This Port and Docks Board Bill has passed through its Second Reading and is now before the House for the Committee Stage. I move that the clauses be taken in order.
DAIL IN COMMITTEE. - DUBLIN PORT AND DOCKS BILL, 1924—THIRD STAGE.
It has not been possible in the time available to hand in amendments and to circulate them, but I wish to move that the words "Chief Justice of the Irish Free State" be deleted and to insert the words "Minister for Public Health and Local Government." The intention of this is to bring the system somewhat into relationship with the system of registration of voters as applied to local authorities. I have not had the time or the opportunity to look up references, but I think I am right in saying that the tendency in the Electoral Act is to throw the appointment of revision or registration officers on to the Local Government Minister. The object of this amendment is to bring the revision of the electorate in respect of the Port and Docks Board in some little direction towards the system in vogue with regard to Local Government elections.
This is the main section of the Bill, and obviously this Bill seeks simply to correct a position that has arisen and in substituting Chief Justice of the Saorstát for the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, it is in line with the alterations that have taken place in the administration of the laws of the Free State. It is merely a subsituation. Therefore, what Deputy Johnson would propose to do is to make a complete change. This Bill is obviously a temporary provision for a state of things that could not have been anticipated.
It is not intended to be temporary. The Bill is not designed to be temporary. It is to perpetuate a situation that has been created by a British Act, with the exception that in future the Chief Justice of the Saorstát is to dispense patronage instead of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. One of the faults that has been found with the system of judicial patronage in the past has been that it has tended to give judges certain privileges entirely foreign to their judicial office. The reviser of the list of electors of the Port and Docks Board is to be paid a certain fee for his work. The Chief Justice is to be handed the right to nominate that person and, therefore, the right to obtain this salary or fee that is provided.
I think a good deal of criticism has been directed against the system which has allowed the judiciary in Ireland in the past to exercise patronage. They have exercised it in a way which has led to many difficulties, even to the present Government. I think, as a matter of principle, if patronage is to be exercised, it should not be exercised by judges. It may be bad enough to say the political Minister should have the patronage at his disposal; but though that may be a bad way out, it is certainly better than to have such patronage exercised by a judge. Now, when we have the opportunity, we ought, I submit, to get away from that practice. It is a very small point. If the Deputy in charge of the Bill was given privileges over those interested in the land question, and if the Deputy had accepted this simple amendment, it would bring the question of the nomination of revising officers somewhat into line with the practice that is now being embodied in law relating to the Local Government elections.
I wonder whether, if a provision had been inserted or included in the Interpretation Bill which we passed about a year ago, indicating that wherever the words "The Lord Chief Justice of Ireland" were read, the words "Chief Justice of the Saorstát" would be substituted, Deputy Johnson would have objected to it? That is the situation which ought to have arisen, and we are now trying to correct our omission. I think I am not quite in agreement with Deputy Johnson's main plea, that a revising barrister should be in all cases appointed by a Minister responsible to the Dáil. That would mean the possibility of the Minister's appointment being canvassed and discussed. It would mean the possibility of the conduct of the revising barrister being discussed in the Dáil, and that would mean that we might get out of an atmosphere of impartiality and fairness which ought to characterise our proceedings here.
I do not believe that the Minister or the Chief Justice would consciously appoint an unfit man to such a post. I think the proposal in Deputy Hewat's measure is one which falls into line with the practice elsewhere, which has tended to throw matters concerning elections more and more into the hands of the judges and to remove them from the purview of legislation. Deputy Johnson may probably remember that when petitions against elections in the British House of Commons were tried by a Committee of that House, the results were not satisfactory, because party matters were introduced. Now that those matters are considered by a tribunal of judges, the result has been more satisfactory. I would urge Deputy Hewat very strongly not to accept the Minister for Local Government and Public Health as the Minister to appoint revising barristers—that is, presuming he is accepting the principle of Deputy Johnson's amendment. I think it would be much better if he selected the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The Minister for Local Government and Public Health has nothing to do with ports or docks, and if any Minister is to make the appointment, it should be the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who is intimately connected with the shipping and the mercantile community.
