Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Feb 1967

Vol. 226 No. 8

Local Government (Dublin) Bill, 1967: Second Stage.

Tairgim go léifear an Bille an Dara hUaire.

Bille gearr é seo agus tá súil agam go nglacfaidh na Teachtaí go léir leis. Tá dhá rud á dhéanamh san mBille. Níl aon foráil dleaghthach ann faoi láthair "Aldermen" a thoghadh do Bhárdas Átha Cliath ó thárla gur cuireadh alt 36 den Acht Rialtais Áitiúil (Baile Átha Cliath), 1930, ar ceal. Tá cead é sin a dhéanamh á thabhairt anois. De réir fó-alt (5) d'alt 3 den Acht Rialtais Áitiúil (Baile Átha Cliath), 1945, caithfidh an t-Aire luacháil agus daonradh a chur san áireamh agus socruighthe á dhéanamh aige faoi uimhir na gcomhaltaí a thoghfar i gceantar ar bith. Táim ag iarraidh ar an Dáil é seo a chur ar ceal.

The Bill proposes two amendments to the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1945. The first amendment, effected by paragraph (a) of section 1, will enable an Order under the 1945 Act dividing the city into electoral areas to specify the number of aldermen to be elected for each area. Consequent on the repeal of section 36 of the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1930, there is now no provision for the election of aldermen at the 1967 local elections. It seems appropriate that the position in Dublin should be the same as in other county boroughs, and that the necessary provision should be made in time for this year's local elections. What is now proposed is similar to the provision made in section 87 of the Electoral Act, 1963, in relation to the other county boroughs.

The second amendment to the 1945 Act is that provided for in paragraph (b) of section 1, that is, the deletion of subsection (5) of section 3 of the 1945 Act. That subsection reads as follows:

"(5) In assigning by an order under this section the numbers of members to be elected for the electoral areas specified in the order, the Minister shall have regard to the populations and rateable valuations of such areas".

The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill gives an example of the kind of distortion caused by making valuation a factor in arranging electoral areas. I should say that I am aware of the case that can be made for giving some weighting to valuation and I am prepared to concede that it can seem plausible enough. However, I am firmly of the opinion that the principle of "one man-one vote" should override all other considerations and that any provision which infringes on this principle, even indirectly, should go.

The repeal of subsection (5) of section 3 of the 1945 Act will bring the position in Dublin into line with that obtaining in the other county boroughs, in that no express legal requirements will be laid down as to the factors to be taken into account in the division of the county borough into electoral areas. It will, therefore, devolve on the Minister to devise the fairest possible division in the circumstances. In the Committee Stage debate in the Dáil on what is now section 87 of the Electoral Act, 1963, some Deputies made the point that the making of a dividing order was a very extensive power but the House eventually accepted the section on the understanding that the Minister would introduce an amendment at Report Stage providing for the laying of dividing orders before each House. So far as Dublin is concerned, such a provision already exists; subsection (8) of section 3 of the 1945 Act provides for the laying of an order before each House of the Oireachtas and for possible annulment by either House.

Other aspects of the electoral law are under consideration at present, and I hope to be able to introduce a Bill on electoral petitions and certain other matters in the next few months. Meanwhile I would stress the need for urgent consideration of this present Bill if any dividing order in accordance with its terms is to be effective at the next local elections. The urgency arises from the fact that the Register of Electors now being prepared, and which comes into force next April, must take account of the new electoral areas. This leaves very little time for the making of the order and for the taking of certain preliminary steps by the corporation. I would therefore urge a speedy passage of the Bill, if, as I confidently expect, its provisions commend themselves to the House.

I should just like to make one or two comments. This Bill has been brought in now—I shall not deal with the individual sections in it —in the month of February. The local elections have been announced for June. It is of vital importance that the order dividing the areas in Dublin should be published at the earliest possible opportunity so that it will be clearly understood that this is not going to be done until after the election. I want the Minister, therefore, to tell the House clearly what will be the very last day by which he will table or publish the order making the new distribution. It would be grossly unfair if that were left until the very last minute.

The basic provisions of the Bill, designed to correct the inequities which exist so fas as representation is concerned, must be accepted by those of us on these benches. As instanced in the explanatory memorandum, there are gross inequalities in the matter of representation. As the Minister has said, these spring from overdue emphasis being placed upon the need to consider rateable valuation when determining the basis of representation in the City Council. It is to be hoped that in his next revision, which will flow from the passage of this Bill, the Minister will endeavour, so far as it is practicable, to ensure that there will be equality of representation throughout the entire city. The principle he cited of "one man, one vote" is one which it should be hardly necessary for us in this enlightened age to advert to at all, but, by reason of what has happened here in the determination of the method in use up to now, particularly so far as representation on Dublin Corporation is concerned, that principle has been to a great extent negatived.

I want to refer now to the provision in relation to the title of "Alderman". There was a time, I suppose, when this title had some relevance. It sounds as if it comes from the very early days of this city when it was thought desirable to distinguish, perhaps to honour, the more senior members of the council and the title "Alderman" was decided on. It is not a good thing that we in what is said to be a democratic age should stick so closely to these titles which now have no meaning and which, indeed, engender a certain distaste amongst many of us. In England and in Belfast, the title of "Alderman" has some meaning inasmuch as the lords mayor are chosen, and can only be chosen, from the aldermen. That is not the position in Dublin. It would not be right if it were. Across the water and across the Border, the title is bestowed on members of the corporation only after they have been members for a number of years; it is related to seniority of membership, and the very name suggests it is conferred upon the elders in the council.

