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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Nov 1939

Vol. 77 No. 11

Fire Brigades Bill, 1939—Second Stage (resumed).

Mr. Brennan

We are presented here with a Bill for the establishment of fire brigades all over the country. It is a very praiseworthy and a very laudable object, but we must be careful, if we are going to establish fire-fighting brigades, that in doing so we are setting up an efficient machine.

There is no use in this House pretending that it has done something if that something is not efficient and if it does not do the work it is intended to do. I am not at all convinced that the Bill that is before the House at the present time is going to meet the requirements or that it will be in any way an efficient machine for the purpose for which it is being set up. As a matter of fact, while I am not at the moment opposing the Bill, I feel that if in its Final Stage the Bill comes in its present form, unaltered, I will be driven to that position. My reason for that is this. Under this Bill sanitary authorities are put into the position of being compelled by law to provide fire fighting appliances. I recollect that very many years ago there was a succession of fires in the town of Roscommon which brought the people of Roscommon to their feet at once as to the necessity for fire-fighting appliances. The then Town Commissioners in Roscommon set up a voluntary fire brigade. They purchased certain appliances and they placed them in the hands of a caretaker who, to the best of my recollection, was the local waterworks manager. Certain people were enrolled in this voluntary fire brigade and lectures were delivered on discipline and fire-fighting in general. The matter was enthusiastically taken up. A fire did not occur in the town or its vicinity for seven or eight years, with the result that by the time the brigade was called on the members of the volunteer fire brigade had gone to America or England or, at least, had left the town of Roscommon. When the hose and other appliances were brought out by the man who was supposed to be the captain of the fire brigade it was found that the nozzles would not fit the new appliances that had been fitted in the waterworks. That was generally the case and where they did fit the house was leaking and had gone out of order.

The Minister has not in mind the setting up of that type of fire brigade. But has he in mind this type—does he expect that, say, the sanitary authority of County Roscommon, which is the board of health at the present time, is going to set up a fire brigade and pay such stipends to the members of the fire brigade that will enable them to sit upon that fire brigade for seven or eight years waiting for a fire, and that they will during all that time maintain the necessary machinery and appliances for fire fighting? I certainly object to being driven into the position by a Bill of this kind that in a rural county like Roscommon, or Leitrim or Mayo for that matter, we will be obliged to set up a fire brigade, equipped with fire-fighting appliances, which will be ready for any eventuality that may occur in the way of fires, and that all the time we may be waiting for a fire we will have to have in readiness people who will take out the fire-fighting appliances when called for. I do not think the thing is going to work at all. I cannot see it working.

My own opinion about the matter is that it can be worked in another way. The first thing that is necessary to fire fighting is discipline. You must have discipline. You must have a disciplined force to fight a fire.

And a water supply.

Mr. Brennan

Granted that a water supply is available in the town. Let us admit that. We have all experience of fires even in small towns where there are water supplies and where a fire-fighting appliance would be of very great use and save a lot of money and, possibly, occasionally, human lives. But you are not going to get it under this Bill or you will get it at such enormous cost that it will not be worth it. You cannot afford to keep fire-fighting appliances up to date in order to fight a fire once every ten years. You cannot keep any kind of disciplined force in existence during all that time for the purpose of fighting fires. There is, however, in this country at our hand a disciplined force, the Civic Guards.

I am not one of the people who think all new, cumbersome and dangerous duties ought to be thrown upon the police force of the country but I cannot see any other solution. From what I see, any time there is a fire, it is in fact the Civic Guards who control whatever is done. I have no objection whatever to the local authority making any necessary contribution even towards extra members of the Guards being stationed in their particular town or district or making a contribution towards the provision of the necessary fire-fighting appliances to be placed there. But, we can easily see that if you had in the Civic Guards some system of fire-fighting stations established all over the country then you would have a co-ordinated scheme which you could call upon and which the Guards themselves could call upon when necessary.

To my mind, this Bill does not at all meet the situation. In cities like Galway, Cork, Sligo and other places they have and they are maintaining a fire brigade. They are matters for special consideration. I am dealing with the fact that in this Bill every sanitary authority in the country is expected and obliged by law to put into existence a fire brigade and to maintain it. In his explanation of this matter yesterday evening the Parliamentary Secretary did not tell the House how he proposed to do that. Did it strike him that, if the particular type of brigade that was to be set up was to be efficient or disciplined, it would have to be in existence all the time, that you could not have the type of fire brigade that would be composed of, say, plumbers, carpenters, stone masons and labourers generally who at the outbreak of a fire might be 25 miles away on some job. They would be no use to you.

