Thursday, 9 May 1974
Dáil Eireann Debate
(6) Where an order under this section disqualifies a person from membership of a local authority, he shall cease to be a member of any other body to which he had been appointed to represent that local authority.
This was a point we made in the course of the debate and I am happy to record that in the course of the discussion I had with the Minister when we adjourned at 2 o'clock he agreed to accept this amendment without discussion.
Where as a result of a court order the number of persons validly elected in an electoral area is less than a majority of such members the election shall be deemed not to have taken place and a new election shall take place in that electoral area under Part IV of the Local Government Act, 1941.
We debated this for some hours yesterday and finally the Minister agreed that he would accept the amendment, which I had put in during the course of Committee Stage, when we got to Report Stage. The Chair at that time stated that we would be allowed a Committee Stage discussion on this amendment. I understand the Minister is agreeing to accept the amendment without discussion.
(2) An order made under this section shall not exclude an employee who is a member of the administrative staff down to and  including the rank of clerical officer from the operation of section 21(1) of the Local Government Act, 1955.
This amendment repeats in most of its terms the amendment which stood in my name on Committee Stage and which was voted down by the Government. During the course of that discussion the Minister stated that my original amendment was couched in words which were too broad and that it would have effects other than the effect which I had intended when putting down the amendment which was to exclude the staff in the category of clerical officer in local authorities from standing for election to those local authorities. We feel this is basic and fundamental to the continuance of proper local democracy at local government level. We appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. We could then carry on without any further discussion on it. I explained my reasons for putting it down on Committee Stage.
Mr. Tully: I have already told Deputy Molloy that I am not in a position to accept this amendment. It was debated yesterday and voted on. I regret that I am not in a position to accept it. I do not propose to accept it and I gave my reasons yesterday. There is a very good reason for including the class of employee which has been referred to. Since they will be the only clerical grade who will be eligible I think they should be included. I am not prepared to accept at all that clerical officers have the right to make decisions which is the really important thing and I am not prepared to agree that the fact that they have access to certain documents is as important as is being claimed by the Opposition. I am rather surprised at the attitude of some people on the opposite side to those people, giving the impression that they are a very important section who would have very great influence on decisions. The case was also made by Deputy Brennan yesterday that they would be very well informed members if they were appointed, that they would  know everything and would pass it on to the people who would be making representations. The day is long past when the fellow who is first with the news is accepted as the person who made proper representations. If we accept that as being the norm, there are certain people who should be at the head of the poll on each occasion and are not. I see no reason to change my mind on what I said yesterday. I regret that I am not prepared to accept the amendment.
Mr. Crowley: The Minister says he gave reasons for not accepting our amendment yesterday. I spent a considerable amount of time here and I did not hear him giving any reasons except that he wanted to encourage job democracy, he wanted the clerical officer to have a chance of partaking in the democratic set-up. Of course, job democracy and election are two completely different things. Job democracy has been working for a considerable length of time in local authorities. Therefore, the Minister's principal argument falls completely flat because that has already been pretty well implemented.
Mr. Crowley: Not always, but the Minister has proved himself pretty reasonable on our amendments today. Of all the amendments, I cannot understand the Minister's attitude on this one. A clerical officer has access to privileged, confidential information that could be of tremendous benefit to him as a politician or as a county councillor. Does the Minister not see a certain threat to democracy in those areas where clerical officers stand for election and are elected? Perhaps the Minister would tell us later if he has had any demand from the Local Government Officials Association for the inclusion in this category of clerical officers specifically. Have official representations been made to him on the matter? I suppose he would be in a position to  say if unofficial representations were made. If I were in the Minister's position, I would be very reluctant to go ahead with this proposal. In fact, I would grasp at the opportunity of accepting our amendment. Perhaps I may not be in agreement with some of my colleagues that home assistance officers, rate collectors and rent collectors should be debarred. If we are consistent, clerical officers are in a similar category and, depending on what Department they are working in, they could be in a more powerful position to influence people than the categories I have mentioned. I would ask the Minister to reconsider the matter. If he has not made a commitment he will not lose face and, at the same time, he would be doing a good job for democracy.
