I think that we have already finished ten sections in Committee. We will now take up Section 11.
[DAIL IN COMMITTEE.] - THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT (TEMPORARY PROVISIONS) BILL, 1923.—COMMITTEE (RESUMED)
I move Section 11:—
(1) The Minister may at any time if he thinks fit, order a Local Inquiry into the performance of its duties by any Local Authority, and Article 32 of the Schedule to the Local Government (Application of Enactments) Order, 1898, shall apply to every such Local Inquiry
(2) If and whenever
(a) the Minister is satisfied, after the holding of such a Local Inquiry as is mentioned in the foregoing sub-sec tion, that the duties of a Local Authority are not being duly and effectually discharged by such Local Authority, or
(b) a Local Authority wilfully neglects to comply with any lawful order, direction or regulation of the Minister, or
(c) a Local Authority fails to comply with any judgment, order or decree of any Court in Saorstát Eireann.
the Minister may, by Order dissolve such Local Authority, and either order (under the power hereinafter conferred on him) a new election of members of such Local Authority or transfer the property and the several powers and duties of such Local Authority to any body or persons or person he shall think fit.
(3) Whenever the Minister makes an Order under the foregoing sub-section dissolving a Local Authority he may appoint such and so many persons as he shall think fit to perform the duties of such Local Authority and may from time to time remove all or any such persons and appoint others in their place and may fix the tenure of office, duties and remuneration of all such persons.
(4) The remuneration of all persons appointed under the foregoing sub-section shall be paid out of the revenue of such Local Authority as part of its expenses.
(5) At any time after a Local Authority has been dissolved under this section the Minister may by Order cause a new election of members of such Local Authority to be held, and upon the completion of such new election all the property, powers and duties of the dissolved Local Authority shall vest in the body so elected notwithstanding that the same may have been transferred by the Minister under this section to any other body, persons or person.
(6) The Minister may from time to time by Order do all such things and make all such regulations as in his opinion shall be necessary for giving full effect to any Order made by him under this section.
At the present time there are powers in the case of Boards of Guardians for the Minister to dissolve these Boards, or any Board, and put in paid Vice-Guardians to carry on the work. It is proposed in this section to extend those powers to any local authority. The circumstances of the time make it necessary that there should be that extension of power. In certain cases local authorities have not carried on their duties at all. In the case of county Kerry the Council has not met since June. There is no likelihood of its meeting. The administration of the county has been carried on by officials. Money has had to be actually paid out by officials. The rate collection is practically at a standstill; £74,000 are outstanding in respect of the years ending March, 1921, and March, 1922. Practically the entire rate for the year ending March, 1923, is still outstanding. Local administration in that particular case cannot be pulled together unless there are powers to appoint Commissioners to carry on the work of the local authority which has fallen to bits. There are other local authorities which are not carrying on in a very satisfactory way. It may be necessary in the case of some to appoint Commissioners to carry on their duties, and it is well, in the circumstances that exist, that that power should be given by the Oireachtas. There have been attempts to prevent local authorities carrying on. Members have been subjected to intimidation. Such intimidation might in any particular case in the immediate future have a success which it has not had heretofore. Even where it has not been entirely successful it has been partially successful. Authorities have not been anxious to take the strict steps that circumstances require them to take. Where it proves necessary it is desirable that the Ministry should be able to appoint Commissioners, just the same as the Vice-Guardians, to carry on the work of local administration. It is not a power that will be lightly or readily used. It is a power which, from the use of it, the central authority or Minister responsible will naturally shrink. He is bound to incur an enormous amount of criticism on account of the particular type of administration carried on by his appointees. The small extent to which it has been used in respect of Boards of Guardians in the past indicates the degree of reluctance with which it will be used. It is much easier for the central authority to criticise the administration of a local body and check it, and refuse sanction to this or that which it regards as illegal rather than to take up the burden of administration and face all the local criticism which will arise. It is a power which is essentially a drastic power, but it exercises its own checks because of the difficulties it imposes, and because of the criticism which arises in respect of any act of administration. Consequently, although a drastic power, it is a power which nobody will fear will be used unduly or very frequently.
I would suggest to the Minister that possibly it might be better, both from the point of view of the administration as well as from the point of view of the Legislature, not to mention the interests involved by local authorities, if orders of this kind that were made out by him were to be put through with what, I am sure, would be merely the formality of lying on the table for a short period of time. I have no amendment to that purport, but I would urge the Minister to consider it for very obvious reasons. I think, from what he has stated, that power of this kind of so drastic a nature is hardly likely to be exercised by any Minister without very grave care, and when exercised by him he should feel that there is behind him the entire support of the Legislature which has nominated him. I believe that that support will be given by this procedure, because he will be able to say, "The act I have taken is not merely my act—not merely conferred on me by the general powers of the legislation—but specifically agreed by the Legislature." It is a power that one could imagine, under circumstances that do not prevail, could be very dangerously used. The right of conferring such powers is there manifest. I am not disagreeing with it in the least. All I am saying is that there is a necessity, seeing that it is so responsible an act for any Minister to exercise, to have a right provision, if such clause were to be introduced, not generally with regard to the whole Bill, but specifically with regard to Section 11, and inserted at the end of the section.
Has the Deputy read Amendment 8 on the Order Paper?
The point is raised on Amendment 8, and I will reply to the point raised by the Deputy then.
I move Section 12:—"Sub-section 3 of Section 3 (which authorises borrowing on short term loans by Local Authorities) and Section 6 (which relaxes the limit of borrowing powers of Local Authorities in certain cases) of the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act, 1921 (11 & 12 Geo. V., ch. 67) shall be amended by the substitution of the words `thirty-first day of March, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-four' for the words `first day of April, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-three' wherever those words occur."
It is simply for the purpose of relaxing the financial restrictions which are on these authorities in view of the present circumstances. It may happen that through the non-collection of rates or other causes that an authority may have to borrow for the purpose of meeting current expenditure. As the law stands at present anything that involves an overdraft would be an expenditure that the auditor would be strictly bound to surcharge. It is desirable that there should be that power. Section 3 of the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act, 1921, states:—"A local authority may, from time to time, for the purpose of providing temporarily for any current expenses that may be incurred by them in the execution or performance of any of their powers and duties (including the payment of sums due by them to meet the expenses of other authorities), with the consent of the Minister of Health, borrow by way of temporary loan or overdraft from any bank or otherwise, such sums as they may from time to time resolve, not exceeding in the aggregate at any time such amount as may be sanctioned by the Minister of Health."
I move Section 13:—"From and after the expiration of six months from the passing of this Act no person shall hold any office of profit under or be employed for remuneration by any Local Authority while he is or within six months after he has ceased to be a member of that or any other Local Authority." This section might not have been introduced, although it is very necessary from many points of view, but it might not have been included in this Bill but for the passing of a decree by the Second Dáil prohibiting the election to membership of a local authority of any person employed by that or any other local authority. Now the reason this Section is put in is, with a view to maintaining continuity in legislation and in administration as far as possible. It is not felt desirable to leave decrees of the Dáil of days prior to the assembly of the present Dáil in the air, without either being repealed, re-enacted, ratified or enforced. Before the decree of the Second Dáil was passed there occurred many cases in which an official of one local authority was a member of another authority, and used his position as a member of the second local authority to get an increase of wages and additional emoluments for an official of that second authority, who himself was a member of the first authority, and made use of his membership of that authority, in return to get an increase of salary or emoluments for the first official. I think in the interests of efficiency and in the interests of clean administration it is desirable that that sort of thing should not take place, that a person who is an employee of any local authority should not be eligible for membership of that body. The way to make such a rule effective is by bringing his own employment to an end. That is much more effective than relying on disqualification after election. If a person puts himself forward for election to a local authority, who is himself an employee of that or any other local authority, then his employment should come to an end. It is quite clear that no person could be allowed to be a member of an authority of which he is an employee. It is very desirable that he should not be allowed to resign membership of a local authority and be immediately appointed an employee of that authority. That has been done in the past. I remember that in the early days of the administration of Dáil Eireann a member of a certain local authority attended a meeting and I think tendered his resignation, and was immediately appointed an official of that authority. That tends to corrupt practices, and tends to general corruption, and puts difficulties in the way of clean and efficient administration.
It might be necessary to have some small amendment to this clause with a view to allowing time, because as it stands, unless a person resigned almost immediately, he would, at the end of six months, be excluded from his employment. He might argue, and rightly, that he had not been made aware of the new requirements of this section, and I think it would be desirable to introduce some amendment giving time for retirement from a local authority, and, perhaps, remitting any fine that might be payable on retirement.
