Committee on Finance. - Arterial Drainage Bill, 1944—Money Resolution.

I move:—

That it is expedient to authorise such payments out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas as are necessary to give effect to any Act of the present Session to make provision for the drainage and improvement of land by the execution of works of arterial drainage, to provide for the maintenance of those works and make further and better provision for the maintenance of existing drainage works, and to provide for matters incidental to or connected with the matters aforesaid or relating generally to the drainage of land.

There are a few points I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up before we agree to this Resolution. One is the question of the type of staff that will be employed in connection with this scheme. Take the type of staff that you have in the Board of Works, for instance. They are merely engineers who are concerned with drainage proper, the getting rid of surplus water, and so on, and I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that, apart from that, there is a very important aspect of drainage in this country that we cannot afford to overlook, and that is the agricultural aspect. A drainage engineer is merely concerned with getting rid of surplus water, with lowering the level of the water table; and the question of the fertility of the soil in the area concerned does not interest him. The lowering of the water table in an area, however, may have a serious result so far as the productive capacity of the soil in that area is concerned, and I should like to have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that, in connection with this scheme, an agricultural expert will be employed to look after the interests of the agriculturists.

If you take a country like Holland, or a district like the State of Louisiana in the United States of America, where there is extensive flooding periodically, and where it was necessary to ensure the fertility of the soil, the primary consideration in drainage schemes in such cases was the employment of agricultural experts with a view to seeing that the agricultural angle and the agricultural interests would be preserved. Of course, the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that although in an agricultural community the land may suffer from too much water, the position can be just as bad through having too little water, and that if you lower the water table too much it may have a disastrous effect on the land. For that reason, I should like to have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that, if the matter has not been already considered, he will have it considered now, and perhaps he may be able to tell us something about it on the later stages of the Bill.

Again, I wonder has any consideration been given to, or has any experimental or research work been carried out in connection with, the various soils in this country, such as in Limerick, West Limerick, the Bruree and Newcastlewest areas and the hills of Clare, where colloidal matter has disappeared, where there is no percolation to speak of, and where a process of destruction, so far as soil fertility is concerned, is slowly going on year by year. That is an important aspect of drainage. It may be that it is a wider aspect than the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned with at the moment. It may involve field drainage, but surely this House should be concerned with that problem if we are going to spend, year after year, very substantial sums of money in getting rid of surplus waters of that kind. The natural corollary of that sort of thing is to complete the job by the provision of field drainage and by dealing with difficult soils — soils which are completely impeded and will not drain. That may possibly require mechanical treatment or, at least, treatment by experts, in order to find out what is the proper way of tackling the job of getting water to percolate through that soil.

Another aspect of this question is that so far as the Dáil is concerned there is really no provision as to how priority is going to operate in dealing with national drainage. I do not suggest that there is going to be any political influence as between one county and another — that one county will have a greater political pull than another county — but we want to satisfy ourselves that the machinery will function in such a manner as will ensure that we tackle the right areas first, and tackling the right areas first, in my opinion, does not always mean tackling first the areas that have the biggest water problems. It may happen that we can increase the national income in this country by tackling certain areas that will help to bring into production land that at the moment is in very low production, and I feel that that is the type of scheme that ought to be tackled first.

Another thing that the Parliamentary Secretary might tell us is how exactly the money is to be provided. Does it mean that when the scheme is prepared and approved of by the Minister, the estimate for that particular work will be presented to this House, or does it mean that this House will vote a bulk sum for drainage yearly without being given any details as to how the money is to be expended? I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up those points before we come to the consideration of the Bill itself.

I did not anticipate that some of the points mentioned by Deputy Hughes would have been raised at this stage, but in reply to the first point he made I would remind him that we are here discussing, or are about to discuss, amendments put forward by members of the House to the proposals which were brought in here with a view to making the drainage of land possible——

No, we are voting a sum of money here.

——and it seems to me that if it were not for the fact that these lands have been and are subjected to excessive flooding we would not be considering these proposals at all. It seems to me, further, that if we have land in this country that is, and has been, subjected to considerable flooding, the preparation and designing of a drainage scheme or schemes for the purpose of relieving that land of this excess of water is surely a matter for the engineer. Now, I must say that I think Deputy Hughes is asking a little too much if he thinks that we are going to get a dual-purpose engineer of the type to which he refers: that we are going to get an engineer who will also be an expert in the matter of soils, soil fertility, soil treatment, the effects of water saturation on land, and the effects of lowering the water table, as Deputy Hughes suggested.

They have them in Holland.

As I say, we are considering here these proposals because of the fact that it is recognised by members of all Parties, and by everybody who knows this problem, that we have in this country land — some of it good land — that for most of the year is inundated with water. These proposals are brought in here by the Department with a view to relieving that land of whatever water is preventing the land from being properly worked by those who own the land. When that job is completed, I think we can then apply ourselves to the problem of how, from an agricultural point of view, that land is to be treated.

As to the manner in which the moneys are to be provided, I can only say that it is the intention that the Vote for the Office of Public Works will each year contain a provision to meet the cost of whatever works are in progress or are in contemplation. The fact that the Vote will be introduced into the House each year will afford an ample opportunity to Deputies to discuss it and to make whatever accusations they feel justified in making as to the manner in which the drainage authority is discharging the responsibilities that this Bill will impose upon it when it becomes an Act. I do not anticipate that any of these questions will arise. I believe that the selection of the catchment area, or areas, to be treated, also, is largely a matter to be determined as a result of technical advice. I think that Deputy Hughes' fears will prove not to have been well founded.

The Parliamentary Secretary has not cleared up the point as to whether it will be a bulk sum.

It will not be a bulk sum. I ask the Deputy to take the example of the provision that is made each year for schools. Last year, the Dáil voted £250,000, which is a large sum, for the erection and reconditioning of schools throughout the country. In the year previous we spent almost that amount. So far as the erection and reconditioning of schools is concerned, we intend to continue that policy until a solution of that particular problem has been found. If we can provide for that service in that way each year in out Estimate, why should we not provide in a similar fashion for drainage, and thereby enable members of the House to express their views on the progress made and on the programme which this office will have outlined for the future?

Am I to take it that no agricultural expert will be employed?

For the reasons that I have given, I cannot see the necessity of having an agricultural expert to tell the Board of Works or any other authority as to what use can be made of land or how it should be treated until the land has, in the first instance, been relieved of the flooding to which it has been exposed during all those years. Deputy Hughes and members of his Party have put down amendments to the Bill which would seem to suggest that, in the past, they regarded arterial drainage as a failure inasmuch as that those who designed the schemes did not make the necessary provision to lower the water tables as much as they should have been lowered.

In this matter, as in others, we cannot, I suggest, have it both ways. Our case is that we cannot relieve the land entirely from flooding: that the best that engineers can do very often is to see to it that their schemes will be so designed as to relieve the land of excessive flooding. If the Deputy accuses us of failure because, in the past, we have not succeeded in lowering the water tables sufficiently, then it is hardly fair to say now that we may do damage by lowering the water tables too much.

I think it is quite fair to say that the water tables have not been lowered sufficiently. That is why the agricultural expert should be called in to express his view as to whether, in fact, the water table should be preserved. It is not the function of the engineer to do that. You must have a combination of the two.

The Deputy must admit that the agricultural expert must see the land. The land must be in such a condition that he can see it before he can express any opinion as to how it should be treated. We are now making provision for dealing with land which is covered with water. The job of relieving that land of water is, in the first instance, an engineering job. When it has been done, you may then call in whatever agricultural experts you may think right and proper.

Resolution agreed to.
Resolution reported and agreed to.