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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 28 Mar 1935

Vol. 19 No. 20

Local Government (Extension of Franchise) Bill, 1935—Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

It is rather surprising that the Government is still insisting on going on with this Bill. It seems to have been introduced and passed in the Dáil for a special occasion, with a view to fighting a certain set of local elections on a particular basis. Those elections are now passed, and it will be a couple of years before county councils have again to be elected. There is every appearance that before the county council elections come around again, a more serious and, perhaps, more drastic change in the whole system of local government is going to take place. I do not see any possibility of avoiding an increased Exchequer contribution to the finances of local authorities, whatever form that increased contribution may take, and if that occurs I presume it is going to involve certain changes in regard to the administration and working of local bodies. It would seem to me to be more reasonable, and would involve the avoidance of something like the unnecessary use of legislative machinery, if this matter had been left over until the whole local government system comes under review. Even the Government will hardly deny that it must come under review. Apart from that, I think this Bill is bad in principle. It is assimilating the local government franchise to the Parliamentary franchise and, in fact, there is no sound argument for that. The powers of the Parliament are all-embracing and deal with every aspect of national life. They affect the rights and position of every individual, and it is necessary and proper that every individual should have a share in voting in the elections of Members of Parliament. The position is different so far as local government is concerned. The powers of local bodies are limited and the field of taxation is strictly circumscribed. They raise revenue practically entirely by rates which fall on a limited class of citizens. That is the sort of taxation that perhaps cannot be passed on, whereas the national taxation falls on every citizen. The argument that the sort of household franchise which has existed up to the present for local government is not merely that it is a ratepayers' franchise, but that it is desirable local elections should be carried out as far as possible on the basis of local necessities and the desire to have local business done in a particular way. It is undesirable that it should be possible to say that local elections are an exact test of political strength. On the present franchise, just as on the extended franchise, they are a pretty close test of political strength. I do not think any particular Party is going to gain or to loose much by making everyone a Parliamentary voter. As long as it is a restricted franchise, or that you cannot have an exact political test, you have the opportunity, at any rate, of having local interests and the efficiency of local administration made a fair part in the fight for election. If you extend the Parliamentary franchise to these elections the political elements are going to outweigh everything else and the elections will be really Parliamentary by-elections and that is not at all desirable. The local representatives will be elected as political nominees. That is going to injure the efficiency of local government. I believe this Bill is never going to be effective as it stands because other changes have to take place and I would not spend a great deal of time opposing it except I believe that it is bad. It seems to me that it is a very undesirable procedure and that in the circumstances the Government should not proceed in putting it into law.

It seems to me rather strange to hear the leader of the alleged youth of the country protesting against extending the local franchise, but to me it would appear that Senator Blythe has lost confidence in the youth of the country from the point of view of elections. He says that the local elections are not in reality any indication of political strength but he must have changed his opinions about the indications that could be had from such elections as a result of the last local elections. Before those elections we were told what great indications the feeling of the people in the local election would be because at that time it was anticipated as a foregone conclusion that the following of the Opposition in the country would show a difference from the Parliamentary elections. We all know what happened and I think it is pretty late in the day for Senator Blythe or anyone in the Opposition to come out and tell us that the result of the last election was not an indication of the feeling of the people of the country. He says it is all right for these young people to have a vote in the Parliamentary elections but the irresponsible rabble as they used to be called should not have a vote in the local elections. How is it all right for people to vote for the election of the House which has the administration of the Central Fund and not to have a vote for the parish pump? Sixty per cent of the funds which will be administered by the local bodies come out of the Central Fund. It is an extraordinary thing that a man like Senator Blythe who used to be regarded as responsible can come along here and make a statement of that kind—that men who have a vote for electing for the people to spend out of the Central Fund must not have a vote in the local elections. He says that a change will have to be made before another election will come around. I think the majority of the people in the country feel that this extension of the franchise is a very desirable change. This Bill when it comes into law will be welcomed by the people of the country. There was considerable jubilation when the Bill was originally introduced.

A Senator


Amongst the irresponsible rabble, as the Opposition used to describe them. It will be welcome, too, when it is passed over the heads of the Senators who now try to hold it up and who now have to pass it in spite of themselves. I believe that it is time for a change in the attitude about the stake in the country and that the people who will get a vote under this Bill are as much entitled to it as anybody else. The men who subscribe to the Central Fund include the man who takes a pint of porter, the man who smokes an ounce of tobacco, and the old woman who takes a cup of tea. It is they who subscribe to the Fund from which most of the money goes to local authorities. It is time now to stop referring to people as having no stake in the country. The time has come for a change in the attitude of mind which measures the stake in the country by acres or pounds. All the young men of the country who gave their best services to it, and who always give their services, have a stake in the country and they have a right to vote in this election of the parish pump or the erection of a bridge.

