THE DUKE OF ST. ALBANS
, in rising to call attention to the payment of car hire, printing, and posting bills calling a meeting to protest against Mr. O'Brien's prison treatment, out of public rates, by the Cork Town Council on the 8th February, and to inquire whether such a proceeding was legal, and, if not, whether any means exist to prevent such an illegal expenditure of public money, and whether the Law Officers of the Crown are prepared to put the remedy in force, said: My Lords, I hope I may not be considered unduly pressing in drawing your Lordships' attention to this matter. I would have brought it forward at an earlier period of our proceedings, but that I fell into an error which may be excusable—namely, that I thought the matter to which the question refers would be rectified on the Government audit. It seems however, that the cities of Cork and Waterford and the town of Kilkenny are for some reason exempt from any legal or Government audit of their municipal accounts. True, an appeal is allowed to the Irish Court of Queen's Bench, but in the present state of Ireland it is obvious that no private individual would incur the odium and expense of such an appeal. I think, therefore, that in justice to the ratepayers and in the interests of those who wish that public bodies in Ireland should properly perform their duties, the Government may fairly be asked to express their opinion on this case, and to say whether there are any means in their 1108 power by which this illegal application of public rates can be rectified.
LORD FITZ GERALD
My Lords, The subject which has been brought to our attention by the noble Lord is very wide and very important, and deserves serious consideration. This act of the Cork Town Council, in applying the funds of the ratepayers to purposes for which they were not applicable, is an act done in open defiance and contempt of the law. The order made by the corporation was illegal, and the parties who made the order would be personally responsible for the money illegally applied. It is necessary that such practices should not be allowed to continue with impunity. Any ratepayer injured by the Act can go to the Court of Queen's Bench and ask for an order quashing the order of the Town Council by summary process, under the Municipal Corporation Act. But there are great difficulties in the way. The process is slow and expensive, and it is impossible to conceal the fact that the ratepayer who entered upon it would be subject to all the terrors of exclusive dealing. The Government has in every county in Ireland a Crown Prosecutor, and surely the Crown Prosecutor could, at the suit of any ratepayer, bring up the illegal order and have it quashed. If that is not done, the only alternative is for the Government to repeal the statutory powers by which the City of Cork, among others, is exempted from the Government audit. Then the Government Auditor can determine whether the expenditure is legal or not, and if it is held to be illegal, and he refuses to pass the accounts, the money would have to be refunded by those who had illegally expended it.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Viscount CRANBROOK)
I have just been put in possession of the answer sent by the Local Government Board in Ireland to a request for the information necessary to give a reply to the Question of my noble Friend, and I think I cannot do better than read it—The Local Government Board have no information on the matter referred to. The Board have no power over the expenditure of the Cork Town Council, and the Corporation accounts are not audited by auditors of the Board, but by auditors appointed by the burgesses under Section 70 of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1840. Under Section 23 of the 1109 Cork Improvement Act, 1852, any person interested in the accounts, either as a creditor or a ratepayer, may object to any part of the accounts, and the auditors may make such abatements as to them shall seem just, subject to an appeal to the Recorder by a certain number of the Council. It appears, therefore, that any ratepayer aggrieved by the expenditure referred to in the question may object thereto at the audit.That is all the information which I have at present; but I have no doubt the matter will be further inquired into.