Wednesday, 23 November 1988
Seanad Éireann Debate
 This amendment is a very simple one. It was covered to some extent in the Second Stage debate and the Minister addressed the issue also at that time. As I say, it is a very simple amendment. It is to lay down the principle that as far as the disbursement of public funds is concerned there should be specific parliamentary accountability. I know the Minister has said that we are talking about projects which will have some sort of an all-Ireland dimension, will be aimed at promoting better relations between North and South and that they will have been examined by the Taoiseach, approved by him and then approved by the Minister for Finance. What we have is a very simple amendment which would ask that such a decision would need to be approved by the Dáil. Clearly, the Government of the day and the Taoiseach of the day would have the confidence of the Dáil and there would not be any great difficulty about having this approval given; but we feel that the old principle of parliamentary accountability is one that needs to be strengthened in every way possible. I spoke last week about the current fashion to rush out, to set up judges to supervise this, that or the other, and the constant playing down and playing out of the role of Parliament in that matter. It is to establish this particular principle that we have put forward this amendment. A similar amendment was discussed but not voted upon in the Dáil. I would ask the Minister to accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is intended. It is not a criticism of the Bill but it is aimed at strengthening it.
Minister for Energy and Minister for Communications (Mr. R. Burke): The amendment was put down in the Dáil in order, as has just been explained by Senator Manning, that there could be accountability to the Dáil for the expenditure of the balance of the funds involved. I pointed out that I could not accept the amendment then and I cannot accept it now because I think it is unnecessary. There is already total  accountability to the Dáil for the expenditure involved. As outlined in section 2 of the Bill the purposes for which the funds are to be used, are specified. There is a specific subhead in the Vote for the Taoiseach's Department and the accounting officer of that Department will be answerable for the correctness of expenditure to the Committee of Public Accounts. The subhead can also be debated at Estimates time and voted upon in the Dáil on the Taoiseach's Estimate. The Comptroller and Auditor General will be responsible to the Dáil for the accuracy and regularity of the accounts and the matter can be raised on the Appropriations Bill and the Adjournment debates at Christmastime this year in the event of any expenditure between now and then.
Since no decision has yet been made as to who might benefit other than RNLI, we are not in a position at this stage to give further details. During the debate in the Dáil I did, however, mention some of those who have already applied to give an idea of the type of projects which might benefit. An interdepartmental committee consisting of representatives of the Department of the Taoiseach, Finance and Foreign Affairs will examine the applications within the confines of section 2 of the Bill before any decision is taken. These applications will result perhaps in small amounts being made available for various projects and undertakings. You could have amounts for £50 or £100. It would not be practical to seek the approval of the Dáil on each and every occasion it is proposed to approve such a small application or any other application. You have full accountability in the way that I have just outlined for the Seanad. I regret that I cannot accept the amendment.
Mr. Manning: A number of points arise from the Minister's reply. He mentioned that already there have been a number of applications for moneys under this heading. In the debate in the Dáil I think the Minister mentioned some of the types of applications that have been made. But will the availability of these  moneys be made public, will invitations for subventions be invited through public advertisements, or is it simply a question of people knowing that there is a few shillings in the Taoiseach's Department and if an organisation feels the need for some money it then makes an application in the hope of being subvented in that way? Is this the procedure which will be followed?
I do not accept that this will be a question of the Taoiseach having to come down to the Dáil every time £50 or £75 or £100 is disbursed. What we are saying here is that at the end of each financial year an account would be rendered of moneys disbursed under this and the account would then be voted on in toto in the Dáil. It is important that the Dáil does have a full view of what is being voted upon and has the opportunity on a specific occasion to comment on the use of these funds. For that reason, apart from asking the Minister for clarification on the way in which the availability of this money will be brought to attention, I have to say that for this party the amendment is seen as a principle and will be pressed.
