Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1947

Vol. 109 No. 3

Committee on Finance. - Local Elections Bill, 1947—Committee.

Sections 1 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 10 stand part of the Bill."

I note that there is a radical alteration in the method adopted for electing aldermen in this section. Lest I may be charged with not putting down an amendment, I think I should preface my remarks by saying that we have had recently so much legislation and so little information as to when different items were likely to be taken, it is often difficult to get an amendment in in time. I cannot see the wisdom of an arrangement whereby the elected members of a local authority will themselves, on the basis of voting by proportional representation, elect aldermen. I think that before the Local Government Act of 1925 came into operation, under the Act of 1898 elections of aldermen were held either annually or every couple of years. That system was probably cumbersome and subsequently the present system, whereby the person who headed the poll in a particular area or a particular ward was elected alderman, was adopted. It is not clear why the present system is being departed from. Surely the people entitled to elect a person to be regarded as the senior representative for a particular area and thereby entitled to rank as alderman, are the electors themselves? Assuming that particular groups in a corporation, if they have a sufficient number of elected representatives in their group, can elect certain individuals as aldermen, it may well be that the electors themselves would not elect the same individuals if they were given the opportunity. While it is technically a fact that the electors will be electing the aldermen through their elected representatives, the better system I think is that the people themselves should be given the privilege and the right to designate the person or persons whom they regard as entitled to the description of aldermen. I would suggest that the Minister should consider an amendment to this section on the Report Stage which would leave the present system in force and allow the electors themselves to decide who would be the aldermen, namely the senior elected representatives in each area.

I had intended to raise the same point as that mentioned by Deputy Cosgrave. I should like the Minister to give some explanation of his reasons for the proposed change. Why does he want to give into the hands of the elected representatives the power to appoint aldermen and to take that power from the people? The people of this country, up to now, have had the power to elect their own aldermen. I notice the Minister for Local Government is copying the English system which never suited this country.

The Minister will know that I can put forward a case. Take my own case as an example. It may not be quite proper to put forward one's own case, but I think it is better to be frank about this matter. Any time I faced the electors there were various Parties contesting the election and the rule was that whoever headed the poll was the choice of the people for the position of alderman. It was my good fortune, thanks to the people, to get an aldermanship for the past 34 years. I can see that, following the system of election in this new Bill, various groups will get in and these groups, under proportional representation, will nominate their own candidates. The Independents, those who faced the electors as independent candidates, will have no group in the municipal council to support them. I know I would fall, because each Party would seek their own aldermen. Fianna Fáil, with 19 members in the corporation, would look for at least three aldermen; the Fine Gael Party would look for three; the Labour Party would get at least one and the Independents would get none. I am waiting for the Minister to listen to me.

I must protest at that remark of Deputy Byrne. I was listening to him, but I submit I am entitled to consult my advisers without having any reflections made upon me.

I merely stopped for a few moments while the Minister was listening to his advisers. If the Minister wants to know why I am raising this matter, I feel that the Independents would have no chance. At the moment there are three aldermen in the Dublin Corporation, Alderman Belton, Alderman Byrne, senior, and Alderman Byrne, junior. None of the three would be selected by the other groups, so therefore the public will have no say in the matter of electing their aldermen and we three would be knocked out of our positions as aldermen.

The Minister may ask why I am so sure of that and could I not appeal, under proportional representation, to the majority of my colleagues in the corporation. I have had one experience in that connection. I was for 30 years a member of the Dublin Port and Docks Board. Under the new Harbours Bill, there will be one member less from the corporation on the Dublin Port and Docks Board. The caucuses met in the corporation and the Fianna Fáil representatives wanted two members on the Port and Docks Board; Fine Gael was entitled to at least one representative and Labour, by reason of the number of representatives they had on the corporation — nine members — were entitled to one representative. The Independents, having only three members, would have no claim at all. I have been 30 years on the Port and Docks Board and I will say, in fairness to one of the members of the Fianna Fáil Party, that he thought I should go back. A vote took place and Fianna Fáil and Labour combined. Fianna Fáil said: "Give us two and we will give Labour two". That was done and Alfie Byrne fell, after 30 years' service on the board.

I suggest the same will happen in the case of an aldermanship. The same caucuses can meet and agree to drop the representative of the smallest group. I admit that so far as having powers in the corporation as an alderman and a councillor is concerned, it is just as nice to be a councillor as an alderman. I merely raise the matter here in order to show what can be done by the political Parties. I am not pointing to any one Party. They will meet and select their members and arrange with one another to drop the Independents, as in the case of the Dublin Port and Docks Board. Fianna Fáil and Labour combined to give Labour, with nine members, two seats and Fianna Fáil, with 19 members, only two seats. Fine Gael got one and that ended it and Alfie Byrne, after his 30 years' service on the Port and Docks Board, was dropped. That will happen when appointing aldermen. The public who elected Alderman Byrne, senior, and Alderman Byrne, junior, and Alderman Jack Belton, will have no say because the heads of the groups will choose their own representatives. That is not right or proper.

