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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Jul 1923

Vol. 4 No. 17


I will now take the Transport Department, and move: "That a sum not exceeding £10,778 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charges which will come in the course of payment during the year ending on 31st day of March, 1924, for the salaries and expenses of the Transport Department of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, including certain payments in connection with Railways.

£6,000 has already been voted on account.

On this Vote I desire to take the opportunity of calling attention to certain matters which I think should be rectified. At the present time, amongst traders and others all over the country, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with regard to the length of time goods are held up at the different ports by different railway companies. The railway and steamship companies try to put the blame on the Customs' officials. I had a certain specific case which I took up with the Revenue officials, and from the correspondence that I had with them, and the explanations they gave, I am satisfied that they were not to blame in that particular case. It is an appalling thing that goods should be held up, sometimes perishable goods, for a fortnight or three weeks, and in my opinion a practice of that kind should not be tolerated. The railway and steamship companies act as carrying agents for people to whom goods are consigned. They are supposed to take delivery of the goods and to pay the Revenue duties on them at the ports, and I think, in all fair play and in order that business may be facilitated throughout the country, they should be made carry out that arrangement. It strikes me that, in most cases, the delay which occurs is due to the fact that the companies concerned are trying to carry on with the old staffs, and they have neglected to make provision for the prompt execution of the additional work which, as carriers, they have undertaken to carry out. I say that that is not treating the public fairly, and something should be done to have the complaints that are made by the people of the country rectified. I have only cited one case, of which I have personal knowledge, but many others of a similar nature have been brought to my notice within the last month or two. I know of one case where goods were consigned five weeks ago, and they have not yet been delivered to the consignee. The companies act as agents for the people, and it is up to them to have the necessary warrants presented in time at the ports so that clearances can be promptly made. I do not suppose that the Minister for Finance is the Minister to deal with this particular matter. I am sorry that the Minister for Industry and Commerce is not here, because I brought the matter to his notice some time ago, and he was to look into it. I raise it now for the purpose of getting the Ministry and the Dáil to see that, when companies give undertakings to carry out certain duties, they will be compelled to do so, and that they shall not be allowed to penalise the trading community, as they have been doing, in the matter of delays for some time past.

I have nothing to say with regard to this particular Department, except to complain that its powers to deal with railway companies, even in regard to such matters as those mentioned by Deputy Hughes, seem to be practically nil. As I understand it, the Department is more or less a statistical one. Certain representations may be made to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and these are passed on to the Department to communicate with the railway companies, but, I think if the Department is to serve any useful purpose, or if there is to be any genuine return for the money spent under it, its powers will have to be considerably enlarged and made more effective than they are at present. I have been looking forward for some time for a statement of policy from the Government benches with regard to the future of the railways. In fact, we were promised that statements made by Ministers in the beginning of the present year, regarding such a policy, would be put into operation before the Government went out of office, or before the dissolution of this Dáil. I am not going to anticipate what is going to happen as a result of the rumoured early General Election, but if the Government fail to give effect to the promises they made early in the year in regard to this particular matter, they will have to answer the people for their failure to do so. In my opinion, if there is to be any scheme of re-organisation with regard to the railways of this country, this Department will have to be re-organised, and its powers considerably enlarged. That must be done if the Department is to be put in a position to exercise greater powers over the railway companies if these are to remain privately-owned concerns, and if there is to be any avenue by which the public can get at the railway companies in regard to such matters as the rates they enforce, and the application of remedies for dealing promptly with traffic in cases such as those mentioned by Deputy Hughes. We are faced with this fact that the Northern companies have already given a considerable reduction in rates for certain classes of traffic, particularly agricultural traffic, while in the Free State area the railway companies have done nothing in that respect. If we had a proper Transport Department, with greater powers than the present Department is invested with, I think something might be done to compel the railway companies to meet the reasonable complaints of the trading community. I hope, if the present Ministry intends to proceed with its railway policy, it will take these things into consideration, and that whatever Ministry may succeed it in the very near future as a result of the Elections, will realise the responsibility that will be thrown upon it in regard to railway policy, and also as regards setting up a Department that will be able to satisfy the demands of the trading community in everything that concerns the commercial interests of the country. There is also the question of the power of this particular Department or Ministry to deal with such matters as conditions of service, etc. I merely mention this matter so that the Government, between now and the time it proposes to give effect to its previous promises with regard to railway policy, may consider the advisability, in the interests of trade, of the travelling community and in the interests of the users of the railways and of the workers employed on them, of enlarging the powers of the Department so that the taxpayers may be enabled to get some return for the large sum of money voted in respect of the services it is supposed to render to the country as a whole.

