County Management (Amendment) Bill, 1972: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 20 December 1972

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 73 No. 17

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. J. Fitzgerald: Information on John Jack Fitzgerald  Zoom on John Jack Fitzgerald  While I do not give the Bill the welcome it received in so many quarters since it was first published, that does not mean that I oppose it. However, during 30 years as a member of a county council, quite a number of rate collectors have been appointed. If I were to applaud this [1424] Bill I would be false to myself and to those in whose appointment I took a part.

I agree that the system was bad and that it was a responsibility that no public representative wanted. At the same time, it was a responsibility that we all accepted when we went forward for election. When a rate collector post became vacant, due to the retirement or death of a rate collector, a new appointment had to be made. Every member on that local authority was under severe pressure not alone from the political party of which he was a member but also from friends and people in other organisations.

The good thing about it was that when the appointment was made at a council meeting it was generally done in the open and if you made a promise to a person that you were going to support him you could not back out because the local papers would publish who so-and-so voted for. That was one good condition of the appointment of rate collectors. It is true to say that rate collectors were appointed on a political basis. It is also true to say that 95 per cent of the members of the local authorities were elected on a political basis. As a member of a small party, to be able to get a member of my own party elected as a rate collector, I saw nothing wrong with the system.

While the accusation of political appointments and political graft were bandied around the place in many of the appointments that were made in my local authority I have seen members of the council from the three different political parties voting for a particular appointee and members of the three particular parties again voting for somebody who was the runner-up. Could that be described as a political appointment merely because those of us who are members of a local authority also happened to be members of political parties? We could be accused of having appointed rate collectors on a political basis. I make no apology for that. The record has proved that no matter what basis rate collectors were appointed on they all have been a credit to those who appointed them.

[1425] As a member of a local authority who has taken part in a number of appointments, I am proud of all the people I helped to have elected. I am also proud of those who were appointed in whose campaign I played no part. They are all giving excellent service and nobody can accuse any of them of ever having abused their powers as rate collectors in the interest of any political party. I know of one rate collector in my own county whom I voted for and whom I knew was an active member of another political party who has stood in at least two or three general elections since he was appointed a rate collector. He has given great service as a rate collector and nobody could ever accuse him of ever using his influence as a rate collector in any political way.

It has been a difficult task for members of local authorities down the years. If I were to throw my hat in the air and applaud this Bill I would be saying we have taken part in a sham over the 30 years that I have been a member of a local authority. This was the system of appointing rate collectors. Why it was left that way I do not know. It was a responsibility that every member of a local authority accepted and had to take part in. If I were to applaud it now I would be saying that what I did down the years was not correct.

An attempt was made to introduce the system of office collection in the county council of which I am a member. I and the majority of the members of the county council opposed it on the basis that a system of collecting from the office was impersonal. The rate collector's task can be a difficult one. It may not be as difficult in 1972 as it was in 1942 or 1952 when money was scarce and people were finding it difficult to pay the small amount of rates. Rate collectors, knowing the circumstances of the people from whom they collected rates, adopted a very humane attitude. They did not press people to pay up by the 31st March or 30th September so that they could have their percentage collected to qualify for the high bonus.

It is well known to any Senator here who is a member of a local authority that in many cases the rate collector paid the rates out of his own [1426] pocket and, perhaps, had to wait one month to collect the money from that ratepayer afterwards. In many cases you had a situation where a farmer might be compelled to sell stock in March so that he would have the money to pay the rates before the 31st March. If he sold at that time, perhaps, he would be selling at a lower price than he would get in April or May. In many ways rate collectors helped that type of person. If we were to have a system of collecting rates from the office, I doubt if that opportunity would have been given to any ratepayer. The rates must be available on the day they are due. For that reason I oppose the office collection system. It is fine to say that the ESB collect rents this way or to point out that annuities are collected in this way. If you find at the end of the year that where the rate collector collects the rates you have a collection of 98 per cent to 99.5 per cent, this proves that it will be difficult to find a better way than the system of collection that has been in operation.

About ten or 12 years ago on my council, shortly after a councillor was elected he found himself confronted with the problem of having to take part in the election of a rate collector. Being new to public life, he found that it was a difficult task because so many of his friends came to him and because it was an open ballot he could not promise them all number one. He had a brainwave and put down a notice of motion at a council meeting that the best way of appointing the rate collectors was not by open ballot but by secret ballot. A man should be prepared to put his money where his mouth is. It would be very easy in a secret ballot to promise all your friends you would support them. If they got one vote you were let off the hook.

