Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 May 1922

Vol. S2 No. 9


The discussion of the report from the Minister of Defence is adjourned by consent until after the report from the Committee is presented. We will now take up the report of Aireacht um Rialtas Aitiúil (L.G.B.).

I move the adoption of the report of the Local Government Department.

I second that.

I desire to make a few remarks on the report. Looking for a little bit of information I would like to ask if the Local Government Department would inform us whether any progress has been made with the allocation of the £25,000 which has been placed at the disposal of the Director of White Cross for relief of distress in the west of Ireland.

With reference to the amalgamation Scheme which is mentioned on page three, I have received a certain amount of complaints from different parts of the country to the effect that the Amalgamation Scheme inflicts a good deal of hardship upon the very poor. I cannot quite recollect whether the Commission which was appointed to review the whole question of Local Government in the autumn of 1920 recommended that amalgamation be carried to the extent to which it has been carried. As well as I recollect, the Amalgamation Scheme then proposed did create certain economies, and as a result of the Amalgamation Scheme which has been carried out a great number of workhouses have been abolished; not merely that but district hospitals have been closed up, with the result that people have to travel very long distances in the event of illness, in order to be attended to, and recollecting that telephonic and telegraphic communications are very poor in the country, and that it is not always possible to get a motor car, it is a hardship upon some people. I am not mentioning this in any critical spirit but I would like that the Minister and his advisors would look seriously into this and see if nothing could be done to have district hospitals continued in various parts of rural places, so that poor people would have to suffer as little as possible from the closing of workhouses.

With reference to the non-payment of rates by different local bodies and the audits, I would like if the Minister could inform us whether the reports, generally speaking, that the auditors made upon the working of the public bodies were good or bad, or did any report show that any of the officials or Councils, in spite of the tremendous difficulties in which public bodies had worked for the past couple of years, really failed in their duty to the people who elected them?

I am rather surprised at the attitude that the Minister for Local Government takes up towards the Mayo County Council, in view of his statement in the very first paragraph of his report which reads: "The attention of Dáil Éireann has been directed in earlier reports of the Local Government Department." I regret the attitude which he and his Inspectors had to take against the Mayo County Council. I will not say that the Mayo County Council were blameless in the matter, but the action that he has taken in preventing the Mayo County Council from having a certain amount of money at their disposal is really not hitting the Mayo County Council at all, but the people of Mayo. I would like, if some understanding could be come to between the Minister for Local Government and the Mayo County Council by which the Mayo County Council could be punished and not the people of the County Mayo.

I just wish to raise a point on the report; it is in connection with the question of the appointment of rate-collectors by the Dublin County Council. I raise it in the hope that the Local Government Department will refuse to sanction the appointments made. When the old rate-collectors refused to work during the war, a number of men with good national records were appointed who took the risk. One man collected over 98 per. cent of the rates, and another man collected over 95 per cent. of his warrants. A short while ago an advertisement was inserted for new rate-collectors and the men who gave their services during the war were turned out and new men appointed. I do not think that is fair. I do hope that the Local Government Department will refuse to sanction the appointment of these new men.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this report is the fact that in reading it one would think that there was no such thing as the Counties of Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Derry, in Ireland. There are numbers of public local bodies there which at the request of this assembly pledged their allegiance to the Irish Republic and for a considerable period of time, under great difficulties, recognised the Local Government Department of this Dáil as the proper supervisory body. Recently some of those public bodies have been dissolved. Some are threatened with dissolution, and in many cases members of them have been compelled to take refuge elsewhere in Ireland than in the six county area, and all this, of course, has the effect of raising the partitionist measure. One would have thought from the report of the Minister for Local Government that whether the Republicans in the north wished it or not he had decided that Partition was going to be recognised, because those bodies now are labouring under much greater difficulties than even the public bodies in the rest of Ireland laboured under in the recent war in the country. There is absolutely no mention made in the report of the position of those bodies and no measures are foreshadowed by which they should be assisted. Now, that was not done inadvertently. It was not due to the fact that the Minister did not know that the position in the north was not as grave as it is represented, because a very short time ago he received a deputation from the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen and other representatives of these bodies, in which they placed their position before him. At that meeting, I understand, they asked him for advice and guidance and he refused to give either, and they asked him if upon his own responsibility he would refuse to bring this matter before the Dáil and the Cabinet. I understand from the memorandum sent by the members of that Deputation that the Minister for Local Government did not think this matter serious enough to bring before the Cabinet of Dáil Éireann, and did not think it of sufficient gravity to mention it here. Further, I took it upon myself to mention the matter here and ask what assistance he is going to give them and enable them to pledge their obedience to this Dáil and what steps he proposed to take in order to protect them in doing so.