The Minister has argued so well, or rather put so well the argument in favour of the section as it stands in the Bill, and argued so well in favour of some necessary amendment to it, that I feel my task has been lightened. The whole thing is rather difficult and intricate in some ways; it is difficult to draft an amendment that would quite suit the case. I agree there is room for a certain amount of what, perhaps, would not be technically corruption, but would be so near to it that it would be difficult to distinguish between corruption and it. However, I think the section does need some amendment. The amendment in my name would deal, though perhaps imperfectly, with one of the points raised by the Minister, and that is as regards the question of time. My amendment reads:—
"To delete the words `from and after the expiration of six months from the passing of this Act,' and to insert the following new sub-sections:
"(2) This section shall come into operation six months after the passing of this Act; provided that it shall not apply to a person who ceased to be a member of a local authority prior to the date on which it comes into operation.
"(3) The Minister for Local Government may, from time to time, make orders specifying the offices and employment to which this section shall apply, and this section shall apply only to offices and employments so specified."
I think the first sub-section in that amendment would meet the time difficulty mentioned by the Minister. For instance, I think you could have a man who is at present a member, ceasing his membership, say, on the 31st March. If the Act is passed on the 10th March, that man would have to cease his employment on the 10th September. Some arrangement should be made that would prevent that kind of thing, because, although the second Dáil did pass a decree which virtually re-enacted the law as it existed at the time, that was not observed. Out of the very necessities of the case, in many local authorities there were men and women, at all events, men, employed, perhaps, in contravention of the existing law, and in contravention of the decree of the Dáil when it became law, because the times were difficult. It was hard to get people to face all the difficulties besetting members of local authorities in the period of the war with Great Britain. In many cases, at least in a considerable number of cases, employees of local authorities of one kind or another were put up, and took any risks that were to be taken. Some of those are still members, and it will be rather a hardship if, through the operation of this section in the Bill as it stands, those men are penalised in the manner in which the section proposes. The second sub-section of my amendment reads:—
"The Minister for Local Government may from time to time make Orders specifying the offices and employment to which this section shall apply and this section shall apply only to offices and employment so specified."
I think the immediate disqualification should not apply to all the employees of local authorities. Numbers of them would not come within the sphere of corruption. They could not help very well to feather their own nests, so to speak. It would be all largely a matter of the kind of officer, or official, or employee. There should be some distinction, I think, and I would ask the Minister to specify the offices and employment to which this section would apply. If he did it by Order which would have to come before the Oireachtas, I think it would be a sufficient safeguard. As the section stands it is a good deal wider than the old law, and wider than the law as enacted by the decree of the Second Dáil. I formally move the amendment.
I wish to support the amendment and to emphasise the position to-day. Many of the Councils contain members who are employed by other Councils and if that had not been the case they would have been without members in many cases. As a matter of fact the conditions under which the elections took place almost necessitated that certain men should feel themselves free to face the risks of making up a local authority which was prepared to act in accordance with the popular will at the time. There was considerable risk in doing that as a result of what was, if one likes to say so, a conspiracy to defy the existing law. Certainly so far as present authorities are concerned there should not be any penalisation of those members. The decree of the last Dáil which was brought in and passed on the last day of the last session has not been in operation. We have to-day members of Urban Councils and Rural Councils who are employed by County Councils, and members of County Councils employed by Rural Councils. The section, as it stands, would simply mean that unless those members pay whatever fine is requisite and resign immediately, they shall within six months be deprived of any employment. Now I gather from the Minister that he is prepared to guard against that, and to amend the provisions of the Bill to remove that obnoxious liability, but I want to argue for some elasticity in the law in this case. You may have members of County Councils who are employed by another local authority or rather the other way about, you may have members employed by a local authority who would be valuable members of another local authority, and the opportunities for collusion would be infinitely less than in the case of a shareholder in a company who was a member of a Council, which company was seeking a contract. There is no penalty against that shareholder, or even that director, being a member of a County Council, or a local Council, or any other local authority, and there is, at least, as much risk of collusion or undue influence in such a case as there is in the case of a member of a County Council being employed by, shall I say, a City Council or another local authority in another county. The Bill as it stands would prevent even this possibility that a member of the City Council of Dublin could not be employed by the Donegal County Council. It does not suggest that there should be financial dependence of one authority upon the other. It is not limited to that. A much better case than has been made might be made in such a matter. We are now asked to pass a clause preventing any person employed by any local authority within the Saorstát being employed by any other authority within the Saorstát. I do not think that is desirable. I would plead for at least as much freedom for the workman on the road, say, to be a member of another local authority, provided that other local authority was not in any way financially involved with the employers of the workman, and I can see a good case in such a matter. Unless there is financial overlapping or overriding authority of one Council upon another, I think the liberty should still remain for a member of a Council to be employed by another Council outside that range of limitation. I do not think Deputy O'Shannon is pressing the particular form of the amendment. I think he agrees that there is some difficulty in the wording, and, perhaps, it does not carry the intention as well as some other amendment the Minister might suggest. I would urge that this clause, as drafted, confines too much the rights of a citizen who happens to be employed by a local authority. I would press the analogy that I have mentioned or the contrast between the way you are going to treat the workman employed by a County Council, and a shareholder in the company which is a contractor to that County Council, or aspires to be. I think if you bear in mind the respective risks of collusion and undue influence and corruption in one case as against the other the balance will lie against the rights of the shareholders. Now, I am not arguing that you could prevent, or that you could frame any legislation that would prevent a shareholder being a member of a local authority. I do not think it would be easy, but having that fact in mind it is not right or fair to prevent a man who is investing his own physical energy in the works of that Council from being a member of another Council, perhaps entirely dissociated from it.
I would support anything that I thought to be a protection against corruption of any kind in any local authority, and I agree a great deal with what Deputy Johnson has said about shareholders, but there is another matter which must not be lost sight of, and that is the duty which a member of the County Council owes to his constituents, and the duty that the servant or officer of the County Council owes to his employers. It does seem to me that the Deputy has overlooked the difficulty that might arise if some official of a County Council or any local authority happened also to be a member of some other local authority. How could he perform his duties to both local authorities? In one case he owes a duty to his employers which necessitates his being present at their meetings as an official, and in the other he owes a duty to his constituents which ought to impose on him the duty of being present at the meetings of the Council, and taking his share in the work of the Committees of that Council; and therefore, it does seem to me a proper thing that the officials of one local authority should not be members of another because they are not able to give that assistance, which their constituents have a right to expect from them at the meetings and committees of the authority of which they are members, and, at the same time perform their duties as officials in the one of which they are servants. For that reason I think it is right to debar the servants of one authority from being a member of another, not on the grounds of probable corruption at all in that case, but on the ground of the incompatibility in the two duties. Any amendment which may be added for the purpose of obviating the possibility of financial interest influencing any member of a local authority, I do not care whether he be shareholder or anything else, from deriving pecuniary or other profit for himself from the vote that gave him that authority, I would gladly support. But I think the case for the Bill as it stands is overwhelming on entirely other than pecuniary grounds or opposing corruption.
If the argument Deputy Fitzgibbon has used is followed, and is to apply logically then it will equally apply to a man in private employment. I, for one, will not go so far as to say that a man's duty in one employment is very different from his duty in another employment, unless there is a clash of time in the meetings of the two bodies, but if the man is to be prevented from representing a certain number of people in a constituency because he has duties to a public authority as an employee of that authority then equally a man who is employed by any other corporation or company, private employee or otherwise ought to be disqualified too, which is absurd.
I believe that is not the case of disqualification. A private employer can dismiss a servant if his servant does not perform his duties to his satisfaction, and, therefore, it is with the consent of the employer that he is absent from his duty. That is a matter between the employer and servant. I do not think that consideration applies to public service of any kind.
I think that argument of the Deputy just shows the difference in the point of view. We are thinking of the daily wage man who will be deprived of his wage for the day he is absent, and may be dismissed in a week. The Deputy is thinking of the yearly official. Now, we have suggested in this amendment that the Minister should make orders specifying the class of official and employee who is to be debarred from acting as a member of a local authority. I think that would meet the Deputy's objection.
I oppose it, because it shows it is class legislation pure and simple.
