Seanad Éireann - Volume 23 - 06 July, 1939
Public Assistance Bill, 1939—Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Dr. Ward) Francis Constantine (Dr.) Ward
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Dr. Ward): The object of this Bill is to substitute for the code of laws known as the Poor Relief Acts new legal provisions to enable local authorities to assist the poor, and to appreciate the difficult situation which the Bill is designed to remedy a short outline of the main events leading up to the present position of the law may be of assistance.
The Poor Relief Code started with the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, 1838, which introduced a system for the relief of the poor modelled on that which had been in existence in England. The Act provided for the division of the country into districts, which were called Unions. In each Union the relief of the poor was entrusted to an elected body called a board of guardians and a workhouse was to be established in which the guardians could relieve destitute poor persons.
The system grew and developed under subsequent Acts, one of which provided for the establishment of an infirmary in connection with each  workhouse and under a later Act a fever hospital was provided at each workhouse. An Act passed in the year 1847 authorised guardians for the first time to grant relief outside the workhouse but only to certain specified classes of poor persons. An Act passed in the year 1851 provided for the establishment of the dispensary service under which medicines, medical advice and treatment were provided for poor persons. Further enactments gave powers to the boards of guardians to send inmates of workhouses to extern hospitals and to send afflicted persons such as blind, deaf and dumb to suitable institutions. Extensive powers were given in relation to children under which they could be boarded out in suitable homes, sent to special schools and placed in suitable trades.
The Poor Relief Code remained in full force until the years 1920 to 1922. In those years the councils of several counties in conjunction with the Minister for Local Government of Dáil Eireann, believing that the existing poor law system was not suited to this country, took steps to reorganise the administration of the relief of the poor by means of schemes for the various counties. The main features of these schemes were:
(a) the abolition of the existing system under which the poor were relieved in workhouses established in each poor law union;
(b) the centralisation of administration under one authority in each county;
(c) the establishment in each county of central institutions in which the poor of the county could be assisted; and
(d) the provision of power to enable poor persons to be assisted either in or out of the central institutions as might be thought desirable.
The Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, legalised those schemes and gave power to the council of a county to which no existing scheme related to prepare a scheme  and submit it to the Minister for Local Government. The Minister had power to confirm such scheme either without alteration or with such amendments, omissions, and additions as he deemed necessary, or to reject the scheme. The Minister was also empowered under the Act to amend and modify any county scheme. The Act also contained a provision under which the council of a county and the council of an adjoining county borough, instead of preparing separate schemes might prepare a joint scheme for the county and the county borough. Only two such schemes were prepared, one for Cork County and County Borough and the other for Waterford County and County Borough. The Cork scheme provided for the division of the county into three areas with separate administration for each area. The southern area of the county is administered jointly with the Cork County Borough by one administrative authority. Limerick County and County Borough Councils did not adopt a joint scheme. The two areas had separate schemes.
The councils of Dublin County and the county borough did not prepare either a joint scheme or separate schemes, and in those two areas the Poor Relief Acts have remained in full operation subject to two amending Acts, one of which removed the restrictions which limited outdoor relief to certain classes of poor persons and empowered the local authorities at their discretion to relieve destitute poor persons either in or out of the workhouse, and the other provided for the establishment of three boards of assistance in the area instead of the three boards of guardians. The boards of assistance, instead of being elected directly by the local government electors, are appointed by the county council in the case of two of the boards whose functional areas are wholly within the county, and by the county and county borough councils in the case of the third board, whose area is partly in the county and partly in the county borough.
It can be readily understood that, with all the various changes and alterations which have been made in the  Poor Relief Acts since the year 1838, the code has grown very involved. On many points it is often difficult to determine what is the law, not alone in view of various amendments, but having regard to the fact that the county schemes have to be taken as implying modifications of the law. From the point of view of administration it is a matter of great importance that this position should be remedied, and that the law should be set out clearly and without ambiguity.
Another reason for bringing forward this Bill is that the powers given by the Act of 1923 were temporary. The Act was intended to give legal authority for the county schemes pending provision for more permanent legislation. The Act has since been renewed from year to year, and it is very desirable that this position should be terminated.
