The question is: "That Section 1 stand part of the Bill."
DÁIL IN COMMITTEE. - LOCAL ELECTIONS POSTPONEMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL—THIRD STAGE.
Section 1 repeals an Act to which we devoted some time, though not a great deal of time, in this session. It would be a very much better thing if the Government could make up their minds as to what they are going to do and not waste time bringing in nugatory Acts and then repealing them.
I have an amendment to Section 2: "To delete, in line 16, the words and figures `31st day of March, 1925,' and to substitute therefor the words and figures `20th day of December, 1924.'" I put down this amendment as some sort of security that when the Dáil reassembles in October we shall get on to the Local Government Bill and not have it pushed aside by the Army Bill that has been promised, and possibly by other measures left over from this session. This is a matter which has been crying out for reform for a long time, and there is very grave discontent amongst a large number of ratepayers, that they cannot alter the composition of their local governing bodies. I think that feeling should be met to the extent of postponing the elections for as brief a period as possible. I put down the 20th December. Originally I put down the 31st December, but then I came to the conclusion that during the last days of December peace and good-will should prevail, and that cannot be entirely associated with an election.
I can see no reason why, if the Local Government Bill is proceeded with in an adequate and business-like fashion, if instead of meeting two or three days in the week and then adjourning for ten days, as we did last Autumn, we settle down to work and tackle the Bill from the day we re-assemble and do a good working week on the "work of the nation," as Deputy O'Connor would say, we should not get the Local Government Bill through by the end of November. Knowing that it is going through, the Minister will be in a position to make all the necessary preparations for this election. The elections for these bodies have been postponed too long already and it is for the Minister to make a case that we should not have them for another nine months. This amendment of mine would postpone them for six months. I think that is the longest reasonable period.
I desire to support the amendment. I contemplated putting down an amendment to insert the 1st December as the date, but I found that Deputy Cooper had, some time previously, put in an amendment for the 20th December. There was very little to choose between Deputy Cooper's amendment and mine, and I gave way because, in a sense, it was really an equation of converging identities. There is no doubt that the country is suffering, and suffering very seriously, from the absence of a local election. It may be strange to Deputies, but it is an undoubted and incontrovertible fact that we have had no popular and free election for ten years. The last election, at which candidates were free to go up, without being charged with the crime of antinationalism, was in 1914. The elections would, normally, have come around in 1917, but because of the Great War the elections were postponed until peace was proclaimed. In 1919 the British Government deferred the holding of the elections because they wanted, as they pretended, to give rights to minorities, and they introduced a Proportional Representation Bill. The passage of that Bill necessitated the postponement of the elections until 1920. When 1920 came the then political party which held power in Ireland determined to make the elections a political issue, because it was felt that they should get control of local administration to help them to fight out the struggle against England.
A consequence of that was that many persons, who normally would not be selected, or elected to local bodies, got control. I am not objecting, in a sense, to that, but I say that the necessity which called forth these men, has long since ceased. As a matter of fact, we should have had an election, not alone last year, but even in 1922, if it were possible. The necessity that called forth those men, had, as I said, ceased and their representative right should have reverted to the people rather than be held by men who, in the real sense, had not a representative status. Several Amending Bills have since been passed postponing the elections. This, I think, is the culmination. It is proposed now to put the election back to 31st March next, and the reason given for that is that we must have a Local Government Bill passed into law, and that some necessary changes will be enacted which will make a fresh election essential. Though I am rather suspicious of those reforms, having some experience of their effects in years gone by, I will not, in this case, push it too far. But I say it is quite possible for the Minister, by accelerating the work in his department to have everything ready for the 20th December. Let us have the elections. The country is crying out for them and they are long overdue. There was what I consider a false cry raised here about the question of cost. The elections were due last year in the normal course of events, yet under this Bill it is proposed to put them off for another nine months—in other words, to have them practically two years overdue. If it is felt to be a waste of money to hold elections now, or elections next December, I contend that it is equally a waste of money, taking it strictly from the utilitarian point of view, to have elections even twelve months or nine months hence. Democracy is something. Democracy has, I think, reached its adolescent stage, but I maintain that if you pit utilitarianism against democracy, democracy col lapses. This plea of economy will not hold water. I feel rather strongly on this matter. I feel that the chaotic conditions in local administration from which this country is suffering and suffering very severely are due altogether to the absence of elections, and the denial to the people of the right to elect the persons they desire. Therefore, I strongly press this amendment on the Dáil.
