Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate—Activities of Information Officer.

Thursday, 8 March 1951

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 124 No. 10

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Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  My question on the Order Paper to the Minister for Social Welfare to-day was:—

“To ask the Minister for Social Welfare if he will state the dates and occasions of each of (i) the several lectures or talks delivered by, (ii) the conferences or discussions engaged in, (iii) the interviews given by, (iv) the articles or other publicity matter or statements published in the daily and weekly papers or other periodicals by the Information Officer in his Department; if he will give the subject matter of each of these and state where each of the lectures, talks, conferences or interviews took place, whether in Dublin or elsewhere, and in what papers or periodicals the articles or other published statements appeared.

The answer which I received to that question was as follows:—

“As regards (i) I would refer the Deputy to my reply of the 1st March, 1951, to Question No. 5.

In connection with the remainder of the question, records are not kept in such detail as would enable the information sought to be readily given, and I do not feel that the matter is of sufficient importance to justify the considerable use of official time which would be involved in its compilation.”

Now, I would like to make quite clear to everyone at the outset that this question was not put down in order to attack the civil servant who is referred to in it. That officer has no responsibility in the matter. He is not responsible if public money is paid out and no return is given for it to the State. He is not responsible if he is paid out of the public funds to serve the narrow aims of a political Party. He is neither Minister nor accounting officer.

I put the question down in order to expose one little instance, one trifling example, of the manner in which the public moneys are being misused at the [1662] instance of the Minister concerned. It is necessary for me to say that the officer referred to in the question was long absent from the normal work of the Civil Service. His rank when he was engaged otherwise than in the service of the State was that of a junior executive officer. It is generally believed that he was anxious to be recalled to duty in the Department of Social Welfare as private secretary to the Minister.

For reasons best known to himself, the Minister refused to have him in that capacity, so another job had to be found for him. He was so powerful, so influential, that, as I have said, an other job had to be found for him. Accordingly, in October, 1948, almost two and a half years ago, the post of information officer was created in the Department of Social Welfare and he was appointed to it. I perhaps may comment in passing that this is only one of the many instances since the Government took office that henchmen of the Labour Party have been quartered on the public purse.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  That is a deliberate untruth.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  I use the word quartered deliberately, because it is clear, from the Minister's inability to say what this officer does for his money, that so far as service to the State is concerned the job is a mere sinecure. When I say this, I do not wish to convey the impression that the officer is indolent or incapable—far from it. I merely say that he has nothing to do inside his Department— he does nothing there, is seldom to be found there, but is very active elsewhere trying to bolster up the falling fortunes of the political Party to which, quite improperly as a civil servant, he has attached himself. However, let me repeat that is not his responsibility, but the responsibility of the Minister, the responsibility of the Minister for Social Welfare and of the Minister for Finance, who cooperated in quartering him on the public funds in order to carry out this political work.

I have mentioned already that when [1663] this officer was working outside the Civil Service he was graded and paid as a junior executive officer. When the Minister for Social Welfare brought him back to the Department to be his principal political organiser, he was jumped a step in the Service and was made a higher executive officer. In that job his salary is given in the Book of Estimates for 1949-50 at £817. I am not able to state what it will be for the coming year. Every information on that point has been withheld, carefully withheld, from us by the Minister for Finance.

If Deputies will look at the Book of Estimates which has been presented to them for this year—Estimates totalling £83,000,000—they will find that the most significant figures in that volume, the most significant date which will enable the House to judge how the Department is being staffed and run, have been carefully eliminated. They will not see, for instance, where this officer is being paid £817, as he was last year, or, as I expect, he will be paid during the coming year almost £850. Now, what return is given to the taxpayers for that £850?

Mr. Davin: Information on William Davin  Zoom on William Davin  On a point of order.

Mr. Killilea: Information on Mark Killilea Snr.  Zoom on Mark Killilea Snr.  This starts every night.

Mr. Davin: Information on William Davin  Zoom on William Davin  If it is the doubtful privilege of Deputy MacEntee to make an attack on one public servant and deal with his official duties and his domestic affairs, is it not the right of every other Deputy to do likewise with all the civil servants of this State?

