There was one point raised by Deputy Benson on an earlier stage with respect to the provision for electing aldermen. On the Report Stage Section 34 (4) was amended. It is not necessary to make provision for the election of aldermen as it is already made in the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1919.
Local Government Bill, 1940—Fifth Stage.
That is the law already.
There was another point made by Deputy Corish, I think, as to the meaning of the "fifth day". Elections are held before a council's period of office expires and when reducing the membership of a council you can only reduce that membership with regard to incoming members. Under the Local Elections Act of 1927 it is provided that a new council can come in on the fifth day after election.
I should like to raise a few questions with regard to Section 56 of this measure. Section 56 provides that:—
A hereditament which but for this section would, as regards any local financial year, be a small dwelling within the meaning of the Local Government (Rates on Small Dwellings) Act, 1928, No. 4 of 1928, shall not, as regards that local financial year, be a small dwelling within the meaning of the said Act if on the 1st day of April in that local financial year such hereditament is vested in the Irish Sailors' and Soldiers' Land Trust.
In reply to a question to-day in regard to certain proceedings that are pending, in respect to which in one of the courts in Dublin the decision has been postponed for three months and, in another court, the decision has been given and there is a threat of a seizure of property in respect to arrears of rates extending over a number of years, the Minister stated that because the houses in question were not houses that came within the Local Government (Rates on Small Dwellings) Act, these people were liable for rates. He more or less stated that the law and, therefore, the Government attitude at the present time, is that these people who occupy these houses were outside the scope of the Local Government (Rates on Small Dwellings) Act and were, therefore, liable for the rates. He seemed to indicate that he would do nothing to intervene in any way in other cases taken before the courts, the judgements that had been given or the seizures that were being threatened. This section of this Bill applies to occupiers of dwellings belonging to the Irish Sailors' and Soldiers' Land Trust, who are at the present moment occupying houses that are small dwellings within the meaning of the Local Government (Rates on Small Dwellings) Act, 1928, and it seeks to put them into the exposed position occupied by persons who are being proceeded against at the present time. I wonder if the House realised when they were passing this Bill—certainly I did not— the development that has taken place recently in the City of Dublin, a development that has taken place since this Bill went through the Committee Stage.
I should like to know from the Minister who paid the rates on the houses that are dealt with in Section 56 of this Bill up to the present. Are there any arrears of rates, and are the arrears that exist going to be made a liability on the persons occupying the houses at the present time? Until this section becomes law, the occupiers of these small dwellings under the Irish Sailors' and Soldiers' Land Trust will not be liable for rates, but once this becomes law they are in the exposed position occupied by these other people in Killester, Sandymount and Crumlin. I want to know whether the bailiff, who is now going to the doors of their colleagues in Dublin, will, after the passing of this measure, be going to the doors of these people? The only difference between them is that the valuation of the houses in which the Dublin people live is higher than the valuation of the houses in which the Cork people live, and if I can interpret correctly a remark make by Deputy Walsh when I was asking a supplementary question, they are also higher than the valuation of houses occupied by people in Dundalk.
I want to point out again to the House that the Minister, in reply to a question of mine on the 18th June last, stated that a committee was set up on the 6th March, 1940, with the following terms of reference:—
"(1) To examine the nature and extent of the difficulties which exist in relation to the property administered by the Sailors' and Soldiers' Land Trust, and to make recommendations as to the remedial action calculated to remove such difficulties as exist without imposing any charge on State funds.
(2) In particular, to make recommendations as to the following matters:—
(a) the most equitable manner of providing for the maintenance of cottages and such public services as are common to several dwellings and the defraying of any local (or other) taxation in respect of the property."
Then it goes on to deal with other questions. The committee was set up on 6th March, 1940, and it reported on the 9th May, 1940. On the 18th June the Minister said that the report was under consideration, that it had been under consideration for a year and a month or so, and that no decision had been taken in regard to its publication. In the meantime, with that report lying in the background, seizures and legal proceedings had taken place or were being threatened in the City of Dublin, and the Government makes no statement in regard to them. I want to ask now what liability is going to be imposed on the people who are being made liable for rates under Section 56 of this Bill. Will they be liable simply for the payment of the rates for the current year, or will they be made liable for the payment of rates the year before and for several years before that, as people in the City of Dublin are being made liable?
