Freshwater Fisheries (Prohibition of Netting) Bill, 1951—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to provide authority to make ex-gratia payments for settlement of claims for compensation in respect of loss arising from the abolition of freshwater netting which could not be dealt with under the compensation clauses of Section 35 of the Fisheries Act, 1939. That section was brought into operation so as to prohibit netting in fresh water as from the 1st January, 1948, and legal advice obtained on test cases showed that quite a number of persons who had formerly earned their livelihood, or, at any rate, derived certain income by the taking of salmon in freshwater nets, were not in a position to show title to fishing rights in the precise manner necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Act. The late Government had introduced a Bill to deal with the subject in May, 1950, and I understand that they had under consideration a revision of the original Bill when the late Dáil was dissolved. The present Bill deals with all the matters which the late Government had in mind and to that extent may be described as an agreed measure.

The Bill is one of six sections and detailed comment may be confined to Sections 2 and 3. Section 2 provides for the making of ex-gratia payments and the classes of persons concerned may be divided into three groups to correspond with sub-sections (1), (2) and (3) of the section.

Group 1 consists of persons who owned fisheries in which freshwater netting was carried on not by themselves but by persons who fished under lease or in some cases by seasonal permit. Such fishery owners were in-advertently excluded from compensation under the Act of 1939. Not all freshwater fishery owners have in fact suffered any loss through the prohibition of freshwater netting—on the contrary many fisheries have appreciated in their value for angling purposes as a result of the nets being taken off to an extent far in excess of the rents formerly received from tenants who fished by means of nets. It is, however, intended under this sub-section to deal with any case where an actual loss can be proved.

The second group consists of persons who actually fished by means of nets in a freshwater fishery before the 1st January, 1948, but who for one reason or another were not in a position to prove that they had any legal right to use a net in that fishery on the critical date, for example, snap net fishermen of the Rivers Suir and Nore, some of whom operated under seasonal permit only while others fished merely by the tacit consent of some owner of a several fishery. Such persons are admitted to have a moral claim to compensation but as they have no prospect of establishing a claim on the basis of strict legal right we can only deal with them by making ex-gratia grants.

Sub-section (3) is intended to cover the various employees who have suffered a genuine loss through the termination of their employment at freshwater netting and whose claims have failed on technical grounds. In some cases, the employees' claim has failed simply because the employer had not the necessary legal right to use a net and in other cases because the terms of employment did not fulfil the conditions laid down as to duration of employment, whether his remuneration formed the whole or a substantial part of his livelihood and so on.

We now come to Section 3 of the Bill, which contains provisions as to payment of interest and legal costs which did not appear in the Bill introduced last year. Provisions of this nature had been urged on our predecessors and the Government has decided to adopt their proposals in the matter. The section follows the conventional lines of provisions in existing legislation providing for payment of interest on purchase moneys of land compulsorily acquired, lodging of compensation money in court and contributing towards the costs of proving title. These provisions will apply to compensation payable under the principal enactment, namely, Section 35 of the Fisheries Act, 1939.

Sub-section (5) of Section 3, in providing for contributions by the Minister towards the cost of proving title does not go quite so far as the corresponding provisions in legislation relating to compulsory acquisition of land. The difference is due to the fact that whereas in land cases the authority is acquiring something to which it must have good title and the cost of showing title is usually commensurate with the value of the occupier's interest in the land. In these netting compensation cases, however, the Minister is not acquiring anything, he is simply making good the loss sustained through the extinction of the right of netting while the fishery remains in the occupation of the claimant. Thus, part of the cost of proving title accrues to the ultimate benefit of the claimant should he ever engage in other transactions concerning his several fishery.

It will be noted that both Section 2 and Section 3 require that application for compensation shall be made before the 1st January, 1952.

The total sum to be paid by way of ex-gratia grants is limited by sub-section (5) of Section 2 to £60,000. The further expenses arising under the Bill in respect of interest and costs are estimated at £13,500 for interest up to the 31st March, 1952, and £3,000 by way of contributions to legal costs, making a total of £76,500 up to the end of the present financial year.

A Supplementary Estimate will be required to enable payments to be made under the Bill when enacted. It is proposed that this should be introduced later in the year when the extent of savings on the present compensation sub-head and on the Fisheries Vote generally can be more closely estimated.

