Over a number of years a sum of about £1,250,000 has been allocated for works of a minor character. Minor relief works and all sorts of works have been carried out under Minor Relief and Farm Improvement Votes. The local authorities have been acting as agents for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance in charge of the Office of Public Works, and have carried out not hundreds but thousands and tens of thousands of works to improve drainage, improve roads and so forth.
I want to know which leg the Minister is standing on. Is this an important Bill; is it going to do what some of the back-benchers in his Party claim; is it going to relieve all the drainage problems from which this country has suffered in the last couple of thousand years; or is it a minor, simple matter confined to removing obstructions in the eyes of bridges or obstructions which are causing damage to public roads or to public buildings? From my knowledge, it is not necessary to give further powers to county councils for that purpose, but if the Minister makes the case that it is so, then we are quite prepared, wholeheartedly, to give him the necessary powers, provided that he puts in the proper safeguards.
The Minister, towards the end of his speech, got a little bit more enthusiastic about the scope of this measure, and at column 2143 he said that the Bill was going "to provide a very large scheme of employment in the rural areas... work that will result in making the lands that will be dealt with under this Bill more productive." The Minister, speaking later at column 2145, said the Bill would afford the farmers an opportunity "of restoring to fertility lands that periodically and for several months of the year have been water-logged over a number of years".
Now, if it is a fact that this Works Bill is to set aside and override the authority which this Dáil set up to take charge of drainage—the Office of Public Works—it is a matter of very grave concern. Before this drainage business became politics, this matter was discussed here in the Dáil, it was discussed in the newspapers, and it was discussed, in fact, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance.
We all know that the Government, in regard to this particular measure, are politicians in a hurry; that this Bill is not the result of the burning of midnight oil over a number of months, but that it suddenly came into their heads as a result of the disemployment caused by their action over the road grants. They had the idea that they could lead the people to believe that all the men disemployed as a result of the withdrawal of the road grants could be put on the work of draining the land. If the road workers who are disemployed, if the large number of people who would normally emigrate and if the large number of men whom the policy of the Minister for Agriculture will throw off the land, are all going to be employed on the drainage to be carried out under this Bill, where will we stand?
Drainage is a matter of great concern to the community. It is of concern, not only to the farmer whose land is waterlogged, but to the farmer through whose land that water has to go before it reaches the main rivers and the sea. I gave an instance yesterday of a political drainage scheme where £5,000 was spent in draining certain swamps in County Monaghanand they are still swamps. The result of the draining was that they flooded portions of County Louth—good land worth at least £50 an acre. The Government had to come to an arrangement with the Louth County Council after long years of trouble; they had to come to the relief of the county council, and the council in turn relieved the farmers from all their drainage rate.
I should like to know how many Glyde schemes there are, how many other districts there are throughout the country that will be flooded by the operation of the powers contained in this measure—the uncontrolled and illconsidered operation of those powers. Drainage was a matter to which the last Government gave quite a lot of attention. They set up a Drainage Commission which reported in 1940. During the war it was impossible to get additions to heavy machinery; not very much could be done during the war period. In 1945 the Drainage Act was passed. That Act was intended to deal comprehensively and in a proper fashion with the drainage problem.
The paper which is principally responsible for getting the present Government into power discussed the question of drainage a couple of months ago, before it became a hot political question in the Dáil. On the 20th January, 1949, the Irish Independent had a leading article which referred to an interview that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance had with representatives of the county councils the day before. I am not going to quote the whole article, but I will read portions of it. Discussing this acute problem of drainage, and dealing with the Parliamentary Secretary's interview, it said:—
"The Drainage Commission reported in 1940 `that the present position of drainage is that construction is practically at a standstill and the system of maintenance has broken down.' "
It went on:—
"Little could be done in the years since then..."
that is, 1940—
"but the Drainage Act of 1945 forms the basis for future action."
I want to know from the Government does the Drainage Act of 1945 form the basis for future action in regard to drainage and, if not, where are we? The Drainage Act of 1945 deals with the matter comprehensively; it deals with the notices that have to be given to farmers, drainage authorities and county councils, and it gives those who might be affected adversely by the operations of drainage the right to have their case heard before the damage is done. The Independent went on to say:—
"Drainage is a matter that must be tackled on a large scale if it is to be done well. Small schemes will be the most expensive in the end. Proper surveys are, therefore, essential, even at the cost of delay, if schemes are to be satisfactory."
That statement in the leading article of the Independent of that date is in keeping with the conclusions of the Drainage Commission which examined this question very thoroughly and reported in 1940. It is also in keeping with the conclusions of every person with modern engineering experience who has had to deal with drainage. The Drainage Commission in its report stated on page 33:—
"The ideal method of dealing with the drainage of any catchment area is to open up the outfall and work upstream in accordance with a carefully planned design calculated to carry off the surplus water from the whole area."
It goes on to say:—
"Before work is undertaken a complete and detailed scheme should be prepared to deal with the entire catchment area and any work done should be part of a general scheme designed to solve the problem of the area as a whole."
They agree with the editorial writer of the Independent. They also agree with the members of the commission and with the report which was recently presented to the House by the Minister for Agriculture, the report of Mr. Holmes. Mr. Holmes said in his report that drainage should be started at the river mouth and worked up. In page 37 the Drainage Commission Report says:—
"Practically all evidence favoured the establishment of a central authority to co-ordinate and supervise all drainage construction operations. In our opinion the Central Drainage Authority should be a separate and self-contained branch of the Office of Public Works."
I should have thought that if the Government had examined this problem in the light of what was best to do, the best method of handling drainage problems, they might have come to the conclusion that they should get some more co-ordination from the various drainage authorities that exist rather than add a further drainage authority, or two further drainage authorities, one, the county councils and, if the county councils do not do the job, some officer nominated by the Minister for Local Government.
The Drainage Commission, Mr. Holmes of New Zealand and the Irish Independent were supported by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. When he met this deputation from the General Council of County Councils on the 19th of January last he told them that to deal with the smaller drainage problems at the present time would be a complete departure from the recommendations of the Drainage Commission and from the fundamental basis of the Drainage Act of 1945. He also told them that it would involve a deferment of the basic work of arterial drainage.