Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 16 Jul 1931

Vol. 39 No. 17

Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1931—Money Resolution (Resumed).

The Dáil went into Committee on Finance.
Motion by Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. McGilligan):
That for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to amend the Electricity (Supply) Acts, 1927 to 1930, it is expedient to authorise the advance out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof of such sums, not exceeding in the aggregate Two Million Pounds, as the Minister for Industry and Commerce shall from time to time certify to be reasonably and properly required by the Electricity Supply Board for any purpose arising in the performance of its functions under the Electricity (Supply) Acts, 1927 to 1930."
Debate resumed on following amendment:—
"To delete all words from and including the words `Two Million Pounds' to the figures `1930' and substitute the words `one million, one hundred thousand pounds, as may be required by the Electricity Supply Board for any purpose arising in the performance of its functions under Section 12 (3) of the Electricity Supply Act, 1927.' " (Mr. Lemass.)

When the House adjourned last night I was pointing out the extreme difficulty there is in getting a simple answer, or what seems to be a simple answer, to a perfectly simple question, and how much it depends upon the form in which the question is put as to how the answer can be given. In the thirty-second interruption made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce in the speech of Deputy Lemass he has given us an epigram which I hope will go into the currency of this House. He said, "The truth depends upon the way it is said." We were dealing with the question of whether or not, because the Minister had appointed a Board, he could be held responsible for every defect, and what defects, in the conduct of that Board. We had reached the stage of recognising that in relation to a Board of seven two people had been dismissed; that one of the people who had been dismissed was a person who had previously "been put propositions" which required his resignation; who had been told, and who, this House has been told, would, if he had not resigned, been dismissed; and who was reappointed by this Minister after this Minister had told him that he was incompetent to perform the functions for which he was appointed, with a gratuity of £1,250, to continue on a Board in which his previous conduct had been such that the Minister had effected his resignation, would have demanded his dismissal, and said he was incompetent. We had reached the stage of saying that the Minister who had reappointed such a man whom he had so defined could not escape the responsibility for any further acts or defect of such a member. We had further examined the case of three of the remaining five members who had been appointed as part-time or ticket-of-leave members, in spite of the fact that they have declared publicly, have declared to the Chamber of Commerce of Cork, for one place, that they were severally and collectively responsible for every major decision upon policy which was taken, and which constituted what the Minister has declared to be a most hopeless and impossible mess. We had reached the stage of saying that the Minister, who had in good faith and after proper examination appointed men to take a part in an independent Board, so long as they performed their function within the Act, and so long as it was within his knowledge that they were competent people, was not to be held responsible for the defects; that the Minister, who had appointed and reappointed men, whom he had declared to be incompetent, or who themselves declared themselves to be responsible for what the Minister said was a complete mess, had a responsibility that was a continuing and inescapable responsibility.

Let us go back for a moment upon the history of this Board. If I have ever used strong language in relation to politics, I have used it in commendation of the Minister in relation to the setting up of this Board, the ingenuity, the broadmindedness, and the foresight which he showed in constituting that Board, and the frankness and the clearness with which he has declared its independence to this House. Such a Board was set up, independent under the Act. "When this Board is set up I wash my hands of it," said the Minister, "I have nothing further to do with it." By that means the Minister effected two things. First, he gave something in the nature of a simulacrum of private enterprise and private management to a big State concern. The second thing he did was to remove from the purview of this Dáil and from day-to-day criticism in relation to its activities of the members of this Dáil, that Board and its activities. In my opinion two very excellent things, very excellently and well done. The Minister constituted the Board. Of whom did that Board consist? This perfectly independent Board, which was now clear of supervision and criticism by this House, consisted of the closest possible friend and associate of the President of the Executive Council, an old colleague, a life-long friend, Town Clerk and Treasurer of the City of Dublin, Mr. J.J. Murphy. It consisted of Dr. Thomas McLaughlin, then in the closest possible association and intimate relation with the Minister for Industry and Commerce. These two people might be regarded as alternatives practically to the two Ministers whom I have mentioned. It consisted of Mr. J.C. Foley, then the king pin of Cumann na nGaedheal in the City of Cork. It consisted of Mr. Patrick Egan, an old friend and school-fellow of mine, an ex-Parliamentary Secretary to Cumann na nGaedheal, and a defeated candidate of Cumann na nGaedheal at the last General Election. It consisted of Dr. Kennedy, Secretary to the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, and brother-in-law of the Minister for Agriculture. If you could pack a board, which was independent, with a personnel more directly calculated to be in close and intimate and exact touch, and to be representative of the feelings and emotions of that Government, tighter than that, I take off my hat to you as a very clever person.

I am emphasising the political associations, the personal associations of these men, not for the purpose of attacking them, but for the opposite purpose. What I am now saying I have said in several places and before now. I am not saying this ad hoc. I am saying it to emphasise the fact that this House owes to those men for the independence they have shown of that association, thanks and credit. What was now the position? You had a Board cut away from and independent of this Dáil. You had a Board packed as tight as a sardine can with the personal associates of the Ministry. The Ministry had it both ways. Now, was that the scheme? And did that scheme break down? Did they create a Frankenstein without thinking of it? The facts are inescapable.

