We should, I think, reiterate our proposal that the Minister should accept that an order should be laid before the House in the event of the removal from office of members of the board. We object specifically to subsection (a) of section 11. I and my colleagues are prepared to accept a public local inquiry rather than a local inquiry and the Minister has indicated that he will introduce an amendment to that effect on Report Stage, but we are doubtful that that would meet the basic objection. If the Minister intends to get rid of a health board there should be a statutory obligation on him to bring the matter before the bar of public opinion in this House, outlining his reasons so that they will be published in the Official Report, bearing in mind that these boards will be catering for anything from 500,000 to 1,000,000 people. It was on that note that I supported the amendment tabled by Deputy Ryan and that Deputy Ryan indicated before progress was reported that he intended to press the amendment.
Health Bill, 1969: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I am grateful to Deputy Desmond for keeping the matter open because it is a very vital amendment. I am afraid I am unable to accept what the Minister is suggesting, that it lies with the Minister for Local Government alone to abolish a health authority for the reasons which were advanced for the abolition of Dublin Corporation earlier this year.
I have read the section that the Minister has made reference to. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a case could arise again in the future in which a health board would take a stand similar to that which was taken earlier this year by Dublin Corporation. There were then and there would be in the future two methods open to a Minister for dealing with it and it is because we feel the Minister ought to justify the methods which he adopts that we have advanced this amendment. The Minister can either abolish the authority or the board as the case may be or he can cause mandamus proceedings to be taken in court as a result of which an order of the court would be made which would oblige the authority to carry out whatever statutory function it had.
That course could have been taken in Dublin earlier this year and if that course had been taken Dublin Corporation would have been faced with the legal obligation under order of the court to do the thing the Minister wanted the corporation to do but, instead of bringing that situation about, instead of letting the legal processes occur, the Minister did what he wanted to do, that was, to abolish Dublin Corporation because the fact that the Fianna Fáil Party had only 15 out of 45 members on the corporation was an embarrassment to the Minister. He wanted to do it because he did not want Dublin Corporation to be there reminding him of his failure to live up to the promises made by the Government four years ago not to increase rates in respect of health services. He wanted to abolish Dublin Corporation because it was there to remind him of the fact that he was on record and, indeed, in his own White Paper, as saying that rates was not a proper system for the financing of health services. So, instead of adopting the reasonable course of expeditious and peremptory legal proceedings, he used what he wanted, that is, the means of abolishing Dublin Corporation because it was an embarrassment to him.
It is to avoid a similar situation arising in the future that we say that if a Minister feels that a health board is acting so unreasonably that he ought to abolish it, that he is justified in abolishing it, then he should come to the House to justify what he wants to do and if he is not able to justify it to this House and to public opinion, then he should refrain from doing it.
I believe that if the Minister for Local Government earlier this year had had to come to the Dáil to justify the abolition of Dublin Corporation he would not have abolished the corporation but would instead have caused the city manager or whoever else it may have been to resort to legal proceedings in order to obtain an order of the court to bring about the same result. But it was not the rates, it was not the health services, the Minister was interested in; it was the abolition of Dublin Corporation and because the corporation took a stand on a matter of principle, the Minister, although he agreed in principle that the corporation were right in their stand, in not using the rates for financing health services, used it as an excuse to abolish Dublin Corporation. It is to avoid a repetition of that, a repetition of having taxation without representation, that we say that if the Minister is dissatisfied in the future with the conduct of a health board he should come in here to justify the abolition of that board.
As Deputy Desmond has said, the new health boards will cater for up to one million people and it is not being unreasonable to say that if a Minister for State wants to abolish a body which is looking after one million people he should come into this House to justify the abolition of that body. Such a body, for instance, in the Dublin region will cater for about one-third of our population and if the Minister wants to abolish such a body it is entirely reasonable and necessary in the interests of democracy that he should come into this House to justify his conduct.
Some of these boards will cover about 2,000 to 3,000. There is no use in exaggerating the case. We are discussing section 11 of the Health Bill, not the Dublin Corporation. The greatest sanction of all is the sanction of public opinion. The Minister accepted that it would be a public inquiry. That public inquiry would be publicised in the local newspapers and everybody would be speaking about it and would know what was happening. There would be nothing done in a hole and corner way. In those circumstances the Minister will think twice before deciding that a board should be abolished.
An inquiry by whom?
By a judicial person. I mentioned "public" the first day thinking that was in the Bill.
It is not a judicial person; it is an official.
That does not matter as long as it is public. Everybody concerned in the case will be represented. There will be very reputable persons there.
The Minister appoints the inquirer.
They will be very representative people, people with reputations to lose and the members of the regional authority will have reputations to lose. They will be represented. The Minister's reputation will be at stake and he will be well and duly satisfied that the board have not duly and effectively done their job before he orders a public inquiry. That is the finest sanction of all.
The public will not make the final decision; they will only read the papers. The Minister will be representing the public. Therefore, he should come to this House to get approval for his decision.
