MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin, 11 Samhain, 1976.
Thursday, 11th November, 1976.
The Committee met at 11 a.m.
DEPUTY de VALERA in the chair.
Mr. S. Mac Gearailt (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) and Mr. C. K. McGrath (An Roinn Airgeadais) called and examined.
VOTE 34—NATIONAL GALLERY.
Dr. J. White called and examined.
113. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead D— Purchase and Repair of Pictures (Grant-in-Aid)—is £6,000 the full grant to the National Gallery for the purchase of works of art?
—Yes, that is the complete grant for the purchase of works of art. It is rather small, as you are aware.
I am amazed it is so small.
—That is the figure for 1974. In 1976 it was £12,000.
Deputy Toal.—It is still a paltry sum.
—The fact that we get these grants from the Government is excellent. We are fortunate in that we get bequests which enable us to purchase pictures, notably the Shaw and Lane bequests.
114. Chairman.—In any event, you had a balance forward; you did not spend it all.
—That is largely a question of handling. It is a matter of spending as the opportunity arises. In most cases our purchases are far in excess of what we could purchase out of the grant-in-aid. For instance, next year we might spend more than the grant-in-aid on one picture.
115. Deputy Tunney.—Referring to gastronomic rather than other tastes, what is the association between the Gallery and the dining hall there?
—The restaurant in the Gallery is run by us together with the Board of Works and we own the property—the premises, the furniture and so on—and we give a lease to the restaurant manager, Mr. John D. Carroll, who also runs the restaurant in the Dáil. Fifteen per cent of the profits are given to the Board of Works as a contribution towards the upkeep.
116. Deputy MacSharry.—Is there always a profit?
—Yes, up to now, but we have to work very hard at present. I, as director of the Gallery, introduced various little schemes to encourage people to come. For instance, on Thursday night we have a dinner of the month at which I give a talk to encourage people to come and on the first Saturday of the month we have a children’s treasure hunt at which cheaper lunch is served to the children and the children are then given a competition. There are other features like this—lecture tours and so on to encourage people to use the restaurant.
Chairman.—There is no charge on the Vote for this?
—No, we never fail to make a profit.
117. To summarise, in the first place it is a small profit for the Board of Works, and in the second place it is really a means of educating and of promoting cultural activity by attracting people to take an interest in art.
—Experience around the world is that it is an essential feature of an institution like ours to have a restaurant because people come partially to enjoy themselves and to be able to have a meal or a cup of tea when necessary enables people to use the place and to remain for long periods.
118. Are attendances tending to fall off at the moment?
—No. We are in the very fortunate position of having secured a growing attendance all the time. The attendance last year for the first time reached 1,000 per day and it was over 365,000 for the year. As a programme of our organisation we aim to make sure that we increase the attendance because it seems to be the one way that we establish that we are doing our job.
That is attendance at the Gallery as a whole?
—Yes. We do not analyse the attendance at the restaurant but I am sure the manager could tell how many customers he gets. We only keep a record of those who come in the door. The restaurant is so placed that you have to walk from the entrance to the back of the Gallery to get there. The idea of the restaurant is to attract people to the Gallery.
119. But business is being kept up?
—It is a variable thing because, as the Committee is aware, it is necessary to increase prices to keep pace with inflation, and as the prices go up there tends to be a small fall-off and then it comes back again. It is like the tax on tobacco, drink and so on but, in general, because we give a reasonable service in the restaurant and because we are well placed in regard to the Dáil and the offices around Merrion Square we keep a fairly good attendance.
Deputy Tunney.—I am very happy that Dr. White has made such a living centre out of the National Gallery.
Deputy Griffin.—The Accounting Officer said that a share of the profit goes to the Board of Works, not the Gallery?
—That is correct.
Chairman.—Would Dr. White like to say anything?
—I would like to thank the Committee because it is from the Vote, from the Government, from the people that the money comes which keeps the Gallery going. We are very proud of what we do and we are also very grateful for what we get.
The witness withdrew.
VOTE 28—OFFICE OF THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION.
Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire called and examined.
120. Chairman.—Paragraph 30 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead A.4.—Grants to Bord an Choláiste Náisiúnta Ealaíne is Deartha
Reference was made in paragraph 31 of my previous report to the failure of Bord an Choláiste Náisiúnta Ealaíne is Deartha to submit its statutory accounts to me for audit as required by Section 15 (2) of the National College of Art and Design Act, 1971. I am still awaiting these accounts.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—In its Reports on the Appropriation Accounts for 1972-73 and 1973-74, the Committee commented on the failure of the National College of Art and Design to submit accounts for audit. Accounts for the three financial periods from 1st May, 1972, when the board was set up, to 31st December, 1974, were certified by me yesterday. The audit of the accounts for 1975 is at present in progress.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes.
Deputy Tunney.—Lá na gaoithe.
121. Chairman.—We realise you have some problems with this particular activity and this is not the first time we have had the matter of the College of Art before us. Something simply must be done. I remarked to another Accounting Officer earlier that it is very disturbing to find a phrase in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report coming to this Committee: “I am still awaiting these accounts.” It means we have not got the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on them. He cannot possibly report on the accounts he got yesterday. Whereas we understood the difficulties which were there before, the Committee has to take a serious view of this. What is the explanation?
—As you are aware, Chairman, the onus in relation to this matter is on the College itself. It is the board of the College who present their accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Normally the Accounting Officer would not be aware that the College accounts had not gone in.
122. You have raised an interesting point for us. What is your function as Accounting Officer? Is there an anomaly here? In fairness to the whole structure, it is rather important that we should know.
—There is not an anomaly here now. The position was somewhat anomalous at the beginning in that the Act setting up the College put the onus of producing the accounts for audit on the board of the College. At the beginning the machinery of the Department of Education was still operating in regard to these accounts and payments were being made from the Accounts Branch of the Department. The Department was involved in some of the payments made in the accounts of the period in question. Now the position is that the payments are being made by the College and the onus is on the board of the College to supply the accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is only fair to take into account also that the board of the College are people who are working without remuneration in that capacity. They have many things to do. It would be my hope that there would not be any problems in the future and that these accounts would come along regularly.
123. Sums of money are issued from your Department to the College. Is not that the way it is financed? Approximately how much is involved annually? I think £200,000 is a fairly substantial sum of money even in these days of inflation. Do I understand the position to be that, whereas as the Accounting Officer you have responsibility for accounting for the moneys they receive—and it was not a grant-in-aid, is not that so——
—That is true.
