I have an amendment down that the section be deleted.
Finance Bill, 1950—Committee Stage (Resumed).
It is not an amendment. It is an indication that the Deputy intends to oppose the section.
I understand it has not been an unusual practice to withdraw money from the Road Fund and transfer it to the Central Fund. We know that the Central Fund is the general pool from which all the money needed to meet State outgoings has to come. When the practice that I have referred to was in operation in the past, we had better grants given for roads. I take it that all the taxation collected from motorists who use the roads to any great extent is put into the Road Fund from which it is later made available for the maintenance and upkeep of the roads. During the Fianna Fáil régime certain grants were given out of the Road Fund for the maintenance, particularly of county roads, by way of special relief grants. That has been discontinued to a considerable extent. The grants have been reduced in most counties. In Kilkenny the grants in 1947-48 amounted to £114,808; in 1950-51 we will only get £73,000. If money is available in the Road Fund it should be devoted to the purpose for which it was collected. I take it it was collected for the maintenance and upkeep of the roads. At any rate, that was the original intention.
There are 20,000 miles of culs-de-sac in rural Ireland. Why have the grants given by way of minor relief schemes been reduced and, in some cases, discontinued? I take it the Minister for Finance is directly responsible for that. At one time there were schemes operated by the Employment Schemes Office. In 1938-39, the amount of money made available for the repair of culs-de-sac was £225,000. In 1949-50, it was reduced to £152,000. We hear a good deal about the flight from the land. The reason put forward for that flight is that the people have not the same amenities in the rural areas as they would have in the cities and towns; therefore, they are drifting into the cities and towns where they will have these amenities. I do not think these people could be given a greater inducement to remain at home than providing them with suitable roads to their homesteads.
The Fianna Fáil Government had a scheme under which farmers could obtain grants for the repair and upkeep of these roads. That money came from the Road Fund. Why has that been discontinued by this Government? We hear a good deal about unemployment. There would be plenty of employment in the rural areas during the winter months and the early spring, when agriculture is at a low ebb, if these grants were given for the repair and maintenance of roads. I think that would be one way in which we might keep the people on the land by providing them with employment under these schemes.
Grants were made available for a variety of reasons. The number of people on the register was an important qualification in the obtaining of a grant. The farmers had to contribute 25 per cent. of the total amount. Some of them were not in a position to contribute that 25 per cent. In such cases I think the Government should increase the percentage contribution they are prepared to make. Surely it should not be necessary for the Government to borrow from the Road Fund for other works. The money in that fund should be utilised on the roads.
In 1947, the Local Government Department asked for a survey of all the roads. In almost every county the surveyors reported that it would take at least a year, and possibly two years, to bring the roads back to the condition in which they were pre-war. In 1947, we asked that the same grant would be given as was given in 1946-47. That was not done. If those who are now holding the national purse-strings were to go down the country and see for themselves the condition of the roads, I do not think they would quarrel with county councils asking for increased grants or with the farmers living along these culs-de-sac if they ask for a greater contribution than 75 per cent. Difficulty arises where there are, for instance, five farmers living along a cul-de-sac, three of whom can make the necessary contribution and two of whom are unable to do so. In that case the work is not done because of the inability of the two to make their contribution. In such cases I think the Government should increase the grant so that work could be done. On some of these by-roads it is impossible to bring in modern machinery for farming purposes. Threshing sets cannot be brought in. Lorries cannot call to collect beet and the beet must be carted by the farmer to a pick-up point. In the West of Ireland the beet has sometimes to be carried five or six miles to a pick-up point. Loss is sometimes sustained because of bad weather and through trespass by wandering animals. These factors should be taken into consideration when applications are made for grants for the repair of these cul-de-sac roads. The Government should have some other means of recouping itself other than by borrowing from the Road Fund.
We know that many of the county roads were never built for the purpose of taking heavily laden vehicles. I have seen a vehicle weighing 29 tons travelling on a road that was originally built to take one ton. Who will be responsible for the condition of the roads and their upkeep if that continues? In a very short time these roads will give way. Will the cost of putting them into repair then fall on the unfortunate ratepayers? It might be interesting to see what the position is as regards the grants made available last year as compared with the year 1939. In 1938-39 the amount of money contributed by the Road Fund per mile was £82, and in that year the rates contributed £63 per mile, making a total of £145 per mile.
I do not know where the Deputy got these figures.
These are the figures supplied to me by people who are in a position to know.
The total amount contributed by the Road Fund was £700,000 and by the rates £1,320,000.
What were the grants made available on the main roads?
I am talking of all roads.
I am talking of main roads. In that year there were no grants for county roads.
That is what I am coming to.
