Question: "That the Local Government Bill, 1924, be now read a second time."

I should like to make a few general remarks on this Bill, and also on the big question of local government. It must be generally admitted that local government at present suffers from apathy and inefficiency of a very widespread and deep-seated character. There are obvious causes. For instance, one cause is the staleness of the present representatives, and the circumstances under which they were originally elected. They were elected at a time of great political upheaval, when ordinary questions of efficient administration were not very prominent in the public mind. There also is another and far deeper cause which cannot be remedied without taking a very long time. That is the absence of an educated and independent class who have the leisure to give to those questions of local administration. That can only come, I am afraid, very slowly. That want can only be supplied very slowly. It is a question for us to consider to what extent its advent will be retarded by certain provisions in this Bill. Looking at this Bill, one sees an attempt to remedy a good many of the present defects by means of legislative nostrums. I do not feel that that will ever carry us very far on any road to permanent reform. Real reform must come from the upliftment of the personal equation and the personal element that is dealing with local government problems. If you get a spirit of apathy and indifference there present, and you hope to do away with that or to improve matters by doing away with district councils, and entrusting all the powers of local government to a central authority, you will find that the change will really make very little difference. In fact, it might be said as in the French maxim, plus c'a change, plus c'est la même chose. This also raises the question as to the effect of what we will call democratic mass control, or whatever we like to call it. I think the Government will admit that they have grave doubts as to its efficacy, in that they have taken very wide powers to supersede bodies elected on a democratic basis. In recent years they have used these powers to a very great extent. I venture to say they have used these powers in the case of the capital in a very efficacious manner, and by doing so they have created an improvement in our municipal government. What the Bill does not do seems to be far more important than what it does. What it does not do is this—it fails to tackle this most important question of the maintenance and administration of our roads. That is a big problem that the Government have not yet cleared up. On this road question you meet two extremes on the economic scale. You have the problem of travel and transport made much easier by science and mass production and modern methods, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, you have the cost of providing the major portion of the facilities for transportation borne to a large extent by the depressed industry of agriculture. It is very hard to get the figures, because the cost of main roads and by-roads is not segregated. The cost of the main roads is not divided from the cost of the by-roads. But the estimate of the Minister for Agriculture is that only three-eighths of the cost of main roads is borne by the Central Fund. A far larger proportion of the cost of main roads in England, where the agricultural population is far better able to bear it, is borne on the Central Fund. The agricultural rates have also a big relief in England from the Central Fund, a relief which they do not enjoy in this country.

It must be clear to anybody who examines this question impartially that the agricultural industry is very hard hit by having to maintain such a heavy burden as these main roads which do not serve, except very indirectly, rural interests. In many cases these roads are used for through traffic, for tourists, and for luxury traffic, and for matters of that kind. If the rural interests were only to be considered, roads on such an extravagant scale would not be necessary. In America the problem, I believe, has been tackled by placing the excess amount spent since 1904 on main roads, on the Central Fund. They have taken that year as the date approximately when motors came at all into general use, and they take the additional cost of that maintenance off the farmers' shoulders. Something of that kind should be done in this country. I would ask the Government to give us some assurance, when the Bill is going through, that the problem will be examined thoroughly in all its bearings and in the light of modern conditions. Present injustices cannot, of course, be denied.

There is another matter I would like to touch upon. It is in regard to the upkeep of asylums. The Commission on Agriculture recently recommended that asylums should be a central charge. There seems to be no logical reason for putting the cost of asylums on to the local rates, any more than there is for putting the cost of prisons on to local rates. It is long overdue that this intolerable burden on the local ratepayers should be relieved. Then, again, there is the failure of the Government to improve the instrument of control. That cannot be done locally; the initiative must come from the Government. I refer to the question of accounts. The Government prescribed a form of accounts, and however much the local council may wish to improve those accounts, it cannot do so. The present form of account is totally inadequate for the purpose of control. The instrument of control should be more effective, so as to enable councillors who are desirous of knowing how the bodies they are elected to, compare with other local authorities, to get a better grasp of the situation.

In my opinion, the present system is crude to the last degree. Some time ago the Seanad asked that this matter should receive some attention. I admit it is a matter that cannot be remedied all at once, but it is time the Minister gave an assurance that he will have an examination made of the present form of local accounts with a view to seeing that it is made a more potent instrument of control.

On a point of order, would it not be more proper for the Minister to explain the terms of the Bill beforehand? I think this question was raised by Senator O'Farrell on a former occasion, and I think the Seanad were in agreement with him that the Minister should, at the outset, explain the terms of the Bill; then the discussion could be taken afterwards.


I do not think that would be the proper course to adopt in the case of a highly important Bill of this kind which has been fully discussed in the Dáil. I have no doubt that, in the case of the Local Government Bill, Senators are fully conversant with its details. If a Bill were introduced here for the first time, or, if it had not been discussed at any length in the Dáil, it might then be desirable for the Minister to make a preparatory statement; but I do not think that that could apply to a Bill that was for over three months under discussion in another House.

Taking up Volume 2 of Vanston, I find, in an index comprising 65 pages, that only three pages are devoted to the subjects that are brought into the present Bill. These are the abolition of rural district councils, public health, and roads. We understand that this Bill is merely a tentative measure, and it is in advance of a fuller measure, which will be brought in later on, dealing with the whole question of local government in the Free State. Of course there is this consolation, that any weaknesses that will be shown in the practical application of this measure can be remedied later on when the fuller measure is before us. The Bill, as it is presented here, does three things which are of importance. It takes away a franchise. That is to say, it proposes to abolish district councils, and under sections of it areas are denied the privileges that they enjoyed since 1898, when the Local Government Act was adopted.

Then, again, it broadens the basis of representation. Hitherto, the people have had representation on rural district councils from every electoral division. Now, through the abolition of these councils, we can only get representation on the county council, and election to that body is on an entirely different basis to the system of election on the rural district council. The basis of administration is narrowed. I think these are very important considerations. I take first the matter of the rural district councils. In rural district council administration you had uniform representation over the whole county area; that is to say, every electoral division was represented on the council. Generally speaking, people, if they had any fault to find or complaint to make as to the administration of any branch of local government in their district, always had some representative man near at hand. They had rural district councillors to whom they could make representation.

Under the suggested alteration, the nearest representative would be a county councillor who might live a considerable distance from them. Speaking for Waterford County—that runs in one direction a distance of 80 miles—it may happen that a person seeking to vent a grievance from his district would have to travel quite a long distance to get in touch with his representative on the county council. The representation under the new system will be by a certain number of candidates from each county electoral area, that area being a group of district electoral divisions. In that case citizens would have to travel long distances to confer with the nearest representative of their district on the county council. That would be a considerable hardship on people.

Further, I think it is a very sound principle of government that people, in so far as their capacity and ability will permit them, should be as closely associated with the administration as possible. That makes for stability, and it is a good thing to find people feeling that they have a direct interest in local affairs. It is a good thing that people should feel they have a direct interest in everything that concerns the progress of the country, the preservation of law and order, and other matters in their particular district. They feel they are part of the machine, because they are in close touch with it.

When you begin to centralise you get away from that idea. Centralisation of these services may be economic and may make for greater efficiency to a certain point; but when you get over that point there is a reaction in the reverse direction. That is one of the dangers, and it would have been better if this measure were concerned more with co-ordination rather than centralisation. Adjustments of the existing machinery would be a much better course than to strike out so radically in the direction of reform. It is due to myself, as Chairman of the General Council of County Councils, to explain our action with regard to the abolition of the district councils. In the first instance, we did pass a resolution favouring the abolition of those bodies. We did so on figures submitted by the Ministry to the effect that the expenses attached to the triennial elections of district councils throughout the Free State amounted to £75,000. The ordinary running expenses of these bodies was indicated at about £65,000 per annum, and the idea was that the abolition of those bodies would make for economy.

