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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Oct 1952

Vol. 134 No. 4

Private Deputies' Business. - Local Government Bill, 1952—Second Stage.

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.

May I ask the Deputy what roads he is referring to—cul-desac roads, boreens or what type of roads?

I should make it clear at this stage that the roads to which I refer are known generally as cul-de-sac roads.

Would they be roads between two main roads?

A cul-de-sac road is a stop-end road and the position at the moment is that a local authority has power to declare a public road what is known as a link road which joins two roads already declared to be public roads. I am not concerned with that aspect at all. It is quite clear that a local authority has power to maintain link roads, provided they come up to a certain standard and that the road is 11 feet wide. The people living on these link roads are all right because a local authority has power to repair and maintain them. The roads to which I refer may be of the same importance— and even more important—as link roads, roads which serve large villages, but due to the fact that they are stop-end or cul-de-sac roads the local authority has no power to repair them.

The best way to indicate the extraordinary position is to refer to the way in which it operates in my own county. There is in County Roscommon a large mileage of cul-de-sac roads. Quite a number of these roads are repaired annually by the county council for the very simple reason that they were repaired prior to 1898 at the time of the Grand Jury, and the extraordinary situation has arisen that a cul-de-sac road which was repaired in the time of the Grand Jury can to-day be legally repaired by the county council while a similar type of cul-de-sac road which may have been repaired from 1902 on, as many roads in County Roscommon were repaired, cannot legally be repaired by the county council because they were not repaired prior to 1898.

Many members are more familiar than I with old legislation, but I want to put it to the House that, in my own constituency, there are two villages side by side, both of equal importance and with the same number of families living in each. The county council has power to repair the road leading into village A, while the council has no authority to repair the road leading into village B, because it was not repaired prior to 1898. In justice alone, it is time a change was made in a measure which goes back to 1898. Many of the roads repaired prior to 1898 were cul-de-sac roads which served one family. Many of them were a mile or a mile and a half in length and served only one family, that family being the gentry of the locality, and I am sure that Deputies will agree with me when I say that those who were in power at the time made sure that the roads leading into their own houses would be well done. We have to-day traces of that bad type of legislation existing. I want to see that changed and to see justice done to the families who live on these cul-de-sac roads, whether they were repaired prior to 1898 or not, as in the case of County Roscommon many were repaired from 1902 onwards.

I have a list of cul-de-sac roads, 140 miles of them, which the Roscommon County Council has repaired on and off since 1902 from which I propose to quote some examples. There is road 41a leading into the electoral division of Elia. It is a cul-de-sac road, serving seven families and two people who have land in the area. That road was repaired by the Roscommon County Council in 1903, 1908, 1910, 1926, 1927, 1931, 1934, 1939, 1942 and 1947. In 1947, the local government auditor surcharged the council for the repair of that road and, since then, nothing has been done with it. There is another road in the electoral division of Kilglass North, leading into O'Keeffe's, Renfarna, which was repaired by the Roscommon County Council in 1900, 1907, 1911, 1915, 1917, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1940, 1944 and 1947. In 1947, the local government auditor surcharged the council for the repair of that road.

I will not give you any more examples, but I will say that I have a file of them here amounting to 138½ miles of cul-de-sac roads that have been repaired on and off since 1900 by Roscommon County Council. The county council was surcharged in 1947 for the repair of these roads, and the reason the surcharge was imposed was that the roads had not been repaired in the time of the Grand Jury prior to 1898. There is a moral responsibility on the county council to repair these roads, and if the county council felt that, in all justice, they should repair them every three years, surely it is an injustice on the part of the Department of Local Government auditor to come along in 1947 and surcharge the local authority the sum of £2,700 for these repairs. As far as Roscommon County Council are concerned, our hands are tied. The county manager, naturally, as the functioning authority who would be further surcharged, refused to accept responsibility for going ahead and repairing the roads in defiance of any recommendation of the Department of Local Government or of a Department of Local Government auditor. I personally am convinced that, not alone are the county council morally entitled to repair these roads, but that the people living on these cul-de-sac roads have the legal right to take action against the county council to force them to repair them. I want to get over that nasty business in a simple way, and the Minister can help by accepting this measure.

