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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 18 Jul 1924

Vol. 8 No. 15


I was asked some question on the last day about this measure. I have some notes on the subject, and I think this will be the proper time to mention them. It is not possible to give any estimate either of total cost or of Government grants, for the following reason. There are 178 drainage districts in the Free State, large and small. Any or all of these may require restoration works. No trustworthy opinion can be given whether any work, or what amount of work, is required in any district till it has been inspected by the Board of Works engineer. Fourteen districts have been inspected; each inspection takes some days. Perhaps twenty more may be inspected this season, and many more next season, if the Minister for Finance approves. Works can only be carried out in a few cases during this season— the season usually ends in October—for want of time; and no trustworthy estimate can be made yet of what can be spent this season. Most of the money for relief schemes will be for works other than drainage works. Only a small amount for the latter will be needed. Few of the possible drainage works will be in areas where unemployment is acute. It will be understood, of course, that we shall not recommend in any district expenditure to be recovered from the proprietors of land unless we are satisfied that it will be remunerative to them by the improvement of their land.

The following figures may be of interest:—The total number of drainage districts in Ireland is 185; of these 7 are in Northern Ireland, leaving 178 in the Free State. There were two main drainage codes in Ireland. The principal Act of the first is dated 1842. The works under this code were mainly carried out by the Board of Works. Many of them were spoilt financially by being carried out as relief works during the great famine. In the Free State there are 114 districts formed under this code—4 costing over £70,000 apiece, total £383,000; 20 costing from £20,000 to £70,000, total £823,000; 31 costing from £5,000 to £20,000, total £347,000; 59 costing less than £5,000, total £117,000. Grand total, £1,670,000 for 114 districts. The principal Act of the second Code (which is still in force) is dated 1863. The works under this Code were not carried out by the Board of Works, but by committees of the landowners interested. In the Free State there are 64 districts formed under this Code:—4 costing over £70,000 apiece, £545,000; 3 costing from £20,000 to £70,000, £88,000; 27 costing from £5,000 to £20,000, £273,000; 30 costing under £5,000, £69,000—£975,000. So, that taking the two Codes together, the total number of districts in the Free State is 178, and the total cost, £2,645,000.

Will the President say how much of that is outstanding?

There is practically nothing outstanding, I understand at present. Under the procedure at present in force, the Drainage Maintenance Act, 1866, the Board of Works have intervened in the past and done works themselves in 52 cases; in 37 other cases they have made loans to the local Drainage Boards to enable them to carry out the works. The total sum advanced in all these 89 cases was £64,300, which has all been repaid except about £700. I think that gives all the information wanted.

May we take it where proposals have been inspected within the last two years and schemes have been propounded and put forward that provided other things are made clear, a special effort will be made to get on with the work generally within the season?

I think fourteen districts have been inspected, each inspection lasting some days, and we anticipate the inspection of about 20 more.

Might I ask the President does the Bill only apply to Drainage Works in charge of local bodies or boards composed of people interested, would it be possible under the Bill to undertake the improvement of streams or tributaries which have not been under the control of anybody?

I do not think so; it only deals with work already done which is out of order or has been neglected. It really deals with the restoration of works already done.

Would this apply to the drainage of turbary land?

Only if there have been schemes there already.

There have been always schemes on turbary land.

The word "scheme" lends itself to canvassing.

I want to know whether under this Bill if four or five or more owners of turbary land get together will they be entitled to the benefits of the Bill?

This is a Bill for the maintenance of existing Drainage Works under certain Acts. It is for the maintenance of these works. If there has been an existing drainage on which nothing has been done, it is excluded. That settles Deputy Conlan's question, and it settles certain amendments which were to be proposed but which are not on the Order Paper, because they suggested new schemes.

