Committee Reports::Report - Appropriation Accounts 1974::16 December, 1976::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Déardaoin, 16 Nollaig, 1976.

Thursday, 16th December, 1976.

The Committee met at 11 a.m.

Members Present:


H. Gibbons,



C. Murphy,


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.


Mr. D. F. Ryan called and examined.

426. Chairman.—On subhead B—Travelling and Incidental Expenses—there is a note: Saving on travelling, which is difficult to forecast accurately in advance, was partly offset by the purchase of additional office equipment.

Deputy Tunney.—The note is a little bit ambiguous, is it not? I notice that subhead E covers equipment. Will there be a saving on that too?

—Subhead E is mainly printing equipment.

Chairman.—The question is really to explain what incidental expenses are.

Deputy Tunney.—Under travelling and incidental expenses you have provision for equipment.

—The equipment we are talking about under incidentals are things like pocket calculators. We spent £3,400 on calculators for our valuers.

427. Would they get these as office equipment?

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Office equipment would be charged to subhead B but subhead E provides for printing equipment, retriangulation equipment and precise levelling equipment.

—Subhead E refers mainly to the Ordnance Survey.

Chairman.—I am looking at the Estimate now. Subhead B is broken down into travelling and subsistence, motor transport, additional office and field assistance, office equipment and machinery, computer rental, uniforms, advertising, fees for contract services and other incidental expenses of the Valuation Office, the Ordnance Survey and the Commission on Place Names. In the case of subhead E it is purely the Ordnance Survey, while the Valuation Office and the Commission on Place Names are involved in subhead B. For the Ordnance Survey subhead E covers printing equipment, retriangulation equipment, precise levelling equipment et cetera. If the Deputy wishes to make a point about revising the Estimates I suppose that would be——

428. Deputy Tunney.—I thought that subhead B might be correctly described as travelling and miscellaneous equipment.

Deputy C. Murphy.—Is the title sufficient?

—The calculators, for instance, are incidental to the travel. A travelling officer has a pocket calculator.

Deputy Tunney.—Is it also incidental to office work?

—It is.

Chairman.—It is really a question of whether we should ask the Accounting Officer to take up with the Department of Finance the rearrangement of subheads.

429. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Could I ask about the Commission on Place Names, what do they do?

—The Commission on Place Names are concerned mainly with preserving the ancient forms of the Irish place names. They have produced the Irish forms for all the post towns in the 32 Counties. They answer queries from various local authorities about place names and they advise me as to the correctness of a place name. They are highly academic. They endeavour to preserve the cultural tradition of this country and to preserve these old Irish names which otherwise may be lost. We have a total staff of eight in the Placenames Branch of the Ordnance Survey.

430. Chairman.—Did they publish anything?

—They have published very little. As far as I am aware, the only thing of any consequence published as a result of their work was the Irish form of the postal towns of the 32 counties. Individual members write papers or booklets and they ask my permission as Director. It is invariably given provided it does not conflict with the civil service regulations.

431. Deputy C. Murphy.—In Wicklow we have a particular difficulty over the Irish postal name for Avoca, which is completely different from what we knew. We contacted the Department on this matter and they said the name was of cultural heritage value and it was not in colloquial use.

—The original Commission on Place Names was set up in 1946 composed of dedicated non-paid individuals. Eventually, officers were employed. I think Professor de Valera was on the Commission for a while, a long time ago. They were established in 1946 originally under the Department of Education, then they came under the Ordnance Survey. The members are dedicated Gaeilgeoirí. We depend on their advice. They go out and try to get the correct pronounciation. They are trained in phonetics and related matters. If they have given the wrong name for Avoca—

432. It is not wrong. It is just that we got a new signpost giving an Irish form which we did not know existed; but we accept the scholarly approach to the question.

—Yes, the roadsigns are another matter. I suppose there is a certain amount of pragmatism in that.

Is it just the finger sign?

—Yes, just the finger signs are in the Irish form.

Which are used as postal forms?


433. Chairman.—May I ask one general question about the survey? There is a great deal of major alteration involved in direction and lie of roads. How fast are you able to keep up with maps to deal with this?

—We have a certain problem.

I am sure you have.

—The last time I was before the Committee I explained that we hoped to get all our maps up to date within a 25-year period. We had a committee in 1964 and we had sanction, in principle, to increase the Ordnance Survey staff by 60 per year to a total of 500 over existing staff. This will reduce the period of revising all the maps back from 100 to 20-25 years. Unfortunately, there is now an embargo on new appointments and this creates a problem for us. As far as large-scale maps are concerned, we have the systematic 20-year approach. As far as the small-scale maps are concerned, we have a five-year revision rate. We need much more staff but unfortunately the money is not available to pay them. Could the Committee do anything for us? The average age of our maps is 45 years. Some of our maps are 75 years or up to 100 years old. It is of vital importance for the country to have up-to-date maps. We cannot do this without more people.

In so far as it is a policy matter, we have no function. In so far as we are as anxious as the Department of Finance to keep control of public expenditure, our sympathy is somewhat constrained in that direction by our official position. In so far as we are interested in efficiency in Departments and the productive use of expenditure, efficiency and worthwhileness, the Committee will not be unheedful of your remarks.

