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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Apr 1934

Vol. 18 No. 14

Local Services (Temporary Economies) (No. 2) Bill, 1933—Second Stage.

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

The object of this Bill is to effect economies in the local services by the making of deductions from remuneration payable during the current local financial year to officers of local authorities. The corresponding Bill which provided for economies in the public services was before the Oireachtas last summer, and passed into law in October last. This Act—the Public Services (Temporary Economies) Act—contemplated the reduction of expenditure on salaries, not only in the public services, but also in salaries of local bodies where a proportion of such salaries was met by grants payable to local bodies. Section 11 of that Act provided for deductions from such grants to such extent as would be determined having regard to the proportion of such grants ordinarily applied towards the payment of salaries. The section, however, goes on to provide that no deduction shall be made from grants to local bodies in respect of services under the control of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health where such bodies have made approved deductions from the salaries of their officers. The intention here was that the local body should make the deduction, and there would accrue a proportionate saving to the Exchequer in respect of all claims made by local bodies for recoupment of expenditure on salaries.

As Senators are aware, a growing proportion of local expenditure is being met by way of grants from State funds and the present Bill is accordingly a necessary implementation of Government policy in connection with the securing of economies by deductions from salaries as set out in the Public Services (Temporary Economies) Act. The Act referred to passed into law, as I have said, in October last, but it was not found possible to complete the preparation of the Bill relating to local salaries until the present year, and accordingly the period of operation of the Bill will be the current local financial year instead of the last financial year to which the Act of 1933 related.

The deductions to be made from salaries of local officers will be in accordance with the scales set out in the Schedule to the Bill. Parts I and II of the Schedule contain different scales of deduction applicable to salaries carrying cost-of-living bonus and to fixed salaries respectively. The salaries which have carried a bonus varying with the cost of living have been subject to regular reduction in recent years in accordance with the fall in the cost of living. The fixed salaries which have not varied with the cost of living have, on the other hand, remained constant over a period of fall in prices. It is, therefore, proposed to make the deductions applicable to the latter type of salaries on scales higher than the scales applicable to the salaries which have in fact been reduced from time to time owing to the gradual fall in the cost of living. Part III of the Schedule will mainly relate to professional men, not being whole-time officers of the local authority, employed at special rates of remuneration for particular works.

In the case of dispensary doctors, a special provision is included in the Bill to the effect that £50 of their annual salary shall not be taken into account in the calculation of the deductions.

Special provision is made for the preservation of pension rights. No deductions made under this Act will affect the amount of salary by reference to which a pension or gratuity is to be computed.

The Bill contains further provisions of an administrative nature as regards the returns to be furnished by officers to the chief executive officers of each local authority by whom they are employed and also as regards the duty of chief executive officers of local authorities who are required to furnish returns of the salaries of each officer in the employment of the local authority.

I regret that the Minister has seen fit to introduce this Bill. The present scale of remuneration of public servants of this State is, I think, a sensible scale. Revolutionary movements such as we have had in this country generally carry with them some of the commitments of the parent body. Some of these are good and some of them are not. In this case, we have what I regard as a good one. I refer to the system of adequate payment of public servants which we have inherited from the British. The British, who are extraordinarily good shopkeepers, invariably paid their public servants on what might be regarded as a liberal scale. Why? Because they know that it has, in the end, paid them extremely well. Other countries on the Continent of Europe and elsewhere have not always paid on the same scale and, in many cases, the penuriousness exercised had come back to roost. That was particularly the case with German officials. During the war one remarkable and well-known case, due to want of proper remuneration of a German official, led to the whole of the German Admiralty code being given away to the British, thus enabling the British, throughout the whole of the war, to read all the messages of the German ships at sea. Some of these things are bound to happen when you lower the standard of living of your public servants. I suppose that, with a peasant population such as ours, it is probably good politics to introduce a Bill of this kind, because the average peasant likes to see people getting a little bit less, particularly when he is getting less himself. In the end, I think, the peasant will be the poorer man. The public services must suffer by this type of cut because you will not have the best type of man trying to enter them. The men engaged in these services spend a good deal on their education. They start on a very much lower scale than the manager of a business undertaking with the same responsibilities. Many thousands of pounds pass through the hands of some of them in a year and, on the medical side, they are charged with the care of very thickly populated districts.

