It was all very well to complain of the weather and of the lack of machinery. I admit there has been difficulty, and perhaps there will be difficulty for some time, in getting the necessary machinery. I, for one, did not expect miracles in that matter, but I do say there are many drainage problems to-day awaiting solution which could be dealt with perhaps by hard labour, without machinery.
All that this motion seeks to do is to get a statement of policy from the Government in the matter of drainage. When this Bill was before the House I argued strongly in favour of some system of priorities being evolved by the Department concerned so that the various areas concerned in this matter of flooding would have some idea when they might expect results from the Drainage Commission. As far as I can read into Deputy Beegan's remarks, he wants to have it both ways. He wants drainage and, at the same time, he wants the alluvial deposit which is at present being thrown up by the floods preserved for the lands. That seems to me an absurdity.
As far as local relief is concerned, the local ratepayers immediately concerned, whose lands were being inundated, have undoubtedly got some financial relief in the matter of rates but, again, that relief has not been taken over as a State charge; it has been thrown on the ratepayers at large in the counties. I rise because I am principally concerned in the problem of the Nore and the River Dinan, which are causing havoc at the moment in my constituency. Lest the weather may be blamed for the flooding which we have experienced in the Nore and the Dinan, I want to direct the attention of the House to a record of floods which have taken place since 1917 to date:— In 1917 we had two high floods; in 1918, three; 1919, two; 1920, five; 1921, three; 1922, three; 1926, four, of which one which took place in January of that year was a record flood; 1936, two; 1937, five; 1938, two; 1939, one; 1940, five high floods in February, two in October, three in November, and one in December; 1941, one; 1944, six; 1945, three; 1946, five; and, of course, August 12th, the largest flood of all. These floods have taken place at various times in the year—winter and summer—and last year, which was undoubtedly a most abnormal weather year, we had an appalling condition there. The City of Kilkenny was flooded in some places to a depth of five to six feet. I witnessed some of these floods and saw the water flowing at a terrific rate in through the back doors of houses out through the front door, dwelling houses, workshops and ordinary shops completely submerged by a raging flood which nothing would stop, all because a small river in the vicinity of the Nore had not been drained, because, through neglect, the bed of the river had silted up and become congested with weeds and any simple flood created inundation. So bad were the conditions that the Church services in at least two churches had to be abandoned, because the water was to a depth of from three to four feet in the churches and the furniture was floating around.
That is happening repeatedly year after year and it seems to me that whatever climatic conditions are taking place, we can look forward to a repetition of these inundations. The town of Thomastown was so badly flooded on numerous occasions that people in the ordinary houses and shops had to get about the streets in boats. Yet, when I tried to get from the predecessor of the present Parliamentary Secretary some idea as to when we might expect relief of these urgent problems I could get nothing further than that it might be years, it might be five years, it might be ten, 20, 25 years. As far as I can see from his statements the drainage problems of this country are going to be solved on the Kathleen Mavourneen system— it may be for years and it may be for ever.
I know there are many difficulties in the way. Then consider the amount of money that has been set aside for drainage and the amount that it is estimated will be spent annually on drainage—£250,000. If that is to be the policy and outlook of the present Government, many areas in this country will not see relief from flooding problems for the next 50 years.
I want to put it straight to the Parliamentary Secretary: Can the people living in these horrible conditions be expected to put up with them for the next 50 years because—let us face the problem in its reality—that is what it amounts to. Under the present policy of taking catchment areas in different parts of the country, making surveys and doing only one catchment area at a time and taking the most serious flooding problems in the particular catchment area one at a time, we cannot hope to reach anything like finality in the next 50 years. Meanwhile, these wretched conditions prevail and in the City of Kilkenny there are many houses infected with ground damp as a result of frequent inundations and the inhabitants are definitely contracting tuberculosis as a result.
I placed all these facts that I am mentioning now in proper form before both the Department of Local Government and the Department of Finance, and I asked for some urgency in the treatment of the Nore. Again I got the same reply—that there was no idea as to when it would be possible to embark upon a drainage scheme for the Nore area. I was told as late as December, 1946, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance that "the drainage schemes under the Arterial Drainage Act of 1945 will be undertaken only on the basis of comprehensive schemes for entire catchment areas, and that, accordingly, action in the matter of improvements to the River Dinan must await the confirmation of a drainage scheme for the River Nore area". In answer to a Parliamentary question that I put to the Parliamentary Secretary, and in supplementaries added to that, I got the impression that he could not give me any idea as to what number of years would elapse before even a survey of the Nore area could be undertaken. Now, there are several towns and villages involved in this confluence, and I say emphatically that, as a result of the repeated inundations, the health of the people in these towns and villages is deteriorating fast, and that unless something is done there will be serious local problems of disease in these villages and towns. That is one aspect of the matter in which I am concerned.
