Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Feb 1953

Vol. 136 No. 2

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Ballinalee Post Office.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state the dates and years of the appointments of Patrick Hughes, Ballinalee, Anne Hughes, Elizabeth Hughes, Mary Anne Kiernan (née Hughes), and Mrs. Kathleen Devine (née Kiernan) as sub-postmasters and mistresses of Ballinalee sub-post office and the dates in the years 1940 to 1951, inclusive, upon which inspections were carried out on the office in Ballinalee, and if during these years Mrs. K. Devine was found efficient, courteous, considerate and obliging to all callers at Ballinalee post office.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state (1) what tribunal or court of inquiry exists or is established to inquire into alleged offences by sub-postmasters or mistresses concerning (a) deficiencies, (b) surpluses, (c) belated bookkeeping, (d) failure to have reports written up to date and (e) general efficiency and management of the office; (2) if the accused are afforded the opportunity of having legal aid to defend them, and (3) if evidence is on oath and what steps are taken to prevent a miscarriage of justice.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state (a) what other means of support Mrs. K. Devine, Ballinalee, has other than her income as sub-postmistress: (b) if she is married and what family she has to maintain; (c) if she is now eligible for unemployment assistance, and (d) if she is employable in any other post office as a substitute.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state the grounds upon which he decided that Mrs. Kathleen Devine, sub-postmistress, Ballinalee, was unlikely in the future to render efficient and responsible service, and if he is aware that officials in similar responsible positions have been given a chance to become efficient and responsible officials even where they have been found to have substantial deficiencies and incorrect or no entries in their books.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state on what dates in 1952 Ballinalee sub-post office was inspected and on what dates Mrs. Devine was suspended from duty and the date or dates on which she was interrogated and cross-examined by inspectors or investigators of his Department and the number of hours' duration of each inspection session on each date and what break in examination was made for lunch, tea, or refreshment of any kind.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state (a) the date upon which Mrs. Kathleen Devine, sub-postmistress, Ballinalee, was suspended; (b) the date upon which charges were made against her; (c) the date of dismissal; (d) what opportunity she got to defend herself; (e) what tribunal adjudicated on her case; (f) the period of time allowed to answer the charges made against her; (g) if he will make available to her a copy of the evidence or reports made against her; and (h) if the papers in the case were submitted to the Attorney-General; and, if so, what was his decision in her case.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to deal in one reply with Deputy MacEoin's Questions Nos. 125 to 130. In view of the nature of the questions the reply is necessarily of some length.

Mrs. Kathleen Devine was appointed sub-postmistress of Ballinalee in 1942 in succession to Mrs. Mary Anne Kiernan, who had held the positionsince 1920. The other persons mentioned in the Deputy's questions had previously held the position from about 1880 to 1920.

Inspections of the sub-office were made twice yearly during the years 1940 to 1947. In 1948 the frequency of checks had to be increased because of accounting irregularities, carelessness and general inefficiency in the working of the office. I may say that no complaint has ever been received regarding any lack of courtesy and consideration on the part of the ex-sub-post-mistress in her counter dealings with the public.

In April, 1948, it was necessary to warn the sub-postmistress sharply that if she again came under notice for similar irregularities the consequences for her would be serious. This warning did not bring about any permanent improvement and following further serious neglect of duty the sub-postmistress was, in April, 1950, seriously cautioned and warned that unless there were an immediate and sustained improvement in the working of the sub-office, the question of relieving her of her appointment would have to be considered.

That Mrs. Devine herself fully realised the serious view taken by the Department of the unsatisfactory manner in which she was conducting the business of her office, is amply illustrated by the fact that before the last mentioned warning was administered to her she said, in a communication to the local postmaster, that if drastic action were to be taken, she would be grateful if given the opportunity of resigning. Some improvement followed this serious warning, coinciding, I may say, with the employment by Mrs. Devine of an assistant, but at no time thereafter up to the date of her suspension was my Department free from anxiety regarding the working of the sub-office. That this anxiety was well-founded is proven by the position disclosed in June, 1952. A check of accounts carried out at the sub-office on the 24th of that month, and subsequent inquiries by a departmental investigation officer revealed a multitude of errors and omissions. In brief, the situation inhave warranted my relieving the sub-postmistress of her appointment even if no further irregularities were brought to light. In fact, I feel that Mrs. Devine had already been allowed far too long a period in which to achieve the improvement the necessity for which she had twice been warned.

Apart, however, from the errors and omissions to which I have already referred and which might be attributed to inefficiency or negligence, the inquiries of the investigation officer revealed a number of grave irregularities. I detail them in the form in which they were communicated to the sub-postmistress' solicitor on the 5th January, 1953:—

(1) A deficiency of £30 13s. 11½d. found on a check of the sub-office accounts on 24/6/1952.

