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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Nov 1940

Vol. 81 No. 3

Public Business. - Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1940—Second Stage (Resumed).

On the last evening, when dealing with the Second Stage of this Bill, I intervened in the debate simply to point out, first of all, that I was very disappointed with the Minister's statement and with the report of the Electricity Supply Board in so far as there is no reference whatever made by the Minister, and no reference in any report of the Electricity Supply Board, to the consideration of rural electrification in this country. I think it is an important aspect and it ought not be overlooked. The late Government had sufficient enterprise to initiate the electrification of the country, and at that time we were told by the then Minister that in order to make the scheme pay it was not necessary to include rural electrification and that neither was it necessary to include industrial electrification for the country; but very definitely, at that time, hopes were held out to our rural population that, at some future date, rural electrification of this country would be considered.

Now, what I want to point out is this. We are continually stressing in this House and outside this House that our agriculturists are being licked in competition with other countries in the market in which we sell our produce. I read some time ago where Deputy Childers referred to New Zealand production and said that it was a red lamp of warning to our agriculturists in this country. What is the position of New Zealand agriculturists and Irish agriculturists? Even on this alone we are very seriously handicapped, because the New Zealand farmers have rural electrification there, and all their work, such as milking, sterilising, separating, churning, bottling, and all the other operations in a dairying country like New Zealand, are done by means of power on the farm supplied from a national scheme. It is a matter that deserves serious consideration, that if we are going to compete with countries that are putting up very keen competition against us, we must keep in step with them at all events if we hope to compete with them, and we must equip our agriculturists as well as the agriculturists of other countries are equipped so that they can produce food at a minimum cost.

There is not a doubt about it, electrification on the farm, and especially on the bigger farms, is going to be very helpful to our agriculturists. As I have said, in the case of the dairy farmer you can do your milking, your sterilising, your separating, your churning, your bottling, and all the work of that sort on a dairy farm, by means of it. In the case of a mixed farm you can pulp turnips, bruise corn, run a small saw and do pumping when necessary, and that is essential on a good many farms, too, because you have not a proper water supply and you have no pressure supply, and if you had electricity on the farm you could have a proper water and pressure supply, especially on the bigger farms, and after all it is the bigger farms you must look to for the big output for our exports.

That has been completely neglected. I was greatly disappointed that no reference whatever is made either in the report of the board or in the Minister's statement to that aspect of the case. The Minister told us, in column 276, volume 81, of the Official Reports, that provision is also being made for a substantial sum for extensions to consumers and for the development of new areas. In effect, what does that mean from a production point of view? It simply means nothing, because most of the towns and villages of the country that have yet to be supplied with electricity are small rural towns and villages with no industry whatever and with no output from an industrial or productive point of view. Accordingly, from the productive point of view, the extension of that scheme, according to the Minister's intention and the board's intention, is worthless.

There is one consideration, in my opinion, that ought to weigh in all matters of this sort, especially where there is a big sum of money involved, and that is, what effect it is going to have on production and how it is going to be helpful in increasing production in this country. The countries that were our competitors formerly and that, I suppose, are likely to be our competitors in normal times—countries such as Denmark and Holland—for breakfast commodities are countries that always believed in electricity. Denmark was a country that always believed in electricity and, prior to a national scheme there, they believed in generating electricity by running windmills all over the country, and they had a power supply to the farms by the old method of running a windmill to generate power. They had that power there all the time before they had a national scheme.

In the same way, in the case of Holland, they supplied current even on their poultry farms for the incubation of eggs, for brooders, and for all that sort of work that is necessary on a poultry farm and that requires current, whereas we still have the old obsolete method of the paraffin oil lamp. Sweden has its rural electrification; Denmark and Holland have it, as I said, and Canada also. A great many of the United States have it, notably Ontario, in the vicinity of Niagara Falls, where the great power station is. This Province is intensely developed.

New Zealand and all these countries with which we have to come into competition are far better equipped than we are. They are infinitely better equipped in that way because they have rural electrification and we have not anything to approach it, and when we begin to talk about competition from these far, distant countries it must be remembered that with modern transport all these countries are brought much closer to our market from the competition point of view. We can only restore prosperity in rural Ireland by adopting modern methods in agriculture, and from that point of view alone we are absolutely out of the picture. As I said, there is no reference whatever made by the Minister or by the board to this matter. Of course, the board are very conservative in that respect, because evidently the intention is to make money and give cheap current for lighting only, and, of course, for industrial work in industrial towns, but this is a problem that ought to be faced up to. It is a national scheme and ought not to be looked at purely from the point of view of money.

If it were necessary to subsidise rural development it should be done. I admit that it is a difficult problem, but when it has been solved in other countries it should be possible to solve it here. I know that Canada has subsidised rural electrification. Other countries have put up the network by relief grants. Where network can be provided in rural Ireland the cost to the board would be reduced by making available relief grants for such a purpose. For distribution purposes in Sweden a group of farmers form a co-operative society to buy current from the board, and they are helped with technical advice and cheap materials by the board.

These are details that the Minister and the Department are more capable of dealing with than I am. In fact, I say to the House that it should not agree to this loan except on one condition, that at least 10 per cent. of the amount, or even £500,000, is earmarked for rural electrification. There is no use in bemoaning the deplorable condition of agriculture here if some really courageous effort is not made to place the agricultural industry on a higher plane so that we will not be handicapped, as we are at present, compared with other countries with which we are in competition. We could raise the plane of agricultural life from being a life of drudgery in the farmyard to a higher level. All the operations I referred to are included. The lighting of out-offices, cattle sheds and barns would be of tremendous advantage as also the operation of machinery for pulping, grinding, the running of incubators and brooders, milking machines, sterilisers and churning. That should be possible here. I have here a copy of the Irish Builder and Engineer for March 5th, 1938, containing an article entitled “Electricity for the Countryside” by an electrical engineer, read before the Irish Institute of Electrical Engineers, showing how Dumfries faced the problem. There they succeeded in an amazing way, without any extra cost to the urban areas, with a scheme of rural electrification. Dumfrieshire is a county in Scotland about the size of County Limerick. Population density there was something similar to the density of population in rural Ireland. Including towns, the average population density was about 55 inhabitants per square mile, but when mountainous districts were excluded the population density of the remaining area was about 100 per square mile. The average population in rural Ireland is 80 to the square mile, and that figure can be modified to some extent by the elimination of mountainous districts. In his paper the county electrical engineer, Mr. J.S. Pickles, B.Sc., stated:—

"There are in the area, 1,321 farms of 50 acres or over. In May, 1937, 551 farms were taking supply, and it is expected the number will have increased to 650 in May, 1938. A few farms specialise in dairying, and a few in poultry, but the great majority are mixed farms, being principally devoted to the feeding of stock coupled in some cases with small dairies and a certain amount of tillage. In practically every case, supply was taken initially for domestic use in the dwellinghouse and lighting of the outhouses. The application of electricity gradually extends to such uses as grain bruising, turnip cutting, cake crushing, pumping, elevating, or a small saw bench, and on the dairy farm, to milking and sterilising, separating, churning, bottling, etc. Electricity finds a ready market in the poultry farm for incubating, brooding and for extended lighting of hen coops. Rapid progress has been made with these applications and on some poultry farms very high consumptions are recorded. On the average mixed farm the consumption of electricity is about 2,000 units per annum, and the corresponding revenue about £15 per annum. Cottages situated on the farms add on the average about £5 per annum to this figure."

That was on big farms. He says that the revenue from the large farms was £15, and that the cottages on these farms contributed £5, so that the net cost for electrification was £10 per annum. It can be appreciated what an enormous advantage it would be on our farms to have an unlimited supply of current not alone for lighting but for power. I would even go so far as to suggest that the House should only agree to this loan on one condition, that the Minister was prepared to promise to devote 10 per cent. of the amount in order to make a start with rural electrification. It is some 13 years since the Electricity Supply Board was set up, after the beginning of the Ardnacrusha scheme, and one would expect that some reference would be made in the annual report, even if it were only by way of excuse, to the problem of electrification for rural Ireland. Will we ever solve our economic problems by lighting towns and villages? Is it not time to face up to this position, that what really matters is increased production in agriculture and industry? The electrification of rural Ireland is one of the means towards that end.

I have few words to say about the statement of the Minister generally, but I feel worried about the Clonsast proposal. It appears to me to be a way out for the Turf Board when they failed to make a success of turf development, which we were told so much about at one time. They are now going to produce electricity. Are they going to put another £800,000 into another bog and bury it as was done at Carbury in North Kildare? A paragraph in the annual report of the Electricity Supply Board states:—

"The board has had under consideration the construction of a peat fired generating station, and the technical and economic aspects of the utilisation of this fuel have been investigated."

Deputy Cosgrave referred to this matter on a previous occasion. We are not opposed to the extension of the scheme at all-far from it. As a matter of fact I am very keen on the extension of the scheme all over the country. We have no assurance from any expert engineer that it is going to be a success. Until we have an assurance that the matter has been thoroughly investigated by experts, I think the House should not accept that statement as being sufficient.

I will go further than that. That has already been said by Mr. Cosgrave, but I will go further. The report goes on to say:—

"The Department of Industry and Commerce has assured the board that the production of the Clonsast Bog will be increased to meet the large demands of a generating station, and on the basis of these assurances a suitable site has been selected and steps are being taken to empower the board to proceed with this project."

The Department of Industry and Commerce "assured the board". I wonder if the board is satisfied with that assurance. Does the Department of Industry and Commerce guarantee the board that there will be a supply of turf if we have a particularly wet summer in any year? Turf must be won in the summer and, of course, you cannot save it if you have a very bad summer. In this climate of ours we know that that occurs fairly often. Is there any guarantee that, if we have a particularly wet summer, there will be a sufficient supply of turf? I am not satisfied with the word "assured" at all. I have very grave doubts that in the particular kind of year that I visualise it will be possible to win a sufficient supply of turf under bad weather conditions. I think it is essential, in examining all the aspects of that case from the point of view of a supply of turf under difficult weather conditions in an abnormally wet year, that we have the assurance of an expert that this is going to be a success. There may be years when it can be a success, if weather conditions are ideal for the saving of sufficient turf. I forget the quantity that the Minister gave but it is enormous. Would he repeat it?

120,000 tons.

