MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin, 18 Samhain, 1976.
Thursday, 18th 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) called and examined.
VOTE 2—HOUSES OF THE OIREACHTAS.
Mr. M. J. Healy called and examined.
197. Chairman.—As the Comptroller and Auditor General has no comment, we can go straight on to the Vote. On subhead A —Salaries of holders of certain Appointed Offices and Allowances of Comhaltaí—the sum is less than granted. Why should that be so?
—There may have been deaths or other vacancies.
198. On subhead E—Salaries, Wages and Allowances of Officers and Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas—the sum is less than granted. There is a note that provision was made for new posts which were not filled. Have they been filled since?
—They have. These were actually the secretarial assistance for members who are non-office holders. The non-filling of the posts in the period we are considering was due to discussions which were held between the parties and the Minister for Finance as to the basis on which these people were to be employed, whether they were to be full-time civil servants or whether they were to be people employed by the parties. Eventually it was agreed that they would be employed by the Ceann Comhairle on a fee basis, the actual people being nominated by the different parties.
199. On subhead F.1—Post Office Services —the note indicates that the saving was due to delay in furnishing of accounts, is that it?
—That is it, yes.
Was this an exceptional year?
—It was just that we were furnished with the accounts late. The accounts have since been destroyed so I cannot say exactly the reason for the delay in furnishing them.
200. On subhead F.2—Incidental Expenses and Travelling of Officers and Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas—there is a note: Saving mainly arose because equipment for new offices was not supplied before the end of the period.
—This was tape recording equipment for a committee room.
201. On subhead I—Allowances to or in respect of certain Former Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas—there is a note: Agreed increases in the rates of pension were not implemented pending the enactment of necessary legislation.
—In regard to that, the Attorney General subsequently gave advice to the Government that he thought these increases could be paid under the Pensions Increase Act, I believe, and they have been paid in later years.
The witness withdrew.
VOTE 7—OFFICE OF THE MINISTER FOR THE PUBLIC SERVICE.
Mr. S. Ó Conaill called and examined.
202. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead D—Central Data Processing Services—what exactly does that cover?
—Mostly rental for the computer at Kilmainham.
Chairman.—Do you rent your computer?
203. Has the Department of the Public Service a computer of its own?
—The question of renting as against purchasing has been gone into and it is felt, in view of the fact that computers tend to become obsolescent in a short time, that the public interest is better served by renting at the moment.
204. There are a number of computers in the public service—one in the Revenue Commissioners and one in the Land Commission?
—Yes. and in the Post Office.
205. You have access to these computers and it is your policy to rent them?
—In general yes, but where the question of obsolescence is not present, we purchase. In other words, if on the best estimate that can be made it would be cheaper to purchase, we do that. In general for the bigger computers it is found more economical to rent.
There are two types involved: one is the big electronic computer which is a very expensive item. If that is needed it is rented. The other would be the smaller computing machines.
Naturally, these you would purchase?
206. What is of interest here is the closeness with which you were able to estimate your grant as against your actual expenditure. Was that fortuitous or how was it possible to estimate as tightly as that?
—We normally know the rent in advance, but the rent may be increased during the year and, if it is not increased, we can hit the mark.
This money is essentially for rentals?
—Yes, mainly rentals.
207. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Appropriations-in-Aid, No. 2, show a receipt of £70,000. How does that arise?
—We do quite a lot of work on the computer for health boards on a repayment basis.
Chairman.—Do they come to you rather than the Department of Health?
—The Department of Health have not a computer of their own. We work for the Department of Health too. The computer attached to the Department of the Public Service is for Departments that have not sufficient business to warrant a computer of their own.
208. You have an electronic computer in the Department of the Public Service?
—Yes, we have a big installation in a separate building at Kilmainham.
Is it the same installation as that of the Revenue Commissioners?
—No, it is completely separate.
209. Deputy MacSharry.—Is the computer working full-time?
Can you take on any other work from other Departments?
—We have extended the computer this year and we will be able to take on more work now.
210. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead F— Beartas i leith na Gaeilge—is this subhead likely to remain?
—To a limited extent, yes. It will provide for Gaeleagras na Seirbhise Poiblí which is an institution aimed at improving Irish among civil servants. The main item here was for the language attitude survey on which the bulk of the money was spent. The amount provided under this subhead will diminish greatly with the advent of Bord na Gaeilge.
But it will continue for a while?
—It will continue for Gaeleagras.
211. Chairman.—On Appropriation-in-Aid, No. 1, receipts from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs—you estimated £6,000 but got substantially less.
—That was due to the unfortunate death of the Chief Medical Officer during the year.
212. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On No. 3— Recoupment of certain travelling and subsistence expenses from the EEC—does your Department get the refunds direct?
—The situation there is that, if officers of the Department do work for the EEC direct, their travelling and subsistence expenses are recouped. If, on the other hand they are representing the Department at EEC work, naturally the cost falls on the departmental Vote.
Are those people seconded to the EEC?
—If the EEC invite a person to travel to a formal meeting, his travelling and subsistence expenses are borne by the EEC. In other words, if it is at the initiative of the EEC, the Commission bear the expenses.
213. Deputy Tunney.—On Extra Remuneration—this might refer more to policy than anything else, but I would like to express the hope that in these difficult times under this heading there will be less money spent on overtime and we will employ extra people.
Chairman.—This is a policy matter but perhaps to bring it within our ambit we could put it this way: is it not possible to arrange within the establishment that such overtime be minimised and that if there is additional regular work calling for staff that that be regularised also? I am using the word “regularised” in the sense of being put into rule rather than suggesting there is anything irregular, which there is not. One of the functions of this Committee is to consider the efficiency of Departments and, naturally, the question arises here as to whether some of this work could not have been done within ordinary time. Alternatively, is there enough work there to justify the employment of extra staff?
—It is our aim to minimise overtime to the greatest extent possible.
214. Deputy Tunney.—I was thinking of overtime and special allowances. The figure here of £860 to a paperkeeper brings the matter into a realm that is entirely proper to us. Would it not have been possible to have given the duties concerned and the extra money to an extra person?
—The extra money that was involved here was due to demands made for quick reproduction of documents outside normal working hours. When a crisis of that sort arises, it is difficult to take in an outsider to do the work.
I can think of plenty who would be willing to take the job.
215. Deputy MacSharry.—I take it that the amount involved for computer work is not charged to Departments?
—That is so. We make a note of it in the Appropriation Account.
I note that there was a receipt of £70,000 from the health boards?
—That is so.
216. How do you decide whom to charge?
—The decision is based on the question of whether the amount is to come from voted moneys. If, for example, we were working for the Department of Health, the charge would be on the Vote for our Department but the financing of the health boards is a separate matter and work is done on a repayment basis. We charge only the actual cost. There is no attempt to make any profit on the work.
Is there not a Vote for the health boards?
—Each health board looks after its own finances.
But practically all of their money comes from the Department of Health now.
—The vast proportion of their money comes from the Department of Health but there is a proportion from local sources and from members of the public.
217. Deputy C. Murphy.—Have you a full complement of staff at present?
218. Deputy H. Gibbons.—In regard to this Department would it be possible for computer accounting to be given a subhead in the same way as applies to the Post Office?
—The Post Office is in a different position. They produce commercial accounts as well as ordinary accounts.
Chairman.—Within the civil service the question arises as to whether an internal transfer of this nature, having regard to the extent of the amount as set out in the table, should not be included, as Deputy Gibbons suggests, as a separate subhead in each Estimate. In other words, now that computers are here to stay and since the Act which set up your Department gives you general responsibility for some civil service accounting, would it be helpful to have included in the Estimate for every Department, a figure showing expenditure in regard to data processing thereby leaving you to account for a total and for such other matters as the health services which are outside the Book of Estimates? Is there merit in that idea from an accounting point of view?
—From an accounting point of view it would not matter a great deal which way it was done. Naturally as Accounting Officer for the Vote for the Department of the Public Service I would welcome anything that would lessen the charge on my Vote by having a transfer to other Votes, but overall there is a great deal to be said for the present system whereby the expenditure is shown in the Public Service Vote and where any significant amount can be shown as an allied service in the Vote for the revelant Department.
219. Deputy MacSharry.—That would not appear to be the simple way of dealing with the matter. For example, if we look at Vote 4 for the Central Statistics Office, we see that the saving is due mainly to a decision of your Department not to charge?
—Yes, but you will recall that this Committee debated at some length the question of whether the Post Office system was the proper one and, having considered it, they decided that it was proper for the Post Office but not for anyone else.
If that is the case why do the other Departments, such as the Central Statistics Office, include sums in their Votes for this service and then show them as savings because you did not charge for them?
—I think they were under the misapprehension that the services were to be paid from their own Votes which would have been the case if the work had been given to an outside firm.
Chairman.—We realise that this Department is still very young but perhaps the Committee might suggest that on this question of data processing, both in its organisation and its accounting, some attention might be given to what we have said. However, there are many people involved here and we must not pontificate.