In years gone by there may have been something to be said for it, but I cannot rid my mind of the conviction that it was also related to property rights. Property rights in the context of local representation and in the context of the manner in which they were dealt with in former times are not appropriate to be considered in matters relating to Dublin Corporation now. Without any intention of delaying the passage of this Bill, I urge on the Minister that he should avail of this opportunity to abolish this title of "Alderman". It has no meaning. It is a pretension. If one considers it in the context of a title appropriate to someone who had served a number of years on the corporation, then it no longer applies in Dublin Corporation.

I will give an example. I stood for Dublin Corporation and I became an Alderman, even though I had never been a member of it before. I had no wish to be called "Alderman". I felt neither better nor worse for it. It has always struck me as an anachronism. I am sure there were other members of the Council who had spent many more years in the service of the city who were more entitled to the honour, if honour it can be called. Under the last Act passed, provision was made for this useless, meaningless, outdated and worthless title. If it is thought desirable to get rid of it in Dublin, it may be argued that it would be better to wait and do it on a national scale all over the country. If we wait for that, we shall be waiting a long time.

I am not in love with the title of "councillor" either. In fact, to be frank, I am not in love with any kind of title at all. I am enraged by the sight of members of Dublin Corporation in their robes and I am sure the aesthetic sense of our people is often affronted by the vulgarity of this parade. We all know how it originated. Why should we be inflicted with it for the rest of all time? I would draw the attention of the members of the Corporation who are present here to a very sinister aspect of these robes. Aldermen are to be identified by a yellow streak on their robes, which suggests to me that the original promoter of the idea had a certain sense. of humour.

No, a sense of malice.

Oh, no. I should think he was really laughing up his sleeve because I remember the same gentleman suggesting that we here in Dáil Éireann should wear Roman togas. As if we are not bad enough? However, to return to my point, I would ask the Minister to think speedily of getting rid of this title because, as I have said, it has no meaning. You could have somebody coming along at an election who never had any experience of corporation work, who never had any membership and never gave an hour's service to the city and he may become an alderman on the tide of popular acclaim. We have all seen the dangers of that. Not alone is the fall bad from the public point of view but it is also bad for the individual to whom it happens. The fall is all the worse when it occurs.

I would like to ask the Minister if he could give us some idea as to when he could let us know about the redistribution, as to when he will make available to the House maps of the proposed new areas and if he could tell us what basis he proposes to use in the redistribution. Does he intend to stick steadily to the allocation of a fixed number of votes to a fixed number of seats? Does he intend to apply that principle to the whole city area? It is essential that he do that and that it be done with the utmost alacrity. Already the political organisations have made selections for the forthcoming elections and a great deal of ground work has been done with a view to securing support in June. A great deal of work may be wasted because these people concerned may be toiling in the wrong vineyards. In fairness even to his own people he should let us know.

They know already.

I rather doubt it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he proposes to make the maps available? Does he intend to enlarge the corporation? Does he think the idea of the enlargement of the corporation from the present 45 members has any merit? It is a debatable point. We are aware that there are cities of this size with much larger city councils and there may be something in it. Is it reasonable to think that five elected representatives can successfully discharge the vast burdens placed on their shoulders in this demanding age? It may be said that if we all did our work there would be no problems but that is something on which everybody has his own particular point of view.

The Minister said that other aspects of electoral law are under consideration and that he hopes to be able to introduce a Bill dealing with electoral petitions. He should give some thought to the problem of the register as well. We have all had the experience of people coming to us in large numbers on election day and telling us that they should have a vote and that they have found, on going to the polling booth, they have not got one. This is due to the inadequate system of compiling the register. The Minister might consider the setting up of a Committee of the whole House to examine that aspect of the electoral law.

I certainly hope that Deputy Alderman Dunne——

I am not a member of the Council.

——will not hold up the passage of the Bill over this point. I agree with Deputy Sweetman and the Minister that it is a Bill which we should pass with as much speed as possible. If we take the basis of the No. 9 area, which has five members, and apply that principle to No. 1 area, we would need 25 councillors for No. 1 area. This proposal is long overdue and one that should be dealt with quickly, and I hope it will not be held up by wondering whether we should call the members aldermen or councillors. If this is the intention, the Minister cannot give any date, and the only reason for holding the Bill would be to prevent him implementing the principle of one man—one vote.

Cé go bhfuil Fine Gael i bhfábhar an Bhille seo, tá cúpla ceist agam le cur ar an Aire, mar tá faitíos orainn i dtaobh athrú nó dhó a chuir sé ós ár gcomhair.

I would like to know by what prior enactment the Oireachtas repealed the Local Government (Dublin) Act of 1930. The Minister did not mention by what enactment he did that, and as a matter of interest, I would like to know. There are nine people now pretending to be Aldermen, and we would like to be sure that they are entitled to the yellow streak to which Deputy Dunne refers. We in Fine Gael have on numerous occasions drawn attention to the uneven distribution in the present arrangement of electoral areas in Dublin, and I am glad that, even at this belated hour, the Minister is taking steps to rectify the situation.

There is no logic in maintaining a valuation qualification when we have done away with the property vote. To maintain a property valuation is therefore to some extent a retention of the 40/- freehold. Even if there was any justification for retention of the valuation qualification, it is a fact that the high valuations in the centre city area are not related to personnel and are not related to the electorate. Most of the high valuations are related to premises in respect of which no vote is cast because the valuation is paid by non-voting legal entities such as limited companies and statutory bodies, so that the qualification in relation to valuation has no justification today. It is difficult to see why it was even considered in 1945. It is a pity it has taken so long to recognise this peculiar situation and to do something to rectify it.

Debate adjourned.