Prior to 1939 members of local authorities had a very close relationship with the electors they represented. One of the principal objects of this Bill is to restore the position in that each representative of a local authority may have a responsibility for checking and improving the administration of the local services over the area of which he has the most full and intimate knowledge. It has been said that what is everybody's business becomes nobody's business and that principle has had a very great application to local affairs. The Bill is designed to impose upon members of local councils a personal obligation on each individual. This personal responsibility ended when multi-member areas were formed to conform with proportional representation principles to the maximum degree. Proportional representation, as Senators are aware, is a theory of democratic government which may have various phases. It may result in the election of a great number of small minority Parties in any particular assembly or it may result in the representation by one person in a local area who himself is a person believed to be best liked by the majority of the community.
Two consequences have flown from the changes taking place consequent upon the decision of the authorities at a later stage to make local authority elections conform with Parliamentary elections. There is no one individual to whom a ratepayer can go with his grievance or say to himself: "This man is the representative of my district and is responsible for bringing my grievances to the local authority, and is responsible for speaking at meetings of the county council and giving his views as to the lack of efficiency in regard to the administration of any particular feature of local government. This man is responsible for seeing that different features of administration are properly looked after and administered." This applies to questions like dispensaries, their repairs, conditions of roads, sanitary or public health services, pumps, refuse, and so on. The area for which a local authority member now acts is far too large. It amounts in some cases to the whole pre-1921 Parliamentary constituencies. These local representatives are not paid. They have to perform their services free. They are given travelling and subsistence allowances, but that is all. They have their own business to attend to and it is felt that it would be most desirable to increase their personal interest in the administration of the area which they represent by reducing that area. Proportional representation was extended to the local authorities to the maximum degree to enable what might be described as the embittered minority in the State to have some representation during the early stages of the foundation of the State; so that these people who did not accept the new status of the country would be represented on local authorities. These people, I am very glad to say, have largely merged with the remainder of the population and there is no reason to maintain the present system on these grounds alone. No man in the State, no matter what his creed or class, is debarred from public life if his talents and eagerness are in that direction.
The combination of proportional representation in Parliament and single-member constituencies in the local authorities should in our opinion be effected and should, above all, restore the individual personal responsibility of the representatives of the local authorities. The managerial system confers executive powers on one man, very large executive powers and we think that is a good experiment. We think it may perhaps be necessary to amend the County Management Act in the light of experience. But, obviously, if representatives are to be alert and vigorous, if they are to make use of their powers to check the manager's activities, his efficiency and his fairness, they should be able to do this continuously over a particular area.
I would like to remind the House of the difference there is between the Parliament of the country and the local authorities. For the purpose of the argument, I would remind them that Dáil Eireann is the sovereign Assembly of the country. It has power to make laws within the Constitution, it has power to direct the activities of local authorities and to give them additional functions, to enforce their undertaking new responsibities and Parliament may direct a contribution to them in aid of local services. The local authorities, on the contrary, are delegated bodies subordinate to Parliament. It is their duty to administer the law and not to make it. They have no responsibility for legislation. Even the by-laws which they enact must be intra-vires, that is within the law as framed by Parliament.
Senators will be aware that the granting of subventions from central funds to local authorities necessitates, and always will, a suitable degree of Ministerial inspection and supervision. Local authorities have sometimes willingly, and at other times unwillingly, accepted the dictate of the Minister of the day, fortified by an Act of Parliament, to ensure that there shall be a universal minimum standard of service in respect of each aspect of administration over which they have control. Equally, local authorities have been obliged for many years to ensure stability for their finances by the supervision of the Minister, again fortified by an Act of Parliament.
We, therefore, think that it is necessary for each representative to be fully responsible for the area which he represents. We wish to avoid the confusion and the overlapping of responsibilities which, we think, is now occurring. Our experience has been that, in the large electoral areas, some of which are from 50 to 60 miles long and from ten to 12 miles wide, the representation, instead of being widely distributed, tends to be concentrated in the more densely populated areas. We consider that the rural areas are under-represented on the county councils, and that the concentration of representatives from urban areas is highly inequitable. The main revenues of each county council come from the rural areas. The contribution of individual boroughs or of urban district councils within the county councils is not so considerable. The areas representing the main spending sources are, on the whole, under-represented. We made some calculations and found that one-fifth of the persons elected on county councils reside in urban districts, while on the valuation of the urban districts as compared to the valuation of the whole country, the contribution of the urban districts to county charges was less than one-tenth of the total. I think the House will agree that there is something inequitable in this state of affairs. We consider that it is an anomaly that must be corrected. If the electorate use their preferences intelligently in the single-member areas now proposed, the results should be satisfactory, and the most popular man and the best man should be elected.