What is the further history? These gentlemen are all responsible men, are all politically opposed to myself as far as I know their politics. I have no reason whatever to hold a brief for them, or to speak a word in their favour, but from the day on which they were appointed they acted as responsible men who, being offered a great opportunity and great responsibility, as far as was in them rose to that opportunity and accepted that responsibility. They had an Act of this Dáil. They had a charter under which they were to work, and it is in evidence that from the day they came together as a corporate body they took that charter as their orders from this Dáil, independent of party and politics, and that they tried to carry it out, not merely in the letter, but in the spirit of the independence which this Dáil and the Minister for Industry and Commerce in their very great wisdom and patriotism created this Board. You have heard earlier in this debate the first incident in the history of that Board; they met and decided that they should set up an organisation. They asked for money. In accordance with the Act they sent in a request, nay, a demand for money to the Ministry for Finance, a demand which that Ministry is not accustomed to receive. That is a body which every member of this State and Ministers of this State and this Dáil itself must approach "with bated breath and whispering humbleness."

It seems this particular Board, taking this charter as meant to mean in reality what it was upon the face of it, went there as of right and demanded money. And after their right to do so had been questioned they got it. But a straw shows how the wind blows and that was the first straw that showed where the gale blew that has wreeked the Electricity Supply Board. From that good day to this the fight has been on by the officials of the Ministry of Finance to get control of, to sap the independence, and to break that independent body, which was showing the way and the line upon which other independent activities in this State could be developed without their consent, without being submitted to them in every possible detail.

"The Daily Express" of Saturday last, in what I have frankly to say is a very well informed article, comments as follows:—

When I discussed Mr. McGilligan's disclosures with a prominent official of the Ministry of Finance to-day he said to me: "The public has always been clamouring for the introduction of business men into State controlled or semi-State controlled activities and undertakings. I hope that the latest episode in the industrial life of the Free State will teach the public a different lesson."

That is the issue. The Ministry of Finance over all! How dare the business men of this country, how dare the ordinary people of this country, how dare the people who pay the salaries to the people to whom the Minister for Finance is the over-paid office boy— how dare they! The impudence and the insolence of the suggestion that we who provide the income of the State, that we who are the State, should dare to be associated with an enterprise of a State or semi-State character! Surely this Dáil and country will learn a lesson from the success which has attended the efforts of the Ministry of Finance to smash the most promising industrial experiment that has ever been tried in this State.

I turn now to the history of the particular Estimate which you have before you. There was introduced for Second Reading, the other day, the Electricity (Supply) Bill, and in that it was claimed that the Minister should be provided with a sum of two million pounds, or rather that this State should provide two million pounds which the Minister for Finance should issue to the Electricity Supply Board as and when and how the Minister for Industry and Commerce shall specify. The tragic recollection of that debate will be in the mind of this House. But what will not be in the recollection of the House is that the Minister for Industry and Commerce told it what the two millions were for. On that subject we received no information, except negatively. Every member who spoke put up to the Minister for Industry and Commerce a problem in subtraction and asked him what he was going to do with the remainder. Deputy Lemass, Deputy Thrift, Deputy O'Connell, Deputy Briscoe, myself, everybody who spoke put up to the Minister in set terms the same problem in subtraction. Everybody in turn said: "There is £850,000 that we know of as a liability. That money has got to be found. What are you going to do with the remainder of the two millions?" I turn to column 1656 of the Official Debates for the 8th July, 1931, and to a speech in which Deputy Lemass said:

He said, as far as he had been able to discover, the Board had overspent to the amount of £600,000, and that it had entered into liabilities amounting to a quarter of a million pounds, and that if we add those figures on to the original £2,500,000 we get a total of what it has been responsible for, taking into account the undischarged liablities of the undertaking, but the Minister has not accounted for the balance of the two million pounds.

Therefore Deputy Lemass had put the £850,000 figure to the Minister and asked him to account for the balance. In the twenty-second interruption made by the Minister to Deputy Lemass in that speech he said: "I cannot." In column 1657 Deputy Lemass said:

That accounts for £850,000. Under the circumstances the Dáil cannot refuse to give that £850,000, but what about the £1,150,000 the Minister is asking the Dáil for?

In the twenty-fourth interruption the Minister said: "Accruing liabilities and developments."

"Mr. Lemass: What developments?

"Mr. McGilligan: The Board has other liabilities that have been mentioned.

"Mr. Lemass: I am anxious to get from the Minister information that he does not seem anxious to give.

"Mr. McGilligan: Because I cannot get it from the Board."

The Minister says that he cannot get it from the Board and he is not in a position to reconcile the difference between £850,000 and two millions. He is not able to account for the difference of £1,150,000, because he has no information from the Board. That is typical of what went through the whole debate. Though the Minister 116 times interrupted without protest two speeches delivered from this side which continuously referred to that figure, though he continuously interrupted every Deputy who was speaking who was dealing with these figures, and though he made his speech at the beginning and his speech at the end, he never disclosed to the House what he was going to do with the balance of £1,125,000 of the two millions. He never told the House that the £825,000 was not included in that sum. Now the whole debate the other day on every side went on the basis that that money had to be found. I will quote what Deputy Thrift said:

I do not see how anyone can get behind that. It has been stated that firms are waiting to bring the Electricity Supply Board into court. They cannot get their accounts paid. We cannot stand for that. I think every Deputy will admit that we must provide the money which is required to enable the Board to pay its debts.

The Deputy went on:

The whole issue, it seems to me, is that a sum must be provided. The debts must be paid.