When they start, there is no definite basis of remuneration. Their preliminary salary is, I admit, subject to the approval of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, but it is dependent a good deal on the amount of influence that can be exercised when the appointment comes before the local body. I have been a member of one of those local bodies and I have seen that happen very often. In that way, you can have a variation in the initial salary and, very often, in the increments in the different counties.

The officers appointed settle down in these counties and make commitments. They marry and possibly buy houses, because they know that they are going to spend their lives in the district. They may be purchasing on the instalment system, they effect insurances, provide for the education of their children and then, suddenly, a cut of this kind comes along. As regards the value of the service of these public officers, it is my personal experience that practically the whole conduct of the public business and the security of the ratepayers devolve on these public servants. In addition, they have to be armed at every point to counter ill-considered suggestions made by representatives of the people. It is not the councillors who make these suggestions who have to face the music when the auditor comes around. It is the officers who have to answer the questions and to try to prevent surcharges. Were it not for their personal pride in their work and the credit of the service to which they belong, the expense of local government would be colossal. What else is there to prevent an officer seeing the proposals of all and sundry councillors in a rosy light and adding the cost to the annual bill for rates? They will not suffer to any extent and, if there is any protest, they can shelter behind the orders given. I regret that the Minister, who I am certain knows much better, has asked us to consider a Bill of this nature at this time when other Dominions, such as South Africa, and Britain are restoring these cuts. The London County Council has restored all the economy cuts made, with the exception of the cut in the teachers' salaries. I believe that that will be restored very soon.

Was it the new county council that restored the cuts?

If the Minister could say that this £35,000 is an essential economy, he would have my unqualified support for this Bill as a temporary measure. I presume, however, that this saving is going to be used to provide for losses which cannot be met by way of additional grants from the Government. I fear that the Bill is going to do three things —lower the standard of the public service; inflict an injustice on individuals, because, although it is a flat cut according to salaries, the original basic rates are different; and react to the disadvantage of the ratepayers.

There can be only one reason for this Bill. That is, the need for economy in local government. Since it will save but a small sum relatively, one is justified in inferring that the need for economy is very great. If that is so, why begin with salaries of £300 a year? Why not go below that figure and apply the same sort of scale to all people employed by local authorities? I can see no reason for the discrimination. If that were done, there would be a real economy— an economy of some volume. Is this discrimination against people who are mostly technical men, with special qualifications, getting £300 a year and over, discrimination on merits or discrimination on votes? It is common knowledge that, except in the case of the larger cities, the employees of local authorities are, broadly speaking, paid much better than similar workers employed by private individuals or companies who have to meet the wage bill out of their own earnings and are obliged to have regard to ordinary commercial considerations which, too frequently, are entirely ignored in the case of local authorities. For these reasons, before dealing with so discriminatory a Bill as this, we ought to be certain of what we are doing. I think it would be very desirable that we should know of the general position and of the general need before we go in for saving this particularly segregrated and comparatively small sum. I suggest to the Minister that the debate on this Bill should not be resumed until after the discussion on the Budget.

On a Bill of this kind, one would wish to think that what the Government wanted was money and that they were not going, merely as a gesture, to cut salaries for the mere sake of cutting. If it is money they are looking for, the amount involved is negligible even in a country as small as this. The Minister indicated, on the Second Reading of the measure in the other House, that the total saving would be about £35,000. That is not the saving to the Exchequer alone but to the Exchequer and to the local authorities combined. It would probably be divided between them in about equal parts. The Treasury will gain, therefore, about £16,000 or £17,000 as a result of the operation of this Bill. That is an extraordinarily small economy to necessitate the introduction of a special Bill covering all the local authorities of this country. So far as I can gather, the Bill is introduced to give effect to the principle that a certain amount of sacrifice must be made by certain sections. The bulk of the sacrifice here would be on the part of the doctors. Nobody who knows the salaries paid to doctors and medical officers and all that has to be done in order to get the jobs would say that they are overpaid.

