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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Nov 1927

Vol. 10 No. 4


Question proposed: "That the Local Elections Bill, 1927, be read a second time."

I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to protest against the continued disfranchisement of the citizens of Dublin. It will, no doubt, be said that this Bill does not affect the position of the municipality of Dublin, but it postpones the elections that are due to take place. Facilities were offered for criticising this Bill in the other House, and I hope the same facilities will be offered here, so far as the Bill concerns local administration in Dublin. I read the speeches that were made in the Dáil, and I saw that the President made a statement with which I am in entire agreement. Speaking on the Second Reading, the President said:

"I have had as much experience of elections as most members of the House and I have definitely come to the conclusion that there is scarcely any country in the world which can present such an intelligent electorate as ours."

These were the President's words.


I think we all agree with them.

I agree with them, but, at the same time, having made that statement, the President has been responsible for the disfranchisement of the people of the capital of Ireland for the past six years, so far as local administration is concerned. It seems an extraordinary state of affairs that we have in the country—and I presume the capital represents the intelligence of the country—the most intelligent electorate——



I will come to that later. We have the President's statement, with which I am in entire agreement. But, notwithstanding the intelligence of the electorate of the country, the citizens of the capital are denied the right of electing people to represent them and to carry on local administration. I think that is a perfect scandal. The Minister will, no doubt, say it is only being postponed, but I have been listening to that for the last six years. That has been going on for six years, with the result that the people of the city have been denied their fundamental right to elect representatives to carry on local administration. I suppose we will be told, as Deputies in the other House were told, that the old much-abused and much-maligned Dublin Corporation were dissolved as a result of an inquiry. I know something about the inquiry, and I know something about the manner in which inquiries have been held into the conduct of local bodies. I say that the inquiry held with regard to the Dublin municipal authority was held by order of the Ministry, without any charge being made. It was a roving Commission. As to one man who went before that inquiry to make a statement with regard to corruption in one department of the Corporation, when the charge was put up to him he ran away from it. It was on evidence such as that that the Corporation of Dublin was dissolved, and the people denied the right of electing their representatives, for the past six years. As a matter of fact, the citizens have been denied their rights and privileges since 1920. As a Dublin-born man I say that is an absolute scandal.

I do not think it is good enough for any man to come along, whether he is from Tipperary, Limerick, Clare, or anywhere else, and to disfranchise the citizens of Dublin by saying that they are not fit to carry on the affairs of the city. That is what the citizens have been listening to for the last six years, and I take this opportunity of registering my protest against it. The Local Elections Bill does not deal with Dublin, as it has been stated that the question of Dublin's management will be settled when the Report of the Greater Dublin Commission has been considered, and legislation introduced to give effect to the recommendations contained in the report. I often heard it stated that the Dublin Corporation was a disgrace, because it wasted its time dealing with political affairs or discussing political matters. I believe it was for political reasons that the Dublin Corporation was dissolved, and not because of corruption. I have never been opposed to a change of conditions with regard to local administration, because I believe, from my experience as a member of the Corporation, that a drastic change was necessary. What I object to is that the citizens have been denied their rights. If they are the intelligent electorate that the President tells us, then I think, if proper schemes are put before them, they will elect men and women who will carry out their wishes. It is not a change that I object to, but the manner in which it is brought about. If the citizens of Dublin are competent to elect representatives to the Dáil they are equally capable of electing representatives to carry out local administration.

The present Minister for Local Government is a representative of the city of Dublin, and I am sure he would be the last man to say that the citizens were not wise in their choice of administrators. They elected him to do the national work, and, if they were competent and intelligent enough to elect the present Minister for that purpose, I claim that they are equally competent to elect people to carry on the work of local administration. The time has arrived now when steps should be taken to put an end to the present disgraceful state of affairs. I have referred to the Report of the Greater Dublin Commission and I read an account of the proceedings at one of the sittings.


Has this Commission made its report yet?

