Friday, 18 May 1923
Dáil Éireann Debate
The PRESIDENT: I beg to move: “That a sum not exceeding £33,496 be granted to complete the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1924, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Finance, and branch departments.” A sum of £17,000 had been voted on account.
The PRESIDENT: No, I intend to work down that list—Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 32, 45, 52, and 58. I ask to have No. 45 held over for the present, although it is on the list here. I am anxious that that one should be postponed, certainly for this evening.
Mr. T.J. O'CONNELL: With regard to this particular Vote, I take it that we are waiting for the long-promised Ministries Bill to set up and legalise the Ministry of Finance; and I assume that,  pending the setting up of this Ministry, the Department is being carried on much along the lines of the old British Treasury Department. There are one or two matters in that connection to which I would like to draw attention. One of them is what I regard, in any case, as the rather undue interference of the Department of Finance in the working of other Departments. I am speaking now rather of what used to occur under the British regime, and what I assume is the practice at the present time. I trust that when we do come to set up or regularise that Department, through the medium of the Ministries Bill, that the functions of this particular Ministry will be definitely set out, so that we will know exactly where we are. The point I wish to emphasise is this, that it seems to me that the Department of Finance insists not only on general control of the finance of each Department, but on control even so far as matters of detail are concerned. For instance, let us say that a sum of money is voted, or appears in these Estimates, for any particular Department, say the Department of Fisheries—a sum of £3,000 is voted for the development of Fisheries—it should be sufficient on the part of the Minister, or Department of Finance, to have some say in the total amount that is voted for that particular service. I do not think that they should come in and say in what particular way that £3,000 should be expended, down even to the last sixpence. I think the Minister for the particular Department ought to be in a position to say, according to his judgment and the judgments of his experts, how that sum of money which has been voted in the Estimates for his Department should be expended. If he finds that it is not wise to spend it in one particular direction, he should be free to spend it in another which he thinks is more profitable. I think he should be the judge of this, rather than somebody in the Ministry of Finance. Under the old regime the Education Department—I speak of that because I know more of its inner working than any other Department—was supposed to be controlled by a number of independent Boards, but, as a matter of fact, the real control rested with a minor official in Dublin Castle. Not alone in  financial matters, but in purely educational matters, this particular man's judgment overrode the decision of the particular Board or Department that was dealing with Education. As I say, I do not think that is a good system, and I think, when the Ministries Bill is being drafted, that we should know exactly what the functions and what the powers of the Ministry of Finance are in these matters.
There is just another matter in connection with this that I would like to have some information on. I do not see under this particular Vote, nor in any other portion of the Estimates, provision made for a Civil Service Commission. I do not know what are the present arrangements by which people enter the Civil Service. In the old days there was a well regulated system of competitive examination under the control of a Civil Service Commission. We do not know what are the present arrangements —whether there is any controlling body, or whether people enter the Civil Service in a haphazard way. I think the necessity for setting up a proper Civil Service Commission, which will control the entrance of candidates into the Civil Service, is very essential, and that it ought to be set up without any delay.
There is just one other matter in this Vote, and that is in connection with the Teachers' Pension Office. This, I presume, is not the particular Vote under which the general question of these teachers' pensions should be dealt with. We should confine ourselves on this Vote merely to the administration; but one matter I would like to call the Minister's attention to is the very great delays that occur between the time a teacher retires and the time his first pension is paid to him. Sometimes it is three, four, five or eight months after his retirement before he is paid his first instalment of the pension. I do not know whether that delay is entirely due to the Pension Office, but I wish to direct the Minister's attention to it in any case. There is one other matter in regard to these pensions, and that is the system on which they are paid. These pensions are paid quarterly. They are very small sums. I think something should be done to try and introduce the system of monthly payment of these pensions, as has been done in other services. The sum is exceedingly small in a great  many cases, and I think it would not entail a very great deal of extra labour on the part of the Pension Office if they were paid monthly rather than quarterly, as at present.
Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: With regard to the items mentioned under Sub-head (A), in connection with which we are informed it is not yet possible to fix a definite establishment for the Ministry, one would rather gather there is some kind of establishment already existing. How far that could be called a definite establishment is another point. I think we might have some information with regard to it, because the sum in respect of Sub-head (A) has been put down at £40,000. I assume that £40,000 is not a pure guess. There must be some material for the framing of such an Estimate, and I think it is desirable that in the case of Estimates of this kind, where, quite inevitable at the present moment, a degree of indefiniteness must necessarily occur, such information as the Minister has had in arriving at this particular Estimate should be given to the Dáil. I think the Minister will perceive the justice of that, and I think he will also perceive it is very desirable such a course should be adopted. I desire to emphasise the point made by Deputy O'Connell in regard to the Civil Service Commission. That is not merely a matter for the Dáil. It is also a matter respecting the general state of public confidence in Civil Service appointments. The Minister must be very well aware, just the same as every Deputy here is aware, of the opinions entertained by persons outside in regard to those appointments. No doubt other Deputies have had the same experience as I have had, and are continually being bombarded by letters alleging that appointments are being made that are not efficient, and that should not have been made, and alleging also that appointments are being made on the grounds of friendship rather than on the grounds of efficiency. I have for some years taken my part in the political movement in which the Minister for Finance played a very distinguished and honoured part. He knows, having served in it from the beginning, that it was an axiom in Sinn Fein that all public appointments should  be made as the result of a Civil Service examination, and that there should not be any procedure—I will not say there should be what I would call “jobs”— such as would lead to an allegation that there was the possibility of a “job.”
It was always the principle of Sinn Fein that that should be, and the allegation was made by Sinn Fein in those days against the Parliamentary Party that private influence was used with regard to the getting of public appointments. It is very easy for public unrest to be created in this matter, and I think one may justly assume that unrest of that kind, partaking of the nature of rumour, must always be unjust. It must always outrun the facts. Any person who has any knowledge or experience of life will agree that that is axiomatic. The only way to stop that is a form of procedure so that there will be no possibility of the currency of such rumours. I do desire, in the friendliest spirit possible, to join with Deputy O'Connell in urging upon the Minister to lay down in this and in all other Departments the principle that no person shall have any appointment because of fear, because of favour, or because of any part that that person might have played in the past. The part that person played might be worthy of reward, but if worthy, the reward should take a monetary form, and have all other obligations cancelled with it. The service of this State should only be entered by a public examination held under the auspices of a Civil Service Commission, so that the Civil Service of this country may in itself be more efficient; but, perhaps, what is even more important than that, that public confidence may be maintained, and that no opportunity should be given for rumour that will infallibly be unjust, I know, but that is only waiting its opportunity to make assertions and to fill the country with suggestions that appointments are going in larger measure than we know them to be going, irrespective of such efficiency tests as qualifying examinations may furnish.
Mr. JOHNSON: I do hope that the Minister, before this Vote is passed, will give some explanation of the position of this Department regarding appointments to the higher posts. The fact that there is no definite establishment yet fixed, and therefore no details of what the £40,000  represents, deprives us of some opportunity for finding out for ourselves some of the information at least that would be desirable. As Deputy Figgis has said, there is a good deal of criticism abroad from inside the Service, and that may be characteristic of Services. I do not know. From what I can gather, it is very deep and loud to-day, and ought to be met by some public statement of the position. The allegation of course, is that in this and other Departments experienced men who have worked their way through the Service are being superseded by men of no greater qualifications, possibly less, and of less service, and therefore the inducement to efficient service is being taken away. I have no knowledge, and I am not able to say, whether there is any ground for this criticism, but it is very widespread, and it has not come to me directly to any extent, but I think it is widely spread, and is causing a lot of dissatisfaction, which is not good for the health of the Service. I invite the Minister to make a full and candid statement of the position with regard to appointments, the possibility of promotion, and why men are being superseded, and new appointments made over the heads of experienced and well qualified servants who have been in the Service of this country for a long time.
