When this Bill was first introduced in the other House many Members, and, in fact, the public generally, regarded this Bill, particularly from its description as the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Bill as a re-introduction of the Local Authorities (Works) Act under a new name. It was described by a number of people as a rose by another name. But as the discusssion on it went on and in view of the meagre nature of the grants allocated it would now appear that the thorns on the rose bushes outnumber the petals.
This Bill sees the termination of the operations of the Rural Improvements Scheme as it was known in the past. I should like at the outset to pay a tribute to the officials and the workers who operated the Rural Improvements Scheme down through the years. Excellent work was performed under that measure particularly during the inter-Party Government's time when a provision was introduced relating contributions to individual valuations. This was done because of the large number of objections by contributors to the requirement that they would pay contributions equal to their neighbours with higher valuations. I am glad to see that a system of graded valuations relevant to contributions is being maintained in this measure and I note that there is an improvement in the contributions towards relief of the cost for those in the very low valuations but, unfortunately, it is a hard fact that relative to some levels of valuation the amount of contribution required is higher under the scheme as presented.
Much concern has been created among the local authorities and the Minister in his introductory statement referred to the fact that some councils have not yet seen their way to cooperate in this measure. I would, without any particular knowledge of the reasons that actuated these councils to withhold their co-operation, claim that it is because of the arbitrary level of ten per cent permitted for administrative costs. The county of Cork in size corresponds to one-eight the area of the Irish Republic and if we are to accept the ten per cent as being adequate the amount involved this year would be in the region of £1,750. This would not pay the expenses of one solitary engineer let alone the administrative staff that will be engaged in carrying out the duties formerly carried out by the Special Employment Schemes Office. It would be interesting to know what the relative administrative costs were. I can appreciate any effort made by any Government Minister to introduce a more efficient and more economical method of administering any Act of Parliament but there is a feeling among the members of local authorities that there is a hidden effort here to transfer to the local authorities expenses formerly borne by the Central Exchequer relative to the cost of administering this scheme. The members of the local authorities of all Parties have protested vigorously that the ten per cent margin permitted is inadequate. It is particularly inadequate when the level of indicated grants for the coming years is considered.
I mentioned at the outset that the description of this measure as a roads and drainage Bill was a misnomer inasmuch as it implied that it would be feasible to carry out drainage operations under this Bill. It is feasible if the moneys were made available for the purpose. There is no doubt that there has been ever since 1957, since the stoppage of State contribution to the operations of the Local Authorities (Works) Act, a persistent demand from county councils, from the General Council of County Councils, even from the Árd-Fheis of the Government Party, for the re-introduction of grants under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. During all that period there was only one defence made by the Government and its representatives of their refusal to re-implement the grants under that Act, the absence of any provision for maintenance of drainage schemes under it. There is no provision for maintenance under the Bill we are now discussing, none whatsoever. Consequently, one wonders at the belief of those who were critical of the previous Act. If they were sincere in their criticism one would expect that they would introduce a provision for maintenance under this current measure but there is none. Consequently, we can only infer that in the first case there was no need for it under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, that it would not have been a proper thing to have done or else that this Bill, if we are to pay any heed to the criticism so often voiced during those years, is remiss in not providing the moneys for the maintenance of the works performed under it relative to drainage.
There is no doubt that very much agricultural production in this country is inhibited by the need for adequate drainage. I realise that arterial drainage must come first and that in that field there is inadequate work being provided to get the schemes under way. I refer to those under the arterial drainage works. There are many small tributaries which could be drained with reasonable drainage operations under schemes similar to those under the Local Authorities (Works) Acts which would make it possible for hundreds and hundreds of landowners to operate their land successfully. There is no doubt that very many drainage schemes could be embarked on without causing downstream flooding, which is alleged to be the reason why they have been deferred.
There is no doubt that if sufficient funds were made available to the county councils they could, under this Bill, provide considerable relief to hundreds and hundreds of landowners who are restricting their agricultural production at the moment because of periodic flooding. It is also true that many of the operations of the Local Authorities (Works) Act and much of the funds which could be made available would relieve the work in relation to the maintenance of road works and in relation to the Department of Local Government in the need to repair those roads.
This Bill is described as the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Bill. However the Bill may be described it is completely inadequate to meet the needs of the rural countryside in view of the money allocated in relation to participation in the scheme. I mentioned earlier that Cork County is practically one-eighth the area of the entire State. In 1957 we received and spent in Cork County Council £40,732 on drainage under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. This was reduced, due to Government action, in the year following to £10,000 although in the last year of the full operation of the Local Authorities (Works) Act we obtained £40,732 in Cork County. This operated to the profit of landowners whose lands were flooded periodically. This relieved the situation regarding the danger in relation to the condition of many of our public roads.
Then we had the rural improvements schemes. The councils have, to an increasing extent over the last decade, come to realise their obligations in regard to the take over and maintenance of roads which were improved under the rural improvements schemes. This acted as a very definite incentive to the beneficiaries who contributed to get the roadways done. They had experienced in earlier years of proposals, money being spent and allocated to various local authorities on the repair of roadways but those roadways deteriorated because there was no provision for taking them over.
