MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin, 9 Nollaig, 1976.
Thursday, 9th December, 1976.
The Committee met at 11 a.m.
DEPUTY de VALERA in the chair.
Mr. S. Mac Gearailt (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) called and examined.
Mr. T. Ó Cearbhaill called and examined.
368. Chairman.—Paragraph 54 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead L.2.—Irish Management Institute —Grant for Building Purposes.
As mentioned in previous reports the sanction of the Minister for Finance was obtained for a grant of up to half the cost of a new headquarters building for the Institute within a grant limit of £400,000. A further payment of £100,000 in the period under review brought grants issued to the authorised limit of £400,000. The audited accounts of the Institute for the period ended 31 December 1974 show expenditure of £1,096,123 on land and buildings for the headquarters.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph is just for information. I have no comment to make.
369. Deputy Griffin.—On subhead A.— Salaries, Wages and Allowances—have these vacancies now been filled?
—Yes. The most significant element of the saving in that year was in the industrial inspectorate where we had approval for an increase in the number and we were in the process of recruiting them at the end of the year.
370. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead D.
—Advertising and Publicity—do you go to every career exhibition?
—No, only in cases where we are invited.
And you are invited?
371. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead G.— Research—was the increased expenditure because the expenditure was wider or more intensive than had been anticipated in particular areas?
—These surveys are undertaken mainly at the request of the IDA who are in touch very often with local development groups. The IDA request the Department of Labour to carry out a manpower availability survey. The explanation for the increase is that the number of surveys carried out was greater than we had budgeted for.
372. Chairman.—What type of survey do you carry out yourselves apart from the Central Statistics Office?
—The officers of the National Manpower Service locally based and with the assistance of head office personnel examine the type of labour available, not alone the numbers but the types of skills, the number of people attending secondary and vocational schools and training centres, in order to give the IDA advice as to the type of personnel facilities that will be available to a particular industry contemplating establishing itself in the area in question.
373. These are all separate fields. The results of these surveys have a certain statistical content but are quite independent of Government statistics?
—That is so.
But do you publish them?
—Yes. They are published usually by the IDA and very often by the local development groups as an attraction to industrialists.
Deputy MacSharry.—They do an excellent job.
Deputy Griffin.—The figure would appear to be small in so far as such worth-while research is concerned?
—Yes, but salaries are charged to subhead A of the Vote.
374. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead H —Resettlement Allowances—are those internal resettlements or do they refer to people coming from abroad or to both?
—To both. In terms of numbers about 2,000 people benefited from this service during the period and of those just under 300 were emigrants returning from Britain.
375. Is there not an anomaly in regard to these allowances in that somebody may be resettled internally on returning from abroad but unless the post is advertised through the National Manpower Service, the person would be disqualified?
—We have structured this deliberately in this way in order primarily to avoid abuse because there could be situations where people coming home from England for Christmas, for instance, might make applications for grants. We have had several queries from Deputies in this regard but it is our opinion that the National Manpower Service should retain control of the scheme.
But not every company recognise the services of the National Manpower Service and consequently, many people who should qualify do not qualify?
—There have been anomalies but we hope that with greater advertising of the service and with the distribution of leaflets, of which there is a variety, that this situation will be phased out.
376. Chairman.—On subhead J.1—An Chomhairle Oiliúna, Administration and General Expenses—are there any questions?
—I would merely like to say here that in the year in question almost £2 million was received from the European Social Fund to supplement the grant-in-aid.
377. On subhead J.2—An Chomhairle Oiliúna, Capital Expenditure (Grant-in-Aid) —to what does this amount refer?
—It was for the construction of training centres around the country.
378. On subhead L.1—Irish Management Institute—is that a grant-in-aid?
—It is a grant for the training activities of the institute which engages in management training. It does not support any other activities such as publications.
We understand what grant-in-aid is. At least we understand it to the extent that it is none of our business, or so we are told, but there is a grant for training here.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Basically, the big advantage to a body getting a grant-in-aid is that if they have a surplus at the end of the year they do not have to surrender it to the Exchequer. Straightforward grants, strictly speaking, should be issued only for expenditure already incurred, but in certain circumstances, such as this, the Department could issue moneys in advance. That money would have to be supported either by voucher or by certified accounts. If there was any money which had not been issued at the end of the year, it goes back to the Exchequer.
