I have listened to a great number of speeches on the Second Reading of this measure. Luckily that sense of humour with which Deputy MacEntee credited me in the early stages of the debate prepared me for the charges which were hurled at me by the Opposition— nepotism, bluff, chicanery and graft. All the adjectives in the dictionary were exhausted in accusing both myself and the Government of the frauds we are alleged to be inflicting upon the House in asking it to pass this measure. Right through the debate there was very little constructive criticism. There was, on the other hand, a constant spate of accusation that the Bill was unworthy of being introduced; that it was not what it was cracked up to be; that it was introduced under false pretences, and that it neither removed nor repealed the County Management Act. It was said that the Bill should have amended the County Management Act but that it did not in fact do so. Again, it was said that it went too far. There has thus been a series of contradictory criticisms. The bulk of the contributions to the debate gave tangible evidence of the fact that those who spoke had not even read the Bill.
As the previous speaker had said, this is a measure of prime importance to the life of the country. In my opinion it is one of the most important that could be introduced dealing with local administration, and it is certainly worthy of very serious consideration by every Deputy, and every Deputy should approach it in a reasonable and calm fashion.
If my proposals do not meet with the approval of members of the House they are entitled to criticise them, but I suggest they should criticise them constructively. While I have taken part in many discussions in this House, I have never indulged in political barrage and so I think I have reason to object to the titles that have been applied to me and to my Government of corruption, graft, chicanery and deceit. For the number of years I have been in public life, for a period of more than a quarter of a century, I have myself taken an active interest in local government. I have been a member of the oldest Corporation in the country and was mayor of the city before we had any managerial system. One of the things which, I think, we can pride ourselves on is the wonderful advance that has been made by the Irish people in self-government. In view of the fact that for a period of nearly a century and a quarter we were deprived of the right of native government, we can, I think, pride ourselves on the wonderful and successful approach which has been made to national government by our own people. I consider that, linked with successful national government, is local government which so intimately affects the everyday life of the people.
I participated in local government before the Management Act was passed and also under the managerial system, and neither in this House nor outside of it, have I ever made a personal attack upon any manager. I have never said a word against the individuals who took office as managers under the system, but I did object to the principle of that Act. I think that these gentlemen have given very good service and are capable of giving very good service under the new conditions. But, because I have introduced a Bill which is not in accordance with the expectations of the Opposition, it is denounced as being a deceitful and fraudulent Bill. Some Deputies would seem to expect that in order to effect a successful repeal of the management system you must extirpate, liquidate or bump off the managers. I have no intention of introducing anything of such a revolutionary highly colourful nature. My intention is simply to try and improve local government legislation, as I know it, and to make it an effective and efficient machine, while at the same time ensuring that there will be a certain amount of democratic control exercised by the elected representatives of the people. I do not want to do anything of a spectacular nature, and I am not repealing this Act in any spirit of vindictiveness.
Charges have been made that this Bill does not warrant or justify the title of repeal, and by putting side by side with it utterances made by myself and members of the Government prior to its introduction, it has been said that it is a falsification of our previous statements. I say that is absolutely untrue. The Bill that is before the House was published on the 27th June of this year with an explanatory memorandum. The elections were held on the 20th September. Deputy Corry congratulated me upon my duplicity, so to speak, in hiding the Bill until the elections were over, and in his most eloquent parliamentary language said that all those who went forward at the elections did so because of the graft and corruption they were going to get out of it. He did not refer, of course, to the old brigade. When he said that he was referring to the new men who went forward at the elections and, of course, he was not referring to the seagreen incorruptibles of his own Party. But the charge he made against the new candidates who went forward at the elections was that their one purpose was the graft and the corruption that they were going to get out of the Bill. The Bill was in the hands of the people on the 27th June so that if Deputy Corry's charge was true, not alone were those people corrupt but they must have been stupid as well. Deputy Cowan drew attention to the fact that it was deplorable that such charges should be made against the people and citizens of this country. Deputy Corry is incorrigible. The misinterpretations of the Bill that ran right through the debate from the opposite side were not confined to Deputy Corry. I would not be inclined to worry so much about his lurid language in dealing with the various sections of the Bill, but we had even the ex-Minister for Local Government, Deputy MacEntee, wilfully or otherwise, misinterpreting sections of the Bill time after time.
