MIONTUAIRISC NA FIANAISE
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin, 28 Márta, 1974.
Thursday, 28th March, 1974.
The Committee met at 11 a.m.
ELECTION OF CHAIRMAN.
1. Deputy Pattison.—I propose that Deputy de Valera be elected as Chairman of the Committee.
Deputy Bermingham.—I second that proposal.
Question: “That Deputy de Valera be Chairman of the Committee”—put and agreed to.
DEPUTY de VALERA took the chair.
Mr. S. Mac Gearailt (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) called and examined.
2. Chairman.—First of all, thank you very much for the honour of being elected. I appreciate it. I would ask for your help. On the last occasion we adopted a policy of getting through the accounts, I hope not missing any essential points, with the help of the Comptroller and Auditor General and our Clerk, to whom we are much indebted. It is a pleasure to be working with them again. This time we want to combine two things: we want expedition, because we are still in arrears, and also to deal with current problems as we get nearer to them. Therefore let us try to strike a balance so that we can get up to the current year.
VOTE 20—OFFICE OF THE THE MINISTER FOR JUSTICE.
Mr. A. Ward called and examined.
3. Chairman.—On subhead A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—the note states that £40,000 was received from Vote for Remuneration. What does that mean?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Vote for Remuneration is an omnibus Vote taken to cover pay increases in the Civil Service as a whole rather than voting the increase in each Department separately.
This is, therefore, purely an accounting measure?
—That is so. It reflects the fact that, with salaries all round going up, the Estimates in the normal way could not cover it.
4. Chairman.—On Subhead B—Travelling and Incidental Expenses—the note explains the position here.
Deputy H. Gibbons.—What about the interest of the Department of Justice in the EEC? Was it for security purposes?
—No, we have a great deal to do with the EEC. The entry of this country into the EEC has had a very big impact on our work. The EEC has important legal aspects or implications and we have a special section dealing with it.
5. Chairman.—On subhead C—Post Office Services—the note states that expenses were less than anticipated. I should like to ask a general question here. This type of thing turns up very often. From an administrative point of view is there a great deal of counter-charging between State Departments? Is there a good deal of administrative expenses which is purely paper work?
—It is, as you say, a general question and I should like to make that reservation at the outset because I may be going a little outside my field. The point is that there has to be this kind of accounting because without it the Post Office accounts would be artificial and their profit and loss account which enables them to know whether they are running at a loss or otherwise would be misleading.
6. Take, for instance, your own Department. You have certain necessary telephone services but suppose they were simply State services and you availed of them and it was accounted for centrally would that suffice? I am raising this with you although I know I should raise it on the Vote for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. From your point of view do you see any serious difficulties or objections to a procedure by which you simply have a telephone, use it, and similarly with the other services, while someone else accounts for them?
—I would see no objection.
Would any serious difficulties arise in control?
—Not from our point of view.
7. Could there be serious difficulties if it was a question of accounting for telephone calls to America and Europe? In other words, in the control of the services would what I am suggesting cause any great difficulty?
—I do not think so. Any difficulties or objections would arise entirely from the point of view of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and, perhaps, from the point of view of the need to present to the public and to the Dáil a true picture of the cost of running a particular Department.
8. We can take that up with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Does the fact that in a Vote of this nature such services are carried entail administrative work in your Department?
It does not entail staff?
—No, nothing worth mentioning. We have to certify from time to time that our telephones have been used for official purposes.
But you do not have a section accounting solely for this?
9. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On D1—Payments to the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland—I take it there is no obligation on the Department of Justice to ensure that textbooks are available?
—Not an obligation but this subhead reflects an acceptance of the idea that it is desirable that they should be available, that their availability is a proper object of State subvention but there is no legal or quasi-legal obligation on the Department of Justice in this regard and the Department does not engage in any direct sense either in publishing or in providing material for textbooks.
10. I have been informed that there is no up-to-date book available either on criminal law or on property, that the latest criminal law book that is available is the Ó Síocháin one. I do not think there is available any book dealing with property. This causes grave inconvenience to university students.
—That is right substantially. Of course there are some books on property but property is a very wide subject.
11. On whom lies the obligation of fulfilling these requirements?
—This is rather a wide question. My immediate answer would have to be that the responsibility does not lie with the Department of Justice.