—I am very grateful to the Chairman.

We have no policy function. We are to some extent the watchdogs for the public purse but also it should be known that we are concerned that when money is spent there will be some return for it. Some Members might feel that there would be no point in maintaining a Department who were not able to function. Turning that argument around the other way, there might be a strong case for putting it up to Finance to do one thing or the other.

—Go raibh míle maith agat. Is fearr cara sa chúirt ná punt sa sparán.


Mr. D. F. Ryan further examined.

434. Chairman.—Paragraph 22 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 £363,800 were made from this Vote. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer but I have not as yet received his reply.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This is one of the Votes mentioned in paragraph 6 which has already been discussed by the Committee. I have since been informed by the Accounting Officer that the expenditure involved was incurred during the changeover of the financial year to the calendar year basis when the usual parliamentary financial business had to be effected in the nine months to the end of December, 1974, and that the bulk of the Estimates, including that for the Rates on Government Property Vote, were taken by the Dáil on 18th December, 1974. The delay in passing the Estimates gave rise to the temporary excess on the Vote. The expenditure was in respect of matured liabilities and could not have been avoided. The Accounting Officer also informed me that the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges has agreed that in future all the Estimates and the Appropriation Bill will be passed before the summer recess. Arrangements were also being made to keep a strict check on expenditure from the Vote so that for the future the limits set out in section 2 of the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act, 1965, will not be exceeded.

435. Chairman.—We are already aware of the specific problem that arose in this case. The Department of Finance experienced this as well as other Departments. There is one point the Committee should like to make. Mr. Ryan has been in charge of his office only a short time and his office have not been a cause of complaint for us. We have been emphasising very strongly, particularly with some Departments, that information must be supplied to the Comptroller and Auditor General on his request. The part that the Committee consider serious, as regards this particular paragraph, is that the Comptroller and Auditor General at the time of making the report had to comment: “I have not as yet received his reply.” The Committee wish to emphasise as strongly as possible the absolute necessity for, first of all, giving all information directly to the Comptroller and Auditor General just as they must also do to the Department and then to reply in reasonable time. There is no point in going into the details here because you are not alone with this comment this year and we understand the particular circumstances as regards the substance of this paragraph. As it occurred so frequently in the report we want to take the opportunity now to emphasise again the need for speedy co-operation with the Comptroller and Auditor General. In this case I mention again that there was a further complication that some Departments felt they had to consult the Department of Finance before they answered the Comptroller and Auditor General. Again, the Committee wish to point out that the Accounting Officers have their own separate statutory responsibility, that they are responsible directly to the Dáil as Accounting Officers and that when the Comptroller and Auditor General asks for information from the Accounting Officer directly he is entitled to a direct answer. The Committee can deal with this matter later in their report but it is important that these things should be done quickly as Deputy Tunney, on another occasion, pointed out. The time of the Committee, the useful work we can do and the help we can give the Department of Finance in their control is being to some extent obstructed by our having to divert to details of this nature. I would make a big appeal to all Accounting Officers—as you happen to be there you can represent everyone— to take heed of that point.

—I will take every heed of it. I wish to say that I regret very much the delay on our part.

We understand what happened.

—There were exceptional circumstances.

The Department of Finance have already explained the thing very frankly to us at the beginning. They were the first to report so we need not again go into the detail. The co-ordination of the Department of Finance, quite apart from the Comptroller and Auditor General, is involved too. We appeal to Accounting Officers to co-operate in this matter as fully as possible.

436. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead B— Contributions towards Rates on Premises occupied by Representatives of External Governments—on a point of information, is this done on a reciprocal basis?

—It is. There is an arrangement between the different countries and ourselves.

Do they have a rating system in Russia?

—I cannot answer you offhand.

They would have something that would be comparable with ours? I was wondering how we would balance it with countries where they have not got rates.

—The Russians have only just arrived.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire called and examined.

437. Chairman.—We resume consideration of paragraph 35 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which we were dealing with on 11th November. The Committee would like to ask you this question: when will the final account for this building be available? When can the Comptroller and Auditor General have the final account?

—I could not put a firm date on it but certainly we will do our best to get it as early as possible.

438. There has been one variation, as has been mentioned—the kitchen. Are there any other variations?

—Not so far as I know.

439. What running supervision is there of this operation?

—It is now being completely controlled by the Building Unit.

440. When you said that you did not know, do the Building Unit have any information about the variations? Do you not think it should be available to us?

—If I had anticipated this, it would. I can send you a note on it.*

441. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Are you not finished yet?

