LOCAL ELECTIONS POSTPONEMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL, 1924—FIRST STAGE.

I beg leave to introduce the Local Elections Postponement (Amendment) Bill, 1924. During the course of the debate on the Local Government Bill I explained that the date on which the local government elections will be held would to a great extent be regulated by the date at which I considered I could get the Local Government Bill, or the substance of it, passed through the Dáil and Seanad. I find now that it will be impossible to get that Bill through for some considerable time. This places me in a rather awkward position. At the present time under the Local Government Postponement (Amendment) Act of 1923 I have power to postpone elections till not later than the 30th September, 1924, and by an Order issued on the 22nd February last I postponed the elections till the 15th July.

If I do not get this Bill through before the 15th July it will be necessary to hold the elections on that date. I am placed in a difficulty in this matter, as I believe all of us are most anxious to hold the local elections, or, at all events, the county council elections, as soon as possible, but there are difficulties in the way which make it practically impossible to do so. In the ordinary course the election of rural district councillors should be held along with the county council elections. If this Bill goes through in anything like its present form, there will be no necessity to hold the rural district council elections. The rural district councils will cease to function after the Bill goes through. For that reason it would be very foolish, I consider, on the part of the Dáil to hold those elections now. They would cost approximately £60,000—that is, the elections for rural district councils, and for that reason it is practically essential to postpone the district council elections. With respect to the county councils, when the rural district councils cease to function the chairmen of the rural district councils will automatically cease to be members of the county council. To remedy this, the Local Government Bill provides for an addition to the membership of the county council. If the number of additional members necessary from this cause were generally small, there would be no very serious objection to allowing the county council to co-opt a few members, but in some counties the number of members to be co-opted will be more than the number of the elected members, and this would be contrary to every principle of democratic representation. If we held the county council elections now we would, I am afraid, have to hold a further election on the passing of the Local Government Bill to fill these vacancies. This would cost just as much as the election in July. With regard to town elections, the cause for postponement is primarily one of cost. To quote from a letter I received from a certain local authority: "The cost of the elections here on the last occasion was something about £104, and as the town rate only amounts to about £120, the cost of elections is out of all proportion to the revenue, and you are requested to recommend some means by which this cost can be at least considerably reduced."

I have already taken steps to remedy this so far as I can, but the real reduction can only be secured by holding county council and urban elections on the same day, the voters in urban districts voting both for the urban council and for the county council. Whatever date is fixed for county council elections will be fixed also for urban elections. It will further be seen that if two elections to county councils have to be held in the circumstances I have above referred to, the ratepayers, in the case of the unfortunate council whose letter I have quoted, will still be overtaxed. Much as I dislike postponing elections, I feel that such postponement is imperative, and I ask the Dáil to agree to these elections being postponed to a date not later than the 31st March, 1925. That will give us an opportunity to have the new councils elected before the striking of the rate, which is the main thing. After all, county councils or local authorities elected at the present time cannot do very much, as the rate has already been struck, and with the Minister for Agriculture, I have made arrangements to relieve the agricultural population from the incidence of that rate. I know there will be a certain amount of opposition to this Bill, but I do not think any Deputy can suggest any way out of the difficulty other than what I have suggested here.

I intend to oppose this Bill, and I ask the Dáil to refuse leave to have it introduced. The obvious remedy for the grievances that are talked about is to have an election. After a series of postponements and concurrent complaints of the inability of local bodies to do their work efficiently and effectively, we are asked now to agree to a further postponement. No case of any kind is made for a further postponement, except that the Minister hopes that some day in the future the new Act will become law. He has no right to deprive the councils of their authority or the public of their right to elect councils pending the fulfilment of his hopes. It should be apparent, I think, from the general expressions of opinion regarding the Bill which he relies upon, that it is opposed very seriously by representative people from all sides and in all quarters. The chances of that Bill becoming law in its present form are very small indeed. There has been talk of a Commission to inquire into the general system of local government. If such a Commission is to sit and examine the question thoroughly, it is not going to report in time to have an exhaustive Bill carried so that the elections may take place before the 31st March next, and then I suppose we will have another Bill asking for a further postponement. I ask the Dáil to refuse to give permission to introduce this Bill, so that an indication will be given that the elections must be held, and then we can insert in the new Local Government Bill whatever provisions we like regarding the future conduct of councils.