Whereas you have this responsibility, if I understand you correctly, you do not feel you have responsibility for the board’s furnishing the accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General? Would that be a fair way of putting it?
—That is the position except that the money is now a grant-in-aid.
That is what I want to know. Is it a grant-in-aid?
124. So that more or less regularises the matter. It is a grant-in-aid, in effect, this College has now become a State-sponsored body?
—In effect, Chairman, but there is a further complication that the intention is that this College should be designated to the Higher Education Authority and the money would be flowing to the College from the Higher Education Authority.
125. I agree that we could start following a thread and get into a labyrinth. In the net, what we are concerned about here is this. In the year of account we are talking about there was an anomalous position. Technically you were responsible.
—For part of the period.
You were responsible for the paying out but, even at that time, the board was responsible for reporting to the Comptroller and Auditor General. That is your interpretation?
It was not a grant-in-aid?
—That is true.
So that, in itself, was bound to result in comment here. Am I to understand that the situation now is that it is a grant-in-aid?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—That is my understanding of it.
Chairman.—How will it be shown in the Estimates?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—As a grant-in-aid.
126. Chairman.—You are now in the position of any other Accounting Officer for a Department making a grant-in-aid?
Your responsibility is to see that it is properly measured and properly applied for the purposes for which it is voted and, after that, you are not concerned with the details. Is not that so?
More or less. That is the position. You are not accountable for the details. You are accountable for reasonable supervision of the issues?
—Yes, Chairman, but I think I should say I have been endeavouring to keep a rather closer control here than perhaps I am legally entitled to or required to, because of the situation which arose and also because of some complications which arose as between capital moneys and current moneys. We are exercising a tight control at the moment on the issues from the grant-in-aid to ensure that things will be kept in order.
127. Deputy Tunney.—Did Mr. Ó Laoghaire give the impression that, because of its nature, the board might not have the same machinery for keeping accounts as some other board or some other grant-in-aid destination and, if so, could that not be improved?
—At the beginning that was true. I do not think it is true now.
Mr. Ó Laoghaire is happy that there should not be any difficulty in getting accounts from now on?
—That is true.
128. Deputy MacSharry.—When was the beginning and when is now? We are hearing about the “beginning” and “now”.
—The beginning was in 1972.
It came right when?
—It comes right on the conclusion of the accounts for December, 1974, the accounts signed by the Comptroller and Auditor General yesterday.
129. Chairman.—The problem has been solved by financing this with a grant-in-aid, and that relieves much of the departmental responsibility?
—I do not think I would carry it that far.
I grant it is an over-simplification, but I think it is the essence of it?
—I have not felt yet that I am in a position to wash my hands of it and say “There is the money”.
I appreciate that. Your solicitude there is very commendable, and I think the Committee would express itself satisfied in the circumstances.
130. Paragraph 31 of the Report of the comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead A.5.—National Council for Educational Awards
The National Council for Educational Awards was appointed in April 1972 by the Minister for Education to examine curricula, to structure courses, to set examinations and to award diplomas, certificates and degrees for third level non-university education. The Council is operating as a non-statutory body pending the introduction of legislation to establish it on a statutory basis.
Moneys are provided by Dáil Éireann for the expenses of the Council out of an ordinary vote subhead. As the Department appears to be treating the Council as a body financed by grant-in-aid I have communicated with the Accounting Officer.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph refers to the appointment and funding of the National Council for Educational Awards. The charge to the subhead, £95,600, represents the net issues made by the Department to the Council in the period under review whereas the correct charge should be £94,116, being the actual amount of expenses incurred by the Council in that period. Moreover at the 31st December, 1974, the last day of the financial period, the Council had on hands £20,305, comprising £14,914 surplus cash out of voted moneys which should have been surrendered to the Exchequer; £4,008, fees received by the Council which should have been remitted to the Department for bringing to account, and £1,383, bank interest earned on a deposit account. The Accounting Officer informed me that the Council had since surrendered the fees collected and that the Vote issues to the Council for 1975 had been adjusted to take account of the other moneys which they had on hands at the end of the financial period under review.
131. Deputy MacSharry.—To what year does the £20,000 relate? Was it the year they spent £3,000 more than they got?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—No. At the end of December, 1974, they had £20,000. Some of that had related to a balance they carried over from the previous year.
Deputy MacSharry.—According to this they spent £3,000 less than in 1974. Was the balance carried over from 1973.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes.
132. Chairman.—There are two factors here. First, it must be emphasised that at the end of the accounting period surplus moneys must be returned to the Central Fund.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Unless it is a grant-in-aid
Chairman.—Yes, unless it is a grant-in-aid. There is no dispute about that principle?
It has been agreed by the Committee and by Accounting Officers, particularly by the Accounting Officer for the Department of Finance, that this is the key principle in public accounting. In so far therefore as there was a failure to surrender such funds in this case, there has been a serious irregularity here. Having, so to speak, convicted, let us consider the sentence. Was this complicated in any way by the fact that the year 1974 was a truncated year, thus perhaps causing difficulty for Accounting Officers?
—I do not think this was the problem here.
You would not put that forward in explanation?
Then the simple judgement must be that this was a serious irregularity and should not occur again.
133. Deputy MacSharry.—The Comptroller’s note says he communicated with the accounting officer. What was the reply to that?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The fees collected, as distinct from the excess, were surrendered. Regarding the excess which they have in hands from the previous year, this was taken into consideration in fixing the level of issues for 1975. In other words, they reduced the 1975 issues to offset what moneys they had in hands from the previous year.
Deputy MacSharry.—The previous two years?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes, the previous two years.
134. Chairman.—That was an understandable correction but nevertheless it was the correction of something that was basically wrong?
—Yes, but could I say in regard to it that again it is part of this question of whether this should properly be a grant-in-aid or not. It still is not a grant-in-aid. The status of the National Council for Educational Awards has been a matter of a certain amount of uncertainty pending the enactment of legislation and at the moment the body is in course of becoming a designated institution to the Higher Education Authority. The item would then be a grant-in-aid through the Higher Education Authority. Therefore, while I feel we have to plead guilty to the irregularity, it was because of the feeling of uncertainty about it and the feeling that this might become a grant-in-aid subhead that it arose and it certainly will not occur again.
135. We realise the fluidity of the situation administratively, and policy-wise—with which we are not concerned in the Committee—but if one adopts the principle of financing all these bodies by grant-in-aid, does that not amount to establishing them as, so to speak, State-sponsored bodies, from an accounting point of view? In other words, this virtually absolves the Accounting Officer of the Department concerned from any responsibility other than what I might call reasonable precautions in issuing the grants-in-aid. I am talking in general terms. Is that not what happens?
