Committee Reports::Report - Appropriation Accounts 1974::27 January, 1976::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Déardaoin, 27 Eanáir, 1977.

Thursday, 27th January, 1977.

The Committee met at 11 a.m.

Members Present:





H. Gibbons,





DEPUTY de VALERA in the chair.

Mr. S. Mac Gearailt (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) called and examined.


Mr. D. Quigley called and examined.

496. Chairman.—We have no problems from the Comptroller and Auditor General, no query or comment, so we move on to the Vote itself. On subhead F.—Defence of Public Servants—I take it we can conclude that no public servant needed to be defended?

—That is so.

Deputy Griffin.—That is what we would expect.

497. Chairman.—On the item, Receipts from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, the fact that the sums estimated and realised coincide suggests this is a fixed figure?

—That is so.

Deputy H. Gibbons.—What is the significance of this item?

—They pay us this fixed sum by agreement—it is a fixed annual sum, settled by agreement.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. C. Farrell called and examined.

498. Chairman.—Paragraph 16 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead E.—New Works, Alterations and Additions

The charge to the subhead comprises £3,044,837 expended on general architectural and engineering works and £7,590,579 in respect of grants towards the erection, enlargement or improvement of national schools, as compared with £2,853,705 and £6,625,683, respectively, in the previous year.

School grants amounting to £6,411,224 were paid to managers who undertook responsibility for having the works carried out and £1,179,355 was expended directly by the Commissioners. A school grant represents not less than two-thirds of the full cost, the balance being met by the manager from local contributions.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph is for information and shows the breakdown of the subhead charge between expenditure on general architectural and engineering works and expenditure on national school buildings and also, in regard to the latter expenditure, the amount expended directly by the Commissioners and the amount paid to school managers.

499. Chairman.—Paragraph 17 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

“Up to 31 December, 1974 fees totalling £35,163, including £2,868 in the period under review, were paid to a firm of consulting engineers in connection with the erection of Government offices at Athlone and Castlebar. It was observed that the total mentioned included £13,899 paid in respect of plans which were later revised. I inquired regarding the circumstances which gave rise to this revision and the stage of development reached at the time the decision to revise was made.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Accounting Officer has informed me that the original decentralisation projects announced in 1967 envisaged the transfer of the entire headquarters of the Departments of Education and Lands to Athlone and Castlebar respectively and that planning proceeded on that basis. In 1971, however, the Office of Public Works was informed that the Minister for Finance had directed that a transfer scheme on a less ambitious scale than originally planned should be considered. The Minister had in mind a pilot scheme which would serve as a guide for future action. In 1972, following decisions taken by the Departments concerned in consultation with the Department of Finance as to which sections should be transferred, the Office of Public Works was instructed to provide accommodation on an appropriate reduced scale. The Accounting Officer also informed me that, at the time the decision to revise the projects was made, developed sketch plans had been completed and submitted for approval preparatory to the production of working drawings, specifications and bills of quantities and that preliminary cost plans had been prepared by the quantity surveyor. The Accounting Officer further stated that the quantity surveyor provided cost plans and cost planning information for the fees paid to him (£20,000), that the consultants for mechanical and electrical services provided plans and design information in regard to these services for their fees (£13 899), and that the structural consultants provided design information for their fees (£9,359). No part of this expenditure was in the circumstances considered nugatory but consideration was being given to the question whether there was an element of constructive loss involved.

500. Chairman.—Would the Accounting Officer like to elaborate on that?

—The question boils down to whether there was a constructive loss and in considering this we must take into account that it is part of the function of the Office of Public Works to provide and plan for building projects and we cannot fulfil that function without incurring expense. The amounts vary considerably from project to project and may or may not include payments to outside consultants. In any case, some expense is involved, whether it is our own staff or outside consultants. We cannot, unfortunately, restrict this service to projects which eventually are executed because there is no way of identifying such projects in advance nor can we insist that plans once made should not be altered if detailed examination, changed circumstances or changes of policy demand such alterations. It is, therefore, in our view, part of the normal work of our Office to provide a planning service for various projects which are not proceeded with or which are changed to some degree with consequential expense. It would, we consider, be unreasonable to regard such expense as constructive loss calling for specific sanction from the Department of Finance and noting in the Appropriation Accounts. We are, accordingly of the opinion that if the expenses in this connection were incurred in the ordinary course of the work of the Office they could not be regarded as constructive loss. We propose to inform the Comptroller and Auditor General accordingly. Before we do that we have asked the Minister for Finance for his agreement with our view.