If the local authorities and the tax-payers and ratepayers of this country are going to be compelled to carry a greater burden than they have at the present time, for goodness' sake, let it be an efficient machine of some sort that we can work. This Bill will not provide such a machine. Of course, at the present time the atmosphere is ripe for putting a Bill of this sort across the people and across the local authorities. We have the A.R.P. business and the prospect of incendiary bombs being dropped. We have all that war-time atmosphere and this Bill is pushed out at the same time. This Bill is not something that is meant to deal with an unusual situation. It is a Bill that is put down apparently, on the face of it, for something that is to have continuity. If we are going to have continuity of this sort by way of a Fire Brigades Bill and if we are going to have public expenditure which the rural ratepayers down the country will have to bear, let the machine be efficient. At least as far as we are concerned it means rural appliances because in, say, the County Roscommon we have three towns around the 2,000 mark in population and there is anything between 25 to 30 miles between them. Can anybody visualise how you are going to meet a situation of fire-fighting by the clauses that are laid down in that Bill? It cannot be done except at enormous expense, and even then it would be impossible to change over the machinery and the appliances from year to year in order to keep it up to date.

As I said a while ago, there is another way of doing it to which I do not see any objection whatever. I do not see why there should be any objection to a fire department, if you like, being attached to the Civic Guards even if there is an increase in numbers in the Civic Guards for the purpose. I maintain it would be well-spent money. They are a disciplined force, who are always at their post. You can always rely on them. They would have a central co-ordinating authority. They would have the right to call upon various stations according to the magnitude of the fire and the seriousness of it.

Until the Minister or somebody explains how he hopes to create that efficient machine under this Bill, I certainly am not convinced that it ought to get the support of this House or that it ought to be passed. I think the ratepayers of this country are already overburdened with Bills of this type or, at least, Bills which are of very doubtful advantage. If we are going to set up a machine let it be an efficient machine, and if it is not an efficient machine let us not ask the public to pay for it. These are my views on the Bill. I am not going to go into it in detail, but, on the face of it, I am not in agreement with it. It is possibly capable of explanation and of amendment. If there is not some improvement made in the Bill before it comes to the Final Stage, I certainly will oppose it.

I am somewhat in agreement with Deputy Brennan as regards this Bill. I think it would be better if some such plan as he suggested were adopted and some disciplined organised body asked to undertake the business of setting up fire brigades. I do not see any very great difficulty in doing it through one of the present organised bodies, either the Gárda or the military. The principal objection I have to the Bill is the position of country residents, small farmers, labourers and others, under the Bill. Country residents already have to contribute largely towards various amenities for the towns, such as water supplies, drainage, sewerage and, in many cases, lighting. There are many cases in which the country for five miles around helps through the rates to provide lighting for the towns. There must be some end to this taxing of small rural occupants. They find it very difficult already to pay the taxes which they have to pay. Most of them, although they have to contribute heavily to different services for the towns, have not water for themselves.

There are numerous small farmers and labourers in this country who have not sufficient water for household purposes not to mention the matter of dealing with fires. They have not other services to which they have to contribute for the towns, such as sewerage, drainage etc. Now you want to put on top of the other expenditure this expenditure for fire brigades. Fire brigades, of course, are necessary, but they will be of very little use to the country resident. By the time a fire brigade would get to him in most places his place would be burned out and, if they did get to him in time, in nine cases out of ten they would have no water to put out the fire. Why should the rural residents be asked to shoulder the burden of contributing to this? By all means let us have fire brigades, but leave the rural occupiers out of it. They are already contributing sufficiently for other services. As to making provision for dealing with fires in small towns if, unfortunately, they should occur, I think that a better arrangement could be adopted than that which is contained in the Bill. As Deputy Brennan suggested, I think it could be more easily and competently dealt with through some disciplined or organised body like the Gárda or the military.

A very important matter appears either to have been overlooked or to have been found impracticable of incorporation in this Bill. No provision seems to have been made for the setting up of pension schemes for the widows and dependents of fire brigade men who may lose their lives in the carrying out of their duties. As the law stands at present, the only compensation which widows can get in these sad circumstances is under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and the maximum under that Act is £600. I am sure every Deputy will agree, more especially those who voted for our Christian Constitution, that £600 is a very inadequate sum to offer to a widow and her family in such tragic circumstances as these. I make a very special appeal, therefore, to the Parliamentary Secretary to go into this matter very fully between this and the next stage and to see if it is possible to introduce such a provision into this Bill, or, if it is not possible, to take immediate steps to introduce another Bill to deal with the matter.

