COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - LOCAL ELECTIONS POSTPONEMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL, 1924. SECOND STAGE.

I beg to move the Second Reading of the Local Elections Postponement (Amendment) Bill, 1924. I feel that I owe the House an apology for this Bill. It was on the Order Paper yesterday, but it came on very suddenly. I happened to be in the hall talking to a Deputy at the time, and was not aware that the Bill had come on. I think that the House had a record yesterday for the rapidity with which it got through its business, and that is responsible for my fault in the matter. I do not think that it is necessary to go very much into detail in this matter now. I dealt with it at great length on the First Reading, and put the whole situation before Deputies. Under present conditions, if no change is made in our arrangements for the elections, they will have to take place on the 15th July.

We are not prepared to have elections at the present time. The Register and other arrangements are not fully completed, and some postponements will be necessary. Legally I am entitled to postpone the elections up to the 30th September, but I feel that a postponement to that date, or any intermediate date, would be very unsatisfactory. There is before the Dáil a Bill which I allowed to remain over on the Second Stage which I expect to come into operation in some form very soon after the Dáil meets following the recess, and that Bill will change the whole system of Local Government and will make it necessary to re-cast our whole system of the representation of local authorities. If we were to hold an election between now and the 30th September, it would mean a very considerable expense, costing over £160,000, which would be a very serious loss. I think it would be hard to get candidates to go forward for election to a position which will last for only a few months. For that reason I am asking the Dáil to give me power to postpone the elections up to March, 1925. This will not be a mandatory Bill; it will be merely permissive, and I do not think will be postponed to any date as far away as March, 1925. I expect that the Bill, or an amended form of the Bill, will pass in November, and it will be then possible to hold the elections. I would like to have fairly wide powers in the matter. The elections have been postponed on several occasions owing to circumstances over which I had no control, and it might have been better at the outset if we had taken wider powers to postpone the elections to a longer period than we actually postponed them for. For that reason I will ask the Dáil to give this Bill a Second Reading.

I voted for the First Reading of this Bill on the principle that as every dog is entitled to his first bite, so every Bill is entitled to its First Reading. After that it becomes dangerous, both as regards the dog and the Bill, and I intend to vote against every other Stage of this Bill. The Minister has not put forward any solid justification for postponing the elections relating to urban district councils and county councils. The rural district councils are hanging, like Mahomed's coffin, between earth and heaven, and people may not be willing to go forward for election in the circumstances. I am willing to postpone elections to these bodies until it is decided whether they are to exist or not. For the other two bodies he has made no case at all. What case he has made is at direct variance to the case he made in connection with the Local Elections Postponement Act, 1922. Then he impressed on the Dáil that it was very undesirable to hold these elections during the winter, as the people would not come to the poll in the short days, and darkness made it difficult for polling to be carried out. Now he has asked us to hold the elections some time between November and March. If there is anything in the first argument this one is wrong. Apart from that, I would like to enter a protest against this continual practice, which has become chronic with the Government, to have one amending Bill after another, and bringing in a Bill to meet a temporary emergency, then amending it, and then amending it again. It wastes the time of the Dáil, creates uncertainty in the minds of the public, and has nothing whatever to recommend it. It is an outward and visible sign of living from hand to mouth, and of meeting necessities as they arise which is very undesirable in any Government. There are very solid reasons why elections for urban councils and county councils should not be postponed, for these bodies have outlived their normal term of office. They are in many respects suffering from the faults of the extremely aged. They are losing energy, and in some cases credit. I know in the district in which I live they have exhausted their credit, so that at present the roads cannot be lighted at night. If the Minister proposes to extend the term of that Council to March it will be a very serious misfortune indeed, as they are without credit to light the streets. The Minister is trying to put members of these bodies into gaols owing to surcharges. I think he is very unwise to press this Bill, and I will vote against it.

The Minister has been good enough to explain to the Dáil that elections have been postponed several times already, and in this case under circumstances beyond his control. He proposes now to postpone them again. One would imagine from his latest speech on the matter that he regretted having postponed the elections hitherto. Now he seems rather to rejoice in the prospect of being able to postpone them. I really think he desires to abolish the elections altogether for local authorities. If he really revealed his mind he would tell the Dáil that he preferred the Dáil would give him power to appoint Commissioners to govern local areas. He is sorry that in the previous Bills he did not take powers without the limitation of dates. That is the very next thing to saying that he is sorry he was not granted powers to abolish local government authorities. I wonder does the Minister fear that if the elections are held within the next two or three months there may be an exhibition of the public views regarding his administration? I suggest to the Minister that it is unwise for his prestige and public credit to allow that idea to get abroad, that he should rather challenge that public decision that local government elections will provide. He has made no case in favour of postponement. He said that he hoped the Oireachtas will pass certain new legislation, but many things may happen between now and the end of the year, and it is very bad policy for an administration to assume that every legislative proposal that is made is to pass in the form in which it is proposed.

I do not assume that.

No. The Minister does not assume it, but the argument that he adduces rather leads us to think that that is his assumption. We must not hold the elections now because there is to be new legislation proposed, which may involve a change in the form of the councils, and because the new legislation will involve certain changes. But it is not proposed to allow the old legislation to have effect. Supposing this Bill is passed, and supposing the Bill that the Minister hopes to get through is not passed, then I presume we will have another Bill brought forward further postponing the elections.

