Committee Reports::Report - Appropriation Accounts 1976::30 November, 1978::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Déardaoin, 30 Samhain, 1978

Thursday, 30th November, 1978

The Committee met at 11 a.m.

Members Present


N. Andrews,


C. Murphy,






DEPUTY O’TOOLE in the chair.

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


Mr. L. Tóibín called and examined.

365. Chairman.—Paragraph 41 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads as follows:

Subhead E—Scéimeanna Feabhsúcháin sa Ghaeltacht

Payment to a co-operative society of a grant towards the cost of erection of a lamb fattening unit was approved in principle by Roinn na Gaeltachta in June 1974 and the society was requested to submit to the Department plans and specifications prepared by an architect or an engineer showing the estimated cost of the proposed building. The amount of the grant was to be decided when satisfactory information was available regarding the cost of the project. In the course of audit it was noted from the relevant departmental file that the society had entered into a contract in the sum of £98,700 for the erection of the building in July 1974 before it had submitted the information requested by the Department and that apparently only one tender had been sought. It was further noted that the project was well advanced in October 1974, when the amount of the grant to be paid had yet to be determined. At 31 December 1976 expenditure of approximately £109,000, excluding the cost of the site, had been incurred by the society. The Accounting Officer informed me that it was unlikely that tenders would have been available from other reputable contractors and that, in the circumstances of the case, it could not be said that the expenditure incurred by the co-operative society was unreasonable. He added that the grant paid, £74,000, was lower than 70 per cent of this expenditure and that it was clear that the co-operative society would have been in difficulties without the grant.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The point of this paragraph is that the contract for the erection of the lamb-fattening unit, which was to be grant-aided in the Vote, was awarded on the basis of a single tender and apparently before the Department had an opportunity of considering such matters as the plans, specifications and costs.

366. Chairman.—Has the Accounting Officer any comment on this paragraph?

—We were not particularly worried about that. As most people know, there are only a few firms in Ireland that go in for this type of big building. The nearest firm—in this case people in Millstreet—are normally the most competitive. Therefore, the fact that there is only one tender out of, say, approximately three national firms would not necessarily worry us at all.

367. Deputy Woods.—Was another tender sought?

—I do not imagine so. It was a big job and I doubt if a firm situated a long distance away from the place would have been interested even in tendering.

368. I would agree with the general point made by the Accounting Officer that it may be fairly obvious that one firm is the only firm in a good position to do the job. But it would still be important to look for alternative quotes, even if they did not live up to expectation and were not suitable. That occurs in quite a number of areas: that one can almost tell in advance which firm it might be. But you never know when another firm would change its orientation or find itself in a position in which it might be prepared to make a special effort at a particular time. While I agree with the Accounting Officer that it may well be the case in practice in that particular event that the outcome would have been the same, nevertheless to introduce a principle whereby alternative tenders were not sought would be unwise in the long run. At least it would keep the local groups on their toes, knowing that alternative quotes will be made available.

—We accept that fully. It may well be that the other firms were approached but we have not evidence to that effect. In any event, if we are in doubt about a tender in any particular case, we put a valuation on the work with which we are satisfied, not necessarily the tender price, and fix our grant accordingly. The Department is not, of course, a party to the contract.

369. Deputy C. Murphy.—I think the contract price was accepted at £98,700 and that, at the end of the financial year—31 December, 1976—expenditure of approximately £109,000, excluding the cost of the site, had been incurred by the Society. Was this the full expenditure or did it run into the following year?

—That was the full expenditure incurred under the building contract.

But it was not terminal?

—There may have been a final payment early in 1977 to reach that total—which is not a very big increase in any event. Some additional works were ordered as the contract proceeded.

Possibly, on the other hand, there should be weighted against it the fact that it seemed to get off the ground fairly quickly as a project?

—That is right. Of course, when these firms move in they do the work quickly. There are a few of them in the country for haysheds and similar buildings.


Mr. L. Tóibín further examined.

370. Chairman.—The Finance Minute on paragraph 29 of the Committee’s previous Report—Personal Responsibility of Accounting Officers—refers to Roinn na Gaeltachta. It states that Roinn na Gaeltachta has informed the Minister that everything possible will be done to ensure that the Bill to make all the necessary amendments to the Housing (Gaeltacht) Acts will be ready for the next session of the Dáil. What is the present position there?

—We have been discussing this for a number of years, as you probably know, and a Bill providing for increased grants operative from 1972-73 was prepared and approved by the Government some years ago but was not presented to the Dáil. Further increases were authorised by the Government from dates in 1977 and the Attorney General was asked to have the necessary provisions drafted for inclusion in a comprehensive Bill. A draft of these provisions reached the Department yesterday afternoon and will be examined and cleared as quickly as possible. We fully accept that legislation is necessary and hope to have a comprehensive Bill presented before the Dáil reassembles after the Christmas recess. Perhaps I might mention that the latest increases in grants from dates in 1977 were announced in August 1978 but will not be paid until a Supplementary Estimate is passed containing the following note:

Tabharfar isteach reachtaíocht a luaithe is féidir chun uasteorainneacha na ndeontas a ardú go dtí na suimeanna atá san áireamh sa mheastachán seo agus sa mheastachán bunaidh.

371. Féachfar chuige nach dtarlóidh an rud a tharla cheana.



Mr. L. Tóibín further examined.

372. Deputy Woods.—On the various subheads there seems to be a fairly substantial surplus of gross estimates over expenditure and Gaeltarra Éireann obviously account for a large part of that. Could you tell us why that was? Obviously there were projects which were visualised at an early stage and which did not come to fruition.

—As indicated in the note on subhead H.2, of the grants payable by Gaeltarra Éireann towards industrial development as many as expected did not mature for payment, but an additional advance from the Exchequer was made to Gaeltarra. The problem is that Gaeltarra get their capital funds from the State in two ways. One is through the Vote, the amount we are concerned with here, and the other is in the form of advances from the Central Fund, and that apportionment presents great difficulty. The Government fix a capital allocation for Gaeltarra, as for other bodies, and it is extremely difficult to apportion the amount between the two. In this year what Gaeltarra had estimated originally for grants was too high and what was estimated for advances was too low. It made no difference to the overall capital, apart from showing a saving here and a correspondingly increased issue from the Central Fund.

373. Chairman.—Is there any change of emphasis with regard to capital expenditure? You seem to be involved to a substantial degree in investments of the type which may not have been envisaged initially. Now you are going into a new area with fairly substantial investment?

—That is correct. These are the grants that are paid out for industries, as the IDA would pay them out. The advances are used for different things, for investment in buildings, such as advance factories, for taking shares, for buying land and so on. It is much easier to spend that kind of money than it is to pay out grants because they have to be fully earned and vouched on the purchase and installation of machinery, for instance. One can always buy a piece of land or erect a building or take shares fairly fast, provided it is authorised, and that is why it is much easier to spend the advance side of the allocations than the grant side. Since 1965, when amending legislation was passed, Gaeltarra have the power to engage in industrial promotion and to take shares in addition to their former activities.

374. Deputy C. Murphy.—On subhead E —Scéimeanna Feabhsúcháin sa Ghaeltacht —I appreciate that it is going to be difficult under improvement schemes for the Gaeltacht to assess this very closely. The grant there was £1,250,000 that is £250,000 up on the previous year, and expenditure amounted to £1,093,288, which left the amount less than granted at £156,712. Could I inquire a little more precisely on what particular item within the list of 12 to 14 items, in page 98, was this less than estimated because surely in any form of estimation you would have a certain amount of money for each project. Was it just a global figure that was picked to give a 25 per cent increase?

—No. For example take the marine works where there was an expenditure of £355,000, while the actual figure in the provision for that was £400,000.

375. Does that mean that one project of a marine nature in the Gaeltacht did not go ahead or would it be spread over a couple of small projects?

—It would be spread over a variety of projects. In that year money was paid out for 32 projects and they ranged from as low as £10 to almost £200,000, the big item being in Rossaveal. Taking one year with another, these things happen and in the following year you will find that we overspent under that subhead. There are hundreds of different works over which we have no direct control. Bad weather, for instance, or some particular problem, such as industrial relations difficulties in a local body, can delay expenditure.