12. The Department of Justice must have some responsibility in this area. Perhaps the Accounting Officer might take some steps in relation to the matter?
—I would not say the accounting officer would be the person to take any such steps.
Deputy Tunney.—The situation would improve if the Department of Education would play what I consider to be their proper role in the field of legal education.
13. Chairman.—This is not a question of legal education; it is a grant to the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland so as to provide them with a service that is necessary for the proper functioning of the courts. Primarily the State came into this to subsidise the periodic reporting of reported cases of the law reports. Is that right?
Basically the books are for practitioners?
—It has been going somewhat wider than that in recent years.
14.—Yes, but the primary purpose was to have practitioners’ books available. The Council of Law Reporting for Ireland have been concerned primarily with the availability of material that would permit the courts to function. The Ó Síocháin book to which Deputy Gibbons referred is about 25 years old. There were some books on landlord and tenant law and on the Rent Acts but legislation has changed. Would you agree that there is an urgent need for filling these gaps in the practitioners’ libraries?
—Yes, I think so.
Many of these books would not be suitable as textbooks. They would be used normally by barristers?
—Perhaps they would be too detailed for use as textbooks.
15. Then there are two problems here. One is the problem concerning you and the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting, that is, the supplying of material in order to allow the courts to function. Parallel with this there is a whole question of legal education where there is a comparable need for material but not necessarily the same type of material. Would you accept what I have said?
Deputy H. Gibbons.—I understand the position better now.
16. Chairman.—Books and documents play the same role for legal practitioners as drugs and surgical instruments play for the medical profession. So far as you are concerned on this front, your note says that the material was not ready to the extent anticipated?
—That was the problem.
17. Deputy Gibbons was correct in bringing up this matter. It arises both in relation to Justice and in relation to Education. Is it a problem of getting authors?
18. Does this mean that at some stage we may be forced to commission work? At present the grant is for the purpose of subsidising voluntary work?
—It may be a little more than subsidising. I would say “paying the expenses of”.
19. If, in the future, the commissioning of the work is necessary, a fee for the job would be involved?
—At the moment a fee is included. There is a certain element of commissioning already but there remains the problem of finding specialists who are willing and ready to do the work. The kind of book we are talking of here calls for a specialist and this specialist would be likely to be a person in a full-time occupation so that the preparation of the book would have to be a spare-time job as far as he was concerned.
20. You have already contributed in your Department to the rules of court scheme initiated by the Stationery Office?
That would have been your initiative?
—Yes. The rules of court are published as a matter of course.
21. You go so far as to indicate what you want? You have access to them?
—It would be rather a matter for this particular society, which includes quite eminent people such as the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Attorney General. the President of the Bar Council and the President of the Incorporated Law Society. It is for them to take the initiative rather than the Department of Justice in deciding where the gaps are.
22. On subhead D. 2.—Committee on Irish and Comparative Law (grant-in-aid)— I should like an explanation of this?
—This was a committee which was set up informally approximately ten years ago in which people from the six counties and people from here joined together with a view to looking at the possibility of publishing reports on legal matters of common interest to both parts of the country. It has been in abeyance for some time.
23. This is a token vote?
—At the present time it is token but some meetings were held some years ago and small sums to cover expenses were given.
In these accounts it is a token sum?
24. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead E —Commissions and Special Inquiries—are these still functioning?
—The Committee on Court Practice and Procedure is still functioning. This is the committee which brought out the report, published some weeks ago, about protection of the rights of deserted wives, etc. There was a good deal of publicity about this. They have also made other reports. The Committee on the Law of Bankruptcy made its report last year. It was a very elaborate report and new legislation will be called for as a result of it but the legislation will also have to take account of some developments in the EEC. The Landlord and Tenant Commission is still functioning. The Interdepartmental Committee on Mentally-ill and Maladjusted Persons is also operating It really only began in the year under review and has not yet produced reports but it is, in fact, meeting regularly and is working in a very important field as one might deduce from the title.
25. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead F —Legal Aid—this seems to be a very small sum and is now fully spent?
Chairman.—Is this on the basis of claims made?
