Wednesday, 23 July 1941
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. Ruttledge): I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. It proposes to extend for a further period the time within which local elections are to be held. Last year, owing to the conditions then prevailing, a similar course was adopted. The period of extension then fixed will expire on the 30th September next. Conditions are in many respects more serious than a year ago, particularly in regard to food and fuel supplies. At a time when everything possible is being done to increase supplies it would not be in the interest of the country to hold local elections.
The Bill, while postponing the elections up to September, 1942, leaves it open to hold elections on a day in 1941, if that course should be decided upon before the close of the year. It is thus necessary to define the position with regard to annual or first quarterly meetings in the year 1941. The year 1941 is declared to be a year in which triennial elections are not held but if the appointed day were earlier than the 21st October next the portion of the year ending on the appointed day will be regarded as a year in which no triennial elections are held. The effect of this provision is that the validity of the meetings held between 23rd June and 1st July of this year as annual or first quarterly meetings is established definitely. If any local authority, on the assumption that the year 1941 was a year in which triennial elections  would be held, did not hold an annual or first quarterly meeting during that time, the secretary or clerk of that local authority can now under the authority of Section 11 of the Local Elections Act, 1927, arrange for the holding of an annual or first quarterly meeting of the local authority on a convenient day.
General Mulcahy: When discussing the Taoiseach's Estimate the other day and touching on the general dislocation of Government machinery, I referred to the attitude of mind of the Government implied by the suggestion that we were going to postpone local elections and a certain amount of objection was taken to some of the things I then said. The present county councils have been in office for seven years. An election was due in 1937, but it was postponed because there was a general election. When the postponement that year was discussed, the then Minister for Local Government indicated that, while he took power to postpone the elections for three years, it was not his intention to hold up the elections for the full period. He agreed with Deputy Brennan who criticised the postponement that it was wise to hold these local elections at regular intervals and that the intervals should not be prolonged. It might have been the intention to hold elections in 1938, but, again in that year, there was a general election. When we came to 1939 and 1940, we were discussing the Managerial Bill, and I take it that the Minister felt there was not much use in holding local elections until he had got his Managerial Bill through the House and was in a position to make the changes in local bodies entailed by the passage of that Bill.
All the legislation bearing on the reconstruction of local councils and the introduction of the managerial system has now been passed, and we find ourselves in the middle of an emergency. The nature of that emergency has been referred to in various ways by different Ministers comparatively recently, and all kinds of administrative devices have been adopted to meet that emergency of one kind and another. Speaking in Waterford, and reported in the papers  of 28th June, the Minister for Supplies said:
One part of the machinery which has been planned for use, if necessary, is the appointment of regional commissioners for different areas, the idea being that they will take over the general administration of Government, if the development of the emergency here brings about such conditions that the central Government will not be able to reach these areas. Parish councils and committees of various kinds have been set up for the purpose of helping and showing the willingness of the people generally to help. In the meantime, it has been found necessary to use some of the local machinery for production and in other ways. The valuable assistance which can be given by local machinery through county engineers and surveyors is demonstrated in connection with the drive for the production of turf, and in connection with the general arrangements for evacuation in some of the reception areas, the valuable services which can be rendered by the county medical officer of health have been shown. If there is any officer who can be equally useful, or even more useful, in circumstances in which communication with different parts of the country was difficult, there is the county secretary or county manager, but the very fact that it is necessary to fall back on that local machinery, the very fact that regional commissioners have been appointed, shows the necessity of having the ordinary local representatives elected in present circumstances and facing the emergency in an emergency spirit.
The present councils have been seven years in office. Hanging over them has been the sword not only of the elections but of the whole change in relation to the managerial system. If there is to be any attempt to rally the people to face their problems, to get that closer touch with local machinery  which will make it more effective, I submit that it is a great mistake to postpone these elections. When I suggested that these elections should be held and that it was entirely wrong not to hold them, Deputy Corry said that I did not like to see the people united too long and that I wanted to see them cutting one another's throats in local elections. He made the statement that he knew the kind of friendship there was between people, parties and factions in every parish after the local elections. I asked what the people would be cutting one another's throats about and the only answer he could give was: “In local elections, people say a terrible lot of nice things to one another.”
I was surprised, however, to hear the Taoiseach following that up and asking if I were really serious. He indicated that a partial election such as this—an election for local bodies— would be capable of all kinds of misrepresentation. He added:
“...the fact is that if you are going to have these elections you are going to have present-day politics brought into it, and the next thing would be the whole question about Government policy in every direction. You know it cannot be stopped and we are simply in a dream world if we think it can.”