I remember very well that after the local elections of 1918 a very fierce row was kicked up in Dublin because a certain employee of a certain body in Dublin, not a public body, was deprived of his employment because he was elected, I think to the Dublin Corporation, to support the National policy of the people at the time.
I agree with the amendment in so far as I do not think that the qualification ought to extend outside the county of administration. We know that the chief local authorities are the County Councils. If a man is a member, say, of the Dublin County Council, and if he gets employment in Kildare I do not think there would be any corruption or undue influence in that case, but while he is a member of the Dublin County Council he certainly should not have anything to do with any employment out of the Dublin County Council or any of its subsidiary bodies.
Hear, hear; we accept that.
Whether it be the County Home or District Council or anything like that, but if it is anything outside the range of administration I do not think there is anything wrong with that. I will support it so far as that goes. As for the state of affairs at present in actual practice, I will not say it is corruption but it is very near it. It is sailing rather close to the wind. I know in the case of one local authority with which I have something to do, two men who were members nine months ago resigned to-day and were appointed to positions in the morning—as a matter of fact one of them had not resigned at all when he was appointed to the position. We have members of local councils acting as contractors and drawing contract pay from the local authorities of which they are members. This ought to cease; there is no doubt that it is corruption, or very near it. No doubt some remedy is needed, but I would not go so far as to say that a man cannot be a member of the Dublin County Council and have something in Donegal. That would be ridiculous; but within the area of administration none of this ought to be allowed.
I know that this is a matter in which it is hard to find exactly where the line should be drawn. With regard to the first part of the amendment, which is for allowing time, I propose to bring in something on the Report Stage giving time to present members of local authorities. I know that their position is exceptional, even apart from the difficulty of requiring them immediately to resign. The second part is a matter which I will have to consider. Take the question of employees of a county council being members of a district council; there is undoubtedly an objection to that. Even if it is only a question of what you may call workmen who are paid by the day, as distinct from the yearly salary people, a workman may be quite properly pulled up by the County Surveyor, or by one of his assistants, for negligence. Then, as a member of the rural district council, he has an opportunity of getting his own back in a certain way off the County Surveyor. It might happen that the County Surveyor would hesitate to deal as he ought to deal with a member of a district council, because that particular member would have the whip hand over him. I see quite clearly that there is no reason why, at any rate, a workman who is a member of the Dublin County Council, should not be employed, say, by the County Council of Donegal. On the other hand, I think if you deal with an official you might have good reason against his being employed. Take the question of Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation, coming to the point that was raised in a manner by Deputy Gorey. One of the most scandalous instances of this cross-membership arose in connection with these two bodies. An important employee of the Dublin County Council was a member of the Dublin Corporation. He attended a meeting of the Corporation, and proposed that a certain grant should be given to an employee in respect of wages during a period when he was not at his work, and during which he had been assisted fairly amply. This County Council employee proposed that the full back-pay should be given to the official of the Dublin Corporation. The Corporation employee was a member of the Dublin County Council, and he did not lack gratitude. He attended a meeting of the County Council, and proposed that the same thing should be done for this County Council employee. The same kind of thing occurred again in connection with Balbriggan and Balrothery Union, the same kind of thing exactly. An employee of one was a member of the other, and vice versa, and they worked in partnership. They used their positions as public representatives to do good turns for one another, each good turn being followed by a return of assistance. As I say, I see that there is a difficulty in knowing where to draw the line. In the case of a certain class of employees, at any rate, there is no reason why a member of a Dublin board should not be employed by a body in Donegal or Galway. It might be, and I think it is perhaps unduly stringent, to say that he might never be so employed in any circumstances. There is no doubt at all in my mind that the case for the Clause as it stands in the Bill is stronger in the case of a salaried official than in the case of the workman. In the case of the workman I say that the idea in the Bill does apply very strongly when you are dealing with district councils and county councils. But beyond that the reason is not so strong. In the case of officials you are not dealing with large bodies of men, but with single officials who may help one another considerably, and practise a great deal of corruption without its being so devastating in its result as to lead to exposure and to create a scandal. In the case of the salaried official I would be inclined to stand fast to the provisions of the Bill. I can say that, as far as we are concerned, an employee of one authority ought not, in any case, to be a member of another. I would be prepared to accept something in the nature of Part 2, of this Amendment, that is giving time. In regard to the other part I could only undertake to consider the matter, and see whether I could find whether a line might be drawn that would be equitable, and would at the same time prevent the abuse that has been fairly grave in a number of instances throughout the country, and which would, perhaps, if steps were not taken to check it, become a greater abuse in the future.
Would the Minister consider the re-drafting of the section? If he would, in the spirit of the argument he has used, I think I would be prepared to withdraw my amendment, but I would like him to give consideration to the second point as well as the first.
I would be prepared to give consideration to the second point. I am not clear whether it can be done satisfactorily or not, that is, what is attempted to be done in the second part. In regard to the first, I think I would be able to put forward something that would meet the Deputy.
I would appeal to the Minister to make this section as tight as he possibly can, in order to prevent the scandal that is going on.
I am, of course, quite opposed to that kind of thing and that is what I want to prevent when I ask the Minister to treat all classes of employment in the same way. It was not class legislation I wanted, but to specify a particular kind of post most open to the particular kind of thing that he has spoken about.
I will consider whether anything can be done that would prevent the abuse, and, at the same time, interfere as little as possible with the rights of any particular people. I do not know whether that can be done or not. In regard to the first part, the case is different. It is simply a matter of the interval, and providing for the change, and providing for a strict enforcement of the law that has been more honoured lately in the breach than in the observance. Whether it would be necessary at all to postpone the matter for six months, I do not know. In the case of people who have been elected members of a Council, and have been carrying on up to the present, I would not necessarily insist that they should resign before the time that these Councils will be dissolved, and the new elections will be held.
I suggest that the way to approach this matter, even from the point of view of the Minister, is to apply the old British law from which there was a lapse prior to the time of the Dáil decree; then to introduce a clause practically amnestying all those who have, in consequence of the recent regime, contravened the old law.
I beg to move an amendment; after the word "authority" to add, "This section shall not apply to part-time medical officers who are appointed members of a County Health Authority, in order that such authority may have the benefit of their expert advice on medical matters." According to the definition of a Local Authority, a County Health Board would be a Local Authority, and this clause in the Bill as it stands would prevent part-time dispensary medical officers or medical officers of health from taking part in, or becoming members of, these Local Health Boards. Now, considering the functions of these Local Health Boards, one sees the necessity for medical help upon them; they are to be entrusted with the local administration of the system of medical treatment of insured persons and of poor persons, either at their homes or clinics or dispensaries, or in the public hospitals and other kindred institutions. They are also to control the treatment of persons in their respective areas who are suffering from tuberculosis, or from mental or other special diseases, and they are to administer schemes for the medical treatment of expectant and nursing mothers and of young children, as well as of schemes for the medical inspection and treatment of school children. I have no doubt whatever that there may be objections made to this proposal of mine, but I think the objection are outweighed by the advantages, considering in the first place what these Local Boards have to carry out. In the second place, I would like to refer to two or three arguments in favour of allowing these part-time medical officers to engage in work on County Health Boards. At the present moment a number of county schemes approved by the Local Government Department have already part-time medical officers acting on the County Health Committees or Boards; and the County Insurance Committees, somewhat similarly constituted to the County Health Committees, have medical representatives, generally two from each county. Now, I quite admit that, looking at the latter part of the Bill, I find provision is made under some of the schemes for medical representatives upon the Boards, but I am informed that it may be possible that enough medical men may not be obtained in certain counties who would be able and willing to give their services on these Boards. Again, considerable importance is attached in a report to which I alluded on several occasions—namely, the report of the Irish Public Health Council—to the need for part-time medical officers upon these Boards. It recommends that it would be "desirable that part-time medical officers, persons in Holy Orders or regular ministers of any religious denomination, should be eligible for membership of a County Health Board or of any Committee appointed by it." In the next place, if part-time Poor-Law medical officers were ineligible to act as representatives, there would scarcely, in the average Irish county, be found any other medical practitioners available to act. Moreover, the necessity for co-operation among the different interests concerned in making a success of local health administration influenced the Public Health Council in making its recommendations in the respect I have mentioned. I will take an example, as far as my own experience goes. I have served for a considerable number of years on two hospitals at different times. In one of these city hospitals, according to the Charter, no medical man was permitted to serve on the Managing Committee. In the other hospital the medical staff was represented by several members of the medical profession. Now, there could not be any question about the Managing Committee being very greatly enhanced by the presence of medical men to assist and to give them advice. The case I am trying to make for the Minister to consider is whether there would not be greater advantage by leaving part-time medical officers free to serve upon those Boards rather than any disadvantage that would arise from it when the whole question is considered.
