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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 8 Jul 1938

Vol. 72 No. 6

Committee on Finance. - Vote No. 58—Transport and Meteorological Services.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £11,116 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1939, chun Seirbhísí Iompair agus Meteoraíochta.

That a sum not exceeding £11,116 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for Transport and Meteorological Services.

This particular Estimate, which was formerly only of routine importance, has acquired additional significance, mainly on account of the additional two sub-heads — sub-head B, relating to civil airports, and sub-head C, relating to meteorological services. The Dáil is aware that the Government has engaged in the construction of two civil airports, one at Dublin and one on the Shannon. The main provision for the construction of these airports is made, of course, on the Vote for the Department of Public Works, but the sum of £10,100 is provided for various purposes in connection with these airports on this Estimate. I gave the Dáil on an earlier occasion an estimate of the cost of the airports, both the Shannon and the Dublin airport, which, of course, was only an approximate estimate because nothing more detailed could be made available at the time. It appears from the information now available that the total cost of the land aerodrome on the Shannon will be approximately £535,000. The question of the provision of a flying boat base on the Shannon was reconsidered last year, and in the light of the information available it was decided to proceed with a scheme of partial development of a flying boat base at an estimated cost of £270,000. The estimate of the total capital cost of the Shannon airport, therefore, is £805,000. The Dublin airport is estimated to cost £360,000. The sub-head of this Estimate dealing with airports provides for the acquisition of land in connection with both the Shannon and Dublin airports. Furthermore, the operation of experimental flights from Dublin and the Shannon, pending arrangements for the management of the airport either by the State or by Aer Lingus Teoranta, may require the provision of an aerodrome staff, and £1,000 is included in the Estimate to cover such expenditure. Although, as I have stated, the main cost of the airport is provided on the Vote for Public Works, there may be items of equipment arising in connection with experimental transatlantic flights which cannot be regarded as pertinent to the permanent airport, and a small sum is provided in this Vote to cover such expenditure if it should arise.

The meteorological service, as Deputies are aware, is a new service. Following a decision taken by the Government in 1936, an Order was made under the Ministers and Secretaries Act transferring to the Department of Industry and Commerce from the Minister for Education the functions in regard to meteorological services allocated to the Minister for Education under the Ministers and Secretaries Act. The meteorological organisation as it now exists consists of a small headquarters staff, a skeleton organisation at the Shannon operated on an agency basis by the Meteorological Office, London, pending the appointment of trained personnel to the aerial service; a network of five telegraphic reporting stations, and about 190 climatological and rainfall stations. Provision was made in the Estimate for last year for extension of the organisation as taken over from the British authorities. It was subsequently considered desirable to defer certain developments until the present year. The present Estimate, therefore, includes provision for certain developments originally scheduled to be effected in last year, that is to say, the establishment of a Meteorological Office at the Dublin airport, the extension of the networks of telegraphic reporting and climatological stations, as well as further developments. Circumstances during the last year did not permit of the recruitment and training of personnel for the aerial service as originally intended. It is anticipated, therefore, that, provided a sufficient number of suitably qualified candidates is available, recruitment will proceed in the present year, and the necessary provision is made in this Estimate.

Has the Minister anything to say about the airport that was intended to be built near Cork?

The Cork airport was the project of the Cork Corporation. There was a question of Government financial assistance for the construction of such an airport, but as I understand it the matter is in abeyance with the Cork Corporation. I am very anxious that there should be provided a suitable civil airport in the vicinity of Cork, and would be very glad if the Cork Corporation would revive interest in the matter.

Three different public bodies are concerned in the provision of this airport for Cork—the Cork Corporation, the Cork County Council and the Harbour Board. I do not think the Minister or anybody else would question the desirability of having this air station, and you are fortunate in having one of the best sites, in the neighbourhood of Midleton, for the provision of this station. It has been selected out of ten sites offered, including the seaplane base at Aghada and the former air station at Ballyquirke, Killeagh. Owing to the large extent of level ground around this site it is looked upon by the experts who have been appointed as being one of the best. Perhaps the Minister would tell us what is going to be the contribution from the State. I understand it is 50 per cent. of the cost, and the other 50 per cent. would be made up of contributions from the corporation, the county council and the harbour board. Of course the corporation will get the lion's share of the advantage, so they will probably make the lion's share of the contribution; but at the same time the other public bodies, which will not gain such a large amount of advantage, will not be backward in making their contribution. We are fortunate in having the Lord Mayor of Cork present. I hope that he will do everything in his power to get his body to make the desired contribution. There is no question about it, that if it is not done Cork and Cork County will have to retreat into the background.

A Deputy


Yes; I am stating what is true. If you do not uphold modern systems of transport, there is no question about it, the great County of Cork and the great City of Cork — which is no mean city — will undoubtedly have to take a secondary place. If the Minister will state the amount of the grant they are prepared to make, I think it will pave the way towards the making of their contributions by the public bodies.

