This Bill deals with such a wide variety of subjects that it is difficult to give a proper review of its contents in a Second Reading speech. An explanatory memorandum, therefore, has been prepared for Senators giving details of each section of the Bill as passed by Dáil Eireann. It is not proposed to repeat now the details in the memorandum but simply to indicate the more important provisions of the Bill.
Part I does not call for any comment.
Part II, which deals with establishment matters, has two chapters. The first deals with offices and employments generally and is largely a series of amendments to Part II of the Local Government Act, 1941, and Part III of the Local Government Act, 1946. The second chapter deals with the amendment of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926.
An important provision in the first chapter is Section 21, which replaces Section 70 of the Local Government Act, 1925, as respects the offices and employments to which the chapter relates. The section in the 1925 Act prohibits any person from being employed by a local authority while he is, or within 12 months after he has ceased to be, a member of the local authority or any local authority in the same or in an adjoining county or county borough. The section has been considered to be too harsh in so far as minor employment by a local authority is concerned. Section 21 will provide for the disqualification of a person from employment as a minor officer or servant only in respect of membership of a local authority by which he is employed. There is an exception to ensure that membership of advisory and visiting committees will not of itself involve disqualification from employment. Section 70 also provided that disqualification from employment would continue for 12 months after the cesser of membership of the local authority. This restriction is being removed in the case of normal cesser of membership at the expiration of the member's term of office.
Section 24 and the Second Schedule will clarify the position in regard to the power of the appropriate Minister to make age limit Orders. It was considered that under existing law, age limit Orders could be made applying only to officers who on compulsory retirement would be entitled to a pension. There was some doubt about this and it is now proposed to restate the law and to limit the powers of the Ministers accordingly. Doubts have also been raised as to validity of age limit Orders in relation to managers, in view of the terms of the Management Acts which provide that a manager shall hold office until he dies, resigns or is removed from office. Section 24 and the Second Schedule will now make it clear that age limit Orders will apply notwithstanding any statutory tenure that an officer may possess under any enactment.
Other provisions in the first chapter to which I would like to draw special attention are Sections 8 and 20. The main effect of these sections will be that the obligation on local authorities to seek numerous individual sanctions in various matters will be dispensed with, provided the general directions of the Minister for which these sections provide are complied with. This will eliminate a great deal of unnecessary correspondence for local authorities and for the Departments concerned and make for economy and convenience in administration.
Section 26 in the second chapter will exclude certain types of offices from the scope of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926. These are temporary offices; part-time offices as engineer or surveyor under the council of an urban district or the commissioners of a town; and technical offices, such as that of radiographer, which are relatively junior. The removal of these offices from the scope of the 1926 Act will enable local authorities to fill the posts more rapidly.
Section 27 will remove a source of inconvenience to local authorities by imposing a time limit of three months within which persons recommended for appointment by the Local Appointments Commissioners must take up duty on pain of losing their posts.
Section 30 will enable the commissioners to compile panels of qualified persons from which the needs of a number of local authorities can be met. This should speed up the making of appointments and will also facilitate candidates in that they will not be required to pay an entrance fee for every particular post for which they apply.
Section 36 in Part III proposes to cure defects in Section 69 of the Local Government Act, 1946, which have made it impossible to make suitable regulations on the subject of traffic signs. It is highly desirable to secure uniformity in this matter, and I hope that when Section 36 is enacted this desirable end will be achieved without delay.
The section also contains a useful provision making it an offence to provide any sign, device, notice or light capable of being confused with or obscuring a traffic sign, or constituting an obstruction to the view of a road user.
Some time ago Dublin Corporation requested that they be empowered to provide traffic wardens to shepherd school children across the road at busy crossing places. It was decided to meet their request and to make the power available to all local authorities who wished to avail of it. It should be stressed that the power is entirely permissive; it will rest completely with any particular authority whether to avail of the section or not. Any arrangements made by a local authority under the section will be subject to the consent of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, who will assist local authorities fully in the operation of the section. Ultimate responsibility in the matter of traffic control will, of course, continue to rest with the Commissioner.