The grant made available in the year 1938-39 from the Road Fund amounted to £82 per mile and the rates contributed £63, making a total of £145. In 1948-49, the contribution from the rates was £319 per mile and the Road Fund contributed £76 per mile, making a total of £395 per mile. In 1949-50, the Road Fund contributed £126 per mile and the rates contributed £83. There was a reduction in the grant made available from the Road Fund and there was a substantial increase in the amount contributed by the ratepayers in order to maintain the main roads. The same thing applies so far as the county roads are concerned. The main roads for the past 15 or 20 years received so much attention that they are now able to carry the heavy traffic put on them, but during that period the county roads were neglected to such an extent that they are not now in as good a condition as they were in 1935-36, for instance. Now they have to bear a different type of traffic altogether from that which they had to contend with in 1935-36. In 1935-36, we had not anything heavier than a horse and cart travelling over these roads, but last year, as I say, I saw a lorry weighing 29 tons laden with beet passing over these roads. Unless attention is paid to these roads now, the ratepayers of the country are going to be faced with the prospect of contributing far more than at the present time in order to keep them in repair.
The Minister challenged me on the question of the amount of money that was contributed from the Road Fund in 1938-39. I shall now give him the figures. In that year the rates contributed £1,325,000 and the Road Fund contributed £700,000.
That is right.
Making a total of £2,025,000.
That is right, of which the rates were contributing two-thirds.
To-day the proportion of the rates is half.
The contribution is reduced in proportion.
I should like to ask the Minister the position as regards the county roads. Does he not agree that because of the reduction in the amount contributed by the Road Fund, the rates will have to contribute a considerable amount for maintenance on the main roads?
You are paying a less proportion of the total.
We are paying a less proportion of the expenditure on the country roads but taking it all in all — and you must take it all in all — the amount of money now expended by way of grants in any county is less that it was in 1948-49.
Another matter to which I should like to draw attention is to the question of special grants for tourist roads. There are many parts of the country — I might call them inland parts—that might attract tourists if we had good roads leading into them and proper means of transport. Very recently a deputation from my constituency met the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government regarding a certain road and we applied for a grant but no grant was made available for that purpose. That particular locality could be made a good tourist centre if there was a decent road leading into it. If the Minister thinks that the Road Fund can afford to lose £300,000 this year, why should not some of that money be made available for the purpose of putting that road into a proper state of repair, so as to give people who might wish to visit that part of the country an opportunity of doing so? The people who live in that part of the country are prepared to cater for tourists and they believe they have something to show them. There are as many beauty spots in that area as there are in County Dublin but the trouble I see in this country at the moment is that everybody seems to be looking through Dublin eyes. Provided Dublin and its surroundings are catered for, they think that no other part of the country needs any attention. Surely that should not be the case when the money is there available to expend on roads in these country districts? Such expenditure will not entail extra taxation and will not mean a greater burden on anybody. The money is available in the Fund. It was collected for this purpose and it is not being used for the purpose for which it was collected.
Does the Deputy say it was collected for a certain purpose?
Ostensibly for the purpose of maintaining the roads.
Absurd. You must have forgotten the Supplementary Budget.
I am not concerned with the Supplementary Budget at all. The matter with which I am concerned at the moment is this £300,000 which the Minister is taking out of the Road Fund and transferring to the Central Fund. That is the only matter that concerns me at the moment though at a later stage I may be concerned with many other things. Ostensibly this money was collected for the maintenance of roads and surely it is the duty of the Minister and the Government to see that money is devoted to the purpose for which it is collected?
I have said that the amount of money contributed by the rates to road maintenance has increased generally. I might say that the rates themselves since 1938-39 have doubled and they cannot be increased to any further degree. There is a general outcry throughout the country for a reduction of rates. The Minister cannot say that it is the duty of the local councils for instance to put some of these roads into a proper state of repair. When the Fianna Fáil Government was in office, during the period of the emergency and when money was needed for many other purposes, they continued to make these moneys available for the purpose of repairing these roads, particularly cul-de-sac roads. I have not the information before me and I should like to know what amount of money was paid out from the Exchequer last year and the year before for cul-de-sac roadways. As far as the constituency which I represent is concerned, I know that it is far more difficult now to obtain a grant than it has been for years past. I would ask the Minister that when this money is available—and there seems to be no other purpose for it except to transfer it by way of borrowing to the Central Fund — it should be used for the purpose of repairing cul-de-sac laneways throughout the country. In parts of the country the terms that now obtain are all right and people are perfectly satisfied with them while in other parts of the country the people are unable to meet the 25 per cent. contribution which is required. I would ask the Minister to make this £300,000 available and, in addition to that, I would urge, when making this grant, that if it still has to be maintained at the 75 per cent. level in many cases where the valuation is over £12, the county councils be empowered to give a grant for the purpose in order to lighten the burden on the people living in these laneways.