This question of the dismissal of rate-collectors will affect more Councils than the Dublin County Council. It should not happen in Dublin and elsewhere. I would like to know if the rate-collectors who came in and collected the rates during the war, at the risk of life and liberty, are to be dismissed all over Ireland. I do not think this should be.

There has been reference made by Deputy Art O'Connor to the Amalgamation Scheme so far as it affects hospitals. It has not been proved satisfactory. We should have a guarantee that ambulances in which people are taken to the County Hospital should be utilised to fetch back the dead bodies. There is the difficulty of getting the relatives of patients long distances to the County Hospital to see the sick. However that question I believe might be settled.

The whole question of public health should be fully gone into and a uniform scheme for all Ireland should be provided. It is not satisfactory at present. I feel myself that we should have a Commission of our best medical men to go into the whole matter. We all want to abolish the workhouses. But we do not want to do it by having a large "compound" and having them all in one large workhouse. That is not my idea of abolishing the pauper system, and I think we should have a Commission to go into this thing and have a thoroughly uniform scheme, if that thing is pressed.

The dismissal of rate-collectors will create some trouble. I think the County Councils or rating bodies should be given discretionary powers to deal with their rate collectors in their special area. I wish to be clear about this. I do not know who is responsible for it, whether it is the Minister for Local Government or some other Minister, but shortly after the Treaty was signed we were told that we would get £20,000 for the improvement of the roads in County Wexford. We started a direct labour scheme and put it into operation. Shortly after we were told that that £20,000 was reduced to £10,000 and I learned, with some concern, that though we had expended £10,000 and paid workmen out of the rates no part of the money was forthcoming, though we had been at first told that we were to get £20,000 and then £10,000. I do not know whether the Minister will give us any guarantee that we will get that £10,000.

I should be glad to hear from the Minister for Local Government when the money for the Housing Scheme will be available. I should also like to associate myself with the appeal with regard to the question of rate-collectors. The propriety of raising the matter on this report is, I take it, open to question, but as it has been raised, I should like to support Deputy McCarthy on the assumption that the facts are as stated, in which case, no doubt, a hardship and an injustice are proposed to be done to those men. One thing that struck me favourably with regard to the Minister for Local Government was a statement recently in this House that the Local Government Department knows no Party and that this is not a matter of Party politics or necessities. It occurred to me, on listening to that very worthy and wise expression of opinion from him, that it was rather regrettable that the same wisdom had not obtained amongst certain of his colleagues in this House who have recently been hurling in public untrue charges against certain members of public bodies who have been working in the public interest, and—I think the Minister will bear me out— working satisfactorily with the Department of Local Government. These colleagues of his have in these charges made incitements to violence on the part of constituents towards their members.

I would like to emphasise the questions asked by the Deputy for Monaghan. I received also a copy of the memorandum from some gentlemen representing the different Councils, Urban and Rural District, in the northern area. And in reference to this I would like to ask whether the Minister can inform us whether there is any definite policy decided upon by the Executive of Dáil Éireann with regard to the position of these local bodies in Ulster who have pledged their allegiance to Dáil Éireann. I would like to ask him if he can conveniently give the information now to tell us what bodies in that area did pledge allegiance to Dáil Éireann; how many of these bodies have been within the last month or two suppressed and obliged to cease their functions, as a result of the interference of the Northern Government, and what steps, if any, the Department have taken to come to the rescue of these local bodies and give them advice as to how they should act. This Department does not give any information here on this point. It would be an advantage to the House to know if the Government have a policy, and what that policy is, and how they propose to come to the rescue of these bodies who have backed up Dáil Éireann in this fight. Are they now going to be left in the lurch by Dáil Éireann? Before the House is asked to intervene we would like to hear if the Cabinet has discussed this matter, and if so, what decision they have arrived at.

The first question is by Deputy O'Connor in connection with the £25,000 from the White Cross for the Western sea-board. I have been promised a report on that, but I have not received it yet. There is at least a fortnight's work in arrears in my office, and I could not promise to get any information about it just now. I have approached the Cabinet of Dáil Éireann with a request for £100,000 as a grant for the relief of distress and unemployment in various parts of the country. Until I am aware of the exact sum to be given, I shall not be in a position to elaborate a scheme to deal with that distress and unemployment. But even that sum is insufficient to deal with the many applications and cases that are put up to us for Government assistance. Government assistance is not a thing that I recommend. But this Assembly has got responsibility for the situation that is at present existing in the country and the tightening of the purse strings of commerce and business, and everything else and having brought about that state of affairs, it is my opinion that this Assembly should come to the rescue, to some extent, anyhow, so far as it has the ability to do so.