I desire to support Deputy Johnson in the statement he has made. I think the action of the Government in regard to these local bodies is nothing short of a disgrace. We have had postponement after postponement, and now we are asked again to postpone the elections until March, 1925. I need hardly tell the Minister that the people in all parts of the country are getting sick and tired of these postponements. They have local councils that were put in, not by the votes of the people at all, but at the special request largely of the Ministers who are now in power. All over the country we hear that these councils are guilty of maladministration, that they are not run in an economic fashion, or as they ought to be. The rates are too high in every place, and everyone is displeased with the present position of local government. Now we are asked by the Minister to pass a Bill which proposes to postpone the holding of these elections until March, 1925. I certainly will refuse to give my assent to such a proposal as that.

I do not know what is the objection to this Bill which we have not yet seen. I could understand objection being taken to the Second Reading of a Bill, but we are not being asked now to give this Bill a Second Reading. We have not the Bill in our hands, and we do not know its details, and hence I do not think we should countenance the practice of refusing to give leave for the introduction of the measure.

On a point of order, is it not within the privilege of the Dáil and of Deputies to debate the principles of a measure on First Reading—not the actual details, but the principles of the measure?

I do not know how you can debate the principles of a measure that you have not seen or read. If you were to do that it would be a new procedure, so far as I am concerned at least.

On a point of order, have we not heard the principles of the Bill outlined by the Minister?

AN CEANN-COMHAIRLE

There is no point of order. Deputy Hughes is quite in order.

I think this is the first time that the Dáil has been asked to refuse to give leave for the introduction of a Bill. I do not want to have the municipal or the county council elections postponed indefinitely, but if a good case can be made in the circumstances I think the Minister is entitled to get leave to introduce his Bill and to make a case. He cannot do that until the Bill comes up for Second Reading, and until we have an opportunity of reading the measure and discussing it on its merits.

I would appeal to the Minister to consider this question very seriously before he forces this measure on the Dáil. I ask him, is it more important to force this contemplated Bill of his on the Dáil than that the people of the country should be represented in the way they want to be represented? The Minister knows, better perhaps than anyone else, from representations that have been made to him and to previous Ministers with regard to the abolition of some of these councils, that the people of the country want to have these councils made thoroughly representative bodies. I say it is more important that that should be done than that his new Bill should go through. I am opposed to the introduction of this Bill. In answer to the points raised by Deputy Hughes I may say that these points could not be made were it not for the speech of the Minister in introducing the Bill.

I support the Minister in asking leave to introduce this Bill, which is. I think, a most necessary Bill. It would be a most preposterous idea to be forced to go to the trouble and expense of an election for the purpose of local government in view of the fact that a Bill is to be passed into law, possibly within six months' time, that will revolutionise the whole position of local government and of local government elections in this country. I think it would be a preposterous thing and an abuse to have an election now in view of the fact that another election would follow on the passing of such a Bill.

I want to ask the Deputy who has just spoken a question: Who is asking for this new Bill to revolutionise local government? We are satisfied with the present system of local government. We do not want a new-fangled Bill; we want the proper opportunity for electing people to represent us on our local bodies. We are not in favour of changing the law every year. Deputy Esmonde seems to attach more importance to allowing a new Bill to be brought in than that people should be properly represented. but I say that it is a more preposterous idea than what we suggest, for we only want fair play. We only want to run the Government on the principle laid down and carried on for the past twenty years and which has not yet been improved upon.

Is the Deputy willing to throw away £120,000 upon a useless election?

We are throwing away millions on maladministration. That is what we are doing at the moment.

Then why not put it right?

I am in favour of the postponement of elections for a short time because I am aware that the register will not be ready by the 15th July. It would be a great mistake to have an election in July because that would be conducted on the old register and would not give you a reflection of the opinion of the country. But I do not agree with the Minister in the terms of his Bill that the elections should be postponed until March, 1925. I think that is certainly too far away. The date would have to be brought nearer than that. I am not prepared to agree with the Farmer Deputies about maladministration.

You never do.

I would be sorry to think that I agreed with you in everything. I say the uncertainty that prevails and the opinion that prevails in the different local bodies that there is not going to be an election are responsible for a good deal of the carelessness that is said to exist, and for the fact that a good many of the public boards have not given of their best. I would favour the postponement of the election until the autumn.