376. Taking £45,000 from that £156,000 would leave about £110,000. Could you give the next major work please?

—The major one was an electricity generating scheme that did not go ahead as quickly as expected on Inis Meáin and it fell into the next year. The electricity expenditure in that year was only £5,554 and we were budgeting for very much higher than that.

377. You did not go ahead in that precise year when we had provided money in the Estimate for it. The money was available and the difficulty was probably administrative on the part of the ESB?

—On the islands the first thing we need is a co-operative society who are prepared to assume responsibility for, and operate, the electricity system and that is where the major delay occurred in this case.

378. Could I suggest then that the money was made available before the co-operative society was formed?

—Not before it was formed but, until agreement was reached, generators could not be ordered and the ESB could not go in and construct the network and so on. All these islands, bar one that is not looking for electricity, now have the generating systems. I hope we will not have this problem in any substantial way again.

379. That would be the main cause of this underspending of £156,000.

—It would, yes.

380. Chairman.—In regard to overtime payments, the Committee have requested for the future a revised format in respect of this information. The matter will be taken up formally with the Department of Finance who, in turn, we expect will get in touch with all Accounting Officers. It is just a minor change in the format.

381. On Cuntas Chiste na Gaeilge, there are headings set out: Íocaíochtaí le Bord na Gaeilge, Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Gael-Linn, and so on amounting to £421,000. Is there any possibility here of overlapping or duplication in the sense that Bord na Gaeilge, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge and some of these organisations cover a wide range of activities? Is there a definitive demarcation line between them?

—Well, Bord na Gaeilge is now on a statutory basis; it was not at that stage. Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge for several years past has been expected to co-ordinate the activities of its various constituent bodies. Of course, this is work in which there would be scope for overlapping, but that is something we watch in their work programmes, in their audited accounts, and so on. In any event there is so much to be done in this field that there is nothing wrong really with different bodies doing the same thing in different places, so to speak.

382. This is the point I was making. There is nothing at all wrong with it. In fact, it only adds to doing a good job in the end except that, in the case of the provision of moneys possibly there could be somebody getting money from two sources. I presume that the accounting procedure will ensure that that will not happen.

—That is something we watch very carefully.

383. Deputy C. Murphy.—Ní mór an caiteachas ar ghearr-scannáin Ghaeilge; deontas £199 i rith na bliana, Item F. Nach bhfuil aon ghá leis nó nach bhfuil siad ag déanamh scannáin i nGaeilge?

—Tharla an bhliain sin nach raibh aon scannáin nua ag teacht ar aghaidh ach bhí caiteachas beag ar sheanscannáin. Ach an bhliain roimhe sin bhí scannán amháin a thóg an chuid is mó den airgead. Níl an oiread sin gearr-scannánaíochta ar siúl agus a bhíodh.

384. An féidir liom ceist ghinearálta a chur ort? An bhfuil aon ghearr-scannán Gaeilge á dhéanamh i láthair na huaire nó ó 1976?

—Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil faoi láthair ach anuraidh chaitheamar breis agus £8,000. Thugamar deontas don scannán sin Poitín a fuair cúnamh ó eagrais éagsúla agus duais ón gComhairle Ealaíon. Chabhraíomar le ceann eile freisin.

385. Anois, níl aon deontais á dtabhairt? Tá Bille um Thionscal na Scannán ag teacht ós comhair na Dála?

—Táimid ag leanúint ar aghaidh leis na deontais seo go dtí go mbeidh an Bord nua ann. Tá súil againn go mbeidh an Bord sin in ann cabhrú le scannáin Ghaeilge as sin amach agus nach mbeidh aon ghá le cabhair ón Roinn seo.

Chairman.—B’fhéidir gur ceist pholasaí é seo.

386. Deputy C. Murphy.—Tuigtear dom gur féidir le nuachtáin laethúla deontas a fháil ón Stát má chuirtear isteach alt nó leath-leathanach i nGaeilge. An sibhse an Roinn a thugann na deontais sin?

—Is ea. Ach ní bhfaigheann aon nuachtán laethúil é i láthair na huaire.

387. Ní bhfaigheann The Irish Times é le haghaidh “Tuarascáil”.

—Ní bhfaigheann.

388. Cé’n fáth sin? Cheap mé go raibh na coinníollacha comhlíonta acu.

—Bhí siad ag scríobh chugainn roinnt blianta ó shin agus mhíníomar na coinníollacha dóibh agus níor tháinig siad ar ais chugainn. Ceann de na coinníollacha, b’fhéidir, nár thaitin leo: bheimís ag súil go scaipfidís an Ghaeilge ar fud an nuachtáin. Ní maith linn go mbeadh sí in aon phíosa amháin, mar tá sé ró-éasca é sin a chaitheamh i leataobh.

389. Ar an láimh eile de tá éileamh mór ar “Tuarascáil”.

—Ach ba mhaith linn go mbeadh píosa Gaeilge anseo agus ansiúd a bhféadfadh an gnáthphobal teacht air i ngan fhios dóibh féin. Tá sé ró-éasca dóibh i láthair na huaire gan súil a chaitheamh ar an leathanach áirithe sin ar chor ar bith.

390. Tuigtear gur ceist pholasaí é seo agus b’fhéidir go mba chóir dom í a phlé in áit eile.

—Mhíníomar an scéal dóibh agus níor tháinig siad ar ais. Bheimis sásta an cheist a phlé leo dá dtiocfaidís ar ais chugainn.

Chairman.—Go raibh maith agat, a Oifigigh Chuntasaíochta.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. S. S. Mac Cárthaigh called and examined.

391. Chairman.—The Finance Minute on paragraph 5 of the Committee’s previous Report—Public Works and Buildings—concerns personnel and staffing problems. I should like to ask the Accounting Officer what the present position is in regard to this problem.

—That is about accountants. We failed in a number of competitions to get accountants. We decided to try to get trainee accountants who would when qualified graduate automatically to the accountant grade. We discussed it with the various teaching organisations and agreed the scheme with them. We then got sanction from the Department of the Public Service to recruit a number of them, but, when we were about to have a competition, we ran into trouble with the Institute of Professional Civil Servants. They objected to the rate of pay. They complained also that there was no provision in our scheme for trainees who did not qualify. Naturally, their own graduates qualify as professional accountants but they would wish some provision for those who do not qualify in our scheme. We have now resolved the question of pay and the Department of the Public Service have given us sanction to make some changes in the conditions. We will very shortly have a competition. We must apparently train our own accountants in future.

392. Would this not be regarded as a downgrading of the post? You are now taking on people of a lower grade, in other words, apprentices?

—Not really, every professional accountancy firm has trainees who are taken on at that level and must sit for the various examinations to be qualified. I think all accountancy firms do that.

393. Up to now you have had “off-the-peg” accountants?

—Our place was not recognised for trainees formerly, but it is now.

394. In the event of the trainee accountants failing to qualify as accountants, this state of limbo which you had up to now has been abolished and you have some niche in which to put them?

—If a person does not qualify in outside practice he can still be employed as a low-grade accountant. That problem has not been resolved yet by us but the actual rate of pay has been resolved and we hope that it will be acceptable to the Institute of Professional Civil Servants. The other has not been resolved but it will not arise for some years yet.

395. That would be a matter for consultation with the Department of the Public Service?


396. Deputy Woods.—It is a very desirable arrangement and a very natural one in most organisations. It gives you a flow through of people too which stirs the place up a bit now and then. People come in, they will do the training there, some of them will move on somewhere else after it just as they do in private offices and private industries. The experience they gain is good but the experience they give to the organisation is also good because of the young fresh minds coming in. Personally, I have a very great respect for those young fresh minds in any situation, even though they may upset the apple cart now and then by thinking somewhat differently. I think it is a very good, lively and healthy situation. I would be very glad to see it.

—We hope it will solve a long-standing problem.

It also gives you an opportunity to select to some extent people who will take on much heavier responsibility.

397. Deputy Kenneally.—Do I take it then that there is a shortage of accountants within the Office of Public Works or is the problem to do with remuneration and the qualified accountants going into commercial enterprise?


