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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Jun 1931

Vol. 39 No. 4

Orders of the Day. - Local Government (Dublin) (Amendment) Bill, 1931—Second Stage.

I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. Deputies will, perhaps, remember that under the Local Government (Dublin) Bill, 1930, the boards of guardians which existed in Rathdown, Balrothery and Dublin were not entirely abolished but were replaced by committees called union committees. The Dublin Union Committee, after some experience of their work and finding that their numbers were rather small to cope satisfactorily in their opinion with their work, passed a resolution on 18th February asking me to receive a deputation from them to consider their problem. The committee consisted of four members nominated by the Dublin City Council and one member nominated by the County Council—a total number of five. After a discussion on the matter and after further consideration on the part of the Dublin Union Committee they communicated with me on the 11th March and recommended that steps be taken to increase their membership to eleven—six from the city and three from the county, the nine members being empowered to co-opt two additional members. The present Bill provides for increasing the membership of the Dublin Union Committee in accordance with the recommendation of that committee. Deputies may remember that the boards of guardians in these three areas were not abolished by the Local Government (Dublin) Act but were replaced temporarily by union committees. The Act provided in Section 91 that the Dublin Union Committee would continue in office until 31st March, 1932, and that the Rathdown and Balrothery Committees would continue for three years after their appointment.

The statutory position of the committees was intended to be as if they had been appointed to supersede a dissolved body, and that statutory position was regulated by Section 72 of the Act of 1925. On going into this question raised by the Dublin Union Committee, it appeared to us to be more satisfactory to change the nature of the committees in these three areas. The Bill, therefore, in addition to enlarging the membership of the union committees, proposes to abolish the position of boards of guardians in these three areas in the same way in which boards of guardians have been abolished throughout the country and to replace them by boards of public assistance. Thus, while the scheme under the 1923 Act has not been established in the City and County of Dublin in the same way as in other areas, we propose to establish the position of having a board of assistance. The reason that committees were appointed rather than boards of assistance under the Act of 1930 was that we anticipated that the general Public Assistance Act would have been passed by the time the life of these committees was up. I explained on the Dublin Poor Relief Bill that I did not expect to have that Bill passed as early as I anticipated. It is desirable that the statutory position of the bodies dealing with poor law relief in Dublin City and County should be made more secure than by simply having that work dealt with by a committee as if that committee was appointed under Section 72 of the Act of 1925. Therefore, the Bill proposes to abolish boards of guardians in Dublin City and County, to establish boards of public assistance, and to make the necessary arrangements regarding the regulations governing their meetings and the times at which their membership will be replaced.

I do not think that this is a measure that will require very long consideration by the House. It is a Bill whose chief object is to increase the number of members of the Dublin Union Committee and to make alterations with regard to the position of other poor law authorities in and around the County Dublin. It is, in my opinion, a sad commentary on the competence of the Minister's Department. It is a Bill which was made necessary, I believe, by the want of competence on the part of the advisers of the Minister. Judging by this Bill and another Bill which is on the Order Paper from the same Department, I think that the sooner the Minister gets rid of his present technical advisers the better. He should get a competent staff and get someone who will prevent him falling into the shameful blunders which he fell into in the last year or so. He is paying them well enough and he ought to get competent men. Which of the heads of the Department is responsible, whether legal or other technical advisers, I do not know, but the Minister is put in a sad plight before the public by having to introduce these amending Bills which have to be brought in so often to make up defects, whether of brains, experience, or efficiency it is not for me to say, but the gross incompetence of the Department is brought forcibly under our notice by the number of Bills of this kind which have to be introduced.

Why even the Minister himself, tyro as he is in local government matters, should have known in the beginning that five was an impossible number for a committee of such importance as the Board of the Dublin Union. Members of all shades of opinion in the Dublin Council that I heard speaking about it since they heard of the number, were astonished that the Minister could expect that five persons, most of whom have to attend to other public engagements and are members of other public bodies, too, could run the affairs of such an important department as the Dublin Union or give it the attention that a big and wealthy body such as it necessitates. When the matter was mentioned here before, when other Bills were under discussion, the Minister did not see his way to adopt suggestions to increase the number, but on the experience of members of his own Party on the Dublin Union Committee, and the frequent failure in getting a quorum, not through the fault of any individual member, but through pressure of public business, the long delays in getting a quorum of that body, the delay therefore in public work and the lack of efficiency that possibly arises out of that, have forced the Minister now to mend his hand. It is better late than never. I hope it will be a lesson to him and to the officials concerned to be a little more careful, a little more thoughtful, and to use the experience and the brains that they ought to have to better advantage when planning similar Bills for the Minister and his Department in future.

