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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 3 Jul 1928

Vol. 10 No. 20



Before we take the business on the Order Paper, Senator Sir Walter Nugent desires to raise a matter by way of personal explanation.

I desire to call the attention of the Seanad to a report of something that was said at the last meeting of the Seanad. First of all, may I apologise for my absence from the meeting of the Seanad on that occasion, when a matter concerning the amalgamated railways was being dealt with. The way it arose was this: At the previous meeting of the Seanad there was a certain motion on the Order Paper, but owing to the unfortunate illness of the Minister for Industry and Commerce its consideration was postponed until Wednesday last. I was not aware that the Minister for Industry and Commerce would have been able to attend the meeting of the Seanad on Wednesday last, and I, therefore, concluded that the motion in question would not be taken on that day. I regret exceedingly that I was not here on Wednesday last. If I had been I would most certainly have taken part in the debate on the motion that was before the House on that afternoon. What I want to call the attention of the House to is the report of something that was said in the course of the debate on that motion. My attention has been called to it by letters which I have received from railway shareholders in the country, who I do not think quite appreciate what occurred. I propose reading for the House the matter to which I wish to call attention. It is from a speech that was made here by Senator O'Farrell. The report of his speech appeared in the "Independent" newspaper on the 28th June last. The Senator is reported to have said:—

The Minister said no request had been received from the railway companies to take action in connection with this matter. That was not surprising, as railway directors had other interests besides the railways. It was quite possible some of them were interested in road transport. Not one of the six railway directors in the Seanad was present during the discussions.

That is what appeared in the "Independent" newspaper. In order to place the matter more properly before the Seanad, I desire to quote the following from the Official Debates, from which it appears Senator O'Farrell made this statement:

The Minister said that he had been in intimate and constant touch with the amalgamated company since the amalgamation, and he had received no request from them for any form of restricted control of road transport. I am not surprised at that, as the railway directors, or some of them, look on the railways as sidelines. They have half a dozen business interests, and the railways are only a passing interest. I did not see one of these railway directors present during this discussion, which is an indication of their interest in the matter. The Minister should not take their interest in this question as being any indication of the state of public feeling, for it is even possible that some of them may have an interest in road transport.

The effect of that speech was that it became understood in the country as having been stated by the Minister when dealing with the railways. I have already explained how it was that I was not present at the meeting of the Seanad on Wednesday last. Reference was made in the debate to the absence of railway directors, some of whom, I understand, were here. When a motion is made by a private member of the Seanad it would be by no means incumbent upon them, even if they were here, to take part in the discussion, if they did not feel disposed to do so. By far the most important part of the speech, and the part which I want to allude to particularly, is the suggestion that the directors or the board took a slack interest in railway matters, owing to the fact that some members of the board were interested in other concerns—in the motor business or some other business. I would find it very difficult to believe—in fact, I do not believe—that anyone in the Seanad or outside of it holds that view, and I am quite sure that the Minister for Industry and Commerce never attributed anything of the sort to any member of the board.

I have looked through very carefully everything that the Minister has said, and I could not find in his speeches the slightest indication of any such thing. Naturally what was said hurt some of the directors very much. Speaking on their behalf, as well as on my own behalf and on behalf of every member of the Board, if such a suggestion as that was intended, I most emphatically repudiate it. I feel it quite unnecessary to say more than that. As the Minister is here I have no doubt that he will express the view of the Ministry on the subject. With regard to the remark that was made by the Minister when he said that he had been in constant and close touch with the amalgamated company, I can say that that is perfectly true. From the very start, he has been in the closest contact with the company, and any representations that we have made to him have always received his most careful consideration. The line that we have taken from the start has been this, that we have not asked for any special treatment. All that we have asked for is to be placed in the same position as other motor carrying companies, both as regards the upkeep of the permanent way and all other matters. I realise it would not be in order for me to go into that matter now. I will conclude by saying that every single director of the railway is as anxious as I am to do all in his power to promote railway interests, and I am quite sure that every member of the Seanad will appreciate what I have said.

I regret that anything that I said in the transport debate on Wednesday last in the Seanad should have been attributed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The statement to which Senator Sir Walter Nugent refers, as having been reported in the "Irish Independent," arose out of a statement made by the Minister in the Dáil which I quoted, not actually word for word but a correct summary of it. He said: "I have had the closest possible association with the amalgamated railway company since it was formed and never once have they put in any demand with regard to any sort of restrictive control in the case of bus traffic." That came to those of us who were interested in transport as very surprising, in view of the rather plaintive appeals made by the railway companies to the railway trade unionists to take into consideration the unfair position in which they were placed in regard to road motor competition. I then went along the line quoted by Senator Sir Walter Nugent, and I contended: "Where the railway companies do plead the iniquity of the existing situation is when they go before the Railway Wages Board to get the wages and salaries of their employees reduced. Then they say all the things they should say where it would have some effect. Their only contribution to the solution of this problem is to take off the table of the railwaymen a little more bread which is perhaps already scarce."

I was, I admit, considerably disappointed by the fact that in an important transport debate none of those railway directors who are members of the House was present to take part in it, because if we are to take advantage of the business men in a Parliamentary Assembly we must have them present when business about which they are supposed to know something is under discussion. It was for that reason I made that statement. I fully accept the assurance of the Senator that none of the directors is directly interested in road transport, but, of course, he knows that, as railway directors, they are interested in and do control one of the biggest motor road transport companies in the country. My suggestion was they are inclined rather to get back on the roads what they lose on the railways, and they are making the railwaymen pay——

—for the inequitable position that now obtains with regard to road motor taxation. That was the only meaning of the statement I made here. I did not want to attribute any mala fides to any railway director, whether a member of this House or outside of it, but I think it did look bad to find not a single representative of the railways here to take part in the discussion of a subject in which they are so vitally interested.