This is a small Bill. Its purpose is to enable salaries paid to coroners to be increased and to give authority to local authorities to increase coroners' salaries. It is also for the purpose of enabling the transfer to the Minister for Justice of the powers at present exercised by the Minister for Local Government in regard to the amalgamation of districts. That is all that is in the Bill. I think coroners are about the only class of public officials who have not had increases. That is all I have to say on the matter.
Coroners (Amendment) Bill, 1947—Second and Subsequent Stages.
This section provides essentially for the amalgamation of districts and the function of amalgamating districts is entirely one belonging to the Minister. I take it that the local authority does not come into this at all. The Minister is taking power here to amalgamate districts for the purpose of enlarging them; it is not merely for the purpose of redistributing the area to make the coroner's work more convenient. I think it is important that the House should be told what exactly is the Minister's intention. Originally in County Galway there were three coroners. Is it the intention that there should be only one coroner in the future? Cork City and County had three coroners at one time—I think they still have three. Is it the intention that there should be only one coroner in Cork in future? Under previous Acts some amalgamation has already taken place. The two districts into which Dublin County was divided were amalgamated and we now have one coroner for the entire county. I am informed that such amalgamation can easily lead to abuse. I understand the salary of a coroner is not a very excessive one and, if we are going to save merely a few hundred pounds under this Bill, that can hardly justify inadequate performance of the work. I do not know whether the proposal is wise or unwise. Would the Minister tell us what is the intention under Section 3 of the Bill?
There is really no change there, except the transfer of authority from the Minister for Local Government to the Minister for Justice. Now, the council or the Minister may require to amalgamate an area. Generally the reason for that is that because the area is too small it is not worth while from the point of view of salary. There is no fundamental change except the transfer from one Minister to another.
The function of a coroner is a part-time one.
Part-time but, even so, some of them have very small areas.
Under Section 3 the local authority has power to amalgamate districts. I have in mind a particular district. I remember years ago there was a coroner for West Galway and the area over which he acted was quite a small one, but meantime West Galway as a whole is a very big area. There may not be very many suicides or murders in that area. Senator O'Dea looks after it very thoroughly and the people there lead very normal lives. Is it to be understood that the Minister may of his own volition, irrespective of the views of the local authority, amalgamate the districts of that county into one so that a coroner might find himself responsible for an area running almost from Athlone to Clifden? Although the population is sparsely distributed and although the number of inquests may not be great, there is still a vast area to be covered. If it should happen that two inquests had to be held at the same time we can easily see the disadvantage in an area as big as County Galway. I would be content if the Minister would give us an assurance that in this process of amalgamation he will be guided by the local authority.
I think the Senator should hardly require that assurance.
I want to make an appeal to the Minister in relation to the salaries of coroners generally. I know some of these salaries were fixed many years ago and I think the stipend was an extremely small one. If I remember rightly, the salary of the coroner for West Galway was £100. I do not know what the salary is now.
£90 a year.
These salaries are extremely small. The work is onerous. It is a kind of work that can be very exacting. It requires a judicial competence in the person appointed to the post of coroner. I would, therefore, ask the Minister, having regard to the changes that have taken place in the value of money since these salaries were originally fixed, to exercise his functions under this Bill to make the salaries reasonably adequate.
That was the reason we brought in the Bill, because there was no authority to do that. The Senator may take it for granted that they will be increased. Some of them are very small, where there is very little work to do. It is because of the fact that there was no power to increase salaries that we brought in the Bill and the Senator can take it that there will be increases given.