501. Thank you for that clear statement. Do I understand, from the information before us, that there was a definite ministerial decision made in 1967 to transfer two departments to Athlone and Castlebar?

—Yes. The whole of two departments.

502. Did that entail instructions to you to provide the necessary accommodation?


503. On the basis of that instruction did you proceed to implement this by engaging consultants and getting preliminary information with a view to placing contracts?

—Yes. First of all, we got sites at both places.

504. Would this project be of such a magnitude that it would be beyond the normal ambit of the work of the Board of Works? You would not normally build an office block of that dimension.

—Not in those days. We probably would now.

505. May I take it that you proceeded as you did with the approval of the Department of Finance?

—We had directions and sanctions.

506. Was the cost incurred in getting the preliminary engineering and quantity surveyors’ advice?


When did you commit yourself to those consultants and instruct them?

—We got the directions in November, 1967 and by 1968 we would have committed ourselves.

Would you have committed yourselves and commissioned them?


507. In 1971 were you informed that the programme was modified and would be restricted?


Was that not an alteration of a policy decision?

—It was a change of policy.

508. Am I right in saying that in 1972 you were instructed or took the initiative to proceed on a reduced scale with the concurrence of the Department of Finance?

—That is right.

509. Had you incurred expense at that time?


The Comptroller and Auditor General’s figures for that expense are:

Quantity surveyors


Estimate for mechanical and electrical engineering


Structural engineering




—That is correct.

510. Were the people you commissioned professional consultants?


511. Did those professional consultants actually proceed to work on your instructions?

—Yes, in 1968.

Did they produce the preliminary structural plans and did the quantity surveyor give costings?


512. At this stage the modification policy took place and as a result you were not going to proceed with the original commitment. Is it professional practice outside that if consultants are employed and they supply preliminary information they are entitled to charge their fees?

—Yes, that is the practice. They have a scale of fees and if they are engaged and instructed to do any work they have to be paid in accordance with the scale.

They were paid in accordance with normal accepted professional practice?

—That is quite right.

You are prepared to say that?

—That is quite true.

513. In a sense you are part of the Department of Finance but you have been completely in accord with the Department of Finance throughout this?

—That is so.

514. Your dilemma is that this money is being spent on this project which was changed because of a policy decision and the following up of this expenditure to make it fruitful, in the sense of the provision of an asset to represent it, has become impossible?

—That is quite right.

515. Therefore, I understand from both the Comptroller and Auditor General and yourself that you have, so to speak, a technical point as to whether this is nugatory expenditure or a constructive loss?

—We do not regard it as nugatory but the question is: is it a constructive loss?

Would it be asking too much for you to give us your interpretation of what you would feel is nugatory expenditure and what is a constructive loss?

—The line may be difficult to draw. Nugatory expenditure is where one gets absolutely nothing for one’s outlay. A constructive loss is where one gets something but which one cannot use in accordance with one’s original plans.

In other words, you got some value for your money but you cannot use it?

—We got the plans and advice but we cannot use them.

That seems to be somewhat subtle but between us I think we have clarified it.

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The point is that in the case of a constructive loss where one gets goods that are of no use to one, the loss is basically due to the fact that there has been a policy change. It is not the Department’s fault it is due to a policy change.

516. Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor General has anticipated me. I was going to ask that. That point is there?

—It is, yes.

That point, as raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General and explained by you, is there and, to some extent, it is an accounting point. Bearing in mind what the Comptroller and Auditor General has said now and you, as Accounting Officer, is not the nub of the question that this was a consequence of a change of policy?


And that you, as Accounting Officer, can legitimately say you had no control over it because it resulted, inevitably, from a change of policy after you had correctly committed yourself in accordance with the policy decisions and directions you had been given?

—That is quite right.

Is that not the real kernel?