Or would he then say that after March 25th, or the date named in the Bill, the elections must inevitably follow, and that in the meantime local authorities must carry on as they are now doing. If the desires of the Minister regarding the reform of local authorities become law, it must be that he has now very much bigger ideas, or, shall I say, changed ideas regarding the form that local councils should take in the future. I do not think I read anything in the Minister's Bill that has had a Second Reading which would suggest that the county councils to be elected under the present law would be unfitted to carry on the duties under the Bill that is now in charge of the Minister—the Public Health Bill. Nothing has been said so far as I can remember to suggest that the franchise is to be altered, or that the qualifications for councillors is to be altered, or that you are going to restrict the selection to a certain class or section of the community, or that you are making sure that a very select element will, after March, be available for county councils and other local bodies: nothing in the Bill which has had a Second Reading would make impossible the working of local administration by the new councils which would be elected between now and September if this Bill does not get a Second Reading, and, therefore, I do not see why there should be any further postponement of local elections.

The Minister has told us that he has power, without any new legislation, to postpone the elections till the end of September. I suggest to the Dáil that that is quite long enough to postpone the re-election of local authorities, unless the Dáil is satisfied that it is desirable to go back to the period when the local affairs of the country were governed, either by the wealthiest person in the neighbourhood or by the central Government, or by commissioners appointed by the central Government. If it is the intention and the desire of the Dáil to maintain in being a scheme of local government by locally elected bodies, then we should not agree to this further postponement of elections that is proposed in the Bill. I think that a very much stronger case will have to be made before any person who is not already bound to the policy of the Minister could be convinced that he should vote for the Second Reading. I, therefore, will very gladly support Deputy Cooper in this matter. I will give him all the support that he requires to throw out this Bill.

There is one aspect of the question to which attention has not been drawn. I had thought for a moment that Deputy Johnson was going to mention it, and to save me rising. The point is this: Recently the Minister expunged the Dublin Corporation, and he has taken the same action with regard to several local bodies lately. Whatever the necessities and whatever the arguments in favour of that step for administrative reasons, there is no doubt whatever that that action has done the State harm, because it has sent the idea abroad that this Government and this Free State is opposed to government by publicly-elected bodies. The reasons why these public bodies have been blotted out in this summary manner is because they have expended, and long since expended, whatever sanction they had. The majority were elected in 1920 and in 1921, and we are all perfectly familiar with the reasons that prompted their election at that time. They were not put forward, nor were they elected—in fact, the majority were not even elected at all, because the election was merely a formality; names were put up and these names were not opposed. In very few cases was there any opposition to the names that were put up, not for administrative reasons and not for executive reasons, but simply that persons were chosen who would execute the will of Dáil Eireann, at that time engaged as it was in a national struggle. As we know further, persons were carefully chosen whom it would be impossible, with any success, to surcharge. In other words, not only were the people chosen for a purely political purpose, a very necessary purpose at that time, but actually persons were chosen to execute that political purpose and were chosen from among those who had the least sense of responsibility, and that was done deliberately.

In the case of the Corporation, it is known that certain citizens were anxious to stand in the Corporation election at that time. They were dissuaded from doing so, and deliberately dissuaded from doing so, because surcharges would ensue infallibly as a consequence of the actions that they would be called upon to undertake, and they had substance that could be surcharged. That was the reason why these bodies which had been created had not been executing or administering their functions as they should have been executed and as they should have been administered, and these are the reasons why the Minister has lately acted in so summary a manner in regard to them. What will be the result if this Bill passes? It does not need a great deal of foresight to see that before there are further elections there will be a large number of public bodies which will have been superseded and their places taken by Commissioners, and, therefore, further damage will be done of the kind that I have indicated. That need not take place, and I say that there is no necessity whatever for it. Public elections can proceed at the moment. They can proceed in every case except in those indicated—of rural district councils. County councils and urban district councils can be elected even on the large assumption that the Local Government Bill be enacted on more or less the lines drawn out by the Minister's Department and submitted by the Minister to this Dáil a short time ago. Even on these large assumptions, urban district councils and county councils will be still required, more or less as they are to be elected to-day, and there is no reason why they should not be elected to-day.

Why not rural district councils?

I have taken the large assumption for the sake of argument, that the Bill be enacted more or less on the lines that it has been framed. Even on that large assumption I say that these two other bodies must be elected as they are to-day. Why, therefore, should they not be elected at once? I do not think that there is any need for this Bill, and, moreover, I think that there is considerable danger and harm in the Bill, the danger and harm residing in the fact that if this Bill pass a great number of local bodies will be superseded by order of the Minister infallibly; in the first place, because they are not fitted, and they never have been fitted, for this work they have been undertaking, and, in the second place, they have expended whatever sanction they originally received. From that will follow a certain amount of harm and unpopularity, and suspicion that the Government is afraid of incurring the risk of public elections, and that they ought to be avoided at all costs.

