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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 7 Mar 1924

Vol. 6 No. 24


Motion by Deputy Risteárd Mac Fheorais (resumed).
"That the Dáil disapproves of the policy of the Minister for Local Government, so far as it has been made known through the general activities of his Ministry"

I have only a few words to say in addition to what I stated on the last occasion this Motion was before the Dáil. I think we cannot join in any general condemnation of the Ministry of Local Government. They have been dealing with a situation which was not normal. They are acting under conditions which are extremely difficult and I am sure they are doing the best they possibly can. The amalgamation scheme was a hurried one. It requires a lot of revision and it will require a great deal of consideration before it is capable of being applied to the conditions of the country, and so that it may best serve the interests which it is supposed to serve. Still I think it is a step in the right direction. I am not very much in favour of centralisation but I think it is necessary to centralise in this case. Otherwise, it would be impossible for the ratepayer to meet the demands upon him, the expenses are becoming so extravagant that if continued on the same lines, I do not know exactly what the end would be—probably bankruptcy for the ratepayers.

Officialism is taking charge of things to such an extent that it would be impossible to deal with the matter other than by centralisation and bringing it into some sort of reasonable relationship with the ability of the ratepaying community to pay, while at the same time trying to give commensurate advantages to the poor. The poor people, it is true, are brought to a central home, which may be a long distance— and sometimes is a very considerable distance—from where they live. But the conditions that prevail in those homes are, I think, vastly superior to the conditions in the isolated institutions where the poor were accommodated heretofore.

The question of hospital amalgamation is a different one. I expect the hospital amalgamation system is only a tentative one, and that the Local Government Department will see that the road is kept clear for the establishment of what ultimately must be brought about—Cottage Hospitals in dispensary districts for the poor. I think that must be the ultimate object in dealing with the hospital question. The Local Government Department, I should say, would aim at having a Central Home for the aged and destitute poor, with a Cottage Hospital in each dispensary district, and a surgical hospital and an infectious disease hospital to meet the requirements under these heads. If that were done, and these institutions linked up, I think it would solve the problem very well. That would be my idea, in any case, and I know that those in touch with the administration of local government are very much in sympathy with that particular method of meeting the requirements.

The question of surveyors has been mentioned. I think if there is to be any devolution of powers from the County Councils—I think the County Councils are overloaded as they are and they will be considerably more overloaded if further duties are added—the administrative authority from the County Councils should deal mainly with the road question in the various districts to which the devolutionary powers would extend. District supervision, district control, district co-operation and district guidance should, I think, centralise itself in some sort of authority or road board, and confine itself largely to that particular work. The surveyors should be made responsible to that authority, and they should be made do their duty, because we have no control over surveyors in the County Councils. The surveyors are supposed to be their own controllers. They ordain and execute and report. They can make an elaborately-worded report, but they have nothing to show that anything has been done. When we do go to examine the roads, or when we have experience of them, we know that nothing has been done. That is the position with regard to surveyors. Something must be done by which these officials will be made directly responsible for the districts they are in charge of, and that they will see that some value is given for the money expended on roads. There is an immense grant being expended on trunk roads in the different counties, and the question was raised here that the State should not have prescribed any particular wage in any particular district in respect of this work.

I would like to see wage-earners getting as good wage as is reasonably fair in the circumstances, but I am very much afraid, as I said before, that if it were left to the Co. Councils to fix a wage, it would be worse for the wage-earners—and worse to a very great degree. I think it was a mistake to advocate that the Local Government Department should not have insisted on fixing the wages. I do not know how far the amount fixed has been consistent with what is fair or equitable. I am not prepared to go into that, but I think it would be better that the fixing of these wages in respect of work under the grant should be in the hands of some central authority, rather than in the hands of the local bodies. If it were left to the local authorities it would, I think, result in general chaos, and I do not think any arrangements could be made at all to secure the expenditure of this grant in the circumstances, knowing, as I do, the view of these authorities as regards these questions. Economy is all very well. Economy has been the watchword of the Local Government Department here, and I think they have insisted upon economy with a fair amount of firmness. That was absolutely necessary. If it had not been done it would have been very serious for the country in every respect. I think a great many of the complaints which are made against the Local Government Ministry are in the nature of propaganda. Any man can make out a case for anything at the present time. The conditions which prevail in the country we know are not normal. As long as they are not normal, you cannot prescribe any fixed system by which any particular interest can be guided, governed, or managed properly.

Is living on 29/- a week propaganda?

