This is for information, Mr. Wann?
587a. Chairman.—Will this appear again?
Mr. O’Brien.—This will not appear again because the statutory maximum aggregate limit has been removed by the Housing (Gaeltacht) Act, passed in March of this year.
588. Chairman.—Paragraph 52 of the Report is as follows:—
I have been furnished with a schedule concerning the industrial loans from which it appears that looms to the value of £199 3s. 6d. were issued to weavers during the year ended 31st March, 1952, on hire purchase terms. Repayments in arrear, including interest accrued due, at 31st March, 1952, amounted to £11,236 4s. 11d. as compared with £11,210 10s. on 31st March, 1951. Included in the arrears is a sum of £11,183 17s., due in respect of a loan made to a company which ceased to exist in 1925. As stated in previous Reports, the realisation of such security as is held by the State against this loan cannot at present be effected owing to certain legal difficulties.”
Have you anything to add, Mr. Wann?
Mr. Wann.—The position in relation to that company is still the same, I think.
Mr. O’Brien.—We are awaiting the passing of the State Lands Act to enable us to realise our interest in that property.
589. Chairman.—In regard to subhead D.6.—Materials—the recession seems to have hit you very hard, Mr O’Brien?— Yes.
590. How did you come out in trading during the year?—We had a substantial loss that year, as the commercial accounts will show
591. Chairman.—Do these accounts come to you, Mr. Wann?
Mr. Wann.—The 1951-52 accounts are under audit at the moment.
Mr. O’Brien.—The principal reason was that we had bought wool at a very dear price and were not able to realise the price in the disposal of the finished product.
592. Chairman.—The Extra Receipts to the Exchequer occur only when there is a surplus?—Yes, Sir. We do not have to pay them unless we realise a surplus.
593. Has your trading position improved anything since this year?—It has, considerably. During the recession we had to put people on the knitwear side on half-time employment almost entirely from January, 1952, until December, 1952, but they have been restored to full-time employment since. I may say that in the tweed industry the mill workers are working double shift at the moment.
594. Where do you do the biggest part of your trade; do you do any trans-Atlantic trade?—Yes. Tweed and knitwear seem to run in two separate channels. The tweeds are almost entirely for the export trade and the knitwear is almost entirely for the home market. For example, in the past year the total sales of tweeds amounted to £109,000, of which £86,000 worth went abroad and £23,000 worth to the home market. On the knitwear side, the total sales amounted to £138,000, of which more than £137,000 worth were sold in Ireland for the home market.
595. Deputy McGrath.—What was the value of the tweed exports to America? —They came to £19,815 direct and about another £10,000 indirect; that is supplied to agents here who, we know, are exporters to America. As a matter of fact, the German market is higher than the American market at the moment. Our direct exports of tweeds; to the United States amounted to £19,815 and to Germany £43,000.
Chairman.—I understood that that was a likely development.
596. Deputy Mrs. Crowley.—As to subhead D.3.—Domestic Instruction— Salaries, etc.—was there only one domestic economy instructress employed and has she been replaced?—There was only one domestic economy instructress in question. She had a sort of roving commission in South Galway. She retired and has not been replaced. She had been there since the old Congested Districts Board days. There is no shortage generally of domestic economy instructresses.
The witness withdrew.
The Committee adjourned.