It may be well at this stage to refer to a further complication in the existing law which arises from the fact that the Poor Relief Acts, besides providing for the relief of the poor, contain provisions which have now become part of the general law of local government. This complex position is due to the manner in which local government has developed in this country. The boards of guardians were the first elected bodies to administer any form of local government in rural districts, and when it was later decided to establish local services not relating to the relief of the poor, the administration of them was assigned to the boards of guardians. The guardians, for example, became rural sanitary authorities. Subsequently, when county and district councils were established, provisions in the existing law relating to boards of guardians were utilised and applied to these councils. As a consequence, the different codes of local government law have become intermingled to an extent that does not make for clarity or simplify administration.
The main purposes of the Bill under consideration are:
(a) where the law is at present temporary, to place it on a permanent basis;
 (b) to consolidate such provisions of the law as it is considered desirable to retain;
(c) to repeal any provisions considered obsolete or inapplicable to existing circumstances; and
(d) to introduce any amendments necessary to meet present conditions.
The Bill will include all the law relating solely to the administration of public assistance, but it will not include provisions which apply generally to all local administration. Such matters as borrowing powers, local inquiries, duties of inspectors, audit of accounts, appointment of officers, although essential to the administration of public assistance, relate generally to all the local government services. These will be dealt with in a Local Government Bill, and it will not be possible to bring the present Bill into force before the Local Government Bill is also in force, or some other provisions are made for these matters.
I do not think that the general scheme of the Bill calls for any explanation as all its provisions are clear and self-explanatory, but a few comments on the more important provisions may be necessary.
The Bill provides that the administration of the law relating to public assistance (which term is to replace the term “poor relief”) shall be subject to the general direction and control of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health. For the purpose of administration the Bill states that the State is to be divided into public assistance districts. In this matter the Bill makes no change as the districts provided for are those already in existence. Each public assistance district is to be administered by a public assistance authority. In Dublin City and County the public assistance authorities are to be the existing boards of assistance. Where a public assistance district consists of a county borough the public assistance authority is to be the Corporation of the County Borough. Where the district consists of a county borough and a county, or part of a county, the public assistance authority is to be a  board of public assistance elected by the Corporation of the County Borough and the Council of the County. In other cases the public assistance authority is to be the County Council. This latter is the only change proposed as regards local administrative authorities and it is included in anticipation of proposed legislation to give counties the benefit of the manager system which operates in county boroughs.
The definition of the classes of persons who will be eligible for assistance in pursuance of the Bill is similar to that contained in the county schemes but somewhat more detailed. It is specifically laid down as the duty of the public assistance authority to give public assistance to every person in their district eligible therefor, but in this matter they are allowed a discretion, in that they may give such assistance as may appear to them to be necessary or proper in each particular case.
Under the Bill the public assistance authority may provide for persons eligible for assistance maintenance, training, education and treatment in institutions, which institutions may be institutions maintained by the public assistance authority or institutions not so maintained. In this respect their powers will largely resemble those at present possessed by them. Provision is made in the Bill for assistance outside institutions which include home assistance and medical assistance.
The public assistance authorities will be required to provide institutions and to carry out improvements thereto as directed by the Minister.
I would like to draw attention to some of the powers proposed to be given by the Bill to public assistance authorities namely:—
(a) the power given in Section 20 to assist societies for relieving poor persons by contributing to their expenses, by supplying fuel, light, food, water or other commodity, by providing premises with furniture and fittings, and executing alterations and repairs to such premises;
(b) the power given in Section 21 to provide land for any public hospital or infirmary where satisfied  that the treatment given in such hospital or infirmary renders useful aid in the administration of public assistance.
(c) the provisions of Section 22 as regards the payment of expenses of removal of a person eligible for assistance (with or without dependents), where such removal is likely to enable the person to support himself and his dependents by his own industry or other lawful means, and is generally for their benefit;
(d) the provision contained in Section 49 which enables a public assistance authority to contribute to the support, maintenance and education in an approved institution of any child who is deaf, dumb, blind, imbecile, idiot, epileptic or crippled, and whose parents are unable by reason of poverty to provide adequately for the training of the child;
(e) the power given in Section 63 to enable a public assistance authority to have land inspected for the purpose of ascertaining whether it is suitable for acquisition.