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Thomas P Flanagan  Zoom on Thomas P Flanagan  Like the Seanad elections.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald: Information on John Jack Fitzgerald  Zoom on John Jack Fitzgerald  It was defeated at the county council meeting and the appointment remained at it was. The passing of this Bill will make the appointment of rate collectors a managerial function. Managers may not be [1427] too pleased with the extra responsibility but the members of the local authorities will be pleased at being relieved of the responsibility. The reason for the change in the system appears to be that councillors are not to be trusted with this type of appointment. During the year a few county councillors made the headlines as a result of their activities in the appointment of rate collectors. We should not think that one swallow makes a summer and if one or two appointments were wrong this does not mean all of them were wrong.

Are we to have a change in the system of other appointments with which members of local authorities are entrusted? County committees of agriculture make a lot of appointments, even though only temporary ones. They appoint agricultural advisers, horticultural instructors and domestic economy instructors. I have never heard any insinuations of anything wrong taking place in regard to these appointments yet there is a great similarity between the appointment of rate collectors and agricultural instructors. The vocational committees are entrusted with the appointment of teachers.

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  They were.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald: Information on John Jack Fitzgerald  Zoom on John Jack Fitzgerald  Do they still not make them? I know I am correct in regard to the agricultural appointments. Is there a small interview board set up?

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  Yes. This is something new which came into force a couple of years ago.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald: Information on John Jack Fitzgerald  Zoom on John Jack Fitzgerald  There has never been any accusation made that the appointments made by vocational committees were in any way wrong. I deplore some of the accusations made in another place during the discussion on this Bill. Senator Boland stated these were made by people who were never members of a local authority and who would not offer their services as such. They know nothing about what happens on county councils. It was bad form on their part to make statements about members of local authorities. No matter to which political party they belong they are giving a service and unlike us they get little [1428] reward for this service. It is bad enough to hear that type of talk from people who are not in public life, the type of talk one hears in the pub or at the street corner, but when one hears elected representatives of the Oireachtas making these sorts of charges and insinuations it is very bad form.

I and many of us here who have spent years on a local authority have been rewarded by being elected to the Seanad where we get an allowance. It is only a small minority of members of local authorities who are fortunate enough to be elected either to the Dáil or the Seanad. There are hundreds of members of local authorities who have given honest service to the people and it is a pity that charges of this kind should be levelled at any one of them.

I am not opposing the Bill but I am not so enthusiastic about it as other Members of the Oireachtas have been. It is a relief to many county councillors to be relieved of the responsibility of appointing rate collectors. No county councillor should be in any way ashamed or feel guilty for having taken part in the appointment of rate collectors. They have done their job as they saw it. It was not a pleasant task at any time and for the one you please ten are displeased. As Senator Boland pointed out yesterday, where appointments were made by local authorities all the appointees have been a credit to the local authorities and whatever their policies I am proud of those elected in my county as they are serving the people well.

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Thomas P Flanagan  Zoom on Thomas P Flanagan  I welcome the Bill. I have spent many years as a senior official of a local authority. This has given me the opportunity of hearing the views of county councillors, managers and the public on the method of selecting rate collectors. I agree with what has been said here, that when this was held as a reserved function of the county council it did create a certain amount of surprise and a great deal of embarrassment. I have no hesitation in saying that through the years the county council, made up as my council was of members of the three major political parties, were most anxious to have this responsibility taken from [1429] them because it caused embarrassment. Nobody who has worked as closely with the county council as I did will disagree with what has been said. Excellent officers have been appointed and have given devoted service. If the present system continued, the same thing would operate. Times have changed. Now there is an almost complete change back to county council management.

Health services have been brought under the scope of the health boards. County managers are now dealing purely and simply with local government. It appears reasonable that county managers face up to the new responsibility of making those appointments, particularly as I believe the amount of work has been reduced by at least 50 per cent. A shift of responsibility from those who were embarrassed by it to a paid official is a good thing, although I regret many things that have been said regarding this matter in another place.

I agree with Senators J. Fitzgerald and Boland that appointments have been made on a political basis. Human nature being what it is, this was unavoidable. In the future when appointments are made under a different system, as outlined in this Bill, the people appointed will continue to belong to one political party or another. They will not have been selected for that reason but they will naturally have their own political affiliations. Criticism was made of the rate collectors that they abused their office as regards putting people on the franchise list. This criticism is completely unjust. The work of the rate collectors was reviewed by the revision courts when the provisional lists were circulated to every member of the county council and of the Oireachtas. The members of the Oireachtas and the county council were advised to study carefully those provisional lists. If they found some names which should not be there they came before the revision courts and objected. If they found names omitted it was their responsibility as public representatives to see that those names were put on the franchise list.