I am not inclined to accept the amendment. Every sort of authority which is composed of laymen, every representative public authority, has to depend for its expert advice on experts either specially employed or who are responsible officials. I do not see that there is any more reason for including dispensary doctors on a Health Committee than there would be for allowing assistant county surveyors to be members of a Roads Committee. There will be doctors employed by each County Health Authority, and they will be called upon not merely, if members, to tender their advice on medical matters, but will be called upon to advise. I hope there will be in the future a County Medical Officer of Health who will have opportunities of giving his views on all matters that will arise in connection with the health of the county; but I think it is not necessary that medical officials should be members of the Board in order that they might give the Board the advantage of their expert advice. I know of cases where dispensary doctors have been members of Boards, and they have been more concerned with increasing the salaries of the dispensary doctors of that particular area than with any health matter.
I can bear out fully the Minister's statement. I do not see why exception should be made. If doctors are to be made members of the Board under which they are employed, the same case can be made for a road-maker to be a member of the County Council. I do not think exceptions should be made at all. It can be contended for the road-maker that he is in a position to give the County Council expert advice on the making of roads, just as much as it can for a doctor to be an expert on medical matters. I do not think you should give facilities to the medical officer which you would deny to other classes of employees. I know something about those County Health Boards, and I have experience of one Board on which two or three medical men are members. These men, I say, are authorities not so much on medical matters as on the fees that should be charged, or should be allowed, to a doctor engaged doing temporary duty. They are very strong on that matter—in fact, they are a credit to their profession—but, at the same time I think the Health Boards could get on very well without their medical testimony or their expert advice. If you are going to have one law for one man and another law for another man, I think you will soon come to the end of all things. Let the law be the same all round.
I was waiting to hear what Deputy Fitzgibbon would have to say upon this amendment of his colleague in the representation of the University. I see, of course, the consistency with which the Minister has opposed this amendment. I hope Deputy Craig was going to support Deputy O'Shannon's amendment if he had pressed it, because it is perfectly true to say that the case of the medical officers is analogous. The nurses are in the same position. I favour the idea behind the amendment, because I am openly and frankly in favour of vocational representation. I believe you are going to get the best advice from people who know something about the concern which is being administered. You can put all the safeguards that you can devise against corruption, and I am as anxious for that as any member of the Dáil, but if we are going to think at all that a way shall be found for bringing into the public service experts in administration—I mean as voluntary servants and not as paid servants of these bodies—people who know something about the service they are charged with administering, then you will have to make provision for this particular kind of representation. The Minister has turned it down, and it is quite apparent that the present state of mind of the Dáil is not attuned to the conception of vocational representation. I hope before many months or years are through, perhaps months, we shall have some enlightenment and guidance upon this particular aspect of social progress and political developments, and that we shall see the necessity of making it possible for men and women who know the requirements of the service to be enabled to give advice and assistance, and accept responsibility, in the administration of that service. That is practically what Deputy Craig's amendment amounts to.
I do not know whether Deputy Johnson is altogether serious in the argument he has put forward. I do not think anyone wants to cut out professional men, whether they are doctors or not, from giving advice, provided they are not servants of a particular public body. I know medical men who are servants of a Board of Guardians or a Health Committee, and they are always at the beck and call of that Board, to be called in to give whatever advice is asked from them, and they are paid for doing so. I do not see why these men should, in the ordinary way, be members of that Board, and at the same time be drawing a salary for advising the Council when they are asked to do so. I certainly think the amendment should not be accepted.
May I, in regard to what Deputy Gorey has said in opposing this amendment, say that I have learned one thing, and it is that Deputy Gorey is quite prepared to act as a specialist in things he knows nothing about. I am quite sure if I suggested that I should go down and teach him how to run his farm he would tell me to go about my business; but it is a peculiarity of human nature that the people who do not know anything about things are generally those who think they know most. I have found frequently even generals coming forward to preach, and other instances of the same kind. I, fortunately, have learned a little sense, and I would not be prepared, if there was an argument going on about the best way to till a field, to get up and say that I was the person really in the position to give the best advice. I trust that eventually the country will get a little more open-minded than the example of open-mindedness we have had from Deputy Gorey.
I do not think Deputy Sir James Craig should take my opposition in the way he has done. I did not profess to be a specialist on medical matters, but I did say that public boards are more or less guided by their own officials, and that they are able to carry on without expert advice from medical men. The medical men, of course, are always present when there is a question of fees for doctors to be discussed, or when there is an election coming on. As I have stated I do not claim to be a medical expert, but this I do say that I know as much, perhaps, as some of the medical men he sends out from the University. Instead of being doctors, it is snagging turnips a lot of them should be.
That proves my point up to the hilt.
I move Section 14 of the Bill, which reads: "The Minister shall have with respect to all persons now employed or hereafter to be employed by any Local Authority and with respect to the accounts of such persons all the same powers as he now has by law with respect to officers of Boards of Guardians of Poor Law Unions, and the accounts of such officers respectively."
It gives the Minister the same power in respect to all persons employed, or hereafter to be employed, by any Local Authorities as he now has with respect to officers of Boards of Guardians. This clause is, as it stands, at present, what we think is suitable for a temporary Bill. What might go into permanent legislation I would not propose to suggest to the Dáil at the present time. The powers of the Minister in regard to officers of Boards of Guardians are these:—to direct that his sanction shall be necessary for their appointment or removal. In the past sanction has been made necessary for appointment and removal of all officials. I would not propose that that should be done under this clause, but only that sanction should be required for the appointment and removal of certain classes of officials. I would propose to make an Order very much like the second part of the Amendment No. 1, specifying the types the class of officers for whose appointment or dismissal sanction should be necessary. The other power that the Minister has in regard to employees of Poor Law Unions is to prescribe their qualifications, duties, modes of appointment, salaries, time, mode of payment thereof, and the districts in which they work, and securities if they are to be given.
Now, the Poor Law Administration is being transferred to new authorities. Great changes are being made, and it is specially necessary at the present time that the powers of checking any rash or extravagant procedure in the matter of appointments, or in the matter of fixing salaries should be continued. I think it would be desirable at any time that that power should be extended. For instance, there has been an attempt on the part of the Ministry to ensure that large classes of offices shall be filled by competitive examination. Even when the Councils have consented to hold an examination there has been no effective power in the Ministry to ensure that the Councils acted in accordance with the resolutions even in the case of qualifying examinations; and the Ministry have not been able to insist in cases where it thought it ought to insist that the appointment should be made from a list of candidates who had passed a qualifying examination. A considerable amount of power and influence has been exercised without legal foundation in the past in this respect as in other respects. I think that it is very desirable that the considerable power which the Ministry has exercised in this respect should be continued, and should be guaranteed to it by legislative sanction. I think it is desirable that in the future the qualifications of employees, the persons to be employed, should be very much more considered than in the past, and that in suitable cases there should be competitive examination; and that in cases where competitive examination would not serve, because there might be qualifications required that could not well be tested by competitive examination, that there should be at least a qualifying examination, and that the question of favouritism and pull should be eliminated so far as it could be done in local appointments. For these reasons and with a view to checking at an unsteady moment in local administration—at a moment when the local authorities are not very good authorities owing to the circumstances which have prevailed and the split which has occurred—at a moment when great changes are taking place—it is desirable that there should be a check; and also because the administration of the Poor Law is being transferred, the powers of checking which existed should be continued. I think it is wholly desirable that this section should be inserted in the Bill. When we come to the permanent legislation it may be possible to lay down definite legal or legislative regulations in regard to appointments, and perhaps in regard to examinations, and to specify in a definite way the classes of employees which would not necessarily be subject to sanction or which would not be dealt with by way of examination. But for the present I think that the powers sought in this clause are wholly necessary and desirable.
