THE DÁIL IN COMMITTEE. - ROAD FUND (ADVANCES) BILL, 1924—SECOND STAGE.

This Bill is necessary by reason of the intention to expend a considerable sum of money—between one and a half and two millions—in this financial year on the improvement of the roads in the Saorstát. The Road Fund, out of its existing resources, could not meet the expenditure. The current normal income of the Road Fund would be about £350,000 from motor duties, and about £285,000 in respect of the sixpenny rate. That will continue in addition to this year for three more years, although a great proportion of the reconstruction of bridges and so forth, for which that sixpenny rate will be liable, will be done before the end of that period. In addition to the £635,000 which will come into the Road Fund this year, there will be a carry over from last year, including a considerable proportion of the sixpenny rate which was not paid, and other sums which we hope to get. Nevertheless there will be a deficit of at least half a million in the amount required to carry out the road scheme. It is proposed to advance money from the Exchequer to the Road Fund, and it will be repayable in subsequent years out of the Road Fund's ordinary income and out of the sixpenny rate. As a matter of fact, a considerable proportion of it will be payable out of the sixpenny rate, and there ought not to be a very considerable deduction from the ordinary income of the Road Fund in future years—at least, not so much as seriously to cripple the operations of the fund.

To begin with, I think this sum of £750,000 suggests that the Ministry is again proposing to tinker with this problem of making new roads on the one hand, and by means of making new roads, absorbing large numbers of unemployed men. The question arises as to whether, under the present administration of the Local Government Department, value is being received from the expenditure on these roads—value in any particular—whether value is being obtained in general satisfaction as to the administration, and also whether value is being obtained in the relief of distress and in the direction of road-making. It is quite clear from what one has learned in the course of discussions, public and private, in regard to the administration of this Road Fund, that there is no very clear principle actuating the minds of the Ministry. As has already been explained in discussions last year, the Department concerned, with the Executive Council at the time, seemed to have clearly made up their minds that it was bad politics to administer a Road Fund as a Distress Fund, and use this work of reconstructing roads as distress work. That will be generally agreed to—that money advanced for public works and treated as distress and relief work, is badly administered as a rule. One learned that the Ministry at that time had arrived at the conclusion that relief work, in the generally accepted sense, was uneconomic and was not likely to give value. I would like to know what is the mind of the Minister in that respect, and, more important still, whether the Dáil desires that this Fund should be administered for relief work. Deputy McGarry, last night, raised a question which, I think, is important and ought to be stressed in the discussion of this Bill. It was that by the present method of administration, where the payment out of this Fund is being determined according to certain standards which are very difficult to understand, but which are set down by the Ministry, who will be responsible for this work, you are mixing up relief work with ordinary work, and in the working out it is the relief side of the work which prevails without reckoning the value obtained.

If you put 20 men upon a job, 10 of them taken in because they are fit in no way for the work, and say that the other 10 will have to show them how to do it, in the circumstances in which this money is being administered at the present time it is the ten that are being told that this is relief work and who are to be preferred even to anybody else, and in fact it does not matter how they work themselves, whose pace will set the pace for the whole. I think anyone who has experience of the country will agree that a great part of this work, which is being carried out under the Minister for Local Government under the conditions prescribed, is being badly done, and value is not being got for the grant, and that it is not practicable in the circumstances for the people supervising the work to get the value out of the men that should be demanded. You began the administration of this fund by telling the men they must work at a lower rate than the standard, because they are not as good as the standard; that they are men not to be treated as efficient men, men not used to working on the roads, not as good as men used to working on the roads, and not expected to give the same value for their pay as the ordinary road workers would give. And, of course, that standard having been set by the Minister, it is followed by the supervisors and surveyors, and eventually by the men themselves, and the work is being badly done. It is going to cost very much more than it would otherwise, and the satisfaction that might be looked for if the fund had been administered on understandable lines with a clear principle operating, will not be obtained by any section of the community.