I had in mind the probable trend of events within the city and county of Dublin during the next year or two. I had in mind what has certainly been under consideration, the possibility that the administration of the Port and Docks Board would be by a public authority, allied with, and part of, perhaps, the general local governing authority of the area. The Deputy suggests the Minister for Industry and Commerce should have the appointment of the person who is to revise the list of electors. It really matters very little, only I do not see how the Minister for Industry and Commerce comes into it at all. If the Minister for Justice had been the person in the habit of appointing registration officers under the electoral law, then I would have put him in.
I simply want to bring some kind of uniformity into the law relating to the Port Board (claiming that it should be a public authority) with the law relating to public authorities as a whole. This revision of electors is not quite the same sort of thing as the revision of the electorate for local authorities, because the constituency is a very curious one. It has special characteristics and certain qualifications for one class of elector, and certain other qualifications for another class. For instance, if a resident happens to have £3,000 worth of personal estate, no matter if that person's estate be in war bonds or not, he is qualified as an elector. There is quite a number of qualifications. Then there is the question of the cumulative voting system, the duplicate, the triplicate and the quintuplicate system. The reviser has to do these things, but that is not the point. The point is, who shall appoint the revising officer, who must be a barrister? My suggestion is, that it is better not to have that power in the hands of the Chief Justice; it is not a judicial function and it should be in the hands of one of the Ministers of State.
Amendment put and negatived.
Section 3 is consequential on Section 2; it deals with the appointment of the revisor and the list of the electorate for the electoral year, 1924.
There is one little amendment to this section which would ask the Dáil to accept. It is:—
"In sub-section (2), line 54, to delete the word ‘meetings' and substitute the word ‘sittings.'"
It is merely a corrective amendment.
Section 5 is also a consequential clause. It deals with the completion of the revision of lists of electors of elective members by the revisor appointed for the year 1924.
I beg to move Section 6:—
(1) The seven elective members of the Board who would go out of office on the second Thursday in the month of January in the year 1925 under sub-section (5) of section 7 of the Principal Act shall, notwithstanding the provisions of that sub-section, continue in office until the second Thursday in the month of February in the year 1925 and shall then go out of office.
(2) The places of the members of the Board who go out of office under the foregoing sub-section shall be supplied by the election of a like number of members under sub-section (7) of the said section 7 of the Principal Act and all the provisions of the Principal Act as amended by this Act in relation to an election under the said sub-section (7) shall apply to the election aforesaid save that such election shall be held on the Tuesday in the month of February, 1925, immediately preceding the second Thursday in that month in lieu of the day appointed by the said sub-section (7).
That merely deals with the period when the present seven members would cease to be members unless their period were extended. It gives them an extension of the time when the election will be held. I move that the Section stand part of the Bill.
This is a question of seven elected members whose term of office is to continue under this section. It is allowing them to continue without having given a return or any answer to their constituents as to their record in the office. They have been elected for a certain period, and that period expires at the end of the normal year. The object of this section is to extend that year for so many weeks or months. I just call attention to the fact that by the passing of this section you are extending the period of service and not having an election.
You are doing this in the same way as you have been extending the period of service of the councillors of rural councils, urban councils and county councils, though you have been continually blaming those councils for incompetence and inability to carry out their duties in the way they ought to be carried out. You have not thrown upon them the responsibility of going back to the electorate and seeking re-election. You are extending their period of office without just cause shown.
I move Section 7:—
Sub-section (1) of Section 8 (which relates to the election of the chairman and vice-chairman of the Board) of the Principal Act shall have effect in relation to the election of such chairman and vice-chairman in the year 1925 as if the meeting of the Board on the second Thursday in the month of February, 1925, were substituted for the meeting of the Board first mentioned in that sub-section.
That is just a continuation of the alteration in the dates, and it enables the chairman and vice-chairman to be elected at a later date.
I beg to move that a new Section 8 follow Section 7 to this effect:—
Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary contained in the Dublin Port and Docks Act, 1898, no person qualified to vote at the election of elected members of the Board shall be entitled to more than one vote for each elected member to be elected at any election.
