This is the third time on which I have had to address the House with regard to the question of the Shannon, and in contra-distinction to the other two occasions, I propose on this occasion, to confine myself to the Bill. The scheme has been already dealt with, and the Bill which I am bringing before you is that Bill which this House, by an unanimous vote some weeks ago, recommended me to introduce. I am leaving the question of the scheme altogether out of any remarks I may make at this moment. If points in the scheme are still considered by Deputies to be a subject for debate and the subject of inquiry to me, I will give whatever answers seem to be required when the points are put. This time also, in contra-distinction to the two previous occasions, I propose to be very brief. The House did, as I say, by a unanimous vote decide that it was expedient to introduce legislation so as to carry into effect the report and the scheme of Messrs. Siemens-Schuckert, as modified by the experts, and on the lines laid down in the White Paper. It was a more detailed resolution than that, but that was the general effect of it.
Now when consideration was given to the legislation required to carry into effect the Siemens-Schuckert scheme we really found ourselves faced with four or five matters which would have to be dealt with under legislation. There was the question of the compulsory acquisition of land, and the question of the ascertainment of the equitable amount to be paid for such land when acquired. Incidental to that was the question of interference with easements, rights of way, way leaves, fishing rights, and other rights. There was also the question of how compensation was to be paid, and what was to be the procedure for arriving at an equitable amount. There was, further, the question of the improvement of the navigation of rivers. When I spoke last upon this I referred to certain alternatives offered in the Siemens-Schuckert report with regard to navigation, and I indicated that in no event was navigation in any worse position than at the moment, and that various alternatives were offered which, requiring certain additional sums, would considerably improve navigation. To carry out whichever of these alternatives was the one finally selected, it was necessary to take certain powers and that was looked after under a certain clause of this Bill. There was a question, further, of drainage, and of certain interference with land, for the purpose of effectually draining those lands that was looked upon as possible, and powers for entering upon those lands and interfering with lands for certain purposes, to put up embankments and do anything else necessary so as to effect a certain amount of drainage have all been looked after in a particular clause.
Now, there is a small point arising out of drainage that I will refer to in a moment. I am segregating it from this general statement because I made a certain statement here the last time, and I want to call attention to the particular clause in relation to that statement. The other general points were interference with fisheries, a possible interference with property belonging to, or under the control of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and a possible diversion of roads, or interference with roads and bridges.
The clause regarding posts and telegraphs has been arranged in conjunction with the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and it will be found that while general in character, it sufficiently protects the interests both of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and the whole question of the electricity undertaking. The question of fisheries was not so easily settled, and the clause here is general. It provides that, so far as possible, steps shall be taken, precautions and provisions shall be taken, for the protection of, and avoidance of, injury to fisheries during, or in consequence of the construction of any work under this Act; but then there is a limitation to that which is in accordance with the term of the White Paper and in accordance with what I announced the last time:—"Unless after such consultation, as aforesaid, the Minister is satisfied that such protection cannot be afforded or such injury cannot be avoided without substantial detriment to the works, or substantial hindrance to their construction." That very definitely means that in the carrying out of this scheme, although all reasonable precaution will be taken to prevent injury, we do not preclude the possibility of injury being done to the fisheries, and if in a case of conflict between fishery and electricity interests, then electricity is going to have the superiority. The protection of roads and bridges is a small matter, and is dealt with in a general clause.
The finance clause is also, as it necessarily must be, general. It is a clause drafted in conjunction with the Minister for Finance and approved of by the Executive Council. It gives leave to raise money in a variety of ways, and until such money may be raised by loan, payments may be made in a certain way.
As this Bill appears, it will no doubt be criticised as being very general. In so far as it is general, it is necessarily so. It was impossible to set down every detail that any Deputy might think out and suggest for incorporation in the Bill with regard to our possible attitude towards any of the interests that may be involved. It was impossible, for instance, with regard to the acquisition of land, to do more than say that we would set up a certain kind of tribunal, to arrange for the appointment by that tribunal of certain assessors, and that we will give those assessors or arbitrators a certain act in which to find a basis on which they can proceed to assess compensation. Similarly it would be possible to put in tremendous detail, and it would be possible to fix a period of years to discuss the details in this House, if everything had to be so worked out so that when the Bill left the Oireachtas on its way to the Statute Book, everyone concerned would know to the remotest fraction of a penny what his interests when sacrificed were going to bring him in by way of compensation.
It is impossible to do that. It is impossible to do anything else than arrange in general terms that a tribunal of a judicial character shall appoint an arbitrator, and that that arbitrator, on the basis of a particular Act—the Compulsory Acquisition of Lands Act—shall assess and order the amount of compensation to be given. The second and third clauses of this Bill indicate the general powers which are to be accorded to him. It is for the purpose of granting these powers that the latter clauses are necessarily included. If any Minister is to have the power set out in paragraphs 2 and 3, then it follows that on the basis of the Siemens-Schuckert scheme there must be interference with property, acquisition of land, interference with the property of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and possible injury to fishing interests. These matters are all provided for in the general terms, but the general terms are equitable and meet the necessity that the case demands. There is one clause which I have reserved for special comment—namely, Clause 14. I refer to that simply because I made certain statements with regard to it on the resolution moved on the 2nd April. I spoke of certain criticisms made with regard to the payments to be demanded from riparian owners. I said, "The suggestion is made that a sum of £200,000 is to be taken from the inhabitants along the banks of the Shannon for land which is improved under whatever pumping process there will be.
