I move amendment No. 4:
In page 15, to delete lines 37 to 46.
This amendment has been tabled in order to prevent the Minister from tying the hands of the board. The whole section has been carelessly drafted since different meanings can be taken from it. Subsection (3) (a) of section 17 states:
(3) Not less than 3 months before the end of each financial year of the Institute, it shall furnish to the Minister a report in writing—
(a) outlining its proposed activities (other than day-to-day activities) in the financial year immediately following.
Naturally they will suggest what they hope to do the following year but they cannot project what will happen that year, whether there will be another Chernobyl or whether a nuclear submarine will crash off the Wicklow coast.
Subsection (3) (b) provides that the institute shall give estimates of their expenditure in the last mentioned year in relation to each of those activities. I cannot understand that and I hope the Minister will explain it. What is the last mentioned year and is there a separate last mentioned year in relation to each activity? Subsection (3) (c) provides that the institute shall give estimates of their incomes in the said last mentioned year. I propose to delete the remainder of the subsection which states that the institute shall not carry out any of those activities or incur any such expenditure until the report has been approved of by the Minister.
Members of the House, especially Ministers, are aware that a Minister's approval is a very unpredictable thing. The Minister could give his approval immediately or he could say he needs more time, perhaps up to 12 months. A new Minister could be appointed and he would have to look at the matter again before giving his approval. Does anyone have any idea when the report will be approved by the Minister? It is a rather meaningless provision unless the Minister inserts a provision to the effect that this will be given within a specified period of, say, two or three months.
Subsection (4) states:
The Institute shall not during any financial year—
(a) carry on any activity (other than a day-to-day activity) not specified in the report under subsection (3) of this section in relation to that year, or
(b) incur expenditure in relation to any activity in excess of the estimate of that expenditure given in that report,
without the prior approval of the Minister.
This is hogtying the institute under the Minister's control. The independence of the institute is again in jeopardy. This section, in the hands of a particular Minister, could remove all independence to carry out activities or incur expenditure. To be independent the institute should at least have a budget and they should be able to incur any expenditure they wish within the terms of that budget. If they had further income, as provided for in section 17, they could even go beyond their budget provided they had the income to cover the expenditure. As it stands, unless the Minister allows them to incur expenditure in excess of the estimate, they are completely tied down. It is very important for Ministers to know the projected income and expenditure for a year, yet the Minister for Finance will admit that the greatest experts never get it right. The figures flow up and down, mostly up. There are difficulties every year in budgets.
Very little care has been taken in the drafting of this section to assess the effect on the activities of the institute of tying them down to submitting this report three months before the end of the financial year, then restricting them from carrying out any proposed activities or incurring any proposed expenditure without the approval of the Minister. I wonder how the Minister can stand by that section and still stand by his firm commitment to an independent board.
As I said, the Minister must not look at this section from the point of view of his intentions, which we all accept are honourable. He must consider the possibilities the section offers to any other Minister who may not like the composition of the board or individual members of it, or what the board are doing and who wants to place restrictions on the board or to tie their hands in relation to particular activities or expenditures.
This section gives wide powers to the Minister to tie them up in knots. For example, by not approving their report over a long period he would thus leave them inactive in relation to their activities and their expenditure. He could approve their report in relation to their activities but not approve of their expenditure. If the board have a budget why should a Minister have to have a tie on expenditure? He can hold them to the budget. Surely it is a common occurrence for an institute to engage in activities and incur expenditure in excess of the estimate. They should be allowed to do so. In the event of an unforeseen accident or a crisis expenditure may be incurred outside what had been projected. One would expect that the Radiological Protection Institute would be involved in assisting where a crisis occurs. If everything could be foreseen there would be no problem and there would be no accidents. There would hardly be a need for the institute if one could predict what will happen from year to year.
We are really dealing with the unknown. We are surrounded by a sea used by nuclear powered ships and submarines which may carry nuclear missiles and we have to deal with that. There are also nuclear stations and nuclear processing plants located 60 miles off our coast to the east. Accidents may occur and have occurred from time to time. We cannot place this type of a restriction on the institute.
In my amendment I am proposing that we delete lines 37 to 46 on page 15, that is the end of the sentence of section 17 (3) and all of subsection (4).