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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 1 Dec 1927

Vol. 10 No. 5


Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:—

To add at the end of the section the words:—"save and except that an election for aldermen and councillors shall be held in respect of the county borough of Cork on the day which is fixed under Section 6 of this Act as the ordinary day of election."

In moving that addition, I should like to say a few words to very much the same ends as the few remarks I made yesterday. The more we think of it the more unnecessary it seems to some of us that the important City of Cork, with a population of eighty to ninety thousand inhabitants, should be deprived of its ancient Corporation so long, and that it should be kept longer without this privilege than the vast majority of the elected bodies of the Twenty-six Counties.


There is a difficulty about this amendment which also would apply to your observations yesterday. I was not aware at the time that there is already an Act of the Oireachtas passed in 1926 by which these elections are postponed in all these places, including Cork, for three years. You see as long as that Act of the Oireachtas stands an election cannot be held until 1929. Is not that so?

Elections can be held at a date not later than the 31st March, 1929.

Yes, that is so.

The Minister has power to issue an Order at any time before March, 1929, ordering an election, if he thinks the situation warrants it.


You are practically trying to repeal that Act, but you cannot do it in a Bill which is not to that purpose. What you can do is, you can use any argument you like to persuade the Minister for Local Government and Public Health that he ought to exercise his powers earlier.

That is what I want to do.


You can do that but you cannot repeal the other Act. What you want to do cannot well be done by an amendment to this Bill.

Knowing the disposition and personality of the Governor-General, I am hoping that through his influence and power something will be done to place Cork at least in as favourable a position as Offaly, the District Council in Tipperary, and those other sundry local bodies of minor importance, as compared with the City by the Lee.


I would like you to develop that point a little further and address yourself in this matter to the generosity of the Minister. But subject to what I hear from him, I could not well put this amendment, because the result of this amendment would be to make this Bill inconsistent with the Act of 1926, which we do not purport to amend in any way. You see, as the matter stands, there is to be an election before March, 1929——

That is a long way off.


Unless the Minister thinks that the conditions are such that he ought to have an election sooner. He has that time on his hands at present. You are not proposing to take that from him?

Certainly not.


Therefore, my suggestion to you is to appeal to the Minister and ask that he should, in the case of this remarkable City by the Lee, exercise these special powers.

Yes, and I wanted to give him further reasons for doing it.


Very well, I will let you proceed on those lines.

I am anxious to be allowed to make a suggestion to the Minister that he would invite a small committee composed of members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, with some outsiders, to see if we cannot devise a scheme that would prove satisfactory to the Minister and to the Executive Council for the future working of the Cork Corporation, because whatever is arranged now must continue for all futurity, and it might be very unsatisfactory to have what one might call a one-man show or a one-man arrangement of commissioners to predominate.


Are you not making a mistake? If nothing is said will not the election take place automatically in 1929? Will not you in Cork be restored to your old position in 1929?

I take it there is something going on behind the scenes.


In fact, you smell a rat.

There is something going on behind the scenes, and innocent persons like myself and a few others have not been informed of it.


I do not see how you are going to kill that rat.

The Minister is new to his Department, and I know he would not be actuated by any unworthy motives, but we in Cork think that a larger number of representative people in Cork should have been consulted about this matter. The ex-Minister for Local Government and Public Health, speaking in the other House, trotted out—and other Deputies are very much in the habit of doing it, too—America as a lead for such important changes as City Commissioners. I think there is a great danger in exploiting America so largely.


I think we may leave America to herself in that respect.

It is a dangerous thing to exploit other countries too much. I have been in correspondence with friends of mine in the United States. I travelled myself through the United States, and visited sixteen or seventeen cities there some years ago. I know something about the working of public bodies in America. I experienced there the greatest kindness at the hands of my compatriots across the ocean. I found there that this system of commissionership is not working at all harmoniously or satisfactorily either in Canada, where it was tried, or in some parts of the United States. In some places it seems to have given the utmost satisfaction.