I welcome this Bill on broad principles as being a very necessary and long overdue measure. It is certainly time to try to arouse our citizens, the country generally, and the public boards in particular to a true sense of the responsibility which they have for the protection of families in their areas against fire. It is deplorable to see the lack of co-operation in various parts of the country between certain boards and the adjoining districts in connection with the use of fire-fighting appliances which are available. We have read from time to time of disastrous fires taking place in towns of a fairly considerable population, involving either the loss of some lives or, in most cases, the loss of very valuable property, and underneath that the usual advertisement from an insurance company.

I think it would be a shortsighted policy to refuse to embark on the necessary expenditure for the provision of fire-fighting equipment in keeping with the type of buildings to be covered in a town. Any failure to face up to a measure of this kind at the present time can only be attributed to shortsightedness in that respect. I have had the painful experience in my own area, where we are equipped with fairly decent fire-fighting appliances, of seeing fires occur in recent years within a few miles radius of the city which the city brigade could not attend because of the refusal of individuals and boards outside the city to co-operate or make any sort of agreement whatever for the use of our fire services.

When the Bill comes to be put into operation. I trust the Minister will have regard to another aspect of this question. Encouragement ought to be given for the provision of fire-fighting services, but apparently no such encouragement has been given in the past. We find the revenue authorities, for instance, insisting on having full duty paid on fire appliances when they are imported for the preservation of life and property. One of the first assurances we ought to get is that if public authorities are making provision for fire equipment, such equipment will be admitted duty free. I had the personal experience of trying unsuccessfully to have a very heavy duty removed from a modern type of fire engine which cost approximately £2,000. We had to pay a couple of hundred pounds in duty on that engine and the fire escape which accompanied it. I trust that that matter will be taken into consideration and that the Government will give the necessary encouragement to those who may avail of the provisions of this Bill to supply this long-felt want.

I differ completely and entirely with Deputy Cosgrave in the suggestion he made last night that where two brigades happen to clash at a fire, one being a military brigade, the military should take precedence and have full control over the civilian brigade. I think that the captain of the civilian fire brigade, who has been trained particularly for that work, and who, I hope, will have passed certain tests in hydraulics, building construction, and the other things essential for the making of a competent fire-fighting captain, should be recognised as the chief in the event of there being both a civilian and a military brigade at the fire. I am sure the military officer will co-operate with the civilian captain in these circumstances. It is really only a matter of who is going to have precedence, and I think the responsibility should rest on the civilian chief in the particular area when there are two brigades working on the one fire.

There is a useful clause in the Bill dealing with dangerous buildings, and in the definitions these are fairly widely set out. I want to draw attention to the fact that in various places overhead wires belonging to the Electricity Supply Board are so arranged as to constitute a permanent menace to fire fighters when a fire happens to take place. That is the case, particularly in my native City of Limerick which I represent. Overtures have been made to the Electricity Supply Board to have these wires removed whenever they run as close as two feet to the face of buildings in the streets, as they make it impossible for an escape to be run up in the event of a fire taking place. It has been suggested that they could plug-out the area but that is not considered a desirable expedient. The alternative would be a costly one for the Electricity Supply Board, to put these wires underground. Before the Electricity Supply Board ever came to Limerick we had an electricity system there, and the wires were underground, but now we have to be content with having the wires overhead. I suggest, for the benefit of those dealing with this matter, that that aspect should not be lost sight of, and that where electric live wires run close to buildings, and where that is brought under notice, they should be treated as dangerous, and should be compulsorily removed by whoever was responsible for putting them there. We had a fire recently in Limerick in which, unfortunately, one man lost his life and two fire brigade men fell from the escape and sustained serious injuries, because of the position of live wires to which I refer.

I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly, and I believe that it will be welcomed by the people generally. The details referred to by Deputy Dockrell and by other Deputies are really matters for Committee Stage. It is obvious, in view of the shortage of water, that when the Bill is in operation that question will have to receive attention, if the results are to be effective. In my experience of dealing with fires the modern type of engine is capable of carrying a water tender and modern fire-extinguishing appliances, and with competent firemen, they have been able to extinguish fires even when the local water supply was inadequate. The principal point to be remembered is the extension of the telephone system, and the establishment of kiosks in various places, so that the central fire station could cater for a joint area. If in each village or town in the area there was a central point at which telephone communication was under proper control, and connected with the fire station, so that the brigade would get an early opportunity of being on the scene it would counteract to a big extent any lack of water facilities in the neighbourhood. With these comments I wish to extend a very hearty and cordial welcome to the Bill.

