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.