It is only possible to arrange a system on some tentative basis. I am not going into the question of the respective rates between respective individuals or respective items; I am dealing with the general policy that must guide those in charge of the affairs of the country. They must be guided by a policy that will take a broad, comprehensive view. While it may be tentative, it must be one that will bring them into a safe position, and that will enable them to ordain or sanction legislation that will be just to all interests, and to the advantage and benefit of all agencies. Meantime, I think they are doing the best they can in the circumstances, and if they continue to do as they are doing until we get on to that firm basis in which we can enact solid legislation to meet the needs of the country and deal with the matter in a proper way, I think they will be doing a good thing for the State.

My purpose in intervening in this debate is to direct attention to some grievances which exist in the county of which I am one of the representatives, and which we contend is due to hasty or unwise schemes which have been brought forward in the way of amalgamation of Unions. These schemes have resulted in the closing of two hospitals which served for the relief and treatment of the sick poor. One of those was the hospital at Athy. The town of Athy is a populous one, containing some 4,000 inhabitants, and it is the centre of a large tillage district, the population of which, compared with others in the country, is a rather dense one. Under these circumstances it will be allowed that a large percentage of the population is composed of people whose means will not allow them to have private treatment, but who, in the time of sickness or accident, must have recourse to hospitals. Well, Athy hospital was closed some two years ago, and one general hospital was established in the County of Kildare. That means that poor people and sick people, many of them perhaps in extremis, have to be conveyed by road in some cases a distance of 30 miles to the hospital at Naas. Athy Hospital was well equipped. There was a medical officer attached to it second to none in his profession, as far as the provinces are concerned. The nursing staff was efficient, and there was proper equipment in every respect. I was on a deputation some time ago, which waited on the Minister. The object was that he would at least make this concession, that he would consent to the establishment of 20 beds in Athy Hospital which would meet the cases of an urgent nature. Well, we have not heard since that that concession had been granted. Again, the closing of another hospital outside the borders of Kildare has entailed great hardship in the northern parts of the county. I allude to the Edenderry Hospital. Before the scheme of amalgamation that hospital served a large district in the northern parts of Kildare. Since the people from the northern districts had to be brought to Naas. I attended a meeting in Edenderry on Tuesday last, at which a strongly-worded resolution was passed protesting against the closing of that Hospital. That meeting was composed exclusively of farmers, so it cannot be insinuated, as was insinuated here in the course of this debate, that anyone there had a money interest in keeping that hospital open. It may be urged perhaps that economy would be effected by its closing. That is very doubtful Even if that were so, the people present at that meeting, most of them large ratepayers, were not prepared to support a paltry economy at the expense of the poor or sick people.

Farmers are credited with being rather severe economists or as our Yankee friends would style them, "tight wads." But they are not going that far. They are not going to save money at the expense of the poor. I think that is a matter that the Minister should look into, and try to meet the popular demand in that respect. I would ask him not to look at this question through official eyes, or through the glasses of permanent officials, but that he should look into this case himself, and take into account the feelings and views of the people in the localities affected.

Another question that has cropped up is the question of the abolition of District Councils. Well District Councils, as we all know, were established in 1898 under the Local Government Act passed by the British Parliament. It was looked upon as a great measure as it gave the people control of their local affairs which they had not up to that time. I have been a member of a District Council a great number of years and have taken a fairly active part in the carrying out of its duties. I think I can honestly say that I have never seen the corruption or jobbery that has been alleged against these bodies. The constitution of District Councils is not so much at fault. What is really at fault is that at the recent elections not so much attention was paid to the administrative capacities of the men who were elected as to their political opinions, and that has resulted in the Councils being made up of men who do not pay so much attention to the details of administration as the members who composed those bodies formerly did. They have not the same regard for the needs of the taxpayers, or the same regard to the ability of the taxpayer to pay the rates struck. I think that if you abolish the District Councils you will place an intolerable burden on the County Council. The County Councils have a large amount of work to do at present, and if you ask them to look after the ratepayers and if you ask them to look after the repairing of every cross-road pump in the country and after every pane of glass broken in a labourer's cottage you will be putting them in a position of staying there constantly, not for days, but for weeks, to get through their work. It may be that a change is necessary in the relations between the County Councils and District Councils. A suggestion has been made to me by a gentleman who is known to a great many Deputies—Mr. Patrick Phelan—a Kildare man himself, and a member of the Kildare County Council and a most constant attendant. In fact he told me that during the last 12 months he has attended 70 meetings of the County Council and the Committee of Health. His suggestion is that you should give the County Councils the power of revising or vetoing the estimates sent forward by the District Councils. At present they have no such power. They have to accept the estimates sent in by the District Council. I think that, perhaps, that would meet the case. Then, as to roads, the cost of maintaining the roads entails a very large burden on the ratepayers at present. The abolition of the contract system in the repair of the roads brought an increase in the rates in the County Kildare of no less a sum than £10,000. Well, we all know that the contract system was abandoned in the interest of particular people by the pressure which I will hardly call gentle.