It is a great reflection on the approach of the Department of Local Government to these problems that because people live in houses with different valuations the bailiff has to be standing at the door of one class here in Dublin, while some others living in houses that are probably as good, but which have lower valuations because they happen to be rated in another locality, are going to get a bill only for the current year. I submit that both the people who will get a bill for rates for the current year and those people at whose doors the bailiffs are standing in respect of arrears for past years, are entitled to look to the Government to take some action on the report that is in their hands for more than 12 months. It is very hard to characterise the lack of responsibility shown in the approach to the situation raised by Section 56. Whatever the difficulties are, we should have a clear declaration from the Government which undertook responsibility on this matter to the extent of asking a committee to report. In view of what has happened recently in Dublin, even if there was no other problem involved, I think that before Section 56 of the Bill is operated we should have a clear declaration from the Minister as to what the Government policy is. Whether the report of the commission be published or not, we are surely entitled to have some statement from the Government as to what their position is going to be. It shows an utter lack of any kind of responsibility or feeling for people that the things that are happening in Dublin are happening.
The Minister, I suppose, is aware of the peculiar terms of the trust under which these houses are held. As far as I can make out, when an occupier dies, or leaves one of these houses, it can only be made available for some person who comes under the terms of the original trust. A descendant of a former occupier does not necessarily become the new tenant. We are gradually getting away from the period of the last war, so that a large number of these houses will in time become vacant. While the trust dependents of those people should get the houses, they are precluded, under the terms of the trust, from giving them to anyone except men who served in the last war. In view of that a large number of the houses will revert to the trust, so that the trust will become, in time, a very wealthy corporation. It seems to me that justice and equity would be met by imposing a liability for the payment of these rates on the trust and not upon the occupiers.
Liability for the payment of the rates on these houses should be put upon somebody. In recent years it has been a big job to collect any rates at all.
I am surprised that Deputy Mulcahy should be taken unawares with regard to what is proposed by this section, because when it was being debated in Committee Deputy Brennan expressed approval of this proposal that those people should pay the rates.
I was not taken unawares with regard to the section, but rather by the action and happenings here in the City of Dublin.
As Deputy Mulcahy knows, arising out of the question which I answered to-day—a question appearing in his name—there are certain people who are not affected by the section and who are liable for rates. Most of them have been sued for rates by the corporation. What this section proposes is to bring people who occupy such of these houses as are small dwellings in the legal sense into line with the others. The position up to the present has been that while the trust was being paid the rent, it paid the rates. The trust is not now being paid the rent, with the result that the rates are not being paid by anybody, so far as these small dwellings are concerned. That is not a fair position to have the local authority in. There probably would be a hardship if those people were being sued for arrears.
That is so.
I am referring to the particular people dealt with here.
There are no arrears falling on the people involved in this.
The position with regard to the people who will be affected by this section is this: that as the rates, in most places, have been made for this year those people cannot be made liable for payment of them in the present year if this Bill is passed. They will be liable for the payment of rates next year. There is no question at all of making the payment of rates in these cases retrospective. I think that, on the basis that people must pay rates for their houses, it would be most unfair to leave the local authority in the position that it could not get rates out of certain classes of houses. Those people, in one sense, have done well, because for a considerable time they have paid neither rent nor rates. I am anxious to deal as expeditiously as possible with the report that the Deputy has referred to, but there are considerable difficulties in the way, and until a definite decision has been taken by the Government on the report, nothing can be done to overcome those difficulties. In my reply to the Deputy's question to-day, I indicated that I did not think the publication of the report would help in regard to this matter of the rates.
Whatever may be in the report, or whatever the Government's decision on it may be, there ought, I suggest, to be a Government decision before the sheriff is sent in to collect five, six or seven years' arrears of rates. Nobody wants the local authority to be put into the position in which it cannot get rates out of particular houses. What we do want is clarity, reasonableness and justice, and it is because these things are being trampled on by the actions that are taking place at the present moment, that we are asking for a Government statement on the matter now. I am not opposed to this section, although it seems to me as if it were side-stepping a difficulty instead of facing up boldly to it by a statement of Government policy. People who did not pay rates in the past are now being put in the position in which they will have to pay in the future. The Government's decision on that problem should be stated at once.