The councils realised that the standard of work efficiently performed by the Rural Improvements Schemes Office brought those roadways up to such a condition that they could in the vast majority of instances be immediately taken over on the recommendation of the engineering staff of the local authorities and maintained thereafter. This acted as an incentive to very many contributors to avail of the Rural Improvements Scheme and to be able to bring some relief to the hundreds who had not access to their homes and farmyards down the years. Councils, particularly the council of which I happen to be a member, the Cork County Council, have been foremost in the takeover of such roads and the degree of co-operation which was forthcoming between the Rural Improvements Office and the county councils was certainly most gratifying. We have constantly at our monthly meetings the development of motions for the takeover of those roads. We profited by this until a few years ago, when due to financial stringency we had practically a cessation of the operation of the rural improvements schemes. We had the situation in which applications were either refused or shelved for an indefinite period and the applicants informed that for a period of some two years finance would not be available for new schemes and the backlog which existed could only be dealt with.
In those circumstances, despite what we are informed of the vastly improved contributions, this backlog has vastly increased and many rural improvement schemes have not been done. We find in the switch over from the rural improvements schemes to the operations under this Bill that in County Cork we are handed 80 applications that have not been dealt with by the Rural Improvements Schemes Office. No doubt those are applications which are awaiting attention for a considerable time. This ignores any applications which were refused. It ignores certain people here who were under the impression that because of the cutdown under the operations of the rural improvements schemes grant it would be futile for them to make application to have their roadways attended to.
The fact now is that that backlog of unattended work over the last three or four years together with a number of fresh applicants who now feel that the council can more readily dispose of what to them was a longstanding problem, means that this particular year whatever about the years to come, there should be a very special effort made to give a more substantial grant than would be normally required so that councils would be in a position to clear off the backlog and meet at the same time the demand for new applicants who consider there is a better opportunity for them under the new scheme.
What do we find? We find that at best we are still working in a restricted capacity. Last year in Cork County we received a sum in excess of £19,000 for rural improvement schemes. We have now the 80 applications awaiting attention and we have been informed that the allocation for this year will only be £17,500. This is a negligible amount to allocate to a county of the size of Cork if this work is to be performed. The whole operation under this Bill falls completely unless there are adequate financial grants available to the councils to administer the work. The members of county councils will now be obliged to carry out a screening process to decide on an order of priority. In Cork County Council we have to decide on an order of priority among the 80 that have been awaiting attention and are now transferred to the offices in Cork. I merely cite Cork as the area with which I am familiar. There is no doubt that every other county in Ireland is involved to the same extent. The situation this year looks extremely grim relative to the amount of work that may be performed. I referred to an allocation of £40,700 in 1957. Despite the vastly augumented increases in the interim, we now have a mere £17,500 to cover roads and drainage.
In the other House there was some discussion relative to the take-over of roads that will be brought up to a suitable condition consequent on the Rural Improvements Schemes. The question arose about laneways and we had it in detail also at local authority meetings. We know that considerable difficulty has been encountered from time to time where engineers decided that a laneway will be taken over as far as the second last house but the laneway was a matter of contention until it was ultimately clarified. I should like to have the point cleared as to whether drainage of a laneway serving other residents will be included in the overall grant picture.
It would be interesting to know the percentage of administrative costs that would be involved in carrying out schemes which it is proposed to amalgamate under this scheme. The Minister must satisfy local authorities that they can operate within the figure that will be allocated to them in relation to administrative costs. This is an item of considerable concern to the local authorities at the moment and I feel if the Minister could react to the numerous representations that have been forwarded to his Department regarding the inadequacy of the proportion permitted for costs and compare that with what it cost previously, even if a saving is to be effected as he states, the council would be satisfied that it is not a question of transferring the burden from the Exchequer to the local rates.
We have had expressions of concern from members of the Government at the high level of rates and their impact on ratepayers throughout the country. We must be sure in any Act that we do not exacerbate this situation and we must assure the ratepayers and the community to that effect.
Maintenance in relation to drainage schemes is, as I said at the outset, a very important one. It would be of considerable assistance in carrying out drainage operations if provision could be made for their maintenance.
There is another point which I should like clarified. I refer to the take-over of these roadways once they have been brought up to standard. This Bill provides that work may be undertaken to provide this amenity for a number of landowners or occupiers on a particular roadway. However, the interpretation by the county engineers has been restrictive regarding the subsequent take-over in relation to the number residing on the roadway. It has been interpreted by many as requiring at least two residents, whereas under the terms of this Bill grants may be available irrespective of the number of residents, or so long as there is a number of landowners on the roadway. I should like to know that all roads which qualify under this Bill will also qualify for maintenance by the county council.
Senator Miss Davidson referred to another point in which I had a particular interest. I refer to the expression used in subsection (c) of section 2 regarding the definition "used by the public". This inclusion appears to be a more liberal interpretation of the qualification of the operations than that contained in the 1953 Local Government Act when we had reference to "general public utility". I should like to know from the Minister which definition will operate in relation to the take-over of roadways that have been brought up to standard. Will the description in this Bill "used by the public" be sufficient to warrant the take-over by the local authorities of those roadways?
We welcome this Bill but we are disappointed that despite the interpretation placed on it on its introduction, that in some way it meant a resumption of drainage, it would appear from statements made since, and from the more positive indication of the meagreness of the grants allocation to the county councils, that it will be a sheer impossibility for the councils to engage on drainage, seeing that the amount allocated is not sufficient even to meet the reduced expenditure on the rural improvement schemes last year.
We do not oppose the Bill but we avail of this opportunity to make these criticisms and hope that there will be re-thinking on the Minister's part and his Department relative to the two main points I have made—the inadequacy of the margin allocated for the administration of the scheme, and, secondly, and no less important, the totally inadequate amount of grants to permit the county councils to carry out the number of schemes that will be necessary, consequent on the short-fall in recent years because of the rural improvement schemes grant, to meet the new situation with the new intake of applications consequent on the introduction of this Bill.