LOCAL ELECTIONS (DISSOLVED AUTHORITIES) BILL, 1926—SECOND STAGE.

This Bill is largely self-explanatory. Under the provisions of Section 72, sub-section (5) of the Local Government Act of 1925, when a local authority is dissolved it becomes necessary to hold an election within three years of the date of dissolution. The Dublin Board of Guardians was dissolved on November 21st, 1923; the Dublin Corporation on May 20th, 1924; and the Cork Corporation on October 30th, 1924. Accordingly, if there was no amendment to the existing legislation, it would be necessary to hold elections for these different bodies on 21st November in the present year in the case of the Dublin Guardians, in the case of the Dublin Corporation on 20th May, 1927, and in the case of the Cork Corporation on 30th October, 1927.

The position is that there is a Poor Law Commission investigating the whole position with regard to the administration of poor law relief. That Commission will not conclude its labours for some considerable time. There is also a Commission dealing with the question of city government with particular reference to the City of Dublin. I expect that Commission will shortly be in a position to report, but as regards the Greater Dublin Commission it would, if anything, complicate the present position, which is itself sufficiently complicated, to have a new election of the Dublin Guardians, and so far as I can gather from the Poor Law Commission, there is not any great likelihood that they will recommend a revival of the old guardian system for the administration of poor relief. A new election for the Dublin Guardians would cost on the 1922 basis about £4,000, and for the Dublin Corporation it would cost £5,000. That would mean an expenditure of about £9,000 to have an election of bodies which, in their present state, are not likely to be kept in office for any considerable time, and the position in regard to Cork is somewhat similar. There is no Commission inquiring into the position of Cork, but I expect the views of the Greater Dublin Commission will have some bearing on that subject, and it is very likely that the Cork Corporation will not again be revived, at all events, in its former state. For these reasons, it would be impolitic and unwise to have elections for those bodies at this particular time, and, accordingly, I am asking the leave of the Dáil to pass the present Bill to relieve it from the obligation of these financial commitments and going to this unnecessary trouble.

I wish the Minister had given us some indication of what is in his own mind regarding the future form of local government. We are only in April, 1926. While it may be true, as the Minister points out, that the election to the Guardians of the Dublin Union is due, in November of this year, the other two elections are not due until May and October of next year. I would imagine there was plenty of time to enact legislation in respect to future local government between now and then and that this Bill is premature in respect to Dublin and Cork, whatever may be the case regarding the Dublin Union. The Minister has let fall, whether with deliberation or not remains to be seen, that the Commission dealing with the administration of Dublin and the surrounding areas is engaged in the problem of discussing city government as though it were its function to inquire into the general system of city government, and that its recommendations regarding Dublin will have effect as respects Cork, Limerick, Waterford and other cities. I did not understand that it was the intention of this Commission to deal with the general problem of local government in respect to towns and cities and I say that we might have had, on the Second Reading Stage of the Bill, some views from the Minister as to the position taken by his Department on this general question of the future government of towns and cities.

There is a good deal being said in favour of the Commissioner system. It seems to be forgotten, by those praising the Commissioner system, that so far as the public or the Dáil even is concerned, possibly so far as the Minister is concerned, but I am not sure, the Commissioners are entirely irresponsible. They may be responsible to the Minister but that kind of responsibility to the Minister is not helpful to the public. It may be said, and is said, that the work of the Commissioners has been eminently successful. Much of the work that has been done by the Commissioners in Dublin has been simply to carry out schemes that had been adopted and were ready for carrying out under the régime of the Corporation. While I have not the slightest intention to cast any doubt on the integrity of any of the Commissioners, I say that the system that is being praised so highly whereby a Commissioner is set up to administer public affairs with no responsibility to the citizens and nothing educative in citizenship, is one that ought not to be pressed beyond what is purely an emergency, and ought not to be continued for one week longer than the emergency requires. I agree that the question of civic administration requires a great deal of consideration and reform and that there is something to be said for the Commissioner or the city manager, but the Commissioner or the city manager ought not to be set up as a law unto himself, responsible only to a Minister for Local Government who has no responsibility for the direct administration of the city over which the Commissioner rules. The situation that we have and that we are asked to continue for the year 1927, possibly until 1929, is one that may be justified in immediate results. It may or may not be, but there have been instances, of a not very distant date, when men of very great capacity who have had the highest confidence have proved not reliable, and no matter how honourable and honest a man may be, when you place him in a position of absolute power and irresponsibility as the Commissioners are, the risk is run and no one in the city can say that they could have stopped any wrong if they had tried.

