IN COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATE—VOTE 57—RAILWAYS.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim Bhreise ná raghaidh thar £6,500 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1928, chun íocaíochtanna fé Acht na mBóthar Iarainn, 1924, fen Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, etc., agus chun crícheanna eile a bhaineann le hiompar in Eirinn.

That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,500 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for payments under the Railways Act, 1924, the Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, etc., and for other purposes connected with Irish Transport.

This Estimate represents an item that has become usual in regard to the grant to the London-derry and Lough Swilly Railway for three lines run by it for the Free State Government. It is a recurring item, and the amounts vary from time to time. The amount this year is fixed at £6,500, which is £500 less than the amount last year. When that sum has been paid, the payments made by the Free State Government and by Northern Ireland will be equal. The payment specially allocated to this area is £6,000.

Mr. WHITE

How much of this is contributed by Northern Ireland?

Exactly the same amount.

Mr. WHITE

Is it £6,500?

I am explaining that the £500 represents the payment of an additional sum to the moneys originally voted last year. When that £500 has been voted, if it will be voted, then the sum paid by the Free State Government will equal the sum paid by the Northern Government. Of the remaining £6,000 this year, an equivalent sum is to be put up by the Government of Northern Ireland towards this group of railways. We are paying the expenses of the running of three Government lines. The Estimate has come along here year by year. When it was last spoken of in the Northern Parliament, a statement was then made that the Government there thought it was desirable that the management should go into conference with other representative people so as to see if there is any chance of amalgamating the lines so as to give a better and a cheaper service for Donegal. That matter has been postponed, but it will be taken up and looked into in greater detail.

Unfortunately the Estimate has to be brought up year after year. The whole matter is based on an old arrangement which needs revision. It is in fact revised from year to year by the raising of these Supplementary Estimates. The dilemma that we find ourselves in is that if the amount is not paid the railways must close down. I do put it to the House that it is worth the payment of these sums of money in order to keep transport of any kind open in the County Donegal.

Mr. WHITE

This railway is in a most peculiar and most unfortunate condition. The mileage is approximately one hundred. Of this 100 miles, 96 are in the County Donegal and four in Northern Ireland. Of course owing to that position of affairs this railway has not come in under the grouping system. It has been kept open by grants from the Free State and from the Government of Northern Ireland. The grants from both Governments, along with the receipts earned by the railway, are inadequate to bear the overhead expenses. Not a penny has reached the shareholders for the past four or five years. Of course I am not speaking in the interests of the shareholders or in the interests of railway managers. I am speaking merely as a Deputy representing a very large area of the county served by this line. The position of the line is somewhat parlous. Bus and lorry competition and the aftermath of the coal strike last year have practically depleted the resources of the Company. I may parenthetically remark with regard to the bus and lorry traffic that the bus and lorry workers are not subject to an eight-hours day. Neither are they paid the standard rate of wages equal to the wages paid to the National Union of Railwaymen. In addition, there is a large amount of boy labour employed on these buses and lorries, and it is obtained at a very cheap rate. Unless there is a revision of the working expenses immediately, this line must inevitably close. I suggest that some form of accommodation should be arrived at between the Board of Directors, the representatives of the railwaymen, and the State, with a view to putting this railway in a position that it will be able to earn its overhead expenses. It cannot be expected that the taxpayers will continue from year to year to pay out sums of from £5,000 to £6,500 to keep the line open. A choice must be made between the closing down of the line or else the reduction of its over-head expenses. I know that the closing of the line would be a disaster to the area which it serves. It would throw us back on bus and lorry competition. These would immediately raise their fares for passengers and their freights for goods. These increased rates and fares would have the effect of increasing the cost of living in the area, and that cost of living is already high enough. The people would be unable to bear the increase. I believe that an opportune time has arrived when some arrangement or some proper accommodation should be entered into between the three interests that I have named, and this accommodation should be entered into within a short time. I refer to the Board of Directors of the railway, the representatives of the railway workers, and the State. I believe that if a conference of this description were held that some sensible and practical means would be found whereby the railway would be kept open. That would be an advantage to the district, and it would save a large number of people from being thrown out of employment.

took the Chair.

