Private Business. - Report of Public Accounts Committee for 1926-27.

I move:—

"That the Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, dated 22nd November, 1928, which has been printed and circulated be now considered."

The Report of the Committee of Public Accounts for the year 1926-27 was ordered to be printed about twelve months ago, and since that it has been awaiting consideration by the Dáil. We have asked, like previous committees, for information from the Department of Finance with regard to the question of virement, and the Department of Finance satisfied our Committee that virement was advisable where an excess of a sub-head occurs in many cases. We recognised the difficulty, and that it was impossible to have the matter decided either by a fixed amount or by a percentage, and we agree with the Department of Finance that discretion should be left to that particular Department. As we point out here in this Report, however, we must disagree with the Ministry on one or two points.

For instance, the Department of Finance pointed out to us that on some occasions when another Department required more money than had been voted under a particular sub-head, it would not be feasible to go before the Dáil with a Supplementary Estimate, because there might be too much business before the Dáil. We held that that is a question for the Dáil itself, and not for the Department of Finance, to decide. As we state here the Dáil is quite competent to decide its own business, and to decide whether it is too busy or not to consider a Supplementary Estimate, and it is not the business of the Department of Finance to decide upon that question.

There have been a few instances also of virement exercised in that particular year with which we disagree. For instance, the one taken as an outstanding example was the case of gratuities for retired officers from the Army. The amount voted by the Dáil was £5,000. The amount actually expended was £47,000 odd. The Department of Finance exercised virement in this case, and authorised the Department of Defence to transfer from their savings over £42,000 to this particular sub-head. That saving was made by the Department of Defence ,on effective services, and the money was voted to pay for non-effective service— officers retiring. That is a particular instance where we believe that virement should not have been exercised, because if the Dáil voted money for effective services, there is no reason for the Department of Finance to suppose that they would have voted more money for non-effective services.

The money was not voted for an allied purpose, and on that account we object to the exercise of virement under that heading. There were various other queries put to the Department of Finance to which we got, on the whole, satisfactory replies. There is only one I would like to refer to in passing. It is with regard to fishery loans. "The Committee hopes that there will be no undue delay in introducing the legislation contemplated in connection with these loans." That is a paragraph that, I believe, appears from year to year in the Report of the Committee on Public Accounts, but so far it has been ignored. There is another matter that arises year after year practically to which I would like to refer. It is in regard to the factory that comes under the Post Office Vote. Our Committee found, and I believe the same thing was found by previous committees, that if not extravagance at least mismanagement was responsible for the very high cost of the various works given to this particular factory. A few instances brought out in the evidence before the Committee will illustrate this point. The final cost of one particular contract worked out at £1.000 whereas the estimate on which the order was placed only amounted to £485. In another case, the lowest outside tender for the job was £216 while the final factory cost was £333. In another case, the price according to the rate-book supplied to the factory, was £96, while the final factory cost was £401. These are some instances of jobs that were done in the Post Office factory to which our attention was called. Naturally some members of the Committee were desirous of finding out why the factory was not closed down completely so as to effect a saving, or why at any rate those particular jobs were given to it. We were told that the factory was necessary, and that it did some particular types of work cheaper than they could be done outside, and that in order to keep it on an economic level of working the more work that could be given to it the better. It was maintained by the witness that the factory was going to be a paying unit.

Another matter which came before us, and which I think is still awaiting a minute from the Minister for Finance, and also the Minister for Education, was the question of model schools. It appears that in the model schools, and in certain national schools, there is authority to collect fees from the pupils. Under the School Attendance Act of 1892 free education was given to the people of this country. Authority to collect fees was permitted where the fees total more than 6/- per pupil. Under the exception mentioned, some of the national schools of the country are permitted to collect fees from the pupils. In the case of the national schools, the fees are collected by the manager and paid out to the teachers, but in the case of the model schools the fees are collected and handed over to the Department of Education, the Department afterwards paying out those fees on apro rata basis to the teachers in the model schools. The point to which we took exception was that there was no appropriation of those amounts. The Minister for Education, or his Department, kept, as it were, a private account of those moneys which did not come into the Appropriation Accounts at all, and handed them back again to the teachers. We believe that is wrong. We think that any receipts that come into a Department like that should be treated as Exchequer receipts, and that any payments going out to the teachers in the model schools should be treated in the ordinary way as salaries or allowances, as the case may be. There was also a small item in the Science and Art section under the Department of Education which came before us. It arose in connection with a payment made to the Cork School of Music. A sum of something like £300 was paid, and for this a separate sub-head had to be opened by the Department. This was sanctioned by the Department of Finance, but we hold that there was no authority for it, especially as it was treated as a grant-in-aid. We hold there was no authority from the Department of Finance to do any such thing, and we recommend the disallowance of the payment.