The case has been made that if local authorities get this extension of power they will use it indiscriminately. I ask any Deputy here, who is a member of a local authority: How often do you find local authorities using their power indiscriminately? In my short experience of local authority work I always found that local authorities are very cautious when it comes to spending money and putting a further burden on the rates. If the Minister so desires he can, having given this power under the Bill, recommend to the various local authorities that the power should be used judiciously and wisely, and that every little cul-de-sac road need not be included. Surely no authority is better able to judge than the local authority what roads should or should not be done. The members of local authorities are fully acquainted with the rural areas they represent, and are in much the best position to decide whether certain roads should be done or not. They live in these rural areas and know the hardship imposed on the people. It is much better to have the power in their hands than in the hands of anyone else regarding the repair of these roads. I do not think that any case can be put up by the Department that if this power is given it will be used indiscriminately. Local authorities are not a bunch of school children but a bunch of hard-headed business men who will see that a careful investigation is made before an extra 1d. is put on the rates.

Not in all cases.

The Deputy will agree with me regarding most responsible county councils. I do not know what county council he belongs to.

The case that the Department or the Minister can put before the House is that people living on these cul-de-sac roads have already a method at their disposal by which these roads can be repaired, the special employment schemes office. The special employment schemes office will give 75 per cent. of the cost, and where a good case can be put up the grant may be increased, often up to 90 per cent. I want to make it clear that I am not criticising the work of the special employment schemes office at all, but I want to make clear also that it is not a satisfactory arrangement for the repair of these roads, for the very simple reason that if the cul-de-sac road leading to village A is repaired annually or every three years by the county council, why should the people living in the village beside it have to find 25 per cent. of the cost of repairing their road?

That is the way the people in rural Ireland look at it and to my mind that is a very sensible view. The same treatment should be meted out to all people in rural Ireland. It should not be necessary for people to pay 25 per cent. of the cost of repairing the road leading into their village while the road to the village beside them is repaired annually by the local authority.

There has been a feeling in the Department of Local Government for years that the country is over-roaded and that we have more miles per person than many other countries in the world. I have not got the figures with me but it is quite easy to get them. I think that the ratio is four people to the mile here in comparison with 15 people to the mile in Britain. That case is put up by the Department simply in order to keep out roads like cul-de-sac roads from the ordinary repair list. I do not think it is a sensible argument at all. I do not dispute for a moment that the country is over-roaded but one thing we must get clear is that if many of these roads are not repaired the people will leave the localities and will go outside the country altogether. The next thing we will find, if the Department's case is carried to its logical conclusion, is that there will be no need to repair the county roads either, because there will be no people to use them. I think it is very unfair to suggest that because people happen to live in a backward area and because a voice is not raised on their behalf now and again it is quite all right to listen to their grievance and say: "We will try to do something about it"—and then proceed to forget all about them when you get away from their locality. That has been the trouble always. I know perfectly well that if a road in the City of Dublin, a cul-de-sac road or anything else, needed repairs there would be a howl from every member of the corporation and a howl from every Deputy representing a Dublin constituency once pressure had been brought to bear on them, and one of them or all of them grouped together would ensure that the work was done. The people in rural Ireland have equal rights with those living in the towns, but because they are far away their plea seems to fall on deaf ears.

Would the Deputy tell us by whom the cost would be borne?

I have mentioned that already. If the Deputy wishes I will clear it up by giving him an example of how I expect it would work out in my own county. The county surveyor and various engineers have gone into this. I have given some examples of roads Roscommon County Council have repaired dating back to 1900. 138 miles of such roads were knocked off the repair list in 1947 by the Department of Local Government auditor. Roscommon County Council are willing and anxious to repair that mileage of road if given power now by the Minister to do so. We propose to do it on the basis of taking 50 miles of that total this year and spending £5,000 or £6,000 on that work, in the following year another 50 miles and in the third year the remaining portion so that will have concluded, within three years, the repair of that 138 miles of cul-de-sac roads. A toll in any particular year constitutes a heavy impost on the rates. It will mean that if 50 miles are repaired this year—if we get authority—when they come up again for repair three years hence only half the amount of money will be needed to keep them in proper condition.

There is a further argument which would leave me under the impression that this is a much more sensible way to repair roads than under the rural improvements scheme. Under the rural improvements scheme, once the job is done this year it may be ten years hence before repair work is undertaken and at the end of that period it will cost a large sum to bring the road back into a decent state of repair. Under the scheme which I have outlined, a panel for the repair of roads every three years will be drawn up—repair which will cost the minimum amount of money and which, therefore, will prove cheaper in the long run.

I have pointed out that the Roscommon County Council were surcharged a sum of £2,700 for the repair of those roads which they believe to be a public utility. In his wisdom, the Minister saw fit not to press the matter of the surcharge, and it has been remitted. For that, I am sure plenty of people in the county are grateful. However, the people who live in these villages do not appreciate the Minister's gesture, for the simple reason that, since 1947, no attempt has whatsoever been made to repair any of these roads. We have the deplorable situation at the moment that 1,005 families in County Roscommon have been pressing for the past five years to get even one cart of stones put on the roads by the county council—and the county council, although willing and anxious to do that repair work for them, have no authority to do so under the law as it stands to-day.