—Yes. One point to make about it is that expenditure is now running at something more than double the sum in the year under review, 1971-72. At the moment it is running at around £34,000.
26. Deputy Bermingham.—Is it the district justice who decides this?
—Yes, under the Act it is the district justice.
Does the person apply to the district justice for legal aid and he decides?
27. Deputy MacSharry.—Can it be offered rather than requested?
—It is offered in the sense that a document is shown to arrested persons in which they are told of their right to receive it. In that sense it is offered.
VOTE 21—GARDA SÍOCHÁNA.
Mr. A. Ward further examined.
28. Chairman.—Paragraph 33 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead H.—Superannuation and other Non-Effective Payments
In March 1971 a supplementary estimate was passed which provided a grant-in-aid of £400,000 under subhead H.H. of Vote 21 to enable arrears of pension to be paid under the terms of a new ex-gratia pensions scheme to widows and children of former members of the Force who died or retired on pension before 23 July 1968. This sum was paid into a Grant-in-Aid Account under the control of the Accounting Officer of the Department of Justice. The account, which was appended to the Appropriation Account of this vote for the year 1970-71, showed that no payments were made from it by 31 March 1971.
The Grant-in-Aid Account appended to the Appropriation Account for the year under review shows that £379,468 was expended in that year in respect of ex-gratia pensions, representing arrears for the period ended 31 March 1971. In addition, the charge to subhead H for 1971-72 includes £306,148 in respect of current ex-gratia pensions. As the estimate for 1971-72 did not expressly indicate that provision was included to meet these pensions, which are extra-statutory in nature, I have deemed it desirable to draw attention to them.
As indicated in paragraph 30 I understand that some progress has been made in the preparation of the necessary legislation for these pensions.”
Have you anything to add, Mr. Mac Gearailt?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The grant-in-aid of £400,000 which was voted in 1970-71 and paid into a special grant-in-aid account was specifically voted to meet ex-gratia pensions and was subsequently used to meet arrears of such pensions up to March, 1971. These payments were, therefore, in order. Current payments of ex-gratia pensions were, however, charged to the ordinary pensions subhead H but no notice has been given to Dáil Éireann that this subhead contained provision for ex-gratia pensions which are extra-statutory in nature. Such notice should have been given.
29. Chairman.—Can you give us an explanation for this?
—This was a scheme which began in the year preceding the one under review. The first payments were made from the grant-in-aid. As I understand it, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report is not questioning what was done about the grant-in-aid account. As I understand it, the point being raised is that subhead H, which refers to pensions, does not refer explicitly to ex-gratia pensions. The report says: “I have deemed it desirable to draw attention to them” which I take to mean that he considers it would have been desirable for the subhead to have done so. On that basis we have arranged that the corresponding subhead for next year will, subject to the agreement of the Minister for Finance, include an explicit reference to ex-gratia payments. We understand that the Finance agreement is forthcoming. The only other point I would make is that while it is correct to say that the subhead does not include a specific reference to ex-gratia payments the Dáil were, in fact, explicitly informed when the Supplementary Estimate was being moved in the Minister’s speech, which was quite a short one, that it included money for ex-gratia payments. I am not putting this forward as a valid point from an accounting point of view but simply from the point of view of mentioning that Dáil Éireann were made aware of the fact that they were voting money for these ex-gratia payments. That was done and it appeared in the records of the Dáil for the 31st March 1971, at column 1863. If the Chairman wishes I could read one relevant sentence. It is this:
Under the scheme, ex-gratia payments, equal in most cases to half the benefits under the contributory scheme, will be payable to the widow and children of members of the force who died or retired on pension before 23rd July, 1968.
It goes on to make further reference to these ex gratia pensions. However, we took up with the Department of Finance this point made in the report once it came to attention. In the intervening years, that is to say, 1972-73 and 1973-74, the same point will arise because the subhead is in precisely the same terms for these years.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—One way that the Accounting Officer might meet our point in relation to those two years is to have a note on the appropriation account that the charge to subhead H includes so much in respect of ex-gratia pensions. In that way, with hindsight, you are bringing the matter to attention.
