DEBATE ON REPORTS. - DEPARTMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT.
The MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT in opening the Debate on his Report said at last Meeting of Dáil he got permission to appoint fourteen inspectors. They had now thirteen ordinary inspectors and one Medical Inspector.
His Department was faced at the present moment with the problem of dealing with garnishee orders. Once the rates have been struck, any person holding a Criminal or Malicious Injury Decree can obtain a garnishee order against the rates. Some orders had already been obtained.
The collection of rates was proceeding fairly satisfactorily, though there were large amounts outstanding in some counties.
His Department was engaged in compiling a history of the Local Government position since they came into existence. This would show how the enemy strove to prevent them rom carrying on their work. He would like to have the assistance of the Member for West Clare in the compilation of this work.
He also mentioned the necessity of a code for Local Authorities so as to prevent jobbery.
One of the other difficulties which they were faced with was the issue of Mandamus Orders. If these were pushed to the extreme length, the chairmen of all local bodies would be either on the run or in jail. This would seriously upset Local Authorities.
The only other matter he wished to raise was the payment of arrears in wages and salaries, etc., due by Local Authorities. He had a motion on the agenda to enable the vote of £100,000 made at the previous session to be applied for this purpose.
It was decided that this motion could be discussed simultaneously with the debate on the Reports, but that it should be moved separately at a later stage.
The ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT said the real crux in connection with rates was the existing staff of Rate Collectors who were bound under their bond to lodge all monies collected with the Bank. Any person holding a Criminal or Malicious Injury Decree, lodges it with the Bank, and, consequently, any monies lodged after the lodgment of the Decree, would be utilised for its payment. Nearly all the Rate Collectors were timid, and a great many were hostile and refused to fall in with the arrangements of the Local Authorities. They had been able to get along for the past few months by strategy, but the British Local Government Board were stopping up the holes as they saw them. The Collectors would have to be dispensed with, and the Councils would then be unable to give valid receipts. He was in favour of putting the collection of rates on a military basis. It had been suggested instead that the collection be put on a police basis. That would involve the creation of a police force in every county. The Rate collecting body would be that police force, and would issue receipts under the seal of the County Councils. These receipts would not probably stand in English Law, but he did not think the Enemy Authority would care to proceed against people who held County Council receipts. The Department did not think this police scheme was strong enough to force it on the County Councils, and what they were doing now was offering it to the County Councils for acceptance or rejection.
The general position was better than it was a month ago. So far from losing ground last month, they had gained it. Kilkenny Council had never broken with the Local Government Board, and they had now decided to break. The Enemy Department thought they could smash up local administration all over the country with the Mandamus Orders they held against the Chairmen. If they did so they would have the responsibility for carrying on, and this would be a difficult undertaking for them. He did not think the Mandamus Orders would be enforced.
The Garnishee danger was very serious. If, on the 1st April, people in Dublin went in on a large scale for these Orders, the Dublin Corporation would be in a difficulty. He thought the only method of meeting this danger was direct action against the parties securing the Garnishee Orders or the parties who paid. There was some difference between himself and the Minister, he said, as to the justice of attacking the man who made payment on a Garnishee Order which, according to English Law, he was bound to make. His point was that it was a question of a trial of strength between two Governments. He was sending to every Deputy not in jail letters which they could sign and send out to local people in their constituencies urging the necessity for the absolute isolation of the Custom House. A circular was going out this week over the name of the Minister for Home Affairs pointing out to Local Authorities and Councils that had given allegiance in the Dáil that it would be deemed a treasonable practice to have any communication with the Enemy Department, and would be dealt with accordingly.
The DIRECTOR OF FISHERIES said he would not agree that Rate Collectors who were deprived of their posts should be compensated. In Wicklow any man who refused to work was dismissed and replaced by a man who would. He thought Volunteers would assist in the collection of the rates.
The MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS said he objected to jobs like the appointment of the husband of a Guardian, or a Guardian or any other member of a local body to a position of remuneration under the particular body. He thought the Minister for Local Government should take very great care about the matter.
The ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE thought that a simple code should be drawn up to cover such cases.
The SUBSTITUTE MINISTER FOR LABOUR thought it would be a bad policy to set up a guarantee fund out of which Rate Collectors would be compensated. Rate Collectors must be made to understand that they could not have one foot in their camp and the other in the enemy camp.
J. MACENTEE (Monaghan, South) considered that the time had come when they should re-consider their whole Local Government Policy. The Department was assailed on all sides by Garnishee Orders, Rate Collectors, Mandamus Orders, etc. If they did not make a radical alteration in their policy, the whole local administration of the Republic would be reduced to chaos. He thought the County Councils would not be able to collect rates after the 31st March, and that they would then have to accept the inevitable and refuse to carry on. Before that happened they should issue a protest against the actions of the enemy in withholding their own money and mulcting them in huge Malicious Injury Claims. They should definitely refuse to strike a rate, as if no rate were struck the Garnishee Orders could not be presented. This would save the Dáil a considerable amount of money. He thought they should accept the position of a country at war. The territory of the Republic was invaded, and they should devote whatever funds they had to make the Army of the Republic as effective as possible.
JOHN HAYES (Cork, West) drew attention to the case of Cork County Council, where there were Garnishee Orders amounting to £60,000 lodged against them.
The Council expected to have a Credit Balance in a few days, and their difficulty was how to prevent that money being paid out. The Bank would pay it unless they found some way to safeguard the money. He suggested that steps should be taken against persons who displayed eagerness to secure these Garnishee Orders.
The PRESIDENT said as regards Funds that the Minister of Defence had all the money he required. He thought it would be a tremendous loss to give up the local administration. They should hold on to the end. The question was, could they do it. They should make every endeavour to do so, but the fighting forces of the Volunteers should not be interfered with. If a police force could be set up as an auxiliary to the Army, everything the Ministry could do would be done. The two big problems were the Military problem and the Local Government one.
The MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT explained how monies should be safeguarded. With regard to the suggestion of the Deputy for South Monaghan, they should remember that in this struggle they were fighting to preserve the ratepayers from being mulcted in £10,000,000 for Malicious Injury Claims. If they ceased the functions of Local Administration they would open the way for some enemy authority to come along and place this burden on the people. In Belfast the rates were up 5s. In the pound, and Belfast Council had estimated for £150,000 for Criminal Injuries this year. Considering that no Council in the Republican area of Ireland had estimated for any such sum, it proved they were in earnest when they said they did not assume any liability for these Decrees for Criminal Injuries. He thought, if there was going to be a break-down, it should not be a collapse but that each place should hold out to the last, showing that it was their earnest desire to preserve the people from this 10 millions of a burden and to vindicate the claims they made that they were able to govern their own country.
D. BUCKLEY (Kildare, North) stated he was sorry to say that many Ratepayers in his constituency were taking advantage of the present state of affairs to refuse to pay rates. A propaganda campaign should be initiated to educate the ratepayers in their responsibilities.
The MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT said he forgot to mention that this matter of a propaganda campaign was being attended to.
The ACTING SPEAKER asked how far the Local Government Department considered it desirable to curtail work in connection with Volunteer activity. He had in view the expenditure on road upkeep.
The MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT replied that the money collected for this purpose could be used on some work for keeping the staff employed. He did not agree with a system of doles for unemployment. He suggested that the monies could be utilised for some Economic Scheme to deal with unemployment such as the Substitute Director of Agriculture was bringing forward to-day. He wished also to direct attention to his Department's proposal for the amalgamation of Unions. They intended to have only one Union in every county. Local provisions for dispensaries and hospitals would, of course, be retained. They wanted to get rid of the "Workhouse Citizen," a class which had developed as a result of the Poor Law system. This class was uneconomic and was a burden on Society.
Objections to the proposed amal-gamations came from vested interests, principally officers, contractors, etc. Deputies could assist very much in dealing with this opposition.
He instanced the reforms which had been undertaken in Cork and elsewhere under the Republican regime.
The Report was then put and adopted.