I also oppose this section in the light of the general position of the roads after the conclusion of the world war. During the term of office of the last Government we went through two different periods. There was the period of the economic war during which much national development was undertaken and during which, having regard to the circumstances of the time, we were unable to do what might have been regarded as the ideal maximum in road construction and improvement. A great deal of work was done and as the number of cars on the roads steadily increased the roads were improved throughout the country. During the world war the amount of money available for Road Fund work, and equally for materials for road repairs, was very substantially reduced. At the end of the war the last Government gave additional grants — £2,000,000 more than is being given at the present time—for the period 1948-49 in order to overcome the deficiencies of the war years. The last Government on frequent occasions raided the Road Fund for the purposes of general revenue. However, I think that if the Minister were to calculate the amount made available in each year of the Fianna Fáil Government's régime for the improvement of non-public roads, the improvement of bog roads, in contributions to local county councils for the improvement of county roads and the expenses undertaken in connection with the rural improvements scheme, he would find that, on the whole, the amount made available under those heads exceeded the total raids made on the Road Fund. I should be very surprised to hear that that is not the case. For a number of years the amounts spent under these heads greatly exceeded any raids made on the Road Fund. Even if that were not the case, we have so much of the effects of the war to overcome that it seems to me most inadvisable that the Minister now and in our present conditions should subtract from the Road Fund any sum of money for general revenue purposes. As far as I can gather, for the year 1949-50 a total sum of £210,000 was made available for roads under minor relief schemes and rural improvement schemes. Of the sum made available for rural improvement schemes which, I understand, was about £104,000, a considerable amount was devoted to catching up on schemes that had not been inspected or sanctioned in previous years. I was unable to obtain from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance the actual net expenditure on rural improvement schemes actually sanctioned and applied for in the year 1949-50. As far as I can gather, not more than £200,000 was spent on all these road schemes and £300,000 is now being taken from the Road Fund for general revenue purposes.
It is well at this point that we should examine the question of the roads of this country in a general way. I should like to remind the Minister there are 50,000 miles of roads in the country in the ownership of public authorities of which only 10,000 miles are main roads. Only about 13,000 miles are surface-dressed. The remainder consists of county roads not surface-dressed. The condition of these county roads, although greatly improved in the past 20 years, compared with those in other countries with a similar income to ours, is very defective. Anybody who represents a country constituency knows that no matter what is going to be done for agriculture or industry in this country the young people, if they appear to the older generation to be spoiled, want comfortable roads to travel to the market, to school, to Mass, to the cinema or to dances. The Minister knows as well as I do that one of the definitions of a modern State is the condition of the roads therein. In addition to these 50,000 miles of public roads we have, according to the Minister for Local Government, no less than 20,000 miles of non-public roads —boreens leading to farms. An enormous mileage of roads has been repaired by various methods during the past 16 or 20 years but not repaired in any case according to any technical system or to any basis related to the condition of the road and the necessity for its repair having regard to modern conditions. There was so much development to be done during the economic war and there was so much turf to be cut during the world war that it is no blame on the former Government that they had neither the means, money nor opportunity of discovering some method of repairing and improving the 20,000 miles of non-public roads which are in such a condition, as the Minister will discover from his Valuation Commissioners, that the price of a residential farm, no matter what the quality of the land, decreases in proportion to the distance of that farm along the boreen from the nearest county road. This Government, not having the burden of intensive turf production and war difficulties which we had to bear, should have some way of dealing with the miles of non-public roads on a functional and technical basis and not according to the present method whereby grants are available if the users agree to contribute a certain proportion of the cost or if a certain number of people are unemployed in the area or if it is considered that enough turf can be moved off a particular boreen to justify a very small amount being made available under the bog development scheme. These are basic facts in regard to this situation. The Minister for Finance knows as well as I do that the number of motor cars on the roads is constantly increasing and that not even the most efficient board of Córas Iompair Éireann can do anything in the world to stop the use of lorries and private cars by the people of this country.
We know the difficulties confronting Córas Iompair Éireann in regard to road freight traffic and rail traffic. It is not the cost of carrying the goods from one area to another but the cost of handling the goods before they start moving and after they start moving that is the great bugbear of the transport system of this country. As a result, people find it more convenient to own their own vehicles and farmers combine with one another to bring their cattle to the market. That has been going on for the past 25 years. Not even Sir James Milne made any substantial proposal to try to correct or alter that tendency. The result has been that the number of vehicles has increased since 1938-39 by 66 per cent. and the number of vehicles that do 90 per cent. of the damage on the roads, that is, goods and public service vehicles, has increased by 100 per cent. and with that increase there is a correspondingly increased amount of damage being done upon the roads.
So far as I know, the capital value of the work done in putting a waterproof tar or concrete skin upon the roads of this country was estimated at £25,000,000 in the year 1944. It probably has slightly increased since then and, in terms of replacement at present costs, it is enormously increased. Much of the restoration work effected by county surveyors was meant to cover the road quickly with a waterproof skin to protect it and preserve it. It was not meant to be in the nature of long-term improvement of roads.
Bearing in mind those figures that I have given, the increase of 66 per cent. and 100 per cent. in the case of public service vehicles and goods vehicles since 1938-39, we have the following figures that have already been given by Deputy Tom Walsh: The total amount made available for the roads in 1938-39 from all sources, Road Fund and rates, was £2,025,000. The total amount made available in 1949-50 was £4,640,000. On the face of it it seems like a very substantial and adequate increase.