We have had demands from all sides for the encouragement of parish councils. Under the 1941 Act, the parish councils were given some status. The new electoral areas will be approximately the size of a parish, and so the effect should be that the electors in those areas will take a greater and a more lively interest in local administration. It seems to me to be completely logical that if, on the one hand, one enlarges the functional area of a local authority administration, if one enormously increases the number of specialist functions undertaken by a local authority, we should at the same time, ensure that each representative on the local authority will have a small area to represent, and, will, therefore, be more easily able to examine the functioning and the administration in regard to all these multifarious services. I think I am right in saying that no less than 33 new functions have been added to local authority administration since 1933. In contrast, in the case of the Dáil men of wide experience are required. While these men represent particular areas such as the Galway Gaeltacht, they will be acquainted with widely different parts of the country, in order that they may pass judgment on legislation in regard to a great number of different subjects.
I have given the House some outline of the purpose of the Bill. I shall now give a description of the various sections. Section 2 contains the two main provisions of the Bill. The first is that there will be single-member electoral areas in the counties, and secondly, that the urban areas will be separately represented on the county council on the basis of the county charges on the area. The single member area will be very small in comparison with the huge areas which now return councillors. For example, Donegal and Galway are each divided into five areas. Effective representation is, we claim, not possible under such conditions.
As regards the urban areas, taking the 1945 elections in the counties which included borough and urban areas and in which the elections were contested, of the 540 candidates elected, 184 came from the urban areas. That is about one-third, but the valuation of those counties was some £7,857,000, and of the urban areas £708,000—about one-eleventh of the total counties valuation.
I have given now a measure of the distortion in the representation. No remedy that proportional representation can supply will cure this state of affairs. The solution is to be found in this particular section. In the case of the rural part it is not intended that population will be the basis for apportioning the representation. That is all right for large areas. The local government electorate will be taken, as it is the ordinarily resident population, and a more true measure, but regard will also be had to the sparsity of population and the general character of the areas. A rigid rule can produce anomalies. Take the County Mayo as an example. You have areas there where the population is sparse indeed, and other areas where you have a congested population. It would be desirable, therefore, to give a little bit more weight in representation to the sparsely populated areas, so that a county councillor, on the basis of this Bill, will be able to understand the administration in his area and give the best possible service to the people who elected him. The urban areas will be divided into three-member areas. There the total area is smaller and the population more congested, but there also the representative character of the council must be preserved over the whole area.
The principles to be followed in framing the Orders dividing a county into local electoral areas are set out in sub-section (3) of Section 2. Briefly, they provide that in the case of purely rural areas, due regard is to be had to the number of local government electors registered, the rateable valuation, the density of population and the general character of such areas. So far as county electoral areas which are constituted within boroughs or urban districts are concerned, paragraph (ii) of the sub-section provides that where the average amount of the county charges charged upon the urban area in respect of the three years which preceded the year in which the Order is made, justifies it, the urban area shall be constituted as one, or, if the financial position justifies it, more than one electoral area. That is a fairly simple proposition applied to some of the very large towns.
As things are, this will only apply to a certain number of boroughs and urban districts. If, however, the average amount charged upon an urban district would not justify the creation of a special urban electoral area or areas, but is at least half the amount which would justify it, the urban area may be divided into two or more parts, and each part shall be amalgamated with a contiguous non-urban area to form an electoral area, the county charges upon which would have approximated to the average of the county charges upon the purely rural electoral areas. This will apply to many of the urban districts and will afford a larger representation to these areas than could be given by the application of the first rule.