Yes, sir. I read a report of one of the meetings of this Commission, and I am sure it must have spent a good deal of time in a political harangue between the Chairman of the Commission and a well-known gasbag from one of the urban councils near the city. The "Evening Herald" was full of the political discussion between the Chairman and this well-known local gas-bag. If the Dublin Corporation was responsible for wasting as much time on a political discussion as the Greater Dublin Commission wasted on that day they would have had headlines in all the Dublin papers condemning them. There is not a great deal in this Bill that one can find fault with, but it gives me again an opportunity to make the protest that I have been continually making against this system. As a born citizen of Dublin I protest against it.

Before I come to the crux of the Bill, I should like to say that I am sure we all heartily approve of the changing of the date of the elections to the month of June. But I would suggest, in view of obvious reasons, in connection with the Report of the Greater Dublin Commission, that the date be further deferred, and I suggest that they should be held in September. I noticed from the discussions in the Dáil that the month of June does not suit some of the Western districts, such as the Counties of Mayo and Tirconaill, on account of the migration of harvesters across the Channel, and it occurred to me that if they were deferred to a later period in the year it might also suit holiday-makers, who would then have returned home. Another reason that occurs to me is one that perhaps the Minister for Local Government, whom we are all happy to see filling that position, might convey to the President. I think September is a lucky month. It was in September that the recent elections took place; it was in September that we were honoured with the presence of the President in the city of Cork, and it was in September that he obtained an unprecedented majority there. Therefore, I think we should bear that well in mind when considering the date of these elections.

I think it is generally approved that the double elections, whenever they are held, should be held that month, for they would always be a saving in expense and in inconvenience, because schools in which polling takes place would then be available, and we might also to some extent, clear away that terrible apathy that has so largely prevailed, here and elsewhere. But many people think that instead of triennial elections, annual elections would be more suitable. Such a system as that would keep the electors more in touch with those who represent them, would put those who were elected more on their mettle to look after their duties and prevent them from absenting themselves too much. I suggest that the Minister might reconsider the position and arrange that after the first triennial period had elapsed the elections might be held annually, and the people thus brought constantly in touch with the matter.

Senator Farren has alluded to Dublin; I notice that he was careful to leave Cork out of the discussion. I think we have a special grievance in the city by the Lee, because we are simply tied up with Dublin as regards going back to the old institutions that we had. I do not see why Cork should be asked to await on this belated Report from the Greater Dublin Commission. I want to put myself right with regard to the Commissioner whom we have had living amongst us for some short time. I have nothing whatever to say against his administration. He has done his work admirably, and the state of Cork, its streets, etc., is admirable. But notwithstanding that, it is wrong in principle that important cities like Dublin and Cork should be, so to speak, led in tutoring strings— led by the nose—and should quietly submit to what officials—able no doubt —have been carrying out for some years. I put it to the Seanad that whereas places like the Urban District of Cobh, the County Council of Offaly, the District Council of Tipperary and the councils of Trim, Ennis, and others, are to be permitted to function almost immediately, Cork must wait until 1929 before reverting to the electoral system. Why is all this done? I do not know as much about Dublin as I do about my own city of Cork, but we have in this House and in the other House, some of the representatives of the late Dublin Corporation, and I think everyone in this room will admit that they are men above average intelligence, men of ability and men of integrity.



I say so, sir, and although I was never a member of the Cork Corporation I have had the privilege of the acquaintance of most of the members, and the same applies to that body. As well as I remember the old members of these bodies over-stayed in office the specified time. In Cork there was not an election for some years over the prescribed three years. The members in some cases got lax in their attendance—some never attended—and became dissatisfied and disgruntled. In Dublin they used what influence they had, and Dublin was dissolved. Then I suppose it was not thought right that the metropolis should be the only place where the Corporation should be dissolved, and the Corporation of the important city of Cork had also to be dissolved. Senator Farren has said that there was no charge whatever made publicly against the Dublin Corporation. The same applies to Cork. There was no charge of corruption, extravagance, neglect of duty or disobedience of the Local Government Department's orders, ever put forward. When the Commissioner took over the different Departments of the Corporation, all appeared to be in good order, and he expressly specified the Public Health Department and the Waterworks Department as being most creditable. On November 23rd, Mr. Bourke used these words in the Dáil: "There is an idea that because you have a body in existence for a great number of years you ought never to change it, that the old order should never be changed and that you should never have anything new, but that is a wholly wrong conception. I hope the Commissioner system will be retained, whether with some kind of advisory body or not."