As I stated yesterday, the method of election is of quite a peculiar kind at least in this country. There are various classes of electors. There are traders' representatives; there are representatives of the shipping interests, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin for the time being and six members of the Corporation, as provided for in the Act, go to constitute the Board. Persons qualified as being traders or shipping members are to have certain qualifications, such as occupation of premises in the city, carrying on any trade or manufacture therein on a rateable value of £20, or being a wholesale trader within the city, carrying on business in the city and paying Customs Dues at the port, in the year, of at least £500, and similarly payment of Excise Duties of at least £500 in the year; or being the registered owner of shipping of at least 50 tons register; or being the payer of tonnage rates in the year of at least £100, in the case of an owner of a ship not registered in the port, who has an office and has a representative manager residing in the city or within fifteen miles of the boundary.
Then the curious part of this comes in, that a person who is qualified in respect of a £50 valuation, has an additional vote for every £50 valuation in excess of the £50, up to a maximum of six votes; or if he is qualified by the payment of Customs or Excise duty over £1,000 up to £5,000, he has an additional vote; exceeding £5,000 and not exceeding £10,000, he has a further vote, and so on up to a maximum of six votes. If he is the owner of tonnage he has a maximum up to 10 votes, according to the tonnage, and so on. Similarly in regard to harbour rates, he has votes. Now, the effect of that is that certain elements in the community are in a position to carry a very great deal more weight than their mental qualification would entitle them to. Their ability to discern who would be a competent member is not added to by the fact that their qualifications are increased in this way.
But then there is a further factor entering into this. There is a system whereby a person may carry votes on behalf of other people to an extent even much greater than I mentioned the other day when I said that one person can deposit 1,300 votes at an election. As a matter of fact, I am informed that at a recent election, the last election, one person was able to deposit as many as 1,700 votes.
That is a system of voting that I think is objectionable, and that I wish to remedy. The method of election that is laid down in the Act makes it possible for certain interests in the city— native and foreign—to control to a very great extent the workings of the Port and Docks. Deputies on the Farmers' Benches will be familiar with an agitation which has taken place within recent years. Deputies from the city, particularly, know that there have been many complaints respecting the method of conducting the business of the Board and respecting particularly the allocation of space, the complaint being that the tendency of the Board in allocating space is to give preferential treatment to the big companies—the monopolistic companies or those which are tending to a monopoly—to the exclusion or detriment of would-be rival companies, coming forward in the hope of getting a chance to serve the interests of the community—getting an edge in, getting a chance of competing with the big companies—the railway companies and Coast Lines, Limited, of which the British and Irish combine is a constituent part.
The factor that weighs with me is that the present system of voting in the election tends to increase the power of these companies to the detriment of the would-be rivals. This has resulted in a great deal of heart-burning, a great deal of condemnation and, I think, probably a great deal of loss to the country. In this amendment, I would hope that we would at least step one yard or so forward towards the prevention of the development of that monopoly; that we would secure that electors would not be able to carry six, eight and ten votes; that we would at least record our opinion that a more democratic system and a fairer system of election should take place, and that the persons who have been moving in the direction of controlling the port would at least have a slight check and that they would receive a warning that that tendency should be curbed. On those grounds I move the amendment.
I would ask the House to reject the amendment, but not on any ground of merit or demerit. I make this request of the House, because the present Bill does not profess to deal with anything but one small item. It gives us power to carry on our business in a proper way. There will come a much more suitable time for Deputy Johnson to stress all the arguments he has used. While I am not going into the arguments in detail, may I say that I do not at all agree with what the Deputy has urged. The Port and Docks Board has its demerits. It also has its merits and, so far as I am concerned, I will make an opportunity for Deputy Johnson or any other Deputy to discuss the franchise of the Port and Docks Board at an early and suitable date. To-day I am asking the Dáil for sympathy and support in rectifying the state of affairs which the Dáil has placed upon the Board and which the Dáil never intended to place upon the Board.
I desire to support the new clause introduced by Deputy Johnson. With an experience of 25 years of the port of Dublin, I must say that the members of the live stock trade and the public generally are not at all satisfied with the present constitution of the Port and Docks Board. They would prefer a broader franchise. What Deputy Johnson states is a fact—that the port is more or less controlled by the shipping interests. It will be remembered that when a new company was started some years ago, it was almost impossible to get berthage for the "Brussels." Practically every site from the Custom House to Alexandra Basin was taken up. It was next to impossible to get even a yard at the port. In the interests of trade, the port of Dublin should not be a preserved port, or something equivalent to the "pocket borough" that we used to hear of in olden times.