Recently the Minister for Local Government answered a question in the Dáil to the effect that the cost of improving and repairing roads has gone up by at least 125 per cent., owing largely to the increase in wages of road workers, desperately needed by those men, given in succession under the auspices of the former Minister for Local Government and by the present Minister for Local Government, and also owing to the increase in the cost of materials. Some county surveyors have told me that 125 per cent. is an underestimate and that it would go up to very nearly 135 per cent. by the end of this year, owing to further anticipated increases of wages or increases of wages already granted.
You just take the ordinary mathematical rule that £225 worth of road work will do the work of £100 of road work in 1938-39. There is no cooking about that figure. There is nothing that can be disputed about it. It is a perfectly simple mathematical figure. The total amount made available in 1949-50 then becomes, in terms of value effected, £2,220,000, an increase of 10 per cent. since 1938-39, in contrast to an increase of 66 per cent. in the increase in the number of vehicles and 100 per cent. in the number of vehicles that do the damage—the public service vehicles and the goods vehicles.
You go further into the matter and you examine the question of the amount made available for main roads. You find that, applying that principle of value to the amount of money available, there is actually 31 per cent. less available now for main roads than there was in 1938-39—31 per cent. less available. That is due partly to a decision by the Minister for Local Government to grant more money for county roads. It may have been a good decision from one point of view, that, obviously, something has to be done to improve the county roads and make them worthy of our modern civilisation. The only effect has been, however, to delay the inevitable improvement of the main roads, to endanger the scoring of the surface to the point where severe capital damage will be done and the increase made available for county roads will not be sufficient to effect a good job of improving those roads that will be noticeable even to the people who live in the country in the course of the next ten years.
Applying the same principle to the increase in the grants for county roads, the figures on paper look magnificent. In 1938-39 the total amount available for county roads was the small sum of £853,000. In 1948-49 the total amount available from rates and from the Road Fund had risen to £2,601,000. The amount available last year rose not very much under the present Government to £2,696,000. The impression has been given abroad very largely that the Government increased the total amount available for county roads over and beyond what was made available by Fianna Fáil. The facts are that, having reduced the total amount available for all classes of roads by £2,000,000, the actual amount made available for county roads remained very nearly the same, with a slight increase.
Applying again this ordinary principle of value of money in terms of work done, the increase in the amount made available for county roads since 1938-39—the real increase—is only 40 per cent., still less than the increase in the number of vehicles—66 per cent., in the same period and 100 per cent. in the case of goods and commercial vehicles.
Therefore you have those three figures—10 per cent., real increase for all roads, minus 31 per cent. for main roads and plus 40 per cent. for county roads. It seems to me that, in face of those figures, it is impossible to sustain the argument that in this year any money should be taken from the Road Fund for general revenue purposes. I quite appreciate that the Government have embarked on very large scale schemes of national development and we could argue from this till Doomsday about how much of the £106,000,000 borrowed and taxed should be spent on roads, agricultural development, industry or any other of our many national development services but I do claim that the question of improving the roads adequately, of reducing accidents due to physical fatigue, of reducing the enormous damage done to commercial vehicles through poor corduroyed roads throughout the country, and the consequent waste of the national income, is a matter of vital importance to the Government and that the decision made this year to take £300,000, although it may seem a very small matter, does not augur very well for the future.
I would seriously ask the Minister to reconsider this whole question in the light of the figures that I have given, which cannot be questioned. They are not cooked in any way. I would ask the Minister to reconsider it because, as I have said, the real amount made available for roads, having regard to this figure of 125 per cent. increase in the cost of repairing, is an increase of 10 per cent. on 1938-39.
I am sure the Minister will argue as his justification for taking this money from the Road Fund that it was done in the past.
No. The purpose of the tax was for the Exchequer.
One of the reasons he will give as justification for doing this is that the Fianna Fáil Government did it on some occasions, now and again.
No, I am not arguing that at all.
In respect of every single thing, the argument now is that it was done before, that Fianna Fáil did it for so many years and therefore it must be right in all circumstances. Admittedly, Fianna Fáil, on a number of occasions in difficult times, had resort to the Road Fund, but, on the basis of the Minister's Budget this year, there seems to be no justification whatever for taking anything from the Road Fund. His revenues this year were so buoyant that he needed no extra taxation. Despite the many millions of extra expenditure to which he is committed, he needed no new taxation to provide this extra expenditure. It is a wonderful achievement, but it is no reason why he should rob the Road Fund. The moneys accruing to the Road Fund from duties on mechanically propelled vehicles have been spent, almost 100 per cent., on the maintenance and building of roads since the State was established.
The Deputy apparently forgets 1947.
I do not forget any year. I remember that away back in 1929, 1930 and 1931, in addition to robbing the Road Fund, you robbed the old age pensions.