I beg to move Amendment 4: "To delete Section 14." I think, from what the Minister has just said, that he has already realised that he cannot put up a case to support the inclusion of this clause in full. He has stated that he would adopt the suggestion contained in another amendment and specify what officials this section would apply to. The section as drafted states "All persons," and he proposed to take the same powers with respect to Urban Authorities as he now has with regard to Poor Law Authorities. What is that power? It means this that every appointment would require to be sanctioned—the appointment of every permanent official and the appointment of every temporary official. The appointment of a person, for one day or one night, under the Poor Law required individual sanction, and that is the power which the Minister now proposes to take in respect of Urban Authorities. I think he will find and he already realises that it would be impracticable to enforce that. It would mean that an important body like the Dublin Corporation or the Cork Corporation could not employ additional labour without sanction. They could not vary the appointment of an individual labourer or street sweeper without the sanction of the Minister. That is a proposal which I think he cannot justify and I think the Minister in this respect and in the other clauses that he has spoken on, has shown that he is judging the whole local administration by the temporary circumstances that exist at the moment owing to what is taking place in respect of many of those local authorities. The members of local authorities in Ireland at present were elected in very extraordinary and revolutionary circumstances. The bulk of them were elected upon a single political issue and that is not a good thing to elect members of a local authority on. They were not selected because of special qualification in local matters but because of their political ticket. Since then, of course, the whole position has been radically changed. Many of them are absent; a great number of them have lost interest in their work, and consequently it is quite true to say that local affairs are not being administered as they ought to be at the present moment. But the present circumstances are abnormal, and it is not fair or wise to bring in legislation to deal with that temporary circumstance. Now the Minister, in introducing this Bill or speaking on its Second Reading, said the Bill was mainly concerned with making legal certain changes that had taken place in the Poor Law. But this measure goes far outside that, and it introduces a far-reaching and revolutionary proposal which is quite unworkable in practice. As the measure is a temporary one—only to last some months—I hope the Minister on second thoughts will agree to delete this, and deal with the matter in a separate measure at a later stage.
I must say that I do not approve of this section as drafted at all, because, having some experience of Poor Law administration, I know what it means, what any appointment means. I know the trouble we have if we make appointments to-day. Under the old system you had to wait for a month, and in many cases the person had been paid in order to let them go about their business—in many cases they were actually paid before the sanction was received. If that is going to apply to County Councils and Urban Councils and bodies of that kind, we are going to have confusion which I am sure these bodies will not tolerate. I think that the powers that the Central Authority in Dublin has at present for Urban and County Councils are quite sufficient. These Councils are composed of responsible people and, in the majority of cases, at any rate, they do their work fairly well. I know that there is a certain amount of central supervision necessary as regards higher officials, and that supervision is exercised now. I believe that as far as County Councils and Urban Councils are concerned, the supervision exercised at present is quite sufficient. If this Section was to be passed in the form in which it is now we would be taking away from responsible bodies like County Councils all authority, and centralising it in the offices here in Dublin. I have spoken of this matter to some members of County Councils, and they all agree that the curbing of their powers is not a thing that they will sanction. If you wanted to appoint an engine driver to a County Council at £3 10s. a week, or whatever his pay would be, he might be wanted the next day, and you would have to wait for a fortnight before you could get sanction for the man to go to work. That is not a state of things that will commend itself to anybody, and I am sure it does not commend itself to the Minister. I hope that he will seriously consider this Section. If he takes my advice he will drop it altogether, if he cannot recon struct it entirely.
There is one line of argument which I think ought not to be advanced here, and, if advanced, ought not to be seriously considered. It is that peculiar line which says "such a thing, if enacted here, will not be tolerated; such a proposal is a measure which such a body of people within the nation will not sanction for a moment." That is a line not often taken here, I grant, but occasionally it is. No Parliament can do its business on that basis or in that spirit. If it cannot take itself seriously as the sovereign voice within the nation, the Supreme Court, whose writ will run or be made to run, then it cannot approach legislation in the proper spirit. I submit that proposals, or amendments to proposals, here should be considered on their merits, and that it should not lie in the mouth of Deputies to say here `that won't be tolerated by a particular section," even supposing that it is very much in the interests of the whole. Just a few times it has been said, and each time it struck strangely on my ear at any rate. We come here with a mandate from the people to express their will in this Parliament. If we do wrong, it is open to the people to remind us of the fact at elections, or on other occasions; but to say that a section within the nation—a particular class—will not stand for a particular proposal—even if this body adopts it and passes it as being in the interest of the whole—that, I submit, is unsound, and is a remark which should not be advanced in a Parliament.
As I was the person that used that unfortunate word "tolerate," I am not going to apologise for it, but I might have used it in a sense that, perhaps, I should not have used it. But if the Minister wants to take the powers that he has over Boards of Guardians at present, I would go this far and say that that will not appeal to the good sense of members of County Councils.
I am in support of the Government absolutely in this matter. I feel that there is not a proper estimate of the position on the part of a number of the people generally. The position here seems to have become one as between the official and the taxpayer and the ratepayer. In every debate, and in every discussion it is a sort of stand-up battle between officialdom and taxpayer or the ratepayer. Certain forces are arrayed on the side of officialdom and the forces of the other side, are largely silent, but, although not demonstrative still they are the forces that in the end stand very firm against anything that would be unjust or unfair or unreasonable. In public bodies at the present time as they are controlled and manned by representative men the same question comes up. It is the question of all questions before all public bodies. It is the question of officialdom versus the taxpayer and the ratepayer. Unfortunately, officialdom is very powerful; it is very subtle; it is very able; and it works by every sort of method to endeavour to secure against the taxpayer and the ratepayer a verdict that will be valuable to itself or coveted positions for some of its adherents often at salaries and conditions, that are altogether oppressive from a general point of view to the taxpayer and the ratepayer. When these questions come up you find the members of these public bodies are largely subservient to influences that control them and operate them to a great extent, and they are largely independent of the people that sent them there to represent them. They do not always remember their obligations to the people that they represent, and the general interest that they represent. They represent officialdom as well as the taxpayer and the ratepayer, and they are not able to hold the balance fairly—they cannot do it. They are so well pulled in every direction by every sort of official influence that they have not the stamina, and they do not generally stand up to it; they give way too easily to officialdom. These are the things that require sanction by some supreme central authority, and the authority that we have here is the national authority—it is the authority that takes its control from the Nation, and it is amenable to the Nation when the question comes up if it has done wrong. When it comes before the Nation the Nation can say whether it has acted rightly or fairly in accordance with the mandate it has received or not. If it has not so acted it will be dealt with accordingly by the Nation. In the meantime, while it does represent the Nation that authority must be respected as the supreme authority. It has the right to look into all those things, and to examine them, and see how far they correspond with what is equitable and just, and what is right and fair to officialdom and to the taxpayer and the ratepayer, and it has a right to give its verdict accordingly, to hold the scales fairly. I say that if you take away that authority, and allow these things to be done without any such supervising authority you will be doing a disastrous thing for the country and the people in general. I think it would be absolutely wrong and unfair, and I think that the supreme authority here should look into and examine all these things carefully before they are sanctioned.
I was not able to divine what was in Deputy M'Goldrick's mind when he referred to recent discussions here, indicating that some people always seem to be speaking on behalf of officialdom, though others, while mainly silent, always had in mind the general mass of the citizens, or taxpayers, or ratepayers. Officialdom, apparently, to Deputy McGoldrick's mind, ought not to be represented or considered, but he desires to centralise that officialdom and give it a supreme authority, while he rather seemed to resent the suggestion that officials ought to have their point of view expressed. Still, in the later stages of his argument he practically said the citizens ought not to have their point of view expressed, but all powers should reside in the central Ministerial office—not in the Ministry, not in the Dáil, but in the Bureau. That is the gist of the argument of Deputy McGoldrick. I want to say that, so far as I and my colleagues are concerned, we are not affected by the claims of officialdom, whether in local administration or national administration, in preference to the general rights of the citizens. In so far as the rights of officials are consistent with the rights of the average citizen, then we back up these rights, but we do not stand here and plead for officials because they are officials. We simply claim that they ought to have at least the same rights as other citizens who happen to be officials in private employment instead of officials in public employment. The Minister for Home Affairs lectured the Dáil appropriately upon the undesirability of expressing views of the kind that Deputy Hughes expressed. But even Deputy O'Higgins must remember that the present is the child of the past, and though it may be the parent of the future, we cannot forget the recent past and what we have grown out of. Deputy Hughes must not be chided over-much when he follows the precedent that so many of his predecessors and our predecessors in the recent and distant past have made when they simply stated that they were not going to sit down to oppression, even though passed by the Parliament of the nation.
Had that Parliament the sanction of the majority within the nation?
Even though Parliament has the sanction of the majority of the nation, people have the right of insurrection if they are prepared to abide by the penalties of insurrection against oppression.
