A Chathaoirligh, níor bhfada dhom i bhfeidhil 'san Roinn Iascaigh nuair cuireadh ós mo chomhair ceist iascaireachta abhann, agus a bhfeadfaí iad do leathnú.
D'féachas isteach go géur sa sgeul agus sé mo thuairim féin, tréis an méid scruduighthe a dheineas, gur féidir a bhfad níos mó a dheunamh de'n iasgaraireacht san ná mar a comhaltar a dheunamh fé láthair. An Bille atá anois ós bhur gcóir tugann sé fé na lochtaí atá 'sa dlighe fé láthair do leigheas agus 'na chuma san cabhair do thabhairt d'obair thábhachtach san iascach fíor-uisce do chaomhnadh agus do shaothrú.
The object of the Bill before the Seanad is to improve the foundation upon which rests the administration of the law that governs our fresh water fisheries. The fishery laws, as they stand, date as far back as 1848, and were framed in very different circumstances to the conditions that obtain at the present time.
Speaking to the Seanad, I need not dwell upon the importance or the possibilities of our fresh water fisheries as a national asset. The export value of our fresh water fish in 1924 as between salmon, eel and trout alone was something over £240,000. It was actually more than one-half of our whole fishery export for the year. Now, that is one side of it. Then you have to consider the possibilities of our fresh water fisheries from an angling point of view. It attracts to us a big number of visitors from other countries, and this forms indirectly a big money value for the State. Now, I feel that it is possible to increase very greatly the value we derive from our fresh water fisheries, and the present Bill is aimed at getting that further value from our fresh water fisheries.
The Act of 1848 divided the country into districts, and in each district it provided for a Board of Conservators. Some of those conservators were elected by the licence holders, whether the rod licence holders or the drift-net licence holders or the draft-net licence holders. Some were appointed because of their possession of proprietary fisheries, and some were ex officio from another aspect. The Act laid down at that time a scale of licences to be levied on the different engines, whether rod, net and so on. These duties so paid as licences formed the main revenue of the Board of Conservators for fishery protection. The functions of the Board were, of course, chiefly the protection of the fisheries, and the payment of the bailiffs to look after the rivers, and especially to look after the rivers during the spawning season. The Board of Conservators under that Act and up to now have been rather extremely autonomous; the central department had very little control over the Board of Conservators. We hold that the Bill before the Seanad removes the defects which the experience gained from the administration of the fishery laws has revealed in the constitution of the local Board of Conservators. It also aims at increasing the revenue of the boards so that they may be able to carry on their duties more efficiently.
Coming to the Bill itself, Part 1 deals with the elections and membership of the Board of Conservators. It deals with the constitution of the boards by extending, first of all, the resident qualifications for members. Formerly a man could not become a member of the Board of Conservators unless he resided in the district. We are extending that qualification for members, so that whereas formerly a person in order to become a member of a Board of Conservators had to be resident in the electoral division in the district for which he was going up, we now provide in this Bill that if he is resident in any part of the district he may be elected to the Board of Conservators for that district, perhaps even in a different electoral division to that in which he resides. That is the difficulty we met.
We have also reduced the property qualification from £100 to £50 and we have modified the voting power of the licence holders. We also provide for the filling of casual vacancies by cooption. It is an extraordinary thing about the former Acts that there was no provision for filling a vacancy caused by death or otherwise on a Board of Conservators. Once a man was elected he could not resign; he remained until the next election. If a man died there was no way of filling the vacancy created by his death. We have met that in this Bill.
Part 2 of the Bill is probably the most important. It deals with the finance question of the boards. We are proposing to increase the revenue of the boards by two means; number one being the increase of the licence duty on rods, nets, and eel-weirs, and secondly by relief for a period of ten years—it actually works out 9½ years— of all valued fisheries from their liability for local rates and diverting the rates that would be so imposed to the pockets of the conservators for fishery purposes, that is, the preservation of the fisheries. At present privately-owned fisheries are like any other property valued for rates on the local valuation. We have felt—the Local Government Department thinks otherwise—that fisheries get very little in return for the amount of money paid out in that way through rates from the revenue derived from valued fisheries. We are now proposing to stop the rates from the local authority for a period of ten years and divert those rates towards the Boards of Conservators for fishery purposes. The local authorities will not lose very much on the whole. Each individual local authority will lose comparatively little, while the fisheries will gain considerably. The total rated value of private fisheries in the Saorstát is only £18,884, whereas the whole rated valuation of the Saorstát is something over £11,000,000. That will show how negligible the whole thing is from the point of view of income. We have taken cognisance of the fact that there may be a few places where the provision under this Bill will fall rather heavier on the local authorities, as, for instance, such places as Galway and Ballina.