Everybody is entitled to his opinion, but, as one conservative in my views, I submit that there are old historical records of our corporations and other institutions that are of great value. We, in Cork, have many charters, but the first was granted in the 12th century, in the reign of that king from whom subsequently Magna Charta was won, and ever since that date down to the present, except for a few years during the usurpation of the Commonwealth, we have had a long succession, from the reign of King Edward I. to the present day, of mayors and lord mayors. Do you think that we, who can look at this matter from a standpoint such as that, are prepared readily to scrap old charters and old institutions, have Commissioners in charge and abandon the principle of election? I for one will protest against it.

In Dublin you have the advantage of having a Mansion House, which we in Cork have not. We have not even a town hall since the destruction of the Town Hall in those unhappy times from which we have so satisfactorily emerged. Our present Lord Mayor, who is now, I am glad to say, a Deputy in the other House, under great difficulty is endeavouring to show, at any rate, some hospitality, and whatever Cork's faults have been, she has never been charged with lack of hospitality. We are only too glad to entertain political leaders or any prominent men who come amongst us, but we have now no place in which to do so; we have to hunt the city for rooms in hotels, and that sort of thing, to entertain our guests. Immediately before the Commissioner was appointed advertisements appeared in the Press inviting tenders for the erection of a new town hall. Tenders were received, and the lowest, a little over £60,000, was virtually accepted. Subsequently, for some reason or other, the thing was dropped and the money was relegated to the building of houses, which there was certainly a great demand for at the time and for which there is still, fortunately, a demand. But I submit that this should be seriously taken into consideration, and that the money that was earmarked for the Town Hall should be given to us so that we could erect a building in which we could entertain our guests satisfactorily. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the points I have raised, and at any rate bracket Cork with the other councils that have been suppressed and that are going to function again. I hope they will be functioning satisfactorily within the next year.

I quite recognise that it is an extremely easy thing to put up a case against Commissioners. In fact, theoretically, I think it would be practically impossible to defend them. But, speaking with a rather intimate knowledge of Cork, I am compelled to say that the Commissioner system there has been productive of very much more good, within a short time, than the Corporation has ever been. Nevertheless, I am not out for a permanent continuation of the Commissioner system. I know, and perhaps the Local Government Department may not be quite innocent of the fact, that a Bill prepared by some local people is in existence. In the past few weeks I have consulted all the Cork members on that Bill, with the exception of the President, who is now the senior member for Cork. Possibly we will have a discussion on it, and we hope to have the advantage of Senator Haughton's presence. When we come to practical agreement, we will probably consult the President also. I fancy the terms of that Bill will be such as will commend themselves to the Local Government Department. I may say, however, that that Bill does provide for the continuation of a City Manager, and a very much smaller Corporation than formerly existed. In fact, I believe that if you have a large Corporation, even with extremely able and industrious men, you are bound to have inefficiency, because for executive purposes the smaller the body you have the more effective and efficient it is likely to be. That is my view with regard to it. Until that agreed measure takes final shape I do not propose to have any criticism of the existing administration. I can only speak of it in the very highest terms and I give every credit to the Commissioner, because he certainly has put a great many things that were previously unsatisfactory into a satisfactory condition.

I should just like to touch on another point that Senator Haughton has raised, and that is in reference to the Town Hall. The money that was awarded as compensation for the reconstruction of the Town Hall was spent on providing additional housing. I am not clear of guilt in regard to that transaction. because I suggested it. I am very pleased to see that the housing conditions are very much better than they were. I think it is far better to provide houses for poor people than to provide places of entertainment for visitors who may come along. When they do come along, we are able to cater for them in hotels, and I have never heard any serious complaint as to the quality of the entertainment given.