Nobody could suggest that the wrong people have been appointed. In an [1430] ordinary country district any one of 20, 30 or 40 people of any political party or ten, 20 or 30 of each political party might apply for a position as rate collector. If elected any one of those men would prove an excellent choice for the post because they were essentially honest and interested in the people.

I agree with Senator McGlinchey's point that it was not so much the fact that you had to support a political candidate but the fact that you had to disappoint ten or 20 of your own supporters and eventually select one to go forward for the support of your party that made the situation difficult. It was an embarrassment. Under the system now proposed we may not get people who are any better. The rate collectors who were appointed were of a very high standard and this was proved by their work. A motion was put down that this Bill should not get a Second Reading unless it was the intention of the Government that the appointments be made by the Local Appointments Commissioners. This system of appointment was very severely and unjustly criticised. I wish to put on record that the highest standard of integrity and honesty was the hallmark of the Local Appointments Commissioners. Possibly very few people here have acted on selection boards. I have acted on a number of selection boards and have experience of the approach of the people who were appointed on those boards. Nobody could conceive of a more correct, honest or justifiable approach.

It has been said in the other House that members of a selection board were known and approached. I have never heard of any member of an appointment board having been approached or interfered with by a candidate or otherwise. I have never heard any complaint from those who were on appointment boards. I do not believe any such approach was made but if it were it would be considered as a very serious matter and the candidate would bear the full consequences.

The procedure with regard to the selection of appointment boards is that the appropriate officers of a local authority are asked by the Local Appointments Commissioners if they [1431] would be available to sit on an appointment board during a particular period. If available they notify the commissioners accordingly and attend on the particular day in Upper O'Connell Street. It is only then they meet the other members of the board. They do not know prior to that who will be on the board. The board then decides on a certain line of approach and the qualifications which the candidate must have for the particular position offered. If a person does not meet the minimum standard he is automatically disqualified no matter what other qualifications he may have. The board do not know who the candidates are. Before a candidate is interviewed the board receive a copy of his application form with his qualifications and number but no name. If at that stage a member of the board knows a candidate he will make this fact known to the other members and they will decide whether he should remain and interview the candidate or not.

The type of office for which the appointment boards are particularly suited is in connection with professional people. Most of the professional people will have university degrees. They may have a pass, first or second class honours degree, therefore they will not be on an equal level. Before the interview the board must allot a certain number of marks, say, 90 per cent out of 150 marks for a pass, 115 per cent for first class honours and 105 per cent for a second class honours. The candidate may have two degrees. For example, an engineer could have a B.Sc. degree. He will have a higher qualification. Somebody else may have a master's degree. He will have an even higher qualification and so on. Therefore, the board are dealing with people whose academic qualifications range from a pass to a master's degree. How will this system compare with that in which a boy coming from the country with an ordinary national school education is interviewed by the board having already been examined locally and placed according to his examination marks?

The board also assess, in addition to [1432] degree qualifications, the knowledge a candidate has gained by experience and the efforts he has made to improve his knowledge since qualifying. They consider the associations to which he belongs and the magazines and technical journals to which he subscribes. He is also questioned on the contribution made to his experience by his employment. Finally the board takes into account the candidate's suitability for that particular position. If a candidate has all the necessary qualifications but is not suited to, say, a post in Tourma-keady where he would be in contact with the local community, he would not be considered. How can all these factors relate to the appointment of rate collectors?

The present position in regard to the appointment of rate collectors is that a local board would be set up to examine the qualifications and to see that there is a minimum standard of education and suitability for the job. I agree with the suggestion that it would be wise to limit the area for recruitment in the regulations. It would be very undesirable to appoint a rate collector from Wexford to the Connemara area. A local recruitment area would be desirable. In that connection, the examining board should be from some county other than the area in which recruitment is taking place. Once the candidates have been examined by a competent board and a recommendation made to the county manager, it is his responsibility to select and appoint the best man, particularly in view of the fact that the officer appointed will be working directly under him.

It is up to the county manager, even for his own personal ends, to select and appoint the best man. I have no doubt whatsoever that the present system has proved an embarrassment. I have no doubt whatsoever that members of local authorities of all shades of political thought are anxious to get rid of that embarrassment and I have no doubt that the present suggestion is a much better one. It places the responsibility where it should be placed and for that reason the Bill is entitled to full support.

