We have caused to be circulated to members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, with the proposals contained in this Bill, an explanatory memorandum. In view of the circulation of that memorandum, which deals briefly with the arterial drainage code for a period of roughly 100 years, it is hardly necessary for me to cover all the ground again. It will be, however, no harm to make some reference to the Arterial Drainage Act of 1925 and to the experience of the Board of Works, which was the Department responsible for the operation of that Act, for a number of years.
It will give Senators some idea of the vastness of the problems with which we are attempting to deal, when I tell the House that following the passage into law of the 1925 Act some 669 separate petitions were received for drainage schemes. The procedure laid down in that Act was that any six landowners could come together to petition the local authority, with a view to the initiation of a drainage scheme. When that petition was presented to the county council or the local authority concerned, it was obliged to call upon its surveyor to make a report —not a very elaborate report—as to what he thought of the petition, and, following the receipt by it of the surveyor's report, it was free to recommend the petition, but whether it recommended the petition or not, it was by law obliged to refer it to the Board of Works.
It does, as I say, give one an idea of the magnitude of the problem of drainage when we realise that during the years that Act was actively in operation, if I may put it so, 669 petitions were received and that, of these, 619 were recommended by the county councils concerned to the drainage authority at the time, the Board of Works. Out of these 619 recommendations there emerged 51 completed drainage schemes, and, so far as I can say, speaking from memory, these 51 schemes embraced about 80 odd petitions. I do not at this stage propose to go into what became of the remaining petitions, except to say that, during the period from 1925 to 1938, the Board of Works, which was responsible for the carrying out of works under the Act, came to see its weakness and to recognise its shortcomings. The financial structure of the 1925 Act was faulty, or at least it was faulty from the point of view of getting work done. It provided for a contribution by the State, a contribution by the local authority or local authorities concerned and a contribution by the benefited landowners. It also provided that when a scheme was prepared on foot of a petition, it had to be submitted to the riparian owners and if 51 per cent. of the owners of the land included in the area to be drained were to vote against the scheme, nothing more was heard of it.
I could go on reciting all the shortcomings which the Act contained and which were encountered during the period from 1925 to 1938. It was in the latter year that the Government decided to set up a Drainage Commission, and most members of the House, I am sure, are aware that that commission was composed of public representatives, farmers, engineers, and so on. It proceeded to make a very thorough examination of the whole problem and, in 1941, it presented its report. The report will, I think, be conceded by those who have studied it to be a very excellent one, and, following the consideration which a Government is called upon to give to a report of that importance, the Government decided to accept the recommendations in principle. The main feature of those recommendations was a single drainage authority to be, on their advice, a section of the Office of Public Works. Another of the principal recommendations was that the capital cost of drainage in future should be borne by the State, and they made a very rough estimate of what, in their opinion, was likely to be the cost to the State of the work which they envisaged in that report; but it is only right and fair to say that they prefaced their estimate by pointing out that there could be no real reliance placed upon it, having regard to the rather scanty information available to them in relation to many of the districts included in their comprehensive scheme.
They recommended, as I say, that the constructional work should be done at full cost to the State, and also that, after the constructional work had been done, a maintenance organisation should be set up to be responsible in future for maintenance of the works carried out under the Act. In addition, they recommended that that organisation should be called upon to take over all existing works in a gradual way, until finally there would exist an organisation which would be responsible for the maintenance of both the districts to be constituted under this measure and the districts in existence prior to the coming into effect of these proposals. In so far as the provision of the necessary funds for maintenance is concerned, the commission recommended that 70 per cent. of the improved value of their land should in future be borne by the riparian owners in respect of maintenance, and I think they inserted a condition that they would not be called upon to bear that 70 per cent. until three years from the completion of the work had elapsed. I suppose they inserted that proviso to enable land recovered from water to be given some time to become of value to the owner before he was called upon to pay any charge in respect of it.