In these places the transference of the rates on the fisheries from the local authority to the Board of Conservators may mean a serious imposition on the other ratepayers in these particular districts. We provide for that in this Bill. In the case of any particular local authority where the operations of this Bill would amount to more than a penny in the pound on the other ratepayers we meet the balance over a penny in the pound. If you take an urban district with the rateable valuation of £120,000 and suppose that the poundage in that district is 15/- in the pound, the return from the rates there would be about £90,000. Supposing in that district you have a fishery valued at £1,000, the rate on that would be £750. That actually works out, on a rateable valuation of £120,000, at three halfpence in the pound. The local people have to bear the penny. We make up the halfpenny, which means from us in that case £250. In other words, from my Department the local authority would be subsidised to the extent of £250 in cases such as this. The total revenue from all sources of the twenty-one Boards of Conservators in the Saorstát in 1923 was £10,000. It is obvious that that is entirely insufficient for the proper patrolling and policing of our inland rivers and lakes.
Under the provisions of this Bill we hope that the amount will be doubled. Given that revenue, we hope that it will be possible for the conservators to employ a better type of bailiff than they have been able to employ in the past, and that they will employ more of them. The amount capable of being devoted to the payment of watchers and bailiffs in 1923 was £5,200. There were something like 340 of them, and that worked out that these officials were paid at something like £16 a year. You will not get a proper type of man for that amount. A man does not feel that the job is something that he would be worried about if he lost it, and if a man feels like that, he is not going to do the job very well. In speaking on this point I think I should pay a tribute to the Gárda Síochána. The new as well as the old bailiffs will have their willing co-operation. Since they went into the country the Gárda Síochána have done extraordinary work, considering the fact that they were an unarmed force at a time when poachers generally were not unarmed, and they have been doing extraordinary work towards fishery preservation. The new type of bailiff which we hope to have as a result of the new finances will be willingly helped by the Gárda Síochána.
Now we come to Part 3 of the Bill, which is aimed at restrictions on the disposal of illegally-caught fish. In last year's Act we got after the poacher with fairly stringent penalties, but we have found that they are not sufficient. You will not kill the poacher until you kill the person who buys his fish. In this Bill we are trying to get after the dealer. We insist in Part 3 that any person who deals in salmon or trout must be licensed, and in order to get a licence he must get a certificate from the local district justice as to character and so on. We retain power to withdraw licences in certain conditions, and we insist that when a person holds a licence he shall keep a register of his sales, which can be examined at any time by the officials of the Board or by the Gárda Síochána. We think that that is a very important part of the Bill, and we believe that by it we are going to make poaching less attractive to the poacher, because it will be more difficult for him to get rid of his illegal catch. Now, as regards the clauses in Part 4, many of the persons who have not been disposing of their fish locally have been sending it across Channel. We are trying to close that loophole by insisting on packages being marked "salmon" or "trout," and we are getting after the carriers. That is Section 22. The other clauses of the Bill deal purely with details of administration, such, for instance, as one empowering me to make bye-laws.
Through a flaw in the Ministers and Secretaries Act, the Department of Lands and Agriculture still retains power to make bye-laws on fishery matters. This Bill gives me that power. It is the same as regards regulations and other matters. The Boards of Conservators have, on the whole, considering the finances at their disposal, done their work rather well in the past. We cannot, of course, excuse the fact that our rivers have not had the care which they should have had, and as a result they have not been the valuable asset to the nation which they might have been. We hope that the Bill now before you will remedy these things, and will put our inland fisheries on a footing which they have not been on in the past.