It is not the right I question; it is the advisability or propriety of such consideration being urged within the Parliament itself.
I accept the explanation of the Minister, and I realise the importance—or, shall I say, the unwisdom?—of any Deputy getting up and saying that the particular people that he is speaking for are not going to accept the law as passed by the Legislature. But I am not going to consent to the doctrine that whatever the Legislature does in any circumstances or in any condition is right, and must be borne simply because it has been done by the Legislature. I think we have to reserve for these people the right to resist oppression, even though it is oppression by the majority, and even though it is oppression by a sovereign Parliament. While I agree it is not desirable to advocate it in the Oireachtas, I do not think that we must take the other view and say: no matter what, under any circumstances, the Parliament does, the people must, at all times, and in all circumstances, submit quietly and obey if they are prepared to take the risks of resistance. But, as the present is the child of the past, it is the parent of the future, and I have no doubt that Deputy O'Higgins' lesson, if frequently administered, will be learned by the future, and Deputy Hughes will not have occasion to threaten resistance to the decrees or the laws passed by the legislature. I want to draw attention to what is of much more importance in regard to this amendment—or rather the Section—and the tendency that is shown throughout the Bill. I recognise, of course, that it is temporary to meet extraordinary conditions, but one cannot get away from the thought that a temporary measure of this kind is going to pursue its way into the future, and what is indicated in this Bill, and in most of the arguments that have been advanced from the Ministerial benches, shows there is a distinct intention to centralise administration in this country. All the threads of local administration, County Councils, Boards of Guardians and Boards of Health, are to be centralised and run from—I was going to say the new Dublin Castle—but from the G.H.Q. through the central organisation. I do not think that that is a good tendency. I think that in the early stages a certain amount of co-ordination, regularisation as between the local bodies, is desirable. But there is more than that implied in this legislation. All the threads are being gathered into the same hand, and the conditions of one part of the country we know differ very materially from the conditions in another part of the country. But they are all going to be administered by the same hand, by the same coterie—because it becomes that way in time—the same coterie of officials. I believe the movement of affairs in this country ought to be in the direction of local autonomy, and I believe we ought to encourage local initiative and not prevent the development of that initiative. I feel that it is well at this stage to utter a warning in that respect, and to urge upon the Minister that, while he is thinking, as undoubtedly he is already thinking, of the permanent Bill that he has in mind, it would be of grave danger to the future well-being of the country if prevailing thought is to be centralisation rather than local autonomy. If we can get an assurance that the present measure is against his will, that the present proposals for centralisation are not pleasing to him, and that they are really only forced upon him by present circumstances, then I will acquit him of any desire for bureaucracy. But there is, I think, shown through the Bill, and through the arguments that have been adduced in favour of the Bill, a distinct tendency to that centralisation of authority and deprivation of local bodies of the right to control purely local affairs. I think it is necessary to utter a warning in that respect, so that the Minister will not be led astray in thinking out his future proposals for legislation in regard to local governing bodies.
This Section seemed quite harmless and reasonable enough until I heard the explanation and defence given of it by the Minister. It has become the custom in regard to these temporary measures to introduce, I should not call them altogether fantastic proposals, but ill-considered and undigested proposals, and to claim approval of them here on the plea that the measure was only temporary. I fail to understand why a temporary measure should be in any way more irrational or less defensible than a measure meant to deal with a period of years. If the Minister had shown us, as I believe he intended to show us, that there were special circumstances regnant at the moment in virtue of which it was necessary to supersede a local authority in these matters dealt with in the section, and that in the interests of the country it was necessary that the Ministry should take control, if a case had been made for that, I should undoubtedly vote for it without a word. But, so far as I understood, or misunderstood possibly, the case put forward by the Minister, it was practically in brief and pointed terms what in general language Deputy McGoldrick put forward. In fact, it was an indictment of the county authorities to the effect that in the case of these appointments and the control of these accounts they could not now be trusted. It was a declaration of the bankruptcy of democracy in this country. Surely they do not ask us to believe that, or it may be that I put in an exaggerated form what they have been saying unguardedly, by taking them literally. So far as I could honestly gather or get an impression from the Minister of Local Government, it was that it was necessary for the central authority to take over control of these matters to save the nation. That might be so, and I am prepared to be convinced that it is so, But I do submit, with all respect, that he has not made any serious effort to convince us that it is so. Deputy McGoldrick addresses the Dáil frequently in Gaelic, and on one occasion taunted me during the earlier discussions on the Constitution that I addressed this Assembly in English, but I would submit to him, as an advocate of a Gaelic movement, that institutions of a Gaelic type are of at least equal value with the use of the language. The Minister for Education has stood here steadfastly for the restoration of the ancient Gaelic Commune and local control of local interests and affairs, and every time centralisation is put forward as a policy here I detect in that not the Gaelic movement, so that apart altogether from democracy, our interest in the restoration of Gaelic civilisation is in question here. I am altogether an enemy of bureaucracy, even though the bureau be constituted by friends for whose abilities and for whose public spirit I have the highest admiration; but I am not willing to go back on principle for the sake of personal regard. Every time it has been put forward here as a defence of a measure that it was only temporary, I have tried to put forward as a sort of protest that if it be put into a temporary measure it must have something in its nature that could be defended, a principle that should be a headline like the copy-books we used in our schooldays to guide the writing underneath. It will be an argument later on for putting some of this centralisation scheme into a permanent measure that when it was put into this measure it worked. I am quite familiar with that argument in another sphere, and it recalls the French proverb: "The provisional often proves to be the permanent." If it is temporary, the pretext under which it is allowed to come into operation for a time, and the fact that it is in operation, are made an argument for continuing it. That is the danger in all these things. As I say, I am willing to be convinced by the Minister that he requires this power, but let him look at Clause 19, Sub-section 2, which I read, and perhaps which was a distraction that prevented me from hearing his argument with proper effect. I read while he was speaking. Coming to Clause 19, Sub-section 2, he takes power to adapt existing enactments, "and make such adaptations of any existing enactment relating to any matter dealt with, or affected by, this Act, as appear to him necessary or expedient for carrying into effect this Act." So that if you turn to these two clauses the Minister is absolutely an autocrat, a Czar.
Come down to the present time, and leave ancient history alone. I think we have to deal with the present circumstances. Is it not at present the case that outside of a Board of Guardians a Local Authority have the power to refuse their books, or anything else, in connection with local government? Can the Local Government Department control the County Council if they are doing wrong? If so, I want to see the power. I heard Deputies saying there is such power, but I have not got that assurance from where I wanted it. Is it not notorious that some Local Authorities in certain counties in Ireland are doing what they should not do? I have certain counties in my mind. The Minister knows where public scandals have been going on for the past year and a half or two years. Is there no authority to enable him to put these scandals right? This is what this provision amounts to. If a Secretary of a County Council with the authority of his Council refuses officers of the Local Government Department admission to his books, I think he can do so.
There are one or two points that might possibly affect the opinions of Deputy Magennis if he were to know of them. The Local Government Department made regulations for the holding of examinations for certain offices, and local influence was sufficiently strong in certain places to affect persons who would present themselves for these examinations. We will say that there are three positions, and that certain people wish to compete for one of the three, and that local influence was exerted to such an extent that a person was not a free agent to compete for whichever one of the three positions he selected. In a case like that it is obvious that the local authority is deprived possibly of a good officer by reason of local influences. A matter of that sort being brought to the notice of the Minister for Local Government, he certainly ought to have the power to order another examination and to take such steps as he would think fit to say that the person best qualified for the position would get the position. Cases have occurred in which persons were appointed to positions for which they had not the necessary qualifications. I know in a certain county of one important office at present held by a person who has not the necessary qualifications. Anyone who followed the proceedings of the second Dáil will recollect that a local authority, assisted by one member of the Dáil, who was also a member of that local authority, endeavoured to assess a rate for police, which in reality meant assessing a rate to assist himself and his own particular followers in that county. Those irregularities have crept in in certain places, with which, for one reason or another, we are out of touch, and where the law, as we understand it, does not run in the way it ought to. As regards the case mentioned by Deputy Gorey, a County Council must submit its books for audit. A County Council gets very considerable sums of money from the central authority, that is, from the State. The State has a right, by virtue of these moneys, and for the protection of every ratepayer, to see that the accounts administered by local representatives have been properly administered, and that the money has not been irregularly or unlawfully spent.
Is not that done already?
