Foreshore Bill, 1933—Second Stage.

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

It gives me great pleasure to be able to ask the Seanad to give a Second Reading to a Bill which can be properly described as non-controversial. This Bill was originally drafted many years ago— when, I am not quite sure. The first historical reference to it that I can find is in the report of the InterDepartmental Committee on Coast Erosion, which sat in 1930. Apparently, the Bill was in an advanced stage of preparation then because a draft of it was submitted to that Committee. The Bill, as introduced, in so far as it deals with coast erosion, is that draft, as amended in the manner recommended by that Committee, the report of which was published two or three years ago.

It is, perhaps, desirable that I should indicate briefly the general purport of the Bill. The foreshore of the Saorstat is, generally speaking, the property of the State. Certain stretches of it are either privately owned or are in the hands of local authorities but, in the main, it is State property. I have been asked on two or three occasions in the Dáil to define "foreshore" and it is well that we should get the definition clear in the beginning. It is: "The part of the shore below a line on the shore to which the tide flows at high water on a calm day when the height of high water is midway between the height of high water at ordinary springs and the height of high water at ordinary neaps." That line is usually shown on maps under the description of high water mark of ordinary tides, the mystic letters used being "h.w.m.o.t." All the land below that line is the foreshore and it is proposed to take powers in this Bill to exercise certain authority in respect of it. Power exists, of course, at present in this regard, but it exists under statutes passed a long time ago and it is rather difficult to make use of it when necessary. Under this Bill, we take power to license people to remove beach material—sand, gravel or stones —from the State-owned foreshore.

What about seaweed?

Seaweed is covered in the Bill. I shall mention it later. In so far as the State-owned foreshore is concerned, we take power to permit people to remove these things. Where it is necessary to prevent coast erosion, where damage is being done to the land adjoining the shore, we take power to prohibit the removal of these materials whether the land is privately owned or not. There is, of course, power to do that at present but it is power which we find it difficult to utilise because the practice has been to allow the interested parties to move in the matter and, if they do not move, the local authority. Generally speaking, considerable damage is done before either of these parties moves and usually the State has to interfere.

The removal of sand for manurial purposes around the coast has been going on from time immemorial and, whenever an order prohibiting the removal of beach material is made, there is generally a concession given to farmers in the adjoining townlands in respect of the removal of sand for manurial purposes. Since cement became such a popular building material and since roadworks have been undertaken on their present scale, the removal of sand and stone from the beach for sale has grown up in many districts. In a number of cases, but not in all cases, that is highly injudicious. The natural action of the tide builds up heaps of stones around the coast which protects it. If these stones are removed, the coast is left unprotected and very frequently serious erosion results. The county councils are usually the worst offenders in that respect although, under existing legislation, they have very direct responsibility for the protection of the coast.

Another part of this Bill deals with the right of the State to control the erection of works on privately-owned foreshore or to oppose the removal of works which are necessary for the protection of the shore or for the protection of navigation. I think that these sections are self explanatory. The Department of Industry and Commerce has certain definite obligations to protect waterways and to see that navigation is not interfered with. We are merely giving ourselves the power it was recommended we should take in order to prevent people, by erecting works on the seashore on their privately owned property, from interfering with navigation or acting in such a manner as to cause the destruction of property elsewhere. We go further in this Bill than has heretofore been the case as regards the protection of public amenities. There are sections which prohibit the deposit of rubbish or dirt of any kind upon the seashore. Power is taken to prosecute people responsible for such offences. The idea is to ensure that the seashore will be kept clean and suitable for persons desiring to use it for bathing purposes or holiday purposes and to prevent developments such as have taken place in the vicinity of Dublin where a very considerable stretch of popular beach has been made very obnoxious by the deposit of rubbish. There, again, the local authority is responsible. When this Bill goes through, we shall be able to deal with the local authority in that particular case.

Other sections of the Bill are largely technical and can be discussed in Committee. They are designed to secure that the title of the State to the foreshore is preserved even though it is not quite clear at the present time— even though there may be some ambiguity about it. One section provides that, in cases of doubt, the benefit of the doubt will go to the State. Sometimes it is claimed that the right to remove beach material or seaweed over a number of years gives a right of ownership over the foreshore. It is made clear in the Bill that that is not the case. A person engaged in the removal of material or sea wrack may be owner of the foreshore, but the mere fact that he or she has been removing the material does not in itself constitute title, without further proof. There is power taken to purchase, lease or rent privately owned foreshore wherever the same becomes available and make it State property in the future. These are the main provisions of the Bill. It is a non-controversial measure and, to some extent, a technical measure. It is very largely the production of the inter-Departmental Committee which met in 1931 and the report of which was published a couple of years ago.