(2) A shortage of £20 in the official cash in the week ended 21/6/1952 which was cloaked by falsifying the accounts.

(3) Misuse of official cash amounting to £10 on 23/6/1952.

(4) Inflation of the amount of cash on hands in order to balance the accounts.

(5) Failure to report a deposit of £7 on 20/6/1952, and attempting to deceive the investigation officer by making a false statement.

(6) Delay from 20/7/1947 to 28/9/1947 in bringing to account a Savings Bank deposit of £10, which she used for private purposes in the interim.

(7) Failure to report a Savings Bank deposit of £10 made in July, 1951, and use of that sum for her private purposes.

Each of the foregoing irregularities was admitted by Mrs. Devine in signed statements, duly witnessed, taken from her after the administration of the usual legal caution, during the course of the inquiries in June and July of last year. I feel that a couple of doubt that she had acted in a manner extracts will suffice to establish beyond which rendered it imperative in the interest of both the public and theDepartment that she be dismissed from her post. The extracts are as follows: for obvious reasons I am omitting the name of the depositor:—

Extract (1) (relating to a lodgment made by a Savings Bank depositor):

"The entry of £10 on July, 1951, was made when Blank gave me this amount in the sub-office for deposit in her savings account. I could not find the book at the time but later when I found it I entered the month of July only, as I could not recollect on what date I had received the money. I did not prepare a deposit docket in respect of the deposit or forward the amount to An Cuntasóir. I used the money for my own private purposes, intending to forward it later but I never did so."

Extract (2) (dealing with the same Savings Bank transaction):

"Since the visit of the officer from headquarters on 26th June, 1952, my husband visited Blank. Her book had been found in the sub-office and as I knew it was irregular I sent him in to warn her that if any inquiries were made she was to be sure and say that she asked that the book be kept in the sub-office. I knew at this time that the account was at least ten pounds (£10) short of the balance that should be in the book to the credit of the depositor. I tore out the centre pages of Blank's old book and destroyed them to conceal the real position of the account from her if she called for the book before the new one was issued. I intended destroying the old book altogether when I received the new one which I would have given to Blank but when the new book arrived I could not find the old book."

These extracts speak for themselves. Provided the Deputy can obtain the consent of Mrs. Devine, I shall be prepared to show him all her signed statements in explanation and admission of her irregularities. As regards the departmental reports, the Deputy will, of course, realise that these are confidential and that it would be contrary to established the sub-office was chaotic and wouldpractice and detrimental to the public interest to disclose their contents.

The check of accounts on 24/6/1952 was carried out by the postmaster, Longford, and Mrs. Devine's interviews with the headquarters investigation officer took place on the following dates:—









10.40 a.m.—1.15 p.m.





3.20 p.m.—5.20 p.m.




6.55 p.m.—8.30 p.m.




11.45 a.m.—1.50 p.m.



On 26/6/1952, apart from the main breaks for meals, there were breaks of 20 to 30 minutes' duration in both morning and afternoon interviews.

The investigation officer who conducted the inquiries is an officer of the highest integrity in whose reliability the Department has the fullest confidence. In the course of his work he has had occasion to take hundreds of statements from suspects and others and on no occasion has there been the slightest suggestion which would impugn his honour or his methods. The Deputy and the House may unreservedly accept my assurance that he treated Mrs. Devine with the utmost consideration, having regard to the circumstances of his meetings with her and she, herself, I am glad to say, acknowledged this and expressed to him her appreciation of his consideration.

Mrs. Devine was suspended from duty on 27th June, 1952, and her dismissal was authorised by me on the 13th September. In the interim, she had ample opportunity to make any representations she cared to make— supplementary to the explanations in her written statements—regarding the irregularities of which she was made aware by the investigation officer.