398. Have you much of a shortage?

—Yes. At present we have quite a shortage. After the first year trainees can be quite competent to do some accountancy work.

Deputy Woods.—They work in many private organisations too. They have basic qualifications.

399. Deputy Kenneally.—Would they be the same basic qualifications which accountants demand from their trainees?

—Yes. The conditions have to be acceptable to the institutes.

400. Chairman.—Paragraph 14 of the Minute of the Minister for Finance concerns Government offices at Athlone and Castlebar. That matter is resolved?


The Minister agrees with the Committee that exceptional cases of expenditure incurred on the preparation of plans which are not proceeded with should be noted in the Appropriation Account and arrangements accordingly have now been made with the Commissioners of Public Works.


401. Deputy N. Andrews.—I move: “That Deputy Belton take the Chair for the remainder of the meeting.”

Question: “That Deputy Belton take the Chair for the remainder of the meeting”— put and agreed to.

DEPUTY BELTON took the chair.


Mr. S. S. Mac Cárthaigh further examined.

402. Acting Chairman.—Paragraph 18 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead F.2.—Furniture, Fittings and Utensils

In paragraph 23 of his report on the accounts for 1969-70 my predecessor drew attention to the fact that a stocktaking had not been carried out at the Central Furniture Stores since 1967. The Public Accounts Committee, during its examination of that report, was assured that stocktaking was being attended to and that the situation was again satisfactory. In the course of an audit at the stores in the year under review it was noted that the most recent stocktaking had been carried out in May 1972 and that the investigation of the discrepancies which came to light during that stocktaking had not been completed at the time of the audit. I sought the observations of the Accounting Officer.

In his reply he stated that the re-organisation of the Furniture Branch carried out in 1972 was a limited one effected within the existing accounting framework to meet conditions which had prevailed up to that time. Unfortunately it could not cope with unforeseen pressures arising from the furnishing of large additional areas of office space which were then beginning to be acquired in provincial centres as well as in Dublin. Also, for reasons of economy and fire security, it was necessary to accommodate large quantities of redundant furniture resulting from the programme of refurnishing existing Government offices to meet insistent demands by staff organisations. The difficulties caused by these two factors were compounded by the inadequacy of the storage space and by continued staffing difficulties. From 1972 onwards greatly increased purchases of furniture, which would normally have been delivered direct to new office accommodation, had to be housed temporarily in the Central Furniture Stores because the manufacturers could make only piece-meal deliveries and stocks had to be accumulated in advance if the expensive new office space was to be made ready for departmental use as quickly as possible after it became available. The existing storekeeping and recording procedures at the Central Furniture Stores, which had been designed to deal with what was essentially a maintenance service carrying comparatively small stocks, proved unable to keep pace with the vastly increased traffic in material. Following the acquisition of additional storage accommodation it had recently become possible to effect a physical separation and set up an appropriate recording system for furniture purchased in bulk to equip new offices as distinct from that required for the provision of a maintenance service. As to the staffing difficulties it proved impossible to recruit suitably qualified technical personnel to fill authorised posts and there were restrictions imposed on the creation of additional non-technical posts. For the technical posts it was found necessary to recruit trainee technical assistants but their training was still incomplete and they would not become fully effective for at least another year. Non-technical staffing remained a problem but it was hoped that this might become less significant with the physical and recording segregation of bulk purchases and with the closer supervision made possible by the increasing effectiveness of the additional technical officers.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph draws attention to the lack of regular stocktaking in the Central Furniture Stores of the Office of Public Works. As shown in the explanation under subhead F.2., page 21, the value of the stocks held at the Central Furniture Stores at 31 December 1976 was £259,000 approximately.

403. Acting Chairman.—Would the Accounting Officer like to comment?

—Stocktaking is now completed in the furniture stores in Rathmines and in Bonham Street.

404. Deputy C. Murphy.—Does this take place on an annual basis?

—There will be continuous stocktaking now.

405. What system is in use?

—The question of stores has been raised regularly at the Public Accounts Committee and by our own audit. These matters are all symptoms of a problem and continually attending to these symptoms will never solve the problem. Our furniture stores have changed greatly in the past ten years. Up to then we had a very simple “in-out” store system and we had mainly a maintenance service. In 1970 there was an explosion in the demand for furniture services, mainly for new offices and the furnishing of embassies abroad, but also for refurnishing. The whole standard and quality of furniture and furnishings required has changed. The public service will no longer accept second-class furniture. We had a very low-graded stores organisation, a very simple store system and very low-graded staff to cope with it. There is the problem of trying to get a new management store system and to get it to comply with a Vote accounting system. There are different subheads under which furniture is bought and to meet this we require a sophisticated store system designed for our requirements and designed so that no matter what furniture management problems arise there will be a simple method of coping with them while meeting our Vote accounting system. That has not been done. The problems are arising and they are being dealt with on an ad hoc basis. They must be dealt with on a systematic basis. Secondly, we require not just competent store staff but somebody senior in charge. Stores are a big problem both from the point of view of efficiency and stores management. We must get somebody at a high level to manage stores and, thirdly, we must have suitable accommodation. We have five senior technical staff in our furnishing organisation dealing with a very big service. One is 66 years of age, two 64 years of age, one of them 61 years of age and one 53. The next staff below that are between the ages of 21 and 23 years of age. We have a huge age and experience gap in between but very recently we have got from the Department of the Public Service sanction for four deputy superintendents instead of two. Now for the first time one of the high management staff will be made responsible for stores and transport. One transfer of staff into a new office block can often mean other transfers because a large staff may move in there, some other groups of staff move into the buildings vacated and so on. This is all being done by two of the management staff generally over week-ends; they work Saturdays and Sundays. It is a huge problem and there must be an adequate storage system to meet their problems. First of all, we have got to recruit a suitable deputy superintendent and that is going to be difficult because we tried before but found we could not get qualified furniture people. Eventually we may have to train our own. If one does not know current management stores systems he must be trained in them. He must introduce an efficient stores system, tackle all of the problems that arise for the furniture management people, transfer them into the system which must also deal with the problems arising from Vote accounting. That is the first consideration. Secondly, beneath him there will have to be people trained in stores management. Lastly, we have the problem of two different furniture stores, one in Rathmines and one in Bonham Street. One was designed for maintenance furniture and the other to deal with new works furniture. At times, from a management point of view, it may not suit to put a consignment of furniture in one of them. There must be a stores system designed to solve any problems arising. The total answer to our problems is to have a furniture storage organisation with proper management. In my opinion this is years away. The audit staff will pick up problems arising from that deficiency. We can deal with them as they arise, solve them and come back to the Committee and tell them they are now solved, but then there will be others. In fact, there are other problems beginning to arise from having too big a stores operation and too little management. Once we get the deputy superintendent and he is given the task of looking after stores and transport, in two, three or four years’ time we should find that this will work almost automatically. We ran into this problem with this Committee in the 1950s in the central engineering workshops. Every time an Accounting Officer appeared before this Committee then he had to answer questions arising from the same type of symptoms until eventually we did a huge re-organisation of stores, with the result that the Committee have no problems with it now. I cannot give the Committee any guarantee except that, from now on, we will tackle this on a management basis.

406. Acting Chairman.—It is evident that you have staffing and storage problems. I am sure Mr. O’Donoghue from the Department of the Public Service will look into your staffing problems.

—He has given us sanction for two additional deputy superintendents, one of whose sole function will be the management of stores and transport.

407. Deputy Kenneally.—Are personnel of the calibre you are seeking available?

—There is grave doubt. I appeared before the Public Service Advisory Body earlier this year when the question of management of these organisations arose. I told them that our only hope, in the long run, was to train our own personnel. I gave them details of our training which is something they will not get outside; it is a very sophisticated training we give our technicians. If we get even one of the two we need by competition we will be very lucky. I can foresee recurring competitions to recruit these people but we will not get them.

408. Deputy Woods.—I do not understand why people are so worried about training. If you know what the thing is about, it should not be very hard to show someone else how to do it. Then you are looking for people who have the capacity and ability to develop into the job. Obviously, if you are very short on middle management it makes your job more difficult. I appreciate that. What would be the value of the stock currently? Obviously the situation has changed dramatically in a variety of ways, as the Accounting Officer has explained.

