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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Mar 1971

Vol. 69 No. 12

Road Transport Bill, 1970: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I am pleased to see in this Bill, the decontrolling of the carriage of cattle, sheep and pigs. This is particularly welcome by people living in the west of Ireland who had serious problem in transporting their animals. The Minister gave as the reason for decontrol of this type of livestock was the setting up of an interdepartmental study group, and he also referred to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, who recommended this action. The Minister also referred to the illegal haulage of livestock. I thoroughly agree with the Minister and I am sure anyone in the House living in a rural area will also agree.

Senator McGowan pleads for other commodities to be decontrolled, such as fish, potatoes and lime. Many other things could be mentioned, such as fertilisers. The Minister would be well advised to have complete decontrol of the haulage of all merchandise. This would solve the problem, particularly in the west of Ireland. I am not in a position to comment on the position in Dublin, Limerick or other built-up areas. There is not much point in saying that there will be an increase in the number of licence hauliers. In my own county I doubt if there is any licensed haulier there who would be prepared to do a haulage for people who have been compelled to use this transport. Offhand, I know of only one licensed haulier living within a radius of 50 miles of my home. In Roscommon, the Minister's home county, the situation is somewhat similar. If this problem is to be solved in the west it can only be solved by decontrolling the transport of all goods.

The problem of traffic congestion in Dublin city is caused by lorries from rural parts coming here to collect merchandise during the peak hours. I have often wondered if any thought has been given to the possibility of operating this business at night instead of during the day. This is done in some European countries. I believe this would give great ease here in the city of Dublin.

I should also like to welcome this Bill, particularly in relation to the liberalisation of livestock haulage. This means that private lorries can now transport cattle to and from marts and farms and in this way are performing a good service for the marts and for the livestock industry generally. Most of these lorries are owned by small farmers or dealers and probably they understand better than CIE drivers the vagaries of the four-footed animal. CIE were not able to provide the cheap service needed by those dealing with livestock. The more personal approach of the private lorry owners is the service wanted by farmers generally.

I should like to refer to the introduction of co-operative farming, or the co-operative ownership of machinery among farmers. I believe that more use must be made of this practice in the future, if small farmers are to survive. In my own area a number of these machinery co-operatives have been set up, particularly in regard to the handling of the beet crop. We can make use of our machinery co-operatives as far as the transport of the beet to the factory is concerned. If five or six farmers co-operate to buy a lorry and if they are allowed to use it for that purpose, this would be a natural offshoot of machinery co-operatives. However, I do not think that it is permitted now, but it should be.

This also applies to the carriage of milk to creameries, particularly in the south, where one frequently sees a queue of farmers' carts or transport of some kind waiting their turn to deliver small quantities of milk. This is a great waste of time. There should be a system where four, five or six small farmers could co-operate to transport their milk to the creameries. Farmers usually contract to have their silage cut. If the Transport Bill was strictly enforced, it would mean that a silage contractor could be prosecuted for hauling silage by road from one part of a farm to another.

In regard to the haulage of lime and beet, CIE sometimes employ transport other than their own. When they are sending a cheque to the haulier for work done, there is a percentage deducted from the cheque for an accounting charge to CIE. Farmers costs have increased, but their returns have not increased accordingly. This is an unfair imposition at this time and the Minister should look into this 10 or 15 per cent accounting charge imposed by CIE.

I should like to stress that co-operative farming will be a very live factor in farming in the future. We must have some liberalisation there to allow farmers to co-operate in the haulage of their own goods on the roads.

Like most of the other Senators, I welcome this Bill. However, it is rather a belated effort on the part of the Department of Transport and Power. For the past ten years, at least, there has been a lot of illegal haulage of livestock. That was not without the knowledge of the Department and the people concerned. For a number of years many people have been prosecuted for illegal haulage of livestock and fined very large sums. I know of a few cases of people having been put out of business because of the imposition of a few heavy fines for illegal haulage of livestock. When the Minister was framing this legislation did he consider these people who have been harassed down the years? I suppose there is no redress for them, but those who remain in business will now be able to continue with a free hand.