The whole power and responsibility lie with the Commissioner, and I maintain that it is a position which we ought not extend one week longer than the necessities of the case require. I, therefore, think that it would be better for the Minister to bring forward his proposals regarding the future methods of local government, so that there would be no necessity to extend the period during which the Commissioners are in authority beyond the time set down in the Act, in so far as it refers to the boroughs of Dublin and Cork. I recognise the necessities of the case regarding the Dublin Union inasmuch as the expiry period is November of this year, but I think it is undesirable that we should extend it beyond May, 1927, in the case of Dublin, and October, 1927, in the case of Cork. I would like an assurance from the Minister that there are, at least, possibilities that the future local government system as affecting towns and cities will be in operation before the end of next year.

The Minister comes with a Bill to continue in operation the transition arrangements that have been brought about in Dublin and Cork. I do not think that anybody will appreciate more than business men what the Commissioners have done towards relieving the burden of rates which press so heavily on their shoulders. I think they have administered the affairs of Dublin in a very creditable way, and have given general satisfaction. I think, also, that there will be a very large consensus of opinion among responsible citizens that, pending reorganisation, the present arrangements should be continued, but I do not think that the bulk of the citizens will contemplate the continuance indefinitely of the present position. If I may say so, the uprooting process, generally speaking, that has gone on in the country has created a state of apathy, and I think the greatest possible service that could be done to the country would be to get a revival of civic and national spirit among individuals throughout the country. That applies, I think, particularly to the city of Dublin to-day. It is, in my opinion, necessary for the Minister, or the Ministry, to give a lead to public opinion on this question as soon as possible, so that people can consider the whole question from their own standpoint before legislation is introduced here. I think that this House is very often legislating in advance of public opinion, and that makes it rather difficult for the ordinary citizen to take as much interest in the proceedings here as he would take if he felt he was more interested in the initiation or trend of legislation than he is at present.

I agree that the bulk of the people are at the moment disinclined to form definite opinions on this subject of the reorganisation of civic services. I do not think that members of this House ought to blame them, because it is a case of the old order changing. Nothing, however, has been put forward before them in a concrete form to take the place of that which has been knocked down. The longer that continues the more difficult it will be to get people to take an interest in reconstruction, which must, of necessity, take effect at an early date. If we are going to have civic administration of the areas involved in this Bill, the people will have to get back to a sense of personal responsibility in connection with it. Take the case of the Commissioners. They hold a meeting. They bring forward something that has been decided. When that is put into operation the people say that it is working well, but they do not take any personal interest in the initiation, or in the discussion of the pros and cons of the subject that is going to be dealt with. I do not know whether the Minister has come to any particular decision. I think he said that he is waiting for the report of the Greater Dublin Commission. What that Commission is going to contribute towards the problem is, of course, a matter that is not publicly known, but I think that whatever is in the mind of the Minister, or of the Ministry, on this matter, ought to be made public as soon as possible, and considerably in advance of any legislation that may take place in connection with it. I may say that the reason that the Commissioners have been so successful in Dublin has been that they found a state of affairs which was not very creditable to the old Corporation. That Corporation was elected on a franchise and had a constitution which would not, I think, be acceptable to the people with any reawakened sense of their civic responsibilities. What is going to evolve out of the position that has been created by the election of Commissioners? I think that if any guidance could be given on that matter it would be generally welcome. The Minister asks for a continuation of the Commissioner system for a further period which will run for a very considerable time. If the Minister gets that extension of time I will be very much concerned in what would probably happen, and that is that the extension of the period would delay the urgency of the problem with which I think the city of Dublin is at present faced.