With regard to the Gárda Síochána Vote, I believe that we have not as much to say as usual under this head. We have, however, to report that there was still continuing at that date a considerable amount of unauthorised travelling in motor cars supplied to the Gárda Síochána force—that is unauthorised use of those motor cars for private journeys. There was a system of checking the journeys on which the cars went as well as of the particular business that the officers had for each journey, but even so it appears that when the log book was checked over by the Comptroller and Auditor-General certain irregular journeys were detected and the particular officers concerned were asked to pay the damages. Under this Department also there was a more serious case brought to our notice, that is where the Department of Justice claimed that certain sums of money should be paid into the Reward Fund which we hold was not justified. The case arose where officers in the Guards were dismissed for misconduct. The balance due for the particular month in which they were dismissed was paid into the Reward Fund. We believe that is money that is really due to the Exchequer, that it should not go to the Reward Fund but that it should come back into the Exchequer. We believe further that the Comptroller and Auditor-General could not possibly be in a position to sanction the payment of that particular monthly cheque unless he was in a position to get a voucher from the person to whom the cheque was due, and that person was a dismissed officer. The Department of Finance in this case told us that they adopted a neutral attitude between the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Department of Justice, but we believe that they were not justified in adopting that neutral attitude because, as we state, "it is alleged that the Exchequer balance is being diminished in an irregular manner, and, secondly, that claim is made that the statutory obligations of the Exchequer and Audit Department should be set aside in the interests of the Reward Fund." We have asked to have this matter made right, and we hope the Department of Finance will adopt our view.

In the Army Vote many matters arose—not perhaps as serious as in previous years, but still irregularities have come before us. The Department of Defence, in three or four cases that came before us, acted without having the sanction of the Department of Finance, and in some cases where they did not act without that previous sanction they left very little time or discretion to the Department of Finance in the matter of giving or withholding their sanction. Even in cases where the Comptroller and Auditor-General drew the attention of the Department of Defence to this matter, that they had not obtained the previous sanction of the Department of Finance, we found that the Department of Defence even then was very reluctant to seek the sanction of the Department of Finance, even after the deed had been done. We found, for instance, that in the case of a number of officers going to America for training certain allowances were given to them. That was quite in order, but the Department of Defence allowed these officers to get allowances for uniforms at a date prior to the date mentioned in the Regulations which had the sanction of the Department of Defence and the Department of Finance. The Department of Defence had not asked for the sanction of the Department of Finance to giving out these uniforms to the officers before the date specified. One of the officers in connection with this mission took his wife with him. An advance was made by the Department of Defence of £45 to cover the travelling expenses of the officer's wife. That was not authorised by the Department of Finance.

In another instance coming towards the end of the year the Department of Defence found that they had money on hands, and being reluctant to surrender it to the Exchequer they proposed to buy a number of motor cars. They applied for leave to purchase these motor cars only on 28th March, 1927, four days before the end of the financial year. In the ordinary way, the Department of Finance would have taken some time to examine and consider that application, and to decide whether the Department of Defence were justified or not in making such an application. In this particular case the sanction of the Department of Finance was given on 29th March, the following day, and the cars were purchased on 30th March. If we are going to look at a matter of this sort in a businesslike way we must realise that they cannot possibly spend money to advantage in that manner, making up their minds to apply for sanction on 28th March, and then pressing, as they must have done, the Department of Finance to give their sanction straight away without any examination of their request.

Another matter that occurred in connection with the Army was that some officer unknown asked certain firms in town to supply specimen mess uniforms. These were supplied, but being supplied as specimens no officer was accountable for the uniforms, and afterwards it could not be ascertained which officer was responsible, and the account had eventually to be paid out of the Exchequer. It amounted to £95 12s. The uniforms are still there, but they had to be paid for. Minor questions also arose regarding officers who were not entitled to be mounted having their horses fed from Army rations. That matter. I believe, is being or has been made right. Also with regard to the Officers' Hunting Club, officers incurred some expenses which were not sanctioned. They had a hut in the Curragh repaired and done up to suit their requirements without sanction having been obtained, and further they had some arrangement for Army transport which had no sanction from the Department of Finance. The question that arose with regard to officers of the Civic Guards using motor-cars for private purposes also arose in the Army, but I think precautions are being taken to see that it does not occur again.

The matter of warlike stores has arisen as on previous occasions, the estimates being much smaller than the actual amount spent. We have asked that these estimates should conform somewhat better in future to the amount spent. Under Army pensions two or three points arose, and perhaps the most important points that came before us for the year. First is the point, which has been raised on previous occasions, that the Comptroller and Auditor-General felt he could not say that he had properly audited the accounts so long as the evidence on which the pension was granted was withheld from him. This has been regularised, as we have requested, by a Bill which is coming before the Dáil. As members of the Committee of Public Accounts I believe we have to be satisfied with that, but as members of the Dáil we have our own views of the Bill. There was also a question of major and minor injuries. It appears that if there is more than a 20 per cent. disability from a wound the applicant is entitled to a pension under the Army Pensions Act, but if there is less than 20 per cent. disability he is entitled to a gratuity only. Where a person had, say, two minor injuries of 15 per cent. in each case the two 15's were added together to make 30, so as to make it a major disability, and in such a case a pension was granted.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General holds that that is not legal, that the Act does not permit it, and that all that should be granted in such a case is a gratuity for each minor injury, and that two minor injuries cannot be added together to make a major injury. We considered the arguments put up for and against this, and our conclusion given at the end of the paragraph is: "The Committee cannot say where the Act allows the Minister a discretion, and until it is satisfied on this point cannot agree that the Department of Defence was justified in extending or interpreting its authority in this way." That is our opinion—that the Minister had no discretion in deciding that in some cases two minor injuries might make a major injury and that in other cases they should go as minor injuries. That is a question that will have to be further considered, and some ruling made on it as to whether the Minister has discretion or not. The last case to which I want to refer is the case of a pension that was granted to the widow of a non-commissioned officer who was fatally shot in 1922. Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act says that pensions can be awarded provided the person in question loses his life in the course of his duty while on active service and that death was not due to any serious negligence or misconduct. The Army authorities were asked for a certificate as to whether the man was on duty on active service. On 18th June, 1924, they certified that he was not. The case was put to the Judge Advocate-General, who declared that the widow was not entitled to a pension. His opinion agreed with that of the Army Pension Board. After that the applicant came back again and asked to have the case reconsidered. On l7th November the same Army authorities certified that the person was on duty and on active service, which was directly in opposition to the certificate issued by the same people on l8th June. The case was then put to the Attorney-General, who thought that the person should get a pension. His idea was that the onus of proof that the person was guilty of misconduct or serious negligence lay on the Government, who were opposing the pension, and that a person on active service is always on duty. He said that if the Government wanted to oppose the granting of this pension they would have to prove that the man was shot by one of his own comrades. As that was found impossible the pension had to be granted. Our report on that matter stated:—

