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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Apr 1928

Vol. 10 No. 12


Question proposed: "That this Bill be read a Second Time."

As one who has spent the major part of his life in carrying out arterial drainage work throughout the country, I should like to say that I welcome this Bill. I think it is a move in the right direction. I welcome it all the more because the Minister, in introducing it in the Dáil, did not assume the attitude of take it or leave it, an attitude that unfortunately we have been so much accustomed to. In the Dáil, the Minister said that he thought the Seanad the right place in which to have amendments to the Bill considered. He made that remark arising out of a very important point raised by Deputy Professor Thrift. The Bill undoubtedly is intended to deal with arterial drainage, but as Deputy Thrift pointed out with, I think, a certain amount of accuracy, there might be controversy between the title and obvious intention of the Bill and the text of it as it now stands. That is to say that it might be applied to thorough drainage. For the benefit of the uninitiated in these matters, perhaps I might say that there are three sorts of drainage. There is arterial drainage, which is mainly applied to the large rivers and arteries that carry away the waters of the country. In that a great many people and districts, and possibly even the State, may be interested. Therefore it is only fair, of course, that they should contribute to the cost. Then there is open main drainage, which deals with the smaller rivers, watercourses and large drains, and in that a number of individuals may be interested. It is only fair, of course, that these individuals should contribute to the cost of any work done. Thorough drainage is the execution of close-filled drains on a man's own land. The only person who can benefit by that is the occupier of the land, and it would not be fair that anyone else should be asked to contribute to the cost of work of that kind. People may say, of course, that the poor man concerned may not have any money to do the work. That is not so. If he has not the money, a beneficent country has provided him with the means of getting it. He can go to the Department of Public Works and get a loan. He can pay for it out of the benefit that his land will derive from the work done. Therefore, Deputy Thrift was right in drawing attention to the matter. On the Committee Stage, I will move an amendment excluding thorough drainage from the operations of the Bill.

There was another important point raised in the Dáil by Deputy Brennan with reference to bogs and turbary. It was a point which deserves consideration. From my knowledge of drainage in the country generally, I am prepared to say with absolute certainty that in at least 80 per cent. of the districts in which drainage can be carried out under this Act this question of turbaries will inevitably crop up. A grave defect in all the arterial drainage Acts passed previously was this: that you could only tax people in proportion to the benefit derived by their land. If turbary was rendered available that previously had not been available or if it was improved, or if turf was enabled to be got that could not be got previously, naturally that land derived a great deal more benefit than ordinary agricultural land, and accordingly it was valued higher than agricultural land. The result was that when the turf was cut, the cut-away bog was left to bear the tax that the turf formerly had borne. That is a point which well deserves consideration. I have prepared an amendment to deal with it on the Committee Stage. The amendment will seek to remedy that injustice and to make the matter quite clear.

There is another point that is perhaps of still greater importance. It is this: that the amount of money provided under the Bill should be extended beyond the present limit of £1,000. We sometimes forget that money has altered a good deal in value, particularly since the war. I suppose, before this alteration took place, you would get as much work done for £450 as you would get done to-day for £1,000. Then there are other circumstances that have arisen. Agricultural labour has been very highly organised. The effect of that has been that the amount of work you can get done to-day for £450 is very much less than what you could get done for the same amount in pre-war times. My experience leads me to believe that you could get as much work done in pre-war times for £300 as you can get done to-day for £1,000. In view of that, is it worth while passing a Bill under which for all practical purposes the expenditure is limited to £300? In view of the alteration in the value of money, to which I have referred, I do not suppose that for £1,000, present value, you would be able to get more than 300 perches of drains cleaned. Is it worth while to go to the trouble, expense and inconvenience of passing this Bill for the purpose of enabling a person to clean up 300 perches of drains?