Mr. W. O'Brien: Information on William O'Brien  Zoom on William O'Brien  Since the introduction of this Bill we have heard a [1433] great deal of talk about the alleged corruption which exists in local authorities. One would think that some new type of disease, called political patronage, had channelled its way into local authorities. I wonder does it ever strike us that the vast majority of us sit in this House because of political patronage by the county councils. Eleven of us sit here because of political patronage by one man. We have university people here who are not appointed on the same basis and they might be in a better position to talk on this subject than I am.

People who are not members of local authorities do not fully grasp the present system of appointment for rate collectors. When the job of rate collector is advertised, around 30 or 40 young men apply for it. At that stage both parties get working from the political party point of view. There may be 15 or 16 members on the local authority from one political party. The local authority go through the list of applicants and if there is any doubt or suspicion regarding the honesty or integrity of any of the applicants, irrespective of whichever service they may have rendered to the party, they are not included in the final list. When I entered Limerick County Council in 1960, the people on the other side of this House had a majority of one on the council. Fair play to them, any job that became vacant was filled by them. As time went on, a power crisis arose within that party and one of the members decided to call a halt. He took a different stand and at that stage we availed of the opportunity presented to us and we appointed 20 rate collectors in seven years. I make no apologies for those appointments; we appointed very fine men who did a good job of work.

Sometimes we hear comments that rate collectors should have certain qualifications. It may be true to say that they are not university graduates but time has proved that they all had one qualification which, in my opinion, was much more important than any other qualification, and that was honesty. We have heard a lot about malpractices on local authorities, in newspapers, and the Minister referred [1434] to it in his opening speech. I do not think the Minister is frightened or upset about those reports. As a matter of fact, I read something in a Galway paper recently which placed a suspicion in connection with certain planning permits. I am not suggesting that the Minister is corrupt in any way but that type of talk will go on. If the Minister is really serious about eliminating this slanderous talk, he will need to undertake a complete restructuring of the present system of local government. Galway County Council recently appointed a rate collector. In spite of what the Minister had described as an unsuitable system, the people in his own county availed of the opportunity to grasp the last plum.

There are many other political appointments apart from the appointment of rate collectors. I have the appointment of sub-postmasters in mind. Recently there was a vacancy for a sub-postmaster in my county and the Fianna Fáil cumainn held a meeting and voted on the candidate for the appointment. I am not sure whether or not the Minister accepted their nominee but it demonstrates the kind of thinking which is prevalent at present. The people have lost confidence in boards and individuals on boards. We might as well make the appointments out in the open as to make them behind closed doors. Chief superintendents, court registrars and even peace commissioners are all political appointments. Why pick out rate collectors from among them? We all know they are political appointments, as we ourselves are political appointments. They have experience of registers; they have an added responsibility in the waiver of rates and they do a fine job of work.

The argument against the system of appointment by four members of local bodies is that it does not lend itself to detailed procedures and controls which would ensure that the selection is made on merit alone. We have members of subsidiary bodies and agricultural committees appointed by political circles. In my opinion membership of those bodies is a very responsible job because, on the eve of our entry into the EEC, the farmers [1435] will be guided by the advice and instructions of those people who are appointed by the county councils. It would be a tragedy if it could be alleged afterwards that the appointment was not made by the proper method.

It is difficult to understand why we have singled out the appointment of rate collectors for special mention. We are given to understand that the job is of great importance. Where is the importance of it? Many comments have been made on this subject in the other House and here. Some people referred to the 1940 Act and asked “Why change it now?” It has been suggested that the people on the other side of the House have lost control of local authorities. Whether we like it or not, it is very hard to convince the people that that is not the reason, because both parties would be prepared to avail of the opportunity of making appointments.

I should like to refer now to the function of county managers. I have had experience of only four county managers and in my experience of them I would have no hesitation whatsoever in accepting their decision. I found them to be men of honour and integrity. This additional obligation will not improve the degree of co-operation between the members of local authorities and county managers irrespective of whom the manager will appoint. If, for instance, the first three appointments happen to be three members of the same party nothing will convince the members of that council that the manager is not partial to a party. From that on his functions and responsibilities can be made very difficult. Any Members who are members of local authorities know that in order to get the maximum co-operation, all parties including staff and manager, must pull together. Let us hope that whatever happens this will in no way affect the great co-operation and help that already exists between members of local authorities and staff.

Mr. McGowan: Information on Paddy McGowan  Zoom on Paddy McGowan  As a member of a local authority I welcome very much the amendment in the Bill. Any Member of the Seanad can only speak from [1436] the experience he has had in his own local authority. I would not claim that the experience we have had in Donegal differs very much from that of most other local authorities. The old system was a bad one. Most members of local authorities will be glad to be rid of it. I want to make it absolutely clear that I support those who stated that the rate collectors who have been appointed by local authorities, including those in County Donegal, have been very energetic and honourable men and we have no complaints about any of them. Nevertheless, it has been very difficult for members of all parties. Recent difficulties hastened the introduction of this legislation. I support it 100 per cent.

