Vote 35 - Army Pensions

Apologies have been received from Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. All mobile phones should be switched off as they cause interference, even on silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee rooms.

Today's meeting has been convened to consider a Supplementary Estimate for Vote 35 - Army Pensions. The motion was referred to the select committee by Dáil Éireann on 19 November. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending and for sending us the briefing material in advance of the meeting, which has been circulated to members.

I remind members that in accordance with Standing Orders, the discussion should be confined to the items constituting the Supplementary Estimate. I ask the Minister of State to make his opening contribution.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to present for its consideration the 2019 Supplementary Estimate on the Army pensions Vote. The Vote makes provision for retired pay, pensions, allowances and gratuities payable to or in respect of members of the Defence Forces and certain dependants. The 2019 Estimate provides a gross sum of €249.1 million for the Vote. However, gross outturn this year is expected to be €251 million, which leaves a shortfall of €1.9 million. The additional amount needed is less than 1% of the original gross Estimate.

I will now set out the position regarding the relevant subheads of the Vote. Subhead A2 is the largest subhead of the Vote. It covers spending on all pension benefits for former members of the Permanent Defence Force and their dependants. It accounts for 96% of all military pensions spending, including retirement lump sums. It is demand driven and non-discretionary. The original provision of some €239.5 million for the subhead will not be sufficient to meet all requirements for the year. In the circumstances, the shortfall is estimated at €2.65 million. The main reason for the shortfall is the number of Defence Forces pensioners has continued to increase during the past year and, at end-October 2019, there were 12,640 military pensioners of all categories. This is a net increase of approximately 600 since the end of 2014. Based on available information, it is projected that 400 military personnel will retire with a pension and lump sum in 2019. Overall, this turnover rate during the year was greater than the 350 provided for in the original Estimate, with new retirees going on pension continuing to outnumber deceased pensioners by a ratio of about 2:1 on average.

In other areas of the public service, most people leave at a standard retirement age and their numbers and timing of departure can generally be predicted well in advance. However, the Permanent Defence Force is different, as the vast majority of military personnel who retire on pension do so voluntarily, that is, before reaching mandatory retirement age and at a time of their choosing. As these voluntary early retirements are not known in advance, this can contribute to greater than expected expenditure on military retirement benefits in any given year.

During 2018, some 75% of military personnel who retired on pension did so voluntarily and the picture is similar for 2019. In addition, many retirees qualified for the maximum retirement benefits, which also contributes to the ongoing increased expenditure. In any given year, forecasting of Defence Forces pensions expenditure and the exact numbers of retirements is difficult. The shortfall of €2.65 million under subhead A2 will be partly offset by expected savings of €750,000 on subheads A3, A4, A5 and A6.

The purpose of the Supplementary Estimate for Vote 35 is to seek additional funding of €2.65 million for subhead A2 and reallocate savings of €750,000 on subheads A3, A4, A5 and A6 into that subhead. This leaves a net Supplementary Estimate requirement of €1.9 million.

As the committee will be aware from previous Estimates debates, it has been my intention to seek additional funding for the Army pensions Vote as part of the overall budgetary negotiations. I am again pleased to report that solid progress continues to be made on funding.

As announced in budget 2020, an additional €10 million has been allocated in the 2020 Estimates for the Vote, which is a 4% increase. The higher 2020 allocation builds on the steady progress made over recent years in securing additional funding for Vote 35, with an increase of €6 million in the 2017 Estimates, an additional €9.5 million in 2018 and an additional €10 million in 2019. At the same time, the funding of Supplementary Estimates required for the Vote has fallen from €11 million in 2016 to an estimated €1.9 million in 2019, that is, 0.8% of the original Estimate.

As stated in the pensions briefing material provided to the committee for the debate, the level of funding needed by Vote 35 in the Estimates process each year, will be dictated by circumstances and the demand-led drivers that I have outlined. I commend the Supplementary Estimate to the committee. I will be happy to take any questions regarding the Vote.

I thank the Minister of State for his statement. He mentioned demand-led drivers and one of the submission documents states there is a natural rate of turnover. Is the current rate of turnover a natural rate of turnover? Will he clarify what he meant by this? Is he satisfied that turnover is at the appropriate and natural rate or is it too high? He stated it is driven by natural turnover annually. We know the rate of turnover at present is above 10%, which is double what it was a number of years ago. If that is the new natural rate of turnover for the Minister of State and the Department, then they are accepting the rate of turnover, which is of serious concern. I ask him to clarify this point in his submission.

