Cement (No. 2) Bill, 1933—Money Resolution. - Local Government (Extension of Franchise) Bill, 1933.—Second Stage.

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I desire briefly to refer to the existing franchise which governed the preparation of the present Local Government Register of Electors. The qualifications are to be found in the Representation of the People Act, 1918, and except for an alteration in the qualifying date there has been no change in the law in respect of this franchise. The Electoral Bill of 1923, as introduced, contained provisions in effect to re-enact the franchise qualifications in the Act of 1918, but these clauses were not moved in Committee. At the time the Minister said that there were anomalies in the law as it stood and that changes were necessary and that it was as well not to ask the Dáil to re-enact the faulty law. He intended, if the Dáil agreed that the law in this matter should stand, but as that law certainly urgently required consideration and amendment, the Dáil should not be asked to re-enact it as part of the Electoral Bill, 1923. A member of the House criticised the proposed Local Government Franchise in the following terms:—

"to discriminate on the score of age is inequitable and there has yet to be found a satisfactory test of an educational character, and certainly the property qualification is not acceptable to anybody in these days."

From this it will be clear that the Oireachtas has given no positive approval to the present local government franchise and has, in fact, expressed an opinion that it requires reconsideration. This Bill affords a long delayed opportunity of considering what should be the qualifications for a local government elector.

It is difficult to find a true basis for the existing franchise. The main requirement is that a person over 21 years of age shall have occupied, as owner or tenant, land or premises for a period of six months, but nothing was said as to the size of the land or premises, or valuation or rent, and a dwelling house was defined to mean any part of a house occupied separately as a dwelling house. The difficulties of applying this provision were obvious in 1918, because a special provision was inserted to deal with lodgers and joint occupiers. A lodger is only regarded as occupying a room if it is let to him in an unfurnished state. The amount of rent paid or the valuation of the room is quite immaterial. Now it may be said that a person paying rent for an unfurnished room in theory contributes in some remote way to the rates. Following out the same theory, can it really be held that a person to whom a furnished room is let as a lodger does not contribute in the same remote way to the rates? Any suggestion that the present franchise has any real reference to the rate book has no foundation in fact.

Further, I hold that the question of who pays rates is not the sole consideration here. The expenditure of local authorities is made at least 50 per cent. out of grants made by the Oireachtas and that in itself constitutes a fair reason for an extension of the franchise. Secondly, we have to consider the status of local authorities. In many ways the activities of the county and town councils are more intimately concerned with the welfare of the people at large than the Oireachtas. The work they carry out is done under authority directly delegated to them by the Oireachtas and we should consider what franchise will be likely to secure membership of these councils such as will most efficiently carry out the statutory duties for which they were created. Clearly, the theory that only persons occupying four bare walls are fit to elect councillors and that married women under 30 years of age, although they may have voted at Dáil elections, are not competent to vote at a local government election will not stand. I would prefer to extend the franchise sufficiently to give every opportunity for any competent person to come forward as a member of a local authority on this extended franchise rather than exclude such a person by adhering to an archaic theory.

The Bill extends local government franchise to every person who is a citizen of Saorstát Eireann who has attained the age of 21 years and is not subject to legal incapacity, and such person will be registered in the area in which he was ordinarily registered on the 15th November, but it is not proposed to discontinue the existing right of anyone to be registered in respect of premises of which he is a non-resident occupier. It will not be possible to designate in the register in force at the passing of this Bill the persons who are local government electors. That cannot be done until the first register which is prepared after the Bill is passed and a special provision was inserted in Section 3 whereby the existing Dáil electors will be treated as local government electors if they are not already registered as such. I move the Second Reading of the Bill.