120,000 tons a year. I have not the slightest doubt that under bad weather conditions that 120,000 tons will dwindle to less than half, that is, to 60,000 tons. Consequently, my interpretation of that paragraph in the board's report is that this whole scheme is being foisted upon the board by the Minister, that it has not been accepted wholeheartedly by the board. If it were, that paragraph would be couched in very different language. I believe it is being forced upon the board, to prove that our great turf scheme is going to be a success, that if we could not make a success of turf in one direction we will make electricity out of it now. The other point is one that already has been made. Are the people who normally get turf from that bog going to be denied that right? From the Minister's reply one would infer that no one got turf out of the bog until the board went there and drained it.

Is the Deputy familiar with the district?

I am more familiar with it than the Minister is. I do not live very far away.

I know that the Deputy does not live far away.

I admit that it is not in my constituency, but I travel a little outside my constituency occasionally. While there is a hydro-scheme like the Erne in existence I cannot for the life of me see why one should embark on a doubtful scheme like this, and I do not think the House should accept this proposition unless they are assured by an expert who has examined the whole proposal that it is going to be successful.

There is one matter I should like to raise and I hope it is in order. It concerns the assessment of local rates. I have here a letter from the Killarney Urban District Council asking me to raise it, in regard to whether it is possible to amend Section 11 of the Electricity Supply Act, 1930. Under that Act certain assessments of local valuation are imposed and must be carried through by the local authority. The Killarney Urban District Council finds itself in the position that on that basis they have to accept a commitment from the Electricity Supply Board carrying a valuation of £378, whereas under Section 11 of the previous Act they can only assess for a valuation of £118.

That can hardly be brought in under the present Act. I see the Deputy's point, which is, perhaps, of importance, but I do not think it can be brought in under the present Act.

Mr. Flynn

It is really the basis of valuation and would make their commitments up to date. They cannot assess a value commensurate with present day requirements.

I think that the point the Deputy wants to raise is where the Electricity Supply Board takes over an undertaking with a certain valuation and increases the value, the local authority cannot raise rates on the new valuation, but must adhere to the old one. I am afraid that is not in order, though it applies to a good many towns.

The Deputy would be entitled to vote against this Bill because it does not include that.

I would like to congratulate the Minister on his vision in introducing this measure. Everybody realises that, with science advancing as it is, more and more the benefits of science are brought home to countries sufficiently active to avail of them. In the supplying of electricity, this national scheme was started originally by harnessing water, subsequently by harnessing coal, and now, as the Minister has explained in his statement, by harnessing turf. I am quite in agreement with that: I think it is a very good scheme. In this country we have enormous supplies of turf lying idle. The Minister now proposes to make use of those supplies. That is an excellent idea, as the raw material is readily available.

There should, however, be some qualification about this scheme. I believe that the benefits conferred upon individuals in this country generally have been large through bringing into various districts adequate supplies of electricity. So far the people who live in the rural districts, the people living on farms, who form the majority of our population, have been entirely overlooked. If any individual is enterprising enough to ask for a supply of electricity to a particular district which is not already being served he must of necessity pay heavily for his enterprise.

I do not think there is any doubt but that the electrification of the country has been run entirely for the benefit of those who live in urban areas or, possibly, in rural areas with a large conglomeration of houses or something like that. If, under this measure, we are going to harness something which comes from the country districts we should, I think, at the same time see that the people living in those districts will get the benefit of that electrification. Deputy Hughes has already pointed out that if farmers were in the same position as townspeople to get cheap electrical power it would be of enormous benefit to them.

I welcome this Bill. I think the idea behind it is excellent. I believe that no problem is capable of solution unless it is dealt with in a big way. The Minister is proposing to deal with this in a big way since he is asking for the sum of £4,000,000. It is the only way to deal with our difficulties, but what will the ordinary people in the country think when they learn from the newspapers that an additional £4,000,000 is to be provided towards the electrification of the country? I represent a constituency in which there is practically no turf. At the same time I want to say that, in my opinion, the money would be well spent if, by reason of this proposed development, electricity could be brought to my neighbours in the country and to my constituents—the farmers who live not on the main roads, but on the by-roads. The money would be well spent if electricity could be brought to them not as a luxury, but as something that they would get in the ordinary way— in the same way that the people in the towns get their supplies of water and electricity. I venture to think that the Minister has something like that in view, although it is not mentioned in the Bill. The people of the country are being asked to supply a very large sum of money. I think it is right that they should do so, subject to this qualification, that hereafter, through whatever channel it comes, they will reap the benefit of having supplied the money.

The Minister under this measure is going to increase the amount of electricity that will be available to consumers in the country. I hope he will provide it for the people in the rural areas at as cheap a rate as that which obtains at the moment in towns and other centres with a big consumption. If he does not do that, then, from the point of view of the people in the rural districts, the scheme is not a good one. I feel that in the forefront of his mind is the desire to carry out a general electrification of the country and to provide our people, particularly those engaged in the agricultural industry, with the same facilities as their competitors—some for the moment temporarily wiped out—have enjoyed. The farmers in Denmark, Norway and Sweden and in North America produce the same commodities that we do. They are our competitors in the markets of the world. Therefore, I say that if we are able to provide the people in the rural districts with electricity at the cheap rates enjoyed by the farmers in those countries, this Bill will, in my opinion, be welcomed by every person in the country, no matter how remote the district he lives in. I hope that is what the Minister has in mind. If he has not that in mind, and if this is just a scheme for producing an additional number of units of electricity for the people who reside in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and other large towns, then I think the scheme will not commend itself to the people of the country. I hope the Minister will say that his intention is to provide electricity at a reasonable rate for every home in the country. If he is able to say that, then I think the scheme will have the approval of all the people who are being asked to contribute, directly or indirectly, towards the provision of this very large sum of £4,000,000.

There are four main points to which I should like to address myself in connection with this measure. The first is a general matter which has been introduced by the leave of the Chair, and that is the question of the provision of a pension fund for the staff of the board. I must say that it came to me as a shock when I first heard members of the staff discuss this matter, and found that someone had given legal advice to the effect that the phrase in the original 1927 Act was not wide enough to cover provision for pensions. The matter, unfortunately, was not discussed in the House at the time. So far as I recollect, the only point raised on the section dealing with the employees of the board was on an amendment introduced by the then Deputy Johnson who tried to establish something by way of certain standards, something in the nature of minimum rates. In the conflict of argument on that this special question of pensions was not dealt with. If the view had been pressed that the phrase in the Act did not allow sufficient latitude to enable a pension fund to be established, and if any legal definition had been put to me leading to the conclusion which apparently the present Government have been driven to, I certainly would have considered the introduction of an amendment or of the enlargement of the phrase to enable the board at least to consider the question. The terms and conditions might have to be further considered. One would have to take into account the earlier years and the position the board was in in regard to revenue and in meeting its statutory liabilities. But, having regard to the position in which the board now finds itself, the importance it occupies in the life of the country, and how the scheme generally is regarded by the majority of the people, I think there are very few who would be found to object to the Minister introducing an amendment of the phrase in the section so as to enable the board at least to consider, in conjunction with the employees, a pension scheme. Possibly, there might have to be some debate on it here. I do not say this House should control it. This, I think, may be said, that if the Minister were now to move towards enabling the board to consider a pension scheme for the staff it would be welcomed by most people. They have 2,328 people in their service. The board is one of the biggest corporations we have in the country. In the Banking Commission Report of 1938 it is referred to as one of our most successful bodies, and its work is growing apace. At the moment it is providing a very big amount of this £4,000,000 for ordinary extensions and ordinary development.

It seems to me to be a matter which the public would welcome. Although the public is not generally appreciative of pensions schemes, it would not find it easy to object to the board, situate as it now is, having some regard for those people who have given it loyal service and who have given the country loyal service, through the board, during the past 12 years or so. The board is very well established now; it is no longer under the suspicion or doubt which newspapers engendered, and this forward step might easily be taken.

The board has been regarded, I understand, sometimes as a model to be looked up to and sometimes as a thing to be derided and from which people shy away. At all events, it is established and it stands here for criticism or praise. Commissions which have been established are investigating. the possibility of having other services run by some such institution as the board. We have the usual objection by those who run commercial enterprises that this board has not to meet the ordinary commercial expenses. Not many enterprises have provided pension funds for their staff, but some have provided them and there is a growing tendency towards doing so. In France, the home of the family allowance, reputable industrial institutions have succeeded in establishing pension funds as well. I think the time is ripe for doing this, and I ask the Minister to give consideration to the matter. I understand that discussions have been going on between the board and its employees and that the board have even sent some of their schemes to the Ministry. They discussed the matter in the belief that they had power to inaugurate these pension schemes. They have, apparently, been disappointed to find that there is a legal impediment in the way and that the Ministry is not taking power to remove that impediment.

It is worth while noting that this House has twice passed legislation dealing with railway servants. The original Act of 1924 allowed for the possibility of a pension scheme being discussed between members of the staff and the company and being put forward. Later legislation, in 1932, was represented to this House as making a pension scheme compulsory. Notwithstanding this supposed advance in 1932, no pension scheme has been made. In any event, this House, with a certain amount of acclamation, welcomed the suggestion thrown out in 1932 that the 1932 Bill was an improvement on the 1924 Act in that respect. One does not want to institute odious comparisons, but electricity supply is as much on the up grade as rail transport is on the down grade. It seems to me incontestable that this matter of pensions for the staff of the Electricity Supply Board should be considered, and considered immediately. If it is considered now, it would be only justice that whatever scheme is established should have, at least, some retrospective effect, that the length of service people have given to that board should be taken into account and that it should not start now just because the board finds itself in a happier financial position than it was at the beginning. It was the efforts of those people who had no pension fund which made the scheme the success it has been.

The second general question is that of extensions and the provision of money for these extensions. In 1938, the Banking Commission reported on various matters which they found proper for investigation in connection with the provision of capital for industry. In that connection, they dealt with the Electricity Supply Board. They gave a rather brief statement on the whole electricity development of the country, extending from paragraphs 462 to 464. In the report, it is stated that the chairman of the board estimated that the ordinary capital requirements of the undertaking for the next ten years would amount to about £500,000 a year and the Banking Commission recorded that they believed that figure might be regarded as conservative. The report continued:—

"It is evident that for many years to come the board's transactions will form an important element in public finance and will need to be kept under careful scrutiny in this connection."

They opened a new paragraph in this way:

"It is convenient at this point to mention that we think it important that, before adopting any policy which contemplates fresh capital in the future, however remote, the board should possess the statutory authority for raising such capital. Otherwise, it might happen that, when the Legislature is eventually asked to grant the requisite authority, its discretion would already be prejudiced by the action of the board."