Is the Deputy afraid of a public inquiry?
If a man does wrong, he is afraid of a public inquiry.
But bring the report in here.
Why not have the inquiry publicly in the area concerned? Supposing it is a midland region, that is, Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly, the public inquiry should be held in the town of Tullamore or Mullingar. It would be publicised in the three or four local papers, written right across them so that every one of those concerned with the health affairs of that region would read it in depth and not read a shortened account of it here in the House.
Why should the report not be laid before the House?
They will read it in the local papers in full. The inquiry will be held in their midst. They will attend it. They will see the efforts made by certain people to extricate themselves from their difficulties, the efforts made by honourable men to prove that they were right. They will see and read these things. I do not mind who holds the public inquiry. It is immaterial to me as long as it is public.
Suppose the public make up their mind and it is contrary to what the Minister does, what use is public opinion then?
A public inquiry is a very valuable sanction, as Deputy Corish knows.
It has put us all here, has it not?
But in that case the public had votes. They will not have votes in an inquiry.
I do not think there should be any contention over this amendment because it is one that should be readily acceptable. I cannot see any grave objection to it unless, of course, the Minister and the Government have little respect for this House. One must take into account in discussing the section and the amendment that Fianna Fáil already hold a threat over local authorities that are not favourably disposed to them, the threat of abolition, and there is no appeal from that action. We have had the case of Dublin Corporation. We have had the case of Kerry County Council and other bodies, elected democratically, finding themselves abolished overnight and a commissioner set up in their place. What the amendment is asking is that the report of a public inquiry should be brought before this House and it is reasonable to assume that it is unlikely that a health board will be abolished for the reasons set out here. I think it is a fair assumption that it is unlikely that you will find that the performance of its duties by a health board are not being duly and effectually carried out, as stated in the Bill. Health boards will, I hope, be composed, in the main, if not in full, of men of integrity. It is most likely and most reasonable to assume they will carry out their duties effectually, as stated in the Bill. However, if for any reason the Minister finds a public inquiry is necessary — I understand he has conceded he will hold a public inquiry — let us then examine the mechanics of a public inquiry if he decides to hold one and if he abolishes a board.
The inspector appointed by the Minister — possibly a special appointee — will travel, say, to Tullamore, which was mentioned by Deputy Lenihan, for the inquiry. He will dictate terms for the inquiry. He will not make a decision. He reports back to the Tánaiste who is the Minister for Health in this Government, if this piece of legislation is passed. Let me emphasise that if the Minister does not like the findings and report of the inspector he can dump them into the wastepaper basket and say, in effect, to the inspector: "You keep your mouth shut; it is what I think that will go to the public". Is that not so? Is it not usual in public and local inquiries? We have had housing inquiries under the Planning Acts where the inspector made a recommendation but does everybody not know that if the political strings are powerful enough the recommendation is forgotten and the decision is polished up — and I think "polished up" is a fair description — by the Minister.
An appointment for postmen, even.
What use is it, then? The board is abolished. The Minister has made his finding. The inspector's report is confidential. Now, however, if this amendment were accepted it would indicate a great change. It would indicate that, irrespective of any change the Minister might make in the findings of the inspector, the matter would be relevant to a discussion in this House—the Minister's report would be available for discussion here.
If the Minister is honest and sincere in his efforts to formulate legislation here that is fair and just, surely he cannot but accept this amendment? I do not like the policy of the Minister for Health but I will concede that it is my personal opinion that he is a fair-minded man. One can be fair and conscientious even though one's views may be wrong. Then, having conceded that, I am amazed that he should offer any objection to this section. What has he to be afraid of? If he will accept the findings of an impartial inquiry and if he will make a fair decision—either himself or a successor-in-office—why hide it from this House? Why not bring it forward, as the amendment requests?
As I said at the outset, it is unlikely that boards will be abolished. The only possible chance I can see of boards being abolished by the Government is not on the grounds mentioned here but possibly because the political outlook of a board may not be in keeping with the Department and it may not kowtow to them. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. I do not see that it will make any drastic change in the Bill. It will establish this House, as it should be established, as the final court for determining any abuses that may take place in any health board area. Even though the Government of the day have the majority in this House—Whips are laid on and people even have to vote against their personal views: this is how this Parliament functions, has functioned and I suppose will continue to function—at the same time, irrespective of that, there would be an opportunity for all Deputies here to have their say on a decision such as one on the outcome of the Health Act, and that is of vital importance. I appeal, therefore, for acceptance of this amendment.