The Motor Car (International Circulation) Act, 1909, on which most of the facilities granted to visiting motorists are based, is being replaced by Section 38 of the Bill, which gives the Minister wider powers. As soon as the Bill becomes law, it is hoped to take steps to adhere to the latest convention on road traffic, that of Geneva of 1949. Pending adherence to the convention, it is intended to make an Order accepting as valid driving licence in this country, either the international driving permit of a visitor or his domestic driving licence. This is a step which has been strongly urged by motoring organisations and tourist bodies.
Section 40 contains a number of amendments of the law relating to bridge Orders as contained in Part IV of the Local Government Act, 1946. In particular it will remove doubts as to whether a bridge Order providing for a fixed bridge can be made where a right of navigation is involved, even slightly or theoretically. The safeguards contained in the 1946 Act—a public inquiry and the consent of the Minister for Industry and Commerce— will continue to apply in such a case. The River Shannon has been excluded from the application of this part of the section, in view, as indicated in the Dáil, "of the peculiar standing of that great waterway".
Finally, Section 41 of the Bill enables a border county council to adopt a scheme for the construction or maintenance of a cross-border bridge. For example, this will enable Donegal County Council in conjunction with Tyrone County Council, to proceed with a scheme for the replacement of Lifford bridge.
An important provision of Part IV is Section 51 which is intended to meet complaints about the present method of calculating urban areas' share of county expenses. Briefly, this calculation is done at present according to the total valuation of the different areas, but due to the fact that a smaller proportion of valuations is productive in urban than in rural areas the urban ratepayers tend to be charged with an undue proportion of the shared expenses. In Section 51 it is hoped to get over the difficulty by providing that, in future, county-at-large expenses will be shared between urban and rural areas in proportion to the produce of a penny rate.
Section 50 deals with the making of charges by auditors where loss is incurred to the funds of a local authority as a result of a certificate given by a person retained by the local authority in any professional, advisory or consultative capacity. The section is intended to make it quite clear that the auditor will not have power to question professional or technical advice given by a consultant. He will be confined to querying any sum paid on the basis of a certificate issued by a person acting as consultant.
Part V of the Bill deals with the giving of assistance by county borough corporations towards the provision of parish or community halls. Its purpose is to confer on such corporations the same power as county councils to provide halls for approved local councils or to give grants to approved local councils towards the cost of providing halls themselves.
In Part VI of the Bill there are four sections which require comment here. Section 53 will make the franchise for the change of place names more democratic by giving a vote in such matters to the occupiers of small dwellings.
County councils can at present provide parish halls but they have, it is felt, been constrained from doing so by the extent of the liability they would be taking on if they exercised the power. Section 54 of the Bill will enable them to give grants repayable or not, as they decide, towards the provision of halls.
Under Section 55 sanitary authorities will be empowered to contribute to the funds of bodies providing swimming facilities. Swimming clubs which cannot readily find the money to provide swimming pools will welcome the section, which should also be of benefit to local authorities in so far as it will relieve them of the expense of managing and maintaining swimming pools, as well as part of the cost of providing them.
The corporations of the four county boroughs can decorate the streets for occasions of public rejoicing and other appropriate occasions, but a two-thirds majority of the members of the corporation must vote for a resolution to authorise the expenditure. It is now proposed to do away with the requirement as to the two-thirds majority and to enable the expenditure, which cannot, in any event, exceed the produce of a penny rate, to be authorised by a simple majority of members present and voting. It is also proposed in Section 56 of the Bill to extend the power of providing street decorations to all urban authorities and town commissioners. A limit of 3d. in the £ on the rateable valuation of their areas is imposed.
Most of the repeals contained in the First Schedule are consequential on amendments in the body of the Bill. It should be mentioned specially that the repeal of Section 51 (7) of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, will put local authorities on the same footing as other bodies in so far as liability for payment of debts is concerned. Senators will remember that the Public Authorities (Judicial Proceedings) Act, 1954, which was enacted recently, puts local authorities on the same footing as other bodies in so far as legal actions are concerned.
The repeal of Section 10 (2) of the Irish Universities Act, 1908, will do away with the obligation on local authorities to seek ministerial sanction to incur expenditure, exceeding the produce of a penny rate, in providing university scholarships.