Yes, but the Deputy evidently has made some mistake in regard to the right of a local authority in the auditing of accounts.
I have not.
Cases have also occurred where attempts have been made by local authorities to make irregular and illegal payments. In the ordinary way it would take a very long time to collect those illegal payments, and in the interest of the ratepayers the earliest possible steps should be taken to prevent any such irregularities occurring. As far as the State is concerned it distributes to local authorities something over one million pounds per annum. Having regard to the huge sum of money involved, the State must have some control in regard to that sum of money, and it must see that it is properly and legally spent. I had not intended to say anything about this matter, but I think it will be generally admitted that the case made by Deputy O'Brien is really the essence of the trouble—that a party was elected on political grounds, and a good many of those associated with it have been, for one reason or another, unable to take part in the ordinary administration. In certain places the administration has been fairly good; in other places it has suffered by reason of the peculiar circumstances of the time, and it does want strengthening and tightening. It is most unlikely that a material change will take place until possibly, a good deal more damage has been done. Elections, possibly, will not take place until June or July. We may take it the rates have to be struck in another month or so, possibly this month. It is just at this period when, if there is a liability to irregularity, it ought to be corrected. I think all the circumstances of the case point to the fact that these particular powers that the Minister seeks, inadvisable in normal circumstances, are advisable owing to the peculiar circumstances of the time, and I would hesitate to think that it would be necessary in the new Bill in which local government will be reviewed, that there would be any necessity to perpetuate the restrictions embodied in this. But if the circumstances do not materially change it would be in the interests of the State, as well as in the interests of the local authorities, that there would be a central and a strong authority until local representation is of such a character as that it can be depended upon to properly administer the funds raised from the rates.
I am greatly impressed by what the President has said. Would it be possible to give an undertaking to the effect that it is only if, and so long as, abnormal conditions prevail, that this objectionable and abnormal central control would be asked for?
The Deputy will realise that this Act is to continue in force until the 1st March, 1924. It is constitutionally impossible for any Government or any Parliament to give a pledge that will bind its successors. I do not think it would be possible for the President to comply with the request.
I am sorry the Deputy Chairman is so hopeless with regard to the return of the present Government.
I would like to put it to the Minister, and also to the President, that Section 7, which was passed without division, gives the Minister power to interfere in case of the gross irregularities mentioned by the President.
There is no intention of insisting that every permanent or temporary appointment shall require sanction. In the past the old Local Government Board did insist, in the case of Boards of Guardians, on every appointment, however temporary, being sanctioned. I do not think that was a desirable arrangement even for Boards of Guardians. I think that too much formality was required in connection with purely temporary and trivial appointments, and that local authorities, even Boards of Guardians, should not have been tied to that extent. It is not intended to use those clauses so as to require sanction for every appointment. I am informed there is power to issue regulations specifying the class of office for which sanction will be required. If there is any doubt as to whether there is power to make that order, or if any doubt would arise on further investigation, I would be prepared to put in a provision that in future the Minister would make orders regarding the offices in respect of which sanction would be required. In view of the large number of, say, labourers that might be required by the Dublin Corporation, I realise it would be impossible, in the course of administration, to have every one of those appointments sanctioned without unduly impeding the work of the various local authorities, and without unduly swelling the staff of the central authority. This is a temporary Bill. It arises out of the circumstances of the times, and because it is a temporary Bill we have to have those circumstances chiefly in view in very many provisions. All sorts of difficulties have arisen owing to the peculiar circumstances that exist—difficulties that would not arise in normal times.
Take urban rate collectors, we have practically no power over them. With regard to the poor rate collectors we have power. We have dismissed many poor rate collectors, and are prepared to appoint other men in their places, so that the rates will be collected in cases where the local authority would fail to do so. As I said, in regard to urban rate collectors we have no power. There has been one case in one town where the rate collector has failed to do his duty, and where the Council will not appoint a successor. There has not been any collection of rates, and unless we have some such powers as are sought for in this section we will have no power to make provision for the collection of rates in that town. Those circumstances are abnormal, and that must be borne in mind when we are dealing with such a Bill as this. We have to meet totally unusual and exceptional circumstances, and we have to take exceptional steps to meet those circumstances. I am not a believer in the omniscience of the central official. I am not in favour of bringing everything to Dublin and leaving no local discretion. As far as I am personally concerned, my hope is, with the centralisation in the counties and the strengthening of the County Councils, and perhaps the getting, because of increased centralisation and increased powers, of a greater attention paid to them by people in localities, perhaps, taking it broadly, better representatives on local bodies, that we will be able to do the opposite of centralisation. At any rate, the very fact of reducing the number of public bodies and putting the power previously divided amongst various bodies into the hands of one body, will certainly lead to something that is not in the nature of centralisation, if we are thinking of Dublin and the headquarters here when we are talking of centralisation.
There is one point in the President's statement that I wish to refer to. Where he talked of the central authority having the power of superseding the local authorities he said very often they did not give a position to the man of the greatest ability. How are you to get the man of the greatest ability? I say, "Give it to the man of sufficient ability." Set up a certain standard and let the local authority then make its selection. If you say here that we will select the man of the highest ability, I think you are going on the wrong lines, and you will have the people of the country against you. Set up a standard of ability and set up an examination test. Let candidates pass that examination, and then let the local people select. I had no doubt about auditors, knowing that auditors can go around. I meant administration and not the question of figures, and I referred to the conduct of local authorities, the things they embarked on, and the money they spent.
(At this stage An Ceann Comhairle resumed the Chair).
Cases have occurred in which a percentage of marks was laid down for an examination, and persons who presented themselves for examination did not get that percentage. There were other cases in which there were qualifying examinations, and persons did not pass them, and the area was restricted. As regards centralisation, I would like to say this, that the Local Government Department set up a centralised section. It was a great success, although I am told that local influence was greatly against it at one period, possibly even yet.
The statement that has been made by the President is hardly exactly a defence of the section as it stands. His argument, if I understand him aright, is that it has proved difficult in the immediate past to get local bodies to make appointments according to certain regulations or certain necessities that have been imposed and found necessary. Therefore appointments that are not in conformity with those should be set aside. That, I think, is a rather different stipulation from the actual provision of Section 14, where the Minister for Local Government takes over in respect of all local bodies such extreme powers as are conferred on him over Boards of Guardians of Poor Law Unions. It is rather a different matter. It is as different a matter as the difference between a blank cheque and a cheque filled up for a specific amount. I had handed to me a few minutes ago a certain envelope containing a certain piece of green paper, this being the last day of the month. If I look at that paper there will be a specific sum stated on it.
I am perfectly sure it will not be left blank for my discretion, otherwise it would be more than 30 quid. My point is that Clause 14, as it reads, and especially taken in conjunction, as Prof. Magennis points out, with Sub-section 2 of Clause 19 practically gives the local heads of the bureaux a blank cheque, gives them extensive powers over all local bodies, and the Minister himself said it is not intended that such powers should be exercised over the very large number of appointments that were made, and are being made, day by day, by local bodies. The Minister states it is not intended to exercise in full the powers conferred by Section 14. In other words, the Minister himself admits to us that this section over which he is standing is badly drafted, and should not be put before us. No power should be required except powers of such a specific kind as are definitely known to be required and as are provided for in Bills that are brought before the Legislature.
I would like to say a word or two in favour of this amendment to delete Clause 14. I can quite realise that with the old Local Government Board it was necessary that such appointments as those of Secretaries of County Councils and other bodies and Clerks of the same should have been sanctioned, and were sanctioned, by the Government. I am fully alive to the fact that that must exist in the future as it has in the past. In this Act it says "all persons." That means to say that the road workers, for example, and a County Council may employ 250 or 300 of them, cannot start working unless their appointment has been previously sanctioned by the Government. I was very pleased to hear the President speak of competitive examinations, and when I go back probably over a year or so to the time when amalgamation was started in the County Westmeath there was a position to be given there for an officer under the County Board of Health. We had in that county nine Relieving Officers. Those people all got superannuation. There were two people to be put into a position at £250 a year, and it was laid down by the Government specifically that Irish was to be essential. It was also further laid down in the advertisements that there was to be a competitive examination. The result was as follows:— Some members of that Board had some influence worked with the Government which was in power at that time, and got the word "Irish" abolished. Irish was not essential. Twenty candidates sat for that examination. Three of them were qualified, and when it came to making the appointment neither of the candidates who qualified under the competitive examination was either proposed or seconded.