Might be suggest that the Minister for Local Government should approach the Minister for Finance with a view to having the amount mentioned in the Bill extended. Otherwise there is not much use in passing it. This, I think, is a question that the Seanad could deal with. Of course, we cannot deal with the question as to how much the Minister is going to contribute out of the £1,000 limit. I do not see why the Minister for Finance should object to this suggestion. Under the Arterial Drainage Act of 1925 the Minister for Finance can be called upon to contribute a portion of the cost. I think the minimum is 30 per cent., but he can give up to 40 per cent. or 50 per cent., and I think in some instances the whole amount. Under this Bill the amount that the Minister for Finance can be asked to contribute is limited to 25 per cent. I do not see why the Minister for Finance should object to an extension of the present limit. If he consents to do so, he will be getting rid of some of his liabilities, and I believe an extension of the limit would make the Act more workable and worth while passing. I am preparing a number of amendments to this Bill. I do not know if the Minister will accept them. We can deal with them on the Committee Stage. That is all I propose to say on this Stage of the Bill.

I agree with the principles embodied in the Bill. I rise because of a statement by Senator Barrington that requires some explanation so far as our point of view is concerned. He made the statement that it costs £1,000 now to do the same amount of work that could be done pre-war for £300. I want to say definitely, in case there should be any misunderstanding about it, that it is not the wages of the labourers employed in the work that is responsible for an increase of over 200 per cent. in the cost of the work on those schemes.

On a point of order, I never said so. I said the cost of labour increased the cost of the work. I think anybody with experience will agree with me.


Senator Farren is not contradicting you on that. All he is doing is calling attention to the fact that the increase is not attributable to the increased cost of labour.

He is attempting to put words into my mouth that I have never used or suggested.

I am not attempting to put any words into the Senator's mouth. He made a statement that work that was done pre-war for £300 would now cost £1,000 to do. I want to have it placed on record that it is not the increase in the wages of the labourers that is responsible for the 200 per cent. increase in the cost of that work. Labourers doing this class of work are paid 24s. or 25s. a week — a starvation wage.

I approve of the Bill. I am sorry it was not passed into law a couple of years ago, so that a good deal of practical work could be done this summer. Sometimes it happens in the case of a joint committee that there may be friction between the members regarding certain work. I know there are cases where the excavation and repair work are done in one county and the land benefited is in another. Take the case of two counties, A and B. In A the land will benefit, and in B the excavation work will be done. In that case, B would be tempted to object to any steps being taken in the matter. There is no provision by which the Minister could compel B to go on, and I think that is a great weakness. The same thing might arise where the whole land benefited would be in one county. An isolated part of the county in which there might be no county councillor residing might consider it was a case not to go on with. I think there should be the right of appeal to the Minister where a county council refuses to go on, and it is desirable that the Minister would suggest a way out in a case of that sort.

In some of the drainage schemes the complaint has been not so much against the original cost of the scheme as against the yearly cost of maintenance. Whether the amount of maintenance work is necessary or not the tenant whose lands are being improved has to keep on paying rates that have been fixed, having regard to the estimated cost of expenditure. In many cases I think it has been out of all proportion to the original cost of the scheme because of overseers and gangers. I wonder whether the Minister could make provision whereby it might be agreed between the promoters of the scheme and the county councils involved that the tenants through whose lands the scheme passed would be made responsible for maintenance. If they fail to carry out the work of maintenance, then powers could be given to the county councils to do the work, and assess the extent of the tenant's liability. I think farmers and their sons who have very little to do during the winter months might very well be engaged in this work, which would be mainly concerned with small rivers, and they could clean them up at a very small cost. If that work has to be done by the county councils there would have to be overseers and gangers, and that would mean the work would be done at greater expense to the tenants. There may be some tenants who would not be able to undertake that work, but I think a special arrangement could be made in their case. Arrangements could be made for the county councils to do it for them, and apportion the cost between them. My experience is that the complaint has been in regard to the cost of maintenance. If the work of maintenance could be done by the tenants themselves the cost would be very much less, and I think effect would be given to many more schemes than is likely to be the case under the arrangement proposed in this Bill.