"The Committee has given most careful consideration to all the circumstances of this case, and, while not proposing to recommend disallowance, it desires to place on record its grave dissatisfaction that the benefit of the doubt as to the eligibility for pension should have been exercised by the Departments concerned in favour of the applicant."

I beg to move that the Report be considered.

I have not much to add to the points mentioned by Deputy Dr. Ryan, who acted as Chairman of the Committee which brought in this Report, except that there are a few points I would try to elucidate further, so that the House might understand why we have considered it necessary to refer again to certain matters. With regard to the matter of virement, it is not very easily understood unless one spent a considerable time in studying the Estimates. The point I wish to refer to is that in connection with the Army Vote you will realise that dangers would arise, for the country as a whole, and probably for the Dáil in particular, if virement were not brought into line with the wishes of the Committee. This House, for instance, might vote a certain sum for Army requirements. Such Vote is divided into sub-sections, each of which conveys that certain sums are wanting for particular purposes. The policy of the House in regard to such matters could very easily be upset if attention were not paid to the proper spending of the money on items for which it had been voted. We might vote money for uniforms, for the upkeep of horses, and so on, and if stringent regulations were not enforced in the Army Department we might find ourselves faced with a situation in which the Army authorities, instead of spending the money on matters specified, might have purchased a Tank Corps or a fleet of aeroplanes. We might then find the whole policy of the Dáil upset by the Army authorities by their expenditure of that money. That may be an extreme view, but we want to convey to the House the importance of having virement rigidly adhered to.

Deputy Dr. Ryan referred to the Gárda Síochána Award Fund and showed that where a member of the Gárda was dismissed or ran away and left the country the authorities retained the pay due to him and put it to the credit of the Award Fund. While that might not amount to a considerable sum we consider it to be serious should the Exchequer not receive from the different Departments the money issued for a particular service or a particular individual in cases where such money was not spent. In paragraph 11 page 19 of the Report reference is made to the fact that the House voted a certain sum, about £500,000, for the purchase of creameries. The dealings in connection with their purchase had not been completed at the close of the financial year and the Department of Agriculture, who received the money, proceeded to put the unexpended portion on deposit. When the matter came before us we felt that that also could be a precedent which might have serious effects. As we say, we feel that the proper thing to do is that at the end of the financial year any unexpended balances should be returned to the Exchequer and revoted for the next financial year. That is only one case in which the Committee believed that if it were allowed to become a practice we might find a Department committing itself to an expenditure which was not incurred and holding on to that money, depositing it in separate accounts and never returning the unexpended portion. I believe that the Minister for Finance will see the importance of that and will confirm the attitude of the Committee on it. Deputy Dr. Ryan referred also to certain actions which had taken place in the Army. In one particular case there appeared to be, not carelessness on the part of the person concerned but a looseness, amounting almost to ignoring the regulations laid down for that Department. In this case a request was sent, as mentioned in the Report, by the Army authorities to the Finance Department to sanction a scheme for the establishment of libraries at certain stations, and in their application they specified the setting up of five libraries. When the Committee had this matter before them and when they got fuller details they found that the books had been actually purchased before permission was sought to allow them to proceed with the scheme and that not only were they concerned with five libraries but with twelve.

I want to emphasise that if the regulations of the Department of Finance, which are backed up by this House, in connection with the financial transactions of every Department, are to be carried out, no Department should be allowed to make a farce of such regulations. I think it is a very serious thing that a Department should go through the formality of applying for something that they had already got. Not only did they minimise the extent of the purchase, but they bought far in excess of the quantity stated in the application. In fact all this had been accomplished beforehand, and they were only trying to get round the regulations. They probably thought that the Comptroller and Auditor-General might have questioned the thing.