It has been said, and I do not know with what amount of truth, that for every hundred doctors we train in this country, eighty have to find occupation outside, either in Great Britain or the Dominions. We keep back one-fifth and this one-fifth we want to try and harrow and generally treat as if they were enemies rather than friends of the people. We had a very eloquent, and at the same time deplorable example, of what can happen at the appointment of a medical officer of public health in the case recently in Monaghan. Every class of individual, Senators, Deputies, professional men and gangsters were brought into play in connection with this appointment. In such instances one can imagine the amount of graft necessary in expenditure before a post of this kind can be obtained. Another shocking business was that which occurred at Loughrea where a volunteer force had to be formed to protect a man, who took up a medical position, from physical violence. That man has my sincere admiration for standing out against all this hooliganism and maintaining his position. He has held on to his post although about two-thirds of his income which would come from private practice must be non-existent. But you must have regard to all these circumstances before cutting salaries for the purpose of making this gesture. A great number of the local authorities, in this country, are made up of people who unfortunately have few of the good things of life. If they hear of a man earning £3 or £4 a week they look upon him as a semi-millionaire. They are incapable of making allowance for all the money and all the effort that have been spent upon the training of that man in the school and the University. They look at the question on the basis of unskilled labour. If a professional man has twice the wages of a labourer lie is regarded as well paid. Unfortunately that tendency is encouraged and fostered by the present Government cutting down the salaries of men who have qualified for professional positions. It is inclined to drive out of the country the very best men. I do not believe in cutting wages at all but I do not believe in the grading process—cutting down to the lowest possible level of the worst paid people in the country. If there is one thing that we cannot dispense with it is the skill of the professional man. Instead of driving them elsewhere where there is a better harvest we should encourage them in the manner in which we treat them. This Bill is entirely futile except that it will possibly drive out of the country the best type of professional men.

From 1920 upwards, when we first repudiated British local government, there has been a definite tendency to hit that type of official, such as secretaries of county councils and doctors and professional men, drawing salaries, as if they were part of the British garrison. The tendency was to hit men with big salaries; they were considered fair game. There were cases where salaries fixed seemed to be excessive having regard to the duties performed, but in most cases when vacancies occurred salaries were reduced to one-third of what they were recently. Yet these men who got those positions at those reduced salaries are to be cut again now. Salaries recently offered for public appointments are on a scandalous grade; £250 is mentioned as the yearly salary of a skilled engineer after all his years of college and university training. The average rate of increment has been scaled down from £10 to anything as low as £1, as I saw recently in the case of a particular appointment. That is the mentality that influences those who are fixing these salaries. The Minister here fixes a minimum, but he makes no maximum. Local authorities can cut down as deeply as they like subject to his sanction, and judging by the outlook of the Minister and the Government there is nothing to prevent them doing this, so that instead of raising the lower towards the higher we are at present depressing the higher down to the lowest in the land. That is an entirely retrograde principle and I most emphatically condemn the futility of it. It is going to bring in no material gain to the Exchequer or the local authorities. No ratepayer will benefit to the extent of a package of cigarettes whereas we are committing ourselves to the principle that purchasing power has to come down.

This can only be regarded, I think, as a piece of cynical humbug on the part of the Government. If it was a piece of cynical humbug, and hit nobody, we need not say much about it, but it is a piece of political humbug that is going to produce undoubted hardships on a considerable number of people. It is patent humbug because it cannot effect, and is not intended to effect, cuts in salaries to which it should be directed. There is no reason to believe that as a result of the passage of this Bill there will be any relief to the ratepayers or the taxpayers, or that the burden that they have to pay to the State will be in any way reduced. If the Government were pursuing a policy of keeping rates and taxes as low as possible, there might be something to be said for the policy of the cuts, although the policy of the cuts should not be operated on the basis proposed in the Bill. But when we see the general policy of this Administration we can understand that the few pounds that may be saved is going to be wasted on some entirely futile or fantastic product which is outlined already, or is sure to be forthcoming in a very short time from those who are driving the Government Party.

I would not myself suggest or recommend the Seanad to reject this Bill. It is not a certified Money Bill, but its objects are finance, and it is in a sense, although not technically, a Money Bill. For that reason I would not suggest that the Seanad should take upon itself to reject the Bill, but I do think the Seanad ought to consider the details of the Bill on the Committee Stage. I believe it is quite within the competence of this House, and quite within the constitutional province of this House to amend the Bill if they see that some of the hardships are as great as I believe some of them are. While adopting that attitude, I do not believe that this House should be taken as accepting the view that there is nothing to be said for the principle of the Bill in the circumstances of the moment. Possibly the Government expect to get some political advantage out of the Bill, in the hope that some individuals throughout the country may feel that this is some movement in the direction of economy, or in the nature of relief of the present burdens. I believe that, in fact, they will get very little political kudos out of it. The general situation is altogether too serious for people to be deceived now by measures of this sort that have the effect of disturbing and, perhaps, hurting and humiliating certain classes, and which at most can only give the Government a few pounds to waste upon some political or foolish project such as we have had too many of at the present time.