—Certainly. We are perfectly willing to do anything to rectify any deficiency or irregularity.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This principle is a long-standing one, and Finance gave to the Committee away back in 1931 a categorical undertaking that no extra-statutory payments would be made in respect of pensions unless an Estimate spelling out that it was extra-statutory had been approved. At that time perhaps Finance were responsible for all service pensions, and they have since delegated a good deal of that responsibility to various Departments.
30. Chairman.—It is obviously of considerable importance to us to have explicit information like this. Although we make no imputation in this case, we think it is desirable, particularly as the subject of grants-in-aid was very much before this Committee in recent years, to adopt the Comptroller and Auditor General’s suggestion that explicit reference should be made to such extra-statutory pensions. Is this your responsibility as accounting officer, Mr. Ward, or is it the Department of Finance’s responsibility?
—I should think it is mine. The form of the Estimates is, of course, approved by the Department of Finance, but I should think it is primarily my responsibility. However, I would like to say that when this matter was raised, it did not occur to anybody that a head “Pensions” was not wide enough to include ex-gratia pensions of which Dáil Éireann was already aware and for which Dáil Éireann had in fact in the previous year voted a grant-in-aid. In this particular year it is not a grant-in-aid, but it was previously. As I say, when this came to notice as something which did not satisfy the then Comptroller and Auditor-General, we took action. We thought the reference in his Report suggested that he was not seriously dissatisfied with it but only mildly dissatisfied. Nevertheless, we arranged that next year’s Estimate will have the appropriate wording in it. But there will be two years in between in which the same position will arise.
Chairman.—As I have said, the Dáil has been rather concerned about the whole question of grants-in-aid, and the Committee feel that the position should be regularised. Are you satisfied, Mr. Mac Gearailt?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes.
31. Chairman.—On subhead A—Salaries, Wages, and Allowances—has there been much variation in recruiting and so on during the year? The estimate is amazingly close for anything of that nature.
—No. Apart from what was planned, there has been no variation.
It is a very good estimate.
32. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead B —Travelling and Incidental Expenses—how is it that there is over-estimation to the extent of £127,000?
—The over-estimation arose mainly in relation to wireless equipment that was not available as needed.
Does that come under “Travelling and Incidental Expenses”?
—Yes. This point was raised before. “Incidental Expenses” is broken down in the Estimates into “Compensation”, “Radio” and “Miscellaneous”. Years earlier these things were subdivided and individual items were specifically mentioned to a greater extent. Then it was decided—this was years ago—that this was too detailed and that the Dáil was being confused by too much detail; it was thought better to amalgamate a number of heads. This point was raised last year by this Committee and, as a result of that, an arrangement has since been made to make certain changes with effect from next year. The changes will include specific provision for radio separate from subhead B. There will also be a slight change, which is partly consequential, in subhead D, which at present refers to “Clothing and Equipment”; that will in future refer to “Clothing and Accessories”, to cover whistles and that sort of thing. Equipment will come under a separate heading and radio will be mentioned.
Chairman.—That does not cause you undue trouble?
—No. It has been arranged already—since the last Committee meeting.
33. Deputy MacSharry—Did you get the wireless yet?
It is an on-going thing?
—Yes, it is an on-going thing, on a national scale.
34. Deputy Bermingham.—On subhead C —Post Office Services—is this a detailed account or is it an estimate? I got the impression somewhere that it was just a rough calculation.
They are not definite figures? Do the Post Office keep a definite account of your Department?
—No, they cannot in a number of areas.
Is this just an estimate?
—It is, perhaps, a little more than might be meant by the words “just an estimate” It is probably quite a good estimate.
35. Deputy MacSharry.—How do they estimate?
—Spot checks, sample checks of volume of correspondence and so on which can be a good enough way of making a sound estimate.
Deputy Bermingham.—Is there a machine in the Department to do this?
36. Chairman.—On subhead D—Clothing and Equipment—the note states that clothing for making uniforms was not delivered to the extent provided for. Was that a deficiency in supply?
—Yes, due to a number of things, including world shortage of raw materials. The Garda were not alone in the difficulty in this regard.
37. Deputy Pattison.—Do plain clothes members of the force receive an allowance for using their own clothes in the course of their duty? Is that included in this figure?
—No, it is not included. This figure relates to actual expenditure on uniforms.
Under what heading is an allowance granted to plain clothes members of the force?
