PRIVATE DEPUTIES' BUSINESS. - LOCAL AUTHORITIES (OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES) BILL, 1928—SECOND STAGE (RESUMED).

Question again proposed that the Bill be read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on the following amendment:—
To delete all words after the word "That" and substitute the words "the Second Reading of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Bill, 1928, be deferred until a Select Committee, empowered to send for persons, papers and records, has inquired into and reported upon the working of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926. —(Tomás O Conaill.)

When speaking on this subject last I was interrupted by reason of the adjournment of this debate. I mentioned the qualifications of a certain engineer. I had shown that throughout his university and intermediate courses he took first place, gold medals and exhibitions in practically every year throughout his course. I think it will be admitted that we could not possibly get a better qualified engineer in this country than this particular man. I was going on to say that there were three vacancies for the position of assistant surveyors in County Limerick in 1926, and three men were appointed to them, including this man. In the meantime, before the appointments were ratified, this Principal Act came into force and the positions had to be again re-advertised. Those men were brought up before the Selection Board for interview. The other two men were appointed by the Local Appointments Commissioners, but for some reason this man was not. Shortly afterwards this man made application for a position in County Monaghan, and again he was not appointed. In the beginning of this year there was a vacancy in County Donegal for which he applied, and again he was not appointed. I know what I have said so far is true, that is as regards his qualifications, and I am informed, but I do not know if this is true, that the men appointed to these three positions were not nearly as well qualified as he was, that is, they had only pass degrees in each case. Deputy Hennessy spoke a good deal about university training and high degrees. What are we to learn from this case, where you have an engineer who got first class honours, first place in his degree examination, who got the B.Sc. and qualified for teaching in Irish in Ring College, and took the Higher Diploma in Education in the National University—that might not be of much use for measuring stones on a road-side but it should broaden his education—if a man of that high academic distinction cannot get the post of assistant surveyor, worth £160 a year, in his native county or some other county? What then, is the use of all these academic distinctions? Either university training and these degrees are a farce or there is the other alternative that the Local Appointments Commissioners are a fraud. It might be said that this man has no experience, but as a matter of fact he had two years' experience under the Revenue Commissioners and under the Public Works Department.

Some of us, perhaps, might not think very much about a man who got his experience in the Public Works Department but, at any rate, the Local Appointments Commissioners should have respect for that institution and should accept experience in that Department, just as they would in the case of a county council where a man works under a county surveyor. I know that in two of the three cases the men who were appointed in preference to him had less than one year's experience of practical work, so that even from the point of view of experience this man had more experience than the others and there is no doubt about his qualifications. I might be asked to suggest some reason why he was not appointed. I am going to suggest a reason. His father was once a trusted nominee of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party in a certain position and he resigned that position because Cumann na nGaedheal took a line of action with which he did not agree. That is the only reason I can suggest.

Another case is mentioned, that of a clerk appointed in Enniscorthy. I do not know if there is any defence for that. It is freely reported, at any rate, that the man who got that position only got fifth place. Somebody may ask me, as the Minister for Agriculture asked Deputy de Valera the other day, to produce proofs about the charges of corruption. That, I think, is a rather hard thing to do. If we were permitted to go in and examine the minute book and correspondence kept by the Local Appointments Commissioners and if, further, we are perfectly satisfied that these are the correct and original minutes and correspondence, we might be able to produce proofs or we might not. If, however, more than five men go for a position, as happened in the case in Enniscorthy, if it is freely reported afterwards that the fifth man got the appointment, if it is freely admitted on all sides that in all probability this man would only get fifth place in the examination, and if it is quite well known that one man had the Fáinne as a qualification in Irish and the man who got the appointment did not do the Irish examination at all, then I say that there is ground in that case for saying that there is irregularity. But how can we give further proof? We are not in a position to do so. If, of course, seeing how the appointments went, we became suspicious, then there is only one way which I could suggest of allaying our fears. Suppose we were to get a full list of the appointments made since the Government came into office, not only in local bodies, but in Government Departments, and not only appointments but promotions, and if we were to go through that list, some of us knowing the men on the Government Benches and those who would likely have influence with them, relatives and so on, we might be then in a position to judge whether there was any favouritism or corruption or whatever you like to call it. I would say that if the Government have a good case in this matter and have nothing to hide they ought to supply that list, and put us in the wrong if they can, and prove to us that there is nothing in what we say and that the relatives and friends of the Government Party did not get more than their proper proportion of whatever jobs and promotions were going.