As Deputy O'Kelly has pointed out, we are anxious to see this alteration in the composition of the Poor Law Commissioners carried out, and we are not going to offer any opposition to this Bill. In fact we wish to see the Bill carried through all its stages in the shortest possible time. As far as I can read through the Bill, it is only an apology, or an attempted apology, for the Minister's long delay in dealing with this matter, which is of urgent importance for the people of Dublin.

The Minister, if he read through the debates that have taken place in this House or the questions put to him, would find that it is a considerable time now since he was asked if he was aware of the inconvenience that was caused to the members of that committee as well as of the danger of the whole system of Poor Law relief breaking down, owing to his failure to include in the original Bill a larger number. At that time his attitude was, as it always is in matters of this kind, a sneering sort of careless attitude, that representations were not made to him, and that until representations were made to him from the proper quarters he would not move. In other words, if he believed that something was wrong, and knew it was wrong, representations would have to be made to him from a particular quarter before he would deal with it. It was not sufficient that his attention was drawn to the matter in the House or that information came from other sources, that this Committee was not composed of a sufficient number of individuals to function properly or efficiently to enable him to make the alteration necessary. Possibly it was too soon after the introduction of the Local Government (Dublin) Bill to admit that even in this section he made a mistake.

I am not going into the question of the meetings of this body, because I do not happen to be a member, but I say that the Minister, whether he knows it or not, is enforcing the meanest kind of Local Government administration that a Minister could indulge in. I want to put it frankly and openly: the reason the Minister wants the Bill brought forward and the reason he wants to get the Committee confined to certain numbers, is that he wants certain individuals on it and no others. He is afraid that in the administration of Poor Law relief the members of the Committee will be credited with giving relief, and that they will get votes in elections from the unfortunate people who get relief through their administration. The Minister allows himself to be drawn into Local Government in that mean and despicable manner, and yet he tries to belittle other members who are not on the Committee, but who have an interest in this question, by suggesting that they are butting in on his Department. Does the Minister want to make out that a person who is on the Dublin Corporation, who has a knowledge of the working of the Committee, and who in that way is aware that the committee is not functioning properly, is not a proper person to ask an increase in the numbers on this Committee or to move an amendment to a particular Bill for the purpose of ensuring a more continuous and efficient administration of outdoor relief?

I want to say, in relation to the number now suggested by the Minister, although he suggests it is the number which the Committee themselves would desire, that as far as my information goes he will require a much larger number than he now suggests. The increase in membership from five members, who were originally appointed, to the nine to be appointed now, and two further members to be co-opted, is not large enough. The Minister does not realise the work this committee has to take on its shoulders. The Minister forgets that, if the committee is to function properly, not only must it meet once a week in the Dublin Union for the purpose of going into the accounts, which any official can do, but it must be in a position to visit every section of every institution or whatever person comes within the administration of that particular body. If these Commissioners are to do their work thoroughly and in an efficient manner, to ensure on the one hand that only those who are entitled to get poor law relief will get it, and on the other hand, that the ratepayers are not going to be mulcted by people who are not entitled to it, I say that a committee must be set up that will be sufficiently elastic to indulge in all classes of investigation, to visit the institution itself, to see that the patients are properly treated—those of them who are in there under the care of the Dublin Union—as well as to visit people who are getting out-door relief. They are also to take on the responsibility to the ratepayers of ensuring that their interests are being properly looked after, and that the inmates are being properly cared for. I can only speak with experience of membership of one institution, the Portrane Mental Hospital. The Committee, which consisted of twenty-eight members of the Corporation alone, apart from the members of other bodies co-opted from outside areas, have their hands full to see that they are fully aware of everything that takes place in the institution, and in connection with their contact with bodies concerned with them. The Minister will not admit that the whole thing underlying this is that he wants the whole thing kept in the hands of a few. I have heard it stated that the Minister rejected my Bill because I would become a member of the Committee, and thereby might get a few votes in Inchicore. I may tell the Minister that I have enough to do outside this Committee, and I hope members of this Party will not go to electors to get votes in exchange for the administration of outdoor relief.