Special powers conferred on the Minister to which I might draw attention are those contained in Section 11 as regards the establishment of committees for two or more public assistance authorities for any purpose connected with the administration of public assistance where it appears to the Minister that joint administration would tend to reduce expense or be otherwise of public or local advantage.
Section 25 empowers the Minister to prescribe methods for determining the cost of different kinds of public assistance. This will simplify proceedings in a court dealing with an application for the recovery of the cost of assistance.
Section 35 will empower the Minister to direct that institutional assistance to a particular class of persons shall only be given in a special institution for that class where such is available.
As regards Section 38 I might point  out that hitherto the Minister when altering or rearranging dispensary districts could not divide a district electoral division. When the Bill becomes law that restriction will no longer operate.
Section 41 gives the Minister power to require a public assistance authority to keep a dispensary in proper condition and repair. Hitherto he has not possessed this power. The Minister is also given a new power by Section 42, under which he may direct a public assistance authority to provide a residence for a dispensary officer.
Section 85 will empower the Minister to abolish any of the remaining county infirmaries. Hitherto the Minister could abolish a county infirmary by amending a county scheme. Seven such institutions still remain, and it may at some future time be considered desirable to have power to abolish a county infirmary in the interests of better hospital organisation.
The extensive provisions of the Bill for the protection of children are largely taken from the existing law. One important change is that the age up to which a child is a dependent for the purposes of the Bill has been raised from 15 to 16 years. Another provision prohibits the placing of a child under the age of 14 years at service or in a trade, calling or business.
The powers given in connection with the burial of the remains of poor persons are more extended than those already possessed. A public assistance authority will, under the Bill, be able to bring home for burial the body of a poor person who died outside their district.
As regards finance, the moneys required by a public assistance authority are to be raised equally over the whole of the public assistance district. Beyond fixing the borrowing limit, the Bill contains no provisions as regards borrowing, as this matter will be dealt with in the general Local Government Bill. The borrowing limit fixed is the same as that hitherto in force, namely, one-fourth of the valuation.
The powers to be given to the public assistance authority to acquire land  are the same as those contained in the Public Assistance (Acquisition of Land) Act, 1934, which the Bill proposes to re-enact.
I might conclude by saying that the need for this Bill has long been felt by persons engaged in public administration. More than one public commission has given recommendation to some of the Provisions contained in the Bill. I think that the Bill has at least one point to recommend it in that it contains none of the rigidity which characterised the Poor Relief Acts. It is much more elastic, particularly as regards the provision of institutions in relation to which it does not tie down the responsible authorities to the provision of one or two institutions of a particular class, but leaves the position open so as to afford every opportunity for the growth and development of improved ideas for the institutional assistance of the poor.
Mr. O'Donovan Mr. O'Donovan
Mr. O'Donovan: As no other Senator wishes to speak I shall pass a few remarks. My first remark is to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister for Local Government for producing such a voluminous document. It is more or less a codification of the laws going back for 100 years. We are now in 1939 and the first Act in relation to poor relief was passed by the British Government in 1838. The other subsequent Acts are some partly and some wholly repealed in this Bill, which I hope will soon become an Act. It has certainly entailed an immense amount of work in the Department, and I must say that it would entail an immense amount of study for any Senator to digest it in the short time at his disposal.
Perhaps, in Committee, some Senators will have some remarks to pass on different clauses of the Bill. I cannot say that I am conversant to any great extent with much of the subject matter of it, but the thing that strikes me particularly, and on which I want to compliment the Parliamentary Secretary, is that it is a codification— and, I hope, a simplification—of the Poor Relief system. It will be of  great assistance to local authorities in the operation of home assistance and public assistance in the future.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to some new Bills, and—though it may be out of order—as I am on my feet, I would like to remind him that officials of local authorities are waiting for a Bill to he introduced by the Minister for Local Government for some time, relative to the resignation of office and superannuation of local authorities' officials, in order to bring them something into line with the position that exists with regard to the Civil Service. If an officer of a local authority dies at any time, his dependents get nothing; his salary is cut off from the day he dies. We have been for a long time looking for a reform of that system. I hope that, now that the Department has succeeded in doing such a magnificent amount of work as this for public assistance, they will assist public officers by bringing in this Bill.