I should like to know to what degree that phrase of the Banking Commission applies to this sum of £4,000,000. Of what fraction of the £4,000,000 is it possible to say that the discretion of the Legislature has been prejudiced by the preliminary activities of the board. As I read the Minister's speech made on the 16th October, he divided the sum of £4,000,000 into three lots. A sum of over £500,000 has to do with the Liffey scheme. The sum of £800,000 is concerned with Portarlington station and the rest refers to extensions or something like extensions. As to the rest—that is, £2,750,000—the Minister spoke in this way:—

"The remaining capital items of importance——"

"Remaining", in the Minister's text, means everything else but the Liffey portion of the expenditure; that was all he had dealt with up to that moment.

"—included in the financial provision which the Bill proposes cover an additional 20 M.W. set at the Pigeon House, an increase in transformer capacity at Ardnacrusha, new 110 K.B. lines between Dublin and Cork...together with new 110 K.B. stations...."

He then uses the phrase "the bulk of this work has already been completed"—so that we are paying after. The House is being asked to sanction not alone something already projected but something already carried forward to completion. The only thing to do is to pay the bill. The Minister continued:—

"Expenditure has also been incurred on the 38 K.B. and the 10 K.B. system, strengthening mains and extending stations to handle the increase in load and undue high tension sub-stations and mains. Owing to the continued growth in the number of consumers, provision is also being made for a substantial sum for extensions to consumers and for the development of new areas."

On the first page of the White Paper which the Minister circulated, items amounting to £2,888,000 were set out. It was explained that £800,000 was being asked for the Portarlington station, leaving £2,000,000 odd. Is that what the Minister spoke of when he used the phrase "the bulk of this work has already been completed"? As I tot the items, they almost come to £2,000,000. Is that the situation—that we are being asked to foot the bill for work to the extent of £2,000,000, out of £4,000,000, which has already been completed? If so, the Minister must admit, that he has not paid much attention to the recommendation contained in the report of the Banking Commission—

"before adopting any policy which contemplates fresh capital expenditure in the future, however remote, the board should possess the statutory authority for raising such capital. Otherwise it might happen that, when the Legislature is eventually asked to grant the requisite authority, its discretion would already be prejudiced by the action of the board."

It is not easy to get these calculations mode from the general terms used by the Minister but, having in a particular part of the speech stated that "the bulk of this work has already been completed", he said that "expenditure has also been incurred"—and he went on with nearly all the other matters on page one of the White Paper. It is, I think, right that the House should get some understanding as to what is the position between the Government and the board on this matter.

As this whole matter was originally determined—this is the view, I think, accepted by the present Government— the position was: It was recognised that the board would have to get the aid of the credit of this State from time to time for its development, and it was recognised that once the preliminary stage had been got over, it would likely emerge that the board was going to pay its way. Of course, the natural consequence of these two thoughts would be that the board would find it easy to get allowances from this House when development was on, that it would get almost into the position of the telephone service. The House is accustomed to requests being made from time to time, with very little discussion about them, for the advance of certain moneys for telephone development, but the consideration that the board was asked to give to the public in return for the placing of the public credit at its disposal was that there should be full publicity as to what their plans were. It can certainly not be considered acting up to the bargain that was, so to speak, struck between the Legislature and the board originally, if what happens is that the board is allowed to spend, or to have entered on commitments which will lead to the spending of, a couple of million pounds before the House hears anything about it.

I do not know how much of the material carried on the other pages is really for extensions, is really for future development at all. I do understand one part of the Minister's statement with regard to the Liffey, that, in as much as part of this money now asked, is for the extra capacity at the Liffey, it undoubtedly can be put under the heading of future development, but possibly the Minister could answer that question eventually. Other than the £800,000 for the Portarlington station, what part of the £4,000,000 can really be said to be for future development and what is there really mortgaged at the moment? If it is the situation that the House is simply to meet and to have it represented to it that a sum of £2,000,000 has either been expended, or that we are committed to its expenditure, one will have to ask the further question: how far the Minister, without telling the House anything about it, was made cognisant of the plans and schemes that involve the expenditure of these couple of million pounds?

I am not sure that I understand correctly what the Minister said about the Liffey, but I make this guess at what has happened. In column 275 the Minister made the statement that the cost of the Liffey hydro-electric scheme is now £784,000, as against the £503,000 originally estimated.

I had intended to call the attention of the House to those figures. Instead of being £784,000 as against £503,000, the figures should be £1,041,000 as against £760,000.

In other words, we have to add the original £503,000 to the £283,000, plus £280,000?

The point is that the £503,000 mentioned did not include housing for the operations staff, cost of land purchase and sundry compensations. The total cost of the scheme, in fact, on either side, is £256,650 more than the figures I gave.

I thought it must be somewhere around the £1,000,000 mark, but I am not sure that I arrived at the calculation by the same road as the Minister. I thought that what we really had to consider was that there was an original scheme, or a scheme stated to be original, of £503,000, and, on the Minister's White Paper, we have two items, one at figure 19 and the other at figure 20, the former being £283,000 extra and the latter being £280,000 extra. We may assume that the Liffey scheme has been raised from a £500,000 scheme to a scheme of somewhere over £1,000,000.

Oh, no. You may take it that the correct statement is that the figures have been raised from £760,000 to £1,041,000.

The sum of £503,000 was a miscalculation by the Minister?

No, it was a slip, a mis-statement.

That figure ought to be £760,000?

The £503,000 ought to he £760,000.

Whatever it should be, the White Paper, in dividing out the £4,000,000, has two items, one of which is the sum of £283,000, which is described in this way: "Estimated increased expenditure over the estimated amount provided for under the Liffey Reservoir Act"; and the other, the Liffey hydro-electric scheme, £280,000, with the side note: "Due to an increase in the size of the generating plant." Whatever was the original sum, we have now two items of £280,000 each. We are asked to provide an additional almost £600,000, of which half is due to increased cost in the scheme as originally planned and the other to give additional capacity. I think that that is roughly what it comes to.

Let us not be confusing ourselves further. Item 19 is:—

"Estimated increased expenditure over estimated amount provided for under the Liffey Reservoir Act. The excess was mainly due to the rise in prices of materials required for the transmission and distribution programme."

The other item is the one which relates to the Liffey hydro-electric scheme proper.

I think I am correct in what I said. The £280,000 is due to the fact that there is going to be icreased capacity from the Liffey, and the £283,000 to the fact that the original estimates in connection with development there have gone up.

No, it was not all in connection with the development of the Liffey.

It has either to do with development, or transmission and distribution therefrom.

The Liffey Reservoir Act covered things other than the Liffey hydro-electric scheme.

Possibly, but I am going on the remarks on the side of the white sheet which has been issued. Item 19 refers to £283,000 and the remarks on it are:—

"The excess was mainly due to the rise in prices of materials required for the transmission and distribution programme."

And it does not make any reference to the Liffey at all, except where it refers to what was provided in the Liffey Reservoir Act.

So that there is a sum of £283,000 due to increases arising from the international situation which has driven the prices of materials up, and a sum of £280,000 for increased capacity. Out of it all, am I not right in saying that the only figure which we have to carry in our minds in connection with now development is £280,000? That is the only sum which we can say, as from the Liffey or thereabouts, has to do with future extensions. If that is so, I feel that what I already said about £2,000,000 out of £4,000,000 having been already either spent, or its expenditure undertaken, would apply possibly to £2,500,000 and to possibly something nearer £3,000,000, out of this £4,000,000. The Minister, however, can clear that up. He has the figures and he will be able to tell us exactly what is the amount out of this £4,000,000, and, if we leave Portarlington out of our consideration for the moment, what part of the remaining £3,200,000 is in hands for future development. I suggest that it is a small sum.

No matter what there is in hands for future development, the other matter arises at this point. I do not know if the board have given any consideration even to a demonstration of either the possibility or impossibility of having rural electrification done in any cheap way in this country. I know it was a project which was very much thought of at one time by the people who are now in control of that scheme, people who are now in an official position on the board. I know there were expeditions arranged to other countries in which rural electrification has been carried out to some recognisable extent, and I did understand that the board had really taken a stand on this matter. I thought they had definitely got it into their heads that they were not tied merely to, give electricity to the urban centres, and to get sufficient revenue to pay off their liabilities. I thought they had read the 1927 Act, and knew that there they were given wide powers with regard to the development of electricity in the country, in the whole of Ireland, not distinguishing the rural areas from the urban areas. They must know very well—it was certainly noised abroad at the time of the inception of this board —that they were being, it was stated, upheld by the credit of the State, and the credit of the State depends to a great extent upon the rural communities.

I think it is wrong to create any impression in this country that rural electrification on a big scale is immediately possible, but I think there are people who are interested in this, and interested in it not entirely on the plane of simply seeing brighter homes in the countryside. They do believe there might be some little effect, something, no matter how small, produced by the, activities of the board in trying to prevent the drift towards the towns, which is supposed to be the evil feature of our life at this moment. At the moment, the board, through this House, faces a certain parting of the ways. It has made good to the satisfaction of the people. It has entered on a period in which it is going to get moneys easily provided here for the ordinary developments. They have their accounts published, and they show a fairly good picture—not so good a picture in this last year as it was the year before, but a fairly good picture. They are now having a big sum of money put at their disposal, and it is certainly presented here—it may be a wrong impression—as if the board recognises that there is a feeling id the country that something, even if it is only a demonstration, ought to be done for rural electrification, but they turn that aside without even writing a paragraph in their annual report about it, and have instead adopted this scheme for the utilisation of peat fuel. I do not believe that the board are back of this scheme for the utilisation of peat fuel at all. We must know whether they are or not. We have given them considerable powers, and the only thing we have asked of them in return is that they will give publicity annually to their various plans and projects, and to their accounts over the year.

I cannot say I have searched back through all their accounts, but certainly in the accounts presented for the last seven or eight years the question of peat fuel has only crept in once; it crept into the accounts that we have this year. The phrase used has been analysed here by Deputies Cosgravc and Cosiello, and to-day by Deputy Hughes. That phrase which the board used must be considered chilly. Here is what it says:

"The board has had under consideration the construction of a peat-fired genefatLig station, and the technical and economic aspects of the utilisation of this fuel have been investigated."

