Committee Reports::Report - Appropriation Accounts 1974::25 November, 1976::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Déardaoin, 25 Samhain, 1976.

Thursday, 25th November, 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) called and examined.


Mr. J. F. Harman called and examined.

264. Chairman.—Paragraph 21 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 £269,420 were made from this Vote. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer and he has informed me that the excess was due to the fact that the estimate was not passed until the closing days of the nine-month accounting period. The expenditure was in respect of matured liabilities and could not have been avoided.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Committee has already considered the question of overspending in the case of 17 Supply Services. This paragraph refers to one of those services. The circumstances in which the overspending occurred, as explained by the Accounting Officer, are outlined in the paragraph.

265. Chairman.—The Estimate was passed in the nine-month period. This, of course, does not apply to your office alone.


In respect of what was the fairly substantial excess there?

—The initial grant was £1,534,400. Up to 31st October, 1974, we had spent £1,500,103 so at that stage we were all right. On 7th November it was £1,516,090 as against the initial grant of £1,534,400. At that stage we were all right but, between 7th November and 17th December there was a rise in expenditure and this is where we went over the top. Between 7th November and 17th December we went from £1,516,090 to £1,805,405. Of that excess £25,000 was on salaries, wages, et cetera and about £3,000 was travelling and incidental expenses. This is mainly actual transport, hireage and so on. Post office services were up by £1,000. Then printing and binding—the actual payment of accounts was a big item, £107,000. Paper and publications were up £153,000. These are roughly the figures. Our trouble is we are fairly close to being a commercial organisation in the sense that we are dealing with firms and people are always pressing for their money.

You were not alone in this in that period. First of all, I should like to express appreciation of the concise and businesslike answer you have given us. You have made it all very clear and taken very little time in doing so. Again, unlike other Departments, you informed the Comptroller and Auditor General fully before he compiled his report. Looking at the report, you can see the comment in other cases. We understand the circumstances and I do not think we need go any further other than to compliment you and I hope this will be a headline for other people now.

Deputy Moore.—I agree.

266. Chairman.—Under subhead D—— Printing and Binding-expenditure was less than granted?

—Yes. We always do our best, of course, to make sure we keep within the limits set by Parliament. The problem lies in meeting the demands from different Departments. We are, if you like, in between Departments and printing firms. Fortunately things worked out fairly well.

It is a problem of close estimation?

—Yes. It is quite difficult.

267. On Extra Remuneration, the total expenditure on overtime was fairly large. Was that due to shortage of staff?

—There are three areas. We have, of course, a security problem as a large store. We have to keep stores under examination and keep people patrolling. There is also some seasonal work—it goes up and down— for which technical and clerical staff have to be engaged. Thirdly, there are the warehouse people who depend on deliveries.

268. Deputy Moore.—In the Notes it is stated that free copies of official publications were issued to various organisations. For example, the University of Southampton is mentioned. Do they apply?

—In each case there is an application. We write to the Department of Finance and they sanction it. There is an exact list of what they want.

269. Deputy Toal.—With regard to the contractors who do the printing, there seems to be a limited range. Apparently one or two people do most of the printing.

—No, I would not say exactly that. There are actually two types of contract. A group contract covers a range of work. There are 52 of those group contracts. In addition, there are specialists for certain jobs. Some 15 firms hold group contracts. That is not counting the Register of Electors for which there are 28 firms and, in addition, there are ballot paper contracts. The position is that any firm can apply to the Stationery Office to be put on the list. We ask them for details of their plant, employment and the type of work they do. The normal thing would be to try them out on a small job first.

270. Deputy Moore.—Is the Register of Electors printed by the local authorities?

—We do it at the behest of the Department of Local Government for the local authorities. It is by arrangement. In view of the fact that we have the technical people and are in touch with the printing firms, these authorities find it convenient to use this method. We do not do it for all of them. We obey the instructions of the Minister for Local Government. Some authorities make their own arrangements.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. L. Tóibín called and examined.

271. Chairman.—Paragraph 41 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 £327,000 were made from this Vote. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer. He has informed me that the estimate was debated in Dáil Éireann on 31 October 1974 but, although it was expected that the debate would be completed shortly after that, the estimate was not formally passed until 18 December. He explained that expenditure was kept within the authorised amount until 13 December when some five hundred payments remained to be made. Taking into consideration that only ten working days were left before the end of the year, that staff were seeking leave at Christmas and that Gaeltarra Éireann indicated that a requisition from them for £250,000 was very urgent, it was considered, on 13 December 1976, that there was no real option but to proceed with payments in respect of matured liabilities even though they would involve exceeding the amount authorised by the 1965 Act for a brief period up to the passing of the estimate.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph refers to another one of the 17 cases of over-expenditure of which the Committee is already aware, that is Vote 37, Roinn na Gaeltachta. The circumstances in which the overexpenditure occurred, as explained by the Accounting Officer, are outlined in the paragraph.