There was a special Act brought in to put this charge as an Exchequer charge on these vehicles.
In this year, when it was not necessary to raise a halfpenny from new taxation, because revenue was so buoyant, and when the Minister is enabled to spend many millions more for ordinary Government services without any extra taxation, he should not rob the Road Fund of £300,000.
He will probably argue that the proportion the Road Fund is paying towards the maintenance of roads has changed and that less is being paid from local taxation and more from central taxation than formerly, but that is an argument which does not hold water either. As Deputy Childers has pointed out, the heavy commercial vehicles have increased in number by 100 per cent. and these are damaging the roads most severely. The ordinary light vehicles have increased by almost 50 per cent. The Road Fund is greater and there is greater damage being done to the roads. Eighty-five per cent. of what is spent on roads from local taxation is derived directly from land as against buildings and other property. Of the amount provided by local authorities, 85 per cent. is provided directly from a tax on land and the Minister should keep that in mind. He should also keep in mind that, while the State has been engaged for the past 30 years in improving the roads, it has succeeded in improving or building up only 10,000 miles of the 50,000 miles of main and county roads that we have. There are still 40,000 miles to be done.
All the roads in the country are now main roads because they are all being used by owners of motor vehicles. There is scarcely a townland in the whole countryside in which somebody has not got a motor vehicle, or two or more motor vehicles. The back roads, as we call them, or the county roads, are being utilised by motor transport at present and that is all the more reason why the Minister should make the total of the Road Fund available to local authorities for helping to build up the roads of the country. It is a big problem and one that must be met by the State from central taxation to enable the local authorities to build them up. They can never hope to put them in the state in which they should be, without the aid of the central Exchequer or the Road Fund. In this year of buoyant revenue, the Minister should give this £300,000 to the Road Fund and so enable local authorities to improve a further mileage of the roads which so badly need to be improved.
Whatever justification there might be for other portions of the Finance Bill, there is no justification whatever for this proposal. I have here replies by the Minister to questions asked by me. One of them given on 18th April, 1950, shows that the yield from the tax on petrol in 1947-48 was £1,500,000, which increased, in 1949-50, to £3,213,000. According to a reply given by the Minister for Local Government on 3rd May, 1950, there was a sum of £785,396 more from motor taxation as compared with 1947. That represents £2,484,000 more than was extracted in the last year of the Fianna Fáil Government. The Minister has roughly about £7,000,000 of an income out of other people's property. The roads are not the property of the State; they are the property of the local authority which built them up and maintained them out of the rates extracted from the farmer each year.
What has been the attitude of the various Governments and what is the present position of affairs in regard to these roads which are the property of the local authority? Here is the report of the county surveyors for Cork County:—
"Report of Deputy County Engineers, 17th January, 1950.
We present our estimates for the year 1950-51 and this year we are making a radical change—
They followed the Minister.
— as we have made it out in two parts: (1) the minimum required for pure maintenance, and (2) a list of works of rolling, etc., on important non-rolled roads.
Our maintenance figures are the lowest at which we consider our roads can be maintained at their existing standard. The comparative figures of our estimate and the amount available in 1939/40 show an increase of 126 per cent. This at first glance seems large but is, in fact, on the small side as wages have increased from 35/- a week to 66/- a week, an increase of almost 90 per cent., and the price of cut back bitumen has increased from £4 1s. Od. per ton to £15 12s. 4d. per ton, an increase of 385 per cent. This means that our surface dressing costs have gone up practically three times the pre-war price. Having regard, therefore, to the value of money, we are asking for less than was allowed pre-war.
The biggest factor of all we have left to last, namely, the intensity of traffic and the change that has taken place both in the location and weights of such traffic. Roads that only occasionally saw a lorry pre-war are now expected to take very heavy traffic and these roads have deteriorated sadly. In August, 1939, the number of vehicles taxed in County Cork was 5,571; in August, 1948, it was 8,997; in August, 1949, it was 10,791; and the estimate for 1950 is 12,300. In other words, our motor traffic has doubled in numbers and is getting on towards trebling, and the weights of the individual vehicles have also increased in nearly the same proportion, so that it would be fair to say that the total weight of motor traffic using the roads to-day is not less than four times that of pre-war.
Last year the amount of money available for county roads permitted only a negligible amount of surface dressing on existing surface-dressed roads and no money was available for this purpose from central funds, with the sole exception of a few miles of suburban roads carrying city bus services. In the South Cork district, for instance, there were 162 miles of surface-dressed roads at March 31st, 1949, and over 150 miles could not be done. This is a very serious situation as a few years of this would mean the breaking up of these roads and the loss of the capital expenditure involved in their making. The same applies, in a lesser degree, to the north and west areas, but the total money involved is not far short of £750,000.
In view of the above, we consider that we are justified in not accepting responsibility for the maintenance of the roads unless the sum asked for the purpose is made available.