I welcome this Bill that has been introduced by Deputy de Valera, because I think the original Act did not give complete satisfaction. I would much prefer that the Bill had been treated on its merits, and that the members of the Executive Council had not thought fit, more or less, to consider it their duty to make a massed attack upon the Bill. There can be no denying the fact that there is great dissatisfaction in the Saorstát, not alone amongst those who are politically opposed to the present Government, but also amongst some of the strongest supporters of the Government and amongst that very large section of the people who are attached to neither party. I do not like the idea of referring to matters that are ancient history, but. owing to the attitude taken up on this debate by members of the Front Bench in particular, I, as one who is dissatisfied with the way in which appointments have been made by the Appointments Commissioners, am convinced that there has been corruption, if I may use the word, in regard to certain appointments that were made in the past. I am convinced that the decisions of the Appointments Commissioners have got to be ratified by the Minister who is over the Department to which the appointment has been made. That admission has been made here by no less a personage than the Minister for Finance on the question of the Clerkship of the Dundalk District Court. I presume that the Minister was more or less under the impression that I was an innocent class of man, that anything could be said to me, and that it did not matter what answer was made on that occasion. The Minister for Justice, in his reply to my question, gave as one of his principal reasons that he as Minister had absolutely no control over the Appointments Commissioners, and the Minister for Finance immediately afterwards informed the House that the person who is at present in the position of Clerk to the Dundalk District Court had already been turned down.

On a point of order, is it not a fact that the matter about which the Deputy is speaking does not come within the purview of the Appointments Commissioners?

If that is so, the Deputy, of course, would not be in order.

Is the Minister for Defence really serious in making that point?

He seems to be.

Take it for granted; go ahead.

Since this question has been raised here, I would respectfully submit that the Minister for Justice should be sent for, as I do not make any statement unless I can substantiate it.

This appointment was not made by the Local Appointments Commission. It was made by the Civil Service Commissioners.

In the public Press, the Appointments Commissioners had a notice inviting applications for this position.

I think that there is a misunderstanding between the Deputy and the Minister. The Minister says that the appointment was made by the Civil Service Commissioners, and not by the Local Appointments Commission.

I brought up the question here, anyhow. It is a question affecting the suspicion that seems to exist amongst a very large section of the people of my constituency, that public appointments are not given on merit or have not been given on merit. That is why I rise to support the Bill introduced by Deputy de Valera. I am still convinced that there is something very suspicious about the whole question of appointments in the Free State. I have specific knowledge of another appointment in my constituency. Here again I would be very slow to refer to this appointment were it not for the fact that an attempt was made on the part of Ministers in particular to create the impression in this House that every appointment that had been made in the past was made on merit. There was an appointment made lately in my constituency. Five or six candidates sat for an examination, and not one of these candidates passed that examination. They all failed, and yet one of the number was appointed. So much for examinations. I believe that the public bodies of this country are not as corrupt as they have been made out to be in this House. The common people of the Free State have elected the public bodies of the Free State, and the same people who elect public bodies elect the members of this House. Therefore, if the public bodies are dishonest, we also are dishonest, and I do not think it is right or fair that this charge of wholesome corruption and bribery should be levelled against public bodies. I myself am a member of a public body, the members of which would add dignity to this House. They are men who have proved their worth in the economic, industrial and professional life of their native county. I do not think that these charges should have been levelled against the public bodies in the Free State.

