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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Jun 1952

Vol. 132 No. 12

Committee on Finance. - Vote 8—Office of Public Works.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £192,100 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works (1 & 2 Will. 4, c.33, secs. 5 and 6; 5 & 6 Vict., c.89, secs. 1 and 2; 9 & 10 Vict., c.86, secs 2, 7 and 9, etc.).

Following the practice in previous years I propose to take Votes 8 and 9 together.

Vote 8 bears the salaries and expenses of the administrative, executive and technical staffs of the Office of Works, which is the office responsible for the administration of Vote 9.

Vote 9 provides the necessary funds for the purchase of sites and buildings for State purposes, for the erection, maintenance and furnishing of Government offices and other State-owned premises, for arterial drainage and other engineering works, for the erection and improvement of national schools, for the erection of major military buildings, for the maintenance of State-owned parks and State harbours, and for a number of other activities.

Vote 8.—The net estimate for Vote 8 is £13,550 more than the estimate for 1951-52. This is occasioned by increases of £61,220, mainly on salaries and wages, £41,570 of which may be accounted for by increases in salary which were granted last year and provided for in the Vote for Increases in Remuneration. Savings of £2,100 on travelling and incidental expenses and an increase of £3,700 in estimated Appropriations-in-Aid reduce the increase to a net figure of £13,550.

Sub-head A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—accounts almost entirely for the increases in gross expenditure. Allowing for the provision mentioned in the Vote for Increases in Rumeration, the additional sum required under this head is £18,650. Specific provision is made for 15 additional heads of staff, and there are contingency provisions for other staff amounting to £16,350, the greater part of which is in respect of the engineering branch. The additional provisions for that branch cover staff for valuation and costing work, for administration of the central engineering workshop, for the marine and general division and the mechanical division, for the Feale drainage scheme and for arterial drainage surveys with a view to an increased rate of progress on this service. The secretary's branch and accountant's branch are also being strengthened for the additional work consequent on the increased engineering and other activities. The salaries amounting to £21,000 and travelling expenses of engineering staff, number 41, and of some executive staff, engaged on surveys and works concerned with land rehabilitation, which the Commissioners of Public Works are carrying out as agents of the Minister for Agriculture, are recoverable from the Vote for Agriculture.

The increase of £700 under sub-head D—Telegrams and Telephones—is due to additional facilities for the augmented staff employed on drainage and survey work.

As against these increases, there is a reduction of £2,100 under sub-heads B—Travelling Expenses—and C—Incidental Expenses—mainly based on experience.

Under sub-head E—Appropriations-in-Aid—net additional receipts of £3,700 are anticipated from fees in connection with local loans; agency services, including those rendered in connection with works whose cost is borne on the Telephone Capital Account, and recoupments of salaries and travelling expenses of engineering staff engaged on drainage and land rehabilitation.

Vote 9.—The Estimate for Public Works and Buildings shows a net decrease of £181,460, accounted for by a reduction of £187,170 in estimated gross expenditure which is offset to the extent of £5,710 by decreased Appropriations-in-Aid.

The reduction in gross expenditure is due to decreases totalling £310,440 which arise principally on the provisions for new building work, machinery purchases and engineering workshop services. Against these decreases there is an estimated increased expenditure of £123,270, mainly on fuel and the maintenance of engineering plant and machinery. There is little change in the total provision for drainage construction works, and a relatively substantial additional provision is proposed for arterial drainage surveys, with a view, as I have already said, to an increased rate of progress on this service.

The provisions for the individual sub-heads show the following variations on those voted for 1951-52.

Sub-head B.—New Works, Alteration and Additions—for which the sum of £1,150,000 is provided, shows a decrease of £84,000. While a substantial programme of works was put through last year the estimated expenditure for that year was not fully realised, due to various causes, including a certain amount of unfavourable building weather and to a scarcity of materials. Of the total provision proposed for this year about half, namely, £600,000, is for the building and improvement of national schools. This figure has been arrived at on an analysis of the case failing to be dealt with in the course of the year.