I would like to know from the Minister what stage these negotiations with regard to the Donegal railways are in at present? Is there any prospect that these negotiations will take practical shape, and if they are going to take practical shape in the Transport Bill forecasted yesterday, will the Minister insist that it will be conditional on the railway coming within the control of the general transport system of the Irish Free State? Failing that, then there is the withdrawal of the subsidy. It is obvious that the condition of this railway in particular is due to the fact that it is on a very limited mileage, and that it has very limited resources, and that it has, what every institution of this kind must have, overhead charges that bring about and assist, to a very large extent, in crippling its resources. I would suggest to the Minister that when he is introducing the Transport Bill that he referred to yesterday, he should put it to the Directors of this company that if they do not agree to amalgamation and come within the general transport system that he hopes to bring about, he, as representing the State, will withdraw the subsidy that has been given out of the national revenue for the upkeep of this railway. I think that the present condition of affairs cannot go on, because, as Deputy White stated, this line is there in a hamstrung, helpless, dying condition, and is of no service to itself or to the community. because the life has been sapped out of it by lorry and bus competition.

I am afraid I cannot agree with the last speaker that this line is quite useless. On the contrary, while many of those who have travelled over it have no cause to bless it, yet I say that on the whole there is no doubt that even in its present condition it is giving considerable service to the community. I believe it is capable, if and when the fishery industry in Donegal is revived, of being of still greater service. I very much deprecate any such suggestion as has been made by Deputy McMenamin. If it is not possible—I can see that in certain particular circumstances it is difficult—to bring this line within the general scheme of amalgamation of railways, I would very much deprecate anything in the way of a suggestion for the withdrawal of the subsidy.

The Dáil will kindly bear in mind that this particular line is the subject of very exceptional circumstances indeed. The Lough Swilly Railway Company, as Deputy White has stated, lies partly within the areas of the Free State and the Northern Government, with headquarters in Derry. It operates a few miles of railway within the Northern Boundary. The actual amount of line owned by the company is very short. On the other hand, the mileage worked by the company both in respect of the Carndonagh extension, which, I imagine, more particularly interests my friend Deputy White, and the Burtonport extension, which more particularly interests me, is a very long one. The line was originally built at the beginning of this century under an Act of 1898, confirmed by an Order in Council of the same year. Under the Provisional Order, which recites in the first place that an inquiry had been made under the Tramways Act, and that articles of agreement had been signed for the making and maintenance of this line, and that a guarantee had been given by way of presentment by the then Grand Jury of Donegal, charging certain areas of the county with liability for the interest at the rate of 4 per cent. per annum in perpetuity upon portion of the share capital, the line was built. The rest of the line was built out of State funds, and it was built precisely because the British Parliament was impressed by the fact— and I desire to impress this matter upon the Dáil, which, I am sure, will not be less alive to the interests of Tirconaill than was the British House of Commons—that the opening up of that very remote part of the world, and very poor part of the world, was an essential item of public policy. I do press upon the Dáil, that it is a matter of real public policy that the line should be maintained.

Now, that line has had a period of comparative prosperity for some years, and several things have in recent times operated against its prosperity. There have been two things in particular, as Deputy White pointed out, that in recent years operated against it. The competition of lorry traffic, which, I imagine, is particularly severe in the Carndonagh area, is one. There has been a great increase, common to all the railways in this country, in the upkeep charges, both in regard to management and labour, and finally there has been a loss of traffic which has operated very seriously on the line in recent years, through the falling off of the herring industry. A great part of the traffic of this line formerly—the most remunerative part—was due to the large amount of fish, both salmon and herring, that were taken over the line as fresh fish for the British markets. In recent years unfortunately —for some years since after the war— the herring migrations have failed to visit our coasts in the same quantities as formerly. I am afraid the Minister for Fisheries has often been blamed over the default of the fish. There has been a great falling off in that traffic, but I am glad to tell the Dáil that there are considerable signs of revival, and I know that in the Buncrana area, which is served by this line, and generally around Lough Swilly, and to some extent on other portions of the coast, there are signs of the herrings coming back. I press that as a material point upon the Dáil and upon the Minister, and I hope he will consider it when he is dealing with the matter of a subsidy. We have been promised special consideration by the President, and I am quite certain that the promise is going to be fulfilled; he promised us that a great and serious effort is going to be made for the improvement of those areas.