The Supplementary Estimate is about paying for the exodus. He can talk about demand-led drivers and the pension process but this is the Department having to account for its failure to keep people in the Defence Forces and the dysfunctional approach to having a serious retention policy. This is paying for many people who would like to stay in the Defence Forces but who are forced to leave because of the collapsing structures. When we look again at the Public Service Pay Commission report and examine people's reasons, drivers and triggers for leaving it is very predictable that this Vote will increase year on year because of the failure to retain staff.

It is surprising that the Minister of State said it varies from year to year and it is not predictable. The turnover rate was 5.12% in 2013; 5.18% in 2014; 6.25% in 2015; 7.44% in 2016; 8.09% in 2017; 8.16% in 2018; and we know that this year it is above 10%. What is directly proportional to the rate of turnover is the centrality within the Department. Does the Minister of State now consider this turnover rate as acceptable?

He seemed to say the pension entitlement is a motivator or an incentive for people to leave and I would like him to clarify this. He is telling the men and women of the Defence Forces that they are better off getting out when they get their pension than they would be working on. This is a concerning message from the leader of the Department.

On a broader point on budgetary allocation, every year there is manipulation of Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. Extra is needed to fund the exodus.

This is funding the Department's continuing failure to promote a retention policy. Given that it cannot meet the 9,500 personnel level, it is also reapportioning amounts that are specifically focused on pay to other areas, for example, capital requirements. What other public service provider uses pay savings to fund equipment and capital allocations? It is highly unusual. Are there examples in the HSE or elsewhere? Perhaps the national children's hospital project is an example, with the Government failing to recruit to the health service because of the mess it has made of procurement. There is a diversion every year and the Government cannot meet the 9,500 figure. I would like the Minister of State to answer some of my questions.

The Deputy knows that this is a demand-led scheme. At the start of the year, we look at how many people have to retire on age grounds or whatever and try to predict an average figure for how many others might retire. Since it varies from year to year, we cannot put a definitive number on how many will retire. Of course this is disappointing. I would be the first to say I was disappointed to see this number retiring. I would like to see it being lower. I addressed some of the issues relating to recruitment and retention in my earlier meeting. Included in the figure for those who are leaving are people who might only have spent five hours in the Defence Forces, those who come in for their first day and say that it is not for them or not what they expected it to be. Their number distorts the overall exit figure.

There is a natural turnover of people who we know will retire and we must predict an average figure for the number we think might retire. The latter has been higher in recent years, but not everyone who leaves does so on a pension. Only a specific number do that. Some people tell me that they have been offered jobs in the private sector and they will leave the Defence Forces because they have their pensions. That is attractive for some; there is no use in saying otherwise. Some people join the Defence Forces knowing that they will not spend all of their lives there. They do not want to, and it would be wrong of me to say that we want them to. Some people join, get the experience for 12, 15 or 20 years - officers spend 12, 13 or 15 years there and enlisted personnel spend 21 years or whatever - and can then leave on their pensions and do something else in their lives. We see the same in the private sector, with people moving from job to job. The Defence Forces are no different from any other organisation and have people who want to take a different direction in their lives.

I would love to see fewer people exiting, but we are in a strong and buoyant economy. People have greater opportunities now to move from employer to employer or career to career than they did back when fewer were leaving the Defence Forces. They get fabulous training and educational opportunities within the Defence Forces. That is a part of life in the Defence Forces. They are able to build careers for themselves and acquire the necessary skill sets to leave for the private sector. Naysayers talk about why they left, but they often forget that the Defence Forces equipped them with what they needed to join the private sector.

I have increased the budgetary allocation for pensions under Vote 35. If members check the record of my 2016 appearance before this committee, they will see that I stated that I wanted to correct the shortfall in that budget, as it would have been wrong of me to just keep going back to the Exchequer year on year looking for large amounts of money. I have delivered significant increases under Vote 35 in recent years. That is why we are now seeking just 0.8% for this year.

The Deputy referred to pay savings. I will make no apologies for using the pay savings for investing. We are facing a large challenge. We do not have the 9,500 personnel that we should, but we have the budget for that number. Does the Deputy want me to revert to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and hand back a pay saving of X%?