The Army Pension Bill is before the Dáil, and will come up for discussion. As Deputy Dr. Ryan says, while we are bound to be satisfied with the results we have achieved in pressing for the regularising of such matters as we felt were wrong, by the introduction of a Bill, as ordinary Deputies of the House we are not necessarily bound to the details of the Bill itself. I would recommend also that the Minister and Deputies should read the evidence in connection with the pension awards to which Deputy Dr. Ryan referred in concluding his speech. The Minister will then perhaps understand to a certain extent the attitude of the Committee of Public Accounts in connection with pensions in general.

Deputy Dr. Ryan deserves to be complimented upon the able and very impartial manner in which he presented the Report of the Committee to the House. I only wish to deal with one particular matter to which Deputy Dr. Ryan himself referred. That is the policy of the Department of Finance in relation to the work that has been carried out in the Post Office factory. I would not like that it should go to the House from any remarks that Deputy Dr. Ryan may have made in referring to this matter, that the Committee, or any member of the Committee, were of opinion that the factory should be closed down. If that is the opinion of any particular member, and it was certainly not expressed during the proceedings of the Committee in dealing with that matter, it is certainly not my opinion. I would like to see the work of the Post Office factory developed, and I would like to see a little more sympathy from the Department of Finance in that direction, because I believe if some more money were made available from the Department of Finance for the purpose of installing up-to-date machinery, from information I have received from people who take an interest in the factory, it would enable the factory to do a good deal more work at competitive prices, and incidentally would give more employment in the factory than is given to-day.

I hope the Minister in looking into this matter, as I hope he will look into it, will not be prejudiced by the mismanagement which took place in this factory in years gone by. I would suggest to the Minister that if he has not time, and I dare say he has not very much time to deal with matters of this kind, it would be very desirable that an Inter-Departmental Committee should be set up to go into the working of the factory for the purpose of trying to find out what means should be adopted and what further money should be made available, to do a far greater amount of work than is done to-day in this factory. I suggest that he should go into the whole question and deal with it in a sympathetic way because, as I say, people who take an interest in the working of the factory are of opinion that a good deal more work could be done in the place. I hope the mismanagement that took place in the past is not going to prejudice the Minister in his attitude towards the future of the factory.

I quite agree with Deputy Dr. Ryan in his references to the manner in which the estimate for the purchase of war-like stores was exceeded. I say that any extra expenditure under that heading should be submitted to the House, because it is a matter of public policy whether it would be wise in certain circumstances to incur expenditure over and above the sums allowed in the ordinary estimates. I hope that what happened, in the particular case of which the Deputy spoke, will not occur again without bringing the matter before the House for consideration. Many of the matters which have been brought before the Public Accounts Committee especially in reference to the administration of the Army and Civic Guard services are matters which I think will not come up again. Many things happened, particularly so far as the Army was concerned, at a period when officers, not altogether holding high ranks, took a good deal more responsibility on themselves in regard to public expenditure than was ever intended to be allowed by members of the House at any time.

I must pay a tribute to the manner in which the Comptroller and Auditor-General and his staff have done their work in that respect. The work which they did in bringing these matters before the notice of members of the House and of the Public Accounts Committee has been done in such a way as to prevent a recurrence of these cases, especially so far as the Army is concerned. I served on the Public Accounts Committee for a period of three years, and in the early stages of our work certain matters were brought under the notice of the Committee by the Comptroller and Auditor-General which were nothing short of a public scandal. I think the members of the House and the Minister should support the Comptroller and Auditor-General in tightening up the administration of the Army in so far as it deals with expenditure of the taxpayers' money.

The same thing applies, though not to the same extent by any means, to the Guards. One particular instance has been referred to by Deputy Dr. Ryan, in which the Comptroller and Auditor-General brought under the notice of the Committee expenditure that was incurred by officers of the Guards in joy-riding, or using motor cars for pleasure outside their ordinary hours of duty as Guards. We were, however, as far as I remember given an assurance by the head of the Department of Justice that steps would be taken to prevent anything like that occurring again. I think that Deputy Dr. Ryan, who was the very able chairman of the Committee and who has presented the report in a very impartial manner, deserves to be congratulated. Congratulations are also due to the Comptroller and Auditor-General and his staff for the very efficient manner in which they have discharged their duties in regard to public expenditure.

This debate should be a very important one. It is rather unfortunate that we all have a tendency to say the same thing, but at any rate that shows the unanimity that prevailed at the Committee. There seemed to be three points of outstanding importance in this report. I will deal with them, taking the one of least importance first. This matter was referred to by Deputy Davin, and it touches on the use of official cars for private purposes. Admittedly it is very difficult to check this. There are officers serving some distance from town— take as an example, although I do not think any instance occurred there, Baldonnel—in a place where there are no public transport facilities. One officer may be going to town on duty, and another officer will say to him, "You might as well take me and drop me where I want to go." It is very difficult and practically impossible to check that sort of thing. There are, of course, certain checks, but the Committee I think, found that those checks were fairly but not completely effective. I hope the Minister for Finance will continue to elaborate those checks—such, for instance, as the system of log books and reporting whenever a car is used for an unofficial purpose and in such a manner that the public purse may be saved.