We must accept that the vast majority of clerical officers will not have any real interest in going forward for election, and of those who decide to go forward I am sure the vast majority would be very reluctant to abuse their position in their office to further their political career. If I were representing the same electoral area as a clerical officer and if I had to write to him or to the Department in which he worked——
Mr. Crowley: In some cases they do. The Minister has been a member of a local authority for long enough to recognise that a member gets to know the people who deal with certain matters. Frequently, in order to avoid waste of time a member will write  directly to the official concerned. This is normal practice in local authority operations, especially for county councillors. Perhaps the Minister did not do that.
Mr. Crowley: It is only a formality to write to the secretary. He does not see nine-tenths of the letters; he merely distributes them. It is naive of the Minister to make that statement or he must expect us to be naive to believe he has not made representations to anyone other than the secretary of a county council. I am not saying I do not believe him, but I think he may be trying to have us on somewhat. The Minister should seriously consider the dangers in the situation he is trying to bring about. There are reports compiled by county managers and secretaries and by the various heads of Departments in each local authority but much of the spade work is done by clerical officers. While the Minister may be accurate in saying they cannot make decisions—I accept that—I submit they can influence decisions by the slant they give to a query or to any report they may be asked to prepare. This should not be tolerated. We want the best possible service for the ratepayers in our areas but we also want a fair and just service. If we have a situation where a clerical officer becomes chairman of a county council——
Mr. Crowley: The Minister is long enough in politics to realise that a clerical officer could be an Independent candidate and hold the sway in  deciding who would be chairman, as the Coalition have done in Cork Corporation and Cork County Council. As part of the package deal, the clerical officer could be offered the chair for one or two years. A somewhat similar situation did arise, even though the Minister may be surprised at such shenanigans. Possibly when he is another 26 years in politics he will realise that fact. The Minister must accept this situation could arise. There would be the invidious situation where a clerical officer became chairman of a county council and directed the county manager to do certain things. In turn the manager, being his boss, could put pressure on him not to do certain things. The Minister has not made one solid argument to substantiate his proposal to include clerical officers except to say that for the sake of job democracy they should be included. In addition, a situation could arise where clerical officers who were involved in the preparation of certain reports or in the drawing up of policy documents——
Mr. Crowley: I am not saying that, but I am saying a clerical officer would have been involved in the spade work during preparation of the report. Does the Minister not know the facts of life? Does he think the manager does everything?
Mr. Crowley: Is the Minister saying that he does not have any people of the equivalent grade of a clerical officer in his Department who are not concerned in submitting reports or gathering information or doing spade work?
Mr. Crowley: I did not say that. I said they helped in doing that. The Minister should not try to put words into my mouth. If I did use those words, that was not what I meant. What I meant was that they helped in the drawing up of policy statements. Would the Minister in his reply give us one good reason why he wants to include a clerical officer  and debar the other categories? If he does that, he will go a long way towards convincing us that he is right. So far he has not given us one good reason and when he does we will give it our very careful consideration.
Mr. Callanan: The Minister is a man who believes in the independence of local authorities from the officials. This will be open to a lot of abuse. It is all right to say that a clerical officer is way down the ladder, but there is the feeling abroad that you are better off to go to somebody in the office than to go to a public representative, even a county councillor. I can see that the political parties will be recruiting these types of candidates. We could eventually end up with the majority of the elected members on a county council being clerical officers. The county manager and the county engineer would be members of the county council too. I would not like to see a clerical officer stand up against either of these bosses. I would not like to be him when he goes back to his office in the evening. I would hate to be a clerical officer and a county councillor and try to be independent. In such a case there would be a certain amount of reserve because of the two bosses sitting at the top of the table. After all, the clerical officer is employed by them. I cannot see why the Minister is excluding staff officers and other field officers. By including clerical officers the Minister is leaving this open to abuse.