I feel that the Minister is sympathetic towards those people: he must be, because he is a man who comes from a rural area. I know that the problem of these roads extends to County Cavan just as much as it extends to County Roscommon, and that the people living along cul-de-sac roads in the Minister's constituency and, in fact, in the constituency of every rural Deputy, will appreciate it very much if the Minister does not turn a deaf ear to the appeal which is made to him under this measure.

There are other rural Deputies here who are members of a local authority and who are anxious to speak on this matter. I am sure they will have further views to put before the Minister. This measure is merely an enabling measure. Section 2 of the Bill is as follows:—

"Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in Section 25 of the Local Government Act, 1925 (No. 5 of 1925) or in any other enactment, a road authority is hereby empowered to declare any road which is not a public road to be a public road, if such road authority is satisfied that the road is of general public utility, and every road so declared to be a public road shall thereupon for all purposes be a public road."

That means that the local authority will be empowered to repair roads such as cul-de-sac roads if the local authority consider these cul-de-sac roads to be a public utility. To my mind, the whole question devolves on the interpretation of "public utility".

Without going into that point in any detail, I think "public utility" should mean that if eight or ten families live in a village and that that village is served by a cul-de-sac road or a stop-end road, that that road can be described as a public utility. It serves the families in question: it serves people going to visit those families and it serves the general public. The Minister will do a good day's work in this House if he makes clear his own interpretation of the expression "public utility", apart altogether from this measure.

Another important aspect of the Bill is that we are going to bring the law up to date—that is, if this measure is accepted. It will mean that the unfair position which obtains at present will be remedied. As the law stands, a road leading into village "A" can legally be repaired by the county council because that road happened to have been repaired in 1898 for some gentleman who lived at the end of it. People living in the next village will have the road leading into their village repaired by the local authority if the Minister accepts this measure. I think it is most unfair that, in the case of two villages in rural Ireland, the local authority are in a position to repair the road leading into one of them, just because it was formerly done by virtue of a British enactment, and that they are not empowered to repair the other road because it was not repaired under the British enactment. I appeal to the Minister to remedy the obvious injustice. I feel sure he will look sympathetically upon the matter.

I formally second the motion. If the Minister wishes, I will say a few words on it.

I will speak now. I should not like the members of the House to get the impression that this measure was taken rather unexpectedly and that, because the Minister responsible does not happen to have his brief, he is in any way disturbed.

As Deputy McQuillan has said, this is a subject which I know fairly well. However, knowing this subject as a Deputy and as a former member of a county council is one thing: making a speech on this subject in this House as a Deputy who is a member of a county council is another thing. I happen to have to deal with this Bill in my capacity as Minister for Local Government. It was because of that, and because of my understanding of a responsible Minister's approach to a Private Member's Bill, that I asked our Chief Whip, I think to-day, to discuss with Deputy McQuillan the possibilities of leaving over this Bill for a further period, if it should come up for discussion to-night.

My reason for making that request was simply that, while I have my own mind on what is proposed in this measure, I am a member of the Government and my conception of my responsibility is that I must speak as a member of the Government. My conception of my responsibility in relation to this Bill is that I should be given an opportunity of discussing the Bill with other members of the Government in order to explain the matter, as I understand it, and to ensure that when I speak here, I shall speak with the authority of my colleagues, so that there is no need for any doubt in anybody's mind on a question such as the Minister's unpreparedness to participate in this debate. I would have thought that Deputy McQuillan, who is so interested in this matter, would have seen the reasonableness of the suggestion which I conveyed to him this morning through the Chief Whip of our Party. Of course, Deputy McQuillan could have seen me in this regard.

I wanted to assure him that my attitude was not due to any desire on my part to escape any responsibilities that I have here, but it was purely and simply due to the fact that this Bill was introduced only a short time ago and, as many members of the House who have experience of the procedure of the House know, it is difficult even to get Government business discussed or time to discuss it. It so happened that I was not able to get the sort of discussion for these proposals that I would require to have, in order to enable me as Minister to express the Government attitude on it. I was one of those who, in opposition, often complained bitterly on occasions, when Private Members' Bills were introduced that Ministers came in here unprepared and unwilling to state what the Government attitude was. I was one of the Deputies who was too critical of that practice to fall into the same error myself.

On a point of explanation, I was expecting to hear from the Minister all day.

I could not see you all day when I was in the House.

Due to the fact that the other business of the House collapsed, I was not in a position to find the Minister for Local Government before speaking on this measure.