He went on to estimate on the same basis, allowing £300,000 for reserve over and above the amount, that with the £850,000 there is required a million and a quarter to discharge that liability. Deputy O'Connell does the same. Why did the Minister not disclose? Why did he allow the whole debate to go on that basis and never disclose that he intended to invent at a later date a perfectly different series of figures to cover the two millions? There has been no hint in the whole of the debate, in the hundreds of his interruptions or in his two speeches, that there was any other basis for that except to do something over and above paying that £825,000. In a speech made by the Minister on the Electricity Act of 1929 he said: "There is one phrase I want remembered against Deputy Flinn. It is that he has said that I have not been frank." In July, 1931, I say that the Minister has not merely not been frank, but has been of careful and deliberate calculation, reticent of the truth and suggestive of what is false.

Now let us turn to the next stage of that particular estimate. It was mentioned in the motion we are now discussing that two million pounds was required. He had behind him the whole of the debate, the whole of the misunderstanding of every member of the House—if we put it that way— the result of the deliberate deception of the House by the Minister in the whole debate.

The Deputy knows these words are disorderly.

Well, we will withdraw them then. We will leave the facts to speak for themselves. Yet, what did the Minister do? Not one single word of introduction! Deputy Lemass was permitted to rise and move his amendment. Deputy O'Connell and others were permitted to talk to their amendments under the impression, under which he had allowed the House to remain, throughout the whole of the most significant debate which has taken place in the Dáil. No disclosure! Then he produces for us a sheet of paper. I think in this particular case he did quote from a document and I think it is time that that document was tabled, with the date of its preparation, with the names of those responsible for it and with the history of its excogitation ad hoc. He gives a series of items which he admits are utterly indefinite but which are interchangeable. Any sum in this can be changed into any other category. A sum of £270,000 for the acquisition of the electrical undertakings of certain unnamed towns can be interchangeable with the stand-by plant in the Pigeon House, in Fleet Street, or in improved transmission. The only thing that is at all interesting and of the faintest significance in relation to this document is that it does total up, roughly speaking, two millions of additional money in relation to a scheme which was supposed to cost £2,500,000. That was the whole fund on which the Electricity Supply Board were to live and develop their lines. We have added overnight the sum of two million pounds under a whole series of headings. On what authority? Has the Board met? Have the ticket-of-leave part-timers been consulted about this? Have they been called to the meeting at which it was considered?

No answer.

I do not want an answer. What is the responsibility behind the statement? Is it that of an ex-principal officer of the Revenue Department? Is that the electrical expert who has laid down a scheme of two million pounds for us to be spent in addition to the £2,500,000 scheme which the Minister says is in a hopeless mess? Does anyone suggest that the particular and peculiar qualifications of the Revenue Department constitute a man entitled to say that, of two millions, £133,000 shall be segregated for improved transmission, for the improvement of supply, for the stand-by plant in the Pigeon House and Fleet Street, while £37,000 shall be spent on the reconstruction of net works in new areas? Is there any suggestion whatever that behind this Estimate there is any qualified opinion so long as it is the opinion of that particular officer? Mind, he is a very estimable official. He was so estimable and so efficient in charge of what you might call the shock troops of the Income Tax Department that that Department had to be dissolved in the interests of the Cumann na nGaedheal Government— that is very greatly to his credit. He was doing the job he was paid for. He was doing a job he knew, but what is his competence to tell this Dáil how to spend two million pounds on the further development of the electricity supply of this country?

The only other person upon that Board is Mr. Fay. I know nothing about him except that he is not an electrical engineer. Now you know why the Minister comes with a great sense of uneasiness and disquiet to put before us an estimate for two million pounds, put forward in the name of a Board, which, as far as I know, did not meet to pass it, and certainly could not possibly have met to give it the consideration which was necessary to enable it to be put forward responsibly, and which is now put forward through a Minister who does not profess to know anything about either engineering or electricity by an inner corps of that body, neither of whom—and I say it with all respect to them—can reasonably be produced in this House as a competent authority to advise this House in the sound economic engineering expenditure of two millions of money on the distribution system of the Irish Free State.

I said we have no date. We have no authority, but that is only the beginning of the indictment. It is indefinite in time and in detail. The Minister complained the other day that the Electricity Supply Board had used such a phrase as "a reasonable programme." He said he did not know the meaning of "a reasonable programme." One of his complaints, I think, was that they had not defined "a reasonable programme," but the Minister tells us this will be expended in "a reasonable time," and any item of it can be transferred to any other heading.

In my opinion there has been a complete change in the Minister's mind and in the Minister's information in relation to this two million pounds between the time he demanded it under a Bill and the time he produced this ad hoc computation of the amount under a financial resolution. Let us take, for instance, Deputy Thrift. Deputy Thrift says: “We cannot stand for not having their accounts paid. I think every Deputy must admit that we must provide the money which is required to enable the Board to pay its debts. The whole issue, it seems to me, is that a sum must be provided. The debts must be paid.” Will Deputy Thrift find in this computation of two million pounds, in favour of which he has got to go into the Lobby with the Minister or the Government falls, payment for the debts? The one thing upon which every member of the House was agreed was that an amount must be provided and provided immediately—whatever the amount might be—which would meet the liquid debts of that institution, that the bailiffs must be got out of the place, that the writs must be got out of the place, that the E.S.B. must not have to send £10 in cash with a £10 order to a foreign firm. That is what we did agree to. Yet, what does the Minister say? The Minister says: “As to the debts, I have got nothing to do with them.”“He hopes they will be paid, but he takes no responsibility for them.” What does the House think of that? We were asking what he was going to do with £1,125,000 after he had paid the debts. He says: “I have made no provision for the debts, but I have got a scheme here which, over a period which I shall not say and under a segregation I cannot stand over, on an authority I shall not declare, some time, somehow the money may or not be spent.” If that is the kind of way this State thinks it can get on with its finances it is certainly well represented by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

In my opinion, that document is a on the face of it. I believe it was created ad hoc. I believe that the items were made to total up to an arbitrary figure. I believe there is no engineering, no scientific, no economic, no administrative and no financial authority behind that particular segregation of that particular sum. It is on that ground that I say to the House that they must not vote that sum unless and until they are satisfied that that sum, or whatever sum they do vote, has behind it an authority which this fake lacks.