Chairman.—In other words, you treat it as expenditure?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes. Let us take the second subhead, L.2, for £100,000. We would watch the IMI accounts to see that they spent that money on capital works and that they showed the receipt of £100,000.
Chairman.—We have the accounts before us and this is just for our information. There is no question but that everything is in order or no doubt we would have heard from the Comptroller and Auditor General. Anyway, we would not have expected that from this Department.
379. Deputy Moore.—On subhead M— Council for Education, Recruitment and Training of Hotel and Catering Workers (CERT)—there has been some change in the set-up of CERT. Do we still have some connection with them?
—They started as a subsidiary of Bord Fáilte. We took the view that their basic function, training and placement, comes within the purview of the Labour Vote. We negotiated the transfer of responsibility for this grant from the Department of Transport and Power who formerly paid the money through Bord Fáilte. They now operate directly under the Department of Labour. Their relationship to this Department is similar to that which they previously had with Bord Fáilte.
I knew there had been some change. Is it working satisfactorily?
380. Deputy Tunney.—On this subhead, I hope I am not infringing on policy here, but leaving aside An Chomhairle Oiliúna, in respect of expenditure by the Department of Labour on management, hotel and catering education generally, and bearing in mind the need for harmonisation, recently we saw that people in the hotel and catering industry are looking for degrees— and they are entitled to them. Are we sure there is not any lack of liaison between the Department of Labour and the Department of Education in these matters which seem on first viewing to be appropriate to the Department of Education?
—One of the continuing problems of Departments of Labour not only here but in other countries is to establish and maintain a satisfactory relationship with the education authorities. The difficulty arises basically from the view of educationalists that their job is to educate children and adults while the outlook of labour and manpower services is that people should be equipped for inclusion in the workforce. There is a continuing dialogue at national and international level on how best to synchronise these two approaches. The EEC at a Council meeting recently adopted a resolution which enjoined on education authorities the need to ensure that young people were being prepared for a working life. We are very conscious of this and there is discussion with the Department of Education about it.
Chairman.—It is encouraging to hear that.
Deputy Tunney.—I always accepted the view that all education refers to a working life. The unfortunate thing was that formerly we had the idea that one need not be educated if one was not going to be an academic. I would not like to see an acceptance that there was one kind of education which applied to somebody involved in a certain field against another type of education required in another field. I would like to see education kept in its own Department. If it is better this way, well and good, so long as there is no duplication of effort. I am mindful of the fact that the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee spend money on management, CERT and training hotel workers. I am concerned that there is proper liaison between the different agencies employed in the field of education.
Chairman.—It is obvious that the Accounting Officer and his Department are aware of this problem, which is merely a policy problem. As it is a policy matter, I do not think we should go into it any further. I want to express my personal reservations about the remarks Deputy Tunney put on the record.
Deputy MacSharry.—CERT have expanded their activities and courses in recent years through the regional colleges in co-operation with the Department of Education. While there are two different Departments involved the end result is quite successful.
Chairman.—Although I said it was a policy matter I do not want to rule it out—
Deputy Tunney.—Although this is a policy matter we must be concerned about the correct expenditure of money.
Chairman.—If there was duplication that would be proper.
Deputy Tunney.—This is a matter I will pursue when the company is less academic than it is now.
381. Deputy MacSharry.—The point raised by Deputy Tunney is valid. Through AnCO you would have more duplication and fighting for students with the Department of Education for the various courses run by the different educational establishments, when AnCO run similar courses. That is where the problem arises.
—The position of apprentices is a very good illustration. At one time there was a feeling of the kind Deputy Tunney mentioned about the attitude towards education and training. However, there is now an insistence that apprenticeship training must contain an element of education as well as training. For that reason, apprentices are released to attend education courses as well as training courses.
382. Deputy Griffin.—On subhead N— Grants for Advisory Services for Emigrants —this grant was not taken up. I am amazed it was not. Is it that it was not applied for, or that the group or association no longer exist?
—The explanation is that this was a nine-month year and these grants are paid on an annual basis. The grants relevant to 1974 were paid in March to the various local organisations who had satisfied the advisory committee and the Minister that they were entitled to them. Grants were also paid in the immediately preceding and following years, that is 1973 and 1975.