In connection with this Bill, I think one of two things must happen. The Local Government Bill which has been already introduced must be put out of the way one way or the other. It must be either defeated in the Dáil or abandoned before we can have a new election. I suggest that the Bill should be abandoned. The reform is not so pressing that it could not wait for three years, which is the ordinary statutory term of local bodies. Deputy Cooper stated that county councils and urban councils could be elected. As a matter of fact, the arrangements for county councils under the new Bill would be altogether different, as the number of councillors would be increased, and there would be other alterations. The Bill must be put out of the way one way or the other. The present system has not failed so much because of defects in the system itself as because of defects in the bodies elected to administer it. I am not saying that there are not some defects in the system, but the defects are not so serious that we could not carry on for three years longer by having an election now. Any defects in regard to the representative character of these bodies could be removed by elections. I am not going to follow Deputy Johnson into what I consider the very necessary provisions whereby the central authority can remove councils or corporations that run amok. I think they were very necessary, and the fact that the Minister has put them into force has, I think, been welcomed by the ratepayers, and has not met with the reprobation spoken of. If the ratepayers were asked the question in the morning I feel that they would endorse the action of the Minister.

I want them to ask the question.

The people are not crying out, as has been stated, against what the Minister has done. Only a few interested people are crying out. The view of our party here is that the Bill ought to be abandoned and new elections allowed to take place immediately, or, alternatively, that the fate of the Bill ought to be decided one way or the other. We do not want an election now and another election following the passage of the Bill in the autumn. County councils could not be elected on the present basis and continue in office if the Bill is to come into operation, because the Bill makes provision for additional county councillors. Therefore, the only thing to do is, either abandon the Bill, as I suggest to the Minister, or put it out of the way one way or the other.

I am sorry the Minister has not given his real reason for the introduction of this Bill. Personally, I do not consider what the Minister has said is sufficient reason for the introduction of the Bill. I think it will be admitted that the Minister has given sufficient indication as to what is the opinion of his Ministry in regard to the public bodies of the country. If the public bodies are really as bad and as inefficient as the Minister and his Department contend, surely the proper thing is to give the people an opportunity of getting rid of them as soon as possible. Why bring in a Bill to give them a longer lease of life except the object is to give the Minister on opportunity of sending out Commissioners all over the country? If that is not the object, then the only way I can reason it out is, that the Minister is bringing in a Bill to allow public bodies whom he contends are inefficient to remain in office and to give maladministration a longer lease of life.

I am inclined to speak very plainly on this matter and to suggest that the Ministry do not want to hold elections at present or to give the people an opportunity of having a say as to who are to be their representatives on the public bodies. There is undoubtedly a lot in what Deputy Figgis has said. Anybody who has been connected with public bodies, or who took part in the elections in 1920, knows perfectly well that the members of the public bodies were selected, not for any qualifications or administrative abilities they had, but because of their political outlook, and because they gave undertakings that they would do certain things.

I think it should not be lost sight of that since that election very great and important extra powers have been given to public bodies. We have had county boards of Health and other bodies established, and I say that the plain people in the country do not consider that the present representatives on the public boards represent their views. Notwithstanding what Deputy Gorey has said, the people do object to the Minister replacing public bodies by Commissioners, because they are not prepared to give over their rights to the Minister or any other individual. If the public bodies are not doing what they should do according to the views of the people who elected them, the people want an opportunity of getting rid of them and putting other representatives in their place. They do not want to be ruled and bossed by two or three officials. I am going to vote against this Bill, and I think the other Deputies should vote against it also.

Deputy Morrissey has made the point that the Minister is afraid to give the people a chance of electing the representative that they would wish to elect, and that that is his real reason for bringing forward this Bill. Would Deputy Morrissey agree, or is he one of those Deputies who take up the attitude on this matter that the present machinery of local administration is perfect and needs no change? That is the other side of the picture. Everybody who has considered the question knows that the existing machinery wants to be modified and altered.

Why has it not been modified and altered?

Mr. HOGAN

Unfortunately, this is the Second Reading, and Deputy Morrissey should say all he has to say when he is on his feet. Deputy Johnson has stated that on a great many occasions. Other Deputies on the Labour Benches have stated that time and time again. On various Bills we have heard of the faults in connection with the existing machinery of local administration. We have heard it stated that the machinery for dealing with Poor Law, asylums, roads and all the rest of it, should be changed, and I agree with that to a great extent. But now that is all forgotten. That is all forgotten the moment it is convenient for Deputies on the Labour benches and on other benches to charge the Government with preventing elections because they are afraid of the results. The Deputy and, apparently, other Deputies, suggest that these elections are postponed because we are afraid of the result. If the machinery of local administration needs a change and is crying out for a change——

In what direction?

Mr. HOGAN

In a great many directions.

Centralisation.

Mr. HOGAN

Every Deputy on the Labour Benches has stated over and over again that the machinery of local administration should be changed. Perhaps that is the reason that is weighing.

On a point of explanation, is it the machinery or the body that works the machinery? That will clear the air.