Sections 1 and 2 put and agreed to.
(1) Where the Commissioners execute any works under this Act in any drainage district in which the business of the drainage board or the trustees has not been transferred to a county council under Section 20 of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, the Minister for Local Government and Public Health upon the completion of such works shall by order made in exercise of the powers in that behalf conferred on him by the said Section 20, as amended by this section, transfer the business of the drainage board or the trustees of that drainage district to the proper county council or county councils, and for that purpose the consent of such drainage board or trustees to such transfer shall not be necessary.
(2) No order made by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, pursuant to the foregoing sub-section, shall require confirmation as a Provisional Order.

I beg to move:—

Section 3, to add after sub-section (1) a new sub-section as follows:—

"Provided however that the Commissioners shall continue to exercise in respect of any person employed in the business of any drainage board constituted under Section 12 of the Drainage and Improvement of Lands (Ireland) Act, 1863, and transferred to a county council pursuant to the provisions of the foregoing sub-section, the powers conferred by Section 41 of the Drainage of Lands and Improvement of Navigation and Water Power (Ireland) Act, 1842."

You will perceive at once, sir, that this is a permanent Bill, and that it is proposed that existing drainage boards or boards of trustees be abolished and that the powers vested in them should be transferred to the county councils. I presume that will entail as well that the persons employed by these drainage boards will also be transferred: all the existing men will be transferred. I think these drainage boards have failed to a very large extent to justify their existence but I am just wondering will the change be for the better. Under the Local Government Bill which is at present before the Dáil it is proposed to abolish the district councils and to constitute the county council as the only local body within the county. That will necessarily mean that a large amount of extra work will be thrown on these councils, and I am just wondering whether the drainage schemes could not be better administered than under the proposed arrangements. In Section 41 of the Drainage of Lands and Improvement of Navigation and Water Power (Ireland) Act of 1842 the Commissioners have certain powers, somewhat arbitrary powers. It states: "It shall be lawful for the said Commissioners to appoint, employ or dismiss at pleasure such engineers, clerks, surveyors, inspectors," etc., and as well they had to vouch the accounts when requested to do so.

I feel that in the present chaotic condition of local administration in the country it is essential to have a supervisory body with powers to intervene in such cases under this Drainage System, and I believe the Commissioners of Public Works responsible to the Minister for Finance and consequently to the House, should be superimposed and should intervene, and should have the right to do so. They should have all the rights and powers that were originally conferred on them by this Drainage of Lands and Improvement of Navigation and Water Power Act of 1842. It is quite inconceivable that the large amount of money that must be necessarily spent in restoring the drainage systems of the country, as well as the large sums that must be spent in maintaining the older works, should be handed over at the present juncture to irresponsible county councils and that the officials who will be employed in these schemes should be without any proper check. Remember, the work will be highly technical, and I do not think even a county council with the best intentions could sufficiently direct and carry out the work they are supposed to do, therefore I ask that the President will very seriously consider this amendment or something equivalent to it and see that the officers employed on these works will be under some responsible authority such as the Board of Works.

I am afraid I could not agree to accept this amendment. Power is taken in this section to transfer to the county councils the business of the drainage boards, and in that case all the officials should also be transferred. Now the amendment is that you should transfer the services and retain control of the officials—that is, the power of dismissal and appointment of officers. I do not think we could justify that. If we consider the county councils bodies sufficiently responsible to take the control of the works, I do think we cannot limit the control without creating very serious trouble. The appointment of the officers and the dismissal of them by the Board of Works only, and the control of the service by the county council might lead to extraordinary complications. Let us suppose for a moment that the best will in the world is evidenced on both sides, and the Board of Works says "We dismiss this man" and the county council says "You will not." The county council has the money and they could continue to keep this man on. In another case where the county council would wish to dismiss a man and the Board of Works would say "No," you would have another complication of the same sort. I do not think the county council should be asked to take over the service unless they get all the authority. It makes for much greater responsibility.

Would it make for efficiency?

