Committee Reports::Interim and Final Report - Appropriation Accounts 1971 - 1972::09 May, 1974::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Déardaoin, 9 Bealtaine, 1974.

Thursday, 9th May, 1974.

The Committee met at 11 a.m.

Members Present:










DEPUTY de VALERA in the chair

Mr. S. Mac Gearailt (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) called and examined.


Mr. J. S. Martin called and examined.

288. Chairman.—On subhead A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—there is a note that the saving was due mainly to vacancies. Are you short of staff?

—That surplus was due to two vacancies, a clerical officer and a clerical assistant. Both posts have now been filled. The saving in our Vote was due to the fact that these posts were vacant at the time.

Are you all right now?

—Yes. We are able to get along at the moment at any rate.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. P. MacGuill called and examined.

289. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead B —Travelling and Incidental Expenses—there was an enormous increase of 30 per cent in carriage costs.

—It reflects higher transport charges generally. There is a further factor that many of the modern offices have not sufficient storage accommodation for stationery and supplies and this means recurring trips to the offices to deliver the goods they have ordered through or from us. We have on occasion had to hire transport to cope with some unusual increases in deliveries and also when our own truck or van might be out of action.

290. Chairman.—It is a big increase on the grant. Has there been more activity as well as increased costs?

—Activity in the office generally is increasing. There is a greater scale of demand from Departments. The expansion of Government services in many areas involves deliveries of more printing, more goods, stationery and reports which are becoming more a feature of Government activity.

291. On subhead D—Printing and Binding—here we have an Estimate where expenditure is less than grant.

—This is a very small figure, relative to the total provision.

Deputy Griffin.—It amounts to approximately 1 per cent.

Chairman.—Has the volume of printing gone up?

—I would find it very hard to answer that question without an assessment, but I believe it has because of the increasing involvement of Government in the affairs of the economy.

292. Where distribution is concerned there is a substantial increase in the figures given. Where printing and binding are concerned, there is no increase. We are not making a point of the difference, because it is approximately inside the budget. I was curious at the contrast between the two.

—I cannot identify the explanation for the point you make but I think that the number of printing orders handled by the office has increased. Again, it is a factor that accounts are not submitted precisely as the goods are delivered. There is a time lag in the submission of accounts.

293. On subhead E—Paper and Publications—the same thing happens, that is, expenditure is less than the grant.

—Paper is bought not as required but for periods ahead. It does not really reflect the usage in the year as such because we draw off stock.

And charge the stock at purchase prices?

—Yes. It is not a question that this paper was bought during the year. The paper we used included a substantial stock element.

At the earlier prices?


294. Deputy MacSharry.—On subheads D and E, has the increased price of paper been reflected?

—Not the increases in the last nine months or so.

295. Would it happen that the subheads could be overexpended in a year?

—Not necessarily, we have a fair idea of the movement of price increases in paper from the mills.

Do you find much shortage?

—There is a general shortage but we have done quite satisfactorily in our dealings with the mills.

296. Chairman.—Will those big increases show at the end of 1973-74?

—Yes, the increases in the period from July last when the rise began to manifest itself. It has gone on ever since.

297. Had you any delays in delivery?

—We had no serious delays. We had a few minor complications about such things as specialised paper and sensitised paper for photography at the top and, at the other extreme, the common toilet rolls which caused quite a problem.

298. On subhead F—Office Machinery and other Office Supplies—there is a note: “Copying machines were utilised to a greater extent than estimated.” This has resulted in increasing costs. Could you elaborate on this?

—The main factor there, and, indeed, the only factor really, is the greatly increased usage of Rank Xerox machinery over and above the provision made for that service. The provision for that service was £25,000. The total sum expended was £51,752, an excess of over £26,000. This also accounts for the excess on the subhead.

299. Deputy MacSharry.—How many Rank Xerox machines are involved?

—These machines are distributed throughout the Government service. We supply the machinery and paper as required through our Vote. I cannot tell the figure offhand, but if you wish I will give you a note later.