I should like to cite the case of a cattle dealer who owned a lorry and went to a fair in the west of Ireland. He was unable to buy a full load for himself but a farmer friend asked him to carry a load of cattle home. He obliged, but was caught on the way home. Many farmers were so caught but many got away with it. He was fined £25 and costs and the man who employed him was fined another £25. To my mind, that was a grave injustice. This type of injustice should have been looked into long ago because CIE could not provide the lorries, particularly for the west of Ireland, on a given day.

Although I am glad to see that the Minister has decided to liberalise the transport of livestock, he should have gone a bit further and allowed farm produce to be exempt also. We have the case in harvest time of lorries being licensed by the buyers of wheat and the Department of Transport and Power to carry grain to the mills, but they are confined to a certain distance. If a farmer in County Meath is dealing with a seed merchant in Dublin and is outside the 15 mile range from the GPO in Dublin, he cannot send a lorry that is not his own lorry or a plated lorry. He cannot send one of these lorries until he gets a permit or during that particular time in the grain season. The Minister should also have included the transport of grain.

There is another aspect of the whole system on which I have felt very strongly for a long time, and that is the advent of Northern Ireland hauliers into the Republic of Ireland. I live in an area where there is a lot of this traffic. I live beside Gypsum Industries, who export a lot of their product to Northern Ireland. They had a fleet of lorries of their own some years ago hauling their products into the North of Ireland, but within the past five or six years all their trucks have been taken off the road and it has all been handed over to Northern hauliers.

In my time as a Member of Dáil Éireann I put down question to the then Minister for Transport and Power on this matter. He informed me at that time that this was a reciprocal arrangement between the Department of Transport and Power here and the Department in Northern Ireland. If my memory and my eyesight serve me right, I think the balance is all on the wrong side in this position. It is all very well for us to say that we will have "hands across the Border". Maybe it is the wrong time to talk about things like this. However, the fact remains that many people who were in employment driving lorries from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland hauling products for this particular firm, and many other firms that I know of, are now no longer employed in that category. This haulage is all being done by hauliers from the North of Ireland. I understand they are going all over the country. The Minister should take another look at this arrangement to see that we are not putting our people out of employment in the Republic of Ireland and employing people from outside.

We are very pleased to be able to do business with the people of Northern Ireland and I am quite sure that these firms are agreeable to do business with us, but I feel our first duty is to the employees in the Republic of Ireland to see that they are not displaced by these trucks coming in here and taking away their livelihood. I appeal to the present Minister for Transport and Power to have another look at this problem and see if there is anything that can be done about it to have, at least, equality, if not in favour the workers down here. I will have more to say on Committee Stage.

Again, I welcome the Bill. I hope the Minister will take some of the suggestions that have been put forward to liberalise this Bill further.

I, like other Senators, welcome this Bill and welcome especially the liberalisation of the haulage of cattle, sheep and pigs. However, the Minister should endeavour to make it a bit more liberal and include practically all farm produce. At present, I think turf is the only farm produce that can be transported by an unplated lorry without any danger of a summons or conviction. I think that is still covered by an emergency order. Grain and potatoes should also be included as well as cattle, sheep and pigs.

I should like to support what other Senators have said about the transport of ground limestone to the farmers. It is unfair that CIE should have a monopoly of this transport and that even the proprietor of the quarry can operate only one of his trucks for the transportation of lime. During the summer or the spring seasons you can see lime lorries travelling up to practically 12 o'clock at night. This involves extra expense on CIE because of the overtime paid to those drivers. If the ordinary plated lorry were allowed to operate, it would cut down the overhead expenses of CIE by a large amount.

I also think that county councils should be allowed to hire lorries within their own county if they cannot be supplied by the CIE or by the plated lorries organisation. It is unfair that unplated lorries can be employed by CIE to operate for any county council, provided they operate through the agency of CIE. These people's profits are low enough without having 12 or 15 per cent deducted from their cheques by CIE as an accounting expense. It is unfair. When they are allowed to operate under CIE's jurisdiction the local county council should be allowed to employ them themselves.

