I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Minister for Finance, the Commissioners of Public Works and the County Councils of Clare and Galway to give effect to the terms of a consent that was arrived at as a result of the settlement of a legal action. This action was taken by the proprietors of certain lands in the County Clare, who sought compensation for damage done by breaches that occurred in the embankments of the River Fergus between Ennis and Clarecastle. The consent is printed in the first section of the Bill and was made a rule of court on the 29th October, 1941.
The Fergus drainage district is an old drainage district, which was brought to award in 1860. It comprises about 70 miles of river and different tributaries, and it has been shown that 7,362 acres of land were improved. The control of the district was vested in trustees appointed triennially by the owners of the improved lands. The duties of the trustees were to keep the district in order and to levy and collect such rate as was needed for the maintenance of the works. Like many other drainage districts throughout the country, the works in the Fergus drainage district got into a state of disrepair about 1925. In pursuance of the terms of the Drainage Maintenance Act, 1924, certain improvements and works of restoration were undertaken. These works were completed in 1928, at a cost of £19,897, of which 25 per cent. was given as a State grant and £3,750 by the Clare County Council. There was a balance of £11,172 11s. 3d. to be recovered from the owners of the improved lands under the terms of the Act.
In 1931, an Order was made transferring the district from the trustees to the County Councils of Clare and Galway. The county councils, for certain reasons, challenged the validity of the Order. For the same reasons, an Order which charged lands of the district with the proportion of the cost recoverable from them under the 1924 Act works was not issued. The reason for this was that about that time breaches occurred in the embankments and the county councils were unwilling to take over the works, claiming that these works had not been finished properly. The Fergus downstream to Ennis is doubly embanked, and these embankments were in existence even before the original drainage scheme was put into operation—the scheme as we knew it, or as we have any knowledge of it. These embankments seem always to have given trouble, and breaches have occurred in them and have been repaired by the trustees as they occurred. These breaches occurred when heavy floods in the Fergus coincided with abnormally high tides. These tides occur at the outfall of the Fergus, usually when there are southwesterly gales.
In August, 1930, after the works of restoration had been completed, one of these breaches occurred. As a consequence of this breach, further works were carried out in regard to renovating and strengthening the embankments. The complete cost of this work was £13,600, of which £3,000 was contributed by the County Council of Clare and the balance was defrayed by State funds. However, in January, 1934, two further breaches occurred under exceptionally severe conditions of flood and tide. The breaches made at that time threw a new light on the difficulties that had been known hitherto, and showed a previously unknown factor in the problem of river control. On examination, it was found by various borings that there existed, at a considerable and varying depth under the surface, beds of shell marl and that, under the considerable weight of water caused by a flood and high tide, this shell marl was penetrated by the water. This resulted in limiting the strain which the embankments on either side of the river could withstand.
The reason I mention these things is that we have a new proposal embodied in this Bill, which may seem incongruous—that is, the abandonment of 300 acres of land which was previously part of the land protected and shown as being in good order. All the engineers who have discussed the matter feel that a certain safety valve or reservoir for flood waters should be made, so as to control the extra strain that is placed on the embankments during periods of high flood and heavy tide. There is also a proposal to erect automatic tidal sluices at Clarecastle.
Provision is made for the latter work only if it can be done without endangering other property. It is difficult to estimate what effect a barrage of this sort would have in tidal waters, and a good deal of investigation is necessary in order to form an opinion as to what its real effects for good may be. The position at the moment is that material cannot be secured for the sluices, and it may be that the other works proposed to be carried out may render their erection unnecessary. However, it is considered necessary that provision should now be made for the possibility of having to put in these tidal sluices, if necessary, when it is possible to secure the material.
If we turn to the main purpose of the Bill, following the breach in 1924, certain trial borings were made along the river to see what possibility there was of discovering the real difficulties and to try to provide remedial measures. While these experiments were being made proceedings were instituted and came to court. The trial judge upheld the validity of the transfer from the trustees to the county council and suggested the possibility, in view of the very heavy costs involved in continuance of the action, that the parties concerned might get together to discuss a possible settlement. A settlement was finally reached, and is embodied in the consent which is part of the Schedule of the Bill. The settlement imposed certain obligations on the State and on the county councils, the fulfilment of which is outside their existing powers. Therefore, we have this Bill. It empowers the County Council of Clare to purchase land which is to be used as a safety valve and reservoir, and enables that county council, and the County Council of Galway to raise £6,000 to meet part of the purchase price of the land as well as the cost of legal proceedings. It also provides that the State shall provide £2,500 towards the purchase of the land, and undertake further works costing £21,500 for the protection of the embankments as well as a further £10,000 which is to be utilised upstream of Ennis, which needs attention from the maintenance point of view.
This is a special purposes Bill. As Deputies are aware, the whole of our existing drainage code has been found unsuitable to present-day conditions, and we are at present engaged in the drafting of a Bill which will deal with the whole question of arterial drainage throughout the country. Because of that we would not embark on any new drainage activities until legislation has been adopted. An exception is being made in the case of the Fergus drainage district, so that there shall not be undue delay in honouring the terms of the consent arrived at. The present measure is confined to taking the powers necessary for that purpose. It may be said—it is practically certain—that its terms will be abrogated by the new drainage code, but at this particular time we cannot anticipate. We must make a start at once by taking such powers within the general framework of the existing code as will permit us to proceed, leaving the general question of drainage, in regard to the drastic alterations recommended by the Drainage Commission, to be dealt with in the comprehensive Bill at present on the stocks. This Bill is directed completely towards one particular district, and that is to meet the terms of the consent which was arrived at as a result of the settlement of the legal action. It has no concern with the general question of drainage.