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.