I think the House should demand that the conditions which have hitherto been set down by the Minister, in the administration of this fund, shall be withdrawn, that people who are used to the work on the roads ought to be employed on the roads as far as possible, that as others are brought in they should be brought in clearly on the understanding that they are to be paid the standard rate, and that they will be tuned up as quickly as possible to give the standard output which, it may be interesting for Deputy Good to know, is much higher than the output of the special road grantees. If the administration of this fund is to be quite clearly for the purposes of relief, then we shall know where we are. If it was intended that the administration of this fund was to give employment to a large number of men, I agree you could multiply this sum by five or six and still get value and a good return for the money spent, but if you are going to treat the men engaged in this work as part of a big scheme to absorb unemployed men, then you have to take these men and deal with them as you would have if they were engineers in the army and give them the opportunity of getting used to the work, and you should not cut their pay simply because they are new. It does not happen as a matter of fact when you take men to do engineering work in the army that you pay them something short because they are recruits. But this system that the Ministry is adopting, first of fixing the rate to be paid which is lower than the standard rate, and second, of insisting that a certain proportion of people who are not fit for the work shall be employed in each group of men, having the effect of generally lowering the standard of the whole team, is a bad principle and is not going to bring credit to the Ministry or to any of the local authorities who are indirectly responsible for the administration of this Bill. I would suggest to the House that in considering this Bill we should demand that a change shall take place in the conditions under which the money is being administered and in the conditions that have been laid down by the Minister for Local Government, and if we do that in regard to this sum it will have the effect of getting very much better value than the monies already sanctioned to be spent on the reconstruction of the roads in the Saorstát.

I do not quite agree with all the arguments that Deputy Johnson has put forward. From my experience of handling this grant, it is not a fact that every man. no matter what his capabilities are, whether he was a clerk, or whatever he might have been in the past, should be taken on and get work under this grant. The instructions, as well as I remember, that were sent out by the Department were to the effect that suitable men of the National Army, where they were to be found, were to be employed. Suitable men meant men suited to the work, and that being so, and from my experience in the place I come from, there are plenty of men who are suited for the work, but who cannot be employed owing to the smallness of the grant going to the district. The men are willing to work for the wages that are being offered. The pity is that they have to be turned away, as there is not enough of money to go around. These are not men of the class that Deputy Johnson speaks of who would need to be trained in another gang and absorbed, as they are found to be suited, in the work. They are men who are capable for the work and who have had experience of that class of work, even though they may not have been road-makers. In the past they have been employed at work that makes them skilled men for road-making. There is no use in trying to bring this matter into two sections— first, by calling it relief work, and then saying it should be done in some other way. I say that what is wanted in the country at the present time—I do not mind under what name it goes—is to get work and to get men employed. It is all very well to say that it is relief work. Any work that the Government gives, and for the doing of which it hands out money to ease unemployment, must get the name of relief work.

It does not follow from that that the men taken on to do that work are to do as little as they can or to work when they like. I say that the men employed under this grant should be in the same position as men in ordinary employment, and if they do not give satisfaction they should go just the same as men in ordinary employment. I believe, and I am convinced, that there are plenty of men who are suitable in the country, and who are able and willing to do this work. I do not care what name it gets, but my idea is that we should get on with the work and stop all the talk about this.

If the men are suitable and able, why do you cut their wages?

It is not easy to find out what is the intention of this Bill. Is it to legalise the amount of money which the Road Fund has been supplemented by under the recent grant? If it is, to my mind this Bill should not be given a second reading, because as we are living in abnormal times, I do not think it could be expected that the Road Board Fund would fully serve the purpose for which it is intended. It is all very well to talk about relief work, arid it is all very well for Deputy Hughes to criticise the remarks of Deputy Johnson, and to insinuate that Deputy Johnson was in some way encouraging slackness.

