Committee on Finance - Additional Estimate Vote 74—Compensation to the National Greyhound Racing Company, Ltd.

I move:

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £10,000 chun íochta an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníochta i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh Márta, 1937, mar chúiteamh donNational Greyhound Racing Company, Ltd.

That a sum not exceeding £10,000 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1937, for compensation to the National Greyhound Racing Company, Ltd.

In moving the Vote, Sir, it may be desirable that I should briefly explain to the House the circumstances in which it is necessary to ask the Dáil to grant this sum. It will be noted that, according to the face of the Estimate, the amount is required to pay compensation in pursuance of a court order, but I should explain that the sum covered by the Estimate was agreed upon as full and final settlement of an action which was taken against the Minister for Finance. The £10,000 includes the costs incurred by the plaintiffs in this action, and I may say that the judge who heard the case stated that he considered that the Minister had met the plaintiffs very fairly. The matter was a rather complicated one—complicated by the fact that, while it was felt on strictly legal grounds that the claims of the plaintiffs in this action could have been successfully resisted upon the technicalities of the case, it was felt at the same time that the company were entitled on equitable grounds to some measure of compensation.

This matter arose out of an application for a totalisator licence made to the Minister for Finance on the 25th April, 1931. After a certain amount of correspondence and a number of interviews in connection with the matter the then Minister directed that a letter should issue to the company stating that the Minister was prepared to grant a totalisator licence, subject to certain conditions. This letter was issued on the 7th December, 1931. While the conditions set out in the letter were never fully accepted by the applicants for the licence, nevertheless they entered into contracts for the supply and erection of an automatic electric totalisator on the strength of the promise contained in the letter. Later on, however, a dispute arose between certain parties and the company to whom this letter was addressed, and the then Minister had a message conveyed to the company that he would not grant a totalisator licence until the dispute to which I have referred had been satisfactorily settled.

This was the position as it stood when the present Government took office, and as there were some doubts in my mind as to whether, on broad grounds of public policy, it was desirable that such a totalisator licence should be granted, it was decided not to grant any licence for greyhound racing tracks until the whole matter had been reported on by a Committee of Inquiry. This Committee of Inquiry was appointed on the 20th April, 1932, and it had the following terms of reference:—

"To inquire into and report to the Minister for Finance as to whether, in the opinion of the Committee, it would be desirable in the public interest to grant licences to set up and maintain totalisators as defined by the Totalisator Act, 1929, in connection with greyhound racing tracks, and to advise the Minister as to the person or persons to whom such licences should be granted and the conditions, if any, which should be attached to such licence."

And further:

"To inquire as to the precise nature of the arrangement made by the Minister for Finance of the late Government with the National Greyhound Racing Company, Ltd., and the Sports Association, Ltd., and as to whether any expense and, if so, the amount thereof, has been incurred by these companies or either of them by reason of any such arrangement."

This Committee heard evidence from all the parties interested, and it presented its report on the 19th July, 1932. The Committee reported, by a majority, that they had come to the conclusion that it was not desirable in the public interest to grant licences to set up and maintain totalisators in greyhound racing tracks in the Irish Free State. Two members of the Committee, however, dissented, as I have indicated, from this proposal.

As regards the precise nature of the arrangement made by the then Minister for Finance with the company, the Committee were satisfied that the promise was made to grant a totalisator licence to the company on certain conditions. They considered it clear, however, that at no stage was there a complete acceptance by the company of all the conditions which the Minister sought to attach to the grant of the licence. The Committee felt it proper to state, however, that in their opinion the company acted throughout in perfect good faith and in the belief that they would obtain the licence they were seeking. The Committee also reported that, in their view, the company, acting on the strength of the promise made by the then Minister for Finance to grant a totalisator licence, had incurred a certain amount of expenditure, and, therefore, that their case merited special consideration.

They further reported that the National Greyhound Racing Company, by reason of the arrangement which they understood the then Minister for Finance would be prepared to enter into, had incurred, up to the 26th March, 1932, a total expenditure of £10,169 19s. odd. They further pointed out that the expenditure was still being incurred owing to the payment of interest charges and to the employment of some people to look after and take care of the totalisator machine.

The position with which the Government was faced was, naturally, one of great difficulty. On the one hand, they had a virtual undertaking on the part of my predecessor to grant a totalisator licence. The fact remained, however, that owing to developments which took place immediately before he relinquished office, the totalisator licence was not signed, and the responsibility then fell upon me of approving the policy of my predecessor in regard to this whole question of issuing totalisator licences for greyhound racing tracks.