The Government ordered this Bill for to-night.

Standing Orders ordered it.

The Tánaiste ordered it here at 9 o'clock.

As I understand it, Private Members' Bills get precedence over motions, and I did understand that, should the debate on the previous motion collapse, which seemed most unlikely, in the ordinary way Deputy McQuillan's Bill would have precedence over other motions but I thought it could have been arranged that some other motion might be taken in order to give me the sort of opportunity that I require as a person who is trying conscientiously to examine the matter, to ascertain the Government's views on it.

I was willing to discuss the matter with the Minister if I were given the opportunity.

I take it then that, having made the statement which I have made, the Deputy will be satisfied. As I say, it is not a matter of revealing what is in my own mind. It is not a matter in which I was hesitant or afraid to do that if it were necessary, but I wanted to be in a position to say to the House: "Here is a Bill we have discussed" and to add either: "We are opposed to it" or "We are prepared to consider what is aimed at in its provisions. In that case, we are prepared to accept it in principle." I wanted to be in a position to make a statement of that kind to Deputy McQuillan and the House. That is the way in which a Minister should be equipped. I have not been given that opportunity. It is now a quarter to ten, and it is scarcely worth while discussing the matter further. All I can say is that, if an opportunity is given to me, I shall see to it that the minds of my colleagues, who have to be satisfied as well as myself, are clarified on a number of matters on which they might have some doubt, and when we have arrived at a decision, I shall come in and clearly announce that decision to the House.

I should like to point out that if the Minister is anxious to have the debate adjourned to give him time to discuss the matter with other members of the Government, I, for one, do not want to deprive the Minister of that opportunity in view of the seriousness of the Bill. I prefer to fall in with the Minister's wishes if he so desires.

I would point out to the Deputy that, when we wanted at an earlier stage to give him an opportunity of having the Bill discussed in a calmer atmosphere, the Deputy was the person who would not allow it. I must congratulate the Minister for Local Government on having delivered with such care, skill and tenderness a lecture on how to behave in this House to his colleague, the Minister for Finance. I agree with the Minister. The Minister's approach to a Bill of this sort——

I am sorry, Sir.

I hope the Minister enjoys himself where he is going. It would be the duty of a responsible Minister to give an indication of the line he proposes to take on a matter which comes before the House of such serious import as this Bill is.

On a point of order, Deputy McQuillan I believe, is quite sincere in the Bill which he has introduced and he has thrown out a suggestion that possibly this debate might be adjourned to do as the Minister for Local Government suggests and to give him an opportunity of discussing it with his colleagues. That is his attitude but the Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Finance and the Tánaiste have been in conflict in regard to the order of business. That may have provoked a certain amount of merriment on both sides, but I would suggest that Deputy McQuillan should be taken seriously by the House and, if possible, that the debate should be adjourned.

If the House agrees, the debate can be adjourned.

There is no reason why this debate should conclude to-night when the matter can be discussed between the Minister for Local Government and the Deputy to-morrow or the next day.

Is there not a question involved, as suggested by the Minister for Local Government, of the collective responsibility of the Government which this Government recognises?

A constitutional requirement.

It was on these grounds the Minister made his suggestion.

The Government has been aware of the existence of the Bill for some time.

Do not forget what Deputy Norton said about you in The Leader last week.

It is obvious that the Minister was not prepared for this discussion. There are other members who wish to speak on the Bill.

Unless the House agrees to adjourn, the debate must continue.

Do I understand that Deputy Sweetman is still in possession?

So I understand. So far as this Bill is concerned, it has at least three hours for discussion. As a matter of fact, I am not quite sure as to whether a Bill is limited in the same way as a Private Deputy's motion.

No. There is no limitation on a Bill.

Having regard to the ruling that we have already had on Standing Orders and the Order of Business, if we now at this stage drop the discussion on this Bill we will be immediately thrown into the situation in which we must at once start discussing the motion that is in the name of the leader of the Labour Party. If Deputy Corish is prepared to start on that motion now, I am quite prepared to fall in with it.

My proposal was that the House should adjourn.

We cannot do that, I understand. As I understand the position, we must carry on with the business. I do not want to put the leader of the Labour Party in the position of having him caught short.

I am well aware of the position. My view was that the House should adjourn—in fact, that it should have adjourned at five minutes to nine o'clock.

The Government are not prepared to let us adjourn. If the Government wish that the House should adjourn in order that they may have an opportunity of considering this Bill, I am quite prepared to concur. I understand, however, that unless the Government are prepared to adjourn the House, we must go on with Motion No. 1 on the Order Paper for Private Deputies' motions.