The second point is rather somewhat more important. It is referred to in paragraph 4, and it deals with the position of the Post Office with reference to the Ministry of Finance. Of course, the position of the Post Office is and must be an exceptional one. The Post Office is not only a spending but a trading Department, and a Department which is trading to the extent of millions of pounds in the year, and bringing in millions annually, is naturally disposed to feel that it should not be checked in its operations, and that emergencies may and do arise which require the spending of money without prior sanction. There is also an historical reason for this position. Prior to the Treaty the Post Office in Ireland had nothing whatever to do with the Irish administration. It was not in any way controlled by the Chief Secretary's office or any of the Irish offices. It was a branch of the G.P.O. in London, and was controlled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer there through the Treasury. Decisions were reached in London, but they merely came here as decisions.

There was not the same necessity for discussions with the Treasury here as arose in London, and consequently the Post Office here was not in the habit of discussing these questions; it grew to assume a rather privileged position and gradually exercised a considerable amount of latitude. In some respects, I think that is undesirable. Although the Post Office is in that position, it is a Government Department, and it ought to be subject to the financial check that occurs in other Government Departments. The matter is one of some delicacy and some difficulty, but if the difficulty is ever to be solved it will be when the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs happen to be the same person. In Gilbert's "Mikado" many serious problems of the same kind were solved by the eminent Pooh-Bah. I trust that the Minister for Finance, in his capacity as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs will, so to speak, be able to deal with one Department on one side of the stage and the other Department on the other side. I know that he will be able gradually to resolve this difficulty.

The third point that I desire to deal with has reference to abuse of the power of virement. I have been anticipated in this matter by Deputy Davin and Deputy Ryan. The particular subject to which reference has been made is the purchase of warlike stores. I think the whole Committee were convinced that you could not lay down any fixed or definite limits with regard to the power of virement. There is a note which forms an Appendix to this volume, written by the Minister for Finance, and it argues that matter very clearly and in such a manner as we would be all glad to accept. You cannot say you must not exercise virement over a fixed sum. What should be checked is the use of the power of virement, the taking of the savings made on one sub-head and the spending of those savings under another sub-head in such a way as to alter public policy. In this particular instance double the amount for warlike stores was spent following on a year in which four times as much was spent on warlike stores out of economies made in the pay and provisions of the men. That is coming perilously near an alteration of policy. If it is not checked almost anything might happen. Without the sanction of the Dáil, sufficient savings might be made under various heads in the Army Vote to buy, for example, a submarine, and there might be established, without the Dáil knowing anything about it, a Navy. This could all be done merely by the exercise of the power of virement. There might be the temptation, too, for the Army to change from being an army of infantry, and it might become a mechanised army. That might be an improvement, but it would have certain far-reaching reactions. There would be reactions of various kinds, and those ought to be faced here. It ought not to be decided in an office where officials might say: "We have saved so much on provisions and we can spend it on warlike stores, and never mind what the Dáil says about it." That principle is wrong, and I am sure the Minister fully realises it.

It is desirable to make clear the fact that the Minister for Finance, in checking abuses of the power of virement of that character, will receive the support of all sections of the Dáil. I say all sections because this question of public accounts has never been approached in my memory in a party spirit. I am sure every section of the Dáil, without regard to party, ought to express its profound gratitude to Deputy Ryan for his conduct as Chairman of this Committee. He was very fair and very capable, and I think that every member of the Committee, when the Deputy resigned his office, felt profound regret that he was not going to preside over their deliberations in the future. The whole Dáil owes a debt of gratitude to Deputy Ryan for his conduct in the Chair at the Public Accounts Committee.

I do not agree with Deputy Cooper that it would be advisable that the Post Office repair factory should be handed over to the tender mercies of the Minister for Finance. As Deputy Briscoe and Deputy Ryan have pointed out, while we have one view in the Committee of Public Accounts, and while it is our duty there to see that public funds are administered in accordance with the wishes of this Assembly, we as Deputies may have other views. This question of the repair factory arose because the Accountant and the Comptroller and Auditor-General reported to us that the costs of running that factory were somewhat excessive. However, I do not think that you can expect very good results in the Post Office or any other Department that has to deal with what might be called public utility services if the officials in charge of that Department are going to be hampered at every turn by restrictions. The Post Office, as Deputy Cooper pointed out, is in a very unique position. It is a commercial department, and it ought to be run as far as possible as a commercial concern. An ex-Postmaster-General in Great Britain has pointed out that it was impossible for the Post Office in Great Britain to make any headway on account of the extraordinary limitations and restrictions placed upon it by the Treasury. As Deputy Esmonde pointed out here last year, perhaps the Committee of Public Accounts, in their anxiety to see that things were carried out properly and economically, may have gone out of their way on occasions to strengthen the hands of the Comptroller and Auditor-General or the Department of Finance in dealing with the spending Departments. The Post Office. I think, require sympathy,. consideration and co-operation from the Ministry of Finance more than any undue interference, and as far as possible the Post Office ought to be run as a commercial concern. It would be very difficult to make it pay under the circumstances in the Free State. But we must at least give the officials in charge every opportunity.