The Minister of State is doing that.

Yes, the Minister of State is.

Absolutely not. The Deputy is being fed misinformation on social media, and he believes it.

Who writes the Minister of State's responses to parliamentary questions?

Please allow the Minister of State to continue. I will bring the Deputy back in for a supplementary question.

I will go through that. From 2014 to 2018, Vote 35-----

Net surrendered to the Exchequer was-----

Just one second, please, Deputy. The Minister of State to proceed.

At this morning's meeting, I went through the very same thing. I have come to answer questions to the best of my ability, but I am being cut off at every opportunity.

The Minister of State is not being cut off.

I cannot even answer a question "Yes" or "No". There is an explanation for each answer.

I have asked the Minister of State to proceed.

I have been here since 10.30 a.m.

So what?

I have no problem with that whatsoever.

We have all been here since 10.30 a.m.

I am accountable to the House, but I will not accept people cutting me off-----

We are not-----

-----and not allowing me to answer questions.

Will the Minister of State proceed, please?

The total handed back to the Exchequer in the years 2014 to 2018, inclusive, was €4.2 million, which equated to 0.09% of Votes 35 and 36. The Deputy is now asking me to hand back to the Minister major pay savings stemming from us not having a personnel level of 9,500. I will not do that.

He should use it for pay purposes.

Allow the Minister of State to proceed, please.

I want to reinvest it in the Defence Forces. The Deputy has signed up-----

What about the pay review body?

Deputy, please. Just one second.

This carry on is not acceptable.

Deputy Chambers's party-----

One second, please.

This has gone on all morning. I have listened patiently but am fed up with it at this stage. The Minister of State is before us and is being ballyragged. He has been asked a question but is not even being paid the courtesy of being allowed to answer. That is not acceptable or good enough, Chairman.

I asked anyone who interjected to stop doing so, and each time I asked the Minister of State to proceed.

They are not listening to the Chairman.

I cannot answer for others, as the Deputy knows.

I know, and it is not the Chairman's fault.

I am asking the Minister of State to proceed, without interruption.

Over the past three years, less than 1% of funding for the Defence Forces funding has gone unspent. To address Deputy Chambers's specific comments, I will not hand back pay savings to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. Nor will I tell him at the start of next year that, since we will not be able to use up our full allocation for 9,500 personnel, we will not need it. Maybe the Deputy wants to do that, and that is okay. His party signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 when it commenced. Is the Deputy shaking his head to say it did not? It did, though. The Deputy can check the record. His party has agreed fully with the public service stability agreement. He and his party should know that I do not have responsibility for changing core pay.

That is a matter for the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. We cannot, in the mid-life of the public service stability agreement, change core pay in one area. If we do it for the Defence Forces, Deputy Chambers and his party's spokespersons would be the first to say we must make the same change for all public servants, including teachers, nurses and gardaí. It is not open to any group of public servants to receive increased pay as a result of savings arising from lower payroll costs which occur because there are vacancies or, in the case of the Army, numbers are below the establishment of 9,500. This applies across the public service, as the Deputy should know. I have communicated to him on numerous occasions that it is not within my remit to do what he is requesting that I do. The Deputy can shake his head but what I am saying is a fact and it was agreed to by his party when it signed up to the public service stability agreement in 2016.

I apologise for being late to the meeting. It is a difficult issue for any Minister and his or her departmental officials to manage changes in personnel numbers, the costs involved and so on. It might be helpful if we had an opportunity at a future meeting to discuss the overall policy in regard to the obligations that apply to persons entering the Defence Forces in terms to their service of the State and the basis on which they are entitled to withdraw that service. We cannot do much about people who leave the service early but this is an issue that needs to be clarified. It would be useful to have a clear statement of policy in this regard, specifically the period for which people are obliged to serve, the circumstances in which they may withdraw and their obligations to the State.

A role in the Defence Forces is not like an ordinary employee position. We have a responsibility to ensure there are adequate numbers in the Defence Forces such that they are capable of carrying out the duties that must be fulfilled to ensure the security of the State. Any changes can amount to a considerable sum of money, whether it is a plus or a minus, and we need a definite policy in this regard. I may be out of order in raising this point but I would like to know what the obligation is for those joining the Defence Forces, their entitlements and their withdrawal obligations and responsibilities. I am seeking guidance on this matter, either today or by way of a discussion on another day.