I am afraid this matter of the provision of fire brigades is, at the present juncture, foolish. It has been born out of the atmosphere of A.R.P. and everybody has got into their heads that we should have this, that and the other thing. Naturally most people's minds turned to fire-fighting appliances. We had an illuminating statement yesterday with regard to the provision of appliances connected with fire brigades. I think a question was raised in the House, and it was established that there would be no fire hose available either at home or abroad before 1941.

Who established that?

That seemed to follow from a question that was put to the Minister. At all events, the Minister was not able to give any definite information on the point. Unless he can give an assurance now that those will be available how will it be possible to combat fires? I am not going into that question now. In this scheme what I am very worried about is what I might call the position of urbanised towns. Deputy Bennett referred to the position of the country people in having to pay for amenities for the towns, but I am concerned more with small urbanised towns that have to pay for everything themselves, and that get no help from county-at-large authorities or the State for many of the schemes they have to carry out. I wonder if the House realises the terrible condition to which some of these towns have been reduced. They have been very hard hit. I was looking up some statistics for County Cork, where there are about 15 towns with an average population of 1,500, and the population in these towns has declined in the aggregate in 50 years by nearly 19,000 people. That is a serious decline in the population in County Cork. However, that is not the worst side of the story.

While these towns are going down, valuations have been going down, business has declined and markets have been failing, but the demand for social services and for the local needs of the people have meant that the rates have been mounting up. Deputies should realise that about 44 per cent. of our population still live in towns. That is a very big percentage and represents people who have less behind them in the way of property, small business people and working-class people. It is in these towns that the danger of fire is greatest, but they are the least capable of dealing with the problem. The Minister is seeking to put upon each of these towns the duty of providing fire-fighting appliances and a fire brigade, but he has not given the House any idea of what the cost of these appliances will be, or of the upkeep of a fire brigade in a town of say 2,000 or 3,000 inhabitants. Above all, the joke of the whole position is that while these places are to be forced to provide fire brigades, there are no adequate supplies of water. There is no water supply in some of these towns. What is the use of entering into a scheme of this kind, and elaborating how it is going to be carried out, and having provisions about the precedence to be accorded one fire brigade over another, when the fundamental essential, the provision of water, is omitted?

I have stressed in this House, and in other places, the necessity of water supplies for towns. I have yet to find any towns of average size that have adequate water supplies even for ordinary domestic purposes not to speak of a reserve of millions of gallons that would be required by a brigade in the case of a fire. I stress the need for water supplies. As the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned for the public health of the country, I want to point out that there is not sufficient water in these places, and that the ordinary amenities of public health are lacking in the way of sanitation. The Minister, I am sure, is quite well aware of the facts because they were put up to him. I maintain that, with its large rainfall, no country has such inadequate water supplies to meet the ordinary needs of the people, not to speak of fire brigades. Consequently, I think this is a bit of a joke.

I am raising a question here that, I am sure, is quite familiar to everybody in this House who lives in a small town or even a fairly-sized town, and that is that there is no water supply in these towns that could be considered either modern or adequate, and I submit to the Parliamentary Secretary that until he makes up his mind to see that this question of water supply is got over there is no use in asking people to provide and pay for fire-fighting appliances. Now, most of these towns cannot pay for the provision of a proper and adequate water supply, themselves, and it must be provided for by some outside body, whether by State aid, by a county-at-large charge, or by some other means, but certainly by a larger area than that contained in these urbanised areas. These towns have a valuation, on an average, of about £5,000, and to provide them with an adequate water supply would cost something like £20,000. I submit that these towns could not provide even half of that sum without putting on the backs of their people a burden that they could not possibly bear.

Incidentally, I should like to point out that the Parliamentary Secretary has given us no idea as to what will be the cost of the provision and maintenance of this fire-fighting scheme in these small towns. However, I stood up here to draw attention to the want of adequate and modern water supplies in this country. That is a thing that, apparently, has never sunk into the heads of either the Parliamentary Secretary or the Department's officials. They all agree that there is no adequate supply of water in most of these towns, but they are giving no help. They agree that it is necessary that adequate water supplies should be provided, but their idea seems to be that the local people should provide for these supplies. The fact is that the local people are not able to make that provision. We are now going to have a county manager system and, under this Bill, the county manager will be also the manager for those urbanised districts, and I suggest that, when the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary is taking over these affairs, he should also take over such problems connected with public health as adequate water supplies for these places, and that it should be made a county-at-large charge. I submit that, to bring in a Bill of this kind here at the present time, and to talk about putting out fires in these towns, acquiring all the hose we need, with the most up-to-date fire engines, jumping sheets, and so on, is making the whole thing a joke if you leave out the essential element of an adequate water supply. I think it is a joke to bring in a Bill of this kind unless provision is made for a proper water supply in these towns.