One of the matters that Deputy Cooper and other Deputies have not referred to is the question of overestimation. That is a matter that the Minister for Finance is no doubt anxious about. He was anxious to prune his estimates as far as possible and when he is now making them up it might be no harm that we should refer to that question here. The total amounts surrendered in the year 1926-7 was £2,297,000. Some of that probably was accounted for by the fact that each Department received appropriation moneys or extra receipts that they did not anticipate. On the other hand if you go down through the Votes you will see that most of the Departments have not spent the money that was placed at their disposal by the Dáil. Now the Committee of Public Accounts has as its duty to see as far as possible that when money is provided that it is spent. When we are in the Dáil it is our business perhaps to keep down expenses as far as we can, but once expenditure has been sanctioned and passed here, it is the duty of the Departments concerned to see that the money is spent. In some Departments there are difficulties. In the Vote for Property Losses Compensation a very technical matter arose. Very complicated legal proceedings extending over a long period of time took place and, as a result, there was a surplus in that Department of £490,000. In the same way there is a difficulty in the matter of the Vote for Public Works and Buildings This Vote generally has a big surplus. The difficulty in that Department is that they have got extraordinary problems to deal with in matters of re-building on a very unusual scale throughout the country as well as here in Dublin. It has been impossible for the Department to say exactly what they were going to carry out during any particular year up to the present. It is almost impossible for them to say "we are going to carry out this programme of work." Certain factors arise in connection with these big building works and reconstructions that make it impossible to carry them out in the time specified.

But now that that period is past I think that that Department which is a big spending Department should be able to cut out the surplus. In the matter of the Army and Army pensions there have been very large surpluses also, in the last two years. In one particular branch of the Army Department there was a sum of £31,000, according to paragraph 31 of the Report of this Committee, paid out for the equipment of the Army Reserve, the sub-head for it did not show any expenditure. In that case it would seem to me that the policy of the Army Headquarters somehow did not work out in consonance with the financial expenditure. It is a great mistake for a Department to do that. I say that you must make allowances in cases such as in Public Works and in Property Losses Compensation and so on, but in the case of the Army we ought at this stage to have reached the point where the policy of the Army and the Army Headquarters would be definitely laid down at the beginning of the year and where such a thing as this expenditure for which I did not find any explanation in any case would not happen. We ought to see that such a thing as the spending of £31,000 and then writing it up against a particular sub-head should not occur.

Some of those Departments that have not spent the money allotted to them are Departments to which I would look for very urgent work down the country in the way of providing employment. One of these Departments is the Land Commission. The Land Commission in this particular year surrendered a surplus of about £130,000. That was partly made up of about £100,000 of money which this Dáil voted for expenditure on improvements of estates and which has not been expended. The same thing applies to the Department of Fisheries. If you go to the Fisheries Department you will see that on every single sub-head large amounts of money were unexpended. Undoubtedly the Fisheries Department, as it is at present treated by the Minister must find it very difficult to function. The Department is given a few pounds and they are asked with this to do work that would need thousands. Nevertheless here again on this particular matter I am against the Fisheries Department, because I believe that the money that was voted to them, small and all as it was, should have been expended.

I wish also to reinforce the request made by Deputy Ryan, and it is that this matter of the Fisheries loans should be wiped out. There are a great many old matters in these accounts which, as Deputy Davin points out, have been going on for years. No doubt they will not bother us in the future. But the Fisheries loans have been going on for a long time. Accounts have been kept. Officials are being employed to look after that matter. I do not know what hope the Minister has of getting in that money. However, he has made a kind of promise to the House that he will introduce legislation to deal with the matter definitely. In the long run the best thing is to face the questions that are hanging over for several years and try to get rid of them.

The Committee also advert to the fact that the explanations in connection with these Appropriation Accounts are not satisfactory. At the foot of the Appropriation Accounts Deputies will notice that there are generally notes stating the reason why the amount of money granted has not been expended or stating the reasons for variations in the amounts. "As these respective explanatory notes," say the Committee, "do not appear consistent, the Committee obtained particulars of payment made in both years with which it is satisfied, but a general comment regarding the explanatory notes at the foot of the Appropriation Accounts seems to be desirable. The Department worked these out on the principle of extreme brevity, sometimes to the point of obscuring the meaning intended to be conveyed. The Committee wishes to call attention to the desirability of greater clarification and consistency." Now one of the favourite explanations at the foot of the Appropriation Accounts is that "the expenditure was not as great as anticipated," a quite unnecessary explanation. One has only to look at the amounts to realise that the expenditure was not as great as was anticipated. Why should it be necessary to pay officials and to pay for printing and giving such a ridiculous explanation of the kind instanced? At the same time we realise it would be utterly impossible and would make the report very voluminous indeed, if detailed explanations were given. However, I think that the officials should not confine themselves to such barren platitudes as "the expenditure was not so great as anticipated." Let us get some definite reason. The more information the Dáil and the public in general get on these accounts, the less trouble we will have, the whole lot of us, and the more co-operation.