The Minister of State might provide us with a document or communication outlining the service commitments that apply when a person joins the Defence Forces. Would that be acceptable to the Deputy?

We should have a discussion on the issue once we have that information.

Off the top of my head, a commissioned pilot has a service obligation, as does a commissioned officer in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. There are various service commitments that apply. For example, if a person receives training and education and then leaves the service, he or she will have to buy out the associated costs. The State has invested in that person and it is right and proper that there be such a commitment. I am happy to seek out the full list of service commitments and the different schemes. I could not outline them all today because I do not have the briefing material. I will get that information for the committee as soon as I can.

I thank the Minister of State. It is important that we have the issues clear in our heads and understand the obligations on both sides. We have a job to do in making certain there are sufficient personnel in the different areas to carry out the responsibilities that ultimately rest on our shoulders. It would be useful to have a meeting to examine the responsibilities that apply and to ascertain members' views on whether any changes are necessary. We must ensure the Defence Forces are ticking over properly and efficiently and that we have sufficient numbers of personnel in the right areas to carry out the obligations that apply.

The Minister of State indicated that the shortfall for the current year was €2.65 million under subhead A2 and stated the reallocation of savings was in the region of €750,000 under other subheads. Will he detail where those savings arise under subheads A3, A4, A5 and A6? The Minister of State noted that the option that exists for people to leave or retire makes it difficult, at the beginning of the year, to estimate exactly what financial allocation is required. Will he comment further on that?

The saving under subhead A3, wound and disability pension allowances and gratuities to or in respect of former members of the Defence Forces, is €529,000. This arises due to lower than expected numbers of new pension awards coming on stream in 2019. Under subhead A4, payments to spouses of deceased veterans of the War of Independence, a saving of €21,000 arose. This is a consequence of the reducing number of widows of Old IRA veterans, with only 34 now in receipt of the pension. There is a saving of €150,000 in respect of compensation payments under subhead A5, which concern statutory lump sums for injury or death in UN service. There were no payments during 2019. We hope there will always be a saving under that subhead as denoting the absence of any death overseas on UN duty. Subhead A6, medical appliances and travelling and incidental expenses, gives a saving of €50,000. The miscellaneous items relate mainly to people on disability pensions.

At the start of the year, departmental officials look at the number of people who will have to retire during the course of the year on age grounds and the average of the numbers, year on year, leaving the Defence Forces before retirement age, on the basis of which they try to make a prediction. As I said, we have full employment.

There are many opportunities for people. While I would like the figure to be lower, we are working towards the high-level implementation plan through the independent pay commission, specifically in and around retention.

In the interests of clarity, perhaps for Deputy McLoughlin, on the last occasion in the Dáil, the Minister of State stated the committee was at fault for many of the issues. Robust accountability is important. If the Minister of State is sensitive about that, it is his constitutional role, which, in fairness, I think he accepts. It is important we get answers.

The Minister of State can answer for himself.

We have not got answers. I take Deputy McLoughlin's point. I just want to correct an issue and that is why I interjected. The Minister of State himself, in a response to Parliamentary Question No. 98 of 27 March 2019, outlined specifically the savings, gross and net. My interpretation of that is clear. It is the net surrender to the Exchequer. In 2014, the gross savings were €27.9 million. The net surrender to the Exchequer was €13.6 million. In 2015, it was €28.7 million gross and €13.7 million net. In 2016, it was €31.1 million gross. It was €26.6 million net. In 2017, it was €20 million gross. It was €21.4 million net. In 2018, it was €29.4 million gross and it was €17 million net.

On the net surrender to the Exchequer, according to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, "The Gross Savings and the Net [savings] in the Table include amounts used to meet the shortfalls in the Army Pensions Vote." I just want to be clear that when I and others are asking a question about the net savings to the Exchequer and others, we are quoting to the Minister of State his record in the Official Report of the Dáil. If the Official Report of the Dáil is incorrect and the details have been incorrectly supplied to the Department, the Minister of State should clarify that. We can only deal with the information the Minister of State gives us. For the record, that is important. What one has here with the Army Pensions Vote is the Minister of State discussing and negotiating with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, about funding the exodus. That is the basis of this.