One of the industries upon which the residents of Donegal most depend is the fishing industry. I would urge upon the Minister that it would be a very unwise thing and it would be quite wrong, when spending money in other directions for the improvement of the Gaeltacht, to do anything which would militate against the revival of those areas by allowing a line which does, even in its present condition, serve a very useful public purpose to be closed down. I press that point very strongly upon this assembly. As Deputy White has indicated, whatever is done for this line will be all for the good, and there will be good results. I have not heard any immediate threat, but I have indeed heard rumours of the possibility of the withdrawal of the subsidy, and I press on the Dáil and on the Minister the desirability of having that subsidy continued.

I am not going to say very much on this Estimate, nor do I intend to take any very strong exception to it to-day; but on principle I think this House cannot accept it that our transport problem must be faced by a Government Department agreeing to subsidise transport in a particular area for an interminable period. I want some indication of the Minister's policy in this matter. Is he looking forward to a time when, because of changed conditions which may be brought about, this subsidy will not have to be paid? Will he indicate that in this matter he has no policy but is just acquiescing for the present because of the conditions in Tirconaill?

I have a great deal of sympathy with the people who live in the area served by this particular railway. It is a very remote area indeed. I appreciate the fact that if the line were closed down to-morrow it would be a great disaster for the people at the present time and would injure the prospects of development of that area in the future. I should not desire that. On the other hand, I must object to Ministerial policy which means the subsidising of transport in one area at the expense of the country as a whole. The problem should be solved in some other way. The solution must be found by the parties most interested. The people to be served by the railway have undoubtedly an interest in the matter. and the workers and the shareholders are likewise interested. I do not know what the attitude of the shareholders and workers is with regard to the question of overhead expenses. I do not know how far overhead expenses are responsible for the present condition of the railway. I think the Minister would help towards the solution of the problem by indicating that it is not going to be the policy for all time that the Exchequer shall contribute annually, by way of subsidy, to the running of a railway in a particular district at the expense of the country as a whole.

The last speaker referred to what he described as a "principle." The issue thus referred to could not be discussed with advantage here this evening. But when Deputy Baxter comes along, as he comes now and as he has come before, and in a half-hearted way protests against subsidies or doles, as he and his Party describe them, I would ask him, before we have a full-dress debate on this question of subsidies and doles, to examine his own conscience and to tell the House, when we have an opportunity of discussing the matter at greater length, whether or not he objects to the Agricultural Grant. That is a dole, or a subsidy, provided by the taxpayers as a whole, who include the railwaymen and the railway managers. I leave the matter there, with the request to Deputy Baxter to examine his own conscience before we have a full-dress debate on that important question.

I should be interested to know whether Deputy White agrees with Deputy Baxter or not. The Deputy has taken very good care that he did not object to the subsidy, but he makes a plausible and a pitiable appeal to the Minister and to some unknown person —who, perhaps, is not in the House— for a conference or star-chamber inquiry as to how the overhead expenses of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company can be reduced.

Mr. WHITE

My appeal is not pitiable.

This House is not a conference chamber, and if Deputy White—I give him credit for bringing this question forward with the best possible intentions—wants to make a good case, he should come here with figures showing the revenue and expenditure and how the money is allocated by those responsible for the management.

Mr. WHITE

The Minister has all the figures.

Deputy White has tried to make a case. I assume that the man making a case for a star-chamber inquiry is the man who would produce some proof that the company is in the pitiable condition he endeavoured to-day to show it was in. The gist of the speeches of Deputy White, Deputy McMenamin and Deputy Law amounts to a charge against the Minister for not having included the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway in the amalgamation scheme, under the Railways Act of 1924. An amendment was moved from this bench during the Committee Stage of the Railways Bill, which is now the Railways Act of 1924, that the Londonderry and Lough Swilly line be brought within the amalgamation scheme. I leave Deputy White to answer for himself as to what he said or did when that amendment was before the House. I do not say how he cast his vote. I leave it to himself to answer.