—Under subhead A.
38. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Is all the clothing of Irish manufacture?
39. Deputy Griffin.—Is there any stock of this particular material on hands?
—Yes. I should explain that the Post Office Stores handle all this. We do not really come into it. The Post Office Stores keep stocks on hands.
40. On subhead E—Station Services—I feel that the figure there is very small if it is expected to serve all the Garda stations. What exactly does that figure include?
—It includes furniture, bedding, fuel and light and items like that, but it does not include building costs.
Do you not agree that it is a very reasonable figure?
—It is merely for furniture et cetera.
41. Deputy MacSharry.—Does this include all replacements as well as new furniture?
The note says that you did not need as much new furniture?
—The note on subhead E—Station Services—refers to furniture for new Garda stations and this saving reflects the fact that the stations were not ready.
It could be read the other way, that you did not buy half as much as you should?
—The factual position is that the reason was that the stations were not ready.
One could read it the other way.
42. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead G —Transport—what is the relationship between that subhead and subhead B, which covers travelling and incidental expenses?
—Travelling under subhead B covers what one might call personal travelling expenses for members of the Garda force in the sense that individual members such as superintendents are paid travelling expenses for using their own cars. Transport under subhead G covers the provision of official Garda cars, squad cars and that kind of expenditure.
43. Does it cover ministerial cars?
—Yes, State cars generally.
44. Deputy Pattison.—The provision and maintenance?
Chairman.—Everything in regard to Garda transport?
45. Deputy Tunney.—On Statement of Losses I notice that damage amounting to £11,343 was not attributable to the Garda and that £2,178 was under the halving arrangement. What explains the difference between the amount for which they were not negligent and the amount that was collected?
—Principally the “knock for knock” agreement. A halving agreement which is mentioned at one point in the note is an arrangement whereby the damage caused to both parties, if there is damage to both parties, is totalled and each pays half. “Knock for knock” is where there is an agreement which is made in advance and not relating to any particular accident. It is an agreement made at the beginning of a period—normally between two insurance companies but in this case between the State on the one hand and a group of insurance companies on the other—whereby each side will bear its own losses.
46. It is irrespective of whether or not damage is attributable to one side?
—That is the essence of a “knock for knock” agreement and is really the whole point of such an agreement. It is designed to avoid arguing about liability and, therefore, to avoid litigation. This is standard commercial practice.
47. Chairman.—Is the “knock for knock” arrangement with insurance companies in the interest of the State?
—The fact that this arrangement is voluntarily made carries the implication that it is considered to be in the interest of the State.
48. Has anyone looked at the costing of it? Is it not likely where the Garda are concerned that they would be substantially, on the average, less liable in negligence if it came to court and that it would be the ordinary person outside who would be negligent? Is this not a case where the State is giving something away to insurance companies?
—I would say the point you are making is certainly valid as far as it goes but there is a good deal more to be thrown into the scales. Perhaps the principal additional item liable to swing the balance is the cost of litigation, which is particularly significant when it is litigation arising from road accidents. The ascribing of fault is often a matter of very delicate balance, often enough a subjective matter perhaps. In many accidents one might oneself feel sure that the other person was at fault but a neutral observer might not be sure or sure that there was not some fault attributable to both sides. The problems of determining fault and generally the cost of litigation that involves such problems are such that it is considered, in the commercial world, that this is the most economical way of operating when there is a group of insurance companies willing to enter into this arrangement. The principal factor which is considered to outweigh the point the Chairman is making is the cost of litigation because, taking one case with another, the Garda could well be losing out if one did not take the saving on costs into account.
49. One would accept that readily but the fact that the insurance companies are so willing to enter into this arrangement with the State carries, prima facie, the implication that it pays them to do so and if it pays them, then the State is paying.
—Both sides can gain because the cost of litigation is avoided.
I take the point.
Deputy Griffin.—It is a very fine arrangement, considering all the difficulties one can experience in relation to insurance. When one considers the element of danger that is involved where squad cars are concerned, perhaps we should not delve too deeply into this question lest the insurance companies might consider the imposition of a very high premium.
50. Deputy Tunney.—Regarding the 25 and the 179 accidents referred to, were the 25 included in the 179?
—They were separate accidents.