Deputy Murphy stated that there will be no contention about this: I agree with him though not, perhaps, for the same reasons. We are discussing health. Deputy Ryan has forgotten the health aspect and is back to his old bash at politics again. Deputy Ryan wants to justify his amendment vis-á-vis the abolition of Dublin Corporation. First of all, I would remind him that Dublin Corporation was abolished simply because they would not carry out the duty the people had elected them to do under legislation passed by this House. This House has already authorised the setting up of bodies such as the ex-Dublin Corporation. The fact that he wants to bring it back under any order or authority would mean that we would have a rehash here of what happened in Dublin Corporation. If the Minister were to accept this amendment in toto, it would not bring home to the members of local authorities that their job is to carry out their duties under the law. I would also remind Deputy Ryan that Dublin Corporation was abolished before under his own Government and that they did not seek a writ of mandamus against the corporation or put on any extra inquiry. They simply threw out Dublin Corporation. On that occasion it was because Dublin Corporation refused to sack a number of men——
The Deputy will please come to the amendment.
I was just referring to what Deputy Ryan said.
I was not alive then. I am hardly responsible for what happened before I was born.
We should try and for heaven's sake take politics out of the Health Bill. Deputy Ryan is determined that this will not happen. The health of the people of Dublin is not affected one way or the other by our having a corporation. However, it is imperative that they have a central authority, when a local authority is abolished for doing something wrong, to ensure that, despite the actions of some members of the corporation, the wages and salaries of its workers will be available to them.
Had the Minister not acted as he did some months ago, we would have seen many hundreds, if not thousands of workers, left without wages or salaries and our health services would have broken down. This is what we must do under the new health legislation which is before us. Under the machinery to be set up we must ensure that our health services will be capable of being implemented for the benefit of the health of the people and not for the benefit of the political health of some individuals here.
If there is any merit in this amendment—it is not quite obvious—then, if it were discussed without a political aspect, we might get somewhere. The suggestion that before a Minister can make an order abolishing an authority it must come back here to be debated would mean that we would have the same old thing over and over again and I would suggest that the amendment should be withdrawn.
I should like to make an appeal that the question of health should be taken out of politics and should be dealt with purely as a matter of health. We should set down guidelines. I am fully convinced, having listened to Deputy Ryan and others, that the section as it stands is suitable to meet the requirements. The irresponsibility of public representatives could affect a health board, as it has in the past affected other authorities, as in the case of a Dublin authority and others when we had the responsible public representatives failing in their duty to the people and failing to match up to their responsibility.
"Keep health out of politics."
The irresponsible attitude of people must be dealt with in a responsible way and not be brought back into Dáil Éireann to be made into a political football as Deputy Ryan did in the case of——
It was his irresponsibility together with the irresponsibility of some members of your party who were——
On a point of order, Sir, could I ask you to rule that the historic affairs of the now defunct Dublin Corporation be ruled out of order? The Ceann Comhairle did it some ten minutes ago and, frankly, this debate will deteriorate even further——
The Deputy fired a few salvos in the course of his comments.
The Chair is aware of the Ceann Comhairle's ruling that the affairs of the Dublin Corporation are not a subject for discussion at the moment.
In relation to the section, we are aware of the irresponsibility of and of the necessity to abolish authorities from time to time. Irresponsibility has been displayed in no uncertain manner in many ways in the not too distant past. We want to ensure that we will have the necessary authority to deal with it.
You will not have any authority.
The authority is set out——
The Minister has the authority.
Our job is to set down guidelines and the people concerned must abide by the guidelines and if they do not there must be a way to deal with irresponsibility such as we saw——
Your job is to tramp in here on instruction.
It is not my job to tramp in here on instruction. I will take none of that nonsense from the Deputy who was sent in here to interrupt. I and other members of the authority which has been abolished who acted in a responsible way will make sure that the public are aware——
Of the guidelines.
On the guidelines.
The question of depriving citizens of medical services comes to my mind. Efforts have been made from time to time to deprive citizens of medical services, to deprive the sick, the unemployed and other sections and those efforts were dealt with in a reasonable and realistic fashion. There were members, of course, of political parties who wanted this particular authority abolished for their own political ends, in order to ensure their political runners would be weakened in the contest which was coming. However, the machinery was there and it dealt fairly effectively with irresponsible members. We may have irresponsible people again trying to prevent citizens from getting the medical services to which they are entitled and trying to impede the progress of a new board. Like Deputy Moore, I feel that the time has come when it should no longer be necessary to have a rehash here of the affairs of an authority which fails to do its duty outside. It can be dealt with in a realistic fashion. It is a pity that there was not a public inquiry on the last occasion because if there had been some of the public representatives now in the Opposition would be in jail.
The degree of the last contributor's knowledge of the matters to which he referred can be judged by the fact that he is unaware that there was a public inquiry in the City Hall.
I was at it and the Deputy was not.
The Deputy just told the House that it was a pity that there was not a public inquiry. Is there no limit to his irresponsibility? He expressed regret that there was not and when I reminded him that there was he admitted that there was, and then he asks the House and the people to accept him as responsible. He deliberately misled the House and then a few minutes later thinks it of no consequence that he can contradict himself.
The Deputy tried to deprive the people of the medical services——
Will Deputies come to the amendment before the House and forget the affairs of bodies which have been abolished?
Even those deemed by some people to have been abolished, but the Seanad met today and its composition was determined by the votes of those people who were supposed to be abolished but they were terribly important when it was a question of electing a Seanad. The same people are given no right to represent citizens who are paying £5 million in rates.
