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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Jul 1924

Vol. 8 No. 13


I think I made a Second Reading speech in introducing this measure, and I do not think it is necessary for me to say much about it now. It is one of those minor methods by which we are hoping to do something towards relieving unemployment, and this particular method of doing it is a really useful and practical method. Some £3,000,000 have been already spent on drainage work, and the improvement of Irish lands by schemes of arterial drainage, and the benefits which in the ordinary way should have been derived from this expenditure have been lost through neglect on the part of the drainage authorities throughout the country to maintain the works where these particular schemes have been carried out. It is believed that this expenditure, with the expenditure proposed under this Bill, will give better results for the money which is supposed to be spent in restoring this neglected maintenance rather than devoting it towards new constructive works. This Bill, accordingly, contemplates only the restoration of neglected maintenance, and it does not make any attempt to deal with the very large problem of new works, or any general reform of the provisions of the existing drainage law. Under the existing law the responsibility for the maintenance of drainage districts rests either with the Drainage Boards, or with the County Council. Where the County Councils have taken over the functions of the Drainage Board, under the Local Government Act of 1898, if maintenance is neglected, the Commissioners of Public Works may intervene, but they can only do so on receipt of a complaint, and a report is made in due course thereon by an inspector. For many reasons there has been no such intervention since 1905. It is proposed in this measure to give the Board of Works power to intervene directly, irrespective of the usual formalities, which were very cumbersome, where they are satisfied that maintenance has been neglected, and the present Bill is mainly concerned with giving them the necessary power to do this. Under the law as it stands, Commissioners intervene to restore neglected maintenance, and they are empowered to charge expenditure to the proprietors of the land that is benefited. The Bill proposes that the Minister for Finance should make a free grant of one-half the sum required by the Commissioners for the works they undertake, and the balance of the amount they require may also be provided out of public funds in the form of a loan, repayable through the County Council out of lands which benefit. I move the Second Reading.

Question proposed—"That the Bill be read a Second Time."

I am very glad the Minister has introduced the Bill. The position has been created in some parts of the country where drainage and reclamation of this description has been done, where a certain amount of money was set aside under the sale of the property under the Land Commission, and that money has been exhausted through bad management on the part, perhaps, of every body concerned, including even the Land Commission. The position now in certain areas that I am aware of is that hundreds of acres of good land is continuously under water. This grant of 50 per cent. suggested by the Ministry will go a long way to meet and put right that unfortunate position. Provisions enabling them to raise the balance of the grant from the County Councils will also, I think, meet the situation. I am very glad the Bill has been introduced. It is a matter of absolute necessity, and I hope in any transactions under the new Land Bill that provisions will be made whereby the question of drainage and embankments will not become a charge on the public purse in the future. I hope the Government will take particular note of that, and that that position will be guarded against.

Might I ask the President in connection with this Bill whether a survey has been or will be made of works that really require to be done under this drainage scheme. I am not an agriculturist, but I know of certain drainage of lands which has been allowed to get into an utterly useless condition. I do not know whether all these sort of things are known, and will be taken cognisance of in the Bill, or whether it is expected members will take——

I may say the Commissioners of Public Works have already taken steps for carrying out the inspection of drainage districts with a view to seeing whether works of the kind contemplated by the Bill could be undertaken in the immediate future.

I would like to know if the President could give the Dáil any indication, or if he has anything to place before us, to show the amount of money likely to be expended by the operations of this Bill, if and when it becomes an Act. I am in agreement with Deputy Gorey that it is one of the few Bills that have come before the Dáil which, if put into operation in a proper way, will confer a very great advantage on the agricultural districts. We have been told in the Dáil from time to time that so many millions of money have been set aside for this, that and the other purpose, which directly or indirectly is behind our intention of relieving unemployment, as well as carrying out works which in time will give a return for money so expended. The President, no doubt, is aware that failure to take advantage of the opportunities afforded in that direction is due to a great extent to the failure of the local authorities to adopt the scheme. There is nothing, as far as I can see, in this Bill which would compel the local authority to carry out its share of responsibility for the work which might be necessary, and which, in the opinion of the engineers appointed by the Commissioners, may be necessary. There is that flaw in the Bill, as far as I can see, from my reading of it. I think something should be done to bring into line wherever it is found necessary to do so, and to compel, the local authorities who may be reluctant to adopt the scheme because of any charge which may be made on the people in the areas affected. Has the President had any figures placed before him, or has he received reports from the Commissioners of Public Works to show how far it is necessary to carry out work in this direction, and if the money that is necessary for carrying out this work will be forthcoming under the terms of the Bill?

I may have given the impression that the Minister for Finance intended to contribute half in every case. That is not the intention in the Bill. It is proposed that this contribution will not exceed half. I do not anticipate that a contribution will be necessary in every case. I have not the figures as to the probable amount of money that is to be absorbed, but I will endeavour to see what would be the likely sum before the Committee Stage.

Is there any limit to the amount of money which the Government is prepared to advance under this Bill?

I take it that if the original cost were in the neighbourhood of £3,000,000, the amount the Government would make available for this Bill would bear some relation to the interest on that sum. I have not the information at present as to what the amount might be, but I hope to have it before we reach the Committee Stage.

