I move the Second Reading of this Bill. This Bill was introduced in the last Dáil, but owing to the Dissolution of the Dáil it has to be introduced again. The Bill was prepared by the late Government, and its purpose is to provide for the abandonment of the Dublin and Blessington Steam Tramway and to make provision for matters consequential.
I will just briefly outline the circumstances under which the Bill comes to be introduced. The Dublin and Blessington Steam Tramway was constructed under the terms of the Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, with a capital of £97,070. Of this capital an amount of £40,000, bearing interest at 5 per cent. per annum, is guaranteed in perpetuity by certain baronies in County Dublin and County Wicklow under the provisions of the Act, the balance ranking as ordinary shares upon which no dividend has been paid since the construction of the line. These unguaranteed shares are valueless. The baronies, in addition to the liability for the guaranteed dividend, are also required to make good any losses in working. The guaranteeing baronies are recouped by the Government a sum amounting to one-half of the sums paid by them in respect of the guaranteed dividend up to a maximum of 2 per cent. per annum on the guaranteed capital. The maximum liability of the Government amounts to £800 per annum, and has been required to be paid in full for many years. This liability continues only so long as the Tramway is maintained in working order and carries traffic.
The guaranteeing areas are also entitled under Section 58 of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, to a repayment from the Local Taxation Account of one-half of the amount by which the rate struck in respect of the guarantee (for dividend and losses in working) exceeds 6d. in the £ in any year. The loss on the working and the guaranteed dividend for the past three years has amounted approximately to £7,000 per annum.
Under Section 40 of the Order in Council the line was taken over by the Country Councils of Dublin and Wicklow in the year 1916, and was first managed by the County Surveyor of County Dublin and latterly by a Committee of Management. The line has long since outlived its usefulness. Some time ago the Committee of Management were interviewed, when it was pointed out that the question of the closing down of the tramway was a matter for urgent consideration. The Committee of Management expressed the opinion that the service and facilities which the line affords are not sufficient to justify the charge which their continuance now imposes on the ratepayers and on the State.
As a result of negotiations conducted between the Committee of Management and the directors of the Tramway Company, an offer was made to redeem the £10 guaranteed shares for a payment of £5 10s. per share. As already stated, there are 4,000 guaranteed shares of £10 each. The directors circularised the shareholders, with the following result: There were proxies and acceptances received agreeing to the offer of £5 10s. per share in the case of 3,417 shares; the directors were unable to trace the owners in the case of 17 shares; in the case of seven shares the owners were dead and the estates were not yet administered. In the case of 353 shares the four owners dissented from the arrangement, and in the case of 206 shares the owners did not reply.
I am advised that in the special circumstances of this case the Government are justified in promoting legislation implementing the redemption of the guaranteed shares at the price of £5 10s. and enforcing this settlement on the few dissenting shareholders.
It is proposed that a loan of £22,000 shall be made by the Commissioners of Public Works for a period of 20 years bearing interest at the rate of 5¾ per cent. per annum for the redemption of the guaranteed shares. As the Local Taxation Account has contributed in the past an average of £1,900 per annum, and as this amount is likely to be increased if the line is kept open, it has been further agreed that that account shall contribute yearly this sum as maxima and that the remainder shall be borne by the guaranteeing areas. The Government contribution of £800 per annum towards the guaranteed dividend will cease on the closing of the line.
The repayment of the loan, minus the contribution from the Local Taxation Account, works out that, so far as County Wicklow is concerned the contribution from the latter will meet the instalments of principal and interest due by the guaranteeing areas in that County and they will therefore have to pay nothing.
In the case of Dublin, up to the eighth year from the closing of the line they will bear an amount decreasing from £465 in the first year to £72 5s. 0d. in the eighth year. Thereafter the payment from the Local Taxation Account will decrease until in the twentieth year the total amount paid by that account will be £1,163 5s. 0d. after which no further payment will be made.
The Committee of Management have agreed to compensate the officers and servants of the Company who shall lose their position on similar terms to those granted to redundant employees of the railway companies amalgamated under the Railways Act, 1924, and this liability is to be met by a rate on the counties-at-large, excluding the urban areas.
The payments to the guaranteed shareholders will be made by the Committee of Management, who will also be empowered to realise the assets of the undertaking and distribute it in the ratio of two-thirds to County Dublin and one-third to County Wicklow.
Owing to the extension of the City of Dublin, part of the guaranteeing area formerly entirely in the County of Dublin is now within the City boundary, and the Bill deals with the necessary allocation of the assets and liabilities between the two areas. It is proposed that for the purpose of disposing of the assets and the settlement of the compensation to the employees of the Tramway, the Committee of Management shall be increased by three additional members representative of the Dublin Corporation.
These are the main points arising out of the Bill except that it is proposed that the "appointed day" on which the guarantee shall cease and the line be closed shall be the 1st July, 1932. Consequently, it is necessary that the Bill should be law before that.