Adjournment Debate. - County Cork Rates.

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.

I am very reluctant to intervene, considering the short time the Minister will have to reply, but I should like to add to what Deputy Broderick has said my own plea that the Minister would look into this matter. One must realise the fact that the case has been made in a very temperate manner, that it is a very sound case, and that there is a special plea to be made for Cork in the circumstances described by Deputy Broderick. I think also that he has stated what was an obvious fact in calling attention to the hardship which the people generally will have to bear in respect of the non-payment of annuities. That is going to press very severely on a number of people who can in no way be considered culpable in this matter. I strongly and sincerely add to what Deputy Broderick has said my own plea that the Minister would again look into this matter in the light of the case made.

The Deputy dealt with points other than the points raised in the question. He dealt with the Unemployment Assistance Act, the levy on urban areas and the rate to make good the amounts not paid by holders of land. Two of these items were not within the ambit of the question put by the Deputy. He referred in his question to the deduction in respect of unpaid annuities in County Cork, amounting to £48,300, for the year ended 31st March, 1934, to be made good by ratepayers in the county in the current year, and asked if my Department would permit of the county share of the £300,000 which is being provided for local authorities to be used towards the reduction of this year's rates. My point is that the County Cork, as well as every other county, has already taken credit for the sum that will be allotted to them out of this £300,000 now being made available. The amount is in respect of grants absorbed in the Guarantee Fund to meet arrears of annuities funded under the Land Act of 1933. During the progress of that Bill through the House, questions were put to the Acting-Minister and he promised that the arrears that had been indicated would, from time to time, be made good to the local authorities. The total sum, I think, was about £750,000. He promised that that sum would be made good, from time to time, to the local authorities.

This year we propose to make good to the local authorities the sum of £300,000. The period for which arrears of annuities was funded was fixed at three years—arrears which accrued between the December gale of 1930 and the May-June gale of 1933. The Deputy was, I think, under the impression that this sum of £300,000 referred to the arrears of one year— last year. It refers to the funded arrears of three years—1930 to 1933. The Government provided, in March, 1933, the sum of £1,616,000 to meet arrears of annuities in the year 1932, and the full Agricultural Grant was given to every county council. For the year previous to that, the arrears were made good out of the grants. The deductions from grants in respect of arrears of annuities in 1931 amounted to £211,806, of which £145,762 was in respect of the Agricultural Grant. In the Estimates of that year, county councils took credit for the receipt of the full Agricultural Grant and the non-receipt of the full grant affected the position with the treasurers. That is to say, they got overdrafts to make up the difference. The amount now provided must be regarded as a receipt in respect of grants for which credit has been already given but not received. The position is being made clear in a circular of which Deputies probably have a copy.

What some Deputies apparently require is that they should be permitted to take credit twice for the grants, which would only result in postponing liabilities from this year's ratepayers to next year's or the following year's ratepayers. Our position is that the county finances and county administration will be in a very much better condition for the time being and for the future if they so arrange that they will be able to meet all their liabilities within each year. If they go on allowing heavy overdrafts to accumulate and demanding permission to carry heavy overdrafts, they will be only burdening themselves and future ratepayers with heavy additional cost and it is not good finance. This is an effort to help county councils to retrieve the bad position a number of them got into as a result of the withholding in former years of the Agricultural Grant because of the failure to pay land annuities. This did not arise last year or the year before. It extends over a long period of years, particularly in the County Cork. Credit has been taken for the Agricultural Grant, which was not paid in full, as certain deductions had to be made because of the failure to pay land annuities. The county council did not strike a rate for properly covering these liabilities for the year and overdrafts accrued. The County Council of Cork and a number of other county councils have been paying heavy interest as a result. In the opinion of the Department, that is bad finance.

Mr. Broderick

What kind of spiritual or supernatural knowledge would a local authority require to have in order that they might assess liability for unpaid annuities when striking their rate in March when they would not be notified as to the arrears until the end of the following February or thereabouts?

Mr. Kelly

I agree. I do not think that any county council was ever asked to strike the rate in advance, but they had overdrafts. The Deputy talked about the enormity of asking the ratepayers to bear nowadays the burden of the unpaid annuities. That is nothing new. I have already said that this was the practice since the Free State was established, and before it.

Mr. Broderick

That does not make it any more just.

I do not think that I ever heard the Deputy protest against it before.

Mr. Broderick

It never came before me before.

It must have come before the Deputy frequently as chairman of a county council.

Mr. Broderick

I frequently made statements at the meetings of the local authority. It is not my practice to keep constantly shouting about a thing, but to take effective action when opportunity offers.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until Wednesday, 2nd May, at 3 p.m.