I do not see any reason why the Government should adjourn the House. I want in that connection to draw the attention of the Chair to a ruling—I am not sure that it was a Standing Order—or at least to what used to be the practice of the House that, where a Private Deputy's motion was called and the Deputy responsible for it was not prepared to take it, the motion was then placed last on the list. I gather that was the long-established practice of the House. I think it is right to say that if people put down motions for discussion in Private Members' time and are not available to take them when called upon, it reduces the business of the House to a farce. We have already seen the farce that was created by the fact that Deputy Mulcahy wished to closure his own speakers.

That is not a point of order.

Is this the Minister's speech on the last motion on which he refused to speak?

I am in possession until the Minister produces a point of order instead of a point of disorder.

I have produced a point of order to this extent, that——

To no extent.

——I do not think the House can overthrow Standing Orders which bind us to sit until 10.30 on Wednesdays until the business available has been disposed of, and, from 9 o'clock, the motions which stand in the names of Private Deputies.

The Minister ought to learn something about Standing Orders. Since the Government have indicated that they are not prepared to concur in the adjournment of the House, there are only two alternatives open to us, either to discuss this Bill or to pass on to the next motion. I think this Bill can be usefully discussed this evening so that the Government may get an indication of what support the measure is likely to get, and so that they will have an opportunity of having that information before them.

I want to know what precisely is the matter to which Deputy Sweetman is addressing himself. Is he addressing himself to the Bill, or to the Chair on the Order of Business which are two very different things. I am quite prepared——

To criticise the Chair.

——having regard to Deputy McQuillan's agreement with the suggestion of the Minister for Local Government that the debate on his particular measure might be adjourned until the Government have an opportunity of considering this matter, to accept that. I think that is the right thing to do, but, even if we do that, we must proceed then to a discussion of the other motion.

That is not a fact.

The Chair has already pointed out that the debate on this Bill can be adjourned if the House is in agreement on that. Otherwise, we proceed with the discussion of it. If the House agrees to adjourn the debate on this Bill, we then pass to the next motion in Private Deputies' time.

Are you prepared to take the next motion?

The Minister for Finance has suddenly—

May I say—

The Minister for Finance got his opportunity to talk to-night when he could have helped and did not. Now the Minister is trying to obstruct.

The question before the House is the Local Government Bill and the Deputy should address himself to it.

If the Chair will keep the Minister quiet, I will speak.

I have pointed out what the position is.

How can I speak when the Minister is jumping up like a Jack-in-the-Box?

I want to put this point of order to the Chair. The sponsor of this Bill, Deputy McQuillan, has accepted the suggestion of the Minister for Local Government that further discussion on it should be adjourned until perhaps next Friday or this day week, but in any event for a short time. That is a proposal which ought to be put to the House, I think. I do not think that Deputy Sweetman can assume to talk for the majority of the House. We saw on the last motion that he was in a hopeless minority.

Is the Chair not going to restrain the Minister for Finance from his disorder?

Is the position this, that Deputy Sweetman wants to discuss this Bill in spite of Deputy McQuillan's agreement to have discussion on it postponed?

We do not want the Minister for Finance to get us into a cleft stick. It looks as if he is trying to get Deputy Norton into it rather than Deputy Sweetman.

So long as the motion is opposed, the Chair cannot adjourn the debate on this Bill.

Are we to take it, then, that Deputy Sweetman is opposing the suggestion that the matter be left over for further discussion?

The Minister got his opportunity to talk, and would not talk, when it would be of some use. The position in regard to this Bill is that I think most Deputies would be prepared to support the idea that Deputy McQuillan put forward in his speech. The only thing that worries me about it, and that will worry other people at a later stage is the phraseology which the Deputy has used. One of the reasons why I want to speak before the Minister for Local Government discusses the Bill with his colleagues is that I am in some doubt as to whether the Minister for Local Government will not be able to cod Deputy McQuillan by the use of the words "general public utility." These words have been construed by Deputy McQuillan in a way which, I think, would be acceptable to members of this House. As I understood him, he meant to imply that, where a cul-de-sac road of this sort covered a number of families, that would be a road that could be taken into charge by the county council notwithstanding the existing procedure that is there under the Act of 1925. The Deputy was, I think, anxious to provide that a local authority could not take in charge a road that served perhaps only one or two families. I am afraid, however, that the position will be that the words "of general public utility" will be construed by the auditors of the Department who come down to local authorities, and ultimately by the courts, as meaning something entirely different.