I think your object would be accomplished if you and your friends in Cork would make representations to the Minister for the purpose of inducing him to exercise his power of anticipating the date in March, 1929, and restoring this privilege to the City of Cork at any moment in the interval that he thinks fit.

The Minister has already made that easy for me. He has made that suggestion.


That being so, I cannot allow you to go any further, because it would not be in order to insert this provision here; it would be inconsistent with the Act of 1926, which you do not purport to repeal.

I quite follow you, but may I emphasise the importance of having restored as soon as possible Cork's municipal buildings? I would appeal to the Minister to give his immediate attention to the erection of suitable municipal buildings. That work would give much employment. The place presents a ghastly sight at the moment. The fine buildings that existed there some years ago were destroyed, and it is very essential that buildings to replace them should be erected. Here in Dublin you have the greater advantages; you have many advantages that we do not possess in Cork; you have here the seat of Government and the headquarters of the medical and legal professions. You have wonderful places here, buildings that are most attractive. We have nothing in Cork except a few hotels. Senator Dowdall yesterday spoke of the hotels as being satisfactory, but if we wanted, for instance, to extend our hospitality to your good self, to President Cosgrave, to the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, or the leader of any other party, we would not have adequate civic accommodation.


We would stop at your house, Senator.

You would be most welcome.

On a point of order, would not the objection to the amendment be got over if there was a repeal section inserted in the schedule?


There was no suggestion to do that. I have to take it as I find it. It is quite plain that the Senator's object is a very laudable one. It is to try to induce the Minister to exercise the discretion he has of anticipating the year 1929. All that can be done by representations that he may make to the Minister after the House rises. That is a matter than can rest in the hands of the Senator and his fellow-citizens. The stronger the representations you make, the greater will be the impression you make on the Minister. You cannot accomplish that by endeavouring to achieve something that would be a repeal of the antecedent Act.

I should like to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the object of this amendment. I venture to hope that the Minister may be able to see his way to go a little further in the direction of meeting the case that Senator Haughton has put up. Yesterday, if I understood him rightly, he promised that if the people of Cork at any time present an acceptable scheme for the future government of the city he would be very glad to facilitate the passage of any Bill for that purpose. His present policy, as I understand it, is to hold up the proposals for Cork until he can deal with them simultaneously with those for Dublin so that he may have the opportunity in the meantime of taking advantage of the lessons which may be derived from his examination of the Dublin problem. Now that seems to me to be a very sound view up to a point, but only up to a point, and I think the point may be reached rather early.

The resemblance in the situation in the two cities is really very limited. So far as I can see, there is but one feature common to the two problems; that is the question of the character of the municipal authority that is to govern each of them. The question there to be decided is, I take it, whether the old system of the Corporation is to continue or whether in future there is to be a system combining the old elected body with some modification of this system of Commissioners which, I think, is the plan that would meet with the approval of most people. Once that question is out of the way, there is a very wide difference in the problems of Dublin and Cork. Here in Dublin we have a larger number of municipal authorities. I take it that really the big question for the Minister in regard to Dublin is as to how these bodies are to be dealt with, whether they are to be amalgamated or whether they are to be linked together in some such way as will avoid overlapping and waste and increase efficiency. There is no such problem in Cork. Nobody suggests that there will be any but a unitary form of administration there. Then there is the question of area. In Dublin that is complicated by the existence of these bodies. In Cork there is no such complication, so that really when you come to look into it the similarity between the two cities is confined to the nature of the municipal authority for the future. It occurs to me that if that question were decided the Minister might see his way to advance rather rapidly in the direction of re-establishing the Cork body.

Of course I do not know the mind of the Minister, but I should be very greatly surprised if he had not already some broad and clear idea as to the character of the body that he would be prepared to recommend to both cities. My suggestion is that, in his consideration of this problem, he should give precedence to that question. Having arrived at a decision on it, I think he should either himself proceed with a Bill for Cork or communicate his decision to those moving in the matter in Cork so that they might devise a plan based on that decision which would probably be acceptable to him and which perhaps might go through rapidly as an agreed measure. In that way, I believe, the question of the municipal management of Cork might be dealt with at a comparatively early stage, and an election held at a time considerably earlier than March, 1929.