—Yes, this is true.
It is obviously something to be considered. There is a policy matter here that I do not think we can go any further with in the Committee. However, this Committee might comment on the consequence of this approach and the difficulties that there are.
136. Paragraph 32 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead D.1.—Publications in Irish
Grants totalling £82,500 were paid to a firm in the period 1 April 1972 to 31 December 1974 towards the publication of books in Irish. The grants were paid on condition that a minimum of nine books, including reprints, be published each year. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer in regard to the payment of the grants in 1972-73, 1973-74 and 1974 in the absence of certificates confirming the publication of the required minimum number of books.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the payment of grants by the Department of Education prior to the receipt by that Department of the essential financial documentation. The Accounting Officer has informed me that these payments were made through the agency of the Department of Finance. On receipt of oral confirmation from that Department that the necessary conditions for the payment of the grants had been fulfilled, payable orders for the amount of the grants were forwarded to the company through the Department of Finance. The Accounting Officer furnished me with copies of the necessary certificates for the three years in question which he received from the Department of Finance subsequent to the date of my inquiry. The expenditure has now been vouched to the satisfaction of my officers.
Chairman.—On this question of the delay which is commented upon in the report——
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—It is a question of communication. Apparently the Department of Finance had the certificates but my officers could not find them in the Department of Education.
137. Deputy MacSharry.—Was the money sent direct from Finance or via Education?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—It was direct from Education to the publishers via Finance.
Chairman.—It was essentially a matter of financial sanction.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—It was a matter of having a certificate from the publishers that they had published the required number of books. We had no evidence to show that they had done so.
Chairman.—The certificate was in the Department of Finance.
Deputy H. Gibbons.—Why did the certificate go to Finance?
Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor General said it was a matter of internal communication.
138. Deputy C. Murphy.—How much of the £82,500 was for reprinting? I presume the balance was for new material.
—I will have to ask the officer from the Department of Finance to answer that question.
A note would suffice.
Deputy MacSharry.—As we are considering expenditure under the Education Vote it is wrong that the Accounting Officer for Education has not got the relevant information.
Chairman.—If the Comptroller and Auditor General had the information in time there would be no need for these matters to come before the Committee. Two separate matters are involved. In the first instance, if the Comptroller and Auditor General, through his officers, asked for certain information, the Department concerned should be able to get that information from the Department of Finance. There is an onus on the Accounting Officer to do that. This Committee could not tolerate a situation where a responsibility lay but documents were not there and the Comptroller and Auditor General was told to go to the Department of Finance for them. When I say this I am open to rebuttal.
—We did get the certificates and we did give them to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
How long did it take?
Deputy MacSharry.—At this stage the Accounting Officer has not got the details.
139. Deputy Tunney.—The possibility is that the culpability does not rest with him but with whoever was responsible for giving him the information. How hotly should he pursue something that happens without his authority?
Chairman.—Did this happen without his authority?
I take the Deputy’s point, but the responsibility lies somewhere. If the person concerned is not responsible he still must carry the responsibility. It is that person’s sole responsibility to ensure that the information is with him.
Deputy Tunney.—In regard to paragraph 32, I assumed that the Department of Education had not got the details sought by Deputy Murphy because they were with the Department of Finance. I was not sure whether the Accounting Officer was admitting to a fault on his part. I got the impression that that was the position. I know that matters arising from paragraphs are important but at some of our meetings these matters tend to consume most of the time which I have to devote to this Committee. We should be dealing with matters which are more important than this one. I would make an appeal that these interdepartmental botherations be cleared before the Committee meets.
Chairman.—The Committee agrees, but the point is that the Comptroller and Auditor General does not get the information in time. Another point is that Deputy Murphy asked a question on the paragraph and the information should have been available. I want you to understand that everything cannot be available. There is a tradition of sending notes and we should be glad to have a note of this matter, but the less notes we have the better.
Deputy C. Murphy.—A certain amount of research would be necessary in order to answer that question and that is the reason for asking for a note.
Mr. McGrath (Department of Finance).—I have enough information to answer the Deputy’s question.
140. Deputy MacSharry.—I am concerned with the principle involved in this matter. The Accounting Officer is entitled to have information in relation to every item under the Vote. He is responsible. It is this principle that I am talking about. The details can come in a note, or now, I do not mind.
—The Department of Finance spent this money.
141. Deputy MacSharry.—It should be under the Department of Finance Vote if they expend the money, and not under Education.
—In regard to this, I would not like the impression to be created that there is disharmony between the Departments of Education and Finance, because there is not. What happened in this case was that the arrangement that was made with this publisher for reasons that I need not go into, was originally sponsored by the Department of Finance. The charge was on the Vote for the Department of Education and as a matter of convenience the payments were made by the Department of Education but sent to the Department of Finance for transmission to the publisher in question and the material from the publisher was coming to the Department of Finance. I was satisfied that certification of this was coming into the Department of Finance. Perhaps we should have got it at an earlier stage, but there is no difference of opinion or cleavage between the Department of Finance and the Department of Education on this.
Chairman.—Deputy MacSharry’s point is very valid in principle and it highlights the danger of confusion if this Committee cannot look to particular Votes and particular Accounting Officers without having a grey area between them. I am not questioning the Department of Finance’s supervisory capacity but here it seems to have exercised a direct function of the Department of Education in a sense, if it was decided that the money would be borne on the Vote of that Department.
142. Deputy Crotty.—I am concerned by the lack of information available on the number of headings already dealt with. Paragraph 30, on the information from the College of Art, states that the accounts were only furnished yesterday. Would these accounts have been furnished yesterday, or when would they have been furnished if this Committee had not been sitting today? This Committee is very important, because at least when we sit here the information has to come in. We really should not have to deal with these sort of paragraphs, but if they are there we must treat them with the gravity they deserve.
—The accounts were signed by the Comptroller and Auditor General yesterday, but they have been in the course of preparation. They were supplied at an earlier stage; it was not a question of the accounts just coming along yesterday and being accepted.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—They have been working on them, but they had not been signed. I am not saying that the Accounting Officer was responsible. I have no doubt that my staff reminded the College that the Public Accounts Committee meeting was coming up and that may have helped.
143. Deputy MacSharry.—Perhaps the Accounting Officer could give us a note as to how many similar circumstances of the case just given in relation to Irish publications exist throughout the Department?
—This is absolutely unique.