We sent copies of the resolution to the constituent bodies, every county council in the Free State, and we asked for their views. We had these views at our next meeting. We had also the benefit of the criticism that was made on the resolution and the chorus of disapproval that the resolution met with, particularly from the rural district councils. This information was sufficient, at any rate, largely, to discount the figures submitted by the Minister, and in the matter of efficiency we had assurances from all the county councils that they were already overburdened with work, that they could not undertake to afford time for more work, and that they were in many cases largely in arrears with their work. It is very easy to set out a thing on paper, but it is an entirely different thing to apply it. You must have the good-will of the people concerned, and when you consider that you are drawing largely on their good-will, their time and their pockets in order to carry out administration, you have to give some consideration; you cannot legislate over their heads and proceed to apply that legislation. People are apt to resent that sort of thing. It is also rather an unwise thing to try to force a willing horse. County councils are doing their utmost under the circumstances; the members leave their business, spend time and money, and frequently, as has been my experience, they have had to leave a good deal of the business undone and hold special meetings to deal with the arrears. I speak from an experience of twenty years of rural district and county council work, and it has been advanced by the Minister that by the setting up of county boards of health they have been considerably relieved in their work. That is not so. The board of health in Waterford has increased the work of county councillors. The business of the board of health was formerly done by the boards of guardians; it scarcely came in the way of the county council at all. As county councillors we have to-day to deal with county council work, and then meet again and do all the board of health work. Rather than relieving the county councils, it has put extra work on them. The last meeting of my county council lasted seven hours, and business was left undone. My last meeting of the board of health was six and a half hours, and of the rural district council over three hours. It is now proposed to transfer all the duties of these district councils to the county councils, in addition to all the work they have to do at present. Here are some of the duties of a district council at present: We administer all the roads; we are the rural sanitary authorities, we are empowered to purchase land under the Labourers Acts; the Towns Improvement Act is administered by these Councils; we make bye-laws in connection with boats; we purchase land for recreation grounds; we contribute under the Fisheries Acts and appoint conservators on the fisheries boards; we appoint local committees for dispensary purposes under the Public Health Act, supervise all their work, and maintain the public works in the district where there are district charges; we have to provide water supplies. All the proposals for road making are initiated by the rural district council, and these councils have an intimate knowledge of all local requirements. It is now proposed to alter that scheme and submerge these councils. We have the whole supervision and maintenance of thousands of labourers' cottages. It is proposed to transfer all that work to the already overloaded county councils.

The General Council considered all these things and found that the change would be impractical in its application, and that it would mean a good deal of bickering and less efficiency. You will have to set up in lieu of the district councils committees which will require to be financed, be provided with secretaries, and for which accommodation will have to be found. For all these reasons we thought that we had better reverse our resolution and advocate the maintenance of these bodies. This question of reform, so far as this particular class of administration is concerned, is, I think, begun at the wrong end in this Bill. Rather than abolish district councils I would abolish the election of county councils. In rural district council elections each electoral area returns members, and every part of the area is represented. There is uniform representation, and men are elected who are intimate with and have a local knowledge of their own districts. At present the chairman of each rural district council is ex-officio a member of the county council. By extending that principle you could make the chairman and vice-chairman of a small rural district council, the chairman, vice-chairman and deputy vice-chairman of a large one, the chairman, vice-chairman, deputy vice-chairman and another member of a still larger council members of the county council by virtue of their office. You would then have your county council formed. With the four areas in Waterford we would have twenty members, with three or four members of each council as ex-officio members of the county council. That would mean a saving in elections. The men who would go forward for the rural district councils would be potential county councillors, and you would have a better class of candidate; he would carry from his own locality all his local knowledge; he would follow up any suggestions made from his own locality, and you would have an aggregate of knowledge in such a county council that the present county councils do not possess. They have not that wide intimate and uniform knowledge of their own areas. In Waterford, what happens under the present system? The Waterford County Council consists of four electoral areas. The Tramore area is made up of the Waterford No. 1 Council, of which I am chairman, and a small section taken from the Kilmacthomas area. Waterford No. 1 has a valuation of £62,000, and the other little area has a valuation of £12,000. The result of the elections has been, inasmuch as any elector in the county can go up in any one electoral area—he is not to be a resident, but merely a ratepayer in the county—that the whole area comprising Waterford No. 1, with its £62,000 valuation, has only two representatives, resident and ratepayers in that area, out of five, whereas the other three reside in a different area. There are wide areas in Waterford No. 1 district with practically no representative at all. That is to say, the ordinary resident in any of these areas would have to travel a long distance to my colleague or myself in order to bring any grievance before the council. The existing councils were not in some cases noted for their integrity or competence. The Minister stressed that, and stated that his only object in this Bill was to make for greater economy and efficiency. I was very glad to hear that. Members of the district councils felt slighted, as they did their part in very troublous times, by means of passive resistance and otherwise, and hastened the coming of the present Parliament. The members of these councils felt under a slight, but I was assured that there was no slight intended, and that the Minister did not impugn their actions in any way.

As to the public health portion of the Bill, it is generally admitted that there is a great deal of overlapping and extravagance under the present system. This is a very highly technical branch of administration, and in the Dáil there was a proposal to have a public health board or statutory committee set up. Roads are not, relatively, as technical a branch of administration as public health. In the Dáil it was proposed to set up a board representative of the various interests, on which there would be delegates from each area, and the Minister would have the option of providing for actions not represented. That proposal was defeated by the very narrow majority of three votes in the Dáil. It is proposed by the General Council to have that suggestion brought before the Seanad for consideration. The Minister may advance the view that he can draw on his staff of trained experts for consultative purposes, and that that would be sufficient for the purpose aimed at. That is not the case. The Minister had all these aids in drafting the present measure. Every Minister has that power, and in drafting a Bill he exhausts all the knowledge and foresight of his Department, whether of the permanent staff or otherwise. We know that the practical men in the Dáil and the practical men in the Seanad, when they get at a Bill can pick very considerable holes in it; and that when the Bill finally emerges from the Seanad it will probably be an entirely different measure. Of course, that is against the argument that the Minister has at his disposal all the information necessary for the reform of administration. Before this Bill gets through he will see that that is not so, and that he has not called in all the interests concerned. It is one thing to legislate on paper, but another thing to apply that legislation. The men to do that should have experience of the administration of public boards through the country.

With regard to roads, the Minister has already referred this whole question to a Statutory Roads Advisory Committee. The trunk and the main roads of the country involve a very considerable outlay to bring them up to the requirements of modern traffic, and as a member of a sub-committee of that Committee, I can state that it has sat for several weeks past continuously.

Would the Senator say if the sittings were public?

The Minister in setting up the Roads Advisory Board aimed at having the personnel representative of every interest concerned. That has been done, and when the sub-committee brings in a report to the Roads Advisory Board, the latter can ratify their findings or make recommendations. It is not mandatory on the Minister to take action on every recommendation of the Roads Advisory Board, but I think it goes without saying that the recommendations of this Board will receive serious consideration. I might mention, incidentally, that you have 48,000 miles of roadway in the Free State, of which the Roads Department classified 4,000 as main roads, and 4,000 as trunk roads. Senator Sir John Keane has referred to what has been done in America. In America the State has taken over these main arteries and has gone in for ultimately having ferro-concrete roads, which are being constructed at a cost of £7,000 per mile. They have consistently increased the mileage of the concrete road as being the only one that will stand up against modern traffic. That is a very serious problem in this country. With a development of heavy motor traffic we cannot keep pace, at present, with it in reconstruction.

Reverting to this question of roads, the contention of the farmers, if the district councils are abolished, is that their interests and the care properly due to the minor roads will not receive the attention that they deserve from the county council. At present they have the full control of these roads, which are a district charge, and they use such roads six days out of the seven. Possibly they go on the main roads once a week, on a market or fair day, but during the remainder of the week they use the other roads near their homesteads in connection with their farming work. They naturally say that control of these minor roads would be taken from them, and that while they appreciate the great need of improving the main and trunk roads, which will be the principal concern of the county council, their interests are apt to be side-tracked. I think there is some substance in that contention. As I said at the outset, this is a tentative measure and if any weaknesses are disclosed in its application they can be remedied when the whole system of local government is taken into consideration. The present system is not suitable to this country and requires reform from beginning to end.