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  No Deputy would do it only him.

Mr. Davin: Information on William Davin  Zoom on William Davin  Is not this a most undesirable precedent?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  This question was allowed by the Ceann Comhairle. Deputy MacEntee gave notice that he would raise on the Adjournment the subject-matter of Question No. 10. He is dealing with the subject-matter of that question.

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  The Ceann [1664] Comhairle said it was not in good taste to do it.

Mr. Derrig: Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  You are not the Ceann Comhairle.

Donnchadh Ó Briain: Information on Donnchadh Ó Briain  Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Briain  And we do not take lessons in good taste from Deputy Cowan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  Deputy MacEntee asked permission to raise the subject-matter of that question and he is doing so.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  The question I was putting when Deputy Davin jumped in to the rescue of the Minister for Social Welfare—and it is the Minister for Social Welfare and the Minister for Finance who are responsible in this matter and nobody else——

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Keep calm.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  The question I was putting when I was interrupted by Deputy Davin was, what return is given to the taxpayers for that £850?

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Your performance here.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  The question I put down to the Minister for Social Welfare last week in relation to which I have failed to elicit any evidence of any return——

Mr. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  He is giving as good a return as you ever gave for your £500.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  This officer was appointed information officer in October, 1948. What work, according to the statement made here by the Minister, has he done over the period since then?

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  He has done good work, excellent work.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  Last week, I asked the Minister to state amongst other things the number of meetings which this, officer addressed. In his reply to the question which I had on the Order Paper to-day he referred me to his answer to that question. I might, therefore, refer to it now. Here are [1665] the number of occasions on which, since his appointment, this information officer functioned according to the Minister's statement last week.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  On a point of order. The question last week asked how many occasions he was out of the office delivering lectures. I have furnished information as to the number of occasions on which he was out of the office delivering lectures. Now the Deputy is seeking to show that that was the only work he did, but he was in the office on the other days.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  I asked the Minister to state on 1st March how many lectures were given by this officer and he told me five lectures were given by the officer. The number of occasions on which according to the Minister last week this information officer functioned was three—on 30th March, 1950, on 16th-18th May, 1950 and on 28th-29th August, 1950. Only three definite dates were given by the Minister in his reply on that occasion. In amplification of his meagre statement of last week, the Minister disclosed that, on some unspecified dates, his information officer had delivered two other lectures—one to the Institute of Personnel Management and the other to the Railway Clerks' Association.

Interruptions.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  Now boys take your medicine. The Taoiseach told you in 1947 that medicine bottles were good for you.

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  You would want some kind of treatment.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Robert Briscoe  Zoom on Robert Briscoe  If these interruptions do not cease we shall start too.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  The first of these lectures apparently was delivered so long ago that the information officer could not remember the date, when the question was first asked. It was therefore necessary for me to put down a question a second time in order to extract the information from the Minister.

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  Who drafted the question?

[1666]Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  The result of this dental operation, performed I might say, without any anæsthetic, was that the Minister was compelled to reveal that the officer on two other occasions addressed meetings held to expound the political views of the Minister. The second result was to draw from the Minister the information that the information officer had addressed a meeting of members of the Railway Clerks' Association at 48 Fleet Street, Dublin, on 1st February, 1951. Note the manner in which it is intended to bamboozle the public about the activities of this information officer.

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  The public do not give two hoots.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  Note the phraseology which was used to describe this occasion on 1st February, 1951. The information officer, we were told, got an invitation to deliver a lecture to the members of the Railway Clerks' Association. The Railway Clerks' Association, the Minister told us, has over 1,000 members. There is no doubt about it that the phrase “the members of the Railway Clerks' Association”, was deliberately used in order to convey the impression that this information officer, who costs the taxpayer almost £850 per annum, had addressed a monster gathering. Judging by the Minister's language to-day, however, the occasion must have wounded the Minister's vanity and conceit monstrously, for with that delicacy and refined, polished diction to which he has recourse so frequently, he described those who attended this meeting of the Railway Clerks' Association —I must refresh my memory in regard to it—as “in the main political ward-heelers of the Deputy.”