If, instead of wholesale charges being made, Ministers and the members of the Government Party had accepted this Bill as introduced by Deputy de Valera or intimated, as they themselves intimated to the Leader of the Labour Party regarding the amendment, that they were prepared to give sympathetic consideration to the Bill, I believe that the Bill would have been withdrawn and the amendment, as introduced by the Leader of the Labour Party, would have been accepted unanimously by all parties in the House. Instead of that, there was, as I say, a massed attack made on the Bill. Thus, we see very valuable time spent on the discussion of this Bill and the amendment, the waste of which could have been obviated altogether. I maintain still, and a very big section of the people in the constituency which I represent have the same opinion, that fair play has not been shown in the making of appointments in general throughout the Free State. So convinced am I that that feeling is general that I am quite prepared to test that feeling in my own constituency at any time in the near future. There is no use in getting up in this House and maintaining that this Bill is the result of political propaganda. It is the firm conviction of sincere, honest people throughout the Free State that appointments made in the past were not made according to merit in many instances. For that reason I welcome the Bill as introduced by the Leader of the Opposition Party, to make some amendments in the Act of 1926, but as I said before, if this Bill were treated in a sympathetic manner, I am sure that the amendment, as introduced by the Leader of the Labour Party, would have been accepted unanimously by all parties in the House.

I do not think many will question my bona fides in speaking on a Bill such as this. When one comes to read the Bill one finds that it is founded on the argument which was put up by me against the original Act, and that it is, practically speaking, based on that argument. The principle is to send down a panel instead of sending down one name. That was the argument I put up. Perhaps it seems peculiar for me to criticise the new Bill, but I do criticise it. Arguments have been put forward here that public bodies are not dishonest and are not corrupt. I am very sorry that a year and a half ago I could not make use of the same arguments that are made use of by the Opposition now. Public bodies as a whole are not dishonest, but, unfortunately, we find some few counties where that cannot be said. These counties we find particularly on the borders of the Shannon.

Name them.

I mean the county from which the leader of the Opposition comes—Limerick—I put that at the head of the list.

I never heard of it.

Cork was also mentioned. I do not propose to deal with the northern counties at all; they can speak for themselves; but I do know something about the counties bordering on the Shannon. Whether it was the peculiar atmosphere of the Shannon mud that was responsible for it or not I do not know, but so it was anyhow. Before the war, when money was not as plenty as it was later on, it took £750 to £800 to get a doctor elected in Limerick. Anybody who had not that amount was out of it. That was supposed to be the market price at that time. I have this from personal friends of my own who went up there to be elected, and from a man whom I brought down from Limerick and got elected in Kilkenny.

The rate is cheaper in Kilkenny.

There was no rate in Kilkenny.

What did it cost in Kilkenny?

Nothing at all. They are square down there. We wanted a doctor and we were in conflict at the time with the Medical Association, who would not let doctors take the position except at a certain salary. I got a man and he was elected, and we broke down the Medical Association— this great trades union. During the war when money was plenty it took anything from £1,500 to £2,000 to get elected in Limerick. Nobody can deny that. It is common property—everybody knows it. There is scarcely a man or a woman in Limerick but knows it. These are the arguments that weakened our case. These are things we could not get rid of. This was the black sheep.

"Backsheesh."

I do not know what the name is—that will suit as well as any- thing else; perhaps it is the best; it is very expressive, at any rate. In the majority of counties the public representatives were absolutely honest—in my own county particularly. I was a member of public bodies for twenty-five years and I never heard even the suggestion of a suspicion. There may have been, but I never heard of it or saw it proved. The same could be said of many other counties.

Even Limerick.