There is, generally, a good deal of sense in amendments put down by Deputy Cooper. It must be the combination of himself and Deputy Hogan which made this amendment——
May I intervene to say that we acted independently of each other.
I think the amendment is a very ridiculous one, and I hope the House will reject it. I voted against the introduction of this Bill on the First Reading, but nevertheless I do not want to see elections held in the darkness of winter and within a few days of Christmas. That is why I said that there was no sense in this amendment.
Deputy Hogan has said that it was impossible for some classes to get representation on the councils at the 1920 election. If certain classes had not sufficient courage at the time——
The Deputy must not go into history. It has nothing to do with the amendment.
I did not make any such remark.
I know you did not.
The Deputy alleges that the members of the public boards do not now in reality represent the people. On some boards, which I had the honour of being a member of, from 1920 up to the time of the Truce, we could never get a quorum. The only members who turned up were a few of the Labour representatives, and these men did their best to carry on their duties in the ratepayers' interest in the absence of the other elected representatives. I quite agree that the elections are overdue. I further agree that the winter time is not the time to hold elections. If they are postponed until March 31st, everybody in the country will have become acclimatised and they will not have that nervous feeling in selecting candidates and voting for them. I am quite satisfied that the elections should be postponed, and I think that this amendment is uncalled for. I do not say that because Deputy Hogan had thrown in his lot with Deputy Cooper. In Westmeath the rates in 1920 were 7s. 4d. in the £, and they have not been increased since, as the rates were 7s. 4d. in the £ at the end of the last financial year. The rates have been reduced by something like 1s. 6d. in the £. I fail to see how it can be said that the councillors in Westmeath were not acting in the interests of the ratepayers. Deputy Hogan has referred to the 1920 election. I do not like publicly to say that the representatives of a certain class of people, who had not the moral courage at the time to come and do their——
The Deputy cannot make that point. He must conclude.
I was pleased with the spirit of Deputy Cooper's speech in favour of his amendment, and I hope that he will maintain that form when we come to discuss the Local Government Bill later on. He seems to be very anxious to get that Bill through, and I need hardly say that I am also very anxious. I may repeat that I am not at all anxious for the postponement of elections. There is nobody in the Dáil who suffers more or meets with greater difficulty as the result of postponing the elections than I do. It is continually being thrown up at me, if it is necessary for me to take any strong steps in any particular direction, that the obvious remedy is to hold elections. I would be very glad to get rid of that argument once and for all. After going into all the argumentspro and con in this matter we have decided that the only alternative is to postpone the elections. This Bill is not mandatory, except in so far as it fixed the 31st March as the last day on which elections can be held. It will be possible to make an order directing that the elections should be held at any intervening period, if necessary. I fixed the 31st March, because that is the end of the financial year, and because I considered that the main thing above all was that the new councils should be in for the framing of next year's estimates. I do not think that there is anything to be gained by picking out any arbitrary date like the 20th of December.
When do the councils begin to frame estimates?
I do not think they are tied to any particular date.
Why not one day later, so as to make it the beginning of the financial year?