383. Deputy MacSharry.—Under appropriations-in-aid, in regard to the item on the resettlement scheme under the EEC Social Fund——
—These are receipts to match corresponding expenditure from the Vote. It was available to the Vote. Not all of the expenditure from the Vote in regard to resettlement was, however, eligible for grants from the European Social Fund. The criteria are laid down by the European Commission.
384. Deputy Moore.—Is the Advisory Committee on Emigration still operating?
—Yes. It was established in 1969 but we foresaw when we were going into the EEC that the activities of the committee would be phased out. The local voluntary committees have been reduced substantially because there is now a network of national manpower services between this and other EEC Member States. They communicate with each other and make information available to each other. We continue our support for the voluntary groups, however, but on a reducing scale.
The witness withdrew.
VOTE 27—LOCAL GOVERNMENT.
Mr. G. A. Meagher called and examined.
385. Chairman.—Paragraph 25 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Expenditure in excess of Authorised Issues
In paragraph 6 above I referred to payments made from seventeen Votes in excess of the amounts authorised by Section 2 of the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act, 1965. Excess payments of some £4,260,000 were made from this Vote. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer and he has informed me that the Department’s estimates, introduced in the Dáil in July 1974, were not passed until 18 December 1974. He explained that control of the Department’s expenditure is from month to month not from day to day and that at 30 November 1974 almost £5,000,000 of the authorised amount remained unspent. In the first week in December sums amounting to just over £9,000,000 came in course of payment in respect of housing subsidies to local authorities who were pressing for payment. In the circumstances he felt that there was little option but to make the payments.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph refers to another one of the 17 cases of overspending discussed generally by the Committee at its first meeting. It outlines the circumstances which gave rise to the overexpenditure, as explained by the Accounting Officer.
386. Deputy MacSharry.—You personally made the decision as Accounting Officer?
—Yes. There is a reference to the sums amounting to just over £9 million in respect of housing subsidies. The position is that the local authorities have to pay the loan charges to the Board of Works on gale days. There is a gale day in November and if the local authorities do not pay the loan charges in time, there is a penal clause and they will then have to pay the penalty in terms of interest. Therefore, they were pressing very hard for payment.
One Department against the other?
—Yes, in a sense.
Chairman.—This is one of the cases dealt with generally by the Department of Finance at the beginning. Any further questions?
387. Deputy Griffin.—From an accounting point of view is everything regular, proper and in order?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—It was regularised by the passing of the Estimate.
—Yes, it was; that was done.
388. Chairman.—Paragraph 26 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead E.2.—Private Housing Grants
In paragraph 28 of my previous report I referred to a scheme of grants for the adaptation of houses to meet the needs of physically disabled persons and to the raising of the maximum house reconstruction grant. The new scheme and the increase of grant limit were approved on condition that statutory authority would be sought in the next appropriate housing bill and I have inquired as to the present position in this regard.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This is one of the cases referred to by the Committee in its Report on the 1973-74 Appropriation Accounts where amending legislation to validate payments had not been passed. I understand that the legislation has not yet been passed.
389. Deputy MacSharry.—What is the position about the pending legislation?
—The scheme of a Housing Bill is being prepared and is fairly well advanced at present.
It has been going on now for three years?
—That is true. There is more than these two items in it; there is another item dealing with pilot schemes. The administration of housing and water and sewerage grants is dealt with in three counties directly rather than have the Department administering the grants from the centre. That arrangement was inaugurated as a pilot scheme. It requires validating legislation, and that item must be included in the Bill also. In fact the pilot scheme has been the subject of correspondence and discussion with the Department of the Public Service. Finality has not yet been reached, but subject to that, the heads of the Bill are fairly settled at this stage.
How soon can it be expected?
—As far as the scheme of the Bill is concerned, assuming the Minister approves of it when finalised, it will go out to all appropriate Departments for comment. I do not know how long it will take to get their comments.
390. Chairman.—From an accounting point of view—our principal interest—this was a new scheme. When was it introduced?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—One was an old scheme where the grants were increased.
Chairman.—It is referred to here as a new scheme; that is why I said that. When were the grants increased under this scheme?
