As I was coming up the stairs to-day, I met Senator O'Dea, who said: "It is local government to-day," and I replied: "Yes, about a Bill that is no longer local and no longer government." That is a fair definition of local government as we understand it now. Before entering on the discussion on this Bill, I would like to say that the Second Reading of a Bill surely should be devoted to matters of principle; but Ministers have adopted a new scheme now for Second Reading introductions. Instead of telling us something about the principles on which the Bill is based, they read us a rather dry and detailed Civil Service essay upon all the sections, explaining them in detail. In other words, they do the business which properly falls to be done in Committee.
The Minister described this Bill as a Bill to consolidate the law and clarify it. It does much more than that: it is a Bill to consolidate the law, clarify the law and, further, to centralise completely the administration of local government. In dealing with the Bill, he did not give us any idea at all as to what the problems of local government are. He did attempt a definition of the functions of a local body, which I think I will be able to prove was entirely faulty. Surely the problem of local government is how to associate local people in a responsible way with the government of their own areas and how to ensure that there will be in local government a certain degree of diversity suitable to different areas, while at the same time a general law will be observed.
As a matter of fact, the Bill is not only a codification and clarification of the local government law, but it emphasises the meticulous care which has been taken to see that every single function is centralised. The Bill reminds me of the Irish phrase for what a successful warrior did to his defeated opponent: "Chuir sé ceangal na gcúig gcaol air"—he bound him by his wrists, by his ankles and by his neck and left him there— and as a sign of further disgrace sometimes he cut his hair. The Minister has done all that to local government and this is the final binding up so that it cannot move hand or foot.
The managerial system was first applied to the cities and when it was being applied to Dublin City I can remember Deputy Seán MacEntee in a state of frantic excitement about this infringement of the democratic rights of the citizens of Dublin. Apparently, he sees things from a different angle now. The managerial system undoubtedly has some merits, but it should be stated as a matter of principle that it is no substitution for representative government and that, if it is put to its extreme limits, it will destroy any kind of local representation at all. The managerial system has come all over the world, as a matter of practice in government, but the system we have applied and administered—and one must take this Bill in connection with the type of administration which the Minister has been giving—is not a managerial system at all.
The manager has very little power, no more than the council with which he is connected. The council has less and less power every day, and this Bill takes from it the last shred of power, about which the Minister used to boast in circulars to members of the Oireachtas, "the power of striking a rate was the all-important function of the local body." I think I have seen that in many of the circulars sent out by the Minister. In Section 30, that power is taken by the Minister, in certain circumstances. If the manager had a certain degree of independence and power, that might be desirable, but it is really the truth now that the manager has become the servant of the Local Government Department and is really a victim between a powerless council, on the one hand, and an overbearing, threatening and somewhat capricious Department on the other hand. Therefore, the system does not work at all from that point of view. It struck me that the Minister is rather misguided in his view of what a local body is. In the debate on the 6th June, when making his Second Reading speech here on this Bill, the Minister said, as reported in column 2082 of the Official Debates:—
"The business of local authorities is a subsidiary business. It is a delegated business—delegated by the central authority, under statute, with a view to carrying on the local services. Not one of those local authorities functions in its own right. They function under the Acts of the Oireachtas. They function as subordinate, administrative bodies in the State and their duty, and their sole reason for existence"—
Mark you, their sole reason for existence—
"is that they carry on those services which the State and the community consider necessary for the common welfare of the people."
Surely, that is a misstatement of what the facts are. Surely, local bodies do not exist solely for carrying out what has been decided to be for the common welfare of the people. Surely, the notion of local bodies is that there will be diversity, that the local people know what is best in the interests of their own locality and their own immediate fellow-citizens, and that, working under the law made by the national Parliament, they will administer each area not necessarily in the same way. The sole reason for their existence is not that which the Minister has said, but what I have said just now. The local bodies must get some chance of having functions of their own.
The Minister, in this Bill and by his general attitude, indicates that they are going to be controlled in every particular thing in every way. The manager is not independent. He is controlled by the servants of the Minister, by a civil servant in the Custom House who perhaps has never been in a county home. He may perhaps motor by it, but he is more important even than the country manager when it comes to the giving of a particular type of opinion.
All that seems to me to be carrying this whole system a great deal too far. When you have centralised government control you must remember also that the Minister's policy as a Party politician is that his Party should control local bodies. On the one hand, you have the introduction of politics by the Fianna Fáil Party into local bodies with the insistence that they shall consist, if at all possible, of people who support the Minister's political views, and as well as that you have administrative and statutory control from the Minister's Department. Surely, what we need is that people should be elected to local bodies on a non-political basis, and that they should get as much freedom as may be consistent with reasonable administration for the exercise of their local functions. It is a very undesirable thing that Kerry should be made as much as possible like Donegal, or that Galway should be made as much as possible like Westmeath. Surely, one of our strengths in this country, is that there has always been diversity between different parts of it. I think one would be justified in saying that the centralisation principle, done in this very detailed, meticulous and certain way, runs contrary to every single bit of our national tradition which always tended towards local control.