Coming as I do from a more ancient city than either of the two Senators who have spoken, I should like to quote a very old and homely proverb, which I think will throw a lot of light on this question. and that is, that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. These local bodies existed for the purpose of administration rather than glorification. Whoever administers the city best deserves the best thanks of the community. In Dublin the Commissioners found that the citizens were paying most exorbitant taxes. They have cut down these taxes by I forget how many shillings in the pound. No doubt the Minister will be able to enlighten us on the subject. I do not think anybody who has had any experience of affairs in Dublin can say that the public services are worse than they were in the days of the Corporation. I believe the universal opinion will be that they are far and away better. The same thing, I believe, applies to Cork. As long as you get better results by the administration of Commissioners, I see no reason for the re-establishment of those public bodies who, however well-intentioned, did not do their work efficiently.

I am in agreement with Senator Barrington. We heard from Senator Farren many complaints about the principle of elections. But when did a municipal election change the personnel of the Council? He spoke as a dissolved Councillor. There was no question of corruption, but it was said to be inefficient. One has only got to see the immense change in the city and the newly-built houses. I do not know whether the old problem of 52,000 people living in single rooms still holds. With all the new houses built it may have decreased. That was under the old Corporation system. The idea that there should be an election held on every public question is an absurd one. The very best administered towns on the continent are run by a professional City Manager. There is nobody to elect a crowd of councillors who have time at their disposal. The corrupt things in life are caused by people who give gratuitous time to things, from Select Vestries down to Corporations. A paid City Manager is far more sensitive and responsive to his employers than is a corporation. In spite of invoking the wrath of Senator Farren, I must confess that I signed a minority report—I think I was in a minority of one—hoping to goodness that we would never have the Dublin Corporation back again. I did not like to extend it to say that the whole county should be run by Commissioners. It is not very much bigger than the city of Dublin and it is more easily managed. In America the centralisation of government is going on apace with great results, because there are things that are not within the purview of citizens. An ordinary mass of 100,000 citizens is inchoate and not necessarily intelligent acting in a massed way. I find that the more intelligent the electors are the less intelligent are the results, because very many of them have no choice in the matter. As I say, for twenty years the personnel of the Dublin Corporation has hardly changed at any election.

There was the one Lord Mayor for many years.

There were eighty members.

There was only the one Lord Mayor, and it was becoming chronic—it was very nearly becoming a hereditary position.

He rendered good service anyhow.

We will not enter into that. I am sorry they abolished the position of Lord Mayor, if for nothing else than to have someone to carry the mace.

You are as much concerned as anyone else.

Senator Haughton's remarks can be understood from the fact that he comes from the county of the persuasive stone. He also appealed to sentiment, and thought there should be an election about every single thing touching a city. I hold that there are very many important things in life that are not subject to an election. One does not consult the populace about what one will have for dinner. The city is amazingly improved, as one can see from the surface of the streets and the promenade of houses arising in Fairview. Take a period of twenty years before and five years after, and see which is the more desirable condition of things.

Who is responsible for the housing in Fairview?

The Commissioners, of course.

You are wrong.


We had better pass from that; it is a disputed point.

They must have been a sort of ante-dated construction thrown forward from the imagination of the councillors, including Senator Farren. Some of them are only about eighteen months up.

Who made the scheme?

I will not go into the question of schemes. It was the Government laid the schemes when they laid the schemers and put in the Commissioners.

They sent us a few schemers all right.

I need not enlarge further on that. I only express the hope that the Commissioners will be continued and the elections deferred as long as possible.

I sympathised with the last speaker when he said he was in a minority of one. That is the way I have sometimes been myself. I am very much disposed to agree with him on this occasion, but I am afraid I cannot wholly agree. I do not say that either the elective or the nominated method is necessarily right. We have hitched ourselves as a matter of governing principle, to the elective method, and I think that at this stage it is very hard to get away from it. If the Government think it should be abandoned, in my opinion it should be abandoned in a more logical manner, and we should definitely break with the elective method in regard to municipal government. Probably if we examine the matter we will find there is a half-way house. To a certain extent that is met by the report of the Poor Law Commission. I should like the Minister to say whether he has yet considered that report—not necessarily the majority report only, but the minority report also—and whether he is prepared to say that the recommendation with regard to a nominated health commissioner—a nominated officer to be the executive of the county council in all matters of health—will be adopted. To my mind that effects the best compromise. The county councils will be elected and will deal with general policy and pass estimates. Beyond that they will leave all the detailed administration to an appointed commissioner. I think the Local Government Department themselves cannot escape a certain responsibility for any inefficiency on the part of local bodies. They are so tied up and hampered by petty restrictions that they do not get an opportunity of feeling their sense of responsibility. In certain cases when things get too bad they must undoubtedly be abolished, but I think it would be a far better principle to give them a little more rope so that they may hang themselves, and not tie them up by regulations, restrictions and interference from the central body.