I am glad to hear from Senator Kenny that there is to be a fuller measure dealing with local government in the near future, and I hope that in that Bill many of the anomalies which appear in this one will disappear. I have had a certain amount of connection with these local bodies for fifteen or twenty years, and I feel that the abolition of district councils cannot make for any harm. I attended diligently the meetings of the district council, and except in cases where there was an election I never saw large meetings of the council or much attention paid to the business which occurred there. Senator Kenny has pointed out the disabilities which will arise if the district councils disappear. He says that the local roads do not get the attention they deserve. My experience of the roads question was that the county council would estimate through their surveyor for the upkeep of roads, and he went to the meeting of the district council and very often found that they had to say yes or nothing to such proposals. They really had no voice in the expenditure on roads. Apart from that, I think that the Minister has made a very genuine attempt to secure that any inconvenience which may arise from the dispersal of district councils will be guarded against under the Bill. I do not feel that any member of the community will find any trouble in securing a representative who will be able to remedy any grievance he may have. I found that if I were in the furthest end of England any individual in Limerick who thought he had a grievance was able to find me without the least difficulty. I do not think that anybody with a grievance, or with an alleged grievance, will have any difficulty in finding out the nearest member, who will have power to remedy it. I agree with what Senator Sir John Keane has said as regards the roads. Farmers cannot bear the burden of maintaining these roads, and I am sorry the Minister did not attempt to broaden the basis of taxation for roads. There can hardly be any comparison made between the capacity of the rural districts here to bear the cost of the roads and that of similar areas in England. In England you have a number of business people from the towns dwelling in rural areas, and with their large rateable valuation much larger sums can be raised. In this country the farmer is badly able to bear the burden. He is unequipped with motor cars, and he does not want these asphalt roads, which are the desire of all motorists, as he cannot afford them.

I think it would be well if the Minister attempted in this Bill for the maintenance of roads to draw in people who are better able to afford it than the farmers. That, however, is not the worst feature of the Bill. The Minister has put upon these poor farmers new troubles. Hitherto, if his hedge had to be slashed, he slashed it, but now if his house is an inconvenience to users of the roads, he has to take it down and remove it to another part of the field. He has no money to do that. He will, of course, be allowed a certain amount of money, but the banks are not now liberal towards farmers. Should that disability be inflicted upon him, he must bear the further burden of putting dangerous corners right, and, perhaps, destroy the amenities of his residence by cutting down, for instance, a tree which may have been the joy of his life. Motorists, of course, laugh at that because it is being done in their interests. I am speaking for men who are not motorists, but for men whose predecessors have lived for many years, and, perhaps, for centuries in the country. Because it is the desire of motorists, certain corners must be removed and certain trees must disappear, and that must all be done at the expense of the farmer. He must, for instance, cut down a tree which may have been the joy of his life, instead of getting the surveyor to do it. I think it is grossly unfair that an expenditure of £50, £100 or £200 has to be undertaken by him on behalf of the users of the road, and that through no fault of his own he should be asked to bear the cost of shifting an impediment, or what is considered to be an impediment. I hope the Minister, when the time comes, will accept an amendment to the effect that such impediments should be removed by, and at the expense of, the body desiring their removal. On the whole, I think that the Bill has been carefully thought out, and will make for good if these small amendments which I suggest are made. I was glad to hear from Senator Kenny that there is an advisory body as regards roads, but I have never heard of it. I hope that sooner or later we will have this new Bill of which he spoke, that it will be just to the farmers, and that it will enable them to enjoy that future which this Bill promises.

Democratic local government has had a quarter of a century of trial. A certain number of people believe, or affect to believe, that it has been a success, but personally, I do not believe that it has. I believe that it has been a failure. It is true, of course, that it has been better than the grand jury system, but that does not say very much for it. Generally speaking, with certain notable and honourable exceptions, I may say that local government in Ireland has been carried on on a basis of half party politics and half graft. I also think, though it may not be popular to say so, that the city manager plan is the best system we could have, to meet the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. It has been introduced into America with some success, and it has been introduced there deliberately and by set purpose. Here, in a sort of haphazard way we have been introducing it, as each impasse occurs, by the appointment of paid commissioners, but in their case they function without any democratic control.

In the case of the city or county manager plan there is an elected body which oversees the work done by that manager. As I am only speaking in a general way, I see no object in going into details, but I put this suggestion forward as the best way of meeting the case. We have heard about the abolition of the rural councils, and Senator Kenny pointed out that their abolition would throw a great deal more work on the county councils. I am sure that that is the case, so much so, that I believe it will finally result in one county council after another being extinguished by the Local Government Department, and the result will be that you will have commissioners in every county.

There are lots of people wanting jobs, and they must be provided for.

Whether they want jobs or not, I believe that that will happen. I do not believe that that is the way to meet the situation, but I believe that it would best be met by the appointment of managers with business capacity. I believe that this Bill will result in the adoption of the manager system or will, at all events, result in a system approximating to that which has recently been introduced in America with some success.

I desire to say that I am entirely in favour of the principal clause of this Bill which provides for the abolition of rural district councils. I believe that a great deal of overlapping occurred in the past in the work of district councils and county councils, and that two sets of officials had to be maintained at the expense of the ratepayers to do a job which could easily be done by one set. That clause of the Bill has my entire approval, and I would point out to those who object to it, that the Bill provides for an increase in the number of elected county councillors in each county, so that there will be a very large number of councillors to deal with the work of the county. The area in which each councillor will live will not be too large to prevent any person with a grievance from seeing his representative about it. There are other clauses of which I would like the Minister to give an explanation. One is the exclusion of the county and city of Dublin from the scope of this Bill. There may be reasons for this exclusion, but I do not know what they are. As it appears in the Bill, it would seem that we are cutting off another county from our local government administration, and that instead of twenty-six we will only have twenty-five counties. I also observe with regret that there is no provision made confining the franchise for local government elections to the people who pay rates. I had hoped that when this Bill would come forward the Minister, in the interests of the economical workings of the councils, would have such a provision put in, so that the electors of those entrusted with the monetary affairs of the counties would be men who themselves had an interest in the workings of such bodies. I entirely agree with Senator Bennett in regard to the clause which deals with the removal of houses to a considerable distance from the road. Upon reading that clause I came to the conclusion that this Bill might be styled a "Motor Facilities Bill." It appears to be altogether, so far as that clause goes at any rate, in the interests of people who use the roads for motor traffic. It is provided that a house may be removed thirty yards from the road. The old law was that a house could be within thirty feet of the road and not do any harm. It appears, so that people using motors may drive at even a faster speed than they have been driving, that anything interfering with their view, such as a house, would have to be removed thirty yards from the road. I hope when that clause comes up for discussion, that there will be an amendment to the effect that the clause be not insisted on.

I also observe that there is a proposal to cut down any trees which may be prejudicial to the upkeep of the roads. I was glad to see that it was recognised that a tree may sometimes be prejudicial to some interest. Farmers have been very severely criticised for removing trees which interfere with the saving of their crops, and I think there is a law to the effect that they are not entitled to cut a tree down without the consent of the Minister for Agriculture. I also observe that while a house has to be removed thirty yards from the roadway, there will be no objection to placing a petrol pump on any part of the road. It is evident from these clauses that they are entirely in the interests of motorists and the owners of motor lorries and motor cars. There is some difficulty as regards urban councils, which are sanitary authorities themselves, being electors to elect a county councillor for the district and the adjoining districts. In that case the county councillor elected will have charge of the public health of the county. He will be a voter in selecting the health board of the county. The urban electors, who will contribute nothing to the public health rate of the county, will be able to exercise their votes in electing the county council, which will dispose of the funds of the ratepayers of the county. I would ask the Minister to look into that point and see if he can put forward some equitable solution of the problem.