We cannot go into that question of the contract system. It was brought about by local bodies and not by the direction of the Minister.

I am sorry. I will conclude by urging the Minister to take these matters into consideration and not to adopt any hard and fast rule with regard to the hospital, but to look at the conditions obtaining in the different districts, and if he does that, I think he will find that the people in these localities are not putting forward impossible proposals, but ones which are really needed for the proper administration of all the poor laws, and also for the provisions connected with the Local Government Act.


Deputy Corish, in his motion censuring the Local Government Minister, covered a great deal of ground. I do not propose to travel over the whole of it. I rather prefer to confine myself to the attack he made on him for making certain conditions in connection with the million-and-a-quarter grant which is being provided for the remedying of unemployment, and which is to be spent on the roads. One of the conditions, I understand, is that some of this money is to be spent on employing ex-members of the National Army, and it is characteristic of the Labour Deputies that on very many occasions here in my presence they have expressed very keen sympathy with demobilised men; but whenever it is proposed to give any definite expression to the wishes of the Government to compensate these men or to pay these men who have saved the country for us, there is an immediate squeal.

We do not want them to starve on 29s. a week.


To my mind a great deal of these protestations of sympathy from the Labour Deputies are mere lip service. I have often wondered why they should be opposed to the members of the National Army getting any share of the grants that are going.

On a point of explanation, I think I made it perfectly clear, in speaking to my motion, that we had no objection to members of the National Army.

We never have had.

The only objection we had was on the ground that they were being utilised as a lever to bring down wages.

And being made tools and slaves of.

That was made very clear all along.


I am glad to have that assurance, but I am afraid I am not convinced. However, I will let that pass.

Perhaps, the Deputy will give us some evidence on the point.


If you will be good enough to give me a little time, perhaps I will. Quite recently there was a sum of £10,000 proposed to be given to the Dublin Corporation, and I understand that in connection with that grant, wages were set out at 50/- a week. I am aware, from personal knowledge, that there is a great deal of distress in Dublin. A friend of mine happened to be visiting a Convent only two days ago, and he met there a large number of people who were applying for relief. He questioned some of them, and they described to him their very pitiable condition. They said they were quite willing to work for this 50/- a week, but they were not allowed to work.

Now, if it is the considered policy of either the Labour leaders inside the Dáil, or responsible leaders outside to prevent men who are starving from accepting a wage of 50/- a week for work which is going to relieve unemployment, I say it is a very cruel policy, and it is a policy which, to my mind, is not in the best interests of Labour itself. I would like to ask Deputy Corish does he seriously consider that the Minister for Local Government ought to put up one and a quarter millions of public money and make no condition. Does he say that the Minister should hand the money out carte blanche to local bodies throughout the country to spend at their own sweet will? If that is his contention, I must say that I, for one, am in complete and honest disagreement with him. I think if the Local Government Minister did anything of the sort there would, undoubtedly, be an epidemic of extravagance, and there are not lacking reasons to support that contention.

The Deputy has accused the Minister of conspiring to reduce wages. I think he would be putting his grievance in a little truer form if he said that he was really disappointed the Minister did not give this money to local bodies in order that wherever they had a majority they could use it for the purpose of increasing wages. That, at any rate, is my humble interpretation of what was at the back of the Deputy's mind. A good deal has been said from time to time about the question of a living wage. There is a great difference of opinion, not only amongst members of the Labour Party in the Dáil, but responsible Labour leaders outside, as to what is a living wage. Sometime ago, Deputy Morrissey, in referring to road wages, mentioned scales which were obtaining in different parts of the country. He told us wages ran in various districts from 28/- to 40/-. I forget whether he went any further than that. I can give him an instance where there is a wage of 50/- being paid to people in an agricultural district for working on the roads.

Is it too much?


If Deputy Johnson will define for me what is a living wage—if it is within the bounds of his capacity to do that—I might express an opinion.

The Deputy quotes it. Does he quote it as being too much?


I quote it as being too much in certain districts. I do not say it is too much everywhere.

For my own information, I would like the Deputy to give me the name of the agricultural district where that wage is being paid.


It is Tullamore—my own town.

That is not an agricultural district.