I am afraid that the words "of general public utility" will be construed to exclude all those roads where the people using them are the people living on them, notwithstanding the fact that there may be 100 families living on the road. I think that the words "of general public utility" will be construed to mean that this Bill as it stands will only cover the case where there is a cul-de-sac or a dead-end road running down, for example, to a church or a graveyard because it could then be taken that there were people who had no business of their own, so to speak, on the road in question, and who were not travelling to their own homes or to their own lands, but were merely travelling the road.

I am afraid that the Bill as it stands will mean that no matter how many families are living up a particular cul-de-sac that cul-de-sac cannot be taken into charge unless there is some extraneous reason altogether, apart from the people living on it, for making the road "of general public utility." One of the reasons why I was anxious to speak was to give Deputy McQuillan an opportunity of making it clear at a later stage that what he wants to do is to cover these roads which serve a substantial number of people. There might be obviously discussion on one side or the other as to what is a substantial number of people. Some people might say that a reasonable balance to strike would be three families. Someone else might say a reasonable balance would be ten families. That is entirely a matter of degree.

With respect, I think the phraseology of this Bill as it is does not meet the case put forward here by Deputy McQuillan, and will be construed to mean an entirely different case. Down in Wexford there was a case of a dead-end road. It was held there that it could perhaps be considered of general public utility because the people in the town of Gorey used to walk down this road; it was a regular summer's evening stroll. The ordinary case that is met throughout the country, and possibly the further one goes west the more one meets the case, is where one has five, six, seven, eight or perhaps more families living on a road that does not come within the provisions of Section 25, that does not link up two public roads, that is not 11 feet wide, and so forth. Yet, the people living on the road are contributing substantially to roads for their more fortunate neighbours.

The difficulty is to strike a balance. I think Deputy McQuillan was very fair when he suggested, if I understood him correctly—perhaps even too fair— that if eight families live on a road, it could come within the terms of general public utility. I have intervened partly for the purpose of putting that point of view on record before the Minister comes to consider the matter and before he puts his view forward so that we can know what exactly is the Minister's conception of general public utility and whether general public utility is merely intended to mean a case where there is something entirely extraneous, such as a church or a graveyard, which brings in other people from outside or whether it will cover the case of the people who are living in substantial numbers down the particular road and which is never repaired unless there is a rural improvements scheme grant or a minor employment scheme grant.

The viewpoint put forward by the Minister that he wanted to consider this before expressing his view was quite sound. That does not mean that the Minister would not get some wisdom from the House in the House discussing its interpretation and enabling the Minister to consider the question at a later date. There is a very great difference between postponing a discussion and postponing a decision. If the suggestion had been that decision should be taken now, and I wanted to see where we stood in relation to the three-hour limit before the Minister had had an opportunity of consulting the Government, then I think there would be no necessity whatever for anybody to take that view. I certainly think there is no objection from the point of view of the House giving its views on the Bill, on its merits and on the manner in which it could be improved so that those views may be before the Government when it comes to take its decision.

I want to ask one question in connection with "general public utility". I am sure the Deputy understands the kind of cul-de-sac roads that county councils are now entitled to repair. How does he describe these roads?

They are not of general public utility and the existing cul-de-sac roads are not repaired by the county council as being of utility. They are repaired because they were on the county sheet at the date of the passing of the 1898 Act. Even if they were of no utility at all and if there was nothing at the end of them, if they were on the Schedule at the passing of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, then they remain on the Schedule for all time or until such time as a Bill is introduced to strike them out.

I think this discussion has brought out a matter here of even greater importance than the principles enshrined in this Bill, important as they are to Deputy McQuillan, because the House and the nation have been informed by the Minister for Local Government of the express attitude of collective Government responsibility in matters of this kind. That is a principle that was rather more honoured in the breach than in the performance in recent years. One good aim at all events has been achieved by the introduction of this Bill.

On a point of order. May I point out that when I took a slightly different line on the same subject the Chair reproved me and said I must speak to the terms of the Bill.

That is not a point of order as far as I know.

It is a point of fact.

It is just a disorderly interruption.

Is this how Deputy Sweetman behaves in court?

Will there not be the same regulation in regard to other speakers as there was in regard to me?

Certainly. Deputy Moran has only just commenced. He has not been speaking one minute.

I never got the chance to begin.

The Deputy has already spoken and he should allow Deputy Moran to make his speech.

The Minister for Local Government has pointed out to the House that he, when he comes to speak on this Bill, wants to be in the position of expressing the views of the Government as a whole.

The Deputy has already made that statement.

Yes, but I was interrupted. It is quite obvious Deputy Sweetman wanted to stop me making that statement in order that people might forget the performances that we have had by individual Ministers supposed to be expressing their own individual views without any collective responsibility over a period of three years.