I do not think so. In these particular counties the public representatives felt insulted, and I do not blame them, but the fact that in some counties there were public bodies who were dishonest, who were out for what Deputy Anthony calls "backsheesh," justified the original Act. When you come up against an argument like that you cannot meet it. It may be that the present Appointments Commission are not doing their duty properly, but that is not the fault of the system. When we are dealing with a Bill to amend the Act it is the system that is involved. Has the system proved to be wrong? It seems to me that some of the promoters of this Bill do not believe in it— I do not think they do. If they do accept the principle of competitive examination——

Do they believe in having the best appointed? I think the argument of Deputy O'Kelly was that they believed in competitive examination where the local authority wanted it. His exact words were that where the local authority wanted a competitive examination they would not oppose it. They wanted the panel of three sent down, but if any local authority wished to have one name sent down they would not oppose it. These were his exact words. It seems to me that, instead of having belief in the Bill, it is an effort to get all the disgruntled individuals in the community into their own political Irish stew-pot—all the ingredients are welcome.

Are you coming over?

I do not think you will ever find me there.

There is general agreement on that.

This is an attempt to get all the disgruntled elements under their banner, and for that reason I am opposed to the Bill. It is a question of whether there is a body of opinion in the country sufficiently large that it is worth their while to get them. They seem to think that there is a body of opinion in the country worth while getting after, purely from the point of view of political tactics, and they have got after them.

A very big body.

That is the reason they are after them.

They are not disgruntled either.

Is the Deputy in favour of the inquiry proposed by the Labour Party?

Inquiry is another matter. If there was an inquiry, and if some of the confidential files were available, I have no doubt that it would be found that there were sufficient reasons actuating the Commissioners in coming to their decisions—reasons that it might not be good for some of the applicants to have published. The poor man's son has been referred to. If there is one thing more abused than another it is the name of the poor man's son. More capital is being made out of it than anything else.

He has not capital.

It appeared to me from some of the arguments used that the idea is that if a candidate is a poor man's son the Commission should be made aware of the fact and he should get special treatment. The fact that a person gets an appointment means that he came up to a certain standard and was appointed on merit. He deserves no more and should get no special treatment, whether he is a poor man's son or not. When you ensure that there is fair play you have given all that is necessary, whether the candidate is a poor man's son or otherwise. Deputy O'Kelly said that if they had a representative on the Appointments Commission they would have been for it. In other words, if one of the political parties here had a representative on the Commission they would be satisfied. Then all that is necessary is to have a representative on it from each party —one from Cumann na nGaedheal, one from Fianna Fáil, and, if it could be arranged, another for the National Party, the Labour Party and the rest; or otherwise have them put on by proportional representation. The idea of political parties being represented on the Appointments Commission and carrying politics into the Commission is about the most peculiar suggestion I have ever heard from a responsible public man. That is their solution of the whole question. I think they would be there for inquiring into the politics of candidates rather than their qualifications. In 1921 or 1922 I remember having to deal with public appointments in County Kilkenny. We were dealing at that time with the formation of a central authority to replace the several authorities which existed all over the county. We had all the existing officers of the several authorities at our disposal, and I frankly admit that, with the rest, I voted on political grounds; that we put aside good officers that were there already and put in new men who had not experience. Fortunately we got some very good officers, although they had no experience, who have given entire satisfaction since. But I voted on political grounds; I voted for the people who had identified themselves with the Sinn Féin movement as against the Black and Tans. I make no secret of that. Every other man voted on the same lines, and will again, except something is done to prevent local bodies voting on political and private grounds. I make no apology for that. I do not think it was corruption in any sense— it may have been doing a job, but if it was I frankly admit having done it.

As I say, I am on rather delicate ground, having opposed the original Act. I believe still that it would be a good thing, and perhaps restore a sense of dignity to local authorities, if there were a panel sent down, and if the standard were raised sufficiently high to ensure that you would have absolute competence. I believe it would restore that dignity to local bodies that they think they have lost. But, as in my opinion this Bill is brought forward to try to get the people who are disgruntled about local appointments, the people who do not want to pay their annuities, the people who want to evade debts of one description or another, the people who do not want to work, into this political stew pot, I oppose the Bill.