Any points that arise can be dealt with. Senators will find it is so technical that, apart from one or two general questions, it is a rather difficult Bill to deal with, without having made a very comprehensive study of previous legislation on the matter. The main purpose of the Bill is to give power to prevent erosion, power to protect the amenities of the seashore and power to ensure that works on the seashore will not interfere with navigation or involve the destruction of property.

In many parts of the country seaweed is very largely used by farmers as manure. I would like an assurance that nothing in the Bill will prevent farmers from using seaweed in that way. The removal of sand or gravel is different. The removal of seaweed does no harm.

Cathaoirleach

Is that suggested in the Bill?

I am asking for more information from the Minister. Seaweed is much more largely used than sand. I would like to understand what the position is under the Bill.

To use a common expression, this measure supplies "a long felt want." I know a case in which an agreement for a lease of a foreshore for 21 years was made in 1917. It appears that between the Woods and Forest Department on one side, the Department of Industry and Commerce on the other side, and the Department of Finance at the apex of the triangle, it was impossible to make a lease of the foreshore. About 16 or 17 of the 21 years have now expired. It is a good thing, even at this late hour, that we have a measure which makes clear once and for all what authority it is that has a right to grant a lease of the foreshore, either for the purpose of getting sand or stones, or getting seaweed for kelp, or black weed, which is used by farmers for manure. Senator Miss Browne is quite right in saying that this Bill is a very important measure so far as it relates to seaweed right. Very few people who live inland or in cities, understand how important the seaweed right is to farmers, who have tillage land or even grazing land near the seashore, where seaweed grows.

As Senator Miss Browne knows, seaweed does not grow on every shore. I would like to know from the Minister how he proposes to deal with farmers, each of whom cuts weed on the seashore in connection with his farm, and further how he proposes to deal with groups of labouring men who have no shore rights but who very frequently earn a fair livelihood at certain seasons of the year by cutting and selling seaweed. There are great numbers of these people in the west of Ireland. Will they be granted leases or will they be granted licences by the Minister? Only a fortnight ago I had a communication from labouring men in Ballyvaughan. They complained that a gentleman who owned land adjoining the seashore sought to prevent them taking the seaweed. After searching through the records I found that he had absolutely no rights whatever. I am glad to say that when the members of the Gárda Síochána went and informed him that he had no private rights in the foreshore, or in the seaweed, and that he should allow the labouring men to cut the seaweed wherever they liked, they were enabled to earn a good livelihood for a month or two.

The south side of the Gaul Island portion of that bay belongs to the State, but adjoining it are other tracts of foreshore which are in private ownership, and in respect of which the working men of the district have no right whatever to cut seaweed. This private right to ownership in the foreshore is very extensive throughout Ireland. It arises in this way, that the Landed Estates conveyances that were made at the sale of encumbered estates very frequently included the foreshore in the map, and, of course, the purchasers under the Landed Estates Courts conveyances had statutory title to the foreshore as against the State. That is a very frequent occurrence. I am glad to see that the Minister has taken power to purchase foreshore rights in the interests of working people; in the interests of farmers who need manure for their tillage, and also in respect of shell and oyster fisheries which we hope to see developed in the near future. The Minister stated that in case there is a question of a dispute as to whether the State owns the foreshore or whether it is the property of a private individual, the onus of proof shall lie on the individual who claims as against the State. I cannot see that in the Bill. In any case, it is right and I think it is not an innovation, because in all cases where a person claims foreshore rights as against the State, he had to show something more than mere usage. Therefore, no real harm has been done to private individuals. I cannot imagine any private individual successfully asserting a right to the foreshore unless he had a Landed Estates Court conveyance, or something with a map, giving him the foreshore. There are other provisions in the Bill which are extremely useful, including the taking away of sand and other material from the foreshore. In County Kerry sand is frequently taken from the shore and brought several miles inland for manure. Of course that will not be interfered with, but there are other cases in various parts of Kerry, Cork and elsewhere, where people have been allowed to undermine cliffs by taking away sand and doing great injury to the public.