To respond to the Minister of State on the issue of Fianna Fáil, the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party is to establish an independent pay review body. It was something my colleague, Deputy Cowen, included in the negotiations with Deputy Donohoe as part of the recent budgetary negotiations. It was dismissed absolutely by Deputy Donohoe.

It is interesting that Fine Gael seems to have a two-faced approach to this policy idea because in the Dáil and at committee, the Minister of State is dismissing it but in an interview with a Cork newspaper, Senator Colm Burke was promoting the idea of an independent pay review body as something the Senator would fight for. That seemed to be his commitment to the people of Cork North-Central. Is there one policy in Cork and another in Dublin, one policy in the Department and another in Fine Gael, because there is a total contradiction around this issue? Perhaps the Minister of State can clarify that. Let me be clear that my party's commitment in terms of our policy - the Minister of State will not tell me my policy - is to establish an independent pay review body. That is something we believe will end the exodus the Minister of State continues to preside over, end the difficulties around morale, end the necessity to fund a Supplementary Estimate for the Army pensions Vote every year because the numbers are rocketing out the door and will end the ongoing collapse we are seeing in the Naval Service, the Air Corps and Army. That is our commitment.

Our role now is to hold the Minister of State to account on the ongoing difficulties of departmental policy. When we are giving information, we are simply providing the information the Minister of State gave to the Dáil.

Did Deputy Barrett want to contribute on the same subject?

It is all to do with the same subject. Our responsibility is to ensure that we have adequate numbers in the Defence Forces to carry out the duties and responsibilities required of us. Given the times we live in, and, thankfully, there is more or less full employment, there will be greater strain on personnel leaving and vacancies occurring, but that is something we have to face up to. We have to change our recruitment policy and those who join have an obligation to the State and to others in carrying out those duties.

I get a little confused as who is entitled to leave and on what basis were they taken on originally, for instance, or whether they are on a contract basis for a certain period. What I would like at some future meeting is that we get a paper outlining the policy on recruitment to the Defence Forces and the responsibilities that we have to perform in terms of ensuring that we have adequate numbers of proper personnel to carry out the responsibilities that rest on our shoulders, as the people depend on us to ensure that the Defence Forces tick over efficiently.

There are so many higgledy-piggledy elements that have grown up over the years. I refer to personnel leaving and all the rest of it. If somebody joins up for a given period, in my opinion he or she has a moral responsibility, and a responsibility, to carry out his or her duties for that period of time. One cannot run any organisation without people leaving easily or changes being made. It is time - maybe I am wrong here - that we get a clear vision as to what are the responsibilities and the numbers that are required to carry out those responsibilities and that it is clear to everybody that if one joins up to the Defence Forces, one is obliged to do A, B, C, D and E, and for a certain period of time. That is what I would like, with the Chairman's permission. I would like that at a meeting in the near future to have a discussion about the overall situation in the Defence Forces, the obligations that are on personnel and how those obligations can or cannot be changed.

I would definitely do that. I have given that commitment.

Deputy Barrett spoke about the process in and around recruitment. I asked for an independent review of recruitment to be put in place and that is ongoing. That was also in the independent pay commission recommendations.

That is something that Deputy Kehoe is quite entitled to as the Minister of State. Our obligation, as members of this committee, is to ensure that there is an input from us as to what we want to make certain that we do not have cracks appearing here, there and everywhere. That is the point I am trying to make.

Going back to what Deputy Chambers stated about a response he received to a parliamentary question, the "net surrender" is a technical term. If one looks into it, the net surrender to the Exchequer includes the surplus of appropriations-in-aid. It does not reflect the Vote 35 or Vote 36 that I, along with my officials, negotiate with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Finance. Appropriations-in-aid could be: UN receipts, receipts from the EU fishery protection costs, receipts from banks and other organisations, receipts from occupation and official quarters, receipts from rations on repayment, receipts of issues on repayment, receipts of aviation fuel, receipts of discharge by purchase; and for the sale of land or premises.