—That is the absolute truth and is putting it absolutely correctly.

517. Does the Accounting Officer wish to say anything else?

—Of course, there have been previous cases; this is not the first and there will probably be others.

Without casting any reflection on anybody, Governments and Ministers are bound to make changes of policy for various reasons —that is what they are there for—but those changes of policy on occasion are bound to have consequences for the Accounting Officer and the Department similar to those you have had. Unless we found there was some reason for adverse comment I think the Committee can understand this.

Deputy Griffin.—It is obvious that, from time to time, plans are revised or changed?

Chairman.—They must be and we have to accept that.

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The whole point here is—and the Accounting Officer will appreciate this—that Parliament has always insisted down the years that it should be told about nugatory payments and about constructive losses. The Accounting Officer has said that he will communicate his views to me now. He thinks there is no constructive loss.

518. Chairman.—That is a subtle point but, from a practical point of view, the last point I made is the pertinent one. Both the Accounting Officer and the Comptroller and Auditor General are co-operating on this; there is no element of conflict involved. I think the Accounting Officer will agree that the Comptroller and Auditor General must, and has, maintained his position that Parliament must be informed.

—There is no question in the world about that.

519. Deputy H. Gibbons.—This arose by virtue of the fact that it is a payment to outside bodies?


If the same operation took place within your own Department it would not come before us at all?

—It might; the Comptroller and Auditor General might raise it.

Chairman.—As to why you spent the money and did not get value?

—He could inquire.

520. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Would this mean that each Accounting Officer in his own Department would have to draw the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General to this fact. I would imagine there would be times when you would find it very difficult to ascertain whether any of these activities or payments was nugatory?

—Yes, I agree it could be difficult but the Comptroller and Auditor General could raise the question.

521. Chairman.—The Comptroller and Auditor General thinks this could arise. I can see that it could and I think Deputy Dr. Gibbons is perfectly correct here. But is there not a practical point involved here: yours is a Department that has to get things done physically?

—Yes and we must plan.

There is a certain amount of risk involved in that; otherwise you would do nothing?

—That is correct.

There used to be a joke about the “Board of No Works” which certainly cannot be made any more.

—Thank God.

But that would be the logic of over-caution?

—Yes, one cannot give a guarantee that every scheme we are asked to undertake will go ahead.

522. Deputy Crotty.—The Accounting Officer mentioned that they are moving into the field of the construction of offices and so on. Would he envisage that they might get any value in the future from these plans or are they completely useless?

—It is unlikely that we would get any value from these plans, except, possibly, experience of work—not direct value from them.

Why not?

—If we were, say, extending in Athlone or Castlebar possibly yes, but elsewhere I would not say we would.

Why not?

—Because plans have to be drawn in accordance with the terrain and location of sites—drains and so on would be different. One has to tailor one’s plans to the particular sites. Were we extending in, say, Athlone or Castlebar possibly we would get value but in the case of a site in, say, Cork, Limerick or Waterford it would be most unlikely.

523. Chairman.—If each member of the Committee is satisfied we shall go to paragraph 18 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which reads:

Suspense Account

I referred in paragraph 21 of my previous report to a project to improve facilities at Reen Pier, Castletownshend, County Cork. I have not yet received the comments of the Accounting Officer on the delay in establishing the final cost figures for the project and in claiming the balance of the contribution due from the County Council.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The delay in establishing the final cost for the project to improve the landing facilities at Reen Pier, referred to in this paragraph, was also mentioned in my previous report and was the subject of paragraph 20 of the Committee’s Report on the 1973/74 Appropriation Accounts. This matter will fall to be considered by this Committee in the light of the observations of the Minister for Finance contained in his recent minute. In the circumstaces, perhaps there is no need for further consideration of the matter at this stage.

524. Chairman.—Does the Accounting Officer wish to say anything?

—I think we discussed this last year. The problem was, and indeed still is, a shortage of cost accounting staff. But we have received the full amount due by Cork County Council—that has been cleared—so that account has been wiped off. The total cost was £27,591.04, of which Cork County County Council paid £6,897.76 which was their contribution. We still have a shortage of cost accounting staff or, as they are known now, professional accountants. The Civil Service Commission ran a competition for us in the past couple of months and, as a result, we are getting one accountant.