272. Chairman.—This is something we have been conversant with in more than one Department because of the short financial year. Generally speaking, I should like to comment that when the Comptroller and Auditor General made an inquiry he got an answer from you although he did not get one in every other case. The Comptroller and Auditor General is entitled to get an answer from Accounting Officers; you furnished an answer and I am glad to note that fact.

—If this recent booklet, An Outline of Irish Financial Procedures, had come out at the time I would have given him a more extensive answer, quoting as follows: “All matured liabilities must be paid before the end of the year. Such payments should not be postponed even at the risk of an Excess Vote”. In my view what happened was a much lesser offence than an Excess Vote.

This was an exceptional year and you were not alone in that. In fact, you had everything in more detail than the Department of Finance themselves. We need not delay in this except to say that the Comptroller and Auditor General got the explanation when he sought it and that did not happen in every case.

273. Paragraph 42 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead D.—Tithe Gaeltachta

Reference was made in paragraph 39 of my previous report to the decision of Roinn na Gaeltachta, with the sanction of the Minister for Finance, to increase certain grants above the statutory limits in anticipation of amending legislation. The increases were effective from 1 June 1972 in the case of improvement grants and 1 January 1973 in other cases. I have been informed by the Accounting Officer that a Bill to amend the legislation has been approved by the Government and will be presented to the Dáil at the earliest opportunity.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This is one of the cases which are referred to by the Committee in its report on the 1973-74 Appropriation Accounts because amending legislation required to validate payments under schemes covered by specific enactments had not been passed. The Committee will recall that when the 1973-74 account was being considered last January the Accounting Officer explained that the necessary legislation was ready but that there was a difficulty about arranging to have it brought before Dáil Éireann. This legislation has not yet been enacted.

274. Chairman.—What is the position?

—The legislation is ready and it is a matter for the Minister to arrange a time to take it in the Dáil. There is a slight complication at the moment as the Minister is not anxious to go ahead while he is considering the possibility of introducing another provision—which has no direct connection with what we are discussing here.

275. What is the purpose of this Bill?

—It is to validate payments made for the last three or four years.

276. Deputy MacSharry.—Are they continuing to be made?


277. Chairman.—To validate those expenditures which are at variance?

—It has always been the practice to pay increased grants and rely on the Appropriation Act while awaiting specific statutory validation.

278. Deputy Toal.—Has the expenditure to be covered by your amending legislation?

—The legislation will specify grants already being paid. The former grants were increased by certain sums. The increases could amount to some £100,000 a year.

279. Chairman.—Are you saying in effect that, if the Minister decided to increase grants where there is legislation already provided for those grants, the mere inclusion in the Appropriation Act is sufficient?

—I would not go that far.

It is one or the other. Is that the case the Department are making? I am being very impersonal in this. You have legislation authorising those grants and they have been increased without further authorising legislation. Is that so?


280. Is it now being claimed that the transaction is regular because the amounts were included in the Appropriation Acts?

—That is temporarily the position.

This Committee are asked to accept that an increase in grants made pursuant to Dáil legislation can be validated by mere inclusion in the Appropriation Act without further reference to the Dáil. Is that not very wide?

—I did not intend to go that far. I fully accept that an amending Act is necessary.

281. If an amending Act is necessary, then the thing is ultra vires. If you accept that an amending Act is necessary, by implication you accept that what has been done—I want to be very impersonal as this is a legal argument—is ultra vires.

—I would like to amend the word “necessary” to “desirable”.

Now you say it is not necessary. Is it necessary or is it not?

—I cannot, on the one hand, say that specific legislation is essential and on the other that I am paying out the money without it. I cannot say both of those things.

282. You can if it is a fact. There are two separate things here. You are paying out money. That is a fact. You are also making a submission to this Committee on a matter of right. We want to know what grounds you are standing on? We understand the difficulty of your position but you are an Accounting Officer and you are accountable to this Committee. Payments have been made and a case is being made to validate the situation. Either the legislation is necessary to do it, in which case the payments are ultra vires although there are extenuating circumstances which are fully understood, or it is not ultra vires and then the legislation is not necessary. We want to know what is the attitude of your Department to the necessity or otherwise for this legislation?

