——that I, in discharging my functions as Minister for Local Government, regard myself as being not merely an executive of the Oireachtas but the Oireachtas itself? I do not want to weary the House but, as I have said, not once but several times was that statement repeated. In the course of his speech to-day, Deputy Cogan alleged that my speech on Friday indicated that I regarded the officers of local authorities as my officers, as officers of the Minister and not as officers of those by whom they were directly employed and retained. My speech was a long one and I challenge Deputy Cogan to show me one reference to an officer of a local authority, one sentence which did in any way relate to an officer of a local authority—except, incidentally, when I said that a Minister, in considering the evidence and the reviews of the evidence given at local inquiries, had often to bear in mind that the decision which he was going to take might, if not jeopardise the whole future of a certain individual or individuals, certainly reflect very seriously upon them; and I said that, bearing that fact in mind, the Minister must be very slow and very reluctant to come to a decision which would gravely and seriously affect the future of an individual. That is a paraphrase of what I said, and that was the only reference I made to an officer of a local authority. Yet Deputy Cogan got up here to-day and, relying on the shortness of human memory, deliberately misrepresented the whole tenor of Friday's speech.
Not only did he misrepresent what I said here, but he made some reference to the proceedings of the Carlow County Council last week, which suggested to me that he misrepresented even the proceedings of that body. He alleged that the procedure now under discussion, investigation by sworn inquiry, had fallen into such disrepute with local authorities that, at the meeting of the Carlow County Council on last Tuesday, when a question arose that seemed to warrant a local inquiry, statements were made by members of the local authority that they had no faith or confidence in an investigation of this sort. Now, this matter has been raised by Deputy Cogan in the course of his speech this afternoon. Here are the facts, as I have been able to ascertain them since. A question or questions arose as to the conditions in the Carlow Fever Hospital. Deputy Hughes, who is a member of the Carlow County Council proposed, and Deputy Cogan, who is a member also, seconded a resolution calling for a sworn inquiry into the conduct of the staff. Well, I am glad to see that at least two members of that particular local authority, who are also Deputies of this House, have not lost confidence in this procedure of a sworn inquiry, as they both recommended to their colleagues that they should ask for one. Then a discussion ensued, during which the manager made statements, not reflecting on the staff but exonerating the staff. He stated that the conditions in the fever hospital were such that it was impossible for the members of the staff to be responsible for what had occurred there and that he was removing the patients temporarily to Naas while certain improvements in the fever hospital were being carried out. As a result of the manager's statements, Deputy Hughes and Deputy Cogan withdrew their motion, being finally satisfied, I understand, that the members of the fever hospital staff were not responsible for what had occurred.
Now, in the whole course of this discussion, as reported in the Press, the method of conducting these inquiries was not referred to at all— was not referred to by any member of the county council, in so far as the report in theCarlow Nationalist is a fair and accurate report of what took place at the meeting. The inquiry, I understand, was not requested solely on the assurance of the manager, that (1) a new hospital must be built, (2) that temporary facilities were being provided for the fever patients, and (3) that the staff had behaved satisfactorily. But would any person listening to Deputy Cogan's reference to these proceedings on last Tuesday at the Carlow County Council certainly have gathered that Deputy Cogan himself had seconded a demand for a local inquiry, and would he have understood that the staff had been exonerated? On the contrary, if my recollection of Deputy Cogan's exact words is correct, they would rather have apprehended that the county manager, in his report, had reflected very gravely and seriously upon the staff of the fever hospital and that this had seriously disturbed the minds of the members of the county council, so disturbed them, in fact, that the question of asking for a sworn inquiry had arisen and that the sole reason why a sworn inquiry had not been asked for was, that the members of the county council had no faith in that method of investigation. That is not what the report in the Carlow Nationalist tells us, even though that was what Deputy Cogan wanted the House to gather from his speech, that was the impression he wished to convey, just as, relying on the weakness of our recollection, he endeavoured to misrepresent the whole purport of the speech I made here on Friday on this motion.
This amendment of Deputy Coogan's makes two proposals. It proposes, first of all, that the proceedings at a local inquiry shall be governed by the rules of evidence, and it makes then a second proposal, that the findings of the inspector upon the evidence tendered before him shall be made public within three months from the date upon which the inquiry terminates. I felt that, so far as informed opinion was concerned, that in so far as a great number of Deputies of this House are members of local authorities, the first proposition, that the proceedings at a local inquiry shall be governed by the rules of evidence, would be so plainly and clearly impracticable that it did not require any argument of mine to induce the House to reject it. Accordingly, on Friday, I addressed myself solely to the issue as to whether what is quite erroneously and inaccurately described in the amendment as the findings of an inspector should be published. I am certainly convinced, as are, I believe, those members of the House who are open to conviction, that it would be contrary to the public interest to publish any review of the evidence submitted to the Minister, whether by the officer who conducted the inquiry or by any other officers whose duty it would be to review that evidence on behalf of the Minister.
It would be, as I have said, quite contrary to the public interest to permit these confidential documents, which are provided for the assistance of the Minister, to become public property, to be bandied about in the sort of debate we have heard here, in which not only the views and judgments of the Minister, on the one hand, and his officer who presided over the inquiry, on the other, would become the objects of public debate, but, in addition, the views of other officers whose duty it would be to consider that evidence and to present their views upon it to the Minister—for they also would become the object of public debate. We should not only have chaos in the administration but we should have distrust and we should have confusion created in the public mind if a proposal of this sort were to be adopted. And the proof that what I am saying is of great force indeed is to be found in the fact that the recommendations of the Donoughmore Report, about which we have heard so much in the course of this debate, have not been accepted and applied in Great Britain. I do not want to say any more than that.