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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jul 1931

Vol. 14 No. 24

Local Government (Dublin) (Amendment) Bill, 1931—Second Stage.

Question proposed: That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This Bill mainly provides for increasing the number of the Dublin Union Committee. The Local Government (Dublin) Bill of 1930 provided for a committee of five to deal with Dublin Union matters: four representatives of the City of Dublin and one from the county. Discussions took place between the Dublin Union Committee and myself after they had certain experience of the work. They considered that their numbers ought to be increased. The present proposal is one that has been put forward by the Union Committee as the minimum that would meet their requirements. It is proposed to increase the membership of the Committee in this way: six members to represent the city council and three to represent the county council, giving these nine the power to co-opt two others. If the Committee care to exercise the power of co-option there will then be a membership of eleven. In view of the fact that there is not likely to be in the time we expected a general Public Assistance Bill, that the provision in the Local Government (Dublin) Bill provides for the continuance of the Dublin Union Committee to the end of March, 1932, and in respect of the Rathdown and Balrothery Committees for their continuance for a three year period after the date of their appointment and that as the Committees as set up under the Dublin Bill were not made Boards of Public Assistance, it is now thought better as we are dealing with the subject to set these Committees up as Boards of Public Assistance. It is, therefore, proposed that the Dublin Union Committee and the Balrothery and Rathdown Union Committees will in the future be Boards of Public Assistance. By doing that their position will be more secure. The Bill also provides machinery for the fixing of a quorum and for the carrying on of their work as Boards of Public Assistance.

I am not objecting to the Bill, but I want to call attention to a curious inconsistency which requires explanation. This Bill is an amendment to the Bill passed last year. Presumably it is intended to set up these Boards of Public Assistance as the permanent machinery whereby the poor law will be administered. We find that as regards Balrothery and Rathdown it is the County Council that chooses the number and makes the selection, but that the Dublin Board of Public Assistance shall consist of six persons appointed by the City Council and three appointed by the County Council and such persons, if any, as may from time to time be appointed under this Act to be co-opted members. There is a later provision which fixes two as the maximum number of co-opted members.

I would like to have some explanation as to why a different method should be adopted for the Dublin area compared with Rathdown and Balrothery. In regard to the principle of co-option I think the Minister ought to justify it. The fact is that you are to have a Board appointed by the City Council and that one or more, or as many as they like, may be nonmembers of the City Council. That is to say that the Dublin Board may be a co-opted body and this co-opted body is given power to co-opt two more. I think that one could find good reasons for this principle of co-option in certain respects, but co-option by a co-opted body is surely not justifiable. If it is a justifiable provision at all for the Dublin area why is it refused to Rathdown and Balrothery? It seems to me that the onus of explaining why this principle of co-option should be refused in one case and not in the other lies upon the Minister but, so far, he has not given any justification for the differentiation made.

There is another provision that I want to call attention to. Sub-section (4) of Section 13 provides that the Minister may by order make such adaptations and modifications as he thinks fit relating to the quorum, meeting, proceedings and disqualification of members on the Boards of Assistance. I make no comments on the provision so far as it relates to the quorum, meeting and proceedings, but I object to giving power to the Minister to adapt the law with regard to disqualifications, although it may be said that this is merely a reinsertion of a provision in other Acts. That is very likely. Although I am not sure of that I think it would require some explanation or justification before the Bill is allowed to pass the House in this form.

I gather that there are to be nine members altogether on the Dublin Board of Assistance and that only two are to be co-opted. Therefore you would not have co-option by a co-opted body at all.

But the nine members may be co-opted. Section 91 of the Principal Act provides "that as soon as may be after the day of election the City Council and the County Council shall appoint for the purposes of this section a Committee (to be known as the Dublin Union Committee) consisting of four members appointed by the City Council and one person appointed by the County Council." I read the Act through with a view to finding out whether it was essential that the persons appointed on the Committee were to be members of the Council. As far as I can see it is quite optional whether they shall or shall not be members of the Council. Therefore I call them a co-opted body.

With regard to the possibility of any of the five members at the present moment on the Dublin Union Committee being persons other than members of the Dublin County Council, in the one case, and of the City Council in the other, I am afraid that I have not had in mind the point raised by Senator Johnson. Arising out of the circumstances that existed in Balrothery and Rathdown at the time that the Dublin Bill was passed, it is a fact that it was left in the position that the Dublin County Council could appoint to this Committee persons who were not members of the County Council, by reason of the fact that they might wish to leave the personnel that had been dealing with the Board of Guardians' work in the area stand, although these persons might not have been returned at the County Council elections. I do not think it was the intention that the Dublin Union Committee would consist of persons other than members of the Dublin City Council, or County Council. It was on the basis, I think, that the present Dublin Union Committee consisted of members of the County Council and the Dublin City Council that the question was discussed with them. They, on their part, raised the question of the desirability of co-opting persons who were not nominated on their body by the City Council or the County Council.

As far as the idea of co-option was concerned the Dublin Union Committee seemed to think that there were persons engaged in charitable and social work in the city who would be very useful members of the Dublin Union Committee, persons who might not be of the type that would go up for election on the City Council, and might not have an interest in the City Council work, while having a very definite interest in the other class of work. If the thing is not water-tight from that point of view I would like to have time to consider if an amendment were feasible to secure that the six persons would be members of the City Council, and that the three members would be members of the County Council, in view of the fact that we are introducing the principle of co-option.

As regards the Balrothery and Rathdown Committees, and the fact that the County Council can appoint as many members as it likes on these Committees, we have to consider that the Dublin County ought not to be divided up into separate public assistance areas.

The county, as a whole, in so far as that part of the county not in with Dublin City is concerned, ought to be a public assistance area in the same way as we have made county health districts public assistance areas in every other part of the country. At present there are in the county three separate areas of charge and that is contrary to our general principle. The circumstances in Dublin are, to a certain extent, temporary. We originally left the numbers for Balrothery and Rathdown to the county council because at the time the change took place the board of guardians was operating there. We thought the county council might wish that the personnel dealing with home assistance in those areas should continue until the matter had been rather permanently settled. That, I think, is the explanation as to the numbers being left to the county council and the personnel being left to others than members of the county council.

In the Dublin area you have a joint committee, representing two principal bodies. I think it would be impossible to have a joint committee representing the city and any part of the county of Dublin without fixing the numbers. The present numbers have been fixed after a certain amount of experience and after consultation with a committee consisting of the chairman of the county council and four members of the Dublin City Council. I do not think there is anything very seriously wrong in principle with having the differences that exist at the present moment. With regard to the other point the Senator raised, sub-section (4) of Section 13 is simply a formal matter that has turned up from previous legislation and that has been found to be necessary.

Does the Minister repudiate the Act of 1923?

That is not yet entirely repudiated. Certain elaborate changes were brought about through the machinery of the 1923 Act. I do not think there can be any complaint as to anything done by way of adaptation of previous legislation with the change over. I will investigate whether there is a possibility of anything terribly sinister happening under the question of disqualification of members of Boards of Guardians. I think it only means applying to a Board of Public Assistance the statute that at present applies to Boards of Guardians.

That may require alteration, because the name has been changed from Board of Guardians to Board of Public Assistance. I do not think that there is anything more serious in it than that.

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

Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 8th July.