—The furniture we supplied in the year in question was £1.4 million.

409. Deputy N. Andrews.—The Accounting Officer mentioned that the problem was two-fold.


410. He mentioned accommodation. What are the problems relating to accommodation particularly in Rathmines?

—Rathmines deals with maintenance furniture. We do a lot of rehabilitation of furniture there, refurbishing and so on. Another problem that has arisen which did not arise before was that up to 1970 we bought furniture complete. Then we started buying what is called knock-down furniture. We started buying components. Some components can be used immediately for assembly; some require work to be done on them in Rathmines. We transfer them from one store to the other. This is the new way of dealing with furniture. For instance, you get the frame of a table on which you can put any number of tops to meet individual requirements. It is the same with chairs. One component bought can be used in different types of furniture manufacture. We supplied all the furniture required at the Castle for the EEC Summit meeting. We designed it, made it, supplied and fitted it. All of that was made by us. It was a completely new activity.

That was a remarkable performance. The Office of Public Works did a wonderful job.

—It was great credit to a very small staff.

411. The Accounting Officer mentioned accommodation. Is it a serious problem?

—We have two places widely separated. We have the management staff in Rathmines. We have simply two assistant storekeeper clerks in Bonham Street. If problems arise there, there is nobody on the spot to take the responsibility for solving them.

412. Deputy Kenneally.—Is the floor space of Rathmines, actual square footage, adequate for your purpose?

—Rathmines was not adequate, so we got Bonham Street.

413. Deputy N. Andrews.—What responsibility have you for Cathal Brugha Barracks?

—We do not supply furniture to those barracks.

414. But do you maintain the buildings in any way?

—No, they have their own maintenance staff in the barracks.

415. We will be coming to the Defence Estimate later on. There seems to me to be a great amount of space there; not being utilised. When the Accounting Officer mentioned the problem of accommodation in Rathmines I felt that there should be some discussion between the Office of Public Works and the Department of Defence as to the use of this space.

—The Deputy can take it that there has been some consideration of that from time to time.

With any results?

—I could not say that. We would not take that decision.

It may verge on the border of policy but it is a cost-effectiveness business, and that is what is involved here. It is public expenditure on buildings. That is the point I am making. Obviously the Accounting Officer is aware of the situation.

416. Mr. Kenneally.—The Accounting Officer spoke about our embassies abroad. Do you actually send made-up furniture to our embassies or do we buy it, for example in Bonn or anywhere else? Do you send out furniture to our embassies, or are you responsible for its provision?

—Where we can, we send out our own furniture, even for prestige purposes.

417. Deputy C. Murphy.—On subhead A.1 —Salaries, Wages and Allowances—I note that the Engineering Branch seems to have had a drop off of 25 personnel between 1975 and 1976. Would they be qualified personnel or different grades within the Engineering Branch?

—We have vacancies mainly on the professional engineering side. We have very few in sub-engineering grades. This is a public service-wide problem.

418. It is part of the overall?

—I am aware that there is an effort being made at present to resolve it. There is a committee going into the whole question of rates of pay etc., of engineers and it is evident that problems are also arising in local authorities.

419. I notice also that in the list of personnel you have people in engineering and architectural disciplines. Exactly how would you deal with stonework? Have you specialists in stone within the Department or is that done on a Government-consultancy basis? If so, where exactly would expenditure on that come within the Estimate?

—What exactly does the Deputy mean by stonework?

On castles and so on; granite specialities and all that type of thing.

—We have a National Monuments maintenance organisation. We train our own masons in stonework.

420. Do you bring in outside consultants?

—Yes, in the case of the Custom House and many buildings in Dublin.

421. I was wondering where does finance for these consultants fit into the Estimate?

—It is charged to F.1—Maintenance and Supplies. You will find, further on, a provision for consultants. That is different. When consultants are employed on an ordinary job, it is charged as part of the job.

422. You have a complete staff. How many sections?

—Six, dealing with ancient monuments.

423. Deputy Kenneally.—On subhead B— Travelling and Incidental Expenses—there was an excess of £22,816.

—The main increase arose because of equipment needed on account of the introduction of PAYE.

424. The introduction of PAYE for the public service was made at that stage?

—That is right.

425. Deputy C. Murphy.—On subhead E —New Works, Alterations and Additions— there is a huge under-utilisation?*

—There were four main reasons for the under-utilisation. One was the threatened strike by the Revenue staff throughout the country. The Taoiseach became involved in it. As a result our staff were diverted to a lot of small jobs catering for the Revenue staff all over the country. Secondly, we were very short of architectural and engineering staff. We were not able to fill the vacancies. Thirdly, at that time there was an expansion of the Foreign Affairs service and our architects were involved in acquiring premises abroad. Lastly, it was a time when we were involved in a very large number of security jobs along the Border and in Garda stations and Government offices generally. They were all small jobs but they were professional intensive rather than capital intensive. That was one of the worst years we had from the point of view of being diverted from the major jobs to security and other smaller jobs. We still have not got our complement of architects or engineers.

426. Deputy Woods.—I am glad to see that you have managed to install central heating for the harbour master in Howth. That is in my own constituency. I was wondering about the stand-by generator in Leinster House. Is that functioning now? At that stage it was in planning.

—It is installed. It will function if necessary.

427. Do you know what size it is?

—I do not know the capacity.

428. Deputy Kenneally.—On subhead I —Coast Protection—this seems to be a huge problem. What is the co-operation between the Office of Public Works and local authorities in this field? Is there a pound-for-pound arrangement? What can be demanded from the local authorities and the Office of Public Works?

—There is a fixed local charge. It is about 20 per cent. The State maximum is 80 per cent. The major problem we run into in coast protection is that local authorities are continuing to allow the removal of beach material. Our engineers and geologists say that if you remove material from any place along the shoreline it has to be made good from the shortline elsewhere. By removing beach material in one place you have coast erosion problems four miles away. There is no purpose in our undertaking very costly coast protection programmes unless that is stopped. We have written to local authorities about this and I know Cork County Council is taking action. They have prohibited the removal of beach material but other counties are failing to do so. It was the traditional right of a farmer to remove the odd load of beach material but it eventually became a business. They are removing it now in large quantities continually. That is going to cause coast erosion, if not where it is removed from, then somewhere else.

429. It has become a commercial enterprise?

—It will if we do not act.

430. Nobody objects to the local farmer but it is a different matter when it becomes a big commercial enterprise?

—They talk about traditional rights. Now there are five or six lorries and mechanical fillers going all day removing this material and they are causing coastal erosion. There is no purpose in our putting up walls to protect the shore while they continue to do this. Where there is coastal erosion our first requirement before considering remedial works is that the county council must take action and stop the removal of beach material. For instance it happens in Ballybunion.

431. Is the requirement 80 per cent from you and 20 per cent from the local authority?


432. Deputy C. Murphy.—Is not preliminary examination and so on carried out entirely by the Office of Public Works? I am thinking now of the promenade in Bray which will fall in a matter of years. Of course, then it will be repaired, but it will have vanished because there are now so many cracks in it. It is hopped between the local authority and Bray Urban Council and the Office of Public Works. It is hopped continuously from one to the other. Who actually pays for preliminary examination?

—The Coast Erosion Act is a very elaborate Act. If a case is referred to us the first thing we consider is whether it is really coast erosion or storm damage? If there is a prima facie case of coast erosion, the local authority must undertake the preliminary investigation. They submit their findings to us and at that stage we carry out a full investigation.

433. I assume that a local authority would submit an engineering report to the Office of Public Works and your costings would be from the preliminary survey stage?

—That is right.

434. Deputy Kenneally.—What way is that information available to the local authority? Why is it not available to local authorities when they request it? I am speaking of the survey carried out by the Office of Public Works. We have the problem in Waterford now and we have been told by our local authority, by our County Manager, that it was carried out by the Office of Public Works way back——

—Is that Ballyvoile by any chance?


—They have been told of our findings. We have told them the cost and what we would propose to do. We have asked them if they are prepared to put up a contribution. That is my recollection of Ballyvoile.

