I move amendment 1:—
Title. To delete in lines 10-12 the words "and now belong by virtue of Article 11 of the Constitution to Saorstát Eireann."
My principal reason in moving in this matter is to preserve, if possible, the rights which local bodies had under the various Acts leading up to the passing of the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. Under those Acts they had the right to sell. We are advised that Article 11 of the Constitution does not take away that right from them. By Section 34 of the Poor Relief Act, 1838, workhouses were vested in the Poor Law Commissioners in trust for the purposes for which they were then applicable—that is, in trust for the relief of the poor. Section 40 of the same Act authorised the Poor Law Commissioners to sell and convey workhouses no longer needed and to apply the purchase money, either in the purchase or building of another workhouse or in such manner as the Poor Law Commissioners should think advisable for the benefit of the Union.
We feel very strongly on this matter. We are advised that Article 11 of the Constitution does not, or should not, take away from local bodies the rights given to them, rights embodied in different Acts of Parliament. We feel that it is a great injustice that local bodies should be compelled to keep and maintain in a state of repair workhouses that are no longer in use and which can never be turned into any useful purpose. Many of them at the moment are an eye-sore on the face of the country. They are white elephants on the hands of local authorities. In the case of people anxious to start an industry in a district they might be inclined to take these buildings if they could buy them out, but they would certainly not lease them.
As Senators know, it is almost impossible to turn these old workhouses to any useful purpose. In the county that I represent we have four workhouses. One of them is the County Home. That is all right, because it is being suitably utilised. In the case of the Carrickmacross workhouse, one wing of it is set for the carrying on of a little industry, but the other portion of the building is becoming dilapidated. The County Council is called upon to keep that building in repair. It is obliged to do that whether or not the revenue derived from these buildings is sufficient to bear the cost of repairs. We have another workhouse at Clones. A small portion of it is set at a rent, but the amount of money derived in that way is not sufficient to keep the building in repair. No one would take one of these buildings on lease for the purpose of starting industries in them, but there are plenty of people who would be prepared to buy them out for such a purpose if the local body had the power to sell. In the case of the Monaghan workhouse, some local associations entered into negotiations with the Minister for Local Government behind the backs of the local bodies. The local bodies do not know the exact terms of the arrangement that was entered into. I think if the Government hold the view that Article 11 of the Constitution governs this matter, then they must repeal Section 8 of the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. That section empowers the Minister to sell and to hold the proceeds in trust "for any purpose for which the land, etc., could have been used or applied by law under the county scheme or otherwise."
There is a great difference of opinion as to whether the provisions of Article 11 of the Constitution apply at all in this matter. The County Council obtained counsel's opinion on the matter. I will read an extract from his opinion:—
It seems to me that only the property of the State generally is within the Article and that the Article was not intended to cover and should not be extended to cover property held by a department of State in trust for special purposes in a local area. I consider the words "subject to any trust then existing" in Article 11 may be held to preserve the trust in favour of the Union.
That is the opinion of a very able member of the Bar. He has advised the Monaghan County Council that it is quite possible that a different interpretation can be put on Article 11 of the Constitution to that put on it by the Government. He goes further and says that if the county council were prepared to test the matter in Court the chances are that the Court may hold with his view. We have no desire to have the case brought into the Courts, but we have a very strong desire to maintain the rights given to us under several of the old Acts. We feel that it is a great injustice to us in the County Monaghan that we should be obliged to maintain and keep in a state of repair a number of these old workhouses from which we are not able to draw sufficient revenue to bear the cost of their repair. The Minister may tell me that we have power to lease them for a period of 99 years. I do not think that is the proper way of dealing with them. Under the old Acts the local body had the power to sell and we maintain that that right should still be preserved to us.