I think that the idea behind this Bill is good, and it is my opinion that most people would agree with that, but I think that the objections which Deputy Brennan raised to this Bill, and the solutions he proposed, are worthy of the very careful attention of the Parliamentary Secretary. One of the points raised by Deputy Brennan, to which I should like to draw attention, is the question of training. There appears to be no provision here for training, but if the matter is handed over to the Civic Guards, then I have no doubt that the question of training will be handled satisfactorily by them. Apart from that, however, I wonder if this is an opportune time to introduce a Bill of this description, because, if the provisions of this Bill are going to be carried out, it will mean the creation of an extra charge on various parts of this country, and I think that this is not a time in which fresh charges should be put on any local authority. In that connection, there is also the added difficulty that the present is not an opportune time for the purchasing of fire-fighting equipment, because I fancy that there is very little to be obtained, at the moment, of any description.

There are just one or two other points to which I take objection in connection with this Bill. The first is concerned with Section 7, which has to do with the declaring of a building as being a potentially dangerous building. It seems to me that the powers conferred on the local authority there are pretty severe, in that a man can be prevented from making use of a building because the local authority considers the building unsafe. There is provision for an appeal to the District Court against such notice, but I do not think that the district justice would be the suitable authority to decide as to whether or not a building is potentially dangerous. However, that is a matter that can be dealt with on the Committee Stage of the Bill.

The other objection I have is in regard to Section 9 of the Bill, where reference is made to the question of damage done by a fire brigade, in extinguishing a fire, being regarded as damage done by the fire—in particular, it says, for the purpose of any contract of fire insurance. Now, to my mind, there are two objections to that. The first is that I should be surprised if the fire insurance companies did not take such a clause as this as being an excellent reason for advancing their premiums. Secondly, there is the danger that the fire brigades, if they know that any damage they do, whether that damage is absolutely essential or not, will be covered by the insurance company, are not going to bother very much, probably, as to whether it is essential or not. There might be a question of partially saving a building or knocking it down, and there is always the danger that the fire brigade men, knowing that the damage will be covered by insurance, might say: "Let us knock down the building," and thus do damage that was not necessary. We all know that there is something in the human mind which leads us to say, when we know that there are insurance companies behind the matter: "Well, it does not matter; the insurance company will pay"—quite forgetting that, eventually, it is they themselves who have to pay, through the insurance company. I am afraid, at any rate, that, with that section as it stands, there is the danger that fire brigades might do damage which was not absolutely necessary for the proper putting out of a fire.

I think that the time for this Bill has been long overdue, and that something like this should have been done long ago. Speaking of our experience in Cork, we were getting so many calls for our fire brigade from outlying towns that we had to set our faces against it, and eventually we reached some agreement with some of the sanitary authorities on the matter. At the moment we have an agreement with the North Cork Board of Health arranging for the use of our brigade for something like £900 a year. That agreement has not yet been completed, but that is the arrangement. I think we have also reached an agreement with the South Cork Board of Assistance. In that case, I understand that an arrangement has been, made for a staff—not very large —and also for volunteer firemen, at 15/- a week, who can be called upon in emergencies.

I welcome this Bill because, so far as the City of Cork is concerned, the services of our brigade were called upon from as far away as Kilmallock, Midleton, Fermoy, and other towns at quite a distance. It was very hard to refuse the services of the brigade, but it was also very hard to have our brigade leave the city and, perhaps, be absent at a time when they might be required for a big fire in the city. I think that the time has arrived for a Bill of this kind, and if some agreement could be come to with the various sanitary authorities on this matter, it would certainly be a good thing. For instance, so far as Cork is concerned, we have all the towns west of Kinsale and so on, and a Bill of this kind should help in that connection. Of course, as Deputy O'Neill pointed out, it is very difficult to fight a fire if you have not water, but that is an entirely different matter from what the Bill has under discussion. As I said, we have already done something in Cork in connection with the North Cork Board of Health and the South Cork Board of Assistance.

As a representative of a municipal council, in addition to representing rural districts, I welcome this Bill. Judging from the discussion here to-day, it seems to be a question of the town versus the country. I have noticed that the country Deputies here are complaining about the introduction of the Bill, while the town and city Deputies seem to welcome it. Now, I claim to represent both town and country here, and I welcome this Bill, and for the reason that, after a very disastrous fire in our town, we found ourselves in the position that we had to provide for fire-fighting accommodation and appliances, and, having made that provision at very considerable expense, we then found that that service was not very long in operation until we had very heavy demands from the rural districts for the services of the fire brigade. I do think that provision should be made in the Bill to compel insurance companies to contribute something towards the maintenance of a fire-fighting system both for rural and municipal areas. As Deputy Keyes said, we find that insurance companies, directly a disastrous fire occurs, have a notice inserted dealing with their services. We find that the premiums paid amount to some millions, that the claims paid amount to millions and that the reserve capital still remains at millions. I see no reason why the ratepayers either of a rural or urban district should be called upon to bear 100 per cent. of the cost of a fire-fighting system in order to protect, principally, the interests of the fire insurance companies. I maintain that the Government should take powers to compel these people to contribute some portion of the cost.