Apart from the provision for national schools and that for Garda Síochána barracks, for which a sum of £96,000 has been included, sub-head B covers over 100 individual projects. From the point of view of cost, the principal items are:— Áras an Uachtaráin—improvements; Dún Laoghaire Harbour—additional customs accommodation; Grange Stud and Dairy Farm—adaptations; Johnstown Castle—adaptations; Veterinary College—improvements; Coláiste Moibhi Preparatory College—adaptations; Forestry School, Shelton Abbey— adaptations; Valentia Observatory— adaptations and additions; post office factory—rebuilding; Drogheda new post office; Broadcasting Studio and office accommodation; Baldonnel Camp —hard surface runways; Curragh Camp—renewal of electrical installation; Haulbowline Dockyard—completion of new jetty; London Embassy —completion of adaptations; Waterford new employment exchange; Dundrum Asylum—alterations and additions.

The provisions for furniture under sub-heads D (1) and D (2) are reduced by £5,000 and £9,500 respectively, due to provision having been made last year under the first-mentioned sub-head for arrears of furnishing, since considerably reduced; for exceptional requirements of some services, also largely met; and to the completion of reserve purchases for which provision was made last year under sub-head D (2).

Higher fuel prices and lighting charges, with contingency provisions for increased transport charges and for additional premises, are responsible for the substantial increase of £65,000 in the provision for sub-head F. The minor increase under sub-head G— Phoenix Park National School, is also in respect of the increased cost of fuel, while that under sub-head I—telegrams and telephones, corresponds with the increase in the telephone service charge.

It is proposed to undertake a wider programme of drainage surveys this year and the additional provision of £6,200 made under sub-head J (1) covers the cost of additional river recording equipment, and the charge to this Vote in respect of the proposed extra survey party. Arterial drainage construction work, as the provision for sub-head J (2) indicates, will be continued on virtually the same scale as last year, a reduction in net expenditure on the Brosna catchment drainage scheme being partly offset by anticipated increased expenditure on the Glyde and Dee scheme. Some of the machines engaged on the Brosna scheme will be transferred to the Feale catchment for the development of that scheme.

Under sub-head J (4)—River Fergus drainage, which bears the estimated cost of providing automatic sluices at Clarecastle in fulfilment of the statutory undertaking given in the consent forming the basis of the district of Fergus Drainage Act, 1943, additional provision is necessary due to increased cost of labour and materials and engineering difficulties encountered with flood and storm damage which have delayed progress and which will greatly increase the gross cost. The provision for expenditure in the current year compared with last year is increased by £9,000.

Of the provisions which are reduced, sub-head K (1)—Purchase of engineering plant and machinery, shows the greatest decrease, amounting to £120,000. This is approximately the amount which was provided last year for additions to, and refitting of harbour dredging plant but which was not expended. The position has not been carried forward as the desirability of replacing some of the existing fleet by more highly powered craft is now being examined and no expenditure other than the cost of design is likely in this financial year. The provision of £280,000 in the sub-head this year is mainly for equipment to supply the mechanical requirements of the drainage programme. While every effort is being made to build up the necessary range of equipment the provision has been governed to some extent by the delivery situation, particularly in regard to the larger units.

The position with regard to maintenance of engineering plant and machinery which heretofore was impeded by the lack of accommodation at the Dún Laoghaire workshop premises has been improved by the transfer of staff and plant to the new premises at Inchicore, and some of the major overhauls which are due on the plant used on the Brosna and other drainage schemes can now be undertaken. In view of this and of the expenses of drainage activities and the increased fleet of machines the provision under sub-head K (2) has been increased by £43,000. To these circumstances also may be attributed in large measure the additional recoupments for repair services which help to reduce by £77,000 the provision for sub-head K (3) —Central Engineering Workshop and Stores. This decrease is due as to £72,000 to additional recoupments mainly from repairs to equipment for Arterial Drainage and Land Rehabilitation. The decrease of £5,000 on the expenditure side is the net effect of a saving on purchases of reserve supplies as against an increase in workshop staff.

