I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Last year a Bill was passed through the Oireachtas dealing with a situation that had arisen out of a decision of the Supreme Court in a case which arose principally out of the Erne fisheries. I need hardly remind any Deputy of that case, because everybody was very conversant with it at the time, and probably remembers the circumstances. The point was, at any rate, that as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court there was a right to fish in the estuary of the River Erne by anybody who might wish to come along and pay the ordinary licence. At the time, it was recognised and agreed by the Dáil and Seanad that a very serious position might arise if the place was overfished, and that the valuable fishery which was there might be destroyed in a few years. The principal Bill then gave us power to issue a special licence to a fisherman to fish in the River Erne estuary on payment of a special fee. That has worked very satisfactorily since. At that time we got this power only for a limited period. It is contemplated, as the House is aware, to bring in a comprehensive Bill to deal with inland fisheries, and the case of the River Erne will, of course, be dealt with the same as all the other rivers when that measure is brought in. The Inland Fisheries Commission reported some time ago. The report is being examined by the Government, and as soon as some decision is come to, the necessary Bill will be prepared. As it will probably be a very big Bill, I suppose it will take at least 12 months before it can be prepared and got through both Houses. In the mean-time we want to carry on just as we are with regard to the Tidal Waters (Amendment) Bill. It refers principally to the River Erne. It also refers to the Owenea River, in the County Donegal. Those are the only two rivers to which it refers at present.
Committee on Finance. - Fisheries (Tidal Waters) (Amendment) Bill, 1935—Second Stage.
The Minister has made reference to his intention of introducing comprehensive legislation to deal with the whole question of inland fisheries. This Bill is more or less a stop-gap until the whole problem can be dealt with. Would the Minister take this opportunity of indicating to the House what his intention is in respect of the several fisheries referred to in this Bill? Do they come within the sphere of the Erne fishery judgment? I have neither the desire nor the right to comment upon the Erne fishery judgment, but the Supreme Court has reached a certain decision which has had certain effects. One of the effects has been to discover the fact that a person who believed himself to be the owner of very valuable property was not in fact the owner of it. I understood the Minister, or somebody speaking on his behalf earlier, to say that when he came to deal with this problem in toto he intended as part of the possible settlement in all human probability to take over all the fisheries in the country, on the basis of compensation, and to operate them on behalf of the State. When he is doing that, does he intend to provide any ex gratia compensation for those individuals who, as a result of the Erne fishery judgement, suffered what was for them a wholly unexpected loss?
The Minister to conclude.
With regard to those licences in regard to the Erne fishery, have the figures proved satisfactory? The Minister was asked before about this question which Mr. Dillon has raised?
Yes. We have struck a very satisfactory mean in the figures.
Has there been any trouble there this summer?
Certainly not. We wanted to get sufficient from the special fees to recoup the Conservators for the loss of rate, and so on. I think it worked out about right, as far as that was concerned. The matter raised by Deputy Dillon involves a big question. It is a question, of course, which the Government has to consider, and I cannot at all anticipate what the Government might do with regard to taking over the several fisheries. I cannot say whether they might take them over and declare them to be State property, or make them public fisheries. Personally—and I might also speak on behalf of the Government— I think that if they take over those several fisheries they certainly will recognise the principle of compensation. I cannot say anything more than that at the moment.
Has the Minister anything to say with particular reference to the owners of the Erne fishery, whose property has become forfeit as a result of the constitutional position discovered by the Supreme Court judgment? Here you had people who believed that they had a legitimate right to this property. When their title was tried in law it was decided that they did not own the property at all. We all know that they gave very substantial consideration for their property in years gone by, and my submission to the Minister now is that if he proceeds to take over the several fisheries in the country on the basis of compensation he ought to give something to these people. If he does that, he has got to realise that it must be in the form of an ex gratia payment. No matter what legislation is produced those people cannot make any claim under it, because the Supreme Court has decided that they had no title to the several fisheries which they had been enjoying previous to that judgment. In the event of his deciding to compensate owners whose title has not been called in question he should recommend, at any rate, that an ex gratia payment be made to the individuals who suffered under the Erne fishery judgment.
Mr. McMenamin rose.
The Minister was called on to conclude. However, the Deputy may ask a question.
If the Bill is not produced before this time 12 months the Minister should keep in mind the fact that in the Erne case there is a river. That was not in dispute in the case of the judgment—it was the estuary. The estuary was the part for which they paid £80,000 when they took over, the foundation of their title being a State conveyance. I think anybody who gets a State conveyance presumes that it is a good enough title, and the Minister should keep that in mind when he is introducing a measure to compensate those people.
As Deputy Dillon and Deputy McMenamin have pointed out, the estuary of the Erne is in a different position from the rest. The River Erne, for instance, would come in with any other several fishery that might be considered for compensation. They would all be dealt with, I suppose, on the same sort of general basis—what the basis might be I do not know—if they are taken over by the State or declared public fisheries. I cannot say really what might be decided with regard to the estuary of the River Erne. Of course, the people who had that, and who claimed to own it, tried by every means to get a decision, not only with our own courts but also with the Privy Council. It would appear, as Deputy Dillon has pointed out, that they have no right, and if any payment were to be made it would be an ex gratia one. I am not in a position to say what view the Government might take of that particular case. Of course, all that will come up on the main Bill.