I raise this matter of remedial works to Teach Earlsfort because there is widespread dismay that the collection of taxes has been — and continues to be — disrupted with no apparent end in sight to this dispute which has been running now for over a year.
The dispute is a continuation of one which led to a strike about a year ago and it concerns the poor level of air circulation and humidification in the building which is occupied by the Office of the Collector General. There is also a question of overcrowding. Last year's strike went on for about ten days and, during this dispute, the IIRS were commissioned to write a report on conditions in the building. Certain recommendations were made and the Revenue Commissioners undertook to have the repairs and alterations carried out by the Office of Public Works. This was undertaken to happen within a period of six to eight weeks. This became three months and three months became six months. Finally, last December, the IIRS were asked to do a further report on what modifications had been carried out to date and on the state of the building.
The fact that this office is closed is a matter of great concern to the Government, the Minister for Finance and certainly to me. Any delay in the collection of taxes is absolutely crucial to a Government with such a strict budgetary policy. The dispute, which caused the closure of the office last year, is wholly due to the fact that the undertakings given a year ago have not been acted upon or certainly not fully acted upon. What is at stake? Why is there such a fuss? It does not seem to be too great a problem. There is not enough air and the surroundings are not very pleasant, but we all know what that is like around this House where there is not enough room for all of us and sometimes the air conditioning is not what it might be.
This building was originally leased by the Office of Public Works about 15 years ago for the Revenue Commissioners and it was intended to have about 380 people in the building. Today, there are approximately 600 people in it and the number is rising weekly as more staff are redeployed from other areas. I welcome redeployment; nevertheless it puts strains on the accommodation. I learned today that staff in these offices have been sent home on numerous occasions over the past couple of years because the building was either too hot or too cold. Two years ago, on a number of occasions, the whole complement of staff was sent home because the building was too hot.
What kind of tax collection system can continue when it is clogged up by this stop-go situation? Only last week a whole floor of this building was cleared out and the people sent home because conditions were freezing. That cannot continue. A sum of £150,000 has been spent on this building over the past year or so in putting in new thermostats and one must ask what the result is if a whole floor full of people have been sent out of the building because it is not possible to work there.
The delay in receipt of any revenue must be a serious matter but when you consider that all the value-added tax due for the November-December period is coming in at this time and not getting through to the Collector General and that it represents the value-added tax coming in on goods sold during the Christmas rush — on which, presumably, an enormous amount of VAT was paid — it is not good enough to allow this dispute to continue. The details and issues were decided a year ago and all that is required is that they should be acted on.
One must also remember that all the PAYE payments for December 1987 are now due but not getting through. There are literally millions of pounds in sorting offices waiting to go into the Collector General's office and that is not good enough. Another aspect of business carried on with the Collector General is the refund of VAT. Cheques are issued on a regular basis for VAT refunds. They are drawn by the Revenue Commissioners against an account with the Central Bank. Naturally, they have to put money into this account on a regular basis because, if no funds are lodged to that account, there is a risk that there will be insufficient funds to meet cheques which have been issued in the last week. Any delay in collection of taxes must be looked at very seriously.
There is also the question of the role of the Office of Public Works. As I said, they leased the building some 15 years ago on behalf of the State for the use of the Revenue Commissioners. They are responsible for the maintenance of the building and one would expect them to be responsible for the maintenance of the system of humidification and air conditioning in the building. They renewed that lease around this time last year in full knowledge of the existing problems. I hope that responsibility for maintenance of the system as it stands rests with the Office of Public Works and not with the landlord because, if it rests with the landlord and is inherently a bad system, not suitable for these premises, the Office of Public Works should not have renewed the lease without at least making sure that the landlords did something about this problem.
On the other hand, if the Office of Public Works are directly responsible for maintenance and for the efficiency of the system, one must say they have failed in their duty because this is a long running problem. An undertaking was given a year ago which indicated that the levels of air coming into the building and circulated would be increased. It is acknowledged by the IIRS that there is approximately 10,550 cubic feet of fresh air being circulated around the building but the rate recommended by the CIBSE 1986 guide for that space and those numbers is 18,400 cubic feet. There is a very wide discrepancy there.