On the other hand, I think we are in a dream world, if we think we can face the difficulties of the emergency, even at their present standard, with our present arrangements. If we are to run into the situation pictured for us by the statement of the Minister for Supplies, when he said, with regard to the difficulties, that the public had been informed of them but their full extent will not be understood until they are actually upon us; if we are to run into circumstances in which we shall have these regional commissioners working, and the local representatives whom  they have to fall back on are people who have been in office for seven years, and who are under sentence of administrative death, due to the fact that they have run nearly three normal political lives, I say we are going to be utterly unprepared.
It is the spirit of the whole thing that is more striking than anything else. The Government did not particularly invite the kind of co-operation which they got on the Defence Conference, but when it was suggested they accepted it. The country has made use of the spirit of that co-operation with very marked success, and there was a great strengthening of our position throughout the country. While it is a fact that matters connected with national politics have been introduced into local government elections, and they have created, perhaps, the results that Deputy Corry spoke about, and what the Taoiseach says seems to be a fundamental fact in this country, it was political divisions not of an ordinary kind that dragged politics into local government machinery, into local government administration and into the general arena of local government.
I think that if we do not face to-day the fact that we want our local bodies set up in the atmosphere of the present emergency to stand over their local problems and carry out local work in the effective way in which it must be carried out, and to be there to assist any divisional commissioner that circumstances may require to shoulder his responsibilities there, we are missing a tremendous opportunity. I think the opportunity is a Heaven-sent one to hold our local elections this year in the spirit in which the emergency calls upon us to hold them, and we should cut out, as they ought to be cut out, all purely Party or political considerations in the matter of local administration.
In the first place, I think the country deserves a chance to show that it can face its local problems without dragging the political divisions of the last 20 years across local discussions or into local administration. In the second  place, the very atmosphere of the present day makes it possible for the Government to appeal to all Parties to set up their councils now in the interests of local administration, pure and simple. In the third place, it gives us local authorities with a definite mandate from the people, as distinct from a mandate that is seven years old, a mandate that is already old and withered, to deal with whatever arises in local administration or in the general public service in any special circumstances that may arise during the emergency.
I think that in taking up this attitude the Government misjudge the country and they are losing a valuable opportunity of wiping out the artificial introduction of purely Party and political divisions into local government. They are depriving the country of giving a fresh mandate to those who are prepared to stand over local administration to-day. A fresh mandate is badly wanted and I appeal to the Minister to drop the spirit or the implications of this Bill. If you do not hold local elections this year, you are not likely to hold them until the emergency has passed.
The Minister has not indicated whether, even assuming he persists in his intention not to hold the elections, he is going to put the managerial system into operation. I should like to emphasise once more that the opportunity is there, and the need is there to take that opportunity, and I believe the Minister will find that he will get as big a response from every Party in the country as he could expect and he will get vigorous and live local bodies returned at the election, whether they are 95 per cent. of the present people or not. Even if they were 95 per cent. of the present people, I believe they would be in a better position to stand up to their work than the people who got their mandate seven years ago. I urge the Minister to drop the implications of the present Bill and he should appeal to the country to face the local government elections this year in the spirit that I suggest and for the purpose I mention.
Mr. Allen: Deputy Mulcahy referred to divisional commissioners who will function in times of emergency and, apparently, he wants new councils in order to help those divisional commissioners. So far as I understand the scheme, if the divisional commissioners function, the local councils will not come into the picture at all.
General Mulcahy: Surely somebody must come into the scheme if the divisional commissioners commence to function? If the Deputy thinks the divisional commissioner will be able to rule a whole county without assistance from somebody, I suggest he is very much mistaken.
General Mulcahy: I simply indicated the circumstances of the country. I referred to the appointment of divisional commissioners in order to indicate the circumstances of the country. I endeavoured to show what is expected and I pointed out that if that is an indication of what is expected, surely we ought to have modern local councils elected to meet whatever arises in the emergency. I suggest they would be much more useful than any divisional commissioner. On his own, he would be lost.
Mr. Allen: Parish councils will also be expected to help him, and how the local elections would assist the parish councils to operate, I do not know. There are many reasons, to my mind, why local elections should not be held this year. I should like to have a guarantee from Deputy Mulcahy that there would be no Party politics introduced into the elections. I should like to see local elections held without any Party politics being introduced, without any political slogans. Unfortunately, our experience has been that it is not possible to hold local elections without Party politics being introduced. If we could guarantee elections without Party politics being brought into them, then I would be very much in favour of the holding of them.
Mr. Allen: I fail to see how you could have that. I can see several things arising out of the holding of any elections at the present time. I should like to know if Deputy Mulcahy, in his fervour for local elections, has considered the question of by-elections to fill vacancies in this House.
Mr. Allen: Not a bit different. If you think you would not have Party politics introduced into local elections, you could also think on the same lines of not having Party politics introduced into by-elections for the Dáil.