There is another clause to which I would like to refer—the clause dealing with the pensions payable to those who are pensioned off. It is provided that those pensions are not assignable and that no charge can be registered against them. If a shopkeeper supplies goods to those people, he cannot recover the cost as against the pensions. I do not think that clause should be allowed to remain in the Bill. I do not know whether these pensions could be distrained for income tax or not, but I think that is a clause that should not remain. On the whole, I give my support to the measure, and I hope that the amendments which I have indicated will be adopted.

I am rather disappointed that we have not some provision in this Bill authorising county councils to initiate small drainage schemes. We have heard a lot during the past six or nine months about the flooding due to the wet weather, and a great many county councils are of opinion that they should be authorised to initiate small drainage schemes to relieve the flooding in their areas. I do not refer now to large drainage schemes, like the drainage of the Barrow, but to schemes which would only necessitate an expenditure of from £100 to £300, and which would cater for a few townlands. The county councils strike rates on those lands, but during the past six months or so the lands have been rendered useless by flooding. The farmers are crying out against the county councils because they do not make some effort to drain the water off. I am a member of a county council myself, and I have been approached, time and again, to ascertain why the council did not make some effort to drain the flooded areas. There is a Government scheme by which farmers can borrow money for draining their own lands. That, however, does not meet the case, for it is not their own lands they have to drain. They have to go a good distance down the stream and clear it. If the county councils had authority to expend £200 or £300 in schemes for the drainage of a few townlands, these lands would be much more valuable than they are at present. I thought that, after all the discussion of drainage schemes that we have had, some such provision would have been embodied in the Bill. I would like to ask the Minister if he would have any objection to an amendment authorising the county councils to initiate small drainage schemes. I know that they could not finance large schemes. The large schemes should be put forward by the State, but the State cannot reach the smaller areas that I refer to; that is a matter for the county councils.

I am entirely in favour of the clause abolishing rural district councils. I have been a member of a rural district council since 1898, when they first came into existence. I was chairman of a rural district council for a number of years, and I know that they did their work well. But a lot of the work that they had to do when the board of guardians was in existence, they have not to discharge now. Since the abolition of the board of guardians, they have very little work to do. During the last twelve months I have gone in to meetings which were called, and three or four times there was no quorum. I discussed the matter with members of the council and asked why they did not attend. They said there was nothing to be done. All that was to be done, really, was to pass paying orders for the salary of the clerk and and sub-sanitary officers. I think it would be a mistake to continue rural district councils and to have two sets of officials, when the officials of the county council can do the work equally well.

I think most of the provisions of this Bill can be most usefully discussed in Committee, being a complex matter. Anybody who was looking forward to anything sensationally novel or progressive, in the way of local government legislation, must have been disappointed by this Bill. In the main, it seems to be a codification of the existing powers of local government, without giving any added substantial powers and with a greater degree of central control by the Ministry of Local Government. By the abolition of the rural district councils and by holding the tomahawk of the Minister over the townships, the Bill shows that it is an emphatic vote of "no confidence" in the efficiency or trustworthiness of democratically elected institutions. That, if it is well founded, means an unfortunate outlook for the people, because if the people are unable to supply the talent or efficiency requisite for the working of a rural district council or a board of guardians, they are not likely to be able to find the talent or the efficiency to work institutions such as the Dáil and the Seanad. If you have inefficiency and untrust-worthiness at the source, it is hardly likely that at the head the elected personnel will be of the highest character. One hundred and fifty rural district councils, or thereabouts, are to figure in the "Slaughter of the Innocents," and the townships are only going to have a sort of existence on sufferance. In effect, the Minister says that the people are only capable of being given any duties or responsibilities in respect of local government in a very restricted manner, and under the relentless eye and whip of an overriding authority. We know the exclamations of delight with which the Local Government Act of 1898 was received by the Irish representatives of that day. No less a personage than the present Governor-General exclaimed on that occasion:

This Bill, after years of disappointment and hope deferred, is like the shadow of a great rock in the weary desert. It brings a brighter light to the eyes of "Dark Rosaleen."

I can imagine the Minister saying that that was only the effervescing oratory of an M.P., and that he himself has, on occasion, indulged in equally extravagant statements, for which he has since repented. But in view of the magnificent encomiums with which this Act was received, this is a very sorry function in which we are participating today—destroying a very large part of that measure of "hope and deliverance." At the time the measure was introduced, it was stated by representatives of the British Government that it was a sort of test as to the fitness of the Irish people for the power of government in the wider national sense. It was customary for Irish public men to pride themselves and to clap one another on the back on account of the wonderful efficiency with which they made use of that instrument of self-government. The Bill before us to-day gives the lie to those boastful statements. We have it from a Minister of the Irish Free State that we are quite incapable of exercising those powers which we alleged we had been exercising efficiently in the past. At all events, no attempt has been made to try to cure the ills. The Minister thinks the case is beyond all hope of medicine, and he applies the axe and kills.

It is true, I am afraid, that during the past few years at all events, most local authorities were turned into political debating societies, the crowd in the gallery taking a very important part in the discussions and by no means a mean part in some of the decisions arrived at. Corporations, county councils, rural district councils, and so forth, talked loud and long about everything, except the business for which they were elected. This extraordinary divergence from duty was not confined to rural district councils. We had some of the finest corporations and the most important county councils in the country giving equally amusing and interesting displays. In fact, it was a popular pastime for some of the unemployed to stroll in to see the scrap in the local county council or corporation, as the case might be. But we must admit that there were extraordinary circumstances. The extraordinary political circumstances accounted very largely, I think, for that state of affairs. As Senator Sir John Keane pointed out, people were elected at the last election to seats on those bodies, not because of any fitness for local government administration, but because of service of another kind in an entirely different sphere. Many of them went into those councils, not for the purpose of working them at all, but for the purpose of rendering them unworkable, because they were looked upon as foreign institutions and were part of the Government which the British had imposed upon the people. For that reason, I think that in recent years, at all events, the Local Government machine did not get a real chance. While they may have been a failure for the reasons I have stated, it is rather unfortunate that they should be wiped out at a single stroke. The character of any people at a particular period is largely reflected in the character of their institutions. I am afraid the historian of the future will have very few institutions on which to draw for his knowledge of the character and characteristics of the Irish people, except he goes to political institutions. I am afraid they will not provide him with a very elevated idea as to what we were at this particular epoch in our history.

There is a danger in destroying those bodies that have been democratically elected. It would have been a better course to endeavour to restrict their power or secure that proper people would be elected on the next occasion. By doing away with these bodies, you do away with that sense of responsibility which is such a rare commodity at the present time. In addition, you remove the opportunity heretofore given the people of becoming conversant with the work of government, even in a small, local way. The more people you train in that sort of work the better for the country as a whole, the greater will be the sense of responsibility which will develop, and the greater will be the chance of creating a good civic spirit.

The new county councils will have an exceedingly big task to discharge, and we have no guarantee that the people elected to these bodies will be the best people for the job either. After all, they will be very largely, I am afraid, elected on a political ticket, and there is no guarantee that the personnel will be any better than on the old district councils. One extraordinary anomaly in regard to the board of health is that while the Council which elects it has been elected by proportional representation, the board of health is not elected by proportional representation, so that any party having a bare majority on the county council can, if they so desire, elect the whole ten members of the board. The board of health is in effect another county council, because the county council will have very little control, for all practical purposes, over the activities of the board of health. The Bill has not made any provision for allowing urban district councils to be represented on the board of health or for the representation of town commissioners or any outside authority that would certainly have a direct interest in municipal affairs.