—I think around 1972.
—I think so, yes.
391. At the time these grants were increased they were subject to statutory limits, is that so?
—That is so.
As far as statute law is concerned these are still the limits?
—That is so.
392. Therefore, from a strict formal point of view—note my words “formal point of view”—since the grants were increased statutory authority is being exceeded. We are paying grants in excess of the authority given by the relevant Act. Is that not so?
—That is so.
393. That is a fact now. The reasons are a different story. The necessary amending legislation has not been introduced yet and, from what the Accounting Officer has said, the prospects of introducing it within this financial year, let me put it that way, are remote?
The possibilities are remote?
394. Therefore, at the end of the current financial year, the Comptroller and Auditor General may have the same query. I think the Comptroller and Auditor General would not disagree with me. I shall not ask him to answer that. The situation is one that is causing the Committee some anxiety because of the fact that increases have been granted in excess of existing statutory authority.
—I suppose the Appropriation Act comes into the picture.
395. You are making that case?
—Yes. Not that it makes good the point you have made, that the payments are in excess of the Housing Act limits, but I merely make the comment.
You are taking the stand that the Appropriation Act validates this?
Is not the logic of that, then, that the Act is irrelevant?
—Technically I think it is except that the principle of grants would have been fixed by the Oireachtas in a Housing Act rather than through the Appropriation Act.
Therefore, when the Oireachtas fixes a sum for a grant this can be varied by the Appropriation Act? However, we do not wish to involve you in argument. It would not be fair to do so but this is a matter the Committee will consider.
396. Deputy MacSharry.—The matter having been raised, I do not think we should leave it at that. The fact is that when an actual sum in respect of a grant was mentioned in previous legislation it could not be changed by the Appropriation Act but if grants were mentioned without there being any reference to figures, the Appropriation Act was invoked?
Chairman.—The Committee will note that the Accounting Officer has advanced the Appropriation Act as a validating and justifying circumstance. This is something we shall consider. I subscribe to the same view as that expressed by Deputy MacSharry.
Deputy Griffin.—I wonder whether it would be fair to the Accounting Officer to suggest that he is the one who is advancing this theory?
Chairman.—It would not be fair to the Accounting Officer for us to enter into legal argument with him. I wish to protect him in this, but on the other hand he was the one who mentioned the Appropriation Act and for that reason I said we would take note of it.
—May I say that the views expressed by the Committee of Public Accounts on this matter of statutory cover are very present to our mind in pressing forward with the Housing Bill but it is a difficult Bill in that a number of matters affecting housing administration are being reviewed. The scheme of the Bill cannot be finalised until decisions are taken on certain aspects of housing administration.
397. Chairman.—Paragraph 27 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead O.—Interest Subsidy for Building Societies
Reference was made in paragraph 29 of my previous report to a temporary interest subsidy made available to enable building societies to increase their rates of interest on shares and deposits. The subsidy was continued in the period under review and payments totalling £773,717 were made to ten societies.
Section 3 of the Building Societies Act, 1974 authorised the Minister for Finance to guarantee the due repayment by a building society of the principal of any moneys borrowed by the society from an Associated Bank between 18 October 1973 and 30 June 1974 or the payment of interest on such borrowings. The total amount of the principal which could be guaranteed under the Act was limited to £6,000,000 but a Government decision in July 1974 authorised the Minister to guarantee a further £5,000,000. The Government agreed that any moneys borrowed by the societies on foot of the guarantee would be made available to them at an interest rate not greater than ¾ per cent. below the mortgage rate current at the time of borrowing. Provision was made by supplementary estimate for an interest subsidy on this special borrowing facility. Payments totalling £53,458 in respect of the subsidy were made to three societies in the period under review.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the two types of interest subsidy paid to building societies in the period under review. These were (a) a subsidy to enable societies to increase their interest rates on shares and deposits and (b) a subsidy to enable them to obtain from the banks, at preferential rates, loans guaranteed by the Minister for Finance. In regard to this second type of subsidy the paragraph points out that, whereas the Act of 1974 limits the amount of such bank loans which might be guaranteed by the Minister for Finance to £6 million, the Government authorised the Minister to guarantee a further £5 million.