MINISTER for HOME AFFAIRS (Mr. K. O'Higgins): I might say just a few words on this matter. I would ask Deputies to visualise the problem that confronted the Government on its formal establishment here, and to ask themselves whether, it view of the elements that were there, it would be possible to have arrived at any solution that would satisfy, even substantially satisfy, anyone—any solution that would not give rise to rumours of which Deputy Figgis has spoken, and any solution that would not give rise to complaint. You had, in the case of most Departments, not one Civil Service, but two. You had the British Departments and the corresponding Departments of the fighting Dáil. Take, for example, Local Government; take the Finance Ministry itself. Almost every civil department of the British administration had its counterpart in the service of Dáil Eireann, and the task that confronted us was the amalgamation and unification of these  two lots of civil servants. It would have been impossible to effect that unification without heartburnings on the part of members of the Civil Service, without some people feeling that they had been passed over and that less competent men had been put in their place. Some, naturally, would hold the view that length of service should be the sole criterion, but length of service under whom—setting length of service as against risk of service, let us say, undertaken by those who served in the Departments of Dáil Eireann before the Truce. You cannot effect a solution that would not leave heartburnings on one side or on the other side, on men who had given faithful, moderate, humdrum service to the British regime, or the risk of the men who gave signal service in rather strenuous times under the fighting Dáil. With those elements no solution completely satisfactory to all persons could be arrived at. I would put this view that that problem, difficult, delicate, and thorny in the extreme, has been handled in a manner that leaves very little ground for criticism; and the complaints that have been flying about and the rumours that have been circulated, when sifted out, have often been found to be without substance and foundation. We have grappled occasionally with complaints and asked for specific details and for names. We have volunteered to go through the personnel of the staff of particular Departments with a view to seeing just what grounds and justification there were for complaints of that kind. When the thing was tackled in that way there was always a withdrawal. Naturally, in times like these, with the Government assailed, for obvious reasons, by a section of the people, you will have exaggerations of that kind. I ask the Dáil and the public to believe that with a very difficult problem, with all the elements for jealousy and friction, in a time of transition, with a new administration saddled with all the personnel of the old administration and without applying Article 10 of the Treaty, that problem has been tackled with a considerable measure of success, and has left very little reasonable grounds for just criticism.
The PRESIDENT: I expect that within the next week or ten days I will be able to introduce an Order dealing with the Civil Service Commission. It  is not necessary to anticipate anything to be said on the subject then by making any statement regarding the position now. I suppose that will be regarded as satisfactory. The matter has been under consideration for a long time. It is not one of these things that one can find the solution for very rapidly. We realise the importance of setting up a Commission which will command the confidence and respect of all sections of the community. We expect that the recommendations it will make will inspire confidence and give satisfaction, but I do not think that it is necessary to go further than saying that about this particular item mentioned. Now, as regards the establishment. The Estimate was framed somewhere in the month of March, and there was no chance of giving further information then, or even furnishing all the information that is required now, which might normally be expected in an Estimate of this kind.
Fifteen or sixteen months ago, when the late General Collins was Minister for Finance, he appointed Mr. O'Brien as Secretary of the Department, and Mr. O'Brien had administering sub-departments of the Ministry three different officials—Mr. Bewley, Mr. Flynn, and Mr. Brennan. Mr. Brennan was administering the Finance Section, Mr. Bewley the Supply Section, and Mr. Flynn the Customs Section. It was, I think, his intention, and I believe he wrote Mr. Brennan informing him it was his intention, to appoint him as Comptroller and Auditor-General. Members know, from what has happened since, that other arrangements were made, and they are also aware of the fact that we have set up a Board of Revenue Commissioners. Mr. O'Brien is Chairman, and associated with him are Mr. Flynn and Mr. Carey. It will be seen that we had again to reconstruct the Ministry of Finance establishment. Mr. Brennan is now Secretary of the establishment, and associated with him are Mr. McElligott in Finance, with Mr. Colbert and Mr. Codling in Supply.