Those who are familiar with the various aspects of this rather complicated problem will know that that was not an easy matter of public policy to decide, and, to assist me in that connection, I appointed a commission of inquiry, which, by a majority, recommended that it was not in the public interest that such totalisator licences should be granted. I felt it was not possible for me to ignore the report of the commission which had been appointed in the circumstances I have related, and that, accordingly, it would not be right for me to grant a totalisator licence, particularly to a proprietary concern. On the other hand, it was clear that the applicants for this licence, the undertakers in this matter, had entered into certain commitments in good faith, and it was difficult for me to assess in my own mind how much of the total expenditure of £10,169/19/5 which they had undertaken was in all the circumstances fully justifiable. The matter then lay at issue between us until it was resolved by the applicants deciding to go to the court, and there an amicable settlement was made which, I think, has done substantial justice to the applicants, while, at the same time, honouring in full the report of the commission of inquiry. It is in these circumstances I am moving this Vote and I hope the Dáil will accept it.

It seems to me that the Minister has not made out a very satisfactory case for the payment of this sum of money. Unless my information is entirely at fault, the Greyhound Racing Company actually took proceedings against the Minister. Am I not correct in that?

Of which the Minister has not informed the House, unless he did so in his first few remarks which I missed. He did not mention it towards the end.

This is a compromise of an action brought against the Minister by which this very substantial sum of money is to be voted by this House. The reason the Minister asks us to vote this sum of money is that he obviously had not a defence to the action brought against him. Otherwise, I take it, he would not have compromised, and there must have been, therefore, a bargain which was considered by the law officers as being a binding bargain. Otherwise, I take it, if he was going to make anex gratia payment, he would not have waited until the actual trial of the action came on. We have, therefore, this position, that an action is brought against the Minister to which the Minister has no answer because he has reversed a decision which was in fact a binding contract entered into by his predecessor. I am perfectly ready and willing to admit that, under tremendous force of circumstances, a continuity between different Governments need not be kept up, but it does seem to me to be quite wrong that the mere change of the personnel of a Government should mean such a complete change of policy that binding contracts entered into by one Minister will not be accepted by a succeeding Minister. There should always be a certain amount of continuity between one Government and the Government which succeeds it. Quick reversals of policy will shake the confidence of persons who are dealing with Departments of State or with the heads of Departments of State. If one Government will not honour the obligations of the preceding Government, and the contracts that have been entered into, people who are entering into contracts with a Government will have no confidence and, as I say, in my judgment, at any rate, it is only when there are overwhelming reasons for adopting that course that that course should be adopted. It is a highly undesirable course.

Let me get a bit farther, and let me assume that there was not a completely binding agreement. If there was such a course of conduct pursued by the Department of Finance under one head as to lead people into expenditure, it should be carried out, unless there are overwhelming reasons for not carrying it out. Now, what are the reasons which the Minister has put forward? Just none at all. He has told us that he got a report from a committee, and that that committee, by a majority, advised against the granting of the licence. I do not know the number of persons who were on the committee, but I rather gather from the Minister that the majority was a majority of one, and that, anyhow, there were two persons who differed. The House is not given the reasons, and I personally would very much like to know why it is not in the public interest that a totalisator should be on a greyhound track. There may be very strong reasons, but I should like to know what they are. I do not at all subscribe to the opinion that if a Departmental committee is set up, this House is bound by its decisions or its report, and that we are not even to be given the reasons upon which that Departmental committee arrived at its conclusions, but are just to be told that they came to the conclusion that it was against the public interest. What were the grounds upon which they came to that conclusion?

May I correct the Deputy, and point out that it was not a Departmental committee. It was a public Committee of Inquiry, which sat in public and heard evidence; the evidence was reported in the Press; the report was published and circulated to the House, and all the reasons are in that report.