525. We now move on to the Vote itself. On subhead D.—Purchase of Sites and Buildings—on which there is an extended note, there is a significant difference?

—The biggest purchase that did not mature was 57 acres on the north side of the Hill of Tara. It has been completed now.

526. On subhead E., we have been given a very full statement in regard to New Works, Alterations and Additions.*

Deputy Griffin.—On page 15 of the statement there is the item on the new post office for Tipperary Town?

—The plans are well advanced and we hope to go for tender sometime this year. There has been a lot of detailed planning involved and there have been a number of changes.

527. Deputy Crotty.—Will there be more outlay on Kilkenny Castle?

—We have no immediate plans but I have no doubt there will be later.

528. Deputy Tunney.—What is the position in regard to the golf course in the Phoenix Park?

—It is like “Mohammed’s coffin” or in Limbo. The whole development of the Phoenix Park extension has been affected by a major Corporation road scheme which would cut off quite a strip of that place and would affect the golf course. The whole thing has to be reconsidered.

529. Deputy Toal.—I note that the EEC conferences in Dublin cost £110,000. Is that the complete figure?

—No. It goes into the following year. The entire amount will be well above that —probably more than £200,000.

530. Deputy Griffin.—In regard to supplies of furniture, fittings and utensils under subhead F.2. is it the policy to purchase Irish?

—Yes, as far as possible. We have our own furniture unit which manufactures prototypes, but as far as possible we buy Irish-made goods from all over the country.

531. Deputy Tunney.—There was provision in subhead F.1.—Maintenance and Supplies—of £8,000 for Roinn na Gaeltachta and only £36 was spent?

—That may be accounted for by the fact that about the time in question the Department was moved from Earlsfort Terrace to Grand Canal Street and expenditure would be chargeable to subhead E rather than to F.1.

532. Chairman.—On subhead F.3.—Rents, Rates, etc—there is a note: a liability provided for did not materialise until after the end of the accounting period. What was this liability?

—It was a plan in respect of another office block for which the negotiations were not completed as soon as expected.

Did you not have to pay it?

—We did not have to pay it in that year but in the following year.

533. On subhead F.5.—Compensation et cetera arising from damage to the property of external Governments—a sum of £90,000 is provided and there is only a small saving on it. There is no note on that. You provided £90,000 for damage to property. Is it a regular claim then when you do it that way?

—This was a new subhead. The damage was caused mainly to British property. The biggest item was the British Embassy, 39 Merrion Square. Apart from that there was damage to the British Passport Office, British Health and Social Security offices, the French Cultural Institute, the Spanish Cultural Institute, the Russian Embassy—a small item—and the German war cemetary in Glencree. The total payments to date are over £200,000. The final estimate as far as we can see at the moment will be £236,000.

534. On subhead F.6.—Repair of Courthouses—I take it you made no repairs to courthouses.

—We did in Drogheda. These are special cases. We do not normally pay for courthouses outside Dublin but the Courthouses (Provision and Maintenance) Act, 1935, provides in section 6 that if the local authority responsible fails to maintain a courthouse the Minister for Justice can give us a direction to do it and to recover the cost from the local authority. This provision is in respect of the courthouse in Drogheda where the local authority failed to maintain it and we got a direction to put it into order which we did at a cost of about £10,000.

Under that subhead there is a note: the commitment provided for matured in the preceding financial year.

—It matured earlier than we expected.

535. Deputy Toal.—If you are to be recouped by the local authority for the repair of courthouses why is there any expenditure at all?

—Because we have to incur it first out of our Vote and recover it as an Appropriation in Aid from the local authority.

536. Have you recovered it?

—We have not yet. They refused to pay. Of course this question of responsibility for courthouses is a very cantankerous, debatable subject. We put the courthouse in Drogheda into repair and we have asked the local authority a number of times for the money and it has not been forthcoming. We have reported to the Minister for Finance and sought a direction as to what we are to do, whether to arrange to have it recovered from bounty-in-lieu of rates payable to the local authority or what.

Chairman.—What the Comptroller and Auditor General wishes and the Office is accountable for is that the accounting be correct and you will have to find that out on your own.