I hope I will be permitted to reply to that.

The Deputy should come to the Bill.

This Bill is important for local authorities.

I hope I will be allowed to reply to that.

Perhaps the Bill would have had greater significance some years ago before the rural improvements scheme was introduced. At all events, the Bill is still important. Deputy McQuillan says it affects something like 138 miles of cul-de-sac roads in the County Roscommon. In my constituency it would, I think, affect double that.

However, I do not agree altogether with Deputy McQuillan when he states that the provisions of this Bill will be welcomed by all local authorities. I know many local authorities have the view that roads of this type should now be dealt with under the rural improvements scheme, particularly where the people concerned would benefit to the extent of 95 per cent. I admit that there are some cases which would be capable of being dealt with by a local authority and that the principle of this Bill would be necessary before the local authority could deal with them.

I think that local authorities as a whole are sensible enough to do their own censorship with regard to the type of road that should be done if the Bill became law. But there are other snags that possibly Deputy McQuillan does not see at the moment. We know that before a local authority under the existing law can take over any cul-de-sac road, or a road adjoining two public roads, certain specific limits must be complied with. The road must be a certain width and it must be in a certain state of repair. Invariably, local authorities, on the advice of the county surveyor whom they consult in these matters, try to insist on having these roads put in a certain state of repair by the Board of Works or whoever is responsible for them before they take them over.

I believe that with all the best intentions on the part of Deputy McQuillan, unless there is some provision in the Bill to deal with these limits which are laid down in respect of this type of roads, he will find himself up against that difficulty. I agree that power of this nature should be given to local authorities, but I feel that Deputy McQuillan will have to go further in regard to Section 2 if the Bill is to be accepted.

I think he will have to try to define what a public utility road is. The type of road which I am sure he has in mind is the cul-de-sac road which serves five or six and in some cases possibly up to 20 families. I have no doubt that under Section 2 as drafted Deputy McQuillan would not get the power he is seeking under that section. These roads may be of utility to the few families which make use of them, but I am afraid that Section 2 as drafted would not meet what Deputy McQuillan has in mind. I am afraid the section would have to be much wider. Assuming that local authorities get the powers that Deputy McQuillan wants to give them, I feel that before these cul-de-sac roads would be allowed to be taken over by a local authority there are difficulties to be removed. You will have to get the Board of Works under the rural improvement scheme to do something with them and put them in a position to be taken over.

I could never understand why the Department of Local Government turned down the proposition that local authorities should provide sufficient money to qualify for grants in a number of cases under the rural improvements scheme. In other words, if a local authority put up a certain contribution for particular jobs, that would not qualify these jobs for a grant under the rural improvements scheme. Many local authorities tried to strike a special rate for doing special jobs. I know that my own local authority endeavoured to get the Department to agree that for certain rural improvements schemes in isolated areas they should make a contribution by striking a special rate in order to qualify these jobs for a contribution from the Board of Works. That was not accepted. I can see that possibly there might be certain abuses. The great difficulty about these rural improvement schemes is that you have possibly one or two people concerned in the area who are not prepared to make the contribution or to sign the necessary consent.

Very good work has been done under the rural improvements scheme, and if local authorities were allowed to strike a special rate in order to get the benefit of that scheme these cul-de-sac roads which Deputy McQuillan complains about could be done. However, the Department evidently would not agree to that proposition. For one reason or another, generally because you have one crank in the area who is not prepared to contribute or to co-operate, you find you cannot get a rural improvement scheme put through. Where the valuations are low, and these are the cases we are mainly concerned with, they never can qualify for a grant up to 95 per cent. of the cost. In these cases, the fact that the people themselves take part in the work tends to ensure that a better job will be done.

I certainly would recommend this Bill to the Minister. As Deputy McQuillan has said, I do not think it would call for any expenditure by this House at the moment. I would be inclined to think that Deputy McQuillan will probably have more trouble with his own local authority than he will have in this House in order to get the necessary rate struck by the local authority to deal with the innumerable claims that will be made if the Bill becomes law. There will be a demand from the people for these services.

Deputy McQuillan says that the rural community have suffered and are being neglected, but let us be clear on this matter. Local authorities are just as much inclined to neglect the rural communities as possibly this House is. If Deputies who are members of local authorities examine the amount of money that a local authority is prepared to borrow for the provision of major water and sewerage schemes for urban areas and compare that with the amount of money they are providing for the isolated rural communities, they will see that the local authorities have a bias towards urban areas at the expense of the rural communities. It is a glaring example of the fact that local authorities are not holding the balance evenly between the isolated rural dwellers and the people in the towns.