51. Deputy Bermingham.—Responsibility for the 25 that were decided was attributed to Garda personnel. Who reaches these decisions?
—In the nature of things, it must be gardaí who decide but, of course, the personnel involved in the accident would not have any say in the decision.
52. No doubt there would be such cases as a squad car being involved in an accident while trying to apprehend another car so that, strictly speaking, the accident could not be said to be the fault of the gardaí?
53. Deputy MacSharry.—On Notes, may I have some explanation regarding the reference to the expenditure of £262 for a third party insurance in respect of the use of Garda Síochána cars in Northern Ireland?
—A car might have to go to parts of Donegal and, en route, would travel through parts of the Six Counties.
Is there special insurance cover for that?
—Yes, in the sense of a commercial insurance policy. There would be no insurance cover for it within the Twenty-Six Counties—the State covers the risk. Therefore, in order to comply with the law up there the cars would have to be covered by commercial insurance.
54. Deputy H. Gibbons.—In the event of a Minister from here using his own car when visiting the Six Counties, would that car be covered?
—Any official car from here, Ministerial or other, travelling through the Six Counties requires an insurance policy.
Mr. A. Ward further examined.
55. Deputy Bermingham.—On subhead E —Manufacturing Department and Farm— is the farm not a profit-making concern?
—Overall, the profit is not significant.
56. Surely the farm should be showing profit?
—In a prison situation it is difficult to have a profit-making concern in the commercial sense.
Are they not engaged in normal farming activities?
—There are security situations which render it impossible to operate on a normal commercial basis.
57. Is there a farm attached to each prison?
—No. There is a farm only at Portlaoise. At Shanganagh there is extensive tomato-growing under glass—the produce is supplied to other prisons and institutions.
58. Are they supplied at normal prices?
The same should apply at Portlaoise. I fail to see why there is not a profit. There may be a good explanation for it.
Mr. A. Ward called.
VOTE 24—LAND REGISTRY AND REGISTRY OF DEEDS (EXCESS VOTE).
Mr. A. Ward further examined.
59. Chairman.—There is an Excess Vote here. Paragraph 34 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“The account shows excess expenditure of £7,664 over the estimate. The Accounting Officer has informed me that extra remuneration charged to the vote and not provided for in the original estimate amounted to £22,000 but that in February 1972 when the requirements for projected expenditure were being examined it was thought that the original estimate would be sufficient to provide for the extra expenditure and no recourse was had to the Vote for Remuneration. He also informed me that expenditure in March 1972 proved to be unusually heavy because of bonus and other payments, including arrears, that became payable to certain grades under a re-organisation scheme for the Land Registry. He added that as the bulk of these payments was made from the sub-account of the Land Registry the true position of expenditure did not become clear until the sub-account was received from that Office in June 1972.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The paragraph gives in brief the circumstances in which the provision made in this Vote was over-spent during the year. To bring this matter to the notice of Dáil Éireann it will be necessary for the Committee to submit an interim report on it and to regularise the position it will be necessary for Dáil Éireann to vote the sum required by way of Excess Vote, if the Committee see no objection to this course.
60. Chairman.—Could you explain this to us?
—The factual position, first of all, is that the additional expense on salaries was incurred unavoidably because of general salary increases. These were provided for in relation to the whole civil service in the separate Remuneration Vote which was mentioned earlier in another context. That Vote was there to be called on. At the end of February or early March in the year under review it was thought there would be no need to draw money from that Vote and what we had already would be enough so it was not availed of. In the event, the estimate or opinion that it was not necessary to call on that Vote was wrong. The immediate cause of that is given here in the note, namely, that certain expenditure occurred in the Land Registry from sub-accounts. First of all, these were abnormal in the sense that they arose in part from arrears of pay given under an arbitration award. Secondly, they arose because, as a result of increases in pay, certain bonuses that had already been paid under an incentive scheme had to be retrospectively increased. These payments were made in the month of March but, because of serious staff difficulties in the Land Registry, returns relating to accounts there were running three months in arrears. As a result, this did not come to notice until the month of June. That is the factual position. I would like, going behind the facts, to make the point, first of all, that we accept that the headquarters of the Department should have been in a position to keep closer watch on the Land Registry outgoings. All one can say about that by way of explanation is that we had very serious staff problems in the Department. In a matter like this you cannot isolate the accounts branch of the Department from the rest of it. We still have a serious staff difficulty because of the cumulative impact of very many different things on an organisation staffed to do much less than it is being called on to do at the moment. We recognise that an Excess Vote is a serious matter. I do not want in any way to take from that but I would like to make one further point. In the normal way the basic objection to an Excess Vote is, I think, the potential threat it could pose to parliamentary control. In this particular case there is this much to say. Dáil Éireann expressly voted money, though in a different Vote, the Vote for Remuneration, to pay for the general salary increase. We did not call on the Vote but we could have done so. I say that in mitigation, so to speak, but I am not trying to say we were entitled on that account to do it. We were not.