Mr. HOGAN

I thought I made that clear. That is the issue between us. I suggest it is not because we are afraid of the result of the election, but because we realise that a change in the machinery must come that these elections are being postponed, and that the simple question is this. Are we to hold elections now, elections to bodies whose constitution, perhaps, will be completely changed in a year, and hold other elections in a year at a cost to the ratepayers and taxpayers of £160,000? That is the question. I will do justice to Deputy Gorey and say he faced the facts. He said: "Let all the local bodies be dissolved. Have new elections, and have no change for three years." That was his position. That is at least an understandable and a logical position. But when Deputies are attacking the Minister for bringing in this Bill they should remember that that is the alternative to having an election now or having two elections within the year. That should not be lost sight of. It is the real issue. Are you going to postpone the necessary reforms in local administration? Are you going to have two elections in a year at a cost of about £160,000 to the taxpayers? There might be a good lot to be said for not postponing the elections. Personally I am entirely in favour of postponing the elections on the strict understanding that the necessary changes will be made, but there is no use using extravagant language. There is no use deducing from this Bill that the Minister for Local Government is in favour of a sort of local feudalism, a local chief running the county councils.

I do not know whether the Minister for Agriculture is referring to my argument. I have not made that suggestion. What I did suggest was: that the supersession of local authority would become necessary if some local authorities continued, and that that would do harm.

Mr. HOGAN

If Deputy Figgis gives me a chance I will deal with his point, if he is anxious to have it dealt with. There is no use suggesting that the meaning of this Bill is that the Minister for Local Government wants to constitute a selected class to run the local authorities in future. There is no use suggesting that there is any warranty in the Bill for saying that the Government or the Minister for Local Government wish to run all local bodies in future, or to substitute for local bodies in future Commissioners. There is no warranty for such statements. His proposition is quite simple, to postpone the elections until March, and no further. That is not postponing the elections till Tibb's Eve. Deputy Gorey pointed out and pointed out rightly that if the scheme of the Minister is to be carried out that it would be impossible to go ahead with elections to county councils and refrain from electing district councillors. As everybody knows, if the Bill passes there must be elections to the county councils. The number will be almost double. So there is no validity in the point that we can get over this difficulty by simply refraining from elections to rural district councils and having elections purely and simply to county councils. The whole machinery is changed. If the Bill passes there is only a year's delay. There is not 20 years or 30 years or a hundred years. If the Bill passes then there is no doubt whatever there will have to be new elections to both rural district councils and to county councils.

Will the Minister state what will happen if the Bill is held up by the Seanad or if there is a referendum?

Mr. HOGAN

It is, of course, quite impossible to do business if all sorts of extravagant suppositions are put forward. There is a year between this and March, or very nearly a year, and it is not quite to the point to say what will happen in the Seanad or some other body or that some other circumstance may hold up the Bill. A decision must be come to here. I do not agree with Deputy Figgis that the Government has got into disrepute by abolishing the Dublin Corporators. I do not agree either that the only thing that is wrong with the present bodies is that they were elected in 1921. The Dublin Corporation was no better and no worse from 1921 to 1924 than it was for the previous three years, and I believe that the country is behind the Minister for Local Government in his action in regard to the Dublin Corporation, or rather Dublin Corporationism.

Would the Minister say why the previous Dublin Corporation was bad during the last three years of its tenure, except that it had outlived its sanction?

Mr. HOGAN

The Deputy should be clear as to his question.

We have all heard about the mountain that laboured and brought forth a mouse. In this House the mouse has laboured and brought forth a mountain of talk. This is about the smallest Bill, and as I consider, one of the most non-contentious Bills, ever introduced in the Dáil. There has been a discussion with a certain appearance of indignation imported into it which certainly is entirely beyond my understanding.

Now, Deputy Figgis reproaches the Minister with having expunged the Dublin Corporation which, he said, had exhausted its sanction. Then he goes on to invest the Minister for Local Government and Public Health with infallibility, and it seems rather curious to denounce the action of the Minister whom he so invests. I could understand opposition to this Bill if the Local Government Bill was not pending. I cannot understand the desire of those who want stability of local administration to have an immediate election under the present system at a cost of £160,000—I think that was the figure mentioned by the Minister for Lands and Agriculture, and I think also that it is a moderate estimate—and then to have, within a few months subsequently, another election equally costly to the people of the country. This proposed new measure of Local Government has had its Second Reading, and the constitution of a body that would emerge from an election under the present system is bound to be affected by that measure and the stage that it has reached. Even assuming that county councils elected under the present system were not affected, so far as those who would be elected under the Bill that is pending would be concerned, still the number who constitute the county councils would be, I take it, affected by the dropping off of those who represent the rural district councils on those bodies. The filling of those vacancies consequent on the new measure would certainly involve either co-option or a fresh election. I think such vacancies would be too numerous to be filled by co-option. In any case it would be an undemocratic procedure, and one which, I think, would be resented by representatives of Labour in the Dáil.

Deputy Morrissey complains that the Minister proposes to give what he denounces as maladministration a new lease of life. I think that is not a fair construction to put upon the Minister's intentions. I think that an election held at the present time would hardly materially affect the personnel, the existence, and the constitution of the present bodies. I take it the Minister for Local Government and Public Health seeing that, is simply giving what Deputy Morrissey describes as maladministration a respite before it is finally put into the condemned cell and extinguished. I endorse the question addressed by the Minister for Lands and Agriculture to various Deputies. Do they or do they not think the structure and the machinery of existing local governing bodies is perfect? I think no one will answer that question in the affirmative.

Do you suggest that the Local Government Bill is perfect?