Mr. WHITE

Did not a technical contingency arise owing to portion of the line being in Northern Ireland and the greater portion being in Donegal?

The Deputy has brought this suggestion forward—whether it be a good or bad suggestion—two years late. I suggest to Deputy McMenamin that whatever form the Transport Bill will take it will not be, as he thinks, the same as the Railways Amalgamation Bill. I am not, and I have never pretended to be here, a direct representative of the railwaymen or of any section of the railwaymen. I believe this railway is managed by one of the ablest railwaymen in the country. I do not know whether Deputy White has had any consultation with the general manager or with the directors of this railway company. I do not suggest that the general manager would attempt to deceive Deputy White or any other Deputy regarding the financial position of this railway, but even a Deputy like Deputy White might have his leg pulled by the general manager or some of the directors of this railway company. I suggest that there has been some leg-pulling in this particular matter.

Mr. WHITE

Absolutely none.

If Deputy White is so satisfied that there is a case for reduction of over-head charges, I suggest to him that he should, during the weekend, try to get hold of the balance sheet of the Company, or that he should get some figures from the Minister or from the general manager or directors, which would help him to prove the case. I say quite frankly that the railwaymen of all grades employed on the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway would not look forward with any pleasure—quite the opposite—to the closing of this line. As far as I know, the relations between the management and the workers on that line are at the present time very friendly. There is a medium of approach. There is a certain way by which the workers can approach the management, and by which the management can approach the men. That avenue of approach is open now, as it has always been open. If Deputy White wants to convey a message to those on whose behalf he is making this plea—be they shareholders or directors—I would remind him that the same avenue of approach is available now that has always been available.

In the negotiations that took place between the railwaymen's representatives and the management of the railways regarding wages and conditions of service, concessions were given to the Londonderry and Lough Swilly line and other small railway companies, and the workers on the Londonderry and Lough Swilly line are to-day working at a wage ten per cent. below that of the employees of the Great Southern Railways Company. I do not know whether Deputy White is aware of that, but the general manager of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly line is.

Deputy Law referred, in passing, to the type of rolling stock which this company uses for the accommodation of the travelling public. I suggest to Deputy Law that, if he wants to have a good view of the railway system covered by the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Company, he should ask the directors—one of them is a member of the other House of the Oireachtas, and I am sure he would be glad to oblige —to give him an opportunity, with his colleagues from Donegal, of travelling over the system in the luxurious observation car used by the directors. Nobody who has had the privilege of travelling in that luxurious observation car could come to the conclusion that this is a poor or impoverished railway company. If Deputy Law, Deputy White and Deputy McMenamin would approach the general manager, who is a very courteous man and always anxious to oblige in matters of this kind, I am sure he would place that car at their disposal, and after a journey in it they would know more about the system and about the countryside than they know to-day.

Mr. WHITE

We are tired looking at the countryside.

This Chamber is not a conference room. If a conference is necessary between the management of this railway and representatives of the workers employed on the system, that conference can be held if approach is made in the proper way. I say that without making any conditions as to the terms of reference.

Mr. WHITE

Does the Deputy object to laying the basis for a conference here?

If Deputy White attends that conference, I might also have the same privilege. If I have, I will insist on the Deputy proving his case by figures. If he wants to make a case of this kind either in this House or in conference, he should provide himself with figures. The Deputy will not overawe the representatives of the railwaymen at that conference, if and when it comes about, by making general statements such as he has made here to-day.

Mr. WHITE

It would not be easy to overawe the Deputy.

Some of the railwaymen who would attend such a conference would know something about the method of making out railway balance sheets. Even Deputy White would find it very difficult to find out from railway balance sheets, as they are now presented, what the actual position of a particular railway company is, and perhaps the Minister would find it equally difficult. The Minister probably knows more about the working of this company than about any other company, because in this case he has to serve as a super-auditor; he has the right to go in and examine their accounts before he puts forward the Estimate. I hope that Deputy White will get down to the facts and find out whether there is actually a case to be made for the reduction of the overhead charges of this company.

Mr. WHITE

Deputy Davin, I am sure, will admit that one of the strongest elements of competition is the buses and lorries.

Yes, but the Deputy has said nothing about that so far.