I am afraid most of the matters that have been discussed here are things that have come in as a kind of side-wind to this particular piece of legislation. The real matter that is dealt with in this Bill is the postponement of the elections for urban districts from a time in January to a time in June and the bringing of the date of elections for urban districts into definite relation with the date of elections for the county councils and the re-starting of a triennial series that was broken as a result of the conditions—I might say— following 1914 down. I am glad to get the kind of general approval that the Seanad has given to the general scheme of the Bill. It was necessary in dealing with the main matter in the Bill to make clear what was the position with regard to certain bodies that had been dissolved. The effect of Section 3 is to give the Minister the discretion that he still has arising out of previous legislation to keep the Commissioner system going in Dublin City, in the Dublin Union, in Cork City, and in the three urban districts of Trim, Ennis, and Westport. Senator Haughton misunderstood the position with regard to Trim, Ennis and Westport. They will be continued, as far as I can see at present, under Commissioners but if the situation changes to such an extent between this and next June that we think the election can be held, we would be prepared to allow urban elections to be held there. Section 3 gives us that particular power and in the third part of the Bill, we propose to postpone the elections in County Dublin, as distinct from the County Borough of Dublin, so that we will not have elections in the very many bodies that already exist in County Dublin under the circumstances. You might have an election next year costing anything from £5,000 to £10,000 according to the area covered and as a result of decisions taken under the Greater Dublin Commission, you might have a re-election of those bodies or a replacing of them within twelve months. The Bill retains, to the Minister, his discretion in regard to certain dissolved bodies and proposes to postpone elections in the County of Dublin that would otherwise take place there.

Senator Haughton suggested that September would be a better month than June. Perhaps in the way he put it, it would be introducing politics into Local Government if we postpone the elections to September. It would not however cover his point with regard to migratory labourers. The point it would raise with regard to this is that they leave at a date in June and are away for a considerable period.

A date in June has been selected after exhaustive considerations, and seems the date most generally agreed on. The county councils seem satisfied. June is a good date for them. We had to postpone them to the end of June to get rid of the difficulty created by the new register not being the statutory register until the 1st June. We had to get away from the 1st June by a period of about twenty days. I do not think it is possible to get away from the June date of the election, and I think even if the matter were properly reasoned out on an amendment, we would find a better date could not be suggested. With regard to Cork and Dublin, part of the discussion would seem to suggest that the Government had departed from the principle of elected bodies. That is not a fact. The Local Government Act of 1925 makes it perfectly clear that in any case in which a body has been dissolved, for any reason stated in the Act, not later than three years after the date of dissolution of the body the Minister will cause an elected body to be re-elected, and will hand to that body all the powers and properties that originally existed; so the principle is not departed from at all. A partial discussion of that principle cannot take place on a Bill like this. If the discussion is to take place, let it be applied to the definite matter concerned. If, in discussing a Bill dealing with one main matter, we attempt to discuss anything that is only partially related to it, we can get no satisfactory discussion of the matter beyond having a few opinions expressed. These opinions even do not get a fair opportunity of carrying weight, because they are not related to a proposal to take a definite decision. I would not like it to be understood that the legislation at present existing implies in a way a departure in the matter of Government policy from elected bodies. If we take what has been said with regard to Cork and Dublin, I think that the Senate perhaps has had some slight evidence in the discussion that has taken place of how questionable it is to discuss the merits, good, bad or indifferent of the dissolution of these two bodies. I suggest that it really does not arise on the Bill that is at present before us. If the merits of the case with regard to Cork and Dublin were to be discussed, I suggest they ought to have arisen on the Local Elections (Dissolved Authorities) Act, 1926, when it was before the Senate here. I think that the discussion might have taken place then, and might rest until that particular Act had run its course. The matter was discussed here in 1926, and under the Act of 1926, the Minister for Local Government was given authority to retain Commissioners in Dublin and Cork to a date not later than the 31st March, 1929. Nothing has arisen since, so far as I am concerned as Minister for Local Government, either with regard to Cork or Dublin. The suggestion to replace the Commissioners there by elected bodies has arisen on this particular Bill, and not in any kind of formulated way. Senator Dowdall's case in 1926 was that there was not a tittle of opposition in Cork. The matter was next brought to my attention by a Deputy who has had considerable experience of city government in Cork suggesting that the Corporation ought to be restored there, but at the same time that, instead of a Corporation of 56, there should be a Corporation of 12 or 20. That suggestion contained a very radical change, and I think it ought not to arise as a side-wind to this particular legislation here. On Cork, I have simply to say what I said in the Dáil on this matter, and that is: If there is going to come from any class of the community in Cork ideas which we consider cannot be better, we are not going to stand in the way of their being put into operation at the earliest possible moment.