220. Deputy Griffin.—The system here would appear to be the best because since this item is within the ambit of one Department we can see where the expense arises. We are always worried about Post Office services in each Vote because it is something nebulous that we cannot tie down to any particular Department. At least we have it all here in front of us and of the two I think this is the better system.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—What is done here is in accordance with tradition. If we were to accept a change we would have to consider the Board of Works and also the Stationery Office and we would be involved in all sorts of calculations as between Departments. From the point of view of public expenditure this could be quite wasteful. This is the way it has always been done. There is an exception made in the case of the Post Office. The intention was to treat the Post Office as a commercial undertaking, that they should bear their own charges and charge for whatever service they provide to the public service, to public Departments— the Board of Works carries out works for all Departments and shows in its Estimate where the charge arises. Similarly the Stationery Office—it is essential, of course, that full information be given to the Dáil and to this Committee.
221. Deputy MacSharry.—The only thing is that there are some Departments who, perhaps, are getting work done by the Public Service Department and, perhaps, some of it is done outside. They have to pay for what is done outside but they have this free. I might decide in another Department that I will not get anything done by the Public Service Department that I am going to pay for it all and it is voted money that is in another Department that enables me to do that?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Certainly I would expect my staff, if they came across a situation like that, to query why it was done by an outside concern, to query the economics of it.
—They would have to get sanction for expenditure to an outside firm. In point of fact it is not being done at the moment.
Deputy MacSharry.—Nobody is getting it done outside?
—No, we are able to service it in the Public Service Department.
Chairman.—When you say “sanction”, you mean Finance sanction? It is your sanction?
—It is. When the split was made with the Department of Finance, expenditure on computers was one of the items transferred to the Department of the Public Service.
Chairman.—I have no doubt the Accounting Officer will take note of our discussion here today and if he has any proposals to make to the Comptroller and Auditor General in the matter the Committee will be interested in hearing of them. I do not think it calls for any further action on the part of the Committee at the moment. I think that is our general view of the matter?
VOTE 11—CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION.
Mr. S. Ó Conaill further examined.
222. Chairman.—Paragraph 19 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 £106,000 were made from this Vote. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer. He has informed me that the expenditure involved took place during the changeover of the financial year to a calendar year basis when the usual Parliamentary financial business had to be effected in the nine months to end-December 1974 and that even within this period the time available to Dáil Éireann for estimates discussion was curtailed by special circumstances. The delay in passing the estimates gave rise to the temporary and regrettable excess on the Vote which is an unusual Vote in that somewhat over half of the gross expenditure is financed by appropriations in aid the greater portion of which is not normally collected until towards the end of the financial year. The expenditure was in respect of matured liabilities and could not have been avoided.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—At its first meeting the Committee considered the question of over expenditure in the case of 17 Supply Services. This paragraph refers to one of those services, that is, Vote 11—Civil Service Commission. The circumstances in which the over expenditure occurred in this case have been explained by the Accounting Officer and are outlined in the paragraph.
223. Chairman.—I think we had this before with the Department of Finance and with some Accounting Officers. There is one comment I should like to make since Mr. Ó Conaill is also responsible for the public service generally and it is this: when the Comptroller and Auditor General asks for an explanation for something, I think Accounting Officers should give it without delay. We have had one case at least upon which we commented on the fact that Accounting Officers failed to give the explanation themselves to the Comptroller and Auditor General—at least in time.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—It does not arise here.
Chairman.—It does not arise here and I want to make that clear but I would like to ask the Secretary of the Department, if not the Accounting Officer, to do what he can to see that time schedules are kept in replying to the Comptroller and Auditor General throughout the service. That is the whole purpose of my remarks. You set a good example yourself and we would like to see that example carried the whole way down.
224. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead A.2— Examiners, etc.—are these people who are engaged occasionally?
—Yes, mostly to set papers.
They have no permanent people? These are school teachers, graduates and other people?
—Yes, persons outside.
225. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead D —Examinations—what sort of delay would there be in regard to advertising accounts being presented for payment?
—There is an advertising agent who looks after the accounts and he did not get in the bulk of his final accounts before the end of the year.
The short year might account for it?
—Possibly, or possibly it was only a matter of days. Payment could not be made within the period. That is the explanation for the saving on subhead D.
226. Deputy C. Murphy.—Are these examiners plentiful or how many might you use?
—I could not give the number. Occasionally there are difficulties in getting suitable examiners to do the work because it is always done as a part-time occupation.
This involves the setting of papers and the marking of them?
—Setting and marking.
There was a time when it was difficult to get people to do this sort of thing?
—It is still difficult.
227. Chairman.—On subhead E—Appropriations-in-Aid—there is a note about receipts from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. What would these receipts be?