The Minister should also consider the type of machinery that is used in road making, such as the Shawneepool or the large dumper. The large dumper can go on to a road making job. It can transport clay from one section of the job to another, for example, where the side of a road has to be built up, without any fear of a summons or a conviction. However under the present transport regulations they are not allowed to transport gravel. Those machines are costly machines for the plant hirer. Since they are definitely a road making plant, and strictly used for that, they should be allowed to transport stones and gravel for the road making and not confined to the transportation of clay. Some experts are finding it difficult to distinguish at the present time whether it is clay or gravel the Shawneepool is transporting for road making purposes. I should like if the Minister would consider this matter.

I do not know whether I am in order here, but the Minister should seek the co-operation of the petrol and diesel oil firms, and of all those people who transport the bulk of their material by road in large tankers. Consideration should be given to the operation of some sort of shuttle service, such as operates in England, where these vehicles travel to their destinations during the night and the deliveries are made to the local pumps or local distribution points by day. That would ease a lot of the road hazards at present. Anybody leaving Dublin in the morning for the west when he gets as far as Chapelizod, finds in front of him four or five large lorries and probably some large tankers. For a mile behind there is a line of traffic that cannot pass out because of the narrowness of the road. This has the effect of causing traffic jams almost in the heart of the city and of causing a lot of traffic hazards. If the Minister could get the co-operation of these people, along with the people from the west and east, to transport a lot of material by road during the night hours and make deliveries by day it would ease the traffic congestion and the hazards created during the day.

I do not know if I am in order in drawing the Minister's attention to the great necessity for the subsidisation of the transport of material from the west of Ireland to the ports. It will be a very important aspect in the build-up of industrialisation in the west if the endeavours we are now making succeed. It is a great drawback to us in our approach to any industrialist whom we wish to set up an industry in the west if the cost of transport to the ports, and to the consumers in the east, is a deterrent. I would sincerely thank the Minister if he would give that matter serious thought.

We bring a lot of material from various parts of Ireland to the west by rail. About three-quarters of the wagons that come in loaded leave the stations in the west of Ireland on the following day or so empty. Those wagons have to be drawn out anyway. I would like the Minister to consider the provision of a free train a week from the various points of departure in west.

This is hardly relevant to this Bill, Senator.

Well, I am practically finished with the subject but I am glad that I have drawn it to the Minister's notice. We need this badly in the west of Ireland. Those are the few comments that I have to make on the Bill. I welcome the Bill and I am sorry that it did not come in 30 years ago. It would have done far more good to the people and to the community if it had been brought in instead of the 1927 Transport Act.

I, too, should like to welcome this Bill and to agree with other Senators who said that this type of Bill should have been introduced long ago. I am glad to learn that this is to be the first of many other measures to rationalise transport in the future. The one thing that everybody is sure of is that the methods that controlled licensed haulage in the past and which were designed to help CIE failed to do so. It is acknowledged everywhere that the reason for this failure was because sufficient forethought was not given before action was taken.

We have over-stocked our transport by the free enterprise idea of having self-owned transport facilities. There is underutilisation in this field. For that reason transport costs certainly must be harder to bear among the sectors which must use this, because somebody has to pay. With underutilisation there is always a very definite loss, particularly to the consumer who must utilise this particular transport. I hope that the rationalisation as far as it goes, and which the Minister now proposes, will have the effect of bringing down tonmile costs to the people who will have to use the transport. This is the hope of everybody here.

Apart from relaxing restrictions, a complete overhaul of the whole transport system is absolutely necessary. I suppose, under the rules of order, we cannot discuss CIE rail transport. If rail transport had been rationalised, if somebody had inquired into things happening in other countries with regard to the design of the type of rolling stock needed for modern transport we could have taken a lot of traffic off the roads. I fail to see why something was not done to ensure that oil depots, which used to be at railway stations, were not built in the modern way and a type of rail car designed which could be filled and operate at night so as to take the weight of traffic off our roads, a weight which is causing a traffic problem as well as a haulage one. At the same time, I see no reason why things should not be done as they are in America where a particular type of train is designed for carrying oil and which takes these huge tankers off the roads and at the same time allows the traffic flow to go at a greater rate without bottlenecks and hold-ups.

I hope I will be pardoned for digressing a little bit but this point should have been made. I blame CIE and everybody connected with CIE because they did not attempt in the past to give one thought to the rationalisation of their rail services so that the traffic on the roads would not be as chaotic as it is today.