There is a prohibition against using the foreshore as a dumping ground, which is a very proper thing. Finally, there is what I think should be in every Bill dealing with public property, a provision that notification must be given of any lease proposed to be made. That is a very proper provision to include in the Bill. I would suggest to the Minister that when considering the question of leases, or rules or regulations which will guide the Department in making leases of foreshore rights, or easements or profits such as seaweed, shellfish and matters of that kind, that he ought to have regard to the fact that there are great numbers of labouring men who benefit greatly by the licence they have had up to the present of taking seaweed. It is a great advantage that they are not stopped. It would be a still greater advantage if they could be told, or if the public could be told, that certain big people living along the coast have really no rights to the seaweed.

I wonder if the Minister has had any conversations with the officials of the Fisheries Department regarding this measure, as questions will arise concerning the oyster beds. I take it that the Fishery Commissioners have seen the Bill and are aware of the questions that will arise. I have property in Sligo and I had to go to the Fishery Commissioners about the rights to the oyster beds and to seaweed. I wish the Minister luck when he is handling some of the situations that will arise with regard to the seaweed. I might mention that people in Rush and Malahide come and take seaweed from almost in front of houses in the vicinity of residences in County Dublin. The Minister will want great luck when he tries to limit the taking of the seaweed in the immediate neighbourhood of the shore. People come long distances to take it.

Cathaoirleach

It is not proposed to do any such thing in the Bill. Section 6 (2) reads:—

Whenever the Minister is of opinion that the removal or the unrestricted removal of beach material of any kind or of any particular kind or kinds from any particular area of seashore has affected or is likely to affect prejudicially any public rights ... the Minister may prohibit by order the removal by any person of beach material either....

What are beach materials? The Bill says that seaweed is included, "whether growing or rooted on the seashore or deposited or washed up thereon by the action of tides, winds, and waves or any of them."

Cathaoirleach

It is only in case of prejudicial action that he is to interfere. He has no power otherwise.

I was wondering what reason there would be for prohibition. I notice people from Rush coming to the County Dublin foreshore, and if an order for prohibition is made there is going to be trouble, especially where there are oyster beds. The Fishery Commissioners should go through the Bill and say if they have a right to give licences. I imagine the same rights would come in if the Department intends to do what Senator Comyn said, to purchase the foreshore and to establish oyster beds.

What oyster beds at present are not under private ownership?

I am afraid something I said must have given rise to misunderstanding. There is power at present to make an order to prohibit the removal of beach material from any portion of the foreshore where in the public interest it is deemed desirable that removal should be stopped. In all cases that I know of the order was limited to the removal of sand or gravel. I have no recollection of an order being made prohibiting the removal of seaweed, and I doubt if such an order will arise, except the State was proceeding to develop the production of seaweed of some particular form on a stretch of foreshore. In such a case an order prohibiting the removal of seaweed may be made with a licence given under Section 3 to persons to remove seaweed or particular kinds of seaweed. Ordinarily speaking, an order made at present under an Act that is about 120 years old, the Harbours Act of 1814, prohibits the removal of sand or gravel generally from within a defined distance from the base of the cliff. It is in connection with such an order that a concession is given to local farmers to remove sand for manurial purposes in their own area. Ordinarily, there is no restriction on any one to remove sand, gravel, seaweed or anything else except an order is made, and that position will continue. If no order has been made anybody can enter the foreshore and remove sand or seaweed. If, however, after a local enquiry has been held, it is determined that in the public interest a prohibitory order should be made and that such order is made, it will then become illegal for anyone to remove the beach material specified in the order without a licence issued under the Act. That, I think, answers the point made by Senator Miss Browne.

Then in the ordinary way no licence will be required?

No, unless a prohibitory order is made and that will not be made except public rights are being prejudicially affected, or where there is damage to property, buildings, wall, pier or other structure, etc. That rarely applies in a case of seaweed. Any order made, except in very exceptional cases, will prohibit only the removal of sand or gravel. In such cases it is not expected that licences will be issued at all except to give permission to local farmers to remove sand for manurial purposes outside the defined areas. There was one point that, I think, Senator Comyn misunderstood. I did not say that in every case of dispute as to the ownership of foreshore that the onus of proof was being put on other persons than the State. In certain cases of a kind which have led to disputes in the past the benefit of the doubt has been given to the State. In other words, the type of contention that has been relied on to proof title to the foreshore is declared insufficient without further proof under Section 15.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 14th June, 1933.