When the original Bill was before the Dáil, I gave it my most hearty support, because from my experience, extending over 30 years on end of two systems, both devised by the British, I got a good idea of the working of local affairs, and I found human nature very much the same under both systems. During that time I do not suppose I would be wrong in saying there were hundreds of appointments in which I took part. I can remember some of them very vividly and I always thought there was a vital necessity for having some change made in the system of appointments. It threw too much responsibility on the local people and sometimes brought about very unpleasant feelings about appointments that took place and which it took years to mollify. I particularly remember one case a very long time ago. It was an appointment that was one of the plums of the county. The person that occupied the position made a very large fortune. He was a dispensary doctor and he was more or less the friend of everybody, high and low, in the county. When he died there was a very great desire to get this position and the very keenest interest was displayed by different people to get their own friend appointed. In fact, when the appointment came to be made there was a sort of Donnybrook Fair outside the place where it was made. The very bad feeling that was brought about by this appointment went on for years. A sort of vendetta went on and lasted for a very long time; in fact, I do not think it ever died out. That was a very long time ago. Still human nature I think is the same.

I remember another appointment which took place many years ago. There were two candidates. One of the candidates held views stronger even than Deputy de Valera's so far as I understood him. Nevertheless, he had the greatest ability and was a man of the kindest possible disposition. People high and low, even the most extreme Tories, backed him. He was most popular in the district. There was very keen opposition against him by a person who had very great local influence and used it to the utmost. The people of the district wanted to have this man of the extreme views, and I am bound to say, in my opinion, he should have been appointed, because I thought the people of the district had a right to choose whoever they thought was the best man for this appointment and I tried to help him to get it because they were practically unanimous upon it. In spite of that, however, it was no use. When the appointment came on the qualifications of the two men were read out. One was quite a young inexperienced man, but his qualifications were good. The other was a man highly qualified and the people of the district wanted him. Their representatives did everything they could to get him appointed but it was no use. If the Archangel Michael came down from Heaven, and used his influence, it would be of no avail. Here was a local appointment; there was no doubt about this man's qualifications; the people of the district, high and low, of every creed and class, wanted him, and yet, in spite of that, he was turned down.

After that I determined that if ever I had a chance of helping to have some system of appointment devised that would ensure that the man who was best qualified for the post and that was acceptable to the people should be appointed, as far as possible, I would do my best to help that. When the Act came on, which this Bills seeks to amend, I supported it to the utmost. I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, who was then Minister for Local Government, said quite rightly that he was content to let his reputation rest upon that Act. I think he was quite safe in saying that, because I think it will always stand to his credit as one of the best Acts that ever passed in this House. There is no system perfect; there is nothing perfect. I think it is the fairest system to have an Appointments Commission, as far away as possible from any influence that can touch it. That Commission can consider the qualifications of each of the candidates far better in a detached atmosphere than the local people could who are swayed by jealousies and other things—I do not say corruption, because I do not think corruption comes into it. It is undue influence and human nature. I should be very sorry to see any change made. As I said nothing is perfect, but in time and with experience of the working of the Act, it may be improved. The system is quite wrong. I am convinced of that. I am convinced that, on the whole, the Act is fairest. And it is the best system that has hitherto been devised. If a better system can be shown to me, then I will support it to the best of my ability.

