Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 26 Nov 1947

Vol. 109 No. 1

Local Elections Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

I move that the Local Elections Bill, 1947 be now read a Second Time.

One object of the Bill is to restore the closer and more specific relationship, which, prior to the enactment of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1919, and the operation of the system of election then prescribed, formerly existed between the members of the local authority and the electors in the areas which they represented.

The maxim: "What is everybody's business becomes nobody's business" has its application to local affairs, for what is the responsibility of a number of men soon ceases to be the responsibility of any of them in particular.

Bearing this in mind, the Bill seeks to reimpose upon the members of county councils that peculiar personal obligation which attaches to a single individual who does not share with others the responsibility of representing a particular district.

The peculiar personal responsibility I refer to was abrogated when, to suit a certain system of proportional representation, the system of single-member divisions was abolished and large multi-membered electoral areas were substituted therefor. From this two consequences have flowed. First there is no one individual on the council to whom a ratepayer with a grievance or complaint can turn with certitude and say this is my man, he and he only represents my district, and it is his personal responsibility to bring my complaint to the proper quarter and secure me redress.

The next is that the average area representd by a county councillor is far too large for him to be familiar with its requirements or for any person with his own business to look after to give it the attention which it needs.

It may be open to doubt whether when the existing system of proportional representation was first introduced, the primary object in view was to make the local authorities more truly representative of the electorate, or whether the real purpose was not to retain some vestige of power for a small and disappearing minority which held itself aloof from the rest of the nation. If the latter were the purpose we may congratulate ourselves that if there were ever need for it, which I do not admit, there is none now.

No man in this State, whatever his creed or his class, is debarred by them from taking the place in our public life to which his talents and his readiness to serve entitle him.

Apart from this consideration, however, we have the fact that it is possible to have, as Deputy Dillon pointed out on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, a system of proportional representation, based upon single-member constituencies. Such a system will enable us, not only to avail of whatever advantages its advocates may claim proportional representation to have, but will restore to our local government that factor of particular individual responsibility for an area, without which it is doubtful if the individual members of local authorities will be as alert and vigorous under the managerial system as the interest of the community requires.

During the debate on the last stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1947, Deputy Dillon, while giving at some length his adverse views on proportional representation, was careful to distinguish between that principle as applied on the multi-membered pattern and the use of the single transferable vote in combination with a system of unitary constituencies.

In my reply to him I took occasion to point out that while the system he advocated had little to commend it when applied to the election of the Legislature, it was quite otherwise if applied to election for local authorities.

Who said that?

I did. I hope, Sir, that Deputy Mulcahy is not going to continue in the role which has hitherto characterised him of being a perpetual interrogation mark when I am speaking.

You would want a few knocking around.

The fact that the single-member system of proportional representation, while quite unsuitable for the Legislature, is almost ideal for electing a local authority, arises from the fundamental and essential difference between the National Assembly and a local authority. The former is a sovereign Parliament whose competency to make laws is only circumscribed by the wide ambit of the Constitution. A local authority is an entirely subordinate body and can only exercise such powers and perform such duties as may be delegated to it by the Oireachtas. The function of a local authority is to administer the law as given to it by Parliament, and in accordance with the delegation of Parliament, but it cannot change that law. It cannot legislate. Even in the matter of by-laws, the terms of a by-law must be intra vires the legislative provisions enabling the by-law to be made.

The primary purpose of a local authority is in fact administrative, to carry on the local affairs on behalf of every section of the local community. In order that this may be done effectively, it is highly desirable, if not indeed essential, that the local authority shall be equally as representative of all parts of the area which it administers, as it is of the area as a whole.

Equal distribution of representation, however, can only be attained when each individual member is specifically elected to represent a particular area in a way that admits of no overlapping, confusion, or, on his part, evasion. But experience has shown that in the large electoral areas called county electoral areas, which have been brought into being by multimember constituencies, the representation instead of being widely distributed over the whole area, as sound local government would require, has tended to be concentrated upon the more densely populated districts of those areas. In this way the rural parts of the county have tended in general to be under-represented on the county council, while the urban areas on the other hand have been very much over-represented.

The concentration of representation in county affairs upon the urban areas not only tends to impair the representative character of the local authority; it is also highly inequitable. The main revenues of the county council are derived from or in respect of the rural areas. By comparison with the amounts thus raised the contributions of individual boroughs or urban districts to the common county treasury are not very significant. Yet under the present system of election those areas which are the main source of the council's revenues are greatly under-represented on the spending authority. But the anomaly goes further, for, while the urban residents on the county council may discuss and by their votes determine every question affecting the rural area which arises, whether it be in relation to housing, sanitary services, roads other than main roads, street-lighting, or such like, the rural residents on the county council are debarred from any voice or vote whatsoever in settling these matters should they relate to a borough or urban district. Quite clearly this position is contrary to natural justice.

To correct this anomalous position this Bill proposes, under Section 2, to rearrange representation so that the present disequilibrium between representation and financial responsibility will be adjusted. In this way we shall not only remove the discrepancy between the representation of town and country on the local authority, but, by increasing the special personal responsibilities of the individual members to the districts for which they are elected, we shall greatly improve the standard of representation for the country as a whole.

The expedient of increasing the personal responsibility of the local representative by reducing the size of his constituency is to be applied also, though in a lesser degree, to urban authorities. Henceforward, instead of whole cities and towns being taken for the electoral area as is, with the exception of the County Borough of Dublin, the case at present, the administrative area of the county borough, borough, urban district or town, as the case may be, will be divided into a number of electoral areas, each returning three members. As in the case of the county electoral areas, this will be done under Section 2, particularly by sub-sections (2) and (6). I should mention, at this stage, that it is not intended to change the size of the several local authorities as at present fixed.

The principles to be followed in framing the Orders dividing a county into local electoral areas are set out in sub-section (3) of Section 2. Briefly, they provide that in the case of the purely rural areas due regard is to be had when framing the Orders to: (a) the number of local government electors registered in the areas; (b) the rateable valuations of the areas; (c) the density of population; (d) the general character of such areas.