—Mostly the cost of conducting examinations for the Post Office.
VOTE 13—SUPERANNUATION AND RETIRED ALLOWANCES.
Mr. S. Ó Conaill further examined.
228. Chairman.—Paragraph 20 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General states:
“Subhead B.—Payments under the Civil Servants’ Widows’ and Children’s Contributory Pensions Scheme
Subhead C.—Ex-gratia Pensions for Widows and Children of certain former Officers
As mentioned in previous reports, a contributory scheme was introduced in the year 1968-69 to provide pensions for widows and children of certain public servants who died on or after 23 July 1968. Ex-gratia pensions were granted to the widows and children of public servants who died or retired prior to that date. Pensions, including ex-gratia pensions, for dependants of members of the Garda Síochána and for dependants of National Teachers, Secondary Teachers, Post Office officials and Army officers are provided from Votes 22, 29, 30, 43 and 45, respectively. I understand that a Bill in course of preparation to amend the superannuation code will be used to give a statutory basis to these schemes.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Committee has considered the matter referred to in this paragraph in previous years because of the delay in enacting the necessary legislation. The Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1976 enables the Minister for Finance to validate by order the payment of these pensions in relation to established civil servants. I understand that appropriate action will also be taken in the case of the other groups mentioned in the paragraph.
229. Chairman.—This was the subject of consideration last year. What is the position?
—The Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1976 became law last July. This Act enables schemes to be made for pensions of civil servants to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The scheme in relation to widows and children of former civil servants has been drafted and is in a final stage now.
May we take it that this matter is disposed of in effect, or will be afterwards?
—It will be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
230. Deputy Griffin.—On subhead D which relates to gratuities, what would be the average lump sum granted formerly to young ladies on their resignation on marriage?
—A month’s pay for each year of service. It would depend on the salary of the officer at the time of retiral. The maximum was 12 months and it applied to people with a minimum service of five years.
Deputy MacSharry.—Did they get nothing if they had not five years service?
—Yes, that is so.
231. Chairman.—Under subhead F— Pensions, Allowances and Gratuities in respect of Unestablished Officers and other persons—there is a note that this scheme, which is comparatively new, has resulted in earlier retirements than heretofore. There is a pretty substantial excess there.
—Yes. It was due to the people not waiting to reach the maximum age for retirement.
232. Under subhead I—Appropriations-in-Aid—there are explanatory notes. In regard to the note on item 1, the lodgment was made later, I take it?
233. On item 3, the estimate is the same as the actual receipt from the Social Insurance Fund and the Occupational Injuries Fund. Would that not have been affected consequently by variations?
—It is usually possible to get the exact amount for the particular year.
234. Under Extra Remuneration, one pensioner receives £4,000 as remuneration.
—Yes, it is an exceptional occurrence. An Assistant Secretary was retained after retirement to do a particular job.
235. Deputy Tunney.—On the second note, additional expenditure of £107,010, £7,000 etc., could I have an explanation? I am looking at subhead B, under heading “Less than Granted”—£61,482. There is probably a very simple explanation?
—The explanation is that towards the end of the year 1974 there was an Additional Estimate taken. It was taken, on the 18th December of that year for increases in pensions which had been granted during the year and for certain improvements in pensions. The only thing to be done at that time was to transfer to the Superannuation Vote the appropriate amount thus voted. This amount was transferred and spent leaving a surplus of £61,482 in subhead B
I suppose the way it is quoted is the clearest way of putting it.
Mr. S. Ó Conaill further examined.
236. Chairman.—This is a summary report of extra expenditure on remuneration, is that not so?
It is an omnibus Vote and it is mainly salary and remuneration for service, is it not?
—Yes, it covers pay increases granted during the year; to the extent that it is not possible to pay these amounts from savings in individual Votes, the relevant amount is transferred from this Vote.
Deputy MacSharry.—Is that the case even if there is a Supplementary Estimate?
—No, if there is a Supplementary Estimate from a Department for other purposes the amount of remuneration required goes into the Supplementary Estimate.
VOTE 51—INCREASES IN PENSIONS AND CERTAIN IMPROVEMENTS IN SUPERANNUATION AND RETIRED ALLOWANCES.
Mr. S. Ó Conaill further examined.
