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.