So far as county electoral areas, which comprise boroughs or urban districts, or which are constituted within boroughs or urban districts, are concerned, paragraph (2) of the sub-section provides that where the average amount of the county charges charged upon the urban area, in respect of the three years which preceded the year in which the Order is made, justifies it, the urban area shall be constituted as one, or if the financial position justifies it, more than one electoral area. As things now are, this rule will apply only to the largest boroughs and urban districts.

If, however, the average amounts thus charged upon the urban district would not justify the creation of a special urban electoral area or areas, but is at least one-half of the amount which would justify it, the urban area may be divided into two or more parts, and each such part shall be amalgamated with a contiguous non-urban area to form an electoral area, the county charges upon which would have approximated to the average of the county charges upon the purely rural electoral areas. This rule (which is set out in paragraph (b) of sub-section (3)) represents a mitigation of the first rule. It will apply to many of the urban districts and it is believed will afford a larger representation to these areas than would be given by the strict application of the first rule.

Where the average of the amounts charged upon an urban district is less than half the average charges in the same period upon the average rural electoral area, the urban district will not be divided but will be merged with the surrounding rural area to constitute an electoral district, the average county charge upon which would have approximated to that upon a rural electoral area. In framing the Orders relating to county boroughs, urban areas and towns the number of local government electors in and the rateable valuations of the areas are to be taken into account.

The creation of the new electoral areas in the manner I have described may require new polling districts and provision is made for this in Section 3. Heretofore the normal period of office of members of local authorities has been three years. Local elections, however, as the House is aware, have been postponed very frequently so that the three-year election rule has not been regularly followed.

Arising out of this, representations have been made by bodies representative of local authorities that the normal term of office should be fixed at five years. The conclusion is inescapable that the five-year term, which has become almost normal in practice, should be the statutory term, and it is proposed, under Section 4, to make it so accordingly.

Under the existing law the next election for local authorities should take place next year but we are also to have a general election next year. Here again it has been the universally demanded practice to postpone the local elections when they are due to take place in the year in which a general election is being held or in which it is intended to hold such an election. I propose to conform with that precedent and accordingly Section 4 also provides that the next local elections will be held in 1950 — the last elections were held in 1945 — and that subsequent elections will be held in every fifth year thereafter.

Does that mean a further postponement if there is a second general election?

Wait and see.

What is the Minister's intention?

It may happen that in some future time there may be good reason why these elections should be held in the fourth or the sixth year on a particular occasion, particularly where it is clear that by the normal efflux of time a sitting Dáil will come to an end and a general election be held, in what will correspond to the fifth year of the term of office of a local authority. It is, therefore, proposed to give the Minister for Local Government a discretion which will enable him to avoid forcing a clash between the expiration of the term of office of a local authority and the holding of a general election. To do this, the section will enable him either to bring forward or to postpone the date of the local elections in whichever way seems more feasible. But if he desires to do either, the Minister must make an Order to that effect at least nine months previous and obtain the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas for it. Furthermore, in order the more effectively to avoid having to hold the local elections within a too brief period following a general election, it is provided in sub-section (4), Section 4, that if Dáil Eireann dissolves within nine months before local elections are due to be held, the Minister may postpone the elections for one year.

Section 5 defines the qualifications for membership of the local authority. It provides that in the case of a county council a candidate must be a local government elector for the local electoral area for which he is nominated. In the case of any other local authority he must be a local government elector for the functional area of the local authority.

Deputy Allen took the Chair.

Section 6 gives electors a single transferable vote. With such a vote, the elector can indicate the order of his choice for the candidates and the vote can be transferred to a subsequent preference if it is not required for the first choice who may have been elected or eliminated.

Section 7 declares that a candidate who is credited with a number of votes equal to or greater than the quota is elected. The quota is defined in Section 1. It is ascertained by dividing the total valid votes by the number of vacancies plus one and adding one to the result. The quota is the lowest number that may elect a candidate. Under the law as it now stands, two irresponsible electors can nominate another irresponsible at no cost to themselves and the returning officer has no option but to hold an election at the expense of the ratepayers. It is quite wrong, I submit, that irresponsible persons should be entitled to involve the ratepayers in such expense. It is desirable to discourage such irresponsible japes in future. Section 8, therefore, proposes that a candidate for election shall deposit with the returning officer a sum of £10. This deposit will be returned to him, unless, should a poll be taken, he fails to get one-fifth of the quota, in which case the deposit will be forfeited to the local authority. This is not at all an onerous condition. In a single member area where there were, say, 500 votes cast, a candidate who failed to get 51 votes could not be regarded as a bona fide candidate. It is generally clear that candidates at local elections, with extremely few exceptions, got votes sufficient to justify their candidature so that this provision will not operate as a bar or deterrent to any bona fide candidate. We have already a similar provision with regard to Parliamentary elections.

Section 9 consolidates the law for filling casual vacancies. The vacancy must be filled, it declares, after one month.

Section 10 of the measure is really consequential on paragraph 2, sub-section (2) of Section 2. Aldermen under existing law are elected for each electoral area, the first two candidates elected being aldermen and the remaining councillors. This method would not apply where boroughs are divided into three-member areas. I do not propose that there should be a separate election for aldermen as was the case 40 years ago. I suggest that the election of aldermen might properly be left to the borough council at its first meeting. If the election is contested, the election must be in accordance with the principles of proportional representation. The number of aldermen will be one-fifth of the council with a minimum of five.

What will be the meaning and function of aldermen then?

If the Deputy will look up the general body of local government law, he will discover all that. In this Bill we are dealing merely with the method of holding local elections.

Are the people not to be allowed to say whether I am to be an alderman? Are the people to be allowed to decide that or is it to be decided by a clique on the council?

So, the Deputy who has experience of the Dublin Corporation regards himself and his colleagues as a clique and not as representatives of the people.

An independent man who goes forward for election as an alderman will have no chance if he has to face the Parties in the council. I am thinking of my own case.

I know the Deputy is thinking of his own case, but he will have an opportunity of speaking later.

By Section 11 existing members will continue in office for their current term. I have already mentioned that Section 4 of the Bill provides that no elections for local authorities will be held in 1948 or 1949. Section 12 makes an exception to this general rule, but only where the members of a local authority stand removed from office at the passing of the Act. There are at the moment two local authorities to which this section would apply, namely, the County Councils of Dublin and Kerry. It is in my view desirable that these councils should be reconstituted as soon as the commissioners have completed their task of overhauling, cleaning-up and reorganising the county services. I hope that this may be done in time to permit the elections to be held in Kerry, perhaps, next year, and certainly in 1949.