Under what conditions are you asked to give a judgment on this matter? Are you asked to give a judgement in the spirit of responsible men handling the finances, for which you are responsible, of the State to which you belong, with a clear responsibility to do what is right without fear of consequences? No. You are told that if you do not vote this precise sum, in this precise way, then, the Minister for Industry and Commerce will cease to function in this matter. In fact he will cease to function as Minister for Industry and Commerce. That is the threat, and you had better face up to it. You may be prepared to accept that challenge. You may be prepared to accept the consequences of that challenge, or you may not be prepared to do so. You may say that Patrick McGilligan, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, and as Minister for External Affairs, is so valuable to this country, and so irreplaceable in Europe, that you are not prepared to take that responsibility. That is a position which you are entitled to take up. You are entitled to say that two million pounds is better thrown down the gutter than that this State, and this Continent should lose the services of such a man. But that is the only ground so far as I can see at the moment, as disclosed by any explanations given by him, as instinct in any internal evidence in the document itself, which would induce you to do so. There may be an alternative. What may happen may be the elimination of the Minister from Industry and Commerce while he would still remain as Minister for External Affairs. That matchless tact, that kindliness of disposition, that genius and diplomacy which he has shown in this matter, will no longer be wasted in the narrow sphere of the Electricity Supply Board, but will be a present and a tribute to the whole world.

With maiden palms he lifted up

The sick world's blood embittered cup

And in his maiden garment furled

The faint limbs of a wounded world.

You can take that risk. Are you going to deny Europe, at this most critical hour of her life the whole-time service of Patrick McGilligan, Minister for External Affairs? Of Course, there is a risk. There is the very grave risk, the almost cosmic risk that you may lose him in that capacity as well as in the capacity of Industry and Commerce if you decline to face up to his threat and give him £2,000,000 of other peoples money to play the fool with in the same way as he has played the fool with every other sum of money which has been put in his possession.

Now let us deal with the amendments. The first amendment was that this money should be segregated to the purposes of Section 3 of Article 12 of the Act of 1927. In that particular case, I think the defence put up by the Minister was a good defence. I think there is a lot to be said for it. He says: "I accept in principle this amendment but there may be doubtful cases on the edge which it may be necessary to deal with." There may be a certain number of questions, he says, on the fringe with which he would be enabled to deal if he was not held up in this manner, while he does give the assurance to the House that as long as he occupies his present position and the clouds do not fall upon us, he will, broadly speaking, act in the spirit of the amendment I think that Deputy Lemass might very well consider that and see whether the position could not be met. The second amendment was to limit this money specifically to such purposes and to prevent its being used for Shannon works and things of that kind—to prevent any portion of it being used, for instance, to pay Siemens Schuckert for that portion of the underestimated expenditure for which the Minister or his successor will have to come to this Dáil.

The Minister's answer to that is that under the Act it will be illegal for him to use any of this money for that purpose. In the ordinary way, were we dealing with an ordinary Government and with people who had shown a less reckless disregard of the written laws which they themselves had passed, that would be an absolutely inescapable defence. He says, "I am not allowed in law to use this money in such a way, and, therefore, it is unnecessary to prohibit." Unfortunately, that is not a sound argument in relation to this Government. The Minister has on his records that he did take surreptitiously out of the Contingency Fund a sum of £10,000, that he did hand that money over to private individuals for a purpose for which he was not authorised to use contingency money, that he did surreptitiously put back into that fund the sum of £5,000 being part of that money returned by conscientious people who thought that he was wasting it, and then had to come to the Dáil for misusing, technically mis-using, that money. In my opinion, that was a purely technical misuse.

We have always felt that in entering upon that particular scheme the Minister did it with good faith and with good intentions, and when he did come to the Dáil for absolution in the matter we not merely gave him absolution, but something more— benediction as well. But the House has to recognise that he did do that with moneys which he was not entitled to use for that purpose. Deputies have to take into account that this particular Government, of which he was a member—I am only giving this as an illustration—when it got a grant from this Dáil of £12,000 for a specific purpose, did, in fact, turn surplus funds it had under other headings to the extent, I think, of £247,000, to the giving of gratuities and pensions to able-bodied supporters of theirs.

Now on that record the Minister is not entitled to say that money which is in his hands for a specific purpose will not and must be assumed not to be liable to be used for any other purpose. Further, we have to face the fact in relation to this Act, whose amendment we are now discussing—the 1927 Electricity Supply Act—that the Minister has threatened to come to this House and, over the heads of the Electricity Supply Board, to alter the law as defined to them by their legal advisers, to take from them and from their legitimate use under that Act the sum of £835,000, which under the law was segregated for that purpose. Deputies have to face the fact that in the last few days we have discussed in this House a Finance Bill, in which it was declared by this Dáil that the law in relation to certain financial transactions "was and was to be deemed always to have been" the exact opposite to what the courts of this country had stated it was. Under these circumstances there is no what you may call prima facie case for the Minister to say, "My record is so clean, I am so virtuous in relation to financial affairs, I am so upright, that the mere fact that the law compels me to remain upright, is sufficient reason for not examining into the question as to whether further safeguards can be provided." The further safeguard is provided in the declaration made in the debate by the Minister, a declaration which will stymie him when the time comes to play tricks with it, the declaration that this money is not to be used for this purpose, which will prevent him coming to the Dáil or going to the Electricity Supply Board or to the Department of Finance and saying: "The obvious intention of the Dáil was the exact opposite to what the Act says, and therefore it must be done as I want it." The only safeguard that we have is that we have on the records means to convict the Minister of flagrant dishonesty and illegality if he does, in fact, malversate this particular money.