300. I understand Rank Xerox do not allow anyone to buy these machines and that you pay a rental for them. Is that right?

—Yes, we pay a rental, depending on the volume of usage.

301. Is there no way this can be overcome? This is a problem which leads to increased costs. One would have the machines paid for 20 times over in a number of years, especially if the usage is increased as you implied.

—Rank Xerox supply their machines on a rental basis only. There are no outright sales.

I understand that, but is there any way that that can be overcome?

—I am not aware of the position in relation to any other machines which meet the requirements of Departments.

302. Have you an idea of the cost of such a machine?

—We have records of the costs.

You might give us a note* at a later date of the cost of the various types of machine on rental to you. It is important from our point of view to see the amount of money being spent on a rental and usage basis as against the actual cost of these machines. This is a very important point, not only for your office but for the many thousands of offices throughout the country using Rank Xerox.

Deputy Tunney.—It would be a better proposition for Rank Xerox to rent a machine than to sell it. But you will be in a stronger position having regard to the number of machines you require and they might consider some alternative in the matter of supplying Government Departments as against one individual order from a commercial firm.

303. Chairman.—Are you doing more copying than you did before?

—Those machines are used very extensively now in the Government service.

Instead of?

—Instead of copying by means of the ordinary typewriter.

304. Therefore it is not possible to compare costs because one would have to take typists’ time into account?

—Quite so.

305. Deputy Griffin.—May I refer briefly back to subhead A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—and ask whether the Stationery Office is fully staffed at present?

—We have the usual run of vacancies.

But no great shortage?

—Not at the moment. We have a number of vacancies but they exist in every Department nowadays because of the movement within and from Departments.

306. Chairman.—On Appropriations in Aid, the services provided would be mainly for Departments, I take it?

—Mainly Departments and some semi-State bodies and local authorities.

307. Deputy MacSharry.—On Extra Remuneration—was there just one person who got £1,641 in respect of overtime?

—This is a very exceptional situation. One man got £1,641. A second officer of the same rank, a packer and porter, received £1,450 in the year of account. There are only two involved and this is a special arrangement introduced in 1971 at the request of the Office of Public Works because of the number of fires occurring throughout Dublin at that time. Thought was given to the various ways of improving security in the office, which is a vital consideration because it involves not alone the machinery and paper requirements of all Government Departments but all sorts of publications. Any loss of that nature would be very damaging. The office explored the possibility of employing an outside firm but found the cost very high. There were in the office two men, one especially who had done night-watch duties previously on a satisfactory basis. They live locally. They are very reliable, very dependable. On analysis of the situation it was felt the best thing to do from the point of view of security was to employ two Stationery Office staff, living locally, to come in after the office closes and be in continuous attendance on security around the premises until they open at 8 in the morning. This has gone on ever since. It was for me, on taking up duty there, rather a surprise to find that those men could have earned so much. I have examined the matter thoroughly and I have found we have a rather unusual age pattern in our packer and porter grade. We have only eight men including these two men in that grade, between the ages of 25 and 60 years who could be considered for security duty. The rest of the staff are either over 60 years or are quite young and immature or engaged in work for which they must be available after normal hours as required. While this amount of money is exceptional for the office, we consider that in the interests of security the arrangement should not be disturbed.

308. Deputy MacSharry.—What is the basic wage of the two people concerned?

—The basic wage is £1,504 per annum.

Chairman.—For what work?

—For packer and porter.

309. Did you say they have to work right round the clock, from closing until opening?

—There is continuous patrol but it is split. One man works at his ordinary job in the day and from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. he is on patrol. The second man comes on then and does the late night-watch work but he does not work the following day. He is simply on night-watch throughout the night until the following morning.

310. Deputy MacSharry.—How does he earn his basic wage if he does not work during the day?

—The hours he would serve on his basic job as packer and porter are deducted from his total hours of service as a night-watchman on security duty.