If the Bill had been transformed into an Act that question would be quite pertinent and relevant. We are not discussing the perfections or imperfections of the Local Government Bill. We are discussing the imperfections of existing local administration. Let us hope that when the Bill that is pending has passed the gauntlet of criticism in the Dáil, it will be an instrument which will effectively remove the imperfections of the present system. But the removal of those imperfections is not a thing to be dealt with piecemeal. I think the Minister is quite right to take a long, a big, and a broad view of this question and to reserve dealing with the thing until the right time has come and the full powers for effecting comprehensive reform are within his grasp. This is one of the proposals that have come before the Dáil that has my whole-hearted support. I think there is commonsense in postponing the elections. It is bordering on the ludicrous to have pending a measure changing the constitution and the personnel, as far as numbers are concerned, of those different local bodies, the operation of which can only be a few months deferred, and to propose, before that comes about, another election which, to utilise Deputy Morrissey's words, would give maladministration another lease of life.

Before the Minister replies, I would like to suggest that perhaps he would give some information to the Dáil as to what are his views with regard to the Commission proposed to be set up to deal with Local Government matters. We have already two Second Reading debates on this Bill and I do not intend to detain the Dáil by dealing with it at any length. At the same time the Dáil is entitled, I maintain, to know the position with regard to the suggested Commission.

I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I am going to support the Bill because I believe that it would be a very ineffective way to give the relief that some people are crying for, to rush an election inside of six weeks or two months. That would be the earliest time at which an election could be held, even if the Dáil were willing that an election should take place immediately. If the Local Government Bill is going to become law in its present or in its amended form, I do not see that any useful purpose would be gained by holding two elections inside of six or eight months and putting the country to the big expense that is bound to be incurred thereby.

A lot has been said—and it has been made a very cheap jibe—in regard to the men who were elected to carry on local government a few years ago. If some of those councils have gone wrong, and have done what they should not have done, is that any reason to suggest that the people who were selected at that time to carry on local government were wrong? They were supposed not to carry out the instructions of what were known then as our oppressors. Can we get any guarantee that these elections, if they were held to-morrow, would be held under different circumstances? In local elections, as well as every other election in this country, politics will enter and people will be elected for their political opinions, no matter what anybody says.

Even in March next?

At any time. I do not think that even Deputy Johnson will be able to eliminate politics out of local elections in this country, and I think he would be very sorry to see politics abolished in this country. A lot of people seem to thrive on politics, and it seems to be the stock-in-trade of a whole lot of people—I think the whole of us in the Free State.

As far as I am concerned, I do think that the holding of an election would be a farce, because the class of people you would ask to go up would not do so if they had to run the gauntlet again in a short time. You would have the same thing over again, and you would have the people put to unnecessary expense. As far as I can see, this Bill only postpones the holding of the elections for three months, and if that is a very vital matter, it is one that the Dáil can consider. You could not get an election held sooner than some time in August, even if it were ordered tomorrow. The Local Government Bill has to come before us again in October, and three or four months is the most you will be postponing the election. You would put the country to the expense of thousands of pounds by holding an election now and another in a few months. The rates have been made, and are being collected, so that the councils coming in will not have any rates to make until next year. The only thing that can be said is that the present people may go on spending extravagantly, but the people in charge of administration at the present time have an ample period to show that they are not the extravagant people that they are thought to be.

Mr. O'CONNELL

The Minister for Lands and Deputy Hughes seemed to urge that the necessity for this Bill depends entirely on the fact that a Local Government Bill is before the Dáil. They seem to take it for granted —I do not see any reason why they should take it for granted—that this Bill is going to be law within a few months. I think the Government, by their action with regard to this Bill, have shown that they have a certain doubt on that point. Indeed, their whole action with regard to this question of Local Government requires explanation. We have now what we had last year, a measure postponing the local elections. We had practically the same arguments then that we have now, except that argument which Deputy Cooper mentioned. It was mentioned then that it was quite unsuitable to have elections in winter time, and that it would be better to have them in summer. Now, nobody says it is better to have elections in winter than in summer.

I repudiate that suggestion of Deputy Cooper. I do not think I mentioned anything about the climatic conditions in connection with elections at all.

I said I was speaking from memory and subject to correction. The argument was used here by somebody; I cannot say by whom.

Mr. O'CONNELL

I will not say that the Minister for Local Government used that argument, but it was certainly pointed out, in favour of the adoption of the measure at the time, that it was better to have elections in summer time than in winter time. There is no guarantee whatsoever that the Local Government Bill, about which so much is made here, will become law in a few months. Certainly there is no guarantee that it will become law in its present form. We have a promise —I do not know whether it can be regarded as a definite promise or not— of a commission being set up to go into the whole question of Local Government reform. I understand such a commission will be set up. We have heard nothing definite about it recently and it may take a considerable time before such a commission is set up and gets to work. It will take a considerable time to consider evidence and bring in its report. I want to know if it is the intention of the Government to go on with this Local Government Bill before we get the report. If the commission is to do its work in the way it ought to do it, I do not expect that we can have the report before Christmas. There is nothing to show that their report may not be on altogether different lines from the proposals which are put forward to the Local Government Bill. I, personally, would be inclined to face the alternative put up by Deputy Gorey and to wait three years for these reforms, having the elections in the meantime. Deputy Hughes has resented the imputations which have been cast from time to time on the present bodies. If I understand the position rightly, those imputations have come more from Deputy Hughes' side of the House than anywhere else.

