I do not like to give a silent vote on this measure. This is the most important question that has come before us. It is quite the most important matter from the national standpoint that the legislature of this country has had to deal with since its inception. I think it is only right that everybody should say where he is and give reasons for the faith that is in him. I am, and have been, in favour of this scheme on general grounds. I do not propose to go into detail, as the Senate must have had quite enough of detail, and the public also must have had enough of detail in all conscience. I am in favour of this proposal on broad national principles. This is the first real attempt that has been made, or that we ever had a chance of making, to develop the resources of our country in our time. Some of us can look back over many years of Irish controversy and of Irish endeavour, and we can remember how everybody constantly talked about developing the resources of the country. One of the main items in the litany of development that we intended to promote was always the question of the harnessing of the Shannon and other Irish rivers.
We have talked about this for generations, and this is the first moment that any attempt has been made to do anything. I think the Government deserve every credit for the courage and faith that possessed them to take the first chance they have, once the country has settled down to normal conditions, to go ahead with this great and important scheme. I congratulate them upon it. My sympathy and admiration are always for people who do things, and not for people who talk about them. I think the Government deserves great credit for tackling this question, and I wish them every success.
I would like to make some remarks about what Senator Sir John Keane has said, but I do not propose to do so beyond this, that we must all give him credit for the industry which he has devoted to the investigation of this scheme and for the extremely able and lucid way in which he has put his information before us. I do not quite agree with him in his prophecies. I think his figures and his calculations are beyond impeachment, but I disagree with him in his prophecies. I can only hope that as time goes on, he will find a happier awakening than the one he anticipates. This question is in the nature of a great experiment. Some critics have objected to it because it is an experiment. Well, we are, to all intents and purposes, a new country, and may I ask the Seanad what would they think would have become of other countries if they did not experiment? Where would America have been if she had not experimented? Where would South Africa have been? Where would Canada have been? And where would even England herself have been if she had not experimented? I say we should experiment. We are right in experimenting. It may be that the Irish experiments may not be an entire success, or that it may not be an immediate success. But there is no doubt at all about it that our experiment will eventually succeed. It cannot but succeed in the end.
The Government have been criticised because they did not give sufficient investigation and sufficient study to this scheme. I have read considerably of the literature on both sides. I have not read it all. Nobody, except, perhaps, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, would possibly have the energy and the vitality to read it all. I have read a good deal of the literature on both sides. My honest conviction is that the Government have fairly and fully made their case. I cannot imagine what more they could do than to get the best expert advice they could. They certainly have done that. I do not know what more they could do. We do not pretend to be engineers. Very few of us have any claim to being scientific. We did not go into these details of decimals and kilowatts and kilometres. But seeing that the Government have consulted, as they undoubtedly have, the best engineering experts available, seeing that they have probed this matter to its depths, and seeing the amount of industry and investigation they have devoted to it, I say they have gone as far as they reasonably could be expected to have gone. They have gone as far as possible to ensure the success of their scheme. I have on these grounds no complaint to make of their proceedings generally in the matter in the way in which they have conducted the scheme.
Then we are told that the country cannot afford it. We are told that this country may find itself at a loss of five millions sterling if the scheme does not succeed. I am one of those who believe even if it did not succeed that it will not break the country. I do not attach an enormous amount of importance even to the relatively large sum of five millions sterling. I hold to-day, as I have always held, that five millions sterling is a flea-bite to this country. This country is, in my considered opinion, for its size, one of the richest countries in the world. To tell me that we are not to experiment with five millions for the purpose of regenerating the face of the island is to me and to persons of my views no argument at all. We are told that there will be difficulties about finance. I do not believe a word of it. Probably the Government have taken precautions, and they have made quite sure that the scheme will be financed.
After all, did we not a year ago, under very difficult conditions and in the very gloomiest circumstances, make our Finance Minister a present of ten millions sterling? And we will do it again, and we can give him more than that if he wants it, and, in my opinion, there will be no trouble about it. Now, I say that supposing the scheme fails, it will not affect the country very much, but I do not believe it will fail. I am perfectly satisfied that this scheme is going to be a success. I do not say that it is going to be an immediate success. After all, we cannot dam all these lakes, and start the works and make them pay from the outset. You cannot do that. Nobody expects that you can. The scheme is going to pay in the end. Of course it is. They tell me nobody will use our power when we produce it. You will have consumers for the power as soon as you produce it. You cannot use power until you have it. Once you have power you will find plenty of people to use it —when it comes it will be used.
We talk about the development of the country. Why, take one item, say, transport. Suppose you get sufficient electric power in this country, can you not electrify your railways? Of course you can. Switzerland is doing it. Italy is doing it, with nothing like the advantages we have, and even England is talking about doing it. You may not be able to electrify your railways at the outset, but, eventually, you are going to electrify them to a considerable extent, and in that way help to solve your transport problem. I was particularly struck with what was said by our Labour colleagues here, and also by Senator Gogarty on this electric scheme. This scheme is going to do an immensity of good for the moral upliftment of the nation. You are going to bring light into the homes of the people. You are going to improve the sanitation of the country. You are going to improve the housing of the country. Most important of all, you are going to make it worth while for the rising generation of Ireland to live in their own homes. Now we hear a great deal about proposals to cheer up the lot of the dwellers in our countrysides. What is there at the moment for young people to do? What amusements are there for the rising generation of the country? None whatever. When you have your electricity about the country you will have your wireless arrangement, you will have music, you will occasionally have oratory, perhaps the Seanad will be tacked on. You will at all events have music, oratory, and pictures. You will have many things in which the young people take an interest. We know perfectly well, those of us who live in the country, that one of the main reasons for emigration from the country places is that young people have no proper way of enjoying themselves. That will be changed when this Bill is passed, and when the Shannon is developed.
When you have had experience of the working of electricity you will realise what this measure means. We hear about the hard work of the Irish housekeepers. If the women who run our homes could realise all the things that electricity is going to do for them, they would appreciate what this scheme means for the country. They will then find out the labour it will save them. By its means they can wash, they can cook, they can iron, and they can do ever so many things that at present are done at the expense of a very considerable amount of hard labour. All these things will be changed if this Bill is a success, and there are many other things it will do. It will bring light to the home. It will make the lot of the young people happier. It must inevitably be the means of starting many local industries. It will support and encourage and promote all sorts of local industries, and it will give constantly increasing permanent employment in the country. There is no doubt about that. It will help the farmer. It will help the farmer in the country who will be served by this scheme, and the farmer who will be helped by this scheme should be the most enthusiastic about it. The farmer will get power for threshing and churning and ever so many things for which he has not power at the present moment. I thoroughly support this measure. It is a good measure. I congratulate the Government on their courage, and I can assure them that, as they go ahead, they will be watched with sympathy and be cheered and encouraged by every section of the community that has really the future and success of the country at heart.