At the outset I want, as far as I possibly can to deal with the matter that has been mentioned not only here but in newspapers and various parts of the country about the confusion that is created. So far as the Department of Local Government is concerned, its responsibility for indicating the desirability of parish councils was shown in Section 69 of the Local Government Bill which was introduced in the Dáil some time ago. What was in our mind was that there was some movement at the time and some indications from the people at the time that there was a desire in certain parts of the country to set up parochial councils, and that section provided that where these councils did exist then the county council could delegate to them certain duties, with the approval of the Department. They could also assist them in the way of providing halls and so on. That was not because there was what one might call a clamant demand or insistent demand. There were only indications at that time that parochial councils were considered in some quarters desirable. The Taoiseach, I think, earlier had given indications of his views on that matter. Where confusion could arise on that particular section, I do not know. With this Bill at the time it was circulated in the Dáil for Second Reading there was circulated a memorandum, and I will deal with the portion that relates to this particular section:—
"This Part (Part VIII) enables councils of counties to assist local councils. If the inhabitants of a locality in a county are desirous of having the special interests of the locality considered and safeguarded locally they can if they wish establish a body for that purpose and ask the county council for help.
"The constitution and procedure of such a local council will be a matter for the inhabitants by whom it is set up."
I think Sir John Keane's motion indicates that he wanted to know what was the procedure and what would be its constitution. As I indicated, its constitution and procedure will be a matter for the inhabitants of the locality.
"The form of organisation will be determined largely by the conditions and needs of each area. Its activities should be concerned as much with the advancement of the economic welfare of the inhabitants as with matters directly appertaining to local government in the area.
"When such a local council is approved the county council may provide them with premises to be a social centre for the locality, and with furniture, etc. Except for these purposes and for purposes arising from a delegation of the county council's function, the county council may not finance the local council.
"Functions of the county council may, in appropriate cases, be delegated to an approved local council. Such a delegation may require the acts of the local council to be confirmed, or it may with the sanction of the Minister allow the local council to act independently."
We considered that that was giving an opportunity to county councils to delegate functions that they thought would be more suitably performed by local bodies such as parish councils.
So far as I have been able to ascertain, different views have been expressed, and, of course, will be expressed when a matter of this sort is under discussion. The probability is that the subject itself will provide for criticism and discussion of different points of view, but generally I think that section was welcomed by persons who took a keen interest in local councils. In other words, it was apparently what was desired: that if the county councils wished to help, they could. If they gave help it would be subject to what some Senator described as bureaucracy and official interference. That was the position that we found ourselves in when we appointed county and regional commissioners. While one might say: "Wait and let the parish councils develop in the ordinary way", it was felt in the emergency that steps should be taken to provide emergency councils, corresponding to parish councils, in every area throughout the country, to deal with the emergency situation, and secretaries of county councils were summoned to Dublin for instructions. The only method of procedure that I indicated to them was that they were to go into a parish, or if they were not able to go themselves, to send a responsible official into every parish to secure on the parish councils, for the purposes of the emergency, the most representative people without regard to class, creed or distinction.
There may be complaints here and there that there is confusion about these councils. That was the procedure adopted, and no complaint of any difficulty being encountered has been made by any of the secretaries. I have not seen in the newspapers or otherwise where any discordant note was struck, or where there has been any real confusion amongst members of parish councils. I know that in certain parts, where county secretaries went in and found parish councils, and made suggestions of adding to them or giving them a wider character, there was no difficulty about it; and in other places the people as a whole were quite prepared to accept the council in existence for the period of the emergency. The next step was to send out instructions as to what these parish councils were to do. I am referring now to parish councils set up for the emergency, because I feel that, while that Bill has not been approved of by the Dáil or Seanad, no further steps should be taken by statute to set up parish councils of a permanent or quasi-permanent nature.
The instructions sent out to the secretaries of county councils were as follows:—
1. Obtain information from time to time regarding the food and fuel supplies in the parish, encourage traders and heads of families to store additional supplies and take such other measures as they consider advisable to meet an emergency.
2. In case of emergency co-operate in securing the equitable distribution of such food and fuel as may be available, prevent waste and conserve supplies and, if the parish is threatened with food shortage owing to being cut off from its usual sources of supply, assist in rationing the food available and procuring food from other parishes.
3. Co-operate with the County Commissioner in making arrangements to meet an emergency and dealing with the problems that will arise in an emergency.