In Dublin, however, the reorganisation required is more far-reaching, involving as it will the complete reorganisation on a new basis and under new authorities of the health services and the social welfare services of the county, as well as a readjustment of the relationship between the county and the County Borough of Dublin in respect of the county services proper.

I am hopeful, however, that all this may be done in time to permit the new local authorities to be reconstituted in 1949. If, however, an election were held in 1948 or 1949, there would be no point in holding another election in 1950. On the other hand, if the next election were not held until 1955, or even perhaps until 1956, the period of office of the members would be too long. I think the mandate from the people would require to be renewed.

Accordingly, in these circumstances, it is proposed to give the Minister power to direct that another election should be held for either or both of the county councils in any of the years between 1950 and 1955.

Section 13, 14, 15 and 18 make adaptations in the Vocational Education Acts, the Agriculture Act, the Public Assistance Act and the Harbours Act which are consequential on the alteration of the triennial sequence of local elections and the creation of single-member areas for electing county councillors.

Section 16 amends the Local Government Act, 1941, to bring that Act into conformity with this Bill and extends by not more than six months the time within which an election must be held to a local authority, the members of which have been removed from office. The rule will be that a new election must be held after three years, but if the following year is a year in which elections under this Bill are to be held, the new election may be held in that year also. If the elections are postponed under Section 4 to the following year, the new election will also be postponed. This will enable the regular sequence of local elections to be preserved.

The Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1945, required elections of the Boards of Assistance for Balrothery, Rathdown and Dublin to be held in the year 1948. In that year, but for this Bill and the imminence of a general election, there would have been an election of Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation and the boards I have mentioned would have been elected at the first meeting after the election. Section 17 provides that these elections will be held in the year in which an election of members of Dublin County Council is held under Section 12 or 4. If the year is not 1950, it will be necessary for the Dublin Corporation to elect their members on the joint board at a meeting within one month after the day of election of the county councillors and the members will come into office on the day on which the election is completed.

Section 19 makes a general adaptation of the term triennial election which is necessary by reason of the provisions of this Bill and any particular adaptation or modification which is required may be made by Order.

Section 20 contains the usual repeals and Section 21 deals with the short title and collective citation. These are the main provisions of this Bill. It is highly desirable that it should be passed at the earliest possible moment and I trust the House will see its way to pass the Second Reading and facilitate me in taking the remaining stages later.

I move:—

To delete the word "now" and to add at the end the words "this day six months".

The Minister for Local Government asked on 14th July for permission to introduce a Bill of this kind, but before this Bill saw the light we had a declaration by the Taoiseach on 31st October that it was imperative that this Dáil be dissolved and that a general election be held at the earliest practicable moment. Not until more than a fortnight after that, on 15th November, did Deputies get a copy of this Bill, so that here is a Bill that vitally affects every local authority and not a single one of them has had an opportunity of discussing it.

It would be very tempting to take the Minister's speech and discuss the incongruities and inconsistencies of it, but I do not think it is worth while taking up the time of the Dáil doing anything like that, because we could only discuss it in a rather unreal atmosphere.

The Minister, when the general election was announced, dipped into his Departmental rag-bag, took some of the most scatter-brained ideas he could get and strung them into this measure and, on the basis that local authorities are unrepresentative and inequitably formed in relation to their representation, he puts a whole string of proposals together here, wiping out, in respect of county councils particularly, the whole idea of proportional representation.

The White Paper suggests that he thinks the utilisation of the single transferable vote in a single-member constituency has an element of proportional representation in it, but he changes the whole nature of the representation. He extends the life of the local authorities; he proposes to prevent any local election taking place earlier than 1950; he proposes to make a deposit payable in respect of each candidate at a local election on the ground that some of the adults to whom this Party gave the vote in connection with local elections are irresponsible and may be nominating some of their irresponsible colleagues or friends for election to local authorities. It would be very tempting to pursue the various rag-bag ideas in the Bill but I do not think it would be advisable to comment on it in any way except to state that it is hardly a matter for a Dáil which is practically dissolved, because there is not at present any possibility of doing any systematic work on any subject, after the Taoiseach's announcement in the first place and the inconsiderate way in which Ministers are presenting all kinds of Bills to be passed through now which are not at all urgent. It is impossible to think that this is a working legislative Assembly at all.

I think that the Minister should drop a little of his attitude of "I say" and take into consideration, when he is remodelling the representation on local authorities and remodelling a scheme that has to be worked by thousands of representatives of the people in various parts of the country from Donegal to Wexford and Dublin to Cork, if we are going to have any respect for ourselves as a Parliament, or hope that local authorities or the electorate will have any respect for us, that we should not, in a hurried way and without discussion, be asked to drive through the Dáil and Seanad a measure on which the opinions of the working local authorities throughout the whole country to-day ought to be obtained and which might be more intelligent than some of the opinions expressed here. I submit that the Minister is utterly inconsiderate if he is pressing the measure and I move that consideration of the measure be deferred and taken up by the new Parliament.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with the Minister in his anxiety to introduce this Bill. I think that he feels at the bottom of his heart or at the back of his head that the time for introducing legislative measures into this House is getting very short, and that he is anxious to make the utmost use of the little time available to display his skill in formulating new legislation and passing it through the House. I would like if a record were put before the House of the number of Bills dealing with local government which have been enacted since the Fianna Fáil Government came into office. They have altered, amended, changed, revised, recast and remoulded every particular branch of local government administration and the manner in which local authorities are formed and constituted. Such a spate of legislation should, one would imagine, produce the most perfect system of local government in the world. With all the reformation and change and renovation our local services should have become the most efficient of any democratic country in the world. We know from practical experience however — as most of us have experience of local government — that every change of legislation enacted has added nothing whatever to the efficiency of the services, but rather to confusion and to the cost of administration.