Mrs. Concannon Mrs. Concannon
Mrs. Concannon: I did not mean to speak on this Bill at all, but I cannot let it pass, being the only woman here, without congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on removing the horrible word, the horrible appellation, “pauper”. This Bill puts the coping stone on this social legislation of which Irish people must be proud, and the spirit of the Bill must commend itself to us all. It is full of delicate charity, and it preserves the human rights of the poor people, and especially of the children. I hope we shall be able to go through it more carefully in Committee, but I do think that it is an occasion on which we should all congratulate ourselves, and that it is one of those occasions on which we show up best, when we Irish people come together and show our respect for the poor.
The Parliamentary Secretary, in his review of a hundred years of social legislation, made us think of the times when the workhouses were established, when the people were herded into them, fathers and mothers separated and children put in another place, as described in most moving terms by Canon O'Leary. We are glad to think that in this Ireland of ours, in this land we are trying to  build up, our first thought is for the poor. I most heartily congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary.
Mr. James Johnston Mr. James Johnston
Mr. James Johnston: I rise to support this Bill with all the strength I can command, and, in addition, to support what Senator O'Donovan and Senator Mrs. Concannon have said, and to add a few words to their remarks. I certainly congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the care and the pains he has taken on this codification of the laws passed from 1838 to the present day, and I particularly admire the remarks of Senator Mrs. Concannon in relation to what is proposed to be done for the poor. I would remind Senators, as one coming from the North, from County Monaghan, where we have a large population, and as one who, from his childhood days, had some experience of the powers that then were, of how the poor people were treated under the old boards of guardians before the Local Government Act of 1898 was passed. I am very proud to be a member of this House and to be living in this country at present, when protection is being given to, and provision made for, the poor and, in addition to the poor, for those who are in any way disabled as to sight, hearing and speech. Provision is being made for them now. It has been made for some long time past, but, in my early days, that was not the case. Although I am not yet in the centuries, I well remember what the conditions were in the northern counties, some 30 or 40 years ago.
Still further, this is a step to confirm and to put on a better footing, while not necessarily putting into operation, some of the urgent work of members of public bodies, of which I have some knowledge from 1919, when the first Dáil was set up in Dublin, in respect of the amalgamation of local boards of guardians into one body known as a board of health or a board of public assistance. The work done at that time was done quietly. It has been carried out since practically from year to year. This Bill puts it into complete form, so that it will be quite easy for members of public bodies and  officials to understand and administer it. Up to the present any member of a public body who wished to carry out his duties as a public representative would require to spend a good deal of his time in studying these matters, but this will simplify the various Acts, and I hope the Seanad will pass the Bill without delay.
Mr. Tunney Mr. Tunney
Mr. Tunney: I support the Bill, and I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on bringing it forward. At the same time, there are a few points which I would wish to put before him, while he is here, in connection with relief. I should like to say, in regard to the arrangement proposed for County Dublin, that I am not pleased, because for the Dublin public health area there are going to be three different authorities for the administration of relief. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will look into that point. I have been a member of the Dublin County Council for the past ten years, and I say that there is great dissatisfaction amongst the poor and amongst those who are forced to apply for relief owing to the different methods of administration.
I will give the Parliamentary Secretary one case, the case of dentures, which is very serious for some of the residents of the county. The Balrothery Board of Assistance has always given free dentures to the poor in their area, but in the district in which I reside, which is in the area of the Dublin Board of Assistance, free dentures are not given. I have been elected for the No. 1 area, which is North Dublin and Balrothery, and it is hard on the people living around me who cannot get these free dentures when they see the people in Balrothery getting them. As a matter of fact, I have had several complaints, and they go so far as to say that those of us in North Dublin are not doing our duty. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to look into the matter.
