As the Local Elections Postponement Bill is in the hands of Deputies is it agreed that Standing Orders be suspended to take the second reading of that Bill?


In moving the second reading of this Bill I need hardly say anything in addition to what I have said on the first reading. The Representation of the People Act provides that the register should be compiled in three months, but in point of fact, so far as this country is concerned, it was not possible to compile it in that period.

The first register on that Act took five months; the second, four months; and the third, five months; and last year, although it was hardly revised at all, it was actually five and a half months after the end of the qualifying period before the register was complete. Now, in the present circumstances, the delay is likely to be even greater. In a few counties excellent progress has been made, and the register in some of these counties will, I believe, be ready before the 15th of April, or certainly by the 30th April. In other counties, such as Kerry, it is extremely doubtful whether it can be ready by June; consequently it may be necessary to postpone even the County Council elections. There is another reason that might operate in favour of the postponement of the election of the Rural Councils. There are proposals that in view of the Amalgamation Scheme the Rural Councils might with advantage be abolished. Whether that will be found practicable or will commend itself to the Dáil remains to be seen, but in case legislation were to be introduced, say, in May, providing for the abolition of Rural Councils, and that the legislation had not passed the Dáil or was only in course when the date of the elections arrived, it might be very desirable to have powers to postpone the elections in order to see whether it would be necessary to hold them at all or not. For these reasons it has been decided to ask the Dáil for power to postpone the Co. Council and Rural Council elections, as well as the elections due to be held next month. As I said before there will be an election of Mayors and Chairman immediately after the elections are held in June, or whatever the time may be, but the Mayors or Chairmen elected will only hold office until the following June, unless it should be decided to have summer elections always instead of in January. There is no doubt at all that the holding of elections during short days, with people rushing into badly-lighted Polling Booths facilitates the practice of personation, which is a matter to be considered.

The introduction of this Bill in this manner warrants one in raising the question about the method of the compilation of the register, and, I think, it would be helpful to the Minister and the Department, if he would think it worth his while to direct that the compilation of the register and that the officers in charge of it should follow a uniform course throughout the country. I am led to believe that it is very much in the option of the officer responsible for the compilation of the register in the first instance as to how he does it. In some places it is being done by guess-work, in some cases by handing round forms to be filled in by inhabitants of houses, and in some places by rate-collectors going round and making enquiries. Sometimes it is being done with the assistance of local responsible people and sometimes in opposition to the will of local responsible people. I gather there is a good deal of irregularity, I mean irregularity because it is not regular. It is being done in one manner in one part of the country and in another manner in another part of the country, and I gather from information that has come to me that whatever acceleration might arise from the compilation of the register in a man's office in the first stage will be lost on the second stage, that is to say when you come to the revision, because there will be an enormous number of applications, claims, and perhaps an enormous number of objections; whereas if some regular course were followed probably that delay on the revision would not arise. I am told, for instance, that in some areas the rate collector or the officer responsible for the compilation is, say, a farmer or a labourer, as the case may be, and is not at all anxious to put on the register people who he thinks ought to be off the register when the date of the poll comes, and such a person is trusting to the negligence of the elector when we come to the revision. It is undesirable, and if some uniformity could be decided upon by the Minister or his Department and an instruction of some kind sent out it would probably add to the ease with which the register in its final stages could be completed. I have nothing to say on the Bill itself.

I agree with Deputy Johnson that a greater uniformity of practice would be desirable. We have attempted to get it as far as possible and have directed the rate collectors to make individual visits to all houses in their areas. It is very difficult at the present time to get these things satisfactorily carried out. The suggestion has been made that under new circumstances, perhaps a good deal of the work that is now being done by rate collectors and by specially appointed investigators, might very well be done by postmen—I mean rural postmen— and done much more satisfactorily. That is a matter that would really arise for discussion perhaps later on when we come to deal with the Electoral Bill, because, of course, it is the Electoral Bill that provides for the compilation of the register, and will provide for any changes that will be made in the compilation of the register with the idea of securing a greater degree of uniformity and something more satisfactory than in the present stage. The rate collector was more useful in the past when the suffrage was not so wide as it is at present and when he was personally acquainted with a much larger proportion of the people who were entitled to have their names upon the register than is the case now.