Two points came before the board, technical considerations, and economic considerations. The second sentence is this:

"The availability of adequate supplies of peat will be an important factor in the economic operation of the station."

It does not say it is the only thing to be considered. It does not even say it is the only point to be considered on, the economic side. It simply says:

"The availability of adequate supplies of peat will be an important factor in the economic operation of the station."

After that they very carefully push aside from themselves all responsibility for this matter. They say:

"The Department of Industry and Commerce has assured the board that the production of the Clonsast bog will be increased to meet the large demands of a generating station."

That is a definite hand-off. They do not accept responsibility. I should say they ask the public to read into that a big note of interrogation:

"The Department of Industry and Commerce has assured the board that the production of Clonsast bog will be increased to meet the large demands of a generating station."

I think the interrogation mark gets bigger in the end of that sentence:

"—and on the basis of these assurances a suitable site has been selected, and steps are being taken to empower the hoard to proceed with this project."

There never has been a more impersonal paragraph than that written in any report of the board. They have got assurances from the Department of Industry and Commerce —they do not say whether they believe them or not—and "on the basis of these assurances", that is fixing the responsibility, "a site has been selected". We do not know by whom; we do know that "steps are being taken to empower the board to proceed with this project". I think it is a fair conclusion from that paragraph that the board do not want this scheme at all. They certainly give no indication here that they believe in the assurances of the Department of Industry and Commerce, or that they are pinning their fate to, or basing their reputation on the development of a peat-fired station. I wondered if the Minister would have given in his speech any indication as to where the decision in this matter came from. I read this account of his very carefully. I find he dealt with certain of the objections:—

"The economy of large scale winning of turf by machinery depends on getting two crops of turf each year on the bog."

That is at column 280. At column 281 he says:—

"As far as expert advice and reasonable anticipation, coupled with a degree of experience, can estimate, turf of a suitable moisture content for a generating station will be available at Clonsast to the full extent required."

The only experience that has been spoken of earlier than that has been the experience of the Turf Development Board. The second matter was the efficiency of the turf-winning plant.

Two columns later we come to the difficulty of transport, and eventually we get this summing up from the Minister:—

"The fact must not be lost sight of, however, that the ultimate value of the investment of £800,000, which it is proposed to make in the Portarlington station, depends upon the measure of success which attends the endeavours of the Turf Development Board to solve the very difficult engineering and other problems involved in the winning and harvesting of at luast 120,000 tons of suitable peat fuel from the Clonsast Bog every year."

Later, at column 285, we get the question uf price emerging:—

"The operation costs are not yet as low as they should be, and as they must be, if this investment of £1,000,000 in the bog and this generating station is to justify itself."

Then, I think, we get the expert advice coming out, and we get a revelation as to who the expert is:—

"Nevertheless, the Turf Board feel that when a power station is erected, they will be able to sell turf to the Electricity Supply Board at a price comparable to the price of coal."

There is a phrase common in American life, "passing the buck". The board passed it on, through this report, to the Government. The Minister here, representing the Government, passed it generously to the Turf Development Board.

Not at all.

That is what I read into it. We will get the Minister to pin himself to whether the board are in favour of this or not. If they are in favour of it, or if that paragraph which has been so much read here represents their view, then nobody can say they are enthusiastic about it. How could anybody be enthusiastic about this? I have already referred to what the Banking Commission report said about the Electricity Supply Board. They moved on some time after that to discuss the electricity supply matter and the Turf Development Board, paragraph 471. They talk about how it had arisen, and they sum it up this way:

"While organised in form as a commercial enterprise, the board in fact operates largely as a channel for the distribution of State subsidy outside the normal mechanism of Parliamentary control. In the absence of published accounts the extent to which the advances can be regarded as a satisfactory asset must remain a matter of surmise."

They published their report in the year 1938. Presumably the last accounts of the Turf Board they had seen were those for 1937. Earlier, they said that the advances to the Turf Board amounted to £103,000 and the grants to £71,000, and they say that they cannot make up their minds as to whether the advances can be regarded as satisfactory assets. It has been said here of a notorious ear-biter in this town that often it was more blessed to give than to lend and it generally cost the same. That is a phrase that can be applied to the Turf Development Board. The difference between an advance and a grant to them does not appear to matter very much. As far as the Banking Commission were concerned they could not see any difference between the two, and they could not know how far the operations of this particular Turf Development Board were simply this, to continue as a channel for the distribution of a State subsidy—a State subsidy of a good type—outside the normal mechanism of Parliamentary control. I should add that they dealt with the Turf Development Board in good company. They moved on in the next paragraph to the Peat Fuel Company, and they proved that it had got the assistance of the State in connection with the provision of capital. I think it was three advances—£90,000, £20,000 and £35,000—£145,000—and of both these boards—certainly of the Turf Development Board—they said that no provision had been made for the publication of the accounts. Nobody had yet seen an account from the Turf Development Board. And it is on the operations of that board, criticised in that way, certainly an unsatisfactory performance as far as the majority of the State can understand its operations —it is more or less on the reputation of that board that the Minister places this whole development. The only people made responsible for any real decision on this were the Turf Development Board.

The Minister said that they believe that when the power station is erected they will be able to sell the turf to the Electricity Supply Board at a price comparable to the price of coal, certain relative matters being taken into consideration. Is that good enough for the provision of £800,000? I do not believe much in this talk about experts, if experts means that you must get somebody to tell you the thing is right and somebody else, preferably a foreigner, to say that what a native said was right and probably a commission to investigate. That is the sort of talk that was heard when the original Shannon scheme was mooted. Everyone wanted his own expert brought in in the matter. Why should this matter remain anonymous? Have we been told that the Electricity Supply Board favour this and why they favour it? If they have got reports in favour of it, who drew up those reports? Are their names affixed to them? Are they names that will carry weight with the community? If it was the Turf Development Board, will we be told who is the expert on the board or have they called in anyone from outside? Let us have a name affixed to the whole of the literature on this subject and then we will know whether the provision of £800,000 is likely to be just the casting of more good money after bad.

The Minister will realise, I think, that we are entitled to criticise this particular part of this extension here and now. It is the only opportunity we will get for doing it, and the Minister must know that the Turf Development Board has not a good record in the country. It may be unfortunate in the way in which it has presented itself to the people. It may be it was given an impossible task to discharge and that it has failed, but failed gallantly. It may be that the task was simply thrown on them to try to work out something that was a pet scheme of somebody's and they took it up, to their cost and to the cost of the nation, but anything associated with the Turf Development Board at this moment must he regarded with suspicion. We are entitled certainly to ask the Minister to stop and tell us a little bit more about this. I personally cannot see that there is very much good to be said for this. The Minister is driven in his introduction to this matter back to a Peat Resources Committee of 1914-18 and to a Dáil Éireann Commission set up in the far-off days of 1919. Those are the two main things upon which the Minister founds the case for giving this money other than the phrase that the Turf Development Board believe they will be able to do something or another.

There have been comparisons made with what happens in Germany and Russia. These comparisons are made, I think, in the ibody of the report drawn up by the late Hugh Ryan. I think they also occur somewhere in the reports drawn up in 1914-18, but these reports, I think, were careful to point out that the word "peat" may be applied to a great many substances and that, in fact, the peat from which electricity is found to be generated either in Russia or in Germany is not comparable with the peat we have here. It is more in the nature of lignite. I certainly am a little bit disquieted by comparisons that are made here with Russia and Germany and hark back to reports that were written in the years 1918 and 1919 and I get more disquieted still when I see the only body brought in to try and bring this thing a little bit more up to date is the Turf Development Board.

I suppose the Minister would at least have no objection to doing this, if this scheme goes through. In the Shannon Fisheries Act provision was made for having separate accounts kept of the fisheries business and the reports that have come out since have always presented the Shannon fisheries account under a separate heading. Would it be possible to keep the Portarlington station apart from all the other operations of the board?

I will consider that. I would not commit myself at this moment. I would have to consult the board and others.

It will be possible surely to do this. Let it be apparent to the people hereafter if the Electricity Supply Board in its ordinary operations has been prejudiced by the addition of the Clonsast Bog to it.

I will consider very sympathetically what the Deputy says. I cannot commit myself to it. I do not know whether I have the authority in relation to the accounts.

I think that if the Minister looks at the paragraph in the 1927 Act he will see he has power both with regard to the separation of the accounts and calling for reports.

I would say, offhand, we would be entitled to do it. I would be quite prepared to ask the board to present them in that way.

That would be some saving but, of course, the only criticism that can be passed upon that suggestion of mine is that it will only reveal after the event what has happened.

I come back to my original point, that we should here and now get some better information about this peat station and on what and on whose advice it has been adopted. I said earlier that I would like to approach the position of the Electricity Supply Board from a different angle from that about which I was speaking at the particular moment. I had there adverted to the point that the Banking Commission were rather, afraid of a habit that might grow up with the Electricity Supply Board of running in advance by commitments of the actual moneys at its disposal. I do not know how that is going to be checked if there is such a tendency. The only power that the Minister has, if the Act of 1927 is being operated as it was intended, is that at a certain point he comes in with a resolution to this House asking for the dismissal of certain members of the board, and that Act was certainly so framed as to prevent the Minister having his eye on the board continually or interfering with the operations of the board to any great extent. I get an uneasy suspicion from this whole Portarlington bog project that the Ministry are interfering with the board and that the board are not in the same independent position as they used to be. They are certainly not in the same independent position in which it was sought to put them, if they are having schemes of which they do not approve put before them and told that if they do not agree to carry on with a certain scheme they may find themselves short of capital for other development. I wonder would the Minister be able to give an assurance to this House that if the board like to say even yet that they are not sufficiently convinced by expert examination and their own investigations that this scheme is one that should be gone on with, it will be dropped or, alternatively, are they going to see a Government demand if they are providing capital they should have some say in the schemes to which that capital is to be applied? If the first position is the one that is sustained at the moment, then the board is still independent. If the second is the position, then the board's independence has been shattered. The House here always had control of their finance. The country always had control of their finance, and the Government had the power to say to the board that they would not allow them money for certain developments, and it is for the board to make the case that the country are clamouring for something the board cannot render, but certainly it is a complete reversion of what was supposed if the Government forces the board to indulge in experiments simply because the Government want the experiments carried on even though the board, well advised, does not approve of the scheme.