With regard to Rathdown, I suggest very strongly that, so far as County Dublin is concerned, the Board of Health should be the authority because the position, as it exists now, is very awkward. There are three different authorities and there is also a very  wide difference in the amounts given by the different boards. On the question of relief, we would all congratulate ourselves if we had reached the time when there would be no necessity for this Bill. I say sincerely that I give the greatest possible praise to the present Administration for what they have done for the poorer classes, the classes least able to help themselves, but there are a few points which, if conceded, would almost finish the question of poor relief altogether.
If the Parliamentary Secretary will make inquiries, he will agree that half the people in receipt of outdoor relief in Dublin City are people who are out from work sick, and for whom the amount which they get in National Health Insurance is insufficient, with the result that they have to go to the relieving officer to supplement this small amount they get from National Health Insurance. I feel that the time should come when the working man should receive sufficient from National Health Insurance to meet his needs.
Then, again, there is the question of non-contributory widows. It is very hard on these people who have to get relief from two sources. I know that I am a little out of order in discussing this matter.
Cathaoirleach: The Senator, being conscious of that fact, will be brief.
Mr. Tunney Mr. Tunney
Mr. Tunney: Three-quarters of those in receipt of outdoor relief in Dublin are represented by those two classes, and it is a terrible pity that such a large section should have to apply to two sources for the small amount they receive. I hope the time will come when that position will be remedied.
I would like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary who is going to be the authority in the matter of admission? Is there going to be an admission board, who will have to decide who is or is not entitled to outdoor relief? For the last few years I have been fairly conversant with the administration of home assistance in Dublin. The position is peculiar. The applicant applies to the relieving officer and the relieving officer is not always able to tell whether the applicant is to receive it.  He says it is going before the board. Are the board of assistance the people who are to decide who is or is not entitled to relief? On that point I might say there are many people who are in receipt of out-door relief at present who are not aware whether it is the relieving officer or the board who grants the relief. The old position that obtained in the country is not the position now. I am given to understand that that is so. I would like to hear the Parliamentary Secretary make that point clear. Is there to be an admission board?
In connection with the existing staffs I have a few words to say. I now refer to the people who are dealing with the relief of able-bodied persons. There was a very big staff added on by the board some 10 years ago, and some of these people are at present very uneasy about their positions. I wish to pay this compliment to these people, and indeed to the relief supervisors in Dublin, that they are working under very great difficulties. The application form put in is a very simple form. The relief officer investigates the case; often the applicant does not give full information. If the applicant is destitute, the relieving officer cannot tell him that he has no remedy. I do hope that no injustice will be done to the existing staff. I have been asked to mention the matter. I would be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us some information. These relieving officers had the difficult work of being fair to the applicants for relief and being fair to the ratepayers at the same time. They did their work in a remarkably honest way.
I welcome the Bill as I welcome anything that is for the upliftment of those who are not in a position to help themselves. I hope from the introduction of this Bill that we will have in the country in future the feeling that nobody will go hungry. It is not the wish of any of us nor of any ratepayers that people should go hungry. Like Senator Mrs. Concanon I would be glad to see the assistance that was given coming from a source to which there would be no stain of pauperism attached. I would be much more pleased if that were so.
Mr. Goulding Mr. Goulding
 Mr. Goulding: On a point of information, I want to ask the Minister a question with reference to Section 24 relating to work as a condition for receiving general assistance. The section reads:
(1) A public assistance authority may, as a condition of the granting of general assistance to a person, require such person, either before or after or during receipt of such general assistance, to perform such work as such authority shall consider suitable to the sex, age, strength, and capacity of such person and shall direct such person so to perform.
That looks very much like a revival of the old principle compelling people to break loads of stones when they entered the local workhouse. Is the section a revival of that principle?
Mr. Cummins Mr. Cummins
Mr. Cummins: Perhaps the Minister could enlighten me on a couple of points. The question as to the definition of “poor persons” has always created some trouble. Heretofore the status of a person who was entitled to relief was defined. There is now in this Bill no such indication as to what “poor person” means. Different people may have different ideas. In some cases people have a small patch of land, and these are not looked upon as “poor persons” whereas they are in actual fact very often in dire poverty. They may have a small patch of ground or perhaps a few hens, or some little industry of their own, and because of these things they are deprived of badly-needed help. A person, no matter how poor, if he has no dependents, is not entitled to any assistance, medical or otherwise.
