I move: —
In sub-section (1) (b), to delete the brackets and words "(other than section 96 of the Principal Act)," lines 45-46, and to delete sub-section (2) and substitute a new sub-section as follows: —"Section 96 of the Principal Act is hereby repealed."
I think that here the onus lies on the Minister to make a case against the amendment rather than on me to make a case for it, because it is obvious that an injustice is being done to a very large section of ratepayers in County Clare. I want to be perfectly clear and perfectly concise on this matter. Some six years ago certain lands were acquired adjoining the Shannon, when the development of the Shannon power was in contemplation, and after a while a Bill was introduced transferring whatever power the Minister had to the Electricity Supply Board. The Bill passed all its stages in the Dáil, and passed all its stages in the Seanad up to the Report Stage, when the Minister introduced an amendment to exempt from rates what are known as the Shannon works. Practically all these works are situated in County Clare, and when we realise the extent of the works and of the land taken over we will have some picture of the injustice done to the ratepayers of the county.
I find myself in very good company in opposing this provision. I am not referring to the company of Deputy de Valera — probably his character in certain quarters is as open to question as my own — but when I find myself in company with Senator Sir John Keane, Senator Barrington, Mr. Hewat and the Earl of Wicklow in advancing a case against this provision, I think I am in very good company. In the Seanad Senator Sir John Keane said: "Take County Clare, which is a poor county. Clare has a very considerable property now established in the county. The use of that property and all the attendant circumstances throw a charge on the local services. The people connected with it use the roads; the employers use the hospitals; they re-act on the poor law; and the whole of that undertaking is to be exempt from rates. Is that just? It is a question of ‘all hands to the pumps.' At any cost this scheme must be passed over to the public — whether it is done by a dangerous precedent or sound finance does not matter. The public has to bear it. In this case the ratepayer, the small farmer, in West Clare has to subsidise this through free local services. I really think it is time to cry halt to this wholly unprecedented way of proceeding." We have had the Minister's own assurance that it is not a case of all hands to the pumps; we have his own assurance that the scheme is safe and that it is now a question of further development, so that the argument that the scheme is not economic, is not paying its way, falls to the ground.
Then we have Senator Barrington saying, "as a matter of fact if this section is passed Clare will suffer considerable loss. There is a considerable amount of property that will go to the Board and that at present pays rates in Clare. That property is being acquired by the Board, and now, in future, it will pay no rates. I do not think that is right. I think that these works should pay rates to the immediate district in which they are situate, and which has incurred a considerable amount of expense in consequence of them." Senator Sir John Keane went on to say that every bit of Government property pays rates. Civic Guard barracks pay rates. It is significant that the Minister did then say something with reference to it. He said that this scheme would be in exactly the same position as other Government Departments. But just as an act of grace, if the amendment is passed, the Board will be in exactly the same position as a Government Department. It is interesting to know that, and in the light of that statement it is interesting to see that no ex-gratia payment of any kind has been made to Clare Co. Council for the last six years in connection with this scheme. It is also interesting to inquire whether the Minister is going to make any payment to Clare Co. Council in lieu of the losses that body has suffered in rates.
When the matter came back to the Dáil Mr. Hewat said: "The Minister has argued consistently right through the Bill that the ratepayers and the consumers were not one and the same persons." The Minister intervened to say: "And I still hold to that." Mr. Hewat went on to say:
If that is so, what is the Minister's argument in this case in favour of this amendment? It simply means that he is going to charge the non-consumer a rate for something that he is getting no benefit for. Taking the works as a whole, distributed over the whole country, why should they be exempt from rates? I cannot follow the logic of this at all. I can see why a local authority confined within its own area could argue that there was no use in making a transfer entry of a sum of money in favour of the local rates from its own electricity undertaking.
The Minister repeated in the Dáil that the position of the Electricity Supply Board would be the position of a Government Department. The Minister bases his case on what he calls the advantages of the county and the ratepayers derived from the presence in Co. Clare of the Shannon works. It is interesting to know what we get in Clare as a result of the presence of the Shannon works. The Minister stated the other day that something like one and a half millions had been spent locally. I wonder was the Minister serious when he said that? Did he not know that most of the miserable wage, for which he was responsible, went to other parts of the country to help to keep the families of the poor men who were working on the scheme on a starvation wage? Did he not know that the only place that might have got any of the money was the City of Limerick? Did he not know that most of the food and a good deal of the clothing sold to the workers on the Shannon scheme was neither bought in the county nor made in the county, but was, to a great extent, imported?
Surely the Minister is not serious in saying to the ratepayers that because the Shannon scheme was operated within the county they benefited? Let us see what has been the effect of the Shannon scheme on local rates. We find that the expense on the board of health, which is responsible for the upkeep of hospitals, was £487 10s. for the treatment and support of patients consequent upon accidents and sicknesses contracted during the operation of the scheme. We find that the Shannon scheme tapped certain spring wells and interfered with pumps for which Clare Board of Health had to be responsible to the tune of over £100. Let us take what the county council calculates as its loss in the matter of valuation. We find from the county council books that lands marked "exempt from rating" in the valuation lists dated 1st March, 1930, represent 1,169a. 3r. 34 perches, of which the valuation was £739 1s. and on which the rates would have been £292 16s. 2d. We find lands marked "Waste under water" in the valuation lists dated 1st March, 1930, to be 368a. Or. 21 perches, of which the valuation was £283 6s., the rates on which would have been £115 7s. 9d. The loss that will arise in connection with the de-rating of fisheries will be something like £203 13s. 1d., making a total loss in rates of £611 17s. That is a serious loss to the ratepayers of Clare. It is something they are entitled to talk about and to ask the Minister why, when he has an opportunity, now that he is re-opening, so to speak, the whole scheme in so far as it affects local authorities, he does not see his way to remove the injustice? If new buildings are to be erected in Athlone or Mullingar — I have no particular reference to these places in my mind — in New Ross or in some part of Tirconaill, they are not going to be free from taxes; they are going to pay rates——