The affairs of bodies which have been abolished, whether they are mentioned by name or not, are not fit subjects for discussion.
What is desirable is that we should warn the House of the possibility of a repetition of a situation in which 600,000 people are required to pay for a service which is being performed without any right on their part to be represented in the carrying out of that service. We are entitled to say, as any true democrat will say, that it is wrong that public representatives should be asked to operate under a system of intimidation, that they should be threatened with abolition, that they should live in a state of fear. Without identifying any particular body it is common knowledge that from time to time in the past members of inferior bodies in this State have received some ministerial letters warning them that if they did not act in a particular way they would be abolished. That is most undesirable in a democracy. It is particularly undesirable when people are asked to operate a system which the Government of the day in a White Paper acknowledge to be wrong, and which all political parties acknowledge to be wrong, and to try to justify a continuation of a system in which public representatives are asked to operate in a regime of fear and intimidation is wholly unworthy. We cannot see, therefore, that there can be any sound objection to our request that if the Minister finds himself in disagreement with the health board he should have his inquiry, if he wishes, to ascertain the facts and then, before he makes an order, he should come to this House to justify that order.
Exception was taken earlier today by Deputy Lenihan because he said it was wrong to require a debate in this House where a health board——
No. I said that local debate and local publication is more effective.
Before the intervention of the Local Government (Rates) Bill Deputy Lenihan objected to our amendment—if it was not he it was one of his colleagues—because he said it was wrong that you should require a Minister to come into the House to justify the abolition of a health board because it had refused to comply with a judgment of the court or had refused to allow its accounts to be audited——
The fact is that our amendment does not refer at all——
I mentioned that (b), (c) and (d) were mandatory.
No. The amendment does not refer to (b), (c) and (d). It refers only to a case where a Minister is satisfied that the duties are not being duly and effectively performed.
I do not want to be misquoted. The truth is that when I was dealing——
The Deputy will have an opportunity of dealing with this.
Deputy Lenihan can speak again if he can contain himself for a moment.
We are on the Committee Stage and the Deputy is free to speak again, and he will be pleased to know that I can answer him again, but our amendment applies only to a case where a Minister is of opinion that the local boards are not duly and effectively performing what he considers to be their duties. All we say is: let Parliament be the ultimate arbitrator if there is a dispute between a local health board and the Minister. What can be more reasonable? We say it is a reasonable and a necessary proposal where we are about to create monster boards catering for between 250,000 and 1,000,000 people. If there is this disagreement, let it be justified by open debate in the Oireachtas. If the Minister is not prepared to do that we say that he is afraid of public debate. This is the place to have the public debate and not by necessarily abbreviated reports in newspapers of public inquiries or by inspired letters from the correspondents of political parties all of which represent a very necessary, vital and helpful contribution to public debate, but the ultimate debate and ultimate responsibility should lie with the Oireachtas in a matter of this kind. This is all we seek and we believe it is a reasonable request.
Could I make a brief final plea to the Minister on this matter? We have now spent some two hours trying to wring from him acceptance of this basic principle. We are visibly unimpressed by the arguments put up by his backbenchers. Deputy Lenihan would like us to agree to a system of trial by News of the World as to whether public authorities should be abolished or not. I think he should find a better argument. Deputy Moore and Deputy Dowling referred to purely parochial issues which have no relevance to this major innovation sought by Deputy Ryan, and myself on the Labour Party side. May I throw out another suggestion to the Minister? He has said that he will now concede a public inquiry into the board's performance of its duties: could I also ask if he would be prepared to agree, not alone to a public inquiry, but to publication of the report thereof? If he would concede that, in addition, at least it would be a further concession.
In relation to planning appeals in regard to a whole range of activities, or Departmental investigations into, say, vocational education committees, God knows what appears in those reports and many of them are never published. Therefore, on the three principles of public accountability to this House, for abolishing major health boards catering for roughly six segments of the Irish population we think the Minister should be accountable to the House in terms of the draft order; in terms of public debate, and in terms of giving to such persons elementary security of tenure of office.
Finally, we suggest that the operation of the old local government principle of inquiry has no bearing on, or relevance or application to this new health board situation. We believe that what operates in respect of a local urban district council in respect of say 20,000 people has no relevance to the operation of 30 public representatives for 300,000 people or up to 1,000,000 people in relation to health boards or to expenditure in the region of £10 million or £15 million per annum, as against some hundreds of thousands of pounds for a local authority of a minor nature. Therefore, we ask the Minister to concede this point in relation to the publication of the report and I should be very interested to know what his approach may be. I do not think we are going to face a regime of fear or intimidation such as that anticipated by Deputy Ryan. I do not think we have yet reached that esoteric aspect of ministerial administration. We have still four years to go. From some of the Ministers we might anticipate that, but I do not think we can use such highly emotive terminology yet. However, it is still our job to make sure such a situation never will arise. Therefore, I should be glad to hear the Minister's comments.