Mr. WHITE

I want to put this question to Deputy Davin. Are the bus and lorry workers paid on a trade union basis or on the same basis as the National Union of Railwaymen?

Will the Deputy help us to get their wages raised?

Mr. WHITE

Is boy labour not employed, and are these boys not paid very inadequate wages? That is what has depleted the resources of the railway and taken away its legitimate traffic.

Is it not a fact that the farmers of Tirconaill find a huge amount—several thousand pounds a year—for the upkeep of the roads over which these buses travel?

Mr. WHITE

Yes, but the farmers of the county cannot help it.

I find myself on this Vote more or less in agreement with all the Deputies who have spoken, with the exception of Deputy McMenamin, and against his contention I would lean very strongly. I am very much in sympathy with what Deputy Law has said on the whole matter, as opposed to Deputy McMenamin's point of view, and even in opposition to the implications underlying Deputy Baxter's argument. There may be a good policy in continuing the subsidy if by paying it one is getting out more cheaply than by having a general reorganisation and a final settlement in regard to these lines. I am not saying that that is the case, but I am not at all sure that there is a great deal to be gained, from the point of view of State contributions. by having a final settlement made instead of having this year-to-year Vote. From time to time in moving this Vote I have indicated that we would do all in our power to make some approach towards a final settlement, but there has nearly always been an obstacle. One year there was the question of railway amalgamation generally, and lines which were partly in and partly outside the Free State had to be left over for further consideration. Then, in another year, there was a disaster, small in itself, but relative to this line a very big one. Last year was definitely upset by the coal strike, the repercussion of which was very disastrous from the point of view of this particular railway.

One could hardly say that there has been any year in which one could get a clear view of the working expenses and the receipts of this railway as they are likely to be in normal times. This year, I think, will show a nearer approach to that. The increase in the fishing around Lough Swilly, to which Deputy Law has referred, and which was the most gratifying sight that met my eyes during the election period, will undoubtedly bring one element of the traffic back to something approaching normal.

Mr. WHITE

That affects only a small portion of the railway.

I agree: but at any rate we will get some better perspective in respect of the whole line. This matter has been raised very definitely in the other Parliament, because in introducing the corresponding Estimate in the Northern House, the Prime Minister indicated that, as far as Northern Ireland was concerned, the grant was made with provision that between now and the beginning of the next financial year some effort would be made to call together the railway companies to discuss their future and to ascertain. whether it was possible to induce them to bring forward a scheme of amalgamation which would bring back some of the prosperity they used to enjoy. He added that the Government intended to invite a conference to discuss the whole matter so as to prevent any other lines having to close down. There are no negotiations at the moment. A certain approach has been made to me, and I shall certainly meet some of the representatives of the company quite soon. The matter does come to a head this year, and it can hardly be postponed any further, unless by reason of something outside our own control, such as a coal strike, or some other matter which would again come in to serve as an obstruction.

I would point out that this is stated to be an advance to the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company in respect of the working of the three other railways that are mentioned. I want to have it clearly understood that the lines owned by the Free State Government are the three lines mentioned, and not the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway, with which we have nothing to do. I had occasion before the dissolution to meet some of the Deputies from Tirconaill who were interested and who were rather violently agitated about the question of transport there, and to discuss with them the difficulties of the whole transport situation in Tirconaill. If Deputies are still interested, or any of the new Deputies are more interested than their predecessors, I would be prepared to meet them when things are a little more advanced and put before them, in a small conference, much better than I could in the House, the points about which difficulties will arise, without giving them anything that could not later be given to the House. Deputy Davin has alluded to the suggestion which was made when the Railways Bill was going through of applying the amalgamation system to the Donegal railways. Deputy White has properly answered him by pointing out that there was a difficulty, because the headquarters of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company and a portion of the line were outside our territory.

Is it not a fact that the question of the headquarters could be easily settled by transferring the headquarters to some suitable place in Tirconaill?