I wish to make one or two remarks on this Estimate. Owing to the high freight charged by the railway companies there is an immense lot of motor traffic on the roads. This is causing a great deal of damage to the roads, especially in Westmeath. People living as far down as Galway remove their goods by road. It would be well if the Minister for Industry and Commerce would look into this matter with the railway companies with a view to having a reduction of the freight charges.

I would be glad if the Minister would give me an idea of the wages, including bonus, of the messengers. There are rumours that the wages of the messengers are to be reduced very soon. I am sorry the Minister for Industry and Commerce is not here, but perhaps the Minister for Finance might answer. Because if there is a reduction of wages, it would only mean a further strike, and I know the Minister would not like that.

Reference has been made to carrying companies, and Deputy Davin has asked could the Government make any statement with regard to the policy in connection with transport. I would like to know what policy all Deputies in this Dáil will adopt towards any party that holds up the ordinary traffic of the country, whether at ports or otherwise, thereby causing a big lot of damage to the rest of the community. I would also like to know, where the normal wage is given, whether everybody has the same right to work.

Deputy O'Donnell is becoming a master at irrelevancy—and he has some rivals.

I notice that the Assistant Minister for Industry and Commerce is not here, and it makes it somewhat difficult, dealing with these Votes in the absence of the Minister responsible. However encyclopædic the knowledge of the Minister for Finance may be, I am sure he will admit there are certain limits to it.

None whatever.

A statement was made by the Assistant Minister for Industry and Commerce, the other day, and statements have appeared in the Press, dealing with the position of the amalgamation of railway lines and railway systems within the Saorstát, and those that communicate from the Saorstát to the Six Counties. That matter was raised serveral times in this Dáil and it was promised that fuller information would be available when we reached this particular Vote, 56, dealing with the Transport Department. I think it would be for the general information if we could receive a fuller statement on that matter now, more particularly in regard to one aspect of it. There have been suggestions that any amalgamations that might occur of different systems would leave one or other of the railway services in the South outside, and that one of them—the one that was mentioned was the Dublin South-Eastern— might be included within the control of a vast railway system outside the Free State. That is a matter that, obviously, would be very much to the injury of the Free State. It would be to the injury of the Free State if there was a single mile of Irish railways controlled by any directorate that was not resident in Ireland. I think that would be agreed as a sound principle that ought to be adopted in regard to such amalgamations. Inasmuch as difficulties have arisen—at least one is confidently informed in the Press that certain difficulties have arisen, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce some time ago informed this Dáil that, in the event of failure, it would then be the responsibility of the Ministry to put up a definite scheme, and to bring in legislation on the lines of that scheme, and compel adherance to it—I think that the promise made that information would be given to us on the head of this Vote should now be fulfilled. We should have some fuller information than has yet been given to this Dáil on this very important matter.

With regard to the question raised by Deputy Hughes, I will undertake that the Ministry will investigate any specific complaint of delay. There have been some cases of complaints. Investigations have taken place, but the complaints have been more or less of a general character. If specific instances are furnished we will undertake to deal with the matter in a way that will give satisfaction, I think, to the Deputy.