537. Deputy Toal.—Apart from Drogheda are there many other instances where you get a direction?

—We have got a direction in Waterford which is a very complex case. As a result of detailed examination, however, it may seem questionable whether it was really a matter that was provided for under section 6 of the 1935 Act because it looks as if the cost of putting the courthouse in Waterford into repair could be up to £¾ million, considerably more than the cost of a new building.

538. And if those cases had not got so much publicity in the press would there have been no claim at all?

—Quite possibly. There was one other case in Tralee but that is being handled by the local authority. These are the only cases, Drogheda, Waterford and Tralee.

539. Chairman.—Is the position really unsatisfactory from your point of view?

—It is. It gives rise to a lot of argument and debate because the local authorities take the view that it is the State who should provide courthouse accommodation. That has been going on for a long time.

540. I take it you would not provide it without a policy direction?

—No. There would also have to be legislation. We would have to have a special Act. It would mean repeal of existing laws.

541. On subhead G.1.—Arterial Drainage —Surveys—there is a note: a commitment matured earlier than expected. In addition to the charge against the subhead. engineering stores were supplied and services rendered by plant and machinery to the value of £3,360, approximately.

Deputy H. Gibbons.—Are there many others, by way of analysis, going on at present.

—Not at the moment. The Corrib— Mask—Robe has been done but there is no other analysis in progress at the moment. There are bound to be more, maybe in this year.

542. Deputy Griffin.—Has the Maigue been completed?

—No, the Maigue will go on until 1985.

You mentioned it being done.

—Sorry, the cost/benefit analysis has been done but the actual works which are in progress will go on until 1985. The cost/ benefit analysis report on the Maigue is being printed at the moment and will be ready probably in April.

Deputy H. Gibbons.—And circulated to the public?


543. On subhead G.2.—Arterial Drainage —Construction Works—what is the present position about the Corrib?

—There are three stages in the Corrib. There is the Corrib, the Corrib-Mask, and the Corrib-Mask-Robe which has not yet been started. That is the third stage. That has been designed and exhibited and at the moment we are considering the observations and objections received as a result of the exhibition. The scheme could be started either late this year or early next year.

544. Deputy Griffin.—Under subhead I.— Coast Protection—can help be got from any EEC fund for this?

—It is unlikely.

545. Chairman.—Under subhead J.1.— National Monuments—was this an abnormal year?

—Yes. We think we may be able to start works at a certain time and they run on a bit. In this case they ran over to the following year.

546. Deputy Griffin.—Under subhead J.2.—Conservation and Restoration of Holy-cross Abbey—is there a further application before the Board of Works?

—It is a continuing scheme. The work will go on until it is finished. We accept we will have to finance it to the end. Up to the end of 1976 we had paid over £355,000.

547. Chairman.—On Item 3 of the Appropriations in Aid—Sales of property—some transactions provided for were not completed, Why was that?

—Legal formalities can take longer than expected.

Completion of title deeds and that kind of thing?


548. In Item No. 4—Recoveries from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs—there is an alteration in the Estimate provided. Why is that?

—Since 1964 all services carried out by us for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs have been on a repayment basis.

549. Can you explain the note on Item No. 6—maintenance of arterial drainage?

—The period for payment of the cost of maintenance of arterial drainage runs very close to the end of the year, the 15th December, so with Christmas coming on a payment may not reach us until the first or second of January. It is a very close-to-the-bone period.

550. Deputy Toal.—On Item No. 8— Miscellaneous—would you explain the National Schools item?

—It is adjustment of local contributions. This work was paid for out of our Vote. We place a contract. We base the amount of the local contribution on what the accepted tender is. If, for example, it is one-eighth and a school contract is for £80,000 the local contribution is £10,000. When the school is finished, if the cost comes to £86,000, the extra £6,000 has to be broken down between the State’s share and the local people’s. The local contribution based on the £6,000 extra comes in as an Appropriation in Aid here. It is the local people’s share of the increased cost of the job.

551. Chairman.—On “work done for other parties, £14,394” what was the nature of “other parties”?

—Well, we do a little, perhaps for the ESB and some for the Department of Local Government etc; we act as agents for them.