—It is not finally completed. Could I ask your indulgence for a moment to put a number of thoughts before you on this. I have been looking back on it and it seems that there are a couple of aspects that have not been ventilated as much as they should in regard to this question of control by the Building Unit. What we asked for in April, 1972, was approval in principle for a five-year building programme in the college to commence in 1972. The preliminary estimate of cost was the £918,250 that was mentioned. In reference to that preliminary estimate the Department of Education volunteered the statement that this was to be subject to the scrutiny of the Building Unit in relation to cost control. Planning had already been done by the college authorities at this stage through their usual team of architect and contractor. This had given complete satisfaction for many years particularly in relation to the speed of operation. An important thing that has not been mentioned is that there had been no practice and no requirement of competitive tendering under the regulations which were applicable to the training colleges. Some preliminary work had already been done. On the urgency side of it the number of students in the college went up from 533 in 1972 to 679 in 1974. That is an increase of 27 per cent in two years. It was certainly the intention that the primary branch of the Department of Education and the Building Unit would co-operate in working out a building programme. Looking back on it, it seems that it was the urgency of the work and the fact that a beginning had already been made on the traditional basis that prevented this from becoming effective. The job simply could not have been done if the developing control procedures of the Building Unit had been put into operation in 1972. It should be said that control by the Building Unit was not a requirement of the Department of Finance; it was a voluntary discipline intended by the Department of Education.

Chairman.—Is that all?

—Not quite, Chairman. Once the building operations had been planned for execution on the traditional basis and with the overwhelming need for urgent completion, it seems a little unreal to me at this stage to have expected that the control intended through the Building Unit could have been made effective. It also seems unreal to regard as an excess cost the sum of £100,000 which might not have been expended if a different type of building had been erected. The fact is that the job was done with speed by a particular process and in regard to this process the Building Unit, when they were discussing the matter with the college, had to say firstly that they were not suggesting that the job was too expensive, and secondly that the type of unit that was being used and which involved extra space was absolutely necessary to meet the deadlines which the circumstances imposed. In relation to that I was looking at a letter from the college president on 28th November, 1974, and I think it is only fair to the college to put it on record that this is what they said.

442. This is going into inter-departmental things that do not concern us. We are purely concerned with the regularity of accounting and public moneys. These are matters which should have been taken up at the right time with the Department of Finance. The question I would like to ask is: do you controvert paragraph 35 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General or are the facts as stated there correct?

—I do not think I accept them.

All right. Will you specifically say where the Comptroller and Auditor General is wrong in his facts, please?

—On facts, Chairman——

On accounting facts, that is what we are concerned with here.

—On accounting facts, the intention to control this through the Building Unit was a suggestion of the Department of Education, not a requirement.

443. We are not concerned with that. Is the Comptroller and Auditor General correct in saying that the approval was given by the Minister for Finance for the commencement of the works in May, 1972?

—That is correct.

444. Is it correct that, as appears from the departmental files on the scheme, 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 31st August, 1975, grants paid to this scheme amounted to £682,842. Is that correct?

—Yes, Chairman, but surely——

That is a matter for the Department of Finance?

—No, I am not suggesting the Department of Finance, Chairman. What I am saying is that surely it is allowable for me to say that the whole traditional basis of training college buildings from the 1880s onwards did not require competitive tendering, that these colleges were voluntary institutions.

445. There are two separate things here. I am talking about the procedure with regard to the financial sanction. I am talking about the regularity of accounting which, on the face of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report, is being seriously defective. I have asked if this report is right or wrong. We have already had reason to complain on this very Vote about the time of this Committee being taken up by what Deputy Tunney called interdepartmental botheration. We do not intend to do that because we have a lot of work to do. If there is nothing to be said on the accounting side then we will go on to the next paragraph. The reasons that you are giving are, as far as we are concerned, beside the point.

—Would you nevertheless bear with me for one moment until I finish?

No. We do not want to bring the college directly into this. The responsibility is yours as Accounting Officer.

—I am being asked to seek a local contribution from the college. The Department have already raised with the college the question of a local contribution. It seems to me that it should be explained what the circumstances are in regard to the standing of the college in the matter of local contributions.

The final account is not before us yet.

—That is true. If it can be postponed until the final account comes I will be happy. All I wish to say is that there is not any botheration between the Department of Education and the Department of Finance but a situation between the Department of Education and the college which seems to me to be not completely understood.

Deputy Tunney.—What the Accounting Officer is saying is certainly on the borderline of irrelevance but would it be acceptable if, when the final accounts have been submitted, we could get the Accounting Officer’s statement as indicated there pending——

Chairman.—We can get that if we wish but at the moment I am ruling now that we move on.

Deputy H. Gibbons.—What I have to say is in keeping with the ruling. If this situation has obtained since the 1880’s do we make a decision on it?

Chairman.—No, the proper procedure would be for the Accounting Officer to submit a memo to the Committee on the accounting question, not an apology as to extenuating circumstances or anything dealing with intentions which are interdepartmental matters. We will be glad to have a memo for our records dealing with the accounting matters which are properly the business of this Committee. We are not concerned with these other external matters.

446. Deputy H. Gibbons.—The Accounting Officer mentioned that this applied to other training colleges. I could understand a situation where a community with a lot of property in the country may have, as those people have, their own contracts and their own architects with whom they have much more experience. Does this apply to the other training colleges—for example, Drumcondra—and I understand there is one in Limerick perhaps run by the same Order?

—No, it did not apply there.

447. If there are extensions in Drumcondra they will obviously not take place under the same circumstances now?


Could they have taken place up to, say, 1974?

—They could have. The point I am making is that they could have taken place in this way under the regulations.