We maintain our own fire-fighting system. Reference has been made to the difficulties of management. We have not found the slightest difficulty in providing a fire-fighting service. I agree that a municipal authority is in a better position to do that than some of the boards of health but we have recruited a first-class, up-to-date fire brigade. We selected men from the scavenging and other staffs and sent them here to the City of Dublin to be trained. We have them carrying out their daily avocation and we have, at least once a month, a surprise call upon them. They are called out at night, occasionally, too, by way of surprise and we have complete satisfaction with our fire brigade. We have provided that service for our own accommodation but, since we established it, we have had many calls from the rural districts. As regards a sufficient supply of water in these districts, we had to face many serious fires within a radius of about 15 miles from Drogheda. These fires were at farmyards and in farmers' houses but there are rivers, streams, quarry-holes and many sources of water supply and it is not absolutely necessary to wait until every urban centre has an adequate supply of water for domestic purposes to establish a fire-fighting service. I welcome the Bill. It is long overdue. I ask representatives of the rural districts to give it their support and to make the best they can out of it in the interests of the people.

I think that the country and the ratepayers should be very thankful to Deputy Walsh. He has struck the note I intended to strike. I can see no demand in the country for this Bill and I suspect that the real demand was from the insurance companies. It is a Bill to cut their losses and to help them in every way. Then, there is the difficulty of the water supply. Deputy Keyes spoke of the boon a fire-fighting service would be outside the borough boundary of Limerick. What is the guarantee that we will have a water supply outside the borough boundary? The people who will really gain from this Bill are the insurance companies and, unless some provision is made whereby they will bear a reasonable proportion of the cost, the Bill will not be an equitable measure. I am quite in agreement with the view expressed by Deputy Walsh on this matter.

To me, the debate has been rather disappointing inasmuch as many of the people who have contributed to it did not closely study the terms of the Bill. There were a few notable exceptions to that to whom I need not refer. A good deal of the discussion that we have had so far might have been avoided if the terms of the Bill had been more closely studied by the people who contributed to the debate. Deputy Dockrell, speaking last night, said that most of the brigades would have a very wide area to cover under the new conditions, as he saw them, when the Bill would become operative. I think that the very reverse should hold under the operation of this Bill. Under Section 2 of the Bill, the sanitary authority will be under a statutory obligation to make "reasonable provision" for the prompt and efficient extinguishing of fires. That applies to every sanitary authority in the country. If the section becomes operative, it must mean that the towns in the provinces and more remote parts of the country will have their own fire-fighting appliances or will have entered into agreement with neighbouring sanitary authorities and that the long-distance travelling on the part of fire brigades which at present prevails will be largely eliminated.

Deputy Dockrell complained that in the Bill the Minister does not take power to "vet" the equipment that will be provided. That is so. The Minister does not take any direct power to "vet" the equipment, but the equipment will be purchased out of loan and, when an application comes before the Ministry for a loan for the purposes of the Bill, the Minister will have an opportunity of satisfying himself on the question of standardisation and in respect of the specification of the equipment it is proposed to purchase. In that way, while the Minister will not have the direct power Deputy Dockrell would like him to have, he will have in that indirect way effective control in respect of standardisation and specification. We should be able, by that means, to secure a considerable degree of uniformity.

A question has been raised by many Deputies as to what use the Bill will be in areas where there is not an adequate water supply. Under the Bill, the sanitary authority will have to make "reasonable provision" having regard to all the circumstances. In remote areas, the sanitary authority could not provide an adequate water supply, but the position of an adequate water supply in a remote rural district would not be considered to be "reasonable." Consequently, the sanitary authority would not be obliged to provide a water supply in such an area.

I might suggest to the House that fire-fighting services are not confined to turning on the hose and that a trained and equipped fire-fighting unit could do a tremendous lot of good in rural areas and could give very effective services in the matter, firstly, of controlling an outbreak and, secondly, in the more important matter of rescue work where human life might be in danger and where the special equipment, special training, special skill and perhaps special courage of the men who are trained in fire fighting might be of very considerable service in such circumstances.