The two statements before the House—the amendment on behalf of the Labour Party, and the amendment moved by Fianna Fáil—are in different forms, but they amount to the same thing. One represents the sum of £1,000,000, and the other the sum of £1,100,000. We are not going to quarrel as between the amounts, so long as it is perfectly clear both from the Labour side, and from our side that the first claim, the inescapable claim upon that money, is the payment of the existing debts, and clearing the credit of the Electricity Supply Board from the slur and cloud under which it has been put by the maladministration and insolent disregard of the law by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

I come now to the attack which has been made upon the Board. It lies under a variety of heads. The first is the mysterious "memorandum" in which some calculations were made, some figures were produced on the authority of some unnamed people indicated to some unnamed people, and for unspecified purposes which is supposed to dominate this whole question of the credit of the Electricity Supply Board. I have never seen that memorandum. Deputy Thrift has never seen it, and, as far as I know, no member of the House has ever seen it. There is no evidence that the Electricity Supply Board ever saw that memorandum. There are Deputies present who were members of the House when that particular Bill was passed. I was not. Was that memorandum submitted to the House at that time? Of course, it was not. And yet the intention of the Bill, and the intention of the Dáil in relation to the Electricity Supply Board is held to be directly contrary to the written word of the Bill, in so far as it conflicts with the mysterious, unproduced memorandum. We want the memorandum, and it is time that we had it, if it is a document which the Minister can produce. It was never within the knowledge of the Dáil that passed the Bill. It was never within the knowledge of the Board that was set up under the Bill, as far as my information goes, and yet, the Board is to be held guilty because it has transgressed some undisclosed, unknown provision of that unknown, and entirely unauthenticated document. That was the first portion of his statement. But we do know something about it. We have had two witnesses. The Minister for Industry and Commerce, who, on coming here as the principal witness to indict others in their absence, with the knowledge of the impossibility of their defence in this court, has put himself in the dock in the process of his testimony.

That is the evidence we have. He says that it did contain certain things. And someone else who has seen that document says "yes," but he also says "that is not all it contains." Dr. MacLaughlin says it did not contain other expenditure, which the Board in its wisdom, in the exercise of its independent judgement thought it was for the economic and administrative benefit of the scheme to spend. What is the use of pleading a document of that kind in that indefinite form? Is there any honesty or decency about it? Is it not time that we had that document if it is a document that can be produced, if it is a document which the Minister has authority to produce? Let us examine that particular document a little further. This document, as far as I can gather from the Minister, was drawn up by someone who was considering the possibility of coming in and running this scheme as a private enterprise. The idea, I suppose, would be that in consideration of putting up the sum of £2,500,000 or such other sum as the Minister was satisfied was sufficient for the scheme, they would have obtained a charter somewhat of the order of the Electricity Supply Board. And it is suggested that on that £2,500,000 this independent, privately owned and therefore efficient concern would have been able to do all these things. Foreign cows have long horns. If it got the Electricity Supply Board charter and if it had £2,500,000 only to pay interest on, it could have done the work. We had a discussion on the Electricity Supply Bill on 5th June, 1930, and in column 597, Volume 35, the Minister is getting after me. Here is what he says: "The Deputy has also spoken about changing the charter of the Electricity Supply Board, and he raised the analogy of a sale to an outside corporation. The analogy is unsound." And yet that is the very analogy which we have been asked to stand over in the last few days.

The Minister goes on: "No corporation would have taken over on the terms of the 1927 Act. There is no corporation living that would have taken over under a clause which says that the charges shall be such as just to meet the annual expenses. There is no corporation in the world that I have ever heard of that would be willing to take over on the basis simply that they are to meet their expenses. The analogy of a commercial concern is stymied right at the start by that consideration." He concludes by saying: "Under the 1927 Act the Board are prohibited from making profits," and then there follows immediately: "Mr. Flinn: There are the expenses of the interest and sinking fund on the capital..." In other words notwithstanding this £2,500,000 in this mysterious memorandum, this private company that was supposed to take over, even if it got the Shannon charter and even if it were only required to pay the interest and sinking fund on this capital, could not, according to the Minister, have functioned. And yet that is precisely the document on which this particular Board is indicted. That is, with the resources they had and with the charter they had the Minister said that with the same resources and the same charter no corporation could possibly have carried on. I have put to you the unreliability of the memorandum and the suppression of details. Suppressio veri et suggestio falsi seems to be the standard of the Minister's contribution to this particular discussion. What I am saying to you is this —neither the Board nor the Dáil has a right to consider in any way a memorandum of that kind which is in conflict with the law, and no secret arrangement and no secret understanding and no previous conversations of any kind between the Minister and any individual in relation to that memorandum frees the Board or any member of the Board in any act of the Board from the obligation to carry out the law strictly, to carry out the law and nothing but the law. If any one wants to take that proposition up, this is a meeting in Committee and we can deal with that when it is done.

