Public Business. - Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) (Amendment) Bill, 1940—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The object of this Bill is to withdraw the offices of nurse and midwife from the offices to which the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926, applies. The Act of 1926 established the Local Appointments Commission which has the duty of selecting and recommending candidates for appointment to certain posts under local authorities. These posts are in three groups, the first of which comprises all chief executive officers, the second, all professional and technical officers except teachers, and the third any other position to which the Act is applied by the appropriate Minister.

Nurses and midwives were regarded as coming within the second group and consequently appointments to vacancies have, from the passing of the Act, been made in accordance with its provisions. The commission since it was set up has made upwards of 1,700 recommendations of candidates for posts of nurses and midwives. Last year there were 138 such recommendations or approximately three-fifths of all the recommendations made by the commissioners in that year. Some difficulty has been experienced in recent years in securing candidates for posts in connection with hospitals for infectious diseases. The greater demand at present for nurses will not render the position any easier. It will facilitate local authorities in obtaining candidates if they are able to offer immediate employment in permanent posts. The Department has been advised that in training centres for fever nursing it would be easier to recruit the permanent nursing staff from nurses with general medical and surgical training who complete their fever training in the centre than by reference to the commissioners.

The higher nursing posts such as hospital matron for which special qualifications are necessary can still be brought within the Act by declaration of the Minister. It should be open to the Minister to review such declarations from time to time and if necessary revoke them. Section 4 of the Bill will give him the necessary power.

There are two other minor matters dealt with in the Bill. Section 5 of the Act of 1926 fixed six months as the maximum period for which a person temporarily holding a post to which the Act applies could retain office. It occasionally happens for one reason or another that a permanent appointment cannot be made within that period. Sometimes there is delay in applying to the commissioners or difficulty in getting a suitable candidate, and in such cases temporary appointments have to be continued. Apart from the provision in Section 5 of the Act of 1926 the Minister has sufficient power to ensure that the filling of permanent posts is not prolonged unduly, and it is not anticipated that in practice the amendment proposed in Section 5 of this Bill will lead to the undue retention of temporary officers.

Section 6 of the Bill gives two months instead of one month within which the certificate of expenses must be given by the commissioners. The staff of the Civil Service Commission is also partly engaged on the work of the Local Appointments Commissioners and expenses and receipts have to be apportioned between the two bodies. It is proposed to bring the Bill into operation as soon after its passing as the commissioners are able to dispose of existing statutory requests. Under Section 2 the Minister will appoint a day for the purpose.

I take it that if this Bill becomes law, and if it is afterwards found desirable to reinstate the provision under which nurses and midwives have to be selected and recommended by the Local Appointments Commission, a new Act will be required and that there is no power under Section 4 of this Bill to carry out such reinstatement. I tried to follow the Parliamentary Secretary as to the exact effect of Section 4. I know he referred to the fact that certain posts can still be brought within the Act of 1926, but I did not quite follow his explanation.

I should like to get my mind clarified as to whether all these appointments will now be made by the county manager or whether they will be reserved appointments for the county councils. It seems that the object of the Bill really is to relieve the Local Appointments Commissioners of this work. We are told that they dealt with 1,700 applications during all these years and with 128 last year—a very big number, comparatively speaking, when the number of appointments to other posts is considered. It seems that this work took up the greater part of the time of the Local Appointments Commissioners and now the work has to be thrown back on the local authorities. That does not seem to be a satisfactory procedure. Perhaps the work may be done with greater expedition but, at other times, we find the argument put forward that work of this kind is better done by a centralised system than locally. It seems to me that this is a reversal of policy and it seems strange to be told, at this time of the day, that things can be done more efficiently by this method than by the centralised system because the number of applicants is so large.