After careful study and a careful examination of this Report, and after reading through all the evidence, I have slightly changed my attitude towards the Public Accounts Committee since I spoke last year. In fact, I have returned, as the prodigal son, to the bosom of the Committee. However, I have not returned, like some prodigals the President spoke of, to ask for more. I agree with other Deputies that the Committee is to be congratulated on the very fair, able and tactful manner in which the Chairman conducted the business of the Committee during this year, particularly owing to the fact that I think he only had had six months' previous experience of the work of the Committee. There are certain criticisms one could make of the Report. In the first place, there is an unnecessary reference to small matters which really are not very important or of any serious consequence, and there is also an excessive verbosity in the proceedings of the Committee. I noticed that on one occasion the Chairman had to point out to members of the Committee eleven times in three pages that they were not dealing with the matter under discussion. I forget the actual page. But all through there was a very great deal of unnecessary questioning of the heads of Departments. After reading the evidence. I disagree with most of the paragraphs dealing with the Army. I think that here we have a case where, as usual, the Department of Finance, aided and abetted by the Public Accounts Committee, is interfering in what is, in fact, administration. We have an amazing paragraph dealing with the case where the Department of Finance set up a censorship of books—as to what books were or were not to be in the Army Library. Surely that should have come under the Censorship Act, and the Department of Finance instituted this censorship without any reference to the Dáil.

Then there were various other questions dealing with officers' wives and other matters of a purely administrative nature which should not come within the purview either of the Department of Finance or of the Committee of Public Accounts. The Army should be in the same position as the armies in other countries where the heads of the Department, and not civilians in other Departments, are allowed to control the policy. As I said last year, since the founding of this State there has been a discrimination, I think, between the royal departments and the republican departments, between the departments which we took over from the Kingdom and the departments which we took over from the Republic, such as Defence and External Affairs. The older Castle Departments had their traditions. They were up to all the wiles of the Department of Finance for many years and they knew how to get over the difficulties which the Department of Finance made for them. But I think the Department of Finance took advantage of the youth and inexperience of the Republican departments and bullied them in a manner which they were unable to do with the older established departments of the United Kingdom.

With regard to virement, I think that now a fairly stable situation has been arrived at which is largely a question of common sense as to how far virement is to be exercised. I am still opposed to the principle of Appropriations-in-Aid. I have never heard an explanation of it, and I see no reason why they should not be put down as extra receipts. I understand that this is the only question that the Commission which examined the Northern Ireland accounts could not understand and saw no reason for the difference between extra receipts and Appropriations-in-Aid. Although I have studied it for many years it tends, in my opinion, to confusion. Although the present Senator Johnson was most keen on it, I think it complicates the accounts.

There were some suggestions that possibly, if the Committee of Public Accounts should prove too verbose and interfering, it would not perform any useful function in the State. But I have changed my mind in that respect, as I am satisfied that it does perform a very useful function. In the first place, I think it puts the fear of God and of the Comptroller and Auditor-General into all the Departments of State, with regard to strict accounting, and in the second place, it is a very good school for teaching Deputies how the State is run. I myself when I entered the Dáil six years ago, had not the faintest idea as to how the various Departments of State were run, and I entered the Dáil with only one idea—a rooted dislike of the Department of Finance. During the nine months I was a civil servant they refused to raise my salary, but that was not the main reason. During the years I have spent in the Public Accounts Committee I have certainly found it a great education for Deputies, to discover from the permanent heads of Departments how the various sections of the State are run. For that reason alone I think a certain latitude should be allowed for questions dealing with these matters. As we know, we have a large number of Deputies who are very suspicious of our State and who want to examine it inside and out and upside down in order to satisfy themselves that it was not invented by the devil. That education is gradually taking place, and I think for that reason the Public Accounts Committee deserves the support of the Dáil.

I do not think that I need speak at any great length on this. I have furnished a minute to the Public Accounts Committee on the various matters raised in their Report, and I need hardly repeat what I said in the minute. I think this discussion and the report out of which this discussion arises may be looked upon by Deputies, as by the various public Departments, with a great deal of satisfaction. There are, perhaps, a certain number of things that we would not have if we were an old-established State with a normal history behind us, but they are quite few. The number of matters to which attention has now to be drawn is not very great and most of them are not of a serious character. I think that we may well say that the public administration is being carried on with efficiency and regularity in which we may all take satisfaction.

There is nothing that I would wish to disagree with in the remarks of the various speakers except, perhaps, to a very slight degree on the matter of virement. I think that the distinction which Deputy Ryan emphasised between the effective and non-effective services is an important one, but in the matter that he was dealing with, the matter of the gratuities to ex-officers, I am not sure whether in practice there was such a clear line to be drawn as he thinks. The position was that owing to very great reductions in the Army a number of officers had become surplus to the establishment. Those officers, as an inducement to bring about their retirement, were offered gratuities. If they had remained on as surplus officers, and if it was not proposed to carry out any demobilisation—in fact, it had been promised that demobilisation would not be carried out, that an officer would not be dispensed with on grounds other than grounds of inefficiency—the money that would have been paid them would have been, in reality, something in the nature of expenditure on a non-effective service, and I am satisfied that in that particular case the action that was taken in the matter of virement was quite correct. However, I agree entirely with Deputy Ryan and with other speakers that the power of virement should be used as little as possible and that we should err rather in the matter of bringing in supplementary estimates than in avoiding the necessity for supplementaries by any too free use of the power of virement. I am satisfied that, circumstances having become much more normal, and all Departments having settled down to something like normal routine in the matter of estimation and in the preparation of Estimates, there need be no disputes in future on this question of virement.