In regard to the question raised by Deputy Davin, the functions of the Transport Ministry in regard to railways cover Finance and Statistics, Public Safety, Appointments of Baronial Auditors, Rates, Fares, Facilities, Liquidation of the Control Agreement between the railways and the British Government. Owing to the unsettled conditions of the railways, the Department has been largely kept engaged since its transfer to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce on special matters regarding the functioning of the railways, their future policy and questions arising out of wages and conditions of service.

With regard to the matters raised by Deputy Figgis and Deputy Davin, they have not yet reached the point at which it would be to the interests of either the railway companies or the Government to make a statement on them. We know that negotiations, suggestions, recommendations, and so on, take a very considerable time. If the railway companies cannot come to an agreement that undertaking that was given by the Minister will have to be carried into effect, but we believe that it is better still to spend a little more time in seeing if it be possible to come to some accommodation. In the first place it would be more satisfactory, and in the second place it would probably speed up the ultimate settlement of the question more than if we had to come along with a cut and dried scheme of our own.

The Department's functions also include various matters in connection with tramways, railways, canals, docks and harbours, including the receiving and examination of accounts, returns, Sinking fund, powers to reduce rates in certain circumstances, appointment of auditors, power to impose penalties, and also matters of public safety. I am also informed that increased powers for the Transport Department are desirable, but they can only be conferred on them by new legislation.

Deputies, I am sure, appreciate the difficulty of introducing new legislation, or even dealing with some of the many complex problems that we have by reason of the shortage of time and the necessity for going slowly to avoid mistakes. It is better not to make mistakes. They are not easily remedied, and they may have very bad reactions if they are made.

With regard to the question raised by Deputy Seán O Laidhín, the scale of pay of established messengers is 25/- a week, rising by 1/- to 29/- plus the Civil Service bonus, which is equivalent, at the current rate of bonus, to 47/5, rising to 56/- per week. Unestablished messengers receive uniform and overtime in respect of hours in excess of forty-eight per week. A limited number of subordinate employees, fire-lighters, etc., are on a scale of 18/-, rising by 1/- to 22/- plus Civil Service bonus, equivalent at the present rate to 34/2 and 41/9. This is the scale we received when we took over from the British and we have paid that since.

I suppose you intend to pay it?

If we have the money we will continue to pay it.

Arising out of the President's statement, the Railway Companies do not seem to have come up to the requirements of the Government in regard to agreement on a particular scheme; yet they appear to have in mind the operation of that scheme by making certain alterations and changes in their staffs. They are, in fact, making certain arrangements for the dismissal and removal of members of their staffs. It would be very desirable, in view of the statement which has been made, that representations should be made to the Railway Companies that they should not carry out this scheme of removal until the scheme is cut and dried, and until such scheme has met with the approval of the Government. It is very unfair that while the Railway Companies have not come to any agreement on a particular scheme they are anticipating it at the expense of the staff in certain matters. I would like that the Minister, or the Transport Department, should make some recommendation to the Companies that no changes should take place in the personnel of their staffs, and no reduction of staff should take place until the scheme is cut and dried and until the Government has adopted it.

I would like to say, though I suppose Deputies will hardly believe it, that since the statement was made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce not a week has passed that I have not been in conference with him and the Assistant Minister and officials of the Department on the subject, trying to work out a satisfactory scheme. I do not think that there is any subject has absorbed so much of my time, if we exclude the question of finance. I think, while there is a great deal to be said for what Deputy Davin urges, that it would not be well if we were to allow ourselves to be sidetracked by any detailed considerations when the big problem is yet unsolved.

I do not think the Minister caught exactly what I said. I tried to make it quite clear that although the Railway Companies have failed to bring forward any scheme that would meet with the approval of the Government, they have tried, nevertheless, to anticipate it by making certain changes and alterations in their staffs. In many cases where vacancies have occurred, through death or otherwise, such vacancies have not been filled. I do not think that any scheme which may come into operation should be anticipated at the expense of the staff. This is a policy which, to my knowledge, is causing a good deal of irritation. It should be dropped until such times as the Companies and the Government have agreed on a particular scheme.

Vote put and agreed to.

I move that we report progress.