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.