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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Mar 1931

Vol. 14 No. 9

Public Business. - Poor Relief (Dublin) Bill, 1931—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That this Bill be read a Second Time."

The Seanad will remember that, in 1929, while outdoor relief to the able-bodied could be given throughout the Free State as a whole, it could not be given in the City or County of Dublin. That was because neither the County Borough Council nor the County Council in Dublin had formulated a scheme under the 1923 Act. Following on an examination of the matter by the Seanad, a Bill was introduced and passed through the Seanad in 1929 which put the City and the County of Dublin in the same position as the rest of the country in the matter of granting outdoor relief to the able-bodied. That Bill was passed through as a temporary measure, for the reason, in the first place, that a lot of people insisted that it was going to be a very expensive business for the City, and, secondly, that we anticipated the City and County of Dublin might either jointly or individually put up a scheme under the 1923 Act. Such a scheme has not been put up. The Seanad may be interested to know that while it was estimated in the beginning of the present rating year that the cost of this relief in the City of Dublin— that is, the new City, including Rathmines and Pembroke—would be £120,000, the estimate is now £81,000.

No scheme has yet been prepared either in the city or county. The new bodies set up in the county following the passing of the Act dealing with local government in Dublin have not had, and perhaps will not have for a couple of years, an opportunity of making up their minds on this matter. We are, therefore, continuing the 1929 Act for a period of five years. In doing that the Department of Local Government hope, in the intervening period, to be able to codify the whole position with regard to outdoor relief in the country. Some progress has been made in an examination of that. The preliminaries, so far as framing instructions for the draughtsman, have gone through the Department. But, in view of the other work that the Department has in hands, and from the point of view of the lifetime of the present Dáil, I do not think it would be reasonable to ask the Dáil to discuss this whole question of outdoor relief in the last year or so of its life, or that a new Parliamentary Assembly, in the first year or two of its existence, should be forced to review it. For that reason I am asking for an extension of the Act for five years. The City and County of Dublin are now in the same position as the rest of the country. Passing this Bill for five years will mean that we can get the time necessary to have the whole question fully examined before introducing a complete comprehensive piece of legislation dealing with outdoor relief.

There is just a question I wish to put to the Minister with regard to the two years' residence qualification. A case has been brought to my notice in which an unfortunate man who was unemployed and joined the Army is now home and can get no assistance. He has lived all his life in Dublin. The officers concerned in the administration of this relief hold that living in any of the Dublin barracks does not come within the residence qualification as defined in the section. Therefore this man is debarred from getting relief. I have debated the point with some of these officers, and I know they are giving it consideration. I would be glad if the Minister would look into that. I think that I am expressing the view of members of this House when I say that a man who has lived all his life in the city should not be disqualified from getting assistance under the Act simply because he has been serving in the Army for the last two years. This is the case of a young man with a wife and two children, who served in the Army and now finds himself without employment and cannot get benefit of any kind. I do not think any authority has the right to say that a man in such a position should be disqualified.

There is another point that I wish to bring to the Minister's notice. It is that of a man getting a ticket enabling him to get a supply of food to the value of 15/-. Perhaps something might be done with a view to giving the man four or five shillings in cash and the balance in kind.

I am not urging that he should be given the handling of all money, but I think he might be given, say, 2/6 or 4/- in cash to enable him to pay for the room he resides in.

While I must support this Bill, I hope the comprehensive measure to which the Minister has alluded will be introduced at an early date, and that it will contain provisions for dealing with widows and orphans. At present all they can get is ordinary relief. In my opinion, and that of others, special provision should be made for them. I trust that will be done when the comprehensive measure alluded to by the Minister is introduced.

With regard to the statement made by the Minister that the city and county of Dublin had not prepared a scheme under the 1923 Act, I just want to explain the position to members of the House who may not be familiar with it. So far as the city is concerned the reason why no scheme was prepared was because from 1923 on there was no Corporation in existence. Therefore, it was not quite fair for the Minister to make that statement. The matter referred to by Senator Byrne also came under my notice. I do not think it was ever the intention that because a man happened to be absent on Army service he should thereby be debarred from getting assistance under this Act. Some cases in which I was interested were dealt with in a satisfactory way. If, during the period they were on Army service, these men were voters then they had a residence qualification in Dublin, and that, I submit, clearly proves that it was never the intention that such men should be debarred from the benefits of this Act. While they remained on the voters' list they retained their citizenship and therefore should not be refused relief when they returned to civil life.

A case brought to my notice was that of a young man who, because of unemployment, had to leave this, his native city. He went to Glasgow or Liverpool, in the hope of finding work. After some months' work at the other side he became disemployed, got stranded, and had to return home. He was refused assistance under the Act. That man was a "trier." Had he remained at home he could have obtained relief, but he did not want to do that. He went away. When he returned it was held that he had broken his period of residence in the city, and, therefore, could not get the benefit of the Act. I do not think it was ever intended that people making an honest effort to find employment, people such as the man I am speaking of, should not get assistance.

When the original Bill was going through the Seanad I incurred some hostility, I think, from Senator Johnson, by proposing an amendment making it mandatory on the authorities to impose a work test, to set up labour yards, or have some form of test in the case of the able-bodied seeking relief under the Bill. I was told it could not be made mandatory but that it was permissive. Could the Minister tell us what has been done in that direction? Some of us feel very strongly that this thing is likely to be abused: that the offer of work, even if it be of an entirely unproductive character, will be a very healthy corrective on malingering or on attempts to impose on the ratepayers through the getting of relief.

This is the first time that I have heard raised the point mentioned by Senator Byrne with regard to Army service. I cannot understand how a person whose normal place of residence is the city, comes to be regarded as not belonging to the city because he joins the Army. I do not think that any auditor could find a flaw in the granting of outdoor relief in a case like that. There are bodies dealing with outdoor relief in the city, and it would be better, I think, if we had communications from these bodies rather than come up against cases like this in the Seanad. That is the course I would like to see followed, because the Department is prepared to be of all the use it can in bringing such matters to a conclusion, even to the extent of introducing amplifying legislation.

With regard to the question of kind, that was discussed here when the 1929 Bill was going through, and as far as I can hear there has been a change of mind on the part of those who then thought that the rent ought to be provided for in cash. They are now fairly satisfied that the necessity, or the desirability of that, does not exist. These are matters which, if they are to be discussed to a satisfactory conclusion, had better be discussed between the Department administering the Act and my Department.

On the question of the work test referred to by Senator Sir John Keane, I think anybody with experience realises that in the case of poor relief it is not easy to provide work even to the extent of having the kind that one could fall back on as a test. As far as my information goes, immediately after the 1929 Bill was passed, some work was undertaken in developing ground at the back of the Home Farm Road for a housing site. Work in one way or another was continued on that until the end of 1930. At one particular time there may have been 300 men employed on that work. I do not think it was regarded in any way as an economic proposition. As far as I know it was the only work of that particular kind that was attempted by the relief authorities in the city. I understand that an arrangement has now been entered into with the municipal authority proper under which some men will be taken on for ordinary municipal work on the recommendation of the poor relief authorities. How far that is going to lead to the kind of situation that the Senator, on the one hand, would like to see, and a lot of other people would not, I do not know. While I would like to see work provided in respect of this relief, it is not always, owing to the difficulty of providing schemes, even schemes of work that are not necessarily economic, easy to do that.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Thursday, 12th March.