On a matter of personal explanation, I desire to say that I claim the right, the same, I am sure, as Deputy Corish does, to criticise anyone who speaks in the Dáil, so long as I am in order.

I did not suggest that you were not in order.

I thought you suggested I was disorderly.

What I was saying was that the inference could be drawn from the Deputy's remarks. The Deputy says that what the country wants is work. He is a member of the Government Party, and I suggest that he ought to use his influence in the direction of trying to provide work for the people, as he must know that the demand of the people is for work. The cry all over the country to-day is for work, and I am very sorry to see that some people are developing such a callous mind. It is apparent that there must be callous minds amongst the ranks of the Government Party, as they are not taking any notice of that cry. The situation is becoming worse every day, and I fear we shall reach a state of affairs before long when something must of necessity be done to provide work for the people.

It is to my mind a rather unfortunate thing that this Bill is introduced at this stage, because we read in the newspapers this morning that it is included in the draft of the Local Government Bill that certain roads in the country should be taken over as a national charge. I think it would have been advisable to have the draft of that Bill before the Dáil so that we could see what are its terms and application, so far as the National charge is concerned, before we are asked to deal with this Bill. To my mind what we are asked to do now is to legalise what has already been done. It is not a question of providing more money for unemployment, but of enabling the Minister for Finance to take back from the Road Fund the amount of money which he gave the Road Fund when making the recent grant, and of putting this back into the Exchequer. As far as I can see it is only tinkering with the question or rather robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It has been suggested that Deputies on these benches have not been as interested with regard to unemployment as they should have been. That is not so, because a Committee of five members of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party were appointed to prepare and submit schemes to the Government so that they might be approved of. These five members are well-known Deputies of the Dáil, and they have spent a considerable time in drawing up a scheme. That scheme has been submitted to the Government, and I expect we will be getting a reply soon. I hope and trust the reply will be favourable, because it is perfectly apparent to everyone that work must be started. It is a very important matter, because—regardless of the cost, and if the cost has to be borne by future generations it makes no difference—there are a great many people in the country starving, and I say it is up to every Deputy in the Dáil to do all he can to endeavour to provide work for the people who are looking for it. We have had a great deal of trouble and difficulty lately in connection with the wages question. This money is given away voluntarily and it cannot be expected that the rate of wages on the roads is going to be the same as for men in ordinary regular employment. If the wages are lower it is right that they should be, because the money was coming out of Government funds.

Are you giving away the money voluntarily?

I think inasmuch as this money is to a large extent coming from the ratepayers, seven-eighths of whom are farmers—

Taxpayers.

I call them rate-payers. The sixpence in the pound which comes from that Central Fund is collected from the local rates. We are not very much concerned whether you call the people who pay that money taxpayers or ratepayers, but what we are very much concerned with is the question of getting value for the money spent. We believe that the amount of money available is not sufficient to meet the needs of unemployment, but at the same time I think it comes badly from the Labour side to be making objection to the taking of that money from the Central Fund until some better method of finding money presents itself. Deputy Corish's idea is that we should not give this Bill a Second Reading. If we were to do that it would prevent the flow of this £750,000 from the Central Fund to supplement the Road Fund. I think that is a very curious proposal to come from the Labour side.

On a point of personal explanation, I wish to say that I was under the impression that this £750,000 was money that had been overdrawn from the Central Fund when the grants were being given to the local Councils, and now this is to legalise that—to take it back and put it into the Central Fund. I think the Minister for Finance will agree with that. I think it is only right to say that the sixpenny rate referred to by Deputy Wilson has been collected from all classes of people as well as the farmers.

On the point raised by Deputy Corish I desire to say that this is to enable the money to be advanced from the Exchequer to the Road Fund. The money has not yet been advanced from the Exchequer to the Road Fund, but if it was not advanced soon the Road Fund would be empty.