They usually frame them in February. However, that is the end of the financial year, and that is the main thing. I do not know if Deputy Cooper quite realises the implication of his amendment. Fixing the 20th December for the elections would work out so that it would leave me very little time to get the Bill through. The date of the election, in Local Government elections, is the date of polling. In Dáil elections it is the date of nomination. Publication of notice of the election should take place thirty-five days before the date of the election. That would mean that publication of notice of the election should take place on the 15th November. In the notice of election, the areas of election and the number of councillors who are to be elected, should be specified. These are two doubtful factors until the Bill has been passed through its final stages. Neither I, nor anybody else, would be in a position to say what number should be elected, because the numbers may be amended up to that particular date. That will mean, if we allow time for my Department to make the necessary arrangements and to issue the necessary Orders, that the Bill would want to be through all its stages by 1st November. I hope it will be through, and I will do everything in my power to get the Bill through by 1st November.
But there are too many doubtful factors to be taken into consideration for me to state definitely here that I can be certain the Bill will be through by that date. I do not know even at present when the Dáil and the Seanad are going to reassemble. I do not know what urgent matters may arise in the meanwhile, which may make it necessary to put off this Bill may be for a few weeks, and I do not know how long Deputies will take in discussing the Bill during its various stages. For all these reasons I think it would be very unwise for me to accept a date of that kind which would really defeat the whole object of this Bill, which is to prevent us from putting the country to the expense and inconvenience of holding two elections instead of one.
Would the Minister say what are his Department's intentions in connection with the Local Government Bill? Is it the intention to hold the Commission suggested by the President? I think that has a lot to do with this, and we ought to know it.
On the Second Reading, I gave a very full explanation on that question. I do not know if the Deputy was present.
I was present.
The Minister's speech has confirmed my worst fears. The progress of the Local Government Bill is to be a matter of `if's" and "ands"—if he can get it through by the 1st November; if the Dáil meets, etc. There is evidently no real determination to press on with it. I promise him if he does that I will assist, consider and amend the Bill to the best of my ability. I have great respect for Deputy McCarthy's opinion, and, when he is reinforced by Deputy Lyons, that respect is doubled. But I have no respect whatever for the argument that it is impossible to hold an election in the winter. I wonder if Deputy McCarthy ever knew of any election held in July? The argument that you cannot hold an election in winter is really not founded on any fact. I have had some experience of it. I have fought a Parliamentary election over a wide area in December and in January, and one is not really handicapped by the darkness. One might be, and sometimes is, handicapped by the weather. I do not know if Deputy McCarthy can promise the Minister fine weather in July, if he held the election. Deputy McCarthy would be wise not to. The only point on which the Minister did give me some cause to reconsider this amendment was on the point of machinery—the point of giving notice, and so on. I did not intend to press him to have his Bill through by the 15th November. If the Bill got through the Dáil and Seanad before the Christmas Recess, probably then he would be in a position to hold elections at once. I have not the Bill with me, but I do not remember anything in it about altering the electoral areas. I do not see why the necessary notice should not be given pending the passing of the Bill. If that is so, I would be prepared to withdraw this amendment. But barring that I have not heard a valid argument.
I agree that the Minister's statement regarding the period of notice may have some validity but the effect of it is simply to confirm one's previously expressed view that this Bill ought not to go through in its present form, but that we ought not to allow the Minister to defer the elections until March next. Everything that he has said rather suggests to me that when we come to December or January next we shall have another Bill for the postponing of local elections. He has no right to count so faithfully as he does upon the passing of the Local Government Bill as he at present wishes that it should be passed. That is a matter for the Dáil. The Dáil or the Seanad may decide to alter it very considerably, may decide not to accept it at all. Even he himself might decide to amend it very materially when he has had the reports of those various commissions that he suggested on the Second Stage, and in a general way the question of the future Local Government of the country is quite indefinite, vague and in the air, according to the Minister's own statements. The real remedy is to have the elections at the earliest possible date, and then perhaps in your Local Government Bill, when it assumes the final shape, you can define a day from which the councils to be elected this year would cease to exist in that form, or have some transition clause, such as has been introduced into other Bills, which would cover over the interim period. But to agree to the 31st March is practically telling the Dáil that the chances of an election during the coming winter are very small indeed. The estimates ought to be available for the councils by the 31st March. The Minister says that they would begin to discuss them in February. Some councils discuss them before February. But the councils that are to be elected must be elected some time prior to February to get hold of the question of the estimates with anything like thoroughness. That suggests that there must be an election before January if the councils are to do what is looked for regarding estimated expenditure for the following year. Hence we are driven back either to December or some date after March. The Minister is contending that the elections should be held some time in the spring, before the 31st March. I suggest that if he intends that he is asking the new councils to deal with the administration of the year 1925-26 and the expenses of that administration, ignorant of their new duties and of the responsibilities attaching thereto in respect of the estimates, that further confirms me in the view that the Minister does not intend that there shall be elections before next summer.