There was a time when, if you wanted a pump repaired, you had only to notify the local engineer and somebody was sent out to repair the pump. Now, if you want a pump repaired, files have to pass from the county council, from the local authority, to the Department of Local Government and they pass up and down perhaps for weeks before anything can be decided in the matter. Local administration is being brought into conformity with central administration and the whole system is being loaded down and overstaffed with administrative officials and administrative rules and regulations of every kind which tie the various officials up in a maze of red tape. This is the net result of all the legislation enacted by the Fianna Fáil Party since they came into power. Now on the eve of an election, the Minister, feeling that time may be short for initiating fresh legislation, rushes this fairly far-reaching and comprehensive measure through the House, or rather rushes into the House with this rather revolutionary change in local administration and representation. Why should we be asked at this time when there are urgent and pressing matters to be dealt with before the Parliament is dissolved, matters relating to the economic life of the country, matters relating to trade and matters relating to agriculture, matters which call for urgent and pressing attention, to regulate the manner in which county councils will be elected in 1950? We do not know who will be alive in 1950 or what Government will be in power in 1950. It is still a number of years ahead, and I think that in the new Parliament which will be elected there will be ample time and opportunity before 1950 to go into this question very carefully and then for the local authorities to go into it. There will be time —and urgent need—to consider alternative measures of election of local authorities. The Vocational Organisation Commission sat for months and months and outlined a system of local representation on vocational lines. They outlined a very elaborate system. That system might have flaws or it might not. But it is a system well worthy of earnest and careful consideration.

The view expressed by the Vocational Organisation Commission on this matter of representation of various interests in the country on local bodies, and on central bodies also, is a matter that should be thoroughly debated upon by this House before any legislation is introduced to rearrange our system of local government and local election. Why set up a commission representative of the most important people in the country? Why invite a member of the Catholic Hierarchy to preside over this commission and devote his attention to it for months and invite other important and representative people to act on the commission, and then, without giving any consideration whatever to the recommendations of the commission, proceed to introduce legislation dealing with the procedure of local elections and setting up an entirely and directly opposed system of representation to that proposed by the Vocational Commission? That, I think, is a deliberate insult to the very distinguished clergymen and citizens who sat on that commission and who gave such long and such earnest attention to the work entrusted to them.

I do not propose to say very much about the system of local elections proposed in this Bill. It is necessary, however, to say that it is a complete departure from proportional representation and I do not think that the Minister should try to hoodwink the people by saying that proportional representation is in any way preserved in this Bill. It is not. It is completely and absolutely eliminated. There is a transferable vote but when you have a transferable vote taken in conjunction with a single-seat constituency you go further towards eliminating proportional representation than if you had not that transferable vote.

I can explain that very simply. When you divide an area into single-seat constituencies and preserve the transferable vote the net result is that the Party with the majority will obtain all the representation and minorities will be completely eliminated. If you had not a transferable vote there would be an off-chance, and perhaps a fairly good chance, that in some constituencies representatives of minorities might be elected. We all know that Britain has preserved the system of single-seat constituencies for the legislative assembly. They have not introduced the transferable vote and the reason is not far to seek — they want to give minorities a chance of getting some representation somewhere. That is the idea underlying their system. I consider that their system is bad. I am in favour of proportional representation not only in local affairs but also in national affairs — particularly in national affairs. As far as local government is concerned, I would be inclined towards the suggestion put forward by the Vocational Organisation Committee that we should seek some measure of vocational representation. In this Bill there is provision for a re-division and sub-division of the various electoral areas both in town and country. There again you have provision for a good deal of gerrymandering with a view to strengthening the position of the Party of whatever Minister is dealing with the matter. I do not think that that is desirable. The Minister wants to make this Bill attractive to the rural community by claiming that he is giving them increased representation — I think — to their contribution to the local expenses. I wonder if the Minister has ever gone carefully into this question of contributions made by the various sections of the community to local administration. I mentioned a figure here some time ago in relation to agriculture. I am speaking from memory now because I have not the figure before me. I pointed out that in the estimate of national income produced by the Government it was found that the income of the agricultural industry for the most recent year available was 35 per cent. of the national income. I found, at the same time, that the valuation of agricultural land and farm buildings was something like 80 per cent. of the total valuation of this country. There you had a section of the community enjoying 35 per cent. of the national income assessed with a valuation which is 80 per cent of the total valuation. I am using those figures from memory but I think they are substantially accurate.

It is that disparity in valuations, the inequality between the agricultural community and other sections of the community, the manner in which they are called upon to provide for local expenditure, that is the first injustice that ought to be removed. I fail to see why some real effort is not made to remove that injustice. The system which the Minister provides for under this Bill is merely tinkering with the problem. It is a problem which has got to be faced and faced resolutely. There is, of course, an attempt to offset the inequality of our present system of valuations by providing an agricultural grant. But, there again, that agricultural grant is provided only for short terms — from year to year — and local authorities are never given a opportunity of knowing in advance what they are going to get in the matter of relief under the agricultural grant. The whole thing adds to confusion and makes for inefficiency in local administration.

Another point which should be taken into account is the instability of local rates — the fact that the rates tend to rise from year to year. We will never have efficient administration until a definite statutory limit is fixed to rates.

Is the Deputy not wandering away from the Bill?

No, it is very comprehensive.


It does not provide for rating.

It provides for representation in proportion to the amount of rates collected.


Which is quite a different thing.

Since it makes a change in that direction I think it is necessary to point out an alternative way in which this grave injustice to the agricultural community could be remedied —and not only to the agricultural community but also to the ratepaying community. The people are entitled to some protection. They are entitled to some definite guarantee that they will not be fleeced with higher and still higher rates.


I would suggest that the Deputy confine himself to what is in the Bill.

I am not going to elaborate the point very much further.


You must keep away from it and confine yourself to what is in the Bill.

There are a number of rather weird ideas incorporated in it. We have the provision that in certain cases elections may be held in certain counties in different years and at different times from the dates upon which elections are held in other counties. We have the proviso that the Minister may vary the time at which a county council election is held from year to year according as political opportunity offers. I think the idea of holding elections at different times in different counties is an absurd one. I think local elections should be held in the same year and at the same time for all counties.