It may be quite reasonable to continue the Commissioners as they are by a mere flourish of the pen, for another couple of years, but there ought to be, coupled with that, a statement that within a reasonable time we are going to know what is going to arise out of the change that has taken place. We must begin a new civic life in the city of Dublin, and we ought to know what general principles are going to underlie the legislation that is to alter the state of affairs that existed in the past. That is important, not so much as a matter of information to the Dáil, as a matter of information to the citizens. It is of importance that the uncertainty that confronts them should be dispelled. They should be able to look forward clearly. At present there is no looking forward. The sooner we know how the rebuilding of our civic organisation is to be set about the better for ourselves. I take no exception to the renewal of the powers of the Commissioners within any reasonable limits, but if it is to be simply a case of postponing a definite and urgent problem, I think this procedure will not serve its purpose.

As to the point raised by Deputy Johnson, I do not know if, in my opening statement, I gave reason for arriving at the conclusion that the Greater Dublin Commission was set up for some purpose other than finding a solution of the problem of Greater Dublin itself. What I meant to convey by what I said was that the eventual decision, or finding, of the Greater Dublin Commission will be based on evidence which will help us in finding a solution, also, for the problem of the City of Cork and for other cities in the Free State. In regard to the Dublin Commissioners, I think I made it clear, originally, that this was merely an emergency solution. At the time, we had not any sufficient data to devise a permanent form of government for the City of Dublin. Instead of carrying through hasty legislation— a thing we are often accused of here— we decided that it would be much better set up a Commission and have the whole matter investigated. That investigation is at present being carried out, and while the matter is sub judice it would hardly be the proper thing for the responsible Minister to state what his views are. At the same time, I think the Commissioners in Dublin and the Commissioner in Cork are rather anxious that the whole responsibility for carrying out decisions should not be left on their shoulders. I think all of them would welcome some kind of buffer, in the shape of a popularly elected body, between themselves and public opinion. A person placed in such a responsible position is naturally very sensitive to public opinion. I am not in a position to anticipate what the views of the Greater Dublin Commission will be and I do not know how far we can base legislation on any decision arrived at by that body. But there is no danger of this system of government being left for an undue length of time in operation. I think, when we have all agreed that it is necessary to seek those powers for the continuation of the present system of administration of the Dublin Union, there is no reason why we should postpone taking similar powers for continuation in office of the Commissioners of Cork and Dublin until we have time to bring in some form of permanent legislation. Deputy Hewat recommended that, after we have arrived at some deliberate and considered policy, we should give time for that policy to sink into the minds of the public before bringing forward legislation. If we have to wait for the Commission to bring its report in, if we have to fashion legislation, guided by that report, and give the necessary time for any publicity that we consider desirable in order that the policy may sink into the public mind, it will be seen that we are not asking for an undue length of time in this Bill.

The Minister should recognise that there is such a thing as creating a public opinion.

That is very problematical at the present time.

We see certain attempts in that direction.

The Minister has spoken of Cork Corporation. I want to put a question regarding the continuance in office of the Commissioner discharging the functions of the public assistance boards in South, North and West Cork. I want to know if it is the intention of the Department to continue this Commissioner in office so far as public assistance is concerned. The position is that these bodies are elected now by the county council. Is it the intention to continue the Commissioner in office, or is it the intention to restore the functions to the committees of the county councils, within any particular time?

The functions are restored to the county councils. We will have no power to continue the Commissioner in office after his term expires.

His time will not expire for a couple of years, and I do not know if any useful purpose will be served by keeping him in office in the meantime.

I am sorry Deputy Davin had to leave on important business. I would like to know, in connection with the Commissioner in Offaly, if when his time expires, it is proposed to introduce legislation to continue his services, as the workers are nine months in the year unemployed since he came.

This Bill does not deal with Offaly.

Question—"That the Bill be read a Second Time"—put and declared carried.
Third Stage fixed for Tuesday.
Order for Unemployment Insurance Bill, 1926, Second Stage, discharged; to be taken to-morrow.