448. Chairman.—There is a well-established tradition in the public service about tendering for contracts. It is very well-settled procedure for more than 100 years. If there is an exception in this area, and I understand there is and that is the case you are making. then we would like to have it specifically. We do not raise arguments about it but I think that you should submit to the Committee a specific statement setting out the contention that this procedure does not apply to training colleges. If I understood you correctly, that is what you have said.

—Not quite. I would not use the present tense. There was this practice.

All right. If there was, we would still need to have the matter cleared. It is an accounting matter and it should be cleared on paper.

449. Mr. H. Gibbons.—Again, subject to the Chairman’s ruling, assuming, under extraordinary circumstances, that those people decided to dispose of their properties, is there any arrangement by which the State could get back its investment? Perhaps that is an unfair question.

—No, it is not.

While we are on the problem we should try and get them all answered. In the case of the local national school, if the manager proposed to sell, I understand there is some obligation to refund.

—In the case of the teacher training colleges the position is slightly different. There is not a formal undertaking in that respect. Whilst the buildings are being built up as an asset, they are being built up on an agency basis for the State. It would be very difficult to see them being a realisable asset in any way since the tendency is to build and build and the buildings as they stand would not be suitable for anything except training college purposes. The relationship that has existed between the Department of Education and the training colleges has been one of mutual trust rather than of absolute agreement.

450. Chairman.—The point is we are a financial Committee and as the matter has come up now the Committee will be obliged to have a full statement from the accounting point of view. We are not interested in policy. It would help us very much to have the statement. We will leave it at that for the moment.

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Except that I am accepting that there is no implication that what is said in my report is not factual.

Chairman.—That is what I asked. I have already asked the Accounting Officer to point out any fact in this report that he objects to. Failing that, it will be taken that the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report is accurate.

451. Deputy Tunney.—We would all accept that. I do not think that any case has been made that it was not. Rather I would hope, and this would indicate my interest, that an attempt would be made to indicate how, historically, whether correctly or incorrectly, that which applied to other areas apparently did not apply to training colleges. A comment on that on paper would at least be interesting.

Chairman.—I am not barring that and it should cover all institutions. We should not single out one particular college for specific mention unless it is absolutely necessary or unless they themselves are responsible. That is one of the reasons why I ruled as I did. It should be general. If the Accounting Officer will do that we need not delay much longer on the remainder of the material.

—I will certainly do that, but it might be clearer if it were related immediately to the case in question and then extended to cover other colleges.*

That is reasonable.

—I should like to repeat that I am not challenging anything in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report. I am not attempting to offer excuses. What I am attempting is an explanation of how the thing came about.

The Committee’s rejoinder to that is that in a matter of accounts the control of expenditure can be done only if accounting procedures are strictly adhered to. However, we have all the necessary facts, subject to whatever you wish to send in that memorandum which will be considered by the Committee.

Deputy H. Gibbons took the Chair.

452. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead A.2, Loans and Grants to Training College Students, do we give many loans to the students?

—82 cases in that year.

What are they based on. Are they on contractual grounds or on academic grounds?

—On grounds of necessity.

453. Acting Chairman.—On subhead C.5—Grants towards the cost of Heating, Cleaning and Painting of Schools—that will be somewhat changed in the future, will it not?

—Yes, it will.

454. On subhead C.6—Aid towards the cost of School Books—is this the money for free books for children?


455. On subhead C.8—Special Educational Project—is the Van Leer project completed now?

—The first phase of it is completed. There was some carry over in this and an expectation that it might have been possible to implement something bigger, but it has not been possible to do that yet.

There has been no continuing investigation?


It is being considered?


456. On the contributions to the pension scheme in the Appropriations-in-Aid— is the contribution increased when salaries increase?



Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire further examined.

457. Acting Chairman.—Paragraph 36 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead G.2.—Ex-gratia Pensions for Widows and Children of certain former Teachers

In April 1970 the widow of a secondary school teacher applied for an ex-gratia pension which was awarded from 1 October 1969. She applied again in December 1973 and was awarded a second ex-gratia pension, with retrospective effect from 1 October 1969 resulting in an overpayment of £1,133. I have asked the Accounting Officer for information on the circumstances in which the duplicate award was made.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the award of two ex-gratia pensions to the widow of a secondary school teacher. The Accounting Officer has informed me that this lady made two applications for a pension, one in April, 1970, and another in December, 1973. At the time of the first application her husband’s pension file, which would normally be referred to in order to determine the pension payable to the widow, could not be found and the ex-gratia pension was calculated on the basis of other records. The widow’s second application for pension arose apparently out of a misunderstanding. On this occasion her husband’s file was located. However, as this file contained no reference to the pension already awarded, the new application was processed in the ordinary way and another pension inadvertently granted. The Accounting Officer has assured me that this is the only case of duplication which has arisen since the scheme was introduced and that the Department is satisfied that the normal procedures for processing applications preclude the possibility of duplicate awards.

458. Acting Chairman.—Would you like to make any comment on that?

—We are making arrangements for recovery. It is very difficult to recover from people in circumstances in which this lady finds herself. Because of the pension increases we are withholding, we have already recovered a sum of £434. A further sum of £188 will be recovered next year. If the lady survives, the remainder of the over-payment will be recovered by 1981.