The Minister's statement presupposes a whole lot which he seems to take as of general acceptance but with which I venture to disagree. One of his chief arguments is that if a person is fit to have a vote in the Dáil elections—a young woman under 30, unmarried, for instance—it seems to him ridiculous that he or she should not therefore be able to vote in local government elections. I pointed out here on a previous occasion that that argument could be put up for universal franchise in voting for the Dáil—I don't say I agree with it—because the Dáil has legislative authority and passes legislation governing and controlling the lives of every person in the State. The Government and the State exist for the distribution of justice among all the people. The Government and the State exist for the maintenance of that order which is necessary if people are to live normal lives. These local elections are for a totally different purpose. The main function of a local government body is to assess rates, to collect rates, and to spend rates. The Government talk a great deal about a Christian State, and I am not entirely unsympathetic to the end that I am prepared to believe they have in mind, though I may feel that the methods which they are employing are more likely to arrive at the antithesis to the thing which they are aiming at. The present franchise, the Minister says, contains all sorts of anomalies; that is the distinction between the present system and the one which the Minister is proposing. At the moment the franchise is given to rated occupiers. The Minister can make play with the difference between a person occupying an unfurnished room and a furnished room, but if we take the general effect of giving the vote to rated occupiers we will notice, to begin with, that it gives the vote to people who have either a great or a small, even a very minute, interest in the assessment of rates, in the economical running of the local governing bodies, and in the spending of the money collected. Incidentally, when you talk about rated occupiers, if you take the country as a whole you will find, generally speaking, that the rated occupier is the head of the family. I know, of course, that in Dublin there are people living in rooms; shop assistants in lodgings, and so on; but taking the class that is roughly designated by rated occupier it really means the head of a family living in a house or flat. Presumably, the Minister as a member of the Government has occupied his mind during the last year or possibly longer with the consideration of creating a State here which would roughly conform to Christian ideas. That being so, does he think it is for the benefit of society that the family should be eliminated; that there should be no entities here at all but the State and the person.

The present system is one that I myself might suggest changes in, but it is to my mind a good one in that it adverts to the family as a unit and the head of the family votes. The head of the family, generally speaking, may be expected to have a greater sense of responsibility than the younger members of it. It is the functions that these local bodies are going to fulfil that ought really guide us. The local body has to calculate what amount of rate it is going to assess. It has to collect that rate and is responsible for spending the sum so collected. Now the present Government recognises—it may deny that the present condition has been brought about by its own policy—that there have got to be economies in this country. The "Cuts" Bill indicates that clearly. The Minister for Local Government surely realises that local governing bodies must themselves exercise economy just as well as the Government and private people. Does he think, by swamping out the ratepayers, that economies are going to be carried out?

The Minister pointed out that there is an anomaly in the present system in that there is no distinction made between great and small ratepayers. I do not think there need be. The franchise is not based on any class idea at all, but it does ask that the people who are going to control the money collected by these local governing bodies shall have a direct interest in seeing that their work is efficiently and economically done. In doing that it incidentally adverts to the existence of the family as a unit going to make up society generally. The present system does tend, as I have said, to put the control of these local bodies in people who are directly interested. We know—it is a fact recognised by every thinker all through the ages—that the irresponsible classes, the multitude generally who are irresponsible, are always in greater numbers than the more responsible people. If you take this country as a whole you will find inevitably here as in every other country and in all ages of the world's history that the householder, the head of the family, has more responsibility because he has a greater burden on his shoulders than the irresponsible people. I do not want to go back on past history. The Minister will remember that some years ago there was an enormous amount of damage done in this country. He knows that the people who actually did that damage, vast numbers of them, immediately afterwards cleared off to America. They had nothing to tie them here. They were free agents. They had no ties whatever and were able to go to any place that suited them. If their own work created bad conditions in one place they could light—heartedly draw off to some place else. Rated occupiers, heads of families, do not find that they are such mobile entities as those other people who can go anywhere they like.