—We fully accept the desirability of the legislation. It is ready, subject to getting through the Dáil. It is another matter whether or not it is absolutely vital. I feel that what is stated in an Act about housing grants is largely for the information of the public; it enables applicants to know their rights as specified in Acts. As I pointed out the last time, we spend considerably more money under other schemes for which we have no specific legislation. If our housing activities had commenced anytime in the past 20 years, instead of over 40 years ago, it could well be that we would operate under general schemes without specific legislation.

Are you not coming very near to a claim by the administration to dispense public moneys, once the purpose is authorised, without any control from Parliament?

—I would not go that far.

283. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Do the Appropriation Acts not provide for matters like this?

—That is right. We regard the Appropriation Act as covering expenditure on our housing grants as on our other activities which account for the major part of our expenditure. Our Housing Acts started in 1929 and we regularly bring them up to date.

284. Deputy MacSharry.—Can you pay out housing grants over and above what is stated in the legislation?

—We have been doing it for three or four years.

The Department of Local Government cannot do it.

—They have been doing it too.

In 1973 the legislation was supposed to be in course of preparation and it is now three years later. It is either necessary or it is not. If it is necessary you will have to take legal advice.

285. Chairman.—As far as legal advice is concerned that would be getting back to the Department of Finance. We do not want to push you beyond your job as Accounting Officer. You have a lot of responsibility.

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Committee had the view that the Appropriation Act was not sufficient validation. That is a matter for further consideration.

—In fairness to the Department of Finance they have also been pressing us to get the specific legislation passed.

286. Chairman.—On subhead C.—Post Office Services—is the situation that the estimate was higher than expected?

—Nowadays when we get an estimate from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs we put that figure in.

That happened to be too high for this year?

—Yes and we never found out why. It was just wrong.

287. Deputy Toal.—On subhead F.— Cultural and Social Schemes—there is an allocation of £30,000 made to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. What specific committee within that organisation is paid the money?

—This is a grant to further the cultural activities of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann including the musical and Irish language activities. The organisation promotes Irish music to a considerable degree throughout the country and we have been giving a grant to them for several years now. The music helps to promote the language also.

How does the grant for the year under review compare with that given in former years?

—There is a constant upward trend; it is still higher this year.

288. Deputy C. Murphy.—In connection with short films in Irish under this subhead I should like to know how many.

—Most of the expenditure in that period was on one film, Gile na Gaeltachta, which showed the progress made in Gaeltacht areas. There were smaller payments relating to two other films. This is ongoing and the various films are fairly widely shown.

289. In connection with periodicals and newspapers, I should like to know if part of that sum was expended on the daily newspapers?


Do they come under a different scheme?

—No, it just so happens that no daily newspaper is getting any assistance from us although we have a scheme under which they could benefit. If they wished to comply with certain conditions they could apply for a grant but they have not done so. In the nine months under consideration there was no payment apart from the periodicals in Irish because the grants to the others are paid in the first quarter of the calendar year. A few weekly newspapers are paid grants under this scheme but no daily newspapers applied.

And that is the case this year also?

—That is so.

290. Chairman.—On the totals I should like to remark that out of a total expenditure of £3,900,000 grants-in-aid account for £1,900,000?

—That is correct. The proportion is even higher now because the capital grant to Gaeltarra Éireann is increasing considerably.

Gaeltarra are being included in a new schedule for the proposed Joint Committee so I will not pursue that matter any further.

291. Deputy Toal.—On the Ciste na Gaeilge account, I notice that there is a substantial allocation to Gael-Linn?

—Yes. The bodies specified under Ciste na Gaeilge are exclusively Irish language organisations. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann for which provision is included elsewhere, is not an exclusively Irish language organisation.

Is Gael-Linn an independent body?

—All included under this heading are independent bodies.

Have you any criteria to use before you give them a grant-in-aid?

—They have to give us full details of what they propose to do for the benefit of the Irish language. They must tell us what their other income is and we receive their audited accounts.

292. Chairman.—They are all by grant-in-aid?

—Their grants come out of the grant-in-aid which goes into the Ciste na Gaeilge account. The organisations must make a strong case when applying for funds.

In other words, in applying this grant-in-aid over this area you have to investigate each recipient?

—Yes. They must satisfy us with their programme of work relating to our grant.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. J. C. Holloway called and examined.

293. Chairman.—This is your first appearance here, Mr. Holloway.

—It is, yes.

You are welcome.

—Thank you.

There is no comment from the Comptroller and Auditor General so we can go straight to the subheads of the Vote.

294. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead A.—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—is the Geological Office staffed to your satisfaction?

—It is practically fully staffed now. There has been a substantial increase in numbers. I think the authorised strength has now been reached, with the possible exception of one or two posts. It was difficult to get people in earlier years at the kind of salaries offered because they could do better elsewhere but in recent years alternatives have not been available so we got quite a number of people willing to apply for these posts.