As regards the investigation of this case, I should state that the procedure followed in no way differed from that which has been followed for so far back as can be ascertained from departmental records or from the recollection of departmentalofficials. Inspections of post offices and investigations of irregularities are carried out by established departmental officers who submit their reports to headquarters where, I am satisfied, they are most painstakingly considered. In the more serious cases the reports are submitted to the Minister with a departmental recommendation as to disclipinary action. In cases involving defalcations or other serious irregularities, it is not the practice, where statements have been taken after the usual legal caution has been administered, to ask the offender for any explanation supplementary to those already given by him and if the admissions of the offender so warrant, a decision to dismiss is taken by the Minister. So far as can be ascertained from the records of my Department or the recollection of my principal officers there has never been any case of irregularities comparable in their gravity to those admitted by Mrs. Devine, where the officer concerned was retained in the postal service and frankly I cannot conceive of a state of affairs in which irregularities of the nature referred to here could result in any action short of dismissal. Officers of the Department have been dismissed for irregularities much less serious than those of Mrs. Devine. Having regard to the nature of the work performed in its suboffices, the Department must insist on the highest standard of integrity on the part of its officials and the Deputy will appreciate the need for the maintenance of a strict disciplinary code. It is only by taking the sternest action in the case of serious irregularities such as those dealt with in this reply, the Department can obviate any impairment of public confidence in the handling of public moneys in the postal service. I am satisfied that from these points of view I would have been failing in my duty as a Minister had I permitted Mrs. Devine to continue as sub-postmistress. I need hardly say that it is a painful duty for me to dismiss any officer from my Department and I do so only where I am satisfied that there is no alternative.

In considering the case of Mrs. Devine the question arose of taking steps towards the institution ofcriminal proceedings against her. In deciding not to take such steps, I was influenced by her frail physique and nervous disposition as reported to me by the investigation officer, by her domestic circumstances, by the long record of loyal service which previous members of her family had given to the Post Office and by her own action in making good in full the amount of the deficiencies for which she had been responsible. I decided that, in all the circumstances as placed before me by the Department, dismissal action would suffice. Discretion has at all time been exercised by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs as regards the reporting of such cases to the Attorney-General and in this case, for the reasons I have mentioned, I refrained from setting in motion a procedure which might have resulted in Mrs. Devine's prosecution on a criminal charge.

As regards the further points covered by the Deputy's questions, Mrs. Devine according to information supplied by her, is married to a farmer and they have two young children. She could not, in view of her record, be approved for employment in any other post office. Her eligibility to receive unemployment assistance can, I understand, be determined on her making application to the local officer of the Department of Social Welfare.

I feel I can with confidence say that the House extends its sympathy to the newly appointed sub-postmistress on account of the damage done recently to her home and on account of the physical violence to her husband. Having applied, with five others, for the vacant post on its being advertised, she was in due course recommended by the board set up by my predecessor in office and subsequently appointed by me. Her lot and that of her husband and three children during recent weeks has been most unenviable and all public-spirited people will deplore with me the fact that ill-conceived agitation on the part of a section of the local people has taken the form of mob violence. Three Civic Guards have been injured and postmen and engineering workmen have been attacked.

Might I say to the House that thoseattacks are something that every Deputy should join me in condemning? We all know how vulnerable the Post Office workers are to violence. Their duties take them into remote and lonely places at all times and seasons. The danger of the example set at Ballinalee is that if there is a dispute about an appointment, the part-time postman going out with the mail in the dark of a winter's morning will be in danger of being beaten up on some byroad or the linesman repairing the telephone wires after a storm will be in danger of being felled by a stone. Deputies know that the work of the Post Office is of a civilian non-political nature more than that of any other Department and its service is to the community as a whole in a very real and practical sense. That has always been recognised in the past, even in the bitterest trade disputes and land agitations. It is, of course, the public itself which will suffer whenever the work of the Post Office is interfered with. The cutting of the telephone line to Ballinalee last week, for instance, was much more likely to prevent some unfortunate person in that neighbourhood from getting a doctor in time than to cause any inconvenience to me or the Department as a whole. All Deputies will recognise the necessity of letting the Post Office get on with its day-to-day work and of not visiting on its defenceless employees any dissatisfaction with ministerial policy. I am not without hope that my reply to-day to Deputy MacEoin's questions will have the effect of putting an end once and for all to the regrettable action of those who have lent their support to a campaign for the reinstatement to office of a person who had entirely lost the confidence of my Department and whom, for what I am satisfied are good and sufficient reasons, I felt constrained to dismiss.

Arising out of that long and lengthy reply from the Minister, I feel at a disadvantage at the moment because I realise that supplementary questions can only be put in a certain form and hence I would not have time to do so now. Let me say this in reply to the statement made by the Minister.

The Deputy may ask a question.

I think that, with the permission of the House, I should be allowed to say this, that the Minister has made a statement and has not replied to the queries put. He has made a lengthy statement to which I think I should be entitled to reply, but I am not going to argue that now. May I say at the outset that I deplore and condemn violence at all times?

The Chair is allowing the Deputy to put a question.

I think that, in view of the Minister's statement, I should be allowed to say that I and every member of the House on this side have always condemned violence and always will condemn it. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I must ask for permission either to move the adjournment of the House or, alternatively, ask for leave to raise this matter on the Adjournment this evening.

The Chair will consider the Deputy's request.