I spoke generally.

Mr. O'CONNELL

I am trying to speak generally, too. I take it then that Deputy Hughes was condemning his own side as much as any other, and I accept that. Certainly the statements of the Minister from time to time go to show that he has little faith, on the whole, in our present public bodies. I am inclined to agree with what has been said, that the chief reason for this is that they have outlived their time. I certainly think that elections—no matter when they are fought, we are bound to have political issues introduced—and the discussions which would take place prior to the elections, would be a healthy thing for the country. It would bring before the minds of the people the faults of the present occupants of these positions and the necessity for reform. I do not believe that simply postponing elections from time to time and replacing the boards by commissioners, directly under the control of the central authority, on the grounds that those bodies have outlived their time and are inefficient, is a good thing for democratic institutions. It will go far to do what Deputy Figgis has said—to give the idea that this country, which was supposed to have great democratic ideas, is rather inclined to go backwards than to progress in respect of democratic institutions.

There are a few points made by Deputy O'Connell that I want to refer to in the first instance. He states that a Commission of Inquiry to deal with Local Government Reform is about to be set up, and that that may mean a certain amount of delay. It may mean delay if the Local Government Bill has got to be amended in any way, according to the views of that Commission. It will most likely require to be amended, because there are very few Bills introduced, even by a Government with vast sources of knowledge at its disposal, which have not got imperfections. I believe, with the report of that Commission before us, and with the Local Government Bill, when amended, coming before the Dáil, that if you have an election next March you will know where you are. You, as a Dáil, will have amended that Bill, and when the election takes place the whole position will be absolutely different. If at present an election is forced on you, the district council elections alone will cost about £60,000. I do not say that I approve of the abolition of district councils. I am not going to deal with such matters now, but I say that the present Local Government system in the Twenty-six Counties is wrong and requires amendment.

Reference has been made by Deputy Figgis to the occupants of public positions in Ireland for the past three years or more. I have a knowledge of those who have been in public positions in Ireland for a very much longer period than three, six, nine, or twelve years, and I am aware of the fact that the composition of such bodies might have been hastily decided upon, and might have been influenced by questions of exigency at that time, but, on the whole, I maintain that these men did their work as well as they could and that they compared favourably with their predecessors, whether in corporations, urban councils or otherwise. They were up against very grave difficulties, of which I, unfortunately, being one of these men, have got knowledge. I am aware of the fact that some of them have not done their duty by the ratepayers. I have not knowledge of the Dublin Corporation apart from what I have read in the Press. For many years, back to the time when the supporters of the Union practically owned the Corporation, it was not beyond reproach. I believe it has, to some extent, retained the reputation which it received from those who made it a closed borough for the supporters of English rule in this country. I do not think that those who have composed it since have committed acts which were more wrong than were those of their predecessors. As regards the commissioners, I believe it is the duty of the Government—and with Deputy Gorey I am in absolute agreement —to take charge of the interests of the ratepayers when those who were appointed by the ratepayers to do their work have not done it honourably or straightforwardly. When these people have not taken care of the interests of the ratepayers who sent them there, I believe that the Government is right to send in commissioners, whether the body is a district council, an urban council, or a corporation, and the Government that would not appoint these commissioners would not be doing their duty. You people, whether you are farmers, labourers, or merchants, sent men to represent you on these bodies, some of whom think of themselves and not of the people who sent them there, and if they persist in that line of attitude and bring the affairs of such bodies to a level to which they should not be brought, I say that if the representatives of these councils do not do their duty and take care of the interests of the ratepayers, no matter what the work is, whether it is the sick poor, sanitation, or lighting, the Government is quite right in sending in commissioners.

Sending the commissioners does not mean that they are to be made permanent. It does not mean that we are giving away any of our democratic rights. The sending of the commissioners is only for the time being until a new council is appointed. Let no Deputy think that the appointment of commissioners to do the work where a particular body had failed to do it means that this country in the future is to be governed by commissioners. I, for one, am absolutely against it. I believe in democratic rule. I believe the people's representatives should be there to do the people's work, and I also believe there is a way to make them do their work by sending commissioners to inquire into matters when things are wrong, and if necessary to do the work which the people's representatives failed to do. I am afraid that some of the Deputies lack a sense of what they owe the country on the whole as well as the people who sent them here, if they in any way support maladministration—

Is the Deputy coming to the Bill?

I am coming to the Bill slowly.

Not by way of maladministration.

The commissioners are part of maladministration.

The Deputy is out of order on this question of commissioners, and he cannot go into the question of maladministration at all.

I accept your correction. I favour the postponement of the elections so as to give the people of the country time to think. They badly want time to think, and they want that time until next March possibly. I hope by that time the people will take steps to see that whoever they appoint, and you will have representatives of labour, farmers and merchant—I have been in close contact with those three sections and I have found straight men in contact with each—will be the right class of representatives to do the work, and then the complaints about public bodies, and the Government bringing in schemes to reform them, will not be necessary.

