State spending of €6.5m on night vision for Coast Guard criticised

Auditor queries use of funds on helicopter technology and gaps in management of Hap scheme

 Just one helicopter rescue base has been approved for using night vision technology despite the government spending €4.305m on modifications to the four existing Coast Guard helicopters and a new helicopter. Photograph: Alan Betson

Just one helicopter rescue base has been approved for using night vision technology despite the government spending €4.305m on modifications to the four existing Coast Guard helicopters and a new helicopter. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The State’s spending watchdog has criticised spending of €6.5 million on night vision technology for Coast Guard helicopters dating back eight years that can only be used in one helicopter base.

The Comptroller & Auditor General examined Department of Transport spending on night vision technology and training and found that it would be “some time” before all four search and rescue helicopter bases could use night vision despite €4.305 million being paid as long ago as 2013.

The department spent the €4.305 million on modifications to the four existing Coast Guard helicopters and a new helicopter, or €861,000 per helicopter.

A further €527,000 was paid in 2015 for 24 sets of night vision goggles at €22,000 a set.

An initial €1.7 million was made in 2018 for training that commenced in 2019 and which the department expects to be completed by 2022.

The comptroller said that as of June 2021, only one of the four search and rescue Coast Guard bases had been approved by the Irish Aviation Authority for operation a night vision-enabled service.

“The service from that base has commenced but it will be some time before all the bases are operating in the same way,” he wrote in his 2020 report.

He acknowledged the benefits of night vision for the Coast Guard search and rescue service but said that “significant payments” were made from public funds as long ago as 2013 and “the planned planned capability has not yet been delivered across the service”.

“I am not persuaded that good value for money for the taxpayer has been achieved from this expenditure,” he states.

In other areas of expenditure, the C&AG identified gaps in the Department of Housing’s management of the housing assistance payment (Hap) scheme, a central plank of the Government’s social housing initiative.

The State auditor found that the department had no information on the proportion of proposed tenancies actually inspected by local authorities or the results of their inspections.

The department spent almost €465 million on Hap supporting almost 60,000 tenants in 2020 – an average annual cost of €7,800 per tenancy supported.

The C&AG found that information published by the department about the scheme was limited in assessing whether it is effective or not.

Only two key high-level metrics are published by the department.

There was also no up-to-date data available on the extent of additional “top-up” payments made by tenants to cover the difference between the rent payable to the landlord and maximum rent paid by the State. The comptroller found that the department did not routinely track these payments.

A review by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform found that about 28 per cent of Hap tenants made top-up payments to landlords in the first half of 2019.

The report says that the average monthly Hap payment to landlords increased 10 per cent to €880 per month in 2020 from €801 per month in 2018.

The C&AG also criticised the company behind Galway’s tenure as the 2020 European Capital of Culture for providing a initial limited level of disclosure in its 2018 financial statements that was “significantly less than was appropriate for a company that relied significantly on exchequer funding”.

Private funding for Galway 2020 did not materialise, resulting in the exchequer becoming a majority funder, up to 87 per cent of the cost when local authority funding is included, contrary to a Government decision that exchequer funding would not exceed 50 per cent.