311. It seems an enormous amount of overtime and this is why I asked the basic salary. It seems strange the people should get the equivalent of their basic salary in overtime. I do not think we have had such an amount in any Department.

—This worried me also. I checked back on the accounts and I found that higher amounts were paid by way of overtime in the year we are discussing. There was mention of £1,808 in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in Vote 42.

To what grade did that refer?

—I do not know. It was in a note in the Appropriation Accounts. There was a sum of £1,455 on the Vote for the Department of Transport and Power, £1,154 on the Vote for Prisons and £1,313 on the Vote for the Garda Síochána. It is not unique, although it is exceptional for our office. While one might have misgivings about a situation in which two employees can earn this kind of money on overtime, security must be paramount.

312. Deputy Griffin.—Would the employment of an independent night-watchman help?

—We have two night-watchmen.

Yes, but would the employment of extra men help?

—There is the question of reliability involved. We know our staff, they are first-class dependable men and, on the whole, we consider our first priority is security.

313. Surely other men could be equally reliable and dependable?

—You never know who you get when you take on a new employee. You may have checks but you can never be sure. We know from experience that these are two very reliable men.

314. Deputy MacSharry.—Are you referring to these two men, or have you two additional night-watchmen?

—There are two indoor night-watchmen whose job it is to inspect the buildings at intervals and ensure that everything is shipshape inside.

315. What are the other men doing?

—They are on outdoor watch. They also keep an eye on traffic movements in the vicinity and generally work on security. This was discussed with the Office of Public Works and the question of getting an outside security firm was considered, but their costs were much higher.

316. Chairman.—In the second way you have control over State servants in a way that would not be possible with contractors.

—The general feeling in the office is that it is a very satisfactory arrangement.

317. Deputy MacSharry.—I accept everything you say but my attitude is that one man should not get two people’s wages where two people could be employed. It is a fundamental principle I have in relation to the employment of people. The reason I asked the question was where a man got more in overtime than in basic wage that is depriving some other individual, somewhere, of a job.

Chairman.—That is a policy matter.

Deputy MacSharry.—I agree but I think this query should be raised.

—I can see the Deputy’s point of view. On taking up duty in the office I had misgivings but I had to ask myself whether I would endanger security in engaging other assistance for this job.

Chairman.—Coming back to our particular functions here, our question is: Is this necessary and, if so, is it the best way to do it? I think you have, by implication, answered both questions.

Deputy MacSharry.—I accept completely the answers.

318. Deputy Griffin.—Is this security on a long-term or a short-term basis?

—Short-term, for the duration of the present emergency.

319. Chairman.—With regard to the free copies of official publications, I note they were issued to certain universities; for instance, the University of Southampton, the University of Kiel, Yale University and Magee University College were issued with free copies. What is the basis of free issues to them? One could understand the International Labour Office, the Council of Europe and the Food and Agriculture Organisation getting copies.

—To give an example, with regard to the major item of £161 for Magee College, they wrote to the Minister for Finance and they asked for a free issue of Gúm publications to establish a library in Irish. The Minister kindly agreed to this. Equally, other universities write in and ask for free issues and, with the sanction of the Department of Finance, they are given them.

320. It is not a routine supply?


Deputy MacSharry.—It is a matter of special request?


321. Chairman.—The sanction of the Department of Finance must be obtained?


The witness withdrew.


Mr. J. M. McNicholl called and examined.

322. Chairman.—On subhead A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—there is a note: “A number of pay claims in respect of which provision for payment of arrears had been made, were still outstanding at the end of the year.”

Deputy MacSharry.—Could you explain the note?

—We had long-standing negotiations with the professional promotion grades in the office. We had to make provision in case a settlement was made during that year. Not only that grade but the pay of all the higher grades were held up in consequence. That was the main item.

They were paid in the following year?

—No, they were not paid until nearly two years later.