The particular disquiet I speak of is not confined to myself. I think it is a pity that there should be any uneasiness about the position of the board. There are commissions investigating ways and means of getting the economic life of our country run along different lines from what has prevailed heretofore. We are supposed to have come to a conclusion that the old system is not completely good in its working and we are trying to find ways of alleviating some of the disadvantages of that old system. One of the institutions that has been under definite consideration is the board. The position of the board is that it is free from Civil Service control, and very free from Ministerial control, but at some stated periods it is subject to criticism in this House and, therefore, to criticism by the nation. That is a system that has been approved of and, if there is any suggestion, it is that the board is not independent enough, and its dependence on the Government for the provision of capital makes it a little bit more dependent than it should be.

Whatever be the situation at the moment, it should be explained. It may be there are certain temporary causes which led to more interference with the board than would be considered ideal. It may be that a new view is taken of the position of the board. But there definitely has been engendered a public uneasiness. Perhaps it only sprang from the Clonsast bog affair, but there is the feeling that the board is no longer complete master in its own house, as the legislation intended it to be. People will accept either of two contentions in this matter, that the board has weakly given in to the running of a scheme in which it does not believe—and, therefore, its reputation is down—or that the members of the board have come to the conclusion that the Clonsast scheme has been pushed over on them and that they must accept it. They are, in that respect, happy in their reputation—if they are not as powerful as they used to be, they have suffered from the junction of the Clonsast matter with their ordinary activities.

The whole position can be rectified by the Minister stating that this is a matter of which the board have definitely approved, that they think electricity can be generated from the peat won at Clonsast. There will be every allowance made for them, even if the accidental circumstances that Deputy Hughes talked about come to pass, of a very wet or rainy period coming along. At any rate, we are entitled to know whether the board backed this scheme with their reputation. If the Minister does not give us the answer now, we will get it eventually, because the board must be conscious that there is a public feeling of disquiet. They will have to advert to it in their next report. If they are quiet, the public will say that they do back it. The Minister, I am sure, is fully in the confidence of the board and he can tell us what the situation is.

I am not saying that the Portarlington scheme must necessarily fail; I am not even saying that because the Turf Development Board is allowed in the venture that it must necessarily fail; but there is something that should be cleared up, and it can be cleared up by some sort of statement. We cannot continue to carry on in this anonymous way. We must have some statement backed by a responsible person, and then the House and the country can properly place the responsibility.

This may seem a small matter, but it is pivotal in relation to the whole conception of the Electricity Supply Board. They got immense grants, public credit, and they were asked to utilise it along certain lines. It was thought that they would do two things, that they would bring to their task technical capacity, that there would be an appreciation that public credit was given to them, and that they would not misuse their position. There is a big question of responsibility. The board must adopt it, or definitely detach themselves from it. There may be some intermediate stage where the board will say: "We do not approve of this and are not happy about it," but the House is entitled to know everything that the board knows in connection with this scheme. It is entitled to know whether the board approve of the scheme or not. The House must know from the Minister if the position is that he does not care whether the board approve or not, that it is a Government scheme and that it must go through. Let us have some clarity about it.

As far as the Clonsast scheme is concerned, I believe that whether or not it is sound from a financial or commercial point of view, it is unsound nationally, because it is definitely wrong to divert fuel, particularly peat, for the purpose of generating electricity. Everybody knows that one of the weaknesses in our economic position is that we are to a very large extent dependent upon external sources for our supply of fuel. Peat is our chief native fuel, and for that reason it should be conserved only for fuel purposes. To divert thousands of tons of a commodity which is very limited for the purpose of generating electricity is unsound and unjustifiable. For that reason I think the House should be very slow to adopt a scheme of this nature, even if it were considered sound from a technical or a business aspect.

Before we divsrt a large portion of our limited quantity of fuel for the purpose of generating electricity, every other source of power should be exhausted. I do not believe that every possible source has been exhausted. We know that one or two rivers have been harnessed, but it is quite possible that there are other sources of generating electricity. For instance, on a great number of farms wind power is being successfully utilised in generating electricity for lighting purposes. Have the Government ever given thought to the question whether wind power could not be developed to a much greater extent? I think they should consider that matter seriously. The development of other sources of power should be the main consideration of the Government from a national and economic point of view. The fact that we have to depend on imported fuel puts us in a weak economic position when dealing with other nations and making trade agreements with them. We are forced to a great extent to depend upon one market and accept whatever prices are oflered there, whereas if we were self-sufficient in this matter we would be in a stronger position to bargain for better prices for our exports.

I should like to support what Deputy Hughes said with regard to the electrification of farmsteads. At least there is room for an experiment in this direction. I have no doubt that in certain parts of the country the experiment would be successful and would be commercially sound. We all know the enormous amount of work which has to be carried on in farms, such as the grinding of corn, the pulping of roots, threshing and other farm operations for which electric power could be used very extensively. I believe that if the idea were tried out, at least in certain counties, particularly extensive tillage and stall-feeding counties, it would prove successful.

Another matter which seems to have been completely neglected is the extension of the scheme to our smaller towns. A great number of our small towns and villages have been completely neglected notwithstanding the fact that they all contribute directly and indirectly to this scheme and to national taxation, which helps to finance this scheme. There is no reason whatever why any of our small towns and villages should be neglected as they are at present. I think these are considerations which the Minister should weigh well. I would particularly stress the fact that we are acting against the best national interests if we allow our peat resources to be exhausted for the purpose of creating electric power.

Deputy Cogan's fears of our consuming turf and allowing our supplies to run out do not worry me for a moment, because I think competent authorities from time to time have assured us that there are some 300 years of peat stocks in the country. I do think that there is much in what Deputy McGilligan has stated. We are all agreed upon the desirability of providing electric power in the rural districts of Ireland. I think that in the beginning that, in fact, was the idea behind the whole Shannon scheme. Throughout the country at that time there was a number of small power houses. There was a very considerable power house in Dublin, the Pigeon House, which was taken over from the Dublin ratepayers and for which the Dublin ratepayers have to pay through the nose. There are times during the year when it is still largely availed of. Of course, it has been supplemented since the board took it over. New machinery has been installed to the tune of some thousands of pounds but, nevertheless, it carries practically the whole of the load in the city at some periods of the year. As I said, there was a number of old power houses in the towns which might have been utilised for supplying urban needs, but the real idea behind the Shannon scheme, as I saw it in the first instance at any rate, was to supply electricity for rural purposes. I think that we should have from the board a clear statement as to what they intend to do in connection with the supply of electricity for rural areas. I do not want to dilate on the matter, but I think when the Shannon scheme was mooted in the first instance we visualised a return to the cottage industries. If our smaller towns and the farms throughout the country had electricity going by the door, so to speak, it would have done much to stop the so-called flight from the land. I believe we would have got back to that system of cottage industries whereby much of the influx into the towns would have been stopped. Above all else, I do think as Deputy McGilligan has stated, that we should get clear and precise statements from the board about their every intention.

I intervene to correct a statement made by the last speaker when he said that the citizens of Dublin are paying through the nose for the plant taken over by the board. The citizens of Dublin are getting electricity at a cheaper rate at present than ever before—that is since the board took over control. The Deputy's statement, therefore, is not accurate.

I should hate that a Bill with a very practical object such as this Bill has, should create partisan feelings in the House and the country, about Clonsast, about the Erne, about wind power, or for or against the Electricity Supply Board or the Government. We can all have our own opinions as to what is the best metliod of approach to this problem. It is a very concrete one—what is the best way to enable the Electricity Supply Board to fulfil its obligations, particularly those obligations which were laid down in the original Act of 1927. In Section 19 of that Act it was laid down that: "It shall be the duty of the board to produce and generate electricity in the Shannon, works so soon as the works or a sufficient portion thereof for the purpose, are handed over to the board by the Minister, and to transmit through the transmission system of the Shannon works and any extension of that system, the electricity so generated; to control, co-ordinate and improve the supply, distribution and sale of electricity generally in Saoratát Eireann and for the purposes of such control, co-ordination and improvement to exercise and employ the powers conferred on the board by this Act". The Oireachtas has laid a statutory duty on the board in regard to this matter. The board will be unable to fulfil that statutory duty satisfactorily unless we provide it with additional finances and with additional plant. In view of the fact that one or two Deputies who spoke in the discussion have suggested that the best way to deal with the problem now before us is to refuse to the Electricity Supply Board the financial provision which is necessary to enable it to fulfil that duty, I should like to emphasise that I hope, whatever opinions we may have as to the merits of the proposals envisaged by the Bill, that we shall not adopt that attitude in regard to the matter, at any rate.

Although I have already, with the permission of Deputy McGilligan, intervened during his speech to correct two figures which I gave in my statement introducing this Bill, I should like again, more formally, to correct the figures which I gave originally and which were erroneous. I mentioned that the original cost of the Liffey scheme was estimated at £503,350. In fact, the original estimate for the scheme was £760,000. In the course of the statement I also said that, the revised figure was £784,690. In fact, the revised estimate was £1,041,340. I misquoted these figures as I was not able to make the summation correctly when I was speaking on the introduction of the Bill.

I should also like to refer to a couple of matters which were raised by Deputy McGilligan before I come to the more general discussion. Perhaps it is not of very much moment, but I do not think it would he correct to say that when the Electricity Supply Act of 1927 was going through the House it was the general intention under that Act to make provision for pensions. In fact I am advised that the attitude then taken was that the House would rather wait for some time until some headway had been made with the undertaking before this question of pensions was considered at all, and I think we may take that attitude as indicating that, in the view of the Government of the day, the statute was not wide enough to permit the board to proceed with the formulation of a pensions scheme without at any rate having further recourse to the House. The Deputy is quite correct when he states that he understands that discussions have been going on between the board and my Department and the Department of Finance with a view to introducing legislation to enable the board to formulate a pensions scheme for its staff. Had it not been for the somewhat abnormal circumstances of last year we think that we should have been able to bring before the Oireachtas definite proposals to grant the board such enabling powers.

Another point Deputy McGilligan referred to was the doubt which my statement had created in his mind as to whether the board in fact had been disregarding the recommendations of the Banking Commission and had been disregarding the spirit, if not the letter, of the statute in proceeding to enter into commitments without having the previous authority of the House. Again, in that connection, I should perhaps explain that we had hoped to introduce the Bill which is now before the House at a much earlier date. We had hoped that it would have been introduced about a year ago rather than now. Notwithstanding that fact, I think we could hold, on a strict interpretation of the statutes, that the board has not in fact exceeded its statutory authority. Under the various statutes which have been passed by the House from time to time, advances up to a sum of £9,289,000 have been authorised, and the sum actually advanced totalled £7,043,000; so that it would appear, even from these figures, that the board had unutilised authority to the extent of over £2,000,000.

