Committee on Finance. - Local Government Bill, 1960—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The purpose of the Bill is, as stated in the Long Title, to enable the corporation of a county borough to provide, or to assist in the provision of a concert hall, theatre or opera house. Last September the Cork Corporation passed a resolution agreeing in principle to give a grant of £25,000 to the Cork Opera House Trust Fund and requested the Government's permission to do so. I may say that this resolution was passed on the understanding that State assistance by way of a loan towards the rebuilding of the opera house would be provided. I informed the corporation that while existing legislation did not empower them to make the proposed contribution of £25,000, the necessary steps would be taken to enable them to give effect to their resolution. The Bill, however, is not being restricted to Cork Corporation. It is proposed that the corporations of the four county boroughs will be given the powers set out in the Bill. A request was received from Limerick Corporation that any concessions being made to Cork should be made to Limerick, so that they might consider the making of a grant to the executive committee of Féile Luimnighe towards the provision of a theatre and concert hall.

Subsection (2) of Section 1 sets out the procedure which must be followed where a corporation propose to operate the provisions of the Bill. It entails the publication in the press of a copy of the resolution. A waiting period of between 60 and 180 days is then allowed so that any person who objects can make representations. The resolution must then be confirmed by a further resolution and becomes operative when it has been confirmed by an Order made by the Minister for Local Government. This procedure may seem cumbersome but it is desirable that the maximum publicity should be given to any proposal to provide for expenditure from the rates on projects of the nature contemplated in the Bill. A similar procedure, is contained in the Harbours Act, 1947, which enables local authorities to provide financial assistance to harbour authorities.

In addition to enabling the four county borough corporations to assist bodies in providing such halls, the Bill gives them power to provide, operate and maintain such buildings themselves and sets out the purposes for which they may be used, for example, concerts, stage plays, operas, meetings, lectures, exhibitions and general recreation or other similar social objects. Where assistance is given by a corporation to a body providing such a building, such assistance may be conditional on an agreement between the corporation and the body as to the use and disposal of the building.

A building provided under this Bill may also be used for purposes other than those specifically mentioned in the Bill provided such use is occasional only, and a part of the building may be used continually for other purposes provided such part does not form a substantial part of the whole building. The building could thus be availed of for such purposes as election counts.

The Bill also enables approved expenditure for the purposes in question to be defrayed by way of loan from the Local Loans Fund.

This is a desirable proposal. There are just a few points that strike me about it. Is there any reason why it should be limited to the four county boroughs? It is conceivable that few county councils would wish to adopt a proposal of this sort but it is just possible that in some county council areas a town or towns might be suitable for proposals such as are envisaged in the Bill. I cannot say what the reaction of, say, Dún Laoghaire Corporation would be to a proposal of this sort but it might be wise to include in the Bill a provision to enable the corporation, if they saw fit or if occasion warranted, to consider such a proposal. Dún Laoghaire is an important tourist area, as are certain other resorts, which, while not coming within the statutory definition of a county borough, nevertheless, have an attraction from the tourist point of view. It is possible that towns in these county council areas might be anxious to avail of facilities of the sort provided in the Bill, if it were possible for them to do so.

Deputy Corish, possibly, will speak about the extraordinary success of the Wexford Festival which, as I understand the legislation at the moment, would be precluded from benefiting under this proposal. Subject to these considerations, I believe that the proposals enshrined in the Bill will have general acceptance.

The Minister is to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I congratulate him on the idea as far as it goes, but, like Deputy Cosgrave, I wonder why the Bill does not go farther. It is the members of the local body who will decide whether or not assistance will be given and I do not know why the provisions of the Bill are confined to the four county boroughs. They ought to be extended to other bodies. I do not know whether one needs to go down as far as town commissioners or not but, if they have the power, within the limit of their own resources, they will certainly decide whether they should or should not assist the type of projects which are included in this measure.

