~ Collins 22 Society Inaugural Conference~
MICHAEL COLLINS AS MINISTER OF FINANCE IN THE FIRST AND SECOND DAILS
(1919-1921) AND IN THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT OF 1922
Keynote address by Deputy Phil Hogan T.D, to the
Collins 22 Society conference, Kilkenny, Sat Oct 16th. 2004
In June of 1919 the Dail, meeting in the Mansion House to honour a visiting American delegation, was surrounded by armed soldiers looking specifically for Michael Collins.
Collins, pushing his luck, concluded his business before escaping via a ladder.After a three hour wait in a dusty building nearby he emerged in a filthy condition but turned up a short time later resplendent in full Volunteer uniform to bid farewell to the American visitors.The most wanted man in Ireland defies the authorities and appears in uniform in public!
This is a much-recounted story and typical of the many others that rightfully constitutes the Collins legend.
What is less known, however, is that before Collins slipped through the ceiling in the Mansion House he had just delivered to his Dail colleagues a well researched, lengthy and powerful speech detailing his opinions on British over-taxation in Ireland and the general financial malpractice of that Government. It is this lesser known side of Michael Collinss career that I would like to discuss: his role as Minister for Finance with the First and Second Dails, 1919-1921, and later with the Provisional Government in 1922, until his untimely death.
To look at Collins as the heroic commander is one vision; but when we place side by side with this image the truth that Michael Collins, while running a war and under unbelievable difficult circumstances, ran an efficient and innovative department of state, we see a fuller picture of the man What fuelled this determination on his part, I believe, was his innate belief in democracy! While war was his METHOD a functioning independent democracy was his AIM. It is of immense important in our reading of Michael Collins story that we note that he was insistent that while one government was being dismantled that the functioning foundations of its replacement were being established. To that end he refused to see his role as Minister for Finance as a nominal one. This cannot be said for most of the other departments as Collins famously pointed out in his well known attack on Austin Stack(acting Minister for Home Affairs) when he was heard to say Stack, your department is nothing but a bloody joke!.
Probably the strongest example of Collins outstanding achievement as Minister for Finance in the period of 1919-1922 was his raising of much needed revenue through the National Loan. It is obvious observed DeValera, that the work of our government cannot be carried out without funds. To that end Collins prepared a prospectus for the issue of a loan of one million sterling - £500,000 to be offered to the public for immediate subscription; £250,000 at home and £250,000 abroad, in bonds in such amounts as to meet the needs of the small subscriber. Registered Certificates were issued in denominations of £1, £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100. The loan was to finance a consular service; a national civil service and national arbitration courts; to aid industrial development and fisheries and reafforestation; to re-open technical schools in Limerick which had been closed by the British; and very importantly to establish a Land Bank.
Collins set up a Finance Committee of sixteen deputies to establish the machinery needed to issue the loan and to collect the subscriptions. And this was no easy task since the authorities moved swiftly to suppress the collection of any money for the new Dail which was proclaimed illegal on the 12th Sept. Police and military raided the Sinn Fein office at 6, Harcourt St, from where Collins ran his Finance Department. Collins only escaped, yet again, by climbing through a skylight in the roof and across the adjoining roofs. This raid prompted Collins to obtain the Ministers permission to buy a house from where he could safely administer the National Loan. For Collins no money collected meant no real economic independence from Britain and no economic base upon which to build a new state. He arranged with Batt OConnor, a friend and builder, to buy another Harcourt house, this time No. 76 where OConnor built a secret closet to house the books and papers of the Finance Dept. Thankfully another escape route for Collins himself was incorporated as another raid followed in mid Oct. (OConnor also buried most of Collins gold reserves, totalling £35,000 in a childs coffin under his own house). After the second raid Collins moved to Henry Street, then to Mary St, then to Andrew St and on and on. Despite all this disruption, and the fact that he held three military positions (adjutant Gen., Director of Organisations and Director of Intelligence) Collins managed not only to administer the loan but to do it very successfully.
The response, after a slow start was wonderful. When the Dail met on 29th June, 1920, Arthur Griffith, speaking as acting president said The Minister of Finance has accomplished one of the most extraordinary feats in the countrys history. The Loan he told them was now oversubscribed to the extent of £40,000 in spite of the most vicious and determined opposition of England. Collins submitted a final figure some time later for the loan of £370,165, together with a perfectly accurate list of receipts and breakdowns constituency by constituency. The loans success made the rapid expansion of the Dails activities possible; - the appointment of diplomatic representatives to 7 European countries, to Russia and to 4 American cities; the appointment of an ambassador to Washington; a Land Bank as well Courts of Justice and Equity and Criminal Jurisdiction were established; appropriations for departments totalling £100,000 were approved, £150,000 was voted for the establishment of an Import and Export Co., and many other minor projects were supported. Thus Collins while waging a war saw meticulously to the running of the Dails first huge financial enterprise.