I have followed with the greatest interest the debate on this Bill, which is described as an Amendment Bill. The original Bill was one in which, as a member of the public, I took a great interest as a step in the right direction, and when this Amendment Bill came on I read it as carefully as I could. It may be the fault of my intelligence, but I rather think it is the fault of the Bill. In reality the Bill is not doing what it proposes to do. This debate, as I conceive it, has taken the wrong turn. It has been a comparison between the old system and the new, not a comparison between the Act of 1926 and this Bill proposing to amend it, which is proposed by Deputy de Valera. I think that with very few exceptions there is general agreement that there ought to be such an Act in principle as the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act. We must remember when this Act was first passed it was an experiment, an experiment which I do not think even the Minister who brought it in would say was altogether perfect. Now there has been some time during which that Act has been working. The Bill introduced by Deputy de Valera should be directed to removing the things in the original Act that were not working well. This Bill, as I understand it, is not based on the faulty parts of the original Act, because it proposes certain things which came in the original administering of the first Bill. It proposes certain things which were introduced, and which I say should be abandoned now as unworkable. I refer to Section 7 of Deputy de Valera's Bill, which states that there should be at least three names sent down from the Appointments Commissioners to the local body. Now I submit that is where the crux of the whole situation lies. So long as you have more than one name sent down to the local bodies you will have a wrangle. If there were a dozen names sent down, in the end the wrangle would be about two, and you do not take away the local influence and you do not remedy that part of the existing Act at all.

If the Appointments Commissioners are any use, as we believe they are— and I say the Act is on the right lines and I back up the principle—it is for them to select the very best candidate and send down his name and then let that person be appointed. It has been mentioned here that there were cases where three or four names were sent down and the very best candidate was not selected. If this Dáil sets out for getting the very best talent in the country and putting a premium on industry and excellence it is surely a simple matter, if we have an independent authority examining the candidates, that he should select the best and let the local board appoint that person.

In Section 3—I am proceeding backwards in criticising this—it shortens the list of the persons who would be appointed through the Commissioners, and it leaves out appointments which, I think, are far more important than the ones it keeps in. There is no word here about medical officers, about matrons of hospitals or other individuals on whom the lives of the people depend. For that reason I think that is not an improvement. Deputy Coburn started off by saying that he was supporting the Bill and, like a number of others, he said he was willing to let it be tried in his own constituency, not between this Bill and the original Act, but between the original Act and the method by which the local bodies formerly made the appointments. It is within our recollection the wrangles and pulls and influences that were once in operation. To my own personal knowledge I have known a county council election to be fought simply on the issue of who was going to be secretary to the county council.

The Appointments Commissioners take away all that—at least I hope they do. It surely goes a long way towards preventing the prostitution of the interests of the community for the individual. If Deputy de Valera, in introducing the amending Bill, had directed his attention to what has been the failure of the Act, I would have great pleasure in supporting him. If he had put his finger on where there should be no such thing as a local board being the examining authority, I would have great pleasure in supporting him then. As I have said before, it is not fair to the board and it is not fair to the candidate.

There is on record, I believe, the declaration of an important judge on one occasion that it was very good evidence that a man had been drinking if you saw him coming out of a publichouse wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. It was suspicious. If you bring the local board down to examine the local candidates it is very hard to remove the suspicion from that board. If that amendment had been in the Bill I would have great pleasure in supporting it.

As the Bill stands, I do not see that it can serve any useful purpose, because it does not remove the anomalies of the Act, and it does not improve the Act, and I do not think it would work out to our satisfaction. I was very interested, naturally, in the speech delivered by my colleague on the opposite benches. I do not know that it is fair to say that he is a colleague, but he is, at least, a Deputy from the same constituency. I do not think it was a very consistent argument to use. He said there were certain instances where it was purely a wangle on behalf of the big party in this House to get appointments made. Then he went on to criticise how another appointment was made, and he drew the distinction himself, and he even quoted a letter from a distinguished clergyman in this country in support of that, that no person of a particular denomination should have been elected.

Placing these things together, I do not think there is any consistency in it. It is not for the making of appointments on merits. If a particular person had been appointed it was all right. It was not on the merits of the case— it was not to get the best candidate. I say that in the Local Appointments Commissioners the aim is to get the very best, and it is for this House to ensure by some means and by some amendment that all suspicion of the local boards is taken away, and that they will get the very best candidates for the position. If so, the views of men who are working for appointing people on merit will prevail, and then we will have gone a long way towards settling this everlasting wrangle about all these appointments.

I understand that at one o'clock the debate on this is to be adjourned so as to allow the Minister for Finance to make a statement.

Debate adjourned.