The net decrease of £5,710 in Appropriations-in-Aid, sub-head L, is mainly in respect of the receipts from hireage of plant for land rehabilitation work but also of dredgery, which will be engaged mostly on work at State harbours, and in receipts from sales of old furniture, etc.

I should, perhaps, mention for the information of the House that two slight misprints have crept into the printed Estimate Volume. In item (6) of sub-head M of Vote 8—Appropriations-in-Aid—the reference to sub-head M (11) of Vote 27 should read sub-head M (9). In sub-head J (4) of Vote 9 —River Fergus Drainage—the estimated gross expenditure in 1952-53, which is printed as £30,500, should be £30,000.

I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us when he is concluding how much it is proposed to spend on Dún Laoghaire pier and when the work will be completed?

Is the Parliamentary Secretary in a position to tell us whether any provision has been made for the extension of the jetty at Haulbowline to a 31-foot jetty? The contract at present going on is for a 24-foot jetty. The Parliamentary Secretary will understand that a 24-foot jetty is no use for accommodating trans-atlantic liners.

As a rule the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary in relation to the Office of Public Works gives a satisfactory explanation of the position. This in some respect must be attributed to the work of the commissioners and the staff. I can understand the necessity for an increase in Vote 9. I am sure it is mainly made up of the cost of extra staff on the engineering side. I actually expected to see a greater increase there than is actually shown. In my time there that particular section was not adequately staffed. There were not enough engineers. We did our best to recruit them, and we were successful in getting a few. In order to put all the arterial drainage schemes into operation there will have to be a much bigger increase in that Vote. Possibly the Parliamentary Secretary may find himself up against the same difficulty that I encountered, namely, the impossibility of getting good men. Very often, too, good men leave because they do not consider the rate of pay sufficiently attractive. They do not consider the prospect of promotion satisfactory. That particular matter was a headache so far as I was concerned. It would not surprise me to learn that the Parliamentary Secretary suffers from the same complaint. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary is doing the best he can, but it is his responsibility to increase the engineering staff, because until that is done no satisfactory progress will be made. I hope that in the coming year no effort will be spared to try to recruit all the staff required. There will be no progress in arterial drainage until more engineers are recruited.

I see that under sub-head F, Vote 9, there is an increase of £65,000 for fuel and light. I consider that an extraordinary increase, and I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary has given any explanation for it. Under sub-head L, there is an increase of £6,200 for arterial drainage surveys. That brings me back again to Vote 8. I am sorry that this amount has not been doubled. The Parliamentary Secretary said some extra drainage surveys were being carried out this year. I would like to know something from him about the arterial drainage schemes in respect of which surveys will be carried out in the coming year.

When I was in the Board of Works, I regarded arterial drainage as being more important than any other type of drainage. I hope that the increase is not for the carrying out of surveys for the Department of Agriculture, and that the Parliamentary Secretary will not be led away by any other Department in that respect. His own staff is small enough as it is. In my opinion, it should be doubled. I hope it will not be taken away to be used for any type of work other than arterial drainage. Arterial drainage should always be number one with the Parliamentary Secretary. I have no doubt, knowing the area he comes from, that such is the case. Nevertheless, when I look at Vote 9, I find that under sub-head K there is only a sum of £280,000 for the purchase of engineering plant and machinery. Last year, the figure was £400,000, representing a decrease this year of £120,000. I cannot agree that the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department are doing their duty in view of that reduction. The Arterial Drainage Act was passed in 1945. The great cry, between 1945 and 1948, when questions were asked about the progress of arterial drainage, was that on account of the war, machinery could not be got. When I entered the Board of Works in 1948, the cry was that it was possible to get machinery.