However, we are not relying on that argument but rather on this one, that the board has been able to proceed with and carry out a number of important extensions and developments very largely by utilising its reserves and that, in regard to commitments which have been entered into, it has been made clear to the board that no advance from the Central Fund on account of such expenditure can be contemplated in the absence of legislation extendihg the existing powers of the Government in this connection and that it would be necessary for the board to have regard to these limitations before embarking on any expenditure provisionally authorised. I think the board have had that fact in mind in relation to the matter of financial authority and, as I have said, any of the extensions and any of the works which are urgently required have been financed up to the present out of the reserves.

The Deputy also referred to item No. 19 as described in the statement which I circulated. I grant him at once the description was somewhat misleading in its terms, at least it would mislead if the provisions of the Liffey Reservoir Act were not adverted to. Item No. 19 is described as, "Estimated increased expenditure over estimated amount provided for in the Liffey Reservoir Act —£283,000." It might have been assumed from the wording, and in fact I think the Deputy was inclined to assume from it, that that represented an increase of £283,000 in respect of the Liffey Hydro-Electric scheme over and above the £280,000 set against item No. 20. In fact, the Liffey Reservoir Act increased the advances which might be made to the board by £3,000,000, and was intended not merely to cover the cost of the Liffey Hydro-Electric scheme but also the general purposes of the board as well.

I now come to some other points which have been made in the course of the debate. Two matters have been the subject of much criticism. First of all, the fact that the board was assumed not to have given any attention to this question of rural electrification. I can, of course, say at once that that by no means represents the attitude of the board in regard to the matter. As I pointed out, the board under the Act of 1927 had imposed upon it certain obligations, and I think it will be conceded that in the short period it has been in existence it has certainly fulfilled those obligations. There is no reason, I suggest, to believe that, having developed this undertaking on the scale at which it now stands, the board is going to be content with what it has already dons and is henceforward going to rest on its oars. I do not know whether the accounts of the board over a period of years have been studied by Deputies. If so, I think that they will have been, as I have been—and I used to know something about this problem — astonished at the progress which the electrical industry under the guidance of the board has made in this country. In the four years from 1st April, 1936, to 31st March, 1940, the consumption of electricity here has increased by 131,000,000 units, representing 70 per cent. of the consumption for the year whicn ended on the 31st March, 1936. In the same four years the number of new consumers has increased by 50 per cent.; the additions for the year to the 31st March, 1937, being 13,779; for the year to the 31st March, 1938, 14,747; for the year to 31st March, 1939, 15,152; and for the year to the 31st March, 1940, 12,163; making 55,841 new consumers secured, in all, in four years—as I said, an increase of almost 50 per cent.

What I have said in regard to the consumption of electricity applies, of course, to the increased extent to which industrial power has been utilised in the country. The industrial power load connected increased from 71,000 H.P. on 1st April, 1936, to 115,703 H.P. on the 31st October, 1940. For the four years to the 31st March, 1940, the board has opened up 95 areas of new supply and at that date was supplying, in all, 323 district areas. Now, it is not right to assume, as has been assumed here, that these 323 district areas represent only the cities and towns. There are, as a matter of fact, many rural districts included in these 323 areas. They include 54 rural areas, including very small villages—53 with a population of 100 to 300, 43 wlth a population of 300 to 500, and 64 with a population of 500 to 1,000; that is to say, over 200 areas of supply inhabited by people who live in villages or towns of 1,000 inhabitants and under. I think that when we are talking about the progress rural electricity supply has made elsewhere, we ought to realise that the bulk of supply to rural consumers in other countries is given to people who live in such towns and villages and only rarely to isolated farms at all. In the same way here, we are supplying a considerable number of farms that happen to be convenient to the source of supply, and in this respect are probably in advance of most countries. In regard to this question of general rural electrification moreover the board has an obligation to develop its undertaking in an orderly way. It is bound to make ends meet and, in fixing its rates of charge, to ensure that these rates will be sufficient to enable it to meet all its obligations as laid down in Section 29, I think, of the Act of 1927. I forget the relevant section, whether it is Section 21 or Section 29, but it is laid down there, and the board cannot meet its obligations if it rushes into expenditure which, in the circumstances, will be unremunerative and uneconomic.

In that connection we again have to revert to the fact that when the electricity supply undertaking was established it was intended to be run as a business concern, and accordingly, whether the amount of progress in relation to rural electrification has been satisfactory or not, if it has not been more rapid up to this, the fault does not lie with the board—and I am not going to admit that the fault lies with the Government—it is merely the expression of a principle which was assumed to be basic when the undertaking was set on foot: that it would have to carry on and develop without any subsidy or without any assistance from the Government other than that which an ordinary commercial concern would be entitled to get. We took the responsibility of financing it and, in assuming that responsibility, we were also careful to lay upon the board the obligation of remunerating the State, in the form of interest, for any advances which the State made.

Now, I should like to emphasise that, in view of the statements that have been made here, during the course of the debate, to the effect that the farmers and the country are getting nothing out of it. The farmers and the citizens of this country—and the bulk of the citizens of this country happen to be farmers—secure a reasonable revenue out of this undertaking in the form of interest upon the advances— interest which is fixed at a rate which allows a small profit to the Exchequer, and that profit, of course, inures to the taxpayer, and it is provided, of course, by the electricity consumers of the country; but so far as the general people of the country are concerned, whether they be farmers, workers, or shopkeepers, this undertaking, at the stage at which it now is, imposes no burden whatsoever on them.

About what does the Exchequer benefit per year?

I cannot give that.

Is it £100,000?

It might be that. It is the difference between what the Exchequer pays for the money we lend and what we get as interest on it.

That is very wrong.

Well, the facts can be argued with the Minister for Finance, but I do not think it is wrong, because, after all, the State and the community accepted the risks of providing electricity for the users, and I think that those who accepted that risk are entitled to be paid a modest remuneration.

There was no risk, except in the minds of the nervous.

Well, let us hope that any risks that certain Deputies see in the proposal to establish a station at Portarlington will also exist merely in the minds of those Deputies who happen to be nervous.

The Minister will not be there to answer for it.

Perhaps I shall not be, but in any event I hope that I shall be able to preen myself with the same enthusiasm that the Deputy does on the success of the Ardnacrusha undertaking, and so I suppose both of us will be satisfied. I was going on to point out that this electricity undertaking, at the present stage of development, has imposed no burden on the community as a whole; that farmers do not have to pay anything for electricity, and neither do shopkeepers in those districts where the supply is not yet available. None of the non-users of electricity have to contribute in any way towards the maintenance of this undertaking. It is supported entirely by those who take a supply of electricity.

What about the increase in the rates in County Wicklow, as a result of land acquired by the Electricity Supply Board being exempt from rates?

I do not know that I can go into that aspect of the matter now.

Mr. Brennan

That is the electric hare.

I should say so. It is almost like the windmill.

Not for the ratepayers.

Before I leave the question of rural electrification I should like to emphasise that the matter has been receiving the attention of the Board and of the Government for the last two years, but because of the situation and the problems created by the outbreak of the European war, it had naturally to be laid aside for some time, but it is again being taken up.

When will it materialise?

I do not know. I am not going to commit myself in relation to that matter. I have indicated to the House that it is engaging the active attention of the E.S.B., and has already engaged the attention of the Government, and when the results of their deliberations are before us we may have to come to the House again, and ask it to facilitate the board in executing whatever plans are formed in regard to it. It is not true to allege, as Deputy Cosgrave alleged, that the E.S.B. had failed as a great national undertaking, and that it was compelled to lose sight of the interests of the farming community. Nothing of the sort.

We come now to the question of the Portarlington station. I do not know whether I could possibly discuss here with any lucidity the complex considerations which have to be taken account of in deciding to proceed with hydro-electrical development, but the figures which I gave to the House in my opening statement should bring home very clearly that the full utilisation of our water power resources can only be secured if we are careful to maintain a proper balance between our steam-driven plant and our water power plant. I instanced the record of the Shannon river over the past ten years. It has always been the policy of the Board to secure the maximum output from the Shannon, and to utilise for the production of electrical power, as far as it possibly can, every drop of water going down the river.

Though that is the policy of the Board, it can only give effect to that policy with reservations. It has no control whatever over the quantity of water that the heavens may send down the Shannon in any one year. In 1934 the season was a very dry one and, as I have already indicated, the output which the board was able to secure from the river was only 108,000,000 units. In fact, it is no harm to say it now, in the middle of December, 1934, the situation with regard to water was such that the Board was actually considering whether it would not have to try to ration the use of electricity in this country. The middle of December was almost the very height of the peak load. Fortunately rain came and the situation was saved. In the year 1937-38, however, the inflow conditions at the catchment area were such that the board was able to generate 282,000,000 units, and to reduce very largely the output generated by the steam-driven station.

The House must remember that when a consumer is connected to the electricity supply network, whether he wants the current for lighting, power or for cooking purposes there is an obligation to give him all the electricity he wants at any hour of the day or night, and, therefore, the plant of the Electricity Supply Board, as suppliers, must be always sufficient to meet the maximum demands made on the system at any hour during the 24 hours. If you have an hydro-electric development such as the Shannon, where storage facilities are small in relation to the possible demand, you must be faced with the situation which the Electricity Supply Board actually had to face in 1934, when the capacity of the generating plant fell to almost one-third of what it might be in a year which was a little wetter than the average.

Accordingly, if you want to ensure that you will be able to get the utmost benefit out of the supply of water which may be available in a normal year, or in a better than a normal year, you have to instal steam plant of practically equivalent capacity to the normal capacity of your water power plant in any one year. That has been shown by the actual experience in the operation of the Shannon scheme. The figures, which I gave in the course of the Second Reading speech, and which I gave again to-day in answer to Deputy Dockrell's question, show that the total capacity, in certain circumstances, of the Ardnacrusha plant is about 96,000 kw. and the capacity of the steam plant at the Pigeon House 95,000 kw. We can take it that the Electricity Supply Board has a natural desire to make the best showing possible, and would not have burdened itself with the capital charges which, naturally, the installation of the steam plant necessitates if it had not been absolutely essential to undertake the development at the Pigeon House. Originally, it was anticipated that the plant at the Pigeon House would remain comparatively small, but, as the situation has developed over the past ten years, it has been found that the capacity of the plant at the Pigeon House must, as I have already indicated to the House, be of the same order as the plant at Ardnacrusha. That does not apply, perhaps, with the same force to the Poulaphouca scheme, because, though the storage capacity on the Shannon hydro-electric development represents only about 6 per cent. of the normal electrical output from the river, the situation is different in relation to the Poulaphouca development where the storage capacity is equivalent to at least 50 per cent. of the estimated maximum economic output from the river. If all our rivers were like the Liffey, and capable of being developed to give the same high storage capacity, the ratio between our steam plant and our water-power plant might be very different.