As for the amalgamation of Unions, we have received very considerable opposition from some members of this House in carrying out these Schemes. They were recommended by the Commission set up in 1920 by a united Dáil. It was on their recommendation that directions were given to the Local Government Department to carry out those schemes. Not having reached the pinnacle of perfection which Mr. Etchingham would like, we have not been able to satisfy everybody. But if we got the same support as we had been then getting and if we had got the same assistance, we might have done better. All I would say is that if we had only got the same assistance from others as we have got from Mr. Etchingham, the whole country would still be groaning under the old, bad system of poor law, and nobody appreciates that fact better than Mr. Etchingham himself.

As regards the punitive measures that we adopted against the Mayo County Council, I will say that Mr. O'Connor could have learned the policy that was adopted by the late Cabinet under Mr. de Valera, with regard to using public monies for any purpose, apart from that for which they were levied. And he would have known that a public body is not entitled to levy money for any other purposes than those that are laid down in the law adopted by this assembly. The Mayo County Council can settle their business now, because I believe the principal aggression and opposition has emanated from the members of this Chamber. I can settle it now if they will allow me, and there will be no delay. It is not a question on which I can say "yes" or "no." I am held up by the law with regard to the administration of the business of Local Government as much as any elergyman in his capacity as a clergyman is held by his laws, or any other Minister in his capacity as Minister, or any other person who has any knowledge whatever of the lines that should guide him in connection with public morality. As far as the punishment of the people of Mayo is concerned it is not we who are punishing them; it is the County Council of Mayo. We are prepared to settle that here and now. Withdraw any illegal imposts on the people; do not place upon their shoulders anything they are not liable to bear, and we can settle it. Will you settle it?


They will not.


Not at all; you will not settle it. If you knew anything about it you would not introduce the question here. And all your discussions are raised not for anything constructive, but for some Party advantage. As regards the rate-collectors, we have not sanctioned and cannot sanction the appointment of new rate-collectors having regard to the circumstances of the ease. We cannot issue warrants to them and we cannot sanction their appointments.

As regards the north, I have got no assistance in dealing with the north from Mr. McEntee. I did not even get the benefit of reading that memorandum. It was not submitted to me and I know nothing about it. It is usual to quote the whole of a memorandum. I do not know who was behind this, or who put it up, or whether the Deputy for Monaghan was behind it. I have not heard of it. The policy adopted by the late Cabinet had a certain motive in it. It was not worked out. If I had a policy I would not put it up here. We did not disclose the policy to the public in the Dáil when we were fighting in the twenty-six counties. To disclose such a policy may commend itself to Mr. McEntee, but it does not commend itself to me. I am anxious to deal with the north in a constructive manner. They came to me and I said I knew nothing about it, and they asked me for assistance, and they said I should lay down a policy—lay down a policy without knowing the facts of the situation. The ex-President will admit that when he interviewed deputations from the north he heard from one member of the deputation a positive, and from the other member in the same area a negative policy. We are not going to settle this question on Party lines. And it is not by talking here, and by publishing our policy that we can settle it. I regret very much having been drawn into a speech. I was present at that meeting. I called it myself, and I called it to see what could be done. The matter is under consideration of a new board that I have set up, called the Board of Directors of Local Government. But I do not know whether they will be able to solve this, because we got it in a pretty mixed-up fashion.

Mr. Etchingham wanted to know something about the rate-collectors and something about sacking them. He is Chairman of a Country Council. Has he sacked any rate-collectors, or has he not? I have not sacked your rate-collectors, and I do not know anything about anybody else trying to sack them. It is only fair that we should understand what his position is. If I can only get an intelligent question put to me about rate-collectors, either in Wexford or in any other part of Ireland, I will do my best to answer that question. But I am at a loss to answer Deputy Etchingham. There has been no intention to dismiss rate-collectors. There may be a scheme in contemplation to see how best we could collect the rates more economically than by rate-collectors. But, then, if that system is availed of there must be a scheme to provide compensation to any rate-collector who may lose his position. If that is what he means that is my answer. If he means that rate-collectors have been dismissed that is another question. I expect that he would object if we sanctioned pensions to men who refused to obey the County Councils during the war.