Mr. Tunney Mr. Tunney
Mr. Tunney: That is not correct.
Mr. Cummins Mr. Cummins
Mr. Cummins: Well, that is how it appeared to me on an early reading of the Bill. Whether actual dependents themselves are entitled to any assistance, or home assistance of any kind, is a point on which I am not clear. There is another point. Those receiving a certain amount of home assistance are expected to do a certain amount of work. Does the relation  between worker and employer exist in such circumstances? Is the employer in this case, say the board, bound to give him any stamps for the work performed? I think the person receiving relief should in such circumstances be placed in the position of an ordinary worker and when there is sufficient work done to merit a stamp, that stamp should be given and the man should be entitled to unemployment insurance.
Apart from these things I think the Bill makes for good. It is a very elaborate Bill. The setting up and putting this Bill into operation will require special attention. In all bodies formed under the Bill some of the personnel should be ladies of experience who understand the home and who are generally more sympathetic with poverty than the average man of the world and have perhaps a better understanding of it.
Dr. Ward Dr. Ward
Dr. Ward: It is rather a pleasant task to undertake to conclude a debate that has been conducted in the friendly spirit in which this debate has been carried on and with the congratulations that the Ministry have received from the various Senators. No doubt its preparation has been an enormous task. There is no denying that. As Senator O'Donovan has pointed out, the poor law relief code over a period of 100 years embodied some 36 Acts. The repeal and codification of some of these Acts had to be gone into and carefully reviewed; obsolete and objectionable terms and phrases in the old enactments had to be eliminated, and a draft produced more in accordance with the happy position in which we find ourselves to-day—indeed, more in accordance with the dignity of the poor and the dignity of the Christian State. When I mention that enormous work, I do not wish to take credit for it myself. The officials of my Department, who have assisted in the drafting of this Bill and who have assisted in embodying and enshrining the policy of the Government of the day in this comprehensive piece of proposed legislation, deserve the major portion of the credit.
 Senator O'Donovan would like to extract some information from me regarding the possible contents of a Bill that has not yet come before the House. All I can say to Senator O'Donovan on that score is that a Local Government Bill is in course of preparation and I should like to draw his attention to the fact that the “appointed day” on which this Bill is to come into operation is to be fixed by the Minister. This Bill will not come into operation until two other, more or less, collateral Bills—the Managerial Bill and the Local Government Bill—become law.
The three measures will become operative about the same time. The Local Government Bill will deal with officers. How it is going to deal with them is another question. It will deal in detail with the status, conditions, rights, remuneration, terms of office and age of retirement of officers. Perhaps I have told the Senator too much. He will, however, be satisfied that officers have been adequately and fully dealt with when he comes to read the Local Government Bill. There was just one note of complaint—from Senator Tunney. Senator Tunney would like to have one public assistance authority for Dublin City and County.
Mr. Tunney Mr. Tunney
Mr. Tunney: For Dublin County only. I am concerned only with Dublin County.
Dr. Ward Dr. Ward
Dr. Ward: The Bill does not make any alteration in the areas of administration as they stand to-day. Under the 1923 Act, the counties and county boroughs, with the exception of Dublin, adopted county schemes. Dublin City and County failed to adopt any county scheme. When this Bill was first introduced, it was not intended to apply it to Dublin City and County at all. The old poor relief code operated in Dublin City and County. We have now extended the provisions of the Bill to Dublin City and County, but we are not making any alterations in the public assistance areas. The three unions—Dublin, Balrothery and Rathdown—will remain the public assistance areas under the Bill.
 I should like to remind Senator Tunney that the Dublin tribunal held a long and detailed inquiry largely into the question of the geographical areas which should constitute the new City of Dublin. When this other pressing legislation shall have been dealt with, I have no doubt that a Bill will be introduced to deal with that position. I think that Senator Tunney must find himself much in the same position regarding the areas that will constitute Dublin County as Senator O'Donovan finds himself in regarding the officers. I am not in a position to anticipate as regards the area of the new county. It is a possibility that Dublin City might swallow it up altogether, or the major portion of it. If, as a result of the recommendations of the Greater Dublin Tribunal, such legislation comes about, and the existing areas are materially altered in their geographical outline, consequential alterations will probably have to be made in relation to the public assistance districts, but until that matter is disposed of it cannot be dealt with.