I only rise to say I cannot understand Senator Blythe's mentality. He talks about this measure as humbug, and injurious humbug. He tells us it is not going to do any good to the ratepayers or to the taxpayers, but he is going to vote for it. He went on to examine it from a political point of view, and thinks that the Government are looking to getting kudos out of it, and he does not think that they can get very much kudos out of it. But Senator Blythe did not go into the merits or demerits of the Bill. It will be interesting to see what attitude he takes when the Seanad is examining them. At any rate it will be interesting to see what he will do when it comes to a question of a division on this Bill.

I think if anybody should seek political kudos or votes at our prospective election, what he would be likely to say is that officers of public authorities should have good salaries and should have no cuts. Why should the salaries of secretaries of county councils and other officers be reduced? That is the popular thing to say, but the people charged with the administration of a country have responsibilities other than that. It is desirable that in the circumstances in which this country is placed, where some classes of the community are making very great sacrifices, that all classes should have an opportunity of contributing in some way to the sacrifices that are being made. I think there are a great many local officials who will be proud to be able to say hereafter: "Very well, the farmer has made his sacrifices, we will make our sacrifices." I have heard no official of any local authority screaming at this. The only people who are screaming, like stuck pigs, are the people who are expecting to get political kudos out of the report of the speech they make against this Bill. Senator O'Farrell, who always brings the most cogent arguments to the support of any position he takes up, has, I think, fixed upon one class of local officials that has upheld the best traditions of this country—the dispensary doctor.

In the course of his speech I was looking through the Bill to discover what I had read already—that portion of the salary of a dispensary doctor to the extent of £50 is not subject to the percentage reduction. It is a matter for consideration on the Committee Stage whether you should exempt a sum greater than £50. As Senator Blythe has said, this is a financial measure and we should be very careful as to our treatment of it. In fact, during Senator Blythe's speech we had an example of very sound sense when he said that the Seanad should not interfere to reject this measure. We had an example of what he thought very good politics when he told us he was the champion of local officials. Of course they are distributed throughout the country. They are influential men. They have votes and they know where votes are to be got. Their own vote is useful and their influence is more useful still. So it is a very popular thing to support what he believes to be the wish of public officials or local officials. But I do not think it is the wish of local officials. I think there are a great many local officials who will be proud that they, as well as the farmers who pay them, are making sacrifices in the times through which we are passing. Of course Senator The McGillycuddy who knows all about local officials smiles broadly and audibly at that suggestion but I know something about local officials as well as he.

I think it is a courageous action on the part of the Ministry to come forward with a measure like this. It does not mean very much—£36,500 a year—but why should they not try to economise to the extent of £36,000 a year? In a fortnight's time we shall have men speaking eloquently as to the impossibility of meeting the charges of government and of the Budget increasing by leaps and bounds. They will be very eloquent on that, but if the Budget is to be reduced it can only be reduced by economies here and there, small economies, and £36,500 is not such a small sum as people would be inclined to imagine. If the Budget is increasing, the demands upon the public purse are naturally increasing in proportion, and the Minister by introducing this measure has shown that, although we have to meet charges that are increasing, we are endeavouring to curtail wherever we can and to economise wherever possible. If this is a gesture, I think it is a very proper gesture. The farmers are suffering considerably at the present time. They have been suffering for the past two or three years very much and I think they will be glad to know that public servants, both servants of the central authority and servants of the local bodies, are making sacrifices too, sacrifices not by any means equal to the sacrifices which the farmers are making but that nevertheless they are bearing some share of the burden.

It has been said, I think by Senator Blythe or Senator O'Farrell, that officers of local authorities have entered into commitments and have budgeted on the assumption that their salaries were to remain unaltered. Several people have budgeted on a similar assumption and have found that their annual income has decreased in the last two or three years. The farmers have found that it is not now possible to educate their sons as it was two or three years ago. You must always remember that this is a community mainly depending upon agriculture and the farmers of this country at present—I hope only for a very temporary period—are suffering considerably. They are the people who are paying and I think they should be relieved wherever relief is possible. Even if it is not very substantial, a gesture should be made to show that others are willing to help them. I think it is a courageous thing on the part of the Government to run the risk of the unpopularity which will result from this saving of £36,500. They knew very well that it was an unpopular thing to do and, of course, they must have anticipated that full advantage would be taken of it by their opponents who for the occasion, and for the occasion alone, are prepared to purport to defend officials of local bodies who have not asked them to speak on this subject at all.

