I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. I hope that this measure will get from the Minister for Local Government his full and sympathetic consideration. It is a very simple Bill, and it is designed to remedy a grave injustice on thousands of families throughout rural Ireland. The Bill is concerned with a provision to enable local authorities to declare as public roads or roads of public utility whatever roads they in their wisdom deem to be of public utility. There are thousands of families in rural Ireland to-day who live in the vicinity of or depend on this particular type of road to which I refer in the Bill and at the present time there is no responsible authority to take charge of the maintenance or repair of such roads. These people are left to fend for themselves, and if the roads I speak of are not repaired that is just too bad for the villages and the families concerned.
The extraordinary thing about it is that most local authorities in Ireland to-day are willing and anxious to repair these roads, which I shall describe as cul-de-sac roads. These local authorities, although they are anxious to repair roads, are not allowed by law to do so. The measure, which is now before the House, is simply one which will enable the local authorities, if they so desire, to repair these roads.
I need not elaborate for the Minister or for the House the fact that intense dissatisfaction exists to-day in these rural areas. The Minister himself has full and complete knowledge of the dissatisfaction and the feeling of frustration that exist amongst the people who have to live near these cul-de-sac roads, and who have no responsible authority to whom they can look for assistance. In connection with the repair of these roads, not alone has the present Minister full knowledge of dissatisfaction that exists in rural Ireland, but his predecessor in the inter-Party Government had full knowledge of the situation as it then existed.
If we go further back, we will find that Deputy Childers—he was then Parliamentary Secretary—stated in this House that he himself had full and complete knowledge of the indignation that was felt not only by local authorities, but by the families who were so affected as a result of Section 25 of the 1925 Local Government Act. Deputy Childers admitted in this House that the people in rural areas were no longer satisfied to live under the miserable conditions that had obtained up to the present. He admitted that the people living on these cul-de-sac and by-roads had an equal right to fair living conditions as the people living on main or county roads. He agreed that the people who wished to use these roads for the purpose of going to Mass, attending fairs and seeing their doctors, had the same right to justice as the people in towns and villages throughout the country. In other words, he admitted that there was an intense demand by the people in rural Ireland for fair conditions with regard to the road service.
He admitted that there had been a clamorous demand by local authorities that this service should be given to the people concerned. In his remarks in this House he went on to say that, although he admitted all that, he regretted very much at the time he was unable to accede to the request to give power to the local authorities, where they so desired, to repair these roads. That case was made on the 8th February, 1946. Anybody who wishes can find it in the Dáil debates of that day. I do not intend to quote it word for word and I know I will not be accused of misrepresenting what he says when I give a rough outline of the idea he conveyed. He maintained that at the time that there were too many arrears to be done on the main county roads, that due to the war years it was impossible for the local authorities to keep the main and the county roads in a proper and usable state. He felt that due to the fact that five or six years had elapsed since these roads were selected first claim must now be in regard to repairing the main and county roads. That statement of Deputy Childers was made in 1946 and it is now 1952.
As a member of a local authority, I can say that a great deal has been done in the last six years to improve the condition of our main roads—the road surfaces—and of our county roads. I am sure that other members of this House who are members of local authorities will agree with me that large arrears of work have now been met. Consequently, if we take Deputy Childers' point of view in 1946 and if he had the power to do to-day what one would expect from his remarks in 1946 he would be willing to meet me on this particular Bill and grant the power which I have requested under the Bill.
Everybody in this House mouths pious platitudes that something must be done for rural Ireland. Everybody in this House and responsible people outside this House deplore the fact that people are leaving rural Ireland every day. Words do not stop emigration and pious remarks by people in this House and outside will not stop the emigration from rural Ireland.
Local authorities do a certain amount at the present time to improve conditions in rural areas by embarking upon useful housing schemes. In other words, the local authorities, in so far as it lies in their power, are anxious to improve the housing conditions of the people. The Electricity Supply Board are doing their part to improve and brighten conditions in rural Ireland. Here is a chance for the Government to show that they are sincere in improving conditions by allowing this Bill to go through.
There is one important aspect of that which I want to emphasise to members of the House, which is that under this measure no increase in the amount of money allocated by this House towards the repair of the roads, which I hope will be brought under the local authorities' wing in this measure, is envisaged. It is purely an enabling measure. To my own knowledge, most local authorities are willing and anxious to foot the bill for whatever roads they are allowed to repair. Consequently, taxation under this measure will be imposed on the rates, and the money for the repair of these roads will be raised locally. All we ask under the measure is to give us power, as local authorities, to go ahead and expend the money of the ratepayers in their own areas.
I want it to be clear to Deputies who are not from rural Ireland, city Deputies, that they should not be misled if a case is put up to them that this will mean an increase in taxation or a further burden on the taxpayers in general. The burden of this will be met by the ratepayers. I am speaking with the full authority of the local authority of which I happen to be a member, the Roscommon County Council, who are anxious and willing to repair a certain number of these roads at the expense of the ratepayers provided that the Minister for Local Government gives them sanction to do so.
I understand that in order to give them sanction to do so, it is essential that Section 25 of the Local Government Act, 1925, is changed. That is why I have taken upon myself the responsibility of introducing this Bill.
Having said that this House will not be asked to vote any money for the repair of these roads, let me point out to those members of the House who may be members of local authorities that they need not lose a night's sleep wondering whether it is going to put a big burden on the rates. There are, I am sure, Deputies here who would be worried if they felt that any further charges were made on local authorities. I want to assure the House that this has been worked out very carefully in my county and we find that it does not involve anything whatever in the nature of a large increase in the rates. I propose to give figures in this connection.