323. Chairman.—On subhead B—Travelling and Incidental Expenses—there is a note: “A number of accounts were received during the year in respect of services rendered the previous year.” These two heads referred to accounting outside the period of the year. Is there any reason why this should happen?

—This could happen if an account comes in during the year for an item which was received the previous year. In fact, we received an account for computer rental during the period for £567. This was one of the main items in that supplementary estimate. Also during the year we came to an arrangement with the survey officers in respect of a commuted bus allowance. This was a negotiated settlement and involved a sum of approximately £600.

324. I take it that claims for travelling and incidental expenses will have to be submitted within a certain time.


325. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead C Post Office Services—it is interesting to see that the last Accounting Officer and this one have balanced their post office charges.

Chairman.—There was a supplementary estimate.

Deputy MacSharry.—Was it on your own initiative that you sought a supplementary estimate or did the post office advise you that your costs would be more than you had budgeted for? We are trying to work out the workings between the post office and various Departments. In some Departments we find major excesses. Very few balance. Maybe the reason for this in your case was that you got a Supplementary Estimate. It might be of some information to us in future assessments of this subhead to know when necessity is shown for a Supplementary Estimate.

—The post office advise us on the amount of the Supplementary Estimate we require. The post office service used mainly by us is postage for valuers’ documents which come to us and are then sent to the valuer in the field. We also send out a large amount of books to local authorities.

326. I accept what you do and why you need the money. But it is the overall assessment which is made from year to year between your Department and the post office in which we are interested. Did the post office come to you and say that you would need a further £600?

—Yes, they advised us.*

327. On subhead F—Appropriations-in-Aid—is there something about the expenses of the annual revision of valuations?

—This goes back to the original Act and the amount contributed by each county is set out in that Act. The shortage is because one county did not pay their allotted sum within the time.

328. Would you explain the annual revision of valuations?

—This is the main work of the Valuation Office. We fix the valuation of every item which is sent into us by each of the different local authorities. In June of each year they send us a list of items which they require to be revised and we revise them. Up to now we have issued the revised valuations on the 1st March of the following year.

329. Is there a fee per item of service for each local authority?

—No, there is not. The fee was fixed in an Act of 1870. Each local authority pays the Valuation Office a fixed sum every year and has done this since the Act was passed.

A fixed sum, regardless of the amount of activity in that particular area?


Chairman.—The sum was fixed in the 1870 Act so it can hardly be appropriate.

—It is not appropriate.

330. Deputy MacSharry.—Was there any argument with the local authority who failed to pay?

—It was merely a question of time; they did pay.

331. Deputy Bermingham.—Does your office deal only with submissions from local authorities?

—Yes. We cannot go outside the list which is submitted by the local authority.

332. Deputy MacSharry.—Has the question of the review of the charges under the 1870 Act been raised?

—We have not raised it that I am aware of.

333. I do not know whether this question is in order but there have been complaints about the valuations that are struck on, let us say, farmers’ houses that have been built on their land. If a farmer builds a new cottage the valuation is struck at £17.50 or £20, the same as a similar type bungalow in a town, whereas if his neighbour gets the local authority to build the same type of house for him the valuation is perhaps £10 or £12. The farmer who had the initiative to build his own house is strung around the neck. This is a matter that is raised at every local authority.

—The valuation of a farmer’s house is not the same as the valuation of a house in a town. If a farmer were to build on his farm a house which he let to, say, a national school teacher, that house would bear a higher valuation than the farmer’s own house but it would be still less than that of the house in the town because the town house would have services. The valuation, as far as we can, is related to the current letting value of the house. In relation to a farmer’s house it obviously has no letting value separate from the farm. All we can do in that case is to estimate the additional value that would be placed on that farm by the fact that the house was there.

334. But some farmers have built their own houses while their neighbours have let the local authority do the job for them. I have no specific example but I could dig out plenty of them. A much higher valuation is struck on the house which the farmer built for himself, not to let to the local teacher, garda or anybody else, than the valuation struck on the very same bungalow built by the local authority for his neighbour?