It also includes income from the sale of surplus stores, refunds in respect of services of seconded personnel, miscellaneous items and income from the Dormant Accounts Fund. This has nothing to do with Votes 35 or 36. Between 2014 and 2018, a total of €4.2 million or 0.09% of Votes 35 and 36 was handed back to the Exchequer. I make no excuse or apology for the fact that all pay savings have been reinvested for the benefit of the men and women of the Defence Forces, for example, to pay for equipment, built infrastructure, new ships and new aircraft. I am not going to hand that money back to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The budget for the Defence Forces has exceeded €1 billion in the past two years under my stewardship. I would describe that as a successful negotiation with the Minister for Finance on my part and on the part of my officials.

The Minister of State mentioned the Dormant Accounts Fund. What role does the Department have in that?

We received money from the Dormant Accounts Fund in the past two years. These funds were transferred to the Civil Defence, which also comes under my remit, and were used to purchase new vehicles last year. Additional vehicles will be bought this year using income from the Dormant Accounts Fund.

I thought the Dormant Accounts Fund was used for voluntary agencies and community groups rather than statutory Departments.

The Civil Defence is a voluntary organisation. The Dormant Accounts Fund income is specifically for the Civil Defence, which is a volunteer-led organisation.

I know that but it is a statutory body.

My Department has statutory responsibility for it and we fund it along with the local authorities, but it is a volunteer-led organisation. The Dormant Accounts Fund is there for investment in communities. The new vehicles will be used at community events, field days, concerts and so on where the Civil Defence serves the safety and well-being of the people who attend.

I know the Dormant Accounts Fund does not fall within the remit of the Department of Defence, but I thought it would be used to fund what we regard as traditional voluntary groups.

To clarify the position, the funds were provided to the local authorities to be spent on behalf of the volunteers of the Civil Defence.

I thought the fund would be used for traditional parish, community and voluntary organisations that are not overseen by statutory agencies.

Is it the case that local authorities can apply to the Department of Defence for this funding?

I will revert to the Deputy with an answer. The Department channels the funds.

I am aware of that because new vehicles were provided to the Civil Defence in my constituency this year. That is welcome. The money has at least been spent well. It is right to acknowledge the work being done by the Civil Defence the length and breadth of the country. I see members of the Civil Defence at events in my constituency every weekend. They also attend when major problems arise, day or night, and it is only right and proper that we acknowledge that. I welcome any money that is channelled through the Department of Defence to the Civil Defence because its members are unsung heroes. They are volunteers who do a fantastic job week in and week out for communities, which benefit as a result. The Chairman asked a valid question about the Dormant Accounts Fund but any money provided to the Civil Defence is money well spent.

Members would all agree that the Civil Defence does excellent work in every parish in the country.

The Minister of State mentioned the Dormant Accounts Fund in the context of a net return to the Exchequer. Is he saying the Department received moneys from the Dormant Accounts Fund which were then returned? If so, to whom were those moneys returned? Did the Civil Defence receive funding from the Dormant Accounts Fund, which was subsequently channelled elsewhere as part of a net return? To where was that money channelled? Did the Civil Defence not spend it?

It was a surplus. I will revert to the Deputy with a full explanation.

What is the apportioned amount for receipts from rations?

We channel the Dormant Accounts Fund funding to the Civil Defence on behalf of the local authorities. Local authorities make a proposal and we then channel the funding back into the local authorities for them to allocate. The Deputy should not try to muddy the waters.

I am not muddying the waters.

This is money well spent on volunteers. We channel it back into the local authorities. I am delighted the Civil Defence was able to buy new 4x4 vehicles this year in Wexford, Sligo, Donegal and Mullingar. There are many other examples across the country. We were also able to partially fund new infrastructure for Civil Defence throughout the country.

The Minister of State mentioned the Dormant Accounts Fund in the context of a question I asked on pay and allowances under Vote 36. I did not bring up the issue.

I am only explaining the position.

The Minister of State raised it in the context of Vote 36 and a net return to the Exchequer. Is money received via the Dormant Accounts Fund and not spent returned and, if so, to whom?

There is no surplus and no surrender.

Why did the Minister mention the Dormant Accounts Fund in the context of the net return to the Exchequer as a replacement for the pay allocation?

I will get the Deputy a full brief on the issue because I do not have the exact details here. Deputy Chambers and the social media warriors have been saying we handed back €20 million or €30 million to-----

The Minister of State said it in his-----

The Deputy should listen. An amount of €4.2 million or 0.9% of the vote was handed back to the Exchequer. That is one of the lowest amounts returned to the Exchequer by any Department in the period from 2014 to 2018. The Deputy has been using a figure-----

I am using the Minister of State's figure.

