Last night, I was making the point that the Minister for Health ought to be jealous of the democratic rights and interests of the citizens of this country. We have a new State and we are anxious that the people should participate, as far as is possible, in voluntary efforts of all kinds. I am perfectly aware, as is this House, that we live in an age when charitable organisations can no longer keep our health services operating. That day is long past but the day has not passed when people can give their time, interest, and attention to voluntary work in connection with the sick, and that has been done by members of these various boards. I shall deal with the Dublin Fever Hospital Board, in particular, in a moment or two.
I want to refer to the other six boards to be abolished in the Dublin area. I refer principally to the Dublin area but what I say about Dublin applies equally to other parts of the country where boards will be abolished under this Bill. We have a number of members of the corporation on these boards, Grangegorman and Portrane, and the county council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation have members on the Rathdown Board of Assistance and the Balrothery Board. Many years ago, it was felt in the corporation that the work in connection with these hospitals was so great that the average councillor found it very difficult to give adequate time to it. They are vast, enormous hospitals and, therefore, a system was evolved whereby the council could appoint members who were not city councillors to these boards. We on this side of the House think that was a very wise thing and a very important thing because it gave a large number of outsiders—when I say outsiders, I mean those outside the political life of the country—a great interest in corporation matters, and they devoted their time voluntarily.
As I read this Bill, it seems to me that that situation has gone. The Dublin health authority shall now consist of nine members appointed by the county council, 15 by Dublin Corporation and three by Dún Laoghaire Corporation. It would appear, therefore, that those outside members will become redundant. I should like the Minister to clear up that point. Of course, it will be clarified on Committee Stage, but I understand that the membership of the health authority will consist entirely of councillors and members of the various public bodies.
For two reasons, I do not believe that is entirely a good thing. One is that the work thrown on the members of that health authority will be overwhelming. I do not know how they will visit the various hospitals and give the same attention to them as members of the various other boards gave in the past. No councillor would have time to do anything but discharge his duties on the health authority. That is one reason why I think it a mistake. The other is that under this Bill we apparently envisage the wiping away of membership of these boards for the ordinary citizen. I go further and say that even if I have misread that in the Bill, I still do not think that those 27 members can adequately carry out these duties.
I referred yesterday to the lack of detail concerning the saving of money in connection with this Bill. The Minister talked vaguely of administrative savings. I hope I am not cynical about administrative savings but during my lifetime I have seen very few if any such savings—it is usually quite the reverse. I believe that a great deal of the work formerly done by voluntary people will have to be carried out by civil servants appointed for the purpose. Where up to now these various boards were able to deal voluntarily with matters affecting the welfare of the patients and of the staff, we now may have to have somebody such as a liaison officer to deal with these matters.
I am very dubious about savings to the public purse. We have had no details of any proposed savings. The Minister has assured us that there will be no interference with people engaged in the service at present, so it certainly does not look as if even a speedy saving is envisaged in that respect.
More specifically, I should like to mention the question of the Dublin Fever Board. Originally, as is well known, that was the old Cork Street Hospital founded 150 years ago by charitably-minded persons. Many changes ensued and eventually the hospital and its trustees became the Dublin Fever Board. The Minister is apparently going to wipe away that board with a stroke of the pen. It is in a very different position from that of the other boards which it is proposed to abolish under this Bill. I do not really believe in the abolition of any of the others but there is not the same insult to the others. The others are composed mainly of members of county councils or other local authorities, and it is not the first time they have had their faces slapped and their feelings injured by the Minister for Local Government; they are well accustomed to that. It is a very different matter in the case of a hospital built up by a group of people, which functioned very satisfactorily and which a few years ago repelled a piratical attack. It failed, first of all, and was submerged and then under a different Government it was reconstituted. At that time, everybody felt that an injustice had been done to that hospital. Now it appears that, far from learning from the mistakes of the past, the Minister is prepared to go forward and repeat them.
I believe the board of that hospital did not have any notice that they were to be abolished until almost a matter of days beforehand. I think that was unfair and discourteous—I am sure the discourtesy was not intended. I would ask the Minister not to do what he proposes in the case of the Dublin Fever Hospital. I think we would lose something that is very dear to us in Dublin and in our Irish life if we wiped away representation on a board which originally began as a private charitable institution. It is a precedent which I do not think any of us would like to see established.
The whole tenor of my remarks is that if these proposed changes take place something very precious will pass out of our lives—voluntary service by quite ordinary people who worked very hard. I have had a great deal of experience of the work of those people, and frankly I have never been able to do anything like it. Their names are not known; they do not want to be known; they are quite unrewarded and unrecorded. Their real work has been the smoothing away of difficulties in these institutions, making patients happier, helping them in their convalescence. Some of them do the work by bringing books to the patients; some watch the kitchen; some watch the food and the welfare of the patients generally. They do a tremendous amount of work entirely unpaid and it contributes enormously to the quicker recovery and the happiness of the patients.
I would ask the Minister very earnestly to alter his intentions in connection with the Dublin Fever Hospital. In connection with other parts of the Bill I would ask him to widen the area of democratic representation and bring in outsiders. I do not want to see—and I am sure none of us do— a situation in which unless one is a member of the Dáil or Seanad or of a local authority, one can do practically nothing to help one's fellowmen. This Bill is a step in a direction that is certainly authoritarian and possibly totalitarian, something that none of us wishes to see.