We claim that we are repealing the County Management Act in this Bill. The Opposition say that there is no change except in name, changing the label on the bottle. May I remind the House that when moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I made a very long statement setting out the new powers that are being vested in the county councils as distinct from the powers which they have held up to now. In view of all the attempts that have been made by the Deputies on the Opposition Benches to contravert what I said then, I find myself compelled to read again for the House a list of the powers that are being transferred from the county manager to the elected representatives under this Bill. They are:—
Approval of loans under the Seeds and Fertilisers Supply Acts. Approval of regulations and issue of licences under the Milk and Dairies Act, 1935, and the institution of proceedings for breaches thereof.
Issue of licences under the Slaughter of Animals Act and the institution of proceedings thereunder.
Purchase of office equipment and furniture and repair and maintenance of office buildings.
Selection and purchase of library books and equipment.
Letting of rooms in town halls and branch libraries for social purposes.
Naming of new streets.
Selection and submission of schemes to qualify for grants under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949.
Allowances under the Blind Welfare Scheme.
Contracts arising out of School Meals Schemes.
The consideration, approval and general supervision of the annual Roads Maintenance and Improvement programme.
Approval of plans for road works and bridges.
Acceptance of tenders and making of contracts for road works, bridges, and purchase of road equipment and materials.
The making of applications to the Minister for orders closing roads.
The making of an application to the Minister for an Order under section 33 of the Local Government Act, 1925, prohibiting the erection of or directing the removal of buildings obstructing the view on roads.
Acquisition of land for road works.
Consideration of annual sanitary service programmes and determination of the works to be carried out.
Approval of plans for water supply schemes, sewerage schemes, sanitary conveniences, burial grounds, public baths and public lighting.
Acceptance of tenders for sanitary service schemes and for equipment needed therefor.
Institution of prosecutions for breaches of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Acts.
Acquisition of land for burial grounds and sanitary service schemes.
Decision on the grant of home and medical assistance.
Planning of and acceptance of tenders for public assistance hospitals, county homes, etc.
Decisions to provide hospitals or clinics, and approval of plans and acceptance of tenders for such institutions. Adoption of health schemes including arrangements with extern institutions, establishment of clinics, adoption of new immunisation schemes, etc.
Contracts for supplies of all requirements for health services, e.g., food, hospital equipment, spectacles, clothing, beds and bedding. Institution of proceeding for offences under the Health Acts, 1947 and the regulations made thereunder.
Planning and execution of housing schemes including acquisition of land, the acceptance of contracts.
Supervision of general finances of each scheme including schemes of rents, whether fixed, graded, or differential.
Demolition and repair of unfit houses.
Maintenance and repair of local authority houses.
Provision of sites for private builders.
Granting or refusal of permissions for development proposals under the Town and Regional Planning Acts, e.g. whether particular private building may or may not proceed, where factories and similar concerns are to be located, the lines of new roads, etc.
That is a fairly exhaustive list of the powers that are being transferred from the control of the county managers, as they exist to-day, to the elected representatives. These functions which, up to now, have been exercised by the county managers are being transferred to the county councils to be delegated to the new executive committees. Some Deputies have made the objection that, by delegating these powers to the committees, we will not get efficiency.
I suggest that if the county council were to be compelled to carry out all the functions now to be vested in them as a council, it would take a practically whole-time council to do that work. For the sake of efficiency, we suggest that two executive committees be appointed and these executive committees are to be drawn from the elected representatives themselves. I have suggested in the Bill that 33 per cent. of the council should be appointed to each of these committees. Somebody said that every member of the council should be on the committees but I think that anybody who desires the council to do any useful work at all, will agree than an arrangement whereby one-third of the membership of the council acts on the health committees and another third on the general purposes committees is a useful workable suggestion. They will be elected every year and they will be elected by proportional representation. Deputy Brennan thinks that there should be a committee of the whole 21 members of the council. I trust that is not an indication of the standard of intelligence to be found amongst the councils generally which have been elected. I think it would be an impossible arrangement and that to appoint one-third of the council on each of the two committees to carry out the functions that I have read out is a very reasonable and workable proposition. They will have to report back to the general council on everything they do and the final word rests with the council. Certain work is to be delegated to them for the sake of efficiency and speed. There still remains one-third of the members of the council who will not be on either of these committees.