Collins concerns for administrative propriety became a matter of note during his years as Minister for Finance. In contrast to reports submitted orally, if at all, by other departments, Collins presented detailed and accurate reports. Furthermore, he proposed a motion that the Accountant General be appointed to all Departments. An Audit and Accounts Dept. to the Finance Ministry and a general auditor for all departments. In fact the auditors report on the accounts for 1921 serves as a monument to the meticulousness with which Collins kept the Dail accounts notwithstanding the fact that the Anglo-Irish was at its height during the first half of that year. One of his concerns was to establish the primacy of the Dept. of Finance over the other departments. It was established without question but was often resented by others especially as Collins fielded Dail Questions on all their financial matters, even those relating to salaries and costs of specific departments. At the same time he worked with Griffith to establish an Income Tax Dept. There were, however, major problems with the administration of this. In Oct. the ministry decided that Income be levied at the rate of 60% of the British assessment up to £500, and at 75% above £500. However, by March 1921 he conceded that tax was impossible to collect in the present circumstances and it was decided instead to instruct taxpayers not to pay the British but to hold for the Republican Government.
The Treaty Negotiations also brought a huge challenge for Collins and the economically inexperienced Irish delegation Anglo-Irish financial relations were extremely complex and they faced a formidable team of British politicians and Treasury officials. Collins during this time worked closely with Joseph Brennan, then prominent in the Castles financial administration. Brennan secretly typed 8 full memoranda and 2 statements which saved the delegation from accepting unnecessary liabilities from the British in the Treaty which followed. Brennan went on to become future Dept. Secretary at Finance and Governor of the Central Bank, continuing to work closely with Collins.
The formation of the Provisional government on 16th Jan, 1922, began a new phase in Collins life as Min. for Finance. He became les involved in the day to day running of the Dept. and concerned himself more with matters of policy His official duties were with the Treasury, the Northern Ireland Parliament and the British Government. It was an extraordinarily difficult time for Collins as Minister for Finance since he had to balance the demands of the under funded new nation and those of the departing British govt. within the terms of the treaty. Nevertheless, despite this, and his personal sorrow at he civil ware split, he negotiated the territory with skill.
On the 12th July 1922 Collins left the cabinet to become Commander-in-Chief of the Free State Army, fighting up uphold the government he had fought to establish. It is indicative of his belief in his previous work as minister for Finance that on the day before his death in Cork, he was still receiving correspondence from his successor in Finance, W.T. Cosgrave, on issues relating to the running of that Dept.
So, Collins established the primacy of Finance and insists upon transparency and accountability through strict and visible procedural.
His record is worth noting:
1. Aug 1919 He appointed an auditor of the Loan Accounts (Donal OConnor) and from then on fully audited half yearly statements appeared with the finance reports.
2. June 1920 He appointed an Accountant General to the Finance ministry he would be in charge of all accounts (except Defence). Collins proposed George McGrath and he was appointed (later the Comptroller and Auditor General of the Free State). Here is Collins thinking on this appointment which clearly shows his desire that all spending be visible and above board/correct procedure and accountability a must for him;
(taken from Dail Debates 2/7/1921)
All payments on behalf of a particular Department being made by that department in a form and manner prescribed by the Accountant General. The accounts of the department to be audited monthly by him, the books and vouchers kept as laid down by him on a general scheme. The value of this would be uniformity and constant check. The report would show exactly the financial positions of all departments, the outgoings and receipts, the amount being spent, and the returns if any, by a general co-ordination all books and accounts expenses would be saved, and by paying a first class man, all expenditure will be regularised and placed upon a business basis which I regret to say is not the case at present with some departments.
3. Collins wanted to adopt measures similar to those later known as Vote On Account. At the end of each month an estimate was to be sent from each department to finance stating the amount required to carry out its work for the following month. Furthermore, departmental receipts would not be spent by each department but put in an account of the Trustees. He was trying to gather a Consolidated Fund for the Government.
4. After the Truce He actively discouraged Dail deputies involvement in unproven financial schemes. He managed to get Dail approval for the appointment of a Registar/Supervisor of Societies, We are starting what is a new order in Ireland and one of the duties of the National Government is to secure that thrifty people shall not be deprived of their savings by any kind of scheme, or any kind of society, or any group of individuals. In other works deputies should not involve their names with investment schemes. He commented I never did allow my name to go forward for any such schemes and never intend to.
5. Not sure if this is relevant but once the Provisional Government was established Collins ensured that more functions were assigned to finance than to any other department. A much enhanced portfolio bringing power to Finance (some additions included Stationary Office/Civil Service commission, Register of Joint Stock Companies) etc.
Everything had to be done right. Collins was a pure professional. All of the supervisory bodies that were established in 1920s by him are still there today. The public service aspects of the life of Michael Collins are not as well known as his involvement in the various efforts to establish Irelands independence. However, his decisiveness and vision to ensure political accountability as well as prudent management and scrutiny of the nations finances would lead me to the conclusion that if Michael Collins were alive today he would vote Fine Gael.
Fine Gael is a constitutional republican party who believe in representating the public interest not personal interest - in representing all of the people and not just the chosen few. No political party, such as Sinn Fein, will be allowed by Fine Gael to engage in political revisionism or revolutionary methods to seek to dwarf the real constitution and institutional achievements of Michael Collins. The fact that these institutions , set up by Collins, are as strong today in the face of Sinn Fein efforts to damage and overthrow them, is another reason Michael Collins would vote Fine Gael.