Before Question Time I had welcomed the Bill. I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. When this Government was formed I welcomed him to the Ministry of Defence. I wish him well in his new post. It is a Department he will enjoy and find very rewarding. I thank the Minister for his kind remarks and his reference to the fact that I had brought a major portion of this Bill through the Office of Public Works.
I wish to pay tribute to the Office of Public Works for the very valuable work it has done over many years on arterial drainage since 1945. It has made a tremendous difference economically to many areas. It was in my constituency that the last major arterial drainage scheme — the Boyne drainage scheme — took place. The criticisms of the Boyne drainage scheme underline something to which the Minister referred in the course of his remarks when introducing the Bill: the changes in attitudes and circumstances which have taken place.
The Office of Public Works was a drainage authority and probably destroyed salmon and trout fishing along stretches of the River Boyne. At the time nothing was thought of that but with the benefit of hindsight people criticise the Office of Public Works. Its main task was to do a good arterial drainage job, to restore land and ensure it became economically viable. The fact that the fisheries element was seriously affected was not a consideration. I have no doubt, with its record, that the Office of Public Works which has responsibility for wildlife, heritage and so on would have adopted a different approach. I pay tribute to the commissioners and the local staff on the Boyne drainage scheme for their efforts to rehabilitate for fishery purposes the River Boyne and the other rivers in its catchment area. It has done tremendous work over recent years. I wish to praise the Office of Public Works which has committed large sums of money to that rehabilitation.
The 1945 Act resulted from the Browne Commission which advocated a catchment area approach to arterial drainage. There were sound logical reasons for adopting that approach. It is obvious where various drainage schemes were carried out on a piece-meal basis by local authorities and other groups. In many cases they did more harm than good and while some problems were solved other more serious ones were created. The recommendations of the Browne Commission resulted in the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. For a number of reasons, some of which have outlined, I believe the day of the large arterial drainage scheme has gone. These include the sufficiency of food, particularly in the European Union; the economic return demanded by the European Union before it will allow money to be expended on schemes such as this — and strong environmental reasons. For these reasons and because of the need to relieve localised flooding — the reason most often cited — the Arterial Drainage Act should be amended.
Localised flooding presents a serious problem. Each of us can cite examples in our own constituencies. The list circulated at the time the Bill was published includes Duleek in my constituency where flooding occurs frequently. One housing estate has been flooded on a number of occasions causing major problems for the residents, including damage to property. It is also a health hazard. Residents find that the value of their properties has fallen and that it is difficult to sell them. They also find it impossible to obtain insurance.
Not only is this Bill necessary, it should be enacted as a matter or urgency. I pay tribute to the Minister of State and his immediate predecessors for exerting pressure to have it expedited and brought before the House. I did not check the file but I issued instructions that the office should make inquiries on a fortnightly basis to the Department of Finance to discover the reason for the delay in introducing the Bill. I venture to guess that a number of officials in that Department were not happy at the prospect that a Bill such as this would be introduced. I am glad that it was rescued from the bowels of the Department in Merrion Street.
I wish to raise an ancilliary matter. Under the 1949 Act local authorities have the power to relieve localised flooding and I am glad this is not being interfered with. However, power and money are two different things. I do not know of any local authority which has carried out works under that Act and it is highly unlikely, because of financial constraints, that any of them will.
Will the Minister of State consider inserting a provision to allow local authorities to commision the Office of Public Works which has the necessary expertise and equipment to carry out works on an agency basis to relieve localised flooding? In this context, 89 or 90 locations, where localised flooding presents a problem, were included on the list circulated when the Bill was published. It will take some time to go through it. The Minister of State will find — £2 million is being made available initially — that a substantial number of local authorities would be willing to commission the Office of Public Works to carry out works on an agency basis if it was allowed to do so. This would make the scheme viable for both the Office of Public Works and local authorities.
I welcome section 8 of the Bill which provides for further development following the completion of a drainage scheme. There are works that should be undertaken to relieve localised flooding but which cannot be carried out as they were not included in the initial scheme. Under this section the Minister will have the power to review the position. This will be welcomed by those who are suffering because their areas were not included in the scheme first time around.
Under section 13 local authorities will be obliged to publish an annual report on maintenance works in drainage districts. That will be a slim volume as the number of schemes involving drainage work is small. Nevertheless, this is a good provision and will draw attention to the work, or lack of it, being carried out in a particular area under the Bill.
The process leading to the publication of this Bill was speeded up because of the problems experienced in various parts of the country, particularly Galway. I am not sure, however, if we will be able to solve the underlying problem with this Bill. Deputy Kitt and others put forward various theories on the cause of the flooding but, in so far as it will help to relieve localised flooding, I welcome the Bill. It will perform another useful function: it will help to retain expertise within the Office of Public Works. It will also help the many thousands of householders who have experienced problems, because the Office of Public Works could not previously undertake this work. I welcome the Bill and assure the Minister of our co-operation in expediting it through the House.