That was an excellent electioneering speech. I must confess that I have a great deal of sympathy with the point of view the Deputy has expressed, but I am up against a very practical problem. The House has approved a system of election which will give us in the City of Dublin no less than 15 electoral areas. If we are to say that the first person elected will be an alderman, then we will have no less than 15 aldermen in the City of Dublin. Previously there were five, later there were eight and now, under this proposal, we would have 15 and the honour and glory of being an alderman, if you like to put it that way, is going to be halved.

I suggest there is no reason to regard this as a matter of principle; it is really a matter of expediency and convenience. Under the proposal in the Bill, there will be nine aldermen in the City of Dublin. In connection with this matter we have to remember that the only thing which the office of alderman confers is the right to be styled an alderman. An alderman has no powers other than those possessed by an ordinary member of the corporation; he has no other functions whatever; he has just the right, perhaps, to wear a different coloured garment on ceremonial occasions and perhaps an extra row of fur.

Not even that.

For that reason we have had this long discussion this evening and this display of indignation on the part of Deputy Alderman Alfred Byrne. I do not wish to see the Deputy dispossessed of the civic dignities and honours which have been conferred upon him, but I suggest there is a very practical matter to be dealt with here in a practical way. If we want to have 15 aldermen in the City of Dublin — and I suppose we may have that if we are forced — I do not think there can be any objection to the method we have proposed in the Bill, that the representatives of the citizens —and the councillors will represent the citizens — should meet and decide who are to be aldermen.

I do not take the same cynical view of his colleagues on the corporation as the Deputy. I am perfectly certain when they meet in that way that Party divisions and Party membership will not be made the predominant considerations. They have not been so made in respect of the higher offices in the corporation. Already we have seen that the Lord Mayoralty tends to go around and it is generally accepted by the members of the corporation that it should go around. Occasionally there will be differences of opinion as to what particular person should be selected, and we have seen coalitions in the corporation where the principle of allowing the office of Lord Mayor to be held by the representatives of various Parties and by Independents has been challenged—we have seen coalitions formed to uphold that principle. I am perfectly certain that when a corporation meets to select its alderman, they will have due regard for the confidence which his own constituents have reposed in a certain councillor and for his period of service. Having regard to all these facts, I will ask the Alderman and Deputy Cosgrave not to press the matter with regard to this section. I can assure the Alderman and Deputy Cosgrave that this was certainly not conceived in a Party spirit but in order to meet the present difficulties.

I am in agreement with the Minister in regard to the revisionary character of this measure but I think that he should not depart from the existing practice. The elected representatives have the right to elect their chairman, mayor or alderman, but the position of alderman does not derive from them but from the fact that the gentleman got the highest vote in the area, ward or borough. If you take that away there is no sense in having the position of alderman at all. There is no reason to call a person an alderman and create the anomaly which has been pointed out by Deputy Byrne. If this goes through, somebody who got the highest vote of the citizens, showing their feelings regarding him, because he is not in a certain group cannot hope to become an alderman. If an alderman is not elected for the old reason, that he got the highest vote from his constituents, it would be better to drop the position of alderman completely.

There are no special powers or functions attaching to the position. It is only an honorific position and its sentimental value only comes from the fact that the alderman has got the largest number of votes. Take that away and there is no purpose in continuing the position.

What advantage is sought in this? Could the Minister point out the advantage? I do not think he could. If it is going to be dropped nothing will happen, but why not continue it? By this change you will only cause unnecessary friction among the members who will be fighting over the position of alderman. That could be avoided by leaving things as they were or by dropping the position.

It is an old style title of sentimental value and I did not want to interfere with tradition in that matter. The position is purely traditional and honorific and no functions of any sort attach to it but I wonder what criticism I would get if I proposed to abolish it altogether, and I am not certain what the legal effect on certain documents might be. In order not to interfere with precedent and perhaps with the legal position, it has been decided that it will have to be retained. It occurred to me, however, that there might be a way to settle the question other than the present way. There has been an objection that the City of Dublin should have 15 aldermen and make the office less spectacular and honorific than it is at the moment. Dublin should have nine aldermen, Cork should have five as it stands at the moment, and Limerick and Waterford should have five each. In the case of Dublin we might suggest that the nine councillors who in the various electoral areas got the greatest number of first preferences, should be regarded as aldermen. That might meet the position. I had hoped that we would get through all the stages of this Bill to-day but if we take the Report Stage to-morrow I will put down an amendment something on those lines.