Perhaps the Minister would clarify a matter for me? Have not the local bodies power, under a peculiar name—the Sanitary Services Act—to do similar things? Can they not provide money or provide a building, a concert hall, for example, in a particular place, with conditions as to its use? I am sure the Minister and his officials have explored that possibility and have discovered that as far as the Cork Opera House Trust Fund is concerned, the Cork Corporation are not empowered to make a grant. Perhaps the difference is that the Cork Corporation could, under the Sanitary Services Act, 1948, build a concert hall or opera house and set down the conditions for its use and the manner in which it is to be used and that under this Bill, the local body may give a grant and the use of the hall is a matter to be determined by agreement between the owners of the hall and the local body.

Deputy Cosgrave anticipated that I would mention a place like Wexford town which is a borough corporation, not a county borough corporation. I do not know what is in the minds of the members of the Wexford Corporation but it may arise in respect of the Wexford Festival Committee that a grant for the building, renovation or reconstruction of a concert hall or theatre would be desirable. Therefore if this Bill gives power to borough corporations to make grants, Wexford Corporation, Drogheda Corporation, Kilkenny Corporation, Clonmel Corporation or any of the other borough corporations might act in a similar manner for the purpose of having a reasonably good opera house or concert hall in their functional area.

Apart from that, this is a good Bill, but I wonder whether or not these powers are not embodied in the Sanitary Services Act of 1948 under the terms of which any local body can provide a concert hall, an opera house, a playground, an amusement park, or any of these things.

I should like to support Deputy Corish in appealing to the Minister to extend this Bill so that the Galway Corporation as well as the other corporations will benefit from it.

Unfortunately I was not here for the Minister's introductory speech but I should like to ask him if there is any power whereby one of the specified county boroughs can acquire an existing hall. Section 1 (5) says:

The corporation of a county borough may acquire by agreement land for or including a concert hall...

I presume that means the concert hall could be on the land in question. When the Cork Opera House project was mooted I and others made representations to the Minister to have Limerick included in, this Bill. Our legal adviser told us, wrongly I submit—but the local authority must accept the advice of its law agent— that as the law stood we were not empowered to give a grant to Féile Luimnighe which body purchased the Coliseum Cinema. I am not conversant with the matter raised by Deputy Coogan and Deputy Corish.

We want borough corporations to be included.

I understood there was very little reason for complaint in Galway because it has the Taibhdhearc which serves the needs of Galway, the capital of the Gaeltacht. Wexford has set a headline for the whole country with its annual festival and it certainly does not seem to be short of accommodation.

The hall is too small.

There are other sections under which Wexford could benefit and Limerick could not. The Wexford Festival apart from being an international festival is looked upon as being a national festival as well, embracing the whole of Ireland. The body in Limerick which purchased the Coliseum was regarded purely as a local organisation and even, though there were entries from outside, the organisation was composed of people in Limerick city.

There are three ways that one of the specified county boroughs can help in having a hall erected. It can, make a free grant; it can make a loan or the approved local body can go to the bank and the Limerick Corporation can guarantee that body at the bank.

If the county borough gives a free grant from what source will it be payable? Will it be from the rates? You will not put up much of a building for £20,000 and if we gave a grant of £20,000 it would amount to about 2/- on the rates. Although this is a very desirable project the rates are high enough as they are, if not too high. Therefore Section 1 (b) (i) which makes provision for a free grant is not realistic.

With regard to making a loan, is it envisaged that the council of a county borough which wishes to make a loan to an approved body would borrow from the Local Loans Fund? I understand it can and everyone will probably snatch at that way out. It is a much fairer way and if I were the Minister I would cut out the provision in respect of a free grant. Why should there be a free grant when a loan is available that can be repaid? The Limerick Corporation could borrow from the Local Loans Fund at, say, 5¾ per cent. That could be lent to the approved body which is building this hall at, say, six per cent., an extra quarter per cent. to cover administrative costs. If this were spread over 35 years like the S.D.A.A. loans or over 50 years like the Housing of the Working Classes loans, there would be no burden on the rates.