In other words, in an urban area, if the proportion of the county charges is not large enough for it to elect one representative by itself, it will be divided into two and each of the areas will include a rural area, and the representative from that area will have to have both a rural and an urban bias in his attitude towards the local authority's expenditure. It provides an intermediate compromise between the position of the very large towns that will have their own representatives and the towns of medium size where this difficulty of apportioning the number of representatives in proportion to the county charges arises.
Where the average of the amounts charged on an urban district is less than half the average charges in the same period upon the average rural electoral area the urban district will not be divided, but will be merged with the surrounding rural area to constitute an electoral district, the average county charge upon which would have approximated to that upon the rural electoral area. That applies to the very small towns. They will have no separate representation. They will appear as part of a rural electoral area and in some cases the representative will have to have an overwhelmingly urban bias as compared with a rural bias in dealing with local affairs.
I have given a very detailed description of one of the most important sections of the Bill and I now proceed to the others. It has been the universally-demanded practice to postpone the local elections when they are due to take place in the year of a general election. The Minister proposes to conform with this precedent and Section 4 provides that the next local elections will be held in 1950. The last elections were held in 1945, a five-years period, and subsequent elections will be held on every fifth year thereafter. That suggestion, I think, was generally agreed to in Dáil Éireann. It may happen that, at some future time, there may be good reasons why these elections should be held in the fourth or sixth year on a particular occasion. It is therefore proposed to give the Minister for Local Government some discretion in either bringing forward or postponing the date of the local elections; but if the Minister desires to do this, he must make an Order to that effect at least nine months previous to the elections and obtain the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas for it, so that members will see that the Minister is very definitely obliged to take account of the views of the Oireachtas in making that decision. In order the more effectively to avoid having to hold the local elections within a too brief period following a general election, it is provided in Section 4 (4) that if Dáil Éireann is dissolved within nine months before the local elections are due to be held, the Minister may postpone the elections for one year.
Section 5 defines the qualification for membership of a local authority. In the case of a county council, a candidate must be a local government elector for the particular local electoral area for which he is nominated. In the case of any other local authority, he must be a local government elector for the functional area of the local authority. Section 6 indicates the method of election and gives the voters a transferable vote. With such a vote, the elector can indicate the order of his choice for the candidates and his vote can be transferred to a subsequent preference in the usual way, if it is not required for the first choice who may have been elected or eliminated. Section 7 declares that a candidate who is accredited with a number of votes equal to, or greater than, the quota is elected. The quota is defined in Section 1. It is ascertained by dividing the total valid votes by the number of vacancies, plus one, and adding one. The quota is the lowest number that may elect a candidate. Senators are already aware of these provisions.
Under the law as it is now, two irresponsible electors can nominate an irresponsible candidate at no cost to themselves and the returning officer has no recourse but to accept their nomination. We consider that it is quite wrong that the ratepayers should be involved in such expense and we propose, therefore, in future that candidates for election shall deposit the sum of £10 with the returning officer. This deposit is returnable to him, unless the candidate fails to get one-fifth of the quota, in which case it is forfeitable and remains with the local authority. I do not think that members will consider this to be an onerous condition. In a single member area, where there are 500 votes cast, if a candidate cannot get 51 votes, he could scarcely be regarded as a person likely to succeed or as a candidate of a serious kind. It is generally clear that candidates at local elections, with extremely few exceptions, get votes sufficient to justify their candidature, so that this provision will not operate as a bar or deterrent to any bona fide candidate.
Section 9 consolidates the existing law in regard to filling casual vacancies and I should say in this connection that this Bill effects a good deal of consolidation. Section 10 is consequential on Section 2. An amendment was passed on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann, providing for the election of aldermen which was found satisfactory to members of the Dáil who felt that aldermen with long experience who happened to be independent would not be elected under Party influence by the borough concerned. In the Bill, as amended, persons receiving the highest votes in each area will be automatically elected aldermen.
Section 11 merely provides that existing members will continue in office for their current term.