I agree with Senator Garret when he says that in this rationalisation the Minister has shown that county councils are able to avail of lorries other than those of CIE. We all know of the situation where it is not always possible to get CIE transport and no hauliers can be used by the county councils for their daily work unless he comes via the CIE offices. They have a kind of licensing system of their own. CIE have fixed charges. County councillors at their estimates meetings have to consider the charges for hauling by road. They find that CIE will put in a fixed charge on tender and they will not vary that. As a matter of fact, if certain conditions are not complied with, the charges are automatically raised. We could get cheaper transport from people who have lorries of their own and we could do the county council work cheaper if this was allowed. I see no reason why a man who has a licensed truck within the county area should not be allowed work for county councils to haul road materials.

The Minister has made the point that there will be difficulties. Wherever rationalisation takes place it may hurt the people who are already in the business. I would not like to see any haulage operator hurt in this transitional period. It may also encourage people to rush in and buy trucks of various types at this particular time and afterwards they may be sorry for doing so.

With regard to the taxing of trucks, the Minister can say that he has very little to do with this. If there is a tremendous vehicle that will do damage to the road the only way to control this huge vehicle, which is bound to be there when the traffic is rationalised, is to ensure that it is taxed according to its real weight. We know that in the taxation for real weight there are many ways by which people can shed some of the weight when they go to the local authority for taxation purposes. I hope that that kind of thing will be looked after.

Set the handicapper after them.

The Minister referred to roll-on, roll-off traffic. This type of ship-borne vehicle freight traffic is something that will increase and grow, and every method that can be adopted to rationalise and free this type of traffic should be considered. I hope that the Minister will ensure that there will be no hold-ups in this particular type of traffic and that he will do everything he can to facilitate people who will engage in this trade and buy the type of truck to carry a container. At the moment containers are leaving Ballyhaunis, going across on the ferry to England and arriving in London some time the following morning and returning again. The only trouble about it is that, unless the system is more rationalised and unless haulage on the return load is authorised, it will mean that the costs involved in the transport of the one-way load will inhibit the growth of this particular type of traffic. I should like to see a situation in which a container sent out with meat products, or other types of products, would be utilised in taking a return load from either the Continent or Britain. I hope the Minister and his Department will ensure that in future every encouragement will be given to this type of traffic. The design of our roads—something with which the Minister has nothing to do—should in the future take into consideration that we are going to have this form of transport.

Again, Sir, I welcome the Bill and I hope that it will be followed by many other Bills to bring complete rationalisation into transport.

I should like to thank the Seanad for a very constructive debate on this measure.

Senator Russell welcomed the Bill and spoke about the question of regulating the size of vehicles. Senator Jack Fitzgerald, at a later stage, referred to this matter, too, and the pressure of the heavier type vehicle on roads. This of course, is a matter for the Minister for Local Government. However, I am not just side-stepping the matter and I will deal with it here. I know that the road traffic code enables the Minister to make whatever regulations he may wish in regard to safety and size and all aspects relating to road vehicles, and I am aware that this matter is under very active consideration by him.

Senator Russell made another proposal which I do not think is practicable, that is the question of giving grants to private enterprise road hauliers. The whole spirit of this measure is designed to ensure greater competition; the development of a more professional approach to road haulage and transport in this country; to generate competitiveness and thereby reduce costs so as to ensure that our internal transport system will be efficient, and to ensure that our exports will be thereby more competitive also in regard to the transport element in them.

Furthermore, if we see the development of a professional road haulage industry here, where you have proper safety precautions, proper vehicles, properly paid employees, this is all to the good: this is what we want to see. I do not think there is any need in this type of situation to budget for the payment of grants.

Senator Crinion made the very valid point that this measure is, in fact, legitimising a position that has existed in practice in regard to the haulage of cattle, sheep and pigs. As the law stands, as Senator Crinion says, we have been making law-breakers out of people who are, in my view, legitimately engaged, although contrary to existing statute, in the haulage of cattle, sheep and pigs, from fair to fair and from mart to mart. This practice developed to the extent that it was, to use the phrase, making an ass of the law, and it is only right that this should be legitimised and put into perspective. This is what the Bill proposes to do in regard to cattle, sheep and pigs.

