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.