—The local authority normally builds a bungalow for what used to be known as a labourer. They were called labourers’ cottages in the old days. They are built on a half-acre or on a one-acre site. That is not a farm. That is residential. We keep the valuation of those local authority houses at a moderate level. I would say the average valuation of a local authority house is about £6. A great many farmers’ houses of the same type are only £6. If they are very much higher than that they are very much more elaborate.

335. No, you make a distinction between the farmer who has his house built by the local authority and the farmer who builds his own house. He may build in his biggest field because it is beside the road. He can put a fence around it and make the site as small as he likes but that does not matter.

—I am not talking about the site. The entire holding of the labourer is the half-acre. That is all the land he has.

336. But surely we do not strike valuations on dwellings in relation to the amount of land there might be around it?

—I thought I said that the value of a farmer’s house is the additional value to that farm. Obviously if you have a big farm you normally have a big house. If you have a small farm you normally have a small house. If you put a very big house on a very small farm it will not have the same valuation as the same house on a suitable farm.

337. This may not be a suitable place to discuss this but I do not know of any other place. This has been brought up at many local authorities and many complaints have been made publicly at the local authority of which I am a member. There are genuine complaints by farmers who admit that they made a mistake in building their own houses. They find themselves in a less advantageous position than the farmer with the same kind of farm who allowed his house to fall down and for whom the local authority built a new one.

—If the Deputy really wants to follow this up we will be delighted to see him in the Valuation Office and discuss with him any particular instances he wants to bring up.

I am very grateful to the Accounting Officer. It is exactly what I was looking for.

338. Chairman.—On Appropriations-in-Aid—sales of maps—are you going to do the whole country in this one-inch map.

—We are.

339. You have a one-inch for Wicklow and you have a one-inch for Dublin district?

—We are changing to the metric system. Yes, but that is the approximate scale. There used to be a one-inch for what was called the Curragh district which took in the Glen of Imaal. Is there a corresponding one to go with the Dublin district and the Wicklow district now? There seems to be that gap. Can you supply, for instance, an old one-inch Curragh district if one wanted it?

—I do not think so.

340. Therefore, if you have a Dublin district and a Wicklow district you still have a sizeable gap in that area that used to be covered by the Curragh district? Do you plan to fill that?

—We are at present engaged in re-surveying the entire country and we expect that in five years’ time we will have the 1:50,000 instead of the one-inch completed for the entire country.


Mr. J. M. McNicholl further examined.

341. Deputy Bermingham.—On subhead A.—Rates and Contributions in lieu of Rates—is this paid at the normal rate within the county concerned?


342. Deputy MacSharry.—You pay rates on all the Government Departments? Do other Departments, such as the Office of Public Works, pay rates also?

—No, we pay the rates on all Government property. There may be rates demanded from the Office of Public Works on property where the rent includes rates but in that case the Office of Public Works, who are the Government Department who pay the rent, would be paying rates in that Vote.

343. Do they get it back from you? In subhead F.3 in the Vote for the Office of Public Works there is an amount of £775,000 for rent and rates. I understand much of that is for rent for office accommodation for Government Departments. Does it include any of the rates mentioned here?

—No, it does not.

You pay all the rates?

—The Office of Public Works pay the rent, inclusive of rates.

On accommodation they have rented?


344. Where the State owns the property, are the rates paid by you?


The witness withdrew.


Mr. P. Keating called and examined.

345. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead D.—Repatriation and Maintenance of Destitute Irish Persons Abroad—do you have many such cases?

—They vary from time to time. This year was a heavy one from London where there were 241 cases. In all, there were 458 cases in the year.

346. Approximately, how much do you give such cases?

—We give them their fare home by the cheapest possible means and enough subsistence to pay for food and an overnight stay if that is necessary.

347. Is it difficult for someone to avail of this help? Is it a question that they just present themselves to your office?