"I am not at the moment concerned with further developments, their cost and economies, but not one penny piece will be charged to any inhabitant along the banks of the Shannon for what happens in the partial development scheme. There is a sum of £200,000 set down in the further development scheme, but not a single penny piece will have to be paid by anybody, as far as the prevention of flooding and the drainage is concerned, that I have described in the partial development scheme." I amended that when replying on the 3rd April. I then said: "Deputy Egan raised one point in connection with which I must enter a slight warning. I have said that not one penny is being asked from riparian owners for the amelioration of their land. That was indicating an intention which has yet to be accepted by this House. What I should have said was this, that on the income side of the scheme no reliance is put upon getting any money from riparian owners for the amelioration of their land. But when certain Bills come before this House it may seem good to the Oireachtas to decide that these people should pay something, and, if they do, there will be an additional income to the scheme." Clause 14 is brought forward in order to secure the views of the House as to whether or not the farmers are again to be put in a privileged position of getting something for nothing. The terms of that paragraph will, no doubt, be raised with vehemence by the Farmers' Party. The indication of it is that lands benefited by drainage are to be charged with certain payments.
I would like to draw attention to the words in lines 25 and 26 of subsection (1) of section 14. The clause opens with the words "if and whenever the Minister is of opinion" and continues "the Minister may by notice in writing ... requires that such lands or premises to be charged." Now people who say, and the newspapers who quote that phrase do so as if it were incumbent on me and that if that clause were passed payment would be required from the riparian owners of the land benefited. They have not, however, noticed that the word is "may." It is not peremptory. There is a certain discretion left. Apart from the fact that I would like to have the opinion of the House as to whether these people are to benefit and pay nothing for it, I would like to regard this clause in a certain way as really giving me a weapon which I may have to use in certain unlooked-for contingencies. I may almost call this the Portumna clause, because people in that neighbourhood who have been so agitated over the possibility of lands being flooded, when they discovered that lands were not to be flooded, proceeded to get agitated in another direction—was this a prevention of flooding? Up to that point, flooding had been looked upon as the worst calamity that could happen to the inhabitants of Portumna, but when they discovered that flooding might be stopped there arose another agitation to the effect that this also was a calamity. Flooding was something bearable and if they were to be charged anything towards its removal you would have another reaction. I have been told that there is a likelihood of great charges being put upon the scheme from that area.
The matter developed in this way. It was admitted that the land was flooded, and that, therefore, the prevention of that flooding would require considerable embankment to be made, and that that considerable embankment would require the taking away of land now owned by certain people, but useless for all practical purposes, and that would also involve the passing of heavy machinery over that land, even though the eventual purpose was the betterment of that land. Therefore the scheme would have to pay for that and for any land required for the embankment to protect the rest of the land. This clause is a safeguard to me. So far as the economies of the scheme are concerned, I wish to emphasise the fact that no money need be derived under that clause. I regard the clause as a safeguard and as a help to me in withstanding exorbitant or unusual claims for anything I may have to do, even though it be for the eventual betterment of the lands around.
I have taken the case of Portumna, but these claims have come from many other districts. They have arisen mainly however in Portumna through one gentleman, who was previously a land agent, but who is now fiercely agitated over the betterment of the unfortunate tenants around that area. I put that clause forward, not because the scheme depends on it, but because I wish to gather the opinion of the House as to whether people who have certain benefits conferred on them should not be asked to pay for those benefits. Consequently, that clause would, I consider, be a weapon which I could, but would only, use in the event of extravagant claims being put on me in the case of drainage works carried out.
I have drawn attention to my own words used previously because it has been represented to me that the introduction of the clause is contradictory to the view I expressed on the 2nd April. While it is contradictory to what I said on that occasion, it is definitely in accord with what I said on the following day. A certain amount of trouble is likely to be caused, I am informed, owing to the clause regarding the acquisition of lands and the ascertainment of the price of compensation. I am afraid this matter has got rather out of perspective. One would imagine that the Shannon scheme meant the acquisition of hundreds of thousands of acres which were to be taken to enable the water to flow to the power-house. The excavation of the canal will mean that something in the region of 300 acres is to be taken and, when there is any talk in regard to the machinery to be set up with regard to damage done and fixing the price of compensation, I would like Deputies to bear in mind that they are dealing with a comparatively small matter of 300 acres.
I am speaking now with regard to the canal. Other excavations may be necessary under the Bill, and land will be required for embankments and other purposes. We will acquire the land on which embankments are to be built, but so far the biggest block of land that will be acquired is that for the canal excavations. That is about 300 acres. That should be borne in mind when Deputies come to consider the clauses with regard to compensation for injury done, and the price to be paid for it. That is what I have to say on the Bill generally. I have deliberately avoided anything dealing with the scheme for this reason, that certain motions have been tabled which run rather counter to the Second Reading, and as these motions deal completely with the scheme, I presume there will be some debate on the scheme. If the House is inclined to tolerate any further debate on the scheme, if any points are raised that deal with it, I propose to answer them when raised. I move the Second Reading.