Mr. Allen: And the administration of national work affects local elections very much, as the Deputy well knows. There are many reasons, from the point of view of the people who live in the rural areas, why the local elections should not be held. Apart from other  reasons, we have a great shortage of fuel, we have no lighting and we have no transport whatever. In that situation we know that 25 per cent. of the people who live in the urban areas would, in the event of the local elections being held, be able to get full control of all the county councils, if they so wished. They would have no difficulty in doing so owing to lack of transport. In addition, there might be a great lack of public interest if the local elections were held. You would probably have from 15 to 20 per cent. of the people voting. That would be very unfortunate from the point of view of our democratic institutions.
Mr. Allen: I think it would be far more damaging to our democratic institutions to have local elections held in the circumstances I have described. We remember the Seanad election which was held in which only 5 per cent of the people voted. There were no more Seanad elections held on the basis laid down for that particular one. The rural areas, as I have said, would not get fair representation if the elections were held at the present time. Even if a by-election were held for this House, I would be afraid that the opinions of rural dwellers would not be properly recorded at it. In fact, I do not think that, I am convinced of it. I am sure that the members of the local authorities are sick and tired, and would be glad if elections were held from the point of view of letting other people come along and take over the responsibilities that they have held so long. I would welcome elections myself for that reason alone.
I do not believe there is any reason why the Minister should not operate the Managerial Act and the other local government measure, which is at present before the Seanad, through the old councils. I think many of them would welcome the putting into operation of these measures. The Minister would have a better chance of operating  the Managerial Act with the help of the old councils than he would with new councils, because the former have a good knowledge of local administration.
Mr. Allen: What I say is that the members of the old councils have a better knowledge of local administration than the members of the new councils could be expected to have. My main objection to the holding of the local elections is that the rural community could not possibly get a fair opportunity of recording their views in present circumstances.
Mr. Linehan: Are we to take it from Deputy Allen that his contention is that the rural community would not get fair representation on the new councils mainly because of the lack of transport; that the people in the towns, who would be convenient to the polling booths, would vote 100 per cent., and would, therefore, capture representation on all the new councils?
Mr. Linehan: I think the best thing that could happen to this country would be that there should be a complete lack of transport at every election, local and general, and further that the sending out of cars to take people to the polling booths should be made a criminal offence. It is ridiculous to suggest that people living in the rural districts are not interested enough, even in this time of emergency, to go out and vote if the local elections were held. I think that the sending of cars for voters should be made a criminal offence. If the Government were to introduce legislation to that effect to-morrow it would probably hurt them more than it would hurt me. Deputy Allen said that the present members of local bodies were sick and tired and that they would welcome the holding of the elections. They are not half as tired as the people who elected them are for having put them where they are.
Mr. Brennan: When the Managerial Act and the Local Government Bill that is now before the Seanad were under discussion in the Dáil I pleaded with the Minister that, unless they were going to be put into operation during the emergency, they ought to be held back until such time as they could get a calm consideration. I said they should not be passed in an atmosphere of political uncertainty. Now we have Deputy Allen making the case that both these measures ought to be operated by the Minister through the old councils. I do not think that would be a good plan. I do not at all agree with Deputy Allen or with the Tánaiste or Deputy Corry that it was ever necessary to introduce politics into the local elections. Deputy Allen asks how they are going to be kept out. The Government was responsible for introducing them into local councils, and now it is being hoist on its own petard. The present Minister for Finance, when he was Minister for Local Government, said that politics ought to be introduced into the local elections and that the new Fianna Fáil Government wanted them. That statement is on the records of the House.
Mr. Brennan: Of course we had to when the then Minister for Local Government, from the benches opposite, advised that politics should be introduced. His reason—possibly, it is reasonable enough—was, as he said, that they wanted their Party on every county council to carry out their instructions. In view of that, I do not see how the Government can go out now and say that there should be no Party politics. They were responsible for introducing politics into local councils. If the Government were to go back on that now it would mean that they would have to break up their caucus meetings and the jobocracy that they have established in the country. That is what you have going on in the country. We do not want politics in the local bodies.
Mr. Brennan: There were no political issues at all then. We all know that there were no caucus meetings at that time. Would Deputy O'Rourke tell us about the caucus meetings that he presided over at Roscommon?
Mr. Brennan: We never had a caucus meeting or a political meeting. We have quite a new departure now, in that when the wife of a member goes up for a job she gets it. We had another case where the wife of the member got a job, and the husband resigned.