Time and time again you have that outstanding example of local authorities neglecting the people; although they themselves, each and every member of them, would be the first to say they were there solely in the interests of the rural community. I agree with Deputy McQuillan that the man in the rural area, particularly in the isolated rural area, is just as much entitled to the consideration, both of this House and of the local authority as his brother in the urban area. I do think that we who are members of local authorities have been largely at fault ourselves in this matter. As far as the principle that lies behind this Bill is concerned, which has my wholehearted sympathy, I want only to warn Deputy McQuillan, who has introduced this Bill, that I believe he will be a much more disappointed man even in his own local authority when he goes back if this Bill becomes law. You will have the local authority limiting his hopes very much by their grave shyness in increasing the local rates to provide for these cul-de-sac jobs.

At all events the Bill, even though it would be of much greater significance before the rural improvements scheme was introduced, still has its use and it is a power that the local authority should have. I would further urge Deputy McQuillan to consider redrafting Section 2 and in particular to consider how the present provision about the limits laid down for roads before they are taken over by a local authority will affect roads to be taken over under this Bill if it becomes law.

I have seconded this Bill with a certain amount of misgiving. As far as its principle is concerned, I am in wholehearted agreement with it. Nothing is more appalling to the public mind than to find the extent to which people residing in remote rural areas have been neglected. We see in housing schemes in the large urban areas roads leading to those homes laid down with reinforced concrete, although they may be only a short distance from the town or village. They are laid in reinforced concrete so that there will be no mud or dust to annoy residents in those houses. Contrast that with the really awful position of small farmers living perhaps a mile or even further from the nearest county road. They may find that their children going to school in the winter time have to wade through mud. They may find that they themselves, going to Mass on Sundays, have to wade through mud or through water in order to reach the public road, and, so far, it has been found difficult to solve their problem effectively. Much has been done under the rural improvements scheme and much more it was hoped to achieve. Nevertheless, there are, I suppose, thousands of people, citizens of this country, paying rates and taxes who have not the ordinary comfort or amenity of a decent right-of-way to their homes. When we realise that we must feel great sympathy with a proposal of this nature. I have also very considerable sympathy with the viewpoint expressed by the Minister, inasmuch as this matter came before the House before he had time to have a Government decision taken on it. However, it is quite clear that this matter will be carried over to-day, and I would like to appeal to Deputy McQuillan to allow, in all fairness, the Government sufficient time to consider this matter from every angle before we resume discussion upon it. I think any Government is entitled to at least that consideration.

There are a great many angles, perhaps snags, if you like, which will arise in regard to this Bill. We must define exactly what is a cul-de-sac. The name itself is not very familiar to the ordinary people in most counties. In my own county we are more inclined to describe these culs-de-sac as laneways or boreens, but perhaps in other counties they may adopt a more high-class name. However, that is not really the important point. The important point is legally to define them for the purpose of this Act. Any roadway which comes to a dead-end may, I suppose, be described as a cul-de-sac for the purpose of this Act, but if you are to take that in its narrowest or in its broadest meaning, if you like, it might mean a roadway leading to one residence or even a roadway leading to a place where there is no residence but which is used for the purpose of working that particular farm. If we are to pass legislation it will be necessary to define to what particular roadways the Bill will apply.

Deputy McQuillan, in introducing the Bill, gave a rather broad definition, that it should apply to a roadway upon which there are eight or ten residents or families residing. That again might be too strict a definition because it might bring a number of cul-de-sac roadways into the operation of the Bill, say, in Roscommon or in other western counties; I think it would exclude the majority of roadways in Leinster counties. There are not many cul-de-sac roads in Wicklow or in other Leinster counties upon which there are more than eight or ten people residing. I would feel that if a Bill of this kind is being passed and if there are cases of special hardship to which it should apply, it should apply to even a lesser number than eight or ten, but it would be necessary to define at least some minimum number.

I agree, of course, we must consider this proposal in conjunction with the rural improvements scheme which has set out definitely to improve the condition of the roadways. There is a good deal to be said for the suggestion put forward by Deputy Moran that we might perhaps achieve the purpose of this Bill by giving local authorities power in certain cases and under certain conditions to contribute towards the rural improvements scheme, that is, to relieve to a certain extent the burden of the ratepayers where that burden would appear in certain defined circumstances to be excessive. I feel that as a precedent has, to a certain extent, been established under the Housing Acts under which the local authorities are empowered to supplement in certain defined cases the grants given by the State for the provision of housing accommodation, there could be a very reasonable case made for enabling, and merely enabling, not compelling, the local authority, if they thought fit, to make a contribution supplementary to the State grant under the rural improvements scheme.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 30th October, 1952.