It is a town in the middle of an agricultural district, and that is as near as I can go to a definition of what is an agricultural district.

I understand the wages paid there are 45/-a week.

Can the Deputy say why is a wage of 36/- paid in other districts?


I am not a walking encyclopedia, Deputy Lyons. I am quite willing to discuss this matter on the merits on some other occasion.

As I interpret the directions given by the Minister for the expenditure of this Grant, I think I am correct in stating that he has laid it down that the rate of wages shall be the rate of the agricultural wages in the district where the money is being spent. I put it, in all fairness, to Deputies on the other side——

On a point of order, that is not correct. No such order has been issued to public boards, that the agricultural rate must be paid on the roads. It is a lesser rate.


Well, I withdraw the word "must," if I said it, but in any case my interpretation of the instructions given by the Minister for Local Government in the circular is that the wages should not exceed the rate of agricultural wages in the district. I do not want to exaggerate the matter at all. In view of the fact that a great number of agricultural labourers are working for a definite wage for definite productive work, is it a very extraordinary thing for the Minister to suggest that in the case of a huge sum of money which he is producing out of the pockets of the people to relieve distress and unemployment, that the same rate should be paid? I submit that his position is perfectly fair, perfectly just, and perfectly honest. I do not think that anyone can have a legitimate grievance when a large sum of public money is being produced to relieve distress, and the condition made is that the rate of wages should not exceed the rate of agricultural wages ruling in the district. Deputy Corish would appear to have a very strong confidence in the powers of local bodies to administer these grants in justice to the ratepayers. I am sorry that my experience does not bring that conviction to my mind. In the town of Tullamore, which I come from, and which is a fairly important industrial district——

I thought it was an agricultural district a few moments ago?


Well, I am discussing a different matter now.

I think it would be better if Deputies would refrain from interrupting Deputy Egan, because an ample opportunity will be given to reply to him.


It is quite evident that I am beginning to search their economic conscience. In the town of Tullamore, which, as I have said, is a fairly important industrial district, as Deputy Davin knows, we have a highly organised branch of a workers' body known as the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, with which I am very familiar.

That is a very familiar name.


It is very familiar to me, I can assure you.

You are not a member?


Some time ago we had a little difference of opinion as to the correct wages that ought to be paid in the district, and as a result of very many interviews, and a good deal of pain and grief and so forth, we finally succeeded in getting a rate of wages fixed for the whole district, and an agreement signed, sealed and delivered, by the employers and by the responsible leaders of the Transport Union, backed up, as well, by representatives from headquarters in Dublin, and the rate of wages for unskilled labourers was fixed at 44s. a week. As I have said, labour is highly organised in Tullamore. I happen to be Chairman of the Urban Council, and the labourers at the moment, and for some time past, have had a majority on their Council. The rate of wages in Tullamore was 50s. a week at the peak, and the Urban Council insisted on preserving that 50s. rate, notwithstanding that their own Union had signed, sealed and delivered an agreement that 44s. was a fair rate and that they agreed to it. That is the sort of evidence which certainly does not carry any conviction to my mind that these grants for the relief of unemployment would be administered to the best advantage if they were given over to these bodies.

Deputy Colohan referred to surveyors. I agree with the Deputy in almost everything he said on that particular topic. I think undoubtedly some of these surveyors at times do take up a very high-handed and autocratic attitude. I was up against that position myself on one occasion as chairman of the urban council. It was a case where the whole council, including myself, were unanimous in trying to get rid of a certain official, and it took us about two years to do it. I am quite in agreement with Deputy Colohan when he says that the surveyors want gingering up. I believe possibly we all want gingering up at times, but at the same time I would like to put in a good word for the unfortunate surveyor. In the Offaly County Council some time ago a surveyor, in the legitimate exercise of his discretion, dismissed a man who was supposed to be at work, whose name had been returned as being at work, and whom he found in a house some miles distant from his work. I cannot say how long this had been going on, but the surveyor having dismissed him, an immediate meeting of the council was called by the people interested in labour, and the surveyor was told that——

I am afraid the Deputy is travelling outside the terms of the Motion.


Well, I was doing my humble best to defend the Minister for Local Government. However, in deference to you I will try to keep as much to the point as possible. The Minister has other difficulties. Not only are there difficulties inside the councils, but sometimes a considerable amount of pressure is brought to bear from outside the councils to direct their actions. I see our genial friend and Deputy, Deputy Lyons here, fresh from his experience in the Westmeath County Council——

On a point of explanation I will tell you something about that later.