The Committee has recognised fully that from the point of view of public finance it is necessary that the power of virement should be preserved. On the other hand, the Department of Finance recognises that it is a power that should be as sparingly used as it can be, and that it should only be used where there is no question at all of preventing the Dáil expressing its opinion on some matter that a section of the Dáil might wish to express an opinion on. As a matter of fact, I am in agreement with all that arose on the question of virement, except in so far as it affected the question of the gratuities to officers who were retiring from the Army.

With regard to over-estimation, it is clear that there has been a very great and a steady improvement, and the complaint that it is possible to make in regard to over-estimation now is a very mild complaint compared with what might have been made two or three years ago. In another year or two I think we will have eliminated any over-estimation that can be avoided. I think we are always going to have over-estimation and, while it is bad to show in our estimates a greater requirement for expenditure than will prove to be correct, it is even worse to cut our estimates so fine that we will be requiring more money than was anticipated at the beginning of the financial year. It is a matter of striking a balance, and I think it is not right to take the line that Deputy Derrig took, that it is the duty of a Department to spend the money provided. I think it is only the duty of a Department to spend voted money if it is required for the services that have been approved, and if it is actually required and can be usefully and economically spent. But I think there is as much duty on the Departments to save any money that can properly be saved as there is to expend any money that may be voted, and if over-estimation arises from a Department having been able in the course of the year to effect economies, then I think that result, instead of being something to find fault with, should be praised.

The question of the special position of the Post Office is under consideration, and while I do not intend to use the fact that I am nominally Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to give away whatever Post Office case there may be, I do say this, that it was specially difficult in former times to deal with the position, because the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs was not a member of the Cabinet but an extern Minister, and it might have been possible to progress more rapidly with it if the Minister had been in the Cabinet. However, I think the points outstanding will be settled within a reasonable time, and that while giving the trading Department of the Post Office such special privileges as it requires, we will be able to control it in the same way as other Departments in all other matters.

The fishery laws have been referred to. The Bill dealing with that is in an advanced stage of preparation now. I do not know if the discussions between the Department of Finance and the Department of Fisheries are entirely finished. I see that Deputy Ryan registers doubt, as they say in reference to the pictures. I can at least assure him that it is in a much more advanced stage than it has ever been before. I say that with a complete feeling of confidence.

The question of fees collected by teachers in model schools is being dealt with. The Department of Finance agrees generally with the Committee, and the matter is under discussion with the Department of Education. The question with regard to Cork School of Music will be dealt with by the introduction of an Estimate.

Another point of some importance that was mentioned was that dealing with the purchase of cars by the Army just at the end of the financial year. I recognise that expenditure along these lines should not be incurred, and perhaps should not even be allowed, but Deputies will recognise that the Vote for the Army has been coming down very rapidly, and in certain cases one of the means of getting the Vote for a coming year down was to allow fuller expenditure out of the Vote for the year in which the Estimate was being actually prepared. As the Army Vote has now come down to a point where these reductions will not be taking place, there will be no question of anything like this arising in future. As a matter of fact, the Army Vote from being most abnormal, and a most difficult Vote to administer in the past, has become a normal type of Vote now. In future there will probably be no special features to attract the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

I am inclined to agree with Deputy Esmonde that there is no good case for retaining this system of Appropriations-in-Aid. That is my own view. I suppose the Public Accounts Committee still adheres to the opposite view. In certain cases, at any rate, the system of Appropriations-in-Aid has the effect of making our Estimates totally misleading. In some cases the money expended on a service is actually more than appears on the Estimate because the gross total is reduced by the amount of Appropriation-in-Aid; though the Appropriation-in-Aid is of a kind that ought to appear simply as a receipt and not by way of a deduction from the gross expenditure on a particular service. It is for that reason as well as the wording in the Constitution that I think myself it is not logical and there is no good reason to retain the system of Appropriations-in-Aid. But as I do not feel particularly strong about it and there were members of the Committee of Public Accounts in the past who were anxious to retain that feature of our Estimate system no steps were taken in regard to it. I do not propose to go into the matters seriatim because, as I say, I dealt with most of them formally in my minute.

Deputy Davin gave me the impression that I may be misunderstood in what I said about the Post Office factory. No member of the Public Accounts Committee was anxious that it should be closed down; what they were anxious about was that it should be run on a more business-like and more efficient basis. At that time, at any rate, we would not like to see it closed down.

Deputy Esmonde said that the Public Accounts Committee invariably sided more or less with the Minister for Finance against the other Departments, for instance, the Ministry of Defence. I think that is fairly true. We usually take the side of the Department of Finance against the other Departments when there is a dispute about expenditure. We are inclined at all times in the Public Accounts Committee to take, and I think we have always taken, the view of the Comptroller and Auditor-General as being the correct view. I suppose I could not possibly pay a higher tribute to the Comptroller and Auditor-General than to say that in our experience we have always found him right. As a public official I could not pay him a higher tribute than that. As a rule, Finance agrees with the decision of the Comptroller and Auditor-General so, as a rule, we have taken the side of Finance against the other public Departments.

As to the particular point mentioned about the library in the Army, the Department of Finance went in and actually censored books got by the Army. I think they acted quite rightly. The Army was supposed to get a technical library. When officials went in they found such books as "Stalky and Co.," by Kipling, and "Sporting and Hunting Reminiscences," which could not possibly be supposed to represent technical books for an Army. That shows the necessity for some such responsible official to go in and inspect these things.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.