In the course of the year, and in fact any year, representations are made in various ways to the council to have certain roads rolled, etc., and a common method of dealing with such applications is to refer them to the estimates meeting. We are now submitting a list of roads which, in our opinion, should be improved, and we give in each case an approximate estimate for the council to implement resolutions, or take such steps as it thinks fit. In considering this list, it can be borne in mind that a grant for the improvement of roads will, in all probability, be made available in the coming year much on the lines as in the current year."
That is signed by Mr. D. Coffey, Mr. J.T. O'Donnell and Mr. P.J. Malone, the three deputy county engineers for the area.
What is the result of that appeal? They say, in the first place, that the minimum required for road maintenance was: main roads, £160,000; county roads, £253,000. All they got from the county council was £136 for main roads and £206,000 for county roads, leaving a deficit of £71,000 for road maintenance on main roads alone.
The reason is that in the past two years the grant for road work in Cork County given from the Central Fund has shown a reduction of £94,000 per year, according to the figures given by the Minister for Local Government in reply to a question asked in the Dáil by Deputy Childers on the 14th March this year. The answer says:
"Statement showing amount of grant for all purposes allocated out of the Road Fund to each county council for the years 1948-49 and 1949-50:—Cork: 1948-49, £397,324; 1949-50, £302,709."
Various moves are being made in regard to the borrowing of money and everything is thrown on the future. The Minister has boasted here very often about the income from tourist traffic. The £7,000,000 collected each year between petrol tax, motor taxation and import duty on vehicles is collected out of other people's property, the property of the local authority. The Minister then comes along coolly to extract this year — having an increased income of £2,484,000 between petrol tax and motor taxation over and above what the previous Government had in the year they left office — £300,000 out of the Road Fund, to let the roads go back into the condition of deterioration pointed out by the county surveyor.
I did not think there would be any occasion for me to speak on this matter at all, but I thought from the support I got from Deputy Davin — he is missing now, but probably will be here when the Division Bell rings — and from Deputy Peadar Cowan and the protest they made here when an attempt was made to reduce taxation on the Finance Bill and when they pointed out that that money was needed for the roads and would have to go to the roads. I wonder on what side of the Lobby I will find Deputy Cowan if the Minister is adamant. I wonder what Deputy Davin will do — his county has suffered a reduction in road grants—in Laoighis from £160,000 to £69,000 and in Offaly from £90,000 to £48,000. Those are figures which I would ask Deputy O'Higgins to look over.
We got far more under the Local Authorities (Works) Act.
These figures were given on the 14th March, 1950. The Deputy's county has dropped some £100,000 in the road grant. I am endeavouring to save for him, as well as for my own county, some £300,000 and I hope he will show his gratitude in that respect in the Lobby. That is where I would like to see him. I am sure Deputy Davin, considering the row he kicked up here a few nights ago on the petrol tax and against the reduction in the price of petrol, stating he wanted it all for the roads, will realise his duty. I regret he has not come into the House and given us the benefit of his pressure on the Minister in this respect, as it is a very serious matter when the central authority takes over property belonging to the local authority and starts using it as revenue, worsening that property year after year. It is just like the description given by our esteemed friend, the Minister for Agriculture, when he talked of the fellows growing the wheat during the emergency and said they were mining the land.
The Minister is mining the roads, mining what was built up out of the rates paid by unfortunate farmers in each county. They built up those roads, but the Minister now lets them at so much a mile in petrol tax and so much a mile in motor taxation to the tourists who come in and gallop along in high-powered cars all over the country and eat all the money. By extreme manipulation the total amount of the grant for all purposes which in 1948-49 was £4,470,000 was reduced in 1949-50 to £2,435,000. That is a reduction of £2,000,000. That is £2,000,000 less than was given by the Fianna Fáil Government in their last year of office, and the Minister has got £2,500,000 more than the Fianna Fáil Government got in the line of taxation on those roads. I for one can see no justification whatever for this flagrant robbery of the Road Fund this year. I opposed the taking of money out of the Road Fund before though I was a member of the Fianna Fáil Party.
Did you vote against it?
I opposed it and the Party who were in Opposition at that time had not the guts to challenge a vote.
You could have done it.
I will watch with much amusement the Deputy trotting to the Lobby and I will send a special placard out to Leix-Offaly afterwards.
I hope you do not come yourself.
I was there before.
That is hardly relevant to the debate.
That is the money the Minister is endeavouring to rob. I have given one set of figures from our county surveyors in Cork County. I have shown that, despite the fact that they stated that they could not be responsible for the roads if they did not get the full amount required for their maintenance, when we made appeals to the Minister for Local Government to increase the grant and give us back some of the £94,000 by which he had reduced the grant for Cork County, the Minister told us that despite anything that would happen he could only give us what he had given us before, £90,000 less than Fianna Fáil had given us, and that we could keep up the roads on that. That was the attitude of the Minister for Local Government. I do not blame him because the Minister for Finance is holding the purse. Despite the fact that the cost of upkeep of those roads has increased enormously even during the past 12 months I could not, as representative of the ratepayers in that county, ask them to pay anything more seeing that the prices for their farm products are held on the 1947 level and that their costs of production have gone up steeply. Therefore the roads in Cork County this year, according to the statement of the county surveyors, have deteriorated to the extent of £71,000.