Deputy D'Alton wants the people to have a breathing space. I do not think he wants to give that breathing space to the people to think. They are thinking already, and what they are thinking of is as to where they come in between the different public bodies and the Government. Like Deputy Hughes, I deprecate to a great extent whatever has been said in general terms regarding public bodies. They have been elected for some years past. They served a very useful purpose, they came into being at a time when it was not very popular to be public representatives, and they went through a very severe strain during that period. But I think the people are entitled to ask, now that so much has been said about their non-representative character, how soon are they to be replaced, or re-sanctioned. It is a case of whether they represented the people or not. That is what the people are thinking of, and I suggest to Deputy Johnson that they are thinking very seriously as to whether they should not have an opportunity of expressing themselves as to the representative character or otherwise of the present bodies. We are told that we must wait for reform of local government, and that in general the machine is not perfect. With all due respect to the Minister for Local Government, I suggest the machinery he is setting up is not perfect, and that it requires a good deal of attention before it comes within any appreciable distance of perfection. He does not think so, I suppose, and I imagine if I introduced a Bill myself I would think the same. Further, has he any guarantee that the machinery he is about to set up will be sanctioned by the Dáil? If the setting up of the Commission is to have any effect in reforming the present local government machinery surely it will have something to say on the present Bill. Can he assure us that the recommendations of that Commission will not be in favour of the present machinery, and more so than in favour of his own machinery? The urban council and county councils have very important duties to perform, and has he any guarantee that the Commission will recommend the alteration of the constitution of these bodies? It will be very interesting to know why the second Commission we were promised regarding the Dublin Corporation has not been set up, and it is also very interesting to learn that some of the irregularities that were noted by the auditor in his report occurred during the period when a principal member of the Government party was one of the members of it.

Is that in order?

What is the point?

The reference to the Corporation.

Deputy Hogan is wandering back.

Mr. HOGAN

I cannot help wandering, I have got such a lead all round the Dáil.

It is not good to follow bad example.

Mr. HOGAN

To return to the point, I would like to press it home on the Minister that the people think it is pretty well time they were allowed either to withdraw their sanction from the present bodies which are functioning in the name of the people, and give them the opportunity either of withdrawing or reaffirming that sanction.

This has been a fine storm in a tea-cup when you consider that all this talk is about the question of postponing the elections for six months. At present the elections are overdue for a period of only twelve months, and when you consider the time you have gone through, and everything else, I do not think that is a very extraordinary length of time to allow to lapse. I am afraid in introducing this measure my policy in relation to the various parties in the Dáil has placed me in the position of the old man and his ass. I am trying to please everybody and find I cannot please anybody. No Deputies were more clamorous for the introduction of a Bill amending local government than the Deputies on the opposing benches. Previously, on the estimates we had two gala days to attack the Ministry of Local Government, and afterwards, when the Local Government Bill came forward, it got a further severe handling from Deputies on the opposing benches. When the estimates came up I was attacked over various matters, and for not having put in force reforms which, as I said to the Deputies, I had no power to do unless they allowed some Bill to go through.

I introduced the Local Government Bill with the intention of giving the Deputies an opportunity to think over the provisions of that Bill, and to give what assistance they could afterwards in amending it. When I introduced the Bill I believed there would be a possibility of getting it through that Session, but in view of representation from all Parties, both here and in the Seanad, that a measure of that kind should not be rushed, that we should take very great care in passing through a permanent Bill of that kind, and in view of the fact at that time I was under the impression that the Recess was to take place on the 4th July I realised that it would be impossible to get that Bill through, and accordingly I agreed to postpone the measure, I believe at the time with the concurrence of all Parties, on the condition that a Bill would be passed through the Dáil and the Seanad allowing me further to postpone the elections until the provisions of the Bill came into force.

Now Deputy Gorey is the only Deputy opposing the Bill who seemed to talk to the point. He said it is really a question of dropping the Bill altogether, which will mean having no reform in local government for three years, or else postponing the elections. He is in favour of dropping the Bill. Dropping the Bill would place me in a very awkward position. I may say I am not prepared to continue in this office for three years without making some change in the administration of local government. I do not believe anyone could carry on with the present machinery, and I do not care what Party is in office, it is absolutely essential that a change should be made in the local government machinery if we are to carry on with any sort of efficiency at all for more than another twelve months. At the present time I am in some respects placed, if not in an illegal, certainly in a non-legal position. There are certain offices which I should set up, for instance, a medical inspectorship of schools, which I am not doing on the ground that if I set them up it would mean a very heavy expenditure, which can be avoided and the same results can be achieved in a much more economical manner. Our whole policy in the Ministry of Local Government is dependent on getting some kind of Bill through very rapidly, and I undertake to get that Bill through as soon as possible after the Recess, probably in November.