Mr. Healy

I agree with Senator Quirke. I have only a couple of words to say. Senator Blythe was wrong when he said there would be no elections for two years. The elections are due in Dublin in 15 months' time, next June twelve months. Surely the local elections are not more important than the general elections? This Government is elected on the extended franchise, and why should it not apply to the local elections? There is the question about who pays the rates; indirectly some of the rates are paid by people living in slums; they pay it in the form of rent to the landlord. As one of the representatives of Dublin City I welcome this Bill.

Senator Quirke has missed the point in Senator Blythe's speech. He said that this measure would turn the local bodies into political parties. He said that the same justification for Fianna Fáil proceeding with this measure does not now exist and I agree that the Government should not now proceed with the measure. Senator Blythe's remarks had no connection with his leadership of the League of Youth. I come from the country and I say that the Government had no mandate to introduce this Bill. Secondly, there was no necessity for it. There was no demand for it and certainly there was no jubilation when it was introduced.

Did not General O'Duffy want it?

We need not introduce General O'Duffy at all. Of course it was political to introduce this measure. There was no demand for it in the country, and now that you have got it I do not know what the country is going to do with it. As regards the appeal to bring young men to the local elections, I would say that they should stay out of politics and they should be encouraged to serve the country by work instead of speeches. They should get down to the fundamental things and reconstruct the country. That is what is needed, not politics. Local administration is likely to get better results from those who have administered it in the past.

I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything, because any points that I might make in reply to Senator Blythe have been made very effectively by Senator Quirke. As regards Senator O'Hanlon, I know him since he was much younger than he is now and I think that the advice that he has extended to this House and the country he might very well have extended to himself. Perhaps it is as a result of his own experiences of life that he thinks now that he might have done better service to the country if he had acted up to his advice. Senator Blythe and I differ altogether on this question of the franchise. It is, I claim, a question of principle. Senator Blythe does not think so, and I do, and whether the local elections take place next year or in five years does not matter; the principle to me remains the same, and I think that the Government was right in bringing in this measure. If I had had my way it would have been brought in earlier. It was a question of time. Local government may be reorganised. Senator Blythe thinks that it is quite on the cards that a larger part of the cost of local government will be brought on to the National Exchequer in the near future. That may or not be so. As Senator Quirke has pointed out, more than 60 per cent. of the expenditure on county government is being borne by the Exchequer at present. Whether that proportion will be increased or not remains to be seen. Whether or not it is increased does not affect the position of those who believe that it is a matter of principle to give to those who are contributory parties to the rates, as well as to the taxes, an opportunity of expressing their views in local elections as well as in national affairs. It is hardly a year ago—some Senator referred to this—when the repudiated leader of Senator Blythe and, I think, of Senator O'Hanlon——

I am glad the Senator showed that much commonsense. I am surprised that Senator Blythe did not follow his example. He ought to have known better from his knowledge of the same so-called General. There was no repudiation of General O'Duffy when he said more than once on public platforms, as the accredited leader of Senator Blythe's Party, that he wanted every youth in the country to have the right to vote in local elections.

He himself repudiated that next day.

The majority in the Seanad were then followers of, or believed in, General O'Duffy and, as a result of that demand made upon the Government of the day, we brought in a Bill to give the youth of the country the right to vote in local elections. General O'Duffy's own Party kicked out the Bill here—so much did they think of their leader even before he split the camp. We thought we would give his own followers an opportunity of showing what they thought of him, and they showed it very effectively. When we were discussing this Bill before, there was much talk on one side about politics being kept out of local authorities. Local bodies, it was said, should be run without reference to politics. I should like to see the ordinary affairs of local business authorities run in a businesslike way without reference to politics. That would be the ideal which every one of us would like to see attained.

National politics, not local politics.

Politics is a word that would, perhaps, require definition in this connection. We need not go into that. It would probably be better if broad national issues were left out of local affairs. In practice, however, we find that they are not left out. The last time I was interested in local politics, as a candidate for Dublin Corporation, there was a very strong agitation by Senator Blythe's Party that politics should be left out of the municipal affairs of the city. In many of the speeches I made, I said: "That is all very well, but will they be left out? We know very well that they will not. Probably the first people who will bring them in at a suitable opportunity will be the Party who say they should be left out." Of course, that happened. I do not say that I myself have not often brought politics into local bodies. When I found it necessary, I did so and, if I were there again, I might do the same.

An open confession.

There is nothing like it. If I myself did not say these things, some of my friends would remember them and say them for me. Even if Senator Blythe is right and the power sought to be given to the youth of the country is not used to any great extent, I do not see that any harm can be done. It may be that when the reorganisation of local government —which has been talked about a great deal—comes, the powers of local authorities, if the National Exchequer is to bear a greater part of the cost of local administration, will be further curtailed. Even then, it would be no harm, from any point of view, to have the voice of the youth of the country heard in the local authorities. As I said here and in the Dáil before, I have found straight dealing and honesty much more in the ascendant amongst the younger people on local authorities than amongst others.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the Fifth Stage now.
Question—"That the Bill do now pass"—put and agreed to.