There is another aspect of the matter which I would like to bring to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary. That is the condition of farmers living on the banks of the Dinan, particularly in the Dunmore area. The Dinan is a tributary of the Nore and a peculiar situation has arisen there as a result of a breach in an embankment which was erected at a place known as Kirwan's Inch, near Dunmore. That bank has virtually gone. As a result of the breach in the bank the River Dinan crosses the River Nore in high flood and has the effect of banking back the waters of the River Nore for a time, with the result that the lands behind become inundated. Then when the Dinan flood falls the Nore comes on with a terrific onrush, sweeping everything before it, and the effects of that onrush are felt further down at Kilkenny and Thomastown and right down to the mouth of the River Nore. I hold that something practical could be done to relieve the situation at the confluence of the Dinan and the Nore in the Dunmore area whilst we are awaiting the general comprehensive scheme that is contemplated.
Last August we had a terrible situation. Many farmers in the area were flooded out. The dwelling houses were flooded. The outoffices were flooded. The tillage fields were flooded and the hay fields were flooded. There are two old estates involved—one is the Bryan estate and the other is the Ormonde estate. On the Bryan estate, Mrs. Ellen Rice lost five acres of oats and barley and six tons of hay in the rick. Nicholas Rice lost four Irish acres of hay. Thomas Hogan lost five and a half Irish acres of wheat, four acres of oats, three acres of beet, one acre of mangolds and one acre of turnips. He managed to save some of the wheat because he got some military assistance to help him in getting it out of the flood. When they got it out of the flood, he had to open the sheaves and re-dry them. The floods uprooted about an acre of mangolds and the same of turnips and swept them away.
On the Ormonde estate, Patrick Kealy lost one and a quarter Irish acres of hay in trams. Mary Byrne lost seven Irish acres of hay in trams. Richard Maher is perhaps one of the worst sufferers. The floods covered 16 statute acres. His house and outoffices were almost completely submerged. I should add that this man is subjected to floods at all times of the year, summer and winter. I have inspected these lands and he is striving to carry on farming under the most deplorable conditions. This man was exempt from tillage during the 1914-18 war. Because of the abnormal position there, the then Department of Agriculture would not enforce the tillage regulations against him, but he got no relief from the native Government and had to comply with the tillage regulations all through the war years with all these losses facing him every time. We tried to get him some measure of relief and I believe the Minister for Agriculture did effect some improvement in that respect. But this man's whole farm, you may say, is frequently inundated and he practically loses everything overnight. I have seen his corn crops with nothing but the tops over the water. That condition of things continues there for weeks at a time. As I have indicated, the trouble in his case is the water that comes back as a result of the confluence of the two rivers which inundates his farm right up to his kitchen door. John Brennan is also badly affected. Two Irish acres of barley were completely swept away. He got only four bags out of his crop. Four acres of wheat were partly saved. Sixteen acres of hay, comprising some 100 trams, were swept away, as well as an acre of mangolds and an acre of turnips. He was virtually left without any hay for this winter.
I ask is it right and proper that, when we raise this matter in the House, we are faced with the answer that drainage is a long-term problem; that nothing can be done for these people until a comprehensive survey is made of the Nore catchment area. In the meantime, the breach in this embankment is getting wider and wider. It may have become so bad now that it would take machinery to put it right. I think that the Department ought to take some steps to see if some temporary relief cannot be given to these people. The floods go into John Brennan's dwelling-house. The floods of the 12th August reached five feet in his dwelling-house and he and his sister had to reside upstairs. John Butler lost eight Irish acres of hay and 55 trams. I have seen the track left by the hay along the roads near this farmer's place. The mark was as high as ten feet on the hedge. It is a miracle to me that his live stock was saved and that human life was not lost. James Doyle had 12 Irish acres of hay swept out of swarth. That is the last of the names I have got concerning that district, but it is not a complete list.
In addition, I have the case of a widow who is a dairy farmer and whose lands are on the banks of the Nore. This year she lost eight acres of hay and all the aftergrass, as the flood came our six times. A good deal of the pasture lands was also unfit for grazing. Her cows went off their milk, which was a serious loss to her. She is now faced with the difficulty this winter of buying hay. She is trying to carry on with hired labour. She has been given no relief either by way of rates or compensation for her losses. I think there is neglect somewhere. There definitely was neglect in the past on the part of the drainage authority or the local authority. That woman was probably unable to buy hay this year and may have had to sell her stock for all I know.
I am not raising this matter, as suggested by Deputy Beegan, in any political sense. I do not seek to take any political advantage of the Parliamentary Secretary in any shape or form. A number of the people whose cases I have read out are prominent Fianna Fáil supporters, including committee men of the local Fianna Fáil cumann, and prominent committee men at that, and Fianna Fáil members of the local authority. I am not seeking, therefore, any Party advantage in this matter. I want to bring as forcibly as I can that condition of things to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to stress, and I think it will be agreed from what I have read out, that these people will be faced year after year with these inundations, that there will be no occasion upon which we will have a heavy rainfall when we will not have a similar condition of things there.
