This afternoon, I put a question to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health:
"To ask the Minister for Local Government and Public Health if he is aware that the deduction in respect of unpaid annuities in County Cork amounted to £48,300 for the year ended 31st March, 1934, which sum will have to be made good by all ratepayers in the county in the current year, and if in view of this he will permit of the county's share of the £300,000 which is being provided for local authorities to be used towards the reduction of this year's rates."
The Minister replied:
"On 23rd ultimo I circularised all county councils on this matter explaining that it should be clearly understood that the amount now proposed to be paid is in respect of grants for which county councils have already taken credit in previous years, and the amount payable to each county must not be applied to the reduction of the estimated expenditure to be met out of rates in the present year."
I claim for Cork County that we were in a different position as we had already made good on last year's expenditure a sum of £13,000, representing the amount of arrears of annuities to be paid to the county in lieu of unpaid annuities. I make the case on that basis, and on others, but particularly we base our claim on the fact that we had refunded and made the rates of last year, 1934, liable for £13,000 which the Minister says we must now pay in reduction of overdraft. In the year 1932-33, the Department gave us in grants a sum of £256,000, that being the entire grant paid to us without any deductions whatever. We were notified at the commencement of last year that we were to have deducted from our share of the £448,000 granted, £56,000 and this was, in fact, deducted, leaving our grant £209,000. In that year, we were faced with many difficulties and many liabilities. There was a charge on the county which could not be estimated and could not even be thought of at the time, much less provided for—the sum of £31,000 in respect of relief of unemployment. Difficult enough as it was to continue, we found at the end of the year that, instead of getting our quarter share of the £209,000, £55,000 odd, we got a cheque for six thousand and some hundred pounds together with a bill for £48,300 in respect of unpaid annuities.
In that position and with the bottom apparently falling out of local finance, we received a letter from the Department, setting out that we are to proceed now and collect the moneys due to us, by way of balancing our budget. We estimate that the recoverable and irrecoverable rates in Cork County will amount to somewhere in the neighbourhood of £60,000. Even our share of the £300,000 will only, in effect, relieve Cork County in so far as it reduces liability for bank interest. I might say, dealing with that, that if we are to have a properly balanced budget at all we must now levy that £48,300 on the ratepayers of the county. I do not know if the Minister fully appreciates the effects of that. The effect of levying that £48,300 on the ratepayers of the county will include ratepayers living in such towns as Dunmanway, Charleville, Mitchelstown, and all the small towns of that kind through the county. In other words, if the desire of the Minister is to come indirectly on people unable, or, as he alleges, unwilling to pay their annuities, it is mighty unfair, and in my view entirely improper, to compel ratepayers of those towns, on all hereditaments, and even the labourer in the labourer's cottage, to contribute a moiety. I think it is very unfair to deal with those people directly unconnected with the non-payment of annuities in such a way as to make them liable for payment.
There is another phase of the matter —the phase of administrative difficulties. Owing to the alteration in the way of rating, the relief on acreages of £20 valuation, and for the amount of labour employed, £12 10/- each, it means in our county we have to send out at least 12,000 forms for the ratepayers to make their demands on them. When they come back we will have to examine them, re-examine them, have them verified through our rate collectors, and perform a whole lot of administrative work which, in my view, is going to delay the issue of our demand notes for a very long time. I do not expect to see the demand notes for Cork County in circulation until somewhere between the 1st and the middle of September. That will mean that in that county, which will have to face a monthly expenditure of between £55,000 and £60,000, we will have to finance it for five and a half months without revenue from anybody. Where is it going to come from? Where is it to be got? The Minister might answer me here: "Well, you have the agricultural grants to which you are entitled." Yes; we are entitled to them, but being entitled to them and in receipt of them are two different things. I assert, Sir, that we did not receive the full moiety of what was due to us until about the middle of December. When we did get it completed it was late in the year. I assure the Minister that I have no desire in this matter but to do what little I can to prevent the financial administration of local authorities becoming out of hand altogether. It is with that view that I put this question, so that the Minister might see whether he can give back to Cork County, on the claim that we have levied all our rates, the moneys that were deducted from us by way of grants. The Minister might see his way to refund that.
There are a lot of other difficulties in the way which I do not wish to go into now, as we will have an opportunity for that on the Estimates, but I should like to ask the Minister if he can see his way to answer two questions. At the present moment in Cork County, and even in Cork City, from the 1st April, we are levied by the national authority in Cork with the sum of 1/6 in the £ and Cobh with 9d. in the £. From the rates for that very same month we were compelled to supply the people who were to be supplied under the Unemployment Acts. That is a double liability, and I would ask the Minister, in view of that double taxation—taxation by the national authority and by the local authority—if he can see his way to remit to those areas when the time comes the moneys which they are now paying on the double. That is one local question. Another question I wish to put is this: does he think it is fair or in perfect equity that people entirely unconnected with the non-payment of annuities, through whatever reason you wish to allege, should be called on to make up those annuities on the rates? I think it is most unfair. I do not like to use what would appear to be unparliamentary or anything in the nature of harsh language, but as we are on this question I want to say that my view, with a very close attention to administration, is that all this shifting and chopping is merely tinkering with finance. If I wished to make political capital out of it I might say that the Minister was applying the very same mentality to administrative procedure and administrative finance as I think he is applying to national finance. I do not wish to go any further; there will be another opportunity.
I have asked two questions, and I wish to put a third. In view of this whole financial difficulty in Cork— when I say Cork, I am sure it operates in almost every county, but to a greater degree there—I would ask the Minister to take into consideration all we have to pay, or at least that our grants are being reduced by a sum of £105,000. In my view a levy now is practically more than people can bear, because you have £60,000 of temporarily irrecoverable rates this year. The number of people who are unable to pay is becoming larger. The number who are able to carry the burden is becoming less. I can see nothing for it, if the whole financial administration of local authorities is not to fail altogether for want of finance, but that the Minister must see his way to restore to my county, and I sincerely hope to every other county, the full measure of the relief he advocated so strongly when in Opposition. I refer to the sum of £265,000.