Several Deputies asked what they will be doing. They will have plenty to occupy their time in the general work of the council, and they may become members of the various other committees which have to be appointed by the council. These include the mental hospital committees, library committees, agricultural committees and vocational educational committees. There can be a useful division of work between all the members appointed to these committees so as not to overload unduly any section of the council. I suggest that anybody who approaches this question seriously must agree that if we are going to take all these powers from the managers and give them back to the elected representatives, it is a sensible arrangement to delegate certain work to the two committees who will have special functions to carry out.
We had some complaints about the preparation of the estimate. Under the existing system, it was alleged that the elected representatives were in the saddle for one day only out of the 365. I would put it beyond mere allegation. It was said that they controlled the finances only on the day the rate was struck. The manager prepared the estimate and the council could challenge it when it was presented, but not for a period of more than six or seven days. It was prepared by the manager and submitted to the council, and where the council did attempt to assert themselves we know what happened. The estimate eventually came to the Custom House, and then somebody went down. It was not the manager went down; it was the council went down.
We are proposing now that the estimate will be prepared and passed with the consent and good-will of the people concerned. The manager prepares his estimate after consultation with both the executive committees with whom he has been working—the health executive committee and the general purposes executive committee who have a full knowledge of the financial requirements of the county for the ensuing year. The estimate is prepared in conjunction and in consultation with these committees. If the council feel like discussing or challenging that estimate, they can do so, but there you have at least two-thirds of the members of the council who have been in close consultation with the county officer in preparing that estimate for submission to the county council. The county officer comes along in a friendly atmosphere to discuss the matter, but the last word is left with the county council. If anybody wants to challenge it, it can be challenged by any member of the council, but I suggest that, after all this discussion has taken place between the officer of the council and the committees, when the estimate does come to the county council it should have very little difficulty in arriving at a correct assessment of the sum required for the services of the council for the coming 12 months.
I am not going to accept it that people elected by the votes of the people will be so regardless of their duties and responsibilities as to stand for an estimate that will not be in accordance with the full requirements of the county in regard to social services and other functions. If I were to take that view I would not be in favour of scrapping the managerial system at all. I would rather be in favour of scrapping the county councils altogether and of handing over their functions to some responsible officers appointed by the Department. I have, however, full faith that the people of this country—the same people who elect Deputies to this House—will be perfectly competent to draw from their own ranks, from the various strata of Irish life, councillors who will administer the affairs of our local bodies in an upright manner. I have no feeling that there is any justification for the fears expressed by some Deputies that some terrible corruption is going to dominate them. If corruption is going to operate in the administration of the affairs of any of these councils, the councillors will have to go before the court of the people at the end of their period of three years in office and the people will deal with them. I have, however, every confidence that the votes of our Irish people will elect to county councils and urban councils men capable of carrying on the business of these councils in a clean and decent manner.
The powers we are leaving to the manager are not being left to him because of any fear of how they would be exercised if they were handed over to the council, but because we believe they are such as any sensible council would vest in their county officer. What are they? Tenancy functions, employment functions and individual health functions. These are the three items that we take out of the whole category of local administration and hand over to the county officers. Yet by a piece of agile eloquence on the part of Deputy Major de Valera he proved to his own satisfaction—or I wonder did he?—that they constituted 75 per cent. of the total. He divided the present executive functions into four classes, each of which he took to be equal in extent, and on this basis he claimed that the manager was going to discharge 75 per cent. of the whole, because we were giving him the individual health functions, the tenancy functions and the employment functions. Deputy Sweetman answered that point very effectively. Without going into any abstruse mathematical calculations to prove his proposition, he simply produced a book showing that in August, 1950, the Kildare County manager made 237 orders, and he pointed out that of these 237 orders he can, under this Bill, make only 23. That was a practical demonstration of the difference between the managerial system, as it is now operated, and the proposals contained in this Bill.