It is only in that fairly vital matter that the proposals contained in this measure differ from the recommendations of the commission. We are not in any way hostile to the principle that owners whose lands are benefited by the execution of drainage work at State expense, or at the expense of the taxpayer, should be called upon to pay in respect of maintenance at least the amount recommended by the Drainage Commission, but we were bound to have regard to our experiences in relation to the Act of 1925 to which I have referred. I did not refer to this matter, but Senators know that under that Act the actual benefit that accrued to each landowner as a result of the execution of drainage work was calculated and it was on the basis of that calculation of the actual benefit accruing to him that he paid his charges. We found that it was a very cumbersome, very elaborate, very tedious, and very difficult matter to make these necessary calculations and that in many cases they had to be made where only very small sums were involved. Not only that, but even after they were made, following the execution of the drainage works, they were a continual source of difficulty, worry and trouble to the Department concerned, inasmuch as lands are always changing hands and being divided. A farmer is sometimes obliged to sell a certain portion of his land and you always had to have a skeleton staff in existence for the purpose of making the necessary adjustments and calculations where you had this separate charge being paid in respect of lands that had benefited as a result of the operation of a particular drainage scheme. It was because of these experiences which followed the passage of the 1925 Act that we refused to accept the recommendation of the Drainage Commission in this matter of the contribution by the benefited landowners towards the maintenance of drainage works in future and not because we had any objection to the principle of a man paying in respect of the benefit derived by him following a work of this kind.
I have told you of the important recommendations made by this commission which made its report to the Government in 1941. I have little left to say, except that the proposals in this Bill follow closely along the lines of those recommendations, with the exception to which I have drawn attention. There are some eight parts in this Bill. Part I contains three sections that need no explanation, so far as I can see. In Part II the operative section is Section 4. That section gives to the drainage authority the responsibility for preparing and the right to prepare a drainage scheme, to select a catchment area for the preparation of that scheme, and all the powers necessary with that end in view. In that part of the Bill there is no other section, with perhaps the exception of Section 12, to which I need refer. Section 12 gives to the drainage authority power to amend a drainage scheme if, after the execution of the works, it is found necessary or desirable that amendments should be effected.
Then we come to Part III. Section 21 fixes the appointed day. Before I leave that, I want to explain that it is in this part of the Bill that provision is made for dealing with old drainage districts which have been managed by drainage boards and drainage trustees. The proposal here is that, on a date to be appointed, those districts will be transferred to the county councils, that the boards and trustees which have been responsible for the maintenance will go out of existence, and that in future the county councils will be obliged to provide for their maintenance by a flat rate charge upon the rates of the counties.
The most important section in Part III is Section 23. Section 23 sets out the safeguards which are provided for county councils to whom these districts are being transferred. We realise that in many cases those boards and trustees had gone out of existence long ago. We realise that, immediately on the transfer of those areas to the county councils for maintenance purposes, those whose lands were perhaps for many years affected by flooding would have for the first time a very good mark for securing damages should these authorities fail to relieve these lands of flooding. Of course, we recognised that it would not be fair to make it obligatory on a local authority to take over those more or less dilapidated drainage districts and impose upon them a duty to maintain those districts in a better condition than that in which they had been immediately prior to their being handed over to these authorities. Because of the dangers to which local authorities would be exposed if adequate protection in that regard were not provided, we are providing for an inspection by the Office of Public Works of each of those areas with a view to having a record of their actual condition immediately prior to the date of their transfer to the local authorities in order to ensure that, if a riparian owner were to take a local authority to court, we would be able to produce evidence in court to establish for the guidance of that court the condition in which that area was prior to its being handed over to that local authority.
We are providing, too, that the local authority need not, and cannot, be obliged to maintain drainage in a better condition than it was prior to its being handed over. I want to give this explanation, that while the local authority to which these districts will be transferred is not legally obliged to maintain them at a higher standard than when they were maintained by the boards or trustees which managed them in the past, there is nothing to prevent a local authority from improving upon the standard of maintenance until such time as these districts are reached with a view to their reconstruction as a result of these proposals.
When this Part of this Bill was being discussed in the other House some Deputies suggested that a more equitable system of maintenance would have been the creation of a national pool from, say, a flat rate over the whole country—3d., 4d., or 5d., or whatever was felt would be adequate to the task that had to be performed. Some Deputies suggested that that would be a more satisfactory system of providing for the maintenance of drainage than the provisions in this Bill, which oblige the local authority to strike its own rate for whatever drainage districts it has in its charge in its own area. I saw the force of that reasoning to some extent, and we did give to the suggestion a good deal of consideration.
The point that was made in favour of that proposal was that, when ultimately all drainage works are being maintained, as is visualised in these proposals, they will be maintained by a drainage maintenance organisation to be established under the drainage authority, but when that work will be executed by such an organisation and paid for by the local authority out of a flat rate in each county, I can imagine some criticism and some misunderstandings as between the drainage authority and the local councils. I suppose there is always the danger that misunderstandings of that nature may arise when you are called upon to pay for some work in respect of the carrying out of which you have no responsibility or no right to interfere.