Deputy Dockrell, I think, misunderstood the intention of Section 4. That section is intended to cover the contingency where the special services of an outside brigade might be requisitioned where no agreement already exists. If the special services of an outside brigade are required, it might be well in exceptional circumstances to make provision for availing of such services and, under Section 4, either the individual whose property is in danger or whose property is involved in the fire or the local sanitary authority can requisition the services of an outside brigade; but that does not relieve them of the obligation to make reasonable provision in their own area for dealing with ordinary emergencies that might be anticipated by way of fire.

Deputy Cosgrave criticised the provision of Section 5:

"Whenever the Minister receives a complaint in writing, signed by not less than 20 persons who are registered local government electors in a particular sanitary district", etc.

The initiative rests there with 20 local government electors if the sanitary authority fails or neglects to make reasonable provision. Deputy Cosgrave seems to think that it would be a better machine and would operate more efficiently if the initiative rested with the Minister, who would operate the section and see that each sanitary authority discharges its statutory obligations, through the medium of his inspectors.

I have no enthusiasm for the machinery set out in Section 5. I can well foresee the difficulty of getting 20 persons to bother: "What is every-body's business is nobody's business". In that way, though the sanitary authority may be negligent in the matter, 20 persons may not bother coming together for the purpose of making a complaint to the Minister. It might improve that section if the words: "signed by not less than 20 persons" were omitted but that can be dealt with on the Committee Stage and, in the meantime, I can look into the matter. On the whole, it seems better to leave the local initiative and that the complaint originate in the area concerned. The Minister then, as soon as he receives a complaint, comes into the picture, holds his inquiry and takes the necessary steps to ensure that reasonable provision is made.

On the question of having the investigation carried out by an inspector and avoiding a public sworn inquiry, I do not think that Deputy Cosgrave's suggestion would give as satisfactory results as a sworn inquiry; neither would it be any saving in expense. The inspector who comes down to make such an investigation has to go round and individually interview the various interests at stake and he probably loses more time than he would conducting a sworn inquiry, where he would have all the parties concerned present in each other's presence, and where all the evidence bearing on the matter could be submitted to him. I think better results, at very little additional—if any additional—cost, could be got by the machinery proposed in the Bill.

The point has also been made that difficulties will arise where more than one brigade is present at a fire—difficulties as to the order of precedence— and Deputy Cosgrave suggests that the senior officer of the outside brigade ought to be the person in charge. He makes that suggestion on the assumption that the outside brigade called in in such circumstances would be in charge of an officer with greater knowledge of the problems arising in fire fighting. There is something in that, but on the other hand, bearing in mind that a local brigade will already be operating in charge of a local officer, the local officer will have advantages over the stranger coming in, he will have local knowledge that will be very useful to him, and I do not believe that, in practice, there is going to be very much jealousy as to precedence— while the fire is on, at any rate. We may reasonably anticipate getting full co-operation amongst the officers and that no great difficulty will be encountered under that head. On the whole, I think that better results would be got by having the local officer who will, of course, have to be a trained officer and, as I see things, who will probably have to be a whole-time officer.

I do not suggest that we will have to have whole-time officers in every town or in every sanitary district in the whole of the State. The local authorities are bound—as I have said more than once—to make reasonable provision. But it does not follow at all—as many Deputies seem to have inferred—that each sanitary authority will have to provide a fire brigade and equip and train that brigade. Reasonable provision would be met fully by a local authority entering into an agreement with a neighbouring local authority or by a sanitary authority entering into an agreement with a neighbouring sanitary authority. Taking the average county health district, if there is one fairly well equipped and fairly well trained fire brigade in the county and that agreements have been entered into by the various sanitary authorities in that county for the use of the brigade in the event of fire, probably it would meet normal requirements. Instead of the Bill inflicting a considerably added burden on the local sanitary authorities at the present time, the Bill ought to relieve local sanitary authorities, inasmuch as it is not possible at present for any small urban district council or town commissioners to finance the maintenance, equipment and training of a fire brigade. The intention of the Bill is that, instead of each local sanitary authority setting out to equip itself to meet fully all emergencies, we will get co-operation amongst all local authorities so that they will club together, pool their resources, and try to have within reasonable striking distance a reasonably well equipped unit.