I think Deputies continue to make one mistake in discussing this section. I shall not try to prolong the debate by arguing the case for the Minister for Local Government in dissolving Dublin Corporation. It does not arise. I want to make perfectly clear that so far as the finance required for the operation of the health board is concerned any action taken in relation to the refusal of a body to strike a rate which would cover the operation of the health services would be taken by the Minister for Local Government against the county authorities, the county councils or county boroughs required by him to raise the rate consequent upon a budget having been agreed on between the health board and myself.
The whole argument about whether the Minister for Local Government was right in disciplining Dublin Corporation as he did, or whether there should be some kind of inquiry or whether the matter should be discussed in the Dáil, does not arise on this section. I am trying to shorten the debate by not engaging, as I might unless I was forbidden to do so by the Chair, in a lengthy defence of the action of the Minister for Local Government in abolishing Dublin Corporation. So far as the striking of rates is concerned there is nothing that relates to section 11 (1) (a) under which I may decide to hold a local inquiry into the board's performance of its duties on the grounds that these duties are not being duly and effectively performed.
I believe Deputy Lenihan was correct in what he said. It is inconceivable that in the present age the Minister for Health could conduct an inquiry into the performance of a health board and receive a report which he would consider and which would be private to him from an inspector of the office and be able to get away with dismissing a health board on the grounds that the health board was misconducting its affairs and not carrying out its proper duties, if he were to exercise that power either corruptly or simply with a political view or a political object in mind. I just do not believe it.
This is not something which will happen very often in the life of health boards. The standard of local democracy is improving and has improved a great deal in the past 20 years. It is most unlikely that the Minister for Health would hold a local inquiry into the actions of a health board unless there was something really desperately wrong. I think the Minister is entitled under the circumstances to make his own decision. I am sorry I cannot agree with the Opposition. I have been willing to make compromises wherever I could but, in this particular case, I am afraid I will have to stay with the Bill as it is framed.
The Minister referred to the fact that he would receive a report from his inspector which he specifically stated would be private to himself. Can be frankly say that it is democratic that a Minister of State should receive such a report which would be purely private to himself? This is the basic objection we are raising. I have asked the Minister specifically if he could agree that such a report should be published. Deputy Lenihan wants to splash it all over the newspapers. He wants the inquiry splashed all over the papers—all the evidence splashed over the papers—but if it is good enough to be in the Tullamore Star, if there is such a paper—I do not think there is—the report of the inspector who has got to sift and analyse the evidence and make a report from it, is also a fit matter for publication in a local newspaper. This is one elementary act of what I would call the purification of public accountability, an elementary act of political hygiene, if I might use the health term, which the Minister for Health could usefully bring in and agree on the Report Stage of this Bill if he is not prepared to accept Deputy Ryan's amendment at this point of time.
I gather it is clear that the evidence presented by the inspector can be published but the inspector's own recommendation is not published in these or other cases. The Minister then determines the matter. If the evidence is published, if the inquiry is held in public and the people in the district where the regional health board operates can compare the evidence given in public and the evidence as presented by the inspector, they can see for themselves whether it is fair and equitable. That is the position. The evidence will be published, but I think an inspector of my Department is entitled to make his report privately and I am entitled to make a decision on his report.
Again, I think that at the bar of public opinion it would be most unlikely that the Minister would make the mistake of exercising an abusive action in this regard. As I have said, we are not talking about a refusal to raise money. We are talking about competence to run a complicated health service in an area.
I think I understand the case the Minister is making. He is making the case which has been made so often in this House by so many Ministers from the Custom House in the past. It is the case for the maintenance and spread of bureaucratic control of public bodies throughout the country. I have been in the Minister's position and I know the kind of language he is talking. I can understand the kind of sentiments he is expressing. He is saying, in effect, that there must be retained in the Custom House. In his Department, the power to abolish those bodies which disagree with him and his Department.
We are very much face to face at the moment in this country with a real threat from bureaucracy. I will not go into recent examples but it is certain that what is needed at the moment is a healthy independent local public opinion with the power and the right to stand up for a point of view that may in fact be contrary to the views currently being expressed by the Minister and his Department.
The Minister, in defending the section as it stands and in reply to Deputy Desmond a moment ago, said that the inspector's report would be privy to the Minister. Why? The inspector is a public officer. He is paid out of public funds. He is doing a public duty. He hears evidence in public. Is he to be a mere cypher? If so, the inquiry is a farce. If he is there to hear evidence, he is there to appreciate evidence and come to a decision upon it. Whatever decision he comes to upon the evidence he hears is a public matter and the recommendation he makes should be a matter of public knowledge.
Bureaucracy works in many ways. It works by stealth frequently. It works behind closed doors frequently. There is nothing more destructive of public confidence than a public inquiry, with evidence publicly heard and then a decision made by the Minister without anyone knowing on what basis it has been made. One of the big defects in our system of local government over many years, one of the causes of considerable irritation, has been the fact that ministerial decisions frequently appear to come from out of the blue after a local inquiry, without anyone knowing the basis for their making, because the recommendations made to the Minister were not made public.
