I have listened to the debate on this Bill with great interest, and to the shafts that have been thrown at the Minister from every side. So far I do not think there has been anything said on his behalf. I hold no brief for him, but this is a national undertaking, and everybody on this subject has got to think straightly and clearly. Senator Johnson again, by suggesting that the inference of the Minister probably had a bad effect, seemed to think that the interference was unjustified. He ended up by saying that the body forming the Board were representatives of the Minister appointed by him, and that therefore he was responsible. Senator Sir John Keane suggested—in fact he almost passionately regretted—that the Minister had not found money which the Minister did not possess, or which his conscience told him he could not devote to that purpose. There were various other suggestions, like Senator Connolly's that an impartial Committee should be appointed now to do the work, or rather to superintend the work that the auditors are doing at present. There is no other work for them to do.
This whole Shannon scheme is of the utmost importance to this country. I do not know whether Senators here realise that it is a scheme which is being watched with the greatest attention by the big public utility corporations all over the world, because all over the world there is a fight between nationally-owned things and ones that are privately-owned—that is, public corporations. I do not say that this scheme is bigger than some municipally and State-owned undertakings in other countries, but from its initiation it is the biggest effort I know of by a nation to exploit national resources within the country. It is being watched very closely by what I might call the opposition corporations of the world, and any failure on its part is going to be quoted very freely in the campaigns that undoubtedly go on in these communities that are served by public corporations. So it is of importance not alone to this country. Personally, I have been connected most of my time with what you might call opposing corporations. I am entirely in favour of this effort. I am all for it. Within, certainly, the next year, or as soon as finances get a little settled down, there is going to be a very big fight in other parts of the world on this question of municipal or State ownership. That is a side issue, but a great deal of this is going to arise out of the question of holding companies, and so on. However, I want to point out that this is a very important thing. It is not a small thing for the credit of this country. It is not a small thing from the point of view of the taxpayer, and it cannot be looked at in a small way.
I am going to take the history of the thing as it is without making any suggestions as to what I personally think should have been done or should not have been done. This is not the time for it. I take this question starting when the Board was put into operation, and I take only the facts that concern it. It is no good talking about what might happen if somebody were able to say something. We have got to consider the facts before us. The facts are that a Board was set up with the goodwill of this whole country to do a certain thing. Without question, the initiation of the Shannon scheme has been a success. Difficulties have been overcome. As far as the construction of that scheme went it had been entirely successful, and I will go further and say at a reasonable cost. This country then, with the goodwill of all parties—after all, this is our scheme; it is not a Party scheme; it is a national scheme —wanted to see it go successfully. As the Minister said, it was thought best that this Board should be as far removed from political or day-to-day interference as was possible.
I am not saying anything about that. I am simply stating the fact that the Act did give this power of dismissal to the Minister. Putting the splitting of hairs aside, if a man has the power of dismissal he has the power of inquiry, because he cannot dismiss unless he is satisfied in his own mind that there is ground for dismissal. I think that was a wise provision. I am not saying anything about the formation of the Board. The Minister says that very early he began to consider his position as regards the Board, and I do not blame him. As a matter of fact, possibly he might not have got to that pitch of being really anxious if it had not been for a fortuitous incident in connection with his side of the work. He was employed by the Shannon Board to complete some work which naturally brought him into much closer touch with the organisation than he otherwise might have had the temerity to insist upon.
Looking at the whole history of this thing, I might say here and now that I think the Minister has behaved with the most extraordinary self-restraint and level-headedness throughout these proceedings. It is frightfully easy, when there is a thing that you fear greatly, to lose your head. Senator Comyn has said that in 1929, when this agreement was made, the Minister should have come to the Dáil. If at that immature stage he had come to the representatives of this country and suggested anything, he would have been met with derision and with the cry of panic legislation. He represented the Government, who wanted this thing to be independent as far as it was humanly possible. He went to the greatest length in securing their independence. As regards that agreement, the only thing I want to say about it is that there was a difference between the Minister and the Shannon Board as to the reading of an Act, and the Minister quite frankly said to them: "If you do not agree with my reading of it I will bring in an amending Bill." They said: "We will agree with you." That is the fact. They agreed to his reading of the Act, and by that agreement they were bound to his reading of it. I am not going to say now whether I think it is the right reading of it or not, but I am perfectly certain that if he came in 1929 to either of the Houses and said that beyond the sum of £2,500,000 there was an unknown quantity which they were going to be liable for, he would not get a blank cheque. The thing is impossible. Time went on and the Minister demanded what he was entitled to demand. Not only was he entitled to demand it, but if he acted up to the letter of the law he would have said in what form those accounts were to come. Section 7 clearly lays it down. The intention clearly was that the accounts of this concern were to be absolutely at the disposal of the representatives of the Government. I think it would have been crazy legislation if anything else had been suggested. A Board was set up. There is a lot to be said about the constitution of that Board, but that is not the question here. The country had to keep control of the accounts, and I think, so far from the Minister having unduly interfered, he showed the greatest patience.
I will say that these resignations should not have been accepted until these men who were responsible for the governing of this Board had furnished, as they were bound under the Act to do, a report showing exactly how they dealt with public money which had been entrusted to them. You have got the position now that the men responsible have got no onus on them to produce that report that you and the Dáil and the people of this country might consider. Why did they not produce it? You have only got to look at the history of these two years. They could not possibly produce it! The Minister is going to produce it somewhere about next Easter. It is all nonsense to say, as they have said, that they could not have produced the report in time.