The individual health functions left to the managers are such as, I suggest, should not be left to any public authority. Many of them are functions which should be conducted with the maximum of privacy. The commission of a patient to a mental hospital, the fee to be charged for his maintenance and the particular type of treatment to be given in a particular institution for particular infectious diseases that may call for the greatest privacy, are certainly not matters that should be discussed in public. They are matters that should be arranged between the county medical officer of health and the county officer. I trust that none of those Deputies who have been opposing this measure will again suggest that there is anything wrong in leaving these functions to the manager.
On the question of tenancy functions it has been stressed by some Deputies who spoke here that the question of the fixing of rents should be one for the council, but it is one which will be fixed by the local authority because it will be part and parcel of their duties to consider the scales of rents whether they be differential rents, graded rents or fixed rents. It will thereafter be the function of the county officer to arrange rents for individual tenants according to what has been laid down for him by the council. I think that is a reasonable thing to do. I also think that the collection of rents and decisions as to whether proceedings should be taken in the event of nonpayment of rent are matters which should be left to an individual officer for the purpose of efficiency.
The point was raised that the giving of individual tenancies should be a matter for the council. There may be an argument for it, but I hold that it is preferable to rely on the existing letting regulations and statutory provisions, whereby the medical officer of health is consulted and is required to have regard to the conditions of the people, how they are housed, their family circumstances, whether they have tuberculosis, and so on. These are the statutory priorities and consultations which the present county managers must observe. If we are not going to rob the medical officer of health of that necessary function, if he is to have a say in applying the letting regulations, I do not see anything wrong in having the final work of allocation vested in the county officer. Otherwise the medical officer of health would have to make a report which would come to the elected representatives and they would have to vote on whether a house should be given to a tenant. But you cannot have a vote on questions of fact and I have perfect faith in the county medical officer, with the co-operation of the local medical officer of the district, to see that the most deserving cases will be housed. Out of a number of houses, they can say that No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 should get houses in that order and in that way the houses are allocated.
The case was made from the Opposition Benches—I forget by which Deputy—that the local representatives would approach the question from the angle of who would be the best tenant, who would be the man who would best keep the house neat and clean, who would be the man who would best pay the rent and who would be a good solvent tenant; that in that way they would know more than the medical officer of health and that the medical officer of health would approach the matter from a different angle. I say that I hope he will. If there happens to be a careless father or a careless mother, I hope that the family will not be deprived of a house just because there is no guarantee that for a time they may not be the best people to keep the house neat and clean. If they cannot pay the rent there are methods of dealing with that. I would prefer the doctor's approach of seeing that the family in greatest need would get the house and we are trying to carry that approach into other things besides the allocation of labourers' cottages. I believe in the system whereby the medical officer makes a report as to the most suitable tenant and I believe that that should weigh with the county officer who will eventually become the county secretary as servant of the elected representatives. The Bill provides that the manner in which he proposes to proceed must be laid before the elected representatives and there will be nothing underhand about the procedure.
With regard to employment functions, I think that the employment of staffs should be under the control of one individual. If you leave the employment of staffs to the members of the council they will often be faced with very distasteful decisions and I have no doubt that the elected representatives would clamour to have the employment of staffs restored to one individual. Also rules and regulations are laid down whereby persons must be selected by the Local Appointments Commissioners or by interview boards. With regard to manual staffs, the county officer, who will eventually become the county secretary, will have control with the assistance of the engineers and others who run the services for the council.
In this Bill we are providing something more for these employees than has been in the code already. We are providing for an appeal. There was an appeal as to conditions, grading and status for officers, but there was no such provision for manual workers. Deputy MacEntee derided it, saying that it was an appeal from the local authority to the local authority. It is not. If the workers have a grievance against the county officer with regard to conditions or status or remuneration they can appeal to the council who will sit and consider the matter. I hope that there will be an advisory conciliation committee established in every county and every assistance that can be given to them from headquarters will be given so that they will be able to try such matters on a local level and that regular conditions of service will emerge from the use of the conciliation machinery. It is not an appeal from the local authority to the local authority but from the workers to the elected representatives and they can upset decisions of the county officer and it eventually comes to the Minister if a change is to be made in status or salary.