—We would want to be sure they were in need of assistance, that they were not capable of paying for themselves or that their family in Ireland were not prepared to pay for them. We make all these inquiries before we repatriate, particularly in the case of young people. If possible, we try to get a deposit paid to us in Dublin to meet the costs but if we are satisfied there is genuine hardship we get them back. If a person were in serious difficulties and wanted to come home, he would not be refused repatriation.

348. Do you have many refusals?

—Not many, on the whole.

349. With regard to receipts from sale of information booklets and films mentioned in the Appropriations-in-Aid, what kind of information and booklets are involved?

—We produced a number of booklets of different kinds. We produced “Facts About Ireland” and the Cultural Relations Committee series of booklets. We normally intend these for the dispersal of information abroad about Ireland. Many of them are given away free, but we make them available for sale in Ireland through the normal book channels and we get some receipts from that. We also sponsor the making of films. These are intended primarily for use abroad and to give information about Ireland. They are normally given gratuitously. It has been possible to arrange commercial distribution for some of them either to cinemas or television. We get receipts from these.

350. I should like to clarify a point: you do not sell them abroad but give them away free?

—That is the general intention but on occasion in order to get a wider use for these films we found it helpful to let television centres or commercial cinemas use them and on those occasions we got receipts.

351. Is it necessary to get receipts? Would it not be a better way to have them used if they were free? Are you allowed to do that?

—On occasion people value things more if they have to pay for them and so give them better showing. We do not make the getting of receipts our primary task. Our primary task is to see that the films are shown. One film which was very successful was made some years ago called “Yeats Country”. That cost about £6,500 to make and receipts so far have been almost £11,000. It was a great success not only commercially but people regarded it very highly and it has won a number of prizes.

I am not at all surprised as I come from that area. The Department did a very good job.


Mr. P. Keating further examined.

352. Deputy MacSherry.—On subhead C.1 Contribution to the United Nations—how are these decided?

—There is a contributions committee which decides the assessment from each member country. They use a rather complicated system. First, they take into account the population and the national income of each country. They also take into account the fact that no single State should pay more than 30 per cent of the budget in order to prevent any State from having a disproportionate influence or bearing a disproportionate burden. There are a number of States, mostly African States, which are very poor. They have a minimum contribution of .02 per cent of the budget. That explains how the proportion of the costs are allocated to each country. Then the secretariat prepares estimates during the year. These are gone over by a small committee of representatives of the member countries who make recommendations. With regard to this budget they accept some of the secretariat’s proposals and they cut others. There is a debate then in the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly every year in which final estimates are agreed. Decisions are taken by the General Assembly about the budget for the year.

353. Ours was less than the year before.

—Yes, there are variations from year to year depending on (a) new members and (b) variations in the prosperity of different countries. Percentage assessments are fixed for three-year periods. This particular assessment is for the 1971-73 period. There have been changes since then in as much as the two Germanys have become members of the organisation and this will result in further modifications, not very large in our case.

354. On subhead C.5—Contribution to the United Nations Refugee Fund—are these contributions made up in the same way?

—No, these are all voluntary contributions.

Specific decisions by ourselves?


355. On subhead C.7—Contribution to the United Nations Special Fund—are these our own decisions too?


356. On Overseas Trainee Fund Account —could you give us an explanation?

—This fund was established in 1963-64 by way of a transfer of a sum of £50,000 from the Vote for International Co-Operation to the Paymaster General’s Office. It is operated by my Department under regulations approved by the Minister for Finance. The fund is to be used for the training in Ireland in administration, management and technical skills of nationals of developing countries. In the course of this year expenditure was just under £3,000, mostly for the training in Ireland of a number of civil servants and administrators from Africa and the Carribean.

357. For about how many people?

—Not very many, 36.

The witness withdrew.

The Committee adjourned.

* See Appendix 7.

* See Appendix 8.

* See Appendix 9.