There has been a publication in the Press by one of the gentlemen concerned. Let me tell you my experience of this sort of scheme: there is not a construction work that ever succeeded in the world, there is not a public utility that exists in the world that could exist unless it were backed by State money under conditions under which this Shannon scheme existed for two years. I have some knowledge of public utilities, because I am engaged in a number of them. There is not a public utility in the world, whether nationally or municipally owned, whether publicly owned or privately owned, that could not say to its board of directors at the end of every month —say, on the first Monday of every month—what the expenses and outgoings for the month before were. It would be inconceivable otherwise. Every such public utility would insist on its management producing these figures at the end of the month. Otherwise it could not carry on.
Here we are in the position that we have no accounts for a period of two years. There are seventeen auditors working at the present moment reconstructing those accounts. We have the admission of the man who was at the head of this thing in which he says: "The accounts for the year ending March, 1930, were completed about June last and are at present under audit; that is, they were produced fifteen months after the close of the year, and any man who has experience of the initiation of such a huge concern as the Electricity Supply Board cannot agree that this fact is anything very alarming. I agree that if the accountancy department had been under the guidance of an accountant with wide experience in the electrical industry matters might have gone better and quicker; but, rightly or wrongly, it was decided that a well-qualified Irish accountant of ordinary business experience would meet our needs, and the salary offered did not in fact attract any applicant with a previous specialised knowledge of the industry." When a man at the head of a ten million corporation writes a thing like that, there is no comment necessary. If you are dealing with money in large or small sums there is one picture that you and everybody concerned must have before you. That is, the picture of the accounts of that particular concern must be seen month by month. Anybody who is accustomed to dealing with public utilities of this magnitude knows that. No such public utility could carry on unless they had this data before them.
It is idle for a man to say that he was overwhelmed on the production side, overwhelmed with the fine frenzy of production. That is not what he is there for. It is idle for a man to say that he has not got an amount of money sufficient to get the brains necessary. That is a perfectly nonsensical statement in a scheme like this, a big national scheme. The accountant on that scheme should be a big man. What is more, there is no engineer in the world who should be in charge of a scheme like that. It is a man on the financial side that is always put at the head of such a scheme—the man who has got control of the experts. The expert has always got to be controlled, because he has to cut his cloth according to his measure. A very curious thing is that they agreed to cut their cloth according to the £2,500,000. I am not saying that £2,500,000 was sufficient for the proper development of the Shannon scheme to its ultimate end. It was sufficient for the time being. It is a large sum in any country to be given for development. If I have got the facts right they agreed that they would cut their cloth; in April they were written to, and they wrote back to say that they were well within the sum. In June they wrote to say that they could not do with the sum, and in July they wrote to say that they had over-stepped it. I do not think that there is any comment necessary on that.
This is a public concern, and very full power was given to these men. The publicity about the accounting was for the purpose of counteracting the lack of control. There is no question about that. Yet they have gone out of office without giving that report. That is the only stick I throw at the Minister—that he did accept the resignations of these men before they had given him a report on the data that they themselves had at the moment. If they were not able to give a report on those data to satisfy the Oireachtas and the country, then people would form their own opinion. I do not think the Minister could have done anything other than he has done. As regards the retention on the Board of what one might call the business men, I must say that I am glad that the Minister has retained them. I do not know that these men realised while on the Board the possibilities that were before them, or the responsibilities that were upon them. I have been on public utility concerns and I have the greatest respect for the ordinary straight, honest business men that run those Boards. They are always an asset, especially in restraining the exuberance of the experts. I am very glad that beyond question these men are of that character. And I am very glad that the Minister has retained them, because they are the only liaison he has with the Board. The whole thing will have to be reconstituted and gone into thoroughly, if this scheme is going to be made a success. I do not want to strike anything but a note of optimism in connection with the Shannon scheme. I think it is a wonderful experiment and I am for it in every way.
At the present moment I do not think we can do otherwise than give power to the Government to carry on until we know exactly where we are. I do not think that the sum they ask for is excessive. Their position must be made safe until the Easter of next year. At the moment they have not the facts before them. We must have the facts placed before us, too; we must investigate them closely, and the Board must be reconstituted on a totally different basis. This little storm does not affect the Shannon scheme. That is a sound proposition as I see it. It is a great experiment, and I hope it will be successful. If it is, it will have repercussions all over the world. We must consider seriously the best method of reconstituting the Board. I am not sure that this country, in spite of its pride in its own people, will not have to go outside for one or two of the most important executive officers.
In this country at the present time nobody has had an opportunity of being trained in the business of a big utility company such as this. If you go through the lanes and by-ways of Ireland you will see any amount of men who are potential managers of huge companies. It is clearly proved on the other side of the water that Irishmen can hold prominent positions in connection with the biggest undertakings. Most of the executive officers of the big utility companies across the water are from this country, but of course they had to be trained. We must regard the Shannon scheme not alone as a great national undertaking, but as a method of training quite a lot of our young people to be efficient in certain directions.
I say that we must give the Minister the money he requires. Right from the start he has had an appreciation of the difficulties of this situation. He has a clarity of vision that I regard as marvellous. It is absolutely necessary that he should be granted the money he requires. At the same time we want, as soon as it can be given us, a very clear statement as to what has been done, what is being done, and what is going to be done.