When I saw this Bill I was wondering what the justification was for the introduction of it. The amount involved, when it is spread over all the local authorities in the country, will be a mere bagatelle as far as these authorities are concerned. It will not affect in the slightest degree the amount of local or national taxation. It appears to me that the only justification for the introduction of the Bill is the fact that a Bill of a similar type was introduced and passed last year dealing with civil servants. I was opposed to that Bill and I am more strongly opposed to this Bill. An important fact that has got to be remembered in connection with this Bill is that it proposes that the employees of local authorities receiving over a certain remuneration shall be subjected to a graduated scale of reduction for a temporary period. I suppose if we take the City of Dublin away, the amount involved for the other local authorities is not worth the expense and all the trouble necessitated by the Bill, the time taken up by the draftsmen, the cost of printing and the time spent by the Oireachtas in debating it. Senator Comyn talks about the unpopularity of the Bill. I do not agree with him. I think from the point of view of the Government, it is a very popular Bill.

That is because it is felt to be necessary.

It is popular because of this fact, that we have arrived at the stage that people who have been unsuccessful in securing some of these posts are jealous of others who have more brains than they had, and who secured these posts in open competition. Senator Comyn talks about the farmers, but I venture to say that the majority of young men employed by local authorities are sons of farmers who have won their spurs in open competition. I know some little thing about local government, and I know that over a quarter of a century ago the Dublin Corporation, as the Minister is well aware because, I think, he took a leading part in bringing it into operation, even before the Government of the day thought of it, introduced a system of competitive examination for clerkships in the service. I think the Minister will agree with me that that was the best thing ever done by the Dublin Corporation. By that system of fair open competition, we got the best service of any city in the world. It attracted the best brains in the country to the service, and it had the result of preventing the emigration of some of the best brains of the country, such as we have in the case of the medical profession and other professions. Considering the type of person that was recruited to that employment, the remuneration was not more than it should be.

I have always believed that if we give a person responsibility and if we get a person who is fitted to accept that responsibility and to carry out the duties attached to it, we should pay him well. I think it is true to say that the citizens of Dublin, through the system of open competitive examination got good, faithful and efficient service from the people recruited into their employment. It is all very well to talk about gestures, but we must not forget another important fact, that owing to the amount of legislation dealing with social matters passed since the setting up of this State, a tremendous amount of extra work has been piled on to the officials of local authorities in this country. I do not think that will be denied. The very Bill we had here to-day, when it becomes an Act, will throw an enormous amount of responsibility and extra work on local officials—engineers, architects and officials of that kind who will have to do with what was correctly described as a very intricate piece of legislation.

We ought not to lose sight of the fact that employees of local authorities during recent years owing to the putting into operation of many items of social legislation have had a considerable amount of increased technical work thrown upon them. We ought not to forget either that the majority of the employees of local authorities have been subject to the reductions in the cost-of-living bonus. Some of them had salaries which were fixed apart from the cost-of-living bonus but I think the great majority of the salaries of employees of local authorities carry with them the cost-of-living bonus which has been fluctuating with the cost of living. In consequence, these people already have suffered reductions in their salaries. In addition, they have contributed a fair quota to any sacrifices that may be required. It was only last year that the income tax was raised from 3/6 to 5/- in the £. These people have had to pay their share of that. In passing, I might say that employees of local authorities are not in the same position as other people because the tax-gatherer knows exactly the full amount of their remuneration as it appears in the public accounts. They have to pay every penny that they are bound to pay in income tax. They are not in the happy position of other people who are able to diddle the income tax authorities until they are caught.

We cannot assume in this Seanad that the law is being disobeyed by diddlers.

For a lawyer Senator Comyn is terribly innocent. I am really surprised at his innocence. In fact, I am inclined to think he must be one of Mark Twain's Innocents. As I was saying these local officials have to pay every penny that they are legally liable for in income tax. The amount involved in this Bill is not worth all the trouble that has been made about it, and therefore I think it is unfair for the Government to introduce it. We have arrived at a stage here when we ought not to be curtailing the spending power of any section of the community. One hears of shopkeepers and others complaining of the lack of business. If the Government are going to curtail the spending power of people who do spend, and who have been in a position to spend, then I do not think they are going to derive a lot of benefit from this measure. Under all the circumstances I think it is unwise for the Government to be going ahead with this Bill. As I voted against the other Bill, I will be consistent and vote against this one.