There are a few matters in connection with this Estimate on which I should like to have information. The Minister has described the activities which are going on with a view to the provision of a civil airport for Dublin. We would be very much interested to hear somewhat fuller details of what he has in mind. Dublin ought to be very easy to provide a civil airport for, because the city as yet is comparatively small, and the usual difficulty will not present itself of having to place the airport at a very great distance from the centre of the city. The question of so arranging it that it will be free in future from obstruction such as high power electric service cables and obstructions of that character which ordinarily harass civil airports in other parts of the world is a matter upon which I should like to hear the Minister now. Am I right in assuming that the civil airport is to be at Collinstown?

Yes, and legislation was enacted which gave full power to limit building and other developments in the vicinity of it.

It would be interesting at this stage if the Minister would outline what his intentions are, and how he proposes to use the powers conferred on him by that legislation. I am not aware whether or not his plans have reached that stage, but I assume that as he is laying out considerable sums of money on this civil airport some comprehensive plan must have been completed before the work started. The second question I want to ask is this: Is there any provision in this Estimate for any subsidy to Aer Lingus Teoranta? Under what Vote does that come?

They are not subsidised.

I take it that the Minister exercises general supervision over that service. As a general rule, my experience is that that service, comparing it with Continental and American services, is reasonably efficient, but one would wish to see it progress rapidly. I am aware that, in the initial stages of any such enterprise, it is very difficult to provide as perfect a service as the older established air lines are in a position to give. At the present time, if you take an airplane from Baldonnel to London you will find that, when you get to Croydon, you are obliged to go to the nearest railway station and wait for 25 to 35 minutes for a local train to make your way to Victoria station, and then get as best you can from Victoria to wherever you are staying in London. At first glance that does not seem to be an unreasonable arrangement, but in fact it is an unreasonable arrangement, because when the airplane arrives at Croydon you may have a number of people coming off seasick and with luggage. It is a great nuisance to have to transport that luggage from Croydon to a small local railway station where there are no railway porters at all.

Does the Deputy suggest that the Minister has control over that matter?

I am suggesting that he has some sort of a supervisory function in the matter. I do not know whether one is entitled to advocate on the Estimate that some provision should be made by way of subsidy to enable the company to overcome that difficulty.

Not on a small subsidiary Estimate such as this.

This is the Estimate, I think, under which any such subsidy would have to be made. I have no doubt that the transport section of the Minister's Department has some sort of supervisory function in the matter. At any rate, if you arrive there with luggage it is not convenient to be deposited at a small local station where the facilities for transporting heavy baggage are very limited. You then get into a local train, and when you arrive at Victoria you have to sort yourself out as best you can because, as I am sure the Minister is aware, no porters are available at the platforms at Victoria at which the local trains arrive. The reason for that, I suppose, is that 99 per cent. of the passengers who come off these trains have no luggage. I have arrived at Victoria, fortunately with no more baggage than I was able to carry myself, and found that there was no porter on the platform there. It has occurred to me that if a passenger from abroad had availed of the service from this side, particularly a lady, and was taken on to Victoria station with two heavy bags, well, she would have to sit on the bags until somebody ran to get a porter for her. I have arrived at Croydon at the same time as Imperial airplanes coming in from Paris and the Continent. The passengers coming off the two services were carefully segregated, the sheep from the goats. The sheep, who came by Imperial Airways, were put into a comfortable conveyance and carried into London, while the lone goat was sent to the local railway station and taken on one of these local trains to Victoria simply because he had come by the Aer Lingus Teo. service. That would create a very unfavourable impression on foreign visitors who might avail of the service between Dublin and London.

It has occurred to me that, if the British company would co-operate with Aer Lingus Teo. in providing facilities at Croydon, the Government ought to consider urging on it to link up with Imperial Airways, because if we had an understanding with Imperial Airways it would be quite easy to provide that when anybody arrived at Croydon on an Aer Lingus plane he could avail of the transport provided by Imperial Airways from Croydon to London. That would abolish all the difficulties that at present exist. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is important that people travelling to Croydon by the Aer Lingus service should not get the idea that, if they avail of it, they will be involved in all sorts of inconveniences. If they get that idea, they will not avail of it at all. If, in the initial stages, they find that the service is good, and that they are not likely to be faced with difficulties such as I have mentioned, they will undoubtedly get into the habit of using that air service.

There is another matter in connection with the meteorological services that I want to refer to. I have been informed that, when the Minister first undertook the matter of the development of meteorological services in this country, he employed, without public examination, two non-nationals as scientists for the meteorological station here. Now, that may be true or it may not be true. I desire to afford the Minister the opportunity of correcting that rumour, if it is untrue. I want to make myself quite clear. It would ill-become any Irishman to object to a non-national securing a position in this country if the allocation of those positions depended on public examination, and if a non-national proved to be more efficient than any Irish applicant for the job — because we have Irishmen working in Great Britain and all over the world who have got jobs in those countries. They are non-nationals in them. They have been made welcome, given good positions, and allowed to get ahead.