There is no intention that thorough drainage would be done under this Bill. If it is necessary to safeguard the position as between the text of the Bill and the Title we can deal with that on the Committee Stage. The question of bogs is a very intricate matter. I am having that question very thoroughly gone into, and with Senator Barrington's assistance perhaps we can arrive at a solution of the difficulty. Regarding this £1,000 limit, we must remember that this Bill is entirely in the nature of an experiment. As to the Arterial Drainage Act of 1925, at the time the Act was conceived, and particularly as a result of the experience since the Act began to operate, it was felt that if there were smaller drainage schemes it would be very costly to carry them out by having supervision and all that by the Department of Finance. It was felt there was an urgency to get the smaller schemes carried out and to make the machinery simple. In taking up the matter we decided to cut out as far as we possibly could of the machinery all the routine that would involve overhead costs, or delay coming in between the people and their work, and we decided to put the whole responsibility on the county councils. In the applications that have come before the Board of Works under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1925, there has been a very large number of schemes of less than £1,000. The Minister for Finance seems to be entirely satisfied from experience with regard to the number of schemes put forward that a considerable amount of work under the £1,000 limit remains to be done. If we extend the limit of £1,000 to £2,000 we would be throwing a much larger burden of responsibility on the county councils than we intended.

We are opening up the way to avoid what I call semi-large schemes monopolising the attention of the county councils to the detriment of the farmers who have small schemes to be attended to. When we consider that this new work is being entirely thrown on the county councils, and that experience has shown us a large amount of that work requires to be done, I think there can be very little case made at the moment for departing from the £1,000 limit. As regards the 25 per cent. limit and the fact that the Minister for Finance might save a bit under standardisation of the limit of schemes between £1,000 and £2,000, that does not offer any attraction, I understand, to the Minister for Finance. In so far as the limit is regarded as unsatisfactory, I may say experience has shown that the smaller the scheme the bigger the return economically it has been found to give. Many schemes will be put up for execution under this Bill. It was thought desirable to have a flat rate so that farmers who wanted to have their lands improved might know definitely what help to expect towards their schemes, and that they could go ahead with them rather than wait and manoeuvre to see whether they could get an additional five per cent. or ten per cent. from the Minister for Finance.

As to Senator O'Rourke's point regarding differences of opinion that may occur between one county council and another resulting in holding up a scheme, there is no provision in the Bill for solving a situation of that sort, or for overcoming friction between individuals on a Joint Committee. But if there is a scheme under £1,000 which because of the absence of a provision in this Bill for settling a dispute between one county council and another would be prevented from being carried out, that could be automatically treated by the county council whose concern it is under the Act of 1925 to pass it on to the Minister for Finance to be dealt with under that Act, in which there is power to overcome these difficulties. I do not know what there may be found to be in Senator O'Farrell's point, but we feel generally that much of the cost of the county councils in the carrying out of these schemes will be payment to local labourers or farmers, and we feel the schemes are of such a nature that payment in wages may find its way into the hands of people who are directly interested in the carrying out of the scheme. For instance, if there is an application by three or four farmers to have a scheme carried through by the local county council their sons or other workers on the farm may carry out the scheme. I have no visions of big gangs being employed with special overseers in this work. What I suggest will be found to operate in the carrying out of the drainage and maintenance work under this scheme will be that the work will be carried out by people in the vicinity or neighbourhood in which the scheme is being applied. Perhaps the sons of local farmers would do the work cheaper, and that would mean a smaller amount falling on the farmers as a maintenance rate. I think there is nothing serious in the point Senator O'Farrell raised, but there may be Senators here who have more practical experience in the matter and who may be able to help Senator O'Farrell out.

Arising out of what the Minister has said, Senator O'Rourke pointed out, quite accurately, that there is nothing to provide for cases of disagreement between two county councils. I would direct the attention of the Minister to Section 147 of the Act of 1842, dealing with arterial drainage, in which that particular question is dealt with. I think if the Minister looks into it he will find that if that section were embodied in this Bill the difficulty might be overcome.

I would like to suggest, that power is taken under this particular Bill to transfer a minor scheme over to the Department of Finance to be carried out under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1925. I am personally desirous that there should be very little interference by the Minister for Local Government in the operations and workings of these schemes. I think that the Department which might be expected to have the most experience in dealing with matters of that kind might be left to deal with them. I am prepared to discuss the matter, but I am against complicating the measure and prejudicing the success of it, by there being the appearance of any kind that the Department is going to interfere in the details of these matters. There is a provision for rectifying any difficulties that may arise by way of inquiries, but it would not cover the point raised now. I would much prefer that it would not.

Question put and agreed to.


I hope Senators who propose putting down amendments to these Bills will send them in so that they may be circulated and reach the hands of the Ministers before Wednesday next, when these Bills will be considered in Committee.