Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Feb 1937

Vol. 65 No. 1

Public Business. - Public Assistance Bill, 1936—Second Stage.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to enable public assistance authorities to assist societies engaged in giving food and lodgings to poor persons. This Bill follows upon an interesting experiment by the Dublin Poor Law authority, initiated in the year 1926 and continued since by the various boards responsible for the relief of the poor in the Dublin area. Under this scheme, certain workhouse buildings were put in repair and made available for use by a society whose members engaged in philanthropic work of various kinds. The society undertook to use the buildings for the reception and shelter of necessitous persons who might otherwise become inmates of the workhouse, to maintain the premises and to provide certain services and equipment. In making this arrangement, the Dublin Poor Law authority felt that they would improve the lot of the destitute persons concerned by placing them in the care of a society whose members devote themselves to the welfare of the people entrusted to their charge. In this matter, the expectations of the Dublin Poor Law authority were amply fulfilled. The Dublin Board of Assistance are of opinion that, were it not for the charitable and unselfish labours of these voluntary workers, the majority of the male population of the institution would become inmates of the workhouse, where they could not possibly receive the attention and encouragement that is now given them. Apart from that aspect of the question, it appears that the scheme has resulted in a substantial saving in the rates in the Dublin area. The extent of that saving will probably be realised by bearing in mind the fact that upwards of 500 people in one night are accommodated in this institution. The Dublin Board have already expended a considerable sum—somewhere in the neighbourhood of £3,000—in making the building suitable and providing furniture and other requisites and they are so impressed with the success and the useful nature of the work done that they are prepared to incur further expenditure on improvements and extensions of buildings.

The Bill under consideration proposes to give power to local authorities to provide for poor persons in the manner indicated. It will be observed that the assistance is to be given to societies affording relief in the form of food and lodging—in other words, to societies providing homes or institutions in which poor persons can get food and shelter. The assistance to be given is to be subject to such limitations as the Minister for Local Government may impose and, in that way, the Minister will be enabled to encourage the development of this form of assistance along lines considered desirable in the public interest. It will be noticed that Section 3 of the Bill is to have retrospective effect. These provisions are intended to remove doubts as to the legality of items of expenditure already incurred by Dublin Board of Assistance. Legal opinion was forthcoming that there is some doubt as to the legality of some payments under this head since 1926. I think the Bill is an important stage in the growth of schemes for the assistance of the poor, and I recommend it to the House for favourable consideration.

It is gratifying to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the present poor law authorities in the city were so struck with the success of the venture he mentioned that they are going to get further assistance. It is gratifying, particularly, for the reason that the experiment has been a success, and being a success it means rather a lot more than, perhaps, would be inferred from the Parliamentary Secretary's suggestion, as it has taken men and also women who would otherwise have been inmates of some of the public assistance institutions out of them, and has also saved the rates. I think we should understand when faced with this measure, and the implications of it, that it has meant a lot more. A very exceptional type of experiment has been carried out, and the carrying out of it has been one of the heroic things associated with social work in the City of Dublin during the last ten or twelve years. It has been one of the instances of heroism that did not appear on the public platform, that did not declare itself with drums, with marching or with anything like that, but that saved a large number of men, and a large number of women from being, not only social wrecks and a danger to society, complete social and moral wrecks, but a source of contamination and of dismay to other people. The people who have been conducting this experiment were dealing with the outcasts of society, with people who from time to time are usually in the casual wards of the Dublin Union and in common lodging houses. They are the class of people least welcome, because of their peculiar circumstances, their complete want of hope in life and the absence of any monetary resources. In the first place they never clean themselves and in the next place they could never rise above a particular low state of squalor and misery. Taking that class of person out of the casual ward and the common lodging house, was not only a great benefit to these places, but a benefit to the unfortunate people who were less "down-and-out" than they were, who use the casual ward and the common lodging house.

The experiment has taken that particular class of men and women in the city who were "down-and-out" and they are now self-respecting citizens, paying their way and earning their own living, simply because of the fact that they were taken up by institutions set up by voluntary aid, housed in a house placed at their disposal by the then commissioners of the City of Dublin, and provided with a decent home, decent food and decent surroundings conducted by persons voluntarily engaged in charitable work. They have been able to work their way back as a result of that assistance, and of the hope engendered in them by changed surroundings, and by the work that has meant so much in the life of Dublin. It is possible in the institutions implied in this Bill for men and women to live without any of the hard restrictions that necessarily surround people in places like workhouses or in the difficult circumstances that surround people in common lodging houses. That class, as far as institution life is concerned, had to be dealt with by more rigorous regulations and perhaps with more severe supervision than any other class. In the institutions they are now in they are relieved completely from that particular supervision and are assisted to get back into life. There is no control of any kind over their private lives. The men may earn a livelihood at the cattle market or they may engage in any occupation they wish, while the women may be flower sellers or street vendors, and are not precluded from making appeals to the charitable amongst the citizens in any way that is proper and within the law. This Bill marks an experiment that was carried out in the first place by charitable workers in the City of Dublin, which assisted people who could not have succeeded without what the Parliamentary Secretary calls the poor law authority. At the time the poor law authorities in the city were the commissioners appointed by the then Minister for Local Government, and not only did the commissioners assist, but it is due to the officials of the Department of Local Government to say, that the experiment could not have been carried out without their devoted assistance, tact, diplomacy and courage. Some of the senior officials of the Department of Local Government, under the authority of the Ministry at that time left no stone unturned, in that respect, and any help that could be given was given to the charitable workers in the city to face what was a gigantic task. The class catered for was a class that was never studied; it was a class, perhaps that could not have been studied in the past.