We should not preach the doctrine in Ireland that anybody not born in Ireland will ever be allowed to get a job in this country. It would not suit us, and it would be an ungrateful and a churlish attitude for us to adopt. But I do submit that, if positions in the public service are to be given to non-nationals, they should only be given after public examination of the non-national has demonstrated that he is a better man than any candidate who has presented himself from the home country. The allegation is that, without any public examination, the Minister gave two positions to non-nationals without affording Irish scientists, who got their qualifications in this country, the opportunity of demonstrating their capacity to fill the jobs. I would, therefore, ask the Minister that in future, before making appointments of the kind, a public examination should be held, and if a non-national proves to be the best man, then by all means let him have the job, but if one of our own young persons who has got his scientific training here or abroad is equally well equipped, then I think he has an equal, if not preferential, claim on the Government's patronage.

With regard to the Cork airport, it is not possible to give any indication at this stage what form the Government's assistance to the local authority in the construction of such an airport may take. When the matter was originally mooted there was a question of the allocation of funds from the Vote for the relief of unemployment. As Deputies are aware, the money provided by that Vote is allocated with a direct relation to the unemployment needs of particular districts, and the amount which might be provided for a scheme of public works in the area mentioned would be determined by the state of unemployment in that area. I think that, in fact, at the moment in that district unemployment is by no means acute, and, on the basis of the method of operation by the Board of Works in such matters, it would be difficult to get money from that Vote for any employment scheme in that locality. But, if the local authorities are anxious to proceed in the matter, and I would like to see them proceeding, I am quite willing to meet them, and to discuss some basis of working towards the construction of an airport there. The provision of road transport at both ends of the Irish Sea Airways Service is, I understand, having the consideration of the Joint Committee of Management. There is, of course, an arrangement for provision of road transport at this end at present, and I understand that the Committee are considering the possibility of providing a similar service at the Croydon end.

Deputy Dillon's information concerning the meteorological service is not quite accurate. Two meteorological experts were appointed. One was of Irish parentage and the other was an Irishman. Both were, of course, acquired from the British service, but the statement that they are not of Irish nationality is not correct. A substantial expansion of personnel in connection with that service is contemplated, but I think the difficulty will be the getting of personnel and not the allocation of existing posts amongst the applicants for them. We are anxious to maintain a very high standard in connection with this service, because its importance in the scheme of things will be very great. The meteorological service of this country will have a much greater importance than the meteorological service provided by other countries while, at the same time, our ability to pay for a first class service is limited. Consequently, we must try to make our service, while small, of excellent quality. On that account, a very high standard of efficiency and training will be required from those appointed to permanent posts in it. As I have said, the director of the service is of Irish parentage, and the other expert is of Irish birth.

The Minister spoke of expenditure at Rhynana in regard to the air base. What proportion, if any, of that expenditure will be recovered from the British Government or from Imperial Airways?

None whatever.

Are they paying anything to the Irish Government for the facilities with which we are providing them there?

The Shannon airport has not yet been constructed. The whole of the cost of providing the airport will fall on this country. Nobody is contributing a penny to that cost. The companies which use the airport will pay the ordinary charges for that service, which will be fixed on some regular scale. The receipts from such charges will, of course, constitute the revenue of the airport.

If the port is used by Government 'planes for Government purposes by any foreign Power, will they also contribute?

The port could not be used for any Government ' planes without very special permission from the Government here.

In the event of such permission being given, are we to understand that such Government will make a contribution towards the expense of the port?

The airport will be run as an ordinary commercial undertaking and will require to be paid for any service it gives to anybody — even a private individual.

What contribution will be made by the State towards the provision of an airport?

The Deputy is talking about an airport at Cork?

I have no idea. I could not even say what the cost of the airport would be.

Something over £30,000. Have you made arrangements to give contributions in respect of other proposed airports, and what is the basis on which you go?

I should not be very much interested in an airport in Cork that would cost only £30,000.

Anywhere else?

The State is not contributing towards the cost of a municipal airport anywhere. It is itself building these two airports—one on the Shannon and one at Dublin. These will be the property of the State and not the property of the municipalities.

Has the Minister nothing more to tell us about Collinstown?

Collinstown has been under construction for some time. The airport proper — the landing field and certain facilities adjacent—have been constructed. The construction of the buildings and hangars is now being proceeded with, but all the necessary steps for construction of the airport have been taken. The legislation which has been passed has been utilised for the purpose of acquiring whatever land is necessary both for run-ways and for preventing any other buildings being erected in the immediate vicinity, while necessary steps have been taken to remove buildings which might be an obstruction to aircraft. The airport could be used by aeroplanes at present although there is no building accommodation as yet. The buildings will be provided in the course of this and next year.

And civil aviation will then be removed from Baldonnel to Collinstown?

When do you propose to do that?

Not for some time — when the hangars and office buildings shall have been completed.

Vote put and agreed to.