The Minister did state that these extra sums of money which are now being made available for the Electricity Supply Board may mean that the production of electricity will go up to 2,200,000,000 units, and that even that may not be enough.
When we consider the large increase in the number of consumers and the extraordinarily large increase in the consumption of electricity, there is one point to which I should like to draw special attention. The Minister spoke of inducements to people to use current, and if rural electrification is to be made the success which everyone hopes it will be, it can only be done by everybody in the different areas taking advantage of it and having electricity in their homes and, where farmers are concerned, in their out-offices; but there is one section of people who have suffered gravely through the actions of the Electricity Supply Board. There are places which were catered for by the Electricity Supply Board from the very outset and in that respect I can mention the village I come from, Crosshaven. Crosshaven, in the early 1930's, was connected with the Electricity Supply Board supply, but when we consider the charges made by the Electricity Supply Board at that time to the consumers and the large increases since that time, of which we can get no account in this House, we find that there is no inducement to people to take the supply.
Furthermore, the system can be very severe on ordinary people in that they have to pay a head charge based on the valuation of their houses, and in summer, when practically no electric current is used, this severe head charge is a heavy burden on them. In Cork City and other areas, there is a charge by the Electricity Supply Board for the use of a meter, but surely in the case of people whose premises were connected with the electricity supply in the early 1930's, the meter should have been paid for long before now. Whatever about the financial viewpoint behind all this, it is fantastic to believe or even to expect that the people should have to pay back all the cost of this huge development in a short period.
The people in years to come will have the advantage of the electric current now being provided and why should the consumers of the present day be saddled with every possible increase the Electricity Supply Board can get away with—simply and solely, as I believe, because we here have no say with regard to it? We have to take it for granted that when they want an increase they will go ahead with it, instead of proceeding on the basis of a long-term policy. The charges to people who have used electricity for the past 18 or 20 years have gone up enormously, but yet a person getting current in at present will not have to pay anything more than these consumers are paying. I know many people who had signed for the purpose of getting electricity in, but who, when they considered the heavy charges—they were anxious to pay as much as they could—decided that they would be so severe on them that they put it on the long finger. We must realise that the surest way of making rural electrification pay is by providing it at as low a cost as possible, thereby giving everyone an incentive to take the current and to use to the utmost the advantages offered by it.
Deputy Cosgrave mentioned one point in which we are all interested to a certain degree—the unfortunate position of people in certain areas, in little pockets, as he called them, who are not lucky enough to be able to get rural electrification. That is a problem with which every member of the House is confronted—the problem of having to explain the difficulties to people in his constituency and pointing out to them that it is impossible for him as a Deputy to get it for them. Deputy Cosgrave offered a solution— he did not say it was an ideal solution but he mentioned it as a possibility—in the shape of a contribution by the local authority and that is a point I want to deal with. I want to draw attention to another side of the picture.
In Cork at present, as in all other places, if we, as members of a local authority, put down a motion asking for the provision of public lighting in any particular village or area, the assistant county surveyor, as the next step, gets into contact with the Electricity Supply Board. Deputy McGrath will bear me out when I say that we find to our amazement that the charges proposed by the Electricity Supply Board for the provision of public lights in these places are very often prohibitive, and to our grave disappointment we sometimes have to consider the possibility of not going on with a scheme of public lighting in these villages, because the burden is so heavy and because we are afraid that its reflection on the rates eventually will be such as to make it impossible for us to go on with it. On one occasion, the Electricity Supply Board were asked to provide public lighting in a certain area in the suburbs of Cork City.
They asked for a very large sum, roughly £200, and I pointed out as a member of the local authority that as everyone in the locality was a potential consumer, it was difficult to understand why the charge should be so high. The board refused the local authority any information as to why the charge was so high, but about a year and a half later provided the public lighting in that area—Togher, in the neighbourhood of the Lough in Cork City—at roughly £40 to £50, instead of £200, and up to the present hour the board have not told the members of the local authority why they reduced the charge.
I am not blaming the Minister. This is a long standing grievance but I suppose that it is by mistakes we learn and the sooner we realise that one of the biggest mistakes, so far as the Electricity Supply Board is concerned, is the fact that they undoubtedly have a certain amount of autocratic powers and can act in an autocratic fashion, the better for us. I am not suggesting that they always do so and I know officials engaged on rural electrification who have gone out of their way to help, and they have powers which they can use to the advantage of the community and the members of this House. We here are agreeing to the provision of extra money for this laudable project but, in the long run, it is the people who are the masters and who are providing the money.
I want again to emphasise that, where local authorities are concerned, the Electricity Supply Board charges for the provision of public lighting are prohibitive in the extreme. I want to lay stress again on this matter of the charge on valuation and meter rents. The fact that people have to pay a certain fixed charge on the valuation of their houses all through the years is no incentive to people to connect up with Electricity Supply Board current, and, in the case of meter rents in the cities, when a charge is made for a number of years, the meter should then be free of all charge to the consumer. I know full well that Deputy Hickey did not for a moment suggest that electric current should be made dearer to industrialists. It is one of the keynotes of success in our industrial policy to provide such cheap current.
I honestly believe that the price charged to the ordinary consumer at present is such that no matter what policy the Electricity Supply Board may formulate or carry out they will never make a success of it unless or until they take the ordinary people, the consumers, into their confidence and make a fairly reasonable economic charge for the current provided, no matter how many years that may take to pay back. If we are gaining certain advantages now, what about the untold advantages to the people in the future? Surely we are not wrong in asking the people in the future to pay a little towards this?
The Minister may mention—and would be justified in doing so—the grant of up to 50 per cent. given by the State, while it will take so many years to pay back, plus the interest that Deputy Hickey mentioned; but not being versed in high finance I will have to leave that out. No matter how many years it may take, it is most important to realise that above all we are not entitled or justified in saddling the ordinary consumer with the high burden of the present charges.