Next I will give you the estimate of the county surveyors for the improvement of main and county roads in Cork County to bring a portion of the roads up to the standard required for comfort by the tourists who come in to increase the income of the Minister for Finance and incidently to increase the prosperity of the country. The amount required in North Cork is £308,000; in South Cork, £419; and in West Cork, £279,000. £1,700,000 according to the estimate of the surveyors is required to bring a portion of the road in Cork County up to a standard that will bear modern traffic. With that knowledge, facing that condition of affairs, this Minister for Finance who borrowed £12,000,000 this year puts his two paws into the Road Fund and grabs £300,000 out of it.
My appeal is not so much to him as to the rural Deputies of the country who are sitting there looking at this thing happening. I want to know what those rural Deputies, each of whom has his own county which has dropped between £40,000 and £50,000 in road grants over the past two years, think of it. I want to know if they are satisfied to have their roads deteriorate like the roads in Cork. Are they satisfied to contribute that much into the pool so that the Minister for Finance might be quite happy? Would each one of them consider that the whole £300,000 would only meet some 25 per cent. of the amount required by the surveyors of Cork County alone so that there would be nothing left for them any way?
Take the position of County Kilkenny where the 1948-49 figure for road grants, £123,000, was in 1949-50 reduced to £73,000. That is £50,000 lost to Kilkenny. The grant in Kildare was reduced from £130,888 to £54,560. That is £80,000 from Kildare. If Deputy Hughes thinks that is justified and that the Minister is entitled to put his hands in and take £300,000 out of the Road Fund——
It has nothing to do with Kildare.
If Deputy Hughes has that attitude he can carry on. I will make him a present of the list and he can find his own little spot.
That is the point I want Deputies to consider and it is to them I turn rather than to the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Finance is doing his job, grabbing all he can and giving out as little as he can. That is the job of every Minister for Finance I ever saw and I do not care what Party he belonged to. He will take all he can; he will take all he is allowed to take and if Deputies representing in this House the different countries are going to stand by and see their roads deteriorating and see the Minister collecting £7,000,000 per annum in taxation off the roads and giving back £2,250,000 then that is their baby, but I will give them this much of a job: I will trot them into the lobby and let the people they represent here see what is their attitude on this.
I can be very brief on this because most of what I have to say is directed against the speech which Deputy Corry made, to remind him of past history. First the figures: In 1948-49 the Road Fund contributed £700,000 in respect of the roads and the local authorities contributed £1,325,000. Pre-war the Road Fund was responsible for a third and the local authorities were responsible for two-thirds of whatever charge was put upon the roads. The division as between the Road Fund and the rates is, roughly, 50-50. Deputy Childers mentioned that the cost of road making and of road maintenance has gone up, in respect of wages and materials. In so far as that is so, the local authority view seems to be that the whole increase ought to be shifted on to the Exchequer. Naturally, there will be another point of view on that. I want the wage point to be borne in mind.
In 1947—in the Finance (No. 2) Act of that year, which Deputy Corry supported — a special point was made as to a division of the moneys as between main and county roads. That was a new point and the late Minister for Local Government, speaking on 23rd February, 1949, on a motion on this matter of the road grants, made certain comments which will be found, so far as my quotation is concerned, in column 380. He revealed what was the attitude of the then Minister for Finance, of whom Deputy Corry was so much a supporter. The late Minister for Local Government, Deputy Tadhg Murphy, said:—
"The then Minister for Finance Deputy Aiken, very positively expressed his dislike of the idea of making any grants for county roads, and his sanction to road restoration grants for either main or county roads was given on the strict understanding that the revised basis of allocation as between Road Fund and rates would apply for one financial year only. A circular, therefore, was issued from the Local Government Department on 28th February, 1946, notifying the grants for road restoration in 1946-47 and intimated that the issue of the grants for that year was a purely temporary measure confined to that financial year."
The Minister continued:—
"It is true that the grants were continued for another year. They were continued on the same understanding and on the same basis, and it is also to be noted with considerable interest, because it throws a good deal of light on the whole position, that, on the second occasion, the proposal to issue the grant was strenuously resisted by the Minister for Finance to such an extent that the programme was very considerably delayed and the local authorities were in fact faced with additional difficulties because of that delay."
It was at that point the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Aiken, in a strong minute which he sent to the Minister for Local Government, expressed astonishment at the proposal to carry on these grants for a second year and he reminded his colleague that the special grant had only been reluctantly agreed to for the current financial year. That was the situation in regard to 1947.
Deputy Corry has devoted a lot of time announcing to the Dáil the amount derived from petrol. No money that comes from petrol is given to the Road Fund and never has been given to the Road Fund.