Mr. Brennan: We all read the papers and see what is going on. I would not say that the report of the inquiry at Rathdown is very complimentary to the members. I do not think that the kind of administration we have at the moment is worth preserving. Therefore, I say that if we have a chance of holding the local elections we ought to go ahead with them. I believe that, even in the present emergency, the people might be allowed to elect new councils. We have had a Defence Conference set up, and in the spirit of that Defence Conference I think very much good has been done in this country. Considering that we have passed so much new legislation, I do not think it is fair to the country not to put that legislation into operation,  and I do not think it is fair not to put it into operation in regard to the local authorities. If you go into any of the recent transactions of the local authorities, it will be seen that those people are becoming stale. They have become more open about doing things that they would not do in their earlier years in regard to looking for jobs for members' wives and people like that. That is something which should be ended, and we should take this opportunity to end it.
Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. Ruttledge): When I mentioned here last year, in reply to a query, I think, from Deputy Dillon, that it was proposed to hold the elections, both Deputy Brennan and Deputy Dillon held up their hands in horror at the prospect of holding elections in this emergency period. As a matter of fact, Deputy Brennan expressed his disapproval of my bringing in here the Local Government Bill, because he said that during this crisis Deputies could not give it the concentrated consideration which it required.
Mr. Ruttledge: I may state straight off that both last year and this year I have been anxious to get the elections held. I was particularly anxious to get them held this year if I saw that there was any possibility of holding them. When the Managerial Bill was going through, and when asked whether it was my intention to put it into operation without an election, if Deputies will look it up they will find that I said: “It is not my present intention to put the Managerial Bill into operation without an election.” I had various reasons for that view. It was introducing to other parts of the country a system that was in operation in the cities. It was introducing a system with which perhaps some members of public bodies down the country were not familiar, and not being  familiar with it I could conceive a considerable amount of objection to it by existing members of boards.
It was indicated by some members in this House that, to put it mildly, there would be no assistance in letting it work. Some Deputies on the Labour benches expressed that view. With those views expressed I thought—and I hold still—that the best method of ensuring the success of the managerial system was to have new elections, where the candidates going up know what their powers will be, and will come in as members of the council prepared to carry out the powers with which they have been vested. It has now come to the point where, personally, I do not see how you could hold the elections. I welcome the views expressed here as to trying to eschew politics in local bodies if that were possible. It may be possible at some time; I do not see that it can happen now. No matter what Government you have, and no matter what Opposition leaders say about trying to eschew politics in local elections, you will have them springing up here and there through the country, and a good deal of harm can be done in that way. People through the country who were more in touch with events than I have been, or could be, view this thing with considerable alarm as to the dangers that may be inherent in it. That is their view. Whether the dangers are there or not, there is always the possibility of them.
Mr. Ruttledge: That is somebody else's affair. So far as I am concerned, I would not take responsibility for putting through a measure here that may in any way create any danger of disunity at the present time. We may  criticise some boards, and we may criticise some public bodies, but I do believe that at the present time you would have a very small poll. If we want to have elections, I suppose nobody would suggest that we should have them before October. You would be up against the difficulty of transport at that time. For a good many years now people have been in the habit of being conveyed to the polls, and I do not think we should get the idea which Deputy Linehan has in mind that they will walk miles to get there. I do not see how you would work up an interest in elections at the present time. People are not thinking on those lines.
Mr. Ruttledge: It has been said that people were voting in the dark, but they would certainly be voting in the dark that day. If you held the elections in October, there would be shortage of light and shortage of transport. It is perfectly true that, even if you could work up an interest in them, the only place you would get any voting at all is in the urban areas where people are convenient to the polls. I do not think it could be suggested that they ought to be held at an earlier period, when you would be taking people  away from their work in the fields and on full production. Although there may be only one polling day, there is also all this canvassing which goes on beforehand, and in a small poll I do not think you are going to get good representation. I am afraid there are elements that would take advantage of that. With a very small poll you may get elements—I will not say undesirable elements—that will not be any better than any we have there already.
Mr. Ruttledge: Last year I said it was not the present intention to put the Managerial Bill into operation, but I have now made up my mind that, if the elections are not going to be held, the managerial system has to go into operation.
General Mulcahy: The Minister's main point then is that the people as a whole are allowing their responsibility and powers as local government electors simply to pass from them, that they take no interest in them in spite of the difficulties——
Childers, Erskine H.
Corry, Martin J.
Flynn, John. Little, Patrick J.
O Briain, Donnchadh.
O Ceallaigh, Seán T.
Fogarty, Patrick J.
Gorry, Patrick J.
Keane, John J.
Kelly, James P.
Kennedy, Michael J.
Lemass, Seán F. O'Rourke, Daniel.
Pattison, James P.
Rice, Brigid M.
Ruttledge, Patrick J.
Walsh, Laurence J.
|Bennett, George C.
Dillon, James M.
Esmonde, John L.
McFadden, Michael Og.
O'Donovan, Timothy J.
O'Higgins, Thomas F.
O'Sullivan, John M.
Rogers, Patrick J.
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