I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to take some steps to relieve these towns and villages and also the City of Kilkenny from these repeated inundations which have such a serious effect upon the health of the people. In particular, I ask that some temporary measures be taken, in advance of the Nore scheme, to relieve these people in their distress. We are prepared to meet the Parliamentary Secretary in any way we can with a view to trying to solve the problem. We are prepared to try to meet anything we can in the matter of finance. I am sure the local authority would be prepared to contribute towards that relief. But, having regard to the appalling conditions of things that obtains there, we expect that State to step in and come to their rescue financially, because the problem has definitely gone beyond the reach of the local farmers.
I cannot say whose responsibility it was in the past to maintain this embankment at the confluence of the Dinan and the Nore. I am told by the older tenants there that before the estates were purchased that late Lord Ormonde always did that job. Whether he did that because of any legal obligation imposed upon him I cannot say. They were unable to clear up that point for me. I tried to get some information through Government Departments on the matter, but I was not able to get any accurate information there either. Whether it is the responsibility of the tenants or whether that responsibility was handed over under the land purchase to the tenants, I do say that the job now has got to such a stage that it is beyond the reach of the tenants to attempt in any shape or form to remedy it. I want the Parliamentary Secretary, therefore, to take immediate steps to have this problem at the Nore and the Dinan investigated with a view to taking some temporary measures for the relief of these unfortunate farmers. Some of these men are definitely contemplating clearing out under existing conditions. Their farms are not worth tuppence to them. If they put their farms up for auction in the morning they would not get tuppence for them.
On the broad principle of drainage policy I do want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate to the House what is the eventual policy that they are going to implement. In what order of operations are the various catchment areas going to be taken and in what period of time are we likely to have, not only the surveys of these catchment areas completed, but when is the job going to be commenced? I want to put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that the amount of money set aside annually—£250,000 a year—is only tinkering with the problem. Something in the region of £1,000,000 a year would want to be spent at the moment is order to give any relief in the various catchment areas which are now being flooded so disastrously all over the country.
In putting down this motion we seek for nothing more than a statement of policy from a Minister and to have the position clarified so that the people everywhere can know what to expect and when to expect it. I do not think we are asking too much when we ask that from the Department concerned. Initiative has now gone from the local authorities and it is vested in the Office of Public Works. The local authorities in the various areas cannot do very much about it except to indicate their position and leave it then to the bureaucrats in the Office of Public Works to decide when they are going to take notice of their complaints. I say that the complaints we have in Kilkenny are well-founded and the grievances under which these people suffer are so appalling that they call out for immediate action by the Office of Public Works. I would appeal as forcibly as I can to the Minister to take immediate steps to relieve the distress that prevails there. I want to emphasise that I personally and the people for whom I speak are not seeking any political notice, advantage, or anything else in this matter. It is a matter of extreme urgency and a matter that demands the immediate attention of the responsible Department. That is my position and the position of all concerned in this problem.
I can definitely give—it is not, perhaps, a desirable thing to give— the history of families in the various places whose health has been adversely affected by this problem. Is this to go on? There is no good in our voting money for public health and for new machinery to administer the public health of this country and there is no good in our setting up clinics if we do not take the first and most essential steps to prevent these appalling conditions which are ruining the houses of the people in these areas and which are so adversely affecting their health that there is now apparent in the areas a marked increase in tuberculosis. I think it is in that direction this problem ought to be faced. If it is faced in that way then the Local Government Department, in co-operation with the Parliamentary Secretary of the Department of Finance, should be able to take some immediate steps to give even some measure of temporary relief. That is all I am seeking at the moment.
I appreciate the Nore catchment area will take some time to survey. I appreciate that the Nore, as a job, will have to start up in Deputy Flanagan's constituency somewhere beyond Rathdowney, and it will have to be done right down along to where it joins the Barrow at New Ross. I know that is a very big job and that it will take some years to complete it. Meanwhile the present situation must be tackled.
At the other end of the constituency —at New Ross—we have an extraordinary position. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary knows all about it. You have there not acres of land but square miles of land flooded throughout the 12 months of the year—flooded completely throughout the 12 months. At the moment you have a lake around New Ross. I do not know what can be done about that problem but, there again, many square miles of land have been lost to the farming community. I am not at present concerned so much with that as I feel that the situation there is so bad it would take a very, very big scheme to rectify it. The other problem is a local problem of a somewhat smaller character which could be tackled at once, and I appeal for consideration of these matters because I feel that the health of the people ought to come first.