Now, Deputy Gorey has dealt pretty well with the question of county councils and the reason why it is necessary to postpone the elections in respect of the county councils, as well as the rural district councils. With regard to urban councils, it is necessary to postpone these elections also, as we have decided to hold all the elections on the same date on grounds of economy. If Deputy Cooper was present at the first reading of the Bill he might have remembered I read an extract from the report of the local authority of an urban area complaining of the very high cost of an election which amounted to something like £105, while the total revenue for the year only amounted to £130. It would be very foolish to incur this unnecessary expense except for very good reasons. With regard to the appointment of a Commission, I wish to lead off by saying that Deputies on the opposing benches are really estopped from making any request in that line at all because they did not accept the President's offer and they voted against the Bill. If they were assuming at the time that it was a conditional Second Reading they did not fulfil their part of the bargain. This question of a Commission is one that requires a great deal of consideration. When you talk about Local Government and Local Government administration you are talking about a very complicated, a very involved, and a very extensive matter. If I were to set up a Commission to go into all the various matters under my control at the present moment, and if that Commission were to go into these matters in any kind of detail, I am certain their deliberations would not be concluded for probably several years, and that would give satisfaction to nobody. This question about a Commission originally arose out of representations made by people interested in reforms in the city of Dublin administration. They were anxious to have a Commission set up to inquire into that whole matter, but they were not anxious to have that Commission mixed up with another Commission which was considering other matters of Local Government administration. It was then this idea of the Commission first grew. We have agreed to the representations from the people interested in this matter, the Greater Dublin Movement, to set up this Commission. We have appointed as Chairman a distinguished member of this Assembly, and I believe it will be able to set about its deliberations very shortly. There are other matters it will be also necessary to set up a Commission to deal with. The question of Poor Law is at the present moment in a very chaotic condition.

Because owing to the difficulties of administration within the last two years, certain reforms have not been effectively put into operation. We are doing what we can in the interval to tighten up the machinery, and have done so in a great many cases with some success. Through the commission we are trying to find some way of differentiating between the deserving and the undeserving poor. That commission will look into child welfare in general. With regard to another important matter raised in the Bill, the question of roads, Deputies may not be aware that I am assisted by a very able body, the Roads Advisory Committee, in that matter, and other sections of the Bill were introduced on their behalf. There is also a commission set up to deal with State Medical Service. All those matters have to be dealt with separately if they are going to come to any conclusion within a reasonable time. This present Bill, as I mentioned when I was concluding my second reading statement is a kind of a skeleton which has been so drafted that any other reforms which are found necessary to be introduced can be grafted on to it without doing any harm. Deputies during the Recess will have an ample opportunity of bringing forward amendments to improve that Bill, and thinking over them. As the President suggested in his statement on that occasion, if the Bill suffers from any defect it is from the fact that it was drafted merely by experts, and it is necessary that the lay mind should be brought to bear on it to improve it as far as possible. I consider that nowhere would he find people as capable of dealing with the Bill as here in the Dáil, where we have men who have distinguished records on local authorities throughout the country. They can give us the benefit of their experience.

With regard to the commissions to enquire into State Medical Services and Poor Law administration, are we to understand that those commissions are to be set up to deal with those matters, but that the Bill will be proceeded with pending their report?

The present Bill neither deals with the Poor Law nor State Medical Services. There are several matters that may more or less interlock, but State Medical Service is apart from the present Bill.

The Board of Health and Relief Systems are part of the general Poor Law system. If the commission is to deal with the Poor Law system, will not that have some considerable bearing on the Bill itself?

It will not.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 50; Níl, 17.

  • Earnán Altún.
  • Pádraig F. Baxter.
  • Earnán de Blaghd.
  • Séamus Breathnach.
  • Seoirse de Bhulbh.
  • Séamus de Búrca.
  • John J. Cole.
  • John J. Conlan.
  • Louis J. D'Alton.
  • Máighréad Ní Choileáin Bean Uí Dhrisceóil.
  • Osmond Grattan Esmonde.
  • Henry J. Finlay.
  • Desmond Fitzgerald.
  • John Good.
  • John Hennigan.
  • Tomás Mac Artúir.
  • Alasdair Mac Cába.
  • Liam T. Mac Cosgair.
  • Patrick McGilligan.
  • Seán Mac Giolla 'n Ríogh.
  • Risteárd Mac Liam.
  • Eoin Mac Néill.
  • Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
  • Liam Mac Sioghaird.
  • Liam Mag Aonghusa.
  • Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.
  • Patrick J. Mulvany.
  • James Sproule Myles.
  • Martin M. Nally.
  • John T. Nolan.
  • Peadar O hAodha.
  • Criostóir O Broin.
  • Partholán O Conchubhair.
  • Conchubhair O Conghaile.
  • Eoghan O Dochartaigh. Séamus O Dóláin.
  • Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.
  • Eamon O Dúgáin.
  • Donchadh O Guaire.
  • Aindriú O Láimhín.
  • Fionán O Loingsigh.
  • Pádraic O Máille.
  • Séamus O Murchadha.
  • Pádraig O hOgáin (Gaillimh).
  • Patrick K. Hogan (Luimneach).
  • Seán O Súilleabháin.
  • Caoimhgín O hUigín.
  • Seán Príomhdhail.
  • Liam Thrift.
  • Nicholas Wall.

Níl

  • Seán Buitléir.
  • Bryan R. Cooper.
  • Séamus Eabhróid.
  • Darrell Figgis.
  • David Hall.
  • Connor Hogan.
  • Tomás Mac Eoin.
  • Risteárd Mac Fheorais.
  • Pádraig Mac Fhlannchadha.
  • Tomás de Nógla.
  • Tomás O Conaill.
  • Aodh O Cúlacháin.
  • Liam O Daimhín.
  • Eamon O Dubhghaill.
  • Domhnall O Muirgheasa.
  • Tadhg O Murchadha.
  • Pádraig O hOgáin (An Clár).
Motion declared carried.