I do not like the clause which prolongs the period beyond six months during which a person holding a temporary appointment can retain office. I think that six months should be quite sufficient. The history of local Government and of local authorities has often shown that men are temporarily appointed to certain posts, retain these posts for years and are practically forgotten until in later years they apply for a pension when they are about to retire. The Parliamentary Secretary assures us that cannot occur but still the six months' period is to be extended. I do not like to say anything to cast doubt on his assurance but personally I do not think that the six months' period should be extended except perhaps in a case where steps have been taken, say five months after the man was temporarily appointed, to make a permanent appointment and a permanent appointment has not been quite completed at the end of the six months. In extenuating circumstances of that kind, it might be justifiable to grant a further extension but I do not think it is advisable baldly to extend the period as is proposed here.

I take it the effect of the Bill as regards nurses is to remove the nomination from the Local Appointments Commissioners and put the appointment into the hands of the county managers? Is it the county managers or the local board who will have the actual appointment?

It would be the county managers.

That is what I thought.

Senator Douglas raised a point about the possibility of reinstating, by Ministerial Order, the office of nurse or midwife amongst the posts to which the 1926 Act will apply. That cannot be done if this Bill is passed. New legislation would be required to bring the position of nurse or midwife back amongst the offices to which the 1926 Act will apply. So far as matrons or nurses holding higher posts and requiring special qualifications are concerned, it will be within the Minister's power, by declaration, to bring such posts within the 1926 Act. Ordinary nurses and midwives will be excluded by this Bill.

Is that because of a provision in the 1926 Act? I was under the impression that by a declaration almost any post could be brought under the 1926 Act.

That is so, but this Bill definitely excludes the post of nurse and it cannot be restored by order following the passage of the Bill. Senator O'Donovan appears to think that the whole basis of this Bill is to obviate the inconvenience that these nursing appointments gave to the Appointments Commissioners. That is not entirely so. Members of local authorities who are present will know that there has been a continual dislocation of local services owing to the frequent changes of nurses, mainly due, I suppose, to marriage, which in itself is a very desirable thing, and partly due to tiring of the surroundings or to a desire to change to another area. We have had in our Department repeated complaints from local authorities on the grounds of dislocation in their services resulting from such frequent changes of nurses. Apart from that, there has been a difficulty, notably here in Dublin, in securing nurses for fever hospitals. As a rule, nurses take a general training first and then they go to a fever hospital for special fever training. The fever hospital boards find it difficult sometimes to get nurses to enter on these courses of training unless they are in a position to guarantee them employment at the end of their fever training. So long as the office of nurse remains an office to which the Act of 1926 applies, the board cannot give any such guarantee inasmuch as it is a matter outside their province to determine.

On the question of the six months' limit for temporary appointments, raised by Senator O'Donovan, it may be true that in exceptional circumstances temporary appointments have been continued for a period of more than six months, but it is very doubtful if such a practice is strictly within the law. At any rate, members of local authorities know that it is impossible to have a permanent appointment made within the six months' limit in certain circumstances. There is ample provision to prevent, or safeguard against, abuses, under Section 6 of the Act of 1926. Sub-section (2) of Section 6, of the Act of 1926, reads as follows:—

"Whenever a local authority does not, within three months after an office to which this Act applies becomes vacant or (in the case of a new office) is created, either request the commissioners to recommend to them a person for appointment to such office or make an appointment (other than a temporary appointment) to such office under and in accordance with a provision of this Act dispensing with such request, the Minister may on behalf of such local authority request the commissioners to recommend to such local authority a person for appointment to such office."

At any rate, the Minister has the necessary power to prevent any abuse. As to how stringently that power will be exercised, I presume that, generally speaking, if there is no adequate reason for postponing an appointment, the Minister will come in and say, in effect: "If you do not ask for a recommendation from the commissioners, I shall have to do so myself." If there is any adequate reason why the appointment should be postponed, I am sure that the Minister will be reasonable, but at any rate he has the power to prevent abuses in that connection. I think, Sir, that I have dealt with the various points that have been raised by Senators.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the Committee Stage?

I suggest, Sir, that it should be taken on the next day the Seanad meets.

This day week?

Yes, this day week.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 19th June.