398. Chairman.—Again, this £5 million is in excess of statutory authority. What is the position in regard to this item?
—The Building Societies Bill, which has reached Report Stage, contains a provision for a guarantee of borrowing to the extent of £20 million so that it will absorb the £11 million referred to in the paragraph and will provide a margin.
Will it provide for the regularisation of the situation from the time the excess was ordered?
—Yes, that is provided for. It is retrospective.
399. Deputy MacSharry.—What view or advice would be given to the Government in relation to the accounting procedures with which we are concerned in so far as this could have been done at the time without legislation?
—It would have to be put to the Government that the 1974 Act provided for a guarantee to the extent of £6 million and that the Building Societies Bill was in preparation and also that it was proposed to seek a further £5 million. The view would be put forward that in anticipation of the legislation extending the 1974 Act further borrowing should be permitted.
400. In the meantime the situation would be covered by the Appropriation Act?
—Not in this case which would not constitute expenditure by the Exchequer. It would be a guarantee.
But the interest on that would be expenditure?
—Yes. This also attracts Exchequer subsidy.
Where was it covered in that year?
—All Exchequer payments would be covered by the Appropriation Act.
401. Deputy Tunney.—The Building Societies Act, 1974, was enacted the same year as these accounts. Is that so?
One would imagine it should have been possible when indicating the maximum amount, that provision might have been made for accommodating a higher figure.
—With hindsight that is so, but my recollection is that the intake of net moneys to the societies proved to be less than had been anticipated.
402. Chairman.—Would the situation in the net be that the Government increased the guarantee by £5 million, that nothing further was done to validate it and that the interest subsidy which would be a payment from the Exchequer had to be authorised by a Supplementary Estimate? Was that the situation? Was any validating action taken to date to regularise the increase by a further £5 million?
—Yes, in this sense: the Bill which became the Building Societies Act, 1974, was interim. It was accepted at the time that the whole corpus of building society legislation had to be modernised and consolidated because the Acts date as far back as 1874. The scheme of a Bill was on the stocks at that time and that Bill has now passed through the Seanad and has reached Report Stage in the Dáil.
403. But there was no formal action taken beyond a direction from the Government authorising the guaranteed increase?
—To my recollection, no.
404. On the other hand, the interest payments to which Deputy MacSharry drew attention were provided by way of Supplementary Estimate?
Was any further action taken?
405. In the new Bill you are not only providing for the future but you are regularising the past?
—Section 87 provides for total guarantees by the State of up to £20 million. I cannot recollect the precise wording, but of course it would validate not alone future borrowings but it covers the £5 million not covered by the 1974 Act. It must do this.
Without so stating?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—I have the White Paper of the Bill in front of me. Section 87 authorises the issue of a guarantee in respect of moneys borrowed by the societies since October, 1973.
406. Chairman.—That clears that point. Paragraph 28 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead Q.—Recoupment of Expenditure on foot of certain Malicious Injuries.
In May 1974 the Government gave approval, in principle, to a proposal that the Exchequer should refund to local authorities the cost of compensation for malicious damage to property caused by the use of explosives and attributable to the disturbances in Northern Ireland. The approval covered compensation payments made by local authorities on or after 1 January 1974. A sum of £1,000,000 was provided by supplementary estimate and payments totalling £833,226 were refunded to six local authorities in the period under review.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph is for information. I have nothing further to add.
407. Deputy MacSharry.—On the question of recoupment for malicious injuries by local authorities, there was bomb damage in certain areas of County Leitrim. The local authority, with the approval of the Department of Local Government, undertook not to hold the people claiming to the seven days necessary to have malicious damage claims lodged. These claims in the first instance were sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs. When they came back from that Department they were too late to be submitted within the seven days. Leitrim County Council had all these claims thrown out of court, notwithstanding the fact that people were under the impression that the Department of Local Government and the county council were going to waive that clause. This is a personal point but perhaps the Accounting Officer will look into it and let me know what he finds out. Those people whose property was damaged as a result of bombs by the British Army now find that even the courts cannot help them because the Department and the county council say their claims were not lodged within the statutory seven days.
—Do the Committee wish me to send a statement to them or to Deputy MacSharry?
You might send it to me personally.
—I will do that.