If I understood Senator Haughton correctly, the citizens of Cork for whom he purports to speak wish to have some new system. Their idea, as I understood him, is not to have the original status exactly restored. They are anxious to have an improved system. That, as I understand it, is what is in the mind of the Senator and his friends.

I desire to say that the views expressed on this matter by Senator Hooper coincide with mine.


If that is your view, would it not be a possible solution for those persons in Cork who, like yourself, Senator, are interested in this matter, to frame a Bill, and perhaps introduce it here, so that the Minister might then have a concrete proposal put before him? If it is merely a question of restoring the old conditions and going back to the status quo, that, of course, would be a simple matter; but if the idea is to have some kind of a reformed system, then I think that ought to take tangible shape. I think the best way in which you could accomplish your purpose would be to get leave to introduce a Bill here. If that were done the Minister would have something concrete before him.

We have to be careful not to clash with other friends who have been working quietly behind the scenes.


I meant, of course, an agreed Bill.

Before the Minister speaks, I wish to say a word lest he should go away with the impression, which I believe would be an erroneous impression, that the Seanad was unanimously in favour of the principle of re-establishing all these local bodies. I did not expect to find my friend, if I may say my friend, Senator Farren, or Senator Haughton, as strong reactionaries.

You are the reactionary.

They are entirely out of touch with modern sentiment. I wonder do they realise the heart-felt sigh of relief which went up from the citizens of Dublin when the Dublin Corporation was abolished?

Question? I am a citizen of Dublin and I never gave a sigh of relief. I might add, too, for Senator Barrington's information that I did as good work voluntarily for the citizens of Dublin as these men are doing for good payment. Do not make any mistake about that.

The Senators were members of the old Corporations and I can understand their feelings of resentment. At any rate, I am very much inclined to doubt whether the average citizen was not very greatly relieved when he found that these bodies were done away with. Now, I have no doubt but that the Minister must have received representations from various bodies in the country asking to have their local representatives done away with and Commissioners established. I am sure that the modern trend of opinion is all in favour of that. As I said yesterday, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Wherever these Commissioners have been appointed they have succeeded in reducing the rates, and, in addition, in improving the services rendered. While that is so, I am absolutely certain that the trend of modern opinion is all in favour of the development of that principle rather than in the re-establishment of these local bodies which wasted public funds, wasted time, and did immense damage. I know one of these small bodies where the rates amounted to 39/- in the pound. I can understand how the ratepayers of that district would welcome the appointment of a Commissioner to administer their affairs. These local bodies, in a great many instances, had grown up as a sort of "old man of the sea" incubus hanging around the necks of the ratepayers and the ratepayers did not know how to get rid of them. I do not want the Minister to go away with the idea that this Seanad or the country at large are so unanimously in favour of the views expressed by some other Senators with regard to the re-establishment of these local bodies.

I should like to correct what Senator Barrington has stated, and to say that I purposely refrained from mentioning—because I have great respect for Mr. Monahan and think he has a future before him—that our rates have not been decreased. They have gone up this year as compared with last year.

Is there not some special cause for that?

I am compelled in self-defence to say something in reply to the statement just made by Senator Barrington.


Did you not say all this, yesterday, Senator?

No, sir.


You said most of it, I think.

No. If you remember I did not enter into details on the question at all yesterday. I dealt with the principle, but I did not enter into details as to whether the Commissioners had proved a success or not.


How are we ever going to solve that?

I agree it is a debatable question.


Senator Barrington says that they are a great success and you say they are not.

As a citizen and ratepayer of Dublin, I say that what Senator Barrington has stated is not so, and I am prepared to argue and prove that.


I am afraid that issue does not arise.

I think it is unfair for Senator Barrington to say that we are reactionary because we are more democratic than he is.


Is not that really only argument? It does not touch you. You do not admit the soft impeachment at all?

I think with all respect, sir, that I am entitled to deny that.


You have done that emphatically.