Deputy Tunney.—Knowing the vigilance of the Department of Education in these matters, could this case qualify for the Guinness Book of Records?

—I think it must.

Deputy de Valera resumed the Chair.

459. Chairman.—Paragraph 37 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead J.2.—Secondary Comprehensive and Community SchoolsBuilding Grants and Capital Costs

The cumulative cost of eleven community schools amounted to £4,188,060 at 31 December 1974. When approving the provision of these schools the Minister for Finance directed that a local contribution should be obtained in every case towards the cost. He indicated that he would rely on the Department of Education to secure the maximum possible contribution in the light of local circumstances. As it appeared that in no case had a local contribution been received or agreed by 30 June 1975, I asked the Accounting Officer for information as to the steps being taken to implement the direction of the Minister for Finance.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the non-collection of local contributions towards the capital costs of community schools. The Accounting Officer informed me last December that the Minister for Education at a meeting on 10 December, 1970, had conveyed to the Episcopal Commission and the Council of Managers of Catholic Secondary Schools that it was expected that the local contribution, to be shared between the vocational education committees and the secondary schools concerned, would be 10 per cent of the initial capital expenditure. Negotiations in individual cases had not been completed because of the desire to complete, first of all, an agreed version of a deed of trust. He added that there was then, that is in December, 1975, an agreed version of such a deed and, before negotiations were entered into with the individual groups of school authorities immediately concerned, it was desired to seek to reach agreement in principle with the ecclesiastical authorities in regard to the amount of the local contribution to be inserted in the deed and that a meeting for this purpose was being arranged for January, 1976. Arising out of my audit of the Appropriation Accounts for 1975 I had occasion to write to the Accounting Officer in June last asking for further information as to the position in relation to the collection of these local contributions. He informed me in September that since his previous reply there had been discussions with the ecclesiastical authorities and correspondence with the Department of Finance in relation to this matter. An amended basis for dealing with the matter, approved by the Department of Finance, was put to the major ecclesiastical authorities for their agreement in June last. Matters arising out of a reply received were being taken up with the Department of Finance. The Accounting Officer added that it was anticipated that the Department of Education would be in a position to request local contributions on the amended basis from local trustees—ecclesiastical and vocational education committee representatives—in the near future. I should state for the information of the Committee that as this matter remained unresolved at the date of my Report on the 1975 accounts —July 1976—it is referred to also in that Report.

460. Chairman.—What does the Accounting Officer say?

—In relation to this matter the anxiety at the beginning was to get the community schools built and operating because the pressure was there in the areas concerned. The difficulty in collecting local contributions since has been due to establishing the correct and proper basis on which to demand them. As far as the local ecclesiastical authorities are concerned, this matter has now been solved. There is a further difficulty in relation to the local contribution from the local authorities, that is, the vocational education committees. The desire was that the local contribution on the vocational education committee side should be a real local contribution which would come from the local rating authority through grants made perhaps after recourse to the local loans fund and in relation to the repayment of which further money from the Department of Education would not be engaged as it would be if the refund were coming from the vocational education committee. We have been in touch with the major vocational education committee in this area, the one with, perhaps, the most schools, and we have met with the difficulty that the vocational education committee and the local rating authority are extremely reluctant to have this money come from the local rates. We will now have to discuss again with the Department of Finance whether this would be insisted upon or whether any alternative arrangement can be made. In the case of the school authority, that is the ecclesiastical authority, there is agreement that they will contribute their share, but it is difficult to sign a deed of trust and to have the local contributions collected until the position of both parties has been cleared.

461. It appears from the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General that when approving the provision of these schools the Minister for Finance directed that a local contribution should be obtained in every case towards the cost. He indicated that he would rely on the Department of Education to secure the maximum possible contribution in the light of local circumstances. In what form did the Minister for Finance indicate this to the Department of Education?

—In a minute.

That covered the schools globally?

—Yes. Could I just make it clear that the difficulty here is that we are dealing with two separate parties, the vocational education committee, who are a party, and the authorities of the secondary schools which are replaced. The problem in relation to the vocational education committee is that a local contribution which would be coming from the vocational education committee, if it does not come from the local rates, would be coming from grants made available by the Department of Education.

The point I was asking was if this was formal Finance sanction.


In the way it was put there I was not quite sure whether it was or not. You had formal Finance sanction for that?


462. That sanction indicated that the Department of Education had to secure the maximum possible contribution in the light of local circumstances. The maximum possible apparently up to the moment is zero?

—Not really. The maximum possible is 10 per cent, but the actual collecting is nil. We were trying to secure a basis on which there would be agreement on the dimensions of the local contribution.

Here it says that it appeared that in no case had a local contribution been received or agreed by 30 June, 1975. Is that correct?

—That is correct.

463. Deputy Toal.—Is it correct to say that the Minister for Finance, in this instance in particular, sanctioned the allocation of money for these community schools and he sanctioned this in good faith relying on the Department of Education to collect the local moneys? There is no legal obligation on the Department to collect those moneys. Am I correct in that? It was done in good faith, you said here. The local contribution should be obtained but really it is not obtained. I think it is a question of good faith.

Deputy H. Gibbons.—One thing strikes me. In the minute from the Minister for Finance to you, if the Minister did not state definitely that he wanted this collected from the rates, the situation which you have stated could arise.