I am surprised that the Minister is doing this. I admire him for his views that public representatives should be independent. Public representatives should not be under an obligation to anybody. They should be free to stand up and have their say even if they are beaten in a vote, for that is democracy. This is a dangerous section in the Bill. I do not know if it is too late to put down an amendment but I would not like to let this Bill pass through the House without expressing my opinion. I express my opinions anyway and if anybody does not like them they can lump them. I have no objection to a clerical officer or anybody else being on the Galway or any other county council but I fear the position  in which they would find themselves if they spoke their minds while their boss was sitting at the top of the table. The Minister should consider this point.
Mr. Molloy: I have listened to Deputy Callanan who, as a member of a local authority, is highly respected. He has devoted his life to the service of his fellow man and various organisations with a variety of interests. The Minister would travel a long road before he would find a man with the practical outlook and experience which Deputy Callanan has. The Deputy put his arguments against the Minister's proposals in relation to clerical officers in a nutshell. He also spelled out what, in his opinion, the dangers of such a move would be. I would put twice as much store by the Deputy's opinion than I would put on the views the Minister has been expressing here today.
Mr. Molloy: The Minister does not have to display his petty mind every five minutes. We are entitled to speak in this House. There is a danger that if I keep to this sort of talk I will be dragged down into the Minister's mire and I do not want to go down there.
We in the Fianna Fáil Party have made known some of the reasons why we are opposed to this. We believe that most people in this House  if asked to give an honest view on this proposal would agree with the stand we have taken. We have been driven into a situation where the Minister is refusing to budge. Because he is adopting an obstinate stand, he is blinding himself to the reasoned arguments against his proposals. Before it is too late we are making a final plea to stop this deed being done. We feel it is in direct conflict with the true principles which should apply in the operation of local government, the element of local democracy which we are anxious to sustain and the respect which we are anxious to encourage among the community for local authorities. We have given instances of some cases where, because of the attitude displayed so far, there has been no reasoned reaction. There has been no reasoned explanation for the Minister's stance. It seems to be pure obstinacy.
Several anomalous situations could arise if this was agreed to. Take, for example, the Enniscorthy Urban District Council. I am informed that there are two officials attached to that council, the town clerk and a clerical officer. If, in the election of the elected members to that urban district council, the clerical officer decides to stand as a candidate and is elected, one will find oneself in the ridiculous situation where, at the first meeting of the council, the town clerk has no clerical officer because his clerical officer is facing him as an elected member. No one can convince me that in such a circumstance there is no conflict of interest between the loyalty due by the employee of the urban district council to his senior officer, the town clerk, and his loyalty to the electorate who put him there to represent their interests on the council. The Minister seems to be arguing the point that such a situation would not create a conflict of interest. We submit that it would. It would create a ludicrous and laughable situation. We have been asked to legislate for it here. We do not agree with it. Therefore, we cannot be asked to support it. The Minister is depriving the community of its right to elect representatives who will act as a buffer between them and the bureaucrats. He is depriving  them in that he is now encouraging the bureaucrats to fill the positions on the elected local bodies.
I have knowledge and experience of an incident where an officer of a local authority was involved in a voluntary capacity in another organisation which had dealings with the local authority in which he was employed. This man was chairman of that other body. The body of which he was chairman decided at a meeting on one occasion to take certain steps because of the inactivity of the local authority in relation to the provision of certain facilities for them. The officer of the local authority, who was chairman of that body, was approached by his immediate senior officer, the town clerk. He was reprimanded and approached by the county manager and told that he would expect more of a member of his staff. In that situation the manager—to my way of thinking—acted unfairly in relation to that member of his staff who was within his rights as a citizen in acting in whatever way he could and the only way in which he could be challenged on it would be before the courts. Because he was inhibited in this way he resigned from chairmanship of the voluntary organisation of which he was a member.