Sometimes members of local authorities may find themselves pressed to support a man who may be a good party man against somebody else who may be equally as good a party man. I consider this system to be totally unfair. I have found that some applicants for rate collector posts have absolutely no scruples with regard to the pressures they have exercised in order to secure the position. I have known a case where three members of the one family expected that the three of them would get positions; when one resigned, another expected to be appointed to the vacancy. This is quite common. I have known of another case where a particular family considered the job of rate collector to be hereditary and that that family alone had the knowledge and the God-given right to collect the rates. I also know that local authority members have the power to create a new rate-collector district. No matter what party you belong to, this is wise legislation and will solve many of the problems of local authority members throughout the country.

Last night I was listening to Senator Honan when he referred to the promotions of rate collectors. I am afraid that he has not sufficient experience with local authorities to comment like that, because he should be aware that each local authority have a staff officer to deal with rates, and therefore that situation will remain as it is. Therefore, it is not relevant.

I am not keen on one amendment of the Bill. This Bill leaves the way open [1437] at some future date to have appointments made by the Local Appointments Commission. Senator Flanagan has expressed his confidence in the Local Appointments Commission, but while I do not question their honesty or integrity, I would not look forward to the day when we would hand over the appointment of rate collectors to the Local Appointments Commission. In common with other local authority members, I have a good deal of experience in this regard.

I should like to cite a recent case of an engineer in a particular county who had nearly 15 years' experience in that county under various services. He applied for the post of county engineer in County Donegal, having had five or six years' experience in planning, road building and housing. All members believed that he was the ideal county engineer, having had a wealth of experience which I would consider to be more important than the individual himself. The members of the local authority met and unanimously requested the Local Appointments Commission to consider this man for the position of county engineer. They refused the request and perhaps, in their wisdom, they were right. To make the record clear, another county engineer was appointed who proved to be very acceptable, but less than six months later the first man was appointed county engineer in another county on the other side of the country. That is totally inconsistent.

There is a danger that that same procedure may be adopted by the Local Appointments Commission. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider that that could happen. I urge that no consideration be given now or in the future to the appointment of rate collectors by the Local Appointments Commission. There is the problem of uprooting an officer, such as a rate collector or an engineer, and of the cost to the State of transferring him from one location to another.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary, like myself, has differed with the county manager in County Donegal on numerous occasions and on numerous issues but I am 100 per cent [1438] satisfied that he will be absolutely fair and I have no reservations whatsoever. This is a very good Bill and I am satisfied that it will lead to smoother administration in local authorities. It will do away with a lot of friction that did not help any party nor did it help general administration. I recommend the Bill and request that before a decision is reached great consideration be given to it and I hope that there will be no difficulty in passing it.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I should like to make a few comments on the Bill. This Bill is being introduced now to deal with something which has not been regarded as a problem up to now. There has been no great demand for a change in the system. It is difficult for me to understand why the Minister has introduced this kind of legislation.

In my county the system has worked well over the years. We have consistently returned a 96.8 per cent collection. That is better than the Revenue Commissioners are doing with the income tax, and also better than what the Department of Finance are doing with the turnover tax. The road tax does not measure up to it either and yet we have a proposal to change the method of selection of the people who carry out this service.

There are two different problems here vis-à-vis the collection of rates. I understand that in Dublin one has to either send in the rates or take them to the collector, whereas in the country the old system of the collector actually collecting the rates has always prevailed and I should like to see it continuing. After 16 years experience on the county council, and as a ratepayer, I want to pay a sincere tribute to the collectors. Back in the thirties and forties when it was difficult for the farming community to meet the rates, the collectors were always honest and they helped some of these people over difficult months. If we have a more sophisticated type of “computer-machine-minded” rate collector it is going to be difficult for a particular ratepayer to get any time to pay. This has been the traditional way we have paid our rates in Laois. With Kerry we have been the best rate-paying [1439] county for some years back. It is difficult for me to find fault with the old system. Among our 18 rate collectors we have people who have been appointed for many years. Some of them have been appointed during the last two or three terms of which I was a member of the council. Irrespective of which party proposed any particular officer over the years, they have given excellent service. It just happened that they applied in accordance with the old system.