552. Services of heating and lighting, etc.—who services those?

—Mainly tenants.

Again it is State or semi-State?

—We have a number of tenants also. For example we provide the shops in O’Connell Street under the offices there with heating on a repayment basis.

553. Lastly, to whom would you loan officers; I take it it is to other Departments?

—Mainly to An Foras Forbartha. There are five officers altogether concerned here. Four of them are on loan to An Foras Forbartha—two engineers, grade 3, one engineering technician and one engineering draftsman. Then we have a fifth officer doing missionary work in Africa on behalf of the Legion of Mary, on loan.

554. May I ask, when you lend officers, does this embarrass you? Does this mean a restriction of your facilities for getting your own work done?

—It may. But in respect of those cases we are able to carry on on the engineering side.

And you do not have to employ any others?

—We do not have to employ anyone instead. Of course, the Legion of Mary refund us the cost, and the officer concerned was replaced. While she is on loan in Africa we have a substitute for her.

In effect, she has got leave of absence?

—Yes, the Legion of Mary refund us her salary and pension contributions.

555. We shall go then to Extra Remuneration on page 27. In respect of the first paragraph of your notes I take it that this extra remuneration is in respect of established officers in your Department. Is that correct?

—That is right.

These are civil servants?

—They are.

They are technical civil servants from the civil service point of view?


556. On what basis generally does a person professionally qualified—be he engineer, architect, lawyer or anything else—get fees in addition to his salary or to his appointment? On what condition do professional fees enter in?

—Basically this arises because of pressure of work. These fees are nearly all in respect of home-work done on the production of plans for national schools. The pressure for the provision of schools is so great it cannot be coped with in the ordinary day. As a result, we have had to resort to the practice of getting staff to do, in effect, overtime.

You measure their remuneration by their professional status?

—Yes, they get a percentage of the fees. If it was done outside it would be much higher but they get a reduced percentage of the fees for the production of the plans.

557. Deputy Tunney.—Would this occur periodically only? If you have a situation in which someone gets an additional £2,200 or, if there were two of those, you would have an addition of over £4,000. You mentioned national schools. That is a fairly constant pressure. Would it not be better to employ an additional technical man?

—If they were to be had but the problem is that they have been so scarce over the years. We would hope also that schools work at some stage would pass the peak of requirements, although it is taking a long time. It is a terminable responsibility. Moreover, these men know the schools and can produce plans much more cheaply and quickly than people not accustomed to them.

558. Chairman.—I see under Note No. 1 —“£10,015 in respect of staff lent, without repayment, to another Department”. How does that compare with the refunds of salaries—£10,078—in note 8?

—It is unusual inasmuch as they are regarded as being loaned to the Department of Finance. They are the staff assigned to work in the Office of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance in the Office of Public Works. They are part of the staff of the Office assigned to duty in the Parliamentary Secretary’s office.

559. Note No. 2 reads: “Services rendered to other Departments, without repayment, amounted to £184 approximately”. There is bound to be a certain amount of that?

—That covers the cost of the copying of various documents in the printroom in the Office of Public Works for other Departments. It is a sort of photographic service.

560. No. 3 involves ex-gratia payments. I take it that is negotiated? Anyway, you have the Finance sanction?

—Yes, we have to be covered by Finance sanction.

561. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On No. 9, a total of £303 was paid in settlement of claims for compensation by nine landowners in respect of flooding of lands adjoining the river Blackwater embankment, County Clare. How did your responsibility arise here for the Blackwater embankment?

—The lands that have been flooded adjoin the river Blackwater in County Clare which was part of the Shannon navigation system. It is due to the construction of a canal, I think as part of the Shannon navigation system that these lands are held to be flooded. Over the years we have been held to be responsible for losses of crops etc. due to the flooding. Were it not for the Shannon navigation system, in effect, there would be no flooding or, if there was, it would be the farmers’ own loss. But we have been held responsible because we have interfered with natural water courses which have been responsible for the flooding.

I take it this canal was there before your time?

—It has been there a long time.

Is it a recurring charge?

—It is, it will continue for as long as we can foresee.