I know that the Minister in making this proposal is making one which roughly accords with the consciences of a great number of people in this country merely because they were brought up on such shibboleths as "one man one vote,""equality for all," and so on. Equality to be just must recognise inequality. Justice requires that where you have inequality in value, virtue or anything else, there must also be inequality of right. I think the Minister would hardly contest that. To say that the people who are ratepayers, who have a real interest in seeing that things are well done, shall be outnumbered and swamped by an enormous multitude who can easily outvote them, by the irresponsible multitude that is going to be put on the register, together with those on the register who are already irresponsible, is going to create a position here which, I think, the Minister himself must necessarily object to. If the Minister will try to forget that he is interested in his Party and think of himself as a man responsible for his Department, for the good administration of these various local bodies all over the country, I think he can only come to one conclusion, and that is that the restriction on the present franchise is really based upon and accords with the votes of those whose interests are more or less identical with the good running of these local bodies. I think the Minister can come to no other conclusion but that the proposal he is now making is one which is not going to improve the administration of local bodies but is going to disimprove it.

The Minister goes round the country to election meetings the same as I do. When you go into a village you always find a body of young men or young woman simply howling. They do not think, but they have a number ofclichés which they shout out. They do not bother thinking. As a matter of fact they are not tied to the place. If things do not turn out too well with them they are perfectly free to clear off to Liverpool or New York. They have no ties to keep them in those places. They do not pay rates, and consequently they do not mind in the least whether the local body does its work well or ill or whether the rates are high or low. They do not mind whether the rates collected are spent for the well-being of the people or whether they are ill-spent. The Minister must know that perfectly well.

What do we want? We want a well administered State. We want to get the best possible people into the administrative posts under these local bodies whose function is to carry out certain works for the good of the people generally. I think that the Minister in his statement was trying to appeal merely to those 19th centuryclichés that we took up here. They were part of our propaganda, I admit, but now after ten years we should look to realities and not to high-sounding phrases. The Minister draws an analogy between the local government vote and the Dáil vote. He says that if a person is responsible enough to have a vote for the Dáil why should he not have a vote for a local government body? There are thousands of people in this country to whom it does not matter one iota whether the local body does its work well or ill, but there is not one person in the country who is not beneficially affected if the Government does its work well and not adversely affected if it does it ill. I admit that you can have no clear cut categories, but it is a fact that the vote is given for the Dáil only to people who are directly interested in having a good Dáil and a good Government. The proposal now is to extend the franchise to an enormous number of people who are not materially interested in whether or not the local governing bodies do their duties well or ill.

There is another thing and one may as well be quite frank and say it. The Minister does know—and I am not proposing any sort of class-distinction in this because a person living in the worst hovel is a rated occupier just as is the person living in a castle; it is general in all places and not less in this country owing to historic circumstances than in others—that there is such a thing as envy and that there are thousands of people in this country who would really get a certain amount of satisfaction in having the rate high, even though the money, when collected, was only going to waste, because of the satisfaction of having it taken out of somebody else's pocket. There are thousands of these people who know perfectly well that the rate can never take anything out of their pockets but that it can take it out of others. To bring about that organic unity we wish to have in a good State, the very things that should be discountenanced are the type of things that arise from that sort of envy and here is what the Minister is going to do. He is going to pass over power to a great number of people who, by their votes, will do themselves neither good nor ill but can do harm to their neighbours.

I had hoped, having read so much from Fianna Fáil quarters about the Christian State, that they were going to consider the matter profoundly and give some real thought to it. Instead of that, they are merely accepting everycliché that was thrown about by 19th century Liberalism and that we absorbed and that we pre-supposed, without bothering to think about it, and they now come along with this gesture by which there is going to be universal suffrage, not merely for Parliamentary elections but for local elections.

I would ask the Minister to think of this proposal from the point of view of the Minister for Local Government and not from the point of view of the man who may be having to face an election some time later, and who thinks it might help the prestige of his Party if a situation could be brought about which would mean that the people of his particular political persuasion would be elected in the majority to these local governing bodies. Personally, I am not urging— of course, the Minister will not believe me—my side in the slightest in the interest of the political Party I belong to. I consider that local governing bodies have really no business whatever in politics, and a man can hold one political point of view and be as good an administrator in a local governing body as if he held another point of view, but I do think that to throw local governing bodies to an irresponsible multitude is calculated to bring our local governing bodies lower than they have ever been before. It is no good trying to pretend that this is part of democracy and that there is now anything in favour of one class more than another because the poor as well as the rich have votes at the present time.