If a person is proposed by a member of one particular party he should not be labelled as a member of that political party. The system in my county is that we invariably support the candidate who resides nearest to us. This works out reasonably well. Living in a rural community, when a job becomes vacant it is surprising all the relations each councillor finds contacting him from nearby parishes. I regret to see this appointment being removed too far away from the ratepayers, because in the past we had collectors who were honest and men of substance. In order to meet the five conditions to qualify for the couple of hundred pounds bonus, these people here had to pay the rates for honest ratepayers, perhaps for a matter of weeks. There was nothing terribly wrong with that.

It is true to say that in rural Ireland the incomes of farming ratepayers is changing somewhat. They are not dependent as heretofore on the harvest or the spring. Nevertheless, the old traditional system will more than likely prevail. This is where the old rate collector got to know the individual ratepayer. He knew the people he could trust and the people he would have to press for the money. I can only recall two court orders which had to be served on ratepayers during the past 16 years.

In a small county like Laois the farmer is very much the predominant ratepayer. From last year's abstract of accounts I find that 1,800 Laois farmers paid more than 50 per cent of the total rates collected. The total amount collected was 96.8 per cent of the demand levied. There are over [1440] 4,000 farmers in the county and perhaps it would be easier for some of them than for others to pay. Sometimes the rate collector goes to a particular man and he says: “I cannot pay my rates for two weeks”. Could we possibly expect the same service from some man with an urban background or who has done two or three years in a university and who is able to fly through an examination even though he has failed his university degree examination or in his university course? From an academic point of view, these people would certainly be able to score on the ordinary fellow who has spent a few years working in a particular town. Will these people be as dependable? Will they be able to collect perhaps the £30,000 or £40,000 paid in various ways by the ratepayers? I doubt if they will give the same service to the ratepayers.

Everybody accepts now that he has to pay the rates despite the fact that the rates are a heavy burden on a small number of people. It would have been better if the Department had sought ways to lighten the burden on the ratepayers. I have in mind widows living in towns where it is usual to find rates of £50, £60 or £70 on a modest house. These people find it difficult to pay this high rate. If they set a flat or take in a paying guest they lose their non-contributory widow's pension. There are a number of anomalies that the Department should have examined.

There are people in the middle-income group who find themselves in difficult financial straits. This is a recurring problem all over the country. Last night the Minister for Labour spoke here of the difficulties he had and of the strides the Government were making towards meeting as many difficult cases as possible. They have done a good job, but there seems to be a clash between the interests of the Department of Social Welfare and of the Department of Local Government when it comes to rates. The system of the waiver of rates which we have had in operation for the last three seasons is a good one. Many of the older people miss the advertisements in the local papers coming up to April or [1441] May. When they do not apply in time there is little one can do. One needs a conscientious rate collector who will make his own job easier and ensure he can meet his conditions. These people are not overpaid for the amount of responsibility they have. We need a good type of person who will take on this type of social service which is very important in rural Ireland.

It is difficult to see how this will be done if the local authority members will not have a say in the appointment of these people. No councillor enjoys the task of appointing a rate collector as it is difficult to vote in public for candidate A in preference to candidate B. Distant relationships and political affiliations crop up and yet the final result of these elections have proved to be very successful over the years. Very few, if any, have betrayed their trust.

I favour the appointments being made by the Local Appointments Commission provided that same exalted authority started to do a bit of work for a change. I could not advocate that change, having regard to the deplorable way in which they are treating the agricultural committees in connection with the appointments of agricultural advisers. It takes at least 18 months for an appointment to be made when the request is made to them. Surely they could do better than that. There is no point in having every section of the local services in chaos just because these people in O'Connell Street take 12 or 18 months to make up their minds.

Their system is antiquated. The candidates are allowed too much time to make up their minds. If we are to have a new system it must be thought out carefully. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what regulations will be handed to the manager in order to fill these posts. It is important that the collector should be residing in his collection area. This would have built-in safeguards. The manager would know the people with whom he is dealing. Lots of people in our society need someone to keep an eye on them. Irrespective of how he is appointed, the role of the rate collector should not change. We should look for people with an active social [1442] conscience. A local person with a good outlook will be able to advise the older generation of their rights, what they are entitled to and encourage them to apply for a waiver of rates in time.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some idea of the type of person our county managers will be looking for, or if the Department intend issuing or drafting regulations specifying the standards the Minister will be looking for when the county managers are filling these posts.

Professor Quinlan: Information on Patrick Michael Quinlan  Zoom on Patrick Michael Quinlan  We can welcome this change. The people in the country have not been happy with the system of appointment of rate collectors. This was based very much on party political affiliations. This Bill is a step in the right direction.