Those are the three powers with which the county officer will be vested, individual health functions, tenancy functions and employment functions. I have read out a list of typical functions which will be taken from him in order to put it on record, because in spite of any blank denials that we are taking anything from him and in spite of those who say that we are only changing the label on the bottle, we are transferring important and comprehensive powers from the county officer to the elected representatives and we are making sufficient changes to warrant the title "the repeal of the County Management Act". We are leaving only special functions to the county officer such as are not normally performed in an assembly, but we are achieving a position where public administration will be under the control of the elected representatives.
There are some particular points to which I should like to advert. Deputy Bartley raised a question as to what would happen under Section 13 when the county officer becomes county secretary. The answer is that the assistant county officer's title may be changed by the Minister by the Order he will make amalgamating the post of county officer and county secretary under Section 15. However, the posts do not exist except in Dublin and Cork so it is not a vital matter.
Deputy Bartley also wanted to know why we had not separate Acts to provide amendments of the Act of 1926. This Bill provides only temporary amendments to facilitate and expedite any consequential appointments. Therefore there was no need to introduce special legislation for them as they are quite proper to this Bill and consequential on its other provisions and are due to lapse when their purpose is spent.
Deputy Kissane is in serious trouble, and, although I tried to call his attention to the fact that he was on the wrong line, he refused to look at any other lines. He said that Section 9, sub-section (4), gives the Minister power to remove a county officer at any time and that, therefore, the Minister was more undemocratic than those who introduced the 1940 Act where the council had the power to remove the county manager by a two-thirds majority. In fact, of course, a council cannot remove the county manager, even with a two-thirds majority, without the sanction of the Minister, but, in any event, if the Deputy had read Section 9, sub-section (3), he would see that the Bill does not propose to enable the Minister to remove a county officer, but only an officer appointed temporarily, pending the appointment of a permanent county officer. This is a routine and necessary arrangement in the case of a temporary post.
Deputy Kissane was not convinced that there was any real change whatever in the existing managerial system and said that the council were always able to appoint committees such as we have now, but there was a big difference, because those committees had not power to deal with the functions of the county manager. I have listed the functions of the elected representatives which were not the functions of the county manager. We have now given the right to the elected representatives to elect executive committees to deal with these extended powers which have been given to them by this Bill.
Home assistance should not be left to the elected members, said Deputy Kissane. The home assistance officer serves the county manager at the present time and it is the right of the county manager to override and overrule the decisions of that officer. The committee will have the same power under the Bill and they should have that discretion. The home assistance officer will report to the committee instead of to the county manager and they should have the same rights of using discretion as the county manager has. We are transferring the power from the manager to the elected representatives. They will also have the advice of the superintendent assistance officer and his reports and the views of the county officer himself will be available for the help and guidance of the members.
Some complaint has been made about the menace of allowing a decision to be taken in the absence of a quorum, by one man, be he chairman or county officer. That is confined solely and absolutely to home assistance claims and is put into the Bill to ensure that, in the absence of a quorum—we hope that it will not take place frequently —no deserving home assistance case will go unsatisfied, pending a further meeting. It is confined absolutely to home assistance applications.
I have dealt with the question of tenancies and have given my opinion as to the suitability of the present system, of the doctor's reporting in consultation with the officer in accordance with the lines and specifications laid down and on the basis of the statutory Orders and letting regulations.
Deputy Commons spoke about draft orders and said that there should be some prior consultation before the written drafts are submitted. No doubt, such discussion may take place and may be suitable and useful, but I wonder if it is essential to put such a clause into the Bill. It is a matter for purely informal discussion. If they want to have a discussion about them, it might be useful to have one, but it is scarcely something which should be inserted in the Bill. Such discussion will take place, I am sure, between the county officer and members of the committees.