While I am prepared to concede that there is some force in the argument that was advanced along those lines when this matter was being discussed in the Dáil, I must say that, considering the arguments for and against, we decided that as we had more or less agreed with the principle—except for the inconvenience of its operation—of the landowner paying for the benefits which he received, it would be best to keep as near to that as possible, and the nearest we could keep to it was that, if we could not make the riparian owner pay for maintenance, or some portion the maintenance charge, then we should make his local authority responsible.
We also saw the difficulty and the danger and the possible source of criticism and misunderstanding that would arise where you have a county which had not a very substantial arterial drainage problem. There are such counties, and we saw the possibility of those people being called upon to strike a fairly substantial rate with a view to the creation of the necessary central pool from which all drainage maintenance work would be done. We realised that these local authorities would say: "Here we are obliged to strike a rate of 6d. in the £, or whatever the amount may be, for the purpose of a general maintenance organisation, and all the works that are situated in this county would not cost a penny in the £." In thinking out this problem of the maintenance of existing drainage districts and the building up of the organisation necessary for the immediate and the distant future, we weighed up all the factors as best we could, having listened to the arguments, and we decided that the course that is visualised here is the wisest in all the circumstances.
Section 23 of Part III, and Section 29, are the two sections of this part of the Bill on which the greatest amount of controversy took place in the other House. I hardly think it is necessary at this stage to go into these two sections in any great detail. I will content myself by drawing attention to the fact that it was to those two sections that the major portion of the criticism of the Dáil was directed and Senators will have an opportunity between now and the Committee Stage of giving them further consideration.
Following the recommendation of the Drainage Commission, the same procedure is being followed in relation to embankments. The commission recommended that embankments should be approached in the same manner as the drainage districts. They recommend that a number of the existing embankments should, in the course of the carrying out of the drainage, be absorbed in drainage works and become part of drainage schemes—that they would be reconditioned as in the case of drainage at State cost and, after reconditioning, would be handed over to the maintenance authority and all their maintenance would be paid for, as in the case of a drainage district, by a flat drainage rate.
Part V of the Bill deals with the maintenance of drainage works by the commissioners and gives to the drainage authorities the same sort of protection in the maintenance of existing drainage districts as is provided for the local authority in Section 23 of Part III. It is possible that, when we carry out new works in some particular area, we will be obliged to provide the maintenance organisation ourselves for looking after these works and, when that maintenance organisation has been set up, it will be our tendency and inclination to take over from the local authorities immediately surrounding the area in which the new works are created any older districts for the maintenance of which they have been responsible up to that date. In such cases, we are providing in Section 37 for the same type of protection from legal proceedings as we provide in Section 23 for local authorities. Part VI, Section 39, gives the necessary power to carry out additional new works, if necessary. There is nothing of importance in Part VII.
In Part VIII there are two sections which are in accordance also with the recommendations of the Drainage Commission—Section 48 and Section 49. After examination of this whole matter and after hearing all the evidence from local authorities, the Drainage Commission decided that some provision should be inserted in the law to ensure that farmers would not be permitted in future to obstruct in the cleaning of small drains and small streams. In the Bill as it was introduced to the Dáil, there was, to meet that recommendation, Section 48. If you examine the Bill as it was then introduced and the Bill in its present form, you will see that a new section has been added. In the other House, I mentioned that I was anxious to get useful criticisms and suggestions from those Deputies who understood this problem. We had a suspicion that the powers we were taking in Section 48 were altogether too wide and could be used to do injustices in certain cases. With a view to achieving the same purpose, while eliminating the possibilities of doing such injustices, this new Section 48 was inserted. I think that these two sections now meet in the fullest possible sense the point of view expressed in the commission's recommendation.
I find myself at some disadvantage in discussing this measure here, inasmuch it has had a very tortuous passage through the other House. I find myself in the position that there is scarcely any aspect from which I could approach it and say anything new. While I would like to give to the Seanad the fullest possible information as to what is contained in this necessarily complicated measure, I find myself in some difficulty in my anxiety not to repeat myself and become tiresome to those who have to listen to me. I am sure Senators will not be satisfied with the main outline I have given of the provisions of this measure, but wherever I have not been so comprehensive as they require, I will come to the rescue at any time and give to any Senator here any additional information he may require regarding any provisions to which I may not have referred.