144. It is obvious that it is wrong and it must be corrected. If the Accounting Officer is responsible for the money, then he must have all the details.
Mr. McGrath.—From my inquiry into this matter, the failure of my Department to send the certificates to the Department of Education was due to a human oversight. It is the practice to send these certificates to the Department of Education as they are received.
145. Chairman.—That is understandable, but the question arises as to when the Comptroller and Auditor General sought this and how long it took to get it.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Officially the certificate was sought on the 3rd July and we got the reply on the 23rd December.
Chairman.—That seems an extraordinary length of time to get a certificate that was there, even if there was a human error, which one could understand and accept.
Mr. McGrath.—My Department sent the certificates to the Department of Education on the 15th of July.
Chairman.—Why were they not sent on to the Comptroller and Auditor General?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—If I had got them before the 15th September this paragraph would not be needed.
146. Chairman.—We have been on this for a long time, and, as Deputy Tunney said, the time of the Committee is being taken up quite unnecessarily with paragraphs which need not come before it if the Comptroller and Auditor General were properly serviced by the Accounting Officers concerned. I do not mean this personally; I am referring to the agency. We have sympathy with the Accounting Officer’s problems. Will the Accounting Officer be able to give us the note that was asked for?
147. Paragraph 33 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead D 3.—Transport Services
Under the terms of the agreement made in 1968 between the Minister for Education and Córas Iompair Éireann in relation to the administrative and financial arrangements for the free transport of school children the company was recouped from voted moneys the interest on capital utilised to provide buses used in school transport and also the costs of depreciation on these buses. The recoupment of depreciation costs was conditional upon the setting up by the company of a sinking fund to provide for the replacement of the buses.
In November 1972 the Minister for Finance directed that the basis of payment for the school transport scheme should be reviewed with particular reference to the continued payment of depreciation costs as Córas Iompair Éireann had not set up the sinking fund by that date. As noted in the Appropriation Account, the Minister for Finance, as a result of the review, sanctioned a new arrangement whereby interest-free capital grants would be made available by the Minister for Education from voted moneys to the company for the provision of school buses as from 1 April 1974 and recoupment of depreciation costs and interest on capital utilised would cease.
The charge to this subhead includes £10,200 paid to Córas Iompair Éireann as a capital grant under the new arrangement.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph is for information. It outlines in a general way the financial arrangements entered into in 1968 between the Department of Education and CIE for the provision of buses for the scheme for the transport of school children and the revision of these arrangements in 1972 in the light of experience of the operation of the scheme.
148. Deputy Griffin.—On subhead A1— Salaries, Wages and Allowances—have these vacancies now been filled?
—Most of them.
Deputy C. Murphy.—What are the main categories of vacancies?
—There were ten inspectors in the primary branch, 12 organisers, 16 inspectors in the post-primary branch and six psychologists.
149. What caused the delay?
—The cause of the delay is twofold, usually. When vacancies arise the inspectorial side must decide where the replacement is needed, whether it is in the subject in which the vacancy arose or by rearrangement somewhere else. Secondly the posts must be advertised through the Civil Service Commission.
150. Deputy Tunney.—That would have been borne in mind when provision was being made for the expenditure of the money in the Estimates?
Therefore there was an over-estimate that year of £153,000?
That can be improved upon?
—No, that would have arisen by failure to anticipate the length of time that the filling of the vacancies would take. It was also a short year in this case.
151. Deputy C. Murphy.—On the general matter of the conditions of inspectors, and so on, they do not seem to be sufficiently attractive to entice people to leave teaching and move into that category?
—They are now.
152. Deputy MacSharry On subhead A.4.— Grants to Bord an Choláiste Náisiúnta Ealaíne is Deartha—there was a supplementary grant in that short year. Who gets in touch with whom? Assuming that the grant-in-aid is not sufficient, who will get in touch with whom in relation to a supplementary grant?
—The board of the College will get in touch with the Department of Education and the Department will then get in touch with the Department of Finance.
When that happens in a grant-in-aid situation, what information would you look for about expenditure of the original grant?
—Normally this would be due to increases in rates of remuneration or something like that which would be self-justifying.
Would you ask if there was any saving under other heads?
—We would always pursue the question of savings under other heads before we would look for a supplementary.
All that is done?
153. On subhead A.5.—National Council for Educational Awards—is that an accurate description of the NCEA—“to award diplomas, certificates and degrees for third level nonuniversity education”?
—It was then, but it is not now.
When was it changed?
—The legislation has not come yet. It was on an ad hoc basis. The new terms of reference of the NCEA do not include degrees?
They never awarded degrees?
—They did, in fact.
154. Deputy C. Murphy.—Expenditure by the NCEA was £95,600 for the year. Where did the bulk of that go? Was it on administration?
—Salaries of the staff, examinations, and expenses of the committees and boards they set up to monitor these examinations.
Are the NCEA still structuring courses?
—Under their new terms of reference they have a function of planning and co-ordinating courses.
Deputy MacSharry.—Certificate and diploma courses?
155. Chairman.—On subhead B.3.—International Apprentices Competition—there is a note: The International Apprentices Competition which was to have taken place in Lisbon in August, 1974, was cancelled. This resulted in a saving in transport and equipment costs.
Deputy Tunney.—Why was it cancelled?
—Because of the political situation in Portugal at the time. It was fixed for Lisbon.
156. Deputy MacSharry.—What was the other £7,000 spent on?
—We hold national competitions here for the selection of apprentices and the costs of that were covered.
157. On subhead B.6.—Language Research—what language?
158. Deputy C. Murphy.—On subhead B.8.— Educational Tours for Teachers—was there only one tour involved in that?
—This is the tour of Irish teachers to the United States. Just one tour.
The subhead refers to educational tours, but it would seem to me there was only one tour?
—As a matter of accuracy they go in two groups.
There was only one tour?
159. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead C.3.
—Student Exchange Scholarships—can you give us an example of how a student would qualify for this exchange scholarship?
—Scholarships are awarded by other countries and matching scholarships are awarded by Ireland. In the year in question there were scholarships involving us with Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the College of Europe, Bruges. Sometimes these scholarships are not availed of. For example, the Danish scholarship was not availed of in that year and, of the scholarships awarded for study in France, three were not availed of.
160. Deputy Griffin.—Only three-quarters of the voted amount was spent. If one student refused, or was not in a position to avail of the scholarship, is it not a pity that the student next in line did not get the opportunity to avail of it? If you had a panel, if A refused it could B take it?
—There is a panel, and the Committee can take it we make every effort to get somebody.