As I have stated I did not enter into details yesterday, but I hope the occasion will arise when I can do so. I said yesterday that I believed drastic changes were necessary. When the time comes I am willing to deal with that question on its merits. I think it is unfair, however, for people to make suggestions without any foundation whatever. Senator Barrington knows nothing about Dublin. I have been a resident of Dublin all my life and I am a ratepayer in this city. The ratepayers of Dublin do not believe in taxation without representation. Why not have an election of a municipal authority and let the ratepayers, if they wish, appoint City Commissioners, if you are not afraid to test the citizens of Dublin. If you do that you will get your answer. I know their mind better than Senator Barrington knows it.


Let us get back to Cork.

I was glad to hear Senator Barrington's opinion, and also Senator Farren's. They will excuse me, however, in not arguing some of these questions with them, as Senator Sir John Keane will excuse me for not having answered some of the points that he raised yesterday. With regard to Cork, I am rather disturbed by some of the things Senator Haughton mentioned. He remarked that something was going on behind the scenes of which they were not being informed. He made use of the word "unworthy," and he suggested that a large number of people should be consulted, and he spoke of other friends working behind the scenes. I want to be perfectly frank in this whole matter. We have the question of Cork arising now, and what strikes me is this: I am associated with the Ministry of Local Government since June. It is now December. On many occasions since, the question of the postponement of urban elections has been referred to, but I have not had one single word from any citizen, or Deputy, or Senator concerned with Cork raising the question that the elections in Cork ought to be held on a day earlier than contemplated under the Local Government (Dissolved Authorities) Act, 1926. Not one single word.

The question has arisen, I certainly felt, in a haphazard way in the Dáil and Seanad, because the matter is a very important one, and representations might quite reasonably be expected to be made from time to time by a number of people if it was desired that we should depart from the policy implied by the Local Government (Dissolved Authorities) Act, 1926. Dealing with the question in a more detached way, I know of no desire on the part of anyone in Cork to take up and to press this matter. There is a particular file in my office with practically no papers attached to it, but a draft copy of the outline of the Bill which I understand certain people in Cork were going to shoulder as a private Bill of their own with a view to testing opinion in this matter. That lies on the file. What happened in regard to it, whether it was dropped or how it was dropped, I do not know.

In reply to Senator Hooper, I may say I have a kind of physical and mental tendency to go rapidly but I want to be clear before I can find such a desire on my part to go rapidly and I am not clear as to what the nature of the government of Cork ought to be. I have a general idea but without the suggestion of a plan I would not attempt to do it. I have, in reply to a question raised in a casual way— really it was a casual way even though it was raised in the form of an amendment—said I would be prepared to accept any help from the city of Cork or the citizens as to how the city is to be governed. But what I have asked is that I should not be looked to to take the initiative in the matter, so that the elections can be held in June. I do not think I ought to be pressed into coming forward with proposals initiated by myself to hurry on the matter earlier than was contemplated as a matter of policy when the Act of 1926 was going through, because I have not changed from the policy then contemplated nor indeed have I had an opportunity of changing from it. So that if there is to be initiative or driving coming from any section of the people of Cork, even before holding an inquiry I would like to see evidence of serious consideration and discussion given to the matter by those people, locally, who are alleged to be interested.

I could not even think that there had been a lot of rapid and clear thinking. The problem of the government of the city of Cork is a very important one. The necessity of guarding the interests of economy and efficiency, if the interests of the citizens are to be looked after, is such that with all the rapid and clear thinking we can get I do not think the additional nine months would be mis-spent if we simply pondered and looked at the decision we might have taken before June and examined it for another period of six or nine months. I suggest that Cork is losing nothing and no one is losing anything by holding up the decision and we certainly cannot contemplate an election in Cork as early as June next.

Section 3 agreed to.

I propose to withdraw the other amendments in my name on the paper and in doing so I would like to correct a mistake I noticed in the Press yesterday. When speaking of triennial elections I never meant that after the lapse of the first three years the whole elected body should retire but only that one-third should retire at the end of each triennial period.

Amendments 2 and 3, by leave, withdrawn.
The remaining sections, and the title, were agreed to, and the Bill was ordered to be reported.