Is it not in the hands of the Dáil as to whether or not this Bill is to become law soon after we re-assemble? If the Dáil is anxious that this Bill should become law surely Deputies can put in whatever amendments they have to put in in good time, and they can see that the Minister, or the Executive Council, gives precedence to this Bill over any other measure. Deputy Cooper said that there was no change being made. I think there is a provision in the Bill where the membership of county councils is to be increased, and that will have to run the gauntlet of the Dáil and of the Seanad, so that we are making changes, and as the Minister has stated he is not in a position to make regulations unless he has the text of the Bill in its final form before him; there is nothing to be gained by putting in the 20th of December. That, to my mind, is an impossible date, but if the Dáil is anxious that this measure should pass, the elections could be held any day—one month after the Bill is passed—and I think the date, the 31st March, is merely put in to give the Minister ample time for making any regulations which have to be made when the Bill is passed.
Suppose that my amendment is defeated, and suppose that the 31st March is retained in the Bill, I wonder does the Minister propose to hold the elections on the 31st of March on the current year's register, or will he have a fresh register issued? I think that under the electoral law it would not be possible to have a register ready by the 31st of March, so that that would mean further postponing the elections. After all, is not the old register the register that the Dáil was elected on, and if it is good enough to elect the Dáil surely it is good enough to elect a county council? Deputy Hughes wanted to make the point that the Minister should make certain regulations about county councillors. He is certainly doubling the number of county councillors, but I am not aware that he is altering the areas in which these county councillors will be elected, and as the elections will be held under Proportional Representation very little change is required under the regulations.
I do not think that Deputy Connor Hogan is quite right in some of his statements. We will hold the elections on what he calls the old register, but it is really a new register. It has just been completed, and in fact I am not quite sure whether it is yet completed for the whole country or not. As I said before, the 31st of March is not mandatory. I could make an order to have an election held at a date much sooner than that if it was found possible to do so, but I do not wish to have my hands tied up by legal restrictions so that I might possibly be in the position of having to come before the Dáil and apply for another Postponement of Elections Act. Deputy Cooper has accused us of a lack of foresight in our manner of introducing legislation. It is probably because we see possible difficulties in the way that I am trying to make doubly sure, by allowing ourselves sufficient time, and I do not think there is much to be said between the 31st March and the 20th December. However, if it meets with Deputy Cooper's view I would be willing to make an order to hold the elections on the 20th December provisionally, while at the same time taking power, if I find it necessary, to postpone them to the 31st March.
I will accept that if Deputy Hogan will.
Is it wise to hold an election on the 20th December?
Would the Minister not consider the idea of having the elections on the 15th of January?
I will accept that.
I will, too.
I ask leave to withdraw the amendment in view of the undertaking given by the Minister.
Am I to understand that it will be the 15th?
I will still have power to extend the date if I find I cannot do it in that time.
I take it that the Minister, if he finds it necessary to change the arrangements, will communicate the reasons either in the Dáil or privately to me.
It is the undertaking that the elections will be held on the 20th December? I object to disturbing the commerce of the city on the 20th December.
I cannot undertake to state what the undertaking is. I have no knowledge of the undertaking. That is between the Minister and the proposer of the amendment.
It is the 15th January.