At the risk of doing the unpopular thing, I propose to vote for the "cuts" proposed in this Bill. I realise that savings must be effected. Everybody connected with local government knows the position of the farmers in this country: that every possible saving, no matter how small, must be effected because the farmers have now no income that they can rely upon. Their income has completely disappeared. Public officials have an assured income, whether it be large or small. I regret that the necessity has arisen for making cuts in their salaries. As a rule, the public boards of the country are served by very good officials. It is certainly not an encouragement to them to have their salaries cut, but the necessities of the time compel us to assent to this. I think it is only right that they should suffer as well as others. Up to the present it is the farmers mostly who have had to do the suffering. It is something to find here to-day that it is realised on all sides that the farmers are suffering. I only wish that some Senators would take a journey through the country and see the actual sufferings of the farmers, and what their prospects are of being able to discharge their liabilities. As I have said, it is not a popular thing to vote for a measure of this kind, but at times necessity compels representative men to do things that are unpopular.

Some remarks were made, I suppose in a joking way, about local government in the County Monaghan. I stand for the purity of the local government administration in the County Monaghan—that its standard compares favourably with that of any other county. A case has arisen in the county which I am very sorry occurred. The county council deeply deplores the fact that such a thing occurred. They were not responsible for it. The Act of Parliament was changed which gave the right to the Appointments Commissioners to send down one name, and one only. Therefore, that gave a chance for the sort of thing that has been referred to to be introduced by men inclined that way. From my long experience of local government in the County Monaghan I can stand over the purity and honesty of its administration. I am proud to be a member of the Monaghan County Council, notwithstanding the view held that that particular case brought disgrace and dishonour on the county.

I regret very much the introduction of this Bill. Several Senators have expressed regret that the medical officers employed by local bodies should be included under it. We all know that medical officers have been very badly hit. Their private practice has almost completely disappeared. To provide a mode of conveyance the Bill only allows a sum of £50. That will not nearly cover the cost of it. Therefore, the cuts proposed under this Bill will affect part of doctors' expenses. A well-established principle is also being departed from in connection with this Bill, the principle that when an official was appointed at a particular salary it was not to be reduced. It was the practice in many cases, to give increases, but never to reduce the salary originally fixed.

The introduction of such a principle in this Bill is a very serious matter, and one which I think this House should take notice of. We all know that farmers are suffering a great deal at the present time, but when times were good with the farmers there was never any suggestion that the medical officers' salaries should be increased. Therefore, why should they be reduced now? The other points that I wish to deal with can be deferred until we reach the Committee Stage, when I propose to move certain amendments.

I think we have to regard this Bill from the point of view as to whether it is one which, however much we may dislike it, ought to be rejected by this House, and I think it is perfectly clear to most of us that we ought not to take that course. It seems to me that most of the arguments I have listened to and that I have heard adduced against this Bill are really arguments against maintaining this Government in power. Senator Farren, of course, will not agree. He has to choose between two evils. He will, no doubt, choose the least, which I think the bigger. It seems to be rather ridiculous to argue in this House, since we have no power to alter the Government of the country, that it is unwise to reduce the spending power of anybody at the present time: that the net effect of that will be to reduce trade. Personally, I agree absolutely with Senator Farren in that, but I think it is totally contrary to the policy which is being adopted as the State policy. Therefore, to argue it in relation to one Bill alone is, to my mind, futile. Personally, I doubt if, even in bad times, it is wise to single out officials appointed on a specific basis—officials not subject to increases and certainly not to substantial increases because of the prosperity of the times—and say that we are going to save £35,000 a year by a small reduction in their salaries. I say that not because I have sympathy only with them. Most people, outside of those holding official positions, would be delighted if the Government could give them a guarantee that their incomes are not going to be reduced by more than ten per cent. Personally, I would be very glad to have such a guarantee, but I can see no hope of getting it. It is not from the point of view of sympathy with officials having to share that cut that I doubt the wisdom of this Bill, but because it seems to me that, as far as possible, we ought to eliminate officials appointed by local authorities or by the State from the vagaries of change due very largely to political or semipolitical conditions, and that it is only as a sheer absolute necessity, which makes it necessary to cut salaries, you can get proper political justification for doing so in the matter of officials.