The Minister says that there is no relation between the franchise and the rate book. The Minister quotes that and says that more than 50 per cent. of the moneys spent by these local governing bodies is provided by the Government. That is quite true and I think it is a point that might very well be adverted to. What is the proposition? He says, in effect, that, in virtue of that 50 per cent. which comes from the Government, these young people of 21, either male or female, shall indiscriminately have votes. That does not seem to me to be the course that should follow from the fact he quotes in his defence—that more than 50 per cent. of the money comes from Government. I can see that the Minister would have a very good case for saying that, because more than 50 per cent. of the money spent by these local governing bodies comes from Government sources, the Government that provides that money has a right itself to appoint certain members to these local governing bodies who would watch the interest of the Government and see that there was economic spending of the money put forward by the Government, but to say that, because the Government gives more than 50 per cent. of the money spent, they are going to take steps to see that the money is ill—spent, is the last proposal that should come from a Government.

It does seem to me when the Minister mentions that more than 50 per cent. of the money comes from Government sources that it would be appoint certain representatives of its financial interests in these corporations and councils as Government nominees. I do not suppose that there is much good in urging these points on the Minister, but I do know this, and I think the Minister knows it, whether he admits it or not, that if he spoke only as Minister for Local Government, in the interest of his Department and the work it has to carry out, he would not make this proposal at all but would either leave things as they are or make some proposal which might be an improvement on the present situation and that he knows very well that the proposal he is now making is not in the interest of good administration by local bodies.

I do not see how it is possible for anybody to support this Bill unless and until some arguments are brought forward in its favour of an entirely different type from those offered in the Minister's speech. If I may say so, there is no word in his speech except the merest pedantry, the pedantry of political theory. He has attacked the present system not on the ground that the county councils are functioning badly, but on the ground that the franchise has something about it illogical. That is the kind of point in which I, personally, am unable to take any interest. On a matter like this, I firmly hold to the theory that whatever is best administered is best and that we should not trouble our heads with logic and theory but should, as practical men, consider what is going to work best. The Minister has not given us a hint as to whether he considers that the local bodies work well at the present moment, and I think it is due to the House that he should indicate his views on that point and that, in the course of his indicating his views on that point, if he finds matters to comment on unfavourably, with regard to the present doings of the local bodies, we should then perhaps be able to judge whether the change that he is now proposing is of a kind likely to cure these defects.

My own feeling is that any shortcomings in the present local bodies in this country would be very much exaggerated as a result of the change in the franchise that has now been proposed. If the local bodies were too cheese-pairing in their expenditure, if the rates were unreasonably low, if social services were being neglected, if one could say that these bodies were sorts of strongholds of Toryism and that nothing was thought of except getting the money into the pockets of those lucky enough to have it, I should be very much inclined to favour a change of the sort that the Minister is proposing, but that has not been suggested and could not be suggested. Everybody knows not only that the rates are not unreasonably low, but that they are extraordinarily high and that the people have the very greatest difficulty in bearing the burdens that exist already. Would the Minister seriously contend, for one moment, that the legislation that he has now introduced is likely to reduce the burden of the rates? Of course, he would not. Nobody could possibly contend such a thing. He is proposing to add to the electorate a large number of people to whom the rates will mean nothing and to whom expenditure will mean everything. Possibly, some of those who are to be added may be affected, to a greater or lesser extent, by the rates, but the bulk of those to be added will certainly be very much less interested in the question of rates than the bulk of those who, at present, vote at county council elections. I wonder is there anybody who will deny that for a single moment?

Deputy Kelly denies it? I am open to conviction and I shall listen with great attention to any arguments designed to show that the result of adding this additional electorate for the local bodies will work in the direction of economy.