The situation in relation to the Erne is very similar to that in relation to the Shannon. I gather, from the investigations which have been made, that, like the Shannon, the storage facilities on the Erne are only about 5 or 6 per cent. of the possible output from the river in any one year, and that the same wide variations in inflow from the catchment into the river are to be expected and have, in fact, been found, in the Erne as in the Shannon. Accordingly, it is the view of the Board—and I think that their judgment in this matter, bearing in mind their experience, could not be contested—that the next extension of plant must take the form of steam-driven plant.

The question then arises: where is this plant to be situated? Before we come to that, I should like to say this: the Board was asked to investigate the economics of a peat fuel station, and the technical and economic aspects of such a generating station were the subject of investigation by the Board's staff. For the purpose of informing himself fully on the problem, one of the senior members of the staff has visited stations in Germany and Russia and is satisfied—as indeed every engineer is satisfied—that as far as the utilisation of peat as a fuel in an electrical generating station is concerned, the problem has been solved and there is no technical difficulty of any importance to be overcome in that matter. There is no question about it: provided the other conditions are suitable, electricity can be generated as economically from turf as from coal—in fact, it is being so generated in other countries. That is the opinion and that is the report of, I think, as competent a technical expert as can be found anywhere. I am not going to say for a moment that in the case of our engineers, who have had experience now of electrical generation for the last 14 or 15 years, their opinion on a matter of this sort is likely to be any less reliable or less valuable than an opinion which could be got from any other engineer, no matter how eminent or how wide his reputation. Accordingly, so far as the utilisation of peat as a fuel in an electrical generating station is concerned, we have no fears—I have no fears, the board have no fears and I do not think the House need have any fears. It is a practical proposition and, what is more, according to figures which have been supplied to me by the Electricity Supply Board, provided the fuel can be got at a reasonable cost in relation to coal—and we have no reason to believe that it cannot be so obtained—so far as the economics are concerned the advantage, if any—and I do not want to put it more than that —rests with peat against bituminous coal.

Mr. Morrissey


Provided what?

Mr. Morrissey

The Minister's own provision.

Provided the fuel can be obtained and at a reasonable price.

Exactly: the two things.

Mr. Morrissey

That is very important.

The fact remains that, if we can get the fuel at a reasonable price as compared with coal, the economic advantage—though it is not a very great one—is on the side of peat. These arc the figures on the basis of the latest information. The cost per unit generated for peat is .453d., with peat at 10/6 per ton, as against .467d. for coal, with coal at 30/- a ton. Our experience of turf development is that we should be able in normal circumstances to get peat at 10/6 per ton, and that we shall be able to get it in the quantitles required. As I indicated, there may be in the minds of some of us a doubt as to whether we shall be able to get the 120,000 tons of peat per year from Clonsast. I do not wish to minimise ths difficulties in that regard. I must say that Clonsast is a big undertaking, but I know this—that the men who have been working the bog, in a preliminary way in 1939 and in a more extended way last summer, have no doubt whatever that they will be able to deliver 120,000 tons of turf year after year to the Portarlington station.

At 10/6 under prewar conditions.

What does that cover?

They will get it at anything from one-third to a little over one-third the current price of coal.

Mr. Morrissey


Coal at the Pigeon House. They will deliver the turf from Clonsast bog to Portarlington at about one-third the price at which coal could be delivered at the Pigeon House.

Mr. Morrissey

10/6 a ton delivered?

Do not let us forget that the bog is beside Portarlington.

Mr. Morrissey

I know all about that, but we have had experience of the cost of turf over the last five months.

This is a serious problem, and I am not putting the proposition to the House exactly in the way the Deputy is ascribing to me. It is true that there have been mistakes in regard to peat development, but it is not fair to ascribe those mistakes to the Turf Development Board. In fact, the Turf Development Board had nothing whatever to do either with the briquetting proposition or with the proposition for the development of the hand won turf. Indeed, a Government scheme to try and develop hand won turf had been initiated before the Turf Development Board was established at all. The Turf Development Board was established to undertake a large scale development of our bogs. It has made a thorough survey of our bogs—this is something of a digression, a digression evoked by Deputy Morrissey—but it has made, as I say, a thorough survey of our bogs. It has three of them already in production. It has done an amount of preliminary draining work on ten or eleven others, and it has taken over, and I hope will be able to operate next year, the Lorrymore bog on which the peat briquetting experiment was carried out. But the Turf Development Board has no responsibility for anything which was done by the Peat Fuel Company of Ireland.

I have not said anything about that. Surely I was entitled to ask a question before I gave my vote for the sum of £800,000.

The Deputy will bear with me.

Will the Minister allow me to ask a question?

The Deputy did not ask a question. He made an assertion about the price which is being paid for turf. If the Deputy would like to ask a question I am prepared to give way.

The Minister's trouble appears to be this: that he, apparently, has technical knowledge which other members of the House have not. The Minister appears to resent any member of the House who has not technical knowledge or professional qualifications daring to ask a question on this.

I want to make this point to the Minister, that perhaps I know as much or as little, about the question of turf production in the country as he does, but whether I do or not, I am entitled, when this House is being asked to vote a certain amount of money, to ask questions, and particularly when the Minister says, provided the turf can be got at a particular price.

I am sorry if I appeared to give the impression when I was dealing with the Deputy——

The Minister need not be sorry, because I am going to see that I get my rights.

——that I had any superior knowledge or any more information on this matter than I had given to the House. It was far from my thoughts. But I did feel, when I mentioned the price of 10/6 and when the Deputy said: "Oh, at that price; it cannot be got at that this year," that that was not a question, but rather that it conveyed the innuendo that I was deceiving the House and that the Turf Development Board, which has been severely criticised in the course of this debate, had been responsible for the fact that turf may have been dearer than the Deputy thought it should be.

I expressed a doubt that it could be produced and delivered at 10/6. That is the whole thing in a nutshell.

I am going on the results that have been obtained by the Turf Development Board up to this.

Would the Minister say what the 10/6 covers? Was there a profit on it for the board?

It covers all the Board's expenses, in normal times at any rate.

And the cost of development?

Yes. The board's expenses: depreciation, maintenance, repayment of loans and everything else.

Would the Minister make one thing clear? He has been using the word "board". There are two boards. I understand the Minister said that the Electricity Supply Board are convinced as regards the technical matters in connection with the peat and its combustibility. He then said that the Electricity Supply Board were convinced that if they could get peat delivered to them at a certain point, "the board says it can deliver". Is that the Turf Development Board?

Has the Electricity Supply Board accepted the view of the Turf Development Board?

I would not say so. The Electricity Supply Board, as far as I know, has not investigated in any detail the arrangements which the Turf Development Board has made, but it is not prepared to controvert the statement made by the Turf Development Board that the Turf Development Board in normal circumstances can deliver the turf at 10/6, because all the Electricity Supply Board is anxious about is that, in fact, if the Turf Development Board is not able to supply the turf at the figure of 10/6, or under present conditions at one-third the price of coal, the Electricity Supply Board will not be held responsible for the estimates which they are now putting befqre me in relation to the running costs.

Who is going to spend the £800,000?

The Electricity Supply Board is going to spend the £800,000, and whether it had a peat fuel station or a coal fuel station at the present moment it would have to spend in or about that figure. I would like to say that the difference in capital cost as between an additional extension at the Pigeon House, and a new station at Portarlington, is very little. It is less than 10 per cent.

Has it indicated which it would rather spend it on?

No, it has not formally indicated that to me. I think that the board, like every other corporate body in this country and like every other citizen in this country, wants, so far as it can, to conform to general national policy in this matter.

Which is the Government?

It is the Government which is taking responsibility, if the Deputy wishes to have it that way. It, is endeavouring to develop our peat resources, just as our predecessors undertook responsibility for developing the Shannon.

But the Board was very enthusiastic about that, you know. It is not about this apparently.

I am afraid the Deputy's memory misleads him. I think the decision to proceed with the Shannon development was taken before there was any board at all. We all have memories of rather unpleasant debates in this House some time in the year 1930 or 1931. Let us at any rate say this: the Deputy had the courage to go ahead with the Shannon development scheme when there was no Board at all in existence, and when the views of the board, in relation to that matter, were of very little account. I was saying that it is the general policy of this Government to develop to the utmost all the natural resources we have.

We shall develop our water power. We hope to develop any mineral resources we have, and there is in peat a resource which, notwithstanding what Deputy Cogan and some other Deputies have said, is largely untapped and which the people of this country are very anxious should be developed. If there are any persons who want to make an issue of this anywhere——

——for academic discussion, I am quite prepared to meet them before any body of farmers, particularly down in Laoighis or Offaly, eleven in Carlow, and ask them whether they want the Government to go ahead and develop our peat resources: whether they do not think that, in view of the present situation, with all the lessons which it ought to have taught us we would not be justified in risking this experiment even if it did cost £1,000,000.

Now we know it is a risk and an experiment.


I have been waiting here since half-past eight to hear that.

I have never put the proposition on any other basis, than an experimental one, because it is something that has not been done in this country before though it has been done elsewhere.

The Minister has not met the point that was raised. Would the Minister say whether this board, composed of experts, has given its approval?

The Board are experts in electricity generation. They are not experts in turf production.

The Minister is.

No. There are men in this country who have had experience of it and who have studied it.

Who are they?

The members of the Turf Development Board.

Would the Minister give the House the names of the members of the Turf Development Board?

The chairman is Mr. Barton. One of the directors is Mr. Eoghan O Rahilly, who is an engineer and a successful business man. The managing director is a principal officer or my Department, Mr. Christopher Andrews. Another member is Senator Quirke.

These are the experts?

That is the Turf Development Board. I think that they are just as competent and balanced in their judgment as any other body of men to be found in this country. What is more, they have been doing what no other person in this country has been doing—they have been studying this question for the past four years. They have visited practically all the principal peat development undertakings on the Continent and they were accompanied on their visits by some of the principal officers of the Electricity Supply Board.