Now in column 598, volume 35, we have the Minister's authority for that. The Electricity Supply Board refused to do what their legal advisers told them was illegal for them to do in the payment of rates in the City of Dublin and in the City of Limerick, and in the payment of income tax, and this is what the Minister says about it. "Because the Board had not legal opinion to the contrary, it would be a strange thing to insist on the Board paying where they were legally advised that they were not bound to pay," or to do anything else where they were legally advised to the contrary. "If they were to do that, then they might indulge in all sorts of fancy payments. The Board must be tied up. It is rather a good thing to see the Board sticking to the legal opinions given to them, even though they know that these legal opinions cut across the expressed wishes of the Oireachtas." How much more binding it is on them to carry out the law when they know that there is no evidence in their possession, in the possession of the Minister, or in the possession of the Dáil, that the legal advice that they had received cuts across the expressed wishes of the Oireachtas. Has the Minister the Attorney-General's fiat? Has he any legal authority to say that these people were wrong? What he said was, "If you do not do this, if you do not turn this money, which under the law has been set down to be put in a particular way, if you do not malversate £850,000, then I will come to the Dáil and get a Party majority under the whip to say that the law is and always has been different to what it is, and you will be responsible retrospectively for mis-using money which you were legally entitled to use in a way in which the Dáil will then make it an offence to have used it."

Let us take the next portion of their indictment—large issues of policy. These large issues of policy are represented by the fact that the Board, in their independent judgement and the exercise of their commercial knowledge, did use the funds within the law in the way that they thought was best and most economic for the development of electricity in the Free State. The Minister said a lot of things, but God knows what he really meant. Sometimes he says one thing and sometimes another. The buying out of the Cork undertaking was contemplated, and extraordinarily penal provisions were put into the Bill, which, in my opinion, could only have applied to one particular institution in Ireland, the Cork electricity undertaking. Before they bought out they consulted the Minister for Industry and Commerce. They got the consent of that Minister and the Minister for Finance to the actual transaction. They carried through the transaction of buying out the Cork electricity undertaking, and now the Minister says it is all gone wrong. He does not know whether they should or should not have bought it. He has a "philosophic doubt" about it. He does not know whether they should or should not. The Minister's indefinite state of should or should not constitutes in the Board a bad policy in relation to the administration of their affairs, for which they should be lampooned all over Europe on the authority of this heaven-sent Ministry!

What judge of policy in relation to the economic administration of a national scheme of electricity supply is the Minister? I have paid tribute to his ability on many occasions. I know no man who can get up a case quicker or better. I know no man who can state a case better. I admire the Minister very much as a debater. I have defined him in this House before as a man with a leader-writer's brain. One has to know a good deal about a subject with which the Minister for Industry and Commerce deals before one can realise that the Minister for Industry and Commerce knows nothing about it beyond what he can get from documents. Will the Minister claim that he is a judge, that he has a competent knowledge, that he has the professional training, and that he has the background of experience which enable him to come here as arbiter in this matter? What competent knowledge has he which makes him think that his ipse dixit is to go, and when he says a policy is bad it is bad, and when he says a policy is good it is good? I do not think the Minister is in that position.

You are going into the lobby, every one of you, under threat of the resignation of the Minister, to say that he is so competent that he should be allowed to get away with the attack which he has levelled upon these absent men, because he has that experience, because he has that competence, because he has that background of knowledge. There is not one of you who can follow the dictates of your own conscience as decent men and take the responsibility of the cruel wrong which is being done in condemning, without trial before a competent tribunal, professional and business men who have given their services honestly, enthusiastically and successfully to this State.

The accounts—that is all it boils down to in the end. All he has got are the accounts; all the rest is a matter of opinion, a matter of incompetent opinion, of an ex-professo incompetent opinion, incompetent in the sense that it is irrelevant. My opinion upon the flora of the fixed stars is as important an opinion as is the opinion of the Minister on what constitutes a sound scheme in relation to the administration of an electricity supply undertaking. The rest is simply a matter of accounts. I do not know anything about the accounts. I do know that great institutions are often in arrear in these matters. I do know that a building in course of erection is one of the things in regard to which you do not as a rule be able to produce a balance sheet—a profit and loss account. I am prepared to accept as a fact that when this thing is cleared up you will find stray ends and scrags. There will be here and there those little things which are inevitable. I accept that in advance but unless and until some competent authority, some less interested authority, some impartial authority will, on full examination of the facts, state that there has been neglect and chaos, I certainly am not going to condemn any man unheard in circumstances in which I myself would demand a trial before competent people. These people, he states, have exceeded their estimate. We have heard reference to the sum of £2,500,000. That was not merely to provide the immediate capital but, like the widow's curse, it was going to be self-renewing.

Apart from the mystical and mythical "memorandum," the only justification the Minister has put forward is a calculation as to what he calls equal thirds. He says that it is a sort of average that in a big electricity supply system of that kind— distribution, transmission and generation shall be represented by equal thirds of the capital cost. He says their original figure for the transmission and generation of the Shannon was £5,200,000, and therefore, £2,500,000 being a third of the total, was a reasonable and proper sum. The original estimate was £5,200,000. Half of that being one-third of the total would be £2,600,000. If the Minister looked up the records he would find that we added £600,000 to that £5,200,000, and a further sum of £156,000. Therefore the scheme has gone up from £5,200,000 to £5,900,000, and there is a liability never disclosed to this House, a claim which, according to the Minister, is good, according to his own definition, in relation to contingent liability of the Electricity Supply Board—good in the sense that it can be pleaded in law. There is a contingent liability, and a claim by Siemens Schuckert to the amount of £1,100,000. The total cost of the Shannon generation and transmission, according to those figures is really £6,900,000, and the figure that ought to have been provided on that basis for the Electricity Supply Board is not £2,500,000 but £3,450,000. Now we know the reliability of the checks and tests which the Minister offers to this House.