There might be a case for stopping increases over a period when there was a real necessity for it, but I have always doubted the wisdom of taking officials who, as I have said, have been appointed on a specific basis and deducting a rigid percentage of their remuneration. However, although I doubt the wisdom of this Bill I do not believe, having regard to the circumstances and having regard to what we know to be the feeling in the country, that this House would be justified in rejecting the Bill. Senator Comyn's argument was probably the best argument that could be adduced for the Bill: that because certain people are suffering, therefore we must make others suffer, and that as a gesture we should agree to this to show that we are fair to all. I think that if I had to justify the Bill I should have to fall back on some other argument, but I do not think there is any better argument that can be adduced—the facts being as they are and knowing that it is the policy of the Government, perhaps rightly, to reduce the spending power of a very considerable portion of the population. They may not intend to do it, but for the time being that is a necessary part of their policy, and they have got the support of a majority in the other House for doing it. I do not believe that the Seanad would be justified in trying to hold up this Bill. One may, of course, suggest possible amendments, but I think that to reject the Bill would be only folly.


The Minister to conclude.

It is evident that this Bill is not received with the same enthusiasm as the last one that I had the pleasure of putting before the House for Second Reading to-day. I agree with Senator Comyn and Senator Toal that this is not a popular measure in the country. I think that any Government that would expect that every measure it introduced would be a popular measure would be a Government that would not last long and would not be worthy of its position. I believe that economies are necessary at the present time. It is not due to the present Government that there has been such a calamitous fall in the value of agricultural produce. It has been falling and falling rapidly all over the world, in the last seven or eight years, and nowhere more than in the wealthiest country in the world, which is probably the United States. The farmers there are in a far worse position than the farmers here. I think I can use the phrase without exaggeration that farmers in Western America whom I knew, personally, some years ago to be rolling in wealth are to-day ready to be thrown out on the roadside. That is true of the United States. Bad as the situation may be here it is not nearly as bad as it is in the United States and in other parts of the world. Farmers certainly have lost. Prices have continued to fall in the last year or two, but for some classes of agricultural produce the prices that our farmers are getting are certainly better than they were two years ago. Certainly I do not regard it as a popular measure for a Minister for Local Government to bring in a Bill cutting the salaries of those throughout the country on whom he has to rely to carry out local government. But it is a necessary Bill in present circumstances, and as some Senators are probably aware, local officials have come to me, and in the name of some of their organisations asked me to introduce a measure into the Oireachtas cutting salaries, rather than leaving the cuts to be carried out by the local authorities. That has happened. Some local authorities have already passed resolutions cutting salaries by 15 and 20 per cent.

Hear, hear.

Senator Toal approves of that. It is true that they have done so.

What I meant was that local authorities had passed resolutions to that effect.

Can the Minister say if these cuts have been allowed to operate?

Where the Minister thought that the cuts were out of proportion or inconsiderate, they were not allowed to operate. Senator The McGillycuddy rather suggested in his speech that the cuts would tend to have the effect of making officials of local authorities unfaithful to their trust. I do not believe that is so. I do not believe there is a single official of a local authority who is going to be induced by a cut of 5 or 10 per cent. to be unfaithful to his trust. I do not believe that is true at all. It is entirely improbable. I will say this, if there is any official of a local authority, whose mentality is likely to be unfaithful, because of a 10 or a 15 per cent. cut, an increased salary would not make that man a faithful servant, and no attempt to purchase an official of that kind by an increased salary would make him a better official of any local authority. That kind of mentality may rule in officials of local and governmental authorities in other countries. I do not believe it rules here. As Senator Toal reminded us, there are a few public men here and there in this country who are not fit to occupy honourable positions in public life; who were unfit to be elected. I say that without any reference to politics or party. There are such individuals, and I wish I could get evidence against them—whatever side they are on—and I would make them feel the consequences. I believe there are a few in different parts of the country. I do not believe that is true of officials. That is my experience. There were occasions in the last two years, since I became a Minister, when officials failed in their trust. There were small peculations here and there, due to bad habits, drinking, gambling or something of that kind, but, as long as people are human, these things will happen. Generally breaches of trust in a large way are foreign to our public servants.

Senator Bagwell talked about the limit of £300 that has been inserted in the Bill. There is a point, and there has been a very important difference of opinion about when that point is reached, below which a man cannot live and rear and educate a family. People are bound to differ on what that point is. After a good deal of argument pro and con in connection with cuts in the salaries of public officials, £300 was fixed for an ordinary citizen, rearing a family. That is why that figure was put there, to prevent the cut operating on any salary below that amount.