By merely asking for their names I have not implied any reflection on them.

I am not suggesting thnt the Deputy has. I want to make quite clear, however, since the suggestion has been made that we ought to bring in experts, that we have men who have been studying this question for four years, and who are as expert, in my belief, as any of those who might be available to us in Great Britain or on the Continent. They are prepared to pledge their reputation in relation to this matter. I am prepared to believe that they will fulfil their undertakings to the Electricity Supply Board——

How can you talk of people backing their reputation on something which you have already described as an experiment and a risk?

They are taking the risk.

I thought it was the Government.

They are taking the risk of giving us the necessary assurances.

Without any thought of a side-door out by saying that it was an experiment to develop natural resources? They say they can produce 120,000 tons per annum at 10/6 delivered?

Yes, at one-third of whatever be the price of coal.

At Clonsast, one-third of the price delivered at the Pigeon House?

Yes, I am prepared to accept that. When I said that this was an experimental undertaking, that was my view. I do not want to come here and say that there is absolute certainty about this scheme. I am not an expert in relation to it. I have devoted a little study to peat, but I can only visualise the difficulties. They tell me that they are overcoming the difficulties, that they are confident they will overcome them. I believe them, and I am giving that information to the House for what it is worth. At the same time, I tell the House that I regard this as an experiment. If the project fails, I should be prepared to take the odium for having recommended the experiment to the House.

You stated that operating costs have not been brought as low as they can be, and you cast a little doubt on their capacity to deliver 120,000 tons per annum.

I would not say that I have cast doubt on their statement.

They have not done it yet.

They have not done it yet but, with three machines, they got half that output and they have others in course of construction.

Had these gentlemen any experience other than that secured in the Government service?

Only one of them is in the Government service.

Have they had experience other than experience on this board?

I do not think any of them were engaged previously in the commercial exploitation of turf but they have had the experience——

On this board?

Yes. They have also had the service of experienced technical experts. There were Continental experts in their employ until the outbreak of the war.

Are they there now?

I think that the non-nationals have returned to their own countries. The Turf Board had the benefit of their advice and experience for the past four years. They had also a very competent engineering staff, as the Electricity Supply Board have. I am afraid that this procedure of question and answer is taking me off the track, but I want to make clear that, so far as the responsibility of the Electriccity Supply Board for the design and investigation of the electrical aspects of the proposition is concerned, they are satisfied that there is no difficulty in erecting a peat fuel station which will be an economic proposition, provided, as I have been careful to stats, that they get the requisite supply of turf from the Turf Development Board. On their side, the Turf Development Board are satisfied that they can deliver the turf. On the basis of that assurance and because of their experience and the work they have done, I am prepared to put this proposition before the House and before the country.

Will the Turf Board be bound to deliver at one-third the price of coal?

They will be bound by their contract. If they fail to do so, we shall have to step in and help them out.

That is the trouble.

Let us consider another aspect of this matter which has been referred to in the House by Deputy Hughes and Deputy Cogan. We have been told that we are denuding the country of a very useful asset. We are told simultaneously that we ought to extend the supply of electricity into all the rural areas. As a development of that idea, we were told that we were robbing the country in some way, that we ought to preserve this turf for future generations, that, in fact, we ought to constitute the Clonsast bog a national monument. We were told that, if we cut the bog now, all the poor people who have been drawing turf from that bog will be deprived of something which was their natural birthright. The fact is that, until the Turf Development Board began these operations, Clonsast bog was a useless swamp of 4,000 acres. Practically no turf was taken from it— save from the fringes.

It was so little regarded by its owners, in fact, that it was acquired at 4/5 per acre, and that is the kind of thing that Deputy Cogan wants us to keep, presumably to make it a sort of national park, something for posterity to wonder at and to make it curse us for our lost opportunities. But when this bog has been reclaimed, and when it has been worked out, instead of having 4,000 acres of useless swamp, as I said, you will have 4,000 acres of reclaimed and, we hope, good fertile land. Which do Deputies think the people around Portarlington and Clonsast bog would rather have—4,500 acres of useless swamp or 4,500 acres of reclaimed land?

What about the 7,000 acres of the best land in Wicklow under water?

And because the land in Wicklow has been put under water, Deputy Cogan wants the land in Laoighis and Offaly to be retained under water.

I suggested nothing of the kind.

Let us not talk in these terms of a proposition like this. We have been urged, we have been driven, we have been scourged because we have not drained the bogs, cut them and reclaimed them, and the moment we proceed to do it, we get all sorts of opposition from farmer Deputies here. The only reason we have that opposition, I feel, is that they have not seriously considered the proposition. They have not realised the benefit and advantage which it will be to the country as a whole if our experiment succeeds. I think we are going to succeed with it, and, whether we do or not, I think it is worth the risk, and for whatever the risk may be in this matter, I am putting the proposition to the House, and I am certain that when the proposition is considered coolly and calmly, it will meet with universal acceptance.

Would the Minister answer my point as to whether the board is still in its old independent position?

I have not tampered with the independence of the Board and I do not think the Board is in any less independent position than it was under my predecessor or under the Deputy when he was Minister. We have conveyed to the board that it is our desire that, in view of all the circumstances, they should utilise native fuel as far as they possibly can, and we have asked them to consider the possibility of erecting a peat fuel generating station. We have asked them for a report on that matter; we have had that report, and I have given the House the effect of that report.

And it was open to them to reject the suggestion of a peat fuel station?

Quite frankly, if they had said: "We are going to continue to depend on Welsh coal in future, without giving this matter a serious trial", I am not prepared to say that I would come to the House and ask it to endorse the policy of the Board in that regard. I feel that I am entitled to represent to the Board that, in present circumstances and in such circumstances as we may see for a reasonable period in future, it would be better if the Board could rely on native resources rather than on imported fuel.

And the Minister, no doubt, made them aware of that feeling of his?

I have not expressed myself in those terms to the Board, but I assume that the Board are aware of the general Government policy in the matter.

And they ought to follow general Government policy?

They ought to follow general Government policy in exactly the same way as every other citizen should follow it.

They were given the job of developing electricity for the good of the community. Now they are being asked to do that, not according to their view of the good of the community, but according to the Government view.

They are now asked, in relation to that, to have regard to Government policy in this matter as industrialists are required to do, as the farmers have to have regard to it. We decided that it is in the national interest that the farmer should cultivate the land, that the farmer should go in for more tillage.

If the Board said they did not think this was a good scheme and would not carry it out, would the Minister have thought it a matter to bring before the House to get a change in the Board?

No, not to get a change in the Board. I should have perhaps thought of proceeding with it in another way. It would have been quite open to me to come to the House and ask for an amendment of the Electricity Supply Acts to enable me to establish a separate undertaker to construct and operate it.

You have more or less done that by saying that you want them to carry out Government policy.

If it can be avoided, I do not want to interfere with the position in which there is a unified electrical authority, a unified electricity supplier, in this country. It would be quite open to me, however, or to whomever might be the responsible member of the Government of the day, to come to the House and ask that a separate undertaking should be established to operate a peat-fuelled station, and that such an undertaking should have the right to supply current to the Electricity Supply Board at a price which might, or might not, cover the costs of the undertaking.

The Minister would not consider that a proper alternative to adopt now?

I am not prepared to say I would not adopt it now. But I do not think the Board would welcome it, and I think that, on consideration of the very full statement I have made to the House in the matter, it will be realised that it is perhaps better that the peat station should be erected by the Board and controlled by the Board; but if a situation were to arise in which the Board were to refuse to do it, we should have this other alternative, though one which, I think, would perhaps not be as advantageous from any point of view as the one I am now submitting to the House.

Quite clearly, a Government must always have another alternative, but all I am anxious to find out is whether this matter has proceeded to the point at which direct discussions inside the Government have taken place as to the possibility of the members of the board being replaced or supplemented by another undertaking to do something which they did not consider it proper to do.

No, I do not think so. Certainly I never indicated to the members of the Board at any time that if they did not proceed with the Portarlington station, I would replace them. I should not think of doing that.

The Board have stopped short at this, that they would not undertake this scheme on their own initiative, but only on an assurance given by Industry and Commerce and the Turf Development Board?


May I put that positively and say that it means that if the Board were free agents, they would not go on with this?

I would not say that. I am only stating the natural reservation which the Board would make in any event.

May I put it this way: The Board would never bring forward this scheme on their own initiative?

Perhaps not. I do not know whether they would or not.

They certainly have not done it on their own initiative.

It has been suggested to them that they should consider this scheme. To what extent the board might have conceived the idea themselves, I cannot say. The Deputy might have thought of it just as well as the Government. Many people thought of it as something which should be tackled, and all I can say is that the board have been receptive of the idea to the extent that they are prepared to go ahead with the station.

On a guarantee.

On a guarantee, yes, and that is all that is at issue—whether we are justified in accepting the guarantee of the Turf Development Board. I think we are, and that is the only matter at issue.

There are so many things in the background. As I understand it, the board have decided to proceed with this Portarlington station on the basis of the Turf Development Board guarantee of the production of a certain amount of turf each year at a certain price.

In relation to the price of coal.

In relation to the price of coal; and the Turf Development Board are easy in their conscience in giving that guarantee, because they have the Government guarantee that if they cannot deliver at that price the Government will fill in the money. Was not that said? I do not think I am exaggerating what has been said.

We have given the Turt Development Board no guarantee. The question has never been raised, but I have said here in the House that if, for reasons which are completely outside our control and the control of the Turf Development Board, the assurance given to the E.S.B. were not fulfilled, we should probably have to make good to the Electricity Supply Board whatever the rusultant deficiency on Portarlington might be. That is the risk we are taking, and the risk is not a great one.

When we have got to that point, would the Minister consider adopting what the Banking Commission suggested, and getting the accounts of the Turf Development Board published?

I will consider that.

Could it be done speedily, so that we will know where we are?

In view of the discuscussion which has taken place here, I will also take up with the Electricity Supply Board the advisability of separate accounts for the Portarlington station.

Would the Minister say exactly what he meant when he said that after the work done by the Turf Development Board the bog was now fertile?

I did not say that. I said when it had been cut away——

The Minister said the bog was now fertile.

I did not.

I was going to ask the Minister whether the compulsory tillage order would apply to the bog.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 27th November.