What we have put before the House from the very beginning, and what we put now, is not a defence of the Electricity Supply Board. Not a single word has been said by me in defence of the Electricity Supply Board, and except in so far as the Minister has given evidence against himself in his own examination-in-chief, not one single word has been said by me against the Minister. I have simply used the evidence which he has given us.

Our claim is that the issue shall go to trial, that the issue as between the Minister and the Electricity Supply Board shall be tried by a competent court, that these young engineers, who gave their energy, their enterprise, their brains, their enthusiasm and patriotism to this job, these civil servants who came out of their sheltered jobs, where they were free of criticism, and involved themselves with the Minister in the limelight, and the driving rain of criticism which is apparently bound to follow anybody who is his associate; these business men whose reputations are at stake, shall have the right to go to trial, not before a Party majority, not through a vote of no confidence and the resignation of a Minister, but that they shall have the right to go to trial by a competent professional court capable of ascertaining the facts and rendering a sound judgement upon them.

There are two methods of inquiry. One of them is on the accounts. The accounts which are immediately or proximately available are a thoroughly insecure ground upon which to form a judgement. Take the year 1929-30, for which the figures in a draft form are now available. I put it to Deputy Murphy, I put it to any other commercial man in the House, that when we get draft accounts of a business of which we have good reason to be doubtful we do not wait for them to be copper-plated by an auditor or anybody else before we get down to the job of seeing what is wrong and dealing with it. The Minister has the accounts now in that particular form— he had them a month ago. There may be an odd halfpenny stamp here and there and three half-inch insulators missing, but the broad facts are there. If that was all that was necessary, then it would be possible now on those draft accounts to form a very reasonable and sound judgement. But, as a matter of fact, the most accurate, the best audited accounts of 1929-30 are useless for the purpose. The Dublin Pigeon House was only shut down in March, 1930. The Leinster Loop was only in partial operation for the last six months of that year. It was a year of active construction. It was not in any way a year which was normal from the point of view of administration or income. The accounts are now available. They will be complete in the autumn. Ten thousand accounts of that time, though they will be necessary material to be used by anyone who does investigate the matter, do not cover the amount of material required to enable us to get a conspectus of the whole position.

The year 1930-31 was also a year of partial operation. The Cork and Dublin tramways, representing 30,000,000 units, twenty-five per cent. of the total, were only linked up in December, 1930. That was not a normal year of income. The southern and western towns were being connected week by week right up to the end of 1930. Here you have a house in course of construction, and you are asked to show it is a going concern on the principle of rent, rates, and taxes, and all the rest. Those accounts will be available at the end of 1931. Now, if you get the two of those together you certainly have something more material than the one set of accounts. They are not normal years, and they are only part of the material which, if it is available, will be very useful to the investigators.

The first normal year we are going to get is 1931-32. They will have settled down to administration, they will have settled down to the de-centralisation of their staffs, they will have a proper co-ordination of their selling and collecting organisations, and all the rest. You will be able, on the basis of that, to get something in relation to a fair view of it, both as a productive and administrative unit. These accounts will not be available until, say, June, 1932. If we had these three sets of accounts complete they would be very valuable material, but June, 1932, is too long to wait to deal with a house which according to the Minister is on fire.

The reason why we think that a body of competent experts, men who have a broad knowledge of electricity supply and its finances in this and other countries, and who are capable of comparing facts, of estimating tendencies, are required is because they have that knowledge. What is the ordinary auditor's work? He will give you facts as to what is being done. He is not at all in a position to forecast. He most certainly is not in a position to dictate or suggest policy in relation to a highly technical matter of which he has no more knowledge or training than the Minister for Industry and Commerce. What knowledge will we get from accounts immediately available, or available within any period to which we are prepared to put off that investigation of the organisation and management to decide whether that organisation was wisely or economically designed? What were the qualifications of the Board themselves? If you neglect the three part-timers who were only there on tolerance, what is the qualification of the Board as at present constituted to express an opinion broadly as to the economic organisation, administration and management of that scheme and its development? In my opinion, none. It therefore brings me to the fact that we have to get some such body, quite impartial, clear of prejudice and party and personal affiliation to go into this matter and I am going to suggest the terms of reference of such a body. The terms are as follows:—

(1) This body shall inquire into the actual present position of the Electricity Supply Board, in relation to expenditure, income, commitments, assets and liabilities. For that they will require the auditors' accounts, and that is the only information of the auditors which would be of any use to them.

(2) To provide estimates of future income and expenditure and capital commitments required therefor.

(3) They will report on the present rates of charges, and whether same are economic, having regard to the existing commitments of the Board, and to the present and prospective demands for electricity.

(4) They will report on the existing organisation and staff distribution, and whether same or what staff and organisation are most conducive to economic organisation.

(5) They will report on the future lines of development and organisation of staff, plant and policy, and they will report specifically whether the policy of the Board up to the present has been sound (a) in the specific use of its capital, (b) in the prices charged for electricity to different classes of consumers, (c) in forming the electrical supply monopoly in generation and distribution.