237. Chairman.—Paragraph 66 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead B.—Certain Improvements in Superannuation and Retired Allowances
£100,000 was provided by way of additional estimate to meet the cost of implementing certain improvements in the superannuation and retired allowances payable to established officers who retired or died in the period 1 June 1973 to 31 December 1974. The estimate was passed by Dáil Éireann on 18 December 1974, and authority to pay the revised lump-sums and death gratuities was conveyed to Departments by the Department of the Public Service on 23 December 1974. Of the £100,000 charged to the subhead, £81,000 was made available towards expenditure from Vote 13— Superannuation and Retired Allowances and £19,000 towards expenditure from Vote 43—Posts and Telegraphs in respect of the improvements in the superannuation allowances. In order to establish whether or not these amounts are a proper charge to the subhead, I have inquired whether improved allowances as envisaged in the estimate, to a total of £100,000 were, in fact, paid to the beneficiaries on or before 31 December 1974.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The £100,000 charged to subhead B of this Vote was issued to Vote 13—Superannuation and Retired Allowances—and Vote 43—Posts and Telegraphs—late in December and was intended to recoup the cost of certain improvements in lump sums and gratuities under the superannuation code. It appeared that these two Votes might not have paid out improved lump sums up to this amount before the end of the year and, in order to establish whether the £100,000 was a proper charge to this Vote in the period under review. I wrote to the Accounting Officer in the matter. He informed me that the amount issued was derived from estimates provided by Departments. He stated that on 4th December, 1974, Departments were instructed to undertake the necessary re visions of awards in anticipation of their issue after Dáil Éireann had passed the Additional Estimate. The Additional Estimate was not however passed until 18th December, 1974, and, as this left very few working days before the end of the year, it was possible to make only a small number of superannuation payments on the improved basis before 31st December, 1974 The bulk of the £100,000 expenditure from the subhead could therefore be attributed to either pension increases or to superannuation awards paid on the unrevised basis. The Accounting Officer added that the major part of the cost of awards on the revised basis was being met in 1975.
238. Chairman.—Does this mean that there would have been surplusses in the Departments at the end of the year?
—It turned out that there was very little surplus as I explained earlier to Deputy Tunney. This Estimate was passed on the 18th December, which left very few days to the end of the year. What happened was that the whole of the £750,000 was transferred straightaway to the relevant Votes, one of them being Vote 13, and the others being the Votes for Primary Education, Garda Síochána and Army Pensions. They were used to make up any deficiencies in the Votes. The main deficiency in Vote 13 arose from the cost of the pension increases which became operative from the 1st July that year. In total £214,010 was transferred to Vote 13. The way that money was spent is set out in the note to Vote 13 under the various subheads.
We want to see why you——
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This is very technical. If I may explain it in simpler terms. The Dáil made £100,000 available for improved lump sums to be calculated on a revised basis. It was made available under Vote 51 but was to be paid out through the Superannuation Vote and the Post Office. My officers saw that the £100,000 was paid over at the end of December and they felt that these Departments could not have paid out these lump sums before the year end because they had not the time to do so. Presumably the money should have been surrendered.
239. Chairman.—That is a net technical point. We realise that this was an exceptional year in that it was a nine-month truncated year, but the principle of accounting within the year and surrendering the surplus balance at the end of the year is an extremely important one. What the Committee are interested to know is whether there was on this occasion a breach of that principle. The extenuating circumstances are fully understood and I will not go so far as the Comptroller and Auditor General to say it is purely technical, but the implications are very real. This is the simple question: was there a breach of principle at the end of the year?
Deputy H. Gibbons.—Would that not be a question for the Accounting Officer of the Department of Finance?
Chairman.—I will want to say a few words to the Accounting Officer about this later. You administer the civil service. Would you say that in any Department there were funds overheld, unexpended, on the 31st December, 1974?
—No. The best way to look at this is to look at what happened to Vote 13. In spite of the fact that £214,010 was transferred to that Vote and spent from that Vote, the only surplus available after that transaction had taken place was a rather small one considering the total of the Vote—it was £14,983.
240. What happened to that surplus?
—That was surrendered.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This Superannuation Vote surrendered only roughly £15,000. They got more than that from subhead B of Vote 51 to be paid on improved lump sums. The Accounting Officer had not time to pay the improved lump sums so obviously some of the money they got for improvements was spent on something else.
241. Chairman.—On what was it spent?
—It was spent on pension increases which, technically, are improvements.
Between the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Accounting Officer I am slightly confused.
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—If we look at it this way. In Vote 51 there is £100,000 under subhead B for improved lump sums. Some of that was passed to Vote 13 to be paid to ordinary civil servants getting the improved lump sums but the Department of the Public Service had not time when they got that money to use it for that purpose. Therefore they used it for other pension payments and, in the following year, 1975. they paid the improved lump sums. I am sure the Accounting Officer will agree that that is the position?
—Yes, although it is not literally correct to say the amount was for improved lump sums. It is for certain improvements in superannuation and retirement allowances. While the intention was to allocate the money for the improved lump sums, it all went in pension increases. Technically, an increase in pension is an improvement in pension.