161. Chairman.—On subhead C.4.—Fellowships—what fellowships are involved?
—These are fellowships to enable scientists and engineers from Ireland to go abroad.
162. Deputy C. Murphy.—As regards the facilities under subheads C.3 and C.4, are these advertised?
—We do advertise but we try to keep our expenditure on advertising as low as possible. We endeavour to publicise them as well through the universities to the people who would come along there.
163. Deputy Moore.—On subhead D.4.— Audio-Visual Teaching Aids—are they supplied to individuals or to institutions?
Deputy MacSharry.—Does every school get them as a matter of right? This is only a contribution towards the cost of them?
—Yes; and before 1974 the scope of the schemes for national schools was restricted to selected schools with three or more teachers and recommended by the inspectors. In 1974 and afterwards it has been open to all schools to apply for these grants.
What proportion of the cost would the grant be?
—Seventy-five per cent.
Deputy Tunney.—Does this include what is referred to as stock grant?
—No, that is a free stock grant to new schools. That is a separate thing.
164. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead E.4— National Library: Development Schemes— what kind of schemes?
—These are the schemes that are based on the National Library, National Museum, National Gallery and the Public Record Office. There are two centres, in Castlebar, County Mayo and Trim, County Meath. The idea was to use the facilities of the institutions to make exhibition material available in those centres. The only expenditure out of the grant at the end of this year, 1974 was the renting of premises in Castlebar and the appointment of a teacher. Since then the schemes have developed.
165. Deputy Crotty.—On subhead F.3— National Museum: Archaeological Excavations—is that not a rather small grant for the type of work involved? It does not encourage excavation of historical sites?
—It has been increased since. In this case there were only three excavations, one in Wexford, one in Cavan and one in Waterford. There probably would have been more done in that year but there was a shortage of staff in the division and they were working on the excavations in Dublin city at fairly full pressure.
166. Chairman.—On subhead F.4—National Museum: Development Schemes—that is the same as E.4.
Deputy MacSharry.—How was it the same as E.4.
—It is related both to the Museum and the Library, and there is £10,000 provided under the Library subhead and £10,000 under the Museum subhead.
Have those schemes got off the ground?
—Yes, and the grant in each case has since gone up to £15,000.
167. Deputy C. Murphy.—Do they have temporary exhibitions or permanent exhibitions?
—It is intended that it will be a permanent exhibition centre, but the exhibitions that are mounted there perhaps will not be permanent because they will be moved elsewhere or changed from time to time.
I was wondering if it was a mobile unit that could visit different places on certain occasions. I gather that there is a great deal of stuff just boxed up and hidden away.
—This is an attempt to bring the material out, but the exhibitions are not mobile in that sense, because what is important is not only the exhibitions but the attendance of somebody who knows about the exhibitions and can talk about them and the arousing of interest locally in the material.
It may not be feasible to have a mobile unit?
—It would probably be a great deal more costly.
168. Deputy MacSharry.—Would a local museum who decided to take one room for a permanent exhibition qualify for a grant?
—Not under this subhead. These are exhibitions in effect sponsored by the Department of Education and institutions of science and art.
Who would qualify for them?
—These two centres only.
Why those two and not others?
—We have to make a beginning somewhere.
169. Deputy C. Murphy.—If larger schools had libraries that were sufficiently big to accommodate some display cases would it be possible to have——
—It might but——
Deputy MacSharry.—At the moment you are sticking with the two?
—That is all we are in a position to finance at the moment. In relation to the other question of whether material can be made available, you come up against the question: what are the institutions concerned prepared to release into custody that may not be as secure as theirs? Then the question arises as to whether people will be satisfied with replicas.
Deputy Crotty.—We are talking about schools.
—Schools or other centres. The exhibitions that are here are not in schools. They are in centres in the two places concerned, which are rented.
Under the care of the staff of the Department of Education?
Was there not an announcement made in the daily papers about a mobile exhibition this week or last week?
—There have been many suggestions for mobile exhibitions but we have not been in a position to finance them.
Deputy H. Gibbons.—Have you had an application from Kilkenny for an exhibition?
—Yes. We have only been able to finance two centres.
170. Chairman.—On subhead G.2—Royal Irish Academy—is there an explanation for the saving of £300 under this subhead?
—This is on the international exchange scheme. They were not in a position to expend the full amount.
So they surrendered the balance?
171. Deputy C. Murphy.—On subhead G.12 —Grant-in-Aid Fund for Youth and Sports Organisations—the original sum was £23,000 less a supplementary of £10,000. Was there not a demand for the supplementary amount?
—The £10,000 was expended on Macra na Tuaithe which was regarded as analogous to the youth activities.
Chairman.—It was transferred from one Estimate to another but regularly in the House?
172. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead G.17— Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann—this institute is interested in the Irish language?
What guarantee have we that there is no duplication between G.17 and B.6, which relates to language research?
—B.6 relates to Buntús Gaeilge. The institute’s operation relates to linguistics generally. There is no overlap between the two.
173. Chairman.—On Appropriations-in-Aid, there is a serious discrepancy between the estimated receipts for Irish books and the income received. That means that expected sales were three times greater than the orders received. Was there a fall-off in the sale of Irish publications?
—This matter does not come into my area. The sale of these books is the responsibility of the Stationery Office. In co-operation with the Stationery Office, we have been endeavouring to increase sales.
What type of book is involved?
—All the publications are on sale through the Stationery Office.
174. Deputy C. Murphy.—What are the prospects this Christmas in regard to the availability of textbooks in Irish?
—Is the Deputy referring to textbooks or to books of general literature?
Books of general literature.
—There are quite a number of these available.
I tried to obtain books for four and seven year old children, such as Daithi Lacha, but was not successful.
—Ten titles have been published in the last year and this would indicate that these should be available this year.
VOTE 29—PRIMARY EDUCATION.
Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire further examined.
175. Chairman.—Paragraph 34 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Expenditure in excess of Authorised Issues
In paragraph 6 above I referred to payments from seventeen Votes in excess of the amounts authorised by Section 2 of the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act, 1965. They include payments of some £3,773,000 from this Vote, £1,001,000 from Vote 30—Secondary Education, £1,041,000 from Vote 31—Vocational Education and £2,407,000 from Vote 33—Higher Education. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer but I have not as yet received his reply.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—At its first meeting the Committee considered generally the circumstances in which expenditure in excess of the issues authorised was incurred in the case of 17 supply services. This paragraph names four of these services—Primary Education, Secondary Education, Vocational Education and Higher Education. The Accounting Officer has informed me that expenditure in excess of the sums authorised by the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act occurred by reason of (a) the changeover of the financial year to a calendar year in 1974, (b) the need to issue the bulk of payments due in December before the Christmas posting rush and (c) the fact that the Estimates were not taken until 18th December, 1974. He also states that, in the light of the revised arrangements whereby in future all Estimates and the Appropriation Bill will be passed by Dáil Éireann before the Summer Recess and by closer monitoring in the Department of the performance of the Vote, it is not envisaged that further difficulties will arise as regards the 1965 Act.