Remember, that in relation to the problem dealt with in this section in effect the Minister is the accuser because he accuses a particular body of not carrying out its function. He then sends down his own inspector to hear his complaint and, having done that, he does not even allow the views of his officer to be made public. That is not a system of inquiry which stands up to any of the basic requirements of justice. If, in fact, the result of such an inquiry is the abolition of a body which is intended to look after the interests of, in some instances, over half a million people, it seems to me quite contrary to any democratic concept that a power of this kind should be exercised by the Minister without this Parliament having the right to review it.
I think Deputy Ryan's amendment is basically a democratic one. It will put a curb on this kind of bureaucratic control that has been exercised far too frequently in the past. It will make Ministers stop and think, and think very carefully, before they embark on a course designed to abolish such a body. I do not see who would suffer or who would be wronged. If the Minister's case has been a good one, and if the inquiry has been properly and validly held, the Minister will be able to come in here to the Dáil and from his stand there he will be able to defend his position and the public will be satisfied that what he did was done in the interests of the people and that he acted in a responsible way. If the section stands as it is and the Minister acts under it he will merely continue the situation in which many people will believe that he acted irresponsibly and there will be frustration and annoyance and the quality of administration will suffer. I would urge the Minister to have second thoughts on this matter and to concede the point of view expressed by Deputy Ryan in this amendment. I believe that if he did that he would be improving the quality of administration under this Bill.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
In the hope that wiser counsels will prevail before the next Stage. Perhaps the Minister would take a look at it to consider whether or not some form of review could be provided for?
I shall have a look at it before the Report Stage.
Do not change the record where you use the word "discipline".
I move amendment No. 12:
In subsection (3), page 8, line 28, to delete "At any time" and substitute "Within two months".
Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, being related, may be discussed together.
Yes, I agree. The purpose of amendment No. 12 is that, in the undesirable event of the Minister abolishing a health board, he should not be in the position of leaving the health board in a state of non-existence indefinitely. The Minister, in the Bill as drafted, provides that he may at any time ask for the removal from office of members of a health board. The Minister's suggestion is that there should be no obligation on him within any given time to re-establish a health board. We think that is most undesirable. Again, I need not advance all the arguments as to why people should have a health board, why people should have representation if they are being taxed, why there should be a body there to express the views of the people for whom the service is being provided. These have been advanced already on the previous amendment. What I can say, however, is that accepting those arguments—and I suspect the Minister agrees, in the main, with what we say about the desirability of having a health board—he should provide a time within which the new health board should be established. Nothing can be gained by the indefinite provision which he has in the Bill except to give the Minister powers of dictation indefinitely. This Bill is based upon having in each area a health board which will, to some extent, reflect the wishes of the people of the area as to how they should be served, and will also give a voice in the running of affairs to the people who are called upon to pay for the service. We, therefore, seek, if the health board is abolished, that the Minister should within two months, by order, provide for the appointment of new members of that board. The Minister says that "at any time" he "may" do it; we say that "within two months" he "shall" do it. It is a very simple amendment and we ask the Minister to accept it.
I do not think I could accept these amendments. First of all, under the terms of the Bill the board would be elected in the usual way on the occasion of a local election, so unless the board was abolished immediately after a local election then it could not be left as it was indefinitely. Secondly, I do not see much point in reconstituting a health board in exactly the same way as before within two months after a complete breakdown in executive management. It would mean something really serious, that the board had utterly failed to carry out its duties in administering a great variety of health services covering the management of hospitals, the management of the medical service, child health service and so on. If I really had to go to the point of abolishing a health board, then the situation would be serious enough so that I might appoint a commissioner or two or three commissioners, and then try to see whether the situation could be changed to the point that a new health board could be elected. I do not see the necessity for obliging me to reconstitute a health board in the same way as before. We are talking about matters somewhat remote from reality, particularly if one eliminates the financial question I have already dealt with. If a board was abolished it would mean that the situation would be very serious, that the board had completely broken down, and the Minister should be allowed discretion in this matter.
It is obvious from what the Minister has said that he feels that if for some reason he had to abolish a health board very shortly after a local election, then that area should be left without public representatives until the date of the next local election.
No, I did not mean that. What I meant was that the House should know that the health board will inevitably be reconstituted at a local election. I do not think a Minister would derive popularity for his party if he deliberately retained commissioners on the health board until the local election. I merely meant the period was confined to periods between local elections.
We have at the moment the experience of a commissioner taking the place of public representatives, and I think we all feel that a commissioner is no substitute for public representatives. A commissioner is a bureaucrat, and two or three commissioners would be two or three bureaucrats. They would not represent the people; they would not be in touch with the needs of the people, and it is a matter of some urgency that a board that would be abolished should be reconstituted as soon as is reasonably possible after the abolition of the board. It is totally and absolutely wrong that it should be left to a commissioner for any lengthy period and I would appeal to the Minister to put some limitation of time on his right to reconstitute a health board. It is extremely important that a Minister should not be in that position. We are legislating here for a long period, for something that can last the lifetime of many Ministers for Health. Where you have the services being carried on by a commissioner I think it is extremely important that a limitation be put on the time he can exist.