Deputy Lyons a short time ago, in order to give more vigorous expression to his convictions, entered the Westmeath County Council, divested himself of some of his raiment, and proceeded to bring physical arguments to bear on the council's deliberations——

On a point of order, is the Deputy aware that I am a member of the Westmeath County Council? I did not enter it. I am entitled to be there.


If you did not enter it, I do not know how you got there.

I did not enter it as a member of a deputation.

On a point of order, is Deputy Egan in order in discussing the action of Deputy Lyons at a particular county council? I thought we were discussing the functions of the Minister for Local Government?

It has a bearing on the wages rates suggested by the Ministry.

I would like to know, without pretending in the least to defend Deputy Lyons, who, I am sure, is pretty well able to defend himself, if we are dealing with facts or Press reports?


If Deputy Davin wants to know the source of my information, it is what Deputy Lyons told me himself.

On a point of explanation, if any evidence is required I can give evidence, because I was present at the meeting.

It would be better to allow Deputy Egan to proceed.


I congratulate Deputy Shaw on having recovered from the effects of that meeting. I do not want to delay the Dáil in mentioning this little incident, engineered by our genial friend Deputy Lyons, but I want to point out some of the difficulties that the Minister for Local Government has to contend with in securing that this grant, or any similar grant which he gives, will be properly administered. I would like to say a few words on the general economic situation. As far as I can make out and understand the policy of the Labour Party, it appears to be one of high wages at all costs. I will not put it any stronger than that— high wages, and let the consequences be consigned to all manner of warm regions. I submit that that appears to be a policy of high wages for the few, and a big unemployed list. I can assure Deputy Corish and others—and I am making this statement with every sense of responsibility and in all honesty, that the present economic situation of the country is really very serious. Enterprise is being absolutely choked off. I, as a business man, and I venture to say that I will be supported by numerous other business men, know for an undoubted fact that capital is becoming very shy. Capital is afraid to invest itself, and I honestly believe that if there is not a little more resiliency on the part of Deputy Johnson and his supporters, the ultimate economic consequences will be very serious. Capital is leaving the country. We have gone through a very severe crisis. We cannot afford the luxuries which a rich country like England can afford. Deputies have only got to refer to this much-maligned Fiscal Report to find a comparison of the wages in Ireland and those paid in England in similar trades, and they will find that in a great many cases Ireland, a poverty-stricken country is paying an infinitely higher rate of wages than wealthy England.

I submit, in all fairness, reason, and logic, that is a position that cannot be maintained if our whole economic structure is not to be shattered. Take the case of Cork. I do not suppose that my information, speaking at the moment, is absolutely stop-press, but you had an extraordinary state of affairs in Cork some time ago. An employer in Cork could get a skilled mechanic over from England and pay him 56/- per week, plus his travelling expenses, and the gentleman who stood at the bottom of the ladder, passed him up his blow-lamp or his screw-wrench, or held nails for him, received more.

On a point of order, are we discussing the general economic situation, or the supposed functions of the Local Government Department? I think this particular thing prejudices the minds of Deputies against my motion.

The Deputy should confine himself to the motion.

Surely there is no other way of justifying economy by my Department than by taking into consideration the general economic conditions, and if we cannot do that it will be impossible for me to defend my position.

If we can be guaranteed the right to discuss the economic situation at all stages of the debate I would be satisfied.

We cannot go into all these matters under the motion before us.

I submit it is an entirely different thing to discuss the general economic situation from discussing the economic situation as seen from the angle of the employers, and that is what we are listening to.


Of course, I bow to your ruling. I assure Deputy Corish and every Deputy on the Labour Benches that anything I have said is said not from the employers' point of view, but because it is my honest and sincere conviction. Seeing that I have been choked off so frequently, I am afraid that the general trend of my thoughts has been somewhat disarranged, but I submit, with great respect to Deputy Corish and the other Deputies who support him in attacking the Ministry, that not only is the Minister amply and fully justified in the arrangements he has made in expending this enormous sum of money, but further that he would be false to his trust as the custodian of the interests of the people if he did anything else.