I think the Minister should be very, very slow to dissolve a representative body duly elected by the people. It is possible that at some time in the future there will be a responsible Minister in charge of Local Government. If there is a responsible Minister and the necessity for dissolving a council should arise, then a duly representative council should be elected immediately to replace it. The Minister may hold that that would defeat the object of this measure since a council similar in personnel and policy might be reelected. Surely, if that is the Minister's view, then his own conscience convicts him. No county council should be dissolved unless it is criminally negligent or dishonest in its administration. If a council has to be dissolved for either of these reasons then the people can be relied upon to elect a better council in its place. We should face this situation with a proper sense of responsibility and a true appreciation of the sense of responsibility of the ordinary people. If a county council proves to be unworthy of its office the people will not be slow to change the personnel of such a council if given an immediate opportunity of doing so. The idea of leaving the county for a considerable period completely without local representation is both unjustifiable and anti-democratic. Having regard to the weighty consideration given to this question by the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational Organisation and having regard to the fact that this Dáil is facing almost immediate dissolution and that the local authorities have not had any opportunity of expressing their views upon this Bill, the Minister should, I think, withdraw this proposed measure for the time being.

I want to support the amendment moved by Deputy General Mulcahy. I have listened all the time to the Minister in an effort to discover whether this is the body to consider any change in the method of local government elections. This Dáil will be dissolved very shortly. Because of that you are not going to get the attention and concentration that any proposal to change a system of elections for local authorities deserves. I waited throughout the Minister's entire speech to discover the reason why it is necessary to change the present system. I wanted to hear what was wrong with the present system and wherein it had failed. I wanted to hear if any demand had emanated from anywhere for a change in the method of election. Where did the idea of change develop? Is the idea one conceived in and born of the Minister's own brain without any intervention from an outside source?

This idea of conception and birth taking place in one and the same locus is like Boyle Roche's bird.

It is the Minister's child and I am not responsible for it. The Minister did not give the House any intimation as to whether any demand had come from anywhere else. I suggest, therefore, that it is the Minister's own conception. If he does not accept that, then will he tell us who is responsible for it? There must be some demand made and there must be some reason for the change. That reason should be given to this House.

The obvious reason, of course, would appear to be that the system has failed. If that is so we should be told why it has failed. Is this merely another experiment? We have already had three Fianna Fáil experiments. I suppose I might call this the fourth Fianna Fáil experiment so far as local administration is concerned. The Minister waxed eloquent on the peculiar personal obligation and what that personal obligation meant to the small area represented by one individual and his sense of responsibility to that particular area. He went on to say: "This is my man; this is the man who is responsible for looking after my particular problem." He drew a grand picture out of his own imagination. I do not know whether the Minister served during any part of his life on a local authority. It appears to me that anything he knows about the administration of local affairs he learned from the top and not from the bottom. We all know that that is not the best way in which to glean information or gather experience of local affairs. The Minister talked about the disequilibrium between representation and financial responsibility. That is rather an extraordinary comment coming from a member of the Government that extended the franchise in regard to local government administration and gave power to everyone over 21 years of age to elect members to local authorities. The natural corollary to that piece of legislation is that local authorities become irresponsible.

The Minister knows that they did become irresponsible because he himself had the distasteful duty of dissolving a number of them. The natural corollary to that situation is the managerial system. That was inevitable the moment the Fianna Fáil Government extended the franchise. The Minister was then faced with the necessity of introducing some system of check. To-day the administration of our local affairs is anything but democratic. The Minister has put in charge of local affairs someone responsible only to himself — namely, a county manager. We have had those two experiments — one being the natural corollary to the other.

A further experiment is now going to be tried where we will have one individual representing a local government area — a very small area. A county with 24 or 25 representatives will have 24 or 25 electoral areas. Does the Minister really think that will be an advantage in helping to pin responsibility in a particular area? The local authority has only very limited functions because it has very, very limited powers under the present managerial system. The county manager's functions are purely executive. Once the finances are provided by the local authority, he can tell the local authority to "go to hell", as far as the administration of the finances is concerned provided they are administered under the relevant headings. Is it not obvious that under this system of one transferable vote there will be a preponderance of representation of a particular type and that sections in the county will go unrepresented?

Is that desirable? As to the arguments advanced by the Minister that this was very favourable to local administration and would not apply to Parliamentary representation, I think he could reverse the argument to much greater effect. He could argue, as his Leader did, that proportional representation makes for instability and that the main consideration at a general election is stable Government. He might have argued that in regard to this particular system very effectively. I think his argument completely falls to the ground so far as local administration is concerned, because there is no danger there of collapse, no danger of the fall of a Government or the fall of a local authority. At any rate, the Minister has the whip-hand. If they are not behaving as good boys, he can dissolve them.

Surely it is desirable that in the administration of local affairs the various sections of the community should be properly represented. I think that the Minister's ideal falls flat; that the grand individual he has conceived who is going to feel very great responsibility for the whole area he represents will have feet of clay. He may be a very popular individual and be returned to represent the area. But, in fact, he may not represent it at all. He may do nothing and the people in that area will have no one else to go to. If we preserve the system in operation under which there are three or six representatives drawn from different interests, if an individual has a grievance which he wants discussed by the local authority and, if one representative fails him, he can go to another. Under this system, he has only one man to go to; that grand fellow who will devote all his time to the problems of the people he represents and who will always be at their service.

That is the grand idea the Minister has. I do not think the Minister has any practical experience of local administration. I do not believe he ever served on a local authority. Those who have served on a local authority know that that is all bunk and humbug and that it is the Minister's own child. If he had consulted any persons who had experience of local bodies they would not give him that as a solution.

The Government have muddled this whole matter of local representation. They have destroyed the incentive of men capable of giving good service to give good service to the people. Now they are trying to patch that up in this way; to restore to one individual a sort of power and importance that is not there. The Minister knows well that there are people who can give valuable service to the country but, because of the undemocratic system of local government which we have in operation at present, they will not serve. They have the guts to say that they would not serve under it. They will say: "If I am going to serve on a local authority, I am prepared to accept responsibility and to do my best, but I am not going to be dictated to by a creature of the Minister's whose main consideration is to please the Custom House and who does not give a damn about the representatives of the people."

