I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. It will be recalled by the Dáil that the purpose of the Shannon Fisheries Bill, 1935, was to enable all the Shannon fisheries to be acquired and worked by the Electricity Supply Board. The board has actively proceeded to exercise the functions conferred on it by that Act. All the important fresh water fisheries have been acquired. Experience has shown, however, that in order to enable the board to carry on the fisheries to the best advantage certain amendments of the 1935 Act are now necessary. The object of the Bill before the Dáil, therefore, is to amend that Act by conferring certain additional powers on the board. The measure does not involve a departure in any respect from the principles underlying the 1935 Act. It is rather of a complementary nature, because it amplifies the powers conferred on the board by that Act. In the first place, it is considered necessary, in order to increase the stock of fish and to protect and preserve the fisheries, that all fisheries in the river and its tributaries should be controlled by the board. I have already said that all fresh water fisheries have been acquired by the board, but there may, or there may not, be other small fisheries in the upper stretches of the river, the existence and ownership of which it would in the ordinary course be difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. Owing to the very wide area involved, and to the numerous people interested on both sides of the River Shannon and its tributaries, and all the applications that will naturally arise with regard to the ownership in the case of some of those stretches, such as Lough Allen, Lough Ree, and Lough Derg, it will be necessary for the board to make a complete survey for the purpose of identifying the fisheries and the owners of the fishing rights. That survey will be both protracted and expensive, and perhaps embarrassing.
The board has statutory powers to close the free gap in any weir and, therefore, will have power to close, when necessary, the new weir near Thomond Bridge, in Limerick, the erection of which is provided for in this Bill. The board, however, must acquire all the fisheries and fishing rights in the fresh waters of the Shannon and its tributaries flowing into the fresh water area before closing the free gap at any time. If all the fisheries and fishing rights were not acquired, any owner of a fishing right above the weir would be entitled to protest against the closing of the free gap on the grounds of interference with his fishery or fishing right. In order, therefore, to enable the board to acquire those fisheries or fishing rights which, in the ordinary way, it would be very difficult to trace, it has been provided in the Bill that on a day to be appointed, by Order, all fisheries in the non-tidal or fresh waters of the Shannon and its tributaries, not already acquired by the board, will vest automatically in the board without any further proceeding. The board will be required to insert notices in Iris Oifigiúil and the daily Press within 30 days after the appointed day, and within the same period after its anniversary in each of the next four years, inviting persons claiming to have an interest in such fisheries to lodge claims with the board. Those persons who do so before the expiration of six years from the appointed day, and who prove their title, will be entitled to compensation.
Under the provisions of the Shannon Electricity Act of 1925, compensation was paid by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to the owners of the Lax weir on the Shannon because of interference with the fisheries through the construction of the hydro-electric works. That weir, as Deputies may be aware, is situated above the outlet from the táil race of the Shannon works. In consequence, fish which would normally go through the weir pass into the tail race, and the weir is also affected by the greatly reduced flow of water in the main river since the hydro-electric works were built. The weir, which was acquired by the board under the Fisheries Act of 1935, has seriously deteriorated. As the Lax weir cannot be effectively used, the board considers it essential to erect a new weir near Thomond Bridge, which is below the outlet from the tail race. Apart from the need for this weir from a commercial aspect, it is desired to get a certain amount of scientific control in the restocking of the river. It is the intention of the board to compel all ascending salmon to pass through the catching cribs with a view to verifying the number liberated for propagation purposes, and the board considers that the fisheries can be operated on a proper commercial basis by centralising all catching at the weir, and that the restocking of the weir will be more readily achieved. A doubt existed as to whether the board had power under the Act to erect a new weir on a site other than the site of the existing Lax weir. The opinion was expressed to me that the board's statutory powers would not cover the erection of the weir and, consequently, specific authority for the work of the proposed new weir is being sought in this Bill.
The Electricity Supply Board has come to the conclusion also that it would be desirable to revive, if possible, the oyster fisheries which formerly existed in the estuary of the river. There are extensive areas in both the Shannon and the deep waters of the estuary of the Shannon which are suitable for the development of oyster fisheries. In former years certain beds were worked by private enterprise, but have now been abandoned. The beds extend from Foynes seaward to Carrigaholt Bay, but the beds most extensively worked were centred around Kilrush Harbour, north and east of Scattery Island, extending north-west towards Querrin Island. The board is of opinion that the development of the oyster fisheries would prove not only remunerative but would give constant employment to a number of skilled fishermen who are at present unemployed. The board, however, has not power under its existing Acts to undertake any experiments in that direction, nor if such produced favourable results, to proceed to develop and carry on oyster fisheries, and special provision for these purposes, therefore, is being made in this Bill.
The other provision of the Bill deals with certain proposals for payment of compensation to fishermen and others. It has been brought to my attention that certain classes of persons who formerly supported themselves wholly or mainly in connection with the fishing on the Shannon have lost their means of livelihood, some owing to the construction and operation of the Shannon works, and others by reason of the Shannon Fisheries Act of 1935. It has also been ascertained that these persons are not entitled to compensation under the existing statutory provision. It is proposed, under this Bill, therefore, to empower the Electricity Supply Board to make ex-gratia payments to persons who have suffered a loss in this respect—a loss for which they have not received, and are not entitled to receive, any additional compensation under the relevant section of the 1935 Act, or either of the sections of that Act dealing with the matter. Section 10 of this Bill has been so framed as to leave the question of what payments, if any, should be made entirely to the discretion of the board. It is considered that it would be possible for the board to deal more equitably with the persons concerned according to the circumstances of each case than by fettering its powers in this regard by seeking to lay down the precise conditions to be satisfied by the applicants. It would be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to devise and state in a Bill the conditions to be satisfied by individuals or groups of persons whose circumstances vary so much as they do in this case, and it is quite possible, and even probable, that however carefully such a clause were drawn it would ultimately be found to exclude, accidentally, deserving cases. In fact, it is largely because of the failure of the statutory provisions for compensation, laid down in the 1935 Act, to cover all the persons whom it was intended should be compensated that it now becomes necessary to proceed in this manner. Similarly, it is considered that the amount of the payments to be made should be measured by the board without reference to any statutory formula, so that the board may be in a position to deal with every case according to its merits. I think Deputies may be confident that the liberty of action which it is proposed to give the board in this matter will be fully respected by that body and that all applications received will be dealt with sympathetically.
These are the main provisions of the Bill. I think the need of them will be appreciated by Deputies, and I accordingly move that the Bill be read a Second Time.