Might I interrupt the Deputy on that point? I, myself, had the good fortune or misfortune to be elected to the Dublin Corporation when I was less than twenty-two years of age. I was elected as member of a Party whose policy was economy, and who were known as the Party of economy.

I congratulate the Minister on his precocity. If I may say so, it is not typical of his years.

He has repented.

Judging by this Bill, the Minister is having his youth late in life instead of at the time he ought to have had it. Not very long ago the Minister made a speech here which seems strangely inconsistent with his present proposals. Speaking on the Central Fund Bill on the 22nd March (Official Report, col. 1113) he pointed to the fact that during the last thirty years there had been a tendency to increase expenditure and to demand more and more Government grants for local bodies. He considered that this was a position fraught with great danger to the whole principle of local government and economical administration. He said that if this sort of thing went on and more and more grants were demanded from the State, the time would come when we should have to consider whether it would be wise policy for the Government to allow county councils to remain at all if they were not going to provide any of the money—or a very small proportion of the money— they spend. How is the Minister going to reconcile that doctrine with adding a large number of people to the register?

Wait and see.

In order that I may see, it is necessary for me to put the point. I might reasonably have expected to be able to see already as a result of the illuminating address which ought to have come from the Minister when introducing this Bill, but which did not come from him. In my present unenlightened state, I have great difficulty in reconciling these statements with the action of the Minister in adding to the county councils a number of young people who are not going to provide any portion—or, at all events, a very small portion—of the money the county councils will spend. Is the plan that the profligacy of the county councils will be encouraged to reach such a point that there can be no doubt of the Government's acting properly in abolishing them and putting Commissioners in their place? If it were proposed to make this change and if I were convinced by the arguments that local administration would thereby become more efficient, I should certainly vote for the change. If it were proposed to abolish the county councils altogether and put Commissioners in their place and if I were convinced by argument that would make for better administration, no considerations of democratic or political theory would prevent me from supporting that change. I am interested in what will make for better administration and in nothing else. We have not heard a single word to show that the change now proposed will make for better administration. We have had utterances about general tendencies, general extravagance, general lack of economy, lack of thought as to where the money is to come from, utterances that suggest quite the opposite of better administration—that the change now being proposed is likely to be very damaging, indeed, to the interests of the ratepayers of the country.

Deputy Fitzgerald wanted to know to-night why this irresponsible multitude who were responsible for sending him into this House ought to be allowed to elect an ordinary member of a corporation. When I look across at him I feel inclined to agree with him.

Coming from you, I find that very flattering.

This irresponsible multitude, whom Deputy Fitzgerald speaks about, deserve credit, at least, for electing one good Government. I did not honestly think that there would be any opposition to this Bill. I do not see why people who have a vote in the election of members of this House should not be entitled to elect members of local bodies. I cannot see why a labourer who works on a farm and helps to earn the rates of the farmer should not be entitled to some say as to the manner in which these rates are to be spent. I cannot see why a workman earning the rates for his employer should not have a say as to how those rates are to be spent. Some people have an idea that a man should be a crabbed old lad of about 60 before he is given any voice in public affairs and that the older he gets the more sense he gets. My experience is that the older he gets the more soft-headed he becomes.

Does that explain the change in the Vice-President?

He is at least 40 years younger than you. He has a young mind. Some Deputies seem to think that young people have no sense of responsibility. The young people have to live in the country. They have to earn their livelihood here and, so far as I know, they are a lot more interested in the country than some of the crabbed old lads who have lived in misery all their lives and can see nothing but misery before them. I have met these people at election time. The young people came out at election time and did good work for the country by returning a good Government. I can speak with a fair share of experience on this question. I have been about eight years a member of a county council. I can honestly say that county council would have been far better had we had young voters. The only people who show real administrative ability on that council are the young members. You get no assistance from these crabbed old lads who in their young days get one idea into their "nuts" which you could not knock out with a hammer.