There was no war on then. The Parliamentary Secretary told me, in reply to a parliamentary question, that they were getting machinery, but the time may come again when it may not be possible to get it. The Party opposite tell us the great danger there is of another war. I cannot understand, therefore, why the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department do not go out and purchase machinery even though at present it may have to lie idle for a time. The time may come in the near future when it cannot be got. I hope we will not hear in the future, as we heard between 1945 and 1948, that arterial drainage cannot go on because we have not the machinery.

I think it is really a shame that there should be this decrease of £120,000 under that sub-head. There is no use in the Parliamentary Secretary telling me that he has not any business in getting machinery since he has no work for it to do. I am afraid there is not enough machinery in the Feale area or on the Glyde and the Dee. The Brosna was not over-stocked with machinery. I would suggest to him that he should get more machinery and be prepared in the event of another war. The machinery we require has to be purchased in America or in England. If war comes, both countries will close down on us in regard to machinery supplies, and we will have the same standstill as we had between 1945 and 1948. Now is the time for the Parliamentary Secretary to use his good offices and do all he can in that direction.

I see there is £600,000 for school buildings. Under sub-head B there is provision for new works, alterations, and furniture for new buildings. I take it that refers to the building of national schools. Last year the figure was £688,370. This year there is a reduction of something like £47,970. That, surely, does not indicate progress. When discussing this Estimate, I agree that it is hard to know where you are. When I had the responsibility I was of the opinion that the Board of Works was only a scivvy for every other Department.

I can hardly blame the Parliamentary Secretary for this portion of the Estimate. The Minister for Education goes around the country telling us of the state of the national schools and saying they are hovels. That is a fact. However, when one sees a reduction in the Estimate of £47,970, one can say it does not represent any advancement. Of course this is a matter for the Department of Education as well. I suppose the poor Parliamentary Secretary cannot be held responsible for things like that. Still, the reduction does not represent the progress which should be taking place.

These are some of the comments that I want to make on the Estimate. It is a nice thing to stand on this side, having had the experience of standing on the other side and putting three or four Estimates for the Department before the House. On these occasions, I had to listen to criticism of the Department. It is my opinion that there was never honest criticism of the Office of Public Works. It appeared to me to be a Department which Deputies spent their time abusing. They would say the hardest things it was possible for them to say about it. On this side of the House, one has a better opportunity of saying things about the Office of Public Works than when defending it from the other side. There is this that I would like to say about it. The Commissioners, from the chairman down, and every official in that Department, work harder, in my opinion, than the officials in any other Department of State. They are the skivvies for every Department. Sometimes you would imagine that they should find accommodation for another Department by building overnight, that it should appear like a mushroom and, if it is not done, they are the most criticised of any State Department. That is my view about them. I have no reason for saying that other than that it is a fact. Therefore, I hope that on this Estimate, at least for this year, any criticism that may be offered will be fair and honest.

I have often heard Deputies say that when you went to the board of works there was a standard type of reply; that it was like cast iron; it always said "no"; and that if you met them and discussed the matter with them that it was a pleasure to them to smile into your face and say "no". I am happy to say that that is not the position. Probably I should not be discussing this matter on the Estimate and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me an opportunity to say what I have said.

To-day I asked a question of the Parliamentary Secretary in connection with Section 5 of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. I would appeal to him to consider that section. In my time I thought it should be changed in some way or other, because I found that the local authorities did not want three months or six months, or whatever the period of time is; that it was just a period that was wasted. As far as the Feale catchment scheme is concerned, I think I remember the county council giving their consent over the phone. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to examine that matter closely.

I expected the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us when the Brosna arterial drainage scheme would be finished. It is about due to be finished now. At least it should be. I must pay this tribute. Within the last month I had occasion to be in that part of the country. Certainly, the work that has been done there is a credit to the Office of Public Works and the engineering staff. In my opinion, the work is too good. There is no necessity for the job being so well done.