Senator Tunney seems to have some doubt as to the present system of administration of public assistance in his area—whether the public assistance officer, or the relieving officer, as he was termed in the old days, and as Dublin calls him still, or the board of assistance is the final authority. There is no doubt about it under the Bill, and there should not be any doubt about it under the existing law. In the interval between meetings of the assistance authority the public assistance authority affords public assistance in urgent cases. He reports to the first meeting of the board of assistance, and whether the assistance is to be continued or discontinued is determined, or ought to be determined by the board of assistance. It is not proposed to make any alteration in that position now, but when this Bill becomes law Senators ought to bear in mind that it will probably be operating under a managerial system, and perhaps in that way some of the difficulties Senator Tunney has in mind will disappear. The staffs  of the existing local authorities in Dublin City and County need have no anxiety. No change is being made in their status under the Bill.
Senator Goulding was concerned about Section 24. Sub-section (1) of Section 24 says:—
A public assistance authority may, as a condition of the granting of general assistance to a person, require such person, either before or after or during receipt of such general assistance, to perform such work as such authority shall consider suitable to the sex, age, strength, and capacity of such person, and shall direct such person so to perform.
That is not a new principle at all. Neither is it, to my mind, either a degrading or a wrong principle, from any point of view. I should like to point out to Senator Goulding that that particular clause is in the public assistance code which is operating at the present time. It may not become operative under this Bill, but it might be desirable that it should be operative when you read the qualification explicitly set out, “suitable to the sex, age, strength and capacity of such person”. In this regard, I am expressing a personal view, but, I believe, a view that would be held by most of the sensible members of this House—that an able-bodied man in receipt of home assistance, if an able-bodied man is in receipt of home assistance, should be liable to be called upon to do some work, and that it would be far better physically, morally, and every other way for him to be doing some work than to be drawing public assistance from the local authority and allowing himself to become demoralised by idleness and to get into such a physical condition that, when work would be offered to him, he would not be able to do it.
Senator Goulding probably did not advert to the fact that, under the code as we hope to see it operate within the four walls of this Bill, able-bodied persons will be eligible for public assistance. In the old days able-bodied persons used not be eligible for public assistance and, of course, it is  not intended to ask anybody other than able-bodied persons to do a task of work.
Senator Cummins is concerned about the interpretation of the definition of a poor person or a person who would be entitled to public assistance. I have given a good deal of thought to that and we have searched for as wide a formula as it is possible to get. I think the formula embodied in this Bill gives ample scope for the exercise of the discretion of the public assistance authority and, in fact, the public assistance authority can in their wisdom determine, regardless of what amount of land any man may hold, that he is still a poor person and entitled to assistance if they of their local knowledge believe that that is so. Section 17 (1) of this Bill reads as follows:—
A poor person who is unable to provide by his own industry or other lawful means the necessaries of life (other than medical, surgical or dental treatment, medicines, and medical, surgical or dental appliances) for himself or any persons whom he is liable under this Act to maintain shall be eligible for general assistance.
Not only the person himself shall be eligible for assistance, but anybody whom he is liable to maintain. I think that is fairly comprehensive.
The other point that was raised by Senator Cummins related to the question of the stamping of cards for persons who might be engaged in work for a local authority as a condition of public assistance. National health insurance cards are stamped, and the conditions of master and servant as understood in the Workmen's Compensation Act will exist. In other words, the Workmen's Compensation Act will apply when they are engaged in any such work. I think that probably fully meets what the Senator has in mind.
I do not think there is anything else that was raised on the Bill that it is necessary to deal with at this stage. Perhaps between this and the Committee Stage members of the House would study the Bill in detail, and  those of them who are members of local authorities and who have practical knowledge of the administration of public assistance and the difficulties encountered may be able to make some useful suggestions on the later stages of the Bill.
 Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 11th July.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.15 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 11th July, 1939.
Seanad Éireann 23 Public Assistance Bill, 1939—Second Stage.