I cannot congratulate the Minister on his child. My advice to him is that he should put this Bill in the pigeon hole and let another Parliament consider it. In the meantime, if he wants to go on with this Bill, he should consult the local authorities and give them an opportunity of expressing their opinion on this fundamental change so far as local administration is concerned. He is going to deny many smaller interests any representation at all. If an individual wants to appeal to a local authority and, if one man fails him, he ought to be in a position to go to somebody else. The Minister feels that he is going to find the perfect man in every case who will be available at all times to the people, who will give his services for nothing and sacrifice his time listening to everyone's problems. I venture to prophesy that if this Bill is put into operation we will have a further change in the near future; that it will not work as effectively as the present system of representation.

The Minister talked about financial responsibility. I am glad he admits there is a disequilibrium there so far as the main industry of the country is concerned. They are contributing the bulk of the cost of local administration. Then, when they look for service, what happens? Take the question of the housing of the agricultural workers. We house people on the basis of health and not upon a man's capacity to give service to the main industry of the country. We talk about expanding production on that basis while we are turning cottages all over the country into sanatoria. That is the sort of administration we have got from the system which the Minister has in operation. The local representatives have no say as to who should get a cottage or who should not get a cottage.

We are discussing administration and it is all bound up with that. I do not want to initiate a discussion on local administration. I am merely giving that as an example because as you know, Sir, as a member of a local authority, the members are denied any voice in the selection of tenants for cottages or the methods by which they should be selected. I do not think that this is the time to discuss this Bill in a Parliament which is going to be dissolved any day.

The Minister wound up by saying that it was desirable that the Bill should be passed at the earliest possible moment. One would have expected the Minister to give a reason why it is so desirable and so urgent. This is a matter which can be delayed for a long time, and surely local authorities ought to get an opportunity of expressing their views upon it. I ask the Minister to postpone this measure and let us deal with any matters or Bills that are urgent between this and the dissolution. I think also that it is grossly unfair to have a big number of Bills fired at the House dealing with matters that cannot be dealt with efficiently; a volume of business that makes it impossible for Deputies to study the various implications in the many Bills that have been circulated in recent weeks. Here is a measure that is not urgent and the House is being very unfairly treated by having measures of this sort rushed in this manner.

As a member of a local authority, I thoroughly agree with everything Deputy Hughes has said. It will be very hard to get persons to go forward at the next elections, because under this Bill they must make a deposit of £10 if they want to contest an election for a county council. The powers that councils had previously have been taken away under the county management system. No man will put down £10 to contest an election for the Wexford or any other county council because he will have no powers. I should like to know why the Minister brought in this Bill? Is it intended to take away more of the rights of the people? Are we heading for a dictatorship?

The Minister mentioned that some people were not suitable for membership of local bodies, but in bodies attached to the county council, I see the Fianna Fáil Party always putting forward persons who were defeated in the county council elections. They put them on the committee of agriculture, on the vocational committee and on the mental hospital committee. Such people are not representing the people at all, and their only claim to be on the committees rests on the fact that they are members of the Party. Although they failed to get elected to the county council, they were able to get on these sub-committees. That should never happen. I believe that it is not possible for the Minister to say that a demand for this Bill came from anybody except the civil servants who drafted it for him. This proposal to require farmers and other people in the country to make a deposit before they can go forward as candidates is going to do away with county councils altogether.

People will say: "What is the use of lodging £10 when you would have no power even if you are elected?" Members of a county council have not even the power to let a cottage. The only power left to us at the moment is that of striking the rates. After that is finished, the county manager can do what he likes with the money. When you do bring forward a matter at a council meeting, you are told: "Oh, that is an executive function; it is not a matter for the council at all."

The present Government has abolished the system in existence for generations under which people worked voluntarily on county councils and local bodies without county managers and things worked far more smoothly at that time. At the present moment, if repairs to cottages and road works are not carried out satisfactorily, the members of the council have no power in regard to these matters, but the county manager cannot be all over the county.


Managers of county councils are not dealt with in this Bill.

I am dealing with the powers we have. If a candidate is to be required to make a deposit of £10, before he can go forward for election, it will have the effect of preventing many desirable people from offering themselves as members of such bodies. This Bill is a further step to take away all powers from the people and Deputy Allen will see when the next local elections come along, that it will not be possible to get some of his own colleagues to go forward for election if they are called upon to make a deposit of £10, seeing that they will have no power even if they are elected. Every measure that is brought forward here in connection with local administration has the effect of putting more expense on the people without getting any compensating advantage for them.

Day after day, we receive complaints from all over the country as to cottages being out of repair and pumps being out of order, but the members of the council have no power to deal with these matters since the county managers were appointed. We attend council meetings month after month and put forward our complaints, but things are just as bad a month after, because nothing is done. I think that the Minister should withdraw this Bill and instead try to bring in some measure that will be for the good of the country and will provide employment for our people. Plenty of work could be provided by housing schemes and important projects of that kind, and we should not be asked to provide for local elections in 1950 when nobody knows who will be in this House.

It is a great pity that those who have spoken against this Bill did not address themselves to the fundamental problem with which it is concerned — the problem of reviving the old interest which used to exist in regard to the administration of our local affairs and the problem of making the elected members of local authorities an effective element in the whole scheme of local government. I have given a great deal of thought to this matter and, fortified by the advice which I have had from experienced men, and by my own experience, because I have been very closely associated, directly and indirectly, with local government in this country for a great many years — as an officer of a local authority, a member of a local authority and as the son of a member of a local authority — I have come to the conclusion that the fundamental reason, the great reason why public interest in the administration of local affairs has greatly diminished, is because there is not, as the centre of the local community, a person who specifically represents that community on the local authority.

We hear from time to time many pleas made for the revival of the old rural district authorities. We hear many pleas made for the encouragement of parish councils. The reason which gave old rural district councils their great value as representative bodies and the reason which would make parish councils valuable as representative bodies, is the fact that they are closely associated with relatively circumscribed areas. You have only got to extend that idea further until you see that there is a great deal of value indeed to be attached to the fact that you have a person who does specifically represent, not a particular interest, but a particular community. For it is to such a person the people of that district can look to advance their interests on the local authorities, to ensure that their interests are fully regarded by the local authorities and to obtain redress for them, if they have grievances or feel that their interests are being neglected. That is why I am seeking to end the existing system under which you have individuals, with their own private affairs to look after, responsible for constituencies many times bigger than those for which members of Parliament were responsible in the old days. There are county electoral areas in this country under the present system which are 50 to 60 miles long and 10 or 12 miles wide — county areas between 500 and 600 square miles in extent.