I agree, and therefore the conclusion I wish to draw is that Deputy Corish in the attitude he has taken up is not acting in the best interests of the people whom he represents. We are the payers, to a great extent, of this money, and we are naturally anxious that we should get value for it. We have to pay our labourers at the price that is being offered to these men, and we do not see that there is any great reason for complaint about it at all on the part of the workers. There are as good and efficient men working for the farmers at the same rate of wages, and I do not see what great hardship there is in asking men who have got no work to work at this rate. I think it is a reasonable proposition, and I am glad the Ministry had the forethought to make it. When the 6d. subsidy has expired—it has three years to run—we hope that the farmers will not be asked to continue it, because those main roads will be put on the Central Fund. I will not say any further on that until we see the Local Government Bill. I do not suppose I would be in order in referring to the incidence of taxation in connection with this Road Board, although a considerable portion of the funds are derived from it. As I understand it, the remuneration offered by the Local Government Department is equal to that paid to the agricultural workers in the different areas for which the grants are given, with a slight percentage of increase in some cases. From that point of view we are satisfied that the wage offered is sufficient, and if we get value for the money we are not quarrelling at all with the fact that we have to pay the piper.

Deputy Hughes, I think, answered Deputy Johnson's questions fairly effectively. I wish very strongly to dissent from the point of view of Deputy Johnson that this money is being given exclusively as a grant in relief of distress. It was not with such an object in view at all that this grant was given. Undoubtedly, the fact that there was a great deal of unemployment in the country was taken into consideration in connection with the administering of the grant. We took into consideration the fact that in some districts there was a great deal of unemployment, and in other districts there was practically none. In that way we allowed work to be done on certain roads which we otherwise would not have allowed to be included in our trunk road scheme. In no other respect can it be regarded as relief work, except in so far as any work done in the country at the present time. when the country is not in a too healthy economic condition, may be regarded as relief work. Naturally we have given preference to suitable demobilised soldiers, and I make no apology to Deputy Johnson or anybody else for that. Deputy Johnson has said that we are not getting as efficient work as if we had employed the ordinary skilled road workers. It is well to bear in mind the fact that en this occasion we are making available a larger amount of money for road work than was ever made available in any one year in this country before. Even if we desired to confine this grant to the ordinary road workers we would not be able to do so, because there would not be sufficient of them to carry out the work. The County Councils in their estimates are supposed to provide for the same amount of road work as in a normal year. In the ordinary course of events that should give work to the ordinary men employed on road work.

Deputy Johnson has referred to the fact that we are not employing these men at the standard rate. I do not know exactly what Deputy Johnson means by the standard rate. We did our best to find out the standard rate. We got the experts of our Department together. It was they drew up the scale of wages for workers in the different counties, and that scale was fixed in relation to the agricultural wage. Except in very rare cases the wage was fixed at a standard of about 3s. above the agricultural wage in the agricultural districts, and a much higher wage was fixed for the different towns. So I do not think that the members on the opposite benches have anything to complain about with regard to the wages.

May I ask the Minister was the wage fixed as a result of a recommendation from a Committee of the Cumann na nGaedheal party?

May I ask the Minister a question? He stated that the different road authorities were supposed to estimate as usual, that they were not to take the grant into consideration. That is a very peculiar statement, in view of the fact that the Minister himself refused to sanction the estimate of the Wexford County Council and made them cut it down.

If that was done it must have been for abnormal expenditure.

It was not.

I desire to ask the Minister to increase this grant of £750,000 to £2,000,000. I do not know how the Minister for Finance will take it, but I think if you are to tackle this problem of unemployment you have to provide more money for the roads. In what other direction can we tackle the unemployment problem? You are not going to tackle the Barrow Drainage or any other large public scheme. Therefore we are thrown back upon the roads, and I think the least the Government might do is to provide £2,000,000. If they do so it will be an earnest to the people that they are trying to do what is right.

Question—"That the Bill be read a second time"—put and agreed to.
Third Stage ordered for Tuesday, 31st May.