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.