I have just hurriedly read this Bill, and it occurs to me that there is one slight oversight in it which can, of course, be corrected in Committee. In the provisions of other statutes certain members, for example, of County Councils, are required to be elected as representatives from other bodies, and no power is taken in this Bill to deal with the contingency of existing representatives on County Councils going out of office. Take, for example, the governing body of the three constituent Colleges of the National University——

I think the doubt Deputy Magennis has is perhaps without foundation. If he will look at Section 4, Sub-section 5, he will observe that it states:—"Nothing contained in this Act or any order made under this Act shall be deemed to postpone or otherwise affect the holding of an annual meeting or a quarterly meeting (as the case may be) of any Council, Commissioners or other local body the statutory elections to which are postponed by or under this Act or to abridge or otherwise affect the business required by any statute, order or regulation to be transacted by such annual meeting or quarterly meeting (as the case may be)"; so that if part of the business were to elect these representatives the election would still go on.

Is that point settled now?

It is, until we go into Committee on the point and then it can be debated. I accept provisionally the statement of the Minister.

What provision is made to have the list correct where the rate collectors have not done their duty properly? Form A has not been sent out to more than two per cent. of the people in certain districts, and the rate collector goes into a district, sits down in some house, and takes a list of the townlands from there, but he makes no other enquiries. These are things I am speaking of from my own knowledge. The list cannot be complete under these circumstances and I want to know what provision will be made so that the list will be a proper one and give the people an opportunity of being on the register. Things are not done right in the country. While some rate collectors are doing their duty others are not and this is a general thing all over the country. I have reports from different parts of the country—from Cork and everywhere.

Of course this does not really arise on the Bill we are discussing now. We are now dealing with the postponement of local elections.

I am putting before you a very pertinent point that you had better have attended to if you want to have your business done properly.

As a matter of fact it does not arise here, but penalties are provided and we can also take the step of refusing or withholding remuneration from people who do not do their duty properly; that is, the rate collectors. Then, if any names are not put on the first list through negligence, the ratepayers can go on by making a claim—I mean, they are not precluded from becoming entitled to vote. It may be that they will get additional trouble in the work of the actual revision of the register, as it will be enlarged, but no negligence on the part of a rate collector will of itself debar a person rightly entitled to vote from being put on the register. It will give them additional trouble, but, as a matter of fact, in certain respects the rate collectors and other people are failing to do their duty. As we know, the rate collectors will not even collect the rates.

I have read the Bill very hastily and perhaps the point that I wish to ask about may have been included, but at least I have failed to find it. The Bill is of such a nature as to provide for the postponement of elections until a date that shall be determined hereafter. That date to be determined hereafter is not determined yet. When it is determined, by whom will it be determined and by what method will it be determined hereafter? Will it be determined by a decree of the Minister for Local Government, without reference to this Dáil, or will it require a Resolution of this Dáil?

It will be determined by an Order independent of this Dáil.

Section 1. Sub-section 1—"Shall be postponed until such date not being later than the first day of January, 1924, as the Minister shall by order prescribe."

I had read that. I had wondered whether the Minister's order required first to be laid before this Dáil and the consent of the Dáil got before that decision was put into practical effect. That, I think, would be a very desirable procedure.

A motion can be made in Committee if necessary on that point to add such a clause. There is no clause in the Bill specifying that the Order shall be laid on the table of the Dáil.

Question put: "That Postponement of Local Elections Bill be read a second time."

I move for leave to suspend the Standing Orders to take up the Bill in Committee.

It does not give one much opportunity to frame matters such as I have referred to, if one considers they were necessary.

There will be another stage—the Report Stage. If we only had the Committee Stage to-day and the Report Stage to-morrow, it would give an opportunity for such amendments. I would like the Bill to get through so that it might possibly pass the Seanad this week, or at any rate that we would be finished with it and it would be passed immediately the Seanad reassembles after Christmas. The elections will really be postponed.

I do not wish to press the matter. I will give every assistance in hastening these things forward as rapidly as possible, but I do think you will agree with me that it is to be deprecated bringing forward any more amendments on the Report Stage than is absolutely required. To defer them to the Report Stage is not the best form of procedure.

The real principle, if there is any principle, involved in what Deputy Darrell Figgis raised is whether this thing required by this emergency legislation is to be done by a ukase of the Minister or whether it is to take the more precise form of an order of this Dáil, when the Dáil has all the information—that it should be an order with the approval of the Dáil. The Deputy has simply to introduce here Section 17 of the Adaptation Bill. It will not require any expenditure of brain power on his part to do that.

I was referring to a matter that occurred not five minutes ago, but a minute ago.

Deputy Figgis was referring to a matter of order. He is particularly strong on matters of order. If it is generally agreed we can go on with the Committee stage now.