The Bill has some good provisions. I personally agree with the provisions regarding removal of road obstructions, access to material, the erection of sign posts and matters of that kind. I think they are really an advance on the present state of affairs. The housing powers given to library authorities are also exceedingly useful and desirable, and I hope they will be utilised to the full. I notice travelling expenses are to be given but the rate allowed would not permit a councillor to purchase a third class ticket on the Blessington tramway. I notice the expenses are given according to the number of attendances. I agree with that principle, and I would seriously suggest that it should be also extended to the Oireachtas. There is only one other matter I want to refer to, and that is the preamble of the Bill. I presume it is a misprint. It says: "an Act to amend the law relating to Local Government in Ireland." I presume it means the Saorstát, because although we do hope to be able to legislate for the whole of Ireland at some future time we have not arrived at that stage yet.

I only wish to say a few words on this Bill and they are more on a practical point than anything else. I do not wish to go into questions of democracy, but as one Senator has already stated, this seems to be a Bill to do away with, not alone district councils, but with every other council, because the proposals are impracticable in many parts of the country. In some parts they may be practicable, in others they are not. Take, for instance, County Mayo. There are three rural districts, the councils of which meet at centres nearly 50 miles from one another. The rural district of Erris is 50 miles distant from Kilmaine. The people in Erris know absolutely nothing about the people in Kilmaine or about their business. The council representatives who will go in there from one district will know nothing about the other. They do not get into communication with each other; they do not meet at markets and they do not meet on any other occasion, and you might just as well give the government of the district of Kilmaine to the people in Westmeath as give it to the people in Erris. The distance is immense. There are no railways to Erris, and no means of communication and the people who meet at the county council, will know nothing about the other districts. They cannot possibly do the business of the county because they know nothing about it. My view is that instead of doing away with district councils the Minister should keep them, perhaps not as they are at present. They are too large and too numerous and there might be some reform instead of the plan the Minister has adopted. A small council composed of two members from each district could meet in the capital of the county to consider and to pass or veto measures sent up from the district councils.

That view, of course, is very different from the view expressed in the Bill. Hence, I think it would be impossible to bring in an amendment under such circumstances. That is what I think is wrong in this Bill, that in some places you have counties that are small and could be managed in that way, but if you take counties like Galway, Cork, Mayo or Donegal, you will find, I am afraid, that it will be an impracticable proposition and that the whole thing will have to be abolished. I dare say that is what the Minister is aiming at. I have heard certain Senators state that this is only a preliminary Bill, a sort of a preliminary canter around the course to show what sort of business it is, and that in a short time we will be presented with a new Bill. We are perpetually doing this. We passed the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, and I suppose we may take it that that, too, is only a preliminary canter around the course. I think Ministers ought to make up their minds as to what they want done. When they have done that, then things that call for legislation ought to be done permanently. If the statement is correct that we will have another Bill of this kind in a short time, then I think that is rather derogatory to the Seanad.

This, no doubt, is the big Bill of the session. It has been discussed now for almost an hour. What struck me most in the debate was that Senator Kenny seemed to understand the Bill from beginning to end. I do not quite agree with all his remarks with regard to it. I can quite understand that when you begin to abolish people they do not like it a bit. The sentiments of these people have been very clearly voiced by many Senators to-day. My experience of rural district councils, reinforced by what I have heard in the debate to-day, is that many of them have not done their duty. Senator O'Farrell rightly pointed out that a great many of these bodies spend their time in discussing politics and passing resolutions. The Senator recalled the passage in the Imperial Parliament of the Bill under which these rural district councils were constituted. I remember its passage very well indeed. Mr. Gerald Balfour was then Chief Secretary for Ireland. The real truth of the matter is, that the Bill was received by the Nationalist members at that time as a measure of home rule local government. Naturally, they were immensely delighted to get such a Bill passed through the Imperial Parliament. The time has now arrived, under our new Government, to see exactly how these rural district councils have been doing their duty. On the whole, the concensus of opinion is that they have not carried out their duties in a proper manner. In many places the members of these bodies never attended the meetings. In other places, men were elected district councillors who never paid rates and never intended to pay any. On the whole I should say that in the case of the county councils they did their duty. In many instances they discharged their duties well under extraordinarily great difficulties.

As a Senator remarked, this is a Bill that can be more properly discussed in Committee. I am glad to notice that in Part II. of the Bill there are many sections dealing with public health. In many places in Ireland the position with regard to public health is this: the doctor in charge of a district condemns a number of houses—houses, by the way, which ought to have been pulled down long ago. Many of these houses are real nests of tuberculosis, and are a plague almost in the country. The houses are not pulled down because the district councils are afraid to carry out the doctor's orders, and although they know perfectly well that these houses, are not in a sanitary condition. I hope very much that under this Bill that condition of things will be remedied. Senator Bennett made a statement to the effect that at the desire of motorists houses are to be pulled down, and trees and hedges cut, even, as the Senator said, the tree that the farmer sat under. The Senator drew a terrible picture of what was going to happen under this Bill in that respect. The tree that the farmer sat under was going to be cut down at the behest of every road hog in the country. I have had to cut down my hedges and my trees. It was only the other day that the county council insisted that I should cut down more trees. The real truth of the matter is that more trees bordering on the roads ought to be cut down because they are injuring the roads. It is no good talking about motorists. They have come to stay, and to stay for ever, and you have got to admit that.

It may be that this Bill will apply more to towns than to the country in cases where obstructions are met with, but that is a question. There is no doubt, however, that in one of the sections of the Bill power is given to order a man to take down his house. I know places in England where, within the last three years, three people were killed by the obstruction of houses. I do not think Senator Bennett would like to see that sort of thing happening in Ireland. We have to face this position, that people are going to use motors more and more. I confess, however, that I feel for the tree, under which the farmer sat all his life, that is now going to be cut down. Senator Sir John Keane said, in effect, that it was a great shame that the whole cost of asylums should be placed upon the poor farmers. The real truth of it is that the people who compose the rural populations in this country are those who use the asylums, and, therefore, I think it is fair to make them pay for them. I hope the Seanad will agree to pass this Bill. I know that Senator Kenny has pages of amendments to be considered in connection with it, and I shall listen to them with the greatest interest and pleasure. I know that he represents the General Council of County Councils, and that he thoroughly understands the Bill. Therefore, I do not wonder at all his objections.

I am glad to see that the reception the Bill has met with in the Seanad up to the present time justifies to a great extent the statement made here some time ago by a noble Senator to the effect that the storms that rage with great fury in the Dáil pass over here like summer breezes. The Bill has received a very favourable reception on the whole, and I am very pleased with it. This Bill, as several Senators have remarked, suffers from one great disadvantage, namely, that it does not go far enough in any one direction. I am in some respects like the old man with the ass. I am trying to please everybody and the result is that I have pleased nobody. If I had gone far enough to please Senator O'Farrell, I certainly would not have pleased Senator Sir John Keane. I have tried to strike a happy medium, and I have probably succeeded in not quite satisfying either. At the present time I do not think it advisable to bring in a Bill that could in any sense be construed as a party measure. We must regard ourselves for the time being as a National Party, and this is a Bill drafted on national lines. It is a Bill that can, at a future date, be amended to suit either the views of the Right or the Left, whichever party may be in power at the time.

But, for the time being, I consider I am doing my duty in bringing forward a Bill which admits of adapting existing enactments to modern conditions, with a view to increasing efficiency and economy. That is what the Bill sets out to do. There has been some discussion and some argument with regard to the merits of the 1898 Act, which might be described as the Magna Charta of Irish local government. I was very much surprised to hear of the very enthusiastic manner in which the present Governor-General hailed that Bill when it came forward in the British House of Commons. But after all, we must remember that the conditions with regard to local government have changed, just as much as the conditions affecting that very eminent gentleman himself. Probably a short period before he hailed this Bill in the British Parliament, he was, himself, languishing in a British cell struggling for the rights of Dark Rosaleen. That is a very different position from the position he holds at the present time and the same is true in regard to local government.

The statement of the Minister is not quite correct; the Governor General was never in jail.

Oh, excuse me, he was.


I am afraid these matters must be reserved for Committee.