Section 12 requires some study. I have already mentioned that Section 4 of the Bill provides that no elections for local authorities will be held in 1948 or 1949. Section 12 makes an exception to this. It is desirable that where the members of a local authority have been removed from office at the passing of the Act—in fact, the section applies at the moment to Counties Dublin and Kerry—these councils should be reconstituted as soon as possible. The commissioners are engaged in overhauling the administration, improving it in every way, and the Minister hopes that the election will be held, in Kerry in any event, next year or, if not, in 1949. In Dublin, a different problem arises. Reorganisation is more far-reaching. It involves the complete reorganisation on a new basis and under a new authority of the health services and also the social welfare services, and also involves readjustment of the relationship between the county and the county borough in respect of the ordinary county services. The Minister, however, is hopeful that all this will be done in time to permit the new local authority to be reconstituted in 1949.
Members will realise that if an election is held in 1948 or 1949 there would be no point in holding another one in 1950. On the other hand, to wait until 1955 would be undesirable. It might give a period of office of six or seven years to an entirely new body. So, it is felt desirable to give the Minister power to direct that another election shall be held for either or both of these county councils in any of the years between 1950 and 1955 and thereafter there will be an election in 1955. The Minister has discretion in this matter.
Sections 13, 14, 15 and 18 make adaptations in the Vocational Education Acts, the Agriculture Act, the Public Assistance Act, and the Harbours Act which are consequential on the alteration of the triennial sequence of local elections. Bodies which have to be elected arising from these Acts will now be elected every five instead of every three years, and there is also the question of the creation of single-member areas for electing county councillors.
Section 16 is another more complicated section and amends the Local Government Act, 1941, to bring that Act into conformity with this Bill and extends by not more than six months the time within which an election must be held to a local authority, the members of which have been removed from office. We have had a case in County Dublin and in County Kerry but, in future, if members should be removed from office—I hope this will not be necessary—we have to make provision for new elections. The rule will be that a new election must be held after three years but if the following year is a year in which elections under this Bill are to be held, the new election may be held in that year also.
In other words, in the ordinary way, in the case of authorities that have been removed and replaced by commissioners, an election must take place within three years but, if there happens to be a local government election before then, the election can take place in that year. This will enable the regular sequence of local elections to be preserved. The same observations apply to the elections for the Boards of Assistance of Balrothery, Rathdown and Dublin, to be held in the year 1948. In that year, but for this Bill, there would have been an election to Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation and the boards would have been elected at the first meeting after the election.
Section 17 provides that these elections will be held in the year in which an election of members to Dublin County Council is held under Section 12 or Section 4. If the year is not 1950 it will be necessary for the Dublin Corporation to elect their members on the joint board at a meeting within one month of the day of election of the county councils and the members will come into office on the day on which the election is completed.
Section 19 makes a general adaptation of the term "triennial election", which is necessary by reason of the provisions of this Bill and any particular adaptation or modification may be made by Order. In order words, where the holding of local elections every three years affects legislation of any kind, the period is now five years and there will have to be adaptation. This is a consequential provision to provide the adaptation necessary under the circumstances.
There have also been two small amendments in the Dáil making clear the position of urban councils within an area where a local authority has been removed from office—in other words, the urban councils of County Kerry and Dun Laoghaire. It is provided that whether or not the elections of the bodies took place within this five year period or as indicated in the section dealing with them, the election for these urban bodies will take place regularly and in sequence with all the other local elections for the country.
I trust the members of the House fully understand the implications of the Bill. There was a certain amount of criticism in the Dáil in regard to various features of it but, as far as I can see, there were very few members of the House who commented on the principal purpose of the Bill, an interesting change, namely, that of giving an opportunity for one man to represent an area. We do not feel that it is necessary to apply the principle of proportional representation at its maximum to the election of local authorities because they are delegated bodies, because, while they have considerable initiative to see that money is spent wisely and well to improve their services, they are largely administrative bodies carrying out the law, and we feel, for that reason, that it is most essential to restore the personal contact between each representative and his area.
I recall, myself, for a period of time when I was representing County Roscommon there was an area there where, because of the distances between the residence of the county councillor and those who elected him, I found myself unconsciously doing a great deal of local authority work which I should not do, and I know that under the present system in widely separated areas, a number of members of the Dáil find the same thing. They find themselves receiving representations at a place 50 miles from where the county councillor lives. They either deal with the matter direct or simply send the person concerned to the county manager or write a letter to the county secretary, saying: "Will you attend to this?" It is most undesirable and proof of the need for a change in the law and I recommend this change to the House with every enthusiasm.