That Seanad Éireann considers that, in the light of the Report of the Inquiry into the proposal to terminate the three Common Services provided by the G.N.R. Board, these lines should not be closed.
This motion refers to three of the four common service lines scheduled in the 1953 Act dealing with the G.N.R. Board. In order to consider the matter, I think it would be desirable to give the Seanad a background to the developments which have now brought us to the present position. The proposal to close these three secondary lines was made some 12 months ago by the Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland and a proposal was made in accordance with the legislation to the Minister for Industry and Commerce here. The services concerned were part of three common services as defined in the Act. They were Omagh-Enniskillen-Newtownbutler, Portadown-Armagh-Tyan and Bundoran Junction-Beleek. The proposals, as we know, were not accepted by the Minisster here who felt that, as an alternative to the closure of these railways, the dieselisation and modernisation programme proposed by the Joint Board of the G.N.R. should be accepted and implemented and the railways given a chance when modernised. In this respect, it might be proper to remark that these proposals were originally drawn up by a sub-committee of the board and, I understand, were unanimously accepted by the board, a joint board appointed in equal numbers by the Minister here and the Minister in Northern Ireland.
It has been made plain, in the meantime, that the Government here were prepared to accept that modernisation programme and, in fact, urged the Minister in the North to accept it likewise in order to modernise the railways, cut the losses and prevent closures.
However, the Minister in the North, Lord Glentoran, was adamant that these lines would have to close as it appears that his Government were no longer prepared to finance these cross-Border lines. The next step was in accordance with the legislation, that is, because the Ministers could not agree, the proposal had then to be remitted to the Chairman of the Transport Tribunal in the Republic and the Chairman of the Transport Tribunal in Northern Ireland for their joint advice and report.
Public hearings were held in Dublin and Belfast in April and May of this year. At those public hearings, submissions were made by public representatives, by trade unions, by Chambers of Commerce, by county councils, by urban district councils, by the live-stock trade and by other interested parties. I want to make the point that all the submissions and all the representations made to the two Chairmen of the Transport Tribunals were against the proposal to close these lines, irrespective of whether the people or the chambers of commerce or the county councils came from one side of the Border or the other. There certainly was unanimity and opposition on both sides of the Border on the part of the public concerned to the closure of these lines. The position was complicated in the meantime by a statement by the then Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland which intimated that, irrespective of what the Chairmen of the Tribunals would say, his Government were going to close these cross-Border lines and, furthermore were closing one of the two railway lines between Belfast and Derry. If you look at a map, you see that one of those lines from Belfast to Derry is what is known as the old N.C.C., the Northern Counties Committee of the old L.M.S., which goes through Northern Ireland territory. The other is the G.N.R. line via Portadown, Omagh and on to Strabane and Derry, and part of it is a common line scheduled in the 1953 Act. It is understood that Lord Glentoran told the Minister here that the Northern Government had not yet decided which of these lines it would close, but asked, if it was the Great Northern, would the Minister for Industry and Commerce here give his agreement.
I think the position is that, in accordance with previous decisions, such agreement would not be forthcoming. There has been in the meantime nothing but silence in Northern Ireland on the proposals to close one of the two lines between Belfast and Derry, but I think it is fair to say that, judging from the statements made by responsible Ministers in Northern Ireland, the attitude of the Government there is that it is still its policy to close one of these two railway lines and that, in fact, the proposal has not been abandoned but simply kept in abeyance, pending a final decision on these three secondary lines of the Great Northern.
I think we should endeavour to assess the mind of the Northern Ireland Government in regard to these railway lines. I feel they are still determined to close the G.N. line from Portadown to Derry, but are awaiting a decision on the three secondary lines. I would like the Seanad to note that if the Northern Ireland Government are allowed to close these three secondary lines, they can then proceed to close the Portadown-Derry line. Part of this line is not a scheduled service, is not a common service—the part running from Portadown to Omagh—and can be closed without any reference whatever to the Government or the Minister in the Republic. If then, in the meantime, these three secondary lines are closed, the Government in Northern Ireland may allow —I emphasise "may allow"—the Government here to keep open the line from Portadown to Derry by taking it over—but it is only "may allow". The special provisions in regard to common services is that these common services can be kept open by either Minister, if he wishes to exercise his right under the 1953 Act.
If the Government here abandon their stand on these three secondary lines and if they then thought it was desirable or essential to maintain rail communications between Donegal and the rest of the Republic, they could only do so by the grace of the Northern Ireland Government. They would not have, as they now have, in dealing with these three lines, the right to keep open these services. I think we need only look at the map to realise that the Government in Northern Ireland, if they wanted the Government here to take over some of their railway lines, would prefer them to take over the line from Portadown to Omagh than the line, say, up through Enniskillen.