Deputy Cosgrave referred to the penalties under Sections 7, 9 and 10, and we might perhaps further discuss that matter on Committee Stage, but it seems to me that it is a question of relating the penalties to the magnitude of the offence. There might be a difference of opinion as to which of the offences set out in Sections 7 (4), 9 (2) and 10 (2) are the more serious, but I think that, on analysis, it will be found that the suggested punishment reasonably fits the crime. Deputy Brennan is not satisfied that the Bill will provide an efficient machine. I do not know that any Bill can provide an efficient fire-fighting machine, but the Bill, at any rate, enables the sanitary authorities to set up an efficient fire-fighting machine, and to such extent as the sanitary authorities fail to operate the Bill, we will fail in securing efficiency, but I still have considerable faith in the local authorities and I do not think it will be the failure that Deputy Brennan feels it will be. He tells us about the position in Roscommon. I do not for a moment suggest that he is exaggerating. I have not heard of it before, but I fully accept his word for it. I cannot, however, understand what effect the provision of fire-fighting appliances had in Roscommon, or, at least, how it affected the fires. He tells us that when they provided the equipment, they had no important fires.

Mr. Brennan


Perhaps I misunderstood the Deputy.

Mr. Brennan

I said that they had three fires practically together. They then woke up and got these fire-fighting appliances and they did not have a fire for six years, or, as a matter of fact, for the past six or eight years. This occurrence took place when the Parliamentary Secretary was a wee boy and he would not remember it. The point is how many times have you a fire in any town of, say 2,000 population? In ordinary circumstances, what is the lapse of years between fires in those towns?

Apparently I did understand Deputy Brennan correctly. The point I was trying to make was that whenever the local authority in Roscommon made adequate provision for fire fighting, the fires ceased.

Mr. Brennan

No, I did not say that.

They had no fires for a period of six years, such a long cessation of outbreaks of fire that the houses were rotten and the equipment was no use.

Mr. Brennan

And that is quite usual.

That opens up a very interesting line of thought as to what was the incentive for all the fires before they were in a position to fight them. However, we need not go into that.

Mr. Brennan

I do not want the Parliamentary Secretary to misrepresent me. There may be an accidental fire, or two or three such fires, in one year and, equally possibly, there would not be a fire for ten years in the same town. That is what has happened there.

Deputy Byrne raised the question of pensions to widows and dependents. That matter will be considered in connection with the general question of pensions to officers and employees of local authorities and will not be dealt with specifically in this Bill. Deputy O'Neill's chief concern appears to centre around inadequacy of a water supply. There is not as much substance in that as many Deputies assume. The Local Government Department have made enormous advances in the matter of the provision of water supplies in recent years, and I have before me here a list of towns in which adequate water supplies have been provided, or are in the process of provision. When this programme is completed, and it is in course of completion at present, we would be able to have, so far as water supply is concerned, adequate or reasonable fire-fighting services throughout almost the entire State. I appreciate Deputy O'Neill's difficulties in the matter of water supply in the town of Kinsale, and I am afraid his speech was based largely on conditions as he knows them in the town of Kinsale, but I am in a position to state very definitely that, as soon as this Bill is operative, in most of the towns throughout the State an adequate water supply will be available, and where an adequate water supply is not available in a town, the sanitary authority will be called on to make only such fire-fighting provisions as will be deemed to be reasonable. I think that covers most of the points raised, many of which would be more appropriately discussed on Committee. The Bill, I am sure, can be improved, and my attitude towards the House in that regard is that I am quite prepared to consider very carefully any suggestion calculated to improve the machinery of the Bill.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary deal with the points as to insurance companies bearing portion of the liability?

So far as that is concerned, it sounds all right to put in a statutory provision that an insurance company will bear its share of the cost of providing fire-fighting appliances, but it will not get you any further, because if an insurance company did assume liability for such a contribution, they will pass it on in the form of increased premiums. If I can be shown how that can be done——

The Minister for Industry and Commerce is with you, and he can do all that. The Minister for Supplies could help you, if he can.

In that connection, would the Parliamentary Secretary ascertain what the difference in insurance rates is in respect of towns which have a fire brigade and towns which have not a fire brigade?

Yes, there is.

Any time an insurance company is asked to make a contribution, they always say that the rates are lower in that town in consequence of the existence of appliances there. The Parliamentary Secretary has the machinery to find that out, and I suggest that he do so.

We will look into it.

Mr. Brennan

Would the Parliamentary Secretary tell me exactly what is the relationship between Section 2 and Section 5? Section 2 sets out the obligations and powers of sanitary authorities and under that we are "obliged to provide." Section 5 sets out the provisions with regard to the signing of a complaint by 20 persons that a thing has not been done. Who is the judge whether such necessary provision has been made under Section 2, and is Section 5, in fact, an appeal to the Minister that Section 2 has not been complied with?

It amounts to that.

Mr. Brennan

Who is the deciding authority with regard to Section 2, in the first instance? Is there any deciding authority?

If no complaint is made to the Minister, it will be assumed that the fire-fighting services must be satisfactory to the community.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 30th November.