Deputy Brennan would prefer to continue to make the case for home help to the county manager rather than to the elected representatives. Why, I do not know. He says they always got a fair hearing from the manager and that he always listened reasonably to their case, and why he would not like to make the same case to his co-members, with the co-operation and assistance of the county officer and assistance officers, I do not know. It seems to be a further indication of the lack of confidence reflected in the speeches of Deputy Corry and, I think, Deputy MacEntee himself as to these people utilising their positions for the purpose of buying votes. That is not a fair outlook on how elected representatives will do their business in dealing with home assistance for deserving people in their areas. I personally have no fear that that will arise, and, if it does, there is the court of the people which can be appealed to in a very short time to deal with anybody who adopts that attitude. The other members will also be there to correct any such tendency, and, if there is any dishonest or corrupt member, he can be dealt with.
The Deputy also spoke about the same seven members being elected to the two committees. I have already dealt with that. That is scarcely a possibility. There will be two committees comprised each of one-third of the members and then there are plenty other committees to which the other men can be elected. They will be changing around every 12 months and I have little fear that any council will put the same seven members or the same 14 members on two committees, to the total exclusion of the others. If it does arise, it will be an indication that there is something wrong with the situation in that county.
Deputy Brennan also says that the committees have no explicit power to amend the county officer's estimate. He must consult them before he prepares the estimate, and, if they have an estimates committee, he must consult that committee. He must consult the two executive committees on the health and general purposes side, and, if there is an estimates committee, he must consult them also before finally submitting his estimate to the council. With all this previous discussion, there is no reason why a council should have any difficulty in dealing with the estimate in an atmosphere of friendly co-operation with the county officer or county secretary.
Deputy Sweetman raised a point as to how a temporary officer would be appointed who did not get in under Section 10. He will find that, under Section 15, the Minister can appoint one who has not been so appointed. That is provided in the Bill. Deputy O'Rourke said he had made a careful study of the health committee's functions and proceeded to inquire whether the health committee would be in a position to know the circumstances of even a few applicants for home assistance. They will not touch that at all. They will be confined to functions under the Minister for Health. It is the other committee which will deal with that matter and with the help they will get from the home assistance officers and the superintendent, there is no reason to think that the system will not operate as successfully as, if not more successfully than, under the management system.
Several Deputies asked why we did not simply amend the County Management Act and said that all the talk about this Bill was not justified. It would not be so easy to amend the County Management Act and it was much more satisfactory to introduce a comprehensive and self-sufficient measure such as this. We have enough legislation by reference, and, if we attempted to amend the County Management Act, we would have had a thing of shreds and patches, of scissors and paste, a lowyer's nightmare and not a lawyer's dream. I think we are doing the correct thing in placing on the Statute Book a measure of local government which is self-contained and self-sufficing. I am not going to say for how long it will last, but I have an idea that Ministers who follow me will be slow enough to make changes.
This is a reasonable measure, a measure which will make for efficiency. There is nothing spectacular about it and we are denounced because it is not spectacular, but a moderate and reasoned approach was the best method to ensure the provision of an up-todate and efficient system of local government. I should be very slow to have anything to do with the introduction of any measure dealing with what I consider to be a sacred issue, local government, if it could be suggested that there was anything shaky, shady, or corrupt about it or that there was anything of the nature "hooey" associated with it. For that reason, I resent the gratuitously insulting references made across the floor. Were it not for the sense of humour which Deputy MacEntee accused me of having, I could scarcely have taken them with the same equanimity.
I do not feel guilty of the charges made of corruption or disreputable tactics of any kind. I can say in complete sincerity that this Bill has got careful consideration. I believe its draftmanship is should and I can assure the House that it is not a matter of steamrolling it through and not the result of departmentalism. It is an honest approach to use the experience of local government which some of us have had to provide a democratic system with efficiency in administration. I believe it ought to appeal to the House. There will, perhaps, be a good deal of amendments and I have been told that there will be many amendments. These will be considered, but I believe that the framework we provide here is something on which we can build an edifice that will be a credit to the country and that will make for efficiency and the democratic advancement of local government interests. I only regret that the criticisms from the other side were of a destructive rather than of a constructive nature and I am hoping that we will have more constructive criticism on the Committee Stage. I have the greatest hope for the success of this measure and I commend it once more to the House.