A certain amount of agreement is required in regard to that. Deputy Davin, in connection with another matter on the Railways Bill, wanted to have what I described as "compulsory agreement," which I did not think was possible to arrive at. The same thing would apply with regard to this. At any rate, there is a technical difficulty there. It is very easy to talk about amalgamation. If anybody gets a map of Donegal and follows the boundary line and these railways he will see the difficulty of getting a physical connection between the three railway systems we are now discussing and the amalgamated system in the Free State. He could then let his thoughts wander on and see if there was any other possible method of amalgamation by a junction of these lines with any other lines, inside or outside our territory, and reflect on what would be the economic advantages, or disadvantages, of any of the amalgamations that might be thought of, and what would be the political objections to any of the said amalgamations.

I would be prepared to discuss this in detail afterwards, when I find out what the proposition of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Company's directorate is, if they have any concrete proposal to put before me. In the meantime, we must simply face up to the situation, that while expenditure has in fact been brought down through the action of the very energetic manager who is operating the system, the receipts are not sufficient to meet the necessary expenditure.

On the three lines I am concerned with there is a very definite examination every year, and an inquiry into the whole expenditure, and a very watchful eye is kept upon any items where there does seem to be any possibility of reduction. If Deputy White has any special item in mind, it is a very simple matter to give me that in detail in a letter, and I can have the matter looked into to see if there is actually any question of a decrease. The line last year suffered considerably through the coal strike. There is an increase of over £4,000 in the cost of coal. Notwithstanding that increase, there is a reduction on the total expenditure for the year of £3,000. In other words, if it had not been for the advent of the coal strike, there would be a decrease in the working expenses of £7,000. There was, unfortunately, on the other hand a decrease in receipts. Even the decrease in receipts depended on the coal strike, because a quarry from which a certain amount of traffic was derived had to close down. There was also a certain loss in receipts for the carriage of coal over the system. Part of the loss may be put down to increased motor competition, but I do not think it is as much as Deputy White has in mind.

Mr. WHITE

It is increasing.

Some of it may be put down to that, but if Deputy White saw the analysis which I can put before him he would agree that it is an item to be considered, but that it is not an item upon which attention is to be riveted to the exclusion of other items. For instance, the decline of the fishing industry is another important item in connection with the fish carried over the system.

Mr. WHITE

The 'buses are carrying the lighter goods on which the higher freights were being paid, and there is nothing left for the railway but heavy traffic at low rates.

There is another item which represents a loss in the railway working, but which does not represent a loss to the Donegal community. There is a loss in passenger receipts, due to the fact that, even allowing for the extra people going by bus, a large number of people are not now travelling to Derry city to do their shopping, but are doing it in the towns in Donegal. That may represent a loss to the railway system, but not to the Donegal community. It is one of the things we will have to take into consideration when recognising that the Border difficulties are there and are going to remain for some time. On the whole, the situation is a simple one. There is a railway system which has to be kept open for the good of the community. There is an examination yearly into the expenditure, and every item is scrutinised. There is a very definite attempt by the management to keep the expenditure as low as possible. On the other hand, the receipts are not up to the moneys that have to be expended. Both Governments have agreed that a subsidy is necessary in the circumstances, and this is the Vote for the subsidy put forward by this Government. That is the situation at present, and I simply have to repeat what I said before, that we will have to tackle the whole question of transport in Donegal. We have specially to tackle this question of the three Government lines associated with the Londonderry and Lough Swilly system, and I think we are more definitely approaching it this year than ever before. It is only some obstacle outside our own control that can interfere.

I should like just to emphasize what Deputy Davin has said in one other respect. The Deputy alluded to the management of the railway up there. I have a report prepared in the second month of this year and there is one paragraph in that which I think should be quoted, in justice to the management of the line. The report states:—

From our review of the working and of the conditions that obtained in the year 1926, it is clear that energetic steps have been taken to meet the abnormal circumstances that arose, and we think it is due to the general manager to say that the enterprising spirit with which the difficulties have been faced has resulted in the confinement of the losses within narrower limits than might have been the case.

I think, undoubtedly, that anyone who knows the working of the line and the general manager in question would agree that the railway has been as well served as any railway system in the country could have been served, and it is not through any fault of the general manager that the expenditure has not been brought down even to a lower point than the accounts for the last year show.

Mr. WHITE

I have taken no exception whatever to the management.

Question put and agreed to.