4. Encourage the people of the parish to study the official instructions regarding "Civilian War Duties" and make preparations now for their protection.
5. Take steps to preserve essential public services, such, for example, as the water supply.
6. Ascertain as soon as possible what accommodation would be available in the parish for the reception of persons evacuated from other districts.
7. Co-operate with the Gárdaí in staying panic among the population and preventing evacuation from the parish except on the instruction of the proper authority. If evacuation of the people in the parish is ordered, assist in it.
8. Maintain so far as possible communication with other areas in case of disruption of existing means of communication.
9. If a unit of the Red Cross does not exist in the parish, organise a unit and assist in the training of its members in first aid.
10. Help the Red Cross in carring for any sick or wounded that may be sent to the parish from other districts.
11. In a parish where the Local Security Force is not up to strength, encourage suitable people to become members.
12. Organise assistance for farmers in the neighbourhood in saving crops if such assistance is required.
13. In the event of isolation assist in the maintenance of public order and at all times co-operate with the Gárdaí and Group B of the Local Security Force in non-military and humanitarian activities.
I read these instructions for the purpose of showing Senators that whatever has been done by the Department of Local Government has been done up to the moment purely for the purpose of dealing with the emergency. There cannot and there should not be any confusion. If there is going to be loyal co-operation in a parish, I am sure individuals can sink any difference they have in a time of emergency, and co-operate. If that is not possible now, then I think there is a poor lookout for parish councils in the future. I cannot say personally that the criticism that has been made about confusion has been justified. To take the main problem that we are discussing, the advisability or otherwise of parish councils, I confess that I find no fault with them. When I read the motion I was not clear as to what powers, functions and duties it was intended to give parish councils. It was not clear to me whether it was proposed to give them some new functions, or whether it was proposed to take away functions from existing local bodies and assign them to them, or whether they intended to assume such functions as striking a rate, borrowing money or appointing officials. It has not been made clear yet. In a matter like this I am not complaining that it has not been made clear, because I think people are only trying to find out each other's views and the reactions as to how these councils would work.
It has not been made clear what exact powers it is proposed to hand over to parish councils. It is all very well to talk about the situation that existed many years ago, and about the position in England. Parish councils did exist in England as poor law authorities until the boards of guardians took over their functions. They were in decay until revived in 1894. Let us take their powers for what they are worth. They can do little except call attention to grievances. They could strike a rate up to 4d., but very often that right was not exercised. It is not correct to say that parish councils, as they existed in England, were important as administrative units. I do not want to go over a list of other countries, but take the case of Portugal. Under a decree of 1933, parish councils in Portugal deal with old age and invalidity pensions and similar matters. I am not criticising another country when I say we are years ahead of that. Senators talk about parish councils being democratic and, in the same breath, they mention France, where, side by side with the communes—the parish councils—ran the prefects—whose exercise of power is far from democratic. I mention these matters merely to show that arguments of that kind can be knocked down. Let us not think too much of France or Portugal, but let us look at our own country and see what is most suitable for it.
Senator Tierney gave the impression that, when the Local Government Bill of 1923 passed through the Dáil, the people were not alive to this matter. If there ever was a time in the history of this country when the people clearly expressed their will it was at that particular time because, during two years before that, they had actively and actually abolished the boards of guardians and placed their duties on a county authority. When the Poor Law Act of 1838 was passed, the unit taken was the townland. This unit was used to make up the electoral areas which were used for poor relief and other purposes. Then, a number of electoral areas were taken and were put into what was called a union, the meeting being usually held in the market town in the centre of a number of electoral areas. That was in the days when travel was difficult and when people used the horse and car. As time went on and as the motor car came into use, the union gave way to the county council. The powers of the unions were limited. When the county councils were some time established they gradually got—I am speaking of their later years— more power and more centralised authority. I suggest that it is not sufficient simply to point to bureaucracy and centralisation and recognise the evils in them. The county councils were composed of representatives of various parts of the county who were intimately acquainted with the needs and difficulties of the people they represented in those areas.