The Minister admits that his notice was first drawn to this particular situation on the 2nd February. It is now almost the end of June when he has introduced his Bill, a non-contentious measure that would have been passed through this House in all its stages in a very short time. I want to tell the Minister that if the administration of poor relief breaks down in Dublin, the blame will be put on his shoulders. He has held up my measure out of petty spite and nothing else. No argument was put up to show that the measure was not required. The opposition was due to the fear that this Party would get a few votes from people who got outdoor relief. I do not know what the Minister's reply will be. I suppose he will ignore all the remarks as usual. With Deputy O'Kelly, I hope that the measure will be rushed through in a short time, so that if any change takes place in the Union administration, the machinery will not break down. I hope the House will realise that the Committee will have to be composed of a different number from what the Minister suggests now.

I welcome the introduction of this Bill. I wish to contradict some of the statements made by Deputy Briscoe regarding the quorum. Since the Union Committee met there has been no occasion on which there has not been a quorum. On two occasions there was a little delay. It is not right to say that no relief would be given if there was not a quorum. Provision was made that that should not occur. On this question of relief and vote-catching, I think it is very desirable that the public should know that those who are entitled to relief are under no obligation whatever to the Committee or any individual member of it. If they are entitled to relief they will get it.

I made no reference whatsoever to meetings having broken down owing to want of quorums. Will Deputy Doyle deny that on occasions two members carried on the business of the Committee when three is a quorum?

Mr. Doyle

I emphatically deny that.

Deputy Briscoe is quite right when he suspects that I have nothing to reply to. The Deputy reminds me of a man who is afraid in the dark and who makes not the slightest attempt to become more objective in his mind or to struggle out of the disability.

In reply to Deputy O'Kelly, I do not think that I would come to this House to apologise for any weakness or faults in any of the officers in the Department of Local Government. I do not think there is any person in this House who, in dozens of different ways, has not ample opportunity for knowing the calibre of the officers of this Department, both high and low, and is not grateful that we have the type of officer in the Department dealing with important matters that this Department has to deal with. A little more experience of local government, a little more knowledge of local government administration and where it comes from and where it leads would prevent Deputies indulging in the type of criticism Deputy O'Kelly indulges in, and surprises me by indulging in. As far as anything that comes before this House is concerned the Minister who puts the matter before the House will be found to accept entire responsibility for it and is entirely responsible for it. I do not subscribe completely to the suggestion of a committee of eleven being necessary to deal with relief work in Dublin City. I am almost quite certain that its administration would not be more capable than the administration of a committee of five. That arises out of the discussion I had with the committee and is the committee's own feeling in connection with the matter. I do not know whether the Deputy is really emphatic in wanting a committee of eleven. At any rate they made the recommendation to me that a committee of eleven is required rather than a committee of five and I am making it.

At least eleven.

At least eleven. Deputy O'Kelly referred to general incompetence and to all kinds of things. I think if the Deputy and his colleagues would keep their eyes on these benches they would realise that it is a good thing in the first place to have people who are not above learning and, in the second place, to have people who are capable of learning if a little is to be learned from time to time.

Does that apply to yourself?

That is a change.

Will the Minister state when other Bills to repair deficiencies in the Principal Act will be brought in?

We are working day by day to repair all the little deficiencies in the country, including the deficiency in local government legislation.

The Department will certainly be overworked.

If the Deputy knew a little more about it he would realise there is a little more work to be done in connection with it.

Might I mention the particular case with regard to the Pembroke rates?

I do not think so, now.

Might I ask a question, as one who is in complete darkness?

The Deputy is so much afraid of things in the dark that he is afraid to look for the light.

I am afraid of the Mulcahys. If in the future the attention of the Minister is called to defects in Bills will he accept a private Bill to alter them, or will he insist on their going through his own back door?

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, June 24th, 1931.