176. Chairman.—We are familiar with the case but is there any explanation why a reply could not have been given to the Comptroller and Auditor General in time to make a complete account? Here again we have this phrase “I have not yet received his reply”. Is there any explanation? This report was dated 15th September, 1975.
—It takes some time to collate all the information that was necessary to reply.
When did the Comptroller and Auditor General seek the information?
So that from May to the 15th September, is the Accounting Officer saying that he had not got the information?
—Not all of it.
—Part of it concerned parties other than the Department of Education.
What other parties?
—The final paragraph—the explanation was given in Dáil Éireann on the 17th December by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach.
What did that say? We want your answer, not an answer given in the Dáil.
—I did not have that information until after the explanation was given.
177. I do not follow this. The information was not in the Department to answer a query from the Comptroller and Auditor General that had arrived in May. What information did you not have?
—The information contained in paragraph (c). I had (a) and (b) but not (c).
Why had you not that information?
—Because it was not within my control.
Why was it not within your control to have information as to why your Vote should be in this position? After all, under the Act the Accounting Officer is responsible.
—The reply to the Comptroller and Auditor General was … “expenditure in excess of the sums authorised by the Act occurred by reason of (a) the changeover of the financial year to a calendar year in 1974 (b) the need to issue the bulk of payments due in December before the Christmas postal rush and (c) the fact that the Estimates were not taken until 18th December, 1974.”
I do not understand the point. Your Department was asked for an explanation for certain things in May and no answer was furnished to the Comptroller and Auditor General before September, several months later. Some answer must have been available within the Department and it is your responsibility to give it.
—That is true.
In fairness, you are not the only Accounting Officer being asked these questions. The Accounting Officer has specific responsibility here. It was pointed out earlier that the Committee will not wait until there has been general consultation between Departments and Accounting Officers to get some sort of consensus. We understand what happened from what was said earlier, but we want to emphasise that the Accounting Officer is legally responsible for answering for his accounts and he must do so fully to the extent of the information available to him and if the information is not available he must inform the Comptroller and Auditor General that he has not got it and why he has not got it. That is the attitude of this Committee. Does Deputy MacSharry wish to make a point?
Deputy MacSharry.—It is the same thing, and the answer of other Accounting Officers was to the effect that they were waiting to get a common answer, which was no answer.
178. Chairman.—Paragraph 35 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead A.1.—Training Colleges
Arising out of proposals to increase the output of students from the teacher training colleges the Department of Education sought the approval of the Minister for Finance in April 1972 for a major scheme of adaptation and extension at Our Lady of Mercy College of Education, Carysfort, County Dublin. The scheme included the conversion of dormitories into seminar and tutorial rooms, the alteration of hostel accommodation, the conversion of the assembly hall into a lecture theatre, the extension of dining facilities and the provision of a new kitchen and was estimated to cost £918,250 to be met by grants from this Vote. Approval was given by the Minister for Finance in May 1972 for the commencement of the works. It would appear from the departmental files on the scheme that the works had commenced before this approval was sought and that the college authorities had awarded the contract to a selected contractor without competitive tendering. At 31 August 1975 grants paid on this scheme amounted to £682,842.
After commencement of the works the authorities, following consultation with their professional advisers, decided that the best way to provide for the requisite dining and kitchen facilities would be the construction of a new building rather than the conversion and adaptation of existing facilities. Accordingly fresh plans were drawn up and a separate contract was placed in August 1973 with the contractor who was already engaged on the main scheme. A contract price of £201,000 was stated by the College authorities to have been negotiated on the basis of a bill of approximate quantities for a similar project carried out by this contractor and to have been compared with a check tender obtained from another building firm. It would appear that the Department of Education first became aware of this deviation from the original plans on the receipt in March 1974 of architect’s certificates in respect of the kitchen/dining hall contract. After an examination of the plans and documentation for this block the Department’s Building Unit expressed the opinion that an excess cost of some £160,000 would arise due to the failure to process the project in accordance with normal procedures including competitive tendering and to the failure to limit the area of the new building to the Unit’s standards. This figure was later reduced to £100,000 after discussions with the college authorities. At 31 August 1975 grants paid on the kitchen/ dining hall contract amounted to £194,534.
The relevant departmental files indicated that proper financial control was not exercised over this scheme as evidenced by the absence of records of decisions taken on expenditure; the absence of any formal authorisation to the college authorities to proceed with the works; the failure to have the plans and cost estimates checked in detail by the Department’s Building Unit despite an undertaking given to the Department of Finance; the apparent lack of awareness of the deviation from the original plans for the kitchen/dining facilities and the failure to ensure that Building Unit standards in tendering and in area limits were adhered to. The college authorities, however, maintain that they acted after consultations with the Department of Education and that they have kept that Department fully informed of progress on the main scheme and the kitchen/dining hall building.
The Minister for Finance, in December 1974, approved expenditure on the kitchen/ dining hall building subject to strict control by the Building Unit on further expenditure and without prejudice to the question of securing a contribution from the college authorities towards the excess costs.
In view of the serious lack of proper financial control shown in this case, I have communicated with the Accounting Officer and have asked him for information on the steps taken to ensure that proper financial control will be exercised over such building schemes in the future.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the absence of proper financial control by the Department of Education over an extensive scheme of reconstruction and adaptation being carried out at one of the teacher training colleges and funded from voted moneys. It lists a number of unsatisfactory features of the supervision exercised by the Department over the scheme. In particular the paragraph refers to a deviation from the original plans for the provision of dining and kitchen facilities and notes that the Department’s own Building Unit expressed the opinion that an excess cost of some £100,000 would arise because of the failure to process the revised kitchen/dining hall project in accordance with normal procedures including competitive tendering and also because of the failure to limit the area of the new building to the Unit’s standards. In his reply to my inquiry the Accounting Officer states that it is misleading to refer to this figure of £100,000 as excess expenditure; what it really represents is the difference between the cost of the scheme prepared by the architect engaged by the authorities and the estimated cost of a scheme which the Department’s Building Unit would have recommended as providing accommodation adequate to requirements. He points out, however, that neither the college authorities nor their architect would accept the contention that a scheme within the cost limits set by the Building Unit would meet the requirements. The Accounting Officer informs me that the Department of Finance sanctioned the continuation of the work on this project on condition that it would be subject to strict control by the Department’s Building Unit and that this condition was being fulfilled and would continue to be fulfilled by his Department. As to the exercise of financial controls over such projects in the future he assures me that procedures have been so adjusted within the Department that no commitment can be entered into for capital expenditure on any post-primary building project unless the design and cost of the project have been approved by the Building Unit and that all payments in relation to such projects must be monitored and approved by that Unit.
