Adjournment Debate. - Revenue Staff Accommodation.

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.

They are a British company.

It is a standard accepted by the IIRS and others. The IIRS and the Revenue Commissioners acknowledge that they are making efforts to bring the level up to 15,000 cubic feet. That is actually a decrease on 18 months ago when they had a throughput of about 16,000 cubic feet per minute of air going through the building. I know this sounds very complicated but it is remarkable that in 18 months they have actually lost capacity and they have still being putting money into it and increasing the output and making the whole system more efficient.

At this stage they are offering to put the level up again to about 15,000 cubic feet per minute by the end of March 1988. In itself it sounds a reasonable proposition. Why should not the people who work there accept that this is what should happen? One must have regard to the similar undertaking which was given last year to complete the work, all works which had been agreed on, in approximately six to eight weeks. That work still has not been done satisfactorily. They are only offering to upgrade the fresh air output and the problems about humidity and overcrowding are not really being addressed. There is a certain glossing over the problem of humidity. There is talk about the fact that the humidity rate should be 45 degrees for VDUs — visual display units — but the figure is somewhat less for human beings. The important one seems to be the rate for VDUs. I do not think that is good enough.

Some questions must be raised about the system of humidification and air conditioning in the building. A sum of £150,000 has been spent on providing these new thermostats. We still have a situation which is very unsatisfactory. There are real question marks over whether the whole system should be abandoned and a new one put in. There are very real questions to be asked about the physical placing of the outlets and inlets which they have in the building and whether they are suitable. When the building was first looked at it was an open plan with desks for 380 people laid out in serried ranks. That is not how it happens in practice. When the Revenue Commissioners came in, naturally they put up partitions for various offices and the like and that prevented the air from circulating. One may also ask why they cannot open the windows. That is a very basic question. They cannot open the windows because they are hermetically sealed. It is part of the whole system of air conditioning in this building and it does not allow for opening windows. They are inherent questions which must be asked about this system.

The IIRS report which was made last December — that is the most recent one — found that the working conditions are "fairly good" but the IIRS still point out that the fresh air intake is well below standard and output is over only half what it should be. How can that be satisfactory? How can it be stated to be "fairly good"? There has been a decrease over the past 18 months of some 33 per cent of the fresh air intake. How can that be satisfactory? How can that be stated to be "fairly good?"? From a number of viewpoints it would behove the Minister to say to the Revenue Commissioners immediately: "Take on board the undertaking that you gave last year." In that undertaking it was stated quite clearly that there was no financial problem attached to it and that the Revenue Commissioners could meet all the necessary requirements as regards finance.

We must call a halt to this dispute. If we are to get tax collection back on the rails, which has to be done, every day we lose puts greater strain on the State's finances.

I see no good reason why this dispute should continue. I believe those who are on the staff are a reasonable group of people who have been involved in the negotiations all the time. They have been on the monitoring committees and they have had good relations with their employers and the employers understand that they have a good case. The problem is that nobody is doing anything about it and nobody is taking it seriously enough. I do not think that is good enough. If this is to continue for another year, and another year after that, with stoppages for ten days every year, that simply is not good enough. It is putting too much of a strain on the State's finances as well as reducing public confidence in the ability of the Revenue Commissioners to actually go out and collect the taxes.

That confidence must be built up. It is not there at present. Efforts are being made to show the public at large that the Revenue Commissioners mean what they say and that they are out there busily collecting the taxes that are due. If, on the other hand, they allow a dispute to wander on — when they have it within their control to put an end to it — I do not think they can expect the confidence of the public to be given to them.

I sincerely thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to respond to this matter. I am a little disappointed that she did not end the very good case she has made by calling on the people concerned to resume duty.

Following complaints from the staff in the office of the Collector General a programme of remedial works was carried out by the Office of Public Works on the heating-air conditioning in Teach Earlsfort during 1987. The cost of these, as the Deputy has rightly said, was £150,000. It was agreed with the staff unions that the IIRS would conduct a survey of the building. Their report, following their survey, was furnished to the staff unions. The Office of Public Works — who were responsible for the heating and maintenance of the buildings in the past couple of years only — and the Revenue Commissioners accepted the report.

The report states that overall the conditions have improved considerably since the previous IIRS report in March 1986. That is an established and an agreed fact. They have two recommendations for further improvements. These relate to the relative humidity and fresh air output. A satisfactory relative humidity level has since been achieved and the fresh air output will be increased to a satisfactory level by the end of this month. Far from what the Deputy has said, the levels have improved and not decreased since 12 months ago.

In the meantime the IIRS stated that, based on the results of their survey, they would regard the building as suitable for office accommodation. When the above recommendations have been carried out they expect the conditions to be close to what is normally regarded as ideal for an office environment.

I would like to assure the Deputy and the House and all the staff concerned that everything that can be done is being done and I would urge — and I hope the Deputy will respond as well — the staff concerned to return to work immediately.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 February 1988.