However, I think on the whole, the best opinion in Ireland at that time was not altogether in favour of the '98 Act. That Act was passed following upon the English Act of 1888, which was a very good measure from the English point of view. But the conditions in England differ very greatly from the conditions in Ireland. England was even then a highly industrialised country, with dense populations, and with much higher valuation than in Ireland, and the areas, such as counties and districts, had very different values from the administrative standpoint, from what they had in Ireland. So that from the outset local government in Ireland was not a very complete success. The 1898 Act served its purposes tolerably well for a time, but during the last 25 years we have had something like a revolution in the condition affecting local government in Ireland, and it is necessary to make changes to correspond with the changed conditions affecting local government. It is for that reason that this Bill is brought in. The principal functions of local government, at the present time, are those in connection with poor relief, asylums, cure of disease, the prevention of disease, and roads. Those functions dealing with poor relief, and the curative side of public health, have already been dealt with in the county schemes, and those schemes have received temporary sanction in The Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Bill. Before giving a permanent character to that Bill I thought it advisable to set up a commission to inquire fully into the whole position as regards poor law relief and as regards asylums. Senator Sir John Keane remarked it is highly desirable that some change should be brought about in regard to the incidence of taxation in respect of asylums. That is a matter that can be considered when bringing in a Bill based upon the findings of this commission. The present Bill purports to deal mainly with two phases of local government—the preventative side of public health and with the roads. A revolution has taken place in regard to the conditions with which both these two branches of local government deal. Probably no phase of civilisation has made greater strides in the last 50 years than that in respect of the prevention of disease.

Never has the old proverb that "Prevention is better than cure" had more meaning than at the present time. More lives have, undoubtedly, been saved by improvements in sanitary science, and in the development of the prevention of disease, than in the developments on the curative side. Very great advances have been made in development of the curative side of public health, but from the point of view of saving life and of preserving the health of the community, it is only a flea-bite in comparison to what has been done by legislation ensuring that the food supply and the water supply of the people shall be pure, and that overcrowding shall be prevented in cities, and that the people on the whole shall be able to live under proper hygienic conditions.

One plague, like the Black Death, which was a frequent occurrence before sanitation became a great factor in civilisation, was responsible for many deaths, and the measures that have been taken to check such scourges have been responsible for saving more lives than all the doctors who have devoted their attention to the curative side of public health. For that reason it is very essential that every civilised country should devote very serious attention to the science of preventing the spread of disease, and if the Free State is to maintain its character as an enlightened State it is necessary that we should bring our sanitary science up to the highest point of perfection.

Now, at the present time the preventative side of public health is carried out in a very haphazard way. In fact, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the preventative side of public health is scarcely carried out at all in Ireland. The sanitary officers who are responsible for looking after nuisances and for seeing that people comply with the sanitary laws are only part-time officers and are at the mercy of every local potentate in their bailiwick. These people are afraid to put their foot down and insist in a straightforward way on the carrying out of the sanitary laws. Hence we have imperfect machinery of that kind. No matter what legislation we may bring in here it will be impossible to have that legislation efficiently carried out. What we really require is efficient machinery to carry out the laws that have been passed. The present sanitary laws, if properly enforced, are sufficient to bring the preventative science of public health up to a very high standard in Ireland. In every country it is necessary to improve public health measures, and this is particularly so in a food producing country like Ireland, for food produced under insanitary and unhygienic conditions can never expect to realise the same price in foreign markets as food produced under proper conditions. So, for that reason we have deemed it necessary to change the whole position with regard to public health. Germs are no respecters of boundaries and, therefore, it is no use in having sanitary laws efficiently carried out by one district council if, in an adjoining district council, things are allowed to go as they please. For that reason, in every county, we are making one body solely responsible for carrying out all the sanitation of the board of health.

Not only is it necessary to have one body responsible for such measures, but it is also necessary to place the responsibility on the shoulders of a competent officer, and do away with those halftime officers who were most of their time trying to serve two masters, and serving neither efficiently. The Bill provides for the appointment of a whole-time medical officer of health, a man who must possess the highest qualifications, including a diploma of public health, and who must have had ample experience in carrying out public health measures. Those are the principal measures dealing with public health. In large counties, where one board of health would not be able adequately to deal with the whole area, power is provided for the appointment of two or more boards of health. That would get over any difficulty on the score of throwing too much work on one small board of health. It is not necessary, at this stage, to go more fully into this question of public health.

The next big change the Bill brings about is in connection with roads. I am well aware the opinion is prevalent in the country that it would be a good thing to have our main roads established on a national basis. Experience in other countries goes to show that roads maintained on a national basis are not administered as economically as roads maintained by local authorities. In France they have a Ponts et Chauseés Department for maintaining their roads. The cost of the upkeep of those main roads is exceedingly high; probably they would not go in for such costly maintenance were it not for the fact that strategic reasons make it necessary for them to keep their roads at a very high standard. The conditions with regard to roads are continually changing. Roads have always performed very useful functions in the civilisation of every State. The Roman Empire probably owed its extension more to its roads than to any other factor. Here in Ireland, in the ancient days, the Brehon code dealt very fully with measures for the upkeep and maintenance of roads and for the charges that should be made on different people for keeping the roads in repair.

Roads continued to be an increasingly important factor as civilisation advanced in this country up to the time of the invention of the railways. Roads were always regarded from a national standpoint. After the invention of the railways, the roads, for the time being, had to go into the background and, accordingly, they more or less assumed a parochial aspect. In recent years roads have been looked at more and more from the parochial point of view. The tendency has been to allow the standard of maintenance of national roads to fall very low, and the tendency of rural district councils, who were responsible for the initiation of policy with regard to roads, has been to concentrate attention on the construction of new, unimportant little by-roads.

The advent of the motor car has again changed the whole position with regard to transport. The railway is no longer the great national medium of communication. The roads are again becoming the most important medium of communication in every civilised country. The question of roadways in the United States has been adverted to here. In the United States, railroads have been brought to a higher state of perfection than in any other country in the world. The whole energy of that great country was in later years concentrated on the building up of the railways. Experience goes to show that it is no longer a paying proposition to run railways for a shorter distance than 100 miles. In a country like Ireland, where the distances are very short, it is very likely that railroads will cease to be of the great importance that they were in the past.

In America, for some considerable time, roads have been looked upon from the national point of view. They have built there thousands and thousands of miles of ferro-concrete roads, which have been found to be the only type of roads satisfactorily to bear modern traffic. If I were in a position to deal with the question in vacuo, and if I had nothing in mind but purely local government considerations, I would be in favour of building a fan-work as it were, of concrete roads from Dublin to all the main cities on the northern, western and southern seaboards. But that would cost a very great sum of money, and because of our present financial condition we would not be in a position to do it. If it were insisted that the State should bear the cost of national trunk or main roads of a type that would suit modern traffic, it would probably mean an increase in Income Tax of another 6d. in the £, and I do not think any member of the Seanad or Dáil would look forward to such a prospect with any great enthusiasm.

This Bill does not nationalise the roads, but it goes as far as it is possible for it to go in that direction. Heretofore, every district council had power to make a road declaration as to what particular road should be maintained at a certain standard. Some County Councils adopted the system of road declarations in regard to main roads; others did not, and the result was that you had no continuity of good roads in the country. Under this Bill that position is now changed, because it is left to the Minister to decide what roads shall be main roads. Those roads can be mapped out on a national principle, and the standard rate of maintenance can be kept up along those roads over their whole length. That is one important provision in the Bill.

Another important provision gives the Minister power to decide what kind of material is to be used on the roads and to prevent the use of soft limestone, which is one of the causes of the roads going to pieces so rapidly under modern traffic. The main provision in the Bill is that which amends Section 8 of the Development of Roads Improvement Fund Act of 1909, which gives the Minister power to construct or maintain any road. Heretofore we had only power to construct a new road. Under this Bill my Department would have absolute power to maintain any road and to use the Road Fund for that purpose. It is not quite true to say all the burden of expense with regard to roads is being thrown on the unfortunate farmer. The proceeds of the Road Fund amount to a very considerable sum, and that will increase every year as motor traffic increases. In addition to that the State made available over one million pounds last year for roads, and it is expected that as occasion requires the State will be always ready to do the needful in the matter of road work.