I do not agree with the terms of this motion. To my mind, it is a vote of censure upon a Minister who is not really responsible for the action causing the grievances against which this motion is brought forward as a protest. Take, for example, the grievance of the amalgamation of Unions which was started in 1920. The President of the Local Government Department then was not the present Minister at all, and I do not see how he can be held responsible for any want of facilities felt by the people owing to amalgamation. There are lots of actions on the part of the Local Government Department that the present Minister has had nothing to do with at all. Now, for the moment, let me dwell upon the amalgamation of Unions, started in 1920. At that time the President of the Executive Council was President of the Local Government Department, and not the present Minister. It must be remembered that at this period it was very hard to get a quorum of the public boards to come together. For the purpose of appointing members to the County Homes, people were met on the street and asked to act as members of the County Home Committees. These people have acted ever since, and this whole grievance can only be remedied by holding elections for those bodies, so that the people selected to represent the local bodies on the County Home Committees will not be people who were simply selected in the street. I cannot see how the present Minister for Local Government can be held responsible for this particular item of amalgamation. I have been told that amalgamation is a huge saving to the Saorstát. Amalgamation, to my mind, has not alone penalised the old and infirm, but it has closed down several district hospitals, with the result that the patients have to be taken now from 20 to 30 miles, and in some cases patients have died upon the journey. The town of Athlone has a district hospital, but if a person who cannot afford to pay gets sick, that person has to be moved to Mullingar, a distance of 30 statute miles, or if the person lives on the far side of Athlone, he has to be removed to Roscommon. We were told that we had last year a saving of £9,000 in the local administration of that Committee, and we were told early this year that there is a saving of £8,000; that is, a saving in the two years of £17,000. I find from the estimates that the Poor Law charges in 1921 amounted to £34,000. That includes all the Poor Law charges of the county, but I find that the Poor Law charge for the present year, 1924, is £34,300. Superannuation in 1921 in the Westmeath Co. Council was £27, but the superannuation to be paid now will be £2,700. That is an increase of £2,900, in place of a decrease of £17,000 as we were told.

I would welcome a motion condemning the amalgamation system, but I will not vote in favour of a motion condemning the child for the sins of the father. That is exactly what is done by this motion—it condemns the present Minister for Local Government for the action of the previous Minister. Deputy McGoldrick mentioned that it would not be right to give the County Councils the opportunity of fixing the rate of wages to be paid out of the Government grant. I wonder did Deputy McGoldrick know exactly the position of some of those County Councils who waited for years until they found a victim in the present Minister. They come in now under the cloak of anxiety for a certain level of economy when they had not the courage to come forward themselves and introduce this motion. They go for the Minister of Local Government and they flock in to try to get another occasional kick at him.

Will the Deputy explain this mysterious action?

The meaning of the mystery is this: these Councils which would not or did not recognise this Government acting through this Dáil waited until the Government sent out a letter of economy and they flock in, welded together, both Free State and Republicans, to fight for a reduction of wages. Some of the Deputies on the Labour Benches may not agree that it is necessary for every unemployed man in the Saorstát to find employment. The mover of this motion has already explained that he is quite satisfied that every demobilised man from the National army should find employment at a living wage; we have been asked on several occasions what is a living wage. As I am not acting officially with the Labour Party, I will leave to some official Labour Party man to answer that question. Is the Minister for Local Government responsible for the reduction of wages that has taken place at the present time? Now, under the grant the wage laid down would not be sufficient to keep two people, let alone a family.

Anybody who reads the history of his own country will find that after the famine people had to work for 4d. a day. That was what they got to go out and work and earn a living. I presume that you would get as much for fourpence at that time as you would for the four-and-sixpence which is being given now. I hold that we should look to the men who have been in regular employment, and I am of opinion that the circular letter sent out by the Minister for Local Government did not compel any county council to reduce the wages of the permanent or regular workers by 13s. a week. The circular stated that 30s. a week was to be paid under the grant, but the members took advantage of that circular and they reduced the workers' wages by 13s. a week. The idea was that for the people who were employed, as well as for the unemployed, there should be a flat rate of 32s. a week. That is why the scene occurred at the Westmeath County Council meeting. I was not present in the Dáil yesterday, but reading the newspaper reports this morning I saw that the Acting Ceann Comhairle called Deputy McKenna to order for referring to the scene at the Westmeath County Council meeting and told him that the Minister was not responsible for that scene. I would like to say that, in my opinion, the Minister was primarily responsible owing to the letter that had been circulated from his Department and sent to the different Councils, and especially to the Westmeath County Council. The circular was sent by the Minister for Local Government, or perhaps it would be more correct to say by his staff. The old staff is there still, and I think the Minister ought to get them weeded out. As I say, the old staff is there still, and until the Minister succeeds in getting shut of these old aristocrats, these fellows who, I believe, have been there for twenty or thirty years and who were there during the hard times, he will have to put up with a lot of the abuse he is getting. It was through that letter from the Minister for Local Government that this scene occurred at the Westmeath County Council, and it was owing to that letter that I took off my coat without offering any challenge or offence to anyone. I am quite prepared——

To do the same thing again?