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  Those who attended the second meeting.

Mr. Davin: Information on William Davin  Zoom on William Davin  The caucus meeting.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  However, here we have it on record that the work of the Minister's information officer for whom the taxpayers have to provide £850 per annum, consisted of five lectures, beginning with a lecture, the date of which was resurrected to-day [1667] from the dim recesses of the information officer's memory, and ending with the lecture delivered according to the Minister to an audience of political ward-heelers on 1st February, 1951. No other lectures, no other addresses, no other talks were given for the whole of that period. The activities of the information officer at conferences and discussions appeared to be equally extensive, so extensive that there is no record in the Department of them. Apparently there were no conferences, no discussions—none at any rate that dared be put on the records of the Department nor were there any interviews given, articles written, information published or talks broadcast. So far as information to the public is concerned, the brain of the information officer appears to have been almost sterile from the date of his appointment up to the present. Here we have, let me repeat it, on the Minister's responsibility an officer receiving £850 for doing nothing. Is it any wonder that, with that sort of administration in the State, the volume of Estimates which was before us to-day has now swollen until it provides for a service costing £83,000,000, a large part of which goes in remunerating officers and political henchmen of Ministers who do nothing for their money or render no service to the State or to the taxpayer? When the secretary of the Department asked this information officer to account for his time, what happened? Did the Minister back him up? Not at all. Instead of telling the information officer to give that information to the secretary, the accounting officer, the head of the Department, the Minister had the secretary sacked. That is the sort of thing that is going to bring down this Government.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  Before I deal with some of the main matters——

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  The mean matters, you mean.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  You can have it either way. I want to deny categorically some of the untruthful statements made by Deputy MacEntee. So far as [1668] I know, the officer concerned never sought to be made my private secretary. I have never discussed that matter with him nor have I any record that he coveted such a post. I think it highly improbable that he would look for such an onerous post in this busy Department, particularly in the condition in which it was because of the ineptitude of the Deputy's administration.

That is No. 1. So far as the information section of the Department is concerned, it was set up at the request of the late secretary. He realised in 1948 that, although he had been there for 12 months, he had not yet started thinking about the preparation of the annual report on the work of the Department. The information section, as I say, was set up at the request of the late secretary to the Department. Deputy MacEntee says this officer was brought back to the service on an increased salary. He got no increase on coming back, and he profited in no sense by being brought back to the Department.

Deputy MacEntee wants to know what work the officer did in the section. In my view, the officer worked hard and industriously in the section, and I repeat now, what I said before, that he could be found more often than the late secretary to the Department.

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  He spent all his time in the Spa Hotel.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  With regard to the Railway Clerks' Association meeting, the information officer attended a meeting at 6.15 p.m. in the evening in his own time and delivered a lecture there. I was not present at the lecture, but those who were there told me that it was an excellently attended meeting. Subsequently, a small caucus, inspired by the Fianna Fáil Party, held another meeting at which there were 36 people present out of a branch membership of 983. I said then, and I say now, that the bulk of the audience at that meeting were Fianna Fáil ward-heelers. I will not withdraw one word of that, and I make a present of it to Deputy MacEntee who prefaced his opening [1669] remarks in this matter by saying that this was not intended to be an attack on the information officer. I suppose his speech this evening was intended to be a manifestation of kindness towards the information officer.

The fact of the matter is that it did not matter what I said to-day, in reply to Question No. 10, Deputy MacEntee would insist on raising this matter to-night, because he wanted to use the question and use the House in order to provide himself with the opportunity of vilifying and blackguarding a defenceless civil servant. That is what he has done this evening. I want to say, as a member of this House for a long time, that it is a scandal that the people's Parliament should be used for a sordid purpose of this sort. This House and the community generally know Deputy MacEntee. They know the depths of vituperation to which he is capable of descending.