We on this side of the House support Deputy Ryan's amendment. We think it is reasonable that this vacuum which the Minister has put in the Bill be deleted. It is a clearly implied assumption on the part of the Minister under section 11 (3) of the Bill that:
At any time after the removal from office of members of a health board under this section, the Minister may be order provide for a new appointment of members to that board.
That section is liable to place the outgoing board in a vacuum for anything up to five years if they were to be abolished immediately after their appointment.
This is the first occasion in relation to this Bill that the Minister has mentioned the concept of commissioners. There is nothing in writing about commissioners but the Minister has stated that it would be regarded as being within his discretionary power to appoint commissioners if necessary. Government by commissioner is becoming more fashionable and popular in this country and in four years time —with the advent of a change of Government, and I think of a rather likely change if only from sheer inertia—I can see some heartrending reactions from other sides of the House denouncing discretionary authoritarianism being brought into legislation.
By having appointments within a two month period the Minister no doubt feels he will finish up at square one with the same crowd of alleged reactionaries that he had just demolished, but the Minister has by order a time within which to make the new appointments to the board. There is nothing in this Bill to say what form that order will take and he can therefore be as liberal, as reactionary or as progressive as he wishes. There is immense disciplinary power given to the Minister under section 11, subsection (3), without putting a board into a vacuum. We strongly support Deputy Ryan's safeguard because we do not want a situation to develop such as the one which developed when the Minister for Local Government disbanded the Dublin Corporation, the reconstitution of which is solely at the behest of the Minister himself. We do not want a situation, in the event of health boards being demolished, where their reconsituation or, in fact, their continuation will lie solely at the behest of the Minister for Health. I think the Minister could agree to Deputy Ryan's proposition without further ado.
This is the kind of legislation by Ministerial edict which brings into question the whole principle of participation and attempting to make legislation reflect the norms of society. Any Minister in the House of Commons or, indeed, ironically, in Stormont, who advanced this kind of legislation would be hooted out of the House, even by the most reactionary Unionists. There is an irony about social legislation in the Republic. We claim to be utterly tolerant and utterly liberal, yet at the drop of a hat we turn around and include a section which is open to public objection. I do think the Minister should be specific on this.
I would submit that it should read within two years. Two months is far too soon. A catastrophe has happened; a public body has failed to do its duty.
Under the Minister's proposal it could be four or five years.
My suggestion is that the amendment should be rephrased to read "within a period of two years". I want to set a time limit in the same way as the Deputy does. I agree with that concept but there has to be a cooling off period and two months is too short. The Minister may do it within six months but "not later than two years" is the phrase I would like to be put in. That is my suggestion.
I think that is a reasonable suggestion. We are talking about an executive body carrying on health services. It is very unlikely that section 11 (1) (a) will ever be invoked in the modern world. I feel rather airy fairy about the whole of this, but there has to be this kind of disciplinary legislation in relation to any board. If I did have to abolish a health board under section 11 (1) (a) and not under the other subsections something really frightful, which I cannot conceive, would have had to have happened. Nevertheless, having said that, I cannot possibly accept two months; let us make it two years and end the argument. This board will consist of representatives of county councils, the professions, decent men appointed from their organisations and medical associations; and the idea that a sufficient number of them would be so impossible and so inefficient that they were wrecking the health services in their own area is most unlikely. If I did have to use that power something really frightful would have to have happened and it would be impossible for me to reconstitute the board within two months, so I suggest we make it two years.
Would you make it a year?
I am inclined to agree with the Minister, speaking against my own colleague Deputy Ryan, that two months would appear to be too short but I think two years is crazy. It is an urgent matter that democracy be restored as soon as possible, and in a case where it is a matter of urgency surely the Minister could move—he has moved a bit already—a bit further and make it a year? I was inclined to say six months but I think a year is more reasonable. That would also be a sufficient cooling-off period. It would give the Minister ample time to reconstitute a board with a completely different outlook.
I appeal to the Minister to accept 12 months. Where people go berserk and are demolished and buried they are likely to be resurrected within a two-year period.
Commissioners are notorious at perpetuating themselves and I think 12 months is enough for any commissioner at the best of times.
I think we will leave it at two years.
I will be very disappointed if the Minister leaves it at two years. I readily confess that when I said two months in my original amendment it was an opening bid as far as I was concerned and I was hoping to get an opening bid from the other side. Then, accepting the bid of Deputy Lenihan of two years, I think we could meet half way.
I said within two years. It might be 12 months.