We come now to the stage at which we find, after the passing of the County Management Bill, that instead of a multiplicity of authorities in a county you have practically a supreme administrative body. At present, £7,000,000 is being spent by county councils on the four essential services— roads, county services, health, and public assistance. If Senators look through these services, they will find that the medical service covers the whole county. They will find that the same thing applies in the case of roads. The demand I have heard most frequently in the Dáil in recent years is that the roads should be a national charge—that the county is not big enough as a unit. When people talk about sending back various matters to the parish council, they should think about the financing of these services. I assume that Senators mean that each parish is to pay for its own needs in respect of home help. If that is so, then the poorest parish will be hardest hit and have most to pay. There was an area convenient to where Senator Counihan resides—Dunshaughlin—which, at one time, had the smallest rate in the country because, with its high valuation, its poor relief charges fell lightly on the ratepayers. The extension to the union and then to the county was an effort at fair distribution of the charge—at spreading the responsibility so as to cause the least hardship. The only way that can be done is by adopting a county-at-large basis. I do not know if the suggestion to go back to the rural areas means that we should give up steam-rolling our roads and go back to the boreens. If people want steam-rolled roads, they must have steam-rolling machinery, and I do not think that that would be a practical proposition for any parish.
What, then, would the function of a parish council be? I say that a parish council has very valuable and very useful functions to perform. As an advisory body, as a body calling the attention of the premier bodies to local conditions or local needs, it could be of great help. It could be of considerable assistance to county committees of agriculture by affording necessary co-operation. It has been a success in many parts of the country in procuring by co-operation seeds, manures and agricultural machinery, and it could do a lot more in that way. It could provide halls for informal methods of education. It could provide playing fields for young people and endeavour to build up our population on self-reliant and self-respecting lines. I am very anxious to see parish councils established, and I believe they could play a very important part in the life of the country, but we must be very careful not to proceed blindly to the passing of measures giving them certain functions in local government without knowing how the experiment will work out. The present emergency gives us an opportunity to see how these parish councils will work. I believe they will work successfully. So far as I know, there has been complete co-operation amongst the members everywhere the councils have been established during the emergency. I believe that, if we give them the opportunity, they will show in what way they will best fit into any scheme we may have in mind when implementing the provisions of the Local Government Bill of 1940. As some Senator pointed out, if statutory bodies were set up, it would take a long time to decide what functions should be assigned to them but, if you allow them to grow up voluntarily and spontaneously, you will have the benefit of the experience gained in the emergency and you will have, from discussions such as have taken place to-day, an atmosphere created in which both sides of the problem can be seen and profit derived from criticism of one or the other.
I do not think that any Senators here have indicated that they are against parish councils. It is a question purely and simply of method. Do not accept for one moment Senator Johnston's example. I knew something at one time about that particular matter of the mussel tank at Mornington. At that time the British Government, as far as I can remember, were only experimenting with a tank at a place called Conway, in Wales, and there was a good deal of money spent on it by the British Government. These mussels were not stopped by the Irish Government, but on the complaint of somebody outside the country. I do not think a parish council would be able to deal with a problem of that sort.
Senator Tierney referred to old age pensions. On all the old age pension sub-committees there is a representative of the various parishes; so far as I know, there is a parish priest or someone like that on them. After all, five out of every seven persons who are over 70 years of age are getting the pension. I do not know why the Department of Local Government is being criticised so much. There were suggestions of bureaucracy and that it is this makes them send out an inspector to inquire into means. That is the only way they have of inquiring into means. Surely, Senator Tierney does not suggest that pensions should be given without any investigation? Again, appeals are not altogether as plentiful as Senator Tierney thinks. They are comparatively rare, I understand, and when pensions are appealed against we must assume the local officer has some information that the claim is not the valid one that it is represented to the committee to be.
I do not propose to go into this matter any further at the present time. I had not intended to use the Bill in any way except that the emergency had arisen. The Bill has not been passed by the two Houses of the Oireachtas, and it was not intended that that section would be implemented or that any people should be encouraged to implement it in any way until it became an Act. The emergency forced that position aside, and we set up these emergency councils in the country, and it gave us a hope that out of the emergency councils many useful parish councils would eventuate.
So far as the conditions at the present time are concerned, I am not prepared to recommend this motion to the Government. I think it is a matter that would require considerable examination, and I would much prefer, and I think people with any experience would much prefer, to see councils springing up spontaneously. It may be said, as was said by Senator O'Dwyer, that you will not get councils who have not got money—that you will not get them to operate. I have heard Senator Johnston a few times in this House criticising high expenditure, and I was amused to hear him very cavalierly telling us how £400,000 was to be exacted by putting 1/- in the £ on the parishes. I may tell the Senator that if that was attempted, there would not be much welcome for the parish councils throughout the country, because from many parts of the country there are complaints about rates being too high.