We must be careful about the appointments committees, whether they are under the Local Appointments Commission or under the body set up to advise the manager. I would hope that, in implementing this, the manager would be advised on the applicants by some committee. I do not attribute any bias to the members of the Local Appointments Commission, but the system of selection favours the type of candidate who is well able to express himself and who is coached in what it takes to impress the committee. This could be avoided by having committees which are not too small. The committee advising the county manager should ensure that the county council or local body is represented on these committees. A person coming from a background of public affairs has a shrewder assessment of candidates than one who is the career-type of office holder.

Public representatives are not so easily impressed by the type of candidate who is the professional interviewee. I have seen this at all levels and the pitfalls are there. Given the proper coaching, candidates going before any appointments committee could improve their performance substantially. There are hazards but we must recognise that the system we had, which was based on party affiliation and support, is not one we wish to have [1443] continued. With those reservations I welcome what is offered.

I should like the Minister to give us some idea of what steps he thinks the county manager should take before making an appointment. There should be a regular board set up, which would be representative of the county authority, to advise the manager and their recommendations should be on record in the manager's office.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government (Mr. Cunningham): Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  I should like to refer briefly to some general points before getting down to some of the specific matters raised. This is quite a small Bill which seeks to abolish the present method of county rate collector appointment. The method proposed in the Bill is already in operation in respect of some rate collector appointments. All we are doing is bringing the remainder of such appointments into line with what already exists first, in respect of some rate collectors in local authorities appointed by the method proposed in this Bill and, secondly, with other similar appointments made by local authorities.

In the Dáil the debate on this Bill went on for ten hours. We have had a lengthy debate here over the last two days. I do not mean this as a criticism. It is a good thing to have a full discussion on any of these matters. Some very useful points have been raised. This is the only remaining staff selection function remaining with the elected members of the county councils.

The question of the appointment of vocational teachers was raised by Senator J. Fitzgerald. Hitherto such appointments were made by vocational committees, the members of which were also members of local authorities. Much stress was laid during the debate on the embarrassment caused to councillors. When I was a member of a local authority dealing with appointments of rate collectors and of vocational teachers I realised the terrific embarrassment caused to candidates. In the case of an applicant for a post of vocational teacher he had to contact [1444] 20, 25, 30 or more members of local authorities. This was a hefty assignment. He or she had to plead, promise and go through this procedure. This should not happen. Where a person has the qualifications for the job and there are other applicants with similar qualifications perhaps a degree better, then the best qualified person should get the job. Canvassing, lobbying and visiting of local authority members should be cut out. This has been done with my full blessing. I felt deeply for the canvassers and for the vocational committees. I feel the same with regard to the number of candidates seeking appointment as rate collectors. This is the main reason which influenced the Minister to introduce this legislation. I am glad the proposals in this Bill have met with the unanimous support of the Seanad.

Senator McDonald suggested this change being introduced because the Government party had lost control of a number of county councils. There has been a demand by members of local authorities, the various parties and above all by the candidates for appointments as rate collectors themselves, that there should be a different method. While this Bill abolishes one method there are a number of other ones available. One is that proposed in the Bill. The other is one which exists in a number of local authorities and that is collecting through the office. This method, where it exists, will not be affected by the Bill when it becomes an Act. Neither will any local authority who intend to change their method of collection through the office be affected. They are still free to do that. If local authorities generally or individually are not happy with the method proposed in this Bill they are free to ask the Minister to have the appointment of rate collectors carried out by the Local Appointments Commission. The Minister will, in agreement with the Local Appointments Commission, do this, if he feels it is justified. This should meet all the shades of opinion which have been expressed during the debate.

I should now like to refer briefly to some of the points raised by Senators. Senator Boland said that what was proposed [1445] in the Bill was appointment behind closed doors. The other method of appointment, by the Local Appointments Commission, could also be described as a behind-closed-doors affair. To give it that nomenclature makes it sound suspicious and suggests an aura which does not exist. Naturally a board, whether set up by the manager or brought together by the chairman of the Local Appointments Commission, will sit in a room; it will be behind closed doors and each candidate will be interviewed. The remark “closed doors” could give it a bad name.

Another point raised was the standard of education and the method of setting up the board. There is nothing new in this. There are at the moment regulations for the appointment of rate collectors. Under the present system there were specific qualifications as to the standard of education and so on. These standards will apply in future, that is, that a person must have the required standard of education.

It is not true to say—as Senator Reynolds said—that local authorities have already been notified of the regulations. As a matter of courtesy, local authorities have been sent a document indicating the changes which will take place if the Bill is passed. The boards to be set up will be on similar lines to those existing for other appointments. Quite a number of appointments are made in this way. Senator Boland yesterday read the list of appointments made by a board set up by the county manager. In order to show that the status of the post was much lower than the one of rate collector, he chose the gas slot meter collector. It is true to say that this post is filled by a board set up by the manager but to choose this particular one and ignore the status of the other posts is unfair.

