On this Bill I would like to know would the Government give us some indication of their policy with regard to Local Government. A Bill has been introduced into the Dáil, not a very comprehensive measure, and that appears to be abandoned. We appear to be drifting with regard to the retention of these local bodies. They are a long way now beyond their time, and, as the Seanad knows, they were elected under peculiar circumstances. Some hold that they are not the right people to administer local affairs. The country is anxious that you should have a new lot of men to administer local affairs. I want to know what is the policy of the Government and whether they would give a definite date when these elections will take place, and whether they will take place under the present Acts or under any new Bill, or under a Bill that we have already seen introduced. We are very much in the dark on the whole question. It is a matter of great anxiety to the farmers. They say their rates are too high and they want to get what their numbers entitle them to—a dominating interest on those bodies.
SEANAD IN COMMITTEE. - LOCAL ELECTIONS POSTPONEMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL, 1924—SECOND STAGE.
The Minister for Local Government is not here.
If that is the only question, I could give the Seanad some information. The Senators may possibly have other matters to raise. I must, of course, explain that the present Minister for Local Government has been taken suddenly ill and is at the moment in hospital through a breakdown owing to pressure of work in his Department. This Bill is quite a simple one. It proposes to extend the date from the present limit, the 30th September, 1924, until the 31st March, 1925, as the last date to which elections may be postponed. That date by no means implies that such a day will actually be the date on which the elections will be decided. It simply gives power to postpone the elections until the 31st March, 1925, as the latest possible date to which they could be postponed.
The postponement is due to one reason, that is the matter of finance. A Bill has been introduced into the Dáil which, if passed in its present form, will effect great changes in Local Government administration. The Bill was found to be very contentious, and it was put to the Minister and the Government that the whole question deserved greater consideration, and more detailed examination than would have been possible if the Bill had been pressed forward. The Bill was pressed forward because the elections were due. If the provisions of the Bill prove acceptable to the Dáil and Seanad you would have this position, that local elections would take place at great cost. If this new measure came into operation those councils would have been dissolved within a month, and the money expended on the elections would have been lost. The sum of money is very heavy, and it was thought better in the circumstances, as the provisions of the Bill had to be further examined, to introduce this measure allowing for further postponement until the Bill now before the Dáil, and deferred for some time, should have some little consideration. That Bill has been held up for fuller consideration over the summer, and the policy of the Government cannot be definitely stated, because the fate of the measure is in the balance. The Government's intention is shown by the measure. It seeks to abolish certain local authorities, and to that extent would avoid the necessity for certain elections. If the Seanad wishes to have the Government attitude defined with regard to the staleness of the local authorities at the moment, there can be no two opinions about that. These authorities were elected under peculiar circumstances, and as a result of various circumstances which have ceased to operate, there have been great cries from the farming community and the country generally that those bodies are no longer representative, and should be changed as far as personnel are concerned. The Government are at one with the country on that, but they put it to the Dáil and to the Seanad that it is not wise to refrain from postponing the date for the election further. If that date be not postponed the elections will have to take place. They will take a large sum of money, and if the Bill is passed afterward the particular authority will disappear. It is a definite measure brought about by the peculiar circumstances that the Local Government Bill had to be postponed because it was considered of such weight and importance that further consideration was necessary. The motive behind this is a financial one of saving money.
I understand the Government are going to appoint a Commission to inquire into this whole matter of local administration. Will the report of that Commission in any way affect the dates of the election? Are the Government going to bring in, possibly, a fresh measure as a result of that Commission's report, and is it expected that the Commission will report in time to enable the elections to take place by March next? The Minister did not refer to the proposed Commission of Inquiry.
No, the report of the Commission is the method settled upon to give better consideration to the terms of the Local Government Bill. If the Commission report in favour of the continuance of the present system, then, at any rate, the present Bill will have to be withdrawn. If the Commission reports in favour of the proposals contained in the Bill, that Bill will be passed. If they report otherwise, certain changes will have to be made in the measure. The fate of Local Government will depend to a large extent on the report of the Commission. It is definitely secured as far as any human event can be, that that Commission will have reported in time to have legislative measures brought in either to preclude the elections to those bodies or to allow elections to be held before March, 1925. The sum of money involved in the holding of the elections is £65,000. It is thought, even at the undoubted risk of keeping in those people who are not representative, that it is better to prevent the expenditure of this money to no purpose.
Has this Commission been yet appointed?
The Greater Dublin Commission referred to has been announced through the medium of the Press a few days ago.
That is not for the whole country. It is only for Dublin.
That Commission has to deal with a different subject matter.
I think neither the Minister for Industry and Commerce nor myself would be in a position to answer for the Minister for Local Government as far as that is concerned, that is as to whether there would be a larger Commission, or whether there would be a Commission at all. The Minister for Local Government is an extern Minister, and during his indefinite absence owing to illness we are not in a position to state whether he intends to set up a Commission of the kind I outlined myself in the Dáil a month or six weeks ago. I do not know whether he adopted the idea at all of having a Commission. I suggested it to him, but my own activities have been sufficient to absorb my entire attention, and I have not had time to consult him on the matter.