I am not so sure about that. It will eventually make for efficiency. We are very critical with regard to local authorities, even more than critical. I observe that some of them have taken upon themselves the very onerous and exacting duty of criticising this House and some of its members. We are living in a country in which great things are expected and anticipated. The Local Government code as such, and all that it meant, was certainly a great success in this country, but it was not the success that everybody anticipated. That is due to the fact that our conception of perfection is much higher than that of less discriminating peoples. In this case it would, in my opinion, be a very peculiar decision to hand over to county councils a service, but to limit their authority in connection with that service. I do not think it would make for efficiency. If they carry out their duty and carry it out efficiently, it would be a great pity to have interference with them. If they have responsibility and do not carry it out, I hope that the electors and ratepayers will have sufficient means at their disposal to see that the next county council will carry out its duty efficiently.

I must say I do not agree with the amendment proposed by Deputy Hogan. I have had some experience in the administration of those local bodies. In my constituency these boards were under the management of the county council, the county surveyor and his assistants, and I have never heard any complaint as to the manner in which they carried out their duties. I know myself they have been well carried out and at the present time the works are in a very good state.

I do not know whether the amendment had its genesis in want of confidence in the county council in the county which my colleague and my namesake represents. But I do know that there is no ground for want of confidence in that county council inasmuch as the report recently published after an enquiry by a Local Government inspector gave a very high testimonial to that county council for the manner in which they carried out their duties in very exceptional circumstances.

I never referred to the county council at all in this debate.

Perhaps the Deputy would tell us what is the meaning of the amendment then.

Certainly I will. I confess frankly that I have no great opinion of local authorities. The members constituting them are, to a large extent, in a groove. I am referring now to boards of trustees of drainage systems. The officials, to a very large extent, dictate the policy of the boards and do practically what they please. I am prepared to give instances where that has occurred. I feel that with the new addition of work which will be thrown on the county councils, they will not have sufficient time to do this work, and even if they had they are wanting in technical knowledge as to the needs of drainage. I feel that there must be some body super-imposed which will keep the officials in order, as it were, compel them to execute certain works, and to do their work in a right and proper manner. It is hardly fair to county councils to place responsibilities of this magnitude upon them. In future their labours will be overwhelming, and is it just or right that they should be required to undertake work requiring high technical knowledge? It is essential for the success of these drainage schemes to which this State out of its penuriousness is contributing that there should be some vigilant supervisory body armed with semi-arbitrary powers to restrain the officials from falling into a state of semi-inanimation.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 3 put and agreed to.
Motion made—"That Section 4 stand part of the Bill."

I would like to know who is to dictate to the Minister for Finance the amount of money he will contribute as a grant towards the various schemes. He can give half, but what power will we have to make him give half? There is nothing in the Bill directing how much he shall give. Would the Minister say what is in his mind or what he thinks would be the contribution of the State towards these schemes?

Does the Deputy think that anybody can dictate to the Minister for Finance?

I do not think it would be possible for me to give an answer to that question that would satisfy the Deputy. Circumstances, I take it, would very largely enter into each case. Take a poor district in which there is unemployment. The need in that district would be far greater than in a fairly well-to-do district, where the advantages that would be derived would perhaps be more than compensated for by reason of the expenditure. I take it that if it came to the notice of a Deputy that the contribution of the Minister for Finance was not what he thought it ought to be, he would have an opportunity of questioning him here in the House and drawing attention to it. Than that, I think, it would not be possible to get a better grip of the Minister. The Deputy knows that he has two things to watch—a very soft heart and a very light pocket.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 5 and 6 put and agreed to.
Motion made—"That Section 7 stand part of the Bill."

Would the Minister give us an explanation as to how far Section 54 of the Drainage and Improvement of Land Act (Ireland) 1863, applies? Sub-section (4) of this section says that Section 54 of that Act shall apply to all money assessed, rated and taxed on proprietors and their lands pursuant to any charging order made under this Act.

That is a case in which the tenant might charge a superior landlord some of the costs that would be so incurred. I do not think there are many such cases at present. It is more or less filling-in stuff.

We do not want filling-in stuff in a drainage Bill.

Where there is a charge for drainage you retain the money out of the purchase price and you have the money in hands.

You might not be able to do it if you did not put in this provision.

Sections 7, 8, 9, 10 and Title of the Bill put and agreed to.