If it happened in a simple case like that, would not the conflict be much greater where the officer of a local authority was an elected member and, with the information he would have from the office, he would know at meetings of the local authority whether the manager or any other official addressing the elected councillors was, in fact, telling the truth or the whole story? He would be in a position to embarrass and challenge the officials at the head of the table sitting beside the chairman of the council. It would create many situations which would be deplored normally by reasonable people. It seems quite extraordinary that the Minister has persisted in his insistence that this provision remain in the Bill and that he opposes our amendment which allows him to include this provision  in an order subsequently. Our amendment is worded in such a way that no matter what order the Minister makes under this Bill he cannot include the clerical level of staff upwards. Remember that in some authorities the total number of elected members can be as low as 12. Galway Corporation elects 12 members. I am nearly sure that there would be around 12 clerical officers working for the local authority in Galway. One could extend that idea as allowed now by the law, as the Minister suggests, and imagine a situation where the 12 of them were elected as the 12 councillors. It might be stretching the imagination a bit far but it is certainly not prohibited by the Bill or under any order the Minister would be entitled to make under it.
Where are all the pious words said at various places by the Minister and other members of his Government before they were elected, at the time of their election and since their election encouraging the expansion of local democracy, encouraging people to take a greater interest in local authorities and the move, which both sides of the House support, to give more power to local authorities by devolving more responsibility from the Department of Local Government and allowing more decision making at local level? If the purpose of all of this is to have the people's representatives replaced by bureaucrats, then we consider it to be a detrimental step. The Minister, quite dangerously, stated yesterday that he was going only a short bit of the way now. There seemed to be an implication that he might be tempted to go even further.
Mr. Molloy: The argument that the Minister has made about clerical  officers not being in this privileged position, which we claim they will be, cannot be substantiated. Any one with the slightest bit of experience as a councillor or dealing with local authorities knows the privileged position in which such a member of staff finds himself.
Again, I should like to ask the Minister whether, in fact, the Irish Local Government Officials' Union made an official request to him to grant this concession to clerical officers. And, if such a request was made, would he give me the date upon which it was made? I occupied the office the Minister now holds from May, 1970 until March, 1973 during which time I had plenty of occasions to meet representatives of the Irish Local Government Officials' Union. During that time meetings were being held continuously between the officials of that union—one of the finest in the country—and officials of the Department of Local Government with my knowledge and reports were given to me on those meetings. During that period I do not recollect that there was ever any request from the official union which represents the workers in local authorities for the concession which the Minister seems anxious now to grant them. I would give the Minister time in which to answer whether or not what I am saying is true but there has been silence on this challenge to the Minister.
Mr. Tully: Lest there be any doubt about it, the Irish Local Government Officials' Union has made no request to me on this matter nor did I think it necessary for them to do so nor has any other trade union for that matter.
Mr. Molloy: We have confirmation now of what we suspected all along— that there has been no desire on the part of the Irish Local Government Officials' Union that staff at clerical Officer level—members of their union working with local authorities— should qualify for eligibility to stand as candidates in local elections. At the union's annual conferences, in the course of its discussions at meetings held in various places once a month up and down the country  where many matters of interest to staff in local authorities are being discussed, where the officials in the union are being asked by the members to make representations in matters which are of concern to them, never on any of these occasions has it emerged that there was any desire whatsoever on the part of officials in local authorities for this concession. One is left with a very large question mark as to why and how this concession is now being granted. It did emerge during the course of discussion here that a clerical officer working in the Minister's constituency intends standing as a candidate for the Labour Party—the Minister's own party—in an electoral area in the Minister's own constituency. We have no wish to draw the conclusion that this concession is being asked from Parliament merely to facilitate this gentleman.