Chairman.—At the moment I am concerned to have our records accurate because we will have to consider this later.
242. Deputy MacSharry.—Surely we should have got to the stage where we are using words we all know the meaning of. We are playing with the words “improvements” and “increases”—words which we can interpret in our own way.
—It was due to our anxiety to put it to the Dáil that certain improvements in the pensions code had been effected during the year that a certain sum was provided in this Additional Estimate.
243. If this £100,000 was given specifically for improvements in the lump sum by the Dáil, that is not the way it was spent in this current year. Therefore, the form of words being used is misleading the Dáil in relation to expenditure of money voted by them and that cannot be tolerated. It is as simple as that.
—There was no attempt to mislead the Dáil.
I am not saying there was an attempt to mislead the Dáil; I am saying that the form of words used now and earlier could mislead the Dáil.
—What we desired was to make sure that the Dáil realised that a certain amount of money was being spent on improvements in superannuation codes. With the benefit of hindsight it would have been better if, instead of £100,000, we had sought an increase of £10. Then we would have effectively brought the matter to the notice of the Dáil.
Chairman.—And then made an internal adjustment?
—Yes. What we did here, as we did in the Remuneration Vote, was to turn over the whole of the amounts to the relevant Votes and spend the money within the ambit of those Votes.
244. Deputy MacSharry.—Surely there is a simpler way of doing all this?
—Perhaps the simpler way would be that the Votes be taken earlier in the year and that, if there is time for discussion, a full explanation be given by the Minister when the Estimate is being introduced. As I mentioned earlier, all this happened on the 18th December, 1974, leaving effectively a couple of days to effect the relevant payments within the amounts voted by the Dáil. It is a credit to the officers concerned that the surplus to be surrendered, despite the rush at the end of the year, was less than £15,000.
245. Deputy C. Murphy.—Would it have been more correct procedurally to have come before the Dáil and sought a Supplementary Estimate of £10?
—That would have served the purpose of informing the Dáil that certain improvements were being effected in the superannuation code. It was obvious on the 18th December that it would not be possible to give to very many people the extra payments arising because the code was being improved in certain respects.
In cases like this is it the regular procedure for the Minister to go before the Dáil with a Supplementary Estimate of £10?
—That would hinge on whether the Department could anticipate sufficient savings to meet the cost involved.
246. Deputy Tunney.—Was it the position that this Estimate had been in the queue for a long time before being put before the Dail?
—It was introduced on the 4th December, but was not taken until the 18th.
247. Having regard to the fact that we were then approaching the end of the year what would have been the position had some Deputy asked whether it would have been possible to spend the money?
—On the 18th December the answer would have been “no”.
248. Chairman.—That prompts me to ask a very simple question. Can you tell us whether the improved allowances as envisaged in the Estimate of a total of £100,000 were paid to the beneficiaries on or before 31st December 1974?
—As I mentioned in my note to the Comptroller and Auditor General the bulk of that expenditure was spent on the ordinary pension increases.
In other words, the answer is “no”?
—That is correct.
249. Before the Accounting Officer leaves, there is a matter which he has raised, in a sense, when he referred to the separation from the Department of Finance. I should like to raise briefly the question of how much the success of this change will be relying on co-operation from your Department. As you know, the idea of a Committee of Public Accounts goes back to about 1860. In the beginning the idea was one of great experimentation. Ultimately, it became a success and the office of Comptroller and Auditor General was established about 1866. The Treasury played a vital role in the operation. In many ways it was the executive arm of the Committee. That situation has survived for 110 years. With the tripartite action of the Department of Finance, of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Committee there has been, by and large, effective control of public expenditure and public administration from the non-policy side, that is, from the efficiency and working side. In the setting up of your Department there was, as you say, a kind of split and to some extent the Committee are in a dilemma in this regard. The administrative control of the public service passes largely to you, including even the automatic processing of data. This places you as Accounting Officer in a somewhat different position from the remainder of Accounting Officers with the exception of the Accounting Officer of the Department of Finance. On the other hand the Committee are concerned to maintain their structure and there must be one person with whom we can deal. Obviously, the Comptroller and Auditor General must continue to deal with the Department of Finance and that Department must remain paramount. If much of the executive power of the Department of Finance is hived off to the Department of the Public Service there arises the vital question of the co-operation of the Department of the Public Service with the former in this matter. I mention this because the Committee will have to continue to function as it has been functioning. Overall control of finances is necessary, but you mentioned your giving sanctions. That is a matter of policy which I am not questioning in any way. What we are asking you to do is to help us to continue to ensure that the machinery of this Committee will be effective. There may be a time when there will be a separate Minister for each Department. In the event of any problems arising we should like to have your assurance of co-operating closely with us. Is there anything you would like to add?