435. Deputy C. Murphy.—Has the Accounting Officer any recollection offhand of Bray promenade?

—I remember in my early days the first coast protection undertaken was Bray promenade. That is a long time ago. Is it storm damage now, or need of maintenance. I would not know. I would not know an individual case. I do not recollect that it has come to us recently.

I have tried so hard. It is sea damage.

Deputy Woods.—It had better be classified as sea damage, or it will not come within the brief of the Office of Public Works.

Deputy C. Murphy.—It is just ordinary wear and tear on the esplanade. It is 125 years old now. I would say that Dargan, outside the National Gallery next door, would begin to shed tears when that comes up, after all his efforts.

—I must look it up when I get back to my office to see if there is anything recent about Bray.

Perhaps you would.

—I will send the Deputy a note.

Thank you.

436. Acting Chairman.—How did the under-expenditure occur on subhead J.I— National Mounments?

—Under-expenditure there is due to deferment of setting up a depot at Killarney. That expenditure was not incurred in that year.

437. Deputy Kenneally.—Was that just a once-off operation until the local development committee took it over?

—That is right.

They were diocesan trustees?


438. Acting Chairman.—The Committee have requested that, for the future, a revised format for information be provided under the heading “Extra Remuneration”. The matter will be taken up formally by the Committee with the Department of Finance. We expect that they in turn will get in touch with each Accounting Officer.

439. Has the Accounting Officer any further comment to make?

—May I raise something, Mr. Chairman? Certainly.

—The Bourne Vincent Memorial Park, Killarney, was given to us to administer as a national park for the benefit of all the Irish people. When we got that as a national park nobody in the country knew what a national park meant. Therefore we tried to develop it as a farm. In the 1940s, when food was very scarce, our farming activities there and in other places, the production of wheat and so on, became a very live issue in the Public Accounts Committee. As a result of that we began to keep special farm accounts which we sent to the Committee every year. In the 1960s, for the first time, we in this country began to realise what a national park meant in world terms. From speaking to the son of the donor I know now that his father definitely knew what a national park was on the American system. A national park means that you must not use the resources for commercial purposes; that is one of the conditions. We have long ceased to carry out farming activities in the Bourne Vincent Memorial Park. We ceased sheep grazing and tillage. It is operated now as a national park, as a great recreational resource in its own right. I do not think there has been any question asked about farm activities for many years but we continue to keep farm accounts simply because it was requested in 1944-45.

Deputy Woods.—On that particular estate?

—On that particular estate only. Our superintendent has asked several times if he could stop keeping these accounts. Nobody ever asks for them. They are quite meaningless now. Therefore, could we cease keeping these accounts?

Acting Chairman.—The Committee will consider this matter.

—Thank you.

Deputy Woods.—I would like to congratulate the Office of Public Works on their many works. We know they are many and varied. Certainly we have seen some very beautiful ones. We know they carry the can for a lot of people, a lot of the difficulties that arise. While we do not have time to talk about them in detail here we would like to congratulate you on them.

The withness withdrew.


Mr. J. F. Harman called and examined.

440. Acting Chairman.—Paragraph 19 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:


Books published by An Gúm are stored in the warehouses at the Stationery Office. An examination of the relevant records revealed that there appeared to be little demand for some books of which comparatively large stocks were on hand and I have asked to be informed whether consideration has been given to reducing such stocks.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph deals with surplus stocks of a number of publications of An Gúm. Since the report was published the Accounting Officer has informed me that the sanction of the Department of Finance has been obtained for disposal of surplus copies of some 260 titles published up to 1952. He also stated that the Department of Education would, in future, review the question of the disposal of surplus stocks from time to time.

441. Acting Chairman.—What steps have been taken to reduce the stocks of those An Gúm publications?

—Of course we provide only warehousing facilities for the Department of Education for An Gúm. The responsibility for stocks lies with the Department of Education and An Gúm. Therefore, we are subject to what they decide in this matter. When I received the Comptroller and Auditor General’s query. I put it to the Department of Education and they decided on destroying these 93,000 books. They have said also that they will review the disposal of surplus stocks. Fundamentally, we merely provide the warehouse facilities. We have no say. As you appreciate, one State organisation does not interfere with another. We are merely providing the facilities.

442. Paragraph 20 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

“An inspection of the various warehouses used for the storage of large stocks of publications, paper, etc., revealed that much of the accommodation appeared to be damp, poorly ventilated and generally inadequate from the point of view of storage space and accessibility and I have asked for the observations of the Accounting Officer.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The Accounting Officer has informed me that my query regarding the unsatisfactory condition of the store accommodation was referred to the Office of Public Works who reported that temporary repairs had been effected to the roofing and that the possibility of obtaining some additional temporary accommodation was being explored.

443. Acting Chairman.—It seems that poor warehousing conditions could result in considerable stock losses. Have any steps been taken to alleviate the storage difficulties mentioned in this paragraph?

—Perhaps I might give some background information. The Stationery Office has been in Beggar’s Bush for over 50 years and it is a very old barracks, very decrepit. For the past 30 years or so efforts have been made by the Stationery Office to get new accommodation there or elsewhere. In 1973 the Stationery Office wrote to the Board of Works pointing out that rain was coming in and asking for improvements to be made. When I was appointed Controller in March, 1975 I examined the situation and found it to be very bad indeed and in May, two months later, I wrote to the Department of Finance stating:

When I came here in March I was surprised at the overcrowding of staff in decrepit accommodation and at the lack of adequate storage space for valuable items which cannot therefore be properly controlled and are often kept in damp, cold conditions.

I went on to say:

It will be seen from the attached notes on our files that unavailing attempts to get accommodation have been made for 30 years. No improvements or proper maintenance even have been carried out here in the expectation of new premises. In consequence, the staff have to put up with deteriorating conditions although the standard of accommodation for the Civil Service generally has been greatly improved. The delay has occurred, not through deliberate neglect—the Office of Public Works have been most considerate and helpful—but because the question of accommodation for this Office has been linked with the future use of Beggar’s Bush. This site has proved so attractive that large scale plans have been drawn up but not put into effect for various reasons e.g. move here of Social Welfare, the Kennedy memorial hall.

I went on to say:

In all the circumstances, it is requested that the Office of Public Works be asked to put the provision of new accommodation for this Office at the top of its priority list and to provide temporary accommodation here for the interim period until new premises are available, any necessary extra funds being made available for that purpose.

I am glad to say that after some time and further follow-ups the Board of Works have got accommodation for us very near the centre of the city which will be very suitable for our operations in dealing with the various Departments. Of course it will take some time to put this into order but meanwhile they have moved some of the office staff. Next month or in January all the office staff will have moved to Waterloo Road. This has been a tremendous improvement because, first of all, the office staff had been in terrible conditions and they have now been moved to good accommodation. As well as that, the place they have vacated is being used for storage and this has really helped to solve the problem. I should add that we will not have really first-class storage until we are in the new premises and have a building that was really made for warehouse purposes. As you will appreciate, an old barracks with small rooms is not really made for this kind of business. When I got the Comptroller and Auditor General’s query I wrote to the Board of Works and they carried out some immediate remedial measures which stopped the rain coming in and they improved the situation. They said in their reply that to do anything permanent or long-term would have cost £10,000. The difficulty was really that the Board of Works were trying naturally to avoid spending money when we were about to move. It is one of those things that took time and it was a very bad situation. Fortunately the situation is now more or less resolved.

We are glad to see that things are moving in the right direction. One of the areas of concern for this Committee is the incidence of any wasteful practices. I am glad to see you are getting results and that things seem to be improving.

Deputy Woods.—The Accounting Officer has taken very positive action since he undertook the responsibility.

Acting Chairman.—We should commend him.

444. On subhead A.2—Consultancy Services—could we have details of the consultancy charges which did not materialise?

—There were in fact no charges. What happened was that towards the end of 1975 the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Service decided that if any office were more or less likely to have need of consultancy people they should put in a special subhead. Given the situation which I have already outlined, I felt it essential to have something there in case we needed to use it and the Department of the Public Service agreed to that. We did not have to use it at all but we wanted to make sure we had the facility.

