I move the Second Reading of the Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) (Continuance) Bill, 1925. The existing Act, the Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Act, is due to expire on the 24th June next. The proposal is to continue that temporary Act in force until the 31st March, 1926. On that proposal two questions arise, the first being why it is necessary to renew the Act at all, and the second, perhaps, why, if the Act is to be renewed, it should not be simply made permanent. I had circulated to Deputies certain returns showing the position with regard to the execution of decrees in the three last quarters. These were the quarters ending 30th September and 30th December of last year and March of the current year. Deputies will see from those returns that there really was a very considerable problem to be tackled and that arrears are not quite satisfactorily wiped off, even up to date. At the same time it is true that the execution of Court judgments is probably proceeding more smoothly and more expeditiously at the moment than, say, at any time for the last fifteen or twenty years. That is not an extravagant claim. This side of administrative machinery was never really satisfactory in the past, and it is not an extravagant ambition to aim at making it very much more satisfactory in future than it was at any period during the past. Any solicitor in a fair way of practice in the country knows that the execution of Court judgments, and in particular the execution of the decrees of the County Courts, was never in a satisfactory position here. I consider that a weakness of that kind is a serious weakness in administration, and it inevitably reacts on commercial conditions in a country. Unless we can bring about a situation in which the decrees of the Courts will be executed smoothly and with expedition, that will be a factor against the general credit of the country, morally and financially, and against its commercial prospects.
I am asking to have the Act which we passed last year continued until March of next year, because I am not yet in a position to put before the Dáil the proposals which I would wish to make permanent and to incorporate in the permanent law of the country. In a way it might be contended that the picture shown even in the quarter ending in March of this year shows an abnormal situation, and that it might be better not to pass permanent proposals, until a situation that could be described as normal has been reached. The Act which we passed last year provided for the appointment of Assistant Under-Sheriffs, not exceeding six in number. That number was, in fact, appointed, but for one reason or another, including the fact that the vacancies had to be advertised and a Selection Board set up under the Civil Service Commission, the appointments were not actually made until the beginning of this year.
Part III. of the Act which we propose to continue provides for the examination of debtors and the making of instalment orders by Justices of the District Courts. Before a creditor can obtain that particular relief, the Under-Sheriff must have tried and failed to realise on foot of the judgment. Part III. of the Act provides a last resort for the creditor and, from the information at my disposal, no provision of the Act has been so fruitful as that providing this system of examination. I have obtained a return of applications under this part of the Act made in the District Courts up to 31st March, 1925. The return is not exhaustive, but it is instructive on the working of this part of the Act. Up to the date mentioned, 576 applications were made to the Justices of the District Courts for the examination of debtors. In 378 cases instalment orders were made, and in some 20 cases these orders were refused, as the Court was satisfied the debtor had no means with which to pay the debt. In 364 cases payments have been made by the debtors on foot of their debts. The remaining 162 cases were still pending on the 31st March, 1925, in that the time fixed for the payment of instalments had not yet arrived, or examination orders only had been made. The net fact arising from these figures is that 364 Court judgments have been made fruitful which, without Part III. of the Act, would be unproductive, as the alternative remedy afforded by Section 6 of the Debtors (Ireland) Act was cumbersome and costly from the point of view of the creditor, and was rarely utilised.
I have stated that the execution of Court judgments is at the moment probably as good or even better than it was at any time within the last ten or fifteen years. I would ask Deputies to remember, when considering that statement, that that position has been reached only by a very considerable expenditure of energy and attention in my Department. The State is at present paying £73 a week for extra bailiffs under the Act of last year. Perhaps no part of the machinery of administration in the country has received so much attention, and of necessity has received so much attention, as this question of the execution of Court judgments. The returns which I have caused to be circulated show a certain improvement in the position. It was a very gradual and a very painful improvement, but, such as it is, it is there. The number of unexecuted judgments on hands on the 31st July, 1924, was 7,063, representing a sum of approximately £126,538. On 31st March, 1925, the number was 5,712, representing a sum of £107,790, showing a diminution in the number of unexecuted judgments of 1,351, and representing in money value £18,748.
Before a permanent Bill is introduced we would like to see a considerable improvement in the position, so that we would not be passing permanent proposals on an abnormal set of circumstances. For instance, in the counties where the assistant under-sheriffs are functioning, you have very considerable arrears situations still to be dealt with. But, as I say, this question of the execution of court judgments was never very satisfactory in the past and always left a good deal to be desired. There will need to be considerable changes in that part of the administration, some of which could scarcely be introduced or even considered until the Rules of Court, which are to be brought in under the Courts of Justice Act, have been introduced and, in fact, have been in operation for some time. Any permanent proposal dealing with the under-sheriffs side of administration would need to fit in with the Rules of Court and with the permanent staff machinery under the Court of Justices Act.