Two people who had not qualified were appointed, and the Government, aye, this very Government, sanctioned these appointments by allowing these two people to carry on office, and gave them six months to qualify. That is only one point, but it has really happened, and it is uncontradictable. I am quite prepared to prove anything I say here. The amalgamation itself in the county I am not going to discuss at present, but I expect I will have something to say before this Bill goes through. I would like to point out to this Government that the County Councils, the District Councils, and the Poor Law bodies in Ireland fully realise that this is the Government, and that they are going to abide by it, but there was one thing that was always against the enemy Government, and that was they held too heavy a hand over the administration of local bodies. I certainly think that it would be well if the Minister for Local Government would agree to the amendment and delete this Clause 14, or at least try to amend it so that it will not include the common workers. I am quite prepared to support the Government with regard to County Councils and other bodies submitting their accounts for audit, and also with regard to appointments when big salaries are to be given. I am quite prepared to help the Government in seeing that illegal payments shall not be made, and to see that the ratepayers shall be saved in this way. But I think you must give the local bodies some little freedom. Surely it is not the wish of the Minister for Local Government to expect that local bodies will submit to him with regard to every person whom they wish to employ, say every person working as a common labourer or a mechanic. Outside of that I would be quite prepared to support this clause as far as doctors, midwives, secretaries and clerks are concerned. I know that those people are pensionable—and as soon as ever the Minister for Local Government brings forward a motion in this Dáil giving workers both for farmers and County Councils sufficient privileges in order that they may be able to pension these workers, or any worker for any employer, after twenty years' service, then I will give my support to such a measure.
As far as I am concerned, in supporting this clause I would be perfectly satisfied if the Minister can give an assurance that he is not going to put this penal clause, as I call it, into effect. I do not wish to take away any portion of the authority he has over these bodies at the present time, but I do certainly object to all the classes of authority which controlled Poor Law administration, because I know from twenty years' experience what it means.
When the President was speaking a few moments ago he made reference to appointments under an examination system under which men were appointed who had not passed the examination or received the ordinary pass marks required for such appointments, it flashed across my mind that probably the Dáil would think that that had some reference to the Dublin Corporation, especially as the President had, up to recently, been an Alderman of that Corporation.
It refers to the Dáil.
I would be glad to know from the President whether, in the reference that he made, he had anything in his mind that those appointments he mentioned did apply to the Dublin Corporation, and that they appointed people who had not got through on the examination system.
That is not the case. I had not Dublin Corporation in mind. From my own information no person was appointed there who had not passed an examination, but as the Deputy has mentioned the Dublin Corporation I would like to say this, that at the first examination held after the war, I think, only five candidates passed, whereas at the previous examination, which was held, I think, somewhere a year or two after the war started, something like forty passed, and one can learn from that that much attention has not been paid to these examinations. It is a pity the competition for them and the interest that was exhibited in the pre-war period to be properly qualified for an examination of that sort has not come down to us. Now, as to the next case mentioned by Deputy Lyons, I remember that well; I had very grave doubts that the Local Government Department had really the power to hold up sanction to these appointments, and we managed to get, at least in that instance, the Council to agree that they would be appointments for only six months. I intended getting power, during these six months, to see that they passed the examination before they would be so appointed. With regard to one other matter, we have paid out to one Council sixty-six thousand pounds, and that Council hesitates to give us four thousand pounds that is due to us.
I want to point out to Deputy Hughes that he is prepared to accept the assurance of the present Minister that he does not intend to enforce the law, but the present Minister may be translated, and Deputy McGoldrick may be appointed Minister for Local Government, and then what will Deputy Hughes do?
I will be in the soup.
Before the Minister replies I wish to say that I did not intend to intervene in this debate were it not for the remarks made by Deputy Gorey. I am not quite clear if I understand Deputy Gorey aright.
You never do.
When he refers to the question of examination I would like to know from the Minister when he is replying, that in all those cases where examinations are being held under the supervision of the Department that the examinations are on the same set lines applying in all cases within the Free State. I have in mind the case of one examination which was ordered for a vacancy under a Home Committee. The examination was held, and only one of the candidates who sat was successful in securing the required number of marks. I understand that when the result became known locally some members of the Committee, who had expected a different result, and who had reason to complain because some of their friends did not succeed, either got at the Local Government Department or succeeded in persuading the Committee to order another examination. It was held five months after the first examination, and I think that a case of that kind is very unfair, especially to the successful candidate in that particular case. I would like the Minister to say if, in all cases where examinations are being ordered, Irish is an obligatory subject; if it is compulsory on the candidates to pass in that particular subject. I hope that cases such as I have stated will not occur again, because it means that candidates have to keep on studying all the time at considerable expense, and that when an examination is held in the first instance, where only the one candidate was successful with a certain set number of subjects, I think that candidate should not be put to the expense of studying for another five months and sitting for another examination with additional subjects at the end of five months.
Before the Minister replies I should like to carry on the remark with which I was concluding before, having regard to what Deputy Hughes has said. The point is that this clause gives certain powers, and certain persons who stand over it and defend it do so, and will vote for it, on the clear understanding that the powers conferred are not to be exercised. Now, I ask is that a method of legislation that is to be commended? Clearly if powers are to be conferred, or that votes will be given in order that these powers will be conferred, and it is to be understood here that those powers will be conferred on the express understanding that those powers will not be exercised, then I think we have come to a method of legislation that has very gravely to be questioned, and that there can be no defence of. I urge that this clause be re-committed and re-drafted, so that exactly what is required is conferred, and no more.
I could not, without previous notice, answer Deputy Davin very fully. I do not know everything about every examination which has been held. The examination that has been most before my notice was one in which there were eight candidates, none of whom qualified, and the Council concerned appointed the lowest of the eight.
That would take some beating.
I agree, of course, that where a candidate qualifies, unless some extraordinary reason is put forward, there should not be a fresh examination. With regard to the exercise of these powers I think that the position is very simple. There is no intention that, in the ordinary course, they should be used to require sanction for temporary or minor appointments, where sanction is not now required. The old Local Government Board had the power to make general orders as to the classes of offices for which sanction would be required. They did, in fact, require that sanction should be given in all cases. They need not have done so; in my opinion they ought not to have done so. With regard to appointments outside the classes for which sanction was previously required, it is not the intention to use these powers, as a rule, except for the major offices, for permanent offices, offices of some importance. That is necessary from the point of view of administration merely. Deputy Hughes has pointed out what delays would occur. Those would make the work of the local authority impossible if all of those appointments were held up until sanction was received. But there are certain local authorities through the country, local authorities who have no regard for efficient administration at present, local authorities who have no regard for the interests of the ratepayers, and unless there was to be an improvement in regard to these special local authorities I would exercise to the full the powers so far as they were concerned.
- Tomás de Nógla.
- Riobárd Ó Deaghaidh.
- Darghal Figes.
- Tomás Mac Eoin.
- Ailfrid Ó Broin.
- Maolmhuire Mac Eochadha.
- Liam Ó Briain.
- Liam Mag Aonghusa.
- Tomás Ó Conaill.
- Aodh Ó Cúlacháin.
- Liam Ó Daimhín.
- Seán Ó Laidhin.
- Cathal Ó Seanáin.
- Seán Buitléir.
- Nioclás Ó Faoláin.
- Domhnall Ó Muirgheasa.
- Risteárd Mac Fheorais.
- Domhnall Ó Ceallacháin.
- Liam T. Mac Cosgair.
- Donchadh Ó Guaire.
- Seán Ó Maolruaidh.
- Seán Ó Duinnín.
- Mícheál Ó hAonghusa.
- Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.
- Peadar Mac a' Bháird.
- Seán Ó Ruanaidh.
- Mícheál de Duram.
- Seán Mac Garaidh.
- Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh.
- Gearóid Mac Giobúin.
- Liam Thrift.
- Eoin Mac Néill.
- Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
- Fionán Ó Loingsigh.
- Risteárd Mac Liam.
- Caoimhghin Ó hUigín.
- Próinsias Bulfin.
- Séamus Ó Dóláin.
- Aindriú Ó Láimhín.
- Próinsias Mag Aonghusa.
- Séamus Ó Murchadha.
- Liam Mac Sioghaird.
- Tomás Ó Domhnaill.
- Earnán de Blaghd.
- Uinseann de Faoite.
- Domhnall Ó Broin.
- Mícheál Ó Dubhghaill.
I beg to move to Report Progress, the Committee to sit again on Friday.