I appreciate that and the Deputy will appreciate that when I said within two months it could be a shorter period. I think a year as a cooling off period adequate enough. Those who have been abolished could possibly have different opinions and might appreciate the Minister's point of view. You probably would have had a Budget, Estimates and so on and the processing of a health authority for 12 months or thereabouts. I would ask the Minister to consider abbreviating the period from two years, perhaps, down to 18 months and that would ensure there would be at least a second Estimate and a second Budget before the new reconstituted board would start operating. I think two years is rather too lengthy a time because the health authority could be in existence for two years or even three years before it might bring upon itself the wrath of the Minister. Two years is rather too lengthy a time. Perhaps we could meet half way.
I will think about it between now and the Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 14:
To add to the section the following subsection:
"(5) No modification may be made in the number of persons provided for in section 4 (2) (b) or in the mode of appointing such persons."
In section 11 subsection (4) the Minister seeks to free himself from the obligations which exist under the Bill regarding the construction of health boards. I can certainly appreciate that reconstituting a health board in the middle of its normal life-span would create a number of difficulties which would make it impossible to apply all the sections of the Bill but it seems to me essential that in the reconstitution of the health board the Minister would have regard to a matter which has been accepted here and accepted by the Minister, that is, the need to have a majority of local representatives on the new health board.
The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that the principal canons to be observed in the construction of the health boards would be observed. I would ask the Minister not to negative all the matters which we seek to protect in this Bill by allowing himself completely free scope in the construction of the health board. If he accepts the limitations which we set out in our amendment he can have a new health board and a satisfactory one without offending any of the principles of the Bill.
When we reconstitute the health board, and if we agree that there should be some time that would elapse, we could agree that we reconstitute the health board in the same manner as it was constituted before it was abolished. I would agree to that.
Would the Minister preclude those he had suspended? Would those be excluded?
Once we reconstitute the board after the period which has elapsed, which I am going to consider, it would be reconstituted in exactly the same manner as would be provided in the resolutions coming before the Dáil and the Seanad for the final method by which those boards are elected.
I think that is acceptable.
I move amendment No. 15:
In subsection (7), page 9, line 18, to delete "shall become and be" and substitute "shall be deemed to have been appointed to be".
This is a drafting amendment based on observations which were made on the Second Stage. It was pointed out that reading subsection (7) and (8) together it was ambiguous as to whether or not the chief executive officer would automatically be appointed or whether the appointment would call for positive action by the board. The object of the amendment is to remove any doubt on this. It is just a drafting amendment.
I move amendment No. 16:
In subsection (8), page 9, line 21, before "shall" to insert "made otherwise than for the purposes of subsection (6)".
This is the same thing. It covers the same issue.
Amendment No. 17 in the name of Deputy Ryan and amendment No. 17a in the name of Deputy O'Connell are related. If there is agreement, perhaps both amendments can be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 9, lines 23 and 24, to delete subsection (9).
We regard with considerable concern the provision which simply says that the Minister may, before the establishment of a health board, request the Local Appointments Commissioners to make a selection for appointment as chief executive officer because it imposes no obligation on the Minister to ask the Local Appointments Commissioners to make the necessary appointment. The subsection which in this amendment we seek to delete would entitle the Minister to appoint the first chief executive officer by simply making it a temporary appointment. What we consider highly objectionable is the probability that by making a temporary appointment of the first chief executive officer and letting him hold office for a number of years the Minister would ensure that person's automatic selection by the Local Appointments Commissioners when in the long run he would invite the Local Appointments Commissioners to make a selection. In other words, the section as drafted would completely negative the whole Local Appointments Commissioners system which is one of the most fortunate institutions which we have in our public administration. We should do nothing in this Bill to facilitate getting around the obligation to have appointments in the local authotity service made by the Local Appointments Commissioners. There would be ample time for the Minister, once this Bill is passed, to invite the Local Appointments Commissioners to proceed immediately to the selection of suitable officers for the eight health boards. There are certainly many eminently suitable people available but the choice should be made not by the Minister but by the Local Appointments Commissioners.
We, therefore, think the way to do this is to deprive the Minister of this power to make a temporary appointment, certainly in relation to the first appointment. We can appreciate that as vacancies arise from time to time after the health boards are set up it may be necessary to have temporary chief executive officers but in such cases it would be highly desirable that the appointment would be made by the local health boards and not by the Minister himself. We can see the need for having the temporary appointments in such cases but there is no need at the outset of the new health boards to give the Minister the power to make a temporary appointment. The obligation should rest clearly on the Minister to request the first appointments to be made by the Local Appointments Commissioners. I doubt very much if there is any Member on the other side of the House who has any genuine reservations about this. They certainly would not have reservations about it if they happened to be on this side and we were over there. The way to avoid political jobbery is not to allow it to take place, and that is the purpose of our amendment.
Subsection (8) looks after that. It states:
The appointment of a chief executive officer pursuant to a recommendation by the Local Appointments Commissioners shall be a function of the board.
If there is a temporary officer appointed by the Minister the board can exercise their rights and ask the Local Appointments Commissioners to appoint their permanent man.
I move to report progress.