There is an aspect of this which if dealt with now might save discussion on the Committee Stage. I would like a little information on a point raised by Deputy Cooper. In Section 5 we find sub-section (1) states:—

For the purposes of so much of this Act as authorises a county council to make a contribution to the cost of works executed by the Commissioners under this Act, a county council may borrow money under Article 22 of the Local Government (Application of Enactments) Order, 1898, in like manner as if those purposes were mentioned in that article, and money borrowed for the purposes aforesaid shall not be reckoned as part of the debt of the county for the purposes of the said article.

I am assuming there is some value in that Order, and I would like to ask the Minister to assist by telling us what is its purpose and whether the possible extension of the borrowing powers proposed in two or three recent Bills is going to destroy any value the Order has. I want to save myself the trouble of looking up this Order, and perhaps the Minister would do it for me.

A continuous evasion of this particular article would certainly be a very serious consideration. It would involve these local authorities in insolvency. The framers of the Local Government Act had in mind the necessity for keeping local bodies in a solvent position. There has been a certain absolution granted them in certain cases where one requires perhaps more jurisdiction and power than is usually the case with minor offences. In the case of housing there is no limitation to the borrowing powers of the local authority.

I take it that is because there is a tangible asset.

I do not know it is so much the fact that a tangible asset exists as the necessities of the case— whether you are risking solvency or risking the health and security of the population. Now, to some extent certain other items not perhaps as important as housing, necessitate occasionally some elasticity in this particular order. Any general direction which would damage the security that is involved in this particular article would be exceedingly dangerous. The assets that are acquired, or at least, the goods that are delivered in certain cases where borrowing is allowed, are certainly a very vital consideration in the matter. I think the main purpose was that whatever liability would attach to a very large capital expenditure should bear a fair relation to the ordinary rates of that particular place.

In one local authority with which I was associated for a number of years, the interest on capital cost at one period reached 50 per cent. of the entire amount raised in rates. It can be seen at once that a tendency grows up amongst local authorities to pass on the liability to their successors. In that case there must be some corrective of that tendency to try and relieve a current year from its own share of the liability, while the benefits derived from a big capital expenditure might reasonably be placed over a number of years. It is a bad principle to go on if they could possibly meet such charges by including them in the rates of a particular year. In addition to all that, there is a little looseness in capital expenditure which is not so observable when the money has to be raised in a particular year to meet a particular item.

Will the President consider the desirability of introducing a Government amendment on the Committee Stage of the Local Government Bill setting up a new standard for Councils? It is preposterous to have this clause in almost every Bill dealing with local government, that any money borrowed under it shall be considered outside the limit of debt. It would be better fix a standard up to which Councils could borrow, and not be perpetually legislating for hard cases. I merely throw out the suggestion.

I look upon this Bill as one that we might call a county drainage scheme. I find nothing in the Bill to show that it is going to be in any way a national drainage scheme. I want to express regret that the Bill is not more extensive in its scope. It really deals with drainage schemes already in existence which for one reason or another have become inoperative for some time. It is the general experience that in every county there are small areas where there is no drainage scheme in existence, although badly needed. In many of the smaller rivers we have obstructions of one kind or another, but there is no statutory body with authority, with power, to deal with the situation. It is regrettable that in this Bill further powers are not given to the Commissioners of Public Works or the County Councils to establish drainage committees or boards. Such committees are necessary in every county, and I know that they are necessary in my constituency. I would like if the Minister would consider that, and state whether it is possible to widen the scope of the Bill in order to give power for the establishment of drainage boards in districts where they are needed.

I agree with Deputy Baxter more or less. I listened to Deputy Lyons to-day asking if any facilities would be given to individual owners to deal with drainage. I am not quite satisfied that the best way to proceed in this matter is to give powers to the County Councils or public bodies. I think if more latitude were given individuals such as were heretofore given by the Board of Public Works in the issuing of loans on the security of the holding the money would be expended with better results. If power is put into the hands of collective bodies like County Councils that have a great deal of work to do, I do not think the work done will be so beneficial. I think if the suggestion made by Deputy Lyons was considered, and if loans were issued where they would be reproductive and benefit a particular farm or district, it would be a better plan than that proposed in the Bill.

The Minister for Finance had under consideration a proposal of somewhat the same nature as Deputy Baxter has referred to, and I believe that when he returns his proposal will come before the Executive Council. But in this matter I should say that the large amount of business that had to be transacted recently and that has occupied our attention for a considerable time did not afford any opportunity for the consideration of a large measure. A larger measure was under consideration some considerable time ago. I cannot state at the moment at what stage the proposal is, but I do know that we are hoping, I suppose early next year, to bring some proposals before the Dáil in regard to that.

Question put and agreed to.

I would like to take the Committee Stage on Friday.

I am afraid that is rather early. This Bill will require many amendments to make it harmonise with our view-points.

When the Deputy sees the Money Resolution perhaps he will not be so ready with amendments.

When he realises that £3,000,000 is at the disposal of the Co. Councils and the farmers.

If there is any objection the Committee Stage cannot be fixed for Friday. Does the Deputy persist in his objection?



Committee Stage ordered for Friday.

Will the President circulate the Money Resolution in good time?

I hope so.