I am grateful to the Government for giving me an opportunity of taking up the Second Reading of the Dublin Port and Docks Bill, 1924. I tried to explain, in introducing this Bill, that it is a matter of considerable urgency in connection with the port. It is necessary for me, on the Second Reading, to go into rather more detail as to the position and what led up to the condition of affairs that we find to-day. Briefly, the Dublin Port and Docks Board was, in the first place, constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1707. It was incorporated with the Corporation of Dublin and was empowered to erect a Ballast Office and act as Conservator of the port. In 1786 the care of the port was transferred to a special Board called the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin. This Board consisted of the Lord Mayor, the High Sheriff, seventeen persons and three Aldermen, who were named in the Act for perpetual succession.
In the year 1867 an Act was passed again changing the constitution of the Board and giving representation to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, three citizens appointed by the Corporation, seven members appointed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, seven members elected by the traders and manufacturers, and seven members by the owners of shipping. Then we come to the Act of 1898, which again dealt with the franchise. It is under the Act of 1898 that our difficulty arises, and, with the good-will of the Dáil, we seek to get over that difficulty now. The Act of 1898 provided that a revision should take place in the list of electors, and that a revisor should be appointed before the 31st of October in each year. The person to appoint the revisor was named in the Bill as the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. I ask the Dáil to recognise that it was by an Act passed here the difficulty for the Port Board was created.
In connection with the Courts of Justice Act, certain functions of the Lord Chief Justice were transferred to the Chief Justice of the Saorstát. Not all of them, however, were transferred, and one of the things left out has reference to the Port and Docks Board. As I have stated, the transferring of the functions of the Lord Chief Justice to the Chief Justice of the Saorstát was carried out under an Act of the Dáil. All the functions were not transferred. It was a deliberate act of the Dáil. When the Port and Docks Board in the ordinary way were asking the Chief Justice to appoint a revisor to deal with the list of electors, the Port Board became conversant of the fact that there was some difficulty in the matter.
The Chief Justice wrote: "The Government decided, and it was stated in the Dáil, that it would not transfer those functions by a general omnibus section, but would leave the case to be dealt with individually, after consultation with the Corporation and the various bodies affected, so that individual views might be taken of each particular case, as to whether it was desired that the Chief Justice would possess and continue to discharge the function in question."
I submit that there could not have been any question as to the desirability of making a change in connection with the Board. We do not meet with any difficulty as far as the Government is concerned. Unfortunately, we are bound up with dates, first as regards the appointment of a revisor, and then as regards the election. Owing to delay all these dates had to be altered. The main thing aimed at in connection with this Bill is to put things in order, so that we may be able to hold our election in due course, even though there may be some little delay. The members of the Board who should ordinarily retire next January, should be allowed to remain and assist in discharging the Board's functions during the interregnum between the time the election should have been held and the time when, with the permission of the Dáil, it will be held.
On the First Reading I was asked by Deputy Corish what would be the position of the Port and Docks Board in the event of these changes not being authorised. The position would be serious. Out of twenty-seven members of the Board, six civic members have retired under circumstances the Dáil is already aware of. Of the remaining members, seven who retire cannot be co-opted, because the period for which they were elected is exhausted, and the board has no power to co-opt additional members unless where vacancies occur owing to death or retirement. They have no power to fill vacancies that occur by retirement on rotation.
That leaves fourteen members of the board who would still be available to do the ordinary work of the board. But in our Act of 1898, and all through our Acts, the main functions of the board are governed by the necessity of having a majority of the board, and in any case there must be not less than fifteen members before they can make any change—that is to say, any rather drastic change—as a protection against any small number of the board putting into operation changes of a far-reaching nature. To-day we are up against that provision of 15 members for there are only fourteen available members. If we had the whole 14 we could not put into operation certain changes that we are very anxious to bring about at the present moment. For instance, a steamer came up into the Liffey the other day. It was a large steamer for pilgrims, and the Deputies will have noticed that a complaint was received by the Port and Docks Board as to the very high charges that were levied on this vessel, for a very short stay in the port. The whole thing was examined in the light of what we could do, and as to whether we could make our charges more reasonable.
We found that the only means we had of doing so was to make a universal order providing that all similar boats coming in to the Liffey in a similar way with passengers, that is to say passenger boats, would be treated in exactly the same way. The necessary resolutions have been prepared. Certain notices have to be given. Fifteen members of the board are required to put that business through, and in this particular case, in the event of our not getting any relief, it will be impossible for us to do anything in the matter until the period expires when the board can be reconstituted by having an election in 1926. Apart from that altogether, as a matter of fact, in connection with changes on dues leviable, 15 members are also required. I emphasise and stress the point that our difficulty is not one created by ourselves, not one created under our Acts of Parliament, but it is a difficulty created by the action of the Dáil in circumstances that I think I may claim throw a responsibility on the Dáil to relieve us from the difficulty in which we find ourselves.
That can only be done, I think, by the hearty co-operation of the Dáil on all sides, because if the Deputies will agree to give me a Second Reading for this Bill to-night it is a very urgent necessity that I should ask the Dáil for leave to press the matter through in the briefest time. The dates mentioned in this Bill will be of no use to us unless the legislation is expedited, so as to bring the dates within the period in which this Bill is going through the Dáil. If the Bill is not through on a certain date, then, of course, all our dates are wrong. As the matter is not of a contentious character, I ask on behalf of the Port Board, in order to meet the temporary difficulties, that the Dáil should assist us in getting over that difficulty as they have been instrumental in putting us into it. I think Deputy Johnson, on the First Reading, was inclined to raise a question as to the constitution of the Port and Docks Board.