Senator Dowdall said there has been a Bill, but so far as I know that Bill has been left to hang fire, practically to see what is going to be the result in Dublin City. The interests of a city like Cork are great and important, and if allowing the election of a new elected body in Cork to wait over for nine months, that is from June to a date not later than the 31st March, 1929, is going to give perhaps one or two additional important ideas towards the solution of city government there, the delay would be well worth while. However the position is that if Cork City people are moving in the way Senator Dowdall says they are no one will be happier to see what they are going to do than the present Minister for Local Government, and everything they have to say will be very carefully and sympathetically examined.

On the question of Dublin, as I say, a discussion of the past brings us into a discussion that has not its roots in anything. We cannot have a discussion with its roots in anything except we are discussing something practical. The practical proposition that faces us here to-day is the Report of the Commission on Greater Dublin, which draws our attention to the fact, on Page 3 of the Report, that in the area to be comprised within Greater Dublin, and to enjoy unitary control and administration in that area, there now function some 19 thinking and spending authorities. This report has been published since November, 1926. The time that has passed since has not been normal. The co-ordination of the different bodies that exist in Dublin, the standing back and looking at the affairs in the City and County of Dublin, with a valuation of upwards of £2,000,000, will require very careful examination and thinking out. I do not think that, in our present circumstances, a complete examination of this report and a complete setting up of our proposal in connection with the matters and their embodiment in legislation could be expected sooner than the spring of 1929, and we are not asking anything unreasonable when we ask that the present system of government in Dublin City should be continued until such time as we are able to bring forward these proposals. The present County Council in Dublin should continue to deal with the government of County Dublin until such time as we have settled the whole question as to what is to be done with the Greater Dublin Commission's report. To do anything other than that would be either to skimp and to rush a consideration of this very important matter or, alternatively, to have elections for the City and County of Dublin spending on them something like £10,000 and dissolving these bodies say, in less than twelve months, in order to replace them by other types of bodies.

You dissolved Parliament after two months, and it cost a good deal more.

Like the dissolution of the Dublin Corporation, these are historical facts. We have to face the problem that lies before us, that is, how we are best to organise the government of the capital and the county. I suggest we are not asking too much when we are asking for the nine additional months that the legislation of 1926 allows.

As the Minister is here, perhaps he would give us an idea as to when we may hope to have legislation on the matter of the Greater Dublin Commission. I think the whole argument of to-day really centres around that legislation.


I do not know whether you will be able to draw him.

I hope I may.

Anything I have to be drawn can be drawn. I have already done very vigorous work in relation to this. There is a Committee examining the whole finance and one examining the whole engineering side of it.

As I have said in the Dáil in connection with this matter, I am stretching my hope, simply because I am stretching my own efforts and those who are working with me when I say that I hope legislation dealing with that matter will be finished in such time as to allow the different bodies that are to be set up to be established not later than the 31st of March, 1929. That is my hope and, at present, all that I can be drawn about is my hope.

Legislation next year?

It would mean legislation towards the end of next year.

Question—"That the Bill be read a Second Time"—put and agreed to.