It will not be long until it is.
I do not care what extra money comes from petrol, it goes in the ordinary way to meet general Exchequer charges. The then Minister for Finance, now Deputy Aiken, when he introduced his Supplementary Budget in 1947 said that the Government had decided to provide additional subsidies for the purpose of flour, bread, tea and sugar by imposing certain taxes. One of the taxes specially referred to that night was the road tax, and it was decided to increase the road tax on motor cars so that the tax on an eight horse power car would be £12, on a ten horse power car £15, and on a 12 horse power car £20, and it was decided to appropriate the additional yield for Exchequer purposes. That was on 15th October and Deputy Corry was found on his feet praising that Budget. The Deputy was found praising a Budget which appropriated the additional yield for Exchequer purposes. This, I hope, will follow him to his county council. The Budget of 1947 included a special statement by the then Minister for Finance that extra charges were going to be made on motor vehicles and the money was not going to the Road Fund, but would be appropriated to Exchequer purposes.
Raids were made in the past, and the raids were considerable. Between 1932 and 1947-48 about £900,000 was taken by Fianna Fáil from the Road Fund. The Road Fund was built out of certain charges, and in those days it was described as appropriating the finances of the Road Fund, but in 1947 a change was made and a new taxation was imposed that drew forth Deputy Corry's verbal commendation on 15th October. The object was to appropriate the fruits of the new tax on motor vehicles to general Exchequer purposes. I am taking £300,000 this year. If I followed up Deputy Aiken's Supplementary Budget of that year I would take about £600,000, because the increased number of cars, new vehicles of all types, would warrant me, if I applied the standard Deputy Aiken applied in 1947, in taking the whole of these increased charges on motor vehicles into the Exchequer. That is what Deputy Aiken would have done, with Deputy Corry's backing, as he got it on 15th October. "This Budget will be welcomed by all," he said, including that appropriation, as he now calls it, of moneys that should have been devoted to the Road Fund to Exchequer purposes. That clearly indicated that the revenue from additional taxation would not be available for roads but would be devoted to meeting various costs. I am showing a good deal of moderation this year in not taking the whole of that; I am taking only £300,000.
On roads generally, although it is not a subject-matter for this debate, I would like to express a personal point of view. As between devoting money to such a thing as reclamation of land, drainage of land, or the local authority type of work which is progressing under the legislation we brought in, I would be prepared to give £20 any time towards work of such a productive nature to the single shilling that I would devote to road costs. With regard to the restoration of the roads, that matter was considered and certain moneys were appropriated. My information is that more money than what was expected to provide the full cost of the restoration has been spent. I understand that the restoration programme has, in the main, been completed.
I travel the roads a good deal. It has been stated here that money is being devoted away from the main roads to what are called the county roads. I suppose it is the main roads that I travel on in the main. I am asked to believe — the statement was made by Deputy Allen or Deputy Walsh — that those roads are on the point of crumbling. I have not seen any signs of it, but I have seen signs of what would seem to be very grave extravagance in regard to roads. A certain controversy was going on for some months — it is stopped now — about a fantastic scheme for the spending of money on the Dublin to Bray road. Luckily, that has been put an end to, because it would have been a frightful waste of public money, or of money collected from the Road Fund and the rates. One somewhat hysterical correspondent in one of the papers used the phrase that part of the Stillorgan road on the road from Dublin to Bray resembled a desolated bomb site.
I have yet to see any stretch of road that can be described in that way. In this city, within the last couple of weeks, there has been the astonishing spectacle of one part of Lower Baggot Street being held up by a lot of containers put down on the middle of the road, with ropes and red lamps as if it were a stretch of the Riviera coast. They were left there diverting and obstructing the traffic, and at about the end of ten days they were lifted. The result of the whole work, along a stretch of about 400 yards, was that there was one road diversion sign left, and it disappeared two days later. I think there is more room for economy in regard to road expenditure than there is in regard to anything else. As far as this £300,000 is concerned, I again want to put myself on record as saying that I am taking less money than what I am entitled to from the statement which Deputy Corry favoured and made on the 15th October, 1947, as to the new taxes then put on and as to the appropriation of that money to general Exchequer charges and not to roads. With regard to wages, the one point made was that wages have gone up. Deputy Corry also supported a proposal that was made at the time of the October Budget in 1947 to have wages pegged. That is one way of reducing expenditure on roads.
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- Flynn, John.
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- Hughes, Joseph.
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- Larkin, James.
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When is it proposed to take the next stage?
Is there any special date on which it is required?
We would like to put down some amendments if the Chair is prepared to take the amendments up to Tuesday morning. The particular amendments with regard to the stamp duties will take some time to draft, if we succeed in drafting them.
After the tuition you got yesterday, they ought to be simple. Shall we say Tuesday, then?
If the Chair will take amendments up to Tuesday.
We will take them up to 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
Agreed to take the next stage on Tuesday, 20th June.