179. Deputy MacSharry.—Arising from the report before us, was there any contribution from the college authorities towards the excess costs?
Was any effort made to get one?
Is it intended that there will be?
—This is something we will have to discuss with the Department of Finance.
Surely it happened in December 1974 and now two years later is it not time for the discussions to be over?
—In one sense, yes; in another sense, not really. The whole concept of a local contribution from the teacher training colleges is something which is pretty well inconsistent with the basis on which these colleges were established and have been financed from the beginning. My difficulty in dealing with this matter is that, in one sense, I am my own accuser. The Building Unit say if they were doing this job from the beginning they feel they could have done it more cheaply. They are not saying—and this is the sense in which we say an excess is not the correct way to describe it—what was done was in any way unwarranted or unnecessary. They are satisfied that the work as done is value for money; but they are saying if they had been doing it, it would have been done in a different way and could have been done more cheaply. The history in this regard is that the teacher training colleges had been working on these building projects on their own within the context of the primary education branch of the Department and, over the years, this was a system that had worked very well and very good value had been got. They continued with this project but, after this project, all these building operations have been monitored through the Building Unit. The statement of the Building Unit here is that, first of all, they would have thought in terms of different area norms but, in discussions between themselves and the college authorities, the area norms point has been disposed of and what remain are the procedures under which the job was undertaken. The fact is that the college authorities had been accustomed to undertaking these jobs not entirely on their own responsibility but with understandings between themselves and the primary branch of the Department. What I am saying in essence is that the matter of the £100,000 which is between the two estimations is a matter of hypothesis really. What the Building Unit are saying is: “If this had been approached in a different way we would have done the job more cheaply.” What needs to be said on the other side is that, if they had been doing it, it is very unlikely that the job could have got off the ground at that time because the Building Unit were very heavily engaged. If their procedures had operated, the commencement of the operations would have been delayed and the job might well have cost more. In essense what we are saying is: “Yes, what was done here was irregular, and we have seen to it that it will not happen again in this particular way.” Arising out of that, the question of a local contribution towards the work has been raised. It is something which we have had to consider in the Department of Education and which we will have to consider further with the Department of Finance. The fact is that these colleges dispose of no financial resources which are not made available to them through the Department of Education or through fees paid by the students.
Deputy Tunney.—It is not always easy to fuse the Comptroller and Auditor General’s statement with the paragraph which we already have. I do not know whether in cases of this kind, which bring back to me memories of the famous Lyons Estate case, we might have an earlier note. What I extracted from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s statement, and what is apparent here, is that in respect of this there was (1) an absence of proper financial control (2) a deviation from the original plan and (3) the absence of competitive tenders. To me they are very serious omissions and refer to the very raison d’être of this Committee. It could be argued that post factum you could make a case that you got very good value and that, if you were to do it today, it could be much dearer. One cannot condone—I do not want to say offences—matters which are so much in conflict with the three principles to which I have referred.
180. Deputy MacSharry.—In the paragraph before us the Department say there was not proper consultation and the college authorities maintain they acted all the time after consultation with the Department of Education and kept the Department fully informed?
—The explanation for that is the fact that the Building Unit is one part of the Department and the primary branch which handled these matters all down the years is another part. The college authorities had been working with the primary branch of the Department. The matter had not been assigned to the Building Unit. That was the cause of the discrepancy.
Who did not assign it?
—The Accounting Officer.
Chairman.—The Accounting Officer is responsible. In other words, the discrepancy occurred within your Department. I do not think Deputy MacSharry meant to ask for a name.
181. Deputy MacSharry.—Who usually assigns these things to the Building Unit?
—The head of the Department would assign them to the Building Unit.
What steps are being taken to ensure this will not occur again? We hear steps have been taken?
—This work is now assigned to the Building Unit.
182. Chairman.—In the course of something you were saying earlier you said: “Yes, this was irregular”. Was all that irregularity within your Department?
183. Would it have been possible to obviate that irregularity? You have given reasons why there were difficulties. You are not pleading this irregularity was a necessity for any reason?
—To some extent, yes, a necessity in getting the work done. If the work had been assigned to the Building Unit it could not have been done when it was done. It would have taken a good deal longer to do. The traditional method of dealing with teacher training colleges had been through the primary branch of the Department, and the teacher training colleges were employing their own architects and having their own expert advice.
184. Is there no way open to the head of the Department concerned, when a situation like this arises, when he has a very difficult choice to make as you obviously had there, to regularise the solution to be adopted so that by the time it comes to accounting the whole thing is in order? Granted that the Building Unit was saturated, that it would involve delay and that it was considered that delay was highly undesirable in this case, was there no way open to the Department to regularise this, if necessary going to the Department of Finance?
—In that sense, the matter had been regularised with the Department of Finance except in relation to the question of securing a local contribution. The matter has been put to the Department of Finance and has been dealt with in a regular way since.
185. That is since. Of course it has been regularised in the end, but before the Comptroller and Auditor General had occasion to comment in the way he has, was it not possible, when the Department were confronted with such a problem, to find a solution and if that solution was not possible within the ordinary routine procedures of the moment, surely it would have been possible to find a regular way of doing it, even if it meant going to the Department of Finance or even to the Dáil?
—The problem is a very unusual one in this sense, that the issue arises only because the Building Unit said: “If we were doing this, we would have done it in a different way and the cost would have been less.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—That is only part of the problem.
186. Chairman.—Is that the whole of the problem?
—It seems to me this is the essense of the problem. If you like, what has been happening is that a building has been put up which the architects and people in the Building Unit accept is worth while and is value for money. What they are saying is that if they had been doing it they would have made changes in regard to the unit structures on which it was based and that they would have done it more cheaply. To my mind, that really does not involve an excess in the sense of money which had been spent without value. Certainly the irregularity that I feel has to be admitted is that the building was costing more than was anticipated and that that matter should have been kept under control by the primary branch.