—The functions transferred to the Department of the Public Service from the Department of Finance were set out statutorily at the time and the main areas where transfers took place were that the Minister for the Public Service is now the sanctioning authority for the pay of Exchequer-paid groups who were formerly subject to the sanction of the Minister for Finance. The other area is that of office equipment including computers. We maintain a very close liaison with the Department of Finance.
250. The very fact that you mention this is one of the purposes of this Committee. While it has nothing to say to policy its purpose is, shall I say, the elimination of waste or achieving efficiency, to put it more positively. Really, what we are drawing attention to is the need for anity of approach with the Department of Finance since it is expenditure and the Exchequer issues will all be from Finance anyway. In a sense Exchequer issues are to the Department of Finance, not to you although you are responsible for the efficiency of paying out; the issues are as authorised by the Comptroller and Auditor General. He issues the money through the Department of Finance and it is to avoid duplication or undefined responsibility that we are raising this matter. If there were problems arising we would have to face the situation. In the meantime we shall have to direct our questions about the efficiency of the service in a mechanical sense to you. But we would like to look at it this way: that since the moneys are issued to you from the Department of Finance in a sense there is a responsibility—all I shall say is that we would like to make you aware of the situation that I have referred to and the necessity for close liaison with the Department of Finance and that this Committee would continue to look to the Department of Finance as the Department responsible for the issue and control of public money. On the other hand, you have an overall role as well as your local role on the very Estimates you are talking about. I already raised the point in relation to the recovery or surrender of moneys. I think the feeling was that the Accounting Officer of the Department of the Public Service would be responsible for seeing that any extra money lying around from remuneration would be his responsibility. Take the case of the Army—whatever money would be made available would be made available for paying civil servants or members of the Defence Forces. Do I take it that he would be responsible for seeing that that money was surrendered? On the other hand, if the money were made available for stores, then it would be the obligation of the Department of Finance to see that this was done. We would have two people with responsibility for seeing that.
—I think I could allay the fears expressed here. Our responsibility in regard to pay ends when we sanction the amounts that are permissible for Departments to pay. The arrangements for the disposal of the money remain as they were before.
251. With Finance. That is important. We would like to say that an excellent Outline of Irish Financial Procedures has been given and we would like you to ensure that all people dealing in the service with accounts would be au fait with the procedures. I mentioned at the beginning the need for prompt answers to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the prompt furnishing of accounts and data. If we could be helped in that regard we would also be appreciative. Is there anything else you wish to say, Mr. Ó Conaill?
—No. We shall be very happy to do all we can to spread the gospel by way of the new booklet which I think is an excellent publication.
Excellent. Thank you very much.
The witness withdrew.
Mr. P. Ó Murchú called and examined.
252. Chairman.—Paragraph 58 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead H.—Defensive Equipment
Reference was made in previous reports to arrangements for the production by an Irish company of three prototype armoured personnel carriers, subject to a maximum expenditure of £90,000 approved by the Minister for Finance. Including £61,254 charged to the subhead in the period under review, payments to 31 December 1974 amounted to £158,628.
The Accounting Officer has informed me that the increase in the cost of the vehicles was due to higher cost of labour and materials and to the fact that the time scale for manufacture and testing, on which the original estimate was based, proved entirely inadequate. I have inquired regarding the present position of the project.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Committee will recall that when the 1973-74 Appropriation Account was being considered in November last, I mentioned, on the basis of additional information furnished by the Accounting Officer, that further development work on the first prototype carrier was regarded as uneconomic and that it was decided to use it as spares for the second and third vehicles. I was also informed that certain other works were necessary to enable proving tests to continue on these two vehicles. I understand that testing was completed in August 1976.
253. Chairman.—What is the position here in regard to these personnel carriers? Are we going ahead with them?
—The project is completed.
Are they satisfactory?
—The end product, called No. 3, is. As you know the first one was reduced to spares. The second can be used as required but the third one is the vital one.
Is it proving satisfactory?
—Yes. It has been declared satisfactory by the military authorities.
254. Paragraph 59 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead T.—Barrack Services
An inspection of Barrack Services stores in June 1975 revealed that a number of items purchased for issue to the Irish contingent serving with the United Nations peace-keeping forces in the Middle East remained unissued. As the contingent was withdrawn from the United Nations operation in May 1974 and as some of these stores appear to be of a nature not normally on army issue I have inquired regarding their use or disposal.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—In reply to my inquiry the Accounting Officer informed me in October 1975 that the items in question were being retained pending clarification of the position regarding the possible supply of further contingents of the Permanent Defence Force for United Nations peace-keeping duties in the Middle East.