Senator Crinion and other Senators mentioned the question of extending this concession to horses. This is all right up to a point, but how do you differentiate between horses? I have had to strike a balance here between the interests of the various people involved—the interest of the public first of all, of the economy, of the farming community, of trade union employees, of CIE and the interest of existing licensed hauliers. This is why the Bill is a middle course reform measure but at the same time not designed to prejudice any of the legitimate interests that are already involved in transport.

This is where the bloodstock situation comes in—in regard to horses— that, first of all, one cannot differentiate between types of horse and, secondly, there is a very substantial section of CIE devoted to the specialised carriage of bloodstock, at present, where they give an excellent service to the industry; where there are people employed who are specialised in this particular type of transportation, and where there would be disemployment if we extended this particular exemption in regard to livestock to horses or bloodstock. I have therefore decided against that. I might say that CIE have offered to the bloodstock breeders the concession of plating, as the phrase is, allowing unlicensed owners who have transport to carry bloodstock on local hauls of a limited nature.

Senator Jack Fitzgerald raised the question about the road situation in regard to heavier trucks and this is a matter that has been taken up by the Minister for Local Government. The Senator also—and I was very glad to hear him say this because it refers back to what I have just been talking about —referred to the fact that in practice this measure will not affect CIE employment. I was very concerned about this all through. I met the trade union interest concerned and the fact is that the trade union interest accept the fact that as far as the livestock specified are concerned there will be no disemployment, but any extension beyond that would mean disemployment.

This brings me on to the point made by Senator McGowan and it is relevant to what I have been saying. He, and indeed other speakers here as well as in the Dáil, suggested that this concession should be extended to the transportation of lime and, as Senator McGowan suggested, potatoes, beet, vegetables, greyhounds, poultry, fish, oats and barley. All of these have been suggested at various stages during the debates in the Dáil and here. My answer to that is: where do you end when you start this?

In regard to the point made by Senator Gallanagh about milk being brought to a creamery, this is free of the road transport legislation. The same applies to wheat agents.

In regard to the other matters mentioned, we are in this measure extending the whole haulage system to a number of operators who will now have freedom of operation in the Twenty-six Counties without restriction to commodity or weight. In effect, this means that, along with the 860 vehicles owned by CIE, there will be 840 other vehicles owned by private enterprise, who will be roughly in a 50:50 position of competition against them and who will have unrestricted and unlimited freedom of action throughout the Twenty-six Counties.

Senator Reynolds asked for complete decontrol in this field. I indicated in my introductory speech on the Second Stage that this, in my view, will be the ultimate result of legislation. This legislation is a preparatory measure designed to see how this freeing-out process will work. In the future, if it is necessary to go further in the way of decontrol I would be all in favour of it. I am all for liberalisation and competition in this field but, at the same time, one must move with reason and ensure that the existing legitimate interests I have already mentioned are not torpedoed overnight, as it were. The very fact that one is extending the licensing system within the private enterprise sector to this extent —instead of having 100 or so 26 County licensees, one is now going to have 840 26 County licensees—is a substantial leap forward to ensure competition and to ensure that there will be hauliers available, both State and private enterprise, in every part of the country who will be entitled to haul in any part of the country and that there will be free mobility with regard to the sale and purchase of these licences. It will also ensure that they will not be centred in any particular areas, as happened heretofore, or limited in any degree, so that from Donegal to Cork one will be able to purchase a licence and establish oneself in any part of the country where the business opportunity occurs.

I think that meets the point made by a number of Senators with regard to extending the scope of the Bill to allow for further exemptions other than cattle, sheep and pigs. In fact, with the sort of competition which I envisage from the figures I have mentioned, there will be ample scope for professional hauliers to do this business without a need for exemptions. There will be ample scope for competition and, in that context, I do not see much point in developing the exemptions beyond the level of livestock. I may say that in the very nature of the transportation involved in cattle, sheep and pigs, where timing is important and where various day and night hours are involved, there is an immediacy involved which does not apply in regard to the transport of lime, grain, fish, potatoes, beet, vegetables and so on which are all dead goods, as it were. The transport of these goods can be organised on a reasonably scheduled basis but livestock are in a particular category of their own and are rightly exempted here.