Mr. R. Burke: May I just put this into perspective? We are talking about approximately £2.5 million altogether, roughly half of which has already been earmarked for the RNLI. Senator Manning asked if we will be going through the process of advertising etc. Already, as a result of the debates that have taken place both in the Dáil and now in the Seanad, there have been further expressions of interest in securing some of the available funds. Assuming that the interests that have already come in are sufficient to take up the balance of this modest sum of money, there will be no need to advertise but if there are not sufficient applications or if the applications that are in are not considered by the interdepartmental committee to be worthy of support then an advertising process will be followed.
As far as concern for a vote in the Dáil is concerned, I have already explained  through the Chair to Senator Manning that there can be a vote in the Dáil. The Dáil has not only a right but an obligation and a duty to examine the Estimates of the various Ministers and that includes the Taoiseach. This sum of money from the trust fund will be a specific subhead in the Taoiseach's Estimate on which there will be a vote, as there is on the overall Estimate of the Taoiseach, and if any Member wants information in relation to the allocation of the sums of money all he has to do is table a parliamentary question and it has to be answered on the basis that it is a subhead of the Taoiseach's Estimate. When it comes to a vote on the Estimate for the Taoiseach's Department, if any Member of the House is dissatisfied or if any party is dissatisfied with the way the money has been allocated it is their right and their duty to oppose the Estimate. There is full accountability not only to the Dáil but all through the other procedures I have mentioned. At the Committee of Public Accounts, the Accounting Officer of the Department has a responsibility and the Comptroller and Auditor General has a responsibility so there is transparency and accountability right through the whole procedure of allocations.
Mr. Manning: The longer the Minister goes on the less happy I have become with this because, as I now understand it, this money is there. Different groups who have heard about it through the grapevine or through close perusal of parliamentary debates are now making applications for some share of this money. This is not a transparent process. That is not the sort of process we would like to see where all comers have a fair chance of having their case judged on its merits so that, in itself, arouses a certain unease. The Minister has not answered the basic question because we all know that when the Estimates are being debated there are a very large number of subheads and very large sums of money involved and quite clearly a small sum like this will either be focused upon by some group and will distort and get out of proportion all that remains in the rest of the Estimate — which people are quite  entitled to do — or it may well be ignored altogether. The principle of transparency and accountability would be enhanced by the acceptance of this amendment.
Mr. Fallon: I, too, would be very conscious of public accountability. All of us would be but I am quite happy, having listened to the Minister's comments in regard to this aspect, that normal channels of accountability are gone through. As the Minister said, in the Estimate for the Taoiseach's Department it will appear as a subhead which is a normal Estimate arrangement. There is a good deal of accountability in the Bill. The Minister made the point about other organisations looking for funding. That is a normal process where you have a fund. I mentioned on Second Stage that an area that might be looked at would be the question of finance for single Army people who are retiring and who might not have family ties in the town in which they retire. I suggested there might be some small fund to help them build homes or provide accommodation in some way. I am sure there are other areas which will be mentioned in the years ahead.
Professor Murphy: You will forgive me if what I have to say is perhaps wide of the mark because I have not been listening as fully as I should have to the exchange between the Minister and Senator Manning. I am in favour of Senator Manning's basic point about accountability. On the other hand, as the Minister may recall, in my Second Stage contribution last week I commented in passing on the smallness of the sums involved which leads me to suggest that the principle of accountability in the Seanad could be well met by accounting for this expenditure in the Appropriation Bill which comes before us in any case and which gives us an opportunity to debate all kinds of matters. I am beginning to wonder if that would not meet the case.
Mr. R. Burke: In my response to Senator Manning's submission, I made the point that the matter can be raised on the Appropriation Bill and the Adjournment debate at Christmas or at any other time. I just want to clarify that the Senator is correct in his assumption.
|Bohan, Edward Joseph.
Eogan, George. Kiely, Rory.
Kiely, Dan. Mulroy, Jimmy.
Murphy, John A.
Ó Conchubhair, Nioclás.
O'Toole, Martin J.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 2 agreed to.
Sections 3 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.
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