I would appeal to the Minister not to make any alteration in this for if he does he will have to change other legislation. An alderman signs leases and documents in addition to two councillors and a town clerk. There is nothing to be gained except that if we leave the choice of aldermen to councillors we might eliminate the canvass, even by Party members, before an election. This was often indulged in by both Parties and Deputy Keyes will agree that that will happen even in Limerick. A member goes forward on a certain ticket and proceeds to canvass in the wards. The Minister would be well advised to leave the choice of aldermen unchanged. Nothing is achieved by removing that power.

The Minister proposes to do that.

I will look into the matter between now and to-morrow and put down an amendment, if the House will take it at short notice.


Question put and agreed to.
Section 11 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:—

To add to the section the following paragraph:—

(d) where he has made an Order under paragraph (a) of this section in relation to the council of a county, the Minister shall by Order fix the day on which any election to be held in the year 1950 of the members of the corporation of a borough, council of an urban district or commissioners of a town situate in the county shall be held and such election shall be held on the day so fixed.

This amendment is necessary to deal with the position under the Local Elections Act, 1927, which requires that elections for town commissioners or an urban council be held on the day fixed for the election of county councillors. As the position stands urban elections are subject to Section 4 and must be held in 1950. Therefore the elections of members of Dublin County Council or Kerry County Council could not be held before or after 1950. There is a doubt whether urban elections should be held in the same year as county council elections are held, and if not, at what other time they should be held. According to the amendment the elections shall be held in 1950 on a day fixed by Order of the Minister.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 12, as amended, and Sections 13 to 16, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:—

In line 20, page 9, to delete "not" and substitute "nor".

This amendment is to correct a typographical error. We are working, as you know, under high pressure and the word "not" crept in where "nor" was intended.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:—

To add to the section the following sub-section:—

(2) Where, by reason of the members of the council of a county being removed from office, the day on which any such election as is referred to in sub-section (2) of Section 5 of the Local Elections Act, 1927 (No. 39 of 1927), cannot be ascertained pursuant to that sub-section, the election shall be held on such day as the Minister fixes by Order.

The House will recollect that we amended Section 12. This is the general case of which the amendment of Section 12 is a particular case. If members of a county council are removed from office there is a doubt whether the day on which the ordinary elections should be held would be the day on which the urban elections are held. Since the urban elections are to be held on the date fixed for the county council elections this amendment removes the doubt by deciding that the urban elections will be held on the date fixed by Order of the Minister for Local Government.

Might I ask the Minister a question?


I wish to ask his advice as he is providing for new elections. Take the case of a group of people who are removed, in some hundreds, from an area during the period the current register is printed. Take, for instance, a demolition scheme in Dublin. Whoever has to send out——

I beg the Deputy's pardon. Perhaps the Chair will let me know whether the Dáil has adopted amendment No. 3.

Amendment No. 3 agreed to.

On the Section, Sir——

As amended, Deputy.

Take the case of 400 or 500 people who are removed from an area during the period the current register is in operation. If the sheriff sends out polling cards to the people of that area they are not now there to receive them because the site is derelict. Perhaps the Minister can suggest a remedy. A number of his Acts are now being amended in certain sections — I think 15 —and I suggest that the sheriff or whoever is responsible for sending the cards out should have some way of having these cards brought back and readdressed to the new addresses. I have in mind Bride Street and Seán McDermott Street. That area has been demolished and the people have gone to live elsewhere. I do not want polling cards addressed to those people to go to waste simply because they need to be readdressed. That is a matter in which all Parties are interested. If possible, the cards should be brought back to the sheriff who should see that they are delivered to the correct addresses. This matter affects all parts of Dublin and every member of the House. I would ask the Minister's advice in this matter.

I am afraid the Deputy has chosen a very peculiar matter on which to ask my advice. No polling cards are issued in connection with local elections. Polling cards are issued, of course, in connection with Dáil elections.

Well, in that direction, then may be the Minister——

I have no responsibility for sending out these polling cards. It is the responsibility of the returning officer. He must send them to the addresses on the register. There is no way out of it. It is his statutory duty.

Can he not readdress them?

If he gets the proper address?

He must send them to the addresses on the register. I do not know whether the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs could take the responsibility of delivering these cards to the people at their new addresses. I do not see how the returning officer can do so. The returning officer must conform strictly to the obligations conferred on him by the Act. If he does otherwise he may involve himself in serious trouble. I agree with the Deputy that it is something to which we ought to give attention.

We will have to pass the Bill. It is not quite in order now, Deputy.

The Minister's last few words have satisfied me.

Section 16, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 17 to 21 agreed to.
Schedule and Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Fourth Stage ordered for Thursday, 4th December, 1947.