We have heard from the Minister on several occasions complaints about the iniquities of the public bodies.

I have spoken very little about the iniquities of the public bodies. I spoke about the system.

We have heard it, and if the Minister has not spoken of it he has given practical evidence of what he thinks of the local bodies. If they are as bad as they are supposed to be, why does he bring in a Bill to keep them in existence for a longer period? If they are as bad as he says, why not get rid of them at once? I suggest that the real object of this Bill is to give the Minister and his department an opportunity of going ahead with his present system, and sending commissioners all over the country.

No Deputy is more anxious to get these elections on than I am. From the start I have done everything in my power to get the elections proceeded with, and it is only owing to the fact that because of the considerable amount of time taken up last session on Broadcasting, and other matters, that my Bill was not further advanced. I cannot really see that any argument has been put up against the argument put forward by Deputy Esmonde. It is purely a question of avoiding the duplication of the elections. You are sure to have some kind of a Bill passed before very long, whether it is exactly as I have drafted it or not. I believe it will be substantially the same, but that is beside the question at the moment. You are certain to have some kind of recasting of local government administration between now and next January, and it would be a ridiculous thing to have an election just for the holiday months or summer months, and another again in the autumn for these new bodies. It is absolutely essential to have another election when a Bill similar to the Local Government Bill of mine goes through the Dáil. I cannot see how Deputies can justify the double expense of holding two elections, considering that the first representatives to be elected would be only four or five months at most in office before the second election would have to be held.

Will the Minister explain how, or in what possible way the Broadcasting Inquiry prevented his getting on with this work?

There was no opportunity of bringing in the Bill in that Session.

Was it ready?

Question put: "That leave be given to introduce the Bill."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 36; Níl, 23.

  • Richard H. Beamish.
  • Earnán de Blaghd.
  • Seoirse de Bhulbh.
  • Próinsias Bulfin.
  • Séamus de Búrca.
  • Bryan R. Cooper.
  • Máighréad Ní Choileáin Bean.
  • Uí Dhrisceóil.
  • Osmond Grattan Esmonde.
  • Darrell Figgis.
  • Henry J. Finlay.
  • John Good.
  • John Hennigan.
  • William Hewat.
  • Seosamh Mac Bhrighde.
  • Liam T. Mac Cosgair.
  • Pádraig Mac Giollagáin.
  • Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
  • Liam Mag Aonghusa.
  • Pádraig S. Mag Ualghairg.
  • Martin M. Nally.
  • Peadar O hAodha.
  • Mícheál O hAonghusa.
  • Criostóir O Broin.
  • Seán O Bruadair.
  • Eoghan O Dochartaigh.
  • Peadar S. O Dubhghaill.
  • Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.
  • Eamon S.O Dúgáin.
  • Aindriú O Láimhín.
  • Fionán O Loingsigh.
  • Pádraig O Máille.
  • Séamus O Murchadha.
  • Pádraig O hOgáin (Gaillimh).
  • Caoimhghín O hUigín.
  • Seán Príomhdhail.
  • Liam Thrift.

Níl

  • Pádraig F. Baxter.
  • Seán Buitléir.
  • John Conlan.
  • David Hall.
  • Connor Hogan.
  • Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh.
  • Séamus Mac Cosgair.
  • Maolmhuire Mac Eochadha.
  • Tomás Mac Eoin.
  • Risteárd Mac Fheorais.
  • Risteárd Mac Liam.
  • Tomás de Nógla.
  • Ailfrid O Broin.
  • Aodh O Cúlacháin.
  • Liam O Daimhín.
  • Tadhg S.O Donnabháin.
  • Eamon O Dubhghaill.
  • Seán O Duinnín.
  • Donchadh S.O Guaire.
  • Mícheál R.O hIfearnáin.
  • Domhnall O Muirgheasa.
  • Tadhg P.O Murchadha.
  • Pádraig O hOgáin (An Clár).
Motion declared carried.

When will the Second Stage be taken?

If the Dáil has no objection I propose to take it to-morrow.

There is an objection.

Then, on Wednesday.

Second Stage ordered for Wednesday, June 11th, 1924.