(6) Whether they have been sound in not selling electricity in bulk to existing or new undertakings. That will raise the question of whether they should or should not have bought the Cork electrical supply.

(7) Whether they have been sound in engaging in the wiring and installation business.

(8) Whether they have been wise in engaging in the wholesale and retail trade in appliances.

I believe that a very useful and valuable report, from competent men, could, within two months from the date that they arrived in Dublin, be in the hands of this Dáil. I think whatever the expense incurred, having regard to the size of the issues concerned it is well worth while. I say to the House deliberately that the actual capital now engaged, the value of the charter, the pre-existing assets sunk in the Shannon scheme, and its acknowledged capital up to date, and including this two million, amount to £16,700,000—I am of opinion that if such a body is brought together that they will give to this Dáil a report that will enable them to deal with the matter, and enable them to solve the double problem—just the problem of how that £16,000,000 of the assets and rights of the people of the Irish Free State can be best and most economically used for the benefit of the people of the Irish Free State.

Secondly, they will provide a tribunal before whom can be brought, and from whom can be got, a verdict which we are in honour bound to see they have an opportunity of obtaining, of guilty or not guilty in relation to those men whose professional careers have been imperilled, whose personal honour has been impeached, whose business future has been imperilled by the recklessly foolish scandal-mongering of the Minister for Industry and Commerce in this matter.

The amendment on the Paper in the name of Deputy Lemass is: "To delete all words from and including the words `Two Million Pounds' to the figures `1930' and substitute the words `One million, one hundred thousand pounds as may be required by the Electricity Supply Board for any purpose arising in the performance of its functions under Section 12 (3) of the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1927." If the amendment were put in the form in which it appears on the Paper it would preclude a discussion on one of the amendments as it appears on the Order Paper to the Bill in the Committee Stage and I therefore propose to put the amendment in two parts. I propose to put the first question in this form: "That the words `Two Million Pounds' proposed to be deleted stand part of the resolution."

An Ceann Comhairle resumed the Chair.]

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 50.

  • Aird, William P.
  • Alton, Ernest Henry.
  • Beckett, James Walter.
  • Bennett, George Cecil.
  • Blythe, Ernest.
  • Bourke, Séamus A.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Brodrick, Seán.
  • Byrne, John Joseph.
  • Carey, Edmund.
  • Cole, John James.
  • Collins-O'Driscoll, Mrs. Margt.
  • Conlon, Martin.
  • Connolly, Michael P.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Craig, Sir James.
  • Daly, John.
  • Davis, Michael.
  • Doherty, Eugene.
  • Dolan, James N.
  • Doyle, Peadar Seán.
  • Duggan, Edmund John.
  • Dwyer, James.
  • Egan, Barry M.
  • Esmonde, Osmond Thos. Grattan.
  • Fitzgerald, Desmond.
  • Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
  • Good, John.
  • Gorey, Denis J.
  • Haslett, Alexander.
  • Hassett, John J.
  • Hennessy, Michael Joseph.
  • Hennigan, John.
  • Henry, Mark.
  • Hogan, Patrick (Galway).
  • Holohan, Richard.
  • Jordan, Michael.
  • Keogh, Myles.
  • Law, Hugh Alexander.
  • Leonard, Patrick.
  • Lynch, Finian.
  • Mathews, Arthur Patrick.
  • McDonogh, Martin.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • McGilligan, Patrick.
  • Mongan, Joseph W.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • Murphy, Joseph Xavier.
  • Myles, James Sproule.
  • Nally, Martin Michael.
  • Nolan, John Thomas.
  • O'Connell, Richard.
  • O'Connor, Bartholomew.
  • O'Higgins, Thomas.
  • O'Leary, Daniel.
  • O'Mahony, The.
  • O'Sullivan, Gearóid.
  • O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
  • Reynolds, Patrick.
  • Rice, Vincent.
  • Roddy, Martin.
  • Shaw, Patrick W.
  • Sheehy, Timothy (West Cork).
  • Thrift, William Edward.
  • Tierney, Michael.
  • Vaughan, Daniel.
  • White, John.
  • White, Vincent Joseph.
  • Wolfe, George.
  • Wolfe, Jasper Travers.


  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Allen, Denis.
  • Anthony, Richard.
  • Blaney, Neal.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Boland, Patrick.
  • Bourke, Daniel.
  • Brady, Seán.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • Buckley, Daniel.
  • Carty, Frank.
  • Cassidy, Archie J.
  • Clancy, Patrick.
  • Colbert, James.
  • Corkery, Dan.
  • Corish, Richard.
  • Corry, Martin John.
  • Crowley, Tadhg.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Doyle, Edward.
  • Everett, James.
  • Fahy, Frank.
  • Flinn, Hugo.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • French, Seán.
  • Geoghegan, James.
  • Gorry, Patrick J.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Jordan, Stephen.
  • Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
  • Kilroy, Michael.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick John.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • Morrissey, Daniel.
  • O'Connell, Thomas J.
  • O'Dowd, Patrick Joseph.
  • O'Kelly, Seán T.
  • O'Leary, William.
  • O'Reilly, Thomas.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Sexton, Martin.
  • Sheehy, Timothy (Tipp.).
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Tubridy, John.
  • Walsh, Richard.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Duggan and P.S. Doyle: Níl, Deputies Boland and Allen.
Question declared carried.
Question—"That the further words proposed to be deleted stand"—put and declared carried.
Resolution put and agreed to.
The Dáil went out of Committee.
Report of Resolution agreed to.