There is an interesting possibility in this Bill. Section 1 (1) (a) says:

The corporation of a county borough may resolve either—

(a) to provide and maintain a concert hall, theatre or opera house,

I think I am right in saying that, for the first time in the history of local government, an approved county borough may now under the provisions of this Bill run a concert hall, theatre or opera house. For the sake of argument, Limerick may decide that one of the most desirable amenities required in Ireland today is a convention hall. Would such a hall come within the provisions of this measure? We have lost—the Director General of Bord Fáilte will confirm this, and the Chairman will bear it out—much tourist business in the past couple of years because we had not, first of all, a large enough hall in which international conventions could be held and, secondly, we had not sufficient hotels.

Admittedly, the question of accommodation does not arise under this Bill but perhaps the Minister will inform the House as to whether or not it would be possible for a corporation—be it in Cork, Dublin or Limerick —to build such a hall. Not so very long ago, a very large international medical congress was held in Dublin. Were it not for the co-operation and good offices of Irish Hospitals Trust, that congress would have been a complete fiasco. We had the spectacle of groups having to go to halls in different parts of the city. The provision of a convention hall, then, is my first point.

Secondly, will it be open to a local authority under this Bill to run, for the benefit of the ratepayers, a concert hall, an opera house, or a theatre? I can see trouble there. Such an undertaking might prove of substantial benefit to the ratepayers, but I can visualise a clash with private enterprise. At the moment, if I apply to the I.D.A. for a loan and/or grant for a new industry, I shall not get financial assistance if there is any danger that I might compete with an existing industry. It would, therefore, appear to be somewhat unfair to enable a local authority to build a ballroom, a cinema or a dancehall through the medium of moneys borrowed at a quite reasonable rate of interest from the Local Loans Fund, or possibly a free grant, in order to compete with already existing private enterprise. Such an investment by a local authority might be of an inestimable benefit to the ratepayers. It might also put out of business both the small man and the big man, and we might find ourselves in the position of taking away employment, on the one hand, while providing it, on the other.

Finally, let me say that this measure is long overdue. It is a very welcome one.

The point raised by the first three speakers—Deputy Cosgrave, Deputy Corish and Deputy Coogan— was one that was considered by my Department and myself before bringing this measure to the House. The question was asked as to why the provisions of this Bill should not apply to county councils, and others, apart from the four named borough corporations. The answer is that county councils, urban councils, and town commissioners enjoy at the moment certain facilities in relation to the provision of halls. Town halls are provided for in the 1936 Act. Under that Act, a hall may be provided by urban councils or town commissioners. Under the 1941 Act, provision was made enabling parish halls to be provided by county councils. The 1941 Act was subsequently amended in 1955 to include county borough councils. The 1955 Act gave to county councils the facilities enjoyed by others under the 1941 Act. While these three Acts have been available to local bodies, I should say that no real use has been made by local bodies, whether town commissioners, urban councils, or county councils, of their provisions.

The introduction of this Bill became necessary because of the situation which had arisen in Cork Corporation. When it became known that the Government intended to introduce legislation for the purpose of clarifying the situation in Cork, representations were made by Limerick Corporation for the extension to them of whatever powers might be given to Cork Corporation. No real demand was made by any other local authority, then or since, for the extension of the provisions of this measure to them. Having considered both Cork and Limerick, it was decided that the facilities being given to Cork should also be extended to Limerick. That left us with two Corporations, Waterford and Dublin, and we decided to deal with all four Corporations under this Bill by giving all four this power to make grants or provide the particular facilities mentioned in the Bill.

The only new departure as against the provisions already available to county councils, urban councils and town commissioners, is that grants may now be made by the four corporations to any body for the purpose of providing a hall, theatre, or opera house. But again, as I say, if the demand were there and the requests were made, and there had been any effort in the past 25 odd years really to use these facilities, or that there was a need for them, we possibly might have been discussing the application of these terms to those other local authorities. At this stage, however, I would say that should the Bill create a demand throughout the country for the extension of the new facilities, such demand will be sympathetically received and it will not be a very difficult measure to extend the provisions of this Bill to cover any of the local authorities in the country.