61. Deputy Bermingham.—Has there been any increase in staff or are there still difficulties?
—We have had increases in staff in various areas but there are still serious difficulties. We are not organised to deal with all we need to be dealing with.
We have all had experience of that.
62. Deputy H. Gibbons.—I take it that efforts are still being made to get over the staff problem?
Is it controlled by the fact that you must have a particular type of applicant with special training?
—Not entirely. I mention again that as a general rule one cannot in the Department of Justice, or I assume in any other Department, isolate one particular area in the Department and say that the difficulty is there. If it were only that, one could transfer staff from A to B. The problem is many-faceted and cannot be isolated from the fact that demands on the entire public service are growing rapidly, one example being the impact of the EEC. The total demands are more than the immediate resources could provide. Even if every Department were given freedom in the morning to recruit as many people of suitable qualifications as it wanted the question would arise as to where they could be got. There is no immediate full solution. It is not a single problem but a many-faceted one. We have in the Department of Justice made a good deal of progress in many areas. In fact, the immediate cause of this Excess Vote was something which occurred in the Land Registry. There has been a substantial increase in staff in the Land Registry, where there has been complete re-organisation. In fact, it was partly because of the re-organisation that this thing occurred. The output of the Land Registry in terms of dealings has doubled in the last two years. It does not mean that the arrears are being wiped out overnight, because the intake has increased also. However, we are cutting down the arrears despite a substantial increase in the intake. Over the next 12 months, even more so over the next two years, the output will increase very substantially, because about a dozen separate organisational steps have been taken in the Land Registry alone. To do this kind of work involves the time of people in headquarters who are also required to do various other things, so you cannot compartmentalise the problem in that sense. If I could just mention one Land Registry figure, the intake of applications, dealings, has increased by 50 per cent. The steps which it is proposed to take will have a measurable impact within the next six months, but the full impact will not be seen for about 18 months or two years.
63. Chairman.—We are straying a little from the Excess Vote. There was a sum of £22,000 in excess. It that right?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The net excess was £7,000.
Chairman.—All right. That is the net figure. We agree with you on the seriousness of having to go back to the Dáil. The Committee requires to see some figures in regard to this excess of £22,000.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—No, £7,000.
Chairman.—The accounting officer informed me that extra remuneration charged to the Vote and not provided for originally amounted to £22,000.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—That is right.
Chairman.—We shall start with that. The over-estimate would be covered by the heading “Pay”, that is, salaries, bonus and other expenditure. Is that right?
—Perhaps I misunderstand you. This £22,000 arose from general pay increases to Land Registry staff. Because these were general pay increases applicable to the Public Service, it was intended to cover them by a general remuneration vote for the entire Public Service. Money was voted by the Dáil for this purpose and we could have covered our requirements for the Land Registry. We thought we did not need to resort to this money which was being specially voted by the Dáil for this purpose. We were wrong in thinking we did not need this money, to the extent of £7,000.
64. Could you give us details of the salary increase?
—Yes. Would it do to send a note?
Yes, of course. In other words, could you give us particulars of the salary increases involved in the Land Registry with reference to bonus and other payments, including arrears? Could we have details of the bonuses?
—I can give you them now.
A comprehensive note* from the accounting officer will satisfy us in regard to these increases.
VOTE 24—LAND REGISTRY AND REGISTRY OF DEEDS.
Mr. A. Ward called.
The witness withdrew.
The Committee adjourned.
*See Appendix 4.