445. Deputy Kenneally.—On subhead D— Printing and Binding—the amount less than granted was £430,612. What is the reason for this saving?

—1976 was at the bottom of the trough of the depression, in the printing industry anyway. It was amazing. I have some examples here where costs went down. For example, in October 1975 one contract was £768, by November 1976 the contract figure was £595. There are a number of such instances. There was such strong competition that firms which had not before been so interested in our work when things got tight started to come in. This is the kind of thing which is very hard to gauge because it depends on how it goes. We are depending on what contract prices we get when we go out for tender. In fact it was a very good year from our point of view but maybe not for the industry.

Nobody welcomes a depression but at least there was one slight advantage.

446. Deputy Woods.—Do you have a full range of printing types available? One thing we came across here was in relation to the National Gallery. Some of the material was available from the Stationery Office and other material was commissioned directly by the Gallery and this was for their shop. Could you comment on that? I think the idea was that the quality of the printing would not be adequate for the requirements there.

—I am not familiar with that particular case. Of course the general position is that the Stationery Office is trying to get things done fairly cheaply. Naturally then the various Departments are anxious to get colour print and all the trimmings. So, if you like, there is somewhat of a struggle going on all the time. We are trying to do our best. When there is real need colour is brought in. The trouble is, when you are dealing with all Government printing, if you take off the lid it can shoot completely. It is a question of an incessant day-to-day operation.

447. I appreciate that there will be differences. I just wondered what the position was and what range you try covering?

—For our special contracts we have something like 63 different firms providing contracts. Therefore we have a full range of firms, big and small, in the country, in Dublin and outside. We cover really all ranges. Usually it is a question of costs.

448. Acting Chairman.—Under Subhead F —Office Machinery and other Office Supplies—there is an explanation given. It is a very broad statement. I wonder could we have any explanation as to why the expenditure did not materialise. The note just says it did not materialise. Is there any reason?

—In that case it was duplicating equipment for our own office and some consultations had to take place with the staff. As a result we could not bring it in until these consultations had taken place. Therefore, instead of bringing in the equipment towards the end of the year it was early in the New Year before we were able to get it in. Staff consultations really held us up.

449. Under “Extra Remuneration” the Committee have requested that, for the future, a revised format in respect of the information provided under this heading. The matter will be taken up formally by the Committee with the Department of Finance who, in turn, will get in touch with each Accounting Officer.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. M. P. Healy called and examined.

450. Acting Chairman.—Paragraph 52 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 on which £180,000, approximately, was expended out of voted moneys. I was informed by the Accounting Officer in February 1975 that an agreement with the design company in relation to production of the prototype carriers had not been signed as the Department was advised that a contractual relationship existed on the basis of correspondence and part performance. Development and testing was completed in August 1976 and I noted subsequently that one of the developed prototypes and a further incomplete carrier were exported for demonstration purposes to a Belgian company which claimed in its publicity material that an armoured personnel carrier for which it had acquired the production licences had been developed in collaboration with the Irish Army. I sought information about the rights of the Department in relation to the prototype personnel carriers and I have been informed by the Accounting Officer that his Department is satisfied as to its position and rights in relation to the carriers produced under the contractual relationship mentioned.

In the light of this information I have further inquired whether this relationship covers such matters as patent rights, production rights and provision for financial return to the Department in respect of the expenditure incurred out of voted moneys on the production of the prototype carriers.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph refers to the provision in previous years of £180,000 from voted moneys to an Irish company for the development of a new type of armoured personnel carrier. While no formal agreement was signed by the company, the Department of Defence was advised that a contractual relationship existed between it and the company on the basis of correspondence. In reply to my most recent inquiry, the Accounting Officer informed me that this contractual relationship made no provision for any financial return to the Department.

451. Deputy N. Andrews.—Has this position been resolved? Is it still a fact that there is no formal contractual arrangement?

—We have a very closely drawn contract with the company now. They are in the process of supplying us with five completed vehicles which have been developed as a result of the research and development undertaking in respect of which these three prototypes were produced. So now we have a contract with them, drawn up in the most careful way. They have signed this contract. In fact, delivery of the five vehicles being produced under the contract is expected within a matter of days, or possibly weeks.

452. What kind of contract is this? What is specified in this contract with regard to the patent rights, production rights and so on? What return is there, if any, to the Department of Defence under this contract?

—This is a straight commercial contract for the supply of five vehicles. It does not relate to the work done on the prototypes.

453. Deputy Woods.—I presume that the remarks here of the Comptroller and Auditor General relate to the initial prototype, the possibility of having some participation in the patent rights at that stage. I presume that this is something that has gone past now and could not be retrieved?

—That is so.

In the way in which the operation developed?

—That is so.

454. Acting Chairman.—There is no provision for any recoupment of this money?

—No, there was not. Being a research and development job we feel that the amount of £179,000 was properly expended on the production of three prototypes. Admittedly one of them had to be used for spares afterwards. But the company did produce three vehicles. At £179,000, that is about £60,000 a vehicle. The commercial price of the vehicles which we are now buying is closer to £100,000. Therefore the work involved in the research and development was very much in proportion.

455. Deputy Woods.—The Accounting Officer feels, in effect, that the Department got very good value at the prototype stage, if you like, for what you bought at that stage?

—Indeed, and it gives us the opportunity——

And the only question that could arise is that in a future situation of that nature there could be a provision inserted that if it goes particularly well for the developer, since you co-operated with the developer, there might be some pay-back by way of participation in the patent rights or production right. Is that not basically the principle involved?

—No, I see the situation developing from now on that we will be able to buy these vehicles made at home, whereas up to now all through the years, we have had to import them.

456. Deputy Kenneally.—The situation that the Committee has before it for consideration is that a payment, from voted moneys, of approximately £180,000 was made to the design company in respect of three prototype armoured personnel carriers and that no agreement or contractual arrangement was entered into which, in the event of a successful outcome, would, by way of patent right or production rights, yield a return to the Exchequer.

457. Deputy Woods.—I understand that the Department of Defence got three prototype machines for that.

458. Deputy N. Andrews.—But paid the full price. I understand that the Department of Defence got three prototype machines for that.

—Not only did we get the machines but we have all the drawings. Everything that was done in connection with this operation has become our property.

459. Deputy N. Andrews.—You do not have any patent rights?

460. Deputy Kenneally.—It is a commercial undertaking now?

—It is. Not only now but we hope in the future that we will be buying these armoured personnel carriers.

461. Deputy N. Andrews.—There is no return to you?

462. Deputy Woods.—In fairness to the Accounting Officer, he has pointed out already that there are several ways in which he gets a return. He gets a return in the sense that he got three prototypes which worked and were very satisfactory. He gets a return in that he can buy machines here at home and he has got the technology in the event of anything else happening. In future where there is a participation with a private company there might also be a clause whereby you have a benefit from the long-term gains to the company. This must be a reasonable proposition from a company’s point of view, especially at a stage when they need the money to get underway. It depends on how badly they need that money. This was really the development phase. The initial design work was done at that stage so they could get someone else to do that at that time. I appreciate the Comptroller and Auditor General’s note here. It raises a point in principle that can be looked for in future because it is very desirable that State bodies, and in particular the Department of Defence, would look to home suppliers and home inventors. In supporting home industry in that way you also can have a situation where there is some additional pay back especially if you are at the very early stage, which is the stage somewhat before the one at which you came in. You came in at the development stage I presume, at which time they had their basic ideas?

—Not only that but certainly one of the principals of the firm had had experience abroad with firms manufacturing similar equipment and the other is in effect the engineering brains behind this and the ideas and the technological ability were theirs. They came to us because we were the only customers.

463. Deputy N. Andrews.—The note indicates that a prototype was sent to Belgium and marketed over there. The publicity material indicated that it was developed in collaboration with the Irish Army.

—The company do not accept that statement. They say that the vehicles built for Belgium are entirely different from the vehicles for our use and they were very annoyed by the statement in the trade journal that this was in any way related to the Irish experience. From our own knowledge of the principal engineering brains behind the company we were quite satisfied that he could have gone ahead and done this for the Belgians if he had not had any experience in Ireland.