Deputy O'Malley asked whether the corporations would not be empowered to acquire the land for the purpose of erecting and providing any of the facilities such as I have mentioned. The answer is that they will be empowered to acquire land, but only by an agreement. There is no suggestion that they are being given compulsory acquisition powers to deal with this matter. The Deputy also asked whether they might be empowered to acquire or purchase an existing premises, building or hall, for any of the purposes that we have been discussing. Again the answer is "yes". I take it that the wording "they may provide" means that they can provide a building from the ground up, or take over an existing building and add, extend, improve or do what they may with it.

The same Deputy also asked from what source the moneys provided by way of grant will come. The moneys will come from the rates in any area in which a corporation proposes to make a grant, and may be raised by way of loan from the Local Loans Fund, which is a facility to help such bodies in these ventures. I was also asked whether a hall, opera house, theatre or otherwise could be run for the benefit of the ratepayers. Again the answer is "yes" and I only hope that if they propose to run any such project it will be for the financial benefit of the ratepayers.

The question of objections that might arise from the promoters of a private enterprise, whose livelihood or business might be interfered with is one of the reasons which has prompted the provision in the Bill for formal publicity and notices, in order that objections may be made and considered by all concerned before any final decision is made in any particular instance. I think the commonsense and goodwill of the corporators in all four corporations will ensure that there will be no real clash in regard to this matter and that we shall not have various places of entertainment in competition with one another, some run by a corporation and others by private enterprise. I do not think that is something about which we need worry too much. That, I feel, is as far as I need go on this at the moment but if I have overlooked any point raised by any Deputy I shall try to elucidate it as far as possible.

Do I take it that under the 1941 Act the local councils, borough councils and urban councils have power to erect social centres?

Part VIII of the Local Government Act of 1941 empowers a county council to provide a building for use by a local council—that refers to local parish councils as they then were in existence—of which they have approved by resolution, and they may entrust the care and management of such building to such a local council. The county council may also assist the local council by providing them with furniture, office equipment and stationery and may pay a caretaker to look after the hall. That, roughly, is the situation in regard to the 1941 Act as it was, but it was further extended and amended in 1955. Under the 1955 Act it is provided that county councils may make grants to approved local councils towards the cost of providing a hall, and further, a county borough council may declare councils, committees or other bodies established by the local inhabitants of a locality in a county borough to be approved local councils, and may provide and make grants towards them for the provision of halls.

Urban bodies do not come under that?

No. The urban bodies would be catered for to a large degree under the town hall provisions in the 1936 Act. The law in regard to the provision of town halls by urban districts is somewhat complicated. The section which is generally relied on is Section 6 of the Local Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1936 which provides:

"It shall be lawful for the council of a borough or an urban district to provide and maintain a fit and convenient building for use as a town hall (whether also containing or not containing offices for the transaction of the business of such council) and to provide and maintain in such building all necessary and proper furniture and fittings."

That is the Act which urban councils and town commissioners have relied on for the provision of such halls and entertainment places.

Question put and agreed to.

I was hoping I might get it now.

The Minister can have the remaining Stages tomorrow or Thursday.

Whatever suits the House.

We could order it for tomorrow and then it could be taken by agreement on Thursday.

Or next week.

Or next month.

I understood the Minister preferred this week.

You are in a hurry down in Cork.

Deputy O'Malley suggested it should be next week. The Opposition would be glad to comply with the suggestion if the Deputy presses it.

In asking for the remaining Stages today, I felt I was not asking something unduly difficult, in the sense that I think this is a rather simple measure and one which, I believe, has the agreement of all sides of the House.

We would be very happy to accommodate the Minister but we would wish him to note Deputy O'Malley's representation.

It is a great pity Fine Gael do not always co-operate with Deputy O'Malley.

On occasion in Limerick we are obliged to check the Deputy, but that is for his own good.

It was the Deputy who checked Fine Gael in Limerick.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 13th July, 1960.