Maybe he will use the €4.2 million figure from now on, which is 0.09% of the Vote.

That figure was not used in the response to my parliamentary question.

Income from the sale of assets in any Department goes back directly to the Exchequer, as do any other receipts. Deputy Chambers has been distorting the savings made under Votes 35 and 36 for political reasons.

No, that is a political charge.

Please allow the Minister of State to conclude. The Deputy Chambers may come back in afterwards.

I assure the Deputy that this is the only saving in the Department. I will come back to him with a specific response to his question on the Dormant Accounts Fund.

I am sorry but, with respect, I cited the reply to my parliamentary question the Minister of State gave in the Dáil with respect to Vote 36, subhead A3, on pay and allowances and the net return to the Exchequer. The Minister has now brought in a matter related to the Dormant Accounts Fund, on which he cannot provide clarity. He mentioned the Dormant Accounts Fund to distract from the question and he cannot even answer the questions I have asked about the fund. He mentioned income from the Dormant Accounts Fund and he is now saying there could well be a net return to the Exchequer from the Dormant Accounts Fund via his Department. I did not bring up the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Minister is muddying his own waters. The Chairman and I quoted a reply from the Minister of State to a parliamentary question. He then decided to give context and referred to the Dormant Accounts Fund and a range of other matters on which we will ask further questions. Perhaps the Minister of State will give a full breakdown of the net return to the Exchequer, which he did not provide in his reply to the parliamentary question. I ask him to provide clarity because he has not been able to provide any further information about the Dormant Accounts Fund.

I want to answer the Deputy's question very clearly. I will speak slowly and clearly so that he will understand. A net surrender is a technical term used regarding UN receipts and the sale of assets. The net surrender that Deputy Chambers spoke about, be it the sale of assets or something else, does not come under Vote 35 or Vote 36.

That does not come in under Vote 35 or Vote 36. I know that Deputy Chambers has been distorting the figure but maybe-----

I reject that out of hand. I quoted the Minister of State's response to a parliamentary question.

When the Deputy is using the figure in the future, I would appreciate it if he would go back and use the figure of the savings from the Department of Defence-----

I quote the Minister of State's reply to a parliamentary question.

-----from Votes 35 and 36. I know it does not suit Deputy Chambers for political reasons. I was in his position for many years and tried to say the same things the Deputy is saying now. I am giving him the facts. Savings from Vote 35 and 36 were 0.09%. I only went over the years 2014 to 2018. I can go back further if the Deputy wants. There is no issue with that. I am giving the Deputy the facts that I have that are a true reflection of our returns.

The Minister of State might write to the committee to clarify what "net surrender" means. The Minister of State accused me of making a misleading statement to a radio station. I was quoting a reply to a question on March 2019, as Deputy Chambers said. The reply stated that there was €29.4 million in savings under Vote 36. The net surrender for 2018 was €17 million. We have to conclude because of divisions in the Dáil Chamber. We have our next joint committee meeting on 17 December. Will the Minister of State send a letter clarifying the issue regarding expenditure, what is not drawn down and what is returned? Deputy Chambers and I quoted from the Minister of State's parliamentary question replies. Deputy Barrett asked questions about the obligations and service of people who join the Defence Forces. If we could have written responses about that for the next meeting, we would appreciate it.

To clarify, I have given the Chairman the savings from Vote 35 and Vote 36. I know the Chairman disputes them.

I quoted the Minister of State's parliamentary question reply.

I am talking about appropriations-in-aid. The Chairman was a Minister for many years. He has ministerial experience and knows that the sale of assets and such does not go back into the Department but directly back to the Exchequer. That includes a net surrender, and to try to distort that in any way when I am giving the exact savings under Vote 35 and Vote 36-----

The Minister of State will withdraw that I tried to distort anything. I referred to the pay budget, which is Vote 36.

There is-----

Do not accuse me of distorting figures. I am not going to accept that.

We are not giving back savings under Vote 35 and Vote 36. I have given the exact figures on that.

I am winding up the meeting. I quoted the Minister of State's parliamentary question reply. I will not stand for being accused of distorting figures, which I never do. This concludes consideration of the Supplementary Estimate for Vote 35.