With regard to large "compounds" for the poor I do not know of any scheme of amalgamation which contemplates large "compounds." County Homes were set up and I believe they were a success. Some may not have been as successful as others. Each county was given a free hand in regard to these schemes, subject to certain conditions. The idea we had in mind was to set up an up-to-date hospital in each county. The Deputy for Monaghan may not be aware or he may be aware of what he complains of. I was informed by the Doctor there that out of 30 persons in hospital there was not one case of acute disorder. I am giving you [Deputy McEntee] some information about your constituency. As far as I know, up to the Truce the number of Northern Councils who had pledged their allegiance to Dáil Éireann was very small, possibly three bodies. Up to about September that was the case. They came in last November or December. It is a credit to them that they did come in at that time. But I want the House to exactly visualise what the position is. At that time negotiations were going on with regard to the northern and southern boundary, and it was a great political advantage to know that we had a number of Republican bodies in the northern area. But they were not in the previous fight with us. I think the ex-President recollects that. I want to make that clear. During the time that the south was engaged in a life and death struggle it was confined to the twenty-six counties. I have described that in my report. I say that the fight was confined to the twenty-six counties, except in the case of three bodies.

That is not so.


I say that the fight, as far as Local Government is concerned, was confined, except in the case of about three bodies, to the 26 counties. The statement is made very lightly here that that is not true. If it be not true give some testimony of its untruthfulness. [Replying to an interruption by Mr. McEntee]. You have made a statement, and it is there, and if you want to make political capital out of it get on the platform. It will not carry you much further, or be of much advantage to you.

Now, Deputy Etchingham is Chairman of a County Council, and he can regulate that matter about the ambulance bringing back dead bodies. He can regulate that, and there is no necessity to bring the matter up here. Officials of the Local Government Department are of advantage to the country. I think you will admit that. And they took risks during the war. Now as to this transport money, a number of the Councils have formulated some schemes and when they will be sanctioned this matter can be dealt with. If no technicality has been neglected in connection with his county, I am satisfied there will be no objection to giving this money. If you have spent this money on a sound scheme, or in good faith, even a technicality, or anything of that sort, will not be allowed to stand in your way.

Deputy the Lord Mayor of Cork asked a question as to when the money for Housing would be available. That money will be available directly the Local Authority is in a position to acquire the land or commit themselves to a scheme for housing. The Provisional Government will provide its quota of all that expenditure. If, for example, the acquisition of the site and the laying of the foundations were to come to an estimated cost of £3,000 directly we have information of that we will send the local body a cheque for £2,000. If a tender is accepted for £72,000 we divide that by twelve, and conclude that the work will go on fairly evenly for 12 months. The expenditure in that case would be £6,000 a month, and our quota would be two-thirds of that—£4,000 a month. Before you are committed to your first expenditure, we will make arrangements that you will get £4,000 when you sign the contract. I believe the Finance Department will sanction that. It will be on the impress system. I am most anxious and willing to get the cooperation of all members of the Dáil to deal with the northern question. I am not satisfied that any indication of the policy with regard to the north should be disclosed here in the Dáil, and I do not think it would be good business to do so. I am waiting and I have been waiting for a long time to get a constructive suggestion from them. At the last meeting they decided that they would stick to what they had done, and I suppose the House is in possession of the exact state of affairs up there. You can imagine the position of an Inspector from the Local Government Department here if called to the north, and he called upon the Commissioner in charge of one of those bodies asking to know how the rates were being collected, and how the Commissioner was acting, and how the local services were being carried out, and whether there was proper expendition and economy. I would impress upon the House the question of considering this £100,000. It is a miserably small amount for the work that is required to be done. I see that one member has put down £5,000 for one district. That does not appeal to me as the best way of dealing with it. I think we should have a scheme from all the public bodies. The Department would be most willing to co-operate with each local authority, dealing first with those places where there was much more necessity for employment than others. A case in point is Wexford. There are 1,750 men idle there. It has been hard hit by the war. The foundries there are stopped and there is a mill after being closed. There is a sound scheme which would relieve employment to a very considerable extent there in the waterworks. But unless the money is forthcoming I do not know what chance there is of relieving unemployment. You have got to do it one way or another. The effort to relieve it by Poor Rate is debasing. It is expensive and it leads nowhere. If the House would appoint a Committee to consider this matter I would be pleased. And I think it must be evident to anybody who is in touch with the business of the country that something must be done to stabilise matters and restore normal conditions.

What I meant about the rate-collectors was that I did not think that Public Bodies would consent to the dismissal of men who came in and worked during the war. They had to dismiss the old rate-collectors who adhered to the English Local Government Board and the idea was that some people got into their heads that these people would be reinstated. I gather that this is not the case, and that there will be no dismissal of the men who worked during the war. I would agree with that. I would agree, in connection with any new scheme for collecting the rates, even if it is by suction, that the old rate-collectors should be compensated. I do not object to the ambulance bringing back the dead, but I suggested that as a means towards amalgamation in Wexford——

I am afraid you are getting out of order.

It is only to introduce humour. He purposely misunderstood me.

It is moved and seconded that the report be adopted.

Motion put and agreed to.