The method of selection for important offices in the State is by what is called a Pool Board. That Pool Board is set up by the Government, and consists of experienced officers. The Secretary of the Post Office is Chairman of the Board, and with him are Dr. Smith and Mr. Pierce Kent. The Ministry has nothing to do  with the matter except to receive reports and consider them. Criticism, occasional whispers, and very rarely definite charges have come in. Very often rumours of criticism come from all parts of the country. It is, I suppose, one of the misfortunes of a Ministry that criticisms of that kind are continually being made. I do not know any form of procedure that will be set up or any regulations that will be made, that will free any Ministry now or in the future from criticism. One of the most hostile persons, I suppose, in the State is a disappointed civil servant. Deputies know that. In one case a clergyman came in to me and said that we had an official at the head of the Civil Service who was both an Englishman and a Freemason. On inquiries being made, it was found that he was neither a Freemason nor an Englishman, so the clergyman was surprised and consoled that that was not the case. If there be one position for which there are forty applicants, there is sure to be one satisfied person and thirty-nine dissatisfied ones. Anyone who has had experience of public Boards knows very well that if you happen to be in the position of having voted for a person who gets a position, you have created enemies for yourself of the eight or nine other candidates who were not appointed. It is right to say that there have been positions given away to persons who have not passed through the door of the examination hall, and the Ministry is prepared to accept the blame, if there be any, for such things as that. In the Local Government with which Mr. O'Higgins and myself were associated for a considerable time, something like 70 employees, officials and others were engaged, and each one of those was afforded the opportunity of entering the service without examination. We believed then, and do so now, that those of them who were prepared to render service to the State should not be debarred by reason of the fact that they never passed through the examination door. The service they had rendered in a critical time to the State was, in our opinion, sufficient to justify them to have their claim considered, even though they did not pass through the examination door. Our opinion then was. and now is, that though they did not pass the examination, they were well qualified for the work they undertook, and the work they are doing  at present. The same thing applies to other officers of the late Dáil. Practically every official there who was prepared to render service to the State has been employed by us.
It was not possible to have an examination for the servants of Dáil Eireann during the years that we passed through from 1919 to 1921. But there has not been any recruitment of friends of the Ministry, or of friends of friends of the Ministry, and the appointments which have been made are appointments over which we can stand, and which we are prepared to justify. In criticising any of these officials of the State I think it is fair, if Deputies think there is a case for criticism, or that we have not appointed the best persons to the position, that it should be the subject of discussion here, where we can meet it, and where it will be possible for us to restabilise the confidence of the people, and to let them see we have discharged our duties in these responsible times with due regard to the responsibility of our position. I question, and I deny, that any appointments have been made on other grounds than those of efficiency. I am satisfied from the recommendations which we have got from the Pool Board which was set up that we got efficient public servants recommended to us, and, if it should happen that persons were recommended who might subsequently be found not to be efficient in the discharge of their duties, I say that is not our fault, and that it is one of the accidents that is inseparable from the administration of a State. While saying that I do not admit that such is the case. I have no knowledge that such is the case. It is not fair to tell us here that there is ground for dissatisfaction outside when Deputies have not brought under our notice specific instances of appointments that should not have been made. If a man occupying the responsible position of Deputy Figgis, representing an important constituency like the County of Dublin, has information at his disposal that we have made appointments that are not justified, that matter should certainly have been brought to the notice of the Ministry. It has not come to that, that there is such competition for seats in the Executive Council that we have got to buy our positions or to keep our positions here by making such  appointments, and it ought not come to that, that a man would keep information such as that and pile it up until the election day, and then thunder out criticism which should be mentioned here and not on an election platform.
In all my experience of public life, I have always heard such criticisms. I am sure that when other people occupy these benches that they will also be subject to them. There have been some appointments made by us outside the Civil Service. There have been no examinations for a very considerable time. These appointments were made not by the nomination of any member of the Ministry. They were recommendations of responsible officers of the State who would themselves find, if proper recommendations were not made, that it would be their responsibility and their loss.
In the exceptional circumstances of the times we accepted those recommendations. There was no machinery here when the Provisional Government took over office that would enable them to construct from the material supplied a capable Government machine. There is now, after 13 or 15 months, a Government machine which will enable any succeeding Ministry to discharge its duties with satisfaction to the State.