Now, it strikes me that the relations of the Department of Local Government with local bodies, in some directions, are rather like the relations of the Department of Finance to ordinary Government Departments except this: that the local bodies are in a much weaker position than the ordinary Departments. The Department of Local Government is able to say exactly how many of a staff it is going to have; it can say whether a particular post should exist, and whether a particular person should be dismissed. It will be able to go further under this Bill and say that certain things should be done.
As a matter of fact, the Department of Finance attitude towards Government Departments is generally a negative one—generally an objection to certain things being done. But it must be remembered that the ordinary Government Department has a Civil Service head and a Ministerial head who can put up, at any rate, some kind of a fight against the Department of Finance. But it appears to me that, once this Bill is passed, there will be nobody at all to stand between the local body and the Department of Local Government. The manager, most emphatically, should be an independent person, but taking the Minister's speech and his general attitude to the provisions of a Bill like this it is clear that the manager has no power at all. He simply becomes the servant of the Department of Local Government who can be threatened, and who frequently has been threatened. That is one of the Minister's special lines, threatening managers and people generally. There is no one, therefore, between the manager and his bosses in the Custom House. Not only has he one boss there; he has quite a variety of bosses over him. It seems to me that, if we cannot get responsible local bodies to whom we can entrust some functions, we cannot work this system of democracy at all. In the end we may find that we cannot get either a Dáil or Seanad. If it is not possible to get people to take action locally for themselves, then the whole system is going to go by the board, and for that reason I think that some effort should be made to leave these local bodies somewhat more power,
We have to take this Bill, too, with the Ministerial attitude. The Ministerial attitude is one which exaggerates—I was going to say aggravates— Ministerial dignity. I have never read of anybody anywhere who has a more exaggerated idea of a Minister than the present Minister for Local Government who in the past, for a number of years, dragged Ministers in the mud, but as soon as the dignity fell upon himself he delivered himself of the most extraordinary statements as to what is due to a Minister. He tolerates no independence, even of thought, on the part of people whom he appoints. Take the unified National Health Society. He dismissed a Bishop from the chairmanship of that society and appointed a civil servant.
Civil servants, of course, have their uses as well as their abuses, and within their own sphere, and in their own line of competency are very good, but surely it is quite clear that a servant of the Minister's Department cannot exercise any function independent of the Minister. It is contrary to the whole scheme of the Civil Service. The civil servant must, in fact, do as he is told, and Ministerial pronouncements on that matter, as well as on most other matters, are full of the first personal pronoun "I expect people whom I appoint to do what I tell them." It seems to me that the whole tendency is wrong and I would like to object to it.
There are a few special points with which I should like to deal. One is a question which was dealt with in the Dáil yesterday on the Estimate for the Minister's Department. The Minister himself made some remarks about it last night. I refer to the way in which the Local Appointments Commission works from certain angles. I agree with the system. It was one of the old Sinn Féin ideas that we should be able to set up here a local government service where merit would be the factor in getting people appointments. The old Dublin Corporation, which was so very much abused, was one of the very first bodies to introduce competitive examinations for the appointment of its clerks. That was done more than 40 years ago. I remember that during the Truce, and before the Treaty, I was asked by Mr. Cosgrave, who was then Minister for Local Government to meet Mr. J.J. Murphy who became Town Clerk of Dublin later, to discuss this kind of a scheme. The Local Appointments Commission now seems to work in a strange way. A Deputy in the Dáil said yesterday that in the County Westmeath, I think, they have a new county manager every couple of years. I think that the Minister said that he himself was rather worried about that state of affairs. I could quote another case which is rather similar, the case of a particular town where a town clerk is appointed, I should say regularly appointed, every couple of years. He remains for a few years. He is trained by a man who cannot get the appointment himself because he is not deemed to be qualified and then, as I say, after a couple of years the town clerk moves to a bigger town and a higher salary.
That is an extraordinary state of affairs from the point of view of that town which is used as a stepping-stone for that sort of procedure. At the same time, the particular officer in the town that I have mentioned cannot get the appointment or cannot be moved to a higher salary scale but his services are availed of to initiate a stranger into the mysteries of local government in this particular town and its affairs. His own salary cannot be raised; he cannot get the job and the town cannot get a town clerk who will settle down in the town, be one of the people and understand what one would call the local people, and the local circumstances. That is one thing which I think the Minister might discuss as a general matter. It was raised yesterday and it was rather important on this Bill.