408. Chairman.—Paragraph 29 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Motor Vehicle Duties
A test examination of the revenue from motor vehicle duties, etc., was carried out with satisfactory results. The reports of the Local Government auditors, who examine the motor tax transactions of local authorities, are made available to me.
The gross proceeds for the nine-month period ended 31 December 1974 and the year 1973-74 were:—
£19,106,401 was paid into the Exchequer and £20,409 was refunded during the period leaving a balance of £180,587 compared with £315,368 at the end of the previous financial year.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph, which is for information, outlines the position in regard to the proceeds from motor vehicle duties for the nine months to December, 1974.
409. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead C —Post Office Services—what kind of account would that be that did not mature for payment within the financial period?
—The under-expenditure on this subhead was due to the fact that an account for the July-September, 1974, quarter which was expected was not received from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
410. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead E.2— Private Housing Grants—at what stage would the local authority advise the Accounting Officer of their intention to build tenant purchase houses?
—It would be a considerable time in advance.
Would it have been on that that your estimate of expenditure was based?
—Yes, and also a follow-up with the local authority on schedules of work in progress.
411. Was it because local authorities withdrew schemes that the drop occurred, rather than that they did not apply for new schemes?
—From the figures I have, it looks as if completions were ahead of expectations. For example, the number of grants paid in 1973-74 was 1,730. In the short year 1974 the figure was only 201. In the year 1975 the figure was 404 and in 1976 between January and September the figure was 614. It will be noted that the 1973-74 figure was abnormally high. The average run of grants payable would not be quite as high as that. In other words, the short year 1974 should normally have had somewhat more house completions and grants paid.
412. Deputy MacSharry.—Is there another reason for it too? In that year the date of application was extended to the end of March, which would delay the closing of the stage which would not warrant the grant money.
—That may well have been. I cannot say from my own information that it is the case.
413. Under subhead G—Grants in respect of Amenity Works, Derelict Sites and Dangerous Places—could we delete “derelict sites” because there is no such grant available?
—That is so. In fact, this subhead has now gone altogether except for a residual figure for dangerous places. The scheme of amenity grants has been terminated.
414. Under subhead N—Grant to the Road Fund—is it on a percentage basis that the income from road tax and vehicle tax is given to the Road Fund?
—A succession of Finance Acts have taken into the Exchequer certain parts of the proceeds of vehicle tax. The net effect in respect of the period under review was that about one-third of the total proceeds of vehicle taxation went to the Exchequer. The remainder accrued to the Road Fund.
The witness withdrew.
VOTE 42—TRANSPORT AND POWER.
Mr. N. McMahon called and examined.
415. Chairman.—This is the first time Mr. McMahon has appeared before us, and we welcome him.
416. Deputy Griffin.—Under subhead C —Equipment, Stores and Maintenance— has this equipment been received?
—Yes. There is an on-going annual replenishment of equipment. In that year there were some delays but, in the following year, it was replenished.
417. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead F.3—Development of Holiday Accommodation (Grant-in-Aid)—were they estimated for the 12 months and that is why they are spending less?
—This was a nine months’ estimate. It is difficult sometimes to estimate when commitments will fall due. They have to be certified by architects and various other procedures gone through. We make the best estimate we can. Sometimes payments we expect to fall due in a particular year might not fall due until the following January. On the other hand, a large sum falling due in December would affect the estimate.
418. On subhead H—Transport of Staff— which staff? Where are they employed?
—These are staff employed at Shannon Airport and at Ballygirreen, which is an associated radio station. The subsidy is provided to assist staff who normally live in either Limerick or Ennis and, therefore, have higher transport costs than their fellow workers at, say, Cork or Dublin. The scheme is administered by Aer Rianta on behalf of the Minister. The costs are shown under this subhead but there are some corresponding receipts in the Appropriation-in-Aid because we extract a contribution from the staff which is calculated roughly on the basis of what they would have to pay if they were working in a more normal situation, say in an urban area.
419. Deputy Griffin.—On subhead O— Grants for Bottled Gas Installations— would it be that people are not aware that such a grant exists? This may be dealing with policy but it is pointless having a grant for bottled gas installation if people are not fully aware of their rights and entitlement?