With regard to the matter mentioned by Deputy O'Connell. I am prepared to look into it if the Deputy communicates with me on the subject—that is the payment of teachers' pensions within a shorter period. I do not know what the procedure is with regard to that, but, if the Deputy communicates with me, and I find it is possible to do it, I am prepared to meet him in that respect, but I cannot undertake to do that without examining the case.
Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: I regret I was not here when the Minister said, I understand, that I should have brought specific cases, and not dealt with general cases. I did not deal with general cases at all. I dealt with no cases, specific or general. I simply stated, whether there was or was not occasion for such rumours, that the only way to put an end to the rumours was the establishment of a system that could not on any ground be questioned. I was not dealing with cases. I was not dealing with any complaints.
Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: I have received a large number of complaints myself and have attended to none of them. I assume any person who writes making a complaint of that kind is a person who is complaining for personal reasons, and I have destroyed the letters and paid no heed to them. It is the only procedure possible to adopt under the circumstances. I am, therefore, not in a position to give personal cases, because the persons who put their cases before me have had their letters destroyed. I am not dealing with them. What I am saying is that rumours of this kind are bound to be in circulation if there is not a system by which the most scrupulous impartiality is given, and the most efficient service is given, by compelling all persons who go into the Civil Service to pass a Civil Service examination qualifying them for it. If that were done there would be no room whatever for rumours of the kind that are circulated. The Minister must know that they are circulated. When I say I have had letters of that kind I have asked no other Deputies if they have had letters, but I am perfectly sure they have had. These rumours exist. I have admitted frankly that they are, probably, greatly in excess of the truth and largely unjust. I stated that the only way to deal with the whole circumstances is to establish a Civil Service Commission to establish a qualifying examination, and then there is no possibility for rumours or for complaining letters.
The PRESIDENT: The statement I took down that the Deputy made was that appointments were not being made on the ground of efficiency. Now, one can just imagine those lines being published in leaded type in any of the newspapers, and how they will shake the confidence of the public, not in the Ministry, but in the Dáil, because the Dáil having had that statement made by a Deputy is practically committed to the very same charge as the Ministry. The Ministry only remains in power by reason of the support it gets in the Dáil, and if the Dáil supports a Ministry responsible for making appointments like that the responsibility is theirs as well as the Ministry's. I do not think that is quite fair  either to the Ministry or to the Dáil that criticisms of that kind are made unless evidence of the fact is brought out, and it ought to be brought out here.
Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: I have already stated that if I had cared to have kept the pile of letters I received instead of destroying them I could have given the Ministry not one but fifty such letters. I have destroyed them, and I make the public assertion here that any future letters I receive from any person making a complaint of that kind shall also be destroyed.
Mr. O'HIGGINS: My question was not directed to the fate of the letters which Deputy Figgis alleges he received. I ask whether the Deputy was prepared to state if he knew of any case in which an appointment was made otherwise than for efficiency.
Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS: The majority of the cases were unsubstantiated, and the unsubstantiated cases I did not go further into. I do know that rumours are going about to that purport, and I say that the Ministry can very easily stop the circulation of these rumours.
Mr. JOHNSON: I would like to ask the Minister for Finance whether he is asking the Dáil to accept the view that he should not be asked to make a statement of the policy regarding appointments, or that it is not the duty of a Minister to clear away misconceptions that may be in the service or in the country unless Deputies are prepared to lay down definite charges? Surely it is  competent for Deputies to voice what is common talk not in the form of definite charges, but for the purpose of giving Ministers an opportunity of making a statement in the Dáil of the position of the Ministry in regard to appointments or any other matters of internal policy. If Ministers do not do that of their own volition, from their own knowledge, if such stories are abroad, then it is the duty, I say, of Deputies to intimate to the Dáil and the Ministry that these stories are abroad, even if they do not believe for one moment that anything wrong is happening. It is the duty of Deputies to invite Ministers to state the facts, and I do not think Ministers should resent such an invitation.
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