255. Deputy Griffin.—What were the items in question?
—Items connected with the climate in the Middle East.
Deputy C. Murphy.—Were they subsequently disposed of?
—No, we still have them.
256. Chairman.—Paragraph 60 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:
“Subhead Z.—Appropriations in Aid
As stated in my previous report, the balance due to the Department of Defence on claims for the expenses of Irish contingents with the United Nations peace-keeping forces amounted to £246,842 at 31 March 1974. A further claim for £75,178 was submitted during the period under review bringing the balance outstanding at 31 December 1974 to £322,020. In addition, a balance of £236,048 was due to the Department in respect of pensions, allowances etc. (Vote 45-Army Pensions).
No claim has yet been submitted to the United Nations in respect of the Irish contingent in the Middle East but amounts totalling £160,389 were received on account during the period under review.”
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph refers to amounts totalling some £558,000 due at 31st December 1974—Votes 44 and 45—in respect of expenses and pensions and allowances relating to Irish contingents serving with the United Nations peace-keeping forces, mainly in Cyprus. Of this amount £529,000 approximately was received since that date but further claims under both heads totalling almost £727,000 have been made, leaving a balance of approximately £756,000 due at October 1976. In other words we have recovered practically all of what was outstanding in December 1974. We have claimed £727,000 more and now the position is that last October they owed us £756,000 on both Votes, pensions and expenses.
Deputy MacSharry.—Is that the latest information?
Mr. Mac Gearailt.—That is the latest I have, October last.
257. Deputy MacSharry.—Will they pay us?
—I think so. They have been paying. Might I mention one point about this item? When I was here previously the amount outstanding for Cyprus was short of £300,000. At the moment it is just short of £500,000. A new element was introduced this year. We put in a claim arising out of the fact that we had to bring back the unit from Cyprus in 1973 and we started claiming because we have reservists up doing duty that otherwise regular soldiers would be doing. It was certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General and we think it is a logical claim. How it will fare we do not know.
258. On subhead O.2. how many helicopters have we?
Are any of them new or did we buy new ones recently?
—We bought one last year. We have not bought any this year.
259. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead P—— Naval Stores—could I ask what is the general procedure regarding stocktaking of all the stores you have?
—Do you mean stores held by the Army generally?
In the Army, generally, yes.
—We have an audit section on the civil side. They go around to the different posts.
And are they your own stocktakers?
—That is right.
260. Chairman.—Under subhead W—— Expenses of Equitation Teams at Horse Shows—there is a note: The saving is due to attendances at shows being less than anticipated.
Deputy MacSharry.—Why was that? Is it that they did not go to where they were invited or they could not get the commitments?
—No. Remember this was 1974 and we were starting to build up our horse stocks at that time. We were really not in a position to go to meetings.
261. Chairman.—On subhead EE.1— Assistance to Sail Training—there is a note: The saving is due to the building of the new sail training vessel not being undertaken during 1974 as anticipated.
Deputy Tunney.—It is necessary presumably to have a separate subhead for Sail Training as against Naval Services?
—I would say that is deliberate. It is a question of keeping sail training separate, of recognising its separateness.
VOTE 45—ARMY PENSIONS.
Mr. P. Ó Murchú further examined.
262. Deputy Griffin.—Under subhead D.
—Military Service Pensions—could the Accounting Officer give us the exact number of men still in receipt of Old IRA pensions?
—Which way would you like them, because I like making a distinction between the service pensions and special Army pensions? I can give you bulk figures also.
Could the Accounting Officer give us both?
—As of the end of September, we had over 23,000 people on pay under this heading. There were wound and disability pensions—disability means diseases as distinct from wounds—allowances to widows, pure military service pensions, Defence Forces Schemes pensions, Connaught Rangers— there are only two of them—a couple of compensation cases under an ex-gratia scheme for the FCA and then special allowances. There are just short of 9,000 people receiving special allowances at the moment, the basic qualification being holding a medal as distinct from an active service medal. If he wishes, I will send the Deputy a copy.
I would like a copy.
263. Deputy Tunney.—On Appropriations in Aid—in estimating for overpayments at No. 2, what is the base on which you operate?
—It is really a guess.
How do these overpayments occur?
—We have this difficulty. We may not come across an overpayment in the case of a special allowance until the holder is dead and we get letters of administration. Then we may discover there were means we had not heard about previously.
The witness withdrew.
The Committee adjourned.