I move amendment No. 77:—
At the end of sub-section (2), page 16, to add a new paragraph as follows:—
(h) Until such time as the Commissioners have put into repair drainage works and embankments transferred to county councils under this section, and have issued certificates of such repair, no county council shall be held responsible at law for damages arising from the present condition of such drainage works or embankments.
My view is that these two sections are not going far enough. I do not believe that you can devise any code of words or regulations which would prevent immense litigation as to the degree of liability in the State, once you have the appointed day coming in. The Parliamentary Secretary stated very glibly that a certificate will be issued as to the present state of the district when it is handed over, but is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that embankments do not remain in a particular state? Erosion, water surface, and all these things, affect them. You are dealing with the taking over of drainage areas that were formerly the liability of other people. You are transferring them as a liability on the ratepayers of the county councils, in my view, without adequate protection, no matter how you frame it, against litigation by people who are affected or think they are affected. The only bold way of dealing with it is on the lines suggested in the amendment. Any other phrasing, or any effort to protect local authorities on the lines proposed in the Bill, will mean that any eminent lawyer will be able to drive a coach and four through the Act. I think the proposal in the Bill invites them to do it, with the great mark of the county rate as an inducement both to the applicant and to those encouraging him to proceed.
I have in mind two great works in the county, portion of which I represent. One is the drainage of the Awbeg which cost the State and the local authority something like £35,000, made up of a gift of £16,000 by the county council and the contribution of £15,000 by the State. The owners got a loan which they were repaying over 35 years to the county council. They had responsibility for the embankments — a responsibility which was more honoured in the breach by some, but that is neither here nor there — but they are now being entirely relieved of the obligation to repay that loan. Liability for the upkeep of that drainage work is being transferred to the local authority, the Cork County Council, which has already subscribed £11,000 and given a loan of £5,000. The most serious effect of the Bill, in my opinion, is that it leaves open the way to litigation and claims for damages by people living in the area. There is also a much bigger scheme which was one of the old relief works — the embankment, which is now in a very precarious state, protecting the sloblands in the town of Youghal. It is a liability of the landholders. If, by any chance, that embankment goes, the claims of property owners in the town of Youghal in respect of consequential damage will be enormous.
As I say, the only bold way to tackle it is in the way suggested in the amendment — that no local authority shall be held responsible until such time as the embankments are in repair and a certificate to that effect has been issued. If those embankments are subsequently allowed to go into disrepair and any damage occurs, the local authority will know that they will be liable. To try to get anyone to understand the degree of disrepair on the basis of their present condition is extremely difficult and I am fortified in the point I am making in favour of my amendment by the Parliamentary Secretary's anxiety to protect local authorities from frivolous and vexatious claims. Unless areas of this country are to become hotbeds of litigation as between property owners and local authorities, he should seriously consider the amendment.