It would not be a wise thing under present difficulties to make it compulsory on the State to maintain national roads at a high standard of efficiency. The Bill takes the initiation of policy with regard to roads out of the hands of the rural district councils, who looked at the problem solely from the parochial standpoint and were never capable of rising to the level of visualising the roads from the national point of view. In future the county councils will be responsible for all the main roads, including those passing through urban districts, with some exceptions, and the charge will be a county at large charge. There had been some objection to the section which permits the taking down of houses in order to ensure the safety of people travelling on the roads. It is not always to safeguard the motorist that these provisions are adopted. Very often it is the pedestrian on the road suffers when, as a result of not being able to see where he is going, the motorist crashes around a blind corner.

It is not true either to say that the unfortunate man, whose house is going to be taken down, is thus deprived of his dwelling, because there is a provision in the Bill indicating that before a house is taken down the council will have to see that there is accommodation of a similar kind for the person who is being deprived of his house. From that point of view the Bill is water-tight.

The provisions with regard to petrol pumps are not made to facilitate the people putting down the pumps, but to facilitate the users of the roads. So far, there were no restrictions on the erection of those pumps. People could place them at dangerous corners or anywhere they liked, and local authorities had no power to insist on their removal. Under this Bill people can only erect pumps after getting a licence from the county council, and the council is entitled to charge for granting such a licence. If, at any time, it is necessary to remove those pumps, the owner will have to do so at his own expense.

Having recasted the whole machinery of local government with regard to roads and public health, it is necessary to deal with the bodies at present in existence for that purpose. At present roads and matters connected with public health are being dealt with by rural district councils. As I have explained, those bodies are not at all suitable for dealing with those matters.

I think it is generally admitted—it was admitted in the Dáil, and I have heard no dissent from the view here— that the rural district council is not a suitable body to deal with roads and public health. It has been generally agreed that it is advisable to take these powers from the rural district council. That being so, I am at a loss to know on what ground we can justify the continued existence of rural councils. These bodies cost something like £65,000 every three years for the election of their members. The maintenance of their staffs amounts to something like £85,000. The work which is being done at the present time by the rural councils can be performed in about three hours every month. When these duties will be taken from them the work can be done in about a quarter of an hour every month. It is very hard to justify an expenditure amounting to over £100,000 a year on these bodies for doing work of that character.

There is no sentimental reason why these bodies should be maintained. They have not sprung out of the history of the country in any way. They are not historic bodies or areas like baronies or dioceses. They have no root in the history or topography of the country at all. They are unwieldy and unmanageable bodies that are absolutely impossible from the administrative standpoint. At one end of the scale you have a rural district like Tuam, which is as large as a good-sized county. At the other end you have a little rural district like Idrone, in Carlow, which is not larger than a parish. Yet these two areas, from the administrative standpoint, are exactly similar, and are entitled to the same powers, duties and privileges.

Under the present Local Government code it is very difficult to devise any system of local government that will apply equally to the rural district of the size, valuation and population of Tuam and at the same time apply to a rural district of the size, valuation and population of Idrone. It is accordingly proposed to do away with these district councils. That, by no means, will mean doing away with local representation. Under the Electoral Act, county councillors are elected for the electoral areas. Five, six, or seven members are elected for each electoral area, and these areas are, approximately, the same size. So that there is no district of any size in the country that will not have its own representative on the county council. Along with that, each county council and board of health will be in a position and have the power to set up committees. These committees are of two kinds, general purposes committees, and committees dealing with particular matters. Every parish, if so inclined, can set up its own committees, and these committees will be much superior to the old district councils, because they will not be stereotyped in any way. It will be possible for these committees to make use of the services of many men in these districts who would not, under any circumstances, go up for election as rural district councillors. Any part of the county that feels in need of a committee for any particular purpose will have the power to set up such a committee. Most of those committees will only have advisory powers. But greater powers can be delegated to them by the board of health. There is no danger that the work of the county councils will be increased under the present Bill. All the functions of the rural district councils, or the greater part of them, those with regard to public health, will be performed by the board of health, not by the county council.

The county council functions will be restricted to finance and roads, and it is not anticipated that their duties will be very much more onerous than at the present time, although perhaps for the first year or so, while they will be getting the machinery into working order, there may be a little more work than previously. In order to make up for that, provision is made for increasing the number of the county councillors, and also provision is made for paying travelling expenses to the members of these bodies. Having recast the machinery of local government, certain changes will take place with regard to the officers of those bodies, and provision is made for paying those officers who disappear as officers of the rural councils to become officers of the county councils. The county council will have the power to retain them in its service, or transfer them to the board of health, or, in cases where they think it desirable, to dismiss them and pension them off. That brings us to the pension provisions in the Bill. The present superannuation code of local government is like a Chinese puzzle; very few officers of local authorities know what their own rights are under the present code, and even expert lawyers who have devoted their lives to the study of such matters oftentimes are at loggerheads as to the rights of the various officials under different sections. To make confusion worse confounded there was inserted in the Bill of 1909 a section (8) dealing with pensions which has so complicated the present position with regard to superannuation, that very few people really know what the rights of anyone are under the law as it stands. We consider it a good opportunity to recast the law with regard to superannuation. This part of the Bill is a part that lends itself to future development. Later on it would be possible to work out a proper scheme. We may bring in a superannuation code on a contributory basis, like what they have in England at the present time, and what we have here under the Asylum Acts. Such a measure will take a great deal to work out, and we are not in a position to bring in a Bill on these lines at the moment. The Bill, so far as it goes, takes a long step towards the codification of the law with regard to superannuation. I have not consented to allow any new officers to come in under the superannuation code. There is no provision in this Bill for superannuating any person who had not superannuation rights up to this.

In the present condition of the rates, which are abnormally high throughout the country, I considered it necessary to hold out against the admission of any new class of officers to our superannuation code. That has been responsible for pretty warm tussles in the Dáil. Generally speaking, the superannuation code makes three changes. That is with regard to officers generally. One of these changes places existing officers perhaps in a slightly worse position than they are at the present time, namely, officers who leave the service. Because an officer cannot become pensionable until he is 65 years of age. Heretofore, his pensionable rights began after 20 years of service, and when he had reached 60 years of age. This change is considered desirable, as very many men are in a position to give very valuable services to local authorities after they pass 60 years of age. Of course, if an officer becomes incapacitated before that age, or if it becomes necessary for him to vacate the service owing to old age, he can do so. Counterbalancing that slight change, the officers of the local authority are placed in a better position in two respects. First of all, an officer under the present Bill has the right of appeal to the Minister if he is not treated fairly by his own council. Often times, for political or other reasons, a local council may not wish to grant a fair pension to one of its officials who retires, and it is unjust that such an officer after long service should be deprived of his pensionable rights as he can be under the existing law. Now he has the right to appeal. The second provision enables an officer to transfer his service from one local authority to another and to carry his pensionable rights from his former office to his new office. This is a very good thing both for the officer and for the new authority. It will mean that promotion for officers will be much more rapid, and they will have a much wider field of duties and at the same time it will mean that the local authorities can avail of the services of officers who have acquired experience in minor capacities under other local authorities. On the whole, we consider it a very good provision in the Bill. Provision is also made in the Bill for the transference of officers from the local authorities to the central service. Oftentimes an officer who gave most useful services to the Central Authority is an officer who has acquired experience under the local authority. Heretofore it was hard to get the services of such officers, because they did not carry pensionable rights from the local authority to the central government. That would be changed under the present Bill. It is not necessary to go any further into the superannuation code at the present stage.