295. Deputy Moore.—On subhead E.— Minerals Development—the payment of royalties did not mature. Why was that? Was there no mining?

—Basically this is about the payment of compensation to people whose rights might have been affected by mineral acquisition orders made a long time ago. There have been 18 of these orders already and, in cases where there was no difficulty in proving ownership of minerals or other rights that might have been disturbed, the claims have been processed. But in a number of cases it is almost impossible to prove ownership because documents have been lost, or something like that, and in those cases the making of claims is an extremely slow process and none of them matured in this year.

296. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead F. —Institute for Industrial Research and Standards—is it adequately equipped to carry out its various functions?

—We believe it is. A great deal of the expenditure incurred in recent years was in the implementation of an expansion plan approved about 1971 or 1972. It provided for laboratories of different kinds to deal with different industrial headings. A great deal of that building and the staffing of it has been completed. I have no doubt, however, that when we stand back and have another look at it the Institute will tell us there is room for further expansion. This is always the way.

297. Chairman.—Quite apart from expansion there is the question of equipment?

—Yes. The main expenditure is on the buildings and then equipping and staffing them. There is little doubt the Institute is not short of equipment. One of their problems was that their premises were a bit overcrowded with people for a while and that is why the building programme was undertaken.

298. Deputy H. Gibbons.—My attention has been drawn to the fact that cabs for tractors will become legally compulsory in a few months’ time and I understand there is no way in the country whereby manufacturers of these cabs can have them authenticated as being the proper type to use and the Institute is not in a position to certify them. Is that possible?

—Indeed it is possible, though I would be surprised to hear it. I take it that what you are talking about is their ability technically to assess the product to see if it complies with a particular specification. I believe they would be able to do that. It may well be that the difficulty you have spoken about arises in regard to whether or not an obligation can be imposed on people who use these cabs to comply with certain standards. There, again, I would answer affirmatively because there is provision under the 1961 Act for the prescription of compulsory standards and goods not complying with these standards are not allowed to be sold.

The point is there is no way of assessing the standards within the State. They must go outside at considerable cost?

—It is conceivable. It is a difficulty which could, I think, arise in respect of extremely sophisticated products, but I would be surprised if that were the case in respect of safety cabs for tractors. I will look into it.

299. Chairman.—Under subhead I.2.— Industrial Development Authority, Capital Expenditure—I take it that capital expenditure covers the grants made?

—Yes, to industrialists for new industrial plants, for the expansion of existing plants, for re-equipment, training and things like that.

300. They publish particulars of the grants they make?

—Yes. They identify them by name in their annual reports. The convention seems to be that, rather than have parliamentary questions arising about particular cases, the detailed information about each of them is given in the annual report and that seems to have been accepted.

301. But details of the applications refused are not given?

—No. It would not be appropriate to identify by name the cases turned down because there would be a stigma attached to it.

This is one of the bodies not to be included in the motion currently before the House?


302. Is it the case that grants-in-aid worth £20 million are involved?


I think subheads I.1 and I.2 constitute your biggest single grant-in-aid?


303. On subhead J.1 and subhead J.2 relating to the Shannon Free Airport Development Company Limited, less was issued by you than is provided for in the Estimates?

—Yes. There was a miscalculation in that case by the company in question. They assumed that arising out of the change to the calendar year it would be necessary for them to make an additional payment but that was not required.

Would that explanation carry right through?

—It is certainly the explanation here in the case of subhead J.1. In the other cases it may be attributable to other reasons.

304. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead J.1, provision was made for an annuity that did not mature for payment. What kind of annuity was that?

—This is the matter we referred to briefly. The arrangement is that they get funds out of the Central Fund and these obligations are converted into annuities payable on 1 April and 1 October each year. They are repayable over a period of 21 years to ensure the Central Fund is reimbursed for the moneys it has provided.

305. If I may anticipate a little, how will the proposed State investment in Bula appear in the documents? Will it be a grant-in-aid?

—I think it will be just in the capital programme. That matter has not been settled yet but provision has been made in the capital programme. It may even be necessary to have legislation about it.

306. Chairman.—On Appropriations in Aid, No. 6 Miscellaneous—the refunds from the EEC are substantial.


307. However, it is accounted for here and the Comptroller and Auditor General is satisfied. Out of an expenditure of approximately £29 million in your Department, £26½ million is provided as grants-in-aid.

—That would be mainly the IDA and——

The details are clearly entered. That is the way things operate as far as your Department are concerned and has been the case for a considerable time. By far the greater part of the expenditure in your Department is made up of the grants-in-aid.

The witness withdrew.

The Committee adjourned.