464. I should like to make it clear that I think what has happened is a wonderful thing in the sense that an Irish organisation were involved in the development of these prototype carriers. There was not a formal contractual relationship in the initial stages of this development to safeguard the State’s investment in regard to patent and production rights. However, the Department are advised that a contractual relationship exists on the basis of correspondence and part performance. This was a new venture and, perhaps, full advantage was not taken of it. However, we have gained valuable experience and can expect to gain by it.

—We prepared a very detailed document which the company refused to sign and the Chief State Solicitor’s advice was that on the basis of the correspondence, the draft agreement and part performance they had committed themselves to a contract. When we later sought his advice about insisting on what we had in mind about guarding against possible exploitation, the Chief State Solicitor’s advice was that we should be careful. We had legal advice that we would be endeavouring to impose too restrictive an obligation on the company and that it might not stand up. We were advised in drawing up this draft agreement by the Industrial Development Authority who would have been the responsible authority if this were a normal commercial product. But it was a Department of Defence contract and there was no other customer in Ireland who would have been buying equipment of this nature. The Industrial Development Authority were never involved, but we had the benefit of their expert advice in drawing up this contract. Unfortunately, the company refused to commit themselves to it. We were advised that we had a contract with them on the basis of the correspondence, the agreement and part performance and we feel that the terms of the contract were prepared on the best possible advice.

465. Deputy Woods.—I presume that the Accounting Officer would accept the point in principle that in future situations in which a prototype might be developed in conjunction with a commercial firm, particularly an Irish commercial firm, some participation in the patent benefits would at least be sought in the early stage? I think you have indicated that the inventor may not necessarily allow that or agree to that but at least from the Accounting Officer’s point of view a contract which would cover the situation would at least be sought?


466. Deputy Kenneally.—On subhead C— Permanent Defence Force: Allowances— I presume this excess was because of security problems.

—That was the amount more than granted and it was due to increased expenditure on children’s allowances, subsistence allowances, disturbance allowances, ration allowances, uniform allowances, Border duty allowances, security duty allowances. Some of these allowances were increased during the year and therefore could not have been anticipated when the Estimates were drawn up. We were faced with the necessity of paying more than had been granted, money which was offset by savings under other subheads.

467. Deputy N. Andrews.—There are certain allowances for Border duty and so on, but are there any allowances for exceptional night duty? The Army are supporting the civil powers in escorting large sums of money, mostly bank money. Are there any allowances for this as I understand that there is an inordinate amount of night duties involved?

—We have a security duty allowance, which is payable to personnel other than those in the Border areas. There is a separate Border allowance. For security duties, for example, guard duty at barracks, duties in aid of the civil power, which would include cash escorts, it is not by way of a measured amount of money for overtime; it is a per diem allowance for the personnel engaged in that type of duty. In fact, at present an allowance at the rate of £2.25 is payable in respect of each duty but not more than one payment may be made in respect of duties in any 24-hour period. That amount of £2.25 came into effect on 1 July 1978.

468. Acting Chairman.—In the explanatory note on subhead J—Mechanical Transport—it is said the savings are due mainly to delays in deliveries of vehicles on order and to expenditure on certain items being less than anticipated. Could the Accounting Officer say what type of vehicles were involved, and what were the reasons for the delays in delivery?

—As to the second part of the question, the reasons for delay in delivery can be very many. In some cases contractors are affected by industrial action; there may be many reasons why they are not able to fulfil their delivery dates. So far as the type of vehicles involved is concerned, there were 18 trucks, 32 landrovers, 9 landrovers of a different type, fork-lift trucks, tipping trucks, fire tender, an aircraft crash rescue vehicle, some petrol tanks and a helicopter-support vehicle. Four ambulances which had been provided for in the subhead were not ordered because of the lack of a suitable offer; when we went to tender we simply did not get what we were looking for so these were not purchased. Those four ambulances alone were responsible for a saving of £30,000. Also there was expenditure which had been planned but not incurred on other landrovers and the installation of some petrol pumps and tanks which was estimated for, but not ordered, again because of preliminary delay and difficulty in identifying the best and most suitable equipment.

469. Deputy N. Andrews.—On subhead S —Buildings—I wonder has any consideration been given by the Accounting Officer to the cost effectiveness of the expenditure here in relation to the continuance of barracks such as Collins Barracks and Cathal Brugha Barracks which would be largely obsolete in the event of an emergency because it is quite obvious that mobilisation of an army would not take place in the centre of a city?

—This is under constant review between ourselves and the military people. In fact, we have thought seriously about Cathal Brugha Barracks. I think the Minister answered questions in the Dáil about the desirability of seriously considering disposal of it. The difficulty is that if you dispose of Cathal Brugha Barracks you would have to make alternative accommodation available for a very large number of troops. A proposal had reached an advanced stage of consideration with the military that a new barracks should be built somewhat outside the central area of Dublin. The military themselves are not enamoured of Cathal Brugha Barracks because it is in the centre of a heavily-trafficked area. They would find great difficulty in an emergency in having fast access in and out of the barracks. But, unfortunately, the cost of alternative accommodation would be very considerable. For the moment we have no choice but to keep going.

470. The cost of alternative accommodation might well be repaid and more modern accommodation might well be paid for by the sale perhaps of some of these premises, or by the transfer of cash from, say, the Department of Education, the National Library, the National Museum, in that way. Dublin Corporation would be interested in building houses there. There are a million-and-one uses for that kind of property. Costwise, it seems to me that it would be in the military’s interest to move elsewhere.

—Certainly it would be very much the military wish, but it has not been found practicable. Perhaps it does not work quite as simply as that, that you just collect several millions for Cathal Brugha Barracks and——

I realise it does not work as simply as that. I just want to put my view on record. I want to establish what the Department’s thinking is on the kind of expenditure about which we are talking.

—Certainly, they had thought of moving well out of the city. Certain estimates were produced. The cost was very substantial and it was decided that, in the circumstances, we would not proceed. Cathal Brugha Barracks, to a large extent, has been rehabilitated in so far as military needs inside the barracks are concerned. Many of the disadvantages, due to its age, are overcome by military works of improvement, as they are required; additional heating facilities have been installed there. Most of the major disadvantages, due to its age, are being coped with. Perhaps when the situation is better and times are more opportune we would be very glad to consider the possibility of getting rid of it in favour of a totally new military installation. But it just does not seem to be on at present.

If we went any further we would be into policy. I do not think this is the appropriate place to get involved in that.

471. Deputy Kenneally.—On subhead CC —Compensation—I see there was an excess of £61,000. Was that in connection with a specific case?

—The comment that we made about that is that it is not possible to estimate accurately expenditure under this subhead. The difficulty here is that, in one traffic accident, you could be faced with one item alone of expenditure of £40,000, as a result of an accident involving an Army vehicle. The courts can award substantial amounts in cases like that and it is simply impossible at the beginning of a financial year to know what we are going to be faced with by way of compensation during the year.

472. Do you carry your own insurance?

—We do.

473. What is the position about Army personnel driving civilian vehicles?

—Under the Defence Act there is no requirement for an Army driver to be licensed to drive under the Road Traffic Act. Therefore, the Army Supply and Transport people train their own men; they give them their own driving test and they are satisfied with their ability to drive Army vehicles. Successive Ministers for Local Government, now the Environment, have been absolutely rigid that they will not get a civilian driving licence without being subjected to the test conducted by civilian testers. This has been a long-running problem. It has been raised in the Dáil very often and we think we have a solution for it. We are now proposing that the civilian tester will actually participate in the advanced military driving test and at the same time the soldier will get his final driving test from the Army and the civilian driving test for later work. This arises mostly in relation to heavy commercial vehicles where soldiers leaving the Army want to get jobs driving heavy trucks. We are talking about a relatively small number.

It is a common-sense approach.

—We proposed this eight years ago.

Deputy Woods.—The Minister mentioned this solution at Question Time yesterday.

474. Acting Chairman.—On subhead DD —Lands—there is a big saving here, more than 60 per cent. Would the Accounting Officer like to elaborate?