What the Parliamentary Secretary says in regard to this being substantially an agreed measure is perfectly correct. The origin of this measure, as I know it, is that when the original Prohibition of Netting Act was passed, it was foreseen by the then Minister for Fisheries, my predecessor, that in a new procedure of this kind it was inevitable that certain categories of persons who had a moral claim to compensation would be overlooked. He then forecast that when the original Act had been in operation for a certain time, and these categories of persons had emerged, a Bill of this character would be brought in. This is the redemption of that undertaking given by my predecessor, implemented up to a point by myself and now carried to completion by the Parliamentary Secretary. I appreciate the spirit underlying the proviso in Section 3 which provides that compensation shall not be payable unless an application therefor is made before the 1st day of January, 1952. I think that, for the Parliamentary Secretary's own peace of mind, he ought to consider acquiring power to extend that period for a certain time. Otherwise, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, he will be asked to bring in an amending Bill to give him discretion to extend the period so as to cover some real cases of hardship which arise where a simple person who clearly had a claim, for some reason for which we would all have sympathy, failed to comply with the formalities before the 1st January, 1952. It is not a point of great substance. If the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to get all stages of the Bill before the recess, it is a matter which he could consider later on.

Would the Deputy suggest a period?

I think the Parliamentary Secretary would be wise to ask the House for discretion to extend the period himself. While it is quite true that the bulk of the applications may now be in the Department of Fisheries, if in next February, some simple person or some group of simple people in Tipperary, or Kerry or Meath, or anywhere else, approach the Parliamentary Secretary and, having reviewed their case, he says to himself: "If these people had come to me before the 1st January I should certainly have recommended a grant," he will feel it incumbent on him to take some steps to put the matter right and he will find himself with the obligation of introducing amending legislation. I do not think I could press the Parliamentary Secretary to take a snap decision on this matter now. I should like, however, to assure him that should he require facilities to acquire for himself some wider discretion than is envisaged in sub-section (2) of Section 3 I certainly will do anything in my power to facilitate him in getting it.

I welcome this measure on behalf of the people in my county whom it concerns. I have been agitating for the past 12 months on behalf of men whose applications, for technical reasons or otherwise, were, so to speak, ruled out of court, and who were unable to obtain the necessary compensation. We had cases of men who were employed in the Lord Kenmare estate and in the Bourne Vincent estate, Killarney. Because these men were not employed at a specified date in a particular year, or because they had not the required number of weeks, their applications were ruled out as being eligible for compensation. We have also the case where men employed on the Laune fishing are ruled out simply because they were not employed in certain months in the period specified in the Bill. I pointed out both to the Minister at the time and to the Department that that fishery was not actually in operation on that date. Fishing operations could not commence because of floods and for other reasons until later in the season. But these technicalities had the effect of ruling the men out.

I welcome this measure as a step in the right direction but I think that in some respects the awards are not adequate. We have cases where men qualified for a miserable pittance. I think it is an insult to these men to offer them such meagre compensation and I would make an appeal to have the position in that respect reviewed in order to give them some additional compensation. If it is acceptable and if I am in order in doing so, I will put down a motion on the matter at a later date.

I also welcome this measure. I think it would be better if the Minister were to extend the period. I do not think he should accept responsibility of exercising a special discretion. If the onus of making decisions is thrown on him personally, it will only cause more headaches. It would be better to extend the period say to 1953.

On a point of procedure. If the Parliamentary Secretary considered extending the period to 1953 instead of 1952, would it be possible to do that by means of a verbal amendment so that if he wanted the later stages of the Bill he might get them immediately?

I think an amendment in that way could be accepted.

I am not saying the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the amendment. I merely wanted to find out if that would be permissible.

I do not think there would be any insuperable difficulty about extending the time. I understand the reason why it was made so short was in order to keep the amount of interest payable as low as possible. However, it seems to me that possibly a greater evil might be created and we would have to come along later on, as suggested by Deputy Dillon, with an amending Bill. After consultation with the Department's advisers I think it may be possible to meet the suggested amendment.

I think the cases referred to by Deputy J. Flynn are provided for and the basis of compensation for employees is in or about two years' employment. With regard to compensation for loss of other rights, in the last analysis that rests with the official arbitrator. This measure, as we know, is an agreed measure and even on the point raised by Deputy Dillon I think we are all apparently agreed that it should be met.

If the Parliamentary Secretary submits his amendment to-morrow, will that not be sufficient? He can then get the remaining stages of the Bill. Will that meet the Parliamentary Secretary's convenience?

Yes. If we can get the amendment in to-morrow and get the Bill through it would be convenient because there are a great many people awaiting compensation and they will be very disappointed if that compensation is delayed until the autumn.

Certainly we will give it to you.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary state what period of employment employees must show to entitle them to compensation?

I think the period is in or about two years.

Approximately two years.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the Committee Stage to-morrow.