The Parliamentary Secretary did not tell us what progress has been made on the Glyde and Dee. That scheme has been in progress for quite a while, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what the position is there.

I am told that there is not enough machinery in the Feale area. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to examine that matter and to get the machinery, because, as far as arterial drainge is concerned, it is a matter of machinery, excavators, dredgers, etc. That brings me back to the sub-head to which I referred. I would stress the great necessity for securing machinery for drainage work of that description.

The Parliamentary Secretary has been over 12 months in charge of the Office of Public Works. I am very surprised that another arterial drainage scheme has not been commenced. I know the havoc the Fianna Fáil people played from this side of the House when I was on the other side. I heard the Parliamentary Secretary making a joke in North Mayo last week about the blowing of a whistle. A joke may be a nice thing in Belmullet, but you would want a bit of common sense attached to it. For the three years that I was in the Office of Public Works I started an arterial drainage scheme every year.

They were all prepared for you almost—they were all prepared and ready.

I left one prepared for the Parliamentary Secretary that he is not going on with now, thinking he is doing spite on me when he is doing it on the Galway people.

Not at all.

I will not be half as bad as Deputy Killilea was when he was on this side of the House. During the three years that I was in office I started an arterial drainage scheme each year. The Parliamentary Secretary has been there 12 months. I left him the survey of the Corrib, completed since last November. This is the month of June and, according to a reply to a question, it is pushed on with all haste. It must have dropped into reverse unknown to the Parliamentary Secretary, because when I was Parliamentary Secretary the promise to me was that the Corrib-Clare-Dalgan scheme would be early in the year 1952. I have not any doubt that they lived up to that promise. I do not know who slipped the information to the Irish Press, that was in the country edition, not the city edition, when I reminded the Parliamentary Secretary on the 18th of this month, that the design was virtually completed. No doubt that is the truth, but why has not the Parliamentary Secretary gone on with that Corrib-Clare-Dalgan scheme?

For years the Parliamentary Secretary represented that constituency, as I did. A good, honest, honourable representative he was as Deputy Beegan. The then Deputy Beegan knew, he must know now as Parliamentary Secretary, as I did, as Deputy Donnellan and as I did as Parliamentary Secretary, the grave havoc that is caused by flooding in that area. He must know what has happened around Claregalway, the Headford area, Turloughmore, Corofin, Tuam, Miltown, Ballyhaunis, Ballinlough on to the border of Roscommon, Dunmore, and Glenamaddy. He must know that the case for arterial drainage in that area is greater than for any other scheme in the Twenty-Six Counties. It was on account of the great necessity in that area that early in the month of June, 1948, I started a survey of that scheme and pushed on for it.

If the Parliamentary Secretary tells me that he left me three schemes prepared, that is not a correct statement. The one scheme in respect of which the survey was completed for me in February, 1948, was the Brosna, I admit. I got into power in February, 1948. I had a scheme started in June, 1948, and the machinery purchased for it and put on the job. That is the position. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot deny that. I agree that there was machinery ordered at the time by my predecessor, but that was not the machinery that was used to start opening the Brosna. The Parliamentary Secretary in the Seanad made a certain reference. I will not quote him now but I will ask him to inquire from the commissioners if what I have said is the truth. What I have said is the truth. The survey and design of the Glyde and Dee were not completed at all. As far as the Feale catchment area is concerned, it was not completed at all. I put extra engineers on to the Feale and the Glyde and Dee as quickly as I could get them, with the result that I managed to start one arterial drainage scheme each year.

While the Parliamentary Secretary says the report of the drainage commission is his gospel of arterial drainage, I would ask him to forget that, because, if he is going to try to live up to all the recommendations of the drainage commission, I can guarantee to him that he would not drain a stream. One of the things they said was that only one arterial drainage scheme should be going on at a time. The Parliamentary Secretary himself must realise that there is over 1,000,000 acres suffering from flooding in this small country of roughly 10,500,000 acres, and if each scheme were going to take five years to carry out, working one scheme at a time out of 100 major arterial drainage schemes, that would mean, roughly, 500 years before the drainage would be done. It would make very little difference then to the Parliamentary Secretary or myself or to any member of this House.

