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The grand jurors were summoned, or invited, to attend by the high sheriff, who of course only held his office for a year, and who might if he chose select different persons from those who had served as grand jurors previously. As a fact, the leading magistrates in most counties were usually willing and anxious to serve on the grand juries in Ireland, and those bodies were as a rule composed of pretty much the same set of men, who had experience in the transaction of county business, and managed it efficiently and economically. But they were only summoned for one assize, and thus discharged their duties as nominees of the high sheriff, and not in any sense as representing any one. Such a system of government was theoretically indefensible, and would never have survived till modern times, if it had not in practice been found to work well. As it is, many people are inclined to compare the administration of the irresponsible grand juries with that of the elected bodies, such as town commissioners and boards of guardians, with results unfavourable to the latter, and to predict anything but a satisfactory future for the new elective bodies which are to supersede the grand juries.
The Local Government Act, which has this year received the royal assent (61 & 62 Vict. c. 37), establishes two new sets of elective governing bodies for Ireland---county councils and subordinate district councils, urban and rural. Six large towns, as in England, are constituted county boroughs; and their corporations will have all the powers of a county council, in addition to the municipal powers of which they are already possessed. Though in a way they form an exception to the general scheme by which the district councils are subordinate to the council of the county within which the district is comprised, they have no powers not possessed elsewhere by one council or the other; and do not really spoil the theoretical symmetry.
It may be convenient to deal briefly with the constitution of
the district councils before considering that for the counties. Every county district must be comprised within the bounds of one county, and will be under the management of its own district council. The district councils are formed much on the model of those already in existence in England. The electorate for both county and district councils is composed of the local government electors, that is, practically of the ratepaying occupiers of Ireland, male or female. No one is qualified for election as a councillor unless he or she is a local government elector for his district, or resident within it. Ministers of religion are not eligible. But with that exception any elector may be elected a councillor. Districts are divided, as in England, into urban and rural. The functions of their councils are not identical, urban councils possessing more ample powers than are given to the rural.
All existing urban sanitary authorities become urban district councils, and are to be elected by ballot by the local government electors, who alone are henceforward to be the burgesses in boroughs. Aldermen there will continue to exist, but their election for the future must be in accordance with the provisions of the new Act. Councillors are to be elected either for the whole district, or for a ward, as the case may be ; and their number and duration of office is to remain the same as that of the body they succeed. The councillors for a rural district are to represent existing poor-law electoral divisions, as a rule, two for each division, are to hold office for a term of three years, and then retire together. They are also to be the poor-law guardians for the division for which they are elected; which is not the case with urban councillors. A rural district council may adopt three additional councillors from among the persons qualified to be councillors. Both urban and rural councils are to elect their chairmen annually. The chairman of a rural district council is ex officio a member of the county council ; and if the district, whether urban or rural, contains a population
exceeding 5000, and is not a borough having a separate commission of the peace, he is a magistrate for the county, unless a woman or otherwise personally disqualified. Where a borough has a separate commission of the peace, the mayor has long been a magistrate for the borough, and still remains one as in England.
The powers of district councils are those already possessed by urban and rural sanitary authorities under the Irish Public Health Acts, the Town Improvement Acts, and other Acts which conferred limited powers of local government. To these, others, which are by no means unimportant, are now added. Urban councils have transferred to them public works, the expense of the maintenance of which is not leviable off the county at large. They have also imposed upon them the duty of making, levying, and collecting the poor-rate within their district; they are constituted the burial board, and are empowered to acquire rights of holding fairs and markets, and further, are given large powers for acquiring land or easements over land for the purpose of discharging any functions belonging to them. District councils, urban and rural alike, are made the authority for dealing with epidemics and outbreaks of infectious diseases. The business of baronial presentment sessions—a body not analogous to any existing in England, and having distinct powers subordinate to those of the grand jury—is transferred to all district councils. Urban councils also obtain the powers of the grand jury in relation to public works, not maintained by the county at large, situated within their district.
The maintenance and care of highways generally, has hitherto been, in Ireland, a matter controlled by the county, and it remains so still. An urban council may, however, undertake the entire maintenance of any road in its district, on such terms as may be agreed upon, or as, in default of agreement between the district and county councils, may be fixed by an order of the Local Government Board.
The poor-law unions remain for the purpose of administering the poor law only. Their boundaries, as was formerly the case in England, frequently extend into portions of several counties. This arrangement is not to be altered everywhere. But the new Act provides that “a union shall not, if it is conveniently possible to avoid it, be divided between more than two counties, and shall not, in any case, be divided between more than three counties." The Local Government Board possesses already large powers for rearranging boundaries. Portions of a union in different counties are now to be formed into separate county districts, The district councillors for a rural district are, as already stated, to be the guardians for their respective electoral divisions. Where an urban district is included in a union, guardians for each electoral division therein are to be separately elected.
There are no longer to be any ex-officio guardians; but the rural district councillors and urban elected guardians are to be the guardians to transact the poor-law business of the union. The power of making rates is taken from the guardians, who for the future are to send in an estimate of the amount they will require, and receive the money from the county council.
County councils have transferred to them the administrative functions of the grand juries, except such as are conferred on urban district councils. The powers hitherto discharged by grand juries in Ireland may be divided into three heads-administrative, judicial, and those appertaining to the trial of criminals. Of these, the administrative are now transferred to the county councils, the judicial to the county courts, and the finding of indictments, and other business of a grand jury relating to crime, will continue to be discharged by grand juries as hitherto. The administrative duties so transferred are multifarious, comprised in a large number of statutes, and will require much care and attention on the part of those called on to administer them.
Besides these, the law is now in some respects altered, and the county councils are to attend to certain matters with which grand juries had nothing to do. Foremost among these may be reckoned the making, levying, collecting, and recovering rates in all parts of the county not comprised in an urban district. Accounts are to be kept so as to distinguish between charges payable by a particular union or district, and by the county at large, and rates are to be made for each district sufficient to raise the sums due from it and its quota of county expenses. All rates are henceforward to be paid by the occupier. The county councils are further to be the authority to superintend technical instruction. They are to have the charge of the county lunatic asylums, in place of the asylums boards, which have hitherto been nominated for that duty, and are to maintain the county infirmaries and hospitals where such exist.
Most public roads at present in Ireland are maintained wholly or in part at the expense of the county. Such roads are denominated main roads in the new Act, and are for the future to be maintained by the county councils at the joint expense of the county generally, and of the district in which they are situate. The county council can, however, declare a road not to be a main road, and so put the whole charges for its maintenance on the district. In such
cases the district council can appeal to the Local Government Board, who will decide whether the road is to be treated as a main road or not. County councils may also acquire the control of any marine works, and may be given the powers of existing drainage boards. They, jointly with the Commissioners of Works, are authorized to prosecute persons who may damage any ancient monument. They also may, in case of emergency, order the repair of any public work, vested in themselves or in a rural district council.
County councils may acquire, purchase, take on lease, or exchange any land, or easements or rights over or in land,