—The Minister for Finance has indicated and the Minister for Education has agreed that an effort should be made to collect it from the rates. That effort has, in fact, been made. I attended a meeting of the vocational education committee in an attempt to convey to them that this is the basis on which it should be done. I was unable, for reasons which I think Deputies will understand, to carry conviction.

464. Deputy Tunney.—No matter how we look at this, it is coming out of moneys voted for education in a particular area. The Accounting Officer said he did not want this coming out of education grants. On the other hand, is it not true in respect of the contribution which is made by that local authority, the statutory limitation on that is that it cannot be more than 2p or 3p in the £.

—No. This would be capital money which the local rating authority would either borrow from the Local Loans Fund or make available out of their own resources and the repayments of this capital sum would be made by the local rating authority and not by the Department of Education.

465. An amount of the money comes from local rates in respect of vocational education?

—This is a grant from the local rating authority to the vocational education committee which is limited to 10 pence in the £. This limitation would not have applied to the repayment of the capital borrowing.

466. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Is the deed of trust completed?

—The draft deed of trust is completed.

Is it a standard one for the eleven communities?

—Yes. Except for the names of trustees.

Would it be possible to have a copy of it?

—I think a copy of it has already been made available to the records of the House but I can certainly supply another copy.

467. Chairman.—Paragraph 38 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads.

“Expenditure on the construction of sports complexes, including swimming pools, at four community schools and one comprehensive school has been met from this Vote. The appropriate local authority in each case agreed to pay a contribution towards the cost of construction of the pools, which amounted to £679,272 at 31 December, 1974, on condition that the public were allowed access. In the case of the comprehensive school, a company formed by the parent/teacher association agreed to make an additional contribution. The specific sanction of the Minister for Finance does not appear to have been sought for the incurring of the expenditure on swimming pools and for the financial arrangements regarding local contributions. The agreed local contributions, amounting to £335,000, had not been received by 31 December, 1974. As it appears that the pools are already or will shortly be open to the public, I have asked the Accounting Officer for his observations in the matter.

I have also asked him for information regarding the arrangements, including financial and accounting arrangements, made for the management of these sports complexes and swimming pools and whether the approval of the Minister for Finance has been obtained for such arrangements.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the expenditure of voted moneys on the construction of sports complexes, including swimming pools, at four community schools and at one comprehensive school and to the delay in collecting agreed local contributions. Regarding the collection of these contributions, amounting to £335,000, towards the costs of the pools, I understand that recently £55,000 still remained unpaid. This sum comprised £45,000 due from a local authority which, I understand, has recently raised a loan to enable it to pay its contribution and £10,000 being part of a contribution retained by another local authority pending the completion of certain improvements to one of the swimming pools. The Accounting Officer informed me in December, 1975, that it was not considered necessary to seek the specific sanction of the Minister for Finance for the expenditure of voted moneys on the provision of the swimming pools as it was envisaged that the local contributions would fully cover the cost and the local authorities were expected to pay the total cost when the final accounts were available. The management of the sports complexes, including the swimming pools, attached to the four community schools is in the hands of management committees comprising representatives of the school management boards and the local authorities and each committee has been instructed to operate a proper accounting system and to submit audited accounts to the Department each year. Audited accounts for two of these complexes and unaudited accounts for the other two for the year ended 31 March, 1976, were recently received by my officers but they have not yet completed their examination of them. In the case of the fifth sports complex, that attached to the comprehensive school, the management is in the hands of the parent/teacher association company and the Accounting Officer has stated that it was intended to arrange with the company that accounts will be submitted on an annual basis. I am not aware whether the company has yet submitted its first accounts.

468. Chairman.—Might I ask a question on that. There is a total of £679,272. Part of this only was contributions from local authorities—is that correct?

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—May I explain that? £679,272 is stated to have been expended on the construction of the pools. In fact, “pools” there covers, to my knowledge, changing rooms, showers etc.

469. Chairman.—It comes under the heading J.2, but there are voted moneys under that subhead. There are voted moneys involved in this—that is undisputed. Is that correct? I may have misheard something but I thought there was a suggestion that the local authority were going to pay for the lot.

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—No, the suggestion was that the local authority contributions would be sufficient to pay for the actual pools.

470. Chairman.—Yes, but these are voted moneys that are in question.

—The pools were built out of voted moneys and the expectation is that these sums will be refunded by local authorities.

471. The Comptroller and Auditor General says that specific sanction from the Minister for Finance does not appear to have been sought for incurring the expenditure on a swimming pool and for the financial arrangements regarding local contributions. Can we take it that the Accounting Officer found it unnecessary to seek the specific sanction of the Department of Finance in this case?

—It is not my contention. It was the contention of my predecessor.

472. What does the Department of Finance say about this? The specific sanction of the Minister for Finance does not appear to have been sought for the incurring of the expenditure on swimming pools, or for financial arrangements regarding contributions. Does the Department of Finance feel that sanction should have been sought or otherwise?

Mr. McGrath (Department of Finance).— I would imagine if it was clear that the building of a swimming pool would impose no cost on the Exchequer, that interpretation could be held to be reasonable. That does not say that we would not be anxious to be consulted on the construction of the swimming pools to ensure that there would not be any consequential cost on Exchequer funds.