For instance, the rate inspector is appointed by such a board as is envisaged in the Bill. There is quite a long list of posts such as draughtsman, and staff officer, fairly important posts, which are filled on the recommendation of local interview boards. Somebody mentioned that the home assistance officer should be included in this list. This is not so. The home assistance [1446] officer post is controlled by the Department of Social Welfare. Senator Boland asked why the rate collector appointment was originally left as a reserved function of the council. We do not know the reason because it happened so long ago.

Senator Boland also mentioned the delay in publishing the White Paper on local finance. This has been promised by the Minister and quite recently he said it would be published very soon. I imagine this will be before Christmas.

Senator Boland raised a number of other points such as details of the method of appointment. In the normal way, the manager will advertise the post for open competition. There will be a standard of education prescribed. I am not sure what the present standard is but it should not be much different. The board will be set up to interview candidates. It may be that some applicants for the positions have more than the necessary educational qualifications. They may hold certificates which will obviate the necessity for a written examination. An interview to determine suitability, character and so on will be held. The members of that interview board will be appointed by the manager. It will be necessary that one of the members will be from the local area. The case has been made that rate collectors appointed under the other system have knowledge of local conditions. This is quite true. A local knowledge is very desirable. The other members would be from neighbouring local authorities. This is the procedure which will be suggested to the manager.

Another matter, which was not raised here, is that the manager is not bound to accept the person placed first. The board will interview the candidate assessing educational standards and suitability. A situation can exist where a person is the best qualified educationally and has the best personality on interview but the manager may know of some factor which could prevent this man's appointment. He is not bound, although he will generally in the case of the long list of appointments already mentioned, appoint the person who is recommended as No. 1 by the board.

Senator Boland and many other [1447] Senators paid tribute to the honesty and integrity of existing rate collectors appointed under the present system. I join with them in that tribute. From my own experience of 20 years as a member of the Donegal County Council, we have not had one case involving a rate collector appointed by a vote of members of local authorities where we had to take court or any other action by way of suspension or dismissal because of irregularities by these people. This is a record of which we in Donegal are proud. I want to put on record that this Bill in no way casts any reflection on the rate collectors appointed by the method which has been in operation up to now.

Senator Owens made a very logical case for this Bill, and I am not saying this simply because she agrees with the Bill. Her contribution was logical and concise. It was a fine contribution to the debate. In winding up she said that she hoped the board would consider women as well as men. I join with her in that hope. In Donegal we have five lady rate collectors who are equally as good as the men and I hope this pattern will be adhered to by the boards when set up.

Senator McGlinchey mentioned the question of canvassing. I have already dealt with that matter. He mentioned the embarrassment for candidates of doing the rounds of 28 or more councillors. Senator J. Fitzgerald mentioned the type of rate collectors we have as a result of the present system. He spoke as a member of a party which did not have the opportunity of making those appointments but he paid tribute to the type of men who were appointed in his county. This shows that we all recognise that the best men were appointed. I think Senator McGowan mentioned the creation or suppression of warrants, in other words rate collectors areas. It was also mentioned by Senator Owens that there are some warrants which are small and, therefore, the remuneration for them is also small. This is quite true in a number of local authority areas. Rearrangement of areas is still a matter for the local authorities.

Heretofore, if a rate collector's area [1448] became vacant and it was a large one, in some cases part of that area was utilised to bring up the area of a smaller rate collector and there was still enough left to make a new fulltime appointment. I hope rearrangements like that will be made in the future. It does not enter into this Bill and still remains a matter for agreement by the local authorities. They may wish to abolish an area and even set up another area in the county. This is desirable. All rate collector appointments for the past couple of years and in the future have been and will be made on a salary basis. They will get a basic salary plus incentive bonuses all on the same basis. The changeover to that system was used and I hope will continue to be used to make the areas more workable and break up some of the very large areas.

I think I have covered the main points made in contributions to the debate. I would like to get all Stages of this Bill today. Some Senator mentioned that an appointment of rate collector was made recently in one of the local authority areas. I would like to have this Bill as soon as possible so that the new method of appointment can commence in the new year.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  What will be the operative date of the Bill?

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  When the Bill becomes law. That will depend on the assistance of the House.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  If a council has already advertised a post of rate collector will it fall under the Bill?

Mr. Cunningham: Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  The council would have advertised the post and not the method of appointment. Any vacant posts advertised will come under the new system as soon as the Bill is law.

Question put and agreed to.


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