—I think the scheme is reasonably well known by the categories eligible to avail themselves of it. The problem arises in the administration of the payment. It is not done through any centralised organisation. The client buys his bottled gas installation locally. We are relying on the administrative efficiency of rather small operators to do the necessary paperwork and make their claims. Invariably there are delays between the installation of the bottled gas and certification and collection of the money from the Department. It is a rather small scheme. It does not call for any national advertising because it relates to remote areas. But, within those areas, it is very well known. It is a problem of trying to administer a scheme efficiently which is very diverse and involves very small units and retail operators. We have been doing our best to eliminate these delays, not as successfully as we hoped. But we are trying to catch up on these things so as not to have this kind of deficit. In subsequent years we reduced the provision below what we would have thought prudent previously in the light of this kind of experience.
Deputy MacSharry.—How is it working out?
—We are a little closer to it now than we were at that stage.
Deputy Griffin.—I would not agree with the Accounting Officer when he says it is very well known. It has been my experience in my area that the scheme is not very well known.
420. Deputy MacSharry.—Sometimes they have to qualify under the rural electrification scheme before they get it?
—Yes, the scheme is designed to assist those for whom rural electrification costs are rather high and who are therefore reluctant to take it on, or in areas where the rural electrification scheme might not yet have been implemented. It provides a facility, for heating, lighting and so on. Of course, it does not do everything that electricity does—it does not serve television sets and so on—and therefore is not as popular as rural electrification. I will certainly take note of what the Deputy has said about the need for additional promulgation of information.
421. But if a millionaire went into one of those areas I assume he would not qualify?
—The qualification relates to the circumstances of the dwelling and the cost of rural connections. Therefore, I am not so sure that we investigate the means of the person. But it would not necessarily arise because, in such a situation, I would expect there would be no problem for a millionaire having electricity connected.
422. On subhead V—Grant to Aer Rianta Teoranta for Payment to the Irish Airlines (General Employees) Superannuation Fund —is the revenue to Aer Rianta shown here? We have Aer Lingus complaining to us at times that Aer Rianta do not give them any special allowances towards their charges and, therefore, it costs them a lot of money —there is the same charge for every aircraft regardless of who owns it. Aer Lingus feel they should have the services of Aer Rianta?
—The receipts from Aer Rianta are shown in the Appropriations-in-Aid. We will be coming to those. On the question of preference for Aer Lingus we are debarred by international obligations from giving preference in relation to airlines. The Chicago Convention of 1944 to which we are a party requires non-discriminatory charges to all airlines. This is a problem in relation to the national airline. Regardless of what we might like to do, we must honour our international obligations. There are certain concessions in relation to domestic flights and these confer an advantage on Aer Lingus because they happen to be the only airline on a commercial basis operating domestic flights. These concessions are given, not because Aer Lingus are the national airline but because they are the airline which carry out these domestic flights. It would be impossible to reduce landing charges for Aer Lingus without reducing them also for Pan-Am, TWA and the others.
423. On subhead Y—Grant to the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company—is that a one-off grant?
—It is. It is for the purpose of dealing with a special situation which arose. It has not been repeated since.
424. To go back for a moment to the question of Bord Fáilte, are all the schemes that were being operated a couple of years ago still in operation, for example, the scheme of grants towards farm holiday houses and so on?
—There have been some changes. What is described as the Resort Development Scheme has been discontinued in the form in which it existed at that time but it has been replaced in somewhat similar form. We now have a capital development fund. The difference is that until this change the scheme was confined to certain designated tourist resorts. The programme for those resorts was completed in 1975 and on the basis of subsequent legislation a new capital development fund which is available to the board in all tourist regions has been introduced. The scheme is similar but with slightly different financing and criteria.
425. So that all resorts are covered?
—Yes, but at the discretion of Bord Fáilte, who judge the tourist value of the money to be invested. There are changes also in the holiday accommodation side. Under subhead F.3, money was devoted, at least in part, to new accommodation, but since the downturn in tourism there are no new commitments for grant assistance in respect of new accommodation either in the form of new hotels or of extensions to existing hotels, but two new schemes have been introduced, one of which is to assist hoteliers in regard to repairs and renewals and the other is to help them in installing additional amenities without adding to the volume of accommodation. The scheme under subhead F.4 is continuing as it was.
The witness withdrew.
The Committee adjourned.