I should be the last to deny that this Bill will perhaps aggravate an anomaly which already exists but that entirely arises from the fact that the Bill is concerned with an anomalous position. The purpose of the cost-of-living bonus is to compensate those who are in receipt of it, for the fact that the cost of living has risen for the community in general. Accordingly, when public servants are in the enjoyment of such a system of payment it means this: that if the cost of living rises because, say, the Government, in order to carry out its programme, whatever it may be, of social amelioration or other purpose, has had to impose additional taxation, that they are to some extent compensated for the increase by the cost-of-living bonus.
I say that that is an anomaly. I am not concerned with the question of the remedy for that anomaly, but, because that anomaly exists, then we have those further anomalies to which Senator Hearne referred, created by the fact that a large section of officers of local authorities are paid as ordinary citizens are paid, in accordance with what the undertaking or the enterprise or the organisation by which they are employed can afford, and on the other hand, side by side with those people, there are officers who are compensated in the way I have mentioned.
I cannot see any way of dealing with that except by abolishing the cost-of-living bonus altogether, and putting everybody in the same position, so that if the cost of living goes up because social programmes have to be given effect to, everybody will be treated alike and some will not be compensated in the way that has prevailed hitherto. That is outside the range of practical politics, and I do not propose to deal with it except to try to impress on those who are in receipt of cost-of-living bonus that they are in a much better position than the great majority of the people. The same is true, too, of those who happen to be in public employment. Whether they are well remunerated, or whether they are not as well remunerated as they think they ought to be, the fact remains that they are safeguarded against the insecurity which is a matter of grave anxiety to most individuals in circumstances such as we are passing through now. There are many men in employment to-day whose continuance in employment depends upon the goodwill of their employers. That is not the position in which those who are servants of public authorities find themselves, and I think they ought to realise that if they ask for improved conditions for themselves those improved conditions can be given only at the expense of the less fortunate elements in the community.
Judged by the importance of the services of the teaching profession to the community, I am not prepared to argue that its members are as well paid as we should like to see them, but I say that, by comparison with the great bulk of their fellow-citizens, they at least are in enjoyment of this boon, that their services are not going to be terminated for any reason outside their control. There may be exceptions here and there, but the great mass of those employed in the teaching profession in Ireland to-day have that security for the future, and they have a secure pension to look forward to at the end of their days.
That is not the position of the general mass of the people, and I think those who speak for the teaching profession ought to face up to that fact and ought to give it the same consideration as those do who, like myself, as members of the Government, are charged with the protection of the interests of the common people of the country.
Senator Duffy asked if I would indicate the trend of policy in relation to the question of the remuneration of officers and employees of local authorities. All I can say is that, so far as the Minister for Local Government is concerned, his policy will be to keep in step and be in accord with the general policy of the Administration. That policy was first indicated early in 1940. It was given general effect, as I have mentioned, in May, 1941. I am satisfied that, when this emergency passes and normal conditions are restored, we shall find that as a result of that policy we shall have come out of this war with our economic strength much less impaired and our future much more secure than it would have been if we had not adopted that policy, which was in appearance likely to be very unpopular, and which I know was very unpopular, but which, because the people realised that it was a sensible policy and a rational one, they were prepared to accept.
With regard to future levels of remuneration, I must say quite frankly that I feel that, prior to the outbreak of the emergency, the remuneration which was paid by the local authorities in this country had got completely out of step with what the general economy of the country could afford. One of the things which I endeavoured to do, first, as Minister for Industry and Commerce and, secondly, as Minister for Local Government, was to try to find some norm to which the general remuneration and general standards of remuneration could be related. Bearing in mind that local authorities deal with the general mass of the people distributed over the country as a whole, I think the basic criterion of what local authorities should in justice be required to pay is the remuneration which the basic industry of this country can afford to pay to those who are engaged in it.
I quite frankly say that, so far as those who are engaged as manual workers under the local authorities are concerned, particularly in the rural areas, I think that the remuneration which they are paid should be related to that which agriculture can pay to those who labour in it. I think that is a very rational standard, because the agricultural wage rate here is settled by agreement. There is an Agricultural Wages Board, which is independent of the Minister to the extent that they can make recommendations. The Minister can approve or disapprove of those recommendations, but so far as I know he has not at any time failed to approve of them; I understand that, in general, those recommendations have been accepted. When you have men representing the basic industry of the country meeting together around a council table, and in frank discussion with one another agreeing——