Senator O'Farrell and Senator Sir Edward Bigger referred to the case of the doctors. If there is any profession amongst any section of the officials of local authorities whose salaries it is unpopular to cut, I believe it is medical men and the dispensary medical officers. I do not enjoy the privilege of doing it any more than anyone else. I believe it is true that in perhaps from 60 to 75 per cent. of the cases of medical men connected with local authorities they will not be affected at all. When the Bill was under discussion in the Dáil a doctor from one county stated that he had examined the Bill with the County Medical Association, and it was found that 75 per cent. of the doctors there would not come under the Bill at all, so that there will be very few of them affected, to any extent.

That means that they have less than £210 yearly.

£210, plus £10 for travelling.

As the Minister states that 75 per cent. of the doctors will not be affected, is it worth while cutting the other 25 per cent?

I do not want to mislead the Seanad. I have not had a mathematical examination made, but that was the statement made by one doctor, that he thought in one county 75 per cent. of the doctors would not be affected. There is a figure of between 60 per cent. and 75 per cent. who will not be affected because of the low salaries paid to medical men. They start in some counties with £250, in other counties with £275, and in no place do the salaries go beyond £350. These are the basic salaries of the medical officers of health. I do not know whether it is worth while replying to the political speech of Senator Blythe. I do not think anyone will have any doubt that it was meant to play at politics and nothing else, when he referred to the Bill as "cynical humbug." That came badly from the Senator, because during his time as Minister for Finance, if cynical humbug was played at by anybody, it was played at by Senator Blythe and played to the full. Certainly no man played it with greater effect to attack the standard of public servants. I think he cut the salaries of public servants much more severely than is proposed now.

The old age pensioners.

The Senator did not stop at such cuts, but he cut the poorest of the people, the old age pensioners, on the grounds of economy. Surely to God, having cut the old age pensioners who got a maximum of 10/- a week, a man must have a face of brass to talk about cynical humbug when cutting salaries. It might come well from someone else in the House, but when it comes from Senator Blythe it is a bit thick.

It is surely cynical to talk of saving £40,000 out of £36,000,000.

The Senator is another good example. We know what "cynical humbug" it has been to hear Senator Blythe talking, but you could not get two better champions of it than the Senators. They do it well and get away with it.


I do not think we should have political arguments now.

That is so. I think the speech of Senator Blythe was a political speech.


The Minister is perfectly justified in replying to what was said, but not to argue it further.

The Senator said the money was wasted on futile and fantastic projects. If building more houses in two years than were built in the previous ten years is a futile and fantastic project, I make the Senator a present of it. In that period we have housed more poor people, and we have given more employment in building and in the ancillary work of providing houses. We have also done more to abolish slums. This money will go for that purpose. I do not see how anyone who is truthful could say that the provision of decent homes is futile and fantastic, and that is how the money will be applied. There is not much political kudos in this measure for anybody. I know that, as I have a good deal of experience of local authorities. While I am not as long connected with local authorities as Senator Toal, I know the influence that officials of local authorities can exercise on the public, or when elections are coming on. This measure will get no support for the present Government from the officials of local authorities. That is undeniable.

I thought some of them asked to have salary cuts made.

They asked not for cuts but that the Minister should make the cuts in preference to local authorities.

I thought they would support these proposals in preference.

It does not make it any more popular if they lose a ten pound note.

I understood the Minister to say, in reply to Senator Toal, that where local authorities had asked for a cut to be made in the salaries of their employees, in certain circumstances he granted their request.

Senator Toal did not ask any questions of that kind. I think the Bill is necessary in present circumstances and I recommend it to the House.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 9.

  • Chléirigh, Caitlín Bean Uí.
  • Comyn, K.C., Michael.
  • Connolly, Joseph.
  • Douglas, James G.
  • Keane, Sir John.
  • Keyes, Raphael P.
  • Linehan, Thomas.
  • MacEllin, Seán E.
  • McGillycuddy of the Reeks, The.
  • Moore, Colonel.
  • O'Neill, L.
  • O'Rourke, Brian.
  • Phaoraigh, Siobhán Bean an.
  • Quirke, William.
  • Robinson, Séumas.
  • Toal, Thomas.


  • Costello, Mrs.
  • Duffy, Michael.
  • Farren, Thomas.
  • Foran, Thomas.
  • Johnson, Thomas.
  • MacLoughlin, John.
  • Milroy, Seán.
  • O'Connor, Joseph.
  • O'Farrell, John T.
Tellers:—Tá: Senators S. Robinson and Quirke; Níl; Senators Farren and O'Farrell.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 18th April, 1934.