With my colleagues I am opposing this Bill as a most reactionary measure. It is very clear from the statements that have been made on all sides of the House that this Bill has got a very bad reception, and it is fairly evident that the Minister has been disappointed with the reception which the Bill has received, and, to a great extent, that accounts, in my opinion, for his attitude throughout the course of this debate. It will be within the recollection of Deputies that some time ago, when the need for some solution of the railway problem was making itself apparent to everybody, a Bill was introduced by Deputy Johnson, as Chairman of the Labour Party, entitled a "Transport and Communications Bill." That Bill, when it was introduced to the House, had a very good reception all round. It received, I think, the blessings of Deputies of every party. I hope I do not misrepresent Deputy Cooper —a very old Parliamentary hand— when I quote him as saying of the Bill that it was an exceedingly valuable contribution to legislation. That measure was rejected by the majority of the Dáil, and the Railways Act, 1924, as it subsequently became, was substituted. To-day we have learned from the Minister that that Bill was full of mistakes. I suggest to members of the Government, and to the majority of the Deputies of this House who rejected the Transport and Communications Bill after it had received all this praise from the different sections of the House, that the fact that a very poor substitute for it found its place on the Statute Book does not reflect very much credit on the Government or on the majority of the Deputies of this House. We have had, within a very short space of time, amending legislation in regard to two measures. We had, some time ago, a Bill to amend the Shops Act, passed a short time before, and now we have this Bill to amend the Railways Act, passed likewise a short time ago. I suggest to the Minister and to the Government that if that practice is continued they will be bringing the Dáil down to the level of a board of guardians, where resolutions are passed at one meeting and rescinded at the next. I put it to the Minister that it does not make for the dignity of the Dáil and does not make for the prestige of the Government responsible that this line of action should be pursued.
We had a good deal of condemnation —very just condemnation—of retrospective legislation this evening. It will be remembered that some time ago a Bill was introduced by the Minister for Finance to deal with the pensions of public officials who came into conflict with the Dáil in pre-Truce days. That Bill, I submit, was very much on the same lines as the Bill we are discussing to-night. It sought to filch from certain ex-public servants pensions already granted them. There was such a volume of criticism directed at that measure here that the Minister found it wise to withdraw it. I suggest to the Minister for Industry and Commerce that he should take the same course as his colleague in regard to this Bill.
I gathered from the Minister's speech to-day that this Bill was introduced to rectify some mistakes in the original Act in regard to the amount of compensation and pensions that certain officials got. I was rather surprised to hear the revelations that Deputy Davin made afterwards in regard to the salaries of certain officials. If it is a fact—and it was not contradicted, I think—that since the railway amalgamation scheme came into force a large number of highly-paid officials of the Great Southern Railway Company received salaries representing an increase of 100 per cent. over their former salaries, does it not appear clear to the Minister that it is cruel and entirely unjust to attack the position of the inferior servants of the company— those who are, at all events, inferior as regards wages? Because a few comparatively poorly-paid officials benefited by the mistakes the Government made in their legislation, it is sought to rush a Bill here to worsen the position of the men. I suggest to the Minister that that is not a reasonable line to take. If mistakes were made in a few cases. they are the responsibility of the Government, and the Dáil should not be asked to pass legislation to worsen the position of these men on the plea that the Railway Company is losing at present and has lost heavily during the past twelve months. The Minister did not say that the Company could not pay, but he mentioned that there was serious loss on the Great Southern Railways during the year. I inferred that that was an argument to us to pass this Bill—that the finances of the Railway Company were in a precarious condition.
It is very remarkable that, during the course of this debate, hardly one voice has been raised in support of the Bill. That is a departure from what we have been accustomed to here for a long time. I think it is a decidedly healthy sign, and it is certainly very encouraging to find that a Bill of this kind has created the feeling, even in this calm atmosphere, that this Bill has created this evening.
Deputy Davin mentioned in the course of his speech that the Railway Companies, before this Bill was introduced, sent to the Minister a copy of a Bill that they wanted introduced. I infer from that that there is a possibility that the Bill we are discussing now is the Bill the Railway Companies wanted introduced, or is modelled on it. That seems to me to be decidedly unfair, in view of the fact that there were two parties to the whole matter, and that one party, which was very deeply interested, was ignored.
I am not satisfied with the attitude the Minister has taken up in regard to the retrospective clauses. I regret the grudging attitude he has adopted in his half-hearted withdrawal of these clauses. I am very suspicious of the Minister so far as working-class people are concerned. He has unfortunately not a high reputation so far as the workers are concerned. I do not think he is going to add to his reputation by pressing this Bill on the people. I suggest to him that he might consider retrieving to some degree, his reputation among the working-class people of this country—who are not, after all, an inconsiderable section—and I suggest to him that the proper and reasonable way to do that is to drop this Bill absolutely to-night.