I have to pay rates. My valuation as a farmer is as high as that of anybody else. I represent on local bodies a very large number of ratepayers of high valuation. The man who nominates me for the county council has a valuation of about £430. I cannot see what objections Deputies have to allowing these young people to elect councillors who will administer a couple of hundred thousand pounds a year since they are already permitted to elect members of this House who are charged with the administration of £23,000,000 or £24,000,000 per year. I cannot see what objection they have. If the people are considered worthy enough to send representatives in here, why should they not be worthy to elect men as representatives on the local bodies. We send representatives into the county councils and into the urban bodies who may deal with sums of £50,000 or so, but here in this House our representatives have to deal with millions. In my opinion, the workingman who earns the money and has to go out and sweat from morning to night to make the money—the farmers' boys and the rest of them—have a right to say how that money should be spent. There is too much class legislation in this country and the sooner we realise that the better. There are people like Deputy Desmond Fitzgerald who think that nobody should have anything to say in public affairs but themselves. These people only represent one class of voters, and it is time that the young men and women of this country had their proper say in public affairs. Youth must be served. The sooner we get rid of these restraints upon progress, which have an effect, just the same as if you threw a wrench between the cogs of a machine, the better it will be for the country. Young people have a right to a voice in the affairs of the country—local as well as national—and they are going to get that voice if we can give it to them.

The Deputy who has just spoken confined himself to one particular point, yet he failed completely to prove that point. He said that the electorate that returned people to this Dáil should be competent to elect people to the county councils and the urban councils. Everyone knows that all people contribute to the funds administered by this Dáil. All classes of people pay taxes, direct or indirect; they pay duties and they pay tariffs on a variety of commodities, but the same cannot be said with regard to rates, so that Deputy Corry's point completely fails. There is one point of interest to me in this matter and that is the principle involved in this Bill. That principle is to extend administrative power to people who do not contribute to the rates. The views expressed here on one occasion recently by the President revealed a difference of opinion in the Executive Council. Otherwise it indicated that he had changed his policy. On the occasion that the President referred to the question of derating, one of the strongest arguments he used against that extension was that if the Government were to give the farmers complete derating it would be necessary to abolish the county councils. Why should it be necessary to abolish the country councils because justice was given to the farmers by giving them complete derating? There can be no other inference except that you could not allow people to administer local funds because those who elected them did not pay the money that had to be administered.

A crop of rumours arose owing to the introduction of this Bill. One of those rumours was that there was a split in the Executive Council because of the Bill. That does not matter much. Another of the rumours was that it was the intention of the Vice-President to make people contribute by some system of stamping. There is another rumour that there has been a rift in the policy of the Government and that the President has changed his view again, and that the extension of the principle in this Bill is really preparing the ground for giving the farmers justice. It is contended that the parliamentary franchise, which is the qualification to elect members to this House, should be competent to elect persons to administer grants made from the Central Fund to the local bodies. For these reasons I hesitate to commit myself against this Bill until we have further information from the Vice-President as to what really is the policy of the Government.

If they have decided to change their views and this argument of the President indicated a change of policy, and if the Government are prepared to do justice to the farmers in this Bill, I would be prepared to vote for the Bill and the Centre Party as a whole would vote for it. It depends on how they will treat this question. We can hardly believe that the President intends to use the principle in this Bill as a cross upon which to crucify the farmers of Ireland.

Debate adjourned.

I move: "That the Dáil do now adjourn."

On that motion may I ask the Vice-President is it the intention that the Dáil should sit on Tuesday next?

May I put it to the Vice-President to consider the possibility of not having a sitting on Tuesday? If there is a sitting on Tuesday it means that many Deputies, including some of the Deputies on these benches, will have to travel on Monday, which is a Bank Holiday. I suggest that the Dáil should not sit on Tuesday next.

I think the Vice-President ought to consult his Whips on this matter. I think that there has been an arrangement not to sit on Tuesday.

I did not hear that.

I think it is agreed, but, however, I suppose we will get a definite statement to-morrow.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 2nd June, 1933.