There are also various provisions in the Bill for tightening up the expense of local government machinery. One important provision cuts at the root of an anomaly which existed in local government heretofore. When a member of a local body became disqualified through absenting himself from attendance or through any other reasons, his colleagues on the local authority passed a resolution qualifying him. Such a member was in a very peculiar position. He was in somewhat the same position as the director of a company who was not properly qualified to act. The actions of such a local authority which were invalid as regards himself, left him subject to a penalty while acting. The action of such a member with regard to third parties was valid. The result was that often-times a member of a local authority absenting himself from a meeting for a considerable length of time became disqualified. But owing to the esprit de corps that exists amongst members, nobody would insist on his disqualification. He would never be prosecuted and he would never suffer the penalty of acting. This Bill provides that the Minister can himself prosecute in cases where a member acts after being disqualified. That will get rid of that anomaly. There is also a provision which will greatly help in tightening up the position with regard to surcharge. At present no matter how outlandish a proposal may be, and no matter how patently illegal or irregular, if a member of a county council proposes or votes for a resolution which results in an illegal expenditure by a local authority he cannot in practice be surcharged. In order to surcharge a member in such a case it is necessary to prove crassa negligentia on his part, which in practice it is impossible to do. There is some doubt as to whether the person who signs the advice note in such a case can be surcharged, but at all events such a person is not morally culpable. The person who is really to blame is the person who proposes the resolution in respect of which the illegal payment is made. The present Bill gets over that difficulty by throwing the onus in the first instance on the clerk, or other responsible officer who is present when such a proposal is made. If that responsible officer considers that this proposal will lead to an illegal payment the obligation is placed on him of warning the person who makes the proposal. This warning will be entered on the minutes, and would itself be sufficient evidence to prove crassa negligentia against that councillor. If the resolution is proceeded with the name of every councillor who votes for or against it or who abstains from voting will be entered on the minutes, and those who vote in favour of such illegal payment can be surcharged in the ordinary way. This is, I think, a provision that will lead to very satisfactory results.

Provision is also made for the payment of expenses to members of local bodies and their committees. Under the Bill there will be a number of committees, and probably members of local committees will have to devote somewhat more time to their duties than they did in the past. For that reason it is considered desirable that some slight payment should be made to cover their out-of-pocket expenses. The scale of payments will not completely cover such expenses, but it will go a considerable way towards it, and will at all events place them in a much better position than they were in heretofore.

There is also a provision for placing the Libraries Acts on a county rather than on a district basis. All who are familiar with such matters will agree that that would be a great improvement. In England it has been found that the Libraries Acts when placed on a county basis worked very much more efficiently than on a district basis, and it will promote a great advance and a great improvement in the circulating system, which has been found in practice to be the most desirable for the development of libraries. I am very glad to see that on the whole the Bill has been given a very favourable reception, and I hope the same atmosphere will continue during its passage through the Seanad.

I would like to make one point clear. In dealing with certain committees that may be set up under the Bill the Minister referred to the board of health. Under Section 12 the board of health has power to set up two kinds of committees, a joint committee dealing with matters affecting the whole area, and a local committee dealing with a specific matter appertaining to the particular area within the larger area. I understood the Minister to say that the county council was placed in a similar position, but I do not think it is stated in the Bill. I would be very glad of that, because the resolution of the General Council was based on that when they favoured the abolition of district councils; that, as an alternative, the county council would have power to nominate committees in lieu of district councils, and that there were many matters that could be referred to such committees by the county council. In fact, nearly all the matters with which the rural district councils now deal could be referred to these committees, and this would get rid of the objection of the county councils to having this extra work thrust upon them. That was what the General Council suggested. It would be a very good thing, and it would overcome many of the objections to the abolition of the district councils. The Minister also referred to the urban areas. There is there a very great disparity.


I am afraid, Senator, you cannot develop a Second Reading speech now. You see, you put a very long question——

I understood from the Minister that under the Bill, the county councils were given power to appoint committees like the boards of health. The Bill does not say so.

The Senator will see it in Section 52. In the Bill as introduced, this power was given to the board of health only, but during its passage through the Dáil I agreed to accept an amendment inserting a provision giving exactly the same power to the county councils.


Quite right. It is in Section 52.

The Minister made what ought to have been a speech introducing the Bill rather than a reply to the criticisms that were put forward on Second Reading. I noticed that there were one or two important things the Minister did not touch upon. He explained many of the provisions of the Bill, but he made no reference whatever to the all important object of the Bill; which is to give him power to set up a bureaucracy, and do away with the right of the people to representation on any of the public boards. That is the real meaning underlying the Bill. The Minister takes power under this Bill to close down every local authority in the country. He goes further, and excludes Dublin City and County from the provisions of the Bill, giving as an excuse in the Dáil that he was doing so because there was a Commission dealing with the city and county sitting. I think that is a lame excuse, with all respect to the Minister, because, from my experience of the respect that is paid to the findings of Commissions set up by the Government, I do not think he need worry waiting to see what these findings are.

I want to say that I agree that some change is necessary with regard to local administration. I do not care by what means the change is brought about, so long as it does not take away the right of the people to decide. During the time that consideration was being given to the question of the acceptance or rejection of the Treaty I heard the slogan used, on many occasions by people holding responsible positions, that if the people wanted to go wrong they had the right to be allowed to go wrong. Was not that stated from every platform, over and over again, by the most important people in the State? Here we are proposing to get rid of people who would be local representatives, at the whim of the Ministry. Boards have been abolished because some of them in previous years harassed some of the people now in control of the Ministry.

There is no use saying that the rural district councils, boards of guardians, and county councils waste their time passing resolutions. They were trained to do that, so that it is not altogether their fault. They were sent into power to do it, but they have remained in power too long. What is the reason the local elections have not been held? The last elections held were, I think, in the year 1920. The elections are long overdue. The city of Dublin is run by commissioners, while the people of the city have not been consulted. If the people of the city get an opportunity to elect other people to carry on their work, and if they do not do it, I do not object. I do not object to the Ministry bringing forward any scheme of centralisation. I am not crying over the abolition of the rural district councils, and if a proper scheme of centralisation will do the work of local boards better than it has been done, I am in favour of it. I am in favour of anything that will improve the methods by which local administration is to be carried out. I am absolutely opposed, however, to placing in the hands of the permanent officials the right to rule this country as they wish, because no matter what the Minister may say to the contrary, that is what is contained in the Bill.

We are told that another measure of local government is to come along, and that a Commission will be set up to consider various matters. If that is so, there is no necessity to rush this Bill. Let an election be held, and if the Commission brings in a recommendation for the abolition of local bodies, abolish them.

I also want to ask the Minister how does this Bill affect the position of the employees of the Dublin Corporation who were entitled to be granted pensions under the 1905 Act—whether or not this Bill interferes with the rights of the workmen of the Corporation to pensions. He told us that it is not suitable at this stage to agree to pension other people than the officers. I am one of those people who believe that every person, no matter what his occupation may be, who gives good and faithful service, is entitled to good remuneration in his old age. I do not believe in starting a class war, and several Members of this House have accused the Labour Party of preaching class war. I say the Labour Party is out preaching against class war. You are preaching class war on every occasion. You provide pensions for Judges and others and professional men, but when it comes down to the ordinary producer and common or garden workingman or woman, you say you cannot give them pensions. I say that is wrong, I say that every man and woman who gives faithful service, no matter in what capacity, is equally entitled to a pension as a reward of good service.

The Minister did not refer to a most important matter. It is contained in a clause of the Bill which gives the Minister power to decide whether or not certain works on the roads shall be done by direct labour. He takes power himself to say that if any county council in Ireland decide that in their opinion the best method for maintaining the roads is by direct labour, he has power to say that direct labour shall cease on a certain day, and if it does not he will suspend them. He has become the great suspender. If all the other local bodies do not toe the line, they will be all suspended. In that particular clause he proceeds to take the power that an urban district council, if he so desires, shall be reduced to the position of town commissioners, and in the very next clause he takes power to abolish town commissioners.

Question—"That the Bill be read a second time"—put and agreed to.