AN LEAS-CHEANN COMHAIRLE TUARASGABHAIL O AIRE RIALTAIS AITIULA. - LOCAL GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT.
The improvement in the affairs of this Department recorded in our Report to An Dáil in May has been maintained since that Session. The "Warning" to holders of Decrees for "Criminal" and "Malicious" Injuries, and to Solicitors acting for them, that public rates cannot be held liable for war damages, and that the Government will resist and punish any attempt to secure payment in this way, has had excellent results, and in making it possible for public bodies to resume normal relations with their Bank Treasurers has solved the difficulties that many Councils were experiencing with their rate-collectors. The destruction of the Custom House has finally eliminated the British Local Government Board as a serious factor in the situation. The enemy Government, realising the impossibility of ever regaining control of the Local Government machine, is now more direct in its attempts to smash it. Orders have been sent out for the arrest of all rate-collectors whose appointment has not been notified to the English Local Govern-Board and sanctioned by that body. The ratepayers are warned that such persons are not in a position to give a "valid" receipt, and that if they pay to them they leave themselves open to be called upon to pay again to a "a duly authorised" collector. These efforts at obstruction are not attended with much success. At the moment, the position is worst in Leitrim, Monaghan, and Meath. In Leitrim, the Northern Bank was Treasurer to the Co. Council; it has been dismissed in accordance with the boycott; the other Banks have refused to accept the Treasurership, and the rate-collectors refuse to lodge to "unauthorised persons." There is a large amount of last year's rate outstanding, but it is believed that most of this is in the hands of the collectors. Steps are being taken to meet this crux. In Monaghan there is about £10,000 outstanding of last year's rate due to the arrest of the rate-collector of one area and a refusal by the rate-payers (Unionist) to pay to a collector unsanctioned by the British Department. In Meath there is little explanation of the bad state of affairs beyond the deplorable indolence of the members of the Co. Council. For a long time they pleaded hostility and obstruction by the Secretary, but since his dismissal the Council has not shown much inclination to rise to its responsibilities. A new Secretary has been appointed, and one of the best of the Department's Inspectors has been put on this County—their united efforts may effect an improvement. One of the worst results of the almost complete disappearance of the Sinn Féin Organisation is that there is no local authority or organisation to control the action or censure the inaction of those who were put forward as public representatives on Board and Councils. The Department naturally does all in its power to stimulate these people, but, as can be understood, the pressure of local public opinion would be the most effective spur, and the absence of a political and local as distinct from a Governmental and central authority is a weakness in many counties. The Department thought it wise to increase the number of Inspectors from 14 to 20. In large counties like Cork, Limerick, Clare, Galway, and Mayo, there is quite sufficient work to keep an energetic man busy, and in certain other counties where difficulties are most acute it is found that mere occasional visits from our Inspectors are not productive of the best results.
The question of audit of the accounts of public bodies is an urgent one and must be undertaken at the earliest moment that conditions permit. It is a fairly good sign that the public bodies themselves and their officials are eager that the Department should undertake this work, and in some places in response to urgent requests, accounts have been satisfactorily audited. An extension of this work is a natural and necessary development of the Department's activities and has been considered in the preparation of the estimates for the next half-year.