Senator Farrelly mentioned the point about the North of Ireland arrangement in regard to haulage. The point I have just made is relevant here, too. Once you have 840-odd licences operating, these will all be able to operate contiguous to the Border. Senator Farrelly complained that Northern Ireland operators coming south have an advantage at present. This point is valid having regard to the situation at present where we have a very limited number of licences contiguous to the Border. Now we will have 840 licences—apart from CIE— here who will have the right to operate into the Six Counties and operate throughout the country. The whole matter has been put on a more competitive basis and if the haulage operators here, with this type of concession and with this type of arrangement, are competitive enough they will be able to deal with the North of Ireland competition. It will be their business to deal with that competition. I wish them good luck and I hope they will be able to deal with that competition in a competitive manner. The criticism Senator Farrelly mentioned here is more relevant to the situation that now exists and which we hope will no longer exist once this Bill becomes law.

The point was made about local authorities in regard to the haulage by lorries of road making materials. Local authorities can hire any licensed haulier. There appears to be some misapprehension here. CIE, as a subcontracting arrangement, can arrange for the "plating" of unlicensed hauliers. This has been their practice over the years. It is just a matter of business operations and enables CIE to fill a gap, as it were, where they have been hired to do a job by a local authority and may not be able to supply the required number of vehicles to do the job in a given period of time. In that type of situation they are entitled, or empowered, to plate an unlicensed vehicle for the particular operation.

I should like to turn now to the general principles in the Bill which are, fundamentally, very straightforward. These principles are (a) to face the reality with regard to livestock, and to decontrol livestock, cattle, sheep and pigs from any form of restriction whatever; (b)—this is, in my view, the most important aspect of the Bill and is the real reason behind it, although the matter I have just mentioned has got a lot of publicity—the overcapitalisation in Ireland by people in haulage, particularly in own-account haulage. We have far too many trucks in this country which are underutilised and which cost business people and firms far too much money by reason of the underutilisation of these lorries. As far as business and industry, small and big, are concerned there is far too much money invested in haulage plant having regard to the needs and the resources of the country.

What we want to do here is to build up a really efficient private enterprise transport arm. I would envisage this Bill helping towards the development of a number of efficient private enterprise firms in the haulage industry. We would hope these would reduce costs and would be proper professional haulage firms, in the best sense of the word, giving the maximum service that can be given by such a professionally organised company and giving the maximum service to business, industry and agriculture generally. This is what we would like to achieve and this is the whole purpose of the Bill. It will be very interesting to see how it eventually turns out. If further legislation is necessary in this direction I will see that it will be brought in. This Bill should go a long way towards meeting this objective.

It is outrageous to think that we have a situation at the moment where over 81 per cent of our haulage here is own-account haulage. This figure is about 30 per cent above the British average. It is far more ahead of the Common Market and the American average. We must reduce this wasteful investment by business people and by industry in own-account haulage in trucks and lorries that are underutilised and staffed by people who are also underutilised and we must instead develop a proper professional transport arm. This is the real purpose of the Bill and that 81 per cent own-account haulage figure will go down rapidly when we are in a position in which 840 Twenty-six County licences can be amalgamated, merged into various forms of companies, firms, partnerships and organisations that would be actively competing against the other 50 per cent State-owned organisations.

This is also good for the State-owned organisations. It is a happy coincidence that the percentage is roughly 50:50, so that we will have a legitimate competitive situation between private enterprise and public enterprise in this highly competitive field. It is very necessary to be competitive in this field as we move towards the EEC because by reason of our situation on the very fringe of Europe it is all important, so far as our competitiveness is concerned, to have our transportation system organised as efficiently as possible. It is far more imperative for us to be efficient in this field than any other country in the Common Market or those seeking entry to the EEC.

I thank the Senators for the welcome given to the Bill and that, if there is any matter which occurs to Senators between now and the Committee Stage whereby the Bill can be improved, I shall be glad to hear their views and take cognisance of them on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10th March, 1971.