Under the new circumstances it was possible for social workers in the city to study conditions in other countries, to see what had been done there, to exchange ideas amongst themselves and to see what ought to be done here. If the Morning Star was set up to work to save men from squalor and misery both spiritual and material, and if the Regina Coeli is working also, not only was assistance given generally by the Department of Local Government at different times to that group of workers and individuals, but the officials of the Department were enjoying, as it were, new knowledge in keeping these social workers to make plans for dealing with that type of person that is so necessary to get that delicate machinery going. They were the people who held the oil-can to that machinery and I regard this Bill as a monument, not only to the social workers in the city but a monument to some of the higher officials of the Department of Local Government. It is gratifying to know that the public recognise that the body that now deals with public assistance in the city is able to look back over the work done since 1926 and on the very difficult experiment carried out over that length of time, and is able to pronounce it a huge success. Ordinary people who find themselves, from time to time inside the walls of these institutions, will never know what magnificent work has been done, but it is gratifying to know that the elected representatives dealing with public assistance recognise the value of that work and are going to assist it. We may all pray that the work it will do in the future, with whatever increased assistance may be given, will be even greater than the useful work that was done in the past.

As Chairman of the Dublin Board of Assistance for many years, I can on behalf of that authority and myself welcome the introduction of this measure, and congratulate the Minister on his recognition of the valuable social services given unobtrusively and ungrudgingly by many of our Dublin citizens. We have in the past been greatly helped in the administration of the laws for the relief of the poor by this society of voluntary workers in our area, whose efforts we have supported in the past, and we appreciate this Bill because it enables us to give increased assistance in the future. The Minister is probably aware of the organisation to which we are referring, and I am sure he understands, as we do, that the services of these workers, untrammelled by the regulations which beset the members of a body such as the board of assistance, are services beyond fact, because amongst other things these people are able to give that kindness and sympathy which it is not possible for officials who are interested in the extending of public charity to give. The House will, of course, understand that the officers who administer public charities have many difficulties to contend with— difficulties unknown to voluntary workers—and but little time to give to the individual needs of those applying for or receiving assistance. I do not want to be critical of the work of the officers who are concerned with public authorities, when I endeavour to compliment those who are giving their voluntary services to those of their fellow-citizens who have been unfortunate in their fight in life.

The board of assistance is fully convinced of the fact that the people who are attended to in this institution would be a burden on the rates if they were not housed as they are in this hostel, and, as their numbers are many hundreds, it is estimated that at least two a week of these people leave the hostel sufficiently strong in body and improved in health to take up work and to make a new start in life. There are many remarkable instances of men in various occupations, professional and otherwise, who have been practically thrown on what may be termed the scrap heap and who, by reason of the attention they have got at the hands of these workers, have been given an opportunity of making another start and climbing to success. I know that anyone who has taken any interest in this class of work will find it very interesting to refer to the histories of many of these men and women who have come under the care of these voluntary societies, and it is interesting to know that many of them who otherwise would be hopeless have been enabled to make a new start and are now holding very responsible positions.

As I have said, much support has already been given to this social enterprise, and I am glad that the Minister has, by the introduction of this Bill, clarified the position by indemnifying the local authority which has in the past given assistance in many ways. It is gratifying to know that in the future they will be provided with the ways and means of giving further help without any fear of complications arising. It is interesting to realise that the principle underlying the Bill was started many years ago. Some people may have thought it should have been attended to sooner on the lines proposed by the Bill, but I feel confident in saying that while it was not done too soon, it was wise to have waited. The fact that the Bill is before us to-day is very satisfactory, and I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading, and in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on having introduced it.

There is not much to say in conclusion so far as the reception which the Bill has got is concerned. The Deputies who have spoken have given it a very cordial reception. I should perhaps say that, in my opinion, no tribute is too high to pay to the voluntary workers who have brought such charity and enthusiasm to bear on their labours. Some 12 months ago or so, I visited the institutions covered in this Bill and I confess that I was very deeply impressed by the evidence of the magnificent work being done there. It is scarcely possible for anybody fully to conceive the nature of excellence of the work being done without having seen such an institution in actual operation, and, as I say, no tribute is too high to pay to the voluntary workers who are giving such wonderful attention to this particular section of Dublin's poor. There has been no criticism of the Bill and I am in the happy position of having no criticism to answer.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10th February, 1937.