562. Deputy Crotty.—Is this a fixed or a recurring matter?

—It varies according to the damage caused. We prefer to pay compensation than to try to repair.

563. Deputy Tunney.—On Note 11— Research Projects—has that got to do with the Bolton Street project in the Phoenix Park?

—This concerns research projects in the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park in Killarney. The Bolton Street project was earlier.

Chairman.—That concludes consideration of this Vote. Thank you for a clear and helpful exposition.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. T. O’Brien called and examined.

564. Chairman.—There is a note on subhead B.1 in regard to incidental expenses which obviously included publicity

—Yes, in connection with the farm retirement scheme, a sum of £19,000 was expended on advertising in the daily and provincial newspapers and also on the production of an explanatory leaflet.

565. Subhead E. refers to deficiencies from sales of land bonds. There was a large over-expenditure there?

—In certain State claims where bonds have had to be sold at under-par value the deficiency was made good from this subhead; it is to satisfy the Revenue Commissioners who insist on getting their pound of flesh for income tax and estate duty claims. Bond prices were depressed at the time and £40,000 worth of them had to be sold at a discount of 29 per cent.

But overall, the State loses?

—If we had not got the money in here it would have had to be voted in Revenue.

It is as long as it is broad?

—That was the argument of Mr. James Dillon when he was Chairman.

All right—I will follow precedent.

566. Deputy H. Gibbons.—On subhead G.3., does the vendor pay auctioneers’ fees?

—Yes, since the passing of the Auctioneers and House Agents Act, 1973

567. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead H.— Gratuities to ex-Employees—what type of employee is involved?

—Former employees of the estates acquired—people who lost their employment by reason of acquisition of the property by the Land Commission. There were 14 involved in that year.

Deputy Griffin.—This would be by way of redundancy consideration?

—Redundancy payments would be taken into account in reckoning the amounts payable. Also considered would be length of employment, personal and family circumstances and alternative employment prospects. If any of them should have the capacity to work land they would get land instead.

568 Could I ask Mr. O’Brien about the terms of the Land Commission, say, for farmers seeking extensions to their holdings; what are their credit terms, as a matter of general interest, what period, what percentage have they to pay?

—The current annuity rate would be 15 per cent interest plus ¼ per cent sinking fund and the repayment period for that is 28 years.

569. Could Mr. O’Brien give any indication of applications under the farm retirement scheme?

—I can make a statement on it. The number of applications here has been up to the 31st December, 1976, 1,624 and of these 314 were withdrawn so that the net number of applications is 1,310 and of these 805 have been adjudged eligible to date. Two hundred and twenty-two holdings have been sold to the Land Commission yielding nearly 10,000 acres.


Mr. T. O’Brien further examined.

570. Deputy Griffin.—On C.2.—Forest Development and Management—what roads have suffered the reduced expenditure?

—These would be internal forest roads. We used to have the practice of laying them down when the plantations were being established but now construction is postponed and deferred to the prethinning stage; pruning precedes thinning. The first thinning takes place after 15 years and thereafter at five-year intervals.

Does it apply to the roads open to the public?

—No, to the internal roads for timber extraction purposes.

571. Chairman.—I suppose it simply means that vehicles you use must be able to travel off the road now?


Whereas before you put in the roads?


572. Deputy Griffin.—On subhead E.—Forestry Education—why the reduced number of trainees?

—To meet the upsurge in the forestry programme we recruited and trained as many as 270 foresters in the decade 1960 to 1970 and that made good the deficiency that existed. Now all we have to do is recruit against normal wastage through retirement.

573. Chairman.—On Appropriations-in-Aid, forestry receipts were greater than estimated and so were rents, compensation and sawmill receipts. Would this all be a consequence of inflation?

—The answer is yes.

574. Deputy Tunney.—Presumably arising out of the loss and damage through forest fires you consult with local fire officers?

—Yes, local fire officers are consulted in a regular form of liaison.

575. Deputy Toal.—Every time there is a forest fire are there witnesses?

—Occasionally there are and the Gardaí provide a report on every fire but we seldom succeed in getting the culprits.

576. Deputy H. Gibbons.—This may be nebulous, but can we ever look forward to the time when the forestry will pay for itself?