The consequence of that is that very often you have the whole representation of a big area concentrated in a small pocket and that people who might look to their county councillors to do something for them in ensuring that they are adequately served by the county services cannot get in touch with their local county representative at all. They are even in a worse position than they occupy in regard to Dáil members. As the converse of that, you have members of county councils, with their own business affairs to attend to, who could not possibly look after the multifarious interests of the individuals in the wide area they are supposed to represent. The remedy for that is to base the representation on the local authorities henceforth upon areas which are compact enough to enable one person, who is giving voluntary service and has his own interests to look after as well as the public interests, such an area that he can conveniently attend to it, and correspondingly to give to the people in that area one specific person whom they can call upon to look after their interests and who cannot say, "I am only one of five representing your area. I live here but Tom or Séan So-and-so lives much more convenient to you and go to him."

When this new system of singlemember constituencies comes into effect we will have, in every county administrative area, county electoral areas of such size that they will be broadly equivalent to parishes in most cases, and you will have a representative for the parish on your county council instead of having, as at present, a person representing what would be the equivalent of a parliamentary constituency in the old days. I am perfectly certain that when we have these compact electoral areas in the future, when we have this parish representation, that we will have a much more lively and alert interest in local administration than we have at present, because the county councillor can be seen at his parish chapel Sunday after Sunday; he will be in much closer touch with his constituents and he will be much better informed as to the manner in which the local services are being administered throughout the compact area which he represents.

I believe this proposal will have the effect of stimulating and reviving interest in local government throughout the country. I believe it is essential to do that if we are to make the managerial system work in a democratic way under the close supervision of the elected representatives of the people. That is the way I visualise it as working and that is the way in which I want it to work. That is the only way in which it will be successful and can justify itself.

As I listened to Deputy Hughes referring to the county managers as creatures of the Minister and, by implication, roundly condemning that system which he has so often strongly championed in this House, I began to think that, as he kneels down at night, Deputy Hughes must offer up a prayer to that merciful Providence which "fashioned him hollow on purpose that he might his principles swallow," because there never was so complete a recantation of everything which he has been saying in this House up to the present on the part of any Deputy as we listened to from Deputy Hughes tonight. It was also a revelation of Deputy Hughes's own evaluation of himself, because Deputy Hughes is a member of a county council. I am not certain whether he is not at the moment the chairman of that county council, but I know he has been chairman of it and I wonder does Deputy Hughes really regard the county manager of Carlow as a mere creature of the Minister who is not in any way responsible to him? If he does, I suggest that Deputy Hughes ought to read the Managerial Act, because there he will see that the manager is bound to give to the chairman of the county council all the information that is at his disposal in relation to anything he may do on behalf of the county council.

If Deputy Hughes does not happen to be chairman of Carlow County Council at the moment, I know he has been and I must assume that, as he has put himself up as a fit and worthy representative of the ratepayers of Carlow on that county council, he has from time to time demanded some such information. I am fairly certain that there may be many things that a manager may do that would require a certain amount of elucidation on occasions and I hope that whenever it seemed to Deputy Hughes to require it to be done, he, in his capacity as chairman of the county council, put such questions to the manager as would satisfy him that everything the manager did was done in the interests of the ratepayers of the county. It may have happened that Deputy Hughes, as the aforetime boss of the County Council of Carlow and as the aforetime boss of the officers of the County Council of Carlow may have found that the county manager was not going to administer the affairs of Carlow in the particular interests of Deputy Hughes but rather in the interests of the ratepayers of Carlow as a whole, and that at the moment the manager showed he was going to administer the affairs of the county conscientiously and with full regard for everybody's interests as well as the interests of Deputy Hughes, at that moment may we assume that Deputy Hughes's opinion of the county manager and the managerial system changed and, because he found that the officer was no longer going to be his pliant tool, he could only characterise him as a creature of the Minister.

But county managers are not the creatures of the Minister. The Minister does not appoint managers. Managers are appointed by the Local Appointments Commission. The Minister cannot dismiss them except after due inquiry. They are appointed by the Local Appointments Commission to be the officers and servants of the local authority and not the servants of the Minister. If a manager does anything which is, in the opinion of the majority of the council not justified, or anything contrary to the interests of the county council or anything which is wrong from the point of view of the general body of the ratepayers and wrong in the opinion of the majority of the county council, or if he is in any way neglectful of his duties in the opinion of the majority of the county council, that majority can suspend the manager and can ask the Minister to hold an inquiry to investigate the manner in which his duties have been performed. The fact of the matter is this, whatever Deputies Hughes or O'Leary may say, that members of local authorities are completely masters in their own sphere and the county manager deals with executive duties.

Mr. Corish

Are they not too big for him?

That is another question.

Mr. Corish

It is the question.

The manager is the executive officer of the local authority and he must carry out his duties to the satisfaction of the authority conscientiously and efficiently. If the members of the local authority think that he is not doing that, they have the remedy, and a very drastic remedy, in their own hands. Unfortunately those members of local authorities who most often condemn the managerial system and the manager are the people who are afraid to carry out their responsibilities.

Afraid of what?

To exercise the remedy.

Are not they all Fianna Fáil men?

The people who are most outspoken, unrestrained and irresponsible are the very people who go toadying to the manager looking for favours from him and trying to get them by backdoor or backstairs methods, and when they do not get them they come out attacking the manager in an attempt to intimidate and terrorise him. I want to get rid of all that, and one way I propose to get rid of that is to try to ensure that every district within a county is properly and fully represented on the local authority. When there is one local representative to whom a community can go and whom a community can hold responsible for ensuring that its interests are looked after we will get a much more alert public authority than we have at present.