We now have the reports of the two chairmen and as could be expected the chairmen of the two transport tribunals differ in their recommendations to the Minister. The report of the chairman for Northern Ireland draws attention to the fact that he had been furnished with a report of a joint committee of the Ulster Transport Authority and the G.N. and that that committee was composed of three representatives of the Ulster Transport Authority and one representative of the G.N.R. Sir Anthony Babington, chairman of the tribunal, devoted one-third of his report to the recommendations which, as Dr. Beddy, chairman for the Republic, points out were not submitted in evidence, were not subjected to any examination, and apparently were just passed to the chairman of the Transport Tribunal for their information.
That joint report, funnily enough referred to as the "Green Book", proposed the closure of these three secondary lines as well as other railway lines proper in Northern Ireland. The savings which would result from such closures were estimated but—and here is a point—those estimates were not now acceptable to the joint board of the G.N.R. who pointed out that experience since then, in actual closings of railway lines in Northern Ireland, showed that the estimated loss of contributed receipts would be far higher, so, in fact, the proposals which were designed to save about £220,000 per annum on these three secondary lines would now, in the estimate of the Great Northern, save only £14,000 per annum. On the other hand, if the lines were modernised and diesel traction substituted for steam, instead of the saving of £14,000 per annum, there would be a loss in profits of £58,000 per annum.
However, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Tribunal sets aside the considered estimates of the Joint Board of the G.N.R. in regard to savings which would result from the closures. Our own chairman, Dr. Beddy, admits that these are only estimates, but he says that there is no reason to suppose that the fact that they are estimates and are not definite would invalidate the argument as to what the general savings would be, or the loss of profits, if dieselised, by the closure of these lines.
The chairman in Northern Ireland appropriately sets out his difficulty, that is, that he is chairman of the Northern Ireland Tribunal. He understands, as he says, that his Government's policy is to close all the railway lines in Northern Ireland, except those running between large centres of population, and to concentrate on the roads. He says he is compelled to accept his predicament and to view the proposal from the Northern Ireland standpoint, as evidenced by statements in Stormont and elsewhere. I do not think it would be unfair in the least to summarise Sir Anthony Babington's report as simply an acceptance of what he gathers is his Government's policy and, because of this, a setting aside of the evidence given in support of the objections and a dependence instead on figures prepared by a joint committee some years ago, which figures are now proved to be ill-based.
We have our own report, that of the chairman of the Transport Tribunal here. That report is much shorter, but it is quite unambiguous in rejecting the proposal to close and, to my mind, it is convincing in its argument. To start with, the report questioned the legality of the proposals made by the Minister in the North, in that the Act provides for schedules, sets out common services and provides for proposals to be made for the closure of common services. The proposals made in fact were not for the closure of common services, but for the closure of sections of common services. Dr. Beddy also raises a question which I have touched on already, that is, the Northern Ireland Government's intention in regard to the line from Portadown to Derry. He points out quite truly that these proposals affect one-third of the G.N.R.—which is simply not a proposal to close one or two or three unremunerative branch lines but is in fact a proposal to close one-third of a railway system. It is a proposal based mainly on financial considerations. Dr. Beddy points out that the figures furnished relate to operating results on sections of lines and not results of operating common service between two territories. The apparent loss I mentioned, of £220,000 per annum on these sections is, according to Dr. Beddy, not a reliable guide as to the saving which would result. the figure I have quoted of what the actual saving might be, of £14,000, was mentioned by him and also the loss of profits of £58,000, if in fact the lines were dieselised.
It seems to me that the Government here have three choices. The first is to allow the closure of what is known as the Irish North, that is, the whole railway system radiating west from Dundalk, serving Counties Monaghan, Cavan and the counties across the Border and also Donegal. The second choice is to allow the sections of those lines in Northern Ireland to close and retain what I would term, if Senators would pardon me, the stamp lines remaining in the Republic, that is, the lines going up to the Border, stopping there and going no further. The third choice is the choice that I hope the Government would favour, that is, to maintain their opposition to the closure of these three secondary lines of the Great Northern.
I think we should consider what the effect would be of the closure of the railway going west from Dundalk. As I have said already, it would involve the abandonment of one-third of the Great Northern railway, which three years ago the two Governments combined to buy from the shareholders. It would mean the loss of employment for a considerable number of workers. Probably over 400 Great Northern employees in the Republic would be out of works, 150 of them in the Dundalk workshops. Some 120 would lose their employment on the Great Northern in Northern Ireland, but as well it would involve the closure of the Sligo-Leitrim railway, employing a total of 141, I believe—106 of whom are in the Republic and 35 in Northern Ireland.
Incidentally, might I remind Senators that we have had questions previously about the Sligo-Leitrim railway, the railway running in the two territories. It was for a considerable time kept open by annual grants from both Governments. Eventually, the Northern Ireland Government decided that they did not see the joke of paying for this railway. They did not see any particular merit or any benefit to them in it. I think they were wrong, but, infact, the Government here undertook to pay the necessary grant themselves in order to keep this line open. There would also be involved in this the closure of the County Donegal railway, employing some couple of hundred people in that county.
The County Donegal railway depends for a connection with the Great Northern at Strabane. If the North of Ireland Government go ahead with their policy, the line up to Derry would also be closed and the County Donegal railways will be left with no railway connection with the rest of the Republic.