I think the franchise should be broadened and that an endeavour should be made to give representation to those interested in the development of the industrial resources of the country. I am in agreement with the main principles of the Bill, but the feeling that I have referred to exists amongst the people, and I think Deputy Johnson did a useful service in calling attention to it.
May I ask Deputy Hewat if he is speaking on behalf of the Port and Docks Board and does he give the Dáil a promise that the Board will bring forward a Bill for the purpose of amending the system of election and the qualifications of electors in the near future? Is that the promise Deputy Hewat is giving? If it is, a great burden may be taken off my shoulders.
Deputy Johnson knows that I could not give any such undertaking. I said on the Second Reading that I was quite sure that the Board will have to get further powers in a comparatively short time—for instance, by promoting a Private Bill. These matters regarding the franchise and everything else could then be raised.
If the Board itself would bring forward a proposal of this kind it would be a different thing.
I could not guarantee that they would do any such thing. But Deputy Johnson knows that the whole future of the Port and Docks Board is under consideration in connecnection with the bigger scheme for the reconstruction of Dublin. If anything came out of that, the Board might be altered without their having much "say" in it. I am not objecting to the criticisms of Deputy Johnson or Deputy McKenna. All I do urge is that this is a matter of urgency, and that I do not think the merits or demerits of the Port and Docks Board enter into the question at the moment. Nobody can doubt that an opportunity will in a short time be given, either before the Reconstruction Committee or the Greater Dublin Committee, or by the promotion of a Bill by the Board, to go into the whole question. The whole question can be gone into then if there is any strong feeling that the composition of the Board is not satisfactory to the people. After all, we do not claim, as a Board, to be outside the range of public criticism, nor do we act in any way as arbitrarily as Deputy Johnson would have the Dáil believe.
Deputy Hewat has evaded the point. The election that will be facilitated by the passing of this Bill will mean the re-election, I have no doubt in view of the present system, of the two representatives of the two big companies that are under criticism. It will be a fixing of that influence in the Board for at least a period of, I think, three years. Perhaps we can get some kind of an assurance that we are going to have a real chance in the Dáil of discussing this matter—I do not mean by Private Bill, because I am afraid that Private Bills are going to be the means of getting many evil things done outside and of avoiding the criticism of the Dáil. I want this question to be brought frankly before the Dáil by a Bill, moved either on behalf of the Port and Docks Board or on behalf of the Ministry, to alter the franchise and the present scheme of representation. I know it is quite right for Deputy Hewat to remind me of the existence of the Commission that is to inquire into the whole system, but from what Deputy Hewat himself said last night I think he is looking forward to three or five years hence. I do not think we can afford to wait that time before this reform takes place. I would like to have from Deputy Hewat, on behalf of the Port and Docks Board, some kind of an assurance that, of their own free will, they will father a Bill to revise the qualifications for the election of members of the Board.
Will you father that?
No, I am not competent.
You can provide the opportunity.
If I were to father it and were to be treated as I would likely be treated by members of the Government, by members of the Government Party and of the Commercial Party, no real good would be arrived at. We are now trying to arrive at what is good by this amendment, and I think there is a fair opportunity for the Dáil to express its views as to the constitution of the Port and Docks Board and as to the wisdom or unwisdom of continuing this present system for at least another year. We are asked now to agree that the membership of the Board, as it at present exists, ought to continue. As to the period of its continuance, that is a matter that will come up later, but we are now asked to agree that the Board shall be re-elected on its present basis, and that the present system ought to continue. That is what I want the Dáil to decide upon.
I have been a former member of the Port and Docks Board. As a member of the minority party on that Board, I wish to testify to the excellent work done by the Board. I was a member of the Berthage Committee of the Port Board and I wish it to be known that the port reserves a certain amount of unallocated space, and that any firm of shippers who want a berth can get it by making application to the Harbour Master. No ship was ever turned away by the Port and Docks Board for want of a berth. What happened in the old days, say 20 years ago, I do not know. As a member of the Board for the past eight or ten years I do know that a good many of the complaints referred to by Deputy Johnson have been removed. The Board is an excellent one and it does its work exceptionally well. As Deputy Hewat stated, this Bill has been put forward merely to correct the omission of the name of the Chief Justice, which was forgotten when the Act was going through before. The Bill merely asks for a continuance of the present system.