It was said by Deputies, including Deputy Cogan, that the system of elections proposed in the Bill is not a system of proportional representation. Of course it is. Deputies who said that do not know their own Constitution. It provides that a person shall be elected by proportional representation and the single transferable vote. What will happen in many cases in future, I think, is that a great number of candidates will go forward in every area who will appeal to the people on their merits, and you will have minorities coalescing with each other in order to obtain the election of the person generally most acceptable to the local community as a whole. That is what I mean by proportional representation. You can narrow it down as we are narrowing it down, trying to make people, by exercising not merely one preference but a number of preferences, secure the person most generally representative of the whole community, representative of minorities as well as majorities. We are giving, in that way, the system of proportional representation which can be applied most effectively to local affairs.

I was astonished at the arguments— or rather the only argument — advanced here against a Second Reading of this Bill. Those people pleaded that we were already incompetent to legislate. Those very same Deputies passed a Bill dealing with the representation of the people which is the most fundamental issue with which they can deal. That Bill was introduced here in this Dáil, I think, after the Taoiseach had indicated sometime early in October——

Your Deputies indicated it.

——that a general election would follow in a certain eventuality. The Second Reading of that Bill was taken after it was clear that this general election was in the offing. Nobody contended that we should not pass it or that we were incompetent to pass a fundamental measure because a general election was in contemplation, but it was generally conceded that we should get it through as soon as possible. The House has passed by an overwhelming majority the Second Reading of a Bill to revise and amend the present method of electing the Seanad. Of course, there were one or two dissentients to that Bill, but the majority of the House in favour of accepting the Seanad Bill, was, as I have said, overwhelming, notwithstanding the fact that a reasoned amendment had been put down on the Second Reading. A number of other measures have gone through the House within the past few days, and surely this is an indication that the House held itself perfectly competent to deal with any measure, as it is under the Constitution until it is dissolved. As the competency of the Dáil to legislate for this State does not expire until the Dáil is dissolved, there is no reason why we should put our faculties in cold storage and as this measure is highly desirable and likely to be conducive to good, it should be passed and passed before the Dáil is dissolved. It should be passed because as the law stands we are going to have local elections in the normal way in 1948.

For the 20 years I have been in the House everybody in the House has conceded that when a general election has taken place or is in contemplation we should not have an election for local authorities within the same year. That was conceded by all Parties in the House, not once, but on every occasion on which there was a possibility of that occurring. We are going to have the general election next year, perhaps in the early part of the year, and in the normal course we would also have had an election for local authorities next year. When the new Dáil re-assembles we will have all the financial business normally taken in the spring, all the Estimates and the Budget, and a number of other measures which have not been proceeded with now, such as that dealing with the control of prices, so it would be highly desirable if this measure were passed at the earliest opportunity. I think that the legislative programme in front of the Dáil should urge us to deal with the issue of the elections before they take place and it would be better to dispose of it now.

Let the new Government deal with it.

The new Government, which I am sure will be the old Government, will have its hands full. A whole lot of matters will arise for consideration in the new Parliament. I am hoping that this will not be one of them —that we will have it disposed of before the Dáil dissolves.

Will the Minister say, having regard to his defence of the managerial system, if it is a fact that during the past two years two demands for a sworn inquiry from the Cork County Council, which he refused to sanction, have reached his Department?

A sworn inquiry into what?

The reason given was as regards a statement or letter sent by his Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Childers, compaining about a certain official employed by the board of health in the person of Dr. O'Sullivan of Doneraile, County Cork. I am giving the Minister the facts.

About what?

A complaint was made to the Department by a particular individual in Doneraile. The county manager inquired into the case and, in view of the evidence, the county council unanimously decided to demand the sworn inquiry but the Minister refused to sanction it. That was the reply sent to the Cork County Council. The council has again requested the Department to sanction the request for a sworn inquiry.

Sir, I have no knowledge of that at the moment.

The Deputy ought to put down a Parliamentary Question; that would be the most satisfactory way of dealing with the matter.

I understand that that question has only been received.

It is in the Department for two months. The evidence was there for two years.

Question put: "That the word proposed to be deleted stand."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 52; Níl, 36.

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Allen, Denis.
  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Bourke, Dan.
  • Brady, Seán.
  • Breathnach, Cormac.
  • Brennan, Thomas.
  • Breslin, Cormac.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • Buckley, Seán.
  • Burke, Patrick (Co. Dublin).
  • Butler, Bernard.
  • Carter, Thomas.
  • Childers, Erskine H.
  • Colley, Harry.
  • Crowley, Honor Mary.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • De Valera, Vivion.
  • Flynn, Stephen.
  • Furlong, Walter.
  • Gorry, Patrick J.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Healy, John B.
  • Hilliard, Michael.
  • Humphreys, Francis.
  • Kennedy, Michael J.
  • Kilroy, James.
  • Kissane, Eamon.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick J.
  • Loughman, Frank.
  • Lydon, Michael F.
  • Lynch, James B.
  • McCann, John.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Moylan, Seán.
  • O Briain, Donnchadh.
  • O'Connor, John S.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • Ormonde, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Ted.
  • Rice, Bridget M.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Shanahan, Patrick.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Skinner, Leo B.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Traynor, Oscar.
  • Walsh, Laurence.


  • Beirne, John
  • Bennett, George C.
  • Blowick, Joseph.
  • Byrne, Alfred.
  • Cogan, Patrick.
  • Coogan, Eamonn.
  • Corish, Brendan.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Costello, John A.
  • Dockrell, Henry M.
  • Dockrell, Maurice E.
  • Donnellan, Michael.
  • Doyle, Peadar S.
  • Everett, James.
  • Fagan, Charles.
  • Finucane, Patrick.
  • Flanagan, Oliver J.
  • Halliden, Patrick J.
  • Heskin, Denis.
  • Hughes, James.
  • Keating, John.
  • McAuliffe, Patrick.
  • MacBride, Seán.
  • MacEoin, Seán.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • Norton, William.
  • O'Higgins, Thomas F.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Reilly, Patrick.
  • O'Sullivan, Martin.
  • Pattison, James P.
  • Reidy, James.
  • Reynolds, Mary.
  • Rogers, Patrick J.
  • Spring, Daniel.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Ó Ciosáin and Ó Cinnéide; Níl: Deputies Doyle and Bennett.
Question declared carried.
Question: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time" put and declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 3rd December, 1947.