We come to to this House and we have the Minister addressing the House. The Minister's argument is that the committee reported, and because the majority of that committee came to a conclusion, his job is finished. He is not going to put forward their arguments, and he does not mention whether their arguments were sound or unsound. The Minister's statement is: "Having had a report from a majority of the committee, I acted as I did." What were the reasons? How is this totalisator on a greyhound track, which is allowed on a racecourse, so obviously and so greatly against the public interest that an entire course of conduct shall be completely reversed? It seems to me that the Minister's opening statement has been entirely too bald, and that he should not come to this House and merely say: "The committee has reported; you have the report of that committee, and that is quite sufficient." The House has to use its own judgment, and is not bound by the report of any committee. The arguments of the committee should be weighed on the merits. I sincerely hope that for the future the Minister will adopt a very much different course of action, and if any cases arise will see that there is a continuity, and not an abrupt departure in the policy of the Department, and that when he comes to this House to defend a course of conduct, or to ask it to vote a very substantial sum of public money, which a reversal of policy cost the ratepayers, he will come forward with a more drastic reason than the mere statement that a majority of the committee advised he should take the course of action that has been taken.

I should perhaps begin by again pointing out that the committee which was appointed by me was not a Departmental committee. It was a public Committee of Inquiry, presided over by senior counsel, and included in its personnel experienced public servants, accountants, and men of standing generally in the State, who had some practical experience of all these matters which were referred to.

Had senior counsel experience in backing dogs?

He started hares.

Evidence was tendered on behalf of the National Greyhound Racing Association by Mr. J.D. Woods, by Professor Dunne, by Mr. Patrick Gallagher, by the secretary of the Irish Coursing Club, by the secretary and a director of Dublin Sports and Greyhound Association, and by people representing various turf accountants' associations, by architects, clergymen and others, and practically all the parties giving evidence before the committee were represented by counsel. That committee heard evidence at length, and after very careful consideration of it, and backing up their view by very cogent arguments, reported

"that having carefully considered all the relevant factors we feel that the social and ethical considerations already referred to, far outweigh the economic advantages which it is claimed would follow the installation of the totalisator on greyhound racing tracks, and we have, accordingly, come to the conclusion that it is not desirable in the public interest to grant licences to set up and maintain such totalisators in the Irish Free State."

I contend that I was free to adopt the report of that Committee of Inquiry if I felt the conclusions to which it had come were sound. I was free, because my predecessor left me entirely free. I may say that this licence was ready for the signature of the Minister for Finance some time before I took office. If the question of public policy, which was involved in the issue of the licence, had been decided by my predecessor, and if he had granted that licence, I should have honoured it, but when the responsibility of granting the licence fell to me, I was quite entitled, since I should have had to come to the Dáil to defend that licence, to consider the whole matter afresh, and consider the whole matter afresh I did.

I may say in connection with this matter that we had a very sound defence to this action, so sound that when the settlement was submitted to the court, the judge who heard the case stated that he thought we had met the plaintiffs very fairly, and that in view of the terms of the report the settlement was not unwarranted. I think that is a complete justification for the action which we have taken. There was no binding contract. At the last moment certain conditions were sought to be enforced by my predecessor upon the applicants for this licence. They did not see fit to accept them. The two parties were not, I think,ad idem, and if we had fought the case I am certain—at least I am reasonably assured—we would have a fair chance of success. But that would not have settled the matter, because it was quite clear the applicants' commitments had been entered into by reason of the tentative undertaking which was given by my predecessor, and I desire, in accordance with the principle which Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney has laid down, since commitments were so assumed that we should, to the extent which it may be possible in the changed circumstances, honour them. The Committee of Inquiry which was appointed to investigate the whole matter recommended that it would not be in the public interest to grant these totalisator licences, but, on the other hand, there was some provisional undertaking on the part of my predecessor to grant them, an undertaking which it was within his power, before we came into office, to implement, but which he failed to do. Therefore, the responsibility falling upon me, and the committee having reported that it was not in the public interest that a licence of this sort should be granted, I think I am quite within my rights in not granting it. But adverting to the statement in the other portion of the committee's report, that the applicants for this licence were entitled to special consideration, I am meeting them fairly and reasonably, to the extent of recouping almost 100 per cent. the expenditure which they undertook.

Was it the people who advised you that you could win who also advised you to settle?

That, I think, is not strictly relevant.

I think it is. You said you were advised that you had a reasonable chance.

I did not use the word "advised."

I think so.

I said I thought we had a reasonable chance.

It is your own judgment. Were you advised to spend £10,000? Would you have spent £10,000 of your own money on such a thing?

I might not have granted the licence. If I had been here we would not be in this position. We would not be in the position which has arisen because of the giving of a tentative undertaking to grant a totalisator licence which a public committee of inquiry reported it would not be in the public interest to grant.