473. Chairman.—These moneys were paid?

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Most of them have been paid.

474. Chairman.—Let us trace the sequence. Public moneys have been expended. In order to expend them the initiative would have had to come from the Department of Finance to open the purse. The Department of Education would put proposals to Finance and Finance would approve. How is the actual payment of these moneys effected?

—It would come from the capital allocation made available to the Department of Education. The view was being taken that in relation to a capital allocation like that specific sanction was unnecessary for individual items such as swimming pools where the money is coming back. That would not be my contention.

475. You have said that explicitly. That makes it a bit different. I think it is a well established principle that the sanction of the Department of Finance should, generally speaking, be sought wherever possible because the Department of Finance has an overseeing function in this and this must be maintained and supported. The Department of Finance, no more than this Committee, cannot function unless they have full information. The method by which they are kept informed and this at the proper time is that their sanction is sought at the time when, so to speak, the iron is hot. This is as important a mechanism for the control of public expenditure as any other and the Committee would like to see Department of Finance sanction. I would take this opportunity to urge very strongly on all Accounting Officers to refer for sanction to the Department of Finance. It is the proper thing to do.

Mr. McGrath.—I agree fully, Chairman, with what you have said. I misinterpreted your question when replying to you earlier.

476. Chairman.—The Department of Finance might very well say: We know what is required in advance and we may make a certain limited allocation. That is understood practice, too, but the main thing is that you have control of it. By pursuing it in any greater detail we would make it mechanically rigid which is not what we would wish to do.

—I think experience has shown in this case that it is not wise to engage funds in the expectation of a refund. Where does one get a loan unless one has collateral?

Any banker will tell you.

—Just for the information of the Committee, the £55,000 that is in question we understand will be paid to us before the 31 December.

477. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Are the four community schools involved here included in the eleven community schools mentioned in the previous paragraph?


Does the deed of trust cover the swimming pool?

—No, it is a separate operation. Sorry, in relation to the site of the community school, the deed of trust covers everything; but the financing of the swimming pool was a separate operation. These pools will be on sites vested in the trustees of the community schools.

478. They would have then the right to decide who has access to them?

—No, there is an agreement in regard to that for the board of management of these swimming pools.

It would be acceptable to the public?

—Yes. It is a laudable operation and is well worthwhile.

479. Chairman.—Paragraph 39 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

“I noted in the course of audit that expenditure amounting to £1,259,171, including £496,565 in the period under review, on the building of three Vocational Schools had been charged to this Vote. As expenditure on the erection of Vocational Schools is outside the ambit of the Vote for Secondary Education I have asked the Accounting Officer for his observations.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph deals with the charging of expenditure on the erection of three vocational schools to Subhead J.2 of the Vote for Secondary Education. The provision of these schools was financed in part by way of loan facilities made available to the Exchequer by the World Bank. The Accounting Officer has informed me that, as the arrangement was on the basis of the acceptance by the bank that these three schools were in the nature of community/comprehensive schools, the expenditure on their erection was charged against the subhead provision for such schools in Vote 30—Secondary Education. He stated that the Department of Finance was informed in May, 1972, of the intention to make all payments arising under the programme covered by the World Bank loan out of the Vote for Secondary Education. I cannot agree that the nature of financial arrangements made to fund expenditure on the provision of vocational schools —in this case a World Bank loan—regularises the charging of that expenditure to the Vote for Secondary Education when it is clearly outside the ambit of that Vote. The Accounting Officer has also informed me that the financing of all future similar cases, which come under the World Bank loan, will be made from loans obtained by the vocational education committees from the Local Loans Fund. As further capital expenditure, incurred on these three schools in 1975, has been charged to the Vote for Secondary Education, I have referred again to this matter in my report in the Appropriation Accounts for that year.

480. Chairman.—This is in breach of standard accounting procedures. It is a charging of money to the wrong Vote, is it not?


In a sense it is an indirect virement?

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—It is, in a sense.

481. Chairman.—It is a Vote in itself, is it not? We will have this on the next account. If that is so what are we to expect in the second next accounts?

—It will not happen again. The reason it was done was that it was a bulk buying arrangement and the standardisation was an attempt to minimise costs. There was one client for all the schools and it was charged in this way. It can be charged to the Local Loans Fund and that is the way it will be done in future. It is a technical breach of the accounting regulations which will not happen again.

Any breach of the accounting regulations makes hay of the lot.

482. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Is it not the attitude now of the Department to do away with the idea of secondary education and vocational education and call it all post-primary?

—I do not think I could assent to that completely. I have to work within separate legal frameworks. There is a separate legal framework for secondary schools, and a separate legal framework for vocational schools. Each of them is somewhat intractable in its own way. Whilst there was a general desire to have just one area of post-primary education, it is extremely difficult in practice.

I was going to suggest that you put the two together the next time.

—I would be very happy if the Public Accounts Committee would agree to put them all into one Vote.

Chairman.—You had better get Finance sanction.

—Even then I still have the difficulty that I am working within two separate legal frameworks. It does not matter what I call things; the legal entities are still there.