The Greater Dublin Commission expects to have the members of the Port and Docks Board before it, and I hope the Commission will make its report before the time anticipated by Deputies. The Commission may be making recommendations concerning the points Deputy Johnson complains about. Some years ago I had reason to complain myself about the system of election to the Board, but as time went on we got on the Board that type of man who is representative of the successful commercial men we have in the city of Dublin. As regards the mentality of the voters who had two, three or four votes on the plural system of voting, they were all successful business people in the city. They achieved success in building up fine commercial concerns, and must, I think, be given credit for the extraordinary ability which enabled them to merit an allotment of two, four, or six votes. There were very few, I think, who had six votes. On the whole, I say that the Port and Docks Board is one of the best managed Boards in the Saorstát. In the near future there may be a suggestion for extending its franchise. If any reasonable proposal is put forward that will safeguard the interests of the port of Dublin, I, personally, will support it. I ask the Dáil, as an ex-member of the Port and Docks Board, though I have not attended its meeting during the past six months——
Why not now?
I have not attended the meetings of the Board during the past six months, but knowing as I do the character of the work done by the successful business men who are members of that Board, I accept this Bill as it stands. Later on, should any reasonable proposals be put forward for an extension of the franchise of the Board, I will give them my support.
Deputy Byrne has really missed the completion of his speech. He should have said that the Board was constituted of so and so, but that his colleagues, representing the Corporation of the city of Dublin, that is to say, the civic members, are no longer there and that the Board is, of course, the poorer to that extent. Their absence increases the power of these particular people that you are going to re-elect. You are, by the abolition of the rights of the Corporation members —by their withdrawal—actually increasing the powers of the representatives of the shipping interests. That is another reason for amending the present franchise, or, at least, for delaying action on this matter until Deputy Hewat has had an opportunity of consulting with his Board to bring in a better Bill.
The only point I want to make in answer to Deputy Johnson is, that if I go back to the Board to consult them about promoting a Bill, they could not do so, even if willing, because they would require 15 members to do so, and they have only 14.
The next amendment will deal with that.
- Seán Buitléir.
- John Conlan.
- Séamus Eabhróid.
- David Hall.
- Tomás Mac Eoin.
- Pádraig Mac Fadáin.
- Pádraig Mac Fhlannchadha.
- Patrick McKenna.
- Liam Mag Aonghusa.
- Pádraig S. Mag Ualghairg.
- Patrick Mulvany.
- Martin M. Nally.
- Tomás de Nógla.
- Criostóir O Broin.
- Tomás O Conaill.
- Conchubhar O Conghaile.
- Aodh O Cúlacháin.
- Mícheál O Dubhghaill.
- Peadar O Dubhghaill.
- Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.
- Seán O Laidhín.
- Aindriú O Láimhin.
- Domhnall O Muirgheasa.
- Tadhg O Murchadha.
- Pádraig O hOgáin (An Clár).
- Seán Príomhdhail.
- Richard H. Beamish.
- Earnán de Blaghd.
- Seoirse de Bhulbh.
- Proinsias Bulfin.
- Séamus de Búrca.
- John J. Cole.
- Maighréad Ní Choileáin Bean Ui Dhrisceóil.
- Patrick J. Egan.
- Seán de Faoite.
- Desmond Fitzgerald.
- John Good.
- John Hennigan.
- William Hewat.
- Connor Hogan.
- Seosamh Mac a' Bhrighde.
- Séamus Mac Cosgair.
- Maolmhuire Mac Eochadha.
- Patrick McGilligan.
- Risteárd Mac Liam.
- Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
- Liam Mac Sioghaird.
- James Sproule Myles.
- John T. Nolan.
- Peadar O hAodha. Mícheál O hAonghusa.
- Ailfrid O Broin.
- Partholán O Conchubhair.
- Séamus O Dóláin.
- Séamus O Leadáin.
- Fionán O Loingsigh.
- Séamus O Murchadha.
- Seán O Súilleabháin.
- Caoimhghín O hUigín.
- Patrick W. Shaw.
- Liam Thrift.
I move to report progress.