Yes, in a good cause, but not in support of this motion. The Minister for Local Government, since he came into office has, in my opinion, done more good by one little turn than all the actions put together of the previous Ministers, and that little turn was the letter he sent down to the different county health and home committees, asking them to appoint inspectors. There are two inspectors appointed at £250 a year in Westmeath.

Prior to amalgamation we had nine relieving officers, as they were called then. Now we call them inspectors of home health. These nine officers were, of course, dismissed. They were in receipt of about £60 a year for acting and working, and at present they are in receipt of about £62 a year superannuation. With the additional officers appointed for the purpose of distributing home health these positions involve a sum of about £500, and now we must appoint another superintendent to watch these two inspectors. I can assure the Dáil that they want watching. Their duties are not carried out, and that is why I say that it was one of the best actions that had been authorised by the Minister when he appointed that inspector. I would ask the Minister as soon as possible to try and have an election of public bodies— county councils, district councils and urban councils. I do not believe that the district councils are going to be abolished. I do not mind what any Minister says. The voice of the people will prevail, and surely the people will not cry in the wilderness. They want these councils to remain, and I presume that they shall remain. I think that the proposal to abolish district councils was like that to abolish the workhouses, and was mainly for the purpose of creating jobs. Deputy Egan gave us a very illuminating address concerning capital, and said that it was too shy. In Westmeath and Longford capital is shy at the modesty of the workers. These poor workers are so patient and kindhearted that they will not even dare to look at capital straight in the face. It is just like the case, a long time ago, when eggs were at 5s. a dozen, no one dared look at a hen straight in the face. It is the same with us, and that is why capital is shy, but if capital lost some of its shyness, and put its pride under its feet, and released money for the purpose of industry and employment, it would suit it better. I think it was Deputy McKenna who dwelt yesterday upon the scene in Westmeath County Council, and he asked whether it was fair or constitutional that a body of men should attack a public body, assembled to carry out its duties. I would like to ask the Minister for Local Government whether that public body should attack the workers by trying to reduce their wages by 13s. a week. If the workers have a right to live in the country they surely have a right to adopt the best means in their power to get a decent wage. There was no red flag used at the council meeting.



Labour snatched it from your hands at the last election.

Yes, but I think I snatched it back.

We cannot go further into the matter of the scene at the County Council meeting.

I am not going further into it because every time I think of it it reminds me of the old cock-fighting days in Tipperary. I want to put a few suggestions to the Minister for Local Government concerning the old and infirm who are in receipt of home help. At first, home help was sent out once a fortnight, but now it is sent by post once a month. Those poor people should have a few shillings given them at least once a week. It has been proved in Westmeath that the administration of home help is very inefficient, and costs in stationery alone about £500 a year. If that is so it would be much better for the Minister for Local Government to make those inspectors distribute the home help themselves. They are being paid for it. It is a terrible thing to see poor people waiting and not being paid.

I think the statement of Deputy Lyons is not correct. They are paid every fortnight. There was a slight delay——

The Deputy cannot make a speech.

The order of the Committee is that the home help should be sent out once a fortnight to towns and once a month to country districts. Deputy Egan mentioned that 50s. a week would be the rate. It may be the rate for the town of Tullamore, as it was for Athlone, but it was not the rate paid by the County Council of Offaly to the workers on the roads. In the County Council the highest rate paid is 36s. In Westmeath the rate is 45s. But 45s. meant 22s. 6d. and 36s. meant less in Offaly because those men never got constant employment. The members of the Council were so generous to their workers and they tried to assist them so much that they reduced their wage by 13s., telling them that they would get full time. Strange to say, since wages have been reduced they are working not at 22s. 6d., but at 16s. They are still on part time in Westmeath. They are on strike at present. I hope the Minister for Local Government will take into account the administration of this home help to the old people. I do not hold the Minister responsible. He is not very long in office and he has done, not indeed wonders, but at least something that he can look back on and say that there is some of his work there at least. Are we quite sure that the Minister thought the plan of 28s. a week out of his own head? It may be possible that his colleagues on the Government Benches are associated in the suggestion. One sure fact is that, no matter who invented the idea of this reduction of wages, the present Minister for Local Government, no matter who dances, will have to pay for the tune. If this motion goes to a division I shall vote against it. A motion put forward condemning the action of the Government would be a vote of censure on the Government. As a whole I would not vote for such a motion, because I am of the opinion, and Deputies on the Labour Benches know, that the Government have carried on in the hardest of times. Some of the members on the Labour Benches have delivered speeches here doing credit to the Government.