483. On subhead A.4.—Grant for Irish and Bilingual Schools—how come that science and other equipment grants would be so closely estimated? You simply give a round figure grant to the various recipients. Is that what you do?

—It is a refund of 75 per cent of their expenditure up to our maximum.

I see that no application for grants was received during the period.

484. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Is there any explanation for that? Are there no such schools or does it mean the people do not look for grants?

—The problem in this case was that two schools had not sent in their applications by the 31 March, 1974, and provision had to be made to include them in the year ending 31 December, 1974. They then told us later on that they were withdrawing their applications as they were not in a position to meet the expenditure.

485. The amount for the sale of Irish textbooks is very small.

—This is a problem. There is difficulty in developing a proper sales technique in regard to these books. It is more a matter for the Stationery Office than for the Department of Education, although we are interested in trying to promote sales as much as possible.

486. Under subhead K—Aid towards the cost of School Books—could I ask the Accounting Officer if he would comment on the charge that the changing of books is very frequent.

—We do not prescribe texts but in the case of primary schools there is an approved list of texts from which teachers may select. There are a number of publishers and some teachers favour the books of one publisher and others will want books from another. We have asked the schools and teachers to minimise, as far as possible, the changing of texts. For secondary schools, there are prescribed texts in certain areas and they last for as long as we can make them last. It is very difficult to cope with the situation in which printing costs are rising enormously and textbooks change from time to time.

487. Would you see anything wrong in limiting the list and giving teachers charge of it?

—There is a limit to the extent to which one can limit. If we were to prescribe just one set of texts we would have the opposite complaint, that we were dictating what would be taught in schools. We would also come under fire from the publishers.

488. While I accept that there should be a change as between one school and another, I feel that some effort should be made to streamline the books from one class to another. I have sympathy with the publishers. If they go out of business we are probably worse off. I know a parent who, for the last fortnight, has searched every bookshop in the city for a particular book and she could not get it. The book is on the leaving certificate course. It is terribly frustrating coming up to Christmas that a child has not got a textbook. We have got it secondhand in the last two days.

—It is a pity to be looking for it at this time. It was known at the beginning of the school year that the book was on the course.

489. They had to come to Dublin to look for it as they had tried all the bookshops in their own area. The mother came to Dublin and walked all over the city trying to get the book. Some months ago, another parent whose child was starting secondary school, came to me. She informed me that the cost of the books was between £30 and £40. This is prohibitive. Can something be done about it?

—The best we can do is the scheme for aid towards the cost of schoolbooks in necessitous cases. We do not exercise any control over either the supply of secondary school texts or their prices. It would be very difficult to do that.

490. As I said already, I can understand different schools opting for different textbooks but some effort should be made to have the same textbooks in one school.

—We recommend that schools should exercise economy in this area. Some schools make arrangements for the purchase of books and for their return at the end of the year. They make an allowance for passing them on.

491. Chairman.—We agree completely with Deputy Gibbons on this matter, but we are close to policy here. On the other hand, there is a public expenditure implication and there is a deficiency which we cannot overlook. Is it not possible for the Department to specify a number of texts of which they approve that would cover the course? For instance, leaving aside for the moment the change in mathematical curricula and taking, say, chemistry or physics, have not Irish teachers written good books on these subjects which would cover the course?


And, at least, if the Department approved of these books and made them available they would be sufficient. If any school wanted to luxuriate, they could.

—Part of my trouble in that regard is that we would then put a caché on one particular book. It could well happen that some of these books are produced by members of the staff of the Department of Education.

That should not necessarily be a bar. Surely, an independent judgment could be got. However, I am afraid we are entering a policy matter now which does not concern the Committee. We could argue the matter for longer and I might be tempted to say more than I should. As it is getting late, we should finish your Votes and not have to recall you.


Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire further examined.

492. Chairman.—Paragraph 40 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead JAppropriations in Aid

In the period under review a sum of £696,606 was received by the Department of Education from the European Social Fund in recoupment of 50 per cent of approved expenditure of £1,393,212 incurred by Vocational Education Committees in the calendar year 1973 on courses for off the job vocational training for unemployed and underemployed young persons. Actual expenditure by the Vocational Education Committees on these courses amounted to £1,647,459 in that year.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph is for information. I have no further comment to make on it.

493. Chairman.—On subhead H—Payments under Section 51 (6) of the Vocational Education Act, 1930—there is a note: The number of claims in respect of loans paid during the period was greater than expected. You already had a supplementary?


Was that supplementary insufficient?



Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire called.

No question.


Mr. D. Ó Laoghaire further examined.

494. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead F —Grant-in-Aid Fund for Capital Equipment Costs of Third Level Institutions—is that much the same as subhead A.4?

—Subhead F is in respect of institutions that are not funded by the Higher Education Authority.

495. Chairman.—They are all grants-in-aid so that this Vote is, in effect, one big grant-in-aid?

—That is correct.

Your relation to it is the same as any other Accounting Officer’s relation to a grant-in-aid?

—It is a happier one than with the other subheads.

We cannot ask many questions.

The witness withdrew.

The Committee adjourned.

*See Appendix 9.

*See Appendix 9.