—Yes. The major item in that saving was due to a delay in completing the purchase of certain properties, mainly the Longford Technical School which is required to increase the availability of accommodation at Longford Barracks and £40,000 was set aside for that. This could not be expended because of legal delays in completing the formalities for the purchase of the Technical School. Apart from that £40,000, the other items related to rehabilitation and fencing work which was not undertaken because of shortage of suitable labour, and finally rents of premises for An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil did not come to as high a figure as we had provided for. Perhaps we got better bargains. I think possibly that is the explanation. The main item was the Longford Technical School.

475. Deputy Woods.—Would there be any objection to giving the numbers of staff involved? Perhaps we could have the total number of staff to accompany the amount for salaries under each subhead?

—I can give some figures. The total number of civil servants serving in the Department on 25 October 1978 was 575. If we start from the bottom, the non-clerical classes, messengers, cleaners and so on amounted to 66. Civil Defence, that is the Department of Defence overall administration of the Civil Defence activities of local authorities, took the time of 44 civil servants; on pensions and veterans’ benefits and allied matters there were 95 civil servants; the personnel section of the Department totalled 73; finally the number dealing purely with the Defence Forces, i.e., administration of Defence Force problems as a whole, came to 297, so that about half of the Department were concerned with the direct servicing of military needs.

476. It gives an idication of the situation if you know the total staff involved. We have the total salaries, wages and allowances and we see what the average is. In this case here it is £1.802 million which is about £3,130 as an overall average. In general it would be a useful figure to consider including in future from the point of view of information.

—In subhead A of the Estimates for 1976 we set out under the heading of the Office of the Minister for Defence the numbers engaged in 1975 and 1976 with, in the right-hand side of the entry, the salaries for these people. The figure there for 1976 was 580 but it is the October 1978 figure I have given you. It has not changed all that much.

477. Deputy Kenneally.—On Appropriations in Aid No. 2—Sale of surplus stores and unserviceable clothing—would any Army uniforms be included in that sale?

—Yes. The military authorities are satisfied there is no risk of people masquerading as soldiers.

478. Would there be any danger? Are the uniforms redyed?

—No, but they take off the insignia and the buttons, anything which would identify the uniform. You can buy combat jackets around town which are very similar to Army combat jackets and are indistinguishable from them. There is no greater risk involved in this.

479. Acting Chairman.—Under Extra Remuneration the Committee have requested that for the future a revised format for information be provided under this heading. The matter will be taken up formally by the Committee with the Department of Finance whom we expect, in turn, will get in touch with each Accounting Officer.


Mr. M. P. Healy further examined.

480. Acting Chairman.—Paragraph 53 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

“Payment of army pensions is made by means of a computerised system. In the course of audit it was noted that a pension warrant issued in December 1975, which was cashed and listed by the computer as cashed in January 1976, was also listed by the computer as uncashed at the end of that month and at the end of each subsequent month up to April 1977. I inquired as to the circumstances in which this happened and why the error was not discovered in balancing at the end of January 1976. I also inquired whether any similar cases had come to light.

The Accounting Officer informed me that the duplicate listing arose when the method of payment was changed in this case from direct issue to the pensioner to lodgement to his bank account and the computer, through a programming error, produced two warrants payable to that account. The error was detected and the surplus warrant destroyed but, through an oversight, the corresponding computer record was not deleted. Consequently there were two warrant issue records for one warrant. The duplication did not come to light at the end of January 1976 because outstanding warrants were not taken into account when balancing at the end of a month. The Accounting Officer also stated that there were three precisely similar cases arising out of the same programming error in November/December 1975 and that there were 180 other cases in the period April 1974 to June 1977 in which warrants already cashed were shown as still outstanding; 98 of these cases arose from an operating error in November 1976 when a batch of manually prepared warrants was read into the computer a second time and the remaining 82 cases represent the aggregate of notifications duplicated or cancellations not notified over a period of three years. He added that no overpayments had arisen out of the system weaknesses disclosed but that programs were being devised to detect such duplications in the future and that it was also proposed to balance outstanding warrants monthly.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph refers to deficiencies in the Department’s compputerised records relating to the issue and encashment of pension warrants. While these deficiencies did not, in fact, give rise to any overpayment I was concerned that they could have.

481. Acting Chairman.—In this regard teething problems are common and are to be expected with computerisation; we all know that. But could the Accounting Officer say if the situation has improved considerably, or has there been any further evidence or incidence of duplication, or duplicate listing?

—First, I should say that I regret very much that this should have happened at all. However rare is an occurrence like this, it is a matter for concern to detect any defect in our system. We are satisfied, because it is now two years since this item occurred in respect of the 1976 Vote, that in the two years since then the systems that have been adopted have eliminated any likelihood that that particular difficulty and indeed I hope any other type of difficulty, will recur. It is a matter of great concern that this should not happen again. It was indeed a teething problem. The introduction of the computer led to a system where there was an entry in the computer records for each computer-produced warrant. Where such a warrant was replaced by a manually produced warrant a further entry was made in the computer records but, unfortunately, the entry relating to the previous record was not destroyed. Therefore even though one warrant for payment only was issued there were two records of the same warrant. When the encashment of the warrant was notified it was cleared on one entry only and kept coming up on the other one as uncleared. We are very concerned that these errors should not occur.

482. On subhead F—Connaught Rangers (Pensions) Acts, 1936 to 1964—I am sure there are not many of them left now?

—They are all gone now, I understand.

483. On subhead I—MacSwiney (Pension) Acts, 1950 to 1964—what number would be involved, one?

—One. There was never any more than one, the widow of Terence MacSwiney. That is all.

484. On subhead M—Grants in respect of the provision of Free Travel, Electricity and Television Licences to certain Veterans of the War of Independence and Civil Servants of the First or Second Dáil—could the Accounting Officer tell us what method of control is used to check out claims under this heading made by the Post Office, by the Department of Social Welfare and the ESB? Have you any method of checking on these? I know they supply you with the lists but is there any method whereby you can check?

—This follows on the social welfare provisions for free travel, free electricity and free telephone. We have in respect of the veterans already got our own records from the Military Service Pensions Acts records and the special allowance records. We have very many sources of information in the Department about their eligibility.

485. Yes. When the lists are sent to you by the Post Office, the Department of Social Welfare and so on, do you carry out any spot checks to satisfy yourselves that they are true and proper?

—That in fact the expenditure was incurred?

486. Deputy Kenneally.—May I elaborate on that. Let us take the ESB supply alone: in that case you get a form in the local post office and you send it in to your local ESB office. Is that not the procedure in that case?


487. That form is filled in, the ESB say that is the name of the account and the number of the account is put on the form. Is there any more check on that? Do you just issue free ESB current to that individual, through the Department of Social Welfare, and you pay them for it? Is that the way it works? Is there any check on the actual form? It goes into the local ESB office, comes back to you and you grant it. Is that the way it is done?

—Apparently we get the information from the social welfare officer as to the circumstances. For example, the telephone benefit is available only to people living alone. Therefore we check on that and find out if he is so entitled.

488. Acting Chairman.—That he or she is so entitled. How do you actually check on it?

—The social welfare officer will go out and find out the circumstances.

489. Deputy N. Andrews.—The social welfare officer is acting on your behalf, as investigating agent?

—That is right.

490. In other words, if you have any difficulties or any questions, you refer them to the social welfare officer who then checks?

—That is right.

491. And he works from a list supplied by you of dependants and so on?

—Precisely. There is a very large input by social welfare officers into our veterans’ problems because all the special allowance cases are based on a means test. We have to get an individual report on every single one of them indicating precisely what are their means, in what way they qualify for these benefits.

492. Therefore, you co-operate with the Department of Social Welfare and they, in turn, co-operate with you and so on. You work as a team on this issue?

—That is correct. There is a very largescale involvement of social welfare officers in the administration of these veterans’ benefits.

493. Acting Chairman.—For instance, how would you check with CIE when they send you a claim for free travel? How do you check on that?

—Apparently CIE carry out a survey and we accept——

You accept CIE’s survey. You have no way of checking it yourselves? You have to rely merely on their information?


The witness withdrew.

The Committee adjourned.

*See Appendix 13.