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  That is too mild.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  His record for dealing out slanders under the shelter of this House invites envy from no decent man or woman in this country. I said to-day that it would be impossible for the information officer to keep records of everybody he sees, of everybody he talks to on the phone, of everybody who calls to see him and asks for information on this or that matter, or of every minute or memorandum which he prepares. I would not allow the information officer to waste his time making a separate record of everybody he sees, of everybody he talks to on the phone and of everybody who rings him up or calls to see him asking for information on this or that matter. Deputy MacEntee knows perfectly well that it would be impossible for any officer efficiently to discharge his duties if he was going to be cribbed down in that fashion and compelled, not only to deal with inquiries and with phone calls, but to write minutes and memoranda for his own information, for the information of the secretary and for the information of the Minister, and then keep a log book of what he wrote, when he wrote it, how long it took him and the days on which he wrote it. If that is Deputy MacEntee's [1670] conception of efficient administration, is it any wonder that we had the blunders which were associated with his administration? I say that it would be sheer lunacy to permit an officer of the rank of higher executive officer to keep a log book of what he did as if he were an unreliable officer. There was much more of a case for asking the late secretary to keep a log book of what he was doing than there was to ask the information officer to keep a record of his work.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  Have you not done enough to the secretary by sacking him? (Interruptions.)

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  Deputy MacEntee knows very well that it would be impossible in any efficiently conducted Department, to require a higher executive officer to keep records of that kind, to keep a log book of what he was doing from day to day. No civil servant has ever been required to do it, and it would be absurd. This is all part and parcel of a dirty campaign. Deputy MacEntee has accepted, and is using, confidential information given to him by the late secretary.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  On a point of order.

Deputies:  Sit down.

Mr. Derrig: Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  He will not sit down.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  In raising this matter on the Adjournment I kept meticulously to the information which was given to me by the Minister in his reply. I wish to protest and ask you to compel the Minister to withdraw the statement that, in this debate, I have used information of a confidential kind. Elsewhere, I will deal with the general question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  The Chair does not know where Deputy MacEntee got his information.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  You heard me read the Minister's reply. It is quite clear, from what I read, that the information which I used in my speech on this Adjournment debate was taken solely from the Minister's reply.

[1671]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  The Chair is not in a position to say where any Deputy gets his information, and is not going to be put into the position of saying so.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  This is all part and parcel of a campaign.

Mr. Derrig: Information on Thomas Derrig  Zoom on Thomas Derrig  How do you justify——(Interruptions.)

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  Even Deputy MacEntee has been led up the garden in this whole matter. Up to some months ago the late secretary to the Department and the information officer were close and intimate friends. They visited each other's homes. The late secretary enjoyed the company and the hospitality of the information officer's home and household and partook generously of the hospitality there afforded to him. The late secretary took the information officer on visits to different parts of the country. Why, I do not know, but he apparently thought his presence was necessary.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  What has this to do with the question on the Adjournment?

Deputies:  Sit down.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  The Deputy is trying to waste the time left to me. He got 20 minutes himself.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  I am putting a point of order.

[1672]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  That was the relationship and Deputy MacEntee apparently is not aware of it. They quarrelled afterwards and civil war was unleashed. The secretary became the secretary again, and the information officer became the subordinate again. The secretary went scalp-hunting with a vengence, the war cry was on, the lid of fury was off, and everyone can guess the rest.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  That is reminiscent of Norton v. Irish Press.

Mr. Norton: Information on William Norton  Zoom on William Norton  The late secretary then needed reinforcements. A dirty job had to be done and who better to do it than Deputy MacEntee with his unerring skill. The ex-secretary picked Deputy MacEntee as chief mud-slinger of the country, and that is the cheap penny boy rôle in which Deputy MacEntee appears in the matter. At one time, Deputy MacEntee threatened to dismiss the late secretary. Now, they have been reconciled. The ex-secretary has lost the companionship of his old friend, the information officer, and he has gained that of Deputy MacEntee.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  That statement is untrue.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m., until 3 p.m., on Tuesday, 13th March, 1951.


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