187. This is a long and difficult matter to grasp orally, but do I not understand that you were constrained by the Department of Finance sanction to be controlled in this matter by the Building Unit and it was a departure from that? That is the irregularity, I think, that would concern the Committee more seriously than an estimate.
—The problem is, at what stage can a matter like that be retrieved? Things had been put motion and people were working on the site. If you now say this has to be controlled by somebody else who is saying, in essence: “If I had started this I would not have done it in this way——”
Come back to the Department of Finance limitation. When one found oneself in that position what was to prevent one going to the Department of Finance and having it regular ised from the start? I know it is a question of time, but as I understand the Comptroller and Auditor General, the sanction of the Department of Finance was explicitly limited in this way.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—I will put it this way. The Department of Education gave an undertaking to Finance that they would monitor the cost control and I assume Finance gave their sanction based on that.
Chairman.—The Building Unit?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes.
188. Chairman.—Can you tell us what the terms were?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—I will quote the relevant sentence: “The preliminary estimate of the cost of the scheme is given as £918,250. This is subject to the scrutiny of the Post-Primary Building Unit of the Department in relation to cost control.” I would have assumed that that would have weighed with the Department of Finance when they were giving sanction.
189. Chairman.—Was the Department of Finance not notified when there was a departure from this?
—The contract was then already under way, and the essence of the failure is that the matter continued to be controlled by the primary branch.
190. Yes, but could this not have been regularised by a simple reference and disclosure to the Department of Finance of the difficulty you were in?
—I would like to go back over the actual dates of things on this before I would reply to you in a complete fashion on that, but my impression is that operations were then ongoing, and whilst control could be exercised by the Building Unit—and control was exercised by the Building Unit at a late stage—the issue in relation to this £100,000 is of a rather different order. What the Building Unit is saying in essence is: “If we were doing this job from the beginning we would have done it in a different way.” The operation was going on in the way that the college and their architects had begun it and I think the progress of events would show that the full extent of the divergence was not apparent until a late stage.
191. Deputy C. Murphy.—I gather that the Department originally sought approval from the Minister for Finance in April, 1972?
—That is right.
The Department sought approval from the Minister for Finance in April, 1972. Approval was granted by the Minister for Finance in May, 1972. Before a date had been set a contractor had been selected and work had commenced. In the course of this work it was discovered that the plan was not working and a fresh plan was drawn up and a separate contract placed in August, 1973. The Department of Education did not become aware of this until March, 1974. The Building Unit of the Department went back in time to a date prior to April, 1972 and decided that they would have been able to build it at a lower cost if they had had this final draft. Then negotiations took place between the authorities and the Building Unit and the figure of £160,000 was reduced to £100,000.
—That is correct.
192. Deputy Tunney.—Is the Building Unit saying that they could have got the same work for less money?
Are they saying they could have got an adequate job for less money?
Are they saying there was waste?
—They are not saying there was waste.
193. Unless some marvellous economy could have been effected which would not have included considerations of material and labour, I fail to see how they could contend that they would have got something as good for less money. There must be an element of superfluity in what is there.
—It is not a question of superfluity. That was part of the argument in relation to the £160,000 which was reduced to £100,000. What the Building Unit were saying was that they would have used different area norms, but they were not prepared to push that to the point of saying that what was done was wrong. That argument between the Building Unit’s architect and the college’s architects was not an issue. The £100,000 in question is no more than an estimation by the Building Unit of what they felt they would have expended if they had approached the job in a different way.
It would have been a different job.
194. Deputy MacSharry.—In May, 1972, the Department of Finance were given details of the commencement of the work. Somebody in the Department of Education gave the goahead without financial sanction. They misled the Department of Finance by saying that this contract would be monitored by the Building Unit. These are two serious points.
—This happened before my time. There was a strong view in the Department of Education at that time that in regard to operations of this nature, particularly in the colleges of education, specific financial sanction for individual jobs was not necessary. It arose from the idea that a sum of money is made available for capital works and that when one is dealing with authorities, contractors and architects who have over a long period been giving good value for money and completing operations in a short time, that sort of operation was as economical as other operations to the Building Unit. That is the explanation for the commencement of the work before sanction had been given for the grant. The view was being taken that a sum of money would be available for capital works and that some portion of it would be earmarked for the teacher training college. The point in regard to cost control being exercised by the Building Unit is a valid one. It seems it was a virtuous intention at that stage but that, once the job had commenced, the type of economy the Building Unit subsequently talked about was hypothetical rather than actual.
195. Deputy H. Gibbons.—I agree it is hypothetical and many contractors have made this type of claim. It is not a very serious one. Was the building passed as value for money?
In your initial explanation you mentioned that this operation was irregular but you clarified it by saying that the irregularity would not occur in this particular way again. What do you mean by “in this particular way”?
—The control of this operation by the primary branch of the Department was defective. It is in that sense that it cannot happen again because these operations are now being controlled by the Building Unit.
196. From many points of view, there could be questions about the placing of a contract without having sought a tender.
—This was a case of traditional association between the college, the architect and the contractor who knew the building and had been engaged in maintenance and building work for a long time. The association between them was such that I have no hesitation in saying that it produced substantial economies. I am aware of what happened in earlier years there. In hindsight I believe that this should have been put out to tender. A teacher training college which is managed apart from the Department and to which the Department make money available is not, however, in a sense a completely public building. It is not as if the Department of Education or the Board of Works were building a school and advertising for a tender. It is a case of a training college, which is independent to a large extent and denominational, doing a building operation on a site which it owns, and which is State aided certainly. That is the explanation of what happened. I am not saying that it was completely regular.
I accept the explanation. If the economies were shown I am certain that the contractor would have got the contract, so it would not have-been any trouble to have gone through the tendering operation which is necessary.
Deputy MacSharry.—The information given to the Department of Finance by the Department of Education which subsequently came for sanction for this work was that the Building Unit would be monitoring the expenses. Maybe the Building Unit did not have any information from the other officers in the Department of Education, but yet, that information was conveyed to the Department of Finance. It is a poor thing when Finance are told in 1972 and then in August, 1973, the Building Unit became involved for the first time. Yet the Department of Finance giving their sanction in 1972 were told that the Building Unit were involved at the start. It is a very serious situation.
Chairman.—In view of the complexity I think we should adjourn now, leaving it open to return to the paragraph later. We will resume on this Vote on a date to be fixed.
The witness withdrew.
The Committee adjourned.