If I say anything very sharp here, I do not say it in a hard way. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary does not think I say it as abuse or anything like that—far from it. That idea is far from me, as I know that, when the Parliamentary Secretary was here on this side of the House, any suggestion he made he made well and honestly, and was dead sincere about it. I hope he is as sincere to-day—I believe he is— and if I am saying anything that may seem to be in criticism here, it is only just to encourage and to help on. I am very disappointed, however, that, after 12 months, the fourth arterial drainage scheme has not started.

There is another matter which worried me very much and which caused us great trouble, namely, the wages of drainage workers. It was my opinion then, and it is still, that the agricultural worker is the greatest asset to this country as a labourer. I had a feeling at one time that the wages of the drainage worker should not exceed that of the agricultural worker, but when I began to consider it again and saw some of these men working and saw the type of work they have to do in slush and mud, sometimes making them wet and miserable, I began to feel that they would be entitled to a higher standard of pay. I think I discussed it with the Commissioners of Public Works that the standard wages should be the county council standard. There, again, I want to warn the Parliamentary Secretary that he will get into great difficulty. In many counties there is not the same standard of wages for county council workers as in other counties, and in the case of most of our arterial drainage schemes the work spreads over different counties. On one side of the mearing the work may come under one county council paying one rate of wages, and on the other side there may be another county council paying a different rate.

I would make one suggestion. It is necessary to have workers who are content and who feel they are getting a good standard of pay on which to live. My suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the commissioners would be to take the highest standard of pay paid by any county council and adopt that as the standard wage for workers on arterial drainage. Some of these workers must travel long distances to their work and if they do not get a good standard of pay they will not give the return they should give. I was listening to Deputy Dillon referring, on a parliamentary question to-day, to some men who were taken in from an outside area that did not belong to the county where the scheme was going on. I could understand Deputy Dillon's point of view, but, of course, jobbery was one of the charges that used to be fired at me from this side of the House when I was in office—though not by the present Parliamentary Secretary, I know. Does not everybody know that when you are starting an arterial drainage scheme, say in Galway or Kerry—the one the question was about—you must send down there experienced excavator drivers and experienced gangers? Surely in Kerry, for the first start of it, you cannot get those men in the locality. I hope I am not making the case for the Parliamentary Secretary, but I want to point out that charges of that decription used to be fired at me across the House when I was Parliamentary Secretary. It was insinuated that it was for political purposes that such things were done. It was not. I did it for the same reason as the present Parliamentary Secretary is doing it, because it is something you have to do. I am not making a case to defend the Parliamentary Secretary in doing it, but I am making a case against the type of criticism that is levelled against the Office of Public Works, no matter what Parliamentary Secretary is in charge.

I expected to hear something to-day about the way the Board of Works and the Department of Agriculture were co-operating as regards other drainage schemes that are going on. I happened to pass through part of Roscommon the other day and I noted that the old eyesore that was there for years has been taken in hand and that the work is proving a great success, that is, the drainage of a place called the Tinnecara Rock. I think it is under the guidance of the Office of Public Works that that work has been carried on, as agents for the Department of Agriculture, but I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is responsible for it or not.

We are the agents, at any rate.

All I have to say is that it is more than creditable. It is a great credit to the Office of Public Works, to the staff they sent down there, and it is a big advantage in that area. I hope that such co-operation will continue and that such works will advance more and more. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will keep building up the engineering staff and recruiting more members to that staff, so that for every one he may lose to another department he will have four or five coming in. That would enable this great work of arterial drainage, which is his number one baby, to continue to make progress and would prevent it from being retarded in any way by any scheme undertaken by another Department. I move to report progress.

Progress reported; the Committee to sit again.