We are not discussing the Government. We are only discussing the Minister for Local Government.

For that purpose I do not see why we should alter our opinion now, and if the Minister for Local Government had the courage to accept that office in the hardest of times I think it is our duty as a whole to support him in any honest methods he brings forward. I do not agree, however, with the circular he sent round, and if this motion was for the purpose of voting against the party instrumental in having that circular sent out I would vote for it. As the motion is against the Minister for Local Government personally, I will vote against it if it goes to a division.

I am sorry that I cannot undertake to entertain the Dáil in the admirable manner in which it has been entertained by the last Deputy. Deputies who have been speaking are in most cases Deputies who have had long experience of local administration. On that account perhaps my point of view may be interesting, because it is the point of view of an individual who never sat upon a local Board, and perhaps never will sit upon a local Board, and who can therefore, give an outside point of view. I think it takes a certain amount of moral courage to get up and speak on this matter; because I have noticed in the past that as soon as any Deputy got up and cast the slightest aspersion upon local administration, there were certain Deputies who regarded it almost as a matter of personal honour, immediately to get up to support the rights and dignities of the local boards. There is one important matter to which I would like to call the attention the Minister for Local Government, and that is that the present Councils have long outstayed their welcome. Their period of power expired in June last year, and they have been kept on since by Statute. There is a feeling in the country that these Councils, elected in a time of stress, and elected almost altogether on a political basis, do not represent the people at present and should not be allowed to control local government, expend money, and make permanent appointments.

resumed the Chair at this stage.

I think the principal objection to the administration of local boards is the reckless extravagance that has been going on. That extravagance applies not alone to the question of workers' wages, but to salaries and general expenditure all round. There was a return made to the Dáil a short time ago showing the salaries of Secretaries of Co. Councils. One of the highest in that return was a salary of £1,700 for a Secretary of a County Council in one of the poorest counties in Ireland. It is only right and fair that if by means of this Circular Letter, which we have heard so much about, the wages of the road workers are to be reduced, at the same time steps should be taken whereby the salaries of officials would be reduced. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is only right, if the wages of workers must be reduced, owing to the exigencies of the times, that the salaries of officials should also be reduced. There is another matter which we in the Farmers' Party feel a certain amount of grievance in regard to, and that is the incidence of rates. We are called upon to pay rates which we believe are altogether in excess of the requirements of the situation, and beyond our ability to pay. We are obliged at present to pay for the upkeep of main and trunk roads which are mainly used by the traders in the towns for the purpose of conveying goods by means of heavy wagons which cut the roads to pieces.

Is the Minister for Local Government responsible?

I think his administration should be able to rectify it.

I am afraid we cannot go into a discussion of local administration. We are discussing the policy of the Minister, or we ought to be discussing it.

Does not the policy of the Minister affect local administration?

If the Deputy wants to argue that he can go into every question of local administration, he certainly cannot. Would it not require a Statute to make this change?

I am sorry the Ceann Comhairle was not here a while ago, because we went into the most extraordinary questions.

I am not responsible for that. We will have either to approve or disapprove of what the Minister is doing.

Then I disapprove. I would like to refer to the matter of amalgamation. I regard this matter as being to a large extent in an experimental stage at present. I think it is very doubtful if it is going to work out as an economy. One of the unfortunate features of it is the number of officials superannuated and the number of officials appointed to hold new positions. That means that we are now building up a large superannuation fund and at the same time paying fresh officials. I think it would be only right when these schemes were brought in that a definite arrangement should have been made whereby the former officials should have been appointed to the new positions, and not have Boards of Health issuing advertisements for new officials at somewhat extravagant salaries, while the former officials, who are comparatively young men, are drawing high superannuation. What I would like to express to the Minister is that the farming community, which is mainly responsible for the financing of local government administration, is now in dire stress, and that the local boards will very soon find that they will not be able to collect the rates which they are levying.

I would like to remind the Dáil that it is not only the rich farmers who have to pay those rates, but also the very smallest farmers, and at the present time they find these rates an intolerable burden. There are cases in some counties where farmers with a valuation of £20 have to pay as much as £15 in rates, in the third of extremely bad years from the agricultural point of view. I would be inclined to forecast that the boards at present in existence have not got the confidence of the people. If they strike rates this year that are beyond the capacity of the people to pay, they will find that they will not be able to collect them. No Bills or special Statutes introduced here would have the effect of forcing farmers to pay rates that are beyond their resources.

More red flag work.

I move the adjournment of the debate until Wednesday.