On a case you thought you could win, would you spend £10,000 of your own money by giving it away to other people? Obviously not.

But there was an element of honour in the matter.

If you tell me you are paying £10,000 for honour, they are changed times.

I know the Deputy could not purchase it at any price.

I should like to have an answer on that point, as to whether there was legal advice on the prospects of the case.

The Minister was called upon to conclude.

I have asked a question. If you say it is not relevant, I shall submit to your ruling. I think it is a relevant question and it has been the practice to have such questions answered. Did the Minister get legal advice as to the prospects of the case?

It is not a question of what legal advice I got that is relevant in this matter. The question is whether I am entitled to honour or to implement a report of the Committee of Inquiry which did report that the total amount expended by the original applicants for a totalisator licence was £10,691. We have settled the case for £10,000.

I suggest the situation is this. The Minister is throwing away £10,000 of public money. We want to know whether the words "throwing away" are properly applied there. If the Minister got legal advice that he could win, he ought to justify his giving in to the demand with much more detail. The Minister has told us that he had a good case. That is futile. The Minister need not think that he is being insulted by my saying that. The Minister could have no conception of the prospects. This is a legal matter. Was he guided by legal advice, and what advice?

I am perfectly satisfied that the statute would have supported my action in refusing a totalisator licence. The fact of the matter is that we had to pay this £10,000 because our predecessors provisionally undertook to grant a licence which a Committee of Inquiry found it would not be in the public interest to grant.

In other words, you broke your predecessor's word.

The Minister is paying £10,000 of the taxpayers' money for not implementing a promise.

You are doing that without being able to tell the House——

We made no promise.

——as to whether or not competent legal men said the action could be won or not. The way the matter has been presented to the House is that the lay judgment of the Minister for Finance——

That is sufficient.

Possibly that is the Minister's assumption but the House will have to judge.

In the estimation of those who drafted the Constitution, the lay Minister is responsible to the Dáil.

Yes, for bringing forward proposals for taxation, but the lay Minister has never arrogated to himself the right to pass his lay judgment on matters of this kind. That is the only basis for the paying out of this £10,000 of the taxpayers' money. We want to know this. The Minister went so far as to brief quite a number of eminent people. He must have had consultations with them. He must have got advice from them. The case was carried on until the morning of the court hearing and it was then compromised on the basis of paying out £10,000. We want to know what was the legal advice given as to the prospects of the action and why the action was carried so far. The Minister has told us that there were reasonable grounds for believing that he would win. He would not back that with his money but £10,000 of the taxpayers' money is being paid out here. This was a gamble. We shall have a division on that explanation.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 41; Níl, 28.

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Beegan, Patrick.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Brady, Brian.
  • Brady, Seán.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • Concannon, Helena.
  • Cooney, Eamon.
  • Crowley, Timothy.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Flynn, Stephen.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Jordan, Stephen.
  • Keely, Séamus P.
  • Kehoe, Patrick.
  • Kelly, James Patrick.
  • Kelly, Thomas.
  • Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
  • Kilroy, Michael.
  • Kissane, Eamon.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • O Briain, Donnchadh.
  • O Ceallaigh, Seán T.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • Pearse, Margaret Mary.
  • Rice, Edward.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Martin.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Traynor, Oscar.
  • Victory, James.
  • Walsh, Richard.

Níl

  • Beckett, James Walter.
  • Belton, Patrick.
  • Bennett, George Cecil.
  • Bourke, Séamus.
  • Corish, Richard.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Curran, Richard.
  • Daly, Patrick.
  • Davin, William.
  • Desmond, William.
  • Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
  • Doyle, Peadar S.
  • Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • McGilligan, Patrick.
  • McGuire, James Ivan.
  • McMenamin, Daniel.
  • Minch, Sydney B.
  • Morrisroe, James.
  • Murphy, James Edward.
  • Murphy, Timothy Joseph.
  • Nally, Martin.
  • O'Donovan, Timothy, Joseph.
  • O'Leary, Daniel.
  • O'Sullivan, Gearóid.
  • Pattison, James P.
  • Roddy, Martin.
  • Wall, Nicholas.
Tellers: Tá: Deputies Smith and Beegan; Níl: Deputies Doyle and Bennett.
Question declared carried.
Resolution reported and agreed to.