—Yes, we can. Dating from now I imagine we should break even in about ten years; by then receipts from timber should match the outgoings.

577. I also may refer to the forestry walks and congratulate the Department on making them available to the public, but there are some of them on which the gates are kept closed. Is there any policy in keeping the gates closed? It is a local matter I suppose.

—There certainly should not be gates closed in any of the forestry walks; there would be through and open access to pedestrians.

578. Would all the forests be open all the time to the public?

—No, the entire forests would not be open. Where there are nature trails and established forest walks they would be open. The trails are entirely free and open to pedestrians but to leave open gates at the end of a trail would invite trespass of stock and unauthorised motor traffic.

Chairman.—Anyway, there is admission to the public.


Deputy Griffin.—I would like to join with Deputy Gibbons in contratulating the Department for making the walks available to the public.

—The public response has been very good and we know the move has been highly welcomed.

579. Deputy Crotty.—In the Acquisition Account the receipts for the sale of land are £25,000. Is that for agricultural purposes?

—Yes, mainly.

580. What quantity of land have you on hands for forestry at the present time?

—The Department owns 870,000 acres of land. Of that 770,000 acres are plantable and of that 675,000 acres have in fact been planted at 235 different forest centres. That would leave 95,000 acres as plantable reserve.

581. How long would that last?

—It would cover roughly a three years programme as it would not all be immediately available for planting.

582. Would there be much of that capable of being used as agricultural land? What way would the Department treat applications for its purchase?

—I think very little of it could be classed as good for agricultural production. It would mostly be marginal land. The Forestry Division avoid taking agricultural land. Occasionally it happens, with a big block of marginal land, that we will get an enclave of agricultural land. If it fits snugly into the forest acquisition we use it for afforestation purposes and generally devote it to production of broadleaves which can be grown only on lands of higher quality.

583. We get complaints from time to time that the Department have land which could be used for agricultural purposes with proper drainage and manure. The Department do not seem to be too co-operative about releasing this land to people who feel they could use it as agricultural land.

—The general policy is that we do not acquire land suitable for agricultural purposes. First of all, it would be too dear and, secondly, we have seven inspectors seconded from the Land Commission to certify, before land is acquired for forestry purposes, that it is not really suitable for agricultural purposes. Occasionally it happens, in a fairly large area, that there is a small section capable of agricultural production but the problems of a farmer getting to it for agricultural use would be so great that it would be better to keep the entire acreage for forestry and devote it to first class timber production.

584. What does land you acquire for forestry purposes cost?

—At the moment it may go as high as £70 per acre. Ten years ago it was only £15 an acre. That in itself is an indication that it is only marginal land we are taking.

585. Deputy H. Gibbons.—Can you plant practically any land?

—Almost. We are assured of the success of afforestation on cut-away bog. We had a running argument with Bord na Móna about what is to happen to cut-away bog. As long as there is a good floor left, the cut-away can be afforested. I wrote some years ago to Bord na Mona trying to get the policy established: “Let ye take the high bog, and we’ll take the low bog.”

586. Is it deliberate policy to plant ash for the hurleys?

—Yes. We do our best to oblige the GAA.

587. Deputy Griffin.—In relation to the sawmilling accounts, do you produce fencing stakes? It is rumoured locally that a staking plant is to be erected at Dundrum.

—I have not heard about it so far. The two sawmills show a total profit of £26,744, that is £16,835 at Cong and £9,909 at Dundrum.

588. Chairman.—You have been coming before us a long time. It is nice to have two Votes where there is no comment from the Comptroller and Auditor General and where everything is in order.

—I have been 25 years coming here. I think this is my last appearance.

We are sorry to hear that. We wish you every happiness wherever you move to. The Committee would like to thank you for all the help you have given over the years. If this is your final appearance before us, it is a very appropriate one. We would like to thank you.

—I would also like to thank you and all the members of the Committee.

Deputy Tunney.—I would like to be associated with the Chairman’s remarks. Apart from Mr. O’Brien’s efficiency, I have always been attracted to his unique, distinctive style as an Accounting Officer.

Chairman.—Thank you. We wish you the best of luck.

The witness withdrew.

The Committee adjourned.

*See Appendix 10.