Mr. Molloy: We do not wish to imply that. We sought, in the course of this debate, to find some reason why it is being done and that is the only one that has emerged. If this is so then a most extraordinary and indeed depressing situation has arisen where the Minister is seeking to facilitate a member of his own party. He, very unfairly, has again made reference to a Deputy in this party, who was formally a member of a local authority staff but who on election to the Dáil had to give up that job. Since his first election to the Dáil and his repeated re-election since he has not been in the daily employ of that local authority. He has been seconded, as is customary in such cases. I believe the Tánaiste, Deputy Corish, is probably seconded from the former position he held also. I am sure there are other Deputies who have given up their employment in order to take their seats in this House. The Member in question is considering standing as a candidate in his constituency in the local elections. The Minister by some twisting of words tried to convey to the House  that a man, who was a former employee and is now a seconded employee, was in a similar position to the man employed with Meath County Council. I submit no such comparison can be made.
Mr. Tully: I agreed to an adjournment because Deputy Molloy said he thought we would be able to reach agreement. There was this one point. We agreed to differ on that. If Deputy Molloy does not want to conclude this evening, that is all right.
Mr. Molloy: The facts are, and the Minister cannot deny them, that there was no such arrangement. We were stuck on amendment No.2 and on amendment No.3, which I had tabled. We sorted that out in discussion. I am grateful to the Minister for the manner in which it was sorted out, although it could have been done more quickly in the House. He has been made quite aware that if he wants this Bill, if he wants agreement on it from the Fianna Fáil Party, all  he has to do is accept this simple amendment standing in my name.
Mr. Molloy: Deputy Crowley is quite correct. It is five minutes to five now. If the Minister agrees to accept the amendment everything else will fall. We will accept the Bill with that amendment in it.
Mr. Molloy: I am making an offer to the Minister. He can have all this Bill, with this amendment, now if he wants it. It can then go on to the Seanad and he can do whatever else he wants with it. We are asking only for acceptance of this amendment which he knows is basic and fundamental to our needs. He could not possibly ask us to change our minds on it.
Mr. Molloy: Any reasonable person would support the stand we are taking on this. If the Minister wants the Bill let him accept this small amendment which makes no difference to him. The Bill can then pass from this House because we will make no further contribution to the debate. He can have the Report and Final Stage and it is finished with the Dáil. Amendment No.3 states:
 (2) An order made under this section shall not exclude an employee who is a member of the administrative staff down to and including the rank of clerical officer from the operation of section 21 (1) of the Local Government Act, 1955.
If the Minister says he wants the Bill we will agree to it and everything in it that has been agreed up to now if he includes that amendment. It is well within the Minister's capacity to do this. He has not been asked to make any major concession. In his introductory speech on this Bill he assured us that the orders which he proposes to make provides that the vast bulk of local government or local authority employees are qualified to stand for election to local authorities when this Bill goes through, even with the exclusion of clerical officers. The main purpose is to allow manual and other categories of workers, in particular, those not working in local authority offices, to stand for election. We support that on the basis of the exclusion of anybody working in a local authority office. Otherwise it is most unjust and unfair. We believe it could be embarrassing to the Government. It is cutting across a basic principal of democracy and is introducing a new principle into local government law in this country which cannot but be detrimental to the interests of the whole community.
We feel strongly about it. The Bill, as accepted up to now, with the addition of this amendment could be agreed to. We will conclude, there will be no further contribution from the Fianna Fáil benches and the Minister can have his Bill. Let him not try to accuse the Fianna Fáil Party of holding back this Bill. It was brought in at a very late stage.
Mr. Tully: It should have been brought in 14 years ago but the Deputy's party did not know what they were doing. We had no law from  1961 and now they are trying to lay the blame on somebody else.
Mr. Molloy: On Tuesday of this week the debate on this Bill was suspended by the Government to make way for an Estimate speech from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Henry Kenny, on the Board of Works, which was discussed for three and a half hours. That was a waste of time.
Mr. Molloy: I never agreed to accept the Bill. We discussed certain amendments in the House. We did not reach agreement. I invited the Minister to adjourn and discuss them. When we had discussed amendments Nos. 2 and 3 in the Minister's office he asked if we would discuss the other amendments down in my name. We did. He agreed to some of them and I agreed to withdraw amendment No. 5. I told the Minister we could not change our position on amendment No. 3. I made no commitment as regards accepting or rejecting this Bill this evening.
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